Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Quest

I really do apologise for not writing blog posts frequently...

Using Facebook has consumed much of my time, as it tends to do...
While out on hiatus, I went out to the UC Santa Barbara recorded sound archive, which was an eyeopener! if you know anyone in association with the archive, I would highly recommend going there to dig through cylinders and 78's, and everything else they've got stored there. I really should share a few pictures from the tour! Thanks to knowing people there, I got a full tour of the place, which was endlessly interesting...
It began with a Bell and Tainter machine...
 What a nice picture of that seal!
The inside bits, with a date indicating c.1893 as the date on this scarce machine.
What an amazing way to start!
I got to see the Zon-O-Phone project in process as we began our tour, with a guy taking those high quality pictures of the labels that can be seen on the LOC  website, such as the one below!
This guy was taking those fancy pictures of Zon-O-Phone records right before our eyes! He was taking a picture of a few Zon-O-Phone orchestra records as I recall. For those of you wondering about the Zon-O-Phone project, it's going strong, and making progress every day. 
We then were taken to where the good stuff was---the cylinders! 
Oh yes, that's what it looked like. It's heaven for sure.
Where do we start? it was hard to make decisions of what I wanted to see, since pretty much half the records I've listened to for the past 6 years have been from this very place. The kind young man giving us the tour was really into the Pathe cylinders, so he showed us where most of those are kept, and he was also really into the newly transferred Mexican and Cuban cylinders they recently acquired. 
There are some of those Pathe Concert cylinders. Most of them have the original boxes and record slips, which is really nice.
The guy who was supposed to give us the tour was out of town, so one of his skilled young assistants did the tour, that's why there wasn't as much Columbia digging as there usually would be(that would have kept me there all day...). We soon got to some Columbia's! Of course we did. That's the good stuff.
Since i had for years hear Myers sing "The Bell Buoy", I asked to go see it and hold it. 
What a life-changing little thing! I had never seen or held a North American before. It felt less fragile than the usual brown waxes we usually see and hold. It felt sturdy and ready to be played. A feeling that doesn't usually come when holding brown wax. 
That beautiful, but empty channel rim.
Couldn't believe I was holding that in my hands. It's in beautiful shape for its age, but it looks just as great as it sounds.
Absolutely beautiful, especially after holding it. 
The cylinder was also much darker than I thought North American's were. They could easily be mistaken for Columbia records from c.1902, if you didn't notice the channel rim. 
Later I also spotted a few Len Spencer cylinders...(knowing the Columbia block for him helps...)
You can hear this here:
This one looks how it sounds for sure.
I also requested to hold that infamous cylinder "Will O' The Wisp" by Myers, just to see if it's worth getting transferred...
and how it is!

It's in gorgeous condition, and fully worth getting transferred! Hopefully the tale of Hylands playing this piece till he dropped is fully demonstrated with this cylinder. I had assumed it would he the same shade of brown as "Little Yaller Coon" by Spencer, but it's comparable to the North American's shade, which was unexpected. There were also some newly acquired editions of Hobbies written by Jim Walsh, but they were poorly patched together and not in good shape in the first place(they were rather brittle and yellowing). Those were interesting, since I had never seen these famous articles in their entirety, nor had I held any of them in my hands. That was some thing there it was...
That was all nice, with record catalogs we dug through, saw some piano rolls, piles of disc records, record encyclopedias, and miscellaneous stuff related to records stacked in shelves and we saw the boss' office! Mr. Seubert's office was especially nice, with some of the most interesting books about records and recording, and a few machines on shelves and scattered catalogs. 

Enough of that...since it's certain I will be visiting again very soon...

Now for the main reason of this post, referring to the title listed above.
This "mission" is something I've been piecing together for a while now, and it's beginning to take form now. In just over a year from now, I will be trekking to the Eastern U. S. to tour the North East to write a book. This book will be a journal of my travels in historical documentation, which will include tracking down and visiting all of the studio locations, recording artists' homes, publishing firms, theaters, and anything else related of interest. On this quest, I will go all of these places and write a day-to-day journal of thoughts and connections, as well as documentation of where and if things are still in place. 
Among these places that I will visit will include the following:

