JIM ROBINSON and his New Orleans Band
Ernest Gagnolatti (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) Louis Cottrell (cl) “Creole George” Guesnon (bj) Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau (b) Alfred Williams (drs)
New Orleans; January 24 and 30(*), 1961
Ice Cream (4:47) (traditional/ arr. Jim Robinson)
In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree (3:19) (Williams – Van Alstyne/ arr. Robinson)
Mobile Stomp (4:34)* (Sam Morgan)
Bogalousa Strut (2:33) (Sam Morgan)
Jada (3:25)* (Bob Carleton)
Bugle Boy March (3:33) (trad./ arr. Robinson)
Yearning (3:45) (Davis – Burke)
Whenever You’re Lonely (6:00)* (traditional)
When You Wore a Tulip (4:50)* (Mahoney – Wenrich)
JIM ROBINSON, tailgater extraordinary, remains the favorite of the New Orleans “second liners.” When a brass band is lining up, the presence of Jim in a fresh white shirt, a pair of shiny blue pants and white parade cap is I itself almost a guarantee that the parade will be a good one. Robinson was almost seventy at the time of this recording. His long legs are not as strong as they once were, and his feet give him trouble. But if you are in New Orleans on a Sunday when there is a short church parade scheduled, you are still apt to see Jim striding down the center of a street at the head of a brass band, swinging the slide of his trombone at the second-liners following along on the sidewalk.
Not too long after Bunk Johnson was “discovered,” the band fronted by him made its New York debut. On September 19, 1945, a small but ardent group of fans at Stuyvesant Casino was shaken by the fist authentic New Orleans band ever to hit the big city, and by the robust Robinson trombone. Bill Grauer of Riverside, in the audience that night, has never forgotten the strength of Robinson’s playing and has long wanted to have Jim recorded for this label with a band that could best express his musical personality. So when the “Living Legends” series of location recordings was being planned, Robinson’s was among the very first names mentioned.
Jim is rather happy-go-lucky individual and there was some doubt expressed as to the likelihood of his caring to assume the responsibilities of leading a recording band. But as it turned out, these doubts were (fortunately) groundless. Jim has extremely well-defined ideas as to what constitutes authentic New Orleans style, and he was quite anxious to put them into practice. A week before Riverside’s mobile recording unit was due in town, I sat in Jim’s kitchen, and over a meal of red beans and rice and fried chicken we talked about then-and-now and how music has changed in his lifetime.
Even among a group of musicians noted for their conservatism, Jim Robinson is a rather extreme traditionalist. He feels that, as far as authenticity is concerned, the earliest “Revival” recordings were superior to those that followed. He said he would like his band to have an “old time sound” – by which he means an emphasis on a melodic development based on a shifting of the lead between trumpet, trombone and clarinet, and a minimizing of the importance of the solo as such. The musicians here were picked with Jim’s idea very much in mind:
Ernie Cagnolatti is fifty years old, one of the few “younger” men with a real feeling for the old idiom. In 1917, his older brother was playing drums in a band whose music Ernie still remembers – particularly their cornet player, Willie “Bunk” Johnson. On Bourbon Street in recent years Ernie faces the door when he plays, blowing the high piercing notes that are supposed to lure the cords in off the streets. But in the relaxed atmosphere of the hall of the Societe des Jeunes Amis, where this and the other Riverside New Orleans sessions took place, his trumpet found its way back to an old familiar groove, moving comfortably through the middle and lower registers to provide a firm melodic lead.
These are the first recordings Louis Cottrell has made since a few 1930s Don Albert band sides. Cottrell now has a reputation as a fine big-band tenor saxophone player, but it is much more relevant to note that he is one of the last of the “Tio line” of former pupils of that family of famed clarinet teachers. On this album he returned t his Albert-system clarinet and the fundamental New Orleans style in a way that delighted Robinson.
On bass is none other than the seventy-two year old Alcide “Slow Drug” Pavageau, bulwark of the Bunk Johnson and George Lewis bands, champion slow drag dancer, and unofficial mayor of Burgundy Street. Alfred Williams and “Creole George” Guesnon, drums and banjo, are alumni of the Sam Morgan Band, one of the best-known New Orleans orchestra of the 1920s. Guesnon calls it “the time band.” Sam Organ was famous for rehearsing his rhythm section by itself, standing in front of them and shaking a slapstick, until he was sure they were holding a perfectly even tempo. So there is nothing accidnetal about the terrific swing and power of the rhythm section on this album (which, in the old tradition, is a pianoless unit).
Robinson has always called Morgan’s the best band he ever played in and one of the best he ever heard. Jim was with it from its 1922 start. In 1927 Columbia recorded them: eight sides that some claim were the most important made by a full-strength New Orleans band in that city prior to the revival era. The discs are highly-valued collector’s items, but Jim hadn’t thought of them in years – until he made a 1958 European tour with George Lewis. Much to his surprise, the fans there knew the records and often requested old Morgan tunes. Lewis’ band didn’t play them – no New Orleans band besides Morgan’s ever had – but Robinson promised that, given the opportunity, he would cut some of them again.
However, he had forgotten the tunes, and Williams and Guesnon had not come into the band until after it had recorded and at a time when those tunes were no longer being played. Dick Allen, Associate Curatoe of the Tulane Jazz Archives, taped original copies of the Morgan records and brought them to a rehearsal of Jim’s band. When Bogalousa Strut was played, they listened quietly for a few choruses and then, one by one, began to play softly along with the tape recorder. By the time the track was finished, the six-piece band was already rolling, with Jim Robinson roaring the trombone part he had played thirty years before and Alfred Williams going to town on the bass drum. Much the same thing happened with Mobile Stomp. (Both tunes were named for places where the band frequently played.) Alfred Williams remembered that Bogaloousa Strut is based on two strains of Joplin’s Rose Leaf Rag, and Mobile Stomp seems to be a jazzed-up version of The Waltz You Saved For Me.
The musicians went on from these numbers to general remiscence about he Morgan band, and eventually such other tunes associated with Sam Morgan as Yearning and Whenever You’re Lonely were recorded. As for the rest of the repertoire here, Bugle boy March is a brass band favorite, and Old Apple Tree and When You Wore a Tulip are old pop tunes that provide pretty melodic lines to work around. Jada has a solo pattern similar to that used by most Dixieland, and contemporary New Orleans bands, here Jim and the others demonstrate that they can be effective solists when so inclined.
Incidentally, Ice Cream is credited by Pavageau with being in part responsible for the break-up of the Bunk Johnson Band. “Drag” says that Bunk was not really bad-tempered by he was “contrary” and a little jealous of any attention other members of the band received in New York. The band didn’t make things any easier by playing Ice Cream – on which Robinson was featured – at every possible opportunity, and according to “Drag” Bunk finally few to hate the tune. Ice Cream has retained its tremendous popularity with audiences all over the world. New Orleans leaders like Lewis and “Sweet Emma” never fail to call for it whenever Robinson plays with them. It is a logical opening for Jim’s album, for what jazz critic and historian Bill Russell once said about Ice Cram not only remains true of this number, but is almost equally true of everything here. Said Russell: “… a miracle of uninhibited joy.”
This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as played today made by Riverside in New Orleans during January, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “New Orleans: The Living Legends.” Sweet Emma and the musicians featured with her can also be heard in the first release in this series, which is an overall survey of the current Crescent City sense –
NEW ORLEANS: The Living Legends (RLP 356/357; Stereo RLP 9356/9357 – a two-LP set)
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Notes written by HERB FRIEDWALD
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Cover photos by RALSTON CRAWFORD, back-liner photos by FLORENCE MARS
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Friedwald in the in the planning and recording of this project. We also wish to express thanks for the cooperation extended by Henry Zaccardi, assistant to the president, American Federation of Musicians; and by New Orleans Locals 174 and 496, A. F. of M.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York