Today the Mike's Noise Virtual Victrola presents four versions of the old jazz warhorse "Limehouse Blues."
The tune was written in 1922 by Douglas Furber and Phillip Braham. As with most songs from its era that are titled as a "blues," the song is not a traditional 12-bar instrumental blues, but actually follows standard AABA song form. A chord progression that was well-suited for improvising quickly made the song a favorite among jazz musicians. It was recorded literally dozens of times and it soon became one of the first standards that jazz musicans almost universally played at a breakneck tempo.
Incidentally, "Limehouse" was the name of the first China Town district in London. Back during the day it was known for its opium dens, heavy concentration of immigrant population, and slum housing. Today, London's China Town has been relocated to the SoHo district.
Our first version proves that there is an exception to every rule. Duke Ellington's version of Limehouse Blues from 1931 ambles along at a relaxed tempo and creates a smoky, mysterious atmosphere with its Oriental themes. Duke's soloists on this record are "Tricky Sam" Nanton on muted trombone, Johnny Hodges on alto sax, Barney Bigard on clarinet, and Harry Carney on baritone sax.
I featured the Joe Haymes orchestra in my previous Virtual Victrola post. Haymes gets a good chance to display his band's impressive solo talent on this fast-paced 1933 arrangement; among the band's fine players are soloists Johnny Mince on clarinet, Pee Wee Erwin on trumpet, Dick Clark on tenor sax (very briefly), and Les Jenkins on trombone.
The Casa Loma Orchestra picks up the tempo a little more on this sharp 1934 effort, arranged by the now-forgotten Gene Gifford. Although this band was known less for its soloists and more for its moody arrangements, they still had a number of talented players in the band including Pee Wee Hunt on trombone, Clarence Hutchenrider on clarinet, and Pat Davis on tenor sax. All of these players stayed with the Casa Loma Orchestra for over fifteen years.
Our last recording comes from across the Pond, and is a 1935 English Decca performance by one of the UK's most famous big bands, Bert Ambrose and his Orchestra. The band blazes through this great Sid Phillips arrangement and features noted British jazz musicians such as Max Goldberg on trumpet and Ted Heath (later to become a famous bandleader in his own right) on trombone.