Daily Archives: December 12, 2008

BIX LUNCH !

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Here’s a wonderful review of the two-CD set THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE, which collects rare American and European records — made while Bix was alive — that show how deeply he affected musicians worldwide.

I am reprinting this courtesy of its source, the magazine VINTAGE JAZZ MART (www.vjm.biz) and through the gracious permission of its jazz scholar / editor Mark Berresford.  Readers of this blog will find the VJM site and the magazine itself both highly rewarding.  I am also very pleased to be able to reprint this review by Rob Rothberg, who knows the music deeply.

2 CD SET: THE INFLUENCE OF BIX BEIDERBECKE. Jass Masters JMS1001. Available from Jass Masters, 71 Chalk Hill, Watford WD19 4DA, England. www.bixbeiderbecke.com. £15, E20 or $30 including p+p.

In the September 1932 issue of ‘Rhythm’ magazine, Hoagy Carmichael wrote that Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet solos were “food for plenty of thought” and “something the younger generation can study for ideas even in composition.” In the wake of Bix’s death in 1931, Hoagy lamented that the “almost total lack of recognition of one such as Bix is beyond my understanding.”

But Bix’s influence on other musicians began early on and spread widely – even to Europe, despite the fact that Bix himself never set foot there. In the two-CD set “The Influence of Bix Beiderbecke,” Nick Dellow and his associates set out to demonstrate Bix’s influence during his lifetime through 51 rare recordings principally from 1924 through 1931, a period that roughly encompasses Bix’s brief recording career.

Volume 1 concentrates on American recordings, starting with George Olsen’s 1924 recording of You’ll Never Get to Heaven With Those Eyes, on which Red Nichols interpolates Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ recording of Jazz Me Blues, recorded four months earlier. This early replication of a recorded Bix solo on another musician’s recording was not an isolated event; the California Ramblers’ record of Tiger Rag is another example, re-enacting Bix’s solo from the Wolverines’ record.

More interesting is the way in which Bix’s contemporaries absorbed aspects of Bix’s style and created something of their own. Sterling Bose emulates the bell-like tone and driving lead of the Wolverines-era Bix (including a break taken from the master’s record of Davenport Blues) on the Arcadian Serenaders’ The Co-Ed, recorded after the Serenaders had begun playing opposite Trumbauer’s band with Bix at the Arcadia Ballroom in St. Louis. Jimmy McPartland gives us a rough-sounding, scrappy version of Bix on the Original Wolverines’ A Good Man is Hard to Find, McKenzie/Condon Chicagoans’ Liza, and the Hotsy Totsy Gang’s Out Where the Blues Begin (on which he stays too close to the melody for my taste). Andy Secrest’s ability to sound like his bandmate is well known, and he sounds so good on the Mason-Dixon Orchestra’s Alabammy Snow that Max Easterman wonders if Bix is present, as a soloist or otherwise. (I think Secrest is underrated, but I don’t hear the pride of Davenport soloing or in the ensemble.) The softer-toned Bob Mayhew blows up a Bixian storm on The Eyes of Texas by the Carolina Club Orchestra and on Broadway Rose by Dick McDonough (or is it Mickey Bloom?), the last from an unissued test pressing with great sound. Red Nichols evokes Bix beautifully and without copying on Crazy Rhythm with Miff Mole’s Molers. Dub Schoffner, who evidently was far away from the microphone for the Casa Loma Orchestra’s Little Did I Know, displays some Bixian phrasing in a Gene Gifford arrangement clearly influenced by Bill Challis.

Manny Klein, the Zelig of jazz trumpet, is heard on Lou Raderman’s Why Do I Love You (Bixian tone, but too many notes for Bix) and on Bill Challis’s arrangement of The Blue Room, written for the Goldkette band but not recorded until this 1933 version by the Dorsey Brothers, on which Klein evokes both Bix (in the opening phrases) and Bunny Berigan in a derby-muted solo. The technically-accomplished Klein is almost certainly the creative, confident player behind the derby on Roger Wolfe Kahn’s When a Woman Loves a Man as well.

In addition, Volume 1 gives us territory bands, including Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra (Where’s My Sweetie Hiding), Jimmy Joy’s St. Anthony Hotel Orchestra (Riverboat Shuffle), Hitch’s Happy Harmonists (Cataract Rag Blues), and Marion McKay’s Orchestra (Doo Wacka Doo). Fred Gardner’s Texas University Troubadours display admirable drive on Papa’s Gone and No Trumps, and their trumpeter Tom Howell shows a Bixian lilt and a large, lovely sound (albeit with some technical insecurity). Andrew Aiona’s Novelty Four, whose identity is a discographical mystery, gives us Hula Girl, which will have you imagining Trumbauer’s band transplanted to the beach at Waikiki.

