DUKE ELLINGTON MUSIC SOCIETY
04/1 April-July 2004
FOUNDER: BENNY AASLAND
Voort 18b, 2328 Meerle, Belgium
Telephone: +32 3 315 75 83
Ruth Ellington - Boatwright
A Brilliant Idea
Three Little Words
Interview in Paris
The BBC America Dances Story
The Complete Wellington concert
Early OKeh Sessions
04/1 DEMS 8
Willie Timner writes:
I am still trying to come clear with the studio locations for a number of Ellington's recording sessions. Precious little could I find for the earlier OKeh sessions.
1) 1Dec26: Gussy Alexander
¿OKeh Studios, at 145W. 45th Street?
¿What does the prefix "S" stand for?
2) 3Nov27: Duke Ellington
¿OKeh Studios, at 55th Street and 5th Avenue?
(electrical recording procedure licensed by Western Electric,
designated by the prefix "W").
For all the following OKeh recording sessions, I have the same location as for session #2 above.
I have also heard that all OKeh recordings were done at their
Union Square Studios, at 14th Street and Broadway.
If my memory does not deceive me, the information for session #2 came from Steven Lasker and I picked it up from one of the DEMS Bulletins. However, I could not find it now. Could you give me some pointers?
We have only found the following: your question in Bulletin 97/3-16/4 about the location of the recording sessions in 1938 and 1939; Steven Lasker's response to this question in 98/1-16/5; and your more specific question about the period from 5Mar37 to 8Jun39 in 98/4-9/2.
Steven Lasker replies:
I've never before written anything in DEMS Bulletin about the locations of OKeh's New York recording studios between 1926 and 1931, but will be glad to report what I've found on the subject along with some observations and opinions. First, some background, discographical details being borrowed from standard reference works:
OKEH'S 70000, 80000 and 400000 SERIES MASTER NUMBERS
70000 series (1921 to 1926): In mid-1921, OKeh's New York master numbers jumped from about S7997 (by Joseph Samuels) to S70000 or S70001 (untraced by me; S70003 is by the Norfolk Jazz Quartet). The 'S' master number prefix is visible on most 70000 series recordings from 1921-24; I don't know what it designates. The 'S' is omitted from most recordings made from July 1925 and thereafter, the last reported use of the prefix being S73680 from 3oct25 (per various OKeh 78s I've seen, and the listings found in Tom Lord's "Clarence Williams" and Laurie Wright's "OKeh Race Records 8000 Series"). The highest-numbered master reported in the series is 74453, recorded by Esther Bigeou on or about 21Dec26 (see Storyville 81, afterthought 369).
Among record collectors and discographers, there has been some controversy as to whether late 70000 series recordings are acoustical or electrical. A notation found on the matrix card for master 80258, "see 74453 acoustical," would seem to indicate that OKeh considered the 70000 series to be acoustical until the very end. Also note that an OKeh advertisement that appeared in the 12Mar27 Chicago Defender states that "Clarence Williams' Washboard Four have just made their first electrically recorded OKeh Race Record," OKeh 8440, coupling master numbers W80362/63, electrically recorded 29Jan27.
80000 series (1926 to 1928): The earliest masters in this series, numbers 80001/02, were recorded 14Apr26 by Perry Bradford and His Gang but never issued. Master 80028, recorded 30Apr26 by Tom Brown and His Merry Minstrel Orchestra, exhibits a different and arguably inferior sound quality to that heard on contemporary 70000 series masters. It was likely recorded by a primitive electrical process.
Masters 80135/36, recorded 23Sep26 by Shelton Brooks, 80137/38, recorded 24Sep26 by The Goofus Five, and 80214/15, recorded 16Nov26 by Eva Taylor, are of significantly higher fidelity and bear 'O-E' - presumably for 'OKeh Electric' - stamped in the run-out. The highest-numbered O-E masters I am aware of are 80228/29, recorded 30Nov26 by Seger Ellis. The O-E masters are sonically boxy but unmistakably electrical.
The Columbia Phonograph Company purchased the OKeh-Odeon record division of the General Phonograph Corporation effective 1Nov26. Columbia used the Western Electric recording system, which was vastly superior to the O-E process. Western Electric equipment was installed at OKeh by 26Nov26, the date of master number W80226 by The Arkansas Travellers, a recording audibly made with Western Electric equipment. The master number written in the wax includes the 'W' (for "Western Electric") prefix.
