Monthly Archives: October 2009

CHARLES PETERSON’S GENEROUS ART, 1942

The photographs Charles Peterson took offer magic windows into places and emotions we would otherwise never experience.  Here’s what he captured on a truly magical afternoon in 1942, shared with us through the generosity of his son, Don.

It’s a jam session — hardly unusual for Peterson — but this is no ordinary gathering.

This jam session didn’t take place at some smoky Fifty-Second Street club or a hotel ballroom, but at the Walt Whitman School where Don was a fifth-grade student.  Whitman was an extremely forward-looking school, whose students got to see foreign films, adventurous art, and more.  So when Charles Peterson suggested that some of his musician friends might come down and play for the kids, none of the administrators raised a worried eyebrow.

Peterson, I assume, had more than one motive — staging a jam session with the finest musicians he knew would bring pleasure to everyone, and the photographs that resulted might very well be charming enough (Hot Jazz in the Schoolroom; Hot Jazz Goes to School) that a major magazine would want to buy them.  Hot jazz, good publicity for the musicians, possibly a paying gig for the photographer.  Considering that Eddie Condon and friends — including Joe Sullivan and Pee Wee Russell, depicted below — were also playing odd daytime gigs in Lord and Taylor’s for the holiday shoppers, any way to let people know about the gospel of Hot would have been welcome.

I’m sure that Peterson asked his friend Eddie to get the musicians together.  And it’s a tribute to how much these men would have looked forward to playing alongside one another that they woke up early for a non-paying gig, no drinks and nothing to smoke in sight.  For the kiddies!

To begin: Max Kaminsky, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, perhaps a group Condon had assembled for nighttime work at Nick’s in Greenwich Village:

image0000010A_010

The band first: Sullivan is poised to launch a powerful right-hand chord, perhaps one of his ringing, thunderous octaves; Zutty is bent attentively over the cymbal, his face both serious and contented.  Pee Wee is, for once, not caught in brave-explorer anguish.  Kaminsky is watching Gowans, who is intent, and Condon is gleefully vocalizing (exhorting, encouraging) and grinning.  In fact, Condon looks even more gleeful than usual: his face looks cherubic, transported, the same age as the students!

Don pointed out — with amusement — the little boy on the left who is, for the moment, sorry that he has pushed his way into the front row, and is now holding his hands over his ears against the volume.

But there’s more here.  The settling is so atypical — to find these musicians in a large, well-ornamented room (note the plaster decorations on the wall) — is so far from the usual “night club” world of smoke and darkness, that it lends this photo a Magritte aura, as if two worlds have been superimposed on one another, peacefully but oddly.  The effect is intensified when we see those boys and girls, their school clothes all quite neat, except for one little boy in the rear who seems to have gotten the seat of his trousers dirty from his shoes.  Even from the rear, they look so beautifully-tended, as if they should be singing Christmas carols rather than hearing this band explore SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.

One other photographic digression.  I don’t know the speed of Peterson’s exposure, but think it might have been longer than we are accustomed to in this century.  So did he often opt to photograph the musicians when they were holding whole notes (or “footballs”) behind a soloist, expecting that they would be holding still?  I wonder.

Now to the full band.  If you asked Bobby Hackett if he would like to play his horn alongside his idol, he wouldn’t have had to think about his answer.  And when Louis had a choice (say, at the 1970 Newport Jazz Festival tribute to him which had what seemed like a dozen trumpeters ready to accompany him), he only wanted “little Bobby Hackett,” who found those “pretty notes,” every time.

image0000001A_001

This famous shot has sometimes been cropped because of its imperfections, such as the soft focus on Gowans and Hackett, and the lighting making Louis’s very sharp suit look just this side of garish.  But the overall effect suggests that Louis is divine or at least from another planet, and has brought his own luminescence with him — a jazz god who has decided to play at being a mortal for an afternoon.  And the viewer’s eye is inextricably drawn to the glowing bell of Louis’s horn — from whence all good things came.

(It is possible that the group shot below was taken before the close-up, but I trust my readers will not object excessively.)

image0000005A_005

Can you imagine the sound coming from that now-crowded bandstand?  Its embodiment is on the face of the smiling little girl, whose profile we see at the right.

image0000003A_003

I would draw your attention to four faces in this photograph.  Louis is hitting a high note or making a point with all the sincere dramatic eloquence he could command.  Head thrown back with emotion, his neck full of energy, his hand on his heart.  And he’s delightedly making the music, with the music, and wholly IN the music.  Look at how lovingly and happily Zutty’s face echoes Louis’s — they went all the way back and had been the best of friends two decades earlier.  Hackett might be taking a breath, but it looks as if he’s ready to laugh with pure joy — as if he can’t contain himself.  And here we see the grown-ups.  Because this was a program for the boys and girls, the adults had to stay off to the side, but I delight in the woman who is to the extreme left, her grin perilously broad, having the time of her life.  (And the older woman who is standing behind her is almost as transported.)

In the late Bob Hilbert’s biography of  Pee Wee Russell, I found this: “Another special date was a benefit at the “progressive” Walt Whitman School in New York in which the guest of honor was Louis Armstrong.  Louis jammed with the Condon band, but the trumpeter drew the line at singing the blues because, as he explained, the only ones he could remember were dirty and not fit for the kids.  For more than an hour, the band thrilled the students and an overflow crowd of adults as well” (141).

Maybe Louis reached back to 1936 and sang PENNIES FROM HEAVEN for the kids, with its optimistic message, or reminded them that “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you!”

This photograph, not irrelevantly, reaches forward to Nina Leen’s shots of Louis at the Eddie Condon Floor Show, telling the story of THE THREE BEARS to the children, and the famous shot of Louis in Corona, on the porch, with two little boys, one of whom is paying homage to his friend and idol with a plastic toy trumpet.  Maybe some jazz musicians are hard-pressed to be ideal parents, but Louis deserved a troop of children of his own.  Alas.

image0000004A_004

Speaking of children: during a break between numbers, we find Pee Wee as kindly uncle (his usual nature), perhaps responding to the little girl at the bottom right who is smiling).  Louis is holding court, telling a story — look at Hackett’s face!  Condon is watching everything.

