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The Small Combos
In sharp contrast with the bright, clear patterns of the Beider-becke-Trumbauer groups was the contribution, in the middle and late 1920s, of a loosely associated group of musicians variously known as the Austin High School Gang, the Chicago School, ox simply the McKenzie and Condon bunch. Theirs was a breathlessly staccato brand of improvisation, usually involving long passages of climactic, collective ad libbing toward the end of each performance. The style somehow achieved a somber and at times almost an hysterical quality. Among the unofficial ringleaders of this sect of white Chicagoans was Red McKenzie, an ex-jockey who acted mainly as a catalyst, though he performed as a jazz-oriented singer and often took comb-and-paper solos to lend a kazoo-like sound to some of the records which were credited to McKenzie and Condon s Chicagoans or the Mound City Blue Blowers. The two men whose solos were the main raison d'Stre of the best Chicagoan records were cornetist Muggsy Spanier and clarinetist Frank Teschemacher. Others included Bud Freeman, tenor sax; Eddie Condon, then in his banjo phase; pianist Joe Sullivan and a teen-aged Gene Krupa. This school produced no one combo of firm duration, but its recordings between 1927 and 1931, in Chicago and New York, can be grouped together as representative of one fairly clear-cut type of combo jazz. Columbia CL 632 (Chicago Style Jazz) has preserved some of the best illustrations.
Another series of combos assembled for recording dates in the 1920s was Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, heard with various personnels on Victor between 1926 and 1930. Though the general value of both solos and arrangements falls far below the level of the Armstrong groups and others mentioned above, these sessions were described by traditionalist critics as "the finest of all recorded traditional jazz."1
Combo jazz, as such, was neither amplified nor reshaped in any significant manner until the birth of the Benny Goodman Trio in 1935. This unit was born informally in July 1935 at a party in the home of the late Mildred Bailey. The singer's guests included Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and a drummer. Their improvisations were so mutually stimulating that soon after, with Gene Krupa at the drums, they recorded a trio session for Victor,