TOMMY LADNIER (VOLUME 1) Blues and Stomps
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders: Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Jimmy O’Bryant (cl) Harris (ts) Lovie Austin (p) unknown (drs) Priscilla Stewart (vcl – on #3 and #7) Chicago; probably May, 1925
Ollie Powers and His Orchestra (on #8 only): Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Calimese (cnt) Eddie Vincent (tb) Jimmy Noone (cl) Clover Compton (p) Ollie Powers (drs) Chicago; 1923
1. Mojo Blue (3:03 ) (Tommy Ladnier)
2. Heebie Jeebies (2:50) (Tommy Ladnier)
3. Charleston Mad (2:36) (Lovie Austin)
4. Steppin’ on the Blues (2:30) (Austin – O’Bryant – Ladnier)
5. Traveling Blues (3:01) (Lovie Austin)
6. Peepin’ Blues (2:44) (Lovie Austin)
7. Charleston, South Carolina (2:44) (Cecil Mack – James P. Johnson)
8. Play That Thing #1 (3:28) (Ollie Powers)
It is unfortunately easy to overwork such terms as "neglected" and "forgotten" in describing the work of some of the great early jazz musicians. Unfortunate because it underlines the sad fact that a good many more highly talented players have been forgotten than have been remembered. And doubly unfortunate because it leaves one without words of sufficient freshness to give the proper impact and insistence to the statement that not nearly enough people have had the opportunity to appreciate the driving and beautiful horn of TOMMY LADNIER.
These are just about only Ladnier records currently available, except for a few others also originally made for the Paramount label in the early '20s and recently reissued on Riverside. Most of these others show Ladnier as accompanist to a blues singer - a role he filled fully as well as anyone ever has. But on this LP he is primarily concerned with purely instrumental blues, fast and slow, and with that hard-pounding jazz most accurately described as stomps. Here the full focus of the spotlight can be turned on this remarkable trumpet player: on his force and exuberance as well as on his deep understanding of the blues.
These are among his first records, and they are full of the verve of a young man with the proper New Orleans jazz training just behind him and the right kind of jazzmen around him. Ladnier began in Chicago by playing in the back rooms on the South Side, and it is to this background that these numbers belong. It is a relaxed, free-flowing, and spirited jazz, a Chicago variation on a style that must have begun in small New Orleans cafes. It was played by groups very much like Lovie Austin's, although hers was specifically, for the most part, a recording group whose most frequent assignment was playing behind such Paramount blues headliners as Ma Rainey and Ida Cox, Ladnier was a most important part of this band, and the sureness and imagination with which he plays here inevitably emphasize, in retrospect, the tragedy of his failure to fulfill the promise of fame and greatness so clearly implied by this early work.
To speak of 'failure' is not to say that he was unnoticed by the jazz world or under-valued by those who played with him. Quite the contrary was true; and more than once he seemed on the verge of breaking through to major recognition. But a variety of factors, some of his own making stood in the way. In the end, although his name is moderately well known at least to jazz enthusiasts, his music less so, particularly the forceful sound of his horn in its early Chicago period - as it can be heard here.
Ladnier was of Louis Armstrong's generation; born, in fact, a little more than a month before Louis, on May 28, 1900. There's another curious connection between these two: both have been claimed as pupils by one New Orleans pioneer, Bunk Johnson, but both have actually given major credit to another, to Joe Oliver. Ladnier once reportedly put it this way; "When you hear me playing, it's not me really; it's King Oliver." This self-analysis is overly modest, but Tommy's meaning is made strikingly clear by the incisive, decidedly Oliver-like, muted horn work on Play That Thing, the earliest record in this collection (and the only one not made with the Austin group.)
You can carry rough parallels to Armstrong's career quite a way in recounting Ladnier's life. Like a good many other sons of poor New Orleans families, Tommy turned to jazz early for his living. He is known to have played in Charlie Creath's band in St. Louis in 1918, along with Pops Foster and Zutty Singleton, a set of circumstances that suggests that he may have served the almost-inevitable stint on the riverboats. By 1921 he was in Chicago, but unlike Louis he left it too soon - just before jazz rally rolled into its "golden era" in that town. By late 1925 he was touring Europe in a band led by Sam Wooding. Later in the '20s he was featured for a while with Fletcher Henderson in New York (it was shortly after Louis' period with this group), but he left Fletcher in favor of another European tour, returning in time to be caught in the Depression. One story has it that he shined shoes for a living for a while, until the French critic, Hughes Panassie, who had heard him in France and been mightily impressed, arranged for his late-'30s recording sessions with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet, which made Tommy perhaps the first of the old-line jazzmen to be "rediscovered." Things seemed to be looking up then, but on Ladnier's thirty-ninth birthday Mezz came home to the apartment they were sharing to find him stretched out in front of an open window, dead of a heart attack.
This erratic career had so much in common with Armstrong's - New Orleans beginnings; Chicago; Europe; the Henderson band - that the very different end results must be blamed on something more than the simple fact that Tommy admittedly wasn't quite Louis equal (after all, probably no one is that). A lot of it may be found in his almost total lack of the showman's personality that Louis has used so well: and even more in hi singularly bad timing, his chronic inability to stay put long enough to become a lastingly important part of any period.
Whatever the reasons, though, his was still unquestionably one of the great horns of jazz, one of the most exciting and at the same time satisfying to hear, and one that at the very least deserves to be heard again.
A note on the original recordings. Play That Thing was first issued on Paramount 12059 (master number 1502-4, this version being one of three takes known to have been issued). Mojo Blues (2098-2) and Heebie Jeebies (2096-1) were coupled on Para 12283 - the latter, incidentally, appears to be quite different from the tune Armstrong made famous. The two "Charleston" vocals were coupled on Para 12278 (Charleston Mad is 2094-1; the other 2095-2); Peepin' Blues (2097-2) was on Para 12277. The consecutive master numbers indicate that these five of the Lovie Austin sides were made at the same time; Steppin' on the Blues (10004-2) and Traveling Blues (1005-2) were Para 12255 and apparently were recorded slightly earlier - their master numbers are in a different one of Paramount's confusingly many series of numerical listings.
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 processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.