“Just Kiddin’ Around”
Composed and arranged by Ray Conniff.
Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra on October 30, 1941 in Chicago for Victor Records.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: Steve Lipkins, first trumpet; Aniello “Lee” Castaldo (Castle), Max Kaminsky, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, trumpets; Jack Jenney, first trombone; Ray Conniff, Morey Samel, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Chuck DiMaggio, alto saxophone; Mickey Folus, Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Artie Baker, baritone saxophone; Johnny Guanieri, piano; Mike Bryan, guitar; Ed McKinney, bass; Dave Tough, drums; Leo Persner, Bernie Tinterow, Raoul Poliakine, Leonard Posner, Max Berman, Irving Raymond, Bill Ehrenkrantz, Truman Boardman, Alex Beller (concertmaster), violins; Morris Kohn, Sam Rosenblum, Lenny Adkins, violas; Fred Goerner, George Taliarkin, Edoardo Sodero, celli.
The story: On September 6, 1941 Artie Shaw and His Orchestra appeared at the Marine Ballroom on the Steel Pier at Atlantic City, NJ, a prime booking.This was Shaw’s first appearance at a major dance emporium in the East since November of 1939, when he left his band at New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania. Shaw fans turned out in droves. Indeed, this orchestra appeared before standing room only audiences on almost all of its tour dates. A broadcast recording from the Steel Pier date reveals that this orchestra, like all Shaw bands, was highly disciplined, played a variety of music, and was capable of swinging.
At the heart of the band’s swinging rhythm section was drummer Dave Tough (pictured at left). Tough was not a soloist, and his playing was often very simple. But it was intensely supportive of whatever was going on in the orchestra at any given time. His perceptive, imaginative playing behind ensembles and soloists was at the very apex of jazz drumming. He was the favorite drummer of literally hundreds of musicians who worked with him in many bands during the swing era.
After the Steel Pier engagement, the Shaw orchestra began an extensive tour, lasting until September 27, which would cover many eastern states and two Canadian provinces. The tour was to have continued into the American South, but owners of venues there lodged objections to trumpeter/singer Hot Lips Page, who was black, appearing onstage with the other musicians, all of whom happened to be white. Next to Shaw himself, Page was the most featured performer in this orchestra. Shaw angrily cancelled over thirty dates because of this, and his booking agent, General Artists Corporation, had to scramble to quickly fill the resultant holes in the band’s itinerary.
Eventually, a string of dates through the Midwest was put together for most of October. During this tour, Shaw presented what he called “The Swing 8” at a dance at Oklahoma City. This small jazz group consisted of a front line of Shaw, Page, Jenney, and Auld, backed by the four-man rhythm section. Unfortunately, no recordings by this jazz group are known to exist. The ‘book” of arrangements this group played included the following: “Back Bay Shuffle,” “It Had To Be You,” “Lover Come Back To Me,” “My Heart Stood Still,” “Octoroon,” “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise,” “Traffic Jam,” “What Is This Thing Called Love.” All of these tunes were made popular by Shaw’s 1938-1939 band, and indeed were the core of that band’s repertoire. They were also very big sellers on Victor/Bluebird records. Shaw’s audiences expected to hear them. (Above: Artie Shaw and some of his sidemen take a break on the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey – early September 1941. L-R: Hot Lips Page, Shaw, Max Kaminsky, Ray Conniff, Steve Lipkins and Morey Samel.)
The Shaw orchestra arrived in Chicago on October 30 for a Victor recording date (at the studios Victor then had in the Merchandise Mart), and a stand at the Chicago Theater which began the next day. By this time, Paula Kelly, who had had some excellent experience with Glenn Miller before joining Shaw, had replaced Bonnie Lake as the orchestra’s girl singer. Austin Wylie, the Cleveland bandleader for whom Shaw worked when he was still a teenager, was now serving as his road manager. Otherwise, there was no change in personnel in the 32 man orchestra. The musicians were quite contented, despite the constant travel. As trumpeter Max Kaminsky, who though he played some jazz solos in this orchestra was not a featured soloist, reported, “Artie was bigger than ever. People followed his bus and swarmed in to collect autographs wherever it stopped. …We were all paid wonderful salaries for those days. In fact my kingly $175 a week was the most money I had ever made up to then…” (1) (We must multiply by at least ten to get the value of 1941 dollars today.) (Hot Lips Page is pictured at left with Shaw”s right hand and clarinet),
The October 30 recording session, Shaw’s only in Chicago while he was contracted to Victor, captured the orchestra in fine form. Notable recordings made on that date: “Take Your Shoes Off Baby,” arranged by Bill Challis to feature the singing of Hot Lips Page; “Solid Sam,” a swinging original composition/arrangement by Fred Norman; and “Just Kiddin’ Around,” an update of a composition/arrangement Ray Conniff wrote for Bunny Berigan in 1939 as “Savoy Jump.”
When the 21 year old Ray Conniff (shown at right – 1939) joined Berigan’s band at Manhattan’s Paradise Restaurant in the spring of 1938, Bunny did not know that he could also arrange and write original jazz tunes. He knew only that Conniff was a trombone player who could sight-read music well, and play jazz. Those were the qualifications that got him into the Berigan band.
