“Big Noise From Winnetka”
Composed by Bob Haggart and Ray Bauduc
Recorded by Bob Haggart and Ray Bauduc for Decca on October 14, 1938 in Chicago.
Bob Haggart, bass and whistling; Ray Bauduc, drums.
The Story and the Music: One of the most unusual recordings made during the swing era was this one. At a time when a large proportion of the recordings made were by big bands and small groups of musicians, very few were made by two musicians, still fewer by a bassist and drummer as a duet. In addition, we hear whistling in this performance, done by bassist Bob Haggart through his teeth. This is an indication that Haggart, in addition to being a fine bassist, was a man of great wit. I was fortunate enough to have seen Bob perform on a number of occasions, and spend some time with him. He was an interesting and intelligent person who definitely had an ironic, playful sense of humor. More about him later.
“Big Noise From Winnetka” was “composed,” as so many tunes were during the swing era, in an informal, impromptu way. The Bob Crosby(*) band, which both Bob Haggart and Ray Bauduc were members of, was playing a lengthy engagement in 1938 at the Blackhawk Restaurant (**) in Chicago, which included important radio broadcasts. The details of how this tune came into existence were provided by both of its composers to jazz historian John Chilton. Chilton included them in his fine book on the Bob Crosby band called “Stomp Off, Let’s Go,” (1983) Jazz Book Service, London, pages 72-73.
Ray Bauduc (pronounced ba-duke’): “The (Blackhawk) was jammed, including kids from the New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. As usual, we played a few dance sets, we did our regular floor show, then we brought out a small piano on the dance floor together with the ‘Bob Cats’ (a small jazz group drawn from the Crosby big band) drums, which I placed on a rubber carpet so that they wouldn’t slide when I played them. Well, as we did that, the kids sat down in front of the piano and drums on the dance floor. We played about 8 or 10 tunes, each featuring one of the Bob Cats, finishing with “Big Crash From China.” The kids went wild and wouldn’t stop yelling for more. As the band boys took the piano off, the kids grabbed the drums and wouldn’t let them off the dance floor.”
“It was a cold day in Chicago that Sunday afternoon. Back in those days,drum heads were made of calf skins, and the dry heat inside of buildings would tighten them. When we played with the Bob Cats, I kidded with Haggart by slapping the bass strings with my sticks for a laugh, saying, ‘wake up, let’s go, make it walk.’ As I did this, I noticed a similar sound on the ‘G’ string on the bass and my big floor tom-tom, which was tight with the dry heat.”
“Years before, I used to play with my sticks on (guitarist) Nappy Lamare’s banjo, and he would finger the chords and melodies of some tunes for a gag.This all seemed to come back to both Hagg and I, as I had talked of this many times before. Bob Crosby came down and announced that we were going to do a special radio broadcast. He said: ‘We still have a few minutes before we go on the air, so we’ll let Bob Haggart and Ray Bauduc play for you.'”
“So the kids screamed and yelled as Haggart and I started fooling around. Haggart would take four bars, and I would take four bars, then we would play eight or sixteen bars together. Finally, I started beating on the big floor tom-tom and I started vamping with one stick on Hagg’s ‘G’ string, while keeping the other stick on the tom-tom. Then I looked up at Hagg and he got the cue. I kept vamping and he got to the microphone and started whistling through his teeth. He whistled a bit and then went into the theme we had been fooling around with. Then he started arpeggiating up and down the G minor scale, and I started playing on my cymbals, wood block, cow bell, drums tom-toms, etc. Finally, I got back on the big floor tom-tom, then I started playing with both sticks on the ‘G’ string, then Hagg started to finger up and down on the ‘G’ string as I was playing on it with my sticks.”
Bob Haggart: “It created a very different sound, like a strange new technique. As for the breathy whistling, that seemedto be the only thing to do to fill out the time. The inspiration for the whistling came from a waiter who worked in New York. After we finished our New York gig, we’d drop into the Hotel President to visit the basement club where Putney Dandridge sang and played the piano. A waiter who worked there used to whistle through his teeth as he dashed through the crowd, all the while twirling his tray high in the air. I was fascinated by his style of whistling and I started to try it out for myself.”
