The history of jazz in New Orleans has a poorly documented subtext of musicians who bravely crossed racial boundaries to play together for the love of the music itself. Jazz grew and flourished during a time of racial apartheid in the Jim Crow south, and New Orleans officials took a dim view of racial intermixing. But the vibrant sounds of gospel, blues and jazz coming out of the black community made an irresistible impact on many white musicians who braved censure and arrest to pursue an artistic dialog with black music. "Mosaic Records Presents the Complete Brunswick and Vocalion Recordings of Louis Prima and Wingy Manone (1924-37)" is a crucial document in this history.
Both trumpeters grew up in New Orleans during the early part of the 20th century when the influence of trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong had the kind of effect Chuck Berry exerted on early rock 'n' roll.
Born in 1904 and 1911 respectively, Manone and Prima both came up during a time when black and white musicians were forbidden by law to share a public bandstand, yet Italian-Americans and African-Americans frequently interacted on and off stage.
Black bands would perform opposite white bands in the clubs, many owned by Italians, and would often perform together in informal and unpublicized sessions. Prima, whose dark complexion and kinky hair would later cost him jobs at segregated clubs, also took inspiration from the music in the black churches of his youth, instilling the exuberant gospel spirit that would always be a part of his performing persona. Manone, who at the age of 9 was told by his trumpet teacher that black bands were "faking it," wisely took that as a clue to end his formal lessons and immersed himself in this exciting new music.
The 64 selections by Prima were all recorded between the years 1934 and 1937. Although Prima flirted briefly with a big band in 1936, 11 of the 13 sessions included here feature smaller groups ranging from quintet to octet. The brilliant clarinetist Pee Wee Russell is a featured soloist on more than half the tracks. Prima's trademark vocals share the spotlight with his hot trumpet playing on all but two tracks, including his classic composition "Sing Sing Sing."
Among his other hit records featured in this set are "Chinatown, My Chinatown," "Dinah" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans." Other great New Orleans musicians on these tracks include George Brunies and Sidney Arodin, along with George Van Eps and a very young Claude Thornhill.
While Prima (along with his vocalist wife Keely Smith) became a top attraction in Las Vegas and a mainstay in television and the movies, Manone was probably best known for his work with Bing Crosby. However, Manone's 83 tracks contained in this set are a powerful testament to his stature as a great jazzman in his own right -- and his still-existing reputation as one of the finest trumpeters in the New Orleans tradition.
Like Prima, Manone, who lost the name Joseph along with his right arm in a streetcar accident at the age of ten, was a superb showman, with a ruggedly hot trumpet style matched by his rough-hewn voice.
This set includes his first recording in 1924 with the Arcadian Serenaders and an appearance on one tune of a 1927 Red Nichols session, as well as his first recording as a leader earlier that same year.
Most of the sessions, however, took place between 1934 and 1936 and feature members of the defunct Ben Pollack Band that would eventually become the nucleus of Bob Crosby's band, a group whose direct influence can be heard today in the current version of the Dukes of Dixieland. These included tenorman Eddie Miller, clarinetist Matty Matlock, pianist Gil Bowers, guitarist Nappy Lamare and drummer Ray Bauduc ... all playing powerful small band swing with a heavy New Orleans flavor.
Also like Prima's band, this group was an early fixture on "Swing Street." Manone's biggest hit, 1935's "The Isle of Capri," is included here, and it led to numerous recording sessions for Vocalion over the next year featuring such luminaries as Bud Freeman, Joe Marsala, George Brunies and Sidney Arodin.
One of the great treasures contained here is a wonderful 1934 pickup session that had once been thought lost, featuring such giants as Jelly Roll Morton, Artie Shaw, Dicky Wells, Teddy Wilson, John Kirby and Freeman. Other interesting items include a number with Russ Morgan and his Orchestra; a previously unissued "demo" by vocalist Jeanne Burns; and an infamous session with Jack Teagarden and a young vocalist named Johnny Mercer, that was so whisky-laden that the band had to be re-assembled a week later to cut the final track.
Most of the tracks on this release are issued for the first time on CD in the United States (many unreleased even on LP) and 12 are previously unissued in any form. The album is available solely through Mosaic Records; 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, Conn. 06902; (203) 327-7111. Check the company's Web site at mosaicrecords.com for more information.