Baltimore Sessions Letters
Transcribed and annotated by Prof. Lawrence Gushee

INTRODUCTION

These very rare documents are published here for the first time, by kind permission of Prof. Lawrence Gushee, who sends the following excerpts of letters, which relate to the Baltimore acetates and are taken from Xerox copies supplied to him by Vernacular Music Research, Cambridge, Maryland. (Owned and operated by Thornton Hagert).

© 2001 Mike Meddings

BEALE RIDDLE to ELLIS HORNE, APRIL 1, 1943

Speaking of Jelly made me think of something that might interest you. Before he left Washington he made several 12" acetate records in Baltimore which I’ve been trying to locate for months. The fellow who owned them is in the Pacific area somewhere now and I can’t seem to contact him. I’ve had his mother search his house for them but she seems to think they were thrown away before this guy went into the army. Well, I can only keep hoping.

ELLIS HORNE to BEALE RIDDLE, APRIL 7, 1943

Never met Jelly, but a good friend of mine (a local collector who has done much in getting Bunk and others here to play) met him and talked with him in Los Angeles a year or so before he died.

WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM

NESUHI ERTEGUN to BILL
[i.e. Beale] RIDDLE, JULY 15, 1944

Just received Ahmed’s letter about unissued Morton acetates please send them immediately expert engineer here can eliminete [sic] scratch.

BEALE RIDDLE to NESUHI ERTEGUN, JULY 29, [1944]

I will ship the Morton acetate Monday via Railway Express. I think you will find it in pretty good shape except for one bad spot near the end of the Pearls side. I have marked this place with a red pencil. I’ve found that a very light pick-up will repeat in two places on this scratch. However, I am sure you will be able to recut it without repeats provided you don’t play it with a floating point.

In regard to credits, can you have printed on the label, “Co-sponsored by Bill Riddle and Albert Loewenson.” I hadn’t thought of this until Ahmed mentioned it. It may be of some future value to one or both of us.

LETTERHEAD of the JAZZ MAN RECORD SHOP

NESUHI ERTEGUN to BILL RIDDLE, SEPT. 14, 1944

I have only played the Morton record once, it’s best not to have it wear out any further. They are in rather bad shape; but then that can’t be helped, and everyone should be grateful to be able to hear a previously unissued Morton, even if there is a lot of surface noise. Both sides are wonderful. We’ll have masters made, as soon as you have cleared up a few points about which I am hesitant:

1)    Have you any idea when, how, under what circumstances the records were made? Was Morton paid for them? We’ll have to pay royalties to his estate anyway.

2)    The most important thing is this: we must be absolutely positive that these are not copies of the records he made for the Library of Congress. We’d have a law suit on our hands in no time. Are you certain these records were made in Baltimore? There is the possibility that the copy you sent was dubbed from another acetate. The fact that King Porter is incomplete increases this belief in me.

. . . You must understand that I am extremely anxious to issue the record. But we must be definitely certain that we are not exploiting what legally belongs to someone else.

[concluding pencilled note: “Answered 9/19”]

NESUHI ERTEGUN to BILL RIDDLE, OCTOBER 31, [1944]

1)   Masters have been made of the Pearls and King Porter. Surface noises have been eliminated as much as possible. Pearls sounds fine. I have not yet taken a final decision on King Porter. Am considering possibility of putting on the reverse of Pearls both King Porter and the second version of Honky Tonk Music. That, however, presents difficulties. Dave Stuart who is in town right now, seems to think that would kill the Jazz Man record. . . .

2)  The label will read “Co-sponsored by Bill Riddle and Albert Loewenson.” I am sending you a sample Crescent label, that just came off the press, to give you an idea of what our label looks like.

BILL RIDDLE to GORDON GULLICKSON, JULY 31, [1945 (?)]

Regarding an attached 3 page article by Albert Loewenson (“Friend of mine sent me this from the Pacific Area.”)

