Monthly Archives: December 2009

JACK SENDS HIS BEST, 1941

My title might seem cryptic, but it will be clarified by the wonderfully odd picture, courtesy of the very generous Will Friedwald:

As you can see, it’s the cover of the January 1, 1942 DOWN BEAT — with someone’s idea of a clever photograph.  Logic isn’t the strong suit here: if Jack was the Old Year, asking him about 1942 wouldn’t make much sense — and presumably DOWN BEAT’s readers were encouraged to think about what would be behind the “December 1941” calendar page now that it would be ripped down, or off.  And I hope that the studio was warm for barefoot Jack.  And the musicians proved that Petrillo was wrong, didn’t they?

But having Jack Teagarden — even posthumously — wish everyone a Happy New Year — isn’t such a bad thing?

Not content with visual and archival generosity, Will also offered my readers the possibility of some entertaining auditory rummaging — downloads that reveal his wide range and sense of humor.  Many thanks!

Download THIS! <http://web.me.com/willfriedwald/Site/download_this.html>

Extreme Music 2010 <http://web.me.com/willfriedwald/Site/Extreme_Music_2010.html>

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HOT JAZZ for NEW YEAR’S EVE 2010!

I hope that your 2009 has been a spectacularly good year and that you are sorry to see it come to an end.  But even if you are more than ready for 2010 to come and sweep the detritus of 2009 away for good, there’s no better way to make the occasion fesrive than with some hot jazz on the radio.  Or on your computer.  Gather round your laptop, raise the volume,  and lift your glasses high!

The musical largesse comes from the Riverwalk Jazz people — who have been sending it out on the airwaves for free for more than two decades. 

This program, recorded live at the Sacramento Jazz Festival, is called LAST CALL LATE NIGHT JAM, and it features three of my heroes: Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, and trombonist Bill Allred, sitting in with Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band. 

If you’ve been invited to a party where the host chooses the music, don’t fret: the show will be rebroadcast from Dec. 31 to Jan. 6, 2010.  

The site is http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/jazznotes/last_call/

If you prefer to spin your FM dial, here are the many radio stations that broadcast Riverwalk: http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/StationList/

Swing out the old year, swing in the new!

And — for those of us who can focus on what’s ahead in 2010, the Riverwalk program has many delights in store: during January, they will be offering a Teddy Wilson tribute featuring Dick Hyman (the week of 1/7); a Bob Barnard program (1/14; a Sidney Bechet jamboree with Bob Wilber and Evan Christopher (1/21) and more!  Visit http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/ for details about programs to come in February and March 2010 . . . featuring Bria Skonberg and Gary Giddins, honoring Lil Hardin Armstrong, Red Nichols, Fletcher Henderson and more!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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LIFT EVERY MUG AND SING!

Some of us know J. Walter Hawkes as a wonderfully mobile trombonist or as an Emmy-winning composer.  Others know him as a champion of the ukulele and composer of longer works.  I admire all these selves, but I am especially fond of his singing — often tender and always inspired.  Here’s J. Walter Hawkes, the one-man orchestra: soprano ukulele and voice, doing splendid homage to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein:

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=5620880

One of my many hopes in the jazz world is that I will someday get to write the liner notes to a JWH vocal CD!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

SERENITY AND PASSION, 1971

A moving lesson about feeling and technique, and how to sing through your instrument.  Without sounding reproachful or didactic, I would like every singer and instrumentalist and critic and listener to watch and absorb this performance many times: it is instructive as well as uplifting.

The details scroll across the screen at the start, but the facts are: Ben Webster / Duke Ellington / 1971 / I Got It Bad:

Thanks to “mugge62” for posting this beauty on YouTube.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“DULCE LORENA” y “NO ES ELLA DULCE?”

To people who have never collected jazz records, what follows might seem both trivial and inexplicable.  But while searching for recordings by the sublime trumpeter and singer Henry “Red” Allen, I came across these oddities on eBay — two sides from his 1957 RCA Victor RIDE, RED, RIDE IN HI-FI . . . issued as a 78 rpm record in Argentina, their titles logically translated into Spanish.

and . . .

Sweet, no?

WHO ERASED MILDRED BAILEY?

I have been listening to Mildred Bailey’s singing since the early Seventies, when I found the three-record Columbia set devoted to her recordings from 1929-47.  And she never fails to move me — with her tenderness, her technique, her wit.  But Mildred has very few champions these days.  Even the late Whitney Balliett, whose taste and judgment were unparalleled, wrote that Mildred succeeded neither as a pop singer or a jazz one.  And if you were to ask the most well-informed listener who the greatest women jazz singers are, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald would head the list (if not two dozen others ranging from Diana Krall to Shirley Horn to Ella Logan to Marion Harris) . . . but Mildred is forgotten, or all but forgotten.

Why?

It can’t be because of her race.  We finally have come to accept that White folks can swing, can’t we?

Some of her invisibility has to do with her elusiveness.  Billie and Ella have established, defined “personalities,” which ironically might have little relationship to what they sang.  “Billie Holiday” as an iconic figure equals self-destructive heroin addict, short-lived victim, a tortured figure, someone for whom MY MAN or DON’T EXPLAIN was painful autobiography.  Subject of a bad melodramatic movie; a ghost-written “autobiography” and several biographies as well as documentary films.  And the most accessible visual image of Billie is from the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ — careworn, rueful, lovely.  There is the engaging rasp of her voice in te Thirties, the moody cry and croak of her later recordings.

“Ella Fitzgerald” is sunny exuberance, scat-singing, someone making a jazzy version of the American songbook accessible to anyone in the Fifties who owned a record player.  A cheerful endurance, whether alongside Chick Webb, Louis, Basie, or Ellington.  Everyman and woman’s identifiable Jazz Singer, easy to understand. 

Today marketers call this “branding,” boiling down the unique self into a few immediately recognizable qualities — as if people were products to be put in the shopping cart in a hurry.   

Then there is the issue of size. 

In Charles Peterson’s 1939 photographs of Billie that I have posted recently, we see a seriously chubby young woman.  Ella was always a large woman, but no one said anything about it.  Some astute listeners did not worry about a woman singer’s weight.  Think of Wagnerian sopranos.  Think of Kate Smith.  Did anyone care that Connee Boswell could not get off the piano bench?  And men are forgiven a great deal.   

