A friend who is new to the music gently asked me by email, “Hey, Michael, what’s all the fuss you’re making about this Sidney Catlett?”  And it’s a valid question deserving an answer.  But the best way to answer it is not through words, but through the experience.  Thanks to “cdbpdx” on YouTube, here’s a 1943 recording of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES by Edmond Hall’s Blue Note Jazzmen.  Let their names never be erased: Sidney deParis, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Arthur Shirley, Israel Crosby, Sidney Catlett.  If you’d want to understand what Sidney is doing — playfully and with the utmost art — listen to the little conversations he has with the ensemble (both as part of it and joyously commenting on the good time everyone’s having) urging, encouraging, applauding — especially alongside the solos of deParis and Vic. 

I don’t mean to give my readers homework, but someday soon, listen to this recording twice with all your attention: once in its glorious complete beauty, then for Sidney Catlett himself.  Jubilation indeed.  And everyone on this recording is dead, but like Keats’s urn, they transcend mere mortality: this music is alive!


  1. That is all ye need to know.

  2. So says Johnny Keats — of Johnny and his Romantic Stompers!

  3. Oh yeah!!! Those Blue Notes are masterpieces!!!! Some of the very best ensemble playing ever. Superb rythmn section, and matchless front line! And the 12″ 78s provided extra schooling to learn from — after the dazzle of their magic subsided – but never left. There’s a great Night Shift Blues in the series with marvelous solos, and a Sidney/Vic duo, 2 choruses, changing lead/backup for each other. And Edmond — just simply the best!!! Michael, you are the best !!!!!!

  4. Michael: I’m always amazed at how “modern” James P. Johnson sounds on these Blue Notes, especially so when you consider that his career spanned back almost to the beginning of jazz itself.

  5. Great band indeed and a today forgotten guitar player within: Jimmy Shirley. On “Night Shift Blues” he plays the opening solo and he has some great contributons on “Blues Changes” with Coleman Hawinks, “Hot & Bothered” with Clarence Profit, on the album “House Rent Party” with Pete Johnson (track “Mutiny In the Doghouse”) and a awesome solo spot we can heard here: http://www.we7.com/#/song/Jimmy-Shirley/Stardust
    Years ago I would make a homepage but the project dies sadly due to lack of information and pictures …

    All the best

  6. The true sound of jazz…I truly enjoy this. Thank you so much making this available to your listeners.

  7. In his time, 99% of the listening audience would have known Sid Catlett’s work only on records or over the radio.  Having grown up playing 78 rpm records on a Victrola, I guarantee that most of the subtleties of his drumming we rave about would have been inaudible through the playback equipment available to ordinary people then.  Yes, the rimshots would have been there, but those wonderful little punctuations we love?  Lost in a vague, generalized thump-thumping sound, which is what a rhythm section sounded like on my Victrola.  And that delicate cymbal work I love so much behind Bud Freeman on HOME COOKING?  Totally lost in the surface noise; in fact it probably went unheard, except to audio engineers, until the advent of CDs.  So the next time we’re tempted to lament what’s been lost – i.e. the intense particularity of the listening experience in the days when you could only get one at a time – we should be grateful we’re living now, when for the first time in history, thanks to digital technology, the plenitude of historical reissues, our 400-watt Aragon amplifiers, our top-of-the-line Sennheiser headphones, and our Bowers & Wilkins DM6 loudspeakers, we’re able to appreciate Big Sid’s work, not fully (because we never saw him in person) but to the extent we do.

  8. Barbara Bengels

    “Keats’ urn”! Wow!

  9. You can’t hold an English major down . . or is it back . . . or is it . . . ?

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