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CD Review: Royal Society Jazz Orchestra -- Plays Hot Jazz MMRC-CD-46
Bert Thompson
THE 1920’s
(Merry Makers Record Company MMRC-CD-46).
Playing time:  39m. 36s.

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie*; I’m Comin’ Virginia; Everything Is Hotsy Totsy
Now*; Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight†; Go, Joe, Go; San; Tiger Rag;
Louise*; The Payoff; Walkin’ My Baby Back Home#; Copenhagen.
Personnel: Don Neely, reeds, vocals*; Tom Brozene, Manny Alcantar, cornets; Dick
Randolph, guest cornet soloist; Howard Miyata, trombone, vocal#; Ron Deeter,
clarinet, alto sax; Lin Patch; clarinet, tenor sax; John Benson, piano, celeste; Pat
Dutrow, banjo, tenor guitar; Rick Siverson, tuba, bass sax, vocal†; Jimmy Hurt,
Recorded in November, 1980, on the concert stage at San Jose State University, San
Jose, California.

During the twenties and thirties, many jazz “orchestras” consisting of ten or eleven
pieces were playing music often considered more “commercial” and geared toward
dancing, perhaps, than that of the smaller five to seven-piece groups we usually
think of a jazz “bands.”  These orchestras ranged, in size, somewhere between the
small groups and the behemoth of an orchestra playing “symphonic jazz”—that of
Paul Whiteman, which at its zenith had around two dozen or so musicians.  By the
end of the thirties most of these orchestras, to survive, had turned to playing swing.
This type of jazz-flavored orchestra of the twenties enjoyed something of a
comeback in the second jazz revival that occurred in the seventies, one being the
Royal Society Jazz Orchestra in the San Francisco Bay Area.  As we are told in the
brief liner note on back of the front cover of this CD, a group of San Jose State
University students, at the urging of Don Neely, got together “to play some old
stock arrangements from the music department.”  Thus began the RSJO.
These young musicians went on to make a concerted effort to be a “genuine”
twenties orchestra, and not just in terms of the arrangements of the tunes and the
instrumentation of the group.  When they came to make this recording in 1980,
considerable effort was put into making it as nearly a 1920’s recording as possible.  
In a communication about this CD, Howard Miyata, one of the participating
musicians (with a good memory!) told me the following:
That recording was our first recording done in the concert hall at San Jose State
University. The distant sound is due to the fact we tried to recreate 1920's recording
technology. I was playing on a bar stool balancing on two wooden boxes to get the
balance right!  We used megaphones for vocals; we, however, used two mikes for
stereo as a small nod to fidelity.
The leader, Don Neely himself, confirmed this, telling me that
… the band used a set up similar to that used in acoustic recordings where the softer
instruments are close to the mic and the louder instruments farther back.  I used a
megaphone on Clap Hands and Hotsy Totsy.
The result of all these efforts is a sound reminiscent of a twenties jazz orchestra—
other than the stereo effect, of course.  Several tracks are tunes that one never, or
seldom ever, hears today: Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie*; Everything Is Hotsy
Totsy Now; Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight; Go, Joe, Go; The
Payoff.  Of these, I had heard only the first and third before, and that was eons ago.  
But it is not hard to imagine the dancers taking to the floor ready to one-step as the
band launches into Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, the vocal largely ensemble
with Neely supplying a spoken bridge.  The whole arrangement is very tight and
crisply played, with the percussion effects by Hurt impressive as he shifts
effortlessly between temple blocks, choke cymbal, and snare.  
For I’m Comin’ Virginia, Siverson switches to bass sax and guest cornetist Randolph
provides a Bixian lead.  On the following track Siverson stays on bass sax and takes
a solo that demonstrates his facility on that cumbersome instrument, accompanied
by the rest of the rhythm section and leading up to Neely’s vocal.  Then comes
Livin’ in the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight, which opens with Siverson’s vocal,
accompanied by Dutrow’s solo guitar, a nice change of pace.  The next tune, Go, Joe,
Go, is a strange one with multiple breaks, all of which would require keeping one’s
eye firmly on the score.
After that is San, opening dramatically with a single note on the Chinese gong, and
the arrangement that follows retains the oriental flavor, giving the tune a new (and
refreshing) interpretation.  Following that comes the old a war horse Tiger Rag,
taken at a brisk tempo and giving trombonist Miyata a fine opportunity to exercise
his “tiger chops.”  Spicing the piece is an ensemble chorus of patter in a break, all
adding up to a fine rendition.  As Louise opens, one must listen closely to hear the
celeste introduction leading into Neely’s vocal.  Following the vocal is a solo by
Randolph, who once again tries with some success to remind us of Bix.  For the
coda, Neely comes back to take another vocal, this time with a pseudo-French accent
(sending up Chevalier), nicely backed with some mildly derisive sounds and bird
calls.  Great stuff.
The Payoff (it’s usually written Pay Off), a composition by Howard “Howdy”
Quicksell, is tricky and has everyone on their toes, but it doesn’t do a great deal for
me, although others give it a different assessment.  Walkin’ My Baby Back Home is
quite familiar, in part undoubtedly because it enjoyed great popularity in the fifties,
being heard on radio constantly by the likes of Nat King Cole and Billy May.  On
his vocal Miyata doesn’t try any kind of imitation of Cole, but he does rather slyly
slip briefly in a spoken bridge in what sounds suspiciously like the manner of Peter
Lorre’s Mr. Moto.  Rounding off the program is Copenhagen, which provides
almost everyone a moment in the spotlight, whether it be a chorus or a break, with a
little added hokum of whistles blowing in the background and assorted outcries
from non-blowing members in the out-choruses.
The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra is still playing today with, as might be expected
after some thirty years, a much different personnel than the one on this CD.  Having
the original band on their first recording available again will be of great interest to
aficionados of this genre and fans of the band.  The enthusiasm and the
musicianship of those young men was remarkable, and this CD is both a testament
to and a worthy memento of that.  Unfortunately no other tracks from that recording
session exist, so this CD’s program could not be augmented; what is here is only
what was on the original LP but well worth reissuing as a CD.
It can be obtained from Ted Shafer at any of the Jelly Roll Jazz Band gigs or ordered
directly from him at Merry Makers Record Company, 926 Beechwood Circle, Suisun
City, CA 94585, toll-free number 1-866-563-4433.  The cost, including mailing, is
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization