VARIOUS ARTISTS The Keynote Jazz Collection: 1941-1947 Fresh Sound FRS-CD 815 (11 discs)
The out-of-copyright materials just keep on a-comin’! Yet another great package from Spain has come to hand as a result. I missed out on buying a Keynote box a couple of years ago in Sydney at a used LP store (for a ridiculous figure)… a Mosaic or a Japanese release, I do not now remember. To my eyes, this collection is every recorded jazz session by the label with no alternative takes – fair enough, I say. It does, though, include sides originally unreleased back in the day and it’s 11 CDs full of grand material that many (most?) of you should be familiar with. The fairly bulky (124 pages) but well-written and assembled accompanying booklet contains a basic chronological sessionography/discography info for each session as well as copies of reviews of the discs from back in the day from down beat and/or Metronome. Photo-strewn, there is a 42 page essay by Jordi Pujol on the label’s history and the introduction of Harry Lim onto the jazz recording scene. Additionally, there is a three page index of musicians involved, both leaders and side-men, that does not refer to the recordings they inhabit in any fashion… a puzzlement, and not too useful! Finally, five pages of thumb-nail photos of most of the leaders (and some others), plus a brief listing of early LP titles issued by Keynote or EmArcy/Mercury back in the day. I also just came across a sort of poster with all the thumbnail photos = “The Keynote Jazz Musicians: 1941 – 1947” that might look nice on your record room wall!
Since we’re dealing with recording sessions done for 78 rpm singles, usually there were four done tunes at a time. There is not sufficient room for me to give a detailed run-down of each and every session and musician without taking over all the pages of this issue! I’ll list the leaders in their chronological sequence in the set as a footnote below for you, but you’ll have to go to your books or computer for more information regarding personnel and titles.
Initially, Keynote recorded very politically left-of-center material/performers – The Red Army Chorus, Paul Robeson, Las Brigadas Internationales, Josh White, The Almanac Singers, Richard Dyer Bennett – among its early artists, a true curate’s egg. The label owner, Eric Bernay, brought in the soon-to-be-legendary producer Harry Lim in 1943 to add jazz to the label’s catalog and hopefully boost sales. The majority of sessions here were produced by Harry, with a very few by Bernay, or Steve Smith (HRC).
It’s a cliché, but what the hell can I say about such “classic” music anyway? Harry Lim was a brilliant jazz producer – I met him at Sam Goody’s on 49th Street when I was in college in the early 60’s… I also met one-time member Geoff Atterton there. Not being as informed then of jazz’s verities as I am now (I hope!), I paid little attention to Harry and missed an opportunity to learn. What did I know then: I was just a snotty kid! All the greats, near-greats, and journeymen he got into recording studios will be found here and this is a FINE gathering of small group jazz (the kind Stanley Dance referred to as “Mainstream”) beginning with a little “dixieland” and ending with a bit of be bop.
So, rather than bore you with minutia*, what I’ll say is that this is one hell of a beautiful and logical collection of great music from the 40s. A fine memorial, if you will, to Harry Lim, one of the good guys in the record business (of which there were few, and far between and almost none now) with great instincts and ears, coupled with a great love for the music and the musicians. “Highly recommended” is the least I could say about this tidy and delightful box – go for it, folks!
* I know that the “minutia” is one of the reasons that we are all members of this association, but my aging eyesight and arthritis tell me “no” this time. Age marches on!
 George Hartman, Lester Young, Dinah Washington/Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, K.C. 5/7, Benny Morton, Rex Stewart, Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, Red Norvo, Billy Taylor, Jonah Jones, George Wettling, Chubby Jackson, Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, Milt Hinton, J. C. Heard, Irving Fazola, Bud Freeman, Ted Nash, Babe Russin, Manny Klein, Herbie Haymer, Clyde Hurley, Arnold Ross, Juan Tizol, Benny Carter, Marie Bryant/Bernie Leighton,, Ann Hathaway/Ellis Larkins, Joe Thomas, George Barnes, Lennie Tristano, Danny Hurd, Dave Lambert/Buddy Stewart/Red Rodney, Gene Sedric, Neal Hefti,
PETER B. LOWRY
pub: IAJRC JOURNAL – June 2015 (Vol. 48, No. 2) p. 71.