NEW ORLEANS ENCORE by the Red Onion Jazz Band
Bob Hodes (tp) Charlie Sonnanstine (tb) Joe Muranyi (cl) Robin Wetterau (p) Chuck Kling (bj) Bill Stanley (tu)
Bob Thompson (drs) (Vocl on #3 by Sonnanstine and Muranyi; on #7 by Muranyi omit trumpet on #2)
1 Creole Belles (3:17) (J. Bodewale Lampe)
2 Misery Blues (4:33) (Gertrude Rainey)
3 Auntie Skinner's Chicken Dinner (3:36) (Carroll-Fields-Morse)
4 London Blues (4:19) (Spikes-Morton)
5 Snake Rag (4:30) (Joe Oliver)
6 My Mama Rocks Me (4:52) (traditional)
7 Salty Dog (3:50) (Charlie Jackson)
8 I'm a Little Blackbird (3:58) (Clarke-Turk-Meyer-Johnston)
The jazz tradition that began in New Orleans have been kept alive and unforgotten in many different ways - by those who treasure rare early records, by critical writing and scholarly research, sometimes by bringing original performers back into the spotlight in their old age. But the job of preserving these traditions is probably accomplished most effectively when young musicians demonstrate the tremendous vitality and endless youth of the 'old' jazz by playing it with a freshness and skill that can make today's listeners sit up and take notice.
That is what happens with the playing of this "New Orleans Encore". The Red Onion Jazz Band is made up of young men in their twenties. They were not even born when music very much like this was being played at the celebrated Storyville cabaret from which the "Red Onion" name is derived. But they have all come to know jazz, to love it, and to understand how it should be played. This is the important common bond they share. To them "jazz" does not mean atonal experimentation, or big-band arrangements, or the every-man-for-himself jamming of latter-day Dixieland. To them, "jazz" is what a band produces when it plays as a creative unit and when it feels a close allegiance to the original style that is the root and the source of an exciting American music.
Jazz began in New Orleans, as every schoolboy must know by now, with the fusion of a number of factors - among them ragtime, the blues, and the music of the Creoles - into a style of playing that was predominately improvised and that was varied and flexible enough to fit parades and funerals by day, dance hall and saloons of the Storyville district by night. Although the condition under which it first flourished have long since passed away, New Orleans jazz has a meaning and an influence, for a great many musicians and a great many listeners, that transcends time and space. As long as young jazzmen like those to be heard on this LP still turn to traditional jazz with ever-fresh enthusiasm, still make exciting use of its style and its repertoire, the music that began in New Orleans will remain a most potent force.
The allegiance that these young musicians feel does not call for studied, unimaginative imitation, or mote-for-note repetition of the way a tune sounded the first time it way played, way back when. The Red Onion Jazz Band is quite aware that it is playing today. These are performers who recognize that jazz is something extremely personal and alive and changing; it's simply that they very much enjoy the original jazz sound and have great respect for its abiding and unexcelled qualities. But they are able to add to that basic sound their own quite up-to-date ideas. There is nothing musty or academic here. There is, above all, a desire to share with the listener a thrilling musical discovery - the fact that traditional jazz is still something living, breathing, exciting, hard-driving, and a lot of fun.
The Red Onion Jazz Band came into existence largely through the efforts of Bob Hodes, whose classic trumpet tone and fast vibrato leads the front line, and who has taken on his shoulders the job of organizing and holding together this group. In part, the Red Onion outfit an outgrowth of a band called the Dixieland Footwarmers, formed by Bob Thompson and including among its members Hodes and clarinetist Joe Muranyi. Thompson is an amazingly versatile young man who is, simultaneously, graduate student and teacher of psychology, jazz writer and record reviewer, perhaps the best washboard player on the Eastern Seaboard - and, certainly not least, the highly professional drummer whose steady beat moves, these records along. He is primarily responsible for the band's concept of the music it plays as "something new that consciously builds on the most solid of jazz foundations."
With this concept in mind take note of the selections here. Creole Bells looks back to minstrels-show and cakewalk origins. Snake Rag was one of the most celebrated numbers of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. The blues are fully represented, and in a suitable variety: Misery Blues is by the great blues artist, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey: My Mama Rocks Me is one title for an ageless standard that enables both ensemble and soloists to show their understanding of the blues; Salty Dog was played on Chicago's South Side by the band of Freddie Keppard, a cornetist who ranked with Oliver; and London Blues belongs to the incomparable Jelly Roll Morton, who of course ranks all by himself. I'm a Little Blackbird is a show tune of three decades ago that was first sung by Florence Mills and was quickly introduced into the jazz repertoire via a Louis Armstrong recording, but has since been unfortunately neglected. Auntie Skinner is rollicking bit of good time music from the past of vaudeville.
Trombonist Charlie Sonnanstine, who is an alumnus of another exceptional young-old group, the Dixieland Rhythm Kings of Dayton, Ohio, emerges as the star of this recording session. It seems quite safe to make the sweeping prediction that he is marked for jazz greatness. Sonnanstine plays with all the free, earthy, pounding spirit of the early masters, and he stands out on all the numbers of his LP, but his talent is perhaps most noticeable on the band's moving and beautiful version of Misery Blues. On this selection, he blends with and share honors with the fluid and sensitive clarinet of Muranyi, who is very much in the tradition of Dodds and Noone. The rhythm section is sparked by Robin Wetterau, who is 23, and whose piano style (most notable on Creole Belles and My Mama Rocks Me) shows clear links with the ragtimers and with Jelly Roll Morton. The instrumentation, complete with tuba and banjo, is - it should go without saying - strictly in the New Orleans pattern.
As one striking example of the group's non-imitative approach pay special attention to Snake Rag. Here the traditional Armstrong-Oliver cornet breaks are taken, ensemble, by the full front line, with tuba player Bill Stanley (who, incidentally, has symphony orchestra experienced to draw on) providing a remarkable effect by sliding up-scale as the break moves downward. Originality is self-evident in such an example, but it is no less present everywhere on this LP. The net effect is just about what the band was seeking: a "New Orleans Encore" that makes its own contributions to jazz at the same time that it reaffirms the greatness of the traditional music.
Recorded and produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N. Y.