Monday, August 29, 2016

Knockin' On Wood

Xylophone
The xylophone is a musical instrument in the percussion family that consists of wooden bars struck by mallets. Here the term xylophone refers specifically to a chromatic instrument of somewhat higher pitch range and drier timbre than the marimba. Both the xylophone and the marimba, however, have wooden bars in common, while the vibraphone has metallic bars.

Red Norvo
Red Norvo was one of jazz's early vibraphonists, who helped establish the xylophone, marimba and later the vibraphone as a viable jazz instruments. Norvo began his career 1925 in Chicago where he played in a band named The Collegians and at the same time joined many other bands, even an all-marimba band. At one point he was engaged by Paul Whiteman and later recorded with Frankie Trumbauer (1932) and Victor Young's orchestra (1933). In 1929, Norvo had recorded two sides under his own name for Brunswick, but they were unissued. His first issued session under his own name was recorded on April 8, 1933 in New York for Brunswick. Two self penned tunes were recorded, Knockin' On Wood and Hole In The Wall, issued on BR 6562

Discographical info from Tom Lord Discography Vers. 9.0 (click to enlarge)

Knockin' On Wood,  BR 6562
Norvo is accompanied by Jimmy Dorsey (cl), Fulton McGrath (p), Dick McDonough (g) and Artie Bernstein in both tunes, inserted below from YouTube audio-videos - First Knockin' On Wood


The flip side of BR 6562 had the recording of Hole In The Wall



This session pleased Brunswick's recording director Jack Kapp and Norvo was booked for another session. This time, Kapp was out of town and Norvo went ahead and recorded two of the earliest, most modern pieces of chamber jazz yet recorded: Bix Beiderbecke's In a Mist and Norvo's own Dance of the Octopus. Playing marimba instead of xylophone in this session, Norvo was accompanied by Benny Goodman in a rare performance playing a bass clarinet, Dick McDonough on guitar and Artie Bernstein on double bass. Kapp was outraged when he heard the recordings and tore up Norvo's contract and threw him out. Nevertheless, this modern record remained in print all through the 1930s. - The recording of In A Mist and Dance Of The Octopus was made on November 21, 1933 in New York

Discography info, Tom Lord, Vers. 9.0 (click to enlarge)

In A Mist, BR 8236
Both tunes have been uploaded at YouTube and are inserted below, first In A Mist


And here is the remarkable Dance of the Octopus


Both tunes are semi-classical pieces and early examples of chamber jazz. The music is further a guide to Norvo's later career which spanned both swing, be bop and cool jazz - the experience from these early recordings opened the opportunity of experiement and supported Norvo's talent for adapting his chosen instrument the changing vogue in jazz. - A modern performance of Dance of the Octopus is inserted below to remind us that even experimental music can be fun when taken serious

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Jo
keepitswinging.domain@gmail.com


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Monday, August 22, 2016

Toots Thielemans (1922 - 2016)

Toots Thielemans
Today the media have spread the sad news that the well known Belgian jazz musician Toots Thielemans passed away this morning at age 94. A career profile is available here , and the official website including bio and discography here.

The keep(it)swinging blogspot likes to commemorate Toots Thielemans through his world famous composition from 1962, Bluesette - Here the original recording from the album The Whistler & His Guitar featuring Arnold Fishkind (b), Sol Gubin or Don Lamond (d), Toots Thielemans (gtr & whistling), Dick Hyman (org)



Toots Thielemans was considered the world's foremost performer of the jazz harmonica, here he is in a concert performance in The Netherlands 2009 playing Bluesette on the mouth organ



Toots Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016) RIP 

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Jo
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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Charlie Christian Centennial

Charlie Christian
Last month the jazz world commemorated the Centennial of pioneer of the modern jazz guitar Charlie Christian (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942). Christian was an important early performer on the electric guitar and is considered a key figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz. Many critics believe that he alone is the link between swing and modern jazz.
Charlie Christian exposing his Gibson ES-150

