Viola Smith – the fastest girl drummer in the world

Viola Smith, a swing-era musician who was promoted in the 1930s as the ‘fastest girl drummer in the world’ and who championed greater inclusion of women in the almost completely male preserve of big bands, died on October 21st O at her home in Costa Mesa, California. She was aged 107.

With a drum kit featuring 12 drums, including two giant tom-toms placed near her shoulders, Ms. Smith was from 1938 to 1941 the centre piece of the Coquettes, an ‘all-girl’ big band. Her showcase was ‘The Snake Charmer’ a jazzy arabesque with explosions of drumming pyrotechnics.

Ms. Smith belonged to a coterie of female bandleaders who struggled to gain respect for their musicianship.

She had created the Coquettes from the remnants of her Wisconsin family ‘all-female band’ in which she was one of eight musical sisters. She favored crisp and swinging arrangements and was, by several accounts, an egalitarian leader who valued the input of her employees in major business and artistic decisions.

More than a pleasant timekeeper, she was a dervish behind the drums and found it difficult to conduct the group while playing. She turned over baton duties to Frances Carroll, a hip-swiveling singer and dancer.

The band, became known as Frances Carroll & the Coquettes, playing at nightclubs and dance halls and appearing in several short films and on the cover of the entertainment trade magazine Billboard before dissolving.

By that time, Ms. Smith said, she had spent 15 years on the road and had grown exhausted by the demands of travel. She selected Manhattan as her home base and won a summer scholarship to study timpani at the Juilliard School. She also sat in with bands at New York’s Paramount Theatre’ as many able-bodied male drummers of the day were drafted into military service for World War II.

She caused a stir with her 1942 essay in the music trade magazine DownBeat titled ‘Give Girl Musicians a Break!’ in which she called on prominent big-band leaders of the day to hire more women.

Within a year, she was playing under Phil Spitalny, whose all-girl band (heavy on harps and chiffon gowns) offered unadventurous material – but a steady income. The group, where she remained for a dozen years, was featured on Spitalny’s ‘Hour of Charm’ radio show and in two movies, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ (1942) and the Abbott & Costello comedy’Here Come the Co-Eds’ (1945).

Ms. Smith later drew attention as a member of the ‘Kit Kat Band’ quartet featured in the musical ‘Cabaret’ which ran on Broadway from 1966 to 1969 and then toured nationally.

Ms. Smith retired a few years later but occasionally picked up her drumsticks to play with a California ensemble called the Forever Young Band, which billed itself as ‘America’s Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers.’

Viola Clara Schmitz was born in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, on November 29th, 1912. Her father, a cornetist, operated a tavern and concert hall in nearby Fond du Lac that boasted of having the first revolving crystal ball north of Chicago.

He insisted on piano training for each of his 10 children. Viola said she began drumming for the family orchestra because ‘with her being the sixth child’ all the other instruments she liked were taken. She was highly motivated to learn. “So long as we practiced, we barely had to do work around the house, she told the ‘Women of Rock Oral History Project’.

By the 1920s, the enterprising patriarch had formed an all-girl dance band with the Schmitz daughters, billed as the Schmitz Sisters Orchestra (later the Smith Sisters Orchestra). She described her parents in glowing terms, recalling a tightknit Catholic family that traveled by luxurious Pierce-Arrow.

They were in demand for weddings and state fairs and played on the radio as far away as Chicago, once engaging in a musical battle over the airwaves with an all-male band.  The band dwindled as some of the sisters left to marry or enter other occupations; one sister died. Besides Viola, the only remaining sister by 1938 was Mildred, who played sax, clarinet and violin. They rechristened themselves the Coquettes and gathered other musicians to form a new group.

Ms. Smith said Woody Herman tried to recruit her, but only as a novelty act pitted against another drummer. Yet in her later DownBeat essay, she spoke of Herman as a rare ‘progressive’ in the field whose 1941 hiring trumpeter Billie Rogers was a milestone.

All girl  bands such as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm  peaked in the early 1940s and rapidly faded from the scene as men returned from war.

