Monthly Archives: November 2010

FIRST-HAND: KEITH INGHAM AND THE JAZZ MASTERS

Happily for me, I have written the liner notes for pianist Keith Ingham’s new CD for Arbors — with Frank Tate and Steve Little, aptly called ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM. 

Keith invited me to his Manhattan apartment to talk about the songs he’d chosen for the date.  But once we had finished our official business, he was delighted to tell stories about the American jazz masters he had played alongside when he was a young pianist in England, before coming to New York in 1978.   

The first person Keith spoke of was the inimitable Henry “Red” Allen, someone not as well-remembered today as he should be, perhaps because he was having too good a time:

Oh, Red Allen was too upbeat.  There wasn’t that aura of tragedy about Red.  He was probably my first jazz gig in London, where I got a chance to play this stuff.  He had a quartet, and he heard me and said he wanted me to play.  I knew his tunes – SWEET SUBSTITUTE and a thing from a Tony Newley show, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, something called FEELING GOOD.  I knew that song – a bluesy, lovely gospelly song . . . so when he had to guest with another band, it was very embarrassing, because he’d be guesting with one of the name bands like Humphrey Lyttelton, and he would insist that I play the piano when he was on.  So there was this awkward business of asking the regular piano player if he wouldn’t mind. 

You have to do it courteously.  I remember Dill Jones told me that he was playing somewhere and Martial Solal came in and just pushed him off the piano bench, just shoved him.  And Dill, in his inimitable way, said, “He doesn’t have to be so bloody rude!  He could ask me!” 

Red was a larger-than-life character.  When he came up on the bandstand, he wouldn’t count off a number with “One, two,” but it would be “WHAM! WHAM!” with his foot, and there it was!  And what a player – what technique and what chops.  I remember he had this wonderful red brocade jacket on, always a showman, and he looked great. 

Once he was with a band – no names – and the rhythm section thought he was a bit of a throwback, a ham.  And they wanted to be laid-back and play cool – and I remember Red actually getting down on his knees and put his hands together, almost imploring them, “Please!  Swing!”  They finally got the message. 

He loved Higginbotham, too.  I remember Red singing, in a wonderfully sad voice, Higgy’s chorus on FEELING DROWSY, that beautiful minor-key thing.  He loved Buster Bailey, too – was always on the phone to Buster, and he told me that Buster was a superb clarinet player who, but for being black, could have gone into the symphony, which was what he wanted to do, really.  Listen to Buster’s playing on Bessie Smith’s JAZZBO BROWN FROM MEMPHIS TOWN: his clarinet is pure and gorgeous, a wonderful sound. 

Touring with Red was wonderful: he was such a generous soul.  Like Roy Eldridge, the same sort of guy.  Great characters and human beings. 

Roy was over to the UK accompanying Ella, but he got some gigs on his own and I was lucky enough to be part of them, just a quartet.  He was still playing then, and fabulous. 

Roy loved hot food, and he said to me, “Hey, anywhere we can go for curry?”  There was an Indian restaurant, and when we got there, he said, “What’s the hottest thing on the menu,” and they told him.  He said, “I’ve got to have that.”  It was a chicken dish and when it came out it was violently red with peppers.  Then he went into his trumpet case and brought out the hot sauces he had with him, and threw them all over the dish.  Well, for three days he couldn’t play because he came out in blisters on his lips! 

I have happy memories of those days.  I was fortunate enough to play with Benny Carter – now, that was an experience!  I’d done my little bit of homework: he’d made a lovely record with mostly his compositions on it.  So I’d taken them off the record and came prepared – would he like to play any of those, as well as WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW?  And he still played some trumpet!  There was another guy – you couldn’t pick up a tab when Benny was around, any time you went out, he was that generous.  I asked him to tell me how he’d broken into the Hollywood scene, writing scores for movies.  I asked him about some of the other writers – Bronislav Kaper, who wrote INVITATION, ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, and ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM – for Ivie Anderson in that Marx Brothers movie – and Benny said, “Oh, Bronnie?  Yes, I’ll tell you about Bronnie!” 

