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The Big Bang Theory of Jazz - Louis Armstrong Arrives

Posted by Sherwin Dunner, November 26, 2012 05:15pm | Post a Comment

Louis ArmstrongIn what might be dubbed the Big Bang Theory of Jazz, the world began in April 1923 when King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong in tow stepped into the Gennett Recording studio and cut nine sides. The Oliver band had been knocking 'em dead for several months in nearby Chicago at the cavernous South Side dance hall Lincoln Gardens, and these recordings would become the gold standard for early New Orleans jazz. Even more significant for the future of jazz, although Louis would play his first recorded solos on these sessions, he would soon outgrow the limited space for him in such ensembles of collective improvisation. He just wanted to cut loose and blow, and as people heard him and his fame grew, he would evolve into the first star of jazz and almost single-handedly transform jazz from a dance music to that of improvising solo performance.

You can witness what Louis had become by 1933 in the first Louis on film – that year he was captured in a live performance on a Copenhagen concert stage – no Hollywood gimmicks or studio post-dubbing of music. And you can explore that transformation in Amoeba's new Vinyl Vault.  In honor of, and as tribute to Louis, we have added digital files of virtually all of Louis' early records from 1923 to 1928, remastered directly from the cleanest original 78s available. So have fun exploring the Louis Armstrong archive in Amoeba's Vinyl Vault.
 

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (April 1923 to December 1923)

King OliverWhen I first started collecting 78s, I avoided early “pre-electric” discs because the sound was a bit distant and thin compared to the electric process, which was still a few years off in the future, and I passed up many of these 1923 King Oliver Gennetts. Now I look back on my screwed up priorities and feel it was akin to throwing away a hundred dollar bill because it was too wrinkled. Musically, if not sonically, these early King Oliver Gennetts still hold up as some of the most exuberant discs ever recorded. Every player attacked the thread of melody at once, each adding fuel to the fire without getting in each other's way – never mind that you're not a jazz fan, and don't confuse these recordings with later derivative white revival “dixieland” (or “dorksieland” as some of my friends call it).  Early jazz was first and foremost dance music, the rock 'n' roll of its day, and New Orleans style was loud, brash, rock solid dance music, activating hormones and posing the same kind of threat to middle America that rock 'n' roll would in the 1950s. Check out this1925 headline from a Cincinnati newspaper zeroing in on the insidious influence of jazz.

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What Are Those Schlocky Pop 78s Doing in My Blues Record Collection?

Posted by Sherwin Dunner, June 22, 2012 06:50pm | Post a Comment

Over the years I've shared my favorite vintage 78s with friends who are not part of the hard core 78 collector crowd. While we might share a taste for the same films, books and restaurants, we're not quite on the same page with music, at least not yet. Since I'm fondest of music from the 1920s and 1930s, and that's a long way from the 21st Century, it's a challenge to break in those who live with contemporary sounds. Not that I'm hoping to make full converts, but if I share some of my favorite 78s, maybe some will cross the accessibility threshold and they'll acquire a taste for more. Inevitably, when it comes to 1920s jazz, most fall flat – it all apparently sounds like cartoon music. With blues singers, the all too familiar refrain is that it's three chords and the same song over and over. Even though I always play those I consider "can't miss winners," in principle I can't totally disagree with them as I've spent many hours squirming my way through what I consider “formulated” blues 78s by lesser, second tier blues singers.

The great country bluesmen seldom recorded a formulated dud, but in acquainting myself with their body of work, I discovered that those few 78s where country blues singers chose to work their magic on popular tin-pan-alley hits were some of my favorite 78s. It was refreshing to hear the different tempos, more varied melodies, and new notes coming out of the instruments of these masters once outside the confines of the blues idiom. The best selling sheet music for these songs could be found sitting on pianos in middle class homes. Orchestras in every podunk town were playing stock arrangements of them at dance halls. And in a few rare cases, they made it onto “race” records by blues singers. Some of my purist blues collector friends pointed out with a sneer, those were POP records, eyeballing me like there was a cancer hanging over my blues collecting impulse, yet I prized these performances over many of the straight blues sides, and whenever possible I would swing a trade for some of these pop records by blues singers. So I'm of a different ilk, not strictly a blues collector, but a music collector who likes great blues singers, especially when they are not singing the blues.
 

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Hula Time

Posted by Sherwin Dunner, December 15, 2011 03:40pm | Post a Comment
Sometimes you never know where the next batch of 78s will be coming from and it's often from unexpected places. Recently, we were contacted by San Francisco's Market Street Railway, an advocate for San Francisco's historic streetcars which run on the Market Street Line. One of their members bequeathed his books on trolley history to them, and included in the donation were the 78s bought by his Hawaiian wife back in the 1920s. Having no use for the records, they contacted us, and we were delighted to find a strong run of records by one of the great early Hawaiian bands that recorded in the late 1920s – Kalama's Quartet. Many other obscure Hawaiian 78s were part of the collection, but by far her favorite group was Kalama's Quartet, and for good reason. Along with steel guitars, ukelele, harp guitar and bass, they featured deeply moving four part harmony singing – raw and forceful, but delicate and beautiful at the same time.

Kalama's QuartetThe collectors of early Hawaiian 78s are mostly drawn to the steel guitar giants Sol Hoopii, King Benny Nawahi, and the rare as hen's teeth discs by Madame Riviera's Hawaiians featuring Tau Moe. In addtion to the traditional vocals, Kalama's Quartet features twin steel guitars, playing lead and harmony – more bang for your steel guitar buck, plus the exquisite Hawaiian falsetto singing of Mike Hanapi. Along with Hanapi (front) singing tenor and falsetto, their core personnel included the deep resonant bass voice of Bob Nawahini (left), the baritone of Dave Munson or Dan Pokipala (right) and the lead voice of Bill Kalama (behind Hanapi). They didn't bother to change their name to Quintet when somewhere along the way Bob Matsu was added as a second steel guitar.

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Welcome to the New 78 Blog

Posted by Sherwin Dunner, October 17, 2011 06:05pm | Post a Comment
We'll be keeping you up to date here with news related to our expanding activity with those breakable pre-vinyl artifacts sometimes referred to as “shellac” records.

Asian Lac BugAs a point of interest, shellac is not just an arbitrary tag pinned on 78s. Just like shellac's well-known use as a furniture finish, the secretion of the Asian Lac bug was also the primary ingredient for 78s from the beginning of the industry in the early 1900s up 'til around 1950, when vinyl began to replace it. It takes approximately 100,000 Lac bugs to produce one pound of shellac, so this species is owed a special debt of gratitude among fans of the 78 rpm record. 

Upcoming entries might offer tales of amazing 78 finds or "fish that got away" stories dredged from ancient 78 lore. We'll highlight overlooked 78s or artists you should hear. We'll invite contributions from guest collectors. As the next advance in digital technology hypes storing music collections in the cloud, we'll delve into the lingering appeal these arcane fetish objects still have for some of us.

We recently added a batch of 78s to the Buy Stuff section of Amoeba.com, which now allows 78 surfers to select “78” from the drop down menu to view all the 78s together by date added. Items can also be selected by specific category of interest. We will continue to add 78s to the site and encourage you to check back regularly. As with other items purchased on Amoeba.com, shipping is free on 78s (USA only), saving 78 buyers at least $4.00 or $5.00 on shipping charges they would normally have to foot on an eBay or private mail order purchase. We grade 78s conservatively. Find out more about our 78 grading codes

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