Dick Cathcart: Pete Kelly's Blues - His 25 Finest 1950 -1959

‘Dick Cathcart’ (1924-1993) should be a name familiar to all jazz enthusiasts as one of the great trumpeters. In fact, this Retrospective survey of the 25 finest of his wonderful 50s recordings is the first CD to be devoted to this most under-rated of artists. With a group of like-minded musicians from Ben Pollack’s Pick-A-Rib Boys such as clarinettist Matty Matlock and tenor-man Eddie Miller, he made an enormous impact as “Pete Kelly’s Big Seven” – yet the general public remained unaware that his was the sound of the fictitious Pete Kelly. One hearing of these tracks, as well as other contemporary recordings and later examples with the Kings of Dixieland (plus the persuasive advocacy of note-writer Digby Fairweather) will persuade anyone that here is some of the most thoroughly enjoyable, as well as brilliant, Dixieland jazz on record.
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On receiving this Dick Cathcart CD, I was aware that I knew little about him: Reading the fine notes, written by Digby Fairweather, revealed I was not alone in my ignorance. Digby says of him; "whose career, for many European listeners, is still largely unrecognised, or even com­pletely unknown" There is little mention of Dick Cathcart in jazz encyclopedias and appraisals.

By 1962, Dick Cathcart had become a (major) part of the Lawrence Welk TV show, which was heard coast to coast in the US and had great popularity, but was still unheard 'this side of the pond'.

Listening to the music on this CD, you soon understand why Digby was so generous in his praise of Dick Cathcart. Technically, he is utterly brilliant: the sort of brilliance you only get from a great musician (and not just a jazz musician). His control, precision, tone and phrasing are impeccable. Whilst Cathcart was with the Harry James Orchestra, he was one of the few players allowed to play solo trumpet (aside from James, himself) - quite an honour!

In trying to assess just how good he was and where he should stand in some 'greatness hierarchy', he suffers from not having an instantly recognisable sound (or maybe that's just me). However, if sheer technical brilliance was a measure, he would be right up there. Not that he was 'flashy': his playing is disciplined, but still capable of being hot and, above all, always just quite simply astonishingly good. It is ironic that several well-respected jazz trumpeters did not even read music (Ruby Braff and Harry Edison spring to mind) but they are both much-admired players. Is it possible that being classically brilliant is actually a disadvantage where originality is being judged?

To the music on the CD: there is a nucleus of musicians appearing throughout, such as Matty Matlock, Moe Schneider, Eddie Miller, Ray Sherman, George Van Eps and Nick Fatool, and the resultant telepathic understanding is obvious. These musicians are present on most or all of the ‘Big Seven' tracks and how good they are. However, arguably as good or better are the four tracks from the Warner Brothers album 'Bix MCMLIX': the presence of the wonderful Paul Smith is a bonus.

The whole of this CD is a gem. Great credit to Ray Crick of Retrospective for bringing this neglected musician back into our consciousness. Highly, highly recommended! Barry Clare, Just Jazz

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