Archive for Paradise Orchestra

The Boy in the Boat

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on June 3, 2012 by telescoper

I’ve written over a hundred posts about Jazz since this blog started, during which time I hope I’ve demonstrated that my ears are open to all its forms, from the traditional Jazz of New Orleans through the bebop era and on to the avant garde. In fact I enjoy writing about the music almost as much as listening to it. I guess it’s a form of evangelism. Or something.

I’m not at all sure who the typical reader of this blog is, but on the occasions when I’ve met people who say they follow my ramblings I’m quite surprised how many say that they enjoy the jazzy bits. Perhaps they’re just being polite. Some people say they like the traditional stuff and can’t bear “all that modern rubbish”; others say that I’m too conservative and should post some more challenging material. I guess that means I’ve accidentally got it about right. In any case I’ll continue posting whatever takes my fancy, and if anyone else out there likes it too then so much the better.

All of which unnecessary preliminaries bring me to a rare old record that I heard years ago on Humphrey Lyttelton’s radio show The Best of Jazz. It’s by Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra which played at the Paradise Club in Harlem, New York City, in the late 1920s. It’s simplifying the history of jazz a bit too much to put its evolution in one-to-one correspondence with  geographical locations, but the “New York” style of that period does represent the third phase of the music’s evolution; “New Orleans” and “Chicago” preceded it. The New York of the 1920s was home to a phenomenal concentration of great bands led by great bandleaders: Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Luis Russell; the list is almost endless. I suppose given the competition it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that in this environment some very good bands didn’t become as famous as they deserved. This is definitely the case with Charlie Johnson’s Band (or Orchestra, I should say; everything was an “Orchestra” in those days).

In some ways this was a pretty rough old band, but it had a very distinctive voice all of its own and some superb soloists. Indeed in the track below – heard scratchily on an old gramophone – you can hear one of the very best solos from one of the very best soloists of that period, the brilliant trombonist Jimmy Harrison, whose name is not famous for the simple reason that he died young, in 1931. Unusually for a trombone player, Harrison was inspired and influenced by trumpeter Louis Armstrong, to the extent that he often used Satchmo’s favourite entry into a solo as demonstrated on this track, announcing his arrival (about 1.04) with a three-note BA-DA-DAA. His solo is beautifully poised, rhythmically assured, and over the insistent syncopated clarinet riffs, he builds up a wonderful sense of forward momentum. You can always tell the very best jazz musicians, as they can produce that sense of propulsion even when the tempo is not particularly fast.

Anyway, I think this track, The Boy in the Boat, is a forgotten masterpiece that belongs in the same class of atmospheric classics as Luis Russell’s Call of the Freaks, Don Redman’s Chant of the Weed and Duke Ellington’s The Mooche.

P.S. As far as I’m aware, this tune doesn’t have any connection with the rude song of the same name upon which Fats Waller based his tune Squeeze Me.