Jazz at 100 Hour 11 – Kansas City and the Territory Bands

Mary Lou Williams – “The Lady Who Swings the Band.”

Outside of the Chicago – New York nexus, jazz thrived during the late 1920’s and 1930’s in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, with its center in Kansas City. Under the careful control of Boss Pendergast, Kansas City was a wide open town with a thriving night club music scene, nurturing musicians like Joe Turner, Count Basie, Ben Webster, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Working the urban centers and roadhouses in the region were a slew of “territory bands” only a handful of whom are preserved in the recorded legacy. In this hour, we’ll explore the early jazz of Kansas City and the Territory Bands.

Our guest today is Jeff Decker – saxophonist, composer, educator and member of the jazz performance faculty of the University of Virginia McIntyre School of Music.

“A distinct style of jazz gradually took root in the [Kansas City’s] environs, drawing on disparate elements: the blues tradition of the Southwest, the big band sounds of the Northeast, and the informal jam session ethos of Harlem. Each of these would be transformed in its Kansas City form. The elaborate orchestrations favored by the New York arrangers would be pared down, giving way to simpler riff-based charts. These quasi-minimalist textures of Kansas City jazz imparted a looser feeling to the music, allowing even big band performances to retain the hot and-ready ethos of the after-hours jam sessions, whose informality of spirit lurked behind—and no doubt inspired—the head charts and written scores. But more than anything, the rhythmic essence of this regional style would set it apart.” – Ted Gioia

Pete Johnson & Joe Turner.
Although on the edges of jazz history, no discussion of KC in this period can skip Pete Johnson and Joe Turner, who played six blocks from the immortal corner of 12th Street and Vine where they held court at the Sunset Café. Johnson was a percussive pianist whose work found recognition in the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930’s. Joe Turner owned several musical incarnations, charismatic shouter in Kansas City in the 1920’s, New York solon darling in the 1930s, rock & roll pioneer in the 1950’s (recording “Shake Rattle & Roll”) and “Boss of the Blues” in later life, recording until 1983.

Climbin’ And Screamin’. Pete Johnson.
(Pete Johnson-p). 4/16/1939. (Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano)
It’s All Right, Baby. Pete Johnson & Joe Turner.
(Pete Johnson-p, Joe Turner-voc). 12/23/1938. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)

Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams.
Catching a major break, Andy Kirk led one of the first bands signed to the fledgling Decca Records in 1936. Decca grew to be one of the major labels of the era, eventually signing Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Billie Holliday and Louis Jordon (and even Bill Haley & The Comets). “The musical genius of the group was the pianist and arranger Mary Lou Williams, whose approach to big-band writing caught the ear of everyone from Duke Ellington to Benny Goodman (they both commissioned work from her) to an unknown teenager named Thelonious Monk.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

“Her charts, such as ‘Mary’s Idea’ and ‘Walkin’ and Swingin’, ‘ were marked by a happy mixture of experimentalism and rhythmic urgency, while her playing soon earned her star billing as “The Lady Who Swings the Band.” – Ted Gioia

Mary’s Idea. Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy
(Edgar Battle, Harry Lawson-tp, Allen Durham-tb, John Harrington-cl/as, John Williams-as/bs, Lawrence Freeman-ts, Claude Williams-vln, Mary Lou Williams-p, William Dirvin-bj/g, Andy Kirk-bsx/bb, Edward McNeil-d). 4/30/1930.
Walkin’ And Swingin’. Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy
(Harry Lawson, Paul King, Earl Thompson-tp, Ted Donnelly, Henry Wells-tb, John Williams, John Harrington-as, Dick Wilson-ts, Mary Lou Williams-p, Ted Robinson-g, Booker Collins-c, Ben Thigpen-d). 3/2/1936. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
The Lady Who Swings The Band. Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy
(Harry Lawson, Paul King, Earl Thompson-tp, Ted Donnelly, Henry Wells-tb, John Williams, John Harrington-as, Dick Wilson-ts, Mary Lou Williams-p, Ted Robinson-g, Booker Collins-b, Ben Thigpen-d, Harry Mills-voc). 12/9/1936.
Scratchin’ In The Gravel. Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy
(Harold Baker, Clarence Trice, Harry Lawson-tp, Fred Robonson, Ted Donnelly-tb, John Harrington-cl/as/bs, Rudy Powell-cl/as, Dick Wilson-ts, Edward Inge-cl/ts, Mary Lou Williams-p, Floyd Smith-g, Booker Collins-b, Ben Thigpen-d). 6/25/1940.

Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.
Benny Moten led an influential Kansas City Band that started recording in 1926. In 1927, he recorded “Moten Stomp”, which was later recorded by Fletcher Henderson. With its banjo solo and slap tongue sax work, it is a representative recording of the period. Over the next several years, Moten formed the core of a truly legendary band, bringing in many players from Walter Page’s Blue Devils – trumpeter Hot Lips Page, Count Basie and even Page himself, “Father of the Walking Bass”. To this he added the tenor sax of Ben Webster. By the time they recorded “Moten Swing” in 1932, as the titles indicate, they had evolved from a stomping band to one of the most swinging.

