Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti: Raggin' the Scale


Raggin' the Scale


Joe Venuti (violin) and Eddie Lang (guitar, banjo)


The New York Sessions 1926-1935 (JSP Records)

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Joe Venuti (violin), Eddie Lang (guitar, banjo), Jimmy Dorsey (clarinet), Adrian Rollini (bass saxophone),

Phil Wall (piano)


Composed by Edward Claypoole


Recorded: New York, February 28, 1933


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Call me crazy, but to my ears (and to get a bit grandiose), this seems like a short-piece jazz answer to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (especially No. 3), taking a holistic impression of the piece. Particularly in the early going, in the basic structure of the ensemble's instruments and their respective roles, in the leading violin lines in relation to the rest, in the flowing, rolling music that seems like an aural stream cascading over smooth rocks down a hill (though in musically ascending and descending manner), it could serve as a jazz version of a Brandenburg Concerto.

In any case, this is marvelous, fun, rousing, rolling, upbeat and up-tempo music. It features typical expressive lead lines from Venuti's violin. But it is very much ensemble jazz, with breaks for violin, banjo, piano and clarinet all adding nice creative lines and further dimensions of texture and tone, with Adrian Rollini's bass sax providing well-timed, deep sonic underpinning and punch. Also, especially when the piano comes to the fore, it has a ragtime feel (with hints of Jelly Roll Morton).

Reviewer: Dean Alger

Editor's Note: Jazz.com's staff nearly came to blows attempting to decide what instrument Eddie Lang plays during his solo from 1:27-1:43. Our reviewer, the esteemed Dr. Alger, cited compelling circumstantial evidence in favor of the banjo. But Jethro Grisman, interim chair of our Bluegrass/Newgrass/Jazzgrass Advisory Panel, hotly disputed this, insisting upon mandolin. Meanwhile, our Hawaiian stringer Reet-Poteet Papah?naumoku?kea held out by email for ukulele. There was also talk of the Puerto Rican tiple, but this was never taken seriously, as no one in our shop has ever heard one. Since Eddie Lang, who sadly died a month after this recording and is thus unavailable for comment, was born Salvatore Massaro to an Italian-American instrument maker in South Philly, and insofar as mandolins first appeared in Italy during the 17th century, the sentimental favorite remains that plectral descendant of the lute. However, sentiment is hardly an authoritative way to resolve such an important issue of musical scholarship. If anyone has definitive information, please respond below.  Alan Kurtz, Music Review Editor, Jazz.com

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  • 1 TONY KLEIN // Mar 01, 2009 at 10:18 PM
    Joe Venuti is playing a pizzicato solo on his fiddle - Eddie Lang has no solo here. Or perhaps you guys are just pulling everybody's leg?
  • 2 Alan Kurtz // Mar 09, 2009 at 01:40 AM
    Tony, I'm ashamed to admit that I never thought of a pizzicato violin. After re-listening, I'm sure you're right, and appreciate your solving our little fiddle riddle. Dr. Alger, however, is unconvinced. He acknowledges the plausibility of your identification, but is skeptical that a plucked violin would have been so resonantly recorded in 1933. Moreover, he still detects a hint of banjo twang, and (ever the academic) longs for an "authoritative source." What such source might be is beyond me. Perhaps he's holding out for eyewitness testimony, which I doubt is forthcoming since everyone involved has gone to that great hoedown in the sky. Anyhow, Tony, thanks for your help. There are now at least two of us who vote for pluckin' Joe, the man of all rosins.
  • 3 Tony Klein // Mar 26, 2009 at 07:17 PM
    Hi Alan I can quote you another unusual example of an early pizzicato recording. It is to be heard on track 16 of the unfortunately deleted Heritage (Interstate Music) CD "Roza Eskenazi 1933-1936 HT CD 35". This is a Greek-Oriental recording from Athens, November 1934 (HMV cat AO-2194 mat OGA-67)featuring among others the Istanbul Jewish-born singer Roza Eskenazi and the Stromnitsa-born Macedonian-Greek violin virtuoso and studio director Dimitris Semsis on pizzicato violin. As the CD is unobtainable, if you are interested I could email you a small sample to demonstrate my point. I would question Dr Alger's doubts about the potential of sound recording in 1933 - just listen to the high notes played by Sarasate in 1904 already...
  • 4 Alan Kurtz // Mar 30, 2009 at 06:59 PM
    Tony, I found that track at the online music service Rhapsody, to which I subscribe, and it is indeed a remarkable display of pizzicato virtuosity that is surprisingly well recorded for 1934. If anything, Dimitris Semsis's plucked fiddle is easier on the ear than Roza Eskenazi's vocal, which suffers from the dated technology. Also, check out this link
    where Amazon.com offers the track as a 99 download. Even the 30-second snippet on Amazon's free sampler confirms what you said. Thanks for the referral.

    As for Pablo de Sarasate, I found on Rhapsody a vintage recording of his Caprice Basque, Op. 24, where at the 1 minute mark he performs unaccompanied for 30 seconds, including simultaneously bowed and plucked passages. I didn't realize such a thing was possible. How many fingers did this guy have on his left hand? Of course, we have strayed far afield from Joe Venuti. But it's fun, nevertheless.