But my attention is always drawn to the little girl in the front row who has turned her head and is clearly saying something defensive or offensive to the child near her.  Those of us who recall elementary school or have taught it know that expression well.  It’s trouble, and whether it’s “Sally stepped on my dress!” or “Make Timmy stop pulling my hair!”  It doesn’t bode well.  But chaos threatens only when the music isn’t playing.  Music hath charms, we know . . .

image0000006A_006

Harmony reigns over the land.  That same little girl is now transfixed by the sound of Louis’s horn, its bell less than two feet from her face.  She doesn’t need to clap her hands over her ears.  If she could have gotten closer, she would have, for she knows what she’s hearing!

None of the musicians in this photograph are alive (Max Kaminsky left us in 1994) and most of those boys and girls would be in their eighties now . . . but if any of them see these photographs, I would give a great deal to hear their memories of that afternoon.

As I’ve written, part of the essential charm of these photographs is that Peterson took his camera to places most of us never got to visit.  I wasn’t born in 1942, and if you count up the people in this room, perhaps fifty mortals were able to have this experience.  And it seems to me that the Walt Whitman School is no longer in existence.  So these photos are gifts to us, welcoming us into worlds now long gone.  But Peterson’s gift was also in what he saw and captured for us.  These are living examples of Peterson’s most generous art.

CHARLES PETERSON: HACKETT and RUSSELL

image0000007A_007To have the man you consider one of the greatest photographic artists capture your heroes at work and play . . . what could be better?

I am happy to present three of Charles Peterson’s on-the-spot portrait studies of Bobby Hackett and Pee Wee Russell in their native habitat.  Hackett met Russell when Bobby was quite young, and, much later, credited Pee Wee with “teaching him how to drink,” not the best lesson. 

But if you listen to their playing — captured on records for more than twenty-five years — they were busy teaching each other more salutary things.  Standing next to Russell on a bandstand would have been a joyously emboldening experience: “Here, kid, close your eyes and jump off.  Nothing to be afraid of!”  Pee Wee’s willingness to get himself into apparently impossible corners was always inspiring.  “What could possibly go wrong?”  And, for Russell, having Hackett nearby, that sound, those lovely melodies, that sensitivity to the harmonies, would have been soul-enhancing: “Listen to the beautiful chorus the kid just played!” 

The portrait above was taken at one of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s, January 19, 1941, and it presents another Ideal Moment in Time and Space that Peterson captured.  It’s possible that Brad Gowans (playing his “valide,” a combination slide / valve trombone of his own manufacture). Bobby, and Pee Wee are doing nothing more adventurous than holding whole notes behind someone else’s solo: they seem remarkably easy, effortless.  But that would have been enough for me. 

They all look so young.  And — adopting the slang of the period — spiffy.  Pee Wee’s crisp suit, folded pocket handkerchief; Brad’s bowtie; their hair, neatly slicked back.  Of course, the combination of Pee Wee’s height and the low ceiling — as well as the angle of Peterson’s shot — makes the three men seem too big for the room.  Which, in terms of their talent, was always true.

As always with Peterson’s work, I find the details I didn’t catch immediately are as enthralling as the big picture.  There’s another musician on the stand — a drummer I can’t immediately identify.  Is it Zutty Singleton?  He is hidden behind Gowans, both the man and the instrument, and less than half his face is visible.  But from what we can see, he is taking it all in, delighted. 

This photograph, with Eddie Condon’s taciturn caption, “TRIO,” appears in the irreplaceable EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, assembled and edited by Hank O’Neal — one of the many things we have to thank Mr. O’Neal for.

The next view comes from a rehearsal for a Commodore Records date a few years earlier — I believe in the rather claustrophoblic Brunswick studios.   (It seems that every studio of that time except for Victor’s Camden church and Columbia’s Liederkrantz Hall stifled both the sound and the musicians.  That so much stirring jazz was captured in such circumstances makes me agree with Norman Field who said, “Can you imagine what those guys sounded like live?”).  The recognizable figures are again Bobby and Pee Wee, with Bud Freeman to the right.  The man I didn’t recognize until Don Peterson identified him, second from left, is jazz enthusiast and amateur drummer Harry Ely.  This is a rehearsal rather than a jam session, so it’s possible that the three men are trying out chords for a background,  Russell and Freeman are intent, but Hackett is at his ease.  His shirt-sleeve is neatly rolled up (revealing his boyish, thin arm), he holds the horn casually.  Musicians dressed beautifully for recording sessions even when no photographers were present — their habit and custom! — thus the neckties and suspenders, the fresh white shirts. 

image0000008A_008

Here, again, the photograph can’t convey the sound these men made.  And if you were new to the art and had been handed the photograph, it would just seem reasonably antique: three men in archaic dress with instruments to their lips, a metal folding chair, its paint worn off in spots, in front.  But look at Ely’s face!   Head down, a mild smile, eyes closed to block off any visual distraction — although he never got to make a record, he is IN the music, serene and thrilled.

Finally, a photograph from one of the “Friday Club” sessions at the Park Lane Hotel, circa 1939, with an unusual lineup.

image0000009A_009

Of course, that’s Eddie Condon on the left, Hackett, Zutty Singleton at the drums, Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax, left-handed Mort Stuhlmaker at the bass, and the intrepid Mr. Russell on the far right.  Condon is exhorting as well as strumming, and everyone else is floating along (Dorsey watching Condon to see what will happen next). 

Pee Wee has struck out for the Territory, jazz’s Huckleberry Finn, and where he’s going is not only uncharted and exciting but the journey requires every bit of emotional and physical effort.  I can hear a Russell wail soaring above the other horns.  And — perhaps as a prefiguring? — Russell’s face, almost cavernous with the effort, is an unearthly echo-in-advance of the famously skeletal man in the hospital bed in 1951, when Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong came to comfort and solace him. 

After Russell’s death, Hackett wrote of his friend, “Pee Wee and I were very close friends for many years and what little musical knowledge I may have I owe plenty to him.  He was truly a great artist and a very honorable man.  His music will live forever, along with his wonderful spirit.  I’m sure we all miss him, but thank God he was here.”

I feel much the same way about Charles Peterson, who saw, recorded, and preserved marvels for us.

HOORAY FOR HANNA!

The singer Hanna Richardson is one of our hidden treasures — lightly swinging, earnest without being over-serious, matching her mood to the song.  I’ve most often heard her alongside bassist Phil Flanigan (her husband), guitarist Chris Flory, and others of equal stature.  Here she is, cheerfully sweeping away the potential angst of Billie Holiday’s FOOLIN’ MYSELF, accompanying herself adroitly on the tenor guitar, with the nifty piano playing of Patti Wicks to keep things slyly rocking.  A treat!  And I was informed of this YouTube clip by another rare and splendid singer, Melissa Collard.

