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Swing Low, Sweet Spiritual

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Album Review

In October of 1956, in the wake of the success of This Is Teagarden, Capitol Records had the legendary trombonist enter the studio to record a series of spirituals, using Van Alexander (who had worked on the prior album) as arranger. The results are impressive but sometimes slightly uneven, owing to the superfluous presence of the Five Keys singing group behind him on many of the tracks. But when Jack Teagarden sings on his own, as on the first number from the sessions — an outstanding version of "Goin' Home" — the listening is overpowering in its subtlety and sincerity; he could do gospel as well as jazz, and needed no help. Teagarden's singing and Jack Chaney's tenor sax solo (following Teagarden's trombone on one chorus), and preceding some lively clarinet ornamentation by Gus Bivona, are the highlights of "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen." "Deep River" is another Teagarden vocal classic, this time working at two distinct tempos, opening in a dirgeful mode before launching into its quicker, jazzier section that, as Richard M. Sudhalter points out in his essay on Teagarden at Capitol, echoes the early-'40s Tommy Dorsey version. The numbers spotlighting the Five Keys behind Teagarden aren't really less good than those featuring the his vocals alone — the embellishment is simply unnecessary, as on "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho," where there's more than enough interplay between Chaney and Teagarden instrumentally without the vocal ornamentation, which is the least interesting aspect of the record; the group's answer vocals also add little to "This Train," which is more than enticing enough with its interplay between Teagarden's trombone and the trumpet section. And "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel" is almost a case of split personality, the vocal portion of the song as handled by the Keys much too pop-oriented, and sandwiching a first-rate trombone break. As a meld of blues and gospel, "Shadrack" should be the highlight of the session whence it came, but it's eclipsed by "Sing and Shout," which features something new on record — using multi-tracking at the session, Teagarden the singer offers a musical dialogue with Teagarden the trombonist; that "duet," plus an unexpectedly bluesy opening on guitar by Al Hendrickson, makes the track the standout. And Teagarden turns in some of his best and most affecting singing on "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," which juxtaposes beautifully with the exultant "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" from the same January 11, 1957, session that topped off this album. One does sometimes find oneself wishing that the recordings had allowed Teagarden and the band to stretch out a tiny bit more — there were LP tracks, after all — but Capitol wasn't looking for that kind of recording in those days or on these sessions, and what's here is superb in its economical way. It's worth finding and also worth reissuing.

Biography

Born: 20 August 1905 in Vernon, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

One of the classic giants of jazz, Jack Teagarden was not only the top pre-bop trombonist (playing his instrument with the ease of a trumpeter) but one of the best jazz singers too. He was such a fine musician that younger brother Charlie (an excellent trumpeter) was always overshadowed. Jack started on piano at age five (his mother Helen was a ragtime pianist), switched to baritone horn, and finally took up trombone when he was ten. Teagarden worked in the Southwest in a variety of territory bands...
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Swing Low, Sweet Spiritual, Jack Teagarden
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