Monthly Archives: November 2009

“HOT” on SPRING STREET (Nov. 22, 2009)

Last Sunday at The Ear Inn, November 22, 2009, the compact, eloquent quartet — The Ear Regulars or the Earregulars, depending on what region you come from — performed two lovely Ralph Rainger ballads, PLEASE and WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE.   (In case you are new to this scene, The Ear Inn is at 326 Spring Street in Manhattan and the Sunday music goes from 8-11 PM.)

That quartet?  Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary.

But there was a good deal of exciting Hot being played that night as well.  “Hot,” as I don’t have to tell this audience, was the name of a certain kind of exciting improvisation when jazz was young.  It didn’t have to be fast or loud, but it did have to be focused, intense, rhythmic.  The Earregulars know how to GET HOT without raising their voices.   

After a brief discussion, Jon-Erik called “a good old New Orleans tune,” I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY — which I always remember in the version by the Capitol Jazzmen (1943) with Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Noone, Joe Sullivan, and even Billy May capably playing the jazz. 

This version was neither lachrymose nor apologetic: it was the musical equivalent of, “I’m really sorry.  I won’t do it again.   Have a Boddington?” 

Then, a wonderful pop / jazz tune (from Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer), TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS, which doesn’t get played enough, although both Lips Page and the elder Teagarden recorded it splendidly:

And, finally, a lengthy, driving SUNDAY — long enough to require two parts for YouTube, but attentive viewers will hear that Jon-Erik begins the second segment with a quotation from another song from the same era, MY MONDAY DATE.  Fun with calendars!

And the conclusion:

I’ve heard versions of this quartet before at The Ear, and have always come away deeply impressed.  The horns beautifully complement each other: Scott takes surprising, winding solos that balance Earl Bostic, Lester, and outer space, while Jon-Erik digs deep and always finds quietly impassioned things to say.  Matt shines in the darkness, whether he’s finding ringing single-note lines or rocking the band chordally, and Pat O’Leary keeps time so beautifully (no small feat) and plays eloquent, stirring lines.  At once, they sound like the entire history of swinging jazz AND like themselves — two simultaneous noble accomplishments.

WE’RE THANKFUL FOR TERRY WALDO (Nov. 2009)

Terry Waldo was a protege of Eubie Blake and continues to be a stomping pianist, an intriguing composer, singer, and bandleader.  Here are details of Terry’s upcoming gigs: welcome alternatives to holiday shopping!  

Banjo Jim’s

700 E. 9th St. & Ave. C

(212) 777-0869

http://www.banjojims.com/

Terry Waldo – Solo

Tuesday, November 24, 7:00 to 9:00PM

____________________

Smalls Jazz Club

183 W. 10th St. at 7th Ave.

http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/

Terry Waldo Gotham City All-Stars With Special Guest Performers:

Ruth Brisbane, legendary Blues and Jazz singer.

She Starred in the original Black & Blue and she has been on Broadway in a number of shows including The Wiz. She appears on several Waldo albums.  Joe Muranyi was Louis Armstrong’s clarinet player for many years.  Arnie Kinsella played drums on A Prairie Home Companion.

Saturday, November 28, 7:30 to 10:00 PM

______________________________

Waldo’s Gotham City Band:  Peter Ecklund, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Joe Muranyi, clarinet; Terry Waldo, piano; Andrew Hall, bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Fat Cat Billiards

75 Christopher St (Just West of 7th Ave.)

New York, NY 10014

(212) 675-6056

Sunday, November 29, 5:45 to 7:45

CHRIS DAWSON: STRIDE FOR CHRISTMAS!

Yesterday I received my copy of pianist Chris Dawson’s first solo CD, STRIDIN’ THROUGH CHRISTMAS, and it’s a wow.  But perhaps you’d like to read some expert testimony:

Let’s get my personal prejudices out of the way.  To me, “Christmas music” tends either to be religious or fairly limited pop hits.  But I calmed myself when I saw there were no versions of THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY or RUDOLF THE RED-NOSED REINDEER on this CD.  Dawson plays each selection as a new composition, exploring its improvisatory possibilities. 

Many CDs pall quickly because the artist or artists have one approach and sustain it through as many as twenty-five selections.  Not so here.  You will hear piano playing that’s sometimes rollicking, sometimes deeply sensitive . . . and Chris doesn’t take predictable paths. 

What’s loosely called “stride piano” has also come in for some rough handling from players who have only a superficial understanding of the idiom.  All it is, they think, is a steady left-hand pattern, rhythmically powerful, alternating low notes in the bass and a resounding chord . . . over and over, while the right hand does whatever it likes.  For many players, who may well be technically gifted, the result is rather like the ticking of a loud watch or the pounding of a machine.  Others model their playing on Fats Waller, which is fine in theory but not if it’s a matter of learning the eight or ten patented “Wallerisms” and sprinkling them liberally through every composition.  Stride, clearly athletic and virtuosic, also gets confused in some pianists’ minds with exhibitionism: faster, more percussive, louder, longer. 

Chris Dawson is someone who knows and has internalized the whole jazz piano tradition — forwards to Bill Evans, let us say, and backwards to the early James P. Johnson.  What you’ll hear on this disc is often delicate but never so ruminative as to become dull.  Most often, while listening, I thought of Chris as offering his own variations on three masters: Teddy Wilson, Dave McKenna, and Dick Hyman.  (And there are touches of Forties Johnny Guarneri in there, too — which is a high compliment.)  I hear the delicacy, strength, and vivid imagination that I associate with these three masters in every bar of this CD, and it’s not an archivist’s recreation, not jazz archaeology — but living improvised music.  He has a fine swing in his playing, but he is harmonically free, and at times the experienced jazz listener will marvel at the happy marriage of presumed opposites in his playing.  He can make something as melodically simple as SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN hilariously mobile, and I was moved by Chris’s tender explorations of SILENT NIGHT.  He’s accurate but never stiff; the performances don’t go on too long; the CD is wonderfully varied and the sound of the recording is delicious.     

To hear some samples, I would direct the reader back a few posts to: https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/17/an-early-christmas-present/.  Hear Chris stride through WE THREE KINGS, surely not the usual . . . .

Or, if you prefer soundbites: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ChrisDawson

To buy the CD: http://shop.astinmusic.com/

I think that you’ll still be playing this CD in February 2010 and onwards, when the house has returned to its normal state and the only reminder of the holiday is the credit card bills.

SINGING PRETTY SONGS at The Ear Inn (Nov. 22, 2009)

Jon-Erik Kellso already has a deep repertoire of songs, as listeners know.  I was especially delighted when he decided to add Ralph Rainger’s PLEASE to his list, which he did last Sunday night (November 22, 2009) at the Ear Inn.  The EarRegulars were an especially compatible quartet: Jon-Erik on trumpet, Matt Munisteri on guitar, Scott Robinson on tenor sax, and Pat O’Leary on bass. 

In the darkness, occasional clamor, and pedestrian traffic of the Ear, I managed to capture the first set.  I’ll save the medium and uptempo improvisations for a future post. 

But I want to share two beauties with my readers.  One is Jon-Erik’s tender reading of PLEASE, first muted, then open — singing pretty songs!  And listen to Matt and Pat, particularly eloquent at this tempo.   