1155 Broadway(Columbia), 33 W. 27th street, most of E. 14th street(where all the theaters were and where musicians lived), where Frank P. Banta lived, stroll down 28th street(Tin Pan Alley), Columbia's headquarters in Washington DC, Sousa's house in DC, The site of the Berliner studio in DC, the street corner where Gaisberg indicated he discovered George Graham, where the Spencer Business college was in DC, find where John Yorke AtLee lived in DC, find all the famous theaters where the big early Broadway shows premiered, visit the Edison recording studio address in NYC(on 5th avenue), visit the very house that Russell Hunting and Charlie Carson lived and were arrested in(!), find where Vess Ossman lived,  Spencer's Lyceum, visit all the places where Hylands lived in New York, go to where this picture was taken:
(and maybe even get a few rag-time friends to pose similarly here if this place is still there somewhere...)
Of course, I intend to do some of this journey with my good friends on the East coast, like Charlie, who almost every day walks by some of these historic places. I will go inside all of these places(the ones that are left...) and dig around for any remnants of the history that happened there. I'd be especially curious about what might be hidden in the house Russell Hunting was arrested in. That could be very interesting and fruitful all the same, since he had to have hid things in that house somewhere... This also goes for the places where Hylands lived, since he was very unorganized it seems, he may have left some stuff occasionally while moving. The boardinghouse he lived in around 1910 would also be curious, since that was a house full of actors. Finding all of these places where the recording stars lived will be a chore...since I know where only a few of them lived at a certain point while they were recording. Certainly I will visit the fabled Dyker Heights where Spencer and Porter lived so highly around 1899 and 1900. I'll find all the musicians too, Issler, Schweinfest, Tuson, Dana, Hager, Geib(he played tuba for Edison early on), Banta, Chris. Booth, Arthur Pryor, Albert Benzler, Gaisberg, etc. The recording stars homes will remain a priority, because as soon as I get to the east coast, I ought to track down as many addresses as I can and notify them that I will be doing all of this "snooping" around if you will, for historical research. Luckily their addresses(some of them) are scattered around in recording magazines and theatrical papers. After getting the home addresses, I will start with the recording studios, and luckily, this will mean passing by Columbia at 27th and Broadway many times ,which is perfect for writing often about the amount of historic things that occurred there in such a short period of time. Many entries will refer to the Columbia studio, as well as the Edison studio(in NYC), and it helps that both of these places are on the way to other places of interest. I will also make many commutes that the recording stars once made, such as Gaskin, Spener(wherever he lived from 1897-1900...), Porter, Banta, Hylands(of course), Roger Harding, Issler(to where the U.S. Company was, and to Columbia), Schweinfest, Tuson, and the rest of the studio musicians we can track down. Of course, this quest wouldn't be complete without visiting the graves of everyone! 
I already visited and cleaned up Vess Ossman's grave, so one down... a whole lot more to go. I got to go find everyone on the east coast(if they didn't end up anywhere else). Luckily, Victor Emerson didn't end up there, he ended up not too far from me actually, in the valley of California..(what a coincidence). Unfortunately, one of my favourites to visit, Fred Hager, is in Florida, and there's no way I'm going to Florida just for that. 
As much as I love you Hager, you're in an awfully inconvenient place for me to visit so soon. Sometime along the line when I'm in Florida I will go pay a visit to him with a huge bundle of blood red roses tied in old silk with a bow, and a lot of kind sweet words to say for him. 
Also, when I go an do the grave visiting, I will have bundles of specific flowers to place on them. For Banta of course, will be a bunch of pretty violets. For Hylands, a few pink carnations, sunflowers, yellow roses and a single blood red rose. For the rest of these performers, I will have to make a key to what certain flowers represent, and make sure to match what I feel about them and what they were like. Of course, there will be mixed messages in many of these bundles, like Hylands' I just listed. The pink carnations are more disdainful, sunflowers haughty and flamboyant, yellow roses for infidelity, and the red for passion and devotion. This will go on and on as I piece together the bundles for everyone...

Anyhow, that's all I got for now. I pretty much explained this quest fully. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Two Indiana women and more discoveries

*I'm back!*

Who's this lovely lady? 
Well, thanks to the great-nieces of Fred Hylands once more, they dug up this fantastic photograph of Fred's sister from around 1912 or so. Just as expected from Etta, she looks so much like Fred, or just a better-looking female version of her brother. She's very pretty, and it now is clear why she had marital issues, and why many men tried to get at her in a rather short period of time. She even has the messed up teeth that Fred had! No glasses though, that's all-right. 
Another thing, she appears to be rather tall, which makes sense. After  seeing this picture, not only do I have a better understanding of what the two siblings looked like, but also makes me want ever more to hear her play piano. Of course, she couldn't have been too different from her brother, since they essentially had the same musical background...though with her it's more likely that she gained better skill in technicality, since I would assumed her to be just enough more disciplined to gain more essentials of the basics. Though when I say that, I'm not saying much, since it's obvious these two were stubborn, according to the lives they lived.  
Her hair appears to be just as wild and curly as Fred's was, according to the picture below:
Of course, due to the issues we often have with black and white photographs, I'm not safely sure what to say her hair colour is. I want to say light brown to red, but I'm not sure. Whatever it is, it's the same colour as Fred's. Hmm, so maybe his hair was red? or at least kind of red. Wish we could figure this out better. One thing is for sure, long straight profiles ran in the family, and so did being tall and curly hair. 
This fantastic picture of Etta was not the only thing that the sisters sent me, that also sent a link to a professional picture of Fred's wife Marie.
This picture is dated 1912
So now that I'm able to see pictures of the two women in Fred's life, I actually have to edit something that I said a while ago. This picture above would indicate that the picture on Fred's sheet music from 1899 is actually who I thought it was initially. 
That's Marie, not Etta. It makes sense now.
Something that you might notice about the picture of her from 1912 that I though was kind of funny is hoe she's wearing lots of makeup. You can see that there's none in the 1899 picture of her. But that's not surprising at all, since she was a typical gaudy Broadway star of the era. Yes, now that I said that, her husband goes into the same category. She still looks like the type that would cause a stir with the boys at Columbia. 

She and Cal Stewart's wife must have done this when the boys brought them to outings they had, such as Steve Porter's yacht races, and those trips to the Waldorf in May of 1898 and 1899. 
Either way, it would be great if we could hear Etta play, or Marie sing, since they were pretty popular at what they did. 

This brings me to the other Indiana woman I was to discuss. 
This lovely lady is Verdi Karns. 
She was born in 1882 in Bluffton Indiana. Where's Bluffton? Well, actually it's right next to Fort Wayne, where Fred Hylands was from. So with that being said, we would expect her music to sound similar. This is entirely so, in fact, it is to the point of where it sounds exactly like if I were to transcribe any of the records Hylands improvises on. After reading up on her recently, she was essentially another Fred Hylands, a child prodigy, who did everything herself, writing her first rag at age 16, only to create the cover all herself, and publish all her pieces as well. She played in local orchestras and concert halls from age 13, becoming a popular favourite by age 17.Her most popular rag(if any were to be considered as such), was "The Bluffton Carnival Rag", composed in 1899, and written in the signature Indiana style, that just so happens to sound identical to Fred Hylands' playing. Since she attended the namesake of this rag, it's likely that Fred and Etta Hylands played there in the late-1880's when she was a little girl. With that, she probably heard Fred play violin or piano, in that strange and Ragged style he did. So it's no wonder that her rags sounded so much like Hylands' playing. Since I keep talking about it, here are two of her three rags:
"The Bluffton Carnival Rag"


To illustrate this point, listen to three recordings where Hylands sounds like the composition of these rags("Ragamuffin" particularly has that feel):
(of course there are plenty more examples out there!)

