While researching the enigmatic figure of jazz drummer and bandleader Jack Carter, who played in Shanghai in 1926-1927, I came across this article written in 1976 by Allard J. Moller, which helps to fill in some gaps in his story. As you can see from the article, it was not easy to access information about these roving musicians, and a lot of it comes from original interviews with folks who knew them. I don't know if Moller is still alive today, but he'd be happy to know that the newspapers in Shanghai published plenty of articles along with some photos of Jack Carter and his bandmates, which I plan to publish on this website soon.
A JAZZ ODYSSEY
Jack Carter’s Orchestra
by Allard J. Moller (author of “Batavia: A Swinging Town 1983)
(Storville, Feb-Mar 1976, pp. 97-103)
In the course of my work on the history of jazz in the Dutch East Indies I have had the good fortune to meet with most of the former Batavia jazz musicians. During our talks several of them, and in particular, Messrs. Otto Mackenzie, Charlie Overbeek Bloem and Ernest Vanderpuil, vividly remembered the visit of an American coloured orchestra to Batavia in 1927-28. The star-performers were still fresh in their minds; firstly an attractive young girl who played the trumpet and did the vocals — Valaida Snow — secondly, their pianist — Teddy Weatherford — and last, but not least, their drummer/leader — Jack Carter. I realised that this must be the legendary band which was known to have toured the Far East in those years and immediately became thoroughly interested in the story and decided to investigate further. I soon found that this was not going to be an easy task. During the Breda Traditional Jazz Festival of 1973 I made the acquaintance of Mr. Albert Nicholas and during a conversation he told me that he too had at one time been a member of Jack Carter’s band and that he had himself travelled extensively through the Far East. This sounded most interesting, but lack of time prevented any further talks with him. It may be noted that, in later years, Jack Carter joined Noble Sissle’s Orchestra as drummer and recorded with this outfit in 1931, ’34 and ’36 for the Brunswick label.
My next step was to contact various well-known jazz critics and authors in the U.S.A., Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada for possible further information, but to no avail. This was unknown territory for them, but several undertook to keep theireyes open. Finally I approached the late Walter C. Allen of Rutgers University Institute of Jazz Studies, Newark, New Jersey. I had his answer within ten days, beginning with the words, “I am fascinated by your research”. And from his well- documented files came the first solid piece of information on my subject which at least gave some basis to the story' I was attempting to compile. I feel very much obliged to Walter Allen for his kindness and for the encouragement he gave me. It was the start of a really fascinating story which is by no means finished yet.
In August 1926, Jack Carter, who had been playing in Shanghai, came to Chicago to organise an orchestra of coloured musicians. This group left San Francisco on 31 August 1926, with destination China and booked to play ten weeks at the Plaza Hotel, Shanghai. Then they would tour the Orient. The band included Valaida Snow (ex the Revue The Chocolate Dandies), Billy Paige (ex conductor for King Oliver’s Orchestra) and Teddy Weatherford. (Data from the Pittsburgh Courier of 11 September 1926, page 10) The complete line-up of the band was as follows: Valaida Snow, tpt/vcls; Nick Amper (a Philippino musician), tbn; Albert Nicholas, clt/ten; Billy Paige, alt; Teddy Weatherford, pno; “Gus” (an Austrian), sbs; Frank Ethridge, vln/gtr/bjo and Jack Carter, dms/leader.
Although they were booked for ten weeks, they stayed at the Plaza Hotel for a full year, until the Fall of 1927. (The above all from Walt Allen.)
Then it so happened that through the good offices of Mr. Johnny Simmen of Zürich, I received, to my agreeable surprise, a phone-call from Zürich from Miss GüI Goksu who had been Albert Nicholas’s lady friend during his Swiss years. She told me that she had a tape-recording of Albert talking about his Far-Eastern musical adventures, part of which she had transcribed and would put at my disposal.
The next windfall occurred when, in reply to an ad. in V.J.M., I was contacted by the French collector Roger Richard who offered a transcription of a tape he had made of a conversation with Albert Nicholas at his home in Brioude in 1966, with Albert reminiscing about his time with Jack Carter and his subsequent travels around the globe. In the meantime this story has appeared in Storyville 57 and, with Roger’s permission, I will quote from it in my story.
Then it was brought to my attention by Edward Crommelin of Vancouver in Canada that Henry Stonor, a planter at Kemaman in Malaysia had made a study of the pre-war bands that had been playing at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. His findings were published in an extensive article in Storyville 42, but this did not contain any mention of a possible stay by Carter’s band in Singapore. So, I wrote to Mr. Stonor and he did supply some interesting data, about which later.
