New Orleans at Midnight
1963 Coral Records CRL 757429 Stereo / CRL 57429 MonoSide One
1. Creole Love Call
2. I Want To Be Happy
3. Brahms' Lullaby
4. Ballin' The Jack
6. Rockin' Chair
1. Midnight Pete
2. Bourbon Street Parade
3. Swing Low
4. Makin' Whoopee
5. Battle Hymn Of The Republic
6. Midnight Boogie
Several years ago, in an interview for his first album (Coral 57282, Pete Fountain's New Orleans) Pete Fountain remarked: "There's still quite a bit of jazz in New Orleans, you know. In proportion, we probably have more than you have in New York City...On Bourbon Street alone, there's seven Dixieland bands. Plus me. You know, me and the rhythm. We just swing away."
As far as anyone can tell from the confused mass of evidence that has come to light in the comparatively short time span since the historians began to investigate the subject, musicians have been swinging away on Bourbon Street, or in other sections of the Crescent City, since some-time before the turn of the century. In the early days, according to the veteran guitarist Danny Barker, "there were countless places of enjoyment that employed musicians, not including private affairs, balls, soirees, marriages, banquets, deaths, christenings, Catholic communions, confirmations, picnics at the lake front, country hay rides, and advertisements of business concerns. During the carnival season (Mardi Gras) any little insignificant affair was sure to have some kind of music, and each section would engage their neighborhood favorite." (Quote from "Hear Me Talkin' To Ya" by Shapiro & Hentoff.)
If there was music around the clock, certainly the quantity and quality of the performances was never higher than around midnight, an hour when citizens employed in the less glamorous jobs were free to enjoy the services of those nightlifers who were hired to entertain them.
Though some of the nostalgic glitter of New Orleans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century may have worn thin, or at least may have abandoned its perpetual motion schedule, the night hours in the 1960s are no less active than they were, say, in 1900, when some say jazz wasborn, or in 1930, when the Fountain family says Pete was born. The music still assumes a variety of forms: at times it has the rowdy, unconfined battle spirit of traditional Dixieland jazz, while in gentler moments it can assume the coloration of the more sophisticated, easily swinging music that grew to maturity during Pete Fountain's childhood.
It is the latter mood that is established on the first band of this album and maintained through-out these two thoroughly musical and consistently listenable sides.
The musicians are all familiar inhabitants of earlier Fountain packages: Bobby Gibbons on guitar, Jack Sperling on drums (replaced on Rockin' Chair and Creole Love Call by Nick Fatool), Morty Corb on bass, and from time to time Pete's perennial sidekick Godfrey Hirsch on vibes. The pianist is John Propst on Brahms' Lullaby and Midnight Pete, Ray Sherman on Moonglow and Midnight Boogie, and Stan Wrightsman on all the other bands.
Duke Ellington's Creole Love Call is not only one of the earliest of his instrumental compositions, but also one of the few never to have enjoyed exposure commensurate with its value. An exquisitely simple theme, it is introduced with great respect for the melody by Pete before he embarks on an improvisation based on the tune's chord pattern, which is that of the traditional 12-bar blues.
The melody, incidentally, dates back to 1927, when Duke first recorded it. Vincent Youmans' I Want To Be Happy was composed and recorded six years before Fountain was born. Like Creole Love Call, it is an essentially simple melody that lends itself as ideally to a bright swinging interpretation as the Ellington theme is suited to the blues. Note Pete's effective use of syncopation, the well-conceived half-chorus solos of Wrightsman and Hirsch, and the ebullient spirit in which Pete rides it out.
Johannes Brahms (1833-97) would probably have approved of this unprecedented treatment of his lullaby, for the melody is caressed affectionately by Fountain's clarinet with an attractive countermelody by Gibbons' guitar. (This idea, like all the arrangements sketched for the album, was the brainchild of Pete's regular musical director, Coral's own Bud Dant.) Pete achieves a beautifully warm tone here, somewhat reminiscent of the sound of a great clarinetist of the 1940s, Joe Marsala.
Ballin' The Jack is exactly a half century old. The Fountain rejuvenation is essentially swing music, with a moderately paced and keenly sustained rhythmic continuity. The impeccable Jack Sperling, in his breaks, never allows the listener to lose track of the beat.
Moonglow, written by bandleader Will Hudson in 1934, shows Pete's superb command of the lower register in the second chorus. Note the delicate, Red Norvo-like approach of Hirsch's vibes solo.
Hoagy Carmichael's Rockin' Chair, one of the Hoosier songwriter's earliest successes (he and Louis Armstrong sang it as a duet on a 1929 record) is outlined with a suggestion of shuffle rhythm. Morty Corb's firmly walking bass behind Stan Wrightsman's solo is a conspicuously valuable component.
Rod McKuen's Midnight Pete is given a contemporary rhythmic touch by the use of a triple rhythm, more correctly described as a 12/8 meter. Pete establishes the theme in the first eight, then plays it an octave higher in the second, his pure sound and sensitive phrasing always in evidence.
Bourbon Street Parade, a song that has achieved belated popularity in recent years, is the work ofthe veteran New Orleans drummer Paul Barbarin, who was one of the sidemen on Pete's South Rampart Street Parade album (CRL 57440). After a martial-style drum roll introduction, the parade feeling is maintained with a lively two-beat interpretation. Later Morty Corb takes an agile solo and Pete plays some of his fastest-moving and most fluent work of the whole LP, leading to the. traditional four-bars-drums-fourbars-clarinet finale.
Swing Low is tastefully handled with a gospel feeling and occasional use of chimes, the latter alternating with piano in the second chorus. According to historian Sigmund Spaeth, this melody was "borrowed" by Dvorak for his New World Symphony.
Makin' Whoopee, a Gus Kahn song of 1928, opens with a Fountain chorus, splits one between piano and vibes, then returns it to Pete, all with a minimum of complexity and often with a touch of the blues.
Battle Hymn of the Republic provides another reminder that John Brown's body, so often disinterred by jazzmen in recent years, will not be allowed to lie a-mouldering in the grave as long as this melody can swing. The treatment here involves a slow opening and closing, with 12/8 rhythm, and a brighter middle passage, with some typically rich lower-register sounds flowing from our Fountain.
The side concludes with an original by Fountain and Bud Dant, Midnight Boogie, in which shuffle-rhythm boogie-woogie alternates with straight-forward swinging ad lib blues.
You will have to do a lot of reconnoitering before you find happier or more relaxed music than this in New Orleans At Midnight.
- LEONARD FEATHER
Cover Photo: Hal Buksbaum