October 11, 1938: Swinging in Columbus Day
Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1937, and as with all such holidays prior to 1971, it was celebrated on the actual day, rather than on the second Monday. October 12 fell on a Wednesday in 1938, and there was plenty of dance band action set for Tuesday night. Almost everybody had Wednesday off, so most places stayed open until 4 a.m.
Woody Herman’s Orchestra was at the Raymor Ballroom, and around the corner at the Roseland-State Ballroom, the bands of Glenn Miller and Tommy Reynolds staged a battle of music. The sweet band of Clyde Lucas was at the Statler Hotel. And the Egleston Square Gardens hosted a trumpet battle royal, with the bands of Roy Eldridge, Erskine Hawkins, and Mal Hallett, with his trumpeters Frank Ryerson and Micky McMickle.
Eldridge and Hawkins were both on the ascent in October 1938. Eldridge was working with his older brother Joe, the saxophonist. Roy was already a soloist of note, with a string of well-received recordings on Vocalion to his name, including “After You’ve Gone,” “Wabash Stomp,” and “Heckler’s Hop.”
Erskine Hawkins had formed the ‘Bama State Collegians while attending the Alabama State Teachers College, and he brought the band north in 1936. It already included his best-known sidemen: pianist Avery Parrish, saxophonists Julian Dash and Paul Bascomb, and trumpeter Dud Bascomb. In a few months, as the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, they’d record their biggest hit, “Tuxedo Junction.”
Mal Hallett led a high-octane swing band all through the 1930s, through which passed Boots Mussulli, Gene Krupa, Jack Jenney, and many more. At the heart of the band were two trumpeters who joined Hallett in 1932, Dale “Mickey” McMickle and Frank Ryerson. They made a formidable pair. They had been with the band so long, each had occupied both the lead and jazz chairs, although Ryerson probably played lead most of the time. He was also Hallett’s chief arranger and straw boss.
I’ve found no accounts of the evening in the Boston press, so we don’t know, for instance, if there was any cutting going on, or who sat in with whom. But there are a few interesting postscripts. Ryerson left Hallett’s band shortly after this engagement, and Roy Eldridge filled in for him for a short time. That isn’t something found in most Eldridge biographies, but there are photos of Eldridge on stage with the Hallett band.
In early 1939 McMickle also left Hallett, for the band of Glenn Miller. He played lead and anchored the Miller trumpet section until Miller broke up the band in 1942. Bobby Hackett once said that “Whenever the trumpets sounded really good, it was because McMickle was playing the lead.”
Eldridge, Hawkins, Hallett, Herman, Miller, Reynolds, Lucas…they made Columbus Day Eve a big night for the big bands in Boston.
Here is Roy Eldridge’s 1937 hit, “After You’ve Gone.” I dare you to sit still. Like Anita said later on “Uptown:” “Well, blow, Roy, blow!”