Thursday, August 03, 2017

Blues Takes on St. James Infirmary

Discussing Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man in his book, The Jazz Standards, Ted Gioia includes recordings by it by Buddy Guy and Albert King and bemoans what he found the scarcity of blues artists performing the songs he viewed as jazz standards. One problem is that his list of standards omits juke box jazz hits like Herbie Mann's"Comin' Home Baby, and Jimmy Smith's Back at the Chicken Shack, that served as band and/or set openers for various bands such as Muddy Waters and the like. But even with famous blues songs that he included such as W.C. Handy's St. Louis Blues and St. James Infirmary he seemed unaware of notable blues recordings of those songs, some of which I included with respect to St. Louis Blues, a couple of days ago.

Today I do the same with St. James Infirmary, the story and origins of which are discussed in a wonderful book by Robert W. Harwood, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: Investigations in the shadowy world of early jazz-blues in the company of Blind Willie McTell, Louis Armstrong, Don ... where did this dang song come from anyway? It explores some of the myths of the songs origins as well as its complicated copyright history and the like. In his book, Gioia inexplicably omits the great Bobby Bland Duke recording that can be heard on the link of the top of the page (Soul singer Geater Davis did a tough recording that mirrored Bland's. Below are some more renditions from the Blues World.

Snooks Eaglin

Gary B.B. Coleman

Chris Thomas King recorded this on his 2006 post-Katrina recording Rise. 
Here he is seen performing this in 2015 at Toronto's Beaches Jazz Festival.

Chicago blues diva Angela Brown

The highly underrated Dave Alexander aka Omar Sharriff

Heritage Blues Orchestra

Lastly, Rhiannon Giddens with the Silk Road Ensemble

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