Then, coincidentally, Scott had brought a lead sheet for another Rainger song associated with Bing Crosby: WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE, which he performed in a trio setting.  (Later, Scott reminded me that the version he was awed by was not Bing’s, but Ben Webster’s — on THE WARM MOODS Reprise recording, where Ben is surrounded by a small, perfectly attuned and limber string ensemble.)

It takes splendid technique and endurance to play many choruses at a fast tempo.  However, it takes a rare emotional and artistic maturity to play just a chorus or two of a lovely ballad.  As Lester Young is supposed to have said to Sonny Stitt, parading every lick he knew at a dazzling tempo, “That’s very nice, Lady Stitt.  But can you sing me a song?”

Hats off to Jon-Erik, Scott, Matt, and Pat — players who sing!

(Jon said that he and Matt envision a Bing-inspired evening in the future, including such rarities as SUSIANNA.  I’ll be there!)

Postscript: Here’s the link to an impressive video of Jon-Erik performing Henry “Red” Allen’s composition SINGING PRETTY SONGS with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz3BYzzy7HE

TEA WITH THE CARDS (Nov. 16, 2009)

As I’ve written, the downtown haunt Banjo Jim’s (Avenue C and 9th Street) in New York City offers the possibility for ecstatic musical experiences when the Cangelosi Cards take the floor.  Literally, it is the floor, since there is no demarcation between the audience, the dancers, and the band . . . which is perhaps as it should be. 

I visited the Cards one week ago at their Monday-night gig and captured their first exuberant performance of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA, featuring Tamar Korn, singing and percussive effects; Jake Sanders, guitar; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Matt Musselman, trombone; Marcus Milius, harmonica; Gordon Webster, piano; Cassidy Holden, bass.  No drums, none needed. 

I sat as close to the band as I could.  Although I’ve always approved of the synchronicity between the Cards and the dancers, this night — as the video shows — I had reason to feel imperiled by the substantial yet graceful, wildly swinging couple dancing.  I’m no swing-dance aficionado, so I wouldn’t presume to evaluate their performance, but they were so close to me that I feared a flying elbow or arcing sneaker.  Fortunately, I had room enough to cower in my seat, averting any collisions, but I hope my readers appreciate the raw courage my videography demands!  

What a marvel this band is — their effervescent swing, the jazz-battle that Matt and Dennis get into, and Tamar’s luminous voice floating above it all.  And all this on the first tune of the night!

The two still photographs — made eerie and lovely by the light at the rear of the bandstand — were taken before the Cards began to play.

“A PRINCE OF A GUY”

MARIANNE MANGAN REMEMBERS LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

A PRINCE OF A GUY

Prequel: After spending a wonderful week in Israel (during which time he had, curiously or presciently, found the spot where he wanted his cremated ashes scattered), Sam Parkins fell gravely ill. We lost him on November 18, 2009.

Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye
I Wish That I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
I’m A Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas
On the Alamo
These were the songs that Sam choose to play (and sing boisterously!) as solos over this last year or so since I met him. And what a Sam list it is: ebullient, eccentric, retro but vividly alive, audience-engaging, and-in the case of “On the Alamo”-very, very tender.

Sam’s musical artistry was all this. He played clarinet and tenor saxophone with a gutsy intensity that could blow right through you, but sometimes the yearning tore you in half instead. He worked professionally in idioms ranging from classical (his training) to post-swing to traditional (his heartbeat). This last year found him playing with musicians spanning 60 years in age, including regular appearances with the Gotham Jazzmen and Ronnie Washam & Friends and guesting with the Cangelosi Cards. Music never got old for Sam. There was always a new clarinet on the horizon.

And that wasn’t the half of it, either. The record business knew him as a first-rate producer for over 25 years, issuing albums of artists as diverse as Charles Ives to Cecil Taylor to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band-and in his humanistic way he championed them all. (He also won a European Grammy, 4 Grammy nominations and was praised by Gary Giddins in a recent online interview as a “solid, canny producer.”) He composed chorales of startling complexity with lyrics based on Biblical references. His engrossing, ever-evolving memoir and/or ebook chronicled the musical/political/social/historical/personal cataclysms and vagaries of the last three-quarters of a century in an emotive-intellectual-poetic style, Pauline Kael crossed with Dylan Thomas.

My husband, writer Robert Levin, and I came to know Sam through the NYC traditional jazz scene and he embraced us immediately. At one point, at his request, we’d hoped to work with him on his voluminous “Journey to Bohemia” project. As can happen, however, with 3 professional agendas, he wanted both too much and too little from us, and after a delightful but revealing dinner at his apartment we realized with heavy hearts that we would have to extricate ourselves from involvement. BUT: Not to worry, dear people, said he, let’s just be friends!

So Sam. It seems clear that this smart man was remarkably able to reconcile conflicting styles, eras, genres, desires, people, and get to the good part. He knew what to keep, and he had about a billion friends because of that. Also, because he LOVED them, and so many things. He loved riding his bicycle in Central Park. He loved his cats. He loved sharing nature photography. He loved his country. He missed his wife.

And it was so Sam of the life-affirming Mr. Parkins to die on vacation, seeing beautiful things, visiting dear friends, choosing where he wanted to Rest (but maybe not so soon). Goodbye tootsie goodbye, you ding dong daddy you–and may flights of angels…

R.I.P.  LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Postscript: the photograph of Sam was taken at the 2008 New Year’s Eve party at David Ostwald’s apartment.  David is to Sam’s left, Howard Alden and Joe Muranyi to his right.

SUNSET: LEROY “SAM” PARKINS

Leroy “Sam” Parkins, clarinetist, raconteur, and enthusiastic friend of this blog, died in Israel on November 18, 2009: he was 83. 

Sam loved beautiful photographs, so I offer this sunset, taken from a window on the Upper West Side, in his memory.

I am an unabashed jazz matchmaker: I tried to get Whitney Balliett to hear Kevin Dorn, but Whitney died before it could happen.  But I succeeded in getting Sam to jam with the Cangelosi Cards — only once, alas — but I captured a set with my Flip video camera. 

That was February 2, 2009, at Banjo Jim’s — and Sam had a wonderful time amidst Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Dennis Lichtman, Karl Meyer, Marcus Milius, Gordon Webster, and Cassidy Holden. 

Thank you, Sam, and farewell —

OH, “PLEASE”!

In honor of Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, Bing Crosby, Adam Keller, John Gill, and Jon-Erik Kellso — here is the sheet music for PLEASE.  It’s my dream to hear world-class jazz musicians, deep in Swing Romanticism, make this song their own.  Unfortunately, the folio doesn’t have the lyrics — but perhaps that enabled the Famous Music Corporation to publish eleven songs and photographs from Bing’s then-current films: THE BIG BROADCAST, COLLEGE HUMOR, and TOO MUCH HARMONY — for fifty cents.

I’d also like more people to know about Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin, who wrote the music and lyrics for PLEASE and many other irreplaceable songs.  Rainger, especially, deserves his place in the collective memory alongside the more familiar names.  Here’s a photograph of Rainger from the Crosby folio:

And here’s the team at work:

If you play an instrument, sing, or even hum, why not try PLEASE?  And if you don’t, well, you could find a way to work the title into everyday conversation.  I believe it has a soothing effect . . .

