Sidney Catlett, that is. Big Sid. Completely himself and completely irreplaceable. And here’s COQUETTE by the Edmond Hall Sextet on Commodore — Ed on clarinet, Emmett Berry, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Billy Taylor, string bass; Sid, drums, on December 18, 1943.
After Heywood’s ornamental solo introduction, which sounds as if the band is heading towards I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU, Sid lays down powerful yet unadorned support for the first sixteen bars, yet he and Emmett have an empathic conversation on the bridge, Sid catching every flourish with an appropriate accent. More of that to come, but note the upwards Louis-hosanna with which Emmett ends his solo (Joe Thomas loved this motif also) and Sid’s perfectly eloquent commentary, urging the Brother on. His drumming has an orchestral awareness, as if the full band plus Heywood’s leaves and vines is dense enough as it is, and what it needs is support. But when it’s simply Emmett and himself and the rhythm section, Sid comes to the fore.
The timbre of the second chorus is lighter: Ed Hall dipping, gliding, and soaring, with quiet ascending figures from Emmett and Vic, then quiet humming. So Sid’s backing, although strong, is also lighter. Hall, in his own way, was both potent and ornate, so Sid stays in the background again.
The gorgeous dialogue between Emmett and Sid in the third chorus (from 1:44 on) has mesmerized me for thirty years and more. One can call it telepathy (as one is tempted to do when hearing Sid, Sidney DeParis, and Vic on the Blue Note sides of the same period); one can say that Emmett’s solo on COQUETTE was a solo that he had perfected and returned so — you choose — but these forty-five seconds are a model of how to play a searing open-horn chorus, full of space and intensity, and how to accompany it with strength but restraint, varying one’s sound throughout. Even when Sid shifts into his highest gear with the rimshots in the second half of the chorus, the effect is never mechanical, never repetitive: rather each accent has its own flavor, its own particular bounce. It’s an incredibly inspiring interlude. And the final chorus is looser but not disorderly — exultant, rather, with Sid again (on hi-hat now, with accents) holding up the world on his shoulders at 2:40 until the end. He isn’t obtrusive, but it’s impossible to ignore him.
Here’s another video of COQUETTE, this time taking the source material from a well-loved 78 copy:
I confess that I think about Louis fairly constantly, with Sid a close second — marveling at them both. An idle late-evening search on eBay turned up this odd treasure, something I did not need to buy but wanted to have as another mental picture. It’s the cardboard album for a 1946 four-song session under Sid’s leadership for Manor Records, with Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Lockjaw Davis, Bill Gooden, Gene Ramey. Because of the boogie-woogie format and the piano / organ combination, the four sides have a rather compressed effect.
What one of the original 78s looked like.
I present the cardboard artifact here as one of the very few times that Sidney would have seen his own name on an album — although he’d seen his name on many labels, even a few sessions as a leader. Sid recorded from 1929 to 1950; he lived from 1910 to 1951. Not enough, I say — but so generous a gift to us all. “Good deal,” as he often said.
May your happiness increase!