Beating the Petrillo Ban: The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions
During the first years of his nearly two-decade tenure as the president of the American Federation of Musicians, James Petrillo was instrumental in organizing a strike of musicians that effectively halted the recording industry from 1942 to 1944. Concerned that juke boxes were severely undercutting live revenue for touring musicians -- and that recorded music would similarly replace live radio sessions for professional musicians -- the AFM went on strike, leading to no recording company recording a musician they had under contract, either as leaders or as support for singers. This two-year strike hurt the recording industry, and so when the threat of another strike surfaced toward the end of 1947 -- this time, the point of contention was distribution of funds to musicians losing work due to juke boxes and radio -- the labels decided to stockpile tons of recordings, just in case this second strike lasted as long as the first. It didn't. This second strike only lasted throughout 1948 and when it ended, many musicians wanted to record new material, leaving labels with a surplus of recordings that eventually trickled out over the years.
Ace's 2013 double-disc set Beating the Petrillo Ban: The Late December 1947 Modern Sessions rounds up 49 of these sessions, many of them alternate takes of cuts that were released elsewhere. This reliance on unheard material does mean there aren't so many unearthed classics, but that's also the pleasure of the set: it's the sound of working musicians working, knocking out songs in their repertoire or quickly running through new tunes because they know the clock is ticking. There is a looseness on these recordings, something that surfaces no matter what group is playing, probably because the artists had to produce so much music while under the gun. They're just hammering out the takes, and so while there's nothing exceptional, the consistency is rather remarkable: whether it's Hadda Brookes laying back with his trio or Gene Phillips jumping with his Rhythm Aces, or the Al "Cake" Wichard Sextet tearing it up with Jimmy Witherspoon, this is heartfelt groove music, everything relying on feel, not improvisation. And that's why this, even if it is admittedly second-tier and the kind of music that didn't make the cut the first time around, is so enjoyable: it's robust, swinging, humorous R&B, gospel, and jump blues. That it isn't exceptional almost makes it easier to cherish, because you wish that you could walk into any club and hear music this good.