Daily Archives: August 13, 2008

DICK, DOUG, BIX, DICK (AND JOE SULLIVAN)

Jazz-lovers owe Dick Sudhalter a great deal for his hot, lyrical playing, his elegantly-written research, and his long-time devotion to artistic causes we hold dear.  Whether as an jazz historian, biographer of Bix and of Hoagy, a member of the Classic Jazz Quartet a/k/a/ The Bourgeois Scum, as a radio broadcaster (WBAI, “Bix and Beyond”), or as a bandleader, he has left his mark.  This list is far from comprehensive: Dick is someone whose generosities have touched us all. 

As you should know, after a stroke he suffered in 2003, he is quite ill with Multiple Systems Atrophy.  The picture of him at the top of this page is from a 2006 benefit held in his honor.  His medical care costs a great deal.  This post is to publicize the latest effort to raise more — but a Hot Jazz Treat is involved.   

That Treat is a two-disc set of rare recordings made during Bix Beiderbecke’s short lifetime by musicians vividly influenced by his playing — one disc of American performances, one of European ones.  Many of the recordings were unfamiliar to me.  Some have never been on CD, some are previously unknown, unissued takes.  Visit http://bixography.com/BixInfluenceFinal.html for details.  All proceeds from the sale of this set — reasonably priced and well-documented — go to defray Dick’s medical costs.   

Doug Ramsey is a well-regarded jazz writer and critic of long standing, someone whose enthusiasms are always expressed in thoughtful words.  I found out about this set on Doug’s blog, “Rifftides,” (http://www.artsjournal.com/rifftides, where jazz is central but far from the only subject he and his expert writers touch upon. 

There, under the heading of “Correspondence: About Wellstood,” on August 8, Doug posted letters from Toronto broadcaster Ted O’Reilly and Dave Frishberg on the subject of Dick Wellstood . . . and told of young Dick encountering his hero, Joe Sullivan, after searching earnestly.  I won’t spoil the story but will add two Wellstood anecdotes of my own.  (Sudhalter and Wellstood were one-half of the aforementioned CJQ, a memorably eccentric group, whose music has been collected on a Jazzology CD set.) 

I didn’t get to see Wellstood enough in New York City, even though he played often at Hanratty’s, but one Sunday afternoon gig in 1972 sticks in my mind.  Bassist and singer Red Balaban led sessions at Your Father’s Mustache (on the site of the old Nick’s), where peanut shells and sawdust crunched beneath our feet.  One Sunday, the band was a pre-Soprano Summit gathering: Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern on clarinets and sopranos, with Dick Rath on trombone, Wellstood, Balaban, and drummer Buzzy Drootin.  Before the first set began, Dick Rath, modest and genial, saw Vic Dickenson heading into the hall, trombone case in hand, and said something like, “I’m going to step down now!” and gave the place in the middle of the two horns to Vic, staying to revel in the music as a spectator. 

Through the afternoon, Wellstood made that badly-tuned piano sing out — whether he was embellishing a medium-tempo melody or in full stride.  One set ended with a fast “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and in the middle of his second chorus, Wellstood did the key-changing trick that Tatum liked on “Tea for Two,” but his harmonies were wilder and weirder, memorably so.  I didn’t know how he returned to the familiar parade of sevenths in time, but he did.  To begin another set, Wellstood and Davern began with an intentionally droopy, whining rendition of “Somewhere My Love” as if for a tea dance on a particularly timid cruise.  Drootin, someone I’d never thought of as a satirist, added intentionally dull snare-drum rolls.  Jazz loves to poke fun at dance-band conventions, and this was a hilarious live example.  Wellstood died in 1987, far too young, and we miss him. 

Whether satiric or exploratory, impassioned or funky, jazz lifts our souls, and its players have earned our thanks and more.  I hope you’ll investigate the Bix-influenced CD set as a way of giving something back to Richard M. Sudhalter, hot cornetist and stylish writer, who’s given us so much. 

TIDINGS FROM ORONO, MAINE

Fats Waller used to say, “Fine! Wonderful! Perfect!” when you asked him his opinion about something he liked.  Orono, a gently sleepy small town north of Bangor, made me think of those words often. 

They came into my head more than once while eating at THAI ORCHID (28 Mill Street).  This isn’t a food blog, but the savory, spicy, delicate home cooking there made me stick my head into the small kitchen and applaud the chef.  They have a take-out menu: call 207.866.4200, although I’m not sure that they’d drive more than five hundred miles to bring us number 97, Country Style Noodle. 

Around the corner, we saw DR. RECORDS (20 Main Street), clean, organized, with jazz records and old-time prices.  At the helm is Don, who studied trombone at the university and plays in the town band: we had a refreshing conversation about Wycliffe Gordon and John Allred, two of his favorites.  And I picked up three records, each a delightful surprise.  One I knew of but had never seen: BUD FREEMAN AND HIS SUMMA CUM LAUDE TRIO on Dot (Bob Hammer, Mousie Alexander).  One was utterly new to me: BANJO-RAMA by Carmen Mastren on Mercury (with “John” Pizzarelli on guitar — that’s Bucky — and Bucky’s uncles, and “the Fabulous Riccardo” on piano.  I’ll bet that’s Mr. Hyman).  And the third record was one I had once had and was sorry to lose: PEE WEE RUSSELL and OLIVER NELSON, THE SPIRIT OF ’67 (Impulse).  Frank Chace told me a story about those sessions — PeeWee was nervous playing with that orchestra, so the pianist Nat Pierce, a close friend, sat at PeeWee’s feet in the recording studio and kept his glass of ale properly filled.  Ballantine’s to the rescue! 

I won’t be able to hear this music for three weeks, but life is good when you can find well-cooked meals, knowledgeable conversation, people who smile at you on the street, and rare jazz records!