Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

THIS WONDERFUL WORLD

I have just finished reading the galleys of Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon).  I am a very severe critic of biographies — where odd things happen.

Sometimes the writer gets so caught up in him / herself that the book becomes self-referential, an unintentional autobiography, the writer gazing lovingly in the mirror.  Some biographies end up rancorously, with the writer deciding that after all the Great Man or Woman was really rotten.  And some biographies are unoriginal compilations of what everyone else has written.

I was ready to love Ricky’s book because I love both the subject and am very fond of the author, but I was not prepared for how superb it is.

It is full of original research, new first-hand tales and evidence on every page.  It is beautifully written, casual without being flippant.  It is splendidly annotated but never academic.  It is full of light and joy without being idolatrously adoring.

As I write this, I am surrounded by biographies of Louise Bogan and of Henry “Red” Allen, of Frank O’Connor and Pee Wee Russell.  Riccardi has written a book worthy of the best ones on my shelves or on yours.

It won’t be officially published until late June, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from ordering it.  It made me laugh a good deal; it made me think; it made me cry.  And the energy and soul of Louis shines through every page.

http://www.amazon.com/What-Wonderful-World-Magic-Armstrongs/dp/0307378446/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1299530493&sr=1-1

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ALTERATIONS WHILE YOU WAIT: MARTY GROSZ, 1977

This lovely video performance is courtesy of the great jazz archivist (and musician) Bob Erwig — his YouTube channel is “erwigfilms” and it catches the irreplaceable Marty Grosz on Canadian television in 1977.  Marty’s accompanied by vibraphonist Peter Appleyard and Jim McHarg’s Metro Stompers in a version of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE that starts off somberly, pensively, before jumping up and exulting:

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TESCH, EDDIE, JOE, GENE (July 28, 1928)

You might want to sit a careful distance away from the monitor: the music that follows is vigorously exuberant.

Eddie Condon and Red McKenzie had many good ideas, but this was one of their finest — to show OKeh recording supervisor Tommy Rockwell that they had just as good a small hot band as Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra (recording for a rival label).

Their idea obviously pleased Rockwell, not the least because it would cost less to record a quartet.  This band didn’t copy Noone’s, and its rough energy is dazzling even now, with Frank Teschemacher doing the work of two men on clarinet and alto; Joe Sullivan on piano; Condon on his Vega lute (I believe) and in some part responsible for the vocal explosion that begins the record, and the mighty Gene Krupa pushing it all along ferociously.  Hear Tesch’s bright sound, Sullivan’s orchestral fervor, Condon’s rhythmic mastery, Krupa’s bass-drum.  Not music for the timid, and it’s clear why the Chicagoans got fired from so many “respectable” gigs and why (perhaps) they didn’t fit in with the more well-behaved Red Nichols groups, although Nichols put up with them and kept hiring them back.  Here’s what the boys could do with a contemporary pop tune: flash with lots of essential improvisation under it.

OH, BABY! indeed:

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SIDNEY AND SIDNEY, 1941

And Willie and Charlie, Everett and Wellman.

All will be revealed.

Look at the record label, and listen!

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