RUEFUL AND LOVELY: “TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL”: JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, DANNY BARKER, BOB GREENE, FREDDIE MOORE (Manassas Jazz Festival. December 2, 1972)

Be forewarned: the visual quality on the performance that follows is sub-standard, although you can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because I don’t know of any other performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.

The song is elusive — TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL — and I couldn’t find any lyrics online, but the opening phrase so neatly fits the title that I am sure JAZZ LIVES readers can (silently) invent their own narratives with the proper scansion.

I am amused by Raymond Burke’s endearing personal choreography — his body mirrors what he is playing more than is true with many players.  And his tone is so singular, sweet-tart in the manner of Ed Hall — but you wouldn’t mistake one player for the other.  A great underacknowledged poet of the clarinet.

Wiggs continues to astonish.  He saw Joe Oliver in New Orleans (I seem to remember this was 1919) and Oliver left a lasting impression.  But then Wiggs heard Bix and those wandering odes took over — haunting but always mobile.

I hear in Wiggs, who was 73 at the time of this video, a sweet, sad evocation of what Bix might have sounded like had he lived on this long.  Wiggs’ music plunges forward while looking over its shoulder in a melancholy, ruminative way.  And although Wiggs recorded early (1927) and from 1949 into the fifties, his late work fully expresses a kind of autumnal sensibility, delicate without being timid or maudlin — the sweet voice of an elder who has seen a great deal and knows that life is sadly finite but celebrates that life with his cornet.

One other thing occurs to me, with special relevance to my own video efforts, where musicians justly want the performances that will be disseminated and preserved for posterity to be as free from flaws as possible.  Anyone who watches this video to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — notices a small train wreck (with no one hurt) because the band is not clear whether to go on or stop. I find this, like Burke’s body language, quite endearing.  I’d rather have imperfect Wiggs and Burke than know that this flawed performance had been consigned to the trash.

This video — although I do not know the originator — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!

May your happiness increase.

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15 responses to “RUEFUL AND LOVELY: “TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL”: JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, DANNY BARKER, BOB GREENE, FREDDIE MOORE (Manassas Jazz Festival. December 2, 1972)

  1. Sounds very like a gloss on the chords of “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home”.

  2. How nice to see and hear these guys play. I think Wiggs was going to play a little tag on the end – something he did on record – but just not something everyone would have been tuned in to.

    The tune sounds very familiar, and now I’ll spend the rest of the evening trying to figure out where I’ve heard it before! (With a different title and words.)

  3. I heard Burke once at a Gene Norman Dixieland Jubilee concert and he was great. He pronounced his own name “boik”.

  4. That New Orleans “accent”! Lucky you to have seen him in person.

  5. Al Rose in ‘I Remember Jazz’ (1987) gives a highly interesting account of Raymond Burke, telling how he swayed back and forward in front of the microphone at Wiggs’ recordings, meaning you can’t always hear him today because he weaved about so much (to Johnny Wiggs’ chagrin). Now we are able to see it in the flesh! It was a rhythm thing and part of the live music experience. We hear, too, Burke’s wonderful, idiosyncratic tone, picking notes for quality rather than quantity as he constructs those fascinating solos. This is a simple tune, but boy, do those guys make it swing and speak to the emotions! Some band! A BIG thanks for this one. I’ve been trying to get everything by these guys I can for years, but there’s not much around.

  6. I don’t have it yet, but GHB or American Music has issued a two-CD set of EVERYTHING recorded by the Wiggs-Burke Big Four — with Souchon and Mangiapane — including previously unknown performances and alternate versions of performances we know. I am aimed in that direction!

  7. Thank you again, sir! I’ll surf it up and see if it can be sent to rainy Scotland!

  8. Memories. I was there in 1972 playing with another band. My fondest memory is of Danny Barker and Raymond Burke teaching me the chords to “Purple Rose of Cairo”. Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke came up from New Orleans and spent a few days in NYC and played a few nights with Graham Stewart’s band at The Music Box and The Gashouse. I was fortunate to get to play some banjo with them on those gigs. So great to see Freddie Moore and Graham in action not to mention Danny Barker and Bob Greene too! This brought back some great memories for me, thanks for posting this wonderful clip.
    John Gill

  9. The highlight for me this evening and good to see Graham Stewart on stage with this fine band. I have always had an admiration for Ray Burke. A wonderful clarinettist.

  10. Hi Michael, This Johnny Wiggs band on this video clip is a slice of beauty, and a musical treasure. I never met Johnny but hear Oliver & a bit of Bix in his sound. That little warble at the end of each phrase makes me shiver. An honest sound. I did spend some time with Raymond Burke. I love his warm New Orleans clarinet. There could be a lot to say here, but that musical strain keeps drawing me back for another listen. Beautiful & haunting! That’s for lots of great tings, but really thanks for sharing this. Leon.

  11. Just wonderful. It is the only video I have seen of Wiggs and Burke. Burke is a true original.

  12. Pingback: THE REAL THING: “OLD STACK O’LEE”: THE BLUES at MANASSAS (December 2, 1972): JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, BOB GREENE, DANNY BARKER, FREDDIE MOORE | JAZZ LIVES

  13. Pingback: THE REAL THING: “OLD STACK O’LEE”: THE BLUES at MANASSAS (December 2, 1972): JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, BOB GREENE, DANNY BARKER, FREDDIE MOORE | Jazz Music Trends

  14. The tune reminds me a lot of “Louisana Fairy Tale.” Maybe that is what Chris was remembering?

  15. Wingy recorded this tune in 1959, and it came out on the Imperial LP 9093 “Wingy Manone – the Wildest Horn in Town”, title listed on the LP cover as “Meat Balls Roll”. In addition to some random patter about asking “Tony” for food and noting he has a good jazz band, Wingy’s lyrics are:

    Tony, let the meat balls roll.
    Hurry before they get too cold
    I like ‘em hot
    I like ‘em sweet
    Put ‘em on the table so they’re ready to eat.
    Tony, let the meat balls roll.
    Lots of gravy in the bowl.
    I know you’ll never get old
    ‘Cause I’ve been told
    Tony, let the meat balls roll.

    Manone had a copyright filed for the number in 1960.

    Wingy’s version is a pleasant enough novelty number, but doesn’t have the beauty that Wiggs and Burke gave to it here!

    I don’t know that any other tune is *exactly* like this, but quite a few are quite similar, with only differences in phrasing. The earliest famous one I’m familiar with is “Old Black Joe” by Stephen Foster from 1853, which also is a strain of “Ole Miss Rag”.

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