Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Budd Johnson, tenor and soprano saxes; Bennie Morton, trombone; Nat Pierce, piano; Tommy Bryant, bass; Oliver Jackson, drums
When Roy Eldridge moved into Jimmy Ryan's in New York in 1969, it was a shock to many of his fans to find the feisty little trumpeter playing in a Dixieland club. At that time he was without question one of the three most important trumpet players in the history of jazz－a succession that started with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, moved to Eldridge in the '30s, and was followed by Dizzy Gillespie in the '40s. Eldridge was constantly referred to as "a bridge" between Armstrong and Gillespie. But he brushed such ideas aside.
"I was never trying to be a bridge between Louis Armstrong and something," he said. "I was just trying to outplay everybody－and to outplay them my way."
"I'm basically not a Dixielander," Eldridge admitted when people questioned his move to Ryan's. "But I'm adaptable. I've played bar mitzvahs, society dates, Viennese waltzes, tangos. At Ryan's, there are basic tunes they recognize－'South Rampart Street Parade,' 'Muskrat Ramble,' 'Jazz Me Blues,' things like that. You learn these and you play them."
He adjusted so well to the Ryan's repertoire－seasoned with some of his own specialties－that he stayed there for eleven years, until a heart attack in the fall of 1980 forced him to stop blowing his horn at the age of sixty-nine. One of the benefits he gained from the gig at Ryan's was the opportunity to make this record.
The musicians he chose were old friends in whom he had confidence. A key man was Budd Johnson, playing tenor and soprano saxophones. Johnson was also an arranger who had been the straw boss in Earl Hines's band for eight years in the '30s and early '40s and later wrote arrangements for all five of the big bands that made the move from swing to bebop in the '40s－those of Hines, Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Billy Eckstine, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Benny Morton, the trombonist, had played with Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, and Count Basie. The pianist, Nat Pierce, had been a band leader in New England before he joined Woody Herman and established himself as a pianist capable of substituting for the very personal styles of Claude Thornhill and Count Basie. Tommy Bryant was the bass-playing brother of the pianist Ray Bryant, and Oliver Jackson, the stylish Detroit drummer, had played with Yusef Lateef and Earl Hines and later joined Budd Johnson in forming the JPJ Quartet.
The result is a set to tunes that reflect the musical image of the enthusiastically energetic trumpeter whose short stature and bristling attack led to his identification as "Little Jazz" and "The Nifty Cat."