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

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