The story of the beginnings of Preservation Hall in New Orleans is one with a few twists and turns. While many people ascribed the founding to Allan and Sandra Jaffe, and still do, apparently that is not quite correct. Jaffe, a revivalist jazz fan and tuba player, had a business degree from Wharton School of Business, Pennsylvania, and along with his wife, also a jazz fan, was asked to take over the management of the club.
The Jaffes did so, putting it on a sound business footing and in part establishing its reputation by forming a touring band bearing its name in addition to that remaining in New Orleans. (Perhaps that should be “those” rather than “that” as there were different personnel at different times in the resident New Orleans band.) The Jaffes did not disavow their being credited as founders, and today their son, Ben Jaffe, continues running the club and associated foundation.
But others were involved in the establishing of the club on St. Peter Street, among them Ken Grayson Mills and Barbara Reid, whose names are not often mentioned in this regard. In his book titled Preservation Hall: Music from the Heart (N.Y., 1991), William Carter acknowledges their contribution, and in a series of articles collectively titled The Hidden History of Ken Grayson Mills, Icon Records, and Preservation Hall in Exile published in the monthly British jazz periodical Just Jazz, Richard Ekins expands upon that recognition. (The series can also be found online at lacroixrecords.com.)
Mills had initially gone to New Orleans to record the older jazz musicians for his Icon Record label, and some of that material, including previously unissued tracks, is included on this CD, which focuses on some of the lesser-known New Orleans style clarinetists.
The first ten tracks feature Israel Gorman and His Pontchartrain Pals, a trio consisting of trumpet, clarinet, and banjo. While most of the cuts in this set will be familiar, there are a few that will not be, including a couple of improvised blues. Gorman’s clarinet tone is warm and woody, and he shows facility in all registers, his preferred one being the middle, as it is for most New Orleans clarinetists. Also like most, Gorman has a touch of vibrato that is not too wide and does not dominate, witness “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.” He also supplies a nice countermelody backing to the trumpet, as, for instance, can be heard on “Down in Honky Tonk Town.”
The next five tracks, all trad jazz standards, are by Steve Angrum’s New Orleans Footwarmers, a full eight-piece band with a two-horn lead. Unfortunately, the sound is not conducive to hearing the individual musicians as there is considerable echo, the acoustics of the venue being less than optimum. And that is a shame as the band is exciting, romping through the several tunes, but I can say little about Angrum’s clarinet contribution since his playing is not prominent. Despite these shortcomings, the tracks, all standards, are well worth hearing.
The final tracks portray Emile Barnes with Charlie Love’s Cado Band, a quartet or, as on the last cut, a quintet. Barnes, in line with most of his clarinet peers, has that non-shrill, warm N.O. sound with nicely controlled vibrato, and he finds all registers of the instrument congenial, as we hear throughout this set. But it is particularly noticeable in “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” He opens in the upper register, but when he takes the lead he descends to the middle and lower registers where his tone and vibrato are quite evident.
Also noticeable is Cado’s lack of vibrato on trumpet, by contrast. Along with the familiar numbers in this set is one which is almost never played by bands today—Mel Stitzel’s “Doodle Doo Doo.” (Stitzel is better known for “Buddy’s Habit,” “ Someday, Sweetheart,” and “Tin Roof Blues,” among others.) Another is “Black Bottom” (not to be confused with Jelly Roll Morton’s “Black Bottom Stomp”), composed by Gus Horsley and Perry Bradford.
While most of the material on this CD was previously issued on LPs, this is its first appearance on CD. Some half dozen of the items have never been previously issued. The clarinetists featured are hardly household names in the trad jazz community, so this is a useful collage to have to supply that deficiency. Also since they were not that widely recorded, it is good to have them together here and accessible. Kudos to 504/La C roix Records for making them available.
Ken Grayson Mills – An Epilogue
New Orleans Clarinets
(504/La Croix Records CD 98) Playing time: 77m. 55s.
This compilation CD is Volume 8 of the Lord Richard New Orleans Sessions issued on 504/La Croix records.
Just a Little While to Stay Here; When the Moon Plays Peekaboo; Yes, Yes in Your Eyes; Rocheblave Street Blues; Down in Honky Tonk Town; Blues for Icon Hall; In the Sweet Bye and Bye (Take 2); Somebody Stole My Gal; In the Sweet Bye and Bye (Take 1)*; Pagan Love Song
Israel Gorman and His Ponchartrain Pals
Recorded at 2456 N. Rocheblave St., New Orleans, LA, on Oct. 6, 1962
Ice Cream (Take 1); Sheik of Araby (Balance finder – Take 1)*; Lady Be Good (Balance finder)*; Sheik of Araby (vocal Kid Sheik – Take 2)*; Saint Louis Blues*
Steve Angrum’s New Orleans Footwarmers with Kid Sheik and Punch Miller
Recorded at 1110 Royal St., New Orleans, LA, on Aug. 6, 1961
Let the Rest of the World Go By; Doodle Doo Doo; Milneburg Joys; Old Grey Bonnet; I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter; Black Bottom; 22. Panama (Piano solo)*
Emile Barnes with Charlie Love’s Cado Band
Recorded at New Orleans, LA, on Aug. 29, 1960
I Want to Go Where You Go*
Emile Barnes with Charlie Love’s Cado Band
Recorded at New Orleans, LA, on Aug. 1960.
*Denotes previously unissued tracks
Also read Scott Yanow’s review of this album.