Daily Archives: February 18, 2010

MAGGIE CONDON HAS A PLAN

Last week, I met Maggie Condon.  If you don’t recognize her immediately, let me give you a hint:

Yes, that family.  Maggie is the elder daughter of Eddie and Phyllis Condon; she and her husband Peter (a most amiable filmmaker) live in the family’s Washington Square apartment, where I visited Maggie recently. 

I should say here that Eddie Condon — bandleader, man with an idea, guitarist, promoter — is one of my most beloved heroes.  When I started listening to other jazzmen beyond Louis, I naturally gravitated to any and all records that had any connection with Eddie — from the early Twenties to the middle Seventies.  And I was lucky enough to see the great man himself: once at close range, three times in concert. 

I knew I was in the presence of something remarkable when Maggie offered me the tour of the Condon apartment — which began by her walking to the window that overlooked Washington Square Park and pointing out the diagonal path she remembered seeing her father take across the park to the club named for him (47 West Third Street).  Then she opened a box and unwrapped what was and is a sacred object — Eddie’s first banjo, labeled on the back of the head “Slick Condon,” with a date of 1921.  Eddie had his own bedroom in the apartment because he and Phyllis — although truly devoted to each other — kept different hours.  Phyllis, an ambitious woman, was up early, someone with things to do.  Eddie came home late from the club and wanted darkness and silence for his daylight-hours sleeping pleasure: thus his room was painted a dark green, almost black. 

The holy relics continued to surface: one of Eddie’s custom-made Gibson tenor guitars:

From another angle, with reverence:

One more:

And here’s the label on the outside of the guitar case — written by Phyllis:

Eddie called the jazz magazine BROW BEAT — and here’s the only award he ever got from them:

But back to the title.  “Maggie Condon has a plan?”

Yes, Maggie Condon is making a video documentary about her father — possibly a feature-length film.  She’s been planning it for more than twenty years, and is well-qualified, having been a film and television director for a number of years.  As I write this, she is doing a series of video interviews — of jazz scholars who knew and loved Eddie, jazz musicians who played alongside him, people who saw him at close range. 

The film, let me assure you, is a daughter’s tribute to her father — as a man, as a musician — no filmed pathobiography here.

Why Eddie Condon? 

If you were to search blindly through the morass of semi-factoidal information that makes up the web, you might find that Eddie was (some say) more well-known for talking than playing, a not-very-adept rhythm guitarist (according to others) who didn’t take solos; a proponent of a now-dead style.  Even though Eddie loathed the word “Dixieland,” and said that it was “music for the farmers who wanted to hear THE SAINTS,” he is identified with the form.

All wrong. 

Three minutes of any Condon record would sweep some of this fallacy away, but there’s more that needs to be said.  That Bx Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong called him their friend should say something as well. 

First, Eddie was a rebel against the Midwestern world in which he was born.  Who would have expected a young man from Indiana to find his calling in that noisy music called jazz?  And, odder still, who would have expected that Condon boy to be so thoroughly color-blind that he would organize integrated record sessions before 1930, picking musicians by their talent rather than their compliexion at a time when this wasn’t done?  Even as late as the mid-Forties, an integrated Condon band was shut out of a Washington, D.C. concert hall because the DAR wouldn’t countenance race-mixing onstage.  So he was a pioneer.

Critics and social historians get justifiably excited about John Hammond bringing Teddy Wilson into the Benny Goodman band; they extol the heroism of Branch Rickey, getting Jackie Robinson onto the field in the white major leagues. 

But who celebrates Eddie Condon for getting Fats Waller and Hot Lips Page into Carnegie Hall?  And when the Condon groups broadcast from the Ritz Theatre and Town Hall over the Blue Network in 1944-45, how many people (here and overseas) thrilled to the music and then realized that the people whose art they were charmed by were the same people who had to sit in the back of the bus?  (Exhibit A above: “Eddie’s Hot Shots” was what they used to call “a mixed band,” and the record is still a Hot landmark.)

Ken Burns didn’t pay much attention to Eddie; I have yet to see a Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute to the man and his music.  Eddie was Caucasian (unfashionable), he made a living from his music (unthinkable), and he didn’t die young (unbelievable).  Even in the face of all these ideological burdens, he surely deserves to be celebrated.  Was it his fault that he had a good time, and that jazz wasn’t his martyrdom?   

He was the first jazz musician to have his name on a club, and it’s not incidental that the music that came out of that club was free-wheeling and passionately expert.  And he brought jazz to television long before it became the soundtrack for many shows — as early as 1942, and his EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW remains a model of what could be done with the form — informal, funny, and Hot. 

With Milt Gabler, another down-home urban saint, Eddie and his gang made extraordinary records for the Commodore label in the late Thrities and early Forties, moving over to Decca and later (under George Avakian’s benign, wise guidance) to Columbia for classic sessions in the Fifties.    

So I’m thrilled that Maggie is interviewing the elders of the tribe as well as getting acquainted with the younger musicians who know and love the jazz that Eddie nurtured and sustained. 

If you’ve got memories of being in Eddie’s club, let’s hear them!  If you remember the first time you heard a Condon record, tell us!  (And — I’m probably not supposed to say this, but consider it whispered: if you’re a wealthy jazz-lover who would like to make sure more people know who Eddie Condon is — is, not was — it would be nice to hear from you, too.) 

Not someday, but now.  More to come!

NEWS FROM THE BOHEM RAGTIME JAZZ BAND (February 2010)

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band here in the past: they do live up to their description as “possibly the workd’s most versatile jazz band” — the band adapts wonderfully to all kinds of jazz material without the soloists losing their essential identities.

The BJRB will be celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary on March 8, 2010.  Congratulations!  Keeping a band together for a quarter-century in these perilous times (perilous for Hot jazz as well as most other things) is a real accomplishment. 

AND the Bohem Jazz Festival is nearly upon us.  That’s March 26-28, 2010.  More information about the six-day package offer here:http://festival.bohemragtime.com/images/fest10-touristinfo.pdf.  The musicians featured at the Festival will include Nicolas Montierm tenor sax;  Thilo Wagner, piano; Jennifer Leitham, string bass; Vince Bartels, drums; Washboard Wizardz, the BRJB, of course;  PapaJazz; Swing Manouche Project; Daniel Balazs, piano; Ivan Nagy, piano; the Penge Benge Jazz Band . . . and more.  

“How did he find all this out?” you might ask.  Easy as paprika: I simply visited http://www.bohemragtime.com.  You can, too!  They have an email newsletter, but they neither harangue nor pester — it’s great fun.  And if you aren’t fluent in Hungarian, don’t panic — click on the Union Jack and everything will appear in a flash in the most melodious English prose.  There you can hear and see Joe Muranyi singing BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA, and find out about your special present from the BRJB.  It’s all true!

But since the Beloved and I are not going to be able to attend the Festival this year, I’ve been delighting in several CDs and DVDs put out by the BRJB and esteemed guests.  There’s a DVD by the BRJB itself, one with guests including Herbert Christ, Bria Skonberg, Matthias Seuffert, Bob Barnard, Nick Ward, and Jeff Hamilton, and a delightful CD — a hot piano / violin recital, with both instruments expertly played by the swinging Tamas Itzes. 

Check it out — no, check them out. 

Sound of New Orleans
(with Bob Barnard & Herbert Christ – tp, Matthias Seuffert – cl, ts)
CD: KJA-BCD 8020, 2005

1. I’m Sorry I Made You Cry (Nicholas Joseph Clesi)
2. You’re Lucky To Me (Andy Razaf–Eubie Blake)
3. Cornet Chop Suey (Louis Armstrong)
4. Sorry (Raymond Klages–Howdy Quicksell)
5. Someday Sweetheart (Benjamin & John Spikes)
6. Stompin’ At The Savoy (Benny Goodman–Andy Razaf–Chick Webb–Edgar Sampson)
7. Black Beauty (Duke Ellington)
8. Smackaroony (Bob Barnard)
9. Wall Street Rag (Bud Coleman)
10. Black Bottom Stomp (Jelly Roll Morton)
11. Everybody Loves My Baby (Jack Palmer–Spencer Williams)
12. Sing, You Sinners (W. Frank Harling–Sam Coslow)
13. Home (Harry & Jeff Clarkson–Peter van Steeden)
14. San (Walter Michels–Lindsay McPhail)
15. Mandy, Mandy, Make Up Your Mind (Meyer–Johnston–Clarke–Turk)
16. Body and Soul (Green–Heyman)
17. Down In Honky Tonk Town (Charles McCharon–Chris Smith)
18. Sweet Substitute (Jelly Roll Morton)

Bohém Ragtime Jazz Band Live! – 12. Dixieland Jubilee, Stuttgart
CD: CACD 8302, 2008

1. Milenberg Joys (Jelly Roll Morton-New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
2. I’m Sorry I Made You Cry (N. J. Clesi)
3. Ballin’ The Jack (Chris Smith)
4. Someday Sweetheart (Benjamin & John Spikes)
5. Whistling Rufus (Kerry Mills)
6. Love At Sundown (H. M. King of Thailand Bhumibol Adulyadej)
7. Sam, the old accordion man (Walter Donaldson)
8. Cataract Rag (Robert Hampton)
9. I’m Confessin’ (Doc Daugherty-Al J. Neiburg-Ellis Reynolds)
10. Creole Jazz (Claude Luter)
11. Black Beauty (Duke Ellington)
12. Louisiana (J. C. Johnson-Andy Razaf-Shafer)
13. Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
14. Tango Palace (Ott fogsz majd sírni…) (József Kola-Andor Szenes-Joe Murányi)
15. Honey Suckle Rose (Andy Razaf-Thomas “Fats” Waller)
16. The Entertainer (Scott Joplin-John Brimhall)
17. Good night, ladies (traditional)

1. Wild Romantic Blues [2:15]  
2. Tin Whistle Blues [3:00]  
3. Kiss Me Sweet [2:58]  
4. Never Let No One Man Worry Your Mind [2:28]  
5. The Carolina Blues [1:56]  
6. The Fives [2:28]  
7. Freakish Blues [2:22]  
8. Irresistible Blues [2:46]  
9. Charleston Clarinet Blues [2:34]  
10. War Bride Blues [4:05]  
11. Paradise Blues [2:57]  
12. Monday Morning Blues [2:22]  
13. Blue Law Sunday Blues [2:39]  
14. Jerry the Junker [2:15]  
15. Black Cat Blues [2:55]  
16. Alabama Blues [2:18]  
17. Louisville Blues [3:06]  
18. Jogo Blues [3:16]  
19. It Takes a Long Tall Brown-skin Gal to Make a Preacher Lay His Bible Down [3:03]  
20. You’re Such a Cruel Papa to Me [2:53]  
21. A Bunch of Blues [4:04]  
22. Regretful Blues [3:38]  
23. You’ll Want Me Back Someday [3:06]

And here’s a YouTube sample:

MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (with József Lebanov, trumpet; Attila Korb, trombone; Zoltán Mátrai, clarinet; Tamás Ittzés, piano, leader; József Török, tuba; György Mátrai, banjo; Alfréd Falusi, drums.

JAZZ VIDEO DOCUMENTARIES (February 2010)

I just received an email from Lauren Kesner O’Brien, the founder of a “video magazine,” (a site that shares new video documentaries on a variety of subjects) called www.telegraph21.com, — telling me that this week the site will be offering documentaries on jazz.  In particular, she told me about THE SOUND AFTER THE STORM, a film focusing on Dr. Michael White and Lillian Boutte and their experiences in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  You can see an eight-minute segment from the documentary here: http://www.telegraph21.com/video/the-sound-after-the-storm.  I’m glad to see new documentary filmmakers turning their lenses on jazz: it never gets enough attention!