For those unfamiliar with the sound of clarinetist Jimmie Noone, here he is with his 1928 Apex Club Orchestra — Doc Poston, alto sax; Earl Hines, piano; Bud Scott, banjo; Johnny Wells, drums — playing EVERY EVENING (I MISS YOU) courtesy of “ptm51” on YouTube:
Noone (1894-1944) should be known to a wider audience today, and a new bio-discography, JIMMIE NOONE, JAZZ CLARINET PIONEER, by James K. Williams with a discography by John Wilby, is just what is needed.
Noone did not lead a melodramatic life (jazz musician as martyr) so the narrative is a compact one — but the book is evocatively documented with photographs and newspaper clippings, and Wilby’s discography is admirably thorough. Noone was born in Louisiana and was playing Albert system clarinet alongside Freddie Keppard as early as 1913, working with a wide variety of New Orleans bands. Going north to Chicago, he played and recorded with King Oliver and Doc Cook. In 1926 Noone began leading his own groups — most notably at the Apex Club — which often moved away from the traditional instrumentation to an all-reed format, sometimes augmenting his band for recordings. During the Thirties, Noone led a variety of touring bands, and he moved to the West Coast for the last three years of his life. At the time of his death, he was being featured on radio broadcasts hosted by Orson Welles. Had Noone lived longer, he would have been venerated much as Bunk Johnson and Kid Ory were for their part in playing “authentic” jazz.
Noone’s influence goes beyond this rather limited summary of his travels and club dates. He and a very young Benny Goodman went to the same classical clarinet teacher, Franz Schoepp, who often had Goodman linger to play duets with Noone. And I can hear the echoes of Noone’s technical facility in Goodman’s playing — as well as the songs Goodman loved, SWEET SUE, SWEET LORRAINE, and I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, all Noone favorites. (I hadn’t known until I read this book that Teddy Wilson had also worked with Noone.) I think that there’s a clear line to be drawn from Noone’s Chicago bands to the Goodman trios and quartets.
And Noone travelled in fast company: a record session for OKeh featuring a wonderful quartet of Louis Armstrong, Noone, Hines, and Mancy Carr has some fine playing. Comments by other jazz musicians — Coleman Hawkins and Bud Freeman among them — testify to the effect Noone had on players such as Bix Beiderbecke.
In our time, the Noone influence is clearest in the work of Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber, whose Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion owed a good deal to the hot polyphony of Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra. Other clarinetists, such as Frank Chace, admired Noone greatly (an early private recording of Chace has him taking his time through a slow-motion APEX BLUES).
Williams’ book is admirable in its reliance on documented evidence and the clarity of its vision. He does not make exaggerated claims for Noone as a player or a trail-blazer, but every page has information that was new to me. The book is 120 pages including more than 80 rare illustrations — photographs from the Frank Driggs and Duncan Schiedt collections as well as historic Noone documents, rare record labels, and pages from the Chicago Defender. The price is $20 (US) per copy plus shipping ($4 to US; 4.50 to Canada; 8 overseas). Order from James K. Williams, 801 South English Avenue, Springfield, Illinois 62704; email firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 217.787.3089. Paypal preferred; personal US check or postal money order accepted.