Loren McMurray • The Moaninest Moan Of Them All

Loren McMurray • The Moaninest Moan Of Them AllBefore Coleman Hawkins, Sidney Bechet, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmy Dorsey, and Adrian Rollini made their first recordings, there was Loren McMurray (1897-1922). A technically skilled alto-saxophonist and clarinetist who occasionally played tenor, baritone, and soprano and was practicing to also master the bass clarinet, McMurray made a strong impression for a short time. Unfortunately his tragic death at age 25 from an infection cut short his life and he has been largely forgotten ever since.

Archeophone has compiled a two-CD set containing 49 of McMurray’s best recordings plus a selection by the Eddie Elkins band on which the group plays without the then-stricken saxophonist. The accompanying 80-page booklet is filled with rare information about McMurray but it has a few faults that are rather surprising for the Archeophone label. No credits are given anywhere for the lengthy liner notes. Colin Hancock put together the notes which are based on a lengthy article by Mark Berresford originally for Vintage Jazz Mart. Also missing is a listing of the personnel. While each of the performances is discussed and some of the other soloists and lead voices are sometimes mentioned, it is hit and miss. It is true that some of the personnel is probably lost to history, but considering that the cast occasionally includes trumpeter Phil Napoleon (always impressive whenever he appears), pianist Jimmy Durante, altoist Bennie Kruger, and trombonist Miff Mole, it is remarkable that there is no list. Another more minor fault is that the programming, particularly on the second disc, is not in strict chronological order.

Red Wood Coast

Loring McMurray’s playing is very much of the time period. He often utilizes slap-tonguing and bends notes in an occasionally humorous fashion. However unlike the virtuosic Rudy Wiedoeft, McMurray displays a strong feeling for jazz and one can certainly hear the influence that he must have had on Frank Trumbauer (who would later be an influence on Lester Young). While the liner notes exaggerate his importance a bit (would the history of the saxophone in jazz have really been that different if he had not existed?), McMurray’s playing was ahead of the few other saxophonists who were on record at the time.

Loren McMurray made a large number of recordings as a sideman during the 1920-22 period and this twofer has his main features as a sideman plus his lone session as a leader. McMurray had important associations with Eddie Kuhn’s Dance Orchestra, Mike Markel’s Orchestra, and Eddie Elkins, plus he made sessions with Harry Raderman, Ladd’s Southern Serenaders, Bailey’s Lucky Seven, Jazz-Bo’s Carolina Serenaders (the Original Memphis Five), Ben Selvin’s Orchestra, and the Virginians, all of which are represented in this collection. He was also featured with the unrecorded Paul Whiteman Saxophone Sextette and, if he had lived, he would have undoubtedly been part of the Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.

While these recordings are mostly ensemble-oriented with McMurray often playing lead, he is heard on the Markels Orchestra’s Oct. 25, 1921 recording of “April Showers” soloing throughout and sailing over the ensembles. As the set progresses into 1922, there are some individual solos although the breakthrough for soloists was still two or three years away.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Overall, this is a fascinating and valuable collection of mostly rare performances of early hot dance music. The long narrative untangles Loren McMurray’s story, both musically and personally, and puts the focus on a pioneering jazz saxophonist who even most 1920s collectors will have previously never spent much time thinking about.

The Moaninest Moan Of Them All
Archeophone Arch 6012

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 AllMusic.com. 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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