Eric Seddon is a writer and jazz clarinetist living in Cleveland. Follow this blog to find articles on clarinet techniques, sound, embouchure, equipment, Historical Concert Series, trad jazz music and more.
Congratulations to Cleveland's legendary BOP STOP for having been named the #1 Jazz Club in America and the #2 in the World in the All About Jazz Readers Poll! I'm very proud to have recorded my band's live album -- Bootlegs from the Bop Stop --there in the Fall of 2017!
In the Fall of 2017, my band Eric Seddon's Hot Club was given the rare opportunity to lead a six concert history of jazz clarinet. At the time we jokingly called it the Trad Jazz Invasion, and were deeply grateful for the enthusiasm and support of the manager, Gabe Pollack, for giving us the opportunity and sticking with us for that entire season. We were so happy with the sound of the room and some of the performances captured by friends that we released Eric Seddon's Hot Club "Bootlegs from the Bop Stop" in 2018. You can order your copy of the album here.
As an interesting note, only the Kozlov Club in Moscow topped the Bop Stop globally. This isn't much of surprise to me, as so many of our readers are from the Russian Federation. perhaps we'll have to do a second live album there!
I'm a little late in mentioning this on the blog, but it was very gratifying to have The Jazz Clarinet reviewed in the September issue of The Clarinet (The Journal of the International Clarinet Association).
Reviewer Kellie Lignitz-Hahn had some very kind words for the blog:
"Created by writer and jazz clarinetist Eric Seddon, The Jazz Clarinet blog is sure to be of interest to any clarinet enthusiast..."
"[Seddon's] lengthy posts are well-written and full of tidbits of historical information. This site is a great starting point for clarinetists wanting to know more about jazz players and equipment, and it is also a great read for seasoned players."
The Jazz Clarinet in The Clarinet!
As far as publications go, The Clarinet is the standard bearer for our instrument. To be mentioned so positively there is really an honor. I encourage all clarinetists to join the International Clarinet Association--among other benefits, you'll receive a subscription to The Clarinet, which is worth the price of membership alone.
The September Issue of The Clarinet, appropriately sporting the image of Sidney Bechet
One year ago tonight, Eric Seddon's Hot Club was in the middle of a six concert 'Trad Jazz Invasion' of the Bop Stop in Cleveland. Several of the numbers we performed that night were captured and released on our first CD: Eric Seddon's Hot Club: Bootlegs from the Bop Stop. (Click link and scroll down for CD ordering information.)
Here are some clips of the band from that series...it was a special time.
Go Down Moses - YouTube
"Jeremiah Blues" Eric Seddon's Hot Club Live at the Bop Stop - YouTube
Eric Seddon's Hot Club Live at The Bop Stop: "A Smooth One" - YouTube
Side One Midnight in Moscow Avalon Lonesome Road Fidgety Feet Ballin' the Jack Somebody Stole My Gal Side Two Bill Bailey Jada My Gal Sal South Sister Kate My Blue Heaven Teddy Buckner, trumpet Caughey Roberts, clarinet (soprano sax on 'My Gal Sal') Willie Woodman, trombone Chester Lane, Piano Art Edwards, Bass Jesse Sailes, Drums
From the late 1940's through the early '60s there was such cross-pollination between the Trad Jazz scenes in the UK and United States, it becomes difficult to determine who was really taking the lead at various times. While Ken Colyer and Chris Barber lead the charge on the London scene at the beginning of the era, emulating New Orleans style bands especially, by the late '50s Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball had reached the top of the pop charts in both Britain and the US and were influencing American set lists and albums.
That the students had become at least in some ways the masters can be born out by the caliber of artists covering their tunes. Acker Bilk's 'Stranger on the Shore', released in 1961, became a number one hit in the US, subsequently covered by Pete Fountain on his 1963 Coral record, Plenty of Pete. Likewise, Kenny Ball's greatest hit from 1961 was a Russian song originally entitled "Leningrad Nights," renamed "Midnight in Moscow." Ball's version hit the number two spot on in both the UK and the US, inspiring Los Angeles-based trad jazz trumpeter Teddy Buckner to cover the tune, releasing an album of the same name in 1962.
Teddy Buckner was a fine Trad trumpeter in the style of Louis Armstrong and Bunk Johnson, who served his musical apprenticeship in the Kid Ory Band during the first wave of West Coast Trad revivals. Among jazz clarinetists, he is probably best known for the recordings his band did with Edmond Hall. This 1962 release, however, and the clarinetist who played on it, ought to be remembered as well.
