Don Redman leads McKinney's Cotton Pickers
Copyright (C) Thomas L. Morgan 1995. All rights reserved.
There once was a wonderful and influential band from the twenties with a terrible name: McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Originally called "The Synco Band", they were given the new name by orchestra leader Jean Goldkette, whose office booked the band. Needless to say the name was not well-received by the bands' members at all.
The CD rerelease of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, originally on the Bluebird label, contains 24 tracks recorded between 1928 and 1930. The band has a very polished sound though it is more commercial than most other black bands of the era. This is due in part to the relationship with the Goldkette organization which, along with Paul Whiteman's Band, was one of the leading white jazz bands in the twenties.
A good number of the songs were written by members of the band, which is always a good sign. The band features many wonderful performers including John Nesbit who was the band's trumpet star and chief arranger until Don Redman was hired by the Goldkette oragnization to lead the group. Redman was the brilliant arranger for the Fletcher Henderson Band and once again showed his skills with this group. He also sings a number of songs in his own unique half-spoken style. Jazz legends Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins join the band along with Fats Waller on a few tunes that show this band as one of the founders of a music style that would be called Swing not to many years down the road.
Some of the recordings, especially Do Something, have a Charleston beat. This dance rage of the twenties was introduced in a forgotten Black musical, Runnin' Wild. The CD also features some great early scat singing by Dave Wilborn on the numbers "4 or 5 Times" and Nobody's Sweetheart. The drumming on this rerelease is done primarily by the great Cuba Austin who replaced Bill McKinney, for whom the band was named, in 1925.
The recordings undergo the No-Noise process which is used in a number of the other Bluebird rerelease series. In this case I find fault with the process because at least 1/4 of the songs have a high pitched whistle which is very hard to ignore. I think this CD should be in every jazz lovers library because of it's great music but I think I would prefer the crackles and pops of yesteryear to a partially failed attempt to clean up the originals.