Monthly Archives: August 2011

LE JAZZ HOT: MAKING THE SCENE ON MONDAY (August 8, 2011)

Monday nights are usually low-key if not anxious: the week looms.  Perhaps we should bring lunch to work?  But Le Jazz Hot has created a scene for musicians, listeners, and swing dancers at Le Colonial (which, I’m told, used to be Trader Vic’s), every Monday night from 7-10 PM.

I took my camera there on Monday, August 8, and captured these three performances by Paul Mehling, guitar, vocal, and leader; Sam Rocha, Isabelle Fontaine, guitars; Jeff Sandford, reeds; Clint Baker, bass.  And a variety of swing dancers, most expert, with our friend Leslie Harlib twirling and dipping at the bottom right of my frame.

Paul began with his own version of wild-eyed Harry “the Hipster” Gibson’s Forties drug-hallucination-fantasy, STOP THAT DANCING UP THERE:

Nothing could follow that except a peaceful song — pastoral rather than hallucinogenic — so here’s Carmichael’s SKYLARK:

And in another mood, the 1920 warning, beloved of Sophie Tucker and jazz bands alike, SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Make the scene at Le Colonial some Monday — it’s at 20 Cosmo Place in San Francisco; it has a very intriguing Vietnamese menu.  No cover, no minimum, nice acoustics.  To quote Slim Gaillard, “Very mellow.  Very groovy.”

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MISS HELEN WARD, 1953

One more photograph from Helen Ward’s collection, through the generosity of Sonny McGown, another souvenir of that 1953 Goodman-Armstrong concert tour.  I don’t recognize the hall, but here Helen is in front of the “Goodman” Orchestra.  She always sounded the same — friendly, warm, sweetly affectionate — from her first records to her SONGBOOK, perhaps forty years later.

THE ANGELS SWING, 1953

The photograph below comes from Helen Ward’s collection, courtesy of my friend Sonny McGown.  It’s amazing — an onstage jam session from one of the 1953 concerts that began with the Benny Goodman Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars.  After Benny chose not to go on with the tour, Gene Krupa led his band — and obviously a good time was had by all.  See who you can identify:

From the left, I see George Auld and three other saxophone players, Steve Jordan (guitar), Israel Crosby (bass), a Goodman trombonist and bespectacled Vernon Brown, Trummy Young behind Vernon, a short fellow in a light suit whose name escapes me, Cozy Cole behind him, Ziggy Elman, an unidentified trumpeter and Charlie Shavers in front of Arvell Shaw.

I think I hear an uptempo blues . . . but whatever it is, the sound I imagine is angelic.  Wow!

P.S.  Sonny pointed out to me that Willie Smith (on left) has his back to the camera, Al Stewart is the unidentified trumpeter . . . and the closing jam session was typically THE SAINTS.  So now I know what I’m hearing.

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME DIDN’T COME

The 1953 Benny Goodman – Louis Armstrong concert tour was an unusual idea to begin with, and for a full version of the events leading up to its abrupt termination, there’s no better account than in Ricky Riccardi’s WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.  (Bobby Hackett also told his side of the story in Max Jones’s TALKING JAZZ, for the truly fervent.)

But here’s a startling piece of evidence from the eBay treasure chest – a Program (or should I say Programme) from that aborted tour, autographed by Goodmanites Teddy Wilson, Israel Crosby, Ziggy Elman, and Vernon Brown — as well as by the Armstrong All-Stars of the time: Louis, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Joe Bushkin, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole, and Velma Middleton (it’s the only Velma signature I’ve ever seen).

Aside from presenting an Israel Crosby autograph (not a common signature, and a treasure), the cover is intriguing because it is a Programme.  I hadn’t known that a tour of any part of the United Kingdom had been envisioned.  Here are the two facing center pages with the planned program, suggesting that no interplay between the two orchestras had been planned even in the tour’s earliest stages:

Louis worked with, recorded with, and hung out with many players who went on to Goodman alumni — including Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton — but as far as Armstrong / Goodman meetings that were documented, one must turn to the three or four minutes of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ Louis performed on the King’s 1939 Camel Caravan.  (Although I am sure there is a private recording of their initial concert . . . . the fans were devoted.  And we remain so.)

MEET CLAIRE DICKSON: “SCATTIN’ DOLL”

I had never heard of Claire Dickson, but she can sing.  She’s got IT, however you define that pronoun, proven throughout her new CD.

Claire has a bright, clear voice; her phrasing is simple but easy, flexible.  The improvisatory chances she takes work.  Her scatting doesn’t grate on the nerves, and although she has listened closely to Ella, she inhabits the great Fitzgerald mansion with ease, making it her own.

Claire doesn’t go for the dark depths of GLOOMY SUNDAY, so the world-weariness of BLACK COFFEE is slightly beyond her, but that only suggests a more sunny world-view.  I am suspicious of contemporary pop songs brought into a jazz context, but her PHANTOM DOLL is convincing throughout.  Her arching MY MAN’S GONE NOW, a song I would have thought too dark for her, is quite touching: rather than aiming for dark majesties, she sings with a clear, simple intensity.

Hear for yourself.  On Claire’s MySpace page, she swings through CONFIRMATION, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, IF I WERE A BELL, and MIDNIGHT SUN.

http://www.myspace.com/clairedickson

Now for the surprise: wanting to know more of Dickson, I went online and found that she had recorded these two sessions on SCATTIN’ DOLL when she was twelve and thirteen years old. There is no sense of a precocious moppet singing grownup songs here!  I think that she is a young woman with a startling talent.

Claire, performing a Ryles Jazz Club

SWING STREET, BURBANK, CALIFORNIA (Aug. 15, 2011)

To a New Yorker like myself, “Burbank, California,” summons up memories of Luther Burbank and his hybridizing of fruits and vegetables, and (on another, less serious level) the jokes Dan Rowan and Dick Martin used to make about the city on LAUGH-IN, so many years ago.

But it’s possible that Burbank may go down in local jazz history as the place where Hal Smith’s FOUR DEVILS AND AN ANGEL had their first gig.  (The band was really THREE DEVILS, but all that can be clarified.)  JAZZ LIVES readers will remember that one of our roving correspondents, Henry Maldon, went to Joe’s in Burbank on August 15 and came back with a glowing report about the music he had heard.

No surprise there, considering that the band was Hal on drums, Katie Cavera on bass and vocals, Albert Alva on tenor sax, and Chris Dawson on piano.  (You can guess who the ANGEL is, although the three other men on the stand aren’t exactly on the Satanic payroll.)  The fourth DEVIL came along in the person of guitarist / vocalist Dave Stuckey, who also made these informal videos of the band at work.

On ROSETTA, the mood is definitely Keynote — a Basie feel with hints of Red Allen on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, 1957.  You forget immediately that Chris is playing a keyboard, and although Hal isn’t well-captured by the camera microphone, he’s felt even when not heard.  And the rest of the band rocks along in a delightfully easeful way:

And here’s a sweetly swinging version of CHERRY, where Chris reminds us of his beautiful sensitivity to the groove, his Wilsonian subtleties:

The glories of Fifty-Second Street, way out West . . .

PIECES OF OUR PAST (August 2011)

Wordsworth was correct when he wrote that in “getting and spending” we “lay waste our powers.”  I live not too far from a large shopping mall, and visit it only when other ways to buy something necessary are worse.  But certain kinds of “getting” and “spending” aren’t so bad: when the purchases uplift the spirits and don’t cost much.  Exhibits below.  First, sheet music from a Vallejo, California antique shop.

I was motivated to buy this 1926 laff-riot because of the title and the line drawing — I sympathize with that fellow, even though I haven’t worn a three-piece suit in years.  However, instead of being a comic ditty about table manners, it is more literal — X does all the work but Y, who doesn’t, gets all the credit.  And it must have been a smash in vaudeville, for the inside front cover contains 24 knock-em-dead versions of the chorus.  I will spare you.  And if the name “Larry Shay” looks familiar, he was in part responsible for WHEN YOU’RE SMILING.

A much more seriously valuable song: I can hear Billie singing it or Ed Hall playing it.  The most touching part of this sheet music is the inscription of ownership on top — I don’t know if it’s entirely visible, but this copy was the property of WOODY’S DANCE DEMONS.  I looked them up on Google and didn’t find anything, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play well in 1929 or 1930.

This song is deeply unimaginative, but I thought that if the Benson Orchestra had played it and its composer had written OKLAHOMA INDIAN JAZZ, it might have some merit.  We live in hope.

I wouldn’t call this a memorable Berlin tune (I suspect it was meant as a frisky dance number) but it does contain the lines, “Let me mingle with a peppy jingle / That the jazz bands love to play,” which is certainly hip for 1922.

I heard Rosy McHargue sing this on a Stomp Off recording (he must have been in his middle eighties) and thought it was hilarious.  Also, isn’t that the most thoroughly anthropomorphized dog face you’ve ever seen?  Now for several artifacts that are more fragile, heavier, and harder to pack — but no less irresistible.

Although I can’t imagine Eddie Condon with a novel in front of him, he admired John Steinbeck and was very proud that they were friends.  Steinbeck loved the music that Eddie and the boys created, with only one caveat: he kept asking Eddie to take up the banjo again, an offer Eddie steadfastly pushed aside.  This 12″ 78 cost more than fifty cents when it was new, and the band is flawless.

Also (not pictured, but you can imagine):

another Commodore 12″ of OH, KATHARINA and BASIN STREET BLUES; a Blue Note Jazzmen 12″ of WHO’S SORRY NOW (no question mark) and BALLIN’ THE JACK.  Moving into the microgroove era, I proudly snapped up a Collectors’ Classics lp of the Red Allen Vocalions 1934-5 (with the exultant ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON), Ray Skjelbred’s first solo session for Berkeley Rhythm Records, from 1973-4 (signed by the artist), and the JUMP compilation of (Charles) LaVere’s Chicago Loopers, with Jack Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Nick Fatool, and other stalwarts.