As the waitperson says when (s)he sets your salad down in front of you, “Enjoy!”

GIFTS FROM AGUSTIN

Agustin Perez Gasco is the sole proprietor of the wondrous blog MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK.  Its website’s name, http://thereisjazzbeforetrane.blogspot.com., says a good deal about his ideological bent, one that I certainly share. 

I am convinced that Agustin is the sorcerer of jazz paper — newspaper clippings, old magazines, anything remotely connected with wood pulp and swing. But he’s outdone himself this time.  See this 1929 advertising flyer, which contains multitudes:

GraystoneGarden-Detroit-1929_06_25 a

First, I was astonished by LOU.  Louis himself referred to Luis Russell on recordings as “Lou,” but I can’t think of an example on record where someone calls him (Mr. Strong) anything but Dipper or Papa Dip or Satchelmouth or Louis (pronounced Lew-is, not Loo-ie).    I like “Ball Room,” too: perhaps the printer thought it was more high-class to make it into two words.  And that picture, so distant to us now, was a fairly recent one of the star (who would be in front of “America’s Greatest Broadcasting Orchestra,” suggesting of course that they were on the radio.  Acetates, anyone? 

GraystoneGarden-Detroit-1929_06_25 b

I hope that the letter from Carroll and Lou brought many thousand friends in!  And that everyone, uplifted by a man who was “rarin’ to go,” with a trumpet “too tight,” was ready to sing I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE — starting with the verse.

And, just when I was about to content myself with this “borrowing,” which I mean only to shine some light on Agustin’s noble works for those who might not know his blog, he came up with this one.

A scholarly study of Tommy Ladnier.  What?!

On his blog, I found out about this new book, published in a limited edition of 500 copies by two French jazz scholars — TRAVELING BLUES — devoted to the little-known but eloquent and short-lived trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, someone who recorded with Ida Cox, Lovie Austin, Sidney Bechet, and other luminaries.  Visit  http://www.jazzedit.org/Traveling-blues.html for details.  The book looks remarkably detailed; it can be purchased with a CD that contains (in mp3) form all of Ladnier’s 189 recordings.  It’s a delight that Ladnier should be so splendidly celebrated: he was a great, thoughtful player with deep feeling.  I’ll have more to say about this enterprise when my copy arrives!

THANK YOU, Agustin!

STUDYIN’ LOUIS

I’ve given up on academic conferences — but this is one I can recommend, not only for its Exalted Subject, but for the Presenters.  And it’s free / open to the public, too:

Louis

LOUIS ARMSTRONG SYMPOSIUM, November 21, 2009   9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, at the College of Staten Island (CUNY: City University of New York), 2800 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, New York 10314 (609.936.3719).

On Saturday, November 21, 2009, a gathering of jazz scholars will present their research on various facets of Louis Armstrong’s life and music at CUNY’s College of Staten Island.  The event will take place from 9 AM to 5 PM in Building 1P, Room 120, the Recital Hall of CSI’s Center for the Arts.  It is open to the public and admission is free of charge.  However, due to limited seating capacity, advance reservation is strongly suggested.

To make reservations and for more information, contact William R. Bauer at: 718-982-2534, or at thearmstrongsymposium@gmail.com.  For those who will drive, parking will be available in Lots 1 and 2. For directions to the College of Staten Island, visit the college website (click on prospective students and then on visit our campus): <http://www.csi.cuny.edu/prospectivestudents/visit.html>.  For a campus map, go to: <http://www.csi.cuny.edu/prospectivestudents/maps.html>

The Louis Armstrong Symposium will feature a keynote address by Dan Morgenstern, jazz historian, author, editor, archivist, current Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies, and former chief editor of Down Beat.  Presenters include Ricky Riccardi, Michael Cogswell, John Szwed, James Leach, William R. Bauer, and Jeffrey Taylor.  In morning and afternoon sessions, each presenter will offer a distinct perspective on his subject.  Each session will be followed by an open-ended panel discussion and question-and-answer session that will elaborate on themes that emerged during the talks.  A conceptual jam session for jazz scholars, this format will give scholars and audience members alike a forum for in-depth discussion about Louis Armstrong’s musical and cultural legacy.

Ricky Riccardi, whose book about Louis Armstrong’s later years will be published in 2010, will use Armstrong’s renditions of “Back Home Again in Indiana” to challenge the negative critical reception that the trumpeter often received during the latter part of his career.

Michael Cogswell, Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and curator of the Louis Armstrong Archive at Queens College’s Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, will share and discuss samples from Armstrong’s vast collection of LPs and 78s.

John Szwed, Professor of Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University and John M. Musser Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale University, will explore Armstrong’s role in Orson Welles’s unfinished movie The Story of Jazz, and in other projects the filmmaker was working on in 1941.

James Leach, who teaches jazz history and theory at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, will focus on Armstrong’s vocal and instrumental renditions of the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Stardust” to set in relief Armstrong’s approach to singing and trumpet playing.

William R. Bauer, from the College of Staten Island and CUNY Graduate Center faculties, will present research from his current book project, an investigation into the jazz vocal techniques Armstrong used in his early recordings.

Jeffrey Taylor, Director of the H. Wiley Hitchcock Institute for Studies in American Music and Professor of Music at Brooklyn College, who also teaches in the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Music and its American Studies Certificate Program, will consider the impact of various pianists on Armstrong’s work during the trumpeter’s Chicago years in the 1920s.

The scholarship presented at this symposium will both deepen and expand our understanding of this giant of twentieth-century music.  The Louis Armstrong Symposium is produced with funding from the CUNY Research Foundation, and with support from the College of Staten Island and the Center for the Arts.

PERFECT!

The Perfect image (1932) below is a generous gift from Rob Rothberg, who has a collection that Philip Larkin would envy and a sensibility that Larkin would (at least in its more historical moments) share.  

rhythmakers

This label always cheers me, because of the two figures (Arabic?  Indian?  Pre-Colombian?) at top who seem to be kneeling reverently, genuflecting if you will, to the shrine of Hot Jazz and Pop Music of the time.  Or they may well be worshipping Electricity.  I am also amused to find the title slightly elided or truncated: it was either I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU or I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, perhaps depending on the sincerity of the singer at the moment — but the ARC people had only so much space available on the label.  So be it.  A great song, courtesy of the under-praised Claude Hopkins and the far less-acknowledged Alex Hill.  Bob Williams was, I believe, a trumpeter in Hopkins’ band. 

Does anyone know the verse?

