Bill Coleman: An American In Paris


Like all his generation of trumpet players, Bill Coleman (born 1904) grew up in the beneficent shadow of Louis Armstrong. You can’t miss it in his playing, although it’s by no means a slavish copy. The nearest comparison I can think of, off hand, is with Buck Clayton, seven years his junior. Coleman’s tone is a little sweeter and his phrasing less clipped, but in fluency and elegance of style I’d say they were more or less equal. The reason Coleman is the less celebrated of the two is that he lived abroad for most of his career. This two-CD package covers 26 years when he was at or near his peak. It also presents a lively portrait of the jazz scene in Paris, both before and after World War Two.

It was the four numbers here with Fats Waller and his Rhythm, released world-wide in 1935, that first called the attention of jazz fanciers to Bill Coleman. He certainly sounds on top of the job, and his range is something to note. He never gave the impression of struggling for those high notes.

November of that same year found him in Paris, ensconced among its sizeable community of US jazz musicians. In fact, you can’t help noticing that there’s little sign of entente cordiale in many of these pre-war Paris recordings. They’re often all-American affairs, except for bass players (always in short supply) and, of course, the unignorable Django Reinhardt. 

In their modest way, the first four tracks here are among the best of the lot. Accompanied only by Herman Chittison on piano and an almost inaudible bassist, Coleman really shines – melodic, simple, but unerringly on the ball. Chittison, another long-term Parisian, often worked as a solo pianist (notice how the bassist drops out during his solos). Nevertheless, he was an admirably swinging, if busy, accompanist, and appears on several of these pre-war sessions. Listen out, too, for another almost-forgotten figure of the 1930s Paris scene, the excellent Argentinian guitarist Oscar Alemán, on Joe Louis Stomp. 

The most outstanding, and certainly best-known, of these sessions is the 1937 set led by Dicky Wells. I can understand why these three tracks, featuring Coleman, were chosen, but it would have been good to hear him alongside fellow trumpeters Bill Dillard and Shad Collins on that undisputed masterpiece, Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea.

With war impending, Coleman was back in New York by 1940. He found the swing era still going full blast and was soon as busy as ever – and in distinguished company, too, as the the last track of CD 1 and the first two of CD2 reveal. Linger Awhile is one of four numbers recorded at this inspired 1943 session, with Dicky Wells and Lester Young. 

If the rest of the second disc isn’t quite as gripping as the first, that’s no reflection on Bill Coleman. Blame the split in the European jazz audience, with bebop on one side and Dixieland on the other. Being the complete professional, he made a remarkably effective shot at both. Just You, Just Me, with Don Byas, is rather impressive, if frantic. Most of the other boppish pieces suffer from clumsy rhythm sections. There’s a nice, mid-tempo Don’t Blame Me, with the excellent Jacques Dieval on piano and Coleman just being himself. 

The Dixieland pieces, where he’s guesting with Dutch and Swiss bands, are perfectly good professional jobs, but not inspired – and he sings, which wasn’t his strong point. When it comes to the final track, from 1960, everyone has calmed down and the real Bill Coleman is back, in muted perfection.

CD1: (1) What’s The Reason I’m Not Pleasin’ You?; Georgia On My Mind; I’m In The Mood For Love; After You’ve Gone; (2) Joe Louis Stomp: (3) Believe It, Beloved; Dream Man; I’m A Hundred Percent For You; Baby Brown; (4) Rosetta; (5) Stompin’ At The Savoy; (6) Sweet Sue; Hangin’ Around Boudon; Japanese Sandman; (7) Exactly Like You; Hangover Blues; (8) Indiana; Rose Room; Bill Street Blues; After You’ve Gone; I Ain’t Got Nobody; Bill Coleman Blues; (9) In A Little Spanish Town; (10) Way Down Yonder In New Orleans; Sister Kate; (11) Three O’Clock Jump (78.48)
CD2: (12) I Never Knew; (13) Linger Awhile; (14) Just You, Just Me; What Is This Thing Called Love?; St Louis Blues; Liza; (15) I Can’t Get Started; Don’t Blame Me; (16) Yes Sir, That’s My Baby; If I Had You; I’m Confessin’; (17) Indiana; (18) Blues In My Heart; Limehouse Blues; (19) Wrap You Troubles In Dreams; Idaho; Blue Turning Grey Over You; Caravan; Honeysuckle Rose; I Found A New Baby; (20) Colemanology (78.49)

Coleman (t) with:
(1) Herman Chittison (p); Eugene d’Hellemmes (b). Paris, 31 January 1936.
(2) Orchestre de la Villa d’Este, including Oscar Alemán (g). Paris, 31 January 1936.
(3) Fats Waller (p, v) & his Rhythm including Gene Cedric (cl, as); Al Casey (g). NYC, 7 November 1934.
(4) Garnet Clark (p) & his Hot Club Four: George Johnson (as, cl); Django Reinhardt (g); June Clark (b). Paris, 25 November 1935.
(5) Willie Lewis (as) & his Orchestra: including Big Boy Goudie (cl, ts); Herman Chittison (p); Louis Vola (b); Ted Fields (d). Paris, 28 April 1936.
(6) Dicky Wells (tb); Django Reinhardt (g); Richard Fullbright (b); Bill Beason (d). Paris, 7 July 1937.
(7) Alix Combelle (ts) et son Orchestre: Dave Martin (p); Roger Chaput (g); Ernest Wilson Myers (b); Jerry Mango (d). Paris, 4 October 1937.
(8) Stéphane Grappelli (p, vn); Joseph Reinhardt (g); Ernest Wilson Myers (b); Ted Fields (d). Paris, 12 November 1937.
(9) Eddie Brunner (cl, ts) & his Orchestra, including Alix Combelle (ts); Herman Chittison (p); Oscar Alemán (g); Tommy Benford (d). Paris, 12 June 1938.
(10) Edgar Courance (cl, ts); John Mitchell (g); Ernest Wilson Myers (b); Tommy Benford (d). Paris, 28 September 1938.
(11) Joe Marsala (cl) & his Delta Four: Pete Brown (as); Carmen Mastren (g); Gene Traxler (b). NYC, 4 April 1940.
(12) Teddy Wilson (p); Benny Morton (tb); Jimmy Hamilton (cl); George James (bar); Eddie Gibbs (g); Al Hall (b); Yank Porter (d). NYC, 9 December 1940.
(13) Dicky Wells (tb); Lester Young (ts); Ellis Larkins (p); Freddie Green (g); Al Hall (b); Jo Jones (d). 21 December 1943.
(14) Don Byas (as, ts); Bernard Peiffer (p); Jean Bouchety (b); Roger Paraboschi (d). Paris 4/5 January 1949.
(15) Jacques Dieval (p) et son Quartette. Paris, 4 October 1949.
(16) Michel de Villers (as); Guy Lafitte (ts); André Persiany (p); Paul Rovere (b); Teddy Martin (d). 21 December 1955.
(17) Eric Krans and his Dixieland Pipers. The Hague, 27 July 1957.
(18) The New Orleans Wildcats, Yverdon les Bains, Switzerland, 6 November 1957.
(19) Henry Chaix and his Quintet. Geneva, 16 December 1957.
(20) Budd Johnson (ts); Quentin Jackson (tb); Patti Brown (p); Les Spann (g); Buddy Catlett (b); Joe Harris (d). Paris, 22 January 1960.
Retrospective RTS 4350