(originally published May 6, 2006)
With this post The Virtual Victrola begins a new series, "Swinging At Decca," which will feature four great (but largely forgotten) swing bands that recorded for the label -- Earl 'Fatha' Hines, Bob Crosby, Chick Webb, and Jan Savitt.
Decca records was founded in 1934 by Jack Kapp. Prior to founding Decca, Kapp had worked for Brunswick Records as an artist and repertoire executive. Kapp felt that he could be more successful in business for himself, and he was right. Even though America was in the midst of the Great Depression, he succeeded in launching a record label that sold quality records for a bargain price (35 cents) and provided buyers with access to many of the top artists in the country: Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, The Mills Brothers, The Boswell Sisters, and The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra were just some of the names that Jack Kapp lured away from Brunswick so that they could record exclusively for him.
Earl "Fatha" Hines was another Brunswick recording artist that Kapp enlisted for his fledgling label. Hines was very well known in New York and Chicago, and is considered by jazz historians to be one of the top jazz piano stylists of the late 1920's and early 1930's. Hines' best-known work up until the mid 1930's was the collection of recordings he made with Louis Armstrong as a part of the trumpeter's Hot Seven, including the legendary "West End Blues." And on performances like "Weather Bird," Hines was able to both inspire and anticipate Armstrong's creativity, and elevated the piano above its traditional role in accompaniment to a new level of co-performance.
After forming his own big band in the 1930's, Earl Hines staked a claim to the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago, where his orchestra served as "house band" until after the Second World War. He occasionally gave up the stage for brief periods of time and allowed other luminary big bands such as Fletcher Henderson's and Count Basie's to perform there, but for all the dancers in Chicago, the Grand Terrace was Hines' domain.
In September 1934, the Hines orchestra made a number of influential recordings for Decca. Here are four of them: Cavernism (a Hines original), Fat Babes (an original by noted arranger Jimmy Mundy), Sweet Georgia Brown, and Rosetta (the Hines orchestra's theme song, sung by Walter Fuller).