Monthly Archives: March 2009

A LITTLE BUNNY

Courtesy of YouTube, Mr. Berigan from Fox Lake, Wisconsin, seen all too briefly in stellar form.

CHINA BOY: the Freddie Rich Orchestra in 1934 with Jimmy Dorsey, cl; Hank Ross, ts.  Who’s the pianist?

UNTIL TODAY: Bunny sings and plays with Rich in 1936:

“Bunny can’t do no wrong in music,” said Louis.  Grammatically unstable, aesthetically perfect.

CHARLES ELLSWORTH RUSSELL, PAINTER

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem held a six-hour program yesterday in honor of Frank Newton and Pee Wee Russell, one unknown and the other under-acknowledged — two of my dearest jazz heroes.  George Avakian, George Wein, Nat Hentoff (via telephone), Loren Schoenberg, Dan Morgenstern, Bill Crow, Morris Hodara, and Hank O’Neal spoke.  Those who couldn’t make it uptown will be happy to learn that the audio portion of the presentations is, I am told, going to be accessible at the JMIH website — check my blogroll.

But while the presenters were presenting, my attention was caught by a painting on an easel at one end of the room.  It clearly looked like one of Pee Wee’s: he took up painting late in life, following his own whimsical genius.  (The winding lines and bright colors are, to me, visual representations of his playing — and perhaps of his patterns of thinking and perceiving.)

Hank O’Neal generously brought his prize Russell painting, and allowed me to photograph it and share it with my readers.

Pee Wee painted it in October 1966, called it BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and gave it as a gift to Eddie Condon.  Here are some details of the painting.  Drink in its energy and colors.

dsc00024

A detail.

dsc00023Another piece of the puzzle.

dsc00026Take me as I am!

dsc00022The Master’s signature.

(The Institute of Jazz Studies, which operates out of Rutgers University, has perhaps thirty-five Russell canvasses, much of his oeuvre.  Worth a trip!)

“TORNO SUBITO!”

My Italian is not so polished, but the title of this post means “Be back soon.”  Hence the photograph:sicilia-2008-ms-plus-yucatan-portraits-264

A year ago, the Beloved and I discovered Sicily — the land of wildflowers, blood oranges, brilliantly colored marzipan animals, wild asparagus, thrilling landscapes, grilled swordfish, wonderfully gracious people . . . .  I took the photograph of a sign that hung in the window of what appeared to be a consignment store, the closest thing to a thrift store we could find.  The sign was there for three days, then we gave up.  Perhaps it is still hanging there as I write this?

We are going back there — to some familiar places and several new ones — for a return trip, braving the hazards of the TSA, tiny airplane seats, packing, carrying, and so on.  So this blogpost is to say that we and this blog will BE BACK SOON.  Don’t forget any of us!

P.S.  I have my iPod, so Louis, Mark Shane, and Marty Grosz won’t be out of reach.

ONE HOT BABY!

More from the Bixians: Andy Schumm, Dave Bock, John Otto,Paul Asaro, Leah Bezin, Josh Duffee — plus homeboy Vince Giordano — swinging irresistibly through Bill Challis’ arrangement for the Jean Goldkette Orchestra of BABY FACE.  An exultant soundtrack!  Thanks again to Jamaica Knauer and her trusty “little camera,” which captured wondrous encounters. 

DICK TWARDZIK’S RECORDED LIVES

twardzik-coverBecause of Sam Parkins’ recollection, posted earlier on this blog, of his short-lived Boston friend, pianist Richard Twardzik (1931-1955), I obtained a copy of BOUNCIN’ WITH BARTOK: THE INCOMPLETE WORKS OF RICHARD TWARDZIK (Mercury Press, 2008) by Jack Chambers.  I have been reading it with fascination for the last few weeks.  It is a phenomenal book.

But first, some comments on the Art of Biography.  Perhaps from the start, biographies were glowing public records of the lives of Famous Men Who Had Done Something.  The accomplishments were heroic, the biographer admiring, even adoring.  If the subject had been a bad husband, an ungenerous employer, unpleasant in private, it was not the biographer’s task to record these moments.

When this began to change I cannot pinpoint, but slowly — perhaps with the rise of journalistic muckraking and a public eager for backstairs gossip — the biography began to tell all, lingering over the subject’s revealed flaws.  The biographer pretended to look abashed, then told tales.  Joyce Carol Oates dubbed this “pathobiography,” books savagely dissecting their subjects in the name of objectivity and completeness.  In some of these works, rancor prevails; the biographer seems to hate the subject.

Jazz, that young art, is particularly prone to such sea-changes in its reportage.  Consider the shifts in less than a century in the chronicles of Louis, Duke, and Benny — ending with recent books that state that Louis ran out of creative energy somewhere around 1929, that Ellington stole his most famous compositions from his sidemen, and that the King of Swing picked his nose.  And Charlie Parker?  The books on Bird are worth a book in themselves.

My model for a jazz biographer is the inestimable John Chilton, who loves his heroic figures but has no trouble saying plainly when they are off form in their music or their personal relations.  Right behind him is the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett, whose book LISTENING FOR HENRY CROWDER is remarkable.  And parallel to them is Mark Miller, whose book on Valaida Snow was also published by The Mercury Press.  (Miller has a great deal of energy and is finishing a biography of pianist Herbie Nichols, a book I look forward to.)

Much of this philosophical strife I refer to above comes from our puzzlement with the Great Artist who seems to be A Bad Man or at least seriously flawed.  Twardzik doesn’t entirely fit, but he seems to have been immature, half-formed, self-absorbed in everything but his music.  Dick’s music astonished those who heard it, and the evidence in his short discography suggests that he was clearly original, clearly going someplace new.  Happily, the small discography is slowly growing larger with new concert recordings made with Chet Baker in the last months of Twardzik’s life, practice tapes, live radio broadcasts from Boston.

Perhaps it will seem odd that I am less interested in Twardzik’s music than in his life, more interested in his biography than either.  It brings up what is, to me, one of the great questions: what can we know about anyone, particularly when that person has died?  What are the tensions between any gathering of evidence and the person it might attempt to portray?  In this spirit, I was thrilled by Barnett’s book on Crowder, although I did not find Crowder an enthralling subject.

Biographer Jack Chambers has to his credit an academic career in linguistics and a well-regarded Miles Davis biography; although he never met Twardzik, he was intrigued by the pianist’s recordings when he was a high school student in 1956.  So this book is the result of a half-century of fascination, and it is admirably thorough, with color plates of Dick’s father’s paintings, reproductions of Twardzik’s handwriting, his one remaining manuscript, his self-caricature, envelopes, photographs, and more.  It is, by definition, an “authorized biography,” drawing its strength from the four cartons of personal effects Dick’s family had saved.  Those cartons are an irreplaceable treasure, but they must also have been somewhat of a burden, carrying with them the family’s wish that their doomed young man be treated fairly, generously.  And Chambers, while recording everything, is more than fair.  Twardzik must have been, at times, an irritating young man — even before he became addicted to heroin — and Chambers occasionally seems in part a fine, careful journalist, offering all the facts, in part resembling an indulgent uncle, sure that his beloved nephew had good reasons to act that way.  Watching Chambers negotiate such delicate issues, one hairpin turn after another, is one of the delights of the book.  At times, the thoroughness is just this side of wearying — but Chambers is compelled to include what is relevant alongside what might be relevant, knowing that there will probably never be another biography of Twardzik.

