Tag Archives: Dan Morgenstern

PEPPER ADAMS’ JOY ROAD: AN ANNOTATED DISCOGRAPHY by GARY CARNER

I had not known much about baritone saxophonist / composer Pepper Adams before a friend lent me a copy of Gary Carner’s book on him (now in paperback from Scarecrow Press) but I commend both Pepper and the book to you.

JOY ROAD 2

First, some music — an excerpt from an uptempo STRAIGHT, NO CHASER with Clark Terry, recorded in 1978:

The book is well-researched, rather than opinion.  Not only did its author speak with Pepper and JOY ROAD is introduced by the eminent Dan Morgenstern, but no other book I know has enthusiastic blurbs from both Phil Woods (alto) and Philip Levine (poetry).

JOY ROAD is an annotated discography.  To those not deeply involved in the music, such a work may seem a collection of marginally-useful pieces of arcane information, suitable only to those strange creatures, “record collectors,” concerned with whether that Charlie Parker solo recorded on a cardboard disc was issued on a Bolivian compact disc. I am exaggerating, but not that much.

But as an annotated bibliography would tell us a great deal about the artistic life of a writer and her relations with the marketplace, an annotated listing of a musician’s recordings would map an artistic journey. The book does not purport to be a biography — Carner is working on one now and hopes it will be finished by Adams’ centennial — but it is full of information about Adams’ life and music from 1947 to his death in 1986.  And that information is more than listings of songs, original compositions, recording data, issued or unissued performances. What makes Carner’s book more than a useful reference work is the interviews he conducted with Pepper and the people who knew and worked with him.

When I received a copy of JOY ROAD, I opened it at random, out of curiosity. I had not been terribly involved in Adams’ work — coming from a long immersion in Harry Carney and Ernie Caceres, among others.  But I stood in the middle of the living room, reading eagerly for a half hour, before remembering that a) I could sit down, and b) other tasks had to be taken care of.  If a book can “stop me in my tracks,” it is one I will read, keep, and value.

Many jazz musicians, so eloquent as creators, grow reticent when asked to speak about their art and their colleagues.  Much of what is published as treasured narrative is frankly insubstantial: “Oh, she liked her drink after the set was through!” “Did I ever tell you the story of X at the diner and what he said to the waiter?” “Y couldn’t stand Z, and always called Z names, but when they got on the stand, they blew!” If we didn’t feel that our heroes were so precious that any scrap of anecdotage, no matter how thin, brought us a step closer, no one would retell such stories. But JOY ROAD is not a collection of shards and detritus important only because they connect with someone we value. Carner’s musicians have been unsually articulate, and their stories have shape and heft.

We read about a bizarre and satisfying gig (even televised) where Pepper, David Amram, and Elvin Jones played at a Horn and Hardart automat in midtown Manhattan; Hank Jones tells Carner, “I never felt I was up to his standards, to tell you the truth.  I was reaching to play along with him”; we learn of Adams’ early work with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman; encounters with Alfred Lion, Joihn Hammond, and Rudy Van Gelder; concert performances with Mingus and Monk; encounters with younger European musicians and elders of the tribe including Fess Williams, Cozy Cole, Joe Wilder, Benny Carter, Milt Hinton; the birth and development of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra; an informal session in Eugene H. Smith’s loft with Adams playing piano to Zoot Sims’ tenor; recordings with Donald Byrd, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson, Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Joshua Breakstone, and a hundred other notables.

Equally intriguing are glimpses into the life of a valued New York session player, for Adams was understandably in-demand for pop recordings, often as an uncredited member of the ensemble, with Aretha Franklin, Dakota Staton, Sonny and Cher, The Cowsills, The Nice, The Rascals, Brook Benton, Jon Lucien, Esther Phillips, film soundtracks, industrial films, and more.

Ultimately, JOY ROAD did a number of things for me, even though my first reading of this 550-plus page book was of necessity quick rather than deep. I found recordings I’d known nothing about — Carner has had access to Adams’ personal appointment book, and has spoken with more than a hundred musicians. But more than that, I have a sense of Adams as an individual — reading Dostoevsky, listening to Berg, encouraging younger musicians, fierce when he felt unjustly treated — and I look forward to the biography, which Carner is tentatively calling In Love with Night.

I will close with my single Pepper Adams sighting. In 1972, several friends and I followed Ruby Braff to gigs.  Although Ruby was unpredictable and unreasonably given to rage, he was always pleasant to us and allowed us to tape-record him. On July 19 of that year, my friend Stu and I came to the Half Note to record Ruby with the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, bassist George Mraz (then working with Pepper in the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis ensemble, and Dottie Dodgion on drums.  About two -thirds through the evening, where the music had been very sweet, with Ruby’s characteristic leaps through the repertoire of Louis, Duke, and Billie, a tall man ascended the stand with a baritone saxophone, was greeted warmly by the players, and the quintet launched into an extended blues in Ab.  I remember Dottie Dodgion being particularly enthusiastic about the unnamed musician’s playing, who packed his horn and went off into the warm Greenwich Village night.  Who was that unmasked man?  The subject of Carner’s book, and yes, the tape exists, although not in my possession.

To learn more about Adams, JOY ROAD, and Carner, visit his Pepper Adams website and his Pepper Adams blog, THE MASTER.

May your happiness increase!

LISTEN TO VIC DICKENSON

Vic Dickenson, trombonist, singer, composer.  Photograph by Robert Parent (circa 1951).  Inscribed to drummer Walt Gifford.  From Gifford’s scrapbook, courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

VIC by ROBERT PARENT

I dream of a jazz-world where everyone gets the credit they deserve, where Vic is as celebrated — and as listened to — as his contemporaries and friends Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Mary Lou Williams, Frank Newton, and many more.

I’d like writers to pay attention to his delicate lyricism, his melodic improvisations, his way of illuminating a song from within.  This would require new language and new hearing: no longer putting Vic into the familiar compartments of “sly,” “witty,” “naughty,” and so on.

It would also require some writers and listeners to put aside their barely-concealed disdain for jazz as it was played before Charlie Parker came to town.  No disrespect to Bird, mind you, who jammed happily with Vic and Doc Cheatham and knew that they were masters. But Vic was more than a “Dixieland” trombonist, more than someone chained to TIN ROOF BLUES and SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.

Would Vic have been taken more seriously had he played trumpet? The trombone blends so well, so often, that it (like the string bass) is taken for granted. And Vic was one of the more reticent of jazz players: someone who wanted to play rather than chat or announce. But the musicians knew how special he was, and is.  (Some people celebrated Vic during his lifetime and still do: I think of Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, John Hammond, Dan Barrett, Mal Sharpe, Manfred Selchow, and others.)

We could begin to truly hear Vic, I think.  Perhaps the beginning of the campaign would be if we asked everyone we knew to listen — and listen with all their perception and love — to music like this:

It is indeed true that having Shad Collins, Ed Hall, Sir Charles Thompson, Steve Jordan, Walter Page, and Jo Jones along — in gorgeous sound — did no one any harm.  But I ask my listeners to do the difficult task of putting Vic first: his sonority, open and muted.  His time, his phrasing, the vocal quality of his sounds (plural).  His love for the melody and for the melodies that the original suggested.  His delicate concise force: what he could say in four quarter notes, or eight bars.  There was and is no one like him.

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!

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!

THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG ETERNITY BAND at BIRDLAND (Dec. 11, 2013) PART ONE

David Ostwald takes Louis Armstrong very seriously — not only as a philosophical model, but as a musical beacon.  That’s why he’s created and led a small hot jazz group devoted to Louis and the music he loved — now called the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band — that has had a regular Wednesday gig at Birdland for fourteen years.

But sometimes honoring Louis takes David off the bandstand.  On December 11, he stopped in at Birdland to say hello to everyone before heading to the Louis Armstrong House Museum gala which was honoring Quincy Jones and Dan Morgenstern.  But David wanted to make sure that the music at Birdland would be right on target, so he asked his friend and ours, Brian Nalepka, to lead the band.

Brian brought his string bass and sang on a few songs, and had the best assistance from Danny Tobias, cornet; Tom Artin, trombone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Vinny Raniolo, banjo; Kevin Dorn, drums. Here’s the first half of that delightful concert for Louis.

SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / INDIANA:

OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE:

STAR DUST:

HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

BODY AND SOUL (featuring Pete Martinez, King of Tones):

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Many first-class songs associated with that Armstrong fellow, and what a band!

May your happiness increase!

THE JAZZ BOOKSHELF: CANNONBALL, MINGUS, and DOCTOR JAZZ

The jazz library expands in rewarding ways: three different kinds of reading matter, each one an unusual experience.

Walk-Tall-cover

Cary Ginell’s WALK TALL: THE MUSIC AND LIFE OF CANNONBALL ADDERLEY (Hal Leonard) is a refreshing book.  Reading it, I wondered why Cannonball had had to wait so long for a full-length portrait, but was glad that Ginell had done the job.