See! They're so similar! Of course, things like this aren't too surprising, since Karns and Hylands were from the same region, and were literally from the next town over from each other. This is something that us collectors come across rather often, so it doesn't come as a surprise, though how often do we get to hear a pianist from a certain region from sheet music, and get to compare it with a recording star from exactly the same time? Not too often does this happen, particularly as early as the 1890's. It seems little strange however that Karns played the same way that Hylands did, at exactly the same time, and Hylands had been removed from Indiana since 1892 by the time he was recording. Not to mention that Karns was ten years younger than Hylands, and had only been playing piano since about age 7 or so, which would have been since 1889. I guess it makes sense. It's not far removed from Hylands' style that developed only a few years before that or so. That means that this distinct style must have been deeply rooted in the area of northeastern Indiana and western Ohio, so much so that even two musicians born a decade apart in the area would sound almost exactly the same. 

Also! I have been meaning to share this interesting recording for a long while, and it's a real good one to study! It's a 1901 Climax record of a medley of Coon songs by Ruby Brooks, or that's what it's supposed to be anyhow. It actually turned out to be recorded as something really different than that. It turned out to sound more like a piano solo with scant banjo accompaniment. Since this is a Climax record(technically Columbia), that pianist ought to be Fred Hylands! 
Here you go:
Where's the banjo? That's the point here.
I don't think they meant for the record to sound this way, but it just happened to turn out that way. 
Anyhow, this recording is really significant because it's the closest thing we've got so far to a piano solo by Hylands, of course, that's only true if none of those other solos we've heard aren't actually of him playing.

I really want to think that the first one is an audition record for Columbia in 1897. Of course, it's not likely, but anything's possible on these terms. These piano solos scattered around all over the place are interesting to listen to, because oftentimes they are actually some of the best-made recordings out there, all the more reason to debunk the misconceptions people have about recording the piano in the brown wax era.  These unknown solos are often the most unusual sounding things to us, since we're not really used to hearing just piano on these records:

Most of these aren't very good, but there are occasionally ones that get us wondering about their origins. Some of them sound like commercial recordings, like the "Greater San Francisco" march brown wax. Which was actually recorded around 1906, as per the date of publication of the piece. The recording of "Sobre Las Olas" is just as nice, and well recorded as well. These are important strange recordings to study, even though some of them are less than mediocre. Luckily, the good ones in the mix a really good!

Haven't too much to say, but I'm sorry about taking so long of a gap since my last post. It's been real busy and stuff. 
Hope you enjoyed this! Next post will be longer and won't be so long awaited. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Recording Muzzles and Razors in the air--early stories from Fred Gaisberg

Yes indeed, Fred Gaisberg, the teenager dropped into the wild and woolly recording business in its earliest days. 

Many of us have had the opportunity to read from his diaries of trekking through Europe and Asia with Sinkler Darby, and have thoroughly enjoyed his vivid and witty descriptions of Madrid and the French countryside. Before all of that across the pond, he had a well-established life and recording career in the U.S. Someone in my immediate record collecting community has yet to buy a copy of Gaisberg's memoir written in the 1930's. Any time an original copy of his original book comes up somewhere, it is always sold for an extreme amount of money, an amount that no record collector in reality could afford to pay on a single item. Some of the information in his book(that is quoted everywhere), reminds us that the book is certainly worth the 2,000 or more of any currency it's worth. The amount of fantastic stories and anecdotes that Gaisberg told in his books are certainly worth the money paid. 

When speaking with Charlie Judkins last weekend, it seems that he finally got a hold of one of the books about Gaisberg(The one called A Voice in Time). It's not the infamously rare and valuable one, but it's the one that was about his life and travels in America, to Europe, and Asia. Of course, the "good stuff" to the two of us was certainly the tales he told from 1890's Washington. According to all sources(including him) he began working at the Columbia Phonograph company in 1889, which would have made him their first official studio pianist. Also, keep in mind that he was 16 when they hired him. He had no idea what he was getting himself into, and this is clear by the way that he described the very beginning. The thing that really got us hooked was of course his tales of Len Spencer from the very beginning. Amid his early days working there, it didn't take long for him to run into all of the limited amount of talent Columbia employed at the time. One of the first figures he met with was of course "the handsome Len Spencer"(hmm?Okay...) as he once stated. This story reveals a whole lot about Spencer, what we have often expected from him, and what turned out to be true. 

