JOE SULLIVAN / NEW SOLOS BY OLD MASTER
Joe Sullivan (p) with Dave Lario (b) Smoky Stover (dsr) San Francisco; 1953
1. Gin Mill Blues (3:56) (Joe Sullivan)
2. That's a Plenty (3:09) (Williams-Cramer)
3. A Room with a View (3:27) (Stillman-Swan)
4. Sweet Lorraine (3:30) (Parish-Burwell)
5. Hangover Blues (2:25) (Joe Sullivan)
6. Little Rock Getaway (3:16) (Joe Sullivan)
1. Honeysuckle Rose (3:16) (Razaf-Waller)
2. Summertime (3:40) (Ira and George Gershwin)
3. Fido's Fantasy (2:15) (Joe Sullivan)
4. My Little Pride and Joy (3:30) (Joe Sullivan)
6. Farewell to Riverside (2:36) (Joe Sullivan)en)
Thinking about piano players. Not some local talent you admired last night, some new flash who's sweeping the country, or some obscure primitive who can be dimly heard only on rare and battered old discs. Think of men who developed the several patterns of traditional jazz piano, whose skills are unquestioned and whose reputations are long-lived and solidly established* men such as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, James P. Johnson. And when you turn to white pianists, you'll probably come up immediately with the name of JOE SULLIVAN. It would be hard to find another name that so clearly belongs in that distinguished company.
The big, bespectacled, mild-looking Irishman, born on Chicago's North Side in November, 1906, has been playing blues, pop tunes and Dixieland standards for a good many years now, always with a firmly driving beat, considerable sensitively, and an unwavering affection for traditional jazz. He has played in all manner of clubs, bars, concert halls and the assorted odd pots where jazz is heard; in big bands, with small groups, and - for the most part, during the past decade - as a single.
The selection that make up this album are a fair sample of what you might hear from Joe Sullivan on any one or more of his frequent good nights at such spots as Eddie Condon's in New York or the Club Hangover in San Francisco, where he can often be found raising what in lesser hands in known as "intermission piano" to the status of a major attraction. Joe's approach is, as always, very much his own* he has absorbed and interpreted from a variety of sources, passing it all through the filter of his particular musical personality.
His solo work of recent years would seem to have expanded his horizons to include the sort of lyricism-tinged-with-moodiness to be found in numbers like Summertime and I Cover the Waterfront, which are not exactly tunes you could hope to get to play with a Chicago-style or Dixieland band. Half the repertoire here consists of Sullivan originals, including fresh versions of his most famous tunes: the romping Little Rock Getaway and the lowdown Gin Mill Blues. Of the other four, My Little Pride and Joy dates back to 1935 and the birth of Joe's first son, while Farewell to Riverside the reference is to the California town, not to this label) was written in 1942. Fido's Fantasy (dedicated to a friend's dog!) and Hangover Blues, named after the San Francisco club, are previously-unrecorded compositions. . . .
Joe Sullivan youngest of nine children, has been involved with music for just about all his life. There were music lessons in school, at home, at the Chicago Conservatory ("twelve years of classical"). Then, as a high school boy, it became a way of making a living (his first job; playing lunch-time dance music for Montgomery Ward employees). Jazz seeped in early; Joe recalls standing outside South Side clubs he was too young to enter, listening to Jimmy Noone or to the Dodds brothers. At a summer resort job he met George Wettling, and there was the night they went to hear the cornetist all the musicians were talking about Bix Beiderbecke.
Sullivan was much impressed by Bix then, and even more so later, when they jammed together at all-night sessions with such as Bud Freeman and Frank Teschemacher. But despite his early white-Chicago associations, which included membership in the earliest version of what has come to be termed "the Eddie Condon mob," Joe has noted that he was always strongly aware of there being two main paths in jazz between which he had to choose. "There was Louis Armstrong and there was Bix, and all that each of them stood for. To this day I love Bix like I love my right arm. But I go by way of Louis."
Actually, Joe has always done much of his playing with men like Condon, Freeman and Wettling, the ones who were "drawn to Bix and had made up their minds to follow him." But for Sullivan, as for musician like Muggsy Spanier, Negro jazz itself had more meaning and impact than any white derivative form. "I discovered that my heart was set with the colored musicians. . . Sitting in with the Kelly's Stable band - Johnny and Baby Dodds - to me was such a thrill that I was afraid classical training, I felt on the defensive, felt I wasn't worthy of playing as they were used to. It was only when they accepted me that I got the confidence I needed. Whatever I owe, I owe to those guys."
Tow pianist whose influence Sullivan quickly admits were around Chicago in the mid-1920': Jelly Roll Morton and Earl Hines. And when Joe decided to move on to New York later in the decade, "Earl told me to be sure to look up Fats Waller. I had already heard him play, liked his playing, and later became very friendly with him. Not that he tried to teach me anything, but I listened - and learned."
For the next few years there were road tours and speakeasy jobs, including a solo stand as probably the first entertainer at the first of the series of clubs on New York's 52nd Street to be known as the "Onyx." Then in the second half of the '30s came what is best described as Sullivan's "Crosby period:" a year and a half on the West Coast, working principally on Bing's radio show and in movies ; then on to New York to begin the first of two hitches with the Bob Crosby band, interrupted by a touch of T.B. After recovery came more movie work and another stint with the Bobcats, a tough grind of road tours, recording and radio during the pre-war big-band heyday. He was in New York, mostly on 52nd Street, during the war years, and since then has shuttled between the two coasts and many places in between. A long, crowded and still highly active career that surely qualifies Joe as an "old master" of jazz, but that - as these recordings vividly testify - has not robbed him of any inventiveness, sensitivity or spirit.
Riverside offers the work of many outstanding jazz pianists, including those to be heard on these ten-inch LPs in the "Jazz Archives" series:
Rediscovered Fats Waller Solos (RLP 1060)
The Amazing Mr. Waller, Vols. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1021, 1022)
Jelly Roll Morton; Classic Jazz Piano, Vols. 1 and 2 (RLP 1038, 1041)
James P. Johnosn: Early Harlem Piano, Vols, 1 and 2 (RLPs 1011, 1046)
The Riverside “Contemporary” jazz series includes such outstanding traditional and Dixieland performances of the past decade as these ten-inch LP’s:
Yank Lawson’s Dixieland Jazz (RLP 2509)
Ly Watters: 1947 – The Yerba Buena Jazz Band (RLP 2513)
Bob Helm’s Riverside Roustabouts (RLP 2510)
George Lewis (RLPs 2507, 2512)
Sidney Bechet, with Bob Wilber (RLP 2516)
Wild Bill Davison (RLP 2514)
The ‘Stride’ Piano of Dick Wellstood (RLP 2506)
Notes by Orrin Keepnews.
Cover by Gene Gogerty; photographs by Robert Parent
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.