Sunday, 4 November 2012

13. Fats Waller: On-Air Sessions 1938

Fats Waller was one of the most famous and prolific jazz pianists. He wrote hundreds of songs and was at the forefront of establishing the stride piano style that embodied 20's Harlem jazz. He wrote and had a number of hits including Ain't Misbehavin' , The Joint Is Jumpin' and Honeysuckle Rose. Any of these tracks can be found on the numerous "greatest hits" collections out there. They are essential listening but I wanted to try a different tack when choosing a Fats Waller album for the Kind Of Jazz Library.

Waller's musicianship is unquestioned yet he managed to combine it with some serious showmanship. This album has both in spades. The recordings are from three complete radio sessions that he did in 1938. The first seven tracks are from a NBC recording made in July 12th. Tracks 15-26 are from a sound check at the Yacht Club in October 1938. Both sessions include musicians from his Rhythm band and the swing does not let up. In between the two sessions is a recording made in London at St George's Hall. This was originally a transatlantic broadcast and the album includes the quaint radio announcements as well. On these tracks he accompanies the vocalist Adelaide Hall on the piano and the pipe organ. The sound on these tracks isn't great but the crackle just adds to the atmosphere of hearing records made in the 30's that were transmitted across the Atlantic Ocean.

  1. Ain't Misbehavin'
  2. The Joint Is Jumpin
  3. Inside (This Heart Of Mine)
  4. I Had To Do It
  5. E Flat Blues
  6. Honeysuckle Rose
  7. Hold My Hand
  8. Ain't Misbehavin' Intro
  9. Marie
  10. I Can't Give You Anything But Love
  11. Handfull Of Keys
  12. That Old Feeling
  13. Flat Foot Floogie
  14. Ain't Misbehavin' Theme
  15. Yacht Club Swing
  16. You Can't Be Mine And Somebody Else's Too'
  17. Monday Mornin'
  18. What Do You Know About Love?
  19. I Had To Do It
  20. African Ripples
  21. I Got Rhythm
  22. Old Folks
  23. Some Of These Days
  24. Stop Beatin' Around The Mulberry Bush
  25. Summer Souvenirs
  26. Yacht Club Swing Theme
  27. Dream Man
  28. I Used To Love You (But It's All Over Now)
  29. Come Down To Earth My Angel
  30. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
1-7:  NBC Broadcast - July 12, 1938, NYC
8-14: Broadcast To America - September 10, 1938, London
15-26:  Yacht Club Broadcast - October 18, 1938, Yacht Club, NYC
27-30: Bonus Tracks

Friday, 14 September 2012

12. Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra: 1930 - 1932

To borrow a football (soccer) expression, this is an album of two halves. The first half of these recordings were made between 1930 and 1931. The final ten tracks were recorded at a single session on December 13th 1932. Both sets are excellent and are a great representation of where jazz music was heading for the rest of the decade. However the inclusion by Moten of bassist Walter Page on the December session really elevates these songs into jazz history. It didn't hurt that he also employed a young Ben Webster to blow some tenor sax as well.

Bennie Moten's recording career from 1923 to 1932 is a perfect microcosm of the jazz world from those eras. His first recordings in 1923 were influenced by ragtime. Three years later his recordings would echo the more sophisticated sounds made popular by the incredibly famous Fletcher Henderson. Yet it was while touring incessantly with Kansas City Orchestra around the "territories" in the late 20's that Moten developed a more unique sound. The riffing style that he popularised was to become the hallmark of swing jazz in the mid 30's.

Another incredibly popular territory band of the time was The Blue Devils, led by bassist Walter Page. Many of the musicians that played with The Blue Devils were to become very famous in late years, including Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie Durham, Oran "Hot Lips" Page and Count Basie himself. Rather than do battle with this band, Moten decided to simply offer them better contracts and so over time many of them came over to the Kansas City Orchestra. Page himself joined in 1931 after he could no longer keep the band intact. Page's bass style was nothing short of revolutionary and as such completely changed the sound of Moten's band and sowed the seeds of the sound that would become synonymous with The Count Basie Orchestra a few years later.

The December session would include artists who would go on to make up the Count Basie Orchestra in 1936. Walter Page's impact was immediate and his walking bass style jumps out of the album from "Toby" onwards. Freeing up Basie's left hand meant that his trademark light piano style would mark a decisive shift away from the busy stride piano style popular in the 20's. "Moten Swing" was Bennie Moten's most famous track. It's riff style was to become emblematic of the big band sound of the 1930's and well beyond. The Rat Pack and the Las Vegas scene of the early 60's would have sounded very different without the influence of this track. The brass section simply jumps off the record. Hot Lips Page's solo was notable for being remarkably un-Armstrong in its approach. His solo in the wonderful "Lafayette" was also nothing short of superb.

This is an great album that demonstrates a music in flux and is a great showcase for early Basie.

1     The Count
2     Liza Lee
3     Get Goin' (Get Ready To Love)
4     Professor Hot Stuff
5     When I'm Alone
6     New Moten Stomp
7     As Long As I Love You (Jeannette)
8     Somebody Stole My Gal
9     Now That I Need You
10   Bouncin' Round
11   Ya Got Love
12   I Wanna Be Around My Baby All The Time
13   Toby
14   Moten Swing
15   The Blue Room
16   Imagination
17   New Orleans
18   The Only Girl I Ever Loved
19   Milenberg Joys
20   Lafayette
21   Prince Of Wails
22   Two Times

Sunday, 24 June 2012

11. Jimmie Noone: Apex Blues (Decca Jazz)

By the early 1920s, all cities had speakeasies where the sound of trained and untrained musicians merged in a cacophony of alcohol. Just like electrical guitar today, it's easy to play a "little" clarinet. Squeak too much, and you were not long for the gig. There was incentive to get good. And good some cats got . . . very good. Michael Pellecchia (

In the mid 1920's Chicago jazz scene, the clarinet was king. This is sometimes a little hard to grasp for the modern jazz listener. The instruments that spring to mind when the conversation turns to jazz are the saxophone, the trumpet or even the guitar. Yet it was the clarinet that jumped out of the polyphonic jazz sound that was born in New Orleans. From the earliest recordings of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917 through to the pinnacle of Swing's popularity, the clarinet was a pivotal instrument. The last entry of the CJL saw us look at the bluesy tones of the legendary Johnny Dodds. Also, one of my earlier entries looked at the first recordings of Sidney Bechet who switched effortlessly between the blackstick and the unmistakable sound of the soprano sax.

However, one glaring omission from my main blog when looking at jazz figures from the 20's was that of Jimmie Noone. History hasn't been as kind to Noone as to say Bechet or Dodds in terms of name recognition. Yet he was one of the most popular clarinet players of the Jazz Age (it is even said that he was a favourite of Al Capone). His tone was undoubtedly more "sweet" than those of Bechet or Dodds yet some would argue that his technique was superior - a more sophisticated, classical sound of which he probably obtained from his learning of the instrument from Lorenzo Tio, Jr in New Orleans (although he previously had more informal lessons from a 13 year old Bechet)

Noone was born in Cut Off Louisiana, about 50 miles from New Orleans. Prior to 1917 he had played with some noteable musicians including Buddy Petit and Freddie Keppard. After arriving in Chicago he played with Joe "King" Oliver at the Royal Gardens and made his first recordings a few years later. He began playing to rougher crowds in the after hours speakeasy scene and by the mid 20's was fronting his own band,  The Apex Club Orchestra. Musically he experimented with an unusual line-up. Not content with the New Orleans style cornet, clarinet, trombone front line, he used only himself and an alto saxophone with a back line of guitar, drums and piano. Earl Hines was the pianist for a short time and together they made some wonderful recordings that are included on this album.

"I Know That You Know" is an excellent example of Noone's technique and styling. "Sweet Sue" is a song that critics of Noone would say demonstrates his overly romantic side. Yet for me this just demonstrates another dimension to his playing. "Four Or Five Times" is a great track. Played majestically it displays a knowing wink to the days of Storyville, red lights and The Funky Butt Hall. Other gems represented are the 1928 recordings of "Apex Blues", "A Monday Date" and the excellent "Sweet Lorraine". The album progresses with some of his later work from 1930 including "El Rado Scuffle", "Deep Trouble" and the rollicking "San".

