Storyville Records: A Treasure Trove of Swinging Jazz
Anders unhesitatingly credits Knudsen for Storyville's success. "His key qualities were his tremendous enthusiasm for the music, his energy and his determination to achieve whatever he set out to do, be it a big thing or a small one."
Asked for his own ambitions for the label in 2010, Anders replies: "To survive, to be in business ten years from now." With releases slated for 2011 including an eight-disc Louis Armstrong CD/DVD box set, and a new package from pianist Mary Lou Williams, that looks about as close to a certainty as can be hoped for in the record business.
Here is a small sample of the treasures in Storyville's catalogue:
Dig Ben!: Ben Webster In Europe & Some Last US Sessions
Among the jewels in the Storyville catalogue is a large body of work by Ben Webster, some of which is included on the eight CDs which make up this magnificent box set.
After Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, both featured elsewhere in the Storyville catalogue, Webstera featured soloist in Duke Ellington's bands of 1940-44 and 1948-49was one of jazz's most influential pre-bop tenor saxophonists, and perhaps the instrument's most gorgeous balladeer of any era. Webster's legacy, however, is often undervalued in the standard jazz histories. Partly, this is because Hawkins, eight years his senior, and Young, his exact contemporary, peaked earlier. Partly, it is because Webster left the US for Europe in 1964. Unlike the younger tenor player Dexter Gordon, who was resident in Europe from 1962 until the mid 1970s, Webster never returned to the US, and died in Amsterdam in 1973. Had he returned home, he too would likely have been rewarded with national treasure status, as was Gordon. Out of sight, in Webster's case, meant out of mind.
The new world's loss was the old world's gain. Webster was lionized in Europe, receiving a degree of recognition he'd only previously received in the 1940s while a member of the Ellington band. He was recorded frequently, accompanied by great musicianslocal, such as bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, pianist Stan Tracey and trumpeter Roffe Ericson; and visiting, such as pianists Kenny Drew and Teddy Wilson, trumpeters Buck Clayton and Clark Terry, and drummers Al Heath and Ed Thigpenall heard on these CDs, along with a dozen others of the same caliber.
Recorded live and in the studio between 1964-73, the ten-and-a-half hours of music on Dig Ben!: Ben Webster In Europe & Some Last US Sessions catch Webster in a variety of mostly small group settings, and on the final disc with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra. Webster is almost always in top form. He loved living and working in Europe, and you can hear that in his playing: the material is familiar, and Webster returns to the same small body of tunes time and again, but his passionate engagement never wanes.
The set was compiled and produced by Anders Stefansen. The box includes a large format 28-page booklet, co-edited by Henrik Wolsgaard-Iversen, chair of the Ben Webster Foundation. Detailed session and personnel details are included for every track, and there are also half a dozen essays, all of them illuminating, from Wolsgaard-Iversen, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and other friends and colleagues of Webster.
The Ben Webster Foundation, by the by, is a not-for-profit organization that looks after Webster's artistic, intellectual and monetary interests. One of the premises of the Foundation's charter is "to spread jazz in Denmark," and amongst its activities the Foundation has since 1976 funded the Ben Webster Prize, awarded to promising local musicians and now worth DKR 25,000.
Dig Ben! is a class act, musically and on paper. For Webster aficionados this is the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the Storyville jewel box.
The Brute And The Beautiful
If Dig Ben! is one for Webster devotees, the two-CD set The Brute And The Beautiful is the perfect place for newcomers to dip their toes in the water.
The first disc, The Brute, collects 13 tracks featuring Webster with his hot, bluesy, and at times almost R&B-ish, hat on. The earliest, "Nasty Attitude," which includes vocalist Walter Brown and pianist Jay McShann, was recorded in Kansas City in 1949. Four others were recorded in New York in 1958 and Rhode Island in 1963. All the other tracks come from Webster's post-1964 European period.
Webster could cook to perfection on a greasy skillet, as disc one demonstrates, even if the relentlessly vocalized tone he adopted at higher temperatures could sometimes get close to being samey. But one of Webster's mottos was: "If you can't dump your shit in two choruses, forget it!" Any threat of monotony soon passes.