Charlie Christian was born in Bonham, Texas, but grew up in Oklahoma City. His father was a blind guitarist and singer, his two elder brothers, Edward and Clarence, were musicians, and at the age of twelve Charlie was playing on a guitar that he had made from a cigar box. He was actually first trained on the trumpet which later was a huge contribution to his fluid single-note guitar style. Then, his father and brothers formed a quartet and Charlie got a real guitar. When he grew up, he became a much-admired local musician in Oklahoma, playing an amplified acoustic guitar as early as 1937.
Friends of Christian wishing good luck at his departure for Los Angeles, August 1939
Word of Charlie's skill as a guitar player reached record producer John Hammond, who arranged for Christian to travel to Los Angeles in August 1939 for an audition with Benny Goodman.
Charlie Christian and Benny Goodman
At first Goodman was negative and against engaging Christian but changed his mind after having challenged the young guitarist in a version of the jazz standard Rose Room that went on and on. Goodman was deeply impressed by Christian's playing, engaged him and soon featured him on weekly radio broadcasts and in recordings.
Benny Goodman sextet featuring Charlie Christian
Charlie was mainly featured with Benny Goodman's sextet and before the year was over he was a nationally prominent jazz soloist. Unfortunately his success was as brief as it was immediate. Charlie contracted tuberculosis in mid-1941 and died a few months later.
Charlie Christian playing his ES-150
Christian was among the first jazz guitarists to amplify his instrument in order to match the volume of wind instruments, and he was clearly the most brilliant soloist of his time on electric guitar. He was emulated by many swing-style players, and his posthumous impact on younger be bop guitarists was enormous. He was a regular participant in the Harlem jam sesseions at Minton's at which some of the bop pioneers gathered - in this setting Charlie further developed his playing style.
Charlie Christian playing his ES-250
Charlie Christian remains among the most creative soloists of the swing period, and his co-operate work with Goodman created compositions and memorable recordings that since have become standards in jazz. Below I'll insert some examples of Christian's recordings in order to commemorate his genius as a guitar player.
Charlie Christian was engaged by Goodman in August 1939 and the first studio recording in which he participated was made in New York October 2 for Columbia. Four sides were recorded featuring the BG sextet, two takes of Flying Home,  Rose Room and Stardust. Personnel are: Benny Goodman (cl), Lionel Hampton (vib), Fletcher Henderson (p), Charlie Christian (el g), Artie Bernstein (b) and Nick Fatool (dm). Already at this first recording date with BG Christian puts his personal imprint on the session displaying his mastery of both single string and chord solo technique as well as great improvisational skills.




One of the tunes that always will be associated with Charlie Christian and his collaboration with Benny Goodman and the sextet is Seven Come Eleven, first time studie recorded for Columbia November 29, 1939 by the same constellation as above.


Another great solo by Christian with the sextet is featured in Shivers, first time studio recorded for Columbia December 20, 1939, same personnel as previous sessions except Johnny Guarnieri (p) replaces Henderson


In the spring of 1940, Goodman reorganized his sextet, from now on a septet featuring Johnny Guarnieri  as regular pianist, but at some occasions replaced by Count Basie. Other new members were Georgie Auld (ts), Cootie Willims (tp) and Dave Tough (dm). One of the often heard and popular recordings by the septet featuring Charlie Christian is Air Mail Special


As mentioned above, towards the end of his all too short life Charlie Christian took part in jam sessions at Minton's, a Harlem club considered the birthplace of be bop and modern jazz. From these sessions recorded May 1941 by Jerry Newman, I'll insert a couple of examples to end this small presentation of Charlie Christian. Here is first a take of the swing standard Stompin' At The Savoy excelling Christian's marvellous improvisational skills


Honeysuckle Rose is a vehicle for more improvisational work by Christian, here re-named Up On Teddy's Hill


