by Hal Smith
The first recordings of Jazz giants Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and Bix Beiderbecke never cease to amaze me, no matter how many times I listen to those historic sides.
Though subsequent recordings would showcase his virtuosity on cornet, trumpet and vocals, Armstrong's first record ("Chimes Blues," with King Oliver from 4/15/23) shows that his playing style was almost fully formed at the age of 21.
Similarly, Teagarden's solo chorus on "She's a Great, Great Girl" with Roger Wolfe Kahn and his Orchestra (3/14/28) showcases Big T's beautiful tone, effortless technique and his gift for melodic improvisation. The record was made when Teagarden was 22.
Beiderbecke's first recording, "Fidgety Feet" with the Wolverines Orchestra (2/18/24), is more of a preview of things to come. Bix was 20 when the record was made. The listener will hear flashes of his ethereal tone and the rhythmic concept that spawned a new way of playing jazz. Still, Bix's style in 1924 was still "under construction."
Many other great musicians made their first records at early ages, but one of those recordings continues to be a real mindblower, "Deed I Do" by Ben Pollack and his Californians (recorded 12/17/26) with Benny Goodman on clarinet.
From the mid-to-late 1920s, Ben Pollack's orchestra was considered to be one of the best hot bands anywhere. Pollack, an outstanding Chicago drummer, cut his musical teeth with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. His own '20s-era ensembles included top jazzmen such as Goodman, the aforementioned Teagarden, and Glenn Miller, Fud Livingston, Frank Teschemacher and Bud Freeman.
Unfortunately, not all of the Pollack recordings allow the listener to hear the hot music that the band was capable of playing. But "Deed I Do," recorded in Chicago on 12/17/26, is plenty hot and includes an absolutely spectacular half-chorus by Goodman.
Composed by Walter Hirsch and Fred Rose, "Deed I Do" was a current popular song when the Pollack band recorded it (Pollack's photo adorns the sheet music). The recording begins with a "symphonic jazz" introduction and leads into an ensemble chorus in the key of F, with reeds playing melody, violins accompanying and brass "pecking." A brief interlude leads into the rarely-heard verse, with eight bars of Bix-influenced cornet played by Earl Baker. The reeds take the second half, and the orchestra makes a quick modulation to Eb for bandleader/drummer Pollack's vocal (Critics tend to be harsh concerning Pollack's vocals, but this writer believes that drummers make excellent vocalists!).
After the vocal, there is another "symphonic jazz" interlude with Goodman playing peek-a-boo between ensemble passages, then another modulation to Bb. Fud Livingston, a fine Chicago style reedman, takes the first half of the chorus on tenor sax and manages to quote his own composition "Imagination" on bars 7 and 8. He is followed by Glenn Miller, paying homage to Miff Mole. Both men's solos, and Goodman's later on, are punctuated by the leader's swinging cymbal work - choked, in this particular case.
Next is yet another "modernistic" modulation with breaks by Goodman. The fluid technique and rich tone on the first break suggest Jimmie Noone. The second break has a lemony tartness that recalls Johnny Dodds. After hearing only a few bars of Goodman's solo, it quickly becomes apparent that Bix's influence was not limited to cornetists! The "sock-time" phrasing is much like Bix's on Jean Goldkette's recording of "Proud of a Baby like You." And, like fellow Chicago clarinetist Frank Teschemacher, Goodman sometimes employed an almost brassy tone, more like a cornet. There is definitely some Tesch in Goodman's solo too (particularly bars 10 and 11). Before that, there is even a nod to Pee Wee Russell (bars 8 and 9). The final break, on bars 15 and 16, combines the graceful melodic lines of Jimmie Noone and Leon Roppolo with Beiderbecke-like phrasing.
Benny Goodman's first recording is a genuine tour-de-force. His flawless technique makes the solo sound as though it was casually tossed off, but the intensity is still white-hot. The half-chorus is a textbook demonstration of how to play "Chicago Style" clarinet, recorded almost a full year before the classic McKenzie-Condon sides with Teschemacher. Still, Goodman's musical identity is not lost in the process. What you hear on this 1926 record is not far removed from the Goodman clarinet sound of the '30s, '40s and beyond. "Deed I Do" and subsequent sides with Pollack such as "He's the Last Word," "Waitin' for Katie" and "Singapore Sorrows" continue to astound and delight musicians over eight decades after they were recorded (I hear that our own Ron Hockett was speechless after hearing them the first time!).