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!

Advertisements

21 responses to “MAGGIE CONDON HAS A PLAN

  1. Well done, Michael!

    To most people, including Ken Burns and the taste-makers in that cultural kremlin known as Lincoln Center, Condon was just an amiable emcee/raconteur, a barely audible presence on the bandstand or on records. How could a guy like Condon be taken seriously by today’s jazz commissars? Unlike John Hammond, he was not un homme sérieux, wrote no earnest, self-righteous manifestos, had no political agenda. But years before Hammond and Benny Goodman famously “integrated” jazz, Condon was helping to organize integrated sessions that produced some of the greatest recordings in jazz history: “The Minor Drag,” “Hello, Lola!” and “Home Cooking” (both versions), to name just a few. A staggering accomplishment. In what other field of endeavor in the world at that time, outside of civil rights organizing and lobbying, were the races working together (not to mention drinking and laughing together) to produce something imperishable? None. None! Any truly insightful socio-cultural history of the US in the 20th century would recognize Condon’s monumental contributions, but I’m not holding my breath.

    P.S. I remember that issue of Down Beat! In the “tribute to Art Tatum,” some fatuous Down Beat writer lamented the double loss of Tatum and Walter Gieseking, who had also just died – as if he really cared about Gieseking. Fatuity was the norm at Down Beat in those days; in fact, it was probably a prerequisite for employment there. I remember another article comparing, favorably, Dizzy Gillespie’s comedic abilities to those of Jacques Tati and Fernandel.

  2. Great,great post.Like STOMPY JONES I remember Eddie C as the man behind a famous classic side of SATCHMO :”KNOCKING A JUG”.A 1929 jam session in three minutes…

  3. Update for your copy written about Maggie Condon:
    Mr. Condon’s “Porkchop” was a 22 fret “Plectrum” Guitar, as shown in your photograph, not a “Tenor”.
    A “Tenor” has only 20 frets and a shorter neck.

  4. PS- Watching Ken Burns “Jazz” I could not overlook his constant usage of Eddie Condon’s book, “We Called it Jazz” for his pseudo-documentary voice-overs without ever giving credit to the author.
    Furthermore, Mr. Burns marginalized and ignored Mr. Condon’s rightful place in jazz history.
    Therefore, I conclude Mr. Burns is a hack.

  5. What a great post and a welcome recognition of Eddie’s contribution to music, human happiness and common decency.

    You’re right: Eddie’s pioneering role has been overlooked by the jazz pundits for largely ideological reasons and because of the “dixieland” tag that he always reviled.

    And while he was no virtuoso, as a rhythm player he was a solid swinger with an impeccable feel for the right tempo. On one of the Town Hall concerts, the recording engineer secretly arranged the balance so that Eddie’s guitar dominated the band for one number: happily, the result was recorded and is proof of what a good guitarist Eddie was when you can hear him. His banjo on some of the early records (Fats’ Minor Drag and Harlem Fuss spring to mind) was pretty powerful too.

    It’s great news that Maggie is going to make that long-overdue film biography of the great man. It’s just a pity that so few of the musicians who worked with Eddie are still with us. In fact, the only surving Condonite who immediately comes to mind is Bob Wilber (Leonard Gaskin having died in January 2009). I suppose Ed Polcer must have played with Eddie, so he qualifies. But I can’t immediately think of anyone else.

    Anyway: thanks for a wonderful post (and the photos) and good luck to Maggie. I’m certainly looking forward to that film.

  6. I loved Eddie. Glad that Maggie is making a film. Slighting him is quite a shame. I got to know him in his later years through our mutual friend George Wettling. I used to hustle around and get gigs for my little band that usually included Johnnie Windhurst, Wettling, Danny Barker and if we needed(read afford) a trombone- Vic Dickinson. I’ve got a photo somewhere of this jolly crowd!
    The day after a midtown gig I got a call from Windhurst and he told me that Condon liked my playing. Turns out he was at our gig. John continued: “He says you’re not a
    bum!”
    I still live in the village not far from Washington Square- so, every once in while I got “take Eddie home duty.” I enjoyed talking with him but it took an awful lot of time to get him upstairs to his apartment. He’d sit in my old Plymouth and go on about the first time he saw Bix (on a train and wearing a bad-looking green cap) and on their way to somewhere in upstate NY. Then Condon would start to sing a song (over and over again) that Bix always played. I heard him do this many times but for the life of me I cant remember the tune’s name. It wasn’t a standard. At the time I heard it enough to sing along with Eddie!
    I’ve checked with Red Balaban and the few left who knew Eddie. Nobody remembers its name. They remember Eddie’s fondness for the tune but not its name
    Well at least it’s a nice memory.

  7. Thanks, Mario. In the heat of the moment, I’d forgotten “Knockin’ A Jug,” another recording session that was Condon’s idea. In one way or another, none of these legendary sessions would have happened without Eddie.

  8. Joe: I’ve seen that photo of you with George, Vic, Danny Barker and Johnny Windhurst – it’s in Eddie Condon’s “Scrapbook of Jazz” (with Hank O’ Neil, pub: 1974). A “jolly crowd” indeed! Did that band ever record?

    Anyway, on the subject of Eddie,: someone’s just given me a copy of the (British) ‘Jazz Journal’ magazine of February 1985, containing a fascinating interview with Billy Butterfield conducted by his British admirer and fellow trumpeter Alan Littlejohn.

    Here’s what Billy has to say about Eddie:

    “At that time [the mid-1940’s – JD] I had a band at Nick’s … in Greenwich Village, with Pee Wee Russell, Freddy Ohms on trombone, Ernie Carceres, and various guys. I had Tuesday nights off; then I went over to Condon’s where Bud Freeman had the band with Wettling, Joe Bushkin, Bob Haggart, etc. In those days Eddie himself was playing more and talking less. He was a very under rated guitarist, with a very extensive knowledge of the proper chords to all the tunes the fellows wanted to play. He wrote one beautiful song, ‘Wherever There’s Love’, which I recorded with Lee Wiley. Idon’t think it ever sold much, but it was a nice record, and it’s still around…
    “Of all the hundreds of musicians I have played with over the years the one man who stands out more than anyone else is Eddie Condon. Many people have written thousands of words on Eddcie, but the best thing I can say about him is thgat he really got things going for a lot of guys. Ernie Anderson was his promoter, and a great one, but he had to have something to promote, and Condon was it. At one time he had his club, he had a TV show, he had a daily column in the Daily News, which he wrote himself, and of course, records. But he was just a marvellous guy; even when he wasn’t making any money he was exactly the same. Money didn’t change him one way or the other. Everyone knows he was a heavy drinker, but mostly he could handle it. All sorts of people would come to the club just to hang around with Eddie, as much as mto hear the band.”

  9. Jack Barnes

    For more of Eddie’s legacy check out his great-grand-niece, Musician and Publisher Molly McGinn.
    ( I was told that Maggie Condon was her grandmother)

    Molly McGinn & The Buster Dillys

    http://www.dotmatrixproject.com/tag/mcouls-pub/

    http://www.dotmatrixproject.com/harveys-kitchen-molly-mcginn-the-buster-dillys/

  10. Jack Barnes

    I meant to write “Maggie Condon is Molly McMinn’s Great Aunt.”

    It’s really none of my business, but I thought it was interesting that Mr. Condon still has current ties to the music industry through his grand-niece.

    Please forgive the typo.

  11. Jack Barnes

    http://mollyskindermusik.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html

    This is Molly’s Blog.
    There is a reference to Eddie here.

  12. john waters

    i remember condon’s trip to england in 57 — anyone out there remember it too, not least the stoll theatre in the strand, london, and a pub out back?

  13. Clifford C Condon

    Hello There Cousin:
    Long time, many miles since we have met, 1967 at funeral of my uncle Ed.
    with my sister Mary and her Deceased husband Bill. and my wife Joy.
    I must be getting older and finding family.
    We live just south of Ft.Worth,Texas and have been he for 32 years.
    have 4 children from 46years to 33 years 9 Grandchildren, only one
    grandson.
    well hope to hear from you.

  14. Clifford C Condon

    Oh Yes :
    I read more of the the above article and remembered a long way
    back and ,and renumber my father saying he bought the first bango
    for his brother. was it a White Swan Bango?
    My father was a lot older than his brother .

  15. Not my family but I thought I should at least try to correct my own blog error. In reference to Ken Burn’s flagrant use of Mr. Condon’s book, I mis-wrote the title of the book!
    Apparently, Mr. Burns gets me so irritated that I forget what I already know.
    Of course, Mr. Condon’s 1948 book was “We Called It Music” and his other scrapbook style 1956 book was called “Treasury of Jazz”.
    Now, I hope I got that correct!
    You will not confuse me again Mr. Burns!

  16. “Treasury of Jazz” is not the scrapbook release.
    The scrapbook is called “Eddie Condon’s Scrapbook of Jazz” and is filled with newspaper articles and personal photos of Eddie’s life.
    Copies are still available on EBay:
    http://www.amazon.com/EDDIE-CONDONS-SCRAPBOOK-Eddie-Condon/dp/0883653109
    I highly recommend this book.
    Ken Burns does not want you to read it.

  17. Follow up comment to Jim Denham’s post of | February 19, 2010 at 7:59 PM |
    [comments added by Jack Barnes}
    “…And while he [Eddie Condon] was no virtuoso, as a rhythm player he was a solid swinger with an impeccable feel for the right tempo. On one of the Town Hall concerts [see below], the recording engineer secretly [accidentally] arranged the balance [the announcer’s microphone was left sitting near Eddie Condon and Robert Haggart by mistake] so that Eddie’s guitar dominated[over-recorded] the band for one number: happily, the result was recorded and is proof of what a good guitarist Eddie was when you can hear him.”

    Here is a link to that recording:

    http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=JCD-1003/1004%20(D)

    Condon Program #6- June 24th, 1944.
    Town Hall, New York City (29:02)
    I FOUND A NEW BABY (3:40)
    (Jack Palmer-Spenser Williams)
    Featuring:
    Max Kaminsky, trumpet
    Charles Russell, B-flat Clarinet
    Ernie Caceras, baritone saxophone
    Gene Schroeder, piano
    Robert Haggart, double bass
    Joe Grauso, drums
    And Albert Edwin Condon on the Four String Plectrum Guitar

    [Commentary below by Jack Barnes]
    Not only was Mr. Condon a solid rhythm player, I believe you can hear how he and Mr. Haggart hold the tempo even as the others slide in and out. Not an easy task when you are competing with the musicians above. But through it all, the choice Mr. Condon makes is to ride the wave and keep on top of the tempo. Mr. Condon’s playing hints at the often overlooked role his style of “rocking” play, on either side of the down beat, which you can hear clearly. As a student of the four string guitar, this is my favorite recording of Eddie’s and I never tire of hearing it.

  18. I’m one of Eddie’s nieces, and was told as a kid that he believed the guitar/banjo player’s job was to set the pace and create solid ground for the rest of the band, a foundation keeping it all together, and that’s why he never took solos. He had the talent, which is why he was admired by so many, he just didn’t have that kind of ego.

  19. In 1945 I was stationed on Long Island and could get into The City occasionally on weekends. One night I found myself at Condon’s and I was swept away by what I was
    hearing. I am not a musician but discovering that music that night, and on a number of return visits still lives in my ears. 68 years later. What a legacy for Maggie!

  20. Edward Vernon

    In 1957 I was a young drummer at that time playing in England a style known as trad. my bandleader Mike Peters would not allow my to use the high hat and frowned upon me using the ride cymbal except on the out chorus, he said it drowned out the banjo. Well I got to hear Eddie at the Cottage club in London and was able to sit really close to Eddie and George Wettling i was trying to catch his stuff. All I can tell you is that Eddie Condon had a wonderful sense of time and swing, anyone who says he was just a mediocre guitar player does not know what they are talking about. As for the experience I quit playing “trad” and got myself a job playing danceband music with Ronnie Rand and the blue Rockets. Eddie Condon played the most swinging music I had ever heard live up to that time. Mind blowing. Ed Vernon October 17th 3:10 pm

  21. In 1964 I was in a quartet of young Musicians starting a road in Jazz. We used to play at the Shakespeare Hotel in Woolwich during the interval. George Webb gave us a great chance to play along with the Stars of the day. When I told George I was writing a short piece on Eddie Condon,he kindly gave 5 or 6 photos of Eddie , Wild Bill. Bob Wilbur, George Wettling and a super one of the band taken at the Condon Club. I still have these treasured Pics. I finally made it to New York in 1972-3 alas about the time Eddie was ill. To put it in his words to have met him would have “been My All Time Valentine “. I was lucky in later life to record with Bud Freeman and Wild Bill. Eddie was a master of Passing Chords and you only need to listen to Emaline, Don’t Worry Bout Me and I can’t give You Medley on the Coast to Coast LP to hear his mastery. Marvellous! I played in many Bands including 15 Years with Kenny Ball,but without Eddie Condon I would never have got there !.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s