George Wein - piano; Ruby Braff - trumpet; Pee Wee Russell - clarinet; Don Kenny - bass; Buzzy Drootin - drums
George Wein loves a good jam session. And from the very beginning of the Newport Jazz Festival, the piano playing impresario has endeavored to put together all-star aggregations for loose, spirited interplay on the bandstand, often joining in on the fun himself. An Earl Hines-inspired pianist, the Boston-born Wein was always been comfortable in Dixieland settings, although he has also occasionally ventured into more modern fare, tackling Ellington, Monk, Strayhorn material. Now at 84years old, Wein still heads up a touring edition of his Newport All-Stars.
For this July 2nd set at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, Wein shared the stage with longtime jazz pals and Newport stalwarts like trumpeter Ruby Braff, clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, bassist Don Kenny and inveterate jammer Buzzy Drootin on drums. They open their Saturday afternoon set at Newport with a toe-tapping rendition of "Just You Just Me." Braff reveals a strong Armstrong influence on his solo here before engaging in some lively exchanges with Russell at the end of this lively number. Next up is the mournful blues "Fine and Mellow," which they dedicate to the memory of Billie Holiday (aka Lady Day, as she was nicknamed by jazz sax great Lester Young), who had passed away just after 1959's Newport Jazz Festival. Wein's solo here is indeed fine and mellow, and genuinely heartfelt. Braff follows with a plaintive trumpet solo that is positively funereal in its depth of expression. And Russell squeezes out blue notes as if pained by each one, gradually building to a keening crescendo.
Radically changing the mood from dark to light, they next jump into an upbeat rendition of Earl Hines' Swing Era classic, "Rosetta." Wein again shows his deftness on the keys while Russell and Braff each turn in exhilarating solos before joining for some crackling, interwoven lines at the tag in classic Dixieland fashion. Bassist Kenny also gets to stretch out with a nimble solo on this jaunty jam. They next deliver a playful rendition of the torch song "Mean to Me," which was introduced in 1929 by singer Ruth Etting and subsequently covered by everyone from Red Nichols and the Dorsey Brothers to the Lester Young Trio, the Teddy Wilson Orchestra (with Billie Holiday on vocals) to Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter. Braff's performance here is particularly ebullient while Wein delivers a sprightly, swinging piano solo against Kenny's walking bass lines and Drootin's infectious Papa Jo Jones-ish high hat work. Russell and Braff also engage in some spirited exchanges at the end of this relaxed, bouncy offering. They close out their afternoon set in exuberant fashion with a blazing rendition of "Three Little Words," which Braff jokingly announces as "a brand new tune." In fact, the piece was introduced in 1930 by Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys backed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra for the RKP movie Check and Double Check and was soon after covered by nearly every prominent jazz musician of the day. Wein reveals some accomplished stride playing during his solo here and both Braff and Russell follow with typically extroverted solos. The energetic drummer Drootin, a Newport All-Star since the festival's inception in 1954, also gets off an exciting solo before leading the band out on a high flying, toe-tapping note.
A fixture at Newport, Boston native Braff could always be counted on to turn in an effeverscent, swinging set of music. At the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival, he delivered with typically melodic flair, leading an ensemble that included such stellar players as pianist Sir Charles Thompson, bassist Slam Stewart, drummer Ben Riley and tenor sax great Ben Webster. He appeared at the festival several times later, most frequently with fellow Bostonian Wein in the Newport All-Stars. In 1973, Braff formed a quartet with guitarist George Barnes that gained popularity. Through the '70s and '80s, he recorded frequently for Concord Records, often in the company of a new generation of straight ahead players, including tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and guitarist Howard Alden. His prolific output continued in the '90s for the mainstream New York-based label, Arbors Records. Braff died in his home in Chatham, Massachusetts on February 10, 2003.
Russell was a lifelong Dixieland and trad jazz who came up in the 1920s as a member of Red Nichols' Five Pennies and recorded during the 1930s with Louis Prima, Bobby Hackett and Eddie Condon. His playing evolved through the '40s and '50s and by the early '60s he was playing in a piano-less quartet with valve trombonist Marshall Brown whose repertoire included tunes by John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. He even sat in with Thelonious Monk at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival and continued to exhibited open-mindedness in his playing through his final years. He died on February 15, 1969. (Milkowski)