Tag Archives: string jazz

The Ink Spots with Hoppy Jones on Cello

I was recently introduced to the vocal quartet The Ink Spots by a Chicago native whose father, as he told the story, had in turn been introduced to black music [sic] during his time living in the integrated barracks of the US Army during the Korean War. The Ink Spots were part of an early wave of popular vocal groups led by black men in the late 1930s, and in the group’s tight harmonies can be heard the components of the later doo-wop style.

There are several notable things about the group. First, they had a remarkable style change in the early forties. Their early style in the late thirties sounds a lot like the “hot” foxtrots played by dance bands. The guitar work in these uptempo tunes is reminiscent of Eddie Lang, and Django Reinhardt. The later style is more soulful and ballad-like — early doo-wop.

Second, Chicagoan Orville “Hoppy” Jones (b. 1905), apparently the glue that held the group together, played cello.

Hoppy Jones on cello http://inkspots.ca/HOPPY-JONES-bio.html

Here’s an example of their earlier uptempo style featuring Hoppy Jones laying down a sick bassline on pizzicato cello:

Third, it seems that Hoppy Jones may have invented the style apparently known as “high and low” or “talking bass”. I’ve always thought of that style as something that Boyz II Men first did in the early nineties. Guess I was wrong.

Here’s an example of the later Ink Spots sound, featuring Hoppy Jones on talking bass:

Finally, one oddity about The Ink Spots is that almost every song starts with the same four chord guitar turnaround. Kind of weird. Still gotta figure that one out.

Stuff Smith — Have Violin, Will Swing

I’ve been listening to this great album from the late 50s by pioneer jazz violinist Stuff Smith. Smith began his career in the 20s in Texas, so he’s pretty old school in the jazz violin genealogy — maybe second generation as far as I can tell… Smith’s playing style, at least on this record, is very different from Venuti’s and Grapelli’s. Instead of the arpeggios and lightning-fast runs of Venuti, Smith’s phrasing is short and punchy, trumpet-like.

More Ellington for cello

Here’s an arrangement for cello trio of Jungle Jamboree, a song on the Okeh Ellington 1927 – 1930 collection. It’s actually an Andy Razaf/ Fats Waller tune, but it is performed by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. I think this song stands out to me because it seems to combine elements of the collective improv style of traditional New Orleans jazz with improvised solos that are rich enough to stand on their own.

The Okeh Ellington

After my brother Jamie’s recommendation to seriously consider Duke Ellington as a resource for tunes that would work well in arrangement for a bowed string jazz combo, I looked up some reviews to see where to begin. I remember listening to some late, piano-heavy Ellington (or perhaps covers of Ellington?) years back and not being so impressed, so there’s been a little anxiety around the idea of returning for a close listen.

Picking up courage I found a good reddit.com thread with some recommendations.

I decided to start at the beginning with the 50-tune collection The Okeh Ellington, from his early period 1927-1930.

This well-written review by Kevin Gallaugher clinched it:

I empathize with the audiophiles’ comments here regarding sound quality of this recording, but at some point we must move on. Let’s concentrate on the music itself, groundbreaking art of the highest degree. These recordings come from perhaps Ellington’s most fascinating period, that two to three year window when his orchestra was not yet the world renowned, household name it would soon become, but was actually in the process of creating the body of work which would ultimately render that condition inevitable. During this period, the orchestra members seem fully cognizant that their band is the finest in the land. The recordings on display here palpably reflect that attitude. The blues was perhaps a more predominant element to the Orchestra’s sound than it would ever be thereafter. Critically, Bubber Miley is present, and in incandescent form. Miley was one of the most swinging, creative, emotionally expressive blues musicians who ever lived, and the growling, muted plunger style of interplay between Miley’s trumpet and Tricky Sam Nanton’s trombone exhibited here would never again grace a recording studio once this period had passed. These two geniuses have influenced jazz musicians far and wide up to this day, whether or not they even realize who it is they copy…


Jamie, and K. Gallaugher, are absolutely right. The Ellington tunes are incredible. To my ear anyway, this is the pinnacle of what I’ve heard done with the blues. Check out Black and Tan Fantasy below.

Fun fact about Ellington: he was born in 1899.

One surprising thing to me is how similar the rhythm section in many of the Ellington recordings sounds to what Django and the Quintette du Hot Club de France would be doing in Paris with guitars a couple years later in the early thirties.

Compare Jubilee Stomp (Ellington) and Swing Guitars (Django).