Drummer Art Hickman's orchestra of 1919-1920 is often cited in jazz history books as being among the first dance orchestras to incorporate jazz rhythms and repertoire in its music, and it is sometimes cited as the first big band to use a saxophone section. Hickman's band, which slightly predated that of Paul Whiteman's, consisted of trumpet, trombone, two reeds, violin, piano, two banjos, bass, and the leader on drums and second piano. But until the release of this valuable CD, Hickman's recordings were so scarce that very few selections ever appeared on LP, much less CD. With this project, the Archeophone label once again earns its title as the premiere pre-1920 reissue label. With the exception of two bypassed tracks (both waltzes), The San Francisco Sound has all of Hickman's recordings dating from Sept. 15, 1919, through July 8, 1920. The 25 numbers shed a great deal of light on how Hickman's band sounded. Nearly all of the music is comprised of ensembles other than an occasional piano solo, and the improvising is subtle. The music swings in its own fashion and a variety of tones are provided by Clyde Doerr (who doubles on alto and baritone) and Bert Ralton (soprano, tenor, oboe, and English horn). Two numbers ("Wonderful Pal" and "Nobody Knows") feature the Art Hickman Trio, which is comprised of the two reeds plus pianist Frank Ellis. And while most of the numbers are today quite obscure, included is a future standard written by Hickman and heard in its original version: "Rose Room." The music is not quite as uninhibited as that of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (although the ODJB's innovations are felt), but it is hotter than the early Whiteman recordings. In general, the Art Hickman recordings justify this band being known as one of the very first jazz-influenced dance orchestras. Most importantly, the well-recorded (for the period) music still sounds lively and enjoyable today, 85 years later. Highly recommended to fans of early historic jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow