Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Sound of Art Hickman and His Orchestra

The San Francisco Public Library subscribes to a number of streaming audio databases found at our eMusic page. One package we offer to our Library card holders is American Song--"a history database that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past." American Song offers a number of albums released by Archeophone, a label specializing in recordings from the "acoustic era" (pre-1925, the era before microphones). While most of the music presented on this label are in the public domain, and possibly available for free online download, in the American Song database they come package with detailed documentation in liner notes.

Art Hickman and His Orchestra (image source: Big Bands Database Plus)

One treat in this database for San Francisco music history lovers are the two albums, Art Hickman's Orchestra: The San Francisco Sound, volumes 1 and 2. The database contains 50 tracks and two booklets featuring essays by Bruce Vermazen plus extensive visual documentation from Mr. Vermazen's personal collection.

"The guy who started all the dance bands." This is how Joe Laurie, Jr. describes Art Hickman in Vaudeville: From the Honky Tonks to the Palace. Hickman, born June 13, 1886 in Oakland, was a drummer, pianist and dance bandleader. Roger D. Kinkle writes in The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz, 1900-1950 that Hickman was an "early bandleader, pioneer in dance music. Helped establish instrumentation, voicing, style and rhythm of early dance bands." He formed his first band in 1913 was hired to play in the Rose Room at the St. Francis Hotel.

Art Hickman (detail from "Dream of Me," see below)

Evidently Hickman was inspired to include a banjo player in his group after watching African-American musicians perform at Purcell's nightclub on San Francisco's Barbary Coast. According to The Devil's Horn: The Story of the Saxophone, From Noisy Novelty to King of Cool, Hickman's band was the first band to have a saxophone "section" - the tandem of Clyde Doerr and Bert Ralton. In So This Is Jazz, Henry O. Osgood notes that with Hickman's band: "The limelight was focused on the drummer probably for the first time, since Hickman was neither a violinist nor pianist like the usual leader, but master of the drums and traps."

In Jazz on the Barbary Coast, Tom Stoddard gives Hickman credit for being "the first jazz leader to employ only reading musicians... With reading musicians it is easier to create the foundation or background music for a solo improvisation. Hickman's early bands are reported to have used, and probably originated, the solo style of jazz improvisation."

For a time his band was a national recording sensation. According to Joel Whitburn's A Century of Popular Song, Art Hickman & His Orchestra registered five of the top fifteen songs of 1920: "Hold Me," "The Love Nest, "Tell Me, Little Gypsy," "Sweet and Low," and "Peggy." He was offered the position of bandleader on the roof Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre in New York but he and his musicians turned down the gig because they were "crazy about San Francisco" (see Vermazen's liner notes to volume 1).

You can hear Hickman's band on the CD, The San Francisco Sound, through the American Song database, or at

(image from the Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection)

The San Francisco Public Library has the following sheet music co-composed by Art Hickman (songs followed by an asterisk are part of the Dorothy Starr Sheet Music Collection):

"Day By Day In Every Way (I Love You More and More)" * words and music by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Florintine Music Publishing Co., 1923).

"Dream of Me" * words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and M. K. Jerome
(Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1921).

"Hold Me" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., c1920).

"June: I Love No One But You," by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Waterson, Berlin & Snyder, 1920).

"Just Plain Folks" words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and Neil Moret (Leo. Feist, 1922).

"My Wonder Girl" by Ben Black, Marty Bloom and Art Hickman (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1920).

"Rose Room: Fox Trot Song: In Sunny Roseland" lyrics by Harry Williams; music by Art Hickman (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1918).

"Take Me On A Buick Honeymoon" * words and music by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Howard
Automobile Co., 1922).

"Tears" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1918).

"Without You" * words and music by Art Hickman, Ben Black and Neil Moret (Sherman, Clay &
Co., 1922).

"You and I" by Art Hickman and Ben Black (Sherman, Clay & Co., 1919).

Scanned music of Art Hickman's Songs can also be located through the Sheet Music Consortium.

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