Top 50 JAzz Blog

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jazz Pseudonym Prison

In looking at Coltrane's 1961 recording Ole, one sees Eric Dolphy listed as "George Lane." I guess he was under contract with Prestige at that time and had to go through the charade of using a pseudonym. Who was kidding whom? Dolphy! Probably the single most easily identifiable musician in jazz. For god's sake, Charlie Parker listed as Charlie Chan?

Somehow I don't think Dolphy or Bird was afraid of having Green Room Dom Perignon privileges taken away. How serious was the potential of other threatened punishments? Of actually being suspended, blacklisted or having royalties withheld?

Pseudonym use is a ludicrous, adolescent ritual and one that I think only musicians in the recording world of jazz have been subject to. It positioned jazz musicians somewhere between individuals with fully-vested rights and indentured servants. Yes, Hollywood had the "studio system," but look at the difference in financial rewards! And, at least that system seemed to be conducted along business lines-you can have Gable if you lend me Nelson Eddy. Such exchanges happen in jazz: "so and so performs under an arrangement with," but taking a wider view, that process has at least a grudging quality to it, if not the odor of collusion.

Also, is this same kind of contractual nonsense the reason why so many jazz albums didn't list the names of the freaking players? Did these labels at least have the excuse of having to cover their butt legally, or did they simply not deem the people who recorded the music SIGNIFICANT enough to credit?

As far as I have seen, labels of '78's were always clearly marked with the names of the musicians-at least in small to medium-sized ensembles. (Was there rampant mis-appropriation of composing credits? Yea, but that's another story, one as old as show biz. Jolson was not a songwriter and neither was Irving Mills, but you'd never know it from their ASCAP checks). Does this pseudo-contractual nonsense go back to the 20's? I rely on our panel of '78 experts to tell us.


rob chalfen said...

and Cannonball is listed as "Ronnie Peters" on Milt Jackson's Plenty, Plenty Soul lp, Atlantic 1269, 1957

Oscar Pettiford and Horace Silver are both 'by arrangement' but Cannon may have been in negotiations with Miles, & Ertegun didn't want to get Columbia's dander up.

I think sometimes labels would deny permission if there were contract negotiations afoot; it reflects the politics of the moment between the label owners more than anything.

78's & personnel:

78s as a rule did Not list personnel, with rare exceptions for a famous soloist, until the late '30s. (The Jimmy Noone label is a French reissue from 1939 of a 1928 record, the French were anyway hipper @ jazz as art)(I dig the inverted V - somekinda code?)

The signal US exception is the original 1927 issue of "Singin' the Blues", which reads "Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra with Bix and Lang"

US jazz records did not list players until Milt Gabler (Commodore Music Shop) began leasing & reissuing masters on his Hot Jazz Society label in 1937. Collector & swing fan pressure on majors to reissue classics with info resulted in absurdities like all 12 members of the Goodman Orch listed with instruments crammed onto the label in minuscule type, but most real jazz issues from that time on listed personnel.

This also coincides with the beginning of Blue Note and other jazz labels esp following the Sprituals to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall in '37/38, and a purist backlash against the big commercial dance orchestras.

(Goodman moonlighted on his pianist Mel Powell's 1942 Commodore date as "Shoeless Joe Jackson", the Black Sox miscreant of his Chicago youth.)

artsology said...

Happy Birthday to Miles Davis today - May 26, 1926!

Steve Provizer said...

Just shows that the '78's that I have cared to hear at your pad are a pretty self-selecting group, as they have largely had the personnel listed...

In any case, your precis clearly saves me from agonizing over the fact that anything might have been handled better in the early days than they were later on. Is it possible that blues records were dealt with any differently? Was it just headliner with no backup band listing?

Here's another question: When did the conception of liner notes get off the ground?

rob chalfen said...

erratum: "Hot Record Society" (HRS), not 'hot jazz society'

(Milt Gabler was Billy Crystal's uncle.)

listing of personnel pretty well demarcates the tipping point of some significant popular conception of (small band)jazz as art, as opposed to the dominant paradigm of (big band) swing as commerce/entertainment.

Earliest liner notes per se I'm aware of are those of Warren Scholl ("Secretary of the Hot Club of New York") who wrote a booklet insert for the 1936 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Album on RCA Victor, also the first jazz album per se, that I know of.
(Recently copped a copy of the notes). It's pretty good amateur musicology - bio essay, rare pix, discussion of the music, selected discography not exclusively of Victor discs, even a reproduced Bix letter.

There are some 'music appreciation' tabs on some Bix/Whiteman record sleeves from 1928, a couple of sentences telling you what to listen for, though not naming musicians.

The 78's you saw with annotations are 'collector' master repressings from '37-'45, (originals in good shape being vanishingly scarce), gets you as close as you can to the sound. The return of the re-pressed!

rob chalfen said...

Blues records typically just had the headliner, as "Big Bill Broonzy with bass and traps"

Steve Provizer said...

Creaky and infirm though I may be, I certainly saw 78's pressed in the late 30's w. personnel listed. Isn't the Eldridge "After You've Gone" original? That has personnel.

rob chalfen said...

no man i just pulled them and it's just Roy & Orch

Must've shown you the listing in Rust

rob chalfen said...

I'm creaky, you're infirm:

the Commodore reissue label was UHCA, United Hot Clubs of America

HRS was a reissue label of the HRS Record Shop on 7th ave.

I have found another 20's exception:

Okeh 8312, label reads:


Contralto, with piano accomp by Richard M. Jones and trumpet by Louis Armstrong
Recorded in Chicago, Ill.
(23 Feb. '26, not on label)

but a rare exception.

sometime in 1937 seems to be the turning point - Eldridge no in Jan, Billie & Lester yes in Sept. But Roy was the only 'name' on the side, outside of Chicago.

Chris Albertson said...

Some of us liner note writers also used pseudonyms. I was Fred Nurdley and Dan Morgenstern was Michael Morgan, I don't recall the name used by Ira, but I thibj he had one.

There was a time when I could not afford to turn down note assignment, so Nurdley's name only appears on albums that I didn't care for. If, however, there was a good track, Nurdley might point out that he ran it past Chris Albertson, who liked it.

BTW, I listed myself in the phone book as Fred Nurdley (sans address) and a friend of mine, Tasha Thomas (a singer) liked that so much that she had herself listed as Freda Nurdley. We were the only Nurdleys in the Manhattan directory.

Chris Rich said...

That's hilarious, but understandable. I've been and will remain, "Crass Wretch".

I have notes of yours on two disparate items, a Biograph compilation of Jabbo Smith and related period cuts and a George Russell release, 'Stratusphink'.

Both, I might add, are benchmarks of the craft and are you.

Wasn't Adderly also called 'Buckshot Lefunk' or something?

Chris Rich said...


Anonymous said...

"Zeke Tolkin" ???