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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Isham Jones Orchestra: 1922

Isham Jones Orchestra: 1922

New York circa 1922. "Isham Jones Orchestra." Playing May 7 at Grace Methodist Episcopal. George Grantham Bain Collection. View full size.

On Shorpy:
Today's Top 5

Soprano Sax player

I thought you would be interested in knowing the gentleman with the soprano sax is Arthur Vanasek. He at one time had his own orchestra in 1919 in Chicago before playing with Isham Jones. Arthur also played the violin, he came from a musical family, his father was a music teacher and also had his own band. Arthur also published his own song along with along with a gentleman named E. Koerner, the piece was called " Aeroplane Rag". Arthur passed away in an auto accident on Nov. 2, 1926 in Chicago at the age of 33.

In case you are wondering how I know all of this, Arthur Vanasek was my husband's grandfather.

His Claim to Fame

Isham Jones is best remembered (when he's remembered at all) for his best seller "I'll See You in My Dreams." One of his compositions that's all but forgotten (but still occasionally played by traditional jazz bands and rooftop orchestras) is "Down Where the Sun Goes Down." I like to noodle the latter number on my custom "guitalele" (baritone ukulele body with an extended scale -- 16 frets to the upper bout).

The Chief

John Kuhn, the tubist here on sousaphone, claimed American Indian heritage and was known as "The Chief." He had a special mouthpiece made for him, copies of which are still played by some of us tubists. Bill Bell wrote a solo titled "The Chief" and dedicated it to him.

As a tubist who plays this genre of music, I think it's sad that the tuba was replaced. In the right hands, it doesn't have to be bombastic. And a lot of bassists of the 20s and 30s just slapped the strings, not even playing actual pitches, just rhythms. I think the other musicians might have been happy to get away with the additional freedom from the actual chords when the string bass played.

Thanks for putting this picture up on the site!

Yes it is a tuba - just a different shape!

Sousaphones are tubas wrapped in a different way - an adaptation of the Helicon Tuba. The notes that it plays are just the same as a tuba (as long as they are in the same key.)

The Sousa inspired "Rain Catcher" was made so it could be played with the bell pointed up or tipped forward, depending on playing conditions and what the band leader wanted. Later Sousaphones had an extra bend so the bell would face in a more forward position.

A rare sousaphone at that

That is a "rain catcher" sousaphone. Sousa believed the tuba was a non-directional instrument, much like a subwoofer on a modern stereo system. So when he invented his vision of the tuba, the sousaphone, the bell pointed straight up. That did not last long since the sound was lost. By this date, almost all sousaphones pointed forward. The gent here just didn't put the bell on "right."

It also looks like a EEb sousaphone. More common at that time, rare today.

Since we're being picky

That's a cornet, not a trumpet.

Vintage Horns

Mr. Jones' tenor sax is a custom-order job by the C.G. Conn Ltd. band instrument company. Probably a "Wonder" or "New Wonder" model horn. That engraving on the bell is much more extensive than the standard finish of the time. Odds are that the horn is also gold-plated, with a "satin" finish on most of the body and burnished gold on the keys and bell behind the engraving -- though it could be a silver-plated horn with gold keys, or some other combo. In that day, the standard finish on most saxophones and brass instruments was silver plate with a sand-blasted 'satin' finish. You could order a bare brass horn or some other finish (the Conn company even offered enameled horns), but silver plate was pretty much the default. A lacquered brass finish didn't become standard until after the Depression hit and silver became more expensive.

The soprano sax looks like it might be a C.G. Conn horn, too: the musician's right thumb is placed through a circular support ring on the horn; I'm pretty sure Conn was the only company of that time that put those on its sopranos, though the Martin Band Instrument Company may have. By the way, the soprano sax and soprinino sax are two different horns. Soprano saxes are pitched in Bb (and sometimes C in that day). Sopranino saxophones are pitched in Eb (IIRC) and are about 3/4 the size of the horn he's holding -- really tiny little squeakers!! There are also Bass saxophones -- in the 20's a lot of dance bands used them in place of a tuba player. There are even contrabass saxophones, which are real monsters!!

