Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL (Part Two)

James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band is one of my favorite groups — whether they are expertly navigating through their leader’s compact, evocative arrangements or going for themselves. The noble fellows on the stand at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival were Dapogny, piano / arrangements; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Russ Whitman, clarinet, tenor, baritone saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross (a Denver native), string bass; Pete Siers, drums.
The CJB was one of the absolute high points of Evergreen (which I documented here) and I offer five more tasty main dishes:
DON’T BE THAT WAY was one of Edgar Sampson’s great compositions, most often known through Benny Goodman’s rather brisk performances (it worked even better at  slow glide, as Lester Young proved) but one of the most memorable recordings of this song was done by a Teddy Wilson small group in 1938 — featuring those Commodoreans Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell.  The CJB pays tribute to both the song and the performance here (although I point out that the CJB is not copying the solos from the record).  Tell the children not to be afraid: Mr. Kellso growls but he doesn’t bite:
 
IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY? is a deep question, whether or not Louis Jordan was asking it.  Here Professor Dapogny and the Chicago Jazz Chorus make the same inquiry with renewed curiosity:
She just got here yesterday, and already she made an impression (I hear Ethel Waters pointing out these facts) — that’s SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:
I know that pianist / composer Alex Hill, who died far too young, is one of Dapogny’s heroes — mine too — someone responsible for memorable melodies and arrangements as well as fine piano.  DELTA BOUND is (for those who know the lyrics) one of those “I can’t wait to get home down South” songs both created and thrust upon African-Americans in the Twenties and Thirties, but its simple melody is deeply haunting — especially in this evocative performance, as arranged by Dapogny:
Valve trombonist Juan Tizol’s CARAVAN has been made in to material for percussion explosions for some time (perhaps beginning with Jo Jones in the Fifties) but here it is a beautifully-realized bit of faux-exotica (camels not required) harking back to the late-Thirties Ellington small groups:
Splendid playing and arrangements. And more to come.
May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON’S WORLD OF JAZZ: September 4, 1940

This is the first of a series devoted to the wonders created by Eddie Condon and his friends.  Unfortunately, I cannot offer rare musical examples.  That you will have to do for yourselves, and it is reassuring that so much of what Mr. Condon and his colleagues created was documented on disc so that we can now hear it.

What I have to offer you are snippets of print documentation — new to me at the time I discovered them, and I hope to you. Perhaps a decade ago, at work in the microfilm archives of my college’s library, I was searching the New York Times archives for something literary.  On a whim, I typed in “Eddie Condon” and found perhaps thirty or forty mentions of him in that newspaper.  I remember putting dimes into the printer and copying each page.  The file folder with the copies turned up not long ago — reason to begin a series for JAZZ LIVES.

Eddie’s wife, Phyllis (born Smith) was an invaluable part of the D’Arcy advertising agency (she handled the Coca-Cola account, which should tell you something about her stature at the firm). Eddie was ambitious about getting the music heard — by people who might not come down to a night club where the clientele was drinking liquor and smoking — so Phyllis made connections.  A New York Times advertisement from September 4, 1940, is one of my favorite Imagined Delights.

John Wanamaker

Fashion Show

Today at 3 P.M.!

Cum Laude Clinic

(A line drawing of a guitarist, string bassist, trumpeter, clarinetist, trombonist)

Do you know what Bennington girls bowl in? what Smith seniors snooze in? what the Princeton stags think of black? of red? Do you know of what stuff Daisy chains are made–and what about knees?  and prom-bees?  Get the lowdown insight straight from the shoulders of our cum laude clinic–five brainy beauties from Sarah Lawrence, VAssar, Michigan State, Swarthmore, Mt. Holyoke.  See big men from Virginia, Williams, Cornell, M.I.T., Stevens turkey-trot down the runway in tweeds and tails. Learn how pink-snuggle-bunnies can help you get an A-double-plus in Pol. Sci.; learn what clothes distract half-backs, shot-putters.

*    *   *

Hear swing as swung by Bobby Hackett’s All Star Band from Nick’s-in-the-Village — hear jive experts Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Artie Shapiro, Joe Sullivan, George Wettling. Come early and hear the music, today at 3!  Fourth Floor, Fashion Store.

We could deconstruct this advertisement for all the obsolete assumptions about young women and young men, about college life, about materialism in the United States, but I’d rather think about the band.

If I had been twenty in September 1940, I’d be ninety-four now.  Had I a Presto disc cutter or a 16 mm sound camera . . . that way sadness lies.  Better to bask in the whimsy of one of the best bands ever playing hot those gorgeously and expensively-dressed young men and women.

And, yes, there was once a time when hot music was popular music.

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

A BRAZILIAN WATERCOLOR: NATE NAJAR TRIO

More than half a century ago, Bossa Nova and Brazilian pop music became part of our common musical language; I recall how delightfully we were surrounded by the sounds of Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz, Jobim and Gilberto.

NATE NAJAR TRIO

The music is still vividly alive, as demonstrated by guitarist Nate Najar’s new CD, AQUARELA DO BRASIL (Candid Records CCD79988), where he is joined by Tommy Cecil, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums (all except 5, 7) and vibes (5, 7); Harry Allen, tenor saxophone (3, 8); Duduka Da Fonseca, drums (5, 7).  The songs are Canto De Ossanha / Carinhoso / Ligia / Aquarela do Brasil (Brazil) / Amparo (Olha Maria) / Chovendo No Roseira (Double Rainbow) / Fotografia / Samba For Felix / Charlotte’s Fancy / Canto De Ossanha (in an extended version).

Nate, in the fashion of his mentor Charlie Byrd, makes beautiful pools of sound on his unamplified guitar — reminding us that this sometimes-abused instrument was meant for amorous serenades — but he never loses his uplifting pulse.  Indeed, many of the performances on this disc have rollicking vamps as their heartbeat, but they are never merely rhythmic exercises, for Nate, Tommy, Chuck, and Harry are too deeply committed to melody for that. And although the swinging evocations of dancing in Rio are irresistible, I was drawn to the more meditative moments on this disc: Nate’s ruminative playing on CHARLOTTE’S FANCY and CARINHOSO, and his opening statement on AMPARO. The music, although all “Brazilian,” comes from different composers and eras — four by Jobim, but also compositions by Barrosa, De Moraes, and two more recent originals by Byrd and Cecil — spanning a range of music from the late Thirties to the present. The result is evocation rather than a copy — this is not a “famous album reproduced fifty years later” but a soulful exploration of the many possibilities of the genre.

Here is more information about the disc (including Nate’s gently perceptive notes — minus the final two paragraphs) on the Candid Records site, and you can learn more about Nate here.  For an engaging sample of the music Nate’s trio creates live, here is a 2012 recording of SAMBA FOR FELIX (named for jazz enthusiast and disc jockey Felix Grant) recorded in 2012:

May your happiness increase! 

A SPIKE MACKINTOSH POSTSCRIPT by CLARRIE HENLEY

Through the kindness of US recording engineer Johnny Maimone and UK journalist / guitarist Clarrie Henley, we have another in-person reminiscence of Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh by Clarrie:

I knew Spike fairly well.  Whenever I went to London which was fairly often in the seventies / eighties, Jack Hutton used to take me to the Codgers as an honorary country member.  (It was really The Old Codgers.) Cameron bought Spike a portable mini-fi which he used to take to the Drum and Monkey and we played jazz, imbibed a few and rabitted on. There was a piano there and sometimes we had live music.  

One year Spike was engaged as a solo artiste at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and he was a bit out water there as none of his mates made the trip. We saw him whenever we could and did our best to make him feel at home. He isn’t on many recordings.  I have an EP of him with Wally Fawkes’s Troglodytes and I think that’s about all. I’ll ask Dave Bennett if he has more.   

The thing about Spike was his enthusiasm, energy, wit and personality.   Everybody liked him.

He was a tank commander during the war and he went into battle with the radio blasting a Louis record. 

Cameron still pays for food and drink at an annual Spike Mackintosh bash in London.   Naturally, it is always well attended.

May your happiness increase!

“THE MUSIC NEVER DIES: A JAZZ DOCUMENTARY”

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know my interest in musicians who have not received their proper share of attention: recently I’ve been celebrating pianist Clarence Profit and trumpeter Spike Mackintosh.

But I know that there are many musicians, still on the scene, who have contributed a great deal to the music without getting their due. Worse, some of them — hardly known to the general public — have been taken advantage of by fellow musicians or people in “the music business.”

This situation may always be with us, beyond fixing until fairness and generosity are automatic responses, but a pair of filmmakers have documented some of these worthy musicians who have been treated unkindly. Their documentary film is THE MUSIC NEVER DIES.  I had never heard of Jimmy Norman, composer of the song Time Is On My Side, but I had enjoyed TWENTY FEET FROM STARDOM — and I knew that some of the most influential creative people had never been known, paid appropriately, or taken seriously.