But in pop music, listeners tend to be much more fickle, visually oriented, even shallow.  It is difficult to escape Mildred Bailey’s appearance.  She was fat, and not “fat” in a jolly way — not the way that some Twenties blues singers could use to their advantage: Helen Humes or Edith Wilson singing about their weight as a sexual asset (Miss Wilson’s lyric: “Why should men approach with caution / For this extry-special portion?”).  Aside from laughing at herself during the January 1944 Metropolitan Opera House jam session — while singing “Pick me up / On your knee” in SQUEEZE ME, she and the band are chuckling at the difficulty of such a task — Mildred did not joke about her size, nor did she make it part of “an act.” 

Many listeners want their popular icons to be erotically desirable.  Sex sells; sex appeals.  Eventually, as they age,  singers pass an invisible boundary and become Venerable.  Think of all the cover pictures of singers, male and female, posed as if on magazine covers — Lee Wiley reclining on a couch on one of the Fifties RCA Victors; Julie London smoldering, her long red-blonde hair flowing.  Misses Krall and Tierney Sutton, today.  (I receive many new CDs by young women who consider themselves singers.  They look like models.  They credit a hair stylist, a wardrobe consultant, a make-up artist.  I think, “Can you sing?”)

Consider Mildred’s contemporaries: pretty, svelte, apparently youthful forever: Peggy Lee, Edythe Wright, Helen Ward, even Doris Day.  But Mildred’s photographs make her look matronly, and she is making no effort to woo the viewer. 

Let us even give audiences of the Thirties and Forties the benefit of the doubt.  If you did not live in a big American city, how many opportunities would you have to see Mildred Bailey and to judge her on the basis of her size rather than her art?  Possibly you saw her on the cover of a piece of sheet music or stared at the label of one of her Vocalion 78s, heard her on the radio.  No film footage exists of her.   

There is the nature of Mildred’s art.  Many artists have one approach, whether they are singing EMPTY BED BLUES of SILENT NIGHT.  If she was singing DOWNHEARTED BLUES, she was lowdown and melancholy (while swinging); LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN and GIVE ME TIME brought out different kinds of tenderness.  On CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU and ARTHUR MURRAY TAUGHT ME DANCING IN A HURRY, she was hilarious.  IT’S SO PEACEFUL IN THE COUNTRY was calm and pastoral, THANKS FOR THE MEMORY rueful, knowing.  And IN LOVE IN VAIN is, althought masterfully understated, a heartbreaking performance.  Versatility is bad for branding; it confuses the consumer.   

As a band singer — the first woman to be hired in that role — with Paul Whiteman and her husband Red Norvo, she recorded a good many songs that were forgettable: THREE LITTLE FISHIES, for one.  Perhaps the girlish quality of Mildred’s upper register may have disconcerted some listeners, who would prefer their jazz singers to be plaintive and husky.  But arguing over the definitions of a jazz singer and a pop singer seems a silly business.  Do you like what you hear?  

Although we can feel both fascinated and sympathetic while considering Billie’s difficult life, Ella’s poor childhood, Mildred would have had a hard time making diabetes and obesity intriguing to us. 

I also suspect that those who ignore her Mildred do so not because her voice displeases them, but because she subliminally represents OLD.  I don’t mean OLD in the sense of the past, but in the sense of elderly, of senior citizen.  What bad luck made Mildred identify herself “The Rockin’ Chair Lady?”  Of course, her performance of Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR was superb; she took it as her theme song.  But — when we want our stars to be aerobically bouncy — for Mildred to portray herself as immobilized, unable to get out of her chair, was not a good way to market herself.  (And artists were products even in the Thirties.)     

Alas, poor Mildred.  Were she to apply for a job and be turned down because of her appearance, she could sue, win, and collect a substantial settlement.  But dead artists can’t sue an ignorant public for discrimination. 

Listen to her sing

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

JAZZ PAGES WORTH READING

Through the magic of Google Alerts, I was directed to two new jazz-related blogs, both of which are worth a serious look, for different reasons.

Jon McCaslin’s FOUR ON THE FLOOR came to my attention because of a recent feature on Papa Jo Jones — irreplaceable, perhaps inscrutable, certainly uncontrollable.  Here Jon has collected a number of video clips that shine the spotlight on Jo.  And his blog is full of other intriguing stories!  Visit it at http://jonmccaslinjazzdrummer.blogspot.com/ .  By the way, “Four on the floor” doesn’t only refer to manual transmission: it refers to the life-enhancing practice, among drummers of another generation (as well as Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, Chris Tyle, Nick Ward, and Jeff Hamilton) to use the bass drum to keep the rhythm going. 

Through a rather circuitous route, I found myself rapt, staring at one beautifully-designed record label after another on Ted Staunton’s website.  Ted modestly says that he doesn’t own all the records, but he has assembled them in logical order and told a bit about the history of each label.  And the labels themselves are often lavish Art Deco miniatures:

Because the Beloved and I are now on Maui, I thought this label was particularly appropriate:

Ted’s site can be found at http://www.tedstaunton.com/.  You’ll be astonished!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“BILLIE HOLIDAY” (IN WHITE INK)

Did you get money for Christmas?  If you’re a Billie Holiday fancier, and your loved ones have been particularly generous, perhaps you might care to bid on this precious item — a copy of the red-label Columbia 78 rpm reissue of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING signed by Miss Holiday in white ink.  The starting bid is one thousand dollars (but the shipping is less than five dollars). 

The eBay link is http://cgi.ebay.com/Signed-Billie-Holiday-Record-Authentic-w-Teddy-Wilson_W0QQitemZ160389314156QQcmdZViewItemQQptZMusic_on_Vinyl?hash=item2557f2b66c.

Happy bidding, happy admiring, happy gazing to one and all!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

IS YOUR DREAMBOAT AT HOME?

If, by this time, you are a little weary of FROSTY THE SNOWMAN and the remainder of the winter-holiday songbook, may I suggest this as an aesthetic panacea? 

It’s Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, recorded by Rae Ann Berry on December 20, 2009, at Pismo Beach, performing WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME.  Clint’s happy colleagues are Marc Caparone, trumpet; Dave Caparone, trombone; Mike Baird, alto sax; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Katie Cavera, banjo; Mike Fay, bass; Hal Smith, drums.  Highlights for me are the friendly two-teumpet conversation at the start.  Clint then shifts to trombone so that he and Dave can be a full section; Mike Baird sounds remarkably like Cap’n John Handy on alto; Carl shouts the vocal most endearingly, and that rhythm section rocks — at a tempo that’s not too slow and not too fast, either.

