Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jimmy & Mama Yancey - Pure Blues

Jimmy Yancey, whose birth year is uncertain,  made his living, such as it was, as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox. But he was also a pianist, of the self-taught blues variety. He is one of my very favorite blues pianists - there's an eloquence to his work that I seldom hear elsewhere in the blues. Sadly, his Atlantic sessions from July, 1951 produced his last recordings; he died in September of that year.

Those recordings were first issued on LP on a couple of ten-inch LPs. This twelve-incher was issued in 1958. There are three piano solos here and four tracks on which Yancey is joined by bassist Israel Crosby. On side two, Yancey and Crosby are joined by Jimmy's wife, Estelle "Mama" Yancey, who sings the blues with a strong, steely voice. (My favorite line in her vocals is, "I can stand more trouble than any little woman my size.") Yancey's playing is beautiful and unhurried throughout, and full of the very personal bass lines he seemed to come up with effortlessly. One of the quirks of Yancey's playing was that, while he could play in a variety of keys, the only ending he knew was in E flat. So if he was playing in another key, the last two measures would have the feel of falling down an elevator shaft, musically. You can hear this in the Atlantic version of "How Long Blues," one of his signature tunes.


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