Saturday, January 14, 2017

Columbia in 1897

The more we read about early Columbia, the more we want to know and try to figure out on our own, but of course, that isn't possible most of the time. However, as it has been stated on this blog, Columbia went through a painful transition period of two years from 1896 to 1897, where pretty much every part of Columbia's staff and location was changed. Come to think of it, Columbia had a few of these transition years, another being 1903 to 1904. They were usually long, and straining to all of the staff members, which meant that many of them were laid off and many were hired. They were unsure times for Columbia. 

Of course we know that the inception of Columbia was unsure by all means, and in some ways not even supposed to have happened. That was harsh for them, but after all of the Edison business passed over them, they were smooth sailing until the recession of 1894-1895. After then came the transition period. This was not nearly as unsure as the previous years, it was more of a period of housekeeping, because it was when they finally became a larger company. Moving to New York was for first step of making Columbia what it became. They were no longer under the supervision of Edison, now they were an independent company with no ties at all to Edison. They happened to set up in the middle of what was to become "tin pan alley", because all of the big publishers were located within easy walking distance of the corner of 27th and Broadway. The next thing that they did was hire a new studio manager, and this was when Victor Emerson began at Columbia, and since the U. S. Phonograph company blew to bits in early 1897, that meant that those who were thrown out of the collapsing company were free to take. That's exactly what Columbia did, took them all when they were dropping out of the U. S. Company. It's surprising how quickly the recording stars dropped out of that company, within only a matter of weeks, they were all gone, and Columbia had taken them. During this "purge" of a sort was likely when Hylands came into the picture, since it couldn't have been any earlier than when this was all going on, and since this was a matter of staffing, it wouldn't be too unusual if this was the case.  In thinking of it that way, that would mean that Hylands was hired to work for Columbia around March-April 1897. Hmm, that's earlier than previously thought. It's not too unreasonable though. Of course with this new pianist meant that Issler was just barely holding on to his place working there. This is also logical, with this, it's important to keep in mind that Issler was a little harder to work with in terms of keeping his orchestra well-paid. 

According to our previous findings on Issler, he always had money issues when it came to his orchestras, and this is why many of his scheduled performances were dropped, due to not being paid fairly. This is likely a reason why Issler probably refused to work at Columbia after 1897. Wow, that's more blunt than Hylands' union leadership! At least it took a few years for Hylands to slam his hand on the manager's desk for better pay. Issler was surprisingly quick to it. 
Issler wouldn't be in that chair too much longer when this picture was taken. Of course with the new fad of "Rag Time" becoming such an essential for recordings, Issler tried his best to keep up with it, but inevitably 25 year old Fred Hylands was just what Columbia needed to end their hunt for a decent Rag pianist. This was a major change to the overall sound of Columbia records, because they no longer sounded like records like this late-1896 Columbia. Of course, the record in the link above was from the very short period where Columbia's announcement was "...of New York City", which is, in many ways, the rarest of all Columbia announcements. This announcement was really only said for the second half of 1896 into the earliest months of 1897. 

Speaking of this short period of Columbia, a recording made around the same time(within the same month probably),as the cylinder in the link above, also be favor has interesting piano accompaniment that I haven't seemed to really notice until now. Edward Favor's "Bonnie My Queen", has interesting piano accompaniment that seems very characteristic of that transition period. It's a sound that's very unusual, and sounds like a cross between Issler and Hylands, which makes sense, but doesn't seem to help it trying to attach one of these two names to the accompaniment. Many Columbia's of this period sound this way, and there doesn't seem to be a reason why. It's likely that during this period, Issler and Hylands rotated a lot more clearly than what may be supposed later. Maybe the two of them were able to deal with one another a little better early on, by early on, only 1897 is meant, because by 1898, most of the recordings seem to have that one style, not a mix of two or three pianists. 

For example, this 1897 Billy Golden cylinder, seems to have more of a Hylands piano style, despite the very early announcement for him to be there. A recording that comes to mind in similarity to this one, would have to be George W. Johnson's 1898-ish cylinder of "The Laughing Coon". This cylinder oddly enough, sounds like the same pianist, and they were recorded rather far apart from each other. The only thing that really makes these records seem to have the same accompanist is that one thing that the pianist plays on the 1897 cylinder many times, such as at 26 seconds in, and that quick thing at 47 seconds in, which is played in exactly the same way as it is on the Johnson cylinder from later. On the Johnson record, you can hear this little thing at both choruses, at just before a minute in and later at just after 2 minutes in. It's hard to tell if the pianist on both these similar takes is Issler or Hylands, but maybe if we turn to two recordings we are safely decided on the pianist being one of these two. 
Here's "The Whistling Coon" by George W. Johnson and Issler from 1891.
take that in.
Now,
Here's "Turkey in the Straw" by Golden and Hylands from 1899.

Even after listening to two safely identified takes by these two, it's still hard pressed to figure this out. Like always I want to think that Hylands is on that early take of "The Mockingbird", because that would make him being there earlier than previously thought, but there's very little to distinguish the pianist on the record, less than "The Laughing Coon". How about we turn to a later 1897 Columbia. 
Here's "Patrol Comique" by Schweinfest from 1897(this is a newly slowed down transfer by the way!) 


