As an encapsulation of Muggsy Spanier's lengthy career, this excellent compilation presents many of the cornetist's most important sessions in something approaching chronological sequence. The survey begins in 1924 with the Bucktown Five, a scruffy little band that included clarinetist Volly DeFaut and pianist Mel Stitzel. A slightly rarer track from 1925 features Stitzel, DeFaut, and drummer Ben Pollack with the Stomp Six. "Bullfrog Blues," a solid tromp with Frank Teschemacher on clarinet, was without a doubt the best record ever made by the Charles Pierce Orchestra. The enclosed discography misleadingly refers to Johnny Mueller's brass bass, an incongruous mistake as Mueller's earthy, heavy-handed string bass playing is one of the most attractive and compelling aspects of this fine old recording. A band known variously as the Chicago Rhythm Kings, the Louisiana Rhythm Kings, or the Jungle Kings made a series of recordings in April and May of 1928. Present were Teschemacher, Mezz Mezzrow on tenor sax, pianist Joe Sullivan, banjoist Eddie Condon, and a feisty young drummer by the name of Gene Krupa. Condon sounds like Jimmy Cagney when he sings "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" and Red McKenzie periodically chortles away as if he were marinating in a steam bath. Here in the 21st century there simply aren't enough opportunities to hear the Ray Miller Orchestra. Garnished with Al Carsella's brief but juicy solo on piano accordion, this hot little group's version of "That's A-Plenty" is a delightful chapter in the saga of Muggsy Spanier. Throughout each of these historical recordings Spanier adds his own personal touches using an unforgettably gutsy, expressive tone. The hippest recording session that Ted Lewis ever presided over took place on March 6, 1931, with Spanier, Benny Goodman, and Fats Waller, who wrings the piano out and sings lustily on "Dallas Blues" and "Royal Garden Blues." Two sides by the Mound City Blue Blowers recorded in June of 1931 feature Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Dorsey, and relatively sensible vocals by McKenzie. Whoever put this compilation together chose the four very best examples of Muggsy Spanier's Ragtime Band. "Bluin' the Blues" and the bluesy, creamy, laid-back "Relaxin' at the Touro" are masterpieces of old-fashioned jazz, as are two superb selections recorded in 1940 by Spanier and Sidney Bechet with guitarist Carmen Mastren and primal bass man Wellman Braud. Perhaps the nicest surprise of all comes in the form of two very intimate Lee Wiley vocal performances with only Spanier and Wiley's husband, pianist Jess Stacy, providing accompaniment. As if to thoroughly dispel any lingering notions of subtlety, Bob Crosby's Bobcats cough up a rude novelty with the title "You're Bound to Look Like a Monkey When You Grow Old." This wonderful tribute to Muggsy Spanier closes with two satisfying performances recorded in 1942 by his big and not-so-big bands. Here, then, is one of the best Muggsy Spanier compilations ever to have been brought before the public. And the cover photo is suitable for framing.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf