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Russell Procope - Part 2

Here is the continuation of my 1979 Smithsonian interview with Russell Procope. Here, he recollects being traded to Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, touring in Pennsylvania with Jelly Roll Morton, working briefly with Benny Carter at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York, learning from Coleman Hawkins how to play slow, and from Ellington what could be done with a baritone saxophone, etc. He also talks about widespread dislike for John Hammond, and expresses his own negative feelings regarding rock and roll, the group Supersax, and the use of flutes in jazz. 

Procope interview - Part 2

There is more of this interview, but I have to figure out how to fix a broken cassette before I can bring it to you. I'm working on it.


Elmer Snowden: Saturday Night Fish Fry

Here is another track from the Elmer Snowden Sextet session of February 2, 1962, the second of two lively affairs with this stellar and—some reviewers thought—unorthodox group. It was assembled solely for these two occasions and, until I read it in a couple of reviews, having Roy Eldridge and Bud Freeman together and up front never struck me as "bizarre." Elmer didn't have a problem with it, either.

Roy Eldridge
"Saturday Night Fish Fry" was made popular by Louis Jordan's Tympany Five in 1949, but I think you will agree that it was a perfect party song for Roy, who dominates this rendition. Roy's musical association with Elmer goes back to the early Thirties, when he became a member of Elmer's band at Small's Paradise. He made his celluloid debut as one of the many redcaps in the Vitaphone short, "Smash Your Baggage," a wonderful little piece of history filmed on a set that convincingly replicates Grand Central Station. Elmer's bands were always early stomping grounds for future stars, starting with his bringing to New York Duke Ellington for his 1923 group, The Washingtonians. Duke eventually took over and the Washingtonians morphed into his first orchestra—we all know the rest of that story. Besides Eldridge, the band seen in this 1933 film included long-time Ellingtonian Otto Hardwick, Big Sid Catlett, Al Sears, and Dicky Wells, and some terrific dancing by, among others, Rubberlegs Williams. Four years later, Williams would sing "My Buddy," the song informally known as "The Lesbian National Anthem" at Bessie Smith's funeral, and later still, he would record with Dizzy Gillespie. The lady who in one of the film's segments is heard emphatically pleading that someone "Stop the Moon, Stop the Sun" is believed to be Mabel Scott. You will find this little cinematic gem at the bottom of this post.
Elmer Snowden's Nest Club band. He is seated on left.

Here is "Saturday Night Fish Fry," in which Roy imagines Jo Jones jivin' Bud Freeman's wife and briefly gets lost in the lyrics, but skillfully overcomes. Solos are by Elmer, Bud and Roy, and an impromptu chorus, that includes the voices of Dan Morgenstern and the older John Hammond, assures us that "it was rockin'."

Incidental information: The signatures that appear on the header are not autographs, but rather endorsements lifted from the backs the cheques with which I paid the musicians for the session.

Here is "Smash Your Baggage"...


Russell Procope interview - Part 1

The first jazz record I ever bought was a 10" 78 rpm Parlophone coupling of John Kirby's great little band playing Dawn on the Desert and The Turf. I was new to jazz and had actually gone to Copenhagen's Magasin du Nord's record department in search of a Beethoven sonata. It was around 1948 and my grandparents had made me a gift of their old HMV floor model gramophone, the English Victrola. New records were still hard to get, so when none of the store's three classical recordings appealed to me, I ask to see what they had in jazz. They had that one recording, so I bought it.

Kirby's five-piece band was a stellar group of musicians, three of whom I would get to know personally several years later, but their names were all new to me when I slipped the disc onto my turntable, wound up the old machine, and treated my ears. This had to be done before my mother came home and found me out. She could always tell when I was playing a new acquisition, and that was her cue to suggest that a pair of socks or a shirt would have been a more practical expenditure. She was probably right, but I never enjoyed socks as much as I did music.

A 1936 photo taken in front of the Savoy Ballroom with fellow members of 
Willie Bryant's orchestra. L to R: Roy Eldridge, Procope, Chu Berry, Dicky Wells.
One of Kirby's players was Russell Procope, who was born in New York City August 11, 1908 and began his professional career at age 18. The roster of his subsequent musical associates is impressive and includes Jelly Roll Morton, Chick Webb, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Carter, the latter a childhood friend. He joined Kirby's band in 1938, replacing alto saxophonist Pete Brown, but he is most widely known for his long tenure with Duke Ellington's orchestra.

Wikipedia (English) has a fairly detailed online biography here.

This is the first part of a lengthy interview with Procope, conducted in my Manhattan apartment at the request of the Smithsonian Institution. We did it over a period of several days, and I hope to bring it all to you in this blog. I say, "hope," because one of the tapes separated from the cassette hub in a most awkward way. None of the audio was lost, but I am unable to fix it by the conventional method. I will keep trying. In the meantime, I have the first two tapes ready to go, so there will definitely be at least one follow-up. I don't think there are many interviews with Russell Procope around, so I hope you find this one interesting.

Procope interview - Part 1