Few early jazz clarinetists have generated as much posthumous controversy among historians as Arnett Nelson, a quirky sessionman who enlivened many a recording date during the 1920s and ’30s. Because of one latter-day enthusiast’s willingness to recklessly “identify” Nelson as the clarinetist on an improbably large quantity and broad stylistic range of early jazz and blues records, every citation continues to be re-examined and reassessed. His verifiable work places Nelson in league with clarinetists Wilbur Sweatman, Volly DeFaut, Wilton Crawley, Johnny Dodds, Arville Harris, Jimmy O’Bryant, and Mezz Mezzrow. His legendary eccentricity is documented on “Chicago Rhythm,” a record made in 1936 by the State Street Swingers (better known as the Harlem Hamfats), during which Leonard Scott is heard to say “what’s that you’re doing, Arnett? I never heard nobody do that before.”
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