The annals of jazz are full of figures like Andy Bartha and Billy Butterfield. Solid horn players with long, respectable careers as sidemen, they remained on the fringes of popular attention, occasionally brushing greatness but never attaining that status themselves.
Butterfield came close, playing trumpet alongside Bob Crosby, Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman in the swing era. His stint with Shaw included a classic solo on the latter's 1940 recording of "Stardust," as well as time in Shaw's groundbreaking Gramercy 5 combo. But his solo career never managed to capitalize on those early successes. Bartha came up during the 1940s Dixieland revival and spent ten years playing with Pee Wee Hunt. Bartha eventually retired to Florida, where he assembled a veteran band that recorded four albums for the Art Records label in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Take Me To The Land of Jazz is a hard-stomping traditional jazz disc that collects material from two of the Art LPs. The first ten tracks feature Butterfield and Bartha together fronting a nonet, while the remainder of the disc is by Bartha's 1969 octet. Both bands were recorded live at gigs in Fort Lauderdale.
Bartha's warm cornet tone is endearingly gruff, a quality mirrored both by Butterfield and by Ed Hubble's energetic trombone. But the most vibrant voice in the opening tracks is clarinetist Larry Wilson, whose well-lubricated swing defies the stiffness of the rhythm section. Butterfield, despite his top billing, doesn't have much to do until "Basin Street Blues," which he seizes with vigor. His slurring lines, full of sudden swoops and stabs, tell the story of a veteran who's seen it all and has plenty to say about it. "St. Louis Blues" goes one better as the entire band loosens up for an inspired jam.
The 1969 tracks have an entirely different feel. Here the rhythm section, using a banjo instead of guitar, provides a breezy flow largely absent from the Butterfield session. The entire band shows great verve in these five cuts, but bass saxophonist John Dengler seems to benefit the most, turning out a series of quick-paced, impeccably melodic solos.
Delmark Records is to be commended for rescuing these sides from obscurity and giving Bartha and Butterfield another day in the sun.
Personnel: Billy Butterfield: trumpet; Andy Bartha: cornet; Ed Hubble: tombone, baritone sax (1-10); Ray
Brooks: trombone (11-15); Larry Wilson: clarinet; John Dengler: bass saxophone; Bob Warren:
piano (1-10); Billy "Fats" Hagen (11-15); Chuck Karle: bass; Red Rasele: guitar (1-10); Larry
Schram: banjo (11-15); Chuck Damanti: drums (1-10); Carl Peticca: drums (11-15).