Composed by Con Conrad and J. Russell Robinson (music), Benny Davis (lyric); arranged by Sy Oliver.
Recorded by Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra for Decca on January 6, 1938 in New York.
Jimmie Lunceford, directing: Eddie Tompkins, Paul Webster and Melvin “Sy” Oliver, trumpets; Elmer Crumbley, Russell Bowles and James “Trummy” Young, trombones; Willie Smith, first alto saxophone; Teddy Buckner and Dan Grissom, alto saxophones; Joe Thomas, tenor saxophone; Earl “Jock” Carruthers, baritone saxophone; Eddie Wilcox, piano; Al Norris, guitar; Moses Allen, bass; James “Craw” Crawford, drums. Trummy Young, vocal. (Trummy Young was referred to as “Johnny” on the Decca record label. That label also carries the name “Young” as a co-composer, but omits the name of J. Russell Robinson, who definitely collaborated with Con Conrad on the music.)
The story: “The song ‘Margie’ has had quite a career. The music was written by Con Conrad and J. Russell Robinson (lyric by Benny Davis) to honor Eddie Cantor’s five year-old daughter. Eddie sang it on Broadway, of course. ‘Margie’ was one of the first jazz record best-sellers – the one the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made in 1920 with’ Palesteena’ on the other side.(1)
Of all of the hundreds of ‘Margies’ sung and played since then, none stands up to the one Jimmie Lunceford recorded in 1938. This is partly because of Sy Oliver’s swinging arrangement, partly because of the expressive alto saxophone solo (by Teddy Buckner), but mostly because of the wonderfully infectious choruses sung and played (on trombone) by Trummy Young.” When Young was called upon to recreate his original performance thirty-two years after the original Lunceford record was made, he was thrilled, and happy to reminisce.
“I always liked that tune since I was a child, and once I told Sy Oliver I was thinking about it, and I hummed it for him. I must have hummed my version of it five or six times, and he kept filling in the skeleton of the background (of his arrangement). ‘Margie” was the first vocal I ever did (on record). It was one of the only tunes I knew the lyrics to – and was it ever popular! Every girl named Margie thought I was singing it to her!”
Trummy Young solos in front of the Jimmie Lunceford band 1939. Behind him L-R: Willie Smith, Joe Thomas, Teddy Buckner and Jock Carruthers. Lunceford is in front of Young.
Sy Oliver himself added a few touched to Trummy’s story: “Trummy’s trombone break on the last chorus is very high and very difficult. I don’t remember how many takes we did in making that record in 1938 – maybe eight or nine – and on all the takes Trummy never missed that break once.”
Young told told an interviewer a bit about his early career in 1971, when he returned to the U.S. mainland from Hawaii, where he then lived, at the behest of Billy May, the conductor of the “Margie” remake recording session. Young began his professional career at age fourteen. By 1933, he was a member of Earl Hines’s red-hot band at the Grand Terrace Cafe’ in Chicago. By 1937, several bands were after him. “I could have gone to Cab Calloway for twice as much (money) as Lunceford (offered), but I couldn’t stand all that hollerin’…(Calloway’s singing). Lunceford warned me that I was coming into a nice band. They were all educated, well-behaved fellows, he said – some even went to church and Sunday school regularly. I told him I wasn’t well-educated, and sometimes was a little wild. I didn’t go to church and I wasn’t figuring to start it, but he still hired me to play trombone in that Sunday school band. Man, I was the ignorant one in that band! It was a punctual outfit .Nothing haphazard. But it had wonderful spirit! We never made much, but it was fun playing.” (1) – A brief biography of Trummy Young can be found at this endnote.)
The music: Sy Oliver’s arrangement on “Margie” starts with a delightful, swinging introduction which includes a bright ensemble burst, and a snatch of Ted Buckner’s alto saxophone. Buckner then picks up the melody of “Margie,” as the first chorus begins, being backed by the brass being played into their derby mutes in various ways, and the open trombones voiced with the saxophones. Buckner is seldom remembered today because Lunceford’s main alto saxophone soloist was the virtuosic Willie Smith, who also led the saxophone section. But Buckner had a bright, singing tone on alto, and a gentle, loping swing that Lunceford used from time to time when, as here, swinging melodic playing was required. (At right: The brilliant arranger Sy Oliver. Below left- alto saxophonist Ted Buckner.)
There is a brief interlude between the first and second choruses which is filled by a bit of Al Norris’s acoustic guitar. Then Trummy Young sings through the second chorus. Once again, notice the variety of backing he gets from the band: first gliding saxophones and then the rhythmic ensemble. Also notice the marvelous brushwork applied by drummer Jimmy “Craw” Crawford, which meshes perfectly with Moses Allen’s bass and Norris’s guitar. This is the quintessence of the famous “Lunceford bounce.”
The final chorus is a showcase for Young’s trombone playing. The first sixteen bars are played against a background of shifting instrumental sounds. The last sixteen bars contain an intensifying dynamic level and rhythm – the band begins to rock, with Young swinging away on top of it all. The finale is a beautiful upward trombone glissando, or as jazz musicians call it, a rip.
Composed by Con Conrad and J. Russell Robinson (music); and Benny Davis (lyric); Sy Oliver arrangement reconstructed by Billy May.
Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra on November 23, 1970 for Capitol in Hollywood.
Billy May, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Pete Candoli, Shorty Sherock, Uan Rasey and Chuck Findley, trumpets; Dick Nash, first trombone; Francis Howard, Lew McCreary, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Abe Most, alto saxophone; Justin Gordon and Don Lodice, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums. Soloists: Les Robinson, alto saxophone; Trummy Young vocal and trombone.
The music: This performance captures the spirit of the Lunceford original. The beautiful high-fidelity recording quality allows the many subtle orchestral touched created by arranger Sy Oliver to be heard clearly and savored. Teddy Buckner’s melodic alto saxophone solo is taken here by Les Robinson, who also had a bright sound, and his own special bounce. Particularly delightful is the subtle movement among the brass and reed sections in the background as Robinson sings the melody on his instrument.
Trummy Young’s youthful vocal belies the fact that over three decades had passed since he first recorded this song with Jimmie Lunceford’s band. Here he projects a joyous verve quite effectively even though by 1971 he had sung “Margie” hundreds if not thousands of times. And his trombone playing was also excellent, including his trademark upward rip at the end. Through it all, the band of swing era veterans behind Young bring the nuances of Sy Oliver’s arrangement vividly to life.
It is clear that there was very good karma in the studio when this performance was recorded. Billy May, though he could be quite dour looking, was in fact a jovial man who had a great sense of humor, and a finely tuned wit, which he used to mellow-out recording sessions that could get quite tense. All of the musicians who worked under him as a conductor respected his musical ability, and enjoyed making music with him. Very often, as here, it clearly was fun.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) The Swing Era 1937-1938 (1971), notes on the music by Joseph Kastner, 61. James Osborne Young was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1912. Young moved with his family to Washington D.C. via Richmond, Virginia as a child, and began playing a number of musical instruments, including trumpet, drums and trombone. By his mid-teens he has settled on playing the trombone. He worked his way through a series of territory bands in the Washington – Baltimore region, then moved to Chicago in late 1933 to join Earl Hines’s band. He remained with Hines until September of 1937, when he joined Jimmie Lunceford. He remained with Lunceford until March of 1943. He then began working as a free-lance, playing and making recordings with many groups, including the big bands of Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman, and many small groups including one led by jazz legend Charlie Parker. Young was a participant in the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours of 1946 and 1947. He moved to Hawaii in 1947, working regularly in Honolulu. He joined Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars in 1952, and worked with Louis through 1963. He returned to his home in Hawaii and worked regularly there through the remaining 1960s, but frequently returned to Los Angeles for special projects. Starting in the 1970s, Young remained busy with jazz party appearances until his death in 1984.
Here are some links to other great performances here at swingandbeyond.com by Jimmie Lunceford’s band: