“No Name Jive” (1940) Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra

No Name Jive”

Composed and arranged by Larry Wagner.

Recorded by Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra for Decca on March 18, 1940 in New York.

Glen Gray, directing: Frank Ryerson, first trumpet; H. Grady Watts and Seymour “Sy” Baker, trumpets; Billy Rauch, first trombone; Walter “Pee Wee” Hunt, trombone; Murray McEachern, trombone and alto saxophone; Art Ralston, first alto saxophone; Danny D’Andrea, tenor saxophone; Clarence B. Hutchenrider, alto saxophone and clarinet; Pat Davis, tenor saxophone; Kenny Sargent, baritone saxophone; Joe Hall, piano; Jacques “Jack” Blanchette, guitar; Stanley “Denny” Dennis, bass; Tony Briglia, drums.

The story: By the time Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra recorded “No Name Jive,” the band had been in existence for over a decade. In addition, most of the members of the band had been a part of Casa Loma for most or all of that time. Beyond that, because many band members were actually part owners of the band, their job security was never in question. This situation, with all of these factors, was rare among bands of the swing era. Most bands were not owned by their members. Sometimes, they were not even owned by their leaders. The ownership set-up exemplified by the Casa Loma band was called “a co-operative.” The other notable bands that used this ownership scheme in the 1930s and into the early 1940s were Bob Crosby’s and Woody Herman’s. (Glen Gray is shown above in 1934.)

Co-operative ownership of a band by its members had its good points and bad points. The good points were that musicians who actually owned a part of the band had a direct financial incentive to work as hard as possible, and play as well as possible, and behave as professionally as possible. If the band was being managed well by its booking agency, that would mean that they would be getting increasingly better work, doing that work well, and moving up the ladder in terms of better and more lucrative employment. What is even more remarkable about the co-operative ownership of the Casa Loma band, is that the Casa Loma members, undoubtedly educated in this matter by Glen Gray, himself a canny businessman, came to understand the symbiotic relationship between a band and its booking agent. The result of this is that their booking agent, Francis “Cork” O’Keefe,” one of the pioneering and  legendary agents of the swing era, and a partner in the Rockwell-O’Keefe booking agency (later to be known as General Amusement Corporation/GAC), was also a part owner owner of the Casa Loma band. This business arrangement used throughout the 1930s by Casa Loma band worked most efficiently to provide compensation to its members who were part owners of the band that was commensurate with the financial success the band was able to achieve. It also provided additional financial rewards to their booking agent Cork O’Keefe, while creating conflicts of interest with O’Keefe’s other clients.(1)  In terms of money, everyone who was a part owner of the Casa Loma band did well, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. (Cork O’Keefe is shown above right – late 1930s.)

A major bad point of running a band as a co-operative venture is that since no one could get fired, even if a performer was a capable musician and a nice guy, his playing might not keep up with that of everyone else in the band. This would cause a drag on everyone else’s playing. Also, lack of change in personnel could result in a certain staleness, or lack of inspiration. Somehow, the Casa Loma musicians kept these negatives to a minimum over a span of more than ten years. (Gray started buying out the members of the co-operative in the early 1940s, and replaced them with musicians who simply drew a salary.)

Throughout the 1930s, the Casa Loma band worked very hard to do whatever was required to advance the financial interests of the band. In the early 1930s, they gradually moved up the food-chain of dance band work, and played better, more lucrative venues. They also began using the power and reach of network radio, then in its infancy, to increase public awareness of Casa Loma’s music. They did this at first by being presented on network radio from various ballrooms and night spots where they were performing. It is through these broadcasts in the early 1930s that the Casa Loma band presented the best tunes in their current repertoire, which usually included a number of slow ballads, often sung by Kenny Sargent, one of the saxophonists in the band. In addition, the Casa Loma band presented a few of their “hot” specialties, which were original tunes/arrangements by the band’s chief arranger and banjoist/guitarist, Gene Gifford.

Their big break as far as network radio was concerned, was their landing a regular spot on CBS’s Camel Caravan, which was initially a variety show that presented music among comedy sketches and other features. This was a big budget, prime-time radio show that aired twice during the week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The sponsor of the show used it as a part of a large-scale advertising campaign aimed at young people. (The results were very positive for swing music and bands, but terrible for the health of Americans who became addicted to nicotine.) Casa Loma began their association with The Camel Caravan on December 5, 1933. By the time they finished their run on The Camel Caravan in mid-1936, they were well-known across the nation, and their asking price had increased several times. (A print ad from the mid-1930s for The Camel Caravan appears at left.)

The music: The composer of “No Name Jive,” Larry Wagner, one of the arrangers Glen Gray had on staff in the late 1930s, later recounted how “No Name Jive” came to be composed: “it’s a series of blues changes I wrote after hearing some guys in a band working out some chord progressions. I thought ‘I got to write me some.’ So I went back to the hotel and holed in and didn’t come up for air for three days. As in so many instrumentals, I wrote the ensemble sections and left some open spaces for the soloists to improvise in. I think I gave a solo to everyone in the band who could play one. Murray McEachern, who usually played trombone, did the alto sax. Clarence Hutchenrider, of course, did the clarinet, but he also did a little tenor sax solo near the end — borrowed someone else’s sax. Grady Watts and Sy Baker did the trumpets. It’s the longest piece the Casa Lomans ever recorded.

