Tag Archives: Raymond Burke

CORNET MASTERS: GEORGE FINOLA, DOC EVANS, REX STEWART

Cornet

Although I never was drawn to cigarette smoking, I remember personalized matchbooks with fondness — whether they encouraged you to sign up for correspondence courses or to revisit a restaurant or night club.  They were portable advertising before Facebook, business cards that had more than one use.  Here are two jazz-related ones, courtesy of eBay, that house of surprises.

One celebrates a New Orleans gig and a much-missed cornet player, a man of great lyricism, who made his debut recording in the company of Armand Hug, Raymond Burke, Danny Barker, which should tell you something about the esteem in which he was held — the late GEORGE FINOLA:

GEORGE FINOLA on CORNET matchbook

Here’s George, late in his short career, in a very Hackett mood for CABIN IN THE SKY:

Then, we venture, somewhat whimsically, into politics:

DOC EVANS FOR PRESIDENT

and an encouraging bit of wordplay on the reverse.  Was Doc Evans in competition with Dizzy Gillespie or well in advance of the front-runners?

DOC EVANS FOR PRESIDENT rear

This is why Paul “Doc” Evans deserves your vote — a brief clip of Doc, Art Hodes, and Bob Cousins burning through WOLVERINE BLUES in 1969 (from the public television series JAZZ ALLEY):

Most people don’t think of Rex Stewart as a cornetist, but it’s clear — in the film footage that we have of him — that it was his preferred brass instrument.  What a pleasure to find this piece of sheet music on sale:

BOY MEETS HORN

and the back is indeed priceless.  I want all those orchestrations!

BOY MEETS HORN backFifty cents each, too.

And here’s Rex (although not visible), performing BOY MEETS HORN, the fanciful enactment of what a young player’s first halting steps might sound like.  From the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, announced by Ellington:

and in France, 1947:

The cornet is a demanding instrument — but it takes even more ingenuity (and pressing valves only half-way down) to make those glorious eccentric sounds as Rex does.

May your happiness increase!

A COMFORTABLE PASTORAL: JOHNNY WIGGS and RAYMOND BURKE on CD

The recordings that cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon, and string bassist / singer Sherwood Mangiapane made in two sessions in New Orleans (in 1952 and 1955) have been both glorious and elusive.  Issued on two ten-inch microgroove recordings on the even more elusive Paramount and Steiner-Davis labels, they were wonderful yet invisible.  I first heard some of this music on a cassette copy made for me by the late Bob Hilbert, and I knew much more existed but had never heard it.  A year ago, I saw one of the records on eBay at a low price and (atypically) was able to buy it without eroding my savings. I thought the front was very impressive.

WIGGS-BURKE 10

But the reverse was a real surprise (the eBay seller either didn’t turn the record over or wasn’t interested): it was autographed by Doctor Souchon to Pinky Vidacovitch:

WIGGS-BURKE 10 back

But this is a post about music, not about record collecting, so I hope my digression is pertinent here. I should say that the sessions were originally envisioned by collector / archivist / scholar John Steiner as trios — clarinet, guitar, bass — echoing the recordings of George Lewis that William Russell had made earlier.  Russell agreed to record the Burke-Souchon-Mangiapane trio, but — happily for us — Johnny Wiggs came by with his horn and the group became a quartet.  The two vinyl issues collected sixteen performances.

I — and no doubt others — have been waiting, hoping for this music to be effectively issued on compact disc. And it happened!  The American Music label has issued a two-disc set of the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR. Not only does it offer the original sixteen tracks but a good many alternate takes, performances that didn’t make the original issues, and three tracks from 1957 that bring together Burke, Wiggs, Souchon, Art Hodes, and Freddie Moore. On one or two tracks, Raymond plays the harmonica (not a high point in recorded music, but we needed to know about it, and a tin flute.  Wise notes by the deeply-involved Butch Thompson and some rare photographs make the set complete.  The recorded sound is fine and the discs are well-programmed, so each disc sounds like a small rewarding session on its own.

BURKE-WIGGS CD

The songs are (asterisks denoting a title with more than one version) PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET / ALL NIGHT LONG* / AT SUNDOWN / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES* / MEMORIES / RAY’S TUNE* / CONGO SQUARE / BUCKTOWN BOUNCE / I CAN’T USE IT / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?* / MAMA’S BABY BOY* (a/k/a DO WHAT ORY SAY) / ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME / MILENBERG JOYS / POSTMAN’S LAMENT* / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SPANISH TINGE* / HARMONICA BLUES / WALKIN’ THE DOG / TULIP STOMP (a/k/a WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP) / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / GOING HOME / CHINATOWN / JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE / BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JOHNNY’S BOUNCE / BUCK TOWN / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR / SISTER KATE / TIN CAN ALLEY / UNKNOWN TUNE / CITY OF A MILLION DREAMS.

Here  is Jazzology Music (the GHB Jazz Foundation): the primary site where the discs can be bought — and if you notice the Index, bottom right of the page, with a careful scrolling motion you can hear the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR play PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET.  If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

I don’t usually become hyperbolic and tell my readers that this is “the one disc they must buy,” “the one festival they must go to,” etc., because there is so much enticing and enduring music both being reissued and being made live even as I write this.  Yet I think that the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR has given me an extraordinary amount of the pleasure in the months that I have had and played it . . . and played it.  And I certainly think that the musicians who think of themselves as “traditionalists” and beyond should be listening intently to this music for its lightness, its depth of feeling, and its expertise. Let me explain.

Although I don’t identify myself as purely a New Orleans jazz aficionad0 (in my mind, the Armstrong Town Hall Concert, Jones-Smith Inc., the 1938 Basie band, the Goodman Trio, the 1940-1 Ellington band, the Keynotes, the Vanguards . . . all have their assured places in my affections) but I do love collective improvisation as a musical way of life.  In fact, some of my favorite moments in hearing / video-recording live jazz in 2013 are provided by those groups that understand their existence as BANDS — improvising, creating backgrounds, playing riffs, working as ensembles — whether they model themselves on Bunk’s Last Testament band or much more “modern” in their approach.

Wiggs, Burke, Souchon, and Mangiapane very occasionally present themselves as a single-soloist-with-rhythm; more often, we hear four sweetly idiosyncratic voices going their own ways while fulfilling their roles as members of a band.  So “there’s always something going on” to interest a close listener.

Souchon and Mangiapane create a firm, fluid, old-time but swinging acoustic rhythm: the way guitar and bass used to be played before the late Thirties (guitar) and Forties (string bass).  They don’t push or drag; they provide the most delightful swing counterpoint.  As well, Souchon (especially) is an instantly compelling, saucy singer — with a wink or a twinkle for the listener. I doubt that a few of his naughty vocals (hardly so by 2013 standards) are his own invention, but the metaphors of the songs are hilarious in the fashion of mid-Twenties blues.  Since I carry a backpack for work and play, I empathize with his earnest reading of POSTMAN’S LAMENT, whose refrain is “Lord, take this pack off my back.”

The great voices on this disc are paradoxically the sounds that come through Burke’s clarinet and Wiggs’ cornet — sounds I found endearing as soon as I heard them, years back.  Wiggs heard Joe Oliver in the flesh in the very early Twenties and was impressed by the King for the rest of his life — thus he has some of Oliver’s terse power.  But he also heard Bix, and I think the latter’s lyricism won out: Wiggs (although not as harmonically ambitious as Bobby Hackett) captured something of Bix’s brief epigrammatic ways: a Wiggs phrase is like a great, sometimes sad, utterance: it hangs in the air the way a Joe Thomas phrase did, and we are musing over its meaning while he is eight bars away.  In his own fashion, Wiggs is a great sad poet: his melancholy is always lightened by his joy in the rolling rhythms beneath him, but his sound is autumnal, dark red and gold.

Burke, for his part, can at first sound like an elliptical version of the great New Orleans clarinetists — I am thinking specifically of Ed Hall, of Bujie Centobie — but he has his own phrasing and his own, always surprising sound.  And, just in passing, I must say that the most famous group with this instrumentation was the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of 1940, but the Wiggs-Burke quartet is far more easy, less pugilistic. Friends playing for their own enjoyment, weaving melodies for the sake of song, not musicians out to show who’s boss of the session.