And he has done his job so well that perhaps there never needs to be another one.  From the personal narrative that begins the book — his own involvement with Twardzik’s music — to his study of the family, Dick’s parents seen close up, Dick’s childhood, early musical involvements, intersections with people as diverse as Herb Pomeroy, Serge Chaloff, and Lionel Hampton (the latter particularly fascinating), with Charlie Parker, Rudy Van Gelder, Bob Zieff, and Chet Baker — this book is meticulous in its techniques and results.  Interviews give way to newspaper clippings which give way to personal letters and pay stubs — all the way up to the hotel room where the 24-year old Twardzik is found dead with a needle in his arm.  Ironically, the last thirty-six days of Twardzik’s life are examined most closely because so much detail exists, and Chambers does not stop there, offering sad, grueling examinations of what happened after, including a reproduction of the form listing the dead man’s effects.

Chambers is also a capable writer, and occasionally he gets it in a sentence.  My favorite is his description of the place where Twardzik played a summer gig in 1951:

The atmosphere of the West Yarmouth hall is captured in a set of grainy black and white snapshots that were found among Twardzik’s effects.  The high ceiling gives some idea of the size of the room.  The bandstand appears to be pushed up against a booth, and similar vinyl-covered booths may have ringed the room.  The tables had Formica tops, like common kitchen tables of the day.  The main feature of the decor appears to be indestructibility.

I would give a great deal to have written that last sentence.

The book is carefully done, with what must be the best discography of Twardzik to date, although it would not surprise me if its appearance caused some new discoveries to appear, suddenly.  I hope that the broadcast with tenorist Sam Margolis is issued someday: Margolis, Ruby Braff’s Boston pal, was a fine player in the Lester-Bud Freeman school, someone I was fortunate enough to see and talk with in the early Seventies.

Even if you don’t know Twardzik’s music, this book is essential reading.  We should all be so lovingly and carefully remembered.

MORE FROM THE BIX FEST (RACINE, March 2009)!

These videos are here (and on YouTube) through the generosity of Jamaica Knauer and her “little camera,”  suitably attired, “running around in the gaudy 1920’s outfit, and Cleopatra headpiece.  Anywhere Andy Schumm and Dave Bock were playing, I was somewhere around, filming them. Ha! Ha!”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and we owe Jamaica and the Bixians a great deal: they are, besides Andy and Dave, John Otto, Paul Asaro, Vince Giordano, Leah Bezin, and Josh Duffee.  Here they are at Fitzgerald’s, with a truly rocking NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

A little calmer, but still enthusiastic, is THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

And a steady BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? at one of the many “right” tempos, with a soulful vocal by Vince:

Walter Donaldson’s pretty AT SUNDOWN, again at a wonderful tempo, not too fast:

Finally, an exuberant FRESHMAN HOP (which I associate with Jack Pettis, Irving Mills, the Hotsy Totsy Gang, and Jack Teagarden), with Otto on bass sax and Kim Cusack on clarinet:

There are more delights on YouTube.  Everyone here is a wonderfully enthusiastic, gifted soloist, but one of the rare pleasures of these performances is the way the ensembles work together — Asaro’s striding piano behind a horn soloist, Vince, Leah, and Josh working together as a unit, the horn players trading phrases and humming behind one another.  Yes, “Bix lives!” but we shouldn’t forget just how alive and lively these players are — thanks to Jamaica!

HAVING THE TIME OF HIS LIFE

Who else could it be?  Louis, obviously delighting in the rocking propulsion of saxophonist Max Greger’s big band, enjoying himself on German television.  Although the routines Louis created with the All-Stars made him extremely comfortable, he outdid himself when fronting a first-class big band.

I saw it happen on American television — perhaps the Merv Griffin Show, circa 1970, when he did “What A Wonderful World” before the commercial break, and came back to perform a truly exultant “Jeepers Creepers” afterward — in front of a studio band full of jazz players (Jimmy Cleveland and Bill Berry among them).  I hope someone finds that clip, which begins with the band warming up after the break, Louis telling them, “That’s the scales! The fish will come later!”

