It’s amazing what you can find on Youtube…
This extraordinary recording of a slow blues was made in 1944. It’s extraordinary for two reasons.
One is that it is far longer than most discs of the time, and was recorded at 33 1/3 rpm rather than the 78 rpm that was usual for the time. The reason why that is extraordinary is that the long-playing record wasn’t introduced until 1948 so this track had to wait about five years until it was released commercially. The sound quality is unusually good for the period and it’s great to hear the musicians stretch out in a way that wasn’t possible on a 78rpm record. Notice also that it’s not just a string of solos, there are duets and ensemble passages , all very characteristic of authentic New Orleans music.
The other extraordinary thing is the band: Bunk Johnson (tpt) Jim Robinson (tmb); George Lewis (clt); Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavegaeu (bss); Lawrence Marrero (bjo); and Warren “Baby” Dodds (dms). Most of these musicians who had grown up in New Orleans but had not joined the mass exodus of great musicians (including Louis Armstrong) who left for Chicago when Storyville was closed down in 1917. Most of the jazzmen who stayed behind fell into obscurity compared to those who left. Bandleader on this occasion, Bunk Johnson was a case in point. He was born way back in 1879 and played with some of the legends of early New Orleans Jazz, a connection with history which was enough to make him a sort of “patron saint” of the revivalist movement when he was rediscovered in the 1940s.
One musician who had moved to Chicago (with his brother, clarinettist Johnny Dodds) was Baby Dodds, the first really great Jazz drummer, who had played alongside his brother and Louis Armstrong in King Oliver’s Band as well as on the glorious Hot Fives and Hot Sevens. His playing is barely audible on most of those old records, but he is heard to good effect on this track.
Anyway, I think it’s a superb performance, dripping with nostalgia for an era of music that would have been lost had it not been for these priceless recordings…