The Drummers in the Recordings of Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra and of Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang, 1927-1929: An Anomaly and a Hypothesis.
By Albert Haim
Introduction.<>Between February 1927 and September 1929, while Bix and Tram were members of the Jean Goldkette, Adrian Rollini's New Yorkers, and Paul Whiteman orchestras, Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra and Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang recorded 61 sides (54 were issued). In all but 23 (20 issued) of these sides, the drummer was the Goldkette/New Yorkers or Whiteman man, as would be expected from the fact that the Trumbauer and Bix outfits were bands within the larger bands. In the 23 recordings made by Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra (with Bix) and by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang beween July 1928 and April 1929, George Marsh, the Whiteman drummer at the time, was not a participant: mostly non-Whiteman musicians were used as drummers. However, from May 1929 to September 1929, Frank Trumbauer and his orchestra (without Bix) made 9 recordings, all with George Marsh as the drummer. In fact, throughout the rest of 1929 and in 1930 Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra made 19 additional recordings, again all with George Marsh.
In the present article, I provide documentation about the drummers playing in all the sessions for the period 1927-1929 and advance a hypothesis to account for the absence of George Marsh, the regular Whiteman drummer, in the recordings made from July 1928 to April 1929 by Bix and Tram while they were members of the Whiteman orchestra.
1. The Goldkette and New Yorkers Period: 1927
The date February 4, 1927 represents a milestone in the history of jazz recordings. It was the first recording session of Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra: the immortal “Singin’ the Blues” was recorded on that day with Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, Miff Mole on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet, Frank Trumbauer on C-melody saxophone, Paul Mertz on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums. At the time, all of the musicians who participated in the recording –except Eddie Lang and Miff Mole- were members of the larger Jean Goldkette orchestra. Eddie Lang, although not a member of the Goldkette orchestra, played in most of the Victor recordings of the orchestra while Bix was with Goldkette. Miff Mole was apparently a last minute replacement for Bill Rank, one of two Goldkette trombonists (the other was Spiegle Willcox) during the tenure of Bix with the band. Thus, the Frank Trumbauer orchestra was a “band within a band” and, as customary, the musicians in the smaller band were drawn from the larger band. The Frank Trumbauer Orchestra (with Bix) made ten recordings while Bix and Tram were with Goldkette. The drummer in every recording was Chauncey Morehouse, the regular drummer in the Goldkette band.
Because of financial difficulties, the Jean Goldkette Orchestra disbanded on September 18, 1927. Several of the Goldkette musicians –including Bix, Trumbauer, Don Murray and Chauncey Morehouse- joined Adrian Rollini’s New Yorkers. The short-lived New Yorkers made nine recordings (eight issued) under the names Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra, Benny Meroff and His Orchestra, and Russell Gray and His Orchestra. Chauncey Morehouse was the drummer in every recording by these bands.
During his days with Rollini's New Yorkers, Bix organized two recording sessions with a smaller group that included himself on cornet, Bill Rank on trombone, Don Murray on clarinet, Frank Signorelli on piano, Adrian Rollini on bass saxophone and Chauncey Morehouse on drums, all members of the New Yorkers. The smaller band within the band made six –now legendary- recordings under the name of Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang and the New Orleans Lucky Seven.
Thus, from February 4, 1927 until October 26, 1927 (included), Chauncey Morehouse, the drummer for the Jean Goldkette and the New Yorkers Orchestras, was present in every recording of the Frank Trumbauer Orchestra and of Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang.
2. The Paul Whiteman Period: 1928-1929.<>January-April, 1928. Hal McDonald.
At the end of 1927, Bix and Tram joined the Whiteman orchestra. Under their contract with “Pops,” Bix and Tram were allowed to record outside of the Whiteman band as long as they used Whiteman’s musicians. The Frank Trumbauer Orchestra and Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang recorded thirteen sides between January 9, 1928 and April 17, 1928 (included). The Tram and Bix outfits were small bands within the bigger Whiteman band. Thus, all the musicians in the Trumbauer and Bix bands were regular members of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Hal McDonald was the drummer in all recordings made by the Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke bands while McDonald was a member of the Whiteman orchestra. Hal McDonald left Whiteman on April 24, 1928.
July 1928- September 1929. George Marsh.
