It’s not too often that you get to hear the same band with the same personnel play the same song on the same recording date and give it two entirely different feels.
The band I’m referring to is basically a one time deal called “The Chocolate Dandies.” This particular aggregation recorded for Commodore Records in New York City over 60 years ago on May 25, 1940. They made six recordings that day including two versions of “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me.”
The first version was brought to my attention twice by two separate people. Skye Humphries first mentioned it to me last summer, and then I later heard Naomi Uyama play it while DJ’ing at The Jam Cellar one evening.
This is actually called “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me #2,” but I heard this one first. Shoot me.
It’s pretty slow at about 127 beats per minute, just barely skimming the line between being able to swingout to it and straight up ballad. The thing that helps blur that line is the playing of the front men who will all speed up as often as they slow it down during their solo’s without changing the overall tempo. This is a master class on how to swing. The effect at this tempo gives the song a nice dynamic that keeps listeners and dancers on their toes without confusing them. I think it’s just a gorgeous song to dance to. Not pretty or cute. I’m talking about the definition of beauty for the ears.
Tenor saxophonist, Coleman Hawkins leads off on the opening chorus before making way for Benny Carter’s solo on alto saxophone. Along with Duke Ellington’s main alto sax player, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter is regarded as one of the top alto-ists of the Swing Era. Of note, he ends his solo by repeating a lovely riff, which is something he does even more in the next version of this song.
However it’s Roy Eldridge’s trumpet solo which really kills me in this song. He lets out what I can only call a sensual growl as he transitions into his second chorus at around 2:40. Not sassy or sexy, I mean crawling under the sheets sensual.
Hawkins follows Eldridge before all three men play counterpoint to each other in the final chorus. It almost feels like they’re collectively yearning to stretch out the song for even longer because at over four minutes, it feels just too short.
This is demonstrated even more emphatically in the faster version of this song. It’s pretty fast, but not blazing at about 214 bpm’s. The hot jazz background of the horn men comes to the fore as they play over, under and with each other in the intro and out choruses.
Listen to Addison’s shuck-a-choom on guitar kick in as Eldridge starts his solo almost making it a mini-duet rather than a solo for the trumpeter.
Hawkins may be the bigger star, but Benny Carter is the one that steals this one for me. He’s the second sax solo, starting right after Eldridge, and it features a riff repeated four times (starting at about 3:10), slowing with each repetition, just barely keeping within its two bar confines, feeling almost as if the space-time continuum itself is being distorted.
The interesting thing that all these horn players have in common is that their careers transcended the tumultuous changes happening in a jazz world that cooled off from the hotter playing of the 30’s. Hawkins himself, had recorded his ground breaking version of “Body and Soul” less than a year previous in October of 1939.
But they don’t forget the earlier styles here. During the intro, Eldridge fills in behind Hawkins’ playing while Carter plays very understatedly. Later the song ends in controlled cacophony with all three horns blaring at full tilt, New Orleans style.
Depending on what CD you find these songs on, there’s conflicting information out there that says the full name of the band is “Coleman Hawkins and The Chocolate Dandies” although other sources say that Benny Carter leads the band. I didn’t realize I had the faster version until it came up very randomly while my iTunes was on shuffle. It took me awhile to make the connection between the two songs because I have it listed under Roy Eldridge’s name for no other reason than because it’s off of an Eldridge box set.
Impromptu small group recordings mixing and matching musicians were pretty common back in the day. Usually someone would get a record deal and then grab people they wanted to work with or just whoever was available.
I’m leaning towards just “The Chocolate Dandies” because Benny Carter previously led a number of bands bearing this name throughout the 30’s although I suppose Hawkins’ reputation at the time might have merited a top billing to boost sales.
You can’t really tell who’s in charge on the recordings since Hawkins, Carter and trumpeter Roy Eldridge all take equal turns soloing.
Had he shown up, Fletcher Henderson probably would have been in charge. The common thread linking all the musicians in this session was that they all played for Henderson at one time or another. He had been invited , but scheduling issues prevented him from playing with them, hence the reason why there’s no piano in the rhythm section.
The rhythm section doesn’t suffer from his absence though as its filled with some underrated but talented players. Big Sid Catlett on drums is the most notable of them. He was equally as skilled backing up then modernists such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as he was traditional hot players like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechett. John Kirby on bass also did a stint in the mid 30’s with Chick Webb’s band at the Savoy Ballroom after working with Fletcher Henderson. Finally, Bernard Addison on guitar is the most clearly heard from this section and figures very prominently on the faster version of this tune.
You can actually find both versions along with the other four songs from this session in a few places, often times separately, but you can find them altogether on the CD, Coleman Hawkins & Chu Berry: Tenor Giants.
I actually wrote most of this post last spring, but me and my tin ear had some trouble identifying who was soloing where. Thanks to Paul Cosentino of the Boilermaker Jazz Band for giving me a hand . . . err . . . ear.