My friend Joe Shepherd made available two videos of Johnny, Raymond, Danny Barker, Graham Stewart, Bob Green, and Freddie Moore and he shot at the 1972 Manassas Jazz Festival.  Time hasn’t treated the visual image well, but the music is eternal:

OLD STACK O’LEE BLUES:

TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL:

Why my title?  The music on the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR discs suggests a kind of informal play among friends that very rarely takes place in a recording studio — more often in a living room or on a porch when only the musicians and their friends are there.  Certainly this would be a perfect set of CDs for a backyard party . . . sweet melodies in swing.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: “OLD STACK O’LEE”: THE BLUES at MANASSAS (December 2, 1972): JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, BOB GREENE, DANNY BARKER, FREDDIE MOORE

Through the kindness of Joe Shepherd, we have another trip backwards in time to view and hear the magic of the music.  In case you missed the first excursion, do visit here.

Be forewarned: the visual quality of this video is quite murky — almost twenty thousand leagues under the sea, although Verne never heard such music.  One can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because it and its predecessor from the same session are (as far as I know) the only performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.  They play a nice old blues (close to MAKE ME A PALLET ME ON THE FLOOR) at a sweet tempo, the beat marked off in a special old-time way by Freddie.  And Raymond Burke’s sliding, gliding feet (in very shiny loafers) are a visual treat in themselves; even the cameraperson thought so.

Burke and Wiggs are uplifting poets of the music: sad but not maudlin or frozen in time, playing the blues from deep knowledge of what they are, where they came from, and how they feel to listeners.  There’s a good deal of Jelly Roll Morton here, too, which is always uplifting.

This video — although its originator is not known to me — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!  And this one’s for you — John Gill and Leon Oakley, Roger Wade, Doug Pomeroy, Chris Tyle, Sam McKinistry, Trygve Hernæs, and Hank O’Neal!  (“By popular demand” — more from Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke!)

May your happiness increase.

RUEFUL AND LOVELY: “TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL”: JOHNNY WIGGS, RAYMOND BURKE, GRAHAM STEWART, DANNY BARKER, BOB GREENE, FREDDIE MOORE (Manassas Jazz Festival. December 2, 1972)

Be forewarned: the visual quality on the performance that follows is sub-standard, although you can get used to it.  This is what much-transferred forty-years-old videotape looks like, but the audio is loud and clear.

This video is a valuable document, because I don’t know of any other performance footage of cornetist Johnny Wiggs and clarinetist Raymond Burke — lyrical heroes of mine — here accompanied by Graham Stewart, trombone, Bob Greene, piano, Danny Barker, guitar, Freddie Moore, drums: Johnny Wiggs’ Bayou Stompers, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, sometime singer / kazooist and eternal jazz lover – festival creator.

The song is elusive — TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL — and I couldn’t find any lyrics online, but the opening phrase so neatly fits the title that I am sure JAZZ LIVES readers can (silently) invent their own narratives with the proper scansion.

I am amused by Raymond Burke’s endearing personal choreography — his body mirrors what he is playing more than is true with many players.  And his tone is so singular, sweet-tart in the manner of Ed Hall — but you wouldn’t mistake one player for the other.  A great underacknowledged poet of the clarinet.

Wiggs continues to astonish.  He saw Joe Oliver in New Orleans (I seem to remember this was 1919) and Oliver left a lasting impression.  But then Wiggs heard Bix and those wandering odes took over — haunting but always mobile.

I hear in Wiggs, who was 73 at the time of this video, a sweet, sad evocation of what Bix might have sounded like had he lived on this long.  Wiggs’ music plunges forward while looking over its shoulder in a melancholy, ruminative way.  And although Wiggs recorded early (1927) and from 1949 into the fifties, his late work fully expresses a kind of autumnal sensibility, delicate without being timid or maudlin — the sweet voice of an elder who has seen a great deal and knows that life is sadly finite but celebrates that life with his cornet.

