Tag Archives: Cootie Williams

CHARLES, JIMMIE, MIKE, SKIPPY, PETE, COOTIE, DAVE, 1941

Some Swing fan had very good taste in his / her autograph quest, getting our heroes to sign their names on the same piece of paper:

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN SIGNATURES w DAVE TOUGH

That assemblage comes from the Benny Goodman Orchestra in early 1941 (February – March): Charlie Christian, electric guitar; Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Mike Bryan, guitar; Skippy Martin, alto saxophone / arranger; Pete Mondello, tenor saxophone; Cootie Williams, trumpet; Dave Tough, drums.

I first saw this browning piece of notebook paper as part of the Larry Rafferty Collection: someone no doubt has bought it by now but there’s no reason JAZZ LIVES can’t share the image with the Faithful.

And some of my favorite music of all time (I think I first bought the record of this in 1972): an excerpt from a Goodman Sextet without Benny, warming up in the studio: Charlie, Cootie, Dave, Johnny Guarneri, George Auld — working on what would be called A SMOOTH ONE:

I don’t hear the string bass of Artie Bernstein, but do I hear the voice of John Hammond early on?  “Mop!” is our man Cootie Williams. This is music — like a deep pool — that one could descend in to for a long time.  Bliss that it was recorded at all, and even better that the whole rehearsal / informal session did survive, was issued in several formats (Meritt Record Society and Masters of Jazz, vinyl and CD).

A year after he signed this paper, Charlie Christian (1916-1942) was dead.

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

JOURNEY TO UNMAPPED PLACES: “JAZZ LIVES: TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART” by JAAP VAN DE KLOMP

JazzLives Blog

Between 2005 and 2008, the Dutch photographer and jazz scholar Jaap van de Klomp began a series of soulful pilgrimages in honor of the men and women who had created the music he so loves.

The result is the lovely and often sad book of photographs, JAZZ LIVES, which takes its subtitle, TILL WE SHALL MEET AND NEVER PART, from the words chiseled into Lester Young’s gravestone.

Yes, gravestone.

Every jazz lover knows the familiar photographs of our heroes and heroines: Billie Holiday with her dog; Louis Armstrong snappily dressed in London; Charlie Parker on the bandstand.  But where are our idols now?

The two hundred and more pages of JAZZ LIVES document where their mortal remains lie: with elaborate gravestones, unmarked plots of overgrown land, monuments proud and forlorn.  Jaap took his camera across the United States and Europe to capture these landscapes, resulting in a heartfelt pilgrimage to shrines of the dead. Each photograph is accompanied by a concise biography by Scott Yanow, and the book is organized by instruments once played.

The gravestones sometimes speak of posthumous reputation and fame: huge blocks of costly stone or unmarked areas of grass.  A monument for Ellington and empty space for Bud Powell.  An essay by Dan Morgenstern opens the book; one by the jazz musician and writer Bill Crow closes it. A simply written but evocative essay by the photographer himself explains something about his travels.

But the graves say so much — by presence and absence, reality and implication — about Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Serge Chaloff, Vic Dickenson, Andrew Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Illinois Jacquet, Django Reinhardt, Jack Teagarden, Britt Woodman, Al Grey, Johnny Dodds, Sidney Bechet, John Carter, Russell Procope, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey, Eric Dolphy, Willie the Lion Smith, Gigi Gryce, Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wardell Gray, Stuff Smith, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson, Lionel Hampton, Hank Mobley, Jelly Roll Morton, Art Tatum, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Teddy Wilson, Herbie Nichols, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Milt Hinton, Jimmie Blanton, George Duvivier, Jo Jones, Zutty Singleton, Denzil Best, Billy Higgins, Sidney Catlett, Gene Krupa, Chick Webb, Ivie Anderson, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Johnny Hartman, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Billy Strayhorn, Sun Ra, Bennie Moten, W. C. Handy, Tadd Dameron, Benny Carter, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, and others.

To give some sense of the breadth of his searching, the gravestones of trumpet players included in this book are: Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bix Beiderbecke, Hot Lips Page, Henry Red Allen, Cootie Williams, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Kenny Dorham, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Clifford Brown, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie.

Jaap, born in 1940, has been involved with the music and the musicians for more than half a century, including Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Donald Byrd, Kenny Drew, and Kenny Clarke among others.

But he is not only a person of great feeling and a fine photographer.  Jaap is one of those rare souls who wants to share what he has done.  He wrote this to me, “The book which is sold out in the Netherlands by now will not be reprinted and has been proven to be physically too heavy for worldwide distribution. In this form I still hope to reach more jazz enthusiasts with a book which was a great pleasure to make.and which is still a very dear project to me.”

He has offered to make his book available as a digital download — for free — to anyone who emails him at info@jaapvandeklomp.nl  with JazzLives in the subject line.  The whole book is about 150 MB and it might take a few minutes to download.

This is generosity without hidden motive, and it is a beautiful work of art and devotion.

May your happiness increase!

LISTENING, ACTUALLY

Ear-FX

Music is so pervasive that I wonder that we ever hear any of it.  For this post, I am even ignoring the phenomenon of everyone-wearing-earbuds-all-the-time.

But when we tell ourselves we are listening to music, what are we really doing?

The act of listening — immersing myself in — a particular recording has been a salvation for me for the past five decades.  And people who were dead years before I was born, people whom I never got to encounter, have become familiar friends.  Sitting down and doing nothing else but hearing what’s there is a deep pleasure.

But even I have to remind myself to slow down and focus on the sound, rather than playing the CD while driving, while writing emails, while cooking.

Even when we get rid of the pretense of multi-tasking (for the neurologists tell it is nothing but pretense) listening is not something we are accustomed to.

When I sit down to listen to a cherished recording — say, the 1940 Benny Goodman – Charlie Christian – Cootie Williams – Count Basie – George Auld – Artie Bernstein – Harry Jaeger ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — all sorts of unrequested associations come into my mind.

Personal: recalling the feel and heft of the original recording; what it was like to be in my upstairs bedroom listening to this; memories of discovering Charlie Christian’s music.

At the same time, there is a clamor of anecdotes and personalities: Goodman, scrambled eggs and catsup; Christian, tuberculosis, the rumor of odd clothing, eyeglasses; John Hammond, and so on.

Then there is the mind classifying and “analyziing”: how this ROYAL GARDEN sits in the long history of performances of this blues; its tempo; how Basie shapes it into one of “his” performances; Auld’s absorption of Ben Webster, and more.

It’s remarkable that the music — remember the music? – has a chance of getting through this amiable mental clamor, the “thought” equivalent of the puppy room at the animal shelter.  Can we actually hear what Charlie Christian is playing, given the amount of yapping and frisking around that the mind is doing at the same time?

So I would propose an experiment.  It isn’t a Down Beat Blindfold Test, because so much of that “test” was based on Being Right, as if listening was a quiz show.

I would ask JAZZ LIVES readers, whenever they can, to actually do the unfamiliar: to take a recording that they believe they know well and sit down and listen intently to it as if they had never heard it before.  If what we call “thoughts” come in, push them away and start the recording over.  I think I can guarantee that the experience will not simply be familiar, but deep and in some ways new, that layers and aspects of that recording, subliminally taken in but never really heard before, will spring to life.

Here’s ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, if you’d like to try it out:

(I purposely picked the video of the spinning red-label Columbia 78 for sentimental reasons.  Of course you can listen to it in the highest fidelity possible . . . )

If we could actually listen to the music we so love, as opposed to trotting out our familiar associations, what wonders might we hear?

May your happiness increase!

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

MEL POWELL REMEMBERS: CHARLIE CHRISTIAN and the UNITED STATES ARMY; BENNY GOODMAN at REHEARSAL

charlie-christian-01

“Charlie Christian turns out to be–according to many of the historians–one of the generating forces of bebop, and certainly we knew that Charlie was very special and playing very beautifully.  He and I were quite good friends . . . . I took Charlie down to the draft board and — now, I should tell you now, because he’s been gone for so many years, Charlie had virtually every disease in the world. I think I now have them, but he had them at a very young age. And they were kind of ugly. You know, tuberculosis, and syphillis, and God knows what else. And so we went down to the draft board. He asked me to come along with him, down at the Armory someplace. We went down there and I remember the doctor saying, ‘Well, Mr. Christian, is there any reason why you should not be drafted?’ Well, Charlie thought for a minute and said, ‘Well, I wear eyeglasses. I’ve never forgotten that . . . soon enough they found out there was no reason to draft him, but I loved that, thinking about wearing eyeglasses!”

BENNY GOODMAN 1941

“[Benny Goodman's band] was a tremendous ensemble. I think Benny was a very, very fine band leader who was inarticulate. Words were not the thing. It was ‘do it again,’ and then he would demonstrate what phrasing he wanted for this or that part of the piece. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was very clear in his mind. He did not make it clear except by doing it again and doing it himself.

I remember one day I was in Chicago, and I had something to do — probably a girl to meet or something — in the afternoon. This was 8:30 in the morning when we were rehearsing, and [when] I looked at the clock it was noon; we’d been at it for three-and-a-half hours, maybe two or three pieces.  And I said, ‘Benny, do you know when we’re going to wrap up this?’ Well, he was furious at me for the question. He said, ‘When something happens!’ Well, it’s a very good picture of him, you see. When something happens.”

Excerpts from Mel Powell’s oral histories (1994-94): questions by Alex Cline.  Reprinted by kind permission of Kati Powell.

And a little aural evidence: the 1941 CAPRICE XXIV PAGANINI, arranged by Skip Martin, with wonderful playing from Benny, Mel, Sidney Catlett, and Vido Musso:

Because I couldn’t resist, here’s the Goodman Sextet with Charlie, Count Basie, George Auld, Cootie Williams, Jo Jones . . . I FOUND A NEW BABY:

May your happiness increase!

