Today’s been a funny day. I was originally up at 5:30am to go for a swim but the pool ended up being slow. I was going to go for a run this afternoon but there was blinding snowstorm and I figured it wasn’t safe to run outside. I was going to go to the gym this evening to do both but, as it turns out, after chaperoning 20 11-year-old’s at the ‘Shrek the Musical‘ in Niagara Falls this morning, well, I don’t want to do anything but sit in my EZ-Boy and drink beer, so…”Bonus Recovery Day” it is! And this evening’s recovery is the ‘From Spirituals to Swing: Carnegie Hall Concerts 1938/39‘ album.
This is another album I brought back from Texas.
It’s a bit dinged up and sounds a bit worn and scratchy but, hey, what’da want for a buck?
Besides, scratchy Jazz Boner is still good Jazz Boner in my opinion.
‘From Spirituals to Swing’ was the title of two concerts presented by John Hammond in Carnegie Hall on the 23rd of December 1938, and the 24th of December 1939. The concerts included performances by Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson, Helen Humes, Meade Lux Lewis, Lester Young, Albert Ammons, Mitchell’s Christian Singers, the Golden Gate Quartet, James P. Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry.
The idea was a history, starting with spirituals and leading up to big swing bands, involving African American performers. Hammond had difficulty gaining sponsorship for the event because it involved African American artists and an integrated audience. However, ‘The New Masses’, the journal of the American Communist Party, agreed to finance it.
According to the liner notes of the album:
“In 1938… conceived a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City to showcase African-American music from its raw beginnings to the most current jazz. Hammond… was one of the most influential talent scouts and record producers in history, having ‘discovered’ artists from Billie Holiday and Count Basie to [much later – Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen]. The concert, which would be titled ‘From Spirituals To Swing’, would depict the common themes that existed in Black music from its origins in Africa, through gospel and blues, dixieland and eventually to swing.
On December 23, 1938, ‘From Spirituals To Swing’ was presented to a sold-out house… Its success prompted another concert on Christmas Eve of 1939..”
Don’t get me wrong, this sounds amazing n’ all but, how on God’s green earth did Benny Goodman – the epitome of Jewish whiteness – ever become the poster headline for a tribute concert to black music?
But, whatever. I’m not a hater.
In retrospect, Hammond had the good taste to book nothing but the best (the reproduction of the original program alludes to the fact that missing in action due to their recent demise were Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson, one of whose recordings was actually played on-stage at the first concert) and the lineup on this box set is the cream of the jazz and African-American experience at that time. People with an interest in American music, jazz or otherwise, should be heartily encouraged to add this set to their collection.
…especially if you find it for a buck.