Posted in 78rpm, Film -TV, Jazz, Uncategorized, Website, You Tube | Leave a comment

Barbara Thompson Live At The BBC Box Set

Repertoire Records are to release a 14 CD box set of BBC radio broadcasts by Barbara Thompson, described as perhaps the best known jazz artist in the UK – outside of the UK.

This set includes material ranging from a live concert by the New Jazz Orchestra, introduced by  Humphrey Lyttelton, in February 1969, to a set by Paraphernalia, featuring Barbara’s late husband  Jon Hiseman (drummer with The Graham Bond Organisation and founder-member of Colosseum) and  keyboard player Peter Lemer, dating from June, 1990.

The set contains such rarities as a set of compositions by Mike Taylor, broadcast in 1969 as a tribute following his then-recent death; ‘Improvisations For Octet and Strings’ (1970); ‘Five Movements for Jazz Ensemble’ (1971), conducted by Neil Ardley and introduced by Ian Carr; several broadcasts from the mid-1970s by Jubiaba; and many sets by Paraphernalia, in its various forms including a complete broadcast live from Holland Park, mastered to the highest level, with extensive liner notes by celebrated jazz critic, broadcaster and saxophonist Dave Gelly.

The box set release ushers in a particularly active period for Barbara – not only is her much-anticipated autobiography due to be published soon via Jazz In Britain, but there is also a new album due for release in early 2021 by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Barbara will also feature in an edition of 24 hours in A&E on Channel 4, broadcast on Thursday, 8th October, at 9 pm. The TV programme acknowledges Barbara’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s Disease, but more pertinently addresses a new heart condition, and touches upon the untimely death of her husband Jon Hiseman in 2018.

The programme looks at the experience of two other patients, Barbara’s segment is narrated by her daughter, Ana Gracey.

This very poignant episode puts focus on this new threat to her health, but also celebrates the force of nature that she has been throughout her life and career, including footage from her Live ’05 DVD, and even features a brief segment playing her soprano at home. This incredible dynamism is in full effect in the music contained within ‘Live at the BBC’, and in her autobiography.

Posted in Jazz, Rare Records, Website, You Tube | Leave a comment

The Band – Once Were Brothers DVD Now Available

Read Rolling Stone feature by clicking here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Orchestra Baobab Release Vinyl Version Of Classic Album

This year, Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Its major milestone for any band but their story is even more fascinating.

To celebrate the band has announced the issue of their landmark 2002 classic reunion album ‘Specialist In All Styles‘ for the first time ever on vinyl, on September 25th. Alongside this comes a previously unseen video from the archive – a performance of ‘Jiin Ma Jiin Ma’ from their 2015 show at Jazz à Vienne Festival in France.

‘Specialist’ was the first album by the full group since 1982’s legendary ‘Pirates Choice’, a holy grail for African music fans. Recorded at London’s Livingston Studios in just ten days and produced by World Circuit’s Nick Gold with Youssou N’Dour, ‘Specialist In All Styles’ is a definitive illustration of Baobab’s Afro-Latin magic, introducing new material and reinventing some of the old tunes that made them famous.

The record features Baobab’s rhythm section and two of the most distinctive sounds in African music – Barthélemy Attisso’s extraordinary guitar and Issa Cissokho’s atmospheric sax. The band’s five unique lead singers, each with their own contrasting but complementary styles, are joined on the song ‘Hommage à Tonton Ferrer’ by special guests Buena Vista Social Club star Ibrahim Ferrer and Youssou N’Dour.

The band owes their start to the entrepreneurial force that was Ibra Kassé, club owner, impresario and founder of the Star Band, whose residency at Dakar’s Club Miami in the late 60s made it a notoriously lively joint. Here, Kassé’s band lit up the night with a music flavoured by rhythms from around the world, all flowing into Dakar – one of the great ports of west Africa – from America, Europe, and Cuba, as well as Senegal’s West African neighbours Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. This eclectic combination of rhythms and styles would all later feed into Baobab’s DNA.

