JIMMY BLYTHE / SOUTH SIDE BLUES PIANO
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
1 Chicago Stomps
2 Armour Avenue Struggle
3 Mr.Freddie Blues
4 Lovin's Been Here And Gone To Mecca Flat
5 Sunshine Special
6 Be Yourself
7 South Side Stomp
8 Five O'Clock Blues
JIMMY BLYTHE is a name that appears on countless record label of the 1920s. But since those records happen to be among the most consistently rare and obscure jazz items ever issued, there are few people today who can claim any great familiarity with his piano style.
He was one of the mainstays of the most active years of & Paramount, which was one of the most notable independent labels of his day. He is also known to have been one of the outstanding exponents of the lost art of "rent party" piano - a man who could play with the best of them at those all-night stands that were theoretically designed to help the host raise some rent money, but that in practice merely were the best excuse in the world for a good many highly talented piano men to do battle with each other for as long as the liquor (and the piano) held out.
As something like a house man at Paramount, Blythe made most of his records as accompanist to blues singers or as part of various small groups - often featuring men like Johnny Dodds and Natty Dominique - who played in the uniquely relaxed and rhythmical style that was evolved on Chicago's South Side during the '20s. Such records called for a piano that would fill a relatively unobtrusive, if essential, role. Thus there is a real scarcity of recordings on which Jimmy Blythe was free to really cut loose and be himself.
This collection is attempt to remedy the situation, to turn a belated spotlight on a remarkably able performer who has been neglected even by the more thorough-going jazz enthusiasts and record collectors. Presenting some of the few numbers on which Blythe is the only or the main attraction almost amounts to introducing a "new" jazz personality, nearly thirty years after his records were first made.
Four of these selections are solos, firmly in the blues tradition and presumably very much like what Jimmy must have played any time before dawn on any number of occasions. But they are quite different from the standard conception of what the Chicago rent-party style of the '20s is like. Most of the men who have been associated with that kind of piano music played in a roughly powerful, unsophisticated vein. Men like Jimmy Yancey, Cow-Cow Davenport, pine top Smith and literally dozens of lesser-known figures were, however dissimilar their individual styles might have been, all capable of being described by terms like "barrel house" and "boogie woogie". Their music stemmed from the rough piano blues that had begun in such places as the turpentine camps of Mississippi and that had filtered up to the Midwest. It was a primitive style - although nothing at all derogatory is intended by that word - and belonged primarily to musically unschooled players.
Jimmy Blythe's blues piano is in strong contrast to this. Whether he is being lively or sensitive, and without ever being the least bit watered-down pr effete, it is always an educated, a knowledgeable style. In tunes like Chicago Stomps and Armour Avenue Struggle, which can be stacked up against just about anything any other piano player ever did, there's a strong suggestion that he had been listening, quite profitably, to men who were moving in very different directions from the South Side barrelhouse "primitives." In the rather ambitious chord structures there is at least a hint of Jelly Roll Morton, and the spirited rolls and runs bring to mind a quite different kind of "rent party" piano - the Harlem school of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller's early playing days. It's questionable how much direct contact there was then between Harlem and Chicago jazzmen, but James P. Johnson rolls had been best sellers throughout the country for several years. And if these men actually did influence Blythe's playing, it's quite safe to say that they could be proud of the results.
The two blues accompaniments give Jimmy more than usual prominence, with solo spots in both (plus a fortunately "wrong" recording balance that emphasizes the piano rather than the singer). He demonstrates here how he could temper his style to play behind a vocalist without descending to routine chord-chomping - and on Sunshine Special he manages the unique feat of playing a train imitation without the aid of boogie-woogie effects.
Blythe has always been most closely identified with the deceptively easy-going rhythms that belonged to the cabarets and back rooms of Chicago's Negro district, the South Side. It is in this style that he plays on the two Dixie Four selections accompanied by an unidentified rhythm section. These might be considered as extensions of the numbers he cut so often with Johnny Dodds, Roy Palmer and many other leading South Side citizens - with the important difference that here he can go all-out and on his own all the way through, without having to stand aside for any horn man. Driven by the drummer's beat on the wood blocks, Blythe romps on at a shopper pace and less introspectively, which serves to point up still another facet of the great variety and range of his skills.
A note on the original recordings: The solos Chicago Stomps and Armour Avenue Struggel were first issued on Paramount 12207 (with their master numbers being, respectively, 1750 and 1751). Mr. Freddie Blues (1025)/ ... Mecca Flat (1026) were on Para 12370. Five O'Clock Blues (20657)/ South Side Stomp (20659) were Para 12674; and Sunshine Special (2092) Be Yourself (2093) were Para 12276.
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 qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSODE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.