Friday, January 12, 2007

Jay McShann's Hootie Blues

The passing of the legendary Jay McShann this past year was one of many substantial losses the music world suffered. McShann led one of the last great Kansas City Big Bands which was noted for its blues playing and the fact that Charlie Parker was a member until he emerged as one of the forces behind the Bebop revolution of the forties. In the forties and the fifties her recorded behind any number of blues singers including Crown Prince Waterford and Jimmy Witherspoon (Mosaic is reissuing their classic RCA album) and then in the late sixties and early seventies recorded in the US and abroad for a variety of labels which showed him to be one of the great piano masters of blues and swinging jazz. He continued to perform and tour worldwide over the past thirty five years and in the past several years the Canadian Stony Plain label put out several very fine releases in the company of Duke Robillard.

Perhaps the last McShann CD to be issued in his lifetime, the 2006 Stony Plain disc, "Hootie Blues," was recorded in 2001 at Toronto’s Montreal Bistro, with the pianist-vocalist was accompanied by saxophonist Jim Galloway (whom McShann had played with a number of times over the past few decades), Galloway’s wife Rosemary on bass and Don Vickery on drums. This disc is a delightful set of chestnuts from McShann’s pen like 'Confessin The Blues,' 'My Chile' and the title track, along with a strong blues that I believe Witherspoon recorded, 'When The Lights Go Out,' as well as standards as '‘Deed I Do' and 'All of Me.' McShann still sounded fine at 85 when this performance occurred, especially in his piano playing, and the backing band is right with him. Galloway is very attractive player working within the swing tradition. McShann was modest about his singing, but his slightly nasal delivery, reminiscent of his one-time vocalist, Walter Brown, had a definite appeal, although his delivery perhaps shows a tinge of the years and he still sang and played the blues at a level most could only aspire too. In addition to some marvelous performances, there is an extended interview between Stony Plain’s Holger Peterson and McShann recorded in 2003 here he remembers his formative days and more, which is placed at the discs end so one can listen to at one’s leisure. A very enjoyable release which may not be among his finest recordings, but certainly has little to fault.

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