Revision note: We have added coverage of Lurlean Hunter's last LP, Blues and Sentimental on Atlantic.
The Seymour record label was terribly short-lived even for a small independent. Four releases were done between August and December 1950: Seymour CR26671/2, Seymour CR26673/4, Seymour 98, and Seymour 99. A fifth release, on Seymour 1, was recorded in June or July of 1951 and probably released in July of that year. And a sixth 78 on Seymour 95 was planned in 1950 but did not materialize.
The record company was an outgrowth of Seymour's Record Mart (439 South Wabash), a shop specializing in jazz and blues records. It was located in the famed Auditorium Building in Chicago's Loop. The shop was owned by Seymour Schwartz, who as a jazz cornet and trumpet player and a composer of songs was something of a musician himself. The current Jazz Record Mart (444 North Wabash), owned by Bob Koester, traces its origin to Seymour's shop.
Seymour Schwartz was born in Chicago on January 11, 1917, the son of Jack and Lena Schwartz. (Previous biographies have cited 1920 or 1923 as his year of birth; we are indebted to Eric LeBlanc for finding the earlier date. Meanwhile, Seymour's grandson David Miller has given 1916 as his year of birth.) His mother, an accomplished pianist who had been trained as an opera singer, died while he was still a baby. When he was 10, his father died, and Seymour entered the Chicago Home for Jewish Orphans on the South Side. He lived at the home until he was 18, attending Hyde Park High School. The orphanage had a 50-piece band. Seymour wanted to learn the piano or the violin, but an extra cornet was available, and that's what he was assigned. Drawn to jazz, he soon became active in the orphanage's dance band. At 14, he was asked to take the place of a shofar player at a Reform Jewish synagogue on Rosh Hashanah; he simulated the sound of the ancient instrument on his cornet. He eventually became the first cornetist in the University of Chicago concert band, but had to put musical plans on hold while he attended college classes at night and worked as a shipping clerk during the day.
His first venture into the music business consisted of buying up used records from jukebox operators. The 78s were held in a warehouse in Chicago, where Seymour would cull out the "collector's items—the Armstrongs and the Goodmans," then sell off the "commercial" 78s to dime stores. In 1947 he was able to start Seymour's Record Mart in a location under the El tracks by Roosevelt University. On opening day ("the same day Roosevelt College opened") the store's stock included no fewer than 50,000 of these collector's items. Two years later a Seymour's Record Mart advert boasted of "An Entire 2nd Floor of Out-of-Print Records." Later on, Schwartz opened an art studio next door, with the aim of creating a miniature Greenwich Village; paintings were displayed in the Record Mart, where they sold quite well.
Here is Bob Koester's recollection of Seymour's Record Mart, in an interview for the Jazz Institute of Chicago:
Seymour's had filled a void left when the Session Record Shop closed in the mid-40's [Fall 1946, to be exact]. They had live jazz sessions in the upstairs loft with traditional and bop alternating. Joe Segal [later famed for his Jazz Showcase productions] emceed the bop gigs with John Young, Kenny Mann, Lurlean Hunter, etc., and the traditional jazz dates featured George Zack's wonderful piano and various horns and rhythm but also included appearances by Jimmy and Mama Yancey, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. (As a traddie, I take pride in the early attention paid to blues by us "moldy figs.")
Schwartz had a knack for getting along with different factions in the jazz world. Traditional jazz advocates like George Hoefer, Jr., and Paul Eduard Miller were connected with the store at one time or another, but so was Joe Segal, a young bop maven who was friendly with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie; Segal worked for Schwartz for two years. Schwartz recalls Muggsy Spanier participating in the trad sessions when he was in town, while Cy Touff was another regular at the bop sessions. He also recalls Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong dropping in (but not performing) at the store when they were in Chicago; Armstrong encouraged him to stay in music. (Another frequent visitor was Henry Fonda; when he was appearing on stage in Chicago, he would often drop by the store to listen to 10 or 15 minutes of recorded music.) The live sessions ran on Saturday nights for about two years.
It was the loft that became the downfall of these Saturday night sessions. Koester told Robert Pruter that Schwartz put an end to the gigs after one evening when some inebriated fans of the hot jazz became so enthusiastic that a couple ended up toppling into the shop below, their falls cushioned by crumbling stacks of Fats Wallers, Charlie Parkers, and Memphis Slims. Schwartz's own recollection is that he began to notice how the floor of the loft was bouncing up and down during the concerts, and he feared for its structural integrity. At the time Schwartz was friendly with Edwin M. Webb, who ran Modern Recording Studio; when interviewed in 2003 he regretted not asking Webb to make live recordings of some of the loft concerts.
In 1950, as the concerts were drawing to an end, Seymour Schwartz decided to start a record company that would put some of the trad and bop sounds he had presented live in his store on wax. Another purpose for starting a company was to get some of his own songs recorded. He had composed "The Holy Bible," which was recorded by Mahalia Jackson, but was seeking wider exposure for his pop and jazz songs.
It was not difficult to find artists to record for the label. The Jimmy James Jas Band consisted of several regular participants in the trad sessions; Schwartz recalls that the band was a favorite of DJ Eddie Hubbard. Pianist Johnny Young, whose work he admired, has been involved in the bop sessions. Tenor saxophonist Kenny Mann, another regular in the "modern" jam sessions, was on local TV for a few months in a band sponsored by Al Benson (under Sax Mallard as leader). The show ran from late April through July 1950, and vocalist Lurlean Hunter, whom Seymour called on to showcase three of his compositions, was a frequent guest. The new enterprise was called Seymour and it made its debut in August (its first mention in the press was in the September 8th issue of Down Beat). In October 1950, Cash Boxannounced the launch of the label and indicated that "blues thrush" Lurlean Hunter had been signed, along with Kenny Mann and pianist John Young.
For studio sessions, the Seymour concern used Ed Webb's Modern Recording Studio at 55 West Wacker Drive (the matrix numbers are in the familiar MRS system of four digits for the work order, followed by a dash and a one-digit suffix). Schwartz notes that Ed Webb was the son of an organist who worked for the NBC radio network. Modern was a "small studio, but he got great sound." The Jimmy James Jas Band items and "Go-Go-Sox" were actually recorded in the store, though Modern handled the mastering on the former.
The first two releases were meant to go together, though they were never officially officially sold as an album.
Jimmy James (tb); Jimmy Ille (cnt); Jug Berger (cl); George Zack (p, voc); Freddie Flynn (d).
Live at Seymour's Record Mart, Chicago, August 1950
|CR-2667-1||Black and Blue (Razaf-Waller) [GZ voc]||Seymour CR-2667-1|
|CR-2667-2||Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter (Ahlert-Young)||Seymour CR-2667-2|
|CR-2667-3||Royal Garden Blues Part 1 (Williams)||Seymour CR-2667-3|
|CR-2667-4||Royal Garden Blues Part 2 (Williams)||Seymour CR-2667-4|
The session is listed in Tom Lord's Jazz Discography, Volume 10. The matrix numbers indicate that the records were mastered at Modern Recording Studio; the 2667 is a session or work order number and the suffixes -1 through -4 indicate individual items within the work order. The labels refer to "Jazz at Seymours'" [sic]. Meanwhile, the original sleeves proclaimed: "JASS at SEYMOUR'S" and carried an acknowledgment to Dixieland impresario John Schenk. Lord supplies an imprecise date of "c. 1951." These two singles carrried no catalog numbers.
The release of the first two Seymours was announced by George Hoefer, Jr., in his long-running column "The Hot Box" (Down Beat, September 8, 1950, p. 11). Under the title "New Dixie Discs Achieve Authentic Concert Mood," Hoefer reports on these two 78s, which derived from "moldy fig" concerts held in the loft of Seymour's store.
The sides feature several jazz musicians little known outside of Chicago. In the Windy City, they are favorites of long standing, play most of John Schenk's jazz fests. Seymour calls them the Jimmy James Jas Band, and rightly, because trombonist James is the star and floating power on Royal Garden Blues and Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, and ably backs up George Zack's version of Black and Blue. George's Armstrong-like singing is unintelligible until he praises Schenk's gin as he pulls a broken key off the board. The Zack spirit and the James trombone coupled with crowd noises give the records an authentic feeling.
Hoefer gives the same personnel that is displayed on the labels. Seymour Schwartz did not recall this particular live session, but one listen to "Royal Garden Blues" confirms Hoefer's eyewitness account. Though lively, the sound is not up to studio specs, and both band chatter and crowd noise can be plentifully heard. We know little about the titular leader. There are two other Jimmy James sessions from the 1940s listed in Lord, but these were not done in Chicago and there is no assurance that the same musician was involved in them. The other members of the band were all working steadily in Chicago-area clubs that featured Dixieland. Some of the performances run longer than typical 10-inch 78 sides; the extreme case is "Sit Right Down," which times in at 4:00 and is cut at a noticeably lower level than the other three.
Although Hoefer describes George Zack's singing as unintelligible, Zack can in fact be heard singing the lyrics to "Black and Blues" largely as they were heard on Louis Armstrong's recording. Zack, however, always changed "My only sin / Is in my skin" to "My only sin / Is in my gin," hence the reference to Schenk's product. As for pulling off a broken key, we'll have to take Hoefer's word for it, but a loud snap can be heard at that point on the record.
Kenny Mann (ts*); John Young (p); unidentified (eg %); LeRoy Jackson (b); Red Lionberg (d*).
Modern Recording Studio, Chicago, September 1950
|You Go to My Head (Coots-Gillespie)||Seymour 95-A [unissued], Chance 1144|
|SE 2755-2 M. R. S.
E0-OB-12811-1 (on some copies)
|These Foolish Things (Strachey-Link)*||Seymour 98-B
Seymour 97-B [sic] (on some copies)
|Memories of You (Blake-Razaf)||Seymour 95-B [unissued], Chance 1144|
One item from this session was released around October 1950. Thanks to Art Zimmerman for information on this version, where "These Foolish Things" was Seymour 97 [sic]-B ; the other side was 98-A. A copy in Alfred Ticoalu's collection identifies "These Foolish Things" as Seymour 98-B on the label as well as in the trail-off vinyl; in addition to the MRS number it also carries an E0 series matrix number from RCA Victor, indicating a 1950 pressing by that company.
Two more sides were first issued in 78 and 45 rpm on Chance 1144, in September 1953. The Chance releases carry three sets of matrix numbers. The MR numbers were the original matrix numbers from Modern Recording Studio. The A numbers were attached by Discovery when it bought the remains of Seymour in December 1950; these appeared on the label of the Chance release as well as in the plastic. To complicate matters further, an extra "3" intruded into the the label versions of the A numbers, so they came out 136351 and 136353. Finally, the S95-A and S95B in the plastic indicate a planned release on Seymour 95; so far as we know, this never actually happened.
A comparison with John Young's mature playing in a trio setting (for instance, on his second LP, Themes and Things on Argo 692, which was recorded June 6 and 7, 1961) reveals that Young was heavily into Erroll Garner in 1950. However, his playing on the Lurlean Hunter sessions (Seym4 and 5 below) shows more bop influence than the trio sides. His harmonic conception developed more bite over time, and there is more variety of texture in his 1961 playing.
John Merritt Young was born March 16, 1922 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His family moved to Chicago when he was 5 years old. He first learned piano at home, emulating his older brother by playing blues numbers such as "Stagger Lee" and "How Long Blues." He began taking lessons at age 9. By the time he entered DuSable High in January 1935, he had been playing five years. Young told Travis Dempsey that his early jazz influence was Earl Hines, whom he used to listen to on broadcasts from the Grand Terrace. He also listened closely to Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, and Chu Berry (Roy and Chu were in Fletcher Henderson's 1936 band, which worked at the Grand Terrace). He began playing gigs at age 12.
DuSable proved to be a valuable training ground for Young, who played under band teacher Captain Walter Dyett and harmony instructor and music department head Mildred Bryant Jones. His classmates included Dorothy Donegan and Redd Foxx, and with them he performed in the annual student show, Hi-Jinks.
After finishing at DuSable in May or June of 1939, Young took his first steady job at a resort near Grand Rapids, Michigan. He entered Chicago's flourishing music scene, playing in the house band at Joe's DeLuxe Club. His big break came when he was recruited into Andy Kirk's big band, working with Kirk from September 1942 into 1945 and again in 1946-47. Young contributed several arrangements to the band book during his stay. For a 1945 Down Beat profile by Sharon A. Pease, Young, who was now beginning to lean in the bop direction, stated that his favorite musicians were Art Tatum, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. Returning to Chicago, he performed with the Dick Davis combo during 1947-50. In 1950, Young formed his own combo, teaming up with Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman on drums and Leroy Jackson on bass, which led up to the Seymour session.
From 1951 to 1955, Young was a part of the Eddie Chamblee ensemble (recording with the tenor player for Premium, Coral, and United), before forming another group of his own in 1955. From that point on, Young's trio became one of the most prominent combos working the South Side, playing mostly at the high toned locales, such as the Kitty Kat Club (611 East 63rd, along with singer Lorez Alexandria), Pershing Lounge (755 East 64th), Sutherland Lounge (46th and Drexel), and Laura's 819 Lounge (819 West 59th).
John Young's first LP was with the Chess company's Argo subsidiary, in 1957, under the title John Young Trio, followed on the same label by Themes and Things (1961) and A Touch of Pepper (1963). He also recorded Serenata (1959) for Delmark and Think Young (1987) for Major Label.
During the 1970s, Young worked frequently with Von Freeman, recording with the tenor saxophonist in 1972 (Atlantic), 1975 (Nessa), and 1977 (Daybreak). He also made a CD with Freeman and Yusef Lateef for Lateef's YAL label in 1992. John Young died in 2008.
Kenny Mann was born in Chicago on October 8, 1927, to Ada and Zelvern Mann. His name at birth was Crews Mann, but he seems to have gone by Kenny for most of his life. He began working, as so many Chicago musicians did, before he was out of his teens. On July 15, 1945, Down Beat's "Chicago Band Briefs" noted that "The Riptide in Calumet City is jumping with Ted Phillips' new band (seven brass, five saxes, and rhythm), spotting Kenny Mann on tenor, Bill Inman, lead trumpet, Mike Sistero, jazz trumpet and Joe Sperry on drums..." (p. 4).