Gaisberg did not specify the office of Columbia, but he stated that he was at Pennsylvania Avenue(obviously Columbia's old headquarters), so it's hard to not know what he meant by that. He stated that the first time he met Spencer, Spencer was signing autographs for a group of "admiring darkies"(black kids) for a few cents each. Wow. Didn't really expect Spencer to have a black fan base. The image of him doing that really is kind of heart-warming, yet a little unexpected so early on in his recording. This is the sort of thing that we'd expect from Spencer in the exhibition days of Columbia in the late-90's. The fact that he was doing this so early on says a lot not only about him, but early Columbia. This was when Columbia had very slim management, and when those passing by the studio would gather outside the steps and essentially get a free concert. So with this, it seems groups of black kids built admiration for Spencer's singing, convinced he was black until they saw him. That really is somewhat surprising, since we wouldn't normally expect such offensive and stereotypical songs as Spencer's repertoire to be at all appreciated by the black community. Well, apparently we were wrong. This is one of those occasions that could very well change our viewpoint of what blacks thought of their own culture and society in the U.S. Makes me wonder what the black people who came to exhibitions thought of meeting with Spencer. Like any time encountering him, it must have been interesting, and slightly shocking. Again, our understanding of Spencer's relationship with black people has officially been changed with this new information. 

With all of this, we also have learned that Spencer not only had a black fan base, but also embodied many of the black stereotypes he spoke of so often on records. Other than just enough looking the part with his mess of curly brown hair and gaudy gold chains, he was a dedicated gambler. 

Of course, now that I know this, it seems I think now that Spencer dragged Hylands into gambling all their profits and such during the publishing firm. Yes, it seems likely that Hylands already had a taste for gambling, but after Spencer came along, that seemed to have inevitably been boosted. 
We know of Spencer as a rough-and-tumble sort of figure, more so than any of the early recording stars, with that scar on his face at whatnot. Contrary to what I have written previously on this matter regarding Spencer, it seems Gaisberg told the story of his scar differently. 

It's a little different than I had previously been told, but it's actually better the way Gaisberg told it. 
Here's how he spoke about Spencer, including the razor fight, and everything else:

Perhaps because of his unsavory reputation, my particular pet and hero of mine was the handsome Len Spencer. His father, the originator of the florid Spencerian handwriting, was the chief bugbear of thousands of schoolboys, myself included. The son had many and varied gifts. As a popular baritone, I accompanied him at concerts and for record-making. I first saw him seated at a small table in Pennsylvania Avenue, surrounded by admiring darkies, writing out visiting cards at six for a dime. His beautiful, ornate Spencerian writing, ending up with two doves, looked like engraving. Later I was always to remember his handsome face disfigured by a scar, the result of a razor-slash in an up-river gambling brawl. He was said to have been an adroit poker-player. His records of "Anchored", "Sailing", "The Palms", and "Nancy Lee" were important items of our repertoire. 

Well, there ya have it, Spencer in a nutshell. It's really surprising how much admiration he had for him, despite his certainly wild nature. Also, the way that he words his relationship with Spencer in the studio is also particularly interesting, "my particular pet and hero", especially since he's referring to recording for Columbia so early on. If we had a description of Spencer's relation with Issler or Hylands from a little later, I have the feeling that we'd hear something dramatically different. Issler would think of Spencer like an assistant and engineer, much like how Gaisberg was to Berliner. Hylands would have thought of Spencer like a sidekick to his rough-and-tumble antics(though Spencer was what stabilized their friendship). 
Without a doubt, Gaisberg understood how to best describe Spencer's beautiful script.
It certainly was like an engraving. 

Before all of that was written in the book, Gaisberg told his story of being with Sousa as a child:
I also sung in Sousa's choir, which was organised for Sunday evening concerts, and I attended rehearsals in his then modest home in the Navy Yard in south Washington. He patted me on the head and made quite a pet of me... I can still see the small room that one entered direct from the street, and a very old "tin-panny" square piano from which he conducted rehearsals. In hot weather the front door used to be left open and a circle of negro children would surround the entrance, silently enjoying the music we made. 
On Saturday afternoons in the spring and summer, the Marine Band formerly gave concerts on the lawn in the grounds of the White House... I was one of those music-mad youngsters who hovered by his podium and never missed a concert. On windy days his music used to become unmanageable, and he would turn round and beckon to me. It was then my pride to stand beside him to turn over and hold down the music. 

How great is that? Imagine little Gaisberg tagging along behind Sousa and the Marine Band. Everything about that is heartwarming and comical. It's funny that Gaisberg was accompanist to Quinn, who was also a choir boy until about age 12. Quinn probably told him that early on, and caused some surprise to Gaisberg. Imagining Sousa bitching at ten-year-old Gaisberg about his music not co-operating  at a concert is fantastic to the highest degree. It doesn't get much better than that, in terms of stories relating to early recording stars. 
His first time hearing of and meeting Berliner is also fantastic:

It was Billy Golden who asked me one day... If I would go with him to see a funny German who had started experimenting with a flat-disc talking machine records and wanted to make some trials. I was only too eager to see him at work. 
We found Emile Berliner in his small laboratory on New York avenue and received a warm welcome from the inventor. Billy was right, Berliner certainly did make me smile. Dressed in a monkish frock he paced up and down the small studio buzzing on a diaphragm[nice pun there Fred].
"Hello! Hello!" he recited in guttural, broken English. "Tvinkle, tvinkle, little star, how I vonder vot you are."

Hmm. How unexpected of Billy Golden. Normally, we wouldn't expect such a thing from him, but certainly he was well aware of everything that was going on in the early business. Being at Columbia meant for that in the first place, since they were the ones who invented the dubbing/pantographing process. Even for a hick, Golden knew his way around in the business. 
Here's how Gaisberg described his first session with Berliner(on the day that he and Golden called):

Berliner placed a muzzle over Golden's mouth and connected this up by a rubber hose to a diaphragm. I was at the piano, the sounding-board of which was also boxed up and connected to the diaphragm by a hose resembling an elephant's trunk. Berliner said "Are you ready?" and upon our answering "Yes", he began to crank like a barrel-organ, and said "Go." 
The song finished, Berliner stopped cranking. He took from the machine a bright zinc disc and plunged it into an acid bath for a few minutes. Then, taking it out of the acid, he washed and cleaned the disc. Placing it on the reproducing machine, also operated by hand like a coffee-grinder, he played back the the resulting record from the etched groove. 
To our astonished ears cam Billy Golden's voice. Berliner proudly explained to us just how this method was superior to the phonograph. He said that in his process the recording stylus was vibrated laterally on a flat surface, thus always encountering an even resistance, and this accounted for a more natural tone. 
Acquainted as I was with the unnatural reproduction of the old cylinder-playing phonographs, I was spell-bound by the beautiful round tone of the flat gramophone disc. Before I departed that day I exacted a promise from Berliner that he would let me work for him when his machine was ready for development. 