1959: JACK, BOBBY, GENE, KENNY

I don’t quite know how “Wolfgang’s Vault” tapped into the great store of recordings made — presumably for the Voice of America — for the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, but the second neatly-wrapped present has arrived.  What interests me are two sets: one featuring the master, Jack Teagarden, with his working band of the time (Don Goldie, trumpet; Henry Cuesta, clarinet; Don Ewell, piano; Stan Puls, bass; Ronnie Greb, drums).  Aside from delightful work from Ewell — in ensemble as well as solo — and a very happy Teagarden, the band itself is workmanlike rather than inspired.  But for ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, a medley of ROCKIN’ CHAIR and BODY AND SOUL, and a closing SAINTS, Teagarden got to add his great friend and colleague (they had been recording together for more than twenty years) Bobby Hackett, who plays splendidly.  Goldie, a very competent lead trumpeter with marvelous facility but less imagination, chooses to play a chorus or two of trades with Hackett, which perhaps a wiser man would have avoided.  But Hackett has BODY AND SOUL to himself — two and a-half exquisite minutes, after which Teagarden says, “Wonderful!  Bobby Hackett!  The most beautiful trumpet in the world.  Just trumpet from heaven.”  And although I feel sorry for Goldie, I wouldn’t argue with Teagarden’s praise.  SAINTS, taken too fast, closes the set.  Goldie’s second try at a Louis Armstrong imitation is a liability; Ewell’s rocking stride and Hackett’s soaring solo more than make up for it.

Hear for yourself: http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/jack-teagarden-with-bobby-hackett/concerts/newport-jazz-festival-july-05-1959.html

Three days earlier, the Gene Krupa Quartet had performed at Newport, with pianist Ronnie Ball, Lester Young-inspired tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Eddie Wasserman, and bassist Jim Gannon.  Wasserman is rather off-mike, but that allows us to hear Krupa, in enthusiastic form, work his way through SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, a medium-tempo WORLD ON A STRING, a slow LOVER MAN, and a twelve-minute STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY.  Again, this set is primarily notable for Krupa — fiercely himself wherever he was, which is something to admire, even amongst jazz writers eager for “innovation” and “development.”  Krupa did attempt to go with the fashion of late-Forties bebop (the musical equivalent of the berets and dark glasses his musicians wore for photographs) but he did play much the same way in 1972 — when I saw him last — as he had in 1938.  Why?  Because it sounded good, as it does here.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/gene-krupa-quartet/concerts/newport-jazz-festival-july-02-1959.html 

Finally, there’s a set from July 3, 1959, featuring Phil Napoleon on trumpet, Harry DiVito, trombone, the wondrous Kenny Davern on clarinet, the still-active Johnny Varro on piano, Pete Rogers, bass, and Sonny Igoe, drums. 

I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to this set, but the combination of Davern and Varro — or Davern and anyone — is enough for me.

http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/phil-napoleon-and-his-original-memphis-five/concerts/newport-jazz-festival-july-03-1959.html

Although I would assume that the estates of the artists aren’t receiving payment for the dissemination of their music, at least more people are getting to hear it — pushing away the day when no one knows who Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, or Gene Krupa is.  (Not “was,” mind you.)  Wolfgang’s Vault is also featuring other concerts from this edition of the Newport Jazz Festival, including Dizzy Gillespie . . . rarities coming to the surface for us to hear!  What’s next?  I have my fingers crossed that someday the concerts from the first years of the Festival will surface: I’ve been reading about those lineups for years.  Someday, Wolfgang?

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS PRESENT!

When Chris Dawson told me that he had recorded a solo piano album of Christmas music, inwardly I cringed, but remained polite.  He assured me that it wasn’t treacly or sanctimonious: holiday tunes that he swung.  I remained hopeful but inwardly skeptical, although I trust Chris.  This evening, I was so busy grinning at the YouTube clip of him ripping through WE THREE KINGS that my skepticism is all gone. 

I want this CD — before Christmas, mind you — and you will, too.  Check this out!  And I’ll have more to say in future.  Right now I’m in stride / swing bliss:

LOVE’S OLD SWEET SONGS (Nov. 15, 2009)

Sunday night at The Ear Inn, the performances that moved me the most were three love songs — interspersed with up-tempo romps on I NEVER KNEW, LINGER AWHILE, WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, and THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE. 

The EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and moral guidance; Mark Lopeman, tenor sax and clarinet; Chris Flory, guitar, Joel Forbes, bass.  Not to downplay the fervor of anyone in the quartet, I would hand the palm to Lopeman, whose muscular, tender improvisations hark back to Lester but look forward to Lopeman.  

For some bands, the first song of the first set is a shakedown cruise, a tentative warm-up of muscles both physical and emotional.  But not this quartet, who had everything magically in place from the first notes of SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART.

A grammatical digression: I prefer the title as written above, which seems a hopeful entreaty.  “Someday, sweetheart, we’ll . . . (fill in the blank).”  SOMEDAY SWEETHEART is ambiguous.  Someday you’ll be my sweetheart? 

The melody is sweet, but the song’s lyrics are accusatory: a precursor to SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY.  And since Louis part-dreamed of the melody of GOODNIGHT, ANGEL, it is possible he dreamed of the emotional aura of SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART: “you will be sorry / for what you’ve done / to my poor heart”?  The subconscious is wonderfully mysterious.

The EarRegulars take this pretty, ancient Morton-inspired song at what I think of as the Venuti-Lang All-Stars tempo: a sweet-natured jog.  Not too slow, not too fast:

Then, someone suggested EMBRACEABLE YOU, usually taken at a rhapsodic-operatic tempo.  Here, it’s slightly more animated, as if some embracing was actually on the menu (Charlie Parker tempo?) and it made space for an absolutely eloquent melodic improvisation by Lopeman:

Finally, there was ON THE ALAMO, which some people think a cousin to THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but it’s actually a sweet 1922 song about love-longing.  The lyrics are nineteenth-century, as the singer waits at the garden gate for the Love Object to return, although Jon-Erik and Chris both had the Benny Goodman Sextet in mind:

The fact that these sessions are getting informally recorded for posterity by me, Stanley, and Jim makes me happy.  This is timeless music, even with the occasionally blurry focus and odd angle, the crash of dishes and the shouts of “I need a Bailey on the rocks!”  It’s a privilege — and that’s no cliche — to share it here.  But that no record company executives come to The Ear Inn is sad and strange.  The floating lyricism everyone displays here is irreplaceable.  Embraceable, too.  Till next week!

A VICTIM OF “HARDA SATEN”

This morning, I saw with pleasure that a recent post on the jazz club Smalls had been translated into Swedish, where this blog is called JAZZ LIV.  I am very happy when people who live ten minutes away read what I write; to know that I have readers in Tokyo, Istanbul, and Paris is a thrill. 

Here’s the link:

http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=sv&sl=en&u=https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/&prev=/search%3Fq%3Djazz.com%2Bblog%26hl%3Dsv%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Dsv-se

Years ago, I was a competent student in Romance languages, so I started to “read” the Swedish text, to see how much Swedish I could pretend to know. 

I now understand what the archaic phrase, “He dissolved in laughter” really means, for when I got to the phrase “harda saten” (with a circle over the first A, an umlaut over the second) for “hard seats,” I couldn’t stop laughing. 

NOW I have a new way to complain about uncomfortable chairs wherever I am, “Oh, these harda saten are killing me,” I will say. 

Thanks so much to my Swedish reader(s) for enhancing my vocabulary: in the name of the Blessed Sid Caesar, I salute you!  And to all my readers: may your saten never be harda.  May you be pillowed through your days!

“LIVE” AT SMALLS JAZZ CLUB

Although occasionally jazz clubs are uncomfortable — hard seats, noisy patrons, people jammed in — they provide an immediacy of experience that is unmatched by even the finest compact disc or video clip.  But you would need to live in or near an urban center (in my case New York City), have an independent income, be able to be in two or three places at once, and have a strong immune system to experience even one-fourth of what is happening any evening (and some afternoons).  And you’d have to be nocturnal — with the opportunity to sleep during the day, as many musicians do.

In the belief, perhaps, that if you offer something for free, people who love it will then follow it to its source, the people who run Smalls Jazz Club (on West Tenth Street) have been offering live video and “archived” audio of jazz performances at http://www.smallsjazzclub.com/index.cfm?itemCategory=32321&siteid=272&priorId=0&banner=a.

What does that mean?  As far as I can tell, you could sit in front of your computer, click on the address above, and get to see and hear — in real time — what the musicians are playing at Smalls.  True, the video is somewhat limited in its visual range; the image is small.  And it can’t be recorded for playing at a later date.  

But it’s vividly there, and for free.

And the other half of the birthday-present-you-didn’t-know-about is that the site is also offering audio of past performances (by those musicians who don’t object to having their work distributed in this fashion).  I didn’t check everyone’s name, but I saw dates were available featuring Dan Block, Ehud Asherie, Jon-Erik Kellso, Randy Sandke, Terry Waldo, Orange Kellin, Joel Frahm, Ari Roland, Stepko Gut, Matt Musselman, Will Anderson, Dmitry Baevsky, Lee Konitz, Teddy Charles, Jesse Gelber, Charlie Caranicas, Kate Manning, Kevin Dorn, Danton Boller, Joel Forbes, Lee Hudson, Rob Garcia, Howard Alden, Neal Miner, James Chirillo, Chris Flory, Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Scott Robinson, Steve Ash, John Bunch, Jay Leonhart, Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Olivier Lancelot, Sacha Perry, Rossano Sportiello, Mark Lopeman, Michael Blake, Harry Allen, Andy Farber, Tad Shull, Grant Stewart . . . and these are only some of the names on the list I know.  So many pleasant hours of listening await you!  And everyone hopes that you will someday go to West Tenth Street and climb down the narrow stairway to Smalls.

CELEBRATING EDDIE LOCKE (Nov. 22, 2009)

Eddie Locke 6 08

Photo by John Herr

Please Join the Family and Friends of Eddie Locke 

in a Celebration of his Life 

Sunday, November 22, 2009   7:30pm   Saint Peter’s Church

619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street), New York City

(212) 935-2200 

 

Musicians Scheduled to Perform:

Barry Harris, Musical Director

John Bunch, Lodi Carr, Bill Charlap, Ray Drummond, Bill Easley,

Jon Gordon, David Glasser, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, Louis Hayes,

Cathy Healy, Mike LeDonne, Adam Nussbaum, Rossano Sportiello,

Frank Tate, Warren Vache, Murray Wall, Frank Wess, Jackie Williams,

Leroy Williams, Richard Wyands

and I’m sure there will be others,  But don’t be late — Saint Peter’s isn’t big enough to hold all the people who admired Eddie, who rocked to his beat on and off the bandstand.

WHAT’S THE MAGIC WORD?

Before recordings and sound film changed the world, music didn’t travel well.  Myth says that you could hear Buddy Bolden’s horn miles away, but trumpet players know that is unlikely.  You certainly couldn’t have the complete Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress recordings on a little box in your shirt pocket. 

Recordings, then sound film, made it possible for music to be portable, reproduced, and represented far away in time and space from its origins.  Preservation is an extraordinary gift, letting us visit the dead and cherish them whenever we want.  When the Ellington band played RING DEM BELLS on a Victor record or in a 1930 film, thousands who would never see that band live could experience it. 

But “representation” is never flawless, because all individual perspectives are necessarily subjective.  A recording engineer or cameraman captures one version of what listeners experience.  Most recordings and films seem, at best, to compress the exuberance of the artists.  Jazz anecdotal history is full of the names of great performers who, we are told, never “came though whole” in the recording studio.  And films  — even contemporary performance films — have their own, sometimes intrusive, conventions that must be obeyed.     

Our texts for today are two representations of Bing Crosby singing PLEASE.  The music is by the sadly short-lived Ralph Rainger, the lyrics by Leo Robin, and Bing first performed in the 1932 film THE BIG BROADCAST, one of Paramount’s efforts to get all the musical stars it could assemble into one film, to lure people away from their radios and back into the movie theatres.  The plot of this film is exceedingly foolish, but it’s only an excuse for a now irreplaceable variety show.     Bing Please 2

And here’s the performance itself — all too brief:

I love the flimsy fictions that this clip requires a viewer to accept.  I think, just before it begins, Bing says to his pal, guitarist Eddie Lang, “Well, let’s run it through again,” suggesting that they are rehearsing a new number.  He holds the sheet music, but casually.  And Lang is not paying much attention to the music on top of the piano.  (He was a wonderfully subtle player, never equalled.)  Do you hear a piano?  Who’s playing it?  The invisible but entirely sympathetic pianist is Lennie Hayton, which suggests that Bing and Eddie were adeptly (and not in close-up) miming to an already-recorded track, which was common practice.

Because it is a rehearsal in someone’s home (is it Eddie’s?), Bing has his vest, suit jacket, and hat off.  Our eyes are drawn to his natty two-tone shoes as he keeps the beat.  Then, after the first sixteen bars, a delightfully fictive moment occurs when Bing grins like a boy who has gotten away with three cookies instead of two and tells Eddie, “Well, I think I know it.”  (The record of PLEASE was released to coincide with the movie’s premiere, so Bing’s fans in the audience might have already had the Brunswick record while onscreen their hero was pretending he was learning the song.  But in the darkness of the movie theatre, such facts might be brushed aside.) 

Confident now, Bing launches into his own version of romantic scat singing, flicking his eyes to the ceiling, and begins getting dressed.  

Frank Tuttle, the director of THE BIG BROADCAST, wrote in an unpublished memoir (which I found in Gary Giddins’s wonderful Crosby biography), “Bing didn’t seem to know what to do with his hands. . . . [he] was extremely cooperative and his sense of comedy was first-rate from the opening shot.  His approach was casual and he liked to move around.  We worked out interesting pieces of business so that he wouldn’t have to just stand there and deliver a number.” 

Thus, the striptease in reverse — bolstering the illusion that Bing was only a regular fellow who just happens to burst into song with such art.  We know this isn’t true, but watching Bing sing while getting dressed is rather like watching him sing while changing a flat tire — a splendid feat.  I don’t know if it was intentional, for comedy, or not, but Bing has some small difficulty getting his other arm into his vest, and he goes through a good deal of straightening and smoothing — while singing — before beginning to button it.  Once the vest is on, he is clearly loosening up the rhythm, and gently swinging PLEASE, confidently and cheerfully, wooing the imaginary girl right out of her reluctance, and perhaps out of her vest.  What man ever buttoned his vest with such swing, using each button as a visual accent?  Bing emphasizes the beat, bobbing his head.  It’s comic but understated.  It’s jazz made visual.  

