Monthly Archives: January 2010

“THE ODOR OF POPULARITY”

This biography of  Sidney Catlett comes directly from http://www.jazzandroots.com/big-sid-catlett.html.  I credit the original site — the “Jazz and Roots Club” found in Shrewsbury, England (I presume) so that readers know I am reporting rather than inventing. 

 Big Sid Catlett, was one of the large battery the swing era and one of the few who crossed stylistic boundaries smoothly without loss of quality would suffer. Born in Indiana and learned to play the piano as a child before the school band will pass to the battery.

He began his career in Chicago in the late twenties before moving to New York at the time of the Great Depression. His first serious contact with jazz came when he worked for Benny Carter’s orchestra in 1932. From that experience, he found work easily and well spent by the best swing bands of the time between most notably those of Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson.

 

Possessor of a light rhythm and full of swing, was able to adapt their style to each soloist who accompanied him. He was admired in his time by the general public who flocked to the ballrooms and dress, elegant, classic and fun at the same time, helped him be the focus of attention among the young. As a musician he felt at ease in any situation and in any format and was one of the first battery of swing who played with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

It is remarkable in its contribution to the combos that organized the great clarinetist, Benny Goodman and his final year career before he died following a heart attack, was with “All Star” by Louis Armstrong where he spent his last years in the odor of popularity.

Now I understand much more than I did.  The reason for Sidney’s wondrous inventiveness was his large battery (more volts, more swing).  And he never lost quality while crossing stylistic boundaries (are those crossings rather like going through Customs at the border or more like passing through the metal detector at the airport?).  Finally — there’s something in the air.  A scent, light, elusive, entrancing.  Not Chanel; not fresh hot coffee; not the scent of new-mown hay: no!  It’s the odor of popularity. 

I’m always glad to see that anyone’s paying attention to my heroes, but word-for-word translation has its limits.

SOMETHING TORCHY

The Beloved and I made our way uptown on a very cold Friday night (January 29, 2010) to Roth’s Westside Steakhouse to hear the chamber jazz duet of trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and pianist Ehud Asherie, both well known to readers of this blog.  Perhaps everyone there had read in the papers that the economy had grown, because the air was loudly festive, although no one’s birthday was being celebrated. 

Our waiter, a dramatic fellow with a dramatic upsweep of hair (“Pomade,” he told the Beloved) went around being cheerful.  One memorable exchange was: “Having a good time?” he inquired of a table of diners.  “Yeah, fine,” one of them said.  “Well, keep having a good time!” he countered.  David Mamet has nothing to fear.

In the midst of this, Jon-Erik and Ehud went about their work: medium-tempo James P. Johnson, a little Fats Waller, some Edgar Sampson. 

The enthusiastic woman to our left (who occasionally applauded in the middle of a four-bar exchange) leaned forward in the middle of the set and asked the duo, “Can you play something torchy?” a request that caused some discussion and thought.  Jon-Erik and Ehud settled on this Frank Signorelli-Matty Malneck composition, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME (originally called LITTLE BUTTERCUP when it was an instrumental).  That song, not incidentally, was first associated with Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti; later, Billie Holiday and Lester Young.

I am sure that the management at Ruth’s has informed the busboys (they look grown-up to me) that an uncleared table will be dealt with severely, so the staff makes frequent — if not incessant — visits to diners, taking a bread plate away here, a knife there.  Perhaps it’s an unspoken law in the restaurant trade that a table almost devoid of utensils makes diners go home or makes them order dessert and coffee and then go home.  I don’t know.  But in the middle of this seriously lovely performance, a gentleman came to remove some plates and assorted debris and lingered in front of my camera long enough for it to lose its grip on reality.  Hence a brief out-of-focus interlude, but the microphone continued to work.

These capers aside, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME is a wonderful, serious lesson in deep-down melodic playing and subtle, touching embellishment — much more difficult than ripping off harmonically-adventurous scalar lines over shifting polyrhythms.  And this kind of playing is second nature to Jon-Erik and Ehud.

A SMALL TREASURE

Ten inches square (or in diameter) in fact.

Often of late I have noted jazz treasures for sale on eBay — and posting them here becomes a substitute for attempting to possess them). 

But here is a delightful artifact I found and bought.  It’s a 10″ red vinyl Paramount long-playing record (a John Steiner production) featuring cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, bassist Sherwood Mangiapane, and guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon.  Recorded in 1955, it is wonderful chamber jazz, with Wiggs’s mixture of Oliver and Bix, somewhere between sad and jaunty, mixing perfectly with the limpid, gutty sound of Burke — resting most comfortably on the rhythmic cushion of acoustic guitar and string bass.  Living-room jazz.  And the repertoire is wonderful — a medley of MEMORIES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES; HEEBIE JEEBIES (with a raucous Louis-inspired vocal by Souchon), TULIP STOMP (also known as WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP), MAMA’S BABY BOY, MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, CONGO (or CONGO SQUARE), and PRETTY BABY (in honor of Tony Jackson). 