And a few months later, he received a card from Berliner asking him to come along to his lab once again, to officially make some records. Well, it seems we know why early Berliner records sounded to great now. This strange and horrific sounding method of using muzzles and all of these tubes was the ticket to the signature Berliner sound, which as we know, was clear and full in the beginning. This is why we get fantastic records like Quinn's 1895 Berliner of "The Streets of Cairo". Now that we know all of that, we can all picture this strange method being done with those earliest Berliners. Another with this, not with piano though, is one of George Graham's first records, his "Street Fakir" from 1896. That muzzle was right there, and this is why it sounds like the speaker and piano were right in front of the diaphragm. 

Also! Here's his description of getting Graham to record for Berliner:

Then there was George Graham... a member of and Indian Medicine Troupe doing one-night stands in the spring and summer and in winter selling quack medicines at the street corners. His tall, lanky figure, draped in a threadbare Prince Albert coat and adorned with a flowing tie, his wide-brimmed Stetson hat and his ready stream of wit combined to extract the dimes and nickels from his simple audience in exchange for a bottle of coloured water. 
I discovered him one day on the corner of Seventh and Pennsylvania Avenue selling a liver cure to a crowd of spell-bound negroes. He was assisted by John O'Terrell, who strummed the banjo and sang songs to draw the crowd. I brought this pair to Emile Berliner. Always a student of humanity, he was delighted... George recorded...his famous talk on "Liver Cure" in which he cited the instance of a sick man taking one bottle of his liver cure, and when he died the liver was so strong that they had to take it out kill it with a club.

Yep, that was this guy:
The image that Gaisberg pieces together with Graham is really very vivid, and puts us right there at where he found him. Of course, this is ever more tangible by seeing the two picture we have of him. It's all fitting together. 

His description of Charlie Tainter is also one of the best articulated of his character descriptions in this early portion. Here's a picture before the description:
That's him in the late-1870's. 

Charles Sumner Tainter was a scientist as well as mechanical genius. I can see him now working at a watch-makers lathe with a glass to his eye; he had a touch as delicate as a woman's. I never knew anyone who lived so abstemiously...
Tainter was an Englishman an a confirmed tea-drinker. Indeed, he taught me how to brew and enjoy it. The perfume of that special China blend of his haunts me still. Between the cups he would mount the diaphragm and adjust the angle of the cutting stylus. In his clear Yorkshire voice he would test them with:
"Caesar, Caesar, can you hear what I say---this, which; s-ss-sss."
The stress was alway laid on the sibilants, these being the most difficult sounds to record. In playing back the test, at the slightest indication of the "s" sound, he would smile with joy and treat himself to another cup. 

Certainly one of the best characters who Gaisberg truly admired, more than most of us would think, since Tainter hadn't much to do with Gaisberg early on. 

Before I finish, here's his full description of AtLee, who turned out to be his very first project while employed at Columbia in 1889:

[AtLee's]pompous announcements which introduced each performance in tones that made the listener visualise a giant. In reality he was a mere shrimp of a man, about five feet in his socks, that little government clerk with a, deep powerful voice.Of this and his fine flowing moustache he was mighty proud. After his office hours, from nine to four, as a wage-slave of the U. S. Government, he would return to his modest home where I would join him. In the parlour stood an old upright piano and a row of three phonographs lent to him by the Columbia Phonograph Company. Together we would turn out, in threes, countless records of performances of "Whistling Coon", "The Mocking bird" and "The Laughing song". I can still hear that reverberating announcement:


I was then only sixteen, some professor...

AtLee has pretty much seemed exactly the same in other descriptions of him out there, not much is different from what we've already heard, but of course, Gaisberg's diction is priceless. It seems as though working for AtLee was horrid for him, though it must have secretly been a joy. 

There were more stories, but that will make this post just as unmanageable as Sousa's music blowing in the wind, so I'll stop here. 
Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Fascinating new Theories

After conversing with Ryan Wishner last evening, we came to some interesting conclusions and notions that had not previously been discussed. Before I get into all that, I must revise some of what I said in the last post, and add to it. It seems that with a little help, we've been able to find some more on these two:
All-right, so it seems that we've figured out the birthdates for everyone in Issler's orchestra! Now that's better than collectors have known for many a decade! So, lets list them in chronological order, birthdate and deathdate:

David Brown Dana(1850-c.1914)

Edward Issler(1856-1943)

George Schweinfest(1862-1949)

William Tuson(1864-1943)

Got it! It seemed really surprising to Charlie Judkins and I to find that not only was Dana older than the others, but he was older than everyone had expected, and than all the old recording sources gu-estimated. With his birthdate being 1850, Dana would have been 39 when he began recording with Issler. He would have been in his 40's when recording regularly with Issler which is very unusual for the time, and really puts it in to an interesting perspective. Also, something to correct from the last post, Dana was not originally from Patterson New Jersey, that's where he was in the 1880's, he was originally from Rhode Island. Something interesting to note, Dana's father John was a machinist. This fact further cements the strange connections of machinery/engineering and musicians in general. If there's an engineering mindset in a family, there's going to inevitably be a musician in the family somewhere, it's just how it happens. 
Think about it,
Ben Harney was a fantastic mathematician before he found music.

