Various Artists

Jazz in St. Louis

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Although St. Louis was as important to the development of late 19th and early 20th century African American music as New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City, and Chicago, recordings by early St. Louis jazz bands appear to have been marginalized and underappreciated as reissue compilations focus mainly upon the Crescent City, the Windy City, and the Big Apple. In 1997, the Timeless label released Jazz in St. Louis, a 23-track sampling of rare wax dating from the years 1924-1927. First and foremost, this album brings forward the complete recordings of trumpeter Charles Creath's Jazz-O-Maniacs. At various points that hot little band contained in its ranks trumpeter Dewey Jackson, trombonist Albert Wynn, and drummer Zutty Singleton. Creath and Jackson first met up in 1919 while serenading the public from the deck of a riverboat as members of Fate Marable's band. The vocalist on "Won't Don't Blues" has been identified as Lonnie Johnson, who plays the violin rather than the guitar for which he was already becoming famous. The voice heard singing "Market Street Blues" and "Woke Up Cold in Hand" belonged to Creath's initial studio percussionist, Floyd Campbell. Other examples from the St. Louis jazz scene in the ‘20s are performed by pianist Phil Baxter and his orchestra; drummer Benny Washington's Six Aces; the 11-piece Paledo Orchestra of St. Louis; pianist Jesse Stone & His Blues Serenaders (a legendary unit that included saxophonist Jack Washington, destined for fame as a member of the Bennie Moten and Count Basie orchestras); and the St. Louis Levee Band. The only identified member of this last group, which recorded "Soap Suds" in May of 1926, is New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton. While most everything else on this collection originally appeared on the Okeh label (with the Baxter sides also coming out on Odeon as pictured on the album cover), Dewey Jackson's Peacock Orchestra cut its records for Vocalion in June 1926. Jackson named his group after the St. Louis Charleston Peacock Orchestra, which he led aboard the S.S. Capitol in 1925. The Peacock Orchestra heard on this collection featured Willie Humphrey on clarinet and tenor sax, as well as New Orleans bassist Pops Foster blowing into a tuba. Jackson, who enjoyed something of a comeback on the Dixieland circuit in the early '50s, left precious few recordings as a leader, so interested parties are very lucky to be able to experience "She's Crying for Me," "Capitol Blues," and "Going to Town," a gritty slow drag that culminates in a rather bizarre group vocal. Like many other excellent compilations in the Timeless Historical catalog, Jazz in St. Louis is an invaluable tool for those who seek a better understanding of what real jazz felt like during the decade between the First World War and the Great Depression.

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