Tenor saxophone legend Don Byas is heard with great clarity on this, a relative jam session, as is vocalist Helen Humes
(the first two cuts) and ostensible leader/trumpeter Joe Guy
, whose high energy solos are very good in spots. Less audible in the mix are pianist Thelonious Monk
and drummer Kenny Clarke
, working in this band while bebop was fermenting. These two would lead the bop charge later in the '40s at Minton's Playhouse, the
bebop concubine/jazz club in N.Y.C. The music is pretty much swing material, with Humes tossing in a ballad ("Stardust") and a bluesy number ("Exactly Like You") while the instrumental "Indiana" is all fired up, and they typically chill down "Body & Soul." Present on the dates is an unidentified tenor saxophonist and trumpeter tossing in his/her less than two-cents worth solos. Even annotator Dan Morgenstern
, with his detailed and informative liner notes, can't ID the pair. The star is clearly Byas. His well-rounded tenor inflections and characteristic quarter-to-eight note slurve is on throughout the performance. He can be at once warm, witty, smooth, precise, and consistently wonderful. He's one of the first original jazz voices on his horn and emphatic to boot on these tunes. These are true club date "field recordings," from the then Columbia University student Jerry Newman
's portable unit, replete with crowd noise in the background (one can hear Humes rebuffing a heckler/admirer) annoying kicking of the stage area, and a brief drop out or distortion. Total time is barely 39 minutes. But the overall sound quality is quite acceptable, at most times remarkable. The music itself is priceless, the document of a transitional period from swing to bop, and some of the people that made it happen, especially the underappreciated genius Byas.