Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Franz Jackson and the Salty Dogs: Yellow Fire

What happens when an 88-year-old swing saxophonist, arranger and vocalist with a resume including stints with Reuben Reeves, Jimmie Noone, Roy Eldridge, Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Cootie Williams, Red Allen and others joins his talents with a formerly college-based, New Orleans-style trad band? No, contrary to expectations, all hell does not break out in a clash of differing styles, for this particular old-timer, Franz Jackson, was also the one-time clarinetist-leader of his own Original Jass All-Stars, a 1950s-’60s trad band that played for many years at the Red Arrow, a jazz club in the Chicago suburb of Stickney. Among Jackson’s sidemen at that time were musicians whose skills were honed on the 1920s and ’30s Chicago jazz scene, some of them even veterans of the King Oliver and Louis Armstrong bands, so it was no large stretch for Jackson to accommodate his own vast experience to the relatively younger Salty Dogs.

Heard here in a program including such early Jackson swing compositions as “Zuddan,” “Yellow Fire,” “Southside” and the Dixieland march “Bud Billiken” are nine jazz standards from the classic period, each one performed in the spirit of immediate discovery, despite their longstanding familiarity to all of the players. The silver-haired, former Purdue undergrads, plus a few friends, provide the revered Jackson with all of the enthusiastic support that he deserves. For Yellow Fire, the current version of the Salty Dogs includes cornetist Lew Green, trumpeter Bob Neighbor (on four of the 13 tracks), trombonist Tom Bartlett, clarinetist/altoman Kim Cusack, pianist John Cooper, banjoist Jack Kuncl, tubist Mike Walbridge and drummer Wayne Jones. Jackson doubles tenor and Hodges-tinged soprano throughout and sings a la Louis Armstrong on “Lulu’s Back in Town,” “Dinah,” “When You’re Smiling,” “St. Louis Blues” and “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love With Me,” where he makes a seemingly unplanned entry to help out a faltering guest vocalist, Carol Leigh.

Originally Published