Tag Archives: Johnny Dodds

Five Star CD Reviews Vol 2

Gerry Mulligan: Lonesome Boulevard (Verve 0602527068756)
Anyone who heard the great baritone saxophonist, composer and bandleader Gerry Mulligan when he played the 1988 Glasgow Jazz Festival will recall that he was a player of terrific elegance and lyricism. Those qualities shine through on every track of this superb 1990 quartet album. Highlights include the train-mad Mulligan’s only recording of the thrilling piece he wrote as composer-in-residence at Glasgow, The Flying Scotsman, which was played with a full big band and recorded by the BBC – though never yet released on CD…
Download: Lonesome Boulevard, The Flying Scotsman
Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet: Blues in Time (Verve 0602517995789)
So busy were the saxophonists Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan in the mid-1950s that it took three years to finally get together to make this classic 1957 recording. Accompanied by Mulligan’s regular, piano-less, rhythm section of bass and drums, the sweet-sounding altoist (Desmond) and the wonderfully lyrical baritone player (Mulligan) prove to be a great team, on the same wavelength yet able to keep the music spontaneous and exciting – as the title track, in particular, shows.
Download: Blues in Time, Standstill
Humphrey Lyttelton and His Band and The Paseo Jazz Band 1953-56 (Upbeat Jazz URCD223)
There’s a great deal of previously unissued material on this CD which features the late, great trumpeter and bandleader Humphrey Lyttelton at the peak of his powers. Among the 24 tracks included here are a trio of terrific recordings he made with London-based West Indian musicians under the name the Paseo Jazz Band, and a quartet of songs recorded with the American vocalist Marie Bryant, best remembered as having sung in the iconic short jazz film Jammin’ the Blues.
Download: Paseo Blues, Georgia On My Mind
Johnny Dodds: Definitive Dodds (Retrieval RTR79056)
Johnny Dodds was the definitive New Orleans-style clarinettist of the 1920s, and this superb new CD comprises the recordings he made over a 15-month period from 1926 – at the peak of his powers. Although the five groups featured have different names, the personnel is drawn from a mouth-watering list of Chicago-based jazz greats including, most notably, Louis Armstrong (trumpet), on whose Hot 5 recordings Dodd was well featured. It’s all great stuff, particularly the Black Bottom Stompers sides, with Barney Bigard on sax and Earl Hines on piano.
Download: Wild Man Blues, Melancholy
Billie Holiday: The Ben Webster/Harry Edison Sessions (Lonehill Jazz LHJ10355)
The recordings on this new double CD are essential listening for anyone with an interest in jazz: they represent the last blast of greatness of the greatest jazz singer of them all, Billie Holiday. Comprising three classic 1956/57 Verve albums (Body and Soul, All Or Nothing At All and the peerless Songs for Distingue Lovers), plus a set from the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, this swinging, soulful, and uplifting CD finds Holiday (who died in 1959) with one of her best line-ups – including Ben Webster (tenor sax), Harry Edison (trumpet), Jimmy Rowles (piano) and Barney Kessel (guitar).
Download: But Not  For Me, Stars Fell From Alabama

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Something About Sandy ….

I’ve been inspired by the Sandy Brown set I heard in Norwich, as well as recent conversations with admirers (among them Michel Bastide of the Hot Antic Jazz Band), to resurrect a piece I wrote four years ago on the great clarinettist. This was published in Scotland on Sunday’s Review, when the album Doctor McJazz made its CD debut. Of course, we should be hearing more Brown music at one of the Scottish jazz festivals in 2009 as this would have been his 80th birthday year….

Long before Brian Kellock, Carol Kidd and Tommy Smith earned their places on the international stage, Scotland had already made a significant contribution to the jazz world – in the slightly shambolic shape of the maverick Sandy Brown.

This self-taught clarinettist was one of the most respected figures on the British jazz scene from the mid-1950s onwards.  His death, at the age of 46 in 1975 , was a great shock to admirers of his fiery style of playing and his dazzlingly original compositions which still sound quite unlike anything else in the jazz repertoire. Several of his recordings – especially the albums McJazz and Doctor McJazz (available on Lake) – were hailed as classics almost as soon as they were released.

But Brown’s death wasn’t a loss just for the jazz community. He was also a successful acoustic architect, and he used his pioneering audio techniques to design recording studios for the BBC, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Sandy Brown Associates is still going strong today – though their current contracts presumably no longer have the clause that, upon completion, the architect’s band is to be allowed to used the facilities to record its next album.

As if two world-renowned talents weren’t enough, Brown was also an extremely funny writer whose posthumously published book, The McJazz Manuscripts – a collection of his columns from The Listener magazine – sparkles with the same originality and wit that’s evident in his playing and composing. Its photographs reveal what an unconventional character he was: he’s pictured looking like a young Peter Cook, wearing suits with sneakers and strange hats, as he heads off for business meetings as part of his day job.

Brown’s musical roots lie in the apparently unlikely jazz breeding ground of Edinburgh’s Royal High School. There, in 1943, he formed his first band with trumpeter Al Fairweather and pianist Stan Greig. They and two other former Royal High pupils – Bob Craig and Dizzie Jackson – formed a semi-professional trad jazz band in 1949.

In February 1952, the band played its first big concert, as support for the American blues artist Big Bill Broonzy at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall. A string of recording dates followed and, in 1953, the band travelled to London to play the Royal Festival Hall. The next year, Brown moved permanently to the capital.

Brown’s distinctive, hot, sweet and often spiky clarinet style blossomed during the 1950s, and was increasingly showcased on his own compositions, many of which had a strong African tinge. Initially inspired by the New Orleans clarinettist Johnny Dodds, he emerged as a highly original player, actively hostile to the idea of Benny Goodman as primary role model.

Brown’s playing was lyrical, exuberant and often wild. The late writer and broadcaster Miles Kington told me that he had always had the feeling that there was something inherently Scottish about Brown’s sound. “There was often a keening, a wild, lonely note in his playing,” he explained.

The pianist Ralph Laing recalled: “He was one of the great melodic lateral thinkers and he would never let your attention waver. He would lull you into a sublime musical security, then make you leap to attention.”

In person too, Brown delighted in unsettling new acquaintances. Miles Kington was a student in 1962 when he first encountered Brown. Kington told me: “He said: ‘Where are you from, laddie?’ And I said: ‘Well, I’m English but I went to school in Scotland. I went to Glenalmond, for what it’s worth.’ ‘No’ very much,’ was the reply.

“He was a fearsome character. He had this enormous pate, a big beard and gigantic eyebrows. I think he enjoyed putting on this gruff manner to frighten people, but underneath he was a bit of a softie.”

Sandy Brown’s enduring popularity has led to numerous tribute albums and, especially memorably, a sell-out concert at the 2002 Edinburgh Jazz Festival which reunited many of his old bandmates and highlighted the degree of affection in which he is still held. Kington summed up the feelings of those who remember him: “He was larger than life. He was more than just a musician – and he was the best clarinettist in the world at one time. He was a force of nature.”

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