An exact contemporary of Louis Armstrong, St. Louis trumpet player Dewey Jackson (1900-1966) claimed that his favorite players of the instrument were Louis Desvigne, Johnny Dunn and Tommy Ladnier. Approximately one percent of you are nodding your heads sagely at this point, saying, "Ah, another trumpeter from the Desvigne-Dunn-Ladnier school of jazz; marvelous," while the rest of us (myself included, sadly) are nonplussed.Live at the Barrel 1952
is nevertheless not only for the archivists and other members of that privileged one percent, though they should certainly check this out: producer Bob Koester, who recorded this gig in St. Louis in 1952, cheerfully points out that this release triples Jackson's discography (he had previously recorded for Vocallion in 1926 and Okeh in 1927).
For the generalist jazz fan as well, this recording offers a host of delights. The sound is surprisingly punchy: producer Koester himself recorded the gig standing in the aisle in front of the stage and pointing the mic at whoever happened to be soloing.
Among the highlights:
On the opening "That's a Plenty," Jackson takes a solo late in the number (as he does on most of the tracks), starting off tentatively with little breathless jabs, like he just ran up the stairs. This is followed, mischievously, by soaring, sustained notes of extravagant virtuosity. It's not an isolated moment: Jackson solos with consistent bravado.
And then there's pianist Don Ewell. According to one creation myth of jazz, Jelly Roll Morton put a 4/4 beat under a 2/4 rag andvoilàjazz was born (Morton himself, on the Library of Congress Recordings he made with Alan Lomax, espouses this view). "Maple Leaf Rag," a showcase here for Ewell, provides an example of what that sounds like. This version, furthermore, improves upon Morton's pedagogy, as drummer Booker T. Washington provides a swing rhythm underneath, emphasizing the two and four beats (rather than the one and three as would have been more conventional in a late twenties rendition). Wonderful!
The record is proof, in case it's needed, that the depths of jazz are unfathomable. Playing as fine as this came decades after it was fashionable, far removed from the jazz capitals of the era. The same music, performed in the late 1920s, was at the cutting edge of artistic innovation and commercial success. At the dawn of bebop, this music would be the rallying cry for the so-called moldy figs, the opponents (like poet Philip Larkin) of jazz progress. By the early 1950s, off the beaten path and out of the limelight, these musicians could take their ease amidst an appreciative audience, sounding not like museum exhibits, but lively and joyful and of their timewhatever the date.