It takes nine months to make a baby. For Davenport’s Josh Duffee, it took almost seven years to produce his latest labor of love.
The professional drummer, teacher, bandleader, and expert on 1920s jazz, Duffee is director of the all-star Graystone Monarchs, which he formed in 2014. The impromptu 10-person band — which gets together each year in different formations — played for a profoundly special concert July 22, 2015 at the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Penn., near Gettysburg.
A collectors’ item has been made to memorialize that historic night — a unique EP from Rivermont Records, only available on vinyl as a 78-rpm record, and just 1,000 copies pressed. Because it’s a 78 (a common format in the 1920s), there are only two songs per side: “Stampede,” “I’m Gonna Meet My Sweetie Now,” “Tiger Rag,” and “Don’t Wake Me Up (Let Me Dream).”
Duffee is friends with Rivermont Records founder Bryan Wright, and asked him to record the event for posterity, to honor classic drummer Chauncey Morehouse (1902-1980), a hero of Duffee’s who performed in Chambersburg with Davenport native and jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931).
In 2015, Morehouse was not a familiar name in Chambersburg (like Bix is in Davenport), Duffee said this week (he loves Morehouse so much, he named his 15-year-old son Chauncey).
“There wasn’t a lot of people that knew who he was, ‘cause again, he wasn’t like a Buddy Rich type of status,” Duffee said of that more well-known drummer. “He was more of a laid-back section player and didn’t lead many groups of his own. The only time he led a group was in the ‘30s, but he was just such an important figure in music and that’s something that I brought to the attention of those people in the crowd that night.”
The Capitol Theatre concert was planned to honor Morehouse’s gig there (in his hometown) on May 4, 1927, with Jean Goldkette’s band.
In 2015, Duffee was touring with the Hot Jazz Alliance, first in England, and they played at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center at Dizzy’s Club, and ended up at the Bix jazz festival in Davenport. That summer included the special date at Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg, Penn., where Duffee had been many years before.
“It’s only just a few hours from New York to Chambersburg. And I said, we’ve got most of the core guys already with the Hot Jazz Alliance,” Duffee said, noting he added four more players for the all-star Graystone Monarchs.
A grand-nephew of Goldkette gave a sizable donation to make the concert happen.
Duffee was one of the first ones at the theater and as he stood on the stage, he told another band member: “You know what? We are standing on the very stage where Bix played, where Morehouse was, where Frank Trumbauer was. And we’re going to be playing the same music that they played here back in 1927,” he recalled this week.
“This is like the first time that music had been back in Chambersburg since 1927,” Duffee said. “My big thing for that concert was to make it free and open to the public. That’s why I wanted it to fully fund it. And it happened and people there at the Capitol Theatre were shocked when I was able to get the money raised.
“I said, well, it’s been incredible over all these years having people that have been so supportive of what I’ve been doing music-wise and wanted to be a part of these events,” he said.
At the concert, a lady from the local historical museum brought out a ledger from the 1910s, that showed Morehouse’s school grades, Duffee added.
In addition to Duffee’s jazz quartet and 13-piece big band, he heads the Graystone Monarchs, a 10-piece dance band that plays music Bix listened to.
It pays homage to bands featured at Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom in the ’20s. He thought of monarchy for the name, “because all those bands that came through were the top, royalty,” Duffee said. His two big bands have separate repertoires (the larger orchestra focuses more on the ’30s and ’40s). “That makes me borderline insane,” he said.
The Monarchs’ lineup changes each year depending on which bands come to the Bix festival, and he calls musicians that he knows are really in tune with music of the 1920s and early ‘30s.
“Like they’ve studied the records, they know the bands. So then if I put the arrangement in front of them, they may be like, oh yeah, I know that’s one by Bix. Yep, no problem,” Duffee said. “That helps a lot when the guys know the recordings.”
“A lot of these guys are my friends and a lot of them I’ve performed with over all the years,” he said. “So when I find out they’re coming into town, I’m able to assemble the group that way.”
The other nine musicians in the band don’t get the music ahead of time, he noted.
“The great thing about the group is we do play the authentic transcriptions from the ‘20s and ‘30s, so when guys have been listening to the 78 rpm records for years, they’d come into the band, there’s the arrangement in front of them transcribe,” Duffee said. “They get excited that they’re all like kids in a candy store — we’re playing the real music, this is great. And so normally I do not send out music ahead of time because one, it could get lost in the mail or they could leave home without it.”
At the 2021 Bix fest (its 50th anniversary), he scheduled 15-song sets for each day, 45 songs altogether.
“They’re difficult to play and it really shows the caliber and the technical skills and the professionalism of these musicians on stage, to sit up there with this music, pretty much sight-read it and play it and sound like we’ve been playing together for years,” Duffee said.
“There’s so much great music from the ‘20s and ‘30s that I’ve got a huge library with the Monarchs,” he said. “It’s like, I want to play all this music. And to be honest, I wish we had like eight sets where I could play even close to a 100 songs, ‘cause they’re so much fun to play, and I love having something that’s different because when the audience comes to see my group, as well as quite a few of the other groups that played the festival, they know that the sets are going to change. It’ll be new music every set.”
