Few windplayers had as immediately identifiable a sound as Edmond Hall. Gritty, warm, earthy, by turns biting and tender, he was a stellar sideman--perhaps best remembered today for his tenure with Louis Armstrong's All-Stars. He'd be even better remembered today had he taken Duke Ellington's offer to replace Barney Bigard in the early '40s. Instead, he stayed with Teddy Wilson's group at New York's Café Society. This was, for Hall, an artistic decision, and ultimately one we can all be glad he made. According to Frank Driggs, who wrote the liner notes to the album reviewed here, Hall considered playing with Wilson the zenith of his career. He wasn't the only jazz clarinetist to feel strongly about Wilson's playing, though, and when Benny Goodman managed to convince Teddy to return to his band for another stint, Hall was left to lead his own group.
A New Orleans native, Hall maintained the traditional front line of trumpet, trombone, and clarinet, but with a twist: instead of playing NOLA style polyphony, with the trumpet taking the vocal lead, he tended to mute the trumpet for color, as Artie Shaw had done with his Gramercy 5, and work from the type of head arrangements that both the Gramercy 5 and the Benny Goodman Sextet favored. The end result is something rare and exceptional: Hall's New Orleans "talking" quality fused with streamlined swing. The group played the Café Society and, brilliant as they were, struggled to record. Ultimately, they landed only one date: December 4, 1944. Hall didn't waste his opportunity: during that session he laid down no less than three classics of the jazz clarinet canon--"Caravan," "Besame Mucho," and "The Man I Love." While many other clarinetists have successfully recorded these numbers, none have surpassed Hall's depth of soul and originality.
The session took place in New York City, under the supervision of Milt Gabler of World Broadcasting Systems. Hall's band at the time was comprised of Irving Randolph on trumpet, Henderson Chambers on Trombone, Ellis Larkins on piano, Johnny Williams on bass, and Art Trappier on drums. They had from 3 to 6 p.m. During that time, they recorded the following numbers:
The Sheik of Araby (four takes)
Night and Day (two takes)
I Want To Be Happy
The Man I Love (a false start and two takes)
Rompin' in '44 (a false start and three takes)
Caravan (three takes)
Besame Mucho (a false start and one brilliant take)
For some unknown, blessed reason, in 1983 Circle Records released the entire recording session on LP [CLP-52], though it has not, to my knowledge, been rereleased. This was perhaps the most important session of Hall's career as a leader. He was surrounded by sympathetic musicians of a high caliber, especially the brilliant Ellis Larkins on piano. The Circle disc contains all incomplete takes, false starts, and unissued takes--giving us a window into Hall's creative approach (his opening improvisation on "The Sheik of Araby" for instance, was carefully worked out before the session. As Duke Ellington once pointed out, the emphasis on coming up with solos on the spot is perhaps exaggerated--whether one comes up with a solo a day before or a second before, the important thing is to have come up with it).
This recording has been long out of print, and is very difficult to obtain.
For historic value and brilliance of material, Five Good Reeds.