With Cat Anderson, Wild Onions, this session represents one of the only official studio recordings of Ellington trumpet star Cat Anderson, ironically both were done in Europe, by European companies. The first was recorded in 1958, and the second was this one, recorded in 1964. Anderson was primarily known as the ultimate "high-note" trumpet man for Ellington, but this session affords the listener with an opportunity to experience some of Anderson's more subtle styles.
When he plays with Ellington, he's relegated to the stratosphere, but is just as adept at plunger or half-valve styles in the veins of Cootie Williams or Rex Stewart respectively, but due to those other schools being already handled by people like Ray Nance, Clark Terry etc., Anderson was more focused on handling the lead trumpet chair, as well as his usual high-note role.
Wild Onions begins with a classic Ellington piece entitled "A Gathering in a Clearing", which is a panoramic homage to plantation/slavery work songs, was originally a vehicle for Cat, recorded by Ellington Big Band back in 1946, and shows off Cat's plunger work, which is both effective and powerful. Here, the small band does well to recapture both the mood and coloration of the original, and most uniquely, Russell Procope, who played lead alto on the original, is reprising that role here.
The great thing about this group, is it features Ellingtonians not usually represented by the many small group recording dates we are familiar with, such as the Johnny Hodges small group dates. On Wild Onions, we hear from Procope and the wonderful trombonist Buster Cooper, rarely heard in this type of setting. On C-Jam Blues we get to hear them all stretch out a bit, and likewise on the title track For Jammers Only (Wild Onions), which is actually penned by French pianist and Ellington protégé, Claude Bolling, who for years led his own Ellington-styled Big Band in France. The only time this track has been recorded by Ellington was on "The Greatest Jazz Concert in the World" on Verve Records, from a live concert back in 1967, and the song featured Anderson dueling with his good friend and former Ellingtonian comrade, Clark Terry. On I'm Confessin' and Muskrat Ramble, we see a side of Cat that's also very important to his love of the trumpet and his personal development: His idol, fellow children's' orphanage graduate, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. On Muskrat, as well as the entire outing, we hear a very modern approach from the man who is now considered one of the greatest Tenor Saxophone improvisers, Paul Gonsalves. Need it be said that Ellingtonian drummer Sam Woodyard swings so hard throughout this recording? No. But we can say it again anyway! Woodyard is the fuel that drives this bus home. A Chat with Cat is a slow blues, highlighted by the usually amazing New Orleans-by-way-of-New York, down home woody clarinet by Russell Procope, who slays here. On the only other Ellington number on this release, Cat decides to approach "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" with an intro in a slow 1-step feel, then breaking into 4 on the bridge, with Procope taking the lead, then releasing Cooper to improvise along the melody, bringing such a fresh approach to this song. Gonsalves does his thing as well.
Cat Anderson passed away on April 29th, 1981, on the Duke's 82nd birthday, so connected to Ellington's legacy was Anderson. But this session has become so invaluable over time that we felt the need to release this music for posterity, and hope that you have enjoyed it as much as we did.