Wednesday, October 15, 2008

85 Years of "Camp Meeting Blues"

King Oliver’s Jazz Band
Recorded October 15, 1923
Track Time 3:02
Written by King Oliver
Recorded in Chicago
King Oliver, cornet, leader; Louis Armstrong, cornet; Ed Atkins, trombone; Buster Bailey or Jimmie Noone, clarinet; Lil Hardin, piano; Johnny St. Cyr, banjo; Baby Dodds, drums
Originally released on Columbia 14003 D
Currently available on CD: The best version be heard on the recent Archeophone release, Off The Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings
Available on Itunes? Yes, if in inferior sound to the above C.D. release.

The other day, I picked up my well-worn copy of Jos Willems's Armstrong discography All of Me and started perusing the late months of years that ended in 3 or 8, in hopes of doing some more anniversary-themed posts. Well, I hit a bunch of jackpots but I don't want to show my entire hand right here, right now so we'll just have to take 'em as they come. But 85 years ago, in October 1923, the King Oliver Jazz Band (they had lost their "Creole" touch) recorded a large chunk of their legacy, 16 titles in all. I could have almost picked any title for any day but today's October 16 and I have nothing else to write about thus...here's "Camp Meeting Blues"!

Actually, the Oliver band also recorded "New Orleans Stomp" on October 16 so if you would like to celebrate the 85th anniversary of that tune, check out my entry on it from a few months ago. The band also tackled Jelly Roll Morton's "London (Cafe) Blues" that is positively Morton-esque, but doesn't offer much for our heroes, the cornetists. Still, to be complete about such matters, you can listen to both these tunes by clicking these links:

London (Cafe) Blues
New Orleans Stomp

Good stuff all around. But now onto the main event, a pretty serious, lowdown blues that will probably feature some very familiar melodies to fans of early jazz. Unfortunately, there's not much to talk about regarding the cornets as both Oliver and Armstrong are stuck with playing lead throughout the record--no crazy harmonized breaks and famous muted solos. Before we get comfy, you can listen to the track by clicking here.

Lil Hardin, the future Mrs. Louis Armstrong, leads off with a simple introduction (it sounds written) before the band takes off with a couple of choruses of the theme, which bares a striking resemblance to another Jelly Roll tune, "Dead Man Blues." Oliver plays the lead muted but at times, if you listen hard, you can hear Armstrong's brighter 1923 tone overshadowing his mentor. It's a simple 12-bar blues but the rhythm sections sounds confused about where to change in bars nine and ten, sounding a little too static for my tastes. They finally straighten it out for the solos, leading off with Ed Atkins's muted trombone, sounding like about a dozen other trombone solos from the period.

But then pay close attention to Buster Bailey's solo...why, that's Ellington's "Creole Love Call." Verbatim! Sure enough, the Duke copped his more well-known song from the Oliver record, recording it in 1927. Oliver unsuccessfully tried to sue, yet another bad break in a career filled with them.

(Never mind all these dueling Armstrong movies. Someone should make the life story of King Oliver. You've got New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, California, Chicago, little Louis, etc. Then, talk about heartbreak! The man was selling fruit at the end! But then there's that great story of Armstrong visiting him in Georgia and Oliver getting all decked out to to catch his former pupil. Combine that with the heart-wrenching letters Oliver wrote to his sister when he knew he was dying...Jesus man, it would be incredible.)

Anyway, after the "Creole Love Call" chorus, Baile comes back for some effective breaks in the next chorus before Armstrong and Oliver show the way out with some stately lead playing. Nothing crazy occurs but they definitely create a strong blues favor. And dig the little tag, probably contributed by Lil and later recycled on Armstrong's Hot Seven recording of "Gully Low Blues."

So, there's a trace of "Dead Man Blues," the genesis of "Creole Love Call" and the first use of the ending of "Gully Low Blues." Nothing groundbreaking occurs during "Camp Meeting Blues" but it does play like "Best of 1920s Hot Jazz" if you're familiar with these other, truly classic performances. That ends this anniversary posting but I'll be back on Tuesday to celebrate something that happened 75 years ago on that day...the 1933 Denmark film clips of Armstrong! Stay tuned...

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