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. 

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!

CONDON, PETERSON, LLC.

Eddie and Charles, of course.  Two guitarists: one who played the instrument professionally all his life, the other who gave it up in favor of a camera halfway along.  Friends, and friends of hot jazz and the world it created.

When I visited Eddie’s daughter Maggie — who lives in the Condon family apartment with husband Peter and son Michael — I was struck by the long hallway and by the Charles Peterson photographs hung with care as you walk from the front door into the living room.  And the display was Eddie and Phylllis Condon’s idea. 

Most of the photographs will be familiar to those who love this music; two unusual non-Peterson ones at the end of this posting will surprise even those who know their Condonia.

Eddie, center (at the Third Street oasis) and one Crosby, posing, right.

Pee Wee Russell, ailing, in California, circa 1950.

Cozy Cole, uneasily solicitous, supporting Dave Tough, collapsing, 1939.

Opening night at Third Street, with Weegee and Art Hodes in the audience, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Eddie, Tony Parenti, on the stand.  Who has airshots of this WOR broadcast?

More from that famous jam session — Billie Holiday, Max Kaminsky, the yet-unidentified French guest, and Harry Lim.

Welcome, O weary traveller! 

These photographs can be seen with much greater clarity in the book Eddie and Hank O’Neal did together, EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, or in the collection of Charles Peterson’s photographs, SWING ERA NEW YORK . . . but for me it’s terribly moving and atmospheric to have these photographs of photographs that Eddie Condon passed by as he went in and out of his apartment. 

The two artifacts below can’t be seen anywhere else: treasures from an interior room.

When sheet music really meant something — this, I imagine, tied in to the Decca side Eddie and the boys made of Mr. Handy’s song, circa 1950.

Johnny DeVries could do most anything — he designed the famous flyer for the 1942 Fats Waller concert, he composed the lyrics to OH, LOOK AT ME NOW! and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE . . . and he was a witty, fanciful illustrator.   Hence this affectionate sketch of Phyllis Condon. 

I don’t know what the Chinese characters down the left side mean (are they the Asian version of “Poon Tang” or something Johnny cribbed from a menu?) but I do know what “Poon Tang” means . . . here used with the greatest admiration.

For those of us who love Eddie Condon and the worlds he created, it’s reassuring that Maggie has lovingly maintained this secret place in downtown New York City.

“SEARCH ENGINE TERMS” IS BACK!

It’s time for another collection and consideration of the odd ways in which people find JAZZ LIVES.  What they do when they alight, and how long they stay is a matter for philosophers or perhaps ornithologists.  For myself, I simply marvel at the weird intricacies of what used to be called the World Wide Web.  Herewith (and to wit), the latest examples, with commentary in parentheses:

fats waller white man’s stomp  (Yes, there was a Fats Waller composition — legend has it composed to pay off a gargantuan late-night snack) called WHITEMAN STOMP.  Here the Googler has made it into something more pointed, perhaps even racially ominous: a musical depiction of the jackbooted Caucasian in the apartment above?)

wife jazz brushes   (The literal-minded reader will easily see that this is only a misprint, and what was meant was “wire brushes for jazz drumming” or something less ambiguous.  But the mind delights in the possibilities: does one brush one’s wife to a jazz score, or to a syncopated rhythm, or is this an early annotation of the unheralded skills of women jazz percussionists?  Research!) 

artie show  (Exhibitionistic clarinetist, recorded for the Bluebird label.)

family watching radio  (This, I assume, refers to one of many famous photographs of the cozy family seated in the living room, children on the rug, absorbing the sounds coming out of the large, burnished mahogany radio.  But the particular search terms here make it sound as if this family was prematurely prescient.  “Something called television is on the way in a few decades — until then, let’s just stare at the radio hard enough so that we see things!”)

world war two ii radio listen listening  (A cousin of the above, but your guess is better than mine here.)

tuba rose flower varieties  (Perhaps some tuba players — known or unknown — have despaired of finding sufficient gigs to make a living, and have turned their tubas into shiny portable flowerpots, a-blossom with roses?)

what music goes with jazz  (The winner, the favorite.  A deep philosophical question.  What is the sound of one jazz clapping?  If jazz falls in the forest, does someone blog about it?)

This piece of text isn’t a search engine term, but I thought it deserved attention.  Anyone with a blog has to delete a goodly number of spam comments.  Sometimes they are gibberish; sometimes they advertise a product promising erotic bliss . . . and then there’s the sub-category of Vague Praise: an all-purpose statement that the sender hopes will woo the recipient into posting it and thus advertising the sender’s website.  I ignore these, but not this one: a comment on a post I had written about the recent Bill Savory collection:

Can I just say what a relief to discover someone who truly knows what theyre talking about on a internet. You truly know how to bring an dilemma to light and make it important. A lot more men and women have to read this and realize this side of the story. I cant think youre not much more well-liked simply because you really have the gift.

And this one (to which I responded politely, after doing a little research on the requester’s behalf):

Hello sir, my name is M—. I have been instructed to write a paper on a musician, and i have selected X—- Y—-. Would you happen to know any way i could contact him?

What is there to say? (And what is there to do?)  For the record, I directed the writer above in what I thought were useful directions — musician-colleagues of XY — but I never heard back, so I don’t know if my efforts were to no avail.

SWEET AND SAVORY at THE EAR INN (Nov. 21, 2010)

Consider an unadorned slice of toasted bread. 

Spread with blood orange marmalade, it becomes sweet.  Take another slice and add butter mixed with anchovy paste, the result is savory.  

Jazz musicians — who love to see how far the rules can be bent — have been merging the two categories for a century or more now, mixing heat with romanticism, swinging ballads about love lost and love found.  

The EarRegulars do this splendidly every Sunday night (8-11 PM) at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

Last Sunday (Nov. 21, 2010) was simultaneously remarkable and typical.  Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen are singularly in tune with one another, able to play with abandon and art, anticipating each other’s inventions, moods, turns of phrase.  Their unspoken connections are thrilling — rather like watching great imaginers who bounce off one another’s inspirations, having their say while building something larger than the four instrumental voices. 

Here are three performances.  The first is an exuberant version of MY GAL SAL — a sentimental song kept alive through the affection of a very few jazz groups who enjoy its possibilities:

Then, something I had requested: a ballad-tempo version of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, where Jon-Erik remembered a Cootie WIlliams small-group recording.  The EarRegulars extracted every ounce of feeling from this sweet song (often done as a bouncy exaltation):

Finally, one of the once-familiar jam tunes (recorded memorably by both Bing Crosby and Eddie Condon, featuring Pee Wee Russell):

Inspired play — both jubilant and experimental, satsifying the senses then and now.

FIRST-HAND: PAUL NOSSITER REMEMBERS JO JONES and SIDNEY BECHET

My favorite character of all the drummers was Jo Jones.  Jo was at a Newport Jazz Festival convocation of jazz drummers, and all of the big names were there, including Art Blakey.  There had been a Basie reunion that year, 1957  — Lester and Jo had played with the band.  At the afternoon session, Jo was last.  All of the big names had played the shit out of the drum set, and Jo put the sticks aside and played finger drums for ten minutes.  And then he stopped and smiled and walked off.  It was a lesson for the kiddies.  Less is more.   

I sat in with Sidney Bechet in Juan-les-Pins when he was playing with Claude Luter.  Much to Luter’s annoyance.  But I knew Sidney for a long time, because he and my brother chased the same Australian girl in 1942 or so!  He was very sad being in France, though, because he was treated like a god.  People approached him like a deity.  And there was nobody to hang with.  He was afraid of going back to America because the woman who ran the Savoy in Boston was suing him for non-appearance.

JAZZ TRAVELS WELL: DOWN ARGENTINA WAY

I’ve been noticing these wonderful jazz 78s for sale on eBay and can only conclude that many of the most rewarding records made their way into South America and were treasured there.  Part of the delight is seeing the boldly colored, often elaborately designed record labels . . . then using my rudimentary Spanish to figure out (when the translated title isn’t there) what the original song is. 

Here’s a gallery of hot music in below-the-Equator incarnations:

Issued on American Mercury circa 1954, when most American companies had given up pressing 78s.

Pobre abuelo!

“Notable” indeed: most probably from Musicraft, 1947.

Decca, 1947 — and something tells me that the Spanish translation is far from exact.

“Good-bye” is always so sad.

More from Musicraft: if memory serves, this side had a front line of Buck Clayton and Ben Webster, who lose nothing in translation.

Needing no translation at all!