Around a year later, Kenny Mann came to the attention of bandleader Lionel Hampton. Johnny Griffin, who had joined Hamp's big band at age 17 in late June 1945, made the following comments about his experience to interviewer Jim Standifer:
Well, I always had the greatest respect for Lionel Hampton. The man is so — I mean he played [sic] talent show-line musician personality [Griffin probably said something like this: I mean, he displayed such talent and such a lively musical personality] and it hasn't changed. It's always been the same since I've come to know the man and he's a great man. He's done much for young musicians because he's had most of the modern young Black musicians anyway, and White musicians, too, come to think of it because Kenny Mann played in his band. He was a saxophonist from this area that played with me in Ham[p]'s band after [Arnett Cobb] left. But Hampton is a great man as he still is and it's phenomenal the amount of power and energy that this man exudes and his vibrant personality that he expresses to people that everyone can feel. (Jim Standifer, interview with John Griffin, October 30, 1982; http://www.umich.edu/~afroammu/standifer/griffin2.html); transcription errors are prolific, and Arnett Cobb's name comes out as "Arnet Carlson")
Thanks to the late Otto Flückiger's unmatched trove of Hampton-related documents, we know that Kenny Mann joined Hamp on December 27, 1946, traveling from Chicago to take Johnny Griffin's place (the source is Milt Buckner's scrapbook). Mann can be seen standing next to Arnett Cobb in a photo taken during a gig at the Aquarium in New York City (where the Hampton band played through January 9, 1947). He was still in the Hampton ork when they performed in a midnight concert at Carnegie Hall, which took place on March 15, 1947 (personnel mentioned in an article in the Pittsburgh Courier, for March 22, which also ran a picture of a tenor battle between Mann and Cobb). Johnny Griffin rejoined Hamp's band for a while in April 1947, replacing Arnett Cobb. Mann and Griffin were duly billed as a tenor-battle combination in the Chicago Defender of April 26, 1947. Promoting Hamp's upcoming show at the Opera House was a series of photos with the headline "'King of Vibes' and His Royal Court Here Sunday." Among the personnel listed in the band were Johnny Griffin and Kenny Mann. Emphasizing the hometown angle, one of the captions said: "Johnny Griffin, young DuSable high school alumnus, will match his sensatinal saxophone against that of Kenny Mann, former Hirsch high school and Roosevelt College student." We don't know exactly when Mann left the band, but he and Griffin were both gone by June 1947, when Hamp recorded with horns again for the first time since September 1946 and featured his new tenor team of Morris Lane and John Sparrow. According to Flückiger, Mann appeared on several radio broadcasts during his tenure with Hamp, but we do not know whether any of these have been preserved.
In the fall of 1947, Mann got what looked like a significant break. According to research by Art Zimmerman, he played in a local group that opened a Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, either on October 15 or November 10, 1947—and was invited by trumpeter Howard McGhee to make a session he was cutting for Vitacoustic. Mann was in some fairly heavy company, since the other musicians were all touring with JATP: Billy Eckstine (sticking to valve trombone on this occasion), Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass), and J. C. Heard (drums). Chicago-based bebop vocalist Marcelle Daniels sang on "Flip Lip" and "The Last Word." Unfortunately the tracks did nothing to promote Mann's career at the time. Vitacoustic filed for bankruptcy in February 1948 before any of McGhee's sides could be released, and the masters were impounded by Egmont Sonderling of United Broadcasting Studios, who was still owed their recording and mastering costs. Two McGhee sides from another session saw release in 1949 on Sonderling's Old Swing-Master label, but the rest, including all four numbers with Kenny Mann, remained unissued until 1956, when Savoy bought the masters and put them on an LP.
By the time of his appearance at the JATP concert Mann's identification with bebop was complete. On August 25, 1948, the "Chicago Band Briefs" column, now written by Pat Harris, carried a short "miscellaneous" item:
Tony Papa, a drummer from Elkhart [Indiana], has a bop band that may be pretty good. He has ex-Hamptonite Kenny Mann on tenor, onetime Calloway arranger Mose Allen on trumpet, Chester McIntyre on piano, and Gary Miller on bass. They were recently at the Club Flamingo in Silvis (near Moline), Ill., where they were followed by Red Norvo... (Down Beat, p. 5).
Probably toward the end of 1948 Mann became a member of Chicago's one and only bebop big band, a massive ensemble of up to 21 musicians conducted by Jay Burkhart. In June 1949, the Burkhart band consisted of Gail Brockman, Hobart Dotson, Marv Simon, and Hotsy Katz, trumpets; Cy Touff (on a valve instrument), Ralph Meltzer, Irv Mack, and Jerry Bartkus, trombones; Joe Daley and Walker Baylor, alto saxes; Jack Gaylo and Kenny Mann, tenor saxes; Hal Hoyer, baritone sax; Gene Friedman, piano; Hal Russell, vibes; Dave Poskonka, bass; Red Lionberg, drums; and Johnny Avgeronis, bongos. The band singer was no less than Joe Williams ("Burkhart's Boys Beating Solo Drum for Bop," Down Beat, July 1, 1949, p. 4). At the time the band was holding down a regular gig Monday nights at the Nob Hill (53rd and Lake Park). Seymour Schwartz recalls Burkhart as a visitor to his store.
Despite favorable attention from Down Beat writers in 1948 and 1949, the Burkhart band never got a break commercially. The July 1, 1949 story noted that a booking at the Royal Roost in New York City had failed to materialize when the Roost went out of business. The band got no chance to record; it never came to the attention of a major label, and the mere thought of paying for a recording sesssion with 21 musicians would have given most independent label owners a heart attack.
We figure that Mann was still gigging with Burkhart in 1950, as Red Lionberg was Burkhart's drummer. Mann would get a few more recording opportunities after his Seymour dates. He recorded in a quintet and a big band led by arranger Bill Russo on August 15, 1951; the session was released on a 10-inch LP on Dizzy Gillespie's Dee Gee label (Dee Gee MG 1001, later reissued on Savoy MG 12045). Mann solos on "Aesthete ..." (which also includes a half chorus by his old bandmate Gail Brockman on trumpet) as well as "Cathy" and "S'posin'". From 1951 through 1955, Mann was a regular in the dance bands led by trumpeter Ralph Marterie. Mann appeared on Mercury MG-20066, Dance Band in Town; Mercury MG-20128; Salute to the Aragon Ballroom; Wing MGW 12117, Dance Date; Wing MGW 25102, Marterie Moods (basically a reissue of MG-20066); Wing MG 25121, Junior Prom; Wing MGW 12155, Trumpeter's Lullaby; and Wing MGW 12179, Dance Album— this list is definitely not exhaustive. According to Thomas "Tiaz" Palmer (email of May 5, 2009), Kenny Mann left Chicago and moved to California in 1959 or 1960.
Seymour Schwartz recalled that Kenny Mann later "took up law." According to Palmer, Mann continued to work as a musician in California, but at some point in the late 1960s he put music aside for a while to go to law school. He subsequently passed the bar exam and practiced law out of an office in his home. Meanwhile, he returned to music on a part-time basis. In 1977-1978, Mann put together a group called The Counsellors, with Britt Woodman on trombone, Joel Scott on piano, Tom Palmer on bass, and Bruz Freeman, drums (Freeman and Mann had worked together years before on the Seym3 session, listed below). "We did make a recording of a number of tunes at a radio station in Long Beach as 'The Counsellors,'" Palmer recalls. Chuck Niles did the recording. "We performed Be-Bop tunes, and a few Kenny Mann originals. The production quality was not very good, but the performance was good, groupwise." The band was unable to land further gigs, however, and soon broke up. Reel-to-reel tapes or promotional pressings of this material may still be extant. According to Palmer, Mann did some further recording; to be researched.