“YOU NEED SPEND NO MORE”: DUKE, BENNY, BENNIE: TREASURES ON eBay (January 2013)

A studio photograph, a handbill for a band’s engagement in a hotel, and an autographed photo.  Where else but on eBay?

Here’s a photograph from the late Frank Driggs’ collection — showing the six-man brass section of the 1940 Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Tricky Sam Nanton, Juan Tizol, Lawrence Brown, trombones; Rex Stewart, Wallace Jones, Cootie Williams, trumpets.  Presumably that’s Jimmie Blanton’s string bass and Sonny Greer’s Chinese cymbal in the foreground.

DUKE'S BRASS c. 1940

And someplace we would all like to go, if possible.  Especially since the prices are so low:

BENNY GOODMAN URBAN ROOM

And a rare remembrance of one of the nicest men in jazz, someone who should be better known today than he is:

Bennie Morton autograph

May your happiness increase.

HOLY RELICS OF A GLORIOUS TIME

I mean no blasphemy.  Jazz fans will understand.

Some time ago, an eBay seller offered an autograph book for sale.

That rather ordinary exterior gave no hint of the marvels it contained: not someone’s schoolmates but the greatest players and singers — of the Swing Era and of all time.  Now individual pages are being offered for sale, and I thought that they would thrill JAZZ LIVES readers as they thrill me.  The owner of the book was “Joe,” residing in New York City and occasionally catching a band at a summer resort.  We know this because Joe was meticulous, dating his autograph “captures” at the bottom of the page.  Understandably, he didn’t know much about the lifespan of paper and put Scotch tape over some of the signatures, which might mean that the whole enterprise won’t last another fifty years — although the signatures (in fountain pen, black and colored pencil) have held up well.

Through these pages, if even for a moment, we can imagine what it might have been to be someone asking the greatest musicians, “Mr. Evans?”  “Miss Holiday?”  “Would you sign my book, please?”  And they did.  Here’s the beautiful part.

Let’s start at the top, with Louis and Red:

This page is fascinating — not only because Louis was already using green ink, or that we have evidence of the band’s “sweet” male singer, Sonny Woods, but for the prominence of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.  Listening to the studio recordings Louis made while Red was a sideman, it would be easy to believe the story that Red was invisible, stifled, taking a position that allowed him no creative outlet.  But the radio broadcasts that have come to light — from the Cotton Club and the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program — prove that Red was given solo spots during the performance and that he was out front for the first set.  Yes, Red had been creating a series of exceptional Vocalion recordings for two years, but I suspect Joe had much to hear on this Saturday night at the Arcadia Ballroom.

Something completely different: composer / arranger Ferde Grofe on the same page with Judy Ellington, who sang with Charlie Barnet’s band:

Time for some joy:

Oh, take another!

Joe really knew what was going on: how many people sought out pianist / arranger / composer Lennie Hayton for an autograph:

A good cross-section of the 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra — star pianists Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, saxophonists Vido Musso, Herman Shertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, as well as the trombonist Murray McEachern, guitarist Ben Heller, arranger Fred Norman, and mystery man Jesse Ralph:

Someone who gained a small portion of fame:

You’ll notice that Joe knew who the players were — or, if you like, he understood that the men and women who didn’t have their names on the marquee were the creators of the music he so enjoyed.  So the special pleasure of this book is in the tangible reminders of those musicians whose instrumental voices we know so well . . . but whose signatures we might never have seen.  An example — the heroes who played so well and devotedly in Chick Webb’s band: saxophonists Chauncey Houghton, “Louie” Jordan, Theodore McRae, Wayman Carver, bassist Beverley Peer, pianist Tommy Fulford, guitarist Bobby Johnson, trumpeters Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, trombonists Nat Story, Sandy Williams . . . .Good Luck To You, indeed!

But one name is missing — the little King of the Savoy (subject of the wonderful new documentary, THE SAVOY KING — which is coming to the New York Film Festival at the end of September 2012 — more details to come):

Jimmie Lunceford and his men, among them drummer Jimmie Crawford, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Paul Webster:

saxophonists Joe Thomas and Austin Brown, Jas. Crawford (master of percussion), bassist Mose Allen, pianist Edwin Wilcox, and the little-known Much Luck and Best Wishes:

Blanche Calloway’s brother, the delightful Cab, and his bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton:

trumpeter irving Randolph and Doc Cheatham, drummer Leroy Maxey, pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Walter Thomas, Andrew Brown, “Bush,” or Garvin Bushell, and Chu Berry, and Cab himself:

Paul Whiteman’s lead trumpeter, Harry “Goldie” Goldfield, father of Don Goldie (a Teagarden colleague):

I can’t figure out all of the names, but this documents a band Wingy Manone had: vocalist Sally Sharon, pianist Joe Springer, Don Reid, Ray Benitez, R. F. Dominick, Chuck Johnson (?), saxophonist Ethan Rando (Doc?), Danny Viniello, guitarist Jack Le Maire, and one other:

Here are some names and a portrait that would not be hard to recognize.  The Duke, Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy, Barney Bigard, Freddie Jenkins, Rex Stewart, and either “Larry Brown,” squeezed for space, bottom right (I think):

And Lawrence Brown, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Billy Taylor, and lead man Art Whetzel:

Calloway’s trombones, anyone?  De Priest Wheeler, Claude Jones, “Keg” Johnson, and trumpeter Lammar Wright:

Our man Bunny:

Don Redman’s wonderful band, in sections.  Edward Inge, Eugene Porter, Harvey Boone, Rupert Cole, saxophones:

The trumpets — Otis Johnson, Harold Baker, Reunald Jones, and bassist Bob Ysaguirre:

And the trombone section — Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Bennie Morton — plus the leader’s autograph and a signature that puzzles me right underneath.  Sidney Catlett was the drummer in this orchestra for a time in 1937, but that’s not him, and it isn’t pianist Don Kirkpatrick.  Research!: 

The rhythm section of the Claude Hopkins band — Claude, Abe Bolar, Edward P. (“Pete”) Jacobs, drums:

And some wonderful players from that band: Joe Jones (guitar, nort drums), trumpeters Shirley Clay, Jabbo Smith, Lincoln Mills; the singer Beverly White (someone Teddy Wilson thought better than Billie), saxophonists Bobby Sands, John Smith, Arville Harris, Happy Mitchner (?); trombonists Floyd Brady and my hero Vic Dickenson, whose signature stayed the same for forty years and more:

I suspect that this triple autograph is later . . . still fun:

If the next three don’t make you sit up very straight in your chair, we have a real problem.  Basie at Roseland, Oct. 12, 1937: Earle Warren, the Count himself, Billie, Buck Clayton, and Eddie Durham.  The signature of Paul Gonsalves clearly comes from a different occasion, and I imagine the conversation between Joe and Paul, who would have been very pleased to have his name on this page:

Miss Holiday, Mister Shaw, before they ever worked together ANY OLD TIME.  I’d call this JOYLAND, wouldn’t you?

And a truly swinging piece of paper, with the signatures of Walter Page, Lester Young, James Rushing, Bobby Moore, Herschel Evans, Ronald “Jack” Washington, Edward Lewis, Freddie Greene, Joe Jones, Bennie Morton . . . when giants walked the earth.

To view just one of these pages and find your way to the others, click here  – I’ll content myself with simple gleeful staring.  And since I began writing this post, the seller has put up another ten or more — Mary Lou Williams, Ina Ray Hutton, Clyde Hart, Roy Eldridge . . . astonishing!

May your happiness increase.

DUKE’S APPLE, OR ADVENTURES IN SOUND

IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, composed in 1905 by Williams and Van Alstyne, may have seemed nostalgic even when it first appeared.  The lyrics describe some caressing and blushing and a promise of pastoral fidelity although they are now apart.  But no one has been thrown out of the Garden.

To establish the song, here’s a 1929 Max Flesicher SCREEN SONGS cartoon — a whole show in itself, with a comic prelude, the cynical vaudeville patter (is the singer Billy Murray?), then two verses, two choruses.  The satire of the cartoon jostles the innocence of the lyrics and melody.  (As the lyrics describe pastoral pleasures — the birds, bees, and flowers — the sandwich refuses to be eaten, the dachshund is nearly caught in the shrinking building: slapstick proliferates.)

Here’s Duke Ellington’s version from August 15, 1933:

This has been one of my favorite recordings for years, showing once again how beautifully jazz improvisers take the most simple material and make it spacious, relaxing in the freedom that simple melodies and harmonies afford.

It begins with the reed section stating the first notes of the melody against a simple stride figure from Ellington’s piano — a stripped-down Willie “the Lion” Smith motif, perhaps? — that suggests both a vaudeville vamp and someone ambling down the street.  The reeds and piano (over Wellman Braud’s happily prominent string bass) converse in a most pastoral manner . . . suggesting that a sweet band is taking the stand (although Duchin could never have managed that piano figure with such swing) until ominous rumblings are heard in the background.

Did a large dog make its way into the Brunswick studios?  No, it’s just Cootie Williams with his plunger mute.  I think in the second half of the chorus either Freddy Jenkins or Rex Stewart takes over to continue the sweet satire.  If, in the first thirty seconds, the Jungle Band was peeking sideways through the sweet foliage, the second half of the first chorus is more raucously comic — the apple tree gets connected to horse racing, to a repeated blues phrase, and the trumpet soloist ends his chorus with what sounds like a genuine guffaw.  Obviously more than “the dull buzz of the bee” is evident here.

So far, by the way, one might think this a small band recording — a three-piece rhythm section, a reed section, and one or two trumpeters at most.  None of the annunciatory “big band” power of trading sections.

The next eight bars suggest that satire — or at least a distinctively mocking voice — has taken the upper hand.  Could anyone mistake the half-muted plunger sound of Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, offering his own wry commentary on what exactly might be going on in the wildwood — certainly blushing and caressing are the least of it, for the imagined lovers have given full vent to their animal passions!  Then Tricky (in the next eight bars) seems to jam his plunger mute fully into the bell of his horn, sounding like another musician completely, ending his chorus with a huge guffaw or Bronx cheer.

So far we’ve had the counterpoint between the decorous (although swinging) reeds delineating the melody and the much naughtier brass voices.  Ellington saves his most dramatic soloist for the next chorus — the golden sound of Johnny Hodges, turning this simple melody into a blues, then adding a Louis-inspired upwards phrase to move us completely away from melodic embellishment.  There is no satire here — rather a mixture of the blues and a dramatic aria.

One more chorus remains.  What sounds like the whole ensemble (did Ellington have all his thirteen players in the studio for this or was it a smaller band?) — muted brass playing staccato phrases, supported by the reed section . . . but wait!  A beautiful embroidery of woody, swooping phrases (“that’s Barney Bigard on clarinet / you ain’t never heard nothing like him yet”) decorates the clipped phrasing.  That phrasing, to my ears, is so reminiscent of music for a tap-dance routine that I wonder if Ellington began playing this piece in theatres for a group like the Four Step Brothers.

And after a decorous, rather formal ending, the piece closes with a reiteration of those brass mockeries, doo-wahs that look backwards to the Jungle Band and IT DON’T MEAN A THING.  Whatever happened under the Old Apple Tree might have been less nostalgic, in Ellington’s imagination.

On paper, this is a very simple series of inventions: the reed section (and then the brass) keeps stating a pared-down version of the melody, while a small number of soloists improvise over it.  But what a variety of sounds!  And although I may have heard this recording several hundred times, and I know who and what is coming next, it never fails to be a delightful surprise.  No drama in volume, just a beautiful series of dance-vignettes celebrating individual sounds.

Twelve years later, Ellington returned to the piece and offered it regularly as part of his 1945 radio broadcasts from theatres.  One such version, recorded on May 26 in Chicago, made its way onto a V-Disc, which is how we have it here.  The band is larger: Rex Stewart, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson (tp) Ray Nance (tp,vln,vcl) Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Claude Jones, Lawrence Brown (tb) Jimmy Hamilton (cl,ts) Johnny Hodges (as) Otto Hardwick (as,cl) Al Sears (ts) Harry Carney (bar,cl,b-cl) Duke Ellington (p) Fred Guy (g) Junior Raglin (b) Sonny Greer (d).

The outlines of the original performance are still visible, but the whole recording has a rather leisurely — even lazy — feel to it, as if this was a piece that Ellington’s band didn’t have to work too hard to perform:

And just in case you’d like another taste of the Apple . . . here’s my own personal Paradise, a sublime quintet:

May your happiness increase.

I HEARD A BRASS BAND COMING DOWN THE STREET (March 7, 2012)

Perhaps my title is slightly inaccurate.  I didn’t see this brass band coming down the street; rather, they slowly and cheerfully assembled themselves on the imagined bandstand of Radegast Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, around nine o’clock on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. 

But they were a stirring group.  No surprise, because Gordon Au was in charge (he wields his power very lightly and politely) of this different-yet-exhilarating version of the Grand Street Stompers.  Different in that the front line was entirely brass — not brassy, but three players of brass instruments: Gordon on cornet; Jim Fryer on trombone and euphonium; Matt Musselman on trombone, with a rhythmic rhythm section of Nick Russo, banjo; Peter Maness, string bass; Giampaolo Biagi, drums.  They rocked, they strode, they created a joyous atmosphere.  And the two trombones gave this band a solid center that delighted me — especially since Jim and Matt are wonderful ensemble players, skilled at dancing around the other horns with great grace.  For me, it summoned up sweet memories of one of the first jazz groups I ever saw in concert — the World’s Greatest Jazz Band at a 1969 New York City concert steered by Dick Gibson (Zoot, Al, and Joe Newman were in one group) featuring the trombone duo of Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, memorably. 

At the end of this set, I left to get some sleep before my appointed rounds began on Thursday morning, but I asked Gordon if he would consider other unusual balances and instrumentations for the GSS, since this one was a honey.  We shall see!  Gordon called an easy one to start, but a meaningful choice.  Even though he is a young man, he understands something about jazz’s responsibility to remind people that life is finite and you had better have a good time — so CABARET, a Broadway-via-Christopher Isherwood carpe diem, made sense to set the mood of the evening.  It also harks back to everyone’s patron Saint, Mister Armstrong . . . it’s impossible for me to hear this song without thinking of Louis, which is always a good thing:

To quote Cootie Williams, “Ain’t the gravy good?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon is telepathic, for he certainly seemed to be reading my mind.  LIMEHOUSE BLUES, with the verse, was the feature number when I saw Vic and Eddie Hubble with the WGJB, so I was more than pleased to hear it here:

On the theme of psychic abilities . . . there’s a lady they call THE GYPSY.  Thank you, Louis!  And thank you, GSS — Jim Fryer’s euphonium sound is good enough to eat:

The GRAND STREET Stompers then launched into CANAL STREET BLUES — a geographical paradox that upset no one::

And here’s Gordon’s winning original, ONCE, DEAR:

I was thrilled to hear I MAY BE WRONG — memories of the John Kirby Sextet and (more memorably for me) a 1960 recording of the song by Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson . . . on Prestige-Swingville:

Without a hint of uncertainty, the GSS proceeded to light up Charlie Shavers’ UNDECIDED:

And going back to Louis — BLUEBERRY HILL:

It was a wonderful set by a wonderful band . . . .

May your happiness increase.

LET’S ALL GET TOGETHER AND CHIP IN, SHALL WE?

How about purchasing an autograph book?

No, not my fifth-grade one where cute Suzanne DeVeaux signed her name and then wrote “Yours till bacon strips,” which was not the declaration of love it might have seemed to be, alas.

But THIS autograph book is something special — even given the twenty thousand dollar price tag on eBay.  Its owner was a deep swing and jazz fan in the Thirties, and (s)he got everyone’s signature . . . at gigs, at the Arcadia Ballroom, and other places.  It is the calligraphic companion to the late Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK, summoning up a magical and vanished time where you could wait patiently at the stage door and get “Art Shaw” to sign his name as well as his new singer, “Billie Holiday.”

Feast your eyes.

And, just as an aside, several people — musicians and collectors alike — who have seen this — keep muttering something about how their birthdays are coming soon.  I don’t blame them.  The eBay link is

JAZZ-AUTOGRAPH-BOOK-HAND-SIGNED-BILLIE-HOLIDAY-SATCHMO

Here are some sample pages.  WOW is all one can say — and that’s even before one encounters the signatures of Eddie Durham, Maurice Purtill, a young Milt Hinton, and the others.  And as my friend David Weiner has pointed out on other occasions, the pencil and sometimes odd handwriting prove that these are on-the-spot signatures, not neat calligraphy done in someone’s office by the hundreds.

I don’t know who Anthony is on the left, but there’s Billie and “Art” on the right.

Earle Warren (Every Good Wish, Count Basie, Billie, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham.  And — I think from a later date! — Paul Gonsalves.  “Roseland Shuffle,” I think.  And this comes from the era when musicians, signing a fan’s autograph book, identified themselves by the instrument(s) they played.  That suggests a sweet lack of ego: I’m not a star yet!  (And Buck’s signature was very much the same about forty years later.)

Sincerely, Nat King Cole, Johnny Miller, and Oscar Moore — people who knew about sincerity.

Harry Goldfield (father of Don Goldie) on the left — and some other trumpeters named “Satch” and “Red,” as well as drummer Sammy Weiss.

Another trumpet player.  He could get started — don’t let his theme song fool you.  But why do these trumpet players all have nicknames?  Wouldn’t “Bernard” have done just as well?

1936.  The Blessed Thomas Waller.

Did someone say HI-DE-HO?  And there’s youthful Milt — not yet the Judge.

The Duke is on the page — along with Ivie, Sonny, Rex, Juan Tizol, Cootie Williams, Fred Guy, and one or two others.

Noble Sissle and his Orchestra with Sidney Bechet, Wendell Culley, Don Pasquall, and Sara Turner . . .

Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, Part One: Johnny Mince, Maurice Purtill, Carmen Mastren, Bud Freeman, Gene Traxler, Jack Leonard, Lee Castaldo (later Castle), Andy Ferretti, Freddie Stulce, and one or two others.

Part Two!  Mince signs in again, the Sentimental Gentleman himself, Edythe Wright, and Pee Wee Erwin.

Hamp, before FLYIN’ HOME.

Isn’t this frankly astounding?

I knew you’d agree.

And what we have here is perhaps fifteen pages out of one hundred and twenty.

“EAST ST. LOUIS TOODLE-OO”: KEITH NICHOLS’ BLUE DEVILS PLAY DUKE ELLINGTON at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

November 5, 2011, Saturday night at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party was a highlight — the crowd cheered, with good reason!

With Mr. Nichols at the piano and occasionally exercising his vocal cords, the band included Rico Tomasso, Andy Woon, and Bent Persson, trumpets; Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Mauro Porro, reeds; Martin Wheatley, banjo and guitar; Richard Pite, string bass; Nick Ward, drums; Cecile McLorin Salvant, vocals.

THE MOOCHE (featuring the Jungle Band sound and the earthy percussion of Nick Ward, as well as a beautiful alto excursion by M. Bonnel before Rico masterfully growls us to the finish line):

CREOLE LOVE CALL (beginning with Cecile’s wordless vocal — a la Baby Cox or Adelaide Hall, then the mournful sound of Alistair Allan, the dangerously-muted Rico and the multi-talented Mauro on clarinet.  Hear that reed section!):

Then something riotous, borrowing some of its impetus from — you guessed it, OLD MAN RIVER — the 1930 showpiece OLD MAN BLUES, which is a famous film highlight from the Amos ‘n’ Andy film CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK: Alistair Allen becomes Tricky Sam; Mauro Porro does his Harry Carney; Keith Nichols strides out; Jean-Francois Bonnel, on soprano, soars; Bent Persson roars:

The 1932 version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY, indebted far more to Bechet than Valentino, features the usual brilliant suspects — adding Andy Woon (as Cootie), Keith (as himself — with commentary by Rico), and Mauro (as Hodges on soprano) to the solo order:

TRUCKIN’ brings Mr. Nichols back in the vocal spotlight, and there’s a solo spot for Matthias Seuffert on clarinet — with a multi-media opportunity for audience participation later on. (Bridget Calzaretta and Paul Asaro are truckin’ on down on the tiny dance floor.):

IT DON’T MEAN A THING (IF IT AIN’T GOT THAT SWING) begins with the verse by Keith, then Cecile McLorin Salvant joins in to reiterate the philosophy — best embodied by that searing trumpet section:

An encore, COTTON CLUB STOMP, showed off that this band still had lots of energy. (That’s Jonathan David Holmes in dark shirt and glasses, near the stage on the right):

The Maestro would have been pleased.  See these videos and many more at http://www.thorbye.net.

DA CAPO AL FINE: JAMES DAPOGNY AND FRIENDS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 17, 2011)

That dark-haired fellow at the keyboard in the videos that follow is James E. Dapogny, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus and professor emeritus of music (theory) at the University of Michigan School of Music, where he taught from 1966 to 2006.  Professor Dapogny has done extensive scholarly work on Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson.  Professor Dapogny’s study of Johnson’s work, in particular, came to fruition in the large-scale reconstruction of DE ORGANIZER and THE DREAMY KID, two Johnson operas (the first with a libretto by Langston Hughes) once thought to be lost.

But the dark-haired fellow is also Jim Dapogny, a stomping pianist whose solo and ensemble playing are instantly identifiable — he is his own man whether tenderly exploring a ballad or stomping the blues.  And he is a peerless ensemble pianist — like Basie or Ellington, James P. or Fats, he knows just what to play to push the group without overpowering it.  (I hear the barrelhouse pianists of the Twenties and Thirties — think of the blues pianists and Frank Melrose, then add on the traceries of Hines and Stacy, the force of Sullivan, a deep-rooted stride with surprising harmonies.)

But Jim is also a delightful arranger and occasional composer.  The arrangements you’ll hear on the performances below are so splendid: you can hear them subliminally (horns humming behind a solo, playing a melodic line sweetly) or you can admire them out in the open.  But a Dapogny performance is never just a string of solos: he thinks orchestrally as a bandleader as well as a pianist.  You’ll also hear a sly exchange between Jim and Marty Grosz about the arrangements — not to be taken entirely seriously:  “I know every thing I know from Marty’s records,” says Jim.  “That explains it,” retorts Marty.

Both the man and the music are gratifying, full of surprises.  I never took a class with the Professor, but I’ve learned a great deal in his informal onstage seminars at Jazz at Chautauqua (to say nothing of his recordings — another post in itself).

This set was called TUNES FOR JOE in honor of the late Jazz at Chautauqua commander-in-chief Joe Boughton, who favored lovely and sometimes obscure repertoire in favor of a themeless blues, SATIN DOLL, or SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, which would make him horrified — he actually left the room when these things happened.

In this set, the players are Jim Dapogny, piano and arranger; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, reeds; Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.

The set begins with BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE, familiar but not often played.  Hear Jim’s comping behind Scott’s solo, Pete’s splashing cymbal behind Jon-Erik.  And the whole performance has a lovely shape and balance between the written passages — played with great swing — and the solos that explode out of them:

COUNTRY BOY (not COUNTRY BOY BLUES by Willard Robison), a paean to rural life, beautifully pastoral from its first notes.  What a pretty song!  (Composer credits, please, Professor D?)  And I hereby christen the trumpet player formerly known as “Jon-Erik” as “Bunny Kellso.”  Dapogny’s coda is worth waiting for, too — this band knows how to take its time:

THAT THING — courtesy of Roy Eldridge, a close relative of the Henderson band’s D NATURAL BLUES, brings what Jim calls “malice,” or what Dicky Wells called “fuzz” to the Chautauqua bandstand — so well.  The piano interlude is both climbing and musing, and the brass solos suggest Mister Cootie and Mister Vic — great accomplishments.  Hear the rock this band gets in the last ensemble chorus!:

Finally, a nod to Old Chicago — with a dance that’s easy to do / let me introduce it to you — SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE.  Memories of Tesch and Condon, of Frank Chace and Don Ewell, too.  If this is “Dixieland,” give me more, especially the overall texture of the band and the reed “conversation,” Kellso’s lead, Barrett’s commentaries.  Pete Siers plays that hi-hat behind a leaping Kellso in the best Catlett / Tough manner — blessings on his head:

Wonderful music — solos and ensembles that look back lovingly to the past but imbue it with energy and individualism.  Jazz, not nostalgia — very much alive, even if the repertoire is apparently “historical.”

Why the Italian title?  “At the end, go back to the head,” more or less — instructions to the player or singer to return to the opening when the piece is “over” once.  For me, those instructions have a special meaning.  These are the final video performances I will be posting from the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua: I know I’ll be returning to these and others for edification, spiritual uplift, and great fun.  What a swell-egant party it was!  And special thanks to pianist Jim and Professor James for yet another rocking seminar in lovely improvisation.

It might sound too close to THE GODFATHER, but I think of Jim as CAPO, too — in the old Italian sense of “head,” or “chief.”  He is someone special.

RHYTHM IS THEIR BUSINESS: DUKE HEITGER’S SWING BAND (with BECKY KILGORE) at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Sometimes the best things happen when the more moderate types have gone to bed.  Here’s “Late Night Swing” from Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011), featuring a hot swing band and singer in peak form.

Duke Heitger’s Swing Band featured the man himself on trumpet and vocals; Dan Barrett on trombone and arrangements; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano and arrangements; Howard Alden, guitar; Glenn Holmes, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Becky Kilgore, vocals.  It was a twenty-first century version of the band that recorded a Fantasy CD (9684-2) which I hope you’re still able to find:

Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Rhythm-Business-Duke-Heitger-Swing/dp/B00004SAZ8

But what we enjoyed at Chautauqua was more than sound coming out of speakers: catch the happy expressions on the musicians’ faces as they listened to these swinging arrangements and to Ms. Kilgore.

The set began with one of the best Thirties let’s-introduce-the-stars-in-the-band songs (courtesy of Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, and the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra), which Duke sang, RHYTHM IS OUR BUSINESS:

Then something for Louis and for Billie, YOURS AND MINE, again with a lovely Duke vocal.  (What a fine singer he is — on his horn or his vocal chords!):

A little Ellington excursion (thanks to Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters, Master Records, and the Irving Mills complex), the wittily-titled SWING PAN ALLEY.  Remember to open up Letter B:

More Ellington (of a romantic tendency) from Becky, JUST SQUEEZE ME:

And for those who need the etiology of Swing explained to them, here is the big hit of late 1935, THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND, made perfectly clear by Becky:

Memories of the Goodman band, thanks to arranger John Sheridan, and a lilting I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU.  It’s hard to see Duke at the start, but his sound is unmistakable:

And a hot salute to Sweets, Pres, Jo, Sidney, Illinois, Gjon, Norman, and the Brothers Warner, in JAMMIN’ THE BLUES.  (Thank you, Pete Siers!):

“Business sure is swell!”

THE EARREGULARS AT “THE FAMOUS EAR” (June 12, 2011)

I had a minor jazz-history epiphany last Sunday at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) early in the second set, when past and present coincided.

The Ear Inn, for those who have never been there, isn’t a huge space (it is New York real estate) but everyone gets comfortable. 

The second set at the Ear began with that Sunday’s edition of the EarRegulars: charter members and co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri on trumpet and guitar, respectively; Greg Cohen on string bass; Michael Blake (a risk-embracer who loves Lester Young) on tenor saxophone. 

Here, they embark on RIFFTIDE, a variation on LADY BE GOOD chord changes that began with Coleman Hawkins and ended up in the hands of Thelonious Monk as HACKENSACK:

For good reasons, musicians often come to the Ear — not only to sit in, but to enjoy the sounds.  Last Sunday the musicians were bassist Jon Burr and singer Lynn Stein, reed master Dan Block, then (slightly later) tenorist Nick Hempton and drummer Dan Aran (toting a snare drum).  The observant Nan Irwin was there, also, keeping everyone reasonably honest. 

Michael Blake thought aloud about a great tune whose title he couldn’t quite remember — one of those riffy Basie things connected (like so many jazz classics) to trains — and Jon-Erik or Matt remembered it, 9:20 SPECIAL.  They invited Dan Block to join them, and the two tenors had much pleasing interplay:

Then, Jon-Erik invited Nick and Dan to join in, and what marvels ensued!

The first was a long, swaying WABASH BLUES — with Jon-Erik using both his metal mute and an empty beer glass to make growling, hallooing, far-away Cootie Williams musings.  That interlude (Beery or Hoppy?) lasted only a minute, but it was remarkable and remains so now.  And the ensemble swelled and reinvented itself throughout:

And that nifty swing tune of Edgar Sampson’s, beloved by stride pianists and bands, by James P. and Billie, Lester and Dick Wellstood, a masterpiece of quiet optimism, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

For a finale — JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE — where Jon-Erik, for a moment, becomes a hilarious three-man Basie trombone section:

At some point during those final three performances, I looked at the bandstand, saw the musicians and their instruments — trumpet, guitar, bass, drum, and three tenor saxophones jammed in (my choice of words is no accident) shoulder to shoulder, having a good time.  

I thought, “Where have I seen this before?”  And — as my UK friends might say — the penny dropped. 

Basie.  1938.  The Famous Door.

