WORKS: Verve recordings, 1944-49
PERFORMER: Featuring 82 artists including Lester Yyoung, Coleman Hawkins (ts), Charlie Parker (as), Nat ‘King’ Cole (p), Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Buck Clayton (t), Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald (v), Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa (d), Oscar Peterson (p)
CATALOGUE NO: 523 893-2
In the Twenties and Thirties, jam sessions (in which musicians tried to outplay one another) usually occurred in small clubs. Norman Granz, while still a student, began his entrepreneurial career in the early Forties by organising them in Los Angeles jazz nightclubs.
By 1944, his jam sessions had graduated to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, bringing black and white jazz virtuosi before much larger audiences, with such success that it became possible to tour such a package, which Granz entitled Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP).
This fascinating box set, which includes over two hours of previously unissued music, documents the early and perhaps most spontaneous years of JATP, when music was in the melting pot and bebop was taking over from swing as the dominant style of the time.
The juxtaposition of great musicians from both schools on stage in large halls created such a terrific sense of occasion that audiences were virtual participants in the concerts, responding vocally and with applause to dramatic musical happenings.
Billie Holiday performs in several concerts, but her most affecting appearance occurs on disc 7, when at Carnegie Hall she sings four songs accompanied only by pianist Bobby Tucker. After the third song the applause is ecstatic, with people yelling requests. One of the clearest is for ‘I Cover the Waterfront’, and she makes that her fourth and final song to everyone’s audible pleasure.
Ella Fitzgerald gets a similar reception on disc 9, singing with a trio of Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich. When she sings ‘Basin Street Blues’, ending with a brilliant imitation of Louis Armstrong’s gravelly voice, the audience goes wild with delight. Lester Young appears in several of the concerts and captivates audiences with his warmth and effortless swing.
Pianist Nat ‘King’ Cole steals the show on the first two discs, and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker make several strong appearances. The accompanying 222-page booklet is also a rich historical document, giving details of all the concerts, potted biographies of all the musicians, and including many photographs of musicians and of contemporary posters, plus a long interview with Norman Granz.