Dance Band Encyclopaedia

Visiting Americans

Paul Specht - Part 2

Home page  Introduction  Label Index  Musicians  
Part Two: The Carolina Club Orchestra, and Specht’s School for Jazz Musicians          (added December 2006)

Having enjoyed a successful visit to England with his band in 1923, Specht returned to New York and continued to build up his orchestra empire. By 1924 he had a fairly large roster of bands under his management and, as well as playing in America with his own orchestra, he had booked bands to England, Europe and even Australia. His own orchestra moved to the newly-opened Hotel Alamac, where it played in the Congo Room and also broadcast over Radio Station WHN.

Sometime about June 1924 Work Permits were requested from the Ministry of Labour for Specht and the members of the Carolina Club Orchestra, a college band from the University of North Carolina led by James Harold (“Hal”) Kemp. Apparently without waiting to see if permits had been granted, Specht and the band boarded the “Berengaria” and sailed for England. Halfway across the Atlantic he received a cable which stated “Regret Permits refused”; no reason was given. In view of his concern at rumours which reached him before he left England the previous year, it seems a little strange he did not wait to ensure all permits were in place before sailing.

(It is likely the rumours emanated from Specht’s statement that he would be sending over a further sixty musicians, in addition to the Frisco Syncopators and the Criterion Orchestra.)

On arrival at Southampton on 18th July, 1924, Specht and the band were refused admission to England, and were not allowed to disembark from the ship.

According to the Passenger List (BT26/777) the members of the band (plus Specht) were:­

Alexander Buie trumpet Age 23
Earl Gillespie saxophone Age18
Francis Hayes Age 24 
William Hicks Age 20
Charles Honeycutt trumpet Age 18
James Kemp saxophone & leader Age 20
James Randall piano Age 26
Paul Specht Age 29 (Musical Director)
William Vaught banjo Age 20
William Weaver trombone Age 21
Ben Williams saxophone Age 23  
William Wolfe tuba Age 18

There were clearly eleven men in the band, although not all of them may have been present on the recordings made for Columbia
c. August, 1924. All apart from Specht were listed as “students”.

Given the situation he found himself in, it was fortunate for Specht that the other passengers included a delegation of high-ranking lawyers, who were visiting England to attend the Wembley Exhibition and other events. The band had played for this delegation and other passengers during the voyage. One member of this party was US Secretary of State, Charles Hughes. Specht sought out Hughes and complained bitterly about the treatment he was receiving, asking Hughes to fly and intercede on his behalf

Hughes cabled New York and the American Embassy in London, and diplomatic pressure was brought to bear on the British Government. In addition the Buescher Instrument Company and the Columbia Graphophone Co. in America both sent letters of protest to Washington, no doubt at Specht’s request.

Paul Specht - Piccadilly 1924.jpg (117341 bytes) Two days after arrival, reluctantly and under protest, the authorities allowed Specht and the band to enter the country. However, this did not also mean they had Work Permits, and these were not granted until 6.00pm on July 28th, after further high-level American pressure. 

That same evening the Carolina Club Orchestra commenced playing in the dining-room of the Piccadilly Hotel, which was holding an “American Month” during August. (see advert, opposite; click to enlarge)

Before sailing, Specht had cabled Frank Guarente, who had by now left Specht’s own band and was working in Europe. He asked Guarente to meet him in London, not to play but to assist with administrative matters. Guarente duly arrived at Folkestone on the South Coast, and (according to Specht) was refused admission, locked up overnight without food or drink, not allowed to get in touch with Specht, and sent back across the English Channel on the first boat the next day.

Variety for July 16th 1924 had earned a full-page advert for the Specht organisation, including a note to the effect that Specht was coming to England. His main purpose in coming was to sign a contract with the Cunard Steamship Company, under which he would supply American bands for all the liners in their fleet, which amounted to between forty and fifty boats. The advert also earned details of the bands under his management, which included Robert Bennett’s Frisco Syncopators, Hughie Barrett, Ted Weems, the Lido Venice Dance Orchestra, the Romancers and the Georgians. Since the last two were actually “bands within a band” from Specht’s own orchestra at the Hotel Alamac, it can be seen that this advert was not entirely accurate!

Another section of this advert, referred to the Carolina Club Orchestra’s visit, and stated this was 7or the purpose of headlining the English music kills and to play at British cafes at the Hotel Claridge in Paris and at the Winter Garden in Berlin”. Given that applicants for Work Permits normally had to be specific about where they were to be employed, and who would be employing them, this may be why Permits were not granted in this case.

Despite having gained access to England, Specht was still nursing a grievance. In early August he announced his intention to form a separate Musicians Union, for the specific purpose of admitting bands under his management into England. The reaction to this news from the “genuine” Union was unfavourable, to say the least. This suggestion of a “rival” Union was apparently part of a proposed agreement he attempted to enter into with Jack Hylton regarding the booking of bands. Under such an agreement, Hylton would be his agent for American bands coming here, while Specht would act as agent in America for bands which Hylton sent there. Jack Hylton decided not to entertain this proposal, not least because it would have required payment of 50% of his earnings from all sources over to Specht! Apart from being a somewhat dubious proposition, this scheme seems to have totally ignored the ongoing policy of the AFM, namely the refusal to permit any English band to work in America.

