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Dixie Devils: In Harlem’s Araby

April 16, 2010

Dixie Devils
In Harlem’s Araby

Recorded in 1929

Are you ready to try your hand at one of the most perplexing mysteries in jazz?

This page tells the story in good detail, and gives a pretty convincing argument against the conventional wisdom about this record. Briefly, the Grey Gull label made numerous recordings with a pickup band identified as the Memphis Jazzers. On related labels the same records were released with different band names. It’s well known that most of those records used the same group of musicians, but this one sounds completely different.

Brian Rust, the father of jazz discography, and other jazz fans identified the trumpet as King Oliver. (The copy I have, in fact, is marked “King Oliver’s Dixie Devils”; it’s a 1940s private re-release from a jazz club, and it’s probably even rarer than the original release.)  But one Grey Gull studio musician remembered having been there, with the regular Grey Gull lineup, when this record was made, so Rust changed his mind and identified the personnel as the usual suspects.

What do you think? The best argument for King Oliver is that it sure sounds like King Oliver. On the other hand, King Oliver was already having mouth problems in 1929 that were making him sound less like King Oliver. Anyway, the mystery doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a particularly good performance, a minor jazz classic that deserves to be appreciated for itself rather than just argued over.


From → Jazz

  1. Barry Harden permalink

    To get nearer to a personnel identification for this truly outstanding record I think we should focus on the clarinettist. Listening to the other three sides of the session it becomes quite obvious that it is Bob Fuller, a regular black studio musician. So now we have Porter Grainger and Bob Fuller. The trumpet is not King Oliver but someone who knew ‘his technique’ was Bubber Miley, who often played alongside Bob Fuller during the twenties for these associated record companies. It dosen’t sound too much like Bubber when compared to the tight muting on Ellington sides but shouldn’t be too easily dismissed. What is strikingly obvious is that these musicians were well versed in the repertoire and were quite used to playing together. So it could be a possibility.

  2. Javier Soria permalink

    Violinist Leroy Smith recorded a version of that tune on 1924 with his orchestra for Grey Gull.

  3. Doug permalink

    What about Louis Metcalfe?

    • Barry Harden permalink

      It’s quite possible. Worth investigating by seeking out tracks where Fuller and Metcalfe play together.

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