I recently picked up the album Here Comes Louis Smith on the Blue Note label. I did not do my usual thing of checking the album out first before ordering. I also had no idea who Louis Smith was (he died in 2016) or how I even came to be looking at the album in the first place. Having heard the album through a couple of times I have to ask: why I have I not heard of this trumpet player from Tennessee before?
Here Comes Louis Smith was his debut album recorded in 1957 – it had originally been recorded for the Transition label but the company went out of business shortly afterwards and before the recording could be released in the spring of ’58. The album masters were acquired by Blue Note producer Alfred Lion. Louis had a stellar supporting group alongside him with Buckshot La Funke (Cannonball Adderley was signed to the Mercury label at the time so used a pseudonym) on alto sax. Duke Jordan and Tommy Flanagan shared piano duties with Doug Watkins on bass and drummer Art Taylor completing the rhythm section.
The album features four Louis Smith compositions and one tune each from Duke Pearson and Hoagy Carmichael. The Duke Pearson number, “Tribute to Brownie“, opens the album with the drums of Art Taylor before Louis Smith comes in with a beautiful clear bop sound. If the opener does not grab your attention then go no further but, in my opinion, the rest of the album does not disappoint and is worthy of a hearing.
Of the four original compositions two are very well executed blues numbers: track 2 – “Brill’s Blues” and track 6 “Val’s Blues”. In fact track 2 features some really nice alto playing from Cannonball Adderley. Tracks 3 (“Ande”) and 5 (“South Side”) are good but it is “South Side” that stands out for me for both the group playing and the solo playing from Smith and Adderley. That leaves just one track to talk about, Hoagy Carmichaels “Star Dust”.
Carmichael wrote “Star Dust” in 1927 and it when on to become a standard that would be recorded by so many of the great and good in jazz music. On this version it is Smith’s solo trumpet work that stands out. The playing has a “haunting” quality to it that just makes everything around the listener disappear leaving only the sound of the trumpet to focus on.
[Those around Smith] make for a potent supporting cast, but the focus is mostly on the criminally obscure Louis Smith. After cutting his second Blue Note set and switching to teaching, Smith would not record again as a leader until 1978. All bop and ’50s jazz fans are strongly advised to pick up this CD ….
As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, I have no idea how I came to be looking at this album in the first place but something must have prompted me to do so. I do have to agree with Mr Yano, Louis Smith is a “criminally obscure” artist whose music deserves to be played and heard.
As a subscriber to Jazz Journal it was sadness that I read that the December, 2018 edition of the magazine was to be the last it would seen in its printed format. I looked forward to receiving my copy each month through the post and reading what editor Mark Gilbert had decided was important enough in the world of jazz to be published.
I always started my monthly read with “From the editor”, an often acerbic comment on the latest jazz related musings, before moving on to “One sweet letter”. This section was where the readers of Jazz Journal got to have their say about the current state of jazz; errors made regarding the name of the second trombonist in a big band event in Aberystwyth in 1962; or whether or not the star rating system is/is not fit for purpose.
In the February, 2019 edition of Jazzwise magazine the following was written in a piece about the closure of the Jazz Journal print edition:
Arguably at its peak from the late 1950s until the 1970s, Jazz Journal increasingly appealed to to the older, more mainstream jazz fan with writing and design aimed clearly at that market.
Jazzwise magazine, February 2019, p10
This may well be true and, in part, a contributory factor in the decision to move from print to online presence, but it is also interesting just how many times both Jazzwise and Jazz Journal covered the same artists, well established or new and upcoming, in articles about the musicians who form the jazz scene.
One area where the two magazines varied significantly was in that of album reviews. Jazz Journal is more “mainstream” in this regard, and that is not a bad thing, while Jazzwise would focus more on newer names to the scene. Both magazines published a critics poll at the end of the year but only one would separate out reissues from new, a bone of contention for many a reader of Jazz Journal.
I will miss the print edition Jazz Journal but welcome the fact that it will still be available as an online publication. I have had a look at https://jazzjournal.co.uk and like what I see. I do find it a lot easier to read than Jazzwise’s online version of their print copy and am very much looking forward to being able to access Jazz Journal’s archive when it is made available.
So which of these two monthly editions will I subscribe to in the the future? Well the answer is very simple, both. The two publications are different and each brings something of interest to what is available to fans of jazz music. I like to read about artists from the past, and their music, because they are often referenced to by the artists of today. Jazz Journal does write about “mainstream” jazz and I hope it continues to do so because it still has a relevance today and should be reflected in print, online or otherwise.