In the liner notes of “After Hours in Harlem” (High Note), a compilation of Hot Lips Page recordings culled from recordings made on a wire recorder in the 1940s by Jerry Newman, Dan Morgenstern declares, “If ever there was a musician who represented the spirit of the jam session, it was Oran Hot Lips Page. It can only be said that Lips was the spirit of the jam session incarnate … .”
Page was from Dallas, Texas and raised on T.O.B.A. theater tours with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. He later joined the band of his half-brother Walter Page, the legendary Blue Devils which also included the legendary alto saxophonist and arranger, Buster Smith and made a pair of legendary recordings of "Squabblin’” b/w “Blue Devil Blues” for Vocalion that also included vocalist Jimmy Rushing and Count Basie on piano. The Blue Devils however broke up and members of the band including Page, Rushing and Basie found themselves in Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, and Lips page’s trumpet was an important part of the Moten Band’s celebrated recordings “Moten Swing,” “Lafayette,’ and “Blue Room.”
Page was with Count Basie’s Orchestra at the time when the Band was about to go national, but Joe Glaser, Louis Armstrong’s manager signed him to a solo management contract which turned out to be a commercial mistake. Instead of having the limelight as such legends in the Basie Orchestra as Lester Young, Sweets Edison and Buck Clayton, Page's decision to go solo with Glaser as manager turned out as commercially disastrous for Page. He did make a number of fine recordings as a leader for RCA/Bluebird and later Columbia, before recording for a variety of labels including Commodore, Apollo, Continental, Savoy, Remington and others before passing in 1954 at the age of 46. Yet he never came close to the profile of Armstrong.
His recordings have been reissued on a number of releases, including several in the low out-of-print Classics label. There is also an excellent collection, “ Shoutin’ the Blues” that compiles Page’s accompaniments to singers Mabel Smith (Big Maybelle), Wyonnie Harris (including Harris’ recording of “Good Rockin’ Tonight”) and Marion Abernathy. I do want to place the spotlight on an excellent new release, “Roll, Roll Roll: The R&B Years” but wish to point out one other release of merit.
The afore-mentioned “ After Hours in Harlem” (HighNote) is a valuable document of the uptown music scene in 1940 and 1941. In includes four lengthy jams from a house party at Jerry Newman’s pad with Page, tenor saxophonist Herbie Fields and pianist Donald Lambert. Lambert was one of the unsung masters of stride piano who did not record that much so his presence on “I Got Rhythm,” “I’m in the Mood For Love,” “Dinah,” and “Tea For Two” is most welcome. Fields can get somewhat vulgar on tenor while LIps is a marvel is his mix of daring blasts mixed with and long swooping lines while Lambert’s piano provides the foundation as well as his rollicking stride as evident on “I Get Rhythm.”
The remainder of this disc was recorded at Minton’s and includes trumpet battles between Lips and Joy Guy. On “ I Found a New Baby,” they are joined by guitarist Tiny Grimes,” whose single note lines are very horn like in construction. Page, playing with a mute, takes the solo after Grimes. The rendition of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” has Thelonious Monk on piano and his playing displays a strong two-handed style that as Morgenstern observes shows that Monk’s piano style developed by artistic choice, not lack of technique. Lips Page follows with choice hot open trumpet. Page scats a bit on “Old Yazoo,” a jive novelty lyric and Rudy Williams is the saxophonist, and this is a pretty strong vocal with Guy, according to Morgenstern, likely the trumpet player. This is followed by “Topsy” with Monk again on piano, and Lips standing out here with his rhythmic attack and interplay with the drummer. “Konk” is a fast Kansas City styled blues that gives Lips Page plenty of space to rip. It ends a recording of considerable importance and not simply because the two tracks with Monk are his earliest recordings. I had this on vinyl and purchased it again on CD and it should be readily available.