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Rusty Bryant Plays Jazz

Updated: Apr 15

The artistic leap from Rusty Bryant’s first album, 1956’s America’s Greatest Jazz, to his second, 1958’s Rusty Bryant Plays Jazz, is startling. Considering that America’s Greatest Jazz was a compilation of Rusty’s earlier Dot singles puts it in context, though. The August 1957 sessions that comprise Rusty Bryant Plays Jazz are his first true artistic statement. Or, as Rusty himself put it, “This is the music I’ve always wanted to play.” His first release without The Carolyn Club Band, this is the album that shoulda coulda woulda made Bryant a huge star. But, alas, it was released on a label not known for jazz at a time when rock and roll was just settling into its long reign as America’s popular music.

Dot Records - DLP-3079


The uncredited liner notes are informative, particularly for an artist as under-documented as Bryant, but it’s hard to know how much to take at face value. The spin here is that Dot set up this session because “of a record company’s notion that there was even more music in (Bryant) than his great rhythm-and-blues success had hitherto revealed.” Well, ok. But due credit to Dot for letting him play what he wanted. Their Jazz Horizons series, of which this album was a part, showed they were at least trying to make some noise in the jazz market, however half-heartedly. The liners conclude with a concession that there was no real commercial aspiration here, noting that “Rusty has enjoyed this (R&B/pop) fame; but he has hankered all the while to return to the jazz that is so rich a part of his heritage.”

A particularly interesting nugget here is that Rusty's father, in addition to being an undertaker, was also a musician and bandleader who appeared with King Oliver and others. Herman Bryant had a funeral band that rehearsed in the casket room while young Rusty would watch and familiarize himself with the music and instruments. Rusty discusses his father, beginning his professional career with Stomp Gordon about a week after getting his first horn, touring with young Nancy Wilson and more on Arnett Howard’s excellent blog.

Beginning with the cover, on which smoke appears to be emanating from Bryant, this record takes things up several notches from what he’d put out to this point. Gerald Wiggins is on piano, Red Callender on bass and Max Albright and Alvin Stoller round out the rhythm section on drums. Jack Marshall, Howard Roberts, and John Collins share guitar duties. Callender and Roberts were part of the legendary collective of LA studio musicians known as The Wrecking Crew (if you haven’t seen the 2008 Wrecking Crew documentary, it’s highly recommended for any serious music fan). All in all, a formidable level of musicianship.

Bryant seems at ease with this combo and things immediately settle into an easy swing with an interpretation of Over The Rainbow featuring a Gerry Wiggins piano solo. Wiggins wrote the next song, Sonar, which is warm and driving. Overall, the sound is good, although the drums are too low in the mix for my taste. This is a transitional album. The ensemble playing is terrific, but there isn’t much stretching out. All but one of the songs clock in under four minutes. Mixing in originals with standards like That Old Black Magic and Easy Living, it’s engaging listening front to back.

It’s pretty clear that sales didn’t excite Dot enough to fund any more recording sessions, so they’d ultimately release the rest of these 1957 sessions as America’s Greatest Jazz, Vol. II in 1961 apparently to fulfill their contract. The 1957 recordings would eventually be issued on CD with the obscure European gray market release Original Quintet: Complete Recordings in 2004. Rusty would go eight years before releasing his next album which began his heyday with Prestige. But the seeds of his excellent and underappreciated jazz career are right here and worth repeated listening.

“He is refreshingly free of mannerisms, has the flexibility to range from a coarse, grainy tone to a light, almost altoish sound, from a cool, suave approach to a sharp, slicing attack.” - John Wilson, The Collector’s Jazz


A1 Over The Rainbow

Written-By – Harburg, Arlen

A2 Sonar

Written-By – Gerald Wiggins

A3 Secret Love

Written-By – Webster, Fain

Written-By – Bryant, Mack

A5 Thou Swell

Written-By – Rodgers & Hart

A6 48th Street Smile

Written-By – Rusty Bryant

B1 That Old Black Magic

Written-By – Arlen-Mercer

B2 Boofus

Written-By – Rusty Bryant

B3 Easy Living

Written-By – Robin, Rainger

Written-By – Bryant, Mack

B5 Sooty

Written-By – Rusty Bryant

Written-By – Weiss, Bock, Holofcener



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