Sunday, 1 September 2013

20. Coleman Hawkins: The King Of The Tenor Sax 1929 - 1943

This is a fantastic album that showcases one of the great innovators in jazz, Coleman Hawkins. The tracks selected on this album clearly demonstrate how Hawkins was not a person to rest on his laurels. He was constantly looking to progress his sound and not to be pigeon-holed.

"Hello Lola" and "One Hour" open the album. They are tracks that show that, even in 1929, Coleman Hawkins was establishing the tenor sax as a serious jazz instrument. The solos on these songs are wonderfully crafted. Like all soloists at this time he was heavily influenced by Louis Armstrong having worked with him previously in Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. (The recordings are also notable for featuring a young Gene Krupa).

In 1933 Hawkins was still plying his trade with Henderson. However, "Jamaica Shout" demonstrates how much his sound had developed. The pyrotechnics he employs show that he had full confidence in his playing at this time. "On The Sunny Side Of The Street" from 1934 should be taught to all aspiring jazz musicians on how to tastefully improvise around a melody with Buck Washington on piano throwing in some tempo changes for good measure.

By 1935, like a number of his contemporaries, Hawkins had left for Europe to embark on new musical adventures. Just as the U.S. was soon to be in the thrall of the Swing era, Hawkins was to seek new musical challenges by teaming up with the likes of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli and making a series of seminal jazz tracks. Included here are "Avalon", "Honeysuckle Rose" and the majestic "Stardust". Hawkins was completely reinvigorated and returned to New York to lay down the earth shattering, "Body and Soul", of which I expounded upon in the blog (here).

The album continues with Hawkins fully embracing and influencing the musical fertile ground of the early 1940's. "Dinah" features Lionel Hampton and a pre-bop Dizzy Gillespie. The next four tracks feature the Coleman Hawkins All Star Quartet, including Benny Carter (somewhat unusually on trumpet), Danny Polo on clarinet and the always excellent J.C. Higginbottom on trombone plying their way through some swing standards.

During the time that the final songs were recorded, World War II had begun and a musical revolution was in the air, as exemplified by "Boff Boff (Mop Mop)". Swing was soon to become old hat among the younger players coming through. Coleman Hawkins had no desire to be left behind. The album finishes off with the superb "The Man I Love". Oscar Pettiford's (one of the aforementioned younger players) breathing can be heard over his bass solo and Hawkins' solo simply oozes class. A taster of what was to come in the remainder of his career.

1. Hello, Lola!
2. One Hour (If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight)
3. Jamaica Shout
4. On the Sunny Side of the Street
5. I Wish I Were Twins
6. Avalon
7. Honeysuckle Rose
8. Stardust
9. Well, All Right Then
10. Body and Soul
11. Dinah
12. When Day Is Done
13. The Sheik of Araby
14. My Blue Heaven
15. Bouncing with Bean
16. Feedin' the Bean
17. Boff Boff (Mop Mop)
18. My Ideal
19. Stumpy
20. Crazy Rhythm
21. The Man I Love

Sunday, 18 August 2013

19. New Orleans Rhythm Kings & Jelly Roll Morton

The New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) were another highly influential early jazz band that bridged the gap between the original New Orleans ensemble sound to the Chicago style of the early to mid 1920's. Their career was brief as they only made recordings from 1922 to 1925 (not including a Platters-esque "reunion" in the mid 30's). Many have erroneously put them in the same bracket as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The differences in approach and style are noticeable from this important album. The NORK refused to go down the road of the novelty sound that the ODJB were famous for. They also acknowledged the influence of African Americans in their playing style something that Nick LaRocca went out of his way to deny.

The NORK possessed three musicians of great standing. Paul Mares on cornet, George Brunies on trombone and Leon Roppollo on clarinet. One of the most famous tracks on the album is Tin Roof Blues. Here is a great example of early New Orleans jazz musicians stepping away from the ensemble style and taking turns on their own. They are not quite improvising as much as Bechet or Armstrong would do a couple of years later but the evidence of alternate takes of this song would suggest that that they were pushing the envelope for the time.

In July of 1923 they recorded a session with Jelly Roll Morton. These were to prove historically important as they were one of the first mixed race recordings released by a major label. Howard Reich and William Gaines in their biography of Morton in Jelly's Blues argue that the recordings transformed the NORK significantly.

