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Storyville 047 0004

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HARRISON SMITH
talks to Derrick Stewart -Baxter
transcribed by Gilbert Gaster
Transcriber’s note: This transcription of a taped interview is virtually verbatim, and has been edited only to maintain continuity and clarity. Queries and doubts are indicated, and a few comments and references have been inserted. It is impossible, however, to to transcribe from tape to type the merry personality of Mr. Harrison Smith, and exclamation marks are woefully inadequate substitutes for many chuckles and much hearty laughter. Recorded in New York City in April 1972 by Derrick Stewart-Baxter. 1913 I started in the jazz field. I was only 18 years old at the time. My first band was Cordy Williams, who later made records....his first record, with Ethel Waters, was on the Black Swan label. My second orchestra was Bill Brown and his Brownies. I had several other orchestras, but the most important one I had was the great Jack Hatton. He worked like Louis Armstrong before we ever heard
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of Louis! His main trick was coming off the stand, mingling amongst the dancers, still playing; then he’d go up to the balcony, entertain the patrons in the balcony, and he’d always get back to the stand in time to hit that last note! We were doing numbers like Walkin' The Dog, St. Louis Blues and Down Home Rag; but these were the tunes I was involved with most prominently in those days....at that time at least. Jimmy Durante getting 25 dollars a week, he played during the intermission while the orchestra took a breather. The place was called Park Circle Casino, Brooklyn.
It was a beautiful place...it had a capacity of three thousand people...and the boss gave me a proposition, “If you bring me enough patrons to drink up twenty dollars of booze a night, you don’t have to pay any rent!” I would call up my printer and say, “I want some circulars”, and he’d print up my
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circulars and my posters and I’d call up the band, and I’d say, “I want you on a certain date”. Well, that was my investment! No money outlayed, you know! And then I went on. Later on, I had an organisation known as the Dukes of Brooklyn....so my nickname became ‘Duke’, you see? Later when I met Duke Ellington he didn’t know my name was ‘Duke’, he kind of ruffled my feathers, you know! So I said, ‘I’m ‘Duke’ too!’ So we exchanged photographs....from Duke to Duke!
Later on I fooled around in the music field and the theatrical field. I represented a lot of artists, and I was advertising manager to the Lafayette Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem....1916 and 1917.
I think I met Scott Joplin once in 1916. I later met his wife. She was a fascinating lady, and it seemed like everybody in town tried to stay at her residence. I don’t know anybody down from Jelly Roll....down to Valaida Snow, everybody else who didn’t try to live at Mrs. Joplin’s residence. When I met her she was quite old....last time I saw her she was very feeble with arthritis. And she’d always meet you with a big smile. One of my co-songwriters lived at her house, so consequently he used Scott Joplin’s piano for some of the songs I still have....I have songs that were created on Scott Joplin’s piano! He had a beautiful grand piano, and the last time I saw Mrs. Joplin I said, “Gee, it would be nice if I could get all the fans who liked Scott Joplin to chip in with a quarter piece, and we put this piano in the Smithsonian Institute”. I don’t know whatever became of it. Wilbur Sweatman, he was her executor, and I don’t know what became of the piano after he came into the picture as the executor of Mrs. Joplin’s estate.
...He (Sweatman) was one of the pioneers of jazz. They say he left an estate of 49,000 dollars....and two or three widows turned up! I don’t know what happened to it!
Around 1916 I’m advertising manager to the Lincoln....the Lafayette and the Lincoln ....which meant like each theater booked linked programs. There were sixteen pages to each booklet, and each page brought me in a
revenue of 20 dollars. We had like the cast of characters in between the advertisements, the music score, and all like that. So I met a lot of professionals that way....
Before I get around to Jelly Roll Morton, I want to tell you about Duke. I managed a little boy who was a very popular picture star. His name was Little Farina....Alan Hoskins Farina....and because he had pigtails a lot of people didn’t know whether he was a boy or a girl. The name itself....Little Farina ....means little flower, which subsequently was the name of a famous Sidney Bechet record. So, OKeh made the first record. .. they made a comedy record of Li’I Farina by (Al?) Campbell and Jack Hartman, and the pianist Jack (Logo?). It was supposed to be a comedy follow-up to the OKeh laughing records. So OKeh put the record out. Then Gennett says to me, “Hey, we’d like to get in on this!” So Gennett made a record, and they released it on five different labels....one each month for five months. And they says, “Gee whiz, this is the most talked about record we’ve ever put out, because nobody knows whether Farina is a boy or a girl! We can’t tell ’em, we don’t know!” So....I don’t say it was their biggest hit, but it was their most talked-of record. So they say, “How about Duke Ellington making it?” So I say, “OK....it’s OK with me.” That week I see Duke Ellington at the Lafayette Theater for the first time. So Duke recorded it....and they told me, “Gee, that guy Bubber Miley must have broken a blood vessel doing his stuff!”
Well, anyhow they asked me to join the family, you see, which I did, as Eastern Region manager. I saw a lot of Jelly Roll and King Oliver and Vernon Dalhardt....he was their biggest seller. And I paid Duke the the princely sum of 19 dollars for If You Can’t Hold The Man You Love, Cry When He’s Gone. That was his first Gennett record and the boys had to split the 19 dollars up nine different ways, you know....or six different ways, at least. So in appreciation I took over Duke’s band.
(According to Rust this title was recorded on 1 April 1926, but not issued....and by Rust’s