It is always a bit bewildering from the math standpoint. Pianist-bandleader Luis Russell recorded in 1926 while his daughter Catherine Russell first emerged as an important jazz singer almost eight decades later. How many performers today who are in their prime had a parent who made records in the mid-1920s, 90 years ago?
It somehow works out. Luis Russell, who recorded with King Oliver and led a top Harlem orchestra during 1929-35 before it became the backup band for Louis Armstrong, was 54 when Catherine was born. Her mother Carline Ray, who played guitar and sang with the International Sweethearts Of Rhythm in the 1940s, was 20 years younger than Luis. Catherine Russell, who could conceivably have been singing in the jazz world by the mid-1970s, instead worked as a background vocalist with many top pop and rock acts including David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, and Paul Simon. It was not until 2006 that she seemingly came out of nowhere to record her first jazz CD, Cat.
Harlem On My Mind is her sixth album.
On many of the selections, Catherine Russell sounds very much like a late 1930s Chicago swing and blues singer. She is powerful on the title cut, is passionate yet subtle on such ballads as “The Very Thought Of You” and “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” gets lowdown on the bluesier material, and sounds very much at home on the swing standards. With the exception of the country-oriented “Talk To Me, Talk To Me” which is a change-of-pace, one can certainly imagine this music and Ms. Russell being heard in a nightclub circa 1939. Her backup band, which includes pianist Mark Shane, guitarist-banjoist Matt Munisteri, the big-toned tenor-saxophonist Andy Farber, trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and trombonist John Allred. is perfect for her. And one of the joys of hearing Catherine Russell is that she does not sound like anyone else, from the 1930s or today.
Get this one!
A SIXTY-MINUTE JUKEBOX
The British Halcyon label has compiled an intriguing set of music from 1932-38 called American Hot Bands Of the 1930’s – Bouncin’ In Rhythm. While its 20 mostly obscure selections are in chronological order and there is full discographical information (although no liner notes), the programming seems a bit random. 20 different jazz groups are featured with the emphasis on medium and fast tempos. Most of the performances are by small groups although there are a few big band cuts. The jukebox aspect is accentuated by the fact that most of the time there is only one second between performances (although it one case a song begins 14 seconds late!). The music is continuous so if one wants an hour of mostly obscure but high-quality vintage swing, this CD will fit the bill.
Featured along the way are Baron Lee’s Blue Rhythm Band, Joe Venuti, Benny Carter, Mezz Mezzrow, Chick Webb, Wingy Manone, Taft Jordan, singer Bill Barry, Adrian Rollini, Freddy Jenkins, Riley & Farley, The Six Blue Chips, Ted Wallace’s Swing Kings, King Garcia, Fletcher Henderson, Ben Pollack, Sharkey Bonano, A Jam Session At Victor (“Honeysuckle Rose” with Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey and Bunny Berigan), Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven and Dick Robertson. It is program that is perfect for any swing party.
Bouncin’ In Rhythm (Halcyon DHDL 154, 20 selections, TT = 57:11) www.cityhallrecords.com
VINTAGE JAZZ FROM EUROPE
Many jazz history books underrate the contributions of European musicians prior to 1960, other than mentioning Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. The truth is that jazz has been heard and performed around the world ever since recordings became widely available in the early 1920s. The better European players, who sometimes had opportunities to interact with visitors from America, caught on fairly fast. They initially learned to play jazz by closely emulating the sounds of Americans, both in the arrangements and many of the soloists. While there were a few distinctive soloists, a number that grew greatly in the 1950s, it was not until the modern jazz scene of the mid-1960s that European jazz musicians began to create truly new music in their own vocabulary.
The Kit-Cat Band Plays “Hot” Dance Music 1925-1927 features a twelve-piece group organized by British bandleader Jack Hylton to perform regularly at the Kit-Cat club in London. Most notable among the musicians are director Al Starita who doubled on clarinet and alto, hot trumpeter Tom Smith, either Hugo Rignold or Eric Siday on violin, and the group’s one major name of the future, trombonist Ted Heath, who led his own very popular dance band during 1944-69. The Kit-Cat Band’s 24 most jazz-oriented recordings are on their CD and they fit very well into the jazz mainstream of the day. The musicianship and jazz sensibilities are on the level of most contemporary American bands and the recording quality (other than the opening acoustic track) is excellent. Trad jazz musicians wanting to find lesser-known material from the 1920s will find much here of interest for only eight or nine of the two dozen songs are still played today. Fans of 1920s jazz will certainly enjoy these rare recordings which have lively arrangements and inventive solos.
