Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jimmy Blythe Messed Around The Blues

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Jimmy Blythe arrived in Chicago as a teenager in 1916. As Bob Koester notes, not much is known about Blythe outside of his recordings and piano rolls. He recorded extensive in small groups featuring such noted instrumentalists as Johnny Dodds, Louis Armstrong,Roy Palmer and Natty Dominque as well as singers like Blind Blake, Lottie Beaman, Lonnie Johnson, Monette Moore and Ma Rainey. Recordings such as these as well as with Jimmy Bertrand’s Washboard Wizards and Blythe’s Washboard Ragamuffins give a sense of the type of ragtime-early boogie woogie flavor that marked his music.

Delmark’s reissue of Blythe, Messin’ Around Blues, is derived from 19 of the piano rolls that Blythe recorded which outnumber the actual piano solos he recorded. Modern technology probably makes the reproduction of piano rolls on CD much better than reissues of 1920s’ recordings mastered from old 78s. At the same time, the technique of cutting a piano rolls may limit the grittier aspects of Blythe’s playing. Certainly Blythe was comfortable on the blues he performs here like Sugar Dew Blues, as well as rendering the pop songs of the day as My Baby. His recording, Chicago Stomp, was perhaps the first boogie woogie recording. It shows how vigorous his playing could be and can be heard at http://www.redhotjazz.com/blythe.html.

The music presented on Messin’ Around Blues has a stately quality with ragtime and stride flavor, but little in terms of the ragged, boogie style that can be heard on the recordings of contemporaries like Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith, Cow Cow Davenport or Meade Lux Lewis as well as Blythe’s own recordings. Delmark is to be congratulated for issuing this, however I suspect this may have a limited audience.

This review originally appeared in the March 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 302). I received my review copy from Delmark.

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