Edwin SWAYZE, The muted story of an extraordinary trumpet 3/4

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Edwin Walter SWAYZE

(June 13, 1906, Marshall, TX – January 31, 1935, New York, NY)

Nicknames: “King”, “Ravoy” or “Son”

Trumpet in Cab Calloway’s orchestra between July 1931 and January 1935

Crowned “The King”, inspired by King Oliver, leader of his own band for a while, famous for composing Jitterbug, noted soloist on muted trumpet and high notes, Edwin Swayze is a musician who deserves to be rediscovered for his intense career that started in Arkansas, made him a bandleader, lead him twice to Europe, and ended abruptly at only 29 during a stay the world-famous Cotton Club in Cab Calloway’s orchestra.


Part III: USA and Europe with Cab Calloway
at the Cotton Club


Back in the USA


When Swayze disembarks on American soil, he’s been out of town for almost 2 years. Many things happened meanwhile: the Great Depression, for starters; the incredible rise of the radio; the sudden fame of Cab Calloway…

Swayze had to find new points of reference, reestablish his network with local musicians and also probably relearn to live with his wife (we don’t know if she traveled and stayed with him in Europe, but there’s barely a chance it happened). But back in New York, Swayze resided with his wife Josephine in Harlem at 320 West 138th Street.


Spring 1931


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Eugene Kennedy (in 1923, while playing in Dewey Jackson’s Gold Melody)


Arcadia Ballroom, New York

Most dictionary references indicate that Swayze played with Eugene Kennedy orchestra and with Sam Wooding. I haven’t been able to find when this happened. Could it be between Swayze’s arrival in New York and his hiring by Cab in July? Since the chronology for Swayze’s career has always been erratic, full of repeated and reprinted mistakes, let’s assume that Edwin, as a cat, has been able to land on his feet and find a gig with Kennedy who had a regular engagement at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York. He’s supposed to have met Chauncey Haughton then [he will later play in Cab’s orchestra]. His accomplice Joe Hayman from the European days also already played in the band in 1929, so Swayze either substituted for Frank Newton, Lincoln Mills or Otis Johnson, members of the trumpet section.

Kennedy may have already met Swayze earlier in the Twenties when he played alto sax in Fate Marable’s Metropolitan Jazz Band in 1923 (with the likes of Dewey Jackson, Boyd Atkins, Harry Dial…).

Albert McCarthy, in his indispensable Big Band Jazz indicates “from 1929 to 1933, Eugene Kennedy led a band that employed a number of top ranking musicians, though like Kato’s it never recorded. Initially, the line-up included Frank Newton, Lincoln Mills, Otis Johnson (trumpet), Robert Horton (trombone), Glyn Paque (saxes, clarinet), Joe Hayman (tenor, clarinet) and Ernest ‘Bass’ Hill (bass), though the three trumpeters are unlikely to have been in the band at the same time. After 1929, name musicians appeared with Kennedy less frequently, though Otis Johnson played with him in New England during 1930-31, and Chauncey Haughton (saxophone, clarinet), Edwin Swayzee (trumpet, arranger) and Fitz Weston (piano) were among his personnel.”


King Swayze with the King of Hi-De-Ho

Acting as the straw boss and musical director at that time, reeds player Walter Foots Thomas is probably responsible for Ed Swayze’s hiring by Cab Calloway: “I grabbed him” recalls the King of Hi de Ho when King Swayze succeeded R. Q. Dickerson. “The trumpets were quite predominating in our shows. The brass all had to be real real good.”


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Edwin Swayze succeeds to Roger Quincey (or R.Q. or sometimes Arque) DICKERSON (1898-1951)


As Doc Cheatham remembers in The World of Swing, “He was a very good trumpet player, but he was not known enough when he joined Cab. (…) He had a good sound, and he wrote very well, too. I remember him writing some arrangements for Cab.” In fact, I find the first sentence by Cheatham a little harsh on Swayze. When he was hired by Cab, Swayze was way more famous than Cheatham: several years ago, he had his name billed as “the king”, he had already led his own orchestra, stayed in Europe for a year, made several records (way more than Doc did)…


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A 1932 publicity picture of Cab Calloway and his Cotton Orchestra – Edwin Swayze is far left.


