Tommy Saunders’ Midwest All Stars is a 7-piece ensemble of world-class traditional players originally formed in 1999 to perform at the long-running Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. The high-powered group is presented here in a Riverwalk Jazz broadcast concert tribute to cornetist Wild Bill Davison recorded live onstage at The Crest Theatre during the 2001 Jubilee. Bandleader Tommy Saunders (cornet and vocals) hails from Detroit; the Chicagoans trombonist Russ Phillips, clarinetist Chuck Hedges, and pianist Eddie Higgins are joined by Toronto’s Jim Galloway on soprano saxophone along with Ohio bass man Paul Keller, and drummer Ed Metz Jr., who stretches the Midwest home base metaphor all the way to Florida.
Wild Bill Davison was a fiery jazz cornet player who first emerged in the Midwest in the 1920s, and did not take on the New York jazz scene until the 40s, gigging at Nick’s in the Village, a jazz club spotlighting players handpicked by raconteur and bandleader Eddie Condon.Two years of hard playing at Nick’s earned Davison the respect of Commodore Records and led to the 1943 release of a series of spectacular recordings showcasing his swinging hot cornet. Wild Bill became a mainstay of the New York club scene, and settled into a 12-year tenure at Eddie Condon’s own Greenwich Village jazz club.
Wild Bill enjoyed a career playing hot jazz for over seventy years—from Chicago in the 20s to Condon’s in New York in the 40s, and a round of world tours lasting well into the late 1980s. Wild Bill Davison had “the cockiest, sassiest cornet style in jazz,” as one critic put it. His robust and recognizable playing style was immediately apparent on his exciting hot numbers. Wild Bill was equally well known for the warm, sentimental ballads he liked to play.
At one time or another, all the musicians in Tommy Saunders All Stars, guesting on this week’s radio show, toured with Wild Bill Davison, and they continue to carry on his legacy in their playing. Tom Saunders says, “We were all closely associated with Wild Bill, who played a lot of years in Chicago and New York City. Our concert is not only dedicated to Wild Bill, but it reflects the way he would have picked a set.”
Saunders says of his mentor, “Wild Bill was a character. One year at the Sweet and Hot Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, he was there leading a band, and all the guys in his group were octogenarians. I mean, each and every one of them was 80 years old, or more. So, Wild Bill got up on stage, and jazz saxophone legend Eddie Miller, who was going to turn 80 in two weeks, was there standing in the front line. Bill turned to Eddie and said, ‘You’re too young to be in this band!’ Eddie just laughed.
After their set, I saw Bill in the hallway and he was spitting mad, so I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I don’t know whose idea this was, but the piano player didn’t know any of our tunes.’ I asked him if he had any more sets with this piano player, and Wild Bill said, ‘Yeah, one more set.’ I said, ‘Here’s an idea for you. The piano player must have a list, pick all the tunes for the next set off his list, not your list!’ ‘Oh,’ he said,’ that sounds pretty good.’
“An hour or so later he went ahead as I suggested and played that set. I happened to see him in the hall and he’s mad again. I said, ‘Well, now what’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I did what you told me, I picked the whole set off the piano player’s list— and he didn’t know any of those tunes either!’”
Broadcast Playlist Notes
“Runnin' Wild” was composed and recorded in 1922. The Benny Goodman Trio made a sizzling hot version in the Swing Era. It is often remembered today as sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1959 comedy film classic Some Like it Hot.
W.C. Handy, dubbed the “Father of the Blues,” composed “Beale Street Blues” in 1916. The Beale Street of Handy’s song title refers to the main drag of the African-American entertainment district of Memphis in that era.
Jack Teagarden made “A Hundred Years from Today” published in 1933 famous through at least four recordings of this number; our version this week features a vocal by Tom Saunders.
“St. Louis Blues” is a signature feature for the great pianist Eddie Higgins. The rhythmic style of Higgins’ interpretation is based on eight-to-the-bar Boogie Woogie.
The Fats Waller and Andy Razaf standard “Blue Turning Grey over You” is a tune Wild Bill Davison enjoyed performing, and he recorded it often.
On this radio show, “You Took Advantage of Me” features a reed section comprised of Milwaukeean Chuck Hedges and Toronto’s Jim Galloway. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart composed the tune in 1928.
“You're Lucky to Me” by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf was another Wild Bill Davison favorite and features Tom Saunders on the performance heard here.
The great trombonist Vic Dickenson frequently performed “All My Love” at Eddie Condon’s Greenwich Village nightclub; the version heard here features Chicago trombone master Russ Phillips.
Photo credit for Home Page:Tommy Saunders. Photo courtesy of ckorecords.com
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2001