The Jazz Dance Bands of the 1930s
by Richie C. Quirino
The new jazz messengers in the Philippines were the dance bands, which performed the “de cajon” or stock arrangements. The brass and horn sections’ harmony was in block, closed-chord position and was often audibly predictable. Among the very popular Swing bands of the 1930s, the Shanghai Swing Masters, the Pete Aristorenas Orchestra, the Cesar Velasco Band, the Tirso Cruz Orchestra at the Manila Hotel, the Mabuhay Band (also overseen by Tirso Cruz), and the Mesio Regalado Orchestra were among the more prominent names that flourished.
These big bands would provide dance music in the Swing style for Manila’s high-class society and for major provincial capitals where fiestas and other social events would take place year- round. It kept the jazz musicians busy and gainfully employed which gave them an opportunity to travel around the country and eventually overseas, where the pay was much higher.
In fact, many of the jazz musicians after discovering other foreign capitals where jazz was appreciated, would decide to have long extended contracts living a more prominent way of life as compared to the economic limitations back home. But home being close to their hearts, these foreign-based Filipino jazz musicians would periodically visit their motherland to update locals with their latest musical wares.
Jazz in the 1930s was widely heard on radio as popular music. Besides the usual Duke Ellington and Count Basie hits, local talents abounded, like singer Ding Yalong, who “crooned” in the style of Bing Crosby, then a vocalist in Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. Radio music in the 1930s had outstanding locally-bred musicians perform live while broadcasting featured instrumentalists like pianists Joe Climaco, Rafael Artigas, and Ariston Avelino. This was a way of informing the listening public that Filipinos were learning rapidly from their foreign counterparts.
Another venue in the 1930s where jazz was predominantly heard was the Ugoy-ugoy Cabaret. This dance hall was dimly lit and the music was non-stop. The taxi dancers were paid by a number of minutes indicated by a whistle, which had nothing to do with the music because the music was continuous. Located in a town in the province of Laguna, ugoy-ugoy, a Tagalog that means “swing” in English. This is probably where the late composer, Miguel “Mike” Velarde, was inspired to name one of his compositions “Ugoy-ugoy Blues”, which became a hit in the early 1930s.
Top left Photo: The Filipino Band jazzes it up big time at the Saratoga Hotel-Restaurant, Chicago, Illinois, earning $1,000.00 a month in the early 1930s. Courtesy of John Silva Collection. (From Pinoy Jazz Traditions, Richie C. Quirino. 2004.)
Bottom right Photo: Nemesio Regalado introduced the Tonette wind instrument to the Philippines in 1937. (From Pinoy Jazz Traditions, Richie C. Quirino. 2004.)
Source: Pinoy Jazz Traditions. 2004. Anvil Publishing Inc. pp. 26-27