Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Classic Chu Berry Columbia and Victor Sessions

Magazine article IAJRC Journal

Classic Chu Berry Columbia and Victor Sessions

Article excerpt




Leaders (# of sessions): Benny Carter (Chocolate Danthes) (1); Bessie Smith (1); Teddy Hill (1); Red Allen (1); Putney Dandridge (1); Mildred Bailey (2); Teddy Wilson (3); Gene Krupa (1); Fletcher Henderson (7); Chu Berry (2); Cab Calloway (23); Wingy Manone (4); Billie Holiday (1); Lionel Hampton (4). October 10, 1933-September 10, 1941. TT: 8:38:08. Complete discography and order information at:

In 1929, when Leon Berry was invited to audition for the Ohio-based Sammy Stewart's band, he was wearing chin whiskers, required by his initiation into his West Virginia State College fraternity. The band thought he resembled the title character in the hit musical "Chu Chin Chow", and from then on, Berry was Chu. When Stewart's band played New York, Berry was displaced by a local musician and proceeded to work in several bands, including Benny Carter's and Teddy Hill's. After a year with Fletcher Henderson, he joined Cab Calloway, where he stayed for four years, until, at age 33, he was killed in an automobile accident. The car in which he was riding to an engagement left the road. The driver and another passenger survived, but in those days before seat belts, Berry was thrown from the car and his head received a mortal wound.

In those few years, Berry acquired the reputation of being the most accomplished tenor sax player of the period, which is certainly credible given that Coleman Hawkins was in Europe, Ben Webster hadn't emerged in the Ellington band, and Lester Young was in Kansas City during many of those years. However one ranks these artists, the recordings in this collection confirm that Berry is solidly among them.

Except for four titles recorded on Commodore under Berry's leadership and the privately recorded Dizzy Gillespie sessions at Minton's, these seven fully packed discs contain all the issued recordings on which Berry soloed. Loren Shoenberg's book-length notes discuss each of the 178 tracks in the set. Hearing them in order displays Berry's development as a Coleman Hawkins influence soon disappears in his own style. Occasionally in ballads he adds vibrato, perhaps a recognition of his early mentor Benny Carter. His timing was superb and he could swing with the very best. His always melodic solos, which included well-placed harmonic surprises, were fully formed. Inclusion of a few alternate takes reveals that these were true improvisations. That he was ahead of his time is demonstrated repeatedly. …

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