Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Saturday Night Jag: Clarence Williams on eBay

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Saturday Night Jag: Clarence Williams on eBay

Article excerpt

Clarence Williams was described by Tom Lord (1) as "an industrious, business-like composer, publisher, musician, and recording session producer". Williams was involved in many aspects of the music business, appearing on piano rolls, records, radio (and radio transcriptions as well), and sheet music.

He originally partnered in New Orleans with AJ Piron in the music publishing business, ultimately forming his own publishing business in New York. In an astute business-like manner, he made sure that as many of the tunes as possible published by Clarence Williams Music, whether composed by himself or others, were recorded.

In the 1920s, Williams' groups recorded primarily and prolifically for OKeh and Columbia; he was Artists and Repertoire man for their race records divisions. His groups managed to record for OKeh, Columbia (in both 'race' and popular catalogs), Paramount, Victor, Brunswick/Vocalion, Vocalion (ARC), Bluebird, QRS, and even the Grey Gull family of labels. Williams also appeared early on as vocalist on the extremely rare Chappelle & Stinnette label. He was also accompanist on numerous blues recordings. Clarence had a clear vision of how his recordings should sound (1) and the recordings by Williams' groups had a remarkably consistent sound all the way from the OKeh days up through the Decca and Bluebird recordings of the late 1930s. The Deccas, though labeled as by "Willie 'the Lion' Smith and his Cubs" are audibly Clarence Williams recordings through and through.

A variety of Clarence Williams groups appeared on disc and included early recordings by many famous pioneering jazz artists, such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller, and Clarence's wife, vocalist Eva Taylor. Although Ed Allen was the cornetist on most of the Williams recordings, some feature the stylistically distinguishable sound of King Oliver. Although not a particularly virtuoso pianist, Williams himself recorded piano solos for various record labels and also made music rolls for the QRS Company.

In the late 1930s, Clarence Williams groups recorded a number of radio transcriptions on the Lang-Worth Planned Program Service label, which was recorded, processed, and manufactured by RCA. These were in the swing/spiritual idiom and, interestingly, were "found to be free from copyright in the USA". By the late 1930s, copyrights were becoming an important consideration in making recordings.

Over the last few years, Clarence Williams records have been a hot item on eBay. Perusing their offerings in a fairly casual manner, this writer has noted about 150 offerings on a variety of labels. Some have brought substantial prices. The winning bid, as usual, depends on relative scarcity of the record, demand for the record (presumably related to desirability of the performance(s), and condition of the disc. There are a few flukes where collectors fought seriously over a particular disc or where a relative bargain managed to fly under the radar. The Williams recordings are arbitrarily broken down into several categories as seen below.

Piano Solos

These have not been a particularly frequent item. Most have sold for well under $100. However, Watchin' the Clock (OKeh 8663) brought well over $400.

Clarence Williams Blue Five

These recordings, particularly the acoustic OKehs, appear to be very desirable. Every one is a gem of a performance. As can be seen from the table, they are seldom found and offered in choice condition. This writer picked up a copy of Cake Walking Babies from Home at the 2010 phonograph and record show in Union, Illinois; typically and optimistically, it was in V- condition. Most significantly these recordings include Armstrong and Bechet. …

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