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Speakeasy Blues

King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators


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A Precursor to
The Luis Russell Band


Recorded by King Oliver's "Dixie Syncopators" in New York City on September 10th 1928 with King Oliver cornet, Omer Simeon clarinet, Barney Bigard tenor sax, Luis Russell piano, and Paul Barbarin drums; featuring added New Yorkers Ed Anderson trumpet, J.C. Higginbotham trombone, Will Johnson banjo, and Bass Moore tuba.

*"Speakeasy Blues" was composed by Joe 'King' Oliver.

"Speakeasy Blues" is played by about half the group that Oliver had started in Chicago in 1926, with some new additions. Thus we get a preview glimpse of the just-getting-organized Luis Russell band, which burned so brightly in 1929, ’30 and ’31. This is also one of the last records Oliver cut for Brunswick/Vocalion before becoming a Victor artist early in '29.

The Dixie Syncopators had travelled from Chicago to New York in 1927 to be the house band at Harlem’s fabled Cotton Club. But the “King” didn't like the money being offered, so he turned down the job, which eventually went to Duke Ellington. It was the turning point for both leaders, with Duke heading for glory, and Oliver beginning the slippery slope down.

Oliver's gum and teeth troubles sometimes forced him to rely on other hot trumpeters for his record dates, but not this time. All of the solo cornet work in this performance is by Joe Oliver, and it’s great to hear him at such length (he also composed this number, and had made another record of it with Clarence Williams’ band the month before, as “Speakeasy.” We hear a great straight-muted trombone solo courtesy of J. C. Higginbotham in his recorded debut, and some fine Luis Russell piano. The whole ensemble is scrappy and a little out of tune in spots, but powerful and lovely all the same (with Simeon’s clarinet soaring at the end). It makes you want to sashay and strut. -(Brad Kay)

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