“SOLITUDE”: BRAFF-BARNES QUARTET

Thanks to Bob Erwig for posting this clip of the Ruby Braff-George Barnes Quartet, perhaps in Berlin in 1974.  The other heroes here are the Wayne Wright and Michael Moore — singing their way through Ellington’s “Solitude” as if it were a hymn and they were divinely inspired.  I remember seeing this quartet accomplish artistic miracles in Bryant Park, outside the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.  To say their performance was unforgettable is simple accuracy.

MICHAEL McQUAID’S RED HOT RHYTHMAKERS 2008

This is a wonderful young stomping band from Australia, playing PANAMA (a homage to the ferocious Luis Russell Orchestra of 1929-30) at a gig in Ireland.  If that doesn’t say that jazz is thriving, internationally, I don’t know what evidence would do it.  McQuaid is one of those youthful heroes who can play a shopful of instruments, in the fashion of the late Tom Baker.  Someone to watch (on YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook — he’s the very model of modernity even though he knows his jazz history from the inside)!

WHAT ARE YOU DOING THIS JULY 9-12?

 I’ve read about this festival . . . but always after it’s ended.  I want to go to Whitley Bay!  (That’s a sentence I haven’t said before, but when the words came out of my mouth yesterday, they felt like the truth.)  Details below!  More details at www.whitleybayjazzfest.org.

 

 

 

 WHITLEY BAY INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009
Friday 10th – Sunday 12th JulyThe nineteenth annual Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival will feature as always the very best in classic jazz, from Ragtime to Swing. This year we feature no less than twenty-nine hot bands made up of more than 140 musicians from nine different countries – see list on right. And we are again at our new and very welcoming venue, the Village Hotel & Leisure Centre, Cobalt Park – see Booking Details page.

If you’ve been before, you’ll know what to expect. If not, here are some of the nice (unsolicited!) things people have said about the Festival:

“As we Yanks say, it was a smasheroo! – the new venue worked out fine, despite packed rooms. I’m so glad I made the trip; the best jazz festival in Great Britain!” – Kathy Lewis, Chicago

“I think sincerely it’s the best festival in Europe for organisation, standard of musicians and general atmosphere (spontaneous jam sessions)” – Henry Lemaire, MaMa & the Kids, Switzerland

“Four days of pure inspiration, and I wouldn’t have missed one second of it – congratulations, a triumph!” – Frank van Nus, bandleader & arranger, Twente, Holland

“The UK’s pre-eminent classic jazz festival” – Jazz Review Magazine, Edinburgh, Scotland

“Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival – the classic jazz fan’s Mecca!” – Trygve Hernæs, producer, Herman Records, Norway

“Thanks for the Festival, it knocks every other one into a cocked hat – sheer unadulterated quality!” – David Kimmins, a happy punter!

“As usual, I have only one complaint – there were too many good bands, so I couldn’t listen to them all: if I could only attend one jazz festival a year, Whitley Bay would be it” – Norrie Thompson, Edinburgh

“As a musician, I spent three marvellous days because your festival is the BEST in Europe: it’s a huge pleasure to perform there, and it takes me a week or two to come down off my little cloud!” – Stéphane Gillot, Red Hot Reedwarmers, France

“A vintage year for an exceptional jazz festival – certainly the best in the world for the music we love: bravo!” – Michel Bastide, Hot Antic Jazz Band, France

“I don’t know how you do it, but it gets better every year! We’ll be there again next year, as will the four friends we brought along this time” – Laurie Wright, discographer and jazz author, Storyville Magazine

“Probably the best Festival of its kind in the world – if I could only go to one, this would be it” – Bob Erdos, owner, Stomp Off Records, USA

“The best classic jazz festival in the world, and I have played at most of them” – Bent Persson (trumpet), Stockholm, Sweden

“This is the best jazz festival I’ve attended since the New Orleans and Ascona festivals of the 1980’s – and they take some beating” – Mike Hazeldine, New Orleans Music

“Whitley Bay is an exceptionally fine event – despite increasing airline costs and declining dollars, we intend to return next year” – Andy & Kathy Wittenborn, The Mississippi Rag, USA

 

 

 

Complete Band list:

  • The Charleston Chasers (UK’s premier 1920’s hot dance outfit)
  • Chicago Stompers (Italy – hot young ten-piece orchestra )
  • Swiss Yerba Buena Jazzband (Switzerland, with Jean-François Bonnel and René Hagmann)
  • Ten Doctors of Syncopation (Sweden – Henderson and more)
  • Hot Five Jazzmakers (canada – joyous sounds of New Orleans)
  • Matthias Seuffert’s South Side Special (Germany/UK Dodds tribute)
  • Bent Persson & his Orchestra (international, 1930’s Armstrong)
  • les Red Hot Reedwarmers (France – back to the Apex Club!)
  • Michael McQuaid’s Late-hour Boys (Australia and the world!)
  • The Hot Jazz Trio (Sweden’s masters of the real classic stuff)
  • Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra (Scotland’s finest)
  • Spats Langham & his Rhythm Boys (“with vocal refrain”)
  • New Century Ragtime Orchestra (Tyneside – ragtime to hot dance)
  • Wheatley’s Arcadians (string-band music extraordinaire)
  • The Three Tenors (saxes, that is – France/Germany/UK)
  • Four on the Frets (the finest in jazz guitar)
  • Debbie Arthurs’ Sweet Rhythm (sweet & hot, actually!)
  • Keith Stephen’s Hot Club Trio with Caroline Irwin
  • The 1955 band (saluting Chris Barber & Ken Colyer) The
  • Three Pods of Pepper (hot, hot, hot!) Clarinet Crescendo (international reed extravaganza)
  • Norman Field’s Happy Harmonists (Brum & points west)
  • Sjöström’s Tap Room Gang (Adrian Rollini rules, ok?)
  • Paul Munnery’s Kansas City Jazz (from Moten to modern)
  • Swing City Trio with Steve Andrews (Cumbria)
  • River City Jazzmen (the band which discovered Sting!)
  • Rae Brothers New Orleans Jazzband (Gatesheed)
  • West Jesmond Rhythm Kings (West Jesmond, where else?)
  • International Banjorama! (international)

SPECIAL EXTRA EVENT FOR 2009!

THE SAGE GATESHEAD presents
“YOUNG LOUIS”
in association with Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival

The first five years of Louis Armstrong’s brilliant recording career
recreated by Bent Persson and a hand-picked band of International stars

Hall Two, Thursday 9th July at 8.00pm: see separate page for details

 “I’d like to say how much I enjoyed Whitley Bay this year. There was some amazing music to listen to and some lovely things to play. Congratulations!” – James Evans, sax and clarinet

“Possibly the biggest and most prestigious celebration of classic jazz anywhere in Europe” – Paul Bream, Jazz Alert

“Nice bands, nice people, perfect organisation – one of the best experiences of our musical life” – Jean Amy, leader, Steamboat Band, France

“A jazz festival for connoisseurs” – Chris Yates, Jazz North East

WE LOVE GEORGE AVAKIAN! (PORTRAITS BY LORNA SASS)

These four photographs are the handiwork of Lorna Sass.  Camera at the ready, she captured moments in the darkness at Birdland last Wednesday, when we gathered to celebrate George Avakian’s 90th birthday, each photograph a small essay in itself. 

avakian-band-2

At first, this might look like a typical study of the band in action, but Lorna captured Randy Sandke’s exultant shout, cheering Anat Cohen on in the midst of her hugh-flying solo.  Jazz camaraderie!

avakian-wycliffe-3

 Wycliffe Gordon, intense and serene, at one with the music sweeping through him.

avakian-ms-4

Happy to be here!  Left, Michael Steinman (your humble correspondent); right, George himself.

avakian-1

I hope with all my heart that George gets whatever he wished for at that moment.  Certainly he’s made so many of our jazz dreams come true.   

Photographs copyright 2009 by Lorna Sass.  All rights reserved.

