Monthly Archives: December 2011

A JAZZ MANTRA FOR 2012

Photograph and source material courtesy of Enrico Borsetti

It’s not yet 9 PM in California (where I am writing this) but it will be midnight in New York City.  So let me join in the imagined chorus and wish all the readers of JAZZ LIVES deep happiness in 2012 and the future.

When in doubt, let these words guide you through 2012 and onwards!

The custom, for some, at the end of the year, is to look back sadly at those we have lost.  I’ve felt those losses, and I know you have too.  But at this moment, let us celebrate the artists who continue to give us so much joy, and those new players and singers we will come to discover in the New Year.  Thanks, you cats, for swinging so!

“FOUR ON THE FLOOR,” or “IT ALL GOES BACK TO DISCO”

1930 Ludwig Streaked Opal drum set: visit http://www.olympicdrums.com for more information

In the late afternoon of December 31, 2011, the Beloved and I were in the car, heading from Novato to Napa in California.  The car radio was set to NPR — not a bad thing — and an ingenuous young woman reporter for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED came on to ask the pressing question: what sound was prevalent in all the pop music hits of 2011?  I heard a throbbing beat that was soon drowned out by some version of electronic thrumming and whining . . . and then she came on the air to answer her own question: four beats on the bass drum.  Here’s the transcription of what she said:

There’s one sound that pretty much dominated pop music this year. Monster hits by LMFAO, Adele, Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Britney Spears and more all relied on the hammering beat known as “four-on-the-floor.”

“You feel it in your whole body, just on every beat: boom, boom, boom, boom,” says Jordan Roseman. “It’s so easy to understand, it’s almost hard not to move to it.”

Roseman, better known as DJ Earworm, is intimately familiar with these songs and their matching beats. He mixed them all together in his annual mashup of the year’s biggest pop hits, a series he calls “The United State of Pop.” He says that four-on-the-floor, while not a new sensation, dominated the radio dial in 2011.

“It goes back to disco. Right when these big speakers came along, all of a sudden the kick drum took this new prominence in music because you could really feel it,” Roseman says. “It’s definitely peaking right now.”

You can download Roseman’s 2011 mashup, “World Go Boom,” at the DJ Earworm website.

Call me a nostalgia-addled dinosaur, a Swing Era relic (I’ve been called worse) but I thought “four on the floor” was cherished standard practice in all jazz performance until the very early Forties when (let’s say) Kenny Clarke started dropping bombs.

Before then, a drummer who couldn’t keep time — not necessarily loud — on the bass drum was considered inept, rather like the novice waitperson who has to ask each of the two diners, “Who gets the Greek omelet?”

I wish that the NPR story created a rush to study the recordings and videos of the masters: Krupa, Dodds, Jones, Catlett, Tough, Wettling, Marshall, Stafford, King, Berton,Morehouse, Singleton, Hanna, Bauduc, Leeman, Rich, Drootin, Dougherty, Walter Johnson, Spencer, Webb, Bellson, Shadow Wilson, Best, and a hundred more — or to sit at the feet of the contemporary percussion masters Smith, Burgevin, Hamilton, Dorn, Tyle, Baker, Siers . . . but somehow I don’t see this happening any time soon.

Because, as you know, “It all goes back to disco,” and our contemporary awareness of the past can be measured with a micrometer.

IMAGINE THIS!

The generous jazz collector Sonny McGown keeps surprising me: first with that lovely candid shot of Barbara Lea and Johnny Mince, now with this — a disc that isn’t playable at the moment but may be restored in the near future.

It made me catch my breath at the computer, because not only is it a live 1951 recording of Miss Leacock with the great pianist Larry Eanet, it also features the irreplaceable and (to my mind) under-recorded trumpeter Frank Newton.  In 1951.

I knew he had spent much of his last half-decade in Boston, and had read about concerts he had played in, gigs he had done — both from Manfred Selchow’s encyclopedic studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson as well as the recollections of Leroy “Sam” Parkins — but I never expected to see this:

If that isn’t something to dream about in 2012, I don’t know.  Thanks, Sonny!

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES SHOPPING at AMOEBA MUSIC

More rewarding than going to the mall in search of the nonexistent record store (now replaced by a kiosk selling baseball caps you can have embroidered with your name, perhaps?).  More personal than bidding and clicking online, it’s my return to AMOEBA MUSIC in San Francisco!

It should say something about the impression this store (and its Berkeley branch) made on me this last summer that I can summon up “1855 Haight Street” without having to think about it.  And the flimsy yellow plastic bag I brought back to my apartment has not been used for any ordinary purpose.  Inside the store the view is awe-inspiring and not a little intimidating for those who (unlike me) collect broadly across the musical spectrum:

I knew where I was going and my path had only two main oases — leaving aside the cash register at the end.  One delicious spot is sequestered in a corner: several bookshelves filled with albums of 10″ 78 rpm records.  You’d have to be a collector of older music or someone of a certain age to be familiar with this display in its unaltered state.  It still thrills me but it has the odd flavor of a museum exhibit — although I know of no museum where you can purchase the exhibits and take them home.  See if this photograph doesn’t provoke some of the same emotions:

And what do these albums contain?  I’ll skip over the dollar 1941-2 OKeh Count Basie discs, the odd Dave Brubeck 78, the remarkable Mercer Records PERDIDO by Oscar Pettiford on cello, the Artie Shaw Bluebirds . . . for a few that struck particular chords with me:

That one’s to inspire my pal Ricky Riccardi on to his next book!