THE MUSIC NEVER DIES

I first heard of the film when a friend introduced me to Jason DeBose, a Californian now working in Finland, who has been working with the film’s director, the veteran artist and filmmaker Edward Hillel. I learned that the film “will tell the story of several legends of the art form as we catch up with them in their later years, where we find that even some in their seventies and eighties are still actively playing gigs all over the most jazz-loving cities of the United States.” Here is a brief introduction to Hillel.​  And here you can learn more about the film.

Jason and Edward have plans for the artists they are documenting and celebrating that go beyond simply completing and screening the film. Jason told me, “A large part of the funds we intend to raise will go toward a tour that we are now organizing for a group of the musicians that are the subject of our film,” a tour in countries deeply appreciative of American music but not necessarily aware of its true creators.  Here is the film’s trailer.  It certainly seems a heartfelt project, worth more than a quick look. And here is the film’s website.

May your happiness increase!

“A LOVELY MAN”: PORTRAITS OF SPIKE MACKINTOSH

Thanks to Dave Gelly and his book AN UNHOLY ROW, I found out about the magnificently subtle musician, trumpeter Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh, and wrote this in his honor.

Ian Cuthbert, attentive and generous, pointed me to one volume of the British singer George Melly’s autobiography, OWNING-UP, where there was a brief but memorable “pen portrait” of my elusive hero.  Here it is — and I am pleased that Spike in person is as singular as his trumpet playing.

. . . there was a whole generation of jazz musicians in England who predated the revival [which Melly dates as beginning in 1951] and yet played swinging music in the Harlem style of the late thirties. Some were professionals . . . . Others were amateurs, and the most remarkable of these was a timber merchant called Ian “Spike” Mackintosh who played trumpet in the style of mid-period Louis Armstrong. Small and neat, a little mustache and horn-rimmed spectacles, he looked exactly what he was, two sons down at Public School and a house at Cuffley. But inside him was a wild man in chains. He played with extreme modesty, his back to the audience, and a green beret full of holes hanging over the bell of his trumpet. In conversation he was both courteous and restrained, but he could become very aggressive if anyone suggested that there was any other trumpet player except his hero.

At parties there was a psychological moment when he would lurch towards the gramophone and take off whatever record was playing if it hadn’t got a Louis on it, and substitute one that had. Another anti-social habit was his reaction when his host turned down the volume. He’d just wait until he wasn’t looking and turn it up again.

He once offered Mick [Mulligan] and me a lift home from a suburban jazz club in his car, and when we were safely inside, drove all the way out to Cuffley despite our protests. His wife was away, and he wanted us to sit up all night listening to Louis and drinking whisky. It was an enjoyable night, and it didn’t finish until three p.m. the following day when the local closed. It was just that we hadn’t planned on it. Mackintosh’s friends were another hazard: huge city men in waistcoats, and pre-war musicians with patent leather hair. . . . despite Mac’s party tricks and city mates, we all liked him very much. He was kind, loyal, and generous, and he could, when on form, play absolutely beautifully.

This comes from pages 100-1 of my paperback copy of OWNING-UP — a book whose spine was nearly broken at those pages.  Was its previous owner also looking for Spike?

And this reminiscence (in August 2014) by the very gracious Ralph Laing:

Spike was a well-off London timber merchant with a passion for jazz and Louis in particular. To my knowledge the only sides he cut commercially were the feature on Sandy Brown’s ‘Sandy’s Sidemen’ and the Wally Fawkes sides you have on Lake. Like Wally he was never a professional, and in his early days was an inveterate sitter-in. Sandy featured him usually on the 100 Club alfresco Thursday night. He had three loves – his sons (all well positioned, especially billionaire Cameron), Louis Armstrong and booze. As he got older the latter dominated and it was hard to get him to play, although he often carted his trumpet around. I persuaded him to do a few numbers with my band at a Edinburgh Festival sometime in the late 1980’s, and that was unusual. Stan Greig and I, though, did spend many hours with him at my flat in Edinburgh (he always attended the Festival), listening to Louis, Jabbo Smith and Jack Purvis.  He loved to talk about and listen to jazz, and was a founder member of the Codgers, a group of London musicians and ex-musicians who cared about music (and a drink) – Wally, Stan, Ian Christie and Jack Hutton (ex-Melody Maker editor) among them. When he died his sons mounted the greatest jazz wake in British history at the ‘Pizza On The Park’ taking over the downstairs supper/night club and dispensing endless refreshment to most of the jazz fraternity. Those present and still alive remember it with awe. The surviving Codgers still host an annual Xmas dinner in his memory. He was a lovely man, unlike most, endearing and funny in his cups. I miss him.

