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The Original Indiana Five
Their first recording session was held in Long Island City for the tiny Olympic label in April 1923 under the name the Original Indiana Syncopators. At this point the leader of the band was pianist Newman Fier, with trumpeter Johnny Sylvester, trombonist Vincent Grande, clarinetist Johnny Costello, and drummer Tom Morton rounding out the "OI5." By their second session in May, clarinetist Nick Vitalo was added; he would become a mainstay of the group. Banjoist Tony Colucci also was present for the second session. While never officially a member of the OI5, Colucci would appear on many of their recordings.
By September 1923, when the group began to record for Pathé, Newman Fier was out of the band and Sylvester had assumed the helm as leader, with pianist Harry Ford replacing Fier. Costello was likewise gone, leaving the sax and clarinet duties in the OI5 to Vitalo, and he would fulfill this role in the band until its end. At this point, trombonist Grande was replaced by Charlie Panelli. This configuration of the OI5 proved short-lived -- by their first session for Gennett they had ousted Sylvester and replaced him with trumpeter James Christie, and drummer Tom Morton would take over leadership of the band. Morton would continue to lead the band until its demise in 1929. By September 1925 and the OI5's first sessions for OKeh, Panelli was out and trombonist Pete Pellezzi came in -- this would prove to be the beginning of the "classic" lineup of the OI5 and would remain stable until trumpeter Tony Totormas came in to replace Christie in October 1926. The lineup with Totormas, an excellent player with a style similar to that of Bix Beiderbecke, would result in the OI5's greatest recordings.
Little is known about the Original Indiana Five's career as a live dance band, outside of the fact that they played Rosemont in Brooklyn and the Blue Bird and Cinderella ballrooms in New York City. It was on records, however, that they had their main impact. The group spent practically its entire recording career (110 78-rpm sides in all) working for budget record labels, including Emerson, Plaza, Cameo, and Bell, in addition to those already mentioned. The best-known recordings of the group were made for Columbia's cheap Harmony subsidiary and also marketed on records on Harmony's budget sister labels, Diva and Velvet-Tone. As Harmony utilized acoustical recording equipment, even as late as 1930, this means that most of the OI5's recorded output is preserved in acoustical sound. Thankfully, the engineers at Harmony knew what they were doing, and the sound quality of the OI5's Harmony recordings is excellent, if a little acoustically boxy. These records were immensely popular with the public, and survive in decent numbers 80 years on, though they are routinely found in nothing less than "played to death" condition.
The OI5's sound is more or less uniformly joyous and uptempo -- they recorded relatively few originals and were most often called upon to cut numbers that had proven successful for other bands. Their earlier recordings reflect the sound and style of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, but later ones are closer to the more advanced music of contemporary groups associated with Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and Adrian Rollini.
After their 1929 breakup, the members of the Original Indiana Five, minus Morton, kept in touch, and starting in 1949 held a series of reunion gigs. This lasted at least until the death of Tony Totormas in 1952, and on one occasion the Original Indiana Five are said to have appeared backing up ace saloon singer Frank Sinatra. If anyone saw fit to record the Original Indiana Five in this later incarnation, the evidence has not yet turned up. ~ Uncle Dave Lewis
Track List: The Jazzy Twenties
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