Tag Archives: Louis McKay

SEARCH ENGINE TERMS, CONTINUED (MARCH 2014 EDITION)

Questions or search engine terms in bold. These entries, I promise you, are recorded verbatim, not embellished or invented.

 was fats waller in it’s a wonderful life?

(No, but he improved ours.)

who were turk murphy’s wives

(“Mrs. Murphy, Mrs. Murphy . . . ” I long to respond.)

did billie holiday die

Define your terms.

autograph of not that famous deceased guitar teachers 1987

(Possibly the only response here is “Huh?”)

connie boswell reserved

(Ditto.)

thelonious monk and moms mabley

(If there’s a recording of that duet, I want it now.)

louis armstrong uncle tom

(Some people who didn’t understand Louis might have called him that, but you won’t find those four words linked in any equation on this blog.)

and here, a rash of Holiday-fetishism, all in the space of a half-hour one night:

louis mckay 5

louis mckay pictures 2

billie holiday drug use 2 (a constant search for this)

billie holiday husband 2

louis mckay’s death 2

billie holiday funeral 1

billie holiday funeral photos 1

billie holiday weight 1 (this one recurs)

lewis mckay 1

louis mckay and billie holiday 1

louis mckay photos 1

louis mckay and billie holiday obituary 1

was there really a louis mckay in billie holiday’s life? 1

what happened to lois mckay, billie holiday’s third husband 1

louis mckay husband 1

what happen to louis mckay husband of billie holiday 1

billie holiday father

billie holiday’s husbands

I wait for the search engine term “billie holiday music,” but that must be my naivete.

Following on the same logic: great singer = great addiction, we have this question:

was ella fitzgerald a heroin addict

and my current inexplicable favorite:

have you ever heard anything about jazz we are sure you have

perhaps because that was too unwieldy, it returned a week later as:

have you ever heard anything about jazz

Keep searching, Sisters and Brothers!  Do let me know what you find.

May your happiness increase!

BEING OLDER HAS BENEFITS

My chronological age is increasing, as I occasionally notice.

Tonight, the Beloved created a wonderful homemade Thai dinner, and when we’d finished, we worked our way through the dishes to music: an assortment of the 1937-41 sides that Billie Holiday and Lester Young created together, with friends.

And I thought, not for the first time, “How lucky I am to be the age I am. I saw Buck Clayton play — at the end of his trumpet career — and got his autograph. My friend Stu and I rode the subway uptown with Benny Morton, who sweetly and patiently answered our eager questions. I saw Teddy Wilson play at a shopping center, and got his autograph. Jo Jones spoke to me several times; two autographs, some recordings, some photographs. Dicky Wells waved an annoyed finger at me to get me to stop recording him with my cassette recorder. I saw Freddie Green and Count Basie, from a distance, at a concert in a Long Island park, Benny Goodman and friends in Carnegie Hall in the late Seventies.

Yes, Lester Young, Walter Page, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Ed Hall, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Pee Wee Russell were already gone when I began actively searching out live jazz. But if I were younger today, I wouldn’t have had the precious experiences I did.

And listening to Billie and her friends — buoyant, wise, exultant, and so sweetly IN the music they were making — reminds me of how beauty never grows old. Let all the people who voyeuristically want only to make Billie into the Heroin Madonna, the Woman Abused by Louis McKay listen to this:

“Now they call it swing.” Exactly.

May your happiness increase!

MRS. McKAY and MR. NORVILLE SIGN IN

From the eBay trove:

BILLIE 50s

and one more:

RED NORVO

My title may mystify and confound.  Let me explain in reverse: Red Norvo was born Kenneth Norville: his new name was in part a response to his hair color and the inability of bandleader Paul Ash to correctly recall and pronounce his surname.  “Norvo,” he told Whitney Balliett, “stuck.”

JAZZ LIVES readers will of course recognize the woman at top — and her distinctive handwriting.  Born Eleanora Fagan, daughter of Sadie Fagan and Clarence Holiday, she took “Billie” as her chosen name after the silent film actress Billie Dove.  But I have called her “Mrs. McKay” here in sly obeisance to the thousands of readers who want to know more about Billie and her last husband Louis McKay.  Why they are so fascinated by this conjugal bond I can’t say — no one, as far as I know, searches for information on Billie and trumpeter Joe Guy, but the ways of love and of online queries are both mysterious.

May your happiness increase!

“THIS IS IT”: BILLIE HOLIDAY, LYRICIST

More from the bottomless treasure-chest of eBay.  A British seller is offering a copy of Billie Holiday’s lyrics for a song called THIS IS IT.  Her handwriting is distinctive, but I know nothing about the possible melody (and I’ve never heard a recording of her performing this song).  It seems in parts a collage of conversational phrases from a wounded soul and includes YOU CAN’T BE MINE AND SOMEONE ELSE’S TOO, which she did record in 1937.

Did she write these lyrics with the most sought-after Louis McKay in mind?  Do any JAZZ LIVES readers know more about this particular opus?

THAT’S “MISTER McKAY” TO YOU

A small mystery.  I understand the larger fascination with Billie Holiday: as jazz singer, as iconic figure, as beautiful and doomed.  But one of the most frequent searches is for “Louis McKay,” or “billie holiday husband.”  Does the cyber-world need a Louis McKay blog?  Please advise.  And here, due to popular demand, is the man himself — from what I can gather from the recent Holiday biographies, not precisely a model husband.  But that might increase his fame.

Let us hope that Billie was genuinely happy and remained so when the flashbulb’s illumination had faded . . .

GEORGE WETTLING’S RIGHTEOUS RAGE

The man in the picture looks serious, intent, but hardly dangerous.  He is George Wettling — known for his wonderful drumming with Eddie Condon, Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland, Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, and many others. 

In my recent, quite amiable discussion of Moldy Figs and Mossy Stones with Nate Chinen, one of my friends, drummer Mike Burgevin, brought up a piece of jazz legend: he had read somewhere that “George Wettling flattened a critic.”

Inquiring minds want to know, of course, and so Stompy Jones (my Canadian ally) asked me what I knew about this incident.  I knew nothing, but suggested that the critic in question might have been Leonard Feather, who expended a great deal of energy in the Forties making fun of the Condon bands — so much so that Condon dedicated a mocking title to him, and later on Muggsy Spanier made a record called FEATHER BRAIN. 

I inquired of fellow scholars and drummers Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn, but no one seems to have particular details of this incident.  And the less I know about it, the more it piques my interest.  Let us assume that it actually happened, of course.  Did Wettling read something in DOWN BEAT, say, by Mike Levin, the critic who compared Lester Young’s tone to cardboard, meet him on the street, swing once, connect, and leave Levin horizontal?  Or was it a critic who actually came to hear Wettling in person who may have told George that his style of drumming was old-fashioned.  “Stop playing that bass drum.  Go take some lessons from Tiny Kahn or Max Roach.”  BOOM!

Those with information are invited and encouraged to write in; aspiring playwrights are also encouraged to submit five-minute playlets on the theme. 

And then, when we’ve collectively solved this mystery, perhaps someone can explain the astonishing and continuing interest in photographs of Billie Holiday’s “man,” Louis McKay.  Hundreds of people seem to be searching for Mr. McKay.  With all due respect, why?

BILLIE, IN BETTER LIGHT

I’m glad that a number of my readers found the nearly-prurient Carl Van Vechten photographs of Billie Holiday equally disturbing.  I needed to put something in their place. 

Earl Hines told Whitney Balliett in a New Yorker Profile, “Sunshine always opens out,” his way of saying that good fortune eventually finds you, and today it found me in the shape of a pleasant email from Erik Svinding Olsen, alerting me to his Billie Holiday site — he’s been a devoted listener for more than fifty years now.  Erik’s site has a wonderful discography, among other pleasures, and although he doesn’t attempt to list every CD issue of every song (something that often results in pages of label / number listings for something like the Decca LOVER MAN) his discography contains recordings I had never heard of.  It’s clear and well-organized: you can search by date, by song, by musicians, etc.  I’ve listed his site on my blogroll: http://www.holiday.eriksol.dk/

Erik also told me about another site devoted to Miss Holiday, a site that I find frankly astonishing — for its photographs.  Most of the books devoted to Billie reproduce the same studies — often they are moody portraits with the inevitable gardenia.  But Mike Lubbers of the Netherlands, the Holiday-collector behind this enterprise has found more pictures of Billie than I had imagined . . . a few of them copies of newspaper clippings, and many of them still pictures from her appearances in SYMPHONY IN BLACK, NEW ORLEANS, film shorts and television shows. 

