Monthly Archives: December 2009

“KEEP HOT!”

In THE SPIRIT OF LOUIS, 2009, not long ago, I posted three video performances where the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys were joined by one of the remaining Elders, clarinetist Joe Muranyi.  (https://jazzlives.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/the-spirit-of-louis-2009/)

If those videos eluded you, or the SRB are new to you, here they are, in Toronto, playing BLUE (and BROKEN-HEARTED).  The “Boys” in this incarnation are Hans Jorgen Hansen, bass saxophone and other reeds; Robert Hansson, trumpet; Paul Waters, bass; Michael Bøving, banjo and vocal.  And the nicely-done video is by Flemming Thorbye, who has preserved so much fine jazz on YouTube.   

I find this very affecting.  It takes experience to play with such emotion yet to be so restrained.  As the late Leroy “Sam” Parkins often said, a group like this is in no hurry; they are taking their time.  And they get there!

A package arrived the other day, STARDUST, a CD with two sessions by the SRB — one with Joe Muranyi.  I had been impressed with the YouTube clips I had seen, but they were nothing compared to the sound of the SRB in the recording studio.  For one thing, the studio itself is spacious — I would guess that the musicians get to see each other and hear other without baffles and headphones.  Thus the result is like being very close up to a live performance in a space with ideal acoustics and ambiance. 

And the SRB plays its collective heart out, without strain.  Waters’ bass is propulsive without being pushing; his slap-technique is never monotonous or wooden.  Hansen has a fine, eloquent facility on all his horns, and he is a masterful ensemble player.  Boving is a steady, serene banjoist without the excesses of enthusiasm often connected to that instrument, and he is a compelling singer — idiosyncratic but with a huge, exuberant voice and attack, a heroic vibrato that made it seem as if every song was his own personal, passionate utterance.  And Hansson is simply a magnificent trumpeter — with a casual daring that honors Louis and Bix, without copying their phrases.  His easy mountain-scaling reminded me of Hackett, Cheatham, and Bob Barnard — and it’s supported by a sophisticated harmonic and rhythmic awareness.  Muranyi, the guest star, brings his own amused fervor to the proceedings, whether playing or singing his own gleeful I DIG SATCH.  And the SRB, with or without Joe, is clearly having fun without being self-consciously silly.  They are a wonderfully rewarding band, and this CD is just delightful, with repertoire that goes from Handy to Lyttelton to Jobim and back to Bix-associated tunes without anything sounding forced.  (A prize goes to listeners who recognize the Armstrong ending that brilliantly concludes SMILES!)

The CD is available through the SRB website (www.srbjazz.com.) and email inquiries can be sent to srbjazz@srbjazz.com

And my title?  It’s how Michael Boving signed his little note along with the CD.  The music it contains shows that he and his colleagues are keeping the faith.

“THE RECORD RACK”

About ten days ago, the Beloved and I took a day trip to Lambertville, New Jersey — a town known to some for its proximity to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

But the Beloved and I like flea markets, and although we have never made it to Lambertville’s flea market at the right just-after-sunrise time to see all its wares spread out at once, we enjoy walking around through the tables of what must now be called “mid-century American vernacular furnishings,” which sometimes translates to the objects you recall from the Fifties and would not want to have in your house, and sometimes it means McCoy pottery, sheet music, and . . . recordings.

The outdoor flea market had little we wanted, so we found ourselves in one of the buildings that surround it, which was called “the Golden Nugget.”  In it, I wandered through an autograph dealer’s shop and poked through bookshelves.  Finding little to interest me on the first floor, I went upstairs, and there, at the end of the corridor, I encountered

THE RECORD RACK

“Vinyl From All Eras”

I’ll say

I saw a great number of neatly arranged 78 rpm records.  Early Pathes.  Albuns of twelve-inch jazz 78s.  Crosby reissues on mid-Forties Brunswick.  A bin full of Commodore recordings from that same period.  Many many swing and dance band and vocal recordings from the late Twenties on to the Fifties.  All of these delights were reasonably priced (a rare record went for eleven dollars; the Commodores were two dollars).