Hylands' father was a Locomotive engineer. 

Dana's father was a machinist.

Banta tuned and repaired pianos as a child

It's all starting to fit together. Finally was have somewhere to start with Dana, though we don't know when he died. The guesses that many sources online state are actually not too inaccurate, since from what we can find, he certainly died in the mid-1910's, but the exact year is what we can't find. Either way, he was in his sixties when he died, which was certainly better than average in the era. We found Tuson's dates, which were much more exact than expected, since these Issler members seem to be a real project in terms of piecing together. Tuson lived a long life like Schweinfest, at almost 80 when he died, that's nearing Issler and Schweinfest's age(they were both 87 when they died). Not much else was found on Tuson, though the dates were really what we needed to start, since no one seemed to have found them before then. 
Now that we got that out of the way...

Now back to the beginning of the post. 
So last evening, many of these new theories we discussed were some that need to be shared. Most of these seem as though they were completely wild and outrageous. To begin, we go back to that strange connection in the last post between Thomas Hindley and the Issler crew. 

It's likely that the only reason this piece was recorded so many times in the 1890's is because Hindley was a close friend of the studio musicians. By that, I mean the first studio musicians, Issler and his orchestra. The sole fact that Hindley was mentioned in a single section working in the same pit orchestra as Dana and Tuson suggests a direct connection between "Patrol Comique" and the earliest recording stars. It does seem a little strange that such a somewhat obscure piece like that was recorded so many times in a short period, by essentially all the popular studio musicians. 

This brings me to another theory, what about Hindley directly? What if...he  was in the recording studios? It wouldn't come as a shock if Hindley just happened to be one of those studio pianists for the more obscure record companies early on(1889-1894). Really think about this, what is the composition of "Patrol Comique" like? Well, if you were to ask me, I would say it sounds an awful lot like the style that was associate with Fred Hylands, and only Hylands in this matter, because it doesn't really sound like Issler as much as it does Hylands. Okay, here's the piece as written:
Not only do we see well founded syncopation, we see alternating an ever-interesting left hand playing. Hmm...
I'm not saying that Hindley is on any of those dozen or so takes of "Patrol Comique" out there, but with all of this being said, there's a slight possibility of this being so. Of course, the likelihood of this is so slight that it shouldn't be well-noted. However, the possibility of such a pianist as Hindley being a studio star is a little more than just a coincidence. After doing some digging on Hindley, he appears to have been the music director of the famous fifth avenue theater in New York in the 1880 in to the later-1890's. 
Here's a not-so-great drawing of him from a New York Theatrical Paper, dated 1891(though the picture's probably from c.1887)
It was stated that oddly enough, Hindley was from Manchester England, and he emigrated to the U. S. in 1870. Okay, so it seems he was probably around Dana's age, because it says that he got work in orchestras out in the U. S. by 1871. It seems that he was a cornet and piano player, which is an odd combination, but makes sense since he was mentioned as working with Dana, who was also a cornetist. He seemed to be mentioned in theatrical papers similarly to Hylands, since they were both music directors, and worked in various popular orchestra pits in vaudeville. Funny to think that Hindley was likely connected to the recording studios, as well as being a pit rival and director of Hylands, and even a musical writer! Wow. Seems we've kind of found a Hylands double! Well, he was doing all of this a little earlier than Hylands was, but the amount of parallels seem to be surprising. 
Wow! The similarities between Hindley and Hylands are astonishing!
It must be noted that Dana was in Newark NJ in the 1870's, as well as Issler, and Hindley just the same. So without a doubt it seems that these characters knew each other, and were likely friends from working in similar pits and with similar companies. While more unfolds about Hindley, I will report in coming blog posts, since this strange connection of him maybe being a studio pianist is not just a small crazy thing. We need to keep this in mind when listening to brown wax. There's not much we can do with this information as of now, but we need to save it for when more unfolds. 

Okay, now to another fantastic theory. 
We certainly know that freaky chap. Yes indeed, Len Spencer. So, his beginnings in recording may seem pretty clear on the surface, but in reality, they're missing a lot of the essential pieces of information. First of all, the dates are often a little fuzzy, some people say 1889, 1888, and even 1887. Why the hell does this matter? It's just a date.

Well, I'll tell you why it matters. 

This may seem a little outlandish, but think about this. I firmly stand on 1887 as the date he began working with the phonograph. Only because he must have started having to run errands for his father to fix the new-fangled machine(phonograph) owned by the college. The local company in Washington at the time(1887) was Bell and Tainter. Of course, during this time, the boys(Bell and Tainter) were working on all sorts of strange sound devices, though their latest triumph over Edison was the Graphophone. They also invented the idea of wax cylinders(Ha! take that Edison!). 

With this being said, young busy teacher Len Spencer had to run some errands for his old dad. Think of it like how young people now have to often help old people with their cell phones. Same thing. Len's curiosity soon boiled over for this graphophone thingy. But of course, since Len was curious, he soon got to a different idea. Doing something different from office dictation(what it was intended for). Spencer recorded sound effects like tapping a pen on a table, hitting a wine glass with a spoon, and soon wondered, "What do I sound like?"

