Monthly Archives: July 2008

PRIME LOUIS!

In the past decade, issues of new Louis Armstrong material have most often drawn on the All-Stars period, and are thus energetic, impassioned, but potentially narrow in their repertoire and performance. 

The one exception came out on Gosta Hagglof’s Ambassador label (see “Classic Jazz Productions” on my blogroll).  It is a collection of previously unknown 1939-1942 radio broadcast performances featuring the wondrous synergy of Louis and Sidney Catlett.   

The 2008 discovery that I have been enjoying is a two-disc set on the Jazz Heritage label.  One disc comes from Louis’s famous-but-unheard 1937 stint on the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio show, where he was the first African-American to host a program.  The performances, “fast and furious,” as the announcer says, are in excellent sound (remastered by our own Doug Pomeroy) and are wildly swinging.  The second disc is even more moving, even when the fidelity is lower: excerpts from Louis’s home tapes, including unaccompanied renditions of “Over The Rainbow” and”Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries,” jokes and ruminations, conversations with his wife and friends — priceless private glimpses into the life of a great man.

I won’t rhapsodize about the emotional and musical significance of this set — Louis-scholar Ricky Riccardi has done that with great eloquence on his blog, “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong,” in a posting of July 14.  (It’s also on my blogroll.)  This posting is just to say that the CDs are now more widely available for sale.  When they first appeared, you could find them only at the Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens.  Now, they can be purchased through www.jazzstore.com at a very congenial price.  You could also become a member of the Jazz Heritage Society: information about that is available at www.jazzheritage.org.  And how, you might ask, did I learn all this?  Nowhere else but at http://www.satchmo.net

Although he thought July 4, 1900 was his birthday, Louis was born on August 4, 1901.  Even if you order this CD set soon, it won’t come in time for his birthday — but a belated party is better than none.  And if you can tell yourself that it’s not important to hear Louis at home and in splendid 1937 form, keep such utterances private.  I’ll be listening to “The Love Bug Will Bite You,” and I won’t want to be distracted from it.  His story is our story, if we know how to listen to it.      

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THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the remarkable jazz trumpeter Frank Newton in the last few weeks, even before having the opportunity to repost this picture of him (originally on JazzWax) — taken in Boston, in the late Forties, with George Wein and Joe Palermino. 

Jazz is full of players who say something to us across the years, their instrumental voices resounding through the murk and scrape of old records.  Some players seem to have led full artistic lives: Hawkins, Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bob Wilber come to mind at the head of a long list.  Others, equally worthy, have had shorter lives or thwarted careers.   Bix, Bird, Brownie, to alliterate, among a hundred others.  And all these lives raise the unanswerable question of whether anyone ever entirely fulfills him or herself.  Or do we do exactly what we were meant to do, no matter how long our lifespan?  Call it Nurture / Nature, free will, what you will.     

But today I choose Frank Newton as someone I wish had more time in the sun.  His recorded legacy seems both singular and truncated.     

Frank Newton (who disliked the “Frankie” on record labels) was born in 1906 in Virginia.  He died in 1954, and made his last records in 1946.  A selection of the recorded evidence fills two compact discs issued on Jasmine, THE STORY OF A FORGOTTEN JAZZ TRUMPETER.    His Collected Works might run to four or five hours — a brief legacy, and there are only a few examples I know where an extended Newton solo was captured for posterity.  However, he made every note count. 

In and out of the recording sudios, he traveled in fast company: the pianists include Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Sonny White, Mary Lou Williams, Buck Washington, Meade Lux Lewis, Kenny Kersey, Billy Kyle, Don Frye, Albert Ammons, Joe Bushkin, Joe Sullivan, Sonny White, and Johnny Guarneri.  Oh, yes — and Art Tatum.  Singers?  How about Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Maxine Sullivan, and Ella Fitzgerald. 

Although Newton first went into the studio with Cecil Scott’s Bright Boys in 1929 for Victor, the brilliant trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Dicky Wells blaze most notably on those sessions. 

It isn’t until 1933 that we truly hear Newton on record.  This interlude, lasting less than a minute, takes place in the middle of Bessie Smith’s “Gimme A Pigfoot,” one of four vaudeville-oriented songs she recorded at her last session, one organized by John Hammond, someone who re-emerges in Newton’s story.  It was a magnificent all-star band: Jack Teagarden, Chu Berry, Benny Goodman (for a moment), Buck Washington, guitarist Bobby Johnson, Billy Taylor on bass.  Hammond wanted Sidney Catlett on drums, but Bessie refused: “No drums.  I set the tempo.”  For all the rent-party trappings of the song, “Pigfoot” is thin material, requiring a singer of Bessie’s majesty to make it convincing.   

