Daily Archives: February 9, 2011

RED NICHOLS MEETS THE CHICAGOANS, 1929

I stumbled on this Red Nichols Brunswick record from 1929 on YouTube while searching for Red McKenzie vocals — a rewarding quest, except I am oddly discomposed by the idea of McKenzie providing part of the soundtrack for something (a computer simulation / game?) called Bioshock.  Well, anything that lets people hear him sing THE TROUBLE WITH ME IS YOU shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Then I encountered this recording — charitably posted by “Atticus70” and when I looked closer, I saw it wasn’t the Gershwin WHO CARES? but a more self-pitying pop song by Yellen and Ager.

But look and listen to the personnel: all those “Chicagoan” ruffians who took their Nichols paychecks as long as he would put up with their (presumably) hard-drinking disdain for things like clean clothes and punctuality.

The band is Red Nichols, Mannie Klein, Tommy Thunen, trumpets;  Glenn Miller, cornet, trombone;  Jack Teagarden, ? Herb Taylor, trombones;  Pee Wee Russell, clarinet;  Bud Freeman, tenor sax;  Joe Sullivan, piano;  Tommy Felline, banjo;  Art Miller, bass;  Dave Tough, drums;  Red McKenzie, vocal.

New York, June 12, 1929: for all its melancholy, this is pre-Crash pop music.

And the sounds of Teagarden, Russell, Sullivan, and Tough are elixirs.  Condon isn’t there, but perhaps Nichols found him to be the primary ringleader; Tommy Felline (or is it Fellini?) was no doubt much more tractable.  And McKenzie croons so beautifully, making even the odd lyrics work reasonably well.

But here’s the music!

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REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.

JOE TEMPERLEY’S SOUND OF LOVE

Here is the extraordinary baritone saxophonist Joe Temperley on Scottish television (September 2010), playing a melody with ease, tenderness, and deep mastery:

Would American television ever be home to such beauty?  I have my doubts.

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“UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE” and MORE: JON-ERIK KELLSO and EHUD ASHERIE at SMALLS (Jan. 20, 2011)

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The Beloved and I went to see two of our favorite musicians (and people!) in duet at Smalls (that’s 138 West 10th Street, New York City) on January 20, 2011.  Here are some of the songs they played — classics and rarities (many of the latter by Fats Waller and James P. Johnson, disciple and master). 

My title refers to the opening song — recorded late in Fats’s career — but also to a delightful happening that took place early in the evening.  But now, settle in to UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, which has a deliciously unexpected bridge:

Then, moving more towards the familiar, Ehud and Jon-Erik settled on another Waller song, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — which Ruby Braff always remembered as being titled WALKIN’ ON AIR, from the opening phrase of the verse.  Jon-Erik and Ehud remind me mightily of Ruby and Dick Hyman — listening, playful, balancing their individual styles to create something even more gratifying:

Another lovely obscurity (Ehud brings new tunes to gigs like this one, knowing Jon-Erik’s ears and bravery) was APRIL IN MY HEART — from 1939, recorded by Billie Holiday with an amazing band including Herschel Evans, Lester Young, Harry James, Benny Morton, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones . . . a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. 

That in itself would have been bliss — but someone from the club couldn’t stand being left out and, like Lester, leaped in, around ninety seconds into the performance.  You can’t miss her:

Let me introduce you to Minnow, the Maine Coon cat who lords it over Smalls.  She’s a “ham,” says Spike Wilner, “there are a million pictures of Minnow floating around the web,” but she wanted her place in the sun. 

Either Minnow wanted to be closer to the musical action (look how contented she is!) or she knows that my YouTube channel is called SWINGYOUCATS and felt it needed the real article.  One never knows, do one? 

If her timing had been better and she had entered the scene for UP JUMPED YOU WITH LOVE, I would have been even more astonished.

As a favor to JAZZ LIVES that costs nothing — if you know a cat-lover, send this clip out his or her way.  I want fame for Minnow!  (And do applaud my restraint.  I could have called this blogpost KITTEN ON THE KEYS or ALL THE CAT JOINS IN, but decided to err on the side of restraint and decorum.) 

Onwards!

PERDIDO (by valve-trombonist Juan Tizol) is in the odd position of being a jazz standard played and overplayed — now, as fashions change, it’s refreshing to hear it, especially by this duo:

James P. Johnson’s AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC? is — in its lyrics — a faux-spiritual, but having heard Henry “Red” Allen and Dick Wellstood’s recordings of it, I treasure it — and having your life uplifted through music is an idea JAZZ LIVES seeks to embody.  In the second chorus, hear how Jon-Erik becomes a whole brass section, sermonizing, and Ehud’s beautifully varied striding would have pleased Jimmy no end:

Keeping James P. in mind, Ehud proposed a surprise — THE LOVE BUG — one of the Master’s unknown tunes (I think I’d only heard it from a piano roll).  No problem for our man Kellso here:

Now for three classics — a majestic reading of BODY AND SOUL, imploring and powerful; Ehud’s sophisticated wanderings reminding us that he knows Bud Powell’s world deeply and well:

And the perennially versatile ONE HOUR, again by James P., one of those songs that sits so well at a variety of tempos, its hopeful message intact:

And (to close this posting, although the music at Smalls went on for a long time), SWEET GEORGIA BROWN — once a well-known pop song, then a set of changes for jazz improvisers to float over, now, perhaps, nearly returning to obscurity unless you’re over fifty?  I don’t know — but this performance, beginning with variations on the original melody, is as charming as hearing the melody of I GOT RHYTHM nowadays:

Thank you so much, gentlemen, and Minnow (of course), who offered paws for the cause — not lightly and politely, but in the only we she could.  And when you hear the music, you know why Louis is grinning down on the stage.