Rex Stewart – Rexatious

Written by Holy Lindy Land. Posted in שיר השבוע

Time for our new song of the week. Today we put the spotlight on Rex Stewart (1907 – 1967). Stewart played the cornet and is most known for his work with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Before joining Ellington, Rex had already had stints with Fletcher and Horace Henderson, Elmer Snowden, Luis Russell and McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Rex was asked by Duke to replace trumpeter Freddie Jenkins who had lung problems. His mastery of expressive effects made Rex one of the most distinctive of all brass improvisers.

Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke were important early influences. Ellington created a new role in his band for Stewart’s unique melodies, full of bent notes and “half-valve” playing (depressing a valve on his cornet halfway) and quirky, mysterious sounds that suggested laughing or sobbing through his horn. Stewart also displayed a masterly use of mutes for expressive effects. Other Ellington sidemen joined him in his early small-group recordings; the most remarkable of these groups was his 1939 Paris quartet with guitarist Django Reinhardt. Late in his career Stewart continued to be a witty lyric artist, as evidenced in "The Big Challenge", a recording of sessions he and Cootie Williams led together in 1957. If you come across of this LP, get it !! It's a great album 🙂

Other interesting facts on Rex : he wrote for Playboy, Downbeat and several other print outlets during his life. He hosted a jazz radio program in New York and owned a small restaurant for a very short time near a drag racing stadium in Vermont. While living in France, he attended the Cordon Bleu school of cooking and dedicated his life to being a fine cook. Rex Stewart was a vivacious, funny and talented man. He wrote many articles and was considered an expert on the history of jazz.
The tune we chose is called "Rexatious" and appears on our US pressing Epic LG 3108 vinyl "The Duke's Men". The rhythm section in this tune is simply stunning. It was recorded on december 16, 1936. The dazzling line-up : Rex Stewart (trumpet), Lawrence Brown (trombone), Johnny Hodges (alto and soprano sax), Harry Carney (clarinet and baritone sax), Duke Ellington (piano), Ceele Burke (guitar), Billy Taylor (bass) and Sonny Greer (drums)…Enjoy !

Harland Leonard & His Rockets – 400 Swing

Written by Holy Lindy Land. Posted in שיר השבוע

For this song of the week, let's introduce one of the "name" bands, Kansas City's Harlan Leonard & His Rockets. Harlan Leonard…there's not much available of this band…We'll explain further on why.

Harlan Leonard ( 1905 – 1983) began his career at the age of 17 in Benny Moten's Orchestra in 1923. In 1931, Leonard and trombonist Thamon Hayes left the Moten band and formed the Thamon Hayes Band.

Hayes, Leonard and Jesse Stone rehearsed the band rigorously, biding their time until the annual spring battle of the bands at Paseo Hall in May of 1932. There, decked out in "brown Eaton suits," the the Thamon Hayes "Wonder" Band defeated the Moten band in a grudge match. As a result of their defeat, a fist fight broke out among members of the vanquished Moten band ! That must have been a "hot" battle 😉

Interesting fact as well, Charlie Parker played in this band for five weeks, but was fired by Leonard for lack of discipline… Leonard and the Rockets relocated to Los Angeles in 1942. The Rockets disbanded in 1945 and Leonard went to work as a civil servant at the Post Office and the Internal Revenue Service. That was the end of his professional music career.

Also interesting…Harlan Leonard and His Rockets had a lengthy engagement at Harlem's "Golden Gate Ballroom". A huge luxurious ballroom that programmed "name" bands, white and colored. People thought "the one million dollar" ballroom would never be able to compete with the famous and popular Savoy Ballroom, but as they booked "name" bands, and the Savoy sticked mostly to their "house" bands, they forced Savoy to book new bands as well. As the competition between Golden Gate and Savoy grew keener, Golden Gate offered two and at one time three bands at normal cost…But that didn't help…due to the very high costs that Golden Gate Ballroom made in this competition, they were forced to be taken over, by…Charles Buchanan and Moe Gale…owners of…Savoy 🙂 Their plan was to make Lenox Avenue 140 – 142 the American Dance Center.

We posted a picture of the vinyl we have of Harlan Leonard…400 Swing is one of the many great songs on that.