I know it’s short notice for anyone who’s not reasonably close to San Francisco . . . but Wednesday night, August 1, 2012, will reverberate with jazz fireworks in Mountain View, California, because Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band will be playing a swing dance party at the Wednesday Night Hop — from 9:30 to midnight.
The participants? Clint on trumpet; Jim Klippert, trombone; Bill Carter, clarinet; Jason Vanderford, guitar; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Tom Wilson, string bass; Steve Apple, drums.
Here’s where you can find out all the essentials: the street address, the admission cost, directions . . . but find your dance shoes and your best Lindy Hop getup and get down there!
Here’s a selection from Clint’s appearance at a Wednesday Night Hop in August 2011. Different personnel for the most part — but Clint’s bands are seismic phenomena: Clint, Jim Klippert, Jason Vanderford will be returning — the rest of last year’s crew were Robert Banics, clarinet; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Sam Rocha, bass and tuba; J. Hansen, drums.
It might seem odd to be thinking about Thanksgiving at the end of July, but this post has very little to do with heavier clothing or sitting down with the family to a traditional holiday meal. In fact, what I’m suggesting might be the way to escape the predictable festivities, or at least to make them festive in a different way with more lively music.
Why not run off to the 33rd annual San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival — beginning on Wednesday night, November 21, 2012, and continuing until Sunday afternoon, November 25? There will be over forty hours of live music — with several bands playing simultaneously in different locations. The location is the comfortable Town and Country Resort and Convention Center, 500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, California 92110. Rates start at $105 per night, and you can call 800-772-8527 or 619-291-7131 to reserve. A badge enabling you to see and hear everything for five days and nights is $95. For more information about the festival, visit here.
But I can hear you saying, “If I’m going to run off from a family gathering, there had better be hot music in profusion to make it worth my while.” No worries, as the children say. How about Katie Cavera, John Gill, the Reynolds Brothers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Uptown Lowdown, the Yerba Buena Stompers, the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, Grand Dominion, Tim Laughlin and Connie Jones and their New Orleans All-Stars, Chloe Feoranzo, Red Skunk Jipzee Swing, Nannette and her Hotsy Totsy Boys, Stephanie Trick, Cornet Chop Suey, Dave Bennett, and many others?
One special attraction — appearing on Friday night only — is Nouveau Stride, which pairs singer Lorraine Feather and pianist Stephanie Trick in a program of compositions by Fats Waller, Dick Hyman, and James P. Johnson — to which the Grammy-nominated Ms. Feather has put original lyrics . . . to be sung to the accompaniment of Stephanie’s romping piano. For more information about this group, visit here.
And as our friend Hal Smith writes, Nouveau Stride will make its debut at San Diego in a multi-media presentation: “The show includes a ‘piano cam’ (enabling the entire audience to watch Stephanie’s flying fingers) and Lorraine’s lyrics projected onto a screen. Also included is a “soundie” of Fats Waller (the soundie was the pre-MTV version of a music video) and an award-winning stride cartoon produced by Lorraine in 2009.”
And guests at the San Diego Thanksgiving Jazz Festival can dine on traditional holiday fare on Thursday night . . .
We savor the rituals . . .
but one can always invigorate the familiar with a new tradition.
Vibraphonist and percussionist Chuck Redd has fine taste, whether he’s leading a small group at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party or — more informally — keeping time on the paper tablecloth with his wire brushes at The Ear Inn. Here’s a sample of the former — with saxophonist Harry Allen, pianist Mark Shane, bassist Richard Simon, and fellow percussionist Ed Metz. On the menu, a Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, a swing perennial that I associate with Lester Young, a Cole Porter love-in-swingtime song from HIGH SOCIETY (Bing sang it to Grace Kelly while Louis played a memorable obbligato . . . Ruby loved it, too), and a hard-bop version of the everlasting blues. Hear for yourself.
IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, composed in 1905 by Williams and Van Alstyne, may have seemed nostalgic even when it first appeared. The lyrics describe some caressing and blushing and a promise of pastoral fidelity although they are now apart. But no one has been thrown out of the Garden.
To establish the song, here’s a 1929 Max Flesicher SCREEN SONGS cartoon — a whole show in itself, with a comic prelude, the cynical vaudeville patter (is the singer Billy Murray?), then two verses, two choruses. The satire of the cartoon jostles the innocence of the lyrics and melody. (As the lyrics describe pastoral pleasures — the birds, bees, and flowers — the sandwich refuses to be eaten, the dachshund is nearly caught in the shrinking building: slapstick proliferates.)
Here’s Duke Ellington’s version from August 15, 1933:
This has been one of my favorite recordings for years, showing once again how beautifully jazz improvisers take the most simple material and make it spacious, relaxing in the freedom that simple melodies and harmonies afford.
It begins with the reed section stating the first notes of the melody against a simple stride figure from Ellington’s piano — a stripped-down Willie “the Lion” Smith motif, perhaps? — that suggests both a vaudeville vamp and someone ambling down the street. The reeds and piano (over Wellman Braud’s happily prominent string bass) converse in a most pastoral manner . . . suggesting that a sweet band is taking the stand (although Duchin could never have managed that piano figure with such swing) until ominous rumblings are heard in the background.
Did a large dog make its way into the Brunswick studios? No, it’s just Cootie Williams with his plunger mute. I think in the second half of the chorus either Freddy Jenkins or Rex Stewart takes over to continue the sweet satire. If, in the first thirty seconds, the Jungle Band was peeking sideways through the sweet foliage, the second half of the first chorus is more raucously comic — the apple tree gets connected to horse racing, to a repeated blues phrase, and the trumpet soloist ends his chorus with what sounds like a genuine guffaw. Obviously more than “the dull buzz of the bee” is evident here.
So far, by the way, one might think this a small band recording — a three-piece rhythm section, a reed section, and one or two trumpeters at most. None of the annunciatory “big band” power of trading sections.
The next eight bars suggest that satire — or at least a distinctively mocking voice — has taken the upper hand. Could anyone mistake the half-muted plunger sound of Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, offering his own wry commentary on what exactly might be going on in the wildwood — certainly blushing and caressing are the least of it, for the imagined lovers have given full vent to their animal passions! Then Tricky (in the next eight bars) seems to jam his plunger mute fully into the bell of his horn, sounding like another musician completely, ending his chorus with a huge guffaw or Bronx cheer.
So far we’ve had the counterpoint between the decorous (although swinging) reeds delineating the melody and the much naughtier brass voices. Ellington saves his most dramatic soloist for the next chorus — the golden sound of Johnny Hodges, turning this simple melody into a blues, then adding a Louis-inspired upwards phrase to move us completely away from melodic embellishment. There is no satire here — rather a mixture of the blues and a dramatic aria.
One more chorus remains. What sounds like the whole ensemble (did Ellington have all his thirteen players in the studio for this or was it a smaller band?) — muted brass playing staccato phrases, supported by the reed section . . . but wait! A beautiful embroidery of woody, swooping phrases (“that’s Barney Bigard on clarinet / you ain’t never heard nothing like him yet”) decorates the clipped phrasing. That phrasing, to my ears, is so reminiscent of music for a tap-dance routine that I wonder if Ellington began playing this piece in theatres for a group like the Four Step Brothers.
And after a decorous, rather formal ending, the piece closes with a reiteration of those brass mockeries, doo-wahs that look backwards to the Jungle Band and IT DON’T MEAN A THING. Whatever happened under the Old Apple Tree might have been less nostalgic, in Ellington’s imagination.
On paper, this is a very simple series of inventions: the reed section (and then the brass) keeps stating a pared-down version of the melody, while a small number of soloists improvise over it. But what a variety of sounds! And although I may have heard this recording several hundred times, and I know who and what is coming next, it never fails to be a delightful surprise. No drama in volume, just a beautiful series of dance-vignettes celebrating individual sounds.
Twelve years later, Ellington returned to the piece and offered it regularly as part of his 1945 radio broadcasts from theatres. One such version, recorded on May 26 in Chicago, made its way onto a V-Disc, which is how we have it here. The band is larger: Rex Stewart, Shelton Hemphill, Taft Jordan, Cat Anderson (tp) Ray Nance (tp,vln,vcl) Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Claude Jones, Lawrence Brown (tb) Jimmy Hamilton (cl,ts) Johnny Hodges (as) Otto Hardwick (as,cl) Al Sears (ts) Harry Carney (bar,cl,b-cl) Duke Ellington (p) Fred Guy (g) Junior Raglin (b) Sonny Greer (d).
The outlines of the original performance are still visible, but the whole recording has a rather leisurely — even lazy — feel to it, as if this was a piece that Ellington’s band didn’t have to work too hard to perform:
And just in case you’d like another taste of the Apple . . . here’s my own personal Paradise, a sublime quintet:
From the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party, a little interlude from Bucky, Frank, and Chuck — full of feeling and swing.
THESE FOOLISH THINGS:
Bucky loves to play Django Reinhardt’s NUAGES, making those clouds become ominous, stormy. But this time he prefaces it with ninety seconds of a piece whose title has proven elusive, even to my Song Sleuths. I’m betting it’s Chopin or a Forties movie theme. Any better answers?
