SEATTLE'S COLUMBIAN TRIO PLAYS HAWAIIAN MUSIC (1920s)

THE GREAT HAWAIIAN MUSIC CRAZE originally began sweeping over America in the wake of two early Worlds’ Fairs – Portland, Oregon’s Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1907, and then Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition of 1909 – which both featured native Hawaiian musicians playing their exotic indigenous tunes. And then, thanks in good measure to Tacoma’s mega-successful pop songster Bing Crosby (1903-1977), Hawaiian-themed music became the biggest-selling genre of musical records in the Roaring ‘20s and well into the 1930s. And that demand for such 78rpm discs (and sheet music) was also matched by increased radio airplay of the music, and box office bonanza’s for vaudeville theaters that booked the growing legions of new Hawaiian-oriented bands.

Among the earliest such bands to pop up in Seattle was The Columbian Trio. Led by an authentic Hawaiian native, steel guitarist J. Nawhai, the ensemble also featured a Spanish-style guitarist (whose name is lost to the mists of time), but who appears in photographs to also have been Hawaiian. Then on ukulele, there was band-manager and music teacher, George M. MacKie, who although apparently not a Hawaiian, was also not a rookie. As early as June of 1918 he was a member of the Queen’s Hawaiians group who performed at the California Complete Small Homes Exposition in Los Angeles that very month.

But by 1920 MacKie (and his wife Florence) had settled in Seattle where they got a home (3608 Palatine Avenue N), and he also rented a downtown music studio (216 Epler Block Building, on 2nd Avenue, between Columbia and Marion Streets) where he offered musical instruction on the ukulele and Hawaiian steel guitar. Indeed, his business cards tried to allure new students with this invitation: “Learn to play ‘the most Weirdly Beautiful Music of the Dreamiest Island ever Anchored in any Ocean!’”

Meanwhile, MacKie helped form The Columbian Trio and they presumably performed around the area. In 1922 the couple – and his mother Mary MacKie, who’d moved in with them in 1921 – relocated several blocks over to a different home (3648 Phinney Avenue), so they had seemingly intended to stay here awhile. But that was not to be. Perhaps because the Epler Building was sold to the Bank of California, whose intent was to raze it to build a new bank, the MacKies hit the road.

The Columbian Trio showed up next in Denver, Colorado, where they scored a regular radio slot on KOA. But then they lost a member and went to a local music teacher to inquire if there might be somebody else around who could join them. That teacher pointed them towards one of her students, Don Wilson (who would later gain some fame as Jack Benny’s announcer). As Wilson would recall in a 1980 interview: “I joined them and we were busier than bird dogs. We made a lot more money in radio, even in those days, with the extracurricular things that we did, appearances of all kinds, including fill-ins at the Orpheum Theatre. Whenever an act couldn’t appear, the trio would be engaged to play a week here and a week there.”

The Columbian Trio also traveled the West Coast a bit, performing on stations including KFI in Los Angeles, and KGO in Oakland. But somewhere along the way the band was saddled with a corporate sponsor the Piggly Wiggly self-service supermarket chain – and they agreed to change their name to the somewhat less-than-dignified “Piggly Wiggly Hawaiian Trio.” It remains unclear exactly where and how that regrettable shift took place. In Denver? Or perhaps it was back in Seattle where in 1921 Boulder, Colorado’s William Louis Avery had arrived to open up a Piggly Wiggly franchise store downtown (408 Occidental Avenue)? What is known is that by about 1923 the MacKies had resettled in Los Angeles (at 121 S Flower Street), and George reformed his Queen's Hawaiians group with Lani McIntyre (Spanish guitar) – and Sol Ho’opi’i (steel guitar) who would soon go on the become the world's most famous Hawaiian musician.

One last meager clue uncovered about all this is that by 1925 Mary MacKie had acquired her own home in Seattle (1717 W 58th Street).

THE MASTERSOUNDS JAZZ COMBO RECORDS IN SEATTLE (1957)

THE MASTERSOUNDS jazz quartet is of significance to Pacific Northwest music history for a goodly number of reasons. The first being, that they actually formed in Seattle in January 1957. That came about when the famous Lionel Hampton Orchestra came through town once again after a long tour in 1956, and their electric bassist, William “Monk” Montgomery (1921-1982), decided to stay and check out the local scene. As the Dean of Jazz critics, Ralph J. Gleason (1917-1975), later noted: “Monk, from his experience in Seattle, was convinced a good jazz group would have a chance to work in that city, and he was right.”

As the brother of famed jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery (1923-1968), Monk knew plenty of top players and he quickly sent word to another brother in Indianapolis, Buddy Montgomery (vibraphone) as well as Sydney, Montana, pianist Richie Crabtree (b. 1934), and Indianapolis drummer Benny Barth (b.1929) – and they arrived and began getting their sound together. As Barth once explained in an interview (which was posted on the website of San Francisco’s Musicians’ Union AFM Local 6 in 2011): “When the Mastersounds started out, we lived together in a big house in Seattle for several months in 1957, playing the Seattle clubs and traveling. We rehearsed every day. It was full time music.”
Indeed, it was during the months of January through March that the band drew crowds to Dave Levy’s downtown jazz club, Dave’s Fifth Avenue (506 Denny Way). And among those who stopped in and were impressed by their fresh sound was Chet Noland – owner/operator of Seattle’s pioneering audio studio, Dimensional Sound (2128 3rd Avenue) and it’s affiliated label, Celestial Records – who recorded a lot of jazz ensembles in the 1950s including those headed by sax-star Corky Corcoran, and another by piano whiz, Gay Jones. The combo was invited into Dimensional for a few sessions and they proceeded to cut a dozen hep songs including “Wes’s Tune,” “Water’s Edge,” and “Bela By Barlight.”

