Oscar Alemán is one of the great unknown talents in jazz history. A brilliant guitarist who sounded very close to Django Reinhardt at times, Alemán was overshadowed in Europe by Reinhardt in the 1930s and spent much of the rest of his career in his native Argentina, remaining well known only in that country. This 1998 double CD from Dave Grisman's Acoustic Disc label has highlights from Alemán's career, including the eight selections he recorded during his three European sessions of 1938-1939, plus music from 1941-1947 and 1951-1954. Although the settings varied (including a sextet with violinist Svend Asmussen, a nonet, and two unaccompanied guitar solos), Alemán's basic swing style stayed the same, retaining its enthusiasm and creativity and remaining unaffected by bop. Sticking throughout to acoustic guitar and taking an occasional good-time vocal, Alemán is heard in peak form. He deserves to be much better known. A definitive two-fer from a major talent.
Kenny Clarke was a jazz drummer and an early innovator of the BeBop style of drumming. As the house drummer at Minton's Playhouse in the early 1940s, he participated in the after hours jams that led to the birth of modern jazz. He is credited with creating the modern role of the ride cymbal as the primary timekeeper. Before, drummers kept time on the snare drum ("digging coal", Clarke called it) with heavy support from the bass drum. With Clarke time was played on the cymbal and the bass and snare were used more for punctuation. For this, "every drummer" Ed Thigpen said, "owes him a debt of gratitude." Clarke was nicknamed "Klook" or "Klook-mop" for the style he innovated.
Having made a name for himself in the bands of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, trumpeter Bunny Berigan set out on his own in 1937. Heading up a big band that included such shifting personnel as drummer Buddy Rich, tenor saxophonist George Auld, trumpeter/arranger Ray Conniff, and pianist Joe Bushkin, Berigan blazed brightly and briefly, until alcoholism and a lack of discipline forced him to break up his band in 1939. This Classics disc features tracks cut before things went south. Covering the years 1937-1938, the 20 sides find Berigan and company in their prime, with sparkling solos coming from Berigan, Auld, Conniff, and Bushkin…
Andy Kirk's Orchestra was at the height of its popularity during the late 1930s, still riding high from their hit "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." The star of that record, singer Pha Terrell, is on the majority of the songs on this CD (the fourth in Classics' complete reissuance of the master takes of all Andy Kirk recordings from the swing era), but there are some hotter tunes too, most notably "Mess-A-Stomp," "Jump Jack Jump," "Dunkin' a Doughnut" and "Mary's Idea." However, Terrell's dominance of many titles may make many swing fans opt for the GRP/Decca single-disc Andy Kirk sampler instead.
Jazz musicians of any renown will eventually tour and record in Japan, but Midge Williams must be the only American artist whose recording career actually began there. She recorded in both Japanese and English in the '30s, working with local groups in China as well as Japan - all signs of the accomplished versatility that would later make her in demand with great jazz bandleaders such as Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, and Teddy Wilson. This singer was not always content to be a vocalist in someone else's band, no matter how big their names were, so she also fronted her own group known as Midge Williams & Her Jazz Jesters.
The basic and pleasing vocals of Maxine Sullivan are quite enjoyable. This CD has her first 23 recordings, including three songs originally released under pianist Claude Thornhill's name; Thornhill (who helped discover the singer) is on all of the selections. The original version of "Loch Lomond" is among the highlights and became a huge hit, leading to Sullivan's lightly swinging renditions of other folk songs such as "Darling Nellie Gray" and "Dark Eyes." Joined by such fine musicians as trumpeters Manny Klein, Frank Newton, Charlie Shavers and Bobby Hackett (all of whom are heard from briefly), along with the future members of the John Kirby Sextet, Maxine Sullivan is heard throughout in her early prime (she was 26-27 years old during this period).