Thomas Morris


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Back in the 1970s, Vol. 126 of the French RCA Black and White series focused on Thomas Morris' recordings dating from the year 1926. Included on that album were two vocalists whose absence from this Classics package must be attributed to a planned compilation of rare vocal recordings from this period. While Margaret Johnson's "When a 'Gator Hollers, Folks Say It's a Sign of Rain" would have added a Ma Rainey touch, the non-inclusion of Evelyn Preer's "Make Me Know It," recorded September 7, 1926, is heartbreaking but only to the few who know of the existence of this beautifully wistful love song. Now that this very specialized disappointment has been registered, let it be known that even without the voice of Evelyn Preer, the earliest known recordings of Thomas Morris are outstanding and well worth experiencing. There are two ways to appreciate the music of this accomplished cornetist and bandleader: the recordings he made with and without Thomas "Fats" Waller. Despite the aforementioned omission, Classics 823 offers the perfect prologue to Morris' famous sessions with the young pianist/pipe organist. The real gold lies in eight sides from 1923, previously difficult to obtain. The only players who have been identified are trombonist Charlie Irvis (later to be a staunch component in Fats Waller's first "Buddies" session) and young Bubber Miley. To hear Morris and Miley merrily mingling their cornets is a delight, comparable to the joy to be gleaned from revisiting the duo runs executed during this same time period by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. (Get this: "Bull Blues" has a passage that showed up years later as the opening line of Duke Ellington's "What Am I Here For?") The 1926 material is gloriously gutsy, with grand slip-horn parts by Geechie Fields then once again briefly by the mighty Charlie Irvis. A rambunctious banjo solo in "Georgia Grind" and the humorous dialogue cropping up in the middle of "Who's Dis Heah Stranger?" make these worth absorbing time and again. By November 1926 the all-important trombone position was filled by Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, destined to spend the remaining two decades of his life helping to define the sound of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, which he had joined some six months prior to these sessions. Morris' rendition of "The King of the Zulus" nearly surpasses Louis Armstrong's original, yet Morris' unissued take (36896-2) is even better than the master take issued here, and would be well worth pursuing if anyone is hopelessly smitten with the sounds of this ensemble. Lastly, a rare side by Morris' quartet, billed as the Nashville Jazzers: a smartly scruffy approach to W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." This recording and its alternate take have been issued on Grey Gull Rarities (Jazz Oracle BDW 8038). Once you've developed a taste for the music of Thomas Morris, you might get hooked. Let's hope so.

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