Monday, February 09, 2009

We Went Canoeing and We've Been a-Wooing: 1913

The Hedges Brothers and Jacobson, On San Francisco Bay.
The Hedges Brothers and Jacobson, The Land of Cotton.
Al Jolson, Everybody Snap Your Fingers With Me.
Al Jolson, You Made Me Love You.
The New York Military Band, Hungarian Rag.
Gauhar Jan, Dadra.
Grupo Chiquinha Gonzaga, Sultana.

We are poor, with the accumulated poverty of over a thousand years...History has shaken us out of her sleeve into a severe environment and scattered us thinly over a vast plain.

The Russian people was not less heavily oppressed by nobility and Church than were the peoples of the West. But that complex and rounded-off way of life which, on the basis of feudal rule, grew up in Europe--that gothic lacework of feudalism--has not grown on our soil. We lacked the life-matter for it, we could not afford it. A thousand years we have lived in a humble log cabin and filled its crevices with moss--did it become us to dream of vaulting arcs and gothic spires?

No sooner had the young elements of the old estates entered the sunlit zone of European ideology than they broke away irresistibly, almost without inner hesitation, from feudalism and inherited orthodoxy. [The Russian intelligentsia were compelled to defend their most elementary rights by the most extreme and wasteful means.] It became their historical calling to use watches for knocking nails into walls.

Leon Trotsky, essay for Kievan Thought.

Easter Sunday, 1913, Fifth and 42nd, NYC (Shorpy)

One questionable theory promoted in Ken Burns' Jazz TV miniseries is that jazz emerged fully-fledged from New Orleans, a region-specific mutation of ragtime and blues: a theory that greatly shortchanges, among many things, the decades-long contribution of vaudeville performers, from Bert Williams to Nora Bayes to the Hedges Brothers, who seasoned the general public to be ready for the later revolutions of jazz. Syncopation, looser styles of singing, even the sense of swing--they could be found on the stage of a third-rate music theater in Syracuse as well as in the bordellos of New Orleans.

Or just listen to "On San Francisco Bay," a pop number torn to pieces by a trio of white vaudevillians in 1913, and tell me that it doesn't have some kick to it. When the chorus begins, the vocal harmonies are such you can't keep track of who is singing each line, and somehow a trio manages to sound like a quartet--it's a gonzo fugue.

Fred and Elven Hedges, from Philadelphia, and the pianist Jesse Jacobson, from California, became a performing trio at some point in the aughts, based in Philadelphia. By 1910, they were recording (a version of "Some of These Days," among others) and playing vaudeville theaters across the country. An October 1910 New York Times article notes them playing at the Alhambra Theatre, opening for Karno's Komedians, while a 1914 notice lists them (along with Joan Sawyer) in the Follies Marigny "on top of the Forty-Fourth Street Theatre."

In 1912, the trio went to London, where they spread the gospel ("One evening there, hot and astonished in the Empire, we discovered ragtime, brought to us by three young Americans: Hedges Brothers and Jacobsen (sic)" wrote John Boynton Priestley, in The Edwardians) and also cut some records for Columbia, one of which was the little miracle "On San Francisco Bay." The trio seemed set to outlive ragtime, as in 1920 they signed a six-year contract with a theater chain.

It is bit confusing as to what happened next. Mark Berresford, who wrote the liner notes to the compilation Ragtime to Jazz Vol. 4, claims that Elven Hedges gassed himself to death a week after the theater contract was signed. Yet other (admittedly quite spotty) sources indicate that Elven Hedges lived until 1931 (which seems right, as Elven is listed as a songwriter on some late '20s compositions). Freddie Hedges, however, apparently died in 1920, so perhaps he was the suicide. I've reached the limits of my non-scholarly, non-paid research, so anyone with more information please let me know, and I'll post it.

"The Land of Cotton" and "On San Francisco Bay" were recorded ca. April-May 1913 in London and released as Columbia 2172 and Columbia 2191, respectively; "Cotton" is on From Ragtime to Jazz.

Christmas at Jenny Lind Hospital for Sick Children, Norwich, UK, 1913

Few performers dominated their time as Al Jolson did; few were discarded as quickly by later generations (as early as the '50s, Jolson seemed like old news). With the rise of "cool" as a standard of the postwar years, Jolson, with his hammy, hectoring vocals, his blackface mugging, seemed like a loud embarrassment. Jolson's well-documented egomania, which created a generation of fellow performers who hated his guts, didn't do much for his posthumous reputation either.

