The hottest jazz record ever made?

November 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm (BBC, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy)

Us old jazzers love discussing the perennial question of the ‘hottest’ record of all time. Alyn Shipton at Radio 3’s Jazz Record Requests has asked for suggestions. The definition of ‘hot’ in this context is (like the word ‘swing’ or indeed ‘jazz’) not at all easy to pin down. But we know it when we hear it. It doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘up-tempo,’ though a brisk pace is usually a requirement. It’s to do with intensity, drive and raw excitement.

Philip Larkin reckoned that Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording of St. Louis Blues was the Hottest Record Of All Time, and I’m inclined to agree. But leaving that aside, what other contenders are there?

I’d put forward Hello Lola by the Mound City Blue Blowers (1929), Bugle Call Rag by the Billy Banks Rhythmakers (1932), That’s A’ Plenty by Wild Bill Davison (1943), and this (which I’ve suggested to Alyn and should be played on JRR this Saturday):


  1. Andrew J. Sammut said,

    “Maple Leaf Rag” was my first experience of Sidney Bechet: the vibrato you could walk through, his way of nudging the Tommy Ladnier’s trumpet out of the way to take the lead and the “rhythmic audacity” that Bob Wilber pointed to. This is a ton of good music here though!

    • Jim Denham said,

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Andrew. And Larkin, an enthusiastic fan ( who wrote the poem ‘For Sidney Bechet’, rated Maple Leaf as one of his best sides:

      “Positive as I am that Sidney Bechet is one of the half-dozen leading figures in jazz, I sometimes hesitate when asked to name a record by him that will bring any unbeliever round to my way of thinking. For his particular power resides, after all, in generalities – the majestic *cantabile sostenuto*, the authoritative vitality – and those exist despite innumerable individual records that reveal gobbling irrelevancy, mannered quotes from minor classics, sticky balladry, instant Dixieland, frightful travelling companions. Pressed, I suppose I should nominate ‘Nobody Knows The Way I Feel This Morning’ (1940), ‘Blue Horizon’ (1944), or ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ (1932).

      BTW Andrew: are you the genius behind ‘The Pop of Yestercentury’ by any chance?

      • Andrew J. Sammut said,

        That is a magnificent quote, and Larkin has great taste in Bechet records.

        I do write The Pop of Yestercentury, and you are very kind.

  2. The hottest jazz record ever made? | OzHouse said,

    […] Nov 15 2013 by admin […]

  3. les said,

    i nominate “scrapple from the apple” by the charlie parker quintet

    i listen to this recording at least once a month. and when i think of a piece of music that can barely contain its own exuberance, its own joy, this is one of the pieces i think of.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Nice choice, Les, though I tend to associate “hot” jazz with the pre-bop period. You may be interested to hear that the other nominations played on Saturday’s JRR were Ellington’s Main Stem (1942 and the Albert Ammons Rhythm Kings’ St Louis Blues (1947). Why not send Alyn your nomination?

  4. james L davis said,

    wes Montgomery what ever “to be young gifted and black -nina simone

  5. Matt Dykes said,

    Jim, without wishing to open up one almighty question (but proceeding none the less), why do you associate ‘hot’ jazz with the pre-bop era?

    • Jim Denham said,

      A good question, Matt, and one I’m not sure I have a ready answer to. But I’m not alone in my opinion on this: I was discussing this very question recently with a friend who’s favourite musician is Lester Young (surely the epitome of “cool”) who expressed the view that “hot” jazz more or less means jazz recorded from the late twenties to mid thirties (he cited the Billy Banks Rythmakers as the ultimate example), and the advent of Pres with Basie’s band as the start of the “cool” era. The urgent, slightly nervy drive of people like Condon, Singleton, Russell and Henry Red Allen in the early thirties (eg on the Billy Banks sides), sums up what the term “hot jazz” realy means – to me at least. I suppose you could argue that some of Parker’s stuff from the mid-to-late forties displays the same qualities (see les’ comment above), but somehow the term “hot” doesn’t quite fit Parker – perhaps because even at his most frantic, he always sounded “cool.”

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