REX STEWART AND THE ELLINGTONIANS
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Rex Stewart’s Big Seven (side 1): Rex Stewrat (cnt) Lawrence Brown (tb) Barney Bigard (cl) Billy Kyle (p) Brick Fleagle (g) Wellman Braud (b) Dave Tough (drs) New York; July 23, 1940
Rex Stewart’s big Four (Side 2, #1-4): Rex Stewart (cnt) Billy Kyle (p) John Levy (b) Cozy Cole (drs) New York; Fall, 1946
Jimmy Jones’ Big Eight (Side 2, #5 and 6): Joe Thomas (tp) Lawrence Brown (tb) Otto Hardwick (as) Ted Nash (ts) Harry Carney (brs) Jimmy Jones (p) Billy Taylor (b) Shelley Manne (drs) New York; January 10, 1946
Solid Rock (3:51) (Rex Stewart)
Bugle Call Rag (4:15) (Schoebel –Meyers – Pettis)
Cherry (4:19) (Redman – Gilbert)
Diga Diga Doo (4:11) (Fields – McHugh)
Flim-Flam (2:34) (Rex Stewart)
Blues Kicked the Bucket (2:56) (Rex Stewart)
Madeline (2:46) (Rex Stewart)
Loopin’ Lobo (2:50) (Rex Stewart)
A Woman’s Got a Right to Change Her Mind (3:08) (J. C. & Irene Higginbotham)
Departure from Dixie (2:56) (Harry Carney)
Swing is a peculiar characteristic of all genuine jazz. It is considered a mysterious, unexplainable characteristic by some afficionados while others claim it is an important rhythmic and physical quality which is essential in any jazz performance. More penetrating analyses of the swing phenomena have produced theories explaining it as an exchange of rhythmic movement and musical expression inherent in the Negro and later adapted by white musicians. There have been various other theories but, as yet, nobody has been able to give an accurate definition of the term swing as a concept.
Swing is also applied, in a more confining sense, to a style which dominated the jazz scene from 1935 to 1945, the so-called Swing Era. This was the era of the big bands such as those of Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Ellington, Goodman (who became the uncrowned ‘King of Swing”), Chick Webb, the Dorsey brothers, Andy Kirk and numerous others. These bands produced some fine musicians who welcomed occasional departures from the confines of big band arrangements and often gathered in recording studios for informal small band sessions.
This album contains music produced at three such sessions, music which, in every sense of the word, is swing, played by some of the greatest exponents of that style. Eight of the tracks here are the results of two sessions recorded, six years apart, under the leadership of Rex Stewart. The remaining two tracks feature pianist Jimmy Jones with some of Mr. Stewart’s old friends from the Ellington band.
Rex Williams Stewart was born in Philadelphia in 1907. He started playing the cornet in 1919 and his first big break came five years later when, after stints with such obscure groups as Danny Doy’s Melody Mixers and the Oliver Blackfell Clowns, he joined Elmer Snowden’s Nest Club Band in New York City. A year later Henderson asked Rex to join his band as a replacement for Louis Armstrong who had decided to return to Chicago. Armstrong was idolized by Rex Stewart. “Louis was my big idol, there’s no question about that,” he recalls/ “He came to town wearing high shoes and I bought high shoes, he wore a peculiar cut of suit and I bought one like it … I tried to walk like him, talk like him and play like him, which I couldn’t do.” Reluctant at first, Rex finally accepted Henderson’ offer after Snowden threatened to fire him if he didn’t do so. During the next seven years he played with Henderson, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and led his own band. In 1934 he became a member of the Duke Ellington orchestra.
he four tracks on Side One were recorded in 1940 while Rex was still with the Ellington band/ Lawrence Brown and Barney Bigard were also with Ellington at that time while Wellman Braud had left the Duke five years earlier. Dave Tough was one of the best white drummers of the 1930s. A graduate of the Chicago school of jazz, he left the Teschmacher, Condon and Freeman clan in the late ‘20s and readily adapted himself to the big bands of Benny Goodman, Bunny Bergain and Tommy Dorsey. During the period when these recordings were made he was a member of Artie Shaw’s band. Billy Kyle did not come from a big band. He was the pianist of the wonderful six piece group led by John Kirby. A disciple of Earl Hines with a less complex left hand technique he was one of the finest pianists produced by the Swing Era.
Solid Rock is a blues with solos by Rex Stewart followed by Kyle, Bigard and Brown, Rex and Bigard made a recording of this same tune, under the title Solid Old Man, with gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt in France in the late 1930s. Bugle Call Rag, also known as Ole Miss, features a series of “breaks” by all, some fine and rather typical piano by Kyle and a bit of collective improvisation a la New Orleans jazz. Cherry is played here in a medium tempo with some barrelhouse type piano behind Rex’s open horn solo while Diga Diga Doo, one of the “killer-dillers” of the swing period, displays what each of the men can do with an up-tempo tune. These four, originally recorded for release as 12-inch 78rpm sides, also afford somewhat more room for solos than was usual in the pre-LP era.
The first four tracks on Side Two stem from a 1946 session. Here we have Rex Stewart with a rhythm section that features Billy Kyle (who by this time had left the John Kirby band and had become a big-band musician with Sy Oliver’s orchestra) and Cozy Cole (one of the busiest of drummers during the ‘30s and ‘40s), who at the time of this recording was anchor man of the Cab Calloway rhythm section.
The four tunes which represent this group here are all Rex Stewart compositions and they range from the slow, almost Ellingtonian, Blues Kicked a bucket through Madeline with Kyle and Rex exchanging solos, and the fast, fiery and almost vicious Loopin’ Lopo to Flim Flam which is a good example of Rex Stewart’s extraordinary valve technique.
The last two tracks, although they do not include Rex Stewart, are representative of this small band jazz period of transition from swing to bop. The presence of Otto Hardwick, Laurence Brown and Harry Carney gives A Woman’s Got A Right To Change Her Mind an Ellington flavor with solos by Carney and Brown while Departure From Dixie is reminiscent of some of the early bop recordings which make the title rather appropriate. Shelly Manne’s appearances on these sides is interesting in that they were recorded shortly before he joined Stan Kenton’s band and hit the big time.
This album is a good example of some of the numerous pick-up group sessions which were so popular in the late ‘3-s and early ‘40s. It also shows off some of the fine musicians whom Duke Ellington always has managed to surround himself with and, most of all, Rex Stewart who, while most musicians switched to the trumpet during the 1920s, still remains faithful to the cornet which he plays with a remarkable technique enabling him to play very complicated passages with the greatest of ease. The music contained herein represents an important phase in the history of recorded jazz. While these do not measure up to the technical standards of today’s recordings they are nevertheless of high musical quality warranting repeated listening and study.
All of these selections were originally issued on the H.R.S. label. As additions to the Riverside “Jazz Archives” series, they form part of a panorama of the history and development of recorded jazz that begins with the earlies efforts of artists like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller and many others available on Riverside re-issue albums. Thus they serve to continue this jazz story through the Swing Era. Other albums derived from the H.R.S. catalogue include –
JACK TEAGARDEN / PEE WEEL RUSSELL (RLP 141)
The Classic Swing of BUCK CLAYTON (RLP 142)
GIANTS of Small-Band SWING; Volume 1 (RLP 143) and Volume 2 (RLP 145)
Notes by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Re-mastered, 1960, by JACK MATTHEWS (components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.
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