Monday, April 28, 2014

Billy Root on Roost

A scarce one today - the first recording by a fine modern jazz tenor saxophonist, Billy Root.  Root, who died last summer, was a Philadelphia-born (1934) saxophonist who played and recorded with Clifford Brown, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and other jazz masters.  In 1968, faced with dwindling prospects in the jazz world, Root moved to Las Vegas, where he made a good living playing in big bands and accompanying singers.

Root was an accomplished saxophonist and an excellent improviser, as can be heard on this 1949 Roost 78 - his first recording as leader, and his only one until 1999, when he made an album with trumpeter Vinnie Tanno.  The Roost label (also known as Royal Roost) was at first associated with the New York jazz club of the same name, and later merged with Roulette.  There seems to be almost no information available about this obscure recording; Root blows stirringly over an accomplished three-piece rhythm section, but no discography I have seen lists their names.  In any case, my copy is in near-mint condition, so enjoy some rare 1949 jazz by Billy Root.

Edit, 8/25/14: Someone pointed out that if Billy Root was born in 1934, the fine playing here is unlikely to be the work of a 15-year-old. I should have caught that. The standard discographies list this record as from 1949, but based on the catalog number, late 1953 or early 1954 is more likely.

Our Love is Here to Stay

Easy Living

Monday, April 21, 2014

Amelita Galli-Curci: Bell Song

Of my early opera records, I love those of Amelita Galli-Curci only slightly less than those by Caruso. (One of her record labels makes up the digital "wallpaper" on the right side of my blog.)  Galli-Curci (1882-1963) was born in Italy and came to the United States in 1916; she caused an immediate sensation among opera lovers.  She performed with both the Chicago Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In her prime, Galli-Curci's vocal timbre, range, and control were stunning.  Luckily, she made dozens of recordings for Victor between 1916 and 1930.  Here is one of my favorites, "Dov'e l'indiana bruna," the "Bell Song" from the opera Lakmé by Delibes.  Although the libretto was originally in French, here Galli-Curci sings the aria in Italian.  This is from a one-sided, 12" Victrola Red Seal 78, recorded in 1917.

Amelita Galli-Curci: Bell Song from Lakmé

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Johnny's House Party

West Coast bluesman Johnny Heartsman (1937-1996) was a phenomenally talented guy; he played guitar, organ, and (surprisingly for a blues musician) flute.  He was Al King's guitarist and music director for several years in the 1960s- that's the Al King who was based in California, not the Albert King who recorded for Stax.  Heartsman's contributions to King's "Think Twice Before You Speak," "Reconsider Baby," and "Everybody Ain't You're Friend" are important to the success of those records.  Late in life, Heartsman made a handful of excellent albums, like The Touch on Alligator.  But in 1957, he had a hit record with the irresistible instrumental "Johnny's House Party" on the Music City label.

Although "Johnny's House Party" made it to #13 on the R & B charts, copies of the record are seemingly hard to find these days.  My copy is fairly worn, especially toward the inner grooves - I can't imagine anyone who owned this record not playing it.  But the spirit shines through.  It's a fun little record, with pieces of "Honky Tonk," "Night Train," and other R & B hits thrown into the house party.  Enjoy "Johnny's House Party," parts one and two.

Part one

Part two

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dave Tarras on UK Columbia

I have dozens of 78s, LPs, and CDs by the great klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, but none is more beautiful than this 1927 pairing on English Columbia. Tarras emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1920, and quickly established himself as the foremost clarinetist on the Jewish music scene, rivaled only by Natfule Brandwein. I think of these two clarinetists as the klezmer equivalents of New Orleans jazz clarinetists Jimmie Noone and Johnny Dodds - Noone and Tarras were technically accomplished, controlled players, while Dodds and Brandwein were rougher and more unpredictable.

Here Tarras plays "Rumenishe Doina" and "A Rumenisher Nigun." A doina is an improvised rubato cadenza, usually leading into a dance number or medley. "Nigun" simply means "melody," and "Rumenishe" indicates the Romanian origin of these pieces. Tarras excelled at playing doinas, and he is at his best here.

Not only is the music wonderful, but the record itself is interesting as an object. It was issued on Columbia in the United States, but my copy is an English Columbia issue apparently imported into Israel (or Palestine at that time). One side has a sticker from a Tel-Aviv record store.

Here is the klezmer artistry of Dave Tarras at his best, recorded in April, 1927 in New York.

Rumenishe Doina

A Rumenisher Nigun