Georgie Price

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BOOK & CD SET: THE FROG BLUES & JAZZ ANNUAL No. 6: MUSICIANS, RECORDS AND MUSIC OF THE 78 ERA. Edited by Paul Swinton. Frog Records. 224 pp. Illustrated. ISBN: 9780956471751. West Dallas Drag; Short Dress Gal; Butter-Finger Blues; Fussin’ and Frettin’; Tomorrow Night; Cool Drink Of Water Blues; Don’t Put That Thing On Me; Crowing Rooster; Saturday Night Fish Fry Drag; Cavernism; Weary Weasel; Whitewash Station; Bumble Bee Blues; Hometown Skiffle #2; Hometown Skiffle #3; Eaton Clan; Slow & Easy; At The Jazz Band Ball; Mister Freddy; Fragment & Slow Blues; See My Baby; Band Box Stomp; Would Ya?; State Street Jive; Poor Boy Long Way From Home; Ain’t Got No Mama Now. £35 + p&p.

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Since 2010 when the first volume appeared, the Frog Blues And Jazz Annual has been eagerly anticipated. Even if it didn’t appear annually, it was always worth the wait because its editor, Paul Swinton, somehow always managed to gather together a fascinating miscellany of important primary research into early blues and jazz, with galleries of historic photographs (often hitherto unseen by the majority of collectors), contemporary advertising material and sheet music, as well historic newspaper articles, magazine pieces and reminiscences. Each annual is accompanied by a CD which showcases (in exemplary sound) some of the music discussed in the book and often made available previously unheard takes and test pressings, previously unreleased field recordings and vanity pressings.

  This current annual is the last of the series and it is a wonderful coda to a splendid project. It contains major research articles by some of most distinguished writers on early blues and jazz including David Evans, Dean Gayle Wardlow, Chris Smith, Bob Eagle, Michael Hortig, Alex van der Tuuk, David Butters, Ate van Deldon, Brian Goggin (of this parish) and the editor himself, Paul Swinton. 

  A number of the major pieces here are the results of “forensic” research in official documents, especially census records, and the re-examination of older sources such as pioneering interviews from the 1960s. One of the results is West Dallas Drag by Bob Eagle and Michael Hortig which sheds new light on the lives (and music) of “The Santa Fee Pianists”: Black Boy Shine, Pinetop Burkes, Andy Boy, Son Becky and Joe Pullum. The article marries the vivid recollections of Buster Pickens and Robert Shaw, last survivors of the Santa Fee, with the facts rather starkly recorded in registers of births and deaths. All of this gives context to the work of these pianists and singers which I’ve long admired and collected and which is illustrated by Rob Cooper’s splendid piano solo West Dallas Drag (CD #1). It’s a pleasure to learn so much more about their lives.

  Crowing Rooster, an exhaustive investigation by David Evans, Bob Eagle and associates of an obscure record by Walter Rhodes (CD #8), reveals larger contexts. Not only does it document the life and death (by lightning strike!) of Walter “Pat” Rhodes, it also explores the role of the accordion in African-American music, the connection between Rhodes and Charlie Patton (Banty Rooster Blues) as well as the biographies of Rhodes’ brilliant accompanists - Richard and Mylon Harney (Pet and Can). It is an engrossing read. 

  The pre-war blues is further documented in “Memories of Tommy Johnson” (CD #6, Cool Drink Of Water), a compilation of reminiscences by Johnson ’s friends and family collected in the early 1960s by Gayle Dean Wardlow, who also contributes a poignant piece on the final years of Bo Carter. It is Illustrated with informal and rather charming photographs of Carter playing for a group of white children (in 1958). Wardlow offers these as an alternative to Paul Oliver’s picture (in Conversation With The Blues, Cassell, 1960) of the blind Bo Carter sitting alone with his steel guitar. Wardlow argues that this picture shaped “the contemporary image of Bo Carter in popular memory”. To my recollection it did, but it was, back then, allied with Sam Charter’s glancing reference to him in The Country Blues (1959) as “Bo Carter… a ‘party blues’ singer”. Armenter “Bo” Carter was much more than that: he was an exceptional guitarist and very fine singer. Alex van der Tuuk’s essay, Clifford Gibson, illustrated by a Victor Test of Don’t Put That Thing On Me (CD #7) and an engaging photograph of Gibson and his performing dog, brings this accomplished St. Louis artist to life. 

