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Trainin' The Fingers

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Album Review

Banjo virtuoso Harry Reser (1896-1965) was one of the busiest and most prolific bandleaders and session men of the 1920s. His massive recorded output was released under more than 175 pseudonyms, including the Tickle Toe Ten, the Volunteer Firemen, Jack's Fast Steppin' Bellhops, Si Higgins & His Sodbusters, and — most famously — the ginger ale-affiliated Clicquot Club Eskimos. Often spiked with cheeky golly-gee vocals by a spunky little fellow named Tom Stacks, Reser's novelty ragtime and hot jazz recordings are unfailingly cheerful and uplifting. In 2008 the Document label brought out Trainin' the Fingers, a stimulating collection of 18 Edison recordings dating from the years 1925-1929. Here is the essence of Harry Reser's phenomenally nimble artistry as an instrumentalist and his close involvement with silly comedic entertainment, collegiate or otherwise. And here is an opportunity to thrill to the lightning-quick dexterity of the banjo-piano duets "The Clock and the Banjo," "The Old Town Pump," "Lollypops," "Heebie Jeebies," "Trainin' the Fingers," and "Jade." These caffeinated confections mesh well with instances of authentic jazz (including Duke Ellington's "Jig Walk") and full-ensemble period pieces that fairly burst at the seams with bubbly horns, Charleston licks, and naughty-but-nice vocal choruses. The corn gets laid on pretty heavily at times, but that's part of the arcane charm of 1920s pop culture, and you probably need a good shot of it to make sure you don't take yourself too seriously. There's plenty of corn inherent in today's cultural mainstream, more than anybody ever wants to admit. Harry Reser's happy banjo records are a vindication as well as a celebration of that slaphappy inheritance.


Born: January 17, 1896 in Piqua, OH

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s

When one thinks of pre-bop banjoists, it is of purely rhythmic players whose chordal solos differ little from what they play during ensembles. Harry Reser however was quite a bit different, an outstanding virtuoso who was arguably the finest banjoist of the 1920's. Less an improviser than a brilliant technician who could play novelty ragtime with the speed of a pianist, Reser was also one of the most recorded musicians of the era. Reser actually started on the guitar when he was five and soon he...
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Trainin' The Fingers, Harry Reser
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