A child of the East Coast, I didn’t grow up listening to Turk Murphy — and I retained a New Yorker’s mild disdain for “that style” because the sounds that first made their way into my heart were more Commodore and Teddy Wilson, more Basie and Hackett.
But on my most recent California stay, I bought a copy of the Columbia NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (with trumpeter Birch Smith and the most exalted Don Ewell) and my disdain began to drop away. Emboldened, I also acquired a “new” Turk Murphy CD — unissued live material from 1973 — which had the dual imprimatur of Leon Oakley and John Gill (whose notes are delightful).
The band had a powerful front line — Turk, Leon, and the magnificent Bob Helm — supported by Pete Clute, piano; Bill Carroll, tuba; Carl Lunsford, banjo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP / SEE SEE RIDER / DUSTY RAG / SILVER DOLLAR / SUGAR FOOT STRUT / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / TOM CAT BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / CHIMES BLUES / DOCTOR JAZZ / THE PEARLS / THE TORCH / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEXAS MOANER / WILLIE THE WEEPER / RAGGED BUT RIGHT / SIDEWALK BLUES / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / BAY CITY.
Obviously the repertoire owes a good deal to Oliver and Morton, but the overall effect is what I think of as mid-Twenties Chicago, with Leon’s powerful attack being matched by Helm’s sinuous, graceful lines. Turk’s trombone is reliably gutty, marking out the bottom. And there are little subtleties: the way the horns support the tuba melody on SEE SEE RIDER; the prancing motion of DUSTY RAG, the easy romp of SUGAR FOOT STRUT. The rhythm section on KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES has every note, every nuance in place. Although the band charges into DOCTOR JAZZ (with the verse), the performances are varied in tempo and dynamics — this isn’t a band playing at the top of its range on every song. All the strains and breaks in WOLVERINE BLUES, NEW ORLEANS JOYS, and THE PEARLS are beautifully in place, with not a hint of the museum around them. And THE TORCH is a peerless piece of Americana.
For those who are wary of “unissued” “live” recordings, the sound on this one is first-rate — recorded close to the band with all six instruments nicely balanced, not drowned out by audience enthusiasm — and it’s a generous seventy-two minutes.
To purchase this CD (MMRC-CD-48) contact the Merry Makers Record Company at their toll-free number, 1-866-563-4433, or click here.
May your happiness increase.