Years later, Ray Conniff (1916–2002), as the leader of and arranger for the Ray Conniff Singers, went on to become the most financially successful ex-Berigan sideman by far. From the mid-1950s until his retirement around the year 2000, he made over ninety albums, won a Grammy, two Golden Globe awards, had two platinum albums, and at least ten gold albums. But his big-time musical career started with his association with Bunny Berigan. Ray’s daughter Tamara, who has worked in the music industry for many years, once asked him about his early years and recorded his recollections. Among them were his memories of joining the Berigan band:
“I was sitting at the Forrest (Hotel) Bar in Manhattan with (clarinetist) Joe Dixon, a friend of mine from back in New England. He told me that Bunny Berigan had just had a run-in with one of his trombone players, so there was a spot open, and asked me if I would like to give it a shot. Would I! The next night I went to the Paradise Restaurant and sat in. The band started playing ‘It’s Wonderful.’ So Bunny came over to me and asked, ‘Do you know this song, kid?’ Of course I did because I was making the rehearsal band scene, so instead of giving the girl singer the chorus, I played it solo on trombone. I knew it note for note in any key, so I could watch the band as I played. Bunny looked over at Georgie Auld for approval, and Georgie gave him the code—the old index finger to the eye trick—meaning ‘get a load of this!’ I knew that I was in. Touring with Bunny was my first big-time gig, and it was one of the highlights of my life.” (1)
After Conniff left the Berigan band in 1939, he joined the Bob Crosby band. There, he met and became friends with trumpeter Billy Butterfield. Artie Shaw (with Lana Turner) visited the Crosby band in late March 1940 on the gig they were playing at Hotel New Yorker in Manhattan. He was greatly impressed by the trumpet-playing of Billy Butterfield. Soon thereafter, Shaw and Butterfield agreed that Billy would join the soon-to-be-formed Artie Shaw band with strings in Hollywood, where Shaw (and GAC, his booking agent) were lining up top-grade work, including a sponsored network radio show, and a Hollywood film. The new Shaw band came together in Hollywood over a period of a few weeks in July of 1940. The film (Second Chorus) was made at Paramount soon thereafter, and the new Shaw band started to appear on the NBC Burns and Allen radio show. They also made records for Victor, starting in September. From September through November, the Shaw band appeared at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and commuted by air to Los Angeles to do the Burns and Allen radio show weekly. They also continued making records in Los Angeles throughout this period, including the great recording of “Star Dust” presented elsewhere on this blog.
When the Palace Hotel gig ended, the Shaw band returned to Los Angeles to play at the new Palladium Ballroom, following Tommy Dorsey into that posh new dancing emporium. It was there that Ray Conniff joined the Shaw band, on Billy Butterfield’s recommendation. It seems apparent that Shaw wanted not only Conniff’s trombone in his band, he also wanted Conniff’s jazz-based arrangements, including some original compositions. Almost immediately, Conniff’s charts appeared in the Shaw band book. During the period from December of 1940 to March of 1941, when Shaw broke this band up, almost a dozen Conniff arrangements were commissioned by Shaw. These included charts on pop tunes or standards: (“Rosetta,” “My Blue Heaven,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “I Would Do Anything for You,” “Old Black Joe”); and Conniff originals: “Prelude in C Sharp Major,” “Walkin’ the Beat” (aka “Casino’), “To a Broadway Rose” (aka “No Dancing Tonight”), and “Symphony vs. Swing.” In addition, Conniff retooled two originals he wrote for Berigan, “Little Gate Special,” and “Savoy Jump.” “Savoy Jump,” probably after it was recorded by Artie Shaw for Victor, and reflecting Shaw’s playful clarinet in the opening measures of the first chorus, acquired the title “Just Kiddin’ Around.”
The music: One of the most striking features of Artie Shaw’s 32 piece 1941-1942 orchestra was that despite its size, and the presence in it of 15 strings, it could and did swing. In fact, this orchestra swung as hard as any Shaw band. The rhythm section of Johnny Guarnieri on piano, Mike Bryan on guitar, Ed McKinney on bass, and Dave Tough on drums, coalesced almost immediately into a perfectly meshed swinging unit. Tough was unquestionably the leader of the rhythm section. In his thoughtful way, he patiently explained to the others what had to be done to make the rhythm jump, and then he led by example. (Dave Tough is pictured above right performing with Artie Shaw on the stage of the Earle Theater in Philadelphia – November 14, 1941.)
All Artie Shaw bands had exceptionally fine saxophone sections. This was a particularly important thing for Shaw who for many years before becoming a bandleader had worked as a lead alto saxophonist, in addition to being a fine clarinetist. In his first thirteen-piece band in 1937, Shaw had taken a young alto saxophonist from Indiana, Les Robinson (shown at left), into his tutelage with the idea of teaching Robinson what he (Shaw) had learned in the previous ten-plus years leading saxophone sections in all manner of bands, including many on CBS radio. Robinson was a very apt pupil. By 1939, he was one of the best lead alto players in the business. He led the saxophone sections in all of Shaw’s pre-war standing bands. His bright and supple alto saxophone playing has a lot to do with why the sixteen bar saxophone soli we hear in “Just Kiddin’ Around” sounds so wonderful.
