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8.120681 - CROSBY, Bob and BOB CATS: Palesteena (1937-1940)
BOB CROSBY’S BOB CATS
‘Palesteena’ Original Recordings 1937
Although upstaged by his elder brother, among crooners the personable Bob Crosby had a distinctive timbre and a style of his own, albeit he was never really a jazz singer. More significantly, however, he won world renown as the front-man of one of the best-organised American swing-bands of the 1930s – a trailblazer in the New Orleans Revival, it was the one which did most to revitalise Dixieland. Born George Robert Crosby in Spokane, Washington on 25 August 1913, Bob first made an impression as a singer during 1933 and 1934 with the Anson Weeks orchestra and famously doubled briefly as a vocalist with the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra (despite the vociferous opposition of Tommy, who rated him a poor second to the great Bing).
Later in 1934 Bob joined Ben Pollack and was with the band when it broke up in California. By the time it opened at the Roseland Ballroom in June 1935, however, the incipient Bob Crosby Orchestra was already taking shape under another figure, Pollack’s Russian-born ex-tenor-saxophonist Gilbert ‘Gil’ Rodin (1906-1974). The entrepreneurial Rodin was prime mover of the co-operative group affectionately dubbed ‘Pollack’s Orphans’ and it was he who initially hired (via the Rockwell–O’Keefe Agency) the casual, easy-going Bob to front the new band, with saxophonist Dean Kincaide (b. Houston, Texas, 1911) and bassist-composer Bob Haggart (b. New York, 1914) as its forward-looking arrangers. Rodin would remain the group’s leader and musical director (he was later appointed its president) and was also Bob’s personal manager, remaining faithful until the organisation disbanded in 1942 when several of its members, including himself, were drafted into the US forces.
Under Rodin’s wing, alongside its not inconsiderable stake in the schmaltzy Swing market (evidenced by a succession of hits starting with “In A Little Gypsy Tea Room” in 1935) the Crosby Orchestra swiftly became the pre-eminent, all-white, Dixieland big-band, albeit the band’s earliest critics viewed its slavish homage to traditional 1920s Chicago and New Orleans as obsolescent and retrograde. Its most prestigious residency, at the Black Hawk Restaurant (1938-1939), was followed by two stints on the commercial radio show Camel Caravan, the first replacing Benny Goodman. The band’s members, at first hampered like their dancing public by the rigid exigencies of Swing, consciously looked to the music of earlier decades and a high proportion of the band’s commercial and jazz releases (Decca Records were at first unsure of the market for Dixieland) reflected a conscious policy of reviving the tried and familiar.
However, as the perception that white bands could – and should – be as hot as their black counterparts appeared to be growing at the same rate as the audience for Goodman-style Swing, radical changes were soon to be instituted. An energetic band-within-the-band small group, dubbed the Bobcats, soon assuaged any disappointed jazz fans. Between 1936 and the musicians’ strike of 1942 a good third of the band’s recorded output was devoted to Bob Cats arrangements (effected principally by Haggart) and already by April 1936 the full band had begun to follow suit with “Muskrat Ramble” and “Dixieland Shuffle”, the first in a long line of Dixieland items.
The Bob Cats are nowadays best remembered for a string of sides generally rated classic Dixieland re-creations. No doubt encouraged by the popularity of a longer list of full-band numbers (notably “Royal Garden Blues”, “Wolverine Blues” and the band’s virtual theme-tune “South Rampart Street Parade” –all in fine Haggart or Matlock arrangements, these are still standards of the idiom) the Bob Cats followed suit with a steady stream of titles which also reached a ready international market. These included their own ‘theme’ March Of The Bob Cats, Palesteena (a revival of a Con Conrad standard first introduced in a vocal version by Frank Crumit, in 1921), Five Point Blues, Call Me A Taxi and I Hear You Talking (fine creations variously tailored by the band’s talented sidemen-arrangers Bauduc, Haggart Lawson, Miller and Zurke), plus a host of other ‘revivals’ including Zez Confrey’s Stumbling (1922) and Carmen Lombardo’s Coquette (1928), with characteristic pseudo-oriental revivals like Washington And Lee Swing (1910) and Hindustan (1918) set proudly alongside the new, including British arranger Arthur Young’s imported settings of Shakespeare and “The Big Crash From China” and Big Foot Jump.
The orchestra’s founding members comprised a number with either direct New Orleans pedigree or New Orleans influences. Prominent among the key figures of its seven-year existence were the trumpeters Yank Lawson (b. Trenton, Missouri, 1911) and Billy Butterfield (b. Middletown, Ohio, 1917-1988); the clarinettists Irving Fazola (b. New Orleans, 1912-1949), Matty Matlock (b. Paducah, Kentucky, 1907-1978) and Eddie Miller (b. New Orleans, 1911) – their co-presence inspired the nickname ‘Band of the Clarinets’; guitarist Nappy Lamare (b. New Orleans, 1907-1988); pianists Bob Zurke (b. Detroit, 1912-1944), Joe Sullivan (b. Chicago, 1906-1971) and Jess Stacy (b. Bird’s Point, Missouri, 1904) and drummer Ray Bauduc (b. New Orleans, 1908-1988).
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