SHUFFLE ALONG PIECED TOGETHER
Due to its recent revival and modernization on Broadway, the pioneering Eubie Blake/Noble Sissle Shuffle Along show has been getting a lot of publicity lately. Now it is possible to hear a pieced-together version of the original. Sissle & Blake Sing Shuffle Along is a definitive set put out by the Musical Theater Project and Harbinger Records that includes most of the music and some of the dialogue from the 1921 production.
The complete story of the influential show is told in a very informative 24-page booklet included with the CD. The 21 selections on this disc come from three main sources. Four numbers are taken from early 1920s duet recordings by pianist Blake and singer Sissle. Seven performances were recorded in the 1970s for Blake’s EBM label including vocals by original cast member Ivan Harold Browning and three bits of dialogue. Most intriguing and historic are eight songs performed by Sissle and Blake on a previously unreleased set of demonstration recordings. Blake only recorded two numbers during 1932-57 so these performances, when he and Sissle were trying to interest producers on the idea of staging Shuffle Along of 1950, fills a major gap. In addition, there is an early recording by singer Gertrude Saunders (definitely an acquired taste) and a piano roll medley of songs from the show.
The music is programmed in the same order as it occurred in Shuffle Along, allowing one to come close to experiencing the show as audiences did in 1921. “I’m Just Wild About Harry” was the big hit but some of the other originals, including “Love Will Find A Way” (one of the first love songs performed by African-Americans on stage), “I’m Craving For that Kind Of Love” and “Baltimore Buzz” are also memorable.
This is a perfectly-realized set that should be of great interest to anyone with even a slight interest in early Broadway, Eubie Blake and Shuffle Along.
THE GALVANIZED JAZZ BAND
The Galvanized Jazz Band was formed in Connecticut in 1971. From the start, the core of the hot jazz group was cornetist Fred Vigorito, Noel Kaletsky (succeeded by Russ Whitman in the 1990s) on clarinet and tenor, pianist Bill Sinclair, Art Hovey on tuba and bass, and drummer Bob Bequillard. Along the way several musicians have filled the trombone and banjo chairs. After 55 years, the band is still very much active.
14th Anniversary at the Millpond Taverne reissues a spirited live session from 1985 that was only previously available on cassette (with two songs being issued for the first time). Vigorito, Kaletsky, Sinclair, Hovey and Bequillard are joined by three notable guests: trombonist Conrad Janis, a young Howard Alden on guitar and banjo, and singer Carol Leigh. While Alden has his spots (interacting with clarinetist Kaletsky on “Avalon”) and Ms. Leigh rouses the crowd during such numbers as “Just A Little While To Stay Here” and Bessie Smith’s “Trombone Cholly,” Janis makes the biggest impression among the guests. In fact, his percussive and emotional playing throughout this CD ranks with his best on record.
With Fred Vigorito and Noel Kaletsky contributing many heated solos and joining Janis in the exciting ensembles, this is a CD that will delight those who love extroverted and high-quality Dixieland. Highlights include “Milenburg Joys,” “That Dada Strain,” “Riverboat Shuffle” and “Clarinet Marmalade.”
THREE NEW RELEASES FROM THE RIVERMONT LABEL
Rivermont, under the direction of pianist Bryan Wright, has amassed a very impressive catalog filled with hot jazz, ragtime, stride and rag pianists, historic recordings and an extensive Big Broadcast series. Readers of The Syncopated Times owe it to themselves to explore the gems that they regularly release.
Ted Lewis occupies a unique place in jazz history. On the one hand, he became famous for his overly sentimental singing (which looked back nostalgically to a time period that never really existed) and his cornball clarinet and C-melody sax solos. On the other side, he often featured top-notch jazz musicians in his late 1920s/early ‘30s recordings including cornetist Muggsy Spanier, clarinetists Benny Goodman, Frankie Teschemacher and Jimmy Dorsey, and even Fats Waller.
However Runnin’ Wild, The Early Years 1919-1926 casts a different light on Lewis and his music. Other than trombonist George Brunies, who does not appear until the 19th selection, there are no all-stars to be heard and Lewis only takes seven vocals. The emphasis is on his band (which ranged from six to ten pieces) and the leader’s playing in the ensembles and as a soloist. Many of these early performances will surprise those who have stereotyped Ted Lewis. While there are some rambunctious outbursts, his playing much of the time fits in comfortably with the hot dance music of the early 1920s. This was very much his time period and he fares quite well on such numbers as “The Hula Blues,” “Queen Of Sheba,” “Hot Lips,” “Runnin’ Wild” and “Tiger Rag.” The program also includes Lewis’ earliest versions of his signature song “When My Baby Smiles At Me” and “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me.” A bonus is the six previously unreleased performances that were formerly in Lewis’ private collection. One comes away from this valuable “best of” collection with the conclusion that Ted Lewis was actually a better and more jazz-oriented musician in his early years than one would expect.
