“Green Goon Jive”
Composed by Jan Savitt; arranged by Billy Moore.
Recorded by Jan Savitt and His Top Hatters for Decca on January 3, 1941 in New York.
Jan Savitt, directing: Jack Hansen, first trumpet; George Hosfeld and Jack Palmer, trumpets; Al Leopold, first trombone; Ben Pickering and Al George, trombones; George “Gigi” Bohn, first alto saxophone; Ted Duane, alto saxophone; Fran Ludwig and Eddie Clausen, tenor saxophones; Ray Tucci, baritone saxophone; Jack Pleis, piano; Danny Perri, guitar; Howard Cook, bass; Russ Isaacs, drums.(*)
(*) There has been some confusion surrounding the personnel of Jan Savitt’s band for this recording, and even uncertainty about the recording date. The information presented above is my best attempt to correct the historical record. If anyone has more definite information about these issues, please post a comment below or contact me.)
The story: How Jan Savitt managed to keep together a first-rate band through 1940 is told in detail in the post here at swingandbeyond.com on “Ring Dem Bells.” A link to that post appears at the bottom of this post. Basically, Savitt and his band were booked by Music Corporation of America (MCA) on mostly one-night dance jobs throughout the eastern one-third of the United States, with a week or split-week at a theater thrown in periodically to provide Savitt with enough revenue to keep his band on the road. By the holiday season of 1940, Savitt and his sidemen, along with vocalists Allan DeWitt and Ruth Robin were exhausted. MCA pulled them off the road for a few days just before the end of the year. They had not been in Decca’s recording studios since the preceding April. Back-to-back recording dates were set-up for January 2 and 3, 1941.
Exhausted or not, the Savitt band we hear in this swinging performance of arranger Billy Moore’s chart on Savitt’s original riff composition called “Green Goon Jive,” demonstrates that they definitely had developed some serious road chops on their many tours throughout 1940. Their playing on this recording is at once disciplined and spirited.
“Green Goon Jive” is arranged by Billy Moore (1917-1989), one of the less remembered arrangers to start his musical career during the swing era. Moore came to some prominence in the world of swing by succeeding Sy Oliver as Jimmie Lunceford’s main arranger after Oliver left Lunceford in the spring of 1939 to join Tommy Dorsey. Moore was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, but moved to New York City in 1932. It is unclear how Moore got his earliest musical education, but by 1938, he was writing arrangements for a band of hip teen-agers in Harlem called Freddie Williams and His Royal Barons. (This band included, in addition to Billy Moore, such future accomplished musicians as pianist Herbie Nichols and bassist George Duvivier.) In approximately 1938, the Royal Barons were good enough to land a gig as a relief band at the Renaissance Casino, a large dance hall in Harlem on Seventh Avenue at 138th Street. The featured band that night was Lunceford’s. After the Lunceford band finished playing and started to pack up, the Royal Barons started to play. The Lunceford musicians took notice, especially Sy Oliver and Lunceford himself. (Above right: Billy Moore in the 1960s.)
Shortly after this, Billy Moore, who had a day job in a Harlem butcher shop, began to study arranging with Sy Oliver. Slowly, some of Moore’s arrangements, including his original compositions, began to enter the Lunceford book. These eventually included: “Belgium Stomp,” “What’s Your Story Morning Glory?” “Chopin Prelude No. 7,” “Bugs Parade” and “Monotony in Four Flats,” among others. When listening to Moore’s arrangements for the Lunceford band, it is immediately apparent that he had great talent, and a musical voice that was his own. When Oliver left the Lunceford band, Moore was well-prepared to take over as Lunceford’s chief arranger.
