As documented over the past century, the jazz message can be a varied and diverse thing, encompassing everything from the blues to the avant-garde. This is not to say that some styles haven’t been more popular than others. Clearly, the swing music of Benny Goodman and Count Basie rings truer for the average jazz fan than the adventurous explorations of Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman. Taking this a step further, it seems that modern jazz of the ‘50s and ‘60s variety is the focus of today’s listeners and musicians. Hard bop and the style of jazz heard on Blue Note and other small labels seems to embody the very essence of the music for scores of enthusiasts, this reviewer included to some degree.
Now the forgoing will hopefully provide a basis for understanding why the music heard on Mosaic’s recent compilation, The Classic Columbia Condon Mob Sessions, was largely ignored at the time of release and today holds a special appeal for an all too small audience. For lack of a better term, much of the material falls into that broad and much-maligned category we refer to as Dixieland and even as early as the ‘50s when the majority of these recordings were made, folks considered such music as “retro” by contemporary standards. When you take into account that innovators such as John Coltrane and Miles Davis were indeed pushing the music towards new vistas at the time, it’s easy to see why such attitudes might prevail. In hindsight however, such broad misconceptions do an injustice to the talents that have been assembled on this 8-disc set comprising 39 separate sessions that originally resulted in 23 albums and a handful of 45s and 78s.
To further put this set into perspective, it should be noted that a previous Mosaic box collected all of guitarist and raconteur Eddie Condon’s sets for Columbia and Epic as a leader. This latest edition then features recordings by musicians associated with the “Chicago-style” jazz that Condon favored and often presented at his Greenwich Village club in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It is a tremendous body of work that until now has been relegated to an undeserved purgatory. Call it Dixieland if you must, but this stuff is the kind of lively and ebullient jazz that makes you tap your toes and smile and there’s more than enough substance in the solos to keep the appeal strong throughout. In short, this is essential music that continues to speak to those with an open mind.
The earliest sessions included here come from 1940 and present the work of tenor manBud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. The line-up is undeniably strong, with Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Dave Tough, and Jack Teagarden on board and such standards as “Muskrat Ramble” and “That Da Da Strain” as part of the mix. We then move up to 1949 and 1950 for a spate of sessions for clarinet manJimmy Dorsey. While the material is squarely within the tradition, there’s a stiffer feel to things and a bit of schmaltz added via the inclusion of some obscure and not particularly memorable vocalists on a few numbers.
The set continues in chronological order with about an entire disc’s worth of sides byLee Wileyfrom 1950 and 1951. While over a dozen numbers with just Wiley and a pianist tend towards overkill, the two dates with trumpeterBobby Hackettand pianistJoe Bushkinand a string section come off with more of a lasting appeal. Still, Wiley’s dry and concert-style drawl will be an acquired taste for most and taken as a whole, these tracks are the least interesting items to be found in the entire package. We hear fromBobby Hackettonce again on two sessions from the fall of 1950 however. These quartet performances find the jovial trumpeter in fine form on such standards as “Royal Garden Blues” and “Fidgety Feet.”
DrummerGeorge Wettlingwas a standby at many a Condon jam session and it’s no surprise that he’s included here as a leader of two of his own record dates.Matty Matlockalso lead a pair of sessions which are notable for shedding some light on the magnificent guitar artistry of George Van Eps. Good as this stuff is, the surprise of the lot in terms of “Chicago-styled” hot jazz comes in the form of over two discs’ worth of material from theRampart Street Paraders. Sure, the collective improvisation is there and drummer Nick Fatool kicks things nicely into overdrive at times, but there’s much more to the landscape here, especially when it comes to more fine moments from Van Eps and the big-toned tenor of Eddie Miller. These guys swing, sway, swoon and give the Dixieland moniker the polish and glitter that the term rightly deserves.
The set wraps up with a few selected goodies from the end of the ‘50s. First, it’s an assorted collection of items from cornet manJimmy McPartland. Tyree Glenn, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Dick Cary, Marian McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, and Bob Wilber are just a few of the luminaries who take part in the festivities. Of particular interest is the inclusion of McPartland’s The Music Man Goes Dixieland album (offered here in stereo for the first time) which puts an interesting twist on Meredith Willson’s score from the popular musical. Only Jimmy Giuffre’s equally novel take on the “The Music Man” comes close in putting a fresh face on what seems to be unconventional fodder for a jazz performance.
Finally, two classics from 1959 sum things up succinctly. TrumpeterDick Cary and his Dixieland Doodlersgo for more of a tongue and cheek approach to the traditional fare, with tuba and banjo as part of the ensemble. Then, fellow trumpet manBilly Butterfieldparlays his gorgeous tone on eleven numbers that he offers as a tribute to the legendary Bix Beiderbecke.
Along with a 24-page booklet packed with photos and session commentary by Richard Sudhalter, this boxed set features exceptional sound remastering that brings this timeless music back to life. Digested in small increments, this set holds many pleasures for fans with a taste towards the traditional. Furthermore, it’s hoped that those who may not think they dig Dixie will sample a taste in order to discover the joys of a neglected segment of jazz history. All recordings are available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place; Stamford, CT 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check their website at www.mosaicrecords.com for more information or to place an order.
Track Listing: 174 performances on eight CDs, including seven previously unissued takes
Personnel: Featured performers include Bud Freeman and His Chicagoans, George Wettling's Jazz Band, George Wettling-Bud Freeman All Stars, Jimmy Dorsey and His Original Dorseyland Jazz Band, Bobby Hackett, Matty Matlock and His Jazz Band, Rampart Street Paraders, Jimmy McPartland and His Dixieland Band, Dick Cary and His Dixieland Doodlers, The Billy Butterfield Jazz Band, Wild Bill Davison, and Lee Wiley