THE Fabulous Trombone of IKE RODGERS
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
ke Rodgers (tb) with –
Eddie Johnson (vcl) and Roosevelt Sykes (p) (on #1, 4); “Baby Jay,” (cnt) on #1
Only – Henry Brown (p) (on #2, 3, 7) – Alice Moore (vcl) and Brown (on #5, 6) – Mary Johnson (vcl) and unknown (p) on #8 Chicago, 1929
1. Nickel’s Worth of Liver 2:48) (Edith Johnson)
2. Screenin’ the Blues (3:09) (Henry Brown)
3. It Hurts So Good (3:16) (Brown)
4. Good Chib Blues (3:03) (Edith Johnson)
5. My Man Blues (3:25) (Alice Moore)
6. Prison Blues (3:20) (Moore)
7. 21st Street Stomp (2:42) (Brown)
8. Barrel House Flat (3:07) (Mary Johnson)
Gutbucket, adj. Jazz. In a low-down, primitive style.
Low-down, noun 1. Slang, the actual, unadorned facts or truth on some subject. – adj. 2. Chiefly U.S. Colloquial. Low, especially in the social or moral scale …
The American College Dictionary
The writers of dictionaries have never been noted for either understanding or perceptiveness in what they have set down about jazz and its various aspects. But the words that describe the music to be found on this LP have, for a change, been defined in terms that give – with striking and concise accuracy – the essence of this strange and basic form of jazz.
The music of IKE RODGERS and his friends is, quite literally, the “unadorned facts.” The “subject” is the blues, as they were played and sung in the1920s, mostly in some pretty tough and unadorned bars on the South Side of Chicago, and as they will never be played and sung again. Actually, the word “gutbacket” originally referred very specifically to a pail placed under a keg of beer in a saloon, for the purpose of gathering up the drippings until a quantity of something moderately drinkable had accumulated. The practice was supposedly not uncommon in New Orleans dives in the earliest days of jazz; it probably wasn’t the custom in many places in Chicago, but the word stayed on as a very meaningful description of a type of drinking place – and of the kind of jazz you could expect to hear there.
But the rough and forceful trombone of Ike Rodgers surely is, all by itself, a far better definition of the term than any words could manage to give. It’s a unique sound, and not one that everyone can accept – perhaps it is too close to harsh and basic realities for that. You might say that Ike, being not to the taste of everyone, is something like caviar, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s pretty far-fetched to bring in a comparison with anything that fancy. The “nickel’s worth of liver, dime’s worth of stew” that Edith Johnson sings about on the first number of this LP – and which you’ll admit isn’t everyone’s idea of a party meal – is probably much closer to what it’s like.
This is folk music, in the very real sense that it is the actual music of a fairly close-knit group, played by and for members of the group, and played as they wanted it – without being tricked out or prettied up or influenced by any outsiders’ ideas as to what it should sound like. It seems to come very directly out of their lives and their emotions; there is nothing even faintly resembling self-consciousness to get in the way of these “low-down” recordings.
This should not be taken to mean that this is “simple” or “unsophisticated” jazz. These were big-city Negroes, and professional entertainers, and they knew what they were doing and were capable of doing a very good and effective job of it. There is nothing naïve about the sexual implications of Ike’s trombone in It Hurts So Good, and there is a better than average sense of Humor involved in a decision to use what is apparently a piece of wire screen for a mute on a number you call Screenin’ the Blues.
It is worth noting that two of the blues singers here come very close to summing up the two basic extremes of the blues. Edith Johnson, in both Nickel’s Worth of Liver (originally Paramount 12813) and Good Chib Blues (Paramount 12864), is the hard, brash girl who is having herself a good time and wants you to know damn well that, if you don’t like it, there’ll be another man along for her right away. The nasal, almost whining voice of Alice Moore, in My Man Blues / Prison Blues (Para. 12868), is strictly in the tradition of the aggrieved blues singer who is telling the world that everything in general, and her man in particular, has treated her dirty. Mary Johnson’s blues (Para. 12996) is closer to the viewpoint of Edith (no relation). The powerful piano of Henry Brown and Roosevelt Sykes, and the deep, all-pervading horn of Ike Rodgers – arrogant or mournful, as the situation demands – underline their words, in indication that these men, too, fully understand the ways of this world.
What has been written here must necessarily be about the background of this music rather than about the players. We know something about the time and the place from which this jazz comes, but no one can really say anything specific and factual about Ike Rodgers himself. This lack of information is surely a part of the total picture: Ike was a guy who played good trombone around town, and certainly none of his contemporaries were apt to think of him in any historical sense or to gather up any biographical data.
Fortunately, he happened to have turned out these and a few more records for Paramount, so we do know that such a man existed and that he played his own special interpretation of the rough, gutbucket tradition of the rock-solid, straightforward blues. We can also assume that he was one of the most fiercely individual of musicians, but it is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to explain the motives, if any behind his approach to jazz. Why, for example, this trombone player almost invariably chose to, or perhaps insisted on, playing only as the sole horn behind a blues singer; or why he and Henry Brown got together for unprecedented trombone-piano duets on numbers like their Screanin’ the Blues/ It Hurts So Good (Para 12816) and 21st Street Stomp (Para 12825).
A part of the mystery is the question of just why there is such fascination in Ike’s music. He has an amazingly limited range (0ne jazz critic has claimed, half-seriously, that Rodgers could play only two notes. “but both of them are prefect”; actually, he seems able to handle the whole scale – he just didn’t often care to extend himself that far). His phrasing is repetitions; his tone is crude, or at least may seem that way on first listening. The basis of his appeal appears to defy standard analysis, but it is definitely there.
One clue to the enigma may lie in the sense of perfect fitness here: style, tone, material, and the performances of those Ike Rodgers played with all blend together into the completely remarkable unity that can be heard on this LP. But whatever the reason, Ike’s “two notes” grab you and hold you, make you feel sad or smile knowingly, and above all make you understand instinctively what he is trying to say. He tells you what he knows and it conveys, more effectively than a chapter in a sociology text, what it was like – the joy and the pain of it – to live on the South side of Chicago quarter of a century ago.
TThis material is release by special arrangement with John Steiner and Paramount Records. 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 the highest fidelity possible and more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Noted by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.