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Leo Reisman with Bubber Miley

March 8, 2010

Leo Reisman and His Orchestra
What Is This Thing Called Love?

Recorded in 1931

Bubber Miley, from

Bubber Miley was the hot growl trumpeter whose instantly recognizable sound helped make Duke Ellington’s early records so memorable. But Ellington found him unreliable and fired him in 1929. It was quite an unlikely thing to get fired from Ellington’s band; his  musicians often stayed with him for decades, and some who joined in the 1920s were still with him when he died in 1974. Miley must have been drunk most of the time.

Even more unlikely things were in store. You might have expected a downward spiral of alcoholism and despair, but instead Miley landed a job with the classiest of all society bands, Leo Reisman and His Orchestra. To understand how utterly unlikely that was, you must first of all recall that Bubber Miley was black, and no major white band had yet broken the color barrier with a permanent black member. (According to this fascinating article, Miley was disguised as an usher at the Paramount Theater where Reisman’s band was playing; he would pretend to join the band spontaneously for the “St. Louis Blues.”) Second, Reisman was known specifically for his high-class sweet society music, and Miley was known specifically for his “jungle” growl.

What were they thinking?

Yet it was a perfect match. Against all odds, Reisman’s arrangers found that they knew exactly what to do with Miley. This utterly perfect version of one of Cole Porter’s most famous songs is the proof. Miley gets the first chorus to himself, with an understated accompaniment by the orchestra; then he continues with a hot obligato behind the almost whispered vocal. It was such a success, in fact, that this became Reisman’s theme song. And it might have been the stepping-stone to fame and fortune for Bubber Miley, except that he died the next year from tuberculosis, a disease that claimed far too many hard-drinking jazz greats.


From → Hot Dance, Jazz

One Comment
  1. Very nice. Reisman’s “arrangers” on that number were
    Reisman himself with the assistance of Jesse Smith.

    For more detail see

    Karl Reisman (fadograph)

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