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Ben Pollack as “Jimmy McHugh’s Bostonians”

March 4, 2010

Jimmy McHugh’s Bostonians
I Don’t Care

Recorded in 1928

Ben Pollack was a first-rate drummer. He had an enormous influence on almost every jazz drummer after him, and he was often credited with introducing the four-beat bass that was the foundation of the Swing Era.

But what he really wanted was to be a star. He wanted to stand in front of the band and even sing, in spite of his indifferent voice, and he would soon turn over the drumming duties to Ray Bauduc, another one of his incredibly talented discoveries.

Here is a slightly reduced version of Pollack’s band with Ben Pollack himself singing in his unmistakable voice. We hear Jimmy McPartland’s relaxed cornet leading the band through most of the performance. The excellent tenor-sax solo in the last chorus is credited to Larry Binyon in discographies; I might have guessed Bud Freeman, but the discographies say he had left Pollack a few months before.

I said earlier that the voice of Ben Pollack was unmistakable, so I’m ashamed to admit that I had this record for probably twenty years before I figured out whose band it really was. After all, the vocal is credited on the label to “Al Shayne,” and it might be only coincidental that he sounds an awful lot like Ben Pollack.

Until the 1940s, bands were paid a set fee for recording, with no royalties. If you recorded a big hit, you might be able to negotiate a bigger fee for future recordings, but the only immediate way to make more money in recordings was to make as many records as possible for as many labels as possible.

But what if you had an exclusive contract? No problem at all: “Ben Pollack and His Park Central Orchestra” might have a contract with Victor, but the same band under any other name could record for any number of labels and earn any number of session fees, as long as Victor didn’t find out. One of the great challenges of sorting through old records, especially from the 1920s, is trying to link the bewildering forest of pseudonyms with the actual musicians.

This is an acoustical recording. Three years after the electrical process was introduced on the big labels, Velvet Tone and Harmony, two cheap labels from the same company, were still limping along with the horn and diaphragm. This copy was on Velvet Tone; according to 78discography.com, the same record would also have been released on the Harmony label. The name “Velvet Tone” is probably not intentionally ironic, but it may seem that way after the rich sound of Pollack’s Victor recordings.

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From → Jazz

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