Patuxent CD-072 Rusty Mason - Plays Sweets, Lockjaw, Duke & More
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Russell Leroy Mason was born in Winchester, Virginia on October 17, 1922. He began playing brass instruments in his grade school band, and was introduced to jazz trumpet via the recordings of Louis Armstrong. “Jazz was big in the ‘thirties,” Rusty remembers, even in the rural Shenandoah Valley where he was growing up. By the age of thirteen, Rusty was already talented enough on the trumpet to go to work professionally with several dance bands in his area, affording the young musician valuable touring experience around Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Rusty recalls being the first black musician in his area to break the color barrier, playing with a local white jazz band at a time when racial segregation was the general rule.
Serving in New Guinea during World War II, Rusty was picked to lead the dance band he played with in his army unit. He had always played by ear, but the promotion posed a new challenge: Rusty needed to learn to read music so that he could write the band arrangements. “I gave the band two weeks off to reorganize, and I taught myself to read in those two weeks!” He also took up the saxophone at that time, as trumpet players were plentiful and Rusty was planning for post-war musical opportunities.
After discharge from the Army, Rusty enrolled at the Modern School of Music in Washington, D.C., studying clarinet technique and classical music for two years. After consolidating the skills needed to make a living playing music, Rusty spent the late 1940’s and early 1950’s as a busy jazz musician. His talents were quite in demand, and he worked with such well-known bandleaders as Tiny Bradshaw, Lucky Millinder, and Buddy Johnson, among others.
However, in 1954, personal events led Rusty to give up the life of a musician in favor of the ministry. For the next several decades, Rusty followed a religious calling, preferring to play music only in church settings. In 1987, though, after retirement from the ministry, Rusty resumed performing and teaching jazz. He now can be heard at a variety of clubs and other venues in the Washington, D.C. area where he makes his home. Since 1989, Rusty has served on the faculty of the Augusta Heritage Center’s annual Swing Week at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, where he continues to teach successive new generations of swing players.
A talented multi-instrumentalist, Rusty plays not only t he saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), but is also accomplished on the trumpet (his first love), clarinet, flugelhorn, and piano. Like many swing musicians of his generation, Rusty was influenced by the post-war bebop revolution, and incorporated some of those more modern elements into his style. However, Rusty’s heart and soul is in swing, and he hopes that this recording will help to preserve swing as a living style within the jazz idiom. Rusty declares, “At this stage of life, my main object is the continuation of swing music. I’m determined to do all that I can to make sure that swing music stays alive and gets exposed to another generation.”
Rusty Mason Plays Sweets, Lockjaw, Duke & More is Rusty’s tribute to three of his heroes of the swing era: Duke Ellington, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Harry “Sweets” Edison. “This recording is meant to honor these players who created a style and kept that style alive through the years.” Rusty plays a Conn “Lester Young model” tenor sax he’s had since 1947, and is accompanied by Steve Jones on piano, Percy Smith on drums, John Previti on acoustic bass, and Herm Hopkins on trombone.
The session includes the Duke Ellington classics In a Mellow Tone, C Jam Blues,and Perdido, andthree blues numbers from “Sweets” Edison’s repertoire: Edison’s Light, Street Lights, and Jawbreakers. The band serves up a hearty portion of swinging blues on “Lockjaw” Davis’ Heat and Serve and also pays homage to Lockjaw’s version of Carlos Antonio Jobim’s Wave. For this CD, Rusty has also selected Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, which showcases the fine trombone work of 19-year-old Herm Hopkins. The stylistic maturity of this young player bodes well for the future of swing.
Rusty Mason, now 79, continues to find new ways to bridge the generations with music, and he continues to play jazz with an energetic creativity. This recording will sound fresh and vibrant for many years to come.