Hot Lips Page


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Hopping from label to label and from style to style, in July of 1950 Hot Lips Page found himself on a Columbia R&B date with Little Sylvia Vanderpool, who sounds just a bit like a young Dinah Washington. A smooth doo wop group called the Magichords harmonize neatly on cue, Seldon Powell and Haywood Henry blow beefy sax solos, and Page barks back at Vanderpool in a voice as corroded as hers is young and perky. Powell liked to squeal his tenor like Illinois Jacquet. Henry illustrates why the baritone sax became increasingly popular as a tool to be used for rocking and rolling. A burlesque duet with Mildred Anderson pales when compared with its flip side, the amazing "Let Me In," one of Page's best routines from this period. There's a party going on but they won't let him in, even as he pleads with someone named Zebedee to open up the door. Page's voice is crispy in its upper register and elephantine in the bass clef. That's Paul Quinichette back there with the tenor sax. None of this stuff is profound. It's straight up rowdy entertainment, and in 1951 that meant rocking and rolling, preferably with a singalong arrangement as in "I Want to Ride Like the Cowboys Do." Lips had a voice that could plunge as deep as Louis Armstrong's, but his middle range was more intact. When he dips to the bottom of his voice, as he does on "Strike While the Iron's Hot," the effect is bracing. Whereas after a certain point Armstrong pretty well stayed in the same octave for the rest of his life, Page's larynx was able to produce quite a range of sandblasted tonalities. This issue became more complex when he teamed up with a tin whistler! It's the most bizarre chapter in Page's entire career: not only is the tin whistle heavily featured, but the lyrics are about tin whistles exclusively.

There's no telling what Page will do to listeners next. Reverb makes his voice almost alarming on "The Devil's Kiss," while the horns scream like a noir B-movie soundtrack. Following in the tin whistle's footsteps, a weird "chirping" sound effect competes with Page's hoarse voice as he sings the tale of a cricket. Visiting Paris in the autumn of 1952, he howled and wailed in front of a band that rocked like a steam shovel. Every conceivable topic is up for grabs. There are novelties dealing with marital infidelity, fancy cars, and French vocabulary. A calypso singalong transforms the word "bongo" into a verb. "Jungle King" cuts Cab Calloway's version, hands down. "Ain't Nothin' Wrong With That, Baby" was almost certainly the inspiration for Al Hibbler's hit record of 1958. After this variety show spanning three labels, three years, and two continents, it's a treat to end up at a live gig in Fort Monmouth, NJ, with Marian McPartland holding down the piano. The audience eats up every note, thrilling to Page's neighing horn during "St. James Infirmary" and cracking up during "On the Sunny Side of the Street" when he makes a reference to "drinking beer for lemonade." After all of that R&B mingled with wildly novel notions, 18 minutes of solid traditional jazz really hits the spot.

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