THE IDENTITY OF THE PIANIST ON JACK PURVIS RECORDINGS OF APRIL 4, 1930 AND MAY 1, 1930
by Phil Schaap
This essay is not about the early Jazz figure, Jack Purvis, a trumpeter, arranger, and composer, although it does focus on his only recordings as a leader: three dates that were waxed during a short stretch of time between December 17, 1929 and May 1, 1930. The true topic here is the identity of the pianist on the second and third of those three sessions.
Collectively as well as individually, these sessions supply a striking chapter to Jack Purvis’ biography. I should spell out that the musician Jack Purvis is an entirely different person to the diminutive movie star of the same name. Musician Purvis’ life story is complex and even troubling despite a zany and entertaining side. It won’t be told here. What makes Jack Purvis important really isn’t his adventures or eccentricities, it’s the small bit of substantive Jazz he created.
The crest to Purvis’ music comes with those three record dates he made as a leader. They all happened after the start of the Great Depression, when launching a record career was daunting and sales projections downcast. Indeed, the original issues are quite rare. The first session, on December 17, 1929, simply listed “JACK PURVIS” as the name of the recording unit though the label to OKeh 41404 also stated “Cornet Solo with Orchestra Acc.”. Purvis’ accompanists were his then associates while playing with Hal Kemp. The unusual title, “Mental Strain At Dawn”, has caused some buzz in recent decades. But the more telling title is “Copyin’ Louis”. The second (April 4, 1930) and third (May 1, 1930) sessions listed “JACK PURVIS AND HIS ORCHESTRA”. These were recorded for the legendary OKeh Records label to be marketed in their ‘segregated’ 8000 series, a catalog numbering code that indicated the music was made by Blacks and was intended solely for sale to the African American community. But Jack Purvis was Caucasian and the sessions were integrated! The whole subject of “Race Records” is a tale within what C. Vann Woodward labeled “The Strange Career of Jim Crow”. The OKeh 8000 series is a major illustration of that tale, and the Purvis variant to the 8000s’ rule is an intriguing not to say significant specific.
This essay’s concern, however, is a smallish discographical matter regarding who plays piano on the second and, as the researched developed, also the third record dates. Debate over that identification sprouted only recently, and the seed to it was planted on April 20, 2018.
Friday, April 20, 2018 was the date of a Discographical Solographical Symposium with Jan Evensmo held at Jazz at Lincoln Center, broadcast live on WKCR, and still posted at “radio” on the homepage of philschaapjazz.com. I produced the event, moderated, and also participated in the panel with Mr. Evensmo, Vincent Pelote, and Joel Wenhardt. The symposium honored Jan Evensmo but also had him working in the panel that was to decide on various solo identifications still in question. Jan is the founding father of Solography and currently publishes his findings at JazzArcheology.com.
One question that evening was whether Coleman Hawkins plays the tenor saxophone on the Jack Purvis session of April 4, 1930. Hawk had been listed as the tenor player for over 80 years, but his presence was opened to question by the recording’s Producer, Bob Stephens. In a 1971 interview, cited in the notes to Columbia 40833 (Lp, CD, & cassette) the 1987 release entitled “1930s: The Small Combos” (an anthology that for Purvis only included the 4/4/1930 “Dismal Dan”), Stephens said that Castor McCord and not “Bean” (as Hawkins is nicknamed) was the tenor saxophonist. Despite this primary source’s 1971 statement, that evening’s comparison of McCord’s and Hawkins’ contemporary recordings, along with panelist Vincent Pelote’s citation that Coleman, himself, had verified his presence to Dan Morgenstern, led to a unanimous declaration that Bob Stephens was mistaken, and that Coleman Hawkins IS the tenor player in the Jack Purvis Orchestra that recorded on April 4, 1930. I added that Stephens, perhaps conflating memories, may have been recalling the May 1, 1930 Purvis recording – which Bob Stephens also produced – where Greely Walton, and not Hawkins, played tenor sax. In any case, Castor McCord NEVER RECORDS with Jack Purvis.
