ON THE BACK OF THE FRONT

One of the pleasures of purchasing used long-playing records (as I have been doing) is reading the liner notes.  I offer samples from two recent purchases for your consideration.

From the 1958 Design THE GOLDEN ERA OF DIXIELAND JAZZ 1887-1937 (a Novato hospice thrift shop, one dollar) which features Pee Wee Erwin, Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, Claude Hopkins, Milt Hinton, and George Wettling — reverberation free of charge:

Get ready for sheer delight . . . Here is happy music.  Even when you’re listening to the blues themes, you can’t help but feel that this is a music played by men who know and feel their art.  This album was conceived and recorded during those hours that immediately precede the dawn.  I was sitting in Child’s restaurant just off Broadway in Manhattan, one morning at about three-thirty.  Two friends and I were arguing some moot point about the old Duke Ellington Band.  Suddenly, one of them said, “There’s the man who can settle this, Claude Hopkins.”  I’d never met Claude, but I knew his work from the old Cotton Club days and I knew that his background in Dixieland Jazz was as fine as any in the business.  Claude sat down with us and sure enough . . . . He knew the answers and then some.  He regaled us with stories about the races he and Ellington used to have in their thirty-mile an hour hot rods, stories of the greats and near greats from New Orleans, KC, Chicago and New York.  He painted a picture of Harlem when jazz was becoming the language of the low and the lordly.  I asked Claude who he thought were the finest sidemen around today and he came up with a lulu of a list.  On drums . . . there is no one who can drive a band like George Wettling.  Recognized as America’s finest jazz drummer, Wettling makes music on the skins.  On trumpet . . . either Bobby Hackett or Pee Wee Erwin . . . Pee Wee appears here . . . at the time Bobby had his own group at New York’s Henry Hudson Hotel.  Personally I prefer Pee Wee’s sound for dixieland.  It has all of the mellow tones your ear likes to hear plus the mirth and joy of a touch of brilliance.  On trombone . . . glum, sad-faced Vic Dickenson.  Vic gets an old fashioned slush bucket sound and no man alive today can gargle a vibrato into his instrument with more raucus [sic] virility.  Buster Bailey on Clarinet.  Listen to the mellowness that Buster achieves.  A real, honest, woody tone.  On Bass . . . for my money, America’s finest Dixieland bass man, Milt Hinton.  Listen to him get pretty music and a firm slapping sound when he takes off in “Saints.”  You’ve got to jump . . . You’ll have to smile . . . and if you can picture Milt slappng away with a cigar drooped from the corner of his mouth, a big happy grin on his face and all the music in the world coming out of the doghouse fiddle, you’ll have a picture of a true dixieland scene.  Finally, Claude mentioned a group of fine Dixieland pianists.  The guy’s too modest.  Natch, we used Claude.  He set up the session.  We went over the tunes.  It was simple.  I wanted basic dixieland, easy to understand, easy to listen to and primarily music that was indicative of the golden era of this great standard bearer of American Music, the years between the heyday of Storyville in old New Orleans and the Goodman era.  That’s the music we recorded.  The sessions took place at four in the morning, after the boys came off their regular jobs.  They were loose, happy and ready and the music indicates their mood.  I’m glad we got these sessions down on tape.  I’m glad you’re getting to hear them.  I can’t bring myself to believe that you’ll ever hear any better Dixieland.

At least that anonymous writer and apparent record producer has some enthusiasm and feeling for the music.  But — in the forest of ellipses — his prose, mixing side-of-the-mouth slang with an approach to the imagined reader that is a little too chummy for my refined taste.  “Get your hand away from my slush bucket and get back to your own doghouse,” I want to tell him.  “Keep your raucus virility in the kitchen where it can’t do any damage.  Natch.”

Sometimes the liner notes contain a little gem.  On the reverse of the Riverside NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER, a 1953 Joe Sullivan record, Sullivan was recorded in conversation with Orrin Keepnews, who obviously asked Joe about his artistic influences:

There was Louis Armstrong and there was Bix, and all that each of them stood for.  To this day I love Bix like I love my right arm.  But I go by way of Louis.

To me, Sullivan’s words show an artist deciding, early on, which path to take, not really saying that one musician “was better” than the other, but making a choice.  And when I began to listen to Sullivan’s playing as a reflection of “by way of Louis,” what I have called in an earlier post his “sweet violence” came into even clearer focus.

All praise for Keepnews for asking the artist what he thought — always a fine idea.

Both recordings are superb, by the way.

May your happiness increase.

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6 responses to “ON THE BACK OF THE FRONT

  1. O for the days when drummers played skins–real ones.

  2. overlooking the purple album cover prose, welcome to the world of analog archaeology!

    Finding desirable jazz-on-vinyl is a worthy and rewarding pursuit and will enhance your dream life and secure yourself buckets of positive karma.

    Now that you are eligible to flop on the truly dark and seemy side, get thee to a record cleaning machine!

  3. I love awful liner notes writing. Never use one word when you can use two. Too bad Hemingway didn’t stop by The Metropole.

  4. He did. You didn’t know? Sat in and sang with Red Allen, called WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, opened his mouth, sang “WRAP!” and walked off the stand into the night.

  5. Mal~

    For the ‘best’ in awful liner notes writing, you must read THE SAGA HISTORY OF JAZZ which appears on a number on the import labels liners. Absolutely awful. I cant find them on line yet, though.

    jOhn

  6. Charlie Parker – the faceless man, for almost no photo­graph of him exists – was the Chaucer, the Spencer, the Shakespeare and the Milton of his own jazz era. But there was Satchmo too, the jazz Andrew Marvel. And Duke Ellington, the genre’s Dante. And each reader may allocate his own ‘jazz greats’ to Goethe, Heine, Moliere, Comeille, and Racine. Anything less would be inade­quate.

    – from: The Saga History of Jazz, sleevenote to 1972 reissue of Parker’s Massey Hall, Toronto conceit recording.

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