Sunday, September 25, 2016

Slowing down some records, and Zon-O-phone's Superior quality

My friend Ryan Wishner and I have been going through all of the transfers available of these records that were played at the wrong speeds, and with these, we have been changing the speed to sound right and according to singer's voices. So far, this endeavor has been going very well, and has opened my eyes(and ears) to what these records really sounded like, and debunks pretty much all the stereotypes and preconceptions people have about early acoustic recordings. I already assumed that these records sounded very loud and full, from a handful that I have heard(the ones I cannot share the links to), that sound like this, and they are just set on the machine and played, with no means of "fixing" or editing. 

Enough explanation, I must begin with these amazing new transfers.
This first one is perhaps one of the best-sounding brown waxes we have gone through so far after the slowing down, and revealed many assumed ideals I had about Hylands' playing before,that turned out to be true! 
To begin, here's the original transfer, played far too fast:

Far too fast, and quick to be normal, is what we had long assumed, as this one is a record I have wanted to hear slower for years. And here you go:

I could not get over how clear and full it sounded. Still can't. 
The one thing that really gives away that this is the right speed is the song and dance part at the end. It's at exactly the right tempo for a short dance part. Really try it out, get up and try to jump around to it a little, you'll realise that it's a perfect tempo for dancing. Also, the laughs in the background sound like they're piano distance, and I think we know what that means... it's probably Fred Hylands.
You can hear the room, the tone of the piano, and the distance at which the piano is, which is very uncommon for a brown wax cylinder. Also, for an added bonus, EVERY bass note can be heard, and this time I mean it, even if you're not very experienced in picking out bass notes on these records, you can hear them on this new transfer. 

This next one is by a singer I should probably mention more on this blog:
George J. Gaskin.
This is a record I have used for many reasons, most being the strange and important aspects of the piano accompaniment. It's one of those infamous coon songs that Gaskin recorded, that all the Columbia talent staff mocked him for. The piano accompaniment on this record is very folksy, in a way that Hylands' playing usually wasn't, which means that Rag-Time geeks should take note of this record. 
Here's the original transfer:
It sounded a bit fast according to Gaskin's voice, so this one wasn't really played too fast, but the piano sure sounded a whole lot different after it was slowed down. 
Here's the new transfer:
Hylands' playing on this sounds very folksy, with bluesy sounding grace notes, which I have heard him play before. Before I heard this new transfer, I didn't realise that Hylands was playing that strange bluesy thing that I had heard him play before, and finally, this revealed to be another example of this! This record turned out to be a better example of Rag-Time than previously thought, and also, it's in A flat, a key generally associated with early rags by black composers, which is even more interesting. 

This next one is by:
Dan Quinn once more! 
This record has been buried on the internet archive( for many years, and has been played far too many times at a very quick speed, far too much so in fact. This one required the most slowing down, and made the track much longer, longer than expected. Slowing down this one made the record just over thirty seconds longer. It made Quinn sound so much more natural, and it revealed the superior quality of early Zon-O-Phone records. I had assumed Zon-O-Phone records had better quality than all other disc record brands in the second half of the piano accompaniment era(1899-1905), but after slowing down this one, it really gets the point across. one thing that Zon-O-phone records did that other labels didn't was catch certain syllables that were spoken or sung. One common syllable that was most often not caught by records was the "sh", and this new transfer really caught it unusually well. 
Here's the original transfer:

And here's the three minute long fixed one, with all syllables and words intact:
Now that is what Dan W. Quinn sounded like. The new transfer of this really gives the best example of what Quinn really sounded like on records. I cannot get over how well the record caught the first lines of the song!

I must have been a silly sort of Josh
the fact that she's, a lot too fond of me
never out alone she'll let me stray--

This record really tests to the ability to catch certain syllables, as there's a lot of "s" and "sh" in the lyrics, so it really does do this. The fact that this record caught all of these rather well, as well as catching the piano accompaniment extremely well really gives a whole lot of merit to Zon-O-Phone records, more than previously thought. This record can be compared to this Zon-O-phone from the year before, where all of the same syllables are very clearly heard, especially the "sh". This is something that I will now consider when listening to a very clear Zon-O-Phone with piano accompaniment. 
The next one is also by Quinn, and it's one of more often used records on the internet, that has been used at the wrong speed for many years. Here's Quinn's 1894 cylinder of "And the Parrot Said" newly slowed down:
This cylinder sounded better quality wise than we could have expected, as we could hear the tone of the piano, and that the room this was recorded in was very small, though it sounded all-right. This record is also a great example of Fred Gaisberg's piano style, and you can hear it just as clear as the AtLee records from 1893 and early 1894. Other than that, there's not much to say about this new transfer, it's so much more fun to listen to now though. 

