JJ 09/60: In My Opinion – Bob Wallis

Sixty years ago, Tony Standish got trad devotee Bob Wallis to blow the trumpet for George Lewis, Johnny Dodds and Red Allen. His subject wasn't so keen on Mose Allison or Miles Davis, finding the latter possessed of a warm timbre and plenty of technique but saying nothing. First published in Jazz Journal, September 1960

Bob Wallis

This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Bob Wallis is a quiet yet intense young trumpet player from Bridlington, Yorkshire. He obtained his first musical experience as 3rd cornet with the local Salvation Army band and later moved to Hull where he formed his first jazz group. Bob migrated to London in 1955, since when he has played with Acker Bilk and Ken Colyer’s Omega Brass Banu, as well as doing several spells on the Continent. He is currently leading his own New Orleans style group and is enjoying considerable success, both on record and in the jazz clubs. – Tony Standish

Of Mose Allison: ‘That, again, is the pleasant sort of jazz. Background music only, for me. Didn’t even make my foot tap. I wouldn’t ever play it. It leaves me cold’

“Blues for Piney Brown”. Harry Edison. HMV CLP 1350
Well, I like that rhythm section very much … and the tenor. The trumpet seemed to fade out, to drop off towards the end. There’s not enough jamming between the horns – those little arrangements aren’t a substitute for an ensemble style. This sort of jazz is always pleasant to listen to, but it doesn’t knock me out, which is what I like jazz to do.

“The Seventh Son”. Mose Allison. Esquire 32-094
That, again, is the pleasant sort of jazz. Background music only, for me. Didn’t even make my foot tap. I wouldn’t ever play it. It leaves me cold.

“Weary City”. Johnny Dodds. HMV DLP 1073
That’s more like it! This band is one of my favourites – the very best Dodds, if we except the Wanderers and the Olivers. And Natty Dominque is better here than elsewhere – more sure of himself. I don’t like this pianist, though, and it’s my guess he wasn’t used to this style. Bill Johnson was a magnificent bass player and Dutrey, too, was at his peak on this session. Some people don’t like Dutrey, but the difference between him and Ory is like, say, the difference between Mutt Carey and Red Allen – one’s straight, the other’s more em­broidered, more colourful. I love Dutrey’s singing tone – it’s very musical and it flows, giving lots of swing to an ensemble. But it’s a hard style, and only one bloke I know tries to play that way – he’s with Cy Laurie. But it’s too difficult for most. The tailgate style of Ory or Robinson is much easier to latch on to. A wonderful record.

Of George Lewis: ‘The whole thing is beautiful. I can’t find anything to criticise at all. There is the very essence of jazz … It’s just jazz. It’s genuine. That’s the main thing. To be genuine, sincere, moving’

“Pallet On The Floor”. George Lewis. Vogue LDE 082
I think that when the Lewis band had Elmer Talbert – that was their best stage. That’s the type of lead that suits them. It’s sparse, and very dynamic. And that vocal by Elmer can only be called fantastic! He puts everything into it … boots … he puts the lot in. Sincere, gripping, and that rhythm behind it … that’s the way for instrumentalists to back a singer. The whole thing is beautiful. I can’t find anything to criticise at all. There is the very essence of jazz.

I prefer Lewis with Talbert – or the early Howard – to any of his later bands. Talbert is the same sort of player as Wooden Joe or Kid Thomas – no great technician, just a great jazzman. Everything he does is in the right place, just when and where it’s needed. And the way he sings, with that rough, gravelly voice – it’s completely different to Louis, whereas Howard, Punch and the others aren’t. It’s just what I like – put your boots into it – let it all come out. He drives, and he swings like the clappers. And his singing does the same thing for me as Mama Yancey. She’s no fancy technician, either, but all she sings is jazz. It’s just jazz. It’s genuine. That’s the main thing. To be genuine, sincere, moving.

“Gone”. Miles Davis. Philips TFL 5089
All I can say is – I admire that sort of music. I respect it, but I just don’t understand very much about it. I don’t like it enough to get interested. The flugelhorn solo was good – warm timbre and plenty of technique. But when you compare it with the previous record – it says nothing. I know that type of stuff does a lot for some people, and it’s obviously a quality product of its kind, but it doesn’t do much to me. Whether that sort of thing is a development in jazz is a matter of opinion, but I guess jazz must go somewhere. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years I’ll be listening to Miles Davis too? But not this year.

“St. James Infirmary”. Henry “Red” Allen. RCA RD-27045
Well, I’d rather talk about this band in general, as that track is the one I like least on the whole LP. Red Allen, he’s the ultimate to me. He’s the boss, the guv’nor. He’s got every­thing: heat, immense feeling, very good technique, and he says something all the time. He is, of course, similar to Louis in many respects, and is often dismissed on that account, but I don’t agree. There are a lot of trumpet players who sound like Louis, but I think that there was a school of trumpet players – Lee Collins, Punch Miller, Louis and Red Allen – and that the others don’t just copy Louis. Red’s just similar, that’s all. Sometimes, I’ll admit, his playing is a little vulgar, but I can excuse that – he’s such an exuberant bloke.

Yes, Red is the boss. He’s like Lewis in many ways – George Lewis, that is. You know the stuff Lewis does on “Jerusalem Blues” or “Burgundy St.”? Well, Red does the same things on this album – the same mood, the same New Orleans stuff.

Red also plays beautifully in the lower register, a thing which not many trumpet players do – or can do – nowadays. In fact, he’s good in any range, but especially in that lower register. Bunk used to do it a bit – on “Franklin St” and the American Music “Careless Love”. Allen might play in New York, and I know he’s got Hawk there, but this is a New Orleans style of playing.

As for the rest of the band, they’re great. I’m not too keen on Buster Bailey, though he doesn’t ever get in the way, and Higgy is not particularly inspired here, but Hawkins and the entire rhythm section are magnificent. Hawk is especially fine on “S’Wonderful” – he just takes off. Lloyd Trotman is an excellent bass player, and Marty Napoleon follows Red very expertly on the slow stuff.

I’ve played two copies of this record completely out. First class.

“The Black Bottom”. Alex Welsh. Columbia 33 SX1219
I like the Welsh band, and that’s a very good track in the … er … Chicago style, or Dixieland style. But this is some­thing else that I’ve not much knowledge of, mainly because I don’t particularly like the style. For anyone who does, then this band is very good. They play in the idiom equally as sincerely as Ken (Colyer) does in his.

“Indiana”. Mutt Carey, Esquire EP 220
Another of my favourite trumpet players. That was a fine little band. There’s nothing out of place, not a thing. I can remember collecting these way back, on Century 78s. I still listen to them.

Carey doesn’t reach a lot of people, mainly because of his fierce vibrato and thin tone, but to me he provided the perfect lead: very sparse, perfect timing. He had a wonderful sense of timing, and he could play beautiful notes, if you get what I mean. For example, on the “Savoy Blues” on Exner, when he plays that chorus from “Riverside Blues” – when that comes on it just knocks you down, it’s so full and beautiful. He had so much heart, that bloke …

As for the band sound, the mixture’s bang-on – a very lucky – or wise – choice of men. Hall and Archey and Mutt blend per­fectly, and the rhythm section really pushes them along. It is good to hear these and know they’re available; we have too little of Mutt on record.