Meanwhile, the contractual gig at Dave’s ended – as did the bandmembers’ required payments to Seattle’s “Negro Musicians’ Union” AFM Local 493 – and Monk took off for San Francisco to scout for their next gig. And, even though Noland had high hopes of releasing their tunes on Celestial, he supported the group by giving them a nice clean second-generation copy of the Master Tapes, which they hopefully could use to help score that next gig. Well, Monk arrived in San Francisco and went to the Jazz Showcase nightclub on Market Street, introduced himself to the owners, and played the tapes for them. As jazz historian Steve Cerra has written: then, those owners, “upon hearing the Mastersounds tapes Monk Montgomery had brought along, booked the group into the room beginning in September, 1957 for an unlimited engagement.”
 
Soon, Monk took a trip to Los Angeles where, as Cerra also noted, “he met fellow bassist Leroy Vinnegar whose immediate reaction to listening to the Mastersounds demo tapes was to call Dick Bock, president of World Pacific Records. Upon hearing them, Bock signed the group to a contract that would result in six albums being produced for the World Pacific/Pacific Jazz Series.” As for Noland, he was happy for the band’s success, but was understandably upset that he was shunted aside, and that – as he still retained the original Master Tape – their debut 1958 LP, Jazz Showcase - Introducing The Mastersounds [World Pacific Records #PJM403] did not even credit his excellent production/ engineering work.
 
The next couple of years saw the Mastersounds recording a few additional LPs, and the 45rpm single shown here “Shall We Dance?” / “Getting To Know You” [World Pacific #X643] was from one of them. In 1960 the guys disbanded, but by 1962 they were back together and performing at Seattle’s fabled jazz club, the Penthouse (1st Avenue and Cherry Street), a room also favored by Wes Montgomery over the years, and one the quartet returned to again in 1965.

HAZEL CARROLL: SEATTLE'S GREAT HARPIST (1925)


HAZEL CARROLL (1893-1983) was an extremely talented harpist who played in the early 1920s with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. One of three daughters fathered by Seattle’s Charles Albert Bergstrom (1867?-1935), she eventually married Robert Ellsworth Carroll Jr. and while living in the University District (4205 Fifteenth Avenue NE), they bore a son, Gerald J. Carroll (who much later was captured as a POW in Germany during WWII). This image of the musician was taken at Fred Hartsook’s (1878-1930) photography studio in Seattle in 1925. 

In November of that same year she left Seattle to take up advanced studies with the famed harpist Anna Louise David in New York City. While there she joined the New York Symphony – performing under Maestro Bruno Walters (1876-1962) – and at gigs including the esteemed Carnegie Hall and on nationwide tours. In the 1930s she became a member/officer of a social club, the Order of the Amaranth, which held their meetings at the Ballard Masonic Temple. In 1940 the Carrolls (715 Harrison Street) had a daughter, Paula, and in 1953 the family resettled in California, raised purebred Dalmatian dogs at their O’Carroll Kennels for a quarter century, and Carroll also got involved with the Petaluma Folk Dancers organization.

RAREST NW RECORDS: BRAXTON QUARTET'S "WHITE PORT" (1950s)

AMONG THE THOUSANDS of records produced in the Pacific Northwest since the very first musical recording was cut here in Seattle way back in 1923, are a number that cross-over into two notable categories: awesome music and rare as hell music that was originally issued on discs which are so exceedingly scarce that few people have likely ever seen, owned, or heard them.

One example of such a rarity is this 1950s red-wax single by a jazz quartet led by Seattle saxophone legend, Bob Braxton (b. 1922). He first popped up playing around town as a member of the legendary Jive Bombers combo during World War II. At that time Seattle was still a divided city, with two racially segregated musicians’ unions – AFM Local 76 for the white players, and AFM Local 493 for the black players. After joining 493 Braxton began to fall in with a series of 493 bands and after-hour jam sessions. By 1951 he was playing tenor sax with one of Seattle’s top African-American bandleaders, pianist/vibraphonist Elmer Gill (1926-2004) in a combo called the Questions Marks that also included drummer William “Duke” Moore (b. 1923). Braxton presumably married at some point, and the pianist named Patricia Braxton (who was listed in a 493 membership roster), was probably his wife.

So here is a vinyl single featuring “Summertime” / “White Port” as issued on the Debut Records label (#1506) that was cut downtown at Seattle’s pioneering recording studio, Electricraft Inc. (622 Union Street), which operated between 1952 and 1958. The credits noted on the label list Braxton, Moore, and a “Patricia Lee” – along with bassist Bill Rinaldi who, interestingly, was the first white musician to ever quit AFM 76 and switch allegiance (way back in the 1930s) to AFM 493 – in order to get in on the red-hot jazz scene.

The two songs here are both interesting – and I really wish I was technologically capable of digitizing them for everyone’s listening pleasure. George Gershwin’s 1935 gem, “Summertime,” features Bob Braxton’s slow, spirited, gospel-like vocals over a piano-riff foundation that is later taken up by the sax during a mid-section piano solo interlude. The uptempo sax-driven original, “White Port,” swings with some good honking and squealing over solid piano lines, snappy snare accents, and drum-kit fills. All-in-all, a remarkable bit of audio documentation of Seattle’s jazz scene of a half-century ago!