PIANO, BRASS and BLUES
classic blues accompaniments
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Freakish Man (2:48)
Meade Lux Lewis (p) George Hannah (vcl); Chicago; 1930
Tuba Lawdy Blues (2:39)
Bert Cobb (tu) unknown (p) Sharlie English (vcl); Chicago; 1927
Can’t Make Another Day (3:22)
Roosevelt Sykes (p) “Baby Jay” (cnt) Edith Johnson (vcl); Richmond, Indiana; September 7, 1929
Dishrag Blues (3:12)
“Baby Jay” (cnt) unknown (p) Leola B. “Coot” Grant (vcl); Chicago; 1926
Weary Heart Blues (2:40)
Blind Leroy Garnett (p) James “Boodle-it” Wiggins (vcl, har); Richmond, Indiana; October 12, 1929
Black and Evil Blues (3:27)
Ike Rodgers (tb) Henry Brown (p) Alice Moore (vcl); Richmond, Indiana; August 16, 1929
Gambler’s Dream (3:03)
Thomas (Mutt) Carey (tp) Hociel Thomas (p, vcl); San Francisco; August 30, 1946
Troubled In Mind Blues (2:41)
Lee Collins (tp) Lovie Austin (p) John Lindsay (b) Baby Dodds (drs) Bertha “Chippie” Hill (vcl)
Chicago; February 5, 1946
On The Wall (3:00)
Cripple Clarence Lofton (p) Louis Johnson (vcl); Grafton, Wisconsin; 1930
Evil Woman Blues (3:01)
Dobby Bragg (p) James “Boodle-it” Wiggins (vcl); Chicago; 1928
Transom Blues (2:48)
Bert Cobb and Sharlie English same session as Side 1, No. 2
Molasses Sopper Blues (2:45)
Meade Lux Lewis and George Hannah same session as Side 1, NO. 4
This is a blues album. Unlike most others of its kind, it has been designed to place principal emphasis on the instrumental accompaniments. Some of these accompanists stand out here by reason of the notable merits of their performances (among them Meade Lux Lewis, Clarence Lofton, Mutt Carey); others may seize your attention primarily because of the highly unusual nature of what they are doing (the unique tuba sound of Bert Cobb, the most effective though undeniably crude trombone of the Ike Rodgers). Almost all of them, however – players and singers alike – are relatively obscure by any general standard of popularity; and almost all the recordings are of that order of rarely usually described as “collector’s items.”
But these selections are far more than mere museum pieces. They document the fact that music like this can transcend the specific narrow boundaries of its original time and place, that its meaning and appeal is still vital. (This same fact is surely also underlined by the recent resurgence in popularity of the blues. The dominance of instrumental blues on the current jazz scene does not of course mean that you’ll find any modernists playing in the tuba style of Bert Cobb. Unfortunately, it does not even mean that modern fans are at all likely to appreciate or applaud the music heard here. But it does at least point up the durability of this form of jazz and it provides living proof its importance as a foundation stone for almost all styles, regardless of how complex they may become.)
The music in this collection is for the most part quite basic, even primitive by some standards, and thus much of it serves as powerful illustration of the axiom that there is often great beauty in simplicity. The exact origins of the blues cannot be pinpointed, but we do know that it began to take recognizable shape out of a variety of Negro folk sources sometime late in the nineteenth century and that it was at first an unaccompanied or self-accompanied vocal form.
The vocal blues quickly developed into the familiar 12-bar framework. As it developed, so also did patterns of instrumental accompaniment, with guitar or piano, often played by the singer, as the earliest standard minimum background. A variety of rhythmic conceptions were explored and expanded. One of these, a style emphasizing a double-timed beat in the bass figures, a so-called “walking” or “rolling” bass against which treble figures were fitted, came to be called boogie woogie, a style that was of course most celebrated as a solo piano form. A foremost exponent of this idiom is Meade Lux Lewis, still an active performer, and featured here on two early selections as accompanist to singer George Hannah. Although he is known mostly as a soloist, Lewis furnishes a most moving piano background for Hannah’s rather effeminate voice, especially on the unusual Freakish Man, which concerns itself with what may well be interpreted as deviant sexuality, providing a particularly poignant example of the personally expressive and cathartic importance of the blues.
