Daily Archives: October 1, 2009


Lee Wiley

It happened at Jazz at Chautauqua. 

I was idling around the tables of compact discs when I heard a woman say to someone else, “Yes, I saw Lee Wiley.” 

I waited for a discreet interval and went over to the woman — and after apologizing for eavesdropping, asked her to tell all.  It’s a brief story.  She was meeting friends for a drink in Newark, New Jersey, about 1953-54, and they had agreed to meet at a swanky Chinese restaurant called “The Hour-Glass.”  A woman was at the piano, playing, and she sang a few songs.  That was Lee Wiley. 

I grilled my Chautauqua informant a bit.  How did she know the woman was Lee Wiley?  Well, she thought there had been a sign on the piano.  I said, “I didn’t know Lee played the piano,” to which the woman said that Lee did, at least on this occasion.  She didn’t recall much more, except that she loves the sound of Wiley’s voice and was sure the woman was Lee. 

It didn’t have the ring of invention, and my Chautauqua friend (whose name is Mary) sounded sincere, enthusiastic, and clear-headed.  Can anyone explain?

A second chorus: while searching online for a new picture to illustrate this post, I found the lovely portrait above, and it led me to a site called “People vs. Dr. Chilledair,” http://people-vs-drchilledair.blogspot.com/ which has posted the Japanese documentary I referred to in an earlier Wiley posting — about a young Japanese actress / singer who searches for people who knew her beloved Miss Wiley in America.  One posting is from February 10, 2008, called “My Lee Wiley” (http://people-vs-drchilledair.blogspot.com/2008/02/my-lee-wiley.html) and a four more postings follow — I gather Bill Reed, the writer and creator of the blog, has made it possible to see the entire documentary.  Bravo!


cassetteOf late I have been living in a temporary self-created chaos, attempting to pare down a surfeit of possessions from my apartment.  Today I opened a closet and decided to move a stack of four wooden crates containing about a thousand cassette tapes collected and traded over the past twenty-five years.  Drawn irresistibly to their labeled spines, I thought, “My God, there’s so much music here that I haven’t heard in years — and would delight in — that I really should dig out a half-dozen and enjoy them.”  The cassettes, as well, brought back memories of years of tape-trading with generous collectors, including Bill Coverdale, John L. Fell, Bob Hilbert, Manfred Selchow, Tom Hustad, David Goldin, and a dozen more. 

So this morning, I was driving into Manhattan, exulting in an hour of rare Don Byas (with John Mehegan, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, and perhaps Lem Davis on alto) — including rehearsal versions of INDIANA and I GOT RHYTHM, preliminary to the famous Byas – Slam duets at Town Hall in 1945.  These acetates, by the way, were recorded by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz in his apartment.     

The music pleased me more than I had expected, so I have resolved: the cassettes are coming out into the open, where I can play them (the space in the closet will be filled, easily) and rather than be tempted to buy the first new jazz compact disc that winks at me, I will rediscover some of these treasures.  Not, mind you, as an exercise in asceticism or frugality, but as another way to pleasure.  At this stage of my life, I am not prepared to swear off new compact discs.  I am also not organized sufficiently to have an official rediscovery every day, but since my car still has a cassette deck, these old-time artifacts can enlighten and elevate me during my commute. 

What awaits me?  Lee Wiley.  Louis with Gordon Jenkins on television from 1952, on-location recordings from the Nice Festivals of 1974-5, and more. 

I urge my readers to revisit those treasures they haven’t played in years — whether the stash is under the bed, in the basement, or simply on high shelves.  And if the collection is fertile, you could almost close your eyes and pick “the fifth cassette from the left” and come up with a pleasant surprise.  If you come up with something you dislike, perhaps it means that the particular cassette isn’t worth saving.  Either way, you win. 

I’d vbe fascinated to hear from readers about what delights they find . . . .


textingI had an old-fashioned conversation with a jazz friend this afternoon.  “Old-fashioned” means that no electrical devices were used and we were within audible range of each other.  He passed along the newest evidence of the Decline of the West: when he goes to a club to hear a band playing in the idiom this blog celebrates, after the opening ensemble, one or more of the horn players in the front line opens his cellphone or his BlackBerry or iPhone and starts texting.  Someone plays a solo, puts the horn down, and texts someone else.  It certainly gives new meaning to the notion of “collective improvisation,” doesn’t it? 

“Geez, I missed the start of my solo on AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL because my girlfriend just texted me.  She’s on her way to the club.” 

What would Jelly Roll Morton say about that?