By the start of 1970, at the height of the Star Band’s fame, a new fashionable venue, Club Baobab, opened its doors in Dakar’s European district. Well known as a hangout for those with status and power, the club was built around a baobab tree, and to fire up its musical roster, its well-connected owners poached Star Band singers Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis and guitarist Barthelemy Attisso. Bassist Charlie Ndiaye and percussionist Mountaga Koite soon followed, joined by rhythm guitarist Latfi Ben Jelloun, Nigerian clarinet player Peter Udo, and veteran griot singer Laye Mboup.

With that, the stage was set for Orchestra Baobab to set the tempo for a new era of modern Senegalese and African music, drawing through the club’s doors a diverse urban crowd ranging from businessmen and politicians to army officers and expats.

Combining pop, soul and traditional music from across Senegal and beyond, Orchestra Baobab quickly developed a distinctive raft of styles that reflected the cultural mix and the strong musical personalities of its members. Balla and Rudy hailed from Senegal’s culturally rich Casamance, saxophonist Issa Cissokho from Mali, and Latfi from Morocco. Guitarist Attisso – the lawyer-turned-guitarist whose arpeggio runs would become one of the band’s scintillating trademarks – came from Togo, but what bound these myriad elements as tight as a drum skin was a strong Cuban influence, introduced to Senegal by sailors flowing in and out of the Port of Dakar.

Over the next decade, Orchestra Baobab kept evolving with an ever-changing lineup of members and released a number of classic records along the way.
However, by the end of 1983 Baobab had unofficially disbanded, and it wasn’t until Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour encouraged the group to reform 15 long years later that Orchestra Baobab rose again at their now-famous London Barbican gig in 2001 and received a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever.

Celebrating 50 years as one of Africa’s greatest bands is an achievement few can equal, and while special Anniversary shows have been put on hold as a result of the global Coronavirus outbreak, plans remain in place to celebrate the band and their story through filmed performances and interviews, remixes and playlists, to help the prestigious Orchestra’s global legion of fans celebrate their half-century milestone.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Charlie Parker Centenary CD Compilation Out Soon

To celebrate the centenary of Charlie Parker a CD  release of Parker’s ‘The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection’. The collection, spotlights Charlie Parker’s ground breaking be-bop sessions for Savoy Records spanning 1944 to 1948. The tracks are already available on vinyl and digital formats.

The CD edition features 28 tracks from the four legendary Savoy 10-inch albums, presented with newly restored and re-mastered audio and a deluxe 20-page booklet containing vintage photos, rare ephemera and liner notes journalist and author Neil Tesser.

These historic recordings, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Bud Powell and Max Roach.

When saxophonist Charlie Parker and his contemporaries introduced bebop in the 1940s, they were ushering in a bold new style that would influence modern music for decades to come.

Nowadays, as Neal Tesser argues i bebop was considered avant-garde. “Bebop undergirds such a vast swath of American music that its revolutionary nature recedes into the background. It is now so familiar and comfortable, such an ever-present part of the family history, that non-historians can hardly envision it ever being ‘revolutionary.’”

However, when listeners heard this new sound for the first time, it was unlike anything they had experienced before. Though bebop evolved in the early part of the decade—cultivated in New York’s late-night jazz clubs—it didn’t appear on record until the mid-1940s, following a two-year strike by the AFM (the US Musicians’ Union), which banned commercial recordings for labels, due to royalty disputes.

The 28 tracks that make up The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection are some of the world’s earliest bebop recordings, including takes from a November 1945 date that is often referred to as “The Greatest Jazz Session Ever,” featuring Davis, Roach and Curley Russell appearing as “Charlie Parker’s Reboppers.”

The tracks were compiled by Savoy and released over the next several years four LPs set: New Sounds In Modern Music, Volume 1 (1950); New Sounds In Modern Music, Volume 2 (1951); as well as Volumes 3 and 4 (both released in 1952).