There you go folks. In 1887, Len Spencer was likely one of the first to ever think that recording music was a good idea, and had public potential(NOT JUST AS EXPERIMENTS!!!) and therefore likely made the first commercial recordings of popular music. This is Len Spencer folks. Just before Columbia  was formed, he was already pitching the idea to Bell and Tainter that the future of the graphophone was music! Oddly enough, it was around 1888 that Bell and Tainter began experimenting with recording music for their contraption. Well, there you go, because of Spencer, Bell and Tainter(who in 1889 fell into Columbia) became the first commercial recording company. We know that Spencer recorded commercially by 1889, but it's likely that in 1888, he was doing the same he did for Columbia, for Bell and Tainter. Thanks to Frank Dorian, we know how Spencer started, at Columbia that is. 

See there's your issue. Dorian didn't know about his association with Bell and Tainter, which would HAVE  to have been what he was using if he was conducting all of those experiments in 1887 and 1888. Columbia was not selling their own machines under patent until 1889(ish). Spencer likely made trips to the Volta Lab several times in 1887 and 1888, until he learned of Columbia getting set up at their famous Lab on Pennsylvania Avenue:
Thinking of dandy Spencer, he probably rode a fancy bicycle to the Volta and early Columbia labs to buy and steal parts and pieces from them for his experiments. Of course sooner than later Master Easton took to the young man and allowed him to record and conduct his experiments under their roof rather than awkwardly doing so at the business college. It also must have been out of the fact that the slim management Columbia hired at the time were well-interested in Spencer's curious desire to promote recording music. We know that in 1889, that was when recording music took off for all the record companies. Spencer's influence was no longer present after that. 
We also know that 1889 was when studio musicians were hired for the first time, since recording music was the future at that point. In about early March of 1889, Ed Issler became the first studio pianist, and around the same time, Issler brought in his newly-formed parlor orchestra.

Whew! With all of that being said, I'll save the Rag-time theories for the next post. Those were just as important as these listed above, but will make this post too long. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Piecing together Issler and Issler's Orchestra

After doing some digging on these fantastic musicians, a little more about their coming together is clear. of course, we have yet to fully understand how Issler joined all of them together, but some of the digging has proved well and is giving us hints, and opening more ideas. This is all fitting into place now, especially after having more information on Issler in the first place, finding the others has proved interesting just the same. 

Let's begin with the beloved George Schweinfest. We know him well as the premiere piccolo and flautist of the 1890's recording business, more specifically with Issler's orchestra. Similarly to Issler, Schweinfest was a first generation American in his family, with both his parents being born in Bavaria(also like Issler!), his father's name being Casper and mother being Barbara. With this being so, it's likely that young George spoke German growing up, which would have meant for a slight dialect reminiscent in his speech later. Though of course, the records that we know he announces are interesting when trying to analyze this, take this record as an example "Robin Adair" from c.1899. It's still hard to know, though I am convinced that the voice at the beginning of the record just above is indeed the voice of Schweinfest. From what I could find on Schweinfest, he seemed to have lived a rather normal-seeming life at home, much like Hager did. He had a wife and three kids by 1900, which wouldn't make his being a musician too strange. Unlike Issler, his family life seemed much smoother and care-free, as it should have been, since being a studio musician wasn't an easy line. It really is a relief when learning of these recording stars and their family life wasn't so horrid, since that paired with working in the studio couldn't have been easy on any of the family of the recording star. We know that Schweinfest lived much longer than the other studio musicians, in fact, he lived longest into the 20th century compared to the other studio musicians of the 1890's. Recall that he died in almost 1950! With that being said, he essentially outlived everyone. The digging I did on Schweinfest didn't provide much in terms of newspaper mentioning, which was a little surprising. Despite that, he left a fantastic and well spread family, which means there are likely descendants of him. 
Such a kind sweet face. He really must have been a great guy, since there is absolutely nothing suspicious with him, and he certainly was easily agreeable. Being able to take Hylands after working with Issler for ten years is admirable to the highest degree. Also the fact that he was able fully to transition to Rag-Time in 1896 is also a very respectable thing, since he wasn't trained to play such a thing for sure, only to later compose a full-fledged cake-walk. 
Respect levels for him are extremely high with me. 

Anyway, now to move to Dana and Tuson. These two seem to be paired together earlier than expected, which is why I'm putting them together. I hate to use this terminology but, Dana and Tuson were a sort of "package" to Issler, since they already had been playing in groups since as early as 1888. On my search for them(separately mind you), I found several sections where Dana was mentioned as being in the same orchestra with Tuson, which seemed strange, being that I wasn't expecting them to be together. What made this ever more unusual is the fact that I couldn't find any traces of them together with Issler. In speaking of this, it must be noted that Dana was born in Patterson New Jersey in 1855, which would have made him 33-34 when he began working with Tuson. Interestingly enough, where Dana and Tuson worked was in a pit orchestra for a theater, and in the same section from 1888 I noticed that Thomas Hindley was also mentioned as a musician in the same pit. Any one of you early Rag-Time enthusiasts would recognise that name somewhat, because he was the composer of this piece here:
Yes indeed, "Patrol Comique" composed by Hindley in 1886, two years before that newspaper section where he was mentioned with Dana and Tuson. Oddly enough, this connection with Hindley intertwines two completely different lines of the early history of Rag-Time, one is a composer of an 1880's cake-walk and the other contributed to the earliest recordings of syncopated music. So now that we know all of this, maybe it was Hindley that helped the Issler crew along with better understanding the essence of black music, or he was involved to some extent. Clearly the Issler crew understood how to play all of this new-fangled(so-called, remember it had been around for decades by the 1880's), syncopated music. This of course, like anything, makes me want to know more about Thomas Hindley, since he was clearly able to well catch the early essence of a cake-walk better than many composers in the 1880's. Of course, none of this Hindley banter has anything to do with Issler, because only Dana and Tuson worked with him as far as we know. All of this strange connecting just gives a better understanding of how there were multiple pianists who played what we would call cake-walks in the 1880's and earliest years of the 1890's.  This all illustrates that playing similarly to how Issler improvises on these two recordings below:
(remember! This is the oldest recording of genuine Rag-Time out there, as far as we know)
just wasn't too uncommon in the late-1880's and early 1890's. This also goes for Dana and Tuson, especially since they were more directly connected with Hindley in the 1880's. 

