Wilbur Sweatman's 'Battleship Kate' & Duke Ellington
- Dear list:
I am currently preparing an article on early Duke Ellington (1927-
1931) for the Spanish jazz website Tomajazz, as part of an Ellington
special which started last November and will be adding items until
In my paper, I am mentioning that, shortly before the seven Blu-Disc
sides from November 1924, there's still a reasonble doubt that
Ellington may had taken part in the recording of "Battleship Kate" by
Wilbur Sweatman And His Acme Syncopators for Gennett.
I think this article by Sjef Hoefsmith in the Duke Ellington Music
Society Bulletin (DEMS 05/2 August-November 2005) may be of interest
for this list:
<< Steven Lasker mentioned in his article under "a." the newly-
released Wilbur Sweatman 2-CD set on Jazz Oracle, one of the last
reissues remastered by the late great John R. T. Davies. This
Canadian release has number BDW 8046. It is number 46 of a series of
Classic/Vaudeville Jazz CDs. The 44 -page booklet is written by Mark
Berresford, who is hoping to see his biography of Wilbur Sweatman
published this year. His liner-notes are fascinating. The double CD
has 58 selections, recorded between 1916 and 1935. Among these are no
less than five different recordings of Battleship Kate. The oldest
one (on Gennett, label Ge 5584-B, matrix 9083-A) is the one which has
stirred up so many discussions since Mike Danzi stated that he took
part in this recording and that Duke was on the piano. Mark
Berresford is not convinced that Danzi played on this session of
18Sep24. According to his personnel listing he has on banjo Clyde
Johnson or Mike Danzi. On piano were Duke or Walter Hall and not
George Rickson as found by Arne Neegaard in The Red Hot Jazz Archive.
The recording date in The Red Hot Jazz Archive does only differ by
two days (20Sep24).
Mark Berresford lists the remaining musicians: Eugene 'Bud' Aiken,
Leslie (Leonard?) Davis on cornet; Calvin Jones on trombone; Wilbur
Sweatman on clarinet and bass clarinet; Percy Green on alto sax;
Raymond Hernandez on tenor; Jerome 'Romy' Jones on bass; no drums!
The 18Sep24 recording of Battleship Kate was a remake. The first
attempt, one month earlier, was rejected. It is not certain to which
one Mike Danzi was referring. On 10oct24 another recording of
Battleship Kate was made for Edison (label Ed 51438-L. matrix 9781-
B). On this occasion only Walter Hall is listed as on piano, on banjo
is Harry Batcheldor and on drums Maceo White. Vocal by Ada Rives and
Wilbur Sweatman. All the other musicians are the same as on 18Sep24.
Three later recordings were made: in cMar29 for Grey Gull; on 29Apr30
for Victor; and on 26Mar35 for Vocalion.
It seems a simple matter to compare the two piano players in the
sessions of 18Sep and 10oct to try to decide whether or not they are
the same. Unfortunately there is hardly any piano to be heard, and no
solo whatsoever; what you can hear does not sound as if it was
Ellington. It is unlikely (although not impossible) that Ellington
took part in one of these recording sessions. He had his own band in
the meantime after Elmer Snowden left the Washingtonians in Feb24.
And if the date of 18Sep24 is wrong and should be early 1923, one
wonders why Otto Hardwick and Sonny Greer did not take part in the
recording session. Even a date such as 18Sep23 would be unlikely.
Elmer Snowden opened on 1Sep23 at the Hollywood with Ellington on the
So I cannot advise you to buy this double CD in order to complete
your Ellington collection. You may on the other hand be interested in
the music as played on the brink of the Jazz era. The liner-notes by
Mark Berresford alone made this investment worthwhile for me anyway.
Sjef Hoefsmit >>