HOT JAZZ: FOR PHILIP LARKIN

The poet and acerbic jazz lover Philip Larkin wrote in ALL WHAT JAZZ (his collected jazz criticism) that he had spent his life waiting for a reissue of the 1932 sides issued under various permutations — mostly THE RHYTHMAKERS — featuring Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Frank Froeba, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon, Al Morgan, Pops Foster, Zutty Singleton, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Tommy Dorsey, and unique vocalizing by Billy Banks (also Chick Bullock and, happily, Allen himself). 

Having referred to this music in a previous post (FINE FIG JAM) I felt duty-bound to explore the web . . . these records have been in and out of circulation for eighty years now, in a variety of forms.  My CD, on the Collector’s Classics label, has the distinct advantage of being taken from original 78s remastered by my hero John R.T. Davies — but it was issued in 1992!  So, in the name of doing public service, I offer two YouTube clips of the RHYTHMAKERS.  Before you fall over in a faint, there’s no motion picture attached.  That may have to wait for the next life, I fear.  What the generous poster, who calls himself “formiggini,” has provided, is a slideshow of the participating musicians and a good transfer from a mint-copy CD.  Larkin, no doubt, would have had scathing things to say about a world where we could no longer hear records without going to the computer, but I worried that there might be someone in my audience who had never ever heard the fiery interplay of BUGLE CALL RAG (which features Allen, Russell, Sullivan, Condon, Bland, Morgan, Krupa, and Banks) and SPIDER CRAWL (Singleton on drums). 

Larkin thought all of jazz had declined from this point.  I can’t quite agree, but it surely is the apex of a particular kind of rare, cherished Hot Music.

BUGLE CALL RAG:

SPIDER CRAWL:

And if anyone needs a scholarly explication of the lyrics, I will happily provide one,

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.  

PETRA and ANDY REWARD US

One of the many pleasures of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua was hearing Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown perform in front of a live audience, and I think the performance clips I’ve posted are solid evidence of their talents.  I was hoping that the duo’s new CD would provide the same experience.  Sometimes, of course, magic dissolves in the recording studio amid attempts to make recordings flawless.     

But I need not have worried.  Petra and Andy’s new CD is splendid.

cdcover-faraway_400 

Where to begin?  (Once we’ve taken in the picture of the happy good-looking couple above . . . )  The songs on the CD are DESTINATION MOON, FAR AWAY PLACES, FROM THIS MOMENT ON, I’LL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU, CARAVAN, BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES, LET’S DO IT, BIM BOM (a solo for Andy), A COTTAGE FOR SALE, HOW LITTLE WE KNOW, INVITATION, ME MYSELF AND I, WITH A SONG IN MY HEART. 

That song list speaks to a wide-ranging and discerning knowledge of the great songs of the last eighty or so years, a delight in itself: Porter, Ellington, Robison, Rodgers, and some delightful oddities.  I know, for instance, that DESTINATION MOON is attached to a film of the same name and it even appears on a Lester Young live date c. 1950, but how many people have ever recorded it?  (If you don’t know the song, imagine IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE updated to the era of fantasy rocket travel.)  And BORN TO BLOW THE BLUES is associated with Marilyn Moore — but I haven’t heard it in ages.  But this CD isn’t a high-toned musical archeology lesson, either.

Andy Brown, first: barring a half-dozen I admire, most jazz guitarists have become entranced, Narcissus staring at their own reflection in the shiny body of the Gibson or Macaferri, with the endless possibilities of their own technique.  (You could blame Charlie Parker or Jimi Hendrix for this, but we’re here to celebrate.)  So the notes pour out in what sound like endless streams; the fingers fly.  Few guitarists seem to understand the value of space, of breathing pauses, of logical solo construction — with music delivered at an intelligible rate.  Andy could cover the fingerboard, digits a blur, if he chose to.  But he knows better.  So his playing unfolds beautifully in its own song, no matter what tempo or what chords.  He loves melody; he can swing any band several steps closer to Heaven with his chordal strum, and he is an absolutely flawless team-player, never fixated on the limelight.  Accompanying a singer isn’t easy, either, but Andy is rather like a tactful, energized conversationalist at the party: he has things to tell us, he has comments to offer and support by the bucketful, but he never tries to outshine Petra.

And Petra?  The first thing I noticed about Petra (before I had heard her in person) was the focus she brought to her songs.  She isn’t one of these gospel whoopers; she hasn’t channelled Aretha or Billie; she isn’t a Broadway belter.  All to the good, let me assure you.  It means that she doesn’t overact, that she fits the word to the deed and the notes to the emotion, never smudging a lyric to appear hip, never landing in the wrong place.  She can romp very happily (her enunciation is flawless, even in fourth gear) and she has a speaking presence.  And before I had heard this CD, I would have praised Petra for avoiding the dramatic excesses I hear from so many singers.  But then I heard her version of A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and I was just about stunned by its great dramatic range, mixing ruefulness, poignancy, and loss — without overacting so much as a hair.  It was pure feeling, captured beautifully.  I might never hear that song sung so heartbreakingly again.      

Both Petra and Andy get first place in my imagined TALENT DESERVING COSMIC RECOGNITION category!  Check out their websites — www.petrasings.com., and www.andybrownguitar.com — to find out such useful information as “May I hear some audio clips?” and, following quickly,”How can I buy these CDs?”

cdcover_recession7_smPsst!  Want something for free?  Go to Petra’s site and you’ll be able to see many more clips of this duo and other combinations . . . and you can listen to a four-tune demo CD of Petra with her RECESSION SEVEN, which is a sort of well-behaved small swing band (think Eddie Condon – Lee Wiley – Teddy Wilson – Mildred Bailey) including legendary Chicagoans Kim Cusack and Russ Phillips.

RARE DISCS FOR SALE

I find it soothing to visit eBay on a regular basis to see what’s for sale and to muse about it. 

Our topic for today is 78 rpm jazz records, which used to be the only kind until the early Fifties.  I was somewhat overwhelmed the profusion of them on eBay — 1,183 items!  Of course, some of them had no business being in that category — a Dutch hand organ record, Clyde McCoy picture discs, records by Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat . . . but there were more than enough authentic jazz rarities to make my head spin.  Here are some remarkable ones:

78 1

The combination of the Gennett label and Earl Hines is a potent one.

78 3

When was the last time you saw a Jack Purvis 78 for sale?

78 6

Squirrel Ashcraft and the boys, when they were very youthful.

78 9

Eddie sang on this one and apologized later . . . but it has Tesch, Sullivan, and Krupa, too.

