This is what is known as a “sleeper record.” A “sleeper” has a few definitions, but by my standards it’s a record that otherwise has all the superficial hallmarks of being relatively common or uninteresting, whether it’s because of the label, the label series, the artist, or sometimes all three – but instead, it’s been overlooked, it’s not that common, and outstanding. In the course of trying to find ideal discs for the site, and maybe obsessively avoiding repetition, and while churning away at other projects in the background, I thought this would be yet another chance to push the boundaries a little. As a listener, I can’t always submit to the plaintive wail.
This record is a beautiful example of a mixture of styles. It’s Caribbean-influenced “rhumba” being played by hot jazz musicians – a Cuban song performed by musicians from the south and midwest. It was recorded in Chicago, on March 27, 1935, and the first of three records made by a small group led by Arthur James “Zutty” Singleton (born 1898), a journeyman New Orleans jazz drummer who had already made his mark in music history by playing on the legendary 1928 “Hot Five” sessions by Louis Armstrong, some outstanding Jelly Roll Morton discs (including those by his “Trio”), and records by both Charles Creath’s Jazz-O-Maniacs and Fats Waller.
In 1934, the British-based Decca Record Company started an American branch. They’d been cannily active throughout the Great Depression, noted as a hideous time for most record companies, who were dropping like flies or merging to stave off certain collapse. Decca acquired several labels that had once been strong and were now fallen giants (Brunswick, Edison Bell, and some of the Champion catalog, among others), and when they began pressing music for the recovering American consumer, they charged a competitive 35 cents a piece.
Zutty’s band at this time consisted of Zutty of course on drums, Leonard Bibles on bass, Henry Gordon on piano, Mike McKendrick on guitar, Vernell Yorke on trumpet – and the determining factor on this disc: the great Horace Eubanks (born 1894) on clarinet and vocals. Eubanks was from East St. Louis, and was also a Creath and Morton alumnus from sessions going back to 1923. According to legend he learned clarinet from New Orleans musicians, and his playing as well as his spirited vocal make this more of a Horace Eubanks solo record than anything else. He’s credited as writing the A-side, an equally strong Caribbean “beguin” [sic] titled “Look Over Yonder.”
Thanks to a tip from reader Austin, we know this song is in fact a cover of a classic Cuban son titled “La Ruñidera” (a reference to filling the dance floor) written by Alejandro Rodríguez. The chant in that song is “ruñeme papa, ruñeme papa,” which they possibly flubbed, transposing the ‘m’ for another ‘n’. In 1931, there were two versions of this song available, one by the Cuarteto Machin and one by Don Azpiazu, that this band could of heard.
Was this connection to real Cuban music the reason this two-sided jazz disc didn’t sell nearly as well as the other sides Zutty’s band cranked out that same day? “Bugle Call Rag” and “Clarinet Marmalade” were two jazz standards from those sessions, and those well acquainted with stacks of jazz 78s will easily recognize those titles. I was introduced to this record by a Los Angeles collector and it took a good 4 years to find a nice copy. And in true sleeper fashion, it was just a few dollars.
Zutty moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s and recorded for numerous bands, famously appearing on Slim Gaillard’s novelty tunes like “Atomic Cocktail” and Harry “The Hipster” Gibson’s “Who Put the Benzedrine (In Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine)” as well as popping up in films like the 1950 scenery-chewing Kirk Douglas vehicle Young Man With A Horn. He passed away in 1970. Horace Eubanks unfortunately died in 1948, after apparently spending some years institutionalized.
Caveat: this record has appeared once on CD, on a release titled The History of New Orleans Rhythm and Blues Vol 1: Jazz, Blues, and Creole Roots, 1921-1949. But I think it’s safe to say that this transfer is markedly better. Let’s give it some new life, eh?
Thanks to Cormac!
Catalog Number: 431
Matrix Number: C881-A