This clip led me into half an hour of etymological research into “dreamboat,” with the lexicographers getting the meanings right — the adored one or something that is adorable — but no one noticed that the song above was a hit in 1935 (music by Dave Franklin, lyrics by Cliff Friend).  Whether lyric writers invent new idioms or they simply make effective use of them in their songs, I wouldn’t say, but having Bing Crosby record this tune for Decca meant that it came into the public consciousness — with versions by Jimmy Rushing with the Basie band, the Bob Crosby Bobcats, Tommy Dorsey, and even Fats Domino, Benda Lee, and Cliff Richard (!) to follow.

Whatever one might make of the etymology, I send the best romantic wishes to all my readers.  May your dreamboat be close at hand, now and always.  And if you are temporarily dreamboat-lacking, may (s)he come to you in 2010 or even earlier!

Postscripts: the American and British sheet music covers, (where “dream boat” is two words), to inspire you:

DAWN FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Just when I thought I had made the most of Rae Ann Berry’s video largesse, more clips emerged on YouTube — one of Dawn Lambeth singing AS LONG AS I LIVE with Clint Baker, Marc Caparone, Mike Baird, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, Mike Fay, and Hal Smith — the same devoted band of swinging individualists I praised in the recent post, NEW ORLEANS HOT SAUCE!

Dawn is one of my favorite singers — unaffected, swinging, and sincere, with a deep-hued voice that conveys emotional messages without strain or “acting.”  I’ve heard her sing this Arlen classic at a more leisurely tempo, but here she rides the rhythm wave of the band with style.  (Am I correct in thinking that AS LONG AS I LIVE is based on the harmonies of BASIN STREET BLUES?  If so, it just testifies to Harold Arlen’s deep love and immersion in Hot Music.)

And I’d like Dawn and the rest of this band to be around a long long time — although I wouldn’t insist that they wear long underwear in the balmy breezes of Pismo Beach.  Maybe they could take multivitamins instead?

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

NEW ORLEANS HOT SAUCE!

I’m not offering a splendidly energizing bottle of cayenne peppers and vinegar — but its musical equivalent, designed to make everything taste better. 

Here, courtesy of Rae Ann Barry, roving videographer, are performances by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, recorded live on December 20, 2009, at the monthly jazz party of the Basin Street Regulars in Pismo Beach, California. 

The eloquent down-home players are Clint Baker, trombone, trumpet, and bass; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Mike Baird, clarinet; Carl “Sonny” Leyland; Mike Fay, bass; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar, vocal; Hal Smith, drums, and two surprises.

PANAMA (not PANAMA RAG) is where Stompy Jones — and STOMPY JONES — come from.  Not only is this song often played too fast; some of its strains are left out or forgotten by bands eager to get to the familiar refrain.  Clint’s band knows all the ins and outs, and the tempo is just right.  Catch Hal Smith’s tom-tom accents and his homage to Zutty and Baby Dodds!  Marc sounds like a very hip Joe Oliver . . . perhaps a King Joe who had lived on to play more in 1938.  And Rae Ann is intrepid indeed, never flinching away from what must have been perilous proximity to those umbrellas.  (Note to self: Call to find cost of liability insurance for jazz videographers.)

And here’s BIG CHIEF BATTLE AX, a song — with several strains — that Bunk Johnson loved to play, in a performance that lets everyone romp, with special praise for Carl’s righteous piano.  I tried to find the lyrics, but only come up with the wonderful sheet music cover.  Can anyone help?:

UP JUMPED THE DEVIL reminds me of DO WHAT ORY SAY with a dash of SISTER KATE (or GET OFF KATIE’S HEAD, if you prefer) stirred in at the end.  But what I find captivating — aside from Marc’s fervent lead throughout, is the wonderful ensemble rock: not faster, not louder, just cumulatively intensifying:

And a delightful surprise — one of my favorite singers, Dawn Lambeth, comes to sing ALWAYS, first as it was written, and then courtesy of Mr. Leyland, as a Fifties boogie.  Watch Dawn sway happily as Marc aims for the stars (and gets there)!  And Mike Baird takes a few Pee Wee Russell turns.  I love Dawn’s third chorus — she’s subtle but she really improvises:

CANAL STREET BLUES takes on a different flavor with Clint switching to trumpet and Marc’s father, the estimable Dave Caparone, coming in on trombone.  Dave is a renowned winemaker, but I first admired him not for his big reds, but because he could sound like Benny Morton — a great virtue!  You can hear a bit of his neat Thirties glide here.  Love that rhythm section!:

And a neat change of pace: Katie Cavera brings her guitar and sweet voice for the late-Twenties version of “Shut up and kiss me!” — DO SOMETHING, with the band coming together in a great loose way as the performance proceeds, the hot honors going to Clint at the start:

MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND (turned into MARCH OF THE BOB CATS by the Crosby-ites) has the benefit of a fine trombone section.  Mike Baird makes me think of HIGH SOCIETY, and Katie swings out most musically.  Let’s hear it for Hal’s melodic snare-drum chorus, and also for the red-shirted man who gives Rae Ann an astonished look the first time he walks in front of her lens.  Maybe he had forgotten his umbrella?  If that closing ensemble doesn’t move you, perhaps you need cayenne peppers:

More information from:
www.pismojazz.com
www.clintbakerjazz.com
sfraeann@comcast.net

Thanks to all the spicy, expert roisterers!

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 

KEVIN DORN AND FRIENDS (Dec. 18, 2009)

I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club.  Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.  

The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands.  Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings.  What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity.  I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.   

Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying.  For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other.  So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly.  This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case.  And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below. 

For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis.  Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday.  Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner.  His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches.  He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this.  And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky.  The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm.  Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support.  Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.  Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases.  George Duvivier would approve.  I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative.  Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past. 

This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military.  I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor.  Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare.  Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless.  Welcome back, Pete! 

And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have.  And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.

Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage.  Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis.  I hope so.

Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:

The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:

In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:

I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:

I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind.  It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments.  Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over.  That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited.  All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:

In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:

And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BILLIE, IN BETTER LIGHT

I’m glad that a number of my readers found the nearly-prurient Carl Van Vechten photographs of Billie Holiday equally disturbing.  I needed to put something in their place. 