  Similarly, Altanta Black Sound surveys the city’s rich musical culture and is splendidly illustrated with a host of photographs, some historic like that of Barbecue Bob in a suit, tie and hat (which I first saw on the cover of The Atlanta Blues RBF 15) and the picture from 1907 of Curley Weaver with his mother, Savannah. Others, including one of his fellow researcher Bruce Bastin listening with obvious pleasure to Buddy Moss play, were taken by Peter B. Lowry who wrote this long and comprehensive overview back in 1977 for the Atlanta Historical Society Bulletin. Lowry and Bastin (author of the classic Red River Blues, University of Illinois Press,1986) did much of the ground-breaking field work which documented the musical history of the eastern sea board and the article is republished here as a tribute to Peter Lowry who died last year. It’s illustrated by previously unissued field recordings made by Bastin and Lowry (CD #25, Poor Boy by Willie Trice and CD #2,, Ain’t Got No Mama Now by Ernest Scott); both are lovely performances. 

  Two essays by Chris Smith explore the wider story of African-American music which was preserved by the Library of Congress and independent field researchers like Lawrence Gellert, whose book Negro Songs of Protest (1936), framed the music in the activist context of left-wing politics. The only recordings made of a named artist (Private Odell E. Hall) by Gellert were recorded in Camp Woolers, Texas, in 1942. (CD 20, 21).

  Chris Smith’s second essay Roger Garrett: “A Man Before His Time” is a fascinating account of a murder ballad Eaton Clan recorded by Garrett for the Library of Congress at Parchman Farm in 1939. Smith first explored this song and its circumstances twenty years ago, but subsequent research in the federal census records (and elsewhere) has revealed much more about the Eaton murder (a white affair) and about its chronicler, Roger Garrett who was black. An arresting photograph shows Garrett seated at the centre with a family of white instrumentalists standing round. As Chris Smith cautions, “This is a difficult image to read through the lenses of time, race and class” but his careful and nuanced exploration of it gives us a real sense of complex cultural context(s) in which the ballad was created and transmitted. 

  The editor, Paul Swinton, contributes a number of pieces including an authoritative look at the history of the “Memphis Jug Band” (a longstanding interest of his, reflected in their complete works being available in exemplary sound on Frog Records). He traces the band’s story and ever changing personnel from first to final recordings (1927-1934) and emphasises the pivotal role of Will Shade who was at its heart - he formed it having been inspired by a “Dixieland Jug Blowers” record and was the driving personality behind its success. One of the many pleasures of this article is its “asides”: when Paul discusses the band’s recording of Aunt Caroline Dyer it’s illustrated with a photograph of the famous soothsayer and there’s a revealing note about the Whitewall Station, subject of an eponymous MJB recording (CD #12) One particularly arresting press photographic sequence shows jug band members entertaining Boss Crump and his white guests on a campaign train. Swinton’s expert knowledge of the band, its patrons, the places it performed - in short, the culture and world from which it came - is animated by an obvious love of the music. It made this reviewer once again play Frog DGF 15, 16, 18 and 62.

  Arlo Leach’s Charlie Burse -The Memphis Mudcat is a superb adjunct to this. It tells the story of another key member of the MJB illustrated with family photographs and the reminiscences of his grandchildren. Burse was a vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and vital presence both in live performance and in the recording studio. Leach’s attempt to identify Burse’s presence - vocally, on guitar, tenor guitar and mandolin - on the MJB’s records is another invitation to close listening.

  Paul Swinton’s essay on Charlie Creath has at its core the recollections of Creath’s sister, Marge who married Zutty Singleton. They are augmented by research in the public records to produce a picture of an expressive musician whose trumpet playing recalled King Oliver. It also chronicles Creath’s addiction to gambling, his consequent involvement with organized crime and his suicide. 

  David Butters contributes a brace of articles that tangentially relate to the “Original Dixieland Jazz Band” whose Livery Stable Blues is commonly taken to be the first jazz record. It became the subject of a copyright dispute between the composers of the piece, Ray Lopez and Alcide Nunez, and the ODJB and their agent. The stories of Lopez and Nunez (and the wider cultural and musical world in which jazz emerged) are told here in compelling detail. The “World’s Greatest Jazz Clarinetist” recounts the life of Alcide “Yellow” Nunez, one of the oldest New Orleans jazz clarinetists, who recorded with the Louisiana Five in 1919 (CD #16). Although not as famous with latter day collectors as Johnny Dodds, Omer Simeon or Sidney Bechet, Nunez figures widely in the oral histories of New Orleans Jazz. Butters makes it clear that Nunez, unlike Dodds or Bechet, wasn’t an “improvisor” but an expert, professional player of syncopated music which aligned him with the subject of Butter’s second, longer article on cornetist Ray Lopez. Born in New Orleans, Lopez was an important figure in the white musical culture of the city, playing with pioneering groups such a “Jack Laine’s Reliance Band”, and “Tom Brown’s Ragtime Band” which brought the music they called “jass” north to Chicago in 1915. These articles meld individual biographies with a wider musical and social history. 