What one first notices about Newton’s solo is his subversive approach, his unusual tone and attack.  In 1933, the jazz world was rightly under the spell of Louis, which led to understandable extroversion.  Project.  Hit those high notes loud.  Sing out.  If you were accompanying a pop or blues singer, you could stay in the middle register, be part of the background, but aside from such notable exceptions as Joe Smith, Bubber Miley, trumpets were in the main assertive, brassy.  Dick Sudhalter thought Newton’s style was the result of technical limitations but I disagree; perhaps Newton was, like Tricky Sam Nanton, painting with sounds. 

Before Newton solos on “Pigfoot,” the record has been undeniably Bessie’s, although with murmurings from the other horns and a good deal of Washington’s spattering Hines punctuations.  But when Newton enters, it is difficult to remember that anyone else has had the spotlight.  Rather than boldly announce his presence with an upwards figure, perhaps a dazzling break, he sidles in, sliding down the scale like a man pretending to be drunk, whispering something we can’t quite figure out, drawling his notes with a great deal of color and amusement, lingering over them, not in a hurry at all.  His mid-chorus break is a whimsical merry-go-round up and down figure he particularly liked.  It’s almost as if he is teasing us, peeking at us from behind his mask, daring us to understand what he is up to.  The solo is the brief unforgettable speech of a great character actor, Franklin Pangborn or Edward Everett Horton, scored for jazz trumpet.  Another brassman would have offered heroic ascents, glowing upwards arpeggios; Newton appears to wander down a rock-choked slope, watching his footing.  It’s a brilliant gambit: no one could equal Bessie in scope, in power (both expressed and restrained) so Newton hides and reveals, understates.  And his many tones!  Clouded, muffled, shining for a brief moment and then turning murky, needling, wheedling, guttural, vocal and personal.  Considered in retrospect, this solo has a naughty schoolyard insouciance.  Given his turn in the spotlight, Newton pretends to thumb his nose at us.  Bessie has no trouble taking back the spotlight when she returns, but she wasn’t about to be upstaged by some trumpet-playing boy.     

Could any trumpet player, jazz or otherwise, do more than approximate what Newton plays here?  Visit http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/bessie/gimmieapigfoot.ram to hear a fair copy of this recording.  (I don’t find that the link works: you may have to go to the Red Hot Jazz website and have the perverse pleasure of using “Pigfoot” as a search term.) 

The man who could play such a solo should have been recognized and applauded, although his talent was undeniably subtle.  (When you consider that Newton’s place in the John Kirby Sextet was taken by the explosively dramatic Charlie Shavers, Newton’s singularity becomes even clearer.)  His peers wanted him on record sessions, and he did record a good deal in the Thirties, several times under his own name.  But after 1939, his recording career ebbed and died. 

Nat Hentoff has written eloquently of Newton, whom he knew in Boston, and the man who comes through is proud, thoughtful, definite in his opinions, politically sensitive, infuriated by racism and by those who wanted to limit his freedoms.  Many jazz musicians are so in love with the music that they ignore everything else, as if playing is their whole life.  Newton seems to have felt that there was a world beyond the gig, the record studio, the next chorus.  And he was outspoken.  That might lead us back to John Hammond. 

Hammond did a great deal for jazz, as he himself told us.  But his self-portrait as the hot Messiah is not the whole story.  Commendably, he believed in his own taste, but he required a high-calorie diet of new enthusiasms to thrive.  Hammond’s favorite last week got fired to make way for his newest discovery.  Early on Hammond admired Newton, and many of Newton’s Thirties sessions had Hammond behind them.  Even if Hammond had nothing to do with a particular record, appearing on one major label made a competing label take notice.  But after 1939, Newton never worked for a mainstream record company again, and the records he made in 1944-1946 were done for small independent labels: Savoy (run by the dangerously disreputable Herman Lubinsky) and Asch (the beloved child of the far-left Moses Asch).  The wartime recording ban had something to do with this hiatus, but I doubt that it is the sole factor: musicians recorded regularly before the ban.  Were I a novelist or playwright, I would invent a scene where Newton rejects Hammond’s controlling patronage . . .  and falls from favor, never to return.  I admit this is speculation.  Perhaps it was simply that Newton chose to play as he felt rather than record what someone else thought he should.  A recording studio is often the last place where it is possible to express oneself freely and fully.  And I recall a drawing in a small jazz periodical from the late Forties, perhaps Art Hodes’ JAZZ RECORD, of Newton in the basement of an apartment building where he had taken a job as janitor so that he could read, paint, and perhaps play his trumpet in peace.  

