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When he is talked about at all these days, it is mostly as the reflected glory
of his association with Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, or other luminaries of
the early jazz pantheon. But now, with the compilation of all of his band's
recordings from 1918 through 1920 on Jazzin' Straight Thru' Paradise,
Wilbur Sweatman is finally getting the respect he has deserved for decades.
Here are 25 tracks that chronicle the shift from ragtime to jazz and demonstrate
Sweatman's seminal place in the development of the latter. At the same time,
Sweatman's incredible clarinet pyrotechnics are on full display throughout. Jazzin'
Straight Thru' Paradise features a 24-page booklet with extensive and
illuminating notes by Steve Tracy, the noted scholar of the Harlem Renaissance,
and over 74 minutes of the most exciting Dixieland-style music you'll find
Wilbur Sweatman was born in Missouri in 1882. By about 1902 he was
living in Minneapolis--already a veteran of Professor Clark Smith's Pickaninny
Band of Kansas, the P. G. Lowery Band, and W. C. Handy's Musical Spillers--and
where, according to legend, Sweatman cut a cylinder around 1904 of Joplin's "Maple
Leaf Rag." He moved on to Chicago in 1908 and spent time as an orchestra conductor
before leaving for New York and the vaudeville stage in 1911. Sweatman gained
notoriety as a "flash" act, playing three clarinets at once, but he contributed
mightily to the popularity of ragtime during its "second wave" via his compositions
of "Down Home Rag" and "Old Folks Rag." Then Sweatman and his band recorded
a series of discs for Emerson and Pathé.
From Ragtime to Jazz
Our collection begins just after this point. Picking up where the
Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Earl Fuller's Band had begun, Sweatman's Original
Jazz Band played the new, wild type of music that had its feet still in the
ragtime idiom, playing their charts fairly closely and flourishing with a little
improvisation. You can hear the transition from ragtime to jazz on "I
Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None O'This Jellyroll," with its traditional ragtime
figures morphing into a looser, jazzier style of playing. Similarly, "Ringtail
Blues" shows Sweatman moving in and out of the melody and giving it his unique
Infectious, Hard-Driving Songs
"Regretful Blues," the
first song on the disc, is an apt template for the rest of the CD. As Steve
Tracy writes in the accompanying notes, it is "highly spirited music, often
hard-driving, leaping, cascading music played with a verve, especially by Sweatman,
that is truly infectious." "Oh! You La!
La!" is another example of the propulsive character of these songs. The
players are going at breakneck speed, and the drummer won't quit. On "Has
Anybody Seen My Corinne" (which intepolates "Down on Frog's Isle" and "Livery
Stable Blues"--the latter being the ODJB's first record), it is Sweatman himself
who is in charge, his clarinet forceful, ringing, driving.
Sweatman's band experimented with different sounds and a variety of
arrangements. On many of the songs, such as the war-themed "Good-Bye
Alexander" and "Indianola," Sweatman interpolates one or more other songs
into the middle of the main melody. Additionally, Sweatman's Band gives the
first recording of Hart Wand's "Dallas Blues," and they did several other "blues," such
as "Those Draftin' Blues," "Bluin' the Blues," "Rainy Day Blues," and "Kansas
City Blues." On "Ja-Da" and "A Good Man
Is Hard to Find," the band introduces violin into the mix, and on "Lucille" and "I'll
Say She Does," guitar and banjolines are added to the ensemble for a very interesting
Wilbur Sweatman has been unfairly ignored as a pioneering force in
early jazz, and this CD will help in putting him and his band in their rightful
position. But aside of that, lovers of great dance music and consummate playing
will want this collection of hot, upbeat historic performances.