Barney Bigard - clarinet; Bud Freeman - tenor sax; Wild Bill Davison - trumpet; Bobby Hackett - cornet; Yank Lawson - trumpet; Vic Dickenson - trombone; Joe Venuti - violin; Jess Stacy - piano; Milt Hinton - bass; Bob Haggart - bass; Cliff Leeman - drums; Ralph Sutton - piano; Maxine Sullivan - vocals; Illinois Jacquet - tenor sax, bassoon; Milt Buckner - organ; Jo Jones - drums
Members of the Eddie Condon Gang - a loose conglomerate of friends, some who had come up playing with the banjoist/guitarist during 1930s, others who frequented his popular New York City nightclub through the '40s, '50s and '60s - assembled to pay tribute to the man in the wake of his passing on August 4, 1973. An inveterate jammer as well as an entrepreneurial figure on the jazz scene, Condon was a close friend and colleague of George Wein's from the days before the inaugural Newport Jazz Festival of 1954. Indeed, Condon had played at Wein's Boston club Storyville in those pre-Newport days, and pianist Wein frequently joined the ebullient plectrist on stage at several of the Newport All-Star jams in Rhode Island over the years.
For this joint celebration of Condon and Swing-era tenor star Ben Webster, another noted friend of the Newport Jazz Festival who had died the month after Condon passed, on September 20, 1973, Wein assembled several of Condon's buddies (cornetist Bobby Hackett, trumpeter Yank Lawson, trombonist Vic Dickenson, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, trumpeter Wild Bill Davison, violinist Joe Venuti, drummer Cliff Leeman) along with a potent trio of Webster colleagues in tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, organist Milt Buckner and former Count Basie drummer Jo Jones. The engaging Swing era vocalist Maxine Sullivan, a featured member of John Kirby's Sextet during the early 1940s, along with bassist Milt Hinton and former Duke Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard also joined in on this swinging soiree at Carnegie Hall.
The Condon crew kicks it off in spirited fashion with a rousing rendition of the Swing era chestnut "Avalon," a tune recorded by everyone from Cab Calloway to Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt. New Orleans-born clarinetist Bigard takes the lead coming out of the gate and is followed by the aptly-nicknamed Wild Bill Davison, who turns in some rowdy trumpet work. Vic Dickenson adds a growling, tailgate trombone solo while bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Cliff Leeman beat it out in classic two-beat fashion. Pianist Jess Stacy sprinkles on a Count Basie-inspired piano solo and Hinton adds an animated slap bass solo, Pops Foster-style, before they wrap up this lively opener with simultaneous Dixieland-styled soloing by the frontline players.
Fat Waller's buoyant "Keeping Out of Mischief," a favorite number of Condon's, is handled with requisite bounce by the ensemble. Clarinetist Bigard, trumpeter Davison and trombonist Dickenson each contribute pungent solos here while Hinton and Leeman engage in some conversational call-and-response on this upbeat number. From there, they engage in a lively Dixieland-styled reading of "Lady Be Good," with Bigard, Davison, Stacy and Dickenson turning in stellar solos. Hinton and Leeman once again deal in some animated call-and-response on this popular jamming vehicle.
The crew then leaves the stage to make room for an intimate duet between two Condon cronies -- Swing era pianist Jess Stacy (who had played on this same Carnegie Hall stage with Benny Goodman back in 1938) and tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, a colleague of Condon's going back to their youthful days together in Chicago during the early 1920s. They open with the ballad "Don't Blame Me," a feature for Freeman's plaintive, vibrato-laden tenor work, then segue to the upbeat blues "Back to Chicago." Stacy remains at the keyboard and is joined by drummer Leeman and a powerful brass section of trombonist Dickenson, Dixieland trumpeter Yank Lawson and the Louis Armstrong-inspired Bobby Hackett. This potent unit is augmented by clarinetist Bigard, bassist Bob Haggart and pioneering jazz violinist Joe Venuti on a rousing rendition of the hot jazz staple "At the Jazz Band Ball" (a tune recorded by the by Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1918). Bigard is then featured on a mournful rendition of Ellington's "Mood Indigo," which he co-composed with Duke in 1930. Switching back to the blues, trumpeters Hackett and Lawson are featured blowing simultaneously in classic Dixeland fashion alongside trombonist Dickenson and clarinetist Bigard on "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," a Clarence Williams tune first recorded by Bessie Smith. Dickenson solos first, taking his time while testifying, and is followed by trumpeters Hackett and Lawson, who engage in some expressive call-and-response phrases. Violinist Venuti, who was 70 years old at the time of this concert, is next featured on a rousing version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," performed with bassist Haggart, drummer Leeman, pianist Stacy and trumpeter Hackett. Venuti swings mightily and nearly steals the show on this Swing era burner.