Track Listing
1. I Know That You Know
2. Sweet Sue, Just You
3. Four or Five Times
4. Every Evening (I Miss You)
5. Ready for the River
6. Forever More
7. Apex Blues
8. My Monday Date
9. Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me
10. Oh, Sister! Ain't That Hot!
11. King Joe
12. Sweet Lorraine
13. It's Tight Like That
14. Chicago Rhythm
15. My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)
16. Off-Time
17. Rado Scuffle, El
18. Deep Trouble
19. So Sweet
20. San

Monday, 21 May 2012

10. Johnny Dodds: 1926 (The Chronological Classics Series)

One of the great things about taking the time to build this jazz library is that I get to go back and look at some musicians that I may have inadvertently missed when composing the chronology of the main blog. One such figure is clarinetist, Johnny Dodds.

Dodds was one of the most important clarinet players in the Chicago scene in the 1920's. Born in 1892 in  New Orleans, he grew up in the time and place when jazz music was born. He was spotted practicing his clarinet and was asked to join Kid Ory's band in 1912 and thus began his career. Gigs in Storyville and the riverboats led to work further afield, eventually leading him to Chicago where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He joined the most popular band in the city, led by Joe "King" Oliver. Soon after in June 1922, history was made when Louis Armstrong was asked to join the band. Both men made their recording debuts with Oliver on the Gennett label which included the seminal track, "Dippermouth Blues". Soon after leaving the band Dodds and his brother, drummer Warren "Baby" Dodds formed their own band and became the house band in Kelly's Stables for the remainder of the decade (in between creating jazz history by providing the clarinet on Armstrong's Hot Five & Seven recordings!)

One great story that came out from this time was of Johnny Dodds' encounter with none other than Al Capone. Whilst playing a solo gig in a club, Al Capone asked Johnny to play a song. After telling Capone that he did not know the tune, Capone tore up a $100 bill, gave half to Johnny and told him he had better learn the tune by the next night. Dodds assuredly did so and earned the other half of the money.

This album represents Johnny Dodds at possibly the height of his career in 1926. His music was very much steeped in the ensemble style that was coming out of New Orleans in the early part of the century. Yet as the music moved towards more solo expressiveness Dodds was able to shine with a bluesy and intense expressiveness that was able to keep up with the innovations that the likes of Bechet and Armstrong were creating.

The album opens with a couple of tunes from Jimmy Blythe's Washboard Band, "Bohunkus Blues" and "Buddy Burton's Jazz". Dodds playing is not exactly earth shattering and the tracks are probably better known for demonstrating the prowess of Blythe, one of the very first exponents of boogie woogie piano. The album really comes into its own on the next eight tracks from The New Orleans Wanderers and The New Orleans Bootblacks. These bands were essentially the Hot Five minus Armstrong, who was unable to record  with them due to contract restraints. With George Mitchell on cornet the quality of the band is clear to see, especially in tracks like "Perdido Street Blues"

Included in the album are two jazz gems as recorded by the legendary Freddie Keppard on cornet. I briefly touched on Keppard in the blog as he was one of the original jazz pioneers and the man who took the mantle from Buddy Bolden. Keppard is also well known for the jazz recordings he didn't make in 1916 which would have assured his place in history as the first jazz player to make a record. However he is represented here in "Salty Dog" and "Stock Yard Strut". The latter demonstrates Keppard's swinging technique and gives a glimpse of how one of the true original jazz greats may have sounded in his heyday. These recordings are the only ones we have of Keppard.

Johnny Dodds was a true jazz original. He will probably always be remembered as the clarinetist on Louis Armstrong's breakthrough records of the 1920's but this album also serves as a reminder of his talent when he was front and centre.

