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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



TOM BELMESSIERI'S
FOG CITY STOMPERS

Play the Music of Bing Crosby &
Bix Beiderbecke

Merry Makers Record Company
MMRC-CD-49

 

 

1. Copenhagen

2. I Kiss Your Hand, Madame

3. Lazy Daddy

4. Just a Gigolo

5. Flock o’ Blues

6. I Found a Million Dollar Baby

7. My Pretty Girl

8. A Faded Summer Love

9. Clarinet Marmalade

10. Every Time My Heart Beats

11. Lonely Melody

12. Paradise

13. Borneo

14. Please

15. Somebody Stole My Gal

16. Just an Echo in the Valley

17. Thou Swell

18. Blue Hawaii

19. Dusky Stevedore

20. Sweet Leilani


Band:

Tom Belmessieri – Cornet all tracks except 2, 16, and 18; ukulele tracks 18 and 20; vocals all even-numbered tracks

Hudi Brenman – Clarinet, sax all tracks except 2, 16, 18 and 20

Rich Newcomb – Trombone all tracks except 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 16, 18 and 20

Jeff Walton – Trombone tracks 2, 5, 7, 8 and 11

Mike Hart – Helicon all tracks except 2, 16, 18 and 20

Pat Dutrow – Banjo tracks 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 15 and 19; guitar tracks 1, 4 (solo dubbed over rhythm chording), 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 and 17

Morgan Olk – Piano all tracks except 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 16, 18 and 20

Roz Temple – Piano tracks 5, 7, 8 and 11

Adam Roderick – Drums all tracks except 2, 16, 18, and 20; bells tracks 15 and 17

Guests:

Ray Lansberg – Violin tracks 2 and 16

Marty Eggers – Piano track 2 and 16

Ken Keller – Guitar track 2 and 16

Shota Osabe – Steel guitar, electronic vibraphone, electronic guitar, electronic bass tracks 18 and 20

Recorded in Oakland, California, over a two-year period, 2012-2014.


This CD, an interpretation by the Fog City Stompers of some of the work of Bix Beiderbecke and of Bing Crosby*, rather neatly divides into two “halves,” all of the odd-numbered tracks being of the traditional jazz genre variety, and the even-numbered tracks of the pop vocal variety. The instrumentals are tunes associated with Bix Beiderbecke, the vocals tunes associated with Bing Crosby. The juxtaposition of the two—and alternating between them throughout the disc—is not actually disconcerting, although the two do not have a great deal in common. Certainly Beiderbecke and Crosby were peers, both having been born within a couple of months of each other, and both were members of the Paul Whiteman aggregation for some years and even recorded together while with Whiteman, as they did, for example, on Mississippi Mud when Crosby was part of the Rhythm Boys vocal trio. But unlike Beiderbecke, Crosby was hardly jazz oriented, and his career as a crooner was just starting to get in gear about the time that Beiderbecke died, 1931.

Belmessieri went to considerable trouble to get the Beiderbecke selections sounding authentic, as the CD insert informs us: “The non-vocal instrumentals were all transcribed by Tom Belmessieri from recordings performed by Bix Beiderbecke when he played with various bands.” That said, he does not try to copy Beiderbecke himself in his playing, and the band’s renditions of the transcriptions are not an attempt at a pastiche. These are lively readings of the Beiderbecke groups’ arrangements. The Fog City Stompers septet is tight, and executes well the difficult arrangements, even where the tempos are brisk, such as that on My Pretty Girl with the fast tonguing required on cornet. Indeed, all of the front line rises to the challenge, with the intricate harmonies and fast little runs, bringing them off almost flawlessly other than the occasional minor lapse, perhaps, such as the slight raggedness to be found in places on Clarinet Marmalade. I was also a little surprised to find two of Beiderbecke’s “signature” numbers, Singin’ the Blues and Jazz Me Blues, were not included. (Undoubtedly they will find their way into a projected “multi-volume Bix Beiderbecke CD set, to be released next,” according to this CD’s insert.) But this CD provides a nice rendition of the numbers selected.

The even-numbered tracks present Belmessieri wearing his Crosby hat. He has a pleasant baritone voice, as did Crosby, but it is not quite as warm as was Crosby’s. In addition, he uses more vibrato than Crosby did, but that well may be by design as it does not appear he was trying to be a Crosby clone. However, he does include some of the Crosby “trademarks,” such as the whistling that he intersperses with the vocals on several of the tracks or the wordless vocals he inserts as well. All of it is certainly reminiscent of the Crosby of that era and makes from some pleasant listening as well as, perhaps, reviving old memories for some listeners. Somewhat unexpectedly, Crosby’s theme song, Where the Blue of the Night, is absent from the tune list. A Hawaiian music fad was in the ascendant in the thirties and forties, and it is that time in the Crosby saga that the CD recalls with the final two vocal tracks, Blue Hawaii and Sweet Leilani, steel guitar and ukulele included.

So those who count themselves among the Beiderbecke aficionados and those who are drawn to Crosby will find much to enjoy in this CD, and I would imagine these groups are not likely to be completely disparate. The disc provides a welcome hour-plus of musical entertainment.

*Other “divided” albums compiling tracks actually recorded by Beiderbecke and Crosby have been issued in the past on labels such as RCA-Victor and Columbia.

Bert Thompson



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