Ethan Uslan, who had recorded two previous CDs for Rivermont, is a classically-trained pianist who in college switched permanently to syncopated music. He plays both classic jazz and ragtime with equal skill and understanding. By The Sea is a set of wide-ranging piano solos that include such songs as “Chicago,” “Colonel Bogey March,” William Krell’s “Mississippi Rag” from 1897 (the first published rag), “Beer Barrel Polka,” “La Vie En Rose,” “Palesteena,” “Nagasaki,” and a jazz version of the very-familiar “Fur Elise.” Uslan’s playing is lively, contains many witty moments along with references to other songs and styles, and is often inspired by Fats Waller. Listening to his hot variations on “Nagasaki” makes one realize that he deserves to be recognized as one of the best in his field. I would love to hear him share the stage with Jeff Barnhart.
Paul Asaro’s Fat Babies Jazz Band has emerged since its founding in 2010 as one of the finest classic jazz groups currently active in the U.S. Based in Chicago, the septet featured on Sweet Jazz Music is comprised of pianist-arranger Asaro, Andy Schumm on cornet and alto, clarinetist John Otto, trombonist Dave Bock, Jake Sanders on banjo and guitar, Beau Sample on bass and tuba, and drummer Alex Hall.
A tribute to Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers, Sweet Jazz Music has plenty of variety. Seven of the 14 songs are transcriptions from the original recordings, with some melodic improvising taking place in the solos. “Black Bottom Stomp” is the closest rendition to the original record while “Doctor Jazz” is given a particularly rousing rendition. Someone should write vocalese to the opening trumpet solo (originally by George Mitchell); it would make a great song by itself.
However the most intriguing selections are the other seven. Five of the pieces have Asaro’s new band arrangements of Morton piano solos including “Freakish,” a polite “Tiger Rag” and “Spanish Swat” which includes some Latin rhythms. “Sweet Jazz Music” is based on a spontaneous fragment that Morton played on his Library of Congress recordings. “Croc-O-Dile Cradle” is the biggest find, a previously unknown Morton composition. Vince Giordano recently discovered two parts of the 1930 dance band arrangement’s sheet music, acquiring it for around $4. While not a classic piece, it adds to Morton’s huge musical legacy. New Jelly Roll Morton pieces are not exactly discovered every day (or even every decade).
The musicians know this music backwards. With Schumm (no Bix this time), Otto and Bock emulating but not copying George Mitchell, Omer Simeon, and Kid Ory, and Asaro playing variations on Morton, this is another successful and enjoyable Fat Babies project.
Runnin’ Wild: The Early Years 1919-1926 (Rivermont BSW-1164, 27 selections, TT = 80:08)
By The Sea (Rivermont BSW-2237, 21 selections, TT = 70:49)
Sweet Jazz Music (Rivermont BSW 2238), 14 selections, TT = 48:12) www. rivermontrecords.com
JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
Wild Bill Davison (1906-89) was one of the most colorful of all jazz cornetists/trumpeters. He had a distinctive sound and filled his solos with emotions ranging from sarcastic to sentimental. His growls and upper register screams (which were always a joy) made most other Dixieland trumpeters seem a bit bland in comparison. Davison had a long career and was often associated with Eddie Condon.
The Commodore Master Takes is a 1997 collection of the 24 selections that Davison made for the Commodore label during 1943 and 1945-46. They were his first recordings as a leader. At the head of groups that featured George Brunies, Lou McGarity or George Lugg on trombone, and Pee Wee Russell, Albert Nicholas, Joe Marsala, or Edmond Hall on clarinet, Wild Bill is heard in his early prime. The Commodores start off with what is arguably the hottest version ever of “That’s A Plenty” (Brunies never sounded better) and continues through a set filled with Dixieland and swing standards. As was typical of him throughout his career, Davison never plays a dull or uninspired note. Most of these songs would be in his repertoire for the next 40 years yet he managed to always sound enthusiastic and creative within his style. Whether it is “Panama,” “Original Dixieland One Step,” “Big Butter And Egg Man” or “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,” Wild Bill Davison is fiery throughout. If this particular CD is difficult to find, several European labels have also reissued this classic music. In any format, it belongs in everyone’s collection, along with a dozen other Wild Bill albums.
During my 40 plus years of writing about jazz of all styles and periods, I have come across many interesting and often-humorous anecdotes, quotes and tales. Everyone loves quizzes so I decided to create CHOPS, a series of 50 Jazz Trivia Quizzes (20 questions apiece) totaling 1,000 multiple-choice and true/false questions that cover the music’s past 100 years. While some of the topics deal with modern jazz, there are also quizzes on Louis Armstrong, Bix, King Oliver/Jelly Roll Morton, Jazz Before 1930, Benny Goodman, Duke, Count, Shaw, the Swing Era, and other stimulating topics. In addition, it is fair to say that humor is not exactly absent. CHOPS is available as a PDF file directly from me. It makes a great gift for your jazz-loving friends and especially yourself! Just send $25 via Pay Pal to email@example.com and I will email you CHOPS within a day.
In each issue of the Syncopated Times, this monthly column features reviews of CDs by classic jazz, 1920s and ‘30s, New Orleans jazz, Swing and Dixieland artists, covering both vintage greats and some of today’s top musicians. A steady stream of rewarding releases comes out every week and I endeavor to cover many of the best. If you wish to have your CDs considered for review, please send the music to Scott Yanow, P.O. Box 1220, Lake Hughes, CA 93532. If you are a musician and need liner notes, bios or press releases, feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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