Kenny Mann died on December 28, 2008, at his home in Sherman Oaks, California. According to his obituary in the Pasadena Star-News, he had also played at various times in bands led by Buddy Rich, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Bregman, Richard Surnock, and Richard Evans, along with what we infer was a latter-day edition of the Tommy Dorsey band. "Kenny continued playing music and practicing law up to the very end, he never retired." He was survived by his wife, Joan Stephen Mann, his daughter, Diane Heggen, his son, Darien Mann, two brothers (Gaylord N. Mann and Bruce Ogden Mann, both also lawyers in California), and four grandchildren.
We're assuming LeRoy Jackson is the bassist on this Seymour session because we know he made the Lurlean Hunter session a few days later. The guitarist's role is so restricted in the trio that there are no positive marks of style for us to go by.
Lurlean Hunter (voc except -2); John Young (p, dir); Kenny Mann (ts -2; ss and ts -3); prob. George Freeman (eg -1); LeRoy Jackson (b); Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman (d).
Modern Recording Studio, Chicago, September 1950
|SE2766- [A13699]||My Home Town Chicago (Schwartz) -1||Seymour 99-A, Discovery 533, Heartbeat HB77 [CD]|
|SE2766-2 M. R. S.
E0-OB-12810-1 (on some copies)
|Deep Purple (De Rose) -2%||Seymour 98-A|
|SE2766-3||I Hadn't Anyone 'till You (R. Noble) -2||Seymour 99-B|
|SS 1A#135||Palm Chant (Schwartz) -3^||Seymour 1-B|
We took most of the personnel off the labels of the original Seymour releases. Seymour 98-A is an instrumental; Kenny Mann gets star billing on the label, which also identifies Young, Jackson, and Freeman. Thanks to Art Zimmerman for information on this 78, whose flip on his copy is Seymour 97-B (!), also an instrumental featuring Kenny Mann. Alfred Ticoalu owns a Seymour 98 with a correctly numbered 98-B on the flip. His copy also carries extra matrix numbers in the trail-off vinyl from RCA Victor; the E0 code indicates that Victor pressed the record in 1950.
Kenny Mann is heard only on Side B of Seymour 99; meanwhile, an uncredited guitarist appears on Side A. Both style and context (his brother Bruz was at the drums) point to George Freeman. Meanwhile, the personnel listing on the label is corroborated by a contemporary photo of Lurlean Hunter with Johnny Young, LeRoy Jackson, and Bruz Freeman (reproduced in Dempsey Travis, An Autobiography of Black Jazz, p. 507).
"My Home Town Chicago" was a Seymour Schwartz composition, copyrighted in 1948 (the copyright date comes from Steve Zalusky's interview with Schwartz on October 19, 2005). Originally, it was called "The South Side of Chicago," but the title and place references were generalized in a bid for wider audience appeal.
Seymour 1-B, "Palm Chant," is another Schwartz composition. It is credited on the label just to Lurlean Hunter and Kenny Mann, but uses the same rhythm section as the other items from this session (no guitarist). Kenny Mann plays soprano sax behind the vocal (to evoke those palm trees swaying in tropical breezes) but switches to tenor for his solo. "Palm Chant" was released in July 1951. It was coupled with "Go-Go-Sox," which was recorded in the store (see Seym5 below), and shares with it a matrix number outside the MRS series. But it sounds like a studio recording—and Schwartz has confirmed that it was done at Modern. Our surmise is that Discovery Records passed on "Palm Chant," and Schwartz released it later on when he needed a flip side for "Go-Go-Sox." On the copies of Seymour 1 that we have seen, the matrix numbers in the vinyl have the A and B sides reversed, compared to the labels.
We don't know what SE2766-1 was. Our best guess is that it was the original matrix number of "Palm Chant." The matrix number outside the series was applied to "Palm Chant" in 1951, when the record was released.
The coupling to "My Home Town, Chicago" on Discovery 533 is "I Get a Warm Feeling," which turns out to have come from a later session (Seym4, below). Both of these sides were reissued in 1994 on Heartbeat HB77CD, a collection titled My Hometown, Chicago!. The remaining tracks on the CD are from the Heartbeat label (see below) and feature Seymour himself or Dick "Two Ton" Baker.
Lurlean Hunter was not a neophyte when she recorded for Seymour. She was born Lurleane Hunter in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on December 1, 1919 (our thanks to Eric LeBlanc for nailing down the year). Her published birth year of 1928, repeated in the notes to her albums, is an obvious fabrication, of the variety so frequently encountered in show biz. Following the well-beaten path of black migration to the North, her family moved to Chicago when she was two months old.
In her senior year at Englewood High, Hunter was already performing club dates, notably with Johnny Long's Swing Band in South Bend, Indiana, where she got her first Chicago Defender notice in 1938. Upon her graduation, in February of 1939, Hunter pursued her singing ambition with uncommon zeal, but not with the immediate success she had hoped. She secured a gig with the Les Hite band at the Parkway Ballroom in January of 1941, on which occasion the Defender's promotional efforts went a bit overboard: "With the band will be the sensational vocalist, Lurlene [sic] Hunter who wowed Chicagoans as an amateur a few seasons ago. Since that time Miss Hunter has won national acclaim through her singing over radio and from the stage." The Les Hite job looked like a promising start, but, alas, it did not lead to anything for her.
In the summer of 1944, she auditioned before Red Saunders, who was sufficiently impressed to add her immediately to the DeLisa revue, where she became a regular for the next four years (she kept right on with Jesse Miller's band after Red's departure in June 1945). She never got the star billing, however. Such performers as Marion "Blues Woman" Abernathy and Little Miss Cornshucks would take the spotlight, perhaps leaving Hunter envious but also inspired to reach their level of success. On the other hand, the Club DeLisa job would establish her as a Chicago institution. In late 1945, she interrupted her DeLisa work for a job at another large black and tan, the Stairway to the Stars (422 1/2 East 47th) with the Floyd Campbell Orchestra. There she shed the "e" from her first name.
She returned to the DeLisa for Fletcher Henderson's 15-month engagement (February 1946 through May 1947) and was still on hand for Red Saunders' homecoming in May 1947. In early 1948, Hunter had achieved enough fame to leave the Club DeLisa behind her. She became the feature performer at the Ritz Lounge, where the Chicago Defender said that "Hunter is booked into the nightery at tremendous cost, being a steal from two loop spots that were in the bidding for her services." Later in the year she would perform with the Larry Steele Show at the upscale Beige Room in the Pershing Hotel. According to an article about her in Down Beat (June 29, 1951), she also worked in Detroit during this period.
The Chicago Defender's Beige Room item referred to some recordings she had done, but this looks to have been a mistaken report; we have no other evidence that Hunter recorded before 1950.
Instead, Hunter's first records were Seymour 97/98, 99, and 1—although only Seyour 99 features her on both sides. "I Hadn't Anyone 'till You" is a bebop interpretation of the song, rendered with great rhythmic poise; Kenny Mann assists with a solo in the Lestorian mode. "My Home Town Chicago" is a well-crafted tribute to the South Side music scene, again finding the singer in great voice.
