Tag Archives: Count Basie

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

May your happiness increase!

DAAMS-SMITH, INCORPORATED (WHITLEY BAY JAZZ PARTY 2014)

My title summons up memories of the October 1936 record date for Lester Young, Carl Smith, Count Basie, Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Jimmy Rushing — but the little band that appeared at the November 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party evoked music from an earlier generation: trumpeter Jabbo Smith’s Aces of Rhythm, a ferociously hot small band that was promoted by a rival record label as a virtuosic competitor for Louis Armstrong.

Trumpeter / scholar Peter Ecklund wrote of Jabbo, “[He] picked up on a style that Louis Armstrong was playing a couple of years back in the 20s — the hot stomp, two-beat style . . . Jabbo was playing brilliantly, but carelessly.  Very exciting — frequently right on the edge of being out of control.”

Menno Daams, the twenty-first century evocation of Jabbo seen here, isn’t “on the edge” in any way; he handles the acrobatic (even exhibitionistic) rapid-fire turns of phrase masterfully.  He is matched by Jean-Francois Bonnel (taking the Omer Simeon part) on clarinet and alto, Keith Nichols on piano and vocal; Martin Wheatley on banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass.

BAND BOX STOMP:

GOT BUTTER ON IT (vocal Keith):

LINA BLUES (vocal Keith):

LITTLE WILLIE BLUES (I know that the US character “Little Willie” and the UK description “Little willy” are two different things.  Do you?):

SAU SHA STOMP:

Isn’t this brave hot music?  Congratulations to the 2014 Aces of Rhythm, led so nobly by Menno Daams.

May your happiness increase!

A BEAUTIFULLY REALIZED BOOK: “BEING PREZ” by DAVE GELLY

In the decades after his death in 1959, Lester Young has been the subject of many published pages, both research and memoir, by Frank Buchmann-Moller, Lewis Porter, Douglas Henry Daniels, Whitney Balliett — as well as anecdotes that continue to crop up even now (even on Facebook).

One would think that there was no need for more writing on the subject, especially since Lester’s life seems to fall in to clearly discernable and well-documented acts in his own play: his childhood experiences in the Young family band; early exposure to Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer; professional gigs with King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, and then his glorious time in the Count Basie orchestra; small group work with Billie Holiday; his attempts to lead his own small groups; his unhappy time in the United States military; increasing fame balanced against ill-health and a feeling of being overwhelmed by people copying him; his brief final decline and early death.

Would another book on Lester would be superfluous, or it would provide the same stories with new prose connecting them?

BEING PREZ

I write this to draw my readers to one of the best books on a jazz artist I have ever read — Dave Gelly’s BEING PREZ -(Oxford University Press) – which, although published in 2007, I have only read in the last few months.  (I came to it because I was so very impressed with Gelly’s AN UNHOLY ROW – a book I commend to anyone interested in the delicate, shifting relationships between music and its audiences.)

There are some writers I read with difficulty because their prose is efficient but graceless ways; others are so ornate that meaning gets submerged. I can tolerate either or both if the chosen subject is appealing.

But Gelly is that rare creation: a subtle writer, not in love with the sound of his own rhetorical flourishes, whose work is a pleasure to read for its own sake.  Add that he is writing about one of my heroes: this book couldn’t be better.  In fact, when I first received a copy of this slim volume — slightly over 170 pages — I put myself on a reader’s diet, putting the book out of sight after each chapter so that I wouldn’t finish it too quickly, wouldn’t get to Lester’s sad end too fast.

Gelly handles the facts with grace, but his is not simply a compact retelling of what Buchmann-Moller and Daniels have done more expansively. His book is thoroughly adult in his emotional relation to his subject.  He clearly loves Lester, but can at points step back and gently say that a career choice was not something that served Prez well.  So his admiration and adoration are fair and moderated by kindness.  When some writers depict a subject who has, let us say, cut his life short by alcohol or drugs, there is a constant soundtrack of quiet parental disapproval.  The word SHOULD hangs over the book.  “Oh, if _____ had only done this, he would be with us today,” as if the writer is trying to hide his annoyance that the subject didn’t live longer, record more, give us more pleasure.

Gelly never treats Lester like a bad child; his recital of the facts of Lester’s life is empathic.  It is that sensitivity to what this most sensitive man must have felt that makes BEING PREZ especially poignant and wise.  Gelly does not psychoanalyze, but he has great psychological acuity, offered lightly.  He does, for instance, see Lester’s character being formed in childhood by his being taken away from his beloved mother, Lizetta (who outlived him) and his often tense relationships with his severe father, Billy Young.  BEING PREZ quietly offers these factors to make Lester’s behavior, once viewed as inexplicable, completely logical: a man who cannot tolerate conflict and confrontation instead chooses avoidance — he runs away and disappears. (Gelly is just as wise when it comes to influential figures in Lester’s life, such as Count Basie.)

Gelly is old-fashioned in his love of his subject (he does not seek to make Lester small, ever) but he is also that most ancient creation, a moralist.  I mean that as a great compliment: someone who knows that there are right and wrong actions, each with its own set of consequences.  Consider this, on Lester’s abduction as a child:

Much has been written about the estimable personal qualities of Willis Handy Young — his unwavering devotion to study and self-advancement, his grim determination to succeed against the odds, his considerable musical gifts, his talent for administration and his dignified conduct under the barely tolerable yoke of Southern racism. But among all these splendid qualities at least one attribute was plainly missing — a tender heart. To take a child away from its mother by means of a trick is a wicked thing to do.  When that child is a shy, sensitive little boy with a deep mutual attachment to his mother, it is unforgivable. According to Irma, Lester wept bitterly for a long time afterwards. No doubt Lizetta wept, too.

That passage — on page four — so struck me that I sought out the Beloved to read it to her.  “Wicked” is not a word we use often in this century, but a biographer with righteous indignation, a moral sense, and a tender heart is a rare artist indeed.

BEING PREZ also has one great and endearing advantage over any other book on Lester: Gelly is a professional jazz musician whose instrument is the tenor saxophone.  And he is humanely articulate about that instrument and what it requires.  We aren’t barraged by a Schuller-styled musicological analysis of what Lester is doing (did you hear his implied Db diminished thirteenth over the grace note in the last beat of bar 127?) which makes those who aren’t grounded in music theory turn pale and opt for a newspaper instead, but Gelly conveys certain information about the mechanics of what Lester does better than anyone else I’ve ever read, without intimidating or overwhelming the reader.  His musical analyses are brief but convincing, and his explanations of how Lester got certain sounds make what was once completely mysterious clear.

Finally, Gelly does a superb job of balancing his narrative between the two selves: Lester the quiet, tender man who often wants simply to play among congenial souls and then to be left alone in solitude, and Lester the musician who amazes and continues to amaze.  Gelly’s aims in this book are noble yet simple — free from a particular ideological slant.  He says in his introduction that he took on this book because Lester was always fragmented in this way, and that he wanted to do what he could to bring this elusive, enigmatic man to light.  He’s succeeded.

Gelly is not combative, but he is somewhat impatient with the teetering myths of Lester’s life — for one, that Lester was so broken by his army experience that he couldn’t create (many recordings give the lie to that) and that he was so downtrodden by his imitators that he despaired.

Other biographies of Lester have their own delights: first-hand testimony from musicians who played alongside Lester, or extensive data on Lester’s childhood. But BEING PREZ is as beautifully and completely realized as any long solo Lester ever created, and I wait with eagerness for whatever Gelly will write in future.

Lester once told pianist Horace Silver (he spoke of himself in the third person), “I just don’t feel like nobody likes old Prez.”  BEING PREZ, had he known of it, would have made him feel better.  “Bells!” indeed.

And here’s Prez (in a 1944 masterpiece justly celebrated in this book).  He’s never left town:

May your happiness increase! 

“OLD-FASHIONED LOVE”: GIVING THANKS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 27-30, 2014)

I had a wonderful time at the San Diego Jazz Fest, but that is nothing new.  Paul Daspit, like the jazz patriarch of a very widespread family, treats us to one savory dish after another.  I resigned myself to hard choices but enjoyed all that I saw and heard, beginning with the Yerba Buena Stompers and their new sensation, Miss Ida Blue; the Fat Babies; Ray Skjelbred; Chris Dawson; Jonathan Doyle; Musician of the Year “Gentleman Jim” Buchmann; High Sierra; the New Orleans All Stars of Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones; Hal Smith, Beau Sample; Marc Caparone; Katie Cavera, and other notables.

