YOUR OPINION, PLEASE.

I just posted this YouTube clip from the March of Time documentary about the making of records, “It’s In The Groove,” because it features an Eddie Condon band in 1949.  The personnel seen on screen is Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Joe Bushkin, piano, Eddie, guitar; presumably Jack Lesberg, bass (well out of camera range) and Buddy Rich, drums. 

Here it is again:

Why am I bringing this up again, you might ask?  Well, there’s the simple pleasure of viewing it again, of reminding people of EDDIE CONDON and what beauty he created whenever he got his friends together.

But there’s something else.  I knew that Sidney Catlett was on the record session for which this was presumably a rehearsal, although the time sequence is a bit puzzling to me. 

Now there’s another puzzle, posed by the great drummer / listener / jazz scholar Hal Smith — and I quote:

To the best of my knowledge, that clip of Condon & Co. is lip-synched, and it’s BIG SID on the soundtrack.  I read an article–I think in Down Beat–mentioning that Sid played the soundtrack, but was too ill to make the filming.  Anyway, I remember seeing/hearing that clip several years ago and thinking “That doesn’t sound anything like Buddy Rich.”  The news item about Sid confirmed my suspicions!

I invite JAZZ LIVES readers to watch the clip again for evidence of the musicians miming their playing to a pre-recorded soundtrack, and then (if they will indulge me in this jazz-mystery-solving), to listen, eyes closed.  It might be Sidney, although it sounds simpler than he often chose to be . . . another bit of evidence that suggests he was ailing, although recordings with Muggsy Spanier in 1950 and a WMEX broadcast from that same year have him much more recognizable. 

Your thoughts?

15 responses to “YOUR OPINION, PLEASE.

  1. Yeah: I agree with Hal. It sounds like Big Sid to me.

  2. I am not the drums specialist, but since listening to a Mosaic reissue of Buddy Rich I feel it might even be him here. Not as subtle as Big Sid. Just a guess though..

  3. High quality mystery… I should not presume to challenge The Esteemed Mr. Smith’s ears, but it doesn’t really sound like Catlett to me. In fact, it kind of sounds like Buddy Rich. Catlett’s drum breaks (when played with sticks) always seem to be made up of clever accent patterns (usually on snare) over what is basically a long roll (I wish I could speak with better drummer jargon). His was a tasteful and thoughtful approach that teased “the edge” but never went over it. Here, the snare is being struck outright, repeatedly and with gleeful abandon, somewhat in the line of Krupa. Then we have the so open it’s almost sloppy hi-hat (not a bad thing, in my book) at the end of the break. I’m accustomed to Big Sid keeping his fairly tightly clamped, and rarely going to it in solo situations. (I would welcome any suggested recordings correcting my assumptions of Catlett’s playing should they be faulty…)

  4. Andreas Kågedal

    To me it seems that the drum break is not “lip synced”, but the clips just before and after are.

    It could be a case of some creative editing of the clip. Up until the drum break, Catlett is playing in the synced part. Then there is a cut and Buddy Rich plays the break, which was filmed and recorded simultaneouslu, with a bit of the band playing for a few bars at the end, but as the tune ends there is a second, quite audible, cut, and the original “lip synced” recording with Catlett is back for the finishing bars.

    Possibly.

  5. Charlie Decker (guitar and banjo)

    Much if not all (except the drum solo perhaps) is dubbed. It does not appear the piano player is touching the keys.

    Eddie Condon should have beeen dubbed! (he was a great force in the music but a guitar player no. (first of all he only plays a 4 string guitar which is not a bonafide jazz instrument because you can’t “swing” a band with it. He strums it (not pick it) like a “gee whiz look at me” guy sitting in at a fraternity house party jam session.

  6. Dear Charlie,

    I must politely disgree. Ask Joe Bushkin, Bobby Hackett, Bunny Berigan and about a hundred other great jazzmen what they thought of Eddie’s rhythm, his gift for the right tempos, his memory for chords, his swing, his deep affinity for the music. And tell all the people like myself who revere the Commodores, Deccas, Columbias, and Town Hall Concert recordings that Condon isn’t swinging the band with a four-string guitar. I didn’t know there were rules for the number of strings a guitar must have to be viable: these sound rather restrictive to me. And since when did a musician’s facial expression have anything to do with the effectiveness and depth of the art (s)he created? Eddie is dead for a quarter-century and I think is thus beyond being upset by your comment, but I think the recorded evidence will live on long after you and I are dead. Cheers, Michael

  7. Charlie Decker (guitar and banjo)

    Michael-Thanks for your observations. Perhaps you can find a clip for me that would illustrate your point re his playing.

    Of course there are no rules for the # of strings. Your ears will tell you. The low A and E string add to the voicing options on the bass end of the chords. In fact many great jazz guitarists play 7 string guitars (today-Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, John Pizzarelli, and many many more) A four string guitar will not cut. (that’s why you can’t hear it in recordings or live)

    The greatest of all rhythm guitarists, Freddy Green, I’m sure would agree.

    I would be interested in hearing any thoughts on this from other musicians, especially guitarists.

    Again, he was a great band leader, booster of jazz of the period, but only musicians hoping to get work would comment on his favorably on his playing. (I’ve read there comments) They could not hear him on the band stand of a 6 or 7 piece band with piano and drums.

    He was a very unfriendly guy also. (His “default setting” was “nasty” to the public.)

  8. Here’s an undisputed Big Sid solo (also on a Condon record), Oh Katherina! Admittedly, its a few years earlier, but it may help folks decide:

  9. Bobby Hacksaw

    I, for one, love Condon’s rhythm guitar playing — good time, and the right chords: what more could one ask for? I’ll take his ‘pork chop’ over bad electric guitar ‘comping’ any day. And I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be calling me for a gig!

  10. Charlie Decker (guitar and banjo)

    Bobby-Lots of good comments-makes this an interesting exchange. However “bad electric guitar comping” has no role (or history) in rhythm guitar playing or players. Rhythm guitarists do not play “electric guitars” Some might put a condenser mike close to the “f” hole or even a pick-up in an “accoustic guitar” . Thus it becomes an amplified accoustic guitar (light years from an electric guitar)

    In terms of “knowing the chords”-great jazz guitarists are known by their magnificent sequence of passing chords-going from one chord to another with 2 or 3 or more chords, for one beat, in between.
    I doubt that Eddy Condon knew passing cords nor could he play them on a tenor guitar. LIsten to Marty Groz or Frank Vignola or any of those I mentioned earlier. BTW, like me, they all started on tenor banjo.

    Eddy Lang to Freddy Green played archtop un-amplified acoustic 6 string guitars. Back in the 20’s, many rhythm guitarists started on the banjo (4 strings) and thus made the transition to guitar via 4 string (tenor guitars) I don’t know that Condon ever played banjo.

    I doubt that Dick Hyman , or any contractor ever put out a call for a tenor guitarist (unless he was doing an Eddy Condon Retro Concert)

  11. Off topic: One of the best guitar player along the 1940s was Tiny Grimes. He used a 4 string model! Freddie Green preferred economical voicings. 3, 2 or one note are enough (http://www.freddiegreen.org/transcriptions/cornerpocket59.html). Although Freddie plays not loud all musicians of the band accepted him as the best timekeeper. He will be missed if he is absent. Eddie Condon had a great drive also. Four strings can be very loud. Check out “Heebie Jeebies” with Louis Armstrong from a Condon Floor Show 1949 (http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/2011/02/heebie-jeebies.html). Btw. I have no gig with Eddie soon…

    On topic: For me the video drummer not sounds like Big Sid. It’s another touch. The drum break from the TIMES CARIES ON disc has a lighter feel. In the video break the drummer beats harder. My opinion.

    Regards
    Uwe

  12. As to whether Condon “swings” or not; the beat of a Condon Mob and a Basie band are two totally different things, with different approaches yielding different intended results. I’m not going to even entertain getting into the hows and whys of that..because it’s just stupid. But I will weigh in on whether, and why, a tenor instrument – guitar or banjo – cuts: The chords of a fretted stringed instruments cut when there is a distance greater than a third between the intervals in a chord. Thirds tend to fold in on themselves and present a compressed sound that gets lost in the mix. The point is not how many notes are in a chord, or how many strings are on the neck of an instrument; Freddie Green – and Allan Ruess (his teacher, and in my book, The Actual Greatest), Steve Jordan, and others – cut because they primarily used intervals of 6ths and 5ths in their rhythm playing (that is when Green played any interval at all). These voicings, which use wider intervals, just so happen to be THE EXACT VOICINGS OF TENOR INSTRUMENTS. Charlie, I imagine you must know this, if you started on tenor banjo. What are often called “Freddie Green Chords” are tenor banjo (or guitar) chords moved down an octave – look at any old stock arrangement from the ’20’s that has the specific three note tenor chords written on the staff, and you will see this. So, in short, the 6 string guitar players adapted the technically somewhat unwieldy voicings of tenor instruments for the guitar’s role as a big band rhythm instrument precisely because that’s how they could make their instrument heard. Furthermore, two of the best and most revered rhythm players, Carl Kress and Marty Grosz both use(d) modified banjo tunings (tunings based on 5ths rather than 4ths) for their guitars, to facilitate the tenor voicings that “cut” so well. Do I really have to go on? Well I can’t resist, so lastly: And this is relevant to what type of guitar Dick Hyman’s going to “put out the call for” because…why exactly?

  13. “Back in the 20′s, many rhythm guitarists started on the banjo (4 strings) and thus made the transition to guitar via 4 string (tenor guitars) I don’t know that Condon ever played banjo.” (Charlie Decker, guitar and banjo)

    Please take a moment and video Google ‘Red Nichols on a 1929 Vitaphone’ short posted by (desdemona202) It’s the video that Starts with “Ida.” There you will find Mr. Condon playing a mandolin as well as a banjo. It’s a beautiful film short and you’ll see/hear Pee Wee Russell as well. What captivated my attention though, was Eddie himself— his singing and his sense of syncopation— the way he saunters up to and down off the bandstand. In the opinion of many jazz musicians yet living who saw him, spoke with him, drank with him- he was a very funny man, (not at all nasty) a natural entertainer of marvelous talents and gifts. For me (in this Vitaphone short) he IS the show!

    In this pretty much narcissisttic world of ours sometimes we tend to blow off many of those who came on the scene before us and we find a fault of theirs and focus on that instead of what they contributed- like looking at the proverbial donut hole instead of the donut.

    Change up— As Uwe said above “On Topic” — I’m putting all my eggs in one basket and going with– the drummer Is Buddy and not Big Sid. Can anyone imagine Buddy having to fake it? And Eddie giving him the nod as he does above before the 4 bar tag… is that part of the fake too? The kit-tuning is distinctly not Sidney’s. The 2 bass drum beats at the end are a BR tm. Lord, why would the millionaire Eterguns, Ahmet and his brother, go to all that trouble and bother to make sure we use the “original” soundtrack perhaps saying… “now you fellas mime this, OK?” One way to convince many of us is to post the Big Sid soundtrack side by side with the video above.

    Getting to the nitty gritty- does it really matter? The music is so good… seeing/hearing this line up… watching Eddie Condon’s smile and Buddy’s infectious grin… all this makes me feel so damn good I could care less who the drummer REALLY is.

    Enjoyed your comment, Matt!

  14. And I wish I’d written all of the above.

  15. I was asked by a well-known musician to weigh in on this, so I’m putting in my few cents worth.

    Firstly, this is a mimed performance, and it can simply be ascertained by listening to the soundtrack and watching the action. Hucko’s fingers move at differing times, as do Hackett’s, and those guitarists watching this should notice an extra strum that Condon does on the soundtrack not shown in the film. There are also snare drum accents made on the soundtrack that Rich doesn’t make.

    I would speculate the 95% of all filmed performances pre-television were mimed to previously recorded soundtracks. Almost always the discrepancies between soundtrack performance and filmed performance are easily discerned. Interestingly, some musicians were more adept at doing this type of thing than others. (On a personal note, I was once filmed in this manner and failed miserably – the evidence is on the video!)

    Lastly, as to whether it’s Sid or Buddy. In my opinion, that tag is pure Sid, regardless of the bass drum on the end. It sounds like Sid’s hi-hat cymbals to me, too, and the playing has a lighter and looser feel than Buddy’s. I think if Buddy had played that tag, it would have been much tighter.

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