THE BOSWELL SISTERS

Shout Sisters Shout! 1925-34
Jazz Legends Jaz 2007

Ella Fitzgerald, The Beach Boys and Manhattan Transfer are just three of the monumentally popular singers who directly or by osmosis were influenced by The Boswell Sisters. Unfortunately, the three singing sisters from New Orleans are little remembered today.

But if the Boswells hadn’t helped establish a market for close harmony singing with a rhythmic thrust more than 70 years ago — along with other pioneers like the Mills Brothers — so-called jazz and later R&B and pop-rock vocalizing wouldn’t have developed the way it did.

Martha (1908-1958), who plays piano on many of these sides, Vet, shortened from Helvetia (1909-1988), and Connie, later Connee (1907-1976), Boswell quickly went from performing in vaudeville houses to recording with some of the top studio jazzmen of the day. Although “Nights When I Am Lonely”, recorded in 1925 with only Martha on piano sounds more like a 19th century parlor song, the other 20 numbers on the CD, recorded between 1930 to 1934 are Hot Jazz without dispute.

The Boswells not only showed off tandem harmonies, that would influence later sister acts like The Andrews Sisters, not to mention groups from the Four Freshmen to the Beach Boys, but excelled in finessing tunes with frequent tempo, key and mood changes. That style presaged later bop vocal groups such as Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, the model for the Manhattan Transfer. Furthermore Connie’s scatting, in particular, was the foundation on which Fitzgerald built her mature style.

While some performances are pretty show-bizzy and contain touches of minstrelsy, the three’s sophisticated vocalizing allows them to trade breaks with hot jazzers on other tunes. For instance, on “Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane” Connee scats along with Joe Venuti’s fiddle, while the tempo changing “Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On”, features solos by clarinetist Jimmy Dorsey and guitarist Eddie Lang. “We’ve Got To Put That Sun Back In The Sky” is contemporary Dixieland with contributions from trumpeter Bunny Berigan, Dorsey on clarinet and his brother Tommy on trombone. “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” is a high-toned blues sung by Connie, with raucous plunger contributions from trumpeter Manny Klein.

By this time the three could also be rhythmically exciting almost by themselves as they demonstrate on “Crazy People”, backed only by Dick McDonough’s guitar and Artie Bernstein’s bass. Besides harmonizing with words, the sisters also play so-called mouth trumpets, imitating swinging horn parts. The act broke up in 1936 though, with only the renamed Connee Boswell going on to be a band singer during the Swing Era and afterwards.

The history of improvised music is rife with rediscoveries and reevaluations. The Boswell Sisters are innovators who should be better known.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Nights When I Am Lonely 2. Heebies Jeebies 3. When I Take My Sugar To Tea 4. Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On 5. Shout, Sister, Shout 6. Shine On, Harvest Moon 7. River Stay ‘Way From My Door 8.Was That The Human Thing To Do 9. We’ve Got To Put That Sun Back In The Sky 10. There’ll Be Some Changes Made 11. If It Ain’t Love 12. Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Cane 13. Old Yazoo 14. We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye 15. Among The Sheltering Palms 16. Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day 17. Crazy People 18. Forty-Second Street 19. Shuffle Off To Buffalo 20. If I Had A Million Dollars 21. Dinah

Personnel: Manny Klein or Jack Purvis or Bunny Berigan (trumpet); Tommy Dorsey (trombone); Jimmy Dorsey (clarinet or alto saxophone); Babe Russin or Larry Binyon (tenor saxophone); Martha Boswell or Jacques Lubowski or Arthur Schutt or Sammy Prager or Fulton McGrath (piano); Dick McDonough or Carl Kress or Bobby Sherwood or Eddie Lang (guitar); Joe Venuti or Harry Hoffman (violin); Artie Bernstein or Joe Tarto (bass); Stan King or Chauncey Morehouse (drums); Morehouse (vibes); Jimmie Greer’s Orchestra ; Connie, Martha and Vet Boswell (vocals)