THAT MAN FROM NEW ORLEANS
JAZZ CRUSADE JCCD3033/4, 1998 16 tracks 141 min
Royal Garden Blues, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Some Of These Days, Sheikh Of Araby, Just A While To Stay Here, Tin Roof Blues, Algiers Strut, Bugle Boy March Lily Of The Valley, Dipper Mouth Blues, St. James Infirmary Blues, Hindustan, Over In The Gloryland, Summertime, St. Louis Blues, Bourbon St. Parade
New Orleans' jazz is black music. So how come so few black Americans play it today? Where is today's King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, or Bunk Johnson? Well it ain't Wyston Marsalis as he but rarely plays in the style. Nicholas Payton doesn't live up to the hype. Wendell Brumous shews some potential. Gregg Stafford? Oh yes, he der man!
These CDs, recorded live at a Toronto jazz festival are hard driving, hot New Orleans style jazz played by Gregg with members from various America and Canadian outfits. Every member deserves a mention: Big Bill Bissonnette moaning his trombone in his unique style, wicked reeds wizard Paul Boehmke, the 'all together' rhythm section of Emil Mark on banjo, Colin Bray on bass and Dennis Elder on drums, and the wonderful Roberta Hunt playing a 'barrel house' piano that compliments the rhythm boys, underlines the front line and contributes the odd solo break. But these CDs belong to Gregg Stafford.
The sleeve notes tell that Gregg is a snazzy dresser, wearing what at times must be startling outfits. Silk shirt and cravat one minute, a pin stripe suit complete with patent leather shoes the next, and then a racoon skin coat! I bet he never dresses casually but if he does I imagine he would be in one of a kind, eye catching custom sweatshirts to show off his edgy style. He is also said to be compulsive, like cancelling his air flight and instead driving from New Orleans to Toronto and gaining his first experience of tackling snow in the process. His playing is as sharp, punchy and snappy as his clothes; as impulsive and dynamic as his personality.
These are two brilliant and exuberant CDs. If you like New Orleans Jazz you have just got to have them. Even lovers of other Traditional and Dixieland jazz styles should get them. Ok, at times some of the musos get 'off mike', but this is live jazz. The 'liveness' is emphasised by the way the musicians feed off and drive each other on, ensuring that each tune is explored to the max. The shortest track is 5:31 and the longest, the extraordinary, 'Tin Roof Blues', is a full boded 13:07. Lie back, close your eyes, and you are there, caught up in the music with the wildly enthusiastic audience.
And Gregg Stafford? Oh yeh, he is de man alright!
STREETS OF THE CITY
GREGG STAFFORD & BRIAN CARRICK
JAZZ CRUSADE JCCD 3053 1999 14 tracks 72 min
Streets of the City, Darktown Strutter's Ball, A Kiss to Build a Dream On, Doctor Jazz, Punch's Long Distance Blues, High Society, All of Me, Maryland My Maryland, Basin Street Blues, Indiana, Honeysuckle Rose, Chinatown, Blueberry Hill, Gettysburg March
When you see a CD featuring America's leading black trumpet player and one of England's finest reedsmen, you know it is worth having, and this CD certainly is.
From the minute the first track cuts in with Gregg playing a beautiful mute trumpet and Brian weaving a magic clarinet, you feet start tapping. Record producer, Big Bill Bissonnette, has made something of a protegee of Gregg, he has also made a point of featuring British jazzmen. On this CD he has brought the two together and matched them with a fine second line consisting of Sven Stahlberg on drums, Colin Bray on bass and Emil Mark on piano.
All the tracks are well worth listening to. I particularly liked, 'Punch's Long Distance Blues', which allowed all the members of the band to shew themselves at their best. Brian Carrick plays some excellent low register clarinet; Emil Mark plays complimentary piano to Gregg's vocal; Colin Bray adds a beautiful break on his string bass; Gregg tops it off with some innovative horn playing. I should also mention, 'High Society', where Gregg's muted underscoring of the clarinet virtuoso break gives this popular tune a new twist. But the whole CD is excellent, full of surprises. One surprise I wasn't keen on, however, was the end part of 'Darktown Strutter's Ball'. Gregg continually plays a high note. Originally I thought that the CD was flawed and it was repeating, then I realised that Brian Carrick was weaving away beneath the note!
My father came in whilst I was playing the CD. He said: 'Very nice, but what it needs to make it perfect, is a trombone to add a bass element to the frontline.' Maybe there is a hint there for Big Bill when he is working out this year's recording schedule.
AT THE CROSS - PRAYING & SWAYING Volume 1
GREGG STAFFORD & Dr MICHAEL WHITE
JAZZ CRUSADE JCCD 3062 2001 13 tracks 69 min
Nobody's fault But Mine, 29th & Dearborn, I Shall Not Be Moved, Saturday Night Function, Canal Street Blues, At The Cross, Fusty Bottom Blues, Bye & Bye/Saints, Flee As A Bird to The Mountain, Lead Me Saviour, Blues In The Night, Bugle Call Rag, 29th & Dearborn (take 2)
If you have read any of my other reviews of Dr Michael or Gregg Stafford, you will know that I consider them to be two of America's finest living jazzmen. So, it should be no surprise to find that with the two of them together in the same band I am blown away. This is black American jazz getting back to its roots, albeit with some fine white boys in the second line giving them excellent support.
