Great article on Charlie Gillett – Doyen Of World Music & UK Radio

Posted in 45 rpm, 78rpm, Americana, Blues, Books, Cassette, Compact Disc, Country/Hillbilly, Gospel, Jazz, Magazine, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Rock & Roll, Roots, Soul, Uncategorized, Vinyl, Website, World Music | Leave a comment

Death Might Be Your Santa Claus: Early Christmas Blues Jazz, Sermons & Gospel Recordings

By Gillian Atkinson

A Christmas music playlist is a feature of modern life and we have 
thousands of festive tracks to choose from. It seems it is in our blood to enjoy music connected to a winter festival.

We can trace the 
development of ‘Christmas music“’ back to the 4th Century when St.
Hilary of Poitiers composed the Latin carol ‘Jesus refulsit
omnium’ (‘Jesus illuminates all’).

Christmas sheet music has been with us for centuries too. One of the
earliest collections ‘Piae Cantiones’, a songbook from Finland was 
first published in 1582. It contains a number of songs that have
 survived today, as well-known Christmas carols.

By the late 1700s, the festival of Christmas was so popular that it
 produced the secular favourite ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’. By
1865, Santa Claus was making an appearance in two popular tunes by
Benjamin Russell Hanby ‘Up On The House Top’ and ‘Jolly Old
Saint Nicholas’.

He composed ‘Up On The Housetop’ as a Christmas
sing-along, originally entitled ‘Santa Claus’.

 Interestingly, this was also the year that Harper’s Magazine sought to 
forge a link between spending money on gifts and Christmas: “Love is
 the moral of Christmas…What are gifts but the proof and signs of
 love !”

What with buying trees, gift giving, drinks and oodles of
 food, Christmas was becoming a costly business, enshrining the modern
 festivities, as a festival of idealised family life and perfect homes.

There was a nod to the less fortunate but it would take another sixty
 years until blues singers began to expose the reality of life for
many, over the yuletide, with their songs of abandonment, poverty,
domestic chaos and hard times, in a seeming world of plenty. 

By 1900, sound recordings had become a growing, new, international 
industry, with the most popular titles selling millions of units.

However, the recording companies themselves had not really thought of
the potential that Christmas records could offer, though that was soon
 to change.

The first Christmas record

On 30th October, 1889 banjo player Will Lyle was invited into the Edison
 studios and unwittingly made history by recording ‘Jingle Bells’,
which is now generally agreed to be the very first Christmas record.
 It was and remains, one of the most sung Christmas songs in the world,
though its composer did not have Christmas in mind when he wrote it.

Written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) in the autumn of 1857, it
 was published under the title ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’ and was
first performed by blackface minstrel Johnny Pell in Ordway Hall on
September 16th of the same year. Initially, the song had no connection
to Christmas and would not become associated with the holiday season
until decades later.

The Roaring Twenties -The Jazz Age

The majority of the Christmas record output of the early 1900s were
 carols or novelty songs but this was to change radically when those
early blues singers stepped up to the recording horn!

The question often arises as to which is the first Christmas blues 
record. As blues and jazz were somewhat interchangeable in the early
 1920s, it is hard to say, though it is generally presumed to be ‘At
the Christmas Ball’ performed by the “Empress of the Blues“,
Bessie Smith, but I beg to differ.

I am tempted to go with ‘Crazy
Blues’ written by Perry Bradford and performed by Mamie Smith. This 
landmark recording is also the first blues record made by a popular
 black singer.

The song was recorded in August 1920 but it was not actually released 
by OKeh Records until October or November that year. It was pushed and
promoted all over the Christmas period and must have stuck in the mind
of many as being associated with Christmas.

The next real contender
must be ‘Santa Claus Blues’ as performed by the Red Onion Jazz
Babies, recorded in New York City on 26thNovember 1924. The
 recording’s stellar line up was Louis Armstrong, cornet; Aaron
Thompson, trombone; Buster Bailey, clarinet; Lil Hardin-Armstrong,
piano and Buddy Christian, banjo.

Maybe we can discount it because it
is an instrumental but what about the remake, recorded on the 8th
October 1925 by Clarence Williams’ Blue Five with Eva Taylor,
 vocalis; Clarence Williams, leader; Louis Armstrong, cornet; Buster
Bailey, saxophone; Buddy Christian, banjo; Charlie Irvis, trombone;
Don Redman, clarinet.

