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.


  1. Marianne Mangan

    Clearly the point of this wonderfully informative Condon column is not to encourage write-in votes for favorite hot jazz players of today, but it seems mention of Ed Polcer is de rigeur for all the obvious reasons.

    And while I’m here, why not a shout-out for fiery clarinetist Joe Licari, burning the place down every Monday night at Arthur’s with the Grove Street Stompers?

  2. Ah, you are of course correct, Marianne. It was a sin of omission: no offense meant to Ed, to Joe, and to the other keepers of the flame. Isn’t it cheering, though, that the list can be so long? And thanks for being such an attentive reader of this blog!

  3. High on my list of early-jazz Desert Island Classics would be: Fats Waller’s 1929 “The Minor Drag”; Louis Armstrong’s 1929 “Knockin’ A Jug”; at least one selection from the 1932 Billy Banks Rhythmakers’ sessions – let’s say “Bugle Call Rag”; the 1933 “Home Cooking” (first version, with Alex Hill) in which Sid Catlett’s cymbal work behind Bud Freeman’s solo is simply astonishing.

    What do these great recordings have in common?

    a) They were all racially integrated.

    2) They all took place years before Benny Goodman and John Hammond famously “integrated” jazz.

    iii) They all included, and owed their existence to, Eddie Condon.

    As we used to say in Brooklyn, leave us not forget: Eddie Condon did as much to organize, promote, record and play color-blind hot music as anyone in the history of jazz – not for some political agenda or from a yen for social do-gooding, but for the purest of causes: the music he loved.

    Eddie Condon is one of my jazz heroes.

  4. Dear Mr. Jones — so nice to finally meet the man honored by Ellington, Hodges, Sweets Edison, and Jo Jones. But seriously, you are a man after my own heart. Condon was an irreplaceable catalyst, early and late, making good musicians play better and superb ones reach the stars. Your comment reminded me that there’s also a wonderful Columbia recording of THE MINOR DRAG on Eddie’s THE ROARING TWENTIES sessions, featuring BIlly Butterfield and Ralph Sutton — if memory serves me. I never saw Condon when he was in his prime, but I did see him at Carnegie Hall for “Eddie and the Gang” in 1972, and at the New School with Krupa, Wild Bill, Davern, Wellstood. I miss him and the atmosphere he conjured up, even when the wisecracks were getting tired. He was pigeonholed as a musical reactionary, but Roy Eldridge, Cootie Williams, Basie, and Buddy Rich starred on his television show, and Bill Harris and Oscar Pettiford found a place at his Town Hall concerts. All hail!

  5. I like this quote from one of my all-time favorite conductors:

    “You critics are always writing about the meaning of music, the ethic, the Weltanschauung of the composer, and God knows what. The whole point of music is that it should sound well. Never mind what it signifies. Music should have wings and float and give delight.” (Sir Thomas Beecham)

    Sounds a lot like Eddie Condon’s famous criterion for judging music: Does it enter the ears like honey or ground glass?

  6. Yes — I know this is an old-fashioned viewpoint, but there seems to be sufficient ugliness and rancor in the world without having to hear more of it on our CDs. Critics call such music “searching,” “innovative,” “harmonically adventurous”; occasionally it is all these things, but sometimes it makes me want to turn to Ben Webster or Vic Dickenson as a spiritual palliative. Honey for everyone!

  7. I know it’s a little late for an addendum to this post, but I just thought of another pre-Goodman, racially integrated Desert Island Classic in which Eddie Condon played a central role: the 1929 “Hello Lola” / “One Hour” featuring Coleman Hawkins, Red McKenzie et al. The stomping “Hello Lola” is a particular favorite of mine – a gasser every time I hear it. Does anyone still play this tune?

    A digression (but it’ll eventually get back to “Hello Lola”): The iTunes Music Store is amazing. I dimly remembered a terrific “I Got Rhythm” from a long-gone LP, played by Emilio and Ernie Caceres (Ernie on clarinet). Sure enough, the iT.M.S. has it for download, and it’s every bit as good as I remembered it. My search at the store also produced a CD by “Emilio Caceres Y Su Orquesta Del Club Aguila” containing one jazz number, called “Jig In G,” which is essentially “Hello Lola.” I love it.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone venture out on “Hello, Lola,” although perhaps Marty Grosz did it somewhere. But there are two hot versions on CD (Jazzology JCD-182, take 3; JCD-136, take 2). The band is Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, in honor of the dates with Red Allen and PeeWee: the personnel is Chris Tyle, cnt; Bobby Gordon, cl; Frank Powers, ts; Ray Skjelbred, p; Jack Meilahn, g; Mike Duffy, b; Hal Smith, d/ldr. Nov. 29, 1988. Worth searching out, as are all the CDs under Hal’s name. He’s a phenomenal drummer and he knows how to put bands together. But these versions are twenty years old. I wonder if anyone’s done “Lola” since then? Readers?

  9. In the matter of selecting someone for the job based on merit rather than skin color, it took America eighty years to catch up to Eddie Condon.

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