The Kingfish Files

Author: host Created: 1/30/2011 12:59 PM
Celebrating the music and musicians of early jazz.
By host on 9/25/2010 3:00 AM
  When a song continues to be recorded for 100 years, you know it must be good. And "Chinatown, My Chinatown" is one of the best. Of course the tune is infectious, but the lyrics are also special in their expression of affection for "Chinatown": Chinatown, my Chinatown, Where the lights are low, Hearts that know no other land, Drifting to and fro, Dreamy, dreamy Chinatown, Almond eyes of brown, Hearts seem light and life seems bright In dreamy Chinatown.Neither condescending nor offensive, the writers convey the "otherness" of Chinatown as a dreamlike place that held as much fascination to westerners then as it does today. The American fascination with China in the 1910s and 1920s was not limited to Chinatown -- I remember well my grandmother's...
By host on 9/19/2010 3:00 AM
  In the 1920s, collaboration between black and white musicians had to be done behind the scenes. One of the most famous instances of this was the collaboration between guitarists Eddie Lang (white) and Lonnie Johnson (black). They recorded a number of memorable sides with Eddie adopting the pseudonym "Blind Willie Dunn". "Blue Blood Blues" is a particularly significant recording not only for the great playing of Lonnie and Eddie, but for the fact that Joe "King" Oliver appears as a sideman and Hoagy Carmichael provides rhythm and scat vocals. What a scene that must have been. ...
By host on 9/12/2010 3:00 AM
  Alberta Hunter started recording in the 1920s but had one of her biggest hits in 1940 with "My Castle's Rockin'". Alberta is known for her earthy style and the often earthier lyrics of her recordings. But she always carried it off with class. This tune features the piano playing of Eddie Haywood. Eddie was one of the early masters of the boogie woogie style, but here's a really interesting item. Eddie also wrote the standard "Canadian Sunset" which, if you listen to it carefully, is really a slowed-down boogie woogie tune. In fact, you can hear the bass riff of "Canadian Sunset" in Eddie's solo on this recording. ...
By host on 8/22/2010 3:00 AM
  After his smash hit "My Blue Heaven", song writer Walter Donaldson established his own music publishing company. While he never matched the success of his big hit, he did pen a number of lovely tunes, including "Lazy Lou'siana Moon". This recording by Annette Hanshaw features the Hawaiian guitar stylings of Frank Ferera, the father of Hawaiian slide guitar. Slide guitar was incredibly popular in the 1920s in many forms, from blues to country to jazz but especially in it's "Hawaiian" form typified by staccato articulation and broad vibrato. ...
By host on 8/15/2010 3:00 AM
Bing Crosby and Al Jolson shared a two interesting similarities. They both performed frequently in blackface. And they both recorded with the Mills Brothers. One might shake one's head at the seemingly preposterous incongruity. Why, after all, would the Mills Brothers agree to record with artists who employed a stage character associated with denigration and racism? The answer is simple, I believe. First, by the early 1930s blackface was still an accepted, if fading, form of stage presentation. Second, Jolson and Crosby, despite their use of blackface, could hardly be considered racist (at least by the standards of the time). Crosby in particular was quite public that Louis Armstrong was his biggest influence as a singer....
By host on 8/8/2010 3:00 AM
Louis Armstrong - "Rhapsody In Black And Blue" Last time I presented Louis Armstrong's great recording of "If I Could Be With You", which is a wonderful example of his great artistry. This week I present another side of Louis' career, the part that involved Louis playing a role in an overtly racist film. In later years Armstrong was criticized by black musicians allowing himself to act in what was considered an subservient, or at least ingratiating way to white audiences. Louis was hardly alone in accepting demeaning roles -- that was how black actors and actresses fed themselves. Yet, despite the negative aspects, black artists distinguished themselves even when presented in a negative context. In this film, as bizarrely racist as it is, Louis' playing shines through in complete dignity. ...
By host on 7/25/2010 3:00 AM
Sunday, July 25, 2010 Louis Armstrong - "If I Could Be With You" - 1930 The song "If I Could Be With You", written by James P. Johnson, was a popular hit long before Louis Armstrong recorded it in 1930. Yet, Louis' recording is just remarkable, not only for his usual musical brilliance, but also for the steamy introduction that only he could deliver. And check out the incredibly modernistic piano intro by Harvey Brooks. I hope you enjoy it. ...
By host on 7/18/2010 3:00 AM
Sunday, July 18, 2010 Mamie Smith - Crazy Blues Starting in the 1920s, record companies issued recordings of black artists on "race records", labels that recorded only black artists. You might think this was just an extension of Jim Crow but, in fact, it was the idea of black musician and promotor Perry Bradford who felt that race labels would give black performers opportunities to record that they would not otherwise have. And he was right, race records were a success not only among blacks but also among whites. Some contend that Bradford put the first brick in a wall separating black and white artists, a wall that would grow to encompass not only musical recordings but also movies well into the 1950s. Others insist that the wall was always there and that race records at least gave blacks a way to record. Bradford hit success on his first...
By host on 7/11/2010 3:00 AM
The Boswell Sisters This week the Kingfish Files offers a video/audio two-fer featuring The Boswell Sisters. The Boswell Sisters -- Connie, Helvetia and Martha -- were one of the most popular recording acts of the early 1930s. But more than that, they were an integral part of the hot jazz scene of the 1920s. Growing up in a musical family in New Orleans, each girl was trained in both classical and popular music. Connie played cello and saxophone, Vet played violin and banjo, and Martha played piano. They counted as friends Louis Prima, Leon Roppolo, Monk Hazel, Tony Parenti and Emmett Hardy. Connie recounted that as a girl she was equally influenced by Enrico Caruso and Mamie Smith -- such were the influences that formed early jazz. And the Boswell's in turn influenced their fellow musicians with their inventive and unconventional vocal arrangements. "An Evening in Caroline" ...
By host on 7/4/2010 3:00 AM
Sunday, July 4, 2010 Dan Levinson - "I Found a New Baby" - Paris, 2010 In some (if not most) jazz circles, traditional jazz is viewed as a quaint vestige of a bygone era, not as a vital and important voice in contemporary music. I would argue that just the opposite is true. Yes, the modernists hold sway in the minds of the critics and the elite jazz clubs, but the continuing popularity of traditional jazz serves as a firm reminder of how this music speaks to the soul. After all, have you ever seen a contemporary jazz player struttin' with some barbecue? I thought not. Among the best of the current traditional players is Dan Levinson whose virtuosity on the clarinet and depth of understanding of the early jazz styles is unmatched. This week's offering is a video taken from a jam session in Paris earlier this year featuring Dan and the Doc Scanlon Trio. Listen and enjoy! ...

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