Phil Schaap Jazz

Don Redman Arranged his Composition "Cherry" as Recorded by McKinney's Cotton Pickers

By Phil Schaap This essay’s purpose is to assert and prove that the Musical Director of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, DON REDMAN, is, in fact, the arranger of his composition, “CHERRY”, as recorded by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers on July 12, 1928. At the outset, nevertheless, a more general statement is made here: recent discographical findings, efforts that correct previous misleading listings, infrequently find their way into Jazz’s standard reference works. Mistakes prevail as gospel. A successful system to override mis-listings with truth is needed; perhaps the Neo Hot Club Movement with its young champions: David Beal, Justin Brown, Emily Fenster, Parker Fishel, Colin Hancock, Charles Iselin, and the Fat Cat, Matthew Rivera, will create a path to well-placed accuracy. Pointing out the correct arranger credit – that it’s Don Redman and not John Nesbitt – is important, but attaching the artist’s name to his creation is superseded by the profound musical value of the arrangement, itself, containing the innovation of a four part saxophone section passage in Big Band Jazz. That breakthrough would be the case even if the creator of the score was unknown or misattributed. Still, there is great pleasure to properly listing the name of Don Redman, a genius, as the arranger of this masterpiece as it retains (regains?) its place among his masterworks. That “retains” was in italics directs the reader towards two essential points: 1. That Don Redman is the arranger of his composition, “Cherry”, as recorded by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers on July 12, 1928, has been known and commonly accepted for the entire 92 years since the recording. 2. That the Redman arranger credit was ever doubted started with a mid-1940s 78RPM Album that reissued Jazz Age recordings by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers including “Cherry” and listed John Nesbitt as the arranger. This essay provides the examination that debunks, or at a minimum successfully challenges, the Nesbitt listing in that album’s booklet. The misattribution, however, has been picked up and, unfortunately, survives. Hence the necessity of this essay’s definitive clarification that Don Redman is the arranger of “Cherry”. Jazz enthusiasm in the Swing Era is largely responsible for launching the reissuing of recordings that were out of print and the creating of the album concept. While the term “album” is most associated with the long playing record (read: vinyl), it started with Jazz in the Swing Era when batches of music – whether newly recorded or reissued – were thematically placed in a binder with sleeves for multiple 78 RPM discs (shorter playing times on 78s required several discs) packaging that illustrates the “album” far better than the Lp. One such album with its multiple 78RPMs was “HOT JAZZ by McKINNEY’S COTTON PICKERS” issued by “Victor” (RCA Victor) as “VICTOR ALBUM HJ-4 (Volume IV)” released in the mid-1940s in the USA with a parallel issue in Canada. The root of giving the arranger credit to John Nesbitt for “Cherry”, Don Redman’s composition and the recording by the Redman led McKinney’s Cotton Pickers of July 12, 1928, is the booklet to that album. Charles Edward Smith, co-editor of the classic book “Jazzmen” published in 1939, wrote the album’s booklet. In the booklet’s discography’s introduction, Smith wrote that Don Redman had confirmed label listings but with some corrections. The major input or correction coming from Redman concerned the arrangements. “In crediting arrangements, Don asked that Nesbitt be listed for the titles on which he worked;”. An oddity/irony to the assignment of the arrangement of “Cherry” to John Nesbitt in the booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4) that this essay refutes, is that it went and has gone virtually unnoticed. It’s possible that the early French Jazz scholars, in particular Hughes Panassié, did place into print before the Swing Era that the arrangement was by Don Redman. Whatever the absence of a published attribution before the Swing Era, from the original release in 1928 on Victor 21730 well into the Swing Era (and, as it turns out, on and on into today), it was common knowledge that Don Redman arranged his “Cherry” for the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ recording and that the chart’s 4 part saxophone chorus was a pivotal innovation to Big Band Jazz. Benny Carter via the late Ed Berger thought so. In this, “The King” (Carter) provided his acknowledgment of Redman’s work and its magnitude. Further, Benny followed Redman as the Musical Director (in 1931) of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and as such, Carter had access to the band’s library, which included the score and parts to the “Cherry” arrangement. When Benny Carter was Music Director of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, “Cherry” was still a vital piece in the orchestra’s repertoire. Although Turk Van Lake was only 13 when Victor 21730 came out and most probably did not come to his reverence of Don Redman’s genius until the mid-1930s, Turk, too, knew the impact of Redman’s 4 part saxophone chorus on the July 12, 1928 recording of “Cherry”. Van Lake often referenced it in his lectures on Don Redman, frequently (always?) punctuated with his admonishment “Don’t you know that Don Redman is the Dean of the arrangers!?” Turk Van Lake became a great arranger, including in the mid-1940s a stretch as staff arranger for Count Basie, and was a college professor in his later career. Since the 1960s, correspondents, including Redman musicians, have always cited Don Redman for “Cherry”, and, in particular, the four part reed section chorus (it’s actually the 3 ‘A’s to an AABA chorus) as a pivotal breakthrough in Jazz orchestral writing. This pioneering moment in the development of Big Band Jazz endures - known and vital. That the “Cherry” arrangement was by John Nesbitt was not a controversy or even noticed. Indeed, the “correction” that it is by Nesbitt and not Redman is not picked up by Jazz literature—John Chilton’s McKinney’s Cotton Pickers pamphlet—seems a rare exception. What is to be made of Charles Edward Smith and his booklet’s listing in its discography—the term is not deployed but it is a discography, one that appears under the heading “About This Album”—which hands the arranger credit for “Cherry” to John Nesbitt? All the witnesses are deceased, and it is now a concern for music analysis: does the arrangement sound like Don Redman’s work or Nesbitt’s? Arguably, there is the possibility that they both worked on different sections. What can be verified at this late date? Superior ears—John Wriggle and Vince Giordano—were approached. John Wriggle commented: “I think the Redman credit is fairly safe. Generally – and overlooking an uncomfortable number of contested credits – Nesbitt seems to focus more on brass scoring (for example, “Put it There” – assuming Nesbitt arranged that). “Cherry’s” extended sax soli already leans toward Redman. The coyly choppy (?) phrasing of the sax soli – including the mid-phrase interruption of eighth-notes with a triplet figure (first A) and sudden shifts in register (the drop down to the ascending hook figure ending each A) - also sounds like Redman’s work, including Redman’s own solos (though perhaps I’m being swayed by hearing Redman leading the section). Grasping at smaller straws, the recurring held-note ensemble and section “flare” figures (heard as half-notes on beat three or dotted-half-notes on beat two) throughout “Cherry” have precedent in (the up-tempo version of) “Four or Five Times” (assuming Redman arranged that)—hear the end of the “Four …” intro. Comparisons based on such generic devices are tenuous, but the parallels are there. And hearing “Four or Five Times” and “Cherry” back-to-back, I hear nothing to alarm me that these arrangements are not by the same person. In the absence of additional information, I accept that the composer is the arranger here. (And I wonder if Nesbitt would stick as close to the melody as this rendition of “Cherry” does?)” Mr. Wriggle also stated that he would defer to Vince Giordano. Vince Giordano declared that the “Cherry” chart is, indeed, by its composer, Don Redman. Vince’s pronouncement, it should be admitted, came after reading Wriggle’s analysis. As such, it could be said that Giordano deferred to John Wriggle. Thank you, John and Vince! Again, this essay’s purpose is to proclaim the proper credit for the landmark arrangement of the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ “Cherry” to Don Redman. It, therefore, is necessary to override giving that arranger credit to John Nesbitt published in “HOT JAZZ by McKINNEY’S COTTON PICKERS” as “VICTOR ALBUM HJ-4 (Volume IV)” and the picking up of that listing by the late John Chilton in his excellent and learned 1978 publication “McKINNEY’S MUSIC: A bio-discography of McKINNEY’S COTTON PICKERS”. An approach to parrying the {miss} listing that John Nesbitt arranged the “Cherry” is to intensify the scrutiny of Charles Edward Smith’s attributions in the booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4), particularly the data in “About This Album”, the discography to the album. Smith acknowledges that Don Redman supplied, confirmed, and corrected. Further, Smith’s text explained Redman’s desire that Nesbitt be credited for what Nesbitt had arranged and the ‘discography’ formally provides “CHERRY – (Arr. Nesbitt)”. That, “CHERRY – (Arr. Nesbitt)”, is what would be called at trial “best evidence”. Charles Edward Smith had direct contact with Don Redman and Smith cites that it is Redman who provides and clarifies the arranger credits. But “About This Album” also contains short paragraphs about each tune’s music, including solo credits. There are many mistakes, different types of mistakes, in these solo credits and it is most difficult to believe that any were made by Don Redman or that he had anything to do with the identifications – why even Redman’s clarinet solo on “Cherry” is attributed to Prince Robinson! This leads to our questioning the depth of Charles Edward Smith’s contact with Don Redman. The booklet’s end offers “Credit for Assistance: William Russell, Don Redman.” Note that the credits are not alphabetical. Certainly, Redman’s prominence and central position to the music reissued on “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4) much more than alphabetical order would have led to Redman being named first. There