In similar fashion to two other recent Mosaic sets The Complete Okeh & Brunswick Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and Jack Teagarden Sessions 1924-36 and The Complete Columbia Recordings of Mildred Bailey this collection provides irrefutable evidence of the profound importance of these two men to the legacy of jazz.
Although they grew up only blocks apart in South Philadelphia, it was the orchestra at James Campbell High School that initially established their inseparable musical relationship. A study in personal contrasts Venuti was aggressive, rambunctious, unpredictable, and had a penchant for outlandishly bizarre humor; Lang was quiet, humble, sensible and extremely reliable in every way it was their commonalities that made them such an extraordinary musical duo.
Aside from their mutual love of sports and their first generation Italian-American heritage (Lang's real name was Salvatore Massaro, taking his stage name from a boyhood basketball idol), it was their musical tastes and virtuoso artistry that cemented the unique relationship, lasting until Eddie's tragic death at 31 in 1933, from complications of an unnecessary tonsil operation.
But for more than 15 years prior to that, their remarkable partnership altered the course of jazz during its seminal stage. Both men loved classical music, opera, traditional Italian melodies and the popular music of the day; playing and practicing ten to twelve hours a day on violin, guitar and mandolin, instruments on which both young men were quite adept. While still in high school, they began performing in duets or small ensembles at speakeasies, weddings, social events and dances in and around Philadelphia.
During the early 1920s, Lang and Venuti split time between New York, Philadelphia and Atlantic City, performing with various ensembles, and in 1926 made the permanent move to New York. Involved with studio orchestras in the new world of radio, they also became heavily sought after musicians in the recording studios, an environment that was absolutely ideal for Lang.
As seminal a figure on the guitar as Coleman Hawkins was to the tenor sax, Lang was jazz' first significant guitar soloist. Possessing an amazing rhythmic drive and harmonic sense that was ideal for the traditional chordal role of the instrument, it was his single-string solo concept, heavily steeped in the blues tradition, that set the tone all future guitarists would follow. His blues style was so authentic that he was a regular choice of top artists like Bessie Smith and the legendary guitarist Lonnie Johnson. Lang's spectacular duets with Johnson under the name of Blind Willie Dunn to mask his racial identity are contained in this set, as are his recordings with Smith.
Venuti, on the other hand, claimed no blues influence whatsoever. But his brilliantly crisp technique, powerful rhythmic sensibility, impeccable timing, and electrifying, ferociously swinging solos made him an extremely popular choice of New York's top musicians.
The Classic Columbia and Okeh Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang Sessions begins with their 1926 duet classics, Black and Blue Bottom and Stringing the Blues, and includes all of their delightful duo recordings. The set includes a vast collection of 194 tracks in various settings, featuring Venuti and Lang together and separately, with many rare recordings, six of which are previously unissued.
In addition to the aforementioned duos and Lang's dates with Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson, the set includes all of Lang's solo performances; various big band dates under Lang's and/or Venuti's leadership; the Venuti Blue Four/Five/Six sessions; sidemen dates with small groups led by Louis Armstrong, Frank Trumbauer, Red Nichols and Tommy Dorsey; big band dates with Jack Pettis, Fred Rich and Paul Whiteman; and back-up sessions for popular singers like Red McKenzie, Cliff Edwards, Annette Hanshaw, Ruth Etting; and a previously unissued date with Big Crosby (who is also on all of the Whiteman tracks, and for whom Lang was personal accompanist).
Also included are Lang's seminal guitar duets with Carl Kress, and all of his blues sessions with Smith, Johnson, Clarence Williams, Victoria Spivey, Gladys Bentley, Sonny Porter, Texas Alexander and others. There are even a few novelty records that feature Venuti's strange humor.
Among the many sidemen included on these sessions are such notables as Bix Beiderbecke, King Oliver, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Bud Freeman, Hoagy Carmichael, Omer Simeon, Joe Sullivan and many, many more.
As with all of Mosaic's releases, the utmost attention and care has gone into producing the finest sound quality attainable in the restoration process. Utilizing the original metal mother discs, or commercial 78s loaned by collectors who painstakingly preserved their original quality, Mosaic enlisted the talents of mastering engineer Doug Pomeroy, whose exceptional abilities are fully evident on the aforementioned Mildred Bailey and Bix/Trumbauer/Teagarden sets.
The beautifully produced booklet includes rare and unpublished photographs, and essays by authorities Mike Peters, Richard M. Sudhalter and Marty Grosz, all of whom served along with Dan Morganstern and Michael Brooks as consultants on this set.
Upcoming Mosaic boxed sets for this summer include: The Complete Roulette Sarah Vaughan Studio Sessions (8 CDs) and The Complete Blue Note Lou Donaldson Sessions 1957-60 (6 CDs).
It is requested that all reviews or articles include the following: All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check the website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order."