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1946- 1951

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Album Review

Sometimes, Milt Buckner's enduring fame as a two-fisted jazz and R&B organist partially eclipses his awesome accomplishments as piano player — and vibraphonist. In 2002, as if to set the record straight, the Classics Blues & Rhythm series brought out a chronologically stacked sampler of recordings made under Buckner's leadership dating from the years 1946-1951. During that period, Buckner only experimented with the Hammond organ once, while working as a sideman with saxophonist Wild Bill Moore in March 1950. That's why the Hammond is entirely absent from this stash of early Buckner recordings, which opens with three sides cut for Savoy Records on October 28, 1946, by the Beale St. Boys (also known as the Hot Shots), a quartet consisting of pianist Buckner, tenor saxophonist Pazzuza Simon, bassist Curly Russell, and drummer Art Herbert. Buckner's amazing abilities as a blues, swing, bop, and boogie-woogie pianist are vividly deployed (tracks one through three). A second Savoy date took place on December 8, 1947, with similar personnel now billed as the Beale Street Gang; Ray Abrams blows tenor and an unidentified trumpeter swings hard like Roy Eldridge, while Buckner's approach to the blues on "Jelly Roll" is positively intoxicating (tracks four through seven). During the autumn of 1948 Buckner led his third Savoy session. Once again billed as the Beale Street Gang, Buckner's little band now included trumpeter Julius Watkins and tenor saxophonist Billy Mitchell. Buckner really put himself on the map when he led his first session for the popular, widely distributed MGM label on March 10, 1949, leading a 17-piece orchestra while playing piano and vibraphone in a manner that might have led some people to assume that they were hearing Lionel Hampton. You'll want to listen for the tenor saxophones of Paul Quinichette and Billy Mitchell (tracks 11 through 14). One more exciting MGM big-band session came together on June 3, 1949 (tracks 15 through 17), after which Milt Buckner spent the next ten months accompanying vocalists like Dinah Washington, Wynonie Harris, the Three Flames, Rufus Thomas, Florence Wright, Mabel Scott, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Buckner's next opportunity to record as a leader occurred on April 5, 1951, with a return to the Savoy label and a revival of the Beale Street Gang — now a rocking sextet with growling trombonist Tyree Glenn, tenor man Harold Clark, and baritone saxophonist Reuben Phillips (tracks 18 through 20). This is full-throttle Earl Bostic-style R&B, with a group vocal on "Red, Red Wine" that was clearly inspired by Brownie and Sticks McGhee's major hit of 1949, "Drinkin' Wine, Spo-Dee-O-Dee." The flip side, "Boogie Grunt," was an extension of "Jump and Grunt," recorded about one year earlier with Eddie Vinson. Buckner appears to have decided to cease working with Savoy after unsuccessfully attempting to convince producer Herman Lubinsky to let him make some records using the Hammond organ.


Born: 10 July 1915 in St. Louis, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s

Milt Buckner, the "St. Louis Fireball," is generally credited with having popularized the Hammond organ during the early 1950s. First introduced in 1934, the instrument was immediately seized upon by Thomas "Fats" Waller, whose syncopated pipe organ records of 1926-1929 form the primal bedrock of the jazz organ tradition. Although the Hammond was also used periodically by Waller's friend Count Basie, Buckner rekindled interest in the organ some seven years after Waller's demise as his exuberant,...
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1946- 1951, Milt Buckner
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