JBP discovers a treasure-trove in rural
The Austrian collector: Johnny Parth, with aid
from enthusiasts everywhere, assembled the most complete library of blues,
gospel, and associated recordings ever made. These he began to issue from 1990
on his label Document Records. The drawback for customers in Britain was that
the material, held in Austria, was difficult to obtain, since efficiency was
not the watchword when it came to supply.
During the last few years extraordinary events have taken place.
Johnny Parth decided to rest on his laurels and his collection has been
acquired by two young enthusiasts and transported to Galloway in South West
Scotland. Their catalogue, which runs to well over 100 pages, is a cause for
wonder and astonishment. As well as offering the complete recordings of all the
blues singers of the 20s and 30s we might expect to find, there are dozens of
names unknown to all but the most diligent enquirers, as well as Gospel
singers, folk/blues singers, jug bands, pianists and some jazz.
Contact can be made at www.document-records.com.
JBP Reviews some Document
Joseph Robichaux And His New Orleans Rhythm Boys. Complete
Recorded Works in Chronological Order. 1933.
Document Records. DOCD
Joe Robichaux (piano);
Alfred Guichard (clarinet, alto sax);
Gene Porter (tenor sax, clarinet);
Walter Williams (guitar);
Ward Crosby (drums).
Joseph Robichaux was born in New Orleans, and lived there for
most of his life, with spasms of jazz action in Chicago and New York (where
these tracks were made), or touring in Cuba, Europe and Japan. He played piano
in the excellent Jones/Collins Astoria Hot 8, one of the first bands (1929) to
be recorded at home in New Orleans.
As a pianist he was a moderniser with a full grasp of New
Orleans tradition, and his band played what could be called 'New New Orleans
music'. The Rhythm Boys supplied tight, sharp, driving ensemble work, with
fierce riffs being interspersed with hard, blazing solos. No trombone, no bass,
contrary to New Orleans custom. The rhythm section of piano, guitar and drums
creates an astonishing urgency and precision, pounding on like an inspired
machine. How do three men achieve this? I don't know; it's positively
To listen to these recordings is like standing on a station
platform in the days of steam locomotives as a series of express trains piles
through without stopping, the stokers stoking the blazing fire with demented
Robichaux loves fast tempos. Each track goes like this: a few
sharp taps on piano wood to set the tempo, and bang, blare, we're off, firing
on all cylinders till the band charges past the winning post. One warning: the
last three tracks are merely commercial.
The other twenty-one are - well,
Ring Dem Bells;
St Louis Blues;
King Kong Stomp;
Fish Fry Drag;
After Me the Sun Goes Down;
You Keep Me Always Living in Sin;
Do Anything for You;
Why Should I
Cry for You;
Shake it and Break it(l);
Shake it and Break it(2);
That's How Rhythm Was Born;
Swingy Little Thingy (1);
The Unissued Yancey Wire Recordings. Document Records.
Jimmy Yancey was a poet among piano players. He would have been
uneasy if you told him so. He had nothing to do with poets. He was a groundsman
at a baseball park. From the age of six until age twenty-one he sang and danced
in vaudeville, gave that up in 1915 and settled in Chicago. He played the piano
at rent-parties but wasn't 'dicovered' by record companies until Meade Lux
Lewis recorded his 'Yancey Special in 1936.
Yancey could drive at ease through fast tempo boogie - 'Midnight
Stomp' - but is at his contemplative best with the haunting waterfalls of
chords which we call 'Yancey's Blues' - 'I Received a Letter', 'At the Window'.
These pieces are triumphs of profound simplicity.
The photographs of a modest and retiring genius - never a full-
time professional pianist - show him seated at the piano in shirt-sleeves
wearing an expression of meditative attention and a gentle smile as he explores
a way through to the deepest truths of feeling.
He had a limited range of themes, which recur again and again
under a variety of titles, but each rendering differs in tempo, mood,
modulation, emphasis and magic. There's something inexplicable about Yancey's
music; he transforms the chords by playing them.
Document have on three CDs all Yancey's professionally recorded
work. The fourth CD is a gift to us all from two student jazz men who made a
primitive wire recording of an evening spent at the apartment of the amiable
and hospitable Jimmy and his blues-singing wife.
Crowded into their sitting room were two upright pianos and a
gathering of in-droppers, each bringing his own bottle, who could join in with
the music any time they wanted.
The recording quality is faulty, some tracks are damaged, Yancey
didn't play at his best (he died three months later), and the music competes
with conversation, varied efforts at accompaniment and occasional encouraging
There's something moving and endearing about the whole event. On
'Royal Garden Blues' Yancey sings with Mama joining in; Mama sings seriously on
'Hurry Sundown'; one of the students plays modest and pleasant clarinet as
backing on several numbers; there's a rousing rendering of 'The Fives' with
some unidentified benefactor banging wood blocks together in the hinterland,
and the three acetate transfers of previously recorded tracks of 'Chicago in
Mind' and 'How Long Blues' do what they can to clarify things.
This CD is not recommended as an introduction to Yancey but as a
moving insight into the life and character of the man for enthusiasts, of whom
I'm definitely one.
JBP Feb '06
New Orleans Jazz start