Afro-Creole-Choctaw-American pianist, vocalist, washboard percussionist, comedian, composer, producer, music publisher, accompanist, and bandleader Clarence Williams played a crucial role in the development of jazz and blues in New York City during the 1920s. Often using one-shot pseudonyms for his bands and combining players from New Orleans, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Chicago with the cream of Harlem's entertainment scene, Williams presided over an astonishing number and variety of blues and jazz recording sessions between the years 1921 and 1937. Williams had an uncanny ability to get his name onto other people's tunes as co-composer simply by virtue of having published the song in question. (Note for example that "Wild Cat Blues," 19-year-old Fats Waller's first important published song, has Williams' name inserted before Waller's.) On February 16, 1923, not long after settling in New York, Williams provided piano accompaniment for archetypal blues singer Bessie Smith (who had come to New York with Williams) on her very first session for Columbia Records. The inclusion of their rendition of Williams' own "Gulf Coast Blues" may be savored as a glowing example of the many dozens of accompaniments he provided for a large number of blues vocalists. The Blue Five sessions of 1923-1925 resulted in a series of records that are regarded by historians as cardinal achievements in early jazz. The presence of young Louis Armstrong and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet has kept these recordings in relatively perpetual availability for decades. Seasoned early jazz heads will also thrill to the sounds of cornetist Thomas Morris, trombonist Charlie Irvis, Buster Bailey playing soprano, and Don Redman blowing the alto sax. The other important presence on many of these sides is vocalist Eva Taylor, who had married Clarence Williams in 1921. This excellent compilation proceeds chronologically, featuring quite a number of washboard-driven ensembles, Williams' solo piano realization of his own "Wildflower Rag," a pair of duets he waxed with singer Ethel Waters, and the marvelous "In the Bottle Blues" with cornetist King Oliver, guitarist Eddie Lang, and percussionist Justin Ring, who spices up the proceedings with a small crash cymbal while using a gin bottle as a drum. Clarence Williams and James P. Johnson recorded "I've Found a New Baby" on January 31, 1931. This two-piano vaudeville routine, rich in humor as well as Harlem stride piano, is the flip side of the better-known and even funnier "How Could I Be Blue?," which can be found on Living Era's excellent James P. Johnson compilation, Carolina Shout.
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AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Bessie Smith
feat: Ethel Waters
feat: Ethel Waters