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Rudy Wiedoeft’s Californians: When Buddha Smiles

April 14, 2010

Laughing Buddha, Paocheuh Temple, Taichung, Taiwan, by Marian McCaffrey.

See the licensing information for the photograph above.

Rudy Wiedoeft’s Californians
When Buddha Smiles

Recorded in 1921

Oriental Week ventures a bit farther east to the land of smiling Buddhas, but musically the bag of oriental tricks is still about the same.

Rudy Wiedoeft was the idol of every young saxophone player in the early 1920s. When young Hubert Prior Vallee was a student at the University of Maine, he played records by the “sax god” Rudy Wiedoeft so incessantly that his friends started calling him “Rudy,” and he was known as Rudy Vallee for the rest of his life.

Rudy Wiedoeft in 1919.

Wiedoeft’s style is so thoroughly outdated now that it almost seems fresh. He was the king of the triplet, and it was probably skill rather than inspiration that made him such a favorite among reed players.

In jazz, Wiedoft’s most famous disciple was the legendary Frankie Trumbauer, who could do a frighteningly accurate Wiedoeft imitation when he wanted to. It’s strange finding that a genius like Trumbauer based his style on an accomplished hack like Rudy Wiedoeft. It’s a bit like finding out that all Fyodor Dostoyevsky really wanted to do was write as well as Mickey Spillane. But if you’re a Trumbauer fan, I defy you to hear Wiedoeft’s two-bar triple-tongue break at the end of this record without thinking of Tram.

This record has a special place in my heart. In my misspent youth I discovered a pile of old 78s in a flea market, and this was among them. I picked it up because I knew the tune from 1930s swing versions by Benny Goodman and Jan Savitt. It was by far the oldest recording I had ever heard, and the strange rhythms, moaning saxophones, and brittle brasses seemed like music from another world. For no good reason, it still thrills me.


From → Hot Dance

One Comment
  1. Javier Soria permalink

    Paul Whiteman also did a recording of this George Gershwin tune for Victor.

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