Leader of the Classic Jazz Orchestra Ken Mathieson came up with these anecdotes, “in the book THE BEST OF JAZZ SCORE, which consists of selected excerpts from the BBC radio programme of the same name”:

George Melly:
Spike McIntosh played trumpet with the Wally Fawkes Band in the late 1950s. He was a great fan of Messrs Gordon’s and Louis Armstrong. In fact I suspect his real reason for playing the trumpet was to capture other musicians and take them home with him in order to drink the product of one and listen to the product of the other.

Humphrey Lyttelton:
There is a lovely story about Spike McIntosh being at a party at Wally Fawkes’ house. In those days Wally had a large divider in his main room which was covered in pottery, glassware, bowls of fruit and that sort of thing. Typically, Spike was among the last to leave and, as he got himself out of an armchair, he stumbled into this divider which crashed to the floor with Spike sprawled across the wreckage.

The crash woke up Wally’s daughter, then about nine years old. She came out on to the landing in some distress. Prostrate in the middle of the wreckage, Spike saw her at the top of stairs and, with as much dignity as he could muster, he said “Shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

Although his famous son, Sir Cameron Mackintosh, has been acerbic when mentioning his father in interviews, he was more affectionate in his extended sketch for the book, DADS: A CELEBRATION OF FATHERHOOD BY BRITAIN’S FINEST AND FUNNIEST, ed. Sarah Brown and Gil McNeil (Random House, 2008). This excerpt begins with Spike in the Second World War:

. . . . he was blown up . . .in the Egyptian desert during Montgomery’s rout of Rommel, at the Battle of El Alamein, and was rescued by some passing Bedouins who took him back to Cairo where he lay unconscious for three months. While recuperating, he was summoned to play for King Farouk, whose son loved jazz. Throughout his adventures, Dad’s trusted trumpet never left his side or his hospital bed.

Jazz was his life and he played with a veritable Who’s Who of British jazz (Humphrey Lyttelton, Wally Fawkes, Sandy Brown to name but a few). He even played with his hero Louis Armstrong whose style he closely mirrored, and, at one impromptu gig, Louis borrowed Dad’s treasured Selmer trumpet so he could join in. However, Dad had to make a living as a timber merchant to feed and educate three hungry boys — especially me — as jazz simply didn’t pay that much. The fact that Dad couldn’t make music his sole profession had one silver lining for myself and my two brothers, Nicky and Robert, as he always encouraged us to do anything we wanted as a career. His other great example was that he always went through life thinking the best of people — ‘jolly good chap’ — and was genuinely disappointed if they turned out to be ‘a rotter.’  This was counterbalanced by our mother’s far more beady approach to life.

Having met my mother Diana in Naples towards the end of the war, when they were both working for E.N.S.A., the Army’s entertainment division, he was no stranger to the flamboyance of show business, so I had no opposition to my dreams of being a theatre producer, nor did my youngest brother, Nicky, in becoming a chef or my middle brother Robert, in going into the music business, as both a writer and a record producer. Dad still managed to play regularly throughout his life and made several terrific recordings with his colleagues.

In retrospect, one of his other great gifts to us was taking us to see many of the jazz greats in their prime and sometimes introducing us to them after the show. Who could forget the dazzling concerts of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong? The brilliant trombone playing of Jack Teagarden, the haunting saxophone of Johnny Hodges, the dazzling piano playing of Art Tatum and Earl Hines, and going to an intimate Ronnie Scott’s to see Ella Fitzgerald.

Every time I hear these great artists on the radio, I go, ‘Thanks Dad,’ and hear him ‘Zaba Doo Zatz’ in his inimitable musical ‘Satchmo’ growl, as he gratefully sips another pint.  

Two more visual portraits: the front and back cover of the vinyl issue of SANDY’S SIDEMEN, devoted to compositions by trumpeter Al Fairweather:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp cover

Spike, caricatured, at the top.

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp backand a few words by Sandy Brown about Spike and his work on the “straight ballad,” HIGH TIME.

But the most affecting portrait of Spike Mackintosh I can offer is his music. Here is my homemade video of HIGH TIME, where his playing is both delicate and powerful. (The volume level is low, but you can always repair that.):

I need to know more about the reticent creator of such beauty.

May your happiness increase!