The Georgians--1920s Jazz Ensemble Led by Frank Guarente

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


This jazz ensemble of white musicians was under exclusive contract to Columbia as the Georgians, but it recorded for other companies using different names. It provided for Columbia the kind of dance music that the Virginians--another early 1920s jazz ensemble named after a Southern state--provided for Victor. Both groups helped fill a void left by the decline of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band as a recording ensemble.

The original Georgians ensemble was organized by Frank Guarente, a trumpet player of French-Italian descent who was born Francesco Saverio Guarente. He had landed in Philadelphia from Corsica in 1910. Soon thereafter Guarente was a member of Creatore's Band and later Don Philippini's Symphony Band. Enchanted with New Orleans during a tour with a brass band, he stayed in the city and in 1914 played with Mar's Brass Band, learning during his residency in New Orleans a heavily syncopated rhythm style. Guarente formed in 1921 the jazz group that would eventually be called the Georgians.

No band members were from Georgia. Clarinetist Johnny O'Donnell was from Washington, D.C; trombonist Ray Stillwell was from East Liverpool, Ohio (he was replaced by Russ Morgan); banjoist Russell Deppe was from Philadelphia; and drummer Chauncey Morehouse was from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Pianist Arthur Schutt, from Reading, Pennsylvania, contributed to some sessions, as did Newark-born tuba player Joe Tarto (his real name was Joseph Tortoriello) and saxophonist Francis "Sax" Smith from Manchester, Michigan. Others who played at some point include clarinest Dick Johnson and trombonist Arch Jones.

Paul Specht, whose dance orchestra incorporated the Georgians, gives an account of the jazz ensemble's evolution in February 1952 issue of The Record Changer, writing, "They opened at the Addison Hotel in Detroit, on December 19, 1921, where my ten-piece orchestra featured classical jazz, ragging the standard classical music favorites of the day. I featured Guarente's jazz men in a jam session of one half hour, presented twice nightly. This jazz band session's popularity grew rapidly, and I gave it billing as 'the first band within a band.'"

Specht, a violinist from Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania, was responsible for many musical organizations, booking all sizes of ensembles for private and public engagements. He nurtured the talents of many young musicians. Around November 1923 a young Ted Weems directed Paul Specht's Trianon Orchestra at the Trianon Ballroom of Newark, which led to a Victor recording contract (Specht's name was dropped). According to page 50 of the February 1924 issue of Talking Machine World, Specht was "conductor of three Columbia recording orchestras, two Keith headline bands, the Alamac Hotel Orchestra, manager of twenty-five smaller orchestras, two WJZ radio broadcasting bands and three London musical combinations."

The jazz group's recording debut was on June 29, 1922. "Hot Lips" and "You Can Have Him, I Don't Want Him Blues" were issued under the name of Specht's Society Serenaders on Banner 1090, and variations of this name were used on related labels. A few months later Specht was under exclusive contract to Columbia, as announced in the September 1922 issue of Talking Machine World, and the smaller jazz group no longer used Specht's name. Specht credits Columbia's A & R executive Frank Walker for naming the group the Georgians. Walker evidently believed a Southern name was appropriate for a jazz group. The group used this name during its next session, which was for Columbia on November 29, 1922. "Chicago" and "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" were issued on Columbia A3775 in March 1923.

Page 144 of the April 1923 issue of Talking Machine World reports, "Paul Specht's 'Georgians,' who are making 'blue' [sic] and 'jazz' records for the Columbia Graphophone Co., are having unusual success with their recordings, according to all reports."

In early 1923 the Georgians had several sessions and then in the summer Specht took his orchestra, including the Georgians sub-group, to London, where the musicians doubled at theaters and hotels, under the direction of Lyon & Co. of London. Then they traveled to Paris for similar engagements. Because of many job offers, the Georgians in Paris worked before audiences without being featured in Specht's orchestra. Specht writes, "The following Fall [1923], the Claridge Hotel in Paris was to present 'Paul Specht's Georgians under the direction of Frank Guarente.'" The musicians had returned to America by September 6, 1923, on that day recording "Land of Cotton Blues" and "Mamma Loves Papa." By late 1923 Specht's larger orchestra was called Paul Specht and His Hotel Alamac Orchestra. As part of this orchestra but also as a separate unit, the Georgians played in the Congo Room in the Hotel Alamac at Broadway and 71st Street in Manhattan where Specht was a major attraction.

In May 1924 Guarente traveled to Italy to visit family, and he would work regularly in Europe for the next few years. In August 1924 he again led a group called the Georgians at the Claridge Hotel in Paris, with different American musicians in the jazz group. (Specht would become increasingly busy sending bands to Europe under his banner. By 1928 Specht bands were in Holland, France, England, and Switzerland.)

Meanwhile in New York City the Georgians continued to record under different directors, and the name Georgians was used as late as 1929 on Columbia's budget Harmony label. Guarente died on July 21, 1942.