Continuing the extended 1975 interviews with band leader Sam Wooding, we have reached Berlin and opening night of the Chocolate Kiddies show. Sam talks about his impressions of Berlin and his band's subsequent appearances in Hamburg, Leningrad, Stockholm and Copenhagen. This was not the first time Europeans experienced jazz or heard a black band, but the Sam Wooding Orchestra played on concert stages, as opposed to clubs, so it reached a new audience and—there not being dedicated jazz journalists—was reviewed by critics who were more at home with Mozart, Debussy or Scarlatti. Sam was well prepared for this, so he had incorporated what he called "symphonic synthesis," strains of melodies that any European would recognize. It worked and was perhaps never as well tested as when the Wooding orchestra performed at an annual Christmas charity concert sponsored by Berlingske Tidende, a Copenhagen newspaper. That night, they shared the stage with the Royal Symphony Orchestra and several prominent members of the Royal Danish Opera and Ballet. Paul Whiteman's orchestra had appeared with George Gershwin at New York's Aeolian Hall the year before, but Wooding was probably the first black leader to take his orchestra to a stage that normally held white musicians, and the Copenhagen concert was certainly the first instance of jazz and classical music sharing a public concert. Here is what a contemporary Danish newspaper critic wrote after experiencing Sam's orchestra that night:
|In 1971, when I translated this review for Sam, it was the first time he heard it.|
The cover of a Danish satyrical magazine (the name translates intoVicious Circle) was inspired by Sam's orchestra, but the faces are
those of local politicians.
To the Danes, who knew jazz only as the unique musical invention of Black Americans, the juxtaposition seemed perfectly natural, but to most Americans, who still viewed jazz as some lower form of novelty, such an arrangement would have been unthinkable. “We found it hard to believe, but the Europeans treated us with as much respect as they did their own symphonic orchestras," Sam said. “They loved our music, but they didn’t quite understand it, so I made it a little easier for them by incorporating such melodies as Du holder Abendstern from Tannhauser - syncopated, of course. They called it blasphemy, but they couldn’t get enough of it. That would never have happened back here in the States."
Oh Katharina offers a good example of Sam's genre weave. It is one of four sides recorded acoustically by the Vox label 10 days after the Chocolate Kiddies show opened in Berlin. Notice that Sam's arrangement also brings in Oh Tannenbaum, which turned out to be perfect for the Danish Christmas charity concert.
|Members of the Chocolate Kiddies Revue in Vienna.|
|Sam poses at the piano with members of his orchestra (Berlin, 1925)|