“Swing Out”/”Baltimore Bounce”
“Swing Out” was composed by Erskine Hawkins and Avery Parrish. Parrish wrote the arrangement.
“Baltimore Bounce” was composed by Erskine Hawkins and Sammy Lowe. Lowe wrote the arrangement.
Recorded by Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra live in performance by N.B.C. from the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, Manhattan, New York on January 13, 1940.
Erskine Hawkins, trumpet, directing: Sammy Lowe, first trumpet, Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb, Marcellus “Monte” Green, trumpets; Bob Range and Edward “Captain” Sims, trombones; William “Bill” Johnson, first alto saxophone; Jimmy Mitchelle, alto saxophone; Julian Dash, tenor saxophone: Haywood Henry, baritone and soprano saxophones and clarinet; Avery Parrish, piano; William McLemore, guitar; Leemie “Gate” Stanfield, bass; James “Jack” Morrison, drums.
The relationship between trumpeter Erskine Hawkins and the Savoy Ballroom was a long and successful one. That story is told in the post that presents and discusses his great recording of “Tippin’ In,” found using the link at note (1) below. Musically, the Hawkins band was a favorite of the dancers who packed the Savoy through much of the swing era because whatever they played was perfect for dancing. Fundamental to that was having a swinging rhythm section, and the Hawkins band always had a quartet of piano/guitar/bass/drums that functioned like a well-oiled swing machine. The members of that rhythm section when the recordings presented here were made were: Avery Parrish, piano; William McLemore, guitar; Leemie Stanfield, bass; James Morrison, drums. With the exception of the ill-fated Avery Parrish, whose evocative performance of “After Hours” with the Hawkins band is a swing era classic, the names of these fine musicians have been covered by the ever-shifting sands of time. Nevertheless, when the Hawkins band was swinging before World War II, these men were always largely responsible.
The basic formula for success for any band during the swing era was based on the three Rs, those being the Road (touring); making Records; and appearing on Radio. Despite the fact that the Erskine Hawkins band spent many weeks each year in residence at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem (and at the nearby Apollo Theater), they also toured widely, indeed across the United States. Usually, those tours included weeks filled with of one-night stands at ballrooms. Sprinkled in were engagements in theaters of all sizes, from the Paramount Theater in Times Square in Manhattan, to many smaller theaters in smaller cities. For any band to keep working throughout the swing era, a careful mix of engagements had to be secured by the band’s booking agency, and then played successfully by the band. This ensured that the band earned enough money each week to cover ongoing expenses, including the largest expense, the salaries of the performers.
The Hawkins band secured a contract to make records with the Bluebird label of Victor Records in 1938. For the next dozen years, they produced a lot of recordings for Bluebird and Victor, many of which sold well, some of which sold exceptionally well.
A sponsored network radio show was basically unattainable for the Hawkins band because of systemic racial discrimination in the 1930s and 1940s. Such shows often paid more than enough to cover the weekly payroll expenses of a big band, and paid another big dividend: great public relations/advertising for the bandleader and his band. So Hawkins and company had to make that money and get that p.r. in other ways. Touring was most often the place way in which that could be done. But touring was always more lucrative if the band about to start touring had been broadcasting regularly on radio in the area to be toured for days, weeks or even months before. Since a regular sponsored radio show was out, Hawkins had to get on radio in another way. Fortunately, another way existed during the swing era. It was the “sustaining” or unsponsored broadcasts that emanated from nightspots all over the U.S.A. on which bands were presented with a minimum of talk, and allowed to be themselves musically far more that they were on scripted sponsored shows. The number of these sustaining broadcasts that occurred during the swing era was many thousands if not tens of thousands. Although these sustaining broadcasts paid nothing, they did provide a lot of promotion for the bands that were being broadcast. And not incidentally, they contained an enormous amount of the greatest music of the swing era. (Above right: announcer Jack Costello at the NBC microphone at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem with Erskine Hawkins.)