The recording that was on the Santa Barbara cylinder website of the Columbia orchestra playing Hylands' "The Darkey Volunteer" was played infamously fast, and prompted I, Charlie Judkins, and Ryan Wishner to learn the piece as we heard it on the transfer, even with the notion that it was played too fast. I had assumed that the record was originally played a half step too fast, but that seemed to be too quick yet, so it was slowed down even more to get to an even B flat to E flat, which made sense, though it sounded a bit slow. The tempo ended up being perfect, so I can't argue with that, and the arrangement seemed much more logical at that. Anyhow, here you go:

The arrangement can at last be understood, and sounds much better according to Hylands' tempo choices. It didn't make the record too much longer, which was pretty surprising, since there's a lot of music in the arrangement of this tune. It's surprising that Hylands was able to get as much of the piece on the record as they did. Wonder now if this was the key that Hylands intended the piece to be in?

Speaking of AtLee, we also got the chance to slow down the famous recording AtLee did with Fred Gaisberg in 1893, "Why Should I keep from Whistling". This was a record that I had not interpreted as being played too fast, but it made more sense after hearing it played slower, since it was in a more logical key once this was done. On the original transfer:
the key is A, which is a little weird, and awkward for us Rag-Time piano players, but on the new transfer, it's at an even A flat, which sounds very clear and pure, on the piano and AtLee's part in fact:
We can't understand the lyrics and better(don't think we ever will...), but now all of us early Rag-Time geeks and relearn the piece correctly, especially since the piano can be better heard. 

Now before I overwhelm you with even more transfers, I only want to share one more of these, but it's a real good one! It's that classic Hylands piece
Yes indeed.
(this is my copy of it by the way) 
The recording of it is Hylands and Spencer's famous April 1899 Berliner. Without further ado, here's the original transfer:
It's in a weird key that Spencer never sang in, and the piano playing is too fast to make out certain playing characteristics, so with all of that, here's the new transfer:
It's so much better, and the pianist can much better be distinguished. Spencer's voice also sounds very natural, more so than the original transfer. I still have yet to hear their original Columbia take, which is probably the best one they did of this tune, but this is just as good until I have the chance to hear it. 

There are many more records we fixed, including a few really early ones by Edward Favor and Gaskin, but I will save those for my next post, since it will make this one longer than it needs to be. There will be even more records fixed within the next few weeks, so many of these next posts will be on these records most likely. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Sporting Club, and the Imperial Minstrels

The first part of the title seen just above it a little mis-leading as far as connotations go, if you know the double meaning to the term as far as 1890's slang goes. The context in this case of the term "sporting club" is more literal, meaning a club for sports enthusiasts. The reason of mentioning this is because of one small newspaper section I found within the past week or so. It was published in The New York Daily Tribune, dated June 21, 1898. This section was not really too significant, but it pointed something out that proves that Hylands was out playing other "gigs" while working at Columbia in his early days there. This gathering was held by the Knickerbocker Athletic Club, which was essentially a clan of sport enthusiasts who held many sport events, like Football and Baseball. It seems that in the summer of 1898, this club began hosting social gatherings that just happened to have entertainment. On Wednesday June 20, 1898, it seemed that the accompanist for the evening was Fred Hylands, plucked by the sportsmen from Columbia's exhibition parlor for that evening. He probably went to make records at Columbia's studio from the morning to the afternoon, only to leave and go off to the Athletic clubhouse. I wonder if things like this were common with Hylands. They must not have been in most of 1898, though after 1901, they seemed more common since he was performing in shows occasionally, and doing other things like that. I still have yet to learn and read more sections that prove this. 

Speaking of Hylands, there hasn't been any luck yet in the search for his "Narcissus Gavotte", though I will continue to look extensively for it. It is certain that the LOC owns a copy of the piece somewhere in its vast collection of sheet music. All we have still is that tantalizing first page from the back of Hylands' "The Darkey Volunteer":
It seems like Hylands is playing tricks on us by making the piece very hard to find! 

In fact, I will do some more digging to-day and tomorrow for the piece, since I've got my mind to it now.  Hope I can find it before giving my seminar on Hylands in November...

