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Sunday, August 20, 2023

Jimmy Lunceford In Hi-Fi


Well All Right Then

Jimmie Lunceford In Hi-Fi
Authentic Re-Creations by Billy May of the Original Lunceford Style
Capitol Records TAO924

Featuring Willie Smith, Trummie Young, Joe Thomas, Dan Grissom

Billy May - Leader
Dan Grissom - Vocalist
Willie Smith, Joe Thomas, Willie Schwartz, Ted Nash, Chuck Gentry, Bob Lawson - Reeds
Conrad Gozzo, Mannie Klien, Ollie Mitchell, Pete Candoli, Vito Mangano - Trumpets
Trummie Young, Eddie Kusby, Si Zentner, Dick Noel, Joe Howard - Trombones
Jimmie Rowles - Piano
Joe Mondragon - Bass
Al Hendrickson - Guitar 
Alvin Stoller - Drums
And on My Blue Heaven only, Benny Gill - Violin

From the liner notes: Some of his sidemen fondly called him "Piggie." It didn't bother James Melivn Lunceford. Nothing did so long as his music was right.

Jimmie's been dead now a long time, more than a decade. Some of the guys from his band still think he was fatally poisoned (not a heart ailment, as listed) while he was on tour. His last appearance was a one-nighter on the evening of July 12, 1947, and the big Lunceford band was on a wailing upgrade again after a period of sub-standard product.

The musicians attempted to stick together. Joe Thomas of the big tenor sax and good-natured rhythm vocals, and Eddie Wilcox, who had doubled as accordion soloist and pianist 'way back in the late 1920s when Jimmie was getting started as a leader in Tennessee, gamely tried to keep the Lunceford music alive with a co-op plan. But it was a brief and disheartening try.

No band delivered a sound and a beat like Jimmie's. Great as Basie and Ellington are, their music is – and has been, a thousand times – easily described. But never has there been a writer who could put the Luncerford style into words.

From 1935 through 1942, Lunceford's music was incomparable. Jimmie started the group in 1927 while teaching music at Manassa High School in Memphis. He and nine of his pupils then moved on to Fisk University at Nashville – from where the leader had graduated in 1925 – with Jimmie waiting tables until his teen-aged sidemen furthered their education. They kept the band together, and eventually Lunceford's "Twelve Talented Tennesseans" started touring – and enduring the inevitable panics of the Depression era – until the night of May 22, 1933.

"That is a night we'll never forget," Mrs. Crystal Lunceford, Jimmie's ballet-dancer, schoolteacher widow recalls. "On the big bandstand with the beautiful decorations was Guy Lombardo's orchestra. On the little stand, sparsely decorated, was the Lunceford gourd. But among the bookers in New York the next day the talk was all Luncerford – the band simply created a riot with the college kids. It was Jimmie's first break in the big time."

The May 22 date was at Cornell University. The dance was the annual Navy Ball. On September 29, Frank Schiffman and Teddy Blackman opened the band at New York's Lafayette Theater (later replaced by the Apollo as Harlem's showplace for live acts and music) and so great was the reaction that Irving Mills set the unit for March 11, 1934, opening at the Cotton Club.

"Adelaide Hall was the star of the show, and the songs were especially written by Harold Arlen and Teddy Koehler," Mrs. Lunceford reminisces. "Lena Horne was in the line, and the two big hits that emanated from the score were Ill Wind and As Long As I Live."

From the Cotton Club on, the rocking Lunceford Express roared to international success. Harold (The Gaffer) Oxley, a diminutive Englishman, managed Jimmie wisely and well. The band toured Scandinavia, France, Belgium and Holland in 1937, and was packed for a return trip in 1939 when World War II started. Its records were bought and played in astounding quantities throughout the world. In theaters, in ballrooms, on network radio and finally, in Hollywood motion pictures the Lunceford style attracted top money. Oxley, now dead, frequently boasted that "no promoter ever lost a nickel booking Jimmie."

Jimmie bought his own plane, a sleek Bellanca, and for a time flew to engagements alone with Mrs. Lunceford. Despite a minor Ohio crackup in September of 1941, he quit flying only because the government grounded all private planes following Pearl Harbor.

The war brought changes in the band. Some of Jimmie's best men left. Eddie Tompkins was killed by a rifle bullet in an army camp. Sy Oliver joined Tommy Dorsey. Willie Smith hooked on with Charlie Spivak and, later, Harry James. And the draft sucked up Jimmie's younger sidemen. But with the war ended, Jimmie confidently started building again. Some of his veterans helped – Thomas, Wilcox, Earl Carruthers, Russ Bowles. By 1947 the Lunceford star was rising fast.

And then Jimmie led his band for the last time.


For all his Tennessee background in Memphis and Nashville, Jimmie Lunceford was a Mississippian. He was born June 6, 1902, in Fulton. But most of his childhood was spent in Denver. There in the mile-high Colorado capital he learned violin, trombone, guitar, flute, saxophone and clarinet. At one time he played in a Denver dance band with Andy Kirk, Hattie McDaniels and Mary Colston – Mrs. Kirk. He studied with the late Wilberforce Whiteman, Paul's father.

Soft-spoken, gracious, physically powerful, an immaculate dresser and perhaps for more intelligent than many of his band-leading contemporaries, Jimmie had the rare distinction of appealing to musicians and the box-office alike. He was the late Glenn Miller's favorite. But then everyone raved about the band. IT was a phenomenon. – Notes by Dave Dexter, Jr. - former editor of Down Beat and author of Jazz Cavalcade.


Billy May was a kid practicing trumpet, in Pittsburgh, when he first head Lunceford's early records. To this day he regards Jimmie's as "the greatest all-around outfit ever." Later, arranging for Charlie Barnet and Glenn Miller, May frequently injected a touch of the Lunceford manner in his arrangements. Much later Billy and Capitol producer Dave Cavanaugh conceived this tribute to the Lunceford organization – a long-playing, high-fidelity album in which 15 or Lunceford's most popular standards are re-created with the exact sound and style of the original band.

Billy, famous for finishing his arrangements just before recording starts, had them ready ahead of time for a change. He lovingly and painstakingly wrote out the scores note for note form the old records, and even included the occasional minor "fluffs" of the original performances. Once the arrangements were finished, May and Cavanaugh rounded up as many of the original Lunceford stars as were available. And this remarkable album – is the result.

Authenticity is the keynote throughout the entire album. In My Blue Heaven, for instance, the violin spot behind the vocal in the old Lunsford record is heard here, along with a solo by Willie Smith on baritone sax, an instrument he hadn't played since he recorded the tune the first time around. All the swinging solos in this album, in fact, are as close to the originals as possible.

Tain't What You Do
Ain't She Sweet
Uptown Blues
Annie Laurie
Well All Right Then
Blues In The Night
My Blue Heaven
Four Or Five Times
I'm Walking Through Heaven 
For Dancers Only
Cheatin' On Me
Rhythm Is Our Business 

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