Jazz at 100 Hour 19: Small Groups – Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Johnny Hodges, Lester Young

Roy Eldridge

While the jazz of the thirties was predominantly remembered as coming from orchestras and big bands, seminal soloists continued to record memorable music in small group settings, setting the stage for disruptive industry transitions to come in the 1940s.

Leon Brown “Chu” Berry.
An influential tenor player whose impact was cut short by a car accident at thirty-three, Berry replaced Coleman Hawkins in the Henderson band and later played beside Dizzy Gillespie in Cab Calloway’s Orchestra. He had an “ability to remain melodically relaxed at a speedy tempo – an aspect of his playing that impressed the young Charlie Parker.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Limehouse Blues. Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores
(Hot Lips Page-tp/voc, George Matthews-tb, Buster Bailey-cl, Chu Berry-ts, Horace Henderson-p, Lawrence “Larry” Lucie-g, Israel Crosby-b, Cozy Cole-d). 3/27/1937.
On The Sunny Side Of The Street. Chu Berry And His Jazz Ensemble
(Hot Lips Page-tp, Chu Berry-ts, Clyde Hart-p, Al Casey-g, Al Morgan-b, Harry Jaeger-d). 8/28/1941.
“Considering the brevity of Chu’s life, and that his recording career spans a mere decade, it is remarkable that his name continues to loom large in the annals of jazz. Had he lived, there is no doubt that he would be ensconced in the jazz pantheon alongside Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. He was that good.” Dan Morgenstern, director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

Chu Berry came of age as a player during the period 1934 – 1939 when Coleman Hawkins was in Europe, but, in 1941, he was killed in an auto accident at the peak of his powers.

Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge.
“[Roy Eldridge] inherited Armstrong’s mantle as the most original and influential brass man of the Swing Era, and set the stage for the ascension of Dizzy Gillespie (who called him ‘the messiah of our generation’) … Eldridge possessed an extraordinary dramatic talent and an ear for the unusual notes in a chord that stimulated musicians of every generation. He avoided cliché, and his penchant for raising the roof with stratospheric climaxes thrilled jazz fans. His timbre was unmistakably personal, bright yet coated with grit, as effective on ballads as on showstoppers …” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

“By 1937, [Roy Eldridge] was in Chicago leading his own combo at the Three Deuces, with brother Joe and Scoops Carey on saxophones and Zutty Singleton on drums. The exhilarating nightly 1 A.M. broadcasts were avidly followed by musicians, who began appropriating his tunes. The Three Deuces group made only a few studio recordings, among them two explosive landmarks in the coming-of-age of a new jazz generation, ‘Wabash Stomp’ and ‘Heckler’s Hop.’” – Gary Giddens

Wabash Stomp. Roy Eldridge And His Orchestra
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Scoops Carry-as, Joe Eldridge-as, Dave Young-ts, Teddy Cole-p, John Collins-g, Truck Parham-b, Arthur “Zutty” Singleton-d). 1/23/1937.
Heckler’s Hop. Roy Eldridge And His Orchestra
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Scoops Carry-as, Joe Eldridge-as, Dave Young-ts, Teddy Cole-p, John Collins-g, Truck Parham-b, Arthur “Zutty” Singleton-d). 1/23/1937.

“If any doubts about his generational preeminence remained, they were put to rest in May 1940 by his technically and imaginatively stunning solos at a Chocolate Dandies recording session with [Benny] Carter and [Coleman] Hawkins on ‘I Surrender Dear.’” – Gary Giddens

I Surrender Dear. The Chocolate Dandies
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Benny Carter-as, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Bernard Addison-g, John Kirby-b, Sid Catlett-d). 5/25/1940.
I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me. The Chocolate Dandies
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Benny Carter-as, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Bernard Addison-g, John Kirby-b, Sid Catlett-d). 5/25/1940.

Chu Berry and Roy Eldridge.
Berry and Eldridge recorded with Teddy Wilson in 1935 – 1936 and played together in Fletcher Henderson’s band in 1935 (they “reawakened” it according to Gary Giddens). In 1938, they pressed a number of titles under the Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble. “If Roy Eldridge was a reflection of Hawkins transposed to trumpet, [Chu] Berry was a reflection of Eldridge transposed back to tenor.” – John McDonough

Sittin` In. Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Chu Berry-ts, Clyde Hart-p, Danny Barker-g, Artie Shapiro-b, Sidney Catlett-d). 11/10/1938.
Body And Soul. Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble
(Roy Eldridge-tp, Chu Berry-ts, Clyde Hart-p, Danny Barker-g, Artie Shapiro-b, Sidney Catlett-d). 11/10/1938.
In October of 1939, Coleman Hawkins would take ownership of Body and Soul, forever.

Johnny Hodges.
Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter were the two dominant alto sax voices in jazz before Charlie Parker. While Carter played in many different settings, domestically and in Europe, Hodges was in the Duke Ellington Orchestra for all but four years of his playing career. In the late thirties Duke made a series of small group recordings featuring his primary soloists. Hodges, in particular, took advantage of the space to record some of his most significant solo work.