  The other, some would argue, key cultures which shaped “jass” in New Orleans - the Creole and the African-American - are encountered in a variety of pieces. David Butters relates the life of Sam Morgan, leader of perhaps the finest band to make records of traditional New Orleans music in the 1920s (CD #2, Short Dress Gal) whilst, in a reprint of a 1946 article, Robert Goffin tells the story of “Big Eye” Louis Nelson. Nelson didn’t record until the 1940s up to just before his death in 1949, but his vivid memories of playing with Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson, “The Superior Orchestra” and others bring a world of music to life. So does a brief interview with the pianist, composer and band leader, Joe Robichaux who with his “New Orleans Rhythm Boys” is featured here (CD #9, Saturday Night Fish Fry Drag). 

  For many years Ate van Deldon presided over the Discographical Ramblings page of VJM which he often concluded with requests for information about the records of the multi-instrumentalist, Adrian Rollini (CD #17, At The Jazz Band Ball). His succinct biography of the master of the bass saxophone is the fruit of that research. Should you wish to read more, Ate’s fully documented account of his research is published as Adrian Rollini: The Life And Music of a Jazz Rambler (University of Mississippi Press, 2020).

  Brian Goggin contributes two fine articles. One relates the life of the obscure tuba player Lawson Buford (who plays on Band Box Stomp by Jabbo Smith, CD #22) and opens with an illuminating short history of the tuba in jazz. The other is an extended exploration of the life and music of the arranger (and sometime sax player) Jimmy Mundy who “had one of the greatest jazz brains and was a key architect of the swing era”. He can be heard playing on Cavernism by “Earl Hines And His Orchestra” (CD #10).

  As with the earlier annuals, this one is lavishly and colourfully illustrated with vintage advertisements, newspaper reports and articles, including a 1928 piece on Ma Rainey (complete with photograph) and a 1938 one about Blind Willie McTell from a local Statesboro paper, The Bulloch Herald: both are clearly based on interviews with the artists. 

  One of the incidental pleasures of reading the Frog annuals has been the way in which they invite you revisit music that you know and also introduce you to artists, records and genres that you don’t. For me they’ve certainly opened doors to early jazz. Therefore, it’s worth noting a contemporary advertisement (illustrated with two wonderful photographs of Sister Rosetta Tharpe) which closes the final annual, but announces that “The Frog Occasional Volume 1, Issue 1 is COMING SOON!” I look forward to it! In the meantime, this farewell is unreservedly recommended.


CD: RAGTIME, NEW ORLEANS STYLE VOL. 3. Andrew Oliver. Freckles Rag; American Beauty Rag; Wall Street Rag; Sensation Rag; The Ragtime Dance; Pastime Rag #5; Sunburst Rag; Triangle Jazz Blues; Temptation Rag; Harlem Rag; Bunny Hug Rag; That Cosey Rag (12 tracks). Bandcamp CD: $10 (or more) + p&p / Digital Album: $7 (or more).

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Andrew Oliver is an American pianist from Portland, Oregon, and a dedicated acolyte of Jelly-Roll Morton, who has recorded the master’s entire compositional output and made it available online at: On this latest CD he re-interprets original rags by a variety of composers, in the style of Morton: some like Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb are household names; others, Larry Buck and Irwin Leclere, for example, are obscure, little-known names, though unlike many ragtime players, these two do hail from the Crescent City. To all of them, Oliver has added the licks and rhythms of Jelly-Roll Morton, transforming them into true jazz classics. According to Hal Smith’s liner notes, the inspiration for this came from correspondence in 1939 / 1940 between Morton and Roy Carew, in which they discussed the possibility of him recording a series of ragtime tunes – something which never came to pass. So Andrew Oliver has now made good on that project, making new, Mortonesque arrangements and interpolating Morton’s “…stylistic trademarks…including some ‘modernistic’ elements…[re-imagining] several of the tunes in a ‘Spanish Tinge’ style…” He also cites inspiration from other pianists such as Frank Melrose and Don Ewell.