Along with its more widely distributed successor on Discovery 533, the Seymour release helped her gain a modest acclaim outside the black community. "My Home Town Chicago" made Hunter a regular on the North Side club circuit. The record helped her pick up a gig at Rossi's Apex Club (429 North Clark), in December 1950, where she was accompanied by the John Young Trio including Bruz Freeman on drums and Leroy Jackson on bass.
The original matrix numbers (for all of the items except "Palm Chant") are again from Modern Recording Studio (Seymour, as a repeat customer, now rated an SE prefix), just 11 sessions after the Johnny Young Trio.
MRS allotted a four digit work order number to each session, followed by a suffix for each individual side. Of course, sessions most often included 4 sides. In other words, 2755-1 through 2755-4 would typically have been followed by 2756-1, leaving empty spaces at 2755-5, 2755-6, and so on.) The A series numbers were attached by Discovery after it bought the sides in early December 1950.
The record company didn't last long. Schwartz recalls that getting 78s distributed was "difficult"; his strategy was to press up 1000 copies of each release and sell them through his store. In any event, the Lurlean Hunter sides quickly attracted an offer from a label with better distribution. It turns out, in fact, that he made one session with Hunter that never appeared on Seymour at all.
Lurlean Hunter (voc); John Young (p, dir); LeRoy Jackson (b); Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman (d).
Modern Recording Studio, Chicago, October 1950
|SE29541 M.R.S., A13698||I Get a Warm Feeling (Schwartz)||Discovery 533, Heartbeat HB77 [CD]|
Until we saw a copy of Discovery 533, we thought that "I Got a Warm Feeling" was a previously unreleased item from the SE2766 session (see Seym4, above). It turns out to have been recorded later. The label of Discovery 533 gives the matrix number as A-13698 but in the vinyl the Modern Recording Studio matrix number with work order 2954 can also be seen. So apparently there was a final Lurlean Hunter session in October 1950. If anything else was cut at this session, we haven't been able to trace it.
Seymour Schwartz wrote "I Get a Warm Feeling" (which he gets sole credit for on the Discovery release). But he ended up giving Sammy Cahn co-composer credit, in return for a minimal contribution to the song.
LeRoy Jackson, a very active bassist in Chicago when these sides were made, also worked as a barber. According to Tom Palmer, he died in 1989 or 1990.
Bruz Freeman later moved to Southern California, where he and Kenny Mann would work together in the late 1970s, and then to Hawaii. He died in Hawaii in 2006.
On December 2, 1950, Billboard made an announcement concerning a Los Angeles-based label: "Discovery Records added to its r. and b. department with the inking of Chicago thrush Lurlean Hunter. Diskery bought a couple of masters from the Seymour Record firm of Chicago, which feature the thrush, and this led to the inking." Discovery quickly released "My Home Town Chicago" with a new coupling, "I Get a Warm Feeling." The West Coast company attached new matrix numbers in an A-13600 series to these items. It appears that Discovery also acquired the Johnny Young Trio material at this time, though the company did not release any of it.
The Discovery release got a fairly positive review in Down Beat. At the time, reviews in the "What's on Wax" section were handled by a tag team of Jack Tracy, Pat Harris, and George Hoefer. The trio gave "I Get a Warm Feeling" an average rating of 6, while "My Home Town, Chicago" dropped to a 5. Tracy's take: "Still young, still learning, but on her way, Lurleane [sic] shows some of the warmth and understanding she possesses in large quantities on Warm Feeling. Johnny Young's Garner-ish trio supports. And she also gets across well on the reverse, despite a fearsome introduction and a handclapping-type background." Harris: "One of the most promising singers in many months, these first sides on Discovery do little more than excite curiosity. A little of Lurleane's phrasing stems from Sarah Vaughan's style, but not enough to tag her as a copy" (January 26, 1951, pp. 14-15).
In 1953, Art Sheridan purchased two Johnny Young Trio sides for issue on his Chance label; they appeared on Chance 1144 in September of that year. Since the Chance labels carry the A-series matrix numbers (while the A-series numbers, the original MRS numbers and the intended Seymour release numbers can be seen in the vinyl) we believe that Sheridan bought them from Discovery, which went out of business in 1952.
A limited-edition Bobby Anderson 78, which was recorded for Connie Toole's Theron operation, shows MRS matrix numbers close in the series to the Seymours (29641 and 29642)—and A series numbers as well (A-13691 and 13692). We have not encountered any evidence of a business connection between Toole and Schwartz, or any indication that Toole's masters were meant to be included in the Discovery deal; maybe Connie Toole and Seymour Schwartz were just customers of the same studio around the same time. In any case Toole was short of funds and the formal launch of his label was delayed until March 1952.
Although the Discovery deal marked the end of studio recording for Seymour, there was one session left to go. In the summer of 1951, increased fan interest in the Chicago White Sox gave Seymour Schwartz an opportunity to adapt "My Home Town Chicago" for use as a fight song for the team. And though had been no jam sessions in the loft of the store for some time, it was pressed into service once again to record this one song.
Paul Mall (announcer, cheerleader, voc); Seymour Schwartz (cnt); Buddy Charles (p); unidentified (broom on pail perc); unidentified cheering section.
Live at Seymour's Record Mart, Chicago, June or July 1951
|SS 1B#135||Go-Go-Sox (Schwartz)||Seymour 1-A|
On this curious record, we hear sonics suggesting that it was recorded in the fabled loft of Seymour's Record Mart. Different performers are spread out widely and the piano, a venerable upright, is not as close to the mike as would be ideal. Seymour Schwartz confirmed this surmise: "Go-Go-Sox" was "done in the store, with a Mickey Mouse microphone." According to Schwartz, Paul Mall was "the MC at one of the stripper joints down the street—a nice guy." He identified Buddy Charles, who worked regularly at the big hotels in Chicago and also participated in jam sessions in the loft, as the two-fisted pianist on the date. And he confirmed that the Swing chorus on muted cornet is his own work: "It was slipping off my lips as I played. It was a really hot day—we were all in our shirtsleeves." We thought that "Go-Go-Sox" might have been recorded in 1950, but according to a notebook that Seymour Schwartz compiled in 1959, it was actually done in 1951. When interviewed by Steve Zalusky, he recollected that the month was May or June.
"Go-Go-Sox" is a Chicago White Sox cheer led by Paul Mall, who begins the record with a simulated radio announcement ("Here's the pitch!"). Mall then sings "My Home Town Chicago," with different words, of course (the frequent references to the "the South Side of Chicago" remind us that the tune originally carried that title). Percussion is provided by someone pounding on an upturned pail or wastebasket with a broom. The main instrumental contributions are by Buddy Charles and Seymour himself; the conclusion to Seymour's solo could be heard as a shofar simulation.
According to Steve Zalusky, "Go-Go-Sox" was a slogan that originated during the White Sox' 1951 season. It was associated with Jim Busby, an outfielder who was playing his first full season that year (although he initially played for the Sox in August 1950). The words "Go Go Sox" do not actually appear in the lyrics to the song, and every cheer but the very first is "Go Sox!" instead of "Go Go Sox." However, the 1951 date is included in Schwartz's written records. Schwartz told Steve Zalusky (in his interview of October 19, 2005) that he copyrighted "Go-Go-Sox" on July 25, 1951. A release date around that time is pretty well assured.
This was not the sort of track that Discovery, or another such record company, would be willing to buy. But, hey, if Buck Hill could put "Hail to the Redskins" on a record... In his October 2003 interview, Schwartz said that "Go-Go-Sox" got airplay locally. In 2003, when the Chicago Cubs got into the National League Championship Series, Schwartz wrote a number in their honor titled "The Cubs Are Swinging."
"Go-Go-Sox" is currently featured on a White Sox fan website. A Real Audio file can be heard at http://www.whitesoxinteractive.com/SoxSounds.htm; it appears second on the list of fight songs, under the title "Go Sox." And Steve Zalusky's feature article in the Arlington, Illinois Daily Herald (October 21, 2005) can be seen at http://www.dailyherald.com/special/whitesox/whitesoxstory.asp?id=108858.
Buddy Charles was born Charles Joseph Gries in Chicago in 1927. His mother Ruth played piano, an activity in which he soon took interest, and he began taking lessons in 6th grade. After graduating from Mt. Carmel High School, serving in the army during World War II, and majoring in philosophy and psychology at Loyola University, Buddy Charles began playing professionally around 1947. In 1950, Buddy Charles' mother remarried, which made Muggsy Spanier his stepfather.
The same year as his appearance on "Go-Go-Sox," Charles recorded three times for Mercury, always strictly as a vocalist. He sang "All in the Game" on Mercury 5716, with accompaniment by Ralph Marterie's society band; the other side was a Marterie band instrumental. He appeared as a vocalist in Muggsy's band on August 29, 1951, singing "Moonglow" and "Sunday" on Mercury 5717. On Mercury 5766, Charles sang "Au Revoir" and "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" with a band led by Horace Henderson. Mercury 5793, probably made in 1952, consisted of "I've Got That Feeling" b/w "Purple Reverie," accompaniment on that one is still to be researched.
Charles is not on either of two World Transcription dates with Muggy's band (March 13 and November 5, 1952; at least not according to a selection issued on a Jazzology LP). One further Mercury date, from May 28, 1952, still needs checking. Muggsy Spanier moved to California in 1953, and Charles' contract with Mercury was not continued.
Charles' further recording opportunities were in fact rather sparse, but he was working so much that he probably didn't care. Charles would next cut a piano-duo LP, Zonky!, for Audio Fidelity in 1958 with Ace Harris. In 1963, he cropped up as Uncle Buddy doing a children's record for a small Chicago label; it was released as an EP. In the late 1960s, he appeared on a Seymour Schwartz single—on Seymour's post-Heartbeat Sunny label: the release number on the 45 was S-512 and the titles were "My Golden Horn" and "As Time Goes By." Buddy Charles made a trio LP for his own AFI label around 1977. The AFI, Boogie, Bawds, and Buddy, was done at Universal Recording with a small audience, obviously having a very good time, seated in the studio. And he recorded an LP on June 24, 1984 for Erwin Helfer's Red Beans label (RB006), which was also picked up by Steeplechase (SCB 9006). Titled Jive's Alive, this was his last commercial recording so far as we know. (Charles Gries is not to be confused with a different musician named Buddy Charles who led a big-band CD, recorded in Los Angeles in 1993.)
At various times, Charles played the Blue Note, the Riptide, the Casino, Curly's Show Lounge, the Dubonnet, and Jazz Ltd. His friend Scott Urban told Myrna Petlicki that Charles had between 15,000 and 20,000 songs in his repertoire. In 1972, Charles started an 18-year residency at the Acorn on Oak Street, which led to comparisons with Bobby Short. But as Howard Reich noted in 1990, "Charles has been compared to Fats Waller on various occasions, and the comparison still holds. The sheer rambunctiousness of Charles' musicmaking—with his oft-yowling vocals, romping stride piano and ever-arching eyebrows—evokes Waller to the core." (Unlike Fats Waller, Charles never smoked, drank sparingly, was married to the same woman for 54 years, and was such a devout Catholic that he went to mass every day of the week, taught Sunday school, and strung rosaries in his spare time.) From 1990 through 1999, Charles held down an engagement at the Coq d'Or in the Drake Hotel. Officially retired after the Drake engagement ended, he was still playing each Wednesday night at a restaurant in Niles, Illinois until a few weeks before his death. He died of leukemia on December 18, 2008, at his home in Morton Grove, Illinois, leaving his wife Pat and four children.
Sources on Buddy Charles: Howard Reich, "Buddy Charles Weaves His Magic before a New House," Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1990 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1990-09-26/news/9003200779_1_charles-art-ballads-fats-waller ); Howard Reich, "Buddy Charles' Festive Finale Is Anything but Retiring," Chicago Tribune, October 11, 1992 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1999-10-11/features/9910110084_1_songs-buddy-charles-historic-event); Rick Kogan, "Buddy Charles, 1927-2008: Jazz, pop musician brigthened Chicago nightclubs," Chicago Tribune, December 21, 2008 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-12-21/news/0812200003_1_piano-mr-charles-playing); Myrna Petlicki, "Buddy Charles' Memory Lives on in Benefit," Chicago Sun-Times, July 11, 2012 (http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/weekend/13705689-421/buddy-charles-memory-lives-on-in-benefit.html).
After the short-lived Seymour adventure, Seymour Schwartz and his record company's main attraction, Lurlean Hunter, ended up on divergent paths. After several more years of paying her dues, Hunter finally achieved nationwide recognition, while Schwartz established a new record company that enjoyed commercial success through sales to jukebox operators.
During the holiday season, Lurlean Hunter worked a couple of weeks at the Silhouette Club with Herbie Fields' combo ("everyone flipped," as Jack Tracy put it his Down Beat article of June 29, "but no one else hired" after the Fields gig ended on January 7.) Later that month, she and Fields were scheduled to record a session for Discovery (see Pat Harris, "Chicago Band Briefs," Down Beat, January 26, 1951, p. 6). But the session was canceled, and she had to pick up work at a small club on the South Side.
In April 1951, however, she got to make two singles for the obscure Major label (Major 144 and 146). A singer named Danny Parker, who had been the male vocalist with Charlie Spivak's big band, asked Hunter to make a demo of a song he had written. He was so impressed that he agreed to bankroll her session with Major and promoted the new releases assiduously. The accompaniment on the Major sides was by the Denny Farnon Orchestra. The titles—pop standards—were "Imagination" b/w "Moonlight in Vermont" and "If I Should Lose You" b/w "There Goes My Heart." (These have been dated 1950 in previous discographies.) The songs were probably typical of Hunter's repertoire at the Club DeLisa. But with Fletcher Henderson or Red Saunders behind her at the club there would have been a much larger element of swing in her presentation than could be the case with Farnon's string-heavy studio band.
Today listeners might have reservations about the backing, but Down Beat reviewer Jack Tracy preferred her Major sides to the Discovery 78. Giving "Imagination" and "If I Should Lose You" each an 8 on a 10-point scale, he exclaimed:
The Chicago girl we've been raving about for months finally gets a chance on records to show what she's capable of doing.
Impressive jobs all, Imagination and Lose You are great sides by a girl who can't miss—she has too much on the ball. Gets a wonderful sound, reaches everything she tries for (note her lows), and needs only to pay closer attention to the lyrics of tunes and make the words come alive to become a great single attraction. (June 15, 1951, p. 14)
Tracy continued his own efforts on Hunter's behalf in the June 29th issue of Down Beat ("Found! Great New Girl Singer," p. 7). Lurlean Hunter had been signed by Associated Booking Corporation, had appeared on Dave Garroway's NBC radio show, and had been booked at Birdland in New York City, where she opened on June 21. She was followed that with an appearance in July at the Blue Note in Chicago, opposite George Shearing. Although these engagements raised her profile, they did not lead to further appearances outside of Chicago, or to another recording contract.
