Johnny Hodges side by side

Best Jazz Albums: Small Group Swing

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The big band defined the style and economics of swing. But the all-star sextets and septets that drove small group swing were not scaled down big bands; they were their own genre with a new sound and a new orthodoxy. Here we’ve assembled and commented on 50  Small Group Swing gems.

BENNY CARTER
3,4,5 SMALL GROUP SESSIONS
A previously unissued trio session with Teddy Wilson and Jo Jones, a quartet date with Don Abney, George Duvivier and Louis Bellson and three tunes from a quintet date with Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Bobby White , all from the fall of 1954, form this 19-track program. The spotlight is on Carter’s exquisite alto saxophone.

BENNY CARTER
SWINGIN THE TWENTIES

Two giants Benny Carter and Earl Hines kick back and explore twenties material on this relaxed, swinging 1958 session with Leroy Vinnegar and Shelly Manne. 

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN
ELECTRIC
This unique collection starts with, in incredibly good sound that exlipses all previously issues, the incredible September 24, 1939 Minneapolis jazz session with Christian, Jerry Jeriome, Frankie Hines and Oscar Pettiford. Thirteen features various radio broadcasts by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Christian, Lionel Hampton and Fletcher Henderson or Johnny Guarnieri on piano.

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN
AFTER HOURS
Jam sessions from Minton’s and Monroe’s in 1941 by Christian, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Byas, Joe Guy and others. The first of Jerry Newman’s location recordings to be issued. Christian’s extended guitar solos on these early swing-to-bop jams are outstanding!

BUCK CLAYTON
BUCK & BUDDY
This 1961 quintet date feature Buck and fellow-Basie-ite Buddy Tate with Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Gene Ramey on bass and Mousey Alexander on drums for some wonderful, relaxed swing.

BUCK CLAYTON
GOIN’ TO KANSAS CITY
Reedman-vibist-arranger Tommy Gwaltney assembled this nine-piece band around Buck Clayton and Dicky Wells with Charlie Byrd and John Bunch among the cast. The music of Kansas City in the ’30s is celebrated with versions of lesser-known gems by Wells, Basie, Jay McShann, Bennie Moten and Mary Lou Williams.

BUCK CLAYTON & BUDDY
BLOW THE BLUES
A soulful, relaxed blues date by Buck and fellow-Basie-ite, Texas tenor man Buddy Tate with Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Gene Ramey on bass and Gus Johnson on drums.

BUCK CLAYTON
THE ESSENTIAL
These treasured ’50s mainstream swing recordings, produced by John Hammond, emphasize quality solos rather than pyrotechnics. Sidemen include Mel Powell, Vic Dickenson, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate and Ruby Braff.

EDDIE LOCKJAW DAVIS
VERY SAXY
Lockjaw’s quartet with Shirley Scott, George Duvivier and Arthur Edgehill is joined by Coleman Hawkins, Arnett Cobb and Buddy Tate for five incredible and exciting performances  by masters of swing and blues. This is an historic meeting of four of the truly great big-toned swing tenor men.

DUKE ELLINGTON
INTIMACY OF BLUES
Duke Ellington, the underrated pianist, recorded this 1961 trio session in Los Angeles with Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard. He plays three standards and introduces eight new compositions. 

DUKE ELLINGTON
PIANO IN FOREGROUND
Half of the disc features a wonderful 1967 octet with Cat Anderson, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Ellington, John Lamb and Rufus Jones performing Strayhorn’s title tune and 5 marvelous Ellington pieces that comprise “The Combo Suite.”  The balance of these small group sides were recorded in 1970 and range from new pieces like “Noon Mooning,” “Rockochet” and “Tippy-toeing Through The Jungle Garden” to classics like “All Too Soon.”  Gonsalves and Lawrence Brown and the principal soloists and Ellington experiments with various combinations, sometimes using two bassists or adding Wild Bill Davis on organ.

