Greg Poppleton

21 May - Hear 1940s Jazz Harpsichord on this week's Phantom Dancer LISTEN

Harry Reser’s Volunteer Firemen – Phantom Dancer 28 April 2020

Harry Reser, virtuoso 1920s-30s banjo star and band leader, the first to record ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town‘, is your feature artist on this week’s Greg Poppleton Phantom Dancer.

The Phantom Dancer, your non-stop 2 hour mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio, is produced and presented by 1920s-30s singer and actor Greg Poppleton can be heard online from 12:04pm AEST Tuesday 28 April at

The last hour is all vinyl.

clicquot club eskimos poster


Harry Reser’s recorded output is staggering and among the ensembles he was associated with included The Bostonians, the Campus Boys, Jimmy Johnston’s Rebels, the Four Minstrels, the Seven Rag Pickers, the Victorian Syncopators, Earl Oliver’s Jazz Babies, Bill Wirges’ Orchestra, Tom Stacks and his Minute Men and the celebrated Cliquot Club Eskimos, which were heard weekly on NBC Red, then Blue, then CBS radio network from 1925 until 1935.

Reser was one of the busiest and most prolific bandleaders and session men of the 1920s. His massive output of unfailingly cheerful and uplifting tunes, with vocals by Tom Stacks (who first sung the aforementioned Santa song) was released under more than 175 pseudonyms, including The Volunteer Firemen (who you’ll hear on this show), the Tickle Toe Ten, Jack’s Fast Steppin’ Bellhops, Si Higgins & His Sodbusters, and — most famously — the ginger ale-affiliated Clicquot Club Eskimos.

harry reser banjo


Reser was a first cousin to Orville & Wilbur Wright, the Wright brothers, who first flew an airplane in 1903. His musical talents became apparent in toddlerhood, and when his parents realized they had a child prodigy, they had a special guitar made for him suited to his extremely small size. This was his first instrument.

Reser recalled, “Of course, being a kid, and playing for various minor concerts and recitals naturally gave me somewhat of a hero feeling, but I was never able to get the attitude of a great many people whom I often heard talking prodigies, juvenile wonders and any number of other equally mysterious things in connection with my playing. It never seemed in the least remarkable or extraordinary that I played at the age of eight.”

From ages 9 to 14 he studied music theory, piano, violin and cello.

Harry Reser Clicquot Club


By the 1910s the banjo was making its presence felt more strongly with dance bands and Reser felt he should learn how to play it as quickly as possible. He practiced until he was able to play to a high enough standard to supplement his piano playing, thus increasing his chances of earning a reasonable living. In the summer of 1920 he played in a Dayton dance band under the leadership of Paul Goss. By this time he was playing the banjo regularly. He soon moved to Buffalo, New York to appear at the Hippodrome, playing primarily violin, though continuing to work on his banjo technique as well.

After Christmas of 1920 he moved to New York City. He sought out engagements and soon found himself in demand. Some of the early bands he was involved with included those of leading dance band leaders Ben Selvin, Benny Krueger, Sam Lanin, Nathan Glantz, and Mike Markel (for whom he played saxophone).

By 1922, he had recorded a half dozen pieces, including “Crazy Jo” and Zez Confrey’s “Kitten on the Keys”. In early autumn of the same year, he considered starting his own band. Soon a contract was drawn up with Okeh Records and his first band, the Okeh Syncopators, came into being during September or October 1922. Shortly after the start of this new endeavor he was approached by Paul Whiteman to sit in for Whiteman’s regular banjoist, Mike Pingitore, during a UK tour of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Reser had three original compositions written for tenor banjo; The Cat and the Dog, Cracker Jack, and Lolly Pops.

In 1925, he found fame as the director for NBC’s Clicquot Club Eskimo Orchestra, continuing with that weekly half-hour until 1935. At the same time, he also led other bands using pseudonyms. “Harry Reser and His Six Jumping Jacks”, with vocals by Tom Stacks.

harry reser hadio cartoon


Throughout his career he was an endorsed artist, playing instruments from several well-known makers. During the 1920s he mainly played a variety of William L. Lange’s Paramount tenor and plectrum banjos, and Lange presented him with a Super Paramount Artists Supreme, as he also did to Mike Pingitore, another Paramount musician. Later Reser would play Gibson and Vegavox banjos.

Harry Reser played “Tiger Rag” and “You Hit the Spot” in the Vitaphone musical short Harry Reser and His Eskimos (1936) which is one of three Phantom Dancer Videos of the Week, below..

Reser remained active in music for the rest of his life, leading TV studio orchestras and playing with Broadway theatre orchestras. In 1960 he appeared with Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, and Buster Keaton in “A 70th Birthday Salute to Paul Whiteman” on TV’s The Revlon Revue. He wrote several instructional books for the banjo, guitar, and ukulele.

In 1965 Reser died of a heart attack in the orchestra pit of Manhattan’s Imperial Theatre while warming up for a Broadway stage version of Fiddler on the Roof.


Your first Phantom Dancer Video of the Week is a Vitaphone short from 1929.

