SIDNEY CATLETT RULES (June 28, 1949)

This post — and the musical surprise it contains — are inspired by my friend Nick Rossi’s celebration of Sidney Catlett’s birthday on Facebook. Nick posted the cosmically glorious STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ by an Edmond Hall group on Blue Note — including Bennie Morton and Harry Carney, so you know it’s remarkable.

There are two or three sessions that Sidney graced, late in his recording career, that have eluded me: one is by “Gloria Mac,” which I suspect might be a mis-typing of “Gloria Mae”:

Gloria Mac (vcl) acc by Dick Vance (tp) Sandy Williams (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) George “Big Nick” Nicholas (ts) Bill McRae (p) Thomas Barney (b) Sidney Catlett (d)
New York, May 5, 1949
G657 The one in your memory Abbey 75
G658 What is this thing called love ? –

I dream of hearing Sandy Williams backed by Sidney . . .

I thought the other session would be equally elusive, but I found two of the four sides on the Internet Archive, the treasure chest of unimagined joys:

Kirby Walker Orchestra : Dick Vance (tp) Benny Morton (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) Sam “The Man” Taylor (ts) Kirby Walker (p,vcl) Al Hall (b) Sidney Catlett (d)
New York, June 28, 1949

CO40919 Oh I’m evil Col 30178
CO40920 High brow blues 30170
CO40921 Juke box time 30178
CO40922 Shut up 30170

Before I proceed to the music — that delightful reward — I will note that Kirby Walker doesn’t impress me greatly as lyricist or singer, but he is middle-competent. Both sides are well-arranged, with a written duet for Taylor and Jefferson: I would guess that the charts are by Dick Vance, and they are reminiscent of Hot Lips Page and Wynonie Harris’ contemporaneous efforts: good-time music, no demands made on it to be innovative. And while you’re listening closely, pay attention to the beautiful sound and reliable drive of Al Hall — someone I had the good fortune to see in person circa 1974-5 (Bennie Morton as well).

But the reason to shine a light on these brief interludes is the magisterial presence of Sidney, whose powerful accents, rimshots, and direction are strong but never obtrusive. HE is leading the band, propelling, orchestrating, and shaping the performances. Masterfully.

Here is OH I’M EVIL. (You can find another version of Kirby Walker performing this song on the air, for the 1947 THIS IS JAZZ series, on YouTube.)

And here is JUKE BOX TIME (when did the juke box get the name “piccolo”?) with Sidney in especially wonderful form in the second half of the record — kicking Taylor into action and then driving the band exuberantly.

He was such a phenomenon: a percussion orchestra who could be so very gentle when the music required it. Gone in 1951, his loss a tragedy that still reverberates. The only compensation for his abrupt death, his short life, is that he was very well-represented in recordings from 1928 (Al Wynn) to 1950 (Muggsy Spanier): everyone wanted the Catlett magic in their band, from Bechet to Byas to Bird. They knew full well what having Sidney behind the drums meant.

May your happiness increase!

13 responses to “SIDNEY CATLETT RULES (June 28, 1949)

  1. Thank you for this one! I love Big Sid to pieces! xxx Romy

  2. Dan Weinstein

    “Oh I’m Evil” was NOT written by Kirby Walker. He’s covering the 1940 Una Mae Carlisle song, with a slight change in lyrics: “Gonna buy myself a 32-20, gonna show my baby plenty” instead of Una Mae’s “Gonna buy myself a brand new shotgun, show my baby just how wrong he’s done.” Also, i have a long shot guess that “piccolo” might have been a brand name for a jukebox maker. That may explain Lil Armstrong’s line, “Piccolos are pumpin'” in “Harlem On Saturday Night” from 1938.

  3. Ricky Riccardi

    Wonderful, as always, Michael–nice to hear some Big Sid I didn’t know existed before this morning. For anyone reading this who wants to dip into the vast Sid Catlett discography alluded to in the last paragraph, I recently put together a playlist of every Catlett recording I could find on the streaming platforms. For Spotify users, this playlist has 462 songs and weighs in at 28 hours and 16 minutes:

    And for those who use Apple Music, this playlist is 24 hours long and comes out to 443 songs:

    https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/sid-catlett/pl.u-zPyL0J9TgDJP6

    Just copy the URL into your browser, hit shuffle and dig Big Sid!

  4. Rich Noorigian

    Beautiful. Love the out chorus Mop Mop riff on Juke Box Time. Sid knocking the backbeat and driving the bus!

  5. If you look at the Bluebird label, “Irving Kirby Walker” is the sole composer, so I think we must disagree.

  6. Ken Mathieson

    Many thanks to Michael for posting these rarities and to Ricky for his playlists. I hadn’t heard Steak Face from the 1948 Paris concert before: it’s interesting to hear how it’s evolved from the 1947 Symphony Hall recording. There must be more unheard Sid features on the numerous airshots the All Stars did in 1947-48 that haven’t escaped back into the wild yet

  7. Loren Schoenberg

    So Nice to hear “new” Sid!

  8. Loren Schoenberg

    So nice to hear some “new” Sid!!

  9. I love love love Una Mae Carlisle’s recording of “Oh I’m Evil” and now I have another great danceable version to DJ.

    Also happy to read Dan’s comment about piccolos in Lil’s “Harlem on Saturday Night.” I have been singing this song for almost a decade and I was certain it was the word piccolo, but it didn’t make sense until now. Though, I would posit that the piccolos are thumpin’ instead of pumpin’. 😉

  10. Born a year before my birth yet a big influence via recordings. And I am not a drummer!

  11. Oops, I meant to write “…DIED a year before my birth.” Good thing Big Sid has a sense of humor in the after-life.

  12. Ken Mathieson

    In life Big Sid was a walking repository of jokes, anecdotes and tall tales so, if there’s an after-life, it’s safe to say he’d have a sense of humour there. Max Roach told me that he had stacks of Big Sid anecdotes but I’d have to wait for his (Max’s) autobiography to come out as he was saving them for it. Sadly, the autobiography was never finished, but all his papers, correspondence etc are held in the Library of Congress, so if anyone fancies writing a biography of Max based on his unfinished autobiography, there’s a great research opportunity just waiting to be tackled. If I were 20 years younger and lived in Washington DC rather than Scotland I’d be tempted to tackle it

  13. What a delightful find Michael; thank you! Big Sid remains my all-time favourite drummer, as these recordings testify. And thank you Ricky – what a treasure trove. This amounts to a Big Sid’s “50 Hot Choruses…” Can’t get enough!

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