Anyway, the moment Swayze arrives in Cab’s band, Calloway is becoming an express rising star: he’s been playing in and out at the famous Cotton Club for a year, subbing for Ellington, broadcasting 3 times a week, becoming a radio star that the recording of Minnie The Moocher with its Hi-de-hos has propelled to a new galaxy!


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Publicity shot of the band in early 1934:
E.B. DePriest Wheeler (tb), Arville Harris, Andrew Brown (reeds), Morris White (g), Eddie Barefield,
Walter Thomas (reeds), Benny Paine (p), Cab Calloway (ldr, voc), Doc Cheatham, Edwin Swayze (tp),
Al Morgan (b), Harry White (tb), Leroy Maxey (d), Lammar Wright (tp)


But – there’s always a “but” – under the auspices of his agent Irving Mills, Cab Calloway has to clear out his band little by little, “and to break up nay power based that lingered from the band’s previous career. It was well known that some 1930s swing bands had influential inner cliques that dictated their entire repertoire and policy, including decisions on who the featured soloists would be, and who was to be marked out for promotion. (…) There is some evidence that the Missourians were a band similarly manipulated by a clique of long-serving members who went back to the early days in St. Louis of Robinson’s Bostonians.” (Shipton, Cab Calloway, p. 54)



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A 1932 Cotton Club program with Cab Calloway as the featured star of the revue.


The multiple experiences lived by Swayze as musician and as a bandleader, put him under the lights on the bandstand, with a sound on his own, capable of emulating the sound of others (Armstrong, Oliver, Jenkins) when needed. By the end of 1931, Shipton writes in Calloway’s biography, Cab had replaced one-third of his backing band, in every case with a more skilled big band player, and (…) a more promising soloist as well.” His abilities on composition and arrangement enhance his position in the band.


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The band around his leader, backstage, probably during a breakfast dance, ca 1934.
Edwin Swayze is front, holding a cup of tea (Chris Calloway collection)


The period Swayze works with Cab is rich in multiple events and stories – and some are already told on this website!

Even if Cab’s popularity and flamboyant personality overshadowed his first-rate soloists, Calloway (and his agent Irving Mills) always insisted on having the best musicians on the bandstand.

If you listen carefully to the records made during those years, if you read trade articles or newspapers, you’ll understand that there was indeed a path for the musicians to get solos in the studio and features on stage – short but musically colorful.

Most of the arrangements at that time come from Walter Foots Thomas or Harry White. By 1933, with the RCA contract and recording sessions, the sound of the orchestra will be much improved. Since the band was working almost every day, at the Cotton Club in Harlem or on tour, they were some of the most talented and crafted musicians around. The salary was better than anywhere else (except with Duke Ellington). The conditions for touring were the best available, since the orchestra and the troupe travelled in a private Pullman.


With the success on stage and the radio comes the screen: after 3 cartoons for The Fleisher Brothers studio with Betty Boop (Swayze only plays in Snow White, 1932, and Old Man On The Mountain, 1933), the Cab Calloway’s orchestra appears in features (The Big Broadcast of 1932, International House, 1933) and short movies (Paramount Pictorial, 1933, Hi-De-Ho, 1934, Jitterbug’s Party, 1935). After checking the movies, I've noticed that Swayze DOESN'T appear on International House (the famous "Reefer Man" sequence was shot at Astoria Studios in April 1933): that's Reuben REEVES, who plays trumped with Cab and NOT Edwin Swayze! Nobody ever paid attention to the line-up of the band for those movies... except The Hi De Ho Blog! Nevertheless, I'm still in search for an explanation... Howard Rye in his research in the professional magazine International Musician points that Reuben Reeves continued to play with the band until October 1932.


