Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis popularized the organ in jazz and R&B during the 1950s, continuing a tradition begun by Fats Waller in the 1920s and paving the way for Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff in the 1960s. Doggett's career began in Philadelphia during the 1930s when he led a teenage band called the Five Majors and developed his chops playing piano with bandleader Jimmy Gorham. Doggett was an essential component in the Lucky Millinder Orchestra; he also wrote arrangements for and served as accompanist for the Ink Spots, Helen Humes, and Ella Fitzgerald. After working for several years with Louis Jordan, Doggett followed in the footsteps of Earl Bostic and began making records for the King label, now using a Hammond organ with rhythm accompaniment and saxophone. Classics 5175 focuses upon everything that Doggett recorded during six days in May of 1954. Three titles cut on May 19th feature tenor man Irving "Skinny" Brown -- the best of these is "Honey," an attractive melody by Richard Whiting that dates back to 1929. While the producers of this compilation are to be commended for their diligence, a strict chronology of this particular week in Doggett's life does not yield a whole lot of memorable music. Four titles featuring vocalist Val Martinez, for example, will appeal mostly to those who crave the sounds of ostentatiously emotive, heart-on-sleeve mid-'50s crooning. The presence of Slide Hampton alongside Skinny Brown in the band is overshadowed by the rather overbearing, heartsick vocals. Doggett is believed to have been struggling to achieve commercial success in the face of economic hardship during 1954, which might explain nine soporific organ ballads and six Christmas favorites, most of which seem to be suspended in heavy syrup. Three of these -- "Jingle Bells," "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and "Winter Wonderland" -- actually gather enough energy to rise up out of the aspic and swing a little. But this is a far cry from the sultry, cool majesty of the three opening tracks.
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