Classic Jam Sessions at the Dawn of Bebop
Oran "Hot Lips" Page (b. 1908 - d. 1954) was one of the greatest swing trumpeters, an ingenious soloist who admittedly idolized Louis Armstrong, blues vocalist, and a natural leader when it came to informal jam sessions.
Page established himself in Texas and Kansas City in the 1920s and 1930s. Louis Armstrong convinced his manager, Joe Glaser, to hire him away from Count Basie as a soloist in 1936. He met reasonable success in New York City. In 1940, he earned the distinction of being the first black musician as a featured member of a white big band, led by Artie Shaw. Even so, he probably would have hit the real big time with Basie if he'd stuck around just a little longer.
After Hours in Harlem is a rare reissue made possible by Jerry Newman, a student at Columbia University at the time. Newman's contributions to jazz literature stem from two attributes: he loved jazz, and he was willing to lug a portable 78 RPM disc recorder across town and into after-hour clubs. These "delayed on disc" field recordings were then broadcast on the campus radio station WKCR. Newman's recordings provide essential evidence of the transition to bop which was underfoot at Minton's nightclub in Harlem during the seminal but woefully under recorded years of 1940 and 41.
Despite the well-known song titles, some of the interpretations are much less recognizable. So it goes with any good jam session. Inferior musicians battle with veterans and spontaneity is the word. Keep in mind, jazz musicians used these opportunities to improvise fearlessly. Nobody in these gatherings claimed to be making a marketable record.
After Hours in Harlem features outstanding liner notes by eye-witness and preeminent jazz journalist Dan Morgenstern, who provides his characteristic historical commentary. Jam sessions played a very important role in the evolution of jazz, and Morgenstern's excellent analysis here could be the best in print. The CD insert layout and indication of sides A and B, suggest this material is reissued from the 1973 vinyl record. Highnote Records makes no claim to having remastered After Hours in Harlem from original source tapes. Hence, the rough source recording (primitive portable recording device, poor room acoustics and microphone arrangement, uneven musicianship, etc.) is further degraded by generation loss. If you can live with it and most people can when it's that or nothing you'll agree it's the music that matters most. Admit it, you never owned that old record anyway.
Which leads to the other reason this CD is so important: After Hours in Harlem claims to be the earliest example of Thelonious Monk on record. He is in fine form as always, but Monk admirers may be surprised by this "portrait of the artist as a young man." Compared to his later mastery, these sessions reveal more stride and less savant.
After Hours in Harlem is highly recommended for anyone interested in the "missing years" between swing and bebop, as well as "Hot Lips" Page and Thelonious Monk completests.
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.