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The famous private Pullman of the band was the set for a famous sequence of the 1934 movie Hi-De-Ho,
when the band rehearses in pajamas before arriving in New York.
Swayze is seated, second from left between sax player Eddie Barefield and guitarist Morris White.
(collection: National Museum of African American History and Culture)


Harry “Father” White & Edwin “Son” Swayze: the jitterbugs pals

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Edwin ‘Son’ and ‘Father’ White together at the band’s arrival in Paris, April 23, 1934


The Hi De Ho Blog already told you about Harry White, trombone with Cab Calloway. During Edwin’s stay with Cab, while Harry White is nicknamed “Father”, Edwin Swayze is called “Son” because they never go anywhere without each other. White is just a little bit older than Swayze: born in 1898 while Swayze is born in 1906.


Timme Rozenkrantz in Harlem Jazz Adventures remembers: “Ed Swayzee held the trumpet seat next to Harry [White] in Cab’s band for years. Ed was known as “King Swayzee,” a terrific soloist as you can hear in quick bites on records with Chick Webb, Jelly Roll Morton (“Deep Creek”), and Cab Calloway. ("Weakness", Ed’s own tune and arrangement, just a little gem.)”


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Sheet music of the song co-written by Cab, Irving, and Ed


Like the two accomplices trombone Joe Tricky Sam Nanton and trumpet Bubber Miley in Duke Ellington’s orchestra several years before, our two bandstand pals make a good pair, probably united by the same taste for booze. Hence the famous title Jitterbug, composed by Swayze at the end of 1934. The word was invented by Harry White and refers to drunkards whose swagger is reminiscent of jitterbug dancers (a dance that was in vogue at the Savoy Ballroom as early as 1926). In reality, Swayze was inspired by White's real-life situation, who had a strong tendency to be a jitterbug himself. Indeed, alcohol killed him nearly 30 years later.

Several pictures where Harry and Edwin pose together attest the complicity between those musicians.


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Two records where you can hear Swayze called “Ravoy”.


By the way, Swayze’s alternate nickname was “Ravoy”. Cab calls him by this nickname on The Lady with the Fan (“Ravoy, Ravoy, tell about it”), and on Harlem Camp Meeting (studio and in Rudy Vallee’s 1934 broadcast). We haven’t been able to explain it. Was it a reference to the Savoy ballroom? Could it be a reference to the verb “travoy”, linked to the vehicle used by Plains Indians, since Swayze had Native Indian roots? If you have any idea, please write us!


Read our article about Edwin Swayze’s solos and use of mutes


Swayze’s compositions: hot rhythm and swing arrangements

Eugene Chadbourne in his AllMusic.com notice about Swayze underlines his taste for song with “hysterical” titles: Father’s Got His Glasses On and Good Sauce from the Gravy Bowl. In fact, each has an explanation:

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• Father’s Got His Glasses On refers to how Harry White used to put his glasses when working on an arrangement for the band. (Read our article about Harry White).

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• Good Sauce from the Gravy Bowl: as Cab explained in a 1974 interview for his autobiography: “Now that means taking a drink out of a cup, it was an expression at the time, we called booze the sauce, and good sauce from the gravy bowl means a good drink from this cup.”

In a review published in April 1935 in Melody News, the writer explains the Brunswick record and its side A, Good Sauce from the Gravy Bowl: “Cab’s presentation of songs with words is every bit as entertaining as his famous Hi-de-Ho. Tune and lyrics are good. (…) I want to call particular attention to the trumpet in the last release. It is particularly notable in that it recalls the playing of Bix Beiderbecke.”


