TOM BELMESSIERI’S FOG CITY STOMPERS—Play the Music of
Bing Crosby & Bix Beiderbecke (Merry Makers Record Company
MMRC-CD-49). Playing time: 64m. 26s.
Copenhagen; I Kiss Your Hand, Madame; Lazy Daddy; Just a Gigolo; Flock o’
Blues; I Found a Million Dollar Baby; My Pretty Girl; A Faded Summer Love;
Clarinet Marmalade; Every Time My Heart Beats; Lonely Melody; Paradise;
Borneo; Please; Somebody Stole My Gal; Just an Echo in the Valley; Thou
Swell; Blue Hawaii; Dusky Stevedore; Sweet Leilani.
Collective Personnel: Tom Belmessieri, cornet, vocals; Hudi Brenman,
clarinet; Rich Newcomb, Jeff Walton, trombone; Mike Hart, helicon; Pat
Dutrow, banjo, guitar; Morgan Olk, Roz Temple, piano; Adam Roderick,
Guests: Ray Landsberg, violin; Marty Eggers, piano; Ken Keeler, guitar;
Shota Osabe, steel guitar, electronic vibraphone, electronic guitar,
Recorded in Oakland, California, over a two-year period, 2012-2014.
This CD, an interpretation by the Fog City Stompers of some of the
work of Bix Beiderbecke and of Bing Crosby*, rather neatly divides into
two “halves,” all of the odd-numbered tracks being of the traditional
jazz genre variety, and the even-numbered tracks of the pop vocal
variety. The instrumentals are tunes associated with Bix Beiderbecke,
the vocals tunes associated with Bing Crosby. The juxtaposition of the
two—and alternating between them throughout the disc—is not
actually disconcerting, although the two do not have a great deal in
common. Certainly Beiderbecke and Crosby were peers, both having
been born within a couple of months of each other, and both were
members of the Paul Whiteman aggregation for some years and even
recorded together while with Whiteman, as they did, for example, on
Mississippi Mud when Crosby was part of the Rhythm Boys vocal trio.
But unlike Beiderbecke, Crosby was hardly jazz oriented, and his career
as a crooner was just starting to get in gear about the time that
Beiderbecke died, 1931.
Belmessieri went to considerable trouble to get the Beiderbecke
selections sounding authentic, as the CD insert informs us: “The non-
vocal instrumentals were all transcribed by Tom Belmessieri from
recordings performed by Bix Beiderbecke when he played with various
bands.” That said, he does not try to copy Beiderbecke himself in his
playing, and the band’s renditions of the transcriptions are not an
attempt at a pastiche. These are lively readings of the Beiderbecke
groups’ arrangements. The Fog City Stompers septet is tight, and
executes well the difficult arrangements, even where the tempos are
brisk, such as that on My Pretty Girl with the fast tonguing required on
cornet. Indeed, all of the front line rises to the challenge, with the
intricate harmonies and fast little runs, bringing them off almost
flawlessly other than the occasional minor lapse, perhaps, such as the
slight raggedness to be found in places on Clarinet Marmalade. I was also
a little surprised to find two of Beiderbecke’s “signature” numbers,
Singin’ the Blues and Jazz Me Blues, were not included. (Undoubtedly
they will find their way into a projected “multi-volume Bix Beiderbecke
CD set, to be released next,” according to this CD’s insert.) But this CD
provides a nice rendition of the numbers selected.
The even-numbered tracks present Belmessieri wearing his Crosby
hat. He has a pleasant baritone voice, as did Crosby, but it is not quite as
warm as was Crosby’s. In addition, he uses more vibrato than Crosby
did, but that well may be by design as it does not appear he was trying
to be a Crosby clone. However, he does include some of the Crosby
“trademarks,” such as the whistling that he intersperses with the vocals
on several of the tracks or the wordless vocals he inserts as well. All of
it is certainly reminiscent of the Crosby of that era and makes from
some pleasant listening as well as, perhaps, reviving old memories for
some listeners. Somewhat unexpectedly, Crosby’s theme song, Where
the Blue of the Night, is absent from the tune list. A Hawaiian music
fad was in the ascendant in the thirties and forties, and it is that time in
the Crosby saga that the CD recalls with the final two vocal tracks, Blue
Hawaii and Sweet Leilani, steel guitar and ukulele included.
So those who count themselves among the Beiderbecke aficionados and
those who are drawn to Crosby will find much to enjoy in this CD, and I
would imagine these groups are not likely to be completely disparate.
The disc provides a welcome hour-plus of musical entertainment and is
available from Merry Makers Records, 5082 Rasmussen Way, Fairfield,
CA 94533, tel. 707-422-1224 for $16.00 post-paid, and also from on-line
retailers such as CD Universe (http://www.cduniverse.com) and
*Other “divided” albums compiling tracks actually recorded by
Beiderbecke and Crosby have been issued in the past on labels such as
RCA-Victor and Columbia.