Let’s get the carping out of the way instantly: I’ve never yet seen a copy of this 78 that didn’t have surface noise; the recording studio sounds cramped; the piano could use some home improvement.  But here’s some of the best jazz you can imagine, from Sidney Catlett (drums / leader); Oscar Pettiford (string bass); Eddie Heywood (piano); Frank Socolow (tenor saxophone); Edmond Hall (clarinet); Charlie Shavers (trumpet), improvising on Berlin’s BLUE SKIES:

The record begins with a typical rippling / echoing bit of virtuosity from Heywood — who had been recording with Coleman Hawkins, Ed Hall, and Billie Holiday, among others, for a few years: fast company!

The ensemble chorus that follows is reminiscent of Shavers’ previous employer, John Kirby — but looser, less mannered.  There are many opportunities for Heywood to shine through, in the manner of a more powerful Billy Kyle.  Because of the surface noise and the nature of the studio, Sidney doesn’t come through powerfully — we hear some brush accents — but he’s saving his force for what follows.

We hear him push Socolow into his solo chorus (the tenorist employing swoops and glides from Ben Webster) as Heywood’s comping is spare and propulsive.  But listen to how Sidney shadows and urges Socolow on at the bridge, a musical “Go on, man!  I’m right behind you and I agree with everything you play here!”

But Sidney doesn’t need to be the whole show, and he doesn’t upstage Hall and Shavers by echoing each rhythmic emphasis they present: in the best old-fashioned way, he plays time, supporting their efforts.

It’s only in the last chorus that he comes out into the open, in trades with Heywood (and an interlude for Pettiford) before the band takes the last eight bars.  I couldn’t notate what Sidney plays, but it’s dance music of the most exalted kind.  And — rather like a solicitous parent who makes sure everyone’s plate is full before helping himself — he’s made sure that everyone gets a solo, first.

Such generosity is rare and should be celebrated.  Sidney Catlett sounded extraordinary by himself, but made sure that everyone else sounded better than they would otherwise.  And it’s audible even through the mid-Forties surface noise.

Good deal!  And thanks to “cdpix” for posting this delight, and to another Sidney for the inspiration for this posting.


  1. How wonderful, Michael. Never heard that one. Sid so light and classy… that’s what he was… first class. Even when he drove the All Stars, with pretty much the same repertoire night after night, it was all class, rich and full of variations, newness, and surprise. Immaculate! He was born in the month of January…. do hope something happens, someone acknowledeges his greatness. Maybe Phil Schaap will cook something up. Please let me know if so. Ginny Kaminsky once bumped into him on 52nd street wearning a beautiful bright green suit. Now there’s a painting! Kind regards- mb

  2. Dear Michael,
    What may not be well known is that on 1 May 1944, when that side was recorded for Delta/Regis (a Manor affiliate) a second version of “Blue Skies” was cut and later released on Delta D-10-3 / 4 as by Sid Catlett and The Big City Jazzmen. The same personnel, without Ed Hall. Simlar, but not quite, routine with the great Big Sid a little more exuberant on the second rendition. Both sessions were reissued in 1997 on a now-deleted French ‘Classics’ CD 974 – ‘Sid Catlett 1944 – 1946’. (Which I bought when it came out.) The Regis disc reproduction on this CD may have less hiss than your video version, but not much. The Delta 78rpm disc quality is much better. Apparently, the labels were reversed.
    Very kind regards,

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