This record give a clearer point to the pianist being Hylands, just a little more energetic than other records he's on. It's strange to take this into consideration, but when listening to the recording, it's got accompaniment that's full of life and mirth, just as Hylands' playing usually did, but a little more so than usual. Come to think of it, it kind of makes sense that this is so when looking at a very early image of Hylands:
Ah yes, an image where Hylands actually looks rather handsome!
And yes, I still am firmly standing on my belief that this is Hylands.  

This image fits in very well with the subject of this post, since it is almost certainly dated at 1897, and it hasn't Issler at the piano is especially interesting. An image from 1897 Columbia, we would assume it to be more like the one with George W. Johnson and Issler, with the pianist being one of the old order(the "round" era), not expecting Hylands already working there by the middle of 1897(when the image above was most likely taken). 
With this, we know that records from 1897 Columbia are like flipping a coin when it comes to who the pianist is, more so than any other year of the piano accompaniment era. 

Heads=Issler
Tails=Hylands

This is making more sense now, since being able to understand this pattern on 1897 Columbia's was becoming an awful dilemma. Maybe we're underestimating the first impressions Hylands made on Issler, and vice versa. 1897 may have been all-right for them, but we know that 1898 was Issler's finish with Columbia, even after almost ten years with them. 









Anyway, before I end this post, I'd like to share one record that isn't and 1897 Columbia record, but is an exceptional piece of Rag-Time. Oddly enough, there are occasional Berliner's that sound decent on part of the piano playing, because they usually are known for not being very clear in their last two years. 
Here's "Telegraph My Baby" by Ed. Favor, recorded in 1899. Toward the beginning of the cylinder, there's a whole lot of interesting Ragged playing, with syncopation patterns that are very distinct. By this, I mean distinct of Banta. This is a characteristic of Banta to keep in mind when listening to Berliner's, and Edison's, because he didn't do this all the time, there are a bunch of records that have this type of syncopation in the accompaniment.


Keep listening and identifying out there! 



Hope you enjoyed this! 





Thursday, January 12, 2017

Character Studies--Fred Hager(1874-1958)

Now that we know Hager was one of those famed Rag-Time pianists on early recordings, it seems inevitable for more posts to be centered around him and Zon-O-Phone in general. Despite a yearning to learn more about him, there's not too much on him out there, everything there is about him is from later on in his career as a bandleader and arranger, from about 1907 to the 1920's, bit after that there's a huge gap of time before then and after that. Soon, we hope to dig up all of this information on him, much like we did on Edward Issler. We hope that these gaps will be filled at least somewhat, so a trajectory will be known to some extent.

Now for Hager's background and upbringing. This at least gets us an idea of how highly regarded he was from such a young age. He was born in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania in 1874, and from a very young age joined local regiment bands, as this state was known for such a thing at this time.  In 1895, Hager was given a full scholarship to attend the New York Music school that had just been set up by the famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak. He was sent here to study the violin, likely in his case under Dvorak himself, which is very strange yet amazing all at once! Once at the music school,he gained a reputation as a violin virtuoso, and a blossoming musician all around, playing brass and piano as well. By 1897, he had formed his own band, and this was given many awards as one of the top bands of all New York State, which is no small thing. He was soon invited to make records for the relatively small firm of Harms, Kaiser, and Hagen(as stated in The Phonoscope), and the next year, 1898, he was making violin records for Edison. Oddly enough, this caused some competition for Charles D'Almaine, who was then working for Edison and Columbia. It was around this time that Hager became a pianist for Edison, adding to their already three pianists on staff. Of course, just like with D'Almaine, Frank Banta must have unexpectedly entered competition when he  came along, not aware at first of Hager's curiosity in playing Rag-Time. But Banta and Benzler underestimated Hager's curiosity and rather surprising skill when it came to actually playing the style. He didn't surpass Banta in this, but he came pretty close to doing so, in a rather short period of time, since by 1898, Hager was also playing Rag-Time accompaniments for Edison, to compete with that horrid mess of a pianist at Columbia. Edison had two Rag pianists to essentially equal one Hylands. 
the equation was simple:
two Rag pianists:
Banta and Hager= equals one Hylands. Good.
That's Walter Miller's(Edison's Victor Emerson) logic for Rag-Time at Edison.

