RED NICHOLS and MIFF MOLE: New York Jazz of the Twenties
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Red and Miff’s Stompers (Side 1): Loring (Red) Nichols (cnt) Miff Mole (tb) Jimmy Dorsey (cl,as) Arthur Schutt (p) Vic Berton (drs) New York; early 1927
Original Memphis Five (Side 2): Phil Napoleon (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Jimmy Lytell (cl) Frank Signorelli (p) Jack Roth (drs) New York; 1923
Red and Miff’s Stompers
Stampede (4:35) (Fletcher Henderson)
Alabama Bottom Stomp (3:48) (Creamer – Johnson)
Black Bottom Stomp (3:46) (Jelly Roll Morton)
Hurricane (4:29) (Paul Mertz)
Original Memphis Five
Jelly Roll Blues (3:19) (Jelly Morton)
The Great White Way Blues (4:22) (Signorelli – Napoleon)
Bunch of Blues (3:52) (Kelley – Wyer)
Shufflin’ Mose (4:41) (Signorelli – Napoleon)
The 1920s have come to be known as the ”Jazz Age” – which is somewhat of a source of confusion to anyone concerned with jazz as music. For the term is usually intended much more as a description of the rip-roaring way of life of that far-off, apparently incredibly carefree span of years than as a reference to any specific musical style. Nevertheless, it’s a term with quite a bit of relevance to this LP, for to a vast number of people “Jazz Age” is a phrase that can only mean New York, and its speakeasies and right-off-the-boat Scotch and a particular brand of jazz just about synonymous with the names of RED NICHOLS and MIFF MOLE.
There was, of course, an amazing quality and variety of jazz afoot in the ‘20s. Big bands and small; a profusion of styles identifiable by one of the many geographical handles; an almost endless list of highly talented, memorable musicians. All this belonged to the ‘20s, and much of it made rather significant contributions to the sum total of jazz. While the men and the style represented in this collection may not rank at the very top of some absolute scale of values, the work of Nichols, Mole, Phil Napoleon and their colleagues does have it’s own unique claims to fame and respect.
Not the least of these claims is the one indicated above; it reflects with a rare and penetrating accuracy the spirit of the times to which it belongs. This is obviously nothing that musicians ever have in mind at the time, but it’s often – as here – one of the chief values (and joys_ of a recording reissued some thirty years after it first made its appearance.
The music of Red and Miff’s Stompers and of the Memphis five is also noteworthy as typifying one major force in shaping that prevalent form of small-band jazz which now goes loosely by the name of “Dixieland.” Basically, Dixieland today is compounded of perhaps three main strains; white New Orleans style as brought to New York by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and to Chicago by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings; the Chicago style of Eddie Condon and his cohorts’ and the New York style of Nichols and Mole with which and with whom the Chicagoans merged when they emigrated to New York later in the decade.
During the period spanned by these two sets of recordings, the Nichols-Mole kind of jazz remained in “pure” form. Perhaps the most important influence apparent (besides, possibly that of the O.D.J.B.) is of the musical context of New York – which is to say, much dance-band work and as much recordings with big jazz bands as with small, producing an early emphasis on smoothness of sound and on at least partial use of arrangements. But this did not mean that either Nichols or Mole played with anything other than a hard-bitten enthusiasm. They play also with an awareness of their Negro jazz contemporaries – note the names of Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson and Fletcher Henderson among the composer credits – although there was apparently neither the ability nor the inclination to handle their jazz in precisely the same fashion.
Miff Mole was actually the only true native practitioner of “New York jazz.” This may serve to point up the fact that it’s usually highly misleading to label music with the names of cities, and may also be used to stress the big city’s role as a magnet and a melting pot for talent. Miff was born on Long Island in 1998, which made him a shade older than most of the others; but it was undoubtedly skill rather than seniority that made him the trombone player of his day and place. Mole turns up on innumerable record dates, indicating a heavy demand for his substantial technical competence (in an ear when “technique” was more often the exception than the rule) and his ability to play either very hot or very straight, as needed. And Mole surely did more than any other early white trombonist to rescue the instrument from the comedy roles to which it was in danger of being relegated.
Almost from the start, Miff’s most frequent jazz companion was Red Nichols, who had almost literally been born a cornetist. His father was a music professor in Ogden, Utah; Red reputedly made his first public appearance at the age of five. A dozen years later he had left school to play with George Olsen’s band, reaching New York when he was barely eighteen. Then followed a most busy and fruitful span of years in which he worked, in person or on records, with: a long string of dance bands (Paul Whiteman, Sam Lanin, Don Voorhees, the California Ramblers and what-have-you); some of the amazingly all-star pit bands of the musical comedies of the ‘20s (for “Strike Up the Band,” for example, the personnel included Benny Goodman, the Dorsey brothers, Gene Krupa); and, above all, with the very many small groups he organized solely for recording purposes.
There’s one important, seldom-made point about Nichols, concerning his status as an “imitator” of Bix Beiderbecke. While Red, like a great many other horn men, was profoundly impressed and even influenced by Bix, it can be demonstrated, by early Nichols recordings, that he was using that clean, round sound long before he could possibly even have heard of Beiderbecke. And while no one would ever think of Phil Napoleon’s trumpet as exactly Bix-ian, his work on the second side of this LP helps to clarify the whole situation. There’s enough similarity between Phil and Red in attack and tone here to indicate that there was a broad, general way in which many “hot” horns were being played in those days.
There are other similarities between the two sides. Both hands recorded these for the same long-defunct label. Also, as a most important factor in both there is Miff, blowing deep and solid throughout. Napoleon, who was an extremely prolific recording-studio leader himself in the mid-20s, may not have all of Nichols’ lift and drive, but he played a clear, melodic lead than was far above average. Both groups are helped by good clarinet work and hampered a bit by none-too-strong rhythm sections (somehow a standard situation in this New York style). And both turn out to have weathered the years surprisingly well, to be musically interesting and enjoyable, rather than just of value as museum pieces.
This slight surface noise on this LP is due to the limitations 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.