Joe Venuti, the first and some would say best jazz violinist, recorded consistently brilliant performances both as a leader and a sideman during 1925-35. The death of his pal and musical partner guitarist Eddie Lang in 1933 was a major blow and Venuti’s career became aimless starting in the mid-1930s.
After cutting two songs with singer Chick Bullock in April 1936, other than two record dates in 1939, the violinist was not on records at all until 1944. During that time he led a big band that, despite introducing singer Kay Starr, went nowhere. Showing his frequently-inspired sense of humor, the one record date by his orchestra from 1939 yielded four titles: “Flip,” “Flop,” “Something,” and “Nothin’.”
Although he occasionally emerged and showed that he could still play in top form, Venuti would not get rediscovered until 1969 when he began a renaissance that continued until his passing in 1978.
Blue Five Swing is an unusual set from 1957 that matches Venuti with pianist Buddy Weed, either George Barnes or Danny Perri on guitar, bassist Ed Safranski, and drummer Bunny Shawker. The opening number, “Hoedown Lowdown,” has the violinist playing a country number. “Tango Interlude” is indeed a tango, and among the other selections are “Bohemian Bounce,” “Red Sea Rumba,” “Fickle Fiddle,” “Beautiful Oregon,” and “Sambalina.”
But have no fear for, despite the mostly obscure titles and a few departures, the music mostly swings well and Venuti was clearly enjoying himself. He cooks on “Nobody Loves Me” and “Concerto For New Sounds” (which is just a jump piece despite its title) consistently rises above the sometimes-pedestrian and dated backup band. On this rare and sometimes eccentric set, mostly put out originally on an LP from the Jazz Vault label, Joe Venuti shows that he never should have spent all of those years in obscurity.