I was thrilled, and although I bought only two items, they were enchanting.  One is a Swaggie vinyl recording of an Australian jazz group — Roger Bell and His Pagan Pipers — featuring Bell’s originals, one of which is fetchingly titled ALL SHE WORE WAS A HECTIC FLUSH. 

The other had a rim crack which had been neatly repaired: it was a 1939 Vocalion by a Johnny Hodges small group.  Incidentally, I believe “goon” comes from a Popeye character, Alice the Goon, which might explain Sammy Price’s THE GOON DRAG.

What was equally delightful was that the young man in charge, Brooke Sudlow, was enthusiastic and well-informed.  We got into conversation about the music I was excited by, and it led to Brooke’s pleasure in listening to and playing Maxine Sullivan — so he is more than a purveyor of old records. 

I do not ordinarily use this blog to plug businesses, but I think that Brooke’s business (he runs it with Pat Doron) deserves your attention.  Here is what we now call “contact information,” and I know if readers are also looking for a mint copy of a Buddy Holly recording, they have a very good chance of finding it through Brooke and Pat . . . fairly priced, too.

Brooke’s phone is 609.712.2751; Pat’s is 609.462.2894.  Someone’s email is footmoon59@yahoo.com., and the Record Rack itself is located at 1850 Route 29, Lambertville, New Jersey 08530.  And those Commodores might still be there . . . !

FAULTY TECHNIQUE (by John McWhorter)

In the December 14, 2009 issue of THE NEW YORKER, the book review is given over to Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong biography, POPS, which has received unprecedented media coverage.  The review is titled “THE ENTERTAINER,” which gave me pause. 

Its author is John McWhorter, “a Senior Fellow of Public Policy at the Manhattan Institute and a lecturer at Columbia University.”  Thus, he seems not to be an official “Jazz Critic,” which is fine, and his prose is commendably clear.  And the review is mostly an overview of Armstrong’s life, with comments on Teachout’s book sprinkled here and there.  McWhorter closes by quoting alto saxophonist Charlie Holmes, a commendable act.

I suppose I should confess (although close readers will have guessed it by now) that I am what some uncomprehending writer referred to as “guilty of Amstrongidolatry,” although I do not value all of Louis’s performances equally.  But he seems monumental.   

Halfway through the review, nine words leapt out at me:

“Armstrong, like many self-taught geniuses, had a faulty technique. . . .”

Lest I seem to be quoting out of context, I will add that McWhorter then speaks of the scar tissue on Armstrong’s upper lip, and that the result of his “faulty technique” was audible in the Fifties, when “rapid-fire cascades of notes no longer came as easily.”

All of this is true, although I will leave aside the question of whether Arnold Palmer or Joe Louis would have been reproached for, later in life, having less muscular ability than in their youth.

But “faulty technique” sticks in my throat, or my craw, or wherever irritating half-truths can be said to stick.

“So!” I said to myself.  “That “faulty technique” must be the reason Louis’s playing on HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH and AFTER YOU’VE GONE and GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR is so . . . . “faulty.” 

Had Louis, instead of being placed in the Colored Waifs’ Home, been fortunate enough to master legitimate trumpet technique . . . had he been able to spend several years in a Jazz Studies program . . . had he been able to master the proper rudiments of brass playing with teachers more well-trained than Peter Jones and Joseph Oliver. . . well, then.  Then we would have heard some great music, instead of these flawed performances.

I was a very very bad trumpet player in fifth grade, and my later attempts at the brass family would impress no one.  But I do know how difficult it is to play the trumpet at any level, and thus Louis’s playing strikes me as astonishing.  And it might seem to some to be ad hominem to ask on what instrument McWhorter has distinguished himself, and is his technique beyond reproach?

