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Extended Analysis

Chu Berry: Classic Columbia & Victor Sides

By Published: June 3, 2007
Chu Berry
Classic Columbia & Victor Sides
Mosaic Records

This seven-disc set is both a summary of tenor saxophonist Chu Berry's tragically short life and an important contribution to jazz history. It is a "warts and all collection due to some of contexts in which Berry is heard, but in an odd way such contexts actually serve to accentuate his progressive vision and greatness; what we have here in bulk is the work of a highly individual improviser.

Before the late 1930s Coleman Hawkins, the man who practically invented the idea of jazz saxophone, had little in the way of serious competition. But Berry was a man who fashioned an entirely different approach to playing the instrument in a jazz setting. This, allied with his extraordinary ability seemingly never to repeat himself, made for a musician who, had he not been killed in a road accident in October 1941, aged only 31, might have gone on to be one of the key figures in the development of the music.

To say that Berry had everything might only be hyperbole. He played the tenor saxophone with the big tone that was very much the order of his day, but his highly idiosyncratic rhythmic sense marked him out as a singular stylist. This, allied with his individual harmonic sense, was what separated him from the pack.

Berry's work on the earliest session collected here, with Benny Carter's Chocolate Dandies in October 1933, is that of a fully formed musician. His solo on "Once Upon A Time" is a model of economy, serving notice of how he was able to transcend the material with which he worked. On the alternate take of "I Never Knew" his work is extraordinarily tantalising, strongly hinting at how his playing might have assumed the staggeringly personal characteristics of pianist Thelonious Monk, informed though it was of course by jazz prior to bebop.

In that respect it could be said that Berry had the transformative powers of trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and there are many examples here of him getting the better not only of the tritest ditties but also of singers who are at best indifferent and at worst a liability. The two exceptions to that are Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Smith as exemplified by her reading of "Do Your Duty," the kind of risqué item that would have descended into the farcical when put over by a lesser voice, and Holiday with "Yankee Doodle Never Went To Town," where the quality of both singer and instrumentalists makes something out of nothing.

A session by Berry's Stompy Stevedores from March 1937 yields the kind of results that justify his reputation, and their restoration here should enhance it no end. His work on "Now You're Talking My Language" is that of a man who most definitely knew his own mind. Hot Lips Page's vocal has an infectious air and in combination the two raise a mediocre song to the level of art, in a way that Berry in particular could apparently do in his sleep.

The passing of time has only underscored that impression, and such are the diminishing returns emblematic of a lot of the music collected in this set that the listener might soon come to realise that the pop music of seventy-odd years ago was no more spiritually rewarding than that of the present day. The point is really brought home on the sessions Berry cut under trumpeter Wingy Manone's leadership, as is the certainty that Berry was an artist of rare quality. His work on "My Mariuccia Take A Steamboat" (sic) is that of a musician able to get the better of any circumstances and the fact that his input is so limited is a real disappointment.

A significant proportion of Berry's recorded output was made while he was a member of Cab Calloway's band and this set reflects that. In an alternate take of "Calling All Bars," a Benny Carter arrangement cut in May 1940, the feel of Berry's solo is that of a man restraining some of his natural musical inclinations, but the end result is still a work of singular invention and the consequence of a seemingly bottomless well of ideas.

The overall impact of this box might thus leave the listener in something of a quandary. On the one hand, it deserves to be heard by anyone who considers himself or herself even a semi-serious student of African American musical history, not merely of jazz history. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of music here that simply isn't rewarding listening for anyone lacking a fondness for wallowing in nostalgia for its own sake. How that contradiction is resolved is of course up to the individual.