1. Eccentric
2. Farewell Blues
3. Discontented Blues
4. Bugle Call Rag
5. Panama
6. Tiger Rag
7. Livery Stable Blues
8. Oriental
9. Sweet Lovin' Man
10. That's A-Plenty
11. Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble
12. Weary Blues
13. That Da Da Strain
14. Wolverine Blues
15. Maple Leaf Rag
16. Tin Roof Blues
17. Sobbin' Blues
18. Marguerite
19. Angry
20. Clarinet Marmalade
21. Clarinet Marmalade
22. Mr. Jelly Lord
23. Mr. Jelly Lord
24. London Blues
25. Milenberg Joys
26. Milenberg Joys
27. Mad

Thursday, 8 August 2013

18. King Oliver: Sugar Foot Stomp (The Original Decca Recordings)

Joe "King" Oliver was a pivotal figure in the very early days of jazz by bringing the sounds of New Orleans to the ears of Chicago and to introducing the world to Louis Armstrong. He was at the peak of his popularity in the early 20's, a few years before Armstrong and Bechet were to strut their stuff. The recordings here are from 1926 and 1927, a time of tremendous creativity in the world of jazz. Oliver's star was on the wane even then but he did have enough clout to hire musicians of the ilk of Kid Ory, Luis Russell, Barney Bigard and Paul Barbarin. All hailing from New Orleans of course!

One of the opening tracks is Snag It. It's almost like an early rock n roll record with vocalist Richard Jones egging the band on with refrains of "snag it snag it!" and "mess around!" Oliver's ratatat stop break solo is also blistering. In Jackass Blues Oliver shows his chops and is unafraid of hitting some great high notes. This is also remarkable bearing in mind that it was around this time that playing was becoming extremely uncomfortable for him. (More than likely due to his fondness for sugar sandwiches washed down with sugar water hence the name of the next track, Sugar Foot StompWaWaWa drives along wonderfully with a great riff and solos from Ory and Bigard. Someday Sweetheart was Oliver's biggest hit with a rather affecting tuba solo that you can easily see being a double bass if it was recorded ten years later. Johnny Dodds makes a guest appearance on this one. A busy man in 1926!

The turning point of the album is Doctor Jazz. The track serves as an example of an Oliver composition that was surpassed by another artist a short while later. In this case it is the Jelly Roll Morton one that will always spring to mind. Willie The Weeper and one of jazz's most famous tracks, West End Blues, was also to be recorded shorty after by Louis Armstrong.

Black Snake Blues though is a great track with Ory, Bigard & Omer Simeon all playing with one foot firmly placed in the blues.It was probably recorded on the way to NYC where Oliver was to turn down a lucrative gig at the famous Cotton Club.

By the recording of the last few tracks the game was up for The Syncopators. Shortly after turning down the Cotton Club gig, Ory, Simeon and Russell would be gone. Barney Bigard would also soon be joining up with Duke Ellington's orchestra who as we all know did take the Cotton Club gig and enjoyed a long and successful career thereafter. Unfortunately for Joe Oliver this was to be the beginning of the end. He did play on for a number of years but with his health failing he was to end up broke working at a pool hall in the deep South while swing, the music he helped to cultivate, was king.

01. Too Bad
02. Snag It (first version)
03. Deep Henderson
04. Jackass Blues
05. Sugar Foot Stomp
06. Wa Wa Wa
07. Tack Annie
08. Someday Sweetheart
09. Dead Man Blues
10. New Wang Wang Blues
11. Snag It (second version)
12. Doctor Jazz
13. Showboat Shuffle
14. Every Tub
15. Willie the Weeper
16. Black Snake Blues
17. Farewell Blues
18. Sobbin' Blues
19. Tin Roof Blues
20. West End Blues
21. Sweet Emmalina
22. Lazy Mama

Friday, 5 July 2013

17. Alex Hill: Ain't It Nice? 1928-1934

Alex Hill is not a name that immediately springs to mind when considering early jazz recordings. His name cropped up when I was researching into various other, perhaps more notable, piano players. Yet curiosity got the better of me and I ended up listening to this little gem of an album. What we have here is the late 20's and early 30's Chicago jazz sound. Right from the off, "Parkway Stomp", encapsulates the way jazz was being played at this time - heavily influenced by the likes of Armstrong, Morton, Beiderbecke and Ellington. The song "Chicago Rhythm" may not have been heard much over the 1920's airwaves yet it is a song definitely of it's time with an infectious syncopated beat held down by a tuba with a wailing clarinet.

