Condon and Co. kept classic jazz alive, relevant |

Condon and Co. kept classic jazz alive, relevant

Classic Columbia

Condon Mob Sessions

Various Artists

Mosaic Records


Eddie Condon came along at a time when classic jazz was sorely in need of a patron saint. Although a capable rhythm guitarist even if his quaint four-string guitar sounded tinny, Condon proved the catalyst for a revival of Chicago-style Dixieland and small swing-band music at just about the same time Miles Davis and other bop giants were pushing jazz in an entirely different direction.

The New York club that bore his name and Nick’s in Greenwich Village proved havens for Dixielanders, and in time allowed Condon to spread the classic jazz world to large concert halls and eventually to his own television show. He, indeed, was a central figure in classic jazz in the ’40s and ’50s.

So, it’s only fitting that Condon’s name should be used in connection with an eight-disc boxed set containing his kind of music. There are 174 tracks taken from 23 albums and a handful of 78s and 45s, although Condon himself is not involved in every cut. But there is little question that each of the musicians was at some time a part of the Condon Mob.

(For more of the Condon clan, check out an earlier Mosaic issue, “Complete CBS Recordings Of Eddie Condon And His All-Stars,” now available on LP only.)

Although not a member of the Condon cluster, Columbia’s George Avakian certainly should draw much of the credit for the profuse number of recordings by Condon and Friends. For it was Avakian who produced the original pressings that have been transferred by Mosaic to compact discs.

And other than for the two Jimmy Dorsey Dorseyland albums that are ho-hummers despite the presence of such fine musicians as trumpet man Dick Cathcart and drummer Ray Badauc, the compendium is an absolute delight The problems are twofold: Dorsey’s screechy clarinet and his tendency to record songs that don’t always fit the mold

The collection covers a 10-year period (1949-1959), although it also includes a wonderful 1940 date by Bud Freeman and his Chicagoans that features Davey Tough, Max Kaminsky and Jack Teagarden, among others, essaying standards like “At The Jazz Band Ball.”

The anthology then moves into the ’49-’59 period, leading off with entries by George Wettling’s Jazz Band and the George Wettling Bud Freeman All-Stars; the latter offer PeeWee Russell’s lovely ballad take of “Dinah.” Next up, the sub-par Dorsey sessions followed by 10 stand-out performances by true-bo-bix tone of Bobby Hackett. “What A Difference A Day Makes” and “A Room With A View” never have sounded lovelier.

And so it goes with spirited performances by Matty Matlock’s Jazz Band, the Rampart Street Paraders that showcases the gifted George VanEps, as well as solid contributions from Eddie Miller and Nick Fatool.

There’s also nearly a full disc of often overlooked vocalist Lee Wiley, additional Hackett stand-out tracks, 11 cuts that spotlight the talents of Billy Butterfield and two stellar efforts by Wild Bill Davision backed by strings from the albums “Pretty Wild” and “With Strings Attached,” which have been reissued in their entirety on the Arbors label.

Sill other highlights include performances by the McPartlands, Marian and Jimmy, and Bob Wilber, essaying Dixieland versions of music from “The Music Man” and Dick Cary’s Dixieland Doodlers’ light-hearted readings of stuff out of the trad bag.

The 24-page booklet that accompanies the set provides useful, interesting commentary by jazz historian Richard Sudhalter as well as black and white photos that capture the spirit of the musicians and their era.

(For orders or information: Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford, CT-6902; Phone 102-217-7111. Available by mail order only.)

Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.

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