Essential jazz and blues – alongside such pop-rock staples as The Doors’ debut album, Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand!,” Radiohead’s “OK Computer” and Steve Martin’s “A Wild and Crazy Guy” – are among the recordings selected today for induction into the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. The registry recognizes recordings for their cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s audio legacy. Here is the background.
"Black Snake Moan"/ "Match Box Blues" (single)—Blind Lemon Jefferson (1928)
By the time of this recording in 1928, Blind Lemon Jefferson – an African-American street singer from a small country town outside of Dallas, Texas – had already reshaped and expanded the blues genre on record. Powerfully voiced singers such as Bessie Smith, who sang over a band accompaniment, had previously dominated recorded blues. However, with only his guitar for accompaniment and a high wailing tenor of a voice, Jefferson recorded a series of highly individualistic performances on record from 1925-29, the year of his death. He was not the first downhome blues singer to record, but his success was unprecedented and reached beyond the South to urban centers. His audience was primarily African-American, but a significant number of whites also bought his records. Though he used what were already traditional frameworks for many of his songs, Jefferson personalized them with the interplay between his voice and guitar, extending vocal phrases with long intricate lines of notes and adding or omitting measures in the song as it suited him. Jefferson did most of his recording for the Paramount label, which often had poor sound quality. This 1928 coupling, issued by the Okeh label, was of a higher quality and holds two of Jefferson’s best performances on two of his signature songs – "Matchbox Blues," later recorded by Carl Perkins, the Beatles and many others, and the eerie, lascivious "Black Snake Moan."
“My Funny Valentine" (single)—The Gerry Mulligan Quartet featuring Chet Baker (1953)
The Gerry Mulligan Quartet’s studio recording of "My Funny Valentine" had been a hit for the pianoless group in the autumn of 1952, so it was an established part of the quartet’s repertoire when producer Dick Bock recorded this live performance on May 20, 1953 at The Haig jazz club in Hollywood, California. At over five minutes, nearly twice as long as the single, trumpeter Chet Baker and baritone saxophonist Mulligan had room to stretch out. The result is a darker, more expressive version of "My Funny Valentine," propelled by a Carson Smith bass line that is simple, but insistent and almost ominous. After a short roll by drummer Larry Bunker, Baker’s solo is melancholy and direct, followed by Mulligan’s more playful chorus. When Baker rejoins Mulligan, the playing intensifies, punctuated by Baker’s plaintive wail. No occasional clinking of glasses on the live recording can diminish the power of this West Coast cool jazz classic. The popularity of the 1952 studio version may have helped to keep this performance in the vault until the 1960s. For many, however, this extended version has become the definitive Mulligan and Baker collaboration.
"New Orleans’ Sweet Emma Barrett and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band" (album)—Sweet Emma and her Preservation Hall Jazz Band (1964)
This 1964 offering by seven veterans of New Orleans jazz, before a live Minneapolis audience, well illustrates the credo of music spoken simply—play the melody from the heart and elaborate with care. Pianist Sweet Emma Barrett, the Humphrey Brothers (clarinetist Willie and trumpeter Percy), trombonist "Big Jim" Robinson, bassist Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau, banjoist Emanuel Sayles and drummer Josie "Cie" Frazier perform in a manner that has become known as "New Orleans Revival Jazz" because of its association with a revived interest in New Orleans jazz, a style that emerged during the 1940s. The band’s style, which some might say is one of the rawest forms of early jazz, was inspired largely by the band led by trumpeter Willie "Bunk" Johnson. Johnson was supported by clarinetist George Lewis and trombonist "Big Jim" Robinson, all of whom were at the helm of the revival. The band’s music is simple, direct and majestic. The front-line (trumpet, clarinet and trombone) contains all the necessary elements of melody, harmony and rhythmic punctuation to provide the ear with a satisfying melodic, harmonic and rhythmic picture. The support of the rhythm section provides the solid four-beats-to-the-measure that pushes forward and holds back at the same time. This is the magical essence of New Orleans jazz.
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