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Wild Bill Davison: But Beautiful

Without rival, cornetist Wild Bill Davison was the most obstreperous, foul-mouthed, hard-drinking jazzman to emerge unscathed from Al Capone’s Chicago. A contemporary and close buddy of both Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Teschemacher in the 1920s and a somewhat later firebrand of the Eddie Condon gang, by the early ’40s Bill had established himself as the new messiah. Even in a generation of battle-scarred individualists, Bill stood unique among his peers. Though born of equal parts Bix and Louis, and forged at the hottest anvil in the midwest, Bill’s style was something entirely his own, a sound once heard never forgotten. At one with his infinitely mercurial personality, it was both belligerent and tender, raucous and ruminative, diabolical and divine-and often within the compass of a single chorus.

A valiant warrior and accustomed victor, on the bandstand it was always every tub on its own bottom. So, as it was in 1940s and ’50s, so it was once again in the mid-’70s, when he crossed lances with the best jazzmen that Copenhagen had to offer. Here, in this carefully compiled collection of 16 long familiar standards, Bill runs the course of his by now patented gamut of growls, smears, shrieks, anguished cries, exultant yawps and sardonic blats, all tempered by frequent triumphs of lyrical inventiveness. This is but one of scores of remarkable Davison albums, and it can be recommended only on the condition that at least some of the others will be sought out as well. Be advised, though, that excessive exposure can lead to addiction.

Originally Published