The Monarchs played the Bix fest at Rhythm City Casino in Davenport Aug. 6, 2021, at the time of Bix’s actual death 90 years prior – 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 6, 1931, in his New York apartment. So at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, Duffee asked for a moment of silence, and their next song was “Singin’ the Blues,” their entire set a tribute to Bix.
True to the period
It’s taken a long time to produce the new record partly because of supply-chain shortages and delays in vinyl production the past two years, Duffee said.
He wanted to Rivermont to make this as a vinyl-only 78, to be true to the time period.
“I love 78s and there have been a couple of other groups that have also issued 78s through Rivermont,” Duffee said, noting they also created a design for the sleeve that’s authentic to the era. He worked with a Cincinnati-based artist.
“He does an incredible job of doing Art Deco-style sleeves,” Duffee said. “We were like, oh my gosh, this looks incredible.”
They also wanted to make it a true collectors’ item, and Rivermont plans to make digital tracks available from the concert in the fall. The official release date is May 4, 2022, which coincides with the 95th anniversary of the concert in Chambersburg (May 4, 1927).
Rivermont was founded in 2003 by pianist and musicologist Bryan S. Wright to preserve and promote ragtime, jazz, and “hot dance” music. Wright produced his first 78 vinyl records in 2010 as a novelty.
“At first, sales were quite slow, but as the ‘vinyl revival’ picked up steam over the 2010s, more of the musicians I work with expressed an interest in the format, and a growing number of customers did as well,” he said this week by email. The Graystone Monarchs is the eighth 78 on Rivermont and the first to be recorded live.
“I’ve known Josh for about 15 years now — he’s an incredibly talented and versatile percussionist, and one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever met when it comes to music of the 1920s,” Wright said.
The Graystone Monarchs’ members (including cornetist Andy Schumm, a Bix fest favorite) are very highly regarded in their own right in the vintage jazz scene, he said.
For this “once-in-a-lifetime” concert, they came together from Davenport, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York, and as far away as Australia, Wright said. “Suffice it to say, when you put that many headliners together in one band, the performances were electrifying!”
An exciting time for music
The 1920s “was an exciting time musically, and I think a lot of the dance and popular music of the decade remains fresh and vibrant today (especially in the hands of musicians like Josh Duffee and the Graystone Monarchs),” Wright noted. “Top bandleaders like Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman employed skilled arrangers who took run-of-the-mill pop songs and elevated them to mini-masterpieces of orchestration — full of sophistication and nuance — without ever losing the rhythmic drive that makes them so danceable.”
Those are the arrangements that the Graystone Monarchs play from in the new record. The modern vinyl 78s harken back to the visual aesthetics of the 1920s and ‘30s, but the production techniques are thoroughly modern, he said.
“Most vinyl enthusiasts recognize that a disc spinning at 45 rpm reproduces sound with greater clarity and ‘punch’ than a disc spinning at 33 rpm because the higher linear velocity of the groove can capture more detail,” Wright said.
“By the same token, a disc spinning at 78 rpm captures even more detail — with even greater clarity and punch. Of course, the tradeoff is shorter playing time per side: a modern, microgroove 10-inch 78 rpm record can fit between 6-9 minutes per side,” he said. “In the age of high-quality digital content, there’s certainly no need for a modern 78 — or any vinyl, for that matter.
“But I see it as a bit of fun: something that looks good and sounds really good with music that is full of life,” Wright said. “And that shorter playing time forces the musicians, producers, and listeners to be more selective. In an age where most recorded music is delivered via streaming platforms, actually taking the time to pull a vinyl record from the shelf, put it on the turntable, and play it forces the listener to engage with the music in a way that streaming doesn’t.
“You don’t put on a 78 rpm record to have ‘background’ music,” he added. “The record itself demands interaction and attention, and that extends to the music too. I think the overall experience is much richer.”
Wright said he’s very proud of how the Graystone record came out.
“The acoustics were superb, and the excitement of a live audience, coupled with the historic connection drove the Graystone Monarchs to perform their very best,” he said. “Thanks to some fine microphones, the excellent work of the lacquer mastering engineer, EJ Emmons, and the gorgeous sleeve and label art by Joe Busam, the whole record looks and sounds terrific.”
How to get the record
“One thing I like about this is that this particular band, we only rehearsed for just a few hours — that was it,” Duffee said. “When you hear them on stage, it sounds like we’ve been playing together for years.”
“The band is so hot and when you listen to the saxophones and their articulation on how they’re getting that ‘20s sound, it just sends chills up and down my back,” he said. “It was hard to pick songs for the record because we had a full program of music for that concert to focus on Chauncey’s life.”
“What was great about the whole thing for that entire night – one, the band was smoking. They were incredible, but we actually had members of the Morehouse family that had flown in from New York and Chicago, and flew from Florida,” Duffee recalled
“They were grandchildren of Chauncey, and what I did toward the end of the program, I had them come up on stage and tell stories about their grandfather,” Duffee said.
For people interested in purchasing directly from Duffee, the can get the EP for $25 + shipping, or $30 for the EP, original program (while supplies last) + shipping. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook or Instagram.
For Rivermont Records, check their site HERE. Duffee plans to bring the Graystone Monarchs back to Chambersburg in 2027, in honor of the concert’s centennial.