When Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines recorded 'Riverboat Shuffle" in 1924, it was Hoagy Carmichael's first recorded song. The present version is a superior remake from three years later. While the Wolverine version boasted a fine solo by Beiderbecke, the Trumbauer recording features improved sound (capturing the cornetist especially well) and a sprightly arrangement by Bill Challis. The tempo is faster and more urgent than the Wolverines, and in the opening and closing ensembles, Challis offers short breaks to all of the musicians. Bix takes the last break of the first chorus to launch his solo, a beautifully-sculpted chorus where the phrases are perfectly balanced even though they are of different lengths. His melodic line exudes confidence and a little brashness, and his rhythmic sense and swing are fine-tuned and far advanced from any of his bandmates. Don Murray's clarinet solo is melodically facile, but locked in the herky-jerky dotted eighth/sixteenth note patterns of the time. None of the other musicians can make the best of their breaks, and uncharacteristically, Eddie Lang rushes the time when his solo break comes around. Bix was often criticized for playing music with his friends instead of his musical peers, but considering that Hoagy Carmichael was one of Bix's best friends, Bix's musical favoritism had some merit, as it yielded the launch of a great songwriter.
Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins were great duet partners, bringing out the best qualities in each other. Braff could always spin gorgeous melodies from the lower range of his cornet, and Larkins could always create beautiful harmonic backgrounds, but together, there was spontaneity and humor that added to the interplay. “Exactly Like You” was recorded for their 1972 LP The Grand Reunion
but not released until the album was reissued on CD a quarter-century later. Larkins plays the introduction and first chorus solo. For the most part, he plays the melody in parallel thirds in his right hand while walking in parallel tenths with his left. Larkins doesn’t keep this pattern throughout the chorus, as he freely breaks it to comment on the melody and to add variety. When Braff enters, Larkins seems transformed and he plays an animated accompaniment with delightful walking bass lines and bright splashes of chordal color. Braff’s solo starts off with poignant lines, but as he listens and responds to Larkins’ commentary, he adds stunning runs and gets sassier as the solo continues. Larkins takes an 8-bar solo on the bridge with a pithy remark in his right hand and classic stride in the left. In the next 8 bars, it sounds like Larkins wants to lead Braff into a more serious mood, but neither seems ready to give up the lighter mood entirely. As the performance winds down, the last comments of each player seems to reflect the playful mood evoked earlier.
September 04, 2009 · 0 comments
The most famous Freddie Keppard recording session is the one he didn't
make. In early 1916, the Victor Talking Machine Company tried to convince the New Orleans cornetist to record for their label—this would have been the first jazz session anywhere if Keppard had agreed. Instead he responded nothin' doin'
because (according to the most famous account) he feared other players would "steal his stuff" if it were available on disk; or (if you believe another, not incompatible explanation) because of his dissatisfaction over financial terms; or, if we believe Sidney Bechet, Keppard (like Bartleby the Scrivener) refused to record simply because he preferred not to.
Less attention is paid to the music that Keppard actually recorded—albeit more than a decade later. But in "Stock Yards Strut" he plays with vigor and swing, and one can understand the claims of those who saw him as the great interregnum ruler of New Orleans cornet between the reigns of King Buddy (Bolden) and King Joe (Oliver). I wish we had more Keppard tracks at this level, and devotees of traditional sounds will forever dream of what this artist sounded like when he was in his mid-20s. Dream on, but don't dismiss this hot side, which contains some stuff eminently worth stealing.
I have to admit a personal preference for this song. In my freshman year at the University of Northern Colorado, I was featured on a vocal jazz arrangement of this piece. The arranger of that setting, Scott Fredrickson, was also the director of the ensemble, and he told me about Dave Frishberg and about a life-sized poster of Bix Beiderbecke that hung on the wall in Frishberg’s home. As the resident jazz historian at UNC, I took particular pride in singing this beautiful tribute to the late cornetist. A few years later, I heard this duet version from an early Frishberg album and I was captivated all over again. There is a marvelous intimacy to the lyric, as it speaks to Bix directly, referring to him as an old friend and chum, and tells him that he’s no ordinary, standard B-flat, run-of-the-mill type guy
. What makes the performance so special is that there’s no attempt to imitate Bix; indeed, Bob Findlay sounds like Bobby Hackett to me, which is quite fitting. In fact, the only snippet of music that comes from Beiderbecke is the famous tag from “I’m Coming Virginia”, and while that quote is appropriate, it almost seems at odds with the aesthetic of non-imitation that held for most of the performance.