Earl Hines told Whitney Balliett in a New Yorker Profile, “Sunshine always opens out,” his way of saying that good fortune eventually finds you, and today it found me in the shape of a pleasant email from Erik Svinding Olsen, alerting me to his Billie Holiday site — he’s been a devoted listener for more than fifty years now.  Erik’s site has a wonderful discography, among other pleasures, and although he doesn’t attempt to list every CD issue of every song (something that often results in pages of label / number listings for something like the Decca LOVER MAN) his discography contains recordings I had never heard of.  It’s clear and well-organized: you can search by date, by song, by musicians, etc.  I’ve listed his site on my blogroll: http://www.holiday.eriksol.dk/

Erik also told me about another site devoted to Miss Holiday, a site that I find frankly astonishing — for its photographs.  Most of the books devoted to Billie reproduce the same studies — often they are moody portraits with the inevitable gardenia.  But Mike Lubbers of the Netherlands, the Holiday-collector behind this enterprise has found more pictures of Billie than I had imagined . . . a few of them copies of newspaper clippings, and many of them still pictures from her appearances in SYMPHONY IN BLACK, NEW ORLEANS, film shorts and television shows. 

But there are more than twelve hundred photographs of Billie, beginning with a snapshot of her as a cheeful teenager on the beach at Coney Island and ending with photographs of the crowd at her funeral.  This trove can be found here: http://www.billieholiday.be/

I have contented myself with only a few photographs from this site — to not seem too greedy among Mike’s treasures — but they nearly offset the Van Vechtens for me.  If I have chosen a number of portraits (mostly candid) that show Billie alongside other famous musicians and singers, can you blame me? 

Here’s Billie the writer, presumably working on her “autobiography,” LADY SINGS THE BLUES, in June 1956. 

And a frankly posed shot, to make it seem as if she was earnestly blue-penciling her own galleys (or proofs?).  I couldn’t ignore it because of the Fifties prop: she’s wearing horn-rimmed glasses, the sure sign of the writer, the intellectual.  Editing your autobiography can’t be done without the proper plumage: in this case, sparkly dangling earrings.   

This somewhat grainy newspaper photograph is a relief . . . because it is in some way far more real.  Is it that Billie has asked Frank — who said he owed so much to her singing — for his autograph?  Whatever the story, this photograph was taken, or published, on May 26, 1944.

I have no fondness for any of Billie’s men, who seem to have treated her poorly, but at least she looks happy here with Louis McKay, in May 1954. 

A candid photograph taken at the home of Billie and Louis McKay, December 1951.  If it’s caution, wariness, or skepticism in her sideways glance and slightly raised eyebrow, she looks far more relaxed, even girlish, than she ever did under Van Vechten’s gaze.

Billie with a happy Count Basie in July 1948, during their appearances at the Strand Theatre in New York City. 

A very hip trio in Billie’s dressing room, September 1949.  Does Billie’s dog know who’s there?  Of course!  (Louis loved dogs.)  Billie looks as if she is just about to burst into laughter — always a happy sight. 

In December  1945, at the Onyx Club — from left, Sarah Vaughan (travelling in fast company), Louis, Billie, and someone whose face is vaguely familiar but elusive.  At ease, even when assembled for a “candid” photograph and facing a flashbulb.

Billie at Orly Airport in Paris, November 1958.  Again, it’s a posed photograph, with a good deal of failed “spontaneity” in the artificial tilt of her head and the rather forced smile — but she looks more at ease than we would have expected.

I wouldn’t call them old friends — late in life, Teddy Wilson insisted that he would have preferred another girl singer, Beverly “Baby” White, for those awe-inspiring Brunswicks and Vocalions — but they certainly had a long association.  By this time, Teddy no longer wanted to be anyone’s sideman, and Billie may have found his precision a bit restrictive, but here they are at the first Newport Jazz Festival on July 18, 1954.  (Many more pictures exist of this pair at this concert.)

Another pianist worthy of our attention: Billie and Art Tatum, taken at the Downbeat Club in December 1946.  (Photographs of Tatum are rare, and I thought he and Billie were captured only at the Metropolitan Opera House jam session in 1944.)  Tatum seems unfazed by the ornamentation atop Billie’s hat, and that the photographer has posed them outside of the Ladies’ — but we have to catch our legends where we may.

Something else I didn’t know: that Billie and Lester had appeared at a series of outdoor New York City concerts in July 1957.  Lester looks dubious, Billie guarded, but I hope it’s nothing more than that they were trading bad stories about the promoter or one of the sidemen.  It would break my heart if they were glaring at each other.

Since Billie has often been presented as an iconic figure of sadness, of self-destruction, I thought I would conclude with two photographs where she looks unaffectedly happy, not posing at being happy for someone’s camera.  If you didn’t know she was the famous “doomed” artist, would you see it in her strong, amused face?  This shot was taken at a session for Verve (or Clef?) in June 1956. 

Late in her life — December 1958 — but taking her ease at Tony Scott’s house. 

Heartfelt thanks to Erik Svindling Olsen, to Mike Lubbers, to Billie Holiday and all the people who love her and treat her properly, even fifty years after her death.

BILLIE HOLIDAY, SEEN

Most photographs of Billie Holiday show her as beautiful, whether thin or overweight, dressed ornately or plainly.  Often she looks mournful.  Of course it is hard to say what her unposed expressions were like.  Did the photographer ask her to strike a pose, or to think of STRANGE FRUIT?  I prefer to recall a 1935 photograph by Timme Rosenkrantz, outside, with Ben Webster and others.  Billie wears a summer dress, looks sweetly young, glad to be alive among friends.     

Jim Eigo (of Jazz Promo Services) told me that the Beinecke Library at Yale University seems to have thrown open the doors of its photography collection online.  If you enter “jazz” or “blues” as a keyword in the search engine, riches cascade onto your monitor.  But they have the power to make me deeply uncomfortable.   

Most of the photographs were taken by Carl VanVechten, who was fascinated by jazz musicians, but primarily by women — singers (Billie, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Maxine Sullivan, Chippie Hill, Lil Green, Lizzie Miles, Gladys Bentley, Thelma Carpenter as a Seminole Indian) and dancers (Pearl Primus).  They show a good deal of dramatic planning and staging, with costumes, a formal studio, elaborate props, poses from iconic to sordid. 

Yes, there are pictures of W.C. Handy, Tiny Bradshaw, Josh White, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, and even Rudi Blesh . . . but Van Vechten was nearly obsessed by Ethel Waters — photographing her as Carmen; by Bessie Smith, in 1936, in a variety of poses; and perhaps most by Billie Holiday.

