Monday, 1 October 2012

Hot Lips Page

One of the tracks that blew me away when recently listening to an album by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra for the jazz library was "Lafayette". The reason? The absolutely scorching trumpet solo from Oran "Hot Lips" Page. Before we continue, please have a listen.

Lafayette by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra on Grooveshark

Early Basie, no? Perhaps a little more up tempo than the classic Basie riff sound that was to dominate jazz five years later. Some ingredients for a classic pre-swing jazz track are included in this track. An opening tenor sax solo from one of the legends of the instrument, Ben Webster; jazz bass innovator Walter Page and Count Basie himself on the piano. However, for me, the outstanding moment is Hot Lips Page's blistering solo. Such was his talent that he opted to leave the Basie band right before they were to make it big in 1936. He had decided to try for a solo career under the guidance of Louis Armstrong's manager, Joe Gleason. The fact that you may not have heard of Hot Lips Page but you know undoubtedly who Louis Armstrong is, is an indication of where Hot Lips Page's career sadly went. 


Oran Thaddeus "Hot Lips" Page was born in 1908 in Dallas Texas. His early musical career saw him move around the States quite a bit. Before the age of 20 he had already provided backing for such blues legends as Ma Rainey, Ida Cox and Bessie Smith. His grounding in the blues was to remain with him for the remainder of his career and provided a very important element to his jazz improvisation. In fact a lot of Page's recordings that I have listened to recently are pure out and out blues. Not surprisingly then he is regarded as an innovative force in early R 'n' B. Yet he was also involved in many musical events that were to shape the direction of jazz from the early 30's onward. 

He was a member of the hugely important band The Blue Devils in the late 1920's which was eventually to become Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra. He was prominently featured in a legendary recording session that took place in New Jersey in December 1932. Some of the tracks that were recorded that day included Moten Swing and the above mentioned Lafayette. This was the music that was to pave the way for the Swing era that dominated jazz in the 1930's. After opting to go solo, Page had modest success fronting his own orchestra in the latter part of the decade. As well as a superb trumpeter he was also a formidable vocalist very much in the style of Louis Armstrong. 

Page was never to achieve much success as an orchestra leader. Yet as a sideman he made some fantastic tracks in the 1940's. His travels across the country were to see him work and record with Artie Shaw, Ben Webster and Sidney Bechet, to name a few. He performed in Carnegie Hall in 1942 with Fats Waller, although sadly only one track of the concerts has survived. Page also pushed himself musically and was unafraid to experiment as evidenced by his attendance and participation at the 1942 jam sessions various Harlem nightclubs. These sessions involved many of the artists that would make bebop the next driving force of jazz. 

Hot Lips Page & Sidney Bechet (New York 1947)

I have really enjoyed researching and listening to the music of Hot Lips Page. It is really hard to pin his musical style down and to put a label onto his work as a whole. Riff style jazz, smooth orchestra, small combo stuff, pop, novelty songs, duets, out and out blues - he covered a lot of bases and it would be unfair to characterise him solely as a blues singer or a jazz trumpeter. His body of work speaks for itself. So too perhaps do his last known recordings which were of a raucous live show that included the tracks St Louis Blues, Sheik of Araby, On The Sunny Side Of The Street and a fantastic St James Infirmary. Unfortunately after much trawling of the internet I cannot find any versions to embed here. They are on the Chronological Classics album 1950 - 1953 and are well worth seeking out. Traditional good time jazz at its best performed by one of the greats who deserves way more recognition. 

Here's another earlier cracking version of St James Infirmary that Page recorded in 1947.  

St. James Infirmary by Hot Lips Page on Grooveshark