What A Wonderful World (1999)

Jay McShann

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.

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Jay McShann

James Columbus "Jay" McShann was a jazz pianist and bandleader. He led bands in Kansas City, Missouri, that included Charlie Parker, Bernard Anderson, Ben Webster, and Walter Brown.

McShann was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and was nicknamed Hootie. Musically, his education came from Earl Hines's late-night broadcasts from Chicago's Grand Terrace Cafe: "When 'Fatha' [Hines] went off the air, I went to bed". He began working as a professional musician in 1931, performing around Tulsa, Oklahoma, and neighboring Arkansas.

McShann moved to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1936, and set up his own big band, which variously featured Charlie Parker (1937–42), Al Hibbler, Ben Webster, Paul Quinichette, Bernard Anderson, Gene Ramey, Jimmy Coe, Gus Johnson (1938–43), Harold "Doc" West, Earl Coleman, Walter Brown, and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others. His first recordings were all with Charlie Parker, the first as the Jay McShann Orchestra on August 9, 1940.

The band played both swing and blues numbers but played blues on most of its records; its most popular recording was "Confessin' the Blues". The group disbanded when McShann was drafted into the Army in 1944. The big-band era being over, he was unable to successfully restart his career after the war ended.

After World War II McShann began to lead small groups featuring the blues shouter Jimmy Witherspoon. Witherspoon started recording with McShann in 1945 and fronting McShann's band; he had a hit in 1949 with "Ain't Nobody's Business". As well as writing much material, Witherspoon continued recording with McShann's band, which also featured Ben Webster. McShann had a modern rhythm and blues hit with "Hands Off", featuring a vocal by Priscilla Bowman, in 1955.[citation needed]

In the late 1960s, McShann became popular as a singer as well as a pianist, often performing with violinist Claude Williams. He continued recording and touring through the 1990s. Well into his 80s, McShann still performed occasionally, particularly in the Kansas City area and Toronto, Ontario, where he made his last recording, "Hootie Blues", in February 2001, after a recording career of 61 years. In 1979, he appeared prominently in The Last of the Blue Devils, a documentary film about Kansas City jazz.

McShann was named to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame and received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.  He died on December 7, 2006, in Kansas City, Missouri, at the age of 90. He was survived by his companion of more than 30 years, Thelma Adams (known as Marianne McShann), and three daughters.

photo: from cover 'What A Wonderful World'

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What A Wonderful World (1999)

Jay McShann

    AllMusic -

Jay McShann was 83 at the time of this album, but the pianist-singer sounds very much in prime form and had certainly not lost his enthusiasm. He teams up with some of the better Kansas City musicians active in the late '90s (tenor saxophonist Ahmad Alaadeen, guitarist Sonny Kenner, bassist Gerald Spaits, and drummer Todd Strait) on a variety of blues, originals, and swinging tunes, some of which are taken as instrumentals. Even if "What a Wonderful World" did not need to be played yet again, there are plenty of high points throughout this joyous set from McShann & friends.

Scott Yanow[read full review]

    Audiophile Audition

Jay McShann, whose name may be unfamiliar to you, has had a long and illustrious career that almost wraps up the entire history of jazz and blues in one performer. Charlie Parker's first appearances onstage were with McShann's band in Kansas City. Groove Note and producer Joe Harley did a magnificent recording job, live to two-track Studer analog tape at 30 ips. The dozen tracks on this album alternate between great blues vocals and both rollicking and introspective piano-based instrumentals. McShann has such an upbeat slant on life - as captured in the album's overall title - that even his blues sound happy.

John Sunier[read full review]

What A Wonderful World (1999)

Jay McShann

Analog Tape Machine: Studer A-80 2 Track using BASF 900 Tape at 30ips
Cables: AudioQuest
Mastering Engineer: Bernie Grundman, Analog to DSD 64 Transfer
Mastering Room: DSD 128 and DSD 256 Download Files Created by Tom Caulfield at the NativeDSD Mastering Lab, Marshfield, MA
Microphones: Llomo 919A-19, Neumann M-149, U-47, TLM-70, KM-84, AKG "The Tube", RCA 44, Shure KSM 32, Shure SM 57
Notes:

We are pleased to announce the availability of Groove Note releases in DSD 128 and DSD 256, in addition to the original DSD 64 releases. These higher bit rate DSD 128 and DSD 256 releases are all pure DSD created by NativeDSD Mastering Engineer Tom Caulfield. They are not up samplings, for there are no PCM or DXD conversions involved in their production. They are re-modulations of the original DSD 64 encoding modulation that produced the DSD 64 releases. The sonic advantage to these new Stereo and Multichannel DSD 128 and DSD 256 releases, as with all higher DSD bit rate releases, is the wider frequency passband prior to the onset of modulation noise.This results in the listener’s DAC using gentler and more phase linear filters for playback of the music.

Producer: Joe Harley
Recording Engineer: Michael C. Ross
Recording location: Airborne Audio Productions, Kansas City, MO on May 3 and 4, 1999
Recording Software: Sony Sonoma DSD Workstation
Recording Type & Bit Rate: Analog

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GRV1005: What A Wonderful World
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Tracks.
1.
Piney Brown Blues
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2.
Cherry Red
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Just For You
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Gee Baby Ain't I Good To You
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Crazy Legs And Friday Strut
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Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound
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Land Of Dreams
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Lonely Boy Blues
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Hot Biscuits
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Blue Monday
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What A Wonderful World
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12.
Until The Real Thing Comes Along
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