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Artist Profiles

Doug Mettome: A Brief Life in Bop

By Published: August 23, 2013
Greco was not specific about Doug's "personal problems," but at least one of them was the death of his wife, Catharine Wade, "after an operation" in New York City in early August, 1949. (Salt Lake City Tribune, Aug. 9, 1949). There is unfortunately very little recorded about this. One musician, who played with Mettome on the Goodman band, had no recollection of Doug ever discussing a family, one way or the other. The late Leon Merian, another trumpet player who knew Doug from his time with Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
b.1915
composer/conductor
, was aware of the event. He reported in an interview that it had had a devastating impact on Mettome, which is somewhat less surprising. Sixty years on, unfortunately, memories, understandably, fade and often blur. Another former band mate described Doug as "introverted" and doubted there were too many people who knew him well. If Goodman had tried to induce him to front a commercial band, it's doubtful Mettome would have been interested in any case. By most accounts, he disliked that part of the business as much as anyone and was basically interested in playing jazz.



And yet the last word that anyone would use to describe Mettome's work with Goodman would be "introverted" or even, perhaps, "reflective." To the contrary, what was probably his most famous solo occurred on "Undercurrent Blues," which was recorded while the band was in Los Angeles in February 1949. The topside of the recording is "Ma Belle Marguerite," a vocal that featured Buddy Greco
Buddy Greco
Buddy Greco
b.1926
vocalist
. If your taste runs to English light opera ("Bless the Bride"), you may enjoy it. If not, the flip side is the winner, "Undercurrent." This was not the first time that Goodman had recorded it. There was a V-Disc made in mid-December 1948 which is slightly different in tempo, but which also features a hard-swinging chorus by Wardell Gray. Unfortunately, that chorus is absent from the February 1949 for reasons that are not clear. The 1949 recording is different in other ways. It is taken slightly faster, but the interesting comparison comes with Mettome's solos.

On the V-disc, Mettome's first eight-bar break opens with repeated Bb triplets that rapidly move up a fourth, and sound, for all the world, like a stylized quote from Kay Keyser's hit 1948 recording of the Woody Woodpecker song. But when he reenters for a second chorus, misfortune, if not disaster, strikes. He runs off a Bb major ascending scale with some assertion, but appears to stumble coming off of it in another triplet figure, and then plays an outright clam on the way out. A natural reaction is to regard it as a powerful performance marred by a stumble from which Mettome doesn't recover. The LA version is, while very striking, a more conventional solo, opening with Dizzy's signature triplets. But this time, the "Woodpecker" triplets are executed in the upper register in his second chorus and the ascending scale is rearranged into something resembling a bop Arban's exercise, perfectly executed in the "near" upper register. When Goodman solos, it is in a way that makes it clear he really likes what he's heard. His chorus is reminiscent of his reply to Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
1908 - 1942
trumpet
on "King Porter Stomp" (1935) of which Ross Firestone writes "Benny...almost bubbles over with delight." Small wonder. The entire production, arranged (and written?) by Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
Chico O'Farrill
1921 - 2001
composer/conductor
, ends on a screaming concert Bb. It is a memorable performance.

The comparison to Berigan is not entirely coincidental. Leon Merian regarded playing with Mettome as "the closest I came to playing with Berigan," and elements of Bunny's style, by no means out of place in a transitional figure like Mettome, are evident in some of his other recordings with Goodman. One was "King Porter Stomp" itself, which Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller
b.1925
composer/conductor
characterized as a "near-perfect performance" in the original, and Berigan's introduction as "supremely authoritative." In a 1949 recording, Mettome has Berigan's solo, and his paraphrase of Bunny's introduction is a knowledgeable, but by no means "slavish" update.



Doug's sixteen-bar chorus is wild, as exuberant as anything he ever played with Goodman, and pure swing. Whether or not he reached Bunny's level is debatable, but the excitement he generates (along with the propulsive drumming of Sonny Igoe) is palpable. The real test comes, however, with "Blue Lou."


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