78 11

I think this is a song from an otherwise forgotten musical production; if memory serves, the other side is YOU HAVE MONEY, DON’T YOU? — a song title that doesn’t make my heart leap with anticipation.  I want to know what the record under this one is!

78 12

Early Barry Harris and Frank Foster in Detroit, on the NEW SONG label.

78 14

The other side of this Wardell Gray record is called THE TOUP, no kidding.

78 16

I believe, although perhaps incorrectly, that this record has an early Jess Stacy solo passage; at least he remembered playing with this band.  (The leader would say, “Are you ready, Kittens?”  And they would have to answer “Meow!”  The life of a working musician.)

78 Fats Japan

And finally . . . an eBay seller is offering a dozen Japanese Victor Fats Waller and his Rhythm records . . . for some exorbitant price.  Who knew that Fats had such a reputation in Japan?  Did that country enter the Second World War because they wanted Fats to play for them?  It’s a theory no one, as far as I know, has yet explored.

The larger social significance of this list might be summarized quickly.  78s are unplayable artifacts for almost everyone in this iPod era and they look like valuable antiques that will fetch pleasing prices.  But the economy has made many people look for things to sell that they would otherwise have held on to.  Better that these records get sold on eBay to enthusiasts who can play them, so the music doesn’t vanish entirely.  Who knows how many wonderful 78s get thrown out when collectors die?  “Provide, provide,” as Robert Frost wrote.

43-30 46th STREET

I find this photograph of this commemorative plaque in Sunnyside, Queens (a New York City suburb) sad but also glorious: sad that Bix Beiderbecke lived so short a life, and that the plaque marks the building in which he died . . . but glorious in that his sound and spirit continue to inspire both listeners and musicians. 

BixPlaqueNYT25Oct2009

Thanks to Albert Haim, patriarch and guiding spirit of the Bixography Forum, for sharing this with us, and for Dan Saltzstein, who took the photograph of the plaque for the New York Times.  And if the Times can break away from its contemplation of the present day, its failing ad revenues, and rumors of the death of print journalism to celebrate Bix — even in death — that’s a good thing.

A NIGHT AT THE EMBERS

b_cd022_bushstuff

Although I keep muttering to myself, “I really don’t like jazz violin all that much,” I find myself entranced by the new CD that the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett has just issued on his ABFable label.  It features about an hour of live jazz from the Embers night club — with pianist Joe Bushkin, violin wizard Stuff Smith, under-praised bassist Whitey Mitchell, and the irreplaceable Jo Jones.  In addition, there’s a fourteen-minute solo private tape of Stuff, solo, exploring some of his compositions, as “Sketches for a Symphony.”

Is it the rarity of the performances?  I admit that might initially be captivating — but if you gave me the most unknown / rarest music by someone whose work I couldn’t tolerate, I would listen for sixty seconds and take it off.  The music itself is splendid: Bushkin’s energetic playing (his characteristic arpeggios and ripples) never falters, and he seems to be having the time of his life, and his trumpet playing is much more convincing than I remember it as being.  (He must have been practicing!)  Stuff, although not featured throughout the hour, is in peak form, able to swing ferociously with the minimum of notes, possessed of true jazz passion.  Whitey Mitchell plays so well that he had me fooled: I would have sworn that Bushkin’s regular bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton, was there under an alias.  And then Jo Jones is in prime form, delighting in playing in this band.  He and Bushkin had a special rapport — I saw it once, years later, when they came into the midtown Eddie Condon’s and sat in with Ruby Braff and Milt Hinton for an extended, riotous YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY that became MOTEN SWING perhaps ten or twelve minutes later. 

But what captured me more than anything else was the intimacy of the two sessions presented here.  I was not attending jazz clubs in 1964, being too young, but the taping of the Embers session is done from the bandstand microphone (as far as I can tell) so we get all the musicians’ asides, the teasing, the inside jokes.  It has the feel of being part of the band — and part of a vanished scene, as when Bushkin ends the set by saying that they’ll be back at 2 AM, but they can be found at P.J. Clarke’s or The Strollers in the meantime.  And the private tape that Stuff made (for himself, or as a demonstration of themes for a larger work?) is entrancing because it is quite clearly a composer playing for himself: you can hear him breathe.  It’s a divine kind of eavesdropping on a Master. 

Barnett’s CDs have always been wonderful productions: the music is presented as clearly as the original sources allow, there are many rare photographs, the annotations are through without being stodgy. 

But wait!  There’s more!  Something to look forward to. . . .

b_cd024_lucidinThis one is scheduled for 2010.  Did you know that Stuff Smith had a radio gig (sponsored by an eye lotion, Lucidin) for which he assembled an all-star band, drawing on his own group and Chick Webb’s aggregation — including the youthful Ella Fitzgerald?  (An early broadcast for Lucidin had him leading a small combo with Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson, with vocals by Helen Ward.)  I’ve heard some of this music, and it is spectacular — the height of the Swing Era, I think.  So look for this next year!  For more information (and to order any of Barnett’s CDs and books), visit www.abar.net.  Even if you think you don’t like jazz violin!

ABFable discs are available in the United States from CADENCE — the honest Jazz journal: www.cadencebuilding.com.

LEON OAKLEY SMILES!

“RaeAnn Berry” is, I believe, what it says on her driver’s license — but for fans of Hot Music, she’s “SFRaeAnn,” and we owe her many thanks for the jazz she posts with unflagging regularity on YouTube.  She takes her camera down to Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park, California, to record a few performance by Clint Baker’s All-Stars, and every week I watch the clips with pleasure.  Two tiny mysteries always are a part of the experience: Clint is truly multi-instrumental and multi-talented, so I always wonder, “What instrument(s) will he be playing this week?”  And most sessions feature the wonderful work of trumpeter Leon Oakley.  But Leon always looks serious, pensive, even when he’s just played a beautiful impromptu creation.  I was beginning to wonder about his worldview, although no unhappy man could play so well.

Thus, it is with elation and relief that I post two clips from the All-Stars’ performances of October 23, 2009.  And, rather like the advertisements for early sound pictures that told us GARBO TALKS! — I report with pleasure that 1) Leon is playing splendidly, beyond splendidly, and 2) he grins now and again through these two performances.  You had me worried, my man!

The first performance is EXACTLY LIKE YOU — which Leon starts off with a melodic improvisation instead of a straight melody line — quite fetching — and things get hotter from then on!