Along the way, we hear Bix’s influence on Jimmy Dorsey, on alto (the California Ramblers’ Davenport Blues) and clarinet (the Original Memphis Five’s Jazz Me Blues). Even players not known for sounding Bixian get into the act, such as Tommy Gott on the Jazz Pilots’ Wedding Bells, on which an unidentified scat singer channels the spirit of Harry Barris.

You’ll want to listen with Max Easterman’s splendid notes at your side. They offer a wealth of interesting detail not just about the recordings, but also the personalities and places involved. No matter how much you’ve read about the era, you will learn things that will enhance your appreciation of this music.

There are many rare photographs as well.

In Volume 2, we cross the pond to Europe, where Bix’s music exerted its influence directly, through recordings issued principally on Parlophone, Columbia and HMV, and indirectly, through emissaries such as Bix’s colleagues Adrian Rollini, Chelsea Quealey and Sylvester Ahola, who were ensconced in British bands. (Rollini even tried to recruit Bix in 1929 for Fred Elizalde’s band at the Savoy Hotel. Had he succeeded, one wonders if Bix would have lived longer.)

To my ears, Bix’s British disciples were his best. Norman Payne captured Bix’s chime-struck-with-a-padded-mallet tone and emotional reticence, particularly at slow and medium tempos.  Young Norman solos in an uncharacteristically assertive fashion in Jay Whidden’s A Dicky Bird Told Me So, then settles into a more lyrical mood for the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra’s Every Day Away from You, Jack Hart’s The Song of the Dawn and I’m Singing My Way Round the World, Spike Hughes’ Kalua, the New Mayfair Orchestra’s Follow A Star Selection, Harry Shalson’s With My Guitar and You (here with especially gorgeous tone), and the Night Club Kings’ Whispering. So effective is his evocation of Bix’s tone that he imbues the NMDO’s South Sea Rose with Bixian spirit merely by leading the ensemble (and also by ending the record with a break indebted to Bix’s introduction to Baltimore).

Jack Jackson tends to be underappreciated among jazz collectors, possibly because of his stint as the leader of a mostly sweet dance band in the mid-1930s. Here, however, we get Jackson the sideman, whose best work displays beautiful, pure tone, a Bix-like decisivene ss, and great technical mastery. On the  Crichton Lyricals’ 1927 record of Somebody Said, the teenage Jackson begins his solo by quoting Bix’s second break in Trumbauer’s recording of Riverboat Shuffle, then proceeds with a modernistic, multi-noted solo that bows mostly to Red Nichols.  (This acoustic recording has always struck me as a British counterpart to Bix’s acoustically recorded Broadway Bell-Hops date.) By the time of Jack Hylton’s Forget Me Not (note Poggy Pogson’s Bixian oboe solo!) and especially Oh! What A Night to Love, Jackson had rather less Nichols and more Bix, and was saying more with fewer notes. Night, on which the brass section crackles and Jackson alludes to Bix’s solo in Ostrich Walk, is a fine all-round performance that ought to be better known. We also hear Jackson on Spike Hughes’ record of A Ship Without A Sail, where Jackson and alto saxophonist Philip Buchel create an atmosphere that can make you wonder if you’re hearing a newly-discovered Trumbauer side.

Naturally, Sylvester Ahola is here as well. We know he was a great admirer of Bix, but he is, I think, mostly his own man, a great technician who showed a Bixian tone sometimes but Bixian ideas only rarely. Above all, Hooley is not, to use Paul Whiteman’s description of Bix, “a note miser.” He can remind you of someone running up and down a flight of stairs, as on the Rhythmic Eight’s There’s a Cradle in Caroline. When he restrains himself and slows down a bit, the results can be Bixian (e.g., Harry Hudson’s Some Hauntin’ Tune) or not. On the Night Club Kings’ In the Moonlight and particularly Spike Hughes’ A Miss is As Good as a Mile, his playing is very exciting and moving, but the aggressive, rangy style and strident tone aren’t Bixian.

But wait – there’s more. Max Goldberg does himself proud on Jay Whidden’s little-known record of Louisiana in a derby-muted solo modeled after Bix’s solo on the Whiteman record, although Bing Crosby need not worry about competition from Whidden’s stiff vocalist, Fred Douglas. (It would have been nice to have Max’s Bixian outing in Spike Hughes’ record of The Boop-Boop A Doopa  Doo Trot as well.)  Chelsea Quealey is heard with Fred Elizalde on Sugar (a Bill Challis arrangement also featuring Bobby Davis and Adrian Rollini, recorded a month before the better-known Whiteman version featuring Bix), an unissued take of Dance, Little Lady, and the Challis-influenced arrangement of I’m Glad, a lovely, hitherto-unknown performance from a recently-discovered test pressing that is issued here for the first time. We also get to hear England’s mysterious Frank Wilson (who left the music business to take up religion in the early 1930s and was not heard from again) on an unissued take of Nobody’s Fault But Your Own with Jack Payne; France’s Philippe Brun on Gregorology by Gregor et ses Gregoriens; Sweden’s Ragge Lath on Helge Lindberg’s record of Minns Du?; and Tiger Rag by the Original Capitol Orchestra, an American band in London with whom Bix had played aboard the steamboat S.S. Capitol. These are not records you see every day, at least in New York! Throughout, we are guided by Nick Dellow and Mark Berresford’s scholarly notes on the European tracks, with yet more rare photographs.