I think of Django Reinhardt saying, a few weeks before he died, “The guitar bores me.”  Did Newton grow tired of his instrument, of the expectations of listeners, record producers, and club-owners?  On the rare recording we have of his speaking voice — a brief bit of a Hentoff interview — Newton speaks with sardonic humor about working in a Boston club where the owner’s taste ran to waltzes and “White Christmas,” but using such constraints to his advantage: every time he would play one of the owner’s sentimental favorites, he would be rewarded with a “nice thick steak.”  A grown man having to perform to be fed is not a pleasant sight, even though it is a regular event in jazz clubs.     

In addition, John Chilton’s biographical sketch of Newton mentions long stints of illness.  What opportunities Newton may have missed we cannot know, although he did leave Teddy HIll’s band before its members went to France.  It pleases me to imagine him recording with Django Reinhardt and Dicky Wells for the Swing label, settling in Europe to escape the racism in his homeland.  In addition, Newton lost everything in a 1948 house fire.  And I have read that he became more interested in painting than in jazz.  Do any of his paintings survive?  

Someone who could have told us a great deal about Newton in his last decade is himself dead — Ruby Braff, who heard him in Boston, admired him greatly and told Jon-Erik Kellso so.  And on “Russian Lullaby,” by Mary Lou WIlliams and her Chosen Five (Asch, reissued on vinyl on Folkway), where the front line is bliss: Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Ed Hall, Newton’s solo sounds for all the world like later Ruby — this, in 1944. 

In her notes to the Jasmine reissue, Sally-Ann Worsford writes that a “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” Newton “made his final appearance at New York’s Stuyvesant Casino in the early 1950s.”  That large hall, peopled by loudly enthusiastic college students shouting for The Saints, would not have been his metier.  It is tempting, perhaps easy, to see Newton as a victim.  But “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” is never the sound we hear, even on his most mournful blues. 

The name Jerry Newman must be added here — and a live 1941 recording that allows us to hear the Newton who astonished other players, on “Lady Be Good” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” in duet with Art Tatum (and the well-meaning but extraneous bassist Ebenezer Paul), uptown in Harlem, after hours, blessedly available on a HighNote CD under Tatum’s name, GOD IS IN THE HOUSE.  

Jerry Newman was then a jazz-loving Columbia University student with had a portable disc-cutting recording machine.  It must have been heavy and cumbersome, but Newman took his machine uptown and found that the musicians who came to jam (among them Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, Thelonious Monk, Joe Guy, Harry Edison, Kenny Clarke, Tiny Grimes, Dick Wilson, Helen Humes) didn’t mind a White college kid making records of their impromptu performances: in fact, they liked to hear the discs of what they had played.  (Newman, later on, issued some of this material on his own Esoteric label.  Sadly, he committed suicide.)  Newman caught Tatum after hours, relaxing, singing the blues — and jousting with Newton.  Too much happens on these recordings to write down, but undulating currents of invention, intelligence, play, and power animate every chorus.

On “Lady Be Good,” Newton isn’t in awe of Tatum and leaps in before the first chorus is through, his sound controlled by his mute but recognizable nonetheless.  Newton’s first chorus is straightforward, embellished melody with some small harmonic additions, as Tatum is cheerfully bending and testing the chords beneath him.  It feels as if Newton is playing obbligato to an extravagantly self-indulgent piano solo . . . . until the end of the second duet chorus, where Newton seems to parody Tatum’s extended chords: “You want to play that way?  I’ll show you!”  And the performance grows wilder: after the two men mimic one another in close-to-the-ground riffing, Newton lets loose a Dicky Wells-inspired whoop.  Another, even more audacious Tatum solo chorus follows, leading into spattering runs and crashing chords.  In the out- chorus, Tatum apparently does his best to distract or unsettle Newton, who will not be moved or shaken off.  “Sweet Georgia Brown” follows much the same pattern: Tatum wowing the audience, Newton biding his time, playing softly, even conservatively.  It’s not hard to imagine him standing by the piano, watching, letting Tatum have his say for three solo choruses that get more heroic as they proceed.  When Newton returns, his phrases are climbing, calm, measured — but that calm is only apparent, as he selects from one approach and another, testing them out, taking his time, moving in and outside the chords.  As the duet continues, it becomes clear that as forcefully as Tatum is attempting to direct the music, Newton is in charge.  It isn’t combat: who, after all, dominated Tatum?  But I hear Newton grow from accompanist to colleague to leader.  It’s testimony to his persuasive, quiet mastery, his absolute sense of his own rightness of direction (as when he plays a Tatum-pattern before Tatum gets to it).  At the end, Newton hasn’t “won” by outplaying Tatum in brilliance or volume, speed or technique — but he has asserted himself memorably.   