may have been constraints on how much time and detail that Redman could provide Smith with. Did Don Redman help with the personnel and instrumentation given in the booklet? That listed is pretty much spot on, and such specifics – personnel and instrumentation – are often more difficult to pin down than soloists. Whatever Redman supplied Charles Edward Smith, Don Redman did not supply the soloist identifications: they are greatly flawed. Taking the discography (“About This Album”) and using “Cherry”, only the clarinet solo is cited and it’s identified as played by Prince Robinson. Prince Robinson does solo on “Cherry” but on tenor saxophone in the arrangement’s last chorus. Early in the chart, Claude Jones plays a trombone solo on the bridge of the legendary reed section passage. The booklet acknowledges neither Jones’ nor Robinson’s solo. Going further in this realm of analysis and moving to “Never Swat A Fly”, Robinson is again credited as the clarinet soloist in the album’s booklet. Yet on the track’s longer (16 & 8) clarinet solo (played by Benny Carter), the tenor sax solo on the bridge is by Prince Robinson. He could not have played both (the whole chorus) and the album’s discography does not acknowledge the tenor sax solo or any tenor solo on any title. Entertaining the dubious idea that Don Redman supplied solo credits, then this is what might have occurred: Redman did not bother to name himself when he soloed, but said that Prince Robinson soloed – meaning the tenor solos – but Smith misunderstood and gave Robinson the credit for all of the clarinet improvisations on “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4). Prince Robinson is not responsible for any of the clarinet work on McKinney’s Cotton Pickers recordings. The label credits – on the album’s four 78RPM discs and on McKinney’s Cotton Pickers 78s in general – presents another concern about what information was supplied or confirmed by Don Redman. Charles Edward Smith wrote “When the records in this album were pressed, the personnel listed on the labels were taken from material available at that time. Since then, these listings were largely confirmed by Don Redman, but there were a few changes.” This quote reveals a muddied production and leads to comparing the labels of the four 78s in the album to the album’s booklet. That Redman was contacted after the 78s with their labels were pressed, reveals belated or delayed input from him and again leads to questions about what Don Redman supplied and the process by which that information was secured. 1. “Personnel listed” is misleading. The labels to the four 78RPM discs in “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (Victor (RCA Victor) catalog numbers: 40-0114; 40-0115; 40-0116; and 40-0117) do not provide full personnel but, following the word “featuring”, list a few names on the selection that are showcased. This approach broadly matches on occasion such credits on 78RPM releases in a pre-Swing Era time, but the label credits on the original releases do not match those on the labels of the four 78s reissued by the album. Further, in general, earlier 78s do not use “featuring” but “with” or even just the name and role of the credited performer on those releases that have such additions. 2. Continuing from “1” just above, observe the credits for “Plain Dirt”: The original 78RPM (Victor V-38097-B) does not cite any player. The album “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4)’s second 78RPM label (Victor 40-0115-A) has “featuring” (in this order) Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Joe Smith, Sidney DeParis, Benny Carter, and Claude Jones, named with their instruments. The album “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4)’s booklet offers full personnel, recording date, arranger credit (to Nesbitt) and these solo identifications (seemingly in alphabetical order): Benny Carter on alto, Coleman Hawkins on tenor, and Claude Jones on trombone. The recording actually contains solos by (in performance order): Sidney DeParis on trumpet, Claude Jones on trombone, and Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone (in three short bits of 4 bars, 4 bars, and 2 bars). 3. The reference to label credits is confusing. Taking Charles Edward Smith’s writing in “About This Album” at face value: the situation was that the labels (40-0114; 40-0115; 40-0116; and 40-0117) and the pressing of these records had occurred before the booklet was completed (started?) and that Don Redman was contacted after those records existed. Smith stated that Redman confirmed much of what those labels contained and corrected (“but there were a few changes”) some. Whatever the specifics to Don Redman’s confirmations and “few changes”, the information on those labels and the booklet’s discography are not at all similar. There is no way to derive a comparison of the labels’ brief listings to the booklet’s broad coverage of specifics. Redman’s precise confirmations and changes are not spelled out. 4. Don Redman then added the context of arranger credits. Or did he? Smith wrote: “In crediting arrangements, Don asked that Nesbitt be listed for the titles on which he worked;” If one is crediting arrangers, then why would one not want to list the correct arranger to each work? It can be inferred that listing arranger