Monthly Archives: October 2008

TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, 1947

These beautiful photographs of the first Louis Armstrong All-Stars onstage at Town Hall were taken by William P. Gottlieb, and will be included in Terry Teachout’s biography of Louis, now titled A Cluster of Sunlight: The Life of Louis Armstrong. And these images come from Terry’s blog, “About Last Night,” noted on my blogroll.  From the left, that’s Dick Cary, Jack Teagarden, Louis, Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Haggart, and Sidney Catlett — a Condon-infused group of harmonious geniuses.  Lest we forget, the concert was envisioned, produced, and financed by Ernest Anderson, Condon’s pal and co-producer of Eddie’s Town Hall concerts.  At the top, we have the photo as cropped by Down Beat; at the bottom, Gottlieb’s original.

I’m printing them here because they may be new to some readers, and we all should admire the leader’s beautiful two-color shoes!  The music of this concert — initially, only six songs released on Victor — is also the music of my childhood.  The first Louis recording I fell in love with was the Decca 10″ he made with Gordon Jenkins (now issued on CD under the slightly dopey title SATCHMO IN STYLE with a cover shot that has a superimposed tiny bowler hat floating over his head . . . ?).  By the time RCA Victor had issued a 12″ version of the Town Hall Concert, TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, I was a deep Louis acolyte — pre-pubescent, mind you — and I begged my father to order it through a “record club,” one of those mail-in enterprises where you could get four records for a dollar, then return the three you didn’t like and keep one.  I don’t know what record my father wanted to hear for himself, but he must have seen true religious fervor on my face, and he ordered the Louis for me.  It was one of his many generosities.  I have the record still.  It speaks to me on so many levels.  About the larger photo: it seems a blasphemy to me to cut Big Sid off as this blogpost does.  He was, you see, just too big for the room!  Take heart, though, he is intact in Gottlieb’s original photograph, and yet another reason to buy Terry’s book when it appears.

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BLACK AND TAN . . . AT THE POST OFFICE

Ordinarily, I don’t feel a need to promote the Post Office.  I look forward to my mail; I have pleasant relationships with mail carriers.  But the USPS seems a ubiquitous business that doesn’t need publicity from me.  However, I am finicky about the stamps I buy, and carefully consider their appearance and their messages before buying them.

When I went to my Post Office today and asked what new 42-cent stamps they had, I was offered sunflowers, Latin jazz, baseball games, Bette Davis, Alzheimer’s research, and a few others.  Latin jazz and Bette Davis were competing for my attention until I saw this sheet:

“Vintage Black Cinema” I can support wholeheartedly: homages to Paul Laurence Dunbar, Duke Ellington and Fredi Washington, Josephine Baker, Nina Mae McKinney, and Louis Jordan, as well as African-American film production companies going back to 1921.  I bought two hundred stamps, which will get me into 2009 in fine cinematic style.  Maybe next year the USPS will consider a second series, including SEPIA CINDERELLA, BOY! WHAT A GIRL, and JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, among others?

Putting these stamps on the envelopes that hold my bills won’t make that task seem any easier, but the stamps themselves give pleasure — not only for the way they look (I grew up around films and movie theatres) but what they represent.

For more information about the stamps, the designers of the film posters, and the films themselves. visit http://www.usps.com. (The link to the stamps themselves is http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2008/sr08_074.htm., but it hasn’t been particularly responsive.)

KELLSO’S SWEET RHYTHMS

Sweet rhythm captivates me,

Hot rhythm stimulates me,

Can’t help but swing, 

Swing it, brother, swing . . . .

Billie Holiday sang these words with the Basie band in 1937, and they came to mind this morning when I heard the good news:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Ehud Asherie, Kelly Friesen, and A.N. Other will be starting a potentially steady gig at Sweet Rhythm (88 Seventh Avenue South, New York, New York 10014, 212-255-3626, between Bleecker and Grove Streets) this Sunday, October 26, from 4 – 7.  A paltry $10 cover charge, an attractive menu.  (http://www.sweetrhythmny.com.) 

By 4 PM, most New Yorkers should have read all that’s fit to print in their Sunday Times, and they can bestir themselves to walk in that special late-afternoon autumnal light. 