The merry bells are ringing today,

But they don’t mean nothing to me.

I hear the children singing today,

But I’m as blue as I can be.

Ol’ Santa Claus forgot my address,

That’s one thing I can plainly see.

It may be Christmas to some folks,

It’s just December 25th to me!

There was another more sentimental and slower version cut by the
 Clarence Williams Trio on the 16th October and this is really bluesy.
 Interestingly, it was written by Charley Straight and Gus Kahn, two
 white songwriters but it was published by Clarence Williams. After
 Bessie’s hit with ‘At the Christmas Ball’, which, incidentally, is one
 of her very few ‘cheerful blues’, at least in terms of lyrics, the
stage was set for the many hundreds and hundreds of Christmas and New
Year Blues, Gospels and Sermons (and Jazz and Soul) records that 

Anything that might sell to a black (and white) audience was fair game
 for the early record labels. Consequently, Christmas sermons jostled
 with raunchy or humorous recordings. Recorded Sermons by fiery
 preachers, like the Rev J.M Gates, Rev Nix, Rev Claybourne and Rev
Dickinson were very popular and sold in droves during the mid-1920s
 through to the early 1930s.

The titles of many of these recordings would
astonish us now, such as ‘Death Might Be Your Santa Claus’, ‘The Wrong Way To Celebrate Christmas’, ‘Death Might Be Your Christmas 
Gift’, ‘Will the Coffin Be Your Santa Claus?’, ‘Will Hell Be 
Your Santa Claus?’, ‘That Little Thing May Kill You Yet (Christmas
Sermon)’, ‘Did You Spend Christmas in Jail?’.

The counter point 
to these, were the best selling records: ‘Christmas in Jail (Ain’t
that a Pain)’ by Leroy Carr, with Scrapper Blackwell, and the 
amusing innuendo filled ‘Papa Ain’t No Santa Claus (Mama Ain’t
no Christmas Tree)’ from the pen of Andy Razaf and performed by the 
popular comedic duet of Butterbeans and Suzie.

By now, the term
 ‘Santa Claus became interchangeable with the jolly old man 
himself and an actual Xmas gift.

 In 1927, whilst middle America was listening to Vaughn De Leath (The
Radio Girl) crooning ‘The Night Before Christmas’ and ‘Christmas
 Songs For Children’, Harlemites and Chicagoans were rocking to
 Lonnie Johnson’s guitar and sympathising with Victoria Spivey’s

My man’s so deep in trouble the white folks couldn’t get him free

He stole a hog the charge was murder in the first degree

I never had a Christmas with trouble like this before

I Ain’t never had a Christmas with trouble like this before

Sleigh bells is my death bells, and hard luck’s knocking at my door

Back in 1928, a year before his untimely death, Blind Lemon 
Jefferson, one of the most popular blues singers of the 1920s and  
”Father of the Texas Blues”, waxed a double-sided, festive hit,
‘Christmas Eve Blues’ / ‘Happy New Year Blues’, which may be 
the first New Year Blues Record .
In 1929 Frankie “Half Pint“ Jackson, the wildly popular African
American vaudeville singer, stage designer and comedian, and erstwhile
female impersonator led The Cotton Top Mountain Sanctified Singers and
 choir, with the noted musician Ernest “Punch” Miller, in a jazzy 
stomping romping version of the spiritual ‘Christ Was Born On Christmas

In 1921 the Harlem situated, black owned and operated, Black Swan
record Label had thought there might be a market in Christmas records
and they placed an ad in the New York Age on Christmas Eve of that
 year: “Black Swan X’mas Records”.

The December list features 
numbers for the Christmas Season “ Sacred Songs”, which featured a
mixture of Carols, Classics, Jazz and Blues by their artists.

The 1920s did not produce much in the way of black festive
 gospel/carol singing, though there were some artists who recorded some
carols, notably the Elkins-Payne Jubilee Singers with their rendition
 of ‘Silent Night’, back in 1926.

The early blues recordings of the 1920s were dominated by the women n
 known as “The Classic Blues Singers“, so it is no surprise to find
the standard blues laments of “Santa bring my man back” by the
likes of Bertha Chippie Hill, Ozie Ware and Elzadie Robinson, on 

By 1930, recording techniques had improved markedly. Drums and other
 powerful instruments could be used on records and singers did not have
 to bawl to make themselves heard.

