TOMMY LADNIER Plays the Blues
for MA RAINEY and EDMONIA HENDERSON
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Ma Rainey and Edmonia Henderson with Lovie Austin and Her Blues Serenaders:
Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Arville Harris (ts) (on #1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 only) Lovie Austin (p) Chicago; probably Springand Summer, 1924
1. Those Dogs Of Mine (3:06) (Gertrude Rainey)
2. Lucky Rock Blues (3:04) (Gertrude Rainey)
3. Southern Blues (2:52) (Gertrude Rainey)
4. Ya Da Do Blues (3:01) (Lovie Austin)
5. Brown Skin Man (3:07) (Boots Hope)
6. Travelling Blues (3:01) (Lovie Austin)
7. Worried 'Bout Him Blues (2:43) (R. M. Warfield)
8. Black Man Blues (3:03) (Lovie Austin)
When the recordings that make up this LP were originally issued, the names of the blues singers were the ones featured on the labels. But on all of them, the horn that led the accompaniment, lending firm support to the singers and stabbing out brilliant breaks, belonged to a young man capable of playing with a power and beauty that few jazzmen have ever equaled. It seems, therefore, no distortion at all to after the billing of this reissued album, and give the star role to TOMMY LADNIER.
This is the second Riverside collection that attempts to focus a well-deserved, though quite belated, spotlight on this highly talented jazz artist. Ladnier belongs to that unfortunately large group of musicians whose names are moderately well-known, who are properly - if quickly - praised in passing in books and articles on jazz, but who have lived and died without ever achieving the major recognition that would seem to have been their due. A man like Ladnier, who did not manage to make any really substantial number of recordings, is in danger of becoming little more than a "legend" - which is the unsatisfying word most usually applied to a performer simply because few people, if any, are in much of a position to know exactly how he played, and what kind of musical contribution he had to offer. One purpose of these reissues, then, is to try to give Tommy Ladnier something like his rightful place in the overall jazz picture by keeping him from becoming a vague legend, and turning him instead into a solidly audible memory.
In a career that extended into the late 1930s, Ladnier was a sideman with Fletcher Henderson on two occasions, toured Europe, and - after some rough going in the Depression years - finally created, in a group of recordings with Sidney Bechet and Mezz Mezzrow, an impressive, swinging-yet-traditional sound. Then, in the Spring of 1939, he suddenly died, of a heart attack. (The Ladnier story is outlined more fully in the notes to Riverside RLP 1026 - Tommy Ladnier, Volume 1: Blues and Stomps, which is the first of a projected group of reissues featuring Ladnier in purely instrumental numbers.)
But in the playing of his early years - and these are among the first records he made after coming up to Chicago from his native New Orleans - there is a special warmth and excitement. It is perhaps difficult to listen to his later records without being influenced by the knowledge that this was a man who missed out, defeated by - as much as anything else - his own inability to stay in the right place until the right time (he left Chicago before the real hey-day of jazz there; he wasn't with Henderson long enough to share much of that band's substantial and long-lived success). But in listening to the Ladnier of 1924, it's possible to forget all that, and to concentrate on what he must have felt himself to be then. Here is a young musician full of promise, beginning to fuse the admittedly strong influence of the style of the great King Oliver with his own jazz concepts, just coming into his own. Here he is, playing a key role in the records of a headliner like Ma Rainey. There would seem to be pride and confidence, as well as strength and a firm understanding of the blues, in the sound of Ladnier's horn here.
As a member of Lovie Austin's band, which was in effect the Paramount 'house band' during the early '20s, Ladnier took part in a fair share of recording sessions featuring blues singers over a period of about two years. The eight numbers selected for this LP have been singled out as among those that give him the most opportunity to show his worth. Proper handling of the demanding role of the horn behind the blues is one of the acid tests of the traditional jazzman. To be the star of your own record date is relatively easy, compared with the delicate balance of accompaniment. It calls for remembering that someone else is the star and that you are just the sideman, yet not being overly inhibited by that fact. It means supplying a background that is solid and forceful support, that complements the singer, drawing forth the best in her, and yet can also make itself felt as a creative part of the unit formed by band and singer. To lead and follow, to accompany and create at the same time is no small assignment. Men like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver could carry it out to perfection, and - as this LP strongly indicates out to perfection, and - as this LP strongly indicates - their fellow townsman from New Orleans could do just about as well. Ladnier lacked the breadth and variety of such giants, no doubt, but as a blues horn he had no need to take a back seat to them.
The two singers heard here provide interesting contrasts. Ma Rainey was herself a jazz titan, a rich-voiced contralto who was possibly equaled in her interpretation of the blues by her protege, Bessie Smith, but was certainly head and shoulders above all other competition. She recorded often for Paramount, and many of her most moving numbers have now been reissued on Riverside (Ma Rainey, Volume 1, 2 and 3 - RLPs 1003, 1016,1045). Edmonia Henderson, whose Brown Skin Man was her most celebrated record, was by no means in a class with Gertrude Rainey, although she was a vaudeville headliner in a era that abounded with talented blues singers. What the two sides of this recording demonstrate so well is the importance of a firm musical backing - and of the strength and fire of a jazzman like Tommy Ladnier - to an 'average' blues artist and a great one alike.
A note on the original recordings. Since the Paramount files are longer in existence, exact recording dates must remain unknown. But master numbers and copyright data indicate that Ma Rainey's Southern Blues (master number 1612), first issued on Paramount 12083, and Edmonia Henderson's Worried 'Bout Him (1603) / Black Man (1601), issued as a coupling on Para 12084, were made early in 1924, while the other five selections were recorded either in or just prior to August of the same year. Rainey's Those Dogs of Mine (1703) / Lucky Rock (1704) were Para 12215; Ya Da Do (1702) was on Para 12257. The remaining Hendersons - Brown Skin Man (1689)/ Traveling (1690) - were Para 12095.
This material is 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 processed; 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 Gogerty.
RIVERSIDE RECRODS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.