Willie Lewis

Willie Lewis & His Negro Band (1941)

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Willie Lewis led impressive bands in Europe during the 1930s which frequently featured trumpeter Bill Coleman and, on some occasions, altoist Benny Carter. His last and least-known recordings are issued in full on this 1996 Classics CD. Recorded in Switzerland in 1941, the 24 selections feature what was certainly the last American-dominated orchestra to record in Europe before Pearl Harbor. The two extensive big-band sessions, which resulted in 16 performances, feature an excellent swing orchestra boasting fine solos from trumpeter Louis Bacon, trombonist Billy Burns and Johnny Russell on tenor and clarinet; Jelly Roll Morton's 1920s drummer, Tommy Benford, also plays well. The swing charts on such numbers as "Happy Feet," "Ti-Pi-Tin," "Roses of Picardy" and "Christopher Columbus" are surprisingly up to date. In addition, there are eight numbers featuring a combo from the orchestra, most notably Alfred Siegrist on piano and effective accordion, Johnny Russell's tenor on a few tracks, and vocals from June Cole and the talented Florence Mason. This is the type of CD reissue that waters the mouths of veteran collectors, for little if any of this music has been available since the 1940s.

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