One of the finest front lines imaginable — a pairing that only happened once.

The right Stuff . . . for Anthony Barnett.

Milt Gabler made good records!

In honor of Maggie Condon, Stan and Stephen Hester . . . and I didn’t arrange the records for this shot.  When was the last time you entered a record store with its own Eddie Condon section?

It would have been disrespectful to confine myself to taking pictures and not buying anything (also, enterprises like this need some support to stay in business), so I did my part.

The reverse of a Johnny Guarnieri tribute to Fats Waller, autographed to “Ed,” whom I assume played a little piano.

The NOB HILL GANG might look like another San Francisco “Dixieland” band, but any group with Ernie Figueroa on trumpet and Vince Cattolica on clarinet demands serious consideration.

But wait!  There’s more!

A Roy Eldridge collection on Phontastic (source: Jerry Valburn) of Gene Krupa 1941-2 airshots plus the 1940 Fred Rich date with Benny Carter;

ONE WORLD JAZZ — a 1959 Columbia stereo attempt at internationalism through overdubbing, featuring a home unit of Americans: Clark Terry, Ben Webster, J. J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, George Duvivier, and Jo Jones — with overdubbed contributions from Bob Garcia, Martial Solal, Stephane Grappelly, Ake Persson, Roger Guerin, Roy East, Ronnie Ross, and George Chisholm;

Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band on Ristic / Collector’s Items — featuring unissued material and rehearsals from the HOORAY FOR BIX! sessions — featuring Frank Chace;

a double-CD set on the Retrieval label of the Rhythmic Eight, in honor of Mauro Porro, whose set at the 2011 Whitley Bay paying homage to this band was memorable;

a Leo Watson compilation CD  on Indigo — just because I couldn’t leave it there;

the Billy Strayhorn LUSH LIFE compilation on Doctor Jazz, with a fine small group whose horns are Clark Terry and Bob Wilber.

The end result at the cash register?  Forty-three dollars and some cents.  Worth a trip from just about anywhere.

BILL DUNHAM REMEMBERS BARBARA LEA

The good friend of JAZZ LIVES, pianist and bandleader Bill Dunham, sent his recollections of Barbara Lea for us:

I guess I’m Barbara’s oldest friend – both in terms of age and friendship.  She was at Wellesley (where she was Barbara Leacock out of Detroit) when I was Harvard in the late 40’s.  We met on a blind date and dated briefly (I was pretty inept and Larry Eanet took over in that department).  It was there that I introduced Barbara to the Harvard Crimson Stompers a Dixieland band that was really a hot item among the college jock fraternities (Dartmouth, etc.) Her singing career started!  I was a member of the Stompers at the time and can remember how we were all knocked out by this Wellesley girl’s singing!

During her senior year at Wellesley and after graduation she sang at local Boston clubs – some not too upscale including a Mafia-run club where she called me one night and asked me to please come down the next night because she had been threatened by a gang thug.  I was to call a police lieutenant should there be a confrontation.  I was not too enthusiastic about this assignment but fortunately it went OK with me sitting nervously clutching the policeman’s phone number.

As you know, Barbara made scores of LPs, CDs, etc.  One of my favorites is the one she made with Johnny Windhurst, a marvelous young trumpet player.  He incidentally sat in with the Grove Street Stompers a number of times.

Barbara has often been labeled as a young Lee Wiley. Yes, one can pick up traces of Wiley in her singing but Barbara was her own person and had her own approach to singing the great standards with a beautiful, pure, ungimmicky voice!

I have been a close friend of hers since college and will really miss her!

Another pianist with young Barbara Lea

LESTER YOUNG’S MESSAGE: “BLITZKRIEG BABY”

This March 10, 1941 recording is not as well-known in the Lester Young canon as it should be.  Singer / pianist Una Mae Carlisle, a Fats Waller protege, landed a Bluebird Records date, possibly with the help of Fats.  Carlisle was an engaging, low-key singer.  How she and Lester Young’s short-lived little band came together in the studio has never been established, but it was fortunate for us and for posterity.

If you were a singer looking for the best band in that year, the choice would have been simple, given the perfect accompaniment and solos Lester had been playing with Billie Holiday for the previous four years.  The rest of the band — Shad Collins, trumpet; Clyde Hart, piano; John Collins, guitar; Nick Fenton, bass; Harold “Doc” West, drums — was also splendid, although to my ears they sound slightly hesitant, perhaps constrained by their roles in the recording studio.

The song (one of four) we are considering is unambitious, its lyrics odd: an attempt to blend current events — the German bombings — with a cautionary love song to an undefined lover.  Is the person being addressed an actual soldier or simply someone the singer wants to threaten by violence into good behavior?  The lyrics speak of bombing, a hand grenade, a parachute, propaganda, the infantry, a raid, dynamite; the only peaceful comment is about neutrality, which seems forlorn.  A perverse romantic utterance at best.

But the music shows once again how great jazz musicians and singers make the thinnest material imperishably beautiful.  The record begins with a thump leading us into an ensemble passage — a trumpet-tenor riff that would have been well-trodden by 1941.  (Quick, on which Louis recording did it first appear?) And the rhythm section, although everyone is pointed in the right direction, is more steadfast than airborne, heavier than the Basie ideal.  Carlisle’s cheerful, earnest-though-amused reading of the lyrics lightens the collective gravity, and Shad Collins’ muted arabesques behind her vocal don’t sound like anyone else’s — although muted trumpet behind a singer was also a familiar convention.  But aside from his brief appearance in harmony with Collins to start, Lester has been silent.

