August 23, 2011

BACK IN BUSINESS:

Swing's Forgotten King (MARC MYERS, 7/20/11, WSJ)

The Lunceford Orchestra had 22 hits in all, including the No. 1 "Rhythm Is Our Business" (1935), and it was the first black band to play New York's mainstream Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glenn Miller once said of the band: "Duke [Ellington] is great, [Count] Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them both."

Yet today, Lunceford and his recordings are largely forgotten--victims of the cultural demarcation known as World War II. While most major bandleaders of the late '30s kept their names alive by continuing to record decades after the war, Lunceford's orchestra went into decline after 1944 and fizzled soon after his death, listed as a heart attack but more likely the result of racially motivated food poisoning in Seaside, Ore., in July, 1947.

Now Mosaic has released a remarkable seven-CD box, "The Complete Jimmie Lunceford Decca Sessions," featuring material recorded between 1934 and 1945. The 146 remastered tracks not only chronicle the band's role in swing's emergence but also illuminate why so many black and white bands envied Lunceford's orchestra.

Though the Mosaic box does not cover Lunceford's entire output during these years--he recorded for Columbia's Vocalion label in 1939 and 1940--the Decca recordings showcase the evolving skills of the band's arrangers. This group included trumpeter Sy Oliver, alto saxophonist Willie Smith, pianist Eddie Wilcox, trombonist Eddie Durham and trumpeter Gerald Wilson.

"The band could swing anything the arrangers came up with--and a lot of it was tricky stuff, even at slower tempos," said Mr. Wilson, 92, who is believed to be the last surviving member of Lunceford's prewar band.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at August 23, 2011 6:34 AM
  
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