The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on. Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast. People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more. They give great value!
I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.
The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018. They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:
and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:
Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:
Bless Don Redman is what I say:
LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries). I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently. Here is the link to the film. Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):
Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):
Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:
There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend. So watch this space for more good news.
May your happiness increase!