Very few jazz parties have their own big band — but the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party had this one, a well-rehearsed swinging one led by the engaging trumpeter / vocalist Joe Gransden. Here are a few highlights from their feature set last April.
DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME:
WILD WOMEN DON’T HAVE THE BLUES, with convincing testimony by Francine Reed on this still-viable sermon from Ida Cox:
The first song is famous — and someone loved and played this sheet music:
Mildred even autographed another copy:
I couldn’t find any evidence that Mildred had ever recorded this song, but for those of you who don’t know it, here’s a sultry 2011 version by Tamar Korn with Mona’s Hot Four: Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Gordon Webster, piano; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, bass:
As a cornetist and bandleader, Ed Polcer is both amazingly durable (could running marathons have anything to do with it?) and beloved. He’s done so much to keep swinging jazz alive and well that we all thank him. And the Atlanta Jazz Party made it official in 2012 by giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award — with a filmed tribute and hot music with surprise guests from the Family Polcer.
Here’s J. Scott Fugate’s heartfelt film:
Scott says, “This video was produced on the Friday night of the party – after filming a few sets of music and getting testimonials from the musicians and audience – and it premiered to a live audience during the Saturday evening set to serve as an introduction, and set the stage as to why Ed was receiving this Lifetime Achievement Award.”
And Scott’s other YouTube videos can be seen here.
Here’s the musical part of the celebration, featuring Ed and a young trumpeter who calls himself Ben Polcer; a sweet singer named Judy Kurtz; trombonist Russ Phillips; clarinetist Allan Vache; pianist / singer Mark Shane; bassist Frank Tate; drummer Ed Metz:
Three recent CDs from the George H. Buck family of labels are unusual sound-pictures of the riches of New Orleans jazz.
GEOFF BULL IN NEW ORLEANS (GHB BCD 203) is a CD reissue of trumpeter Bull’s first American session (October 1977, first issued December 1999). Although Bull says that his first influences were George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, the music he made at Preservation Hall on this recording is far from what we would expect: light, floating, subtle.
A good deal of this is due to his beautiful playing, at times reminiscent of Bunk at his most lyrical (think of the American Music trios with Don Ewell); Bull can also sound like Marty Marsala or Henry “Red” Allen, but he is his own man, with a relaxed conception. Making this session even more memorable is clarinetist Raymond Burke, free to roam in the front line alongside Bull. Bassist James Prevost is a melodic swinger, and the rhythm section is completed by two strong individualists: Sing Miller, piano and vocal*; Cie Frazier, drums.
Rather than choose a program of Preservation Hall favorites, Bull and friends opted for pretty tunes not often played: PECULIAR / DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / ONE FOR THE ROAD (a leisurely blues) / I’M NOBODY’S BABY / ALL ALONE / NEVERTHELESS / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME* /JEEP’S BLUES / ZERO (I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO) / THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN* / LET JESUS FIX IT FOR YOU* / HONEY – WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM*.The results are sweet thoughtful jazz, conversational music that musicians play for their own pleasure.
My own Geoff Bull tale is musically rewarding: I hadn’t heard him play before encountering him (unbeknownst to me) in an after-hours jam session during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival. Here’s his performance (with Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys) of MAMA INEZ — Geoff’s rangy, relaxed lyricism is a standout:
Two volumes of rare, previously unheard material from producer Joe Mares’ archives (he was the younger brother of trumpeter Paul) are fascinating, and not only for their rarity (GHB BCD 522 and 530, available separately). Almost all of the material is in excellent fidelity, and this selection from Mares’ collection — which, when transferred to CD, filed twenty-seven discs — comes from concerts and local clubs as well as radio broadcasts between 1948 and 1953. Students of New Orleans jazz will be thrilled by new material from their heroes, captured live; others will simply find the music energetic, varied, and refreshing.
Volume One begins with the hilarious HADACOL RAMBLE — with an ensemble vocal chorus — that is somewhere between folk-song, medicine show, down-home comedy, and vaudeville routine advertising the miraculous benefits of Hadacol, a New Orleans patent medicine apparently far more efficacious than Geritol or Serutan.
Other delights on this disc include appearances by Johnny Wiggs, Irving Fazola, Bujie Centobie, Raymond Burke, and Dr. Edmond Souchon. The repertoire is often familiar, but the musicians play INDIANA (for instance) as if it had not been worn out by decades of bandstand tedium. The songs are HADACOL RAMBLE / HADACOL RAMBLE (vocal) / I’M GOIN’ HOME / BASIN STREET BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / TIN ROOF BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SAVOY BLUES / THAT’S A PLENTY / HIGH SOCIETY / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BILL BAILEY — and the collective personnel is Sharkey Bonano, Tony Dalmado, George Hartman, Johnny Wiggs, Pinky Vidalcovich, Irving Fazola, Harry Shields, Raymond Burke, Bujie Centobie, Julian Laine, Emile Christian, Jack Delaney, Roy Zimmerman, Bill Zalik, Burt Peck, Stanley Mendelsohn, Frank Federico, Edmond Souchon, Sherwood Mangiapane, Chink Martin, Arnold Loyocano, Johnny Castaing, Fred King, Roger Johnson, Monk Hazel, Abbie Brunies — a fine mix of veterans and less-familiar players — but everyone solos with fine brio and no one gets lost in the ensemble.
The second volume is equally good — with most of the same players remaining. (This selection adds Tony Almerico, Tony Costa, and Lester Bouchon.) Three standouts are the fine Stacy-inspired pianist Jeff Riddick (heard on seven selections), inspired work from drummer Ray Bauduc (on five), and Jack Teagarden — whose performance of BASIN STREET BLUES is especially inspired and happy, contrary to my initial expectations.
The songs are CLARINET MARMALADE / ALICE BLUE GOWN / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE /PECULIAR / THE LAND OF DREAMS / INDIANA / SHE’S CRYING FOR ME /MISSOURI TWO BEAT / BASIN STREET BLUES / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / TIN ROOF BLUES / MARIE / HIGH SOCIETY / I’M A DING DONG DADDY / I’M GOIN’ HOME.
If you find yourself tired of routine performances of the “classic” repertoire, these three discs will be a refreshing corrective.
I’ve just learned that there are a few tickets still available for what promises to be a romping swing extravaganza this coming Saturday, July 28. Don’t miss this!
Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Nicki Parrott (string bass, vocals) will swing out with Hal Smith (drums) and Stephanie Trick (piano) in concert on Saturday, July 28, beginning at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael — that’s in Angelico Hall, at is 50 Acacia Avenue. Tickets are $30: purchase HERE.
I have it on good authority that the lady pictured below, the Zucchini Queen of the East Bay, will be there as well. She always buys two tickets.
Here’s a sample of what the audience — mammalian or plant-based — can look forward to:
Some pleasurable experiences evaporate almost as soon as they’ve ended. But July 22, 2012, was our third consecutive visit to Mal Sharpe’s Sunday afternoon gig (3-6 PM) at The No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) and the pleasure was as powerful as ever.
Mal remains a solid gutty player and his comedic improvisations (involving Thanksgiving, zippers, the NBC Red Network) are as fresh and unbalanced as ever. But he shines greatly as a trombonist and lively singer. Those who think of him only as a radio and television personality would be surprised at his deep immersion in hot jazz.
To Mal’s right was the jazz critic and reedman Richard Hadlock, floating behind the beat or keening on his straight soprano. In the middle was the cornetist who could lead the troops into battle with never a qualm — someone capable of great subtleties and shadings, too — Leon Oakley. In the back were swinging regulars Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Carmen Cansino, drums — with the eloquent bassist and eager swing singer Sam Rocha. A band to conjure with!
After a holiday-themed introduction, the band swung into a version of LONESOME ROAD. (It was a highly inappropriate soundtrack — the path to the No Name Bar was sunny, filled with people, and one could feast on Thai or Mexican cuisine, fish and chips, ice cream, or my choice — spicy nasturtium blossoms. I saw no one trudging under a heavy load, but it was still a good opener.)
A nearly perverse defiance seemed behind the second song choice, too. July, warm, sunny? No, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:
Some people in the audience were visiting from Indiana, and I had hopes that Mal would call ALABAMMY BOUND or THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but all turned politely respectful as the band swung into BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:
Laying bare his soul (but keeping his green hat on), Mal called for I’M CONFESSIN’:
If Mal could Confess, it was only right that Sam could sing about ROSETTA:
The No Name Bar serves drinks that are some distance from a pot of Earl Grey, but Mal’s version of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA was suitably hot and sweet:
YELLOW DOG BLUES connected neatly with Leon’s deep interest in steam trains:
One of the young women in the audience who had come from the Canary Islands, directly, it seemed, to 757 Bridgeway, was named Maria: a good reason to call Berlin’s MARIE, even if Bunny was not in the house:
Everyone got serious for an impassioned BLACK AND BLUE, so strongly identified with Louis, Fats, and Andy Razaf:
The somber mood was quickly dispelled by Mal’s romping though an accusatory YOU RASCAL YOU, called late enough in the session so that none of the patrons would stalk out into the sunlight, offended, too early:
And Mal and the Big Money in Jazz Band told us it was time to go home with another Berlin classic, THE SONG IS ENDED:
But only for a week, as Fred Robbins used to say at the end of the 1944-45 Eddie Condon Town Hall broadcasts. And Mal brings the Big Money in Jazz Band to the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco every Saturday afternoon, and there’s a once-a-month Thursday gig at Armando’s in Martinez . . . as well as other spectaculars unknown to JAZZ LIVES but worth investigating.
These guitar duets created at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Party were a touching display of the great harmony created by the best jazz players. I don’t simply mean that Bucky and Matt arrived at the same chord progressions at the same time: knowing them as I do, such skill would be expected.
No, I mean the greater harmony and generosity displayed — wordlessly — through this set of beautiful intertwining lines and chords, each of the two masters passing the lead back and forth, neither of them making the other one subservient. All that matters is the music that can be made as a result of such a friendly egalitarian approach.
Claude Thornhill’s atmospheric theme, SNOWFALL:
A quiet frolic on ROSETTA:
A lovely exploration of STARDUST:
SWEET GEORGIA BROWN — perhaps in honor of the state?:
A tender GOOD-BYE:
Creative improvised music, without fanfare or fireworks — just subtle mastery. Two great minds, taking their own ways to arrive at the same end.
I know it’s wise to live in the moment. The time we rush away we don’t get back. But there is a lot to be said for having something to look forward to. I don’t have a 2013 wall calendar yet, but the first thing I will put on it will be
And the punctual folks at the Bash have even posted a list of the bands and musicians who will be playing that weekend. Here goes:
The Reynolds Brothers, The Pieter Meijers Quartet featuring Banu Gibson, The Au Brothers Jazz Band, Danny Coots, Jeff Barnhart, High Sierra, Big Mama Sue Quartet, Eddie Erickson, Blue Street Jazz Band, Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, John Cocuzzi/ Allan Vaché Swing All-Stars, Crown Syncopators, Gonzalo Bergara Quartet, Ivory & Gold, Old Friends, The Original Wildcat Jass Band, Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Titan Hot Seven, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Yve Evans & Company. And an assortment of youth bands and (I am sure) more than a few surprises.
The 2013 Musician of the Year will be the deserving and much-loved Howard Miyata.
Rumors that Walter Page, Hot Lips Page, Bob Helm, Herschel Evans, Mildred Bailey, Ann Sothern, Joan Blondell, and Myrna Loy will be sitting in are so far unsubstantiated. I will let you know the details as they appear.
Anyone ready for a Bash? I have a sentimental attachment to the Jazz Bash by the Bay — at my first and second Monterey Bashes, I had the time of my life. . . You can too!
Here’s the good news. What many of us have only read about in discographies exists: discs preserving thirty minutes of a Village Vanguard jam session, overseen by Ralph Berton, then broadcasting jazz on the air on New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.
And thanks to the Library of Congress, National Public Radio, and the tireless Franz Hoffmann, we can hear two minutes and thirty-six seconds of a jump blues, caught in the middle of Lester’s solo. The sound is good; the discs were well-preserved.
The less good news is that the NPR commentator (perhaps unconsciously modeling himself on Alistair Cooke) talks over the music at the start and it is such a brief excerpt. But it gives one hope for more glorious jazz archaeology:
Thank you, Lester, Shad (trumpet); Higgy (trombone); Sammy Price (piano); Doc West (drums); Ralph Berton; anonymous WNYC engineer / recordist; the Library of Congress; National Public Radio; Franz Hoffmann.
If you remember depictions of jazz in classic films, competition is always key. One trumpet player plays higher, faster, louder: he is crowned the New King of Jazz and the pretenders to the throne slink away into the night. Some of the greatest players saw the bandstand as a place where they could prove themselves Reigning Monarch. Wiser ones understand that harmony is the key: beautiful teamwork makes for beautiful music.
This friendly enlightenment was enacted in front of our eyes on Sunday morning, April 22, 2012, at the Atlanta Jazz Party — at an hour that most musicians only recognize under certain kinds of duress. But everyone played angelically. . . and brotherly love came out through their instruments. No cutting contest here between trumpeters Duke and Jon-Erik, friends for a long time, and the rest of the band followed suit:
An easy-rocking YELLOW DOG BLUES:
I GOT IT BAD — music for the ages:
TIGER RAG, not too fast:
Beyond category, beyond commentary, a community of eloquent souls.
