Monthly Archives: February 2010

I HEAR FATS IS IN TOWN — LET’S GO!

This photograph by William Claxton was shared with us by the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett.  Hollywood’s “Famous Door” seems much more rustic than its New York counterpart, but any place that had Fats Waller playing was immediately palatial:

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PLEASE READ THIS!

This is Tom Cosentino’s incredibly touching piece on Clarence Armstrong, Louis’s adopted son — someone Tom knew in his Bronx childhood.  Blessings on Tom, on Clarence, on Louis, and on Ricky Riccardi for letting us know about this essay:

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CLARENCE ARMSTRONG

Last night I watched a documentary on the Ovation television network on jazz legend Louis Armstrong. I’ve always been fascinated with the man known as “Satchmo,” not only because of his music, which I love, but because of a boyhood tie that I have to him.

During the course of the documentary, reference was made to Louis’ adopted son, who was retarded. No name was given, but I knew what they were talking about, for he was my friend Clarence, a person I first knew as a little boy as Ooga Booga.

I grew up in the northeast Bronx on a street called Oakley. The cross street was Fenton Ave, and a few house up that block was a woman named Miss Lillian. That was the house that Clarence lived in as well. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends until I was 8 and I was allowed to start playing in the street and nearby school yard of my boyhood school, P.S. 78. From my backyard, I would see Clarence pass my house every day, wearing his Mets cap. I never really talked with him. Then, when I started playing ball in the street with the other kids up my block, I heard them call him by another name, that of “Ooga Booga.” The kids were afraid of him and would tease him for chewing on his tongue. When they would see him they would taunt him with the cry of “Hey, Ooga Booga, Hey Ooga Booga” and then run. I’m ashamed to say, I joined in.

Then, one day, Clarence called me out and said he would tell my father. When I was home that night, I asked my parents about Clarence. They then told me that he was the son of Louis Armstrong. They even told me that Louis used to come up to the house to see Clarence when they first moved in. I knew Louis Armstrong was a musician, and knew him from television and the song, Hello Dolly. What I didn’t know was that Miss Lillian had married Clarence under an arrangement with Louis Armstrong. They had a son who used to play the trumpet out of his window all the time. However, he later died, although I do not know the reasons.

Knowing now the background of Clarence, I was carrying the guilt of being one of the abusive kids taunting him. The next time I saw him, I didn’t run but said hello. Clarence started talking to me about his love, baseball. This would begin years of dialogue on the Mets. Even though I was a Yankees fan, Clarence knew I loved baseball too. He would make up trades for the Mets, ringing my door bell to tell me the Mets got Reggie Smith from the Red Sox or Tony Perez from the Reds and other such All-Stars. Of course, they never traded anyone for these players, but I caught on and just kept the discussion going. Many times, he would ring my doorbell to tell me his news. My dad or mom would have to rescue me by coming out to tell me to finish my home work or have dinner.

I remember the one trade that was really made that thrilled Clarence was when the Mets got Willie Mays from the Giants. Clarence was literally jumping for joy that day. He would often jump up and down when he was excited, yelling as loud as he could. He was a little boy in a grown man’s body.

I communicated my discovery of Clarence’s background and love for baseball to my friends and they quickly caught on too. Soon Clarence began hanging out with us, watching us play. We’d even let him coach some times. He quickly became our mascot and lookout, watching for kids from other blocks that might look to start trouble with us.

Not only was I able to get to know Clarence, but I would visit and say hello to Miss Lillian nearly every day. Sometimes she would even give me a present.

When Louis Armstrong died in July, 1971, I remember WPIX carrying the funeral live on television. There, I got to see Clarence getting into a limousine. It confirmed for real, his relationship with the famed trumpeter.

As the years progressed and we all got older, we continued playing ball all the way through our college years. Clarence was there with us, watching and cheering us on as always. He was still making up trades. In fact, if the Mets hired Clarence, they may have won a few more pennants.

Clarence was Catholic and I would often walk and attend Mass with him at St. Phillip & James Church on Boston Road. Many parishioners would shy away, but I would sit with him in a side pew.

Sometimes when Clarence would ring my bell it wasn’t always about baseball. I can remember one time when he called on me to tell me a member of his daddy’s band had died.

