The Edison Collection – The B A Rolfe Orchestra – ‘Let’s Do It’ (1926 – 1929)
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At the end of 1923, at the age of 44, Benjamin Albert Rolfe joined Vincent Lopez’s Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra, and stayed with Lopez as a star cornet player until about April 1925, when he left to join National Attractions Inc, a ballroom circuit which included the Arcadia and Clover Gardens ballrooms in New York. Within twelve months he had taken a band of his own into the Palais D’Or, a Chinese Restaurant in New York, near Broadway and 48th Street. This was a popular New York eating house, opening at noon each day, with two performances of a revue each night at 7.00pm and 11.30pm, closing at around 2.00am. By 1927 Rolfe’s contract at the Palais D’Or was for $2500 per week, plus a percentage of the profits above a certain figure. Considering that the Rolfe band was playing for dancers almost as soon as the Palais D’Or opened, and continued playing right up to closing time, it can be said they earned their money each week!The title track Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love) shows the suggestion that the Rolfe band was a possible rival to Paul Whiteman was not totally unreasonable, although clearly it did not have star musicians like Bix Beiderbecke. The xylophone heard on this and other tracks was the “Rolfaphone”, a larger version of the standard instrument and apparently designed by Rolfe himself. It is also interesting that this is possibly the only recording which uses Cole Porter’s original lyrics, which included “Chinks do it, Japs do it”. Although this line was intended to match the following lines which referred to Lapps and Finns, Porter changed it to the better known “Birds do it, Bees do it”. Get By re-enforces the comparison with the Whiteman Orchestra in that the arrangement used sounds almost as though it could have come from the Whiteman book. I Can’t Give You Anything But Love has a somewhat complex arrangement, with an introduction featuring a bass clarinet, followed by a rapid increase in tempo and a tricky pizzicato section for the violins. Singin’ In The Rain also has what must have been some difficult passages, showing how well schooled and rehearsed the band were. Rocky Mountain Blues is doubly interesting, in that it not only shows how the Rolfe band tackled a hot number, but is one of the few recordings of this tune. The general sound suggests a stock arrangement was used.
Although largely unknown today, the B. A. Rolfe Orchestra deserves a wider hearing as a popular band from the 1920s which clearly brought musical enjoyment to many, either at the Palais D’Or or through the medium of radio.