Finally, the seven strong brass section, led by Steve Lipkins on trumpet, and Jack Jenney on trombone provide this swinging Conniff chart with just the right jolts of brilliant brass sound in the right places. (Pictured below in the fall of 1941, L-R, rear: Hot Lips Page, Lee Castle, Steve Lipkins and Max Kaminsky; front Morey Samel, Jack Jenney and Ray Conniff.)
This classic performance begins with pianist Johnny Guarnieri playing the band on with a nod in the direction of Count Basie, supported by his rhythm section cohorts. The five saxophones state the melody with impeccable unity and swing. A brief brass fanfare brings Shaw to the fore: hear the playful downward clarinet jabs around which he fashions this solo. Shaw’s solo melds into Page’s, which is performed with a small straight mute in his trumpet’s bell, and a plunger being manipulated in front of the bell. Page was a master at using the throat growl, as we hear in this solo. Drummer Dave Tough’s choked high-hats and bass drum kicks are to be savored in this sequence. The sixteen bar saxophone section soli mentioned above, in addition to showcasing that section’s ensemble prowess, provides a contrast to the solos that occurred before it and will happen after it.
Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld then takes his turn in the solo spotlight with eight bars played in the middle register of his instrument, followed by eight shouting bars an octave higher. This challenges/inspires Shaw who returns to play sixteen bars of swinging, cogent jazz. The various sections then move this performance to its bright conclusion with some antiphonal exchanges.
Special treat! For all Shaw fans and for aficionados of swing music, here is the first take of Artie Shaw’s “Just Kiddin’ Around.”
The music: This performance took place in Chicago’s Victor studio minutes before the one presented above. Although the overall performance is similar to that which made it onto the issued record, there are several differences.The first and most noticeable is that this first take is faster in tempo. Then there are Shaw’s clarinet solos, which are different from the ones he would play on the issued take. In this performance, Artie had some clarinet pitch missteps, and made a couple other mistakes. Nevertheless, both of Shaw’s solos are interesting, with the second containing some good, flowing jazz. Since Shaw was a perfectionist who knew that the people who bought his records did not want to hear him make mistakes, no matter how small, this first take was consigned to the Victor vault.
Hot Lips Page’s growling solo on trumpet on this first take is also different from the one on the issued take, and it is excellent. Tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld’s solo here is mostly the same: the first eight bars are slightly different, but the honking second eight, which are the same as on this issued record, had clearly been worked out beforehand. Also, the handoff at the end of Auld’s solo to Shaw contains some errant notes. (At left: Shaw looks on approvingly as Georgie Auld solos – on the stage of the Earle Theater in Philadelphia; November 14, 1941.)
What is particularly noteworthy about the overall orchestra performance in this take is that it is as perfect as that on the issued take. Shaw was a master at rehearsal. Indeed, he often said he enjoyed the interaction with the musicians in his orchestra as they worked together to shape the music in rehearsal as much as performance before an audience. More than one Shaw sideman described his rehearsals as being inspirational, almost like a religious rite.
More thoughts on the genesis and evolution of “Savoy Jump”/”Just Kiddin’ Around”: Ray Conniff composed and arranged “Savoy Jump” for Bunny Berigan’s band in April/May of 1939. “Savoy Jump” was also known in the Berigan band as “Perisphere Hop,” with the word “Perisphere” referring to one of the notable landmarks at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. There are extant a number of aircheck recordings of performances by the Berigan band of “Savoy Jump”/”Perisphere Hop.” Here is the summary of that information. “Savoy Jump” was first recorded off the air on June 22, 1939 from Westwood Symphony Gardens in Dearborn, Michigan. The next aircheck of it is from Valley Dale Ballroom, Columbus, Ohio on June 25, 1939. It was recorded from the Panther Room of Hotel Sherman on July 21, 1939, and then again on July 23, 1939 as “Perisphere Hop.”
I have a dub of what I think is the first of the two Hotel Sherman performances. It was taken from the original acetate recording disk back in the 1970s with absolutely no cleanup of the excessive surface noise present in that source recording. Recently, while preparing this post, I have been working in my sound studio to remove enough of that noise so that recording can be presented either here, as an addendum to this post, or as a free-standing post on the bunnyberiganmrtrumpet.com blog. This has proved to be a daunting task, but I have not yet given up on trying to clean-up that recording.
Relevant to this blog post, which is about “Just Kiddin’ Around,” I can say that the original Conniff composition/arrangement of “Savoy Jump’/”Perisphere Hop” contains a totally different saxophone soli that makes it clear that Conniff’s original composition was based, at least in part, on the chords of the 1928 pop tune “Coquette.”
[i] This quote was taken from the Ray Conniff website called: “my web pages.comcast.net Ray Conniff,” January 2008.
(1) Jazz Band – My Life in Jazz, by Max Kaminsky and V.E. Hughes, Da Capo Press, Inc. (1963), page 125.
The recordings presented here were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo. Considerable audio restoration was also done on the alternate take.