Moten Stomp. Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra
(Ed Lewis-cor, Paul Webster-cor, Thamon Hayes-tb/voc, Harlan Leonard-cl/ss/as, Jack Washington-cl/as/bs, Woody Walder-cl/ts, LaForest Dent-a/ts/voc, Bennie Moten-p, Leroy Berry-bj, Vernon Page-bb, Willie McWashington-d. 6/2/1927.
Band Box Shuffle. Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra
(Ed Lewis-cor, Booker Washington-tp, Thamon Hayes-tb, Eddie Durham-tb/g, Harlan Leonard-cl/ss, Jack Washington-cl/as/bs, Woody Walder-cl/ts, Ira “Buster” Moten-p, Count Basie-p, Leroy Berry-ban, Vernon Page-b, Willie McWashington-d). 10/23/1929.
“By the time of the Moten band’s landmark Victor session from 1932, it was playing at a peak level that few jazz ensembles anywhere could match. This December 13, 1932, visit to the studio produced a number of the most exciting big band tracks of the decade, including classic sides such as … ‘Prince of Wails,’ ‘The Blue Room,’ and ‘Moten Swing.’ Yet these would also be the Moten band’s final recordings. – Ted Gioia

The Moten Band was a totally swinging band, while still relying in part on an older repertoire – Fletcher Henderson’s “Prince of Wails” is from 1924 and Jelly Roll Morton and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings “Milenberg Joys” was recorded the previous year. Count Basie still carried his pianistic influences from early learning under Fats Waller into performances like “Prince of Wails.”

Prince of Wails. Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra
(“Hot Lips” Page-tp, Joe Keyes-tp, Dee Stewart-tp, Dan Minor-vib, Eddie Durham-tb/g, Eddie Barefield-cl/as, Jack Washington-as/bs, Ben Webster-ts, Count Basie-p, Leroy Berry-g, Walter Page-b, Willie McWashington-d). 12/13/1932
Milenberg Joys. Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra
(“Hot Lips” Page-tp, Joe Keyes-tp, Dee Stewart-tp, Dan Minor-vib, Eddie Durham-tb/g, Eddie Barefield-cl/as, Jack Washington-as/bs, Ben Webster-ts, Count Basie-p, Leroy Berry-g, Walter Page-b, Willie McWashington-d). 12/13/1932

Moten Swing. Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra
(“Hot Lips” Page-tp, Joe Keyes-tp, Dee Stewart-tp, Dan Minor-vib, Eddie Durham-tb/g, Eddie Barefield-cl/as, Jack Washington-as/bs, Ben Webster-ts, Count Basie-p, Leroy Berry-g, Walter Page-b, Willie McWashington-d). 12/13/1932 (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“Moten Swing succinctly reveals what this band achieved. Here by late 1932, was a large jazz orchestra which could swing cleanly and precisely according to the manner of Louis Armstrong – a group which has grasped his innovative ideas of jazz rhythm and had realized and developed them in an ensemble style.” – Martin Williams from the notes to Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz

Count Basie.
When Bennie Moten suddenly died in 1935, Count Basie became a bandleader. John Hammond wanted badly to record him for Columbia, but Decca got to Kansas City and signed him first. So Hammond recorded Basie with his rhythm section – Walter Page on bass and Jo Jones on drums – plus Tatti Smith on trumpet, Lester Young on tenor sax and Jimmy Rushing on vocals, even before Decca got started. These legendary recordings signal Lester Young’s introduction to the world outside of Kansas City.

“The impact of those records was immediate, and semi-revolutionary on at least three counts: Lester Young’s solos finished Coleman Hawkins’s decade-long unchallenged hold over the tenor saxophone; the Basie-Page-Jones unit redefined the rhythm section; and the totality of the performances brought to jazz an expansionist élan, supple and almost giddily liberated. Ten years after Louis Armstrong codified jazz as a soloist’s art and Duke Ellington unlocked its singular compositional textures, Basie and his men embodied an audacious widening of the canvas.” – Gary Giddens

Shoe Shine Boy. Jones-Smith Incorporated
(Carl “Tatti” Smith-tp, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 11/9/1936.
Boogie Woogie. Jones-Smith Incorporated
(Carl “Tatti” Smith-tp, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d, Jimmy Rushing-voc). 11/9/1936.
Oh, Lady Be Good. Jones-Smith Incorporated
(Carl “Tatti” Smith-tp, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d, Jimmy Rushing-voc). 11/9/1936.
“In ‘Oh, Lady Be Good,’ you can hear the youthful zest of Lester Young’s style at its peak… All the attributes he brought to jazz are apparent, from the initial entrance, followed by a rest a long rolling phrase, to the slurred… notes, polyrhythms, staccato single notes, pitch variations, and unfailing swing that make this improvisation a riveting experience.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

“Hawk was the master of the horn, a musician who did everything possible with it, the right way. But when Pres [Lester Young] appeared, we all started listening to him alone. Pres had an entirely new sound, one that we seemed to be waiting for.” – Dexter Gordon

In the next hour, we’ll follow Coleman Hawkins’s growth from his large ensemble offerings of the late 1920s and 1930s with Fletcher Henderson , McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the Mound City Blue Blowers to his landmark recording of “Body and Soul” in 1939.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Piano. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings 0391
Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – Band Box Shuffle 1929 – 1932. Hep 1070/2 2CD
Classic Jazz: Vol. 071, Andy Kirk (1929-31). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Classic Jazz: Vol. 018, Bennie Moten (1926-27). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Swing Time: Vol. 073, Lester Young Vol. 1 (1936-39). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Mary Lou Williams – Mary’s Idea. GRP 622

Resources.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press
“Pianists of the 1920s and 1930s” by Henry Martin
“Lester Young” by Loren Schoenberg
Gelly, Dave. 2007. Being Prez: The Life and Music of Lester Young. London. Oxford University Press.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 8. Count Basie and Duke Ellington
Chapter 9. A World of Soloists
Giddins, Gary. Visions of Jazz: The First Century (p. 173). New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 19 – Count Basie/Lester Young (Westward Ho! And Back)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – Band Box Shuffle 1929 – 1932

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