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Jay McShann - Hootie Blues  Print E-mail
Music Disc Reviews Audio CD
Written by Scott Yanow   
Thursday, 01 June 2006

format:    16-bit CD
performance:    8
sound:    7
release year:    2006
label:    Stony Plain
reviewed by:    Scott Yanow

Jay McShann is the last surviving bandleader of any significance from the Swing era. Now 90, McShann still plays his brand of piano and sings with spirit. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1916, mostly self-taught on piano, he gained early experience playing in Tulsa and working throughout the Midwest. He settled in Kansas City in 1936, right after Count Basie left to go to New York for the first time. McShann's timing was perfect; he soon formed his own big band, and for a few years it was considered Kansas City's top jazz orchestra. Among his sidemen were singer Walter Brown and an altoist named Charlie Parker (then a teenager).

After the Jay McShann Orchestra was “discovered” and they came East, they recorded for Decca and had a hit with "Confessin' the Blues." Due to that success, the McShann ensemble was typecast a bit as a blues band, and some of their more modern arrangements were never recorded. However, blues was one of their main strengths and the orchestra had a few years of steady work before McShann was drafted in 1944, causing their breakup.

McShann was only in the military briefly. After his discharge, he led combos in Los Angeles and Kansas City for many years. Since he no longer had the services of Walter Brown, McShann (whose nickname was "Hootie") started singing his blues hits and proved to be a better singer than Brown. He vocalized on records for the first time in 1966 and was rediscovered by the jazz world three years later. McShann has continued working regularly up to the present day, despite his age.

Hootie Blues was recorded in 2001 when Jay McShann was 85. He is teamed with Jim Galloway (who doubles on soprano and tenor), bassist Rosemary Galloway (Jim's wife) and drummer Don Vickery for a live set in Toronto. The music was never released before.

McShann and his sidemen perform eight selections, all of which the pianist had waxed at least a few times in the past. Swing standards such as "All of Me" and "Deed I Do" alternate with blues, including "Confessin' the Blues." McShann sings half of the selections (including a fine version of the ballad "I'll Catch the Sun") and Jim Galloway, whose soprano playing is closer to Zoot Sims than to Sidney Bechet, has plenty of solo space. Galloway and Vickery offer the lead voices steady and swinging support. The music on Hootie Blues will be familiar to Jay McShann fans, but it is full of joy and enthusiasm. Recommended.

In addition to the 49 minutes of music, there is a 24-minute ‘02 interview with McShann that, after a slow start, has several humorous stories. McShann talks about his early days, including the music scenes in Oklahoma and Kansas City, funny incidents that occurred when he was an orchestra leader, and a little-known period when Dizzy Gillespie sat in regularly, right next to Charlie Parker.

Sound
Originally a radio broadcast for CBC Radio, this set was recorded at the Montreal Bistro. Crowd noise is at a minimum other than applause, the balance of the four instruments is excellent, and the recording quality sounds sufficiently modern for a live performance. The interview of McShann by Holger Peterson, despite some background noise, is well worth preserving.







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