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Bill Coleman: An American In Paris - His 47 Finest 1934-1960



Uniquely among the great American jazz trumpeters, Bill Coleman (1904-1981) spent the major part of his career in Paris. Two generously filled CDs present the cream of Bill Coleman’s artistry from his remarkable first sessions under his own name in 1936 and his classic dates with Fats Waller, through 24 years of memorable performances to the late 50s, still playing with the same relaxed strength and creative ingenuity which marked his entire career. The concluding Colemanology provides the perfect coda to a collection celebrating Bill Coleman; a trumpeter who combined grace and beauty with inspiration for every chorus of his life. We shall not hear his like again.

Bill Coleman: An American In Paris - His 47 Finest 1934-1960


"He certainly sounds on top of the job, and his range is something to note. He never gave the impression of struggling for those high notes...Coleman really shines – melodic, simple, but unerringly on the ball."

- Dave Gelly (Jazz Journal)


CD ONE: BC Trio: What’s the Reason I’m not Pleasin’ You?; Georgia on My Mind; I’m in the Mood for Love; After You’ve Gone; Joe Louis Stomp; Fats Waller & his Rhythm: Believe it, Beloved; Dream Man; I’m 100% for You; Baby Brown; Garnet Clark: Rosetta; Willie Lewis: Stompin’ at the Savoy; Dicky Wells: Sweet Sue, Just You; Hangin’ Around Boudon; Japanese Sandman; Alix Combelle Orch: Exactly Like You; Hangover Blues; BC Orch: Indiana; Rose Room; Bill Street Blues; After You’ve Gone; I Ain’t Got Nobody; Bill Coleman Blues; Eddie Brunner: In a Little Spanish Town; BC Orch: ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans; Sister Kate; Joe Marsala: Three O’Clock Jump

CD TWO:  Teddy Wilson: I Never Knew that Roses Grew; Dicky Wells: Linger Awhile; BC-Don Byas Quintet: Just You, Just Me; What is this Thing Called Love?; St. Louis Blues; Liza;  Jacques Dievol Orch: I Can’t Get Started; Don’t Blame Me; BC Orch: Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby!; If I Had You; I’m Confessin’; Eric Krons’ Dixieland Pipers: Indiana; New Orleans Wild Cats: Blues in My Heart; Limehouse Blues; Henry Chaix Quintet: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams; Idaho; Blue, Turning Grey Over You; Caravan; Honeysuckle Rose; I’ve Found a New Baby;  BC Septet: Colemanology

Apart from the 1934 Fats Waller session, and one track apiece with Teddy Wilson and Dicky Wells in the early forties, all of the tracks on this compilation were recorded on the Continent, and most of them in Paris. They feature some of the best-known players on the scene, and the earlier ones will be familiar to collectors from the two Parlophone LPs “Bill Coleman in Paris 1936-38”. In the sleeve notes Charles Fox described his playing as quicksilver, which word encapsulated his sense of swing, mellow-toned playing and lyrical turn of phrase. This is as comprehensive a collection as you could wish for, sound quality is everything we’ve come to expect from this collectors’ label, and the package is completed by a full discography and Digby Fairweather’s perceptive liner note. 


Like every other jazz trumpeter of his generation, Bill Coleman was spellbound by Louis Armstrong. But he developed an eloquently fluid and melodic style of his own, often described with such adjectives as 'graceful', 'lithe' and 'quicksilver'. He seems to have been inspired by the lyrical and pure-toned side of Armstrong's musical personality, but always retaining what Philip Larkin called "that hint of raucous shouting that characterises all great trumpeters, even Bix."

In the US in the late twenties and thirties he performed and/or recorded with Fats Waller, Luuis Russell, Andy Kirk , Marly Lou Williams, Dicky Wells, Benny Carter, John  Kirby and Teddy Hill. His contributions to Waller sides like 'Dream Man' were simply in a different league to the fervent but rudimentary blowing of most of Fats' other 1930s sidemem.

Coleman was born in Paris, Kentucky but spent most of his like in Paris, France. Starting about 1933 he began travelling the world, splitting his time between the US, Asia and France. Understandably, he fell in love with the Paris jazz scene, populated as it was by ex-patriate African Americans including Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Josephine Baker and Ada 'Bricktop' Smith. Coleman was one of many black American musicians who found they could pursue their lives and art in the relatively free atmosphere of bohemian Europe without the shadow of racism they'd experienced in the States. Apart from a hurried return to the US for eight years after 1940 (when France fell to the Nazis), he lived and worked in Europe for the rest of his life.

While roaming the jazz clubs of Paris in the mid-1930s, Colman heard Django Reinheardt and Stephane Grappelli for the first time. Together with Reinhardt and Grappelli (often on piano) plus other ex-pat Afro-Americans like trombonist Dicky Wells and the superb, neglected, pianist Herman Chittison, Coleman made a series of magnificent recordings documenting the Parisian jazz scene in the '30's, including a stunning 12-bar duet with Django, Bill Coleman Blues, and what might just be the masterpiece of this compilation - and Coleman's entire recorded career - the exquisite 'I'm In The Mood For Love, a duet with Chittison.

It could be argued that moving to Paris was, simultaneously, the best and worst thing Coleman did for his career: on the one hand it brought him the kind of personal and professional respect denied to him, as an Afro American, in the US; on the other, it kept him away from the burgeoning New York scene of the late '30s and early '40s, where he would have achieved the fame and recognition that went to contemporaries like Buck Clayton and slightly younger stylistic comparators like Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry and Billy Butterfield - all of whom, on a good night, he could out-shine. On his return to New York he made some fine records with Joe Marsala (track 26, CD 1), Teddy Wilson (trach 1, CD 2) and Dicky Wells with Lester Young (track 2, CD).

Such was Coleman's technical mastery that he was able to flirt with Bebop (e.g. tracks 3 to 6, CD 2, with Don Byas) but it seems his love of uncomplicated melody and stright forward Swing steered him back towards mainstream and even traditional playing (tracks 12 to 14, CD 2).

Once again, Retrospective have come up with a well-chosen, representative compilation with extensive notes and full personnel details. The notes are by Digby Fairweather, who - as a trumpeter himself - can speak with authority on the underrated genius that was Bill Coleman.

As for Paris: Coleman continued playing there until a short time before his death, with no noticeable diminution in his powers. He was also a frequent visitor to Britain and became a favourite at the Pizza Express, Dean Street, London. He died in Toulouse in 1981 aged 77, by all accounts a happy, fulfilled and contented man. He certainly left us some simply marvellous music, much of which is to be heard here.

- Jim Denham