Young, bold, and loquacious, New Orleans born trumpeter Christian Scott is a breath of fresh air to modern jazz. At a time when too many cookie-cutter groups fight for club dates, Scott is forging his own path, his hybrid compositions informed and influenced as much by hip-hop and indie rock as they are the jazz tradition. Anthem
, his vociferous response to the social and political devastation left in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, is as emotive as it is edgy and is one of most thrilling records of recent years.
Do not be misled by the title "Anthem (Antediluvian Adaptation)" — this is not the quiet before the storm. Pianist Aaron Parks’ ferocious left-hand bombs and pulsating chords are intense and ominous, and Stevens’ distorted guitar moans enigmatically, relating more closely to Radiohead than Wes Montgomery. Scott sings out in long, airy tones on his cornet; over the explosive rhythm his plaintive, detached cries speak more than any flurry of notes ever could. Highly recommended.
This sweet, bluesy melody, coming a year after "Farewell Blues
," reveals the King Oliver band becoming yet more arranged and less polyphonic, with unison horn choruses beginning and ending the tune. In between emerge three solos, including a sparkly, muted-trumpet turn by Louis Metcalf. He had been recording with Ellington for two years, on such originals as "East St. Louis Toodle-O
" and "Black and Tan Fantasy
." Oliver admired him and, now that Joe's teeth and gums were failing, began using Metcalf (and others) to assume his lead and/or solo work.
Metcalf does so here and, interestingly, goes for the leader's wah-wah approach—even though with Ellington he had been a bit straighter. On the other hand, how could Metcalf have avoided the approach, when Bubber Miley had been in his face (with Ellington), and Miley had picked up his growling style from Oliver!
The ensembles have an elastic feel here. The trombone/reed section echoes the lead trumpet—just a millisecond behind—as though they're playing the same song, yet a different song. Everybody's got something to say! Yet overall, when compared with Ellington's concurrent recordings, Oliver's sound appears weakening. Away from New Orleans, he was a fish out of water.
Despite all the acclaim for King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band and its historic issue of 37 sides, this cover of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' "Farewell Blues" may rank as my all-time Oliver favorite. The NORK had recorded it five years earlier
, also at Gennett Studios. Their white band was known to emulate the African-Americans—particularly Oliver—and they often succeeded. Listen to their composition "Angry
" and their romping "Sobbin' Blues
," both recorded the same day in August 1923.
But here the Dixie Syncopators take the NORK's hopping tempo and cut it 18% (by my metronomic measurement) down to size, giving the feel of a huge riverboat rolling. I like to call the effect "long-wave swing," where the piece as a whole
swings—rather than any one section, segment or instrument. Note the final two coming-together choruses, with the clarinet rising on the second. Although they play from a printed score, this band ain't goin' nowhere, since they're already there and screaming for glory.
Most observers agree that Joe Oliver was among the first brass men (if not the
first) to change his sound by sticking bottles, cans, kazoos, or what have you into the bell of his cornet. Colleagues testified that by doing so, he could actually carry on a conversation through "talking horn" effects. Fifty years later, electric guitarists would emulate Oliver's genius using wah-wah pedals.
This dramatic composition, "Wa Wa Wa," showcases King Oliver's "talking" cornet. It also exemplifies how, with the onset of larger bands, New Orleans polyphonic ensemble play began stratifying into sections. It began slowly; at first, sections overlapped, maintaining some of the terrific Crescent City polyphony. The effect shows up here, especially in the last refrains.