But first of all back to Albert Nicholas’s recollections of the beginnings of Jack Carter’s Shanghai Orchestra on Miss Goksu’s tape:
“Jack Carter had a band in Shanghai. He had been there a couple of years ....had some Philippino musicians who were working with him at the Golden Jade Hotel. He came looking for musicians. He got Frank Ethridge, on violin and guitar ....he was a fine musician. Well, anyhow, Ethridge, Billy Paige, alto sax. I got a tenor ....and clarinet, Teddy Weatherford, piano ....he was a hell of a pianist. You might have heard of Weatherford ....man, he was like, well ....I hear Fats Waller and I tell you it’s Weatherford. Weatherford was a ....musician, he played rhapsodies, blues, and all those classics. First in Tate’s band ....that was the band he was staying with. When he left that man, he tried out about seven piano players and none could fill the job! Earl Hines couldn’t make it.... Then we went to the Plaza Hotel, Shanghai. I stayed a year. A very good band, yes.... also Philippino musicians... there were plenty fine musicians in that Orient too, they used to get going on nothing. And a good trombone player, Nick Amper ....he was very, very ....he sounded like Tommy Dorsey at that time. And, after the year Frank and I, we left the band, we’d had enough of China, one year ....and then we went to Hong Kong.”
Note: Frank Ethridge was also recruited from Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra, while Albert Nicholas had been playing with King Oliver’s Dixie/Savannah Syncopators.
Albert Nicholas also speaks of this in his 1966 interview with Roger Richard:
“When my year contract expired, Frank Ethridge and I left Jack Carter ....wanted me for another year, but I had enough, one year in China was enough. I liked to travel ....if I just wanted to play music I could stay in the States. We had a good job at the Plaza Hotel, good pay, no taxes ....and at that time we didn’t know what that was. Now so, instead of getting our transportation paid back to Chicago the way we came, we took it to go around. So that took us to Hong Kong...”
So much then for Albert Nicholas’s accounts of his engagement with Jack Carter and he now bows out of our story as our primary concern is with the adventurous Mr. Carter and company — what do we know of them?
Billy Paige had left the band and replacement is not known. In fact, the personnel and movements of the band over the next twelve months or so after the departure of Nicholas and Ethridge are very much a matter of conjecture.
It seems likely that soon after these two left, the band, probably reinforced with locally available musicians, broke off their sojourn in Shanghai and travelled on and although I have no concrete evidence to support this at the moment, I feel that their destination could well have been Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
The Philippines were then U.S. overseas territory with Manila a lively bustling town full of American and European style enter¬tainment in the larger hotels like the Manila Hotel, and dance halls like the Santa Ana Cabaret and Whoopee Cabaret, both of which always featured first rate dance bands. Maybe one of our readers has information on this area?
The next stop of which there is certain knowledge is at Batavia in the Dutch East Indies where they arrived in 1928 - probably in the first half of the year. They played for some two or three weeks at the Oost Java Restaurant in Koningsplein Square, situated in the centre of the European Weltvreden quarter (now the Gambir quarter of Jakarta). This was a popular restaurant (later renamed the Carlton Club and, after the war, the Yen Pin Restaurant) which featured annex dancing, where the young set liked to congregate. Dancing was in the open air on a good wide dance floor laid in the front garden of the premises facing the street. On the special occasion of Carter’s debut, an entrance fee was charged and, to prevent non-paying guests from witnessing the proceedings, the garden was fenced in with an opaque screen of split bamboo material!
Three of Batavia’s amateur jazz musicians, Otto Mackenzie, Charlie Overbeek Bloem and Ernest Vanderpuil, then still in their teens, were witnesses to this really great event and, even after 47 years, still remember much about it. Jazz in Batavia was then very much in its infancy, with local musicians gathering their knowledge exclusively from records, then being played on acoustic Victrolas and portable players with poor sound quality.
Now they had an opportunity to hear real jazz at first hand, played by coloured American musicians. They were eager to absorb as much as they could and repeatedly
I went to hear the band. Charlie Bloem, him-self a promising young jazz pianist at the time, had an immense admiration for Weatherford whom he remembers quite well. Otto Mackenzie, a guitar player, known as “the Dutch Indies Eddie Lang” went several times, together with an older friend, Bertie Vandersprong, who was at the time one of Batavia’s outstanding jazz piano players. In front of the restaurant, on the street, were some large trees, and here Ernest Vanderpuil, returned to the U.S. in January 1927, but his had to see and hear all. He recalls, “I had the privilege to observe and hear it all from a distance; my position in that tree wasn’t exactly comfortable, and several times l almost fell from it if I forgot to hold tight on account of my enthusiastic swinging along with the terrific rhythm of that band.”
The line-up of the band, when at Batavia, was reported as follows: Jack Carter, ldr/ dms; Jimmy ‘Angel’ Jimenez, tbn; plus trumpet, alto and tenor saxes by three unremembered musicians, with Teddy Weatherford still on piano. No bass player is mentioned. In addition, there was a “floor- show” group consisting of Valaida Snow, trumpet/singing/dancing; Lavada Snow and Bo Diddeley singing/dancing. (The presence of Valaida’s sister in this group was reported by yet another contributor to this project, Ralph Gulliver of Australia. Lavada subsequently became Mrs. Jack Carter.)