You can’t see it, but the record label itself credits everything to “Ray Burke and the New Orleanians”: did Wiggs and Burke flip a coin to decide who would get credited outside and inside? 

That would have been more than enough for me: the seller offered this at a reasonable price, and I was eager to get it.  True, I had the music on a cassette somewhere (courtesy of the late and generous Bob Hilbert) but I wanted the artifact itself.

It came in a soft cardboard envelope with a flap holding the record in, so to remove the disc I had to turn it over . . . and this greeted me, in careful fountain pen:

May 14 / 55

To Pinkey – with apologies for the Bourbon-seared vocal cords!

Cordially –

Edmond Souchon M.D.

I don’t think the seller had seen the back of the sleeve or, if he had, hadn’t made the connection (or hadn’t been trying to raise the price).  Thank you, Sir, for your generous offering — whatever the reason!  Other sellers, more observant or more avaricious, would have advertised this as RARE! and had a minimum bis of $299. 

“Pinkey,” I assume, is clarinetist Pinky Vidacovich . . . and a closer inspection revealed that Souchon had glued a name / address label on the front cover and a small red oval sticker “Souchon” on the record label.  Was it his own copy?  I don’t know, but I treasure the signature and the sentiments as much as the music.

THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS IN HIGH STYLE, 2010

Living on the East Coast, I only knew about the Reynolds Brothers (that’s Ralf on washboard; John on National guitar; both sing; both are grnsdons of the legendary screen star ZaSu Pitts) through finding them on YouTube — a live session with singer Dawn Lambeth, trumpeter Marc Caparone, and plectrist Katie Cavera on her new triple, the string bass. 

I was both amused and elated: they were very funny, often sweet, but they swung very hard without raising their volume. 

Now, they have a new CD, and it’s is a corker.  A pip.  A honey.  A dazzler.  You find the appropriate adjective for “must-have.”

This CD features a beautifully-recorded, energetically hot quartet — with John taking most of the vocals, but with Ralf, Marc, and Katie having their own specialties.  What does a quartet of trumpet, amplified National guitar, string bass, and washboard sound like?

Listen (you can watch, too!): here are two performances by this very group recorded at the Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, California, on January 13, 2010 (courtesy of Katie Cavera’s YouTube channel, “kcavera”).

Let’s start with a brief incendiary exercise, FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM:

And here’s something more tender (the Boswell Sisters did a lovely version of it), WAS THAT THE HUMAN THING TO DO?:

This band harks back to an almost-forgotten series of recordings by one of the great Hot organizations of the early Thirties, the Washboard Rhythm Kings.  If you didn’t have money for a trap set (and who did, during the Depression?) you could outfit what was then a common item, a laundry washboard, with a cymbal, a cowbell, perhaps other percussive side-dishes, find some thimbles, and wail away.  A great washboard player (ask Doug Pomeroy about this art: he knows) would not only be an adequate replacement for a swinging drummer with a full kit, but could outswing one.  Those recordings — sometimes at slow and medium tempos — had a wonderful momentum, and the really Hot numbers are astounding.  Famous names played with those bands — trumpeter Taft Jordan, pianist Clarence Profit, and singer Leo Watson among them. 

Now the washboard is usually relegated to truly traditional “trad” bands: in Ralf’s hands, it’s a full percussion orchestra, and he is a pleasure to watch . . . his hands swooping and diving in mid-air.  John is an engaging singer, gentle and sly — approaching music and lyrics with great casual-sounding skill.  His solos make melodic sense; his rhythm playing is a model of the art.  Katie is a fine propulsive bassist — bringing the same accuracy to this instrument that she has brought to all her banjos and guitars.  And she is a very sweet (but never sugary) singer: you believe her!  Marc Caparone, I submit, has never sounded so electrifying as he does on this CD and these clips.  I thought of what the National Forest Service calls “a controlled burn” — an intensely Hot fire that is, however, always precisely focused on its musical objectives.  And the band is more than a collection of individualists: they rock, joyously, together. 

The best way to but the CD is through the brothers’ site — (http://reynoldsbrothers.net/recordings.html) but those who prefer to use credit cards can order through CDBaby: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ReynoldsBrothers.  And if you’re sufficiently captivated, this quartet is “accepting engagements,” as the saying goes.  I am sure that the Brothers could add to this band to suit anyone’s desires.  

If you would like to hear more while you are waiting for your mail carrier to deliver the CD, Katie has posted a few more clips from this concert (as well as her own expert and witty short films).

FOR THE LOVE OF BIX: TWO MONDAYS

Thanks to Enrico Borsetti, who pointed me in this direction, here are two versions of FROM MONDAY ON by the Original Prague Syncopated Orchestra.  The first, a loose improvisation on the theme at a leisurely tempo, was recorded in May 26, 2008 and performed by a small contingent — it’s halfway between a rehearsal and a jam session, a most rewarding creation!  (Life backstage, a pleasure.) 