Now, onto the Imperial Minstrels. I don't know many collectors who really enjoy the records that were made by the Imperial Minstrels, but I really like them. There's something about them that makes me think they had so much fun making those records. This especially was so when Hylands became Columbia's pianist. If you know of the history of this group, it stems back to 1894 with this chap:
Dandy Len Spencer. 
He began this series of minstrel recordings because he had a new member for his envisioned minstrel troupe. This new member was George W. Johnson,  who was actually a black man! Having an actual black man on his minstrel recordings was a very big deal to the other record companies, and made Edison's staff jealous from the amount of profits and attention these records received. He began this series for the U. S. phonograph company, since that's where he worked at the time.  It has been recently discovered that a handful of these original 1894 recordings are held in a few collections, which means that the theory of those recordings being gone is not true at all. None of them have been transferred for all collectors to hear on the Internet, but hopefully they will be sometime soon, since many of the jokes and songs have been transcribed from these records. 
The second installment of this minstrel troupe involved Steve Porter and Roger Harding, two new Columbia staff members in 1896 and 1897. The pianist on these relatively few 1896 and early 1897 recordings would either be Ed Issler or George Schweinfest(if it was 1896, probably even Fred Gaisberg for that matter...), it's unclear if this one just below is one of these earlier installment records, since both Harding and Porter are on it, but the piano playing isn't very distinct in some way:
It's definitely recorded in 1897 though. 
The terrible sounding piano really gives the date away. 

Remember what Spencer did to that piano. 

This incident in italics above happened in earlier 1897, so that essentially made the piano sound awful for half of, if not more of, that year. When Hylands took over that piano chair in 1898, their records became even more fun to make, since Hylands was the perfect pianist for the minstrel series. He seemed a better fit than any of the other previous pianists, which is pretty strange when thinking that he was a generation younger than Issler, and that Issler would have grown up in the first wave of the Minstrel era(the 1850's and 1860's mind you). Hylands seemed better for the wild and quick bones playing of Len Spencer, even if Issler had used Spencer for the same reason on his orchestra records in the years before that. The great opening overtures by Spencer and Hylands were very fast, and full of their great partnership skills. 
Such as the opening overtures on these records:
(this record is played way too fast, but it's a great one nonetheless, with a fantastic closing song as well!)
These fun records with Hylands on piano only were only done in 1898, as the next year, Spencer decided to have the entire Columbia orchestra get involved. These records are the most common ones as far as the Imperial minstrels go, as they were a spectacular of modern recording technology. 
You can hear four of these in the links below
(listen for Hylands' awful laughter on them, also Spencer's... they're loud and obnoxious)
(note Steve Porter's awful singing at the end on this one...)
This one is particularly interesting, since the piano in the orchestra(by you know who) is not really playing in sync with the rest of the orchestra. 

These records must have taken to much time and organizing to get done, since there would be twenty or more squeezed into a room to make these records, and all the balancing of everyone must have been awful, and maintaining the balance when they were recording. These records must have taken a few rehearsals to perfect, and thinking of Spencer being that very strange perfectionist, he managed these sessions very well it seemed, save for a few weird things that weren't supposed to be there, such as random yelling, like on this one here:
hear it at 35-36 seconds in
(the title of this one by the way is "Good Bye Dolly Gray")

One of the records by the Imperial Minstrels I would love to share but can't has a fantastic weird thing at the beginning that I think is probably from Hylands. The loud whistling that usually is at the cheering in the beginning, there's a weird descending whistling thing that is about piano distance, and it's something that I haven't heard on all the other ones listed. The piano on the closing overture is also a little out-of-sync as well, so that means Hylands is there. 
In 1898 and 1899, this minstrel group was so popular, that Spencer had them all go out on a tour, which was reported in many newspaper sections, more than expected in fact. It seems that great tour(advertised in The Phonoscope below)
was indeed a huge success by early 1899(which may or may not have been part of the reason why Spencer and Hylands groups together as publishers...think about that for a moment). It was because of this tour that the records had orchestra accompaniment rather than the previous piano. Many New York newspapers reported performances of this tour, and it seems that every one of them was a success, save for a reports of beastly weather, which every section on it said something about that it seems. The weather must have been really awful if they mentioned it that often! The Newspaper reports seem to last into early 1899, which makes sense, since it was in February that Hylands roped Spencer in to become an associate in his "Knickerbockers" firm, even though he wasn't really one of the three names running the function, as we know, that came the month after. 

By the way, September 20, 1897 was when Hylands' Narcissus Gavotte was copyrighted. I missed the day, but thought it should be noted. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Studying Studio pictures

A subject that is highly-praised in this field is the presence of early studio photographs, many of which are from Edison studios in the 1910's. Most collectors who have seem early studio pictures have seen the more typical ones of the Edison recording rooms, since there were so many images published in magazines of the Edison headquarters. Of course, there are plenty of early studios that we will perhaps never see, since their ledgers are completely gone, and nothing was left of them. 

To begin on this matter, I would like to showcase this fantastic image from 1892:
The date is luckily written on the original image, and it was inscribed "Sept. 24/92", which saves any age debate that might come along with this image. 

It appears to be one of the oldest Edison studio images I have seen, and it's their studio, not any of their other departments in the process of record making and selling. This is what I want here, it's a picture of where they made the records, to then go through all of the other parts of the process. It's a pretty cluttered room, seeming like an unorganized mess, with a hodge-podge of everything that the Edison Phonograph Works had to offer at the time the photograph was taken. You might have noticed that there's a "talking doll" set on the edge of the piano on the right, which is some great placement there! There's probably specific music set on all the music stands in this picture, but they appear to be unreadable from the quality of the image, if only we could see what music is there! One thing is for certain, is that Edison had some very nice pianos in their studio early on. Those pianos look very expensive compared to the ones that were used later in the same decade. The fact that the pianos are not uprights, and are much more classy tells you that it's certainly a recording studio from the preliminary days of the recording business(1889-1892). They had not learned yet that using very expensive and fancy pianos for the studio was a very bad idea. That was something that was learned not long after this picture was taken it seems. The one thing that this image is missing is the gaudy light fixtures, as the early studios were still set up in a similar way that the pianos were, very fanciful and gaudy Victorian, since it was still the 1880's essentially. You can see one of these exquisite light fixtures I mean here:
Amazingly overkill! 
Now that is a Victorian parlor. And it's Columbia! 
That just goes to show that my theory of Columbia being the company of gaudy parlors, frivolity, and wealth is true. That parlor it just astonishing! I have never seen such an amazing display of Columbia's inner workings, or just anything in terms of Victorian interior design. It combines a Gothic inspiration with crystal draped gas lamps, just lovely! Other than that, this image gets the point across that Columbia was dedicated far more than Edison to creating a great first impression, with being as ostentatious as they could. 

That picture just above is not exactly a Columbia studio picture, but this one is:
Now it be time to play a game of where's Waldo, looking for Len Spencer! 
He's probably somewhere in this picture, way in the back behind the horns.
This picture was indeed taken around the same time as the picture just above, so if you think you've found him, leave a comment on this post! 

Anyway, that Columbia picture seen above has been used on, and is originally from an 1891 edition of The Phonogram. It is a promotional photo for the U. S. Marine band making records for Columbia in their earliest days. One of which you can hear in the link below:
The announcer on this has yet to be identified, but he seems to have been a regular announcer for the Marine band on their early Columbia records. 
The handful of 1890-91 recording by the Marine band can be accessed on Youtube, just like the one above, the one in the link seemed the most musically interesting to me immediately, so there are others if you'd like to hear more of them. 
What's great about the 1890 Columbia cylinders that survive is that you can really hear the setup, and that it's just the same one that they used in the picture above. That doesn't often happen with these records, since the balancing was so well done later on that oftentimes we can't really tell how things were set up in the studio. 

Now I have said before that I firmly believe every early studio picture is staged, with specific things put in designated places, and out-of-place balancing with instruments. This cannot be said for the Marine Band picture however, that seems to be one of the the rare occasions where the scene was barely manipulated at all before the picture was taken. It's obviously staged though, regardless of that observation, since one of the trumpet/cornet players in the very back row has his instrument down, and some of the overall setupdoesn't look right. It also seems strange that all of them are in their marching uniforms, though that may have been more common than assumed. This setup was also used by Sousa's band later in the mid and later 1890's, as a cylinder like their fantastic ragged rendition of "The Darkie's Temptation" from 1896.(rag-time geeks take note of this recording, it's a very important one in terms of authentic pre-ragtime, and it a great early Rag-Time piece overall). If you listen closely to this cylinder, you can tell that it's balanced the same way that the 1890 cylinders were. That means that since it worked, they kept the method for many years. 

Columbia's studios were well-photographed it seems, though not many of the original photographs exist after the destruction of their ledgers. The amount of images that were exhibited in The Phonoscope of Columbia's studio really tell how important they still found their presentation. These images were scattered all around record catalogs and advertisements in New York, as their most popular attraction was the exhibition hall, seen below in two different views:
inside to the right, on a hot early September evening
and in front of the place from the middle of Broadway
These two photos give you a very realistic and candid view of Columbia's famed exhibition hall, that supposedly attracted thousands of people a week in the Summer and Fall of 1898. The analyses of these images are endless, since there's a thousand small details in both of them, and there's so much to wonder about when looking these pictures over. Just to point out a few things about the first picture, the flag under the bunted one is well torn, there's an electric fan on the very top of the rack abreast the column in the centre and another one attached to the edge of the piano platform, John Yorke AtLee(in the middle of the picture) is standing on two large books, Hylands is the most formally dresses in the picture(ha!), there are weird looking gas lamps far toward the back of the room, even though there is a monstrous display of (possibly multicoloured) electric lights, and a whole lot more than just those things. These observations are small things that take a while to easily spot. In the second picture, you may notice that the setup inside the parlor is pretty much exactly the same as it was in the other picture. The piano is faced a little more to where the keyboard would be directly facing the doorway rather than a little tilted as it is in the exhibition picture. 