Charlie Christian's Centennial was celebrated in the Netherlands on June 3rd in a concert titled Remembering Charlie Christian in The Hague. Musicians featured were Adrian Ingram (guitar), Axel Hagen (guitar), Noah Nicoll (bass), Dick Verbeeck (drums). Compilation of the tunes played at the concert has been uploaded at YouTube in two parts, part 1, here, part 2, here
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Jo
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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Joe Venuti - Live Shots

Joe Venuti (1903 - 1978)
One of my all-time favorite jazz musicians is Joe Venuti, the father of jazz violin. Venuti's collaboration with Eddie Lang as a duo or together in various band combinations is thoroughly documented on records that remain indispensable examples of high quality jazz performance and should be available in the collection of any serious jazz connoisseur. Here is the Venuti-Lang duo in a precious sequence from the 1930 film King of Jazz performing Wild Cat


Following Eddie Lang's untimely death in March 1933, Venuti conducted a tour of Europe and the UK.  Upon returning to the US in 1935, he formed a big band and worked as its leader. Unfortunately, Venuti was less successful as a big band leader than as a soloist, and the band folded in 1943. After this period, Venuti transitioned from being in a position of relative prominence to one of ignominy. He moved to California in 1944 to become a studio musician with MGM, in addition to playing with other film and radio studios. He also appeared regularly on Bing Crosby's radio show during this time. Later, he returned to a small group format and continued to play and record in and around Los Angeles, while touring frequently. Throughout much of the 1950s Venuti made records and played at clubs. This was the beginning of about a 15-year lull in his career. In the early 1960s he was mostly inactive due to his development of alcoholism. The late 1960s, however, marked a revival in his career. During the 1970s, at the end of his life, Venuti toured extensively in Europe with a small ensemble. During this time he made his final recordings with names such as Earl Hines, George Barnes, Ross Tompkins, Dave McKenna, Marian McPartland, Scott Hamilton, Leon Redbone, and most notably Zoot Sims. Venuti continued to tour and play until his death in 1978 (excerpted info from Wikipedia, here)

Joe Venuti doin' things at the violin (photo by Roberto Polillo)
Below I'll insert some examples of Joe Venuti live performance from his late career that have been saved and uploaded at YouTube. Here are first two examples from a live concert in Copenhagen 1969. Venuti is accompanied by the Newport All Stars: George Wein (p) Barney Kessel (g) Larry Ridley (b) Don Lamond (d)



As mentioned above, during the 1970s Venuti toured extensively in Europe and from one of his frequent visits to Italy, here is a saved TV performance featuring Joe Venuti with Pino Calvi's Orchestra in a Gershwin medley


From a 1975 club date with Marian McPartland (p),  Major Holley (b) and Cliff Leeman (d) Joe Venuti performs China Boy


Venuti was also featured in a Dick Cavett show and here showcasted yet another example of his vitality and great musical chops late in life


In 1973, filmmaker Larry Stair made a short film titled Thank You, Joe Venuti which brings you into Joe Venuti's home, where you watch him fix himself a cup of instant coffee, sit down in his living room and then pick up his violin for some wonderful solo improvisations. He then drops in on the New Deal Rhythm Band for some swinging hot fiddle numbers. The film has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below in remembrance of a great artist - enjoy!

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Jo
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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

La Cucaracha

A contemporary corrido song sheet of
La Cucaracha
issued during the Mexican Revolution.
(source: wikipedia)
La Cucaracha, is one of Mexico's best-known folk songs, a corrido that became popular in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution (1910-20). The song consists of verse-and-refrain (strophe-antistrophe) pairs, with each half of each pair consisting of four lines featuring an ABCB rhyme sceme. The lyrics of the song have many different versions, a printed version from the time of the Mexican Revolution exists (here)
The refrain reads:
La cucaracha, la cucaracha 
Ya no puede caminar 
Porque no tiene, porque le falta 
Marijuana que fumar.

(The cockroach, the cockroach
Now he can't go traveling
Because he doesn't have, because he lacks
Marijuana to smoke.)

And the verse continues:
Ya la murio la cucaracha 
Ya la lleven a enterrar 
Entre cuatro zopilotes 
Y un raton de sacristan.