What a great arranger – those things he did with Coleman Hawkins in Paris, amazing.  And I knew people in England who had played in that big band, the one that recorded SWINGING AT MAIDA VALE, and they said Benny played every instrument in the band better than anyone – except perhaps the piano and the double bass.  He could play chords on the guitar.  One of the ultimate geniuses of the music.  Wonderful to have that experience.

When Pee Wee Russell came over to tour, he was quite eccentric.  People didn’t quite know what to make of him.  Then, of course, everybody associated him with Eddie Condon, and he hated that – he said, “Condon was always making fun of me, making me out to be a fool or a clown.”  The sound he got on the clarinet in the low register was just wonderful – he just projected across a big basement club like the Manchester Sporting Club.  He didn’t need a microphone.  He was just remarkable. 

He took a liking to me, and I was very pleased.  “Chum, meet me in the bar tomorrow around noon.  I want to talk to you.”  I was down there in the bar at lunchtime and somebody had hijacked him – they wanted Pee Wee so they went and collected him from the bar, and of course he wouldn’t say no – so before I got there, he’d disappeared with this bunch of characters, who took him to see the sights in Manchester, the fancy sights.  Later he came back and found me, and I asked, “Well, what was the day like?”  Terrible,” he snorted.  “I’m glad to be back on concrete again.  I saw a lot of leaves!”  That was the last thing he wanted.

Everybody has a Ruby Braff story, but this one the wonderful clarinetist Sandy Brown in it.  Ruby had no sense of humor about himself – he had almost no sense of humor at all, unless he was knocking someone or something.  We were playing in the 100 Club, a basement club in Oxford Street, quite a big space downstairs, just a quartet.  I was lucky enough to be on piano, with Dave Green on bass and Alan Ganley on drums.  And Ruby was always perfect on the stand – excellent! 

But when he got off, the club owner, at intermission, decided he’d put on some music.  He pressed the button and on came the Woody Herman band – the First Herd with Dave Tough and Bill Harris, APPLE HONEY and that sort of thing, the trumpets shouting.  And Ruby goes over to the owner and says, “What’d you put that fucking shit on for?  It has nothing to do with what I play!  I hate big bands!”  And he started to go on and on, how he hated every big band except Duke’s and Basie’s. 

Once you got him on a roll he would just keep going – a torrent of abuse would come out.  So Sandy was standing there, listening to all this, and finally he said, in his Scottish accent, after Ruby finally got finished spitting out all his venom, “Hey, Rooby,” he said, “Why don’t you eat some of those chips instead of stackin’ ‘em up on your shoulder?” 

Sammy Margolis, the great clarinet and tenor player, Ruby’s friend from Boston, would tell me things that Ruby said that would curl your hair.  The two of them shared a house at one point – each of them had one floor, but there was only one phone line with an extension.  One day the phone rang and it was Joe Glaser.  Ruby had picked up the phone but Sammy was silently listening in.  This would have been in 1957 or so, and it was something to do with a tour.  Max Kaminsky didn’t want to do it, and would Ruby do it?  And that set him off.  “I’m not subbing for that son-of-a-bitch.  He can’t play anyway.  And who else is in the band?”  And Glaser said, “Well, there’s Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.”  “They can’t play either!”  And then he started to attack Glaser.  “Well, you don’t know anything about jazz,” and Sammy said that was very dangerous.  Ruby didn’t always work, and Glaser was not a man you’d cross. 

I remember one story about Sammy.  We’d gotten a trio gig at — of all places — Aqueduct Racetrack in the winter.  Myself, Sammy, and a drummer named Nat who used to work with Eddie Condon.  (Nat had terrible time, and Condon used to say, “Where you AT, Nat?”)  But Nat was a genuine guy, a real New Yorker.