Nearly all of the compositions heard in this collection are originals by Parker, with a few contributions by Miles Davis, and an original tune from guitarist Tiny Grimes—who led Parker in the session for “Tiny’s Tempo.” Highlights include the upbeat “Now’s the Time,” the bluesy “Parker’s Mood” and “Constellation,” which Tessler notes “seems to anticipate the free-jazz energy solos of the 1960s.” Also notable is “Ko-Ko,” featuring an impressive improvisation from the saxophonist, as well as one of Bird’s most recognizable tunes, “Billie’s Bounce”.Though multiple styles of bop would become mainstream by the end of the 1950s, these recordings mark the beginning of a new era and a radical shift in musical trends. It was a sound that, Tesser declares, was “at once liberating but also threatening. Charlie Parker and his fellow instigators…sparked a cultural earthquake that upended the music landscape for decades.”

Track Listing (CD version):

  1. Now’s The Time
  2. Donna Lee
  3. Chasin’ The Bird
  4. Red Cross
  5. Ko-Ko
  6. Warmin’ Up A Riff
  7. Half Nelson
  8. Sipping At Bells
  9. Billie’s Bounce
  10. Cheryl
  11. Milestones
  12. Another Hair-Do
  13. Thriving From A Riff
  14. Buzzy
  15. Little Willie Leaps
  16. Klaunstance
  17. Bluebird
  18. Bird Gets The Worm
  19. Parker’s Mood
  20. Steeplechase
  21. Perhaps
  22. Tiny’s Tempo
  23. Constellation
  24. Merry Go Round
  25. Confirmation
  26. Barbados
  27. Ah-Leu-Cha
  28. Marmaduke

Posted in 78rpm, Jazz, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Website, You Tube | Leave a comment

Best Of Rory Gallagher Set On The Way

Following the commercial and critically acclaimed success of the recent albums “Blues” (2019) and “Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ’77” (2020), UMC is releasing “The Best Of Rory Gallagher” in October this year.

The compilation includes Rory’s recordings compiled from across his extensive recording career, including tracks from his first band Taste (from 1969) through to his final studio album “Fresh Evidence” (1990).

The album will be released as a Double CD set with 30 tracks including a previously unreleased track with Jerry Lee Lewis.

It will also be released as a 2-disc black vinyl set and “direct to consumer” limited clear 2LP, plus a 15-track single CD, as well as digital HD and digital download.

The Rory Gallagher Archives contains some amazing rarities and this set will include “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – cut with Jerry Lee Lewis’ at The Killer’s 1973 “London Sessions” featuring Rory singing and playing the Rolling Stones’ classic alongside Jerry Lee Lewis.

Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher & Jerry Lee Lewis – 1971 Photo Credit: © Mick Rock c/o Strange Music Ltd

The previously unreleased rarity is featured on the Double CD version and digital versions of the album, and available as a limited edition direct to consumer 7” vinyl single. The 7” inch picture sleeve features a rare archive photo of Rory and Jerry Lee Lewis from Jerry Lee’s 1973 “London Sessions.” The B-side features “Cruise On Out” (4:42) taken from Rory’s critically acclaimed album “Photo Finish” (1978).

Tracklisting for the 30 Track Double CD Set:

CD One

  1. Taste – What’s Going On (from 1970’s ‘On The Boards’ LP)2:48
  2. Rory Gallagher – Shadow Play (from 1978’s ‘Photo Finish’ LP 4:47
  3. Rory Gallagher – Follow Me (from 1979’s ‘Top Priority’ LP) 4:40
  4. Rory Gallagher – Tattoo’d Lady(from 1973’s ‘Tattoo’ LP) 4:41
  5. Rory Gallagher – All Around Man (from 1975’s “Against The Grain” LP) 6:15
  6. Rory Gallagher – I Fall Apart (from 1971’s “Rory Gallagher” LP) 5:12
  7. Rory Gallagher – Daughter Of The Everglades (from 1973’s ‘Blueprint’” LP) 6:12
  8. Rory Gallagher – Calling Card (from 1976’s ‘Calling Card’ LP) 5:24
  9. Rory Gallagher – I’m Not Awake Yet (from 1971’s ‘Deuce’ LP) 5:37
  10. Rory Gallagher – Just The Smile (from 1971’s ‘Rory Gallagher’ LP)3:41
  11. Rory Gallagher – Out Of My Mind (from 1971’s “Deuce” LP) 3:06
  12. Rory Gallagher – Edged In Blue (from 1976’s “Calling Card” LP) 5:29
  13. Rory Gallagher – Philby (from 1979’s “Top Priority” LP) 3:50
  14. Taste – It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again (from 1970’s “On The Boards” LP) 6:33
  15. Rory Gallagher – Crest Of A Wave (from 1971’s “Deuce” LP) 5:54

