Sunday, June 1, 2008

At the Jazz Band Ball with The Dukes Of Dixieland - VIK Records

At the Jazz Band Ball
with The Dukes Of Dixieland
Featuring Pete Fountain

1954 VIK Records LXA-1025 Mono
(VIK is an RCA Records subsidiary)
reissued in 1955 on VIK Records LX-1025 Mono as
At the Jazz Band Ball with The Dukes Of Dixieland
reissued in 1956 on RCA Records LSP-2097 Stereo / LSM-2097 Mono as
At the Jazz Band Ball with The Dukes Of Dixieland
reissued in 1961 on RCA Records LSP-2097(e) Stereo / LSM-2097 Mono as

Side A:
1. At the Jazz Band Ball
2. Beale Street Blues
3. Muskrat Ramble
4. Blue Prelude
5. That's A-Plenty
6. Original Dixieland One-Step

Side B:
1. Panama
2. Wolverine Blues
3. Fidgety Feet
4. Tin Roof Blues
5. Tiger Rag
6. When the Saints Come Marching In

Trumpet: Frankie Assunto
Trombone: Freddie Assunto
Clarinet: Pete Fountain
Piano: Artie Seelig
Bass: Bill Potter
Drums: Roger Johnston
Vocals: Betty Owens

Liner Notes:

'Way back in 1917 our Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, closed New Orleans' famed Storyville, and jazz took the rap. Jazz flourished in Storyville as part and parcel of the entertainment. When the "Closed" signs appeared, the New Orleans jazzmen, aided in their quest for gold by Representative Andrew Volstead and his 19th Amendment, headed for Chicago, then known as a city of booze, barons and big money. For a long, long time New Orleans wasn't the same.

Gradually, a jazz renaissance came about in New Orleans. There were outside influences, to be sure, like the Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band in San Francisco. But mainly it was the forces from within, pushing up again against a tide that wasn't pulling too hard. Bunk Johnson had a lot to do with the rebirth of jazz in New Orleans, and so did a group of youngsters who called themselves THE DUKES OF DIXIELAND.

The Dukes got themselves organized right after the fighting stopped in World War II. They were kids, but that didn't seem to matter. Six years ago they walked into the Famous Door in New Orleans for a four-week engagement, and they stayed there for something more than five-and-one-half years. In that time the saloon was remodeled two times. The drawing power of the Dukes was such that the owner had no trouble at all digging up the necessary cash to pay for the expensive redoings. In April of '55, the Dukes were signed for an engagement at the Preview Lounge in Chicago. It was such a terrific success that they've now been signed there to a long-term contract. Because of this, the air should be purer in the old Windy City. But we have gotten ahead of ourselves, for you should know just who the Dukes of Dixieland are. As of today, the roster reads:

Frankie Assunto - trumpet
Roger Johnston - drums
Freddie Assunto - trombone
Artie Seelig - piano
Pete Fountain - clarinet
Bill Potter - bass
Betty Owens - vocal

Frankie, now all of twenty-four years of age, was the real organizer. The Assunto boys, like each member of the Dukes, were born in New Orleans. They got their musical training from their father, who is still a mean man with the slide trombone. The front line, trumpet, trombone and clarinet, incidentally, is exactly the same today as it was at the beginning, and both Johnston and Seelig have been members almost since the start.

Betty Owens, who is the Duchess and who sings like it was all fun, is from Baton Rouge, which is in Louisiana too. For a while she sang as a child hillbilly star with Governor Jimmy Davis. She came to the Dukes in 1947, and we might guess that she'll be around for as long as they are, as she is married to Freddie Assunto.

There's a whale of a difference between the Dukes and a lot of the other jazz bands you hear nowadays. 'It's all to the good. Too many Dixieland bands play like it was just a dose of medicine they have to swallow each night; the Dukes don't - they obviously get a tremendous wallop out of their music making, and it comes through clear and sharp on this disc. Some younger bands depend almost entirely for effect on enthusiastic effort. The Dukes combine their enthusiasm with enormous ability. They are crisp. They work togetheras a unit, and the solo playing is fresh and imaginative. They kick into the final ensembles like the liner United States plowing into twenty-foot waves. They are equally at home with standards and popular songs of the day, with tunes that are fast and slow. In other words, the Dukes have it in diamonds, doubled and redoubled, right down to the toes of their argyles.

As for this recording, it deals strictly with the great old Dixieland war horses, with the exception, perhaps, of Blue Prelude. This is the lovely Gordon Jenkins-Joe Bishop tune that was used as a theme for years by Woody Herman, and it's used by the Dukes as a marvelous expression for Freddie Assunto's trombone.

If one single work must be picked as the outstanding number of the album, my choice would be Tin Roof Blues, that ancient collaboration of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings which became so popular as Make Love to Me in 1954. In this one there is a crackerjack and extended solo by one Peter Dewey Fountain, Jr., who is a tremendous clarinetist! There are a couple of times when the clicking of the keys on the instrument can clearly be heard, which may be a good proving point on how well the record was recorded. And a lot of the time, behind Fountain's soulful and expressive blowing, is the undercurrent theme of Yancey's Special. The effect of this is superb.

For Tiger Rag, which should be at least accredited to Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Assunto plays some handsomely guttural trombone. The Dukes don't treat the Tiger as a race horse, but instead subject her to a steady, good gallop, which is the way it should be. Frank Assunto can be heard singing Saints, in the same kind of an "arrangement" used many years ago by Louis Armstrong. Don't miss the tromboning of Freddie on Muskrat Ramble either. Maybe he was thinking of another trombonist when he was playing this tune, another trombonist named Kid Ory who happened to write the thing. Incidentally, Muskrat Ramble didn't have a name right off the bat. It came up for recording during a session by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five. After it was all over, someone or other asked Ory for the name, and he was saved by Lil Armstrong who simply looked up and said: "Oh, that's Muskrat Ramble." Some time later Mr. Melrose of the Melrose Music Company changed the Muskrat to Muskat, because he didn't like the sound of the "rat," but it never did stick.

Panama, At the Jazz Band Ball, That's A-Plenty are wonderful expressions by the full band - solid rhythm, driving horns, magnificent clarinet and excellent solos. The album plays to a fare-thee-well from stem to stern, and that's the way it was intended by the Dukes of Dixieland, who are, as you will so readily hear, one of the real fine jazz outfits of this or any other time. So, let the record spin. As a lady on my block is apt to say, "It couldn't possibly be more fun!"



  1. I have a version of this LP, but it says LXA-1025 where you are listing it as LX-1025. Is this the same thing?

  2. Hi, I have a 45rpm single record on the Coral label. I'm not sure it ever appeared on any of his albums. One side is:
    I'm Just a Surfing Boy/ other side is Aquarius. There is a disc jockey named Sweet Dick Whittington who use to be on KGIL Radio in Southern California. he got his song published of I'm Just a Surfing Boy under the name Miguel Wiznitzki. Is this an unusual rrecord? And has I'm Just a Surfing Boy by Pete Fountain ever appeared on any of his albums?
    Thanks, Joyce Granville San Francisco Bay Area