Editors note (2007): The American Dance Band Discography was a discographical earthquake, one of the most widely used and influential discographies ever published, on a par with Rust’s own Jazz Records (1961), Dixon and Godrichs Blues and Gospel Records (1964), Clough and Cumings World’s Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (1952) and Delaunays original Hot Discography (1936). Well worn copies rest on many collectors’ shelves, and it’s a wonder that it has not been updated or superseded in the decades since its publication. I thought it might be interesting to see how it was first received.

 March 3, 1976

Review and a Short Biography of The Sage of Hatch End”

The American Dance Band Discography: 1917-1942. By Brian Rust. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1975. 2,066 pages.

by Tim Brooks

World is already beginning to get around among record collectors about Brian Rust’s valuable new reference book, The American Dance Band Discography. It has perhaps the widest potential audience of anything Mr. Rust has produced so far. Although his information-packed discographies have become the standard references for both jazz and popular collectors, and his name is becoming known to an ever-larger public through his association with Arlington House Publishers, little has ever been written about the man himself. It might be interesting, before reviewing this latest work, to sketch in a little background on the prolific gentleman from Hatch End, England, sometimes known (in good humor) as “The Sage of Hatch End.”

Brian A.L. Rust is one of the most interesting figures in the world of record research. A onetime BBC record librarian and longtime collector, he has brought the science of discography–“the systematic study and cataloging of phonograph records” (yes, it’s in the dictionary!)–to an advanced stage. More significant, perhaps, is that he is building for discography a new and greatly enlarged public among thousands of collectors and others who never before realized that organized information about the old records they enjoyed existed in convenient, printed form.

Born in London in 1922, Rust began collecting at an early age. By the late 1940s he was researching and writing on jazz-oriented subjects. Two early articles on Fletcher Henderson and Jelly Roll Morton appeared in Jazz Journal in 1949, and his first book, a “bio-discography” of King Oliver, written with the late Walter C. Allen, was published in 1955. Another joint effort, Recorded Jazz: A Critical Guide (1958) with Rex Harris, was picked up by a major publisher and appeared in the U.S. in a paperback edition.

Rust’s interests were not limited to jazz. While working for the BBC he compiled a directory to early British theater recordings titled London Musical Shows on Record: 1894-1954 (1958). This was mimeographed in a limited edition of 200 copies, distributed to a few aficionados, and has disappeared almost completely–even though it is, to my knowledge, the only work ever published on the subject. Also during this period Rust had a brief career as a performing musician, as leader and drummer of something called “The Original Barnstormers Spasm Band.” Britain was enjoying a revival of old-style traditional jazz at the time and the aggregation was invited to make a few commercial recordings for English Parlophone and Decca in 1958-1959. Perhaps these will be listed in one of Brian’s discographies some day. They are certainly rare!

Rust’s principal interest remained early jazz, however, and his goal was a single, definitive directory and information source on all jazz records of the pre-World War II period.

He was not the first to attempt this. Directories of this kind had been published as far back as 1936, when Charles Delaunay coined the word “discography” for his first Hot Discography. Others followed, notably Orin Blackstone’s Index to Jazz (1945) and Carey-McCarthy-Venables’ Jazz Directory (1948), but all suffered from problems of both coverage and content. For one thing they attempted to list all jazz recordings released up to the year of publication, which inevitably made them out of date as soon as they appeared. It also forced the authors to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping up with and documenting the flood of contemporary recordings that came out as they worked. The results were unwieldy, to say the least. Jazz Directory, which was supposed to appear in a series of alphabetical volumes, took nine years to cover artists up to the letter “L” and then gave up the ghost. Not only were “M” through “Z” never covered, but cut-off dates for the letters which were published varied from 1948 (for A-B) to 1957 (for K-L).

From the start Rust adopted a simple principle that has become basic to subsequent discographers, both jazz and general. He picked a span of years with a fixed cut-off date and concentrated on the best possible scholarship within that span. Freed from the necessity of keeping up with the constantly changing current scene, he and his circle of helpers developed new and ingenious sources of information on their chosen era. These included interviews with musicians, study of their personal files and log books (one famous band contractor of the 1920s kept a detailed payment record which revealed which musicians took part in many recording sessions) and the recording ledgers, files and catalogs of the record companies themselves.

The first edition of his major opus, Jazz Records: 1897-1931, came out in 1961 in looseleaf format. Two years later, much expanded and refined, it appeared in hard cover (published by Rust himself). A companion volume followed for 1932-1942. These two volumes quickly became standard in the field, and just as quickly went out of print for such are the costs of publication that an author forced to publish his own work cannot afford to gamble on more than what he knows will sell reasonably quickly. I can remember buying my first copy of Jazz Records, which I had heard about through word of mouth, second hand at twice the original list price, and considering it a bargain. They just weren’t available anymore.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were difficult years for Rust. Injured in two serious accidents, and with failing eyesight, he labored on revisions and expansion of his Jazz Records as well as other projects. In 1969 his labors began to bear fruit with both a new, larger edition of Jazz Records (1,968 pages) and The Victor Master Book, Volume Two.

The Master Book introduced Rust to a new and larger world of record collectors, beyond the jazz enthusiasts. It was essentially a fully indexed listing of every Victor recording session held in the U.S. between the years 1925 and 1936 (except for classical and foreign-language recordings), complete with dates, matrix numbers, indication of what was issued and not issued, personnel and catalog numbers of the issued recordings. It was a boon to popular, country and blues and gospel enthusiasts, was well as the jazz collector.