Even though Adderley was seriously influential in his brief lifetime — and the influence continues, although usually uncredited — his life was more businesslike than melodramatic.  WALK TALL is not a recounting of Cannonball’s encounters with the law, or self-destructive behavior.  It is a swift-paced, admiring narrative of Julian Adderley’s life and times, from his beginnings in Florida to his “discovery” at the Cafe Bohemia in New York in 1955 to stardom and a his death only twenty years later.

Ginell has had the cooperation of Adderley’s widow Olga, who contributes several personal narratives to the book, as does Capitol Records producer David Axelrod.  But the biography is compact (slightly more than 150 pages of text) with introductions by Dan Morgenstern and Quincy Jones — and its briskness is part of its charm, as the book and its subject roll from one recording session to the next, from Miles to Nancy Wilson to the famous Quintet.

Adderley himself comes through as an admirable character as well as a marvelous improviser and bandleader, and Ginell avoids pathobiography, so the book is not a gloating examination of its subject’s failings.  (Aside from keeping candy bars in his suitcase, Adderley seems to have been a good-natured man, husband, and musician.)

WALK TALL is also properly focused on Adderley, rather than on his biographer’s perceptions of his subject.  Ginell is at work on another book — a biography of Billy Eckstine — and I hope he continues to profile these “known” but underdocumented figures in jazz.  (I knew and admired Ginell’s work because of HOT JAZZ FOR SALE, his delightful book on the Jazz Man Record Shop, the music and personalities around it — read more here.)

MINGUS SPEAKS

MINGUS SPEAKS, taken from 1972-74 interviews conducted by John F. Goodman, is an invaluable book.  But the experience of reading it is entirely different from what one encounters in WALK TALL.

Reading MINGUS SPEAKS is rather like being dropped into hours of uninhibited monologue by Mingus on every subject that appeals to him, including race, the Mafia, Charlie Parker, sex, his own music, contemporary social politics, the avante-garde movement in jazz, Mingus’ colleagues on the bandstand and off, his emotional relations with Sue Mingus, theology, philosophy, his own fictionalized selves, and more.

It is as close as any of us will get to spending hours in the company of an artist we admire — and once again we are reminded of the distance between the artist and his / her creations.  Mingus comes across as a maelstrom of ideas, words, and theories, which is only apt, whether that was his reality or a self he inhabited for Goodman’s benefit.  (The book is, however, much more lucid and less fragmentary than RIFFTIDE, the transcription of Jo Jones’ swirling recollections published a year or so ago.)

Interspersed between the lengthy interview sections are commentaries by Sy Johnson, who orchestrated Mingus’ later music (he also provided some beautiful photographs), Dan Morgenstern, George Wein, Max Gordon, Paul Jeffrey, Teo Macero, editor Regina Ryan (who worked with Mingus on BENEATH THE UNDERDOG), documentary filmmaker Tom Reichman, and others.   The book has its own website, which is illuminating; here is the publisher’s website as well.

Journalist Goodman has done jazz history an immense service; would that there had been people with tape recorders following other heroes around with such energy and devotion.  I find it odd, however, that he is credited as the book’s author, not its editor: he asked the questions and recorded the responses, had Mingus’ words transcribed . . . but this is a book by Mingus, even posthumously.

DOCTOR JAZZI had not heard of the Dutch jazz magazine DOCTOR JAZZ, which I regret — it has been publishing for a half-century — but it is not too late to make up for the omission.  What might put some monolingual readers off is that more than half of the prose in the magazine is in Dutch, but its reach is wide, both in genres and in musical styles.

There most recent issue contains wonderful photographs of modern groups (Les Red Hot Reedwarmers) and heroic figures (a drawing of Ma Rainey and her gold-coin necklace, taken from a Paramount Records advertisement), reviews of CDs on the Lake, Rivermont, and Retrieval labels, as well as DVDs.  DOCTOR JAZZ reaches back to the “Oriental” roots of ragtime at the end of the nineteenth century and forward to pianist Joe Alterman, with side-glances at Dan Block’s latest CD, DUALITY, and the late singer Ann Burton.

Particularly enlightening are the profiles of musicians who don’t always receive the attention they deserve, from trumpeter Avery “Kid” Howard to gospel pioneer Herbert L. “Pee Wee” Pickard, as well as musicians new to me — guitarists Robby Pauwels and Cor Baan and string bassist Henny Frohwein.  There’s also the fourth part of a historical series on jazz in India.  Because my Dutch is poor, I haven’t made my way through the whole issue, guessing at cognates and intuiting meaning through context, but DOCTOR JAZZ appears to be well worth investigating: thorough, well-researched, and informative.  And it’s from the people who brought us the very satisfying DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, so I can vouch for their good instincts.  More information here.

May your happiness increase!

GLIMPSES OF THE GRAIL, 1949

We love the music we have — the wooden boxes of phonograph records and cassettes, the wall shelves of CDs, the iPods with thousands of songs.  But our hearts beat faster for those things imagined but not realized.  Poring over discographies, we breathe faster when reading of unissued takes, the performances rumored to exist, acetates held by someone in another country, the film footage . . .

But thanks to Lorenz Yeung and Fernando Ortiz de Urbana (I’ve had the good fortune to meet the latter in person) are a few bite-sized bits of one kind of Holy Grail: http://jazzontherecord.blogspot.com/

(Fernando’s blog, EASY DOES IT, is a wonderful cornucopia on its own.)

Who assembled this I do not know.  It is a tribute to Sidney Bechet, who well deserves such honors.  But obviously someone followed Bechet around in 1949, on his penultimate visit to the United States.  And Bechet appeared a number of times on television (think of it!) in the States — most often, I believe, on the Eddie Condon Floor Show oon WPIX.

It’s always heartwarming to be able to praise Mr. Condon, so allow me a few sentences.  Whenever he could (later with the help of his wife Phyllis and the publicist Ernie Anderson) he looked for venues where his music could be played — in mixed bands on Fifty-Second Street, at the Park Lane Hotel, at Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall, several incarnations of his own club . . . on records, radio broadcasts, transcriptions for the servicemen and women . . . and television.

The Floor Show was his rewarding pioneering television series, broadcast between 1948 and 1950 on WPIX-TV.  It brought together the best jazz players and singers — Louis Armstrong, Sidney Catlett, Jack Teagarden, Lee Wiley, Billie Holiday, Earl Hines, Pee Wee Russell, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Count Basie, Bobby Hackett, Buzzy Drootin, Ralph Sutton — alongside Rosemary Clooney and tap-dancer Teddy Hale, and fifty or so other luminaries.

Eddie was wise enough to understand that the human ear and psyche would wilt on a steady unremitting diet of Hot, so in his club there was an intermission solo pianist; there were ballad medleys, slow blues, medium-tempo pop tunes, as well as RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

And his understanding of “show,” of variety, developed in the visual world of early television — hot numbers interspersed with slow ballads, sweet singing, tap dancing, and more.  (I’ve seen a still photograph of what must have been a perfect jazz trio: Hot Lips Page, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton.  Pardon me while I rhapsodize silently.)

Some small portion of the music survives on vinyl issues on the Queen-Disc label and in the collectors’ underground trading world, but we know that the kinescopes made at the time — films of the programs — no longer exist.  I have this on very solid authority, unless there were multiple sets made.

However . . . this YouTube surprise package has color silent footage of Sidney with Cliff Jackson, Kid Ory, Muggsy Spanier, Teddy Hale, Peanuts Hucko, possibly Kansas Fields, Gene Schroeder, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, George Wettling, and another saxophonist named Charlie Parker.

You will have to watch the video several times to fully appreciate all its great gifts, including shots of Bechet acting in several French films, occasionally at the stove or battling an over-assertive shirt dickey.

About the television footage: I imagine that someone who loved Bechet followed him onto the soundstage with a movie camera (the kinescopes would have had sound and been in black and white) — blessings on this intrepid soul and those who saved the footage and shared it with us.  (I’ve written to Lorenz Yeung, the poster, to ask the source of the Condon material; he generously told me that it was part of a Bechet CD package he bought in Australia, a bonus CD (!)  I’m also quite amazed that none of the orinthologists have noticed this — and it’s been on YouTube since 2011.  Research!  In color!)

The question, is, of course, “What else is out there?”  And the answer is unfathomable.  But all things are possible.

My personal Holy Grail might no longer exist.  I can’t remember where I heard or read this story, but Ernie Anderson (both diligent and a teller of tales, so this one might have to be taken with skepticism) knew a fellow in the advertising trade, quite wealthy, whose son loved jazz.  Father wanted to give his son a present, and asked Ernie to set up a recording session for the boy: Ernie assembled Bobby Hackett, Sidney Catlett, and the fine pianist Harry Gibson (later Harry “the Hipster” Gibson), had them record some music, had the records pressed in perhaps one set, and I assume the boy was terrifically pleased.  But where are those records now?

Readers are invited to submit their own versions of the jazz Holy Grail . . . we could start with the airshots of the King Oliver band with Lester Young in it and go from there.

Thanks to Lorenz Yeung, Fernando, to David J. Weiner, Maggie Condon, Loren Schoenberg, Dan Morgenstern, and to Sidney Bechet (of course): the soundtrack is DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY AND HARRY BRING WARMTH AND LIGHT: REBECCA KILGORE with HARRY ALLEN, EHUD ASHERIE, JOEL FORBES, KEVIN KANNER at THE METROPOLITAN ROOM (March 7, 2013)

Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the music was delightful.

True enough for last night, March 7, in New York City.  It was a chilly mix of rain, snow, sleet — not enough to be dramatic, but it soaked into everyone.  But once I made it to The Metropolitan Room, that warm oasis on 34 West 22nd Street, it was summery inside.

Becky_Kilgore

Becky Kilgore doesn’t get to come to New York City as often as I would like (although there are signs that is changing) but this six-show gift (that’s Wednesday through Sunday — 9:30 each night BUT two shows, the early one at 7 on Sunday!)

Becky’s shows have been just that — not just “songs I always sing,” but beautifully-shaped thematic presentations.  Often they’ve paid tribute to specific singers: Judy, Billie, Marilyn, and Becky (a great researcher) has delved into the repertoire to find hidden, unknown gems as well as greatest hits.  Unlike other people’s thematic presentations, these shows are light-hearted, not weighty seminars full of “and then she sang” data.

This new show takes its cue from a Peggy Lee song, I LIKE MEN — and it’s not a formulaic tribute to the furry members of the species, but a varied look (in music and words) at us.  Becky pointed out early that except for two Lee compositions, all the songs she was singing were written by men for women to sing . . . and the variety of viewpoints was quite remarkable.  Becky veered away from the “he beats me but I love him” darkness of romantic masochism to offer twelve delights in seventy-five minutes . . . a compact, fast-paced, and satisfying evening.  I know she has a substantial song list for this run, so the set list is going to change somewhat from night to night.

Last night she and the band offered Sissle and Blake’s I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY (perfectly apt, because all of us are!) complete with the verse . . . then on to two Harold Arlens — one familiar, the other a rarity; a Gershwin; Frank Loesser’s grimly comic MARRY THE MAN TODAY (where the Wise Woman sings that you should offer your fiance the hand today because once he is wed, it can then turn into the fist tomorrow); a Pearl Bailey-inflected MY HANDY MAN AIN’T HANDY ANY MORE (which suggests that old dogs can’t be taught new tricks); a wonderful Ralph Blaine-Hugh Martin wooer with the line, “I can be your passion fruit”; an unusual Hoagy Carmichael song where the overeager lover is treated rather like a poorly-trained puppy, without the rolled-up newspaper making an appearance.  For me, the great moving highlights of the evening — in addition to these bright sparks — were a tender THE BOY NEXT DOOR; a wistful rather than melodramatic THE MAN THAT GOT AWAY, and a sweet WHEN A WOMAN LOVES A MAN.  Miss Kilgore’s delightful genius was once again made evident in the way she sang these three songs, so strongly identified with Judy and Billie, and made them sound like Becky.

And all I will say about “sounding like Becky” is that it is a deep pleasure.  Miss Kilgore is full of feeling without ever resorting to Drama; she swings naturally; she is witty without being jokey, and the simple sound of her voice is a delight in itself.  As well, she is a great improviser in subtle, subversive ways: listening to her very lightly restretch the melody in ways that would have pleased its composers, listening to her handle the language in ways that make us hear the words anew . . . well, I always think I am in the presence of greatness, even though she is one of the more humble mortals I know.  And I have been listening to her, on CD and vinyl, in person and even over the telephone, for two decades.  Every time I am fortunate to hear her in person, I go away, quietly thinking, “How does she do it?  She’s a treasure, and she’s getting better!”

Her instrumental colleagues were simply wonderful, too.  Harry Allen has gotten a reputation, with some people, of being a gentle player, someone who can tenderly caress a ballad in the best Webster manner.  But don’t let that impression turn into a mask; Harry has a deeply raucous side, and he loves to race and holler, too.  Drummer Kevin Kanner was new to me, but he’s a listening fellow; his sticks caught all the nuances and his brushes made a swinging carpet. Ehud Asherie often stole the show — in the manner of Jess Stacy in the Goodman band — offering a witty harmonic variation or a phrase that started in a predictable place and went into other astral realms.  And Joel Forbes, quietly, darkly, reliable, swung from the first note: every note was in the right place at the right time.  The five people onstage were happy as the day is long — you could see it in their grins — and they shared their joys with us.

Even though the weather was indeed frightful (or almost), the room was full — Dan Morgenstern and Daryl Sherman and Michael Moore were there, as were Bill and Sonya Dunham, Beck Lee, Claiborne Ray, Gwen Calvier . . . and the people I hadn’t met yet were just as enthusiastic.  One fellow (Ezra?) sat with his head perhaps three feet from the bell of Harry’s saxophone, and he bobbed and weaved ecstatically with every phrase: the music was reflected in his happiness. I had never been to The Metropolitan Room before, but will come back again: Jean-Pierre made the instruments sound perfectly acoustic, which is the ideal goal of a “sound man”: he is certainly a sound man.  The lighting was perfectly in tune but never obtrusive, and everyone was genuinely friendly.

Becky and Harry, Ehud, Joel, and Kevin will be there for four more shows.  Find your waterproof shoes and make the trek: you won’t regret it.  Details  here.

May your happiness increase.

CELEBRATE DAN MORGENSTERN’S 83rd BIRTHDAY AT BIRDLAND (Wednesday, October 24, 2012)

I know some people think birthday celebrations are silly.  The cake isn’t good for us; HAPPY BIRTHDAY is only eight bars long and most musicians feel trapped when it’s requested.  And some of us feel, “Gee, I’m too old for a paper hat and . . . where will they put all those candles?”

But I think that birthdays are a good thing.  The Beloved had one recently, and it was very sweet.  And — after all — isn’t it just our way of saying, “We are SO glad you are here?”  Who could argue with those sentiments?

So I want to let everyone know that this coming Wednesday, David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band will be celebrating Dan Morgenstern’s eighty-third birthday in the best way . . . by playing hot jazz for him at Birdland from 5:30 to 7:15 PM.  

The participants?  Bria Skonberg, trumpet (and no doubt vocals); Dan Block, clarinet and alto sax; Jim Fryer, trombone (ditto the above); James Chirillo, banjo; David Ostwald, tuba and commentary; Marion Felder, drums.  And I’ll bet a blue-label sunburst Decca of THANKS A MILLION that there will be other musicians in the house who want to make their love for Dan public and resonant.

If you have to ask who Dan Morgenstern is, I don’t think you’ve been taking careful notes: scholar, lover of all sorts of good music, archivist, writer . . . and friend of the best.  His liner notes educated so many of us and pointed us in the right directions, and he keeps on keeping on.

Birdland is at 315 West 44th Street and my guess is that the room will be full — so call 212.581.3080 to make sure there’s a place for you.  

I can’t be there (I will be at Kennedy Airport, boarding the plane to Newcastle, UK, for the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — Marcia Salter will stand in for me!) but perhaps one or two of my readers could come up to Dan and say, “JAZZ LIVES sent me.”  That would be a great treat.  (Or, if you don’t like that one, just tell him, “I found out about Hot Lips Page because of you.”)

And — what’s a birthday without a present?  Spare Dan the socks or the cufflinks.  Just send him our love.  And this:

May your happiness increase.

MY KIND OF VIC

In my Ideal Jazz World — which exists only in my mind and those of a few people who share my leanings (Dan and Mal and Clint among them)  — Vic Dickenson is one of the greatest creators.

But Vic’s art was very subtle.  People found it easy to see only its broad outlines and thus minimized it as a matter of low-toned naughty growls filling in the gaps in a Dixieland ensemble.  Vic often worked with bands where he was alone on the mountaintop, making his way through BASIN STREET BLUES or IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD for the ninth time that week.

In addition, trombones tend to get less attention than they and their players deserve, especially if the men and women behind the mouthpiece and slide are reliable.  Reliable players — think of Bennie Morton, Al Hall, Buck Clayton, Ray Nance, Milt Hinton among fifty others — get less attention than dramatic ones.

Vic seems to have come from nowhere — blossoming fully on the 1943-44 Blue Notes, or (for those whose historical perspective starts later) on the Vanguards and Columbias of the Fifties.  But he had been working his magic for a long time.  There’s his marvelous solo on Benny Carter’s MY FAVORITE BLUES, his work on a few 1940 Basie Columbias . . . and earlier — I’ve posted Blanche Calloway’s I NEED LOVIN’, which I think would amaze and terrify any contemporary trombonist — marvelous tumbling epigrams no matter what the context or the tempo.

