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*64 THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
the so-called "Five Pennies" by 1930 were a dozen strong. It was in its days as a small combo that the Nichols group was musically most influential and successful; some of its experiments can be heard on Brunswick BL 54008.
Occasional contributors to the Nichols annals were Joe Venuti, the first important jazz violinist, and Eddie Lang, who filled a comparable role for the guitar in jazz history. Venuti and Lang were more important for the records made by their own groups, such as the duos Stringing the Blues and Black and Blue Bottom in September 1926. In a series of 1927 sides a piano and sometimes a saxophone augmented the group; from then until Lang's death in 1933, the creations of Joe Venuti's Blue Four and Blue Five made a gentle yet firm and ineradicable mark on jazz. The violin and guitar solos, their interplay and the velvet carpet of their arrangements brought jazz to a new pinnacle of inspiration accentuated by the finesse and swing of every performance.
Venuti and Lang took part in many other sessions, but the Blue Four sides were by far the most effective. Among the visitors in the group were Jimmy Dorsey, Lennie Hayton, Adrian Rollini and Frankie Trumbauer. Trumbauer's relationship to the Venuti school of jazz was peripheral, but in another area his contributions were to earn him his own niche alongside the cornet of Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke. The collaborations of "Bix and Tram," as they were called, were as sporadic and variable as those of Venuti and Lang; like the latter pair they were members of the Paul Whiteman band of the late 1920s and were heard in solos with Whiteman when the top-heavy arrangements gave them leeway, but in 1927-8, taking refuge from Whitemans all-enveloping shadow, they found solace in a series of record dates under Trumbauer's name. The material mixed Dixieland standards with popular songs; the arrangements were brisk, cleanly played and to the point. The point, inevitably, was to demonstrate the solo talents of Bix and Tram. Though the earlier sessions were freer in ad lib ensemble spirit, the later dates furnished a framework for the two stars just as the Hot Five showcased Armstrong and Hines; some were played by a larger group with a saxophone section and do not properly call for consideration as combo performances.