1. Bohunkus Blues (2:55)
2. Buddy Burton's Jazz (2:38)
3. Perdido Street Blues (3:10)
4. Gatemouth (3:07)
5. Too Tight (2:57)
6. Papa Dip (2:54)
7. Mixed Salad (3:11)
8. I Can't Say (3:10)
9. Flat Foot (3:25)
10. Mad Dog (2:49)
11. Messin' Around (2:57)
12. Adam's Apple (2:56)
13. East Coast Trot (2:58)
14. Chicago Buzz (2:46)
15. Idle Hour Special (2:56)
16. 47th Street Stomp (3:01)
17. Stock Yards Strut (2:31)
18. Salty Dog (2:45)
19. Apeman (2:38)
20. Your Folks (2:44)
21. House Rent Rag (3:04)
22. Memphis Shake (3:17)
23. Carpet Alley-Breakdown (2:41)
24. Hen Party Blues (3:19)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

9. Jelly Roll Morton: Birth Of The Hot. The Classic Chicago Red Hot Pepper Sessions 1926-1927

"I invented jazz in 1902" (Jelly Roll Morton in a letter to Down Beat magazine, 1938)

I first touched upon the life of Jelly Roll Morton in the early days of this blog. As with most of those early posts I was embarrassingly ignorant of the full story behind how much influence Jelly Roll Morton had over the "birth" of jazz. There are essentially two schools of thought. The first is that he was an out and out liar - claiming to have invented jazz and fabricating his age to place himself in New Orleans as a contemporary of Buddy Bolden. The other more contemporary view is that he was a major influence in putting jazz on the map. Certainly he was the first composer of jazz - "Jelly Roll Blues" being published in 1915. But his story begins almost ten years before that - touring the south around 1904 and writing "King Porter Stomp", which would become one of the biggest hits during the swing era 30 years later. The case for the latter viewpoint is argued in Howard Reich and William Gaine's book, "Jelly's Blues", which I highly recommend.

What is not in dispute however is the fact that the recordings Jelly Roll Morton made in Chicago in 1926-7, with his Red Hot Peppers, stand as some of the most important in jazz history. At the top of his game and with support of some of New Orleans' finest players (including Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, Johnny St Cyr and George Mitchell among others) Morton took Chicago by storm. The sound was distinctly his own - tight arrangements that allowed room for the requisite improvisational solos of the highest musicianship. Coming straight out of the blocks with the trio of "Black Bottom Stomp", "Smoke House Blues" and "The Chant", they never looked back.

Jelly Roll Morton led a, let's say, colourful life. His earliest musical experiences were playing in the brothels of New Orleans. His job was to entertain people and make them dance, though not in the restrictive way that ragtime music demanded. He soaked up the atmosphere and put onto paper the sounds he heard played by the marching bands that played on the streets. Check out "Dead Man Blues", a song with a sound as close as you will hear to the funeral bands that played in the first decade of the century in New Orleans.

Morton augmented the band for a bigger sound when they resumed recording in June 1927. Johnny Dodds clarinet is superb in "Wild Man Blues" but it's the song "Jungle Blues" that raised the most eyebrows. The song is basically utilises one chord for its duration. Reich and Gaines point out that the song was completely novel. It was a throwback to 19th century blues but also a look ahead to the modal jazz innovations of Miles Davis 30 years later.

Also included on the album are "Wolverine Blues" and "Mr Jelly Lord", with the Dodds brothers on clarinet and the traps. He may or may not have invented jazz but he is credited with inventing the jazz trio!

1. Black Bottom Stomp
2. Smoke House Blues
3. The Chant
4. Sidewalk Blues (take 3)
5. Dead Man Blues (take 1)
6. Steamboat Stomp
7. Someday Sweetheart
8. Grandpa's Spells (take 3)
9. Original Jelly-Roll Blues
10. Doctor Jazz
11. Cannon Ball Blues (take 2)
12. Hyena Stomp
13. Billy Goat Stomp
14. Wild Man Blues
15. Jungle Blues
16. Beale Street Blues
17. The Pearls
18. Wolverine Blues
19. Mr. Jelly Lord
20. Sidewalk Blues (take 2)
21. Dead Man Blues (take 2)
22. Grandpa's Spells (take 2)
23. Cannon Ball Blues (take 1)