And before any reproachful readers write in to (of course) deliver reproaches, I would ask that they listen to at least three minutes of an Armstrong performance they hold dear and work diligently to uncover the faults in its technique.  Only then might we be able to discuss this in some informed way.

HOT STORIES, LIMITED EDITION

 I confess that the title of this post might be seen by some as intentionally misleading.  But when a Hot Man like Jim Goodwin writes a book, it should be Hot, too.  I’m taking it on faith.  Here’s the word from my friend Barb Hauser of San Francisco (and I’ve already placed my order):

As you know, Jim Goodwin was a person of many talents; the most widely known being his unique musical abilities. You probably know too that he was very funny, a fan of the absurd and off-the-wall humor. Jim also had a magical talent for putting his humorous thoughts on paper. His personal letters were the kind one saved. They were typed on a manual Royal; sometimes on a proper letter-size sheet of white paper, other times on a torn odd-size piece of recycled paper. If you were lucky an original drawing was tucked into a corner to illustrate something related, or not – but always funny.  

A couple of years ago, Jim and I were talking about his writing skills and fantasizing about his work being published. Afterward I pondered the conversation a while and thought, “Why not compile a book of Jim’s ‘letter stories’?” We could self-publish and sell them to friends and fans. Charge just enough to cover expenses and put a little in the retirement kitty for Jim. 

 We kicked the idea around and completed a mock up. We were on our way to a book! I use the term loosely, as it was really a neatly done binder. The pages were typed with a font that most closely resembled Jim’s old typewriter and the titles and signatures were done in a font that most closely resembled his recognizable style of hand printing – those “small caps,” as they say in the trade.

We needed a title. Jim mentioned that it was easier to write his stories to a person, as in a letter, and came up with “Letters to Ralph.” Ralph Parsons was a close friend of Jim’s with whom he corresponded quite a lot before Ralph’s passing in 1990.

Jim was working on the 11th story and hoped to have an even dozen, plus supply a few of his wonderful cartoons before we considered the book complete. He didn’t quite make it before he passed last April but he did give the mock up a hearty stamp of approval. And so, it is with confidence that Jim was proud of his accomplishment that I present a booklet version of his work. The cartoons were not completed but I included a page with some of Jim’s “J-card Art” as a small representation of the visual humor he put on cassettes he recorded for friends.

The titles by Jim include:

George Probert & The Ice Bears

IMP After Sunrise

The Ambassador of Noise – An Opera Text

Granite Jaw Guenther

The Triple Man

One Louis Armstrong Story

The Story of Joe Louis – A Biography

The Snowman That Wouldn’t Melt

Do You Have a Cat in Your Pocket?

Profile on Edward MacDowell (1534-1923)

If you would like to order one (or some – don’t forget, Christmas is just around the corner!) here is the order information:

Price is $10 each. Please add $3 for shipping (plus $1 for each additional copy). Please send check to:  Barb Hauser, 328 Andover Street, San Francisco, California 94110.

All profits originally intended for the aforementioned “kitty” will be donated toward reimbursement of expenses for the September 09 “Jim Party” incurred by his friends and/or in Jim’s memory to the Forest Park Conservancy he loved in Portland. (If you are in San Francisco, perhaps we can arrange personal delivery. If you are in Portland, Oregon, you may contact Aretta Christie (ARChristie@aol.com) as she has a supply.

PLAY IT AGAIN, BOYS!

Brought to you through the good offices of Rae Ann Berry, another brief trip to San Diego (November 27, 2009) to visit with the Yerba Buena Stompers.

Make yourself to home.  Coffee?  Campari?  Seltzer? 

A great deal of music strikes me as pleasant and competent, but I need to hear it only once.  “That’s nice,” the mind says, “and now we can move on!”  But some performances, whether subversively quiet or shouting, make me think, “I have to hear that again,” my reason for posting the three clips below. 

This edition of the Yerba Buena Stompers is led by John Gill, banjo and vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Hal Smith, drums; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Leon Oakley and Duke Heitger, trumpets.  This band is my imagined version of what the Oliver band must have sounded like at the Lincoln Gardens: it has the same steady rock at medium tempos.  And the sweet interplay between Leon and Duke is a visual metaphor for Papa Joe and Little Louis.

Oddly, two of these performances have to do with melancholy; the first, BROKEN PROMISES, comes from the Lu Watters book, and is a simple song — almost a country-and-western lament, but it sticks in the mind.  Leon’s half-chorus (backed by Hal on the cymbal) is a delight.  Unfortunately, we can’t see John singing, but he still comes through:

The other bit of sadness is MAMA’S GONE, GOODBYE, which starts with the verse, new to me. 

When SFRaeAnn first posted this on YouTube, I started the clip and went some fifteen feet away to the kitchen.  But the second instrumental chorus — a duet between Duke, part-muted, and Marty’s incisive piano, made me abandon the caffeine and come back to the monitor, delighted.  No pyrotechnics but great skill!

The two performances made me think, not for the first time, about jazz musicians and singers who take the edge off of sad music (and lyrics) by raising the tempo, pushing the rhythm.  When you’re thinking about your Hot Mama, who’s gone, or those Broken Promises, you can’t be quite so despairing if you’re tapping your foot.  Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson get credit for this — consider Billie’s acidly swinging TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE — but it was happening before either of them was born.

And there’s MY LITTLE BIMBO (Down On A Bamboo Isle), a Walter Donaldson song whose subject is cross-cultural adultery.  Could I ignore a song that describes the sultry Love Object as having a “shape like a ukulele”?  Joy abounds. 

LISTEN TO GEORGE WETTLING!

The history of jazz is full of musicians, both reliable and inventive, who don’t become stars.  Drummer George Wettling is one of the most neglected, although he had a recording career that lasted more than thirty years, finding him alongside Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, Milt Hinton, Wild Bill Davison, Coleman Hawkins, Wingy Manone, Frank Teschmacher, Joe Thomas, Herman Chittison, Bobby Hackett and a hundred other first-rank players. 

Here’s a film clip of Wettling, playing ROYAL GARDEN BLUES in an all-star Condon group (minus Eddie, who was recovering at the time), featuring Davison, Ed Hall, Cutty Cutshall, Willie the Lion Smith, and Al Hall. 

The cameraman was fascinated by the front line, so we get to see Wettling only intermittently, but we certainly hear his pushing accompaniment, although his playing is anything but overbearing.  Wettling’s style focused on his snare drum, and his rolls and accents, his rimshots and commentary, are drawn from the drummers he heard in Chicago and the Midwest in the Twenties: Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton.  But the style is fluid, not a relentless two-beat, and Wettling continually changes his accents and volume while pushing the band along exuberantly, playing differently behind the full ensemble, behind the Lion, with Hall, propelling the end of Hall’s chorus and playing tag with the emphatic Wild Bill.  Wettling doesn’t demand the listener’s attention by volume or pyrotechnics.  Rather, his drums seem to say, “Listen to us.”  And when we finally get a chance to focus purely on Wettling, in his brief exchanges with Al Hall, it is over too soon — but we can admire his conciseness (not an extra stroke or beat, nothing wasted or superfluous) and his swinging embrace of pure time — he never speeds up or slows down, or loses the thread of the music.  And although his four-bar break is simple, it is a Wettling trademark: how much percussive variety and energy he could put into sixteen beats! 

It’s odd that in jazz, where drummers become stars, Wettling didn’t get his share of attention and adulation.  Musicians knew him and hired him — Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, Paul Whiteman, Muggsy Spanier, Jimmy McPartland, Miff Mole, Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Bud Freeman, and he was a first-call studio and recording drummer.  But Wettling didn’t want to lead bands; I sense that he was happy to let someone else handle the audiences, the payroll, the clubowner: he wanted to play, and play he did.  I also suspect that being associated for so long with Eddie Condon, someone with a strong personality, made have put Wettling in the shadows . . . although Condon said once that all he needed for a romping band was Wettling.  And the magnificent drumming that lifts Berigan’s Victor recording of I CAN’T GET STARTED is Wettling’s; hear him, as well, on perhaps seventy-five percent of the Commodore Records classics.

