The Earliest Black String Bands Vol 1 1914 – 1917
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Abridged from DOCD-5622 booklet notes. Dan Kildare was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on l3 January l879, as son of the Paymaster of Constabulary. Like many Caribbean immigrants to the US he managed to obtain an American passport, in his case by claiming that he was born to American parents who resided temporarily in Jamaica. In Harlem he met composer/conductor James Reese Europe (1881-1919). When, in 1910, Europe incorporated the “Clef Club” as a booking agency and social club for black musicians, Kildare became his Vice President, Europe organised concerts involving more than one hundred musicians, he directed the first black recording orchestra in 1913, and he achieved farther fame by providing the music for the white exhibition dancers, Irene and Vernon Castle. When Europe resigned from the Clef Club later in 1913, Kildare was elected his successor, by a strange twist of fate, Kildare was also approached by a white dancer, Ms Joan Sawyer, who wanted to compete with the Castles by having her own private Negro orchestra at The Persian Garden night club in New York. When the first Victor recordings were released in early 1914 by Europe’s orchestra “under the personal supervision of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle”, the competing Columbia company retaliated by putting out Joan Sawyer’s Persian Garden Orchestra “Recorded under Personal Supervision of Joan Sawyer”. The repertoire used for the two published discs are two waltzes, a maxixe, and a one-step. The performances have a noticeable African-American touch.
In March 1915 the Age, the New York black paper, announced: “A Clef Club Orchestra of seven men sail for Europe…Dan Kildare is the leader”. On 9 April 1915, the band, which was hired for “Ciro’s Club” in London, arrived in Liverpool on White Star’s SS Megantic: Dan Kildare (piano), his brother Walter Kildare (cello), George Watters (banjo), Seth Jones (banjo), Joseph Meyers (banjo), John Ricks (bass) and Louis Mitchell (drums). “Ciro’s Club Coon Orchestra” was in continuous residence at the club, but there were also occasional outside engagements. In April 1916 Dan Kildare briefly returned to the US, followed shortly afterwards by Meyers, Ricks and Jones, but he returned within a couple of weeks with Ferdie Allen (mandolin), Vance Lowry (banjo) and Sumner Edwards (bass). Seth Jones probably also returned and the new band was to be completed by Hughes Pollard or Harvey White (drums). The Columbia company in London invited this second group to the studios. The resulting recordings are quite rare. Actually, some have never turned up and may remain unissued or were cancelled before release. Others, which had to be used for this documentation, have survived only as rather battered copies (and we offer our apologies for sub-Hi-fi sounds).
The best of them are line examples of African-American string band music belonging to the same tradition as such later recording groups as the Dallas String Band (see Document DOCD-5162).The music is unambiguously African-American in its rhythmic and expressive characteristics, and the earliest substantial body of such music on record. The recorded material is for the most part popular hits of the day, including several cod-Hawaiian numbers. On many of the records, it sounds as though a conventional banjo is being used alongside an instrument hybrid between banjo and mandolin which is presumably a banjoline. Though three banjos or whatever were used at the club, at least initially, there are only two on the records”. Recordings survive to prove genuine African-American elements in the music even though the band played for white Londoners rather than for black ghetto dwellers in the States. Although no engagements of the band have been documented following the closure of the club, there were three more recording sessions, using the old name but probably involving a slightly changed personnel. There is now a second vocalist and obviously a different drummer who makes noticeably greater use of the woodblocks. When Louis Mitchell left for France early in 1919, Dan Kildare and Harvey White stayed behind in Britain and continued as a duo act. In 1918, and again in 1919, Dan & Harvey returned to the Columbia studios, this time in the company of a violin and a banjo player, the identities of which remain unknown. The result is rhythmically weaker than the earlier recordings by the full band, and the violin player is musically and technically rather uninspired. As it happened, the recordings were advertised simultaneously with the well-known London Columbia discs by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band and consequently the labels refer to Dan & Harvey’s Jazz Band, and the tunes (including the “Missouri Waltz” and the then very popular waltz tune “Smiles”) are identified as “Jazz Music” – predating Englishman Leonard Feather’s lobbying for a jazz waltz by decades.