Assisting with the WKCR live broadcast of the symposium was the just turned twenty-two years of age Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera. Matthew was struck by my telling of the rarity of the originals, OKehs, #8782 and #8808. I announced that I had never seen the originals but boasted of pristine copies – master pressings – from English Parlophone reissues that I had specially prepared for the listening of April 20, 2018.
Mr. Rivera has an uncanny ability to find important and rare Jazz 78RPM discs AND at low cost. One specific purchase a few years ago led to his earning the sobriquet “Fat Cat” and should the reader attend one of the open-to-the public gatherings in the Neo Hot Club Movement, you might ask Matthew to tell the story of how he got his nickname. The very next day after the symposium, the Fat Cat launched his search for the Jack Purvis OKeh 8000s, and very soon thereafter had originals AND in good condition. The cost: $20.
Roughly a year later, “Fat Cat” Rivera played his 78s at a meeting of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown. The very fine playback gear at Morristown and the prime condition of the Fat Cat’s original OKeh 78s provided further clarification that it is, indeed, “Bean” playing tenor on the April 4, 1930 Jack Purvis recordings. It was during this additional hearing reconfirming Hawk’s presence that a new question about the players on Purvis’ April 4, 1930 session arose: who is the pianist? I am a bit ashamed of having failed to concentrate on the piano solos previously. The piano player is wonderful, clearly well-trained and blessed with a most interesting solo concept.
Since the first discographies in the mid-to-late 1930s, the pianist has been listed as Frank Froeba. Knowing Froeba’s playing from his 1933 – 1935 work with Benny Goodman, I exclaimed that the Purvis pianist could not be Froeba. Those at the meeting concurred, and we all tried to figure out who the player could be. So began a fresh slant and new research.
This is a good point to acknowledge those who joined in that research. First, there is the entire membership of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown. Since their meeting where the mystery to the pianist’s identity surfaced, UHCofM members who have stayed on the case include the Fat Cat, Charles Iselin, Melissa Jones, and Ben Young. At the meeting, young pianist and singer, Robert K. Lee, knowledgably guided everyone to keyboard subtleties that bespoke who could and could not be the pianist. Since then, pianist and Hot Clubber of-the-air, Tom Roberts, has similarly plied wizardry in pointing out differences of style and touch in the various keyboard candidates under consideration. Early on, Roberts guided us to the realization that the ‘April 4, 1930 pianist’ is the very same one as on the May 1, 1930 session with Greely Walton and not Bean nor Castor McCord. Thanks goes to Vince Giordano, the very first to add expertise to the UHCofM’s examination, as Mr. Giordano quickly pointed out that Tom Roberts needed to be consulted. Eventually, Mosaic Records’ Scott Wenzel joined the team. The thoughts and determinations of this nucleus are now ready to be shared with, I assume, the very few who wish to be informed. Notwithstanding the small amount of piano Jazz on the Purvis sessions and the minor nature of this “controversy”, and even if the pianist is, in fact, the long-listed Frank Froeba, the reason that the research and conclusions have gravity is that they add depth to art of great value whatever the small amount of piano Jazz that is to be heard on the two Purvis led gatherings. It matters. Jazz matters. Listening matters.
WHY THE PIANO PLAYING IS HARD TO IDENTIFY
The distinct, unusual, and pleasing component to the player’s concept is a dazzling independence of left hand and right hand. The solos present the technically difficult mastery of runs in which the two hands go in opposite directions: one climbing higher, the other descending. This is more than rare in Jazz piano, and conjures up the virtuosity of an Art Tatum, though the pianist cannot be Tatum and doesn’t sound anything like him. Also to be noted is that Earl “Fatha” Hines sometimes shows off that same two-way, two-handed talent. This mystery musician is fully aware of and capable of mimicking the then still new Jazz piano solo innovations – and more common aspect – of Earl Hines’ playing. In addition, this pianist seems to know specific Hines’ solos from Louis Armstrong records. Further, the player’s technical skill and some of what he plays – there’s a hint of Chopin – reveals formal training in the Western Classical realm.
WHY IT IS HARD TO BELIEVE THAT FRANK FROEBA IS THE PIANIST
Frank Froeba made his first recordings at age 17 with fellow New Orleanian Johnny De Droit on October 29, 1924 and January 12, 1925. There is very little piano playing to be heard on those records. Unless Froeba IS on the Spring 1930 Purvis dates, Frank Froeba makes no other recordings until October 8, 1932, when he records under guitarist Jack Bland’s leadership in the concluding session to the legendary 1932 Rhythmmakers outings. Froeba swings and plays skillfully on those records. There is a hint of Fatha Hines as well as of authentic New Orleans Jazz capability. What this first full showcasing of Froeba’s piano style does not present is anything like the unusual pianistic approach of the Spring 1930 Purvis sides. On December 24, 1935, after his Goodman sojourn, Frank Froeba makes the first in a long string of singles and albums as a leader. Here, the piano solos are similar to his playing from the Bland session over three years before. Note (!): Jack Purvis is the trumpeter on Froeba’s first leader date. It is, in fact, Jack Purvis’ last known recording.
Begging pardon for noticing, but the further along into the Frank Froeba Discography, the less skill and Jazz content there is to be heard. If Frank Froeba is the pianist on April 4 and May 1, 1930, then he never again displays the two handed, different-direction runs he performs that spring.
IF THE PIANIST ISN’T FROEBA, THEN WHAT MIGHT IDENTIFY THE PLAYER
First, the pianist needs to be in New York City in the early Spring of 1930. Surprisingly, a few pianists worth considering were in NYC at that time although most Jazz literature places them elsewhere.
Second, the pianist should be known for formal training.
Third, and most important, the pianist must demonstrate the use of those unusual bidirectional runs.
Typical pre-BeBop piano playing finds the left hand providing rhythm accompaniment. Whether Harlem Stride, Boogie-Woogie, or something else, early Jazz pianism features the right hand regardless of the fullness and difficulty in what the left hand deploys.
I’ve already referred to the limited information on the actual records. We could not find a copy of Odeon ONY-36093, the initial issue of the May 1, 1930 recordings that coupled “What’s the Use of Crying, Baby?” and “When You’re Feelin’ Blue”.
Perusing the OKeh session file cards for Purvis music from both April 4, 1930 (“Dismal Dan” and “Poor Richard”) and, also, May 1, 1930 (“Be Bo Bo”) in visuals given us by Scott Wenzel via Tom Tierney, no personnel information can be seen. Vince Giordano points out that the co-composer credits for “Be Bo Bo” are “Stevens – Purvis”. Vince ponders whether Stevens is Bert Stevens, a pianist who composed “Symphonic Raps”, famously recorded by the Carroll Dickenson Orchestra with Louis and Fatha Hines; and who, years ago, briefly played piano for Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. In short: the surviving 1930 documents offer no help.
Vince Giordano also suggested tracking down Jack Purvis’ daughter.
Jack Purvis’ daughter, Betty Lou Purvis Marks (first name also given as Bettelou), wrote about music including Jazz, and played Jazz records on Pittsburgh radio (WPGH). She also composed music – apparently folk ditties and novelties. I strongly doubt that she would have or had any information; anyway she has been deceased for over 43 years (10/6/1927 – 4/18/1976).
