Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Duke's Clarinet

A native of New Orleans, Barney Bigard played with a mastery that defined the Big Easy's tidy clarinet sound – a blend of refined classical technique and street parade bravado. Photo by William Gottlieb

Here's another Gem, copped recently from the Interwebs. It's a here-to-fore unknown recording (to me, anyway) by clarinet master, Barney Bigard. We all know Bigard from his days with Duke Ellington, of course, and remember his many solos with the stellar 1940-42 orchestra. 

Bigard was with Ellington from 1927 to 1942. Before that he'd been in King Oliver's band, and afterwards he was featured with Poppa Louis' All Stars. He occasionally recorded under his own name, most notably with a number of Ellington small groups for Variety, Vocalion, Bluebird and Okeh.

A leading exponent of the New
Orleans Creole clarinet tradition,
Bigard was perfect fit for the Duke's
urbane offerings.
But this album comes after a twelve-year hiatus from recording as a leader. It's a marvelous mix of familiar tunes and intriguing originals, rendered by "the type of band I like to play in at this time," as Barney says in his spoken introduction to the LP. Liberty Records, out of Hollywood, would eventually own the mighty Blue Note label, but in 1957 they were just getting into the jazz recording biz. This record was part of their "Jazz Hall of Fame Series."

The gents accompanying Bigard on his first long-playing outing are unknown to me. Jackie Coon (not "Coons" as the record has it) seems to be from New Orleans, a classic jazz player, and Charlie Lodice has worked with many mainstream musicians, most notably clarinetist Pete Fountain. The others are no doubt of similar standing and, as is aurally evident, they are all quite good.

The cover of this album is an interesting example of a nice idea that didn't quite work. Bigard is seen in silhouette against a navy blue background rendered in velvety flocking, surrounded by an ornate brocaded border. Over time, the silhouette and lettering have faded, making the the cover nearly illegible, and – when I got it at least – the flocking had picked up all manner of lint, dust, cat hairs, etc. Funky!

But the music is wonderful, a fine late example of the work of one of jazz's traditional masters. The sound required a little work, and there are minor surface noises here and there, but overall I'd say this material is of broadcast quality. See what you think ...

Jazz Hall of Fame Series
Barney Bigard
Bigard, cl; Jackie Coon, tp, mellophone; Burt Johnson, tbn; Bruce MacDonald, p; Bob Stone or Al Morgan, b; Charlie Lodice, d. 
Los Angeles, CA; 1957; Liberty LRP 3072

1. Introduction
2. C-Jam Blues
3. Mardi Gras Time (Bigard)
4. Ab Mur 
5. Mahogany Hall Stomp
6. Louisiana and Me (Bigard)
7. Step Steps Up (Bigard)
8. Step Steps Down (Bigard)
9. Rose Room
10. Mood Indigo

Find it here: