Daily Archives: November 27, 2010

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.

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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.