Ralph Sutton then replaces Stacy on piano, joining Haggart, Leeman, Dickenson, Bigard and Hackett behind vocalist Maxine Sullivan on a briskly swinging rendition of the 1934 Harold Arlen tune, "As Long As I Live," a soulful reading of Arlen's "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues" and a frisky romp through "You're Driving Me Crazy," a Swing era staple covered by everyone from Rudy Vallee to Billie Holiday and Betty Boop.
Following an intermission, a new ensemble is trotted out on stage featuring organist Milt Buckner and tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet with drummer Jo Jones. They open with a bossa nova flavored rendition of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," which is fueled by Jones' Latin pulse and Buckner's velvet Hammond B-3 work. Midway through this title track of the 1965 Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner Broadway musical (which starred a young Barbra Streisand) the trio launches into a straight 4/4 swing reading of the tune, which Jacquet uses to unleash his extroverted, raspy-toned tenor lines. As the piece develops over the course of seven minutes, Jacquet opens up considerably while Buckner also turns in an inventive organ solo. Jones next signals a rousing jam with his signature hi-hat work, kicking off a raucous rendition of Count Basie's "The King," the title track of Jacquet's 1968 Prestige album. The bold-toned tenor star nearly walks the bar on this uptempo swinger. Jacquet then switches to bassoon for a rendition of his freewheeling Webster tribute, "From Ben to Bassoon," which starts off with an ominous "Caravan"-like vibe before segueing to a swinging "Sweet Georgia Brown" with Papa Jo on brushes, Hinton on bass and Buckner on organ, bringing this set to an exhilarating conclusion.
Born on November 16, 1905, Indiana-born Eddie Condon was a leading figure of the raucous 'Chicago school' of jazz during the 1920s, playing alongside such formidable figures as Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden and Frank Teschemacher. After moving to New York City in 1928, he arranged jazz sessions for various record labels while also playing in Red Nichols' band. As a recording artist in his own right, he had a longstanding relationship with Milt Gabler's Commodore Records. During the 1930s, Condon was a ubiquitous figure on the Manhattan club scene and by 1945 he opened his own East Side club, Condon's, which became a hangout for the Swing era set and remained so through 1967. Condon also gained greater visibility by hosting a series of nationally broadcast radio shows from New York's Town Hall from 1944 to 1945 that helped popularize jazz. Condon's autobiography, We Called It Music, published in 1948, is full of interesting and entertaining anecdotes about what happens on and off the bandstand and is required reading for anyone looking to get a greater understanding of the early jazz years.
Ben Webster, a.k.a. "The Brute" or "Frog," was born on March 27, 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri. A hugely influential tenor saxophonist, his tough tone on uptempo romps was tempered by a warm, breathy approach on ballads (perhaps best exemplified by his gorgeous reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge" on a 1941 recording with the Duke Ellington Orchestra). A one-time member of Bennie Moten's legendary 1932 band that included Count Basie, Oran Page and Walter Page, Webster played with a string of big bands, including Andy Kirk's, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the Benny Carter Orchestra and the Teddy Wilson big band, before joining Ellington's orchestra in 1935. He left Ellington's band in 1943 to freelance on 52nd Street as a leader and sideman with a variety of bands, including Raymond Scott's Sid Catlett's and Jay McShann's. He returned to the Ellington organization in 1948 for a brief period.
After leaving Ellington in 1943, Webster worked on 52nd Street in New York City; recorded frequently as both a leader and a sideman; had short periods with Raymond Scott, John Kirby, and Sid Catlett, as well as with Jay McShann's band, which also featured blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. In 1948 he returned briefly to the Ellington orchestra for a few months and subsequently toured and recorded through the 1950s with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic series. He had a famous encounter with fellow tenor sax giant Coleman Hawkins on a 1957 recording that also featured pianist Oscar Peterson, guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Alvin Stoller and around that same time recorded a classic set with piano genius Art Tatum. In 1964, Webster moved permanently to Denmark, where he remained based through the rest of his career, with occasional special guest appearances in the States. In 1971, he had a reunion with the Duke Ellington Orchestra at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, and he later recorded in Paris with jazz piano great Earl Hines. Webster died in Amsterdam and was buried in Copenhagen, where he had attained heroic status in his final years. (Milkowski)