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Midnight Moods: The Small Combo Sessions

Benny Goodman Trio. Photo courtesy George Spink

In jazz, sometimes less definitely is more. The standard instrumentation of the seven-piece Jim Cullum Jazz Band – cornet, clarinet, trombone, banjo/guitar, piano, bass and drums – is consistent with classic hot jazz bands in the style of Eddie Condon and Muggsy Spanier. But on this broadcast we spotlight small combos with four musicians or less. These smaller groups produce a lighter, more transparent sound than the seven- piece ensemble. Each instrument is heard more distinctly, and the musicians love the refreshing change of pace from the dense, more massive output of the full band.

 

Paul Mehling. Photo copyright John Spragens Jr.

Borrowing a term from classical music, the small combo sound has been called “chamber jazz.” Some of the most famous of these were the Benny Goodman trios and quartets of the 1930s and 40s. Even though these “chamber jazz” groups are small in number, as you’ll hear, they can swing as strongly as larger groups.

 

This week's Riverwalk Jazz Small Combo Sessions include encore presentations recorded live at The Landing with jazz legends Joe Williams, Ralph Sutton and Benny Carter.  Program highlights include:

 

San Francisco guitarist Paul Mehling and Jim Cullum play a soulful duet on "Bill Coleman's Blues," a number Coleman performed with Django Reinhardt in Paris in the 1930s.

 

Joe Williams. Photo courtesy landing.com

Joe Williams, famous as a blues shouter with the Count Basie Orchestra, gives a gentle, wistful performance of the Eubie Blake song, "I'd Give a Dollar for a Dime," accompanied by John Sheridan on piano.

 

Jim Cullum and John Sheridan play a spirited duet on a tune that was a collaboration between Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, "Wild Man Blues."

 

Ron Hockett, John Sheridan and Kevin Dorn give a precise rendering of a complex double-time blues from the Benny Goodman Trio, "After Hours." Our trio also rips through the whimsically titled "Opus One-Half" later in the program.

 

Ralph Sutton, in an encore presentation, plays a solo piano rendition of "Love Lies," a favorite tune of Jack Teagarden.

 

"PS I Love You" sheet music. Image courtesy The Johnny Mercer Educational Archives.

Rebecca Kilgore, one of the great voices in jazz today, sings "P.S. I Love You" and "All My Life" with pianists Dick Hyman and John Sheridan.

 

Benny Carter caresses the alto saxophone with a small group of Cullum rhythm men on his original tune composed for an animated film, "People Time."

 

The father-son guitar team of Bucky and John Pizzarelli play a rousing 2-guitar version of "Sing, Sing, Sing," written by Louis Prima and made famous by the Benny Goodman Orchestra at their historic 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Less is more on these small combo sessions.

 

Photo credit for home page: Blues singer Joe Williams. Photo courtesy the artist

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