I arranged to meet Sammy, who used to live on the West Side in the Forties.  And he’d been to the dentist that morning, had a shot of Novocain, and couldn’t feel anything — which must have bugged him.  We got in the car and we’re about halfway there, and suddenly Sammy wants us to stop — he hadn’t remembered putting his tenor sax in the car.  And it wasn’t there.  So we went all the way back to his apartment.  And there’s the case with the tenor, still on the sidewalk!  Wonderful. 

We get to the gig, and start playing away.  All of a sudden, there’s this terrible commotion, people shouting, “Shut the fuck up!”  The guys were watching the racing, but it was so cold that they’re watching it on television.  They can’t hear the odds on the horses, because we’re playing too loud.  So we had to play in between their calling the odds.  Every time the intercom would come on, they’d holler, “Shut UP!” and we’d stop.  We’d play forty seconds and have to stop, and we’d hear, “Rosebud.  Twenty to one,” and then we could start up again.  It was the funniest gig. 

The greatest thrill was when I got the gig with Benny Goodman.  We were playing a gig in Vermont, an open-air thing, and they wouldn’t let the bass on the plane, leaving New York.  So it was just Benny, Chuck Riggs, Chris Flory, and me.  And Benny wasn’t happy.  So what I did was give him those chords in the left hand, paddling, you know — and he was happy.  I had the room before we went on, and I was listening to him warming up — what a master musician!  It was like listening to Horowitz playing scales. 

So at the end of it, I wish I’d had a tape recorder, because he asked me to sit with him while he visited with his two sisters — they were pretty old ladies by that time.  So he was talking to me, “I’m going to be calling you, Keith.”  And I said, “May I ask you something?” And Benny said, “Ask me anything you like!”  So I said, “Can I ask you about Chicago?  Did you like Johnny Dodds?”  And he said, “I loved Johnny Dodds.  I used to go and hear him with King Oliver’s band at the Lincoln Gardens.  That band was fabulous!  But one thing you won’t know.  They played a lot of waltzes.  For the dancers.”  He loved Kid Ory.  They were people who weren’t perhaps of his stature technically, but he loved them.  I wasn’t able to work more with Benny, because I had a steady gig at the Regency — security was important — but I’ve never forgotten this time with him. 

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PIANO PLAYHOUSE: SATURDAY AT SOFIA’S (Dec. 4, 2010)

Larry Ham

Something special! 

Tardo Hammer

At Sofia’s Ristorante (at street level — 211 West 46th Street, part of the Hotel Edison, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), there will be a four-hour session featuring four extraordinary pianists and rhythm, this coming Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Michael Kanan

The “rhythm” is bassist Neal Miner and drummer Eliot Zigmund.

Pete Malniverni

The pianists are Michael Kanan, Larry Ham, Tardo Hammer, and Pete Malinverni.  The music will run from 7:00-11:30 PM, the four pianists alternating at the keyboard.  I hope to be there . . . for a remarkable evening of jazz.  I hope that some of my readers join me — and there’s a tradition of sitting-in at Sofia’s, so who knows what surprises may happen?

JOHN SCURRY’S “REVERSE SWING”

One of the most gratifying things about being a jazz listener is the possibility of meeting one’s heroes in the flesh.  I could lament that I never saw Django or Charlie Christian or Teddy Bunn, but I’m happy and proud to be able to write, “I’ve met John Scurry.”

I first heard John — guitarist, banjoist, composer, and not incidentally an artist — on several NifNuf CDs that came out of Bob Barnard’s Jazz Parties (a glorious series of celebrations running for a decade). 

I would put the CD into the player, most often in my car, and just listen, not knowing who the players were aside from Bob and one or two others.  But when I got to my destination or at a stoplight, I would look at the personnel to see exactly who that most impressive (unidentified) player was.  Sometimes it was Fred Parkes, other times Chris Taperell or George Washingmachine. 

