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Johnny Otis & His Orchestra - Spirit Of The Black Territory Bands

CAT. #: 384

Price: $15.00

CD 384

Johnny Otis - piano/vibes (drums and vocal on `Margie'); Nicky Otis - drums; Shuggie Otis - acoustic rhythm guitar; Brad `Baba' Pie - acoustic lead and rhythm guitar; Billy Hadnott - acoustic bass; Paige `Ox Tail' Smith - electric bass; Clifford Solomon - alto and soprano sax; Tom Morgan - alto sax; Ronald Wilson - baritone sax and clarinet; Fred Clark - tenor sax; Mack Johnson - trumpet and flugelhorn; Larry `Straw' Douglas - trumpet and flugelhorn; George Spencer - trumpet; Robert `Sumo' Schofner - trombone; John `Streamline' Ewing - trombone; Lew McCreary - trombone (on `Margie' only); Barbara Morrison - vocal on `You're Drivin' Me Crazy'; Jackie Payne - vocal on `Jumpin' the Blues.'

1. Swinging The Blues
2. Margie
3. You're Driving Me Crazy
4. The Mooche
5. Flying Home
6. Harlem Nocturne
7. Jumpin' At The Woodside
8. Sophisticated Lady
9. Jumpin' The Blues
10. Creole Love Call
11. Rock-A-Bye Basie
12. Moten Swing


“This is simply the best big band swing album of the year. Pianist, vibist, drummer, singer, band leader and local hero Johnny Otis expanded his regular band to pay tribute to the regional jazz big bands of the '30s and '40s. There's Duke Ellington's New York internationalism in `Creole Love Call' and `The Mooche'; the blues-drenched Kansas City swing of Jay McShann, Count Basie and Bennie Moten; Lionel Hampton and Benny Goodman's `Flying Home;' even Vallejo-born, Berkeley-raised Otis' own first hit as a band leader in 1949, `Harlem Nocturne.' The charts are amazing, the solos are perfect and the dance rhythms are irresistible. More than a tribute to a past era, this is an album of living music.”

(Larry Kelp — Oakland Tribune)

“A golf swing and a sense of rhythm are some of the few skills that don't diminish with age. Aging rockers aside, oldsters can settle into grooves and explore rhythmic subtleties that young bucks skip over with youthful exuberance. Johnny Otis grew up drumming in swing groups and later led his own big bands. When it became impossible to support large groups, he helped usher in the era of rhythm and blues. In the 1950s, he had hits with `Double Crossing Blues,' `Mistrustin',' and his first crossover hit, `Willie and the Hand Jive.'

At 71, Otis' first release in three years brings his half-century career full circle. With a 15 plus-piece band that includes his sons Shuggie (guitar) and Nicky (drums), the band-leader/multi-instrumentalist explores some of his favorite tunes of the Kansas City and Harlem big-band erasand swings like it's 1999.

`Territory bands'bands that toured regionally but not nationallymost often played stodgy standards to white audiences. But it was in the bigger cities, when they played black venues, that they pulled out the stops, and many of these tunes. This is party music of a different era, and right out of the gate Otis delivers with heart and soul. Count Basie's `Swinging the Blues' does just that, Benny Goodman's `Flying Home' (showcasing Otis on vibes) flies through the changes, while on Cotton Club-era tunes like Ellington's `The Mooche,' muted trumpets and clarinets trade rides (the only thing missing is the original vocal growlings). The richness of the recording makes these cuts a bit less haunting than some of the original versions, but on `Sophisticated Lady' and `Creole Love Call,' that fullness works in its favor.

Otis, who contributes piano and vibes (and lead vocals on `Margie' popularized by Jimmie Lunceford and arranged on the CD by Gerald Wilson), produced and financed the record along with longtime friend and producer Tom Morgan.

Over the years, Otis has owned clubs, authored books, hosted television and radio shows, and been active in civil-rights issues. Tapping an apparently limitless source of energy, he continues to perform locally and overseas, operates an organic farm with his sons, markets Johnny Otis Organic Apple Juice, helps organize the annual Red Beans and Rice Family Music Festival, and hosts a radio show that has been on the air for more than 20 years. Oh, and the striking painting on the CD cover is from an original lithograph by Otis.”

(Michael Lipton — LA Weekly)