Monthly Archives: September 2011

LEE WILEY and JESS STACY ON FILM, 1943

Lee Wiley continues to fascinate us.  Her husky voice, her physical beauty, the legends of her personality, her sexuality.  But she now exists purely as a disembodied sound, a beautifully posed still picture.  How many people saw and heard her in her prime, or at the 1972 Newport concert that was her last public appearance?

HERE is an astonishing rarity — not known to exist before now — a minute of Lee Wiley and Jess Stacy on film.  In high definition, no less:

This brief collection of film clips (originally silent) is given to all of us through the immense generosity of Josh Rushton, son of bass saxophonist, clarinetist, and motorcyclist Joe Rushton.

The film was taken in California in 1943 — before Lee and Jess embarked on their unhappy marriage and brief musical partnership.  The other couple is Joe and Priscilla Rushton.  Josh told me, “The bookend shots of just Wiley and Stacy are probably from around June 1943 in San Francisco, and the ones with my mom and dad are probably from October 1943 on the roof of a Hollywood hotel near the penthouse exit.”

This is the only film footage discovered so far of Lee — who looks lovely and slightly plump, her hair dark, resembling the actress Patricia Clarkson.  If there are skilled lip-readers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, they can decipher the dialogue for us.  And if there are readers skilled in couples counseling, they can certainly say something about the Wiley – Stacy union through the couple’s gestures and body language.  Jess looks and acts like a man smitten; Lee seems much more intrigued by the camera, although if they had been happily married for decades, we would interpret this film more optimistically.  (The parking sign needs no explication but makes me nostalgic for 1943.)

For the camera, Lee and Jess enact flirtation, playful happiness, and romance, although the enactment soured quickly.  But I would be thrilled to see that couple coming down the sidewalk to me.  Jess remained a handsome fellow but never looked better than he does here.  And Lee, simply walking or swaying back and forth, shows why she captured hearts without singing a syllable of Gershwin or Robison.

We have still got a crush on her!

(Note: the sardonic soundtrack, Lee singing the E.Y. Harburg – Harold Arlen DOWN WITH LOVE, is a contemporary addition to the silent home movie.  The rueful comment at the end comes from Deane Kincaide, who knew the couple well.)

DAN LEVINSON, CHRIS DAWSON, HAL SMITH, COREY GEMME, DAVID SAGER at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Call it what you like — “Chicago style,” “Fifty-Second Street,” “small-band swing.” Perhaps you’d prefer to name the heroic echoes heard — traces of Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Rowles, Jess Stacy, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Marty Marsala, Max Kaminsky, George Lugg, Vernon Brown . . . the list could continue. 

But I prefer to admire the music for itself.

This little band, an impromptu aggregation, has a wonderful nimbleness.  Although its repertoire, except for the 1937 SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN, predated Goodman at the Palomar, there was nothing archaic about their session of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival (September 2, 2011).

The players:  Dan Levinson (clarinet, tenor sax); Chris Dawson (piano); Hal Smith (drums); Corey Gemme (cornet), and the Mystery Guest for the last two performances, trombonist David Sager.

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN, for many of us, recalls the 1944 Commodore record by Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtimers.  Dan and friends took a lighter approach:

THEM THERE EYES was a hit record in 1930 and continues to be one of the tunes all the musicians in the world love to play:

CHERRY harks back to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the wonderful shouting yet polite vocalizing of George “Fathead” Thomas:

MY MONDAY DATE (or A MONDAY DATE) comes from Earl Hines, whose playful spirit imbued the proceedings:

SORRY owes its endurance in our memories to Bix Beiderbecke and Don Murray:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE brought on the agile David Sager:

And the set ended with the 1925 classic, DINAH:

“Excuse me, sir, can you direct me to the Commodore Music Shop?”

DAN BARRETT COMES EAST (September – October 2011)

To quote Henry Nemo, “‘Tis autumn,” and one of the more rewarding manifestations of that season is the annual Dan Barrett Comes East tour.  The inimitable Costa Mesa, California trombonist, cornetist, arranger, composer, pianist, singer, comes to this coast for a series of what have proven memorable gigs.