One other thing occurs to me, with special relevance to my own video efforts, where musicians justly want the performances that will be disseminated and preserved for posterity to be as free from flaws as possible.  Anyone who watches this video to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — notices a small train wreck (with no one hurt) because the band is not clear whether to go on or stop. I find this, like Burke’s body language, quite endearing.  I’d rather have imperfect Wiggs and Burke than know that this flawed performance had been consigned to the trash.

This video — although I do not know the originator — comes to us through the loving diligence of trumpeter / archivist Joe Shepherd, Sflair on YouTube, someone who cares a great deal for and about this music.  Thank you, Joe!

May your happiness increase.

THE SOUNDS OF NEW ORLEANS (on DISC)

Three recent CDs from the George H. Buck family of labels are unusual sound-pictures of the riches of New Orleans jazz.

GEOFF BULL IN NEW ORLEANS (GHB BCD 203) is a CD reissue of trumpeter Bull’s first American session (October 1977, first issued December 1999).  Although Bull says that his first influences were George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, the music he made at Preservation Hall on this recording is far from what we would expect: light, floating, subtle.

A good deal of this is due to his beautiful playing, at times reminiscent of Bunk at his most lyrical (think of the American Music trios with Don Ewell); Bull can also sound like Marty Marsala or Henry “Red” Allen, but he is his own man, with a relaxed conception.  Making this session even more memorable is clarinetist Raymond Burke, free to roam in the front line alongside Bull.  Bassist James Prevost is a melodic swinger, and the rhythm section is completed by two strong individualists: Sing Miller, piano and vocal*; Cie Frazier, drums.

Rather than choose a program of Preservation Hall favorites, Bull and friends opted for pretty tunes not often played: PECULIAR / DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / ONE FOR THE ROAD (a leisurely blues) / I’M NOBODY’S BABY / ALL ALONE / NEVERTHELESS / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME* /JEEP’S BLUES / ZERO (I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO) / THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN* / LET JESUS FIX IT FOR YOU* / HONEY – WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM*.The results are sweet thoughtful jazz, conversational music that musicians play for their own pleasure.

My own Geoff Bull tale is musically rewarding: I hadn’t heard him play before encountering him (unbeknownst to me) in an after-hours jam session during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.  Here’s his performance (with Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys) of MAMA INEZ — Geoff’s rangy, relaxed lyricism is a standout:

Two volumes of rare, previously unheard material from producer Joe Mares’ archives (he was the younger brother of trumpeter Paul) are fascinating, and not only for their rarity (GHB BCD 522 and 530, available separately).  Almost all of the material is in excellent fidelity, and this selection from Mares’ collection — which, when transferred to CD, filed twenty-seven discs — comes from concerts and local clubs as well as radio broadcasts between 1948 and 1953.  Students of New Orleans jazz will be thrilled by new material from their heroes, captured live; others will simply find the music energetic, varied, and refreshing.

Volume One begins with the hilarious HADACOL RAMBLE — with an ensemble vocal chorus — that is somewhere between folk-song, medicine show, down-home comedy, and vaudeville routine advertising the miraculous benefits of Hadacol, a New Orleans patent medicine apparently far more efficacious than Geritol or Serutan.

Other delights on this disc include appearances by Johnny Wiggs, Irving Fazola, Bujie Centobie, Raymond Burke, and Dr. Edmond Souchon.  The repertoire is often familiar, but the musicians play INDIANA (for instance) as if it had not been worn out by decades of bandstand tedium.  The songs are HADACOL RAMBLE / HADACOL RAMBLE (vocal) / I’M GOIN’ HOME / BASIN STREET BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / TIN ROOF BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SAVOY BLUES / THAT’S A PLENTY / HIGH SOCIETY / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BILL BAILEY — and the collective personnel is Sharkey Bonano, Tony Dalmado, George Hartman, Johnny Wiggs, Pinky Vidalcovich, Irving Fazola, Harry Shields, Raymond Burke, Bujie Centobie, Julian Laine, Emile Christian, Jack Delaney, Roy Zimmerman, Bill Zalik, Burt Peck, Stanley Mendelsohn, Frank Federico, Edmond Souchon, Sherwood Mangiapane, Chink Martin, Arnold Loyocano, Johnny Castaing, Fred King, Roger Johnson, Monk Hazel, Abbie Brunies — a fine mix of veterans and less-familiar players — but everyone solos with fine brio and no one gets lost in the ensemble.

The second volume is equally good — with most of the same players remaining.  (This selection adds Tony Almerico, Tony Costa, and Lester Bouchon.) Three standouts are the fine Stacy-inspired pianist Jeff Riddick (heard on seven selections), inspired work from drummer Ray Bauduc (on five), and Jack Teagarden — whose performance of BASIN STREET BLUES is especially inspired and happy, contrary to my initial expectations.

The songs are CLARINET MARMALADE / ALICE BLUE GOWN / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE /PECULIAR / THE LAND OF DREAMS / INDIANA / SHE’S CRYING FOR ME /MISSOURI TWO BEAT / BASIN STREET BLUES / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / TIN ROOF BLUES / MARIE / HIGH SOCIETY / I’M A DING DONG DADDY / I’M GOIN’ HOME.

If you find yourself tired of routine performances of the “classic” repertoire, these three discs will be a refreshing corrective.

May your happiness increase.

BUNK and WIGGS

 Names to conjure with — the classic monickers of two New Orleans brass giants, Willie “Bunk” Johnson (1879 or 1889-1949) and John Wigginton Hyman (1899-1977).  Bunk is widely-known; Wiggs should be.   

Two new compact discs present these men in very congenial settings. 

Let’s take “Johnny Wiggs” first.  Wiggs is yet another living proof that there are second and third acts in American lives: he recorded in 1927 and then not again for two decades (in the meantime, he had a successful career as a teacher and home-builder); he continued playing until his death.  Wiggs also fascinates me because of his deep lyrical strain: his early influence was Joe Oliver, but he fell under the spell of Bix Beiderbecke and (to my ears) he often sounds the way I imagine an elder Bix would have sounded: melancholy, introspective, singing softly to himself.

Wiggs has often been represented on record as the lead horn in a traditional New Orleans ensemble, and these settings haven’t always done him justice, because the energetic bandsmen have sometimes created a raucous good-time environment.  Best of all are his chamber sessions with only clarinetist Raymond Burke (another poetic soul), guitar (often Dr. Edmond Souchon), and bass — recorded on the Paramount label in the Fifties and I think impossible to find. 

But the Wiggs sessions collected on a new CD show his deep feeling and wide range.  Some of this music was issued on an lp — also called CONGO SQUARE — but this CD issue adds previously unissued material.  Here’s one of the original 78s:

 The music on the CD covers the years 1948-73, and was primarily recorded in New Orleans — one particularly exuberant small group includes Wiggs, clarinetist Bujie Centobie, tenorist Eddie Miller (their limpid sounds intertwining), and the Stacy-Bix pianist Armand Hug.  But to me the most interesting combination was suggested by the ever-inventive Hank O’Neal, who set up a date for Wiggs to record four of his own compositions . . . in New York, with a “New York” quartet of Dill Jones (from Wales), Cliff Leeman (from New England), and Maxine Sullivan (from Baltimore).  The results are special, making me wish that Wiggs had been transported out of his native element more often.  He’s worth discovering or rediscovering.

Bunk Johnson is a different case entirely: someone who has his own mythology, a figure with such a clearly defined identity that there were pro-and-anti Bunk forces at work.  I first heard Bunk on his earliest recordings, and was unimpressed: he seemed a rudimentary player doing his best but not always being able to break free from the near-amateur musicians surrounding him. 

It was only later when I heard his “Last Testament” recordings for Columbia in 1947 that I could hear what he was doing and revel in his beautiful melodic simplicity, the emotional directness of his lines, the delicacy of his embellishments. 

But it was clear to me (although some disagree) that Bunk was a more sophisticated musician than the contexts he was often placed in.  Put next to the vehemently competitive Sidney Bechet in Boston, he often held his own but sometimes sounded as if he had been dropped into the Golden Gloves. 

In front of a sympathetic, swinging band, he blossomed and relaxed.  He had just that setting in the recordings now issued on an American Music CD — a 1947 concert with cornetist Doc Evans’s rocking little band and the perfect support of pianist Don Ewell.

Ewell hasn’t been celebrated enough — certainly not sufficiently in his lifetime.  But he was an elegantly swinging pianist, his subtle approach encompassing Jelly Roll Morton’s ruffles and flourishes and the later swing of Hines, Stacy, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  It says a good deal about Ewell that he seemed to be the favorite pianist of both Jack Teagarden and Frank Chace.  And Bunk Johnson.  A year before this concert, Bunk, Ewell, and drummer Alphonso Steele had recorded as a trio in New York for American Music — playing pop tunes and old favorites: WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN, IN THE GLOAMING, OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, JA-DA, YOU’VE GOT TO SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, POOR BUTTERFLY, and WHERE THE RIVER SHANNON FLOWS. 

At the Minneapolis concert, there are vibrant full-band versions of traditional standards such as HIGH SOCIETY, THE SHEIK OF ARABY, and SISTER KATE, but there are also wonderful examples of the Bunk-Ewell partnership.  (One elaborately wayward performance after hours, where Bunk is trying to teach Ewell the harmonies to HEARTACHES, both of them having imbibed more than they should, has been preserved in the Jazzology book on Bunk: SONG OF THE WANDERER, by Barry Martyn and Mike Hazeldine, as is their IN THE GLOAMING.)

But this concert presents what is, to me, the clearest representation of what Bunk could do — out of the recording studio, having a wonderful time, inspiring and being inspired by a first-rate group. 

 And now for some compelling musical evidence (music also available from the George H. Buck family of labels):

Bunk, Ewell, and Alphonso Steele in New York City, 1946:

Wiggs with the legendary guitarist Snoozer Quinn in 1948:

To order the Bunk / Ewell / Evans CD, click here:

 http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=AMCD-129

To order the Wiggs CD, click here:

http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=BCD-507

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FROM THE 1969 MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL

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I haven’t found many autographs on eBay recently that got me all excited, but this one surely qualifies.  Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, an enthusiastic concert promoter (given in moments of enthusiasm to vocalizing and kazooing) ran a series of jazz bashes in Manassas, Virginia, for perhaps fifteen years.  I never attended any of them but knew of their existence because “Fat Cat” issued some of the results on his own “Fat Cat’s Jazz” label, which never made it to compact disc.

Here is an autographed program from the first concerts in 1969, with many famous names:  Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Slide Harris, Maxine Sullivan, Vic Dickenson, Johnny Wiggs, Danny Barker, Zutty Singleton, Wild Bill Davison, Bob Green, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, writer Al Rose, Tommy Gwaltney, Walt Gower, Kerry Price, and one or two others.

The signatures that I know — either from familiarity or from getting autographs from the musicians themselves — are absolutely genuine-looking: Condon, Vic, Hackett, Maxine.  For what it’s worth!

The autograph on the very bottom — indicating this program belongs to “Doctor,” suggests that it was once the property of Dr. Edmond Souchon, the New Orleans physician-guitarist-singer who was part of the 6 7/8 String Band and appeared on many recordings with Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke.  Could this be true?

WHO REMEMBERS ROD CLESS?

Many of the greatest artists make their creations sound simple.  Think of Bing Crosby, Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Count Basie. 

Clarinetist Rod Cless belongs to their ranks, but seems a forgotten man. 

And he deserves better.  Hear him among his friends Art Hodes and Max Kaminsky on a 1944 Blue Note record, CLARK AND RANDOLPH, a blues named for a notable Chicago intersection:

And here’s the aptly titled SLOW ‘EM DOWN BLUES:

What does one hear of Cless on these two slow blues? 

In the ensembles, he has some of the daredevil quality one associates with Pee Wee Russell and Frank Teschmacher, diving-off-the-high-board descents from a quavering note.  But the rough edges are smoothed down, the vibrato more songful, less fierce. 

In his solos, Cless sounds like someone who knows the beauty of the clarinet’s low register, the virtues of thoughtful space.  He takes his time.  He has something to convey, and it can’t be hurried; it needs a kind of plaintive candor. 

And although his harmony is not abstruse, his phrases more regular than abrupt, what he has to tell us sounds familiar only because so many players coming after him have absorbed his message without even being entirely aware of it. 

I hear the influence of Jimmie Noone in the full, round lower register, as well as touches of deep New Orleans blues.  But also — even though there are no phrases copied from the master, it is not hard to hear the ghostly influence of Bix in Cless’s soulful restraint.   

Here are three more sides with Hodes from a 1942 Decca date with an illustrious personnel that didn’t otherwise gather in the studios: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Brad Gowans, valve-trombone; Cless; Hodes; Condon; Earl Murphy, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.

LIBERTY INN DRAG, another slow blues, where Cless gets only a chorus, but the rest of the band is so fine:

On a sprightly INDIANA, Cless sounds at his most Russelian.  Both he and Gowans play wonderful ensemble embroideries in the opening and closing choruses (the sound of Condon’s guitar thoughout is a special pleasure, as are Zutty’s drums behind Hodes):

GEORGIA CAKE WALK (also known as AT A GEORGIA CAMP MEETING) reminds of how well Sidney DeParis played in these settings.  A floating Hodes interlude leads into one of those Cless statements that seem perfectly simple until one listens closely:

Who was Cless?  Much of what I’ve learned comes from the biography by Bob Najouks to be found on http://www.kcck.org/iowa_jazz_connections.php.  I’ve added some details from other surveys written by Eugene Chadbourne (whose account is to be found on the fine ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC site):

Cless was born in 1907 in Lennox, Iowa.  He was a fine athlete and accomplished clarinetist who also doubled on saxophone.  The start of his enlightenment seems to have been a six-week engagement that Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverine Orchestra played in Riverview Park Ballroom in Des Moines in 1925: Cless came every night.  

Frank Teschmacher, the brilliant young Chicagoan, befriended Cless, and Cless came to Chicago two years later as a professional musician — an intimate of Eddie Condon and Bud Freeman (Cless married Freeman’s sister).  I’ve read that Cless played in the Varsity Five, a hot band much admired at Iowa State University, but do not know if he attended college there.  

In Chicago, both Tesch and Cless worked with Charles Pierce, whose name is on a number of famous hot recordings of that period.  He toured with Frank Quartrell’s band and visited New Orleans for the first time.  (Did he hear Raymond Burke and Johnny Wiggs, and did they talk about Bix?  One wonders.) 

Returning to Chicago, he worked with trumpeter Louis Panico at the Wig Wam Club and found employment in reed section of dance orchestras.  He also made extra money teaching clarinet.        

He may have gained the most attention as a member of Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band in 1939 — that band had an extended run at the Hotel Sherman in Chicago (where they played opposite Fats Waller and his Rhythm) and were enough of a sensation to make sixteen sides for the Bluebird label.  (A CD reissue of this material, with alternate takes, brings the total to 24.) 

After Spanier disbanded the Ragtime Band, Cless worked with Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Ed Farley, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, and Bobby Hackett.

But Cless’s marriage failed, and his drinking grew heavier.  Walking home from the last night of a job at the Pied Piper (where he played alongside his friend Max Kaminsky) in December 1944, Cless fell over the balcony of his apartment building and died four days later at 37.  In his autobiography, Kaminsky blamed himself for not walking Cless home — even though Cless insisted that he could make it himself. 

Here’s an extended solo by Cless on the Hodes-led FAREWELL BLUES, for Art’s short-lived Jazz Record label.  The casual listener may hear in it only variations on familiar arpeggiated patterns, with suggestions of Johnny Dodds, but there’s more:

And to conclude (for this post), here’s something quite atypical — JAZZ ME BLUES by Frank Teschmacher’s Chicagoans, recorded in April 1928.  Tesch plays clarinet and alto; Cless plays alto; Mezz Mezzrow is on tenor saxophone; the rhythm section is Joe Sullivan, Jim Lanigan, Eddie Condon, and Gene Krupa.  This track comes from www.redhotjazz.com: http://www.redhotjazz.com/ftc.html.

Those fascinated by the sound of Rod Cless can find several more examples on YouTube — where a number of the Bluebird sides from 1939 by Muggsy Spanier and his Ragtime Band — are available. 

Cless also turns up on a singularly relaxed session for Commodore which features Kaminsky, valve trombonist Frank Orchard, and James P. Johnson.  Nearly the same band — with Willie “the Lion” Smith on piano recorded for Decca and for Black and White. 

And in Cless’s last year, ironically, he had his only opportunity to lead a record session — for the Black and White label, featuring James P., Stirling Bose, and Pops Foster.  Those four sides were once available on a Pickwick anthology CD. 

Eight others (plus a few alternate takes) by a 1940 Hodes group called the CHICAGO RHYTHM KINGS (pictured at top) — one session featuring Marty Marsala, Cless, Hodes, Earl Murphy, and Jack Goss on guitar; four trio sides with Cless, Hodes, and Murphy (originally recorded by Bob Thiele and several of the trio sides reissued on Doctor Jazz) are difficult to find (the last complete issue of the issued takes was a 10″ Riverside lp, which is now fifty-five years ago). 

More accessible are the recordings Hodes made for his own short-lived Jazz Record label, which have been reissued on a Jazzology CD.  (One of the ironies is that Hodes admired Cless greatly and used him on record dates whenever possible, which is a great blessing — although many Hodes recordings have extended outings from their leader, sometimes restricting the other members of the band in their solos on a 78 issue.) 

I plan to return to Cless as a subject in a future post, although from a different angle.  I hope to interview one of the elder members of the jazz tribe, someone who actually took lessons from Cless in the early Forties.  Until then, I suggest that Cless is worth close and repeated listenings.

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND

 

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin divided everyone into two types: those whose knowledge was broad but not deep, and the reverse.  One he characterized as a hedgehog, the other a fox, and I do not remember which animal reportedly had which intellectual profile. 

But yesterday the Beloved and I met a man who knows many things well AND deeply, and I celebrate him.  He’s BOB WIRTZ, and he’s on his way to Ohio to look at another huge record collection. 

While we were in Portland, Maine, a lovable town, I spied a used record store on Congress Street.  ENTERPRISE RECORDS was closed whenever I walked by, and it became even more enticing: records arranged neatly in browsers, a Jim Hall – Bill Evans issue in the window.  On our last day in town, I walked over and stood in front of the window, disappointed that I wouldn’t get in.  As I was about to turn away, the door opened and a compact, thoughtful man in a red floral shirt asked quietly if he could do anything for me.  I identified myself as a jazz collector and asked if I could come in for a few minutes if I promised not to talk to him.  He grinned, waved me in, saying that talking was OK, although he was on his way to Ohio. 

Since I get overwhelmed easily, I was happy he didn’t have acres of jazz records — but (to paraphrase Spencer Tracy) what he had was choice: from Sweet Emma Barrett at Preservation Hall to Herman Foster to Sun Ra and beyond.  I gleefully found a reissue of one of the Dicky Wells Felsted sessions (Benny Morton, Vic Dickenson, Jo Jones), a Columbia two-record Jimmy Rushing reissue which contained a few duets with Helen Humes backed by Ben Webster, and a Jim Robinson record that had the poetic Raymond Burke in the band — all for less than twenty dollars.  My kind of music!  When we fell into collectors’ conversation, I learned that Bob had run this store for twenty-one years and was interested in most kinds of music. 

The conversation turned to more normal matters — like food — when the Beloved entered, and we told him that we were on our way north and had been told to stop at a famous tourist spot, Moody’s Diner, for its good food, its local color, its popularity.  Bob said with great intensity, “You don’t want to go THERE!  Everything there is straight out of the freezer!”  He was fervent and compelling and offered an alternative in Gardiner, the A-1 Diner.  And anyone who worries that people will eat poor food and warns them away from it is someone to treasure. 

We found Moody’s Diner en route, and stopped in to see if Bob was right.  Oh, was he ever!  The iced coffee was distinguished only by being brown and wet; the packaged slices of pie had been left over from a James Whale film shoot, and the best thing was the restroom . . . .

Thank you, Bob Wirtz!  May all your enterprises prosper.

BOB WIRTZ, ENTERPRISE RECORDS, 650 CONGRESS STREET, PORTLAND, MAINE 04101 (207.773.7672).  enterpriserex@aol.com; www.enterpriserecords.net