Anyway, Hager worked at Edison into 1899 and 1900, but it was around the latter that he became associated with the scandalous new company Zon-O-Phone. With this new company, he essentially was working with a clean slate, since this company had no history or baggage with any other company(save for Victor after 1900), and the orchestra was his to piece together. That's exactly what he did, and by 1901, he had created Zon-O-Phone's famed house orchestra, with some of his own musicians, and occasionally plucked out musicians from other studio orchestras. The end result was the best house orchestra of the era, and his arrangements made them ever better. Of course, since he was the orchestra leader, it seemed inevitable for him to become Zon-O-Phone's main studio pianist. He took his time at Edison as a trial for his piano skills to develop, and once he had Zon-O-phone's studio, he allowed this to be his time to really improve his piano playing, particularly his Rag-Time. His style of Rag-Time was very unusual, and it sounded like a cross between Hylands and Frank Banta, and all the other Edison pianists of the late-1890's. Luckily, that's why it wasn't too hard to put Hager's name on that style in the first place. His style was still very odd, combining the straight-laced and classically trained background with a very syncopated and rhythmically superior nature. Oddly enough, he played fifths in his left hand, and combined this with whacky yet syncopated right hand. Oftentimes his right hand was out of whack, but the rhythm in the left hand was always on point. It sounded like Hager had been to performances with Hylands accompaniment, or someone like that, such as Ben Harney, or Max Hoffmann. Wherever his inspiration came from, the style he created was unique and very interesting, obviously taking from Hylands. By 1902, he was eclipsed by his own competitor in Rag-Time, Fred Hylands, because once Hylands became horribly fed up with Columbia in 1902, he entered into Zon-O-Phone's studio and was welcomed by the management. Luckily, this relatively short period became the prime of Hager's orchestra, since he wasn't always going to be the pianist when Hylands was there. Between 1902 and 1904, the best of Hager's orchestra was recorded, you can notice a spike in Hager's Orchestra performances on Zono in this time period, and the overall sound was just as great as it had always been, if not a little better in this period. By the end of the piano accompaniment era(1905) Zon-O-Phone still held on to their piano accompaniment until the end of that year, much like Columbia did, for what seems the same reason. Hager wasn't dropped like Hylands however, he was given leadership of pretty much all the Zon-O-phone sessions, still keeping his orchestra there as the accompaniment, and for occasional band recordings. They were still a superior orchestra, with the superior sound quality that was a signature for the label. By the end of Zon-O-phone as we know it, Hager was thrown out, just like everyone else who worked there. But he feared not, his orchestra became what Issler's did, an old-style orchestra who got a surprising amount of work after recording. Hager was still young by 1912, so his orchestra didn't become archaic until the 1920's. Hager wasn't able to transition to Jazz, just like Issler, but by the late-1920's, Hager had joined the radio business. In the 1930 census, Hager is listed as "program manager-broadcasting", which proves this statement. He was doing just what he did for Zon-O-Phone, just for the radio studios. It seems that by 1940, he had left this line, and retired as a music writer, and general musician. Performances by his orchestra date as far along as 1952! That's dedication. Hager's orchestra must have sounded real old-time by the 1930's, and to think that he was performing twenty years after that! He died in 1958 at the age of 84.

Hager made sure that his family didn't seem unusual for the time period, and this can be well observed in census records. In November 1897, he married Clara Decker, and soon had two little girls, none of whom entered in the music business unfortunately. Not much of his personality is easy to put together, but it's certain that he was an agreeable musician, since he was able to work for many record companies, and not create any baggage with any of them. Record companies probably fought quietly over him, and it was likely that Columbia became envious of the perfect pianist and orchestra leader Zon-O-Phone had, since none of their own staff was as extraordinary all around as Hager. Another thing that kept Hager always well liked was that he was the best-looking of the studio pianists, not seeming to fit the pianist stereotype that Banta and Issler personified to the highest degree. Hager was tall, thin, had dark blond hair, long stick-like legs, well-sloped slightly feminine shoulders, and a gloriously classical profile, with a perfectly shaped forehead to fit this. His good looks and agreeable nature were hard to refuse to the record managers, and he earned respect and admirers from this. 

Hager was a whole lot better-looking that most of these early recording stars. 
Just saying. 

Now for some records with Hager on piano! 

Here are a few examples with Hager's interesting and distinct style:
what a wild record!




Well, there you go! Finally information on Hager! Thanks go out to Charlie Judkins for helping in finding all of this, some of the information also came from articles by Tim Gracyk and conversation with Craig Ventresco. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 



Friday, January 6, 2017

Harding's publishing and Making good for Screw-overs

This evening, I stumbled across a fantastic article on Roger Harding, from the only collector who was an expert on him. Even Jim Walsh didn't know much about Harding, no matter how far he dug into the people who knew him. Unfortunately, this collector who wrote about Harding is now deceased as one of my friends told me a while back. This is also the case with a collector who possessed the best collection of Len Spencer recordings and odds and ends there ever was, and now the collection is split up unfortunately, with much of it ending up at the LOC. 
Harding is among my favourites of these early recording stars, other than Len Spencer, Fred Hylands, Vess Ossman, etc. So it wasn't all that surprising to see that I was mesmerized by this article, and completely hooked immediately upon seeing the article. The article was very well-written, and was full of not often read information on Harding. If you would like to read it yourself, here's the article in the link below:
Enjoy! 

