We've all heard Joseph "King" Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Bix Beiderbecke on the Smithsonian Jazz Collection. We know the names because they're "important," but do we ever listen because they're just plain good?
What about Oscar 'Papa' Celestin, Red Nichols or Jabbo Smith? Not exactly names jumping out of the radio or iTunes. Save for a precocious thesis or specialty store, the musicians that Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington listened to, played with or even competed against suffer the same fate as Mozart's rivals or Muhammad Ali's trainer: they're historical curiosities for research, not recreation.
For me the jazz of the twenties and early thirties was never just history. I heard Adrian Rollini's bass saxophone long before Charlie Parker's alto, but they both blow me away for different reasons. "Jazz That Scratches, Swings and Pops" spotlights the early jazz you've heard about or never heard at all, not as something we've moved past, but as an exciting experience that doesn't need a time machine, just some speakers.
This is jazz pre-electric recording, pre-World War II and pre-acceptance into conservatories and Carnegie Hall. Jazz grew up in New Orleans brothels, Chicago speakeasies and brawling Kansas City bars. Never naïve or innocent, the music we'll discuss is simply young, with all of the energy, exploration and occasional embarrassment we associate with the time of our lives when things are unsettled and the world is fresh. If it sounds primitive, check your hindsight at the door. There's a treasure of great music between the cracks and scratches of jazz's youth. Andrew J. Sammut
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