Max Kaminsky - trumpet; Lou McGarity - trombone; Bud Freeman - tenor sax; Peanuts Hucko - clarinet; Muggsy Spanier - cornet; Wingy Manone - trumpet; George Brunis - trombone; George Wettling - drums; George Wein - piano; Bob Haggard - bass; Buzzy Drootin - drums; Slam Stewart - bass; Jo Jones - drums; Ed Hall - clarinet; J.C. Higginbotham - trombone; Joe Thomas - trumpet; Billy Taylor - piano
George Wein loves a good jam session. From the very beginning of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1954, the piano playing impresario has endeavored to put together all-star aggregations for loose, spirited interplay on the bandstand, often joining in on the proceedings himself. An Earl Hines-inspired pianist, the Boston-born Wein was always comfortable in Dixieland settings, although he has also occasionally ventured into more modern fare (Ellington, Monk, Strayhorn) with more recent editions of his Newport All-Stars.
This "Great Moments in Jazz" program was actually a series of mini-sets that featured various Newport Jazz All-Stars, hand-picked by Wein, performing in different small group configurations. The first group is comprised of trumpeter Joe Thomas, trombonist J.C. Higginbotham, clarinetist Ed Hall, pianist Billy Taylor, bassist Sam Stewart, and drummer Jo Jones. Together they present a tasteful set that opens with a jauntily swinging "I May Be Wrong, But I Think You're Wonderful," with Papa Jo setting the pace with his signature syncopated hi hat cymbal beat. Thomas solos first, offering a soulful taste that scales the heights into the upper register with clarity and verve. Hall follows with an effervescent clarinet solo that floats over the insistent groove created by pianist Taylor, bassist Stewart, and drummer Jones. Trombonist Higginbotham takes his time on his solo, gradually developing his ideas while supported by the rest of the horns. Jones switches to slick brushwork behind Taylor's melodic and swinging piano solo before the whole ensemble comes together for a rousing Dixieland style crescendo with Thomas' bright, high note trumpet attack leading the way.
Next up is an aggregation featuring (in order of their solos) tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, trombonist Lou McGarity, trumpeter Max Kaminsky and clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, with a rhythm section comprised of Bob Haggart on bass, Buzzy Drootin on drums and Mr. Newport Jazz Festival himself, George Wein, on piano. Together they romp through an infectiously swinging rendition of "Chicago" with everyone getting ample solo room along the way. Trumpeter Kaminsky is featured on the mellow "Tin Roof Blues," a midtempo number originally recorded in 1923 by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings that also showcases Wein's ability to convincingly play the blues. Kaminsky gets in some animated plunger playing on this workhorse before revealing a strong Louis Amstrong influence in his open horn blowing on his last solo chorus. Trombonist McGarity, an in-demand New York session musician, plays a lyrical rendition of the gorgeous ballad "Stars Fell on Alabama," a signature piece for the influential Texas trombonist and longtime Armstrong colleague, Jack Teagarden. McGarity is supported here by Wein on piano, Haggart on bass, and Drootin on drums.
Billy Taylor takes over the piano chair for a politely swinging trio rendition of the standard "Sometimes I'm Happy (Sometimes I'm Blue)," a tune introduced in the 1927 Broadway musical Hit the Deck. With Slam Stewart holding down a steady groove on bass, drummer Jo Jones deftly alternates between brushes and sticks on the kit on this ebullient number. Stewart, one-time partner of guitarist-pianist-humorist-jiveolgist Slim Gaillard (aka Slim & Slam), plays one of his patented bowed bass and simultaneous scat solos on this sprightly number, and Jones engages in some extended and spirited exchanges of eights with Taylor before returning to the buoyant theme. This trio (which actually played together as a unit on 52nd Street back in 1942 when pianist Taylor arrived in New York after graduating from Virginia State College) continues with a bristling rendition of the 1929 chestnut "Just You, Just Me," which is fueled by Jones' inimitably slick brushwork. Stewart contributes another scat-and-bow bass solo before Jones erupts for another astounding brushes showcase (with a sly quote from Dizzy Gillespie's bebop anthem "Salt Peanuts" thrown in along the way).
The focus then shifts to trumpeter Muggsy Spanier, a member of Chicago's Austin High Gang - young impressionable players, including Bud Freeman, Jimmy McPartland and Frank Teschemacher, who grew up in the early 1920s following King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong on Chicago's South Side. Fronting a group consisting of veteran trombonist George Brunis, bassist Bob Haggart, drummer George Wettling, and clarinetist Ed Hall, Spanier launches into his theme song, "Relaxin' at the Touro," written to commemorate his sojourn at New Orleans' Touro Infirmary in 1938 while he was a member of Ben Pollack's Orchestra. Spanier solos first, flaunting some emotive plunger work, before pianist Wein enters with some accomplished ivory tickling. Next up in solo order is clarinetist Hall, who unleashes with blues-drenched abandon on this lazy N'awlins flavored number. Brunis kicks in some raucous tailgator trombone before Spanier brings the piece to a rousing finale with more plunger proclamations.
From there they head in to a Dixieland favorite, "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," which Spanier and Brunis recorded together in 1939. With Brunis on raggedy vocals (at one point shouting into the microphone, "Gimme rhythm! Rhythm controls the world!"), and Hall blowing hot licks on his clarinet, the ensemble invigorates the Newport audience with this toe-tapping number. They turn in a raw, spirited rendition of the Chicago jazz favorite, "Royal Garden Blues," written in 1919 by Clarence & Spencer Williams and popularized in 1927 by trumpet legend Bix Beiderbecke. Wein gets a substantial solo on this upbeat offering before Hall takes off on another inspired excursion on clarinet. Brunis follows with a bluesy trombone solo before Spanier enters, flashing his Chicago-style chops on trumpet. Bassist Haggart and drummer Drootin each get a little solo showcase before they wrap up this high energy romp in true Dixieland fashion.
Trumpeter Joe Thomas returns to the stage for a lyrical reading of the beautiful ballad "I'm in the Mood for Love," revealing the considerable influence of Armstrong in a quartet setting with pianist Billy Taylor, bassist Slam Stewart, and drummer Jo Jones. Trombonist J.C. Higginbotham is next showcased in a moving rendition of "Dear Old Southland," a tune based on the old-time spiritual number "Deep River," which was sung by Paul Robeson in the 1929 film Show Boat. Following a somber hymn-like intro, the piece shifts gears and kicks into high-stepping gear with Taylor, Stewart and Jones lending capable support in the rhythm section. Jones is spotlighted on a blazing rendition of "Old Man River" alongside clarinetist Hall, bassist Stewart and pianist Taylor before he breaks loose for a spellbinding six-minute drum solo that showcases his unparalleled agility and ingenuity on the kit.
The entire "Great Moments in Jazz" ensemble returns to the stage for a vigorous finale of "That's A Plenty," a piano rag composed in 1914 by Lew Pollack that later became a Dixieland classic and was recorded in 1940 by Spanier and Sidney Bechet. Three drummers - Jones, Wettling and Drootin - share one set of drums on this lively closer. And while the prospect of organizing all those bodies on stage may have presented a challenge for Wein, several of the players cut through the chaos with searing solos, including trombonists Higginbotham and Brunis, trumpeters Thomas, Manone and Spanier, and clarinetists Hall and Hucko. At one point during Spanier's solo, Manone barks into the mic: "We want you to know we get paid for this! We get paid to have a good time!" Clearly, a good time was had by all. (Milkowski)