I can’t reproduce the photographs, although readers are allowed to view and save them.  Anything else requires the permission of the photographer’s estate and no doubt of the subject’s as well.

The color photographs of Billie, from 1949, give me pause. 

In one set, she is wearing a lavender dress with red trim, next to a vase of showy pink flowers.  In another, Van Vechten has her wearing a black velvet gown; she looks far-away and sad.  In yet another set, she is apparently naked from the waist up: her arms crossed over her breasts, anything buy happily erotic.  In the first of the series, she looks away from the camera; we see a scar on her face; her red lipstick is garish; in the next, she attempts to look casual; in the last of the series, where she is once again looking away from the camera, her face is wounded, her expression that of a soul in pain.  These three portraits are hard to look at; did the photographer sense her distress, or did she say that those three were enough, that she was no pinup girl?  They seem to me to be intrusive, near-violations, even even if Van Vechten thought he was portraying her lovingly, ceebrating her unmistakable erotic appeal.

There are many black-and-white studies, but (as if to compensate for the painful exposure) many are many of Billie with her boxer, Mister — where both she and the dog are happy, affectionate, at their ease, sharing unconditional love and tenderness.   

The Beinecke collection can be viewed here:  

http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/

and the Billie portraits can be accessed here: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl/oneITEM.asp?pid=2022461&iid=1091648&srchtype=

It is a record of a photographer deeply absorbed by his subjects, often revering them, sometimes exposing them for the sake of his lens.  I believe that I am glad all these photographs exist, but I am not sure.

“BIRDLAND,” or “TWEET AND LOVELY”

Although I have been guilty of bad-mannered satire about compressing any worthwhile utterance into 140 characters or less, I’ve finally succumbed to the blandishments of the newest form of “social networking” and put this blog on Twitter, if that’s the correct idiom — as Jazz_Lives.

That’s http://twitter.com/JAZZ_LIVES.  In the new language this endeavor brings with it, feel free to Tweet, even to Retweet . . .  

I’ve also signed up at Twitterfeed, although I have a hard time not making jokes about that title and the birdfood one can buy in huge bags at Agway.  Old habits and old skepticisms die hard, or at least they fall with a terrible clatter. 

Why all this Twittering?  Partly because of gentle urging, partly because I’d like the whole world to see and hear Vince and the boys play ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.  Imagine if I saw someone across from me on the subway grooving to Bent Persson on his or her iPhone?  I would feel much better about this century than I often do. 

On other, mildly-related matters, both I and this blog have a new email address: swingyoucats@gmail.com.  “Mark it down!” as Billie says on MISS BROWN TO YOU.

However it all works out, I hope that everything in your daily life is as Tweet as possible.

MR. LEYLAND CONSENTS!

Thanks to Tom Warner, generous videographer, you and I can revel in the solo piano of Carl Sonny Leyland.  Here he is here levitating ‘DEED I DO at the 2009 West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, California. 

Mr. Leyland would not be insulted, I am sure, if I mention the now-departed pianists his rollicking playing reminded me of: how about Earl Hines, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Cassino Simpson, Pete Johnson, Bob Zurke — listen to him and he provides a ticket to a wondrous piano party.  Hooray!  And I’ve added his website — www.carlsonnyleyland.com. — to my blogroll.  Visit early and often.

FELONIOUS JUNK!

Thanks to scrubs123.com

Jazz scholar and friend David Schacker provided this news story.  All I thought was, “Where does this man’s doctor practice?  I want to be part of that medical group.  Perhaps (s)he can write me a prescription to ward off what I hear booming from the SUV in the next lane.”

Officer, That’s Not Jazz, I Say, It’s Felonious Junk!

By THE NEW YORK TIMES

Published: December 12, 2009

Is contemporary music grounds for arrest? An angry purist attending the Sigüenza Jazz Festival in Spain called the police last week to protest the appearance of the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core, The Guardian of London reported. His doctor had told him that listening to anything but jazz was “psychologically inadvisable.” The Civil Guard showed up, armed, and passed the complaint along to a judge. The festival director, Ricardo Checa, told the newspaper El País that the jazz purist didn’t get a refund. “The question of what constitutes jazz and what does not is obviously a subjective one,” Mr. Checa said, “but not everything is New Orleans funeral music.”

I don’t ordinarily take an energetically exclusionary approach to art — people who say that THIS is our kind of music and THIS isn’t might be depriving themselves of delights — but in this case I wouldn’t mind accepting applications for members of my New York chapter of Angry Jazz Purists.  This being New York, though, perhaps our group would be Fast-Talking Sarcastic Jazz Purists With An Ironic Edge.  Anyone want to design our logo?

Thank you, David!

CHARLES PETERSON GOES TO A PARTY (1939)

Want to come to a party?  Duke Ellington, Dave Tough, Hot Lips Page, Billie Holiday, Ivie Anderson, Pee Wee Russell, Johnny Hodges, and Chu Berry will be there.

Unfortunately, I sent out the invitation a little late, because the party ended seventy years ago.  But Charles Peterson was there with his camera.  And it is through his generosity of spirit and his art that we can drop in now.   

In the middle Thirties, someone at LIFE Magazine thought of sending a reporter and cameraman to parties, perhaps in an attempt to offset grim news in Europe and at home, and the phrase “LIFE Goes To A Party” grew familiar — so much so that it became the title of a riffing original by Harry James, played by Benny Goodman at the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.  Now, we’d call this phenomenon “cross-marketing,” but the music remains. 

In 1938, Peterson’s photographs of “Swing” musicians and fans had been a hit in LIFE.  A year later, in August, he, publicist Ernie Anderson, and their musician friends arranged a jam session party at the studio of Burris Jenkins, both for fun and to publicize the music.  The photographs never ran, but Don Peterson compiled a number of them for the book SWING ERA NEW YORK.    

Jenkins was a friend of Peterson’s, a then-famous sports cartoonist for the New York Journal-American and the Hearst newspapers nationwide, and an enthusiastic jazz fan.  The other journalist in these pictures is Hubbell Young, another friend and jazz fan, then an editor on the staff of Readers Digest.  The third civilian is an unidentified French jazz fan, possibly in the diplomatic service.  And (most familiar to jazz fans) there is twenty-year old Harry Lim, record producer, in whose honor the jam session was held.

