Monday, October 8, 2012

Goin' to Kansas City

The unfortunately ill-treated inside cover to Decca's classic "Kansas City Jazz" album. Basie's
been obliterated, but there's a candid of the legendary guitarist Floyd Smith, and one of Joe
Keys from the Blue Devils and another of the unjustly obscure Clarence Trice. Most of these
shots must have been taken during Decca's marathon November 1940 recording sessions
with the guys from Kay-Cee.

It's my firm belief that the familiar swing of jazz – as we understand it today – came to us from the Tom Pendergast's Kansas City of the 1930s. Specifically, from the men and women who created an original sound in the city's many night clubs, dance halls, speakeasies and dives. Four beats to the measure never swung so hard.

Here's impresario Gene Norman with a couple
of wannabe starlets, digging the sounds of
our offering for this posting. A typical period
from the editors at Down Beat magazine.

If you're not convinced, I offer this posting as as Exhibit A. It's from Decca Records' 1957 series of regional reissues (the "Chicago Jazz" LP posted a while back is another) and it features a veritable who's who of KC players. Most of these recordings were originally done in New York over a seven day period in 1940, so they come from a time when the heyday of Kansas City jazz had largely passed. But present are many of the original Blue Devils plus pianists Pete Johnson and Mary Lou Williams. The real treat is the two sides from Basie's superb composer and arranger, trombonist and guitar man Eddie Durham.

You hardcore collectors certainly know that all these tunes are available elsewhere – especially the familiar Basie numbers. But having them all in one place is a treat. You get a real feel for KC's hotbed musical environment. The two titles by Mary Lou are fairly obscure and feature terrific work from Shorty Baker (pre-Ellington, of course) and driving solos from long-forgotten Andy Kirk tenor star, Dick Wilson. Ms. Williams herself is in full command of the keyboard and her arrangement of "12th Street" occasionally foreshadows the developments of bop several years hence.

Gems' copy of the original release
is a little worse for wear. We
to use the LP version for the upload.
Then there's Eddie Barefield's unattributed clarinet on "South" with Lips Page's pick-up band. That coupled with the leader's muted trumpet solo and Don Byas' still-developing tenor sound make the tune a classic. Pete Johnson's band rollicks through a tune named for the Kansas City Colored Musician's Union, Local No. 627, with the cast the same as for Lips' titles. Great Don Stovall here. Roll 'em, Pete!

The standout for this posting has to be the rare Durham sides. Not only do we get Eddie's advanced electric guitar work, but Buster Smith demonstrates why Bird's sound was compared to his in Parker's early days. And catch the soli toward the end of "Little Girl" – fabulous Durham writing and very tight playing by the guys. 

Note that the liner notes for this LP refer to its selections as "dance compositions." Exactly right. This was music to move your feet to, and if you're like me your toes will be tapping. This is the music that taught the rest of the jazz world to swing. Mixed in, of course, were some of the greatest jazz statements by some of the music's greatest practitioners. You only have to catch the bookended solos by Hershel Evans and Prez on "Doggin' Around" to understand that.

So, download and roll back the rugs! As always, these tunes were ripped from the original vinyl with, in this case, no cleaning of the sound.  

Kansas City Jazz
Various Groups
Personnel listed in download
Decca DL 8044

Pete Johnson's Band
November 11, 1940
1. 627 Stomp
Joe Turner and His Fly Cats
November 11, 1940 
2. Piney Brown Blues
Mary Lou Williams and Her Kansas City Seven
November 18, 1940 
3. Baby Dear
4. Harmony Blues
Andy Kirk and His Clouds of Joy
November 7, 1940 
5. The Count
6. Twelfth Street Rag
Hot Lips Page and His Band
November 11, 1940 
7. South 
8. Lafayette 
Count Basie and His Orchestra
August 9, 1937 
9. Good Morning Blues
10. Doggin' Around 
Eddie Durham and His Band
November 11, 1940 
11. Moten's Swing
12. I Want a Little Girl

Find it here:


  1. Thank you very much.This music is full of life.I really learn from and enjoy your blog.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, unit. I take it by your handle that you're a Cecil fan? Somewhere I have a tape of Cecil Taylor and the Unit performing in Chicago -- and Von Freeman's in the audience shouting insults at him! He'd opened for the Unit, and I guess he didn't like what he was hearing.

  2. This is a fantastic collection! Thanks for posting it for all to appreciate. And love the Cecil Taylor/Von Freeman recollection!