All Hopped Up Music and Maps: Chapter 1
This first Playlist – “Harlem Strut” – serves to introduce some of the music that Mario Bauzá would likely have heard in New York City when he first visited from Cuba, in 1927, at the peak of the Jazz Age, and again, when he returned to live, in 1930. There is, understandably, a focus on the sounds of Harlem, where much of the city’s nightlife was based, and that focus is evident in some of the titles. James P. Johnson’s “Harlem Strut,” recorded in the early 1920s, was one of the first to celebrate the Black Metropolis, and is considered one of the stride pianist’s benchmark compositions. Both Johnson and Fats Waller, one of his many students, played the speakeasies and rent parties of mid-twenties Harlem; Waller’s “Handful Of Keys,” recorded in 1929, has been labeled “possibly the perfect stride piano recording.”
The intriguing “bull dagger” Gladys Bentley was performing at the Clam House on Jungle Alley (133rd Street) in 1927; the following year she entered the studio for the first time. While her voice on “Red Beans And Rice” bears no comparison to that of the great Bessie Smith in her landmark 1925 recording of “St. Louis Blues” (featuring Louis Armstrong on cornet), Bentley’s popularity was such that, for a while, she lived on Park Avenue with her own servants.
The “stomp” sounds of the Savoy Ballroom, the block-long, multi-racial nightclub where the big black jazz bands of the era would routinely line up on the venue’s twin stages to battle each other through the night, are represented by the Savoy Bearcats’ “Sengalese Stomp” and, especially, by Fletcher Henderson’s “Variety Stomp.” Recorded on April 27, 1927, shortly before Bauzá first arrived in New York, “Variety Stomp” features Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax among other stellar musicians.
Henderson’s esteemed Orchestra had opened Harlem’s Cotton Club back in 1923. In 1927, the residency was turned over to Duke Ellington, who composed and recorded countless “jungle” jazz pieces – like the 1930 recording “Jungle Nights in Harlem” – to accompany the African-flavored revues presented at the club (which nonetheless excluded black customers). At Small’s Paradise, which catered likewise to white “Negrophiliacs” though it did not discriminate at the door, the Charleston held supreme through much of the 1920s, with waiters dancing their way through the tables, and Charlie Johnson and his Paradise Band, the epitome of “Harlem Orchestra Music,” holding court on the bandstand.
Mario Bauzá soaked up much of this music, but he was equally taken by Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra, which he heard at the Paramount Theater in midtown that June of 1927. Whiteman has been denigrated for his Eurocentric arrangements of jazz, but he played a significant part in affording the music its respectability with classical audiences. Like his cornetist Bix Beiderbecke’s “Lonely Melody,” recorded with Whiteman’s orchestra in 1929, sax player Frankie Trumbauer’s “Deep Harlem” is a long way removed from the jazz that was played uptown, but Trumbauer’s impact on Bauzá was such that when he returned to Cuba, he immediately set about switching the clarinet for the saxophone, the better to make his own way in New York jazz.
All of these recordings, I believe, were made in New York City itself.
Firstly, however, the importance of “El Manisero” (“The Peanut Vendor”), as recorded by Don Azpiazu’s Havana Casino Orchestra in New York City in 1930 can not be underestimated. An immediate sensation, quickly covered by Louis Armstrong among others, it inspired the 1931 Hollywood movie Cuban Love Song and with it, launched the American infatuation with all things Cuban, Rhumba and Conga, regardless of authenticity. Azpiazu’s vocalist on the 1930 recording was Antonio Machín, who had already recorded it with his own Sextet in Havana the previous year, and would periodically continue to revisit the song over his career. You can hear the 1930 hit recording in full via this YouTube clip.
Mario Bauzá joined a newly solo Machín for recording sessions in 1931 (switching to the trumpet to do so), and in 1933, settled into the trumpet section of Chick Webb’s Orchestra, who were slaying audiences nightly at the Savoy Ballroom. Bauzá was granted the first solo on Webb’s 1934 landmark recording of “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” and though that track arguably became more closely associated with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, there was no doubt which of the bands won a famous Battle at the Savoy in May 1937: Goodman’s drummer, Gene Krupa, was quoted as saying of Webb’s performance that night, “I was never cut by a better man.” Just a few weeks later, in July 1937, Goodman’s Orchestra recorded “Sing Sing Sing,” Krupa embarking on some nine tom-tom interludes that stretched the recording to over eight minutes. Its release was broken up over two sides of a 12” single, a first in popular music.
