BOB WILBER'S WILD CATS, VOL.1 / YOUNG MEN WITH HORNS
In 8 exciting versions of traditional jazz classics
BOB WILBER’S WILDCATS (on #1, 2, 5-8*):
Johnny Glassel (cnt) Jerry Blumberg (cnt) Bob Wilber (cl) Bob Mielke (tb) Dick Wellstood (p) Charlie Traeger (b) Deny Strong (drs)
NYC; December 31, 1947
THE SCARSDALE JAZZ BAND (on #3*, 4*):
Johnny Glassel (cnt) Bob Wilber (ss) Ed Hubble (tb) Dick Wellstood (p) Charlie Traeger (b)
Jeff Stewart (g) Jim Gribbon (drs – on #3) and Ed Rhyfe (drs - #4)
NYC; April 11, 1946
Once In A While (2:22)
I Can't Say (3:13)
Weary Blues (2:32)
China Boy (2:48)
When You Wore a Tulip (2:59)
Old Fashioned Love (3:07)
Salty Dog (3:08)
Mixed Salad (3:06)
1946 was a year in which it must have seemed that all young jazzmen were confirmed be-boppers and that no one under the age of forty would ever again play a traditional jazz tune. But, one Sunday afternoon in the Fall of that year, a handful of mild-looking, rather baby-faced young amateurs persuaded the management of Jimmy Ryan's, on New York's 52nd Street, to let them take over for a few numbers during the regular weekend jam session.
The results were sensational enough to justify the use of some over-worked phrase like "they blew the roof off the joint." These adolescents from suburban Scarsdale played tough old New Orleans standards like Weary Blues and Willie the Weeper, and they played them with an excitement most of the old pros hadn't equalled for years. The band that came to be known as Bob Wilber's Wildcats was surely the finest broth of fresh air the Eastern jazz world had been treated to in a good long time.
They were young (some of them quite a few years too young to be served drinks in the places they played in), and they were unpolished; but they had talent and a love of traditional jazz and all the spirit in the world. Not the least of their assets was that they were a band - not just a loose collection of individual musicians brought together for a job or two. They were a unit that had learned together (in a quantity of sessions at each other's homes that must have sorely puzzled staid Scarsdale) and that wanted to go on together.
What they went on to, with only slight changes in personnel, was a meteoric couple of years: playing concerts, club dates and broadcasts, recording for several labels, and stimulating other young musicians to explore the older styles.
Actually, much of their great promise remains unrealized. Although the Wildcats are still not very far into their twenties, a number of factors (not excluding shifts in their own individual jazz tastes) have already pushed them apart. The band is now just a memory. Bob Wilber has achieved the greatest fame, as leader of this and other group: Dick Wellstood is widely recognized as a fine pianist; some of the other boys remain working jazzmen, but some have turned to different things. Nevertheless, judge merely on the basis of the excitement they brought to the jazz world, and on the merits of such records as those that make up this LP, the Wildcats - as a unit - have carved out a considerable place for themselves.
The original sound that rocked Ryan's in 1946 - that raw and exuberant brashness - has never been heard on records before now. It was a somewhat different sound than you'll find on the six tunes they recorded for Rampart on the last day of 1947; by that time they had the comparative maturity achieved by more than a year's professional experience, and they had a few new members. But the original sound of the 'baby band' had been captured, almost by accident, a fully year and a half before their first pro record date - actually six months prior to the dramatic Sunday debut at Ryan's.
It happened this way: Bill Grauer, Jr., and Orrin Keepnews, now producers of Riverside Records, had heard the Scarsdale gang at impromptu private sessions and had been amazed. Without really having any clearer purpose in mind than just to preserve the evidence of these precocious talents, they joined with a friend, Bob Green (radio and TV writer and jazz pianist), parted with some spare cash, and rented a recording studio for a couple of hours on April 11, 1946.
The results were decidedly mixed. As you might expect from musicians whose average age was a shade under 17 years, the quality was most uneven. In addition, balance was poor. Wilber, who had begun taking lessons from Sidney Bechet a scant month before, appears to have had his troubles with soprano sax intonation; bassist Charlie Traeger was then just in the process of switching over from trombone; the drummers on hand were not the boy's first preference (Denny Strong, who provides a most solid beat on the later records, was then in the Army).
But despite all this, there is absolutely no need for modesty about the best performances of the session, such as the two included on this LP: Weary Blues, with its spirited ensemble work; and China Boy, on which first Wilber and then Johnny Glassel (who was then, almost incredibly, all of 15 years old) take driving and inventive solos.
For the other numbers here, the nucleus of the band is joined by Bob Mielke, a fine deep, Ory-style trombonist from California, and Jerry Blumberg, a young man from Baltimore whose announced ambition was only to play second-cornet parts (but who takes admirable solos on I Can't Say and When You Wore A Tulip. By this time the Wildcats were really coming into their own; and Wilber, heard here on clarinet only, was rapidly proving himself much more than just an emulater of Bechet.
Playing tunes, largely associated with the style of the 'old masters' ensembles them to indicate just how much they have retained of the traditional and how much they have adapted to fit their own needs, and desires. Once In A While had been done by Louis' Hot Five; I Can't Say and the preciously-unreleased Mixed Salad belong to Chicago's South Side era. Old Fashioned Love features a Wellstood chorus in a James P. Johnson vein; Salty Dog is of New Orleans vintage; and Tulip is the sort of old, old tune Bunk Johnson was then using to indicate the tremendous versatility of jazz. In each case, the extra added something that is all their own shows the Wildcats to be very much more than mere imitators, but rather pioneers of the Eastern jazz 'revival'.
Recordings by the Wildcats are reissued by special arrangement with Rampart Records.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Richard Hubsch
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.