Storyville Records: A Treasure Trove of Swinging Jazz
Covered in the box, of course, is the historic concert the Ellington band made at the Crystal Ballroom, Fargo, North Dakota on November 7, 1940. Thanks to two Ellington fans and amateur recording engineers, Jack Towers and Dick Burris, the entire Dakota performance was recorded (save for a few drop-outs occasioned when changing the shellac disc on the pair's single-turntable cutter), providing a comprehensive record of the band during a five-set evening's work. The sound, which over the years has been refined several times by Towers, is outstanding throughout the two-and-a-half hours of the Fargo concert, which make up the entirety of discs two and three.
Storyville Masters Of Jazz: Johnny Hodges
Johnny Hodges' exquisite sound"so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to my eyes," said Ellingtonis foregrounded on this 19-track anthology, spanning the 20 years from 1943-64.
The first two tracks feature Hodges with the Ellington orchestra; track two, "Passion Flower," written by Strayhorn for Hodges, has the composer at the piano in place of Ellington. Most of the others, all made by smaller groups, include Ellingtonians in their lineups. An unexpected twist is a 1954 recording of Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone," featuring John Coltrane on tenor saxophone, alongside Ellingtonians trumpeter Shorty Baker and trombonist Lawrence Brown.
The disc closes with a wonderful octet recording of Ellington's "Dooji Wooji," featuring Ellingtonians trumpeter Cat Anderson, tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves, clarinetist Russell Procope and drummer Sam Woodyard, and also including the British-born pianist Victor Feldman.
As with The Duke Box, most of the tracks here are taken from live recordings, but the sound, as with the box, is consistently better than average. There are many fine Hodges samplers around, and this is one of them.
Other artists featured in the Storyville Masters Of Jazz series include pianists Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines, saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Sidney Bechet, violinist Stuff Smith and singer Billie Holiday.
The Blues Box
With The Blues Box, we come full circle on this small selection of discs from Storyville's vast catalogue: for the blues, of course, were fundamental to European revivalism, stemming from blues retentions in the original New Orleans-style material which inspired the movement. The blues in their own right also drove two members in particular of the Ken Colyer band which inaugurated Storyville's recording program: trombonist Chris Barber and guitarist, banjoist and singer Lonnie Donegan.
The seven CDs in the box feature a variety of urban and country blues artists recorded in Copenhagen from 1956-77, mostly in the 1960s. The roster includes pianists/vocalists Otis Spann, Speckled Red, Sunnyland Slim Roosevelt Sykes, Little Brother Montgomery, Sippie Wallace, Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Eddie Boyd and Jay McShann; guitarists/vocalists Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes, Robert Pete Williams, Big Bill Broonzy, John Henry Barbee and Brownie McGhee; and harmonica players/vocalists Sonny Boy Williamson II and Sonny Terry. A companion DVD features performances from Dupree, Williamson, guitarist/vocalist Robert Lockwood Jr and pianists/vocalists James Carroll Booker 111, Henry Gray and Cousin Joe, among others.
By the time these recordings were made most of the musicians were in their 60sin 2010, still old by the standards prevailing in the blues world, and at the time the recordings were made, older still. But like good wine, blues musicians improve with age, acquiring a gravitas befitting the wrenched-from-real life subject matter of their songs. The Blues Box does its veteran artists proud and is an invaluable historical resource. The large format, 40 page booklet includes authoritative biographies of all the artists by Chris Albertson, adding to the box's substance.
Tracks and Personnel