The inclusion of “King Porter Stomp” from the same era is important in that Teddy Hill’s orchestra, especially its lead trumpeter Roy Eldridge, was a massive influence on Dizzy Gillespie, who came to New York in 1937 – and by May of that year, had already talked himself into joining Hill (sans Eldridge) for a tour of Europe. Bauzá was, for now, still playing with Chick Webb, whose orchestra had been considerably boosted by the presence of Ella Fitzgerald; her vocals can be heard on “Holiday In Harlem,” while the Webb Orchestra’s more free-spirited tendencies are evident in “Harlem Congo,” which includes some inspired drum fills from Webb himself.
Bauzá left Webb in 1938 and soon joined the most prestigious black orchestra in the country, that of Cab Calloway, who was riding the ongoing craze for Cuban and tropical music to its limits. Calloway was, at heart, a populist, but “Chili con Conga” should be noted nonetheless for its inclusion of the Cuban percussion instruments the maracas and claves, which, along with Bauzá’s presence, lend the performance more authenticity than many other faux Afro-Cuban jazz recordings.
Their friendship having formed at the Savoy, Bauzá soon brought Gillespie in to play alongside him; Dizzy’s first notable performance with Calloway was on 1940’s “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” on which he took an extensive, highly-regarded solo. Prior to that, in September 1939, he had taken the first solo on “Hot Mallets” at an all-star session led by Lionel Hampton, and which also featured Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Charlie Christian. As I observe in the Notes at the back of All Hopped Up, ‘No wonder Gillespie, only 20 years old at the time of the session, later described described himself “nervous as a sheep shitting shingles.”’ Gillespie’s solo can be heard at the start of the MP3 clip.
Like Gillespie, Bauzá’s brother-in-law, Frank “Machito” Grillo, a vocalist and maracas player (a dual role held by many Cuban band-leaders), arrived in New York in 1937, quickly establishing himself with some of New York’s most renowned conjuntos and cuartetos. In 1940, he and Bauzá formed their own authentically Latin Orchestra; their decision to call themselves the Afro-Cubans was later hailed by percussionist Bobby Sanabria as “one of the bravest acts in the history of the civil rights movement.” Establishing themselves at the La Conga nightclub in midtown, the Afro-Cubans were soon signed to Decca, and in March 1942, on only their second session, recorded “Sopa de Pichon,” a major hit in Spanish Harlem and other Latino enclaves.
As a result of this instant popularity, the Afro-Cubans were teamed up with “Mr. Babalu,” Miguelito Valdés, who had moved to New York in 1940 from Cuba and was widely considered the top singer in Latin American music. It is Valdés’ voice heard on this Playlist’s version of “Nague,” composed by Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo (more of whom in Chapter 2); as with “Bim Bam Bum,” it was recorded in July 1942 for Decca, shortly before the AFM strike and the war put paid to Machito’s commercial recording career for several years. A teenage Tito Puente played timbales on this famous session, though on precisely which tracks has never been fully determined. Like Machito, Bauzá and Gillespie, Puente would feature heavily in the subsequent fusion of Afro-Cuban and America jazz music.
With the exception of “Pickin’ the Cabbage,” it’s my understanding that, again, all the recordings from this Playlist were made in New York City.
Click on this link or the one above to open this Chapter 1 Map in a separate page, where you will see the locations of all the major clubs, ballrooms and other important Harlem landmarks referred to in the opening chapter, as well a couple of the midtown nightclubs. You might also enjoy the Drop Me Off In Harlem map, which I found especially useful when compiling my own.
The MP3s on these amazon.com playlists mostly link through to solid CD retrospective compilations of the artists. For anyone looking to dig further, I’d like to give a special shout-out to the Proper record label’s 4-CD box sets, which retail at ridiculously low prices (even more so in the label’s UK homeland) and yet come with expansive booklets that include detailed biographies, copious recording notes and plenty photographs. I purchased the Proper Label’s Box Sets on Chick Webb, Machito, and Dizzy Gillespie during the course of my research, and came to greatly value them all. The label’s full catalogue of 133 box sets can be found at its website here.