LETTERHEAD of C. E. RIDDLE & Co.,
BREWERS and DISTILLERS RAW MATERIALS

BILL RIDDLE to NESUHI ERTEGUN, OCTOBER 10,
[1945]

The chap who originally cut that 12" version of The Pearls has just returned from the wars and is now living in Baltimore. I’ve been giving some thought to the possibility of his trying to claim ownership of the disc and though I don’t see how he could I think perhaps you might ask your legal adviser about it.

This side along with about six others were cut by him in his studio in 1938 when another fellow, a Martin Whitcomb, brought Jelly over from Washington for an afternoon. In 1939 his recording business folded up and he went into something else. At this time he gave away or sold a lot of his records and this was one of them. He gave it to a boy named Katz who later traded it to Al Loewenson and me for some stuff by Fletcher Henderson and Henry Allen. That’s the story as I know it.

I would like to contact him and try to track down the other sides but I’m afraid it might make him suspicious. His mother told me about a year ago that she was sure they had been either thrown out as trash or given to a local USO just after he went into the army.

Let me know what legal information you are able to get on the matter and if we can feel sure the record belongs to us I will contact him and if he as them try to get him to trade or sell them to me. As I remember the others were just as good as The Pearls.

A few comments from the transcriber – Prof. Lawrence Gushee:

1)    The owner of the recording business is not named. It seems possible his name was indeed “Rosenheim” [see below].

2)     Riddle doesn’t state that King Porter came from the session at which the Pearls was made and in the Xeroxes sent to me does not answer Nesuhi Ertegun’s questions as to whether his record is dubbed.

3)     Alas, the 9/19/44 letter from Riddle is lacking in what I have. Vernacular Music Research has some other Riddle letters, however, and it’s worth looking to see whether the 9/19 letter was misplaced.  In any event, here are some excerpts from correspondence of Lowell Williams that may help set the context.

Lowell Williams, a native of York, Pa. came to Washington in the fall of 1936 to enroll in Benjamin Franklin “University”, actually a business college.  The full course took two years and led to the degree of Bachelor of Commercial Science.  He was presumably in Washington for most of the next two years with, no doubts, occasional trips home.  On Sept. 5, 1938, Williams informed Jelly Roll that he would be attending Penn State University.  He graduated with the class of 1943, and died in his home town in 1988.

In an undated letter from Lowell W. Williams [in York, pro tem] to JRM, now in the HNOC, among the documents discovered by Phil Pastras, is the following, which I transcribe in entirety because of its great importance:

Dear Jelly:

Couldn’t get out to see you at all last week, as I had too much schoolwork.  The purpose of this letter is to let you know our plans as far as more records are concerned.

This past Friday a traveling representative of DECCA records in New York, heard our records in Baltimore.  He was very much enthused over the material on them, and said there is no reason in the world why any more we make could not be published.  Technically speaking so far our records haven’t been hardly fit to publish, that is, the material on them is ok but the recording quality is rather poor. He told us to make another record, with the addition of bass and guitar, or bass and drums, take it to New York to the DECCA company for possible publication. With one record published and on the market, more will probably follow (if successful) and then it should be pretty easy sliding after that.

Here are the plans: we make the record this Friday afternoon in Baltimore, and then Saturday, Whitcomb and I will take it to New York. That’s what the DECCA representative told us to do. Here’s what I want you to do Jelly. Pick up a good bass man, and drummer, or guitar & bass, or even drum & guitar. Either of those combinations should work out fine, and we can really wax a fine disk. Of course we’ll need “Syrup” too, and Burg, the trumpet man will come down from York again. We’ll want to make Honeysuckle, and Melancholy Baby over and profit by any mistakes made last time, by listening again to the record of last week.

Please try to contact any of the rhythm combinations I mentioned, and tell them that it’s for DECCA, to be published in the near future. They’ll probably get paid on the basis of quality and selling value. Personally my idea is, that after they’ve heard the record in New York, they’ll probably arrange to have you and the boys come up there and make a series in their own studio. Anyway I’m very confident of its turning out ok.