The timing is right for other reasons.  Jazz musicians tend to be nocturnal, and noon is the middle of their night, so brunch sometimes seems like an affront to their senses: bright lights, people being unduly cheerful, the smell of eggs and bacon. 

And for the rest of us, those oppressed creatures Jo Jones called “the nine to fivers,” a Sunday night gig sometimes means feeling even more downtrodden when the alarm clock goes off at 5:45 on Monday morning. 

This seems just right.  I look forward to being both Stimulated and Captivated.  You come, too.

P.S.     Readers who know their New York jazz history will know that Sweet Rhythm used to be Sweet Basil, where (among other pleasures) Doc Cheatham did Sunday brunches for a long long time.  And he lived to be a vigorous jazz patriarch.  Maybe this site has some good anti-aging karma in its walls.

P.P.S.   In the name of accuracy — an hour after posting this blog, I remembered that Billie actually sang “Deep rhythm,” but I am not going to let evidence like that destroy my tenuous intellectual construction.  Kellso’s rhythms are deep, too.

I, PODIUS

I didn’t want an iPod.

There, I’ve said it.  It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism.  I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions.  I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train.  Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs?  I don’t know.

I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked.  Even that failed to move me.  Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor.  But still I resisted.

However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time.  I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily.  Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.”  So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car.  Did I play them all?  Of course not.  It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation.  (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)

At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod.  Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious.  Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical.  I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.  Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano?  Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language.  To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor.  Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.

The result?  Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly).  But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.”  Is there a moral?  I doubt it.  But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.

STEVE SANDO’S RED HOT PEPPERS (AND HEIRLOOM BEANS)

I admit it.  This is an extremely indirect jazz post.  Steve Sando is not a hot cornetist.  He doesn’t lead a band dedicated to the music of Jelly Roll Morton.

But I live for spicy food.  And Steve Sando makes the best hot sauce I’ve ever tasted, complex and not just tongue-burning.  And jazz musicians themselves will tell you that the food and the music go together.  And Steve loves jazz.  All right?

His company is called RANCHO GORDO (http:www.ranchogordo.com) — with a naughty logo of a lip-licking bombshell.  And his beans are delicious: rich, deeply-flavored, not just carbs with a nasty after-effect.  And aren’t those dried limas truly pretty?

I wouldn’t be blogging about Steve — this is a jazz blog, not a food blog, even if the latter interests me greatly — except for something written about him in a recent Washington Post story: that he has one wall of his house floor-to-ceiling with jazz CDs.  My kind of fellow.  And I’ve taken a quick look at his new book, HEIRLOOM BEANS (Chronicle), where the recipes are inventive, the writing straightforward.

Swing it, Rancho Gordo!

OFFENSIVE YET ENTHRALLING

Courtesy of Hans Koert’s “Keep Swinging” blog, here is a 1943 Merrie Melodies cartoon, “TIN PAN ALLEY CATS.”  It offers a buffet of demeaning racial stereotypes and is thus not available on American DVD collections.  It is shocking that such caricatures could be shown in public in America so late in our history, although not terribly surprising.

But after I got through being offended, I was amused — subversively tickled.  And I don’t know: does it denigrate or slyly celebrate Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Slam Stewart, Leo Watson, African-American night life and religious fervor, two sides of the same coin?  Add in sideswipes at Al Jolson, blackface, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and Fats’s own 1942 “By the Light of the Si;very Moon” for good measure.  Then there’s the idea that jazz leads straight to Hell.

This cartoon was surely Caucasian Middle America’s idea of Blackness — exuberant, uncontrolled, foolish, Godless.  But joyous, too.  And we note that so much of the cartoon’s seven-plus minutes are given over to a tut-tut and tsk-tsk depiction of Hot and Naughty . . . . with much less attention paid to old-time-religion.  I doubt that James Baldwin had ever seen this, but doesn’t it noisily depict the conflict between Sacred and Profane that emerges again in his story “Sonny’s Blues”?

As Kevin Dorn once pointed out to me, the Bad Night Life portrayed in the Fallen World segment of “It’s A Wonderful Life” still seems reasonably appealing, even when you consider the charms of Goodness, friends, family, and Donna Reed.

One never knows, DO ONE?