Thus, since leaving Shanghai, and apart from Nicholas and Ethridge, Billy Paige, Nick Amper and probably the bassist “Gus” have disappeared from the scene. One new name is added, Jimmy Jimenez, nicknamed “the Angel”, a Philippino and a fantastic trombonist. Where did they pick him up?
For an evaluation of their performance we’ll now return to Otto Mackenzie’s account: “Initially their show didn’t attract a big crowd, but after a day or two, when the public grasped the musical level of these people, it was crammed. I was there nearly every evening together with a lot of other Batavia musicians, such as Bertie Vandersprong and Ch. Overbeek Bloem. As to the band’s performance, for me this was an eye- opener. At last I heard a real band, just like on the records, with all the new numbers and tricks. But the older numbers also got played. I remember, for instance, I Scream You Scream, actually a trashy number, but in their hands it just became a piece of fire-works. For that matter, almost all their numbers were played like fireworks. With me their music came over as “terrific” and especially the performances of Jimenez and Weatherford, and Carter himself ....all were very dynamic and inspired. The others too were good musicians but, to my mind, not so outstanding. The driving forces in that band were really Carter, Jimenez and Teddy. I also remember a floorshow act of Jimmy’s in which he ....on his trombone ....perfectly imitated a bell. Valaida Snow was a true- bred artist as well. She sang excellently, then played a solo on trumpet, on which instrument she could do all kinds of tricks and improvise tremendous breaks. After this she would give out with some more choruses of dancing ....tap-dancing too, and finish her act by shoving herself on her knees through the audience for the last few bars! Her favourite number was My Blue Heaven. Bo Diddeley and Jack Carter too were good dancers and singers. I saw show-performances of these three together as well. I admired Teddy Weatherford very much. He played very rhythmically and had a wonderful technique. He had a real “heavy touch” and could draw mighty full chords from his instrument, all of which completely fascinated my companion Vandersprong, no mean pianist himself. (After 47 years, this is a completely accurate description of Teddy’s playing as confirmed by listening to his old Indian Columbia recordings — A.M.)
Naturally, we sometimes conversed with the boys, and I was proud to be able, at last, to talk with real experienced professional musicians. American professional musicians did come to Batavia sometimes, as when a tourist-ship was at Priok Harbour, and its band played a few days at the Des Indes Hotel. In this way I heard, among others, part of Ben Bemies’s Music, but there’s no doubt that Carter’s band made a very special impression on me. And they inspired us enormously! After some two or three weeks they went on, possibly to Surabaya, but at the end there was some trouble and Jimenez stayed behind at Batavia and immediately joined the Hotel des Indes Dance Orchestra of Serge Guy.”
It may be that after Batavia the band did play for some time at one of the renowned Surabaya nightspots. It is also possible that they went straight on to Singapore. We are not sure. Anyway, the next firm report of their whereabouts is from Joe Speelman, longtime saxophonist in Dan Hopkins’s Raffles Hotel Celebrated Orchestra of Singapore. He remembered a small band of Negroes who played for about a month at the Adelphi Hotel, Singapore about 1928. He went over to listen to them several nights, but the only name he could recall was that of the pianist, who was Teddy Weatherford.
Thus, thanks to a handful of devoted contributors, I have been able to trace the Jazz Odyssey of Jack Carter (and his men and women) from Chicago via Shanghai and Batavia to Singapore in 1926-28. There are, no doubt, missing pages, and at this point I arrive at a deadlock. I can only hope that this account will be read by people who can fill in the missing chapters and provide the “happy ending” to a remarkable story. For it was thanks to people like Carter that the gospel of jazz was carried to the ends of the earth, and they deserve our thanks and recognition.
It is a sad fact that to date, no photographs of Carter or his musicians from this period have been found, and photographs of Carter from any period are not exactly common. Therefore, I am doubly grateful to Bertrand Demeusy for his illustration of Carter with Noble Sissle taken a few years after the present end of our story. Whilst with Sissle, Carter made a film short in which he can be seen and heard, and this is the source of our cover for this issue.
To round my story off, I asked Arthur Briggs, legendary trumpeter, who has been living in Paris for many years, what he remembered of Jack Carter and his friends. This is what he had to say:
“Indeed, Jack Carter was a personal and dear colleague with whom I worked for three years with Noble Sissle. He passed in New York in 1942. Also Valaida, Lavada, Ethridge, Weatherford, Albert Nicholas and Bo Diddeley. The others I did not know. Jack was not only a wonderful drummer, musician, xylophonist, he was also a real PAL”.
If anyone can supply any additional information, please write to me: Allard Moller, 9 Meerakkers, Goirle 4447, The Netherlands. I’m hoping, after all, “one never knows, does one?”