On April 25, 1928, McDonald was replaced by George Marsh. From the time that Marsh joined Whiteman until September 1929 –a period during which Marsh was the only drummer in the Whiteman orchestra- the Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang bands made a total of 32 recordings. These recordings can be divided into two groups. The first 23 –made between July 5, 1928 and April 30, 1929- did not include Marsh. The next 9 –recorded between May 15, 1929 and September 8, 1929, all with the Frank Trumbauer Orchestra- included Marsh. During the rest of 1929 Trumbauer and his orchestra made 11 additional recordings, all with George Marsh. Examination of this data shows that Marsh never recorded with Bix and His Gang nor with Trumbauer’s orchestra while Bix was a member of the Trumbauer band. This represents an anomaly. Ordinarily, a band within a band used musicians from the bigger band. In fact, the Frank Trumbauer orchestra and Bix bands used, with the exception of the drummers, exclusively Whiteman instrumentalists in their recordings.
In order to find a plausible explanation for these observations it is necessary to examine in detail the identity of the drummers and the circumstances associated with the recording sessions beginning on July 5, 1928 and ending on April 30, 1929, the last recording session of Bix with Trumbauer’s orchestra. The documentation for the identity of the drummers is taken from Philip Evans and Larry Kiner “Tram, The Frank Trumbauer Story” and from Richard Sudhalter in the liner notes for the Mosaic CD set MD7-211. The two sources provide the same information for the Trumbauer sessions. The Mosaic liner notes were the source of information for the recordings of Bix and His Gang.
1928 to April 30, 1929.
Chicago, July 5, 1928. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer: Harry Gale. Bix present.
Chicago, July 7, 1928. Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang.Drummer: Harry Gale. Bix present.
Note that Harry Gale was not a member of the Whiteman orchestra.
New York, September 20,
1928. Frank Trumbauer and His
Drummer: Lennie Hayton. Bix present.
New York, September 21, 1928. Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang.
Drummer: Lennie Hayton. Bix present.
New York, Oct. 5, 1928. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Unknown drummer [name illegible in Trumbauer’s ledgers]. Bix present.
New York, March 8, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer: Stan King. Bix present.
New York, April 17, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer: Stan King. Bix present.
New York, April 30, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer: Stan King. Bix present.Note that Stan King was not a member of the Whiteman orchestra.
May 15, 1929
to September 16, 1929.
New York, May 15, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer George Marsh. Bix absent.
May 21, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer George Marsh. Bix absent.
May 22, 1929. Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra.
Drummer George Marsh. Bix absent.
Bix left the Whiteman band on September 16, 1929. Between September 18, 1929 and the end of 1930, Frank Trumbauer had 10 recording sessions, all with George Marsh.
Examination of the above data documents our assertion that Marsh never recorded with Bix and His Gang or with Frank Trumbauer’s orchestra while Bix was part of the Trumbauer orchestra. However, once Bix stopped recording with Trumbauer’s orchestra (April 30, 1929, last recording session of Bix with Tram), Trumbauer used George Marsh as his drummer -beginning on May 15, 1929 and continuing throughout 1929 (and also 1930) - in every recording session.
Why did the Whiteman drummer –George Marsh- not play in the July 5, 1928 through April 30, 1929 sessions -when Bix was present- but played with Trumbauer’s band during the rest of 1929 (and in 1930) -when Bix was absent? Unfortunately, there is no documentation that allows us to answer this question categorically. However, a reasonable hypothesis can be advanced by examining in some detail the circumstances surrounding these recording sessions. We will begin the discussion with the September 20, 1928 session and leave the July 5 and 7, 1928 recording sessions in Chicago for later discussion because they provide some fascinating insight into the inner aspects of what went on in some of the recording sessions and because they may provide the key to some of the puzzling observations made above.