The Christmas / New Year blues
 market was well established and the themes of love, loss, death and
 sexual innuendo were well established and becoming increasingly
 sophisticated to meet an expanding black and white market. Therefore,
it is surprising and interesting to find the 1930, Lil McClintock 
recording, entitled ‘You Must Think I’m Santa Claus’. McClintock
 was an older man, who had been in the medicine and tent shows and this
recording mirrors a “minstrel and medicine show routine” made up
 of four separate songs but containing the lines.

Please don’t think that I’m Santa Claus,

’Cause Christmas comes every day,

You can hear dem sleigh bells a-ringin’ now,

Every time you turn around this-a-way,

You need not think that I’m a human bein’,

It’s nothin’ but a fraud,

’Cause I bring you present ever’

Once in a while,
Don’t think I’m Santa Claus. “

The original (comic) song had been written by Irving Jones, with music
by Maxwell Silver and was released both on an Edison cylinder and
Columbia 78 back in 1904/5.

The late 1930s saw the increasing use of electrification and the
electric guitar would come to dominate later blues recordings but the
themes remained the same although one notable exception is the
joyously infectious ‘Swinging Them Jingle Bells’ by Fats Waller 
and his Rhythm waxed in 1938.

In the 1940s and 1950s, there were still plenty of blues and jazz
 Christmas platters to be spun but musical tastes were changing and
there were Big Bands, Swing Bands, Gospel Singers, Doo Wop and Rock 
and Rollers on the Christmas Record scene, which only added to the
 festive mix.

The late 1950s and 1960s brought a whole host of R&B, Tamla and Soul 
 As the century came to an end, there were more musical genres than you
could shake a stick at and they all produced festive offerings for
 discerning aficionados of Christmas music. It was hard to keep track
 of what was available. This century saw technology keep up and even
out strip musical trends enabling us to have a diverse Christmas 
playlist on our phone or PC that is longer than our arms.

Something’s never change though and if we have a song that speaks of
the difficulties of life at Christmas, the loss of a lover or the 
threat of homelessness, we have (most probably) a blues song or a song
that can and should look back to the Blues as its ancestor.

Of course,
the very best of these blues songs can actually lift our spirits,
rather than drag us down. They can elevate our mood, or make us want 
to dance.

This was always the purpose of the blues; to ease one’s 
mind, when the vicissitudes of life got you down. The Blues is as
important to modern life for its observational and healing qualities
as it ever was and this Christmas, with its uncertainties, might be
the very time to revisit some of the earliest offerings to put our
lives, hopes and dreams into context.

The blues tells us that there is
nothing new under the sun and that might be our best comfort and joy 
this Yuletide.

You can hear the above selections and almost 200 more tracks from the
 years 1922-1963 on our 5 Double CD, Series ‘Blues Blues 
Christmas’, with illustrations and notes by Blues Historian and DJ
Jeff Harris from Jazz90.1 c/o ‘Big Road Blues’, Rochester, New

Gillian Atkinson is Director of Document Records

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Peter Guralnick Is ‘Looking To Get Lost’ In The Stories Of American Music Icons

NASHVILLE, TN – AUGUST 29: Peter Guralnick Moderator/Music Historian/Author attends ‘Go, Cat Go! Sam Phillips In The Studio’ Discussion Panel at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on August 29, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

In his decades-long career, Peter Guralnick has written about some of the biggest icons in American music. He wrote what may be the definitive books on Elvis Presley, as well as biographies of singer Sam Cooke and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

His latest work, Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing, is a collection of essays, based on his interviews with many legends of early rock and roll, blues and country. At the center of it is Guralnick himself — because, in some ways, the book is about his own journey in music journalism.

Guralnick is the son of an oral surgeon. He grew up in Massachusetts with big dreams of being a novelist, but as a teenager in the late 1950s, he got bitten by the blues. He writes, “I lived it, breathed it, absorbed it by osmosis, fantasized it. Don’t ask me why.” Even now, he says he can’t quite explain why he was so instantly compelled.