(The cockroach just died 
And they carried him off to bury him 
Among four buzzards 
And the sexton's mouse.)

The origins of the song are obscure, some versions refer to the Moorish wars in Spain, which concluded with the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. Probably the song itself doesn't go back that far, but in an 1818 book, according to one source, the Mexican writer Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi claimed the song was brought to Mexico from Spain by a captain of marines. Some lyrics of the song are commemorating 19th-century conflicts in both Spain and Mexico, but verse production didn't really increase until the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920. So many stanzas were added by partisans on all sides during this period that today, despite its Spanish origin, the song is associated mostly with Mexico. Some say the mentioning of marijuana was directed at the dictatorial Mexican president Victoriano Huerta (ruled 1913-1914), ridiculed by his many enemies as a drunk and dope fiend who lived only for his daily weed. Other claim that la cucaracha refers solely to Pancho Villa, a famous bandido/revolutionary general. Whatever the origins and meaning of the song, La Cucaracha is the Spanish equivalent of Yankee Doodle — a traditional satirical tune periodically fitted out with new lyrics to meet the needs of the moment. (excerpted from this source)

The song's verses fit a traditional melody separate from that of the refrain but sharing the refrain's meter (either 5/4 or 6/4). The melody and the refrain are instantly ear catching and the song has been performed successfully in various settings. Here's a traditional Mexican performance of La Cucaracha by a mariachi trio


Original film poster (1934)
In 1934, an American short musical film titled La Cucaracha directed by Lloyd Corrigan was released to show the new full-color Technicolor Process No. 4 ("three-strip" Technicolor) at its best. Process No. 4 had been used since 1932, mainly in Walt Disney cartoons. A synopsis of the screen play is available at the AllMovie web, here  and you have the opportunity to watch the film in HD at YouTube, here. The song is a major part of the intrigue. - In 1935, a MGM movie, La Fiesta de Santa Barbera, has Judy Garland and her sisters performing the song, the sequence has been uploaded at YouTube and is available here.

Maybe the exposing of the song on screen helped La Cucaracha to gain popularity with an American public. Fact is that many American popular bands and performers included the song in their repertoire from about the same time as the mentioned films were released. One of the first performers to include La Cucaracha and record the tune with lyrics in English (- different from the Mexican versions) was Louis Armstrong, who recorded the song for Decca in October 1935 (De 580)


Other popular performers also included La Cucaracha in the repertoire, among them was Benny Goodman, who performed the song with his orchestra in a "Camel Caravan" broadcast August 31, 1937. Also Glenn Miller and his orchestra performed the song in two CBS "Chesterfield Show" broadcasts, January 22 and March 25, 1941. Woody Herman and his orchestra recorded a mambo version of the tune for Capitol in 1954 (CAP EAP2-560), and on January 23, 1952 Charlie Parker and his quintet  used La Cucaracha as a vehicle for a stunning bop improvisation, recorded by Mercury (Mercury/Clef 11093)


In Europe, La Cucaracha also became popular during the 1930s. An early example is the recording by Lud Gluskin and his Continental Orchestra for French Columbia (Co 2952-D) (1934)


There was also made recordings of the song by accordionists in France with lyrics in French, an example of a musette inspired version was recorded by accordionist Adolphe Deprince mid-30s, available at YouTube, here - However, my favorite version of La Cucaracha recorded in France is by Mexican female vocalist and actress Lina D'Acosta featuring Oscar Alemán for the Pathé label, Paris March 5, 1935.
La Cucaracha_ Pathé (PA 531)
I have not found much info on Lina D'Acosta. She was apparently in Europe promoting Agustín Lara`s songs in France and starring of the films: Maria de la nuit (Willy Rozier - France 1936) and Il grande appello (Mario Camerini - Italy 1936).
Lina D'Acosta
She recorded six sides for Pathé 1935-36 as a singer and is accompanied by Oscar Alemán (g) and César Ríos (p). My favorite of her recordings is as mentioned La Cucaracha featuring great accompaniement and solo by Alemán, one of his best non-jazz recordings from the Paris stay, I think.


