Rhythm Choruses, “For You,” by Buster Bailey

About ten dollars and eleven pages worth of bookshelf space is a small price for pedagogy by one of your favorite musicians. So I didn’t hesitate to grab my credit card when I saw Buster Bailey’s edition of the Feist All-Star Series of Modern Rhythm Choruses on eBay:Cover

The same friend who revealed the availability of this volume also explained how Feist would invite some of the biggest names in popular music of the swing era to perform Feist-owned tunes at their studio, then transcribe those solos for young fans who were eager to play like the pros. A glance at the back cover and some help from Google revealed the wide selection of instructional legends-to-be offered by Feist:more other editions

Initially I planned on doing copious research to find out more about when these books were printed, how Feist selected and transcribed the solos, what the musicians may have thought about the work and whether any of their solos could be found on other recordings.

Then, it occurred to me: since most of the original purchasers were probably geeking out at the thought of owning something straight from the minds and fingers of Bunny, Hawk, Pee Wee and others, why not stay historically accurate and take a moment to gawk at what Buster Bailey made?Ja-Da

ForewordThe publishers describe Bailey’s tone and technique as “academic,” referring to Bailey’s extensive classical schooling. Critics would later dismiss Bailey as “academic” in the sense of studied and impractical, calling him a skilled technician unsuited to the serious expressive work of jazz music. Yet after reading this foreword, and holding a published set of transcriptions by none other than Bailey himself, that particular criticism seems stranger than ever when applied to a musician who remained steadily employed with some of the most influential names in jazz over a fifty-year career.chinaboy

I haven’t had a chance to run through these solos to see how they compare to the sound of Bailey on record. There’s nothing notationally strange on paper, which suits Bailey’s clean, transparent style. The seesawing lines and sudden upper-register syncopations look like they’re part of his aesthetic. Yet transcription can be a difficult process, which even in its most precise moments might still miss the personal inflections and rhythmic nuances that make a jazz solo distinct. Besides that, who knows if Bailey was phoning it in to make a quick buck?

For me, even Bailey trying to make a buck is worth a listen. Whether it’s for educational or commercial purposes, prepackaged or woodshedded, transcription always comes down to hero worship. That’s probably why the Feist series started in the first place, or why Charlie Parker Omnibooks are still selling and Jamey Aebersold is so busy. Overtly this was an educational purchase, but the truth is, I’m a fan. Yet that’s okay, because Buster Bailey knew that and left something for his fans.  Buster
Sure, why not?

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8 thoughts on “Rhythm Choruses, “For You,” by Buster Bailey

  1. Hal Smith says:


  2. andrewhomzy says:

    These are fascinating books. I also would like to know more about them – who did the transcriptions and where are the recordings.

    A transcribed set of “Hot Choruses” by Armstrong was published in the 20s. Swedish trumpeter, Bent Persson applied his PhD level knowledge & brilliant trumpet playing skills to a project of bringing the notation back to life. Perhaps you could do something similar with the Buster Bailey set –


    Andrew in Nanaimo (with a few other books from this series)

    • Andrew J. Sammut says:

      I am also curious to find out more about this Feist series. Internet searches have not turned up much. The only things I could come up with are the fantastic “Big Band Library” website listing more volumes in the series, and 1940 copyrights for the Irving Fazola and Red Norvo editions (both of which are hyperlinked in my blogpost). I need to do far deeper digging. Yet it would be interesting to find out how Feist selected the artists, where the books were sold, if they were popular (although based on the number of editions, it looks like they were) and if their were recordings made.

      I remember seeing that Bent Persson CD a while back, meant to get it and just never got around to it. Now’s the time! Thank you for your suggestion about recording the Bailey choruses, but there’s at least half a dozen clarinet players just off the top of my head who I’d rather hear playing this music (some of whom might be reading now).

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Andrew!
      -Andrew in Cambridge

      • andrewhomzy says:

        There was also a 2nd All-Star Series published by Fiest –
        Feist No.2 All-Star Series Modern Rhythm Choruses Arranged By Jimmy Blanton for Bass
        Feist No.2 All-Star Series Modern Rhythm Choruses Arranged By Rex Stewart for Trumpet

        “Collect Them All” –

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  4. jazzlives says:

    I have an even more extravagant idea. If I had the money, I would get together a band — a large band — and have them play the solos in duo, etc. — on (let us say) CHINA BOY — and see what it “might” have sounded like to hear Chu, Bill Butterfield, and Blanton playing on the same tune. Yes, the Bent Persson recreations are phenomenal. There were three or four lps and three CDs. And Bent still does it in person: search CAFE CAPERS from the 2012 Whitley Bay. Just delicious.

  5. […] wrote his own marvelous post on the Feist folio created by Buster Bailey here. As you’ll see, my effort above is what jazz critics would call “derivative” and […]

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