In case any producers were wondering, “The Complete Sudie Reynaud” would fit on one compact disc.
A whole CD devoted to an obscure Jazz Age bassist might require some snappy marketing, and many collectors already own this collection via reissues under Reynaud’s more well-known collaborators. Sudie Reynaud will undoubtedly, and thankfully, remain unknown in every sense of the word.
His discography lists him as playing both string bass and tuba, which evidences a basic, and therefore all the more impressive, skill needed to gig in Reynaud’s time. “Bass” meant both “string” and “brass” varieties during this transitional period in jazz and American pop, so “bass player” meant someone who could double both instruments. Steve Brown did so reluctantly, preferring his bull fiddle and the chance to unleash a signature slap technique. Cyrus St. Clair on the other hand preferred to puff rather than pluck: he stuck to brass bass well into the forties, developing jazz tuba into an art decades before Howard Johnson or Bill Lowe. John Kirby split the difference through clean, fast and clever bass lines on both instruments. Chink Martin doubled without drawing too much attention to himself on either instrument, yet his foundation and lift can be heard on dozens of recordings.
Reynaud cut just sixteen sides in his life, recorded sporadically between 1926 and 1933 in Chicago. Like Martin, he serves a functional but spurring role (except for two barely audible sessions on tuba with Fess Williams that can be heard here). On “High Fever” with Doc Cook’s band, Reynaud catches all the ensemble hits and resonates under the band without overwhelming it, even through a stomping final chorus:
While Freddie Keppard‘s ranging cornet dominates this side as well as “Sidewalk Blues,” Reynaud’s part is simple and well-defined: provide ground rhythm and outline the harmonic skeleton (while doing so musically, as Tom Smith’s comment below explains). That role doesn’t allow any insight into Reynaud’s influences, his style, or his personality. All that’s left is pure music, which makes the strutting atmosphere on Jelly Roll Morton‘s tune possible:
If Reynaud were known for nothing other than contributing to “Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man” he’d have an enviable legacy. It remains one of the most rhythmic, confident examples of “hot” artistry from this or any other era, and it’s hard to imagine without those roots and fifth punching away underneath:
Five years later Reynaud was back in the studio under the direction of trumpeter and would-be Louis Armstrong rival Reuben Reeves. The antiphonal lines of reedman Franz Jackson‘s arrangements and the loose, declaratory, Armstrong-inspired language of the soloists illustrate the evolution from hot jazz to nascent big band swing, as do the four steady beats of Reynaud’s string bass, which never steals the show but does make it possible.
He’s felt rather than heard through the swirling darkness of “Zuddan.” He nourishes the stream of solos on “Mazie” and “Screws, Nuts and Bolts” (which includes the simply dirtiest growl imaginable, courtesy of Reeves). Only on “Yellow Five” does Reynaud peek out from the curtain, with thwacking strings and a strong four beat slap towards the end of the side:
There’s no way now to understand him as an artist, no recorded innovations or theatrics to shed some light on him as a human being as well as a sideman (for this listener, his tone isn’t even as distinct as that of Country Washburne, Pete Briggs or John Lindsay). There aren’t any memoirs, interviews or even biographical entries pertaining to Reynaud, either because no researchers have bothered to look or he died without leaving any to find. Whoever Sudie Reynaud was, he did his job. In other words, “Sudie Reynaud,” historical enigma, biographical cipher and musical everyman, is now pure music. There are far worse fates.