Bob Haggart was a man of many talents. In addition to being a first-class bassist, he was an excellent arranger and a composer of note. One of his best known songs is “What’s New,” which initially was a vehicle (entitled “I’m Free’), for the lyrical trumpet of Billy Butterfield, who was also a Crosby sideman in the late 1930s. The Haggart melody got a lyric in 1939, written by Johnny Burke, and that is what precipitated its title change.
Haggart was also an artist. His ability to draw anything with remarkable precision was exercised in the 1930s in various ways, including by Haggart drawing mildly shocking nudes on the insides of lampshades in hotel rooms. After Haggart vacated the room, the next guest was in for quite a surprise when he or she turned on the lamp. Haggart’s more conventional uses of his artistic talent included portraiture. His portrait of Louis Armstrong was hung by Louis himself on the wall of a room in the Armstrong house in the Corona section of Queens, New York. It is still there.
One of the last times I saw Bob Haggart (***) was in the late 1980s, when he was one of the musicians playing at the weekend-long Conneaut Lake Jazz Festival. (Those festivals were directed by Joe Boughton, and later moved to Chautauqua, New York.) The venue for that festival was Conneaut Lake Park, a few miles west of Meadville, Pennsylvania, an old-fashioned amusement park, the kind that thrived in the eastern U.S. in the first six decades of the last century, and then hung on for a while longer, until the amusement rides were removed and condos were built overlooking the lake. As I chatted with a number of other musicians on a balmy Saturday afternoon, Haggart stopped by and exchanged pleasantries with them and me, and then disappeared. About an hour later, he reappeared carrying a dusty old black and white photo. As he sat down on the bench with me and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, he exclaimed “take a look at this”! It was picture of the Bob Crosby band taken in May or June of 1940. He had unearthed it while rooting around in the old Dreamland Ballroom at Conneaut Lake Park. He carefully pointed out and identified each person in the photo. One of them was a teen-aged Doris Day. “She was a wonderful singer, even then,” he said, “…a natural. She was also a very beautiful girl with a great figure.” Doris Day’s talent and beauty eventually led to a major career for her as a Hollywood film star.
At right is a copy of the photo that Bob Haggart found:
Among those pictured: front, Max Herman, trumpet; Eddie Miller, tenor sax; Doris Day, vocalist; Bob Crosby, leader/vocalist; second row back: L-R: Jess Stacy, piano; Arthur “Doc” Rando, alto saxophone;Irving Fazola, clarinet; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Gil Rodin, tenor sax and music director; third row: L-R; Ray Bauduc, drums; Ray Conniff, trombone; at Conniff’s left shoulder, Bob Haggart, bass.
(*) George Robert Crosby (1913-1993) was the younger brother of Bing Crosby. Although he was a competent singer, he was doomed from the beginning of his singing career to be compared unfavorably with Bing. Nevertheless, Bob Crosby was also a good-looking, easy-going personality whose last name was truly Crosby at a time when that name was box-office gold. He functioned quite effectively as the titular front man of a Dixieland-oriented big band from 1935-1942 that had evolved from the band drummer Ben Pollack led from the 1920s into the early 1930s. Just before the band began touring as the
Bob Crosby band in 1935, it made some records using the pseudonym du disque the “Clark Randall Orchestra.” The actual leader and music director of the Bob Crosby band was veteran saxophonist Gil Rodin, who assisted Pollack in operating the Pollack band for many years.
(**) The Blackhawk Restaurant was located at 139 North Wabash in Chicago from 1920 until August 31, 1984. It was operated by the Roth family, with Otto Roth, the patriarch, being in charge from the beginning until his death in 1944. Roth, in cooperation with Jules Stein, founder of Music Corporation of America (MCA), the largest and most powerful band-booking agency in the years 1925-1945, began presenting live broadcasts of dance bands from the Blackhawk in the late 1920s. These were initially produced via superstation WGN-Chicago, and later were fed via WGN to the entire Mutual radio network as “Live from the Blackhawk.”
(***) Over the years, I saw Bob Haggart perform with the NBC Tonight Show Orchestra, the World’s Greatest Jazzband, (which he co-led with trumpeter Yank Lawson), and with numerous ad-hoc jazz groups at various of Joe Boughton’s jazzfests. On most of these occasions, he played “Big Noise From Winnetka” with many drummers including Morey Feld and Ray McKinley. On each of these occasions, audiences were delighted at the visual as well as the aural display.
This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.