The highest numbered master in the series is W82099, recorded by Jessie May Hill in Chicago on 27Dec27; the last recording in the series is W81989, recorded by Emil Krogh in New York on 3Jan28.
400000 series (1928 to 1933): OKeh started a new master series at W400000 (by Vera Barczaniwa) on 9Jan28; it reached master number W405183 (by Webb Whipple) on 30Mar32. Researcher James Parten reports that W405186 to at least W405200 are transfer numbers assigned in 1932 and 1933 to recordings that originally bore Columbia or Harmony series master numbers. 480000 series masters are dubbings of 400000 series masters. 490000 series masters were recorded for issue on American Odeon and Parlophone. Many of these are non-vocal versions of OKeh 400000 series masters.
LOCATIONS OF OKEH'S NEW YORK RECORDING STUDIOS
The October 1926 Manhattan telephone directory places OKeh's main office at 25 West 45th Street, and their distributing division at 15 West 18th Street. OKeh would keep an office at 25 West 45th Street until sometime in 1931, and I believe this was also the address of their studio in 1926. A second studio was added in January 1927, this evidenced by a dramatic change in recording room acoustics, or "room tone," heard on some - but not all - sides, and a letter dated 7Jan27 (and reproduced in the notes to Columbia Legacy C4K 63527, a four-CD reissue of the Complete Louis Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings) from Tommy Rockwell of OKeh's recording department, who had recently transferred to the company from Columbia Records. The stationery's printed letterhead shows OKeh's address as 25 West 45th Street, but on Rockwell's letter "25" is crossed out and "145" typed above it.
Collector Brad Kay and I recently listened to a sampling of OKeh 78s from this period, and came to the following conclusions:
Probably 25 West 45th Street (1918?-1927): The original electrical recording room (which may or may not be the same room as the old acoustical recording room) was medium-sized and partly dampened. From our collections of OKeh 78s, the following Western Electric system recordings were found to have been made in this room: 26Nov26 (W80226 by The Arkansas Travellers); 24Dec26 (W80262/63 by The Goofus Five; also W80265/66 by Sam Lanin's Melody Sheiks); 3Jan27 (W80276/77 by Ted Wallace; these were the highest-numbered masters found with hand-written matrix numbers); 26Jan27 (W80341 by Tom Stacks); 29Jan27 (W80362/63 by Clarence Williams); 4Feb27 (W80391/92/93 by Frankie Trumbauer); 8Feb27 (W80402/03 by The Goofus Five); 10Feb27 (W80412/13 by Eva Taylor); 7Mar27 (W80501/02/03 by Miff Mole); 18Mar27 (W80644/45 by Lizzie Miles); 31Mar27 (W80687 by Butterbeans and Susie); 9Apr27 (W80712/13 by Sara Martin); 13Apr27 (remake versions W80688E/89F by Clarence Williams); 14Apr27 (W80728/29 by Clarence Williams; also W80731/33 by The Goofus Five); 15Apr27 (W80737/38 by Sophie Tucker); 16Apr27 (W80739/40 by Eva Taylor).
Probably 145 West 45th Street (1927): The new recording room added by OKeh in January 1927 was large and acoustically resonant. The piano, possibly an upright, was often unusually distant from the microphone and, over the course of May 1927, became progressively more out of tune. The room tone and piano are so distinctive that Brad has long called it "Riverboat Shuffle Hall" after the Frankie Trumbauer record made there. Recordings from our collections made in this room which, based on the address found in Rockwell's letter, we suppose was located at 145 West 45th Street: 20Jan27 (W80314/16/17 by Boyd Senter); 21Jan27 (W80324 by Boyd Senter); 24Jan27 (W80328/29 by Joe Venuti); 26Jan27 (W80338/39/40 by Miff Mole); 1Apr27 (W80692/93 by Eddie Lang).