In the history of jazz, there are many local legends who, for some reason or another, never capture the imagination of the press or public. It can be difficult to figure out why, but it's simply a fact that some players turn into celebrities while others labor in relative obscurity--sometimes possessing the same or greater levels of talent and ability as their more famous counterparts. One of the great gifts of recorded history, however, is our ability to find these underappreciated players and shine some light on their important music making, even decades after they have passed away. Caughey Roberts (first name pronounced 'Couch-ie') is one of those players deserving far wider fame and respect in the history of jazz clarinet. This album is eloquent proof.
First of all, he is the main featured soloist on this album--taking at least as much solo time as the bandleader, Buckner. His sound is comparable to Edmond Hall's, except (and may the righteous legions of Edmond Hall admirers forgive me for saying it) he tends to play better in tune, at least on this album. His fire is also a bit like the mighty Hall, but reminds me most of another neglected flame-thrower of the early '60s: Doug Richford, whose clarinet work with Bob Wallis's Storyville Jazz Men ought to be legendary. In all, I think these men tend to create a core of clarinet style characterized by their use of persistent growl texture (almost a permanent part of their tones), unique and characteristic blues shadings, and aggressive style. I love this 'school' of Trad Clarinet and suggest players listen to all three of them to gain perspective on the scope the style suggests. Too often Edmond Hall is considered a unique loner in the world of jazz clarinet, when in fact he was part of a movement of playing, and perhaps the originator of a style.
All the cuts on this album are worth listening to--Caughey plays clarinet except on 'My Gal Sal', where he shows his skill on soprano sax, strongly in the tradition of Sidney Bechet. One moment of interest comes on 'Bill Bailey', where he hits and holds an altissimo A (concert G). Because this sort of range is rare among Trad Jazz clarinetists of that era, it seems even higher than usual, becoming quite a dramatic statement.
Those wanting to know more about this remarkable clarinetist are encouraged to read Peter Vacher's obituary of this great musician from August of 1991.
Side One 1. When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You) 2. Love Walked In 3. Just Friends 4. Shine 5. Maria Elena
Side Two 1. Honeysuckle Rose 2. Scatter-Brain 3. Rain 4. The One I Love Belongs To 5. Somebody Else 6. Oh, Lady Be Good! Pete Fountain - Clarinet Frank Flynn - Amplified Marimba Jack Sperling - Drums Bob Bain - Guitar Ray Leatherwood - Bass
This 1981 session is one of my favorites recorded by Pete Fountain after his golden era with Coral Records in the early 1960s. Here he's reunited with old friends in Hollywood, among them the great Jack Sperling, twenty years after he and Pete had made jazz history with classic albums like Pete Fountain Day, At the Bateau Lounge, Pete Fountain's New Orleans, and so many others.
Instead of a traditional rhythm section with piano, or even vibes, Pete employs Frank Flynn for this date on Amplified Marimba. If there are any other albums of Pete's with marimba featured so prominently, I haven't heard them, so as far as I know, this is unique, giving us a chance to hear a more intimate type of ensemble work. Partially because of this, the lines among the musicians are very clearly delineated, and that's a treat. More than any of his other albums, this one comes closest to giving us Pete Fountain take on 'chamber jazz.'
Having said that, while this is a real jazz combo album, as opposed to Pete's forays into easy listening concept albums or big band work, those expecting the old intensity between Fountain and Sperling might be disappointed. Jack is tasteful and swinging on this session, but the old fire -- the pushing and prodding back and forth with Pete that added so much to the early Coral discs-- just isn't here. Instead, the drums become subdued accompaniment.
Highlights of this album include Pete's takes on 'Just Friends' and a ballad he was to record in many settings, 'Maria Elena.' For me, this recording of the latter is his finest--gentle, sweet, intimate, with perfect personnel.
The sound quality on this album is also excellent, giving us a different perspective on the classic 'Pete Fountain sound.' Unlike the early Coral discs, the whole ambiance is much more 'dry', with less reverb. Pete's playing is captured slightly brighter than usual, with more edge. For aficionados of sound, this will give different angles on a master's playing.
I'm one who unabashedly prefers Pete's small ensemble work--with all it's polyphonic implications, creativity, and extended solos--to his larger ensemble or orchestral albums (though many of those are favorites too, for different reasons). So for me this unique ensemble release is a part of the essential collection.
Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Doubloon (Eric Seddon Collection)
Eric Seddon's Hot Club at the BOP STOP (photo: Bill Laufer)
This is the Big One at Last! If you're wondering which of our upcoming gigs to attend, our CD release party at the Bop Stop is the one I'd suggest. I usually don't discriminate when it comes to gigs, but last year Gabe Pollack gave our band the unprecedented opportunity to play a six concert 'Trad Jazz Invasion' of the Bop Stop in Cleveland. We covered rarely heard Sidney Bechet numbers, Jimmie Noone, George Lewis, Benny Goodman, Acker Bilk, Hubert Rostaing, and an evening of my own tunes.
One of the results of that series was our new CD--Bootlegs from the Bop Stop, recorded by Bill Laufer and my wife Elisa, which we'll be selling at this gig.
Also joining us this Thursday will be the legendary Dean of the Trad Jazz Scene here in Cleveland-- George Foley--on the Bop Stop's famous Steinway. If you haven't heard George on a Steinway, this is one of the great opportunities to do so.
George Foley (piano) with Eric Seddon (clarinet)
Mostly, I'd like to thank Gabe with a packed house--for backing our group throughout all of last Fall, and allowing our mission of bringing Traditional New Orleans style jazz played at the highest level of artistry a chance to shine at one of the top nightclubs in Cleveland.
Eric Seddon, clarinet George Foley, piano Kevin T Richards, guitar Gene Epstein, bass Bill Fuller, drums
Side One 1. Creole Love Call (*) 2. I Want To Be Happy 3. Brahms' Lullaby (+) 4. Ballin' The Jack 5. Moonglow (++) 6. Rockin' Chair (*)
Side Two 1. Midnight Pete (+) 2. Bourbon Street Parade 3. Swing Low 4. Makin' Whoopee 5. Battle Hymn Of The Republic 6. Midnight Boogie (++) Pete Fountain, clarinet Bobby Gibbons, guitar Godfrey Hirsch, vibes Stan Wrightsman, piano Morty Corb, bass Jack Sperling, drums (*) Nick Fatool, drums (+) John Propst, piano (++)Ray Sherman, piano
1963 was a remarkable year for Pete Fountain, and for jazz clarinet in general. Pete's contributions include no fewer than four albums: Plenty of Pete, Music from Dixie, Mr. New Orleans, and the subject of this review, New Orleans at Midnight. The year also featured a ground breaking opus of the Buddy DeFranco/Tommy Gumina Quartet entitled pol*y*tones (a very important album desperately in need of reissue), and the classic Benny Goodman Quartet reunited for their last studio recording, Together Again.
Compared with the other albums from this year, New Orleans at Midnight is a real 'sound'-focused album: Pete's crooning side is on full display. The arrangements are tight and well thought out, and like its name, this album gives the vibe of an 'after hours' set, less focused on hot soloing. One exception, and a high point of the album that has been reissued on various "Best of" compilations, is Pete's rendition of 'Bourbon Street Parade', which is among his finest recordings and my personal favorite by a clarinetist of this classic Paul Barbarin tune.
It's also with gratitude that I find the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' on this album, played with depth and reverence. This makes a nice contrast with Pete's spirited version of 'Dixie' from his earlier French Quarter album, perhaps handling respectfully and symbolically some of the difficulties of American history that were still turbulent in the 1960s, and resonate even today.
When dealing with New Orleans jazz, or jazz in general, there is no way of avoiding America's trouble history with race and racism. I might as well say here that I'm always a bit on edge when I hear a jazz band play 'Dixie.' I know that for white southerners of Pete's generation it might have meant something different, but there are too many disturbing stories such as those related in Tom Sancton's book Song for My Fathers (a must read for anyone interested in the history of New Orleans jazz, particularly in the 1960s) detailing humiliating circumstances of black bands being forced to play the tune under racist circumstances. Like so many of our symbols, which get necessarily reevaluated as time progresses, this tune has its baggage that cannot be ignored. Let me try to be clear on a subject that is anything but easy: I think 'Dixie' is a great tune, musically. But symbolically it is problematic for me in the context of the 1960s, especially. This would be a very troubled thing for me if we didn't have Pete's clear pronouncement on race and jazz, along with his own homage and gratitude to George Lewis and other great black musicians, in his autobiography:
I used to go down to St. Bernard Street and sit in with a lot of the black bands. I must have been one of the only white musicians doing that because the union frowned on it. But I wasn't a member of the union, and I felt too that if they were nice enough to let me sit in, I was going to give them the best I had. I've never been at all concerned about the way a musician looks. I listen to what comes out of his horn, and judge only that. And jazz and blues are black music first; some of the sounds I was hearing were mighty good.
