Buster Bailey: Memphis Blues

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Buster Bailey was one of those unfortunates, like Lucky Thompson, who was inexplicably neglected by the cognoscenti. Although in Buster’s case there was some excuse in that, although he was a virtuoso, compared to Bigard and Goodman, the dimension of emotion in his playing tended towards miniscule. However, the powerful collective impact of this collection of his best work must cause many to rethink, for this is a formidable jazz album, packed with mainstream improvisation and jazz skills. Many of these tracks appeared on Classics 904 where the sound would have been inferior. Here it has been impressively reclaimed.

Bill (it’s not known when he became “Buster”) showed great skills as a conventional clarinettist when he was a boy and he came to Chicago via W C Handy’s band where “I was embellishing around the melody. At that time I wouldn’t have known what they meant by improvisation. But embellishment was a phrase I understood”. He embellishes the hell out of many of the masterworks here. In Chicago he began his studies with the masterful Franz Schoepp some time before Goodman enrolled wit the same tutor.

The opening Rhythm Busters tracks pre-date the John Kirby band, but three of the future members are already here, and Bailey’s solo work is every bit as satisfying as that of Newton and Brown. The lurch back to Santa Claus and 1924 is startling. Buster dominates whilst his life-long friend Louis takes a back seat for once. By now a skilled Henderson musician, Buster’s work, articulate and suave, doesn’t really fit with Bessie’s.

Bailey stood out amongst the Henderson team, being more sophisticated than Hawk, Ladnier and Benny Morton and it’s not until the 1934 band and its Red Allen derivative that he has proper competition. By Shanghai Shuffle the company is more conducive. Allen, Benny Carter and Higgy make Buster sound a bit spidery by comparison. There’s a nice balance of solo and band and the arrangements are well written (presumably by Buster).

1936 was a good year for everyone including Chu Berry, and he dominates Stealin’ Apples (where Buster’s comparatively thin tone shows why he was never able to be Henderson’s Bigard). Blues In C Sharp Minor and Warming Up deserve their classic status. That opening conversation on the blues between Teddy Wilson and Israel Crosby is one of the finest in mainstream jazz, Bailey is at his career best, and Eldridge and Chu have no intention of dropping the ball. Buster’s sextet is a renamed John Kirby band. The Kirby band’s St Louis Blues had unbelievable clarinet skills that knocked us out when we were schoolboys and it was here that Buster introduced the world to circular breathing (still one of the best examples).

And so the classics roll in with Hawk and Nat Cole gigantic on You Can Depend, until, on the second CD, Buster’s 1958 album is reached. This is an imposing showcase for a clarinettist who had recorded too little as soloist or leader, and he is supported in various-sized groups by Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Hilton Jefferson and the largely unloved Red Richards, who seems to have been an associate of Buster’s.

Buster joined Louis’s All Stars in mid-1966. He recorded with them, but I haven’t heard any results. He died whilst still with Louis on 12 April 1966.

Discography
CD1: (1) Dizzy Debutante; Afternoon In Africa; (2) Santa Claus Blues; (3) Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town; (4) Clarinet Marmalade; (5) Yama Yama Blues; Church Street Sobbin’ Blues; (6) Hocus Pocus; (7) There’ s A House In Harlem For Sale; Rug Cutters’ Swing; (8) Wild Party; (9) Call Of The Delta; Shanghai Shuffle; (10) Stealin’ Apples; (11) Blues In C Sharp Minor; Warming Up/; (12) They Can’t Take That Away From Me; (13) More Than That; (14) Sloe Jam Fizz; Planter’s Punch; (15) Lorna Doone Shortbread; (16) Chained To A Dream; Light Up; Man With A Horn Goes Berserk; (17) I’m Cuttin’ Out (79.18)
CD2: (18) Limehouse Blues; (19) Am I Blue?; Should I?; April In Paris; The Blue Room; Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie;Eccentric; (20) Can’t We Be Friends?; St Louis Blues; (21) 9.20 Special ; (22) You Can Depend On Me; (23) Tin Roof Blues; (24) How Come You Do Me Like You Do?; (25) Hatton Avenue And Gayoso Street; Bear Wallow; Beale Street Blues; Sunday Parade; Memphis Blues; Chickasaw Bluff; Hot Water Bayou (79.59)
Bailey (cl) with: (1) Buster Bailey Rhythm Busters: Frankie Newton (t); Pete Brown (as). NYC, 17 September 1937. (2) Red Onion Jazz babies with Louis Armstrong (c). Chicago, 26 November 1924. (3) Bessie Smith (v). NYC, 18 March 1926. (4) Fletcher Henderson Orch. NYC, 8 December 1926. (5) Clarence Williams Washboard Four. NYC, 25 November 1927. (6) Fletcher Henderson Orch. NYC, 6 March 1934. (7) Red Allen Orch. Allen (t); Hilton Jefferson (as); Claude Jones (tb). NYC, 28 July 1934. (8) Fletcher Henderson Orch. NYC, 25 September 1934. (9) His Seven Chocolate Dandies: Red Allen (t); Jay C Higginbotham (tb). NYC, 28 December 1934. (10) Fletcher Henderson Orch. Chicago, 27 March 1936. (11) Teddy Wilson Orch: Roy Eldridge (t); Chu Berry (ts); Israel Crosby (b). Chicago, 14 May 1936. (12) Billie Holiday (v); Teddy Wilson (p). NYC, 1 April 1937. (13) Willie The Lion Smith And His Cubs. NYC, 13 April 1937. (14) His Rhythm Busters: Charlie Shavers (t); Pete Brown (as); Billy Kyle (p). NYC, 18 February, 1938. (15) O’Neil Spencer And His Trio: Billy Kyle (p). NYC, 15 May 1938. (16) His Rhythm Busters: Frankie Newton (t); Russ Procope (as); Billy Kyle (p). NYC, 7 December 1938. (17) Johnny Temple (v); Sammy Price (p); Teddy Bunn (g). NYC, 4 April 1940. (18) Wingy Manone Orchestra, Chu Berry (ts). NYC, 19 June 1939. (19) His Sextet. Charlie Shavers (t); Billy Kyle (p). May 1940. (20) John Kirby Onyx Club Boys. Shavers, Kyle. 1940 & 1942. (21) John Kirby Orchestra. NYC, November 1943. (22) Capitol International Jazzmen. Bill Coleman (t); Coleman Hawkins (ts); Nat Cole (p). LA, 30 March 1945. (23) Henry “Red” Allen Dixieland All Stars. Tyree Glenn (tb); Boomie Richman (ts); Willie “The Lion” Smith (p). NYC, 8 May 1957. (24) Bobby Donaldson 7th Avenue Stompers. Emmett Berry (t); Vic Dickenson (tb). NYC, 22 May 1958. (25) His Quartet and Band. Herman Autrey (t); Vic Dickenson (tb); Hilton Jefferson (as). February 1958.
Retrospective RTS4356