Willie Bryant


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Don't let this one fall through the cracks! Willie Bryant's Orchestra was an exceptionally fine big band, teeming with skilled jazz musicians during the mid-'30s Bryant was born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago. By 1926 he was dancing professionally and eventually appeared in duet performance with Bessie Smith. His band came together towards the end of 1934, and by the January 4, 1935 they were making great records for the Victor label. Teddy Wilson and Cozy Cole were the backbone, and recognizably strong players like Benny Carter and young Ben Webster greatly fortified the ranks. While each solo by Ben Webster is priceless, you'll get a lot out of meeting the rest of the guys in the band, like Robert "Mack" Horton and his husky, growling trombone, outrageously featured at the beginning of "The Sheik." Bryant's sense of theater was highly developed, and it served him well during the more topical numbers. Of all the humorous routines ever created in imitation of a revival meeting, one of the very funniest and most solidly swung is "Chimes at the Meeting." Bryant impersonates an oily, opportunistic preacher who is obviously only interested in the contents of the collection plate. Calling each member of the congregation by name, he is soon inventing all kinds of characters while pointedly pronouncing nicknames for each soloist in the band. At one point Bryant, lending his voice to the imaginary individual "Brother Goldberg," sings an imaginative scat vocal built upon the time-honored syllables "Oy" and "Yoy." The bizarre vaudeville patter fits perfectly over an exciting big band stomp that makes it very difficult to sit still! "Steak and Potatoes" is a hilarious ode to the enigma of Love versus Food. Willie makes it clear that he would always opt for a table full of greasy, hot goodies rather than messing with Love, even if it does "make you feel like a thousand Mickey Mouses running up and down your spine." Again, the combination of top-notch big band swing and a humorous vocal line is irresistible! Accessible to an even wider audience on Victor's affordable Bluebird series during the year 1936, Bryant continued to use this same formula with great success. There is a flute solo -- quite rare in jazz back then -- by Charles Frazier during "The Right Somebody to Love," which has a funky vocal by trumpeter Jack Butler. If Bryant's polished southern drawl sounds a bit conspicuous at times, it definitely conjures up a minstrel show when combined with Butler's enthusiastic clowning on "I Like Bananas (Because They Have No Bones)." Taft Jordan sings up a passion during "All My Life," a song made famous during this same time period by Thomas "Fats" Waller. "Cross Patch" was also a hit for Waller, but Bryant's band cooks it hotter, with a beefy baritone sax intro by Stanley Payne. This music really grows on you. It occupies a sort of limbo between the formative swing of the early 1930s and the fully mature jazz of the early 1940s. Bryant only made a handful of records after 1936 -- following one Decca date in '38, economic pressures forced him to take his band apart. Given the smooth sound of his singing and speaking voice, it is not surprising that Willie went on to work as an emcee, a deejay and even in television. He did lead a band in Harlem during the year 1946, and after hearing these wonderful sides from the middle 1930s, you might ask yourself, did the 1946 Bryant band make any records? This calls for further investigation.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:57
2 3:33
3 3:20
4 2:56
5 2:31
6 2:58
7 2:49
8 2:43
9 3:03
11 2:46
12 2:54
13 2:13
14 3:21
15 3:09
16 3:27
17 2:27
18 3:33
19 3:11
20 2:43
21 2:36
22 3:17
blue highlight denotes track pick