by Hal Smith
Reprinted from The Jazz Rambler. All rights reserved.
James D. McPartland was only 2l when he stepped into the OKeh studio in Dec., 1927 for a recording date with McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans. The results are some of the first—and best—recorded examples of classic “Chicago Style” Jazz.
Despite his age at the time of the recording, McPartland was actually a seasoned veteran in 1927. As a teenager he listened to the music of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and the many dance bands that worked in the Chicago area. But the magical sound of Bix Beiderbecke confirmed the direction that the young cornetist would follow for the rest of his life. He even replaced his idol with the Wolverines, when Bix left to work with Jean Goldkette. Later, McPartland played with several Midwestern dance bands, then joined one of the greatest—Ben Pollack and his Orchestra.
While there are some good “Chicago” moments on Pollack’s recordings, the McKenzie-Condon 78s are textbook illustrations of the style. With McPartland on cornet, the band was made up of several musicians who attended Austin High School in Chicago: Frank Teschemacher (clarinet), Bud Freeman (tenor sax), Joe Sullivan (piano), Jim Lannigan( bass/tuba), Gene Krupa (drums) and Condon on banjo and guitar. (Vocalist Red McKenzie promoted the band to OKeh but did not sing during the first session.) “Sugar,” “China Boy,” “Nobody’s Sweetheart” and “Liza” feature the “explosion,” “flare,” “stop-and-go” and “shuffle rhythm” in abundance. (Though rarely played today, these devices can be heard on subsequent recordings by small bands such as Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtimers and Bob Crosby’s Bobcats. McPartland also continued to use these Chicago “tricks” for the rest of his career.)
As great as the McKenzie-Condon records were, the band was not able to find work as a group. McPartland stayed with Ben Pollack until 1929, then became a freelance musician, moving back and forth between New York and Chicago. During this time he played on many jam sessions at the home of attorney and jazz fan Edwin “Squirrel”Ashcraft. Ashcraft helped McPartland land a recording date with Decca in 1936. McPartland recorded for Decca again in 1939, as part of the “Chicago Jazz” album, produced by George Avakian. The four sides by McPartland’s band are steeped in the idiosyncracies of Chicago style.
In 1942 McPartland joined the U.S. Army, later taking part in the invasion of Normandy. He was playing in a service band when he met British pianist Marian Page, whom he married in 1945.
Back in the US, McPartland settled in Chicago, though he continued to work frequently in New York as bandleader and sideman. He acted in the TV presentation The Magic Horn and appeared in the movie Jazz Dance.
During the 1960s, he was featured in a number of “Chicago Jazz” reunions, on records, on TV and in live performance, with Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, Eddie Condon and others.
Jimmy McPartland never lost his affection for Chicago-style jazz or the music of Bix Beiderbecke. (His cornet was a gift from Bix whose influence remained as close as the mouthpiece). Still, McPartland had a sound of his own that was at once affirmative but gentle, a very personal interpretation of the Beiderbecke style. He continued to play tasteful (but exciting) jazz until he died in Port Washington, NY in 1991.
Starting with the Wolverines recordings of 1924, there is much to admire in Jimmy McPartland’s cornet playing. But it is difficult to imagine any better example of his talent than the fiery 1927 sides that introduced Chicago Style to the jazz world!