Jazz Birthdays: Spencer Williams (1889) and Red Mckenzie (1899)

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Spencer Williams was a composer, singer and pianist who wrote widely-recorded hit songs that survive in the jazz repertory to this day. They include “Basin Street Blues”, “I Ain’t Got Nobody”, and “Royal Garden Blues.”

Once you’ve heard Red Mckenzie and the Mound City Blue Blowers, you won’t forget them. Here they play their 1924 hit “Arkansas Blues”, which is on the cutting edge of swinging sounds and well ahead of many other recordings of that time, and the same for “Red Hot”. The key to their swing is the excellent beat, played by two rhythm instruments, banjo (Jack Bland) and guitar (Eddie Lang). It’s in a happy groove, and it is mostly 4 to the bar with some off beat stress at times. The syncopated kazoo playing is like scat singing, and it has left ragtime rhythm behind and become jazz. This all-white group got together and drew some of its inspiration, Mckenzie recounts, from “a little colored shoe-shine boy who used to beat it out on the shoes” while Selvin worked nearby in a soda shop that had a phonograph going.

6:02 am on October 14, 2012