Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wild Bill Davison & The Jazz Giants

The Jazz Giants was a group assembled for a performance at Toronto's Colonial Tavern. The nominal leader of this group was cornetist Wild Bill Davison although pianist Claude Hopkins was the musical director. Others in the group included clarinetist Herb Hall, who like Davison was a mainstay of Eddie Condon's New York club; veteran trombonist Benny Morton whose career stretched back to Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s; bassist Arvell Shaw of Louis Armstrong's All Stars; and drummer Buzzy Drootin. This group was recorded following the gig at the Colonial and "The Jazz Giants" was the initial release on Sackville. Delmark has re-released it under that title but under Wild Bill Davison's name.

Davison was a highly energetic cornet player who like others of his generation was inspired by Louis Armstrong and his brash, driving attack and complemented by a fine band that on the surface is similar to Armstrong's All Stars (trumpet or cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano, bass and drums), a fact that the group's repertoire is grounded in a number of songs that are associated with Armstrong starting with the bustling swing of "Struttin' With Some Barbecue,"on which Hall contributes serpentine clarinet lines against the swinging rhythm section prior to Davison taking off with his marvelous attack, with Morton, Shaw and Hopkins all spotlighted with a short drum break at the end. The warmth Hall was able to convey convey is exhibited on the bouncy "Darnanella." "Black and Blue" (which is also presented in an alternate), was one of Armstrong's seminal recordings and receives a wonderful interpretation here (and Hopkins piano accompaniment merits notice). Listening to the performance here, one has a sense of the spirit of Pops' music.

Hopkins was one of the writers of "I Would Do Anything For You," which was first recorded by Hopkins and his Orchestra in 1932. The ensemble provides a nice small ensemble rendition with Davison's vibrato and use of tonal effects quite enjoyable while Morton adds a gruff lyricism, and followed by a relaxed groove for the trad staple "I Found a New Baby." One of the surprises of repertoire on this date is "Blue Again," revisiting another of Armstrong's classic performances from the late twenties and early thirties. If Pops had heard this performance, it would likely have made him smile. Davison displays a bit of his own lyricism on a lovely "I Surrender Dear" while "Yesterdays" is a feature for Shaw's Arco bass playing.

"The Jazz Giants" were a marvelous ensemble brought together for one gig and we are fortunate that John Norris and others collaborated on financing the recording of this group. This is swinging music of energy and high spirit that gets one toes dancing and one's spirits lifted.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 361). Here is Wild Bill Davison performing.

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