“At 15 or 16, the brother of a friend of mine went to the Newport Folk Festival, and he brought back these blues records,” Guralnick says. “My friend and I started listening, and we were just totally captivated and carried away. And I never looked back.”

Peter Guralnick spoke with NPR’s Rachel Martin about music writing and research as a journey toward the discovery of his own voice. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rachel Martin: People like Eric Clapton or Keith Richards, they heard the blues and then picked up a guitar. You heard the blues and wanted to learn how to write about it.

Peter Guralnick: Well, kind of. There was no way to write about the blues when I first started listening — there was no outlet for it. And then, all of a sudden, this sort of underground press came along. Anybody who knew me was gonna know about my mania, and so a few people asked me if I wanted to write something. But what I wrote was never criticism — it was really advocacy. If James Brown was coming to town, I would just try to persuade people: “Go out and see this. This is the greatest thing you’ll ever see in your life.”

Did people accept your stuff at first? I mean, you weren’t a musician yourself, right?

No, no, not a musician in any way. That was never part of my makeup. At the beginning, I really didn’t meet the musicians for the most part. But I started writing profiles — I found that to be the best way I had of communicating my passion. And it allowed me to use my own language to describe what they were trying to do: in the language of the artist, to find themselves.

In your essay on Ray Charles, you focus on the song “I Got a Woman,” which you learned was based on a song by the gospel group The Southern Tones called “It Must Be Jesus.” Recount that story for us: He’s in a car with his buddies, he hears this song and they start riffing?

Yeah, he’s in the car with his musical director, Renald Richard. And Ray Charles was such a fan of gospel. Ray and Renald are driving along, listening to the car radio; the song comes on, and Ray starts singing secular lyrics to it. The two of them got such a kick out of it, and they kept going on it from there, sort of amusing themselves. But Ray immediately recognized this was something that he wanted to do. This was an adaptation, or a turn, he wanted to take.

That was what led me to write a story which I could fill in in such telling details about a moment that was so significant, a song that really was one of the great, most influential songs of the 20th century. It was the first R&B song that had been explicitly based on a gospel song.

Did Ray Charles ever tell you personally what that song meant for him?

It meant two things. It gave him his voice, once and for all, without any doubt. At the same time, by its success, it gave him what he absolutely needed: the ability to put together and hold together a band of his own that would enable him to express himself in the way that he wanted to. With the success of “I Got a Woman,” he put together a band and he never looked back. He was able from then on to express himself in whatever manner he chose to, whether it was “Georgia on My Mind” or “What’d I Say.”

If we look at your body of work as an exploration of creativity, what did you take away from all this?

Every single person I wrote about looked back upon the moment that they discovered their voice, in one way or another. It represents, for me, something very personal, in the sense that I was searching for my own voice. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but I discovered in my writing about these musicians a way to express myself in a way that I never quite imagined — to be able to write in this fashion about music and about people that I cared so much about.

Posted in 45 rpm, 78rpm, Americana, Blues, Country/Hillbilly, Gospel, Jazz, Magazine, Rare Records, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Rock & Roll, Roots, Vinyl, Website | Leave a comment

Bluesman Smokey Hogg Biography Out Soon

Out before the holiday season Guido van Rijn’s biography of Smokey Hogg praises to be a blues fans Xmas treat.

Texas bluesman Andrew ‘Smokey’ Hogg was a singer, guitarist and pianist who moved to the West Coast after World War 2.

Andrew Hogg was born in Rusk County, Texas in 1914. He learned to play guitar and piano, and in the mid 1930s, he played around Texas juke-joints and bars with slide guitarist Black Ace (B.K. Turner). In February 1937, he was in Dallas where he recorded for the Decca label, and at the same session he played guitar on four tracks by pianist ‘Whistlin’ Alex Moore.

He served in the Army the war and when he returned to Dallas he recorded a series of songs that were leased to the Bihari Brothers‘ Modern label in Los Angeles. He also recorded for the Bullet label, singing and playing piano over the guitar of Frankie Lee Sims.

In 1948, Smokey moved to the West-coast and went into Modern Records’ studio with pianist Hadda Brooks, and his second single ‘Long Tall Mama’ was a national R&B hit. A stream of singles followed, including a cover of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson‘s ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, which again made the national charts in 1950.