Harry Reser, Vitaphone, 1936, leading his Cliquot Eskimos with early electic organ and Reser playing amped slide guitar but no banjo!

Here’s a more complete version of the Vitaphone short, with the titles obliterated by the person who put the film up on YouTube, probably thinking that would solve any copyright issues.

Thirdly, be amazed by the drumming tricks of Freddie Crump on his 1920s drum kit which is so different from a modern jazz kit. Enjoy!


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney, Live Stream, Digital Radio
Community Radio Network Show CRN #434

107.3 2SER Tuesday 28 April 2020
After the 2SER 12 noon news, 12:04 – 2:00pm (+10 hours GMT)
and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm
National Program:
1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Sunday 10 – 11pm
5GTR Mt Gambier Mon 2:30 – 3:30am
4NAG Keppel FM 3 – 4am
2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am
2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4pm
2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4pm
3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm
7MID Oatlands Tuesday 8 – 9pm
2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm
7LTN Launceston 5 – 6am
3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am

Set 1
Jive on 1944 Radio
Theme + Three Little Words
Denny Beckner Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Norfolk Virginia
Blue Network
AFRS Re-broadcast
30 Mar 1944
Fifth Avenue Sax
Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Tune Town Ballroom
St Louis Mo
AFRS Re-broadcast
5 Apr 1944
On The Sunny Side Of The Street + Close
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (voc) The Sentimentalists
‘Gi Jive’
AFRS Hollywood
Sep 1944
Set 2
All-Star Parade of Bands from 1950s Radio
Open + The Man On The Beat
Ray Anthony Orchestra
‘All-Star Parade of Bands’
Palladium Ballroom
KFI NBC Hollywood
23 Nov 1953
Take The A-Train (theme) + Caravan
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Basin Street
16 Apr 1956
Les Brown and his Band of Renown
‘All-Star Parade of Bands’
Palladium Ballroom
KFI NBC Hollywood
12 Oct 1953
Set 3
Some of the Earliest Recorded Jazz Radio
Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again
The Volunteer Firemen directed by Harry Reser
Comm Rec
New York City
27 Jan 1927
I Lost My Gal From Memphis / Here Comes Emily Brown
Red Nichols Orchestra (voc) Dick Robertson
Radio Transcrition
New York City
3 Aug 1930
Egyptian Ella
Philco Hour Orchestra
‘Philco Hour’
Set 4
Excursions in Modern Music on 1949 Radio
Open + Bop City
Charlie Barnet Orchestra
‘Excursions in Modern Music’
Rendevous Ballroom
Balboa Ca
30 Jul 1949
Diz Does Everything
Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra (tp) Maynard Ferguson
‘One Night Stand’
Cafe Rouge
Statler Hotel
AFRS Re-broadcast
7 Apr 1949
Flying Home
Lionel Hampton Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Aquarium Restaurant NYC
AFRS Re-brodcast
Set 5
French Jazz on the Air 1949 – 1953
Dream of You
Django Reinhardt et la Quintette du Hot Club de France
Radio Geneva
25 Oct 1949
Jam Session
Dizzy Gillespie (tp) avec Tony Proteau et son Orchestre
Rex Theatre
RDF Paris
Feb 1953
Night and Day
Django Reinhardt acc. par Paul Baron et son Grand Orchestre
‘This is Paris’
Le Boogie de Paris
Jacques Helian et son Orchestre
Comm Rec
Set 6
Dance Bands on 1938 – 40 Radio
John Peel
Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Chorus with Jack Teagarden (tb)
‘Chesterfield Show’
28 Dec 1938
Comes Love
Artie Shaw Orchestra (voc) Helen Forrest
Summer Terrace
Ritz Carlton Hotel
19 Aug 1939
Sugar Blues
Ella Fitzgerald Orchestra (voc) Ella Fitzgerald
Savoy Ballroom
26 Feb 1940
Hold Tight
Glenn Miller Orchestra (voc) Marion Hutton and Band
Meadowbrook Ballroom
Cedar Grove NJ
18 Apr 1939
Set 7
Swinging on early 1940s Radio
Johnny Zero
George Trevare Orchestra (voc) Joan Blake
Comm Rec
Jack Teagarden Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Joplin Mo
Mutual Network
18 Mar 1946
The Skaters’ Waltz
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
Meadowbrook Ballroom
Cedar Grove NJ
11 Feb 1941
Moonglow + Swanee River
Lionel Hampton Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Trianon Ballroom
Southgate Calif
AFRS Re-broadcast
16 Jun 1944
Set 8
Band Singers With Their Own Radio Shows
Beg Your Pardon
Dinah Shore (voc) Harry James Orchestra
‘Call For Music’
4 May 1948
Mildred Bailey (voc) Paul Baron Orchestra
‘Music Till Midnight’
Somebody Loves Me
Peggy Lee (voc) Dave Barbour Orchestra
‘Rexall Show’
Day By Day + Put Your Dreams Away For Another Day (theme)
Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante
‘Songs by Sinatra’
AFRS Re-broadcast
27 Feb 1946

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