Another song co-written by Cab, Irving, and Ed

One of the compositions by Swayze that ended up on wax is Weakness (Sept 4, 1934):

Cab Calloway (transcript of tape recording interview for his autobiography, in 1974) explains its origins: “That was done with this guy was weak about this gal, he never could make it with her, but every time he looked at her he’d get weak. I think it was Ed Swayze, 1934, yeah. It was his idea, and I cut in on it. But he basically wrote it for her. It was a setup with Irving Mills, with the music, and he’d take a piece. He’d take a piece, I’d take a piece and another guy would take a piece and we’d all collaborate on it as cowriters.” Swayze also wrote its arrangements. Apparently, that was a common use in Cab’s band since Milt Hinton says in The World Of Swing: “Chick [Webb] will let you have a Benny Carter arrangement if you’ll give him two of those Swayze and Harry White arrangements”.

A nasty and horrid review by Wiliam Elliott, a British journalist who spent most his columns spitting on Calloway’s work is so bad that it deserves to be reproduced in its entirety. It’s about the Brunswick record 02011-2/6 with Chinese Rhythm (definitely not a masterpiece, I must admit) and Weakness and it’s from the June 1935 edition of Swing Music:

When you are interested in hot rhythm it is only natural that you take to some records more than others. As one who looks back on the golden age of jazz with regret, often grumble at the new discs that the companies give us each month. But it doesn’t do to be too dogmatic, and I often think that “well, perhaps someone likes them.” This month, however, I have boiled over and the above record is the cause. I don’t think anything quite so bad has ever been put out in the Brunswick Modern Rhythm Series. It has not even got a commercial appeal. Chinese Rhythm consists of some out-of-tune clarinet, some discordant brass chords and Cab hi-de-hoing in Chinese and bad Chinese at that. Weakness is a composition of the late Edwin Swayze. It has no particular merit, and the one mark I have given to this record is awarded to the trumpet player in this number. Why put out stuff like this, Brunswick? You are doing more harm than good to the Rhythm Club movement [reference to an article he wrote in March 1935 about the British federation of English jazz clubs] by doing so. If you must issue it, then for the love of Mike, put it with Guy Lombardo in the commercial section, but don’t associate the name of Modern Rhythm with rot like this.”

Copyright entries for Swayze:

• Father’s Got His Glasses On: by Edwin Walter Swayze, unpublished, Dec. 21, 1933.

Jitter Bug Shuffle: by Edwin Walter Swayze, unpublished, December 21, 1933. That tune was played during the 1934 European tour (as reported after the Brussels concert).

Jitter Bug: words and music by Cab Calloway, Irving Mills and Ed Swayze, Exclusive publications, Inc., April 16, 1934.

Weakness: words and music by Cab Calloway, Ed Swayze and Irving Mills, Milsons music pub. corp., New York, December 4, 1934.

Good sauce from the gravy bowl: words and music by Cab Calloway, Ed Swayze and Irving Mills, Milsons music pub. Corp., New York, April 10, 1935.



Back to the old continent: the 1934 European tour


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Cab Calloway and his men, singing at their disembarkment in Southampton on March 2, 1934
(Melody Maker, March 10, 1934)


In 1934, after months of negotiations by Irving Mills, Cab’s agent, Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club orchestra plus a troupe of dancers and comedians leave New York aboard the SS Majestic. This is a very first for Cab Calloway, but for 3 of his musicians, it’s the second time they travel to the old continent. The first one is Doc Cheatham, who sailed there in 1928 with Sam Wooding’s band. Like many other musicians in the band, his wife travels with him.

The second one is Benny Payne, who was in the orchestra of the Blackbirds in 1929 in Paris as we already told before.

The third one is of course Edwin Swayze. He travels without his wife. Didn’t she want to come back there? Didn’t HE want her to be with him during that tour where Edwin would probably meet old acquaintances? What did Swayze expect from coming back to Paris, and Amsterdam where he was famous 5 years ago? To all those questions, we have no answers, and we can only speculate.


