Chubby Jackson: New York, 1949

In 1944, bebop was dismissed by many of the country’s jazz fans as unintelligible gibberish and way too fast for dancing. Few musicians could play it authentically, since too few bebop recordings were on the market, and there was a hot-dog component to the music, with artists appearing to showboat for each other rather than engaging and entertaining their audiences. [Pictured above, Chubby Jackson]

Yet less than five years later, bebop was a national sensation—so predominant that virtually all of the swing bandleaders were embracing the style to remain relevant and members of Dizzy Gillespie’s fan clubs dressed as he did. What happened between 1944 and 1949? Bebop made powerful friends. As soon as the war ended in 1945, young concert promoters, disc jockeys and jazz writers took up bebop’s cause, championing the music and its artists. In bebop’s favor was its intellectual appeal and sly individualism. In short, it was hip, winning over a triumvirate of mass communicators. [Pictured above, from left, Dave Lambert, John Simmons, Dizzy Gillespie, George Handy and Chubby Jackson in 1947, William P. Gottlieb]

But there was a third, less obvious factor in bebop’s favor—its sense of humor. Musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and other bop pioneers were characters—individualists who were polite, courteous and enormously talented. They also were witty, which appealed to concert promoters, disc jockeys and writers, many of whom were outcasts themselves and funny in their own right. One of bebop’s funniest cards who combined high energy, talent and a wacky sense of humor was bassist Chubby Jackson.

Jackson joined Woody Herman’s band in 1943 and remained a Hermanite until 1947, when he began recording as a leader. The second musicians’ union recording ban of 1948 forced him back into Herman’s band and onto the road, since touring was the only source of employment with recording studios shuttered for much of the year. In 1949, Jackson formed a big band and recorded and toured with his and other bands until 1952, when he joined Herman’s Third Herd.

On Chubby Jackson Big Band: New York City 1949—Ooh, What An Outfit! (Uptown), we get to hear Jackson’s off-the-wall sense of humor, his enthusiasm and his gifts as the leader of a monster band in 1949. We also get to hear fabled drummer-arranger Tiny Kahn, who died of a heart attack in 1953 at age 30. His arrangements of Tiny’s Blues, Father Knickerbopper and Godchild remain classics. The first two were his own compositions and on the third, we hear Kahn scat the bop vocal.

Jackson’s band featured all tigers: Al Porcino, Norman Faye, Charlie Walp (tp) Bob Swope, Mario Daone (tb) Frank Socolow (as) Al Young, Ray Turner (ts) Marty Flax (bar) Gene Di Novi (p) Teddy Charles (vib,bgo) Curly Russell (b) Tiny Kahn (d,vcl,arr) Joe Harris (cga,bgo) Paula Castle (vcl) Chubby Jackson (dir,noises) Al Cohn (arr). The power and daring are staggering.

On this two-CD set, there’s a studio date from February 1949, live dates at New York’s Royal Roost in March featuring extensive funny banter by Symphony Sid and a newly discovered session from May with Gene Roland and an interview with Jackson from the same month. The rest of the CD includes a 1945 track with Jackson singing My Ideal as well as previously released material from Jackson’s Swedish tour in December 1947 and January 1948.

All of the music has been cleaned up here, allowing you to focus on the daring of Jackson’s various bands rather than pops and clicks. Bop was at its peak in 1949. Dizzy Gillespie fronted one of his finest big bands (with George Handy, Budd Johnson, Gil Fuller and Jimmy Mundy arranging); Charlie Parker was recording with strings; Bud Powell teamed with Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes; and  Benny Goodman, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw all led bob-flavored bands. Into this mix came Jackson, who personified the best of bop and became one of its most charming and lovable ambassadors. Ira Gitler, who was a pal of Chubby Jackson’s back then, wrote the CD set’s liner notes, which are comprehensive and filled with stories and insights.

A hip CD set that provides a window into the mayhem and mastery that was bebop in 1949—and the frantic fun that served as a chaser to the bullwhip strength of the music’s sound. 

JazzWax tracks: You’ll find Chubby Jackson Big Band: New York City 1949—Ooh, What An Outfit! (Uptown) here.

JazzWax clip: Here’s a radio broadcast by Michael D. Anderson featuring an interview with Chubby Jackson and music by the bassist-leader…

Written by Marc Myers, copyright © by JazzWax (Marc Myers LLC www.jazzwax.com)