Daily Archives: January 30, 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.

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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.