With the success of Louis Armstrong’s recordings for Okeh, several other labels in 1929 signed promising trumpeter-vocalists in the hope of equaling Armstrong’s success. Victor recorded Henry “Red” Allen and Brunswick documented Jabbo Smith while Vocalion signed Reuben “River” Reeves. Readers can be excused for greeting the latter name with “who?”
Reuben “River” Reeves played in Chicago with Erskine Tate, Dave Peyton, and Fess Williams’ Joy Boys before making his series of recordings for Vocalion. He is featured on 15 selections which, considering they are from 12 sessions, leads one to believe that his recording dates were far from productive. A rough and ready trumpeter who had a very expressive sound and took some reckless chances à la Jabbo Smith, Reeves was actually technically skilled; he just tended to get a little carried away now and then.
His Tributaries (also called his River Boys) included his brother trombonist Gerald Reeves, the great clarinetist Omer Simeon, pianist Jimmy Prince, guitarist Cecil White, and drummer Jasper Taylor on the earlier titles. Other musicians including altoist Darnell Howard and Harry Gray on tuba are on some of the later sessions with a larger group. Several vocalists of varying quality also make appearances with Blanche Calloway (Cab’s older sister) faring best on “Black And Blue” and “Have You Ever Felt That Way.”
All 15 selections, which include “River Blues,” “Papa ‘Skag’ Stomp,” “Bugle Call Blues,” “Gotta Feelin’ For You,” and “Moanin’ Low,” are on a definitive CD from the Austrian RST label. Also on the set are the two selections that Omer Simeon recorded as a leader in 1929 (with Earl Hines on piano), four songs from the Dixie Rhythm Kings (a septet without Reeves that also features Simeon), and the only other session that Reeves led, a four-song big band date from 1933.
Reuben “River” Reeves spent a year with Cab Calloway’s orchestra, led his own band in Chicago during 1933-35, freelanced in New York, and was still playing on a part-time basis up until his death in 1955. His solos are often exciting and, even if his recordings did not reach the heights (or the sales figures) of those of Red Allen and Jabbo Smith, much less Louis Armstrong, he deserves to be heard.
Reuben Reeves & Omer Simeon
(RST Records, 25 selections, TT = 77:01)
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