1940 Decca, from the CHICAGO JAZZ album.

The Italians always had good taste — and I think this disc ended up in Uruguay, which means that someone loved it enough to take it home and make sure it ended up intact years later.

NEW RHYTHM STYLE SERIES indeed!

Mister Christopher Columbus: he used the rhythm as a compass!

GAUCHO, TAMAR KORN, LEON OAKLEY

Courtesy of Porto Franco Records, recorded on October 16, 2010, COMES LOVE featuring the wonderfully diversified group GAUCHO — Dave Ricketts (solo guitar), Michael Groh (rhythm guitar), Ralph Carney (slide clarinet), Rob Reich (accordion), Ari Munkres (bass), Pete Devine (drums) and guests Leon Oakley (trumpet), and Tamar Korn (vocal):

Again courtesy of PFR — a new CD by Gaucho with guest appearances by Tamar and Leon (and guitarist Vic Wong)!  This is, I believe, Gaucho’s fourth disc, and they’re a wonderful group, mixing elements of New Orleans collective improvisation, French musette / grypsy swing, and unclassifiable down-home rocking. 

And where other “Hot Club” groups have dug themselves a comfortable chugging rut, Gaucho is not stuck with its collective head in the Djangocological past.  Ten of the twelve compositions on this disc are Dave Ricketts originals, with lyrics by Tamar and Pete Devine, and the songs have their own flavor and depth. 

Tamar sings on five tracks, and it’s fascinating to hear her in a different environment — reaching, inventing, finding corners that we didn’t know were there and then turning them in style.  She’s also written lyrics for three (SING ON, LITTLE SWEETIE, and PEARL) and I’m happy to report that her lyrics are heartfelt and graceful without being slick.  Rob Reich adds his own unusual flavorings and Leon (as is his habit) heats the place up in four bars. 

The songs are Sing On (Odessa Sing On)  (5:07) / Little Sweetie  (3:19)  /  Doublebarrel  (4:31)  /  Waiting  (3:25)  /  Pazzo  (3:10)  /   Maripoza Waltz  (3:33)  /  Pearl  (6:30)  /  Sergei Stomp  (2:50)  /  Angel  (5:00)  /  Amnesia  (4:13)  /  Lover, Come Back to Me  (6:08) //

I can’t write (even in jest), “Look for it wherever better books and records are sold,” but it is available as a CD or download through http://www.portofrancorecords.com.

EDDIE CONDON: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE HOT CHORUS AT A TIME

Having taken the opportunity to celebrate the 105th birthday of one Eddie Condon, I remain convinced that he did much more than play rhythm guitar and talk to the customers at a variety of saloons in New York City. 

Although some I’ve spoken to seem to find the topic of racial integration no longer interesting, Condon has never gotten the credit he deserves as a pioneer. 

His achievement was more than shepherding Fats Waller to the Victor studios so that he could make two sides with a mixed band in 1929.  It was larger than quietly playing his banjo alongside Louis Armstrong and the Luis Russell band in that same year. 

It can’t be overemphasized that Eddie was one of the earliest figures to make sure that black and white musicians could stand on an equal footing, playing their music for posterity. 

It was one thing to have a mixed jam session at 4 AM in Harlem; it was quite another thing for records featuring mixed-race bands to be made, to be known as such, to be recognized as classics.  Much attention has been paid (rightly so) to the roles of Benny Goodman and John Hammond in encouraging mixed ensembles in public. 

But that was 1936: Condon’s efforts had been going on for seven or more years.  If you could get listeners accustomed to hearing mixed bands on record, then they would be more eager to see their favorite artists perform in public.  Condon had the first mixed band on Fifty-Second Street; his mixed troupe of jazz artists was closed out of a Washington, D.C., concert hall because of protests from the DAR.

He was genuinely color-blind when it came to music, and that equality of thought and feeling had an impact.  When white and black troops were serving in the legally sagregated armed forces, both sets of soldiers could hear color-blind music coming from V-Discs and AFRS transcriptions. 

I think of Charles L. Black, a young Southern lawyer who found himself shaken out of his racist assumptions by hearing Louis Armstrong in 1931: Black went on to write the legal brief for Linda Brown in Brown vs. the Board of Education, the decision that made such segregation illegal in the United States.  

