The man in the picture looks serious, intent, but hardly dangerous. He is George Wettling — known for his wonderful drumming with Eddie Condon, Max Kaminsky, Jimmy McPartland, Artie Shaw, Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Ruby Braff, Pee Wee Russell, Art Hodes, and many others.
In my recent, quite amiable discussion of Moldy Figs and Mossy Stones with Nate Chinen, one of my friends, drummer Mike Burgevin, brought up a piece of jazz legend: he had read somewhere that “George Wettling flattened a critic.”
Inquiring minds want to know, of course, and so Stompy Jones (my Canadian ally) asked me what I knew about this incident. I knew nothing, but suggested that the critic in question might have been Leonard Feather, who expended a great deal of energy in the Forties making fun of the Condon bands — so much so that Condon dedicated a mocking title to him, and later on Muggsy Spanier made a record called FEATHER BRAIN.
I inquired of fellow scholars and drummers Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn, but no one seems to have particular details of this incident. And the less I know about it, the more it piques my interest. Let us assume that it actually happened, of course. Did Wettling read something in DOWN BEAT, say, by Mike Levin, the critic who compared Lester Young’s tone to cardboard, meet him on the street, swing once, connect, and leave Levin horizontal? Or was it a critic who actually came to hear Wettling in person who may have told George that his style of drumming was old-fashioned. “Stop playing that bass drum. Go take some lessons from Tiny Kahn or Max Roach.” BOOM!
Those with information are invited and encouraged to write in; aspiring playwrights are also encouraged to submit five-minute playlets on the theme.
And then, when we’ve collectively solved this mystery, perhaps someone can explain the astonishing and continuing interest in photographs of Billie Holiday’s “man,” Louis McKay. Hundreds of people seem to be searching for Mr. McKay. With all due respect, why?