Before we get to the great pianist — the singular Jimmy Rowles — some context.
BRING ENOUGH CLOTHES FOR THREE DAYS is a phrase that has vanished entirely from our usual discourse . . . unless one is planning a weekend getaway. This stern summons from the government was used as a comic gambit by Timmie Rogers. During the Second World War, men eligible for the draft would be sent a form letter from their draft board beginning with the word GREETINGS, which would then include the following command as a prelude to being inducted into the armed forces. If the military took them, they wouldn’t need more clothing; if not, they could return home.
Enough history, perhaps, but needed. I bought this record a day ago, excited by the names on the label.
Leader / singer / composer Rogers, an African-American comedian who died in 2006, was most recently known for his appearances on the Redd Foxx SANFORD AND SON, but he had enjoyed greater popularity earlier. He was a competent singer and tipple / ukulele player, but his music is not our focus.
Please note the esteemed names in the personnel: guitarist Kessel, bassist Callender, drummer Young, tenor saxophonist Davis, and pianist “Rowels,” perhaps pronounced to rhyme with “vowels”?
To me, this record is evidence that the synchronous universe is at work again. What are the chances that some generous hip soul would post this video on February 25, 2013, and that I should find a copy of the same record at that shrine, the Down Home Music Shop in El Cerrito, California, two days ago (for a dollar plus tax, which is not all that distant from a Forties price)?
At 1:11 our man, born James Hunter (later Jimmy or Jimmie Rowles) comes through, sounding like his own angular version of Nat Cole, followed by an equally youthful Barney Kessel, echoing Charlie Christian in his own way. Since Rowles remains one of my musical heroes — idiosyncratic, intuitive, inimitable — this early vignette gives me pleasure.
He appeared in 1941-42 on a Slim (Gaillard) and Slam (Stewart) record date which also featured Ben Webster and Leo Watson, but none of the records was issued at the time; he also shows up on broadcasts by the Lee and Lester Young band and on private discs featuring Dexter Gordon, Herbie Steward, and Bill Harris. Radio airshots found him with the Benny Goodman and Woody Herman orchestras . . . but this December 1943 session with Rogers — one side only — is early and choice Rowles, and according to Tom Lord it is the first issued evidence of Rowles in a recording studio. He would return often until 1994.
Rogers would record with Benny Carter, Jimmy Lunceford, Lucky Thompson, J.C. Heard, Joe Newman, Budd Johnson, and others (now unidentified) but his jazz career was shorter and less illustrious.
And, as a brief interlude, and here’s Mister Rogers himself on film . . .
But listen again to “Rowels.” He illuminates not only his solo but the ensemble passages. And what a career he had in front of him.
This post is for Michael Kanan.
May your happiness increase!