Taken together, these two perfomances add up to twelve minutes.  Perhaps hardly enough time to count for a man’s achievement among the smoke, the clinking glasses, the crowd.  But we marvel at them.  We celebrate Newton, we mourn his loss.

Postscript: in his autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, Wein writes about Newton; Hentoff returns to Newton as a figure crucial in his own development in BOSTON BOY and a number of other places.  And then there’s HUNGRY BLUES, Benjamin T. Greenberg’s blog (www.hungryblues.net).  His father, Paul Greenberg, knew Newton in the Forties and wrote several brief essays about him — perhaps the best close-ups we have of the man.  In Don Peterson’s collection of his father Charles’s resoundingly fine jazz photography, SWING ERA NEW YORK, there’s a picture of Newton, Mezz Mezzrow, and George Wettling at a 1937 jam session.  I will have much more to write about Peterson’s photography in a future posting.

BILL DUNHAM’S GOTHAM NEWS

An email received yesterday from Bill Dunham, pianist-leader and eminence of The Grove Street Stompers, who shake things up every Monday night at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street:

         You should have been there! We went to the tribute and benefit for Barbara Lea last night at the West Bank Cafe. Very moving! Sold out two weeks in advance. I first knew Barbara (at the time Barbara Leacock) when we were fixed up on a blind date – she at Wellesley and me at Harvard in 1950. She was a great singer even then. So good in fact that she was taken on as the vocalist with the Harvard Crimson Stompers – a student dixieland band – me a member.  Barbara as you know is not well and really doesn’t recognize anything. Very sad! She received countless warm tributes from the many stars present – Loren Schoenberg (with his Big Band including Dick Katz) , pianist Keith Ingham, many singers including Ronny Whyte, Steve Ross, Daryl Sherman, Karen Oberlin etc. They all spoke so lovingly about Barbara and what she has taught them over the years. Barbara is now 79.

 
        News Flash!! Randy Reinhart, fantastic cornetist and trombonist, is moving back to the area and is available for gigs! His cell number is (917) 273-5106. He is playing with the Grove Street Stompers this Monday at Arthur’s Tavern.
                                   Regards
                                                            Bill
 
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Bill told me today that Randy had gotten marooned in California (a cancelled flight) and so Simon Wettenhall would be taking his place this Monday . . . but I gather the esteemed and modest Mr. Reinhart will be on the New York scene (with his lovely wife Nina) in the future. 

And since a person’s medical expenses are never completely taken care of, since the bills keep coming — here’s more information about aiding Barbara Lea for those who, like myself, didn’t get to the benefit. 

 

 

 

 

Donations can be made to:  Barbara Lea Fund c/o Jeanie Wilson, 212 Ramblewood Drive, Raleigh, NC 27609.  For further information kindly contact: Sue Matsuki, 917-821-4342, or or Karen Oberlin, 917-405-5181.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIVE JAZZ AT THE OLD RED SCHOOLHOUSE

The Beloved, who has a well-developed Sniffer for Things Interesting, pored over the Halifax, Nova Scotia newspapers and tourist handouts and found that there was jazz scheduled for this afternoon at Peggy’s Cove.  Yes, live jazz.  Everyone we had spoken to about their favorite spots had emphatically praised this one, so we set out this morning on a jaunt there — complete with provisions, maps, and the necessities of travel (in this case, money and a cassette of Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman exploring the score of My Fair Lady). 

It turned out to be a pleasant forty-five minute drive along the Atlantic Ocean, west of Halifax.  Aside from being somewhat overrun by tourists (and, lest you snicker, the Beloved and I are Travelers, a step up from Tourists) Peggy’s Cove was astonishingly beautiful, complete with an observant gull.

And we dined on that most relevant native delicacy — Nova Scotia smoked salmon — tender, moist, not oversalted.  Take that, Zabar’s!  (I confess that the photo is out-of-focus: my hands were trembling with anticipatory passion.) 

Then we heard the strains of live music coming from the old red schoolhouse, set on a rise. 