I believe that soldiers who thought that “Negroes” were inferior had their beliefs changed, however subtly, by hearing Hot Lips Page and Pee Wee Russell play thousands of miles away at a Condon concert.  Consider someone with similar inbred views, ten years later, seeing Ralph Sutton, Walter Page, Edmond Hall, and George Wettling play at Eddie’s club, noting that these four men got along especially well, no one was superior or inferior to anyone else on the stand.

Eddie Condon made such things possible.  It’s a cliche of the theatre that you can make people think about larger issues if you make them laugh in the process or if you set the ideas to music: Eddie did both, in person and as part of many ensembles.   

He also improved every band he was a part of: Joe Bushkin insisted on acknowledging Condon’s phenomenal harmonic sense and knowledge of songs (and, in fact, Eddie helped Bushkin through his early shaky beginnings on Fifty-Second Street by calling out the chords to songs Bushkin only half-knew).  

Eddie also had a fine dramatic or structural sense — listen closely to any recorded performance, in the studio or in concert.  Riffs, backgrounds, knowing when to encourage one player to go on or to subtly say to another, “You’ve had your say,” all of this was second nature to Eddie — a great orchestrator who didn’t work from a printed score. 

How anyone ends up to be what they are as an adult may be mysterious, but Condon’s growth and development seem particularly remarkable.  His birthplace, Goodland, Indiana, was not exactly the cradle of jazz.  He came from a large family; his father was somewhere between a saloon-keeper and the man who greeted people in the saloon, sat down and chatted with them.  It would have been very easy for Eddie to become nothing more serious than a young man who played the banjo now and again while someone else sang pop hits of the day, or while someone else played the C-melody saxophone. 

But something hit the young man from Goodland with the force of religious revelation.  I don’t know quite how it appeared to him: was it a record by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, or one by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings?  Was it the proximity to Chicago?  Jazz music — and playing that music — must have seemed the most thrilling things possible.  However it grew, the transformation from Indiana boy to Chicago jazzman was quick, and it gave shape to Eddie’s life, and thus gave pleasure to so many. 

Eddie Condon’s club on West Third Street no longer exists: it is now part of the New York University conglomeration of buildings.  Nick’s on West Tenth Street is now a gourmet supermarket.  So the Condon landscape has shifted and been obliterated. 

But one shrine remains:  the New York apartment still inhabited by his daughter Maggie, her husband Peter, their son Michael.  I paid them a return visit (with my camera) and have some new delights to share — holy artifacts, as far as I’m concerned.

Although many of Eddie’s effects “went away” after hie death (Maggie thought that Phyllis Condon had simply given away many things to Eddie’s relatives), she still has “Slicker” Condon’s first banjo, circa 1924.  It no longer has its neck or strings, but what remains is delicate and precious (even if a few of these photographs unintentionally intensify its resemblance to a nicely browned souffle).  The stenciled lettering on the front reads _ _ _ _ _ JAZZ BAND, but the top line is somewhat difficult to decipher.

From the top!

An alternate take . . .

“Slicker” Condon!  I don’t know if that is Eddie’s Twenties handwriting or not . . .

Another view . . .

And one more.  That looks like May 1, 1924, but rry Kaylor is elusive, although I don’t have my copy of WE CALLED IT MUSIC nearby.

And one more series of photographic studies.  Consider this:Collage, anyone?

Not an exhibit at MOMA (not yet).

One of Eddie’s trademarks was his hand-tied bowties, and here’s a whole stash of them (with a birthday drawing done by brother-in-law Paul Smith as ornament).

More to come!  But for the moment, listen closely to one Eddie Condon recording and celebrate the man who made it possible.  And, in doing so, slowly changed the world.

CELEBRATING FRANK TRAYNOR

 

I didn’t know who Frank Traynor was until a few weeks ago.  And I apologize!

My friend John Trudinger sent me a CD called TROMBONE FRANKIE — a production of the Victorian Jazz Archive — and I confess that because none of the names were particularly recognizable to me in my mind-glossary of Australian musicians (no Bob or Len Barnard, no Fred Parkes) I let the CD sit to the left of my computer monitor for a perversely long time.

One morning, looking for something new to play in the car on the way to work (an ineffable mixture of craving novelty and feeling guilty) I slipped the CD into my pocket and then into the player . . . also because I had been thinking of Bessie Smith’s performance of TROMBONE CHOLLY — a raucous paean to Charlie “Big” Green, who’s Bessie’s partner on that joyous record.  So I began listening to Frank Traynor’s Jazz Preachers with the alternate take of TROMBONE FRANKIE, vocal by one Judith Dunham, someone also new to me (although I learned that she became world-famous as a member of the Seekers).

Here’s a version of what I heard — and the elation I felt meant that I played this one track over until I arrived at work.  Listen for yourself:

If you’d like to know much more about Traynor and his singular adventures — including a remarkable folk / jazz club, click here (there’s also a beautiful biography and discography):

 www.franktraynors.net.au.

“UNIDENTIFIED NEGRO JAZZ MUSICIANS” on eBay

Call me oversensitive if you will, but I found the title above more than a bit puzzling and demeaning when it was attached to a number of photographs on sale on eBay.  Hasn’t “Negro” been replaced by more accurate, less weighted language?  And to call the musicians below “unidentified” seems a failure of basic research skills. 

If Benny Carter is an “unidentified Negro,” we need to embark on a more effective national program of cultural education.   

Without further lecturing, the photographs (all of them sold to the highest bidders by now):

Benny Carter and his Orchestra, 1939 — including Jimmy Archey, Bobby Woodlen, Vic Dickenson, Chick Morrison, Lincoln Mills, Tyree Glenn, and Joe Thomas (from left to right).  It’s a rather unorthodox arrangement of this stellar brass section, for photographic purposes only.

I’ve never seen a photograph of this man looking downcast or mournful: that’s Zutty Singleton!

Two extraordinary percussionists for the price of one: on top, grinning even more broadly, Sonny Greer at his personalized Leedy set; below him, Cozy Cole, having a wonderful time as well.

In fairness, I must write that this handsome trumpet player is, for the moment, “unidentified” to me — he looks terribly familiar but his name is elusive.  Can anyone help?  (Although I must point out that John C. Brown or someone else had identified the subject on the reverse of the one photograph from this collection I bought . . . )

As a postscript: Steve Provizer thinks it’s Jonah Jones.  Mike Burgevin, who enjoyed a long friendship / playing partnership with Joe Thomas, thinks it’s Joe. 

The photographs above are famous — the Blessed Herschel Evans (possibly by Timme Rosenkrantz) and Irving “Mouse” Randolph.  I wonder how Irving got that nickname: he hardly resembles any rodent I ever saw, on the floor or in cartoons.  The Randolph portrait, by the way, was reproduced in one of the mid-Seventies Billie Holiday box sets on Columbia, which is where I saw it first.

His Honor, The Judge, Milton John Hinton (in the Seventies, I believe).

Mugging for the camera — by himself, without the Tympany Five — Louis Jordan.

Sonny Greer, resplendent at work (with the backs of the Ellington brass section to his right) during that band’s Victor Records contract — little Nipper’s on the bass drum head.

The two musicians at bottom are identified (although not by the seller); at top, I think the pianist is Patti Bown, the trumpeter Charlie Shavers, and I couldn’t mistake Milt Hinton and Jo Jones.

I won’t even guess at the trio on the right, but the handsome fellow on the left is intriguing.  If I can’t find out who he is, at least I’d like that suit jacket for myself, if it would fit.

The fellow in the center should be recognizable — but who could miss Lionel Hampton and Jimmy Crawford (the latter under his own stylized palm tree)?

Equal time for unidentified Caucasians!  The drummer at top left obviously loves his Rogers set, but might need a motorized throne to cover it all.  Behind the swinging woodpecker, none other than Ray Bauduc.  And at bottom — characteristically thin and somber — Dave Tough. 

Anonymous no more, I hope.

P.S.  And since I’d like to end this post in celebration rather than rancor, here’s a lovely (and fully identified) portrait of the saxophonist, composer, arranger, and bandleader Edgar Sampson, sharp in his band jacket and ready for action in front of the Savoy Ballroom, or at least the Savoy Billiards.  Everything suggests this was taken in the mid-Thirties, and it has the general affect of a Timme Rosenkrantz shot, but I can’t prove it: the clothing of the passers-by suggests mild weather, but only students of historical fashion could tell us more. 

UKE AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC

 Let’s see.  How many jazz musicians / singers do you know who have performed and recorded with Norah Jones, Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective (and the Big 72), the Grove Street Stompers, Blue’s Clues, J.C. Hopkins, Willie Martinez, the Pre-War Ponies, and more? 

Let’s complicate matters.  Make this imaginary personage a singer, trombonist, ukulele virtuoso, composer . . . give up?