CD Two

  1. Rory Gallagher – Bad Penny (from 1979’s “Top Priority” LP) 4:04
  2. Rory Gallagher – Walk On Hot Coals (from 1973’s “Blueprint” LP) 7:02
  3. Taste – Blister On The Moon (from 1969’s “Taste” LP) 3:27
  4. Rory Gallagher – Loanshark Blues (from 1987’s “Defender” LP) 4:27
  5. Rory Gallagher – Bought & Sold (from 1975’s “Against The Grain” LP) 3:26
  6. Rory Gallagher – A Million Miles Away (from 1973’s from the Tattoo LP) 6:56
  7. Rory Gallagher – Wheels Within Wheels (from 2010’s “Notes From San Francisco” LP) 3:38
  8. Rory Gallagher – Seven Days (from 1987’s “Defender” LP) 5:14
  9. Rory Gallagher – Ghost Blues (from 1990’s “Fresh Evidence” LP) 8:00
  10. Rory Gallagher – Cruise On Out (from 1978’s “Photo Finish” LP) 4:42
  11. Jerry Lee Lewis ft. Rory Gallagher – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1973 outtake from the Jerry Lee Lewis ‘The Session… Recorded in London With Great Guest Artists’ LP) 3:50
  12. Rory Gallagher – They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore (from 1973’s “Tattoo” LP) 4:05
  13. Rory Gallagher – Moonchild (from 1976’s “Calling Card” LP) 4:47
  14. Rory Gallagher – Jinxed (from 1982’s “Jinx” LP) 5:12
  15. Taste – Catfish (from 1969’s “Taste” LP) 8:06

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram – Fender Sessions

Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram performs four tracks in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi and talks songwriting, growing up in the “Blues Holy Land” and navigating racial inequality through music.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Record Store Day 2020 – Shop Openings, Mail Order, What’s Available

Record Store Day at Piccadilly Records, Oldham Street, Manchester 2018

For crate diggers used to queuing outside the UKs plethora of independent record stores searching for rare vinyl, CDs and other collectables on Record Store Day things will be different this year. The twice postponed Record Store Day 2020 will be staggered over three days : August 29th, September 26th and October 24th and collectors and fans will be encouraged to use the Record Store Day store locator from August 14th to find out how their local shop plans to open on August 29th.

Measures that are set to be in place include bookable time slots (which will be available one week in advance on a first-come, first-served basis) and the operation of socially distanced queues.

For this year only, RSD will relax online sales so that products can be made available on participating shop websites or over the phone from 6PM on the evening of each “drop”.

For a full list of releases for Record Store Day 2020 click here.

More than 230 independent record shops in the UK faced huge uncertainty with the postponement of this year’s RSD due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Many stores are now hoping that the first instalment of the ‘RSD Drops’ will provide a much-needed sales boost in order to get them back on the road to recovery.

Speaking to RSD, Natasha Youngs, owner of Resident Music in Brighton, said: “We may not be partying this year but we’re still determined to make sure we celebrate the artists and labels that have made special releases available for our event. Getting them into the hands of the fans safely and sensibly is our top priority this year.

“We will be operating a socially distanced queue and will be serving from 8am. With the releases being made available online at 6PM the same evening, customers who would rather not visit the shop in person can choose to order them online in the evening instead. They can then collect their records from the shop at a later date or have them posted to their door.