There never was a “first” volume however. As Rust became immersed in other projects, the Victor master listing project reverted to Messrs. Ted Fagan and Bill Moran in the U.S., who had been working on it for years and who will eventually publish the definitive directory to every recording session ever held by Victor and its predecessors, popular and classical, from 1900-on.

The last seven years have seen a small flood of Rust books, based on his accumulated research of 30 years. Following the revised (and current) Jazz Records and Victor Master Book in 1969 came The Dance Bands, a narrative book published in England in 1972 (and by Arlington House in the U.S., 1974); British Dance Bands: 1912-1939 written with Edward Walker (Storyville, 1973); The Complete Entertainment Discography: 1890-1942, a discography of record personalities co-authored with Allen Debus (Arlington House, 1973); and now the 2,066-page American Dance Band Discography. Among his future projects is a complete listing of Columbia recording sessions, as a companion to the Victor Master Book.

The reader interested in the history of discographies is recommended to the excellent article on that subject by Paul B. Sheatsley in Record Research magazine, No. 58 (February 1964), which served as a background for part of the above discussion of Rust’s career.

The American Dance Band Discography

The two-volume Dance Band Discography is a fascinating and useful set for any record collector, whether he is interested in the bands themselves, their vocalists or in the songs. The two volumes are arranged alphabetically by artist, from Irving Aaronson to Bob Zurke (2,373 bands in all). Under each heading all known recordings by the band are listed, along with such information as personnel, recording dates, matrix numbers (with issued take), catalog numbers, the label(s) on which each recording appeared, and sometimes a descriptive paragraph on the band. Cylinders are listed where issued (mostly Blue Amberols). Some of the most interesting information comes from the unmasking of pseudonyms and uncredited vocalists so prevalent during this period, especially the 1920s. Here you will find out who Carl Fenton really was for example, and who did the vocal on Paul Whiteman’s 1928 recording of “Mississippi Mud” (there were seven vocalists!). Although titles are listed in order of recording date, the reader can easily locate almost any record for which he has either the catalog or matrix number, since these numbering systems generally ran chronologically. There is also a convenient index of vocalists and sidemen within the bands, compiled by Brian’s wife Mary and son Victor Rust.

The Discography covers nearly all commercial dance bands which recorded from World War I to and including the swing era. The only intentional omissions are Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, both covered in currently available volumes of their own, and most of the jazz bands, previously covered in Jazz Records. While it might at first appear desirable to have everything in one place, it is probably more practical to divide the information up in this fashion into a few, manageable, non-overlapping volumes. Many popular collectors may not need the jazz set and vice versa. If you do want to know everything about everybody, just consider Dance Band Discography-Jazz Records and the Miller and Goodman volumes as one big six-volume set!

The level of scholarship in the Dance Band Discography is exemplary, in keeping with Rust’s other works. Of course there are errors and omissions, but considering the scope of the work and the fact that it is the first such ever compiled, these are relatively minor. Such records as Rust misses are generally on minor labels. For example, I still can’t find out anything about “I Want to Be Sure It’s Love” by the Joy Dispensers (sic), with vocal, on Madison 50010 (late 1920s) or Johnny Messner’s driving instrumental “Johnny’s Messin’ Around” on Varsity 8083 (late 1930s). Some other listings are pretty hard to find. For example, Hit-of-the-Week record #E-3-4, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” is labeled as by Ralph Kirbery and his orchestra, but you’ll find it under Bert Hirsch, the real leader. How would one know that without a cross-reference?

Also it might be helpful to have a cross-reference to bands listed in Jazz Records, since many were on the borderline between popular and jazz and would certainly be of interest to the popular collector. This would not add much bulk to the book, and would help the collector trying to trace obscure groups such as the University Six, Georgia Syncopators, etc.

But I don’t want to quibble for there are 1001 fascinating facts in these volumes for every one that you can’t find. Did you know that Frankie Carle played piano in Edwin J. McEnelly’s bouncy orchestra that recorded for Victor in the 1920s; that Billy Murray once had a band named after him; that the famous recording of “Whispering” by Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, with its slide whistle effects, took nine takes and two weeks to get right; or that Dr. Eugene Ormandy once had a dance band which recorded for Okeh and which included such sidemen as trumpeter Manny Klein and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey? There is also something here for the collector of pre-World War I recordings. The 1917 cut-off is interpreted liberally, especially for bands which spanned both sides of that date. Thus the Joseph C. Smith listing starts in 1916, the Van Eps Trio in 1914 and the Six Brown Brothers in 1911.

The books are clearly organized, using the standard discographical format developed by Rust over the years, and are professionally printed and bound. The $35 price may give some collectors pause, but considering the vast amount of material and the high quality of the research it is a bargain at the price. (Like other Arlington House publications, the set is available through the publisher’s own book club at a substantial discount.) The American Dance Band Discography is highly recommended to the collector with any interest in popular recordings of the period covered, for research, for browsing, and for just plain enjoyment of the records. It is a worthwhile long-term investment.


This page was last modified on November 5th, 2011.
© 2011 Tim Brooks All rights reserved HomeTV HistoryRecord Industry HistoryCopyright IssuesConsulting ServicesBook and CD ReviewsAbout My BooksGeorge W. Johnson, the First Black Recording StarLinks & ResourcesDartmouth CollegePress RoomFAQ