Ray Bryant: Little Susie
Ray Bryant (piano)
Ray Bryant Trio Plays the Complete Little Susie (Lone Hill Jazz LHJ10278)
Ray Bryant (piano),
Tommy Bryant (bass), Oliver Jackson (drums).
Composed by Ray Bryant.
Recorded: New York, September 21, 1959
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
Ray Bryant's "Little Susie" spent 6 weeks among the Cash Box Top 100 singles in 1960. No kin to "Wake Up Little Susie," a #1 hit by the Everly Brothers in 1957, "Little Susie" peaked at #81, far behind 1960's #1 hit "The Theme From A Summer Place" by Percy Faith & Orchestra. Yet even this relatively modest success was remarkable for a jazz piano trio. The tune, dedicated to Bryant's young daughter, had been recorded twice previously by Ray and his bassist brother Tommy under the leadership of ex-Count Basie drummer Jo Jones, once for the Vanguard label and again for Everest, neither of which made a splash. Still, Bryant's simple medium-tempo 12-bar blues was catchy, and in the fall of 1959 the brothers Bryant covered it twice again, with a different drummer each time, first for entertainer Steve Allen's Signature label and three weeks later for major label Columbia. Moreover, as if four "Little Susies" recorded within two years were not enough, Signature released a 45-rpm single with "Little Susie (Part 2)" as its A side and a slightly shorter alternate take, "Little Susie (Part 4)," on its flip side, sans explanation of missing Parts 1 and 3. Then, to further glut the marketplace, Columbia released its own single to compete with Signature's, which by then was gaining traction. When "Little Susie" charted the following spring, Cash Box (clueless as to which version was selling more) threw up its hands and credited both Signature and Columbia.
Like Signature's "Little Susie (Part 2)," Columbia's "Little Susie" was distinguished from "Little Susie (Part 4)" by in-studio handclaps added on beats 2 and 4 for part of the take. Columbia's audio is better, as expected; but the performance seems a tad calculated compared to Signature's livelier version. For this 2007 EU import CD, which includes both Signature takes, "Little Susie (Part 2)" appears as "Little Susie (2)" and "Little Susie (Part 4)" as "Little Susie (1)." (Confused yet? Welcome to the club.)
Bryant's 2-handed funk may remind listeners of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" (1962), and the clapping, while contrived, foreshadows such festive piano-trio party favorites as Ramsey Lewis's "The 'In' Crowd" and "Hang on Sloopy" (both 1965). But "Little Susie" has its own identity and, as one of the few jazz hit singles of its day, a place in history.
Reviewer: Alan Kurtz