I sat in with George Lewis and Papa Celestin and some of the greatest black bands in jazz. George Lewis particularly fascinated me. He played a fine clarinet, and I would always watch him closely; then I would get up and add my own piece to what he was playing. We had a great time, and I learned a great deal from these sessions. [from A Closer Walk: The Pete Fountain Story. The Henry Regnery Company, Chicago (1972) pg 38-39]
This sort of acknowledgement, and the sort of risk taking Pete Fountain, George Lewis, and others engaged in for the sake of sharing and making music, is very powerful. One can make an argument (and I often do!) that in mid-century, the two most important New Orleans jazz musicians were Lewis and Fountain. Lewis lead the charge of the New Orleans revival from the late 1940s through the 60s, and was responsible for much of the global Trad Jazz explosion during those years, while Pete took the music to new levels of virtuosity, fusing it with other forms in the process. This quiet, after hours version of the 'Battle Hymn', so unusual for a white southerner to play in that era, seems to me an beautiful and eloquent statement.
All the other tunes on this remarkably mixed bag of an album are well performed and satisfying. It might not be the greatest of Pete's golden era Coral records, but it is a worthy entry, with a touch of important symbolism.
Pete Fountain Mardi Gras Beads (Eric Seddon Collection)
Side One 1. Muskrat Ramble 2. Memories Of You 3. Christopher Columbus 4. I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues 5. Struttin' With Some Barbecue
Side Two 1. Ramblin' Medley: a) Oh, Didn't He Ramble b) St. Louis Blues c) Comin' Round The Mountain d) Tiger Rag 2. Embraceable You 3. When My Sugar Walks Down The Street 4. You Are My Sunshine Pete Fountain, clarinet Nick Fatool, drums Bob Havens, trombone Eddie Miller, tenor sax Charley Teagarden, trumpet Godfrey Hirsch, vibes Earl Vuiovich, piano Oliver Felix, bass Recorded 'Live' at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn, New Orleans
With this octet, Pete Fountain broke the mold of his Coral small combo records by including Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Charley Teagarden on trumpet, and Bob Haven on trombone. Instead of emphasizing the intimate nightclub feel his earlier efforts had captured so successfully, Pete opens up as a leader on this one, giving leads to all of his wind players and driving the polyphony in a unique, clarinet-focused way. This is also the first Pete Fountain album to feature Nick Fatool on drums for the entire album. The result is a more street-beat oriented and at times more raucous live experience--very different from Pete's Place and At The Bateau Lounge. The arrangements are also a little more scripted, and not really reminiscent of his earlier work with Al Hirt or others from the 1950s, so listeners hoping for more of that should mitigate their expectations.
'Muskrat Ramble' leads off with a bass/drums duo into, not usual for the tune, which is interesting.
Eddie Miller takes a tenor sax lead on 'Memories of You.' His playing is solid, but not inspired. This is a tough tune for any clarinetist taking at the ballad tempo of Benny Goodman, as it was so deeply associated with him, not only through the great sextet recordings, but the fact that it was ingrained in pop culture as a leitmotif in The Benny Goodman Story. When Pete takes his chorus, he makes the homage clear.
Bob Havens' trombone takes the lead on both 'Christopher Columbus' (rarely performed outside of its more famous spot in Jimmy Mundy's 'Sing Sing Sing' arrangement for the Goodman band) and 'I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues.' Adding the diversity of voices, on side two, Charley Teagarden, trumpet player and brother of the more famous Jack Teagarden, leads on 'Embraceable You.' Unfortunately, the playing, while nice and solid, is unexceptional and a seems a bit scripted.
The climax of the album comes with Side Two's 'Ramblin' Medley'. I'm not a big fan of medleys, though they were quite popular at the time (Duke Ellington employed them regularly in his set lists during the 1960s as well). On this album, for once the medley is on side 2, and seems really well placed in the overall form of the album. Nick Fatool's street beat drumming is intense and pushes the whole thing beautifully.
I don't want to give the wrong impression: Pete's playing is excellent on this album, as it is for all of the live Coral albums of the late '50s through the '60s. Any fan of his virtuosic clarinet style will enjoy it, and the album has very interesting things about it, along with satisfying emotional climaxes. But for me, personally, the true golden era of those Coral nightclub albums comes to a close with Pete's Place. There is something special about the string of small combo, clarinet dominated albums from 1959-1965, and with Standing Room Only, I think we sense Pete's recording career in transition to other, larger ensemble projects.
Oh, Lady Be Good (*) Fascination Medley: Fascination/Basin St Blues/Tin Roof Blues/Way Down Yonder in New Orleans It's Just a Little While (To Stay Here) That's A Plenty (*) The Sheik of Araby (*) The Preacher (What Did I Do to Be So) Black & Blue March to Peruna (*) Pete Fountain * clarinet Godfrey Hirsch * vibes Earl Vuiovich * piano Paul Guna * guitar/banjo Oliver Felix * bass (*)Nick Fatool * drums Paul Edwards * drums
Recorded on the Saturday before Mardi Gras in February of 1964 at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn on the corner of Bourbon and St Anne Streets in New Orleans, and released in 1965, Pete's Place is both a continuation and the beginning of a new era in the clarinetist's development. In terms of continuity, this album flows perfectly in the stream of 'golden era' Pete Fountain live recordings, following Pete Fountain Day (1959), At the Bateau Lounge(1960), and Live in Santa Monica (1961). The newness is subtle, but to Fountain aficionados noticeable: Pete's tempi aren't quite as burning, he's both more patient and inventive as a soloist on tunes like The Sheik of Araby, and most significantly, this is the first small combo album of the Coral era that features Nick Fatool on drums rather than Jack Sperling. Sperling's flash and fire had been a major component of every previous small group album for Coral, and the body of work that Fountain and the virtuosic drummer built, stretching over eight or nine albums (depending on how you count them) rightfully takes its place in jazz history alongside other inspired duos such as Goodman & Krupa, or Brown & Roach. Pete & Jack's sympathetic musicality bordering on a type of telepathy was of that rare kind, surpassing normal ensemble brilliance. This album, without Sperling's presence, is immediately different in timbre and groove.
Having given credit where it is due, few drummers could have stepped in with the degree of success of Nick Fatool. Nick was a true jazz veteran by this point in his career, having recorded with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw as early as the 1940s, making him possibly the only drummer to record with that triumvirate on classic small combo albums. Too often overlooked by jazz history, it's worth pointing out that Fatool provided the perfect pocket grooves for Artie Shaw's original Gramercy 5 recordings and the deep backbeats and streetbeats for Pete's Place. While not as flashy as some other drummers, Fatool was a musician's musician--making every ensemble better for his musical presence, subtlety, and unique 'cushion.'
Highlights of this album include Fatool's solo on 'Oh, Lady Be Good' and the interaction he has with Fountain on 'The Sheik of Araby.' It's telling to contrast Fatool's duo style with Sperling's on 'I've Found a New Baby' from Live At The Bateau Lounge a few years earlier: where Sperling was expert at building tension and driving Pete's fire, Nick encourages Pete to dig into the backbeat, hit harder and longer. Both end up lighting the crowd on fire.
The English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams once suggested to American composers that they not neglect the tunes of Stephen Foster. Such songs, he felt, bore the seeds of a great musical culture to be built. The last tune of this album demonstrates the time had come by 1965, with Pete and the band elevating Foster's 'She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain' to a joyous mini-epic of street beats, climaxes, and a coda to an album that jazz fans will want to return to for years.
This is yet another classic Pete Fountain album in need of reissuing.
Side 1 1. Licorice Stick (Fountain-Owen Bradley-Dant) 2. Young Maiden's Prayer (Fountain-Bradley-Dant) 3. Gravy Waltz 4. Fountain Blue 5. Tippin In 6. Estrellita Side 2 1. Hello Dolly 2. Maria Elena 3. Clairnet Strip (Fountain-Bradley-Dant) 4. Born To Lose 5. The Honey Wind Blows 6. I Love You So Much It Hurts Clarinet solo with Orchestra and Choir accompaniment
From the outset of this odd album we're greeted by a wordless chorus, banjo, and simplistic clarinet melody over 'rhythm changes.' It sounds a bit as though Ravel got lost in a department store in the Ozarks. For all it's odd simplicity, though, the tune is an historic one, at least in a crossover sense. Entitled 'Licorice Stick', it was co-written by Fountain, Owen Bradley, and Charles 'Bud' Dant. Jazz fans might not recognize the name of Owen Bradley (who shares composer credits with Fountain and Dant on three numbers), but to the history of Nashville, he is quite an important figure. His Country Music Hall of Fame page credits him with shaping what became known as the "Nashville Sound" and even mentions Pete Fountain:
Owen Bradley was named head of Decca’s Nashville division in 1958, from which position he helped shape the evolution of the Nashville Sound. Like Chet Atkins, his counterpart at RCA, Bradley put singers out front, using rhythm sections consisting of guitars, bass, drums, and piano to provide basic support and adding background harmony parts or string sections as needed. The resulting music was easily accessible to a wide range of listeners. In addition to turning out hits by Decca’s country acts, Bradley also produced a Grammy-winning record for folk star Burl Ives (1962) and attracted Dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain and pop organist Lenny Dee to Nashville. Bradley himself scored pop hits for Decca in 1957 (“White Silver Sands”) and 1958 (“Big Guitar”).
So far as I can tell, this album is the first of Pete's artistic efforts to combine New Orleans clarinet with the Nashville sound. Before purists get themselves into too much of a frenzy, and start shouting about 'commercialism' it's important to consider a couple of things. First, Pete never abandoned his hard earned jazz style, which was a combination of New Orleans, swing, and cooler west coast jazz. He continued to perform and record in that style for the rest of his days. Second, Pete's interest in the Nashville sound might not have been so completely mercenary as fans often assume. In his autobiography, he pointed out that his father was never much of a jazz fan--his dad actually preferred Country music. Discussing a later album,for instance, Pete tells this story:
Recently I have been recording in Nashville, where Owen Bradley has shown me some fantastic things about the business. There are more great musicians sitting around in the recording studios there than you can believe. They are loose.
My most recent album, New Orleans, Tennessee, was done there. It has a great country flair, really a swinging sound. Pop listened to it and said,"I'm glad you finally started to play some good music." He is still a staunch country-and-western fan. [pg 191]
It's in this spirit that we ought to listen to the Nashville efforts of Pete Fountain--not as a contribution to New Orleans style jazz, but as a new type of fusion. As such, they are at least unique, and as I have suggested before, seem a forerunner to Pat Metheny's Americana tinged guitar works.
'Young Maiden's Prayer' is another Fountain-Bradley-Dant collaboration, featuring Pete's full chalumeau singing a melody that hints at 'Amazing Grace', 'Deep River', and any number of other old spirituals. The backbeat is Nashville, with guitar giving country blues fills, and a twanged bass guitar that will be tough for some jazz fans to adjust to, but if accepted on its own terms is decent enough, if dated.
Ray Brown and Steve Allen's 'Gravy Waltz' is a return to the more easy listening jazz style Dant and Fountain cultivated on I Love Parisa year before. The strings are less country, more Hollywood tinged.
Rod McKuen's 'Fountain Blue' is a pretty little ballad for Pete to play, with the Nashville sound (wordless female vocal, rhythm section, plinking piano) backing him up. Tunes like this are strong enough to warrant more performances, especially among clarinetists.
With 'Tippin' In' the album goes honky-tonk suddenly, and honestly, the record starts to seem a bit of a bizarre hodge-podge. 'Estrellita' rights the ship a bit, focusing once again on Pete's mellow chalumeau ballad capabilities.
One Side Two, Pete attempts to draft a bit off of Louis Armstrong's mega-hit 'Hello Dolly.' It would probably have benefited from a real jazz treatment with Pete's gigging band. This version comes off sounding too canned. There's a strange moment when a female voice says "Play it one more time"--the whole thing seems disembodied, as though the woman wasn't even in the same room as the band. It's a weird dissociated feeling one gets from some of this music, which I find paradoxically interesting but a bit creepy too--like hanging out in an abandoned shopping center after hours. This is even the zeitgeist for 'Maria Elena', a beautiful little melody Pete was to perform and record often. With 'Clarinet Strip,' we get some timbres that seem to have been sampled and used by They Might Be Giants thirty years later. To quote Johnny Carson, it's "weird, wild stuff."
This is a strange, sometimes awkward album for a jazz fan to listen to. I have no idea how it was received in 1964. It must have done well enough for Pete to make several more in the Nashville style. It's not my cup of tea...though I'll admit to a sort of strange attraction to figuring it out. To me it's like seeing your favorite Shakespearean in a really odd B movie. You can't help but watch it. Besides, as I wrote above, it really did aim at something unique--and at moments comes close to reaching something special. As a musician always looking for more creative projects and ways to reach out to new audiences, I think this album (and the Nashville projects which followed) are of definite value.
In the end, though, I think Pete will be best remembered for his New Orleans style work, and of albums that are like this one, I prefer 1962's Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet, which already hinted at this direction.