Updated: May 4
By 1961, when Rusty Bryant’s America’s Greatest Jazz, Vol II was released, Dot Records' experiment with jazz was all but over. Dot had gone Hollywood, now owned by Paramount and moved from Tennessee to California. Their top-selling artists were Pat Boone, Lawrence Welk and Billy Vaughn. Most sources indicate that Bryant’s contract with Dot ended in 1957. Whether the album was released to fulfill a contractual obligation or simply because Dot owned the masters is unclear. In any case America’s Greatest Jazz, Vol. II was released by Dot in 1961 with little fanfare or promotion.
America's Greatest Jazz, Vol II
Dot Records – DLP 25353
Since 1956’s America’s Greatest Jazz was a collection of Bryant’s early R&B sides and Volume II was taken from the same 1957 sessions that made up Plays Jazz, Rusty Bryant Plays Jazz, Vol II would have been a more appropriate title. All of the sessions would eventually be compiled on the 2004 Lone Hill Jazz release Original Quintet Complete Recordings. Released with a generic-looking cover and ads for other albums on the back, it’s pretty clear that Dot didn’t put much into the release of America’s Greatest Jazz, Vol. II.
Although Coolnote appears to have issued a digital version, this is one of the harder-to-find Rusty Bryant albums. When I spotted a copy on Discogs about a year ago, I jumped on it despite the seller being in Columbia, which would typically dissuade me. Although the seller warned me about internal problems in the country that have delayed shipments to the US, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The album was listed in Very Good condition and was very reasonably priced - shipping was the vast majority of the cost. So when several months passed, I chalked it up as a loss. Then, to my amazement, it showed up on my doorstep in October, four months after I’d ordered it!
Once I got it open, I discovered it was in pretty rough shape, but it played well. More surprising was that it was a Columbian release, which hadn’t yet been documented on Discogs. Pretty cool. Did Dot market jazz in Columbia? Was this even legit? I’m still not sure…
But the music is great. Taken in the context of these essentially being outtakes of the August 1957 L.A. sessions that produced Plays Jazz, this album holds up very well. Rusty is joined by L.A.’s finest session musicians, including several members of The Wrecking Crew. Side one opens with "My Shining Hour" featuring a nice piano solo from Gerald Wiggins leading into a tasty Howard Roberts guitar solo. Bryant’s melodic, driving original "Susie" is also featured on side one and Rusty’s R&B influences are readily apparent. This is a world-class hard bop session with top-notch playing all around. Guitarist Howard Roberts acquits himself particularly well, providing a showcase of tone and taste.
Side two opens with "Blue Lou" featuring another terrific Gerald Wiggins piano solo. The second Bryant original is "Frances’ Dream" with an appropriately soothing melody. "Street Of Dreams" starts with an echoing tenor sounding like it’s being played in a back alley. This creates a nice atmosphere in the intro and outro. Bryant takes on "Almost Like Being In Love" at the tempo of Nat King Cole’s version. There may not be a lot of chance-taking going on, but it’s a wholly satisfying listen. One suspects that Rusty may have presciently realized the opportunity for this type of recording session was not something that would come along every day.
Dot may have released this with no fanfare or promotion, but fortunately for us we still get to enjoy it 65 years after it was recorded. Rusty would go 10 plus years between record contracts. Although he’d record with Hank Marr in the interim, nothing was released in his name until he put out "Watermelon Man Ya All" backed with "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" on his own label in 1967. A few years after that, he’d sign with Prestige and begin the apex of his recording career. But in 1961 he must have wondered if it would ever happen for him.
Written-By – Mercer-Arlen
Written-By – Mercer-Arlen
B1 Blue Lou
Written-By – R. Bryant
Written-By – Loewe-Lerner
Written-By – E. A. Swan
Rusty Bryant - Tenor Sax
Gerald Wiggins - piano
Howard Roberts - guitar (A1, A4, A6, B5, B6)
John Collins - guitar (A2, A3, A5, B1-B4)
Red Callender - bass
Alvin Stoller - drums (A1-5, B1, B2, B4)
Shelly Manne - drums (A6, B3, B5, B6)
Recorded in Los Angeles; August 6-8, 10-11, 1957