CLARENCE WILLIAMS / AND HIS ORCHESTRA
featuring KING OLIVER and/or ED ALLEN
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Joe (King) Oliver or Ed Allen (tp) Charlie Irvis (tb) Ben Waters (cl & ts) possibly Ed Whittet (as on #1 and 4 only) possibly Omer Simeon (cl on #5 and #6) Clarence Williams (p) Buddy Christian (bj) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) vocals (on #2 and #3) by Anna Bell New York; 1928-29
1. Bozo (2:41) (Clarence Williams)
2. Kitchen Woman Blues (2:53) (Bell – Williams)
3. Lock Step Blues (2:59) (Bell – Williams)
4. Bimbo (2:34) (Clarence Williams)
5. Beau Koo Jack (2:39) (Melrose – Hill – Armstrong)
6. Sister Kate (2:56) (A. J. Piron)
7. Speakeasy Blues (2:54) (Clarence Williams)
8. Long, Deep and Wide (2:54) (Clarence Williams)
This LP, by an outstanding recording group of the late 1920s, pays tribute to a man who should be recognized as a key figure in any consideration of the full story of jazz, yet who usually manages to be neglected by historians and students of the music.
It would not be accurate, of course, to call CLARENCE WILLIAMS a "forgotten man." If nothing else, his many songs (most notably such jazz standards as Squeeze Me and Royal Garden Blues) will keep his name alive for a long time to come. Yet such things as the variety of his accomplishments, and the wonderful sound of the sort of jazz to be heard in this collection, are surprisingly little-known and under-valued.
As might be expected, Clarence Williams began his career in New Orleans - he was a piano player in Lulu White's Mahogany Hall, one of the most celebrated establishments in the re-light district known as Storyville, which can more or less precisely be described as the "birthplace" of jazz. Like so many other performers from that city, he had moved to Chicago by about 1920; shortly thereafter he shifted his center of operations to New York.
It was there that he became known as a most prolific, many-faceted and influential jazz personality: not only a pianist, occasional vocalist and successful composer, but also the head of a thriving music publishing firm that provided an outlet for his own numbers and for those of many other writers of songs in the jazz tradition (He retired from this business just a few years ago.)
Probably his most significant role was that of organizer and leader of excellent and unique recording bands. The eight selections reissued here were made about midway in a period of recording activity that lasted into the mid-'30s, and they can be rated near the top of the list. Among the most notable features of this music is that it is small-band jazz in the truest sense of the word. Not just music played by a numerically small group - that, of course, has always been a usual enough occurrence right down to the present - but music specifically designed for interplay between single sets of horns, music that is self-sufficient that way. In an era when the big orchestra like Fletcher Henderson's and Duke Ellington's with their unison section work, were setting the pace most jazzmen were trying to follow, this was a decidedly off-trail development. That it was a fully intentional one is shown by the fact that most Williams records made use of songs, and variations on the blues, written by the leader.
As the best small bands have always done, this group manages to achieve just as full a sound as almost any orchestra of more than twice their size. Their music is knowledgeable and smooth, played with the assurance of thoroughly experienced craftsmen who understand and love their work, who are modern enough to adapt a few big-band effects to their own uses, but see no need to be unduly influenced by them. You might say that the lasting value of Clarence Williams' kind of music is in the way it demonstrates what should be an obvious fact-of-life in jazz, but which actually seems to need proving over and over again in each new 'school' of playing that arises. The ability of this band to sound fresh, exciting, and complete-in-itself should indicate that power and impact need have no relation to size or to volume, should show just how much can be accomplished without resorting to mere "bigness" for its own sake.
The "and/or" billing on this LP calls for special explanation. As any jazz record collector knows, the task of getting out exact personnel is a torturous and often fruitless one. Record companies kept no such data until comparatively recently; and musicians can rarely be expected to recall with any certainty exactly who played on a specific one of the very many sessions they have taken part in, particularly when you consider how frequently and erratically the line-ups shifted, and that is all happened a quarter-century ago. It's also known that period, and can be determined. It's also known that KING OLIVER made some recordings, with this group when he came to New York in the late '20s. But exactly which ones these were is a mystery that may never be solved.
A "King" since his New Orleans days, Oliver had by this time begun a downward path that was to end, a few years later, in poverty and death. But the decline had barely begun. The trumpeter who must be ranked as one of the very greatest (perhaps second only to his celebrated protege, Louis Armstrong), was in his 40s, but he was still a musician capable of great fire and beauty. However, the "regular" horn with this band, ED ALLEN, is one of a great many virtually ignored jazzmen who belong no more than a notch or two below the top. In addition, he often sounded much like Oliver. The impressive lead here could belong to either; even musicians' era come up with nothing better than conflicting guesses. As for first-hand information, Ed Allen himself has noted that he and Oliver "did a lot of recording together," but adds; "Off hand, I can't remember what they were. It's been so long, and there were so many records that I wouldn't know some of them if I heard them today; in fact, a lot of those records we never even heard when they were first made."
So much for that, which seems only to add the further confusing possibility that both may at times have been in the studio together. Therefore our advice: leave the guesses alone, and settle for some fine, driving horn, on some remarkable records, as played by Oliver and/or Allen.
A note on the original recordings: These selections were first issued on the QRS label, although some also appeared on Paramount. Their label numbers and (in parentheses) master numbers, were: Long, Deep and Wide (151) / Speakeasy (152) on QRS 7004; Kitchen Man (173) / Lock Step (174) on 7008; Bozo (270) / Bimbo (271) on 7034; Beau Koo Jack (308) / Sister Kate (309) on 7044.
This 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 art by Robert J. Lee; typographical design by Gene Gogarty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.