Care has been taken not to duplicate the tracks on Sunbeam’s Bix Restored, Volume 5. Nick Dellow’s careful digital restoration gives each recording vivid new life while respecting its 0riginal sound. As a result, even the tracks that a dedicated Bixophile might have heard before deserve another listen. (Full disclosure: I provided the source material for two of the European tracks here. Fuller disclosure: having listened to the records in question side by side with Nick’s transfers, I’m mpressed by what he has accomplished with them.) Apart from all of that, Bixophiles will be glad to have these recordings, packaged with perceptive commentary, in one convenient, affordable place, saving the significant cost of buying them one or two at a time on scattered CDs (not to mention the even more significant cost of buying the original records, if you can find them).

Profits from this set initially were contributed to a fund established to help meet the medical expenses of Richard M. Sudhalter, the Bix-inspired trumpeter and celebrated author of, among many other things, the books ‘Bix, Man and Legend’ (in 1974, with co-author Philip R. Evans) and ‘Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael’ (2003). (One of the CD set’s booklets includes a heartfelt tribute to Sudhalter from Bixography proprietor Albert Haim.) After Sudhalter’s death in September 2008, the profits were redirected to the Jazz Foundation of America, an organization that aids thousands of jazz musicians in crisis annually, and that helped Sudhalter during his illness. Thus is this musically worthy endeavor made even more worthy.

All in all, this set is a feast for Bixophiles. I’ll bet Hoagy would have loved it.

ROB ROTHBERG

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YOU NEVER CAN TELL, or BLOG-ETIQUETTE

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Readers who find that ruminations make them itchy are encouraged to turn away, with my compliments.  Come back soon.  This posting has Dave Tough as its apparent subject, but its real theme is human nature.

Several days ago, celebrating Dave Tough’s life and mourning his death, I wrote several posts about him.  Kevin Dorn, who knows Tough’s work deeply, approved, which pleased me.

Then I found a comment from someone new, a European blogger I’ll call Mr. Easy.  He wrote that Tough was underrated, and continued: “Although he was an alcoholic like me, his range was very wide, in my humble opinion.” And he closed with a polite thank-you.

Mr. Easy’s candor took me aback for a moment, but I admired his sentiments and responded in agreement.  Curious about him, I found his site, full of jazz video clips of players I also admire.  Reflexively, I added his site to my blogroll so that other like-minded souls could visit it.  This is common practice — a mutual tipping of hats among bloggers, who are always looking to bring more readers to their sites.

This morning, I found a comment (posted on my site) from Mr. Easy, displeased that I had added his blog to my website.

I have edited one word for politeness: “Who gave you the permission, you —-?  Did I ASK you to do so?  You are very presumptuous!!!  My site is only for jazz connaieseireurs!!”

I thought that I was also a “jazz connaiesireur,” but enough of that.

However, I am not used to being called “a —-” on my own blog.  I thought that our conversation had reached its end.  So I wrote Mr. Easy, politely saying that he needn’t have been so offensive, that I had deleted his site and his comments, and that he could now go away.

His response took me by surprise, because the people I have met through this blog have been generous, smart, funny, encouraging, kind — obviously a rare bunch — and I am honored to have them.

And, when I think next of Mr. Easy, an old comment of my father’s will come to mind, when one of his friends met him on the street and asked how everything was: “Oh, things are tough all over.”

For some people, they are.  And the reference isn’t to Dave Tough, alas.

“A LITTLE GOOD BLUES, CHARLES”

I know the title sounds like some Monty Python sketch about jazz among the aristocracy, but it’s what begins this fascinating short film — dating from 1961, featuring trumpeter Emmett Berry, alto saxophonist Earle Warren (two stalwarts of the Count Basie band and of Buck Clayton’s Basie-inflected combos), the fascinating pianist Sir Charles Thompson (knighted by Lester Young), drummer Oliver Jackson, and Gene Ramey on bass.  It was nothing special for these musicians to create a medium-tempo blues with such easy intensity . . . but it seems special today.  And the impish-looking trombonist who pokes his head in at the end is, of course, Dicky Wells.  Thanks to YouTube, and to one of jazz’s quiet benefactors, Bob Erwig!