Fess Williams

1926-1930

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Kentucky-born saxophonist, singer, and bandleader Fess Williams (1894-1975) oversaw the recording of more than 75 sides for Gennett, Vocalion, Brunswick, and Victor during the years 1925-1930. In 2003, the mighty and majestic Jazz Oracle label reissued 37 titles and 13 alternate takes dating from 1926-1930 for a whopping total of 50 vintage tracks, far more Fess Williams than anyone had ever managed to assemble in one package. Had they dispensed with the alternates and opted instead for the missing earlier titles (which just happen to add up to 13), this marvelous collection would have been even more comprehensive. Fess Williams & His Royal Flush Orchestra (one can only hope in earnest that the band's name referred to playing cards rather than plumbing) was a lively hot jazz band that paralleled, at its best, bands being led at that time by Luis Russell, King Oliver, Charlie Johnson, and Bennie Moten. Some of the 1929 recordings bring to mind Fats Waller & His Buddies, the hot little outfit that preceded Waller's famous Rhythm band of the 1930s. Although this collection skips over Williams' earliest works, it does include two Vocalion recordings from 1928 that had him leading Dave Peyton's Regal Theater Orchestra under the guise of Fess Williams & His Joy Boys. There's a lot to wade through here, including various Williams originals, "Heebie Jeebies" by Boyd Atkins; "I'm Feelin' Devilish" by Maceo Pinkard; "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Sweet Savannah Sue" by Fats Waller, and inspiring titles by less familiar composers like "All for Grits and Gravy" and "'Leven Thirty Saturday Night." Fess Williams (whose nephew was bassist and modern jazz bandleader Charles Mingus) was quite old-fashioned and prone to showing off. His self-portrait, for all intents and purposes, was "Playing My Saxophone," an extroverted novelty tour de force that includes a high note held at length by means of circular breathing and jagged, erratic phrasing reminiscent of vaudeville, barrelhouse, and road show entertainment. When the record was cut in 1930, this kind of saxophone playing had already been transcended by a promising young man from St. Joseph, MO by the name of Coleman Hawkins.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:58 Amazon
2
03:06 Amazon
3
03:02 Amazon
4
02:54 Amazon
5 02:54 Amazon
6
02:57 Amazon
7 02:56 Amazon
8 03:11 Amazon
9 03:27 Amazon
10 03:10 Amazon
11 03:05 Amazon
12 03:08 Amazon
13 03:31 Amazon
14
02:54 Amazon
15 03:22 Amazon
16 03:02 Amazon
17 03:13 Amazon
18
03:17 Amazon
19 03:03 Amazon
20 03:03 Amazon
21
02:50 Amazon
22 03:03 Amazon
23 02:58 Amazon
24
03:12 Amazon
25
02:51 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 02:56 Amazon
2
03:30 Amazon
3
03:19 Amazon
4 02:56 Amazon
5
03:16 Amazon
6
03:06 Amazon
7 02:57 Amazon
8 03:15 Amazon
9 03:20 Amazon
10
03:04 Amazon
11 03:28 Amazon
12 03:21 Amazon
13 02:57 Amazon
14 03:07 Amazon
15
02:55 Amazon
16
02:56 Amazon
17 03:15 Amazon
18
03:16 Amazon
19
02:54 Amazon
20 03:00 Amazon
21
03:22 Amazon
22 02:58 Amazon
23 03:16 Amazon
24 03:20 Amazon
25
02:57 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick