Reviews

Georgie Price

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CD: VALAIDA SNOW: SWING IS THE THING. Maybe I’m To Blame, Poor Butterfly, I Can’t Dance, You Bring Out The Savage In Me, Imagination, Sing You Sinners, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, High Hat Trumpet And Rhythm, I Must Have That Man, Mean To Me, The Mood That I’m In, Where Is The Sun?, Some Of These Days, Swing Is The Thing, Nagasaki, I Got Rhythm, Tiger Rag, Minnie The Moocher, My Heart Belongs To Daddy, You’re Driving Me Crazy, Louis Blues, Patience & Fortitude, Solitude, Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone, Chloe, I Ain’t Gonna Tell (26 tracks). Upbeat Records. URCD312. £12.99 + p&p. https://upbeatmailorder.co.uk/product/valaida-snow-swing-is-the-thing/.

                                                            

According to Mike Pointon’s liner notes, quoting Valaida Snow’s biographer Mark Miller “[she] left her prospective biographers with very little with which to work.” In fact, there are tales and details a-plenty here, the product of some excellent research, many of them quite lurid. Curiously, the notes don’t mention that this singer-dancer-trumpet player shared her birthplace – Chattanooga, Tennessee – with Bessie Smith; her life story seems to have been every bit as colourful as Bessie’s, though she was also adept at exaggerating and bending the truth when she felt it was to her advantage. She worked in Chicago with Louis Armstrong, whose style she idolized and copied. On a more personal level, she was addicted to ‘tea’ (the drug rather than the drink, or indeed the trombonist!); she – allegedly – was involved in a financial fraud in Paris and was accused of stealing silverware from hotels. When she arrived back in the USA in 1942, having been deported from Scandinavia by the Nazis, she told the press she’d spent eight months in a concentration camp: it was actually ten weeks in a Danish prison, four of them in hospital! 

  She made her first recording - presented here - with Earl Hines’ Orchestra in 1933: Maybe I’m to Blame features her solely as a vocalist and a first-class one at that: she had a powerful and expressive voice, reminiscent at times of Ethel Waters, though with more vibrato. This tune was a featured number for her with Hines at the Grand Terrace in Chicago, which makes it all the more strange it was never released in the US but only in Europe. Two takes were issued and, annoyingly, as there’s no label or take information given for any of the tracks on the CD, we don’t know which this is. The same is true of the next track, the first she recorded for Parlophone during her time in London in 1935. Two takes of Poor Butterfly, on which she’s accompanied by the Billy Mason band, were recorded and rejected but there’s no detail of which this is. It’s again curious as to why this number was never released on 78: it features an excellent vocal and a searing Armstrong-hued trumpet solo. On I Can’t Dance Valaida delivers her first vocal chorus in almost confidential style, the second with much more hollering gusto: between the two she and tenor-saxist Buddy Featherstonehaugh share the solo honours. He and altoist Harry Hayes also have good solo spots on You Bring Out The Savage in Me: Valaida certainly cannot be criticized for hogging the solo limelight on these sessions. Imagination is her own composition and she gives full vent to her admiration for Louis Armstrong’s playing in a whole-chorus solo, which opens and closes with typical Armstrong ‘licks’. Sing You Sinners is a vocal feature, but also includes a booting alto sax solo by Dave Shand.

  I Can’t Give You Anything But Love provides an interlude to the Parlophone sessions: a previously unreleased airshot, with an introduction by impresario Lew Leslie, who was responsible for bringing Valaida to London to star in Blackbirds of 1934. Sadly, it fades out before she has completed the song. There’s no information as to who originally broadcast this (one can’t assume it was the BBC: there were several commercial radio companies operating in London by this time). Back with Parlophone, High Hat, Trumpet and Rhythm is another Valaida composition, which pretty well sums up her approach to her music and is interesting for featuring a tenor sax solo by Freddy Gardner – who is much better known for his work on alto - as well as a stomping piano solo by George Scott-Wood, probably the best he ever recorded; and a tight-muted trumpet solo from Valaida, something that was becoming a feature of her recordings, which had thus far mainly been on open horn. Gardner also plays a most modernistic short solo on the next track I Must Have That Man and Scott-Wood has another interesting solo sequence. Mean To Me was a big hit in 1937 for Billie Holiday: Valaida’s version, recorded a year earlier, is delivered in a much more bouncy style, and was made at her last 1936 session in London before leaving for a European tour. She returned to London the following year and recorded with a group described on the labels as ‘Swing accompaniment’. The Mood That I’m In is from their first session with an excellent vocal and another fine muted trumpet solo. From this point on, the sidemen are mainly restricted to ensemble work with occasional interludes during her solos; the numbers are more obviously tightly arranged. Norman Brown, however, is allowed a good guitar solo on Some of These Days, but the music is generally less exciting than the 1935–36 sessions. On the title track of the CD, Swing Is the Thing, a little of the earlier fire emerges in Valida’s solo, and Gunn Finley shows himself to be a more than competent pianist on Nagasaki. I Got Rhythm is played rather too fast for my taste, and although exciting, comes over as mechanical in places; it ends with a fade-out which sounds wrong for this number. Valaida’s last London track was Tiger Rag, played at breakneck speed, which the band finds taxing, but the leader’s solo is exemplary for the pace! 

  Valaida left the UK for Europe in 1937 and didn’t record again until two years later in Stockholm, for Willard Ringstrand’s Sonora label, accompanied by Lulle Ellboj’s Orchestra. Two of those tracks are included here: Minnie the Moocher and My Heart Belongs to Daddy. The former is the more interesting, featuring not only one of her best vocals but also a punching solo with a very Armstrong-like extended coda; while, in spite of the smooth big band accompaniment, she shows a more rasping side to her solo work on the second title. She moved on to Denmark in 1940 and was still there when the Nazis invaded; notwithstanding that she was black, known to have a drug habit and played jazz, she was still able to record and made four titles for the Tono label with Winstrup Olesen’s band. This was a smaller group than that which had accompanied her in Stockholm and a much more swinging outfit: You’re Driving Me Crazy is an excellent side, whilst St. Louis Blues, although perhaps taken at too fast a tempo, does display her newer solo style, with much heavy vibrato. Leo Mathiesen plays stomping piano and there’s an excellent, short tenor sax solo by an unidentified sideman. 

  By the time Valaida had returned to the US, in mid-1942, she was a largely forgotten figure and she recorded only a dozen or so more titles before her death, aged 51, in 1956. She also featured in two Soundies, the 1940s equivalent of music videos. They can be seen on YouTube and the sound-track of one of them, Patience and Fortitude is on this CD. Her singing and playing are very much a return to her pre-war style. The next three tracks are vocal features; the first is the Ellington standard, Solitude, recorded in 1946 in Los Angeles, and shows her voice to be undimmed, though perhaps more now in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald! Jimmy Mundy’s Orchestra provide the backing on Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone and Chloe; the trumpet obbligato here is probably by Jonah Jones. Chloe had become something of a speciality number for her at this point and it’s to her credit that it sounds nothing like the curiosity it was when it first appeared at the end of the 20s. I Ain’t Gonna Tell is from her final recording session, for Chess, in 1953; it’s a passionate, shouting rhythm-and-bluesy performance and in no way less effective than her earlier material, though it didn’t apparently sell well and no further dates were forthcoming

  Valaida made thirty sides for Parlophone in London and a further ten when she was in Scandinavia: nineteen of them are available on this CD and it’s to be hoped that the rest might yet be re-released. It’s easy to forget that those 1930s sides feature some of the best, if not the best, trumpet work recorded in Europe at that time!

MAX EASTERMAN

CD SET: ZUTTY SINGLETON: ICON OF NEW ORLEANS DRUMMING - THE HEARTBEAT OF JAZZ 1924 - 1969. Disc 1: Frankie And Johnny; Grandpa’s Spells; No One Else But You; Funny Feathers; That Rhythm Man; That’s Like It Ought To Be; Turtle Twist ; Each Day; It’s Gonna Be You; Runenae Papa; After You’ve Gone ; Mr. Ghost Goes To Town ; There’ll Be Some Changes Made; Everybody Loves My Baby; Hackett Picking Blues; Chant In The Night ; China Boy; Climax Rag; Good Old New York ; Honky Tonk Town; King Porter Stomp; Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble; Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie; Jig Walk ; About Face; Disc Two: Moppin’ And Boppin’; Sister Kate ; High Society; Barney’s Bounce; Brushin’ Off The Boogie; Slim’s Jam ; Sweet Georgia Brown; Riff City; Mahogany Hall Stomp; Tiger Rag; Just Some Blues; The Sheik Of Araby; The Sheik Of Araby; Drum Face No. 2; Limehouse Blues; Bourbon Street; Grand Boubousse; Qua-Ti Blues; Bill Bailey; New Orleans; That’s A Plenty; Brush Lightly; Drum Face No. 3 (48 tracks). Upbeat Records 2 CD Set. URCD311D. £15.99 + p&p. https://upbeatmailorder.co.uk/product/zutty-singleton-the-heartbeat-of-jazz-1924-1969/.

                                                             

Classic jazz drummers so rarely get their own record retrospectives that the arrival of a new one is a minor event in itself amongst percussion aficionados. Yet Icon Of New Orleans Drumming is in fact the second CD reissue compilation of recent years dedicated to pioneering Louisianan Arthur ‘Zutty’ Singleton – the man who at the height of his powers was sticksman-of-choice for both Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. This new anthology from Upbeat thus knowingly retreads some of the ground already covered in Jazz Crusade's 2014 two-volume set Drum Face.

  The chronologically-ordered programme of Icon Of New Orleans Drumming is an attractive feature for those of us who like to trace the evolution of a particular musician, and simultaneously that of the musical environment surrounding them. However, apart from a cursory nod to Singleton's formative years (a token track from each of his successive tenures with the bands of Fate Marable and Charlie Creath) and a couple of tracks from his heady Hot Five and Morton Trio days, IONOD glosses over most of Singleton’s seminal 20s output. Instead, we take a deep dive into his work during the Swing era and the various revivals of the 1940s and 50s (not that Zutty himself was ever ‘revived’ in any way - he always just continued regardless!) Perhaps this choice to focus overwhelmingly on Singleton's overlooked later career was made because so much of the music from his acknowledged golden period has already been reissued beautifully so many times elsewhere.

  Highlights from Disc One are plentiful, beginning with Armstrong's beloved No One Else But Youwhich beautifully showcases the drummer’s filigree cymbal-work and heartbeat-like bass drum throughout. Runenae Papa meanwhile, cut under Zutty's own leadership in 1935, finds him in full Latin mode – an important and interesting glimpse of his under-appreciated stylistic range. By the later 30s he’s with Roy Eldridge and has morphed into a convincing swinger, as evidenced by the driving hi-hat and tom-tom excursions powering Mr. Ghost Goes To Town. As the war starts to hove into view on the horizon, we hear Zutty sounding great both within his comfort zone (There'll Be Some Changes Made with Pee Wee Russell) and outside it (Hackett Picking Blues with ‘Vic Lewis And His American Jazzmen’), as well as returning to Morton for Climax Rag and a somewhat autumnal reunion in Good Old New York. To end the first disc we examine Singleton the soloist – in the pounding pair of choruses of heart-stopping solo he plays on King Porter Stomp, and in the endlessly melodic, imaginative and technically-dazzling snare drumming throughout the percussive frolic About Face.

  The unmistakeable voice of Fats Waller introduces Disc Two, which takes up the story in Hollywood during the later war years. Fats exhorts Singleton to ‘Pour it on’ us, and he does, via a memorable drum solo introduction to Moppin' And Boppin', from the soundtrack of the film Stormy Weather. From there we follow Zutty’s residency in Forties LA, taking in numerous sessions alongside fellow survivors from the great Chicago days such as Wingy Manone, Jimmie Noone, Joe Sullivan, and others. Some of these names are still at peak form, others’ powers are perhaps somewhat on the wane by this point – but Singleton’s contribution is never less than competent, and often utterly compelling. Curios on this disc rarely heard before include a jam session convened for CBS radio in April 1944 (High Society), and a trio session with Barney Bigard under Zutty’s name (Barney’s Bounce). There are also choice selections from his stint with Slim Gaillard’s band (Slim's Jam alongside a young Dizzy Gillespie), and from the soundtrack of the 1946 film New Orleans backing up his old pal Armstrong (Mahogany Hall Stomp). In the Fifties, we head to Paris for a considerable sojourn and follow Monsieur Singleton to sessions with Nelson Williams and Bill Coleman, amongst which we find another thunderous solo feature, Drum Face No.2, recorded live with Coleman in 1952. The last few selections trace the drummer’s return to New York, and performances with fellow New Orleans expats Omer Simeon and Red Allen. The closing track, Drum Face No.3, a solo effort from 1969, is evidence enough that even at an advanced age Zutty remained a drummer of singular power, groove and melodic imagination; punctuated as it is with novelty-trap ratchets and sirens, this late work even evokes Face's ragtime-era drumming forebears.

  The quality of sound (Charlie Crump's transfers and Nick Dellow's audio restoration) is faultless throughout; those rare tracks where the sound is anything other than full, rich and crystal clear are so due to deficiencies in the source material itself rather than the restoration process. A liner booklet short on pictorial content nevertheless provides comprehensive discographical details, with an engaging and informed essay on Singleton’s life and character courtesy of the disc’s curator Trevor Richards, who knew the great man well in his twilight years. Zutty's biography and resumé is recounted in depth, and we're also treated to a few enlightening anecdotes that really do help to bring him to life as a complex and nuanced person as well as a great musician. Richards also resists the urge to pontificate about the finer points of Zutty’s musical style - it's all there in grooves of the records, after all, for those who care to listen!

  In conclusion: if you know all Zutty’s records from his '20s period like old and treasured friends, but feel you might like to follow ‘Face’ down the slightly more obscure and nomadic musical path he ended up taking following the war, this is absolutely the disc for you.

NICHOLAS D. BALL

CD SET: MATCHBOX BLUESMASTER SERIES: SET 5. Various Artists. MSE 1001: The Remaining Titles Blind Lemon Jefferson 1926-29; MSE 1002: The Remaining Titles Frank Stokes 1927-29; MSE 1003: The Remaining Titles Blind Blake 1926-29; MSE 1004: Mostly New To LP Big Bill Broonzy 1927-32; MSE 1005: Mostly New To LP Mississippi Sheiks 1930 (Vol. 1); MSE 1006: Mostly New To LP Lonnie Johnson (Vol. 1) 1926-28 (107 tracks). World Music Network 6 CD Set MSESET5. £29.99. https://www.wyastone.co.uk/matchbox-bluesmaster-series-blind-lemon-jefferson-frank-stokes-blind-blake-big-bill-broonzy-mississippi-sheiks-vol-1-lonnie-johnson-vol-1.html.

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Matchbox began re-issuing its Blues Master series in 2020. Each box set contains six CDs compiled from the label’s massive back catalogue of pre-war blues albums - some 42 albums in all originally released between November 1982 and June 1988.

  The original releases contained many rare recordings from the collection of  Johnny Parth and were re-mastered by Hans Klement in Vienna. Booklet notes were expertly penned by Paul Oliver.

  The series is now at volume 5 with more to come.  It appears that Matchbox will be reissuing its entire back catalogue, not just the Blues Master series. The main criticism of these releases is that they are straight dubs from the original vinyl albums and the booklet notes and discographies have not been updated despite much more information coming to light in the past thirty years.

  That said the series has attracted attention in the wider music press - so I suppose any publicity for these wonderful recordings is good publicity.

  Volume 5 starts with an album by Blind Lemon Jefferson with seventeen tracks on disc one from 1926 to 1929 including his first secular recording on the Paramount Got The Blues/Long Lonesome Blues as well as classics including Match Box Blues, and his gospel recording as Deacon L.J. Bates.

  Frank Stokes’ second disc set covers 1927 to 1929 and he appears with fellow guitarist and singer Dan Sane as the ‘Beale Street Sheiks’. Stokes also appears with violinist Will Batts on four tracks including South Memphis Blues and Shiney Town Blues and as a solo on I Got Mine, It Won’t Be Long Now, and Frank Stokes’ Dream.

  Disc three features Blind Blake (1925-1929) who after Blind Lemon’s death became Paramount’s best selling guitarist, was a highly skilled guitar player equally at home on rags and blues - including Wabash Rag, Southbound Rag with Jimmy Bertrand on xylophone and Johnny Dodds on clarinet, alongside tracks cut with singer Bertha Henderson. 

  Disc four features Big Bill Broonzy (1927–1932) and features Bill in a variety of settings including his excellent swing style on cuts like House Rent Stomp, Ain’t Goin’ There No More sung by Jane Lucas, Mr. Conductor Man, and  Mistreatin’ Mama Blues

  The ‘Mississippi Sheiks’ take disc five (1930) kicking off with with Driving That Thing, Alberta Blues (aka Corrina Corrina) Winter Blues, Stop And Listen Blues, and Jake Leg Blues, describing the effects of drinking home brewed alcohol made from ginger extract causing paralysis of the legs.

  Lonnie Johnson gets disc six with one volume from 1926 to 1928 which includes four tracks by his brother James Johnson on violin and piano. Lonnie plays violin and on No Good Blues plays banjo and he also whips out his kazoo to accompany others. Johnson’s own recordings are a joy including To Do This, You Got To Know How, and Crowing Rooster.

  If you have invested in sets one to four you will no doubt be getting this and subsequent sets. Make room on your shelves for even more.

TONY BURKE