01. The Beautiful Indians Part 1 - Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
02. Searsy - Al Sears and his All Star Rhythm Section
03. Long Long Ago - Al Sears and his All Star Rhythm Section
04. Searsy's Blues - Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra
05. Castle Rock - Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra
06. Now Ride the 'D' Train - Al Sears and his Orchestra
07. Nell Don't Wear No Button Up Shoes - Al Sears and his Orchestra
08. Azores - Al Sears and his Orchestra
01. Tweedle Dee - Al Sears and his Rock 'n' Rollers
02. Rock 'n' Roll Ball - Big Al Sears
03. Here's the Beat - Big Al Sears
04. Great Googa Mooga - Big Al Sears
05. So Glad - Big Al Sears
06. Teener's Canteen - Alan Freed and his Rock'n Roll Band
07. Teen Rock - Alan Freed and his Rock'n Roll Band
08. Right Now Right Now - Alan Freed and his Rock'n Roll Band
My thanks to a German sax fan for donating this fine album. Unfortunately he was unable to send scans of the inner pages of the original gatefold sleeve. If anybody out there has the means to scan and send images of these missing pages please get in touch via the comments or the blog email.
I don't think I've ever come across an LP where there is such a contrast between the first and second sides. I suppose this was inevitable when you consider the nature of Al Sears's career which spanned the days of big band swing, then the era of small group jazz and R&B, and then on into the age of the Big Beat - rock 'n' roll as promoted by Alan Freed and a host of others.
Al Sears gained experience in a number of the top big bands, including an early lineup of the Chick Webb band, Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy, Lionel Hampton, and most famously The Duke Ellington Orchestra where he replaced Ben Webster in the featured tenor sax spot.
After leaving the Duke, Al spent most of the late 40s and early 50s (until summer 1951) in the small band of fellow ex-Ellingtonian Johnny Hodges. It was while with this group that Al had his biggest hit, "Castle Rock". After this success Al left off gigging with Hodges to concentrate on his music business career (he had taken business admin courses years earlier during a low point in music sales) but still kept recording, occasionally as leader and often as a session man. Among the R&B sessions he was involved in were dates with Screaming Jay Hawkins, Nappy Brown and Big Joe Turner ("Hide and Seek", "Flip Flop and Fly" in 1955).
Side 1 of this collection takes us through the jazz years with Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges. Following the success of "Castle Rock" Al recorded a brilliant session at King in September 1951. The band was virtually identical to the Hodges group from "Castle Rock" and it was long rumoured that Hodges was in fact playing on that session. The last 3 sides on Side 1 are from this session and although promoted as R&B sides by King, they lie squarely in the small group jazz style of the Hodges band.
A December 1952 session for RCA Victor saw Al moving more towards the rockin' R&B style which would soon be promoted as rock and roll. In 1954 he recorded an out and out rock 'n' roll single for Herald - "Tweedle Dee" / "Goin' Uptown". The latter track is a real sax killer which is unfortunately not on this collection but is available on the Bear Family CD "Sear-iously."
"Tweedle Dee" kicks off the second or "rock 'n' roll" side of this album. The rest of this side is made up of tracks recorded for RCA subsidiary Groove, Jubilee ("So Glad" in more R&B vein) and three records credited to Alan Freed's Rock'n Roll Band. Al had originally recorded the Freed band titles for Coral with a small studio group in 1955. "Teener's Canteen" was originally called "Tina's Canteen" but with Freed making a play for the teenage audience a re-titling seems almost inevitable.
Al was one of a number of ex big band, swing veterans Freed called on to form his own "rock 'n' roll" big band for stage, radio and film appearances. Other recruits included Al's fellow NYC session men Sam "The Man" Taylor and Freddie Mitchell. Both Freddie and Al can be seen blowing enthusiastically in the film "Rock, Rock, Rock", Freddie on an adaptation of his "Moondog Boogie" re-titled "Rock 'n' Roll Boogie", and Al on a storming version of his own composition "Right Now Right Now." The final three tracks on this collection were featured on 2 Coral LPs of Alan Freed's "Rock 'n' Roll Dance Party" and were also released as singles.
Al did have one more jazz recording session as a leader in 1960 on the Swingville LP "Swing's The Thing." He continued to play and record occasionally but in a jazz style rather than rock 'n' roll or R&B. Al remained active in the business side of music, retiring in 1980 at the age of seventy. He passed away in 1990.
The tracks on this LP and the recommended Bear Family CD owe their excellence to a large number of musicians. In particular the contributions of the following should be noted: Lloyd Trotman, Dave Marshall, Sonny Greer, Jesse Stone, Johnny Hodges, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Mickey Baker, Budd Johnson and Haywood Henry. Whether playing jazz, R&B or rock and roll, Al Sears was invariably in the company of the most accomplished musicians.
Anyone who likes the big, rasping sax sound of 1950s NYC rock 'n' roll just has to have the Bear Family CD "Sear-iously." 25 sides recorded between 1949 and 1956 for Coral, Herald and RCA / Groove. The 1949 sides feature Clarence Palmer and his original version of "Brown Boy", adapted from Lil Armstrong's "Brown Gal." The front cover has a picture of Al on stage with Sam "The Man" Taylor and Red Prysock.
The Bear Family CD doesn't have the King sides from 1951. The whole session (8 tracks) was included on the 1999 Westside CD "Groove Station" along with tracks by Preston Love, Wild Bill Moore, Fats Noel and Jesse Powell, all in fantastic sound quality. The CD is still around on the Bear Family Website, eBay and Amazon Marketplace. Well worth hunting down. In fact your life is incomplete without it.
Happy sax blasting! And remember if you have the inner sides of the "Ride The 'D' Train" gatefold sleeve and can obtain scans, please get in touch.
Finally, thanks again to our anonymous donor. You are now admitted to the Mystic Order of the Wailing Sax.