VENUTI, Joe: Stringing the Blues

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JOE VENUTI "Stringing The Blues"

Original 1926-1931 Recordings

The most dextrous fiddler — and probably most colourful personality — among first-generation white jazzmen, Joe Venuti was also one of the most prolific of all early jazz recording artists. Born Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Venuti to Italian immigrant parents at 1010, Christian Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 16th September, 1903, he grew up in his native city where he attended the Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic School and the James Campbell Public School. At the latter establishment he first met guitarist Ed(die) Lang. (Born Salvatore Massaro in Philadelphia, on 25th October, 1902, Lang (aka ‘Blind Willie Dunn’), also second generation Italian, hailed from a similar family background and began his musical training with eleven years on the violin before switching to banjo and guitar, at the instigation his guitar-playing, instrument-maker father).

The two young musicians formed a friendship (their rapport is apparent right from their first, definitive jazz violin—piano duet of 1926, Stringing The Blues) and first played together professionally at local gigs before joining Bert Estlow’s quintet in Atlantic City, in 1921. From about 1923 Joe played intermittently in groups fronted by cornettist Red Nichols in New York and elsewhere and by late 1924 was directing the Book-Cadillac Orchestra for Jean Goldkette (he had also toured with the Goldkette orchestra and made his first commercial recordings for the Victor company with them, in Detroit, in March of that year; Lang became a Goldkette orchestra stalwart from mid-1926 ).

By 1925 Venuti had moved permanently to New York. He played with the Roger Wolfe Kahn band (October 1925—June 1926) and was regularly in ensembles featuring most of the leading white players of the day, including Nichols, Frank Signorelli (1901-1975), Frankie Trumbauer (1901-1956), Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. During the late ’20s, with Lang, he co-led a band at annual seasons at the Silver Slipper in Atlantic City and his other New York residencies included the prestigious Vanity Club, in 1928. A regular session-worker in the pit orchestras of several Broadway shows he was also for many years in great demand at recording sessions in small groups and backing ensembles for the major companies.

In 1925 Venuti recorded with Henry Busse’s Buzzards (for Victor) and Miff Mole’s combo The Deauville Dozen (for Perfect/Columbia) and in 1927 he cut various sides with Larry Abbott, Irwin Abrams and others. His 1928 recording credits include the Tampa Blue Artists (backing group of pioneer crooner Seger Ellis), Andy Sannella’s Californians and the All-Star Orchestra (featuring Tommy Dorsey). He worked with the Paul Whiteman organisation intermittently from May 1929 until May 1930 (he was Whiteman’s guitarist in the film King Of Jazz) and by the close of 1932 he had collaborated in sessions with, among others, Smith Ballew, Bix Beiderbecke, Chick Bullock, Hoagy Carmichael, The Boswell Sisters and Ruth Etting. From 1933 onwards he played regularly in Victor sessions by the Dorsey Brothers and from 1935 he fronted his own band which toured until the early 1940s.

Venuti made his innovative first solo recordings with Ed Lang for Columbia in New York, in September 1926. Instantly hailed as the premier jazz players of their respective instruments, their legendary collaborations on disc (prior to Lang’s premature death in March 1933) numbered a further 32 sessions. These included the classic Blue Four series which were soon to prove so influential on Reinhardt, Grappelli and the Hot Club de France (in these they were joined by Arthur Schutt (1902-1965) or Frank Signorelli on piano and the prodigiously talented Adrian Rollini (1904-1956) on bass-sax) and numerous items by Venuti’s twelve — or thirteen — piece ‘New Yorkers’.

All members of these pioneering groups were hand-picked for their exceptional technical skill and notwithstanding their remarkable ability to integrate in ensemble, each is a virtuoso soloist in his own right. While Venuti extemporises nonchalantly on the theme of Debussy’s "La fille au cheveux de lin" in Doin’ Things and negotiates ‘four-voice’ chordal passages with bow reversed in Four String Joe with Heifetz-like dexterity, in Running Ragged, cornettist, clarinettist and alto-saxophonist Trumbauer further evidences his virtuosity as a bassoonist.

Peter Dempsey, 2002
Disc: 1
The Wolf Wobble
1 The Wild Cat
2 Sunshine
3 Stringing the Blues
4 Kickin' the Cat
5 Beatin' the Dog
6 Cheese & Crackers
7 A Mug of Ale
8 Penn Beach Blues
9 Four String Joe
10 Dinah
11 The Wild Dog
12 Pretty Trix
13 The Man from the South
14 Goin' Places
15 Doin' Things
16 Running Ragged (Bamb)
17 Really Blue
18 I've Found A New Baby
19 Little Buttercup
20 The Wolf Wobble
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