Marcus Biddle | Staff Writer
Rutgers-Camden recently ended its month-long exhibition, “Visions of Camden,” a display of art and historical artifacts used to present an aesthetic perspective of the city of Camden. Among the most highlighted items were photographs, map prints, oil paintings, and glass slides. While art and artifacts became the center of attention, music also played a key role in the exhibit’s festivities. On Feb. 21st, Rutgers-Camden Jazz Ensemble, led by Professor of Jazz History Eric Polack, MA, attended the “Visions of Camden” lecture series.
The Jazz Ensemble was asked to play musical arrangements that were recorded at the RCA Victor. Members played the songs “Ain’t Misbehavin,” Ballin’ the Jack,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” “St. Louis Blues” and “After You’ve Gone.” Each piece consisted of ragtime, New Orleans jazz, and some pop. They also featured vocals and soloists, except for “St. Louis Blues,” which was the only instrumental arrangement of the evening. It was originally written by W.C. Handy who is known by many jazz musicians as the “Father of Blues.”
“Ain’t Misbehavin” was produced in 1929 as a form of New Orleans jazz and ragtime. The original version was composed by Fats Waller on piano at RCA Victor in Camden with lyrics written by Andy Razaf and musically arranged by Harry Brooks. It was used in the film Stormy Weather (1943), directed by Andrew L. Stone, and featured the cast of Cab Calloway, the Nicolas Brothers, and Fats Waller himself. Rutgers-Camden Jazz members Abigail Welsh and Christina Deguzman are credited for singing this piece that evening. “After You’ve Gone,” was composed by Turner Layton with lyrics by Henry Creamer. In 1918, female jazz and blues singer Marion Harris recorded “After You’ve Gone” at the RCA Victor. Some of the most notable recordings of the arrangement were done by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra.
Rutgers’ Jazz Ensemble featured singer Jessica Taber and soloists Zeke Webster, Ian Kahn, and Craig Howell for this arrangement. “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” was a popular jazz piece that evening. Eric Polack stated, “This is the only song we are performing that was not recorded in Camden. In fact, it was written in 1947, well after Camden recording operations ceased. We are playing it as an acknowledgement of the July 1929 recording sessions of Jelly Roll Morton.” Written by Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter, “Do You Know What it Means. . .” was also heard in the film New Orleans the same year it was written. It became renowned for Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday’s rendition of the song; however, it has been performed by artists such as Take 6, Fats Domino, and Jimmy Buffet. Rutgers-Camden’s Jazz Ensemble featured Harvey Spinks on trumpet as the soloist for this song.
The Jazz Ensemble finished the evening with “Ballin’ the Jack,” which was the earliest recorded tune that dated back to 1913. It was written by Jim Burris and composed by Chris Smith. The Victor Military Band recorded “Ballin’ the Jack” in 1914 at the Victor. This piece was used for the 1942 film For Me and My Gal, starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. It’s a popular jazz and ragtime piece, but it can also be used for dance. It was used for Danny Kaye’s performance in the musical comedy, On the Riviera (1951), and Dean Martin’s 1951 film That’s My Boy. This song featured singer Abigail Welsh and Ian Kahn at the Visions of Camden concert.
The RCA Victor in Camden made significant contributions to the recording industry. The artists, writers, and musicians (particularly the Rutgers Jazz Ensemble) did an extraordinary job of bringing the arts in Camden back to life. Rutgers-Camden Jazz members included Craig Howell (piano), Kyle Jenkins (trumpet), Ian Kahn (electric guitar), Cassandra Kipp (trumpet) Daniel Pinolini (bass), Marcus Biddle (trombone), Harvey Spinks (trumpet), Thomas Pinolini (saxophone), Matthew Wilhelm (baritone saxophone), Zeke Webster (trombone), and Abigail Welsh (vocals), Christina Deguzman (vocals), and Jessica Taber (clarinet and vocals).