Charles Iselin inspired me to spend some time trying to track down the 1971 interview of Bob Stephens who produced the 1930 Jack Purvis sessions. Stephens’ known statement about the session was erroneous; so, I think having the full interview would pin down little even if Stephens identified the pianist. Still, hearing the entire interview or reading a complete transcript might provide clues. I recalled reading information from an interview of Producer Bob Stephens – either the same 1971 interview or another one – where Stephens stated that he shared an apartment with Purvis, and how, both broke, they skipped out on the rent, leaving behind a large number of OKeh Records test pressings including a fair number of alternate takes by definitive Jazz figures. We could not gain access to Bob Stephens’ interview(s), and could only come up with Michael Steinman’s article in a 2002 issue of the IAJRC Journal that labels the information I recalled apocryphal, though the article may have only been stating that the part about the OKeh tests was untrue. If Jack Purvis and Bob Stephens were, in fact, roommates, then that possibility offers insight into how the obscure Purvis came to make three record dates as a leader – especially during the Great Depression. Candidly, the absence of the full record of Bob Stephens’ statements is a weakness to our research.
Ever since Charles Delaunay published his/the first discography over 80 years ago, the personnel listings for Jack Purvis’ sessions have been correct to the extent that players can be independently verified. This includes the listing of Coleman Hawkins for April 4, 1930 and Greely Walton for May 1, 1930. Frank Froeba has always been listed for both dates. While Discography on the matter of the pianist’s identity is not exactly a primary source, the listings’ accuracy in general does give powerful support that the player is Froeba.
PIANISTS WHO MAY BE THE PLAYER ON THE 1930 PURVIS SESSIONS
When this examination started at a Spring 2019 meeting of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown, a heavy emphasis was placed on hearing any nominee’s contemporaneous recordings (near or in Spring 1930). Several who recorded in that time frame are believed to have recorded in the very same studio. For examples: Buck Washington and (Striding) Joe Turner recorded in the very same studio on April 5, 1930, the day after the second Purvis session.
Vince Giordano, a prince to the research begun at the UHCofM, quickly provided the insight that these sessions were racially integrated recordings during segregated times. Therefore, the possibilities were vastly increased.
We proceeded to select pianists to be considered using the criteria: logistical availability, style, and favorite musical devices, known in Jazz as “crips”. In this matter of crips, we were striving to hear the aforementioned unusual bidirectional two-handed runs.
Tom Roberts became the key judge for each player. Second and third authorities were Vince Giordano and myself. Over the course of the examinations, Melissa Jones, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, and Scott Wenzel also adjudicated. While everyone’s ruminations are incorporated, the capsule analysis of individual pianists, how they are listed, and the summary are mine.
Dismissed (in alphabetical order):
RUBE BLOOM – A big “NO” from Tom Roberts, also rejected by Vince Giordano.
HERMAN CHITTISON – Chittison’s technique is most formidable. As a major surprise, he was in NYC and recorded in that studio on May 22, 1930 with Clarence Williams. He made other recordings with Zach Whyte in that time frame. For all the comparisons to Tatum, Herman Chittison’s left hand is in the rhythm section style. The Fat Cat was particularly strong in his rejection of Chittison being the musician. Fat Cat Rivera as well as Charles Iselin are Herman Chittison specialists.
EDGAR HAYES – Scott Wenzel suggested Hayes, who recorded extensively with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band from 1931 forward. I had not fully realized the high level of Edgar Hayes’ piano playing, but, he, too, uses a standard left-hand approach and can’t be the 1930 Purvis pianist. Tom Roberts concurs.
LENNIE HAYTON – It can’t be Lennie Hayton; we are all agreed. He is listed because he is present as the second keyboard player on a May 9, 1929 Jack Pettis session where the primary pianist is Al Goering. Vince Giordano pointed us to this session and, therefore, Al Goering as possibly the Purvis pianist. See “AL GOERING” below.
HORACE HENDERSON – There’s adroitness and a certain ‘Teddy Wilson-like elegance’ to Fletcher’s brother, Horace Henderson’s pianism and Horace does record in New York in 1930. All are agreed, though, that he can’t be the Purvis pianist.