Next comes the jacket — and Bing has more trouble finding the armhole while he makes the dramatic musical transition from “a gloomy Romeo” to “Oh, please . . . ” most endearing.  In fact, his fumbling with his right arm behind his back seems to go on and on, although he is whistling prettily, unfazed by the burden of getting dressed.  Then, there’s no need to pretend that this has been a “rehearsal,” as Bing and Eddie perform the closing phrase together, and Bing, hat cocked jauntily, tells Eddie, “Well, I’ll see you tonight,” and Eddie answers, “OK.”  Hardly Lubitsch, but entrancing in its pretend-casualness. 

And he sings so beautifully to Lang’s fetching accompaniment, their work mixing romanticism and swing, the effect both earnest and funny.  I found myself listening to the clip for the music — both casual and deliciously light, then watching the two men act (Lang, serious, plays the musical sidekick, never taking the spotlight away from Bing).

Bing Please

Bing’s performance of the song in the film and on the hit record spurred Paramount to make a short film (rather like the Mack Sennett shorts Bing had starred in).  I found a copy of the poster on eBay, and a wonderful piece of Art Deco foolishness it is, with a pretty blonde’s disembodied head grinning from the C in CROSBY; Bing playing the guitar (which he couldn’t) wearing something like a bathrobe, the lower half of his body swallowed up by the background.

PLEASE stars Bing, Mary Kornman (who was “Mary” in OUR GANG silents and worked with Bing in other movies), with Vernon Dent (who worked with Sennett, Harry Langdon, and in numberless two-reel films with The Three Stooges) as her huffy, pudgy suitor.  Giddins writes that it was presumed lost until the 1990s and unearthed by film preservationist Bob DeFlores.

The plot is paper-thin: my summary comes from the Mary Kornman website (www.marykornman.com) which proves that everything is indeed online:

This movie, filmed on location at Yosemite National Park, was not discovered until 1960.  In it, Mary plays a voice teacher, Beth Sawyer, on whom Bing has set his affections.  Playing himself, Bing hides his identity as to finagle lessons out of Beth in order to get close to her. Mary then enters him in a singing contest only to find out Bing’s true identity.  Humiliated by this, Mary rejects Bing but is soon won over as he croons a chorus of “Please” through her parlor window.

Fictions abound here as well.  As the sequence begins, a beautifully dressed “Beth,” with matching hat, turns on her radio — and out comes the sound of a dance orchestra playing the song for which the movie is named.  Coincidentally, Bing, wearing a pristine straw boater and neat dark suit, lurks outside her house, dramatizing his exasperation by some gesturing with a small object he discards.  The camera cuts to a momentary shot of a huge man in soiled white painter’s overalls, momentarily transfixed by the music, who takes off his hat and puts it back on again.  Director Gillstrom had trained in silent films, for you can see the idea balloon form above Bing’s head, “Hey!  That’s my song!  I could sing it to her!  Through this open window!  Wow!  What an idea!  Gee!” 

“Beth” at first doesn’t even register that a man is nearly climbing through her open window, singing along with the radio (something that would make many women call 911).  It’s as if Mary Kornman has forgotten her cue, although she does remember to sulk while Bing sings.  He sings beautifully, but without Tuttle to remind him how to understate, his gestures are at war with the song’s wooing intimacy.  Using a clenched fist to signify “I could hold you tight in my arms” is unromantic, even though it is perhaps the only gesture possible for a man still holding his hat).  And Mary Kornman may have been a delectable little girl in silent comedies, but her acting is petulantly limited.  Bing emotes and “Beth” pouts, until his repetition of “Please!” win her over.  The lovers kiss, after a fashion; her dog turns its head away, and we are left hoping that they are going to be happy forevermore, even if she has to climb out of the window to be with Bing. 

But all this overacting doesn’t obscure the beauty of Bing’s voice, his phrasing, although I prefer the sound of the more casual version with Eddie Lang.     

Back to the song itself, one I’ve loved since adolescence.  When Bing was most popular as a romantic crooner, jazzmen, inspired by his recordings, took his repertoire for their own.  Think of I SURRENDER, DEAR and WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS!  Louis, Billie, and Hawkins (who memorably recorded I’VE GOT TO SING A TORCH SONG, WITH EVERY BREATH I TAKE, and JUST ONE MORE CHANCE).  Later on, Ruby Braff continued the tradition, including PLEASE and a whole album devoted to Bing.  But no one except John Gill has taken up the song, a pity.  I asked my Expert, Jon-Erik Kellso, about it, and he told me the melody line wasn’t easy for musicians who didn’t know the song to pick up on the spot.  If any musicians are reading this blog, would you please consider playing this song?  I’ll put more money in the tip jar when I hear it, I promise.

However, while researching this post, I also found a bouncy version of the song by Ambrose and his Orchestra.  This performance, however, deflates my theory about the song’s qualities.  Did it need Bing, John Gill, and Ruby to let its light shine through?  What you’ll hear is a fine 1932 dance record, but the yearning quality so essential to PLEASE is obliterated at this tempo.         

These clips remind me of truths that should be self-evident.  The young Crosby wasn’t an infallible actor; he needed a fine director to make sure that naturalness or “naturalness” prevailed.  But how he could sing!  And how splendidly Eddie Lang could play!  And they live in these filmed moments.   

So if someone asks you, reprovingly, “WHAT’S the magic word?” (if anyone uses that phrase today), you must respond, “It’s Bing Crosby singing PLEASE, of course.” (Thanks to Peter Karl for that witticism, again.)

TRAVELING BLUES: TOMMY LADNIER

Ladnier 5For the second time this season, a jazz book has so astonished me that I want to write about it before I take the time to read it at the leisurely pace it deserves.  This book is published in a limited edition of 500 copies, so I hope that someone might be moved sufficiently to order a copy before they are all gone.  TRAVELING BLUES: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF TOMMY LADNIER, byBo Lindstrom and Dan Vernhettes, is a lively yet scholarly study of the life and music of the short-lived trumpeter.  Many jazz books are enthusiastic but lopsided; books that collect beautiful photographs sometimes have minimal or unsatisfying text; scholarly books are often not appealing to the eye.  This book strikes sparks in every way: the diligent research that has gone into it, the expansive prose; the wonderful illustrations.  I have been reluctant to put it down.  Each page offers surprises.    Ladnier 1

Tommy Ladnier isn’t widely known: he has been dead seventy years.  The fame he deserved never came, even though he had enthusiastic champions in Mezz Mezzrow, Hughes Panassie, and Sidney Bechet.  But a brief list of the people Ladnier played alongside will testify to his talent: Bechet, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, Jimmy Harrison, Coleman Hawkins, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, Sam Wooding, Doc Cheatham, Noble Sissle, Chick Webb, James P. Johnson, Teddy Bunn, Walter Page, Jo Jones.  He was known as a “sensational” trumpeter in Chicago in 1921: he appeared in Carnegie Hall in 1938.   

