Roy "Little Jazz" Eldridge
was the living, breathing embodiment of what jazz has always stood for. Friendly and funny, fiery and eloquent, well-versed in tradition, and more than able to joust with young innovators on their newly defined turf, Eldridge'
s most important stylistic descendent was Dizzy Gillespie
. In 2004, Proper Records released Little Jazz: Trumpet Giant
, a four-CD grab bag containing some of Eldridge'
s best recordings made during the years 1935-1953. Almost simultaneously, Avid came out with Little Jazz Giant
, a three-CD set covering much of the same territory. Proper beats Avid for quantity, and you'll want to note that the two sets have many titles in common. Proper's first disc zeroes in on Eldridge'
s adventures from 1935-1939. He is heard with bands led by Teddy Wilson
, Fletcher Henderson
, and Gene Krupa
; as a member of the Delta Four with clarinetist Joe Marsala
; as a prime mover in Chu Berry's Little Jazz Ensemble
, and as leader of his own orchestra in the studio and on live broadcasts from the Arcadia Ballroom in New York. Disc two examines the years 1940-1946. Here, Eldridge
interacts with Coleman Hawkins
and one of the last jazz bands ever to call itself the Chocolate Dandies
. There are more adventures with a later edition of the Krupa
band, including the famous duet with Anita O'Day
on "Let Me Off Uptown," and a pair of inspired blowing sessions with all-star bands sponsored by Metronome and Esquire magazines. Eldridge leads several of his own groups, including a trumpet ensemble with Emmett Berry
and Joe Thomas
for Harry Lim'
s Keynote label, and his fabulous big bands stoked with Buster Harding
arrangements and brave young tenor saxophonists Ike Quebec
, Tom Archia
, and Hal Singer
. There are also several fine examples of Eldridge
's achievements as a member of Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five
. Disc three documents the trumpeter's triumphs in Paris and Stockholm during 1950 and 1951, including marvelous moments with Lester Young
devotee Zoot Sims
, primal bop drummer Kenny Clarke
, and saucy singer Anita Love
, who duets with Eldridge
on "It Don't Mean a Thing" and "Ain't No Flies on Me." The fourth disc begins with a few more selections from Stockholm and Paris, including a dazzling pair of duets with pianist Claude Bolling
on "Wild Man Blues" and "Fireworks" in a wonderful invocation of the Louis Armstrong
duo of 1928. Back in New York in August of 1951, Eldridge
participated in a series of Mercury recordings produced by Norman Granz
, including a session headed by that producer's favorite artist, Oscar Peterson
, heard here playing organ. The quartet with saxophonist Buddy Tate
is strong and stimulating, although the Benzedrine-paced reading of "Yard Dog," for all its raw bop excitement, may cause seasoned listeners to regret the omission of the original big-band version of this attractive Eldridge
composition, which when presented just a bit more slowly, feels like a sequel to Eldridge'
s theme song, "Little Jazz." (Seeing as the producers didn't hesitate to include comparative versions of certain other titles, two contrasting "Yard Dogs" would have worked nicely.) This outstanding compilation closes with an extended jam on W.C. Handy'
s "St. Louis Blues," recorded in July 1953 with a decidedly modern gathering of Metronome All-Stars
featuring a vocal by Billy Eckstine
and cool input from beautiful people like Lester Young
, John La Porta
, and Warne Marsh
. It's an appropriate closer for this portrait of a master musician which also provides a smart overview of how jazz evolved over 18 very eventful years.