This song — Vincent Youmans’ I WANT TO BE HAPPY — evoked small verbal comedies from two musicians I saw in New York years ago.  Wild Bill Davison would announce the title and then leeringly say in his best W.C. Fields voice, “Don’t we all,” drawling the last word for four beats.  Kenny Davern, on the other hand, was more academic, seeing the simple declarative statement as the opening for a basic ESL class, “I want to be happy, she wants to be happy, they want to be happy,” trailing off, an amused look on his face.  But comedy isn’t the theme in this gathering of happy improvisers at the Manassas Jazz Festival: Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone, Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano, Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Tony DiNicola, drums.  See how Butterfield works hard, building and soaring; how Davern turns his familiar figures in every possible direction, animated by the thryhm deep inside; Wellstood’s opening jab at “Perdido,” and the way Marty Grosz, intent, relaxes when he can put his guitar down, take a sip of his drink, and revel in Wellstood’s playing.  And the ensemble joyousness.  We think of the Golden Age of Jazz — suggest your decade — but this performance is evidence that 1978 was a pretty good year for it, too. 

3 responses to ““SOME BLISS, PLEASE?” DECEMBER 1, 1978

  1. Kenny D was quick with wry twists on the titles of familiar tunes. At the annual Hamilton College Fallcoming concerts he led for the last dozen years of his life, I heard him introduce “Sweet Lorraine” as “Sweet Latrine” & “Lover Come Back” as “Lover Back Up to Me”.

  2. To focus on Kenny Davern – in the midst of really good players and in the case of Grosz and Wellstod, playmates I’ve been honored to blow with. But Kenny is a special case – perhaps because I’m a clarinet player, but more likely because I’ve really studied him – because of the fascination with whatever true greatness is – and here separating the person from the music don’t work. Sure – he went up in flames once in awhile, but he was a loving guy and could crack you up just with that kooky look on his face.

    Remember that over a 30+ year period I had played with him, recorded with him, been his record producer – and THAT’S where you learn a musician. Ears to the speakers, ears to the soul of the player. Those two Music Masters CDs represent two eight hour nights of hard labor. At the end Kenny said with wonder “Even my hands hurt”.

    And what I come away with , after Benny in ’36, Buddy DiFranco in ’46 (Boyd Raeburn on a V-Disc), Paquito d’Rivera recently (and marvelously) is that Kenny is the 20th century champ. No one much heard him as classical player – but his hobby was older conductors – Mengleberg, Beecham, Toscanini – he knew his Mahler, and his warmup at the beginning of the Music Masters sessions was most of the first movement of the Von Weber Clarinet Conerto #1. Had he chosen that route he would have been equally unbeatable. Benny rarely had the conviction – and that’s the proper word for Kenny. Which leads to a comment from an older record producer collague about pre-war performers – my models are of course Louis and Caruso. Howard Scott from Masterworks. I was dealing with a wimpy Pavarotti, other post WW II opera singers; a compilation. And came across a 1953 recording of the Strauss “Love Death” duet from “Salome” with Richard Tucker and Ljuba Welitch. They put me on the floor. Finally – real music. I rushed next door where Scott was remastering some old Cleveland Orchestra sides – “Scotty – what the hell is the difference between the pre-war singers and now?” (Patience dears – we’re about to describe Kenny). “I always wanted to fuck Ljuba Welitch”. “Cut the bullshit man – what it is?”

    He gave me a hard look and said “Conviction and abandon” and that’s all he said. That takes care of Kenny Davern greatly to my satsfaction…sam p

  3. I’ve given up on Golden Ages. Formerly a firm believer – the Condon Mob era, the brief period when Bix was rampant, Louis in the 20s and 30s, Diz and Bird in 1945, Woody Herman in 1946 – but how do you account for the outpouring so recently of truly great jazz at the Dick Sudhalter Memorial bash?

    Ed Polcer’s cornet burnishing the sky; Paquito d’Rivera’s gentle clarinet, Bill Kirchner’s magical minimal soprano -and on and on. I THINK we’re safe. The beat seems to be with us, and lurking down on Ave. “C” the Canglosi Cards – startling new 1936 Hot Club blood. All is Kool, folks…sam p

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