Cootie Williams • Concerto For Cootie – Selected Recordings 1928-62

Cootie Williams • Concerto For Cootie – Selected Recordings 1928-62Trumpeter Cootie Williams (1911-1985) will always be most famous for his association with Duke Ellington. He became Bubber Miley’s successor as Ellington’s plunger mute specialist during 1929-40 and, after a 22-year “vacation, he returned for another dozen years (1962-74). Williams had his own sound, could also play top-notch unmuted solos, and was always happy to acknowledge the inspiration of Louis Armstrong even while he sounded very much like himself. However there was more to his career than his years with Ellington.

The four-CD set Concerto For Cootie – Selected Recordings 1928-62 is a superb summary of his career. It reveals how the trumpeter adapted himself to the evolution of jazz and popular music while not compromising his sound. The collection begins with the trumpeter’s recording debut, two numbers with a group led by pianist James P. Johnson in 1928. Next it digs into the Ellington years with Williams not only heard with Duke’s Orchestra on such songs as “Hot Feet,” “Ring Dem Bells,” “Bugle Call Rag,” “Harmony In Harlem,” “Echoes Of Harlem,” “Concerto For Cootie,” and “In a Mellotone,” but on some of the best numbers from his own small group dates that mostly utilized Ellington sidemen (including the haunting “Blue Reverie,” “Tiger Rag,” “The Boys From Harlem,” “Black Beauty,” and “Black Butterfly”) plus selections from combo dates headed by Barney Bigard, Johnny Hodges, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson.

Red Wood Coast

In 1940 Cootie Williams made headlines in the jazz world by leaving Ellington and joining Benny Goodman for a year. Six numbers from that period including two with Goodman’s septet (“Wholly Cats” and “Air Mail Special”) are included, and then things get pretty interesting. What did Cootie Williams do during the “vacation” years when he had a lower profile? Turns out that he led a big band that was based at the Savoy and in time shrunk to a combo. He also made guest appearances in a variety of settings.

While not changing his own style, Williams recorded some early bebop (including the first recordings of Thelonious Monk’s “’Round Midnight” and “Epistrophy”), fit in well in the early rhythm and blues movement (featuring tenor-saxophonist Weasel Parker on “Typhoon”), accompanied some singers, and also performed swing. The recordings included in this collection include a very credible tribute to Louis Armstrong (“West End Blues”), an all-star outing on “Mop Mop” that includes pianist Art Tatum, Charlie Parker sitting in with his sextet on “Floogie Boo,” and songs featuring vocals by Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson (who is featured on alto during a riotous “House Of Joy”), Ronnie Gilbert, and Wini Brown among others. The reissue concludes with Cootie Williams featured back with Duke Ellington in 1962 on “September 12th Blues.”

Listening to the Cootie Williams compilation straight through, one can enjoy experiencing the evolution of jazz during a 34-year period and the often-underrated brilliance of the exciting trumpeter on 87 selections. Even collectors who have most of the Duke Ellington recordings should go out of their way to pick up this very well-conceived collection.

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Cootie Williams – Concerto For Cootie, Selected Recordings 1928-62
Acrobat 7182

Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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