My friend and mentor Andrew and I have been having a conversation in cyberspace about the delicious unerring playing of drummer George Stafford. Stafford drove the Charlie Johnson orchestra, but he appeared on precious few recordings. Here’s a particularly brilliant one — led by the Blessed Eddie Condon — as “Eddie’s Hot Shots.” They were, and they are: Leonard “Ham” Davis, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, C-melody saxophone; Happy Caldwell, tenor saxophone; Eddie, banjo; Joe Sullivan, piano; Stafford, drums.
This is the first take of I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE — part incitement to Dionysiac ecstasies, part ominous warning:
Please listen to Stafford! His rimshots behind the first ensemble chorus, lifting everything up — emphatic YESes all through; choke cymbal behind the earnest saxophone; pistol-shot rimshots all behind Teagarden’s singing; divine rattling and cackling on the wooden rims alongside Sullivan’s piano — excited commentaries; cymbal crashes and rolls into the final ensemble chorus, and a closing cymbal crash.
I am away from my books as I write this, so I cannot be sure, but I think Stafford died young — 1935? — which is a great sadness, although what he had to say to us was plenty. Priceless, I think.
As much as I revere Catlett, Jo, and Gene, I would make space in my own Directory of Percussive Saints for George Stafford. He goes right alongside Walter Johnson, Eddie Dougherty, O’Neil Spencer, and two dozen more. They made the earth move in the most graceful and exultant ways. Bless them.
P.S. I’M GONNA STOMP has four composers — Jack and Eddie, Eddie’s friend George Rubens, and the magically invisible pianist Peck Kelley. There’s a novel in itself . . .
May your happiness increase.