I didn’t have a title for it. The fellow who did the copying for the band had to call it something for his workbook, so he called it “No Name Jive.” When the band started to play it at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, the kids liked it and wanted to know what it was. I was still looking for a decent title, but Gray said: ‘The kids are asking for it, so you can’t change it now.’ So the name stuck.” (2)

Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra at about the time “No Name Jive” was recorded: Front, L-R: Murray McEachern, Pee Wee Hunt, Glen Gray. The next row consists of members of the public. Back: Joe Hall, Tony Briglia, Stan Dennis, Danny D’Andrea, Grady Watts, Frank Ryerson, Sy Baker, Clarence Hutchenrider, Jack Blanchette, Art Ralston, Kenny Sargent, Billy Rauch and Pat Davis.

“No Name Jive” is a blues, so it follows the 12 bars to a chorus format. After a brief, bright introduction, the saxophones play the first chorus. This is followed by a trumpet solo (two choruses) by Grady Watts, using a straight mute. Watts was a capable jazz soloist, but as we will see, he had worked out the solo he played on this recording beforehand. The next sequence features the three trombones as a section, playing rhythmically for four choruses, the third and fourth of which have the saxophone players adding a background using their clarinets. Trombone sections in swing bands in 1940 almost never featured for more than a few bars together as a section. This sequence is definitely a highlight of this recording. Notice how drummer Tony Briglia plays 4/4 time on his “top” cymbal (forerunner of the “ride” cymbal) in the first of these four choruses. Not many drummers were doing that in early 1940.

The next soloist is clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider. “Hutch,” as he was called, was a very good improviser, and he handled his clarinet with skill. His two chorus solo here, which is completely improvised, is excellent. (Hutchenrider is pictured at right.) After this solo, there is a fanfare followed by full ensemble riffs for two choruses, leading to a mini climax, which ends part one of “No Name Jive.”

Part Two begins with Murray McEachern putting down his trombone, and picking up his alto saxophone to play three building choruses of blues. As we will see, McEachern also worked out most of this solo beforehand, including the third chorus during which he plays in the tricky high register of his saxophone. (McEachern is shown at left.) Trumpeter Sy Baker, who had only recently replaced Casa Loma’s long-time high-note trumpet specialist, Sonny Dunham (who left to start his own band), plays two nicely shaped choruses in the course of covering much of the range of the trumpet.

After this solo, the arrangement builds with the entire band playing, reeds riffing against brass, riding atop drummer Briglia’s back beats.

The final soloist, on tenor saxophone, (according to Larry Wagner), is Clarence Hutchenrider, who rarely played that instrument. (He played alto saxophone in the section.) The sound he gets is interesting. (See comments below.)

This performance is a very good one overall. The Casa Loma band, so often criticized for its machine-like precision, is quite loose here, and that can be directly attributed to the excellent playing of bassist Stan Dennis, guitarist Jack Blanchette, and most of all to drummer Tony Briglia, one of the unsung heroes of the band, and indeed of swing drumming. Briglia’s ever changing patterns behind the soloists and ensembles are a joy for the listener to hear, and I’m sure inspired everyone in the band. (Tony Briglia is pictured at right in 1931.)

For the sake of comparison, I am presenting a live recording of “No Name Jive,” made on March 19,1940, the day after the commercial recording of it for Decca was made. This recording was taken from a broadcast over NBC radio from the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, one of the great showcases of big bands during the swing era.

“No Name Jive”

Composed and arranged by Larry Wagner.

Personnel as above.

The music: This performance is even more swinging than the Decca studio recording. It is interesting to compare the solos in each: Watts’s trumpet solo is virtually identical, though well-played in each instance. Hutchenrider’s clarinet solo is almost completely different. Notice how he he soars off in a quite fanciful direction in his second chorus. McEachern’s alto solo is almost identical, though he does offer a soulful little phrase at the end of his second chorus that is not on the Decca record. Baker’s trumpet solo is totally different, and is exciting, though he almost lets his considerable technique get away from him in places.

The tenor saxophone solo near the end, attributed to Hutchenrider by Larry Wagner, and played on a borrowed horn (supposedly from Danny D’Andrea), is fascinating not for the notes played, which are similar to those on the Decca recording, but for its sound.  In Hutchenrider’s hands, it sounds like a cross between Frank Trumbauer and Lester Young. Bravo Hutch!

Once again the rhythm team shines, with its leader, drummer Tony Briglia, providing a romping beat and plenty of color.

(1) Despite the obvious conflicts of interest Coke O’Keefe had with other of his clients at Rockwell-O’Keefe because of his ownership interest in the Casa Loma band, he seemed to bend over backward to assist and aggressively represent his other high-profile clients, like Jimmy Dorsey and Bob Crosby, Bing Crosby’s younger brother, and the titular leader of a band that was actually led by dance band veteran Gil Rodin. In fact, it was O’Keefe who guided Rodin through the process of organizing the Bob Crosby band using the “co-operative” business model he had pioneered with the Casa Loma band.

(2) The Swing Era …1939-1940, Time-Life Books (1971), 56-57.

The recordings presented here were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Links:

Here is a link to the story and music of the great theme song of the Casa Loma band, “Smoke Rings”:  https://swingandbeyond.com/?s=Smoke+Rings

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