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Left Bank Bearcats - When The Saints Come Marching In

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Published on May 23, 2008

My father Joe Techner (pictured) was trumpet on the three Left Bank Bearcats "Dixieland" albums. Crazy solo at 1:54. The Left Bank Bearcat albums were knock-off albums probably made by Dave Miller's Somerset label to cash-in on the Dukes of Dixieland albums that debuted in May 1957. The recordings were locally supervised by Joe Kuhn, an army musician buddy of my dad.

My dad recalled that the records were sort of "underground" since those responsible for them didn't go through the "proper channels" to make them. As a result, according to my father, Kuhn was beat up and later died. The official cause of death was cancer of the spinal cord following a two-year illness.

Kuhn was probably beaten up for years of under-the-table recordings for Dave Miller. Miller imported recordings he supervised in Germany using readily-available cheap labor from the local musicans in post-World War II Europe. But Miller apparently didn't have the availability of French musicians at the time. So he tried to pass the Left Bank Bearcats LPs ("recorded in Paris") as some of these imports.

Kuhn made the recordings hastily and clandestinely. However, local Philly musicians recognized the players' styles on the albums and the players themselves kidded about it. Those that controlled the music business came after Kuhn. Miller was elusive and was mostly abroad in Germany or England.

Most of what we know about these recordings comes from trombonist Al Leopold, who also played trombone in the band of Jan Savitt from 1937 - 1941. Leopold told both TechnerVideo and Belgian jazz discographer Walter Bruyninckx the story. Leopold got a phone call from Dave Miller producer of the Somerset label to put a band together that had to play Dixieland music but had to sound like a French amateur band! Miller put out the recording "as recorded in Paris" with ficticious French names! Aaron Dubois was Joe Techner (trumpet), Marcel Durand was Al Leopold (trombone, leader), Jack Bonner was Frank Lewis (clarinet), Bertrand Gasté was Bernie Lowe (piano), Robert Eluist was Billy La Pata (banjo, guitar), Jon Gautreaux was Joe Kuhn (bass, tuba) and Jacques Cas was Jack Cassidy (drums).

Al Leopold told me that the first album was Somerset P1400 recorded at the Reco-Art studio, 212 N. 12th St. in Philadelphia, but Al can't remember the exact dates although he thinks they must have been made 1956-1957. The second album was Somerset SF8300 and was recorded in Swarthmore, PA. The third album was Somerset P5300, recorded in Wallingford, PA and there's some history about this LP. Dave Miller choose as location a bar which had a room behind for all sorts of events. The bar and the room were both connected to the toilet in between. Miller wanted to add some echo to this LP and opened the toilet door on the room side. After the first number they were listening to the balance when suddenly there was a flush of a toilet so Dave decided they should make the record without an echo!"

This "bar" was most likely Silvio "Babe" D'Ignazio's The Towne House in Media, Pa. A picture of this tavern is on Somerset LP # 7600.

In a blog, Dave Stoddard accurately recounts how these recordings were viewed in Philly music circles, "The 1957 LPs were partly performances, partly musical jokes (hence the pseudonyms). I was aware of the records because friends of mine knew Al Leopold, and he had mentioned recording them. Once, to Leopold's absolute delight, a jazz aficionado trying to impress him described (erroneously) having heard the Left Bank Bearcats play in Paris."

In 1997, I contacted Al Sherman, owner of Alshire Records in Burbank, Calif. At the time, Sherman owned the Somerset catalog. I told Sherman the recordings were not made in Paris and he became irate. He knew it was a lie. At the time, I purchased copies of the Left Bank Bearcats LPs from Sherman. He mailed me USED copies with the name Dave Miller crossed out on the liner notes! The Somerset catalog is now owned by Madacy Entertainment, Montreal. I contacted Madacy but they showed no interest nor provided any information when requested. They were more interested in Dave Miller's 1955 recordings of Bill Hailey and the Comets on his earlier Essex label.

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin 3-12-1962, page 31: JOSEPH F. KUHN, Musical Director Joseph F. Kuhn, composer, arranger and conductor, died Saturday. He was 37 and lived at 2423 Poplar road, Havertown. Mr. Kuhn was musical director for Miller International Co., and was well known for his recording work in Hollywood, the east coast and Germany. Surviving are his wife, Anna Marie, an opera singer; three sons, Kevin, David and Joseph; his mother, Mrs. F. G. Kuhn, and a sister. Requiem mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Denis Roman Catholic Church, Oakmont.

I recently met Joe Kuhn's son Kevin who remembered Miller well. Perhaps out of guilt, Miller hung treated them to boat trips down the shore. Miller died in London May 24, 1985.

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