Recorded in New York 1916-1935
Wilbur Sweatman has often been overlooked or written off in jazz history as a primitive clarinetist who, even with the passing of time, sounded like a vaudevillian. Listeners tend to forget just how far back Sweatman goes, for he was born in 1882 and performing professionally as early as 1895, making him a near-contemporary of Buddy Bolden. Sweatman worked in theater orchestras and extensively in vaudeville, learning his craft independent of the New Orleans jazz world. He became famous for playing three clarinets at once although unfortunately, he never recorded that feat. However in December 1916 he recorded two versions apiece of his "Down Home Rag" and "My Hawaiian Sunshine," two months before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made "Livery Stable Blues," which is considered the first jazz record. Listening to Sweatman's debut (which was preceded by a long-lost 1903 cylinder) makes one wonder a bit, for he sounds as if he is improvising jazz a bit, so perhaps he was really the first to record jazz. Sweatman next recorded with a saxophone quartet in April 1917 (influenced by the Six Brown Brothers) and then made most of his recordings with a rambunctious series of groups during 1918-1920. Those performances, which are mostly all-ensemble, lack any real subtlety although Sweatman does get to show off his technique and some of the tricks that he learned in vaudeville. All of Wilbur Sweatman's recordings are on this two-CD set and they also contain later performances from 1924 (including the first of five versions of Sweatman's "Battleship Kate," which may have Duke Ellington on piano), 1926, 1929, 1930, and four final numbers from 1935. While Wilbur Sweatman would never be considered as important to jazz as such clarinetists as Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds, this two-fer inspires one to re-evaluate his standing in jazz history. He was also one of the first worthwhile jazz bass clarinetists, too.