Daily Archives: January 19, 2011

HEARTFELT: SEINA’S “TRIBUTE TO MR. LEONARD GASKIN”

Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) was a solid bassist who played with everyone: Don Byas, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz, Eddie Condon, Dizzy GIllespie, Billie Holiday, Ruby Braff, Miles Davis, Kenny Davern, Bud Freeman, Rex Stewart, Charlie Parker — and here he is recalled and his memory kept alive by the very sweet-natured young woman Seina. 

Don’t miss this:

REMEMBER! HERBIE NICHOLS AND THE OLD DAYS

My friend, the clarinetist H. Grundoon Chumley (he’s Scottish – Malaysian, hence his beautiful and unusual name), called me up to tell me stories from the late Fifties onwards on Seventh Avenue South in New York City. 

You know that the pianist Herbie Nichols played in Dixieland bands.  One night, I popped into a club called the Riviera — across from Nick’s on Seventh Avenue — and there was a jazz band.  The clarinetist was someone I knew from school and he forced me to sit in.  To my amazement, I got through it.  After the set was over, Herbie said to me, “Man, you’re a real player.”  That really egged me on, encouraged me tremendously, so I stayed with the horn and enjoyed it.  It was much later through a book by A.B. Spellman that I discovered the esteem in which Herbie was held.  I do recall the band at the Riviera — a Dixieland band led by the trumpet player Al Bandini, a friend of Pee Wee Russell’s.  Tom Lord played baritone.  After Herbie died, Bandini got Eddie Wilcox (who had taken over the Jimmie Lunceford band after Lunceford passed) who became the house piano player at the Riviera.  Once in a while Bandini would call and I would go down there and play.  A lot of pros would come and sit in: in those days there were many places to sit in and famous people walked in.  I never forgot one night.  A chap in a sailor suit came in and said, “Can I sit in?” and took out his trombone.  He played a solo on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and our jaws dropped: it was Bill Watrous.  Another trombonist was Benny Morton — a wonderful man.  Once Dick Dreiwitz got us a gig to play Central Plaza (this would have been around 1961) because we all knew Jack Crystal from the Commodore Music Shop.  At the end of the night, the two bands would get together to play THE SAINTS.  I looked over at the other band, and it was Willie “the Lion” Smith, Charlie Shavers, and Jo Jones, and I couldn’t stop shaking.  Then I felt an arm around my shoulders, and Benny Morton was saying to me, “Come on, man, relax.  Just play!”  And I did.

One other thing.  We used to go to the Metropole and see all the greats — Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Gene Krupa, and Roy Eldridge.  I was a friend of Jack Bradley and he called me up — around 1964 or so — to tell me that Louis was going to play one night there.  There was a line around the block.  But I’ve never heard a record that captured a live performance, and that night I thought the ceiling was going to fall down with the power and purity of Louis’s sound.

THINKING ABOUT LOUIS, THINKING ABOUT RACE

Marc Caparone, Ricky Riccardi, and Michael Cogswell, considering important matters

If you travel in the same musical circles as I do, the name “Ricky Riccardi” won’t be new to you.  He is the creator of an extraordinary blog, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/ — which offers generous helpings of insight, music, and affection on a regular basis; he is Project Archivist for the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College; he is the author of a splendid book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1295474262&sr=8-1) which will be published in May 2011.  (And he’s an improvising jazz pianist, so a diminished chord is no mystery to him.) 

Ricky is a great jazz scholar and diligent excavator of facts, but he is more than a pale library drone: his love of his subject (that’s Mr. Armstrong) is an intense, enlivening thing — so that Louis, never dead, is even more alive when Ricky talks about him, something Ricky is not reluctant to do. 

But uncritical love can get boring to an outsider: what Ricky offers us on his chosen subject is a deep understanding.  He has carefully and thoroughly undermined many of the shallow but ferociously-held critical statements about Louis: that Louis peaked somewhere in 1927, or 1934, or another date; that Louis relied on memorized routines and had lost all creativity in his last quarter-century; that Louis had abandoned “jazz” for “entertainment.”  His research rests firmly on a constant, day-to-day involvement with first-hand materials, and it is thus evidence-based rather than speculative. 

All of this is prelude to the announcement that Ricky will be speaking on the rich and complex topic of “Louis Armstrong and Race,” in celebration of Black History Month 2011 — not once, but four times — at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens.  His talk will cover a multitude of fascinating topics — from Louis’s birth and childhood in New Orleans to his mid-Fifties public explosions on behalf of civil rights.  I hope he’ll tell the joke that begins with another musician sticking his head into Louis’s dressing room and asking, “Hey, Pops!  What’s new?” but I don’t know if he’ll be taking requests. 

For those readers who stay in after dark, these presentations will take place in the serene afternoon: 1 and 3 PM on Saturday, February 12, and February 26.  The house is located at 34-56 107th Street, and admission to the museum (which includes the presentation) is $8 for adults and $6 for children.  Space is limited, so please call 718-478-8274 or email reservations@louisarmstronghouse.com. to reserve your seat.  I’ll be there, although I don’t yet know which day. 

Visit http://www.louisarmstronghouse.com. for details.

THANK YOU, UNCLE JAKE

I was very fortunate to have arrived at Sunnie Sutton’s Rocky Mountain Jazz Party a day early — and met the absolutely irreplaceable Jake Hanna before any of his more famous jazz friends had arrived.  He didn’t know anything about me except that I could tell him where to get his prized King of Shaves shaving cream, but for an hour or so he adopted me — I am a good listener and I find many things amusing.  So he regaled me with an apparently inexhaustible stream of hilarious anecdotes about the famous and the infamous.  Jake was a character in the deepest senses of the word, and a born raconteur.  He did all the voices, had a wonderfully mobile face, and became the person he was depicting.  It was a magical experience, and my only regret is that I didn’t have a notebook or a video recorder.  But what follows is the next best thing: a loving panorama of the man, his voice, his sense of humor, and his swing.  “Start swinging from the beginning!” he always said:

From Maria Judge, Jake’s niece: 

We are collecting Jake Hanna stories, pictures, memories and anecdotes for a book to be published on April 4, 2011, on what would have been Jake’s 80th birthday. If It Didn’t Swing It Wasn’t Jake: Friends, Fans and Family Remember Jake Hanna will be a wonderful way to preserve his memory, his music and his marvelous wit.

We know you must have a favorite memory or anecdote about Jake. It could be a first-hand experience, a third-hand experience, a story he told, a story you heard, one of his many jokes, a picture, an apocryphal tale … Whatever you have, please share it for publication. If you think someone else already sent it in, send it anyway.

Send them to Maria Judge:

By email:

info@jakehanna.com

Snail mail:

PO Box 53089

Medford, MA 02155-0089

Or you can call and tell the story to her directly or to her voice mail at (781) 395-1426.

Please submit by February 28, 2011.

And here’s something to put you in the right mood for reminiscing: a performance of LADY BE GOOD from the 1986 Bern Jazz Festival by the “Condon Memories” band featuring our man Uncle Jake, Milt Hinton, Dick Wellstood, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bill Allred, Bob Wilber, Wild Bill Davison and Warren Vache — indeed!