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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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The Jimmie Lunceford
Collection 1930-47





1. In Dat Morning

2. Sweet Rhythm

3. Breakfast Ball

4. Swingin' Uptown

5. Sophisticated Lady

6. Miss Otis Regrets

7. Star Dust

8. Black and Tan Fantasy

9. Dream of You

10. Solitude

11. Rain

12. Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down

13. Jealous

14. Shake Your Head from Side to Side

15. Runnin' Wild

16. Four or Five Times

Jimmie Lunceford & His Orchestra

17. Bird of Paradise

18. Rhapsody Junior

19. Avalon

20. Hittin' the Bottle

21. My Blue Heaven

22. Muddy Water

23. Raggin' the Scale

24. Annie Laurie

25. Frisco Fog


1. Pigeon Walk

2. Baby, Won't You Please Come Home

3. Blue Blazes

4. Sassin' the Boss

5. Wham Re-Bop-Boom-Bam

6. Swingin' on C

7. Monotony in Four Flats

8. Minnie the Moocher Is Dead

9. State and Tioga Stomp

10. I Had a Premonition

11. Blue Afterglow

12. I'm a Heck of a Guy

13. The Morning After

14. Battle Axe

15. I'm Walking Through Heaven with You

16. Okay for Baby

17. Hi Spook

18. Yard Dog Mazurka

19. Impromptu

20. Keep Smilin, Keep Laughin, Be Happy

21. Strictly Instrumental

22. I'm Gonna See My Baby

23. This Is My Confession to You

24. I Need a Lift

25. Water Faucet

Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra

Recorded 1930-47 [76:20 + 74:28]

The Lunceford band has always been considered one of the finest of all New York outfits of the 1930s, and yet how many great tracks do we remember? If one asks the question of Ellington or Basie the answers will fall like rain, but Lunceford? Similarly how many soloists in the band could even a confirmed admirer of the Big Bands of the time put a name to? Maybe Willie Smith, at a pinch, and later on Trummy Young or Sy Oliver: Snooky Young if you head towards the 1940s. But the dilemma remains. This was an often great band with strengths more in a corporate sound than in any great soloistic flair. It tended to be recreationist in its performances rather than innovative. Every time I come back to the Lunceford band I expect to be surprised anew by it but I always leave listening sessions feeling strongly it should have been – well, if not better, then at least more consistently exciting.

But a survey such as this twofer allows the listener to travel from the rather crude sounds of the June 1930 band – the Chicksaw Syncopators (and they live down to the name) – to the sides made for Majestic and Decca in the mid to later 40s. The radical change in sound and style came soon, certainly by March 1934 by which time sectional discipline is tight (often the same players are still in place such as little-remembered trombonist Henry Wells) and the arrangements, often courtesy of Sy Oliver, excellent. There’s now a taut, punchy power, often two-beat, and a more relaxed approach to rhythm. Solos are uniformly good but more colouristic than soloistic in the main. The only non-conformist was Smith whose often dazzlingly angular arabesques tickle the ear every time. They took by-now standard repertoire, such as Ellington’s Black and Tan Fantasy, and paid homage by retaining the Bubby Miley-inspired plunger work but without quite putting an independent stamp on it. Yet these Decca sides also turned up a fair amount of anodyne material, of which Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down is one example. Period vocals also intrude and trumpeter Eddie Tompkins, for one, is never going to be immortalised as a premier league singer. Another cul-de-sac followed was the fondness for swinging the Light Classics and folkloric material: Annie Laurie is only redeemed by a fighting trombone solo from the gutsy Trummy Young.

I think people will still appreciate the Dandridge Sisters whose Minnie the Moocher is Dead allows a fine quotient of humour to intrude but the Lang-Worth sessions of 1940 do feel more than somewhat as if the band was going through the motions. The material was mediocre, the performances dutiful. Frankly, the band sounds bored. Pianist Eddie Wilcox brought some arranger vitality to those sides a little later, and he plays fine Stride on his own Impromptu. But the writing was on the wall as Lunceford, seemingly as parsimonious as Duke, refused Willie Smith’s pay demands and the alto player left. He was replaced by Omer Simeon, ex-Jelly Roll Morton and a very different player, much more impressive on clarinet than doubling on alto. The full disbandment came in 1949.

There are useful notes and – praise be – full track details with dates and label release numbers. The sound quality is sometimes a little variable but never less than pretty reasonable. The Lunceford band offers an interesting case study and this twofer allows one to take in everything necessary to form one’s own judgement as to its strengths and failings in the tough consumer world of the 1930s and 40s.

Jonathan Woolf

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