KinnearKreations Audio Productions

Main

Gary Snipes Eclectic slight returns

Mel Stitzel

Savanna

The Eclectic Orchestra

Enlightened Vinyl

Film & Graphics

Past Projects

Email Contact

Promotions



Mel Stitzel
My family connection to American Jazz


Never before has KinnearKreations worked on a restoration project with more historic and personal significance. I began this project as a way to release some of the great old recordings that have been locked away in family archives as well as a way to get Mel’s fascinating story out to the world, creating new interest in his music.  The restoration of these old recordings has been a joint collaboration between Rocky Mountain Recorders, Sounds Great Studio, and KinnearKreations.

Mel Stitzel is my mother’s father, my grandfather. My mother Sally was raised by Mel from the age of six when her mother, Clodauh, died of rheumatic fever in 1934. Mel died just prior to my birth so I never knew him, but he left behind volumes of homemade 78rpm wax-coated-cardboard vinyl, as well as a legacy nearly buried by time.

Stitzel immigrated from his native Deutschland to Chicago in the early 20th century, and eventually become known as the composer of many standard, often-recorded ditties including “Tin Roof Blues,” “Hot Mittens,” and an interchangeable portrait of American politicians, “Jackass Blues”.

Historically speaking, the mark he left on music is impressive - one of his early bands is noted as being the first multi-racial band ever to record. In the early 20’s, American Jazz music was primarily Dixieland Jazz, a black art form. Stitzel is credited for being one of the first (white) men to play Jazz music. As a pianist, Stitzel started with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK’s) in 1923. The leading members of this group included cornetist Paul Mares, trombonist George Brunis, and clarinet player Leon Roppolo - school friends who recruited others such as Stitzel and drummer Gene Krupa to join their band. At first, the band was known as the Friar’s Society Orchestra after obtaining a gig at Friar’s Inn, a pre-prohibition, Chicago basement, cabaret speakeasy frequented by gangsters. The rhythm section would play for the dinner crowd, then the rest of the band would show up around 10 PM for dancing. A young Joan Crawford was a regular dancer at the club. Band members recall that they would play until the last customer left, the “big money boys” would throw hundred-dollar bills at the band to keep them playing.

The NORK’s were one of the hottest jazz bands of the early 20s and had a strong influence on many later musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke, Muggsy Spanier, Mezz Mezzrow, and Benny Goodman. Best known for their integrated recording session with Jelly Roll Morton, the NORK’s smooth, swinging style signaled a departure from the raucous novelty sound of the original Dixieland Jazz band and its imitators. Another hallmark of the band was its emphasis on solo performances, whereas traditional New Orleans Jazz was still heavily dependent on ensemble playing. The solos that Roppolo and Brunis played are still considered classics - the origins of modern-day jazz solo stylings - and have often been copied by other bands. These activities attracted enough attention to garner Stitzel a fat share of available arranging chores for various Chicago bandleaders including Floyd Town and Bob Pacelli.

Stitzel continued activities as arranger and pianist through the 30s and began leading his own combo during the 40s. This group played an extended stint on the bandstand at Chicago’s Green Mill Ballroom. Danny Alvin, a bandleading drummer, put the pianist back into the sideman’s role in the early 50s. But the number of recordings of Stitzel songs vastly outnumber those wherein he is featured as a pianist on the side, revisionists such as the fine Mandy Patinkin continuing to increase the former tally. Stitzel has a respectable discography, some of his best piano recordings dating from the mid-20s with groups such as the Bucktown Five and an early Benny Goodman Trio. A few of Mel’s biggest hits were “Doodle Doo Doo” with art Kassel in 1924, and he also wrote “The Chant” in 1926 after the NORK’s broke up in 1925. In a bittersweet twist of fate, Mel’s biggest hit was parlayed into a million seller, no small feat in those days, when Jo Stafford, with Paul Weston and his Orchestra, re-issued “Tin Roof Blues” - with lyrics - as “Make Love To Me” - just a few short years after his death from throat cancer on New Years Eve in 1952.

