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November 1997

Jimmy Rushing
Rushing Lullabies
Columbia/Legacy
Jimmy Rushing
Who Was It Sang That Song?
New World Music

Jimmy Rushing sang the blues superbly, of course, but he was rather more than "a blues singer," as he was customarily described. He was a remarkable, almost unique example of that very rare cat, the jazz singer. That is, he was quite different from all those somewhat fraudulent male pop singers who liked jazz and sang jazz songs, but didn't really qualify. Oddly enough, more women seemed to (like Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Humes, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey), but not if we consider the sub-stratum of jazz musicians who doubled as singers, beginning with the greatest, Louis Armstrong and continuing with Jelly Roll Morton, George "Fathead" Thomas, Fats Waller, the Lunceford vocalists (Willie Smith, Joe Thomas, Sy Oliver and Trummy Young), Jack Teagarden and Lips Page. Most of these would merit what Irving Townsend said of Rushing in his superior notes to the Columbia set: "a jazz singer with an affinity for the blues." And if you're mumbling about Joe Turner and Joe Williams, you can turn that around and say, "a blues singer with an affinity for jazz."

The Columbia disc embraces two LPs, Little Jimmy Rushing and the Big Brass and Rushing Lullabies, the second of which has already been reissued as a single CD with one previously unreleased track, "Travel the Road of Love." The first was made at three sessions with a big band that included several of the singer's former Basie colleagues, namely Buck Clayton, Emmett Berry, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate and Jo Jones, not to mention H.M. Coleman Hawkins. The band roars through arrangements by Jimmy Mundy, Nat Pierce and Buck Clayton with hot authority as Rushing delivers a choice selection of blues and favorite songs from his enormous repertoire. Here, as it were, you have a survivor picturing a jazz singer hollering fervently before a shouting band in a crowded dancehall of the pre-microphone era. That was where Rushing's voice was tested and proven, and where his marvelous disposition enabled him to triumph over all kinds of trouble.

The second Columbia LP was made the following year, 1959, when the B-3 was booming, literally and figuratively. Played by Sir Charles Thompson on organ, with the great Ray Bryant on piano, Buddy Tate on tenor and Skeeter Best, Gene Ramey and Jo Jones completing a masterly rhythm section, the groove here is perhaps not so deep and strong as on the 1957 Vanguard collection, If This Ain't the Blues (another essential set). But Rushing's rejoicing tempos on "I Cried For You" and "I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me" are derisive directives that set everybody swinging in a way that seldom happens in recording studios.

The New World disc has Rushing with a sextet of Clayton, Wells, Ramey, Jones, Jullian Dash replacing Tate and Sir Charles back on piano. This was recorded "live" at a 1967 studio party that repeated the success of another (unrecorded) party earlier in the year, one that was virtually the birth of Master Jazz Recordings. The company's president, Bill Weilbacher, details the circumstances in his notes, but does not point out that his love of the music, rather than financial gain, was the motivating force. Performances of "'Deed I Do," "Moten Swing" and Thompson's "Almost Home" have been added to the original LP of the same title. A good time was had by all and Clayton and Wells distinguish themselves.

Originally published in November 1997
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