Then, a rarely-played Twenties favorite, paying tribute to that kid from New Orleans, PAPA DIP.  Here, I delight in Clint’s directing of musical traffic during the breaks.  Good job!

The other All-Stars are having a good time, as always: Clint on clarinet; Katie Cavera, banjo and vocal; Robert Young, alto and tenor sax; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Reinhart, bass; Tom Wilson, guitar; J. Hansen, drums.  Visit Clint at: http://www.clintbakerjazz.com

THE SPIRITS OF RHYTHM

Spirits Alabamy

Spirits

Up until a few weeks ago, I would have sworn that the entire output of the Spirits of Rhythm — that gloriously hot (and sometimes silly) group — could have been contained on one CD of their 1933-41 recordings, including sessions with Ella Logan and Red McKenzie.

spirits 1Of course, there were other extras — Leo Watson’s one session for Decca, a later one for Signature (with Vic Dickenson), and a mid-Forties reunion of the group on the West Coast which resulted in four sides for the Black and White label.  Tangentially, Leo Watson appeared on a few Jubilee shows and once on a Rudy Vallee radio program, as well as recording with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw, but I thought the musical material was unbearably finite.

Spirits SWEETHEART

That was until I found “TOM TOM, THE ELEVATOR BOY” on YouTube and got to see the Spirits in action (the clip came from the otherwise-forgotten 1941 musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS).

And some more online research has just turned up that they appeared in two other films that year: ALABAMY BOUND and YES, INDEED!  Both musicals were directed by Dudley Murphy, the second with Josef Byrne (it seems to be a short subject with Dorothy Dandridge).  Something tells me that these weren’t big-budget mass-market productions, but perhaps productions aimed at the Black market, done in a hurry and on a minimal budget.  In fact, I have no assurance that the three films have different musical numbers.  And in 1942, the Spirits appeared in PANAMA HATTIE.

Spirits DeccaBut did you know that the 6 Spirits of Rhythm (including Teddy Bunn, Wilbur and Douglas Daniels, Leo Watson, Virgil Scoggins, and Ernest “Serious” Myers) appeared on Broadway from September 1935 to March 1936 — alongside Bea Lillie, Eleanor Powell, Ethel Waters, and Eddie Foy, Jr. in the Dietz-Schwartz musical AT HOME ABROAD?  Do I have any Broadway archivists among my readers?

At the top of the page is a still of Leo Watson from ALABAMY BOUND.  The world needs more film footage of Leo and Teddy Bunn.  Or, if you think that statement’s too sweeping, I do.

SITTIN’ IN . . .

About ten days ago, I was at a jazz club and found myself at the bar listening to two esteemed jazz players, whom I’ll call LOUIS and EARL, for purposes of discretion. 

Earl was telling us a story.  He had had a gig with three of the finest musicians he knows; things were going beautifully.  As the end of the night approached, a musician he knew only slightly came up to the stand, and said, “Hey, you guys sound great.  Can I sit in?”  Earl, somewhat unprepared for this, said warily, “OK.  What do you want to play?”  And the musician said, “You know, the only tune that I have in my head is _ _ _ _ _ _ (a simple-sounding but quite treacherous Monk composition).”  Earl was sure that the original musicians on the stand, experts all, could extemporize on it, so with some trepidation, he counted off the tempo and they began.  However, the guest star — and that appellation is ironic — couldn’t successfully negotiate the chord changes of the song he had chosen to play.  I’m not sure how much chaos ensued, but I assume that the musicians couldn’t wait for the particular song to be over.

The moral that came out of this incident, aside from a good deal of rueful head-shaking, grew into a small informal disquisition on the unstated rules of sittin’ in. 

One: If you have to ask, “Can I sit in?” or even “May I sit in?” you shouldn’t be there.  I don’t know if it resembles what they call “seeding” in tennis, but musicians of equal stature or good standing are invited to join the fun.   

Two: If you do make it up to the bandstand, through whatever means, it is bad form to call a weird tune in hopes of showing off your large and esoteric repertoire or your ethereal hipness.  Match your suggestion to the collective style of the musicians whose world you are temporarily joining.  Some groups move seamlessly from HIGH SOCIETY to ORNITHOLOGY, but they are few. 

Three: If you forget Two in the heat of the moment and the joy of sittin’ in, make sure that you know how to play the weird tune you yourself have suggested.  It is better to be the King of ALL OF ME than to mess up something more exotic.

Louis proposed his idea: he had always wanted to have a small card printed, a musical quiz.  “Want to sit in?  Then you won’t mind taking this little test, first.”  I proposed the first question: “What key is C JAM BLUES in?”  (I didn’t ask how he would prevent plagiarism, because I was so entranced by the image of a player taking the card back to a table in the club and perhaps filling in the circles with a #2 pencil.)

But then a thought occurred to me, and I asked these two veterans of many bandstands.  “How do you say to people, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want you to sit in with this band”?  And they looked somber, which made me think that many people get allowed up on bandstands who weren’t welcome there just because musicians hadn’t developed their polite refusals.

I proposed several that I thought were tactful — social falsehoods that wouldn’t be obviously rude: “You know, the owner doesn’t like having people sit in.”  And Louis chimed in, “Yes, I could always say the band was about to do something special this set, and sitting in wouldn’t work.”

But my creativity had been stirred, and I proceeded to suggest a few — possibly more dangerous — rejoinders for this delicate moment:

“I’d love to have you sit in, but I’ve just washed my hair / I have my period / I have a headache.”

“Boy!  What a great idea!  But, you know, it’s Shabbos / Ramadan / Lent, so tonight’s out.  Could you come back after sundown tomorrow / in a month / in ten days?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m lactose-intolerant, and my holistic healer says that letting people sit in is bad for my stomach acid.”  Or, “I’m so sorry, but my cardiologist says I can’t.”

“Sounds fine!  Let me just check with my psychic / financial advisor / interior decorator and see what (s)he thinks!”

If readers would like to suggest tactful versions of what musicians really want to say, which is “No.” “I don’t feel like it.” “No, you’d just screw it all up.”  “You know what?  I really dislike the way you play,” please let me know.  You will have done the jazz community a great favor.

SERIOUS PLAY (IN THE DARK)

I showed up at Roth’s (Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street) on the Upper West Side of Manhattan late last Friday night — October 23, 2009 — to capture a few numbers by that most telepathic duo of Jon-Erik Kellso and Ehud Asherie. 