Some will know the story of that Fifty-Second Street paradise.  A small club with a low ceiling, it had been host to a variety of bands in the middle Thirties but — with no air-conditioning — had always closed in the summer.  John Hammond, always full of ideas, paid for the installation of an air-conditioning system so that his favorite band, led by one Bill Basie from New Jersey, could play there in the summer.  The Basieties had to play softly at first, but it’s clear from the radio airshots that exist — not enough for my taste! — that they had a wonderful time and made irreplaceable music.

Here’s a photo essay from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University(photographs from the Frank Driggs Collection) of that musical splendor.  Look for Herschel Evans, short-lived and insufficiently-photographed:

http://newarkwww.rutgers.edu/ijs/cb/famousDoor.htm

Yes, the physical resemblance between The Famous Door and The Ear Inn is not exact, but the two places share the same ebullient spirit, with brilliant musicians improvising at the peak of their powers in a small space. 

Henceforth, I dub 326 Spring Street THE FAMOUS EAR.  It well deserves the new name!

And to finish the thought: the EarRegulars continue to swing as beautifully and as joyously as the 1938 Basie band.  No doubt about it!

P.S.  If you’re reading this in real time (however you wish to define it) you might want to know that The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary of steady Sunday-night gigs at The Famous Ear this Sunday, June 19, 2011.  Gifts, please!  (I meant their gifts — not that people have to show up with trinkets, although trinkets might be pleasant, too.)

P.P.S.  On June 12, I was able to savor Abigail Riccards and Michael Kanan, creating music with delicacy and strength — then I drove from Brooklyn to Soho to capture these five performances, hilariously creative.  This, to me, says only one thing:  JAZZ (emphatic pause) LIVES (exultant exclamation point)!

“GRAB YOUR AXE, MAX!” or A SPLENDID PRESENT

Oh, I absolutely have to start practicing!  Do I have enough time to become semi-amateurish by September 2011 . . . . ? 

Consider the following, very enticing for anyone who’s got rhythm:

CHAUTAUQUA INSTITUTION PRESENTS

THE CHAUTAUQUA TRADITIONAL JAZZ WORKSHOP

Dan Barrett, Music Director

September 11-15, 2011

Faculty:

Duke Heitger, Trumpet

Scott Robinson, Reeds

Dan Barrett, Trombone

Rossano Sportiello, Piano

Howard Alden, Guitar / Banjo

Kerry Lewis, Bass

Ricky Malachi, Drums

Rebecca Kilgore, Vocals

Chautauqua’s first ever Traditional Jazz Workshop will be held on the beautiful grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in western New York, with your home base at the historic Athenaeum Hotel.  The 4-day session will include ensemble workshops, coaching, jam sessions, and performance opportunities in student groups and with faculty members.  Students will focus on jazz standards and works from the American Songbook, with emphasis on improvisation and ensemble performance.  Enjoy social events with faculty and fellow students on beautiful Chautauqua Lake.  The workshop culminates in a performance opportunity at the opening session of the 14th Annual Jazz at Chautauqua traditional jazz party on Thursday evening. 

Tuition for the workshop will be $550 USD; the lodging and meal package at the Athenaeum Hotel will be $525 per student (single occupancy) or $775 (double occupancy) USD.  Stay on for the annual Jazz at Chautauqua party and receive a 20% discount on your food and lodging.  For reservations at the Athenaeum, call 1-800-521-1881 or email athenaeum1881@hotmail.com.  For information about the workshop, contact Nancy Griffith at 216-956-0378 or email her at nancylynngriffith@yahoo.com.

I wasn’t quite serious about practicing enough to be accepted into the workshop in time for September, but I meant “A Splendid Present” emphatically.  Many older jazz fans lament the impending demise of traditional jazz.  Why not give the art form we love a blood transfusion from young folks — that grandson of yours who has just discovered Teddy Bunn, or that niece who is trying to play Cootie Williams’ growls on BENNY’S BUGLE — being able to attend this workshop and learn from these genial masters could be a life-changing event.  And you don’t have to be a raw youth to come aboard, either . . . if you yourself would like to sound more like Benny Morton or Tricky Sam Nanton, this is a heavensent opportunity.  Maybe I should sign up for the singers’ workshop just to be taught breath control by Rebecca Kilgore . . . now there’s a thought.

See you in Chautauqua, and don’t be late! 

 

 

“WELL, THIS’LL BE FUN”: MEMORIES OF JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, 2004

I have a special place in my heart for Jazz at Chautauqua: it was the first jazz party I’d ever attended, an uplifting experience in every way.

The 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua is taking place this year — September 15-18.  Details to follow.

This is the piece I wrote after my first experience of Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton is no longer with us, but the elation remains the same.

Well, This’ll Be Fun

On a Thursday evening in September 2004, two jazz musicians decided on Eubie Blake’s “You’re Lucky To Me” to begin their performance, set an affable, conversational tempo, and started – moving from embellished melody to more adventurous improvisations before coming back down to earth.  They stood at one end of a small rectangular mint-green hotel dining room elaborately decorated with nineteenth-century chandeliers and moldings.  The tall young trumpet player, apparently a college fullback, wore jeans and an untucked striped dress shirt; the pianist resembled a senior account executive for a firm that knew nothing of casual Fridays.  As the applause slowly diminished, Duke Heitger, trumpet held loosely at his side, looked slyly at John Sheridan, the other half of his orchestra, grinned, and said, “Well, this’ll be fun.”  They had just played the opening notes of the seventh annual Jazz at Chautauqua, a four-day jazz party held at the Athenaeum, the upstate New York site of the Chautauqua Institution – now a hotel unused for nine months of the year (no heating system).  Appropriately, the site reflected something of the Chautauqua ideal of entertaining self-enrichment, now given over to a weekend’s immersion in the music once our common colloquial language.

The imaginary map of American culture might seem a homogenous cultural landscape of Outkast, Diet Coke, press-on nails, and Paris Hilton.  But there are millions of smaller, secret cultural nations pulsing all at once: people subversively playing Brahms at home, wearing hemp clothing, and making sure that what commercialism has consigned to the past is kept alive.  One of those underground institutions is the jazz party – an idea quietly subsisting for forty years, now one of the only venues for this music.

If a newcomer assumed that a “jazz party” is nothing more than two or three semi-professional musicians playing background music for a roomful of people, perhaps a singer seated atop a piano, Jazz at Chautauqua would be staggering.  It featured nearly thirty-three hours of nonstop music played to two hundred and fifty people between Thursday evening and Sunday afternoon by twenty-six musicians: Bob Barnard, Heitger, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Reinhart, and Joe Wilder (trumpet, cornet, and flugelhorn); Dan Barrett and Bob Havens (trombone); Harry Allen, Dan Block, Bobby Gordon, Bob Reitmeier, Scott Robinson (reeds); Johnny Frigo (violin); Jim Dapogny, Larry Eanet, Keith Ingham, and John Sheridan (piano); Howard Alden and Marty Grosz (guitar); Vince Giordano, Nicki Parott, and Phil Flanigan (bass); Arnie Kinsella, Eddie Metz, Jr., and John Von Ohlen (drums); Grosz, Rebecca Kilgore, and Parrott (vocals).  These players are unknown to a general audience but are both remarkable and sought after.  Except for Wilder, the musicians were white, (which didn’t bother him: he was delighted to be playing among friends) and many hailed from the tri-state area, with a few startling exceptions:  Barrett and Reitmeier flew from California, Kilgore from Oregon, and the winner for distance, Barnard, from New South Wales.  Most of them were middle-aged (although Parrott and Heitger are not yet forty), looking oddly youthful (I think that joy transforms), but jazz musicians, if fortunate, live long: Frigo is 87, Wilder, 82.

A listener, fortified by food at regular intervals and consistently available drinks (for me, an excess of caffeine for medicinal purposes – a jam session started while I was asleep on Thursday night, and I was anxious that I miss nothing else) may sit in a comfortable chair and listen to eight hours of jazz in short sets, from fifteen minutes for duets to an hour for a larger band.  It was overwhelming, as though someone who had only read about model trains or Morris dancing had wandered into a convention of enthusiasts where everything in the ballroom focused on the chosen subject, non-stop.  But Chautauqua was more than a museum: it offered the art itself in action, unfettered and created on the spot.

All this is due to its creator and director, Joe Boughton, who feels a moral compulsion to preserve the music he first heard in the Boston area in the late 1940s.  Boughton is a solidly packed man who in profile resembles a Roman general, but his more characteristic expression is pleasure when his musicians are playing well and his audience is reverent.  He is the enemy of needless chatter unless it comes from the bandstand, and printed cards decorated each table, reading, “Afford our artists the respect they deserve and be considerate to those at your table and surrounding tables who have come from long distances and paid a lot of money to hear the music and not be annoyed by talking.”  That contains Boughton’s voice – low-key but impatient with nonsense.  He is also a one-man campaign to rescue jazz from the deadening effects of a limited repertoire.  Jazz musicians who are thrown together on the stand choose familiar songs: variations on the blues, on “I Got Rhythm,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” as well as crowd-pleasers “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Satin Doll,” which Boughton calls “Satin Dull.”  At Chautauqua, now-rare melodies filled the air — jazz standards ranging from King Oliver’s “Canal Street Blues,” circa 1923, to the Parker-Gillespie “Groovin’ High” of 1945 and John Lewis’s “Skating In Central Park,” but rare once-popular surprises, including “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” “Smiles,” “Ida,” “Aren’t You Glad You’re You” and “Moon Song.”  Although the songs might seem antique, the approach is not self-consciously historical: the young tenor saxophonist Harry Allen (to cite only one example) who delivers eloquent solos while standing motionless, once leaning against the bar, would fit in well with the bebop legend Clifford Brown or the Harlem stride master James P. Johnson.