The remaining flame of Stitzel’s legacy and memory was kept burning by his only living child, Sally, my mother, until her passing in 2008. At her request, a portion of her ashes were scattered beside her father’s grave in Chicago, thus closing this chapter of my family’s connection to American Jazz music.  I hope that this will spark interest for others to pursue their own family history, and maybe dig deeper into Mel Stitzel’s heritage, still alive in music and song.

References
ALLMUSIC.COM; WIKIPIDEA “MEL STITZEL” “NORK”; REDHOTJAZZ.COM “NORK”; DANCE HALL NEWS ARCHIVE “FRIAR’S INN”; KEN BURNS JAZZ “A HISTORY OF AMERICA’S MUSIC”; STARR GENNETT FOUNDATION INC.


Mel Stitzel
01/09/02 - 12/31/52


"The Sheik"
by Mel Stitzel and his great Orchestra from a live radio broadcast 1/23/1942. His last known recording.


"Hot Mittens"
"Chicago Blues"
"Steady Roll Blues"

Composed by Mel Stitzel
Performed by Mel Stitzel and the Bucktown Five
Recorded February 25th 1924

Mel Stitzel - Piano
Muggsy Spanier - Coronet
Guy Carey - Trombone
Volly DeFout - Clarinet
Marvin Saxbe - Drums & Banjo
 

The Stomp Six
July 1925
"Why couldn’t it be poor little me?"
Kahn / Jones

Mel Stitzel piano & arrangement
Muggsy Spanier cornet
Guy Carey trombone
Volly DeFout clarinet
Ben Polack drums
Joe Gish brass & bass

Mel Stitzel plays on 27 records and his songs appear on 106 records & Cd's!

 

Sound Clips
Original Origins unfinished melodies - Solo studio melodies Works in progress from the original manuscripts.  (circa mid 1930s)
 

Manuscript #1
1st & 2nd Chorus
1st done Ala Ballad style
The 2nd is a slow rhythm
Melody 2 Manuscript #5
Two Choruses’ both done in rhythm
Melody #6
"Just For Tonight"
Chorus verse chorus in 3/4 time
Manuscript #7
Two versions
Verse and 2nd Chorus both done in rhythm
Manuscript #8
Two versions
Verse and Chorus done in Hillbilly style
Both done in rhythm
Manuscript #9
Drag rhythm with a tentative title
Riding Over Trails Unknown
Kathleen my Kathleen
Two versions
Ala Ballad form & ¾ Waltz Time Tempo

Clarinetitis
by Mel Stitzel and Benny Goodman with Bob Conselman
From the Ken Burns Jazz Series - June 1928
 

Photo Gallery

CLICK THUMBNAIL IMAGES TO VIEW LARGER PHOTOS


Doodle Doo Doo sheet music
1924 A Dancing Song


George Brunis Tin Roof Blues
Mel Stitzel's band mate 1920s

Jelly Roll Morton Stitzel band mate 1920s
First integrated recording sessions were Jelly Roll, Mel Stitzel & NORK

Bix Beiderbecke
Stitzel's band mate 1920s NORK

Muggsy Spanier
Stitzel's band mate 1920s NORK


Mel Stitzel band leader promo picture circa 1940s last known photo


Clodauh Stitzel
wife of Mel Stitzel

Mel Stitzel 1920s picture

Sally Stitzel 1933
only daughter of Mel Stitzel

Mel Stitzel earliest known picture

 
Mel Stitzel and family Clodauh, Sally & Jimmy


Benny Goodman
Stitzel's band mate 1920s

Tin Roof Blues Poster mid 1920s

New Orleans Rhythm Kings
(NORK) 1920s

New Orleans Rhythm Kings
(NORK) 1920s

Stitzel Picture Disc & Lyric Sheet
Vogue Picture Records
Say-Way Industries - Detroit MI
May 1946

Jackass Blues
FLETCHER HENDERSON'S ORCHESTRA
Watch On YouTube
     

Reference Links