Before I saw him in the flesh at Whitley Bay, I had heard Norman Field on several CDs — the most extraordinary of them being a small group with Matthias Seuffert, Spats Langham, and Nick Ward on the Stomp Off, called THE CHALUMEAU SERENADERS. Many artists don’t live up to their recordings, but Norman transcends his. In fact, when I had an opportunity to tell him this, he said, accepting my praise but deflecting it,”Imagine how good the old guys must have been because they came through the 78s so!” Which nobody can deny.
Norman came through — inventive, witty, original yet steeped in jazz tradition — on every set I caught. Here he is leading his own combo, the Happy Harmonists (named in honor of an early Twenties band that recorded for Gennett). They were Andy Woon, cornet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; Spats Langham, banjo / guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Mike Piggott, violin; Debbie Arthurs, drums and percussion. (Late emendation: that’s stride wiz Paul Asaro on the first tune, Martin on the second.)
Here they are having a fine time on THE BALTIMORE (or BALTIMORE) — one of those Twenties songs whose writers hoped to launch a new (and rewarding) dance craze, like the Fox Trot, which obviously didn’t come to pass. The song is fine, though:
Norman doesn’t solo at length on that song, but his colleagues float along on the buoyant ambiance he’s created: Spats, singing enthusiastically (as always), gruff Munnery, Bixish Woon, eloquent Frans (notice how everyone turns around to watch him as he solos), and the keepers of the rhythmic faith — Martin Litton, offering just the right chords behind soloists and Wallerizing in his brief passage, with Debbie rocking the beat on her snare, choke cymbal, and temple blocks. Anthropologists will want to study this clip just for the nonverbal communication: we’ll split a chorus; let’s change key; time to conclude (all together now!). Dance music of the highest order!
And the hypnotic Chicagoan favorite SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, which, I am told, actually was a dance. Few bands know the routines these days; go back and study the Red Nichols version or, even better, the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. Or transcribe this rocking performance!