The music is a mix of gospel, spiritual and blues. Mostly it is played ensemble, but there are some fine solos too. In addition to solo breaks Gregg gets to provide a gut wrenchingly beautiful interpretation of ' Flee As A Bird to The Mountain', and Dr Michael solos on an upbeat ' Lead Me Saviour'. But it is not just the two stars who make this CD the must buy that it is; Reide Kaiser on piano, Colin Bray on bass, Emil Mark on banjo and, tai fach, Taff Lloyd on drums are superb. They go beyond complimenting the front line and when they get a solo break of their own they shine.
There is no such thing as perfection; however, if they can find a black trombonist of the same quality as Dr Michael and Gregg and the rest of the band, then maybe we will come close to it. If there are no black American trombonists who can fit the bill, I wonder if Jazz Crusade label owner Bill Bissonnette can be persuaded to bring in Englishman Geoff Cole to take the role.
Buy this CD now. If you do not, I will come looking for you to know why!
DOWN HOME MUSIC
GREGG STAFFORD & Dr MICHAEL WHITE
JAZZ CRUSADE JCCD 3051 2001 12 tracks 70 min
You Tell Me Your Dreams, Back Porch, When I Grow Too Old To Dream, My Life Will Be Sweeter Someday, Rose Room, Mr Jelly Lord, Marie La Veau, The Bucket's Got A Hole In It, The Pearls, Amen/Whole World In His Hands, Panama Rag, When I Grow Too Old To Dream (Take 2)
When I got his CD I thought 'The boys are back!' when in fact they didn't go away. Let me explain; this is the same line-up as on At The Cross - Praying & Swaying Volume 1 and most of the tracks were laid down two days after that wonderful session. This is another superb CD by the band Jazz Crusade put together featuring trumpeter Gregg Stafford and clarinettist Dr Michael White. Whilst Stafford and White are the stars, they are more than ably backed by Reide Kaiser on piano, Colin Bray on bass, Emil Mark on banjo and Taff Lloyd on drums. In fact the other members of the band get many chances to impress the listener with their talents, especially Reide Kaiser who gets Mr Jelly Lord, and The Pearls largely to himself.
By buying this CD you not only get some of the world's best jazzmen, but a selection of tunes that includes some that don't often appear elsewhere. This CD is a fine addition to any traditional jazz fan, particularly if the New Orleans' flavour suites their palette.
NEW ORLEANS DELIGHT FEATURING GREGG STAFFORD & BRIAN TOWERS
Music Mecca CD 4092-1 2005 12 tracks 76 min
Second Line March, Some Of These Days, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, Fidgety Feet, Milneburg Joys, St Louis Blues, Just A Little While, Old Time Religion, Dr Jazz, Hindustan, What A Wonderful World, Saints
It would be nice to think that I helped to instigate this fusion. I came across Greg Stafford a few years back via a Jazz Crusade CD. I was so impressed that I mentioned to Kjeld Brandt, leader of New Orleans Delight, a band that does not have a resident trumpet player, that NOD should try and get Gregg to do a tour with them. This is that tour, but I am sure Kjeld already had it organised as Mr Stafford was already well known to Kjeld’s contacts the other side of the Atlantic plus I am sure I had heard that he had played at the Gothenburg Jazz Festival.
What caught my attention was not only Gregg Stafford’s brilliance on trumpet but the fact that he was a black man from New Orleans. Although we all know that New Orleans and in fact all traditional jazz, is black in origin, we tend to forget that the only regular black faces in the post-war revival bands tended to be the original stalwarts that started the whole thing off years before. In recent years traditional jazz has become mainly a white man’s preserve. Well here is Gregg and he has true New Orleans pedigree straight from the text book having started his career playing in the brass marching bands in that city.
Naturally you will see from the above reviews the esteem in which I hold New Orleans Delight, so their matching with Gregg was bound to be a success. The other guest is British born Canadian Brian Towers on trombone. NOD were between trombone players at that time and Brian proves to be a suitable fill in for the front line, but it really it is Gregg Stafford that this CD belongs to.
The material is hardly startling, but NOD and its guests still manage to serve these old favourites up hot and fresh. It was nice to hear the lyrics to ‘Milneburg Joys’ actually being used and I have had ‘Second Line March’ echoing through my head ever since I started to play the CD, which is a bit disconcerting when trying to sleep at nights. It is, however, these two tracks that stand out and I feel display Gregg's ability and talent. ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’ is truly magic, especially as it gives the whole band a chance to shine alongside Gregg. However, Gregg’s rendition of ‘What A Wonderful World’ is, perhaps, the best tune for Gregg as accompanied only by the back line, with the sympathetic Hans Pederson on piano, he takes Louis Armstrong’s tune and makes it his own. Ok, so at the very end he deliberately impersonates Satchmo, but to me it is iconic as I feel that Gregg Stafford is deservedly taking on Old Satchel Mouth’s mantel.
Well done everyone, and when is the next tour and CD due please?
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