Let’s start with the photograph at the top of this post.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel-jazz singer and guitarist, is at the piano, her white headband gleaming, her back to us.  To her right, in profile, is Duke, working out something on Rosetta’s guitar.  Behind Duke and to his right is Johnny Hodges, his face shadowy, his expression typically stony.  Along the back of the room are people not holding instruments: Hubbell Young and a woman in black; Young pensive, the woman more animated.  In front of them, the French guest drains the last drops from his soda or beer bottle.  In the middle, cornetist Rex Stewart seems to aim his cornet at the back of Harry Lim’s head; behind them, Eddie Condon (without guitar) seems to be grinning at something tenor saxophonist Chu Berry has just played.  The host, Burris Jenkins, holds his hands up in a telling gesture: is it “Too loud, for God’s sake”? or perhaps “I surrender, dear”? or even “All of you — get out of here now!”?  (The people who surround Jenkins remain elusive; they might have been guests, family, or neighbors: when you’re planning a loud party, you always invite the neighbors.)  To Chu’s right are two members of the ensemble named by Phyllis Condon — the Summa Cum Laude orchestra: bassist Clyde Newcombe and trumpeter Max Kaminsky, the shadows from trombonist J.C. Higginbotham’s horn are traced on Max’s face.  Bent backwards with the intensity he always brought to playing is Hot Lips Page; in the middle of the swirling mass of sound is Cozy Cole.   

It would be impossible to know, but I suspect that this ensemble is not embarked on something tidy and delicate, nothing like DON’T BLAME ME.  Rather I hear in my imagination  a Condon IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, rough and ready. 

Here’s what might be Peterson’s most famous photograph — the cover shot for SWING ERA NEW YORK.   In 1938 and after, there were record dates with a touch of novelty, featuring jazz musicians proficient on more than one instrument, either playing an instrument they weren’t associated with, or switching horns during the date.  One such recording has Bobby Hackett on guitar as well as cornet, Pete Brown on trumpet as well as alto saxophone.  Of course, Benny Carter had been doing all this on his own for years. 

Whether this photograph was Peterson’s idea or it came from the musicians themselves, we can’t tell, but everyone seems delighted to be playing around in this way.  Observant readers will note that it is a close-up of the collective photograph at top, although Peterson has also moved to a different vantage point. 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe has, for the moment, passed her guitar (with a resonator) to Duke Ellington, who is strumming a simple chord (guitarists out there can tell me what it is); both of them are grinning away.  But their hilarity is nothing compared to the rakish smile on the face of Cab Calloway at the piano.  Calloway, at times, considered himself a saxophonist, although members of the Missourians and later Chu Berry did not hold the same opinion — outspoken Chu, in fact, told his boss to put the saxophone back in the case permanently.  I don’t think that Duke and Cab are venturing into some of that “Chinese music” that would become the common language of jazz in just a few years. 

The smiles themselves are intriguing: Sister Rosetta and Cab are on the same exuberant wavelength; they would be looking into one another’s eyes if Cab wasn’t cautiously looking down at the keyboard to see what notes his fingers were hitting.  It was a hot August night, so most of the guests and players are in short sleeves; Ivie Anderson particulary stylish in her tailored suit, with striking buttons; she grins indulgently down at Cab’s chording.  The French guest, whom no one has yet identified, is smiling, but somewhat tentatively, as if he is watching and hearing something in translation.  But my eyes are drawn to cornetist Rex Stewart, who seems to be considering the collective merriment at some distance, even though he is standing close to the piano.  Was he wondering, “What are these fools doing?”  Perhaps he was overhearing a conversation out of Peterson’s camera range.  But his reticence, his near-skepticism, make him the still center of this particular turning world.  And although one’s eyes are intially drawn to the features the flashbulb illuminates: Cab’s grin, his white shirt, Duke’s forehead and cufflinks . . . it is to Rex that I find myself returning.  And to that suit jacket on top of the piano, part of the evening’s larger story. 

In this shot, we see Billie Holiday, perhaps twenty-four, her head cocked slightly, her expression serene and observant, her eyes half-closed.  Behind her, Hubbell Young and the woman in black are either greeting or saying goodbye to another woman wearing a whimsical summer straw hat.  Rex looks nearly malevolent with the effort of blowing; Harry Lim is leaning in closer to get a better look; Condon is dreamily happy but his eyes are only part-focused.  (Was it late in the evening?)  We do know it was hot in the room — the temperature as well as the music — if we look at Lips Page’s sweat-soaked, translucent shirt.  Cozy Cole made a specialty out of lengthy sustained press-roll solos; perhaps he is, shouting with pleasure, in the middle of one here, while the horns punch out encouraging chords.  

Slighty earlier in the evening (Lips still has his vest on).  Around the piani where presumably Dave Bowman is accompanying Lips are Harry Lim, Newcombe, the French guest, and a seriously chubby-looking Miss Holiday, smiling inwardly, her rings and bracelet and manicure evidence (although her dress is unimpressively plain) that she knew photographs were being taken for LIFE.  Those of us who know the iconic pictures Milt Hinton took of Billie at her last recording session — where she seems fiercely thin — will find these surprising.    

J.C. Higginbotham is telling Bud Freeman a story, to which Harry Lim is listening.  Bud is intent, but whether he is concentrating on what Dave Bowman is playing or on Higgy’s story is a mystery.  Eddie Condon, to the right of the piano, drink in hand, is listening deeply (he was deaf in one ear, which may account for his quizzical expression), and Clyde Newcombe is at his ease, off duty.  The man in dark glasses, a lock of hair falling over his forehead, is promoter and publicist Anderson.  The French guest tries to play Max Kaminsky’s trumpet (with what success?) and Max, displaced for the moment, takes a pair of sticks to the snare drum.  The center of this shot is once again Billie, still looking well-fed, happy, smiling at the amateur trumpeter as if he were her child, tenderly.  

From another angle: a perspiring Ellington listens appreciatively to what six brass are doing: from the left, Higgy, Brad Gowans, Juan Tizol, Lips Page, Rex, and Max (great trumpet and cornet players, as Whitney Balliett once wrote, are rarely tall men), and Harry Lim at the rear, looking younger than his twenty years.  I find myself drawn to the sideways glance Max is giving his colleagues, as in “Are we going to take another chorus or not?”