The band co-led by Tim Laughlin (clarinet) and Connie Jones (cornet, vocal) continues to be very dear to me — swinging, heartfelt, always lyrical.  They were joined by trombonist Doug Finke, pianist Chris Dawson, guitarist Katie Cavera, string bassist Marty Eggers, and drummer Hal Smith.

Here’s a James P. Johnson classic — which always sounds like a hymn to traditional monogamous devotion to me — OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

These players know all one can know about sweet melodic improvisation over a gently infallible rhythm section: I hear Thirties Teddy Wilson small groups, the Vanguard sessions, a dream meeting of Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, and Count Basie.  But it’s not a dream: it happened in front of our eyes and ears. That’s something to be truly thankful for!

I’m grateful to the musicians, to Paul, Myrna Beach Goodwin, Jim McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, the volunteers, and the gracious people at the Town and Country — for helping us all have such an uplifting experience.

More joy and more videos to come.

May your happiness increase! 

MEMORIES FOR SALE: WILLIE, MILDRED, BASIE 1939

I call eBay one-stop jazz shopping.  Type in “jazz,” click on “Entertainment Memorabilia,” and watch the hours — and sometimes the dollars — fly.

Treasures abound.  Of course, one has to pick delicately through the signed photographs of Sir Laurence Olivier in THE JAZZ SINGER, the forged Louis Armstrong signatures, the absurd pricing (“MEGA RARE!”) but surprises and delights await. Here are a few recent ones.

Willie Lewis (leader of the Entertainers, a band most of us know because of its work with Benny Carter and Bill Coleman) — a silhouette inscribed to his friend, trumpeter George Brashear.  I am not planning to buy this, but think the image would make a perfect Twenties-jazz-geek-scholar t-shirt:

A WILLIE LEWIS 3.29.29 NICE

Here’s a particularly delicious Entertainers recording — a nice stroll through STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY with a glorious Bill Coleman solo and a closing bridge given over to Herman Chittison.  (The YouTube site offers more than thirty of the band’s sides — all mislabeled, so you will have fun figuring out which tune goes with which title):

Then, an autographed picture of Mildred Bailey — her particularly loopy girlish handwriting makes me sure that this one is authentic:

A MILDRED signed front

How anyone could fold such a treasure in thirds is beyond me. And the reverse is equally interesting to scholars of Thirties music:

A MILDRED signed backSomeone was delinquent and did not RETURN THIS PHOTO, but I approve, because how else would we have seen this?

And now . . . autographs from the Basie band of 1939.  Most of them are easy to decipher, and I think the bottom one is arranger Andy Gibson:

$_1The price the seller is asking is high — over three thousand dollars — but we can enjoy Lester Young’s childlike handwriting for free.

 May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE TIMES THREE (Part Two): TAL RONEN, MARK SHANE, DAN BLOCK at CASA MEZCAL (Oct. 26, 2014)

I was simply transported, I tell you.

The transporters were three eloquent yet casual musicians — Tal, string bass; Mark, piano; Dan, clarinet and tenor — at work and play in the pleasing surroundings of 88 Orchard Street, on the lower East Side of New York City, their creations captured by my camera on Sunday, October 26, 2014.

Here are the first four videos from that afternoon, which have lost none of their charm.  And four more, floating, lyrically Basie-style, making the air vibrate so sweetly.

I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU:

LINGER AWHILE:

YACHT CLUB SWING:

MOTEN SWING (with a brief camera malfunction during Tal’s solo where the camera suddenly got excited by the tin ceiling and had to be reminded of its proper function. I apologize for it, Tal):

For my first post, I wrote, “This is living synergy, a translucent acoustic orchestra. Such music blesses us,” and I think those words are even truer here.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGTIME IN SOHO (Part Two): JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BARRETT, CHRIS FLORY, JOEL FORBES at THE EAR INN (Sept. 14, 2014)

Here is the first part of a delightful swing interlude, scored for four masters, at the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on September 14, 2014.

The Masters were (and are) Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Chris Flory, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  Here are the three remaining etudes from the set I recorded:

TOPSY (Eddie Durham’s irresistible minor rocker):

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

SWINGIN’ THE BLUES, which brings back the Famous Door and lives up to its name:

Great things happen at The Ear Inn on Sunday nights.  Here’s your proof.

May your happiness increase!