Sunday, June 25, 2006

Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang

Joe Venuti played violin. Eddie Lang played guitar. Although they were two of the greatest jazz musicians this country produced in the 20s and 30s they are largely forgotten today. And that is a shame.

I had never heard of them until Mosaic Records produced an eight CD compilation of their recordings. It's not complete, as it doesn't include the sessions they did with Mildred Bailey because those are on Mosaic's recently out of print, 10 CD Mildred Baily set. Most of the music they recorded with Bix Beiderbecke is on a Mosaic set featuring Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Jack Teagarden. Then there is music from labels they couldn't gain access to. But there is still a lot of first rate music here.

When I first read about the Venuti/Lang set in the Mosaic catalogue, it sounded interesting, especially Eddie Lang's guitar duets with Lonnie Johnson, but it didn't provoke my interest enough to want it, especially as there were already a bunch of other sets I wanted desperately.

Then I read a book by Nick Tosches called, Where Dead Voices Gather. It's billed as a search for information on an even more forgotten musician: Emmett Miller. From the book's back cover: " A forgotten singer from the early days of jazz is at the center of this riveting book - a narrative thatis part mystery, part biography, part meditation on the meaning and power of Music.

Nick Tosches spent twenty years searching for facts about Emmett Miller, the yodeling blackface performer whose songs prefigured jazz, country, blues, and much of the popular music of the twentieth century . . .".

It's a fascinating book. He goes back and forth through the history of popular music, showing where many hugely famous and influential musicians stole from those before them, and in turn were stolen from by the following generations. It gives a sense of history of the music and made me appreciate the music I listen to even more. Tosches repeatedly writes about Eddie Lang as "the first great jazz guitarist" and his influence on later guitar greats. He writes about his duets with Lonnie Johnson, another one of the best and a main influence of Robert Johnson. Where would rock music be without him? He also writes about Lang's boyhood friend and long time musical partner, violinist Joe Venuti. They were two Italian Americans who became jazz greats, in demand among both white and black musical groups. After reading this book, I reread my latest Mosaic catalogue on Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. I downloaded some random Venuti/Lang cuts off the Internet. I liked what I heard. This set immediately moved to number one on my "must have" list. Max Roach, Gerald Wilson, Elvin Jones, Sonny Stitt, Roy Eldridge, and Oliver Nelson would all have to wait. And so will the Bix Biederbecke set. I didn't even know I wanted that one until I heard the selections on this set that did feature Beiderbecke.

My wife and children got me the set for Father's Day. How did they know? I told them. They also got me the Mosaic select Paul Chambers set. More on that one in a later post.

The music that is included in this collection is for the most part exquisite. There is a huge variety of musical settings, from duets like the ones with Lang and Johnson, which prove you don't have to be black to play the blues, more duets with Lang and Johnson, small groups with and without vocalists (some famous, some forgotten), and big bands (including one cut with Louis Armstrong). There are also some "novelty items", but they really don't detract from the value of the set. Some of the settings are also pretty commercial sounding, but even those have a charm to them that increases their appeal, at least for me. The final disc only features Venuti as Lang had come to an all-to-early end due to a botched tonsillectomy

The most exciting thing I found with this set was the exposure to forgotten music that is as brilliant now as it was when it was first recorded. With the speed at which tastes change and the old is replaced with the new, it's good to stop sometimes and revisit the music of the past, not for nostalgia's sake, but to remind ourselves that modern music has roots stretching even beyond the music in this set, and to be able to enjoy other forms of music that we otherwise would not be exposed to.

As with all of their sets, Mosaic has painstakingly searched for the best and cleanest sources for all of the cuts and has lovingly restored them so that sound quality is way beyond what you would expect from music recorded over seventy years ago. For you audiophiles, the whole set is still in mono.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>
War's legitimate object is more perfect peace. Flavius Vegitius Renatus This is an optional footer. If you want text here, place it inside these tags, and remove this comment.