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With your host Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman

Your Humble Blogger has access, though employment with an educational institution, to quite a lot of streaming music. It has become my primary source for discovering new music, although by new, Gentle Readers should understand that I mean new to me, not newly recorded. Certainly not newly composed. A lot of consort music and chamber music of the 18th-century, and this and that, and some world music here and there, and lately a ridiculously large collection of jazz.

As I do when faced with such a collection, I immediately searched for Cootie Williams, to see how good a list it would come up with. I was surprised to see something I wasn’t familiar with: a Storyville Records reissue of a Armed Forces Radio show called Jamboree. They paired the episode with Cootie Williams with one featuring the Fletcher Henderson orchestra; Lena Horne fronts them for the best “Honeysuckle Rose” YHB has ever heard. The two episodes are uneven, with some lackluster tracks and some cringemaking humor, but quite a lot of brilliant, brilliant stuff. Storyville has released eight discs, each with two half-hour episodes of the show, and the ones I have heard so far are like that: some lackluster tracks, some cringemaking humor, quite a lot of brilliant, brilliant stuff.

The shows are also interesting as an odd snapshot of the time—almost all the performers are African-American, including the hosts and comics, and they appear to be aimed at the segregated forces. Were the audiences for these live broadcasts in Hollywood mostly white? Were the shows popular on the AFRN, or were they mostly played as records in the black barracks? I have no idea. It sounds to me like there’s a sort of nobody’s-listening-but-us freedom to them (including Eddie “Rochester” Anderson joking about his footman, Jack Benny), but of course I don’t have any evidence of that other than my imagination. On the other hand, it was an official Armed Forces Radio Network show, kind of an ultimate work for The Man, even if it was volunteer.

Speaking of volunteering, the performers, as was (I believe) common for AFRN, Sales Bond shows and dances for the troops on leave, were unpaid, donating their time and talent for the boys in uniform. Some of them, at any rate, did so under the condition that the masters would be destroyed, and that the discs would be the property of the Government, not to be sold or traded. They had exclusive contracts, most of them, and those that owned their own careers presumably also wanted to avoid bootleg competition with their civilian records. I’m happy it wasn’t done, and that seventy years later I can listen to this stuff, but I do admit that I am a bit troubled by the intellectual property question. Not the legal question, so much, but by the moral question: I am clearly benefiting from the violation of the contract under which these recordings were made. Almost all the artists are dead by now, so it can’t hurt them, and I am not morally worried about these semi-bootlegs competing with those that might profit the artists’ children or other beneficiaries. Still, it seems questionable, somehow, and more so because I am not in the Armed Forces, not fighting the patriotic fight for which they donated their time and talent, or doing anything remotely like that. I’m just listening to music.

And so can you! Because it turns out that whatever the copyright status actually is, the Internet Archive has the files not just of the sixteen that Storyville has released on CD but of ninety-three half-hour programs.

Lena Horne, Fletcher Henderson, Cootie Williams. Nat King Cole, The Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Jimmy Rushing. Barney Bigard, Cab Calloway, Carmen Miranda, Louis Armstrong. Count Basie, Earl Hines, Slim Gaillard, Ethel Waters, Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald. And on and on. Go on, click.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,