The Paul Specht orchestra was a favourite of mine when I first started collecting 78s, and I’ve never lost my fondness for the band’s pure, unalloyed fun.
Born into a musical family in Sinking Spring, Pa., in 1895, Specht became one one of the best-known bandleaders of the 1920s on both sides of the Atlantic after signing with Columbia in 1922 at the start of a prolific recording career. The new medium of radio — Specht may have been the first bandleader to play dance music on the air, according to Paul Burgess in the liner notes to the 2003 CD Retro Specht — helped win him an even wider audience, as did several tours of England.
His band is known among collectors for its smart, spirited recordings of the uptempo music of its day, and what it sometimes lacks in hot solos it makes up for in hot ensemble playing, particularly in the early electric records the band cut for Columbia in the mid-‘20s. It’s chiefly dance music, though as Brian Rust in Jazz Records 1897-1942 acknowledges, a good many Specht releases are “known to be of interest as jazz.”
Static Strut, one of Specht’s best-known sides, is one of the hottest of these, with its crazy slide whistle, full-throttle pace and frenetic trombone solo by Al Philburn. Listening to this number again just a minute ago with the volume cranked reminded me that that you won’t catch Paul Specht with a wimpy rhythm section; notice the way the brass bass and banjo propel the record; I can imagine Specht politely arguing with the sound engineers to let his guys sit closer to the microphone. Cornfed, recorded the following year, has a nice swinging, rolling rhythm and great group dynamics.
Specht is largely forgotten today but the band’s candle has never been entirely gone out, thanks to diehard fans and a handful of CD releases of remastered 78s. In addition to the Retro-Specht CD (watch out for heavy-handed noise reduction on this one), That’s What I Call Sweet Music, Robert Crumb’s contribution to the EMI songbook series, takes its title from a Specht track on the CD, and the band is featured prominently in Timeless Historical’s Roll Up the Carpets.
And just this week, U.K. music writer Mark Berresford told me that the transfers and liner notes for his new Specht project have been completed; look for a CD release before long on the Rivermont label.
New York, Jan. 14, 1926
Paul Specht – vn, dir. Charlie Spivak – Sylvester Ahola – t / Al Philburn – tb / Ernie Warren – Foster Morehouse – cl -ss – as / Jack Cressy – cl – ts / Phil Wall – p / Lou Calabrese – bj / Thurlow Darrow – bb / Johnny Morris – d – v.
New York, Aug. 24, 1927
Paul Specht – vn, dir. Charlie Spivak – Joe Lindwurm – t / Al Philburn – tb / Ernie Warren – Foster Morehouse – cl -ss – as / Jack Cressy – cl – ts / Phil Wall – p / Lou Calabrese – bj / Billy Wolfe – bb / Johnny Morris – d – v.