Two horn choruses kick off the piece, the second with a repeated fourth-beat cymbal response from Barbarin. Cornet takes stage front for chorus #3; we're not sure whether it is Oliver or his second cornet Bob Shoffner. Note the horn's swing phrasing. But there's more.
Following two more choruses, one with an Ory "hat" trombone break, the final stratified ensembles blow into town. In the end, the band becomes a three-headed hydra—saxes and cornets swapping bars (boys running through woods tossing a ball), the clarinet weaving through them. It comes to a final head with Oliver's famed wah-wah break of repeated quarter-note yowls. Aside from his three choruses in "Dippermouth Blues
" and certain other Creole Band breaks, this may rank as the most emphatic of his recorded solos.
Once New Orleans musicians started moving to Chicago in the 19-teens, South Side club owners began losing interest in their local players. "Snag It" shows us why. Driven by King Oliver's first "big" band—the 10-piece Dixie Syncopators—the 12-bar track moves like a train. To fill his crew, Oliver had brought in the best of his Crescent City cohort, including Ory, Bigard, Nicholas, Russell, Scott, and Barbarin. We also find Richard M. Jones doing the short vocal.
Under Oliver's opening cornet lead, soprano, alto, tenor and trombone hold a side conversation. Rather than distract, it fuels. The band moves into a bluesy, muted trombone solo, then a Latinesque stop-time soprano soliloquy. (Jelly Roll Morton taught us of the "Spanish Tinge" in jazz, and we hear it here.) Now comes Jones's vocal, a shining Oliver cornet break, two call-and-response ensemble choruses—and the train steams into the station.
After Louis Armstrong had come and gone from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, and after the band had collapsed, Oliver branched out. He brought an expanded group—the Dixie Syncopators—into Chicago's Plantation Café. He also recorded with the first of many blues vocalists he would accompany over the next five years.
Blues shouter Sippie Wallace (born Beulah Thomas) came up singing in the Baptist Church and in Texas tent shows. On the arms of her two musical brothers, George W. and Hersal Thomas, she moved into 19-teens New Orleans. Brother George gigged in the Storyville red-light district, where he apparently met Joe Oliver. Ten years later in Chicago, George Thomas likely brought Oliver into this session with his sister, now married and renamed Sippie Wallace—the "Texas Nightingale." Along with Oliver, brother Hersal accompanied Sippie on piano.
The recording is worn and scratched. But perhaps due to the ease between sister-brother Sippie and Hersal, or perhaps because Oliver still has most of his teeth (he would later lose them), his blues accompaniment here is dramatic, thoughtful and lyrical—among the finest of his recordings in this genre. His approach often sounds like that of Armstrong, who would cut similar sides with Bessie Smith.
In the 1970s and '80s, Sippie Wallace toured and recorded with Bonnie Raitt, whom she had inspired to start singing the blues.
A work of joy and salvation, this stirring piece sets the stage with four funereal minor-key measures, then emerges into a triumphant relative major, where it stays for the duration. As with "Jazzin' Babies Blues
," it comes from the mind of Richard M. Jones, who also wrote "Trouble in Mind
." It was on a New Orleans gig with Jones that King Oliver out-blew Freddie Keppard and made his first mark. Writing credit here also goes to Thomas A. Dorsey, who would compose "Peace in the Valley" (covered by Elvis Presley
) and become known as the "father of gospel."
In fact, with the dirge-like beginning, the whole piece recalls a gospel service. Two staunch blues choruses, with everybody participating, give way to successive stop-time segments where individual players get to testify as "church members" say Amen behind them. With Charlie Jackson added on bass saxophone, the pounding voicings make you want to bow your head.
Armstrong takes the last testament, his cornet seeming to herald the arrival of a king. His anticipated entrances seem to say that, at the ripe old age of 22, he understood the entire plight of mankind. Perhaps this is why he became known to all of mankind.
Joe Oliver had so much power that he must have been born to play with a mute. According to Jelly Roll Morton, Oliver started putting bottles into his horn to tone himself down. But even with that impediment, he could come out screaming. He does so here, on an enduring composition by Richard M. Jones, a New Orleans accomplice who took part in arranging the Creole Band's Gennett sessions.
