Often music provides more than just a pleasurable listening experience — it also educates. Delmark's latest jazz reissue, Bob Greene's St. Peter Street Strutters, is no exception to this rule. Those wishing to learn more about New Orleans dixieland should pick up this CD, a joyful tribute to such legends as Jelly Roll Morton, W. C. Handy, and King Oliver. Despite being recorded in 1964, the crystal-clear sound resembles a modern recording.
The 1964 recording session remains notable due to the size of the band. Usually six or seven-piece bands played traditional New Orleans jazz; instead, this project involved four musicians: Bob Greene, piano; Ernie Carson, cornet; Shorty Johnson, tuba; and Steve Larner, banjo. Despite the small size, the quartet plays such standards as "Kansas City Stomp" and "Snake Rag" with as huge a sound as any big band. To add further credibility, the Strutters recorded the album at the famed Preservation Hall. This reissue, which includes four previously unreleased songs, serves as an instant education in a uniquely American musical form.
Beginning with "St. Peter Street Strut," Johnson's tuba and Carson's trumpet drive the song, allowing the listener to almost smell New Orleans beignets. The swaggering "Winin' Boy Blues" gives Greene room to play old-style New Orleans piano, adding charm to the tune. Greene's skillful ragtime piano also enlivens "The Pearls," which features a stellar, blaring trumpet solo by Carson. A track that effectively showcases Green's style is "Wolverine Blues," which includes some stomping solos that demonstrate the artistry of New Orleans jazz.
Interestingly, little percussion is used on the album; for example, "Just A Closer Walk with Thee" utilizes a gentle tapping beat, as if someone is lightly hitting a hard surface. Instead, the tuba functions as the tempo-keeper. The sprightly "Kansas City Stomp" has the same kind of light beat, but the quartet melds so well together that percussion is barely missed. One can imagine this song being performed in a smoky French Quarter club. "Sweet Substitute" marks a welcome change in tempo, proving the versatility of the band. Here the trumpet sounds muted, while the piano is more subtle, the tuba quieter–all setting a more sedate mood. But the group really cooks on "Tiger Rag," with Greene's pounding piano leading the band. Here the St. Peter Street Strutters' affection for New Orleans is most evident, as the members engage each other in spirited solos.
This reissue also includes previously unreleased versions of the aforementioned "Just A Closer Walk with Thee," "Some of These Days," "After You've Gone," "Atlanta Blues," and "Dr. Jazz."
St. Peter Street Strutters shows the magic that happens when four talented, veteran musicians collaborate on a project. The quartet possessed a deep love for New Orleans jazz, and that devotion shines through in their playing. Like Art Hodes, Greene and his cohorts wanted to bring dixieland-style jazz to the masses; thanks to remasters such as this one, the genre has been preserved and can be appreciated by generations to come. For an education in this unique genre, Greene's St. Peter Street Strutters is a great starting point.
For more background on the St. Peter Street Strutters, read Jerry D'Souza's detailed article on the group at All About Jazz.