Monthly Archives: January 2011

THE CELLAR BOYS: FRANK MELROSE, TESCH, WINGY, BUD, WETTLING, “CHARLES MELROSE,” 1930

Thanks to “atticus 70,” here are two wonderful hot sides from the glory days of searing Chicago jazz featuring two sadly short-lived and legendary players, pianist Frank Melrose and clarinetist Frank Teschmacher.  The other musicians on the session had longer lives: trumpeter (or cornetist?) Wingy Manone, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, drummer George Wettling, accordionist “Charles Melrose.”*  Recorded January 24, 1930.

The musicians took their name from the club (the “joint,” I think) they were playing in, which was called MY CELLAR.

The first selection is BARREL HOUSE STOMP (take A), and Frank Melrose appears right after the accordion solo; he’s propulsive throughout.  And Tesch is clear-toned and rasping as the spirit moves him.  Both Freeman and Manone are instantly recognizable, and although Wettling’s drums aren’t recorded as they would be in the Forties through the Sixties, he and his bass drum are solidly in there:

The other side was — no, IS — WAILING BLUES (also take A), reminiscent of KING OF THE ZULUS (without the vamp).  In the video slide show, the first picture is from 1932 (I think) showing a very serious Jess Stacy and George Wettling, seated, with a quizzically somber Tesch standing in back of them; other photos depict Wettling, Bud, Tesch, and even Jimmy McPartland.  In both displays Frank Melrose is shown in a hand-tinted photograph.  His boater is appropriately cocked to the side; his eyes stare, somewhat narrowed, away from the camera.  A serious man, the craft of playing barrelhouse piano a vocation not to be taken lightly:

This post is for all the devotees of Hot and especially for Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, one of this blog’s most cherished readers.  More about the Melroses in good time!  (Frank always kept good time . . . )

*Aunt Ida told Hal Smith that there was no “Charles Melrose”; Hal thinks the accordionist is Bennie Moten’s brother Bus, sitting in.  Any comments on this mystery?

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IN SUNNY ROSELAND WITH THE EarRegulars (Jan. 23, 2011)

ROSE ROOM, by Art Hickman and Harry Williams, has a special place in the hearts of jazz fans.  It’s a lovely pastoral song from either 1917 or 1918, but several things raise it above the level of the ordinary pre-Twenties pop hit. 

One is that it is famous as the song Benny Goodman called when that interloper Charlie Christian was sneaked up on the bandstand by the meddlesome but inspired John Hammond.  Legend has it that Goodman thought — not a nice thought — that Charlie wouldn’t know the song or would find the chord changes difficult and either be embarrassed or sneak off the stand in disgrace.  Of course, Charlie had no trouble and he played rings around everyone on the stand.  The rest is too-brief history.

Two is that it is the harmonic basis for Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE.

Three is that it is one of those songs that reveals itself in different, beautiful ways whenever the tempo is changed.  I’ve heard it played as a romp, a saunter (the 1943 Commodore version with Max Kaminsky, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, and Sidney Catlett), and as a yearning love ballad (J. Walter Hawkes, in this century, in live performance).

And four is that there is a Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars concert recorded in Vancouver in 1951.  For whatever reason, Louis was (atypically) not onstage when the concert was supposed to begin, so Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Cozy Cole just jammed ROSE ROOM for a start — an easy hot performance.  Were I Ricky Riccardi of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG, http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/, I could share it with you right now, but alas . . . you’ll have to imagine it.

But all that is prose.  How about some music?

Last Sunday, the mighty EarRegulars, the reigning kings of small-band swing who appear at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, 8-11 PM on Sundays — except this next week, Feb. 6, because of some large-scale sporting event whose name eludes me) took on ROSE ROOM late in the first set.

The EarRegulars were charter members, co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (in a rousing Eldridge mood); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; and the newcomer to The Ear Inn — but not to New York jazz! — tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, who has a laid-back, coasting behind the beat, relaxed Websterian approach that’s very refreshing.  Here’s what they played (with hints of Webster’s DID YOU CALL HER TODAY in the encouraging conversation between Jon-Erik and Tad at the end):

The Ear Inn is dark, but it was sunny Roseland for ten minutes!

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A VISIT TO THE IDEAL WORLD (Jan. 27, 2011)

Who knew that one version of Paradise could be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn? 

It’s true!

It’s the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, at 113 Third Street — at the corner of Berry Street — take the L to Bedford Street. 

