Monday, January 16, 2012

Frank Melrose's Two-Fisted Chicago Jazz Piano

Frank Melrose was a younger brother of music publishers Walter and Lester Melrose and as Delmark’s Bob Koester notes in the booklet for the Delmark release of Bluesiana, was virtually the only Caucasian artist to record for ‘race” (blues records) in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, where he recorded with such bands as King Mutt’s (that also included trumpeter Punch Miller), the Windy Rhythm Kings with Junie and Oliver Cobb, and the Beale Street Washboard Band with Johnny Dodds, along with his own sides with the Kansas City Stompers.

An impressive two-fisted pianist, an early jazz discography listed two piano solos he recorded as if by Jelly Roll Morton, and he continued performing until found brutally murdered in 1941. These recordings were made in 1940 and originally intended for Bob Thiele's Signature label but Thiele was drafted. They were acquired by stockbroker and jazz fan Frank Lyons who supplied Delmark the recordings for issue.

This is a straight-ahead ‘Chicago style’ jazz date with a band that included cornet player Pete Daly, a regular associate of Melrose’s from the early ‘30s and saxophonist Boyce Brown, with vocalist June Davis on three tracks. There are pop tunes of the era like Sugarfoot Strut (that Louis Armstrong recorded) as well as some New Orleans classics (Jelly Roll Morton’s New Orleans Blues) and Melrose’s own originals (the hot Corrine Romp[, Bluesiana, with June Davis who comes off as a decent Billie Holiday imitator, and Rosetta, which itself became a jazz standard) .

There is plenty of hot jazz here and Morton’s influence can be heard in Melrose’s composition Original Stomp, with a nice Daly solo some tailgate trombone from Bill Helgart and a pumping bass, rolling piano break from Melrose, in addition to the spirited rendition of Morton’s New Orleans Blues, with Melrose taking the lead at the beginning. The World is Waiting For the Sunrise is a showcase for his rollicking piano backed by just the rhythm, while his introspective version of Body and Soul is one of two piano solos here.

Bluesiana is a delightful example of mainstream small group jazz of the pre-bebop era that certainly will be of interest to those who appreciate earlier styles of jazz.

My review copy was provided by Delmark Records. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288).

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