But he emerges into the sunlight in the second chorus, beginning with a simple ascending three-note phrase I associate with the exposition of a twelve-bar blues chorus, then after a brief pause for breath — and space — expanding that initial statement into a line that winds and climbs, not quickly or predictably, taking its time, the notes climbing a stairway that Lester is creating at the moment he ascends and descends, dipping down in the middle of the phrase before climbing easily again.  Visually, it might be a line drawn by William Steig.

So it might seem that Lester has offered us three improvisations on a simple climbing motif — not surprising, because many solos start low and climb for pure drama.  All this has happened in the space of fifteen seconds. Were we watching the original record move on, the stylus and tone arm tracing preordained paths through the grooves, it would seem as if a great distance had been traveled, the needle moving more quickly than the notes, bringing us that much closer to the end of the performance.

But Lester thought structurally: a sixteen-bar solo had its own logic, a balance apparent to the ear and would be visible in a transcription to someone who could only observe Up and Down, Long and Short.

A more conventional player would have repeated and varied the upwards motif (a trumpet player might have embellished the initial phrase until it would end on an impressive high note) — but Lester’s imagination was more spacious, and by 1941 he had heard thousands of formulaic solos next to him on bandstands across the country.

The second half of his too-brief solo begins from a height — although not “high” — that his first exploration has barely hinted at.  And Lester, having climbed his imaginary stairway, then proceeds to play on it as if he were a child rolling down those same stairs, one downwards-moving phrase tumbling after another, without haste or urgency, ending his solo with an echo (or a playful parody?) of the first upward phrase with which he began.

Lester’s solo is at most thirty seconds long. To ears accustomed to life after Bird, Trane, Ornette, Braxton, it seems simple, unadorned, even plain (leaving aside that dark creamy tone, the rubato hesitations and anticipations too subtle to notate).  But like a great Japanese brush painting, its magnificence is in the depths under its apparent ease.  Following Lester, pianist Clyde Hart, harmonically subtle and swinging, offers his own version of Basie-and-minimalist-stride that (one says ruefully) seems heavy in comparison with Lester’s ease.

When Una Mae Carlisle returns for her second exposition of the lyrics, the horns riff around and behind her: Shad Collins plays straight man to Lester, offering a simple phrase that Lester weaves around rather like ivy twining around a post.  I recall what Lester and Roy Eldridge create in the final minutes of Billie Holiday’s LAUGHING AT LIFE.  Shad and Lester offer a quiet miniature of the Basie band in performance, the saxophones explaining the truth to the trumpets or the reverse.  Lester seems to converse with his friend Shad while the rhythm and the bar lines move along beneath them, until the gentle festivities have to come to an ending.

Hear for yourself:

As always, Lester’s playing has so much to say to us, seventy and more years after he created it.  He speaks to us.  And although he seems like the least didactic of men, he has much to tell us by his example:

Use simple materials but treat them reverently.  No matter how few measures you have to say your piece, make it beautiful.  

Go your own way but don’t be bizarre for the sake of novelty.  Surprise us but don’t shock us. 

Honor the other members of the ensemble by making sure they sound good.  Give everyone a chance to shine. 

Take your time.  Breathe deeply.  Do nothing by rote.  Float on the rhythm.

Even if the lyrics speak of death and imminent destruction, don’t let anyone mess up your cool (to quote Vic Dickenson).

And — as a final sad irony — Lester could make beauty out of the impending blitzkrieg, but the Army didn’t see fit to extend him reciprocal courtesies.  But on March 10, 1941, he was on his own sweetly winding, hopeful path.  We can follow him always.

A FEW MORE WORDS FOR MISS LEA

On hearing of Barbara Lea’s death, I, too, went back to her recordings. And what strikes me now (and impressed me the first time I heard her) was her clarity and simplicity.  No tricks, nothing to obscure the melody and to place the singer in front of the song.  Barbara had most often been compared to the female singers she so admired — Lee Wiley, then Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday — but at this distance she sounds much more like a medium-register cornet, on track and sweetly focused.  She was also a great interpreter of the lyrics, without ever seeming to “dramatize,” to deliver certain words or lines in italics. The music flowed through her to us.  She respected the composer’s intentions and offered the song — with a lightness of heart yet a great deal of feeling.

What also remains is the memory of her sharp-edged prose: if you have the vinyl or CD version of the sessions Dick Sudhalter and Connie Jones did first for Stomp Off Records as GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, read her notes: they have a gentle pungency — serious truths are being told here although without belligerence.

We are lucky to have had her and her music!

Here are two more reminders.  The first is a candid photograph taken by Sonny McGown at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival (Barbara’s studio recordings from that time are collected on a CD titled DO IT AGAIN, which pairs her with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and Johnny Mince).  Johnny had a headache so Barbara offered a neck massage — and it looks as if she knew exactly what she was doing:

Before I close this post, the person I want to call to your attention is Jeanie Wilson, Barbara’s dear friend from North Carolina.  Jeanie stayed out of the spotlight and does so even now, but the way she and her husband Bill took care of Barbara in Barbara’s last years is a model of loving solicitude and generosity of spirit that we could all try to live up to.  As we are bereft of Barbara, we should send thanks to Jeanie for being the most devoted friend anyone ever had.

