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Pre-Victors: the Complete Set 1925-1927

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Album Review

Retrieval, one of the early 21st century's finest classic jazz reissue labels, presents most but not all of the records Fess Williams made as a bandleader before he became a Victor recording artist in April of 1929. A phrase like "The Complete Set" (used by Retrieval on other equally fine collections) is pleasantly misleading, as several "Pre-Victor" titles were omitted, but who cares! Here are 24 decidedly rare early Fess Williams recordings, cut between October 1925 and June 1927 for the Gennett, Vocalion, and Brunswick labels. Williams was a more or less vaudevillian performer whose lively vocals, slap tongue sax, and clarinet technique was appropriate for the lighthearted hot jazz arrangements used by his Royal Flush Orchestra. Players have been identified as trumpeters George Temple and Kenneth Roane; trombonist David "Jelly" James; reedmen Perry Smith and Otto Mikell; brass bassist Clinton Walker, pianist Henry Duncan, banjoist Ollie Blackwell, and drummer Ralph Bedell. You'll find most everything here to be zippy, flamboyant, and peculiarly uplifting. The Royal Flush sound may bring to mind the Washingtonians, the early Fletcher Henderson and Luis Russell orchestras, various groups led by cornetist Thomas Morris, or Bix Beiderbecke & the Wolverines. The band book contains tunes associated with Cook's Dreamland Orchestra and cornetist Freddie Keppard ("High Fever" and "Messin' Around"); with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five ("Heebie Jeebies"), Fletcher Henderson ("Variety Stomp"); pianist Arthur Schutt, who composed the "Green River Blues," and Fats Waller, who wrote the "Alligator Crawl." If you've been feeling abused by everyday life in the post-industrial future, this scrumptious slice of long-overlooked early jazz might be just exactly what you need.


Born: 10 April 1894 in Danville, KY

Genre: Jazz

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

Williams came from--and fathered--a musical family; his brother Rudolph was a saxophonist and clarinetist, his sons Rudy and Phil were both saxophonists, and his daughter Estella was a pianist and vocalist. He was also bassist Charles Mingus's uncle. Williams started on violin. He attended Tuskegee in his teens and studied with Major N. Clark-Smith, learning several instruments but settling finally on clarinet. He moved to Cincinnati in 1914 and played saxophone in a local band. He also led his own...
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Pre-Victors: the Complete Set 1925-1927, Fess Williams
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