ALEX HILL – This marvelous composer, arranger, pianist, quickly occurred to me as a ‘Hines guy with chops’ when the research began. But I didn’t consider him as he was believed to be in Chicago at the time. I was rather surprised to learn that he was in New York in the Spring of 1930 and recorded as part of the Hokum Trio on May 1, 1930 - the very day of the last Purvis recording and possibly in the very same studio. In reviewing his late 1920s Chicago discs and post 1930 dates, including Hill’s marvelous contributions to Eddie Condon’s recordings of October 21, 1933, I hear a standard left-hand approach. Hill could not execute the passages on the Purvis recordings. Tom Roberts and Vince Giordano concur.
CLAUDE HOPKINS – Tom Roberts and I had a nice chat about Hopkins. Here, we again have an impressive technique. Tom chose “California, Here I Come” by Claude Hopkins and his Orchestra done January 13, 1933 to be examined and, yes, Hopkins plays marvelously. Still, while it’s not over the top, Claude Hopkins is rooted in Harlem Stride Piano. He can’t be the 1930 Purvis musician. Tom Roberts seconds and the Fat Cat and Melissa Jones concur.
CLIFF JACKSON – Jackson records quite a bit, including as a leader, in NYC during early 1930; perhaps in the same studio that Purvis used. But Cliff Jackson is a strict Harlem Stride pianist, nothing like the playing on Purvis’ sessions. Melissa Jones’ extensive listening emphatically confirms that.
IRVING “ITSY” RISKIN – Fat Cat Rivera pushed us towards Itsy Riskin. Several of us were surprised that the mid-1920s Goldkette sideman based in Detroit could even be a possibility. Yet on May 7, 1930 Riskin records in the same NYC studio Purvis used six days before. Itsy Riskin leaves a favorable display on “Raggin’ The Scale” as recorded by Joe Venuti’s Blue Four on May 7, 1930. Favorable, yes – but nothing like the Purvis pianist. Roberts, Giordano, and Schaap all agreed.
LUIS RUSSELL – Nobody suggested the Panamanian born New Orleanian pianist most associated with Louis Armstrong, and Russell can’t be the player. Still, Tom Roberts, to be most thorough, gave him a listen and sent us an e-mail that it can’t be Luis Russell.
ARTHUR SCHUTT – Vince Giordano took the lead in dismissing Schutt. All concur.
FRANK SIGNORELLI – Ditto to the just above.
JOE SULLIVAN – Sullivan was immediately suggested as the pianist at the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown meeting. Sullivan’s exceedingly early embrace of “Fatha” Hines – witness 21 year old Joe Sullivan on “China Boy” by McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans on December 8, 1927 – pointed us his way. Fortunately, a large share of Joe Sullivan’s contemporaneous Spring 1930 recordings were right there at the UHCofM, so a sizable portion of the afternoon was spent listening to them. Thoughts of entertaining Sullivan as the Purvis man gradually weakened. Juilliard- trained Jazz pianist Robert K. Lee led our ears to noticing the pianistic touch and the players’ crips. Mr. Lee persuaded all that Joe Sullivan could not be the guy. Sullivan’s left-hand approach should have been enough to lead us away from him, but do notice his work on “Oh, Peter” in the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions – both the April 18th and May 23rd versions. Those solos, nevertheless, merely hint at the runs by the Purvis pianist. Joe Sullivan is not that musician and we were in unanimous agreement even before Tom Roberts seconded Robert K. Lee’s analysis.
JOHN SCOTT TROTTER – Trotter had to be explored as he is the piano player on Jack Purvis’ first leader date of December 17, 1929. His solo episodes on “Copyin’ Louis” and “Mental Strain At Dawn” are brief. There’s not too much more of his playing to be heard because he became a conductor and eventually Music Director for Bing Crosby. Tom Roberts did put in an additional effort, and Tom found John Scott Trotter’s pianism interesting but not the style of the pianist on Purvis’ last two dates.