Instead, starting in September or October 1951, Lurlean Hunter settled down into gig at a restaurant called the Streamliner that had just adopted an entertainment policy. Pat Harris of Down Beat gave her a lengthy writeup in the November 2, 1951 issue ("Music Superb, Atmosphere Ideal" at Chi's Streamliner, p. 5). "The Streamliner, which is a big corner spot just at the start of Chicago's notorious Skid Row and across from the Northwestern railroad station, is the only place of its kind in town....It's a place for listening to music, and what's there is the best." The featured performers were Hunter and a white singer named Lucille Reed, accompanied by pianist Ernie Harper (a one-time member of the Five Blazes) and organist Les Strand.
The way the sets go (continuous entertainment as they say) is that Ernie plays and sings a while by himself, then calls Lurlean up for about four tunes; Ernie and organist Strand play a number or two together; Harper leaves, and Strand has the platform to himself for a while, before calling upon Lucille for her complement of songs. After that, Harper and Strand again, briefly, and it starts all over again. Sometimes all four jam together....
Lurlean glows with life and enthusiasm while she sings such things as Cherry, Shanghai, Moonlight in Vermont, Try a Little Tenderness, Honey Hush, and other beautiful tunes you haven't heard for quite a while. The byplay between Hunter and Harper is wonderful. They dig each other the most and the musical product is what you'd expect from such a mating.
Lurlean Hunter left the Streamliner in December 1953; her replacement was Buddy DeFranco's quartet (see "Strictly Ad Lib," Down Beat, December 16, 1953, p. 3). Hunter had no trouble finding work at other Chicago-area clubs, most notably the Black Orchid and the Cloister Inn. The latter was a Near North Side joint that patterned itself pretty closely after the Streamliner. Meanwhile, Down Beat's writers continued to promote her, for instance in the June 29, 1955 issue, which focused on music in Chicago.
Later that same year, Hunter finally got her big break. RCA Victor signed her, 16 years after her graduation from her high school. For RCA she made three LPs—Lonesome Gal (1955), Night Life (1956), and Stepping Out (1958), all of which were done in New York City. Lonesome Gal, under the production aegis of Quincy Jones, was released on the RCA imprint; the next two LPs were released on RCA's subsidiary Vik.
When Hunter regularly played in South and North Side nightclubs, performing with some of the very best jazz musicians, she received raves from the jazz critics. But when it came to her recorded work they were largely unkind. Her records were put down for being "pop," not jazz. The very things that some critics loved her for—a beautiful voice, clear diction, unerring intonation, and, heaven forfend, staying close to the melody—were the same qualities that many others faulted.
The RCA records, however, provided Hunter the national fame to which she had always aspired. She appeared on national television (notably the Dave Garroway Today Show and the Steve Allen Show), and began playing the major jazz clubs all across the country. The Chicago Defender expressed the view that her fame came only by leaving Chicago, relating that she "was singing in and around Chicago's night club row and not getting very much national attention." Then, continued the Defender, she went to New York to record and "the parade for her was on."
For instance, from July 3 through 7, 1957, Lurlean Hunter, who had spent several months in New York, was booked into the Blue Note in Chicago. The publicity was careful to note that it was her first booking there. She was accompanied by a trio led by piano man Billy Strayhorn, who rarely worked in public as a leader, featuring Ghanaian drummer Guy Warren ("Lurlean Hunter, Billy Strayhorn Blue Note's Next," Chicago Defender, June 24, 1957, p. 19).
In Chicago, she performed on television and radio often, gaining a regular role on radio station WBBM's program The Music Wagon in 1963. Hunter became a well known voice doing commercial jingles during these years.
In 1960, she made one LP for Atlantic, Blue and Sentimental. This was recorded at two sessions in New York with a all-star jazz lineup: Harry Ediston (trumpet); Bud Freeman (tenor sax); Rudy Rutherford (clarinet); Jimmy Jones (piano); Jim Hall (guitar); George Duvivier or Trigger Alpert (bass); and Don Lamond (drums). The arrangements were by no less than Jimmy Giuffre. Although Blue and Sentimental made a strong case for her as a jazz performer, it would be her last LP.
Her last recordings, for the Smash label in 1964, were most decidely pop material. From 1966 through 1971, Hunter operated a fashionable South Side jazz club. In a Tribune article rounding up South Side night spots, Angela Parker wrote:
Lurlean's, 319 E. 75h St. also provides the 30-and-up jazz lovers with a steady diet. The atmosphere is cool and calm; perhaps the serene quality of its back room jazz stage accentuates the sets. Most jazz freaks connect Lurlean's with its namesake Lurlean Hunter, as well as Johnny Hartman and Clarence Wheeler and the Enforcers. ("The Soul Scene—South and West," August 13, 1971, p. B9)
Just a few months later she closed the club and left the music scene for good. On January 9, 1972, William Leonard, a long-time Tribune entertainment writer, included the following in his column:
Lurlean Hunter, whom we charted thru a series of singing engagements in 37 rooms around this town, writes that she's a happily married housewife and mother on a rural route out of South Haven, Mich., and all thru warbling for money. ("On the Town," p. P8).
Lurlean Tischler (as she was then known) spent the rest of her life in South Haven (or nearby Covert, depending on which source you consult). She died in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on March 11, 1983, just 63 years old. (Our thanks again for Eric LeBlanc for his research efforts here.) Apparently those Chicago-based writers still active had forgotten her in the interim. There was no obituary in the Tribune.
For our coverage of Lurlean Hunter we consulted: Walter C. Allen, Hendersonia: The Music of Fletcher Henderson and His Musicians, Highland Park, NJ: Walter C. Allen, 1973; Barbara Gardner, "The Quiet, Happy Life of Lurlean Hunter," Down Beat 31/2 (16 January 1964): 18-19, 39; Tom Lord, The Jazz Discography, Volume 10 (Redwood NY: Cadence Jazz Books, 1994) H974; "Lurleane Hunter," Ebony VII/12 (November 1951): 97, 99. Purple & White (Chicago: Englewood High School, February, 1939): 23; Hilda See, "Chicago Stars Quit Home; Find Gold, Fame on Journey," Chicago Defender, March 19, 1956; and various other stories and items from the Chicago Defender, 1938 to 1963, and the Chicago Tribune, 1970 to 1972.
Around the end of 1955 Seymour Schwartz started his second record company, an outfit called "Heartbeat" ("Music with 'Heart' and a 'Beat,' some of the labels proclaimed). Initially this was also a vehicle for getting his compositions recorded, but the label did not take off until Schwartz adopted a very different set of goals that concentrated on getting his 45-rpm singles into jukeboxes in Illinois and Wisconsin. At first, the records were sold out of Seymour's Record Mart, but soon Schwartz developed a commercial strategy of sending samples to one-stops, and pretty soon Heartbeats were getting picked up by jukebox operators.