The good thing that was detailed in the article in the link above is Harding's publishing endeavors, which began with his relation with Hylands and Steve Porter. Of course, we know very well that the whole "Knickerbocker" went though Hylands' ear and straight out the other. We know how that went. This must have made Roger a little disillusioned, and disappointed in Fred, with the trust he'd thrown him for this to actually happen, then it didn't. But of course, that didn't end anything with them, because the one rule that Columbia's studio seemed to have just as a mutual thing was that no grudges could be held between any staff members.
 Why? 
Well think about it, Hylands had "screwed over" many of the Columbia staff, even his bestest of friends like Harry Yeager and Len Spencer, which left them all frustrated with one another, however, they couldn't be for very long, because they all still had to make records, with no regards to the "baggage" that they had. This was so even later in time, such as when Collins and Harlan were first working together, because they disagreed rather often, probably more than most people have documented in fact. this happened all the time, Columbia talent disagreed, in fact, during the Johnson Murder trial, this was probably amplified by everyone's differing beliefs and opinions, despite them all siding with the defense(of course they did, because they had to). The point to this moral "rule" is that they all had to come back to work the next day and make records, no arguments or divas allowed. 

Luckily for Harding, he was a logical and optimistic man, wise to all of this, and never cause any fights amongst his fellow employees. He didn't hold a grudge against Hylands, because of the need for more recordings, but also because Hylands made good with him by writing some music for and with him. 
It's this kissing up to him that we get pieces like this one:

Ah yes, more of that infamous Hylands Spencer and Yeager music. 
Before I get into the strangeness of Mrs. Cal Stewart being on the cover, I must continue on Harding. 
Harding's relationship with Hylands didn't end with the Knickerbocker failure, despite what the article stated, as the pieces of music Hylands published with Harding continued:
Without a doubt Harding was still on the periphery of the publishing endeavor, because Hylands kept pulling his leg to publish more music of his:
Hey! It's Gaskin!
But of course, like anything like this, it really shocked me to see Harding AND Porter's names on music for composer credit, and the fact that the authorship looks reversed from our typical knowledge of Porter and Harding. Hylands really wanted to keep their trio together, even if the whole Knickerbocker thing blew to bits. Hmm, wonder why that is? The piece of music just above really says for it, because that's a later publication of Hylands', perhaps later 1899 rather than earlier(my piece in full colour above is a few months older, because of the two other publishing outpost location addresses not being present.) As Much as Spencer probably disliked Hylands for the amount of thing he pulled, there was not a way that they could split, Spencer dedicated himself to the firm, and he had created that gorgeous footer, so whenever he was questioning his commitment to Fred, it was just violently shushed by Fred the millisecond he began in on it.


 So... after Harding learned some of the publishing game(from not a very good role model), he began publishing himself since no one would bother to help him otherwise, setting up on the same block as where he worked(Columbia), and simply called it Roger Harding Publishing Company. One example was thus:
Now that's a familiar face! There were scores more on Harding's music, from Gaskin to George Schweinfest. Hylands probably saw this as a threat to his then-fading firm, since it was set up a block away from him, and for the same purpose, by one of his own co-workers. Harding was confident for a short period about this firm, though just like Fred's around the same time, it sunk quicker than the stock could handle all in one. Since Harding didn't see the end of the next year, his music was never sold to larger firms, which makes it even rarer than Hylands Spencer and Yeager music. It's actually a little surprising that Hylands didn't slip out Harding's stock after the firm went under and when be died, because that seems like something he would do, especially since his own firm was in a slow, painful decline. He didn't and the staff mourned Harding's death, much like when Frank Banta died, though this didn't seem as big a deal as Banta's death two years later. 




Now to return back to the "Kitty Clover" music farther above in this post. Now the many recognizable faces on Hylands' music can seem a pleasant surprise to unknowing collectors, and every time I see a new copy of one of those pieces, it gets me all excited. You never know if a famous recording star will be on a Hylands piece, which is why it's great to sift through them. That specific edition of "Kitty Clover" is a strange one, and gets me a little suspicious. One thing to keep in mind with Hylands is that everything he did came with benefits. By this, it is meant that anything he did came with some perk given to the other person or people involved. Take his praising advertisement from The Phonoscope, where he literally invites people over, in exchange for accommodating hospitality. It is because of this that we don't see any scathing reviews of his Broadway shows later, though they existed, regardless of what all of the sources we see state about him. Hylands probably offered each of those performers on his music something, whether it be percentage of the profits, or something else... ... ... 
It can be assumed by some wild theory that Hylands and Harding found Cal Stewart's wife gorgeous(well it didn't help that they were surrounded by other strange looking men all the time at work...). That's not impossible, because she does seem to be rather pretty, and it almost seems out of nowhere for her to be the dedicatee on the music of two men who knew her from the same source. 

I can see Fred's face light up when she came in with Cal one day at Columbia, same with Roger, except that Roger was probably a little less struck than Fred, since he was older, and a little more reserved it would seem. It seems like something that could be attached to Fred's character, or Roger's. 
Hmm, wonder if Cal had any notion? Hope so. 
It seems odd to tie anything like this to Cal Stewart, thinking of him as "Uncle Josh". But really, if you think it over, it's not too unusual, this is Columbia we're speaking of here, none of this would happen at Edison. 

