The Groove Note Records team of Joe Harley (producer), Mike Ross (engineer) and Ying Tan (executive producer) spent several days in Kansas City to record a dozen tunes with the legendary Kansas City bluesman Jay McShann.
The album which is called What A Wonderful World was recorded over three days at the studios of Airborne Audio in Overland Park and featured several ace Kansas City musicians including Alaadeen Ahmad (tenor sax) and Sonny Kenner (guitar).
Jay was in excellent form during the sessions and delivered memorably strong performances of classics like Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You, Blue Monday Piney Brown Blues, Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound, as well as some other McShann originals. Jay also covered a couple of standards including a brilliant and moving rendition of What A Wonderful World and a great instrumental version of Land Of Dreams.
The album was recorded live direct to Analog 2-Track Tape and was mastered to DSD 64 Stereo by Bernie Grundman in Hollywood to produce an album of true audiophile quality sound.
The first three cuts are straight out of The Sunset Club; indeed right off of Pete Johnson’s ivories. After the opener, wistful homage to old Piney Brown himself, McShann picks things up both in tempo and jollity with Cherry Red which Cleanhead Vinson and The Cootie Williams Orchestra certainly squeezed for all it was worth in their 1944 cover of it. But McShann swings it pretty good here in 1999 right down to the original “Eagle-rock me, mama, till my face turns cherry red” finish. The lesser known Just For You concludes the Pete Johnson medley with instrumental flourish, Ahmad Alaadeen and Sonny Kenner chiming in tastefully on sax and guitar after McShann’s has his pianistic say. Those two keep ripping it up around McShann’s shouting on Lonely Boy Blues, one of the tunes he and Walter Brown put together with apparent ease after those band rehearsals at the Playmore Arena in ‘41. (Moreover, it was part of the monster playlist which blew down Lucky Millinder at The Savoy when the band went national a year later.)
The two tunes here which are attributed to Jimmy Witherspoon, Blue Monday and Rain is Such a Lonely Sound as well as Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good to You all appeared on Goin’ To Kansas City, Spoon’s first album cut with McShann’s help for RCA in 1957. The reading here is far more intimate and, of course, far more McShann. And more instrumentals! Crazy Legs and Friday Strut was the title track to a 1976 Sackville LP McShann did with sax veteran Buddy Tate. Here he tries the infectious romp sans sax, braced only by Todd Strait’s light but right cymbals and drums. Coming in on track number nine is Hot Biscuits, a McShann original first recorded back in 1948 for Swing Time and just oozing 18th and Vine. Eddie Heywood’s Land of Dreams caught McShann’s ear when it appeared two years ahead of his better known 1956 hit, Canadian Sunset. McShann leaps into its rambling bass figures here with a passion.