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Sam Wooding II: Post WWI Harlem

You may not be familiar with Sam Wooding or his music, but he was an important part of jazz history, as you will realize if you listen to his recollections. This is the second of a five-part interview Sam and I did for the Smithsonian during April of 1975. In Part I, he reminisced about about his childhood, growing up in Philadelphia and spending time in Atlantic City, a place where many pioneers of black American music worked at the beginning of the 20th century.

December 3, 1924 advertisement. Sam Wooding's
band replaced Fletcher Henderson at the Alabam.
Here Sam picks up the story at the end of 1915—when he had left his family to go on his own as a pianist in Atlantic City—and. recounts his Army experience as a band musician, playing baritone and alto horn under Bill Vodery's leadership in New York and France. Returning to his hometown, Philadelphia, he has his first experience as a band leader, goes back to Atlantic City, "inherits" a cabaret in Detroit, and eventually takes a six-piece band into Barron Wilkins' cabaret in Harlem. Sam also gives us a fascinating back room glimpse of Harlem's club scene, weaving into this part of his recollections such colleagues as Ethel Waters, Bricktop, Lucky Roberts, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Johnson, Eubie Blake and Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon. It all takes us up to 1923, when Sam brought his band to the new Nest Club and had not an inkling of a near future offer that would take him back to Europe, give his career a new, historic twist, and forever change his life.

Sam Wooding on a visit to my
apartment in November, 1982.

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