Hill eventually ended up in New York in the early 30's after a period playing at the Savoy Ballroom. As an accomplished arranger and pianist he worked with the likes of Chu Berry, drummer "Big" Sid Catlett, Eddie Condon and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman. The latter can be heard to wonderful effect on the sublime track "The Eel". As a piano player Hill was no slouch either as evidenced by great songs like "Stomping 'En Down" and "Tack Head Blues". He was held in such high regard that Irving Mills asked him in the mid 30's to fill in for Duke Ellington who had found himself indisposed.

1. Parkway Stomp
2. Mississippi Wobble
3. She's Funny That Way
4. Shake That Jelly Roll
5. Chicago Rhythm
6. Once or Twice
7. The Eel
8. Tennessee Twilight
9. Madam Dynamite
10. Home Cooking
11. Stompin' 'em Down
12. Tack Head Blues
13. Dyin' With the Blues
14. Toogaloo Shout
15. St. James Infirmary
16. Southbound (1)
17. Southbound (2)
18. I'm Having My Fun
19. You've Had Your Way
20. Ain't It Nice?
21. Functionizin'
22. Song of the Plow
23. Let's Have a Jubilee

Sunday, 14 April 2013

16. Benny Carter & His Orchestra 1929 - 1933

This is, in my opinion, an essential album to have in any jazz collection, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the recordings capture how jazz was moving from it's New Orleans and Chicago roots at the end of the 1920's to the big band sound that would dominate the 1930's and early 1940's. Secondly, it contains some of the best players of their generation. Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Rex Stewart, Fats Waller, JC Higginbotham, Don Redman, Dicky Wells, Red Allen and Sid Catlett are all showcased here. Finally, it provides an excellent introduction to one of the giants of 20th century jazz and one of it's finest alto sax players, Benny Carter.

The first seven tracks are Benny Carter's arrangements of the Chocolate Dandies, a kind of offshoot of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. Worth noting is the riff of Six Or Seven Times which was to be used in Count Basie's One O'Clock Jump nine years later. The next few tracks are from Carter's own orchestra. He would never attain the heights of Goodman or Ellington in terms of success yet there are some great tracks here, in particular the frenetic Swing It. Yet it is the last half of the album that should get the most attention. Labelled under "Spike Hughes And His Negro Orchestra", the songs are regarded as some of the finest jazz recordings. In songs like Bugle Call Rag, the talents of the tenor giants Hawkins and Berry are well showcased as are those of Red Allen, Shad Collins, Dickie Wells and Carter himself.

1. That's How I Feel Today
2. Six or Seven Times
3. Goodbye Blues
4. Cloudy Skies
5. Got Another Sweetie Now
6. Bugle Call Rag
7. Dee Blues
8. Tell All Your Day Dreams to Me
9. Swing It
10. Synthetic Love
11. Six Bells Stampede
12. Love, You're Not the One for Me
13. Nocturne
14. Someone Stole Gabriel's Horn
15. Pastorale
16. Bugle Call Rag
17. Arabesque
18. Fanfare
19. Sweet Sorrow Blues
20. Music at Midnight
21. Sweet Sue, Just You
22. Air in D Flat
23. Donegal Cradle Song

Monday, 1 April 2013

15. Fletcher Henderson: His Best Recordings 1921-1941

Until the career of Duke Ellington began to take of in the late 20's, Fletcher Henderson was probably the most popular and successful band leader and arranger in the 20's jazz scene, particularly in New York. He wasn't one for the limelight and preferred his star musicians to take centre stage. This is perhaps one of the reasons that I haven't focused on him exclusively in the main blog yet I have looked at a lot of the musicians that came into contact with his band throughout the 20's and 30's. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Tommy Ladnier, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge and (sadly unrecorded) Lester Young.

And so we have a collection from the excellent "Best Of Jazz" label that showcases the music of Henderson's career from 1921 to 1941. A twenty year span that encompasses the very early days of jazz right through to the end of its most popular form. The collection kicks off quite inauspiciously with the track "Pretty Ways". it's a very stiff number that may not even be considered jazz - more of a ragtime number. Yet it serves as a nice reminder of where the subsequent music emanated from. Coleman Hawkins joined Henderson's orchestra as far back as 1923. A colossus in terms of his impact on jazz yet in the early years his style and technique were decidedly wooden. It took the arrival of Louis Armstrong to the band in 1924 to shake things up and to alter the direction of Henderson's orchestra and to leave a considerable impression on the likes of Hawkins (check out track 18 "Big John's Special" for evidence of this). Satchmo's playing is represented well in the tracks "Everybody Loves My Baby" and "Sugar Foot Stomp".