Joe Daniels may not be remembered much today but he was one of Great Britain’s top jazz drummers for decades, starting in the mid-1920s. In 1935 when he was a member of Harry Roy’s orchestra, Daniels received a chance to make his first record date as a leader. His two-horn four-rhythm sextet’s renditions of “St. Louis Blues” and “Sweet Sue” sold very well and led to him leading a series of record dates by his “Hot Shots” into the World War II. years. It’s The Talk Of The Town (1940-1945) actually starts after Daniels’ first 80 selections as a leader. and is a strong sampling of his recordings of the early 1940s. Trumpeter Max Goldberg and clarinetist Nat Temple are on most of the selections although some sessions have Leslie “Jiver” Hutchinson, Dave Wilkins, Chick Smith or Allan Franks on trumpet and Cliff Townshend or Harry Lewis on clarinet. Pat Dodd, Herne Lewis or Cecil Norman are featured on piano.
Daniels’ music is excellent both for dancing and listening. This program contains a lot of fresh material with only 7 of the 20 songs being standards. The solos and ensembles are spirited and the music falls more into small-group swing than to Dixieland although there are aspects of the latter. The leader is both driving and subtle, giving each performance what it needs and keeping the music swinging. It’s The Talk Of The Town is well worth checking out.
The Ramblers was a Dutch swing band that made its first recordings in 1929 and lasted until the mid-1950s. It is perhaps best known for accompanying Coleman Hawkins on some classic recordings when he lived overseas in the mid-to-late 1930s. Somehow the group not only continued performing during the Nazi occupation years but made records during those dark years, using Dutch names for the songs even when the tune was based on an American swing standard.
In 1945 the Ramblers emerged from World War II. at the peak of its power. It had grown from a nonet to a 16-piece swing orchestra. The Ramblers In Brussel (1945-1948) [sic] is a CD put out by the Dutch Doctor Jazz magazine. While its extensive liner notes are in Dutch, there are excellent photos throughout the CD’s booklet, the personnel and song titles are easy to read, and there is no language barrier to the music.
None of the names of the musicians (other than Francis Bay, a future swing bandleader who plays trombone on one song) will be known to today’s listeners. However the musicianship is high-quality, the ensembles are tight and swinging, the solos are colorful, and the six vocals (from three different vocalists) are in English. Such familiar songs as “Dinah,” “You Made Me Love You,” “Candy” and “My Melancholy Baby” are given fresh arrangements while the lesser-known songs (which include some riff-filled blues) swing well. The influence of the new bop music is just slightly felt on one song in the arrangement but otherwise this is classic swing. The Ramblers could hold their own with other American big bands of the period and their consistent enthusiasm is often irresistible.
JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH
Because they followed the Original Dixieland Jazz Band by a few years and directly preceded the first recordings of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the contributions of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) tend to be a bit overlooked. They were the best jazz group to debut on records between the ODJB and Oliver and in 1922 had no real competition on records. The accurately-titled two-CD set The Complete Set has every one of the NORK’s recordings.
Leader-cornetist Paul Mares (who considered King Oliver an influence on his plunger mute work), trombonist George Brunies and clarinetist Leon Roppolo were the nucleus of the group which was originally known as the Friars Society Orchestra. They were a regularly working band for less than two years during 1921-23, making their mark on jazz history by featuring both freewheeling ensembles and solos (the ODJB played ensembles all of the time) with Roppolo’s choruses being particularly noteworthy.
During 1922-23 the group’s six recording sessions had three different instrumental lineups, appearing as a quintet, an octet and a tentet. Among the songs that the NORK either introduced or made popular were “Farewell Blues,” “Panama,” “That’s A Plenty,” “ Shim-Me-Sha Wabble,” “Weary Blues,” “That Da Da Strain,” “Angry” and “Tin Roof Blues” (with Brunies’ famous trombone solo). Five songs (including “Milenberg Joys” and “Mr. Jelly Lord”) have Jelly Roll Morton guesting on piano, making those among the earliest integrated instrumental jazz recordings. Also included on this twofer are all of the alternate takes, the NORK’s final two sessions from 1925 (with Santo Pecora on trombone) and Mares’ only other recordings, his excellent set from Jan. 26, 1935.
The recording quality is as good as it gets for these early recordings, the music is timeless, and the informative booklet is a plus. This is an essential acquisition for all serious early jazz libraries.
Since this review was published a new definitive set has been produced, please read: New Orleans Rhythm Kings Restored by Rivermont
The Complete Set – 1922-1935 (Retrieval RTR 79031, 48 selections, TT = 134:55)
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 email@example.com.