Switching to Art Rupe‘s Specialty label, Smokey released singles for them, and a couple more for Exclusive, while Modern were still releasing material from those 1947 Dallas sessions.

Smokey then recorded for a number of other labels: Independant, Sittin’ In With, Jax, Jade, Macy’s, the Bihari’s Modern, RPM and Meteor imprints, as well as Lew Chudd‘s Imperial, Mercury, Combo, Top Hat and Colony, while further sides were leased to Fidelity, Federal and Showtime.

He had a couple of singles released by Ray’s Records of Pasadena in 1957, and made his final sides for the Ebb label later that year.

In total Smokey released almost 70 records in just over 10 years. Smokey returned to Texas and continued to play around the Dallas area until he passed away in McKinney at the age of 46, just before the US blues revival made his style of down home and country Blues popular again.

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Alabama Black Belt Blues – great new documentary film

This is a new, one-hour documentary digs down deep into Alabama’s African American inspired blues tradition, one less well-known than its Mississippi counterpart, but equally rich.

The film is produced and directed by Alabama filmmaker Robert Clem. It is his eighth feature documentary about Alabama, its history and culture.

His latest details the state’s African American blues tradition, from the days of slavery to the 1930s and 1940s, when John and Alan Lomax recorded hundreds of songs for the Library of Congress with the aid of Sumter County folklorist Ruby Pickens Tartt; and on to the present day.

Alabama’s blues tradition is centered in the state’s Black Belt region, which was the heart of the antebellum cotton-growing industry – fueled by the labor of enslaved Blacks. According to a description provided by APT, the music “is more rural than the well-known Mississippi Delta blues and, in some sense, closer to the original source.”

The film deploys slave narratives, archival blues recordings and the recorded music of contemporary Black blues artists to explore the role the music has played in the region from slavery until current times.

Among the musicians heard in the film are Vera Hall, Dock Reed, Willie King and “Birmingham” George Conner, who was born and raised in the Black Belt. Other featured musicians include Jock Webb, B.J. Reed, Michael Carpenter, Little Lee and the Midnight Band, B.J. Miller, teenage blues phenomenon Nigel Speights, and Alabama Blues Hall of Famers Clarence “Bluesman” Davis, Sam Frazier and Earl “Guitar” Williams.

The film includes archival recordings, and live performances filmed at Black Belt juke joints in Boligee, Panola and Union, and at the famed Red Wolf Lounge in Birmingham. The film also pays a visit to Gip’s Place, the juke joint founded in Bessemer by the late Black Belt native Henry “Gip” Gipson.

Among those discussing the state’s blues culture in the film are Tina Naremore Jones, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama; folklorist Kern Jackson, head of African American studies at the University of South Alabama; and singer B.J. Reed of the Alabama Blues Project. Others talking about the blues in the documentary are Jock Webb, Clarence Davis, Little Lee, B.J. Miller, Roger Stephenson of the Magic City Blues Society and the late Willie King.

The documentary includes archival film of Black Belt Alabama from the 1920s into the early 2000s and a collection of photos taken in Alabama’s Black Belt in the 1950s by writer, historian and jazz expert Fred Ramsey. Some of the photos appeared in Ramsey’s book, “Been Here and Gone,” but have never appeared in a film until now.

Funding for Alabama Black Belt Blues comes from the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, Chapman Foundation, Alabama State Council on the Arts, the Paul & Alma Fischer Education Endowment and the Alabama Humanities Foundation.

Posted in Americana, Blues, Film -TV, Gospel, Rhythm & Blues, Roots, Uncategorized, World Music, You Tube | Leave a comment

Viola Smith – the fastest girl drummer in the world

Viola Smith, a swing-era musician who was promoted in the 1930s as the ‘fastest girl drummer in the world’ and who championed greater inclusion of women in the almost completely male preserve of big bands, died on October 21st O at her home in Costa Mesa, California. She was aged 107.

With a drum kit featuring 12 drums, including two giant tom-toms placed near her shoulders, Ms. Smith was from 1938 to 1941 the centre piece of the Coquettes, an ‘all-girl’ big band. Her showcase was ‘The Snake Charmer’ a jazzy arabesque with explosions of drumming pyrotechnics.

Ms. Smith belonged to a coterie of female bandleaders who struggled to gain respect for their musicianship.

