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Sessions of 1939

January 14th


Nat, Oscar and Wesley have made it together right on into 1939. Under the happenin'' handle of King Cole Swingsters, they hit the studio January 14th to record some more transcriptions for radio broadcast. A very interesting session, partly recording some Trio numbers, partly doing a solo Nat vocal, partly backing a vocalist named Juanelda Carter, and partly backing a vocalist named Bonnie Lake, this Bonnie not lying over no sea.

* with Bonnie Lake, vocal
+ with Juanelda Carter, vocal

Hm a few tracks look familiar? Yep, some were also subsequently pressed on commercial 10" 78s. I'm not clear if these would have inadvertently constituted Nat's first commercial records. I am clear that these are the same as appear on the Savoy Jazz CD (ZDS 1205).


Nat's solo song is That Please Be Mine-able Feeling, a quick paced Trio number, sung with energy and apart from Oscar on acoustic, sounding just like the Capitol Trio days. Many are swing novelties. In Dixie Jamboree we are treated to a visual in the back yard of this swing-infected scene:

"Even Grandma swingin' while she sips her tea
It's the Dixie Jamboree"

They still sound tentative on the unison vocal scat routines now and then. To my ears Nat seems to be taking the initiative to lead the passages more assertively and it helps. Nat also takes their usual swing-scat unison vocals one further with a solo scat passage in two numbers; surely not squeezing any sweat out of ol' Satchmo's brow and getting Ella in no kind of worry, but ahead of what I'd probably stutter out.

Bonnie Lake was the sister of famous actress Ann Southern (real name Harriet Lake), the booklet tells us. Ann's lesser known sister here has a pretty voice and manner and good timing. Generic (well it was 1939 pop) but not a bad singer to be sure. It was Bonnie who arranged this whole session (at the studio across the street from NBC where Nat & gang had a gig on the air at this time - a little place called Radio Recorders). She also recorded a few songs with Artie Shaw's band and she also wrote two hit songs, so if she's unknown next to Ann Southern it wasn't for the lack of doing anything.

Absolutely nothing whatever is known anymore about poor Juanelda Carter "except that she was black and believed to be about 17 or 18." She has a cute, pillow soft, quiet voice, much less assertive than Bonnie's. Not very good alas; the piano clearly overwhelms at a few points, she reaches a bit to make it and her timing is lost in long lines. More modern miking techniques clearly would have been a great help to her... I don't like being harsh, as her three songs in these recordings may be the only thing left of her today.

Bonnie's best to my ears is the cliche but wistful The Land of Make Believe. The Trio try some background harmony vocalizing at one point and wisely shut up for the rest lol... they're terrible at it. Oscar The Frustrated Guitarist is pretty low key most of the time, but he goes to it in That Please Be Mine-able Feeling. Nat's piano accompaniment to this Bonnie's vocals is accomplished technically but quite florid, upstaging her more than a bit; clearly he hasn't yet become the master of this aspect that he would be just a few years later. This isn't helped by the fact that the engineers here are picking up the piano with a good deal of room that makes his playing wash around her close, quiet vocal. There are also many obvious fades between pickups, leaving me feeling that this session was recorded a bit more casually than the usually fine standards the Trio enjoyed.

The song writers for most of these aren't even known, but at least one was co-written by Nat (a ballad Jaunelda sings called I Wouldn't Have Known It). The highlight to me is Nat's piano break in Ta-De-Ah, though I'm at a loss to describe it. A bit of Basie in his '36 session? Solid from way back, Jack.

Also would like to applaud Doug Pomeroy for the excellent transfers of this rare and doubtlessly difficult material.

February (date unknown)

Undecided is a neat song that probably had more miles put on it than a lot of folks at the time appreciated. As noted in the booklet, they even do the verse (and clearly aren't well practiced at it either!). There's the obligatory scat chorus (which they do have down pat) too. From wherever in the world he was in his backing of the chorus, Nat goes right into his solo, and I mean right into it, plowing along at such an unpromising (to my musical ear) footing I was sitting there going, "huh?" Leave it to them to make this an enjoyable Trio side none the less.