WISE COUNSEL

In 1929, Mezz Mezzrow was on the edge of a nervous breakdown:

I used to sit huddled up on my [subway] seat, shrinking into a corner, my head shoved down between my knees and my arms wrapped tight around it, to keep from screaming.

One day, just as the train pulled into 110th Street, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, and when I worked up enough courage to raise my head, there was a nice-looking old colored man with a thick crop of snow-white hair, looking down at me with the kindest, most sympathetic expression I ever saw.  “Son,” he said to me real soft, “if you can’t make money, make friends,” and with that he stepped out on the platform and drifted away.  He saved my life that day.

from REALLY THE BLUES (1946).

making-friends-78

THE MILLS BROTHERS, 1932

You’ll see that in this 1932 short film, made my Max Fleischer, the animated portion satirizes “television” and “channel surfing,” long before those were commonplace.  The Fleischer sense of humor wasn’t gentle: every ethnic stereotype gets mocked here, along with the metamorphosing cats, dogs, and frying eggs.  But when the ball starts bouncing at the end, I defy you to keep from singing along.  These “four boys and a guitar” are truly original, truly irreplaceable.  (Louis, Coleman Hawkins, and Vic Dickenson loved them, and they swung more cohesively than many jazz groups.)

GEORGE AVAKIAN’S 90th BIRTHDAY PARTY (Birdland, March 18, 2009)

George’s birthdate is March 15, 1919.  So his celebration last night was slightly late — but neither he nor anyone in the audience that filled Birdland to capacity last night seemed to mind.  It made sense to celebrate George amidst the music he loves — Louis, Duke, and Fats, played live and joyously.

We heard heartfelt tributes to George from Dave Brubeck, Sonny Rollins, Bob Newhart, Michel Legrand, Quincy Jones, and Joe Muranyi — a stellar assortment for sure.

And Birdland was filled with the famous — Tony Bennett, Dan Morgenstern, Daryl Sherman, Vince Giordano, Michael Cogswell, Mercedes Ellington, Lloyd Moss, Phoebe Jacobs, Robert O’Meally, Ricky Riccardi, the Beloved, and myself.

All of us were there to honor George, who has recorded and supported everyone: Louis and Duke, Brubeck and Rushing, Eddie Condon, Garner and Mathis, Rollins, Miles Davis, John Cage, and Ravi Shankar — in a wonderful career beginning with the first jazz album (CHICAGO JAZZ, for Decca, in 1939), helped reissue unknown jazz classics, made recordings of the first jazz festival.

The Louis Armstrong Centennial Band played a marvelously uplifted version of its regular Wednesday gig — with Paquito D’Rivera sitting in with his clarinet when the spirit moved him — that’s David Ostwald, tuba; Randy Sandke, trumpet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone and vocals; Anat Cohen, clarinet; Mark Shane, piano and vocals; Kevin Dorn, drums.  I was recording the whole thing (audio and video) and offer some video clips.

However, I have not chosen to post the version of ST. LOUIS BLUES during which my tabletop tripod collapsed and sent the camera, still running, into the Beloved’s salad.  It’s cinema verite as scripted by Lucy and Ethel.

Here’s a tribute by Wycliffe to Louis, to Hoagy Carmichael, and to George — ROCKIN’ CHAIR:

And a gently trotting version of the 1927 Rodgers and Hart classic, THOU SWELL, remembering George’s reissuing the best of Bix Beiderbecke:

Duke Ellington said that he was born at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, and George’s stewardship of the famous Columbia recording of that concert was the occasion for the band to recall Duke, pre-Newport, with a wonderfully deep-hued MOOD INDIGO (also for Mercedes Ellington, honoring us all by her presence):

George never recorded Fats Waller, but he did help Louis record the peerless SATCH PLAYS FATS, so the band launched into a perfectly jubilant I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, complete with the verse (“I’m walking on air . . . .”) and an extraordinarily evocative vocal by Mark Shane, who known more about the many voices of Fats than anyone:

Finally, here’s George himself to say a few words.