She had created the Coquettes from the remnants of her Wisconsin family ‘all-female band’ in which she was one of eight musical sisters. She favored crisp and swinging arrangements and was, by several accounts, an egalitarian leader who valued the input of her employees in major business and artistic decisions.

More than a pleasant timekeeper, she was a dervish behind the drums and found it difficult to conduct the group while playing. She turned over baton duties to Frances Carroll, a hip-swiveling singer and dancer.

The band, became known as Frances Carroll & the Coquettes, playing at nightclubs and dance halls and appearing in several short films and on the cover of the entertainment trade magazine Billboard before dissolving.

By that time, Ms. Smith said, she had spent 15 years on the road and had grown exhausted by the demands of travel. She selected Manhattan as her home base and won a summer scholarship to study timpani at the Juilliard School. She also sat in with bands at New York’s Paramount Theatre’ as many able-bodied male drummers of the day were drafted into military service for World War II.

She caused a stir with her 1942 essay in the music trade magazine DownBeat titled ‘Give Girl Musicians a Break!’ in which she called on prominent big-band leaders of the day to hire more women.

Within a year, she was playing under Phil Spitalny, whose all-girl band (heavy on harps and chiffon gowns) offered unadventurous material – but a steady income. The group, where she remained for a dozen years, was featured on Spitalny’s ‘Hour of Charm’ radio show and in two movies, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ (1942) and the Abbott & Costello comedy’Here Come the Co-Eds’ (1945).

Ms. Smith later drew attention as a member of the ‘Kit Kat Band’ quartet featured in the musical ‘Cabaret’ which ran on Broadway from 1966 to 1969 and then toured nationally.

Ms. Smith retired a few years later but occasionally picked up her drumsticks to play with a California ensemble called the Forever Young Band, which billed itself as ‘America’s Oldest Act of Professional Entertainers.’

Viola Clara Schmitz was born in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin, on November 29th, 1912. Her father, a cornetist, operated a tavern and concert hall in nearby Fond du Lac that boasted of having the first revolving crystal ball north of Chicago.

He insisted on piano training for each of his 10 children. Viola said she began drumming for the family orchestra because ‘with her being the sixth child’ all the other instruments she liked were taken. She was highly motivated to learn. “So long as we practiced, we barely had to do work around the house, she told the ‘Women of Rock Oral History Project’.

By the 1920s, the enterprising patriarch had formed an all-girl dance band with the Schmitz daughters, billed as the Schmitz Sisters Orchestra (later the Smith Sisters Orchestra). She described her parents in glowing terms, recalling a tightknit Catholic family that traveled by luxurious Pierce-Arrow.

They were in demand for weddings and state fairs and played on the radio as far away as Chicago, once engaging in a musical battle over the airwaves with an all-male band.  The band dwindled as some of the sisters left to marry or enter other occupations; one sister died. Besides Viola, the only remaining sister by 1938 was Mildred, who played sax, clarinet and violin. They rechristened themselves the Coquettes and gathered other musicians to form a new group.

Ms. Smith said Woody Herman tried to recruit her, but only as a novelty act pitted against another drummer. Yet in her later DownBeat essay, she spoke of Herman as a rare ‘progressive’ in the field whose 1941 hiring trumpeter Billie Rogers was a milestone.

All girl  bands such as the International Sweethearts of Rhythm  peaked in the early 1940s and rapidly faded from the scene as men returned from war.

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Barbara Thompson Live At The BBC Box Set

Repertoire Records are to release a 14 CD box set of BBC radio broadcasts by Barbara Thompson, described as perhaps the best known jazz artist in the UK – outside of the UK.

This set includes material ranging from a live concert by the New Jazz Orchestra, introduced by  Humphrey Lyttelton, in February 1969, to a set by Paraphernalia, featuring Barbara’s late husband  Jon Hiseman (drummer with The Graham Bond Organisation and founder-member of Colosseum) and  keyboard player Peter Lemer, dating from June, 1990.

The set contains such rarities as a set of compositions by Mike Taylor, broadcast in 1969 as a tribute following his then-recent death; ‘Improvisations For Octet and Strings’ (1970); ‘Five Movements for Jazz Ensemble’ (1971), conducted by Neil Ardley and introduced by Ian Carr; several broadcasts from the mid-1970s by Jubiaba; and many sets by Paraphernalia, in its various forms including a complete broadcast live from Holland Park, mastered to the highest level, with extensive liner notes by celebrated jazz critic, broadcaster and saxophonist Dave Gelly.

