Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Lotus Quartet and other items of interest

Happy New Year everyone! Whatever you did to celebrate, I hope it was all right. Now to begin this post, I found this wonderful cylinder from 1902 a few days ago on the Santa Barbara website, and I have fallen in love with it for some reason. It is a cylinder by the Lotus Quartet. I had known not a thing of this group when I found it, but I just yesterday looked in my encyclopedia of early record pseudonyms, and found them listed. 

Before I say the personnel, here is that cylinder.
Why do I like this cylinder so much? Well, it must be how pure and warm the tones of their voices blend together. This group's harmonies touch me more than that of the Greater New York Quartette, or even the mighty Peerless quartet. Here is the personnel, according to my book:
George Seymour Lennox(tenor)
George Stricklett(tenor)
Charles Lewis(baritone)
Frank C. Stanley(bass)

I only know of two of those names. Lennox and Frank Stanley, they were prominent recording stars in the era before 1910, Frank Stanley was all over the place on records, and George Lennox was in many studio quartets here and there. The balance of their voices must have blended somewhat more pleasantly on records than the Invincible Quartet and the Greater New York Quartette. The fact that the singers in the Lotus Quartette were not major recording stars must also make it more pleasant, so when a person who knows the singers' voices listens to it, their voices don't stick out as much. 
Listen to this cylinder here from 1898(with Hylands on piano), this one is by the Greater New York Quartette, and when listening to when they all sing at the chorus, Roger Harding (tenor) sticks out, and also so does Will C. Jones(the bass singer). The problem with Roger Harding was that he couldn't blend in quartets, because of how high and piping his voice was, it was much like the problem with Len Spencer singing in quartets. 
(Harding, 1898)
It was easier to pinpoint him in quartets, not just to modern ears, but also to those who lived back in the days when the records themselves were made. Many who heard the records back in the late-1890's could recognise Harding in a quartet, by that unique tone of his. Same with Len Spencer. It's actually all right that they rid of Len Spencer from the quartet, as the few cylinders with Spencer on them do not sound the best. 

The idea that the record makers(not the management!) had to put Spencer and Harding together was not the best idea either, but it made for some interesting cylinders. 
Here is one of them. Yes, I know I have used this cylinder as an example on this blog before, but it's so odd and interesting in so many ways. Hylands is on piano behind them, and that makes it even more weird! You can hear another one here, recorded on the same day in 1898 or 1899. Those Spencer and Harding with Hylands cylinders were so much fun for them, that they were probably given as gifts for the people who came to Hylands Spencer and Yeager to stay and get music from them(as Harding, Spencer, and Hylands were the main people who ran the firm). After making a bunch of takes of those duets, all three of them must have skipped out early together and went off to Fred's office. 

Now to go a different direction, I would like to speak of the differences between Frank P. Banta and Albert Benzler. 
Albert Benzler.

Why these two? Because they were both pianists for Edison during intertwining terms. Benzler was the pianist from c.1899-1904, and Banta was the pianist from 1896-1903. But before I get into this, there was a third pianist at Edison, Fred Bachman(what's with all the Fred's for pianists? Just a little weird...). I know nothing of Fred Bachman, and I know no one who does. It has occurred to Ryan Wishner and I that all of those cylinders after 1901 with the accompaniment high in the piano notes was all by Benzler. When you hear Banta, that sort of playing was something he never did. When I say that I'm referring to cylinders like these:

There are hundreds more of those cylinders all over the Internet, because Benzler was that pianist who played in the higher register on all of those Edison cylinders. It was not Banta. Banta, on the other hand can be identified on an Edison cylinder from 1899 to 1903 easily, since he was never the one who played in the higher register. His playing sounded very distinct on Edison cylinders, so much different from Benzler. Here is Billy Golden's "Medley of Coon Songs" with Banta form 1903. Just listening to one of the ones above compared with this one really gives you an idea of how different Banta was, you can also hear him here behind Frank Mazziotta in 1902.  Benzler was more of a typical pianist for that time period, as he tried his best to play Rag-Time, but could never really get the feel for it. You can hear Benzler play George Botsford's "Black and White Rag" in 1911. His time is typical of that of a classical pianist, and his playing just barely gets the syncopation correct, still with jolty time. If only Banta lived long enough to record that Rag! 

But of course the best comparison of these two is certainly how they both played Banta's arrangement of "Violets". Here's Banta's from 1903. 
Here's Benzler's from 1905.

They are two very different versions, and Banta's seems more heartfelt and emotional than Benzler's, I guess it's because Benzler had to remake Banta's, and that was all he had to do. Banta just played it as he usually would. One thing that is surprising to me is that the notes on the cylinders both indicate that it was originally recorded on brown wax, but with a different number of course. That is interesting, so that would mean that Banta recorded it originally in 1901, so that indicates that the arrangement of Banta's had been around for a little while by the time he recorded it in 1903. I wonder what it sounded like on brown wax. If there are any copies out there, that's amazing!

I hope you enjoyed this!  

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