Clarence Todd

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Back when Sidney Bechet was just beginning to develop his facility on the clarinet, he did some of his first public performing at house parties with a band of young New Orleans musicians that included…
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Back when Sidney Bechet was just beginning to develop his facility on the clarinet, he did some of his first public performing at house parties with a band of young New Orleans musicians that included a piano player by the name of Clarence Todd. The only other information about Todd from this period is the fact that he lived on St. Phillips Street in the Crescent City. Following the example of his friend Clarence Williams, Todd eventually made his way to New York and participated in quite a number of recording sessions during the 1920s and early '30s. The first of these resulted in a pair of kazoo duets ("You Don't Know My Mind Blues" and "West Indies Blues") recorded for the OKeh label with Clarence Williams on May 10, 1924, accompanied on the piano by a young Fats Waller and a mysterious percussionist named Justin Ring. In December of that same year, Todd sang a very spirited duet with Alberta Hunter on a recording of "Cake Walking Babies from Home," backed by Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, and the Red Onion Jazz Babies.

In May of 1925, Buster Bailey made his very first recordings under his own name (billed as William Bailey). These two solo clarinet records ("Squeeze Me" and "Papa De Da Da") had banjo and piano accompaniment by Buddy Christian and Clarence Todd. Throughout the year 1926, Todd often billed himself as Shufflin' Sam, appearing as a vocalist on more than a dozen sides with the Dixie Washboard Band, also known as the Louisiana Washboard Band and Clarence Williams' Washboard Beaters. Another organization led by Williams cut four titles in June of 1926 with Todd as vocalist. This band, with Ed Allen blowing the cornet and Jasper Taylor stroking the washboard, defied categorization by calling themselves the Blue Grass Foot Warmers. On August 23, 1926, Todd sat in to sing with the OKeh Melody Stars, an ensemble featuring the cornet of Charlie Thomas and the trombone of Charlie Irvis. While "Look Out, Mr. Jazz" is an inviting title, every collector of strange old jazz records would probably like to obtain a copy of the flip side, "A Glass of Beer, a Hot Dog and You." An ensemble calling itself the Shakey Todd and Holland Trio cut two sentimental numbers in April of 1927. (Nobody knows who Holland was. In fact, Todd is the only participant whose identity has been established.) Beyond savoring the simple pleasures of his best-known tune "Ooh! Looka There Ain't She Pretty?" as performed by Fats Waller and His Rhythm, Clarence Todd's melodic sensibilities can best be appreciated on hearing Waller provide pipe organ accompaniment for Alberta Hunter as she sings Todd's "I'm Goin' to See My Ma," a recording waxed on May 20, 1927. Todd also collaborated with James P. Johnson and Fats Waller on songs for a 1928 stage show called Keep Shufflin'. Lyrics for this production were by Henry Creamer and Andy Razaf. The final stroke in this sketchy portrait involves jugs and washboards. A funky treatment of "Jazz It Blues" (aka "Jazz Me Blues"), recorded October 3, 1934, by the Alabama Jug Band, has Willie "The Lion" Smith presiding over the piano and a homey scat vocal chorus by the Ham and Cabbage Trio: Clarence Todd, Clarence Williams, and Banjo Ikey Robinson. It is the last known appearance on record of an all but forgotten composer and entertainer, whose involvement with early jazz from New Orleans to New York seems well worth more recognition than he has ever received.