  Listening to this CD for the first time – before reading the liner notes – I was immediately thrown when, expecting to hear Larry Buck’s Freckles Rag, I actually heard the opening phrases of Morton’s King Porter Stomp! They fit the tune perfectly, though, as do the typical Morton breaks, a feature rarely employed in quite this way by ragtime composers. Had I not known who wrote Freckles Rag, I would have accepted it without question as a Jelly-Roll tune…which is precisely what Oliver has made it. American Beauty Rag by Joseph Lamb is perhaps nearer to the composer’s concept of how it should be played, though it’s noteworthy for the addition of rolling bass figures that could only have been played by Morton! The arrangement of Scott Joplin’s Wall Street Rag is played in habañera rhythm and is a delight to listen to, the famous ‘Spanish tinge’ giving it a depth of feeling which the usual straight ragtime interpretations I’ve heard lack. Oliver interpolates some beautiful phrasing here, which recall that in Morton’s Library of Congress recording of Creepy Feeling. The bass line Oliver uses in Lamb’s Sensation Rag is very similar to that in Perfect Rag or The Fingerbuster and seems entirely apposite in this context.

  I remember remarking when reviewing an earlier CD by Andrew Oliver that the 1904 Steinway he used on that occasion was rather heavy on the bass; the 1905 Gabler on this CD, being an upright, has a better balance between treble and bass and the characteristic brightness that is associated with ragtime playing. This is especially marked on the track above and on Joplin’s Ragtime Dance, one of the earliest numbers, composed in 1902. Oliver notes that he has introduced some modernisms into this tune: they in no way sound out of place nor do they interfere with its dancing rhythm. Artie Matthews is probably best known today for the jazz standard Weary Blues, which he wrote in 1915, but he was much lauded at the time for his ragtime numbers of which Pastime Rag #5 was the last of a famous series. Here it’s another tune given the habañera treatment with more fine improvised decorative flourishes; whether Matthews would have approved of this I wouldn’t care to guess, but as he founded a music school for Afro-Americans in 1921, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did! James Scott’s Sunburst Rag opens with the introduction to Morton’s The Crave; though it’s not played habañera style, it does feature a series of finely executed typical Mortonesque breaks very much in the style of that number. Triangle Jazz Blues is by Irwin Leclere and is in no way a blues, but an excellent late ragtime tune with and interesting structure and arrangement. The Spanish tinge appears again in one of my favourite rags, Henry Lodge’s Temptation Rag, which is played by Oliver at a more stately pace than that usually given to this tune, but one which is much more in keeping with this rhythm. The extraordinary thing is how well-suited this is to these ragtime pieces; the habañera, as is often the case with Morton himself, resolves into a 4/4 for some passages, providing a refreshing rhythmic contrast. There are some lovely improvised passages here, one of which is eerily reminiscent of the theme music for the TV series Succession! The ride-out choruses are particularly effective with a strong syncopated bass line.

  Harlem Rag is the earliest composition on the CD, by Tom Turpin and is often cited as the first published rag by an Afro-American (written in 1892, though not published until five years later). Turpin’s St. Louis Rag is one of his very best, and a more measured affair than Harlem Rag, which stomps along at a fair pace, with a series of classic Morton bass figures. George L. Cobb wrote Bunny Hug Rag in 1913. It’s not an especially distinguished tune and certainly benefits from the Jelly-Roll treatment, which infuses it with a character otherwise lacking. The final track, That Cosey Rag, is an unusual item from the pen of Shelton Brooks, much better known of course for his hit numbers like Some of these Days and I Wonder Where My Easy Rider’s Gone. This is a hard-driving tune which, even before the Oliver interpretation, sounds more like jazz than ragtime.

  Andrew Oliver may be a traditionalist in terms of the material he uses, but his approach is always experimental, fusing styles and compositions, which could never have been done in their original eras. This CD is yet again a tribute to his commitment to playing whatever he chooses at the highest level. This is ragtime – and Jelly-Roll Morton – as you’ve never heard them before! Some may cavil but, for me, this is terrific music. Highly recommended.


CD: CHICAGO STOMPERS: THE GREATEST HITS. East St. Louis (Toodle-Oo); Quality Shout; Don't Be Like That; Black Bottom; I'll Be A Friend With Pleasure; Deep Henderson; Borneo; Sunny Side of the Street; C. S. Stomp; Idolizing; (Oh!) Lady Be Good; New Orleans; (The) Sophomore; Sunday; Too Late; It’s Tight Like That; West End Blues (17 tracks). La Boutiquephonie. CD 005. / - inquire at [email protected]

Mauro L. Porro is a multi-talented musician and personality. He should be familiar to any of you who have attended Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party over the last 12 years where he is a firm favourite with listeners. As well as being a superb musician on several instruments, Mauro is a charismatic performer and raconteur. In past years, he specialised on reeds (mainly clarinet and alto) but has been specialising on piano in recent times.

