Barney Bigard is one of the outstanding jazz clarinetists of the twentieth century. His bluesy, sensual tone and extraordinary agility graced the albums of the King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton before he became Duke Ellington’s regular clarinetist from 1927 to 1942. To top off this incredible career, after the second world war he became Louis Armstrong’s clarinetist from 1947 to 1956. Few musician’s could point to as illustrious a line of employers.
Bigard was in demand partially because of his expressive voice that deftly spanned the wide range of the clarinet. Whether he was playing at the high or the low extreme Bigard’s playing escaped the hollow virtuosity of so many jazz musicians. The same could be said for his ability to play expressively at very slow and fast tempos. Bigard’s emotional attunement was inseparable from his sound: a clarinet voice that was consistently attractive to the very best bandleaders in the business.
Add to Bigard the superbly attentive musicianship of pianist Art Hodes, and a relaxed band that sounds like they’ve been playing together for years, and you’ve got a recording that is a continual listening pleasure. Bucket’s Got A Hole In It gracefully mixes blues, New Orleans, and swing approaches in an intimate small group style associated with the classic swing groups of the 1930’s through the 50’s.
Art Hodes has kept some impressive company over the years too. His recordings for Blue Note with Sidney Bechet and Albert Nicholas are famous traditional sessions. So, in 1968 when Bigard and Hodes were brought together to record by a television station in Chicago anticipation was in the air. It is hard to believe that anyone could have been disappointed by this selection of standards, blues, and traditional tunes. Both Bigard and Hodes can slide effortlessly from one style or another and back. It’s especially interesting to hear them play on “C Jam Blues” and to hear Hodes bluesy, barrelhouse interpretation of Ellington’s piano alongside Bigard’s extended solo that soars and swoops like a blues inspired swallow.
It should be pointed out that on half the cuts the core band is expanded with the addition of two excellent traditional musicians – Nap Trottier on trumpet and George Brunis on trombone. They bring a fuller New Orleans sound to the mix. In addition, the versatile rhythm team of Rail Wilson on bass and Barrett Deems on drums is responsible for much of the living room feel of this wonderfully vibrant recording. The interplay between Bigard and Hodes alone is worth the price of admission.
Tracks:Bucket’s Got A Hole In It; Sweet Lorraine; Hesitating Blues; Tin Roof Blues; Lover Come Back To Me; Sensation Rag; Makin’ Whoopee; Three Little Words; Bye and Bye; Nitty Gritty; C Jam Blues.
Personnel: Barney Bigard, clarinet; Art Hodes, piano; Rail Wilson, bass; Barrett Deems, drums; Nap Trottier, trumpet; and George Brunis, trombone.