And let’s have Barbara and Johnny Windhurst, both young, fill our ears with their golden music. If there are echoes of Wiley and Hackett, that doesn’t bother me:

HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND at WHITLEY BAY 2011 (thanks to Elin Smith)

I met Elin Smith and her husband Ron at the first Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival I attended in 2009.  Elin is very sociable, so when we noticed we both had video cameras and tripods, and were looking for clear sight lines, we began to talk and very quickly became friends.  And we’ve continued our friendship ever since.  Because of my own video debacle of 2011, I am indebted to Elin and Flemming Thorbye for the videos of Whitley Bay you will see in the next few postings.

Aside from being a deep-dyed videographer and jazz enthusiast, Elin also has her own blog — a wide-ranging one, called elinshouse  — her own amused perceptions of the world and a steady hand on the camera with which she records them.  Thanks, Elin!

The first set of the weekend belonged to the greatly animated Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by cornetist / vocalist / raconteur Michel Bastide, with a guest appearance by trumpeter / vocalist / Festival Director Mike Durham, as well as the young Norwegian trombonist Kristoffer Kompen; Michel Bascont, clarinet; Martin Seck, piano; J-P Dubois.banjo; Bernard Antherieu, tuba; Raymond Grasier, washboard.  The Hot Antics kicked things off most enthusiastically with a program of music associated with Clarence Williams.

SPANISH SHAWL:

SWEET EMMALINA:

CANDY LIPS:

WILDFLOWER RAG (a solo for pianist Martin Seck):

WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO?:

MY GAL SAL:

More to come!

Tickets for the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party are going fast: click here for details.  Here’s the line-up!

Duke Heitger (USA), Spats Langham (UK), Bent Persson (Sweden), Keith Nichols (UK), Matthias Seuffert Germany), Cecile McLorin Salvant (USA), Michael McQuaid (Australia), Caroline Irwin (UK), Stéphane Gillot (France), Emma Fisk (UK), René Hagmann (Switzerland), Martin Litton (UK), Andy Schumm USA), Rico Tomasso (UK), Jean-François Bonnel (France), Norman Field (UK), Thomas Winteler (Switzerland), Malcolm Sked (UK), Michel Bescont (France), Alistair Allan (UK), Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Richard Pite (UK), Martin Seck (Germany), Jens Lindgren (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK), Josh Duffee (USA), Keith Stephen (UK), Manu Hagmann (Switzerland), Phil Rutherford (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Frans Sjöström (Sweden), Nick Ward (UK) – and Mike Durham (West Jesmond).

Mike Durham says, “All concerts will take place in the four-star Village Hotel’s Inspiration Suite, with cabaret seating: a new band or solo artist brought to you at the comfort of your table every 60 minutes (or less!) from midday to midnight (with a break for dinner). All properly themed – no disorganised “let’s just get together and blow” sessions….. except for the late-night jam-session in the hotel’s Victory Pub.”

TWO MORE PAGES FOR MISTER TOUGH

and the “biography” of Mister Tough:

Thanks to jazz scholar Sonny McGown for these two precious pages.

YES, IT’S THE LAST TIME! WHITLEY BAY 2012

It’s true.  Festival Director – Hot Trumpeter – Singer – Mike Durham tells me that the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (beginning October 25, 2012, with a curtain-raising Thursday night concert at The Sage Gateshead and continuing through Sunday night / early Monday morning, October 28-29, depending) is THE LAST TIME.  (Honey babe.)

And for once, the race is absolutely to the swift: attendance is strictly limited to the first 280 patrons to book online.  The price is £125 (for those outside the United Kingdom, that translated into $140 when I booked a ticket two days ago).  You can purchase your seat through PayPal — or use a credit card — by visiting here.

The lineup of musicians and singers is spectacular: consider these names —

Duke Heitger (USA), Spats Langham (UK), Bent Persson (Sweden), Keith Nichols (UK), Matthias Seuffert Germany), Cecile McLorin Salvant (USA), Michael McQuaid (Australia), Caroline Irwin (UK), Stéphane Gillot (France), Emma Fisk (UK), René Hagmann (Switzerland), Martin Litton (UK), Andy Schumm USA), Rico Tomasso (UK), Jean-François Bonnel (France), Norman Field (UK), Thomas Winteler (Switzerland), Malcolm Sked (UK), Michel Bescont (France), Alistair Allan (UK), Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Richard Pite (UK), Martin Seck (Germany), Jens Lindgren (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK), Josh Duffee (USA), Keith Stephen (UK), Manu Hagmann (Switzerland), Phil Rutherford (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Frans Sjöström (Sweden), Nick Ward (UK) – and Mike Durham (West Jesmond).

And the party is like no other.  Here’s what Mike tells us, “All concerts will take place in the four-star Village Hotel’s Inspiration Suite, with cabaret seating: a new band or solo artist brought to you at the comfort of your table every 60 minutes (or less!) from midday to midnight (with a break for dinner).  All properly themed – no disorganised “let’s just get together and blow” sessions….. except for the late-night jam-session in the hotel’s Victory Pub.”

Here’s some music to order your seats!

GOODBYE TO MISS BARBARA LEA (1929-2011)

Young Miss Lea

The remarkable jazz singer Barbara Lea has left us.  Her dear friend Jeanie Wilson writes, “I am deeply saddened to have to report the death of our own Barbara Lea, “The High Priestess of Popular Song”. She died peacefully yesterday, Monday, December 26, here in Raleigh, North Carolina; I was with her as were my husband, Bill, and our dear friend, Junk. And as most of you already know, Barbara has been battling Alzheimer’s for quite some time. So, “Sleep Peaceful”, dear Barbara… we will miss you but now you are free to sing once again.”

