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.
Jim Cameron says
As for Don Redman on Youtube, check out Betty Boop, “I Heard” at:
(Nice find, Mr. Cameron. I’d never have known that this existed. The piece we see and hear by Fletcher Henderson’s band with Redman conducting…and hamming it up…before the cartoon starts is “Chant Of The Weed.” — DR)
Jim Cameron says
Thanks for the post. I had the feeling at the back of my mind that it was “Chant of the Weed”, if only because of certain “associations” that Betty Boop cartoons had back in the ’60’s for a particular audience segment, as I was explaining earlier to my 16-year old son.
Eric Legendre says
Regarding the identity of Leo Watson, it seems – but not fully confirmed again – him! But, in this clip and around that period (1934), the duo singing here along with Don Redman and His Orchestra is “Red and Struggie”. The film is from the Vitaphone Company (Dir. Joseph Henabery) and can be found – as a bonus – on “The Busby Berkely Collection” (6 DVD boxset) and before that on the VHS “Swing, Swing, Swing!” (Volume 2). The duo also played with the Luis Russell Orchestra. Leo Watson did record the song “Nagasaki” – with the Gene Krupa Orchestra – but in 1938. There’s a lot of info on Leo Watson (and his importance as a scat signer) but there’s no mention of his early start as the Red (the shorter one) in the duo. It’s also impossible to find the name of the other singer of the duo (the taller one). Some other research needs to be done on this duo. They were even proposed as part of the Benny Goodman All Star Interacial orchestra to travel England in 1934. But the event never happened. Lots of threads to follow and histories to dig.
Thanks for this post and your blog. It’s part of my daily readings. Happy Holidays to you and to the readers.
Armin Buettner says
What a nice story! Together with some other jazz researchers I try to gather all available information about Redman’s 1946 tour. Would you perchance know the exact date of the Nurnberg concert? This must have been in early November.
Doug Ramsey says
Perhaps one of our German or Czech Rifftides readers can come up with the date.
Emil Viklicky says
Speaking recently with Dr.Lubomir Doruzka I learned that Kamil Behounek Big Band visited Nurenberg at least twiceperhaps even more timesin October and November, 1945. It is not far from Prague to Nurenberg. Exact date when they met Redman´s band is not clear. Jan Hammer Jr. /Miami Vice/ might know more about it, since his father Jan Hammer Sr. played with Kamil Behounek Big Band.