Other than making all the ladies stars on his music, Fred also made up for wrongdoings by publishing artists' music and dedicating music he wrote to them. This went for Len Spencer, Vess Ossman, Harry Yeager, and Dan Quinn. All of those specific names in association to Fred seem a little suspicious. They all seem like artists that got in a tangle with him before he made up for it by publishing music. The only reason I think this is because he ended a few letters with 
I beg to remain yours respectfully,
FRED HYLANDS.

Also that he was thrown out of the White Rats union because he was tangling with other agents and going off doing what he wanted. All of these factors set up a figure who screwed over many fellows. Since this was such an issue with him, without a doubt this was so when he worked for Columbia. Hylands certainly had his reasons for dropping so many names on his music, probably each performer had a story as to why he did this. Even Ada Jones probably had a yarn with him, because she wasn't on just one of his covers. In this case his tale with Ossman would be an interesting one! Who knows what Ossman thought of dealing with Hylands, two musicians full of themselves is never a good thing, and that's exactly what that duo was. This new article was fascinating to read, especially coming at the Hylands Spencer and Yeager endeavor from Harding's point of view, which is very different from anyone else involved. Knowing what Victor Emerson thought of this whole employees as publishers thing would be the most interesting however, because he had nothing to do with it, yet in a way he was managing it, whether he wanted to or not. 






Before I end, I would like to satisfy some of my Hager "kick" recently, with a new record I found a few days ago. This is an early pre-paper label Zon-O-Phone from 1901 by John Terrell. 
Here's his 1901 Zon-O-Phone of "Tain't A'goin to Weep No More":
Not a big fan of Terrell, but Hager always makes up for it! The Rag-Time is not phenomenal as far as records go with his accompaniment, but it's interesting and Ragged nonetheless. The solo at the end is short, but has a very interesting melodic idea as far as Rag-Time goes. Hager was always an interesting pianist, even if his Ragged time was a little out of whack sometimes; this was certainly not true when he conducted his orchestra. I would go out on a limb and say that Hager's orchestra(and the Zon-O-phone orchestra) were the best house orchestra of the 1900's, they had the best musicians, best arrangements, and the slickest execution of all the house orchestras. And their arrangements weren't easy, they were the most complicated as well. They were arguably just as good as Sousa's and Arthur Pryor's bands. 

We've got to find more about Hager. 

I looked around in my many books on early recording to-day and didn't find too much on Hager, other than his obvious Zon-O-Phone leadership, and his publishing firm with J. Fred Helf in 1907-ish, and that he worked as a bandleader into the 1920's, but that's not really much for a man who died in 1953. There's literally an abyss of information missing on Hager, not just a gap. There's nothing out there on his piano playing, which is the most unfortunate thing, because he would have to be that unknown pianist on Zon-O-phone playing the most oblong, yet interesting Rag-Time style of all the regular studio pianists. 


Hope you enjoyed this! 
Batten down the hatches  for the storm out here in California! 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First families of the Phonograph business

A rather common thing among these early recording stars is the fact that more than one sibling worked in the business. It usually began with one family member getting into the business. Most of the time the single misfit of the family got into the business, but occasionally, more than one of the family joined after the other did so. It's strange that this seems to be a pattern in the early business of recording, more so than many would think at first. The Spencer's probably come to mind at first, but there were more families with misfit children who joined recording early on. Sometimes it ended up being husband and wife in the business, but most of the time it was siblings following each other around in the studio. 

The most famous of these families in the early business is the Spencer's. 
Len 
and Harry(the taller one here)
These two brothers were all over the early recording and film business. It seemed natural for brother Harry to catch the bug that his older brother Len got in 1888. Harry came into the business in 1895-1896, more as a salesman and repairman than his brother. He was more of a film enthusiast when he began, which sets him apart from Len. 
(an advertisement for Harry in 1896, from The Phonoscope). 
It seemed inevitable for Harry to tag along with Len in the business, as he had been interested in the technology since 1888 like Len, but he was too young to join back then. He waited until he was 20 to set up his own shop and experiment with film and projectors. While Len was doing the frivolous work in the studios, Harry was working with machinery. Their wives must have been alone at home a whole lot, and probably often became tired of their frequent absence. The lady to really wonder about here is Len's wife, since it's hard to imagine him being married, with children. It's said that Jim Walsh interviewed her, but of course we can't all see those fantastic articles he wrote. 

By 1897, Len and Harry were both working in the same studio, doing the same work at the studio as well. They often took turns announcing takes and handling sound effects, which Harry had to learn how to do from Len. They almost never worked on the same recording early on, which is a little strange, but makes some sense. It seems as though they new that they sounded almost identical on recordings, so both of them speaking on a single recording would get confusing rather quick. After 1900, this occurred a little more often. There are recordings such as this one that help us in trying to distinguish the brothers, but make us realize why they weren't on the same recording very often. Oddly enough, Harry's speech is often a little harder to understand than Len's, with a sort of lisp, accompanied with a dialect thicker than Len's. Some of Harry's announcements sound a little strange with this factor. After 1900, Harry was the chief announcer for the Columbia orchestra, essentially doing what Len did before 1900. Pretty much all of the Columbia orchestra announcements were by Harry from 1901-1905, with occasional anomalies, occasional takes announced by Dan Quinn or Joe Belmont, which doesn't make much sense, but it did happen. 