  The core “Chicago Stompers” instrumentation of the band is cornet/trombone/three reeds/piano/violin/banjo-guitar/bass/drums/vocalist, and the band is beefed up on some tracks by Mauro as an additional cornet and/or additional vocalists.

  Mauro, the brains behind this band while facilitating the other talents to thrive, has undertaken no mean feat in arranging or transcribing all seventeen tunes, making the distinction as some pieces are his arrangements and others are derived from recordings. He has done a masterful job.

  East St. Louis (Toodle-Oo) is a good starting point for this disc and very much sets the scene for the music to follow in authentic fashion. Presumably it’s Pasquale Gravela who growls the lead and solos while Giorgio Gallina on trombone and Lorenzo Baldasso on clarinet acquit themselves well and Paolo Dellino effectively drives the rhythm section on banjo. 

  Then we shift forward a few years for a tune that straddles the east, middle and west of the USA - Quality Shout was written by Alex Hill in Chicago and recorded as Missouri Wobble there by “Jimmy Wade And His Dixielanders” in October 1928 and under the former title by “Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders” in April 1929 in a faster version in Culver City, Los Angeles. Mauro and the crew execute this one well at the Howard tempo. Gravella is again solid on cornet as are the reeds, Baldasso again with Sophia Tomelleri and Arturo Garra. Paolo Vanzutti on tuba and Fabrizio Carriero on drums show their fine sense of rhythm and timing while Mauro himself plays a neat short piano solo.

  Marcella Malacrida’s charming vocal gels very well with this well-rehearsed band on Don't Be Like That, and the band responses naturally work very well with their Italian accents!

  Black Bottom is a stomp, while Maceo Pinkard’s I'll Be A Friend With Pleasure is a mellow piece with another Marcella Malacrida vocal and tasteful cornet by Gravella. Then we have a well executed version of Fred Rose’s Deep Henderson, originally recorded by Coon-Sanders and King Oliver in 1926, the year of its publication.

  Borneo features Drew Nugent’s upbeat vocal and swings well as does their lively version of On The Sunny Side of the Street with nice clarinet trio work and a neat but far too short violin solo by Martino Pellegrini.

  C. S. Stomp is a Mauro Porro original, presumably named after the band’s initials and he takes a neat riff around which he builds the tune without overdoing it.

 New Orleans is an under-rated, under-recorded Hoagy Carmichael gem, so I’m glad it’s included. Bennie Moten’s 1932 version featuring Jimmy Rushing’s vocal, solos by trumpeters Joe Keyes and Hot Lips Page, Eddie Barefield on clarinet and Ben Webster on tenor sax is a classic and a personal favourite. The Stompers turn in a nice rhythmic version with an effective introduction and ending.

  Idolizing, (Oh!) Lady Be Good and (The) Sophomore all roll along nicely. For Sunday, one of the great jazz standards, they follow Bill Challis’s superb 1926 arrangement for the classic Jean Goldkette recording (including the Keller Sisters & Lynch vocal!) and swing it well throughout.

  King Oliver’s 1929 recording of Too Late at his first session following his switch to trumpet and acquiring dentures is one of my favourite recordings since I first heard it as a 10-year-old. The Stompers do this classic justice, and romp through this piece as did Oliver and his men, stomping it through to a satisfactory completion.

  It’s Tight Like That is an extended version of the tune, based loosely on Don Redman’s arrangement recorded by “McKinney’s Cotton Pickers” in 1928. They add some extra verses from vocalists Marcella Malacrida, Chiara Pederzani and Veronica Sbergia, and instrumental choruses taking it up to 5’12 in a swinging “double-sided” version of this classic.

  The final (bonus) track is West End Blues with is also a longer rendition, drawing on the “King Oliver And His Dixie Syncopators” version and the Ethel Waters/Clarence Williams duo version. This allows us a rare opportunity to hear the seldom heard lyrics. 

  This CD is a fine production. The music generally stays close to the originals, but isn’t a slavish, mechanical regurgitation - rather they interpret it while keeping the feel, swinging and injecting themselves into it. The sound and balance are very nice as well - the rhythm section are prominent giving a live performance feel. One thing that would be beneficial though would be a solography in the notes for the horn soloists, but I appreciate there may have been space constraints. 

  Patti Durham [who runs Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party - see:] provides notes (in both Italian and English) and the CD is handsomely packaged in a smooth, colourful fold out tray with the personnel listing and a nice record-style design on the CD itself. Definitely recommended.