TOMMY LADNIER: Blues and Stomps
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Jackass Blues (f) (3:03) (Lovie Austin)
Heebie Jeebies (e) (2:50) (Tommy Ladnier)
Charleston Mad (e) (2:36) (Lovie Austin)
Steppin’ on the Blues (d) (2:30) (Austin – O’Bryant – Ladnier)
Brown Skin Man (c) (3:07) (Boots Hope)
Traveling Blues (c) (3:01) (Lovie Austin)
Play That Thing (a) (3:28) (Ollie Powers)
Traveling Blues (d) (2:38) (Lovie Austin)
Peeepin’ Blues (e) (2:44) (Lovie Austin)
Charleston (e) (2:44) (Mack - Johnson)
Worried ‘Bout Him Blues (b) (2:43) (R. M. Warfield)
Black Man Blues (b) (3:03) (Lovie Austin)
Of all the neglected Greats of early jazz – and a distressingly large number of fine musicians fit into this category – few if any are more deserving of having their name and music rescued from obscurity than the late Tommy Ladnier, whose driving and beautiful cornet style is featured on this album … These are among Tommy Ladnier’s earliest recordings, and they are full of the verve of a young man with the proper New Orleans jazz training just behind him and the right kind of jazzmen around him. Ladnier began in Chicago by playing in the back rooms of the South Side, and it is to this background that most of these numbers belong: a relaxed, free-flowing and spirited jazz, a Chicago variation on a style that must have had its beginnings in small New Orleans cafes.
It was played by groups very much on the order of Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders – although, to be specific, hers was a recording group, whose most frequent assignment was playing behind such Paramount blue stars as Ma Rainey and Ida Cox. Thus much of Ladnier’s recorded work was in the demanding role of the horn behind the blues – delicate task that calls for remembering that the singer is the star and you are the sideman, yet not letting this fact inhibit you from playing with force and fire. At its best, accompaniment for a traditional blues singer can be truly creative jazz. Ladnier filled this role just about as well as anyone ever did, a fact that is demonstrated on the few other currently available examples of his work – such as his support of Ma Rainey on Riverside RLP 137 and of Ida Cox on RLP 147 – as well as on the four Edmonia Henerson blues to be heard here (the last two on each side). In a way, these four are even more significant demonstrations of Ladnier’s musical strength than the others: for Rainey and Cox were among the greatest of blues singers; Edmonia Henderson was no more than an average one, and the cornetist’s ability to create and to accompany at the same time, and to lift the featured artist to the top of her potential is more notably in evidence.
The other numbers here (despite a couple of vocal touches, on the “Charleston” items) are primarily instrumental, and largely concerned with the blues and with that hard-pounding early jazz most accurately described as “stomps.” On the earliest of these, Play That Thing, Ladnier is with a group that includes clarinet great Jimmy Noone; and on one of the Lovie Austin Serenaders selections – the opening Jackass Blues – the equally great Johnny Dodds is on hand. Nevertheless, it is easy enough to focus one’s attention throughout on the remarkable horn of Ladnier: on his force and exuberance as well as on his deep understanding of the blues. The sureness and imagination with which he plays here inevitably emphasizes, in a retrospect, the tragedy of his failure to fulfill the promise of fame and greatness so clearly implied by this early work.
To speak of ‘failure’ is not to say that he was ignored by the jazz world in his day, or under-valued by those who played with him. Quite the contrary was true; but a variety of factors, some of his own making stood in the way of his braking through t major and lasting recognition. And so, although his name remains at least moderately well known to jazz enthusiasts; his music is much less so, particularly the forceful sound of his horn in its early Chicago period – as it ca be heard on this LP.
Ladnier was of Louis Armstrong’s generation; born, in fact, a little more than a month before Louis, on May 28, 1900. There’s another connection between the two: both gave major credit to the influence exerted by New Orleans pioneer Joe Oliver. Tommy once reportedly put it this way: “When you hear me playing, its not me really; it’s King Oliver.” This self-analysis is obviously overly modest, but its meaning is made strikingly clear by the incisive, decidedly Oliver-like, muted horn work on the e1923 Play That Thing.
You can carry parallels to Armstrong’s career quite a way in recounting Ladmier’s life story. Like a good many other sons of poor New Orleans families, Tommy turned to jazz early for his living. He is known to have played in Charlie Creath’s band in St. Louis in 1918, along with Pops Foster and Zutty Singleton. By 1921 he was in Chicago, but unlike Louis he left that city too soon – Just before jazz really rolled into its “golden era” there. By late 1925 he was touring Europe in a Sam Wooding band; later in the ‘20s he was with Fletcher Henderson in New York for a while (shortly after Louis period with that group), but he left Fletcher in favor of another European tour, returning in time to be caught in the Depression of the ‘30s. One story has it that for a time he shined shoes for a living, but French critic Hughes Panassie, who had heard him in France and had been mightly impressed, arranged for some late-1930s recording sessions with Sidney Bechet and Mezz Mezzrow, making Tommy perhaps the first of the old-line jazzmen to be “rediscovered.” Things seemed to be looking up then, but on Ladnier’s thirty-ninth birthday Mezzrow came home to the apartment they were sharing to find him dead of a sudden heart attack.
This erratic career had so much in common with Armstrong’s – New Orleans beginnings, Chicago, Europe, the Henderson band – that the very different end results must be blamed on something more than the simple fact that Tommy admittedly wasn’t quite Louis’ equal (after all, probably no one of his era was that). A lot of it may be found in his almost total lack of the showman’s personality that Louis has used so effectively; and even more in his singularly bad timing – his chronic inability to stay put long enough to become a lastingly important part of any period.
Whatever the reasons, though, his was still unquestionably one of the major horns of traditional jazz, one of the most exciting and at the same time satisfying to hear, and one that at the very least deserves this chance to be heard again.
About the original recordings –
(a ) Earliest and only non-Austin selection here, recorded in Chicago (like all the others) in 1923, by a group led by drummer Ollie Powers and including Ladnier on cornet, famous clarinetist Jimmy Noone, a second cornet remembered only as Calimese, trombonist Eddie Vincent, and Clover Compton on piano, Paramount 12059; master number 1502-4, this version being one of three takes known to have been issued.
(b) Edmonia Henderson vocals, accompanied by Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders: Ladnier, Jimmy O’Bryant on clarinet, and Miss Austin on piano. Probably November, 1923; Paramount 12084; master numbers 1603 and 1601, respectively.
(c) Edmonia Henderson with same accompaniment, plus Arville Harris, tenor sax. Probably February, 1924; Paramount 12095; mx. numbers 1689 and 1690.
(d) The same Austin trio as on (b). Late 1924; Paramount 12255; mx. Number s 10004 (Steppin’) and 10005(Travelin’). The latter selection bears no resemblance to the Henderson vocal blues of the same name, but has considerable similarity to another common early-blues figure.
(e) Ladnier, O’Bryant, Austin, unknown drums; probably May, 1925. Both “Charleston” numbers have vocals by Priscilla Stewart and were Paramount 12278; mx. Numbers 2094 (Mad) and 2095. Heebie Jeebies – unrelated to the tune of the same title made famous by Armstrong – was on Paramount 12283; mx. Number 2096. Peepin’ was on Paramount 12277; mx. No. 2097
(f) Latest of these selections, probably recorded in April of ’26, with Ladnier, Austin, an unknown trombonist and the great Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Paramount 12361; mx. 11096.
Produced by BILL GRAUER AND ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Re-mastered, 1961 by PLAZA SOUND STUDIOS
This material reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner.
The slight surface noise audible on this LP 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.
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