Wilbur Sweatman


Sweatman 2Wilbur Sweatman was born in Missouri in 1882. He was a gifted clarinetist, bandleader, and composer. By 1902 he was living in Minneapolis—already having toured with circus/concert bands of Professor Clark Smith Band of Kansas, the P. G. Lowery Band, and W. C. Handy’s Musical Spillers. He moved to Chicago in 1907 and spent time as an orchestra conductor before leaving for New York and the vaudeville stage in 1911. Sweatman gained notoriety as a popular vaudeville performer; he often ended his act by playing three clarinets at once. He also contributed to the popularity of ragtime during its “second wave” via his compositions “Down Home Rag” and “Old Folks Rag.” Sweatman and his band also recorded a series of discs for the Emerson and Pathé label

Wilbur Sweatman - Episode 1

Wilbur Sweatman has been unfairly ignored as a pioneering force in early jazz. In December 1916, Sweatman recorded his own "Down Home Rag.” Some historians consider this recording among the earliest examples of jazz on record. Sweatman can be heard making melodic variations even in this 1916 recording. It might be argued that Sweatman recorded an archaic type of jazz before the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Taking note of the commercial success of the Original Dixieland Jass Band and the Original Creole Orchestra, Sweatman changed his sextet and instrumentation in early 1917. His band now consisted of 4 saxophones and himself on clarinet---unusual for the time.
CompositionArtistYear
Kansas City BluesWilbur Sweatman1919
Down Home RagEurope's Society Orchestra1913
Down Home RagVictor Military Band1913
Down Home RagWilbur Sweatman with The Emerson Trio1916
Original Dixieland One StepOriginal Dixieland Jass Band1917
A Bag of RagsWilbur Sweatman1917
Joe Turners BluesWilbur Sweatman1917

Wilbur Sweatman - Episode 2

In 1918 Wilbur Sweatman was signed by the Columbia Record Company where he enjoyed great success and better distribution of his records. During his peak years of popularity in 1918 and 1919, Sweatman sold millions of records. His best-selling song was 1919's "Kansas City Blues,” which sold more than180,000 copies. However, by 1920, sales were decreasing, perhaps reflecting the waning interest in his novelty style of jazz, and the growing popularity of syncopated big bands. He continued playing his somewhat dated style through the 1920’s. Several important jazz musicians passed through his band, including Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Cozy Cole. Most jazz history books have unfairly ignored Wilbur Sweatman as a pioneering force in early jazz. I believe these recordings shed light on an early 20th century jazz pioneer.
CompositionArtistYear
IndianolaWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Darktown StruttersOriginal Dixieland Jass Band1917
Darktown Strutters' BallWilber Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band1918
Oh! You La! La!Wilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Regretful BluesWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Kansas City BluesWilbur Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band1919
Slide Kelly SlideWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1919

History of Big Bands


Hickman_Orch_Action_ShotWhen someone mentions big bands the first thought is often the period from 1935 to 1945, referred to as the “Swing Era.” Big bands or orchestras that played ragtime or other types of syncopated popular music for dancing have been around since the late 19th century. The history of the bands from the “swing era” goes back at least this far. James Reese Europe’s Clef Club Orchestra is probably the earliest of the popular dance orchestras that provided the blue print for the evolution of the big dance (jazz) band of the 1920’s. Europe’s group did not play jazz, but a ragtime version of syncopated music./h7>

History of the Big Bands - Episode 1

The recordings on this podcast represent the best in popular syncopated dance music from this period. The only group here that, in any way, might have represented authentic New Orleans music is the ODJB. Although Europe and Wilbur Sweatman were African American, they were not from New Orleans. One of the great tragedies in jazz research is that we have no jazz recordings of African-American musicians from New Orleans prior to 1921.
CompositionArtistYear
Castle House RagJames Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra1914
The Chicken WalkSix Brown Brothers1916
I’d Love to Fall Asleep….Benson Orchestra of Chicago1920
Rose RoomArt Hickman Orchestra1919
Livery Stable BluesThe Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB)1917
Slide Kelly SlideWilbur Sweatman Orchestra1919
Japanese SandmanPaul Whiteman Orchestra1920
WhisperingPaul Whiteman Orchestra1920

History of the Big Bands - Episode 2

Many of the great big bands from this period were located in Chicago, but New York was quickly going to become the center for this music. By 1923 pianist Fletcher Henderson had one of the most popular African American dance bands in New York. Both Fletcher and his chief arranger and saxophonist, Don Redman, began to tinker with the stock arrangements they were buying from the large publishing companies. By 1924 Redman and Henderson had established an original sound---one that captured the energy and sound of New Orleans collective improvisation, yet was largely written out for the musicians. This was also the year that Henderson hired a young cornet play from New Orleans that he had met in Chicago by the name of Louis Armstrong. For 9 months in late 1924 through 1925 Armstrong lived in New York and performed with the Henderson Orchestra. Armstrong’s presence in the Henderson Orchestra, and for that matter, the city of New York, changed jazz forever. The Henderson Orchestra, with the Redman arrangements, set the blueprint for big band jazz in the next decade.
CompositionArtistYear
Stomp OffErskine Tate1926
The Memphis Maybe ManDoc Cook Dreamland Orchestra1924
Dicty BluesFletcher Henderson Orchestra1923
Oh BabyDixie Stompers (Fletcher Henderson)1928
CopenhagenFletcher Henderson Orchestra1924
Sugar Foot StompFletcher Henderson Orchestra1925