MUGGSY SPANIER and his Bucktown Five
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
The Bucktown Five: Francis (Muggsy) Spanier (cnt) Guy Farey (tb) Volly De Faut (cl) Mel Stitzel (p)
Marvin Saxbe (bj) Richmond, Indiana; February 25, 1924
The Stomp Six: (on #1 and 2): Same personnel, with Joe Gish (tu) added
Chicago; probably November 1924
Everybody Loves My Baby (2:52) (Palmer – Williams)
Why Couldn’t It Be Poor Little Me? (2:35) (Kahn – Jones)
Buddy’s Habits (2:19) (Straight – Nelson)
Chicago Blues (2:31) (Biese – Altiere – Williams)
Mobile Blues (2:16) (Short – Rosen)
Steady Roll Blues (2:38) (Bates – Stitzel)
Really a Pain (2:42) (Kassell – Sturr- Spanier)
Hot Mittens (2:50) (Saxbe – De Faut – Stitzel)
From the first driving cornet notes of Everybody Loves My Baby that kick off this LP, there’s no doubt that you are in the presence of men who love and understand the spirit of traditional jazz, who know to make it a most exciting musical experience. The only doubt would come if you were tricked into listening to these numbers without knowing who was playing on them: then there’d be a good chance of not realizing you were hearing white musicians.
For MUGGSY SPANIER has always been far closer than most to the beat and the distinctive sound of Negro jazz. There has always been a great deal of the warmth and drive of Louis Armstrong’s horn in Muggsy’s work and Louis once summed it up, aptly and concisely, in this way: “He’s one of us and nobody’s going to change him.” And, since the time he made the records that are reissued here, nobody has changed Spanier much. He was a bit less than eighteen years old then, and he’s played a lot of music in the years between, but then and now he stands as the closet any Chicago jazzman has ever come to the concepts and the sound of Louis and of King Oliver.
Often in his career, Spanier has stood more or less alone with those concepts. Except for a strange detour or two (he spent most of the Depression years of the ‘30s buried in the Ted Lewis band) he has for the most part played with men who are his friends, and whose music might not be considered radically different from his. Bu the difference was and is there. They have been musicians whose jazz is for the most part what is called “Dixieland” today. And it stems much more from the patterns set by the early white groups – the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in Chicago, and a bit later the New York jazz of Red Nichols and his colleagues – than from the Negro tradition.
But back at the start, at the time of the two 1924 sessions that produced these numbers, that pattern has not yet been set. The N.O.R.K., of course, was paying in Chciago (and a band somewhat influenced by them, Bix Beiderbecke’s Wolverines, had been recorded for the first time in the Gennett studios one week before the Bucktown Five turned up there). But the Austin High Gang, who actually evolved the white Chicago style, were still presumably doing their homework, or at best just beginning to discover jazz. It was three years before the first records in that vein were made (these sides, on which Spanier is also prominently featured, can be found on Riverside RLP 1004; Muggsy, Tesch and the Chicagoans). Muggsy, who was born on the North Side on November 9, 1906, and began his professional career at the age of 15, was therefore playing jazz before this style took shape. Thus he was free to turn directly to the straight-from-New Orleans source music of groups like Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
It’s obvious that this was the direction in which not only Spanier, but the other men on these selections as well, were looking. Although the tunes they play are mostly in the nature of pop numbers of the day, with only the last three having band members among their composers, there is scarcely a trace of the “vo-de-o-do” that so often crept into white jazz of the period. Volly (which is actually a contraction of “Voltaire,” no less) De Faut plays in a clarinet style that owes as much to Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Noone as to Leon Rappoplo. (It’s worth noting that so exacting a performer as jelly Roll Morton cut a duet side with De Faut at about this time – it can be found on Riverside RLP 1027: Jelly Roll Morton’s Kings of Jazz. Considering that the only other duets Jelly ever made were two with King Oliver, the implied compliment to Volly is considerable.) Guy Carey, who apparently made scarcely any other recordings, turns out to be a solidly tailgate trombonist. Mel Stitzel had been on piano with the N.O.R.K. – but being with that band and playing directly under the New Orleans influence of men like George Brunies. Paul Mares and Rappolo is a very different thing from playing in imitation of the Rhythm Kings.
In effect, that would seem the root of the difference between the Bucktown Five and the Chicagoans. The musicians on this LP drew their inspiration directly from the transplanted giants of Negro New Orleans jazz, which is very much what the Louisiana-born members of the N.O.R.K. had done back home in the first place. This seems a better idea than taking your music one step further removed from the source, which is what the Chicagoans’ initial basic dependence on the N.O.R.K. amounted to. If the Bucktown Five sounds not quite like, for example, Louis’ Hot Five, attribute it to the fact that they are being driven by some of the most remarkable cornet playing of its kind ever produced by a non-Negro.
The only unfortunate point to be noted is that this LP offers just about the only recorded examples of precisely this kind of jazz. The Bucktown Five made seven sides for Gennett early in 1924; later that year virtually the same group cut two more numbers for the obscure and short-lived Autograph label. They never worked together again; only Muggsy went n to any sort of fame; and it was the other Chicago jazz that caught the public’s attention. Except for the brief flurry that produced his 1939 Ragtimers sides on Bluebird, Muggsy was never again to be surrounded by a band with quite the same understanding of (and ability to play in) the strictly \righteous’ style. This doesn’t mean that he hasn’t often been in very good company and played some outstanding jazz; of course he has. But it seems no exaggeration to say that he’s never had reason to feel as completely relaxed and at home as on these very first dates.
A note on the original recordings. The original Gennett label numbers and (in parentheses) master-numbers of these recordings were: Mobile Blues (11767) on Ge 5405 – where it was coupled with Someday Sweetheart (11772), not included here; Chicago Blues (11769)/Buddy’s Habits (11771) on Ge 5418; Steady Roll Blues (11766)/ Really a Pain (11768) on Ge 5419; and Hot Mittens (11770) on Ge 5518. Everybody Loves My Baby (148) /…Poor Little Me (149) were on Autograph 626.
This slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitation of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 west 49th Street New York, 19, N.Y.