The pianist / composer / educator / shepherd Barry Harris, who just left this temporal plane a few days shy of his ninety-second birthday, understood many things deeply. But one of the finest was his unspoken acceptance of his role as teacher and guide — not to one classroom of students, but to thousands. He knew — without words, but by embodying it — that a great teacher’s goal is to show their students how to be themselves teachers, in their own particular fashion, continuing to teach others as they learn themselves.
I didn’t have the good fortune to know Barry, to visit one of his classes, to commune with him: I think I came along late in his time, where he might have told me he had better things to do than to sit and talk about himself. But I know those who drank from the Harris springs and came away transformed and inspired, and when his name came up in conversation, their faces gleamed with love and wonder and appreciation.
There is no better tribute I can offer than Heleen Schuttevaer’s loving short film, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BARRY HARRIS, which premiered in December 2020:
Ordinarily, I would say of such a person, “Barry Harris has become music,” but that would be an impudence: he always was and will continue to be. We are so fortunate to have lived in his world.
This neat little band has been attracting fans and friends on early Tuesday evenings at Swing 46 (349 West 46th Street, New York City) for more than a few months . . . and it deserves to have its names up in lights. Leader Dan Block (tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet) gives equal time to the wonderful Gabrielle Stravelli (vocals), Michael Kanan (piano), and Pat O’Leary (string bass). Here they are — about two months ago — tenderly moseying through the Waller-Razaf AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — which is truly a love song about fidelity and joyous discovery — at a tempo that makes it emotionally meaningful, rather than a race to the outchorus:
What lovely playful sounds! And in their three sets on a Tuesday night, this splendid quartet creates marvel after marvel. You mean to say you could have visited them at West 46th Street and haven’t . . . ?
Yes, Vic Dickenson. You know, the “Dixieland” trombonist known for his “wry humor.”
A small sweet surprise: Vic Dickenson, trombone; Earl Hines, piano; Harley White, string bass; Eddie Graham, drums — playing an Ellington ballad, perhaps THE Ellington ballad. So many writers made so much of Vic’s “dirty” style, his growls, that they forgot his deep heart, his deep feelings for pretty songs . . . his love of melody, of pure sounds. And although no one was wise enough to ask Vic to make a recording of Ellington and Strayhorn, he called IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD as his feature night after night when I saw him.
The first thing an attentive listener might notice is Vic’s slowing-down the tempo: he’s not about to be rushed into baroque Hines flourishes. A stately yet passionate exposition of the melody, growing more fervent in his second chorus. Then a coda-cadenza, rhapsodic and bluesy all at once. A masterpiece from the Grande Parade du Jazz at Nice, France, performed on July 20, 1975.
Hank O’Neal told me that one of his dream projects was to record Vic with strings. Such a pity that didn’t happen. Listen to I GOT IT BAD again and realize that, as a ballad player, Vic is at the level of Ben and Pres, Hodges and his dear friend Bobby Hackett. Thank goodness we have these four minutes of Vic, quietly reminding us of what he did and could do: wordlessly touch our hearts without making a fuss of doing so.
Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft was a pianist and jazz fancier and eyewitness in the Twenties: you can read his first-hand recollections of Jack Pettis, Bix, Bud Freeman, the Wolverines, and more, in a 1961 interview he did for the Tulane University archives. And if you search this blog, you’ll find a series of video interviews I did with Squirrel’s friend and life-student, Hank O’Neal. But from the early Thirties on, he and his wife Jane opened their Evanston, Illinois home to their jazz-musician friends, who brought their horns and voices. (In the 1940 census, it’s listed as 1144 Asbury Avenue, for those who wish to make pilgrimages.)
Early on, the sessions got recorded on disc; later, their friend John Steiner used his tape machine. The collective fun is evident from the first note — their expertise, too, as no one misses a key change. And the easy friendship of artists who aren’t competitive but communal is also immediately apparent. True, it isn’t a polished recording session; there’s the hiss of much-copied tape; many of the performances are incomplete. But the pleasure of artists playing for themselves and a small convivial audience is precious. Red isn’t always perceived as such a lyrical player, but hear him — and his friends — blossom in easy, romantic fashion throughout.