I know that many JAZZ LIVES readers have their own memories of hearing and working with Barbara, which I will share in an upcoming post.  For now, this is the way I and so many others will think of her:

It’s an informal exploration of SKYLARK at the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — where Barbara is backed empathically by tenor saxophonist Mason “Country” Thomas, who also left us in 2011; Larry Eanet, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, bass; Tom Martin, drums.  Thanks to Sflair for the original video and for sharing it with us on YouTube.

A musician who worked and recorded with Miss Lea several times is the fine drummer Hal Smith, who had this to say, “She had a lovely voice, terrific intonation, perfect diction and her voice aged very well.  I had heard that she adopted the last name of “Lea” as a tribute to Lee Wiley.  If that’s true, she deserved to invoke Ms. Wiley’s name. At the recording session she was well-prepared with a list of songs and keys, easy-to-read charts and ideas for routines.  In that respect, and in her pleasant demeanor, she reminded me of another great vocalist — with the last name of Kilgore.”

Saxophonist, pianist, and director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg, also worked with and learned from Barbara: “Barbara Lea passed away this week and the world has lost an exemplary interpreter of 20th century popular music and I’ve lost a dear friend and mentor.

I was driving Benny Carter down Seventh Avenue to a rehearsal years ago and Louis Armstrong came over the radio playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” . Benny’s response was “Listen to that – no bullshit!” And in the generous sense in which Benny meant it, one can transpose the same comment to Barbara’s music, though I’m sure she wouldn’t be happy with that language.

She was above all an intelligent and classy lady, with a gift for discovering the melodic and lyrical essence of a song. We started working together in the late 70’s and continued up to the point her illness made it impossible several years ago.  If I heard her sing one tune, I heard her sing several hundred, because I was first and foremost a fan, and went to as many of her gigs as I could, many times with my parents. The Mr. Tram ensemble we had with Dick Sudhalter and Daryl Sherman was nothing less than a joy. You should have heard the conversations; they were as good as the music! Barbara was incapable of coasting when she sang.  No wonder so many composers, starting with Alec Wilder, were so crazy about her. What a variety of timbres she had, and a variety of ways of phrasing to match the words.  Scatting wasn’t for her, and she was forthright about her opinions, and blessedly empathetic with others who didn’t necessarily agree with her.  There’s much more to be said about her, but for the essence, just listen. It’s ALL there.”

We’ll miss Barbara Lea.

(Thanks to David J. Weiner, Hal Smith, and Loren Schoenberg for their help.)

HOW’S YOUR PARADIDDLE?

Does your paradiddle need work?  Are others around you discussing this problem while you are out of the room?  This might help:

There’s been some skepticism about this drum book: did “the winner of every poll” actually write these exercises or so them?  I can’t say, but books with Dave Tough’s picture on the cover are so rare that this one is worth investigating, even if the eBay price is now higher than two dollars.

A VOTE FOR RED ALLEN . . .

is a vote for exuberance with subtlety beneath the roistering.  And since Henry “Red” Allen used to exhort the audience at New York’s Metropole to applaud his sidemen by saying, “Make him happy!” he is JAZZ LIVES’ way of symbolizing what we hope awaits everyone in 2012.

The photograph below was taken by the fine reedman John “Butch” Smith at New York’s fabled Metropole in 1964. It shows Henry Red working very hard to spread his own kind of musical entlightenment:

But a still photograph can only show so much.  How about bringing Mr. Allen alive, although in glorious black and white?  Thanks to Bobby Hacksaw for alerting me to this YouTube video from 1963, with Red and his rhythm section blazing through CHERRY:

From http://www.whascrusade.org. I learned that the WHAS Crusade for Children has been in operation since 1954, devoted to helping children with special needs in Kentucky and Indiana.  What path brought Red and his quartet to their television studios, I don’t know, but we are certainly thankful that this performance exists.  Henry “Red” Allen lives!

HARRY ALLEN’S JOYOUS FIRST MONDAYS at FEINSTEIN’S

The good music that the Beloved and I heard and saw on the first Monday in December, 2011, still rings in our ears.  And there’s more to come.

The first Monday night of every month has taken on new significance since Harry Allen and his world-class musical friends (courtesy of Arbors Records) have been appearing at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City (540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street, 212-339-4095).

The December show was Harry’s Christmas extravaganza — with notable musicians to keep hackneyed tunes at a safe distance.  For those who dread “New York night clubs” because of imagined high prices, the cover charge for Harry’s Monday nights is twenty dollars a person, and it’s a very warm, unstuffy place — comfortable and friendly.  An excellent value: three hours of totally acoustic jazz.

The first set was devoted to Harry’s quartet, with Rossano Sportiello, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Chuck Riggs, drums.  Everyone was in superb form, and the program floated from a trotting PEOPLE WILL SAY WE’RE IN LOVE to a deeply yearning OVER THE RAINBOW with Harry’s astonishingly yearning Judy Garland coda.  Then came a faster-than-light WHIRLY BIRD, distinguished by Rossano’s playing,mixing Bud Powell and super-stride.  THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS went from romantic to raunchy in only a few minutes, with honors going to Joel Forbes, exploring the mysterious depths of the harmonies, and the set ended with an exuberant tribute to Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU, capped with a Riggs snare-drum solo.  This is a working band, and they were having a fine time.

After a brief break, Harry called some friendly luminaries to the stand for a delightful concert in miniature, adding James Chirillo on acoustic guitar to the original rhythm trio.  Chirillo’s sound (to borrow Whitney Balliett’s words for Freddie Green, “bells and flowers”) was a sweet highlight.  Bob Wilber, in New York for a visit, led off with a medium-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, beginning with an a cappella reading of the verse, then offered LOVE FOR SALE.  Wilber showed that his incredible tone — on his curved soprano — is still glossy: he didn’t miss a step.

