To most fans of vintage American music the scene of Central Avenue in the Forties needs no introduction. A hot spot arguably unrivaled at the time, it was a place painted in the florid and exciting hues of African American music on the move. Numerous strains of blues coupled hedonistically with the improvisatory elements of jazz creating a wealth and variety of sounds that fortunately and frequently made it on to record. A lesser-known fulcrum of the scene Jack McVea, christened McVoutie by the redoubtable wordsmith Slim Galliard, was in fact one of the most in-demand session men of the day. Adopting a “have horn will play” attitude he gigged regularly with everyone from T-Bone Walker to Floyd Dixon.
McVea’s sessions as a sideman with Texas-born vocalist/drummer Rabon Tarrant are the focus of the collection, but the savvy folks at Delmark wisely intersperse other artists amongst the thirteen Tarrant-led tracks. The strategy suggests a two-fold purpose showing off McVea’s versatility within the rather stolid R&B and jump blues idioms while also injecting a healthy dose of variety into the program. McVea’s sultry lines compliment Tarrant to a “T,” embellishing and accentuating where they could just as easily trample and interfere. The vocalist responds in earnest, at turns belting or crooning the vernacular lyrics with a brio that routinely turns infectious.
On the slower numbers guitar chording echoes the subtle strum of vintage Nawlins banjo. Gene Phillips cutting amplified style on the Harris tracks traces a different lineage straight back to T-Bone Walker, sparring eagerly with the blustery brass of the famous R&B shouter’s horn section. The quartet of cuts (comprised of two alternates) under McVea’s own leadership are tailored from typical templates of the day- instrumental blowing vehicles that burn bright and fast (“O-Kay For Baby”) or smolder with romantic longing (“Don’t Blame Me”). Arguably the most intriguing line-up for jazz fans is the Tarrant Octet session featuring then-youthful legends Lucky Thompson and Charles Mingus in the band (“I’ll Be True” and “Hey Hey Hey Baby”), but the other aggregations contain exciting soloists/accompanists as well. In sum this is a set that spotlights an under appreciated saxophonist and elucidates his stature in a time and place that is still reverberating in popular music over a half century later.
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Track Listing: Jack McVea: O-Kay For Baby/ Rabon Tarrant: Listen Baby Blues/ Opus Boogie/ It Never Should Have Been This Way/ Wynonie Harris: Gone With the Wind/ Baby Look At You/ Jack McVea: Don’t Blame Me (alternate)/ Wild Bill Moore: Boulevard Boogie/ Rabon Tarrant: Blues This Morning/ We’re Together Again/ Naggin’ Woman Blues/ Cee Pee Johnson: The “G” Man Got the “T” Man/ RabonTarrant: Tarrant Blues/ Blues All Night/ I Live True To You/ Bob Mosely: B Flat Boogie/ Rabon Tarrant: Then I’ve Got to Go/ I’ll Be True/ Duke Henderson:Wiggle Wiggle Woogie/ Rabon Tarrant: Love Will Get You Down/ Hey Hey Hey Baby/ Don’t Blame Me/ O-Kay For Baby.
Personnel: Jack McVea- alto & tenor saxophone; Wynonie Harris- vocals; Rabon Tarrant- vocals, drums; Teddy Buckner- trumpet; Bob Mosely- piano; Gene Phillips- guitar; Frank Clarke- bass; Cee Pee Johnson- vocals; Edward Hale- alto saxophone; W. Woodman Jr.- tenor saxophone; E. Brooks- piano; D. Russell- bass; R. Ross- drums; Karl George- trumpet; Gene Porter- clarinet; Jewel Grant- alto saxophone; Lucky Thompson- tenor saxophone; Wilbert Baranco- piano; Charles Mingus- bass; Lee Young- drums; George “Happy” Johnson- trombone; Wild Bill Moore- tenor saxophone; Shifty Henry- bass; Duke Henderson- vocals; Jessie Perdie- trumpet; Marshall Royal- alto saxophone; Jimmy Shackleton- piano. Recorded: various locations August- December 1945.
I love jazz because it swings.
I was first exposed to jazz in Houston.
I met Joe LoCascio and Bob Henschen.
The best show I ever attended was Pat Martino.
The first jazz record I bought was Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
My advice to new listeners is to relax on 2 and 4 beats.