In early 1923 Duke Ellington, Sonny Greer and Otto (Toby) Hardwick left Duke's home town of Washington, D.C. to work for clarinetist Wilbur Sweatman in New York and New Jersey. They didn't enjoy the work, and quit when Sweatman wanted to take them to Chicago.
It isn't clear when Duke, Sonny and Toby left Sweatman, but they looked for work in New York for a while before returning to Washington. Back home, they formed a five-piece band led by Elmer Snowden, and played for a time in and around that city. The purpose of this webpage is to try to narrow down these dates a little.
Ellington, as quoted in Jazz as I Have Seen It
'After I'd gone back home to Washington and stayed for a while, Fats Waller came through town with a burlesque show. Bushell was with the band too, and Clarence Robinson and Bert Adams were the featured dance team with the show. Sitting in my house, eating chickens by the pair, Fats told us they were all going to quit; that we'd better come on up to New York and get the job.
Then there was a wire from New York saying that Fats had decided not to leave, so Artie Whetsol [sic], Sonny, Toby, and Snowden went up alone. Then they sent for me; ...The job was set back time and time again, and it got so that it looked very bad. We were living with some nice people and they told us we could stay on until we found some work. We kept right on auditioning, but nothing ever happened. There was no work.
Barron's [Barron Wilkins' Exclusive Club] was then a very popular spot, and she knew Barron well. She got him to let his band go and hire us instead. We'd scuffled for five weeks, and here at last we were to go to work...'
suggests the Washingtonians went to New York some time after their June 8, 1923 booking at Wonderland Park, about 40 miles from Washington. In any event, our heroes returned to Washington not later than the end of Waller's gig, June 10, 1923, and their second try in New York was after June 3, when Waller's gig began.
Liza and Her Shuffling Sextette
Liza & Shuffling 6 - Proctor's (Schenectady, N.Y.) week of May 21, 1923 Variety 1923-05-17 p.32
Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, N.J., 1923-06-23 p.21 reported "Miranda and her Shuffling Orchestra" in "The Jazz That Am" appeared at B.F. Keith's Capitol Theatre from June 28 to 30, 1923. This may not be the same group.
According to the Perfesser Bill website, Waller was on the air on WDT in New York on July 20, 1923.
Washington Post, Washington D.C.
- 1923-06-02 p.11 Gayety ad includes Liza and the Shuffling Six, personnel not named.
- 1923-06-07 p.16 "Coming to the Local Playhouses" column includes
' 'Gayety Theater Adds Three Performances" says "And an Added attraction, Liza and her six dancing "fools" is announced. This is the only girlie musical show and includes a burlesque in addition. '
- 1923-06-10 p.3 Gayety ad includes Liza and Her Jazz Demons, personnel not named.
Evening Star, Washington D.C.
1923-05 31 p.50
Liza & Shuffling (6) - Proctor's 23rd St. (New York) weeks of March 5 & 12, 1923:
- 1923-03-01 p.38
- 1923-03-08 p.32
Liza & Shuffling 6 - Proctor's (Elizabeth, N.J.) week of March 19, 1923 Variety 1923-03-15 p.34
Liza and Her Shuffling Sextette were mentioned in a review of a Proctor's 23rd Street show in the New York Clipper 1923-03-14
Liza and Her Shuffling Sextette in "The Jazz That Am" were billed at Cumings, The House of Good Cheer in the Fitchburg Sentinel, Fitchburg, Mass. 1923-05-03 p.12
Liza & Shuffling 6 - Olympia, Lynn, Mass. week of May 7, 1923 Variety 1923-05-03 p.32
Liza & Shuffling 6 - Palace, Manchester, week of May 10, 1923 Variety 1923-05-10 p.30
- 1923-05-04 p.19
Thomas A. ("Fats") Waller was the pianist in the Liza and Her Shuffling Sextet revue when it came to Washington in 1923. Clarinetist Garvin Bushell was in the revue and takes credit for screwing up the Washingtonians plan to return to New York to work.
'Adams and Robinson were a dance team, and their agent talked them into getting a band ... Bert Adams was the piano player and Clarence Robinson was the dancer and singer... Seymour Irick on trumpet, Lew Henry on trombone, Mert Perry on drums and myself... Now, one night some fellow fought Bert Adams in the park and shot him. He got killed. So we had to revise the act and got Fats Waller on piano. We put Katie Crippen into the act as singer. One of the agents downtown thought up a name: Liza and her Shuffling Sextette. On a trip to Washington, D.C., a few of us went to hear a band in a little backstreet place. This group was headed by Elmer Snowden, the banjo player. There was a youngster playing piano named Duke Ellington, Toby Hardwick was on saxophone, Schiefe on trumpet and Sonny Greer on drums. After we heard the band, Clarence and I got into a terrific argument and we decided to split up. So Clarence went to Snowden and said,'I've got a job for you.' I kept the original band with Fats on piano.
