“Song of the Wanderer” (1940) Erskine Hawkins

“Song of the Wanderer”

Words and music by Neil Moret; arrangement by William Johnson.

Recorded for RCA Bluebird on April 26, 1940 in New York.

Erskine Hawkins, trumpet, directing: Sammy Lowe, first trumpet; Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb, Marcellus Green, trumpets; Bob Range and “Captain” Edward Sims, trombones; William “Bill” Johnson, first alto saxophone; Jimmy Mitchelle, alto saxophone; Paul “Bad” Bascomb and Julian Dash, tenor saxophones; Haywood Henry, baritone saxophone; Avery Parrish, piano; William McLemore, guitar; Leemie Stanfield, bass; James Morrison, drums. Vocal by Jimmy Mitchelle.

“Song of the Wanderer,” composed in 1926 by Neil Moret, was a semi-standard during the swing era. The vocalist here is the Hawkins band’s alto saxophonist, Jimmy Mitchell, who became Jimmy Mitchelle at some point in the late 1930s as he gained popularity as Erskine Hawkins’s male vocalist. He does an excellent job on this, and was very popular indeed with audiences wherever the Hawkins band appeared. (Erskine Hawkins at left.)

I suspect that this tune was arranged by Hawkins’s lead alto player, Bill Johnson (one of the composers of “Tuxedo Junction,” along with Julian Dash and Hawkins), because of the alto saxophone solo he most likely allotted to himself in the first chorus of this arrangement, where he soulfully paraphrases the melody, and the excellent saxophone section soli after Mitchelle’s vocal chorus. Throughout this arrangement, Johnson pays homage to the style of the 1930s Jimmie Lunceford band, especially in the way he uses the saxophone section. Indeed, Johnson’s bright, ringing alto sax sound had much in common with the sound of Lunceford’s first alto throughout the 1930s, Willie Smith. After the vocal there is a tasty upward modulation, which starts by using Sammy Lowe’s lead trumpet as a pivot. (At right, L-R: Jimmy Mitchelle and Bill Johnson in 1940.)

Hawkins burnishes the final chorus with high-register trumpet interjections, and a gliss to a high-note ending. Note the strong rhythmic pulse emanating from the walking bass of Lee Stanfield throughout this performance.

This is a fine example of why the Hawkins band was so popular for so long at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.

(At left: The Erskine Hawkins band on the bandstand at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1940. The vocalist is Dolores Brown. Hawkins is behind her, and bassist Lee Stanfield is behind him. The front row of musicians R-L is: “Captain” Ed Sims, trombone; Haywood Henry, baritone saxophone; Julian Dash, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Mitchelle, alto saxophone; William Johnson, alto saxophone; Paul Bascomb, tenor saxophone; Avery Parrish, piano. In the back is guitarist William McLemore.)

This recording was sonically restored and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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1 Comment

  1. This was very good, underrated swing band that deserved a lot more credit than it got. One of the so-called “2nd tier” bands of the era, it would be more aptly described as one of the many treasures of the swing era one can discover if one digs a little deeper. I’ve gone out of my way to collect the early ARC sides by Hawkins (’36-’37) and Victor/Bluebird material(1938-1947)on 78 and LP. French RCA Victor launched a series of double LP sets, chronicling the complete RCA recordings of Erskine Hawkins, but, alas, didn’t finish it (got as far as 1941 and bailed). Nearly all of the bands recordings have something worthwhile to offer, especially after the group found its way, it’s own distinctive style and approach, and had ceased trying to emulate other black bands of the time. Another improvement was leader Hawkins having enough sense to not take an overblown 20th Century Gabriel type solo, demonstrating his high note prowess, on every side, a practice which had tapered way down by the time the band was signed to Bluebird Records. Thanks for putting up some more Erskine, Mike; good stuff.

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