From the Record Shelves #206

Arabella’s Wedding Day

CD Frog Records DGF 33

As when you look at silent movies, or as for today’s young people if they look at black and white films, listening to the pre-Armstrong jazz takes some adjustment. You have to accept that it’s partly another way of communicating.

On the first 14 tracks on this CD, you have to be patient with a lot of novelty playing where the musicians want to show off their technical ability. Johnny Dunn (1897–1937) himself had a military approach to his cornet playing, and that can easily stand in the way of the jazz phrasing as we prefer it (Red Nichols cornet playing is sometimes another example of this). Still, it is interesting to listen to those numbers that were inspired by the success of the first blues records with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, in which Dunn took part. A “blues craze” became the result, with a lot of arranged numbers inspired by the blues, but with about the same relation to the real thing as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue had to jazz.

Dunn’s records had a big influence on the New York jazz scene, and his playing, often using a plunger mute, inspired trumpet players like Bubber Miley and the trumpet players of Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

But then, when we come to the records that Johnny Dunn made with The Plantation Orchestra in London, everything becomes in color and with sound, if we continue the parable. Arabella’s Wedding Day was recorded on December 1, 1926, and here we have more of the emotions that we expect from jazz. Dunn is teamed up with Clifton “Pike” Davis, another interesting trumpet player in the early jazz period. Dunn plays the verse of the tune, followed by Davis, and then the two make a hot last chorus with Dunn in the lead.

Johnny Dunn had an education at Fisk University before becoming a successful musician, and his tours in Europe inspired him to spend his time there in the thirties. Luckily for him and his place in jazz history, he also had a very good session in 1928 including Jelly Roll Morton.