But I came to know John Scurry’s work quickly: his ringing lines that didn’t go in familiar paths, his solid rhythm, his interesting voicings.  I then heard him on CDs with Allan Browne and Judy Carmichael and continued to be impressed.

And it would have stayed that way except for this summer’s trip to England and the long thrilling jazz weekend at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. 

One night before the festival actually began, there was a concert devoted to the great British dance bands of the Thirties.  After we found seats on the little bus that was to take us to the hall, I recognized some people I’d met at the previous year’s festival — the multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid and his sweetheart Anna Lyttle. . . then Michael introduced me quickly to his colleagues, “there’s Jason, and John, and Ian.”  I’m not terribly good with names the first time I’m introduced, so I let the new bits of data wash over me.   (Eventually I came to meet and admire Jason Downes and Ian Smith.)

Later on, though, someone pointed out “John” and gave him his full title . . . and I went up to him and said, “You’re John Scurry?  I’ve been admiring your work for a long time . . . ” and on.  When he played with Michael’s Late Hour Boys, he was even better in person.  (I’ve posted a number of clips on YouTube that will bear me out.)

I’ve been listening John’s winding, curious compositions on some other CDs with Allan Browne recently.  I regret that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to make a solo or duo CD.  In a world full of guitarists, he surely stands out.

I was both delighted and a bit puzzled by the portrait top left — even though I could understand that it is summer in Australia while we are worrying about the effects of the first frost on the plants . . . so I asked John to explain:

The band is a drumless quartet with Eugene Ball trumpet, Mike McQuaid
reeds, Leigh Barker bass, and myself on guitar.  We are unrehearsed and
playing standards, some of my so called originals and whatever comes
to mind in the balmy summer eve atmosphere of the lovely interior
spanish mission style courtyard of the Mission to Seafarers in
Melbourne, and old circa 1910 building.  The painting is by Antoine Watteau and I think it may be in the Met.  Jed Perl who writes for The New Republic did an article on it a few  years back. The painting if I remember correctly was recently rediscovered: I downloaded the image from his article, which was called  ‘A Big Surprise”.  A very beautiful work, don’t you think?  Sort of
encopasses everything really.

 As to “reverse swing”.  It’s a cricketing term, wherein the ball when
bowled swings the other way unexpectantly and contrary to Mr. Isaac
Newton’s expectations.  I like the name, I’m left-handed and happen to
play cricket…and I’m a bowler.  At this stage up until Christmas the gig is only for three weeks, however as  with all things we live in hope and joyful anticipation that more music may be had from the seafarers in the New Year.
I did this gig last year with Mike and Leigh, it’s a lot of fun
working with an acoustically based group without drums……it’s good
to  find one’s voice for better or worse without certain aural
encumbrances.

I only wish that New York was closer to Australia, or the reverse.  Perhaps someone will record REVERSE SWING with a video camera and share the results with us?  It won’t be the same, but it will tamp down my “Something wonderful is happening far away and I can’t get to it.” 

May John Scurry and his friends — not only in the Australian summer — prosper.

TAMAS SITS IN (Nov, 23, 2010)

Visitors to this blog will already know Tamas Itzes as more than the director of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band, the spirit behind twenty years of delightful jazz festivals in Hungary, and the inventor of “OhYeahDay,” covered in the previous posting. 

Tamas is also a swinging violinist and pianist.  And he and his friends visited New York City for a few jazz-filled days and nights. 

I caught up with Tamas and Co. at The Ear Inn and then at Club Cache, where he sat in with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks for two numbers.  (The Nighthawks were, along with Vince, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer,Andy Stein, Ken Salvo, Arnie Kinsella, Andy Farber, Dan Block, and Dan Levinson.)