credits was already an intension of Smith’s, but a limited one – in that there was a common presumption in that period that Don Redman had done all the arranging. This contention is supported by Smith’s booklet quoting the early writing of Hughes Panassié. Panassié names few of the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers titles but it seems he assumed all the arrangements were by Redman. Charles Edward Smith’s citations of Panassié can be interpreted to mean that Smith embraced the thought that all the arrangements were by Redman and that Don, himself, corrected that belief. Examination of the paragraph on “Cherry” that Smith wrote in the booklet’s “About This Album” suggests he was burdened by the arrangement of “Cherry” being assigned to John Nesbitt and not to Don Redman. Smith wrote: “And there seems no doubt that Nesbitt’s arranging style was influenced by Redman’s.” [John Wriggle provided that Nesbitt’s and Redman’s styles contrast.] Later, in that paragraph: “The first reed chorus – before the vocal – reminds one of old Henderson arrangements (many of them by Don).” [Yes, Charles Edward Smith does appear oblivious to the magnitude and breakthrough of that reed chorus with its fourth part, but he does admire it and hears Redman’s touch.] 5. Continuing from ‘4’ just above, the essay comes to what might be the “smoking gun” in questioning the arranger credit for “Cherry” and any or all arranger credits in the booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4). Returning to the selection “Never Swat A Fly”, the arranger credit names “Redman”. The arranger is BENNY CARTER. “The King” was quite proud of crafting this chart as the task of arranging “Never Swat A Fly” for McKinney’s Cotton Pickers was assigned (it should be assumed by Redman) before Carter joined the band. Benny would takeover for Don Redman as Musical Director in the summer of 1931. While the surviving evidence does not spell out that Don commissioned Carter’s arranging “Never Swat A Fly”, the following appears in Ed Berger’s Benny Carter Discography, Volume II in “BENNY CARTER: A Life in American Music”: “Carter credits Redman’s leadership for the precise execution of the Cotton Pickers and remembers him as “one of the sweetest and most generous men I ever knew.” Whenever they recorded together, the self-effacing Redman usually delegated the alto or clarinet solos to Carter.” Please note that Berger went over every entry in his Carter Discography with The King and that Ed quotes Benny extensively throughout the text. While it is parenthetical to the misattribution that Don Redman arranged “Never Swat A Fly” when it was done by Benny Carter, further observations include that all the clarinet soloing – a short 8 bar solo and the 16 bar + 8 bar solo with Prince Robinson’s tenor sax on the bridge that was mentioned earlier, were by Benny. Identifying that it is The King taking these clarinet solos was confirmed by Ed Berger, Benny Carter, and, independently, by Jan Evensmo. Additional musical insight relates only tangentially to the arrangement: it is clearly audible that Benny Carter, and not Redman, leads the saxophone section on “Never Swat A Fly”; and that the sax section is three altos and one tenor – Redman’s original instrumentation for a 4 piece reed section. Benny Carter was not a member of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers on November 4, 1930, when “Never Swat A Fly” was recorded, but everyone else on the tune (there are two takes) was. The King was subbing for the just deceased (fatally injured in an auto accident, though not the driver) George “Fathead” Thomas (b. 6/28/1902 – d. 10/26/1930). In 1928, Thomas had replaced one of McKinney’s alto players. George Thomas was hired because a sound system had been put in at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit (the home base for McKinney’s Cotton Pickers) and Jean Goldkette (the owner), William McKinney, and Don Redman wanted to feature singing. Thomas was a vocalist and a {tenor} saxophonist, a prime candidate for the “jobs” of replacing the altoist and becoming the orchestra’s singer. Redman asked Thomas to switch from tenor to alto, and “Fathead” refused. Thomas, nevertheless, was hired, and with his employment came the first two alto, two tenor alignment for a four piece saxophone section; indeed, the instrumentation on “Cherry”. But Don Redman in creating the innovation of the four piece sax section had always preferred three altos and one tenor (he would have that in his first nominally led Don Redman Orchestra in 1931), and though little noticed, The King would embrace it for Carter’s own pre Swing Orchestras. Eventually, both Benny Carter and Don Redman would accept a norm initiated by Fletcher Henderson as the Swing Era started, that the sax section should be two alto saxophones and two tenor saxophones. The misattribution of the arrangement of “Never Swat A Fly” in “About This Album”, the discography in the Charles Edward Smith written booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4), propels this essay to the crux of its message and purpose. The best evidence, and for a long while the only known published information concerning the arrangement of the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers recording of “Cherry”, gave John Nesbitt