From the evidence of his singing and speaking, Lips Page was a wonderful actor and story-teller.  He never got the opportunity to fully show this side of his talents.  Jerry Newman, I once read, recorded Lips telling a tale of a hair-straightening product gone awry.  Here it’s obvious that he’s doing “the voices” by the curl of his lip, convulsing Ivie and Cab in the foreground, Higgy, Brad, and perhaps Rex close by in the background.

This shot seems as if it might have been posed — as if Peterson had asked the three reed players (Pee Wee having left for work) to stand together.  What sounds they would have made, each one with his immediately identifiable sonority!  The reflected explosion of the flash makes a small sun behind Chu’s head, and is it by accident or on purpose that the three hands are posed on the three horns in exactly the same plane?  (Hodges, incidentally, looks even more like a little boy in his father’s clothing than usual.)  Chu’s horn casts a shadow on his shirtfront.  Beneath Chu is a newspaper, perhaps, advertising CHINESE FIGURE LAMPS.  And it’s possible that the figure almost entirely cut off to the left is pianist Dave Bowman, if the bit of striped shirt is evidence.  You wouldn’t know that Chu had just gone through some painful dental work by this photograph. 

This is another celestial version of “gathering around the piano,” with Duke happily concentrating, Ivie passionately singing something delicate yet forceful — a quiet high note? — Harry Lim thoughtfully observing, the French guest somber in the background, Max and Higgy playing in support.  What amuses me most is Cab, who has of course positioned himself as close as possible to Ivie to drink in her voice . . . but he also instinctually seems to have placed himself to be sharply visible in every shot.   But what fascinates me are the four happy facial expressions seen here: Duke, musing, avuncular, affectionately considering both the piano and Ivie’s voice; Harry Lim, a star student, a good boy, observing, wondering, savoring; Ivie, perhaps reaching for a poignant turn of phrase, her face in a kind of controlled artistic ecstasy — which the light of Peterson’s flash illuminates, as if sanctifying the music pouring out; Cab, grinning hugely, part listening, part onstage.  What painter could do these faces justice?  

I love this photograph for its beauty and implied ideological statement.  Throught his long career, Bud Freeman never got the praise and atention he deserved: the closest thing to a wise, loving assessment of his work was published in Richard Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, after Bud had died.  But Freeman had several strikes against him — he was White and poised (thus going against the stereotype that jazz musicians had to be Black martyred primitives); he played “Dixieland” with Eddie Condon, which gave critics the opportunity to take him less seriously; his style required close listening to be grasped — on a superficial level, it might have sounded just like a series of bubbling scalar figures that could be applied to any composition in any context.  But he was a great ballad player and his style was HIS — no small accomplishment.  Here, he is somewhere in the middle of a phrase or perhaps ready to launch into one — his last improvisatory turn so novel, so refreshing, that the man at the piano — we remember him! — is laughing aloud with joy and surprise.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe is behind this duo, chatting over her beer, and I don’t know the other figures in this photo, except to note that the smile on the face of the man in suspenders is commentary enough on what he’s hearing. 

That celestial brass section again!  But it is very clear who is in charge here — Oran Thaddeus Page, leaning against the wall (I’ve been admiring Jenkins’s faux-three-dimensional wallpaper in every shot) both casual and intensely focused: it takes all one’s energy and strength to play as Lips did!  Rex, a champion trumpet-gladiator, is watching Lips with a cautious-potentially dangerous look in his eyes (“My chance will come in the next chorus and I’ll top what he just played, I will!”)  Higgy and Brad, for the moment content to be out of the way of those trumpets, are offering harmonies.  But it’s Lips the eye returns to: leaning backwards as if perched on the edge of the table with nothing particular to do, but electrically charged with his message, making the impossible, for a moment, look easy.   

This photograph, taken early in the evening (notice that Pee Wee, someone not highlighted in this session, has his suit on) has its own tale: best told by the enthusiastic Ernie Anderson, the man in dark glasses, holding a telephone for Mr. Russell to play into . . . ? 

LIFE Magazine had wanted a jam session.  So Eddie Condon and I cooked one up for them.  Duke Ellington happened to be playing in town so we got him and some of his players and mixed them in with Eddie’s Barefoot Mob.  LIFE sent their great music photographer, Charlie Peterson, who used to play the guitar in Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees.  We staged the rout in our friend Burris Jenkins’s pad.  He was Hearst’s star cartoonist, a terrific fan of jazz.  His place was the whole top floor of an ancient rookery on the West Side of Manhattan at the beginning of Riverside Drive, with panoramic views of the Hudson River.  This was a little study where the phone was. It was just off the dining room where there was a concert grand Steinway.  Duke was at the keyboard, Cozy Cole was swinging up a storm on his drums . . . and there were about twenty horns around the grand in full cry.  It was just what LIFE wanted and they didn’t want us to stop . . . .But it was eight o’clock.  Pee Wee was due at Nick’s at nine and Nick had promised to fire him for good if he was a minute late.  So I found the phone and called Nick.  I tried to explain but Nick wasn’t having any.  Then Pee Wee started to growl on his subtone clarinet into the telephone.  Nick loved that growl.  Finally Nick relented and gave permission for Pee Wee to miss the first set.  While all this was taking pace, Charlie Peterson came out of the drawing room with his camera to get some more film.  He saw the action and snapped this photo.  That’s Dave Bowman holding his scotch and soda.  He played the piano in the original Summa Cum Laude band and also made some famous sides with Sidney Bechet.  The trumpet is . . . . Lips Page.  And beside him, in the right hand corner, is Brad Gowanswho probably invented the valve trombone.   The party roared on for some hours.  Pee Wee didn’t get fired that night.”  (excerpted from STORYVILLE , 1 December 1990, no. 144) 

Aside from Pee Wee’s intent expression and substantial chin (prefiguring Robert DiNiro years later?) I notice the telephone book, bottom left: they had to look up the phone number of Nick’s to call its gruff owner, Nick Rongetti — making the story more plausible.    

Swing dancers take note!  Ivie’s anklet gleams; she and Cab are having themselves a time.  Condon is happily watching their feet from the left; Bud Freeman’s grin threatens to split his face in two on the right.  Brad, Rex, Max, and Lips are playing their parts; Juan Tizol, nattily dressed and looking just like Tommy Dorsey, is smiling.  Again, the tiny details make this even more delightful: Condon’s exuberantly striped socks; Cab and Ivie’s white shoes; the rippling material of her dress.  What step are they executing?  I hope some adept reader can tell us.  But the great musicians (including Louis and Dizzy) were champion dancers.    

