with a big band fronted by Chico Marx (1943), was fortunate enough to appear in the classic jazz short Jammin' the Blues (1944), and then worked with the big bands of Charlie Barnet (1944-1945) and Artie Shaw (1945); he also recorded with Shaw's Gramercy Five. Kessel became a busy studio musician in Los Angeles, but was always in demand for jazz records. He toured with the Oscar Peterson Trio for one year (1952-1953) and then, starting in 1953, led an impressive series of records for Contemporary that lasted until 1961 (including several with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne in a trio accurately called the Poll Winners). After touring Europe with George Wein's Newport All-Stars (1968), Kessel lived in London for a time (1969-1970). In 1973, he began touring and recording with the Great Guitars, a group also including Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd.
Tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen was not quite 21 years old at the time of this meeting with Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, and Kenny Clarke, three veterans of the Modern Jazz Quartet. But the young man is surprising mature and confident throughout the session, interpreting several of Django Reinhardt's compositions, along with a few by his French contemporaries and a pair of his own works. What's surprising about this session is the rare opportunity to hear Jackson exclusively as a pianist, as his playing is a bit more reserved than on vibes. The leader digs into his rhythm section's element with his original "B.B.B. (Bag's Barney Blues)," giving them a full chorus before making a convincing statement himself…
Barney Bigard is one of the great jazz clarinetists. Although most famous for playing in Duke Ellington's band, Bigard performed with a host of lesser bandleaders, giving a series of distinctive, lyrical performances with each. 1944 collects Bigard's performances with the Capitol International Jazzmen, Zutty Singleton's bands, and his time with Roger Kay. Although not as consistently revelatory as his playing with the Duke, these sessions show Bigard to be a master of his instrument, displaying fabulous technique and great lyricism throughout. The Classics label has done a fine job at remastering, and the excellent liner notes round off a nice package.
1944-1945 collects Bigard's output after the clarinetist left the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Although his brief time with a band fronted by Joe Thomas is not as consistently rewarding as his stint with Ellington (what could be?), it's still historically valuable and enjoyable for fans of the clarinetist. Bigard had certainly lost none of the virtuosity of his earlier years, but the material is patchier. Nevertheless, this release will be appealing to Bigard's fans, and the Classics label has done an admirable job with the remastering and liner notes.