Swing to Dance to
It’s no put-down to say that this cut-price CD can’t ever be supposed one of the musically major issues by the outstanding Delmark label. Buyers when this stuff was new would know Jimmy Lunceford’s recording of “For Dancers Only” (which isn’t staid as the name suggests). Adapting that, “For Jumpers Only” implies irreverence and something wilder and livelier. Hence its use to title a track by a big band under the later Ellington later high note trumpeter Cat Anderson—and (more appropriately) this CD.
The year was 1947, and over the next few years (when pretty well all this music was recorded) the question “Will Big Bands Ever Come Back?” cropped up and took on some meaning. Marketing and microphones, fad and fashion’s move towards more noise and narrower intensity sent a lot of larger ensembles to the wall. In 1951, even Count Basie had to disband. He thereafter for some time performed his music with a small group. This CD leaves no doubt that other small groups, three or four horns plus rhythm, had been doing that for a few years before.
How many of these groups existed outside the studio? The performers include even Charles Mingus and the great lyrical bop pianist Duke Jordan (whose life has alternated between bouts of recognition/high achievement on record, and piano lessons between shifts driving a New York cab). The musical highlights come from undeservedly neglected musicians active earlier in the 1940s and before. The dozen tracks sample a swatch of CDs issued by Delmark from the archives of small recording companies mid-1940s-mid-‘50s, various in musical interest and full of historical fascinations.
This music for Jumpers at times reaches the verge of R&B without decisively crossing it. There are a couple of crass “happy birthday to you” sorts of quotes in tenor solos, standard in some sub-genres where musicians have nothing to play or say. Even those more than competent on their instruments regurgitated such noises, some because it was expected, some of them with a little contempt. Overall this is a version of stuff danced to by people who don’t listen but hear only emotional and rhythmic cues. It’s not musically null, because of musicians who could have done and elsewhere did better things, and their freedom from regimentation.
Dave Page, on an item by an Arnett Cobb band, was on recordings similarly lowbrow (lighter-headed fun) in the early 1930s. Cat Anderson went on to Ellington. The roots of his virtuoso style in Louis Armstrong are made clear here. Then he zooms to the stratosphere where he spent so much time in later life—as does the lesser-known too little featured Ellingtonian, Fats Ford, on a title led by Willis Jackson (who later got to take his tenor to Blue Note). Another subsequent Ellingtonian, Booty Wood, also with Willis.
There are lots of little highlights, but it’s mildly depressing to hear the startlingly high quality of Paul Bascomb’s tone and tenor-soloing on a silly song about a Pink Cadillac (he sings, as Delmark doesn’t here say). A lost master. The great altoist Tab Smith’s title is one of a few here perfectly satisfactory in jazz terms, while the Pharaoh Sanders noises of Illinois Jacquet’s solo on his 1945 title do in musical terms let the performance down (that noisy practice has let people forget how sumptuous his huge ballad sound is). In fact Jacquet had his altoist, John Brown (late colleague of Charlie Parker’s in Jay McShann’s band), open the number with a quote from one of the best early Basie recordings. Other scraps on other titles include a tenor roarer’s riffs or witticisms pillaged from a classic Charlie Parker bebop theme. Parody? Theft?
Bill Doggett, once well-known as an organist, has some chance to hint at what a stunning pianist he once was. Elsewhere, Plas Johnson is the only identified member of the band behind singer Erline Johnson, some years before he played the Pink Panther theme for Henry Mancini. Sir Charles Thompson does have a very good band with nice spots by unknown soloists (H.B. Mitchell on trombone?). There’s a whole CD by this interesting crew. Cab Calloway’s effort to update to 1950 on “Shotgun Boogie” has brought to my notice the Delmark CD Big Band Jazz: Tulsa to Harlem it’s taken from. Little labels did document some deservedly legendary music (not this particular Calloway item, pray note). Delmark have done well, unearthing, acquiring and publishing scattered recordings by independents whose principles were very different.
Musically, the most interesting thing about this appropriately cut-price set of a dozen titles is that this stuff swings throughout. It’s the jazz people still danced to. The mark of class is in Delmark’s advertisement of the CD, “This one is designed for Swing Dancers”. Exactly! Not all of these twelve titles are only for jumpers—or those who have an understandable desire to dance to such unmechanical swing—who might well acquire it. It’s mostly for them, though. A sort of party record. Judged as a sampler not I think of the musical best on every CD drawn from, but I don’t imagine it was intended to be.