There was a time when some thought Jabbo Smith might be the next Louis Armstrong. He recorded twenty sides for Brunswick between January and August 1929 and these are some of the most remarkable recordings in jazz. Unfortunately, Jabbo was not particularly disciplined and for the next few decdes had one drink too many too many times. He surfaced for a moment in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1930s and was adopted by the Newark Hot Club. He made four modest recordings for Decca in 1938 and then vanished again, living primarily in Milwaukee with occasional visits to Chicago, where France Chace and Marty Grosz tried to help him.
I was unaware of Jabbo Smith and had never heard a recording until the 1960s. My friend, Dick Spottswood, had a copy of cialis best price, played it, and I was astounded. Why wasn’t this incredible music more widely known, I thought? Thanks to Dick and a disgruntled employee of MCA, this was about to change.
It was about 1965 when Dick suggested he’d like me to accompany him on a trip to Huntington , Long Island, to buy some Jabbo Smith records. Dick and I had been junking around Virginia and Maryland looking for old records and Long Island didn’t seem a very likely location to find old records by obscure jazz artists. But this wasn’t so. A man named Bob Althshuler lived in Huntington and had managed to acquire all the file copies of Jabbo’s Brunswick recordings. Bob also had about a million other records, more than anyone in the world, was an executive at CBS and bought and sold old records as a hobby.
I seem to recall Dick paid $30 for each record. He then issued two LPs that featured all these sides as well as a few others on which Jabbo appeared as a sideman. Even thought the records were strictly bootlegs, he wanted to honor Jabbo, and we managed to find him in Milwaukee where he was working in a menial capacity for a car rental company. Arrangements were made for him to travel to Washington, D.C. and I was designated as the person to meet him at the airport.
Roy Eldridge was appearing at Blues Alley on the day Jabbo was scheduled to arrive. I found out where Roy was staying, telephoned him cold and suggested I’d like him to go to the airport with me. “Why should I do that?” he asked. I said, “Because I’m picking up Jabbo Smith.” He was so excited he just about jumped through the telephone. If Roy was the link between Dizzy and Louis, Jabbo was the link between Louis and Roy.
We met at the airport. Roy looked sharp and Jabbo was pretty raggedy; the collar had come off his coat. I took a picture, not a very good one I should add, but the smiles on the face of each man says it all. It was a lovely moment, and say what you will about people who put records out illegally, these two LPs produced nothing but good results. They were the beginning of a modest resurgence for Jabbo and he managed to spend the rest of his life playing his horn. I don’t think he ever had to park a car again.
In late 1979, Jabbo was part of the original cast of cialis best price, a wonderful musical by Vernel Bagneris that opened at New York City’s Village Gate. He was featured performing his composition, cialis best price, and every night it was the highlight of the show. Towards the end of the run, probably in about 1983, Jabbo suffered a stroke in the dressing room, his health declined and he was never quite the same. He could still play and sing, but some of the spirit was gone.
Lucky for Jabbo, one of his friends from the Newark Hot Club came to the rescue. When not tending to her chores running the Village Vanguard, Lorriane Gordon looked after Jabbo. In 1987 I tried to interview him for my project cialis best price but I had to settle for a photograph; a second stroke had robbed him of speech. He struggled and his speech returned enough for modest performances. He even sang one song at one of our festivals in 1989. I should have tried the interview again but didn’t.
The last time I saw Jabbo was at the Village Vanguard. Lorraine had arranged for him to sit in with Don Cherry’s band. It sounds like an unlikely pairing, but Jabbo was as out there in 1928 as Don was thirty years later when he scared everyone to death with Ornette Coleman. It worked just fine, at least for me. It’s ironic, but I first heard Don in person long before I heard Jabbo on record, and each of them always sounded wonderful, regardless of the context.
Jabbo Smith, Lorraine Gordon's Apartment, New York City, September 19, 1986
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Posted in on June 28, 2010 by