The music: At the time the broadcast we hear with this post was made and recorded, Erskine Hawkins and his band were moving up in the world of swing. The story of that is very much involved with the tune called “Tuxedo Junction.” (See note 2 below for a link to more information about that.) Before “Tuxedo Junction” became a major hit record for Glenn Miller, the Hawkins band used the jaunty riff tune “Swing Out,” composed and arranged by their pianist Avery Parrish, as their sign-on radio theme. After “Tuxedo Junction” became popular, they used it as their theme.
In this recording from the Savoy Ballroom, we hear NBC announcer Alan Robinson introducing Erskine Hawkins and his band, and generally being very much in the spirit of the music and the place. (The broadcast took place from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday January 13, 1940.) (3) Hawkins’s musical identity was centered around his uncommon ability to play the trumpet in its high register, thus his billing as “The Twentieth Century Gabriel,” which as one would expect became as much a curse as it was an identifier. It was a curse in the musical sense because audiences expected Hawkins to play as high as possible far more than good musical taste would have allowed. Nevertheless, Hawkins did his best to balance his high-register playing with playing in other registers of his instrument, often using various mutes.
After giving the people what they expected at the beginning of “Swing Out,” the Hawkins band quickly settles into a swinging groove. Hear the cup-muted brass in dialog with the riffing saxophones. As brief solos take place, by Haywood Henry on baritone saxophone (shown below at left) and Bill Johnson on alto saxophone, the mutes come out. This was a very effective radio introduction for Erskine Hawkins and his band.
The first tune to be played after the intro was the fast-moving “Baltimore Bounce,” composed and arranged by the first trumpeter in the Hawkins band, Sammy Lowe. Lowe’s introduction is colorful. Listen to the porcine sounds that he got from the muted trombones. They lead into an upward cup-muted trumpet phrase played by Hawkins, and then a burst of brass. The first chorus spots riffing saxophones in counterpoise with the open brass. Haywood Henry is heard in the saxophone section playing soprano at various places as the music moves through the first chorus.
Maestro Hawkins, playing a tart cup-muted trumpet solo against colorful backgrounds, highlights the second chorus.
Lead alto saxophonist Bill Johnson solos next, also taking a full chorus. At first he plays against the oo-oh brass (sixteen bars), and then accompanied only by that jubilantly swinging rhythm section on the bridge. His final eight bars return to the format of the first sixteen.
The final chorus features the entire ensemble riffing away, punctuated by drummer Jack Morrison dusting up his high-hat cymbals in places. An upward modulation springs Hawkins again, this time on his open, high-register trumpet for the dramatic finale.
Another of the tunes played on this broadcast was “Gin Mill Special,” a soulful romp that was also composed and arranged by Sammy Lowe. Here it is:
“Gin Mill Special”
Composed by Sammy Lowe and Erskine Hawkins; arranged by Sammy Lowe.
Personnel as above.
Whereas “Baltimore Bounce” featured solos by Hawkins on trumpet and Bill Johnson on alto saxophone, “Gin Mill Special” spotlights Wilbur “Dud” Bascomb (shown at left) on plunger-muted trumpet and Julian Dash (below right) on tenor saxophone. Both of these solos are extended and contain some fine jazz. Hawkins follows Dash and provides some high-note flash and triple-tonguing in his solo. Near the end, we hear pianist Avery Parrish testing some of the musical ideas he would soon fashion into his great showpiece “After Hours.”
The recordings presented with this post were graciously provided to me by the late Carl Hallstrom. The digital transfers from the NBC airchecks were done by Karl Pearson, to whom I am most grateful. Mike Zirpolo did the digital remastering, removal of noise, and sonic restoration.
Notes and links:
Here is a link to a piece that presents a lot of information about the dancing that drove the success of the Savoy Ballroom and the Erskine Hawkins band:
Here is a short music video from 1938 that features the early Hawkins band. The soloists are: Bill Johnson on alto saxophone, Dud Bascomb on trumpet, his brother, Paul Bascomb, on tenor saxophone, and of course Erskine Hawkins at the end.
Here are some other performances/stories about the Erskine Hawkins band: