Sandy Brown Jazz

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On A Night Like This, The Story Is Told ...

Dickie Wells
Behind The Chorus Line

 

Dickie Wells

Dickie Wells

 

The following is taken from part of a transcript of a conversation between author and jazz historian Stanley Dance and trombonist Dickie Wells. William 'Dickie / Dicky' Wells was believed to have been born in Tennessee in 1907 but moved to New York City when he was nineteen. His brother Henry was also a trombone player. Dickie played with the Count Basie Orchestra between 1938 - 1945 and 1947 - 1950 but he also played with Spike Hughes, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Jimmy Rushing, Buck Clayton and others. He died in 1985.

Here is some wonderful archive footage of Dickie Wells with Count Basie in 1957 playing Dickie's Dream (written for Dickie by Basie and Lester Young and first recorded in 1939). The personnel in this video are legendary including Gerry Mulligan, Vic Dickinson, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones ..... Dickie Wells taks the third, laid back trombone solo.

 

 

 

Stanley: I still feel, Dickie, that bop was tough for all of us who grew up in the 'thirties with the idea that jazz, to be good, had to swing. It seemed like a complete contradiction.

Dickie: And then there was the difference in the showcasing of musicians. When the bands played for dancing, not a lot of people paid them any mind unless something went wrong. So the musicians played more naturally and expressed their own personalities. With a sitting audience, musicians had to show off, and they lost a certain amount of rhythm. And don't forget that with big bands quite a lot of rhythm came from the different sections as well as from the rhythm men. Now you don't have that. Then, too, the chorus lines went out. They were more important than people realize. The bands used to play behind the chorus and sometimes the girls would take six or seven encores. You might say we composed while they danced - a whole lot of swinging rhythm . That's when we invented new things - and recorded them the next day. It used to be funny if we were playing a dance after the theatre. Sometimes some of the chicks from the chorus would come by and they'd say we were stealing 'their' music.

 

A brief video from the 1939 movie Lying Lips. The band behind the chorus girls is unidentified (search though I did). Jack Shilkret (brother of Nat Shilkret) was responible for the music in the movie, but I don't think it is his band.

 

 

 

Stanley: How do account for the decline in popularity of the big bands?

Dickie: There were a lot of reasons, like agents, money and transport. And then there was the tenor world. I think Illinois Jacquet really got the little band under way. He started that dancing while he was playing, and he added showmanship, so it wasn't so much a matter of what they were playing. A whole lot of show and acrobatics came into music then, and tenor had the better sound for a group with only one horn. It was the cheap way out for a small combination.

 

A short video extract from The Illinois Jacquet Story.

 

 

 

Stanley: Why did the audiences stand for it?

Dickie: They didn't. That's what happened to the band business. The bands got smaller, but the ballrooms didn't. You took those little groups into places built for five or six thousand people and something was missing. Then very often small bands went South that had been big bands under the same leader on records. The people would turn out and not be satisfied. Then when a real big band went in there, the people stayed away because they figured they would be cheated the same way.

 

From Jazz Era: The Forties edited by Stanley Dance

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2021

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Al Capone and Fats Waller
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