Just up those stairs that can be seen in both of these images would be two more floors of long hallways for recording, rehearsing, mailrooms(though I think everyone's mail was in the basement...), and offices for the managers. Many of the staff members used Columbia's address for where their mail went to, which is strange in a way, since I'm sure that things would get confused sometimes, and since the furnace was probably down there, they would all gather in a group to sort through mail when it got below freezing. 
Just up those stairs is where you could find scenes like these:
the Columbia orchestra and Fred Hylands in their "big" recording room(in this terrible lithograph thingy of a photograph from 1898)
and this famous photograph of George W. Johnson posed in recording action with Edward Issler in 1897.

These photographs give a very unique view of Columbia's recording rooms, and show how different each room was, as they are very different looking for rooms for the same purpose. It must be pointed out that the first studio picture of these two is the most obviously staged of all these studio pictures I have seen. So much is not right about the setup, as the singer(or announcer?) at the horns is posing as though he were singing or something like that, and the rest of the orchestra is being cued(maybe?) by Tom Clark with his hand up. Also take notice to how queerly Hylands' hands are positioned, one is down, but the other appears to be doing some weird thing I cannot really describe. Also, notice the coats hanging on the wall to the extreme right behind Hylands, as well as the scraps on the shiny floor. The Issler and Johnson picture is very straightforward, though I can tell that one is staged as well, since Issler would be playing behind Johnson when he was singing, not adjusting sheet music it seems, adjusting music would make too much racket. The setup in the Columbia orchestra picture is really comical, with chairs on tables and table on chairs, it's what's to be expected from Columbia and their ragged gang of "thieves" as Edison once called them. But of course, only the piano had its own invention for being balanced correctly, everyone else had to problem-solve for long while Hylands sat contently at his throne that was rigged up by Len Spencer and some of the other early Columbia staff members. 

These images are fascinating, and next Tuesday, I have to do a short presentation on the exhibition picture for my English class. I showed my teacher what I will be presenting, and she looked over the image practically laughing at how weird it was. She thought the angle was strange, the flash too bright, torn flag misleading, and the brass bars not a great idea on their part. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Newspaper findings and more pianist analyses

The more infrequent posts on this blog I must apologize for, since it's been busy having school, and doing projects and such, spending the time to work on a post for several hours has been hard to do with this. Other than that, all of the newspaper travels I've had have been great, finding all sorts of things mentioning those characters that we know and love so well. The last two posts I have done were almost solely on some of the findings I had amid these newspapers, as the Hunting and Charles Carson section I did was actually based on an article from The New York Clipper, and The Albany Express, both from 1896. The section from the latter had much more detailed information on the arrests of them, though each one had information that the other didn't. 

Surprisingly, sections on Hunting date back to the mid-1880's, which is really interesting! He's listed in many 1888 editions of The New York Dramatic Mirror. It's not that often that we see these recording stars mentioned in Newspapers so early on, even though if they were older than the average age of these boys, they are more likely to be mentioned earlier on somehow. Among this expedition,  I found many sections that reprinted that article from The Chicago Tribune detailing Leachman's recording process, and what he does every day with his recording. That section seems to have been reprinted more times than expected, which says a lot about how amazing and interesting Leachman was to the public, not just to recording fiends like The Phonoscope writers and readers. His process and eccentricities seemed to have been a great interest to the general public, more so than could have expected. Other than his fascinating recording processes, he owned a pet fighting monkey, and a freak horse that went on vaudeville tours with him in 1901-1903. It seems the more we learn about Leachman, the more weird he becomes. But that's great!

The way we're learning about Leachman reverts me back to Hylands, since that's a similar story, as i mentioned in my last post the fantastic and very entertaining letter that was published about him begging for performers to join his "Knights of the Footlights" endeavor. Of course, we know that this was published as a joke in the magazine it was in, because there was really no way that he would fill the promises he made(hmm...). It was just like Hylands Spencer and Yeager, except that it didn't really work the way that Hylands Spencer and Yeager did. The fact that he had a stable crew of financial support was what made working with Len Spencer and Harry Yeager important, and made it last(somewhat)

In reality, the job he was able to keep the longest in his life was working at Columbia. 