Although the restaurant is moderately well-lit (as restaurants go), and you can see HIBISCUS COLLINS advertised on the blackboard, these videos take some getting used to, and my more discerning viewers might wish to pretend that their computer monitors have become floor-model console radios for the duration.  Or perhaps they could simply close their eyes and dream . . .    

The first number, I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER, often gets played too fast.  It’s really a love ballad — not exactly expressing grief, but some level of deprivation: “I’m going to write a letter to myself (pretending that it came from you) because you don’t write to me . . .” is a sad conceit.  When Fats Waller sang and played it, the mournfulness was undercut by his natural ebullience.  Ehud and Jon-Erik take it at a properly pensive tempo, musing along, floating through time, space, and the barlines in a manner that recalls Ruby Braff and Dick Hyman when those two monumental players got into a tender groove: 

Then, they finished the evening with the Arlen-Koehler BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA.  Jon and Ehud were particularly inspired, recalling early Roy Eldridge, venturing here and there, playing delightedly, tossing musical ideas at each other with great friendly style:

Music like this makes every kind of darkness disappear.

MORE FROM KECSKEMET

That Hungarian city is the site of the International Bohem Ragtime and Jazz Festival, and it must be a jumping metropolis, if these two new YouTube clips are evidence.  The first is a sweet, almost rueful take on SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART, with the festival organizer Tamas Itzes (now Doctor Itzes!) taking the violin solo and the vocal.  He’s surrounded by the best international jazz musicians here on March 29, 2009. Herbert Christ, trumpet; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Tamás Ittzés; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Ad van Beerendonk, bass; Nick Ward, drums. Even though the sound is slightly unbalanced in favor of the piano, the ambiance is late-night Chicago circa 1933.  Not to be missed!

And this is a first for JAZZ LIVES — a rocking performance of a Hungarian Jazz Age pop song, “EGY KICSIT ANGYAL LEGYEN, EGY KICSIT DEMON.” 

I found out that the title translates to “A LITTLE ANGEL,” and the lyrics, roughly speaking, go like this: A little angel, a little demon, be a little deceptive, a little true, be a little nice, a little thin, be a little clever, and beautiful!  Be a fairy house during the day, and exciting evening! Fortunately, such a woman could not be found!

Some of the idioms must get lost via Google: I can’t see myself whispering to the Beloved, “You are a fairy house during the day.”  But the ambiance needs no translation!  Nor do the solos and ensemble work by Tamás Bényei, trumpet, guitar, vocal; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Craig Flory, clarinet; Matthias Seuffert, tenor; Russ Phillips, trombone; Paolo Alderighi, piano; Stuart Zank, banjo; Ad van Beerendonk, bass; Nick Ward, drums.

And, as I’ve written before, the Bohém Festival was the first jazz festival ever being broadcast live on Internet. The broadcast had 30,000 online visitors throughout the weekend. For more information visit: www.bohemragtime.com.

ONE LAST LOOK, PERHAPS?

In the great stories, looking back over your shoulder is emotionally understandable.  But it often ends up badly.  Ask Eurydice; ask Lot’s wife. 

But I am having a hard time parting from my videos of the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua, so I thought I would post yet another set, recorded at 10:30 Sunday morning, undiscovered territory for most jazz musicians, nocturnal by occupation and habit.  Some of the players look unusually impassive, but even in the unaccustomed bright light, the set has an undeniable casual splendor.

On the stand were Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Bob Reitmeier, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Frank Tate, and Pete Siers — gathered together for a medium-fast one, a ballad medley, and a short romp through an ancient Good Old Good One.

Here they are, caught a few bars too late, into LINGER AWHILE, a song I always associate with the 1943 Dicky Wells recording featuring Bill Coleman, Lester Young, Ellis Larkins, Al Hall, and Jo Jones.  You’ll admire Pete’s splashing cymbal work, the neatness of Dan’s solo, Scott’s winding lyricism, and the way a hidden Andy comes from nowhere:

One of the highlights of Jazz at Chautauqua is the opening ballad medley, where just about everyone is asked to play one chorus at a slow tempo of a ballad — the musicians climb on and off the stand, the rhythm section learns at short notice that the next endeavor is, say, SKYLARK in F, and everyone handles it magnificently.  (It’s so much more rewarding than asking everyone to play BODY AND SOUL for twenty minutes.)  Duke decided to repeat this treat in miniature, beginning with his own MEMORIES OF YOU, followed by Bob playing STARDUST, Scott weaving his way through PRELUDE TO A KISS, Andy recalling Willard Robison on OLD FOLKS, and Dan Barrett bringing everyone together to intone IF I HAD YOU.  But the bad news is that YouTube wouldn’t let me post it: it ran longer than ten minutes.  Grrrr.  But here’s some consolation — an ideal get-off-the-stage performance, a brisk CHINA BOY, compact and hot:

How many days is it till Jazz at Chautauqua 2010?

DO THAT THING!

I’m always slightly dubious about “all-star” groups, for occasionally these assemblages of stellar soloists aren’t the most cohesive bands.  These performances can become a string of solos on over-familiar material. 

Not so at the International Bohem Ragtime and Jazz Festival, obviously.  Here are two delightful videos, just posted on YouTube, of two groups of international all-stars, producing very rewarding jazz at the 2009 festival.  Incidentally, even though these songs are from the last century, the Bohem Festival is as technologically sophisticated as anyone could wish — imaginative camera work here and the 2009 bash was the first jazz festival ever broadcast live on the internet, with 30,000 online visitors during the weekend. 

The first group features Matthias Seuffert on clarinet, Attila Korb on trombone and vocal, Herbert Christ on trumpet, on trombone and vocal, Paolo Alderighi on piano, Tamas Benyei on guitar, Ad van Beerendonk on bass, and Nick Ward on drums.  Without copying the Waller record, they get into a surging yet relaxed groove on LULU’S BACK IN TOWN — that last bridge, featuring Matthias and Nick, is priceless!  Some of the pleasure of watching / listening to this is, of course, finding more material by my heroes in top form — but there’s a deeper pleasure in meeting players previously unknown to me and savoring their mastery. 

Another, entirely different group, featuring Bria Skonberg on trumpet, Russ Phillips on trombone, Craig Flory, reeds, Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Stuart Zank, banjo, Janos Mazura, tuba, and Jeff Hamilton on drums, rocks through BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GAVE TO ME — with perfectly-played riffs at the end.     

In 2010, two festivals will take place in Hungary, with world-class players.  Start making plans!  For more information visit: www.bohemragtime.com.  (DVD’s are also available.)

