A plethora of classic jazz riches from the 1940s…
Classic Black & White Jazz Sessions – Mosaic Records MD11-273 – (1942-1949) – 11 CDs- *****
Mosaic Records, the preeminent jazz label for collectors and connoisseurs of rare and eclectic jazz issues, from the birth of jazz forward, has upped their ante with their release of the Classic Black and White (Label) Jazz Sessions from the early 1940s. Only Mosaic would tackle a project of this magnitude.
With no access to the original masters nearly eighty years later, the Mosaic staff scoured their sources for high quality 78 rpm, LPs and CDs that had the material from the Black and White label. The label only existed for a scant seven years, roughly 1942-1949.
While major jazz labels cut back on their rosters during World War II, due to supply problems with the material needed (i.e. shellac) for 78 rpm records, Black and White went all in. The company began in New York City (
Greenwich Village) before moving to Los Angeles, when the label was sold to new owners. Sessions were recorded in both locales.
Their jazz output (Black and White also dabbled in many other musical genres, including childrens’ and country and western) began with jazz swing, but soon introduced bop as it became the craze that the younger audience embraced. Their label was in the forefront of switching to vinyl from shellac.
Unfortunately, Black and White fell on hard times, as being a small label they found it difficult to collect from jukebox distributors, and competitors who “pirated” their music. The label folded in 1949.
What makes this massive 11 CD set so valuable, and historically significant, is that in barely seven years they recorded most everyone not exclusively tied to a major label. With exceptions for Ellington, Basie, Armstrong and a few others, The Black and White label was motivated in putting the jazz titans of this era together in groupings for approximate (4-6 tracks), the time length of a 78 rpm album.
Here is just a partial list of the names of jazz legends (some appearing solely as sidemen/accompanists):
Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Willie “The Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Pee Wee Russell, Oscar Pettiford, Charles Mingus, Lucky Thompson, Meade Lux Lewis, Barney Bigard, Charlie Shavers, Dizzy Gillespie, Erroll Garner, Charlie Ventura, Howard McGhee, and Gerald Wilson. And there are many more…
It’s a jazz history lesson at a bargain price. Some of the aforementioned were near the end of their careers, while others (i.e. Art Pepper and Charles Mingus) were new cats on the scene. It was the old timers setting the stage and mentoring the future stars.
What is extra amazing is the acoustic quality of this set, keeping in mind the time period (and “technology” of the day) that these recordings were made. With very exceptions, the acoustics are exemplary. Clear and sharp…
In addition the 40+ pages of the Mosaic booklet go into exhaustive detail regarding the artists and material. Archival photos of the jazz masters are included. There are scholarly liner notes/essays provided by jazz historian Dan Morgenstern, song writer and musician, Billy Vera, and Mosaic’s own Scott Wenzel.
Musical highlights would take many more pages to describe, and likely would leave out neglected gems, but (!) here are some in chronological order from Disc One to Disc 11:
Pianist Art Hodes’ first recordings issued under his own name (from mid 1942) are featured on the opening disc. Cliff Jackson has twelve tracks, either solo or playing Dixieland with clarinetist, Pee Wee Russell; or New Orleans based jazz with the De Paris brothers, and Sidney Bechet. There are also tracks from the superb drummer, George Wettling matched with the inimitable Mezz Mezzrow.
Disc 2 has four tracks with Willie “The Lion” Smith (including vocals) as well as tunes from underrated pianists, Gene Schroeder, and Dick Cary. Wilson Meyers “runs the dozens” on “Preachin Blues.” We then have clarinetist Rod Cless getting the opportunity to play with jazz icon, James P. Johnson on “I Know That You Know.”
Disc 3 has two sessions with Lil Armstrong, while the vocal laden Disc 4 features some of the leading lady vocalists of the 40s: Estelle Edson, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Ernestine Anderson, Etta Jones, and Ella Logan. They are backed by the likes of Oscar Pettiford, Lucky Thompson, Willie Smith, Buddy Collette, Buck Clayton, and Charlie Shavers.
Disc 5 is highlighted by clarinetist, Barney Bigard with either his orchestra or sextet. The next CD, Disc 6, is entirely devoted to Jack McVea, the saxophonist, who besides T-Bone Walker, was the second most favorite artist for the label. McVea recorded the biggest hit single that Black and White ever had, “Open the Door Richard!” Jacks’ band included Melba Liston, Marshall Royal, and Russell Jacquet. All tracks were recorded in LA.
Disc 7 is a nice mix of four tracks from clarinetist Joe Marsala (with early period, 1945, Dizzy Gillespie, as well as four from Erroll Garner with a trio recorded in New York, also in 1945. CD 8 has West Coast sessions from pianist Phil Moore and his quintet and featuring bassist Red Callender. We also have trumpeter, Al Killian with unnamed “all stars.”
The ninth CD will have major appeal to fans of saxophonist, Charlie Ventura. Here Charlie enters bop idioms with sidemen Red Rodney, Willie Smith, and Barney Kessell. The disc closes with Hip Chicks, an all women group put together by jazz impresario, Leonard Feather, for Black and White. Led by vibist ,Marjorie Hyams, the front line is made up of Jean Starr on trumpet, and Marjorie’s sister-in-law, saxophonist, L’Ana Hyams. Their tune “Popsie,” is a tribute to famed photographer, Popsie Randolph.
Disc 10 is notable for a super group live bop session at Compton Junior College in LA. Its line-up is stellar, as we have a front line of trumpeter, Howard McGhee and saxophonist, Lucky Thompson. Bop is king on “Boppin’ Boy,” taken from changes found on “What is This Thing Called Love?” and “Hot House.” Thompson is featured on “Love.” Later, on this same disc is the magnificent Gerald Wilson Orchestra (sessions from early and late 1946) with a dream team of Basie band members, Snooky Young, Melba Liston, and Henry Coker. Gerald does the arranging on the Basie staple, “One O’Clock Jump” and then his own, “Cruisin with Cab.” Wilson’s LA bands stood up to the best that the East Coast had IMHO…
Our 1940s jazz history lesson closes with twenty one tracks from Earle Spencer and His Orchestra, all recorded in Los Angeles at Radio Recorders, between 1946 and 1949. Spencer (on trombone) led his band only during this period before retiring due to health issues. Spencer’s big band has been compared to that of Stan Kenton due to its progressive sound with big brass, and complex arrangements. Its fame never spread outside of California. Hopefully, these tracks will attract some attention and acclaim. Its final 1949 version had Art Pepper and Herb Geller on alto saxes, Jimmy Knepper on trombone, and guitarist, Laurindo Almeida. All went on to major careers.
This mega 11 CD set is only being pressed for 2500 copies. Jazz fans should jump on this opportunity soon, before it sells out. It is a definite choice for end of year jazz awards. A solid Five Stars goes out to this box set…