An intriguing break in the sometimes fenced-off pastures of jazz and blues is the career of percussionist Jimmy Bertrand. He was associated with the Chicago scene before the '20s started roaring, and as an instructor of drums and keyboard percussion helped to focus several pupils who became major figures in jazz, including both Lionel Hampton and Big Sid Catlett. Like many musicians on the historic Chicago scene, he gigged and recorded in both blues and jazz settings. Bertrand can be heard on discs with artists from Louis Armstrong to Blind Blake -- and that's just the first few steps on his discographical staircase.

There were many personally influential musicians in his family, although none of any great fame. The minor drummer Andrew Hilaire was a cousin, as was trombonist George Filhe. Uncle Alphonso Farzan was a bassist and worked for a period with the Original Creole Band. Bertrand left these family connections back in Mississippi when he relocated to Chicago in 1913. Bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Erskine Tate became an important figure, beginning with the music lessons Tate's father gave the greenhorn percussionist when he first blew into the Windy City. Tate himself put Bertrand in his band for a solid decade beginning in 1918; before this, the drummer picked up plenty of basics playing in the pit orchestra at the State Theatre.

He began his teaching career in the '20s as well as leading a recording band, Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards. Both Armstrong and clarinetist Johnny Dodds played in this group -- not too shabby a horn section at that. Late in the decade, Bertrand began gigging with Dave Payton, Tiny Parham, and the Harmon's Dreamland Band. Eddie South took the drummer on a West Coast tour in 1932, followed by gigs with leaders such as Reuben Reeves and Walter Barnes. Bertrand also kept his own groups going, continuing these off-and-on activities in the early '40s as well. In 1944, jokers could say he left the world of chops for, well, another world of chops. He quit the professional jazz drumming business and went to work in a meat packing plant. His presence on drum stools or on washboards around the Chicago area diminished almost completely after 1945. In interviews, Hampton commonly referred to Bertrand as his "original idol." ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi

Jimmy Bertrand & Kansas City Tin Roof Stompers
Jimmy Bertrand: STRUGGLING (1926)
Jimmy Bertrand Washboard Wizards-Isabella
If You Want To Be My Sugar Papa - Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards (Vocalion)
47th Street Stomp. Jimmy Bertrand' s Washboard Wizards
Jimmy Bertrand & Blind Blake (Doggin' Me Mama Blues)
#10 Jimmy Bertrand - "I’m Goin’ Huntin’" 2012 at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party
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