BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of a handful of saxophonists who’d first gained recognition as a jazz musician in the early 1940’s and later successfully parlayed that to becoming a legitimate rock hit-maker which over time came to define him.

Born in Orlando, Florida in 1922, Mitchell became proficient on piano before his family moved to New York when he was 13 where he took up the saxophone and clarinet, focusing on the sax when he began his professional career after graduating.

In January 1941 he cut his first sides as a member of Benny Carter’s acclaimed band and soon jumped to Fletcher Henderson’s equally prestigious group. In time he’d work with two of the most renown trumpeters in jazz in Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page, but for the better part of four years he worked primarily with the comparatively lesser known Ovie Alston’s band.

In 1949 he was singed to newly founded Derby Records as a solo artist as well as given the reins of putting together a studio band to back the rest of the label’s roster of artists in his capacity as musical director for the company, a position he for three years during which time he scored two Top Ten hits under his own name.

Though that was all he registered in terms of charted records Mitchell released notable sides on numerous labels for the remainder of the 1950’s and played in Europe on the first overseas rock tour with LaVern Baker in 1953.

However his greatest contributions now came as a session musician and bandleader for multi-artist rock shows held by Alan Freed. Mitchell had previously recorded “Moondog Boogie” named in honor of the disc jockey and the two of them appeared together in the 1956 film Rock, Rock, Rock.

By the 1960’s the music scene had changed and with less focus on the saxophone in rock along with more self-contained bands lessening the need for studio musicians Mitchell drifted out of music, driving a taxicab in New York and playing only select dates around the city. A shy, self-effacing man off-stage in contrast to his larger than life persona in the spotlight Mitchell was one of the longest surviving veterans of the 1940’s rock scene, passing away in 2010 at the age of 92.
 
 
FREDDIE MITCHELL DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

SLIDER
(Derby 711; June, 1949)
A mess of a debut for both artist and label, a record with reasonable intentions but carried off with no evident skill, veering from monotonous and dull to cacophonous and out of tune, giving no indication they’d ever last more than one release. (2)

THE DERBY
(Derby 711; June, 1949)
A vast improvement on the top side though still nothing special, but at least Mitchell and the band show they can stay in tune and play with reasonable enthusiasm without losing their way in the arrangement. (4)

KISS MY WRIST
(Derby 712; June, 1949)
As sideman… behind Doc Pomus.

DOBY’S BOOGIE
(Derby 713; July, 1949)
Though a big hit which put both Mitchell and the new record label on the map, the record is no more than an average rock instrumental for the day, but has added historical importance for the subject of the title, the first black player in the American League. (5)

HOG HEAD
(Derby 713; July, 1949)
Weighed down by insipid vocal chanting early on, the record never really takes off after that as Mitchell doesn’t get enough to do on sax to even elevate this to mediocrity. (3)

THE MAINLINER
(Derby 721; October, 1949)
As sideman… behind Joe Black. This is really Mitchell’s record by any measure, as he is the lone soloing instrument blowing up a storm in a way he hasn’t yet done on his own sides, there’s not much structure here but a lot of fury. (6)

JINGLE BELL BOOGIE
(Derby 723; October, 1949)
A good idea to try and establish a true Christmas rock instrumental and Mitchell more than holds up his end with some raunchy playing, but the supporting cast, notably Rip Harrington on piano, is crude and clunky and dampens the holiday spirits when he’s taking the spotlight. (5)

AULD LANG SYNE BOOGIE
(Derby 723; October, 1949)
An equally strong concept with equally good playing by Mitchell, but unfortunately equally sub par contributions by pianist Harrington who seems to think that bashing the treble keys incoherently equates to creating actual excitement. (5)

PONY EXPRESS
(Derby 725; November, 1949)
Though Mitchell plays well and seems to fully understand the requirements to connect in rock the same can’t be said for the pianist who again hammers away excessively on the treble keys, dominating the record’s arrangement early on causing this horse to come up lame. (4)