I’ll be out to see you at the Music Box, on Tuesday about 3 in the afternoon, and we can discuss it further. However I hope I have made the situation plain to you in this letter.

Best regards and I’ll see you Tuesday.

[signed: Lowell W. Williams]

A pencilled note at the top of the first page, probably in Jelly’s hand, reads “Baltimore 4/4/38.” However, 4/4/38 was a Monday, whereas both February and March 4 fell on Fridays, so this note may not refer to a recording date. Be that as it may, Mrs. Lowell Williams found the following among her husband’s papers, from David Kapp on Decca letterhead, dated May 16, 1938:

Dear Mr. Williams:-

We have not yet definitely decided what to do with Jelly-Roll Morton, however, just as soon as we do, we will arrange to contact him through you.

Very truly yours,      
DECCA Records, Inc. 
[signed: David Kapp]

The following excerpts come from a letter from Lowell W. Williams to Jelly Roll Morton, dated July 6, 1938, now at the HNOC, among the documents discovered by Phil Pastras:

Dear Jelly:

I’m wondering how you’ve been lately, and also the nature of your activities since I last saw you. Has anything new come up? Don’t hesitate to call upon me in the event of a favorable proposition, because I certainly would enjoy working with you. Heard from Whitcomb (the boy in Baltimore) the other day and he says that Rosenheim still wants to make records, however I haven’t heard from him myself.

Jelly Roll Morton replied on July 8th (United States Postal Service, please note). This was kindly copied for me by Mrs. Lowell Williams:

Dear Lowell,

In reply to your letter of the 6th inst, will state that my activities have been tremendous and very much successfull
[sic] to a great degree, but I haven’t been able to control the situation of which I speak.

I have succeeded in causing a company to merge thru being connected with Mr Lomax, and I have you set for set for
[sic] distribution mgr of Penna. and Whitcomb for Maryland, but the big hitch I haven’t been able to produce a band. These bums tried to double cross me imediately [sic]. I canceled the whole damned bunch, so I have got to find a band to play as I ask. If you collect enough of my records, I am sure you will find out where the top bands get their material from. I think I will have to go to Baltimore to try get some men, to do the job. I don’t know how hard that will be. Perhaps you could be quiet [sic] an assistance if you were here, but on account of diminishing finance that would be to much to ask of you. I am sure I could use Berg, but complication are to much to undergo in these rural districts. I hardly know what I am saying with a palooka band rehearsing whilst I am trying to write to you. I am not interested in Rosenheim, although we may come to something, but this looks to big to sidetrack now. I hope you will be able to make sense out of some of this jumble.

Yours truly        
Jelly Roll Morton

P. S.  I have full access to record at any time.

On September 5, 1938, Lowell W. Williams wrote to Jelly Roll Morton from York, informing him of his new address at Penn State. He appears in the following passage to refer to the Baltimore recordings, presumably the second session:

You remember that guitar player Biddy Fleet, who played on those records we made?  Well, he showed up here in York about two weeks ago.  He got three nites work at a small café, but they cut down the band, and he’s now looking for a job of any kind.  Dick Burg and I are trying to help him all we can, but up till now we’ve had no succes [sic]. And I leave for school Wednesday.

Biddy Fleet, by the way, figures in the biography of Charlie Parker.

Notes by the transcriber – Prof. Lawrence Gushee:

Just how these Baltimore recordings, made by the obscure Rosenheim, fitted in chronologically with the various recordings made or organized by Sidney Martin in Washington, including possibly the ones made at the U.S. Recording Co. in the Rialto Theater Building is not for me to attempt to figure out here. Most troubling in this regard is the date of March, 1937, given for the “18 masters” that Martin told Bill Russell about in October, 1945 [see “Oh, Mr. Jelly”, page 433].