The players are Nichols, cornet; Joe Rushton, bass sax (clarinet on SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH); Jack Gardner, piano; George Kenyon, mellophone; Jack Howe, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Bill Priestley, guitar; Phil Atwood, string bass. EASTER PARADE / INDIANA / OH, BABY! / THE GIRL FRIEND / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (excerpt) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / LOUISIANA / BALLIN’ THE JACK / SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / SUGAR / TEA FOR TWO (one and two) / AFTER YOU’VE GONE (incomplete) //. The original tape is thanks to John L. Fell, whose source may have been Joe Boughton. Other sessions at Squirrel’s were issued on a series of ten-inch lps; this one wasn’t. I don’t know if Nichols was still under contract to Capitol Records or he thought this recording too loose for the general public. But it sounds so delightful:
And, no, the vault of joyous treasures isn’t about to be emptied any time soon. Here’s to collectors like my dear departed friend John L. Fell, who showed me that music is meant to be shared with those who love it just as much. . . .that the other side, the more important side of “collecting,” was “giving.”
On the subject of giving, the reigning Nichols authority, Stephen Hester (who, with his father, has done beautiful deep research on all things Red) sent me this photograph a few minutes ago — Red and Joe Rushton at the session (note Red’s cloth mute!). Thank you, Stephen!
A wonderful concert by Jared Engel, string bass, composer, arranger; Vanisha-Arleen Gould, vocal; Gordon Au. trumpet; Sam Chess, trombone; Jonathan Beshay, reeds; Josh Dunn, guitar; Andrew Millar, drums — held in the Flamboyan Theatre of the Soto Cultural Center, Essex Street, New York City, on October 30, 2021, under the aegis of the City Artist Corps Program, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Here’s the first part of three. Let joy be unconfined!
For Hoagy, for Louis, in the name of jubilation, JUBILEE:
Then, a lunar pairing featuring the wonderful singer Vanisha-Arleen Gould, NO MOON AT ALL:
and THAT OLD DEVIL MOON:
Inventive music, played with skill and spice in a lively space for an appreciative audience: if you know of a better universe . . .
Three lyrical cats making great music al fresco in Brooklyn, New York: Arnt Arntzen, banjo, vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, lowboy cymbal, vocal. Those venerable pop classics feel fresh yet familiar in their hands.
As the weather gets colder, the trio has moved inside. And the food is good.
The past isn’t dead, as long as the evidence survives. Two days ago I posted a rollicking CIRIBIRIBIN by the group named above plus John Bucher, cornet. Here is another long-buried souvenir from Wednesday, June 7, 2006, performed at the Cajun Restaurant, New York City. Two originals and an outchorus, for those noting details. Eddy Davis, leader, banjo, vocals, composer; Scott Robinson, C-Melody saxophone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Jesse Gelber, piano; Debbie Kennedy, string bass: THE LAUGHING BLUES / AN IDEA FROM MARIAN / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. I’ve left in all the conversation — at the end of the night — because to edit it out would be painful. Pretend that you were there, no, that you are there. Why not?
One of Marty Grosz’s favorite vaudeville bits is to announce the next number, and say “. . . performed with dispatch and vigor,” and then motion to two musicians near him, saying, “That’s Dispatch, and that’s Vigor.” How old it is I don’t know, but it still provokes a laugh from me and the audience. (The expression goes back to the eighteenth century and before: it crops up in a letter from George Washington, which would please Marty if he doesn’t already know it.)
Perhaps the earliest recording we have of Marty (then playing a four-string guitar) and his miraculous colleague Frank Chace dates from 1951, issued on a limited edition 10″lp by THE INTENSELY VIGOROUS JAZZ BAND. The personnel is John Dengler, cornet; Marty Ill, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Hal Cabot, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Stan Bergen, drums. Princeton, New Jersey, May 1951. I have a copy here somewhere, but it proves elusive. From what I remember of the liner notes, Marty and Frank were ringers, added to the Princeton students’ band of the time.
