Don Redman was an important big band arranger and leader in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. He was not a bebop musician, but Redman may well have provided a catalyst for the creation of modern jazz in Eastern Europe following World War Two. With the help of pianist Emil Viklický and the venerable Czech jazz expert Dr. Lubomír Doruzka in Prague, I have been researching the emergence of bebop in Czechoslovakia. I have much to discover and verify, but it is clear that music pioneered by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie appeared in Prague after Redman’s European tour in 1946, possibly because of it. The band included tenor saxophonist Don Byas, a key figure as the music evolved from swing to bop. Assuming that the band personnel was the same as that on this recording made in Switzerland during the 1946 European tour, Redman’s group also contained the young pianist Billy Taylor, rapidly developing as a bop player.
Jan Hammer, Sr., and other members of the Kamil Behounek big band from Prague heard the Redman band in Nürnberg, Germany, where they were also playing. Apparently, the American and Czech bands appeared opposite one another and the musicians interacted. One can imagine Byas, Taylor and others in Redman’s outfit showing the young Czechs the harmonic and rhythmic mysteries of bebop. Soon, Hammer and others formed a bebop quintet that played regularly in Prague’s Café Pygmalion until the Communist coup in 1948 resulted in a cultural freeze that sent jazz underground. Thanks to Dr. Doruzka, I have heard three pieces the group recorded in 1948. Their grasp of the idiom and level of achievement are impressive. Solos by Dunca Brož compare favorably with the playing of the best young American bop trumpeters of the period. The arranging in a piece by Brož called “Šero” (“Slight Darkness”) is first-rate jazz impressionism. As I learn more about this intriguing period in European jazz, I will share it with you.
In the meantime, here’s a reminder about Don Redman: He was an arranger for Fletcher Henderson in the 1920s and a had a fine big band of his own in the ’30s. He was an accomplished alto saxophonist and clarinet player and always hired good musicians. He wrote two hits, “Cherry” and “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You.” Redman was active through the 1950s and recorded with a big band as late as 1959. He died in 1964. I found one piece of video on YouTube. It is contrived nonsense in the usual style of Hollywood soundies of the period, but under the goofy duo singing “Nagasaki” you’ll hear an example of Redman’s scoring for saxophones. To view the clip, go here.
As the anonymous YouTube contributor suggests in his comment, the shorter of the two singers looks and sounds like Leo Watson. Can anyone among Rifftides Readers verifty his identity?
Go here for the 1929 McKinney’s Cotton Pickers recording of Redman’s “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” with his alto sax solo and sui generis talking/singing vocal. It’s his arrangement, of course. In the photo that accompanies the recording, Redman is the short man in the middle.