Cockroach cartoon
La Cucaracha has had several interpretations in contemporary music, nursery rhymes have been added, cartoons have been released and even Lady Gaga performed a version of the tune. To end this small presentation of the song, I'll insert another notable performance of the tune. Have fun!

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Jo
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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chu Berry Jam - 1937-1941

Tenor sax giant Chu Berry
Giant of the tenor sax Leon Brown "Chu" Berry (1908-1941) made a considerable number of records both as a side man in various ensembles and as a member of Fletcher Henderson's and Cab Calloway's orchestras from the mid-1930s up till his untimely death in a car crash October 1941. Some years ago the Mosaic label released a box set devoted to the Columbia and Victor sessions featuring Chu Berry in various settings worth looking for.
Classic Chu Berry - Columbia and Victor Sessions (Mosaic, MD7-236)
Only four times Chu Berry recorded under his own name, two sessions for Variety March 23 and September 10, 1937 as Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores, and two sessions for Milt Gabler's Commodore label  November 11, 1938 as Chu Berry And His "Little Jazz" Ensemble, and August 28, 1941 as Chu Berry And His Jazz Ensemble. In all, 16 sides from these sessions were released and later re-issued in the Chronogical Classics series shown below.
Chu Berry 1937-1941 (Chronogical Classics, CD 784)
The first session by Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores from March 23, 1937 yielded four issued sides. The ensemble comprised Hot Lips Page (tp, vo), George Matthews (tb), Buster Bailey (cl), Chu Berry (ts), Horace Henderson (p), Lawrence Lucie (g), Israel Crosby (b), Cozy Cole (dm). The recorded titles were Now You're Talking My Language, Indiana, Too Marvellous For Words and Limehouse Blues. My favorites from this session are the instrumental versions of Indiana and Limehouse Blues, inserted below from uploaded YouTube audio-videos.



In his Solography on Chu Berry, Jan Evensmo had this comment on the March 23, 1937 session: "Although some music is good, the general result is not what one should expect from this group. The main reason may be that the rhythm section is too heavy. On neither side a satisfying easy rhythmic balance is achieved. As the band title indicates, this is simply "stompy" swing music without ambitions." The comment may be correct to some tastes of small group swing, however, in my opinion the two inserted examples of the music from the session are red hot and swing like mad, great stuff, indeed!
Columbia 37571 - Chuberry Jam
The second session for Variety was scheduled on September 10, 1937 and again yielded four issued sides. This time the ensemble comprised bandmembers of Cab Calloway's orchestra: Irving Randolph (tp), Keg Johnson (tb), Chu Berry (ts), Bennie Payne (p, vo), Danny Barker (g), Milt Hinton (b), LeRoy Maxey (dm). The recorded tunes were Chuberry Jam, Maelstrom, My Secret Love Affair and Ebb Tide. Again Jan Evensmo is not too enthusiastic with this session, he writes in his Solography: "Chu's second session under his own leadership, with musicians from Cab Calloway's band, is, like the first, not wholly successful. The rhythm section, which does such an excellent job with the full orchestra, is in this context much too heavy and without swing. There are no ambitions behind this music, though the idea is probably to make simple and solid music, and, as such, it is in many ways both efficient and enjoyable. I would also presume it had a wide public appeal." Indeed, the music appeals to my taste of great swing music, and I agree with Evensmo in his choice of best recordings of the session being Chuberry Jam and Ebb Tide, inserted below.



On November 11, 1938 Chu Berry And His "Little Jazz" Ensemble recorded four issued sides for the Commodore label. The ensemble comprised Roy Eldridge (tp), Chu Berry (ts), Clyde Hart (p), Danny Barker (g), Al Shapiro (b), Sid Catlett (dm). Two up-tempo tunes,Sittin' In and 46 West 52 (- actually a rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown) are high quality swing, while the ballad versions of Stardust and Body And Soul leap to a sentimental level, here I fully agree with Evensmo's opinon. The two first mentioned are inserted below.



