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Billy Banks & His Orchestra - “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (1932 Victor)

Cover Image for Billy Banks & His Orchestra - “It Don’t Mean a Thing” (1932 Victor)

w Duke Ellington, Irving Mills; Single, Victor 24148

April has been Jazz Appreciation Month in the United States and Canada, so here at the end is a hottest and most upbeat version of Duke Ellington’s standard "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)", performed by Billy Banks & His Orchestra. I heard this version as a kid somewhere and it apparently appeared in the movie Swing Kids, which I have not seen but I understand is about underground Jazz in Nazi Germany. The picture of the original record comes from this listing, and the recording linked is from a 2006 compilation album from Charly Records.

Sources say Billy Banks is known for two things, and one of them was his ability/propensity to effect a woman's singing voice on recordings - you can hear an example in the back half of “It Don’t Mean a Thing” and in fact I always thought that was a woman singing, which shows you how much I know...

His second claim to fame is being the principal vocalist and nominal bandleader for the Rhythmakers, a super group of Jazz all-stars brought together to back him for four recording sessions in 1932 (at the direction of foundational Jazz promoter and publisher Irving Mills, who's credited with discovering Banks, Ellington and many others and who wrote the lyrics to “It Don’t Mean a Thing”). Their shifting line-up included pianist Fats Domino, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, and percussionist Gene Krupa, among many greats I’m not myself familiar with…it seems Banks was rather a figurehead next to them...and in case you couldn’t tell, they were racially integrated, which was a big deal at the time. They weren’t even able to tour or play in public on account of segregation.

For more Jazz, you might see this past post on Tuba Skinny. And if you're in the Greater LA Area (and like your Jazz considerably cooler), mark your calendar for the 28th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 23rd. This free function along historic Central Avenue has featured legends like the late Barbara Morrison (see this performance of "I Loves You, Porgy", that I can't embed, from the 2020 virtual festival) as well as modern innovators like Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin. Apparently they're doing something of a "refresh" this year (I guess it's not an all-weekend thing at the end of July anymore, but I don't know if there's more to it than that yet).

And beyond that...

Also Check Out:

By Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra:

"Marie" - YouTube | Spotify

By Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys:

"Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" (from the Tiffany Transcriptions) - YouTube | Spotify

By the Charlie Parker Septet:

"Yardbird Suite" - YouTube | Spotify

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