But he’s not well-known these days, which is a pity.  Hear him on the Commodores, on the Doctor Jazz broadcasts, on the Condon Town Hall concerts, on the magnificent Fifties dates Condon did for Columbia.  Put all your preconceptions about formulaic “Dixieland drumming” aside and listen to Wettling — fluid, energetic, responsive, fully engaged and lively.

Here’s that rare thing — three minutes of Wettling solo in the middle Fifties, titled IT AIN’T THE HUMIDITY (IT’S THE BEAT).  No fireworks, no crashing “technique.”  Timeless and hot, the drums singing their own melodies.  

Should you ever encounter Hal Smith, Kevin Dorn, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Tyle, or Nick Ward — ask them, “What do you think of George Wettling?”  And stand back!

I’ve been listening to Wettling for forty years now — he’s on many of my favorite records!  But what made me write this post was a little anecdote I just heard.  A musician I know, now in his seventies, told me that his older brother had been in the audience for Louis Armstrong’s 1947 Town Hall concert, where the drummers were Sidney Catlett and Wettling.  When it was time for Wettling to play, the musician’s brother (seated in the balcony) saw Catlett come upstairs and take a seat — the better to delight in what Wettling was doing and how beautiful it sounded in the hall. 

If it was good enough for Sidney Catlett and Eddie Condon, it should be good enough for all of us!

JIM GOODWIN, HOT MAN

The much-loved jazzman Jim Goodwin died this year just shy of his sixty-fifth birthday.  I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about his talents, but what struck me when I first heard him on record was his surpassing heat, a pushing intensity that drove the musicians around him.  Red Allen had it, as did Roy Eldridge.  Think of Louis on HOTTER THAN THAT, or the closing choruses of I NEVER KNEW by the Chocolate Dandies, or Joe Sullivan in his prime. 

Jim always played — no matter what the context or the tempo — as if his life depended on it.  Not necessarily loud or high, not necessarily spattering the listener with fancy runs, but taking chances, never coasting.  Even when he playing the opening chorus of something like PLEASE BE KIND, you knew that the request wasn’t an idle one: he meant business!

Many of Jim’s vinyl recordings haven’t yet made it to compact disc, and there are private sessions treasured by those who have heard them.  But he and his friend Dave Frishberg made DOUBLE PLAY, an enlivening duet session for Arbors Records (they were both passionate baseball aficionados).  [As I write this, the CD and cassette versions are available at the Arbors site for reduced prices. ]

And, more recently, the Blue Swing label has issued two sets featuring an incendiary little band, the Sunset Music Company, recorded live in Europe, under the leadership of banjoist / singer Lueder Ohlwein, and featuring Jim alongside such notables as Dan Barrett, John Smith, Bill Carter, Mike Fay, and Jeff Hamilton.  Think of a cross between Fats Waller and his Rhythm circa 1935 and the Rhythmakers, and you’ve got the collective ambiance of these rewarding concert recordings.

Finally, Jim’s dear friend and musical colleague Retta Christie (whose singing is full of feeling and swing) has created a website to honor Jim — content and photographs provided by his friends, so it has a delightful, often hilarious candor not always found on the web.  And — there are audio clips for those for whom Jim was just a legendary name.   

Instead of reading the grim headlines in the newspaper or cyber-shopping, look and listen here.  I assure you that the experience will be uplifting.  And Hot.  http://jamesrgoodwin.com/

PETER ECKLUND / BLUE SUITCASE (Dec. 9, 2009)

Good news!  The very gifted (subtle, swinging, thoughtful . . . ) trumpeter / fluegelhornist / cornetist / plectrist / whistler Peter Ecklund has a new website — http://peterecklundmusic.com.  There, you can hear enticing musical samples. 

