BOB HELM'S RIVERSIDE ROUSTABOUTS
the San Francisco clarinet star featured in a group of his own jazz compositions
BOB HELM'S RIVERSIDE ROUSTABOUTS:
Everett Farey (cnt) Bob Helm (cl) Hank Ross (p) Bill Stanley (b, tuba-2) Bob Thompson (wbd) (cnt) omitted on 3,6 & 7)
NYC; October 8, 1954
1. Riverside Shake (3’27")
2. Dawn Club Joys (2'50")
3. Back Side o' Town (2'11")
4. Doin' the Plymouth Rock (2'17")
5. How'm I Gonna Do It (When I Don't Know What You Grave)? (4'54")
6. I Don't Want Any More (3'04")
7. Seagull Strutt (2'43")
8. Daybreak Blues (3'54")
To record Bob Helm has long been one of Riverside's major ambitions. Until very recently, however, it seemed a goal we were unlikely to attain. Helm, one of the outstanding figures in what is usually referred to as "San Francisco style" jazz, was firmly established on the West Coast; Riverside is at least equally firmly a New York operation. And for us, as for all but a very few record companies, cross-country recording trips just aren't realistic possibilities. Then, the unexpected opportunity suddenly presented itself.
In the early Fall of 1954, Turk Murphy's Jazz Band, a group in which Helm's clarinet plays a key role, decided to make its first journey away from California. Their tour began with a four-week stay in New York, which of course meant that Bob was finally within reach, and made possible this recording session.
Helm's skill as a jazz artist is no secret to the very many followers of the New Orleans-derived style that had its beginnings with Lu Watters' Yarba Buena Jazz Band. Bob was part of the original hard core of that band in 1940; he was with Lu again during the post-war period at the Dawn Club and Hambone Kelly's; and when the present Murphy band took over the job of carrying on this musical pattern, in 1951, Helm continued to demonstrate his right to be considered the clarinetist of this school.
Bob has been a working musician for just about his entire life. He was born in Fairmead, California, on July 18, 1914. His father played baritone horn, banjo, and guitar in marching and concert bands, and his mother was a pianist; so that it's not too strange that young Helm's first job, in a theater pit band, came at the age of eleven, or that he mastered a number of instruments (baritone and bass horns, cornet, saxophone) before settling on the clarinet.
He has played with a variety of bands, large and small, including a three-year stay (1943-46) with the 80th Infantry Division Band, which took him through much of Europe. But when the Yearba Buena re-formed after the war, Helm was very much on hand, with his warm tone and complex, imaginative phrasing among the most rewarding and satisfying elements in that group.
His talents as composer and arranger are probably not too widely known, for most of his tunes are in a somewhat different vein from the mainstream of the Watters-Murphy-San Francisco sound. This is the principal reason why only a few of them are now incorporated into the Murphy band's repertoire, and none of the originals on this LP have been recorded before. (Bob's interest in writing music, however, dates from his grade school and college training in harmony, and he has composed, arranged and scored for virtually every band he has played with.) Also, although Helm has been prominently featured on many sides, he has never before had a session of his own, one on which he was the main focus of attention. For such reasons, this record date shaped up as an important and long over-due event.
The supporting cast for this occasion was made up of four talented young traditionalists who share with, Helm and ability to steer clear of rigid 'moldiness,' combining with an affection for the early jazz spirit the skill and freshness of approach that insure its continuing vitality and validity.
Everett Farey is an outstanding representative of the "second generation" in San Francisco jazz, being only in his mid-20s and having been exposed to the Watters band at an early age. He sat in with Murphy one night early in the Summer of 1954 and was quickly asked to join that group on a permanent basis. This LP marks the record debut of his firm, direct, powerful cornet (although he'll also be heard on the sides the Murphy band recorded for Columbia while in New York).
The two horns are skillfully backed by the forceful brat of Bob Thompson's washboard and Bill Stanley's bass, and by Hank Ross' striding piano. Although these three had never before worked with Helm or Farey, they have been together for some time in the local Red Onion Jazz Band (Thompson and Stanley can be heard with that group on Riverside RLP 2503 - NEW ORLEANS ENCORE). This, plus the jazz feeling that all five men plainly share, helped them to mesh together quickly and to master the Helm tunes.
These compositions carry a strong flavor of the happy spirit of the easy-flowing, rhythmic jazz of Chicago's South Side in the 1920's. That style, associated with early jazzmen like Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Blythe, can be considered the starting point of most of these numbers. Instrumentation, particularly the use of the washboard, derives from the South Side period. But the long, clean, highly melodic lines of this music, and the often-intricate voicing and scoring of the five parts, are clearly the products of Helm's own inventiveness and taste.
The tunes range from the close-knit arrangement of Dawn Club Joys (celebrating the 1946 rebirth of the Watters band) to the straightforward blues statement of Daybreak. They were written over a several-year period, from June, 1946 (the date of Dawn Club) to the week of this recording (Riverside Shake was created especially for the session, and Plymouth Rock was also written in early October, 1954). Seagull Strut was written in 1947; the other four are all 1953 numbers and have lyrics - not used here - by Weldon Kees, the noted poet.
Helm's own comments point up additional interesting aspects of some of these numbers: Dawn Club Joys was originally "scored for two cornets, trombone, bass horn, banjo, piano, clarinet and drums," and has now been "re-scored for washboard chamber group;" Back Side o'Town was written as " an attempt at a 1953 Charleston tune," while How'm I Gonna Do It is in "the vaudeville spirit of the '20s; the pattern of verse, chorus, and patter was the construction of many numbers used by Butterbeans and Susie, Grant and Wilson, and Ma Rainey." Daybreak Blues is "a three-stain blues written with several Smith girls, and a Rainey in mind." Sea Gull Strut "was inspired by the choreographic efforts of a happy and enthusiastic female fan of the Yearba Buena Band, . . . sea gull being a slang term for a girl who follows the fleet. . . "
And, as put together in this album, they all add up to an impressive sampling of the several talents of Bob Helm.
Produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Gene Gogerty; photographs by Robert Parent.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 Wear 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.