Gene Sedric


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Most people who are hip to Eugene "Honeybear" Sedric know him as the man who was Fats Waller's chosen handler of clarinet and tenor saxophone, usually paired with trumpeter Herman Autrey as the front line of the little "Rhythm" band, between the years 1934 and 1943. To be able to savor an entire CD containing virtually everything that Sedric recorded as a leader is a musical treat beyond belief. Any true Waller devotee would jump on this without hesitation. The first four tracks, recorded in November 1938, feature Waller's touring band, heard here with Hank Duncan at the piano and featuring spunky vocalist Myra Johnson, who livened up several of Waller's three-minute movies, including "The Joint Is Jumpin'." Sedric's version is fun enough, but Waller fans will get extra kicks from "Off Time," as it's rare to hear anybody singing this delightful tune, one of many great songs that the pianist composed but didn't live long enough to record for posterity. Also included in that category would be "Choo-Choo," co-written by Waller, Sedric, and Andy Razaf. It is a tight shuffle dolled up with toots from a small train whistle by Slick Jones, Waller's trusty percussionist and sound effects man. Gene sings pleasantly, seeming not at all ashamed to voice what others might have felt were foolish lyrics. "The Wail of the Scromph," a slow and easy blues by Sedric, opens with clarinet. Autrey is warm as always, Al Casey dexterous and cool. Now here's the curious part of the package: in August of 1946 Sedric's band accompanied vocalist Ruby Smith, who based her career on the fact that she was Bessie Smith's husband's niece. Sounding tough and somewhat brittle on "Chicago Woman Blues," Ruby's presence with Sedric seems surprising at first. "Baby, Baby, Baby Blues" is more subtle as Sedric talks back at her in the same way that Fats usually enjoyed cajoling his guest vocalists, particularly Una Mae Carlisle. Ruby in fact sounds more than a little like Una Mae on the moody "Sedric's Blues." Four more sides were cut on that same day without Ruby, giving this excellent band a chance to strut its stuff. "Forget It" and "Bootin' and Swingin'" are solid extensions of Fats Waller's early-1940 instrumental jam style. Eight sides recorded in New York for the Swing and Keynote labels represent Sedric's band at the apex of its creative success. Each instrumental track is outstanding, while the carefully rehearsed theatrically hip group vocals are dazzling in their complex fluidity. Sedric's last stand as a leader occurred in January of 1947, when his band once again found itself supporting Ruby Smith. Who wrote these tunes, and why? Never mind. It doesn't matter. What's important is that Al Casey seized upon the opportunity to play electrically amplified guitar behind the vocal on "You Satisfy," and "Hot Sauce Susie" enabled Sedric to yell about chops and corn bread, drawing once again upon the training he received throughout nine years of dedicated service as Thomas "Fats" Waller's right-hand man.

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