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