The members of the “Originální Pražský Synkopický Orchestr” here are Pavel Klikar (leader, trumpet, mellophone),Tomáš Černý and Jakub Šnýdl (clarinets), Jan Šimůnek (violinophone), Petr Wajsar and Tony Šturma (guitar), Jiří Šícha a Zbyněk Dobrohruška (banjo), Ondřej Landa (bass). 

This more elaborately formal version, a beautiful production number, adds a vocal trio, a violin trio, a chorus line of beauties, a bit of visual comedy, and the contributions of Ondrej Havelka — also recorded in 2008.  Although the purists have had their heated say, it gives me a taste of what a 1928 stage show might have been like. 

“J’ATTENDRAI,” 1939: DJANGO AT 100

Django Reinhardt in peak form, captured on film with Stephane Grappelli and the rest of the Hot Club Quintet.  Yes, the film clip is hokey, the lighting melodramatic, and the Hot Club boys chug a little as they always did — but to hear those long-lined powerful melodies of Django’s is always a delight.  And Django himself must be separated from his modern imitators, who spin out millions of notes: their technique may even be more astounding, but they have sometimes have less to say.  I just wish someone had filmed the session Django did with Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor: ethereal Hot!

“JAZZ LIVES”: SETH COLTER WALLS

Excerpts from his piece, “JAZZ IS DEAD.  LONG LIVE JAZZ.”  (From NEWSWEEK, Dec 21, 2009.)

[O]n an economic level, right: as a mass-culture force, jazz is dead. Simply look at the contemporary brand most familiar to a lay audience: the Marsalis family. In the early ’90s, one brother (Branford) was leading Jay Leno’s late-night band, while another (Wynton) was the preeminent trumpeter on Columbia, Miles’s old label. By the middle of this decade, both of them had lost those public perches—and no one has reached that stature since. 

Multi-disc sets of previously unissued live concerts from Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz are also competing for the public’s limited attention span this season. So no wonder folks keep saying jazz is dead: devotion to its past is stealing oxygen from the same room in which the present hopes to draw a breath.

[A]t the point where a relatively young art like jazz amasses enough history to merit these important tomes and huge box sets, the more difficult it becomes for the culture to absorb what’s happening in real time. And real time is how jazz is best experienced. Like baseball—another great American invention—part of jazz’s appeal is in how it unspools without deference to the clock. Just as drama asks for suspension of our disbelief, jazz asks us for the suspension of our need to program our every moment. Meantime, our contemporary mania for abbreviated text updates—think Twitter, Facebook, and BlackBerrys—feels as if it stands in direct opposition to jazz’s deliberate, instrumental abstractions. Enjoying the music—really swinging with it—is a glorious sacrifice of the need to micro-manage the moment. And though it can be dreamy, this surely isn’t a recipe for amassing a stable brand that can support itself in the modern marketplace. At the beginning of the 21st century, the economic status of jazz is more like that of the symphony orchestra, only without the economic safety net of foundation funding that undergirds concerts featuring Beethoven and Brahms.

In fact, the arts community should debate whether a greater share of the music endowment pie ought to be going to jazz musicians. The rub is that it never will, unless there is an understanding that jazz’s economic status isn’t a hideous reflection of poor aesthetic health. But even if jazz is finally buried in that (expanding) graveyard of former mass-culture obsessions, that doesn’t mean the music isn’t still happening, or that it isn’t still perfectly capable of talking to us at an individual level. As long as they don’t starve to death, committed jazz musicians will be there for you, the forbidding economics of their pursuit be damned. And even if no one you know is talking about what they’re playing, be wary of any strangers who tell you they aren’t swinging anymore.

In reprinting excerpts from Walls’ piece, sent to me by Bill Gallagher, I am definitely not trying to awaken the Teachout-driven controversy about whether “jazz is dead” or not.  But I think Walls makes splendid points about the competitive marketplace that makes jazz — for most listeners — less essential, and the short attention span so characteristic of our times that makes many people too impatient for the music, too eager for instant gratification to immerse themselves in a musical form that no longer seems like a common language.  It wasn’t difficult to get listeners to appreciate jazz in 1936 or even 1956, because it was still part of the contemporaneous art . . . but now everyone has to work a bit harder.  I would quibble about his division between “past” and “present” in his second paragraph, since the jazz I revere brings those two artificial entities together from the first bar.  But that’s semantics. 

Since I think that much of what Walls writes makes good sense, and especially because “swinging” is the penultimate word of his essay, I hope he is able to come to New York City some Sunday night: I’ll buy him dinner at the Ear Inn. 

Comments, anyone?

The full piece can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/226331/output/comments. 

And I would try not to be startled by the many unfamiliar names Walls cites: you can, if they make the room spin around, insert the names of musicians you love.

WILL THE REAL VIC BERTON STAND UP?

I have a problem.  Having posted an excerpt from the short film by Walt Roesner and the Capitolians, featuring every Hot soloist you can imagine, I followed the text that accompanied the video (as well as my own eyes) for the identification of the players.  And since I couldn’t take my eyes off of the drummer — identified as the very original Vic Berton.

Now I find from a reputable percussion authority and several colleagues that they think the drummer is NOT Vic Berton.