Why, it’s Mississippi-born J. Walter Hawkes, someone who raises the spirits of the band and the audience by just walking into the club.  I first heard JWH at the Cajun in late 2004 and have delighted in his playing and singing since then.   

I knew him primarily as a profoundly moving singer — someone who combined down-home openheartedness with urban subtlety (imagine someone with a Southern flavor — sounding much like a local boy singing with the band, if that local boy knew all about Bing and Hot Lips Page and Buddy Holly).  JWH believes what he sings, without any overlay of dramatization: his phrasing comes from the heart.  (I was thrilled to be able to capture his slow, innocent-lascivious ROSE ROOM on video.) 

And then he picked up his trombone, once again melding the two Greens, Bennie and Big, playing with force and delicacy, bringing hip harmonies into a traditional ensemble.

I’d never had the good luck to hear him show off his ukulele talents on a gig (although I’d seen him do this on YouTube) but JWH is now out in the open for all of us who haven’t yet had the pleasure — he’s recorded and released his first CD as a leader, something we’ve been waiting for.  It comes in a brown wrapper — a recycled cardboard sleeve — but there’s nothing low-budget or ordinary about the music within. 

And, yes, it is an indication of JWH’s sense of humor that it’s called UKE AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC.  The songs are COQUETTE / IF I LOVE AGAIN (taken at a rocking tempo) / UNDERNEATH A BROOKLYN MOON (a pretty original by J.C. Hopkins) / YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC / SAY IT SIMPLE / BUY ME A BEER, MR. SHANE (not too difficult to unravel) / SUNDAY SUIT (THE GAY 90’s) / WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR (AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY) / CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES.  JWH plays trombone, ukulele, and sings; the fine bassist Doug Largent adds his melodic self (and “Vectrex Dreams,” whatever it or they might be), and Andy Burns is heard on drums and vocals.  “Skullduggery,” too.  It’s a wonderfully rewarding disc — varied, heartfelt, comic, and tender.  You can buy it direct from JWH on a gig (the best way, I think) for $12 or a cassette for $7. 

JWH’s gig schedule: http://www.blatboy.blogspot.com/

Or to purchase the CD from his site, visit http://www.blatomaster.com/music.php.

I admire JWH and his work, if that isn’t made clear above — and I was eager to hear this disc.  But I’ve been playing it over and over: good music to drive to work by, fine in headphones . . . an all-purpose musical offering.  And there are clever overdubs, changes of mood — it’s a well-planned disc, so when it ends, you’ll say, “Give me more!”

Need proof?  Here are JWH and Doug (with drummer Russ Meissner) performing the title tune live in May 2010:

MOMENTS LIKE THIS: TAMAR KORN and the EARREGULARS (Nov. 14, 2010)

In his book ANSWERED PRAYERS, Truman Capote planned to include a story, “And Audrey Wilder Sang,” referring to the lovely wife of director Billy Wilder.  If she sang, you knew it had been a memorable party. 

Capote never met Tamar Korn, that brave improviser, but that’s his great loss. 

When she’s an unexpected guest, rare music results — as it did at the end of the night last Sunday, November 14, 2010, at The Ear Inn. 

I’ve already delighted in the performances of Pete Martinez, Dan Block, Matt Munisteri, Jon Burr, and John Bucher.  (But why not another few lines in praise of Dan’s deep repertoire of riffs and timbres, of Pete’s passionate intensity, Matt’s rocking work — singing along with his solo on the second title — and Jon’s woody propulsion.  And how they fit together here!) 

Tamar brought her own special kind of drama (without artifice), deep emotion, and vocal beauty to two songs.  And the audience at The Ear paid her the compliment of listening closely.  Perhaps they, too, were swept away by the vision of sweet pastoral she offered on UP A LAZY RIVER:

Then Tamar suggested THE SONG IS ENDED — thinking no doubt of her heroes the Mills Brothers and Louis Armstrong who had recorded this Irving Berlin number at a trotting tempo nearly seventy-five years ago.  Paradoxically, when Tamar told us the song was ended, it only made us want to hear her sing more:

Thank you, Tamar.  Thank you, gentlemen — for moments like this, so rare in anyone’s listening experience, perhaps in anyone’s life.

GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE! — at THE EAR INN (Nov. 14, 2010)

Two reeds and a rhythm section! 

