Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ed Rosa with the Harry James Orchestra * Oh Lady Be Good * 1945

In the liner notes to Eddie Daniels' 1994 album Real Time, Buddy DeFranco writes "[Eddie] has made his mark. I have heard as many Eddie clones as I have Benny, Artie, or [myself]."

That's always seemed to me a great compliment, except for one small thing: in all my years of listening to and collecting jazz clarinet recordings, I've never heard an Artie Shaw clone. Who else had command of the instrument in all registers the way Shaw did, with complete flexibility? Who could combine those qualities with lyricism and power? And so Buddy's compliment always rang a bit hollow to me--a drop of hyperbole seemed to spoil it.

Buddy came up during that era, though, and doubtless heard many players whose efforts remained unrecorded and un heralded. I've just stumbled across one such player in Hindsight Records 3-disc set of the Harry James Orchestra entitled Bandstand Memories 1938-1948. In the middle of the third disc, there is a cut of "Oh, Lady be Good" that jumps out. Harry James doesn't play, handing over solo duty to one of his utility wind players, Ed Rosa, instead.

When I first heard it, I thought Shaw must have been sitting in with the band. Rosa's altissimo is comparable--full, strong, mellow. His technique is fluid and his language sounds directly influenced by Shaw. Indeed, here is a "Shaw clone" if ever there was one.

By 1945, James's Orchestra was huge by Big Band Era standards. A full string section and auxiliary instruments such as valve trombone, flute, bass clarinet, and bass trombone were common. Rosa is listed in the liner notes as a flutist, but he obviously doubled on clarinet--though he was obviously no mere doubler. To master the clarinet well enough to fool anyone into thinking Artie Shaw was playing is a rare accomplishment. I can't think of anyone else who has, though Buddy DeFranco's quote suggests that there were at least a few. I hope there are other recordings of Rosa's clarinet prowess available--I'll certainly post my findings if any turn up.

Until then, here is a link to the Harry James Orchestra playing "Oh Lady Be Good" with the remarkable Ed Rosa, and unsung hero of jazz clarinet, playing the solo.

[The YouTube link lists this recording as being from 1944. The recording I have is dated August 24, 1945].


Carpetbagger from Queens said...

Ed Rosa was very good. Two Artie Shaw clones that come to mind are Tommy Reynolds and Jerry Wald who led second tier big bands in the early 1940's. I've heard Reynolds in the past and he had a Shaw style. Alas he has no solo's on You Tube. Wald came be found on You Tube. he also copied Shaw's style. They are the only ones that I ever heard

ES said...

Five Good Reeds for this comment, Carpetbagger. I've now heard Jerry Wald, and you're exactly right. I'll have to try to get my hands on some Tommy Reynolds.

Since writing this post a year ago, I managed to get an LP of Ed Rosa playing Shaw covers with Dave Pell. Sounds like stiff Artie Karaoke, though, and not so good a listening experience as the vintage Harry James performances.