Also, just a side-note about the 1891 "Whistling Coon", it may be the oldest example of recorded genuine Rag-Time(genuine because it's got written in syncopation, syncopated improvisation, and it's a former slave singing the song), and despite not having heard all of these fabled recordings from the years before 1891, such as the Issler and Schweinfest piano duets and solos, it's a safe bet to say all of this, because there's no recordings from before '91 of Johnson. Johnson really makes the recording genuine, more than any slight syncopation Issler or Schweinfest played for North American in 1889. 

Now onto some of the background about what I found on Issler. 
There he is, at Columbia's piano in 1897. 
Issler is turning out to be a little more complicated and interesting than expected. Unlike good Schweinfest, who lived a very normal family life under a light Catholic pledge, Issler lived more like a true musician. Of course, when I say this,  I don't mean that Issler was constantly in a state of suffering like Hylands. Issler lived more like a swell and stumbled into an interesting family life. Issler got married to Hannah Wade in 1880(puts into perspective how much older he was...) and had his first daughter Helen in 1883. As we know in the earlier days of his family life, he made a living as a general musician and music teacher(must have been a hard teacher as Charlie Judkins has jokingly stated!). Everything seemed all-right for the Issler's through the rest of the 1880's and the 1890's, until of course Ed began seeing trouble at work. 

Alright, this brings me to another subject that has rightfully resurfaced this week. We audibly and visually know that Issler remained at Columbia until at least the end of 1897, but after hearing all of those U.S. Phonograph records from those LP's, this notion has become in need of amendment.  After going back and listening to some odds and ends of 1898-99 Columbia, it seems the pianist is a little too stiff to be Hylands. Of course, these are records that are just slightly less like Hylands to where it's a little suspicious, here you go:
"The Laughing Coon" 1899

"How'd You Like to be the Iceman"(with Denny) 1899
One thing it for certain, these two records were not only recorded in the same year, but with the same pianist. The only reason these two takes sound more like Issler is the fact that they are just a little more stiff, sounding almost exactly the same as the pianist on "Uncle Jefferson" by Golden from 1897. The same stiff syncopation on "Uncle Jefferson" is present on both of these recordings, and despite the smoothness of Issler behind Johnson in 1891("The Whistling Coon"), it didn't turn out as nicely when he was seriously trying to play full-fledged Rag-Time at the height of the first half of the Rag-Time era(1896-1905). With all of this, it's finally seeming likely that Issler worked alongside Hylands for at least a few years longer than we thought before. So, as of now, Issler worked at Columbia until 1900 at the latest. But since we are doing a comparison here, listen to these two Johnson Columbia records from 1898-99, and compare them to the two listed above:
one of the best examples of Hylands accompaniment

and another take of the same thing
The first one is more likely Hylands than anyone else, and the other take has a similar story, especially since he ironically plays "Mister Johnson" at the end. 

So---with all of this, Issler was most certainly dropped from Columbia by 1901, because no longer after that do we hear that archaic style with all the 19th century embellishments and strictly perfect rhythm. After 1900, it seems that Issler saw some issues with his family life, as in the 1900 census, we can see Ed is living with his wife Hannah, daughter Helen, and brother-in-law Willie. In 1910, it's all different, he's listed as living with a woman named Jennie who was 16 years younger than he, still with Helen, but the brother-in-law is gone. Of course, we don't know what happened to wife no.1, but it's likely that she died. In 1900, it is stated that she and Ed had been married for 20 years, so it would seem a little strange if either one of them called for a divorce after that long, but that's always a possibility. Seems similar to how Hylands' wife dealt with being widowed to Fred, though she more light-heartedly ran off with another actor man, back where she started with Fred in Chicago(always seems a little funny to me).  According to the 1910 census, Ed had been married to Jennie for five years by then, and according to this as well, Ed is labeled as "M squared"(married twice), which is just kind of funny to say in terms of marriage. Even with whatever hit wife 1, Ed and Jennie made for a couple of swells, being mentioned in local papers often in the teen's for hosting gatherings at their house and Helen playing for the guests. Also, interesting thing to note, Helen was not yet married by 1920 by that point, and she was almost 40 by that point, just an interesting thing to note, also that she was a pianist(well, durr of course, if you were related to the first ever studio pianist, you'd be a musician too right?)
With all of that, Issler seems like a little more complicated a man than Schweinfest. I get the feeling that Issler was very intense, and a complicated, moody sort of man; so into his music that not much else mattered. He was a union type it would seem, but we cannot find him mentioned in connection to any musician unions. Being picky about pay was likely part of why he was dropped from Columbia, and refused some other jobs after 1900. Yep, it's seeming that the years after getting thrown out of Columbia and disbanding his original orchestra were hard times for him. Other than that, things seemed to have gone rather well for him after the 1900's passed by, as that was when they were being considered older swells from Newark(well, at least Ed was by that point), with Ed working in orchestras until the 1930's. 

Before I end here, here's a fantastic(not very well labeled...) transfer of a 1900 Columbia of "Dancing on the Housetops":
There's some loud low notes in that piano accompaniment. Throughout the record this is so. Classic early Rag-Time!

Hope you enjoyed this!