Other than that, his ventures lasted a year, or maybe two or three years if it was decent to him for longer than a few months. 

See, Frank Banta wasn't like this, this is why he remained a valuable asset for Edison and Victor, and if he had lived longer, he would have worked for them at least into the middle of 1905, if not later. Hylands hadn't a chance, even if he was still coming in occasionally in 1905, which is still very strange to me, since he obviously hated working there... It doesn't make much sense really. All of the contradiction stems from this here:
Ah yes, that quote. 
So important to Columbia huh? 
Yeah, no. 
If they thought this was a joke(which they did, as it was published in the Our Tattler section of The Phonoscope), they would have documented it. I wonder who told the correspondents of this? Maybe Spencer? It's hard to know. Someone like that probably told them. It's still funny regardless, since George Schweinfest or Edward Issler would have had a good laugh from this, since it's so unreasonable and selfish of him to say that, after only a handful or so of months working there. Issler must have gotten a kick out of Hylands once he began his term there. Since he was so immature and selfish, like a teenager in many aspects. 

Speaking of Hylands, I just received a record in the mail from my dear friend Craig two days ago, and here's the record:
It's a fantastic mess of a record! 
After I cleaned it, it was still pretty scratchy, but that don't matter since the music is so good and interesting. It sounded an awful lot like another Spencer record I had heard from the same year, which was his cylinder of "Since the Fortune Teller Told me"(which is an amazing record by the way!). It is a mess of a recording in a similar way as that record, though it's a little more so. I would love to share the cylinder of "Since the Fortune Teller Told me", but it is one of those records I cannot share the link to. Without it, I can say that it is a very clear and loud brown wax with the typical Columbia setup of Hylands on piano and Spencer singing, and Hylands pretty much plays syncopation for the entirety of the record, and plays very frantically just the same. It's not on-the-surface a mess of a record, but after really focusing on the piano accompaniment, you can hear how frantic and shaky Hylands' playing is on it, though it's still a prime example of early the Rag-Time style, even if was recorded after 1900. 
Just to give an example, Hylands begins the record with the same crazy thing that he plays at the beginning of this cylinder here. That was recorded in 1899, and he played it then, just to certainly place the same pianist on these two records made in different years. 
Without further ado, here's the record pictured just above: Again, apologies for how scratchy it is, and for the awful speed fluctuation. This is the worst Columbia I have heard in terms of speed inconsistency, as the machine seems to have started very fast, and slowed down dramatically, making the record sound very strange. This record is just as bad as an early Berliner disc, and that's saying a whole lot! With this comparison, here's an early Berliner:
Fred Gaisberg's 1893 Berliner of "Honeymoon March"

Well, it's not that bad, but it's pretty well close to it on these terms. 
That Berliner just above has been a subject of comparison in terms of Gaisberg's playing, since it's really the only widely known solo of his, though I have heard mutters around from Charlie Judkins that there's another one out there, and it's not just of a stereotypical late-Victorian march. The title has been said to be "The Tickler", and it's supposed to be a pre-ragtime piece, with actual syncopation! That would be great to hear, much like the infamous solo Banta made in 1900 of "Hello My Baby", that no one has been able to find a copy of yet.

Back to the new record I received, now before getting the record, I had heard a different take of the same record a while back, though it was the ten inch of it. With that, here's the ten inch of it from the same year. Among the many weird things about these takes of "On Emancipation day", you may have noticed that the record company was not announced at the beginning, which is very strange. Hearing no company in the announcement made me assume that they were Victor records, but as it turns out, they are two Columbia's. These records were made during the awful battle with Climax in 1901, so that might explain the absence of the label being mentioned on both takes. Other than that, I don't really know why the company is not announced. The piano is definitely more wild on the 7-inch take, without doubt, since they were running out of time, the final chorus is a mess, with Hylands not hitting the right bass notes, and playing frantically, almost getting ahead of Spencer. 

Within the last week or so, I have found a batch of fun Issler's orchestra recordings, which all sound exceptionally clear for the mid-1890's. 
(a cartoon I drew of Issler in marching hussar attire)
We all know Issler, and his gang of virtuoso musicians: George Schweinfest, William Tuson, David Dana, and Len Spencer. These records have all of the crew, including Spencer! 
Here 's the first one:
(there's a lot of chatter at the beginning! Which is very weird for something that wasn't recorded in 1888-1891)
Being a fan of Hungarian march music, this piece really highlights how authentic Hungarian marches were played in the same century that most of them were written! This is for the most part a typical Issler's orchestra, with the amazing sound quality from an original record(directly recorded on the record, made without pantographing or duplication). The piano was also recorded very well, just as usual, since Issler was really the first one who learned how to record the piano, with all ranges loud and clear. I don't see why the record managers and engineers didn't ask Issler for help when it came to recording the piano. Again, this is why I am still under the impression that Columbia didn't rid of Issler after Hylands began working there, since they would have needed all the pianists available after Hylands began, also, George Schweinfest would have made his arguments to keep Issler there as a pianist. 

