The writer, who has been wrestling with "Sweet Sue" via the piano keyboard for more decades than he would like to admit, agrees with Hyman's notes to this disc. Hyman refers to the tune as a rather bland pop song of the '20s, one that is not easy to dress up, and especially so by the mammoth Whiteman Orchestra and an orchestration that fills a 12-inch pressing. When Bix's all-too-brief solo emerges, deep into the somnolent chart, it is like coming out of a long tunnel into bright daylight. Accordingly, Hyman's interpretation takes note of what might have been.
There is one more track we would like to mention. It is "Davenport Blues," a tune recorded in 1925 by Bix's Rhythm Jugglers, a group out of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, and put on wax at the Gennett studio in Richmond, Ind. Listen to it, and can you not call up a scene along a two-lane road in central Indiana, with collegian Hoagy Carmichael at the wheel of his flivver, and beside him, feet upon the dashboard, Bix Beiderbecke gently blowing his horn into the Hoosier night? The tune, Bix's own composition, seems to share musical DNA with Hoagy, in the same fashion that Hoagy's own classics "Stardust" and "Skylark" reflect his own absorption with his friend, Bix.
For the flavor of the rest of these tunes, you will need to listen to the CD for yourself. It has stood the test of repeated playing, and I can think of no one more capable of producing this music than Dick Hyman. The piano, and the recording of it, are superb. I can find nothing to criticize about this session, nor have I tried very hard.
To obtain this CD, contact Reference Recordings, Box 77225, San Francisco, CA 94107, 1-800-336-8866, www.ReferenceRecordings.com
One can only wonder how many musicians there are in the New York area like clarinetist Joe Licari who has devoted his career and indeed, his life, to mastering his instrument and becoming part of a precious cadre of musicians playing straight-ahead, mainstream jazz. Most never achieve much fame or wealth but, I hope, take great satisfaction in being first-rate artists and enjoy playing for people who appreciate them. You will hear Licari's artistry to perfection on these two albums, complete with a great tone, imaginative, passionate solos and perhaps above all, the courage of his musical convictions.
Quartets, with Joe Licari, clarinet; Herb Gardner, piano; Murry Wall and Mike Weatherly, bass; Steve Little and Fred Stoll, drums, was recorded at The Red Blazer Hideaway in midtown Manhattan in 2001-02 while the Dick Voight album was assembled from live radio broadcasts in 2006 hosted by Jim Lowe, who himself has made a substantial career and name for himself in American music. The personnel for the latter CD includes Marty Grosz, guitar and vocals; Joe Licari, clarinet; Skip Muller, bass, and Dick Voight, piano.
In the liner notes for the Quartets side, Clarrie Henley, a familiar name to RAG readers, says Licari's style "owes its origins to a young Benny Goodman who was recording with Ben Pollack and Ted Lewis in the late Twenties. Joe also found inspiration in the great Sidney Bechet and studied with Bechet's protege, Bob Wilber."
Jim Lowe calls Licari "one of the most under-rated reed players in all of music. Perhaps the reason lies in the title of a book he published a few years ago. He called it The Invisible Clarinetist. He lets his clarinet speak for him, and this is a business not known for its modesty." Prolific outside of music, Licari also is the father of 10 children and, as Lowe surmises, "for a period of his younger years, I guess he could change a diaper as fast as a reed."
Listening to these two CDs, one wishes to have been there when they were recorded. Music and musicians of this style and caliber exist to be heard live, appreciated on the spot and cherished for the ages on recordings by those who could not make it in person -- that's most of us -- and that goes for Licari's accompanists on both recordings as well as Joe himself.
So, if you have a passion for solid, well-played, well-sung straight-ahead jazz spotlighting an outstanding clarinetist surrounded by wonderful accompanists, both of these albums are for you.
To purchase the Voight Quartet CD, contact Dick Voight at Voightofny@aol.com; (845) 634-6716. It can also be ordered directly for $17 (check or money order) from Joe Licari, Clari1 Productions, 336 S. Mountain Rd., New City, NY 10956, (845) 638-4909, JazzReeds1@netzero.net, www.joelicari.com. Licari's other CDs are also available through his website.