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Lammar Wright, Al Morgan, Bill Maher (New York percussion shop owner),
Edwin Swayze and Walter Foots Thomas en route to London (from Shipton’s book, 
Hi De Ho)

Before the band arrives in Europe, local jazz fans are pretty excited by this Harlem orchestra that every journalist qualifies as Duke Ellington’s rival – an idea every European critic destroys stating that Cab’s band is mediocre and that its chief is an extravagant showman who hides the talents on the bandstand. This harsh criticism is particularly apparent in the French magazine Jazz-Tango. Yet, among the lines against Calloway and the orchestra in its entirety, in his article for n°43, André Ache points out three newcomers in Cab’s band, considered to belong to the “cats elite”: “Some European jazz pioneers will remember the first one, the trumpeter of the famous Plantation Orchestra, Edwin ‘Son’ Swayze. (...) A hot temperament of the first caliber, served by a strongly expressive sound.”


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From left: Andrew Brown, Edwin Swayze, Al Morgan, EB DePriest Wheeler, Walter Thomas,
Eddie Barefield, Benny Payne, Harry White, March 11, 1934


In the May edition of Jazz Tango, H.-Henk Niesen, Jr. tells his point of view about the concerts Cab played in Holland. Introducing the article, French critic and “Pope of Jazz” Hugues Pannassié states: 

“One should not be surprised by the perfectly accurate praise bestowed upon Cab Calloway’s orchestra in the following lines. Whereas in France Cab Calloway produced a deplorable exhibition, deliberately sacrificing the musical side to the spectacular side, in Holland he played very well, especially since our collaborator Henk Niesen had the opportunity to hear him in a dance hall where Cab Calloway no longer has the same reasons to prevent his musicians from playing well.”

Niesen Jr. praises Doc Cheatham and compares his style to Edwin’s saying that the latter has “a rougher and bolder style. (…) Swayze was magnificent in Chinatown, where he imitated Louis [Armstrong] to some extent. Cab Calloway’s band recently recorded a Swayze composition called Father’s Got his Glasses On. It is a really excellent record featuring two trumpet solos, the first by Cheathum (sic) (the middle-part of this chorus being played on alto by Barefield), the second by Swayze who takes only the eight bars of the middle-part in the last chorus. Here we can see the difference in style and sound between these two musicians; note also that Swayze often uses the “dinge” vibrato, as does Cootie [Williams]. (...) The sound of Cab Calloway’s horn section is superb. The overall work of this section is of high quality.”


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An akward poster for the engagement in Amsterdam

The day they arrive in Amsterdam on April 8, a journalist interviews Cab Calloway for De Telegraaf: “Have there been many changes in the composition of your band recently?" Knowing exactly where and to whom he’s speaking, he first mentions the musician the Dutch audience knows – giving another reality on the dates, and the moves in the band: “Only a few. Swayze, the second trumpeter, who was with the Plantation orchestra in Amsterdam a few years ago, joined me a year ago. Since then the band remained unchanged. It consists of four saxophones, three trumpets, two trombones. Maxey, the drummer, a pianist, a guitarist-banjoist and Morgan, the bassist. Violins we don’t have. Including me, we are fourteen men strong. We never change that composition, either for radio or gramophone or film.”

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In the streets of Amsterdam during their Carlton engagement,
Harry White, Eddie Barefield and Edwin Swayze greet with local jazz fans musicians:
Belgian trombonist Josse Breyre, Dutch pianist Nico de Rooji and Dutch trumpeter Louis de Vries
Nederlands Jazz Archief Bulletin)


Alyn SHIPTON in Cab Calloway’s biography, page 87:

“On April 22 there was a formal concert at the Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen in The Hague. Afterward, Al Morgan, Bennie Payne, Harry White, Eddie Barefield, Foots Thomas, Doc Cheatham, and Ed Swayze sat in at the Tabaris Club, where the band led by the expatriate American pianist Freddy Johnson was resident. This was a reunion for Doc Cheatham with Johnson because the two men had toured Europe together in the 1920s with Sam Wooding. By all accounts there was even more riotous jamming than there had been at the Nest in London.”

