Genres: Jazz, Ragtime, Popular
Informative booklet notes by Bryan Chalker
Banjo virtuoso Harry Reser’s (1896-1965) recorded output was staggering and among the ensembles he was associated with included The Bostonians, the Campus Boys, Jimmy Johnston’s Rebels, the Four Minstrels, the Seven Rag Pickers, the Victorian Syncopators, Earl Oliver’s Jazz Babies, Bill Wirges’ Orchestra, Tom Stacks and his Minute Men and the celebrated Cliquot Club Eskimos, which were heard weekly on NBC’s radio network from 1925 until 1935. In addition to these, however, there were a truly bewildering array of pseudonyms and this compilation of Edison sides, spanning the years 1925 to 1929, must be viewed as a “taster” from the musical world that was Harry Reser and his banjo.
Reser was one of the busiest and most prolific bandleaders and session men of the 1920s. His massive recorded output was released under more than 175 pseudonyms, including the Tickle Toe Ten, the Volunteer Firemen, Jack’s Fast Steppin’ Bellhops, Si Higgins & His Sodbusters, and — most famously — the ginger ale-affiliated Clicquot Club Eskimos. Often spiked with cheeky golly-gee vocals by a spunky little fellow named Tom Stacks, Reser’s novelty ragtime and hot jazz recordings are unfailingly cheerful and uplifting. In 2008 the Document label brought out Trainin’ the Fingers, a stimulating collection of 18 Edison recordings dating from the years 1925-1929. Here is the essence of Harry Reser’s phenomenally nimble artistry as an instrumentalist and his close involvement with silly comedic entertainment, collegiate or otherwise. And here is an opportunity to thrill to the lightning-quick dexterity of the banjo-piano duets “The Clock and the Banjo,” “The Old Town Pump,” “Lollypops,” “Heebie Jeebies,” “Trainin’ the Fingers,” and “Jade.” These caffeinated confections mesh well with instances of authentic jazz (including Duke Ellington’s “Jig Walk”) and full-ensemble period pieces that fairly burst at the seams with bubbly horns, Charleston licks, and naughty-but-nice vocal choruses. The corn gets laid on pretty heavily at times, but that’s part of the arcane charm of 1920s pop culture, and you probably need a good shot of it to make sure you don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s plenty of corn inherent in today’s cultural mainstream, more than anybody ever wants to admit. Harry Reser’s happy banjo records are a vindication as well as a celebration of that slaphappy inheritance.