IDA COX: Blues for Rampart Street
Ida Cox (vcl) accompany with Coleman Hawkins Quintet
Roy Eldridge (tp) Coleman Hawkins (ts) Samm Price (p) Milt Hinton (b) Jo Jones (drs)
Recorded at New York City; April 12 & 13 1961
Blues for Rampart Street (2:57)
St. Louis Blues (3:22)
Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues (3:14)
Hard Times Blues (4:12)
Cherry Pickin’ Blues (3:30)
Hard, Oh Lord (3:44)
Lawdy, Lawdy Blues (5:53)
Death Letter Blues (3:36)
Mama Goes Where Papa Goes (3:25)
The first thing to establish about his album, I feel, is that it is a 1961 recording by one of the truly great blues singers – and that it is fully capable of being judged on its own merits.
Which is the same as saying (to put it negatively) that this is not a re-creation or a mirage ad certainly not at all a bit of trickery in which an elderly ex-singer was asked to trace over the outlines of her past glory.
IDA COX began singing in Southern minstrel shows at age 14, recorded extensively for the Paramount label between 1923 and ’28, and was one of the major stars of the Negro vaudeville and tent show circuits of the South and Midwest on into the ‘30s, which was undeniably a long time ago. There is some doubt as to her exact age (and I, for one, did not consider even the gathering of biographical data sufficient excuse for asking “Miss Ida” a direct question on that subject), but even though the 1889 birthdate given by some printed sources may be stretching things a bit, she was without doubt at least close to the end of her seventh decade at the time of this recording.
But the art of singing is not something that the years can readily take away, and Ida Cox has always been above all an artist of the blues. Even in the days of her early fame, she did not have a voice that in sheer power could equal that of Bessie Smith or Ma Rainey. But, despite – or perhaps even because of – this, there was present in her singing from the start (her earliest recordings beat this out) an unmatched understanding and ability to communicate the vitality, the pathos, the sheer poetry of the blues. It was, fundamentally, this quality that was sufficient to raise her to the top rank, to make her one of the very, very few who could properly be mentioned in the same breath with those two immortals of the blues. That spirit and artistry is still in evidence here …
Ida Cox had last recorded, before this, early in 1940. She had then been brought out of a semi-retirement by John Hammond – who asserts that he has been an Ida Cox fan almost as far back as he can remember – and appeared at his celebrated Carnegie Hall “From Spiritual to Swing” concert and at Café Society Downtown before disappearing from the public view. Her whereabouts were unknown, and she was frequently rumored to be dead, until late in 1960, when Hammond ascertained that she was living quietly in Knoxville, Tennessee. Riverside’s Chris Albertson conceived the idea of recording her again and, after finding it impossible to locate her by telephone from New York, set out for Knoxville in January of ’61. He found Miss Ida there, and some reminiscence about the good old days served to overcome her initial reluctance and brought her agreement to record again – not as any sort of “comeback,” but as a “final statement.”
To me, the undeniable historical and documentary significance of her “statement,” great though it may be, is overshadowed by the fact that this is a completely valid performance – blues-singing of real emotional power and entertainment value. It is this, and not just that Ida Cox is a name from the Golden Era of the ‘20s, that underlines the ‘authenticity’ of this recording.
If you compare these numbers with her original recordings of most of them (several of which have been reissued on Riverside, RLP 147 – IDA COX: THE MOANIN’, GROANIN’ BLUES), you’ll find that, understandably enough, the tempos are apt to be slightly slower, the pitch a bit lower. I discussed this point briefly with John Hammond at the recording sessions (which, incidentally, were the best-attended by press, critics, jazz historians and the like of any record date I’ve ever seen) and we reached the conclusion that, while her 1939-40 sides showed a singer of advancing years trying to retain her original vigor, the present efforts were the work of an artist aware of and able to make the most of both her strong points and her latter-day limitations. It should be noted that these are no all perfect ‘takes.’ Sharp listening ears will spot a lapse or two in the lyrics, and one that is a matter of meter. But “perfection” (whatever that might be) has never had much relevance to jazz, and there was also quite frankly a desire on our parts not to overtax the singer by going back for one more if there had been a passing rough moment or two in a take that felt good.
Formidable support is provided by a group, led by Coleman Hawkins and prominently including Roy Eldridge, that has considerable jazz stature of its own. These two “boys” (Miss Ida was heard to refer to Roy and Hawk that way on one occasion) are true giants, and their backing and solos here prove most worthy additions to a tradition of Ida Cox accompaniment that goes back to such as Tommy Ladnier, Joe Smith and Johnny Dodds. Sammy Price is not only a thoroughly blues-stepped veteran, but has the added qualification of having first learned from pianist Jesse Crump, who worked with Ida Cox for many years. The rock-solid team of Milt Hinton and Jo Jones is, as expected, a flawless rhythm base. It was Roy who articulated the feeling of all, and the horns in particular, that there would be no point in attempting to recreate or imitate a 1920s approach or sound. Instead, they played the blues as they feel them; Miss Ida sang them as she feels them; and – to no one’s surprise – it all fitted together beautifully.
The repertoire here consists largely of the singer’s choice, from among the many suggestions made to her, of those of her old numbers she felt most comfortable with on the two recording days, all of them either originally written or currently re-adapted by her. In addition there is the almost-inevitable W. C. handy St. Louis Blues, given the almost-inevitable Latin-pattern background by Eldridge and Hawkins, and (again according to tradition) with some amending of and adding to the standard verses. The final selection is also a standard, Mama Goes Where Papa Goes, which Ida had never recorded before but which was for many years one of her big in-person specialties.
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS and CHRIS ALBERTSON
Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER (recorded at Plaza Sound Studios)
Album designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York