That garden of delights, YouTube, offers us another aural glimpse of the Vic the musicians knew and admired.  His solo on this little-known record is only sixteen bars, and it comes late in the performance, but it is a marvel.

The original recording was made for Decca in 1937 by the Claude Hopkins band.  MY KINDA LOVE was perhaps best known through Ben Pollack’s recording of it with Jack Teagarden a half-decade earlier.  The Hopkins record is taken up with Hopkins’ pleasant piano and Beverly White’s singing.  Nothing is less than expert — the rhythm section rocks along nicely under Hopkins — but it is music for dancers.  Beverly White sounds close to Midge Williams and even Ella Logan: all the notes are in the right places, her enunciation is precise; she sings clearly and rhythmically, but the overall affect is well-behaved rather than memorable.  This band could play a senior prom in 1937 and not upset the chaperones overmuch.

Beverly was known as “Baby,” and she has her own place in the Jazz Pantheon because Teddy Wilson said he preferred her singing to Billie Holiday’s.  What that statement really means is hard to say: there is so much mythology around the luminous 1935-41 recordings Billie and Teddy made that his words seem heretical.  Perhaps Baby White was easier to work with; she didn’t smoke pot in the hall; she was more professional?  It could be that Teddy simply liked the sound of her voice more.  I wonder if in the years after those recordings were made, there was a slight tinge of rancor that Billie had become BILLIE HOLIDAY and other singers hadn’t.  (Michael Brooks wrote that Henry “Red” Allen told him vehemently that Anna Robinson was also much better than Billie.)

For me, the first two-thirds of MY KINDA LOVE are amiably dull — politely swinging without calling attention to itself — an almost faceless “dance record,” perhaps insisted upon by Jack Kapp.

But when Vic leaps in, for about thirty seconds, my musical world changes.

He begins with a break that owes something to Louis, something that might have come from a Hot Seven record, reinvented through Vic’s own prism of sound.  It’s a witty solo, glancing at Swing phrases that were already conventions in 1937 . . . but Vic’s staccato phrasing and sound are his own.  He doesn’t dramatize; his solo is in the middle register and he doesn’t demand that we admire his pyrotechnics, but the solo amazes as evidence of what he could do in sixteen bars.  A writer of musical epigrams, a painter of miniatures, eight bars here or sixteen bars there with their own logical, funny, shapes.

The thought that I can no longer see Vic on the stand at the last Eddie Condon’s or Your Father’s Mustache or an outdoor concert in Suffolk County makes me sad.  Had I been able to tell him how many people had their lives uplifted by his music, I think it would probably have embarrassed him.  But as I get older and I hear more jazz; as I understand more how difficult it is to create something when the rhythm is moving along inexorably underneath you, the more I prize Vic Dickenson.  It was a miracle that he was with us.  And he still is.

May your happiness increase.

BACK IN NEW YORK (Volume One): MATT MUNISTERI, DANNY TOBIAS, PETE MARTINEZ, JARED ENGEL — The EarRegulars — at THE EAR INN (Sept. 2, 2012)

I don’t mean to suggest that my return to New York after a California summer is as momentous as that of Louis — but the phrase brought to mind this beloved vinyl issue — cover drawing by Thomas B. Allen, I think, and eloquent commentary by Dan Morgenstern.

Being “back in New York” could be defined in a thousand ways . . . but joy for me is being back at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on a Sunday night from 8-11 for a session with the EarRegulars.  No fake stereo there, just genuine swinging creativity.

Sunday, September 2, found Matt Munisteri (guitar), Danny Tobias (cornet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Jared Engel (string bass) having themselves a time and sharing their pleasure with us.  You’ll hear four sweetly intense conversationalists who majored in empathy and telepathy in graduate school.  No one steps on anyone else’s line, but it’s clear they all know The Path.  And that Path winds around through 1938 Basie, the Keynote sessions, 1929 Ellington, but the EarRegulars are never imprisoned by the past.  This music is splendidly vibrant, shining in the twenty-first century.

You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night?  You, too, can be BACK IN NEW YORK if you put your mind to it . . . .

MY HONEY’s LOVIN’ ARMS (for Bing and Cutty Cutshall):

CREOLE LOVE CALL (for Barney Bigard and Wellman Braud):

BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (alas):

I MAY BE WRONG (for Joe Thomas and Pete Brown, among others):

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL (for Bix and Eddie):

The American Decca Jazz Heritage series started off promisingly, but several reissue projects never got to their second volume.  No such worries about The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn . . . many more glorious Sunday sessions to come!

May your happiness increase.

MORE FROM HARRY ALLEN AND FRIENDS at FEINSTEIN’S (June 10, 2012)

People are surely known by the company they keep.  Harry Allen is not only a splendid creative musician and a deeply gracious person — he also has superb friends.  Three of them are in his Quartet — Chuck Riggs (drums), Joel Forbes (string bass), and Rossano Sportiello (piano).

This delicious combination took the stage on Sunday, June 10, 2012, at Feinstein’s (the comfortable club nestled within Loews Regency, 540 Park Avenue, New York City). Harry and his friends were there thanks to Mat and Rachel Domber, the generous spirits responsible for so much good music through Arbors Records and live concerts.

It was a privilege to be there, and the Beloved and I basked in the warm, friendly atmosphere of that room — and the warm creativity of the players. And for the first time, I was allowed to video-record the evening, so consider yourself invited to the extraordinary musical scene created magically by Harry and friends — with surprises to come.  (In the house were Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Marlene VerPlanck, Gwen Calvier and her beau Joe, and a few surprises . . . )

I posted the first glorious set of that evening here.  Delicious, isn’t it?

Two of Harry’s friends joined the band for a second helping — Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), well-known to JAZZ LIVES, and the majestic Joe Temperley (baritone sax), whom I am honored to have here.

They began their explorations with BLUE SKIES:

Only bands that are this far from being lost — in any way — can play PERDIDO so wonderfully:

Joe offered us a beautifully mobile THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU:

For his part, Jon-Erik made us feel good with a romping THE LADY’S IN LOVE WITH YOU:

And, as Louis would write at the end of a page, S’all — but there will be more to come.

May your happiness increase.

TEARS, SMILES, INSIGHTS, SWING: THE MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR JOE MURANYI (May 29, 2012)

People are known not only for what they accomplish while alive, but the quality of the memories and love they evoke in death.  Clarinetist / reedman / singer / composer / writer / raconteur Joseph P. Muranyi — Joe or Papa Joe to everyone  — was a sterling person even without making a note of music.  The tributes he received at his May 29, 2012 memorial service at St. Peter’s Church in New York City prove that as strongly as any phrase he played alongside Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Marty Grosz, Dick Sudhalter, Dick Wellstood, or many other musicians here and abroad. Aside from one brief musical passage (most of an ensemble version of OLE MISS) that I missed due to the camera’s whimsical battery, here is the entire service: words, video, audio, and live music.    We honor Joe Muranyi! And for the sake of accuracy.  Later in the program — one of its high points, to me — Scott Robinson played an unaccompanied tarogato solo (on one of Joe’s instruments) of a Hungarian folk song, “Krasznahorka büszke vára” which translates as “The Proud Castle of Krasznahorka.” In the next segments, you will hear and see the live and recorded presence of Joe himself, alongside Louis Armstrong, Tyree Glenn, Marty Napoleon, Buddy Catlett, and Danny Barcelona.  You’ll hear tales of Roy Eldridge and Charlie Shavers, listen to words and music from Tamas Itzes, Mike Burgevin, Scott Robinson, Chuck Folds, Brian Nalepka, Jackie Williams, Simon Wettenhall, Jordan Sandke, Herb Fryer, Tom Artin, Jim Fryer, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Ricky Riccardi, Dan Morgenstern, Michael Cogswell, Fred Newman, Bob Goldstein, James Chirillo, Jack Bradley, and others. Here is what I witnessed.  But two hours is too small a room for Joe Muranyi, so this is simply one kind of tribute.  We will remember him always. May your happiness increase.

BORN TO PLAY: THE RUBY BRAFF DISCOGRAPHY and DIRECTORY OF PERFORMANCES

THIS JUST IN (Sept. 8, 2012): BORN TO PLAY is available at a special discount price.  I feel honored — this is the first official JAZZ LIVES promotional code!

JAZZ LIVES SPECIAL PRICE: Available directly from the publisher with 25% discount ($71.25 + $5.00 shipping): https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780810882645 and enter special Jazz Lives promotion code in shopping cart: 7M12BTPRB

I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time, and it’s even better than I anticipated.  It is the latest volume in the Scarecrow Press “Studies in Jazz” series, nearly 750 pages of information about the late cornetist.

Its author, Thomas P. Hustad, knew Ruby, spoke with him, and had Ruby’s full cooperation and enthusiastic advocacy.  Although the book isn’t a biography, nearly every page offers a deeper understanding of Ruby, musician and personality, and the contexts within which he operated.

Ruby would have been a challenging subject for a typical biography.  For one thing, although jazz musicians seem to lead unusual lives (nocturnal rather than diurnal hours, for one thing) they take their work with the utmost seriousness, and their daily responsibilities are not much different from ours.  A diary of what Ruby, for instance, accomplished when the horn was not up to his lips, might not be particularly revealing.  And Ruby’s strong, often volatile personality might have led a book astray into the darker realms of pathobiography: a chronological unfolding of the many times Ruby said exactly what was on his mind with devastating results would grow wearying quickly, and would leave even the most sympathetic reader with a sour impression.

No, Ruby wanted to be remembered for his music, and Tom honored that request.  So there is no psychoanalysis here, in an attempt to explore why Ruby could be so mercurial — generous and sweet-natured to some, vocal in defense of his friends, furious at injustice, fiercely angry without much apparent provocation otherwise.  True, the reader who peruses this book for tales of inexplicably bad behavior will find some, but BORN TO PLAY offers so much more.

Its purpose is to celebrate and document Ruby’s playing and recording over more than half a century.  What a body of recordings he left us!  From the earliest Boston broadcasts in 1949 to his final August 2002 appearance in Scotland with Scott Hamilton (happily available on an Arbors Records 2-CD set), Ruby played alongside the greatest names in jazz history.

Without looking at the book, I think of Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones, Nat Pierce, Dave McKenna, Freddie Green, Milt Hinton, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Dick Hafer, Scott Hamilton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dick Hyman, Teddi King, Lee Wiley, Ellis Larkins, Mel Powell, Oscar Pettiford, George Wein, George Barnes, Michael Moore, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Howard Alden, Frank Tate, Jack Lesberg, John Bunch, Sir Charles Thompson, Trummy Young, Bob Wilber, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Dan Barrett, Tony Bennett, Coleman Hawkins, Lawrence Brown, Ernie Caceres, Bob Brookmeyer, Benny Morton, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Rushing, Urbie Green.

BORN TO PLAY is more than a straightforward discographical listing of Ruby’s issued recordings (although even there I found surprises: Ruby’s sessions with the Weavers, a final unissued Vanguard session, work with Larry Adler, Lenny Solomon, and others).  From his earliest appearances, listeners noticed that Mr. Braff was something special.  Jazz critics made much of him as an “anachronism,” someone whose style came out of Louis Armstrong rather than Miles Davis, but such assessments missed the point.

Ruby was one of the great romantics and improvising dramatists: he could take the most familiar melody and find new lyricism in it, singing it out as if he had become Fred Astaire or Judy Garland or Chaplin in CITY LIGHTS rather than “a saloon entertainer with a bit of tin in his hand.”  Ruby’s playing touches some hidden impulses in us — our need to express emotions without holding back — but his wasn’t the “barbaric yawp,” but quiet intensity with many surprises on the way.

His admirers (among whom I count myself) paid tribute to their hero by recording his performances whenever possible — the chronicle of private recordings begins in 1949 and continues to the end.  Those private recordings are  more than tantalizing: Ruby’s encounters with Louis, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Buddy Rich, Danny Moss, Sidney Catlett, Benny Carter . . .as well as his day-to-day gigs with musicians both famous and little-known across the globe.

One of the surprises in this book is that Ruby worked so often: before he became known for his singular approach to melodic improvisation, he was a diligently gigging musician.  (In print, Ruby sometimes complained about his inability to find congenial work: these listings suggest that aside from some early stretches where it was difficult to get gigs, he was well-employed.)

BORN TO PLAY also contains rare and unseen photographs, and the text is interspersed with entertaining stories: Nat Pierce and the sardine cans, Benny Goodman and the staircase, and more.

What this book reminds us of is the masterful work of an artist performing at the highest level in many contexts for an amazing length of time . . . all the more remarkable when you recall that Ruby suffered from emphysema as early as 1980.  Without turning his saga into a formulaic one of the heroic artist suffering through disabling illnesses, Hustad subtly suggests that we should admire Ruby much more for his devotion to his art than stand back in horrified wonder at his temper tantrums.  And Tom is right.

Ruby emerges as a man in love with his art, someone so devoted to it that the title of the book becomes more and more apt as a reader continues.  I have only read it intermittently, but find it both entrancing and distracting.  Much of this is due to Tom Hustad: a tireless researcher (still finding new information after the book’s publication), a fine clear writer, and someone Ruby trusted . . . so the book floats along on a subtle friendship between subject and chronicler.  And Tom was there at a number of sessions, providing valuable first-hand narratives that enlighten and delight — especially telling are his stories of relationships between Ruby and his champions: John Hammond, George Wein, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett, Mat and Rachel Domber, and others.

And the little details that make a book even better are all in place: a loving introduction by one of Ruby’s long-time friends, Dan Morgenstern; a cover picture showing Ruby and Louis (the photographer another great friend of the music, Duncan Schiedt) . . . and orange was Ruby’s favorite color — one he associated with the aural experience of hearing Louis for the first time, his sound blazing out of the radio speaker.  The layout is easy on the eye, all in nicely readable type.

In the interests of full disclosure (as the lawyers and politicians say) I should point out that I admire Ruby’s playing immensely, met him in 1971, spoke with him a number of times, saw him at close range, and contributed information about some private sessions that I recorded to this book.

BORN TO PLAY is a fascinating document, invaluable not only for those who regarded Ruby as one of the marvels of jazz — it is also a chronicle of one man’s fierce determination to create beauty in a world that sometimes seemed oblivious to it.  Many large-scale works of scholarship are thorough but cold, and the reader feels the chill.  Others have adulation intrude on the purpose of the work.  Tom Hustad’s book is an ideal mixture of scholarship, diligence, and warm affection: its qualities in an admirable balance.  I think the only way this book could have been improved would have been for Ruby to continue on past 2002 and the book to follow him.

Click here to purchase a copy.

And here’s something to beguile you as you click — the Braff-Barnes Quartet of 1974 (Ruby, George Barnes, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore) sauntering through LIZA:

May your happiness increase.

A PARTY FOR DAN MORGENSTERN

If you read JAZZ LIVES and the name Dan Morgenstern doesn’t ring an entirely lyrical bell, then something in the cosmos is surely out of synch.

I can only speak for myself — as someone who, since the early Seventies, read his liner notes so closely as to unintentionally memorize them, someone who looked for his articles and reviews in books and jazz magazines, someone who tuned in to WBGO on Sunday nights to hear his presentations on “Jazz From the Archives” as a special treat.

And everyone I know in the field — musicians and writers — shares my enthusiastic gratitude to Dan during his illustrious work (since 1976) as the director of Rutgers-Newark’s Institute of Jazz Studies in Dana Library.  And the larger world has noticed, too — Dan has won eight Grammy awards.

It’s always especially rewarding to be able to celebrate someone while that person is around to hear the tributes in person . . .

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, from 4-8 PM, at the Newark Club, One Newark Center, 22nd Floor, Newark, New Jersey 07102, there will be a celebration of Dan Morgenstern’s Life in Jazz — with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music, and entertainment.  The Institute of Jazz Studies at Dana Library at Rutgers University – Newark will commemorate Dan’s contributions to jazz and the university with a retirement event in his honor.

Dan’s musical friends — Randy Sandke, Daryl Sherman, Anat Cohen, Joe Peterson, and Dan Faulk — will be performing through the evening, and there will be three special musical tributes.  The price of a single ticket is $75.00, and you can RSVP by contacting Elsa Alves at 973.353.3798 or emailing Merve Fejzula at fejzula@andromeda.rutgers.edu.  If you can make it, please let Elsa or Merve know as soon as possible — and you might also want to make a contribution to support the Dan Morgenstern Endowment Fund (completely tax-deductible).  Checks should be made out to Rutgers University, and sent to

Elsa Alves, Institute of Jazz Studies; John Cotton Dana Library; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey; 185 University Avenue; Newark, New Jersey 07102-1814.

Dan has done so much for us and for jazz — !

May your happiness increase.

THE JAZZ ADVENTURES OF TIMME ROSENKRANTZ

Imagine if Huckleberry Finn in all his naivete, enthusiasm, and observation had landed in Harlem in 1934 and sought out the best jazz and its players . . .

If an adult Huck with a Danish accent had written his memoirs — with space for everyone from Erroll Garner to Billie Holiday, from Chick Webb to Art Tatum — that book would be the late Timme Rosenkrantz’s HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR 1934-1969 (adapted and edited by Fradley Hamilton Garner, published this year by Scarecrow Press).

You can find out more and order the book  here, and watch a brief video-introduction by Fradley Garner.

Born in 1911, Timme (a Baron from a noble Danish family) lost his heart to hot jazz early on and came to New York City in 1934.  Disregarding those who said he would be murdered in Harlem, he took the A train uptown — years before taking that train became a Swing commonplace.

His eager good nature and enthusiasm endeared him to the jazz masters immediately, and they insisted on showing him where the best music was to be found at 5 or 6 in the morning, accompanied by large quantities of dubious liquor and fine fried chicken.  Perhaps it was also the novelty of a “white boy” so delighted and so knowledgeable about hot jazz, years before the jitterbugs swarmed, that caused Benny Carter and John Hammond, among many others, to take him as one of their own.

Timme was very good-hearted but a terrible businessman, and all of his doomed or precarious ventures had to do with jazz — jazz magazines that ran for an issue, a Harlem record shop, jam sessions in clubs and concert halls, recording sessions — were for the betterment of the art rather than for his own needs.

He may be best known for his 1945 Town Hall concert and two official recording sessions (one in 1938 for Victor, as “Timme Rosenkrantz and his Barrelhouse Barons,” with Rex Stewart, Billy Hicks, Tyree Glenn, Don Byas, Russell Procope, Rudy Williams, Billy Kyle, Brick Fleagle, Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Timme’s life partner, singer Inez Cavanagh), the other in 1945 for Continental, with Red Norvo, Charlie Ventura, Johnny Bothwick, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Jimmy Jones, John Levy, Specs Powell.

Some will know him for his short essays on Chick Webb (which ran as the liner notes for the Columbia vinyl collection of Webb recordings) and Coleman Hawkins, or for the recently published collection of his photographs, IS THIS TO BE MY SOUVENIR?

And there is a wonderful — still untapped — treasure chest of private recordings Timme made at his apartment.  Anthony Barnett has arranged for the Stuff Smith material to be released on his AB Fable label, and some of the Erroll Garner material has made its way to issue . . . but hours of rare 1944-5 jazz have yet to be heard by the public.

Timme’s memoirs give an accurate picture of what was endearing in the man: his enthusiasm for the music, his love of eccentrics (he was one himself), his amused comic view of the world.  This is not a book of grievances and grudges; reading it is like spending time with a jovial elder who fixes you a drink and launches into yet another hilarious tale of men and women long gone — all first-hand, told with a fan’s ardor.

Some of the stories are of the famous — Coleman Hawkins’ prowess and pride, his one Danish phrase; Timme’s attempt to defend Art Tatum from an audience of jazz-deaf gangsters; the generosities of Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, and Duke Ellington, the beauty of Billie Holiday; the power of Mezz Mezzrow’s marijuana; the appeal of the new duo of Slim and Slam.

But since Timme didn’t just meet his heroes in clubs, there are more intimate glimpses: Fats Waller in an overflowing bathtub, trombonist / arranger Harry “Father” White, in alcoholic delirium, arranging for a rehearsal of his new band — its members all dead, including Chick Webb, Jimmy Harrison, and Bix, Timme’s being measured for a shirt by Lil Armstrong, and more.

Billie Holiday invites Timme to a party; Louis explains to him that his favorite record is Berigan’s I CAN’T GET STARTED; Bud Powell tells Timme what time it is; Duke Ellington warns about “fresh-air poisoning.”

Even better than the previously unseen photographs and the careful documentation by Donald Clarke and Timme’s friend, jazz scholar Dan Morgenstern, even more enticing than the lengthy discography of issued and unissued recordings, are the stories of people we know little of.

Michigan cornetist Jake Vandermeulen, the forever-thirsty Fud Livingston, little-known guitarist Zeb Julian, the inexplicable demi-deity Leo Watson, the lovely Sally Gooding, suitcase-percussionist Josh Billings, urbane Adrian Rollini.  And they come in clusters: at Rollini’s own club, we encounter Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Charlie Barnet . . .

Timme gives us an insider’s view of Harlem night life and early morning revels, of the numbers racket, of running a record store uptown — the characters and details.  The book is the very opposite of analytic “jazz literature” in its warm embrace of the scene, the musicians, and the reader.

It is irresistible reading for jazz fans who wish, like Timme, to have been behind the scenes.  He was there, and his stories sparkle with life.  I know that jazz fans have been waiting a long time to read these pages, and I would have expected nothing less from the man Fats Waller dubbed “Honeysuckle Rosenkrantz.”

LOUIS ARMSTRONG MONTH (January 2012) with RICKY RICCARDI at the NATIONAL JAZZ MUSEUM IN HARLEM

What could be simpler?  The fine Louis Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi given room to stretch out at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem during January 2012.  (The Museum is located at 104 E. 126th Street • Suite 2D • New York, New York 10035.)

Here’s Ricky’s sketch of his presentations at the Museum — and one where he’ll be joined by “the All-Stars,” David Ostwald, Dan Morgenstern, and George Avakian:

January 3 – 7 p.m. Birth of the All Stars 1947-1953

On this night, I’ll chart the birth of the All Stars, covering Town Hall, Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, Edmond Hall, Earl Hines, the early Decca pop hits, Louis as King of the Zulus, the bop wars and a lot more.

January 7 – 12-4 p.m. Ricky Riccardi and The All Stars

This is the one you don’t want to miss as I’ll be leading a panel comprised of David Ostwald, Dan Morgenstern and George Avakian (aka The All Stars) to talk about the last 25 years of Louis’s life: seeing Louis live, visiting with him at home, working with him in the studio, dealing with Joe Glaser, Louis the civil rights pioneers, myths about the All Stars, you name it. I’ll have my trusty iPod and a bunch of DVDs so anything that comes up (or is requested) will also be played.

January 10 – 7 p.m. Louis on film

This event will take place at The Maysles Institute (343 Malcolm X Blvd / Lenox Ave, between 127th and 128 streets). After I started my Armstrong blog in 2007, I became something of a repository for rare Armstrong footage, with collectors around the world sending me DVDs of Louis on TV and in performance. I’ll be screening some of my favorite gems this evening, spanning 1950 to 1971.

January 17 – 7 p.m. Ambassador Satch 1954-1957

Back to my chronological exploration of the All Stars, this was a very thick period so I’m going to take my time, discussing the “W. C. Handy” and “Satch Plays Fats” albums, the “Ambassador Satch” tour, the Edmond Hall edition of the All Stars, projects like “Satchmo: A Musical Autobiography” and “Porgy and Bess” and Louis’s offstage stances on Little Rock and his refusal to go back to New Orleans.

January 24 – 7 p.m. Hello, Dolly! – 1958-1964

Continuing the journey, I’ll deal with Louis’s massive European 1959 tour (I’ll show some footage, too) and heart attack in Spoleto that same year. I’ll also focus on the many great projects that Louis embarked on in the early 60s with Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and the Dukes of Dixieland. This evening will culminate with the recording of “Hello, Dolly” that put Louis back on top.

January 31 – 7 p.m. What a Wonderful World – 1965-1971

The final evening will close the story, opening with Louis’s triumphant tour of the Iron Curtain in 1965 and following that with his gradual decline as his health–and chops–began to fade. I’ll have plenty of rare audio and video this evening, going right up to last year of Louis’s life.

If you can’t get to the museum, you can visit Ricky’s blog here

Or you can investigate his thoroughly entertaining book here

Every month is Louis Armstrong Month, but let’s (in the words of Irving Berlin) start the New Year right!

SO LITTLE TIME (A Shopping Pilgrimage to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Corona, New York)

I was very excited to read all the good press surrounding yesterday’s blogpost by Elvis Costello where he urged his fans to buy the ten-CD Louis Armstrong box set, SATCHMO: AMBASSADOR OF JAZZ, instead of his own (overpriced) one.

Hooray for Mister Costello’s candor and love!

But I didn’t own a copy of SATCHMO.  And that bothered me.  I have some of the music on other sources, but I felt like a hypocrite.  How could I urge my readers to get to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, New York, if I wasn’t ready to go there myself, unsheath my trusty credit card, and walk out with a box for myself?

This afternoon I made a Jazz Pilgrimage to the LAHM, and I can report that the Universal Music box is sitting next to me (like a well-trained rectangular puppy) as I write this.  I feel richer rather than poorer.  That’s the good news.

The less-than-good news is that the LAHM is the only place you can buy the box — it was produced in the United Kingdom in limited quantities, and they bought the remaining stock from the distributor.  Today I found out that there are fewer than forty copies for sale.  And when they’re gone . . .

So don’t wait for January 2012 to lament that the boxes are no longer available (although I am sure someone is planning to buy a few to sell on eBay at inflated prices).  The LAHM opens at 10 AM!  Here’s the link to contact them:

http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm

Now, what’s in the nifty box seen above?  The first seven discs are a comprehensive survey of Louis’s recorded career, from the Creole Jazz Band’s 1923 JUST GONE to two tracks recorded at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival.  Then, there’s a seventy-five minute segment from Louis talking with friends Dan Morgenstern and Jack Bradley in 1965, with some assistance from Papa Slivovice.  And — courtesy of our very own Ricky Riccardi, there are two discs of material — unissued and alternate takes — no one’s ever heard before, including scorching material from a Hollywood Bowl concert that concludes with a version of WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN that has the All-Stars joined by the Norman Granz JATP troupe; much new material with Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson . . . and on.  I have attached Ricky’s marathon blogpost about the set — complete with track listings and explanations — for your dining and dancing pleasure:

http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2011/07/satchmo-louis-armstrong-ambassador-of.html

And if you can’t get to Corona, can’t afford the set, but love Louis, call the LAHM anyway.  They are wonderful people down there, full of ideas on how to make the legacy of Louis continue in soaring shape.  (There’s the gala on December 6, and any monetary contribution would come in W.C. Handy.)

“SWEET MAN”: BOB PORTER REMEMBERS DICK KATZ

I know Bob Porter as a jazz scholar, record producer, radio broadcaster — and fine writer.  Here’s his recent piece on the much-missed Dick Katz, reprinted with permission from Bob’s website, where you’ll find many rare records for sale in his auctions, “JAZZ ETC.” (http://www.jazzetc.net):

For much of the 1980s, I was a Governor of the New York NARAS chapter. One of the fringe benefits of such a position was the opportunity to hang out with and make friends with fellow Govs, in this case musicians such as Pepper Adams, Mel Lewis, Helen Merrill, Gerry Mulligan and Dick Katz. George Simon and Dan Morgenstern were also involved so there was a lot of jazz knowledge on our panel.

Together we schemed to get as much recognition as possible for jazz. One year we even managed to get Pepper, who was nominated for a Grammy, to appear on the TV show! On the other hand, we worked, to no avail, to get some relief for Woody Herman from his oppressive tax burden. I got a chance to do a record with Pepper and another with Katz, records that probably would not have been made were it not for the monthly NARAS Governors meetings.

The Pepper Adams album was entitled”Urban Dreams” and featured Jimmy Rowles on piano. It was the only time I ever worked with Rowles but I managed to pick up two or three great stories from him and I’m still living off those stories after all these years. When Pepper discovered that the budget was all inclusive and that what was left, after all the other costs were covered, went to him, he knocked that album out in about two and a half hours!

The Katz album was one of three I did for Jim Neumann and his Beehive label. Neumann was one of great LP collectors of the twentieth century (his collection was recently donated to Oberlin). A successful businessman, Jim always wanted to run things his way and the record business was a challenge. It wasn’t easy for him to run his business in Chicago and make records in New York. I suggested Junior Mance to him, knowing that Neumann was ready to record almost any good jazz player with Windy City roots. We did a mostly quartet date with Junior’s working trio and David Newman added. In another conversation with Jim, I suggested Dick Katz.

Through our monthly meetings and the conversations that ensued, I found Katz to be extremely well versed on pianists. He knew Teddy Wilson, his original inspiration, but he knew Monk’s music far better than most. He had a slim discography but one that had quality as its recurring theme. Every time I heard him play, I was impressed, thinking that lots of people were sleeping on his talent. And he wrote about jazz with authority. Add to all that was the fact that he was truly a caring human being, one sweet man.

The Dick Katz album was part trio, part quintet. It was taped in May of 1984 with Jimmy Knepper and Frank Wess as our horns. Marc Johnson and Al Harewood provided the rhythm. Dick prepared well in advance of the session. “A Few Bars For Basie”, written to honor the recent passing of Count Basie, was the only tune featuring Wess on tenor, everything else featured his flute. I remember thinking at the end of the date that Katz was very well represented on the album. His choice of material was exemplary, his trio playing elegant and he seemed to get everything possible from the quintet. The album was titled, “In High Profile” (Bee Hive 7016). The album was issued on LP but when I asked about CD, Neumann showed no enthusiasm.

After the expiration of our NARAS Governor terms, I would encounter Dick Katz occasionally, playing with Roy Eldridge , in a meeting of some sort, once at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The conversations were always brief but always contained a reference to “In High Profile” and the question of when it might be issued on CD. To me, he referred to the album as his personal favorite.

The last time I saw him, perhaps five years ago, a different attitude showed up. Beehive had been gone for a long time and the only music from the label that had appeared on CD was the Johnny Hartman material used on ‘The Bridges of Madison County” soundtrack. Neumann still held his masters but wasn’t doing any deals to get the music to CD. Katz said to me, “I never should have made that album for Beehive.”

For many years, I held to the belief that because the record industry had supplied much of my living for a long time that I should abide by their rules. Thus, I had resisted burning vinyl to CD-thinking that in time, the labels would get around to what I wanted. Well some of them, namely Beehive, never got around to it. When Dick Katz died in November last year, there were obituaries that discussed his career in considerable detail. Not once was “In High Profile” mentioned. Because it wasn’t on CD, it didn’t exist.

Well it exists on CD in my collection now. I burned it and sent a check to The Jazz Foundation of America in his memory. Dick Katz, writer, teacher, pianist, friend of mine. One sweet man.

LISTENING TO LOUIS?

I’ve just read David Rickert’s assessment of “The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)” issued by Mosaic Records in 2009, an essay published in ALL ABOUT JAZZ.  Rickert’s on the right path, but I found many of his statements confusing, even contradictory.  But before some eager commenters leap to his defense, I am not in the ad hominem trade, merely puzzled.

Here it is, unedited:

As far as recordings by trumpeter Louis Armstrong go, the Decca recordings don’t generate much interest. Prior to them came the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, the most influential jazz recordings ever made and the template for everything that was to come. Afterward came the superb pop recordings for RCA, which showed a masterful entertainer more respected for his vocal prowess than his trumpet playing. The Decca years represent Armstrong’s adolescence: a bit gangly, sometimes awkward, and filled with questionable choices amidst the bold assertions of identity. Part of the problem may be that the Decca recordings have been available somewhat helter skelter over the years. Who better to provide some coherence than Mosaic? The label has compiled everything that Armstrong recorded for Decca, brilliantly remastered from the original metal parts or discs, and with thorough liner notes from jazz veteran Dan Morgenstern to boot. With this seven CD set, it is finally possible to assess this set completely and perhaps more firmly establish them as the great records they are. Critics of these recordings gripe about the subpar quality of the song choice, which is surprisingly inferior given the astounding amount of good songs that were written at the time. A quick glance at the tracks will confirm this suspicion; there are quite a lot of second tier songs (you can often spot them just from the title.) At the time, Joe Glaser had recently become Armstrong’s manager and quickly obtained the services of Jack Kapp at the newly launched Decca label to record him. And record they did—166 tracks over 11 years that also span the infamous recording ban. Kapp saw Armstrong as a novelty act, someone whose numbers might be a little corny and superficial and easy on the ear. In this regard he had much in common with pianist Fats Waller, another mugger who recorded piffle. But also like Waller, Armstrong was always able to turn even the most insignificant material into something special, even if it wasn’t perhaps high art. He also correctly assumed that his performance would carry the material, and more often than not it did. There are some undeniable misfires here, such as a few numbers with a Hawaiian theme, and some gospel numbers, along with a few numbers like “When Ruben Swings the Cuban” that even Armstrong can’t redeem. But there are also quite a few numbers that Armstrong absolutely nails and turns into masterpieces, such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Tiger Rag,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Satchel Mouth Swing” and “Jubilee” proving that a terrific song and superb musicianship can always combine to make musical gold. Anther problem for some critics is the quality of the sidemen. There are really no stellar musicians on the stand, but rather serviceable sidemen capable of playing the charts and managing a decent solo when prompted. Clearly the focus here was on Armstrong and the rest of the band was only called upon to provide sturdy accompaniment and little else. Thus, unlike the Hot Five and Seven Recordings, there’s no pianist Earl Hines or trombonist Kid Ory to keep Armstrong on his toes and match his chops (although truth be told, few could keep up with him). The novelty here is hearing Armstrong navigate the world of big band coming from the smaller groups he had employed earlier. The recordings start out startlingly sweet and progressively get hotter, matched by terrific charts from Sy Oliver and Joe Garland. Armstrong was also paired with other artists from the Decca label such as saxophonist Glen Gray, reed player Jimmy Dorsey and bassist Bob Haggart, all white musicians, and pairings that helped erase the color lines that existed. There are also a few visits with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and a reunion with soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet, as well as early appearances with guys like guitarist Dave Barbour who would go on to greater things. Oh yes, and the first pairing of Armstrong and singer Ella Fitzgerald. Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great. A sampling of the best of these records would show how truly great this period was. Mosaic’s warts and all approach necessarily includes some questionable material. But with the Mosaic touch, don’t be surprised if these recordings reemerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.

Rickert ends his piece generously: he won’t “be surprised if these recordings emerge as a classic period in Armstrong’s career.”  But he begins with the rather curious statement that these same recordings “don’t generate much interest.” 

I wonder if the second statement is a matter of commerce rather than artistic merit.  The Deccas were never reissued intelligently at home.  Rather, they came out in blurts, “Jazz Classics,” “Collector’s Items,” “Golden Favorites,” and several well-meanin but incomplete attempts.  It was left to Gosta Hagglof  to issue the Deccas logically and completely on CD.   

It’s always tempting to see a jazz artist’s career in terms of the progression of record labels, but in doing this, Rickert presents some debatable generalities.  The Hot Five and Seven recordings are “the most influential jazz recordings ever made”; the later Victor sessions produced “superb pop,” where Armstrong’s singing overshadowed his trumpet playing. 

How about the “influential jazz recording, BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA and the “superb pop” of JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES or PENNIES FROM HEAVEN? 

Rickert’s underlying assessment of Armstrong’s career might be something like this: “Louis played pure New Orleans jazz up until 1929, and then was corrupted into “pop” commercialism, with short detours back to Eden when he recorded with homeboys like Bechet and when he played W.C. Handy.  But had he stuck to POTATO HEAD BLUES, what a body of work he might have created!  Alas, poor Satchmo!  I knew him well, before he became popular, that is.” 

This harks back to the ideological wars of the Forties, Moldy Figs arguing with Be-Boppers over whose music was “authentic,” over how one defined “the real jazz.”  I thought we were past those quarrels.

Louis didn’t elevate jazz to the pantheon while lamenting that he was forced to play “pop.”  I doubt that he ever complained in the studio, “Hey, Mr. Kapp, this is piffle you’re asking me to mug.”   

In fact, if you admire what creative improvisers do with their material, what could be better than Louis did with ON A COCOANUT ISLAND?  Did it take more inventiveness for Fats Waller to swing THE CURSE OF AN ACHING HEART than the MINOR DRAG?  I would think so, but for these musicians, it was all music.  Perhaps even trying to play WHEN RUBEN SWINGS THE CUBAN is a heroic act in itself, and the discographies of many revered jazz musicians show equally unpromising titles. 

To his credit, Rickert recognizes that Armstrong was able to “redeem” many of the song choices and make them “something special.”  But he may confuse the musician, the record company, and the song. 

It is easy to view Armstrong as a good-natured pawn in the hands of White manipulators Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser, Kapp coming in for special excoriation for trying to make Louis a “novelty act.”  But record companies then and now wished to sell records — and, after years when companies went bankrupt, one can hardly blame Kapp for trying to ensure broad popular success. 

If Kapp viewed Armstrong as a “novelty act,” he also did so with his best-selling and most popular artist Bing Crosby, who recorded an even wider range of material with great success.  And the idea of “questionable material” might be one that the artists rarely asked.  And the idea of good songs and bad might be undercut by the results.  Does Billie Holiday sound less like herself on WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO than on YESTERDAYS?  The genius of jazz musicians lies in their ability to transform and transcend the most banal material — it is only in retrospect that jazz critics, praising “forward-looking” and “harmonically adventurous” music, make such distinctions.  I GOT RHYTHM and the blues were perfectly satisfying for Charllie Parker and Sonny Rollins to improvise on.  So, rather than assume that nefarious forces compelled Louis to record SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, we should marvel at what he did with it.  (As an aside, some of his recordings I find most gratifying are the least “jazz-inflected”: consider his Fifties recording of TREES, for one.)    

Rickert, as I do, teaches English, and I admire his equating Louis with Shakespeare.  But I find what follows condusing: “Armstrong has always been the Shakespeare of jazz, someone regarded as a widely influential genius, yet not one who escapes the ranks of academia except for the occasional Pottery Barn compilation. Many jazz fans probably find themselves throwing on something other than Armstrong most of the time. If so, the Decca recordings are his King Lear: somewhat problematic for many, a little cumbersome, yet showing him moving in a new direction all while displaying all the qualities that made him great.” 

Should we care how many people admire a particular piece of art?  What has popularity to do with merit? 

And if Rickert could point out to me where “academia” and “Pottery Barn,” meet, I’d be grateful.  I’d even meet him at the clearance sale table.  I applaud the idea of Louis as King Lear — majestic, commanding the winds.  But I don’t think that Louis had to pass through suffering to arrive at true awareness: his music shows that he had reached a deep awareness early.

Ultimately, I wonder if Mr. Rickert was victimized by circumstances in writing his review.  Mosaic box sets — in this case, seven compact discs — are initially overwhelming, not well-absorbed in one or two hurried gulps.  I wonder if he was sent this box with perhaps two weeks to listen to it and write about it.  He would either have had to work his way through the set — rather like doing homework — or to listen to it in pieces, hoping to find the figure in the carpet. 

In either case, I admire his fairness: praising Mosaic, attempting to situate Louis in a cultural context.  But he’s missed some of the beauties of these recordings. 

It’s perfectly understandable to look back to Louis’s partnership with Earl Hines as a high point.  But the Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings are in some sense artificial, because Louis never worked with those groups.  The Deccas, for better or worse, represent some of the material Louis was performing every day with working bands.  But to become nostalgic for Kid Ory is to neglect J. C. Higginbotham.  And if you’re looking for a musician perfectly paired with Louis, able to keep up with him and to spur him to new heights, I would submit that Sidney Catlett is the man. 

I would ask Mr. Rickert to listen to WOLVERINE BLUES for Catlett alone, to THANKS A MILLION and SOLITUDE for the beauty of Louis’s expressive singing and playing.  Follow that up with the sides recorded with the Mills Brothers, those dreaded Hawaiian sides, and more.  Only then can he or anyone get a true picture of Louis’s achievement . . . and that might take a good deal of time.

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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STUDYIN’ LOUIS

I’ve given up on academic conferences — but this is one I can recommend, not only for its Exalted Subject, but for the Presenters.  And it’s free / open to the public, too:

Louis

LOUIS ARMSTRONG SYMPOSIUM, November 21, 2009   9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, at the College of Staten Island (CUNY: City University of New York), 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, New York 10314 (609.936.3719).

On Saturday, November 21, 2009, a gathering of jazz scholars will present their research on various facets of Louis Armstrong’s life and music at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.  The event will take place from 9 AM to 5 PM in Building 1P, Room 120, the Recital Hall of CSI’s Center for the Arts.  It is open to the public and admission is free of charge.  However, due to limited seating capacity, advance reservation is strongly suggested.

To make reservations and for more information, contact William R. Bauer at: 718-982-2534, or at thearmstrongsymposium@gmail.com.  For those who will drive, parking will be available in Lots 1 and 2. For directions to the College of Staten Island, visit the college website (click on prospective students and then on visit our campus): <http://www.csi.cuny.edu/prospectivestudents/visit.html>.  For a campus map, go to: <http://www.csi.cuny.edu/prospectivestudents/maps.html>

The Louis Armstrong Symposium will feature a keynote address by Dan Morgenstern, jazz historian, author, editor, archivist, current Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, and former chief editor of Down Beat.  Presenters include Ricky Riccardi, Michael Cogswell, John Szwed, James Leach, William R. Bauer, and Jeffrey Taylor.  In morning and afternoon sessions, each presenter will offer a distinct perspective on his subject.  Each session will be followed by an open-ended panel discussion and question-and-answer session that will elaborate on themes that emerged during the talks.  A conceptual jam session for jazz scholars, this format will give scholars and audience members alike a forum for in-depth discussion about Louis Armstrong’s musical and cultural legacy.

Ricky Riccardi, whose book about Louis Armstrong’s later years will be published in 2010, will use Armstrong’s renditions of “Back Home Again in Indiana” to challenge the negative critical reception that the trumpeter often received during the latter part of his career.

Michael Cogswell, Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and curator of the Louis Armstrong Archive at Queens College’s Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, will share and discuss samples from Armstrong’s vast collection of LPs and 78s.

John Szwed, Professor of Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University and John M. Musser Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale University, will explore Armstrong’s role in Orson Welles’s unfinished movie The Story of Jazz, and in other projects the filmmaker was working on in 1941.

James Leach, who teaches jazz history and theory at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, will focus on Armstrong’s vocal and instrumental renditions of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Stardust” to set in relief Armstrong’s approach to singing and trumpet playing.

William R. Bauer, from the College of Staten Island and CUNY Graduate Center faculties, will present research from his current book project, an investigation into the jazz vocal techniques Armstrong used in his early recordings.

Jeffrey Taylor, Director of the H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music and Professor of Music at Brooklyn College, who also teaches in the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Music and its American Studies Certificate Program, will consider the impact of various pianists on Armstrong’s work during the trumpeter’s Chicago years in the 1920s.

The scholarship presented at this symposium will both deepen and expand our understanding of this giant of twentieth-century music.  The Louis Armstrong Symposium is produced with funding from the CUNY Research Foundation, and with support from the College of Staten Island and the Center for the Arts.