Not the sweet crooning of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra, the jostling-around of Bechet and Mezzrow, or the outright can-you-top-this of Soprano Summit and Summit Reunion.

No.  Dare I say it . . . something better.  Dan Block (clarinet and tenor), Pete Martinez (clarinet), Matt Munisteri (guitar), and Jon Burr (bass).  Cornetist John Bucher looked in for a brief visit, but otherwise it was a reeds-and-rhythm soiree, and a very lovely one at that. 

When I listen to these performances again, I think of songbirds having a deep conversation, or vines intertwining, gracefully and ardently.  Four of the most thoughtfully compatible jazz improvisers, reveling in the sounds they could make together, their lines complementing and completing each other’s spur-of-the-minute inventions, never colliding or overriding.   

Dan and Pete admire each other too much to be competitive, so the ensembles were riffing contrapuntal delights rather than a cutting contest between their Albert system clarinets (thanks to Michael McQuaid for the identification), and when Dan picked up the tenor, it was jazz with a great deal of swinging courtesy: “You play the melody and I’ll improvise around it, and then we’ll switch.” 

And the other members of the quartet were having a wonderful time: Jon and Matt, working hard, creating long lines and rocking propulsion.  Don’t let the darkness of their corner at The Ear make you miss out on the strong melodies they create!

Here’s a sample of the delights last Sunday at The Ear Inn (that’s 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City):

Although the dawn wouldn’t break over Soho for hours to come, Dan suggested MARIE:

Fats Waller’s encomium about his Baby (complete with exultant verse), I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY:

A logical development on the amorous theme, a slow, swaying LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, with nods to its early, memorable singer (Mr. Crosby) and improviser (Mr. Russell):

Hark, a hot cornetist — over my shoulder!  John Bucher joins in for THREE LITTLE WORDS, with riffs that evoke the 1943 Commodore recording with Lester Young and the Kansas City Six:

RUSSIAN LULLABY is a song near to my heart — it works well at so many tempos, and has echoes of Ed Hall, Ruby Braff, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, and Vic Dickenson attached to it (what could be wrong?) — and this version is a classic on its own terms:

And an extra minute, too good to leave out:

Dan Block suggested I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (or BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES) which turned out to be an excellent idea:

In keeping with the generally romantic repertoire and Dan’s love of Irving Berlin, A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY:

Memorable creative improvisation — with more surprises to come!

FOR EDDIE at 105

That’s Eddie Condon, born 105 years ago today. 

This filmed performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — from the 1964 ABC-TV show, SALUTE TO EDDIE CONDON — doesn’t harm anyone, even though Eddie was present only in spirit.  The celebrants are Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; George Wettling, drums; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano, cigar, and derby; Al Hall, bass:

And another fast blues — this one from 1938 with Bobby Hackett, cornet; George Brunis, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor; Jess Stacy, piano; Eddie, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Wettling, drums:

To be remembered with affection is a great thing, and it’s how we feel about Eddie and the musical worlds he created.

TERRY WALDO’S GOTHAM CITY BAND at FAT CAT (Nov. 14, 2010)

Although sometimes I imagine my favorite musicians luxuriating in the absolute quiet of a concert hall, the truth is that hot jazz flourishes in places that would seem inimical to it. 

One of those places is Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street (off Seventh Avenue South) in New York City — whose main room is primarily given over to billard tables, always in use.  The jazz ensemble is often standing on one side of the room, the lighting sufficiently indistinct to make identifying the musicians a challenge. 

Still, pianist Terry Waldo has an irregularly-regular Sunday gig there with his Gotham City Band, and the edition I saw this last Sunday was full of New York’s finest jazz musicians: Peter Ecklund on cornet and fluegelhorn; Jim Fryer on trombone, euphonium (or “euphemism” as he suggested), and the occasional vocal; Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor sax; Jay Leonhart on bass and vocals; Giampaolo Biagi on drums.

