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Author Topic: Why Jazz Gillum Never Recorded 'Night And Day'  (Read 457 times)

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Offline Bunker Hill

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Why Jazz Gillum Never Recorded 'Night And Day'
« on: April 26, 2013, 04:38:12 AM »
Not a hoax, honest. All typographical errors in original and not caused by OCR glitches.

"All Singing - All Dancing:
(Or Why Jazz Gillum Never Recorded ?Night And Day?)

by Richard J. Johnson

On a recent visit to EMl's Archive at Hayes in Middlesex to carry out some research into a project I am engaged on, which has no Blues connection at all, I came across the following correspondence in the Artist Files. I must admit to being slightly taken aback by seeing the name Bill Gillum on a folder since as far as I can tell there are no other files on Blues artists among the thousands of artist files held there, with the possible exception of one or two Post War Blues artists and these are mostly highlighted clippings trom magazines and newspapers or odd pieces of promotional material, all of recent origin. For certain there was nothing that matched the following find.

Bill "Jazz" Gillum recorded over 100 sides for Bluebird, ARC (as Bill McKinley) and later Victor between June, 1934 and March, 1950, with artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Blind John Davis, Bob Call and Big Maceo and so the following correspondence found in the file is fascinating. The fist letter is to Mr. Rex Palmer who during the 1930's was in charge of HMV's Artiste's Department and is in answer to a letter which originated from his office, but which no longer appears to exist. It is dated, January 13th, 1936.

"Dear Sir

We do not have a contract with Bill Gillum, nor do we intend to make any further recordings by this artist. However, as the cost is very small, if you feel that you want us to record additional harmonica solo's by this artist we will be more than happy to bring him in sometime during the month of February.

We have also noted that it is your desire to have him play popular dance hits.

Yours very truely
pp E. E. Oberstein RCA Manufacturing Company Inc."

The second letter dated January 31st, 1936 is addressed to E.E. Oberstein and the signature is unreadable but may be Rex Palmer.

"Dear Mr Oberstein,

Thank you for your letter of the 13th instant relative to recordings by the above mentioned artiste.

The records in question are desired by the Regal Zonophone Company and therefore, any recordings camed out at their expense would not be available for issue by yourselves. The Regal Zonophone are willing to offer an artistes fee of ?10-0-0 (Ten pounds) for two double sided records, ie, four titles. If the artiste is agreeable to accept this fee perhaps, you would carry out the recording on our behalf keeping the recording expenses as low as possible. The question of titles we will leave to your discretion, but we would add that it is fairly safe to make hits from forthcoming films of the Fred Astaire - Ginger Rogers type, or numbers which promise to become big hits. As an example we quote "The Music Goes Round And Around". We shall appreciate hearing whether you can arrange this recording on the terms mentioned, but we would impress upon you that we are anxious to keep the expenses as low as possible as the business for which the records are intended does not warrant large recording expenses.
Thanking you for your co-operation,
Yours very truly,
(signature unreadable)"

Note: Regal Zonophone was an EMI budget label, hence the anxiety to keep costs to a minimum. The final letter from Eli Oberstein at Victor is dated April 6th, 1936.


The artist as you know is a negro and is unable to read music. I spent the better part of two days with him on a trip to Chicago to try to teach him to play some new popular numbers. it is absolutely impossible for him to play correctly any popular tunes. I am sorry that we cannot be of further assistance to you with this artist.

We started something new in our Bluebird or cheaper records and we now have the leading musicians of the so-called Swing artists as well as quite a few of the better known Orchestra (sic) playing for us under this Bluebird label

I want to particularly bring to your attention records by Louis "King" Garcia and his Orchestra, Mezz Mezzrow and his Orchestra and Stew Pletcher (Red Norvo) and his Orchestra. These Orchestras have recorded popular tunes as well as selections from the new motion pictures. Do you use any of these masters on your Regal Zonophone list?

There are also other records which we would recommend for that list too in the negro held as we are using Boots and His Buddies, who have phenomenal success with us and will start with Willie Bryant, Chick Webb, Teddy Hill and various others of these negro orchestras.

Then, too, our so-called "Old Familair Tunes" or Hillbilly records have taken on new tempos in that they are Fox-Trots and sung quite distinctly I am sure some of these records would be of interest.

In any event I should appreciate knowing what your feelings are with regard to using some of these recordings.

Very truly yours,
E.E. Oberstein Records and Recording Division
RCA Manufacturing Company Inc. "

Jazz Gillum first recorded for Bluebird on June 14th, 1934 and didn't record again, according to Blues and Gospel Records until April 4th, 1936, two days prior to Oberstein's letter of April 6th! What is also interesting is the comment in Oberstein's letter of January 13th, 1936, asking Rex Palmer did he want RCA to cut "additional harmonica solo's". Is it possible that RCA had in fact recorded sides with Jazz Gillum for the UK market or leased Gillum's first two sides to Regal Zonophone? Whatever the case we now know why Jazz Gillum and Big Bill recorded "Sarah Jane", "Don't Scandalise My Name" and "Jockey Blues" rather than "Easter Parade", "The Continental", "Night And Day" or "Flying Down To Rio"! Incidentally despite Oberstein saying he did not intend to make any further records with Jazz Gillum, over ninety more sides were cut for RCA and its subsidiary labels!

[With thanks to Mrs. Ruth Edge and Ms. Sarah Hobbes at the EMI Archives in Hayes, which is currently undergoing "restructuring" - ie: closing. What a sad day, as although they don't have much of interest to the Blues collector, for anyone interested in Record history, the place is absolutely wonderful.]

Blues & Rhythm 75 (Jan 1993, p.16 less reproduction of one of the letters cited)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Why Jazz Gillum Never Recorded 'Night And Day'
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2013, 07:03:31 PM »
Fascinating and thought provoking piece that one. Jazz Gillum, should he have been aware of it, which he probably was not, would have been very frustrated with his label and the general state of commercial music 'management' at that point.

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