Happy birthday, Sir!  Thanks for everything!  Keep on keeping on!

SIX FOR BIX: A JAM SESSION

Six minutes, that is.

Two trumpets, two trombones, two banjos, one piano, one drummer, eager happy dancers, “Some of These Days,” sheer pleasure.  I recognize Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; Paul Asaro, piano, Leah Bezin, banjo, and Josh Duffee, drums, but would like help with the other gifted players.  Do you think they would come to my apartment and jam if I asked nicely and had canned drinks for everyone?

P.S.  Mike Durham came to the rescue: “Other players in Six for Bix are Brad Kay, trumpet, Frank Galtieri, trombone and Jacob Ullberger, banjo (visiting from Sweden).”

SCENES FROM RACINE: THE BIX FEST, MARCH 2009

These clips aren’t nearly as good as being there, but they are wonderful experiences created by Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, sax and clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano; Leah Bezin, banjo; Vince Giordano, bass and bass sax; Josh Duffee, percussion.

Here, the Gang rocks through the Goldkette favorite “Idolizing,” without embarking on a vocal tribute, though:

And another version of the ODJB / Bix classic “Clarinet Marmalade,” which has the right exuberant spirit without rushing:

A privilege and a pleasure to see and share these clips!

A LOUIS ARMSTRONG CONTEST (with a real prize!)

louis-heebie-jeebies-jpegLast night (Wednesday, March 18), the Beloved and I went to Birdland to be part of the joyous celebration of George Avakian’s ninetieth birthday, with stellar music from the Louis Armstrong Centennial Band to elevate us all.

I had my video camera and hope to post some live clips from this very happy evening.

Midway through the evening, David Ostwald announced a “Louis Armstrong trivia contest,” with the prize — courtesy of Michael Cogswell — a two-for-the-price-of-one ticket to the Louis Armstrong House / Museum in Corona, Queens.  I knew the answer to the question — who was Louis’s third wife? (Alpha!) and I won the prize.

But I’ve been to the House before, and I’d rather give this wonderful experience to someone who hasn’t ever had the chance.

Here it is — the First Official Jazz Lives Louis Armstrong Contest.

To win this ticket (good until January 1, 2010) write me no more than 500 words on what your favorite Louis Armstrong recordings are.  I will post the comments.  Entries will be judged on their originality and perceptiveness, as always.  The contest will end on Friday, March 27, at midnight.  And, of course, all entries become the property of the Management, whatever that means.

Seriously, I would like to hear from people who have never been to the House but love Louis.  And if you live in Colorado or Oaxaca, you might have to convince me that you actually are going to visit New York City before next January.

Let the fun begin!

RAY SKJELBRED’S GOT IT!

But we’ve known this for a long time.

I first heard Ray on recordings by a gratifyingly loose group called Berkeley Rhythm (sent to me by my friend and mentor John L. Fell) and then I bought some sessions he was on — one in particular was a duet session with cornetist Jim Goodwin, “Takin’ A Chance on Love,” whose cover featured poker-playing, cigar-smoking dogs.  Then I found compact discs by Ray as a member of Hal Smith’s Roadrunners (a wondrous group also featuring Becky Kilgore and clarinetist Bobby Gordon).

Ray is a stomping pianist in the style of Joe Sullivan, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, and Frank Melrose — with many delightful idiosyncracies throughout in repertoire and approach.  I was delighted to see that “SFRaeAnn” had captured Ray at Pier 23 and put some performances on YouTube so that East Coast types like myself didn’t feel so deprived.  Cheers and thanks and more!

In this style, it takes a player of a certain sensitivity and steadiness to resist the temptation to play everything fast and loud.  Here, Ray explores William H. Tyers’s “Panama”: the even tread of his swing is something to savor!

