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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Banjo in Swing Era

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CGDA - Posted - 01/19/2019:  04:05:50

I've just found this recording of the great Harry Reser playing "Christopher Columbus",  a standard for the "swing bands" of the 30's and 40's. I guess that record has been done at that time. There are many banjoists that practice swing music today, but it's the first time I can hear an iconic banjoist directly ferried from the '20s banjo craze to the swing era and how much good it happened!

Hope you enjoy!


davidcava - Posted - 01/19/2019:  08:08:04

Great find Marco.....Harry is swinging like mad isn't he.....yes indeed!

davidcava - Posted - 01/19/2019:  08:11:00

Hey Marco....was there overdubbing in those days? I hear two banjos playing the same line in one spot, and I don't think Harry is playing both at once.

CGDA - Posted - 01/19/2019:  11:31:10

David, you are right! I also noticed that thing. I guess dubbing was possible even in the 78rpm's era. The other option should be the presence of a second banjoist in the Reser's band...who had to be a very "alter ego". I remember that Sidney Bechet dubbed himself in an old record (The Sheik of Araby, 1941), don't know if anybody ever foretasted that technique.
Thank you for your intriguing comment!

davidcava - Posted - 01/20/2019:  13:39:09

I think I may learn the whole of Resers solo on this one's good stuff. Maybe even take a shot at transcribing it.

John Gill - Posted - 01/20/2019:  15:15:26

The Cliquot Club Orchestra usually had 2 or 3 banjos.

davidcava - Posted - 01/20/2019:  15:28:38

Cool! Who were they John?.......they and Harry would have had to work this up way before hand....

John Gill - Posted - 01/23/2019:  00:39:29

I don't know who the other banjoists with Reser were. But I did look up some images and there are pictures of the band with 3 to 4 banjos including a small piccolo style banjo. They banjo trios or quartettes are featured on many of the recordings including "At Sundown", check it out. They are pictured in the old Paramount Banjo catalog too.
John Gill

davidcava - Posted - 01/23/2019:  06:21:59

Thank You John, I'll check out "At Sundown" for sure. Great stuff...I'll try to look into who may have played in that band, and try to find some of those pics.


jkulus - Posted - 04/24/2019:  11:08:40

The Christopher Columbus recording which sparked this thread was cut from the live broadcast of the re-formed Eskimos in 1951. The cut was made in wax and privately for Mr. Reser. He was the only banjo player in the band, except.... Unfortunately, when his daughter Geraldine and I worked on bringing out a CD of those 1951 broadcasts she did not have a musicians list and could not identify this second banjo. Best wishes, Juergen Kulus

L50EF15 - Posted - 04/24/2019:  15:26:34

Much thanks! I just downloaded the album from iTunes. Study time!

L50EF15 - Posted - 04/24/2019:  15:32:53

Fascinating! 12th Street Rag and Lollipops recall such as George Barnes and Les Paul.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 04/27/2019:  02:47:49

What an interesting thread. The more so since I have been working on a banjo quartet, to be recreated digitally, for some time now.

Below is what I know about dubbing. My first audio-cassette four-track recorder acquired sometime in the 1980s.

Dubbing was not yet technologically feasible, in the 1930s, as far as I'm aware. To my knowledge, the very first to experiment with overdubs was Les Paul - in the early 1950s, probably. And the first reel-to-reel recorder became available in the 1960s - if for longtime not affordable for non-professionals. The Beatles using two Revoxes, famously, for their earliest releases.

I'm not sure when stereo was invented, so I guess that makes 1920s and 1930s recordings resolutely mono. Yet I know for a fact that the Mills Brothers, for example, had just one single microphone between them. And because they treated it as a musical instrument in itself, their 1930s recordings are still extraordinary today.

My assumption then is that bands always had to pitch up physically, for studio sessions. No sample availability then. And bandwidth available  may not have been great, I suppose, considering contemporary state-of-the-art of sound capture. Violin and piano especially a nightmare to lay down, it seems. But I also heard of wire recorders, early precursors to tape decks. I remember my grandmother once mentioning a family-owned wire recording, yet I have never actually seen it for real. Nor the machine to play it with, actually.

Molto grazie to Marco for bringing this topic up. Vielen Dank auch zu Herrn Jürgen Kulus, für seine interessante Erweiterungen. And many thanks also to John, for mentioning banjo trios and quartets, and thereby adding an extra dimension to this thread.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 04/27/2019 03:01:28

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 04/28/2019:  08:05:37

Did my previous post inadvertently kill off further chat on the subject? My intention was merely to add what I thought of as an interesting angle.

Veerstryngh Thynner

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 04/30/2019:  13:03:29

Overdubbing became possible in the forties with the advent of taped recordings instead of the old "direct to wax" method used before then. Tape recorders and wire recorders had been around for some time, but were not sophisicated enough, apparently.

As for stereo, there is at least one instance of an attempt at that in 1934 by Duke Ellington. Two microphones were placed according to Ellington'e very specific instructions and two seperate recordings were made. No one really knew what he was about (the record producers just thought he wanted two recordings so the best one could be chosen) until several decades later when someone decided to play both back both masters at once. When they discoverd sound coming from all over the place, that person re-recorded the result with a stero set-up.. I heard a broadcast of this, and it was really rather amazing; some of the best stereo I've ever heard. It sounded like you were right in the middle of his band.

There are those that think this was just an accident, but given Ellington's absolutely strict requirements in microphone placement, he probably knew exactly what he was doing, as he did in everything else musical.

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 04/30/2019:  17:56:23


Originally posted by Veerstryngh Thynner

I'm not sure when stereo was invented, so I guess that makes 1920s and 1930s recordings resolutely mono.

The first patents for stereo recording were given c. 1931. The principles by which it worked were known in the 1880s when recording and telephony were being invented, but it took a while to work out how to make recordings, and then effectively play them back--it would be some years before a reliable method of cutting stereo records would appear.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 04/30/2019:  23:46:39

Thanks very much MacCruiskeen & George, for your educative updates. George's particularly a big surprise. Never heard that Ellington story before. And what I find especially intriguing is that the Duke's stereo set-up was only discovered decades later. More or less by coincidence.

Did this happen during Ellington's lifetime, or after his death (1974 I think that was)? In the former case, somebody should just have asked him some more about that session, perhaps. And what's the title of this recording?

Veerstryngh Thynner

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 05/01/2019:  20:19:28

Here is an article about the Ellington 1932 stereo recording.

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