In a letter sent by Dutch jazz connoisseur Allard Möller to Storyville and published in Number 92 (Dec 1980-Jan 1981), we learn that “Cab unexpectedly made his appearance.  He was warmly welcomed, but seemed to disapprove of his musicians’ behavior and hastily departed!”

Robert Goffin in his book “Jazz, From the Congo to the Metropolitan” remembers: “My last evening with Calloway was spent in Amsterdam; with us was the late Edwin Swayze, his trumpet player, whom I had previously met in Europe with the Plantation Band.”

In the Belgian magazine Music dated May-June 1934, Pierre Laurent, reviewing the concerts of Cab in his country, tells that “Edwin Swayze, [is a] happy plagiarist of Armstrong”.


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Playing at Leeds Town Hall, England, April 2, 1934
(source: Who’s Who of Jazz, John Chilton, 1971 edition)


During the tour, muted trumpet solos on stage are by Doc Cheatham, which is a bit surprising, Swayze being used to wax most of his solos muted.

The “Scrutiner” [penname for the journalist of this column] critics from Tune Times magazine in the April 1934 edition about the London concert at the Trocadero explains that “nearly every number it was demonstrated that every single member of the band could put a good one over. (…) Edwin Swayze did not disappoint when [he] ‘went to town’.


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The band arrives in Paris, Gare Saint-Lazare, on April 23, 1934. Edwin is seated on the luggage.


What happened in Paris for Swayze? In the Pigalle area, at Bricktop’s, he was in a well-known place and may have met several American musicians, former colleagues and friends who then lived in Paris. On April 23 and 24, the band joined several parties with the Tout-Paris of jazz and quickly left in the wee hours of the morning to board into the train to Le Havre, then sail back to the USA on the S.S. Ile de France.


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One of the many dates Cab and his band did back in the USA
The Baltimore Sun, Aug 5, 1934)


From the moment they put their feet back on the American continent, the remaining months of 1934 were tough for the band with a crazy schedule. It was so hard that even the maestro Cab collapsed at the end of a show in San Antonio, TX in September and had to rest a couple of days.

The band’s itinerary shows a two month-stay in New York and the East Coast, playing several Loew’s theatres and the Howard in Washington, DC before spending the summer between Chicago, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania. September and October are dedicated to Toronto, the Middle West and South, from Chattanooga to Houston, Atlanta, Texas.

One of the highlights was Rudy Vallee’s Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour radio show where Cab and his orchestra were invited on May 8, just a week after the band came back from Europe (they already appeared at the Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour on September 29, 1933). There, they play songs like Europeans were lucky to hear and they offer two crazy renditions of Harlem Camp Meeting and Zah Zuh Zah. The first one being one of Cab’s best songs ever saved from the ether waves, thanks to an incredible clarinet solo by Arville Harris and a trumpet one by Swayze, announced by Cab by his nickname Ravoy. After the show, journalists commented on the incredible power of the band that surpasses Vallee’s: “I will not say, as did a New York sheet, that His Highness of Ho-de-Ho stole the show for his unqualified success did not carry the required element of unexpectedness” (Eva Jessye, “Radio Review”, Afro-American, May 12, 1934).



I’d like to insist a little bit on Harlem Camp Meeting with the pen of Alyn SHIPTON in Cab Calloway’s biography, page 80:

“A case in point is “Harlem Camp Meeting,” from November 22, 1933. It is a clever and unusually well-balanced composition by Harry White that, as Schuller points out, uses bell-like broken chords to unify an arrangement in which music alone recreates a black church revival meeting. This revivalist genre is one that the band had explored earlier to support Cab’s storytelling in “Is That Religion?” Yet here, apart from a few spoken comments, Cab’s contribution is what he calls a “scat sermon”—an entirely wordless vocal functioning as an instrumental solo between choruses from Arville Harris on clarinet, Ed Swayze on growling muted trumpet, and Bennie Payne on piano. The solo space for his instrumentalists is generous, and there’s also a well-crafted ensemble opening chorus for the reeds accompanied by stabbing brass, and later for a Henderson-style clarinet trio. The rhythm section pushes everything along with verve and élan, with Morgan’s bass easily outswinging the work of his hometown counterparts Pops Foster with Armstrong and Braud with Ellington. This recording totally refutes what Schuller characterizes as “the prevailing view that Calloway was merely a novelty singer, given to ‘hollering’ and ‘braying’ [whose] orchestra is no more than a functional band relegated to second-rank accompanimental status.””

