Vet Boswell, Joe Tarto and Aura Lee: a family recording.
By Cynthia Lucas
When she heard her first Boswell Sisters recording in 1977, professional vocalist and close harmony singer Aura Lee Reoch (now Emsweller) had a classic reaction: “I was dumbstruck and bedazzled, incredulous that I had never even heard of this group.”
Aura had history with the music of the 20s and 30s as a member of the Houston/LA based group “Sporting Life,” so what seemed to be an incomprehensible gap in her music education became a compelling issue for her.
“I had to find out more about them and, if possible, track down an actual Boswell Sister to talk to.”
In the liner notes of a Boswell Sisters’ album, Aura read that Vet was the only surviving sister and that she lived 50 miles north of Manhattan. Taking a string and a map of New York, she measured off a path to Peekskill. Further research with bandmate Ronnie Levine turned up Vet’s marriage to John Paul Jones, and his number was listed in the Peekskill phone book. “When I called it was a gracious and vivacious Vet who answered.”
This was the beginning of a long distance friendship with Vet that was peppered with many visits to her home in Peekskill. In fact, Aura first met Vet in December 1977, just one month after renown Boswell Sisters’ researcher David McCain had made his first Peekskill pilgrimage. Vet encouraged Aura’s exploration of the music and shared both suggested avenues of research and personal memories.
“Vet was on fire to make sure that The Boswell Sisters music and story be preserved and remembered and that whoever was involved would “GET IT RIGHT,” Aura emphasized. That may have been part of the reason that Aura began taping many of her conversations with Vet.
One of the things Aura noted was, “The magic of the Boswell Sound includes not only the unique alchemy within the trio itself, but their remarkable ability to inspire, collaborate and improvise with the world class players that took to the stage and the studio with them.” She attributes this to the strength of their musicianship, the warmth of trio’s personalities and the fact that they were truly a part of the New Orleans jazz tradition.
Already a jazz sleuth, Aura was able to track down one of the Boswell Sisters’ earliest Brunswick collaborators, Joe Tarto. Joe was a string bassist and tuba player who was part of the cadre of musicians who collaborated on the Boswells’ first New York recording.
You hear his string bass on When I take My Sugar to Tea, Roll On, Mississippi, Shout, Sister, Shout, It’s the Girl, Heebie Jeebies, and many of Connie’s early solos cuts. Joe became part of the Boswell’s favorite group of recording musicians.
”Vet told me that that of all the boys they recorded with, they felt closest to Joe,” Aura recalled. Aura arranged to have Joe and Vet speak on a telephone call, with her trusty cassette recorder close at hand.
“Vet was on one phone, I was on an extension and they had a wonderful time reminiscing about the old days,” Aura continued. “Although the two had not seen each other or talked to each other in decades, there was easy laughter and a remarkable warmth between them. I tried to get Vet to New Jersey for a reunion of the two, but sadly it didn’t work out.”
But, joyously, the conversation remains preserved, as does the answer to eleven questions that Aura had sent to Joe Tarto. Bozzies is honored to share this recording and the answers to those questions to shed further light on the family that existed between the sisters, their fellow musicians, and the family of friends who have worked so hard to be sure that “they get it right.”
Vet would be proud of you, Aura.