What to do?

Here are pictures (verified by drummer / scholar Hal Smith) of Vic Berton.

and, finally, everyone’s favorite Dionysian figure:

Now, if you would look back to the posting of the Vitaphone excerpt: TEARING IT UP (Vic Berton and Friends)

I’m usually stubborn about these things, but the drummer in the Vitaphone short is substantial, perhaps verging on the rotund, and he may have a mustache.  Vic seems slimmer in both body and face.

What do my readers think?  If the man in the short film IS Vic, explain; if not, who’s playing drums with the Capitolians?  He swings, whatever his name may be!

“PARDON MY GUN” (1930)

The 1930 sound film (part-silent Western, part musical revue) was called PARDON MY GUN (yes, you read that correctly) and it included a twenty-minute musical interlude by the Abe Lyman Orchestra, suitably attired in cowboy garb. 

Here’s their exuberant TWELFTH STREET RAG, with the leader on drums, having a better time twirling his sticks than the law of the Old West might allow.  The rousing trombone solo is by one Orlando “Slim” Martin:

And Al “Rubberlegs” Norman dancing to MILENBERG JOYS played by the Abe Lyman Orchestra:

Raucous music, eccentric dancing: why we love YouTube so! 

Thanks to David J. Weiner for reminding me about this.

TEARING IT UP! (Vic Berton and Friends, 1928)

Walt Roesner and his Capitolians — the large all-star all-purpose orchestra that appeared at the Capitol Theatre in New York City — made a Vitaphone short film in 1928.  Two-thirds of the film is given over to 1) an impassioned tenor singing O SOLE MIO, and 2) an impassioned tenor singing ANGELA MIA.  Although these specialties are beautifully performed, they lack a certain savor or liveliness. 

But the last number by the orchestra is Hot, truly so.  And members of the band get to show off their considerable (sometimes quirky) solo talents in brief outings — with some of the most famous names in jazz doing their bit: how about Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, Miff Mole, Leo McConville, Bruce Yantis, Vic Berton, Nat Brusiloff, Jimmy Lytell . . . ?!

I would not have posted this for the famous names alone — but I saw the entire short film recently for the first time and found myself watching the last number several times in a row, delighting in the music and the smiles on the faces of the musicians while their fellow players went at it.  And I found myself insisting that the Beloved watch Rube Bloom and vic Berton in tandem — and that pleased her, too.  I found this segment posted on Dailymotion with very accurate identifications, thanks to  somename who goes by the alias “lordlister.” 

So here it is, with commentary:

 

The eye is at first struck by the sheer number of beautifully-dressed men on the bandstand: twenty-five, perhaps, all with white flowers in their buttonholes.  Two pianos, a plethora of violins, bowed string bass, bowed cello.  Drummer Vic Berton standing in the rear amongst a good deal of percussion, including tympani.  Roesner opens this number with the cheerful explanation that his musicians have had an appropriately “heated argument” about which one of them is the hottest man in the band.  Not a bad idea.  The bouncy tune that opens the proceedings is I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED by Fats Waller and Jo Trent (a song, which, like many famous hummable Waller tunes, repeats one catchy phrase often as a melody line) — recorded most memorably in this period by two fellows named Beiderbecke and Trumbauer, as “The Chicago Loopers.”  Berton is particularly marvelous to watch, keeping time on the tympani with one hand while accenting a choked cymbal, sometimes visiting the head of his huge wooden bass drum — his legs spread to allow him to reach both places, raher like a wooden soldier in those white trousers.  I would have been very happy for the band to explore this tune at this tempo for the rest of the film, but the premise moves into a solo features, which allow us to see these musicians on camera in their prime rather than as faces in the ensemble.  (Many of them look particularly dark around the eyes: whether this was cinematic makeup or lighting of the time or a lack of sleep, I am sure one of my readers knows.)  And the cameraman seems reasonably content with having one-half of an additional musician in the frame, and neatly lopping off the head or hairline of a soloist — but he seems to know what’s going on and to go in for a close-up before everything has concluded. 

Up first after a piano modulation, Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone offers one of his particularly virtuosic solo choruses (in a manner beloved of Frank Trumbauer and Rudy Wiedoeft) showing off his incredible technique instead of hot improvisation.  This kind of playing — here superimposed over TIGER RAG — was a JD specialty (hear OODLES OF NOODLES, for one example).  Violinist Nat Brusiloff, next to Dorsey, is enjoying the chorus immensely.  And JD must have been famous by this time; he is announced by name.

Then, showing that you don’t have to go fast to play Hot, we have a memorable twenty or so seconds of one of jazz’s most forgotten men, trombonist Miff Mole, offering a chorus of HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? complete with breaks (Berton has switched to wire brushes, as we see).  From this distance, Miff no longer seems as radical, as dashing as, say, Jack Teagarden or Dicky Wells, but his solo is masterful: the variations in tone and the way he gets gracefully but precisely from note to note, vocalizing the melody beautifully — and adding that lovely coda.  It sounds very simple but it’s an example of how much he must have amazed all the musicians, Hot and legit, for a long time.   I call your attention to Miff’s easy command of the horn and especially his glistening upper register, not the usual realm for most Twenties trombonists.

Violinist Nat Brusiloff (famous in radio as a conductor and for his early work with Kate Smith — his grandson is trombonist David Sager) offers more variations on the same theme . . . on what sounds like an intensely scratchy violin, with no apparent bow.  I’m told he is playing a “single-hair” solo, which I assume is one hair taken from his bow, but the physics of the whole thing are beyond me, in a good way.  Tell me where the other end of the single-hair is, please?  And at the very end of the solo, Brusiloff permits himself the slightest glimmer of an impish grin, “Geez, I pulled that one off, didn’t I, now?”  More violin acrobatics will follow. 

Banjoist Lou (Luigi) Calabrese, who might have been noticeable from the start for the way he has stretched his legs out in front of him, then plays an incredibly fast and stunning chorus of IDA, romping in what seems like double double time over ensemble chords, his fingers flashing over the frets more quickly than anyone would expect them to — and not a note smudged or smeared.  Something pretty follows (it would have to):  clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, looking shlyly sideways, gently swaying his body, pensively ambling through the melody of his own A BLUES SERENADE (composed with pianist Frank Signorelli), the reed player to his right curiously impassive through it all.  (Lytell gets lovely backing from the bowed bass seen to his right and from Berton’s tympani.)

What happens next is a highlight.  Pianist-singer-composer (DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME) Rube Bloom gets up from the piano for his limber almost-comic turn on DINAH.  He isn’t a splendid singer, but he’s got a rocking rhythmic engine reminiscent of Harry Barris, and he’s clearly having a fine time.  The long shot allows us to notice Berton, shifting around his set with tympani mallets, but then, halfway through, our attention shifts to Berton, who is “tearing it up” in a way that goes beyond the hip cliche — he’s actually tearing strips off of something (a square piece of fabric?) with each tear a rhythmic accent like a tap dancer or a sand dancer.  And the cameraman is sufficiently entranced eventually to move in for a close-up of this hilarious and marvelous rhythmic feat, remembering at the end that Bloom is supposed to be the headliner, even though he has had the spotlight stolen away from him.  (Incidentally, the much more sedate second pianist to the right is Arthur Schutt.) 

But violinist Bruce Yantis (someone I know only from a few late-Twenties sides with Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Gene Krupa) is ready to follow Berton and Bloom with his violin solo a la  Joe Venuti, his bow disassembled and strapped around his violin so that the hairs play all four strings at once — it looks like fun but it isn’t easy to do well.  Luigi Calabrese has clearly heard Eddie Lang, as he should have. 

Before the ensemble gets itself together (we never find out who the hottest man in the band is or was, although my vote is split between Miff and Vic Berton) trumpeter Leo McConville, usually hidden next to Red Nichols, gets off with a very brief Hot solo (a half-valve flourish at the end?)  on the closing I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.

This short seems an ideal window into the best of the Hot late Twenties: that decade’s version of the 1938 Randall’s Island footage, but with sound and close-ups.  A ripping yarn!

A THREE-WEEK GIG

Jim Eigo (of Jazz Promo Services) sent this along — from 1973, by Stan Hunt in THE NEW YORKER:

LITTLE CHOCOLATE DANDIES!

I found this on the SERIOUS EATS website:

If enough people asked him, would he press up a batch of, say, SMACK, or I NEVER KNEW?

THE ORIGINAL PRAGUE SYNCOPATED ORCHESTRA, 2010

WHERE’S MY SWEETIE HIDING?

The inquiry’s made by the Original Prague Syncopated Orchestra* — wittily and rhythmically. 

How could anyone not love a band whose theme is SQUEEZE ME?

Many thanks to Enrico Borsetti for posting this delightful Twenties interlude!

*They’re really the “Originální Pražský Synkopický Orchestr,” but they accept booking in all languages.

O KATHARINA!

After reading Hal Smith’s insightful piece on just how Sid Catlett plays on the 1943 record of O KATHARINA, I found myself wondering about this song that Eddie Condon had remembered as a special favorite of Bix Beiderbecke’s.

Or, to put it another way, who was KATHARINA and why did she make someone go OH?  Or “O”?

Online I found the song’s lyrics (courtesy of the Duke University Libraries).  Music by Richard Fall, lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert.  Gilbert is known for WAITING FOR THE ROBERT E. LEE and RAMONA. 

Readers of tender sensibilities will find that the cheerful anti-feminist and “weightist” stereotypes of the time offensive, but right now I am trying to sing along . . . with only limited success.  I believe, incidentally, that the song has three parts — a “patter” section before the verse and chorus.  

