“They All Asked for You” opens this set, a nice theme for laid-back lilting New Orleans jazz music in the old style, with comic vocal. This sort of music began to be recorded in the 1940s and has, alas, not been the most obvious presence on more recent supposedly revivalist recordings. The fact that it could be performed again and recorded is encouraging, and hopefully its hometown will hear more like this for years. This is the sort of thing I despaired of when reviewing Shake That Thing (Preservation Hall Recordings), which featured a few of the same musicians nearly three years back.
From Jazz Crusade’s Louis Armstrong compilation CD, there’s the jam session “Tiger Rag” with Bud Freeman, tenor, Jack Teagarden, trombone, Fats Waller sounding like his mentor James P. Johnson on piano, and after a drum solo, Armstrong doing the stratospheric thing he’d been doing to rescue big band recordings through the 1930s.
“Ice Cream” comes in (Kenneth Terry and Tuba Fats’ Chosen Few) with an almost brass band sound—raucous vocal, saxophone solo—followed by an equally stomping “Mighty Lak a Rose” recorded live by a band the notes wrongly say included several New Orleanians: but most members of Wilbur de Paris’s New New Orleans Jazz Band of fifty years ago were around in the 1920s and knew what to do. This unofficial recording suggests the album it’s from might be better than most of the group’s studio dates, though this specific item features Wilbur Kirk’s virtuoso banjo rather than the major soloists Sidney de Paris and Omer Simeon. When, on an earlier track, I heard Paul Boehmke’s clarinet solo on “After You’ve Gone”, I was clear he’d been listening to a famous Johnny Dodds recording of number: what gives this set its special strength overall is an attention like that to older models, rather than the nonsensical notion that older New Orleans Music was the sort of stock “Dixieland” tourist sub-music people have been fobbed off with as tourists.
“Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” stands up beautifully, immediately after. Following the gentle start, Milton Batiste solos, supports the tenor soloist, and then takes his trumpet off and solos on mouthpiece, the trombonist then emulating Kid Ory, big and coarsely simple. Sammy Rimington, English scholar of New Orleans music, plays a lovely solo in the style George Lewis forged out of his limitations and more gifted players have gone on to emulate.
Louis Nelson’s trombone is somewhat staccato on a clarinetless recording from the archives where Emanuel Paul solos on tenor and the leader Kid Thomas Valentine’s trumpet has the last word. “St. Louis Blues” by the late Tuba Fats Lacen’s marching band has something of the upbeat post-boogaloo enrichment that the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which he helped found, and other youngster ensembles brought happily to the fore some years ago.
There’s a little blather about why it was New Orleans that produced this music, paying no heed to the musical facts of French and Italian as well as African-American influences on the music of a city in which there were a lot of military band instruments, generally attributed not to the defeat of the Confederate Army in 1865 (seems rather early, and odd, pace the notes), but disembarkation of bands which played in the Spanish-American war.
“Short Dress Gal” was recorded by Sam Morgan’s dancing band in the 1920s, but the shuffle beat here is more like Louis Prima—though after his vocal the leader Big Bill Bissonette takes a trombone solo pretty close to that on Morgan’s ancient record. BBB plays trombone lead on an “I’m With You Where You Are” by a group headed by him and Jacques Gauthe, whose soprano sax is played in a fetchingly droopy style. There’s plenty of multi-voiced ensemble playing throughout the set, and variations on the relaxed rhythm include an almost gospel piano-driven stomp cum Louis Prima shuffle by Batiste with “King Adam Oliver’s La Vida band”, who all have Dutch names. But surely the sometime Kid Ory sideman George Probert plays soprano saxophone rather than clarinet on a “Dippermouth Blues” with BBB, and a cornetist aptly surnamed Vigorito, and an uncredited tenor saxophonist? And it’s tenor rather than an alto on the “Saints” before the second CD brings on the somewhat controversial Dr. Michael White in the first of a set of mostly sanctified repertoire.
White might be “the amateur clarinetist Wynton Marsalis uses”, but I don’t need to comment on that one in saying he commonly plays well here—and in tune, and not in notably primitivist style—with the solid trumpeter and competent occasional singer Gregg Stafford. Kid Sheik Cola, another from the archives, with unnamed trombonist and Cornbread Thomas pitching individually on clarinet, phrases his singing as if he was playing a part on trumpet.
Though “Old Rugged Cross” was a George Lewis vehicle, on his performance sampled here Dr. White commendably makes no effort to sound like Lewis, but stays in broad/toned middle register, conventionally in tune and quite at odds with what his detractors claim. Brian Carrick does a more Lewis thing on “Lord, Lord, Lord”, where the altoist Darryl Hall sings before Vigorito leads a drivingly righteous ensemble. On a waltz-time “Amazing Grace”, trombone takes the melody for a few choruses, then tenor. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” has a plaintive start from Stafford and White before the trumpeter sings with lively rhythm support. “Nearer My God to Thee” has two clarinets (Lewis style, both) with rhythm, not exactly hi-fi.
On “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” the duo is Carrick’s clarinet (a la Lewis) and Freddy Lonzo’s trombone. Both take fetching solos; as does the pianist. There’s more touching sanctified Stafford-White, who return after Tuba Fats’ Chosen Few have delivered a poignant and initially tenor-saxophone-led “Lead Me, Saviour”, on which the late lamented leader also delivers a solo before the band comes in rousingly.
Now Dr. White delivers some filigree stuff before harmonising with the muted Stafford in the King Oliver “Riverside Blues”, and following a piano solo and nice muted trumpet—with a riff from Louis Armstrong and some interplay. Unlike anything else here is Cousin Joe’s “I’ve Got News for You”, the author of such great lines as “wouldn’t give a blind sow an acorn, . . . a crippled crab a crutch”, singing at a live gig to his own cheerful non-virtuoso piano in E flat. I know it’s E-flat, as that was the only key he played in.
Things are rounded off with, first, Paul Boehmke playing soprano on a “Black Cat Moan” with BBB’s trombone and Bob Shallue taking a piano solo. The tune sounds 1920s-ish and has some unusual bowed bass soloing from Jim Tutunjian. BBB and Rimington (Lewising again) set up a gentle trot on “St. Phillips Street Breakdown” before Boehmke on tenor and notably Stafford on trumpet join them (with a change in rhythm section) for an “Aunt Hager’s (sic) Children Blues” that used to be Aunt Hagar’s. Bill Sinclair, Emil Mark, and John Russell, piano and bass and drums respectively, support them as well as the various other players on other titles. A good wake-up, this one at the end.
I should add that the large page on this set located on Jazz Crusade’s website gives admirably full personnels (as the 2 CD set’s paperwork does). You’d expect praise of these sets on the website of the company which produced them, but life would be sweeter if more and larger concerns emulated Jazz Crusade’s attention to detail and being informative. Bill Bissonnette is to be congratulated, and this is a commendable set that will, I hope, point some people in interesting directions.
// Notes from the Road
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