48 - Of The Best - 48

48 - Of The Best - 48

Rhythmic Eight

Label: Retrieval
Format: CD
Barcode: 0608917905922
Catalog number: RTR 79059
Releasedate: 02-10-09
Firman differed from fellow bandleader Fred Elizalde, the leading protagonist for hot music in England in the late 1920s. Elizalde was uncompromising and resolute in his opinion that hot music transcended the prosaic needs of the dancing public, whereas Firman never forgot that it was the dancing public who ultimately paid the bills!
  • 48 of The Rhythmic Eights best recordings, on 2CDs
  • Feautures Sylvester Ahola, Danny Polo, Barney Sorkin, Perley Breed, Frank Guarante, Johnny Hoffer, Max Coldberg, Arthur Hally and many others...
  • Audio restorations of some of the rarest Zonophone recordings
The Rhythmic Eight's leader Bert Firman was commercially minded enough not to wander too far into uncharted territory: his small band would be indubitably hot, but it would still acquiesce to the needs of those who bought records for the simple pleasure of listening or dancing to the latest popular songs. I

Most of the tenor sax and clarinet solos from mid-1928 up to mid-1929 were taken by Johnny Helfer, who, like Sylvester Ahola and Perley Breed, hailed from Massachusetts. Ahola recalled that the New England sidemen had a style that differed from their New York compatriots; in particular, they were concerned with developing a distinctively smooth embouchure. An interesting aspect is that the band never employed the services of a trombonist.
The solos bounce along merrily above a rhythm that is light and uplifting – unusually so for British recordings of the time – and the obvious empathy between the musicians is warm and welcoming. In the imprecise nomenclature of jazz, the style of the band falls into the "hot dance music" category; there are elements of the "chamber jazz" genre typified by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, and there are also hints of the Frank Trumbauer recordings featuring Bix Beiderbecke, but these aspects do not fully account for the overall structure and approach of the band.

The jazz solos that are so much a feature of the Rhythmic Eight's recordings. We find Arthur Lally, a superb musician whose baritone and bass sax solos have, in the past, been mistaken for the work of Adrian Rollini. Lally was certainly influenced by Rollini, who, as a member of Fred Elizalde's Savoy Hotel band, was yet another American visitor to London in the late 1920s. Tellingly, before the arrival of Rollini, Lally's baritone solos on Firman recordings were rather staccato, but after Rollini's arrival they became more relaxed and legato in style. Lally also contributes some fine alto sax solos on a number of Rhythmic Eight sides: notable examples are to be found in Don't Be Like That, My Troubles Are Over, I Faw Down And Go "Boom!" and Umtcha Umtcha Da Da Da. In addition, Lally sings – though "talks" might be a more apposite description – the second chorus of This Is The Way The Puff-Puff Goes (Johnny Helfer "sings" the first chorus). Who else but the Rhythmic Eight could turn such a trite comedy tune as this into a polished gem?

More often than not, standard stock arrangements were used by the band; when special arrangements were occasionally commissioned they were usually penned by Arthur Lally. Examples of Lally's excellent scores include Don't be Like That, Shout Hallelujah! 'Cause I'm Home and I Faw Down And Go "Boom!". Even the stock arrangements were often quite heavily re-worked, especially as Lally encouraged his colleagues to add their own ideas.

By the Spring of 1930, the sound of the Rhythmic Eight began to change perceptively. Following the economic slump that hit Great Britain in the early 1930s, there was a general shift towards more straightforward and sentimental renditions of dance numbers, and a consequent move away from the interpolation of jazz solos. In addition, Sylvester Ahola, the Rhythmic Eight's most important soloist, was effectively stymied in early 1930 by a group of British trumpet players (headed by Max Goldberg), who complained through the Musicians' Union that Ahola was a foreigner taking their work.

By 1931, the Rhythmic Eight was virtually indistinguishable from the myriad of other recording studio outfits that turned out the latest dance hits, with the number of hot solos having decreased markedly. The band's last recording session took place in September 1932. Luckily, through these rare Zonophone recordings, we are able to enjoy the Rhythmic Eight at its peak, playing small band jazz – or hot dance music, if you prefer! – of the highest order.

As director of light music at Zonophone (a sister label of HMV), Bert Firman already had several years experience directing dance music recordings and realised that a small jazz-flavoured band could tap into a developing market for dance records containing hot solos.

Bert Firman was born Herbert Feuermann in 1906. His mother was Polish and his father was an Austro-Hungarian musician who had emigrated to London in the 1880s. Although Bert had three elder brothers who were all musicians, he set his young heart on becoming a doctor, a professional career that would have normally been met with approval from a dutiful parent. However, Firman senior apparently responded "No!, your brothers are musicians, your cousins are musicians, your uncles are musicians, I am a musician – you will be a musician!" And so, in deference to his father's wishes, Bert followed his brothers Sam, John and Sid in their musical footsteps.

Aged sixteen, Bert Firman was one of the youngest bandleaders in the world. Later in the 1920s, he repeated his success at the Hotel Metropole with bands at the Devonshire Restaurant and at the Carlton Hotel. In early 1924, a recording scout from the Gramophone Company reported that the band at the Hotel Metropole sounded suitable for recording. The demand for dance records was burgeoning and good bands were needed. After a short period Bert was offered the position of director of light music at Zonophone.

Bert Firman directed the first Rhythmic Eight session at the Gramophone Co's Hayes, North London studios in November 1927. The band's early recordings feature the Americans Frank Guarente on trumpet and Perley Breed on saxophone and clarinet. As leader of the Georgians, a band-with-a-band established by American bandleader Paul Specht in the early 1920s*, Frank Guarente was one of the first wave of American musicians to play extended dates in Europe, capitalising on the success that the Georgians' Columbia records had enjoyed in Great Britain, France, Germany and other European countries. In 1927, after having toured much of the European Continent, Guarente joined the Savoy Orpheans at the Savoy Hotel; while in London, he also took part in a number of freelance studio recordings organised by Firman, including the first few Rhythmic Eight sessions.

Some of Perley Breed's best work in an all-too-short career (he died in the 1930s as a result of alcoholism) was recorded while he was with the Rhythmic Eight.

At the end of 1927, Guarente left England with the Savoy Orpheans to tour Europe yet again. His place in the Rhythmic Eight was taken by fellow American Sylvester "Hooley" Ahola, whose technical skill as a lead trumpet player, combined with great ability as a jazz soloist, was ideal for a band that relied on versatility. Sylvester Ahola retained a great deal of respect for Breed's work and stated that, in other circumstances, Breed could have become one of the most eminent saxophonists in the world.

For further listening:
Sylvester Ahola and Danny Polo are both featured on Retrieval RTR79057 by Ambrose and his Orchestra and Danny Polo is also featured on RTR79051 by Danny Polo and his Swing Stars.