'Tain't What You Do (It's The Way That Cha Do It) could have fit in the Decca Trio set, Hit That Jive, Jack. The sentiments of the song are wonderfully fitting for the gentlemen relating them and this track as well.

It's worth mention that not everything pop songsmith Jimmy Van Heusen did was worth a mention. Because that relieves us of the next track.

Riffin' In F Major has a neat angle and a general tempo feel of another early Trio instrumental and dance sensation Black Spider Stomp (we've all done that one!). Featuring some deft fluid yet tinkling lines (note to self, those are two descriptors best not used together again) traced by both Nat and Oscar, it's clear they enjoy this one.

Louis Armstrong had a hit in 1935 called Old Man Mose. Its even bigger selling 1938 "cover" was by Eddy Duchin & His Central Park Casino Orchestra, by dubious virtue of His Central Park Casino Canary (er featured vocalist) Patricia Norman seeming to some listeners to have made a surprisingly significant swap of the first consonant of the word bucket. This resulted in buckets of shellac being hauled around as Patricia provided the young adults of the late '30's with the same sort of meaninglessly hot contention and blunted needles folks in the late '60's thought was a new cultural experience when John Lennon unwittingly grooved in non-violent homage to sauced cranberries whilst making his ode to Strawberry Fields.

As you can see, fruity stuff like that can make for surprisingly pleasant squandering of human exchange unto this very day. Lest we go forth without substance like a constable with inexplicable supplementary income passing through a speakeasy, we'll note that Louis' version sold far fewer copies due to a very different and far more substantial subject of controversy, but that it is also far superior to its well-discussed cover and a fun blast from that era (all three takes of it).

Dispensing with substance again, back to the next track, which was a Trio novelty send-up of sorts called Ol' Man Mose Ain't Dead. They skip the "controversy" of the misheard word of course, and now we've implied there might have been some sort of point to the novelty, I wouldn't be quick to say that they knew what it was getting at instead. That is there would have been no brush near the phrase related to the "controversy" but for the fact Oscar and Wesley "helpfully" repeat "kick the bucket" twice after Nat's verse tries slipping right by. Interesting how one can have obscure humor in a blindingly obvious novelty.

Never mind; it's still fun thanks to that Trio swing, yet more of their delicious playing and (my guess) Wesley Prince relishing an uncanny Evil Laugh in the intro. Oscar the Moore Frustrated Guitarist gets in one of his best solos on record to date, and Nat matches with a solo of his own. Though there's no mystery why this one didn't have a commercial record release later on, it probably provided an amusing diversion for an occasional radio spot. It also reminds us that the Trio had a timely aspect that I can only speculate might have been more pronounced in their live material than selections they committed to radio or records.

Blue Lou is as routine an instrumental as the Trio gets. But it points up that Nat hasn't quite lost a slight "honky tonk" plunkiness heard on earlier digitizing. It's still a fatter fingered feel (for lack of a sillier term) than his chromed touch later but I seem to hear it refining already.

Honey could've been titled Corny and in fact I'll call it that so nyah. They're filling air time here, with typically fine musicianship.

Ah now for the good part. Irving Berlin's oft-trod 1927 tune Russian Lullaby makes for a robust Trio instrumental. Not having managed his famously full notes (limitations of the instrument at this point in time), Oscar stacks in more notes of course but he gets the most out of what he has and in doing so his is already a distinct "voice." I dig the bass particularly, shifting fluidly from big walking steps to a swinging rhythm.

Busy session! Thanks to Doug Pomeroy, "engineering," for leaving good bass.

April (date unknown)

Georgie Porgie features unison vocals to the extreme of handing lines to both Oscar and Wesley, as well as featuring the then-typical "rrat do dat do dat do day" business of serving swing time in the '30s. The subject is a fellow who's "a mess" but confidentially, also a lady killer. But enough about this closet Don Juan, the real puddin' in this pie is a delightful instrumental break that sees them serving up some tricky unison playing to compliment, and a nice run of walking bass.