In December 2010, I’d gone into new territory to hear the Grand Street Stompers, a delightfully compact jazz ensemble led by Gordon Au, and I had a fine time.  The people I’d met had been lovely, the music surprising and reassuring in equal measure, the beer — a lemon-colored, fizzy Gaffel Kolsch — delicious.   

http://www.radegasthall.com/

But it was even better last Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. 

I had learned that the GSS would be playing that night.  But the days before had been particularly snowy.  It wasn’t the Blizzard of 2011 by any means, but it was messy and slushy.  Stubbornly, I had decided that I had to be there.  

Snow boots, knapsack with video equipment, gloves, cash, a street map . . . I patted my pockets to assure myself I had everything a bold jazz explorer needs! 

I arrived at Radegast more than an hour early, and went into the long rectangular room next to the bar to eat something.  After being gently directed by a pleasant waitress to the grill in the back of the room, I stood in rapt contemplation (like Joe Rushton) of the sausages and burgers-in-training sizzling on the grill. 

“Sizzling” is a dreadful cliche of menu-speak, I know, but in this case it was true.  I had a gracious mind-expanding discussion with the grill-Sage about choices, and I ended up with an awe-inspiring meal for less than ten dollars: smoked kielbasa, a mound of warm sauerkraut, some grill-toasted peasant bread, large self-serve helpings of Radegast’s own mustard. 

I was already in culinary Paradise with this wonderful unassuming hearty unfussy food.  I ate it slowly and savored every last molecule.  The temptation to return to the grill and say, “Do that again . . . with this sausage,” was strong but but I resisted.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “Michael, this narrative of your dinner has some appeal, but when did JAZZ LIVES become DINNERTIME?”

Have patience.

I found out later from the friendly manager, Chris, that the owner tailors the music on the sound system to the band playing there that night.  So while I contemplated my meal with true reverence, I was even more uplifted by the music. 

For me, to walk into a place and hear music I love on the sound system is a great, rare gift.  For it to be Sidney Bechet and Jonah Jones (Blue Note, circa 1954) was wonderful.  For it to be Bobby Hackett and the Andrews Sisters performing BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN (1937), even  better.  For the iPod shuffle to come up with I HOPE GABRIEL LIKES MY MUSIC by Mr. Strong . . . !  Bliss.

Then, I went to the bar and ordered my Gaffel Kolsch (I am a one-drink person while videorecording) and it was just as good as I’d remembered. 

Then the musicians — people I admire and like — began to come in.  I had lovely conversations with Gordon (trumpet, arranger, composer); Tamar Korn (vocals and astral travel); Dennis Lichtman (clarinet and wit); Emily Asher (trombonist in charge of blossoming); Nick Russo (banjo, guitar, and true hipness); Rob Adkins (bass, and serious joy).  And — for the cinematically-minded — when I had first been at Radegast the room had been so atmospherically dark that I could just about discern the faces of the musicians.  Better light this time, much appreciated!

The Grand Street Stompers settled themselves on their wooden chairs and Gordon kicked off the first number (he doesn’t announce them although he is happy to talk about what the band played after the set, if you ask).  I didn’t recognize it from the verse.  Then the band swung into the chorus and I nearly fell off the barstool in delight: I’ve only heard two bands perform SHE’S A GREAT GRET GIRL: Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in 2010 and the original, Roger Wolfe Kahn in 1927 — a record featuring Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang and a very hungover but startlingly original young man from Vernon, Texas, Jack Teagarden.  It’s a great great song for easy jamming:

I have watched that clip a dozen times and it improves under scrutiny: the GSS rocks, and you might enjoy watching the body language of a group of very happy improvisers — they rock and grin, too!

What could follow that?  (I thought, “Well, if nothing else happens tonight — which I seriously doubt — I’ve had my Jazz Moment for the month!”)  But equally fine music was in store . . . a dirty, gutty, downhome version of AUNT HAGAR’S BLUES that made me think of Louis in the Columbia studios, proceeding seriously through W.C. Handy’s sermon on the healing powers of hot music, that low-down stuff, rendered as sensitive dance music to hold your Beloved close.  I wouldn’t change a sixteenth-note, from the thoughtful deep conversation among the horns to Rob’s bowing to the lovely head-arrangement passages.  Their mixture of care and ardor is something to admire:

