Frank Trumbauer: I Never Miss the Sunshine

When this record was released in 1923, other sax players quickly took notice. Trumbauer stretches out for a full chorus solo on his C-melody sax, and his mixture of melodicism and light swing was different from the hotter styles of New Orleans jazz then sweeping the nation. (Louis Armstrong and King Oliver had made their first recordings exactly ten weeks before this Trumbauer date.)

With the passage of time, we can see this record as a key moment in the birth of "cool jazz," but that term didn't exist back in 1923. Nonetheless other sax players didn't need a label to hear how they could learn from this solo, and adapt its lessons to their work in countless dance bands gigging across the nation. Trumbauer's most famous student was Lester Young, who memorized Tram's solos and tried to emulate his sound. Young offers more eloquent testimony than any critic could muster, and often testified in word (and song) to the importance of this largely forgotten soloist. "Trumbauer was my idol," Young noted years later. "When I had just started to play, I bought all his records. I imagine I can still play all those solos off the record. He played the C-melody saxophone. I tried to get the sound of a C-melody on the tenor. That's why I don't sound like other people. Trumbauer always told a little story."

This track is a good starting point for jazz fans who want to hear one of the most influential of these little stories from the early period of Trumbauer's career.

March 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Borneo

Bix and Tram were jazz’s odd couple. Tram was all business; Bix, increasingly, was all drink. Tram insisted on playing from the charts; Bix, infuriatingly, was content to make it up as he went along. (Even after Bix’s death, Trumbauer complained about how this caused him fits in the studio.) But team them up, even on silly novelty tunes like “Borneo,” and the tension of their friendship yielded great results. Here they record, for the first time, one of their renowned “chase” choruses, with Bix improvising a statement and Tram fashioning a response. At the end, their instruments converge in a single moment of dissonance that feels both humorous and wryly appropriate.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

Compared to “I’m Coming, Virginia,” “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” is all light and Caravaggio. It’s cheerful, down-tempo, even a bit wandering, taking its time to transition from Tram’s more languid sax to Bix’s brighter cornet. A bit more than halfway through his solo, Bix scoots up to a C-sharp, the highest note he ever recorded. This is the exception that proves the rule: Bix, whose mangled fingerings were of his own devising, liked to augment his chords but not the range of his instrument. Think of him as the playwright who creates tension by confining all the action inside a single, cramped apartment.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Clarinet Marmalade

Set to wax earlier on the same day as “Singin’ the Blues,” “Clarinet Marmalade” is notable for a few reasons: Bix, for all of his legendary “cool,” could run with the best of them. Here he blows at breakneck speed while remaining “surefooted as a mountain goat” (to quote Mezz Mezzrow), always sounding original, his tone nothing short of flawless. Note also a short interlude, just prior to Tram’s solo, that borrows from Bix’s composition “In a Mist.” Bix wouldn’t record the piano solo for seven more months, but it was clear that it was long in the works and that his ideas, at least in “Clarinet Marmalade,” were an important part of Bill Challis’ arrangements.

November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: I'm Coming Virginia

In this, his longest solo, Bix is at the height of his powers. He eschews the gutbucket growls and half-valves that were just becoming popular with Duke Ellington and instead digs deep into the melody. In true Impressionist style, with all the manly restraint of Henry James, he suggests rather than declaims the tune’s dark melancholy, taking Trumbauer’s solo – the handoff is just perfect – and gently refining it. His “correlated” phrases (Bix’s term) build, one on top of the other, until Bix finally leaps up to a (relatively) high register and delivers what Richard Sudhalter rather dramatically described as “Caravaggio-like shafts of light.”

November 17, 2007 · 1 comment

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Frank Trumbauer & Bix Beiderbecke: Singin' the Blues

Bix needed Louis (at least in retrospect) to define his style; he needed Trumbauer just to get through the day. The straight-and-narrow saxman, known to his friends as Tram, was the source of personal and professional stability for Bix, and when the two finally hooked up in the studio, they produced a masterpiece. It’s easy to forget that Trumbauer’s solo, which opens the number with unprecedented lyricism, was as important in its time as Bix’s. “Trumbauer always told a little story,” Lester Young explained. It was not about dancing, in other words, or virtuosity; it was about feeling. When Bix chimes in, jazz changed forever. Here was jazz’s first balladeer. His solo, though improvised, feels like a finished composition – restrained, precise, and governed by melody instead of chord changes and tempo.

November 17, 2007 · 0 comments

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Frank Trumbauer: San

Seven months after this session, Trumbauer would record for the first time with Bix Beiderbecke, but here he is the star of the show. Although not officially: Red Mackenzie, the bellhop turned comb player, served as the official leader of this band, which was known as the Mound City Blue Blowers. Trumbauer contributes basslines, countermelodies, and takes a supple stop-time chorus that puts the rest of the band to shame. His solo here was often studied and imitated in its day, one of the defining statements of the jazz saxophone vocabulary, circa 1924.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments

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