Last week, when I mentioned Roscoe McRae at the Savoy, I merely touched on a subject which should have been given thorough treatment long ago, namely jazz in Boston. Not that there's an awful lot of it running around in this town, for it appears that every type of interest in hot music has been discouraged by a Beantown public whose taste for swing is at least negligible and at the utmost hostile. That's their business, of course. If the majority prefers Ruby Newman and Jack Marshard, and tolerates an occasional Count Basie one-nighter, then all I can say is that this is still a democracy. However, to that minority--particularly around Harvard--to whom jazz music means a little bit more than Glenn Miller, I can say that things are looking up. So today I'd like to mention three groups in town that are well worth hearing.
The first is Bobby Hackett, who opened at the Versallies last Monday for an indefinite stay. He's fronting a local band, which unfortunately doesn't nearly measure up to the standard set by the combinations which played down at Nick's. Yet Bobby himself would be worth listening to if he were fronting the bagpipe contingent of the Cameron Highlanders. Besides this, when the band plays a "jump" tune, you can be sure it's nothing like the inneouous riff numbers which have been giving too many orchestras a trite style, and which have hampered any attempts at musical individually.
No, the tunes Bobby plays are the old ones, Muskrat Ramble, At the Jazz Band Bali, Sugar and the like, and if anybody knows how to make those old numbers really kick, it's Hackett. Furthermore, there's Brad Gowans (valve trombone), the one musician Bobby brought with him from New York. It's not the kind of smooth staff which generally achieves public acclaim, but then Tommy Dorsey never played hot. Take your choice. Finally, it's pleasant to learn that the Versailles will have its first Sunday evening jam session tomorrow. Bobby will M.C., and Pee Wee Russell, of the rubber face and dirty tone, will play clarinet as featured guest.
The second band is the Jones Brothers, which I wrote about in regard to Roscoe. Besides playing the right kind of jazz, these boys are really top-notch showmen, and their novelty numbers--which incidentally have been featured with Harry James and Duke Ellington--have that element of spontaneity and life which you'll only find in colored entertainment, and which is sadly lacking in the run-of-the-mill Boston floor show. Last week I went overboard for Roscoe's tenor work. I've heard him several times since then and still haven't eaten my words. If you do go down to the Savoy, ask the band to play Liebestraum, and listen to the way Roscoe builds up chorus after chorus until you say to yourself, it's just too much, and order another drink.
Band number three is a small colored combination playing at Johnny Wilson's somewhere on Tremont Street, if I remember rightly (better look it up in the phone book). The band is led by one Sherman Freeman, who plays alto and clarinet with a nice gutty tone, blending wonderfully with the completely undisciplined style of the rest of the band. It's pretty wild stuff, and you won't care for it if you expect to hear singing song titles and Tex Beneke whistling choruses, but if you feel like listening to five musicians who have the right idea about fighting out a tune together, then Johnny Wilson's is the place for you (and me). I might add that the clientele has never heard of Harvard, and unless you feel like getting your teeth knocked in, you'll do well not to remind anyone of your presence. Get it?
NEWS AND NEW RELEASES. Record of the week is a fast blues duet by Ray McKinley (drums and vocal) and Freddie Slack (piano). It's called Southpaw Serenade, and gives the two musicians an opportunity to get out of the Will Bradley rut and really play some jazz. Freddie Slack's boogie-woogie shows the strong influence of Albert Ammons, plus an amazing talent for employing highly original bass figures. Top honors, however, go to McKinley's vocal. For a change he sings authentic blues, with a dirty old rasp in his voice which is pleasant to hear after the corny Will Bradley novelties (COLUMBIA) . . . Speaking of boogie-woogie, COLUMBIA has just released an album of reissues. Offerings include the Harry James Trio (Albert Ammons, Harry James, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty); Pete Johnson and Joe Turner on Roll 'Em Pete; and the two-sided Boogie-Woogie Prayer, featuring Johnson, Ammons, and Meade Lux Lewis. These records are vastly superior to the ones put out in the older Decca Album . . . Cootie Williams plays trumpet and sings on Benny Goodman's COLUMBIA recording of Let the Door Knob Hitoha. Cootie's vocal is fine, but just try and figure out the lyrics. Reverse is Perfidia, and the arrangement of this tune makes it excellent for dancing. I don't know whether or not these sides were made since Dave Tough joined the Goodman band, but my guess would be that they were, as the rhythm section shows a 100% improvement.