At its best, the Isham Jones Orchestra was capable of playing real jazz. The strongest and hottest instrumental tracks woven into this Memphis Archives compilation emanate a substantiality approaching that of early Fletcher Henderson or very early Duke Ellington. "Farewell Blues" and "Memphis Blues," recorded in January 1923, swing a little on the strength of the melodies. Even "I'm Sitting on Top of the World" (not to be confused with the blues tune by Howlin' Wolf) cooks with inspired precision. "It's the Blues" and "Three Thirty Blues" are among the best recordings this band ever made. Most satisfying was the expressive cornet playing of Louis Panico, an element that was missing after September 1924. Panico's contribution to this band was roughly comparable to what Louis Metcalf, Arthur Whetsol, and Bubber Miley accomplished on some of Ellington's earliest recordings. Another aspect of Isham Jones is also documented here: it was essentially that of a pit orchestra accustomed to backing up pop vocalists and vaudeville entertainers. Bearing in mind the fact that this orchestra worked regularly with Al Jolson, the selections featuring singers -- particularly Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, usually billed as the Happiness Boys -- illustrate this important function most effectively. Even quite a number of the instrumental performances are noticeably reined in by shuffle rhythms that hardly manage to break free of the vaudevillian pop mode. This might explain why many jazz historians have concentrated on Isham Jones the composer of great melodies destined to become jazz standards rather than on Isham Jones the leader of an all-purpose popular dance band that periodically incorporated real jazz into its performing itinerary.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf