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Buster Bailey

Memphis Blues: His 47 finest, 1924-1956

RETROSPECTIVE RTS4356 (2 Cds) [159:00]



1.Dizzy Debutante. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1937)

2.Afternoon in Africa. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1937)

3.Santa Claus Babies. The Red Onion Jazz Babies (1924)

4.Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town. Bessie Smith w. Bailey & Fletcher Henderson (1926)

5.Clarinet Marmalade. Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra (1926)

6.Yama Yama Blues. Clarence Williams & his Washboard Four (1927)

7.Church Street Sobbin’ Blues. Clarence Williams & his Washboard Four (1927)

8.Hocus Pocus. Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra (1934)

9.There’s A House in Harlem For Sale. Henry ‘Red’ Allen & his Orchestra (1934)

10.Rug Cutters’ Swing. Henry ‘Red’ Allen & his Orchestra (1934)

11.Wild Party. Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra (1934)

12.Call of the Delta. Buster Bailey & his Seven Chocolate Dandies (1934)

13.Shanghai Shuffle. Buster Bailey & his Seven Chocolate Dandies (1934)

14.Stealin’ Apples. Fletcher Henderson & his Orchestra (1936)

15.Blues in C Sharp Minor. Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra (1936)

16.Warming Up. Teddy Wilson & his Orchestra (1936)

17.They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Billie Holiday & her Orchestra (1937)

18.More Than That. Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith & his Cubs (1937)

19. Rhythm, Rhythm. Lionel Hampton & his Orchestra (1937)

20.I Know That You Know. Lionel Hampton & his Orchestra (1937)

21.Sloe Jam Fizz. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1938)

22.Planter’s Punch. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1938)

23.Lorna Doone Shortbread. O’Neil Spencer & his Trio (1938)

24.Chained To A Dream. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1938)

25.Light Up. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1938)

26.Man With A Horn Goes Berserk. Buster Bailey & his Rhythm Busters (1938)

27.I’m Cuttin’ Out. Johnnie Temple, w. Bailey, Sammy Price, Teddy Bunn, Herbert Cowans



1.Limehouse Blues. Wingy Manone & his Orchestra (1939)

2.Am I Blue? Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

3.Should I? Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

4.April in Paris. Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

5.The Blue Room. Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

6.Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie. Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

7.Eccentric (That Eccentric Rag). Buster Bailey & his Sextet (1940)

8.Can’t We Be Friends? John Kirby & his Onyx Club Boys (1940)

9.St. Louis Blues. John Kirby & his Onyx Club Boys (1942)

10.Nine-Twenty Special. John Kirby & his Orchestra (1943)

11.You Can Depend On Me. Capitol International Jazzmen (1945)

12.Tin Roof Blues. Henry ‘Red’ Allen & his Orchestra (1957)

13.How Come You Do Me Like You Do? Bobby Donaldson & his Seventh Avenue Stompers


14.Hatton Avenue and Gayoso Street. Buster Bailey and his Quartet/Septet (1958)

15.Bear Wallow. Buster Bailey and his Septet (1958)

16.Beale Street Blues. Buster Bailey and his Quartet (1958)

17.Sunday Parade. Buster Bailey and his Septet (1958)

18.Memphis Blues. Buster Bailey and his Quartet (1958)

19.Chickasaw Bluff. Buster Bailey and his Septet (1958)

20.Hot Water Bayou. Buster Bailey and his Quartet (1958)

For a musician much admired by his major contemporaries, possessed of a formidable technique, whose work evolved alongside most of the stylistic changes in jazz between, say, 1920 and 1950 (the musicians in whose company he is heard here range from Bessie Smith to Max Roach!), it is remarkable how very few recordings Buster Bailey made under his own name/leadership. He seems to have made only five sessions under his own name between 1934 and 1940 – all of them represented on this generous selection of his work. His major session of the 1950s, made in 1958 and issued as the Felsted LP All About Memphis is reproduced in full as the last seven tracks of CD2.

Bailey’s CV as a sideman is extraordinary. After starting very young – he toured with W.C. Handy between 1917 and 1919 while still in his teens. He left Handy when the band was in Chicago and worked with Erskine Tate from 1919 to 1923. He then worked with King Oliver (1923-24) before joining Fletcher Henderson in New York. He was with Henderson on and off from 1924 to 1937, around spells with Noble Sissle (1929, 1931-2), the Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1934-35) and others.

From 1937 to 1946 he worked with John Kirby; between 1947 and 1949 he was with Wilbur de Paris. For much of the 1950s he worked with Henry ‘Red’ Allen. Between 1961 and 1963 he was in a band led by Wild Bill Davison. In 1965 he joined up with his old friend Louis Armstrong in his All Stars, staying until 1967.

Given this history, it is unsurprising that this compendium of Bailey’s work should, in large part, present him as sideman; but in addition to his impeccable ensemble work there are, fortunately, many opportunities to hear him as a soloist. Fine examples include his work on Teddy Wilson’s ‘Blues in C Sharp Minor’ (CD1, 15) and ‘You Can Depend on Me’ by the Capitol International Jazzmen (2,11), where he is by no means overshadowed by the presence of such greats as Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter and Nat King Cole. Elsewhere, in the tracks under his own leadership, there are outstanding solos on, for example, ‘Dizzy Debutante’ (1, 1), ‘Beale Street Blues’ (2, 16) and ‘Memphis Blues’ (2, 18).

While in Chicago, Bailey had lessons with Franz Schoepp, principal clarinet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Benny Goodman later studies with Schoepp, too). Bailey’s technical assurance and facility were altogether extraordinary. This is evidenced most spectacularly in a track he recorded under his own name in 1938, ‘Man With A Horn Goes Berserk’ (1, 26). Ray Crick, co-compiler (with Digby Fairweather) of this double album, writes “To listen to ‘Man With A Horn Goes Berserk’ is to disbelieve what you are hearing. Surely nobody can play the clarinet like that. Well Buster Bailey could …”. The vertiginous runs Bailey plays on this track are certainly astonishing. But perhaps they don’t ‘say’ much, beyond confirming Bailey’s virtuosity. I was amused (?) to find Richard Cook and Brian Morton, in the fifth edition of their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, writing of the track thus: “the endearing if ridiculous ‘Man With A Horn Goes Berserk’ [makes] one wonder what kind of musician Bailey saw himself as”. Although I enjoy the track more than Cook and Morton seem to, I wonder if they haven’t put their finger(s) on something important about Bailey – that he doesn’t seem to have had a distinct and individual musical vision of his own, which might explain why he achieved so relatively little as a leader, either in the studio or on stage, while being able to fit in so productively in a wide range of ensembles led by others.

As is usually the case with these collections from Retrospective we are provided with a wealth of discographical information – this excellent series is the very opposite of the kind of undocumented reissues we once had to put up with. The restoration and remastering by Martin Haskell are exemplary. There are many superb moments by other musicians as well as Bailey – from Clarence Williams to Teddy Wilson, Frankie Newton to Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Coleman Hawkins to Chu Berry and from Vic Dickenson to Tyree Glenn, which add greatly to the pleasure involved in hearing so much of Bailey’s best work. Thoroughly recommended.

Glyn Pursglove

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