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Various Artists: The Commodore Story

The Commodore Story is a good introduction to Milt Gabler’s invaluable jazz label. Those unfamiliar with his achievements might try playing it through first without consulting the good accompanying booklet. That way, they will experience many surprises, and possibly make some unexpected new evaluations of both artists they know and artists they don’t know. For example, on the first disc one is soon made aware of Milt’s affection for Eddie Condon’s guys, and of the importance of “Strange Fruit,” his big Billie Holiday hit; but then there is an extraordinary duet by Don Byas and Slam Stewart, followed by the mighty soprano of Sidney Bechet. Next are Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins three times (once with Art Tatum and once with Benny Carter), Ben Webster with Sidney Catlett, Roy Eldridge with Chu Berry, Benny Goodman with Mel Powell, Jelly Roll Morton all by himself, Bunk Johnson, and very early Bob Wilber (1947). The second disc classifies artists by instruments and presents Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison, Hot Lips Page, Muggsy Spanier and Sidney De Paris in one section; trombonists Jack Teagarden, George Brunies and the too-often forgotten Miff Mole are next; Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall, Bud Freeman and Chu Berry illustrate reeds; and last, are no less than eight pianists: Art Hodes, Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Eddie Heywood, Albert Ammons, George Zack, The Lion and Ralph Sutton. The way Lips Page and Catlett stroke up Ammons’ “Jammin’ the Boogie” is very exciting. So for young listeners this could all be a warm welcome to yesterday, and the now-overlooked talents of musicians like lips Page, Muggsy Spanier and George Zack. Zack who? Zack was a favorite of Gabler’s, but he reputedly drank too much to get many record dates.

Although Gabler was unquestionably a good businessman, he let his heart and taste rule in cases like Zack’s, We owe so much to such people who then worked in the field of jazz recording more for love than money. Some judicious additions of material recorded by, for example, John Hammond, Bob Thiele, Leonard Feather, Timme Rosenkrantz, Alan Lomax and Gene Williams were to prove of considerable value to Commodore.

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