Trumpet players seem to be the news this week. Harry James put out a new record, Bill Davison is playing better than ever at the Ken, and Frankie Newton is announced for the Savoy September 9.
Time was when James was a very, satisfying trumpet player in Benny Goodman's band. Flashy, yes, but we said to one another, "He'll get over it some day." After all, Harry played on a really great jazz record, Teddy Wilson's "Just a Mood." Then he left Goodman to form his own band, and what had been minor faults, James seemed deliberately to aggravate into major ones. Instead of the Beriganesque style in which he'd been playing, Harry cultivated something new to jazz, which for lack of a definite name we'll call the Sousa style. He dragged out all the old show-pieces, like "Carnival of Venice," and transformed college dances into Sunday afternoon on the town square. Pure technical display, showers of notes in the fast sections, and syrupy rhapsodies in the slow sections.
There's no doubt about it, Harry James has put the trumpet back 30 years. Not for nothing did Louis Armstrong show musicians what could be done with a trumpet. Instead of a blaring, brassy, emotionless instrument, Louis made it a warm, passionate voice. James can still play a hot horn; he turns out an occasional good chorus. But he has added fiddles, written his own lush and senseless orchestrations, and become the number one band of the nation. Well, buy Harry's new record of "I Cried For You" and dance to it, but you won't enjoy listening to it three months from now.
Bill Davison stands by the old Chicago tradition of using a cornet instead of a trumpet, but that hardly precludes comparison with James. Bill may not rake in the shekels, but he plays good music far more consistently. Those who have been attracted to the Ken by Pee Wee Russell's fame and clarineting have invariably stayed to hear Davison. On the basis of tone alone, or ideas alone, he is undoubtedly a top-ranking musician. James may play more obviously difficult pieces, but Davison occasionally gets off some amazingly technical stuff himself, and this always in good taste.