By day a tax accountant and perhaps a financial advisor, by night a deep jazz enthusiast, concert producer, record producer, singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee” knew and loved Eddie (and Phyllis) Condon, and the music that Eddie and friends made.
When “Fat Cat” began his jazz festivals in Manassas, Virginia, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy McPartland, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, and many of Eddie’s stalwart individualists were alive and well. By 1989, few were left and playing (Max Kaminsky had just turned eighty and was advised by his doctor not to join in). But over the weekend of May 19-21, 1989, he staged a series of CONDON REVISITED / CONDON REUNION concerts, each attempting to reproduce a precious 1944-45 Town Hall or Carnegie Hall or Blue Network broadcast from 1944-45. It was a hot jazz repertory company: Connie Jones acted the part of Bobby Hackett, Betty Comora played Lee Wiley, Bobby Gordon was Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Saunders became Wild Bill Davison, and so on.
The results were sometimes uneven yet the concerts were beautiful.
I’ve acquired these videos through the kindness of deep jazz collectors and here’s a listing of everyone who takes part, to the best of my record-keeping ability. I asked permission to post from the Survivors who appear in this and other concert videos — the very gracious Brooks Tegler, drums; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone and clarinet; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Betty Comora, vocals. (Update: my friend Sonny McGown told me that John Jensen, Clyde Hunt, and Al Stevens are still with us, which I had not known. I’ve reached out to John and Clyde but haven’t found Al. Any leads gratefully accepted.) Had I been able to, I might have edited out the kazoo solos, but I leave them in as a tribute to “Fat Cat.” Imperial privilege.
Originally I thought this weekend was part of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but my friend Sonny McGown (who was there) reminded me that the MJF was held in the autumn, that this was a special weekend. Sonny also sent this flyer:
Here’s the bill of fare: ‘S’WONDERFUL Clyde Hunt, trumpet; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, kazoo / DINAH Marty Grosz – Bobby Gordon / CLARINET CHASE Bobby Gordon, Tommy Gwaltney, Kenny Davern / THE ONE I LOVE / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Betty Comora, vocal; Connie Jones, cornet; John Jensen, trombone / THAT DA DA STRAIN / RIVERSIDE BLUES Connie Jones, Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny Williams, Johnny Blowers / OL’ MISS McRee, ensemble.
Thank goodness for such tributes — full of individualists who have the right feeling — and for the video-recording. As Eddie would say, WHEE!
May your happiness increase!