One of Harry's strange announcements sounded like this:

War-shington Pos' Ma'ch, played by Sousa's band-- fo' Columbia Phonograph com'pny of New Yo'k an Loondon

Yep, that's about right. The only reason I haven't the link shared to the recording is because it's one of those links I cannot share publicly. That's the closest I can get to writing it out exactly as he said it, because the lisp he had is very hard to write out. It's much like how he and Hylands sound on this 1898 cylinder. It's very odd, but interesting all the same, because Spencer's announcements were not nearly as weird, such as his on this late-1897 cylinder.
If I were to phonetically decipher Len's announcement in the cylinder just above, here's how it goes:

I thought I was a winna' , er I don' know you ain't so wa'm--played by Columbia orchestra,  fo' Col' umbi' Phonograph company a New Yo'k an Paris.

It's still a little queer, but it's not nearly as much so as the announcements of this brother. Also, the rest of the recording in the link just above is great, please listen to the rest of it! It's a very early piece of authentic Rag-Time, from 1897. Other than the two dynamic Spencer's, there were also the Emerson's who dominated Columbia's studio at the same time. 

Victor Hugo Emerson entered the recording business in 1890, when he was working as a telegraph operator. He began as a helper of Columbia's newly formed company in Washington, but the next year he became the manager of the U. S. Phonograph company, of which he kept up until 1896. In 1897, when Columbia moved to 27th and Broadway in New York, he was their studio manager. We may know of Victor as the infamous studio manager for Columbia, but his brothers George and Clyde were also running around that studio at the same time. These boys were a bunch of misfits, beginning with Victor, who was the second of the four Emerson boys. Victor and Georgie(as they called him) took turns running daily recording activity at Columbia in 1898 to 1900, with George more often than not the engineer on many of the brown wax Columbia's that we listen to. 
(a cartoon I did of Georgie Emerson)
Victor may have been strange and disliked, but George was more highly regarded by the Columbia staff, especially since he was a better engineer and was much less tightly laced than Victor. The studio stars felt more comfortable around him than Victor, because Victor was high in the management, George wasn't, and seemed more rebellious and interesting then Vic. In a few editions of The Phonoscope, George was mocked for being rebellious and the polar opposite of his brother. This makes the Emerson's ever more interesting, because it seems that Victor wasn't the black sheep oddly enough, despite him being the first to enter the phonograph business. It must be noted that George was born in Oakland California(yay! not far from me!), and that he was the youngest of the Emerson boys, so there's a reason that he didn't join the business until 1897. He was 21 when he joined Victor and Clyde at Columbia. 

When Victor was running the studio, the stars had to behave themselves, but when George or Charles Carson were there, it was work just as usual. Victor must not have been proud of his brother George straying from the good name of the Emerson's, though being involved in recording was the first step in doing this, George escalated this fact. The Emerson's remained together in the recording business until the early 1920's, when Victor was running his own label, the Emerson label. 




We are well aware of the Berliner family being involved in early recording, not just Emile being the only one who did this. It began with Emile, making his label seem more like a family business, with the studio being managed by a bunch of misfit teenage boys. Their family to-day are advocates for spreading the history of their family, and keeping the history alive. This is much like the Quinn family, who are continuing to do just the same as the Berliner family, even if it was relatively recently that they began doing this. 

Since Berliner hired a bunch of misfit teenagers, it seemed inevitable for him to dig up Fred Gaisberg, as well as his brother Willie, both of whom worked for Berliner. Willie was a few years younger than Fred, but they both worked for Berliner from 1893 to 1898, and the both of them went out on quests that took them around the world for the sake of recording. 

Another group of brothers who dominated Columbia's studio in the 1890's were also involved in its management--the Dorian's. 
 Frank Dorian(in the center) was Columbia's first studio manager, beginning this job in 1889. Frank remembered recording Len Spencer in the earliest days, when Spencer had to do everything himself, and when he was coming in just to take parts from machines to repair his father's office phonograph. The other two Dorian's helped around with Frank, since he was running Columbia's studio in that period of uncertainty in 1892-1895. When Frank was sent out to Paris in 1897 to run Columbia there, brother John(seen at the left in the picture above) went with him, and also went on other voyages with fellow recording stars who were performing in England and France, such as Russell Hunting and Burt Shepard, and later Steve Porter. Marion(at the right) was not as involved in these ventures, though he helped out Frank in his management job out in Washington DC, and later went out to Paris to do the same. The Dorian's more specifically Frank and John, remained in the recording business into as late as the Emerson's did, if not a few years later, since Frank lived into the 1930's, he had a million stories to tell, and it's great that Jim Walsh was able to interview him. Dorian was surprisingly sharp when Walsh interviewed him, much like when Quinn wrote his letters to Walsh around the same time. Dorian seemed a little bitter though, more so that Quinn, who was the optimist, clearly observed from his letters. Thinking of the fact that Dorian was Columbia's manager in the early days, it's not surprising that he seemed a little bitter later in life, all we can say to that is that it's good Walsh didn't interview Emerson. 

