While the listener won’t find any crowd-pleasing hit songs on this album, he or she will be treated to more than seventy-four minutes of quite enjoyable music-making by ace trumpeter / bandleader Harry James and his orchestras (with three exceptions “Tuxedo Junction,” performed by a nonet, and quartet-only versions of “Sleepy Time Gal” and “The Man I Love”). This compilation surveys the period from 1939, shortly after James left the Benny Goodman Orchestra to form his own ensemble, through 1951, years in which the trumpeter and his ensembles recorded prolifically (except for 1943-44 when a musicians’ union ban kept almost everyone from entering the studios). Among the pleasant surprises are radiant compositions / arrangements by Gray Rains (“Sharp as a Tack,” “Record Session”) and Dave Matthews (“Duke’s Mixture,” “Jeffries Blues”). Other well-known arrangers include Leroy Holmes (“Prince Charming”), Jimmy Mundy (“9:20 Special,” “Ultra”) and Ray Conniff (Kurt Weill’s “September Song”). Harry doesn’t neglect the standards, even honoring the wishes of many an inebriated barfly by playing “Melancholy Baby.” Irving Berlin is represented by “Easter Parade,” George Gershwin by “The Man I Love,” Harold Arlen by “Get Happy,” Rodgers and Hart by “Manhattan,” even Fats Waller by a leisurely reading of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” on which Harry plays muted and open trumpet. James himself wrote “Feet Draggin’ Blues,” “Let Me Up,” “Ultra” and co-authored “Music Makers.” James was a musical chameleon, able to play well in any style from Dixieland to swing, blues to ballads, and his trumpet sound is almost instantly recognizable. That was one of the reasons for his enduring success; another was his resolve to surround himself with the most capable sidemen in the business, heavy hitters like saxophonists Willie Smith, Vido Musso and Corky Corcoran, trombonists Juan Tizol and Ziggy Elmer, drummers Nick Fatool and Alvin Stoller, all of whom are heard on this album.
The leader, of course, takes the lion’s share of the solos, but no one who has heard him play would complain about that. Smith and Elmer make their presence known on “9:20 Special” (which also contains one of Harry’s most inspired solos), and there are brief statements elsewhere by Corcoran, Tizol and Matthews (on tenor sax), among others. But the orchestra is what this music is all about, and Harry James led one of the most formidable ensembles of his day. Even though the cramped monaural sound is fairly typical of the time, it doesn’t greatly lessen the pleasure one derives from listening once more to the incomparable Harry James and his merry bands of music-makers.
Contact: Memoir Records Ltd., P.O. Box 66, Pinner, Middlesex HA5 25A, United Kingdom. Web site: www.memoir.demon.co.uk .