Snooks Eaglin: St. James Infirmary

The blues were never quite so blue when Snooks Eaglin sang them, and even the minor key lament "St. James Infirmary" will put a bounce in your step when this Crescent City master adds his spin to it. Eaglin was born in New Orleans (1936) and died in New Orleans (2009), and though his his range of artistic expression was dauntingly he wide—he claimed to know 2,500 songs, and his recordings cover every style from R&B to folk music—the stamp of his hometown was always present in his work. A sense of freedom and exuberance permeated his performances, both his guitar playing and his Ray Charles-ish vocals. Here he takes an antiquated song that will forever be associated with New Orleans (albeit one drawn originally from the English folk ballad "The Unfortunate Rake") and wears it like a second-hand suit that somehow becomes a bespoke garment in a hip new style. Even a slightly out-of-tune guitar can't spoil the magic. Three cheers for Snooks, but save one for Dr. Harry Oster, a seldom recognized champion of American vernacular music, who made this recording possible.

August 07, 2009 · 0 comments


Duke Ellington: St. James Infirmary

Manager Irving Mills got some publisher royalty money from the sales of this flexible Hit of the Week record starring his clients, the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He is the vocalist as well, although short solos by Williams (not Tizol as has been written in some sources – this is clearly a trumpet), Hodges and Nanton are worth having.

Based on the rough sound and instrumental blending, and an arrangement that may have been thrown together quickly to get the side done, this was probably a one-take effort, and was a fast buck for everyone present. But it is one more example of what the Ellington band sounded like in its early incarnation, and though a lesser effort, it is still worth hearing. Clearly it was among the jazzier efforts by Hit of the Week, a label that featured white dance and studio bands geared more for the average listener than for the Cotton Club patron.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments


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