And he also has an upcoming Manhattan engagement at the Greenwich Village Bistro (Carmine between Bleecker and Sixth Avenue) on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009 from 9-11PM:

Peter Ecklund – trumpet, flugelhorn, ukulele
Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals
Mike Weatherly – bass, vocals
Some additional accompaniment from the Blue Suitcase

A program of jazz standards, songs, and originals.

And, I quote Peter about the Bistro: “Dancing prohibited but often tolerated,” a qualifier that caused a number of comments the last time I posted it.  I think readers should go to the Bistro to see for themselves!

“THE DEAR BOY”: BIXFEST 2010 (March 11-14)

First, “the dear boy” is what Louis Armstrong called Bix, writing about him in 1954.  And Bix Beiderbecke remains dear to many, as man and musician.   

Phil Pospychala is once again arranging his Tribute to Bix, to be held in the Marriott in Racine, Wisconsin.  Details can be found — along with photographs, cartoons, comedy, and information — at http://www.bixfest.com/

The music promises to be typically rewarding, with Vince Giordano leading his Midwest Nighthawks and as a member of the “Bix and his Gang” band — which features Andy Schumm on cornet, Dave Bock on trombone, John Otto on reeds, and Josh Duffee on drums.  Jamaica Knauer, videographer and singer, will be making her debut with cornetist Scott Black, Bock, Andy Schumm on piano, John Otto, and Sue Fischer on drums.  The New Century Jazz Orchestra from the UK will be playing as well. 

Jamaica says, “It’s a really nice, intimate kind of festival, with a bus trip to jazz sites, lectures, record
contests, record sales, jazz films, late night record spinning, birthday cakes in Bix’s honor….a great time to hear some fantastic music, mingle with the musicians, make friends, and visit with old ones.”

For details (prices, reservations, scheduling) visit the BixFest site above.  The video clips I have seen and posted from this festival are evidence enough that a good time was and will be had by all.  Or ask your local Bixian!

THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE

My title comes from a Jelly Roll Morton record from his great Victor period — but it’s a close approximation of the phrase that came into my mind when I watched and heard this great small band from the recent San Diego Dixieland Jazz Festival, with these November 27, 2009 video clips coming to us through the apparently inexhaustible generosity of Rae Ann Berry.

The band?  Led by the melifluous clarinetist Tim Laughlin, it features pianist Chris Dawson, recently celebrated in this blog, drummer Hal Smith, cornetist Connie Jones, trombonist Alan Adams, guitarist Katie Cavera, and bassist Marty Eggers — a nice mixture of Californians and New Orleanians, stirred and hot.

Here they are on WANG WANG BLUES.  Catch Hal’s press rolls behind the opening ensemble, Tim’s melodic fluidity that hints at Noone by way of Davern, his beautiful tone; Connie’s mixture of gruffness and Bixian nimbleness; that rhythm section, with Chris light yet rocking, Marty and Katie fervent, Hal remembering all the things one can do with a hi-hat cymbal and its stem; Katie’s neat chorded solo.  And then the ensemble choruses, starting calmly and getting Hot.  There are rough edges here (it seems to have started the set) but I love it in an old-fashioned way:

Fats Waller’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW follows, situated midway between Dixieland conventions and the Vanguard recording featuring Vic Dickenson and Ruby Braff.  Connie’s earnest vocal is a treat, and the ghosts of Wild Bill Davison and Teddy Wilson, apparently unlikely partners, share the stage in perfect harmony, before Marty’s melodic solo and the easily-rocking final ensemble:

Connie and Alan left the stage for a splendid quintet version of DOWN BY THE OLD MILL STREAM, which allows us to hear and see the uplifting work of Chris Dawson, his treble lines sparkling but never upstaging Tim.  Katie’s chordal solo reminds me of Carmen Mastren’s playing on the 1940 Bechet-Spanier session, and that’s high praise.  And this performance suggests some of the lilting playing of a Goodman – Wilson Thirties airshot without copying any of those patented licks:

More to come!