New York, September 20 (Trumbauer’s orchestra) and 21 (Bix and His Gang), 1928 Sessions.Lennie Hayton is the drummer in these sessions. This is rather unusual –and perhaps significant- because, ordinarily, Lennie Hayton played piano, organ, celeste, and harmonium, and was an arranger and leader, but, as far as I know, there are no other recordings of Hayton playing drums. <> The musicians in the studio on September 20, 1928 were Trumbauer, Bix, Bill Rank, Irving Friedman, Min Leibrook, Roy Bargy, Wilbur Hall and Lennie Hayton, all members of the Whiteman orchestra. Evans and Kiner, in their biography of Trumbauer, write, “Trumbauer’s ledgers show payments made to Bix of $55 ($70 less a $15 advance); Roy Bargy, $30; Bill Rank, $50. The rest of the musicians were paid $25 each. It is curious that Lennie Hayton was paid $50 but his instrument is not listed. It has been suggested that he played drums in this session.” There were two Whiteman pianists on September 20 and 21, 1928 in the recording studios, Roy Bargy and Lennie Hayton. No drummer was present. Evidently, one of the two pianists acted as the drummer, and in view of the fact that a piano is listed for Bargy whereas no instrument is listed for Hayton, the most reasonable assignment for him is drums, as specified in the discographies. There is one additional point of interest. In commenting about Bix’s recording of “Louisiana,” Sudhalter (notes for the Mosaic set) writes, “The piano solo is actually and obviously a four-hand duet, as Bargy affirmed in 1958; but someone is heard distantly keeping time on a choked cymbal until Hayton resettles himself at what the French rightly call the “battery.” Bix himself, perhaps? Friedman? A detail, perhaps, but a tantalizing one.” Bix as the drummer during the four-hand piano duet in “Louisiana” is a perfectly reasonable assignment. According to Les Swanson, a Davenport friend of Bix who played piano and spent considerable time with Bix at the end of 1929 and 1930, Bix played drums on March 17, 1930 at the Fraternal Hall in Rock Island, Illinois. Moreover, Bix’s brother Burnie tells us that, as a youngster, Bix played drums. Therefore, the recording of “Louisiana” by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang may well be the single example of Bix playing drums on a recording.
New York, October 5, 1928 Session.
Sudhalter tells us (Mosaic liners), “The identity of the drummer is lost to history. Suffice it to say that his banging and clattering is even more jarring than that of the September  Gang sessions [the drummer was Lennie Hayton]. Yet Hayton is clearly the pianist on this date – and the drummer’s name, as scrawled in Trumbauer’s ledgers, is illegible. It all adds up to musical ruination.” Thus, we have a second instance in which a drummer of limited ability is used instead of George Marsh, the regular Whiteman drum man.
New York, March 8, April 17 and April 30, 1929 sessions.For the first time since July 1928, we have a bona fide drummer in the band, the excellent Stan King -who was not a member of the Whiteman band.
New York, May 15, 1929 to September 8, 1930 sessions.
As mentioned previously, the last recording session of Bix with Trumbauer’s orchestra took place on April 30, 1929. Something interesting happens in the first recording session [May 15, 1929] following Bix’s departure from the Trumbauer band –but still a member of the Whiteman band: George Marsh, the Whiteman drummer since April 1928, is now playing drums and continues playing for all recordings of Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra in the remaining of 1929 (and in all of 1930).
Chicago, July 5 and 7, 1928 Sessions.According to Roy Bargy, [quoted by Philip Evans and Linda Evans, Bix: The Leon Beiderbecke Story], the pianist in the July 5 and 7, 1928 sessions was Harry Gale. “One thing I am quite certain of – both sessions had Harry Gale on drums instead of the Whiteman drummer, George Marsh. George was not a jazz drummer and the guy who played brushes behind the piano solos got in some hot licks.” Indeed there are “some hot licks” in the Bix and His Gang recordings of July 7 (“Ol’ Man River,” “Wa-Da-Da”). <>Harry Gale was an old buddy of Bix’s. Gale and Bix knew each other since the Lake Forest Academy days. On January 26, 1922 they played with the Jimmy Caldwell band for the Senn High School Prom at the plush Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. [Don Murray, a close friend of Bix, was also in the band]. In the summer of 1923, Bix and Gale were playing together in the Bill Grimm band on the steamer “Michigan City”. [Gale arranged for Benny Goodman to play with the Grimm band when Jimmy Hartwell left the band]. During that time, Bix often stayed at Harry Gale’s house. On November 7, 1927, Harry Gale participated in a jam session at the Three Deuces in Chicago with Bix, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Jimmy McPartland, and others. In his autobiography (Benny Goodman and Irving Kolodin, “The Kingdom of Swing”), Goodman writes, “I also heard about another occasion when Bix was there, and Harry Gale came down. He had turned from music to go into the clothing business, and did a lot of business with musicians. They got him to sit on drums, and Bix thought he was wonderful-didn’t want to play with anybody else that night.” <>The circumstances under which Harry Gale came to be the drummer in the July 5, 1928 session are described by Richard Sudhalter and Philip Evans in “Bix, Man and Legend.” “Bix and Gale liked one another on sight; they remained friends throughout the rest of Bix’s life. When, five years later, Gale dropped in unexpectedly on a Frank Trumbauer session to see Bix, he wound up behind the drums.” This refers to the July 5, 1928 session. There is additional information about this session. Sudhalter and Evans: “On Thursday, July 5 , remembered by one and all as the hottest day of he summer, the whole Trumbauer group stripped to their underwear in the OKeh Chicago studios while recording “Bless You Sister” and “Dusky Stevedore.” Dee Orr and Harry Gale, both drummers and both key figures in Bix Beiderbekce’s early career, turned up to watch - and promptly were drafted for duty: Gale to play drums, Orr to sing.” Two days later, on July 7, 1928, Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang recorded “Ol’ Man River” and “Wa-Da-Da.” According to the liners for the Mosaic set, “Again, as on Tuesday’s Trumbauer session [July 5, 1928], Bix’s old Chicago friend Harry Gale stepped in as pro tem drummer. As pianist Roy Bargy remembered it in conversation with Philip R. Evans, Whiteman’s regular man, George Marsh, did not feel himself to be enough of a jazzman to participate in such doings –an assessment with which the others agreed. Charles “Burnie” Beiderbecke, Bix’s elder brother, attended this session, and recalled a spirit of boyish fun throughout.” Evans and Evans also report that Burnie attended the July 7, 1928 recording session, but the account by Burnie in the Evans and Evans book contradicts that in the liners for the Mosaic set. According to Evans and Evans, Burnie in a telephone interview in 1958 stated, “I was present in the studio when “Ol’ Man River” was being recorded [July 7, 1928; the other recording made in this session was “Wa-Da-Da”]. There was somewhat of an argument as to who would play drums.” In a letter dated 12/12/59, Burnie writes, “I don’t recall much about the drummers. There were two of them available, but which was used, I don’t remember.” We know one of the two drummers was Harry Gale since he ended up making the recordings on that day. Who was the other? It seems safe to assume that it was George Marsh. Marsh was the drummer of the Whiteman orchestra. As required by the Whiteman contract, the smaller groups had to use Whiteman musicians. As a matter of fact, the other musicians in the session –Bill Rank, Irving Friedman, Roy Bargy and Min Leibrook- were all from the Whiteman band. Thus, Marsh seems the likely second drummer.
Was George Marsh Not A Jazz Drummer?
Let us examine the assertion by Roy Bargy that George Marsh was not a "jazz drummer.” First, wouldn’t Marsh be a better drummer than Lennie Hayton (described by Sudhalter in the Mosaic liners as “pounding away happily – if without noticeable finesse- on the drums”) and the unknown drummer ("his banging and clattering is even more jarring" than that of Lennie Hayton)? After all, Paul Whiteman was extremely demanding when it came to the quality of the musicians in his band. Perhaps Marsh was wanting as a “jazz drummer,” but he certainly must have been technically highly competent. Second, note that by the middle of 1928, Trumbauer was recording mostly popular tunes with a limited jazz content. Third, Marsh played with the Virginians and Busse’s Buzzards - hot bands within the Whiteman band- and in such Whiteman jazzy recordings as “You Took Advantage of Me,” “’Tain’t So, Honey, ‘Tain’t So,” “That’s My Weakness Now,” and “China Boy.” Moreover, in several of the Tram sessions after Bix left, Marsh plays in such jazzy tunes as ”What A Day!” and “Alabamy Snow” on May 15, 1929; “Shivery Stomp” on May 22, 1929; “Turn On the Heat,” “Manhattan Rag” and “Sunnyside Up” on October 10, 1929. Furthermore, in his article about the New Yorkers in Europe (Storyville # 145, March 1991), Harold S. Kaye writes, “But Dave [Tough] was not a technical drummer in the sense of Vic Berton, George Marsh, Chauncey Morehouse, or Stan King.” It is noteworthy that Bix played or recorded with everyone of the drummers in the list, except George Marsh. Thus, the notion that Marsh was not used by Trumbauer nor by Bix from July 1928 to April 30, 1929 because he had shortcomings as a “jazz drummer” seems to have little factual support. Richard Sudhalter writes (private communication, January 4, 2004), "It's obvious, however, that for some reason Bix preferred not to have Marsh among his sidemen. Was it because he "wasn't a hot drummer"? Are we to understand that he wasn't, but that Bix regarded Bargy, Hayton, or Hal McDonald as acceptable "hot" players. Doesn't make a lot of sense."
No Marsh When Bix Was Present: A Hypothesis.<>Why was George Marsh then never used when Bix was present, but Marsh was readily accepted once Bix was gone? There may be an explanation by looking at the account provided by Bix’s brother Burnie of the July 7, 1928 session. The “argument as to who would play drums” could help understand the anomaly. I propose that Whiteman's musicians were summoned for the recording sessions of July 5 and 7, 1928 by Trumbauer and by Bix, respectively. I further propose that the drummer called for the recordings was Marsh. However, on July 5, 1928, Bix's old buddy Harry Gale dropped by the studio unexpectedly. Seeing his long time friend for the first time in nearly a year, Bix was thrilled with the prospect of Harry playing drums and asked him to do so. Perhaps, George Marsh, realizing the strong friendship between Harry and Bix, bowed out as described by Sudhalter in the Mosaic liners, "amicably agreeing not to participate." For the next session on July 7, Marsh comes into the studio with the other Whiteman musicians ready to record with Bix and His Gang. However, Bix had also invited his buddy Harry Gale. There are two drummers in the studio. At this point Marsh is not willing to yield the drum chair to Gale. After all, he was being paid the handsome sum of about $50 every time he recorded outside of the Whiteman band. An argument ensues –Bix’s brother Burnie is a witness- as to who would play drums. Bix is rather adamant and prevails. George Marsh leaves disgusted, perhaps pledging not to record with Bix anymore. Alternatively, Bix could be the one who decided never to play with George Marsh in the small group recordings. Thus, all recordings of Trumbauer with Bix and of Bix and His Gang during the July 1928-April 1929 period do not include George Marsh as the drummer. However, once Bix stops recording with Trumbauer [the last recording session of Bix with Trumbauer’s band was on April 30, 1929], Marsh now returns and is the featured drummer in all remaining 1929 and 1930 Trumbauer recordings while Marsh and Tram are members of the Paul Whiteman orchestra. I readily admit that the assumption of a falling out between Bix and Marsh is speculative. However, in view of the fact that George Marsh never recorded with Bix and His Gang and with Trumbauer’s band while Bix was present, and of Bix’s brother account that “There was somewhat of an argument as to who would play drums”, the hypothesis of a falling out between Bix and Marsh becomes rather reasonable and credible.
Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra and Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang were bands within the Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman bands. As is customary in these instances, the musicians in the smaller bands were subsets of the musicians in the bigger bands. This generalization applies to the Trumbauer and Bix bands with one major exception. George Marsh, the drummer of the Paul Whiteman orchestra, was never used by Bix when he recorded as Bix and His Gang and by Trumbauer when he recorded as the Frank Trumbauer orchestra while Bix was a member of the orchestra. However, once Bix stopped recording with Tram, Marsh was the drummer in all Trumbauer recordings through 1930. This observation led me to suggest a falling-out between Bix and Marsh when Bix asked his long-time buddy Harry Gale to play with him in the July 1928 Chicago recording sessions of Frank Trumbauer and His Orchestra and of Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang: ordinarily, Marsh, the regular drummer with Whiteman, would have been the drummer of choice. The suggestion by Roy Bargy that George Marsh did not participate with Bix and Trumbauer in their small band recordings because “George was not a jazz drummer” does not seem to have any basis on fact. Not only was George Marsh a technically competent drummer, but he could provide some good hot drumming.
Acknowledgement. I am grateful to Richard M. Sudhalter for illuminating discussions of the subject matter in the present article and for his kind permission to quote him.