Greg Poppleton

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31 August 2021

(Until 31 August)

John Kirby Sextet – Phantom Dancer 31 August 2021

Greg Poppleton's Phantom Dancer swing jazz radio show

John Kirby, double bassist, tuba and trombone player, 1930s proponent of ‘Chamber Jazz’, Bach fan, and band leader is this week’s Phantom Dancer feature artist. His sextet was also the first to play the jazz standard, Undecided, and had a hit with Loch Lomond, sung by Maxine Sullivan.

The Phantom Dancer is your non-stop mix of swing and jazz from live 1920s-60s radio and TV. I host the show which is heard online and over 23 radio stations.

As the Sydney lockdown continues and I can’t get to the 2SER studios to create new mixes for you, I hope you enjoy these ‘Phantom Dancer Classics’. Enjoy past Phantom Dancer online now at

This show will be online after 2pm AEST, Tuesday 31 August at


John Kirby had been a trombonist until 1927 when Jimmy Harrison persuaded him to play tuba. Shortly after, Kirby played tuba with Bill Brown and His Brownies, with pianist Charlie Sheets, and then with John C. Smith’s Society Band all in New York City.

In 1929 he joined Fletcher Henderson‘s orchestra as tuba player, playing some complicated tuba work on a number of early 1930s Henderson recording.


In the early 1930s, Kirby took bass lessons from Pops Foster and Wellman Braud (bassist with Duke Ellington). About 1933 Kirby left Henderson to play two stints with drummer Chick Webb as double bassist. He returned to Henderson and then joined Lucky Millinder. He led his own quartet for a short time in 1935.


John Kirby formed his sextet for a residency at the  Onyx Club in NYC in 1937. At first, the band gave singer-drummer Leo Watson featured billing (you’ll hear the band with Leo Watson singing from a 1939 broadcast). It then, until 1941, usually had Charlie Shavers (trumpet), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Russell Procope (alto saxophone), Billy Kyle (piano), O’Neill Spencer (drums), the line-up you’ll hear announced in the 1941 Chamber Music Society broadcast on this week’s Phantom Dancer. With the byline, ‘The Biggest Little Band in the Land,’ the sextet first recorded in August 1937 with a swing version of Loch Lomond. Singer, Maxine Sullivan, became Kirby’s second wife in 1938.

Band member illness, the death of one member, and the WW2 draft changed the sextet’s line-up post-1941, which then at different times included Dizzy GillespieBenny CarterBen WebsterClyde HartBudd Johnson, and Zutty Singleton.

In 1946, Kirby got the surviving sextet members back together, with Sarah Vaughan as vocalist, but the reunion did not last. A concert at Carnegie Hall in December 1950 attracted only a small audience, which “crushed Kirby’s spirit and badly damaged what little was left of his career.”



Kirby and his orchestra had a 30-minute radio program, Flow Gently, Sweet Rhythm (also known as The John Kirby Show) on CBS April 7, 1940–January 12, 1941. The program also featured Sullivan and the Golden Gate Quartet. Kirby and Sullivan have been cited as “the first black artists to host a jazz-oriented series.”


Play List – The Phantom Dancer

Community Radio Network Show CRN #508

107.3 2SER Tuesday 31 August 2021 12:04 – 2:00pm (+11 hours GMT) and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm National Program 5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am 3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am 4NAG Keppel FM Monday 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 1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am 2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm 5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm 4RPH Brisbane Sunday 3 – 4am 7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am 3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am 6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Sunday 5 – 6am 3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm

Set 1
Duke Ellington 
Diminuendo in Blue
Duke Ellington Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Club Zanzibar AFRS Re-broadcast 7 Oct 1945
Rocks in My Bed
Duke Ellington Orchestra (voc) Joya Sherrill
‘One Night Stand’ Club Zanzibar AFRS Re-broadcast 7 Oct 1945
Crescendo in Blue + Close
Duke Ellington Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Club Zanzibar AFRS Re-broadcast 7 Oct 1945
Set 2
1930s Music 
I’m Gonna Lose My Gal + Shine on Harvest Moon + You’re Such a Comfort to Me
Johnny Green Orchestra (voc) Ruth Etting
‘Oldsmobile Program’ WABC CBS NY 16 Feb 1934
Open + Bugle Call Rag + Besume Mucho
George Olson Music (voc) Del Campo
‘The Lucky Strike Hour’ WEAF NBC Red NY 1 Dec 1932
Open + Down South
B. A Rolfe Silvertown Orchestra
Radio Transcription 1936
Set 3
Chamber Music Society 
Open + Flyin’ Home
Paul Lavalle Woodwinds
‘Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street’ WJZ NBC Blue 7 Jul 1941
Comin’ Through The Rye
Diane Courtney
‘Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street’ WJZ NBC Blue 7 Jul 1941
Buglar’s Dilemma
John Kirby Sextet
‘Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street’ WJZ NBC Blue 7 Jul 1941
Set 4
John Kirby 
Honeysuckle Rose
John Kirby Sextet (voc) Leo Watson
‘Rudy Vallee Show’ WEAF NBC Red NY 24 Mar 1939
Beethoven Riffs On
John Kirby Sextet
Comm Rec New York City 15 Jan 1941
Open + I’ve Learnt a Lesson
John Kirby Sextet (voc) Rosetta Williams
‘One Night Stand’ Aquarium Restaurant NYC AFRS Re-broadcast Jul 1944
Bounce of the Sugar Plum Fairy
John Kirby Sextet
Comm Rec New York City 15 Jan 1941
Set 5
Fats Waller 
I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby + Truckin’
Fats Waller
WHIS Studios Bluefield WV 2 Feb 1936
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Fats Waller
‘Personally, It’s Off the Record’ WABC CBS NY 23 Sep 1943
There’s a Girl in My Life
Fats Waller
‘Personally, It’s Off the Record’ WABC CBS NY 23 Sep 1943
Honeysuckle Rose + Close
Fats Waller
‘Personally, It’s Off the Record’ WABC CBS NY 23 Sep 1943
Set 6
1930s Swing Radio 
I’d Do Anything For You
Seger Ellis Chois of Brass
Radio Transcription new York City 1937
One, Two, Button Your Shoe
Duke Ellington Orchestra (voc) Ivie Anderson
Cotton Club WABC CBS NY 18 Mar 1937
Announcers’ Blues
Paul Whiteman Orchestra (tb) Jack Teagarden
‘Paul Whiteman’s Musical Varieties’ WJZ NBC Blue NY 19 Jan 1936
They Can’t Take That Away From Me
Count Basie Orchestra (voc) Billie Holiday
Aircheck Savoy Ballroom 30 Jun 1937
Set 7
Mod Alto Sax 
Charlie Parker and Strings
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Birdland WJZ ABC NY 7 Apr 1951
Charlie Parker & Symphony Sid
‘Symphony Sid Show’ Birdland WJZ ABC NY 7 Apr 1951
If I Had You
Lee Konitz
Storyville Copley Square Hotel WHDH Boston 5 Jan 1954
Set 8
Women Singers on the Air 
It’s a Blue World
Ella Fitzgerald (voc) Ella Fitzgerald Orchestra
Savoy Ballroom WEAF NBC Red NY 4 Mar 1940
Don’t Blame Me
Sarah Vaughan (voc) Billy Eckstine Orchestra
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood Mar 1945
Mad About The Boy
Lena Horne (voc) Fletcher Henderson Orchestra
‘Jubilee’ AFRS Hollywood 1944
No Love, No Nothin’
Dinah Washington (voc) Lionel Hampton Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’ Trianon Ballroom Culver City Ca AFRS Re-broadcast 16 Jun 1944
All Gigs
12:04 pm - 2:00 pm
2SER 107.3 Sydney

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