One example of such a rarity is this 1950s red-wax single by a jazz quartet led by Seattle saxophone legend, Bob Braxton (b. 1922). He first popped up playing around town as a member of the legendary Jive Bombers combo during World War II. At that time Seattle was still a divided city, with two racially segregated musicians’ unions – AFM Local 76 for the white players, and AFM Local 493 for the black players. After joining 493 Braxton began to fall in with a series of 493 bands and after-hour jam sessions. By 1951 he was playing tenor sax with one of Seattle’s top African-American bandleaders, pianist/vibraphonist Elmer Gill (1926-2004) in a combo called the Questions Marks that also included drummer William “Duke” Moore (b. 1923). Braxton presumably married at some point, and the pianist named Patricia Braxton (who was listed in a 493 membership roster), was probably his wife.
So here is a vinyl single featuring “Summertime” / “White Port” as issued on the Debut Records label (#1506) that was cut downtown at Seattle’s pioneering recording studio, Electricraft Inc. (622 Union Street), which operated between 1952 and 1958. The credits noted on the label list Braxton, Moore, and a “Patricia Lee” – along with bassist Bill Rinaldi who, interestingly, was the first white musician to ever quit AFM 76 and switch allegiance (way back in the 1930s) to AFM 493 – in order to get in on the red-hot jazz scene.
The two songs here are both interesting – and I really wish I was technologically capable of digitizing them for everyone’s listening pleasure. George Gershwin’s 1935 gem, “Summertime,” features Bob Braxton’s slow, spirited, gospel-like vocals over a piano-riff foundation that is later taken up by the sax during a mid-section piano solo interlude. The uptempo sax-driven original, “White Port,” swings with some good honking and squealing over solid piano lines, snappy snare accents, and drum-kit fills. All-in-all, a remarkable bit of audio documentation of Seattle’s jazz scene of a half-century ago!