 

O KATHARINA

Again we have the Chauve Souris

They come to us from ‘cross the sea

With something new they always do

For me and you

A new contagious melody

The rage of London and Paree

They brought along

And now this song is going strong

For Balieff instructs them all

He makes you sing it with him

Before you go you’re bound to know

The melody and rhythm

And then next day while on your way

You hum and sing and long to play

 

Oh Heinie sailed from Rotterdam

He stopped off first at Amsterdam

To meet his bride then side by side

They took the ride across the sea

To Yankee land

He furnished up a flat so grand

And there she sat

So big and fat

Down at their flat

One night he took his wiffie out

They went to see the Follies

He thought that she was such a queen

Until he saw those Dollies

When they got home

He shook his head

Then to his wife he turned and said

 

Chorus:

 

O Katharina, O Katharina

O Katharina, O Katharina, to keep my love you must be leaner

There’s so much of you and 

Two could love you

Learn to swim, join a gym, eat farina

O Katharina, unless you’re leaner I’ll have to build a big arena

You’re such a crowd, my Katharine

I got a lot when I got you.

(In the second chorus, a summary tells me, Katharina loses weight and gets so appealing that all Heinie can say, admiringly, is “O KATHARINA!”  In the spirit of fairness, we never find out how much he weighs.  The patriarchy set to music and all that, of course.)

Delving deeper into these matters, I asked Lorna Sass — jazz photographer by night, Grain Goddess and Queen of Pressure Cooking by day — for her opinion of farina.  She told me that perhaps Gilbert needed an easy rhyme for the heroine’s name.  “Farina isn’t a diet food,” she said, “but maybe it was healthier than what Katharina usually ate.  But farina isn’t a whole grain — too much is removed in the processing to make it shelf-stable forever.”  (That’s Lorna’s award-winning WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY.)

I’m surprised and amused that “join a gym” was a common phrase as far back as 1924. 

The sheet music advertises O KATHARINA as an all-purpose song: “Walk-Around One-Step Song or Shimmy Fox-Trot,” which covers all the possibilities.  And since it was part of the CHAUVE-SOURIS (“The Bat”) touring revue supervised by Balieff, this song is an early example of a piece of art referring to itself, very modernistic for the time.     

I can hear Bix and the Wolverines taking this one on, and perhaps Joe Oliver had his own version — Jess Stacy remembered Papa Joe playing UKULELE LADY, so he was not averse to pop songs of the day.  Hal Smith thinks of Doc Cook and Freddie Keppard: the bands must have had a good time with this one.  (There’s a Sam Wooding recording of the tune made in Berlin in 1925, available on the Red Hot Jazz website.)

P.S.  Hooray for “finding-out-new-things,” a gratifying activity that doesn’t stop when you graduate . . . !

NO ONE ELSE BUT NOONE (2007)

Andred Growald (a major player in the international HOT conspiracy) whispered in my ear about these videos, so I pass them on to you.  Recorded in 2007 in Gottingen, German, they feature a combination of musicians from Holland and Germany paying tribute to clarinetist Jimmy Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra.  Originally the band included Noone, Doc Poston, Earl Hines, Bud Scott — and its later incarnations added a trumpet.  Their spiritual heirs are, among others, Soprano Summit. 

This band — they call themselves NOON ABER RICHTING — is made up of reedmen Matthias Seuffert (clarinet, at left); Claus Jacobi ( clarinet and alto sax, right), and a first-class rhythm section of Jan-Hendrik Ehlers (piano), Peter Bayerer (banjo), Marcel van de Winckel (brass bass), Gunter Andernach (washboard).

I’ve avoided my usual lengthy exegesis because the music doesn’t need much: listen and exult! 

The band’s pretty theme, SWEET LORRAINE:

Something spicy?  A song also recorded by Doc Cook and his Dreamland Orchestra, featuring Freddie Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

And that Vincent Youmas song celebrating simultaneous awareness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW (with a stompiing piano solo!):

A change of mood, but not too morose, even though the title is sad, I GOT A MISERY:

Do you have an overheated sibling?  OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT?:

Another sad title, but the song is pretty lively — DEEP TROUBLE:

Mark your calendars — it’s OUR MONDAY DATE:

And (with its rollicking minor-hued verse), here’s SAN:

Extraordinary ensemble teamwork, drive, subtlety, and mastery of the idioms before and after 1928 — a pleasure to hear!  And the documentary-format, with witty clips from silent films, is diverting and more.  Thanks to all involved — the musicians, the filmmaker, Andre, and “santopec” for posting this.

NOW HEAR THIS: Hal Smith and “OH, KATHARINA!”

 I’d posted this YouTube clip of the JAM SESSION AT COMMODORE (1943) on OH, KATHARINA! in my recent tribute to Sidney Catlett, who would have been one hundred years ago on January 17, 2010.  Here it is again, for a different reason.  Listeners like myself have spent their lives drinking in the sounds — as a child I would put my head against the cloth of the speaker grille — but I know that we don’t listen in the same way musicians do. 

So it’s a particular pleasure to be able to reprint drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith’s “close reading” of this performance, with special emphasis on Sidney’s playing within and through it.  The piece was published in the Bulletin of the Hot Club of France, and it’s a joy:

OH, SID!

By Hal Smith

 A majority of jazz fans would probably agree that Sidney “Big Sid” Catlett was one of the greatest drummers of all time—if not the greatest! Many of Sid’s recordings have been written about at length, but one of his masterpieces is seldom mentioned: “Oh, Katharina” (recorded for Commodore 2 Dec. 1943 with Eddie Condon’s Band). Sid’s playing is so exemplary on this side that it cannot be ignored.

Condon had some exceptional musicians on the session. Joining the guitarist/leader and Catlett were: Max Kaminsky-cornet; Benny Morton-trombone; Pee Wee Russell-clarinet; Joe Bushkin-piano; and Bob Casey-bass. (Catlett had worked with Russell, Kaminsky and Condon since 1933. He knew exactly what to play to bring out the best in all three).

 The other tunes recorded on 2 December were jazz standards—“Rose Room,” “Basin Street Blues” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” “Oh, Katharina” was definitely the odd number. Supposedly it was a favorite of Bix Beiderbecke’s. That must be the reason it was included on this date, for it has little to offer as a vehicle for swinging or improvising. The melody is uninspiring and the lack of melodic or chordal movement makes it difficult to keep one’s place in the song.

On the master take, the full ensemble plays the first chorus. The chosen tempo is edgy and despite Condon’s strong 4/4 guitar, Casey’s powerful bass and Sid’s wide-open hi-hat and rim shots the band sounds uncomfortable. Bushkin plays the second chorus and the leader temporarily drops out. Almost instantly, the tempo seems to float downward, gently. (Perhaps Sid made eye contact with Bushkin or Casey?) However it happened, the tempo change brings a collective sigh of relief and the proceedings begin to swing. For the first half of the piano chorus, Sid varies the hi-hat beat from what he used on the first chorus. Instead of open and ringing, he plays the cymbals open-and-closed, gently accenting the second and fourth beats. A stinging rim shot launches the second half and a move to ride cymbal, with rim shots in unexpected places.

With the tempo now settled, Condon re-enters the rhythm section in time for Pee Wee Russell’s chorus. Sid tightens things up, playing closed hi-hat, acting as interested listener in a conversation with Russell. However, some well-placed rim shots act as a safety net in the most abstract moments of the dialogue (bars 15-16).

Next, Kaminsky and Morton split a chorus, which also has a conversational quality. Max seems to be telling a story and Sid’s perfectly-timed rim shots (bars 8-9, 11-12) are the approbation. Benny Morton was another old friend of Catlett’s. By 1943, the drummer knew instinctively how to back the great trombonist and actually anticipates Morton’s phrasing on bar 24.

Finally, it is Sid Catlett’s turn to solo and what a solo it is!!! With Bushkin providing discreet stoptimes, Sid begins with solid quarter notes, leading into a barrage of double-stroke rolls (bars 1-4). There is a double-time feel, but Sid feints doubling that meter for just an instant (bars 5-8). Next, his incredible hand-to-foot coordination is displayed by his use of bass drum accents and rhythmic patterns on a choke cymbal (bars 9-12). The virtuoso solo takes on a dense texture, redolent of Chick Webb (bars 13-16) then comes a sudden release of tension and eighth notes between rim shots and bass drum (bars 17-18). Bars 19-20 call to mind Catlett’s early inspiration, Zutty Singleton. Sid keeps Zutty’s style going through bar 27, with accented rolls and bass drum “bombs.” The solo comes to a magnificent climax in a crescendo of accented triplets.

Kaminksy, obviously inspired by what he just heard, tears into the final chorus even before the end of the drum solo! With the tempo in just the right spot, the band is on fire! The final ensemble is underpinned by Sid’s ringing hi-hat and on bar 12 he adds the perfect touch—solid afterbeat rim shots—played to the conclusion of the rideout chorus. The proceedings end with a wide-open cymbal crash and a bass drum “button.”

Sid Catlett’s monumental drumming on “Oh, Katharina” is a genuine work of art. In this writer’s opinion it ranks with “Steak Face,” “Rose Room,” “46 West 52,” “Hallelujah,” “Sleep,” “I Never Knew” and “Afternoon Of A Basie-ite” as one of Catlett’s greatest recordings. It should be heard by every jazz enthusiast!

IT’S WONDERFUL: COMING SOON!

Jazz fans like myself grew up with only a small portion of the music preserved on records available to them.  There were complete sets of Ellington issued, one by one, on French lps, but much of the music seemed hidden until the last decade or so, where complete projects seemed to spring up everywhere.  Want the complete Django , Condon broadcasts, or Fats?  A Mosaic box with unissued takes you never knew existed?  Move that mouse and it’s yours.  So occasionally I feel as if every meal was an all-you-can-eat affair.

But magnificent jazz recordings few people had known about are still being emerging. 

On the basis of what I’ve heard already, an upcoming compact disc on Anthony Barnett’s AB Fable label will be spectacular. (Barnett is not only a scrupulous researcher but a splendid writer — his reissue projects are superb.)

