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America's Greatest Jazz



In 1956, Elvis had the number 1 song with Heartbreak Hotel and Columbus was a very different place from today. Saxophonist Rusty Bryant managed to break through with a poppy brand of jazzy R&B and rock and roll. Ohio State’s student newspaper, The Lantern, wrote that Bryant was largely responsible for the “current rock and roll craze” gripping the city. Maybe a little ironic, then, that a collection of his early singles would be released as “America’s Greatest Jazz.” Overseas, it was released as “Rock ‘N’ Roll With Rusty Bryant” on London Records. I’ve never understood the obsession with defining what is and isn’t jazz (or rock). Genres are for marketing departments.


Rusty Bryant And The Carolyn Club Band

America's Greatest Jazz

Dot Records - DLP-3006

1956


America's Greatest Jazz: Rusty Bryant and the Carolyn Club Band
Back cover of America's Greatest Jazz

In the early 1950s, Rusty Bryant’s various bands had been as popular in the OSU frat houses as they were in the clubs. A 1953 self-released live recording of a speedy version of Jimmy Forrest’s Night Train apparently sold well enough to get the attention of Gallatin, Tennessee-based Dot Records, just outside of Nashville.


By early 1954 Dot would reissue Night Train, recorded live at the Carolyn Club on Marion Rd., as All Nite Long, and Rusty had what would ultimately be the biggest hit of his career. A series of singles released between 1954 and 1956 would eventually make up “America’s Greatest Jazz,” giving it the feel of a compilation. But that’s what most LPs were in those days. This was the single era. The somewhat generic looking cover art features a somewhat caucasian looking sax player. It's not clear whether any of the album’s tracks are studio recordings, but they were likely all recorded live, whether at the Carolyn Club, a studio, or elsewhere.

Nite Train 45 on Carolyn label
Ad for Rusty Bryant at the Carolyn Club

Listening to the tracks now, the recordings hold up quite well. All Nite Long in particular, with its train whistle and chanting, captures the party atmosphere of what a sweaty night in the Carolyn Club must have been like. The musicians have a chemistry honed with years of relentless gigging.


No musicians aside from Rusty are credited. Half the tracks were written by Henry "Hank" Marr and he often played with Rusty, so he's gotta be on here. Hank largely played piano at this time before later becoming a monster Hammond B-3 organist. Guitarist Warren Stephens, bassist Bernie Decker and drummer Jimmy Rogers are known to have played with Rusty in this era as well.


Bryant would release much better, artistically satisfying albums later on - in particular his run of releases on Prestige, but Night Train’s success and the deal with Dot gave him the juice to tour nationally, including a gig with Sammy Davis, Jr. in New York City. Bryant strikes me as a seriously underrated tenor sax player. He’d go on to record with Steve Gadd, Tony Levin, Joe Beck, and others. Although this wasn’t his best album, it’s a great early example of a Columbus-bred (Huntington, West Virginia born) world class musician getting signed and making a lifelong career with the key ingredients of talent, hard work, and luck.



Photo of Carolyn's Night Club sign




A1

Castle Rock

Written-By – Sears*, Drake*, Shirl*


A2

All Nite Long

Written-By – Forrest*


A3

Pink Champagne

Written-By – Joe Liggins


A4

Slow Drag

Written-By – Henry Marr*


A5

House Rocker

Written-By – Henry Marr*


A6

Blow Rusty Blow

Written-By – Henry Marr*



B1

Back Street

Written-By – Chamblee*, Simpkins*


B2

Honeydripper

Written-By – Joe Liggins


B3

Hot Fudge

Written-By – Hal Singer


B4

Moonlight Garden Stomp

Written-By – Henry Marr*


B5

Ridin' With Rusty

Written-By – Henry Marr*


B6

Hanka Boo

Written-By – Henry Marr*


"Many of the fast-moving, pulsating hits in this album were actually recorded in the Carolyn Club in Columbus, Ohio, where Rusty proved that the great jazz centers of the nation were not concentrated in New Orleans or Chicago alone." - rear cover liner notes


Although Bryant's greatest commercial success may have come relatively early in his career, he kept at it his whole life, which I have the ultimate respect for. Being a professional musician ain't as easy as it may seem from the outside, but he was clearly in it for the right reasons. And Rusty Bryant would become one of the greatest musicians to ever emerge from Columbus.



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