Even with such strong players as trumpeters Bobby Stark and Rex Stewart, trombonist Benny Morton and tenor-saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, the fortunes of Fletcher Henderson's orchestra were slipping during 1931. With the departure of Don Redman several years earlier, the group's arrangements were less innovative, and the pressure was on to perform commercial songs for the Depression audience. Even the jazz standards (such as "Tiger Rag" and "After You've Gone") are less interesting than those of their competitors, although this new version of "Sugar Foot Stomp" is a classic and the strong solos by the all-star cast make this CD well worth acquiring.
The first half of this chronological release of Benny Goodman's 1931-1933 recordings is comprised of dance band performances from 1931 - 12 selections with vocals from Paul Small, Smith Ballew, and Dick Robertson that have little to recommend them except excellent musicianship. The jazz content is pretty low and even Goodman is not heard from much. This is from the era when the clarinetist earned his employment as a studio musician. The final ten numbers are from 1933 and are of greater interest. Trombonist/singer Jack Teagarden is well featured on six songs, Billie Holiday makes her hesitant recording debut on "Your Mother's Son-in-Law" and "Riffin' the Scotch," and there are some fine solos along the way by both Jack and Charlie Teagarden, pianist Joe Sullivan, and Goodman. This is still Benny Goodman pre-history, for he would not attempt to lead a big band until 1934.