KING OLIBER PLAYS THE BLUES
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
n eight outstanding early recordings
IDA COX: with Joseph “King” Oliver (cnt) Arthur Campbell (p) unknown banjo Chicago; 1928
SARA MARTIN: with Clarence Williams Orchestra – King Oliver (cnt) Charlie Irvis (tb) Benny Waters (cl) Clarence Williams (p) Buddy Christian (bj) Cyrus St. Clair (tuba) New York; 1929
A) 1. Fogyism (2:50) (Jesse Crump)
2.Western Union Blues (2:37) (Ida Cox)
3.Bone Orchard Blues (3:02) (Ida Cox)
4.Tree Top Tall Papa (2:28) (Ida Cox)
B) 5. Death Sting Me Blue (2:52) (---)
6. Mistratin’ Man Blues (2:48) (---)
7. Kitchen Man (2:35) (Razal Balenda)
8. Mean, Tight Mama (3:00) (---)
KING OLIVER was one of the true giants of jazz. He gained his first fame in New Orleans, back in the era of street parades and of Storyville. In this city that took its jazz and its traditions seriously, only three cornetists ever achieved the supreme honor of being known as “King.” The legendary Buddy Bolden was the first, and after him the crown was shared by the powerful Freddie Keppard and the equally strong (and infinitely more subtle) Joe Oliver.
Oliver reached further heights in Chicago, in the 1920s, most notably with his magnificent Creole Jazz Band, whose recordings are among the classics of the music. (Three of them can be found on Riverside RLP1005: New Orleans Horns.) Eventually he was to die broke and alone, in 1938; but Joe Oliver left his mark, permanently and importantly, on the course of jazz.
His approach to the fine art of jazz cornet playing – particularly the eloquent “wah-wah” plunger mute style he devised – seems perfectly suited to the blues. His tone and attack could be rough and strident when the occasion demanded; it could also be warm and delicate and infinitely mournful, and always movingly melodic – all of which is certainly a good working description of the scope and range of the blues.
There are, however, comparatively few records on which Oliver can be heard filling the classic role of the blues horn: supporting and extending the efforts of a blues singer, echoing and answering her voice. The reason? Well, most of Oliver’s records were made in his band. On blues records of the ‘20s, the singer was the star (even the best of jazzmen usually played for them only as unlisted accompanists). It wasn’t easy to combine the two. Thus, paradoxically, it may well have been the importance of his own position in the jazz world that kept Oliver from doing more of something he did so well.
Fortunately, though, there are some wonderful examples of Joe Oliver playing behind the blues. The numbers on this LP have been selected from among them. In this period (1928-29), he was just past the hey-day of his fame, but these records testify that there was still a world of strength and beauty in his horn; he was still very much a King…
IDA COX sang her blues in the classic style; her voice is somewhat rough and nasal and perhaps need be an acquired listening taste – but surely well worth taking the trouble to acquire. She was among the major figures of that Chicago period when the great blues singers filled the theatres, made eagerly-awaited records, and really sang those blues as they should be sung. Fogyism, Tree Top Tall Papa (Para 12690): Western Union Blues, Bone Orchard Blues (Para 12644) – all are fine instances of a very good singer accompanied by a superb and sensitive horn. Fogyism is one of the best Ida ever did; its virtues include a set of lyrics whose practical, sardonic wisdom is certainly worth preserving. Blues lyrics are seldom really noticed, partly because they are often slurred over by singing styles, and also because – being folk-material that ‘everyone’ knew – hardly anybody bothered to set them down in print. Fogyism, for one, deserves more attention than that:
Why do people believe in some old sign? (repeat)
You hear a hoot owl ho’ler, some one is surely dyin’.
Some will break a mirror, cry bad luck for seven years, (repeat)
And if a black cat crosses them, they’ll break right down in tears.
To dream of muddy water, trouble is knocki’ at your door; (repeat)
Your man is sure to leave you, and never return no more.
When your man comes home evil, tell you you are getting’ old; (repeat)
That’s a true sign he’s got someone else bakin’ his jelly roll.
SARA MARTIN belongs to a somewhat different school of the blues. Her full, round, forthright tones almost remind you of Bessie Smith, and like Bessie she often by-passed the literally defined limits of blues construction. For example, Kitchen Man (QRS 7034) – which Bessie also recorded – is closer to being a “song,” and much good fun. Sara made a good many records with CLARENCE WILLIAMS, and the four included here are among those few on which King Oliver joined a studio group led by the celebrated pianist-composer-publisher. Mistreatin’ Man Blues, Death Sting Me Blues (Para 12841), and Mean, Tight Mama (QRS 7034) indicate that she was fully at home in the strict blues vein; her comparatively ‘legit’ delivery actually seems to add to their impact and pathos. Death Sting Me in particular is an outstanding performance for any singer in any style. Sara’s pronounced West Indian accent emphasizes the dignity and targic stature of this blues; Oliver’s rich horn and Cy St. Clair’s splendidly lugubrious tuba build the mood deftly; and again, the words are far from the least part of the effect:
I want all you women to listen to my tale of woe, (repeat)
I’ve got consumption of the heart and I feel myself sinking slow.
Ah, my heart is aching, and the blues are all around my room; (repeat)
Blues is like the devil, they’ll have me hell-bound soon.
Blues you made me roll and tumble, you made weep and sigh, Lawdy, Lawdy, Lawdy;
Blues you ro’l and tumble, you made me weep and igh’
Made me use cocaine and whiskey, but you bring trouble to me. (repeat)
Oh, death please sting me, and take me out of my sisery.
This material is reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records, and John Steiner. For some of these selections, unplayed originals were made available through the courtesy of John Hammond, from his private collection. 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 more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.