George McClennon/Wilton Crawley

George McClennon/Wilton Crawley

by George McClennonGeorge McClennon


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The adopted son of comedian Bert Williams, novelty clarinetist George McClennon performed in blackface, hopping around like a clown while coaxing unusual noises out of his instrument. Felled by tuberculosis in 1937, McClennon was a direct exponent of the vaudeville environment where he began working in 1910. In 2001, Jazz Oracle released an unprecedented full-length CD devoted to this all-but-forgotten individual. Two-dozen Okeh recordings made during the years 1923-1926 were originally issued as by the Harlem Trio (with pianist Eddie Heywood, Sr. and an unidentified banjoist) or George McClennon's Jazz Devils, usually anchored by pianist Clarence Williams and banjoist Buddy Christian. "Cut Throat Blues" and "Larkin Street Blues" are duets with Heywood. "Box of Blues" and "Dark Alley Blues" feature strong support from cornetist Tom Morris, trombonist Charlie Irvis, and alto saxophonist Bob Fuller. The man heard blowing through a flügelhorn on "New Orleans Wiggle" and "Michigan Water Blues" was John Lindsay, who also played trombone but is mainly remembered as a superb string bassist during the '30s and early 40s. The only recordings involving McClennon which do not show up in this set are two sides recorded for Pathe in August, 1926 by Buddy Christian's Jazz Rippers. In their place, the producers at Jazz Oracle chose to insert a pair of Victor recordings from June, 1930 by Wilton Crawley & the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Crawley, who shared McClennon's knack for combining contortionism with gas pipe clarinet technique, was a logical choice for inclusion here. What makes "New Crawley Blues" and "She Saves Her Sweetest Smiles for Me" really special are the participation of several outstanding jazz musicians, including trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen, guitarist Teddy Bunn, bassist Pops Foster, and pianist Jelly Roll Morton.

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