Looks like that might be a C.G. Conn Cornet the fella next to the trombonist is holding, but kinda hard to tell. Maybe Jones had a sponsorship contract with them or something.

Spats :

I got all excited about wanting a pair of spats when I'm informed they are not, but are button shoes, drats.

Look the part.

These guys are right out of Central Casting. You could pick out what instrument they played in the blind. Of course the tuba player is easy. The banjo player looks like he is just in from the Appalachians. The trombone man and trumpeter fit the part.

Not a Tuba

Technically, I believe that's a Sousaphone

Rarest comment in the world

"Those are the banjo player's groupies"

Great Band

Their band was really great and I still enjoy their music occasionally but, looking at the picture, does the word "smarmy" come to mind?

You are What You Play

Notice how most of these guys look like the instruments they play? (Especially the tuba player and the violinist)

Isham Jones recordings

Isham Jones, one the great "jass" bands

Isham Jones ran one of the most successful and popular dance bands during the 1920s and 1930s. The band would travel from Chicago, its home base, to the Brunswick studios in New York via train, cut a few discs, and return. On its NYC trip in early May, 1922, it cut three records:

"Sun God" b/w "High Brown Blues" (Brunswick 2271);
"Some Sunny Day" b/w "Don't Bring Me Posies (Brunswick 2274);
"Birdie" b/w "Yankee Doodle Blues" (Brunswick 2286).

Here's that version of "Yankee Doodle Blues," co-written by George Gershwin:

That Jones would have played before Frederick Brown Harris' sermon gives an indication of just how well-connected the minister was. He served as minister at Grace Episcopal until 1924, when he was "called" to serve Foundry United Methodist Church, Washington, D.C., a pastorate he would hold for more than thirty years. During his pastorate there, he would serve as Chaplain of the Senate (1942-1947) and (1949-1969). Among those who attended worship at Foundry or became his friends in Congress were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who attended a special service at Foundry on December 25, 1941. Madame Chaing Kai-Shek and Syngman Rhee were also his parishioners. He conducted the funerals of President Herbert Hoover, Senator Robert A. Taft, and General Douglas MacArthur.

Kenny G

That Soprano Sax player looks NOTHING like Kenny G. The soprano sax is very difficult to play in tune. When Kenny G was popular a lot of kids got into the Soprano Sax and found it too difficult to play.


That's actually a soprano sax.

What could have been

The clarinet player has a wistful look on his face. Maybe thinking, "All those years of practice, I could have played sports, gone to parties, but no, I stayed home and practiced the clarinet and where does it get me? The Isham Jones Orchestra!"

The Jones boys

That would be Al Eldridge at the piano, Jones (leaning w. tenor sax), Charles McNeill, Joe Frank and John Kuhn (left to right, standing), and, seated: Artie Vanasec, Leo Murphy, Louis Panico, and, possibly, Carroll Martin.

The last days of the banjo

The last days of the banjo and the tuba. Soon, better amplification and sound recording equipment would allow both to be replaced by more subtle instruments.

I bet that before the decade was over the banjo player was playing a guitar, and the tuba player was replaced by someone playing the string bass.

I Say It's 'Eye-Sham'

That is the correct pronunciation of his first name. Isham is the gent leaning on the piano holding the sxaphone. 1921 is when he had a smash hit with the song "Wabash Blues." It sold over 2 million copies for Brunswick Records. Records on popular labels like Brunswick sold for between 65 and 75 cents or more. In today's money, that would be between 16 and 18 million dollars in sales. This webpage has a very nice bio of Isham Jones.

I can actually

Imagine this band playing "Little Brown Church in the Vale."

It had to be you

Isham played the saxophone, so it's pretty easy to pick him out of this motley lineup. Love the button shoes on the pianist!

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