Jeep’s Blues. Johnny Hodges & His Orchestra
(Cootie Williams-tp, Lawrence Brown-tb, Johnny Hodges-as/ss, Otto Hardwick-as, Harry Carney-bs, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-g, Billy Taylor-b, Sonny Greer-d). 3/28/1938.
Rendezvous With Rhythm. Johnny Hodges & His Orchestra
(Cootie Williams-tp, Lawrence Brown- tb, Johnny Hodges-as/ss, Otto Hardwick-as, Harry Carney-bs, Duke Ellington-p, Fred Guy-g, Billy Taylor-b, Sonny Greer-d).
The Jeep Is Jumpin’. Johnny Hodges & His Orchestra
(Cootie Williams-tp, Lawrence Brown-tb, Johnny Hodges-as/ss, Harry Carney-bs, Duke Ellington-p, Billy Taylor-b, Sonny Greer-d). 8/24/1938.

Lester Young.
In the 11th hour of Jazz at 100, we introduced Lester Young in the small group context of the Jones-Smith Incorporated recordings of November of 1936. While his reputation was made in the late 1930s recordings of the Count Basie Orchestra, he continued to shine in the small groups as well.

“Many of the musicians who went on to pioneer modern jazz worshipped Young, learning his solos and imitating his look. White saxophonists (like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, and Al Cohn) tended to focus on his lyricism and feathery timbre in the upper register. Black saxophonists (like Dexter Gordon, Wardell Grey, and Illinois Jacquet) preferred his blues riffs and darker timbre in the middle and lower registers. Young’s style was so stirring and varied that it spurred the Swing Era, bebop and rhythm and blues.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Lester Leaps In. Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven
(Buck Clayton-tp, Dickie Wells-tb, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Freddy Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 9/5/1939. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“A classic [small group] performance for [Lester] Young and [Count] Basie with a more-than-able contribution by [Buck] Clayton. The inspirational interplay of Basie’s piano accompaniment is almost the equal of Young’s inventive brilliance.” – Martin Williams from the notes to Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz
Dickie’s Dream. Count Basie’s Kansas City Seven
(Buck Clayton-tp, Dickie Wells-tb, Lester Young-ts, Count Basie-p, Freddy Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 9/5/1939

The Kansas City Six.
‘The Kansas City Six recordings … reveal a subtler facet of Young’s genius than we get on the Basie recordings … [T]he session was played at a very low dynamic level. Jo Jones never has to go beyond whispering the beat with his brushes, yet the music that results is deeply felt, immensely swinging, and profoundly influenced by the blues – among the most prophetic and profound meditations on jazz ever recorded.” – Loren Schoenberg

Pagin’ the Devil. Kansas City Six
(Buck Clayton-tp, Eddie Durham-tb/el-g, Lester Young-ts/cl, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 9/28/1938.
“[Lester Young’s] playing on ‘Pagin the Devil’ reveals much about the pure New Orleans roots of his blues conception…” – Loren Schoenberg
I Want A Little Girl. Kansas City Six
(Buck Clayton-tp, Eddie Durham-tb/el-g, Lester Young-ts/cl, Freddie Green-g, Walter Page-b, Jo Jones-d). 9/28/1938.
The Kansas City Six was a pianoless sextet made up of members of Count Basie’s Orchestra including a rare appearance by Young on clarinet. “Lester Young played better clarinet than a lot of guys who played better clarinet than he did” – Arte Shaw

“What [Young is] playing here is the Chet Baker/bossa nova/James Dean mood, the dyad of masculine terseness and feminine tenderness, nearly twenty year before that posture became iconic. Could it be that this temperament – call it beatnick, call it what you want, but you know it well – began here?” – Ben Ratliff

In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we’ll continue to listen to small group recordings made in the heart of the big-band-dominated late 1930s. We will turn to small groups led by clarinetist Benny Goodman, Belgian guitarist Django Rheinhardt and bassist John Kirby.

Recordings.
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
Chu Berry: 1937 – 1941
Roy Eldridge. The Big Sound of Little Jazz. Topaz TPZ 1021
The Dukes Men: Small Groups Vol 2. Columbia 48835
Swing Time: Vol. 074, Lester Young Vol. 2 (1939-41)
The Kansas City Six – The “Kansas City” Sessions

Resources.
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Lester Young” by Loren Schoenberg
“Streamlining Jazz: Major Soloists of the 1930s and 1940s” by John McDonough
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 9. A World of Soloists
Giddens, Gary. 1998. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. The Oxford University Press.
Chapter 19. Count Basie/Lester Young (Westward Ho! and Back)
Chapter 21. Roy Eldridge (Jazz)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. The Swing Era
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Chu Berry: 1937 – 1941
Roy Eldridge. The Big Sound of Little Jazz
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 14. Lester Young, The “Kansas City” Sessions (1938, 1944)

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