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Roger Wolfe Kahn: I’m Sitting on Top of the World

March 11, 2010

Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Hotel Biltmore Orchestra
I’m Sitting on Top of the World

Recorded in 1925

This is one of the most grown-up and mature-sounding dance bands of the 1920s, so it’s a bit sobering to realize that the bandleader had just barely turned 17 when this record was made. (The picture above shows him two years later in 1927, when he had grown up a bit, although he still looks about twelve.)

Roger Wolfe Kahn was the son of the gazillionaire banker Otto Kahn. Young Kahn fell in love with jazz and wanted to lead a band. Now, if this had been a Hollywood movie, his father would have hit the roof, and they would not have been reconciled until the last reel. But instead Otto thought it was a great idea and gave his son his full support.

You can hear the results in this record. Roger hired the most expensive musicians and stuffed his band with stars. He had excellent taste in musicians, which may have had something to do with the fact that he could play nearly every instrument in the orchestra himself. You’ll hear the criminally underrated trumpeter Tommy Gott on the verse, and a split chorus by Joe Venuti, America’s greatest contribution to the art of jazz violin. You’ll also hear the thumping brass bass that was already the Kahn band’s trademark sound. The arrangement is unusually interesting; the first chorus states the melody in staccato brass, giving the reeds a countermelody that fills in what is otherwise a rather dull song by 1920s standards.

This is a very early electrical recording; in fact it was made before Victor and Columbia had revealed to the world that there was such a thing as an electrical process. (They gave themselves a few extra months to sell off their back catalogue of acoustical titles.) It bears the same style of label as the acoustical Victors, but if you look closely you can find, near the label, a little cartouche with the letters “VE” (for Victor Electrical) stamped in the shellac.

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From → Hot Dance, Jazz

2 Comments
  1. Javier Soria Laso permalink

    The personnel of the group was Tommy Gott & Leo McConville on trumpets, Chuck Campbell on trombone, Arnold Brilhart, Owen Bartlett & Harold Sturr on clarinets & saxes, Joe Venuti & Joe Raymond on violins, Arthur Schutt on piano, Domenic Romeo on the banjo, Arthur Campbell on tuba & Vic Berton on drums.
    The recording was made on Nobember 17 of 1925

  2. Javier Soria Laso permalink

    Here´s my correction:
    The personnel of the group was Tommy Gott & Leo McConville on trumpets, Chuck Campbell on trombone, Arnold Brilhart, Owen Bartlett & Harold Sturr on clarinets & saxes, Joe Venuti & Joe Raymond on violins, Arthur Schutt on piano, Domenic Romeo on the banjo, Arthur Campbell on tuba & Vic Berton on drums.
    The recording was made on November 17 of 1925.

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