In the meantime, we had six and a half more weeks booked with the act on the Politime. Clarence figured he could take this new band and do the gigs, but I decided to beat him to the punch. Early Monday morning I went into the Palace Theatre office in New York. I said, 'Clarence and I split up, and he's bringing in a strange band. I have the original one. Now, I could get a new dancer, or what you want to do?' They got leery and cancelled the whole six and a half weeks. So when Clarence arrived in New York with Snowden, Duke and that bunch, they didn't have any work – I'd cancelled all their jobs.'
Bushell's tale should be taken with a grain of salt.
- While the cancelled job is confirmed by Hardwick and Ellington, this writer doesn't recall seeing them mention returning to New York with Clarence Robinson.
- If Waller only joined the revue after Adams was slain, it would have been months after Snowden, Ellington and the others began working at the Hollywood Cabaret:
- The Sun and The Globe reported the Adams murder on February 28, 1924.
- In March 1924, Variety reported Eugene Shields was indicted for first degree murder, accused of having shot and killed Bert Adams, and identified the deceased as a member of the vaudeville team Adams and Robinson.
- The front page of the 1924-03-08 New York Age reported Shields shot six bullets at Adams in Shield's apartment the morning of February 28, 1924. It quoted Mrs. Shields as saying she went to a party the night before with Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Robinson. Returning late, she permitted Adams to stay in a spare room for the night.
- As an aside, Shields, the brother of a New York assemblyman, pled guilty and was sentenced to an indeterminate penitentiary term not to exceed three years. Depending on which newspaper to believe, his minimum term was one day or one year.
On the other hand, the "Liza and Her Shuffling Sextet" vaudeville act (also variously referred to as 'Liza and Her Shuffling Six,' 'Liza and her six dancing "fools,"' 'Liza and her Jazz Demons, "Shuffling Sextette," "Shuffling Six" and "Shuffling 6", appeared at the Gayety Theatre in Washington from June 3 to 10, 1923. Personnel included
dancer Clarence Robinson, singer/dancer Katie Crippen, trombonist Lew Henry, clarinetist Garvin Bushell, trumpeter Seymour Irick, drummer Mert Perry, and pianist Thomas A. (Fats) Waller.
Liza and the Shuffling Six
were billed as a special sensational added feature at the Gayety in Washington beginning Sunday June 3.
A June 7 announcement said the show was being held until Sunday (June 10) instead of closing Saturday night (June 9). This announcement refers to an added attraction, 'Liza and her six dancing "fools" ' which seems to be described as a girlie show. Liza and her Jazz Demons
were included in the "today only" advertisement for the Gayety on June 10.
Sweatman advertisements and mentions late 1922 to mid-1923:
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y.
1922-09-03 p.6C Announcement: Wilbur Sweatman and Jazzers at Henderson's - first appearance in his new review entitled "The Acme of Syncocopation"
- The New York Age, New York, N.Y.
- 1922-10-14 Announcement Wilbur Sweatman & Co. are at the Portchester Theatre, Port Chester, N.Y.
- 1922-11-11 Wilbur Sweatman and Co. are at the Capitol Theatre, Trenton, N.J.
- 1922-11-18 p.6 Wilbur Sweatman and Co. are at the Adgement Theatre, C[illegible]er, Pa.and the William Penn, Philadelphia, Pa.
- 1923-03-10 p.6 A real all-star vaudeville program is being presented at the Lafayette this week. The show is headed by Wilbur Sweatman and company, with Flo Dade, and includes the following: A classy acrobatic act for tow colour performers, Well, and Wells; Walters and Farrelll, in some of the latest songs: "Husbands Three," in [sic] interesting revue with a cast of twenty; "The Story Book," also a well acted revue; and Joyner and Foster, two well known colored comedians, who kept the house laughing continuously througout their act."
- 1923-03-10 p.11 Announcement Wilbur Sweatman & Co. are at the Lafayette Theatre, New York City.
- The Yonkers Statesman and News, Yonkers, N.Y.
- 1922-08-21 p.10 Ad, Proctor's Palace, Yonkers - Wilbur Sweatman Company, Renowned Phonograh Artist in a New Act Entitled "The Acme of Syncopation" With Billy Hergerman and Buster Edwards, Jr.
- 1922-08-22 p.10 Wilbur Sweatman and Company were excellent in "The Acme of Syncopation".
- 1922-08-23 p.12 Ad, Proctor's Palace, Yonkers, includes Wilbur Sweatman and His Company of Jazz Artists in "The Acme of Syncopation" ...
- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, N.Y. 1923-01-14 p.2C has the same info as the Standard Union 1923-01-16 below.
- The Brooklyn Standard Union, Brooklyn, N.Y. 1923-01-16 p.9:
- One of the season's best bills is to be seen this week at Keeney's Theatre. Tom Mix in "Do and Dare" occupies the programme t-day and to-morrow. "The Pride of Palomar"... will be shown the last half of the week. In conjunction with these Mr. Keeney has arranged a fine vaudeville bill which includes Wilbur C. Sweatman and company, the phonograph artist, in a new act entitled "The Acme of Syncoation"; "The Love Race," a miniature musical comedy farce; Athol Tier in "Oddities of 1923"; a revuette in three scenes, with girls and gowns galore, and a strong supporting bill. Last curtain at 11 o'clock.