Every New York OKeh recording we auditioned from the period between late April 1927 and late August 1927 was made in "Riverboat Shuffle Hall": 28Apr27 (W80940/41 by Eddie Lang); 4May27 (W81058/59 by Joe Venuti); 6May27 (W81063 by Butterbeans and Susie); 9May27 (W81071/72 by Frankie Trumbauer); 10May27 (W81073/74 by Sissle and Blake); 13May27 (W81083/84/85 by Frankie Trumbauer); 31May27 (W80944 by Wilton Crawley); 4Jun27 (W80983 by Wilton Crawley); 15Jun27 (W81015/16 by The Goofus Five; also W81017 by Russell Gray); 17Jun27 (W81027 by Irwin Abrams); 21Jun27 (W81037/38 by Red McKenzie); 24Jun27 (W81108 by Art Kahn); 27Jun27 (W81115 by Art Kahn); 28Jun27 (W81118/19 by Joe Venuti); circa 30Jun27 (W81127/28 by Beth Challis); 10Aug27 (W81207/08 by The Goofus Five); 12Aug27 (W81219 by The Goofus Five); 25Aug27 W81273/74/75 by Frankie Trumbauer).
Note: Masters W80517 to W80626 were recorded by a field unit in Atlanta circa 14-22Mar27. Masters W80741 to W80833 were recorded by a field unit in St. Louis between 25Apr27 and 3May27. Masters W80834 to W80932 were recorded at the Consolidated Talking Machine Company, 227 West Washington Street, Chicago, between 5May27 and 20May27.
11 Union Square (1927-30): A new room, heard on OKeh's New York recordings from at least 30Aug27 (W81296/97/98 by Miff Mole) through at least 11Feb30 (W403755/56 by the Casa Loma Orchestra) sounds larger than the one at 25 West 45th Street but smaller than the one at 145 West 45th Street, and exhibits a degree of liveliness in between the two. That the new room is at a new location is confirmed by the Manhattan telephone directory for summer 1927, which shows OKeh's recording studio at 11 Union Square and their main office at 25 West 45th Street. A letter dated 24Sep27 from the "OKeh Phonograph Corporation" is reproduced on page 121 of Laurie Wright's "OKeh Race Records 8000 Series." The stationery's printed letterhead places the "Recording Laboratory" at 11 Union Square. Both addresses, 11 Union Square and 25 West 45th Street, appear in the Manhattan telephone directories dated winter 1927-28, summer 1928, winter 1928-29, summer 1929 and winter 1929-30. The Manhattan telephone directories dated summer 1930, winter 1930-31 and summer 1931 show Columbia Records' foreign department at 11 Union Square, perhaps filling out the remainder of OKeh's lease. (I have also seen the address cited as 11 Union Square West. Note that the "2002 National Five-Digit ZIP Code & Post Office Directory" shows that Union Square addresses are modified by "West," "East" and "South," while New Yorker Tom Harris confirms that there actually are "Union Square West" addresses.)
Probably 1819 Broadway/possibly 25 West 45th Street (1930-31): A new recording room, heard on OKeh's New York recordings from at least 1Mar30 (and W403791 by Carl Webster's Yale Collegians), sounds smaller and a bit less lively than the one at 11 Union Square. Brad detected a bass resonance inherent to each room, that in the new room being about an octave higher than the one heard on recordings made at 11 Union Square. Manhattan telephone directories dated summer 1930 and winter 1930-31 each show two addresses for OKeh, 1819 Broadway and 25 West 45th Street, the former being the address of the Gotham National Bank Building, at Columbus Circle, where the general offices and recording studios of Columbia and Harmony Records had been located since about 1921. Which address housed OKeh's studio isn't specified in the directories, but 1819 Broadway would seem the more logical candidate. Were one a shrewd, hard-nosed executive at Columbia Records back in 1930 seeking to cut costs in the face of hard economic times, the thought would doubtless occur that consolidation of Columbia and OKeh recording studio operations at 1819 Broadway would lead to greater efficiency among high-wage employees, some of whom could then be let go to reduce overhead expenses.
55 Fifth Avenue (1931-34): The summer 1931 Manhattan telephone directory places the general offices of both Columbia and OKeh at 55 Fifth Avenue, where they shared a common telephone number (TOmpkins 6-5200); 25 West 45th Street and 1819 Broadway are no longer noted as addresses for either label. According to "John Hammond on Record" (page 88), "In 1932 [...] Columbia's studios were located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 12th Street." The company's general offices and studios remained at 55 Fifth Avenue until July 1934, when the labels were purchased and absorbed by the American Record Corporation. Brad and I listened to various OKeh 78s recorded in 1930-31 in an effort to date the move to 55 Fifth Avenue by reference to room tone, but could only conclude that the recording rooms were of similar size, highly dampened and comparably indistinct.
MISS GUSSIE ALEXANDER
Gussie's first name was so spelled according to both OKeh's matrix
cards and the 27Aug27 Chicago Defender (national edition)
which on page six noted that she was from Kansas City and was the
"sister of Alberta Jones, the recording artist." Here is a recap of
the information from OKeh's matrix cards, which I inspected in
Gussie Alexander, contralto, acc. by piano and saxophone Duke and Otto.
74430A They Say I Do It rejected
74431A Drifting from You Blues rejected
74431B Drifting from You Blues rejected
Gussie Alexander, contralto, acc. by piano.
80235A Drifting from You Blues rejected
Gussie Alexander, contralto, acc. by piano.
W80322A They Say I Do It rejected
W80323A Drifting from You Blues rejected
Note: The matrix cards for 74430 and 74431 omit letter prefixes for these masters, which are described as "Recorded by D" and "acoustical." The matrix card for 80235A shows the master to be "Recorded by OKeh" and omits the 'W' (for Western Electric) prefix.
OKEH, COLUMBIA AND DIVA/HARMONY/VELVETONE STUDIO LOCATIONS WHERE GUSSIE ALEXANDER AND/OR DUKE ELLINGTON RECORDED, 1926-33
Probably 25 West 45th Street: 1Dec26 (OKeh session[s]).
Probably 145 West 45th Street: 21Jan27 (OKeh masters W80322/23). (Note that masters W80317 from 20Jan27 and W80324 from 21Jan27 were both recorded in "Riverboat Shuffle Hall.")
11 Union Square: 3Nov27; 19Jan28; 10Jul28; 1oct28; 20Nov28; 22Nov28; 2Aug29; 20Nov29 (OKeh sessions).
1819 Broadway: 22Mar27; 4Apr29; 28May29 (Columbia sessions); 9Jan28; 3Apr30; 12Jun30 (Diva/Harmony/Velvetone sessions).
Probably 1819 Broadway/possibly 25 West 45th Street: 14oct30; 30oct30; 8Jan31 (OKeh sessions).
55 Fifth Avenue: 15Feb33 and 16Feb33 (sessions for English Columbia).
04/1 DEMS 9
6Nov33 to 8Nov33: Paramount Theatre, Amarillo, Texas (per "Amarillo Daily News," 5Nov33 and 6Nov33); other attractions billed: Ivie Anderson; Earl Tucker; Ford Marshall and Jones ("Dancing, Singing and Comedy"); Sonnie [sic] Greer; Louis Bacon ("Singer").
6Nov33: The Nat Dance Palace, Amarillo, Texas (per "Amarillo Daily News," 5Nov33 and 6Nov33). Dance from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
30oct36: Trianon, Terre Haute, Indiana (per "The Indiana
Statesman," 16oct36 and 28oct36).
1Feb40: Here's an early gig by the Blanton-Webster band I
haven't seen listed in the references: the University of Wisconsin
Class of 1941's junior prom in Madison, Wisconsin. Four
bands played: "Duke Ellington's muted Harlem trumpets moaned in Great
Hall, Henry Busse banged out his renowned rhythm in the Council Room,
and Eddie Nelson's band played in the Tripp Commons. In
the Rathskeller, a crowd drank beer to the strains of Hal Klatz's
string trio. "The music was harmonious, not so the
bandleaders. Busse, who had not known that he was going to
get second billing, pouted all night, and made dark remarks about
being subordinated to Ellington. Busse worked hard,
however and kept the room fully as crowded as was Ellington's Great
Hall." 1,800 students attended the prom. The only other
description of Ellington is that the school president was "introduced
by a fanfare of trumpets and the rolling of a drum." ("Smoothies Rule
at a Prom Gone Sweet," Wisconsin State Journal, 2Feb40, p14).
Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra would open a week at the State-Lake Theater in Chicago the following afternoon.
20May43: Jimmy Ryan's, 53 W. 52nd Street, New York
City. Surprise birthday party for Milt
Gabler. According to "The Jazz Record" (1Jun43p2):
"Highlight of the evening was the appearance of Duke Ellington and
several members of his band, who jammed a birthday greeting that said
more than words ever could. The DeParis Brothers band kept
things jumping. Included in the greeters were Eddie
Condon, Brad Gowans, Pops Foster, Frank Orchard, Red Norvo, Bobby
Hacket, Sgt. Joe Buskin, in New York on a few days furlough."