Here are some performances I captured, and, yes, one’s eyes do get used to the visual murk.  First (appropriately?) is CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN — “where the lights are low”:

Then, something extraordinary.  Trombonist Jim Fryer, man of many talents, came forward for a feature — an energized, acrobatic duet with Terry on Morton’s GRANDPA’S SPELLS.  After the set had concluded, I told Jim that he was now “Jim Flyer”:

Then, one of Terry’s melancholic / romantic original tunes, seated somewhere between 1928 dance-band music and Sixties AM pop, THE FOOL:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (or is it PLAYED?) with a vocal by the talented Mr. Flyer:

And another band-within-a-band, the Greenwich Village Red Hot Peppers of Levinson, Waldo, and Biagi, performing Morton’s SHREVEPORT STOMP:

Finally, a new twist on an endearing old tune — adding a habanera rhythm (or is it just the Spanish tinge?) to IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which features a lovely conversation between Dan’s tenor sax and Jim’s euphonium:

Terry’s sechedule of gigs — including solo piano at Banjo Jim’s — can be found at his website, http://www.terrywaldo.com.

STEPHANE SEVA PAYS US A VISIT! (Nov. 26-30, 2010)

I first encountered the swinging percussionist Stephane Seva on pianist Olivier Lancelot’s CD (“Lancelot and his Chevaliers”).  Although some washboardists can be heavy and overly assertive, Stephane had a light, tapping sound, and an irresistible beat.  He’s on two new, rewarding CDs.

But first — here’s Stephane in the setting most would have encountered him, as an integral part of the quartet PARIS WASHBOARD (captured by Jeff Guyot for YouTube), with trombonist Daniel Barda, clarinetist Alain Marquet, and pianist Christian Azzi, performing ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE:

Stephane is in fine form on the quartet’s latest CD, LIVE IN MONSEGUR (which features Barda, Marquet, and pianist Louis Mazetier), recorded live on July 4, 2009 — at a festival titled “Les 24 heures de Swing.” 

It’s on the Black and Blue label (BB 708.2) and begins in high gear with a romping MINOR DRAG — followed by SQUEEZE ME, DINAH, KEEP YOUR TEMPER, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, CARAVAN, SWEET LORRAINE (with witty lyrics in French about the song itself, crooned by Stephane), and MAPLE LEAF RAG. 

Although Fats Waller avoided trombone in his Rhythm, Paris Washboard has the cheerful stomp and swagger of the Waller group. 

There’s more! 

Stephane hasn’t wanted the washboard to be identified exclusively with Twenties jazz and with revivalist bands, so he has performed with a variety of jazz players.  And the results, surprising and delightful, can be heard on another CD (on his own label — STEF 001 — with an unusual quartet, SWING ONDULE. 

It follows Paris Washboard’s format: piano (Ludovic de Preissac), trombone (Eric Fauconnier), clarinet (Stephane Chausse), Stephane on washboard and vocals, and guest saxophonist Eric Seva.  The CD is teasingly brief — fourtracks only — MINOR’S MOOD, CHEVAUCHEE A BOP-CITY, SWEET LORRAINE (vocal by Stephane), WASHBOARD WIGGLES.  The first two are originals by the pianist; the last track a famous composition of Tiny Parham’s. 

What distinguishes the group and the CD from its more traditional cousins is their gleeful breadth of influences.  In the first few minutes (at a rocking tempo) I thought of the Raymond Scott Quintette, Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, late swing and early bop . . . all flying by most joyously.  This CD cries out for Blindfold Testing across the civilized world.  The appropriate reaction would be, “I don’t know who they are, but they’re superb!” 

BUT WAIT!  THERE’S MORE!

Stephane is coming to New York for the last week of November, and will be doing four gigs.  Here are the details:

DOC SCANLON’S PAN-ATLANTIC SWINGSTERS with Stephane Seva:

Friday, Nov. 26, 2010:  Poughkeepsie Tennis Club
135 South Hamilton St., Poughkeepsie, New York
Tickets/Info: (845) 454-2571 benasilber@verizon.net
www.hudsonvalleydance.org

Saturday, Nov. 27:  “DAISY BAKER’S” (10 PM – 1 AM):  33 Second Street, Troy, New York  (518) 266-9200  http://www.daisybakers.com

Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010: Swing 46, New York City
349 W. 46th Street between 8th & 9th Avenues                              

Tuesday, Nov. 30:  The Bickford Theatre, Morristown, New Jersey 8 PM:       New York Washboard Band: Stéphane Séva, wasnboard and vocals; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Matt Musselman, trombone.  

To keep up with Stephane’s comings and goings, and his debut on CD as a singer (paying heartfelt tribute to Sinatra and Ray Charles) visit www.stephaneseva.com. and http://www.myspace.com/stephaneseva.