- 1922-08-18 p.20 Sweatman is shown at Proctor's in Yonkers, N.Y. for the week beginning Aug. 21
- 1922-11-10 Sweatman is listed at the William Penn, Philadelphia
- 1923-06-07 p.28 review
WILBUR SWEATMAN and Co. (4) Musical, Song and Dance 15 Mins; Three (Special Drapes) 23d Street
Since last seen Sweatman has developed his stuff, featuring his clarinet mastery as before, but augmenting it with considerable trimmings. A male drummer dislocated between a male and a female pianist (two pianos on stage), with Sweatman up front tooting his various forms of clarinet. The simultaneous multiple performances of the "Rosary" on three clarinets is a highlight with Sweatman breaking it up with jazz and blues of the most indigo hue. The woman pianist manages a pop number fairly. The other pianist doubles on the sax later hammering the drums for the regular drummer's legmania attempt. The dance specialist, another colored boy, is introduced towards the conclusion of the routine. The drummer's contribution was in concert with the stepper for a second encore and was fair, slipping upon the tempo. He should stick to the drums.
The barbaric "blue-ing" for the getaway was an effective applause accelerator for recalls. The act topped the 23d Street bill and was the applause hit.Abel
- 1923-06-07 p.30
- Wilbur Sweatman and Co. have a new frame-up practically (New Acts). The comedy and feature followed.
- Springfield Daily News, Springfield, Mass.
- 1922-09-21 p.9
'...new bill at the Palace...The balance of the bill includes Handers and Millis, eccentric comedians and dancers; Wilbur Sweatman and company in a novel musical offering; Ruby Royce, comedieene; ...'
- 1922-09-22 p.6
'...Poll's Palace...Wilbur Sweatman and company play musical instruments - jazz variety - and one member does some very fance stepping....'
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, Penn.
The Morning Telegraph, New York, N.Y., 1922-07-13 shows Sweatman at F. F. Proctor's N.Y. Theatres, 5th Ave.
- 1922-10-15 p.35 NIXON'S-GRAND &Ndash; Bill Dale and company in a comedy... Wilbur Sweatman and his band, jazz artists...
- 1922-10-17 p.8d Diversified Bill at Nixon's-Grand ... A diversified and entertaining programme was given at Nixon's Grand last night... Other acts included Carleton and Tate, vocalists; Wilbur Sweatman and his band in syncopated numbers; ...
- 1922-11-13 p.35 An Orpheum plug and ad show Wilbur P. [sic] Sweatman in "The Acme of Syncopation."
- 1922-11-21 p.10[?] A review of the show at the Orpheum includes "...and Wilbur P. [sic] Sweatman in a lively syncopation specialty..."
- The Billboard 1922-08-26 p.63 shows Sweatman, Wilbur & Co. at Harlem O.H. [Opera House?], 24-26 New York.
- The Newburgh Daily News, Newburgh, N.Y.,
The Daily Home News, New Brunswick, N.J.
- 1922-10-31 p.8 ad for Cohen's Opera House has The Phonograph Artist Wilbur C. Sweatman In a new act entitled "The Acme of Syncopation" assisted by William Hegamin, Buddy Edwards, Al Pizzaro and Frank Lewis.
- 1922-11-01 p.11 has the same ad
- 1922-11-02 p.4 has the same ad
- 1922-11-03 p.11 has a similar ad that doesn't mention the sidemen.
- 1922-11-03 p.11 has a short review naming the sidemen
- 1923-02-04 p.6 An ad for Opera House includes
THURSDAY --- FRIDAY --- SATURDAY
AND HIS BAND
You've Heard Him on the Records --- Now Hear Him in Life
- 1923-02-09 p.30 [?] An ad for Opera House includes
TODAY AND TOMORROW
AND HIS BAND
The Artist Who Plays on Three Clarinets at One Time. You've Heard Him on the Phonograph rEcords, Now Hear Him in Person
- A review further down the page:
WILBUR SWEATMAN AND HIS BAND AT THE OPERA HOUSE
The managers of the Opera House are to be congratulated on the wonderful vaudeville and photo play program they are presenting... the last three days of this week. The vaudeville program is headlined by that star of musical stars, Wilbur Sweatman. Mr. Sweatman is accompanied by his band and gives the audience a treat that is considerably out of the ordinary. The Opera House managers realized that people generally would enjoy seeing And Hearing Mr. Sweatman and so, at great expense, booked his act for a three-day engagement.
Mr. Sweatman not only leads his band in playing some of the jazziest jazz music you ever heard, but also favors the audience with several solo numbers. He is an expert player of the clarinet and during his act plays on three of the instruments at one time...
- 1923-02-10 p.3 ad for Opera House has "Today last time to see Wilbur Sweatman and his band."