The Limp starts with (aptly enough) limping chords and keeps right on going in another fun off-kilter pattern. With a couple of lurches, Oscar launches into a wonderfully teetering feature that's among his best break recorded to date. Nat goes a-jaunting right off for an extensive stroll with a quirky hitch in the step (in the time by all three and underscored by a jostling strum from Oscar) and Wesley on bass carries into a regained mobility, albeit not a level one, before resuming The Limp to the close. Brilliant track from a novel theme.

Snug As A Bug In A Rug (hey someone had to do a song from that phrase!) opens with Wesley sawin' at the bass for a buzzy, furry, fat and lumbering note that sets us off on just the right keel to swing us a tune referencing the bugs and the bears (I think birds and bees fit in there somewhere but nevermind kids). It's actually a suitably warm and cute piece of news about the pleasure of having a particularly contact-oriented and energy-conserving method of co-habitation (or it'll bug ya as being so corny you can't bear it). The unison vocals are fun, a section they divide to one lead scat and two harmonizing is excruciatingly bad (but does fit the feel of the song, bearly) and unison scat is relatively minimal. In the break, Wesley's lyrical bass help make a bed for Oscar's sprightly guitar and Nat's patented all-defining tuneful improv to fumble around in. I think that about covers it...

Incidentally, we're reminded that these are for radio transcription; there are obvious mistakes in the unison vocals that suggest at least one of our good fellows isn't any too familiar with their lyric, and there's even the sound of something being dropped, probably the flubbin' fellow's under-loved music sheets. Were this a session for Capitol for records, I'm reasonably certain they would've scrapped this take early on. No matter; even with mistakes, the live performance style only served to point up the groovy cohesiveness of the Trio.

Reaching just a few years back (to 1847) it's Lieberstraum time. No it's not an ale, no matter how pale, nor a time to get hopped up on beer, that's Nat arranging an item from Franz Liszt. But you might want to order a few of the former. This ain't the Barcarole that the Trio cut a sensational arrangement of later. No, Franz would cross this off his liszt with scissorsz. Nat seems to be intent upon "tinkling" a note through measures like an athlete limbering up for a marathon, and is about as enjoyable to hear as the latter is for a hamstring elasticity-challenged viewer to watch. Oscar plays with a sometimes similar bent of busily filled notes but with less polish than his normal stunning gloss. Wesley is fine throughout though and leads up to a nice "collapse" at the finish. To say the pace is quick and some areas tricky would be to suppose Bing made a buck or two. Impressive in some respects but to my mind a low spot among their instrumental works.

Rat dat do da do dat da da da! Back to unison scatting and a vocal novelty feature wherein the players observe a "dizzy" and excitable cat who hangs around forever listening to the band playin'. Yes, he's 'Fidgety' Joe, "The Paganini of the second row" they tell us. :D It's over in a minute really, but with our gang going on into an involved guitar break from Oscar, who's complaining? Aside from noting one of 'em really flubs some lyrics yet they always get the unison scat bits right, we'll move on.

Ah a nice instrumental next, apparently titled Two Against One but who wrote it isn't known for certain. After some piano heavy on the fingerin' featured in Liebestraum earlier in the session, Nat features on celeste (for the first time on record?) in a slightly similar vein. His playing is perfectly adept and pretty; in fact I wonder if his piano at times in this session wasn't seeking an expression he found better voiced by picking up the celeste. Maybe a fancy he was having at the time.

Long before the famous film Some Like It Hot with Monroe, there was apparently another film by the same title, from which sprang a song performed here by the Trio. Co-written by the great drummer and swing band legend Gene Krupa, it turns out to be a rather cliched novelty, complete with an analogy to Emperor Nero. It'd also be well over by a minute, but again we have a lucky instrumental break. This one could've made a Trio cut all its own. Wesley has a particularly strong showing on bass here, taking turns featuring with Oscar up to Nat's turn, which is taken a breakneck pace. It made me like it hot, yes sir.

I Like To Riff is next, and if you're listening I hope you like that riffing done unison scat style.

That's all for this session, I hope the read was at least a fraction of the pleasure a lot of this obscure Trio is to hear. Solid! See you later, senders and arrivers, riff on.