A valuable core sample of Bunk Johnson's remarkable career as living relic and patriarch of the traditional jazz revitalization movement of the 1940s, Bunk and the New Orleans Revival 1942-1947
contains some two and a quarter hours of austere New Orleans polyphony. This two-for-the-price-of-one package includes authentic street parade jazz, a swell taste of how Johnson sounded filling in for Lu Watters
with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, and two powerful examples of Johnson's brief collaboration with Sidney Bechet. A trio session from 1946 offers a rare opportunity to appreciate Johnson without any other horns in the room, backed only by pianist Don Ewell
and drummer Alphonse Steele
. This trio's treatment of "In the Gloaming" is very likely among the best recordings old Johnson ever made. Four selections from Johnson's last recording session, made (with no audience in attendance) at Carnegie Hall in 1947, round out a satisfying tribute to this controversial man and his scruffy brand of traditional jazz. While Johnson may be an easy target for critics and disgruntled historians, the music he left behind stands its own ground, unencumbered by numerical rating systems or anybody's specialized opinions. It moves at will according to its own itinerary. The best way to listen is to suspend all preconceptions, opening one's heart to the simple unity of each ensemble. Then you get the feeling there is no need for highfalutin evaluations. While the rhythms of the 1942 recordings are described in the liner notes as "rather plodding" (as compared with those 1945 sessions involving Baby Dodds
), there is something weirdly satisfying about their deliberate "dance tempo" percolation. Johnson's recordings are about hanging loose and getting the feeling. See also Lester Bowie
's moments of gutbucket ebullience with the Art Ensemble of Chicago
. It's all about getting the feeling.
This has got to be one of the widest-ranging Bunk Johnson retrospectives ever presented to the public in one package. Johnson is first heard in New Orleans in 1942, armed with his new horn and a special set of artificial teeth designed for him by Dr. Leonard Bechet, Sidney's brother. The 1944 Yerba Buena session took Johnson to San Francisco, while a "V-Disc Veterans" date (including bassist Red Callender
and Lester Young
's brother Lee
on drums) was recorded in Los Angeles that same year. Johnson made more recordings in New Orleans during 1944-1945, and in New York throughout 1945, 1946, and 1947. In a way it is unfortunate that certain individuals persisted in focusing the limelight (and the microphones) so exclusively upon Johnson, thereby neglecting other gifted New Orleans musicians such as Kid Shots Madison, whose woefully few recordings are hardly remembered today. (Shots appears on the Johnson's Brass Band session of May 18, 1945; three tracks from that date are included in this compilation.) In another sense listeners are awfully lucky that William Russell
took the time and made the effort to record this music on location in the city of New Orleans, where surprisingly few jazz recording sessions occurred before 1942. Anyone seeking an in-depth Bunk Johnson experience should consult the American Music label of New Orleans, from which all of Johnson's hometown sessions are available on compact disc. Shots Madison shows up marvelously on George Lewis with Kid Shots Madison
(AMCD-2). Congratulations to Jasmine Records of London for releasing this outstanding tribute to Bunk Johnson. He deserves to be heard.