SAVOY 751; JUNE 1950



Still hoping that something might click with audiences the way his massive chart topper that gave his band their name had done a year and a half ago, Paul Williams was sort of treading water creatively, coming up with perfectly acceptable instrumentals that had no chance to really break through.

Give him credit though, for following his huge hit he resisted what had to be a lot of pressure (internal and external) to use that record as merely a stepping stone for some other pursuit… say an attempt to make further headway into pop music, or more likely as something that could pave the road back to the jazz career he’d hoped to have before he got derailed by rock success in 1947.

That he stuck with rock was admirable and a sign perhaps that rock ‘n’ roll was now shaping up to be more than sufficient for musicians with serious long term goals, but while everyone can be glad that he didn’t turn his back on the genre the minute he had the chance to do so, I’m pretty sure Williams was expecting to be rewarded for his decision with a few more hits.

This record wouldn’t change that dry spell.


A Wry Gambit
This is an interesting song without being a great record, one which shows just how difficult it is to find a hook or contagious rhythm needed to sell an instrumental while also trying to incorporate different sound textures so it doesn’t become predictable.

The piano, not the saxophone, is the really driving force behind this, setting a spry pace with a simple, almost simplistic, boogie that sounds as if a student who just learned it was steadfastly committing it to memory… probably while annoying everyone around them by its repetitiveness.

Because it never varies so much as a single note it takes on a metronomic feel that grows on you as it goes along, keeping its head down and eyes focused, trying its best to lock the song down so Williams and company can improvise over it.

The problem though is Rye Boogie almost sounds TOO improvised. It’s not that it’s disorganized, sloppy or indulgent, but rather that it’s lacking anything solid to latch onto. The horn section is playing another simple riff to start with and the intent is clearly to have the two overlapping rhythms pull you in, but because neither is very musically inventive you keep expecting more… almost as if this is the extended introduction to something much more elaborate.

Imagine your surprise when you discover that nobody really came up with anything beyond that concept. The pianist, Lee Anderson for those of you collecting the individual members trading cards, finally puts his right hand to use for the first soloing spot but aside from it coming across as too harsh and tinny sounding as it sticks exclusively to the higher notes, what’s being played winds up being nothing more than a lead-in for the horns to take their solo.

Okay, okay, so NOW you figure – at a minute in – that the song is going to start to take shape. Maybe it’s been a little too drawn out in getting to this point but surely Williams has something inventive up his sleeve, or if not him then the tenors that he’s sharing the stage with are going to make their presence known.

Yeah, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, they’re just sort of wandering around aimlessly too. There’s no riff, just more of a semi-circular indulgent pattern than constantly seems on the verge of finding itself before you realize that too is a mirage.


Why Boogie?
Throughout all this, it must be said, the playing itself is fine. There’s no missed cues, no bum notes, not even any bizarre passages in which they sound drunk and disoriented, all of which leaves the title as the only thing about this which suggests any impropriety.

Yet there’s also no song here, just a series of false starts, half baked ideas and frustrating indecision.

Music history loves to hype up the concept of a jam session – those unplanned bandstand workouts in which skilled musicians start with a solid foundation (like this boogie line) and then build upon it collectively, each member adding something inspired to the arrangement off the top of their head, pushing one another further and further in an effort to be sonically transcendent.

When it works it can indeed be magical but more often than not what you get is Rye Boogie, a record in search of an identity. The problem is that it’s not even ambitious enough to be called indulgent, instead it’s just vague and imprecise, a form of musical exercise in which you work up a sweat without having actually done anything. It’s a jam session for beginners in which nobody takes off their training wheels.

About the only sign that anybody involved were attempting to display any creativity comes towards the end when emerging from the sax solo the horns climb in unison before pulling the cord and floating back down to the ground as if they all had on parachutes. It’s a fairly clever gimmick that would’ve been a lot more impressive if they’d actually gotten higher than a stepladder before jumping off.

When the piano underpinning returns to the forefront and the horns revert back to their own rudimentary riff you actually find yourself glad, not just because the record is drawing to a close, but because after driving around in circles and wasting gas for so long you’ve finally stumbled back onto the main thoroughfare and at least see some recognizable landmarks so you can re-orient yourself, hop back onto the highway and put some distance between you and this part of town.


Try Rye Again
Maybe all of this sounds unduly harsh for the estimable Mr. Williams. After all, we just praised him for sticking with rock rather than trying to “move up” in the music world and there’s certainly nothing about Rye Boogie that could ever be called pretentious. I suppose in a way we could even consider ourselves grateful for that restraint.

But while his goals themselves may have been modest he seems to have forgotten that the key to all music, whether excessively complicated or mindlessly unsophisticated, is still to be catchy. When it comes to instrumentals this is even more important since you can’t get listeners hooked on a story, or sway them with a compelling vocal, or even just a few witty lines thrown in to distract anyone from an otherwise weak composition.

Instead you need to have a hook, a riff, a groove or an explosive display of musical mayhem to captivate your audience, to get them involved in the performance and let their enthusiasm make up for the missing structural components – lyrics, vocals and theme – that all instrumentals lack.

Though it stands to reason that most records in any style are going to fall short of having all of the qualities needed to become an enduring hit, it’s songs like this without any of those qualities which are the ones that leave you wondering why they even bothered picking up their instruments in the first place.

Not awful, just awfully unmemorable, which in rock might be the greater offense.


(Visit the Artist page of Paul Williams for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)