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Jay McShann: My Baby with the Black Dress On

Of all the great piano-playing bandleaders, we are lucky to have Jay McShann as the sole survivor. And we are lucky to have these three examples of his continuing activity. The Chiaroscuro was recorded at four night during a 1991 cruise on the S.S. Norway. The program includes familiar blues and boogie pieces, but also standards like “Stardust,” “Georgia,” and “All of Me.” McShann sings on several numbers with his unassuming Oklahoman accent, and it goes well with blues but sounds askew on ssome of the others. His audience remains happily appreciative, no doubt because his genial personality takes care of any vocal deficiencies.

The Storyville set was made in Copenhagen in 1977. Half the sixteen performances are by McShann alone. On the others, he is joined by Danish musicians, of whom trombonist Ole “Fessor” Lindgreen is a vaulable contributor. There are typical numbers of the Kansas City type, plus two versions of “After Hours,” the first huing to the Avery Parrish routine, while the second is quite personal. What is very noticeable, as always, is the loosening effect McShann has on any group, an effect in part due to his tempos. Oh, and how about “The Staggers” for a title?

The Sackville was recorded live in Toronto in 1986 and is well titled. Joined by bassist Major Holley, McShann plays ten numbers in very informal fashion for a small, supportive crowd at the Café des Copains. He sits back contentedly to enjoy the long solos by Holley, whom Duke Ellington used to describe as “a frustrated piano player.” There are really no outstanding displays here, no feats of virtuosity, yet it remains a rewarding, good-humored set for casual listening.

Originally Published