Imagine, if you will, a 1937 swing band — its members drawn from the Chick Webb band, the Cab Calloway band, and Stuff Smith’s ensemble — playing pop tunes with arrangements by Edgar Sampson. 

Imagine that the soloists include Ben Webster, Jonah Jones, Sandy Williams. 

Imagine that the band is led by Stuff Smith. 

Finally, imagine that the vocalist is a youthful, pert Ella Fitzgerald.

You can open your eyes now.

It’s not available yet, but it will be . . . visit  http://www.abar.net/.  And in the US, you’ll be able to ourchase it through CADENCE: www.cadencebuilding.com

P.S.  The radio programs were sponsored by an eye lotion (I believed it was advertised as providing for relief for red, dry eyes — something that bloggers know all too well!) called LUCIDIN.  Are any of my readers collectors of archaic pharmaceuticals, and has anyone ever seen a Lucidin bottle?  I don’t think it was a long-lived product, alas.  Send word, please.

VIC DICKENSON by MACEO BRUCE SHEFFIELD

Sharp-eyed reader, long-time friend, and diligent collector Rob Rothberg noticed that the photograph of Lucille Hall and Vic Dickenson showsn in an earlier post was credited to the Sheffield studios.  with typical generosity, he offers his Sheffield portrait study of a handsome Vic. 

Rob wants to know if the “Maceo B. Sheffield” credited here is also the pioneering African-American actor, 1897-1959.

I also would like to know more about Maceo Bruce Sheffield (or Scheffield), who appeared as “Chief of Wazini” in the 1921 silent THE ADVENTURES OF TARZAN.  He also acted in and produced films between 1939 and 1947. 

Patt Morrison, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1999, confirms that he was multi-talented: “movie serial stuntman, the West’s first Negro aviator, LAPD cop and opera impresario.”  I read elsewhere that Sheffield was a police officer before he became an actor. 

A man who knew something of photography, backgrounds, and poses might have opened his own portrait studio.  In the University of Massachusetts at Amherst W.E.B. DuBois archive, there’s a photograph of DuBois and others credited to Sheffield in 1951.  I found that Vera Jackson (a pioneering Black woman photojournalist) first worked in Sheffield’s studios.  But does anyone know more?

For now, I’ll just gaze happily at Vic.  Thanks, Rob!

 

“TIRE INSPECTION”

For those of us who love Louis Armstrong, this might be a familiar picture.  Someone took a snapshot of the musicians in a Forties band visiting the men’s room, and Louis annotated it in the upper left corner (in fountain pen).

Some readers will think this childish; others will think it points to the way the subject of sexuality and its attendant machineries turn grown men into little boys — I just find it funny.  And rest stops on a long road trip are delightful interludes, even if they aren’t being photographically documented.

“GIVE ME THIS NIGHT”

Thanks to Will Friedwald for redirecting me to this site: http://regalameestanoche.blogspot.com

I don’t know much about its Founder and Owner except that (s)he is wildly energetic, generous, and humorous.  Leaving aside for the moment the ethical considerations involved in downloading artists’ work for free, I will say only that this site is an enthusiastic collector’s cornucopia of pop music, classical, slack-key guitar . . . and did I mention jazz?  And since the blog-patron has set it up so that all the music can be downloaded for free in mp3 format, it is not the experience of staring at the eclairs through the window of the bakery: this bakery is always open and the eclairs of extraordinary quality, if you don’t mind the high-calorie metaphor.   

In the first ten minutes of my hyperventilating perusal and clicking, I downloaded a number of CDs I had been wanting badly — but not enough to pay exorbitant prices for.  Among them is the Chronological Classics Helen Humes (beginning in 1927 and including GARLIC BLUES) and the Classics Richard M. Jones, ending with the four 12″ sides he did for the Session label in 1944. 

If you couldn’t find something thrilling to listen to on this site, I would be surprised.

IT COULD ONLY BE VIC DICKENSON

Spending too much time at the computer results in a stiff neck and eyestrain.

But these long obsessive hours in front of the monitor or laptop bring rewards I wouldn’t have imagined.  An eBay seller has found and is offering for sale ($400.00) the scrapbook or photograph album of a singer, Lucille Hall (or Lucille Halle) who worked on the West Coast with, among others, Leon Herriford, Charlie Echols and his Dixie Rhythm Kings, appeared alongside the Mills Brothers.  I had never heard of her, and doubt that many people have.

But the first picture in her scrapbook is a beautiful publicity shot of her playing trombone (which I can’t know for sure if she did) to the right of a wholly recognizable trombonist, one of my heroes, who spent some years in California, perhaps 1944-7.

It was worth the stiff neck and eyestrain to see this:

The little statuettes (jazz Oscars, more or less) are Vic’s Esquire Awards. 

The link to the eBay site is http://cgi.ebay.com/African-American-Photo-Album-Jazz-night-club-singer_W0QQitemZ320474157913QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item4a9dbf9359

LET’S GO HEAR LOUIS!

I have room in my car, and I’ll take care of the tickets.  Everyone should come — Louis has a great band, with Red and Higgy and Big Sid, too . . .