FROM THE 1969 MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL

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I haven’t found many autographs on eBay recently that got me all excited, but this one surely qualifies.  Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, an enthusiastic concert promoter (given in moments of enthusiasm to vocalizing and kazooing) ran a series of jazz bashes in Manassas, Virginia, for perhaps fifteen years.  I never attended any of them but knew of their existence because “Fat Cat” issued some of the results on his own “Fat Cat’s Jazz” label, which never made it to compact disc.

Here is an autographed program from the first concerts in 1969, with many famous names:  Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Slide Harris, Maxine Sullivan, Vic Dickenson, Johnny Wiggs, Danny Barker, Zutty Singleton, Wild Bill Davison, Bob Green, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, writer Al Rose, Tommy Gwaltney, Walt Gower, Kerry Price, and one or two others.

The signatures that I know — either from familiarity or from getting autographs from the musicians themselves — are absolutely genuine-looking: Condon, Vic, Hackett, Maxine.  For what it’s worth!

The autograph on the very bottom — indicating this program belongs to “Doctor,” suggests that it was once the property of Dr. Edmond Souchon, the New Orleans physician-guitarist-singer who was part of the 6 7/8 String Band and appeared on many recordings with Johnny Wiggs and Raymond Burke.  Could this be true?

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16 responses to “FROM THE 1969 MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL

  1. Wow! Some very impressive autographs on that program. I recognized several, some I didn’t know, but, I would say that you have something pretty special. Your writings, music, and articles that you have, such as this, are amazing…Very pleasing to your Auntie.

  2. Dear Aunt Ida,
    You hold the prize for being the most prompt and efficient JAZZ LIVES reader . . . although the board of directors hasn’t figured out what the prize should look like. A trip to a warm climate, perhaps? Anyway, I don’t “have” this program in the sense of ownership — I chose not to bid on it — but the online world is so fascinating in that I can post something from eBay and let the world (you first!) what is out there. A piece of paper signed by Bobby, Vic, Wiggs, Zutty, Maxine, and Barker is pretty special to me, too. Be well! Michael

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  4. What a great find. It would be nice to have the original of course but I immediately copied the image for my collection.
    I heard and met George Brunis at a beachside joint near Daytona Beach, FL around 1963 when I was still in high school. My little brother (cornet) and I (trombone) and a very bad Dixie band, calling ourselves the “Frantic Five.” Brunis was playing with a group out of Chicago led by Smokey Stover (cornet, trumpet.) The Frantic Five learned our tunes from the old “Combo-Orks” tune books. I remember looking up at the marquee and seeing “George Brunis” and recalling that he was the composer of “Tin Roof Blues,” a staple of our limited repetoir. Smokey’s band were all gentlemen and they asked us two frightened kids to sit-in, which we did, playing “Tin Roof Blues.” It was a thrilling experience which prompted us down the tortured but satisfying path of becoming musicians.

  5. Great memories; I was able to attend most of these festivals. In all, there were 24 Manassas Jazz Festivals running consecutively from 1966 to 1989. The first 6 were single Sunday concerts held at Osbourn High School in Manassas. The 7th Fest started a series of multi-day festivals which eventually stretched from Friday night thru Sunday. The To Doctor autograph at the bottom is by pianist Bob Greene. It could not have been to Doc Souchon as he died in 1968. The inside cover of the programs always contained a list of “Patrons of Jazz” and a number of these folks were local Doctors. I have a copy of this particular program and there are 8 Doctors listed as Patrons. These were wonderful festivals featruing many Jazz Greats and fortunately ol’ Fat Cat captured the proceedings on tape and issued many of the performances on his Fat Cat’s Jazz label. George Buck has also issued some as well on Jazzology. Thanks again Jazz Lives for jogging my memory!

  6. And thanks for making mine more accurate! It’s funny that the two Doctors associated with this music — in my mind, at least, are Dr. Souchon and Jelly’s Doctor Jazz. Himself. Cheers! Michael

  7. Re: “kazooing” and Fat Cat McRee

    I’d never been to a Manassas Jazz Festival but I’d heard the name of the presenter. I attended a NC Jazz Party in Wilmington, NC presented by, among others, dermatologist/clarinetist Harry Van Velsor. There was a pro-am jam for patrons. Kenny Davern was performing and some guy with a kazoo got up–no invitation or introduction–and started to jam with Kenny.
    It wasn’t all that bad and Kenny, who I understood didn’t like to play with amateurs, got in the spirit of it by taking his clarinet apart piece-meal until he was just performing with his mouthpiece. I thought to myself–this guy is either crazy, has paid his dues, or both! Later I learned it was Fat Cat.
    Both diagnoses were correct! Dr Van Velsor, I understand, was not happy!

    Thanks.

    Norman Vickers
    Jazz Society of Pensacola, Inc.
    http://www.jazzpensacola.com

  8. I like Eddie’s comment – whee!

  9. I was born (1953) and raised in Manassas and grew up with the McRee children. I remember attending all the Jazz Festivals held in Osbourne High and some of those in Stonewall Jackson. Memory doesn’t tell me how many… My father was a golfing buddy of Fat Cat’s and a major Dixieland fan. I was fortunate enough to join many of the post-concert late night dinners with the musicians held at the Downtowner Motor Hotel. They always treated me and Nan (McRee) as equals amongst all the men (and occasional women musicians) at the dinners. I heard stories I wish I could remember now!

    Does anyone know where I might find any of the recordings? I also remember sitting with Nan and other friends in Fat Cat’s ‘music room’ listening to his reel to reel recordings. I hope they exist somewhere in some form!

    Fat Cat Fan

  10. Dear FCF,
    I wish the answer was an easy one. Here’s what I know. Because of arguments over who has the rights to the material, the vast majority of what Johnson McRee recorded and issued came out on vinyl, went out of print, and stayed there. A very few sessions were issued on CD by the George H. Buck family of labels (see my blogroll or Google JAZZOLOGY) but if I had a limitless income, I would fill in my collection on eBay. You might find other collectors who are willing to make copies of material for you on the various jazz chat groups (I might be saying this badly) but there is no easy way to hear all that good stuff again. However — a small consolation — there are a few heartbreakingly wonderful video clips from Manassas festivals on YouTube, posted by a fellow who calls his channel “Sfair.” Search for Billy Butterfield, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Don Ewell. Happy trails!

  11. Nan McRee Williams

    I am Johnson´s daughter Nan. I can answer that the signature is probably Dr. Souchon, as he and his wife were great friends of my parents. Mother and Dad stayed with them on many occasions during trips to New Orleans.
    My sisters and I have many of the physical albums in our possession, and have struggled to find a good way to sell them. It is not clear when my father´s second wife sold some of the masters of the recordings, or if Dad did when he was ill. I will be offline for a few days but will try to set up a specific email to respond to interested parties. We all have demanding jobs so sales of individual albums are not very practical for us.
    We have many tales of the festivals and I attended most of them, including the infamous one when Eddie Condon fell off of a bar stool and spent 6 weeks recuperating at our home. Amazing music then, I can tell you.

  12. Nan — It’s been a very long time! I’m the one who put up the post last March 24 asking if recordings, albums, etc. were available anywhere. I’d love to find out more about what might be possible re making vinyl copies/dubbing onto DVD, etc. of what you do have. My other half is a composer and a recording engineer and also mr. computer techno-whiz. Maybe there is way to make the recordings available without it eating what free time you have? If you’re inclined to discuss, send me a private response to the email below (which I think you will be able to see?). I’m not much on social networking — but love email.

    I hope life has been treating you well.

    Nancy Sinclair

  13. Hi Nancy, Nan, and anyone else here interested in the Fat Cat’s Jazz label,
    I’m not an authority and I’ve only recently heard some of the Fat Cat’s Jazz label recording of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but what I have heard is gold! I’d like to address the issue stated in the 1st paragraph of this thread: “Fat Cat’s Jazz label…never made it to compact disc.”

    I have read the references to George H. Buck/JAZZOLOGY. That said, I think more should be available in CD. Is anyone doing or trying to do this presently?

    Something else I’m very curios to know: approximately how many hours, LP’s, and/or cassettes did Fat Cat’s Jazz issue? Thanks!

  14. I know I am late to the party, but I am sitting here and listening to Fat Cat and The Bearcats recorded live in Va Beach in 1968. It is the greatest version of Summertime out there. Huge Fat Cat fan here. I bought the album in Richmond about 20 years ago and it is one of my most prized possessions. There are still people out in the world that are discovering him!

  15. Look closely and you will see “To Walt” and even clearer “Best Wishes to Walt Gower”. I believe the reference on the bottom of “Doctor” refers to Walt singing “Doctor Jazz”. Check with Kerry Price.

  16. Entirely possible. I wonder, however, if Doctor Souchon was also on the bill (with Johnny Wiggs).

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