The spring and summer of 1945 found jazz legend Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers booked at Boston’s Savoy Café. The band came to town boasting the re-emerging Bunk Johnson on trumpet. Bunk played several times but his erratic performance and personal problems left Bechet no choice but to send the veteran player home to the Crescent City. At the same time, he summoned Peter Bocage from New Orleans. Bocage could not start immediately forcing Bechet to hire the 18-year-old Johnny Windhurst, a promising Bostonian, until Bocage’s arrival. The members of the Boston Jazz Society had recommended the locally known Windhurst and the youngster performed well. Bocage arrived at the beginning of May 1945 but lasted only three short weeks before the trumpeter felt homesick and left. Bechet re-hired Johnny Windhurst to play the Savoy gig and two broadcasts weekly on WCOP, a Boston station with studios in the Copley Hotel.
These broadcasts exist today only because they were preserved on 78-rpm acetate discs by various fans in the Boston area. Jazz Crusade issued five CDs of the early air shots including Bunk and Bocage. The discs are still available. The jazz label had the sense to ask Jim Weaver to pen the liner notes for this issue. Weaver was a member of the Boston Jazz Society at the time of the broadcasts and really knows his stuff. His words are honest and interesting.
Everyone is aware of Sidney Bechet’s (1897-1959) career and of his importance to jazz history. Information on the leader is available everywhere so let’s concentrate on the burning question - Who the hell was Johnny Windhurst and where did he go
? That’s not easily answered! My collection of recordings and jazz books is fairly extensive but yielded little on the Bostonian. Small scraps of paper are scattered over my desk, each bearing a tiny snippet of knowledge gleaned from varied sources including postings on the Dixieland Jazz Mailing List by members Jack Tracy, Bob Craven, Steve Barbone and Tom Duncan. Thank you gentlemen! We’ll shake the box and see what falls out. Johnny Windhurst
(1926-1981) was a self-taught musician who never learned to read music. Born in the Bronx, he eventually wound up in Boston where he attended high school. He became a professional player in 1944, only months before Bechet tagged him for the Savoy engagement which was to last all summer. After the Boston appearances, Windhurst gigged around the northern states playing with the likes of Art Hodes and James P.Johnson in various concert venues. He appeared on a couple of Eddie Condon LPs from the early 1950s. During the mid fifties he operated his own band called the High Street 5
and played college venues in upper New York State. He apparently worked in Chicago for a while but eventually settled in California. The trumpeter played in the band of trombonist / actor Conrad Janis
but did not record with them. In 1955, Kenny Davern’s band The Washington Squares
included Windhurst, Dave Frishberg, Jack Six, Cutty Cutshall and Cliff Leeman. Windhurst’s recording with vocalist Barbara Lea
seems to be still available on compact disc. He recorded only once under his own name in 1956. The LP on the Transition label is a collector’s item. Other recordings exist with the Jack Teagarden outfit in the fifties. Cornetist Ruby Braff
is said to have claimed Johnny Windhurst as an influence on his playing.
There you have all the bits and pieces if you wish to place them in proper order. How about the Bechet Sessions? In the humble opinion of this writer, Johnny Windhurst and Bechet worked together very well. Bechet’s famous ego felt unthreatened in the company of younger players. There is no tension between the two frontline musicians. Unlike the 1940 session where Bechet had to contend with another humongous ego in the form of Muggsy Spanier, it was easy to get along with the teen-aged Windhurst.
The trumpeter’s influences were Bix, Wild Bill Davison, Bobby Hackett and Bunny Berigan. He was quite successful in following their paths and that is obvious by these recordings from early in his career. The young horn-man doesn’t seem intimidated by the living legend’s powerful soprano. Just listen to Struttin’ With Some Barbeque
. He was an exciting soloist. Windhurst died of heart failure in 1981 at the age of 55.
Sound samples are available at the Jazz Crusade website. While sound quality isn’t perfect, it’s good jazz and a nostalgia trip too!