This rejection of his proposal incensed Specht still further and, as will be seen, he repeatedly attacked Hylton in the musical press over the next ten years.
Specht also announced that he would be setting up a “School for Jazz Musicians”, to teach English players the art of playing jazz and dance music. Whether this enterprise lasted for any length of time (or even commenced business) I have been unable to determine. The only mention of it I have been able to find comes from the Talking Machine World in its issue of November 15th 1924, which reported that:-

“Dear Ol’ Lunnon” likes Yankee jazz so well that a college of syncopation, sponsored by Paul Specht, exclusive Columbia artist, noted dance orchestra king and radio artist, of New York has just been established in the English metropolis for the purpose of instructing British musicians in the gentle art of American “danceopation" “, according to word just received here. The new school is located at Grafton House, Golden Square, WI, London and is under the management of J. Fenston, Ernest Collins and H. Lewis. It is known as Paul Specht 's Institute of Rhythmic Symphonic Syncopation and the instructors are all American musicians. Three of these teachers, Harl Smith, Everitt Davidson and William Haid all of New York, recently sailed for England.

The three American musicians listed above were all members of the Lido Venice Dance Orchestra which did come to Europe in October 1924; their activities in England will be covered later. Suffice it to say that since the band was working in Europe at this time, if would have been difficult if not impossible for these “teachers” to play there and also teach in England.

Work Permits for the Carolina Club Orchestra had only been granted for a period up to August 16th. Somehow Specht managed to get these extended for a further few days (duly reported in the Times for August 15th) and the band finished playing at the Piccadilly Hotel on August 21st. Two days later Specht and the band were aboard the “Berengaria” again on their way back to America.

According to Specht, they were "smuggled on board ship and did not appear on the Passenger List”. (New York Times; September 6th, 1924). On this return voyage the “Berengaria” was carrying the Prince of Wales, no less, who was setting out on a Royal visit to America and Canada The Prince had been to the Piccadilly Hotel several times during the Carolina Club Band’s stay there, and was much impressed with their playing. Specht maintained they had been smuggled on board as a surprise for the Prince. However, the Passenger List (BT27/ 1066) for this trip clearly shows the members of the band listed, along with Specht - but all travelling Third Class, and not Second Class as was normal with musicians. Notwithstanding Specht’s claims, I think it more likely that when the Work Permits finally expired, they were ordered to leave the country by the first available boat or be deported.

Specht’s problems were by no means over. About one day into the voyage, it was announced that in view of the Prince of Wales’ great enthusiasm for the music of the Carolina Club outfit, that band would play for the Prince in the ship’s ballroom each night. The resident ship’s orchestra were less than amused at this, threatened to take strike action, and to call on the Seamen's Union to strike in sympathy. Again according to Specht, the ship’s orchestra also threw over the ship’s side all the Carolina Club’s band parts! (Reported in New York Times, September 6th, 1924). 

All this was obviously very embarrassing for the Cunard Company with the Prince of Wales on board, and there were frantic negotiations to try and resolve matters. Specht insisted he had a contract to supply orchestras for the Cunard boats, which was denied by the company’s New York office. Finally it was agreed that the Carolina Club Band would play for about two hours each night (presumably with or without arrangements...).

Regarding the Cunard contract, the New York Times for September 12th, 1924 carried a brief item to the effect that “arrangements have been made by the Cunard line with Paul Specht, orchestra leader, to place an orchestra on one of its largest ships. The ship had not yet been designated and whether Specht orchestras would be placed on all of the Cunard steamships would depend on the result of the experiment.” Not quite what Specht had stated would happen!

All this activity was reported at length in Variety and to a lesser extent in other musical papers of the lime. (Billboard seems to have made no mention of these events, possibly because Specht was at the time suing them for libellous reporting of another matter.)

When Specht arrived in New York he continued to complain at length about the treatment he had received in England, and the scene was set for further difficulties in the following two years.

Before we move onto the next instalment, it is necessary to point out two things:­

1) Specht always maintained he should be free to bring American bands to England, in view of the many English artists who were working in America without hindrance. What he consistently failed to make clear was the vast majority of those artists were variety turns, and in several cases had emigrated there and were now American citizens. Even if they had not taken up citizenship, they had at least become members of the AFM or a theatrical union.

2) As stated elsewhere, no English dance band was allowed to work in America during the Twenties, not even to appear as a stage act, because of the unrelenting opposition of the American federation of Musicians.

click here for: Part Three: The lido Venice and Canadian Club Orchestras, and the Kit Cat Club.  

Author: JOE MOORE     © 2006