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Blowing Up a Breeze

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Album Review

Tough and sultry as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, or Herschel Evans, tenor saxophonist Chu Berry (his first name is pronounced "Chew") made significant contributions to jazz before his premature death at the age of 31 in an automobile wreck (a tragic point in common with Evans, who was felled by heart disease at the age of 29). So active was Berry as a sideman that historical reissue compilations must touch upon a dizzying array of classic swing recordings. For example, Indispensable Chu Berry 1936-1939 (released as part of French RCA's Black and White series) often feels like the indispensable Wingy Manone, a noble concept in its own right. Blowing Up a Breeze, a 1995 Pearl/Topaz chronological compilation, does a splendid job of following in Chu's footsteps. The trail begins in 1933 with Spike Hughes & His All American Orchestra and passes through the bands of Fletcher Henderson and Teddy Wilson in 1936 and 1937. The heart of Chu Berry's legacy lies among the Little Jazz Ensemble recordings waxed for the Commodore label in November of 1938. The interaction between Chu and trumpeter Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge makes these his very best moments ever captured on record. Here the saxophonist demonstrates his brilliance as a hot improviser on "Sittin' In" (listen for his casual dialogue with Eldridge during the introduction) and "Forty Six, West Fifty Two," and his ballad mastery in a four-minute rendering of "Stardust." Berry's path proceeds through examples of his work with the Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Cab Calloway bands in 1939 and 1940. Young Dizzy Gillespie shows up with both Hamp and Cab, while Milt Hinton enlivens the chemistry alongside Chu on "Pluckin' the Bass." Reluctant to surrender the limelight, Calloway tried to discourage his band from making instrumental records despite the fact that during this period he employed some of the greatest living jazz musicians. The inclusion of no less than five Calloway instrumentals greatly increases the artistic merit of this compilation. This excellent core sample closes with four solid sides that Chu Berry recorded for Commodore in the company of trumpeter and vocalist Oran "Hot Lips" Page only weeks before his sudden death on October 30, 1941.


Born: 13 September 1910 in Wheeling, WV

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s

Chu Berry was considered one of the top tenor saxophonists of the 1930s, just below Coleman Hawkins (his main influence), Lester Young, and Ben Webster. Particularly strong on up-tempo numbers (although his ballad statements could be overly sentimental), Berry might have become an influential force if he had not died prematurely. After playing alto in college, he switched to tenor in 1929 when he joined Sammy Stewart's band. In 1930, he moved to New York, playing with Benny Carter's band and Charlie...
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Blowing Up a Breeze, Chu Berry
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