The box set release ushers in a particularly active period for Barbara – not only is her much-anticipated autobiography due to be published soon via Jazz In Britain, but there is also a new album due for release in early 2021 by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra.

Barbara will also feature in an edition of 24 hours in A&E on Channel 4, broadcast on Thursday, 8th October, at 9 pm. The TV programme acknowledges Barbara’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s Disease, but more pertinently addresses a new heart condition, and touches upon the untimely death of her husband Jon Hiseman in 2018.

The programme looks at the experience of two other patients, Barbara’s segment is narrated by her daughter, Ana Gracey.

This very poignant episode puts focus on this new threat to her health, but also celebrates the force of nature that she has been throughout her life and career, including footage from her Live ’05 DVD, and even features a brief segment playing her soprano at home. This incredible dynamism is in full effect in the music contained within ‘Live at the BBC’, and in her autobiography.

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The Band – Once Were Brothers DVD Now Available

Read Rolling Stone feature by clicking here.

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Orchestra Baobab Release Vinyl Version Of Classic Album

This year, Senegal’s Orchestra Baobab celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Its major milestone for any band but their story is even more fascinating.

To celebrate the band has announced the issue of their landmark 2002 classic reunion album ‘Specialist In All Styles‘ for the first time ever on vinyl, on September 25th. Alongside this comes a previously unseen video from the archive – a performance of ‘Jiin Ma Jiin Ma’ from their 2015 show at Jazz à Vienne Festival in France.

‘Specialist’ was the first album by the full group since 1982’s legendary ‘Pirates Choice’, a holy grail for African music fans. Recorded at London’s Livingston Studios in just ten days and produced by World Circuit’s Nick Gold with Youssou N’Dour, ‘Specialist In All Styles’ is a definitive illustration of Baobab’s Afro-Latin magic, introducing new material and reinventing some of the old tunes that made them famous.

The record features Baobab’s rhythm section and two of the most distinctive sounds in African music – Barthélemy Attisso’s extraordinary guitar and Issa Cissokho’s atmospheric sax. The band’s five unique lead singers, each with their own contrasting but complementary styles, are joined on the song ‘Hommage à Tonton Ferrer’ by special guests Buena Vista Social Club star Ibrahim Ferrer and Youssou N’Dour.

The band owes their start to the entrepreneurial force that was Ibra Kassé, club owner, impresario and founder of the Star Band, whose residency at Dakar’s Club Miami in the late 60s made it a notoriously lively joint. Here, Kassé’s band lit up the night with a music flavoured by rhythms from around the world, all flowing into Dakar – one of the great ports of west Africa – from America, Europe, and Cuba, as well as Senegal’s West African neighbours Ghana, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. This eclectic combination of rhythms and styles would all later feed into Baobab’s DNA.

By the start of 1970, at the height of the Star Band’s fame, a new fashionable venue, Club Baobab, opened its doors in Dakar’s European district. Well known as a hangout for those with status and power, the club was built around a baobab tree, and to fire up its musical roster, its well-connected owners poached Star Band singers Balla Sidibe, Rudy Gomis and guitarist Barthelemy Attisso. Bassist Charlie Ndiaye and percussionist Mountaga Koite soon followed, joined by rhythm guitarist Latfi Ben Jelloun, Nigerian clarinet player Peter Udo, and veteran griot singer Laye Mboup.

With that, the stage was set for Orchestra Baobab to set the tempo for a new era of modern Senegalese and African music, drawing through the club’s doors a diverse urban crowd ranging from businessmen and politicians to army officers and expats.

Combining pop, soul and traditional music from across Senegal and beyond, Orchestra Baobab quickly developed a distinctive raft of styles that reflected the cultural mix and the strong musical personalities of its members. Balla and Rudy hailed from Senegal’s culturally rich Casamance, saxophonist Issa Cissokho from Mali, and Latfi from Morocco. Guitarist Attisso – the lawyer-turned-guitarist whose arpeggio runs would become one of the band’s scintillating trademarks – came from Togo, but what bound these myriad elements as tight as a drum skin was a strong Cuban influence, introduced to Senegal by sailors flowing in and out of the Port of Dakar.

