It was the prestigious and still publishing Esquire Magazine that returned poll-winning Jazz All-Stars to the recording studio on December 4, 1943. It’s funny that a non-Jazz magazine took over Jazz All-Star recording but it was Jazz only record company that issued the session. World War II would be over and the infamous and lengthy Petrillo Ban would also be long over before the major labels returned to making Jazz All-Star recordings and when it reconvened with Victor on January 10, 1946, Esquire’s poll and not Metronome’s was used.
Esquire Magazine essentially dominated Jazz All-Star sessions well into1946. These sessions still featured musicians firmly entrenched in Swing, notably Hawkins, Art Tatum, Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, and Sid Catlett, but also a BeBopping newcomer Oscar Pettiford on sessions through 1945. Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, and Duke Ellington, among others are on the first 1946 recordings!
Done for Commodore, Continental, and Victor (1946) they feature fine solos from all the participants. 1943’s; “Esquire Blues,” and (the Boppish) “Mop Mop,” 1944’s; “Thanks For The Memory,” and “Esquire Jump,” and 1946’s; “Long, Long Journey,” and “The One That Got Away,” are but a handful of the fine selections from these dates.
In 1946 Metronome resumed their producing of All-Star recordings, and they would continue their production through 1956. Metronome’s return in 1946 produced two sessions. The first was a massive big band, including Pete Candoli, Sweets Edison, Rex Stewart, Tommy Dorsey, Buddy DeFranco, Herbie Fields, Georgie Auld, Red Norvo, Tiny Grimes, and Chubby Jackson, and conducted by Ellington and Sy Oliver. “Metronome All Out,” and “Look Out,” were the two tunes released on a 12” RCA Victor pressing. The second session, done in December for Columbia, also produced two tunes, but this time with a much smaller band, including Charlie Shavers, Hodges, Hawkins, Nat King Cole, and featuring vocals by June Christy, and Frank Sinatra.
By 1947 the innovations of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker had caught on, and BeBop had become well known to the public, indicated by the winners of the 1947 poll. That All-Star incarnation included Dizzy, Bill Harris, Flip Phillips, and Billy Bauer, as well as Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. 1947 also produced two selections. The first used a smaller ensemble, doing “Leap Here,” and “Metronome Riff.” Done for Capitol, the results were mixed, “Leap Here,” is exceptional, with fine solos from Gillespie and DeFranco, while “Riff,” suffers from the weight of Kenton’s orchestra, and is merely an adequate performance, of a Pete Rugolo composition.
The 1949 All-Star date featured a firmly modern selection of winners, including, Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, J.J. Johnson, Ernie Caceres, Lennie Tristano, Shelly Manne and three all time trumpeters – Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Fats Navarro. Issued on Victor, the two tunes, “Overtime,” (a lot like Rugolo’s “Metronome Riff” and also by Rugulo), and “Victory Ball”, are heard in short and long (more solo space) versions. There are plenty of fine solos, from Davis, Parker, Gillespie, and Tristano; with the most exceptional aspect being 64 bars of 16 trumpet exchanges by Miles, Fats, and Dizzy that had Davis and Navarro switching positions in the sequence at the midpoint. This is heard only the long version. Wow!!
The 1950 band, featured winners Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Max Roach, as well as popular favorites, Gillespie, and DeFranco. Done for Columbia it produced “Double Date,” and “No Figs.” Fine solos abound, but the most interesting aspect is the tunes themselves, Rugolo’s “Date,” is really “Fine and Dandy,” while Tristano’s “No Figs,” is actually the old warhorse “[Back Home Again in] Indiana,” (which explains the humorous title, as Fig or Moldy Fig, was a term used to jibe Dixieland players)!
1951’s session featured previous winners Davis, Konitz, Roach, and Getz, new members George Shearing, and Terry Gibbs. Released by Capitol, it demonstrates the next development in Jazz – Cool – with “Early Spring,” and “Local 802 Blues.”
The 1953 All-Star session was really the last regular release by Metronome Poll winners, and is interesting for that they recorded two discs, each a two-part version of one tune, “St. Louis Blues,” and “How High The Moon.” The band included a fascinating mix of Swing and modern, including Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and Teddy Wilson, juxtaposed to Max Roach, Warne Marsh, Terry Gibbs, and Billy Eckstine. Recorded for MGM, and still at 78 rpm, the first side belongs to Mr. B, while the band dominated the second half for both songs. The blend of the old and new works very well, a testament to the ability of Jazzmen of different styles, to merge their sounds, and produce outstanding results.
The final Metronome All-Star date occurred in 1956, and represented the end of an era. It was recorded on a twelve inch LP, a major break from all previous dates, by Clef Records. Side one belonged to the individual poll winners, while the other side belonged to Count Basie’s Orchestra, with Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. It featured one long jam session on “Billie’s Bounce,” with an impressive line-up, including Art Blakey, Thad Jones, Tony Scott, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Billy Taylor, and Charles Mingus. Side two featured the Count’s orchestra, including Jones, Benny Powell, Marshall Royal, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, and Freddie Green, with Joe Williams and Ella on vocals! It showcased their most recent hits, “April In Paris,” and “Everyday I Have The Blues,” as well as “Basie’s Back In Town,” and “Party Blues.” A “bonus” track on the album features George Wallington doing “Lady Fair.” The album presents an impressive roster of talent and was a rather fitting end to an era.
These All-Star recordings presented an amazing collection of musicians, one would not normally have heard together, but they’re also indicative of more. They help trace the evolution and popularity of the music. The fame and influence of various musicians can also be plotted, from the Swing Era stardom of Benny Goodman, to the BeBop and Cool influence of Miles Davis, to the consistent popularity of Count Basie. With these All-Star recording sessions, the path of Jazz as popular music is traced from its height during the Swing Era to the fragmentation during the 1950s, with numerous aural stops along the way.
[by Rob Vrabel, edited by Phil Schaap]