Jazz at 100 Hour 32: Dixieland Revival – A Sense of History

Sidney Bechet

In the 1940’s, some twenty-five to thirty years into the history of recorded jazz, the sometimes violent reaction against the bebop revolution caused a hard look into the rear view and the jazz world focused on its own history. Many of the players who led the first jazz revolution were still alive, ready for prime time, and welcoming of another chance at center stage. The outside forces that led the small ensembles of bebop and R&B into prominence, also supported the resurgence of quintets and sextets playing New Orleans-style jazz.
“The ascendancy of bebop inevitably invited challenges. A music so radical in its intentions, so open in its defiance of conventions, almost demanded dramatic responses. Perhaps the greatest surprise, though, was that the ripostes came from so many different directions at once. One expected the Swing Era veterans to launch heated counterattacks on the boppers—and this they did, with a vengeance. Less expected was the extraordinary rebirth of traditional jazz in the late 1940s…” – Ted Gioia

Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band.
Chicago-born cornetist Muggsy Spanier first recorded in 1924 with the Bucktown Five. His recordings in the late 1930s unapologetically kept the New Orleans jazz flame burning, while the music industry turned its attention toward big band swing.
“Much of the revival music, it is true, tended toward banality—it represented the way jazz might have sounded “if it had existed in mid-Victorian times,” quipped one critic. But, at its best, this movement was capable of creating fresh, vibrant performances, such as … Muggsy Spanier’s illustrious 1939 sides, which inspired comparisons with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.” – Ted Gioia

“While there are many fine solos scattered through the sides – mostly by Spanier and the little-remembered Rod Kless (sic) – it’s as an ensemble that the band impresses: allied to a boisterous rhythm section, the informal counterpoint among the four horns … swings through every performance. The repertoire re-established the norm for Dixieland bands, and even though the material goes back to Oliver and the ODJB, there’s no hint of fustiness, even in the rollicking effects of ‘Barnyard Blues’. ‘Someday Sweetheart’, with its sequence of elegant solos, is a masterpiece of cumulative tension…” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Livery Stable Blues (Barnyard Blues). Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band
(Muggsy Spanier-cor, George Brunies-tb/voc, Rod Cless-cl, Bernie Billings-ts, Joe Bushkin-p, Bob Casey-b, Don Carter-d). 11/10/1939.
Someday Sweetheart. Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band
(Muggsy Spanier-cor, George Brunies-tb/voc, Rod Cless-cl, Ray McKinstry-ts, George Zack-p, Bob Casey-g, Pat Pattison-b, Marty Greenberg-d). 7/7/1939.

“Spanier himself secures two finest hours in the storming finish to ‘Big Butter And Egg Man’ and the wah-wah blues-playing on ‘Relaxin’ At The Touro’, a poetic tribute to convalescence (he had been ill the previous year) the way Parker’s ‘Relaxin’ At Camarillo’ would subsequently be.” – Morton & Cook

Big Butter And Egg Man. Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band
(Muggsy Spanier-cor, George Brunies-tb/voc, Rod Cless-cl, Ray McKinstry-ts, George Zack-p, Bob Casey-g, Pat Pattison-b, Marty Greenberg-d). 7/7/1939.
Relaxin’ At The Touro. Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band
(Muggsy Spanier-cor, George Brunies-tb, Rod Cless-cl, Nick Caiazza-ts, Joe Bushkin-p, Bob Casey-b, Don Carter-d). 11/22/1939.

Sidney Bechet.
In 1941, jazz giant Sidney Bechet, only 44 years old, was running a tailor shop in New York with trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. He managed to record sporadically through the 1940s, but his career only really picked up around 1950 fueled by the traditional jazz revival.
“In September of the same year, Bechet made another classic trio recording, this time with Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Everett Barksdale, on electric guitar… ‘Strange Fruit’ is one of Bechet’s most calmly magisterial performances, and the two takes of ‘You’re The Limit’ seem too good to have been dumped in the ‘unreleased’ bin, though perhaps the absence on either of a commanding solo from Bechet put the label off.” – Morton & Cook

Strange Fruit. Sidney Bechet Trio
(Sidney Bechet-cl, Everett Barksdale-g, Willie “The Lion” Smith-p). 9/13/1941.
You’re The Limit. Sidney Bechet Trio
(Sidney Bechet-cl, Everett Barksdale-g, Willie “The Lion” Smith-p). 9/13/1941.

Sidney Bechet continued to record this traditional jazz through the 1950s. Blue Note Records captured two sessions from 1951 and 1953 in the release The Fabulous Sidney Bechet. Central to the distinction between the sessions was the contribution of the bass players. On “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives Me from 1951, Pops Foster, one of the original New Orleans cohort plays a very dated sounding “slap bass.” “Black and Blue,” a ballad from the 1953 session, features Walter Page a member of Count Basie’s “All-American Rhythm Section” with his characteristic “walking bass.”

Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me. Sidney Bechet Hot Six
(Sidney De Paris-tp, Jimmy Archer-tb, Sidney Bechet-ss, Don Kirkpatrick-p, Pops Foster-b, Manzie Johnson-d). From The Fabulous Sidney Bechet. 11/5/1951.
Black and Blue. Sidney Bechet’s Blue Note Jazzmen
(Jonah Jones-tp, Jimmy Archey-tb, Sidney Bechet-ss, Buddy Weed-p, Walter Page-b, Johnny Blowers-d). From The Fabulous Sidney Bechet. 8/25/1953.

The Revival of Louis Armstrong.
“… [T]he most persuasive sign that early jazz was once again a major force came in 1947. In that year of bop triumphant, Louis Armstrong abandoned the big band format he had pursued for almost two decades and made a much-celebrated return to the traditional New Orleans style… The following year Earl Hines followed Armstrong’s lead. He disbanded his swing orchestra to take a job as pianist in Armstrong’s combo. Jack Teagarden, another traditionalist who had made the move to big bands, also retraced his steps. Teagarden joined Armstrong in 1947, and in 1951 formed his own Dixieland combo… Some jazz modernists denigrated these erstwhile pioneers of jazz past and their fans—often alluding to the enthusiasts for bygone styles with the pejorative term ‘moldy fig.’ But for Armstrong and Teagarden, Hines and Bechet, this was clearly a misnomer. Their return to the tradition in their middle years signaled a revitalization in their music. Their rollicking sounds had gathered no moss, and one could—should?— view these career moves as a proclamation of core values, and a return to first principles in an age caught up in a sometimes too complacent frenzy of progress, in music as in all other spheres of postwar life.” – Ted Gioia

1947 Town Hall Concert and the Formation of the All-Stars.
After some years of comparative neglect, Armstrong bounced back via the film New Orleans … and the formation of the All Stars, following the celebrated 1947 Town Hall concert. This was a gloriously unrehearsed and spontaneous affair: onstage, at least, for the planning and promotion had been thorough. It may have represented a prison to Armstrong in some regards. Ever afterward, this complex, brilliant musician was required to come out on stage and in some way pretend that he was a simple soul from the deep South who just happened to be there with trumpet and tux and a few ancient songs. It was formula and an audience situation … that was instantly and unmistakably problematic but Armstrong had announced his return and resumed his eminence.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Ain’t Misbehavin’. Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
(Bobby Hackett-cor, Jack Teagarden-tb, Peanuts Hucko-cl, Dick Carey-p, Bob Haggart-b, Sid Catlett-d). 5/17/1947.
Rockin’ Chair. Louis Armstrong and His All Stars
(Bobby Hackett-cor, Jack Teagarden-tb, Peanuts Hucko-cl, Dick Carey-p, Bob Haggart-b, Sid Catlett-d). 5/17/1947. (The Jazz Singers)
Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden “… extended the song’s intrinsic comedy until it provided an absurdist platform for mock race-role mugging and masquerade, bawdy innuendo, and assorted comic hijinks, powered by jazz-blues improvising on their instruments as well as with their voices… In the end, the good humor and unmistakable friendship of the two men deflate the myth of white supremacy along with the empty element of old-folksy sentimentality. When the smoke clears what’s left is the antiphonal play, voice to voice, horn to horn, and the laughs that Louis and Jack put into the music.” – Martin Williams from the notes to The Jazz Singers.

George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers.
Although he played with Kid Ory and other early jazz stars in New Orleans in the teens, clarinetist George Lewis never left New Orleans and spent decades in relative obscurity. New Orleans jazz enthusiasts brought him to the larger world and provided him with his first recording sessions in the 1940s. He became a popular representative of the revival and was active into the 1960s.
“One of the great primitives of early and classic jazz, [George] Lewis had a raw and untutored tone and an impassioned, technically unembellished approach to soloing. Keystone of the postwar revival in traditional jazz, he toured indefatigably. Rarely has a traditional jazz musician been documented on record in so concentrated a way as was Lewis… Having been coaxed out of a ‘retirement’ working as a dockhand at the start of the war, Lewis was by the mid-’50s the surviving pillar of ‘serious’ revivalism…” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

When You Wore a Tulip. George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers
(Avery “Kid” Howard-tp, Jim Robinson-tb, George Lewis-cl, Alton Purnell-p, George Guesnon-ban, Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau-b, Joe Watkins-d). From New Orleans Stompers. 4/8/1955.
High Society. George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers
(Avery “Kid” Howard-tp, Jim Robinson-tb, George Lewis-cl, Alton Purnell-p, George Guesnon-ban, Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau-b, Joe Watkins-d). From New Orleans Stompers. 4/11/1955.

“Under a variety of banners—some calling it traditional or trad jazz, others referring to it as New Orleans or Chicago jazz, still others preferring the term Dixieland—the sounds of older jazz styles grew ever more popular.” – Ted Gioia

In the next hour of Jazz at 100, we will return to the modern jazz of the 1940s and a musician who has been appraised as a visionary and who has also been marginalized as hard to categorize – pianist Lennie Tristano. While his work is sometimes described as cold and a stylistic dead end, it is also celebrated as a bridge between bebop and the free jazz of the late 1950s and 1960s. Join us as we listen to the idiosyncratic music of Lennie Tristano and his prominent students – saxophonists Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.

Recordings.
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113.
Muggsy Spanier 1939–1942. Classics 709.
Sidney Bechet 1940–1941. Classics 638.
The Fabulous Sidney Bechet. Blue Note BLP 7020.
Louis Armstrong 1947. Classics 1072.
Complete New York Town Hall and Boston Symphony Hall Concerts. Fresh Sound DRCD 11291 3CD.
George Lewis and his New Orleans Stompers. Blue Note BLP 7028.

Resources.
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Muggsy Spanier 1939–1942.
Sidney Bechet 1940–1941.
Louis Armstrong 1947.
Complete New York Town Hall and Boston Symphony Hall Concerts.
The Fabulous Sidney Bechet.
George Lewis & His New Orleans Stompers: Volumes 1 & 2.

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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