Over the next decade, Orchestra Baobab kept evolving with an ever-changing lineup of members and released a number of classic records along the way.
However, by the end of 1983 Baobab had unofficially disbanded, and it wasn’t until Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour encouraged the group to reform 15 long years later that Orchestra Baobab rose again at their now-famous London Barbican gig in 2001 and received a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever.

Celebrating 50 years as one of Africa’s greatest bands is an achievement few can equal, and while special Anniversary shows have been put on hold as a result of the global Coronavirus outbreak, plans remain in place to celebrate the band and their story through filmed performances and interviews, remixes and playlists, to help the prestigious Orchestra’s global legion of fans celebrate their half-century milestone.

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Charlie Parker Centenary CD Compilation Out Soon

To celebrate the centenary of Charlie Parker a CD  release of Parker’s ‘The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection’. The collection, spotlights Charlie Parker’s ground breaking be-bop sessions for Savoy Records spanning 1944 to 1948. The tracks are already available on vinyl and digital formats.

The CD edition features 28 tracks from the four legendary Savoy 10-inch albums, presented with newly restored and re-mastered audio and a deluxe 20-page booklet containing vintage photos, rare ephemera and liner notes journalist and author Neil Tesser.

These historic recordings, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Bud Powell and Max Roach.

When saxophonist Charlie Parker and his contemporaries introduced bebop in the 1940s, they were ushering in a bold new style that would influence modern music for decades to come.

Nowadays, as Neal Tesser argues i bebop was considered avant-garde. “Bebop undergirds such a vast swath of American music that its revolutionary nature recedes into the background. It is now so familiar and comfortable, such an ever-present part of the family history, that non-historians can hardly envision it ever being ‘revolutionary.’”

However, when listeners heard this new sound for the first time, it was unlike anything they had experienced before. Though bebop evolved in the early part of the decade—cultivated in New York’s late-night jazz clubs—it didn’t appear on record until the mid-1940s, following a two-year strike by the AFM (the US Musicians’ Union), which banned commercial recordings for labels, due to royalty disputes.

The 28 tracks that make up The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection are some of the world’s earliest bebop recordings, including takes from a November 1945 date that is often referred to as “The Greatest Jazz Session Ever,” featuring Davis, Roach and Curley Russell appearing as “Charlie Parker’s Reboppers.”

The tracks were compiled by Savoy and released over the next several years four LPs set: New Sounds In Modern Music, Volume 1 (1950); New Sounds In Modern Music, Volume 2 (1951); as well as Volumes 3 and 4 (both released in 1952).

Nearly all of the compositions heard in this collection are originals by Parker, with a few contributions by Miles Davis, and an original tune from guitarist Tiny Grimes—who led Parker in the session for “Tiny’s Tempo.” Highlights include the upbeat “Now’s the Time,” the bluesy “Parker’s Mood” and “Constellation,” which Tessler notes “seems to anticipate the free-jazz energy solos of the 1960s.” Also notable is “Ko-Ko,” featuring an impressive improvisation from the saxophonist, as well as one of Bird’s most recognizable tunes, “Billie’s Bounce”.Though multiple styles of bop would become mainstream by the end of the 1950s, these recordings mark the beginning of a new era and a radical shift in musical trends. It was a sound that, Tesser declares, was “at once liberating but also threatening. Charlie Parker and his fellow instigators…sparked a cultural earthquake that upended the music landscape for decades.”

Track Listing (CD version):

  1. Now’s The Time
  2. Donna Lee
  3. Chasin’ The Bird
  4. Red Cross
  5. Ko-Ko
  6. Warmin’ Up A Riff
  7. Half Nelson
  8. Sipping At Bells
  9. Billie’s Bounce
  10. Cheryl
  11. Milestones
  12. Another Hair-Do
  13. Thriving From A Riff
  14. Buzzy
  15. Little Willie Leaps
  16. Klaunstance
  17. Bluebird
  18. Bird Gets The Worm
  19. Parker’s Mood
  20. Steeplechase
  21. Perhaps
  22. Tiny’s Tempo
  23. Constellation
  24. Merry Go Round
  25. Confirmation
  26. Barbados
  27. Ah-Leu-Cha
  28. Marmaduke

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