CRIPPLE CLARENCE LOFTON a lost recording date
Eight previously unissued piano improvisations (Recorded in Chicago; 1939)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
1. More Motion (2:52)
2. Sweet Tooth (2:49)
3. Sixes And Sevens (3:01)
4. Clarence's Blues (3:05)
5. Lofty Blues (2:55)
6. House Rent Struggle (3:07)
7. Juice Joint (2:42)
8. Salty Woman Blues (3:10)
Of all the many piano men who have played in the hard-hitting, low-down, barrelhouse style, certainly none has dealt more effectively in such qualities as sheer power and musical toughness than CRIPPLE CLARENCE LOFTON.
He belongs, of course, to a long and great jazz tradition that stretches back to the early years of this century, to the work camps of the deep South where a crude and rhythmic style of pounding the blues out of a piano had begun to evolve. By the 1920s, it had developed into much the form that Lofton plays here, and that a great many men were playing throughout the Midwest, particularly in Chicago. It became the staple item at the "rent parties" of that period, and in countless back rooms and honkytonks. Basically, this music is a part of the blues, and through it runs a prominent strain of the special technique known as "boogie woogie," with its fast, repeated bass chords providing a foundation upon which the right hand can build its blues variations.
Clarence was playing and making records in the '20s and he kept at it through the next decades, sometimes as a soloist, sometimes accompanying himself or other blues shouters, always seeming to tear at the piano with inexhaustible vigor and producing surges of great power. It was almost like a one-man revolt against the ever increasing softness and sophistication of so much of jazz, like a constant reminder that jazz is essentially a tough-minded music, that comes out of a hard way of life. That although it can surely be tender as well as hard-boiled, it must even then stay free of sweet sentimentality.
Little is known of the details of Lofton's life, and he tends to be virtually ignored in most books on jazz. But one of the most knowledgeable of jazz authorities, Williams Russell, writing in that invaluable volume of history and color, "Jazzmen," devotes a substantial portion of his chapter on this "picturesque and eccentric" man and his music. Russell begins by stressing the "almost savage crudeness and intensity of his playing," and then goes on to a first-hand account of how it was on the South Side in the late'30s:
"Down on South State Street, a little above 47th, is a saloon, lately known as the Big Apple, that might well be called 'Cripple Clarence's Boogie School." Here many young aspiring blues players meet to hear and learn from Lofton and one another. Sometimes a fellow who is only a beginner comes in and Lofton shows him a few things, and before long he can play a piece or two. As Cripple Clarence says, 'I gotta help these boys along, so when us old fellows are gone there'll be some more coming up.
"... Some nights there may be seven or eight piano players in the joint at one time, and occasionally other old-timers drop in. There was one evening when Jimmy Yancey, Meade Lux, and Clarence engaged in a cutting session and Clarence came out a poor third; but on other nights he has reversed the decision over the same men.
"... When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet... Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning-like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting his music...
“Clarence's joint is no high-class place; beer and sandwiches are five cents, other drinks ten. There's no checkroom; you park your coat and hat on top of the piano and get your ear full of the crudest and most honest-to-goodness piano playing you ever heard.”
Lofton playing the blues, Russell concludes, is more than just a performer; he "lives the blues." And that sort of undiluted instinctive sincerity, in which a man's music is full a part of him, not merely a conscious skill used to earn his pay, is surely the key to the amazing impact of this form of jazz.
These numbers, although issued here for the first time, were recorded some fifteen years ago. They were made in 1939 for Dan Qualey, the jazz enthusiast whose short-lived Solo Art label produced some remarkable piano recordings. Four other sides were issued; shortly thereafter, Solo Art passed into the hands of Circle Records. Its masters and related data were in quite in completely-catalogued form, and so it appears that no one actually was aware that a quantity of solos by Lofton, as well as a group by another infrequently recorded Chicago blues artist, Jimmy Yancey, were among them. For years, their existence remained little more than a rumor in the jazz world.
Recently, Riverside acquired rights to Circle material. Only then (during the sorting-out of the long-unassorted papers and accumulated piles of the records and parts that inevitably build up in any record company's offices) did the records unexpectedly come to light. A small, mysterious metal box turned up: unmarked and no more than three inches high, it was perfectly designed to have been overlooked for years. Inside were the "lost" Solo Arts, including a group of Yancey solos (which can now be heard on Riverside RLP 1028: Jimmy Yancey) and this bonanza of savage, gutty performances by Cripple Clarence.
There is a great variety of piano jazz to be found on Riverside, ranging from the earliest ragtime to rare performances by such giants as Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller. These are all 10” LPs (list price $3.95):
Ragtime Piano Roll, Volumes 1 & 2 (RLPs 1009, 1025)
Pioneers of Boogie Woogie, Volumes 1 & 2 (RLPs 1009, 1034)
Rediscovered Fats Waller Solos (RLP 1010)
The Amazing Mr. Waller, Volumes 1 & 2(RLPs 1021, 1022)
James P. Johnson: Early Harlem Piano (RLP 1011)
Rediscovered Jelly Roll Morton Solos (RLP 1018)
Jelly Roll Morton: Classic Jazz Piano, Volumes 1 & 2 (RLPs 1938, 1041)
Jimmy Yancey: a lost recording date (RLP 1028)
Jimmy Blythe: South Side Blues Piano (RLP 1031)
(The material by Williams Russell is quoted, by permission from the book "Jazzmen." edited by Frederic Ramsey. Jr., and Charles Edward Smith; copyright, 1939, by Harcourt, Brace and Co., Inc.).
This LP produecd 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.