Kenny Davern is the last of the "Condonites" still playing today. As far as I know, Bernie Privin and Jack Lesberg are now in their mid-eighties. The Condon band was legendary in its own time, having been the proving ground for Pee Wee Russell, Ed Hall, Ralph Sutton, Joe Sullivan, Wild Bill Davison and a host of other stars. The list is endless. Kenny Davern was the "baby" of the Condon bunch and was in his thirties at the time of this 1971 session in Syracuse, NY. I met Davern in 1981 and spoke to him briefly about his days with Condon. At that time, Kenny and another ex-Condonite, Vic Dickenson were touring together and played a date at Ottawa's Chateau Laurier hotel. Both players had great things to say about Eddie, one of jazz's most colorful characters. The maestro was a promoter, club owner, guitarist, banjoist, connoisseur of fine scotch whiskey, and master of the wisecrack. He was also one of the most loved musicians of his era. One of Condon's best-known one-liners always occurred in a club when an unfortunate waiter would trip and cause a loud clatter of breaking glass. Eddie's voice would be heard exclaiming "There'll be none of that progressive jazz played in this joint."
This is a classic CD in every way. Trumpeter, Bernie Privin, a veteran of the Glenn Miller band, plays in the style of his hero, Louis Armstrong. I've never heard Privin play in such an uninhibited manner. He is "hot, hot, hot." Lou McGarity's trombone needs little introduction to vintage fans. He plays with enthusiasm and sensitivity on this album. I especially enjoyed his beautiful solo on James Hanley's 1919 composition, "Rose Of Washington Square." Even Condon's rhythm guitar is perfectly audible on the track. The young Kenny Davern plays his heart out on this fine session and shows the early influence of Pee Wee Russell. That influence still shows up occasionally in his current recordings for Arbors Jazz.
The rhythm section is also all-star material in the form of the Welsh-born pianist Dill Jones, the ex-New York City Symphony bassist Jack Lesberg and Cliff Leeman, one of the most articulate drummers in jazz and a veteran of many swing bands. The entire group was the essence of what was loosely termed "Chicago Jazz."
The dozen tunes on this CD are all closely associated with Eddie Condon and include "At The Jazz Band Ball", "Rosetta", "Blue Room", "China Boy" and "Royal Garden Blues." Although some listeners will consider many of the songs to be stale, it's better to think of them as having been "killed by kindness." They are proven standards, one and all. This album is an overdue tribute to a man who contributed so much to jazz over six decades.
I happened to be doing a guest broadcast on the CBC International Short Wave network the morning Condon died in August of 1973. Perhaps I was among the first to announce his demise to an international audience. It was a sad day and still lingers in my memory. Thanks to Kenny Davern for preserving this great material.