JIMMY BLYTHE'S STATE STREET RAMBLERS:
South Side Chicago Jazz
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Natty Dominique (tp) Jimmy O’Bryant (cnt) Jimmy Blythe (p) Jimmy Bertrand (wbd) – on “2, 6 & 8 only Stpom Evans (as) – possibly Bill Johnson (b) – possibly Richmond, Indiana; April and July, 1928
1. Pleasure Mad (3:12) (Archie Gillam)
2. Tuxedo Stomp (2:57) (Joseph Ronzan)
3. Oriental Man (2:39) (Minor – Blythe)
4. Some Do and Some Don't (3:18) (Buddy Barton)
5. My Baby (2:39) (Blythe – Robertson)
6. Brown Skin Mama (2:38) (Jimmy Blythe)
7. Tack It Down (2:57) (Jimmy Blythe)
8. Endurance Stomp (2:43) (A. C. Fernandez)
The first thing likely to hit your ears as this LP gets under way is the rhythmic and all-pervading beat of the washboard. It turns out to be a most prominent part of all eight numbers, driving things along at steady, rocking pace and serving also as just about a symbol of the jazz style that is on display here. This is music that belongs specifically to the 1920s and to Chicago's South Side: that rhythmic pulse is one of its basic ingredients; it's a form of jazz that was far from being smooth or polished (nor did it ever care to be care to be that way), and it was never the slightest bit concerned about such things as conventionally "proper" instrumentation.
Jimmy Blythe, Jimmy O'Bryant, Natty Dominique and Jimmy Bertrand were among the most important names in South Side jazz. Separately and together, they made a great many records for those mid-western labels that, in the process of catering to the Negro market, managed to preserve on wax a fortunately large quantity of fine jazz performances (even though most of them, in time, became rare enough to be classified as "collector's items"). Blythe and his colleagues made a substantial numbers of sides for Paramount during the '20s, and a smaller group, including the ones reissued here, for Gennett and its subsidiary label, Champion. They were - to look at it practically - moving up what was eventually to become a musical blind alley. Tastes and circumstances changed, and by now this form of jazz has been virtually forgotten by most people and so have most of the men who played it.
An easy-going and informal jazz sound, it was of and for the South Side - the heavily-populated Negro district of Chicago that was then the home of a great many highly talented jazzmen. It is a style that may be in part a descendant of the music played by small groups in the dives of New Orleans; many of the men who played in the vein in Chicago had learned their jazz down there. But it evolved primarily in the countless back rooms and hole-in-the-wall joints of the South Side; it had substantial audience there, and an appreciative one. While the '20s lasted, these men worked steadily, were looked up to by their neighbors, played only the kind of music they liked. There was no reason to play otherwise, no 'outsiders' to amuse and entertain. There was also no reason to feel any envy of those other musicians who, through circumstances or through a flair for musical showmanship of broader appeal, recorded for major companies, played in the big Chicago cabarets and theaters, or perhaps went on to New York, where Harlem at night was much less of Negro community and much more of a showspot for white tourists. As it turned out, however, it was those more enterprising players, not necessarily more proficient jazzmen than those who stayed with the South Side and the independent record labels, who were the ones to gain more lasting fame, both with the general public and with latter-day jazz enthusiasts. For in the Depression '30s, the music business in New York and the major record companies took their belts in a few big notches, but they survived. The small labels and this kind of jazz didn't.
So all that is left of the music of this time and this place are the records (many of which Riverside is currently making available once again) and the memory of a unique musical form that belongs within the broad general framework of "traditional jazz," but that adds to that category several special qualities of its own. As this LP should make clear, these include a simplicity and relaxation that are, in themselves deceptive. These men are never frenzied, but they can drive. They deal with melodically simple themes, but they have sufficient understanding and imagination - and the necessary thorough background of experience with the blues and stomps - to do a lot with them. They also have the ability to mesh completely with each other's performances, which accounts for a great deal here. Natty Dominique plays a rough horn, quite possibly the roughest ever recorded; there have surely been more fluid and far-ranging clarinetists than Jimmy O'Bryant. But they fit: with each other, with the blues piano of the talented Jimmy Blythe, with the inventive washboard maneuvers of Jimmy Bertrand. Above all they belong to the South Side style. It's hard to imagine who could have done a better job with the material at hand than this unit playing together.
The name "State Street Ramblers" is a possible source of confusion, since it has been used for varying personnel on several different record dates. (A 1931 session, featuring trombonist Roy Palmer and a substantially different group of State Ramblers, is reissued on Riverside RLP 1020.) In addition, these particular numbers, as brought out in the past on subsidiary and reissue labels, have been attributed to "Blythe's Blue Boys" and to the "Blue Jay Boys". These selections are taken from the results of two trips, made within a few months of each other, to the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana. On the later date, Dominique is absent, and an alto sax and string bass added. They can't be conclusively identified, and it might also be noted that - these having been just two of a great many casual dates by Blythe-led groups - some discographers suggest that Horace Eubanks, on clarinet, and perhaps even Jasper Taylor, on washboard, might actually have played on one or both dates. The uncertainty is typical enough, but the best 'educated guess' seems to call for the personnel listed above.
Strangely, the first session took place very shortly after Gennett and finished a period of making records "on location" in Chicago, which had, however, inconsistency might have been, the fact remains that this Chicago group was transported to Indiana to record. This is, obviously, a fact to be thankful for, since it brought forth these high-spirited efforts.
A note on the original recordings. Five of these numbers are from the April, 1928 session (the Gennett ledgers inexplicably fail to provide exact for several sessions at about this time, but the master-number sequence at least pins it down to this month). These are My Baby (master number GE 13686) which was issued on Gennett 6454, coupled with Pleasure Mad (GE 13688A); Oriental Man (GE 13687), which was Ge 6692; Some Do (GE 13690), Ge 6552; and Tack It Down (GE13691), Ge 6485. The incidental vocal breaks are by Buddy Burton, who was in the studio on that day, having just recorded two piano duets (Dustin' the Keys and Block and Tackle) with Blythe. The second date included Endurance Stomp (GE 14065), issued on Ge 6552: Tuxedo Stomp (GE 14066), Ge 6589; and Brown Skin Mama (GE 14067), Ge 6569.
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.
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.