Various Artists

Sunshine Special: Texas 1927-29

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In 2006, Frog Records released Sunshine Special, a 24-track collection of rare jazz and blues recordings, most of which were cut in Dallas, TX during the years 1927-1929. For those who already have access to plenty of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and other heroes of the period whose best records have been reissued 20 times over, Sunshine Special is the kind of anthology that allows you to embark upon a private voyage of musicological discovery, moving into what even for seasoned early jazz and blues lovers qualifies as exciting uncharted territory. Tracks one-five feature the voice of blueswoman Lillian Glinn backed by either pianist Willie Tyson with Octave Gaspard blowing tuba, or by an unidentified guitar and cornet duo. This little taste represents a little over one-fifth of Glinn's recorded output, and sets the stage for six gutsy performances by her friend and mentor Hattie Burleson, who also recorded under the name of Hattie Hudson and sounded a lot like Victoria Spivey or Bertha Chippie Hill. Burleson was active in the Dallas area as a composer, session organizer, and talent scout. She is heard here under both of her professional names, and on tracks eight-eleven she is accompanied by the H. Hudson Orchestra. This group featured trumpeter Don Albert, a fine musician who in 1936 would record with his own swing band in San Antonio. Albert is also heard backing vocalist Ben Norsingle, whose passionate if carefully controlled vibrato is offset nicely by trumpet obbligato over a tuba bassline. This collection was named for one side of a record cut on Wednesday, December 5, 1928 by Frenchy's String Band, a New Orleans-based unit which consisted of cellist Jesse Hooker, guitarist Sam Harris, banjoist Percy Darensbourg, and cornetist Christian "Frenchy" Polite, whose surname is believed to have been derived from "Hippolyte." Legend has it the great Tommy Ladnier also played with Frenchy's String Band at one point. A different level of intensity is reached by cornetist Leroy Williams & His Dallas Band, which sounded like a distant cousin of Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. Williams' "Going Away Blues" appears to have been closely modeled upon Louis Armstrong's "Yes! I'm in the Barrel," while "Lullabye Baby" and "Welcome Stranger" feature the leader's cornet up close in duet with pianist James Moore. This highly rewarding collection closes with three numbers by pianist J.C. Johnson & His Five Hot Sparks, a fine jazz ensemble that is believed to have included cornetist Walter Bennett, pianist Mabel Horsey, and banjoist Charlie Vincento. Johnson, a native of Chicago, scored his first success as a songwriter in 1923 when Ethel Waters recorded "You Can't Do What My Last Man Did." His most interesting collaborator was Fats Waller. These sides were cut in February 1929 more than 1300 miles away from Dallas in Long Island City, NY.

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