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Decidedly Charlie Shavers, His Finest, 1937-1960

RETROSPECTIVE RTS 4340 [78:38 + 79:04]




Charlie Shavers and Ray Bryant Quartet; Claude Thornhill and his Orchestra; Jimmie Noone and Orchestra; Johnny Dodds and his Chicago Boys; John Kirby and his Onyx Club Boys; Billie Holiday and her Orchestra; Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers: Charlie Shavers and his Quintet and Sextet; The Keynoters: Charlie Shavers and his All-American Five: Herbie Haymer and his Sunset All Star Quintet; Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra; Buddy Rich and his V-Disc Speed Demons; Lionel Hampton and his Just Jazz All Stars; Flip Phillips and sextet: Jazz at the Philharmonic; with Sy Oliver and his Orchestra; Hal Cornbread Singer and his Quintet


CD 1

1. Undecided

2. Nice Work If You Can Get It

3. Apex Blues (“Bump It”)

4. Melancholy

5. Pastel Blue (with O’Neil Spencer)

6. Undecided

7. Anitra’s Dance

8. Sweet Georgia Brown

9. Swing, Brother, Swing

10. Rose Room

11. Blues Petite

12. Mood Indigo

13. What Is This Thing Called Love?

14. Rosetta

15. You’re Driving Me Crazy

16. My Man

17. Swinging On Central

18. At The Fat Man’s

19. That’s Rich (with Ella Fitzgerald)

20. Stardust (CS solo)

21. Perdido

22. The Hucklebuck

23. East Of The Sun

24. Cotton Tail

CD 2

1. Coronation Hop

2. Cool Blues (CS solo)

3. Embraceable You

4. Dark Eyes

5. Dawn On The Desert

6. Story Of The Jazz Trumpet

7. Ill Wind

8. Memories Of You

9. The Man I Love

10. I Got Rhythm

11. Summertime

12. Blue Stompin’

13. Girl Of My Dreams

14. September In The Rain

15. All Of Me

16. Makin’ Whoopee

17. Russian Lullaby

18. You’ve Changed

19. It’s All Right With Me

20. I’m A Fool To Want You

21. The Best Things In Life Are Free

22. You’re My Everything

There’s just under a quarter-of-a-century’s worth of Charlie Shavers in Retrospective’s compilation twofer. The centenary of his birth fell in 2017 or, if you believe Shavers himself, will fall in 2020 – though that means he would have joined John Kirby’s band at the age of 16 which, as the notes suggest, is barely credible. He certainly wouldn’t be the first or last Jazz musician to muck around with the details of his date of birth.

It was through Kirby that he began his swift advance though Retrospective’s twofer starts with a 1960 track, a quite late performance of his best-known composition, Undecided with the crisp support of Ray Bryant and rhythm. Shavers dons his habitual mute for a tight solo. Then it’s back to chronology and a sequence of famous tracks that include Maxine Sullivan singing Nice Work if You Can Get It and Jimmy Noone’s Apex Blues in 1937. It’s always pleasurable to hear an older clarinet stylist, the quintessential New Orleans blues master Johnny Dodds supported by what is, in effect, the Kirby rhythm section on Melancholy.

A sequence of Kirby sides (‘The Onyx Club Boys’) follows, as will the realisation that Retrospective has already issued a single disc devoted to the band (RTR 4312). A Billie Holiday track, Swing, Brother, Swing features Shavers alongside another one of the superb alto sax players he worked alongside in this period, Tab Smith (Willie Smith and Pete Brown were among the others). Holiday elsewhere also sings East of the Sun movingly. Two sides with Sidney Bechet’s Feetwarmers show Shavers carving out an independent role, and not to be intimidated; it helped that Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith was pianist for the date in October 1941. After which single examples from dates show the fast company Shavers was keeping; Rosetta with Earl Hines, a session with The Keynoters who included fellow trumpeter Jonah Jones, ever–resourceful tenor Budd Johnson, forward-thinking pianist Johnny Guarnieri alongside fellow rhythm kings Milt Hinton and JC Heard.

Given he was a long-term member of Tommy Dorsey’s band it’s appropriate that he solos and sings on Sy Oliver’s At the Fat Man’s. It’s best to pass over the regrettably hustling and vulgar Buddy Rich contribution That’s Rich where Ella Fitzgerald unveils some mediocre scat singing and Shavers does his Roy Eldridge thing, to no great benefit. There are a couple of Lionel Hampton tracks where his waterlogged vibraphone encourages a serio-comic Shavers contribution on Stardust and on the longer jam on Perdido he lets loose with the William Tell quotations; not subtle, to be sure, but excitingly virtuosic. Don’t overlook the duel between Flip Phillips and Shavers on Cotton Tail .

Extracts from a JATP concert offer contrasting moods but focus on Shavers and so aren’t heard whole – a shame. By the mid-50s he was making LPs and we hear from the Horn o’ Plenty album; larky and verbose virtuosity alongside studio reverb and a succession of brief ‘homages’ wherein Shavers ‘becomes’ a succession of fellow trumpet luminaries whilst never being able, thankfully, fully to cast off himself. The Most Intimate is a Shavers plus strings fiesta with harp arpeggio introductions and a rather unadventurous vibe; I except the powerful and romantic The Man I Love and the trumpet-guitar (who?) duet on I Got Rhythm. He was often at his most down-home and raunchy with Ray Bryant, as on Blue Stompin’ but the three tracks from his 1960 album Like Charlie (Ray Bryant, bassist Tommy Bryant and drummer Oliver Jackson) are all lyrical and good. That just leaves Girl of My Dreams, a 1959 LP for Everest, again with Bryant, but this time Aaron Bell and Roy Burns. There’s a shuffle rhythm to much of this but the seven standards are articulately played, expressively impressive and irradiated by Shavers’ wit as much as by his virtuosity and sheer chutzpah.

This is a fine twofer made even finer by Digby Fairweather’s booklet notes. If you’ve yet to succumb to this great trumpeter here is a fine way to start.

Jonathan Woolf


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