The reasons he is so little known have nothing to do with the quality of his art.  Ladnier did not enjoy the high-pressure urban scene, and he occasionally retreated from it (in 1934-8, when he could have been playing more often in the city, he he lived upstate); he also spent a good deal of his playing career in Europe (including a sojourn in Russia) before it was fashionable.  And in a period when hot trumpet playing was fashioned in splendidly extravagant Louis-fashion, someone like Ladnier — quieter, even pensive, choosing to stay in the middle register — might have been overlooked.  (At times, he makes me think of a New Orleans version of Joe Thomas, Shorty Baker, or Tony Fruscella.) 

Ladnier 3

I first came to Ladnier’s music indirectly, by way of his most enthusiastic colleague, reedman, pot-supplier, and proseltyzer Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, who saw Tommy as someone with pure jazz instincts.  Mezzrow idolized Tommy as a quiet prophet of soulful New Orleans jazz, music not corrupted by the evil influence of big-band swing.  My youthful purchase of the RCA Victor record THE PANASSIE SESSIONS (circa 1967) was motivated by my reading of Mezzrow’s autobiography, REALLY THE BLUES.  But Mezzrow played and improvised so poorly, never stopping for a moment, that I could hardly hear Ladnier properly.   

Ladnier 4

Eventually I heard the 1932 New Orleans Feetwarmers session, where Ladnier and Bechet were effectively the front line, and too-brief live performances from John Hammond’s 1938 FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concert where Ladnier, Bechet, Dan Minor, James P. Johnson, Walter Page, and Jo Jones roared through WEARY BLUES.  Finally, I understood what it was that others admired so in Ladnier’s work.  A terse, nearly laconic player, he placed his notes and phrases perfectly.  His solos never overwhelm; his forthright earnestness is convincing; he doesn’t care to shout and swagger, but he is intense.  

As is this book.  Other scholars might have rearranged the easily accessible evidence: the recollections of Mezzrow, Bechet, and Panassie, written admiringly of Ladnier’s recording career, and left it at that.  Some writers might have brought melodrama to the facts of Ladnier’s life — his ambitious wife jeopardized a number of opportunities for him (one possible drama).  Ladnier died of a heart attack at 39, and could perhaps have been saved (another drama).  One could cast him as a victim of a variety of forces and people including the recording supervisor Eli Oberstein.  But the authors avoid these inviting errors.

They succeed not only in examining every scrap of evidence they could find — their research has been cautious, comprehensive, and lengthy — about Ladnier as a musician, born in Louisiana, migrating to Chicago, taking on the life of a jazz player in the Twenties and Thirties, dying in Harlem. 

But there’s more.  These scholars are also thoughtful historians who delight in placing the subject of their loving scrutiny in a larger context.  “What did it mean?” I can hear them asking.  So that their inquiry broadens beyond the simple chronological tracing of Ladnier’s life.  When we learn (through a beautiful reproduction of Ladnier’s draft card) that he worked for the Armour meat-packing company — so justly excoriated in Upton Sinclair’s THE JUNGLE — we can read about Armour and what it meant to Chicago and Chicagoans.  What did it mean to be an African-American musician traveling overseas in the Twenties?  The appropriate footnotes are easily accessible on each page.  The book also concludes with a detailed discography — noting not only the labels and issues, but on which performances Ladnier has a solo, a break, accompaniment, and the like. 

And the book is also visually quite beautiful.  A large-format book (the size of a 12″ record, appropriately) it is generously illustrated in color, with fine reproductions, nicely varied.  I was happily reminded of a beautifully-designed history or biology textbook, where the book designers had sought to set up harmonious vibrations between print and illustrations.  Indeed, one could spend an afternoon immersed in the illustrations: maps, a handwritten letter from Ladnier, record labels, photographs of individual players and of bands.  One illustration I particularly prize is an advertising handbill for a dinner-dance, “A Night At Sea,” to be held at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights, New York, on January 22, 1939.  In part, the music was provided by “Milton ‘Mez’ Mezzrow and his Bluebird Recording Orchestra featuring Tommy Ladnier.”  Even better: heading the bill were Henny Youngman and Molly Picon.  Without this book, I would never have known.

The music?  Well, the authors have taken care of that, too.  As part of the complete Ladnier experience, they have created a CD containing all 189 of Tommy’s recordings in mp3 format.  I don’t entirely understand the technology, but the CD is certainly the ideal companion to the book — containing the equivalent of eight CDs of music. 

I urge you to visit http://www.jazzedit.org/Traveling-blues.html and see for yourself.  In this era of deeply discounted books, the initial price of this one might seem serious, but its beauty, thoroughness, and devotion make it a masterpiece.

As a coda: the noted jazz scholar and collector of rare photographs Frank Driggs wrote an introduction to the book.  Here’s its closing paragraph: “This remarkable book is loaded with details on the lives of Tommy Ladnier and most of the people he played with.  There are hundreds of illustrations, photos of people I’ve never even seen before and I’ve seen most of the photos of jazz musicians over the last fifty years.  The depth of research is I believe unparalleled.  God bless these two fanatics who have devoted so much of their time and energy to bring this work of love to fruition.”

My sentiments exactly! 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

corned beefIt’s tempting for those who love an older art form — such as swinging jazz — to romanticize the past.  “Oh,” we think, “they wrote such wonderful songs back in those days!  If I could turn on my radio (or: if I had a time machine) in the Thirties, I would hear marvelous creative music all the time!”  Perhaps.  I have been doing research into the songs of Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin — who wrote many of Bing Crosby’s hits as well as IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU, YOU STARTED SOMETHING, PLEASE, and THANKS FOR THE MEMORY — and this unknown gem surfaced.  I’m sure that someone out there has a recording of it, even that the performance is on YouTube.  But I’m afraid to look.  Here are the lyrics.  They’ll do for me. 

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE

From the film “Kiss And Make Up” (1934)

(Music: Ralph Rainger / Lyrics: Leo Robin)

Helen Mack & Edward Everett Horton (Film Soundtrack) – 1934

 

“I’m simply wild about you

I couldn’t do without you

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You always set me raving

You satisfy that craving

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

If I could have you every day

My life would have more spice

And even if I’d have to pay

I’d gladly pay the price

I see you and surrender

Oh, won’t you please be tender

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!

I’m always happy when you

Are featured on the menu

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

Although you’re so plebeian

You’re fit for any queen

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you

You fill me with a strange desire

That haunts me all night through

You seem to set my heart on fire

You give me heartburn, too

Why don’t you try a load

O’ bicarbonate of soda

Corned beef and cabbage, I love you!”

Can you see Edward Everett Horton warbling this?  In Hollywood, anything was and is possible.

THE VANGUARD SESSIONS

Vanguard Ruby disc

Between 1953 and 1957, John Hammond supervised a series of record dates for the Vanguard label.  I first heard one of those records — the second volume of the THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE — at my local library in the late Sixties, and fell in love. 

The Vanguard sessions featured Ruby Braff, Shad Collins, Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Emmett Berry, Pat Jenkins, Doug Mettome, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Benny Green, Urbie Green, Lawrence Brown, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jimmy Buffington, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Rudy Powell, Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Frank Wess, Pete Brown, Paul Quinichette, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Hank Jones, Sammy Price, Ellis Larkins, Nat Pierce, Steve Jordan, Skeeter Best, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Walter Page, Aaron Bell, Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson, Jimmy Crawford, Jimmy Rushing, and others.

