These albums, released during the 1970s on the Xanadu and Onyx labels, are compiled from the Jerry Newman collection (after Newman's death) of location recordings he made in New York in the early 1940s. A student at Columbia University and a jazz fan, Newman took his portable "acetate disc" recording equipment uptown to Harlem clubs and after-hours spots, especially Minton's Playhouse in 1941, to record live sessions for "Delayed on Disc" broadcasts on the college radio station WKCR, presented later in the studio in the style of a live transmission from the venue. To quote the liner notes "In time, Newman accumulated a fascinating treasury of "field recordings". He was in the right place at the right time, and what had begun as a lark turned out to be a momentous contribution to the recorded literature of jazz."
A blog by John Scott compiles his listening notes from his own copies of these records. As he writes: "The recordings capture Monk, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Christian, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie and others forging a new language. Less than a year later, the so-called “Recording Ban” would go into effect, obscuring two crucial years of bebop’s development. The recording Newman made of Charlie Christian sitting in with Monk and Kenny Clarke at Minton’s, playing Eddie Durham’s Topsy, is one of the greatest and I think most influential recordings in the history of Jazz." These Christian recordings, the most significant for bebop, are covered in the next post. Here is a round-up of the other, mainly swing-oriented, sessions.
MIDNIGHT AT MINTON'S (May 20/21, 1941)
Released on Onxy Records, 1973
Featuring: Don Byas (tenor); Helen Humes (vocal); Joe Guy (trumpet); Thelonius Monk (piano); Kenny Clarke (drums); other uncredited.
From the Allmusic review: "The music is pretty much swing material [...] The star is clearly Byas. His well-rounded tenor inflections and characteristic quarter-to-eight note slurve is on display throughout the performance. He can be at once warm, witty, smooth, precise, and consistently wonderful. He's one of the first original jazz voices on his horn and emphatic to boot on these tunes."
Don Byas went on to be the first tenor saxophonist fully to incorporate the bebop style into his playing, before emigrating to Paris in 1946. Saxophonist Sonny Stitt recalled witnessing in his late teens some of the "tenor battles" at Minton's: "Can you imagine Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Don Byas, and Ben Webster on the same little jam session? [...] And these guys, man, nothing like it. And guess who won the fight?... Don Byas walked off with everything."
Helen Humes' performance of Stardust is a gem, and Kenny Clarke's ride cymbal playing (still novel at that time) can be heard clearly on Indiana.
Allmusic continues: "These are true club date "field recordings," replete with crowd noise in the background (one can hear Humes rebuffing a heckler/admirer)... But the overall sound quality is quite acceptable, at most times remarkable." Indeed, this lends an immediacy to the music that really creates the impression of being there in the moment.
Dan Morgenstern in his album liner notes concludes: "Of the many hundreds of midnights at Minton's, here are a few that were captured. We may conjure up others in our imagination, flawless, ideal. Undoubtedly, there were times when greater heights were reached, but here is a record of something that actually happened. Not an unheard echo of someone's dream, but a bit of reality, your ticket on a time capsule".
Whole album is available on Spotify.
TRUMPET BATTLE AT MINTON'S (April 30; May 4/8; June/July 1941)
Released on Xanadu Records, 1975
Trumpeters Hot Lips Page and Joe Guy are the main soloists, and Thelonious Monk appears on two songs. Most remarkable is the brief but electrifying performance of guitarist Charlie Christian on "Rhythm-A-Ning", a composition later attributed to and recorded by Monk in 1957, but which Kenny Clarke claimed was by Christian. Full album is on YouTube, bookmarked at the start of Rhythm-A-Ning here.
SWEETS, LIPS AND LOTS OF JAZZ (May 20/21, June/July 1941)
Released on Xanadu Records, 1976
This LP has one track from September 26, 1941 ("Hold the Phone") featuring Count Basie with a septet including trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison. The other tracks are live recordings from Minton's. Hot Lips Page plays "I Found a New Baby" with a quintet including pianist Thelonious Monk and probably other members of the house band (Kenny Clarke and Nick Fenton). The other four numbers star trumpeter Roy Eldridge, with either the house band or unidentified rhythm players. Allmusic review: "The performances are erratic (most of the unidentified players are not so hot) but there are enough exciting moments to justify this LP's purchase by bop fanatics." Great album title, though!
>Full album on YouTube
Released on Xanadu Records, 1975
Allmusic review: "This LP contains interesting (if erratically recorded) live performances from a variety of Harlem clubs during 1940-41. The album gives listeners examples of Billie Holiday (who sings two numbers from Minton's Playhouse), Tab Smith (in a six-reed octet), trombonist Jack Teagarden (doing his usual rendition of "Basin Street Blues"), pianist Art Tatum (in a unique duo version of "All the Things You Are" with altoist Murray McEachern), and five [mid-1941] jam session numbers from Minton's with trumpeter Joe Guy, pianist Thelonious Monk and drummer Kenny Clarke [the house band]. This somewhat historic music is not for general collectors but completists and connoisseurs of the era will enjoy it."