Report on the baritone saxophone solos by the legendary tenor saxophonist CHU BERRY – containing a complete examination of the baritone saxophone solo on the Cab Calloway Orchestra October 27, 1938 recording of “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” - May 16, 2018
In October of 2017, at a meeting of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown, a great deal of effort was made by a contingent of world class Jazz ears to verify that CHU BERRY is, indeed, the baritone saxophone soloist on the August 4, 1936 Fletcher Henderson Orchestra recording of “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?”, a selection that exists in two takes. The innovative founding father of Jazz Solography, Jan Evensmo, was celebrated at this meeting and participated in the unanimous decision that the baritone saxophone solo - both takes - is played by the highly regarded tenor saxophonist, Chu Berry.
There is no explanation why Berry would switch reed instruments for this lone title on just the one date. Given that oddity, at this meeting the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown labored as we listened to all the other reed players from that August 4, 1936 session, in particular Elmer “Tone” Williams, in various recordings made by them at several different sessions. We were able to dispel the thought that the baritone sax work on “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” could be assigned to any of them. To reiterate: the baritone saxophone solo work on Henderson’s “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” is by the great CHU BERRY. There can be no doubt.
In the Fall and Winter of 2017 into 2018, I broadcast all of Chu Berry’s recordings on which he solos. I noticed on the October 27, 1938 Cab Calloway Orchestra recording of “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” a short baritone sax solo late in the track coming not too long after Chu Berry’s tenor sax solo on the very same selection. Could Berry have come back on the larger, lower pitched horn for a second solo? I felt that there was some similarity between this short baritone solo and those taken by Chu on “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” I wrote to Jan Evensmo about my proposed identification of a second date (October 27, 1938) on which Chu Berry improvised on baritone saxophone. Jan and many entertained the thought that this is, in fact, what occurred.
JAN EVENSMO returned to the United States in April of 2018. The public event and highlight to Jan’s visit was the Discographical/Solographical Symposium with Jan Evensmo held at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 20, 2018; an event broadcast live by WKCR and that will be posted at “radio” found on the philschaapjazz.com homepage. Two days earlier, however, the Major Domo of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown, Jazz Expert Melissa Jones, once again organized a special meeting to celebrate and honor Jan Evensmo. Three of the panelists for the coming Friday’s symposium were in attendance: Jan, yours truly, and young Joel Wenhardt as well as host Jones, Sam Chess, Omar Little, and Ben Young.
Knowing that the Berry baritone on Cab’s “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” concern was not on the program for the Discographical/Solographical Symposium with Jan Evensmo, it was decided to tackle the identification right then and there at this small gathering of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown. By the end of protracted listening only myself and Melissa Jones still felt that it was Chu Berry who took that short baritone sax solo. Ben Young, remaining in part on the fence, cracked us all up by announcing “It doesn’t sound chewy enough.” My consistent response was “OK, if it’s not Chu, then who is it?”
Indeed, at this very same meeting, both Ben Young and myself rescinded our published finding that the tenor sax on Billie Holiday’s June 23, 1938 date for Vocalion did not quite sound “froggy” enough to be Ben Webster. But the absence of any possible other candidate to be that player, forced – properly so – Mr. Young and myself to agree with not only the others in attendance but long published accounts by Mr. Evensmo and by Billie Holiday discographer, Jack Millar, that the tenor player at Lady Day’s June 23, 1938 session is Ben Webster. [The books have said for years that it is Babe Russin. That can’t be.]
So, it was left on April 18, 2018 that unless an acceptable candidate to be the baritone saxophone soloist on the 10/27/1938 “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” could be found, then the identification that the solo was played by Chu Berry would stand. Within this parameter the only possibilities would be the other reed players in Cab Calloway’s band at that session.
It was clear to us that Andrew Brown (who may have preferred Andy) was the only one that might have played the solo. Brown was known to play baritone sax and even bass saxophone in the Cab Calloway Orchestra, but largely, perhaps entirely in ensemble roles. Could Andy Brown blow and if he could, then what did he sound like and do when improvising?
Enter JOHN WRIGGLE. Trombonist, author, and educator, John Wriggle, is a member of the Unilateral Hot Club of Morristown and, while not at the 4/18/2018 meeting, was aware of the concern for a concrete identification of the baritone sax soloist on Calloway’s “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” The brilliant-keen eared John Wriggle caught the gauntlet tossed which asked that if it is not Chu Berry taking that baritone solo, then who is it? John directed our ears to the Cab Calloway Orchestra Victor recording of “Margie” done on January 23, 1934. Mr. Wriggle had gone back over 4½ years (1/23/1934) to find a full chorus solo by a player who clearly matched the musician who took 8 bars on baritone sax on the 10/27/1938 track in question. There are only two saxophonists on both sessions: Brown and the tenor man, Walter “Foots” Thomas. It is certainly NOT Foots on either “Margie” or “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” and that leaves Andrew Brown. The baritone saxophone on “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” and for that matter “Margie” is Andrew (Andy) Brown. Therefore, the baritone sax solo on Cab Calloway’s October 27, 1938 track “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?” is not played by Chu Berry.
There’s one or two more wrinkles AND one additional proof to this identification. New listening took place on May 10, 2018. Being aware that Andy Brown retained an unusual specialty as a bass saxophonist well into the 1940s, and knowing that the young Dizzy Gillespie, while in the Cab Calloway Orchestra, wrote a bass saxophone part to be played by Brown on the remarkable March 8, 1940 Cab Calloway Orchestra recording of “Pickin’ The Cabbage,” I pondered if the solo on “Margie” was made on a bass saxophone. I turned to THE specialist on bass saxophone, VINCE GIORDANO. I listened to both tracks intently with Vince on 5/10/2018. Mr. Giordano proclaimed that the solo on “Margie” IS on baritone sax and that its player is the same musician who takes the short baritone sax solo on “Do You Wanna Jump, Children?”. That pretty much wrapped up all loose ends except that Vince warned: “I think that all the Cab Calloway charts still exist.” Though not for public perusal, Giordano has good reason to believe that they will surface and, therefore, stated: “You could be surprised by the names and instruments you’ll find in the scores and parts.”
Maybe so, but I’m ready to move on and speak with finality that Chu Berry took VERY few solos on baritone sax: there are just the two takes on the 8/4/1936 “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” with Fletcher Henderson.