(STRIDING) JOE TURNER – The parenthetical “(Striding)” has become a necessity due to the prominence of the Blues-tinged singer, Big Joe Turner. Our Joe Turner is included because he recorded on April 5, 1930 with Louis Armstrong (as did “BUCK WASHINGTON”, see below) in the very same studio as Jack Purvis, the day after Purvis’ second session. (Striding) Joe Turner is just that: a stride pianist. He is not the Purvis musician.
William Barbee / Zinky Cohn / CASSINO SIMPSON – The Hines-like pianisms of these three led Tom Roberts to bring them to our attention. Nothing places them in New York City in 1930, their careers were spent in Chicago. Cassino Simpson’s leaving Chicago’s Bernie Young Orchestra in Spring 1930 provides a slight possibility that Simpson could have briefly come to New York. Tom Roberts finds Cassino (pronounced “Cass’- a-know” and not casino) Simpson capable of the playing on Purvis’ April 4 and May 1, 1930 recordings. He’ll make the list below.
Possible (in alphabetical order that happens to be the order of likelihood):
FRANK FROEBA – Unless he is on the Purvis recordings of April 4th and May 1st, 1930, Froeba made no records between January 12, 1925 and October 8, 1932. His recordings only reveal an identity with that 1932 session by Jack Bland And His Rhythmakers. From Bland’s date, Froeba’s solos on take two of “Who Stole The Lock?” and “It’s Gonna Be You” do, if you crane your ears, offer a vague connection to the playing with Purvis. Musically, that’s all there is to attest that Frank Froeba could have recorded with Jack Purvis in 1930. Go past 1932 and Frank Froeba sounds less and less like the pianist of April 4th and May 1st, 1930. Other facts that might verify Froeba as the player are that Discography has always listed him and that Froeba used Purvis on Froeba’s first session as a leader, on December 24, 1935 in what is Jack Purvis’ last known recording. That Froeba apparently hired Purvis for his first recording as a leader suggests a bond between these two and, perhaps, some reciprocation – Froeba had recorded precious little as of 1930.
AL GOERING – Vince Giordano sent us “Companionate Blues” from an obscure and largely unissued May 9, 1929 session by Jack Pettis And His Pets, stating that it sounded like the Purvis pianist. Tom Roberts responded in an e-mail:
“I have reviewed the Pettis session with all hopes of hearing our pianist but I must respectfully disagree. (wouldn’t it be wonderful if all discourse and disagreements could be this civil?) The pianist on the session is NOT our guy. One reason that the esteemed Mr. Giordano could have thought it was is on Companionate Blues is that the opening phrase is played by two pianists. I hadn’t looked at the personnel before listening so there were no preconceptions involved.The opening phrase is played between both hands in unison an octave apart by pianist #1 while pianist #2 is comping underneath. Once #1 gets really going the other guy gets out of his way. Great piano playing but Not our guy!”
Tom presents expert analysis, still I concur with Vince that the pianist – one of the pianists - on “Companionate Blues” from Jack Pettis’ May 9, 1929 session for Victor might well be the same pianist who recorded under Jack Purvis’ name. It’s true that even if Vince’s surmise could be confirmed absolutely, the smoke would not be clear as both Lennie Hayton and Al Goering play keyboard on the date. Still, we don’t believe that Lennie Hayton is the soloist and are left with Goering. I doubt that any of us knows Al Goering’s style, but Al Goering is consistently on Jack Pettis sessions from start to finish (1926 – 1937), so it must be him on May 9, 1929. Another reason that I’m sticking with Vince Giordano’s suggestion is that it’s the same piano soloist, playing similarly on the May 9, 1929 session’s “Campus Crawl”, “Bugle Call Blues” and doing the backing on “Wild and Wooly Willie”.