“We’ll focus on being able to organise another exciting event next year when things can hopefully return a little more to normal.”

Posted in 45 rpm, Americana, Blues, Cassette, Compact Disc, Country/Hillbilly, DVD, Film -TV, Gospel, Jazz, Magazine, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Rock & Roll, Roots, Soul, Vinyl, Website, World Music, You Tube | Leave a comment

Live music has returned to England, but social distancing restrictions mean many intimate jazz venues still can’t open their doors

Live music has returned to England after lockdown, but social distancing restrictions mean many intimate jazz venues still can’t open their doors.

From Saturday, audiences can once again attend indoor performances, but only if they follow government guidelines, which say venues should consider how many people can safely attend, be sensible about selling food and drink, and enforce social distancing between households.

Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, told the Jazz FM Business Breakfast that the new rules were “bittersweet”, as only a third of all venues can physically handle social distancing, and only a third of those can make it work financially.

“We’re obviously pleased that we’re one step closer to getting back to normal,” he said. “But This is not really getting venues open.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

C. P. Lee of legendary Manchester underground band Greasy Bear

Chris ‘C. P.’ Lee, leader of Greasy Bear, the legendary Manchester underground died suddenly on July 25th.

Chris Lee, was born in Didsbury, Manchester in 1950 and as well as being a musician, he was a writer, broadcaster, performer and university lecturer.

A student at The Manchester School of Art, in 1969 he formed Greasy Bear along with his friend Bruce Mitchell – of The Durutti Column fame – as well as Ian Wilson, Steve Whalley and John Gibson.

Greasy Bear were christened ‘Manchester’s answer to The Grateful Dead’ and they were managed by Manchester music promoter and DJ Roger Eagle.

Greasy Bear played countless gigs in the North West and Manchester area.

They seemed to play every local festival, all dayers, as well as pub and college gigs and of course at Manchester’s Magic Village. Their gigs were promoted in the Manchester underground newspaper Grass Eye.

In 1970, with a collection of songs penned by Chris Lee and Ian Wilson, Greasy Bear recorded nine tracks, hoping to secure a deal with the Philips underground and progressive label Vertigo. They worked with producer Terry Brown, who had recently produced the work of Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.

After the deal with Philips/Vertigo fell through the band went their separate ways.

In 2016 the album, ‘Is Adrian There?’, finally saw the light of day after being released by Vinyl Revival on Record Store Day.

C.P. Lee and Bruce Mitchell formed Manchester anarchic-satirical rock band Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias. Bruce went on to form half of Factory records duo The Durutti Column.

Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias released three albums in the 1970s and were scheduled to appear on Top Of The Pops to promote a new single but a power cut meant they couldn’t appear.

Their remarkable story is told in C.P.’s own memoir, ‘When We Were Thin’.

This was one of many books that Chris would write over the years including ‘Shake, Rattle & Rain’, is an adaption of his PhD thesis on popular music making in Manchester.

A fanatic of all things Bob Dylan, Chris attended Dylan’s Manchester Free Trade Hall ‘Judas’ concert in 1966, of which he later wrote about in his book ‘Like The Night (Revisited)’.

He hosted hosted a number of film, music and performance events at the Kings Arms in Salford over the years.

In more recent years he toured as C.P. ‘Ukule’ Lee in a bid to keep the Albertos legend alive by going on the road and performing his band’s hits.

For more information on Greasy Bear and to see some great memorabilia visit their section on the Manchesterbeat website

You Tube clips of Greasy Bear:
Geordie from 1970 recorded for Phillips/Virtigo but not released.

Windy Day from a compilation of unissued and rare tracks from Manchester bands called Man Chester Hair

Tallawaya 1970

From the Manchester Digital Music Archive Interviews:

C.P. Lee on Greasy Bear at Main Debating Hall, 1971

C.P. Lee on Captain Beefheart at Main Debating Hall, 1968

C.P. Lee on Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Main Debating Hall, 1968

Posted in Americana, Vinyl, Website, You Tube | Leave a comment