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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Red Norvo & His All Stars


Dance Of The Octopus

Honeysuckle Rose

Red Norvo & His All Stars
Epic LG 3128

From the back cover: Red Norvo was the first jazzman to play the xylophone, and as such, the first jazz musician to make an "odd" instrument swing. Throughout the years, under the classification of miscellaneous instruments in the Downbeat and Metronome polls, his name has always been among the top few. This has been due to the fact that he has always continued to evolve in style and concept.

The numbers on this record are definitive of Red Norvo on xylophone in the early 1930s of a great era in jazz, Swing. He was then unique pioneer of a unique instrument in jazz, and a swing band leader who was continually involved in the making of jazz music of his time, playing with the best musicians of each period. The personnel of these records include the biggest names of the early Swing era: Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Charlie Barnet, Jack Jenney, Chu Berry, Dick McDonough, all poll-leaders on their respective instruments.

Later, Red was to employ great instrumentalists of the modern era, and used Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Raney, Charley Mingus and others on record and club dates.

Today, the vibraphone (Red switched to the amplified instrument in 1943) is still listed under "miscellaneous" instruments, and despite its numerous exponents, Red Norvo remains very near the top of the list. Following his early and inventive lead, we find Lionel Hampton and Tyree Glenn (from the Swing era) and Milt Jackson, Teddy Clarles and many others (in the modern era).

In the modern era, the ranks of the "miscellaneous" instrument have been augmented: French horn, flute, bongo, bass trumpet, baritone and bass saxes, etc. These have all become relatively standard instruments in jazz. But in the earlier days of jazz, Red's xylophone was practically unique as an "odd instrument".

Keneth (Red) Norville (Norvo) was born in Beardstown, Illinois on March 31st, 1908. He was one of a number of children in his family to take piano lessons, but the lessons didn't take. At the age of 15, a chance meeting with a xylophone at a friend's house did take. He started to fool around on the instrument and never stopped; he became the first musical exponent of the "odd" instrument.

In 1925, when Red was 17, he made his debut in vaudeville, the standard outlet for proficient talent on xylophone. It was completely a novelty instrument at the time, with hands chock-full of mallets ripping off the Lone Ranger movement of the William Tell Overture while feet did a tap dance. Red had the whole routine down pat, including the taps, and eventually he branched out, doing a guest act with dance bands throughout the mid-west. He worked with Victor Young and Ben Bernie.

In those days, the next professional step was radio and Red took that step, joining the NBC staff (1928-30). He next joined Paul Whiteman's Orchestra in 1930 and stayed on through 1934 when he left to organize his first big band. He had his own bands until 1944. It was during this period that he was married to Mildred Bailey, The Rockin' Chair Lady, one of the great jazz vocalists. They fronted the bands with Red throughout most of those years.

Later, Red played with the Benny Goodman Sextet (1944), and then the resurgent Woody Herman Herd. In 1950, he finally settled in California to front small groups that gave his light touch sound on the vibraphone its maximum scope and effect, usually blended with electric guitar. Ultimately, it is this trained delicacy that is at the service of every nuance in his playing of the vibraphone today.

And it is Red's musicianship and sound that so distinguish him. Despite his showman beginnings, he has always remained very much the musician.

In this record, Honeysuckle Rose is most typical of the Swing era; it represents the small band Swing of the Swing-band eara. There is insistent riffing and Swing paraphrase of the melody to pulsate the solos of Red, Johnny Mince, Jack Jenney, Chu Berry, Georgie Van Eps and Teddy Wilson. Significantly, behind Van Eps' guitar solos, there is unison, paraphrase riff played by Teddy on piano and Red on xylophone – very modern

Most indicative of the musically role that Red has played throughout his career, and perhaps the most avant-garde records of his whole career are two included here: Dance Of The Octopus and In A Mist (the classic by Bix Beiderbecke – he recorded it on piano). These two records are the first modern jazz quartet records ever made. There was no drummer, the rhythm section consisting of guitar and bass. The melody instruments are bass clarinet (Benny Goodman) and marimba (Red). The marimba can be said to be the bridge instrument between the xylophone and vibraphone. The quiet impressionism of the quartet sound, and the concept of group expression was then a far cry from the brute Swing of soloists sections and bands of the Swing era. And it was Red who conceived this approach, with Benny Goodman on bass clarinet.

Personnel: Various Red Norvo Combos

8 April, 1933 - Hole In The Wall & Knockin' On Wood

Red Norvo - Xylophone
Jimmy Dorsey - Clarinet
Fulton McGrath - Piano
Dick McDonough - Guitar
Artie Bernstein - Bass

21 November 1933 - In  A Mist & Dance Of The Octopus

Red Norvo - Marimba
Benny Goodman - Bass Clarinet
Dick McDonough - Guitar
Artie Bernstein - Bass

26 September and 4 October 1934 - The Night Is Blue, Old Fashioned Love, I Surrender Dear & Tomboy

Red Norvo - Xylophone 
Jack Jenney - Trombone
Artie Shaw - Clarinet
Charlie Barnet - Tenor Sax
Teddy Wilson - Piano
Bobby Johnson - Guitar
Hank Wayland - Bass
Bill Gussak - Drums

25 January 1935 - Blues In E Flat, Honeysuckle Rose, Bughouse & With All My Heart And Soul

Red Norvo - Xylophone
Jack Jenney - Trombone
Johnny Mince - Clarinet
Chu Berry - Tenor Sax
Teddy Wilson - Piano
George Van Eps - Guitar 
Artie Bernstein - Bass
Gene Krupa - Drums

Blues In E Flat
Honeysuckle Rose
The Night Is Blue
Hole In The Wall
Dance Of The Octopus
In A Mist
Old Fashioned Love
I Surrender, Dear
Knockin' On Wood
With All My Heart And Soul

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