INDIANA EXPRESS
(Derby 725; November, 1949)
Similar title to the flip side with similar strengths (Mitchell’s playing) and weaknesses (the harsh excessive piano) thus resulting in a similar conflicted listening experience and a similar score. (4)

AIR MAIL BOOGIE
(Derby 728; January, 1950)
Mitchell himself is starting to develop the necessary playing style for rock success but the combination of a weak supporting cast and outdated material conspires to keep this plane from ever reaching the altitude he needs to make it safely to his destination. (4)

I TOLD YOU WE WERE THROUGH
(Derby 728; January, 1950)
Featuring a really strong arrangement utilizing a complex interlocking rhythm with Mitchell taking charge on sax throughout, the slightly gimmicky piano-led interlude in the second half pulls it down some but overall this is his most ambitious work to date. (7)

EASTER PARADE (a/k/a EASTER BOOGIE)
(Derby 733; March, 1950)
An audacious and compelling reworking of the hallowed Irving Berlin standard strangely enough works exceedingly well in a rock arrangement, a testament both to Berlin’s durable melody and to Mitchell’s inspired playing that creates a rousing atmosphere. (7)

IDAHO BOOGIE
(Derby 733; March, 1950)
Nothing new here as Mitchell takes another old standard and transforms it into an acceptable rocker using the same arranging tricks he’s used countless times before, but he’s playing well and Jesse Stone’s composition is sturdy enough to handle the changes. (5)

ROCKIN’ WITH COOP
(Derby 737; April, 1950)
The same repetitive arrangement – trebly piano and intermittent sax – is getting old and without a better melody and more fervent blowing there’s bound to be diminishing returns, so while it may sound better in isolation there’s no excuse for his lack of ambition. (3)

BOOGIE BLUES
(Derby 737; April, 1950)
A pretty bland rendition of a pretty bland jazz song, brought into rock thanks to Mitchell’s more feverish blowing which benefits mainly from what it’s surrounded by making it seem a lot tougher than it really is. (3)

SUGAR FOOT RAG
(Derby 738; June, 1950)
A rather welcome surprise as it takes the rockin’ country boogie source material and replaces the excitement of the electric guitar with Mitchell’s best work on saxophone to date, especially down the stretch, while the band chips in with some strong vocals. (7)

ON THE ALAMO BOOGIE
(Derby 738; June, 1950)
Another moldy standard revived for rock consumption and when Freddie actually gets a chance to play he does quite well, but since an awful piano dominates the rest of the arrangement you definitely won’t want to Remember The Alamo. (3)

FISH MARKET BOOGIE
(Derby 739; July, 1950)
At last an original composition from Mitchell, but one which unfortunately sticks to the formula of his past work featuring extended piano interludes which are brutal sounding as usual only this time it’s not offset by his gritty sax but rather his most aimless playing to date.
(2)

SUMMERTIME BOOGIE
(Derby 741; July, 1950)
Helped immeasurably by the fact that this is a hard song to completely screw up, Mitchell seems to be searching for a way to get more out of the indelible melody than he’s capable of delivering but never strays too far away in the process that he ruins the song’s potency. (4)

MUSIC MAKER BOOGIE
(Derby 741; July, 1950)
A nine year old Harry James big band record is hardly appropriate source material for rock and despite Mitchell trying to inject a little testosterone with his sax the majority of the song sticks to the original uninspired framework making this another creative misstep. (3)

ROLL ‘EM BOOGIE
(Derby 747; September, 1950)
Finally reviving a more suitable song for rock re-interpretation in Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson’s epic “Roll ‘Em Pete”, he makes the wise decision to replicate Johnson’s piano lines on his horn, giving a gutsy performance housed in a solid group arrangement. (7)

LOUISE
(Derby 747; September, 1950)
Another sign that Mitchell is finally starting to grasp his duties as a rocker include upending and offending the status quo as he transforms this dainty song from 1929 into a pretty fierce showcase for his histrionics with limited interference from the band. (6)