Blue Steele

The King of Rhythm

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The King of Rhythm Review

by arwulf arwulf

Arkansas-born trombonist Blue Steele led a tangentially popular dance band in Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee during the late 1920s. Despite decades of subsequent professional activity, most of his recognized recorded legacy fits onto one compact disc. In 2002, the Vintage Jazz Band label reissued two dozen of the 32 Victor recordings known to have been made by Blue Steele and His Orchestra in Altanta, GA and Memphis, TN during the years 1927-1930, including Steele's luxuriant theme song, "Coronado (Brings Memories of You)." Because these sessions took place immediately prior to the rise of the rudimentarily amplified string bass, Steele's was a tuba-driven ensemble. The brass bass players held to be responsible for rhythmic propulsion were Marvin Longfellow (who also wrote arrangements) and, in 1930, the mighty Cookie Trantham. Much of the orchestra's working repertoire consisted of romantic love songs. Sonny Clapp's "Girl of My Dreams," a marvel of honey-basted sentimentality, was destined to be revived in 1959 under much different circumstances by Charles Mingus. Clapp also composed "Sugar Babe, I'm Leavin'," a bouncy combination of hot jazz and western swing with a vocal by Steele himself. Clapp, a fine trombonist, would make records during the years 1929-1931 as leader of his own Band O'Sunshine. Being able to hear more than an hour's worth of Blue Steele is a rare treat peppered with occasional bursts of excitement, like the hot treatment of "Washington and Lee Swing" (with rowdy shouts from the band); "All Muggled Up," a zippy, almost certainly marijuana-inspired stomp with scat singing by reedman Frank Myers; and the upbeat "Shooin' Flies," sung by Kay Austin. Other vocals are attributed to Bob Nolan, George Marks, trumpeter Clyde Davis, saxophonists Kenny Sargent, Ernie Winburn, and Pete Schmidt, and banjoist Ted Delmarter. Among the intriguing instrumentalists heard on this collection are trumpeter Goof Morrison, a euphonium handler called Ole Hoel, a trombonist named Jesse James, and a fiddler known as Brick English. This collection does not contain the complete recordings of Blue Steele and His Orchestra, but it's the best shot you'll probably ever have at familiarizing yourself with the sounds of this old-time southern Territory Band.

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