SOMETHING FOR LESTER

Lester Young was born in 1909 and died before he reached fifty, so when we celebrate his hundredth birthday, it is with the wonder that he existed at all — and the sadness that his feelings were often “bruised,” to use his evocative word.

Just recently (Nov. 27, 2009) the drummer and swing master Hal Smith staged a tribute to Lester at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California, with some performances caught by our very own and most cherished SFRaeAnn, who signs her checks Rae Ann Berry. 

Hal’s band — wittily dubbed “Hal’s Angels,” is comprised of Anita Thomas, tenor sax and clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal, Mike Earls, bass, and Hal himself.  Hal and band led the audience through a brief musical tour of Lester’s life, from his pre-recording influences to his last decade.  Here are several highlights:

To start things off, Hal and the band embarked on a rocking blues, the kind that Lester loved to play, early and late.  This blues line comes from recordings made at a mid-Fifties gig in Washington, D.C. — and it’s in the key of G, hence the title: “G’S, IF YOU PLEASE”: 

But before Lester ever got into a recording studio, he was astonishing fellow musicians and listeners — among them the writer Ralph Ellison.  But Lester, for all his indefatigable originality, had heard other musicians in the Twenties.  Jazz records were not easy to find, but his fellow reedman Eddie Barefield had acquired several of the 1927 OKeh records featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer.  Lester credited Trumbauer as an early influence, and if one listens to Tram throughout his career, the sound and approach that affected Lester are easy to appreciate.  (In fact, Trumbauer’s final session for Capitol contains a near-ballad version of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA that sounds for all the world like Lester on C-melody saxophone.)

Thus, a properly slow reading of Trumbauer’s solo on WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

One of the glorious sessions Lester made was also his first — “Jones-Smith, Inc.” in late 1936, which produced LADY BE GOOD.  Had Lester recorded nothing else, we would have this recording as evidence of his mastery.  And his influence is heard throughout this performance, which shows off the uplifting rhythm section, even when Anita isn’t soloing:

With the Kansas City Six, Lester played clarinet, unmistakably, and Hal’s Angels turn to I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, with Carl offering a vocal that reminds us of Lester’s work alongside Jimmy Rushing in the Count Basie band.  It’s the only time Anita offers a written-out Lester solo, and she has his tart tone and sideways phrasing down pat:

For perhaps three years, Lester and Billie Holiday turned out one recorded masterpiece after another: here is BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, with Katie singing, in their honor:

I don’t exaggerate when I write that Lester would have been delighted to play with this band.  And since he called everyone “Lady,” I think he would have been most pleased by the playing of Lady Anita, who suggests some of his curving architecture without copying him.  Although many famous players tried to copy him, their energetic imitations only show how individual he was, and how his essence eluded them.  Better to “go for yourself,” as he said, as Hal’s Angels do so well here.

DEEP FEELING: GILL SINGS CROSBY (Nov. 28, 2009)

John Gill — hot guitarist, banjoist, trombonist, singer — has a deep love and understanding of Bing Crosby, as you can hear on his Stomp Off CD, LEARN TO CROON, where he and a wonderful New York band (his “Sentimental Serenaders”) pay heartfelt tribute to Bing.

I’m delighted that SFRaeAnn captured John and the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra just a few days ago (November 28, 2009) — at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California.  And I believe all of the charts you hear are John’s own arrangements and transcriptions, expertly done and played. 

I had to begin this post with John’s version of Ralph Rainger’s irreplaceable PLEASE:

Here’s JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, complete with a little bu-bu-bu-boo and those trademark dips and slides:

And a sweetly rocking dance-band version of IF I HAD YOU. with the unheard verse and appropriate playing from members of the HRO:

Seek and you shall find — the cheerfully romantic message of I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY (In a Five-and-Ten Cent Store).  John makes the last sixteen bars shout:

And a rarity — an Irving Berlin song Bing sang in a cameo appearance in the 1931 REACHING FOR THE MOON, with a hugely elaborate title: WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOWDOWN.  All of that verbiage aside, please notice the smiles on the musicians’ faces:

Oh, so pretty — PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, with the lovely verse:

And here’s Bing’s theme, WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT (Meets The Gold Of The Day):

To quote John, “There you go!”  Thank you, John, for wearing your heart so beautifully on your sleeve, for all of us to feel so deeply.  And thanks (as always) to SFRaeAnn, for sharing these sentimental marvels.