Here's the next one:
This one is a great example of a Victorian Mazurka in 4/4, rather than in 5/4 or waltz time. It's a really nice recording, just a great one to listen to, with not too many things so point out here other than it being authentic Victorian music played in the era itself. 

This next one is a fantastic example of the selections from Verdi's Carmen played as an arranged march. 
Here you go: 
Once again, the piano sounds very good, loud, and clear, with the bass notes coming through very well. This one appears to be a dubbed cylinder though, which is strange, considering how early it is(1896 probably, it's a little later for Issler it seems). 

This final one is a cylinder that seems to mark the oldest improvisation in syncopated time. 
Here's the 1896 recording of "Dixie" by Issler's orchestra(announced by young Len Spencer. This is one of the clearest records I have ever heard from pre-1897, if not the clearest. About halfway through is when Issler begins playing trill like things in the right hand, far up in the treble, but then after that comes the syncopation, very well heard, coming through to clearly place the ragged rhythm. This record is an historic piece, regardless of it being a stereotypical mid-19th century minstrel song. The fact that this was probably recorded before 1897 really gets the point across that the rag-time fad began before 1897 better than anything else I have heard so far, even though Gaisberg's playing on this Gaskin Berliner here from November of 1896 is pretty hard to beat. What makes Issler playing syncopation like he does on the cylinder so amazing is that he would have grown up musically in the 1870's, and was willing to even try his hand at playing music of the generation after him. The fact that he recorded it is what's really amazing here. He's not great at the syncopation, but you can tell it's there, and that he's trying his best at it. Keep this in mind when listening to Issler's orchestra records. 

*Thanks for the record Craig!*

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Russell Hunting and Charles Carson--Columbia's criminals

It's clear that I find Russell Hunting the most interesting of all of these early recording stars, with all of the controversial ideas and messes he made. 
All of Hunting's genius and off-colour ideas and doings come from his days as a Shakespearian actor in the 1880's. He was one who loved going onstage in multi-coloured tights and long blond wigs to replicate the Venetian Renaissance; this sort of thing was what he did often as a performer. This was so not just in the 1880's, it seems that someone like Fred Gaisberg found Hunting's willingness to perform as the devil character in a show not the most respectable thing. It's ironic to think of that, but Hunting was personifying the very character that he was seen as to the recording managers. 

The few early recording stars who clung to the Christian movement despised Hunting's mindset and would have tried their best to remain far away from him. Someone like Dan Quinn or J. J Fisher would have kept their distance from him. Doing that must have been somewhat hard to do since they saw Hunting rather often at the studio, before and after the whole Comstock scandal. 

Charles Carson was a member of the original"Columbia clan" that was formed by Hunting in 1892, and he was a small figure when it began. Carson began as an electrician at Columbia's still relatively small headquarters around 1892, but soon was integrated into the exclusive circles of Russell Hunting. He knew not what he was in for when Hunting only was inventing new ways of making copies of cylinders, and only recording comical "Casey" sketches. Not long after then, the idea of recording smut stories struck Hunting's mind, as the saloonkeepers needed new ways of getting people to attend the saloon, and not just for drinking. To satisfy this need, Hunting provided the solution of slot machines, with his naughty recordings dwelling just under the curved glass. It was a brilliant idea, and it got him more business than all of the rest of the "clan" would have thought. His home at 45 Clinton place in Manhattan was a hotspot for saloonkeepers and general customers to call and get their crates full of Hunting's smut. It took a few years for the New York Society for the Suppression of the Vice to take notice of this selling of smut, and they began as early as 1894 trying to track down the sources of these recordings, which seems like it was harder than is should have been. the issue with trying to track down Hunting in this long investigation must have been the fact that he used several pseudonyms, probably to purposely cause the law trouble in finding him. 
One of these sections from The New York Telegram was where I found a really interesting article highlighting the arrests of Hunting and Carson. Carson was Hunting's chief clerk when selling the smut records to the public, and kept track of where everything went to, also kept the lawmen away. Of course, once the Comstock crew went out to Coney Island to raid the slot machines upon hearing that some of these recordings were out there, the records were destroyed, the the source of them was finally found. At this, one of Comstock's detectives went out to the address, 45 Clinton Place, and posed as a kind patron of these obscene recordings. After witnessing Hunting make two of these records, he was then arrested, along with Charles Carson, who was Hunting'g clerk and kept track of the records bought and sold. Of course, with that status, the Comstock team had to arrest him as well. According to the papers, their bail was set at 2,000 dollars, though they only went to prison for three months. The impact that Hunting made on the new recording business was so monumental that there was really no way to reverse it, even if Comstock's detectives went out and destroyed what they thought was all of these records. It really wasn't as we know. There were still bunches of them stored in collections of the studio stars, and the managers. 