SIGN IN, PLEASE

At the risk of turning JAZZ LIVES into a blog wholly devoted to jazz “paper ephemera,” I have to make sure my readers see this — again on eBay.  The heading is “AMAZING COLLECTION OF JAZZ BAND MUSICIANS AUTOGRAPHS,” and this, for once, is correct — 290 autographs, with pictures and clippings: a Swing Era dream scrapbook with so many famous (and lesser-known) signatures that I was astonished.  How about Irving Fazola, Vic Dickenson, “Joe Jones,” Stan Kenton, members of every band you can think of?  I just hope the purchaser doesn’t lock it away in a dark room forever. 

The link (to see the collection below made visible through generous enlargement of the images) is http://cgi.ebay.com/AMAZING-COLLECTION-of-JAZZ-BAND-MUSICIANS-AUTOGRAPHS_W0QQitemZ180422145256QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item2a01ff74e8.  AMAZING it is. 

And its source?  Here’s what the eBay seller says (slightly edited, and with some spelling corrections):

This is by far the largest collection of vintage original Jazz autographs to have been offered on Ebay. The collection has over 290 autographs from various Jazz musicians, singers, actors, actresses etc. The collection came from an estate in Massachusetts. The man (Nick Kirikos) who collected these autographs was a Jazz musician and composer himself. He was a Jazz trumpet player in the 1930’s & 40’s. He obtained all of these autographs himself and can be seen in a photo (included) with Gene Krupa. He put them in a photo album as shown along with some loose signatures as well. Every important artist in Jazz history is in this book. There are some multiple signatures from different artists. The collection also has some actors and actresses signatures along with letters from Joan Valerie & Mari Grey. Here is a list of some of the names we can make out:

Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller, Marion Hutton, Ella Fitzgerald, Ziggy Elman, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Ray Eberle, Clyde Hurley, Bob Crosby, Dizay Gillespie, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Gil Rodin, John Best, Jimmy Lunceford, Joe Kearns, Joe Sullivan, Irving Fazola, Warren Smith, Jimmy Crawford, Earl Caruthers, Chris Griffin, Bruce Squires, Toots Mondello, Hymie Shertzer, Mickey McMickle, Billy Butterfield, Ted Buckner, Austin Brown, Billie Smith, Russell Boles, Sy Oliver, Eddie Durham, Elmer Crumbley, Paul Webster, Al Norris, Moses Allen, Jimmy Young, Eddie Tompkins, Joe Thomas, Gerald Wilson, Herb Tompkins, Bob Eberly, Helen O’Connell, Jimmy Dorsey, Milt Yaner, Corky Cornelius, Roy Cameron, Al Sherman, Count Basie, Dave Matthews, Al Killian, Jimmy Blake, Mal Hallett, Clark Yocum, Andy Anderson, Midge Williams, Joe Garland, Lee Blair, Sidney Catlett, Gigi Bohn, Teddy Wilson, Pete Clark, Earl Hines, Al Casey, Floyd Brady, Jimmy Campbell, J. C. Heard, Harry Rodgers, Dominick Buono, Rudy Powell, Janet Gilbert, Gus Devito, Monte Green, Cozy Cole, Louis Bellson, Al Sears, Robert Scott, Lynn Gardner, Woody Kessler, Pee Wee Hunt, Richard Gilbert, Ted Toll, Paul Rendarvis, Harry Carr, Charles Atlas, Peggy Mann, Cab Calloway, Chu Berry, Frank Carlson, Woody Herman, Joan Valerie, The Andrew Sisters, The Four Ink Spots, Shady Nelson, Mary Lou Williams, Andy Kirk, Frankie Masters, Sonny Greer, Fletcher Henderson, George Hall, Phyllis Myles, Terry Allen, Ray Nance, Ida James, Teddy Grace, Dolly Dawn, and many many more.  allautographs

THE LION SENDS HIS LOVE

Once again, eBay amazes.  This time it’s an autographed program from the 1966 “Newport Jazz Festival in Europe,” held in Rotterdam.  The elaborate program here is signed by Illinois Jacquet, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Astrud Gilberto.  But this page warmed my heart:

LION

The listing can be found at http://cgi.ebay.com/1966-NEWPORT-JAZZ-Fst-Program-w-many-AUTOGRAPHS-RARE_W0QQitemZ280410156044QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item4149bf6c0c.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: JON-ERIK LEADS THE BAND (Sept. 2009)

Over the past five years, Jon-Erik Kellso is the musician I’ve had the most frequent opportunities to observe and appreciate.  And I keep coming back for more: he doesn’t run out of things to say; he doesn’t fall back on prepared solos; he takes risks; he balances technique and emotion, individuality and tradition superbly.  When he gets into what he calls “his happy place,” he has no equals!

So I offer this version of a rarely-played Twenties pop tune, DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (a memorable question for sure) that he played at Jazz at Chautauqua this last September.  His colleagues for this session were James Dapogny, Vince Giordano, and Arnie Kinsella in the rhythm section, with Dan Block, Bob Havens, and Bob Reitmeier in the front line.

In anyone else’s hands, a set-closer at this tempo (and with seventy or so years of performance convention behind it) would be simple and not always subtle: a rocketing tempo, a long drum solo, and horn solos without much support from the band.  You’ve all seen such performances: Fast becomes Faster and the soloists are left on their own while the front line waits its turn off to the side.  Not so here.  Jon-Erik learned a great deal about leading an ensemble from the Master, Ruby Braff, who knew how to keep monotony at bay.  Without pushing anyone around, Jon knows how to lead an ensemble.  So, in this performance, he wisely extends the opening ensemble chorus into a second one (honoring New Orleans traditions all the way up to the present — why let the emotional temperature drop?).  And while the wonderful rhythm section is cooking away, Jon motions to the horns who aren’t soloing to play “footballs,” whole-note harmonies, musical and emotional choirs giving strength to the band.  His own solo (which plays with a phrase from Bob Reitmeier’s outing) gets a well-deserved thumbs-up.

And everyone floats on the momentum: Dapogny takes risks that come off; Vince Giordano and Arnie Kinsella exchange comments, witty and thunderous, becoming the twentieth-century version of Milt Hinton and Jo Jones — which leads to the closing ensemble.  Thinking orchestrally, Jon-Erik guides the horns into a soft passage (you have to play softly to shout it out at the end) and we romp home.  Even the still photographer in the plaid shirt, who sweetly yet obliviously blocked my view, couldn’t stifle my joy.  Or ours, I trust.

Swing, you cats!