Tag Archives: Count Basie

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!

IRRESISTIBLE READING: “TRAVELS WITH LOUIS” and “RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN”

I have to tell you about two jazz books that have given me immense pleasure: Mick Carlon’s TRAVELS WITH LOUIS and RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN.  Yes, they are officially “children’s books” or “YA fiction,” but I delighted in every page.

I confess that I initially resisted both of Carlon’s books for reasons peculiar to me.  I was a precocious sort who grew up among adult readers and got into their books as soon as I could.  So I have no deep connections to children’s literature. And having seen some books “about jazz” or “about jazz heroes and heroines” for children, books that were inaccurate, oversimplified, or were unintentionally condescending, I was exceedingly wary of the genre. (Much “adult” fiction about jazz strikes me the same way, including the revered Baldwin story “Sonny’s Blues.”)

Because I’ve spent my life studying and revering Louis and Duke, I was ready to pick a fight with any book that didn’t do them justice. So even though both books had been praised by people I respect — Dan Morgenstern, George Avakian, Nat Hentoff, Jack Bradley, even Ruby Braff — I found other things to read.

But when the books came to me, I decided to treat them fairly. Within twenty pages into TRAVELS WITH LOUIS I was hooked.  I am a quick reader, and yesterday and today you could have found me ignoring what I was supposed to be doing to sneak in a few more pages. (This, for me, is the test of fiction: do I care about the characters and what happens to them?  If not, down the book goes, no matter how respected the author.)

Both these books are heartfelt, endearing, and the jazz heroes come off true to their essential selves.  Louis first.

TRAVELS WITH LOUIS follows a twelve-year old African-American neighbor of Louis’ — little Fred Bradley — who is an aspiring trumpeter.  Louis is his neighbor, supremely kind not only to Fred but to all his neighbors (something we know to be true) and the book charts their sweet relationship as Fred grows as a young man and an aspiring musician.  I won’t give away the plot, but it isn’t all ice cream and good times: there is grief over a parent’s death, race prejudice, a sit-in in a Southern town, failure, embarrassment, danger.  But Fred’s love for the music, for his family, and for his Corona world shines through.  And Louis is a beaming avuncular presence not only for Fred but for us.  In some ways, this book is the fulfillment of what must have been the dream of many: “Suppose Louis Armstrong was my friend and I could hang out with him!”  The book is not restricted to one Corona street, and the outside world intrudes, but I will leave those episodes for readers, without spoiling their surprises.  (But Langston Hughes, John Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington make appearances, speaking convincing dialogue and acting in ways that don’t seem out of character.)

Carlon is an easy, plain-spoken writer who has avoided many traps. For one thing, he has based his knowledge of Louis on first-hand real-life experience: twenty years of conversations with Jack Bradley, who loved and loves Louis deeply and followed him everywhere.  So one never feels that the author is at a distance from his subject — picking up his subject’s DNA from hours in the library.  Affection is the spine of this book, and I had tears in my eyes more than once.  Carlon also has neatly sidestepped areas of Louis’ life that would be troublesome for a YA audience.  Louis doesn’t tell dirty jokes, nor does he smoke pot in front of Little Fred, but that seems true to life.  The slippery presence of Joe Glaser doesn’t pop up here, and that’s a relief.

RIDING ON DUKE’S TRAIN, Carlon’s first book, is in some ways even more ambitious, because it attempts to portray Ellington (that intriguing mixture of declarations of verbal love and a deep distance from anyone) as well as his 1937-39 band here and in Europe. I was charmed by his portrayal of Ivie Anderson, both gentle and salty, of Juan Tizol, of all the Ellingtonians.  Django Reinhardt shows up here, as do the Nazis and the Swing Kids — in this tale of nine-year old Danny, an African-American Georgia orphan who finds himself nearly adopted by the whole band, especially Rex Stewart, and begins a career in Ellingtonia.  At times I thought Danny was much more eloquent and perceptive than a nine-year old might be expected to be, but then again, the young Danny is a quick study and the narrator is Danny, grown much older, who is telling his story retrospectively (a device often used by the Irish writer Frank O’Connor.)

Both books work.  I love this music and the people who create it so much that if I am taken to a film with jazz in it, I will be muttering to myself, “That record wasn’t out in 1944,” and “People didn’t use that expression in 1939,” but I had very little of that bristling in either book.  Of course the jazz scholars among us can pick at some of Carlon’s poetic license: “Louis never played POTATO HEAD BLUES in his shows.”  “Louis never played the Village Vanguard.”  “Sonny Greer wasn’t tall.”  “Billy Taylor was Duke’s bassist then, not Jimmie Blanton.”  “Where’s Strayhorn?” And the scholars would be right.

But Carlon is writing fiction, not a discography, and it is much easier to criticize someone’s efforts for their imperfections than it is to create them.

And the poetic license ultimately isn’t the point.

These books aren’t written to please adults who have spent their lives figuring out what ever happened to the Hot Choruses cylinders, but for new audiences. Heaven knows jazz needs new audiences!  Carlon is writing for the next generation who might, let us hope, be stirred by these fast-moving, varied human stories here to check out what Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington sounded like.

And who knows?  Conversion experiences have happened with less inspiring encouragement than these two books offer.  All I can say is that I am looking forward to Mick’s next book, GIRL SINGER, which will have a female protagonist (hooray!) and be set in 1938 with a band out of Kansas City led by a pianist named Basie.  It should swing.

Rather than keep these books on my shelf, I’m giving them away to jazz friends I know who have young children: it couldn’t hurt.  I encourage you — even if you think you know all about Louis and Duke — to buy copies of these books, read them, savor them, and then give them away to the youngbloods we know. Something good could happen.

You can purchase the two books in the usual places, and you can find out more about Mick Carlon here.

May your happiness increase!

JACK KAPP INSISTS

Two stories from the past.

One comes from someone’s reminiscence of being on the bus with the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe — this could have been in 1957 — where Sonny Stitt, a brilliantly virtuosic player, was walking up and down the aisle of the bus, horn in full flight, playing everything he knew, pulling out every impressive piece of acrobatic improvising to wow his august audience.  Lester Young, probably seated in the back of the bus, is supposed to have said, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt.  But can you sing me a song?”

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Bing Crosby and Jack Kapp (1901-1949) in the studio

Jack Kapp, the head of Decca Records, was famous for wanting his artists — Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Louis Armstrong, the Andrews Sisters — to play and sing the melody so that the ordinary listener knew it was there.  Some sources say there was a wooden Indian at one end of the studio with a sign around its neck, WHERE’S THE MELODY? — others remember it as a picture of a Native American maiden with a cartoon balloon in which the same question was written in bold letters.

Famously, Kapp has been depicted in recent years as a fierce oppressor, someone who chained his free-spirited artists to the black dots on the manuscript paper.  It was all about the money, scholars propose, aiming music at the lowest common denominator who couldn’t understand anything they couldn’t hum along to.

Jazz writers like to imagine “what would have happened if (fill in hero / heroine’s name) had been able to record for a more hip company.  What magical music would we have now?”  They shed tears for Louis Armstrong, “forced” to record Hawaiian songs with Andy Iona.

Third story.  Time: 2014.

I received a CD not long ago by a jazz group I hadn’t heard of, although their credentials and associations were impressive.  And the CD had many beautiful songs on it — lovely melodies that I looked forward to hearing.  When I put the CD on, I was immediately taken with the beautiful recorded sound, the expansive improvisations, the sophisticated technique of the players — no one seemed to take a breath; no one faltered; the improvisations — at the highest level — went on without a letup. But in each case, the improvisations were so technically dazzling, so dense with musical information that the song, hinted at in the first chorus, sank deeper and deeper under the water.  Intricate rhythmic patterns, hammered out unceasingly; layers of substitute harmonies; unusual tempos (ballads taken at triple speed) dominated every performance.

The disc lasted about an hour.  It was brilliant and awe-inspiring but I found it truly exhausting and, to me, antithetical to the spirit of the original songs.  I know, I know.  Jazz is “about” improvisation, right? Only dullards play exactly what’s on the page, correct?

I listened to the whole CD, and as much as I marveled at the technique, the assurance, the bold dash of the whole thing, all I wanted to do was to hear something beautiful, something songful and soulful.  Ben Webster playing HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?  Louis playing and singing WHEN YOU’RE SMILING. Bird with Strings.  A Johnny Hodges slow blues.  Benny Goodman playing LADY BE GOOD.  Miles Davis exploring the PORGY AND BESS score.

I always agreed with the commonly held notion of Jack Kapp as a materialistic soul-destroying enemy of creativity.

Now I might rethink my position, because beautifully playing the melody seems like balm to my ears.

And I think that many musicians would say it is much more difficult to play that ballad “straight” and convey the song’s emotions than to leave the original behind in thirty-two bars in the name of improvisation.

I hope you find beautiful melodies wherever you go.  They are all around us.

May your happiness increase! 

TWO HEROES AT THE KEYBOARD. ONE BEAMS. ONE LOOKS STARTLED.

You know these Masters: Count Basie and Joe Sullivan. Time, date, place, and photographer unknown:

I think that Joe’s caught-by-surprise expression might be due to the photographer’s flashbulb going off.  Or, perhaps it was, “Can it be? Can I be sitting at the same keyboard with Basie?”

I wonder if this was New York, 1940-1 (a Village Vanguard jam session or one at Cafe Society?) or — less likely — taken during the 1939 “From Spirituals to Swing” end-of concert frolic on LADY BE GOOD, or a 1941 jam session at Carnegie Hall.

BASIE and SULLIVAN

Whatever and wherever, it’s a tribute to the power of the camera — to capture such moments that would otherwise merely be the stuff of legend.

May your happiness increase!

THE BAD OLD DAYS

We still recoil in horror and shame when confronted with photographs of COLORED and WHITE drinking fountains and entrances . . . or at least I hope we do.  And I know that Alistair Cooke’s announcements on the jam sessions broadcast for the BBC in the late Thirties — announcing players by race, as if radio listeners needed to be protected from Negritude entering their living rooms — still startle unpleasantly.  But what should we make of this article, possibly sold around 1939?

AN ANTHOLOGY OF COLORED JAZZ

Was Decca suggesting that this was “authentic,” as in “We have the real stuff on our records,” an attempt to woo the JAZZMEN audience, or was it a way of warning off a racially-charged audience, “This is that degenerate stuff.  Keep the women and children a safe distance away”?

I can’t tell.  But since I think few listeners have their music categorized by racial / ethnic characteristics, this record album has not lost its potential to shock.

The music inside, of course, is colorful yet without pigmentation.

May your happiness increase!

“MUSIC IS A MIRACLE”: RAY SKJELBRED and HIS CUBS at SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2013)

I agree with Ray Skjelbred, whose words I’ve taken as the title of this post.  (He says this, and more, before the first performance.)

I also think that he and his Cubs make miraculous music.

Here they are at the 2013 San Diego Jazz Fest on November 29, 2013 — Ray on piano, spiritual enhancement, and vocal; Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums.

Remembering Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins in 1933 with MY GALVESTON GAL*, a pop tune made immortal by way of swinging creativities:

A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, for Billie Holiday and Lester Young.  I hold my breath during the lovely thirty-second trio interlude from 4:22 — watch Messrs. Skjelbred and Daugherty, caught up in the same sacred currents:

Romping Chicago-style with NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW — vocal by Brother Cusack (I’ve left in the introductions of the band members because they deserve our applause as well as what was evoked in the room):

There were four more songs performed at this concert, but this music is so good that I am parceling it out in bites rather than gulps, for I will be sad when these videos from San Diego come to an end . . . even though there will be other opportunities to see Ray and his Cubs: click here.

In case you missed the magnificent — and I do not use that word lightly — WAILING BLUES (evoking Frank Melrose and Frank Teschemacher) — here it is again.

This band brings together in the present moment so much that is beautiful from the past — as if the Basie band had paid a visit to 1931 Chicago and stayed awhile. Ray and his Cubs create timeless music, a breathing space where the great spirits can relax and have their say, gently allowing us to listen in.

A postscript on MY GALVESTON GAL.  It is not the most subtle of popular tunes, with an up-and-down melodic / rhythmic / harmonic waveform, and lyrics that require the most nimble singer to squeeze in all the syllables, some of those words being lifted from other 1933 hits.  But it is a remarkable creation simply because of Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins — not only because it is the only example I know on record of Henry Allen beginning a vocal with the word, “Yowzah!”  (It pops up later, too.)  To fully appreciate the alchemy of Allen and Skjelbred, first hear a quite good “dance band” rendition of the tune by Harry Reser:

Then, Ray’s inspiration, the Allen-Hawkins Orchestra — with an utterly entrancing Benny Morton solo and an adventurous Hawkins one, as well as Allen’s vocal:

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

SWINGING QUIETLY: NINETY SECONDS WITH DANIEL P. BARRETT at the BOSENDORFER (December 2, 2013)

In Olaf Stapledon’s science-fiction novel about a super-intelligent canine, SIRIUS, the narrator says that we would never believe the things that people do when only the dog is in the room.

When no one else is in the room, or at least no one intrusive, the best jazz musicians swing wonderfully — free of the pressure of the audience, the lights, the microphones. Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet, vocal, composer – arranger AND swing pianist) is a fine example. Here he is, just playing for his own delight and the pleasure of sitting at a well-tuned Bosendorfer.  Ninety seconds of I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU — a performance, that although Dan makes little of it, ambles and floats and reminds us of how the Basieties, vocally and instrumentally, loved this song in the glory days of 1937 and beyond:

Thank you, Dan, for making this corner of a dark room into a Hot Spot of Rhythm — in sixty-four bars, no more, and for letting me share this Interlude with the world.

May your happiness increase!

BRYAN SHAW’S BLUEBIRD BRINGS HAPPINESS

I first wrote a few lines about Bryan Shaw’s most recent CD, THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS (Arbors Records) here, last year, because its music made a small sweet story possible.  For those who have been listening to jazz recordings, I will say only that this CD has the savor of an early-Fifties Vanguard session, and that I have returned to it often with increased pleasure.

BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS

I first heard Bryan on CD more than a decade ago, on his first Arbors release, NIGHT OWL.  At the time, he was only a name to me — but the CD found him among others whose work I knew and valued: Dan Barrett, the late Brian Ogilvie, Scott Robinson, Chuck Wilson, Dave Frishberg, Jeff Hamilton, Bucky Pizzarelli, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, David Stone, Eddie Erickson.  I was impressed with the playing and singing of those people, but Bryan struck me as a true find — a trumpet player with a singing lyricism, deep swing, real imagination . . . and although you could play the game that Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like,” that favorite pastime of critics and liner-note writers, Bryan sounded most like himself.

I had the opportunity to meet and hear Bryan in March 2010, and found all the virtues he had displayed on NIGHT OWL just as vivid in person.  And, at one of our meetings, I said, “When are you going to make another CD?”  Eventually, he told me about THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS . . . and now I can share it with you.

This CD features Bryan, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Ehud Asherie, piano; John Dominguez, string bass; Brad Roth, guitar / banjo; Jeff Hamilton, drums.  And the songs are in themselves a telling guide to the breadth of Bryan’s musical imagination — reaching back to Clarence Williams and forward into the future with equal ease: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / ALL MY LIFE / WANG WANG BLUES / VIGNETTE / PAPA DE DA DA / SONG OF DREAMS / I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO / OLD MAN BOWERS / BLOOMIN’ BLUES / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / ELLIE / BLUE ROOM / CHLOE / STRANGE BLUES / THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS.  Four of these songs — ELLIE, SONG OF DREAMS, OLD MAN BOWERS, and BLOOMIN’ BLUES — are flavorful originals by Brad Roth: each of them with a distinctive character, so much more than lines superimposed on familiar chord changes.  And the tidy, ingenious arrangements are by Dan Barrett, master of written charts and impromptu riffs and backgrounds.

If you wanted a compact living definition of what Stanley Dance called “Mainstream” in the twenty-first century, this CD would be a vivid multi-dimensional example.

The instrumental performances themselves are marvelous: Bryan’s trumpet, glowing or growling, seems to move from one beautiful phrase to the next without strain — no cliches here — and his solos have their own architectural sense, which translates into performances with shape, starting simply and rising to emotional peaks.  To me, Dan Barrett has been a model of the way to play trombone since I first heard him about a quarter-century ago. Evan Arntzen shines on clarinet and saxophone, finding just the right lines to enhance an ensemble and creating soaring solos.  And the rhythm section is all anyone could want: our splendid friend Ehud Asherie, who can merge Fats or the Lion, sauntering down the street (from one hot-dog stand to the next) with his own version of witty “modernist” swing.  Brad Roth — whether on banjo, sweet rhythm guitar, or single-string electric, adds so much to the ensemble, as do John Dominguez (supple and solid) and the ever-surprising Jeff Hamilton.

The overall effect varies from selection to selection, but I heard evocations of a Johnny Hodges small group, a live Basie performance circa 1940; a Buck Clayton Jam Session; the 1940 Ellington band, and more — and the performances benefit so much from what Ruby Braff used to do on the stand: to avoid monotony, he would subdivide a quartet into even smaller bands, playing duets and trios within it. BLUE ROOM offers us a trumpet-banjo verse; I’M JUST A LUCKY SO-AND-SO does the same but with trumpet and piano.

Even though there are a few mood pieces, this is a reassuringly optimistic CD, from the absolutely delicious swing of LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, ALL MY LIFE, BLUE ROOM . . . to the soaring (nearly operatic) assertion of the title song. Bryan believes in that BLUEBIRD, and the CD will bring happiness to anyone able to listen — and listen — to it in the right spirit. You can hear brief excerpts (each slightly less than thirty seconds) here and here, but I predict those tiny tastes will serve only to whet your appetite for the whole experience.

Some words from Bryan about the whole delicious enterprise:

This album was recorded by me, Bryan Shaw, at my studio in Costa Mesa, California, over 2 days in early November 2010. No overdubs. I met with Brad and John several time to brainstorm tunes, but no rehearsals. Dan had told me that he didn’t have time for any arrangements, then he showed up at the session with a key drive full of new charts, having stayed up all night for several days. We would record the charts as they came out of the printer.

I picked the songs with my heart, not my head.

The odd cover, initially a pencil sketch drawn by my daughter, shows a cozy old fashioned cottage with a garden and an old car. But when you open it up, you realize that there is a futuristic hovering BLUE spacecar in front. In the background is a big city of the future — and it may not even be earth.

Why?

I enjoy old jazz, gardening, old values, and more.  But I have my hovering space car to be able to function in the modern world. In my real life, I have fruit trees, extensive gardens, chickens, I raise fish in aquaponics. My roof is covered in solar panels and I generate all my own electricity. My hovering space car is my minivan that will drop me off at the airport for the next festival or cruise.

My concept on this album was a response to the world as I see it today. I believe that people need to turn off the TV and follow their hearts. I decided to follow mine long ago. I wanted to make music, even though playing a musical instrument is impossible. If you give any adult a musical instrument for the first time, they can’t play it. To become a musician you have to do the impossible — every day, over and over, till some day you can do it in public.

This CD is my attempt to put some basic principles of mine into music.  TIME: “When” is more important than “What.”  TONE: Be true to the voice you have. I don’t have a singing voice so I sing through the trumpet.  ENSEMBLE: A good jazz ensemble is a spontaneous conversation of seven players, each with an story to tell. You can tell that we actually were listening to each other and responding to the conversation. DYNAMICS: A jazz band with dynamics! We did bring it down to simmer at times. HARMONY: I’m tired of jazz players making everything sound ugly. I’m tired of chord changes, I wanted chord progressions. MELODY: Another forgotten concept. I lose interest in jazz when the melody becomes “the head” and the ensemble becomes “playing the head” (in a bad unison). RHYTHM: I’ve been fortunate to play a fair amount of swing dances and I wanted this CD to be something people could dance to. Rhythm is really the foundation of jazz and it provides the when to the what. BLEND: Fit in, support, harmonize, another lost concept in jazz.

Bryan’s THE BLUEBIRD OF HAPPINESS exemplifies his beliefs in the most melodic, swinging ways possible.

I’ve learned that wishes have power. What I wish for is that people buy this Hot Shots CD and find it as life-enhancing as I have. And then these same people make it known that they want to see this band in action.  It could happen, you know.

May your happiness increase!

TOMMY THUNEN, SEEN (THANKS TO MARK CANTOR)

The very diligent film historian Mark Cantor reminded me that unsung trumpeter Tommy Thunen (chronicled here)can be seen on film in the 1929 Vitaphone short, RED NICHOLS AND HIS FIVE PENNIES.  Understandably, much has been made of the short film for its hot qualities — Pee Wee Russell soloing, two vocals from Eddie Condon — but at the two-minute mark, Nichols and two other trumpeters (John Egan to his right, Thunen to his left) play an a cappella chorus of WHISPERING:

This is the sort of research we’ve relied on Mark for — and his generosity is legendary.  But you don’t have to be in the inner circle of jazz film collectors to enjoy his offerings.  In January, March, and May 2014, Mark will be offering his annual film programs at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco at 3200 California Street, (415) 292-1200.  We attended last year and found the program and Mark both equally delightful and informative. You can read more about Mark here.

January 25 – Treasures From the Archive – a potpourri of rarities from the collection.  “Join us for an evening of film clips showcasing some of the finest names in big band and small combo jazz, including many never before screened at the JCCSF. Among the artists to be featured are Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Shorty Rogers, Buddy Rich and Thelonious Monk.”

March 22 – Showtime at the Apollo – a compilation of artists and bands that appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. “The stage shows at the Apollo had it all: jazz bands and combos, vocalists, R&B, dance and comedy routines. Join us to watch clips of Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra, Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five, “Moms” Mabley, The Berry Brothers, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and many more.”

May 3 – Broadway to Hollywood – jazz performances based on music from the Broadway and Hollywood musicals.  “A lot of the repertoire of classic jazz can be largely traced to the Broadway stage and Hollywood musical. Join us for an evening of film featuring jazz performances of compositions by the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer and many more.”

Mark says he has been digging through his treasures for these three programs and expects to offer performances by Joe Venuti, “Red” Allen All Stars, Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Thelma White, Buddy Rich, Bob Crosby’s Bobcats, Stan Getz, Billy Eckstine, Yusef Lateef. John Coltrane. Nat “King” Cole, Marian McPartland . . .

The programs begin at 8 PM; tickets for non-members are $25.  Details and ordering here.

May your happiness increase!

KEY NOTES

I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:

KEYNOTE BOX

For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.

It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words.  Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney.  Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990).  Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos.  Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways.  In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them.  Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others.  Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.

Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue.  For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so.  However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise.  And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material.  I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive.  (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.)  The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues.  True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.

The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc.  As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945.  “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.

Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet.  He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be.  (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.)  Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs.  The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown.  The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing.  One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.”  Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.”  That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability.  Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C.  I rest my case:

I think I got more than my money’s worth.  You might agree.

May your happiness increase! 

JO JONES, HERO

Energy. Ready, alert, masterful.  Focused, intent, ready to explode. Rhythm embodied. Ferocious, delicate.  Precise, abandoned.

Jo Jones comp.

Thanks to Sonny McGown for this photograph. Thanks to Jo Jones for undying beauties of sound, of passion, of wit.

May your happiness increase!

BASIE SAYS YES

Miles Davis has often been quoted as saying, “All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke.”

I would never disagree with this. I don’t wish to set up any competition, but I think everyone should give thanks to Count Basie — and not just once. And not just musicians, either.

It is fashionable, still, to affect hipness, and that is not limited to people under 30. And some intriguing theoretician has suggested that the qualities we praise as hip — subtlety, originality, a wry way of perceiving the world — were exemplified by Lester Young before Kerouac and the Beats took them as their own. I like this theory, although what Pres would have made of a Williamsburg or Berkeley or Portland hipster is not known.

But I would propose Basie as the original Parent of many virtues we prize. Singularity, although a loving reverence for one’s ancestors (as in Basie’s affectionate nods to Fats Waller), an awareness that joy and sorrow are not only wedded but interdependent (that the blues are at the heart of everything), and a deep emotional commitment to swinging one’s way through life.  Swinging, as embodied by Basie, his peers and their descendants, meant the maximum of grace with the minimum of visible labor.  The style later exemplified by Astaire with a Kansas City world-view. Passion and fun, no less powerful for being streamlined to their essentials. His playing and his approach have been characterized and parodied as “minimalist,” but I think of it more as a Thoreau-inspired simplicity. Don’t need that note, do we? Let it be implied. Unheard melodies and all that. How Basie knew what he knew is beyond us, but the evidence is there for us to hear.

Here’s an audible example of what Basie did. And does:

That’s the 1939 Chicago session, issued in the Seventies as “Basie’s Bad Boys”: Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, trumpets; Dan Minor, trombone (audibly?), Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Basie, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page; string bass; Jo Jones, drums. Yes, the studio sound is foggy and dense, but the music just flies and smiles and rocks.

These thoughts are provoked by two photographs for sale on eBay — from the Frank Driggs Collection (each one for three hundred dollars plus) — of Basie and his colleagues and friends in 1941 and 1943.  Lester had leapt out, but they seemed to be doing fine on their own.  Here’s a rehearsal session at the New York studio of Columbia Records. They are apparently listening to a playback.  Details first:

BASIE IN THE STUDIO 1941 true front

The front:

COUNT BASIE REHEARSAL 1941

What I notice first, always (this is a photograph often reproduced but also often cropped) is Basie’s dreamily unfocused expression which might be deep concentration.  Jo’s nearly angry attentiveness, his thinness (that protruding Adam’s apple), his full head of hair and tidy mustache.  Walter Page’s substantial girth. The handkerchief not quite tucked away in his back pocket.  The way his vest is strained by what’s in it.  The height of Jo’s beautiful trousers, and his suspenders.  The way Page (casually?) is listening to what handsome Buck Clayton is playing.  How beautifully everyone is dressed, in an era before jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and knapsacks.

And a more formal pose, 1943, where cake predominates:BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 back

Jimmy Rushing steals the show, and all eyes are on him (although Buck is somewhat quizzical and Basie — aware of the photographer — doesn’t turn around; Jo’s smile is world-weary).  What, I must know, is Rushing saying to that forkful? “Sent for you yesterday and here you come today,” perhaps? Or “Tell me, pretty baby, how you want your lovin’ done”?  Or perhaps the plainer, “I am going to EAT YOU ALL UP!” 

BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 front

I chose to title this posting BASIE SAYS YES because I believe he always did. Although Basie spent his life “playing the blues,” his approach to them was always life-affirming.  Even on the darkest dirge, there is a slight grin. “Look how sad I can make this music sound.  Isn’t it a lot of fun to play such sad music?”

Cool, swinging, affirmative.  We could follow him, a Sage, for life-lessons.

May your happiness increase! 

SURPRISES FROM THE BURT GOLDBLATT COLLECTION: BILLIE, LESTER, JACK, KIRBY, LIPS and FRIENDS

The late Burt Goldblatt was multi-talented: graphic designer, artist, writer, photographer, and collector.  It is in the last two roles that I meet him most often on eBay, as his photographs are being auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Some of his photographs are familiar, because we have seen them on record jackets, in jazz books and magazines.  But surprises always await: here are several!

Billie, presumably in a theatre or concert hall, in front of a big band.  Where? When? With whom?

BURT GOLDBLATT Billie

Lester Young — a potpourri of photographs which seem to come from his 1957 Newport Jazz Festival appearance (with the Basie band) and a Verve record date with Roy Eldridge:

BURT GOLDBLATT PRES

Jack Teagarden with his reading glasses on:

BURT GOLDBLATT TEA

The John Kirby Sextet (possibly in the war years?) with Charlie Shavers, Billy Kyle, Buster Bailey.  The altoist might be George Johnson rather than Russell Procope, but Gary Foster tells me that the drummer is O’Neil Spencer:

BURT GOLDBLATT KIRBY SEXTET

And the real surprise (for me and perhaps everyone else): a candid photograph, dated 1927, with Hot Lips Page, Buster Smith, and Ted Manning — Kansas City jazz incarnate, even though the photograph was taken in Ardmore, Oklahoma:

$_3

and the back — which makes it, I believe, a photograph from Burt’s collection as opposed to one he took himself:

$_14(1) $_3

May your happiness increase!

THE BACKBONE OF JAZZ: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT and FRIENDS at WHITLEY BAY 2012 (October 28, 2012)

01f/17/arve/g2119/081

Count Basie and his musicians taught us so much by their example.

Swing is at the heart of everything.  Jazz is music for dancers, and it has to have an intense but light rhythmic impulse, an irresistible flowing motion. The blues are essential.  Simplicity is key even to the most elaborate improvisations.  Fewer notes have greater effect.  You can improvise on I GOT RHYTHM until the end of time.  Music, like its players and singers, has to have a living, breathing pulse.

(The grammarians in my audience will note I am using the present tense, intentionally.  Basie’s truths are still truths.)

The superb reedman / composer / arranger Matthias Seuffert put together a small band for the 2012 Whitley Bay Jazz Party and offered us his evocative originals in the style of / paying tribute to the great figures of jazz — Bix, Louis, Duke, Benny, Hawkins, and a few others: click here to enjoy these brilliant tributes.

I saved his homage to Basie, BACKBONE BASIE, for last — accomplished with the inestimable aid of Martin Litton, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums; Matthias and Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet:

Thank you, Matthias and friends, and thank you, Mike Durham.  As always!

May your happiness increase! 

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: “JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ” and “MR. B”

A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz.  That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.

Jazz-Beat-review--195x300

JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.

What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living.  Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.

Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.

His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*.  The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.

I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber.  I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.

Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places.  Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself.  The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.

Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective.  For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.”  That’s Bob, to the life.

One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997.  If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us.  The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.

*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers.  I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.’”

MISTER B

Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages).  Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).

His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.

Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.

Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.

One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.”  We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.

The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions.  Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:

I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .  

We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities.  And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family?  Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.’”

And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.

It’s an admirable book.  Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace.  With rare photographs, as well.

Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history.  Who’s next?

May your happiness increase!

ON MY WAY / TO WHITLEY BAY / WHERE GOOD TIMES ARE PLENTIFUL

Feel free to join in with my new song — doggerel created to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s JAMAICA FAREWELL: “I’m on me way / to Whitley Bay / won’t be back / till late Monday / I’m all excit’ / Won’t miss my flight / I know I’ll have a time / at Whitley Bay.”

Obviously, I have no reputation as a composer of calypso.

The omens and portents are much more favorable today than they were in 2012.  That trip that began with this weary traveler leaving his passport at home and making a costly racing roundtrip to retrieve it. The glorious jazz weekend ended with Superstorm Sandy and its global effects.   Of course, in both cases, I was helped immensely by generous strangers (at British Airways) and swing friends.

But Whitley Bay — now the Classic Jazz Party, formerly the International Jazz Festival — has been a special place since my first visit in 2009. There I met and admired Bent Persson, Aurelie Tropez, Nick Ward, Jacob Ullberger, Matthias Seuffert, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Norman Field, and two dozen others. There I basked in the wit and generosity of the late Mike Durham, who still remains a vivid presence. I will be looking around corners for him all weekend long.  And this year the visiting Americans aren’t so bad, either: Andy Schumm, Josh Duffee, Duke Heitger, Jeff Barnhart, Daryl Sherman.

This year’s party offers exciting thematic presentations: the music of Coon-Sanders, early Ellington, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Basie 1937, Johnny Dodds, Eddie South and Stuff Smith, rare Bix, rare Fats, California Ramblers, and more.  My camera batteries are charged and I feel the same way.

I wish I could sweep you all along with me, but the airlines are fussy about bringing unscheduled guests.  So I hope JAZZ LIVES readers have patience: I will video-record as much as possible, and subject to musicians’ approval, you will see much of it in the months to come.

I expect to be busy listening, recording, talking and hanging out — living life away from the computer — so if this blog seems quiet for this long weekend, don’t feel abandoned. I am simply gathering new material for your pleasure.

I don’t anticipate think that any of my readers has sufficient frequent flyer miles to jump on a plane right this minute, but “day tickets” are still available, £50 a day.  Details here.  But you’d have to be fairly close to Newcastle to make this possible.  (On a whim, I checked Expedia for round-trip from New York and the least expensive flight was $1500.)

By the time some of you read this, I will already be on a Delta flight to Newcastle by way of Amsterdam . . . a jazz pilgrim on one of the great pilgrimages, bearing notebook and camera, CDs and snacks, clothing, pills, and an umbrella — instead of a scallop shell.

See you back at the ranch on Tuesday, November 5!

Here’s a little music from the 2012 Party, a video of mine that has not been made public before, to lift up your spirits and embody what the weekend is all about.  Rene Hagmann, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet; Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass, performing THAT’S A-PLENTY in hono(u)r of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase!

GET MELLOW, YOU DOGS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, JOHN ALLRED, MURRAY WALL, WARREN VACHÉ, MENNO DAAMS, SHANNON BARNETT, HARVEY TIBBS at THE EAR INN (October 6, 2013)

I was too exhilarated on the evening of October 6, 2013, to put my feelings into words.  The music played at The Ear Inn — the second set of one of the EarRegulars’ Sunday-night revival meetings in swing — was extraordinary.

The EarRegulars on their own are a splendid group — led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and featuring guitarist Matt Munisteri — with an extensive coterie of gifted friends who send us creative gifts Sunday after Sunday.  This Sunday the quartet began with John Allred, trombone, and Pat O’Leary, string bass.

The guests were a brassy bunch (with the exception of string bassist Murray Wall): Warren Vaché (imported from New Jersey) and Menno Daams (from the Netherlands), cornets; Shannon Barnett (from Australia) and Harvey Tibbs (from uptown), trombones.

The second set was a glorious yet expert conversation — friendly musical dialogues at the highest level.  Yes, the solo playing was brilliant, but the easy mastery of the common language (riffs, backgrounds) was just as thrilling.

The first selection here was suggested by an elegant woman from Edinburgh whose name eluded me (I hope she reads this blog so I may identify her properly).  Her jazz credentials are perfect, for she asked for Herschel Evans’ line for the Basie band of 1937-9, DOGGIN’ AROUND.  A sextet of brilliant players assembled: from the left, Warren, Menno, Jon-Erik, John (in the front line); Murray and Matt in the rear:

And as if four horns weren’t enough, how about a few trombones for IN A MELLOTONE?  Warren left for New Jersey after dramatically taking some bills out of his pocket, stuffing them into Phillup DeBucket and announcing loudly, “Tip the band, you cheap _____!” and vanishing into the night.

Menno, Jon-Erik, Shannon, John, Harvey, Murray, and Matt rocked not only The Ear Inn but probably the entire five-borough area.

Mellowly!

Before this set at The Ear Inn, I had been at Michael Kanan’s studio, The Drawing Room (56 Willoughby Street, Brooklyn) to experience the beauty of Abigail Riccards singing and Michael at the piano.  The very moving evidence is here.

An amazing evening.

May your happiness increase!

A GOOD ANSWER! (JON BURR, HOWARD ALDEN, MENNO DAAMS) Hotel Edison, October 4, 2013)

I fell into conversation with a musician at a gig last week — we were both early and he did me the great courtesy of taking me seriously as I set up my video camera.  “Why do you listen to this music?” he asked.

I gave him my usual and true answer: it was possible for me to hear and listen to Louis Armstrong from my childhood on.  He looked sternly at me and said, “That‘s not an answer.”

I was shocked and thought: how dare you, Sir, suggest that my earliest experiences of the music were in some ways not sufficient rationale for my joy in it now?

But I gathered myself and said, after a pause, “This music makes me feel even more how fortunate we are to be alive.”  He paused, too, then said, almost with reverence, “That’s an answer.”

Here is a physical embodiment of that answer: a performance that makes me feel so joyous, music that balances all the unseemly race to false happiness we find in the world, music that says, “It will be all right.  Beauty is possible.  Here we are to spread joy.”

Bassist, composer, and bandleader Jon Burr has a weekly gig — something I hadn’t known of — in the lounge of the Hotel Edison on Fridays, approximately 4 to 6 PM.  The Edison is between Broadway and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, between 46th and 47th Street.  I was accustomed to enter the hotel from the south side, 211 West 46th, but the music is most easily accessed from the north.

For this Friday, Jon was in tandem (and that cliche is true) with guitarist Howard Alden, and the ever-resourceful trumpeter Menno Daams — in New York City with his wife Ineke on a visit from the Netherlands — combined to become the essential Count Basie band (no piano, no tuxedos needed) for SHINY STOCKINGS.  They are my heroes and they need no armor.

If you don’t feel better after this performance, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com and we’ll talk.

Thank you so much, Jon, Howard, and Menno.  You brought a new kind of love to us!

May your happiness increase!

ENERGY HEALING: THE BASIE METHOD

What’s the rush?  Where’s the fire?  To what are we racing?

I see people in gas station and grocery store lines who act as if they have the most important business to get to, and surely some of them do.  But they look furious, impatient.  They are shifting from foot to foot, checking their watches, astonished at those turtles in front of them who are blocking their clear path to the Egress.  Are they their own ambulances?

So much of our culture is based on Saving Time.  Doing Things Faster.  Being More Efficient.  Multi-tasking.  If you save three seconds here and two minutes there, it must be a great satisfaction.  But where do those moments go?  I dread the thought that the people racing around will have much more time to spend in some unhappy place, like the intensive care ward.

And occasionally the people whose pants seem to be afire are rude, heedless, self-destructive.  If you rush through a task, will it be done well?  Is the world a microwave oven?  Will the young man who roared out of the gas station this morning get home safely?  I pray that he does.

For years, I have been quoting my favorite-title-of-a-record-I-have-never-heard to people.  It was a Decca “Sepia Series” side (we know what that means) circa 1941-2.  The band?  Doctor Sausage and his Five Pork Chops. The composition?  TAKE IT EASY, GREASY (YOU STILL GOT A LONG WAY TO SLIDE).

Words to live by.

But the greasiness of that composition might seem repellent.  How about making a commitment to live your life in Count Basie time?  As fast as the tempo gets, Basie never seems to rush.  He’s never hurried.  He has a goal, but he knows that breathing steadily will get him and us there just the same.

And Lester Young knew that hurry was a truly bad idea, too.  Try taking it easy and see if your slide through life is less arduous.

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!

A FEW BEAUTIFUL SECONDS OF LESTER YOUNG ON CLARINET: THE FAMOUS DOOR, 1938

The sound of Lester Young’s clarinet is beautiful and elusive.  Whitney Balliett, I think, who always had the right word, called it “lemony,” and it lingers on the mind’s palate in just that way.  There isn’t enough of it on record: a few solos with Basie, on record and live; the Kansas City Six session . . . but now we have about nineteen seconds of beauty — thanks to Loren Schoenberg, Bill Savory, and Herschel Evans, whose BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL (a close relation to CAN’T WE TALK IT OVER) is the foundation for this wistful, too-brief piece of music.

Play it once, play it a dozen times: music when soft voices die lives long in the memory.  We celebrate Lester Young as we say a sad goodbye to him.  A tender man, a joyously elliptical soul, too tender for this rough world, he blazed and left.  “What made us think he would comb grey hair?” said Yeats of another man, dead too soon.

May your happiness increase.