First, Tamas borrowed Andy Stein’s Stroh phono-violin to double the string section for SAY YES TODAY, a song originally performed by the Roger Wolfe Kahn band (composition by Walter Donaldson, arrangement by Arthur Schutt):

Then, in the last set, Tamas came up to play the piano for a swinging, loose version of Earl Hines’s ROSETTA:

Tamas, your visit here was too brief: do come again!  And for the complete and total path to enlightenment, without climbing mountains, visit http://www.myspace.com/VinceGiordanotheNighthawks.

SIGN UP FOR “OHYEAHDAY”!

From Tamas Itzes, virtuoso pianist, violinist, and director of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band and its annual jazz festival:

 
1. The 20th International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary (March 25-27, 2011), again, offers a great line-up and different tourist packages.  Because it will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt, the event runs under the theme “Liszt Year in Ragtime” and we will feature 5 fabulous pianists (Mimi Blais, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Butch Thompson, Paolo Alderighi, Adam Swanson) and the fantastic Paris-based New Orleans style band, The Night Owls. “Festival Only” packages and “7-day Wellness packages” are available.  Visit http://www.bohemragtime.com/en/act.html for more information. 
 
2. LET’S MAKE THE 4TH OF AUGUST INTERNATIONAL DAY OF CLASSIC JAZZ EVERY YEAR.

August 4 is Louis Armstrong’s documented birthday (although he always celebrated on the 4th of July and stated that he was born in 1900), so his 110th anniversary in 2011 is a perfect date to start such a movement.

We have plenty of ideas about how to use this International Day all year long for different projects that help generate more media coverage for jazz events worldwide and would also draw young audiences in. 

But to achieve this, we need plenty of supporters (not financial support, only people who join the movement by signing it on the website). So if you agree (and why wouldn’t you?), please visit www.OhYeahDay.com and support the idea.

Our goal is to get 100,000 (yes, one hundred thousand) supporters (no, not Facebook Like’s but people who sign up at the website).
 
Note that there IS an International Day of Jazz but it is not connected to any birthday of a jazz giant but to the Sacramento Jazz Festival as the initiative came from the Jubilee’s side decades ago.  But almost nobody knows about this today anymore and it would be a waste of time to try to bring that back to life as it never really has been a worldwide festive event. That’s the reason that I found out about the day of CLASSIC jazz; Armstrong’s name is still known around the globe and his anniversary would be a good starting point for such a festivity.
 
Therefore I really am asking everyone not only to sign the idea but to send it around to ALL of your friends so we can reach that high number of supporters. Please, understand that I am only the initiator but this movement is NOT for my benefit, this is for ALL OF US, jazz lovers, jazz musicians.
 
Please sign up at www.OhYeahDay.com

I’ve signed up: won’t you?

THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON, SEEN TWICE

Taken at a 1937 jam session at the Brunswick Studios, New York City, in celebration of the new label, Variety Records.  Newton is protected by George Wettling from the sounds of Mezz Mezzrow.  Knowing Mezz, we can guess that he is playing along while Newton solos, which might account for the expression on Newton’s face:

And ten years later, from October 1947 (the source is http://www.tedgoddard.com/) is this photo of Newton’s clearly integrated band — presumably taken in Boston, with Ted Goddard on tenor saxophone at the far right:

Any scrap of evidence showing us more of Newton is welcome.  I was delighted to find a Cafe Society program in Terry Trilling-Josephson’s book, CAFE SOCIETY — especially because the program was autographed by Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Eddie Barefield.  And a Newton signature also appears in the Bob Inman / Ken Vail SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK.  Can anyone identify the musicians in the picture above?  At one point Flip Phillips played clarinet with Newton, but in 1947, he was already a star.  Suggestions, anyone?

And I’m still looking for a printable copy of the photograph (late Forties or the early Fifties) of Newton by Weegee.  Newton is sitting in the basement of the apartment building of which he was the janitor, playing his trumpet next to the boiler.  It’s heartbreaking, a study of a man exiled from “the music business” but with so much to give us.

BARNEY JOSEPHSON, CAFE SOCIETY, and MORE

It’s a long time since I got so wrapped up in a book that I didn’t want to stop reading it — but CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE (Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009) is just that book.

Who was Barney Josephson (1902-88)?  If he hadn’t worked very hard to make his dreams become reality, we would only know him as a successful businessman: his specialty, stylish shoes. 

Happily for us, Barney had thoughts beyond Cuban or French heels: a yearning to run a nightclub in New York City, a keen sensitivity to talent, a hatred of social injustice.  And CAFE SOCIETY is the book his life and accomplishments deserve.  It could have been dull, academic, or third-hand.  But it’s a lively memoir of Barney’s life, taken from the tape recordings he made — he was a born raconteur — subtly annotated and expanded by his widow Terry Trilling-Josephson.  

CAFE SOCIETY (like the Downtown and Uptown nightclubs that had that name) is energetic, memorable, full of memorable anecdote and gossip.  Josephson was someone who had good instincts about what artists — musicians, comedians, or actors — whose work had substance.  He said he viewed himself as a “saloon impresario”: “I love it when people say that because I’m not more than that.  It’s the way I view myself.  In this business if you’re an ‘impresario,’ I say that with quotation marks around the word, you have a feeling.  You hear something, and you say, ‘This is it!’  You go ahead and you do it.  You don’t analyze.  You have to follow your hunches.”

Josephson had the good fortune to have John Hammond as his guide, instigator, and occasional arm-twister.  When Barney wanted to start a New York night club with music, it was Hammond who urged him to hire the three boogie-woogie pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, the blues singer Big Joe Turner, and Billie Holiday. 

Cafe Society is remarkable for the improvisers who played there: Teddy Wilson with a band including Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, or Bill Coleman; Benny Morton; Ed Hall or Jimmy Hamilton; Sidney Catlett.  Frank Newton with Sonny White, Kenneth Hollon, Tab Smith, Eddie Dougherty, Johnny Williams.  Ed Hall with Mouse Randolph and Henderson Chambers.  Ellis Larkins with Bill Coleman and Al Hall. 

Later on, at the Cookery, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams.  Josephson brought back Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter for successful late-life “comebacks.”  And it wasn’t simply jazz and popular songs: think of the Revuers (with Judy Holiday and Adolph Green), of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, of the now-forgotten Jimmy Savo, all given encouragement and room to develop by Josephson.   

But this isn’t purely a list of who-sang-what and how they were received, a collection of press clippings and schedules.  Josephson was a first-class storyteller with a remarkable memory, and the stories he remembered are priceless.  Nowhere else would I have learned that Emmett Berry, when trying to get someone to take a drink, would ask, “Will you have a drink of Doctor Berry’s rootin’ tootin’ oil?”  For me, that’s worth the price of the book.  Wonderful photographs, too. 

And the stories!

Billie Holiday, at first not knowing what to do with the lyrics of STRANGE FRUIT when they were handed to her, and showing her displeasure in the most effective non-verbal way when an audience annoyed her.

Zero Mostel, always onstage, making life difficult for the man trying to fit him for clothing.

Barney’s firing of Carol Channing and his missing a chance to hire Pearl Bailey.

Tallulah Bankhead complaining — at high volume — about what she’d encountered in the ladies’ room.

Teddy Wilson’s drinking problem, late in his career.

The dramatic entanglements of Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell.

The amorous hopes of Joe Louis for Lena Horne.

Big Joe Turner and the magic bean.

Mildred Bailey’s religious beliefs.

 And there is a deep, serious undercurrent throughout: the difficulty of having an establishment where neither the bands nor the audiences were segregated, and the looming shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee.  (Leon Josephson, Barney’s brother, was a particular target, which cast a shadow over Barney’s endeavors.)

Ultimately, the book is delightful for its stories (and the wonderful photographs) and the way Terry Trilling-Josephson has woven recollection and research together.  And the book is — on every page — the embodiment of Barney’s achievements and of the deep love he and Terry shared.  Not to be missed!