The first Heartbeat (H3/H4) consisted of two of Seymour's songs done by a pop-soul singer named Billie Hawkins. (As the subsequent history of the label confirms, Seymour was not a big fan of consecutive release numbering. A note that Seymour to a friend who ran a radio station in Cincinnati identifies H3/H4 as the first record on his new label; our thanks to Rob Finch for bringing this to light.) This will be of more than passing interest to readers of this page, because the accompaniment is by "Sun-Ra and His Orchestra"; made at RCA Studios in January 1956, H3/H4 is in fact the very first known studio recording of Sun Ra's legendary band. H3/H4 was released on 78 as well as 45; Heartbeat dropped 78s after that.
The label's 1956 release soon dropped out of circulation. But in 1958, Schwartz tried again, for 45-rpm release only, now featuring his own playing on standards with accompaniment by organist Harold Turner. Recorcding as "Seymour" with "His "Heartbeat' Trumpet," he cut a coupling of "Peg o' My Heart" and "Tea for Two" (H-7) that sold pretty well locally and got onto jukeboxes across the country. He recalls that it hit #30 on the chart maintained by a jukebox operators' magazine.
Schwartz described the style on "Peg" as "down the middle of the road." His timbre and execution on trumpet and the range of sounds he produces can't be faulted, but he and Turner are definitely not playing jazz. Other Heartbeat singles by Schwartz with organ and drums in the accompaniment are similar in style; those featuring piano accompaniment tend to be jazzier. The initial motivation for recording with trumpet and organ was economic, but "Peg" and Schwartz's subsequent renditions of standards sold well enough to inspire a major label to imitate the formula. In 1960 and 1961, cornetist Bobby Hackett recorded two LPs of standards for Columbia with pipe organ accompaniment; on first hearing one of these Hackett items, Schwartz thought it was one of his own.
Not wanting to invest in LPs, or even proliferate 45s just yet, Seymour put together 14 short tracks from the "Peg o' My Heart" sessions for the Chess brothers' Argo label. Cheaply produced, Argo LP-617 was released in 1959, titled Time on My Hands and credited to Seymour and his Heartbeat Trumpet; Argo also put out a single from the sessions. In the early 1960s, Heartbeat would briefly get into the LP business on its own account.
In March of 1959, fortified with a loan from famed jazz collector (and small label proprietor) John Steiner, Bob Koester moved up from St. Louis and purchased Seymour's Record Mart. Koester acquired the entire record stock but none of the masters that Schwartz had recorded. Schwartz funneled the proceeds of the sale into his new record label, which did no new recording in 1959, but made up for the slack in 1960. Koester later moved the shop, renaming it the Jazz Record Mart.
The Heartbeat label (which eventually encompassed subsidiaries called Playboy and GMA) recorded heavily from 1960 through 1963, eventually getting back into featuring Seymour Schwartz compositions on some of its releases, and remained in operation until 1965 or 1966. Through the early part of 1961, Heartbeat offered just 16 releases in its catalogue (the 1956 recordings were long forgotten by then). But the next 2 1/2 years saw an explosion in the company's output. By, 1964, however, some of Seymour's performances were appearing on other small Chicago-area labels. After Heartbeat closed down, some material was reissued on the Sunny label, named after Seymour Schwartz's daughter, for which Seymour also recorded a few new items.
Besides Schwartz and his organists Harold Turner and Shay Torrent, the Heartbeat label's mainstay was Dick "Two Ton" Baker (c. 1916 - 1975), a 350 pound singer who had his own radio and TV shows in Chicago.
Baker, who also "punched" piano and organ, was a veteran recording artist who had made his first 78 for Decca in 1945, and enjoyed a long run at Mercury from 1946 through 1951. Known for his performances of novelty numbers and children's songs, Baker made a "Laughing Record" for Heartbeat. (Baker, who was a close friend of Duke Ellington, would later do A&R for a couple of the Duke's Reprise sessions in the early 1960s.)
A sampling of Seymour's own work for the Heartbeat label, along with several tracks by Two Ton Baker, can be heard on Heartbeat HB77CD, My Hometown Chicago!, released in 1994.
Meanwhile, an effort Schwartz thought highly of were sessions that produced "Misirlou" and "Hava Nagila" by singer Georgia Drake, with accompaniment by studio musicians from CBS. Drake sang "Misirlou" and "Never on Sunday" in Greek; the leader on some of her sides was identified as Sam Porfirio.
As the Heartbeat operation wound up, Schwartz became a sales representative for a company that made guitars and drums. Traveling from town to town in the Midwest, he brought his cornet along, putting a mute in it so he could practice in his hotel room. In the late 1970s, after his sons Gerry and Steven became Orthodox Jews and spent time studying in Israel, he decided that he wanted to play a real shofar. Trying out many different varieties of the ancient instrument, he eventually obtained a shofar made from a ram's horn by a family in Haifa, Israel. He subsequently played it in a wide variety of settings. In 1988, when an article about him was published in the Chicago Tribune, he was blowing the shofar at Beth Hillel synagogue in Wilmette, Illinois; this entailed peformances every weekday during the month before the High Holidays, in preparation for his role during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rabbi Geoffrey Botnick said of his playing, "He invests a unique sense of soul into each note."
In 1993 and 1994 Seymour Schwartz put out 2 reissue CDs on the Heartbeat label; the second also includes includes 2 of Lurlean Hunter's sides for Seymour. Schwartz remained in the Chicago area until 1998. After the death of his first wife, he moved to Monsey, New York, to be near his son and his son's family. He remarried in 2001. When interviewed in 2005, he was still playing his cornet every day, and blowing the shofar for Rosh Hashanah.
In 2005, the postseason success of the Chicago White Sox, who ended up winning the World Series for the first time since Seymour was an infant, brought some media attention to his 1951 fight song. Seymour Schwartz died in New York City on October 3, 2008. He was buried in Chicago, alongside his first wife Frieda and his son Steven.
Our sources on Seymour Schwartz and his record labels: Bob Koester, "Delmark: 45 years of Jazz and Blues," Jazz Institute of Chicago; Interview with Koester by Robert Pruter; Michael Hirsley, "Music Stirs a Jewish Soul," Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1988 (Chicagoland section, p. 10); Interviews with Seymour Schwartz by Robert Campbell (October 16, 2003 and October 25, 2005); Interviews with Seymour Schwartz by Steve Zalusky (October 17 and 19, 2005; we are also indebted to Zalusky for information about the origins of the "Go Go Sox" slogan); Steve Zalusky, "Lost White Sox jazz anthem a treasure," Arlington, Illinois Daily Herald, October 21, 2005; email communication from David Miller, October 10, 2008. We are indebted to Jay Mihelich of Records and More (Muskegon, Michigan) for further information about the Heartbeat label, to Rob Finch (emails of February 3 and 4, 2012) for a copy of a note that Seymour packaged with a few copies of his first Heartbeat release in 1956, and to Dick Baker (not related to Two Ton) for information on various Heartbeat and Sunny recordings featuring the singer. Steve Pennot provided the June 29, 1955 issue of Down Beat and Dan Ferone contributed scans of 2 rare Seymour 78s, as well as scans of the covers of Lurlean Hunter's first LP for RCA Victor. Thomas "Tiaz" Palmer (email communications, April 11 and May 5, 2009) provided us with some details about Kenny Mann's later career; Kenny Mann's obituary appeared in the Pasadena Star-News on January 1, 2009.
Click here to return to the Red Saunders Research Foundation page.
Click here to return to Robert L. Campbell's Home page.