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Frank Youngwerth's Jazz

In 1939, Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Jazzmen cut one of the earliest jazz tribute records, "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say." Cornetist Bolden may have been the first man to play jazz, according to Ken Burns' recently aired PBS series Jazz, but we can only guess how he sounded since he left no recorded legacy. In fact, not until long after Bolden's mental problems forced him to retire from music would jazz be committed to wax. Another legendary New Orleans horn man, Freddie Keppard, turned down an early offer from the Victor label, leaving the first jazz records to be made in 1917 by a group of five white Crescent City musicians who'd joined together in Chicago as the Original Dixieland Jass (soon changed to Jazz) Band.

The ODJB set off a national jazz craze with its often frantic polyphony, in the process introducing many jazz warhorses-to-be such as "Tiger Rag". Keppard, based here during the 20s, eventually made about two dozen sides that reveal him to be hard-driving but not-quite-swinging. Perhaps the first really interesting jazz soloist on record (1922) was Leon Roppolo, clarinetist with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, a rollicking white group that one year later participated in a historic studio encounter with pianist Morton.

The PBS series rightly hails Jelly Roll as the first jazz composer, but fails to detail his illustrious recording career as a soloist and leader. With a handpicked ensemble dubbed the Red Hot Peppers, Morton captured his personal vision of the New Orleans style in a series of beautifully recorded sessions beginning here in 1926.

The Windy City served as jazz capital of the universe in the early-to-mid 20s, with no working group surpassing New Orleans cornetist King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Its seminally swinging 1923 recordings mark Louis Armstrong's debut, in the company of some of the finest first-generation jazzmen--drummer Baby Dodds, his elder clarinetist brother Johnny, and Oliver himself, whose influence on jazz trumpet would be surpassed only by his protege Armstrong. The pair's duet breaks continue to astonish despite the passage of 78 years and the persistence of 78 rpm surface noise.

The band broke up around the time of its final session that year, but the members continued to record together through the decade. Armstrong's celebrated Hot Five and Hot Seven consisted mainly of Oliver sidemen. Johnny Dodds eventually recorded again with everyone from the Creole Band,and on one date together with his brother and Jelly Roll Morton formed one of the first great jazz trios on record. Oliver carried on with larger groups playing written arrangements, still managing to feature his majestic horn to good effect.

Louis left the band and then left town to join Fletcher Henderson in New York, but returned in late 1925 to make his first recordings as a leader with the Hot Five. The first performing band he fronted, his Stompers, had as musical director innovative pianist Earl Fatha Hines. Clarinetist Jimmie Noone, Dodds' biggest rival in town, snagged Hines to kick off a series of utterly charming recordings with his Apex Club Orchestra in 1928. Hines went on to form his long-lived Grand Terrace Orchestra and influence countless pianists, including a young Bill Basie.

Hines continued recording with Armstrong through the end of '28, their collaboration yielding the pivotal "West End Blues" along with highly rated items like "Beau Koo Jack", written and ingeniously arranged by Alex Hill. Hill worked as a pianist with virtuosic trumpeter Jabbo Smith, who in 1929 released a series of recordings on Brunswick designed to compete with Armstrong's successes on OKeh. Smith's sides failed at their immediate objective, but are highly recommended to anyone curious to hear the Armstrong style being nudged further up toward the stratosphere.

Still, there were other new directions to take with jazz in the 20s, like that pursued by Iowan Bix Beiderbecke, who found inspiration in the ODJB's music. He became an instant hero to young suburban fans while only in his early 20s, offering them hope that a white kid could play authentic jazz too. Bix's understated cornet style hardly resembled the blues-drenched exuberance of Armstrong, but the two players recognized each other as peers.

Rising to prominence with the Wolverines, a spirited bunch named for Jelly Roll Morton's "Wolverine Blues," Beiderbecke went on to find a musical soul mate in C-Melody saxophonist Frank Trumbauer, a major influence on Lester Young, Bix and Tram worked with the dance orchestras of Gene Goldkettte and Paul Whiteman, but achieved jazz immortality through their small group studio work, especially on the ballad "Singin' the Blues" (1927).