And we come full circle: Sister Rosetta’s face nearly Asiatic; Duke’s delighted eyes fixed on her mouth; Lips thoughtfully admiring what he sees and hears; Cab, for once, rapt, his face not aimed at the camera.  

Two postscripts.  One concerns Dave Tough, then drummer in the Summa Cum Laude band and someone inextricably drawn to alcohol and terribly sensitive to its effects.  There’s a famously blurry Peterson photograph of a reeling, shaky Tough, his shirt drenched to near-transparency, his hand being held by Cozy Cole, who looks none too steady himself.  I would assume that Tough played early on, got helplessly drunk, and had to be sent home, leaving Cozy the sole percussionist.

And that suit jacket?  Condon, in his SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ (assembled and edited by Hank O’Neal, one of jazz’s living benefactors) told the story that it was terribly hot in Jenkins’s apartment, as the photographs prove.  Ellington took his jacket off and hung it over the back of a chair, perhaps forgetting that in the pocket was money for the band’s pay.  When the jam session was over, the envelope was gone.  Music hath charms, but its redemptive powers might have limits.

As I’ve written before, how lucky we are that Charles Peterson was there, and that Don Peterson has not only preserved these photographs but has collected archival material to explain them: we owe him many thanks!  Now, if you will, close your eyes and imagine the music.

“CONCERNING POPS”

This passage comes from an article about Louis Armstrong by the Swiss jazz historian Johnny Simmen; the article appeared in a 1973 issue of CODA devoted to Louis.  “Herman” is Herman Autrey, the trumpet star of Fats Waller and his Rhythm.

One night, in October 1961, a friend of Herman’s quoted some writer’s opinion about the present-day Louis Armstrong’s stage manners (which he disliked and qualified as being ‘Uncle Tom-ish’) and his playing (which he called ‘uncreative’ and being ‘a mere shadow of the Armstrong of the 20s’).  My wife and I have often spoken of Herman’s reaction which was so impressive that we both haven’t forgotten either his facial expression–which became all threatening and tense–or the words that followed: ‘You better tell this guy to mind his own business and stop talking about things he doesn’t understand!  Louis is the greatest artist and man that I know and as long as he chooses to stay in music, he will be unsurpassed!’ (The mother bear defending her baby bear couldn’t have been more involved than Herman putting things right concerning Pops.)  We realized there and then that as much as Herman loved Fats, Louis Armstrong was even closer and meant even more to him.  A most moving experience.”

Thanks to Ricky Riccardi for finding the source of this quotation, “a most moving experience,” indeed.

A JOHNNY DODDS SIGHTING

It’s been almost seventy years since anyone could hope to glimpse Johnny Dodds in the flesh . . . so this will have to do.  

The Beloved and I were seriously downtown in New York City a few weeks ago, on our way to a presentation.  She spotted a little antique store — “A Repeat Performance,” 156 First Avenue (212. 529.0832) and we walked in.  It’s a long narrow shop, crammed with more than the eye can take in — but all of it neatly arranged, including vintage clothing, musical instruments, typewriters, books.  My eye was caught and held immediately by an elementary-school style phonograph near the entrance.  (I find phonographs captivating, having spent so much of my life in front of them, and the equation is not complicated.  Phonograph = Music = Pleasure.)  

But what really drew me was the 78 on the turntable.  It was a Bluebird 78, which might have resulted in something less than enthralling: Charlie Barnet or Freddy Martin.  But not this time.  I stood still, picked it up, admired its shiny surface, and asked the proprietor, as casually as I could, “How much do you want for this?”  “Five dollars,” she said, perhaps seeing something in my eye that said she had a customer’s interest in something that clearly was worth more than fifty cents.  “Done,” I said, paid her, and we went on our way — because otherwise I would have made us seriously late.

I’ve heard this music before on various vinyl issues, but never seen it on a shiny Bluebird 78 reissue, I presume ten or so years after it was first recorded.  All hail Johnny Dodds! 

We haven’t found our way back to that shop yet, but I wonder what other treasures are there.  Where there’s one jazz record, usually there are more . . . hiding.

TWO SHADES OF “BLUE”

Jazz is full of songs that have BLUE in the title that aren’t actually blues, whether 8, 12, or 16 bars.  And the EarRegulars played two of the nicest ones last Sunday night, December 6, 2009, at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, New York City).

For that night, the EarRegulars were anchored by their co-founders, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri.  The other members of the quartet were trombonist Harvey Tibbs and bassist (often vocalist) Nicki Parrott.

Harvey Tibbs is a quiet, jovial person — not someone looking for his moment in the spotlight, so he hasn’t received as much recognition as his talent deserves.  It’s a real pity: although I’ve heard him play with the Gully Low Jazz Band and with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks in person, and with Buck Clayton’s Swing Legacy Band on CD, I’ve never heard him lead an ensemble for a gig.  He knows a wide variety of music and would fit in anywhere.  His style is low-key but effective: his technique never outruns his feeling, and he fits his playing into the song, rather than the reverse.  Officially, he was Sergeant First Class with the West Point Jazz Knights for 22 years, and he continues to pop up in a variety of settings (from “swing dance” bands to “Dixieland” and “Latin” bands and the pit orchestras of Broadway shows.  Listen closely to what he plays on these two selections: his fellow musicians know just how fine a player he is. 

Nicki Parrott is such an ebullient personality on the stand — singing or not — that audiences have been seriously distracted from her fine bass playing, which has continued to develop as she plays alongside different musicians in a variety of settings.  At the Ear (as well as at Chautauqua), I admired Nicki’s steady time, her thoughtful, melodic phrasing (she knows how to take a breath!) and her innate swing. 

Jon-Erik and Matt were themselves . . . nothing more needs to be said!

My videos include the back of a pretty grey-haired woman’s head.  I didn’t ask her to move, because she is Jon-Erik’s sweetly amiable Aunt Debby, whose presence added to the video rather than detracted from it.

The first “blues” was the Twenties novelty tune, BLUES (MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME), made famous in a jazz context by Jimmy Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra, although I am sure it was a hit in vaudeville as well.  Here it’s taken at a vigorous Condon-in-the Fifties tempo:

The quartet also ventured into Benny Carter’s pretty, moody BLUES IN MY HEART, which dates from 1931 but still sounds so fresh:

These compositions are not official “blues,” but are unmistakably rewarding jazz.