Written by Frank Philips
(First published here with the expressed permission of the Estate of Mr. Phillips. No reproduction allowed whatsoever.)
Although there was apparently very little in the way of pre-launch publicity for the Parlophone Company’s “New ‘Rhythm-Style’ Series”, record reviewers in the popular music press were quick to recognise the importance of the venture, receiving each new issue with enthusiasm, supported by countless columns of approving words.
The Gramophone magazine issue for January 1930, in an article headed, – ‘POPULAR RECORDS OF 1929’ informed the record buying public:
“Although popular songs and dance tunes are usually of an ephemeral interest, there are always a few each year that are worth a longer life in the gramophone collection. The past year has been chiefly notable for the development of public interest in the new styles of rhythm that are being introduced by the leading dance musicians and rhythmic singers in America. For this ever-increasing interest we have to thank the enterprise of the Parlophone Company, which has not only issued many fine dance records, but has also introduced a new series named “The New Rhythm-Style Series”. So far, ten of this series (five records) have been issued, but I understand that more are to follow during 1930. These have come as a welcome relief, not only to the enthusiast but also to a general public who have become tired of the monotonous sugary rhythm of the majority of modern dance bands. I think that the greatest dance record of the year was the first of the new series. This was a quickstep by Ed Lang’s Orchestra, called Freeze an’ Melt, and a very fine blues, West End Blues, by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five.’
‘The first of these orchestras is an Okeh recording combination, containing many of the leading white dance musicians of America, while the second is a coloured band headed by Louis Armstrong, who is recognised as the finest rhythmic trumpet player in the world.’
‘The number of the disc is R448, and if it is not already in your collection, you should lose no time in acquiring it. The other discs in this series are without exception of a very high class, but space does not permit me to mention them all here. Nearly every record by these Parlophone American recording bands has been of interesting character, and the names of the Dorsey Brothers, Frankie Trumbauer, Miff Mole, Louis Armstrong and Ed Lang have become synonymous with the best of modem music.” 1
According to an earlier piece in The Gramophone (November 1929), the mighty BBC was also swift to show its support, by devoting a half- hour programme to the first four sides of the New Rhythm Style Series. Under the heading ‘All Praise to Parlophone’, The Gramophone (February 1930) observed,
“The enthusiast for the finest dance rhythm music owes a great debt to the Parlophone Company. Were it not for its enterprise, he would be in a bad way. I am glad to hear, therefore that the “New Rhythm-Style Series” is selling well, and that more gramophiles are learning to appreciate the subtleties of the best American dance musicians.”
A comment from The Gramophone, from June 1931 read:
“What beats me is how the Parlophone people keep it up. They have now issued nearly eighty hot records in their New ‘Rhythm-Style’ Series, all of which have been good, and practically all of which have introduced something that has been different in some way from anything we have heard before. And still they go on. There are four more of them again this month.” – Edgar Jackson.
The following month’s issue of The Gramophone included, in its ‘Hot Rhythm Records’ section:
“A New Parlophone “Rhythm-Style” Booklet
I have just received from the Parlophone Company their second booklet of chats on their New “Rhythm-Style”Records. It deals with Nos.45-78 inclusive. I must confess that I have found it of absorbing interest. Although it is couched in the usual enthusiastic terms that one finds in propaganda matter, it doesn’t exaggerate unduly, gives a good deal of information, including the personnels of many of the bands, and draws attention to aspects of the records which might not always be obvious, thus enabling one to understand the performances better, and so enjoy them more.
Nor does it end at that. Having read the booklet through the reader will find that he is not only better equipped to enjoy the records with which it deals, but that he has, provided that he can put two and two together, had the whole subject of modern dance music explained to him, been shown the factors of importance, what are not, and from what aspects it should be considered and judged.
The only fault I have to find with it is that it does not give quite as much information as it might about the artists themselves.
However, one can’t have everything, and I certainly advise everyone to get this booklet, not excluding those who profess to dislike hot music, for it will show it to them in a new light which may enable them to find entertainment in it.
The booklet is obtainable, free of charge, from all gramophone dealers, or in case of difficulty a postcard to the Parlophone Co. Ltd.,81, City Road, London E.C. 1, will bring it by return of post.”
Alongside this booklet, the individual information sheets were still available for each ‘Rhythm-Style’ record, as is illustrated by the entry in The Gramophone (December 1931). The opening paragraph of the piece entitled ‘Venuti & Co. in ingenious novelties’ read:
“As usual, there are all sorts of good things among the Parlophone “Rhythm-Styles” and much interesting information is contained in the pamphlet chats (as they call them) which are available with each record and not only point out the more interesting features, but seem very fair in their claims.”
The review of the 78rpm, (No.R1100) in the Melody Maker (January 1932) was concluded by the following paragraph:
“A correspondent complains that many of the New Rhythm-Style records are far from new. Certainly that is true up to a point, but in the majority of cases the records issued are so good that they would keep even longer. The ideal method would be to release every hot record soon after its issue in the States. We should have a nice collection of discs by now.”
By this time other British labels (namely Brunswick, and HMV who were issuing jazz records in its ‘Hot Rhythm Series’) 2 had recognized the potential market for jazz records in Britain, so Parlophone were now facing serious competition.
To be fair, Parlophone were issuing recordings a couple of years old, but most were being released within a few months of the date of recording. Was the competition faring better, or were the fans merely impatient for recordings hot from the studio – since information such as band personnels and recording dates was now available to them?
The rate at which Parlophone were issuing jazz gems in the New ‘Rhythm-Style’ Series was creating a record reviewers nightmare – their stock of superlatives was becoming exhausted! Long before the termination of the New ‘Rhythm-Style’ Series, reviewers were asking what more could they say without repeating what had already been said? In particular, they had heaped so much praise on the Louis Armstrong performances and the Venuti recordings that words could not be found to express any further rational comment.
Through the spring of 1932, Parlophone continued to tap the vaults of Okeh, unearthing treasure after treasure, each new batch being received with great enthusiasm by critics, until finally the company decided to bring the series to a close. The sixtieth, and last issue in the series, was released in April 1932.
1 From: Gramophone Magazine; January 1930; ‘Popular Records of 1929’
2 See: Discographer Magazine; Vol.1, No.6 (June 2014) for an article on the HMV, ‘Hot Rhythm Series’ by Lawrence Davies