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



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DON NEELY'S ROYAL SOCIETY
JAZZ ORCHESTRA

Plays Hot Jazz of the 1920s

Merry Makers Record Company
MMRC-CD-46

 

 

1. Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie
2. I'm Comin' Virginia
3. Everything is Hotsy Totsy Now
4. Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight
5. Go, Joe, Go
6. San
7. Tiger Rag
8. Louise
9. The Payoff
10. Walkin' My Baby Back Home
11. Copenhagen

Don Neely - Reeds, vocals
Tom Brozene, Manny Alcantar - Cornets
Dick Randolph - Guest cornet soloist
Howard Miyata - Trombone, vocals
Ron Deeter - Clarinet, alto sax
Lin Patch - Clarinet, tenor sax
John Benson - Piano
Pat Dutrow - Banjo, tenor guitar
Rick Siverson - Tuba, bass sax, vocals
Jimmy Hurt - Drums
 
Recorded in November, 1980, on the concert stage at San Jose State University, San Jose, California.

 

In addition to the small combos playing hot jazz during the so-called "Jazz Age" of the twenties and the early thirties, jazz "orchestras" consisting of ten or eleven pieces were playing music often considered more "commercial" and geared more toward dancing, perhaps, than that of the smaller five- to seven-piece groups we usually think of as jazz "bands." These orchestras ranged, in size, anywhere between the small groups and the behemoth of an orchestra playing "symphonic jazz"-that of Paul Whiteman, which at its zenith had around two dozen or so musicians. By the end of the thirties most of these orchestras, to survive, had turned to playing swing.

The second jazz revival that occurred in the seventies saw this type of jazz-flavoured orchestra of the twenties enjoy something of a comeback, one of them being the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra in the San Francisco Bay Area. As we are told in the sparse liner note on the back of the cover of this CD, a group of San Jose State University students, at the urging of Don Neely, got together "to play some old stock arrangements from the music department." Thus began the RSJO.

These young musicians went on to make a concerted effort to be a "genuine" twenties orchestra, and not just in terms of the arrangements of the tunes and the instrumentation of the group. When they came to make this recording in 1980, considerable effort was put into making it as nearly a 1920s' recording as possible. In a communication about this CD, Howard Miyata, one of the participating musicians (with a good memory!) told me, in an email,

That recording was our first recording done in the concert hall at San Jose State University. The distant sound is due to the fact we tried to recreate 1920s' recording technology. I was playing on a bar stool balancing on two wooden boxes to get the balance right!  We used megaphones for vocals; we, however, used two mikes for stereo as a small nod to fidelity.

The leader, Don Neely himself, confirmed this, telling me that

The band used a set-up similar to that used in acoustic recordings where the softer instruments are close to the mic and the louder instruments farther back. I used a megaphone on Clap Hands and Hotsy Totsy.

The result of all these efforts is a twenties-sounding jazz orchestra-other than the stereo effect, of course. Several tracks are tunes that one never, or seldom ever, hears today: Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie; Everything is Hotsy Totsy Now; Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight; Go, Joe, Go; The Payoff. Of these, I had heard only the first and third before, and that was eons ago. But it's not hard to imagine the dancers taking to the floor ready to one-step as the band launches into Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, the vocal largely ensemble with Neely supplying a spoken bridge. The whole arrangement is very tight and crisply played, with the percussion effects by Hurt impressive as he shifts effortlessly between temple blocks, choke cymbal, and snare.

For I'm Comin' Virginia, Siverson switches to bass sax, and guest cornetist Randolph provides a Bixian lead. On the following track Siverson stays on bass sax and takes a solo that demonstrates his facility on that cumbersome instrument, accompanied by the rest of the rhythm section and leading up to Neely's vocal. Then comes Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight, which opens with Siverson's vocal, accompanied by Dutrow's solo guitar: a nice change of pace. The next tune, Go, Joe, Go, is a strange one with multiple breaks, all of which would require keeping one's eye firmly on the score.

After that is San, opening dramatically with a single note on the Chinese gong. The arrangement of the tune retains the oriental flavour, giving the tune a new (and refreshing) interpretation. Following that comes the old war horse Tiger Rag, taken at a brisk tempo and giving trombonist Miyata a fine opportunity to exercise his "tiger chops". Spicing the piece is an ensemble chorus of patter in a break, all adding up to a fine rendition. As Louise opens, one must listen closely to hear the celeste introduction leading into Neely's vocal. Following the vocal is a solo by Randolph, who once again tries with some success to remind us of Bix. For the coda, Neely comes back to take another vocal, this time with a pseudo-French accent (sending up Chevalier), nicely backed with some mildly derisive sounds and bird calls. Great stuff.

The Payoff (it's usually written Pay Off), a composition by Howard "Howdy" Quicksell, is tricky and has everyone on their toes, but it doesn't do a great deal for me, although others give it a different assessment. Walkin' My Baby Back Home is quite familiar, in part undoubtedly because it enjoyed great popularity in the fifties, being heard on radio constantly by the likes of Nat King Cole and Billy May. On his vocal Miyata doesn't try any kind of imitation of Cole, but he does rather slyly slip briefly in a spoken bridge in what sounds suspiciously like the manner of Peter Lorre's Mr. Moto. Rounding off the programme is Copenhagen, which provides almost everyone a moment in the spotlight, whether it be a chorus or a break, with a little added hokum of whistles blowing in the background and assorted outcries from non-blowing members in the out-choruses.

The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra is still playing today with, as might be expected after some thirty-odd years, a much different personnel than the one on this CD. This first recording of the original band, however, shows an enthusiasm and musicianship in those young men that was remarkable, and this CD is both a testament to and a worthy memento of that. Unfortunately no other tracks from that recording session exist, so this CD's programme could not be augmented; what is here is only what was on the original LP but well worth reissuing on CD.

Bert Thompson



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