GOIN’ TO KANSAS CITY
TOMMY GWALTNEY’s Kansas City Nine; featuring BUCK CLAYTON
Buck Clayton (tp) Bobby Zottoka (tp, peck horn) Dickie Wells (tb) Tommy Gwaltney (as, cl, vib, xylophone) Tommy Newsom (ts, cl) Charlie Byrd (g) John Bunch (p) Whitey Mitchell (b) Buddy Schutz (drs)
New York City; October 5 & 6, 1960
(An Old Manuscript, Walter Page and John’s Idea arranged by Gwaltney; all other arrangements by Newsom)
1. Hello, Babe (3:00) (Dickie Wells)
2. An Old Manuscript (3:26) (Razaf – Redman)
3. The Jumping Blues (4:07) (Jay McShann)som)
4. The Jumping Blues (4:07) (Jay McShann)
5. Walter Page (4:27) (Tommy Gwaltney)
1. Midnight Mama (4:39) (Jelly Roll Morton)
2. John’s Idea (3:09) (Count Basie)
3. Steppin’ Pretty (3:12) (Mary Lou Williams)
4. Dedicated to You (3:34) (Cahn – Chaplin – Zaret)
5. The New Tulsa Blues (4:37) (Bennie Moten)
Notes by GEORGE HOEFER, New York Editor, Down Beat
Back in the mid-1920s, Jim Jackson, an itinerant blues shouter from Arkansas, composed a blues song known as Goin’ to Kansas City. Jackson’s rendition featured ad lib chorus after ad lib chorus – for he could think of many reasons for wanting to go to Kansas City.
From 1928 through 1937, that city was a paradise for blues singers, boogie woogie pianist, and a jazz instrumentalists desiring to play in jumping bands. An Irishman named Tom Pendergast, one of the most powerful political czars in American history, made K.C. a wide-open town, with as many as twenty illegal saloons and nighteries in a single block. The favorable climate this gave to the development of jazz was quite unintentional, but it bore important results. There was a Kansas City jazz style, with a wealth of great names and great music identified with it.
There have been more than a few Kansas City-oriented albums during the ensuing years, commemorating the Missouri city’s jazz era with its strong rhythmic beat, fast-moving riff figures, and emphasis on the blues. Some of these have been recreations by the bands, singers and pianists (such as Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Joe Turner, Mary Lou Williams and others) who originally developed the Kansas City style. In addition, through the years reissues have made available many of the better-known works of the period. Still other recordings in this vein have been made by musicians with a proper affection for the K.C. style but who, as Tommy Gwaltney points out, too often “pretty much limited themselves to getting together and jamming on familiar Basie tunes.”
Gwaltney, whose strong interest in bygone jazz led him to develop this album, decided to do something more than that. He notes that “all these selections have to do with some phase of Kansas City jazz, including Base of course, but not forgetting that there were other hands and other influences which go to make up the complete picture.” His approach included an emphasis on some of the better tunes that have not been re-recorded or reissued. And Gwaltney determined to dress up these relatively obscure melodies in modern arrangements – but without destroying the original charm and impact.
In keeping with this attitude, he assembled a band that not only features such a notable and undiminished veteran of the Kansas City era as Buck Clayton, and Dickie Wells (another outstanding ex-Basie-ite); but also such fluent and sensitive younger musicians as Charlie Byrd, John Bunch, and Whitey Mitchell.
Gwaltney, who plays alto saxophone, clarinet and vibraphone, spent a decade with the bands of Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield before returning to his home town of Norfolk, Virginia, where he now leads his own dance band and jazz combo. Three of the arrangements here are his own; for the other scores he turned to Tommy Newsom, a fellow-Virginian. Newsom, who formerly played tenor saxophone with the Vincent Lopez orchestra, contributes several solos that are not only noteworthy but – coming from a completely unheralded artist – a real surprise. He performed throughout with a big tone and exciting drive.
