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George Olsen: Nobody Knows What a Red-Headed Mama Can Do

June 12, 2010

George Olsen and His Music
Nobody Knows What a Red-Headed Mama Can Do

Recorded in 1925

George Olsen’s band was one of the most reliable dance bands of the 1920s, with an instantly recognizable style. The band made quite a number of recordings, and played the entire musical score for the glorious two-strip Technicolor movie version of Whoopee!, the Eddie Cantor musical for which Olsen’s band had also provided the music on Broadway.

This is a very early pre-electrical Olsen record, and we hear a lot more jazz than in his later recordings. In fact, in this instrumental version of a not-very-well-known song of the day, we never actually get the melody played straight. Instead, after the verse, we get a full-chorus alto-sax solo that doesn’t even attempt to stay close to the melody; then a trombone chorus interrupted by orchestrated variations for brass; then the verse again; then as close to a straight chorus as we get, with the brasses playing a variation on the melody, interrupted by breaks, and with eight bars taken over by the hot cornet.

It’s a surprising performance, and it would have been impossible just a couple of years later, when pure hot jazz had fallen out of favor and the public demanded more orchestration from popular dance bands. Luckily, Olsen made it into the studio in the nick of time.

The Victor sound is about as good as acoustical recordings get. In just a few months, all that skill and knowledge carefully accumulated over three decades would be utterly useless: the electrical system would eclipse acoustical recording, and recording engineers would have to learn their trade all over again.

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From → Hot Dance, Jazz

2 Comments
  1. Javier Soria permalink

    The personnel on this recording was:
    George Olsen (leader and drums)
    Chuck Campbell (trombone)
    Jack Hansen (tuba)
    George Henkel (alto saxophone)
    Eddie Vincent Kilfeather (piano)
    Red Nichols (cornet)
    Dave Phennig (tenor saxophone and violin)
    Billy Priest (banjo)
    Floyd Rice (trumpet, mellophone and alto saxophone)
    Buck Yoder (alto saxophone and clarinet)

  2. Thank you, Javier! My great-grandfather was Buck Yoder, so I’m delighted to receive confirmation that he was involved in this production. I have a 1920 photo of him with the band playing somewhere in New York.

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