After watching the documentary last night, I decided to look up information on Louis Armstrong, hoping to find mention of the adopted retarded son I knew as Clarence. Why I never did this earlier, I don’t know, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a link in the Wikipedia entry to a story written by Gary Giddins in the Village Voice in 2003

that outlined the history of Clarence. It turns out; Clarence was the son of Louis Armstrong’s cousin Flora. As Giddins’ account, posted below, points out, Louis began supporting Clarence when Louis was just 14. It became a lifelong pursuit, as Clarence was Louis’ only child.

“A few steps into the archive I was stopped dead by a pasteboard blowup of a photograph that had never been published, showing Armstrong and his adopted son, “Clarence Hatfield.” I had never given Clarence much thought, having heard he was mentally retarded and died a long time ago, hidden away.

But here he was: beaming backstage at the Band Box, a club in Chicago, in the 1940s, nattily dressed in a double-breasted suit not unlike the pinstripe tailored for Armstrong, who also beams, with unmistakable paternal pride. Clarence and their relationship sprang to life, sending me back to Armstrong’s account in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, to appreciate for the first time its affectionate candor regarding his only venture into paternity. Clarence was born in 1915 to Louis’s teenage cousin, Flora, apparently after she was molested by an old white man her father felt powerless to challenge. Louis’s first sight of the baby washed “all the gloom out of me.” He took it upon himself, at 14, to get a job hauling coal (immortalized in the 1925 “Coal Cart Blues”) to support the baby and the ailing mother, and assumed full responsibility after Flora’s death, marrying his first wife and adopting the three-year-old at 17. In that period, Clarence fell off a porch and landed on his head; doctors judged him to be mentally impaired. When Louis married Lil Hardin in Chicago, Clarence joined them, and Louis never forgave Lil—who claimed that Clarence was never legally adopted—for her impatience with him. When he left Lil for Alpha, he brought Clarence along.

Eventually, Clarence was set up in the Bronx, where he was married in an arrangement of convenience financed by Louis.”

Miss Lillian eventually passed and I got married and moved to New Jersey, losing any connection I had with Clarence. My dad and brother who were still living there told me that his house had been boarded up and Clarence taken away one day. They never knew what happened. After reading Gary Giddins’ story, I now know he died in 1998. I now have to read Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and learn more.

Clarence Armstrong forever changed my life for he taught me how to deal with others. Appearances and background don’t matter. It’s what’s inside a person that counts. It’s something I’ve tried to carry through on throughout my professional career.

I can still see him cheering for us, tongue hanging from his mouth and his Mets cap hanging sideways on his head as he jumped up and down. “Tommy, Tommy” I can hear him yell. “The Mets just got Albert Pujols. They gonna have a bad ass team this year!”

Tom Cosentino

“MUSIC FOR DRUMMERS”: EXTRAORDINARY LARGESSE

Although I’ve always understood that part of the urge to collect has in it the urge to keep something for oneself — “Mine!  Mine!  Not yours!” screams the toddler self — I am delighted beyond words when someone in the jazz collecting world says, “Here!  Listen to this!  Let everyone listen to this!”  The Italian jazz scholar Enrico Borsetti is one of these heroic figures.  And now I’ve met another person, in cyberspace to be sure, who has showered riches upon us.  His name is Mike Tarani.   

I found the blog MUSIC FOR DRUMMERS through a Google Alert for “Jo Jones.”  I have now seen a great deal of information about Susie Jo Jones, and Jolanda Jo Jones, and Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones.  I’m sure they are all beyond compare, but none of them played drums in the Basie rhythm section, none of them fired rimshots and accents behind Tommy Ladnier at Carnegie Hall.  You understand.

MUSIC FOR DRUMMERS has devoted an astounding post to Jonathan David Samuel Jones (and kindly mentions my piece on Jo in this blog) — which includes YouTube videos.  AND it includes mp3 versions of Jo’s famous two-record set, THE DRUMS.

But wait!  There’s more!  MFD also offers — free and gleefully — the tape of an oral history interview of Jo done by Milt Hinton, circa 1973.  Hearing those voices nearly brought me to tears.   

My goodness!

And, as Mae West never said, “Goodness has everything to do with it.”  Blessings on Mike Tarrani for his generosities.

See for yourself at http://drumz4sale.blogspot.com/2010/02/papa-jo-jones.html

CHANGES MADE

This post is motivated by email conversations with friends, some of them musicians, who confess in hushed tones that they really can’t listen to X, no matter how famous or renowned (s)he is. 

So I hereby reveal my contributions to this secret dialogue.  It interests me that some of the music I adored in my twenties I no longer can put up with. 

I find Ella Fitzgerald chilly and detached except when she is warmed by Ellis Larkins or Louis.  Once I thrilled to Tatum’s rococco wanderings for Norman Granz and Hines’s late-period bubblings-over.  No more.  No can do.  No Oscar Peterson; no Buddy Rich.  Rush the tempo, no matter how famous you are, and I want to walk away.     

Some of this may be the result of my aging impatience.  I’ve heard a lot, on record and in performance, and much pales by comparison.  Of course, my reaction may sound snobbish.  “What an over-critical view!  Jazz needs all the friends it can get,” some might say. 

But now I want a certain intense passionate simplicity (or it has to sound like simplicity — even though it isn’t simple at all!) rather than displays of technique.  Tell your story and let someone else play, please.  It’s not a matter of disliking, but a paring-away of what now seems to me inessential.  Maybe my ears are saying, “You know, life isn’t long enough to listen to four choruses of that solo.”  I know that some readers will find my choices wrong, inexplicable.  And I applaud their doing so.  We must listen to and love that which makes us vibrate in the best ways.

And I still have my treasures.  Certain recordings (I restrict myself to dead players and singers) I will carry with me to the grave, and beyond.  Lee Wiley’s Liberty Music Shop recordings.  Louis’s THAT’S MY HOME, KNOCKIN’ A JUG, and two dozen others.  The Chocolate Dandies’ I NEVER KNEW.  Eddie Condon’s TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL.  Sidney Catlett’s STEAK FACE.  Teddy Wilson’s I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (School for Pianists).  Red Allen’s ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON.  Billie’s I’LL BE SEEING YOU.  Mildred’s WILLOW TREE and BORN TO BE BLUE.  Joe Thomas’s YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME.  James P. Johnson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE and AFTER YOU’VE GONE.  The Basie rhythm section.  Almost anything by Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Buck Clayton, Emmett Berry, Lawrence Brown, the Boswell Sisters.  Red Norvo on xylophone.  Ben Webster with strings.  Lester Young in good company.  Jack Purvis’s work on the Seger Ellis SLEEPY TIME GAL.  The Ellington-Hodges STOMPY JONES.  The 1934 Fats Waller sessions with Bill Coleman.  Dicky Wells in the Thirties.  Hot Lips Page and Dave Tough on Artie Shaw’s 1941 THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Teddy Bunn.  frank Newton.  Early Crosby, and the Bing-Mercer MR. CROSBY AND MR. MERCER.  Bix, Tram, and Lang.  Mercer’s THE BATHTUB RAN OVER AGAIN.  Early Jack Teagarden.

But many other famous players and recordings do not move me.  However, one of the freedoms of no longer attempting to be a completist, not having to listen to everything the Jazz Heroes / Heroines did is that I can spend time discovering less-publicized delights, the living players I celebrate in this blog.

And then there’s the larger issue, or burden, of perception.   

Some time ago, I began to write a blogpost called IS ANYONE LISTENING?  It remains a valid question.  Occasionally jazz seems based on a star system that rigidifies.  You come to the music of Kid Flublip early, fall in love with it, and are loyally obligated to keep to your early allegiance.  That’s wonderful, if the music continues to satisfy.  But I wonder if listeners are actually listening to what they hear or are so wrapped up in their adoration that they no longer hear.  Can an acolyte hear what the band is playing or is (s)he wholly in love with the name of the leader?     

Everyone might try a self-imposed Blindfold Test, or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind”: take a treasured recording and listen to it as if you’d never heard it before.  It requires a playing-tricks-on-the-self, but the result is exciting.  Familiar recordings give up new bits of lovely evidence; others crumble.  The Famous Bassist is out of tune; the Revered Soloist goes on for too long. 

A listening public — as opposed to a sentiment-driven one — might find new disenchantment.  The music we actually hear might not measure up to what we think we remember.  But that would enable us, as well, to put aside our adorations and hear something or someone new, a different kind of reward.

