A high temperature and raging sore throat have confined me to the house today. I got up as usual at 7.30 but quickly realised I wasn’t going to be of much to anyone; trying to give a lecture when barely able to produce a whisper didn’t seem worth the effort. So off I went back to bed, after feeding the cat, and got up again about an hour ago.
I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by listening to – and transferring to digital using my USB turntable – some lovely old jazz records that I haven’t heard for ages. Not all of them came out well, but fortunately one of my all-time favourite records is actually on youtube anyway so I thought I’d put it up.
This is My Sweet Lovin’ Man recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band on June 22nd 1923, in Chicago. It is a purely mechanical recording, meaning that the musicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder blowing into a horn causing a needle to cut the record directly onto a disk; copies would be pressed using this master which could be played back for the listener by a gramophone, usually amplified by another horn. Obviously the technology was very limited, but it’s good enough to reveal the superb musicianship involved in creating this wonderful piece of music.
I love jazz from all eras of its history, but there can’t have been many finer collections of musicians than this. It’s led by King Oliver, who plays cornet, with the young Louis Armstrong also playing cornet alongside him. Honoré Dutrey is the trombonist and the unmistakeable clarinet sound is supplied by the great Johnny Dodds. By the way, why is Johnny Dodds’ wikipedia article so brief? He was a colossal figure in the history of jazz! I must do something about that if nobody else does…
The piece was co-written by Lil Hardin, whose lovely piano playing is unusually well recorded on this track; pianos generally proved very difficult to record with the technology available in 1923. Lil Hardin, incidentally, became Lil Armstrong when she married Louis Armstrong in February 1924. The rhythm men are Bud Scott on banjo and Warren “Baby” Dodds (Johnny’s brother) on drums, who provide an insistent yet fluid pulse underneath the rest of the band.
King Oliver’s band never used written arrangements; the musicians worked out the ensemble segments together and then played them from memory. When Louis Armstrong joined the band, King Oliver at first led on cornet, with Armstrong providing decorative embellishments, but later on the two cornettists developed such an understanding that they were able to swap leads almost telepathically. Their playing together on this track is sublime. The improvised counterpoint provided by Johnny Dodds and Honoré Dutrey is also breathtakingly beautiful. Although it was recorded in Chicago, this is the classic form of New Orleans polyphony sustained throughout at the very highest level.
I think this is one of the greatest jazz records of all time, but it also reminds me that there was a move some time ago to refer to jazz as black classical music. It never caught on, but in this case the term seems to me to be perfectly apt. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.