Joe Marsala

1944-1945

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This is the story of a man who got his start with traditionally oriented musicians like Wingy Manone and Eddie Condon, then gradually evolved into a "modern" sounding artist who never completely turned his back on the old-fashioned music that had spawned him. Beginning with a typical Chicago jam formula blowing session, Joe's All-Timers -- essentially the Condon band with Joe as leader -- present the slow blues/fast blues pairing, sandwiched between two standard New Orleans stomps. A striking contrast occurs when we encounter the session of November 29, 1944 as Joe's wife Adele Girard opens several of the tunes with arpeggios from her harp. Sounding a bit like her contemporary Robert Maxwell, she swings a bit but also sends flurries of almost Harpo Marx-like effervescence into the air. This combines strangely with Chuck Wayne's amplified guitar and the mingling of trumpet and clarinet. The melodies themselves demonstrate a very modernized swing, with an unmistakable bop edge, right on the money for the mid-1940s, if not somewhat ahead of their time. The tempi are very quick, hasty enough to have given Eddie Condon a headache if he'd even listen to such stuff. During the dynamic "Joe-Joe Jump" Adele plays virtuosic swing harp, showing off her amazing technique. This must have been a very exciting act in person. On the second half of the date Adele takes a break while Linda Keene sings two interpersonal relationship blues, very slow and sultry, obviously inspired by Billie Holiday. Joe was an exceptionally sensitive bluesman, working in wonderfully understated ways with trumpeter Joe Thomas. Sitting in at the piano behind the singer was Leonard Feather, who also wrote the material for her. Leonard composed topical blues for a lot of musicians, most notably Hot Lips Page. "Don't Let It End" is Joe's own piece of blues, deep and clear, powerfully effective as an instrumental. The Joe Marsala Sextet had Dizzy Gillespie sitting in on January 12,1945. It's interesting to compare these sides with the other recordings Gillespie participated in during that same month (see Classics 888). "Perdido" is a creative delight and "Melancholy Baby" becomes a feisty swing-to-bop outing. Chuck Wayne is very plugged in and Diz enjoys himself, working up wild solos over these familiar melodies, signing his name all over "On the Alamo." Joe of course takes this in stride, sounding as comfortable as ever with the music evolving so rapidly all around him. "Cherokee" inevitably exudes bop juice, running rapid and sailing through frantic changes as Diz rips it up. On May 4, 1945 Adele Girard got feature billing with her husband's septet, integrating her swing harp into the ensemble as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do. "Southern Comfort" is a suave line, as cool as cukes. There's a spry run through Rodgers & Hart's "Lover," a welcome reinterpretation of "Don't Let It End" (sounding really nice with the addition of the harp), and a sassy version of "Gotta Be This or That," with vocal by Marsala himself. "East of the Sun" is all lavender and lace and "Slightly Dizzy" pours on the bop, showcasing the inventive piano of young Gene DiNovi. "I Would Do Anything for You" comes out elegant, sophisticated and calm. A marvelous finale for this fascinating portrait of a remarkable clarinetist and the unique bands that he led at the stylistic crossroads of 1944 and 1945.

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