T.J. Fowler

1948-1953

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Georgia-born and Detroit-raised pianist T.J. Fowler led a series of smart, jazzy R&B bands in Detroit during the late '40s and throughout the 1950s. This fascinating Classics chronological compilation lines up all of Fowler's first recordings as a leader. It opens with a couple of mood pieces issued on the Paradise label. While "Sultry Moon" has a wistful charm similar to Earl Bostic's ballad style, Freddie Johnson's pidgin West Indian vocal only cheapens "Mango Blues," a counterfeit Caribbean lament in rhumba time. Fowler's subsequent recordings, originally issued on the National and Sensation labels, provided the spark that ignited his career and led to his tenure with Savoy Records in 1952 and 1953. Teamed with bassist Henry Ivory and drummer Clarence Stamp behind a smoky front line of trumpeter John Lawton and saxophonists Walter Cox and Lee Gross, Fowler presented hot music for dancing and the occasional slow grind. Aside from a couple of Billy Eckstine imitations committed by an unidentified crooner, the only voices heard on the National and Sensation sides are group vocals with handclapping over jump blues based in boogie-woogie and swing. Adding singer and blues guitarist Calvin Frazier to his lineup, Fowler made his first sides for Savoy in Detroit on March 28, 1952. While the singalong rockers like "Oo-La-La" and "Yes I Know" were designed and presented as crowd-pleasers, the ominous slow groove called "Night Crawler" and the broiling "Fowler's Boogie," issued back to back as Savoy 843, stand among Fowler's most enduring achievements from this time period, along with "Back Biter," "Wine Cooler," "Gold Rush," and "Camel Walk." With gutsy solos by guitarist Calvin Frazier and saxophonist Walter Cox, this is early Detroit R&B at its fundamental best. This portion of the T.J. Fowler story ends with three of the only recordings he ever made outside of the Motor City. Recorded in Chicago and issued on the States record label, these tracks feature the pianist in the company of trumpeter Dezie McCullers, alto saxophonist and singer Frank Taylor, home boy tenor Walter Cox, bassist Gene Taylor, and drummer Floyd "Bubbles" McVay, who switches to congas on the two groovin' instrumentals, "The Queen" and "Take Off."

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