JIM ROBINSON’s New Orleans Band plays Spirituals and Blues
Jim Robinson (tb) Ernest Cagnolatti (tp) Louis Cottrell (cl) “Creole” George Guesnon (bj) Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau (b) Alred Williams (drs) (Vocal on In the Sweet Bye and Bye) by Annie Pavacgeau
Recorded in New Orleans; January 24 & 30, 1961
Lily Of The Valley (4:06) (tras./ arr. Robinson)
Sweet Bye and Bye (2:54) (trad./ arr. Robinson)
Tin Roof Blues (6:24) (Mares – Brunis – Rappolo)
Jeunes Amis Blues (4:39) (Nathan Robinson)
You Pray For Me (and I’ll Pray For You) (2:33) (trad./ arr. Robinson)
Take MY Hand, Precious Lord (3:49) (trad./ arr. Robinson)
Toulouse Street Lament (6:04) (Nathan Robinson)
Dippermouth Blues (4:48) (Oliver – Armstrong)
A trombonist with rhythm accompaniment can be heard at the New Orleans Sanctified Church during Sunday services. From time to time country blues singer will wander into own and play guitar on a South Rampart Street corner until he has gathered enough money for a us ticket home. Spirituals and blues have long since been absorbed by New Orleans jazz, but far from fading into the music’s dim history, they remain a vital part of the repertoire of the authentic New Orleans band, such as the one led by JIM ROBINSON at a series of location recording session s of Riverside in January of 1961.
Jim was born Nathan Robinson in 1892 in Deer Range, Louisiana, a community on the banks on the Mississippi that was almost wiped out by a hurricane some years ago and now boasts a population of ten. Jim’s brothers were musicians (Sam Robinson played sax with Isaiah Morgan) and in his boyhood he played blue son the guitar. It was not until he was a soldier in France during World War I that Jim learned the trombone: “They handed me a horn and taught me to make a simple vamp on it. Once I picked up that vamp, the spirit of the music came right to me and I have been going good ever since.” Even the army knew a good thing when they heard it and Robinson’s abilities were not wasted on Sousa marches. He and a few New Orleans buddies played in a bouncy little dance band that was sent all over France to boost morale.
In New Orleans after his discharge, Jim became a longshoreman. He lived directly behind Economy Hall and one night when Kid Rena’s trombone player failed to show up for a job there, Jim replaced him and played so well that he was launched on a new career. Sam and Isaiah Morgan were both forceful trumpet players and it was during his ten years with their fine band that Robinson came into his own as a trombonist. Illness and changing tastes caused the band’s breakup in 1933 and Jim then played the taxi-dance halls called “jitneys.” As the depression wore on, music jobs became increasingly scarce. Jim’s rough and ready trombone could never fit comfortably into the brass section of a large swing orchestra and the “short” bands at the neighborhood clubs seldom included a trombone at all. Finally with nothing but an occasional parade to play, Robinson went back to work on the river.
Jim’s hangout was a bar on the corner of Marias and Villere and it was here that Kid Rene and “Big Eye” Louis Nelson came looking for him on the day of the famous Delta session in 1940. The records they made that day were the first of the New Orleans Revival. During the ‘40s when rekindled interest in New Orleans jazz was at its height, Robinson (who would not have been able to buy a music job a few years before) became the most sought after musician in town. Most of the important recordings of the revival were done for small, independent labels. Jim is probably on more of them than anyone else and the list of men he played with on these dates reads like a “Who’s Who” of early jazzmen. Robinson rode the crest of popularity with the Bunk Johnson band and remained with George Lewis when the he became the nominal leader. More recently Jim has played with “Sweet Emma” Barrett and various brass bands but this and a previous album in this series mark his own debut as a leader.
The hall of the Society des Jenunes Amis, where this session – and all of Riverside’s New Orleans recording – was done, is one of the best examples of a typical nineteenth century Creole dance and meeting hall still standing. It is a neat frame building with wide board floors and gaslight fixtures. The member of Jim’s band had not manoeuvered the narrow, steep stairway to the high balcony bandstand over the entranceway in many years. When they met here for rehearsal they decided to use, instead, a slightly raised platform at the other end of the long room. There was not a pronounced echo, but the sound was live enough to make the musicians feel at home and impart a dance hall flavor to what they played.
Like Jeunes Amis Hall itself, Robinson’s freewheeling six piece band was constructed along simple, classic New Orleans lines. The leader’s dynamic tailgate trombone both balances and propels the group. Ernie Cagnolatti plays a straightforward, economical trumpet style, with a light, clear brass band tone. (As recently as 1960, “Cag,” who is noted for his skill as a parade trumpeter and for his wide knowledge of vintage tunes, was working at one of the very last spots in the city where a traditional band still played for a dancing audience – a neighborhood club called The Harmony Inn.) The most adventurous horn here is probably Louis Cottrell’s agile, fluid clarinet, which tightens the ensemble passages and phrases so eloquently on the blues. Cottrell, who Robinson calls “the boss clarinet,” ranks with finest of New Orleans jazzmen of any era.
The powerful Pavagear-Guesnon-Williams rhythm section avoids the mechanical two-beat of Bourbon Street in favor of the pulsating, primarily four/four tempo. Williams is an outstanding parade man, a snare drummer, and the most dependable time-keeper in the city. Banjoist Guesnon had recorded his own blues compositions, under the name of “Creole George,” for the Bluebird label during the 1930s. Before joining George Lewis – and becoming one of the most affectionately regarded figures in the New Orleans “revival” – Alcide, “Slow Drag” Pavagear had played in ‘skiffle’ bands. Drag’s wife, Annie Pavagear, was on hand to sing on In the Sweet Bye and Bye. It bothered Annie not in the least that the band continued to play their loudest behind her vocal and she stepped away from the mike and clapped her hands while Jim thundered through his solo with Slow Drag pounding the bass behind him.
It is somewhat amazing to note that, although all the men in this band had been active in New Orleans for many years and were of course familiar with each other’s personal styles, these sessions were the first time they had all worked together as a unit. The almost innate sense of unity and form they demonstrate would be rare even in a band that had been playing together for years – which must be considered a tribute both to the skills and jazz feeling of these specific men and to the intangible aura of “togetherneess” that can be created by New Orleans music at its best.
This album is part of anextensive 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.” The Robinson group can also be heard on –
JIM ROBINSON’s New Orleans Band (RLP 369; Stereo 9369)
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover photo by RALSTON CRAWFORD
Back-liner photo by FLORENCE MARS
Album design by KEN DEARDOFF
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Fiedwald in the planning and recording of this material. 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