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Jay McShann: In Copenhagen

Chris Mosey By

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Jay "Hootie" McShann was like one of those Russian dolls that you knock down and they bounce right up again. Right up until his death in 2006 at the age of 90, he was one of the jazz world's great survivors. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1916, his spiritual and musical home was Kansas City, where he achieved his place in the history books for fronting the big band that introduced Charlie Parker to the world. It played the Apollo in Harlem in 1942, billed as "A Sensational New Band." Fame proved ephemeral. Within a year McShann was drafted into the Army and by the time he got back to the States, the big band era was over.

After more success in 1947-48 with a small group backing blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon, McShann faded into obscurity, before reinventing himself as a solo blues pianist/vocalist in the 1970s, going on to tour Europe twice and star first as a character in an Elmore Leonard novel, The Hot Kid (2005) then, a few years before his death, in Clint Eastwood's TV documentary, Piano Blues (2003).

This indefatigable character came to Copenhagen in 1977 as part of his second European tour. Pushing 70, he cut these sides, the first eight on his own, the rest backed by local musicians, his incredible ebullience lighting up the hour-long session. Seven of the tracks were originally released as Jay McShann, After Hours (Storyville, 1977), while two others—"Hot Biscuits" and "Jumpin' With McShann"—were on Hot Biscuits by Fessor's Big City Band (Storyville, 1994). The rest are from the Storyville archive.

McShann kicks off and closes with Avery Parrish's atmospheric "After Hours," pays tribute to his birthplace with "Man From Muskogee" and remembers his days with Parker on "Yardbird Waltz," which actually sounds remarkably like the old spiritual "Here I Am, Lord Send Me." He pays tribute to Kansas City icons Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson on "How Long Blues" and "Cherry Red" before, in true blues fashion, lauding his own sexual prowess in the self-penned "Fore Day Rider."

The Danes acquit themselves well, particularly so guitarist Thomas Puggård Muller and trombonist Ole "Fessor" Lindgreen. The erudite and informative sleeve notes are by British blues expert Paul Oliver. The last word must be his explanation of James Columbus McShann's nickname, which back in his big band days became incorporated into numbers like "Hold 'Em Hootie" and "Hootie's Ignorant Oil." Oliver writes: "Jay's occasional binges, or 'hooties,' were the subject of good-natured joking among the band members, many of whom being fond of the 'ignorant oil' themselves—as they called Kansas City hooch." Now we know.

Track Listing: After Hours, Take 1; Kansas City Blues; How Long Blues; The Staggers; Vognporten Boogie; Ace In The Hole; Yardbird Waltz; Man From Muskogee; Diblin' And Dablin'; Fore Day Rider; T'aint Nobody's Business; Doo-Wah-Doo; Hot Biscuits; Cherry Red; Jumpin' With McShann; After Hours, Take 2.

Personnel: Jay "Hootie" McShann: piano, vocals; Thomas Puggård Muller: guitar; Ole "Fessor" Lindgreen: trombone; Steen Vig: tenor saxophone; Ole Skipper Mosgård: bass; Thorkild Møller: drums.

Title: In Copenhagen | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Storyville Records


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