Early bassists in jazz
- On belatedly reading Frank Driggs's book on Kansas City Jazz recently, I encountered the quote from Walter Page to the effect that he owed everything as a string bass player to having heard Wellman Braud. Milt Hinton as I recall named John Lindsay (or it might have been Bill Johnson) as his master, and Braud himself cited the white NewOrleansian Steve Brown as the Bix Beiderbecke of the string bass who built on the New Orleans revelation ... There certainly is a lot to be heard of Brown on the recordings he made as a member of the Goldkette band, even on dates where the band was handed sheet music and told to forget their great repertoire and perform things Ken Mathieson said are unlistenable without a vo-do-de-o filter. On some titles he switches from tuba to string bass and back.
Brown's career was I gather terminated by damage caused to his hands by the exertions he had them perform on his stringed instrument.
At the age of fourteen I was bowled over by Braud's playing in the Bechet-Spanier quartet.
My first jazz record! He had earlier been the pivot of the Ellington band. Before I had caught up with the Ellington music I was a Braud fan.
Al Morgan is a marvel on sides by the Rhythmmakers as well as with Calloway. Milt Hinton's background made his succession a smooth one musically.
Pops Foster is well-known anyway, through Luis Russell and a lengthy subsequent career. He was it seems sufficient of a child prodigy to have been offered terms as a novelty act in Europe c. 1910 when his mother was still there to block prospects.
John Lindsay was of course another early man and his work with the Hamfats is a fitful representation of the sort of work some musicians were doing in the 1930s without being recorded or being members of swing bands. The Hamfats rhythm section is instructive, including two rural blues musicians in the McCoy brothers, guitar and mandolin. This presumably represented a certain amount of live collaboration by excellent instrumentalists of no European formal background, with jazzmen perhaps unable to read music. Lee Collins turns up in the same general milieu. Alas nobody recorded the trio with him and Frank Melrose and Lonnie Johnson and this sort of area did not appeal to the revivalist trad people. The Hamfats rhythm section was just something else, with the wonderful Mortonesque piano of Horace Malcolm, a huge discovery for the wonderful jazz-writer Peter Clayton when introduced to it while he was presenting a jazz record request radio show.
And there was Bill Johnson
And there was also Ransom Knowling, who seems to have continued in a succession of minor gigs in Chicago and to have had something of a career as a session man with blues singers of an earthier sort. He played some impressive tuba solos on recordings by the vocally eccentric Dr. Clayton for Victor around 1940, and his later work with the drummer Judge Riley in support of Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup spawned an imitation by Elvis Presley!
The 45rpm recording of "My Baby Left Me" by Crudup/Riley and very much Knowling was issued in relation to Presley's success and is an astonishing example of the classic New Orleans bass which seems to have been the big thing launching Russell and Calloway and Ellington into swing by about 1930. It's very much the same glorious impulsion as maintained by the Sam Morgan band and may also have needed saxophones.
Bob Koester later recorded Knowling in support of Big Joe Williams, and after Knowling's death his widow recorded him saying "I gotta get drunk, I'm booked to record with Big Joe".
Since Jimmy Blanton came out of the Fate Marable band as a boy he belongs among the progeny of early New Orleans bass-playing,
when things which could not be done on tuba became an important component of jazz.
I presume that some of the great bassists of 1930 fell out of sight due to changes in musical fashion, and some like maybe Knowling couldn't fit in the sort of bands coming up.
Those looking to hear the "house" some people spoke of when referring to Walter Page should check out some live recordings of Basie where the balance favours him -- as in the Peter Clayton line about J.C. Higginbotham and his Six Hicks playing with remarkable skill despite the inevitable discomfort of them all obviously being crammed inside the body of Pops Foster's bass.
Robert R. Calder
From Ragtime to Swing
From Ragtime to Swing
Thu Jul 1, 2010 3:06 am (PDT)
Not long ago someone (my apologies) remarked on string bass players of
distinction and named John Lindsay from the Peppers and Steve Brown.
I have been listening to my 3mp player all this week, and I would like to
add, in my opinion, 3 more notables.
The bass player with Cab Calloway (I have been working away, so I haven't
had a chance to check out his name.) on "Aw You Dog"; the track without the
dog bark at the end.
"Pops" Foster with The Luis Russell Orchestra, especially on "Doctor Blues"
and "Give Me Your Telephone Number".(What a superb band. They are up there
with the Peppers.)
Walter Page on "Honeysuckle Rose" from Benny's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.
I'm working on a few more.
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- Those Victor sides of Bill Johnson with Johnny Dodds are some of the most killer string bass playing I've ever heard. Not only the playing, but the recording.
Those recordings in particular are spectacular sonically, imo. They are great sides to play for people who say they "can't stand those old, scratchy records."