Tracks and Personnel

Tracks: CD1: Blue Interlude; I Never Knew (Alternate Take); I Never Knew; Once Upon A Time; Krazy Kapers; Do Your Duty; I'm Down In The Dumps; (Lookie Lookie Lookie) Here Comes Cookie; When The Robin Sings His Song Again; Rosetta; I'll Never Say Never Again Again; Get Rhythm In Your Feet; Chasing Shadows (-2); Chasing Shadows (-1); When I Grow Too Old To Dream; I'd Love To Take Orders From You; I'd Rather Listen To Your Eyes; When Day Is Done; Twenty Four Hours A Day; Yankee Doodle Never Went To Town; Eeny Meeny Meiny Mo; I Hope Gabriel Likes My Music; Mutiny In The Parlor; Swing Is Here. CD2: Christopher Columbus; Grand Terrace Song; Blue Lou; Stealin' Apples; Moonrise On The Lowlands; I'll Always Be In Love With You; Jangled Nerves; Mary Had A Little Lamb; Too Good To Be True; Warmin' Up; Blues In C Sharp Minor; Where There's You There's Me; Do You Or Don't You Love Me; Mary Had A LIttle Lamb; Shoe Shine Boy; Sing, Sing, Sing; Knock, Knock Who's There? (Alternate Take); Knock, Knock Who's There?; Jim Town Blues; You Can Depend On Me; Slummin' On Park Avenue (-2); Slummin' On Park Avenue (-1); Rhythm Of The Tambourine; Back In Your Own Backyard; Rose Room; Great Caesar's Ghost. CD3: Now You're Talking My Language; Back Home Again In Indiana; Back Home Again In Indiana (Alternate Take); Too Marvellous For Words (Alternate Take); Too Marvellous For Words; Limehouse Blues (Alternate Take); Limehouse Blues; All God's Chillun Got Rhythm; Chris And His Gang; I'm Always In The Mood For You; She's Tall, She's Tan, She's Terrific; Go South, Young Man; Mama, I Want To Make Rhythm; Queen Isabella; Savage Rhythm; Chuberry Jam; Maelstrom (Alternate Take); Maelstrom; My Secret Love Affair; Ebb Tide; A Minor Breakdown (-1); A Minor Breakdown (-2); Bugle Blues; My First Impression Of You; With A Smile And A Song (-1); With A Smile And A Song (-2). CD4: When You'r Smiling; I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me; Thanks For The Memory (Alternate Take); Thanks For The Memory; Lover Come Back To Me (Alternate Take); Lover Come Back To Me; Annie Laurie; Loch Lomond; My Marriuccia Take A Steam Boat; In The Land Of Yamo Yamo; Rustle Of Swing (Alternate Take); Rustle Of Swing; Three Swings And Out; I Like Music (With A Swing Like That); Penguin Swing; Peck-A-Doodle-Do; At The Clambake Carnival; Hoy-Hoy; Miss Hallelujah Brown; Shout, Shout, Shout; Jive (Page "1" Of The Hepster's Dictionary); Do You Wanna Jump, Children?; Blue Interlude; FDR Jones; That's All I Ask Of You (Alternate Take); That's All I Ask Of You. CD5: Floogie Walk; I Can Give You Love; High Society; Johnny Get Your Horn; Sweethearts On Parade; Shufflin' At The Hollywood (Alternate Take); Shufflin' At The Hollywood; Denison Swing; Wizzin' The Wizz (Alternate Take); Wizzin' The Wizz; Downright Disgusted Blues; Corrine Corrini; I'm A Real Kinda Papa; Jumpy Nerves; Boogie Woogie; Ain't Cha Coming Home?; Royal Garden Blues; In The Barrel; Farewell Blues; Fare Thee, My Baby, Fare-The-Well; Limehouse Blues; Trylon Swing; Utt-Da-Zay; Crescendo In Drums; The Jumpin' Blues. CD6: Pluckin' The Bass (Alternate Take); Pluckin' The Bass; I Ain't Going Nowhere Fast; Blue Lou; When The Saints Go Marching In; My Honey's Lovin' Arms; When My Sugar Walks Down The Street; Hot Mallets; A Bee Gezindt; Give, Baby, Give; Do It Again; Calling All Bars (Alternate Take); Calling All Bars; Do I Care? No, No (Alternate Take) Do I Care? No, No; The Lone Arranger(-2); The Lone Arranger(-1); Hard Times; Who's Yehoodi? (Alternate Take); Who's Yehoodi?; Come On With The 'Come On'; A Ghost Of A Chance (Alternate Take); A Ghost Of A Chance; Bye Bye Blues (Alternate Take); Bye Bye Blues. CD7: Papa's In Bed With His Britches On (Alternate Take-3); Papa's In Bed With His Britches On (Alternate Take-2); Papa's In Bed With His Britches On; Boo-Wah Boo-Wah (Alternate Take); Boo-Wah Boo-Wah; Cupid's Nightmare; Are You Hep To The Jive?; Hot Air; Lonesome Nights (Alternate Take); Lonesome Nights; A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But A Bird (Alternate Take); A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But A Bird (Breakdown); A Chicken Ain't Nothin' But A Bird; The Worker's Train; The Worker's Train(Breakdown); Run, Little Rabbit(Alternate Take); Run, Little Rabbit; Are You All Reet?(Alternate Take); Are You All Reet?; Special Delivery (Alternate Take-3); Special Delivery(Alternate Take-2); Take The 'A' Train; Hey Doc!; My Coo-Coo Bird (Could Sing).

Personnel: Chu Berry: tenor saxophone with: CD1: The Chocolate Dandies (under the direction of Benny Carter) Tracks 1-5. Bessie Smith, Orchestral Accompaniment by Buck And His Band Tracks 6 & 7. Teddy Hill & His Orchestra Tracks 8 & 9. Henry Allen & His Orchestra Tracks 10-12. Putney Dandridge & His Orchestra Tracks 13-15. Mildred Bailey & Her Swing Band Tracks 16-18. Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra Tracks 19-21. Gene Krupa's Swing Band Tracks 22-25. CD2: Fletcher Henderson & HIs Orchestra Tracks 1-7. Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra Tracks 8-11. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra Tracks 12-16. CD3: Berry & His Stompy Stevedores Tracks 1-7. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra Tracks 8 & 9. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 10-15. Berry & His Stompy Stevedores Tracks 16-20. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 21-23. Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra Tracks 24-26. CD4: TW & His Orchestra Tracks 1 & 2. Mildred Bailey & Her Orchestra Tracks 3-6. Wingy Manone & His Orchestra Tracks 7-10. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 11-24. Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra Tracks 25 & 26. CD5: Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Track 1. Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra Tracks 2-10. Wingy Manone & His Orchestra Tracks 11-15. Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra Track 16. Wingie (sic) Manone & His Orchestra Tracks 17-21. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 22-25. CD6: Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 1-3. Wingy Manone & His Orchestra Tracks 4-7. Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra Track 8. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 9-25. CD7: Cab Calloway & His Orchestra Tracks 1-25 inclusive.

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