Josephine Baker: Complete Recorded Works 1926-1927

By Barnett, Anthony | Strings, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Josephine Baker: Complete Recorded Works 1926-1927


Barnett, Anthony, Strings


Forward Thinkers

RECORDINGS

Josephine Baker: Complete Recorded Works 1926-1927 (Document Records DOCD 5652, 12 St. John St., Whithorn, Newton Stewart, U.K.; [44] 1988-500875; www.document-records.com).

Until recently it was believed that the first identified recordings by a woman performing hot improvisations on the violin were by Stuff Smith's protegee Ginger Smock (with Vivien Garry for RCA Victor in 1946); that among numerous 1920s-30s recorded vaudeville, jazz, and blues violinists, black or white, not one was a woman.

This is now known not to be true. A couple of years ago fellow researcher Howard Rye drew my attention to a session by Josephine Baker recorded in Paris in October or November 1926. As well as Baker's vocals, the four songs ("I Love My Baby," "I've Found a New Baby," "Skeedle Um," and "Always," most recently released on Josephine Baker: 1926-1927) feature extended obbligatos and solos, blending hot saw riffs and deep chords with legitimate technique, by a remarkably accomplished but unidentified violinist. That these recordings escaped attention until their inclusion in the new edition of Blues and Gospel Recordings, 1890-1943 (Clarendon, Oxford, 1997) is explained by the reluctance of many purists to include any of Baker's recordings in the jazz or blues canon.

Rye and I were convinced that Baker's violinist on these songs could not be European. We examined every possibility, including a number of black violinists known to be in Europe at the time: James Boucher (not hot enough from comparison with extant recordings), Louis Jones (no known recordings for comparison despite sometime membership in Noble Sissle's Orchestra), Ralph Shrimp Jones and George Smith (with the Plantation Orchestra). Aurally, the saw riffs of Baker's violinist resemble glimpses of George Smith's work on recordings with James Reece Europe's Society Orchestra in 1913-14, and with the Plantation Revue Orchestra, directed by Shrimp Jones, in London in December 1926. But it couldn't be Smith or Jones, because the Plantation Revue had arrived in England in September.

Fortuitously, a chance remark about Baker's session in recent correspondence with German researcher Rainer Lotz uncovered the truth. …

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