Rex Stewart was one of jazz music’s unique voices. By the time he came to Europe in 1966, however, his glory days with Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington were far behind him. Opportunities to work in settings which highlighted his talents had been few and far between so he was surprised and delighted to find that the Henri Chaix Orchestra expected him to choose the repertoire for their concerts together in Switzerland.
That collaboration was documented for posterity in a recording session held in Baden at the end of the tour. The session, produced by Arild Wideroe, was licensed to Polydor International for LP release in Europe. It is now reissued on CD for the first time. Stewart was delighted with the band’s approach and he was later to observe that “in Switzerland the most advanced and swinging outfit is that of Henri Chaix.” Stewart went on to describe Chaix as “an urbane, thinking pianist right out of Harlem in the Twenties”.
The recording includes such Stewart specials as Conversation Piece and St Louis Blues. There is an attractive collaborative piece by Stewart and Chaix called Love Do I as well as two Chaix originals (Blues for Zizi and Sour-mash Strut.
Henri Chaix observed that “all the musicians were fascinated by Rex’s authority and extraordinary vitality. We truly experienced jazz with Rex!”
The Henri Chaix Orchestra’s final concert performance was at the 1971 Montreux Festival. Their 25 minute performance was a tribute to Fats Waller. Henri Chaix had orchestrated three medleys of his tunes (and others associated with him) for this special occasion. It was an admirable swan song for this aggregation who, for more than a decade, had been the heart and soul of jazz in Switzerland.
This recording, like many others, was buried for too long in Henri Chaix’s private holdings. It is wonderful to have it finally available for a wider audience. As Michel Pilet noted recently ?this performance serves to remind us that Fats’ music is incredibly diversified, charming and fascinating
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