To me, Sidney Catlett is a marvel beyond marvels. An extraordinary soloist; an unmatched team player with the greatest intuition about what his colleagues were creating. An alchemist. And when Big Sid had the finest musicians to work with, which was most of the time, they scaled mountains.
Thankfully for us, he had many opportunities to record between 1929 and 1950. Most of his work is readily available: with Louis, Benny, Duke, Bird, Bechet, Hawk, Ben, Roy, Condon, Lips, James P,, Joe Thomas, Teddy, and three dozen others. But his performances at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1947, have not often been heard, and they deserve to be.
His pairing with Charlie Shavers is acrobatic magic (catch them on film, although out of synch, in SEPIA CINDERELLA); Hank Jones, so youthful in 1947, was already creating pearls of sound. SID FLIPS HIS LID is beyond belief. And the jam session offers opportunities to hear players who no doubt encountered each other often (the Ventura-Harris unit was a working group) but never recorded together otherwise.
Two by an unassailable trio: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Sidney, drums.
SID FLIPS HIS LID — like nothing else before or since:
and the closing jam session on JUST YOU, JUST ME. The label says the drummer is Dave Tough, but I always thought that an error, given his dislike for drum solos and the very Catlett-sound of the set. I asked a few drummer-scholars who agree it’s Sidney, joined by Charlie Shavers, Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Marjorie Hyams, vibraphone; Curly Russell, string bass:
There’s a surprising lack of documentation about this evening (even on its CD issue, as the last offering in a Verve multi-disc Forties JATP set). I believe it was produced by Leonard Feather, even though it was issued on Norman Granz’s Norgran label. I wonder how much of the evening was recorded and not issued: this would have been an interlude rather than a full concert. Where’s the rest of it?
(And Tom Lord’s online discography makes the first selections by the Hank Jones Quartet, with Curly Russell added, and he adds guitarist Bill DeArango to JUST YOU.)
A memory: I was not born when this concert took place, but twenty-plus years later Ed Beach played SID FLIPS HIS LID on a two-hour radio program devoted to Sidney, and when I write that it exploded through the speaker, I am not exaggerating. A number of years later I found a seriously scratched copy of the Norgan issue — with its yellow label — that I must have lent to someone, because it no longer is within my reach. No matter, the music was issued on the JATP set mentioned above.
But here is it for collective astonishment. And just in case your supply of marvels needs replenishment, the drummer on the other performances issued from this concert is Dave Tough: hear them here.
That would have been an evening to remember. Miraculously we have these performances.
As they say, THIS JUST IN. It’s a saving grace to have friends, even better when they’re erudite and generous. Guitarist / writer / scholar Nick Rossi rescued me from my ignorance, as he has done often.
According to author/historian Gayle Murchison, the April 5, 1947 Carnegie Hall concert was promoted by Don Palmer (aka Dominic Plumeri, not the Canadian jazz musician of the same name), who was Ventura’s manager at the time. This is backed up by an April 23, 1947 review in “Down Beat.” As you can see from the clipping it was titled “Concert in Jazz” and did feature Feather as an emcee. The headliner? Mildred Bailey! Williams and her working trio which may have included Bridget O’Flynn (drums) and June Rotenberg (bass) got second billing. Intriguing to me is that Mary Osborne was on the bill, but it is not believed that she appeared with Mary Lou. Feather was still pushing his “Girl Stars” concept — Williams was a key component at the time — so he may have had more to do with the concert than billed. In early May 1947, “Down Beat” reported that the concert had lost money.
and Mike Levin’s DOWN BEAT review:
Nick’s research and the review offer answers to a few questions. Any distorted sound (thanks to the Carnegie Hall microphones) may have made some of the recording unusable. I believe Norman Granz issued this recording in 1956, and whether the rest of the concert tape or acetates were scrapped, we can’t know, but no mention of them turned up in the recent JATP compilation. Second, the “Girl Stars” were recording for RCA Victor and Mildred Bailey may have been under contract to Crown Records, which may have made Granz reluctant to negotiate to issue their work. Did the unissued material end up in Leonard Feather’s archive? I don’t know.
On another note: when I first heard the drumming on JUST YOU, I thought it was, in fact, Dave Tough playing on Sidney’s drum kit. But keener-eared professional jazz drummers told me otherwise. Listening to it again, the drumming up until the middle of Hyams’ solo still sounds very much to me like Tough: the steady bass drum work, the cymbal splashes, the relative absence of the ornamentation Sidney did so beautifully. In JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, we see Sidney hand the sticks over to Jo Jones in mid-solo without losing the beat. I have heard an unissued Eddie Condon concert, announced by Alistair Cooke, where Sidney passes the sticks to Cozy Cole in the middle of a long IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. My ears tell me that something of the sort — wonderful acrobatics and great visual theatre — is happening here, although I am perfectly content to hug my theory if others disagree. Do listen again.
Again, thanks to Nick Rossi!
May your happiness increase!