Andy Sannella

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Quality not quantity, the expression goes, but with Andy Sannella, one can literally drown in either. He was a top-notch reed player specializing in the clarinet and a highly original steel guitarist…
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Quality not quantity, the expression goes, but with Andy Sannella, one can literally drown in either. He was a top-notch reed player specializing in the clarinet and a highly original steel guitarist who managed to even make an impact with the Hawaiian crowd. Sannella, whose name is likely to show up missing an "n," turns up as part of some of the most historic sessions and key early encounters in American music history and also might have made history just by the sheer number of platters he played on. He got an early start making records on some of the first real popular music hits ever printed and distributed, but the prolific nature of his activity wasn't just about his being an old-timer. Utilizing all his instruments, which also included innovative use of cello and bass, he was part of a busy high-society big band scene whose members seem to have spent most of their free time hanging around in recording studios cutting multiple versions of the same tunes to be released simultaneously under several different band names. Sannella is in the running for having played in more bands than any other musician in history, but what trips him up is that many of these bands only existed on paper, the paper being glued in the center of a cheaply produced fox trot record to be sold for 13 cents at Woolworth's. The concept of making records like pancakes, always an appetizing comparison, is particularly apt in the case of the infamous Madison line of recordings; there are pancakes that, once allowed to dry out, would create a better sonic impression of a big band if placed on a turntable then some of these cheapjack sides. The high quality of Sannella's musicianship may have easily filtered down into these projects, but the best sense of his playing would have to come from the highwater marks in the discographical river that flowed under his own name, as well as collaboratory efforts with leading players and recording stars, some of whom recorded Sannella's compositions or decided to feature him on any one or all of his instruments. In the Virginians, Sannella was part of a fascinating combo with several brilliant players from late '20s: violinist Lou Raderman, virtuoso banjoist Harry Reser, and pianist Milt Rettenberg. One of the greatest groups of this era was Art Gillham's Southland Syncopators, the Columbia "house musicians" combo including the fine trumpeter Red Nichols, as well as the young clarinetist Benny Goodman. In the course of Gillham's superb run of releases, there is a patch heavy with Sannella's influence. There is a superb version of Sannella's original "I'm Waiting for Ships That Never Come In," while "The Saxophone Waltz" was really a record that handed Sannella the world on a platter in allowing him to write a piece for the group that would also feature him in the capacity of star soloist. This alto saxophone solo, played side by side with one of the man's guitar instrumentals, "Blues of the Guitar," makes a strong case for Sannella's versatility. The latter performance manages to evoke both the raw power and the elaborate ornamentation of Blind Lemon Jefferson, about as difficult to accomplish on the guitar as changing the instrument into a pretzel. Through the '30s and '40s, there were a variety of small groups that would cut three or more sides or go to work backing up a new singer someone was promoting, such as the Park Lane Trio featuring Sannella, Frank Signorelli, and Robert Michelson. Sannella blew clarinet in the band of polka king Frankie Trumbauer, then recorded for the Davis label with the Alpineers, a progressive polka collaboration first with the virtuoso accordion man Joe Biviano and then with the equally brilliant pianist Frank Banta. There were also credits with artists such as Bing Crosby and Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. Cliff Edwards & His Hot Combination featured Sannella on alto sax and cello, jamming alongside violinist Joe Venuti and guitarist Eddie Lang. The leader, best-known as the voice of Jiminy Cricket, really would have to wish upon a star to come up with such a great band. But listeners checking out the legend of Sannella will inevitably be drawn to the fascinating scrabble of the Madison recordings. Dozens of different band names, hundreds of different recordings, five different series of catalog numbers, and all of it the work of Sannella and his buddy Mike Mosiello. The Musical Masters Orchestra was actually just a trio, but the Melody Trio made up for it by having six members. Whatever number of players were in the group on a particular day, they claimed to have come from everywhere, except of course when the records were released without any band name on them. Meet the Atlanta Syncopators, the Broadway Syncopators, the Carlton Dance Club, the Frisco Players, the Hollywood Dance Orchestra, the Levee Syncopators, the Louisville Master Players, the Marlborough Dance Orchestra, the Nashville Jazzers, the Newport Society Orchestra, the Oceanic Dance Orchestra, and the St. Louis Serenaders. The madmen behind this musical factory never seemed to run out of ideas for band names, some of which would be useable half a century or more later. Joy Dispensers is better than Joy Division; Synco Jazzers would be a great name for a hip-hop or acid jazz group; People's Dance Orchestra suggests some kind of Mao-era Chinese big band. All these bands broke up the day in December 1962 when the American Federation of Musicians reported that the member known as Anthony G. Sannella had died.