Despite being the top big band of the time, Henderson's recordings at this time were not exactly prolific.Yet there are some great tracks on this collection from the period 1926 -1927 featuring Fats Waller on the piano on "The Henderson Stomp" and "The Chant". Armstrong's replacement in Tommy Ladnier is the man on the horn on the tracks "Fidgety Feet", "I'm Coming Virginia" and "Hop Off".  Henderson and his brother Horace took over the arrangements after the departure of Don Redman and effected a more nuanced swing sensibility to the band in the early 1930's. The track "Hot And Anxious" features an extremely familiar riff from a track that would become one of the most instantly recognisable songs in popular music history - Glenn Miller's "In The Mood".

With Coleman Hawkins deciding to embark on new musical adventures in Europe coinciding with the rise of the new "King Of Swing", Benny Goodman, Henderson's musical fortunes began to wane in the mid 30's and he turned his attention to arranging. He did however find time to make one more big hit in the form of "Christopher Columbus" featuring a young Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry. This along with the recording of "Blue Lou" and "Stealin' Apples" are featured in this collection. The final track is a great choice as it features a nice piano solo from the man himself.

1. Pretty Ways
2. Unknown Blues
3. Hard Hearted Hannah
4. Everybody Loves My Baby
5. Sugar Foot Stomp
6. What-Cha-Call-'Em Blues
7.  Henderson Stomp
8. The Chant
9. Fidgety Feet
10.I'm Coming Virginia
11. Hop Off
12. Blazin'
13. Somebody Loves Me
14. Hot and Anxious
15. The House of David Blues
16. Honeysuckle Rose
17. It's the Talk of the Town
18. Big John's Special
19. Christopher Columbus
20. Blue Lou
21. Stealin' Apples
22.  Let's Go Home

Saturday, 2 February 2013

14. Kid Ory: His Best Recordings 1922 - 1944 (Best Of Jazz Series)

A true jazz pioneer, trombonist Kid Ory's place in the history and development in jazz is assured. Born in 1890 he claimed to have heard the legendary Buddy Bolden when he was eight years old. He was on the scene in New Orleans and was leading his own band by 1912. Members of that band included at one time or another, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, King Oliver, Jimmy Noone and Louis Armstrong. His band, Ory's Creole Orchestra, was to be the first African American band to cut a legitimate jazz record, in 1922. He was  also an important figure in the eye of the jazz storm that was Chicago in the mid 20's.

This album serves a couple of purposes. Firstly, the tracks heavily feature Kid Ory's innovative solos and "tailgate" style where the trombone would play the rhythmic line behind the clarinet and the trumpet. Secondly, the historic track "Ory's Creole Trombone" from the aforementioned 1922 session is present. Finally, such was the demand for Ory that this album is a bit of a who's who of the New Orleans players who made it big in the mid 20's and announced jazz to the world. Louis Armstrong's & His Hot 5 feature prominently with tracks like "Gut Bucket Blues", "Muskrat Ramble" and the sublime "Savoy Blues" with it's wonderful ascending glisando. Also included are Luis Russell's Hot Six, King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators (inventing the wah wah on the way), The New Orleans Wanderers (essentially the Hot 5 minus Armstrong) and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers.

Ory was to hang up his trombone in the early thirties (to go into the chicken farm business) but emerged again in the 40s as Dixieland jazz began a revival. A couple of tracks from this time are represented here. The wonderful "South" and "Blues For Jimmie", a tribute to his friend Jimmie Noone who had just died. Also playing on these tracks was another New Orleans legend, "Papa" Mutt Carey.

Ory would continue to record and perform well into the 50s and 60s but these tracks represent a particular high point in his career.

1 Ory's creole trombone
2 Gut Bucket Blues
3 Muskrat Ramble 
4 29th And Dearborn
5 Too Bad
6 Sugar Foot Stomp
7 Wa Wa Wa
8 Dropping Shucks
9 Gatemouth
10 Papa Dip 
11 Flat Foot  
12 Mad Dog  
13 Black Bottom Stomp
14 Dead Man Blues
15 Jazz Lips
16 Put'em Down Blues
17 Ory's Creole Trombone
18 Once in a While
19 Hotter Than That
20 Savoy Blues 
21 South See All 9
22 Blues For Jimmie