Many musicians who are brilliant irreplaceable improvisers aren’t equally compelling composers — which is understandable, for they create their compositions every night on the second chorus of BLUE LOU.  Gordon Au is an exception: his compositions sound like songs rather than improvisations on someone else’s ideas.  And, as Dennis Lichtman pointed out, Gordon’s songs sound like his improvised playing — the same nice balance between rise-and-fall lines full of repeated notes and a cheerful reverence for the melody itself.  Here’s his ESCALLONIA RAG, which reminds me once again of an imagined piece for the Sixties Louis Armstrong All-Stars:

Gordon’s university training is in science, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that he named this original after a lovely Hawaiian flower: http://www.hear.org/starr/images/species/?q=escallonia+rubra+var+macrantha&o=plants

Then it was time for Tamar to sing, always an Event in my book.  It takes courage to open your performance (in a room full of chat) with a ballad, and then to begin that ballad with two rubato choruses.  But this is what the intrepid, searching Miss Korn did with MEMORIES OF YOU.  Her voice, as always, makes me think of great acting that isn’t acting, “country music” that isn’t the Grand Old Opry . . . you get the idea.  And the musicians follow, adding their own commentaries on this song, both sad and hopeful, coming together for hymnlike cadences while Rob is, cello-like, bowing away to great effect in the darkness, before Tamar returns to sing, so deeply, and with such feeling for the lyrics: 

MEMORIES OF YOU was (and is) so intense that I didn’t know what could follow it — certainly not something in the same wistful mood.  I don’t know who suggested SWEET SUE, but it was a fine choice — the delights of love realized rather than a song of yearning and remembering.  Not too fast, and pretty.  And the band!  Emily Asher is blossoming as a player: while we are sleeping, she’s spreading her wings!  And in case you wonder where the drum-cymbal-tambourine propulsion comes from, it is just another of the many faces of Tamar.  I love the dialogue between the two “trumpets,” as well.  This band doesn’t only share our dreams; it creates them:

Since I’ve heard so many formulaic performances of WON’T YOU COME HOME, BILL BAILEY? I tend to approach the song cautiously.  Of course Louis and Danny Kaye did it hilariously in the film THE FIVE PENNIES and, more recently, the most eminent Joe Wilder played it at a concert — having announced it, deadpan, as THE RETURN OF WILLIAM BAILEY.  This version is a delight — from the opening and closing vocal interludes (Tamar’s soprano scatting is what the angels would sound like, if 1. I believed in them, and 2. they swung) and the rocking momentum.  If Bill stayed away after hearing this imploring in jazz-time, there would be no hope for him:

As before, I said to myself, “What could follow that?” and Gordon, who is a wise leader, changed the mood with his own PAVONIS (named for the species or genus of the peacock) which reminds me of Carmichael and Strayhorn at the same time — moody, shifting, surprising, and lovely:

And the set ended with a little rough-and-ready jam session on the wonderful LOVE NEST (which will remind some of you of Burns and Allen, some of a 1944 Commodore record session that brought together Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, and James P. Johnson).  Here the Grand Street Stompers were joined by the very engaging Lucy Weinman (of the Big Tent Jazz Band) who knows what it is to swing out.  Cool stockings and great ensemble lines, no?

A wonderful experience, as you can tell.  And it happens at least once a month!  (There’s a natural segue to be made from this post to the PayPal button below, but I’ll let my readers get there on their own.)

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WHAT RAPT CONTEMPLATION LOOKS LIKE

Josh Rushton, the very generous son of bass saxophonist (and clarinetist) Joe Rushton, sent along this photograph of his father — one of our collective heroes:

Josh says:

Hope your new year is starting out OK.  Just came across another shot of dad in rapt concentration, probably to a playback of just recorded track.  Not sure when this taken, could be early 1960’s or thereabouts in LA.  After seeing the PanAm bag in the distance, I might assume this took place after the 1960 good will tour for the US government?  Most of our family’s great B&W shots (including this one no doubt) were courtesy of Bill Wood, Red Nichols’ clarinet player back then, a good friend and frequent visitor to the Rushton household, and an avid near-pro photographer who never went anywhere without his Leica camera.

Making beauty is serious business!

Heartfelt thanks to both Rushtons and Bill Wood for their generous spirits.

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BETTY SMITH (1929-2011)

I learned of the death of British saxophonist, clarinetist, and singer Betty Smith from Jim Denham — whose blog is SHIRAZ SOCIALIST — a good friend although we’ve never met.  Here’s his posting —  http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/betty-smith-6-july-1929-21-jan-2011/ and the obituary written for THE INDEPENDENT by Steve Voce, someone who knew and loved the musicians of that generation all over the world:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/betty-smith-saxophonist-and-singer-hailed-for-her-improvisational-panache-2196497.html.

