Princeton Triangle Jazz Band

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The Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band was named for a student organization that staged musical shows at New Jersey's Princeton University. It was formed in 1923, the year that Professor Henry Van Dyck…
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The Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band was named for a student organization that staged musical shows at New Jersey's Princeton University. It was formed in 1923, the year that Professor Henry Van Dyck retired from teaching at that institution. The timing was perfect, for the puritanical Van Dyck was an outspoken opponent of jazz, miscegenation, and art for art's sake. The students who chose to form a group entirely devoted to this controversial music were operating under the influence of Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Bix Beiderbecke, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland, Hoagy Carmichael, and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, who were already attracting attention by sitting in with Ed Kirkeby's California Ramblers. The influence of these musicians is clearly detectable in many of the Princeton Triangle Jazz Band's recordings, and especially the later ones. According to pianist Herb Sanford, the band's first documented public appearance was in the club's 1924 production Drake's Drum both on-stage and as the pit orchestra. This was followed by a tour of more than 20 cities, a series of recordings for the Columbia label, and a summer full of live dates in England and mainland Western Europe. According to Sanford: "We played at all kinds of events -- subscription dances, college proms, a party given by the King and Queen of Spain, a dance aboard Marconi's yacht during Regatta Week at Cowes." Being Ivy League had its social benefits, as the band once found itself booked for a debutante ball at the Ritz. This was an extraordinarily solid little group, and they soon became capable of swinging at least as hard as the equally skilled and tightly arranged Waring's Pennsylvanians who had made such a splash at the University of Michigan in 1922. While the Waring band was capable of executing complicated passages with dizzying facility behind romantic or comedic vocals, the Princeton boys preferred instrumentals, and by 1927, were capably emulating their authentic jazz idols. Two members, cornetist and tenor guitarist Bill Priestley and accordionist Edwin Squirrel Ashcraft, were good friends with Bix Beiderbecke, who attended the Princeton Triangle Club's Baltimore performance of Napoleon Passes and was tickled when he realized that his famous break from "Riverboat Shuffle" had been incorporated into the band's arrangement of "You Know Who." In March 1928 when the group recorded two titles that were not Princeton Triangle Club show tunes ("That's a Plenty" and "China Boy"), they adhered to principle by billing themselves as the "Equinox Orchestra of Princeton New Jersey," named for the Equinox House Hotel in Manchester, VT, a favorite summer retreat for both Princeton and Yale enrollees. Two months later, freshman and aspiring actor Jimmy Stewart delivered a sweet vocal on their recording of "Day After Day." The band's heyday ended after Ashcraft and Priestley graduated in 1929, although six more titles were cut in 1930 and 1932. For its final recording in January 1932, a reconstituted version of the group was led by banjoist Doug McNamee, again under the name of the Equinox Orchestra. Thirteen recordings by the Princeton Triangle Jazz Band were reissued on a Biograph LP during the '70s. A nearly complete edition containing 21 tracks was released by Vintage Music Productions in 2001.