Through the good offices of the very generous collector Hot Jazz 78rpms — who shares marvels regularly on his YouTube channel — I can offer you all of this rather grainy but certainly precious disc. But before you leap into auditory splendor, may I caution you: not everyone on this session is at the same level, but it would be wrong to give it only a passing grade as “semi-pro college Dixieland.” Close listening will reveal subtleties, even in the perhaps overfamiliar repertoire. Marty, Frank, and John shine. And the three Princetonians, none of whom went on to jazz fame, play their roles. With dispatch and vigor.
NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:
BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (a memorable Chace chorus):
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
THE SHEIK OF ARABY (my favorite):
BASIN STREET BLUES:
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:
and, yes, WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN with some of its original luster intact:
Intense, vigorous, and joyous too. And if you hear echoes of Eddie, Charles Ellsworth, Bix, and their friends, that’s not a bad thing.
I don’t remember details about this particular Wednesday night at the Cajun — which was soon to close to make way for a high-rise apartment building. But my digital recorder stands in for any gaps in my memory, providing wonderful evidence of what happened more than fifteen years ago. Here is a romping sample — CIRIBIRIBIN, suggested by cornetist John Bucher, sitting in for a set with Eddy, Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for Orange Kellin); Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano (subbing for Conal Fowkes); Debbie Kennedy, string bass. It wasn’t “Dixieland”; it was more an evocation of the sleeves-rolled-up music one heard on Fifty-Second Street, at Eddie Condon’s, a year or so later at The Ear Inn: loose, friendly, playful, expert but hiding its expertise. I think it’s a memorable nine minutes, and when I first unearthed this disc, more than one computer refused to transfer it, so I played it more than a dozen times in hopes that I could vault over the barrier. I loved it more each time, and I hope you will share my enthusiasm.
The building is gone; some of the musicians have moved to other neighborhoods, but the sounds they made and the emotions they evoke are so durable as to be timeless.
Yes, almost fifty years ago. The admission price was $1.75, and you could buy drinks at the bar from 5 PM on. This Wednesday “pre-dinner” concert series ran from 5:30 to 6:30 or perhaps a few minutes over, and it was indeed a wonderful interlude. This concert was advertised as the George Barnes Quartet, with Dick Hyman, piano; George Duvivier, string bass; and Jo Jones, drums — more than enough bliss for anyone, and the two guest stars [Peter Dean, incidental singing and ukulele; Ruby Braff, cornet] made for even more fun.
A little history: in 1972, George had recorded for Harry Lim’s Famous Door label as the Second George Barnes Quartet (with Milt Hinton and Hank Jones in for part). Alexandra Barnes Leh, daughter of George and Evelyn and erudite creator of the George Barnes Legacy Collection, told me, hearing this tape, “They were booked for this concert before Dad and Ruby decided to put together their own quartet for Newport…and Dad asked Ruby to join these festivities because, by May 23, they’d made their decision, and had been rehearsing with Wayne Wright and John Giuffrida.” (She was at the concert also: a pity we didn’t get to say hello!)
What follows is what I recorded from the first row, and a blissful souvenir of energized music led by the playful genius of the electric guitar, George Barnes: MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (Barnes, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / FUNKY BLUES / THOU SWELL / HARLEM STRUT (Hyman, solo) / OOH, THAT KISS (Barnes, Ruby, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / I’M NUTS ABOUT SCREWY MUSIC (Peter Dean, ukulele and vocal, for Ruby) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (Dean) / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER (Dean) / DING DONG DADDY (Dean) / ALMOST-CLOSING BLUES (everyone) / JUST YOU, JUST ME (ditto) / WHERE’S FREDDIE? (ditto) //
Great joys, surprising, witty, and moving all at once. New York still offers musical delights with an open hand, but an assemblage of these heroes will not come again.
Coleman Hawkins’ birthday was the 21st of November. Although he’s no longer here to celebrate with us, we continue to celebrate him. He was the tenor saxophonist before other musicians had figured out ways to make that horn an effective part of a jazz ensemble, and — even more tellingly — a compelling solo voice. And then he blazed a path for forty-five years.
Two weeks ago, at the Monday-night Zoom meeting of the Hot Club of New York, our friend-scholar Matthew Rivera played the issued take of MY BUDDY — several times — with the affectionate reverence and admiration it deserves. But the band, this wonderful mix of Americans and Europeans, recorded it three times, and some members had never heard the alternate takes.
I want to fill that gap here, and am also offering the two takes of PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY, a sweet rouser of a whimsical-romantic appeal (these versions are instrumental, so you won’t hear the winsome question, “Don’t I look familiar to you?” and the rest of the chipper lyrics by Ray Klages and Jack Meskill).
The band was led by Hawkins’ friend and colleague, the masterful Benny Carter, who played trumpet, alto saxophone, and clarinet; also joining in the swing were Freddy Johnson, piano; George Chisholm, trombone; Jimmy Williams, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Ray Webb, guitar; Len Harrison, string bass; Robert Montmarche, drums — all of this recorded in the Netherlands for Decca / Vocalion on August 18, 1937.
A word about “alternate takes.” I gather that the term was first used in film production.) I suspect that the recording executives, having such a band in their studios, were ready to say — even if a performance was excellent — “Let’s try another.” Or it might have been Carter himself. One of the musicians might have said, “I’d like another try at that: I wasn’t happy with my solo.” The listener will notice on this session that the soloists follow some of the same general path from take to take, but the variations are fascinating, particularly on MY BUDDY, where the general looseness is more prevalent from one take to the next.
Exuberant, inventive, ingenious playing on all five performances. And we hear Hawkins and Carter plunging into their solos with fervor and exactitude, followed closely behind by Freddy Johnson. Let us also praise Benny’s wondrous trumpet playing! He may have been responsible for the little but telling arranging touches, or they may have been “head arrangements,” invented on the spot, but they give these performances shape and focus. And consider — in this era of performances with no time limit — how much music these people created in three-minutes-and-change. Two players sharing a thirty-two bar chorus (a “split chorus”) makes so much eloquent compression possible.
PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY (master take):
and the alternate take:
Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY (master take):
The first alternate:
The second alternate:
Finally, for the detail-minded, a few words about the presumed sequence of performances and record-keeping. It would be natural to count #1 and #2 as the first and second performances created, but those official designations might only be ways of noting first and second choice, by the musicians or the record-company people. But the music is what matters, and it is happily timeless.
If you haven’t checked out the Hot Club of New York (the link is above), you will enjoy it — timeless music in a community of people enjoying it, every Monday night from 7-10 PM.
This is the third segment of music broadcast from “Cabaret La Boheme,” atop Detroit’s Hotel Ponchartrain, featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet-trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. I’ve been able to present two one-hour live programs (with commercials edited out, I assume) first preserved by Jim Taylor.
First, the end of the August 30 broadcast, with two songs from the Great American Songbook and two jazz classics, then a program broadcast on CBS-TV, “Dial ‘M’ for Music,” hosted by Father Norman J. O’Connor, and featuring Bobby and Charlie Shavers — two players who crossed paths thirty years earlier. The music is superb, the little snippets of talk revealing and genuine. But two small mysteries remain: why weren’t Bobby and Charlie encouraged to play more duets? And I have no information about the three-piece rhythm section, which could have been Bobby’s at the time or Charlie’s (Ray and Tommy Bryant, Oliver Jackson) or studio musicians. But the music is a find: perhaps some of my readers saw this program live on CBS?
Bobby and Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Franklin Skeete, George Hamilton in Detroit: THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / SPEAK LOW / BOURBON STREET PARADE // Bobby and Charlie Shavers, rhythm section unidentified: CBS-TV, “DIAL M FOR MUSIC” – Father Norman J. O’Connor, host: BLUES (BH-CS) / SAVOY (BH) / SWING THAT MUSIC (BH) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (CS) / NATURE BOY (CS) / INDIANA (CS, vocal) / Charlie and Bobby talk / UNDECIDED (BH) / BERNIE’S TUNE (BH-CS) //
Thank goodness for people with tape recorders and other such contrivances; thank goodness for the musicians who create beauty that never ages.
And just because I never see such things, here’s Charlie’s autograph from 1953, presumably from a JATP tour:
In September 1969, I was entering my senior year in high school, and my parents would not have encouraged a trip to Detroit . . . but through the marvels of ancient and modern technology, I can be there now, and hope you would like to join me. (I did get to hear Bobby and Vic in New York a few years later, blessedly.)
Bobby, Vic, Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums, were concluding a two-month run (imagine that!) at the glamorous Cabaret La Boheme, twenty-five stories in the sky, atop the Hotel Ponchartrain in downtown Detroit. And their “Saturday night dancing parties” were broadcast over WJR, “the goodwill station,” and taken down off the air by the late Jim Taylor. Yesterday I posted forty-five minutes of music by this band; here’s a second serving.
SWEET LORRAINE / WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (broadcast close) / August 30, 1969: TIN ROOF BLUES / CARAVAN / ALONE (Vic) / SATIN DOLL / THE LOOK OF LOVE (rhythm section) / THAT’S A-PLENTY / IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (a small compact gem) / JUST YOU, JUST ME / HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Noralisa / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) (incomplete) // (I will share the conclusion of this broadcast shortly.)
Think of being able to turn on your radio and hear such music live, or, better yet, to get dressed up (appropriate for Saturday night) and hear it at close range.
What follows may seem almost inconceivable to musicians and listeners in 2021, but it was possible to have a two-month gig playing lyrical jazz in a posh downtown hotel, it was possible that Saturday nights the music would be broadcast without gimmicks to a radio audience, and — even better — we could hear it now, more than fifty years later. I present forty-five minutes of the “Bobby Hackett Quartet with Vic Dickenson,” featuring Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. And just so that you know Rod Serling is not in charge of this alternate universe, here is an advertisement in the Detroit Jewish News (July 4, 1969) to prove it:
A number of these broadcasts were recorded off-the-air by enthusiast Jim Taylor, and some of the music made its way to me — circa 1975 — through the late British trumpeter and collector Roy Bower. My forty-five year-old cassette has held up beautifully, and it would be an understatement to say that this music has also. As the genial announcer says, “It’s live and lively!” From twenty-five stories up, it’s our “Saturday Evening Dancing Party,” broadcast on radio station WJR, Saturday, August 23, 1969.
TIN ROOF BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / JA-DA / ON THE BEACH AT WAIKIKI / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (Vic) / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / announcer calls Bobby “Buddy” / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / SUNRISE, SUNSET (rhythm section only) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU (Vic) / FIDGETY FEET / SWEET LORRAINE (incomplete) //
This is the first forty-five minute segment: more is on the way. Don’t they sound wonderful?
What is a trumpet (flugelhorn, trombone, and so on) after all except an unforgiving collection of metal tubing through which an idealist propels warm vibrating air? But Joe Wilder could make this hardware-store-in-a-velvet case sing with the delicate intensity of the most touching singer, emotive and expert at once. I had heard him on recordings, but did not meet him until 2004, and it is true, as Roswell Rudd told me, “You play your personality.” Joe’s personality was a gracious warm embrace: of the melody, of the possibility of song, of the audience — and everyone felt it. Here Joe is warmly accompanied by Steve Ash, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, string bass; Marion Felder, drums. The occasion was a “Harlem in the Himalayas” concert organized by Loren Schoenberg, held at the Rubin Museum in New York City in June 2008. I was in the first or second row with my digital recorder, and you can hear the result now. Such beauty:
He was the most rare of gentlemen, and it was a deep privilege to know him, for he greeted the most casual acquaintance as a new dear friend, in the most genuine way. And every note was a friend as well.
This music is especially poignant — joyous and sad in equal measure — because we lost Dave Frishberg yesterday, November 17, at 88. His last years were not easy, but he had given us so much — memorable compositions both sardonic and tender, sung in his distinctively whimsical voice. But while the obituaries remember him for I’M HIP and MY ATTORNEY BERNIE, I remember him as a peerless jazz improviser, a wonderful soloist and inspiring ensemble player. Jimmie Rowles was his model (a summit he would be the first to tell you he’d never reached) but he clearly loved Ellington and Basie and their delightful waywardnesses. I encountered him in person twice, and our one brief conversation showed him to be very modest to the point of shyness, a very endearing personality written in lower-case cursive. There won’t be another like him, and it will take a long time before we stop missing him.