The list of artists above would be one answer to the question, “What made these sessions special?” but we all know of recordings with glorious personnel that don’t quite come together as art — perhaps there’s too little or too much arranging, or the recorded sound is not quite right, or one musician (a thudding drummer, an over-amplified bassist) throws everything off. 

The Vanguard sessions benefited immensely from Hammond’s imagination.  Although I have been severe about Hammond — as someone who interfered with musicians for whom he was offering support — and required that his preferences be taken seriously or else (strong-willed artists like Louis, Duke, and Frank Newton fought with or ran away from John).  Hammond may have been “difficult” and more, but his taste in jazz was impeccable.  And broad — the list above goes back to Sammy Price, Walter Page, and forward to Kenny Burrell and Benny Green. 

Later on, what I see as Hammond’s desire for strong flavors and novelty led him to champion Dylan and Springsteen, but I suspect that those choices were also in part because he could not endure watching others make “discoveries.”  Had it been possible to continue making records like the Vanguards eternally, I believe Hammond might have done so.   

Although Mainstream jazz was still part of the American cultural landscape in the early Fifties, and the artists Hammond loved were recording for labels large and small — from Verve, Columbia, Decca, all the way down to Urania and Period — he felt strongly about players both strong and subtle, musicians who had fewer opportunities to record sessions on their own.  At one point, Hammond and George Wein seemed to be in a friendly struggle to champion Ruby Braff, and I think Hammond was the most fervent advocate Vic Dickenson, Sir Charles Thompson, and Mel Powell ever had.  Other record producers, such as the astute George Avakian at Columbia, would record Jimmy Rushing, but who else was eager to record Pete Brown, Shad Collins, or Henderson Chambers?  No one but Hammond. 

And he arranged musicians in novel — but not self-consciously so — combinations.  For THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE, it did not take a leap of faith to put Braff, Vic, and Ed Hall together in the studio, for they had played together at Boston’s Savoy Cafe in 1949.  And to encourage them to stretch out for leisurely versions of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Russian Lullaby” was something that other record producers — notably Norman Granz — had been doing to capitalize on the longer playing time of the new recording format.  But after that rather formal beginning, Hammond began to be more playful.  The second SHOWCASE featured Shad Collins, the masterful and idiosyncratic ex-Basie trumpeter, in the lead, with Braff joining in as a guest star on two tracks. 

Vanguard Vic

Now, some of the finest jazz recordings were made in adverse circumstances (I think of the cramped Brunswick and Decca studios of the Thirties).  And marvelous music can be captured in less-than-ideal sound: consider Jerry Newman’s irreplaceable uptown recordings.  But the sound of the studio has a good deal to do with the eventual result.  Victor had, at one point, a converted church in Camden, New Jersey; Columbia had Liederkrantz Hall and its 30th Street Studios.  Hammond had a Masonic Temple on Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York — with a thirty-five foot ceiling, wood floors, and beautiful natural resonance. 

The Vanguard label, formed by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon, had devoted itself to beautiful-sounding classical recordings; Hammond had written a piece about the terrible sound of current jazz recordings, and the Solomons asked him if he would like to produce sessions for them.  Always eager for an opportunity to showcase musicians he loved, without interference, Hammond began by featuring Vic Dickenson, whose sound may never have been as beautifully captured as it was on the Vanguards. 

Striving for an entirely natural sound, the Vanguards were recorded with one microphone hanging from the ceiling.  The players in the Masonic Temple did not know what the future would hold — musicians isolated behind baffles, listening to their colleagues through headphones — but having one microphone would have been reminiscent of the great sessions of the Thirties and Forties.  And musicians often become tense at recording sessions, no matter how professional or experienced they are — having a minimum of engineering-interference can only have added to the relaxed atmosphere in the room. 

The one drawback of the Masonic Temple was that loud drumming was a problem: I assume the sound ricocheted around the room.  So for most of these sessions, either Jo Jones or Bobby Donaldson played wire brushes or the hi-hat cymbal, with wonderful results.  (On the second Vic SHOWCASE, Jo’s rimshots explode like artillery fire on RUNNIN’ WILD, most happily, and Jo also was able to record his lengthy CARAVAN solo, so perhaps the difficulty was taken care of early.)  On THE NAT PIERCE BANDSTAND — a session recently reissued on Fresh Sound — you can hear the lovely, translucent sound Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones made, their notes forming three-dimensional sculpture on BLUES YET? and STOMP IT OFF. 

Vanguard Vic 2(Something for the eyes.  I am not sure what contemporary art directors would make of this cover, including Vic’s socks, and the stuffed animals, but I treasure it, even though there is a lion playing a concertina.)

What accounted for the beauty of these recordings might be beyond definition.  Were the musicians so happy to be left alone that they played better than ever?  Was it the magisterial beat and presence of Walter Page on many sessions?  Was it Hammond’s insistence on unamplified rhythm guitar?  Whatever it was, I hear these musicians reach into those mystical spaces inside themselves with irreplaceable results.  On these recordings, there is none of the reaching-for-a-climax audible on many records.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on the sessions featuring Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins.  Braff had heard Larkins play duets with Ella Fitzgerald for Decca (reissued on CD as PURE ELLA) and told Hammond that he, too, wanted to play with Larkins.  Larkins’ steady, calm carpet of sounds balances Braff’s tendency towards self-dramatization, especially on several Bing Crosby songs — PLEASE and I’VE GOT A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS.  Vanguard Ruby

Ruby and Ellis were reunited several times in the next decades, for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label and twice for Arbors, as well as onstage at a Braff-organized tribute to Billie Holiday, but they never sounded so poignantly wonderful as on the Vanguards. 

Hammond may have gotten his greatest pleasure from the Basie band of the late Thirties, especially the small-group sessions, so he attempted to give the Vanguards the same floating swing, using pianists Thompson and Pierce, who understood what Basie had done without copying it note for note.  For THE JO JONES SPECIAL, Hammond even managed to reunite the original “All-American Rhythm Section” for two versions of “Shoe Shine Boy.”  Thompson — still with us at 91 — recorded with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones for an imperishable quartet session.  If you asked me to define what swing is, I might offer their “Swingtime in the Rockies” as compact, enthralling evidence. 

Hammond was also justifiably enthusiastic about pianist Mel Powell — someone immediately identifiable in a few bars, his style merging Waller, Tatum, astonishing technique, sophisticated harmonies, and an irrepressible swing — and encouraged him to record in trios with Braff, with Paul Quinichette, with Clayton and Ed Hall, among others.  One priceless yet too brief performance is Powell’s WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? with French hornist Jimmy Buffington in the lead — a spectral imagining of the Benny Goodman Trio. 

Vanguard Mel 2

The last Vanguards were recorded in 1957, beautiful sessions featuring Buck Clayton and Jimmy Rushing.  I don’t know what made the series conclude.  Did the recordings not sell well?  Vanguard turned to the burgeoning folk movement shortly after.  Or was it that Hammond had embarked on this project for a minimal salary and no royalties and, even given his early patrician background, had to make a living?  But these are my idea of what jazz recordings should sound like, for their musicality and the naturalness of their sound.