But there are more than twelve hundred photographs of Billie, beginning with a snapshot of her as a cheeful teenager on the beach at Coney Island and ending with photographs of the crowd at her funeral.  This trove can be found here: http://www.billieholiday.be/

I have contented myself with only a few photographs from this site — to not seem too greedy among Mike’s treasures — but they nearly offset the Van Vechtens for me.  If I have chosen a number of portraits (mostly candid) that show Billie alongside other famous musicians and singers, can you blame me? 

Here’s Billie the writer, presumably working on her “autobiography,” LADY SINGS THE BLUES, in June 1956. 

And a frankly posed shot, to make it seem as if she was earnestly blue-penciling her own galleys (or proofs?).  I couldn’t ignore it because of the Fifties prop: she’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses, the sure sign of the writer, the intellectual.  Editing your autobiography can’t be done without the proper plumage: in this case, sparkly dangling earrings.   

This somewhat grainy newspaper photograph is a relief . . . because it is in some way far more real.  Is it that Billie has asked Frank — who said he owed so much to her singing — for his autograph?  Whatever the story, this photograph was taken, or published, on May 26, 1944.

I have no fondness for any of Billie’s men, who seem to have treated her poorly, but at least she looks happy here with Louis McKay, in May 1954. 

A candid photograph taken at the home of Billie and Louis McKay, December 1951.  If it’s caution, wariness, or skepticism in her sideways glance and slightly raised eyebrow, she looks far more relaxed, even girlish, than she ever did under Van Vechten’s gaze.

Billie with a happy Count Basie in July 1948, during their appearances at the Strand Theatre in New York City. 

A very hip trio in Billie’s dressing room, September 1949.  Does Billie’s dog know who’s there?  Of course!  (Louis loved dogs.)  Billie looks as if she is just about to burst into laughter — always a happy sight. 

In December  1945, at the Onyx Club — from left, Sarah Vaughan (travelling in fast company), Louis, Billie, and someone whose face is vaguely familiar but elusive.  At ease, even when assembled for a “candid” photograph and facing a flashbulb.

Billie at Orly Airport in Paris, November 1958.  Again, it’s a posed photograph, with a good deal of failed “spontaneity” in the artificial tilt of her head and the rather forced smile — but she looks more at ease than we would have expected.

I wouldn’t call them old friends — late in life, Teddy Wilson insisted that he would have preferred another girl singer, Beverly “Baby” White, for those awe-inspiring Brunswicks and Vocalions — but they certainly had a long association.  By this time, Teddy no longer wanted to be anyone’s sideman, and Billie may have found his precision a bit restrictive, but here they are at the first Newport Jazz Festival on July 18, 1954.  (Many more pictures exist of this pair at this concert.)

Another pianist worthy of our attention: Billie and Art Tatum, taken at the Downbeat Club in December 1946.  (Photographs of Tatum are rare, and I thought he and Billie were captured only at the Metropolitan Opera House jam session in 1944.)  Tatum seems unfazed by the ornamentation atop Billie’s hat, and that the photographer has posed them outside of the Ladies’ — but we have to catch our legends where we may.

Something else I didn’t know: that Billie and Lester had appeared at a series of outdoor New York City concerts in July 1957.  Lester looks dubious, Billie guarded, but I hope it’s nothing more than that they were trading bad stories about the promoter or one of the sidemen.  It would break my heart if they were glaring at each other.

Since Billie has often been presented as an iconic figure of sadness, of self-destruction, I thought I would conclude with two photographs where she looks unaffectedly happy, not posing at being happy for someone’s camera.  If you didn’t know she was the famous “doomed” artist, would you see it in her strong, amused face?  This shot was taken at a session for Verve (or Clef?) in June 1956. 

Late in her life — December 1958 — but taking her ease at Tony Scott’s house. 

Heartfelt thanks to Erik Svindling Olsen, to Mike Lubbers, to Billie Holiday and all the people who love her and treat her properly, even fifty years after her death.