GENE RODGERS – Tom Roberts came up with the conjecture that the Purvis pianist might be Gene Rodgers. Rodgers was classically trained and blessed with outstanding ability. [Gene Rodgers plays the introduction on Coleman Hawkins’ legendary “Body And Soul” on October 11, 1939.] Rodgers displays two-handed runs that are similar to those in Purvis’ sessions, and he is not a Harlem Stride or Boogie-Woogie pianist. At age 20, Gene Rodgers solos on two Clarence Williams sessions: both takes of “Hot Lovin’ (October 31, 1930) and the Columbia version of “Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home?” (February 19, 1931). As both the Fat Cat and Tom Roberts point out, there is a pianistic connection to the Purvis player. I hear it too, but Rodgers, for all his training, is not as facile with his 1930 two-handed runs as the musician with Jack Purvis. For all of the pianistic connection, I lean heavily on rejecting that Gene Rodgers is the pianist. I knew Gene Rodgers well. We were colleagues at The West End in the 1970s until the mid-1980s. Gene Rodgers often regaled me with his Coleman Hawkins associations including Europe in the mid-1930s and the Coleman Hawkins Orchestra at the top of the 1940s. It’s not conceivable to me that Gene recorded with Coleman Hawkins in the Spring of 1930 and forgot to tell me or forgot about it entirely: the April 4th session would have been Rodgers first recording (!) if he had made the date. Still, it’s plausible that it is Gene Rodgers with Purvis. As Tom Roberts, briefly overlooking his strong suggestion that the pianist is Cassino Simpson, stated: “If it’s not Gene Rodgers, then it’s Froeba.”
CASSINO SIMPSON – Tom Roberts brought three Chicago-based, Hines-inspired pianists to our attention: William Barbee, Zinky Cohn, and Cassino Simpson. Tom was keenest on Simpson and it is Cassino Simpson who, alone of the three, possibly slipped out of the Windy City in Spring 1930 – though it seems most unlikely. For Mr. Roberts, however, Simpson is the most likely suspect. Tom e-mailed us:
“The man who sounds the most like our mystery pianist is Cassino Simpson and going on aural evidence alone, he was my initial suspect and still my greatest candidate.”
BERT STEVENS – Vince Giordano knew Bert Stevens and used him briefly as the pianist with Vince’s Nighthawks. But not even Vince knows Stevens’ piano style. Stevens’ “Symphonic Raps” and the fact that he ably read the music when he played with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks suggests a well-schooled musician, but that’s about as far as our assessment can go. That Bert Stevens is even to be considered rests on the limited listing “Stevens – Purvis”, the composer credits for “Be Bo Bo” from the May 1, 1930 recording. Is that “Stevens … ” Bert Stevens? It may never be known, his piano playing may never be gauged. The possibility that Bert Stevens could be the Purvis pianist is just a loose thread.
BUCK WASHINGTON – Tom Roberts rejects that Washington could be our guy. I have my doubts, too, as does Melissa Jones. There are not too many recordings by Buck Washington, and he seems to only employ a standard left-hand rhythm section approach. His name was only placed in nomination due to the fact that he recorded with Louis Armstrong on April 5, 1930 in the very same studio that Purvis had used the day before. Buck Washington may more properly belong on the list of those candidates who were dismissed, such as (Striding) Joe Turner, who also recorded with Louis on April 5, 1930. In my estimation, Buck Washington remains a possibility because of his playing on “I Ain’t Got Nobody” with Coleman Hawkins on March 8, 1934. His solo hints at an ability to play the two-handed runs.
The pianist on the Jack Purvis led sessions of April 4 and May 1, 1930 is likely to be Frank Froeba after all. There is much to challenge that identification but there is nothing close to conclusive evidence that it is another musician. The inability to finitely name a pianist other than Froeba for those Purvis sides is the clincher to sticking with the Frank Froeba listing, the first listing ever published and one that has stood for well over 80 years.
Delving into this one small concern celebrates art, the process of examining art, and the joys of receiving art.