Thursday – Sunday, Sept. 15-18: Dan at Chautauqua Jazz Party, Chautauqua, New York (http://athenaeum-hotel.com/Jazz-at-Chautauqua/)

Monday, Sept. 19: Dan at Arthur’s Tavern, with Bill Dunham’s Grove Street Stompers (Grove Street & 7th Ave South; 7-10 pm)

Tuesday, Sept. 20: Dan in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with Howard Alden & Frank Tate (details to follow)

Wednesday, Sept. 21: Dan at Birdland with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band (5:30-7:15 pm): see http://www.ostwaldjazz.com/live/ for details.  Dan will be joined by Bria Skonberg (trumpet), Vinny Raniolo (banjo and guitar), Marion Felder (drums) and others.

Sunday, Sept. 25: a double-header!  Dan will join Terry Waldo’s band at Fat Cat (77 Christopher Street), from 5:45 to 8 pm).  Then, Dan will go south and west for an evening at the Ear Inn, with Evan Christopher, Matt Munisteri, and New York’s finest, immediately after that (8-11 pm)

Monday, Sept. 26: Dan will again appear alongside Evan Christopher at a concert sponsored by the Sidney Bechet Society, beginning at 7:15 pm.  Evan’s “Clarinet Road” will pay tribute to the Master in “Blues for Bechet.”  Featured guests will include vocalist Catherine Russell, guitar virtuosi Doug Wamble and Matt Munisteri, and LaFrae Sci on drums.  The concert will take place at Symphony Space (95th Street and Broadway), and tickets are available here:

http://www.sidneybechet.org/purchase-tickets/

Tuesday, Sept. 27: Dan will join the brass section — on cornet — of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks at “Club Cache'” — the lower floor of Sofia’s restaurant in the Edison Hotel, 211 West 46th Street.

Wednesday, September 28: Dan will again be part of David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland, from 5:45-7:15 pm, alongside Bria Skonberg, Pete Martinez, Howard Alden, Marion Felder, and others.

Sunday, October 2: Another double-header: Dan at Fat Cat again with Terry Waldo’s band; then on to the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York (8-11 pm)

Monday, October 3: Dan will be part of another Arbors Records event at Feinstein’s at the Regency with singers Rebecca Kilgore, Nicki Parrott, Lynn Roberts, and Harry Allen’s Quartet (Harry, Rossano Sportiello, Joel Forbes, and Chuck Riggs).

Alas and woe for New Yorkers, Dan flies home the next day.  Don’t miss out on the Barrett Comes East tour.  There are, as yet, no plans for souvenir sweatshirts, buttons, or pennants — merely fine jazz and many musical surprises.

And in case you are just discovering Mr. Barrett, here’s some musical evidence — his cornet lights up this August 2011 performance of MY BUDDY, recorded at the JAZZ LIVES party (with John Smith, alto; Vinnie Armstrong, piano; Marc Caparone, bass; Mike Swan, guitar):

THEY’RE JUST TOO MUCH!: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and FRIENDS at SWEET AND HOT (September 2, 2011)

My title comes from an unsolicited comment by a listener next to me at this set at the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival.  It’s all true!

JAZZ LIVES readers will know of my admiration for the Reynolds Brothers, nurtured through videos, recordings, and encountering them in the flesh at Monterey by the Bay in March 2011).  They hit new heights in set after set at this Los Angeles music extravaganza, and I captured as much as I could.

The band began with the regulars plus one: that’s Ralf on washboard, banter, the occasional vocal, and serious moral leadership; his younger brother John on guitar, vocal, whistling, and commentaries; Marc Caparone on cornet, thermodynamics, and vocal; Katie Cavera on string bass and sweet singing.  Add to that mix one Larry Wright on alto saxophone, ocarina, and the occasional toy instrument . . . that would be enough for anyone.  But the guest star was the irrepressible (perhaps “unchained” would be more appropriate) clarinetist Bob Draga . . . and a figure appeared to my left early on — none other than Dan Barrett on trombone, head-arrangements-while-you-wait and riffs (no waiting); later on, pianist David Boeddinghaus came on board.

(An aside: someone said to me, “Isn’t it nice how the Reynolds Brothers invite all those musicians to join them?”  “It is nice,” I said, “but it’s the other way around: the Brothers swing so hard that everyone wants to sit in with them.”)

They began their first set with I MAY BE WRONG (both humble and incorrect):

Dan Barrett is long out of diapers, but he showed up early on in I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Katie sang and swung DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, a performance notable also for the impromptu duets among the sheltering front line:

Having found that new baby, it would be natural for fondness to develop into adoration — thus I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (note sly David Boeddinghus finding his way to the piano bench, happily for us):

I knew Harry White (“Father” White in the Cab Calloway trombone section) as the composer of EVENIN’ — but we must credit him with another opus, the indescribably-titled FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM (which is also the title of a Reynolds Brothers CD):

Telepathically, John Reynolds answered my silent request for another version of TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME:

And the set closed with James P. Johnson’s ode to abandon, RUNNIN’ WILD:

When this musical exaltation was over, I said to no one in particular, “Now I can go home!” because I felt so uplifted by what I heard, a completely fulfilling musical experience.  Happily, I didn’t . . . .

P.S.  The Brothers aren’t really attired in pink suits or deep purple dreams at the start; it was a trick of the interior lighting.  And thanks to Laurie Whitlock for her generous guidance: I’ll be back next year!

WELCOME BACK, RAY SKJELBRED!

Some JAZZ LIVES readers might wonder why my title warrants an exclamation point.  The music, I think, will speak for itself — but the singular pianist Ray Skjelbred had suffered a broken hip earlier this summer . . .  and he is now back playing and sounding like himself.

Here are four video performances (thanks to Candace Brown) recorded at the monthly gig of the First Thursday Jazz Band, with guest Craig Flory on reeds,  at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Seattle.  Along with Ray, you’ll hear and see Dave Brown, bass, and Mike Daugherty, on drums.

Here’s I NEVER KNEW, where the sound of the band is reflected in the swinging dancing of Natalie Bangs and Kevin Buster:

And a quartet like this can swing as fiercely as a Thirties big band — hear how on BLUE LOU:

A fast blues (situated between Count Basie and Albert Ammons), named for the championship racehorse, WHIRLAWAY:

Finally (for now), here’s a bit of pretty New Orleans gutbucket — an exploration of the 1919 hit JADA:

So happy you’re back on the bench, Mister Ray!  And thanks to Craig, Dave, Mike, Natalie, Kevin, and especially Candace (without her, this would all be hearsay).

I have it on the best authority that Ray and his Cubs (the Chicago kind) will be performing for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society this Sunday, September 11, 2011, at The Dante Club, 2330 Fair Oaks Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95825, from noon to 5 PM.  For more information visit: http://www.sacjazz.org/calendar.html.  I know that my friend and colleague RaeAnn Berry will be there: join her in the fun!

A CASUAL GIG IN MARTINEZ, CALIFORNIA (Aug. 25, 2011)

Armando’s in Martinez has beer, wine, and a good deal of jovial amusement from a fairly local audience who came to hear the band.  This little bar / club / hangout is located on 707 Marina Vista; it features a variety of good music, as the regulars know.  See their schedule (and the painted chairs) at http://www.armandosmartinez.com

But I went to see and hear a particular band: Mal Sharpe’s BIG MONEY IN JAZZ (a whimsical title for sure) — drawn from a floating collection of players.  On August 25, 2011, the band was Mal (trombone, vocal, and stern leadership), Jim Gammon (trumpet), Dwayne Ramsey (reeds), Jeff Hamilton (piano), Simon Planting (bass), Roy Blumenfeld (drums).  (Mal’s group appears at Armando’s on the last Thursday of each month and at other venues as well.  But he’s got too many identities to harness them into one website — Google “Mal Sharpe” and see for yourself.)

It’s rewarding to know that this version of jazz — loose and unbuttoned but expert — still thrives.  I admire Jim’s power and precision, Dwayne’s passion and expertise.  And Mal is very modest about his trombone playing, but he’s devoted to Vic Dickenson, and some of that humor and slyness comes through.  (Mal is a splendid bandleader as well: years in show business of every variety have taught him how to make an audience feel comfortable in minutes.)  Simon’s bass and Roy’s drums have their own individualistic sounds, and Jeff (yes, that Jeff Hamilton) creates swinging clouds at the keyboard — from stomp to impressionism in the space of a solo, most rewardingly.

Hear what this band does with four jazz classics.

Hello, Central, give me DR. JAZZ:

LADY BE GOOD:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

It’s reassuring that bands like this still exist, and that places like Armando’s provide a comfortable place for them to play — and the audience was having a good time.  What more could anyone want?

AT THE HOP (Part Two): CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND (Aug. 20, 2011)

One set by Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band wouldn’t have been enough for anyone — either the audience at the Wednesday Night Hop at Mountain View, California, or for the wider audience of JAZZ LIVES.  So here’s the second collection of exuberances: six songs, four of them explicitly New Orleans-rooted, the other two jazz classics.

And a surprise.  When the band took to the stage for the first set, it was Clint (trumpet, leader, vocals); Jim Klippert (trombone, vocal); Robert Banics (clarinet), Jason Vanderford (banjo, vocal); Sam Rocha (bass, tuba); J. Hansen (drums), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano).  But a very nimble pianist — masquerading as the brilliant drummer Jeff Hamilton — was prevailed upon to sit in, and Jeff played the first four tunes of the set, having a good time himself.

And you’ll notice the absence of microphones.  Who needs them when you’ve got swing this hot?

Those tunes?  Well, why not start off with a Debussyian dream, full of watercolor shadings and sweet pastels?  On second thought, let the impressionists be dreamy elsewhere.  Here’s TIGER RAG:

Clint (who’s not a whiner) likes the Jelly Roll Morton tune, a thinly-veiled advertisement of erotic prowess, WININ’ BOY BLUES.  Don’t deny his name:

William H. Tyers’ classic PANAMA followed, its multiple strains in place:

And one of the most-often played and most durable songs in the common language of small-band-swing, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

Carl came back to play his part in an energetic SOME OF THESE DAYS:

And the set closed with a funky blues — somewhere between Bill Haley and the Comets and MOP MOP — which I know as JOE AVERY’S PIECE (although it might also be JOE AVERY’S BLUES):

Oh, play those things!

HEAVENLY RHYTHM: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (Aug. 20, 2011)

Carl (piano), Clint (bass), and Jeff (drums) don’t play waltzes, but I thought this recent acquisition provided just the title for the music they created at the Wednesday Night Hop in Mountain View on August 20, 2011:

Because Carl is such a superb boogie-woogie pianist and blues singer (no one else I know summons up all that lowdown energy) he is often typecast within that genre.  But he is such a fine player of straight-ahead swinging jazz that I wanted to showcase him in that way here.  (Readers take note: he is also a powerful yet subtle player of ragtime and stride: I’ve been dazzled by his versions of SWIPSEY CAKEWALK and CAROLINA SHOUT.)

Clint is so good on so many instruments that his strong, focused bass playing might be taken for granted.  But he makes me think of the heroes of that instrument — Al Morgan, Wellman Braud, Steve Brown, Walter Page.

And I always knew how marvelously Jeff Hamilton swung, having admired the two compact discs he’s recorded as a leader — check them out for yourself at http://www.jeffhamiltonjazz.com — but his playing at this session was especially rewarding.  He can swing mightily in any tempo; his time is superb; he makes any drum kit sound orchestral without raising the volume; his solos have shape and form and wit.  He surprises in the same way Dave Tough did, and his grounding in New Orleans jazz keeps any band rocking.

I apologize to Jeff and to viewers for the post that seems to bisect him vertically.  It didn’t seem to affect his playing, and filming from this angle kept me safe from airborne lindy-hoppers.

Here are the HEAVENLY RHYTHM BOYS (rechristened for the purpose of this blog), making music that needs no exegesis:

ROSETTA:

SONG OF THE WANDERER:

LADY BE GOOD:

THE PRISONER’S SONG:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

SWANEE RIVER:

What a trio!