I don’t know which of the whimsical geniuses at Capitol Records thought of the TEN CATS AND A MOUSE record date, but it’s not only a brilliant comic idea but a fine musical one. Musicians have always taken a certain pleasure in picking up an instrument that wasn’t the one they were known for — whether at home, on the gig, or after it — and seeing how far their native expertise took them. (I’m leaving aside those wonder-players who dazzle us on any instrument they touch: the blessed Benny Carter, and modern masters Scott Robinson and Clint Baker.)
But I imagine that someone at Capitol suggested that all the musicians on a session show up for a record date where they would play instruments that weren’t their first ones. The results were recorded in Los Angeles on October 13, 1947. Guitarist Dave Barbour played trumpet; trumpeters Billy May and Bobby Sherwood made up the trombone section; pianist / arranger Paul Weston played clarinet; Eddie Miller shifted from tenor sax to alto; Benny Carter, who had recorded on tenor, did the reverse; Dave Cavanaugh, usually playing tenor, turned to the baritone sax. Red Norvo, who had recorded on piano as “Ken Kenny,” did it again here; singer and occasional guitarist (to quote an online source) Hal Derwin stayed right there; arranger / composer Frank DeVol — who’d played violin early on with Horace Heidt — took over the string bass. And the Mouse? Miss Peggy Lee, alternating between brushes on the snare and four-to-the bar bass drum; she’d been in the Goodman band at the same time as Sid Catlett, but she eschewed the Master’s rimshots.
And a Basie blues, THREE O’CLOCK JUMP:
Very convincing — these players had a Db medium blues so completely absorbed that they could play it while sleeping — and now, when someone asks me who I emulate on cornet, I can say, “Why, Dave Barbour on THREE O’CLOCK JUMP, of course!”
It’s one thing to have all that fun in the recording studio, another to boldly go into the land of instrument-swapping in front of an audience (even if some of the audience members are slowly navigating from right to left during the performance). June 6, 2015, taking place in real time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, with a totally engaging bilingual vocal performance by Yuko Eguchi Wright!
Yuko is accompanied by the Junkyard Band: Dave Majchrzak and Brian Holland, piano; David Reffkin, violin; Jeff Barnhart, trombone, traffic control; Paul Asaro, trumpet; Steve Standiford, tuba; Bill Edwards, string bass; Frank LiVolsi, clarinet; Jim Radloff, saxophone; Danny Coots, drums.
And Yuko’s no Mouse. She’s one of the Cats.
As a great philosopher once said, “If it isn’t fun, why do it?”
May your happiness increase!