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Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang - My Lit'l Honey And Me (1929)

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Uploaded on Feb 5, 2012

Irving Mills (Jan.16,1894 - April 21,1985) was a jazz music publisher, also known by the name of "Joe Primrose."

Mills was born to Jewish parents in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. He founded Mills Music with his brother Jack in 1919. Between 1919 and 1965, when they sold Mills Music, Inc., they built and became the largest independent music publisher in the world. He died in 1985 in Palm Springs, California.

Irving and Jack discovered a number of great songwriters, among them Sammy Fain, Harry Barris, Gene Austin, Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh, and Dorothy Fields. He either discovered or greatly advanced the careers of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Will Hudson, Raymond Scott and many others.

Although not a musician himself (he did sing, however), Irving decided to put together his own studio recording group. In Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang he had for sidemen: Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Arnold Brillhardt, Arthur Schutt, and Manny Klein. Other variations of his bands featured Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and Red Nichols (Irving gave Red Nichols the tag "and his Five Pennies.")

One of his innovations was the "band within a band," recording small groups (he started this in 1928 by arranging for members of Ben Pollack's band to record hot small group sides for the various dime store labels, out of the main orchestra and printing "small orchestrations" transcribed off the record, so that non-professional musicians could see how great solos were constructed. This was later done by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and many other bands.

In late 1936, with involvement by Herbert Yates of the American Record Corporation, Irving started the Master and Variety labels, which for their short life span were distributed by ARC through their Brunswick and Vocalion label sales staff. From December, 1936, through about September, 1937, an amazing amount of records were issued on these labels. Master's best selling artists were Duke Ellington, Raymond Scott, as well as Hudson-De Lange Orchestra, Casper Reardon and Adrian Rollini. Variety's roster included Cab Calloway, Red Nichols, the small groups from Ellington's band led by Barney Bigard, Cootie Williams, Rex Stewart, and Johnny Hodges, as well as Noble Sissle, Frankie Newton, The Three Peppers, Chu Berry, Billy Kyle, and other major and minor jazz and pop performers around New York. In such a short time, an amazing amount of fine music was recorded for these labels.

By late 1937 a number of problems caused the collapse of these labels. The Brunswick and Vocalion sales staff had problems of their own, with competition from Victor and Decca, and it wasn't easy to get this new venture off the ground. Mills tried to arrange for distribution overseas to get his music issued in Europe, but was unsuccessful. Also, it's quite likely that these records simply weren't selling as well as hoped for.

After the collapse of the labels, those titles that were still selling on Master were reissued on Brunswick and those still selling on Variety were reissued on Vocalion. Mills continued his M-100 recording series after the labels were taken over by ARC, and after cutting back recording to just the better selling artists, new recordings made from about January 1938 by Master were issued on Brunswick (later Columbia) and Vocalion (later the revived Okeh) until May 7, 1940.

Irving was recording all the time and became the head of the American Recording Company, which is now Columbia Records. Once radio blossomed Irving was singing at six radio stations seven days a week plugging Mills tunes. Jimmy McHugh, Sammy Fain, and Gene Austin took turns being his pianist.

He produced one picture, Stormy Weather, for Twentieth Century Fox in 1943, which starred jazz greats Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Zutty Singleton, and Fats Waller and the legendary dancers the Nicholas Brothers and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. He had a contract to do other movies but found it "too slow" so he continued finding, recording and plugging music.

Much has been made about Mills' co-writing credit on a number of key Ellington compositions. The fact remains that those acts managed by Irving Mills got the best gigs and had the greatest opportunities in the recording studio.

Irving lived to be over 91 years old. His place in the history of jazz is founded primarily on his business skills rather than his singing and songwriting abilities, but it was his management skills and publishing empire that were central to the history and financial success of jazz. Because of his promotion of black entertainers a leading black newspaper referred to him as the Abraham Lincoln of music.


Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang - My Lit'l Honey And Me (1929)

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