This tune resembles the New Orleans Rhythm Kings' "Tin Roof Blues
," which the NORK had recorded three months earlier. Some proof exists that both tunes came out of a folk strain floating around New Orleans before everyone started moving to and recording around Chicago. There, Jones himself recorded the tune on solo piano
just three weeks before this June 23, 1923 Okeh Creole Band date.
Oliver had brought in Bud Scott on banjo, and Scott drives the band like John Henry driving railroad spikes. The sound is informed by Johnny Dodds's exploratory clarinet work and by Oliver's slurred phrasing, which keeps the fire lit. His explosive muted cornet solo on the fourth chorus lets us know he has something to say beyond what's written on the sheet.
American jazz had forebears in minstrelsy and vaudeville, and the Creole Band's bassist/banjoist Bill Johnson had recently spent five years with the Original Creole Orchestra, touring the country in stage shows. You can hear the vaudeville flavor throughout "Snake Rag," most notably in the repeated two-cornet descending wobble/trombone slide. It follows the amusing vein found in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues
," recorded six years prior. As Oliver's friend and 1930s sideman Paul Barnes recalled, "All great musicians are comedians and entertainers. King Oliver was that way too."
More than one source has observed that on all these sides, Oliver's creative playing lagged behind the mark he set in New Orleans a decade earlier. But the legendary Johnny St. Cyr, who came up with Oliver and often played with him, said the best record of Oliver's style—"the real Oliver of New Orleans"—is this Okeh version of "Snake Rag," where "Oliver makes trick breaks, animal noises," as St. Cyr. These breaks loom after 2:00, when the horns' steam pressure rises, then pop up at 2:13 and 2:49, where the Oliver/ Armstrong 2-bar duet breaks recall crows cawing and swans trumpeting, respectively. Note the continuous ensemble play. As the drummer, Baby Dodds, wrote, "We worked hard to make music, and we played music to make people like it."
Joe 'King' Oliver is often remembered in jazz histories as a mere footnote to the more illustrious story of Louis Armstrong - he was the man who gave Satchmo the break that brought him out of New Orleans and into the limelight of Chicago nightlife. But this account fails to do justice to Oliver's own artistry. "Dippermouth Blues" is one of the first great recorded masterpieces of jazz - and not just for Armstrong's contribution. Oliver's solo serves as a much-needed reminder of what jazz could do before Armstrong changed all the rules. It is to the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens what great medieval art is to the Renaissance masters - not an inferior predecessor, but rather the final flowering of a purer, more rarefied style.
Early New Orleans jazz was about the quality of sound rather than the quantity of notes, and Oliver was the great master of getting the cornet to speak with a vocal tone. His range is limited here, and his phrases are built on only two or three notes of the scale. But his down-and-dirty sound captures the ethos of jazz as it emerged at the dawn of the American century. The vitality of his playing comes through despite the passing decades and inferior recording technology of the era (although the sonic fidelity is much improved on this reissue compared to earlier releases). Even today, jazz virtuosos could learn lessons about phrasing from this too-seldom-heard classic from 1923.
"Dippermouth Blues," from the second day of the original Gennett sessions, opens with a 4-bar diminished lead, then takes us on a gallivanting two-chorus ride over the hills, driven by a one-bar ostinato motor. As with any good motor, the parts diligently repeat their functions - as do the trombone and clarinet here, providing support for the lead cornet. The ensemble takes us to a stop-time clarinet solo. While seeming to "toot" along, Johnny Dodds - without slurring - hangs in tempo and in groove. He was known to take his music seriously.
Following another ensemble, we're into the centerpiece: King Oliver's famed three-chorus muted cornet solo. He comes in bawling and goes out rocking. Oliver's blues was the essence of his playing, and it shapes this tune. It was said he could carry a conversation using only his "talking" horn. Here, amidst the swing, he is a lone voice crying to be heard. Over a decade later, in "Sugarfoot Stomp
," the Benny Goodman Orchestra still copied Oliver's "Dippermouth" solo.
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