Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Chicago South Side Vol. 2 1927-1929 (Historical, 1969)
With Chicago's rich blues history, it's sometimes easy to forget that this bustling Midwestern metropolis also possessed a thriving jazz scene during the 1920s and 1930s. In similar fashion to the Mississippi bluesmen who had relocated to the Windy City during the early 20th century, a significant number of jazz musicians from New Orleans followed the same path. Not surprisingly, race record labels in Chicago and other cities in the region were eager to feature artists from both genres in their catalogues to ensure that they would appeal to as many potential black customers as possible, regardless of whether their tastes were downhome or sophisticated.
In spite of its title, Chicago South Side Vol. 2 1927-1929 actually collects material recorded between 1927 and 1931. The label on which it appeared, Historical, was an enterprise operated by Arnold Caplin, who also owned Biograph, another company that specialized in reissuing prewar African American music. Overall, this compilation has something of a transitional feel as many of the performances seem to have one foot in the raucous hot jazz sounds of New Orleans with the other standing in territory occupied by the more orchestrated style that would become prevalent during the 1930s.
Things get started with material from clarinetist Jimmy Noone's aggregation, which recorded the uptown "Melancholy Baby" and "After You've Gone" in 1929. The latter title features the singing of Helen Savage. "It's You," from 1931, finds the legendary Earl Hines occupying the piano stool and white crooner Arthur Jarrett, Jr. handling the vocal chores. Pianist Tiny Parham's 1929 sides "Bombay" and "Golden Lily" showcase the talents of cornetist Punch Miller among others. As Caplin explains in the liner notes, "The commercial beginnings belie the hot solos to come. Throughout these tracks there is a strange mixture of commercial ensemble playing and hot jazz solos with a solid backing." These pieces perfectly represent the transitional nature of many of this LP's performances that I had previously mentioned. In contrast, the Dixie Rhythm Kings' "Story Book Ball" and "Easy Rider," also from 1929, come off as compositions that very easily could have been recorded at an earlier time in New Orleans instead of Chicago. The group's most prominent members included cornetists George Mitchell and Shirley Clay as well as clarinetist Omer Simeon. The most exuberant tracks on Chicago South Side Vol. 2 belong to the Chicago Footwarmers, a quartet made up of the celebrated Johnny Dodds on clarinet, his brother Baby on washboard, Natty Dominique on cornet, and Jimmy Blythe on piano. As any hot jazz enthusiast will tell you, that's quite an impressive list of personnel. "Ballin' the Jack" and "Granma's Ball" both date from 1927. Recorded the same year, "Boar Hog Blues" by Hightower's Nighthawks is another side that sounds like something that one could have heard in New Orleans circa 1900. Cornetist Willie Hightower of course was the outfit's leader, although Bud Scott's elegant guitar solo deserves mention as the performance's highlight. Another all-star band, the State Street Ramblers included the aforementioned Dominique and Blythe in addition to percussionist W.E. Burton and an unknown alto saxophonist. Even though the liner notes list Burton on drums, to my ears it sounds like he's playing a washboard more than anything else on the superb "Shanghai Honeymoon" (which, as its title suggests, has an ersatz Asian-sounding bit in the middle section) and "Tack It Down," both recorded in 1928. "My Baby" and "Oriental Man" come from the same year but were waxed by Jimmy Blythe's Washboard Wizards, a trio that was comprised of the pianist, Johnny Dodds, and W.E. Burton. That these songs have such a full sound is a testament to the virtuosity of the instrumentalists.
1. Melancholy Baby - Jimmy Noone's Orchestra
2. After You've Gone - Jimmy Noone's Orchestra
3. It's You - Jimmy Noone's Orchestra
4. Bombay - Tiny Parham and His Musicians
5. Golden Lily - Tiny Parham and His Musicians
6. Story Book Ball - Dixie Rhythm Kings
7. Easy Rider - Dixie Rhythm Kings
8. Ballin' the Jack - The Chicago Footwarmers
9. Granma's Ball - The Chicago Footwarmers
10. Boar Hog Blues - Hightowers Nighthawks
11. Shanghai Honeymoon - State Street Ramblers
12. Tack It Down - State Street Ramblers
13. My Baby - Jimmy Blythe's Washboard Wizards
14. Oriental Man - Jimmy Blythe's Washboard Wizards