As we got closer, it sounded even better, and when we entered, it was jazz at its simplest and most unadorned: two gentlemen in an improvised duet.  One was seated at the piano — his name, we learned later, was Murray Brown, and he provided solid, sturdy harmonic backing and plain-spoken melodic embellishments that stood well on their own and were gracious accompaniment to the other player. 

He was Tobias Beale, who soloed on tenor sax, flute, sang, and even kept time on a cymbal near him, accenting it with occasional visits to a cowbell.  This was no novelty One-Man Band: he just wanted to do as much as he could to keep the rhythm going.  As a soloist, he reminded me of Al Cohn, moving lightly from phrase to phrase, with a good dose of Houston Person’s Southwestern passion in his attack, his bluesy swooping phrases. 

Brown and Beale knew the changes; their performances were both compact and fervent.   

There was a small audience, which kept shifting in and out, but the duo didn’t coast or take the easy way.  I would have expected less challenging materials, but their set (which we caught midway) began with Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” then shifted to “The Nearness of You,” took chances with “I Only Have Eyes For You.”  Beale proved himself a fine singer with a yearning “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?” that honored Don Redman, then a solid reading of “Devil May Care,” finishing up with a Baker-inspired look at “I Fall In Love Too Easily.”  On that last song, a husband and wife got up and danced — proof of music’s power to spread happiness, to share emotions. 

The children in the audience were quiet, almost transfixed by the spectacle of two people playing unamplified musical instruments right in front of them.  We learned later that Beale taught all the reeds at the junior high and high schools, and some of the younger people who stopped in to chat after his set were his students.  I only hope that some of the rapt children then in attendance will go home and ask their parents for lessons on something that isn’t a guitar or a synthesizer. 

This duo will be appearing every Sunday at the same place.  We’ll be far away by then, but I hope some readers will take the opportunity to visit these two quiet jazz heroes, who are steadily working their way through the best repertoire, making some listeners smile and others dance.  Jazz is indeed where you find it, and it turns up in unexpected places, spreading spiritual largesse for the simple joy of playing.

“ANOTHER ROAD POST FROM LOX COUNTRY”

I can’t take credit for the witty title, invented by Marc Myers, Mister Jazz Wax (www.jazzwax.com).  More about his site’s latest treasures later.  “Lox country” refers to Nova Scotia, from whence this posting comes.   

I could happily discourse about Montreal bagels — reminiscent of those of my youth.  Thin, dense, chewy, although the hole in the middle seems much too large.  The Montreal bagel company runs six shops in that city, all open twenty-four hours.  My kind of metropolis! 

If I chose to be more grim, I could describe my becoming an all-you-can-bite mosquito buffet, but I will forego such grotesqueries. 

My text for today is a jazz book purchased in a Halifax shop, SUCH MELODIOUS RACKET: THE LOST HISTORY OF JAZZ IN CANADA, 1914-1949, by Mark Miller (Mercury Press, 1997) tracing that subject from the Creole Band’s 1914 tour to Oscar Peterson’s 1949 Carnegie Hall debut.  A perceptive historian, Miller is a diligent researcher of newspapers and oral histories who doesn’t get bogged down in details, and a sharp-eyed writer with no particular ideological position.  Since the first half of the book takes him only up to the early Twenties, much of his research seems social history — because the musical evidence is so limited and the records are not always convincing evidence of what jazz did get played.   

The book is full of fascinating snippets of information about American performers visiting Canada: Freddie Keppard, the Six Brown Brothers, Jelly Roll Morton, James “Slap Rags” White, Ada “Bricktop” Smith, Mamie Smith, Wilbur Sweatman, Hollis Peavy and his Jazz Bandits (featuring a young Eddie Condon), Lloyd and Cecil Scott, Bill Coleman, Dicky Wells, the Casa Loma Orchestra, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Alphonso Trent, Stuff Smith, J.C. Higginbotham, Billie Holiday, Louis Metcalfe, even Sonny Rollins.  As a sidelight, it contains the only portrait photograph I have ever seen of pianist Dave Bowman (1914-1964), born to Canadian parents in Buffalo, New York — a beautifully subtle player, reminiscent of Jess Stacy, who often appeared with Condon, Hackett, Bud Freeman, the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, and George Wettling. 

