Monday, November 23, 2015

Jimmy Rushing Live in New York with Zoot Sims and Al Cohn

The first time I ever heard Jimmy Rushing, on a recording of "He Ain't Got Rhythm" he made with Benny Goodman, I was impressed. But when I later discovered the outstanding records he cut with the Count Basie orchestra, I realized that Mr. Five by Five (such was his nickname due to his stocky complexion) was one of the most fascinating singers ever to come out of the Swing Era. Not only did he have rhythm, but his voice was immediately recognizable, and his blues phrasing was simply irresistible. Rushing had begun his career in the late 1920s in Kansas City, singing first with Walter Page's Blue Devils and then with Bennie Moten's band, out of which the Basie organization evolved. He helped popularize the blues within a big band swing context, but he wasn't just a blues shouter—he knew how to approach a pop tune and inflect it with an unmistakable bluesy feeling.

Jimmy Rushing at Newport in 1965
(Photo: Francine Winham)
After the years he spent within the ranks of the Basie band, Rushing made some very interesting albums for Vanguard and Columbia, and by the mid 1960s, he was appearing in New York clubs, which is the period of his career captured in The Scene: Live in New York (Hightone). The group backing Rushing on these live dates is led by saxophonists Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and also includes Dave Frishberg on piano, Major Holley and John Beal on bass, and Mousey Alexander on drums. The band actually gets a chance to cut loose on two selections without Rushing ("The Red Door" and "It's Noteworthy") but the singer, who is in fine form, is the main attraction here. The repertoire features both standards ("I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me," "Baby Ain't I Good to You") and blues numbers ("Goin' to Chicago," "Good Morning Blues") that were closely associated with him during his Basie years. The sound of the recordings is excellent, and Rushing's performances are very relaxed and ooze charm and conviction. While any Rushing collection should begin with his records with Basie, this is a worthwhile snapshot of his lesser-known later years.

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