Charles Peterson’s famous photograph of Eddie Condon looks more pensive than exuberant, but the joy is there in the music. Casual listeners call it “Dixieland,” a term Condon hated, because it relies on collective improvisation, often on jazz tunes written before 1920. And “Royal Garden Blues” sounds much less hip than “One O’Clock Jump” or “Billie’s Bounce” to some. But the records Condon made for forty-five years prove that his jazz was hard-driving and raucous but tender and deeply blues-based. There wasn’t a straw boater in sight and sing-alongs were forbidden.
Condon’s jazz had its roots in Joe Oliver and the Chicago scene of the early Twenties, but his sessions showcased musically sophisticated players: Bobby Hackett, Jess Stacy, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Rex Stewart, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Cliff Leeman, Red Allen, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Fats Waller, Bud Freeman, Lee Wiley, Benny Morton, Sidney Bechet, Hot Lips Page and Louis himself.
This isn’t to call for a re-evaluation of his music, or to urge a Condon renaissance. He’s never been away to those who enjoy their jazz Hot. Many contemporary jazz players keep his music alive — Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Kevin Dorn, Mark Shane, Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, Chris Tyle, Ray Skjelbred, James Dapogny, Duke Heitger, Jim Fryer, Vince Giordano, Dick Hyman, Bent Persson, David Ostwald, Johnny Varro, Randy Reinhart, Bobby Gordon, Bob Barnard and a host of others.
A new CD, produced by the Italian Jazz Institute, is a happy reason to write about Eddie and his friends — especially since it contains some delightfully rare performances. Giorgio Lombardi, author of Eddie Condon on Record 1927-72, has gathered nearly two dozen tracks from 1929 to 1968. The CD begins with the soundtrack from a Vitaphone Red Nichols short film, featuring Pee Wee revisiting his solo on “Ida” and a surprisingly winning Condon vocal on “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now.” Ten years later, we find Bobby Hackett in pearly form amidst George Brunis and Ernie Caceres; then several performances document the concerts that Condon gave in the Forties. Hear Catlett behind the horns on “Peg O’My Heart” and rejoice. A real rarity follows, from Condon’s television series, the Eddie Condon Floor Show. It features Johnny Mercer singing “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll” with splendid impudence. The Fifties recordings come from Condon’s own club and feature Ralph Sutton, Ed Hall, and Walter Page, as well as a few band performances. The radio nnouncer, Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” talks over Dick Cary’s trumpet solo on “Bill Bailey,” but it’s worth straining to hear. A 1965 television tribute to Condon is uneven but offers rousing work by Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, and Vic Dickenson. And an Art Hodes jazz series puts Condon back where he started, on banjo (how much persuading did that require?) but you can hear Eddie exhorting Tony Parenti and J.C. Higginbotham. Condon’s pushing rhythm guitar is delightfully evident all through the CD, but even when he isn’t playing, his presence is invaluable.
For information on ordering this CD, visit www.italianjazzinstitute.com. The joyous energy of the music fairly bursts through the speakers.