Monday, February 15, 2010

Volume One: Tiger Rag - Dixieland and Country Blues

1. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag
(Eddie Edwards-Nick La Rocca-Henry Ragas-Tony Sbarbaro-Larry Shields-Harry Da Costa) 1917

2. James P. Johnson: Keep Off the Grass
(James P. Johnson) 1921

3. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Snake Rag
(King Oliver) 1923

4. Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke: Lonely Melody
(Sam Coslow-Benny Meroff-Hal Dyson) 1928

5. Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke: Clarinet Marmalade
(Henry Ragas-Larry Shields) 1927

6. Louis Armstrong: Dinah
(Harry Akst- Sam M. Lewis-Joe Young) 1930

7. Sidney Bechet: Summertime
(George Gershwin-Ira Gershwin-DuBose Hayward) 1939

8. Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers: Dead Man Blues
(Ferdinand Morton-Anita Gonzales) 1926

9. Walter Page's Blue Devils featuring Jimmy Rushing: Blue Devil Blues
(Don Stoval) 1929

10. Ma Rainey and her Georgia Jazz Band: Jealous Hearted Blues
(Lovie Austin) 1925

11. Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers: White House Blues
(Traditional, Arr. Charlie Poole) 1926

12. Clarence Ashley: The Coo Coo Bird
(Traditional, Arr. Clarence Ashley) 1929

13. Dock Boggs: Country Blues
(Traditional, Arr. Dock Boggs) 1928

14. The Carter Family: Wildwood Flower
(Traditional-A.P. Carter) 1928

15. Jimmie Rodgers: Blue Yodel #10
(Jimmie Rodgers) 1932

16. Charley Patton: High Water Everywhere Part 1
(Charley Patton) 1929

17. Blind Willie McTell: Statesboro Blues
(Blind Willie McTell) 1928

18. Blind Lemon Jefferson: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
(Blind Lemon Jefferson) 1927

19. Blind Willie Johnson: John the Revelator
(Traditional, Arr. Blind Willie Johnson) 1930

20. Skip James: Devil Got My Woman
(Skip James) 1931

21. Son House: My Black Mama (Part 1)
(Son House) 1930

22. Ishman Bracey featuring Rosie Mae Moore: Stranger Blues
(Rosie Mae Moore) 1928

23. Tommy Johnson: Cool Drink of Water Blues
(Tommy Johnson) 1928

24. Bukka White: Shake ‘Em on Down
(Bukka White) 1937

“Anyone can learn what Louis Armstrong knows about music in a few weeks. Nobody could learn to play like him in a thousand years.”

—Benny Green

The music of the first two decades of recorded jazz and blues is today sorely neglected; what is revealed in these twenty-four songs recorded between 1917 (“Tiger Rag” by the Original Jazz (or “Jass”) Band) and 1939 (“Summertime" by Sidney Bechet, the pioneering saxophonist of the Dixieland era rediscovered at the dawn of the Swing era) is a time brimming with creative energy that both looks back on the America of the nineteenth century and anticipates the full-blown dominance of a uniquely American identity in music in the latter half of the twentieth century.

“Dixieland”, itself a term of controversy, or, “traditional jazz”, now seems to be seen, at best, as the scratchy soundtrack of dimmed and out-of-synch early nineteen-thirties cartoons or, at worst, as the last refuge of aging misanthropes from their tired (and tiring) visions of irredeemable humanity (think Woody Allen or R. Crumb).

This association with the comic and the misanthropic is not accidental, however; the break-neck doubled lines of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong on the former’s “Snake Rag” or of the other great trumpeter of the period, Bix Beiderbecke’s ebullient soloing on tracks with both Frankie Trumbauer and Paul Whiteman (the oft-disputed “King of Jazz”) create comedy out of the chaos of the period. In the urban melting pots of New Orleans, New York, and Chicago, traditional jazz gave voice to the collision of European and African traditions playing out in every big city neighborhood and in every juke joint, vaudeville show, and silent film - emotions and attitudes hustle one another for dominance and all exist simultaneously in uneasy alliance in this world. In his brilliant study Hip: A History, John Leland sees the “hipness” of the burgeoning American hipster (Armstrong and Bugs Bunny are given roughly equal play as trickster figures) as performative representation of the similarly elastic, liminal American identity of the period: comedy and tragedy exist side-by-side and the audience is never entirely sure which is which.

As the twenties drew to a close, jazz transitioned from a form of group improvisation to a soloist’s art. In Ken Burns’ Jazz, Stanley Crouch convincingly argues that Louis Armstrong is the single figure most responsible for this change: his version of “Dinah”, with Armstrong contorting the melody both vocally and instrumentally to shade increments of emotion and meaning shows clearly Armstrong’s singularity in the realm of jazz. What Crouch doesn’t point out, however, is how much Armstrong echoes the flipside of the urban jazz that now signifies the “Roaring Twenties” – the “Old Weird America” as Greil Marcus terms it, the America heard on the rural folk-blues and country records of the period.

On Harry Smith’s landmark 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, scholar, “magus”, and all-around beatific crank Smith gathered together pre-War folk, blues, gospel, and country records that shared a singular vision of an America that didn’t need the Depression to make it collapse: it had already collapsed – under the weight of poverty, racism, the still-present aftermath of the Civil War, but its artists exhibited the sort of rugged individuality Armstrong had to bring to jazz - a strength in their otherness that is startling in its intensity. The artists who follow Armstrong, whether black or white, ostensibly ‘country’ or ostensibly ‘blues’ sound simultaneously ancient and very modern. Blind Willie Johnson’s “John the Revelator” is terrifying, hopeful and vindictive and holy, mapping a stylistic locale populated not only by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf , but by Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. The songs of the Mississippi Delta and the songs of the Appalachians encompass black and white traditions side-by-side: to listen to the blues inflections in Jimmie Rodgers’s “Blue Yodel #10” and the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and the proto-bluegrass strumming in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s stark “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” is to hear the whole of rock and roll tradition in miniature. And that is, in its way, majestically comic.



Henryflowr said...

I should add that, if you're a Tom Waits fan and you don't know "John the Revelator", it is absolutely required listening.

And "Dead Man Blues" makes me finally understand Mingus's fascination with Jelly Roll Morton.

Christopher said...

I would've opted for King Oliver's "Dippermouth Blues" and perhaps something different from Bechet. "Summertime" was a sax hit, but I prefer the clarinet work -- maybe "Blues in Thirds" from 1940.

I think the big problem here, however, is the oversight of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." If I recall correctly, there's a piano-roll version that was supposedly laid down by the man himself.

HenryFlowr said...

Maybe it's too many childhood memories of over-exposure to "The Entertainer", but I've never appreciated Scott Joplin, so I've chosen not to count piano-rolls as recordings . . .

jd shipman said...

Blind Willie Johnson's entire catalog should be required listening for all Waits fans. The man was a master of his craft, and a revolutionary in terms of slide guitar.