SWING with NEVILLE, HAL, and TOM!

NEVILLE is the splendid stride and swing pianist Neville Dickie.

HAL is the swinging drummer Hal Smith.

And TOM is Tom Warner — dedicated videographer who caught them at the 2009 West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, California.  These clips originated on YouTube, where Tom’s channel is “Tdub1941,” a jazz and ragtime cornucopia.   

The marvels of technology — and the marvels of Hot. 

This duo’s interplay reminds me of James P. and Sidney Catlett, of Tut Soper and Baby Dodds, of Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton, of Jess Stacy and George Wettling, of Willie the Lion Smith and Jo Jones.  In the ideal world, I’d want all the young pianists to study Neville’s left hand and the rollicking interplay between his treble and bass lines.  I’d want all the young drummers who think that surrounding themselves with mountains of cymbals and tom-toms is the answer to observe the marvelously varied sounds Hal gets out of his snare, wire brushes, sticks, and cymbal.  Less is indeed more!

Here’s STRUT MISS LIZZIE, a song I associate with late Bix and early Commodores:

IF I HAD YOU (with verse) becomes a gliding rhythm ballad with hints of eight-to-the-bar:

CANDY LIPS (whose subtitle is “I’m Stuck On You”) is from the Clarence Williams repertoire.  Here, Hal switches to sticks:

Finally, here’s STREAMLINE TRAIN — an answer to our mass transit problems!

Thanks so much to the players — generous in their creativity and swing — and to Tom, for sharing these treasures with us.  Rock that thing!

A LITTLE JAM! (Nov. 29, 2009)

I remember that once an interviewer, trying to find out whether Ruby Braff was playing a cornet or a trumpet, asked him, “What is that?” pointing at his horn.  Ruby, characteristically, responded at top speed, but in italics: “That?  That is a musical instrument.”  Ruby would have approved of the jazz played at the end of the night on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, at The Ear Inn, where gifted improvisers seemed to come from everywhere.

After an easy-going opening set by the Earregulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Block (on tenor sax and clarinet), Chris Flory, and Jon Burr, some sterling players came in: cornetist Dan Tobias, bassist Gary Cattley, clarinetist Attilio Troiano, and (new to me and quite impressive) trumpeter Gordon Au.  (To read and hear more about Gordon, visit http://www.gordonaumusic.com/html/slideshow.php.

Jon-Erik first offered his chair to Dan Tobias and said, happily, “It sounds too good.  I’m going to take notes,” and he watched happily as Dan chose one of his favorite songs, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, for a genial run-through that reminded me of one of Ruby Braff’s late-period groups. 

Then someone suggested THE PREACHER (perhaps by Horace Silver, although the version I know is by a pair of fellows named Bing and Louis).  To my ears, it’s really not much of a composition, and Jon Burr pointed out that its chord structure resembles I’VE BEEN WORKIN’ ON THE RAILROAD, but everyone swung out.

Finally, Jon-Erik ended the evening on a triumphant note by calling for STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, complete with an upwards modulation at the end.  Trumpets all out!  (You knew, of course, that the title of that song — translated into current slang — would be WALKING AROUND WITH MY HOT GIRLFRIEND FOR EVERYONE TO SEE?  It has nothing to do with brisket or hot dogs.)

P.S.  Victor, the Ear’s guiding spirit and bartender, set the mood before any of the players had come in — by playing Bix and Norvo, Berigan and Condon . . . turning his head to the speakers, Jon-Erik said, “We know we’re in the right place!” and he was correct.