JJ 02/93: Desi Arnaz & Chico Marx – Big Bands Of Hollywood

Thirty years years ago Stan Woolley said that if Chico Marx hadn't returned to film in 1943 he could have challenged Goodman and the Dorseys. First published in Jazz Journal February 1993


This CD captures two contrasting orchestras earning their keep at various Hollywood nightspots of the early-to-mid-forties. The seven tracks by the Desi Arnaz band have no jazz content what­soever and consist entirely of dance music, mostly rumbas and beguines. These are competently per­formed and maybe Rico Pulpa has a hint of Machito about it – but no more than a hint.

The Chico Marx numbers are much more interesting and the band does swing superbly at times. There are no personnels given but drummer Benny Pollack and guitarist Barney Kessel were members of the band during its brief lifetime and may well be on some of these tracks.

Another now famous name whose career was assisted by a spell with the Marx Orchestra was Mel Tormé and he is heard – at the tender age of 17 – providing the vocal on Abraham and sounding very much under the influence of Cab Calloway. Pagliacci, Swing Stuff and Mr Five, which has the words sung by the pleasant-voiced Kim Kimberly, demonstrate what the band has to offer in the way of section work and solo talent, all of which is most impressive.

In 1943, Chico abandoned his bandleading career to return to making films with his brothers. This CD is a reminder that the Marx band could have mounted a serious challenge to Goodman and the Dorseys had the leader been so inclined.

(1) Chiu Chiu; Begin The Beguine; Easy Street; Cachita; Till We Meet Again; Speak Low; Rico Pulpa; (2) Abraham; Velvet Moon; Pagliacci; Swing Stuff, Beer Barrel Polka; Mr Five By Five; Chicago Strut (41.41)
(1) Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra and singers. Hollywood, c. 1943. (2) Chico Marx and his Orchestra. Hoilywood, c. 1942/3.
(Laserlight 15 767)