Each of the four days was full of highlights, rarely loud or at a high pitch, but emotionally exhilarating all the same, from the first set on Thursday, as the Heitger-Sheridan duet became a trio with the addition of drummer John Von Ohlen (who resembles Ben Franklin in coiffure but Franklin, from eighteenth-century reports, tended to drag at fast tempos – something that Von Ohlen, sharp and attentive, never does) on a Benny Goodman Trio –tempoed “Liza” that blossomed into a quintet in mid-performance with tenor saxophonist Dan Block and bassist Phil Flanigan joining in because they couldn’t wait until it concluded.  Block looks as though he had slipped off from his professorship at an esteemed university, but has (unlike Allen) all the archetypical tenor saxophonist’s violent physical gestures, moving his horn ecstatically as his phrases tumble out, adopting a hymnlike tone on a ballad or floating at a fast tempo in the best Lester Young manner.  Flanigan hoisted this band (and others) on his shoulders with his elastic, supple time and when it came to his solo, no one succumbed to bass ennui, for his choruses had the logic and emotion of Jack Teagarden’s architectural statements.  (Flanigan is married to the eloquent singer Hanna Richardson, who had been at Chautauqua in 2003 and was much missed this year.)

Thus, Thursday night, an hour along, had become 52nd Street or Minton’s again, with no cigarette smoke or watered drinks in sight.  No one got up and danced, a pity, but no one clapped to an imagined beat while the musicians played – an immense relief.  What made the music memorable might have escaped a casual listener who expected jazz performances to be lengthy, virtuosic solos.  The players were concise, saying what they had to say in two or three choruses, and the technical brilliance was usually in making the difficult seem easy, whether on a racing hot performance or a tender ballad (although perfectly placed high notes did ornament solos).  What distinguished the performances was a joyous, irresistible forward motion – listeners’ heads steadily marked the beat, and everyone had their own sound: I could tell who was taking a solo with my eyes closed.  And there was an affectionate empathy on the stand: although musicians in a club chatter during others’ solos, these players listened intently, created uplifting background figures, and smiled at the good parts.  Off-duty players stayed to admire.  And when the last set of the night ended, the players gathered around the bar to talk about music – but not predictably.  Rather, they swapped stories about symphonic conductors: Joe Wilder sharing Pierre Boulez anecdotes, Dan Block giving us Fritz Reiner gossip.  The general bonhomie also turned into friendly banter with their colleagues and the audience: most musicians like to talk, and most are naturally witty.  The unstoppable Marty Grosz, beginning to explicate the singing group the Ink Spots for a late-evening tribute, said, “I’ll make this short, because I already hear the sounds of chins hitting breastbones.”  (He was wrong: the crowd followed every note.)

Some stereotypes are truer than not, however: I overheard this conversation between a musician I’ll call “M” and a solicitous member of the Chautauqua staff:

“M, would you like a drink?”

“Yes, thank you!  Gin.”

“A martini?  With ice?  Olives?  An onion?  Some tonic?”

“No.  [Emphatically.]  Gin.

Gin in its naked state was then provided.

On Thursday evening, I had talked with Phil Flanigan about the paying guests.  I had brought with me gloomy doubts about the aging, shrinking, and exclusively white audience, and the question of what happens to a popular art when its supporters die off, envisioning nothing but empty chairs in ten years.   I had expected to find a kindred pessimism in Flanigan, earnestly facing his buffet dinner, but it didn’t bother him that the audience that had once danced to Benny Goodman had thinned out.  Flanigan told me, emphatically, how he treasured these people.  “They’re dedicated fans.  They come to listen.”  “What about their age?” I asked.  “Lots of age,” he said.  “This is a good thing.  Think of the accumulated wisdom, the combined experience.  These are the folks who supported the music when it was young.  When they were young!  What do you know? They just happened to be loyal and long-lived.”  (Flanigan’s optimism, however, would have been tested to the limit by the affluent, fiftyish couple who shared our table and seemed to ignore the music in favor of the New York Times, barely looking up.)

Flanigan’s commentary was not the only surprise – especially for those who consider jazz musicians as inarticulate, concerned more about reeds than realities.  The next day, I had attached myself to Joe Wilder for lunch.  The conversation, steered by Wilder, weaved around memories of his friends, famous and not – but he really wanted to talk about Iraq and eco-devastation, and his perspective was anything but accepting.

Friday began with rain, and the hotel corridors were ornamented by white plastic buckets; from one room I heard an alto player practicing; behind another door trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso was turning a phrase this way and that in the fashion of a poet accenting one word and then another while reciting the line half-aloud.  I spent some costly time entranced by the displays of compact discs, buying and considering.

Later, the party began officially in the main ballroom with fourteen musicians (six brass, four reeds, four rhythm), stretched from left to right, jostling for position on the stage of the main ballroom, played “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” at its original, yearning tempo, with the trumpeter Randy Reinhart directing traffic, the musicians creating simple chordal backgrounds of organ tones played in whole notes (called “footballs” for the way they look on music paper) and the brilliant anachronism Vince Giordano switching from his bass saxophone (an instrument out of fashion by 1935) to the only aluminum double bass I have ever seen, as the spirit took him, the convocation suggesting Eddie Condon meeting Count Basie in 1939.

The set that followed was a masterpiece of small-band friendship, featuring Allen, Wilder, Block (on alto), the underrated Washington, D.C., pianist Larry Eanet, Howard Alden, Flanigan, and Von Ohlen.  In forty minutes, they offered a strolling “If Dreams Come True,” with Flanigan beginning his solo with a quote from the verse to “Love in Bloom,” a speedy “Time After Time,” usually taken lugubriously, with the melody handed off among all the horns and Alden in eight-bar segments, an even brisker “This Can’t Be Love,” notable for Eanet, who offered his own version of Hank Jones’s pearls at top speed and for Wilder – who now plays in a posture that would horrify brass teachers, his horn nearly parallel to his body, pointing down at the floor.  His radiant tone, heard on so many recordings of the Fifties, is burnished now into a speaking, conversational one – Wilder will take a simple, rhythmic phrase and repeat it a number of times, toying with it as the chords beneath him go flying by, a Louis Armstrong experiment, something fledgling players shouldn’t try at home, and he enjoys witty musical jokes: quoting “Ciribiribin” and, later, “Mona Lisa,” in a solo on “Flyin’ Home.”  Often he brought out a bright green plastic cup and waggled it close to and away from the bell of his horn, creating growly, subterranean sounds Cootie Williams would have liked.  (“From the five and ten,” he said, when I asked him about the cup.)  Wilder’s ballad feature, “I Cover the Waterfront,” was a cathedral of quiet climbing phrases.  And the set closed with a trotting version of “The Jeep is Jumpin’,” a Johnny Hodges riff on “I Got Rhythm” changes, played the way it was in 1941, before musicians believed that audiences needed to hear everything faster and louder.

A series of beautifully shaped impromptu performances followed, including a Bobby Gordon – John Sheridan duet full of Gordon’s breathy chalumeau register, and a Rebecca Kilgore set.  Kilgore has a serious, no-nonsense prettiness and doesn’t drape herself over the microphone to woo an audience, but she is an affecting, sly actress, who uses her face, her posture, and her hands to support or play off of what her beautiful voice is offering.  She is especially convincing when she is acting herself and her twin at once: on “Close Your Eyes,” a song full of serious assurance that the hearer will be safe forever in the arms of the true love, Kilgore managed to suggest that the lyrics were absolutely true while she audibly winked at the audience, as if to say, “Do you believe this sweet, silly stuff I’m singing?”

Friday closed with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, an explosive ten-piece band, replicating late Twenties and early Thirties jazz and dance orchestras.  Giordano, who resembles a movie idol who could have partnered Joan Blondell, is remarkable – an eloquent melodist and improviser on his unwieldy bass saxophone, where he gets a room-filling tone both sinewy and caressing; his aluminum string bass, ferociously propulsive tuba, and boyishly energetic vocals.  The Nighthawks reunion band featured whizzing tempos, bright solos, and on-target ensemble passages on a for-dancers-only repertoire, circa 1931, Savoy Ballroom.  Most listeners have never heard a band like the Nighthawks live – they shout to the heavens without being extraordinarily loud, and their ensemble momentum is thrilling.  Hoarse and dizzy, we climbed the stairs to our rooms at 1:30 AM.

Saturday morning began sedately, with solo piano, some pastoral duos and trios, and then caught fire with a Kilgore-James Dapogny duet.  Dapogny is a rolling, rumbling pianist in the style that used to be called “Chicagoan”: right-hand single note melody lines, flashing Earl Hines octaves, stride-piano ornamentations supported by a full, mobile left hand, and he and Kilgore had never played together before.  Kilgore let herself go on the nineteenth-century parlor favorite “Martha,” subtitled “Ah! So Pure!” which Connee Boswell took for a more raucous ride with the Bob Crosby band sixty-five years ago.  Kilgore’s approach was gliding and swinging, with hand gestures that would not have disgraced a Victorian songstress or a melodramatic 1936 band singer (a raised index finger for emphasis, a gentle clasp of her own throat), but the sly glint in her eye and the sweetly ironic quotation marks in her delivery suggested that Martha’s purity was open to question.  Then came a trio of Dan Barrett and Bob Havens on trombones, backed only Marty Grosz, someone his Chicago comrade Frank Chace has called “a one-man rhythm gang,” in a short set notable for fraternal improvising and Barrett’s interpolating one vocal stanza of a lewd blues, “The Duck’s Yas Yas” into “Basin Street Blues.”  More brass ecstasy followed in a trumpet extravaganza, ending with a six-trumpet plus Barrett version of Bunny Berigan’s famous “I Can’t get Started” solo, by now a piece of Americana, with the ballroom’s walls undulating with the collective passion.  The Nighthawks played an afternoon session, full of exuberance and wit: Giordano, calling a difficult tune for the band, smiled at his players and said, “Good luck, boys,” in the manner of Knute Rockne encouraging Notre Dame, before they leapt in to the forests of notes.  And it wasn’t all simply hot music: where else in America, I wondered, could you hear someone sing “Okay, Baby,” with its deathless, funny lyrics about the romantic couple: “The wedding ring I’ve bought for you / Fifty-two more payments and it’s yours, dear”?  Grosz followed with a set devoted to those musicians who would have turned 100 this year – Coleman Hawkins, James P. Johnson, Jimmy Dorsey, and Fats Waller, where Grosz (who knows these things, having come here from Berlin as a child in 1930) commented, “America is the land of easy come, easy go,” before singing a Waller ballad, “If It Ain’t Love,” as tenderly as if he were stroking the Beloved’s cheek.

Sunday morning began with a solo recital by guitarist Howard Alden, which itself began with a rueful “Blame It On My Youth” – Alden also had elevated all the rhythm sections of the bands he had been in, as well as being a careful, lyrical banjo soloist with the Nighthawks – but the temperature of the room soon rose appreciably.  A nearly violent “It’s All Right With Me” featured three storming choruses of four-bar trades among Harry Allen, Wilder, Barrett, and Dan Block; Duke Heitger closed his set with an extravagant “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” with its seldom-played stomping verse, here played twice before the ensemble strode into the chorus; the band supported by Grosz, constructing chordal filigrees at a very fast tempo; Giordano, slapping his aluminum bass for dear life, and Ed Metz, Jr., recalling Zutty Singleton, Armstrong’s drumming pal of the late Twenties, if Singleton had gone to the gym regularly.

Then it was time to go, to close with another Boughton extravaganza – a ballad medley lifted up greatly by Scott Robinson’s “Moonlight Becomes You” on bass flute, Jon-Erik Kellso’s “Willow Weep For Me,” growled as if he had become one of Ellington’s brass in 1929, and the clarinetist Bob Reitmeier’s soft “Deep Purple.”  These heartfelt moments gave way to the true closing “After You’ve Gone,” which featured impromptu piano duets among the many pianists, and an uproarious enthusiasm – greeted with the cheers it deserved.

I wasn’t surprised that on Sunday afternoon, driving back through Erie, Pennsylvania (where Lloyd’s Fireworks advertised “pepper spray, stun guns, sale on Lord of the Rings tape”) that my thoughts drifted back to Heitger’s Thursday-evening prediction.  Yes, there had been too much white and blue hair to make me feel confident about the future of the audience, Flanigan notwithstanding; there had even seemed to be too much music, pushing me to the brink of satiety, and it had all been evanescent – but Heitger had been right: it had been fun.

And just so my readers don’t forget the present and future while celebrating past glories: this year’s Jazz at Chautauqua will include (in egalitarian alphabetical order) Alden, Allen, Barrett, Block, Jon Burr, Dapogny, the Fauz Frenchmen, Grosz, Havens, Heitger, Glenn Holmes, Ingham, Kellso, Kinsella, Kilgore, Dan Levinson, Bill Ransom, Reinhart, Robinson, Sandke, Andy Schumm, Sheridan, Pete Siers, Rossano Sportiello, Andy Stein, Lynn Stein, Frank Tate, Von Ohlen, and Chuck Wilson.  That should provide sufficient music for a weekend!

HOLIDAY FOR SWING! (JOHN WRIGGLE SWING ORCHESTRA, Dec. 6, 2010)

On December 6, 2010, I went to a superb free big band jazz concert.  

That in itself requires a reverential pause, a full stop to marvel at the delicious combination of words. 

Better yet, it was a too-brief evening of superb music, direected by the fine jazz scholar, musicologist, composer, and trombonist John Wriggle.  A year ago, John organized an evening in tribute to the wonderful but underacknowledged swing arranger Chappie Willet, called BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY.  I was there with my camera (to capture the sounds of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks!) and videos of the music can be found on YouTube.

This year John did several remarkable things: for one, he had assembled a band of youthful players who — after one rehearsal only — performed the charts with enthusiasm and grace.  It was particularly moving to see those younger players doing such a heartfelt job on music that certainly antedated them by perhaps forty or fifty years.

But John also showed that his reach went beyond Chappie Willet — the program included well-known Benny Goodman showcases for Cootie Williams and Charlie Christian, a version of THE FLAT FOOT FLOOGEE (where the audience sing-along was not as strong as the occasion deserved, but we needed a second take), to rarities, in a program offering music from the early Thirties to the middle Forties — from Lunceford to Fletcher and Horace Henderson to Benny Carter and Red Norvo.  Benny Goodman, Mary Lou Williams, Bob Haggart, Bob Crosby, Edgar Sampson and Edwin Wilcox, oh my!

The players were Charles Lee, Jeff Hudgins, Morgan Price, Peter Hess, and Eduardo Lopez-Dabdoub, reeds; Satoru Ohashi, Kevin Louis, Rich Nichols, trumpet; Wriggle himself and Jen Baker, trombone; Nick Russo, guitar; George Rush, bass; Stefan Schatz, drums; Jon Singer, xylophone. 

(A small comment for the perfectionists in my readership.  I can imagine someone saying, after seeing the performances below, “Well, it’s very nice, but it doesn’t sound just like my treasured Bluebird 78s.”  That person would be correct, but the Swing Era bands that we revere travelled together, rehearsed together, and lived together for years — which made for a greater intuitive understanding of, say, how the sax section would phrase a particular four-bar passage, where the accents should go, and so on.  These marvelous young players performed this music so spectacularly after one rehearsal.  They are my heroes of the month, if not the year!)

The first half of the concert was — as we say — a blast! — but the real fireworks started after the intermission, when satoru assumed the mantle of late-Thirties Louis for the Willet arrangement of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, a performance that would make any right-minded jazz fan stand up and cheer.  To belabor the obvious, I hope you all know how incredibly difficult that solo is to play? 

That piece of stunning heroism was followed by LAZY BUG, composed by Ellington valve-trombonist Juan Tizol but recorded by the Ellington-worshipper Charlie Barnet, its arrangement probably by Andy Gibson:

SUPERMAN, an Eddie Sauter feature for Cootie Williams in the 1941 Benny Goodman band, so elaborate that it was issued on a 12″ 78, showcased Kevin Louis.

The oddly named HAMTRAMCK was written for Gene Krupa by Elton Hill, who also played and composed for Lucky Millinder and Cab Calloway but remains a shadowy figure.

Eddie Sauter’s unrecorded arrangement of IN A PERSIAN MARKET (with Eduardo Lopez-Dabdoub flying high!) is a lovely, quirky oddity:

Much more familiar in this century is SOLO FLIGHT, guitarist Charlie Christian’s feature in the Goodman band, arranged by Jimmy Mundy, here featuring Nick Russo.

SILHOUETTE was an early Mel Powell composition, possibly also written for Goodman, but heard here as a baritone saxophone feature for Peter Hess.

And John closed the concert with one of his favorites — not A STRING OF PEARLS — but something that summed up the whole evening, HOLIDAY FOR SWING, written by Samuel (I knew him as “Sammy”) Lowe for the Erskine Hawkins band:

In the ideal world, John and these stellar, striving musicians would be coming to a dance hall in my area very soon — in tuxedos and sitting behind music stands with the Wriggle family crest . . . but I must wake from my dream.  I am delighted that I could sit in the CUNY auditorium and savor these swing delights.

SWEET AND SAVORY at THE EAR INN (Nov. 21, 2010)

Consider an unadorned slice of toasted bread. 

Spread with blood orange marmalade, it becomes sweet.  Take another slice and add butter mixed with anchovy paste, the result is savory.  

Jazz musicians — who love to see how far the rules can be bent — have been merging the two categories for a century or more now, mixing heat with romanticism, swinging ballads about love lost and love found.  

The EarRegulars do this splendidly every Sunday night (8-11 PM) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

Last Sunday (Nov. 21, 2010) was simultaneously remarkable and typical.  Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen are singularly in tune with one another, able to play with abandon and art, anticipating each other’s inventions, moods, turns of phrase.  Their unspoken connections are thrilling — rather like watching great imaginers who bounce off one another’s inspirations, having their say while building something larger than the four instrumental voices. 

Here are three performances.  The first is an exuberant version of MY GAL SAL — a sentimental song kept alive through the affection of a very few jazz groups who enjoy its possibilities:

Then, something I had requested: a ballad-tempo version of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, where Jon-Erik remembered a Cootie WIlliams small-group recording.  The EarRegulars extracted every ounce of feeling from this sweet song (often done as a bouncy exaltation):

Finally, one of the once-familiar jam tunes (recorded memorably by both Bing Crosby and Eddie Condon, featuring Pee Wee Russell):

Inspired play — both jubilant and experimental, satsifying the senses then and now.

DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB

I’m delighted to report a new 2-CD set of Ellington broadcast material from the Cotton Club — with some new things never otherwise issued, and a good deal of material that only serious Ellington collectors had at their fingertips.  (I know that the music world might seem to some to be awash in Ellington CDs, but I think this set essential.)

The set is called, logically, DUKE ELLINGTON AT THE COTTON CLUB (Storyville 1038415).  It begins with two selections — piano solos — taken from a “Saturday Night Swing Club” broadcast on May 8, 1937, and ends with the Ellington band broadcasting from Sweden on April 20, 1939, as part of an exultant tour.

In between there are forty-two selections broadcast live from the Cotton Club, from April 17 to May 29, 1938. 

“Why is this essential?” you might ask.  Most improvising ensembles, then and now, might find themselves somewhat confined by the limitations of the recording studio.  It wasn’t always a matter of the time constraints imposed by the 78 rpm disc — two-thirds of the selections in this set would have fit on commercial releases. 

But a recording session brought with it the pressure to make a mistake-free performance, which sometimes stifled the spontaneity so needed for improvisational brilliance.  There is also the indefinable but audible give-and-take between a happy nightclub audience and the musicians on these discs, something that the dead air and clock of the recording studio could not reproduce. 

These broadcasts give us tangible swinging evidence of what the Ellington band sounded when playing for real audiences — and of the variety of its approaches to identical material (three versions of IF DREAMS COME TRUE, for instance). 

The accepted Ellington history is that the band reached a peak in 1940-1 when Ben Webster joined the band and Jimmy Blanton became the bassist, and the Victor recordings in this period are extraordinary.  And the Fargo, North Dakota, dance date of November 1940 (seventy years ago next month!) has a swaying unbuttoned splendor. 

But any history that deals in peaks and apexes is suspect, and if Ellington had disbanded in spring 1938 I think we would be mourning this orchestra as a great accomplishment, a merging of vividly disparate personalities all going in the same direction on the bandstand. 

What we hear in these airshots is the band taking on pop tunes, originals, jamming in small-group contexts, melting Ivie Anderson vocals — a wonderful banquet with extraordinary solo and ensemble work from the Masters: Bigard, Carney, Hodges, Cootie, Rex, Greer, Lawrence Brown, Tricky Sam, and so on. 

The set begins with two Ellington piano solos — SWING SESSION (SODA FOUNTAIN RAG in new attire) and a ruminative medley of two ballads, and it ends with a priceless long airshot from Sweden, where ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM is framed by a mournful, pensive SERENADE TO SWEDEN and a Swedish pop tune, IN A LITTLE RED COTTAGE (BY THE SEA) which Ivie sings most tenderly.  And there’s even a one-minute video clip of the Cotton Club itself. 

Ellington collectors will have known this material (discs were cut for composer / arranger / theorist Joseph Schillinger) when it was issued in part on two Jazz Archives records perhaps thirty-five years ago.  And some of the tracks were issued elsewhere on even more elusive issues.  But the Duke Ellington Society bulletin informs me that several tracks here were never issued anywhere, and it is delightful to have it all collected — in clear transfers with erudite notes by Andrew Homzy. 

As the announcer says, “The Duke is on the air!”   

Track listing:

CD 1
1 Swing Session 2:00
2 Medley: Solitude/In A Sentimental Mood 3:00
3 Harmony In Harlem 3:20
4 If You Were In My Place 3:20
5 Mood Indigo 2:44
6 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 1:14
7 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:25
8 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:58
9 Dinah’s In A Jam 2:12
10 If Dreams Come True 1:45
11 Scrontch 1:49
12 You Went To My head 1:42
13 Three Blind Mice 3:11
14 Solitude 3:28
15 Downtown Uproar 3:12
16 Dinah’s In A Jam 3:26
17 On The Sunny Side Of The Street 4:09
18 Ev’ry Day 2:45
19 Azure 2:46
20 Carnival In Caroline 2:50
21 Harmony In Harlem 3:35
22 At Your Back And Call 2:22
23 Solitude 3:18
24 The Gal From Joe’s 3:06
25 Riding On A Blue Note 2:38
26 If Dreams Come True 2:54

Total time:70:23

CD 2
1 Oh Babe, Maybe Someday 2:51
2 I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart 1:31
3 Birmingham Breakdown 2:38
4 Rose Room 2:10
5 If Dreams Come True 2:34
6 It’s The Dreamer In Me 4:37
7 Lost In Meditation 3:53
8 Ev’ry Day 2:40
9 Echoes Of Harlem 4:40
10 Theme: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo 0:58
11 Jig Walk 2:02
12 In A Sentimental Mood 1:13
13 I’m Slapping 7th Avenue2:50
14 Lost In Meditation 2:45
15 Alabamy Home 3:32
16 If You Were In My Place 2:15
17 Prelude in C Sharp Minor 2:56
18 Rockin’ In Rhythm 3:58
19 Serenade To Sweden 5:38
20 Rockin’ In Rhythm 4:24
21 In A Red Little Cottage 5:13
22 Video Clip from the Cotton Club 1:00

Total time: 66:28

For more details, visit http://www.storyvillerecords.com/default.aspx?tabID=2633&productId=27279&state_2838=2

EHUD AND HARRY’S PARTY (September 2, 2010)

Those names refer to the splendid young pianist Ehud Asherie, the inimitable tenor saxophonist Harry Allen.  They were celebrating in a cozy corner of the Hotel Kitano’s bar last Thursday — celebrating the release of their new quartet CD, MODERN LIFE, for the Posi-Tone label.  At the Kitano, they were joined by master timekeepers Chuck Riggs, drums; Clovis Nicolas, bass (Joel Forbes is on the CD but couldn’t make the party). 

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told a rather befuddled Earl Wilson, and I will follow his direction.  If these performances need explication, do let me know . . .

Ehud began with a composition of his own (also on the CD) — ONE FOR V.  It’s based on the chords of OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (by James P. Johnson) — homage not only to James P., one of Ehud’s heroes, but also to the Swing / Bop habit of composing new lines over familiar chord changes:

Given the problems of urban mass transit, Ehud cleverly offered his own solution, THE TROLLEY SONG — which some will associate with Judy Garland, others with that New Jersey marvel, Donald Lambert:

Most people think of Bud Powell as the master of fleet keyboard lines — not as a composer of love songs, pledges of eternal devotion.  Harry and Ehud make the most tender promises, musically, in Bud’s I’LL KEEP LOVING YOU:

Here’s a World War Two episode in popular culture, a song whose title I hope is irrelevant, GOTTA DO SOME WAR WORK (featured by the Cootie Williams band featuring the same young Bud Powell):

As a solo feature, Ehud honored one of the masters of the piano and popular song, Eubie Blake, with a lovely, varied reading of LOVE WILL FIND A WAY:

Here’s the pretty tune Teddy Wilson chose as the theme for his wonderful but short-lived 1940-1 big band, IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT MEAN SO MUCH:

And, as a jaunty set-closer, Ehud called SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

We love the music of this quartet!

DAN BLOCK’S VIVID IMAGINATIONS

Dan Block is a peerless reed player, arranger, composer, bandleader.  A new CD captures his many imaginations whole.  The picture (by Dan’s daughter Emma) adorns the cover of his Ellington tribute, FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE. 

Tributes to Ellington, hoever well-intentioned, have often become self-limiting, even formulaic.  Some musicians try to duplicate the sound of famous recordings; others rely upon Duke’s hit songs; others nod to an Ellington line for a chorus and then go off on their own.  Dan Block’s way is his own.  No SATIN DOLL, no transcriptions.   Rather, the most familiar songs on this CD are OLD KING DOOJI and KISSING BUG.  (Ask anyone who admires Ellingtonian to hum DOOJI and you’ll see what I mean.)  The repertoire, although not consciously esoteric, encompasses both COTTON CLUB STOMP and SECOND LINE. 

Dan didn’t try to find musicians who could simulate Cootie, Blanton, Greer.  And while he can evoke Jimmy Hamilton, Webster, Gonsalves, Bigard, Hodges, he doesn’t ever shed his own identity.  Every track has its own sound — respectfully inventive.  So an Ellington composition from 1940 (MORNING GLORY) is treated as if it were timeless (which it is) material for melodic improvisation, but never imprisoned by its “period” and “genre.”

Duke’s compositions are deeply re-imagined: KISSING BUG, which leads off, has Dan wistfully playing the line — only after he has perched atop the rattling percussion of Renato Thoms, the drums of Brian Grice, the chiming vibes of Mark Sherman, alternating with 4 /4 sections where we hear James Chirillo’s guitar, Lee Hudson’s bass, Mike Kanan’s piano.  The rhythm section work throughout — in shifting permutations — is energized without being restrictively “modern” or “traditional.”  Although Dan is the only horn player on this CD, I never tired of his sounds or styles.     

I also noticed and applauded the natural sound of the sessions, for which I thank not only Dan but fellow saxophonist Andy Farber, who did the recording and shared mixing duties with Andrew Williams.  The players whose work I knew — James Chirillo, Pat O’Leary, Lee Hudson — sound beautifully and thoroughly realized.  The players who were new to me impress me thoroughly. 

Each track has its own suprises — a brief but wholly musical drum solo on BUG; an unaccompanied tenor cadenza on a musing NEW YORK CITY BLUES.  Dan understands that a slight shift of tempo (changing a ballad into a Fifties walk) makes a new composition although the notes seem the same. 

Dan has a searching lyricism, but he also loves to rock, as I see whenever he performs.  Not only does he vary his approach from performance to performance, but his horn (alto, tenor, a variety of clarinets, bass clarinet, and basset horn) without the result becoming gimmicky. 

The disc is full of marvels — but three in particular stand out.  One is THE BEAUTIFUL INDIANS (originally from 1947) that Dan makes into a shimmering impressionist painting through multi-tracking four reed voices (on as many instruments) — reed lines echo and intertwine, then hum and waft — all supported exquisitely by Hudson on bass and O’Leary on cello. 

Another is the ambling ballad medley of ALL HEART and CHANGE MY WAYS, a track combining duets for clarinet and piano, then alto sax and piano.  Mike Kanan is wondrously intuitive, his lines gliding from one beautiful voicing to the next. 

But I marvel the most at the pensive A PORTRAIT OF BERT WILLIAMS reconsidered at a slightly faster tempo as a four-minute chamber piece for Dan, bass clarinet; Chirillo, guitar; O’Leary, cello; Hudson, bass.  Imagine the Budapest Quartet playing Dvorak’s “American” Quartet / hybridized with the Basie rhythm section, with a touch of Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford, and Skeeter Best . . . that would hint at this irresistible performance.  (Chirillo’s acoustic playing is both funky and delicate.)  This quartet returns for a sweetly lamenting ROCKS IN MY BED which reminds me of Jimmy Giuffre, Pee Wee Russell, and Danny Barker: you’ll understand when you hear it. 

But this disc is full of pleasures, some instantly apparent, some appearing only on repeated hearings.  The music honors Ellington but no one is subsumed into an already-established idea of “Ellingtonia.”  And the title says a great deal: Dan and friends play approach Ellington’s music by finding revelations within it.     

The disc costs $20.  To order yours, email its creator at BlockDan@aol.com.