I didn’t get to The Half Note until some six years after this recording, so I missed a great deal, but I remember it as a welcoming place. The friendly Canterino family, the Italian food, the splendid music. Here’s a brief sample — a radio broadcast, no less, with the master of ceremonies Alan Grant, featuring Zoot and Al, tenor saxophones; Dave Frishberg, piano; Major Holley, string bass; Mousey Alexander, drums; Jimmy Rushing, vocal.
It’s a slightly dim copy, but the music bursts right through the tape hiss: HALEY’S COMET / EXPENSE ACCOUNT / [Art Farmer announced] I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (vocal JR):
Cities never stay the same, so in the sorrowful name of SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI, when I’ve walked to The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, I pass by the corner where The Half Note once flourished: it’s a deli now. But they can’t take our memories away from us.
And a postscript: my friend Mal Sharpe, also no longer tangibly with us, told me he wanted to have a bumper sticker that read HONK IF YOU MISS JIMMY RUSHING. I loved the idea, but told him I would be wary, because I’d never know the clear intent of someone honking at me. But we miss them all so deeply.
In his sixty-year performing career, Earl Hines was never characterized as a timid improviser. No, he was daring — that he had a piano in front of him rather than a machete was only the way the Fates had arranged it. Dick Wellstood called him, “Your Musical Host, serving up the hot sauce,” and that’s apt. Whether the listener perceives it as the freedom to play whatever occurred to him or a larger musical surrealism, it was never staid.
Later in life, Hines had (like his colleague Teddy Wilson) various medleys and tributes that could form a set program for an evening, but he improvised, even within set routines. The listener was in the grip of joyous turbulence, and Hines’ showmanship was always part of the show. Here, first solo and then accompanied by Harley White, string bass, and Eddie Graham, drums, he plays music composed by and associated with his friend Fats Waller. Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips before we start.
The songs are BLACK AND BLUE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / JITTERBUG WALTZ / SQUEEZE ME / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . and each of them has its possibilities examined, shaken, stirred, and offered to us in the most multi-colored way. And, yes, my mixing of metaphors is an intentional bow to the Fatha:
Hines told more than one interviewer that his flashing “trumpet style” of playing — octaves and single-note lines exploding like fireworks — was born out of necessity, his desire to be heard over the band. He kept to that path even when no band was present, and it’s dazzling.
The combination of Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, is very special: a swirling-together of melody, joy, and wit in the most delightfully intuitive ways. And because they both know the way to our hearts through music, they can be brave. Each song is a delicately strong exercise in the taking of risks — risks that pay off.
Over the past few years, they have developed a concert “program” where the audience gets to choose the songs from a long list of classics (Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart and more) — each audience member picks two titles, and the slips of paper are placed in a basket, from which Yaala draws. It works wonderfully: a combination of surprise and pleasure.
I’m writing this just in time: Yaala and Michael will be performing one set together, tomorrow, November 17, 2 PM (New York time) on Facebook Live.
Here are four love songs from their Valentine’s Day 2020 concert, an occasion I recall well with great gratitude.
From OKLAHOMA! —
Berlin’s very touching THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL —
OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY (with the verse):
and a fitting close to this segment, AT LAST:
HEART AND SOUL for sure.
Don’t forget: Yaala and Michael will be performing tomorrow, November 17, at 2 PM (New York time). I know it’s only virtual — Facebook Live — but I look forward to the time when they can be experienced in person.
This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.
My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.
But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.
Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:
Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —
LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.
IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //
I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.
If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.
Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.
This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.
This, the second tune of the evening, was completely prescient, because by the end of the evening the impending drizzle had indeed turned to rain and it was, thank you, Harry Warren, September. But these four lovely intrepid musical explorers soldiered on in the nicest ways: Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Paul Bollenback, guitar. All this goodness happened on one of Dan Block’s Tuesday soirees (5:30-8:30 PM) at Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York.
and that swinging Sinatra-rooted ultimatum, ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL:
and after an intentionally other-worldly prelude, Arlen’s OUT OF THIS WORLD:
Finally, at the close of the evening, when it really DID begin to rain, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, with the multi-talented Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) scurrying to batten down the hatches:
All praise to this quartet, including the resonant even when invisible Pat O’Leary! And they will be back in November, on the last two Tuesdays (say that quickly — I dare you) to lift our spirits and create joy. Swing 46 has an “inside,” with a piano and a stage, so you won’t have to think about your underwear. Unless, of course, you’d like to: then who am I to stop you?
It’s so delightful to know that scholars of this music — brilliant young ones! — are carrying on the great work of honoring our collective ancestors. You have already heard about Matthew Rivera, Charles Iselin, Andrew Sammut, and Colin Hancock, among others. To this list I again add the name of Sterling J. Mosher III, pianist, researcher, archivist and more, who has now brought us filmed performances of stride pianist extraordinaire Donald Lambert, early and late. Here is his compact, friendly annotation:
As of November 2021, this is the full filmography of Donald Lambert. Dreams are that a full video of the 1960 Stride All Stars Program at the Newport Jazz Festival will be made public. As well as any possible amateur films of Don, perhaps by a visiting customer at Wallace’s or distant family.
00:03 The first film we see is from March of 1932, from the film “Ten Minutes To Die” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald Lambert only is featured in one song with the band.
02:01 May of 1932, “Veiled Aristocrats” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald walks in from stage right with the “piano tuner,” he is initially standing behind the piano while the tuner plays and a woman sings. Donald takes over for the tuner and performs for 2 songs. The final song is “Dragging My Heart Around.” Mabel Garrett sings and tap dances. Donald and all other persons on screen exchange goodbyes and exit stage left and right. We get a clear sound of Donald’s voice, sounding young at the age of 28. (Special Thanks to ARK THEATRE for uploading the cleanest film of both of these rare early pieces of Afro-American Cinema history.)
08:49 01 July, 1960. Newport Jazz Festival (Newport, R.I.) Stride All Stars Program. Donald appears in 3 clips here. The original speed, pitch, and quality is retained in these clips as they originally appeared. Some folks have taken the crystal clear audio from the recorded concert and placed it over the video at correct speed. Some of these videos are available at UNIGONFILMS on youtube. A television announcer narrates through all 3 clips. In order of the concert, Donald plays Anitra’s Dance, later plays Liza, then plays “Charleston” for two takes with Eubie Blake playing the upper register and The Danny Barker Trio. Willie The Lion Smith is seated off camera. Rudi Blesh is heard speaking several times, announcing to the concert attendees.
GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.
Just astonishing. Thank you, Sterling, for your labors of love. Bless you, Donald Lambert, Oscar Micheaux, and Rudi Blesh.
When Louis Armstrong was going to play ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS with his All-Stars, he might say, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to take you down to my home town, to jump a good old good one . . . ” and after Billy Kyle or Marty Napoleon had played a piano introduction, the band would play it at a fairly fast tempo. But it wasn’t always so: the 1922 recording by the “Dixie Daisies” is quite moderate, and the 1927 Bix-and-Tram excursion even more so, although bands took the song faster as the decades went by.
Here, for context, lyrics, verse, and more — and it’s a delightful recording! — is the first recording of the song:
I find that version perfectly charming. Perhaps fifteen years later, Lester Young (who remembered NOLA fondly) performed the song at a faster tempo, but Lester being Lester, there was a good deal of elasticity in his approach to the song as it rollicked by, stretching out over the beat like a cat waking from a nap.
The EarRegulars, that phenomenal jazz-repertory-company of lower Manhattan and environs, took up ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS at their holy gathering of August 29, 2021. Taking it very easy, but with a purpose, they glide through the “good old good one,” a hymn in praise of the Crescent City, in a very Lester-Buck-Durham-Page-and-then-Rollini mood (you could look it up).
They are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor and bass saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, at The Ear Out — that’s on the sidewalk outside The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York:
Transformative and lovely. The EarRegulars, since Halloween, have gone indoors — Sunday nights from 8-11 (approximately) and I hope to bring myself and my camera there and money for our friend Phillup the Bucket. Maybe we’ll get to say HELLO! (in our Fats-voices or not).