And if the musicians or singers I’ve grown away from still sing to you, consider yourself fortunate; it must be idyllic to find everything in an art form equally rewarding.  I can’t do it, and I am not sure that it would be a rewarding activity.

TAMAR KORN / “GAUCHO” IN SAN FRANCISCO

In the jazz world, new “Gypsy Swing” groups seem to proliferate.  Gaucho is one of the best of the Django-inspired small swing groups, a San Francisco staple, inventive and rocking.  They’ve recorded three CDs, each one delightfully consistent.  They are Dave Ricketts, Michael Groh, g; Rob Reich, acc; Ralph Carney, reeds; Ari Munkres, b; Pete Devine – d, perc, and Cheek-O-Phone (TM) — the last something you’ll have to see and hear in person.  “Gaucho,” incidentally, is the band’s version of “gadjo,” the term a Gypsy would bestow on a non-Gypsy.   

Here are two neat video clips that I just found out about, recorded in atmospheric black and white and HD at AMNESIA in San Francisco a few months back.  The YouTube channel is “PortoFrancoRecords,” a label that will be issuing a new Gaucho CD in the fall. 

AND these two videos (and the CD to come) feature the eloquent and always surprising TAMAR KORN.  Need I say more?    

I associate “The Anniversary Song” with a lugubrious reading in waltz-time, and it has always been credited to Al Jolson, who (not surprisingly) did little to create it aside from recording it.  Here it’s offered in a lilting swing four-four, with Tamar singing, dancing (to the accompaniment of Ralph’s adventurous clarinet solo) and improvising with soprano riffs to conclude:

“I Surrender Dear” comes from Mr. Crosby and Mr. Armstrong, but Tamar makes it her own, as always, floating on Gaucho’s impasioned pulse and invention:

Thanks to Peter Varshavsky of Porto Franco Records, whose new website will have a variety of independent music from swing jazz to modern permutations: http://www.portofrancorecords.com/videoblog.  Peter tells me that many musical things are happening quite fast, so there will be more to come very soon!  And energetic YouTube surfers will a number of other clips of Tamar and Gaucho in performance from “charlestonalley,” a friend of swing jazz and swing dance.

“GEORGIA BO BO”

This song, originally recorded in 1926 by “Lil’s Hot Shots” — a transparent pseudonym for the Louis Armstrong Hot Five, under contract to OKeh — nominally led by Lil Hardin Armstrong for Vocalion — is a fairly simple blues. 

Jesse’s Jazz Band, led by trombonist Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, is seen here at the 1999 Akersunds Jazz Festival in Sweden.  I knew in a minute that the Hot cornetist was my hero Bent Persson, but don’t know the name of the other sterling players: the clarinetist who has Dodds down, nimbly; the drummer accenting the rhythm on the rim of his bass drum, the steady banjoist and drummer.  If someone knows their names, please let us all know!  This video was posted on YouTube by “jazze1947,” and we thank him, as well as the players!

And perhaps Stephen Calt (author / compiler of BARRELHOUSE WORDS) will tell us if the “Georgia Bo Bo” was a euphemism, as was the “Georgia Grind.”  Inquiring minds want to know!

TWO NEW CANGELOSI CARDS GIGS! (Feb. 27, March 27, 2010)

Splendid news!

The Cangelosi Cards are in town.  The Cards will be playing and singing at a new venue — two Saturday 8 PM concert appearances (dates above), with free dance lessons at 7 PM.  A $10 admission will do it, and there will be “wine and soft drinks by donation.”  The concert announcement reads: “The Cangelosi Cards bring their acoustic swing music to the Shambhala Center for a lively evening of music and dance.  The large hall with wooden floors and good acoustics gives room to dance, not just in the aisles, while the separate lounge gives socializing its full due.”  Who could argue with any of that?

To see all of this for yourself (if any doubters exist): http://ny.shambhala.org/music.php.  The Shambhala Meditation Center Of New York is located at 118 West 22nd Street, 6th Floor, New York,  New York 10011.  Tel. 212-675-6544    Email: // info@shambhalanyc.org

Here’s George Yi’s picture of the band (Stockholm, 2009):