Two brothers-in-swing, Jon-Erik Kellso and Randy Sandke, took Wilber’s place to roam through WINTER WONDERLAND, exchanging epigrams and commentaries in the most affectionate, swinging ways.  A tenor trio of Harry, Dan Block, and Scott Robinson had a delightful romp through BLUES UP AND DOWN, each player displaying his singular approach to the blues, with John Sheridan taking Rossano’s place at the piano.  Trombonists John Allred and Tom Artin thought about holiday travel on LET’S GET AWAY FROM IT ALL, with Allred quoting AIN’T CHA GLAD early in his solo.  Harry gathered the troops for an eight-horn PERDIDO that brought back the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions right in front of us.

The closing set, led by John Sheridan, drew on his most recent Dream Band project — also available on an Arbors Records CD, HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS — that depicted the many moods of the holiday — adding Becky Kilgore to the top of the tree.  She began with three less-heard celebrations: Don Sebesky’s HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS, Carroll Coates’ A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS (done as a bossa nova), and a swinging version of Kay Thompson’s THE HOLIDAY SEASON.  Sheridan’s own CHRISTMAS WILL BE A LITTLE LONELY THIS YEAR was a melancholy triumph — the room was hushed and silent, a great tribute.

Becky then called on the masters of holiday music, Irving Berlin and Bing Crosby, for a song originally meant for Thanksgiving but apt all year round, I’VE GOT PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR (her singing so graceful that Scott Robinson stood there, his arms akimbo, admiring every nuance); Scott brought his bass clarinet for a pretty Harry Warren ballad, I KNOW WHY (AND SO DO YOU), which led into an exuberant dismissal, LITTLE JACK FROST GET LOST, and a moody THE DIFFICULT SEASON (an instrumental with touches of the Alec Wilder Octet), and a closing jaunt through SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN.

If you weren’t there, there are a few tangible ways to capture part of the delicious music.  One is John Sheridan’s Arbors compact disc HOORAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  Another is a new du0 of Harry Allen and Rossano Sportiello devoted to the music of Johnny Burke, a friend of Harry’s father.  Burke was the lyricist — but he collaborated on some of the finest songs of the twentieth century, including PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON (the last two given heartbreaking depth on this disc).  The disc is called CONVERSATIONS, and so far it’s available only at live performances, which is a good thing — an inducement to search out Harry and Rossano in person.

You’ll have twelve more chances at Feinstein’s in 2012, because the series will run throughout the year.  The January program will showcase Harry’s “Four Others,” a saxophone quartet inspired by Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers.”  Harry’s original band features three other swinging modernists, Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, Gary Smulyan, plus his original rhythm trio of Rossano, Joel, and Chuck.  The February gala will bring Scott Hamilton to Harry’s side.  Great value and great jazz!

PAY ATTENTION! SOMETHING FOR JAKE HANNA (Dec. 28, 2011 and beyond)

This just in from Maria Judge:

WPKN-FM Bridgeport, Connecticut (89.5 Mhz) will be broadcasting a tribute to Jake on the Carl Frano Show this Wednesday, December 28, 2011, from 1-4 pm EST.  Those outside of the listening area can hear the show online by clicking on the Live Play button in the Listen Now box in the upper left section of the website here.  If you don’t get to hear the show on the 28th, it will be archived on the site.    Many thanks to Joe Corsello for arranging this.  He was invited to be the musical guest but very kindly suggested they instead pay tribute to Jake through his music.

LOST AND FOUND (featuring GRAVITY, HUBRIS, and GENEROSITY)

A long narrative follows, but with a point — for patient readers.

I attended two jubilant jazz parties in November 2011: the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party in England; the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Fest.  Both made me feel like a mountain goat with a video camera, leaping from one figurative musical peak to the next.  I came home from each with a small notebook, its pages filled with personnel and song titles, exclamation points and check marks.  I had recorded twenty-six sets at Whitley Bay, twenty at San Diego.  Since my camera in each case would not hold all the data I was gathering, I carefully transferred it to an external hard drive, one guaranteed for durability.  When I resumed ordinary life in December, that Western Digital drive had nearly four hundred videos on it, which I gazed upon in the same way the miser leers at his treasure in cartoons.  I knew that, come the end of the semester, I would begin to transfer the best performances for my readers.  Could any mishap befall this hoard of gigabytes?  Not to me, I assured myself.  I’m careful.  I know what I’m doing!

Readers even faintly aware of Greek tragedy will be aware of the concept of hubris, or pride unsupported by evidence. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Readers should know that I was not the lone videographer at these two festivals.  At Whitley Bay, my friendly colleagues were Elin Smith and Flemming Thorbye; at San Diego, the high priestess of West Coast hot jazz, Rae Ann Berry.  More about those focused people later.

Now on vacation, with a dining room table in someone else’s house a a makeshift video studio, I set up my tangle of wires and began to transfer the Whitley Bay material — and aimed the first performance at my friend Nancie Beaven, who holds the Hot Antic Jazz Band close to her very substantial heart.  The video had an ornate metal structure in the left of the frame, and it began with the usual HAJB “gab,” but I was pleased with it, as was Nancie:

But Chance comes into our lives, bringing along its sibling Accident, and cousin Gravity.  I tripped over the tangle of wires, not once, but twice, sending the plastic drive crashing to the floor, and when the wreckage was tidied up (superficially), the hard drive whined and blinked, but something in it had been wounded.  I remained calm and didn’t fume — for, after all, getting angry at yourself isn’t all that satisfying.  And I have been practicing my “acceptance” in light of several disappointments in the last few months.

What also tempered my emotions was that I could have prevented this debacle had I paid attention to the quiet counsel of Byron, my computer expert, who had said to me that everything I had on these hard drives and elsewhere should have a separate backup.  The thought made me nervous: I saw my apartment turning, even more, into a storage space for little black plastic boxes — no more clothing and goodbye food and dishes and pots! — in pursuit of data protection, but when the WD box hit the floor, I thought of just how right he had been.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross spent her time characterizing stages that were much more serious, but I think she would have recognized something similar in the emotions I passed through when imagining the loss of what I had captured in those videos.  (Today a local computer expert told me that the drive was dead, and if I wanted to spend over a thousand dollars I could recover the data — a steep price to erase the incident.)  But I knew that I had not been the only person with a camera in the room, and I emailed my videoing-friends to ask if I had their permission to repost a selection of their videos, crediting them, on JAZZ LIVES.  They all generously said YES.  Because of them, my readers will experience some of the delights that we all did.

The morals?

1)  Generosity created results in generosity received.

2)  BACK UP YOUR DATA.  One never knows, do one?

THE JAZZ CORNUCOPIA WITH RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (December 18, 2011)

A few days ago, I re-posted a few videos by this wonderful band  in performance at the Puget Sound Traditional Jazz Society, and I had hopes of more.  Now, thanks to Steve Wright and Candace Brown, the cornucopia has overflowed . . .

As I write this, twenty — twenty — new video performances have emerged on YouTube.  Not only are they notable for good clear sound and clear videography — the band is sweetly spectacular.  The jazz heroes on the stage are Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader;  Chris Tyle, trumpet and vocal; Steve Wright, reeds and vocal; Jake Powell, banjo and guitar; Dave Brown, acoustic string bass (arco and pizzicato); Mike Daugherty, drums and vocal.

I won’t post all twenty here: the cornucopia overwhelms emails and I receive puzzled comments. You can visit Steve Wright’s channel

There, you’ll get the good stuff first-hand: romping ensembles, lyrical solos, swing from the first note, and a rhythm section that just won’t quit . . . but here are three tastes:

a musing, Commodore Records-in-mind JADA:

Who’s that coming down the street?  Looks like a boy from my home town — that’s Charlie Alexander.  How about a surprisingly swinging WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH (all those people are wide awake and cutting a rug in Puget Sound):

Feel like a drive?  Take the Goldkette band — I mean the First Thursday Jazz Band along — no matter how small your car is.  IN MY MERRY OLDSMOBILE (remember, “you can go as far as you like with me”):

I could explain why these performances are so life-enhancing, but you’d gain more by watching them — more than once, perhaps.  Students of what is called “jazz history” in “the academy” should put down their textbooks and enroll for this very lively, totally enlightened intensive workshop in swing: this is music aware of the traditions but happily situated in 2011: nothing antiquarian here.  Not nostalgic — just superb.  And I know “the state of the jazz economy” is just as dismal as you imagine it to be — but this band should be starring at festivals and have a shelf of CDs . . .

Why not?

“WHAT A DAY!” (June 1929: Carl Fenton’s Orchestra with Benny Goodman)

Benny Goodman has been viewed with such prejudice — as a selfish eccentric, a musician devoid of originality, a great “popularizer” of other people’s ideas, a wealthy Caucasian exploiter — that it is time, once again, to listen to what he could create.  Notice the beautifully rounded sound, the easy phrasing, the lyricism (on what is not exactly harmonically demanding material), the graceful swing. . . . years before he was named the King of that same cultural phenomenon.

The record is WHAT A DAY! by Carl Fenton’s Orchestra (I suspect that other fine New York studio musicians are playing in the uncredited personnel here) — an unexceptional song with unambitious lyrics sung by Eddy Thomas.  But listen to our Benny and consider the beauty of what he tosses off so lightly.

This record (and so many others) is the gracious gift of “Atticus70,” the very generous collector-scholar Emrah Erken, whose other fancy is the great beauties of the silent film:

And Happy Christmas, as they say in the UK and Ireland, to all!

HOW DO YOU KEEP THE MUSIC PLAYING?

I don’t celebrate Christmas, but this picture embodies what it might mean at its highest — an occasion for love, immortality, generosity, and art.  The little boy here, now grown up, is Stephen Hester — the noted Red Nichols scholar.  I’ll let him provide the details:

“The picture was taken on December 24, 1958 in our house in Pontiac, Michigan, by my grandfather. (My grandmother was holding my newborn baby brother, off camera.) Yes, that is my mother, me (age 3), and dad.  I tease dad,because of this picture, that he started me before I can remember.  I have been told at the time of this picture my favorite record was Felix The Cat (Whiteman w/Bix).  I do remember at age 5 my favorite record was Red’s O’er The Billowy Sea, which is about the time I did meet Red, at our house.  I remember I was collecting and starting to help dad with the reseach when Red passed in 1965.  That exact copy of Bixieland is still in the collection.  I do have “newer” copies to play, but that one has a special place.”

Steve’s father, Stan Hester — along with Woody Backensto — is responsible for much of what we now know about some eminent but often neglected jazz musicians of the Twenties, Red Nichols and his associates.  Steve told me, “Dad started collecting in 1941. He and Woody started the Nichols research (with Red’s help) the month after I was born.  I have been lucky to have been able to read and study all the correspondence, notes, from them, and all their contacts: bandleaders, musicians, collectors, etc. Many of the musicians and collectors became my friends, among them Joe Tarto, Mannie Klein.”

You might want to consider what this picture suggests.  One whimsical moral is, of course, “It isn’t Christmas without Condon!” and few would disagree.  But there is something larger resonating here.  Give something you hold dear to the people you love, and both gift and giver will transcend time and the calendar.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah to all of you.  May jazz always  give you happiness, and may you find ways to spread happiness through jazz.

ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE TRACKS: GORDON AU and the GRAND STREET SUBWAY STOMPERS plus SWING DANCERS! (Dec. 17, 2011)

I don’t ordinarily get myself down to the Second Avenue stop on the “F” subway line; it is too far off my usual orbit.  But I had very good reasons to be there last Saturday, Dec. 17, 2011, to watch the beautifully attired swing dancers cavort on the platform to the music of several hot bands, my favorite being Gordon Au’s Grand Street [Subway] Stompers.  The GSSS was made up of Gordon, cornet; Michael Gomez, guitar; Matt Koza, clarinet, and Mitchell Yoshida, accordion (on the final video here only), Shael Herman, clarinet (in the plaid shirt).

Here are four videos from the platform-performance, and one from the vintage subway car itself . . .

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’:

I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS:

I FOUND A NEW BABY (one wonders about the causal relationship between this and the previous song):

WINTER WONDERLAND, always a cheerful song even when the temperature is unseasonably warm (it was 59 degrees today in New York on the first day of winter):

A groovy TROUBLE IN MIND in a genuinely rocking subway car:

This post is for Lynn Redmile, happy with her family in the UK, who would have been alternating between dancing and photographing everyone.

“KNOWING YOUR FONDNESS FOR MUSIC”: HOLIDAY WISHES FROM DOC ROSS and JACK TEAGARDEN!

I wouldn’t mind getting this holiday card . . . !

Seasons Greetings and more — 1926 style!

“THE INSANITY HOAX: EXPLODING THE MYTH OF THE MAD GENIUS,” by JUDITH SCHLESINGER

“Has JAZZ LIVES gone crazy?” some of you might ask.  No, even though the book I offer for your consideration might seem to some to have only a tenuous connection to jazz.

But Judith Schlesinger’s new book, THE INSANITY HOAX: EXPLODING THE MYTH OF THE MAD GENIUS, is immensely relevant to the mythological accretions that jazz has had foisted on it for the last century.  And the book is also immensely lively and entertaining.

Any jazz listener might list those jazz musicians celebrated for the irresistible combination of deep creativity and — to some — inevitable mental illness.  Shall we begin with Charlie Parker?  Buddy Bolden.  Then add Leon Roppolo, Cassino Simpson, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk.  A quick scan of “jazz musician” “mental illness” on Google brings up Charles Mingus, Billy Tipton, Rosemary Clooney, right there alongside Virginia Woolf and Vincent Van Gogh.  Let’s not even talk about Billie Holiday, shall we?

These creative artists make good copy, and their “mental instability” has been used as modern-day evidence that Plato was right: to be creative, one must be beyond the “normal” that many people demonstrate.  Schlesinger states it simply: “The mad genius is a beloved cultural artifact, a popular spectacle . . . . It provides the perfect container for every romantic fantasy about both madness and genius–and doesn’t have to be any more precise than that to be useful.  But a fact, it is not.  There is simply no good reason to believe that exceptionally creative people are more afflicted with psychopathology than anyone else.”

What fascinates Schlesinger is not so much arguing about biographical details: were Mozart’s scatological jokes evidence of a disordered mind?  But she is much more intrigued, and sometimes horrified, by the ways that modern “scientists” and “chroniclers” have distorted, invented, appropriated, and misread evidence to make it fit their portrait: Creative = Crazy.  And the misrepresentations are sometimes set in stone: Schlesinger has done all kinds of fascinating homework: her detective work about Beethoven’s “death mask” is a delight.

She is especially drawn to — and sympathetic to — jazz musicians and the burden of half-truth and complete fallacy attached to them, especially posthumously.  She proudly asserts that the creative people she admires are “heroic,” rather than “mentally disabled,” and — without making lists, points us towards the much more stable, well-adjusted figures in the music business who don’t get the press because their narratives can’t be forced into romantic myth.  Consider Milt Hinton, Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane — musicians too busy practicing their craft and having a good time in the process to be Mad Geniuses.

When it comes to the way in which jazz musicians are perceived by psychologists and therapists, the examples Schlesinger finds would be hilarious if they weren’t so appalling.  Did you know that Coltrane’s “excessive practicing” and search for “the perfect mouthpiece” were dead-on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder?  So writes Gregory Wills.  Ask Arnold M. Ludwig’s opinion about Bix Beiderbecke and you get this: Bis had “mental problems” because he had trouble, late in life with his embouchure.

THE INSANITY HOAX shows off Schlesinger’s sharp eye and sharp wit, but she’s more than George Carlin riffing on the absurdities she has read about, observed, and experienced.  Although she has a free-swinging style, the book is no improvisation: it offers thirty-five pages of endnotes and bibliography.  No doubt it will irritate those — patients, academics, therapists, and practitioners — who see the DSM as a sacred book, those who take Kay Redfield Jamison’s simple equation (all great artists are or have been mentally ill to be such great artists) as true.  But it is intelligent, forthright, full of information, and a pleasure to read: one of those books I wished were longer.

You can find out more about the book here.