BENNY GOODMAN
COMPLETE SMALL GROUP
All 49 masters plus 18 surviving alternate takes from Benny Goodman’s seminal `30s trio and quartet sessions for Victor have been newly transfered and presented in chronological order in this definitive 3-CD set. The 1935-37 group with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Gene Krupa occupy the first two CDs. Martha Tilton and Ziggy Elman guest on “Bei Mir Bist Du Shoen”. The 1938-39 sessions on CD 3 include Hampton, Wilson or Jess Stacy, Dave Tough and John Kirby. Includes the original versions of “Moonglow,” “China Boy,” “Runnin’ Wild,” and “Lady Be Good.”

BENNY GOODMAN
COMPLETE CAPITOL TRIOS
In the late thirties, Benny Goodman’s trio with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa was the first integrated group to tour the United States.  It was also a great musical vehicle for Goodman’s and Wilson’s impeccable improvisations.  When Goodman signed with Capitol in 1946, one of his first projects was a reunion with Teddy Wilson that resulted in ten superb performances including “After Hours,” “All I Do Is Dream Of You” and “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” and another trio session that same year with Goodman’s then regular pianist Jimmy Rowles.  In 1954, Benny recreated many of his greatest hits on “Goodman in Hi-Fi” and used the brilliant Mel Powell to record such trio classics as “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Rose Room” and “What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry.”

All 20 of these great trio performances are now gathered on one CD.  These 1946-47 sessions have been newly transferred from the original discs and cleaned up with a Cedar de-clicker for superb sound.

COLEMAN HAWKINS
THE GENIUS OF
The father of the tenor saxophone displays his genius on 12 standards, accomapnied on this excellent October 16, 1957 session by Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller.

COLEMAN HAWKINS
AT EASE
A relaxed 1960 session by this great tenor saxophonist with supported by the superb rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan, Wendell Marshall and Osie Johnson. The focus is on standard ballads and Hawk is in excellent form.

COLEMAN HAWKINS & BEN WEBSTER
ENCOUNTERS
Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster in a wonderful 1957 session with Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Alvin Stoller. Rarified music by master.

EARL HINES
A MONDAY DATE
This live 1961 sextet recording from The Birdhouse in Chicago with Eddie Smith, Jimmy Archey, Darnell Howard, Pops Foster and Earl Watkins revisits such classics as “West End Blues,” “Caution Blues” and “Clarinet Marmarade” with Hines in superb form.

EARL HINES
PLAYS ELLINGTON
Recorded for Master Jazz Records over four sessions between 1971 and 1975, these solo piano recordings allow us to eavesdrop on one master studying another. Hines tackles tunes he knew well and tunes learned for the sessions with pure mastery. All 30 performances are gathered on this 3-CD set.

EARL HINES
BLUES & THINGS
This 1967 session for Master Jazz finds Hines’s working quartet with Budd Johnson joined by Jimmy Rushing for four songs. A warm, swinging session by musical giants.

JOHNNY HODGES
USED TO BE DUKE
In 1954, still on hiatus from the Ellington orchestra, Hodges led his strong little band on this album with trumpeter Shorty Baker, trombonist Lawrence Brown, baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, bassist John Williams, drummer Louis Bellson, either Call Cobbs or Richie Powell on piano and either Jimmy Hamilton or John Coltrane on tenor. Simply great small group swing by one of the lyrical masters of jazz.

JOHNNY HODGES
SIDE BY SIDE
This album contains three more tunes from the Ellington-Hodges “Back To Back” session and 6 others by a septet that features Ben Webster and Billy Strayhorn.

Lester Young &
Billie Holiday

Duke Ellington
Five Masterpieces

Louis Armstrong
Greatest Recordings

Lionel Hampton
Flying Home

Duke Ellington
New York in the 1920s

Chu Berry
Classic Track

Coleman Hawkins

Lester Young

Louis Armstrong