That's what's the most mysterious and fascinating about this whole thing, the fact that the studio managers and performers had some of these records in their collections. We know that Edison's manager Walter Miller had a vast collection of records that have been extremely well-preserved over the years. Most of the remaining Hunting smut cylinders came from Miller's collection, which is the strangest thing in so many ways. Victor, Georgie(as the Columbia staff called him), and Clyde Emerson would more likely have kept a collection of these recordings, since Victor and George were known for have not been the most "good" of people, according to Dan Quinn's Christian beliefs that is(dig through The Phonoscope, you'll find what I mean here). I'm surprised that Victor's collection didn't remain as is, unlike Miller's, which remained intact and well-preserved for decades. I'm not sure what happened to Emerson's collection, but it was likely split up when all of Columbia's ledgers were destroyed, since no one really had any use for it in that time anyway...
It's great to wonder what sort of records the Emerson's had stashed away in their collections, or any of the studio stars for that matter. 

Imagine the kinds of records that the Spencer's kept. 

Just putting that out there, since the two of them probably kept the widest variety of recordings, and also films as well. They probably kept all of those supposedly lost films made by the Columbia staff in the mid to late 1890's. We still have yet to know if these films exist, as it would be amazing if they did. Looking to the story of the few Hunting smut cylinders that survive, there are plenty of things that aren't supposed to exist, but still do somehow. Anything's possible. 

Speaking of films and photographs, in my last post I mentioned that Spencer's Lyceum was advertised in hundreds of newspapers and theatrical magazines as a place to show films, and that this seems to reveal that his love and fascination for films and photography didn't go away. A while ago, I was speaking with my friend Ryan Wishner, and we seems to theorize that there's a possibility of Len Spencer taking this very photograph:
It's a stretch, but something about it makes it seem like a full Columbia effort, since only Harry Spencer's in the picture, and it can be well assumed that brother Len was at almost every one of these exhibitions. With that, he might have taken this picture, and that would give this an insurmountable value. It was published in The Phonoscope after all, and that is also another clue as to who might have taken this picture. Also, if Spencer took this picture, he decided to do so a night when Fred was there, keep that in mind. 

Before I close off, I must share some of the amazing new recordings that Ryan Wishner and I slowed down in order to get the correct pitch, and to hear the piano better. 

Here's a newly pitch corrected 1899 cylinder of "Turkey in the Straw" by Billy Golden:

Pretty much everything in the piano accompaniment can be heard clearly here. I was able to hear things I hadn't before, and was able to clearly catch Hylands' playing characteristics much better. By the way, for you music geeks out there, it was originally pitched too fast in A, and now it's at a just a tad flat A Flat, which it historically accurate, considering the age and tuning norms. When I need Hylands referencing, I will be reverting back to this record, this slower transfer in fact. 

This next one is the corrected early-1898 recording of "The Bob White Polka" by George Schweinfest:
(Hylands is on piano here by the way, and it seems not one of his good takes)
This one was played frustratingly fast on the Santa Barbara cylinder website, and now you can hear it slower and at the correct tempo and pitch(excuse the speed fluctuation...). Now that it can be heard better, you can really hear how awful the piano sounds. If you're looking for that stereotypical piano sound usually associated with Rag-Time pianists, this record gets the point across(and it's not even Rag-Time!). the room this was recorded in even distorts the sound a little bit, making it sounds even more like  19th-century piano. The thing is, I like that sound, even if it is out-of-tune and wirey, it's charming and actually historically accurate! This record proves that point. 

This final one is another great Golden and Hylands collaboration, with Len Spencer doing the announcement. This record had always to me, and some of the Rag-Time scholars, to be one of the most authentic examples of recorded folk Rag-Time from pre-1900. My friend John Reed-Torres even made the point that this was recorded a year before Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" was published, and it already sounds the way that is does. 
(Hylands threw in some fun diminished chords if you're listening closely! much like "Maple Leaf Rag")
Just throwing this out there, but there are some great and rarely heard blues riffs hidden in Hylands' playing on this record, and remember, this was recorded in 1898, and Hylands was IMPROVISING. 

Hope you enjoyed this!