Sometimes the fabled past, unearthed, falls short of our expectations. The rare recordings of the memorable band occasionally seem small: “Is that what we were waiting for all these years?” we ask.
But one disc by Ev Farey’s Bay City Jazz Band (TradJazz Productions CD 2123) has been a delight rather than a disappointment.
I first became interested in this music as after reading Jim Leigh’s insightful and witty memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE — where he writes about this gig at the Sail ‘N. And in the wake of Jim’s recent death, I have been listening even more to this disc — with great pleasure.
The band is led by cornetist Ev Farey (someone still playing beautifully — I can testify to this from seeing him in person just a few weeks ago); Jim on trombone; Tito Patri, banjo; Art Nortier, piano; Walt Yost, string bass . . . . and the remarkable Bob Helm on clarinet.
Some bands conspicuously exert themselves, as if they had to get our attention — but the 1958 Bay City Jazz Band knew how to take its time, to be intense without strain. An easy-rocking momentum dominates the disc, whether the band is emulating Oliver on SNAKE RAG or building slow fires under RICHARD M. JONES BLUES and RIVERSIDE BLUES. No one gets much out of the middle register; there are no long solos. The emphasis is on a communal ensemble and each selection moves along on its own swinging path. But the music is bright, imaginative, with no one tied to the original recordings.
The mood overall is lyrical — I found myself admiring Farey’s gentle, down-the-middle melodic embellishments, his singing tone, his amiable gliding motion. Helm has long been celebrated as a nimble soloist but his ensemble playing doesn’t sound like anyone else’s (except perhaps his own version of Dodds and Simeon.) Leigh’s concise, homegrown ardor fits in neatly. On recordings of this sort, often the front line and the rhythm section seem to be running on approximately parallel tracks — the two trios meet at the start and end of selections. Not so here.
The repertoire comes from an imagined 1926 Chicago, with an emphasis on early Louis with a sideways glance at Morton and contemporaries: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE; JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES; HOUSE OF DAVID BLUES; GEORGIA BO BO; NEW ORLEANS STOMP; SMOKEY MOKES; GUT BUCKET BLUES; SAN; MECCA FLAT BLUES; COME BACK SWEET PAPA; SAN; SKID-DAT-DE-DAT; WILLIE THE WEEPER; MILENBERG JOYS. Turk’s tribute to Helm, BROTHER LOWDOWN, is here, as is another Murphy discovery, GOT DEM BLUES, an 1897 composition believed to be the earliest published blues.
And in case you were wondering about the sonic quality of 1958 tapes, they were recorded close to the band and have been well-treated, so the music comes through nicely.
One of the particular bittersweet pleasures about this issue is that Jim Leigh wrote the notes. Here’s an excerpt:
The music here can speak for itself. There is quite a lot of tape wound on the band during my time on board, and this is some of the very best. Helm would not have been comfortable to hear it said, but he is the star as he had been three years earlier with our ElDorado JB, as he was so often, with no matter whom. As always, it is impossible to say whether he was more brilliant as a soloist or an ensemble player; it is all one pure stream of music and there was no virtue he valued more highly than what he called continuity. From having been lucky enough to play with the man many times in different groups, my impression is still deep that Helm’s presence on the stand invariably brought out the best in his band mates. Not through competitiveness, but rather the joy he communicated and the sheer pleasure of listening to/playing with such a musician.
To hear samples from a wide range of the TradJazz Productions CDs — featuring Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Hal Smith, Claire Austin, Darnell Howard, Leon Oakley, Jim Leigh, Frank Chace, Bud Freeman, Clint Baker, Earl Scheelar, Russ Gilman, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, and others, click here.
To purchase LIVE! AT THE SAIL’N and learn about the Trad Jazz Production label’s other issues, click here. (I understand that there’s a new Leigh CD, just released . . . . more about that soon.)
The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have. But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon. Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.
Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas. One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:
My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous. There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well. Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.
Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.
The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface. His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived! Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool. What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry. But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them. Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent. His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit. Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”
A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object. And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed. The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.
Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.” Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.
I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.
Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often. The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience. IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.
That song might well have been Joe’s choice. I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance. I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it. And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody. (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)
Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:
If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.
Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme. Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me. It comes from my heart.” Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME. Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.
Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.
When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge. A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?” Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes. The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.
Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time. Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing. I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*. Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room. Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett). And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.
It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in. Joe returns, declamatory and delicate. Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.
I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate. His playing still moves me. Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work. There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy. But there was only one Joe Thomas.
Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN. These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!