By this time some of the eager kids Bix had inspired a few years before were beginning to mature and get noticed. The Chicago-based Austin High Gang, including Jimmy McPartland (cornet), Frank Teschmacher (clarinet), Bud Freeman (tenor) Joe Sullivan (piano), and Gene Krupa (drums) cut records that year for the OKeh label, just like their idols Louis and Bix. In New York, Red Nichols combined Bix-influenced phrasing, exceptional reading ability, and business smarts to become one of the most successful musicians of his time. On a long string of records released under a multitude of band names like the Five Pennies, Nichols featured the cream of a new generation of able freelancers like trombonists Miff Mole, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, and Jack Teagarden, reedmen Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Adrian Rollini, and Pee Wee Russell, and the violin and guitar duo of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Jazz took yet another curious direction during the 20s, following a route through France, Belgium, Germany, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Sweden, Spain, Egypt, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Italy. New Orleans clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet hit all these places, making him the most cosmopolitan of the early jazz greats. His discography is no less interesting than his travel itinerary. He made that Jelly Roll date that celebrated Buddy Bolden and the early days in New Orleans. The next time Bechet recorded for Victor he had drummer Kenny Clarke, this being just about the time (1940) "Klook" started gathering with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk for some rather interesting jam sessions at Minton's.

Frank Youngwerth, musician, composer, writer, and longtime Bix Beiderbecke afficianado, works for Tower Records

Suggested Listening:

Louis Armstrong-Hot 5s & 7s-single disc overview-ASV 5171 $11.99*
-Complete Hot 5s & 7s-newly remastered, beautifully packaged, nominated for a Grammy this year-89 tracks-4 CDs Columbia Legacy 63527 $54.99
-Hot 5s & 7s-4 CDs-John RT Davies remastering-JSP 100 $26.99
Johnny Dodds Story-1923-29-Jz Archives 158412 $11.99
Freddy Keppard-The Complete Set-1923-26-Retrieval 79017-import-John RT Davies remastering-$16.99
King Oliver-1923 w/Louis Armstrong-Jazz Archives 157462 $11.99
-Greatest Recordings 1923-30-ASV 5218 $11.99*
-Father of New Orleans Trumpet -1926-30-Jazz Archives 159242 $11.99
Jelly Roll Morton-1923-24-Milestone 47018 $16.99
-Birth of the Hot-the classic Chicago Red Hot Peppers sessions-1926-27-beautifully remastered-RCA 66641-$11.99
-The Pearls-RCA 6588-incl. "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say"-$11.99
New Orleans Rhythm Kings-w/Jelly Roll Morton-Milestone 47020- $16.99
Original Dixieland Jazz Band-RCA 61098-$16.99
Sidney Bechet-The Legendary-RCA 6590 $11.99
Bix Beiderbecke-Vol 1-Singin' the Blues Columbia 45450 $11.99
-Vol.2-At the Jazz Band Ball-Columbia 46175 $11.99
(We also have a couple of the out of print Bixology box sets from Italy's IRD)
Red Nichols & the Five Pennies-Rhythm of the Day-ASV 5025 $11.99*
Jimmy Noone-Apex Club Orchestra-25 greatest recordings-ASV 5235 $11.99*
-Apex Blues with Earl Hines-Decca 633 $16.99
Jabbo Smith-1929-38-(John RT Davies mastering) Retrieval 79013 $16.99
Joe Venuti & Eddie Lang-Stringin' the Blues-32 sides from 1927-33 2 CD set- Koch Jazz 7888 $23.99
or for a nice overview, try:
Hot Trumpets 1923-45 w/Louis (West End Blues), Bix (Singin' the Blues), King Oliver (Dippermouth Blues), Bunny Berigan (I Can't Get Started), Red Allen, Billy Butterfield, Jabbo Smith, Red Nichols, Harry James 25 tracks ASV 5208 $11.99*

These titles are available at the Jazz Record Mart. To order call 800-684.3480.