Others significant piano-accompaniment selections here include two in support of James “Boodle-It” Wiggins (the unusual nickname is of uncertain derivation, who sings in a rough-hewn, ‘primitive’ voice, but whose use of more conventionally standardized lyrics suggest the beginnings of the professional, popular-market blues (and rhythm-and-blues) singers of today. Dobby Bragg and Blind Leroy Garnett are thoroughly obscure names, but demonstrably talented pianists – particularly Garnett, whose work shows considerable ragtime influence. There is also an example of the particularly exciting and richly rhythmic work of Cripple Clarence Lofton, one of the major contributors to the boogie-woogie style. This number, On the Wall, with its unusual melody line, illustrates one of the many possible ways of expanding and improvising on the standard traditional-blues pattern.
Piano accompaniment soon was supplemented by horns that also sang the blues – a wordless blues, often more plaintive than the lyrics. Sometimes the result was a conversation, with the horn answering the singer in much the same way as a congregation answers the preacher in a gospel church. This antiphonal call-and-response pattern (it is also heard in African tribal music and in work songs) was an important part of the stomps played by early jazz bands and helped shape the later big-band “riff.” Good early examples of this are to be heard in the muted and very effective growing, by the cornetist known only as “Baby Jay”, behind the singing of Coot Grant and the tough-voiced Edith Johnson.
The most unusual accompaniments here are surely those provided by Bert Cobb. Although tuba was frequently used in early jazz before its replacement by the more flexible string bass, it was rarely heard in a predominant “front-line” role, which is what happens here. Strikingly effective, Cobb’s mournful tones add a good deal to the not overly-impressive voice of Sharlie English. Equally helpful is the earthy, crude and strong trombone backing and supplied by Ike Rodgers (famed for being able to play “only two notes” but able to play those with great effectiveness, on Alice Moore’s Black and Evil Blues. The two opening selections on Side 2 are of more recent vintage than the rest, but are nonetheless firmly in the tradition. They were recorded for Rudi Blesh’s Circle label as part of a mid-1940s program of recreating early jazz. Mutt Carey, a veteran New Orleans trumpeter, had never before had the opportunity to accompany a blues singer, but his playing on Gamblers Dream, firm and filled with a bittersweet beauty, combines with the voice of Hociel Thomas to create a vivid and authentic blues sound warranting comparison with some of the finest efforts of the ‘20s. Hociel Thomas (who plays her own piano accompaniment) was only moderately well-known in Chicago in the years when that city was seemingly overflowing with talented blues singers, but if the woman who sang so movingly on this and other 1946 numbers was presumably only a good “average” performer in the ‘20s, then certainly an extremely high standard must have prevailed then.
Trouble In Mind Blues (that being the original and rather more coherent title of the tune that’s invariably sung and listed as “Trouble In Mind”), features another New Orleans trumpet veteran, Lee Collins, whose background does include blues accompaniments to such as Lil Johnson, Lil Green and Victoria Spivey. The pianist is Lovie Austin, whose famous recording groups were a mainstay in the Paramount studios all through the 1920s, providing the background for such as Ma Rainey, Ida Cox and Alberta Hunter. The singer here is Bertha “Chippie” Hill, who in 1946 was beginning a successful comeback – in the ‘20s she had been one of the major stars. (Incidentally, the remarkable Miss Austin was to record again, in September of 1961 – at the age of 74 – as part of Riverside’s series of album entitled “Chicago: The Living Legends.”)
A note on the original recordings:
The Paramount label and (in parentheses) master numbers were – Freaskish 13024 (562); Molasses 13048 (560); Tuba Lawdy / Transom 12610 (20252-1 and 20346-2); Dishrag 12403 (3021-1); On the Wall 13008 (L 419); Evil Woman 12662 (20379); Can’t Make 12864 (GE 15560); Weary Heart (12878 (GE 15765); Black and Evil 12819 (GE 15447). (The last three, although released on Paramount, were actually recorded for that label in the studios of another celebrated jazz company of the day: Gennett.) Gambler’s Blues was first issued on Riverside 10-inch RLP 1042; Trouble was originally on Circle.
Other notable blues recordings in Riverside’s “Jazz Archives” series include –
Ma Rainey (RLPs 108 and 137)
Ida Cox (RLP 147)
Blind Lemon Jefferson (RLPs 125 and 136)
Great Blues Singers: Bessie Smith, Rainey, etc. (RLP 121)
Compiled by ORRIN KEPNEWS and BILL GRAUER
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Re-mastered 1961, by PLAZA SOUND STUDIOS
The slight surface noise audible on most of these selections is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)
All selections (except Side 2, No.1 and 2) re-issued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner.