ALBERTA HUNTER with LOVIE AUSTIN and Her Blues Serenaders
Alberta Hunter (vcl) accompanied with Lovie Austin (p) Jimmy Archey (tb) Darnell Howard (cl) Pops Foster (b) Jasper Taylor (drs)
(Sweet Georgia Brown, C-Jam Blues and Gallion Stomp are instrumentals only)
Recorded in Chicago; September 1, 1961
St. Louis Blues (2:23) (W. C. Handy)
Maonin’ Low (4:45) (Dietz – Rainger)
Downhearted Blues (2:55) (Hunter – Austin)
Now I’m Satisfied (2:45) (Alberta Hunter)
Sweet Georgia Brown (6:36) (Bernie – Pinkard – Casery)
You Better Change (5:34) (Alberta Hunter)
C-Jam Blues (2:52) (Duke Ellington)
Streets Paved with Gold (3:02) (Alberta Hunter)
Gallion Stomp (3:00) (Lovie Austin)
I Will always Be in Love with You (3:17) (Ruby – Green – Stept)
Of all the albums recorded in Chicago for Riverside’s “Living Legends” series, this re-uniting of ALBERTA HUNTER and pianist LOVIE AUSTIN was not only one of the most memorable sessions, but also one of the most fascinatingly hectic …
Just before taking off for Chicago, we learned that miss Hunter, who now makes her home in New York City, was about to take a vacation trip to California. Thus was born the idea of having her stop mid-way long enough to enable the celebrated blues singe to have a reunion with her old-time Chicago accompanist.
This was to be our initial session in the Chicago series, and our first problem was to find a suitable locale for recording. The veteran musician Junie Cobb finally took me to the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, at 42nd and Cottage Grove on the South Side. The temple had no less than three pianos: but one was in a room whose huge windows faced the heavy traffic and street noises of Cottage Grove Avenue; while the second piano was locked – and no one was able to locate the man with the key! Our last chance was an enormous upstairs ballroom with a small bandstand and an old upright. Since Miss Hunter would be in town the next day –and for that day only – this, we concluded, would have to do.
Meanwhile, Riverside’s mobile recording unit (a huge Greyhound bus converted into a modern recording control room) and its engineering staff was due to arrive from New York in time for all 11 AM recording start, so that Miss Hunter would be able to continue on to California by catching a 5PM train. But unforeseen difficulties delayed the mobile unit en route; and the bus and its weary crew did not reach the hall until noon! By the time cable shad been fed to he second floor, equipment tested and a recording balance obtained, there were no more than three hours in which to complete the album! But somehow the session itself managed to reverse our precious luck – everything moved most smoothly and we were able to cut eight selections with Miss Hunter (seven are included here; one appears on the overall “Chicago” album described below), completing the album with three instrumentals while our good friend Lil Armstrong was rushing Alberta to her train.
Originally from Memphis, Tenn., where she was born on April 1, 1897, Alberta Hunter arrived in Chicago in 1909 and three years later embarked on a career that soon found her appearing for long stints at such famous clubs as the Panama and Dreamland Cafes. The Austin-Hunter association dates back to the early ‘20s, shortly after Alberta made her recording debut with Ray’s Dreamland Orchestra in 1921, making her one of the very first blues singers to appear on a disc. Then followed recording dates with Fletcher Henderson, the Original Memphis Five, Fats Waller, Eubie Blake, and the Red Onion Jazz Babies (with Louis and Lil Armstrong – some of these sides, made under the pseudonym “Josephine Beatty”, can be heard on Riverside RLP 101: “Young Louis Armstrong”). All this of course, in addition to much work with Lovie Austin.
Miss Hunter always wrote most of her own material, and this album also ably demonstrates her writing talents – which lately have been mainly devoted to the creation of gospel songs, several of which have been performed by her good friend, Mahalia Jackson.
A top performer during the mid-‘20s, Miss Hunter appeared on Broadway and then became the first bleus singer to hit the European continent. She has spent many years abroad – including more than twenty-five trips to the European and Pacific theaters of war with the USO during World War II, and later to Korea. In 1956 she showed further proof of her seemingly inexhaustible energy by enrolling at the YWCA School for Practical Nurses. Training at Harlem Hospital was followed in 1957 by acceptance of her present position as a nurse at New York’s Welfare Island. Thus Alberta Hunter’s career continues to be a very full and a very unselfish one. She has left many fond memories with thousands of people, whether it be in a hospital or a recording studio.
Lovie Austin, born Cora Calhoun on September 19, 1887, in Chattanooga, Tenn., made numerous recordings with her famous “Blues Serenaders” groups, with her sidemen including such great names as Johnny Dodds and Tommy Ladnier. Many of her early accompaniments to singers Ma Rainey and Ida Cox, as well as instrumentals, can be heard on albums in the Riverside “Jazz Archives” Series.
During the 1930s and ‘40s Miss Austin worked in the pit band at the Monogram Theater in Chicago, and also traveled with her own shows. Since the late ‘40s she has worked as pianist at a Chicago dancing school.
This is Miss Austin’s first recording in almost twenty years. While waiting for our engineers to set up the equipment, this white-haired but extremely youthful veteran reminisced about how she and Bessie Smith used to sneak through an alley to hear Ma Rainey sing at a theater. “We were too young to get in,” she recalled, “but Gertrude’s voice was mighty powerful, and Bessie used to sing along with it.”
A few minutes later Lovie was seated at the old upright, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, telling Alberta Hunter that, “we’ll do it the way we did it the last time.” Specifically, “it” was Downhearted Blues, the first selection to be recorded for this album. It was written by these two performers and originally made by them for the old Paramount label (it was also the tune that launched Bessie Smith to fame when she chose it for her first recoding). Incidentally, “the last time” Alberta and Lovie had done the number was 1923. Actually, these two grand old ladies of jazz had not worked together in about thirty years, but as the pianist said, “it seems like only yesterday” – and sounded that way, too.
Despite all the previously-noted handicaps, it was a most enjoyable session. “Isn’t she a killer?” Alberta hunter remarked of Lovie Austin. “She used to knock them dead driving around Chicago in her Sutlz Bearcat, leopard skin coat that matched the upholstery of the car.” Those days are gone forever, of course – but the melody lingers on, and there seem to be no regrets.
The instrumental backing here is thoroughly sympathetic, it should go without saying. The veterans Darnell Howard, Jimmy Archey and Pops foster are presently all members of pianist Earl Hines’ group (and can be hears in that band on another album in this series – Riverside RLP 398; Stereo 9398). Jasper Taylor is a near-legendary drummer and washboard stylist whose mid ‘20s work with Freddie Keppard can be heard on the Riverside “Jazz Archive” Series.
This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as played today made by Riverside in Chicago during September, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “Chicago: The Living Legends.” The artists on the present album are among those who can be heard on the first release in this series, on overall survey of the current Windy City scene –
CHICAGO: The Living Legends (RLP 389/390; Stereo RLP 9389/9390 – a two-LP set)
Produced by CHRIS ABLERTSON
Recording Engineer: BARRETT CLARK
Mobil unit assistant: RICHARD COHN
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photos by STEVE SHCAPIRO
Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York City 36, New York