Yellow Fire

Franz Jackson

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Yellow Fire Review

by Alex Henderson

Not many of the Chicago jazzmen who were active in the 1920s and 1930s were still alive when the 21st century rolled around; Franz Jackson is among the few. Born in Rock Island, IL, in 1912, the veteran saxman/clarinetist was a teenager during Prohibition and a young man during the Great Depression -- and he was still playing pre-bebop jazz in the year 2000. Jackson's 88th birthday was less than three weeks away when, in October 2000, he recorded Yellow Fire for Chicago's Delmark label. This excellent CD finds him leading the Salty Dogs, a Dixieland/classic jazz combo that has been around since 1947. In fact, many of the participants have been with the band since the 1950s, including pianist John Cooper, cornetist Lew Green, clarinetist Kim Cusack, and tuba player Mike Walbridge. Jackson himself joined in 1956, while drummer Wayne Jones, trombonist Tom Bartlett, and banjo player Jack Kuncl came on board in the 1960s. But Yellow Fire doesn't sound like jazz from the 1950s or 1960s; from Jackson originals to familiar tunes like "Lulu's Back in Town" and "If I Had You," this excellent CD recalls the spirited Dixieland and classic jazz that reigned supreme in Chicago in the 1920s and early 1930s. Much of the material is instrumental, although Jackson (who is a talented clarinetist but sticks to the tenor and soprano saxophones on Yellow Fire) provides some good natured, Louis Armstrong-influenced vocals on "When You're Smiling," "Dinah," and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Nothing groundbreaking occurs, but the performances are consistent, inspired, and highly swinging. Yellow Fire is enthusiastically recommended to anyone who appreciates Chicago-style Dixieland and classic jazz.

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