Jay McShann was the leader of the last great band to emerge from Kansas City, mixing the blues and riff tunes that helped transform jazz. He continued to perform well into the 21st Century and this writer had the pleasure of seeing him several times including once backing up Big Joe Turner at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City. The last time I saw him perform was at the Western Maryland Blues Festival where he was backed by Duke Robillard, who produced his last several albums for the Canadian Stony Plain label. McShann actually recorded extensively over the past couple decades of his life with excellent albums available also on Atlantic, Sackville, Black & Blue MusicMasters, and Chiarscuro. The following review of Hootie’s Jumpin’ Blues appeared in the October 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 225).
Jay McShann’s new album on the Canadian Stoney Plain label displays the timelessness of his music. McShann’s big band was one of the last to emerge out of Kansas City before World War II (and included the legendary Charlie Parker for a period) and was known as the band that played the blues. The band enjoyed considerable success for Decca with the classic Confessin’ the Blues.
With the decline of the big bands after the war, McShann adapted his music into the smaller jump bands and continued a prolific recording career over the next few decades featuring a variety of vocalists, including Crown Prince Waterford, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Priscella Reed. In the seventies, McShann was recorded for a number of labels and started including some vocals of his own, displaying an appealing, somewhat nasal vocal delivery that added to his wonderful bluesy piano (influences on McShann included Pete Johnson as well as Count Basie).
While he has continued to record over the past few years, this release showcases his engaging vocals as much as his piano. Producer and guitarist Duke Robillard adds particular authority to this recording, which goes back to the days of when he fronted Roomful of Blues, and his guitar work is solidly in the T-Bone Walker vein adding to the authenticity. He rounded up some fine horn players who do a capable job, although they honestly do not arrive at the level of a Buddy Tate or Paul Quinichette, who accompanied McShann on his Atlantic recordings of the late seventies. This is not to fault the strongly idiomatic playing the musicians turn in, and, as a result, McShann convincingly reprises a number of his more famous songs. The album also includes a lengthy spoken section broken up by some samples of McShann solo. It is great to know that Jay McShann still sounds so well and vigorous.
I also blogged about McShann’s last album (also on Stony Plain), Hootie Blues, back on January 12, 2007.