I would like to be able to end this paean to the Vanguards by announcing a new Mosaic box set containing all of them.  But I can’t.  And it seems as if forces have always made these recordings difficult to obtain in their original state.  Originally, they were issued on ten-inch long-playing records (the format that record companies thought 78 rpm record buyers, or their furniture, would adapt to most easily).  But they made the transition to the standard twelve-inch format easily.  The original Vanguard records didn’t stay in print for long in their original format.  I paid twenty-five dollars, then a great deal of money, for a vinyl copy of BUCK MEETS RUBY from the now-departed Dayton’s Records on Twelfth Street in Manhattan.  In the Seventies, several of the artists with bigger names, Clayton, Jo Jones, and Vic, had their sessions reissued in America on two-lp colletions called THE ESSENTIAL.  And the original vinyl sessions were reissued on UK issues for a few minutes in that decade. 

When compact discs replaced vinyl, no one had any emotional allegiance to the Vanguards, although they were available in their original formats (at high prices) in Japan.  The Vanguard catalogue was bought by the Welk Music Group (the corporate embodiment of Champagne Music).  in 1999, thirteen compact discs emerged: three by Braff, two by “the Basie Bunch,” two by Mel Powell, two by Jimmy Rushing, one by Sir Charles, one by Vic.  On the back cover of the CDs, the credits read: “Compilation produced by Steve Buckingham” and “Musical consultant and notes by Samuel Charters.”  I don’t know either of them personally, and I assume that their choices were controlled by the time a compact disc allows, but the results are sometimes inexplicable.  The sound of the original sessions comes through clearly but sessions are scrambled and incomplete, except for the Braff-Larkins material, which they properly saw as untouchable.  And rightly so.  The Vanguard recordings are glorious.  And they deserve better presentation than they’ve received.

P.S.  Researching this post, I went to the usual sources — Amazon and eBay — and there’s no balm for the weary or the deprived.  On eBay, a vinyl BUCK MEETS RUBY is selling for five times as much.  That may be my twenty-five dollars, adjusted for inflation, but it still seems exorbitant. 

On eBay I also saw the most recent evidence of the corruption, if not The Decline, of the West.  Feast your eyes on this CD cover:

Vanguard Visionaries corrupt

Can you imagine Jimmy Rushing’s reaction — beyond the grave — on learning that his reputation rested on his being an influence on Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, and Harry Connick, Jr.?  I can’t.  The Marketing Department has been at work!  But I’d put up with such foolishness if I could have the Vanguards back again.

GO WEST! GET HOT!

It might be a New Yorker’s prejudice, but I don’t associate hot jazz with Arizona.  In this, however, as in so many things, the evidence proves me wrong. 

Our Hot benefactress, SFRaeAnn, took her video camera to the Arizona Classic Jazz Festival in Chandler, Arizona.  Here are three performances she captured on November 6.  The first is a set-closer by a Condonite band (with Ed Polcer up front and Kevin Dorn at the back, how could it be otherwise?) — Hoagy Carmichael’s RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE — with friendly assistance from Tom Fischer, clarinet; Doug Finke, trombone; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Richard Simon, bass.  Listen closely to Kevin Dorn’s shifting accompanying, his use of the bass drum, his varied, pushing cymbal work.  

Then, RaeAnn caught two performances by the Yerba Buena Stompers: Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Marty Eggers, piano; John Gill, banjo / vocal; Clint Baker, tuba; Hal Smith, drums.

On 1919 RAG — even with sheets of music flying around — the YBS get very close to what I imagine the Oliver band must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens: a group of ferocious individualists coming together to rock the room.  The two trumpets, the trombone-clarinet passages — jazz hymns. 

What could follow that?  How about an easy, medium-tempo version of I’M A DING DONG DADDY with Duke Heitger giving us his own heroic version of Louis, and John Gill remembering the tongue-twisting lyrics, hilariously expert — four choruses of them! 

 I’ve revised my overall impressions of Arizona for the better, you’ll be happy to know.

JAZZ TREASURES IN CYBERSPACE

I spend more than enough time in front of the computer (my neck can testify to this) but I’ve recently encountered two websites that might prove promising for jazz fanciers.  One, Wolfgang’s Vault, initially awakened all my snobbery: lips that touch Black Sabbath will never touch mine.  And I’m not terribly interested in Grateful Dead backstage passes.  But the Vault has just opened the jazz door a crack for three performances from the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival — audio only — featuring the Basie band, Dakota Staton, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  And more from 1959 is promised on November 17.  See for yourself at http://www.wolfgangsvault.com/concerts/support/newport-jazz.html.

The other site is much more welcoming — it seems to be the official French government video site — my understanding of this is hampered by my stale rudimentary French — called INA.FR.  Visit their site and search for “jazz,” about 600 videos come up.  Some of them are powerfully irrelevant, and much of the “jazz” here is beyond my admittedly narrow interests.  But there are live performances by Ella, Duke, Louis, Lucky Thompson, Bill Coleman, Vic Dickenson, Byas, Bechet, Hawkins, Getz, Gillespie, and long compilations from French jazz festivals — all in evocative black and white.  You’ll be delighted by what this site has to offer: http://www.ina.fr/.

JAZZ MERITOCRACY. GONE?

No, it’s not a Jimmie Lunceford original.  But I just read a newspaper profile by Rachel Swan devoted to the drummer Donald Bailey (whose work I know from recordings he made with Jimmie Rowles) where he spoke about being a young player in Philadelphia.  These words leaped out at me (italics mine):

Bailey started playing drums as a preteen by practicing along with his brother’s records. His timing couldn’t have been better: Be-bop had become the avant-garde, and Philly was a veritable hotbed of it. John Coltrane, Bud Powell, Lee Morgan, Stanley Turrentine, Buster Williams, Jimmy Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker all lived in Philly at some point in their careers — and that’s only a partial list. Unknowns like Bailey would hobnob with these elder statesmen at places like the Blue Note Club and get whatever they could get. At that time, the scene was more of a meritocracy, said Bailey. “Nowadays, anybody can get up on the bandstand and play. We couldn’t do that when I was coming up,” the drummer said. “You just couldn’t do it. You would either be too embarrassed or they would embarrass you. They would take you by your pants and throw you out the door.”

Consider that, dear readers.  The full piece can be found here:

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/music/an_old_blueprint_made_new/Content?oid=1228901

BUNNY, LOUIS, WILLIS

Two items from eBay form a lovely combination. 

The first is a Bunny Berigan autograph.  Too bad that the original owner snipped out the signature and glued it to the page, but who knew about acid-free paper and archival storage then?  Probably (s)he just waggled an autograph book open to a blank page in front of Berigan, who signed his name in the neat handwriting characteristic of the time.  

Bunny

Bunny, not surprisingly, idolized Louis Armstrong — and said in an interview that all a trumpeter on the road needed was a toothbrush and a picture of Louis.  For his part, Louis said, “Bunny can’t do no wrong in music.”  They knew.    

Then there’s the photograph below — the Voice of America jazz commentator Willis Conover (who made jazz accessible behind the Iron Curtain) seated with Louis himself, sometime in the late Fifties. 

Willis Louis