MiIller’s book is most interesting in his thorough overview of Canadian jazz orchestras and soloists who escaped the attention of American historians: the Original Winnipeg Jazz Babies, Shirley K. Oliver, Andy Tipaldi and his Melody Kings, the Canadian Ambassadors, Trump Davidson, Bert Niosi (“Canada’s King of Swing”), Sandy De Santis (“The Benny Goodman of Canada”), Irving Laing, Al McLeod (“The White Tatum”), and better-known Canadians: Kenny Kersey, Al Lucas, Buster Harding, George Auld, Maynard Ferguson, and Louis Hooper.  Equally intriguing are passages drawn from interviews with Black players about racism in Montreal and elsewhere.   

My only regret is that this book did not come with an accompanying CD.  Is there one or a comparable anthology?  Can any Canadian reader enlighten me in this?

Back to JazzWax for a moment, to conclude.  Marc has embarked on a series of interviews with George Wein, impresario and pianist.  I have always been prejudiced against Wein as a player of limited gifts whose accompaniments held back Ruby Braff, PeeWee Russell, and others — but jazz would have been much poorer if he had become the doctor his parents wanted.  And Marc has offered pictures of Wein with two of my heroes.  In the first, the trumpeter to Wein’s left is Frankie Newton (the bassist Joe Palermino); in the second, taken by Robert Parent, the recognizable constellation of stars at Storyville, 1950, is Sidney Catlett and Hoagy Carmichael.  These two photographs make me feel much more generous towards Wein, for we are indeed known by the company we keep.

NOTHING BUT THE BLUES!

When you travel far from urban centers, you meet wonderful new people and see sights and sites you wouldn’t otherwise.  All quite exciting and often rewarding.  And I don’t miss the wild proliferation of cellphone stores and nail salons of my native New York.  But I must be a born homebody, for I miss so many things while on the road, mostly food — spicy cuisine, the easy availability of goods I’m used to (tasty wholegrain bread, bagels, Martin’s pretzels).  You can make your own list.  Johnny Hodges, who knew about life on the road, wrote a song, THE THINGS YOU MISS.   

And I miss hip FM radio, especially jazz radio.  (I know I could pay for Sirius or XM, but I’m not ready: remember that I still have cassettes at home and have only recently begun to covet an Ipod and you will know how far behind the curve I am.  But I digress, unapologetically.)  Driving from Maine into Canada, I’ve been struck, once again, by how lucky people are who can hear NPR — to say nothing of the joys of idiosyncratic college radio stations. 

In Canada, I heard some reassuring Dvorak and Bach, but much more generic pop-rock and a good deal of local newsbreaks about the man who died after police used a stun gun on him . . . .

So it was a soul-stirring pleasure today to hear the strains of a later-period Goodman-Sextet style ROYAL GARDEN BLUES come out of the car speakers, without fanfare.  The guitar soloist went on indefatigably, in the manner of the late Charlie Christian, leading me to suspect that it might be Herb Ellis, bluesy, profane, profound.  When he was followed for a few choruses by two of the most recognizable soloists in jazz — Stan Getz and Roy Eldridge — I thanked the Fates for this six-minute interlude.  And to hear the announcer then render the album title as RIEN MAIS LES BLUES or some such was an added treat.  (My faux-French shouldn’t obscure that what I heard came from a Verve CD reissue of a Herb Ellis session, NOTHING BUT THE BLUES, truly worth searching out.)   

JOHN GILL’S NATIONAL SALOON BAND

Heat and humidity make August a terrible time in New York City.  Therapists flee; Yorkshire terriers and Great Danes pant; air-conditioners drip; the asphalt shimmers in a most unappealing way. 

But Bruce McNichols, of the Smith Street Society Jazz Band, just sent me good news. 

John Gill, that understated virtuoso of the banjo, National guitar, and trombone, and a compelling, loose-limbed vocalist, has got an August gig — Sundays from 7 to 11 PM at the National Underground.  What’s more, he’s assembled some of my favorite individualists — Terry Waldo on piano and vocals, McNichols himself on banjo, soprano sax, and vocals, Brian Nalepka on bass, tuba, and vocals, and the pensive but ferociously swinging Kevin Dorn on drums.  You’ll have to visit the club every Sunday in August to see if Kevin can be enticed to croon a chorus by the end of the night.  I imagine the joint will jump with John’s own mix of ragtime, hot jazz, blues, and rockabilly.  I won’t be there and I’m sorry I won’t hear John sing: he knows the lyrics to both “Tishomingo Blues” and “Did You Ever see A Dream Walking?”  How many men can say that? 

The National Underground is at 159 East Houston Street (at Allen Street) (212.475.0611) and this band is a rare treat.  Bring several large handkerchiefs, a bottle of water from the freezer.  Don’t miss it!