In conclusion, it appears quite likely that both sessions in Baltimore were made in early 1938, to judge by the date of Dave Kapp’s letter to Lowell Williams. The first session surely included the trio numbers (piano, alto, trumpet), and probably also the duets for alto and piano. The numbers with full band were made shortly after these, to judge from Lowell Williams’ letter which speaks of listening to the first session as a guide to changes in the second.

It’s not clear when “The Pearls”, “King Porter” and the short organ piece were made, although Bill Riddle stated that they came from a third session done in a different studio — “a little studio on the second floor, right next to Hammond’s music store on Liberty Street.” It doesn’t seem that Riddle was present at any of these three
[possibly] sessions: he heard “The Pearls”, “King Porter” and about seven other 12-inch piano solos, played to him by the recording studio owner when he [Riddle] recorded Roy Eldridge, Don Ewell and Cuba Austin in 1939. When Riddle was interviewed by Bob Greene in 1971 [see “Oh, Mr. Jelly”, page 432] he was rather disparaging about the organizers of the band recordings “at a little studio in East Baltimore” — “two would-be impresarios who promised Jelly all sorts of fantastic recording dates and new roads to fame, and so forth — none of which came off.” These two were surely Lowell Williams and Martin Whitcomb. Whether they also recorded “The Pearls” is not obvious.

Riddle’s earliest letter of October 10th, 1945,
[see above] calls into question the existence of such a third session, as well as his recollection of having heard some seven other solos in 1939. One might think he would have recalled at least some of the titles.

How many copies there were of any of these is something of a mystery. One chain of ownership was Rosenheim to Katz to Riddle and Loewenberg. But it would seem that either Lowell Williams or Martin Whitcomb (or both) would have had copies to take to New York. One wonders whether they were left with Decca. And it seems not impossible that Jelly Roll had copies as well.

Of course one would like to have every groove recorded by Jelly Roll, but it’s almost reward enough that we have the superb “The Pearls,” all five great minutes.

© May 2001 Prof. Lawrence Gushee

The following comes from Steve Sienkiewicz in response to a request from Mike Meddings:

In an effort to try and positively identify the precise location of the studio where the recordings took place, I asked Steve Sienkiewicz to carry out some research in Baltimore. In the letter below, dated 28th February 2001, Steve wrote:

“I was able to gather some information about the Baltimore acetates. Through another music store source, I actually got the telephone number of one of the original owners of the music store on N. Liberty Street.

“The name was actually HAMMANN Music Store. People often confused the name with the Hammond Organs which they sold. The address was 206 N. Liberty Street. I first talked to a Gordon Hammann and he referred me to his uncle, who ironically started working in the store in the summer of 1938. His name is Warren Hammann and is now 86 years old (sharp as a tack) and living at a retirement home here in Baltimore. As he could recall, there was a Log Cabin Candy store on one side and a Bank Building on the other side. He does not remember any 2nd floor recording studio next door.

“However, Hammann’s actually had a second and third floor where they taught music and possibly did some small personal recordings. He does remember they had a voice cutting machine when he started, where people would come in to sing a song. The store also started selling some portable style recording systems at the time. Could the recordings possibly have been done on THIS second floor in the teaching room?

“The only other possibility he does remember was that around the corner on Lexington Street between N. Liberty Street and Park Avenue there was a Keith’s Movie Theater, which had a rooftop radio station. He is not sure if it was either WITH or WFBR (sometimes called the Garden Theater), where they made acetate recordings of various bands and solos as they were doing Radio shows or performing? This could have also been a possibility.

“Getting back to Hammann’s though, he did remember a disc cutting machine as well as the home recording portable equipment to cut a disk. I hope this is somewhat helpful even though it is not an EXACT answer, at least it does shed some light on the matter. I think Warren Hammann was happy that I called because he said it brought back some great memories.”

© February 2001 Steve Sienkiewicz

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