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A sudden death at the beginning of a very busy year

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A gorgeous ad published in PlayBill, December 31, 1934 (courtesy Keller Whalen)

After a very busy holiday season, and a last week of 1934 with 40 shows performed between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, on January 6, 1935, the band starts its engagement in Harlem with the 25th edition of the Cotton Club Revue, a new show opened earlier in December with the likes of The Nicholas Kids (before they’re billed as “Brothers”), Bill Bailey, Meeres and Meeres, Cora La Redd…


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CBS’ press release for the arrival of Cab on their ether waves


From now on, Cab Calloway’s broadcasts from the Cotton Club will be aired on CBS, instead of NBC exclusively. The orchestra poses for a series of pictures in the CBS studio in New York. On the wide one, we can spot Edwin Swayze, second trumpet from left. This will be his very last photo.


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The very last known picture of Edwin Swayze (first row, second from left) with Cab Calloway and his band.


The recording session on January 21 takes place in the Columbia studio in New York. Claude Jones is added on trombone, probably to make sure that Harry White will be efficient enough next to De Priest Wheeler. That day, the band records three songs with vocals by Cab, and coincidentally, all three are by or related to Edwin Swayze:

Good Sauce From The Gravy Bowl (16587-A), written by Calloway, Swayze, and Mills.

• Devil In The Moon (16588-A, B), a brand new song by Edwin’s old friend Alex Hill, plus Manny Kurtz and Irving Mills, not even yet copyrighted (February 4!). Two takes are recorded but the song will never be released and is considered lost.

Keep That Hi De Hi In Your Soul (16589-A) where Edwin gives his very last recorded solo.


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The same week or so, Harry ‘Father’ White quits the orchestra, due to illness (probably his drinking problem), and is replaced by Freddie ‘Keg’ Johnson.


On January 24, Edwin ‘Son’ Swayze is taken to the Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, and is diagnosed ptomaine poisoning (food poisoning, leading to acute gastrointestinal illness). Doc Cheatham in The World of Swing: “He was not an alcoholic, just a moderate drinker, but he had something like uremic poisoning.”  In an oral interview by Milt Hinton, Walter Foots Thomas remembers: “Swayze had a Confucian doctor who has given him some medicine.  And he stopped his healing and that’s what killed him”. (ITV at Rutgers)

36 hours after his admission to the hospital, Swayze dies on January 31. His death certificate indicates: “Uremia: acute parenchymatous nephritis”, with pending chemical examination that never occurred, indicating acute renal failure. According to doctor Spencer in his indispensable book Jazz and Death, “Uremia is an end stage of kidney disease and results from an excess in the blood of toxic metabolites that cannot be excreted by the kidneys.”(…) “Coma and death follow.”

Now, the cause of Swayze’s uremia can have multiple potential origins listed below but we cannot affirm if one or several ones led him to death:

• Staphylococcal food poisoning with general infection in the whole body.

• Long-term substance abuse, like cocaine. I haven’t found any testimony of consumption of drugs by Swayze but it was a common use among musicians, already at that time.

• Some Chinese tea could be a cause of poisoning. For instance, the one with infused carambola. And since, a “Confucian doctor” was around, we can suspect the starfruit as a possible cause. The National Kidney Foundation states “Studies show that eating starfruit can have a harmful (toxic) effect for people who have kidney disease. The substances found in starfruit can affect the brain and cause neurological disorders. This toxic substance is called a neurotoxin. People with healthy, normal kidneys can process and pass this toxin out from their body. However, for those with kidney disease, this is not possible. The toxin stays in the body and causes serious illness. The symptoms of starfruit poisoning include: hiccups, mental confusion, seizures and death (in serious cases)” (source). In addition, acute renal failure can occur in persons without previous kidney disease.