She was a fine player — although (like Kathy Stobart) not well-known in the larger circles of “jazz scholarship.”  But Bobby Hackett seems to be happy to be on the same stage with her.

“OH, CLICK ME!” SAYS THE LINK.  AND ALL THE MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

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MUSIC IN THE CURRICULUM: ALICE and BUTCH

Music is an integral part of the curriculum in all schooling.  Whether it’s the fifth-graders square dancing in the gym, the high school orchestra rehearsing classics, or the university jazz ensemble, they all bring light.

In that spirit, I present two YouTube clips that whimsically illustrate the point.  The first is the imperishable Swedish singer Alice Babs in her Ella-influenced turn in SWING IT, MAGISTERN (Swing It, Teacher) which has every cinematic stereotype of swing imaginable — but Miss Babs is wonderful, isn’t she?  And you don’t have to know Swedish to swing it! 

I had read about this performance a dozen years ago in one of the great Czech writer Josef Skvorecky’s novel-memoirs — he sat through this film over and over to see this sequence.  Considering what was happening in Europe in 1940 and onwards, I understand wholly.  I think that Miss Babs helped win the war.

The second clip is odd — but for those who find it both painful and amusing, it lasts only seventy-five seconds.  JUST FRIENDS is one of the great songs from the early Thirties, with beautiful records by Red McKenzie and, twenty years later, Jack Teagarden. 

But for pure emotional impact, can either of those men equal Tommy “Butch” Bond in THE LITTLE RASCALS belting it out in a 1933 short, MUSH AND MILK?  Not a whimper of false modesty or stage fright here:

Talk about believing in yourself and in your material!

P.S.  In case you might wonder at the banner below (Tommy is past being interested in money, alas, although I am told Miss Babs is alive and well in Sweden) it refers to previous postings concerning the JAZZ LIVES cyber-tip-jar for living musicians.  Information available on request!

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COMING SOON: TED BROWN AND BRAD LINDE (Feb. 5, 2011)

Wonderful things can happen at a jazz gig before a note has been played. 

That was the case when the Ted Brown Quartet performed at Sofia’s on Jan. 13, 2011. 

I had gotten there very early (my anxious parents always left the house too far in advance and arrived everywhere too early) and fell into conversation with a bespectacled young man seated at the bar.  We spoke of the musicians and the music, and he extended his hand and introduced himself.  “I’m Brad Linde,” he said. 

I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t have an instantaneous flash of recognition, but as we talked I thought, “He knows his stuff; he’s a real player with a deep awareness of the music.”  And then I said, “Do you have any CDs out?”  He said, “Yes, one, it’s called FEELING THAT WAY NOW.” 

As they say in the United Kingdom, the penny dropped, and I said — right off.  “My God!  I reviewed that CD for CADENCE and I loved it!”  And everything was hilariously in balance: I hadn’t recognized him but I was able to bring him good news: he had not seen the review.  A delightful interchange, wouldn’t you say? 

And it was even more delightful when young Mr. Linde did two things. 

It was his gentle urging that got Lee Konitz to walk in and sit at the bar to hear the music — making me think that we were in the presence of greatness.

And when Brad took out his tenor, I was warmed by the music he and Ted made — a series of heartfelt, friendly, apparently casual conversations.  Not a Hollywood cutting contest, certainly not Young Warrior overpowering Old: more like father and son chatting about things that mean so much.  (Brad has a loving reverence for his Jazz Fathers — performing with Butch Warren and Freddie Redd, for example!) 

Here’s a sample of what Ted and Brad created on YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

I’m writing this post not only to celebrate the cheerful, humble, expert Mr. Linde and his many endeavors — but to let New Yorkers know that more of this splendid music is coming our way in one week. 

On Saturday, February 5, 2011, a quartet of Brad, Ted Brown, bassist Joe Solomon, and drummer Taro Okamoto will be playing from 9:30 PM to 1 AM at Tomi Jazz — that’s 239 East 53rd Street (lower level), between Second and Third Avenues.  646-497-1254 or http://www.tomijazz.com/. for more information.  I have it on good authority that the delightfully gifted tenor saxophonist Lena Bloch, who played so beautifully at Sofia’s, will be there, too.  Perhaps Mr. Konitz will come in and oversee everything as he did, as well. . . .  You come, too!

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