Yet if you take Jolson at his own terms--in which the utter, vulgar shamelessness of his drive to entertain, and his relentless vitality and guile, are inseparable from his artistry--his records can still retain their old power. This is modern pop singing at its root level, crafted by a singer who is far more improvisatory, daring and extravagant than his backing musicians; one who is, without visible effort, sweeping away whatever standards of gentility and decorum still existed on the American stage in 1913.

Poster for the NYC Armory Show, at which America first met modern art (they didn't get along at first)

Gary Giddins once drew a comparison of Jolson and Elvis Presley: both outsiders (Jolson an immigrant urban Jew, Presley a Southern white working-class boy) with a taste for hot music, both mother-worshipers, both born to drive and bait an audience, both catholic in their musical tastes, both given to isolation in their later years. And Giddins notes that one of Presley's first Sun records, "I Love You Because," is a near-rewrite of the melody of "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," mimed by Scotty Beckett, the actor playing the teenage Asa Yoelson in The Jolson Story.

On June 4, 1913, Jolson cut both "You Made Me Love You" and "Everybody Snap Your Fingers With Me." "You Made Me Love You" would become an eternal standard, sung by everyone from Judy Garland to your grandmother, while "Everybody Snap Your Fingers" is cheap, forgotten pop. Jolson treats both songs as equals, making each a waxen impression of irresistible self-extravagance.

"You Made Me Love You" was written by James Monaco and Joseph McCarthy (no, not him), and introduced in the Broadway show The Honeymoon Express--Jolson's version, Columbia 1371, was one of its first recordings; Jolson's "Everybody Snap Your Fingers With Me" (Kalmer-Puck) was Columbia 1356 c/w "That Little German Band"; in this archive.

De Chirico, Ariadne

"Hungarian Rag" was composed by an actual Hungarian, Julius Lenzberg, but the New York Military Band's take on it is about as heartland Americana as you can get--the sound of a brass-band concert on a village green at midday on a summer Saturday, the carefully arranged perfection of an era that is just about to vanish.

"Hungarian Rag" was recorded ca. July 1913 and released as Edison Blue Amberol 2089 and Edison Diamond Disc 50123-L; find here.

The empress of India

Many of Gauhar Jan's early discs and cylinders were labeled "First Dancing Girl, Calcutta," although Jan, one of the first Indian musicians to record, wasn't a native. She was born Angelina Yeoward, the child of an Armenian Jew and a Jewish woman with the quintessential 19th Century name of Victoria Hemming. However, Victoria soon had enough of the West--she divorced her husband, took up with a man named Khurshed, converted to Islam and moved to Benares, India, renaming her daughter Gauhar Jan in the process.

By 1883, Gauhar and her mother had moved to Kolkata, where Victoria, now renamed Malika Jan, sang and entertained, while Gauhar trained with a series of Indian song and dance masters, until she could sing in "Bengali, Hindustani, Gujrathi, Tamil, Marathi, Arabic, Persian, Pushto, French, Peshawari, and English." (Suresh Chandvankar.) She performed at the mansions of the zamindars but the commoners loved her as well--hence her early move to making records (her first session was in 1902), many of which were massive sellers. "Dadra," recorded ca. 1913, is but one of hundreds. On Rounder's Vintage Music From India.

Philip Grierson and his father, ca. 1913

Francisca Edwiges Neves "Chiquinha" Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1847. The illegitimate daughter of a white father and a mixed-race mother, Gonzaga was married off at age 16 to a Navy officer who didn't approve of her musical ambitions (the story went that at one point, when he found her playing a violão, he told her to choose between it and him--she chose the guitar). After having three children, Gonzaga deserted her husband, was disowned by her father and became, eventually, the first woman in Brazil to get a legal divorce.

By the 1870s she had begun playing professionally, in the flautist Joaquim Callado's group O Choro do Callado, and was composing as well--she went on to be Brazil's first female conductor. She was entwined with Brazilian music until her death in 1935, leaving behind records, collaborators, disciples, reams of compositions and other keepsakes of a monumental life (she even, at one point, managed to free a slave, the musician Zé Flauta).

This recording of Gonzaga's 1878 polka composition "Sultana," recorded ca. 1913, is on O Melhor De Chiquinha.

Next: Red War Made Redder.

No comments: