February 11, 2019

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Kansas City Jazz- The 1929 Brunswick Sessions

February 11, 2019- Today's Kansas City Jazz Topic: The Brunswick Sessions
Other than Bennie Moten, most Kansas City groups and Territory Bands did not have much opportunity to record.
One notable exception was a 6 day series of sessions that took place in early November 1929.

Winston Holmes was a local entrepreneur who owned a music store, represented artists and produced some early recording sessions.  Eventually he started his own record company called Meritt Records. He was forced to give it up in 1927 and returned to freelance producing for other small labels in the Midwest.
In the fall of 1929 he worked a deal with Chicago based Brunswick Records to record a number of Kansas City artists.

Brunswick noticed that Ralph Peer and Victor Records had found good talent in Kansas City and wanted to get in on the action.
Brunswick executives Jack Kapp and Dick Voynow came to Kansas City in November 1929 accompanied by their supervisor of race recordings J. Mayo Williams.  
Word spread that Brunswick was in town to audition bands and singers to record for the label and they held the auditions at the Pla-Mor Ballroom which drew a large turnout of local groups and bands coming into town from the territories.

From this audition they selected Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, The Oklahoma City Blue Devils and George E. Lee.

The sessions were set for November 6 through the 11th.  Since there were no recording studios in Kansas City they used WDAF radio station which was located in the Kansas City Star newspaper building.

George E. Lee’s band recorded four sides on November 6 featuring arrangements by Jesse Stone and the saxophone of Budd Johnson.
Andy Kirk recorded four sides on November 7. At the audition, Kirk’s pianist Marian Jackson failed to show, so Kirk had saxophonist John Williams send home for his wife Mary Lou. Kapp and Voynow were extremely impressed with Mary Lou and insisted that she be on the session. In addition to playing piano Mary Lou also wrote some originals to be featured on the date. These Kirk sessions introduced Mary Lou Williams to the jazz world in a big way.

On November 8, Kirk recorded one more title before giving way to the George E. Lee band once again. This time two sides were recorded to feature George’s sister Julia and the record was issued as Julia Lee accompanied by the George E. Lee Orchestra.

On November 9, the Kirk band recorded again only this time under the leadership of John Williams. The record was released as John Williams and His Memphis Stompers and once again featured his wife Mary Lou.

The November 10 date featured two sides recorded by The Oklahoma City Blue Devils. It’s unfortunate that those are the only documents of the legendary band but under the circumstances it’s lucky they were recorded at all.

Finally on November 11 Andy Kirk did two more sides including Mary Lou Williams "Froggy Bottom."