Whew, that would be rough going. I almost don't want to imagine an interview with old man Emerson. Same goes for Edward Easton. 




Before I finish, I have to share this FANTASTIC early Rag-Time brown wax that was newly posted on Youtube last evening. 
What a cylinder! My god! 
The sound of the piano(from what we can hear), is absolutely perfect! It has that perfect sound that only a few Columbia's I've heard have, and it's a sound that really defines what the 1890's sounded like on recordings. 

That's the cover to the music, it's dated the year before this recording, 1897. 
In a way, this can seen a like a motto for the Columbia Company at the time that this was recorded, with the Rag-Time adding to the realistic nature of this statement. I just cannot get over how much I love the sound of the piano on this recording, it's got a similar sound to this J. W. Myers cylinder from the same year, that probably means that these "rounds" were recorded not too far from each other. 
Also, if you look up the sheet music to this song, the lyrics are actually really kind of funny, one of the lines in the first verse reads thus:

you had to be a ragged coon to enter in the hall
such a bunch of ragged japs I neva' did saw

As horribly racist as that is, it's pretty funny, and Spencer singing it is ever better.This is another one of those recordings that Rag-Time freaks and pianists really should take note of, since it's a fantastic example as far as these early brown waxes go. It's not surprising that this is coming from a Spencer and Hylands brown wax, like most of these examples turn out to be. 




That's all the families I'll speak of for now, since there are more, but that will make this post unmanageably long and hard to navigate, more than it already is. 

With that,
Hope you enjoyed this! 




Monday, January 2, 2017

Organizing some of Hylands and Professor Burt Green

One thing I really hate to do on this blog is to make things seem to repetitive, and with this, I really hope that speaking so much of Hylands recently hasn't been too much for some of you. This new image of the Columbia studio has really been something that has plagued my thoughts since I found the image. Yes, the night of finding it I even lost some sleep over it. This is what happens folks, those of us who care so much about the most minute of details in this overarching subject matter can lose sleep over just a single image. It's not healthy at all, but it happens. It's just as bad as the amount of work the studio stars we study had to endure during the "round" era. 

Of course, with the discovery of this image, there has been much discussion over who that pianist might be. I've gotten Percy Grainger, Gaisberg, and of course the unknown studio pianist. Everyone who has discussed the image has had differing opinions of who it looks like to them. In many ways, this debate is more intense and important than the glasses debate, because that got settled. 

We know Hylands wore glasses, case dismissed. 

But just like anything related to early Columbia, nothing is that easy. This image is proving to be the hardest of any so far as far as face identification.
Yep. 
Seems to be haunting still, and it will continue to be as such. 
That handsome face seemed to most who I asked too much so to be Hylands, though really if you look at the exhibition picture from 1898, you will see that it's the same face. The only thing that seems to be throwing everyone off is how slim the pianist in the picture is, that's all. Oddly enough, when I was in Missouri back in June, I had a conversation with John Reed-Torres about a similar subject on Hylands. I explained to John that Hylands seems like the type who was slimmer when he was younger, but John couldn't believe it. Now something has come along to prove this point clear to him. This image could very well prove this point. As weird as it seems, I really do think it's Hylands, despite the conflicting opinions received from the image. Only two of  the people asked about this image believed that it was probably Hylands. Luckily, those who thought this were using the artists' logic here, and with that I will explain. 

Being a cartoonist, I study faces all the time, and especially faces of these recording stars. This is an important part of my study of these widely forgotten faces, and luckily, I've studied Hylands' face just a little more than others. This is only because of the fact that we haven't found a decent photograph of him yet. As far as decent, this image is about as good as it gets until we find something better.

 One of the first things I turned to in trying to figure this out was that image of Fred's sister Etta on his music. Using that is actually a better source than some might think at first. 
Now when looking at this image, you can easily see that her lips are exactly the same as those of the pianist in the image:
Same structure. Also, the nose is similar, but not the same. Her profile would look similar in this case. If you really study the image of Etta, you can see that this "unknown pianist" looks related to her, and would therefore be her brother Fred. Her eyes don't look nearly as bright as Fred's because the lighting makes Fred's eyes look bright blue or green, which is not too surprising, since this seems to run in their family yet. Her eyebrows are also a little thicker, which is again interesting to note in terms of differences between them. Much like her brother, Etta was rather tall, but not freakishly tall like Fred. 

Just to put this into perspective, Fred would be a foot taller than me. 

Of course, that's just comparing this wildcard image to something that seems completely unrelated to Columbia and recording. The next step would be to use what we've got in the exhibition picture. 