JAZZ FINDS ME IN NEW YORK

I made it to Smalls, that casual jazz mecca, on Thursday night to sit close to the bandstand and absorb the sounds.  Smalls seems a blessed place as soon as you descend the stairs and see the huge portrait of Louis, sharp as a tack, dressed in high British style, circa 1933.  And the two players who improvised under that portrait were clearly in tune with his spirit.  The immensely talented Dan Block, bringing his alto and clarinet, filled the hour with melodic shapes inhabited by notes that were full of meaning but never weighty.  And pianist Ehud Asherie gets wittier and wittier, more rhythmically subtle and melodically free, every time I see him.  And more modest, too!

I brought my little friend — Flip the Video Camera — and have two delightful bits of cinema verite to offer here.  The first, “Thanks A Million,” was a pop hit — from a Dick Powell film — in 1935.  Most of us know this pretty tune (expressing gratitudes in swing) from the eloquent Decca recording Louis did — and later versions by Bobby Hackett and Jon-Erik Kellso (the only one of the three who includes the pretty verse when he plays the song).

Following this, the duo offered a leisurely, ranging “The Love Nest,” a 1920 song that was later taken up by George Burns and Gracie Allen as their theme song.  I always think of a wonderfully hot medium-tempo version by Max Kaminsky on Commodore — with Frank Orchard, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey (I think), and George Wettling.  (Sometimes I think I started a blog only for the pure pleasure of writing “Rod Cless” in public, in a quietly worshipful way.)

Incidentally, there are more clips of Ehud on YouTube — with Harry Allen and the aforementioned Jon-Erik.

Then, a beautifully dressed Rossano Sportiello took the stage with his Amici — the brothers Luigi and  Pasquale Grasso on alto and guitar, Luca Santangelo on drums, and Joel Forbes (an honorary Italian-American for the occasion) to saunter through a slow “Lady Be Good” in honor of Basie and “I’m Through With Love” in honor of Bing, perhaps.  Wonderful music — and I was sorry I had to leave, but Friday morning was calling.  (It sounds like an alarm clock.)

That would have been enough to make a splendid evening for anyone — including chats with Ehud and Rossano, with Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner, two of the people who have kept Smalls alive and vibrant.  But two other incidents brought delight.  I had told Mitch about posting here, announcing the pleasures to come.  He looked slightly skeptical (although it might be his typical expression) and began asking people seated near us how they had heard about these Thursday sessions.  And an attractive black-haired young woman said pertly to Mitch, “Online,” with the (“. . . of course . . . “) unspoken but hanging visible in the air.  Blessings on your head, my dear woman, whoever you are.

After the gig, I made my way — valiant warrior that I am — to Penn Station for the trek back to my nest.  Dinner with the Beloved (at Bar Pitti) had been delicious but early, so I was peckish, not an unusual condition.  I headed to one of the better pizza palaces in Penn and bought a slice.  On line ahead of me there was a man and woman, of my generation, arousing no particular notice aside from being the people who had to be served before I could get fed.  This pizza oasis has a seating area, usually filled with sports fans because a television set is tuned to some game or the other.  (Like the audience at old-style movie theatres, the patrons here — sipping beer in plastic cups and eating — talk loudly to each other and to the set.)

All this is elaborate prelude to my finding a seat near this couple: he gray-haired, she auburn-tressed.  They were having an animated conversation, with him in the lead.  He was telling her what had happened at the concert — what the bass player did, where the drummer went, etc.  He sounded hip; he used the word “gig”; he was clearly a professional musician.  My eavesdropping talents, always highly honed, went into higher gear.  I finished my pizza and took one of my business cards out of my wallet, and gingerly approached the couple.  “Eavesdropping is very rude, so I apologize . . . but it sounded as if you were a New York musician.  I have a jazz blog and perhaps you might like to see it sometime.”  Unabashed self-promotion, I admit, but the man smiled and said, “Sure.  My name is Warren Chiasson, and I play the vibes.”

After a brief pause, I closed my mouth and told Warren he needed no introduction, and we had a brief, happy chat.  I had to make my train, so the three of us grinned at the coincidence and went our separate ways.  But I was elated all the way home.  Warren gave me his business card — so I know this was no hallucination — and I’ve added his website to my blogroll.  Hope he sees this posting someday!