FREDDIE WEBSTER, the May 2, 1945 Frankie Socolow for the small, short-lived, and far less famous Duke label, the lost “Blue Fantasy” and the found “September In The Rain”
By Phil Schaap
Freddie Webster was a great trumpeter who favored Jazz and helped BeBop in its initial years. Webster was born in Cleveland on June 8, 1916 (d. April 1, 1947, age 30). When Freddie was very young, he became friends with Tadd Dameron, who was a half year younger, and they played in a group of youngsters led by the trumpeter. Webster’s first significant professional work was in the Cleveland based Marion Sears Orchestra (Marion was Big Al Sears older brother) while Freddie was in his mid-teens. During this stretch, Freddie Webster befriended the future lead alto player of the original Count Basie Orchestra, Earle Warren, who then lived in Cleveland. Not too long after this, Webster found primetime gigs in name Big Bands in Chicago - with Erskine Tate and more prominently with Earl “Fatha” Hines. Sometime in 1939, however, Freddie returned to Cleveland. The specifics seem untraced.
In was then, at age 23, that Freddie Webster made a big move: he went to The Big Apple with his friend Tadd Dameron. [Undoubtedly, this is a more consequential pivot to Dameron’s career.] Freddie and the 22 year old Tadd Dameron caught a train and arrived in New York City’s Penn Station penniless (they had 10₵ between them) on Christmas Eve morning, December 24, 1939. They called Earle Warren. Earle had them come to his home and welcomed them to the Warren family’s Christmas Eve dinner. Earle was then off for Carnegie Hall to play in the Count Basie Orchestra in the 2nd “From Spirituals To Swing” concert. “Smiley”, as Earle was nicknamed, had the two broke musicians stay with him for a few days. Warren gave them some spending cash and began introducing them around so that they could find work. Dameron would catch on as staff arranger with Harlan Leonard’s Rockets and Webster played a bit with Eddie Durham.
Soon Freddie Webster’s incredible trumpet tone and complete musicianship brought him high profiled work with Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Jimmie Lunceford, Lucky Millinder, and even a return to Fatha Hines’ band.
Somewhere in this mix of gigs, Freddie Webster worked alongside of Dizzy Gillespie and developed an important musical friendship with the BeBop pioneer. Webster integrated some of Dizzy’s trumpet concept and much of Dizzy’s BeBop breakthrough into his own flavorful style and brilliant sound. While the 16 month older Webster had made a few impressive recordings during the late 1930s and early 1940s including a version of Webster’s “Reverse The Charges” WITH LYRICS (!) sung by one Sonny Boy Williams and Webster’s lengthy ballad feature on “Yesterdays” from a radio broadcast while Freddie played in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, it is the BeBop Freddie Webster, the beautiful toned trumpeter and complete musician who blended brilliantly with the breakthrough of Dizzy Gillespie (and Charlie Parker) that explains why this long forgotten musician is nevertheless a vital Jazz force.
And it is this analysis – particularly as articulated by Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, himself – that dominates any presentation of Freddie Webster’s wonder: there just aren’t that many recordings that would let the music, itself, supersede the firsthand accounts of Davis and Gillespie, giants whose spoken praise has preserved Webster’s legacy.
That situation – there are so few recordings – brings me to the specific to this essay: Freddie Webster’s appearance on Frankie Socolow’s May 2, 1945 for the obscure Duke label.
This session when it is – however infrequently – cited is known for Bud Powell’s presence and playing. It is Powell’s first recording away from Cootie Williams and his only recordings in 1945.
The twenty year old Bud is playing BeBop and playing it exceptionally well, but Freddie Webster’s contributions, while quite different, are equally magnificent.
Typical to a studio date for commercial release at that time, four titles were recorded: “Blue Fantasy”, “Reverse The Charges”, “September In The Rain”, and “The Man I Love”. “Reverse The Charges” & “The Man I Love” came out at the time on 78RPM, issued by an obscure record company using the name Duke as their catalog number 112. [To be clear: this is not the later label named Duke Records of Blues, Rhythm-and-Blues, and Gospel fame.] “September In The Rain” and “Blue Fantasy” were, theoretically, prepared for Duke #115. To be released, however, would have necessitated some innovative, though primitive, disc-to-disc editing on “Blue Fantasy”. Duke’s leader, the late Bob Shad, remembered “Blue Fantasy” being particularly long. In one telling, Shad stated that it was an over nine minute jam at the end of the date. If that’s all that existed, then it would not have fit on one side of a 10” standard groove 78RPM – on Duke 115 or any other such record during the 78 era.
“Blue Fantasy” probably does not exist. That “September In The Rain” does is due to a “processed master”, not a test pressing, much less a two-sided text single reaching Savoy Records when a manufacturing/processing firm was closing down, and having only one surviving 78 client left, Savoy Records in its Lubinsky period, sent the disc which had never been reclaimed by Duke/Shad along with Savoy’s formal holdings back to Lubinsky. That Bob Shad remembered only a particularly long “Blue Fantasy” might explain why “September In The Rain” survives and “Blue Fantasy” is lost.
I looked for “Blue Fantasy” when I was Savoy Jazz Archivist and did not find it. This was during 1983-1990. Bob Porter did not find it when he was Savoy’s (Arista) agent from the mid-1970s into the 1980s. We both examined the processed master of “September In The Rain”: there is no reverse side, “Blue Fantasy” or anything else. It (“September In The Rain” in a processed master) should exist in the Savoy Music Group holdings, wherever they are housed (Atlanta?). If it isn’t there, then it would be with the late Joe Fields’ holdings or at the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers, Newark.