Really seems strange to go back to this after seeing the other picture...
Now this image was the best of help in solving this mystery, since this was the best example of how Hylands looked before this new image. Of course the one thing that threw everyone off was the fact that the new image is probably from 1897, and that the exhibition picture is dated to September 1898. That's a relatively short period of time. Hmm, it seemed strange to Charlie Judkins when I inquired him of the image, because of this specific point. It seemed strange to both of us that he would gain so much weight in a rather short period of time. But with Hylands, Charlie noted that this seemed to be a pattern with him, something not just coincidental to when he began working at Columbia. Though, it is important to note that this dramatic change came about about the time he began working there, at the lost supposed time that he began, in late-1897. Since this new image is from more likely 1897, that whole notion of him working there that early is finally inching closer to being proven. 


But why would Columbia cause him to change so much in such a short period of time?

Well, it was a mix of many things. The first thing to consider is that he was no longer constantly running around from place to place in a theater. All of that ended when Columbia took him, really think about what he'd be doing all day at Columbia. Not much moving around. Unlike Georgie Emerson or the Spencer's, Hylands would be stuck in his piano chair the whole day for the most part. He'd only be playing for the singers all day, take after take. It's certain that he hadn't had a sort of job before then that was so tiring and stressful, so without a doubt this didn't help his disposition. Stress and lack of sleep really got to him not long after beginning his term at Columbia, and therefore, he gained an unhealthy amount of weight after beginning to work there. It took less than a year for him to be called "the heavyweight pianist" by the Columbia staff. How he had some unfortunate genes if that could get him so quickly...


(a cartoon I did mocking this dramatic change)
With all of this, I will have to go back and re-do my character studies post on Hylands, since this single image changes much of what we know of him, and leads us to more theories and such. The newly redone post will come up within the next few days. 




Now to move to a friend of Hylands'. 

We know of Burt Green as Hylands' "gopher", or sideman under the Hylands Spencer and Yeager venture in 1899 and 1900. When Hylands snatched him by the collar out of the orchestra pit in 1899, it happened to be at Huber's Museum/theater he took him from. Other than working at Huber's he was known as the chief imitator of pianists at Pastor's theater, which was no small thing. It was said that when he took the place of Mike Bernard or Fred Hylands one night of regular performances, he WAS the orchestra pit. By this, they meant that he was such a good mimic that anyone would mistake him for any of the other usual pianists, and that he was a piano freak, with wild abilities on the piano. This is a similar story Mike Bernard, though Green was not nearly as widely known for such a thing. It seems he was known as an imitator in his days before leaving Ethel for Irene in 1907. 

Burt Green was not considered one of the best accompanists, but that don't mean that he wasn't a good pianist. Unfortunately, on the few recordings with his piano accompaniment, we can't hear him play at his best, or play that Rag-Time style that he was known for in the late-1890's. This is the reason that he and Hylands were such good friends. 

It must be noted that in 1907, Green wrote a column in Billboard, which consisted of gossip about vaudeville stars. The column was called Vaudeville Happenings around New York. If you ever have the chance to read through the column, it's certainly worth it! He not only judges performers he had recently seen or performed with. Many of the names are familiar to us, such as Marie Dressler. 
One of these hilarious sections read thus:

It must be lovely to own one of those suburban homes just now. Imagine those poor actors who have to drill through all this snow. Give me the flat in New York, even though I can not save as much money, but nevertheless what I do save draws interest, and when I want to move, it's lots easier. It's a good safe bet that seven-tenths of the artists who have "stung" on those "home" propositions would sell out at half price, if you could get them with a little ready money just now. 

Wow, that's so true Burt. How funny is that? It's great to read these. One thing that really surprised me when reading through these is the amount of slang he used. Of course, Burt Green was the most dandyish of the characters in this early Rag-Time study, but it's ever more interesting to read his column. All the slang comes through just as it did in The Phonoscope. One of the statements that really caught my attention is this:

...Some actors are so stereotyped that they can not put a new gag in their act without having nervous prostration--and these are the kind that stand on the sidewalk and enviously roast their more successful brothers. It's the hustler who gets the plum, the fellow who spends his money for new material and keeps himself in front of the agent and manager at all times. 

The one thing that really was surprising was the fact that he used "roast" in the modern terms. That was rather interesting, and really funny in fact. It is really starting to make sense why Hylands was attracted to Green(not in that way), and why he was Fred's assistant, also probably helping with the advertisements.  Since Green did this column, wish I could find more of his writing! He seems to have been a great gossip writer. It's unfortunate, he would have done great as a Phonoscope correspondent. It didn't matter though, those correspondents for Hunting were just as subliminal and comical. This is why in many ways, Burt Green seems like the honorary member of the "Columbia Clan". 







Before the finish, I would like to share a recording with some aggressive piano playing on it! There is indeed such a thing as this, and in fact, this recording is the only one that could be classified with that. 
Here's the record:
(it's the first take listed)
That pianist is aggressive! 
Wow, you don't need to play that harsh...
Also, something to note about this recording is the sound of the piano behind him. It's got a strange sound, that's wirey and out-of-tune, which sounds similar to a certain piano that Len Spencer flipped over. Of course, it's not that badly out of tune, but it's noticeable for sure. Every note in the piano accompaniment can be heard clearly, which is unusual, and the loud fifths in the left hand help this to happen. 


Hope you enjoyed this!