Ferdinand (Jelly Roll) Morton’s Midnight Mama is the oldest tune in the album and represents the influence of New Orleans jazz on bandleader Bennie Moten. Jelly Roll visited Kansas City as traveling pianist sometime before 1920, and included in his repertoire were a batch of original piano rags. One of these was Midnight Mama, which he did not get around to publishing until he reached Chicago in 1925. Moten, a Kansas City-born pianist was leader of the town’s most active dance band, with many sidemen who later became members of the Basie organization. When sheet music for Midnight Mama became available, Moten had an arrangement made and recorded it for Victor in December, 1926. (Morton himself didn’t record the number until 1928.) Here, Bunch’s piano introduction is followed by a trumpet-alto duet by Clayton and Gwaltney. A Clayton chorus precedes one of Newsom’s outstanding solos. Then, after another Clayton-Gwaltney duet, the ensemble takes the tune out with a powerful ending.
Moten’s band recorded his New Tulsa Blues in mid-1927, as a follow-up to their 1924 Tulsa Blues. This Newsom version features some fine barrel-house piano blues by Bunch, both in solos and in ensemble fills.
Andy Kirk was brought up in Denver, Colorado, but his Twelve Clouds of Joy” spent a good deal of time in K.C. during the lush times. Many well-known jazz stars worked with Kirk then: Don Byas, Dick Wilson, guitarist Floyd Smith, Harold (Shorty) Baker and many others. But probably the most illustrious of Kirk’s employees was pianist Mary Lou Williams, who composed Steppin’ Pretty for the band, as well as a long list of other, better-known tunes. Kirk recorded this melodic number in March, 1936, for a very new recording firm know as Decca. In Newsom’s arrangement there are solos by tenor, clarinet (Gwaltney playing in the New Orleans low-register tradition), Clayton’s trumpet, guitar, and a second, short trumpet solo at the end by Bob Zottola.
Another nostalgic Kirk recording, made in December of ’36, was a rendition of Sammy Cahn’s ballad, Dedicated to You. Newsom scored his current version to place Gwaltney’s alto sax in the featured role originally filled by the romantic voice of Kirk’s star vocalist, Pha Terrell.
The Basie tune, John’s Idea, was first released on the reverse side of the original Decca of One O’Clock Jump in July, 1937. That arrangement was by Basie’s guitarist, Eddie Durham. Gwaltney’s version begins with much the same flavor – with a Basie-like piano introduction by Bunch, followed by Newsom and Gwaltney trading tenor-and-alto ‘fours.’ During the ensuing ensembles Newsom plays tenor fills and the former Jimmy Dorsey drummer, Buddy Schultz, is heard on several breaks. Bunch does another thirty-two bars, followed by a final trumpet-led ensemble fade-out.
A jumping Kansas City blues band under pianist Jay McShann came east in 1942 with alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in the section. One of the band’s few recordings with an example of Parker’s early soloing was The Jumping Blues, made for Decca in July, 1942. Newsom’s scoring of this blues highlights Bunch, Byrd’s longest solo of the LP, Gwaltney on vibes and a final Dickie Wells trombone solo.
Tennessee-born Wells wrote and recorded Hello Babe in December, 1943, for a small-band Signature date with Lester Young and Jo Jones. Newsom’s arrangement has room for his own tenor and Clayton’s trumpet, but the composer is featured, leading the ensembles and taking a legato trombone solo near the end of the track.
During World War II, Count Basie’s band recorded Old Manuscript, and it was released in January, 1945, on a V-disc. Gwaltney’s up-to-date scoring features his alto, muted Clayton trumpet and Bob Zottola on peck horn, and ends with a long Wells solo.
The two originals, composed in 1960, both pay tribute to the Kansas City jazz spirit. Gwaltney’s Walter Page is a personal bow to his friend, the great bassist who died in 1957. Page had been a member of the old Moten band as well as part of the first great Basie rhythm section, and also led a legendary band known as the “Blue Devils” during the early K.C. days. The composition has Gwaltney on both xylophone and alto, muted Clayton, and both Mitchell and Newsom (with 24 bars of rocking tenor) in their best solos of the album. Newsom’s Kansas City Ballad is designed as a Buck Clayton showpiece. His open horn is featured throughout, except for a brief piano solo by Bunch.
This completes an arm-chair visit back to Kansas City, with a current interpretation put on the basic qualities of some of the best facets of the still-vital K.C. jazz style. The chronological time sequence of these notes is intentional – emphasizing the spread of origin ranging from the mid-‘20s on up to the present in an effort to underline the fundamental fact that good jazz is timeless.
(This recoding is also available Monaural form on RLP 353.)
Produced by TOMMY GWALTNEY
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Recording Engineer: PHIL RAMONE (A & R Studios)
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
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