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Franz Jackson & the Salty Dogs: Yellow Fire

Derek Taylor By

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Traditional jazz has taken it on the chin of late in Chicago. Once a thriving epicenter for New Orleans and Dixieland revival bands the Windy City is now largely know for its acclaimed free jazz and avant rock scenes. In the larger scheme of the things the shift was slow in coming and unlike the demise of the dinosaurs (which sadly traditionalists have sometimes been compared too) did not transpire in a single cataclysmic event. Fortunately there are still a few faithful practitioners of the older styles still around, among them Franz Jackson and the Salty Dogs. Jackson’s life reads like tour book of jazz history with regular gigs in the ranks of bands led by the likes of Roy Eldridge, Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, Earle Hines and Cootie Williams entries in his pages long resume. According to Paige Van Vorst’s informative liners, the Salty Dogs formed out of Purdue University student jazz band in the late 1940s. Cutting their musical teeth on the then current West Coast traditional jazz variants they eventually became a regular fixture in Chicago.

Jackson, who was nearing his 90th birthday at the time of the recording meshes smoothly with the Salty Dog ensemble sound favoring a throaty tenor tone and a singing sound on soprano. The tunes are a mixed bag of familiar New Orleans favorites and Jackson originals with an emphasis on growling, expressive horns and bouncing rhythms fueled by buoyant traps work, tight banjo and booming brass bass. Collective soloing and polyphony form the crux of many of the arrangements and song lengths are kept succinct. Jackson’s originals prove the most intriguing compositionally with subtle and often inventive shifts in rhythm and time adding spice to the otherwise conventional program. Hints of early Cotton Club era Ellingtonia creep up in Jackson’s own “Zuddan” and “Southside” barrels forward on a brusquely shuffling rhythm. Jackson’s gruff vocals crop up on numerous occasions with sweet-voiced Carol Leigh guesting on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me.” While there’s not all that much to distinguish this date from other reunions organized by Delmark in the past it still delivers a rollicking, if predictable repast for fans of traditional jazz.


Track Listing: Dippermouth Blues/ Lulu

Personnel: Lew Green- cornet; Bob Neighbor- trumpet; Tom Bartlett- trombone; Kim Cusack- clarinet, alto saxophone; Franz Jackson- tenor & soprano saxophones, vocals; John Cooper- piano; Mike Walbridge- tuba; Jack Kuncl, banjo; Wayne Jones- drums; Carol Leigh- vocals. Recorded: October 12 & 13, 2000, Chicago, IL.

Title: Yellow Fire | Year Released: 2001 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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