*About Pete Brown’s double-time section. I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too. Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced? (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)
It was a sunny afternoon in Sausalito, California, Sunday, June 15, but I and enlightened souls chose the semi-darkness of the No Name Bar (757 Bridgeway) from 3-6 PM for the good hot music and sweet ballads and occasional hijinks of trombonist / philosophical wanderer Mal Sharpe and the Big Money in Jazz Band. It was fun, and often even more memorable than that.
Incidentally, yelp.com lists the No Name Bar as a “dive bar,” but as one of the patrons said, “I know dive bars, and this is no dive bar.” The No Name is rather too clean and congenial to qualify . . . sorry!
Mal had with him Paul Smith, string bass; Carmen Cansino, drums; Si Perkoff, keyboard and vocals; Tom Schmidt, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Andrew Storar, trumpet and vocals: a very cohesive group, as you will shortly find out.
People who might only know Mal from his many public lives might be unaware of his work as a jazz trombonist and singer. In the first of those roles, he is a fine ensemble player — simple, uncluttered, propulsive; as a soloist he emulates Vic Dickenson and Dicky Wells, happily! Paul Smith is a subtle bassist whose time and taste are delightful; his solos are concise and tasty, and the band rests easily on his foundation. Drummer Carmen Cansino was new to me, but she’s a wonderfully attentive drummer who catches every musical cue and never gets in the way: her solos have the snap of Wettling or Leeman — a series of well-placed epigrams. Si Perkoff’s harmonies are supportive, his improvisations eager but never garrulous: he’s a witty, relaxed player with Monkish edges.
The clarinet, by its very nature, inspires some of the most experienced players into unedited exuberance. Tom Schmidt’s phrases are neat constructions; his sweet / hot alto playing would make Charlie Holmes very happy. I knew Andrew Storar as the lead trumpet in Don Neely’s Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, but was unprepared for how fine a small-band soloist he is — with a graceful, stepping approach and a burnished tone reminiscent of Doc Cheatham.
Andrew, Sy, and Tom are also first-rate singers . . . with markedly different styles. These six players blend marvelously as a unit — the band rocked through three sets without a letup.
Mal is a sharp-edged improvisatory comedian (he doesn’t tell jokes; he invents situations and then builds them into wonderfully unbalanced edifices) who plays with and off of the crowd.
Here are some of the highlights of another Sunday in the bar with Mal.
A strolling ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with a vocal that emphasizes the importance of proper refuse recycling:
Mal had created an extended comedy about one Randy Mancini, and other unrelated Mancinis were in the house (that’s Virgina having her photo taken with the band) so MOON RIVER, with a sweet vocal from Andrew, was just the ticket:
Take you down to New Orleans! BOURBON STREET PARADE:
And Si reminds us that most everyone Wants A Little Girl. Or boy. Or someone to share popcorn with:
Keeping the romantic mood, Mal offers SWEET LORRAINE in honor of Nat and Maria Cole:
More New Orleans cuisine — although not for the lactose-intolerant — ICE CREAM:
A hot version of DINAH:
Andrew Storar favors the singing of Dean Martin, and honors him without copying, on EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY:
Turning the No Name Bar into Rick’s wasn’t easy — the carpenters had to work feverishly — but Si delivers AS TIME GOES BY in a more jocular fashion than the last Dooley Wilson:
And to send everyone out into the sun with just a tinge of harmless malice (Lorna in the audience jumped when Mal said those dark words to her . . . ) here’s YOU RASCAL YOU, sung by Tom and Mal:
I know where the GPS will be pointing me next Sunday. In fact, I think I already know how to get to 757 Bridgeway without the GPS, and given my directional skills, that is the highest tribute I can pay Mal and the Big Money in Jazz All-Star Orchestra. And don’t forget to say GOOD NIGHT, PROVINCETOWN. We are, after all, on the air.
Thanks to David Weiner, I have spent some time enjoying the cover portraits (some of them became iconic) from this site that specializes in older magazines and comic books. For sale, of course. Connoisseurs of antiquarian pulchritude may enjoy the display of black-and-white cleavage, but here are four portraits that caught my attention.
Mildred Bailey and dachshunds, one harmonizing, perhaps during a Petrillo recording ban. Were they rehearsing SING FOR YOUR SUPPER?:
Ralph Marterie and another trumpet player:
Benny Goodman and Martha Tilton . . . you explain this one to me, please:
And finally, Bill and Ruth Reinhardt of Chicago’s JAZZ LTD., and a somewhat frail-looking Sidney Catlett, after his heart attack:
Late July lends itself to a kind of peaceful slowing-down. You can happily sit in a canvas chair, facing the garden, and watch the zucchini grow more monstrous by the hour. You could watch the little birds skitter across the sand at your favorite beach. You can make ratatouille.
All these pleasures are divine (although the zucchini can terrify) but they can be visited at your leisure. I want to remind JAZZ LIVES readers who live in the Bay Area that a midsummer pleasure is coming to San Rafael on July 28 — like an eclipse, it will be here for a short time and once it’s gone . . .
Four extraordinary musicians will be having their own little jazz party. You’re invited!
Rossano Sportiello (piano) and Nicki Parrott (string bass, vocals) will swing out with Hal Smith (drums) and Stephanie Trick (piano) in concert on Saturday, July 28, beginning at 5 PM at Dominican College in San Rafael — that’s in Angelico Hall, and the street address is 50 Acacia Avenue. Tickets are $30 apiece, and can be purchased here. Or you can call 1-800-838-3006, extension 1. Don’t wait! All proceeds from this concert will go to the Dominican College’s piano fund . . . they’ve bought a nine-foot Bosendoerfer, which is always a great thing.
So back away from that grill. Put down that mojito. Only for a moment, mind you. We hope to see you there!
Or, for the visual learners in the house, here’s your choice.
In May 2012, I visited the National Underground on East Houston Street in New York City to hear John Gill’s National Saloon Band play a few glorious sets, with music ranging from Chicago jazz of the Twenties to Bing Crosby in the Thirties to Jimmie Rodgers . . . see the expansive range of John and the band here and here.
The management of the National Underground might not have had the most solid understanding of what John’s audience would have understood as appropriate background music — but they did the best they could for “older Americana”: a Dean Martin compilation CD.
I always thought Martin was vastly underrated as a swinging singer, and recall with pleasure the words of the late John S. Wilson, jazz critic for the New York Times (he had a seminal radio program on WQXR-FM, which began with Ellington’s ACROSS THE TRACK BLUES — evidence of Wilson’s deep good taste): he wrote that Martin deserved to record with the best jazz background then possible — a small band featuring Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor. (I think that band could have made Raymond Massey swing, but no matter.) It never happened, and I didn’t have any sense that Dean Martin had actually recorded with a swinging background.
The compilation CD went through the familiar Martin recordings and then arrived at one new to me, a song that borrows elements from a half-dozen songs, not the least of them being I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER. This lyrical conceit is more vindictive than lonesome, addressed to a presumably unfaithful or duplicitous lover, I’M GOING TO PAPER MY WALLS WITH YOUR LOVE LETTERS. But listen closely to the band:
The opening ensemble reminds me of the Rampart Street Paraders — neatly “arranged Dixie,” in the manner of Matty Matlock or Billy May, with the string bass playing in two, a descending “Dixieland” figure scored for the horns, then a clarinet obbligto making its way in as the chorus continues — it could be Matlock or two dozen other players to my ears. After Martin finishes his first chorus, things get looser and more heated. Is that Dick Cathcart on trumpet? Clyde Hurley? And the trombonist, expertly maneuvering around in the middle and low section of the ensemble, could be Moe Schneider — lacking the violent swashbuckling of Abe Lincoln.
But wait! There’s more!
At 1:27,more or less, the veil of polite behavior lifted, the businessman’s-Dixie got put aside, and the Masters came out to play. To my ears, the drummer is Nick Fatool, the trombonist Lou McGarity (based on the shouting entrance into the solo). This deliverance lasts less than thirty seconds, but it’s a wonderful surprise. (And — so reminiscent of the 1928-31 “hot dance”records that had a peppy orchestral rendition of a danceable melody, then a winning but restrained vocal chorus — with a fiery eight or sixteen bars of jazz improvisation in the last chorus . . . if the prospective buyer had gotten that far, the sale was complete and Mother or Father were not going to scared off by some unbridled devil’s music.)
The closing chorus is slightly more emphatic than the first, but it’s fairly clear that the players have gone back to the manuscript paper: the whole recording, presumably from the middle Fifties, has a sweetly nostalgic air, harking back to Bing Crosby and the John Scott Trotter small groups.
I confess that what has appeared above has very little solid evidence to support it. I could find no hard evidence of personnel, recording date, and location: the only evidence I have is that the song was recorded by The Ravens and the Andrews Sisters . . . my guess is that this order is right. If anyone knows more than I have offered here, please chime in. Until then, I invite you to savor Martin, the band, and that brief hot interlude in the middle. Eckhart Tolle tells us that it is not our true work to name the beautiful bird or plant that we encounter in our travels, but to enjoy it . . . so if it turns out to be someone entirely unknown to me on drums, on trombone, I will be surprised but I will live through it.
And this post is for the fine trumpeter and subtle singer Andrew Storar, who told me two days ago that Dean Martin was his favorite.