YANK LAWSON'S DIXIELAND JAZZ
Yank Lawson’s Jazz Band: (on Side 1):
Yank Lawson (tp) Brad Gowans (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) (Ray Ekstrand, clarinet, added on #3 only) James P. Johnson (p) Eddie Condon (g) Bob Haggart (b) Tony Spargo (drs)
Yank Lawson (tp) Ward Silloway (tb) Bill Stegmeyer (cl) Joe Marsala (cl) (on #6 only and tenor sax; Dave Bowman (p) Bob Haggart (b) Johnny Blowers (drs) Recorded in New York; 1944 (1943-1944)
1 That's A Plenty (3'00") (Lew Pollack)
2 Yank's Blues (2'31") (Yank Lawson)
3 Old Fashioned Love (2'54") (James P. Johnson)
4 Squeeze Me (2'57") (Waller-C. Williams)
5 Wolverine Blues (2'53") (Jelly Roll Morton)
6 Double Clarinet Blues (2'49") (Bill Stegmeyer)
7 Sunday (2'57") (Miller-Cohn-Stine-Kruger)
8 Jeepers Creepers (2'55") (Mercer-Warren)
Here is convincing proof that Dixieland, at its best, remains as fresh, vigorous and skillful a form of jazz as ever.
These recordings happen to have been made in the mid-1940s (although Side 1 has never preciously been released, and the Side 2 selections have appeared only on EP), but they make up an exceedingly accurate sampling of today's Dixieland as it can sound when the circumstances are right. In effect, here is a definition-in-action of a jazz style that has developed, primarily in New York, during the past couple of decades. Although its roots can easily be traced back to, basically, Chicago and the 1920s, this is certainly a style with an identity all its own: lively, sharp-edge, unpretentious, and with the emphasis firmly on there being lots of room for solo work.
This is the kind of jazz you could, and still can, find in a number of Greenwich Village night spots. There, it can be argued, things may get to sound fairly routine and possibly even a bit tired at times - which is probably a penalty that must be paid for having long periods of steady work and a style that is no longer in any noticeable state of flux and growth. But no such charge can be leveled against the music turned out at these two record dates. For one thing, the style wasn't that firmly set at this time; nor had the steady-work habit really been formed. It's also interesting to note that the pattern of playing and playing and playing the same fairly limited repertoire is not in evidence here: except for That's Plenty, none of the real war-houses of the Dixieland book are trotted out, and even that tune gets a startlingly spirited going over. (Although Sunday, Wolverine and Squeeze Me are at least moderately standard items, they can't be said to have that done-to-death feeling about them that by now haunts, say, any rendition of Tin Roof Blues or When the Saints Go Marching In.)
So what you have here is a couple of groups of thoroughly experienced but still - unless our ears deceive us badly - eager and unjaded jazzmen, getting a couple of still-fairly-infrequent opportunities to really blow the way they want to.
Perhaps the key point to be made about the men who play here concerns their professionalism - in the best sense of that much-abused word. This is true of those who (like Bill Stegmeyer and Ward Silloway) have spent most of their time in the anonymity of big bands, record company house bands, and/or radio and TV studio groups; and it's equally true of the several musicians here who have long been important jazz names. They know their way around in this jazz idioms, know at all times exactly what they’re doing (which is not quite so common a virtue as it might be thought).
As for the famous names on hand, there is quite an impressive and variegated roster. Reaching furthest back, there is Tony Spargo, a member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which pulled up the curtain on jazz in New York back in 1917; and there is James P. Johnson, who was the dean of Harlem pianists, was a Broadway musical-comedy composer of note, and had a protege named Fats Waller - all of this in the earliest 1920s. James P.'s long career (brought to a halt by illness in recent years) has emphasized blues accompaniments and solo piano in the 'rent party' vein. But he fits most smoothly into this Dixieland style, standing out on all the numbers of Side 1, though probably most impressively on his own Old Fashioned Love. (Johnson can also be heard on two Riverside albums of solos transcribed from his early player piano rolls - RLPs 1011 and 1046.)
Eddie Condon and Pee Wee Russell are also notable figures in jazz history, being among the first (and, subsequently, among the most doggedly faithful) of the men who shaped that variation on traditional jazz that came to be known as "Chicago style." Pee Wee has had his weak days as well as his very strong ones; here his celebrated and unique growl-and-spit tone seems close to its most forceful and most cogent. As for Condon, to those who know him as primarily a table-hopping impressario in his own club these days, his firm and audible beat here may come as something of a pleasant surprise. Brad Gowans, Dave Bowman, and Joe Marsala are also firmly identified with the heyday of the Chicago-New York jazz axis; Marsala in particular shines here in the unique teamwork of Bill Stegmeyer's Double Clarinet Blues.
Finally, there are Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart, to be singled out as holders of a very special badge of merit; they were charter members of the dauntless Bob Crosby crew that almost singlehandedly kept Dixieland alive throughout the Swing Era.
In recording groups such as these, leadership is usually a nominal honor, rotated about from one date to the other. But in this case, Yank Lawson - who has been playing very fine horn for many years without attracting as much public acclaim as he merits - actually does a great deal to warrant the top billing he gets. He is particularly fine hand with the blues, as he shows on Jelly Roll Morton's Wolverine and on the original called Yank's Blues. And his full, piercing tone and authoritatively driving lead have rarely if ever been better displayed than they are here.
Riverside’s “Contemporary Jazz Series” covers a wide range of traditional, Dixieland and modern jazz performances.
Other LPs in this series include:
Lu Watters’ YERBA BUENA JAZZ BAND featuring Turk Murphy, Wally Rose, Bob Helm, Bob Scobey (RLP 2413)
BOB HELM’s Riverside Roustabouts (RLP 2510)
GEORGE LEWIS New Orleans Jazz Band and Quartet (RLP 2507)
GEORGE LEWIS, with Red Allen (RLP 2512)
RANDY WESTON: Cole Porter in a Modern Mood” (RLP 2508)
SARAH VAUGHAN sings with JOHN KIRBY’s Band (RLP 2511)
WILD BILL DAVISON (RLP 2514)
Gene Mayl’s DIXIENALDN RHTYM KINGS (RLP 2504)
DIXIELAND RHYTHM KINGS “New Orleans Jazz Party” (RLP 2505)
RED ONION JAZZ BAND: “New Orleans Encore” (RLP 2503)
Issued by special arrangement with Master Record Association
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.