Commodore 541-A - Blowing Up A Breeze
The second session for Commodore was recorded on August 28, 1941 and yielded four issued sides. This time Chu Berry And His Jazz Ensemble comprised Hot Lips Page (tp, vo), Chu Berry (ts), Clyde Hart (p), Al Casey (g), Al Morgan (b), Harry Jaeger (dm). From this session are inserted the issued takes of Blowing Up A Breeze and Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You, great examples of both up-tempo swing and a ballad with a blues feeling.



The two remaining titles from this session are On The Sunny Side Of The Street and  Monday At Minton's, both played at a medium/slow tempo and with many fine details in the solos.

All sides presented in this small review are re-issued at the above shown Chronogical Classics CD. Jan Evensmo's Chu Berry Solography is free accessible as a pdf. download, here  
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Jo
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Monday, June 27, 2016

Milt Herth Trio & Quartet 1937-38

Milt Herth (1902-1969)
Milton "Milt" Herth (1902-1969) is considered a pioneer of the electric Hammond organ, he was in fact one of the first to play and record this novelty instrument shortly after it was introduced to the public in 1935. Herth's professional career started in 1935 when he was hired to play the Hammond organ at a radio station. In 1936, he signed a recording contract with Decca and made several records as a soloist that year showcasting the Hammond organ as a suitable instrument for performance of swing jazz.

Milt Herth - Stompin' At The Savoy (1936)
From the first issued Decca session recorded June 11, 1936, Milt Herth performed his solo version of Stompin' At The Savoy, also released at the Brunswick disc shown above


This version of Stompin' At The Savoy is famous for being the first ever recording of the electric Hammond organ issued on a 78 rpm disc.

Willie 'The Lion' Smith
In 1937, Herth began to work with jazz pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith in Chicago, when Smith also signed to Decca Records. Herth, Smith, and drummer O'Neil Spencer formed the Milt Herth Trio. The trio became a quartet with the addition of Teddy Bunn on guitar in April 1938.
O'Neil Spencer
From November 1937 to November 1938, Milt Herth recorded 26 sides for Decca featuring his Trio or Quartet. The first session with the trio was recorded November 11, 1937, two sides were cut and the first tune was Larry Clinton's The Dipsy Doodle with vocal by O'neil Spencer


January 7, 1938 Milt Herth Trio recorded the next session for Decca. Two sides were cut, an instrumental titled The Big Dipper and a version of Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen with vocal by O'Neil Spencer


September 13, 1938 the Milt Herth Trio recorded a great version of Duke Ellington's famous 1930 tune, Rockin' In Rhythm. In this session Frank Froeba replaces Willie 'The Lion' Smith on piano


Teddy Bunn
In April 1938, guitarist Teddy Bunn was added to the trio and he is featured in sessions with the Milt Herth Quartet from April 28 to November 30 that year contributing his unmistakeable and delicate guitar playing in tunes such as The Flat Foot Floogie, Shoot The Likker To Me, John Boy, Egyptian Ella, The Spider And The Fly and Jump Jump's Here 


The above inserted few examples of recordings featuring the Milt Herth Trio and Quartet from 1937-8 are reissued on CD together with the remaining sessions from this period in the Cronogical Classics series devoted to Willie 'The Lion' Smith 1937-38, (CD 677)
Cronogial Classics, CD 677 - Willie 'The Lion' Smith (1937-1938)
Besides his recording career, Milt Herth also took part in several short films, a.o. Love and Onions (1935), Swing Styles (1939), and Jingle Belles, (1941) as well as the longer 1942 film, Juke Box Jenny, a movie noted for being a series of musical performances. - To end this small presentation of some of Milt Herth's best recordings from the late 1930s, I'll insert the YouTube version of the short film Jingle Belles. Go to 4:00 and enjoy a sequence featuring  Milt Herth in performance at the Hammond organ


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Jo
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