the credit. This essay ensures that the listing is a mistake; but it does so without an equal piece of “best evidence”. The mistaken ascribing of the arrangement of “Never Swat A Fly” to Don Redman when it was by Benny Carter in the very same booklet provides a piece of evidence ‘at the very same trial’ that should be evaluated as aiding the challenge to the {erroneous} Nesbitt credit for arranging “Cherry”. At this late date, there can be no precise explanation to these two mistakes. Undoubtedly, these inaccuracies were caused differently. A best guess to the mis-listing for “Cherry” is that Smith mis-transcribed the arranger credit supplied by Don Redman. That Redman apparently told Smith that he had arranged “Never Swat A Fly” though it belongs to King Carter is likely due to Redman’s forgetting who did chart and that it sounded very much like his work and not like that of John Nesbitt. It can be assumed that Redman, in wishing for correct arranger credits, only contemplated that the arrangements were either by himself or Nesbitt. It should be noted that Benny Carter’s early arrangements reveal a clear influence of Don Redman. Certainly, when Smith wrote: “In crediting arrangements, Don asked that Nesbitt be listed for the titles on which he worked;” there was no implication that other arrangers, Carter, as it turns out, specifically, were not to be credited. Additionally, to the matter of the arranging credits. The booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4) implies that Redman’s attention to arranger credits was partly caused by his need to correct inaccurate listings. Are there any such previously (by the mid-1940s) published inaccuracies to be corrected? The fact checking imposed on Charles Edward Smith’s information in the booklet to “HOT JAZZ by McKINNEY’S COTTON PICKERS” on “VICTOR ALBUM HJ-4 (Volume IV)” does not often address the specific concern of who arranged McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ “Cherry”. Moreover, it is tedium for most if not all readers. The need for this infliction (affliction) is due to a need to dispute first, best, and for a length of time, only evidence. The righteous requirement of correctly identifying DON REDMAN as the arranger to “Cherry”, an innovation and masterpiece to Big Band orchestration, demanded a way to countermand a primary source that this great arrangement was a creation of one John Nesbitt with its citation that the great Don Redman, himself, provided the “correction” that the chart was Nesbitt’s. The means to reversing stand alone “best evidence” was to scrutinize the document with that evidence. Belaboring or not, that inspection has shown that the original document is rife with inconsistencies and misstatements that allow refutation. There is so much more to be written about Don Redman’s “Cherry” that does not pertain to the arranger credit or Charles Edward Smith’s writing in the booklet to “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4). Here are a few that hopefully will not further burden the reader. Don Redman not only composed and arranged “Cherry”, but he is also the lyricist. New lyrics were written in 1941 by Sydney King Russell, but they may never have been used or only obscurely. In 1955, Ray Gilbert authored a third set of lyrics, which Les Brown recorded. Gilbert’s credit continues on any new use of “Cherry”, but the composer’s original 1928 lyric prevails. Ellington trumpeter Franc Williams (Francis Williams), who worked in Detroit (where McKinney’s Cotton Pickers were based) in the late 1920s, told that there was an actual Cherry and that many musicians wished to get romantically involved with her. Discographically, it should be noted that two different takes (46098-2 & 46098-3) came out under the same label on the original release Victor 21730. All 78RPM reissues, including Victor 40-0114 on “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4), contain take 3. Discographies, including the definitive 78RPM text by the late Brian Rust, include a phantom reissue of “Cherry”. That would be Bluebird B-6304, which does have one side by McKinney’s, “It’s Tight Like That”, (the reverse is “Terrific Stomp” by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra). Of musical interest, Bluebird B-6304’s label credits Don Redman playing piano on “It’s Tight Like That”. A collectors’ concern is that the United States release of “Hot Jazz by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” (HJ4) uses green-blue colored paper for its labels and the parallel Canadian issue uses purple-maroon colored paper on its labels. Finally, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it has been impossible to track down the contents of Victor album A-23 (78 or 45?). If it is an early 78RPM album and contains the July 12, 1928, “Cherry”, then it’s plausible that some important documentation remains to be uncovered. The irony to this essay’s finalization of the correct Don Redman arranger credit for that “Cherry” is its drawing attention to the John Nesbitt misattribution. The fear is that this essay’s examination, which clearly supplies the longstanding and accurate Don Redman arranger credit, will somehow be a source to any future claim that might allow Nesbitt’s name to be reattached to what is an important illustration of Don Redman’s genius.