Sunday, July 10, 2016

Chu Berry Jam - 1937-1941

Tenor sax giant Chu Berry
Giant of the tenor sax Leon Brown "Chu" Berry (1908-1941) made a considerable number of records both as a side man in various ensembles and as a member of Fletcher Henderson's and Cab Calloway's orchestras from the mid-1930s up till his untimely death in a car crash October 1941. Some years ago the Mosaic label released a box set devoted to the Columbia and Victor sessions featuring Chu Berry in various settings worth looking for.
Classic Chu Berry - Columbia and Victor Sessions (Mosaic, MD7-236)
Only four times Chu Berry recorded under his own name, two sessions for Variety March 23 and September 10, 1937 as Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores, and two sessions for Milt Gabler's Commodore label  November 11, 1938 as Chu Berry And His "Little Jazz" Ensemble, and August 28, 1941 as Chu Berry And His Jazz Ensemble. In all, 16 sides from these sessions were released and later re-issued in the Chronogical Classics series shown below.
Chu Berry 1937-1941 (Chronogical Classics, CD 784)
The first session by Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores from March 23, 1937 yielded four issued sides. The ensemble comprised Hot Lips Page (tp, vo), George Matthews (tb), Buster Bailey (cl), Chu Berry (ts), Horace Henderson (p), Lawrence Lucie (g), Israel Crosby (b), Cozy Cole (dm). The recorded titles were Now You're Talking My Language, Indiana, Too Marvellous For Words and Limehouse Blues. My favorites from this session are the instrumental versions of Indiana and Limehouse Blues, inserted below from uploaded YouTube audio-videos.

In his Solography on Chu Berry, Jan Evensmo had this comment on the March 23, 1937 session: "Although some music is good, the general result is not what one should expect from this group. The main reason may be that the rhythm section is too heavy. On neither side a satisfying easy rhythmic balance is achieved. As the band title indicates, this is simply "stompy" swing music without ambitions." The comment may be correct to some tastes of small group swing, however, in my opinion the two inserted examples of the music from the session are red hot and swing like mad, great stuff, indeed!
Columbia 37571 - Chuberry Jam
The second session for Variety was scheduled on September 10, 1937 and again yielded four issued sides. This time the ensemble comprised bandmembers of Cab Calloway's orchestra: Irving Randolph (tp), Keg Johnson (tb), Chu Berry (ts), Bennie Payne (p, vo), Danny Barker (g), Milt Hinton (b), LeRoy Maxey (dm). The recorded tunes were Chuberry Jam, Maelstrom, My Secret Love Affair and Ebb Tide. Again Jan Evensmo is not too enthusiastic with this session, he writes in his Solography: "Chu's second session under his own leadership, with musicians from Cab Calloway's band, is, like the first, not wholly successful. The rhythm section, which does such an excellent job with the full orchestra, is in this context much too heavy and without swing. There are no ambitions behind this music, though the idea is probably to make simple and solid music, and, as such, it is in many ways both efficient and enjoyable. I would also presume it had a wide public appeal." Indeed, the music appeals to my taste of great swing music, and I agree with Evensmo in his choice of best recordings of the session being Chuberry Jam and Ebb Tide, inserted below.

On November 11, 1938 Chu Berry And His "Little Jazz" Ensemble recorded four issued sides for the Commodore label. The ensemble comprised Roy Eldridge (tp), Chu Berry (ts), Clyde Hart (p), Danny Barker (g), Al Shapiro (b), Sid Catlett (dm). Two up-tempo tunes,Sittin' In and 46 West 52 (- actually a rendition of Sweet Georgia Brown) are high quality swing, while the ballad versions of Stardust and Body And Soul leap to a sentimental level, here I fully agree with Evensmo's opinon. The two first mentioned are inserted below.

Commodore 541-A - Blowing Up A Breeze
The second session for Commodore was recorded on August 28, 1941 and yielded four issued sides. This time Chu Berry And His Jazz Ensemble comprised Hot Lips Page (tp, vo), Chu Berry (ts), Clyde Hart (p), Al Casey (g), Al Morgan (b), Harry Jaeger (dm). From this session are inserted the issued takes of Blowing Up A Breeze and Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You, great examples of both up-tempo swing and a ballad with a blues feeling.

The two remaining titles from this session are On The Sunny Side Of The Street and  Monday At Minton's, both played at a medium/slow tempo and with many fine details in the solos.

All sides presented in this small review are re-issued at the above shown Chronogical Classics CD. Jan Evensmo's Chu Berry Solography is free accessible as a pdf. download, here  

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