Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Sporting Club, and the Imperial Minstrels

The first part of the title seen just above it a little mis-leading as far as connotations go, if you know the double meaning to the term as far as 1890's slang goes. The context in this case of the term "sporting club" is more literal, meaning a club for sports enthusiasts. The reason of mentioning this is because of one small newspaper section I found within the past week or so. It was published in The New York Daily Tribune, dated June 21, 1898. This section was not really too significant, but it pointed something out that proves that Hylands was out playing other "gigs" while working at Columbia in his early days there. This gathering was held by the Knickerbocker Athletic Club, which was essentially a clan of sport enthusiasts who held many sport events, like Football and Baseball. It seems that in the summer of 1898, this club began hosting social gatherings that just happened to have entertainment. On Wednesday June 20, 1898, it seemed that the accompanist for the evening was Fred Hylands, plucked by the sportsmen from Columbia's exhibition parlor for that evening. He probably went to make records at Columbia's studio from the morning to the afternoon, only to leave and go off to the Athletic clubhouse. I wonder if things like this were common with Hylands. They must not have been in most of 1898, though after 1901, they seemed more common since he was performing in shows occasionally, and doing other things like that. I still have yet to learn and read more sections that prove this. 

Speaking of Hylands, there hasn't been any luck yet in the search for his "Narcissus Gavotte", though I will continue to look extensively for it. It is certain that the LOC owns a copy of the piece somewhere in its vast collection of sheet music. All we have still is that tantalizing first page from the back of Hylands' "The Darkey Volunteer":
It seems like Hylands is playing tricks on us by making the piece very hard to find! 

In fact, I will do some more digging to-day and tomorrow for the piece, since I've got my mind to it now.  Hope I can find it before giving my seminar on Hylands in November...

Now, onto the Imperial Minstrels. I don't know many collectors who really enjoy the records that were made by the Imperial Minstrels, but I really like them. There's something about them that makes me think they had so much fun making those records. This especially was so when Hylands became Columbia's pianist. If you know of the history of this group, it stems back to 1894 with this chap:
Dandy Len Spencer. 
He began this series of minstrel recordings because he had a new member for his envisioned minstrel troupe. This new member was George W. Johnson,  who was actually a black man! Having an actual black man on his minstrel recordings was a very big deal to the other record companies, and made Edison's staff jealous from the amount of profits and attention these records received. He began this series for the U. S. phonograph company, since that's where he worked at the time.  It has been recently discovered that a handful of these original 1894 recordings are held in a few collections, which means that the theory of those recordings being gone is not true at all. None of them have been transferred for all collectors to hear on the Internet, but hopefully they will be sometime soon, since many of the jokes and songs have been transcribed from these records. 
The second installment of this minstrel troupe involved Steve Porter and Roger Harding, two new Columbia staff members in 1896 and 1897. The pianist on these relatively few 1896 and early 1897 recordings would either be Ed Issler or George Schweinfest(if it was 1896, probably even Fred Gaisberg for that matter...), it's unclear if this one just below is one of these earlier installment records, since both Harding and Porter are on it, but the piano playing isn't very distinct in some way:
It's definitely recorded in 1897 though. 
The terrible sounding piano really gives the date away. 

Remember what Spencer did to that piano. 

This incident in italics above happened in earlier 1897, so that essentially made the piano sound awful for half of, if not more of, that year. When Hylands took over that piano chair in 1898, their records became even more fun to make, since Hylands was the perfect pianist for the minstrel series. He seemed a better fit than any of the other previous pianists, which is pretty strange when thinking that he was a generation younger than Issler, and that Issler would have grown up in the first wave of the Minstrel era(the 1850's and 1860's mind you). Hylands seemed better for the wild and quick bones playing of Len Spencer, even if Issler had used Spencer for the same reason on his orchestra records in the years before that. The great opening overtures by Spencer and Hylands were very fast, and full of their great partnership skills. 
Such as the opening overtures on these records:
(this record is played way too fast, but it's a great one nonetheless, with a fantastic closing song as well!)
These fun records with Hylands on piano only were only done in 1898, as the next year, Spencer decided to have the entire Columbia orchestra get involved. These records are the most common ones as far as the Imperial minstrels go, as they were a spectacular of modern recording technology. 
You can hear four of these in the links below
(listen for Hylands' awful laughter on them, also Spencer's... they're loud and obnoxious)
(note Steve Porter's awful singing at the end on this one...)
This one is particularly interesting, since the piano in the orchestra(by you know who) is not really playing in sync with the rest of the orchestra. 

These records must have taken to much time and organizing to get done, since there would be twenty or more squeezed into a room to make these records, and all the balancing of everyone must have been awful, and maintaining the balance when they were recording. These records must have taken a few rehearsals to perfect, and thinking of Spencer being that very strange perfectionist, he managed these sessions very well it seemed, save for a few weird things that weren't supposed to be there, such as random yelling, like on this one here:
hear it at 35-36 seconds in
(the title of this one by the way is "Good Bye Dolly Gray")

One of the records by the Imperial Minstrels I would love to share but can't has a fantastic weird thing at the beginning that I think is probably from Hylands. The loud whistling that usually is at the cheering in the beginning, there's a weird descending whistling thing that is about piano distance, and it's something that I haven't heard on all the other ones listed. The piano on the closing overture is also a little out-of-sync as well, so that means Hylands is there. 
In 1898 and 1899, this minstrel group was so popular, that Spencer had them all go out on a tour, which was reported in many newspaper sections, more than expected in fact. It seems that great tour(advertised in The Phonoscope below)
was indeed a huge success by early 1899(which may or may not have been part of the reason why Spencer and Hylands grouped together as publishers...think about that for a moment). It was because of this tour that the records had orchestra accompaniment rather than the previous piano. Many New York newspapers reported performances of this tour, and it seems that every one of them was a success, save for a reports of beastly weather, which every section on it said something about that it seems. The weather must have been really awful if they mentioned it that often! The Newspaper reports seem to last into early 1899, which makes sense, since it was in February that Hylands roped Spencer in to become an associate in his "Knickerbockers" firm, even though he wasn't really one of the three names running the function, as we know, that came the month after. 

By the way, September 20, 1897 was when Hylands' Narcissus Gavotte was copyrighted. I missed the day, but thought it should be noted. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

No comments:

Post a Comment