Here he plays “a mystery tune,” whose chord changes will reveal themselves to my wise readers (and Ray gives us the answer at the end, rather than cause despair and deprivation):

A duet for solo piano?  The Ellington-Blanton “Pitter Panther Patter,” reimagined as it would have been on Chicago’s South Side circa 1933:

In these more recent clips, the audience commentary is more audible than is ideal, but I thought I would share Ray’s tender version of a song that both Louis and Bird loved, “The Gypsy” — with a Stacy tremolo here and there:

Finally, a rocking “Basin Street Blues,” worthy of the piano masters:

Thank you, Ray, for keeping the flame so nobly — and thanks, too, to “SFRaeAnn” for her recording and posting skills and generosities.

LESLIE JOHNSON AND THE MISSISSIPPI RAG

This afternoon, I got an email from Jody Hughes, Leslie’s sister, announcing a jazz memorial to be held on March 22, 2009.  I won’t be in the vicinity, but some of my readers might.  Here are the details:

It will be held at the Mainstreet Bar and Grill from 4-8 PM, which is located at 814 Mainstreet, Hopkins (which I assume is in Minnesota): 952-938-2400 is the phone number, www.mainstreetbar.com, the website.  There will be no cover charge, but donations to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic are encouraged.  Of course there will be music: from Butch Thompson, the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band, the Pig’s Eye Jass Band, Doug Haining and the Twin Cities Seven, and the Mouldy Figs.  Maryann Sullivan, who hosts “Corner Jazz” on KBEM Radio, JAZZ88-FM, will host this event.

Jody adds: “Currently the future of the RAG website is undecided.  We are in the process of going through everything in the office, which we expect to take some time.  Please check the website in late May for information about RAG’s future.”  That website is, of course, www.mississippirag.com.

Leslie gave so much to the jazz that she loved; it’s only fitting that she be honored to its strains.

LOUIS ROUTS DEATH

I don’t know what viewers will see in this clip from the 1936 Bing Crosby musical PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, which gave Louis his first starring role in a full-length motion picture.  Some may find it offensive, demeaning.  After all, the premise of this dramatization of “The Skeleton in the Closet” is racist.  Colored folks, everyone knew back then, were frightened to death of spooks.

But I see Louis the peerless actor, storyteller, comedian, also the man who was a great dancer.  And that masked drummer, young Lionel Hampton, is swinging heroically. 

But when Louis blows his mighty horn and chases that skeleton back to the graveyard, I see a man vanquishing death.  Not only for himself, but for all of us.  What we love and what we create lives on.

KEEP THE HEAT IN IT!

But sweeten it . . . !

If you need something to cheer you up, or you are already cheerful, watch the Silver Shadows, male and female, strut and wiggle.  It’s not hard to see how much fun they are having, is it? 

I first met Naomi Uyama at Banjo Jim’s, when she had come up from her Washington, D.C. home to be one of Tamar Korn’s Boswell Sisters.  (I didn’t ask whether she aspired to be Vet or Martha, but perhaps that question would have been impudent.)  And now I find out that she is a champion Lindy Hop dancer as well. 

Visit www.naomiuyama.com for more delightful information.

YEARS GONE BY

Here are two of William P. Gottlieb’s less known but highly evocative photographs from the collection now held by the Library of Congress.  First, a wonderful trio — three musicians who never found themselves in a recording studio, although the pianist and clarinetist joined forces, however briefly, for a famous and elusive 1936 radio broadcast called “A Demonstration of Swing.”  Here they are, circa 1939, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. — Joe Marsala, Zutty Singleton, and Teddy Wilson:

marsala-teddy-zutty-np-club-dc-40-wp-gottlieb

And this must have been a very sedate night at Jimmy Ryan’s in 1947 — featuring Hot Lips Page, J. C. Higginbotham, Bud Freeman, and Freddie Moore, with — no doubt — other stomping compatriots out of the range of the photograph.  Moore looks atypically somber, but I am sure that he was alone in that regard: 

lips-bud-higgy-f-moore-ryans-47-wpgottlieb