What we are sure of is that a 29 year-young and talented musician was lost for Jazz.

The band is then doubling at the Cotton Club and at the Loew’s Metropolitan in Brooklyn. Edwin Swayze “leaves a wife [Josephine], and a young child [Dolores], with whom he lived in New York, a father and a mother, two brothers and a sister living in Little Rock, Arkansas.” (New York Age, February 9, 1935).

Cab Calloway and all his men attend Swayze’s services at the undertakers’ parlors, West 135th Street in Harlem on Saturday 2. The day after, his body is transported to Little Rock where he is buried in the Haven of Rest Cemetery.


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Edwin Swayze’s final bandstand in Little Rock, AR


Soon, very soon since the so important trumpet section in Cab’s band can’t suffer any vacancy, Irving ‘Mouse’ Randolph takes Swayze’s seat, as he already did years ago in Trent’s orchestra. As already pointed out in August 1939 by the Down Beat in reply to a reader who, after the recent passing of Chick Webb, Tommy Ladnier, Herschel Evans within a few months, was imagining a “celestial all-stars band” with Bix Beiderbecke and Tommy Ladnier in the trumpet section: “Haven’t you forgotten a lot of the greats? Add Joe (King) Oliver, little Joe Smith and Bubber Miley (…), Edwin Swayzee”. This nails the rank of Swayze in people’s mind at that time.

When interviewed by Stanley Dance for his book The World of Swing, Doc Cheatham sums up the last years of Swayze: “He was a very good trumpet player, but he was not known enough when he joined Cab and he died in 1935 before he could really make a name for himself.” Let’s hope that this article will help you to listen a little closer to Edwin Swayze’s wonderful playing.


1934 Swayze in HI de Ho movie.gif



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Web resources:


Many many articles from Chicago Defender, The Afro-American, The Pittsburgh Courier, Arkansas Gazette, Billboard, The New York Amsterdam News, New Movie Magazine, Down Beat (USA), L’Écho de Paris, La Rampe, L’Intransigeant, L’Éclaireur du Dimanche, Jazz Tango (France), De Telegraaf, Zutphensche courant, Kroniek, Het Vaderland, Haagsche Courant (NL), The Gramophone, Swing Music (UK), Music (Belgium)



My deepest gratitude for their help on this article goes to:

Yves FRANÇOIS, for his time and enthusiasm in analysing Edwin Swayze's solos and mutes

  • Anthony BARNETT, for the Alphonso Trent and Juice Wilson pictures and Stuff Smith information
  • Jacqueline CAPEAU, MD, PhD, for her medical help in trying to find the cause of death of Edwin Swayze
  • Stephanie CREASE, for our exchanges about Chick Webb
  • Eddy DETERMEYER, for his help and connections on Doctor Jazz magazine
  • Bob EAGLE, for many details from several census files, and the passengers lists of 1931
  • Jan EVENSMO, for Chick Webb and Jack Butler’s solographies and many more
  • Larry KEMP, for pointing to The Clowns
  • Isabelle MARQUIS, for providing a great scan of the Hayman-Swayze orchestra in Paris
  • Konrad NOWAKOWSKI, for details about Juice Wilson’s time with the Plantation Orchestra schedule in Holland
  • K.B. RAU, for Edwin Swayze’s discography
  • Howard RYE, for his research on International Musician
  • Ate VAN DELDEN, for his 1974 article about the Plantation Orchestra in Holland, before Internet existed!


And the very indispensable Keller WHALEN for the everlasting enthusiastic support in every way,
for the help on polishing the article, finding new clues, getting the death certificate (at last!),
chasing the mistakes and omissions, and many more.

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