Various artists – Hot Jazz On Blue Note (Blue Note)
On the cover of the book Bill Russell’s American Music is a most intriguing photograph.
Russell, champion of New Orleans music and someone these days mostly revered for his recordings, issued on the American Music, of the likes of trumpeter Bunk Johnson, clarinettist George Lewis and many more, is peering intently at his arcane recording equipment.
It is 1944 and the location is San Jacinto Hall in New Orleans.
The occasion is a recording session involving both Johnson and Lewis, as well as the rest of the then Johnson band – drummer Baby Dodds, banjo man Lawrence Marrero, bassist Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau and trombonist Jim Robinson.
At Russell’s side is a much younger man, dressed in a striped T-shirt, cigarette dangling from his mouth and stop watch in hand.
This is Alfred Lion, playing something of a sorcerer’s apprentice.
Yes, the same Alfred Lion who – with partner Francis Wolff – was responsible for the most famous jazz label of all: Blue Note.
The Blue Note revered the world over for the recordings of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and many, many more.
Hardcore jazz anoraks and trainspotters know all about Lion’s penchant for earlier styles of jazz, even if they don’t pay that music much heed.
But the sometimes now forgotten truth is Lion was recording New Orleans and dixieland (for want of a better word) artists even as he was forging ahead by changing the jazz world forever with the hard bop and post-bop for which Blue Note is mostly these days associated.
Monk first recorded for Blue Note in 1947, yet there are recordings on the four-disc set Hot Jazz On Blue Note by bluesman Josh White dating from as early as 1940.
And on it are sides by George Lewis from 1955, by which time Blue Note’s contribution to modern jazz was already assured.
Hot Jazz On Blue Note was released in 1996.
It’s out of print but it remains easily – and cheaply available.
That it hasn’t become a sought-after collectors’ item is something at which to marvel.
Because the music is superb and beautiful.
On it are a heap of New Orleanians such as Lewis, Pops Foster and Sidney Bechet, the latter of whom is the four-disc set’s dominant voice.
But on board, too, are a whole bunch of players more broadly associated with Chicago and dixieland and even swing, including Art Hodes, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Archey, Big Sid Catlett, Wellman Braud, Sidney De Paris, Walter Page, Edmond Hall and many, many more.
Also featured is the piano of James P. Johnson, a pioneering figure who fits into none of the pigeonholes mentioned above.
There is none of the crusty sound found on many of Russell’s recordings of some of these artists – it’s all very good Blue Note sound the whole way.
Blue Note, hot style, falling between the cracks.