Here are a pair of top jazz sides by Jimmie Noone’s band, taking their name from the Apex Club, a speakeasy in Chicago, where the band played. Noone’s band was a small group, only a quintet, but they were an exemplary one, and played in a sophisticated style.
Jimmie Noone, a Creole, was born in Cut Off, Louisiana, April 23, 1895 (I share a birthday with him, as a matter of fact), and made his way to New Orleans in 1910, where he played with some of the top jazz men, Keppard, Celestin, Ory, et al. Later in the decade, like his contemporary, Joe Oliver, he migrated to Chicago, and played with the King after arriving there. In 1926, he began leading a small band at Chicago’s Apex Club, on the second floor of 330 East 35th Street, and began recording with that band for Vocalion in 1928. A young Benny Goodman was profoundly influenced by his work on the clarinet. That arrangement lasted until the club was raided by federal agents in 1930. Noone continued to perform and record with various star-studded bands of New Orleans jazz men, and became a driving force in the dixieland jazz revival in the early 1940s. Noone continued performing right up until his death of a heart attack in 1944, at which time he was playing in a band on Orson Welles’ radio program. In Noone’s honor, Kid Ory composed “Blues for Jimmie” as a tribute to the man, who was remembered as a cordial man and a professional performer.
Vocalion 1188 was recorded in Chicago, June 14, 1928 by Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (misspelled “Noones'” on the label). The small but outstanding band features the talent of Jimmie Noone on clarinet, Joe Poston on alto sax, Earl Hines on piano, Bud Scott on banjo and guitar, and Johnny Wells on drums.
The first tune is an instrumental, “Forevermore”, showcasing Noone’s distinctive style of clarinet and Hines’ always excellent piano work.
On the reverse, they play “Ready for the River”, with a vocal duet by Jimmie Noone and Joe Poston. Not the cheeriest song ever written, but Noone and his band make a lady out of it. In the words of hobo and criminal-turned-author Jack Black in his 1926 book You Can’t Win, “ready for the river” describes a state of mind when one is at such a point when life gets so grim that one is inclined to jump in the water with weights tied to their feet and end it all.