As part of my continuing quest to make the world more aware of Oran Thaddeus Page — known to those who know as Lips or Hot Lips, here is SWEET SUE, recorded at a session organized by Rudi Blesh in New York City on February 10, 1951, with Lips, Tyree Glenn, trombone; Burnie [or “Burney”?] Peacock, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Quinichette, tenor saxophone; Kenny Kersey and Dan Burley, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums. Some of the shorter tracks from what was eventually issued as JAMMIN’ AT RUDI’S came out on Circle 78s; the most recent official CD issue is on the Jazzology label (JCD 262) with five tracks from this 1951 date, and a good deal of it — circuitously — has found its way to YouTube. (Blesh had sponsored an earlier, more “traditional” session with Conrad Janis, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, Eubie Blake, and others, so this was JAMMIN’ No. 2.) Thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso for reminding me to revisit this session, a few weeks ago.
I’ve always been fascinated by this session because it successfully replicates the feel of an actual jam session — in good sound — with musicians who didn’t usually work together. Some of them did play gigs as members of Hot Lips Page’s little band of the time, but others seem assembled as former Swing Era stars who were no longer working with big bands: Page (Basie); Greer (Ellington); Barker and Glenn (Calloway); Kersey (Kirk and others), Peacock (Calloway, Basie). I suspect that these musicians, for Blesh, were perilously “modern,” and I admire him for venturing into unusual territory. Peacock, for me, was the least-known of the bunch: here is a Wikipedia entry with some possibly verifiable facts.
But there is a wonderful looseness, a let’s-start-this-and-see-if-we-can-get-out-of-it-safely feel to this performance, that speaks to familiar repertoire and no charts in sight. I suspect Blesh might have even encouraged this as “authentic” and frowned on head-arrangement riffs and backgrounds, something Lips and the others created masterfully as a matter of course. What else do we hear? A nicely unhurried tempo, the tender expressiveness of Lips’ lead in the first chorus (a sweet conversational approach), Greer rattling and commenting all through; the sounds Lips got with his plunger — an emphasis on pure sound — before Quinichette dances in, Lester-airy; the powerful motion of Walter Page’s bass in duet with Danny Barker’s single-string solo. Then the contrast between Lips, apparently at full power, alternating with Greer, before Tyree peaceably returns us to the melody. How beautifully individualistic his sound is! A more familiar Barker chordal solo (again, with impressionistic support from Walter Page and Sonny) before Lips returns, as if to say, “You thought I was piling it on before? Hear THIS!” Pure drama, and it — like the Jerry Newman recordings and a MUSKRAT RAMBLE recorded in Philadelphia (issued on a Jerry Valburn recording years ago) — shows Lips’ intuitive understanding of dynamics, and even more, the dramatic construction of a large-scale solo.
Never mind that the YouTube picture makes Walter Page the leader of the session and that the cover picture is of his own orchestra, decades ago. We live in strange times.
And here is more tangible evidence of Mr. Page’s gracious spirit, if you didn’t hear it coming through those notes — a thank-you note to (I am assuming) some Swedish friends:
This emerged on eBay a week ago, and the lucky owner ventured much more money for it than I was willing to spend (the imaginary grandchildren tell me they need sneakers) but you can see it here for free. I know it’s authentic because of the way Lips made his capital L (he went to school when “penmanship” was still part of your report card) and, for better or worse, “Lip’s” as part of his signature. I’ve also seen an autograph where Lips — enthusiastically, I assume, signed VERY BLOWINGLY above his name.
SWEET SUE, to me, equals VERY BLOWINGLY by all. And it didn’t cost $103.56.
May your happiness increase!