Unfortunately, a dispute soon developed when Lunceford began to record some of Moore’s original compositions. Lunceford and his manager Harold Oxley had a small music publishing business together, and Oxley urged Lunceford to get as many original titles as possible from the arrangers in his band to be published by their company. This wasn’t necessarily a problem. But when Lunceford began to insist that his name be added as co-composer on Moore’s original compositions, Moore objected. After this dispute began, the Lunceford band essentially stopped recording Moore’s original compositions (though they recorded many of his arrangements of other peoples’ tunes). Moore apparently had signed a one year contract with Lunceford in the spring of 1939. When that contract came up for renewal, Moore and Lunceford parted company. Moore then began working as a free-lance arranger. One of his numerous customers was Jan Savitt. (1)
The Decca record that carried Jan Savitt’s “Green Goon Jive” lists Savitt’s name alone as its composer. In the case of this swing original, that means that Savitt created the undulating eight bar melodic fragment which is the tune’s “head,” and a musically contrasting eight bar bridge melody. At that point, Savitt handed those bits of music to arranger Billy Moore, who created an arrangement as a setting for a riff-based AABA thirty-two bar tune. Moore utilized the trademark “shuffle rhythm” that was used in many Savitt arrangements as a stylistic identifying device.
Pianist Jack Pleis (who was later a successful arranger in the New York recording studios) leads the rhythm section to play the band on with a brief introduction. Hear how the saxophone section attacks the unison riffs they play. They are so together that they sound like one marvelously rich-rounding musical instrument. The bright brass punctuations are equally unified under the strong leads of Jack Hansen on trumpet and Al Leopold on trombone. The brass play the bridge offering a contrast to the unison reeds. This is a very together swing band.
The second chorus begins with a three-way round robin between the reeds (now harmonized) the open trumpets and descending open trombones. There follows a rhythmically intense cup-muted trumpet solo that I long assumed was played by Johnny Austin, a big-toned, swaggering trumpeter in the Ziggy Elman mode. Not so. Austin was not in the band when this recording was made. My informed speculation leads me to conclude that the soloist was George Hosfeld, who would remain a stalwart Top Hatter into the early days of World War II. (2) He plays very tasty jazz here. Similarly, there is some confusion as to who plays the improvised tenor saxophone solo.- Fran Ludwig or Eddie Clausen. Both were very capable of playing good jazz. My call is that this solo is played by Clausen. He had been with Savitt for about two years before this recording was made, and took many recorded solos. His sound on tenor was similar to that of Georgie Auld in his 1939 days with Artie Shaw. Clausen’s playing here is rhythmically strong and swinging. (Above right: Jan Savitt with Eddie Clausen at his right. Bassist Morris Rayman is in the background.)
The roaring out-chorus features first trumpeter Jack Hansen in his high register, playing a paraphrase of Ferde Grofe’s “On the Trail” above the ensemble. This is first-class trumpet playing. Curiously, what Hansen plays in this climactic sequence is similar to what was played played by Bunny Berigan on “‘T’Aint So Honey, ‘T’Aint So,” which Berigan recorded at a Thesaurus Transcription session in the summer of 1938. This observation is not intended as a criticism of Hansen – all swing era trumpeters admired Berigan’s playing, and many borrowed from him. What Hansen played on this recording fits, and he played it beautifully and passionately. Bravo Savitt! Bravo Moore! Bravo Top Hatters!
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Information about Billy Moore’s musical apprenticeship and time with Jimmie Lunceford’s band comes from the book Rhythm Is Our Business …Jimmie Lunceford and the Harlem Express by Eddy Determeyer (2006) 164-165.
(2) Prosess of elimination: There were three trumpets in the Savitt band when this recording was made. Jack Hansen was the first trumpeter, not a jazz soloist, and plays lead throughout this performance and the high-note finale. That eliminates him as a possibility for playing the jazz trumpet solo. The third trumpeter was journeyman Jack Palmer, who moved from band to band playing the trumpet parts assigned to him and fitting in. He was not a soloist. The third trumpeter was George Hosfeld, who was not a lead player, but who was a member of the Savitt band for some time as noted above, and appears to have been the trumpeter Savitt used to replace Johnny Austin, who occupied the jazz trumpet chair previously.
Here is the link to Jan Savitt’s romping performance of Duke Ellington’s “Ring Dem Bells”:
Here is the link to another swinging Savitt performance featuring George “Bon Bon” Tunnell:
And here is a great ballad performed by the Savitt band and their first female vocalist, Carlotta Dale: