Monthly Archives: September 2012

THE SOUNDS OF MUSIC: PLEASING SHOCKS FROM PAPA JOE, LITTLE LOUIS, BIX, KID ORY, and THEIR FRIENDS

By the time I started listening seriously to jazz, King Oliver had been dead for almost thirty years, Bix nearly forty.  And every year that I delved deeper into the music, more of the original players died.  So recordings became the only way for me to encounter many players, singers, and bands.

I first heard King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band on microgroove vinyl reissues on the Milestone and Epic labels; the Wolverine sessions likewise.  I had read about these records in books about jazz and the musicians had described them reverently (Louis speaking lovingly of his musical father to Richard Meryman and Larry L. King; Richard M. Sudhalter writing about Bix, and so on).

But the sounds that came through the phonograph speaker were disappointing.  Peggy Lee had not yet sung IS THAT ALL THERE IS? but her words would be appropriate.  I could distinguish cornets and clarinets,  banjos and pianos, but it was like putting my head underwater.  The sound could be made loud but it was impossible to make it clear.  Some of my reaction, of course, was the result of my own training in listening to live music and records of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — clear, electrically recorded, bright.

Eventually I got better at extracting the music from acoustic recordings, better at “filling in” what I imagined the original bands sounded like in the studio.  But the Creole Jazz Band and the Wolverines were always at a distance.  It was rather like hearing someone describe transcendent spiritual experiences I hadn’t had.

Until now.

I know I am coming late to this particular party, but five compact discs issued in the past few years have been astonishing musical experiences.  The first set, KING OLIVER: OFF THE RECORD, presents all the 1923 recordings by the Creole Jazz Band — originally issued on Gennett, OKeh, and Paramount.  37 tracks on two CDs, with all the alternate takes, everything in chronological order, with a beautifully detailed / scholarly set of liner notes.

(A word about the liner notes for these CDs — writer, scholar, trombonist David Sager deserves a round of applause with a hug after for his candor.  Most liner-note writers know that their job is to say every note is a masterpiece, but Sager praises the high points and also honestly notes when things are ever so slightly collapsing.  Hooray for objective listening, even to hallowed masterpieces!)  Beautiful rare photographs and newspaper clippings, too — pages to get lost in.

But all this wouldn’t mean much if the sound was murky or overly processed.  (Some issues of the Oliver band had been made into “stereo,” shrill on the left and thumpy on the right, a bad idea for sure.)

The sound that comes out of the speaker from these CDs is bright without being fraudulent.  One can hear the individual instruments in a way not previously possible.  I can actually HEAR the interweaving of Papa Joe and Louis on cornets; I can get an idea of how the ensemble parts twined around each other.  Without hyperbole, I hear the music — the band — for the first time.

The same is true for Off The Record’s CD devoted to the Wolverine Orchestra.

The Wolverine recordings, like the Olivers, were also seen and packaged, because of the star system in jazz, as showcases for one musician.  True, Bix stands out, across the decades, as THE player in that band.  But these new transfers allow us to hear him in the larger context — not simply as the loudest player in the group.  It is possible to appreciate the particular rhythmic swagger that these young fellows brought to the studio — “sock time,” intense yet relaxed, that strikes us as both new and familiar.  Sager makes a good case for the band being “modern,” which allows us a deeper understanding of what they were attempting and how they did (and didn’t) succeed.

Four tracks by post-Wolverine groups featuring Bix — the SIOUX CITY SIX and BIX AND HIS RHYTHM JUGGLERS — are here, as well as the two later Wolverine sides with Jimmy McPartland (1924) and four from 1927.  But a great pleasure of this CD comes at its close with two recordings from May 24, 1928, billed as THE ORIGINAL WOLVERINES — LIMEHOUSE BLUES and DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, with a clarinetist / saxophonist who could only be Frank Teschemacher (Bud Freeman and Jess Stacy said they heard Tesch on these sides, and who would argue with that?)

The third set, although it initially doesn’t have the “star power” of the Oliver – Louis – Bix issues, is deliciously rewarding.

Most jazz fans of a certain age will have heard at least a few Creole Jazz Band or Wolverine tracks.  But perhaps only diligent musical archaeologists will have heard the music on CABARET ECHOES.

Again, the recordings are wonderfully bright (and I don’t mean harsh with an overemphasis on the treble).

Much of what we call “New Orleans jazz” was inevitably at a distance.  Musicians from that city recorded in Chicago and New York once they had migrated North; some returned home in the Forties and later.  This collection, although it begins with Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, recorded in Santa Monica, California, offers twenty-four selections recorded in New Orleans by OKeh between March 1924 and January 1925.  I had read about Johnny DeDroit, Fate Marable (with a young Zutty Singleton), the Original Crescent City Jazzers (Stirling Bose, likewise), Johnny Bayersdorffer, the Half-Way House Orchestra (with Leon Roppolo), Anthony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Billy and Mary Mack (with Punch Miller), Brownlee’s Orchestra, John Tobin’s Midnight Serenaders, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra — but I’d heard perhaps three or four sides of this grouping.

It’s easy to hear — from the six sides by Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra — how powerfully energetic that band was in 1922.  And even earlier, there are enthusiastic sides by a 1918-1920 jazz band featuring one Jimmy Durante on piano.  A world of delights that most of us have never heard.

That would be enough for most listeners.  But a surprise awaits,  Between the discs themselves, this collection offers excerpts from oral histories, so that we can hear Kid Ory, his daughter Babette, Johnny DeDroit, Amos White, Yvonne Powers Gass (daughter of saxophonist Eddie Powers), Abbie Brunies, Joe Loyocano, Tony Parenti, Tony Sbarbaro, Billy Mack and Mary McBride, Norman Brownlee, “Baba” Ridgley, and Arnold Loyocano — an amazing set of first-hand narratives from the original sources . . . in their own voices.

Back to the Sound for a moment.  As “new technologies” come into view, many individuals have tried to make the old recordings “listenable.”  Some have seen their role as removing all extraneous noise — which, when done without subtlety, also removes much of the music.  Doug Benson, with help from generous collectors, has done a magnificent job of preserving the sound without reshaping it to a set of arbitrary aesthetics of what it “should” sound like in 2012.

This was accomplished through simple intelligent methods: get the best available copy of the original disc; play it with the stylus that offered the most sound; make sure that the disc was playing at the right speed (so that the music was in a recognizable key); judiciously apply the most subtle digital restoration.

It’s taken me this long to write this review because I’ve been entranced by the sound — and the sounds — and have gone back to the old paradigm of playing one track at a time rather than making the CDs into hot background music.  But each track is a powerful auditory experience.  The veils are lifted.

Click CREOLE  to read more about the Oliver CDs.  Click BIX to read more about the Wolverines CD.  And CABARET  will tell you all about CABARET ECHOES.  You can, when visiting these pages, click on a variety of links to hear brief audio samples, but hearing excerpts through earbuds or your computer’s speakers will give only a small fraction of the sonic pleasures that await.

I seriously suggest that any jazz fan who wants to hear — to know, to understand — what “those old records” really sounded like (and thus be transported) should consider these compact discs.

And — with equal seriousness — I suggest them as aids to a happy relationship: every partner who has ever walked through the room where the “old records” are being played and said, gently or scornfully, “How can you listen to those scratchy old records?  How can you hear anything?” might pick up the Off the Record CDs as a gift — not only for the jazz-loving partner, but to actually HEAR what (s)he loves so deeply.  (“Can these marriages be saved?”  “Yeah, man!”)

May your happiness increase.

INSPIRED JAZZ MISCHIEF AFTER HOURS IN SACRAMENTO: DAN BARRETT, PHIL FLANIGAN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, STEPHANIE TRICK (May 27, 2012)

Are you one of these people secretly convinced that the best things happen when you aren’t there?  Do you suspect that the most superb music is played by musicians for their own pleasure — after the concert, in their hotel rooms, in empty ballrooms?  This may not be paranoid imagining.  I think the videos below — taken at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival — are compelling evidence.

This session took place after the Sunday evening concert had ended . . . and the musicians didn’t want to go back to their hotels (Rossano Sportiello and Dan Barrett being prime instigators).  While the cheerful people surrounding the stage were putting everything away, packing up, doing their jobs . . . the music started — or kept going.

First a hip RUSSIAN LULLABY with Dan at the piano and Phil Flanigan at the bass.  Then — with some musical chairs and giggling, Rossano and Stephanie Trick shared the piano bench while Phil kept the beat going and (eventually) Dan joined in on muted cornet for RUNNIN’ WILD:

No one wanted to call a halt to this fun (even though Phil had to catch a plane) so they took their time for an inspired KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW with Dan, Rossano, Stephanie:

And an old-fashioned rocking BLUES to close, created by Dan and Rossano:

“See you next year!”  “Beautiful!”  How true on both counts.

I am so grateful to the musicians here — people whom I count as friends — for not saying, “For goodness’ sake, Michael, put that video camera down.  You’re not going to shoot this, are you?”  They knew I was there — circling around — but they tacitly let me stay . . . what a privilege!

May your happiness increase.

JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY STILL HAS ROOM FOR YOU (Guilford, Connecticut, Oct. 13-14, 2012)

Don’t miss out!

This October 13-14 (Saturday and Sunday), pianist / singer Jeff Barnhart and banjoist Joel Schiavone are holding another JEFF AND JOEL’S HOUSE PARTY at Joel and Donna’s beautiful 1804 farmhouse in Guilford, Connecticut.

Some seats are still available.  

The musicians are Joel Schiavone, Jeff Barnhart, Paul Monat, Pam Pameijer, Noel Kaletsky, Genevieve Rose, Ross Petot, Fred Vigorito, John Clark, Craig Grant, Bob Barta, Sal Ranniello . . . and two up-and-coming New Yorkers — young fellows with bright futures in the music business, Vince Giordano and Jim Fryer.

There are three sessions: Saturday 11-4, Saturday 5-10, and Sunday 11-4. The afternoon sessions include lunch or brunch; the Saturday evening set will include dinner. The liquid portion of the house party is up to you (a roundabout way of saying it’s BYOB, but there will be all the necessary improvements).

I will be there, but in an unusual capacity — sans video camera, actually able to use both hands to applaud — because this House Party has the great jazz cinematographer Eric Devine behind the cameras.  (Note plural.)  So I’ll be able to relax, although I will report on the festivities when I return to New York.

Tickets are on sale now — for single sessions as well as for the two-day fiesta, so don’t wait!  Click SIT! for pricing and ordering and all those needful things. Tickets for the whole extravaganza are $225; individual sessions are $80.

Legal disclaimer: ACTUAL CHAIRS MAY NOT BE AS PICTURED.

May your happiness increase.  

MY KIND OF VIC

In my Ideal Jazz World — which exists only in my mind and those of a few people who share my leanings (Dan and Mal and Clint among them)  — Vic Dickenson is one of the greatest creators.

But Vic’s art was very subtle.  People found it easy to see only its broad outlines and thus minimized it as a matter of low-toned naughty growls filling in the gaps in a Dixieland ensemble.  Vic often worked with bands where he was alone on the mountaintop, making his way through BASIN STREET BLUES or IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD for the ninth time that week.

In addition, trombones tend to get less attention than they and their players deserve, especially if the men and women behind the mouthpiece and slide are reliable.  Reliable players — think of Bennie Morton, Al Hall, Buck Clayton, Ray Nance, Milt Hinton among fifty others — get less attention than dramatic ones.

Vic seems to have come from nowhere — blossoming fully on the 1943-44 Blue Notes, or (for those whose historical perspective starts later) on the Vanguards and Columbias of the Fifties.  But he had been working his magic for a long time.  There’s his marvelous solo on Benny Carter’s MY FAVORITE BLUES, his work on a few 1940 Basie Columbias . . . and earlier — I’ve posted Blanche Calloway’s I NEED LOVIN’, which I think would amaze and terrify any contemporary trombonist — marvelous tumbling epigrams no matter what the context or the tempo.

That garden of delights, YouTube, offers us another aural glimpse of the Vic the musicians knew and admired.  His solo on this little-known record is only sixteen bars, and it comes late in the performance, but it is a marvel.

The original recording was made for Decca in 1937 by the Claude Hopkins band.  MY KINDA LOVE was perhaps best known through Ben Pollack’s recording of it with Jack Teagarden a half-decade earlier.  The Hopkins record is taken up with Hopkins’ pleasant piano and Beverly White’s singing.  Nothing is less than expert — the rhythm section rocks along nicely under Hopkins — but it is music for dancers.  Beverly White sounds close to Midge Williams and even Ella Logan: all the notes are in the right places, her enunciation is precise; she sings clearly and rhythmically, but the overall affect is well-behaved rather than memorable.  This band could play a senior prom in 1937 and not upset the chaperones overmuch.

Beverly was known as “Baby,” and she has her own place in the Jazz Pantheon because Teddy Wilson said he preferred her singing to Billie Holiday’s.  What that statement really means is hard to say: there is so much mythology around the luminous 1935-41 recordings Billie and Teddy made that his words seem heretical.  Perhaps Baby White was easier to work with; she didn’t smoke pot in the hall; she was more professional?  It could be that Teddy simply liked the sound of her voice more.  I wonder if in the years after those recordings were made, there was a slight tinge of rancor that Billie had become BILLIE HOLIDAY and other singers hadn’t.  (Michael Brooks wrote that Henry “Red” Allen told him vehemently that Anna Robinson was also much better than Billie.)

For me, the first two-thirds of MY KINDA LOVE are amiably dull — politely swinging without calling attention to itself — an almost faceless “dance record,” perhaps insisted upon by Jack Kapp.

But when Vic leaps in, for about thirty seconds, my musical world changes.

He begins with a break that owes something to Louis, something that might have come from a Hot Seven record, reinvented through Vic’s own prism of sound.  It’s a witty solo, glancing at Swing phrases that were already conventions in 1937 . . . but Vic’s staccato phrasing and sound are his own.  He doesn’t dramatize; his solo is in the middle register and he doesn’t demand that we admire his pyrotechnics, but the solo amazes as evidence of what he could do in sixteen bars.  A writer of musical epigrams, a painter of miniatures, eight bars here or sixteen bars there with their own logical, funny, shapes.

The thought that I can no longer see Vic on the stand at the last Eddie Condon’s or Your Father’s Mustache or an outdoor concert in Suffolk County makes me sad.  Had I been able to tell him how many people had their lives uplifted by his music, I think it would probably have embarrassed him.  But as I get older and I hear more jazz; as I understand more how difficult it is to create something when the rhythm is moving along inexorably underneath you, the more I prize Vic Dickenson.  It was a miracle that he was with us.  And he still is.

May your happiness increase.

SHE’S THE LAST WORD: DAWN LAMBETH SINGS

One of the finest singers I know — Dawn Lambeth — has released a new concert DVD, and it’s delightful.

This intimate performance finds her alongside the peerless pianist Chris Dawson — with special appearances by Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass; Mike Swan, guitar.  The DVD is like being in a small room, among friends, while Dawn and her friends make the best kind of music — sweet, unaffected, lively swing.  The songs are YOU DO SOMETHING TO ME / S’POSIN’ / CHEEK TO CHEEK / IT’S EASY TO REMEMBER / MOONBURN / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I CRIED FOR YOU / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? / ‘S’WONDERFUL / THE MAN I LOVE / ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA / TRUST IN ME / I’VE HEARD THAT SONG BEFORE / BLUE MOON / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO.

Readers who know their repertoire will recognize small homages to the great songwriters and Bing, Mildred, Billie, Fred and Ginger.  But Dawn imitates no one, and she doesn’t have to.  Her voice is a pleasure in itself — full of subtle shadings but never self-consciously dramatic; a fine pianist herself, she knows the harmonies and is always in tune with the rhythm, taking improvisatory liberties when they fit the mood but always honoring the song — the intent of its words and music.

Here are three songs from the CD.  The first, a 1935 paean to romance outdoors at night — first immortalized by Bing and Joe Sullivan — MOONBURN.  Listen, too, to Chris Dawson — Southern California’s answer to Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy.  And hear Dawn’s sweet ornamentation — what she does in her second chorus with “glowing stars,” and “my heart” — the little reinventions, so appealing, that mark an artist who truly knows her way:

A sprightly performance of CHEEK TO CHEEK — ebullient but full of subtleties from Dawn and Chris:

Here’s the full band on A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA — sounds like Basie, doesn’t it, with Dawn floating over that irresistible rhythm?:

To purchase your very own copy: check in here.  Sixty-two minutes of fine music.  And should you be in the Central Coast area of California, Dawn and friends have three end-of-September shows coming up — find out more             here.

May your happiness increase.

REQUIRED RIFFING: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the 2012 SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 26, 2012)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the Reynolds Brothers are a superb hot band, subtle and forceful, offering vivid solos and lovely intertwining ensemble lines.  And they offer us songs, both sweet and spicy, that deserve to be played.  I’ve been a convert for several years now.  But you don’t have to take my word for it: see for yourself.

They’re required reading in my lifetime course on Swing.  And regular field trips are part of the curriculum.

Here they are — with guest Clint Baker — at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival.  That’s Marc Caparone, cornet; Katie Cavera, string bass; John Reynolds, guitar, whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Clint Baker, clarinet, trombone — with assorted and sundry vocalizing from the members of the crew.  Here they are on a paddlewheel steamer — heating it up in front of a very receptive audience — on May 26, 2012.

One of the more popular songs about how nice it was to go back home down South (perhaps a safe theme from Stephen Foster up to the Swing Era) ALABAMMY BOUND:

A high-class love song with caffeine, always the way to go — WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA.  I am not being hyperbolic when I write that John Reynolds improves the world by his presence — singing, playing, scatting, whistling:

A prescription for happiness, care of the early Cab Calloway ensemble, THE SCAT SONG.  Fine riffin’ this evening!:

You shiftless person!  Get up off the ground and swing.  Marc shows us how, vocally and with the necessary hardware, on LAZY BONES:

FUTURISTIC JUNGLEISM needs no exegesis, and might baffle anyone attempting to offer one:

WHEN FRANCIS DANCES WIH ME is a 1921 song recorded by Billy Murray and Ada Jones, then by the Andrews Sisters.  I’m only sorry that our Katie left out these deathless lyrics from the second chorus — a natural segue into the Reynolds Brothers’ rendition of FAT AND GREASY, referring to the stylish Francis: “His hair shines like diamonds, he combs it with fat / He wears a Palm Beach and a brown derby hat / Now you know a guy can’t look better than that“:

A delightful Thirties pickup song (earlier than REMEMBER ME) on the immortal theme of “Hey, cutie!  Look over here!  Pay attention to me!” — PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

Ralf teaches us Official History with the assistance of Professors Berry and Razaf . . . and listen to how the brass leaps in after the vocal on CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS:

A plunger-muted SOME OF THESE DAYS featuring the multi-talented Mister Baker on clarinet, trombone, and vocal.  Ralf could no longer endure the fact that washboards are not equipped with plunger mutes — look closely at around the five-minute mark:

With this Fats Waller song, the question is moot.  Or perhaps rhetorical.  AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD?  I know I am:

“I keep cheerful on an earful / Of music sweet.”  HAPPY FEET:

How to spend a Saturday night — deep in riffs!  And I’ll next hear the Brothers (and Friends) at the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival . . . this November.  Look-a-here, as Fats would say — SAN DIEGO!

May your happiness increase.

CLEAR YOUR CALENDARS: BECKY, HARRY, and FRIENDS in NEW YORK CITY (TWICE!) October 2012

Miss Kilgore (who answers to Becky or Rebecca) and Mister Allen (Harry to one and all) will be performing in New York City in the very near future . . . don’t miss these rare appearances!

On Friday, October 5, beginning at 7 PM, Rebecca and the Harry Allen Quintet will be having a good time with their tribute to the music of Marilyn Monroe, SOME LIKE IT HOT, at the New York Historical Society (170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way [77th Street], New York, NY 10024.  Phone (212) 873-3400.)  As I understand, this program is free with admission to the museum, and admission is by donation.  Details here.

On Monday, October 8, Harry will be creating another of his Monday night music parties at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency — featuring our Becky and singers Lynn Roberts, Nicki Parrott, pianist Mike Renzi, bassist Joel Forbes, drummer Zach Campbell.  There is, I believe, a $20 music charge and a minimum: the Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue (at 61st Street), New York, NY 10021.  Phone: 212-339-4095.  Details here.

Since Miss Kilgore and Mister Allen make wonderful music together, and since our Rebecca lives on the other side of the continent in Portland, Oregon, might I suggest most gently that you see these musicians in action?

May your happiness increase.

UNCLE JAKE IS WITH US: “JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER,” by MARIA S. JUDGE

Maria S. Judge’s book about her Uncle Jake — one of the most swinging musicians ever — JAKE HANNA: THE RHYTHM AND WIT OF A SWINGING JAZZ DRUMMER — is irresistible.

I write this in all objectivity, even though I have a connection to the book.  When Maria let people know that she was collecting stories about Jake for this group memoir / portrait, I sent her my recollections of an hour spent with Jake before Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.

I don’t mean to inflate my own importance by this: I am not sure Jake knew who I was before, during, or after his recital, but he HAD to tell stories as  dogs have to bark and cats meow.  So I was the delighted recipient of some of his best tales — affectionate, scurrilous, sharp, verifiable.  My only regret is that I didn’t have my little digital recorder concealed to get Jake’s delivery — a Boston Irish W.C. Fields with expert comic timing — for posterity.  I contributed a paragraph about that encounter, and I read the manuscript before it went to press.

But when a copy came in the mail two days ago I thought, “Oh, I know all this already,” and was ready to put the book on the shelf unread.

But Jake’s powers extend far beyond the grave, and I opened it at random.  An hour went by as I stood in the kitchen reading, laughing, feeling honored to have met Jake and heard him play.

The book follows Jake from his family and birth in Dorchester, Massachusetts (1931) to his death in 2010.  The family narratives are fascinating, because all of the Hannas seem to have been engagingly larger-than-life and the book begins not with serious historical heaviness but with the genial mood of a Frank Capra film.  Here’s Jim McCarthy, a younger friend from the neighborhood:

We lived . . . two blocks away from the Dorchester District Courthouse. . . [which] was surrounded by a granite wall about two feet high that the guys used to sit on.  When Jake sat there he’d straddle the wall and hit on it with his drumsticks.  My mother and I were walking past the courthouse one day when we saw Jake playing the wall.  “Is that all you have to do?” my mother asked him.  “Just beat those sticks?”  “Hi, Mrs. McCarthy,” Jake said.  “Someday they’re going to pay me to beat those sticks.”

There are tales of Jake’s army service, his first meeting with Charlie Parker, “the nicest guy I ever met in my whole life,” working with Jimmy Rushing, Marian McPartland, Maynard Ferguson, and Harry James.  Here’s drummer Roy Burns:

When Jake was playing with Harry James, Harry used to go “one, two, one, two, three, four,” with his back to the band, but his shoulders were slower than the tempo.  So Jake finally asked him, “Harry, should I take the tempo from your shoulder, from the piano, or just play it at the tempo we usually play it?”  Harry said, “Jake, you’re the leader.”  Jake said, “Do you really mean that?”  Harry said, “Yes.”  Jake said, “OK, you’re fired.”  

There are many more funny, smart, naughty stories in this book — but it is not all one-liners and smart-alecky.  Jake comes across as deeply committed to his craft and to making the band swing from the first beat.  And for someone with such a razor-sharp wit, he emerges as generous to younger musicians and his famous colleagues, affectionate and reverential about those people who epitomized the music: Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney.  We read of  his work with Woody Herman, on television with Merv Griffin, in Russia with Oscar Peterson, Supersax, the long run of jazz albums for the Concord label, a sweet sad encounter with Chet Baker.  There are long lovely reminiscences by John Allred and Jim Hall, by Dan Barrett, and Jake’s wife Denisa — plus memorable stories from Scott Hamilton, Hal Smith, Charlie Watts, Rebecca Kilgore, Warren Vache, Jim Denham, and dozens of other musicians and admirers.

Uncle Jake is still with us — not only on the music, but in these pages.  “Pay attention!” as he used to say.

Here’s one place to buy the book — JAKE — and you might also visit Maria’s Jake Hanna blog here.

May your happiness increase.

THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM and THE INVISIBLE MAN

This particular piece of sheet music must have sold well when the song was new in 1931 — if the number of copies that have surfaced in this century is evidence: THAT PRINCESS OF RHYTHM sang WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra:

Incidentally, the song takes on new shadings of meaning when you hear the verse: the speaker is dreaming of going back to Virginia, hardly the Deep South.

This sheet music cover is new to me: I note that Mildred was no longer a Princess, although she Featured songs With Great Success.  (I wouldn’t argue with that.)  And the original publishers seem to have been delicately consumed by Mills Music.  I have no idea of the date of this second issue, but the picture suggests the mid-to-late Thirties.

Here’s a small mystery.

A man — you’d know him once I mention his name — recorded this song first, almost six months before the Whiteman record.  He sang and played it every night onstage for forty years.  Why is there no sheet music with him on the cover?  In the period before his great popularity in the Fifties, I’ve seen him on the cover of one song — LIGHTS OUT, circa 1936.  He was anything but invisible in all other media: you could see him in theatres, in concerts, at dances here and abroad; he broadcast on the radio and had his own program; he stole the show in films. But no WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.

I wonder why.

P.S.  I don’t see his invisibility as a racial issue: other African-Americans got their bands or their pictures on sheet music.  The only hypothesis I can invent is that Mr. Collins and then Mr. Glaser wanted too much money for Our Hero’s visage to be Visible. May your happiness increase.

WITH A STROKE OF THE PEN

More eBay autographs . . . some surprises! Of course, Louis signed his name how many thousand times from the middle Twenties to 1971 . . . but each one is its own treasure.  Lucky Bill! The seller describes this as signed in green ink (a mark of authenticity) even though it reproduces as blue. Here’s something much more unusual.  At first, it looks only like an antique check (1936) but then you see it’s made out to trombone legend Miff Mole, and the person handing over the thirty-two dollars is Rudy Vallee.  Not to be mean-spirited, but Rudy had a reputation for being reluctant to let money out of his possession, so this is doubly or triply rare — and thirty-two 1936 dollars are a substantial sum. And the reverse, where Miff endorsed the check over to one Louis Mussi.  The story?: Here are the signatures of one version of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Narvin Kimball (banjo); Willie Humphrey (clarinet); “Sing” Miller (piano, in a rebus); Percy Humphrey (trumpet); Allan Jaffe (tuba); Josiah “Cie” Frazier (drums); Frank Demond (trombone): That in itself would be pretty good — as satisfying as a half-pint of Mrs. Circe’s gin . . . but the “unidentified” signatures on the back of this page are also intriguing: Some of those might remain mysterious — I have trouble turning my head to the required angle . . . but top left (March 15, 1978) is Arnett Cobb and long-time Lionel Hampton guitarist Billy Mackel; to the left is Andy McKee, and in the middle I am certain that Robert Sage Wilber — otherwise known as Bob — signed in.  My intuition tells me that this page comes from a Nice Jazz Festival . . .

May your happiness increase.

DAN BLOCK’S NEW WORLDS: “DUALITY”

As a player expertly able to fit himself into many kinds of music, Dan Block has added his own flavorings to many sessions led by others.  But his finest accomplishments may be the four CDs under his own name: AROUND THE BLOCK (1999); DAN BLOCK PLAYS IZZY BALINE a.k.a. IRVING BERLIN (2004); ALMOST MODERN (2006); FROM HIS WORLD TO MINE: THE MUSIC OF DUKE ELLINGTON (2010).  Each of these discs is the result of deep thinking, superb musicianship, intense feeling, wit, and a pungently lively imagination.

The newest one, DUALITY, is a frankly astonishing presentation of duet performances.

On it, Dan plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Albert system clarinet and bass clarinet, among his friends and peers: Catherine Russell (vocal), Ted Rosenthal (piano), Matt Munisteri (guitar), Mark Sherman (vibraphone), Lee Hudson (string bass), Scott Robinson (reeds), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Paul Meyers (guitar), Saul Rubin (guitar), Tim Horner (drums).

The repertoire Dan has chosen ranges from Ellington, Gershwin, Styne, Beiderbecke, Kern, Dameron, from a sweetly ancient pop song to Brazilian chorino to Shostakovich.  Each piece and each performance has its own logic and splendor.  The music is varied but not self-indulgent; it is beautiful but never merely pretty.

Because creativity is intensely difficult, many experienced improvisers have a series of learned gestures appropriate to the situation they find themselves.  “You want me to fit into a 1929 big band?  OK, I’ll put on that hat.  Back a torch singer?  Can do.  It’s atonal time?  Let me rummage in my case for my special atonal galoshes.”  Dan Block never plays by-the-numbers: rather, in the best spirit, he makes it up as he goes along, adapting himself to the circumstances and adapting the circumstances to himself.

DUALITY is a beautiful representation of the many worlds Dan Block creates for us.  Each of the eleven performances has the depth of feeling and intelligence one would find in a moving one-act play.  The disc becomes a series of gratifying voyages to lands we might have thought we knew — with new beauties revealed to us on the first hearing and on subsequent visits.  There is the bouncing curiosity of THE JAZZ SAMBA, the playful conversational jousting of PITTER PANTHER PATTER, the yearning of IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, the water-pistol fight of LYRIC WALTZ, the shimmering melancholy of IN THE DARK . . . and so much more.

I always think it nearly rude to write, “Go here.  Buy this.  Put everything else down and listen.”  But in the case of DUALITY, I feel myself entirely justified.  Dan Block has created music that resonates long after the disc has come to a stop.  A brave explorer, he takes us along on his quests.

You can hear excerpts and purchas DUALITY here and here — and visit Dan’s own site here.

May your happiness increase. 

SACRAMENTO SWING: VINCE BARTELS, DAN BARRETT, ALLAN VACHE, RUSS PHILLIPS, NICOLAS MONTIER, JASON WANNER, JENNIFER JANE LEITHAM, JEANNIE LAMBERT (May 27, 2012)

This set — one of the last ones at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival — was a lovely combination of modern ideas, rich swing and inventiveness, and a repertoire going back almost ninety years.  But there was no archaeology, no fancy business: playing the old tunes as they had been in their prime, or reinventing them according to some aesthetic principles.  No, this set was simply a gathering of people who had similar philosophies: swing is everything; sweet melodies uplift our hearts; go for yourself.

Leader / drummer Vince Bartels is a substantial man with a gentle touch on the drums, and he assembled a multifaceted band of like-minded musicians:  string bassist Jennifer Jane Leitham; pianist Jason Wanner; tenor saxophonist Nicolas Montier; trombonist Russ Phillips; clarinetist Allan Vache; cornetist Dan Barrett — with a special guest appearance by singer Jeannie Lambert.

SWING THAT MUSIC, both for Louis and as a statement of principles:

SUGAR:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

THE ONE I LOVE, that 1924 pop hit that jazz fans remember fondly because it was the first song — at the Chicago Musicians’ Union — that Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong played together:

BUT BEAUTIFUL, a feature for Ms. Lambert and Mr. Phillips — celebrating their twenty-eighth anniversary — is something special:

POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS shows off Jason Wanner, living proof of how novices with the right stuff become young masters in jazz:

And a Condon-styled CHINA BOY, with Town Hall Concert breaks at the end:

May your happiness increase.

IMPROVISATION FOR TWO, PLEASE, JAMES

This melancholy 1935 song is rarely performed, perhaps because it’s difficult to sing the lyrics with a straight face, but the melody has its own morose charm.  (I know that both Al Bowlly and Nat Cole did their best — as did Putney Dandridge and, in our time, Marty Grosz — but the song has some of the melodramatic flavor of a late-eighteenth-century novel.)

The singer — butler to a wealthy man for a half-century (the verse) and the aristocrat himself (the chorus) are people seemingly untouched by the Depression.  And the lyrics tell of “Master’s tragedy,” a marriage broken apart by a vile lie.  The verse, as always, tells the story:

James has been butler to Mister B. for fifty years,

Come August three.  

And he still remembers the night

Of his master’s tragedy.

Master’s best friend was a Mister J.,

James didn’t like him from the first day,

He knew his type

And the game they play.

That night James laid dinner as usual for two

And the air felt heavy as lead,

The master came down, there were tears in his eyes,

And he tried hard to smile as he said:

CHORUS:

Dinner for one, please James,

Madam will not be dining,

Yes, you may bring the wine in,

Love plays such funny games.

Dinner for one, please James,

Close madam’s room, we’ve parted,

Please don’t look so downhearted,

Love plays such funny games.

Seems mybest friend told her of another,

I had no chance to deny,

You know there has never been another,

Some day she’ll find out the lie.

Maybe she’s not to blame,

Leave me with silent hours,

No, don’t move her fav’rite flowers,

Dinner for one, please James.

Love plays such funny games, but great jazz improvisers create much more.  Here are trombonist Mike Pittsley and pianist John Sheridan, swing alchemists, making something timeless of Michael Carr’s melody:

What a beautiful performance! — subtle but never coy, honoring the melody but not entombed in it.  “Tonation and phrasing,” indeed — in the way that Sheridan keeps the rhythm moving while creating beautiful translucent harmonies, making a clear path for Pittsley to sing out the melody and his variations on the theme.

I had the opportunity to visit with John Sheridan at Chautauqua (a great pleasure) and I look forward to meeting Mike Pittsley for the first time at San Diego . . . they are, separately and together, masters of quietly affecting melodic embellishment.

May your happiness increase.

HEALING VIBRATIONS: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 27, 2012)

I’ve tried fish oil capsules and probiotics, saw palmetto and niacin, magnesium and multivitamins, goldenseal and Bach flower remedies.

But nothing gives me the lift of a Reynolds Brothers set — and one with Clint Baker (trombone, clarinet, occasional vocal) is even more potent.  Take as directed: like homeopathy, the smallest dosage is transformative.

The RB are, as always, Ralf (washboard); John (guitar, whistling); Marc Caparone (cornet); Katie Cavera (string bass) — all four have been known to break into song when the moment is ripe.  See for yourself in this delightful long set recorded at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival (at the Railroad Museum on May 27, 2012, for the record-keepers).

Alex Hill must have been especially willing to please when he wrote I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, and Claude Hopkins suggested that his whole band was equally cooperative:

Sung by Bing.  Who needs more?  LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

THREE LITTLE WORDS (but not with the variant Turk Murphy text):

For Bix and Tram, BORNEO:

Come to Camden, New Jersey — I hear the Bennie Moten band is cooking up something good on BLUE ROOM:

Sweet and sassy, Sister Katie invites us to join her in films, with YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES — and John whistles the theme so engagingly:

Mister Berlin must have liked a drop of schnapps once in a while, thus I’LL SEE YOU IN C-U-B-A — sung with spice and wit by Senorita Cavera:

From the Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (by Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom)  — I just found a copy of the original sheet music: now I’m ready to start TRUCKIN’:

A beautiful excursion into Louis Armstrong – Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin democrary in SHOE SHINE BOY.  That Caparone fellow didn’t study at the Waif’s Home, but he sure gets Louis:

If I could wire my refrigerator so that it played FAT AND GREASY when I opened the door, perhaps I would be back to my middle-school weight.  of course having Fats Waller sing and play it does lend a certain ironic twist.  Rockin’ in rhythm:

And the National Anthem of what Eddie Condon called “music,” Louis’ SWING THAT MUSIC:

Feeling better?  I know I am.  (And that’s not my medicine cabinet, in case you were wondering.)

May your happiness increase.

A BOWL OF CHERRIES?

A true story in parable’s clothing follows.

As a child — aside from my refusal to eat peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches — I was happily omnivorous.  But I had gotten it into my head that I didn’t like ripe cherries.  It could have been my reaction to a pie made with canned filling, but I turned away from the real fruit for years.  Then, someone said, “You don’t like cherries?  Try one of these!”  A rapturous experience.  But while I was savoring the fruit, I thought to myself, “There’s twenty years that you could have been enjoying this experience, and you didn’t, because of some irrational prejudice that stuck.”

This story came to mind yesterday.

Earlier this year I was at a jazz party (its name doesn’t matter) whose stylistic range sat easily between the Wolverines and Buck Clayton — call it “small band swing,” “Condon style,” “Mainstream.”  Delightful in all its variations.

But one of the sets, as an experiment (the musicians got to suggest their own thematic ideas) was a tribute to Bill Evans.  I had only heard Evans’ works for piano trio, for the most part, but when a small group of musicians I admire took the stage, I soon settled into the adventurousness of the music, as improvised lines crossed in midair, echoed, crackled and resounded.  The set was thoroughly uplifting.

Seated near me was someone — a semipro musician whom I’ve come to respect, a perceptive listener, someone devoted to the music in many ways.  Sandy [an invented name] looked at me when the set concluded, with a serious facial expression, and said, “Well?”  I replied, “I thought it was marvelous.”  Sandy frowned.  “Well, I don’t understand it.  And I don’t like it!

Not wanting to seem too didactic, I said quietly, “Forty years ago if I had heard that coming out of the radio, I might have turned away in annoyance.  But if you listen closely to it, all sorts of interesting and lovely things are going on.”  “Well, I don’t like it.”  End of discussion.

Later in that same weekend, someone saw me videoing and we got into conversation.  This person planned to visit Manhattan; I offered to send information about places to go, people to hear.  Again, after expressions of gratitude, there was the same ominous facial expression.  “I don’t like any of that progressive stuff.”  Another door closed somewhere.  I said only, “New York is full of musicians you might not have heard of who play the music you like to hear.”

Do you think if I had told these stern people my story of the cherries they would have seen its relevance?

I am not proposing that all art should be embraced equally.  People who say “I like everything!” always make me wonder if they really understand what they enthusiastically espouse.  But arteriosclerosis of its audience’s sensibilities can kill off an art form.

May your happiness increase.

ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and DAN BARRETT at the SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (May 27, 2012)

Take two phenomenal musicians — pianist Rossano and trombonist Dan — give them soulful material to play (BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU) — and you have sheer magic, with the shades of Louis and Fats approving:

Was ever a lament chronicling the loss of hair color through romantic melancholy so appealing, so whimsically lyrical?

May your happiness increase.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’: MAL SHARPE and BIG MONEY IN JAZZ at the SAVOY TIVOLI (Aug. 25, 2012)

New York has so much to recommend it, but I miss Mal Sharpe’s jazz soirees in Sausalito, in Martinez, and at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach, San Francisco.  Here are three pertinent pieces of evidence, recorded on August 25, 2012: Leon Oakley, cornet; Mal, trombone and spiritual guidance; Dwayne Ramsey, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Paul Smith, string bass, Carmen Cansino, drums.  And seated right in front of us was jazz legend / art legend Charles Campbell, having a good time — a model for us all!

A nice yearning AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, its tempo true to the lyrics:

Mister Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES:

Rarely do I post an incomplete performance — this one is cut short because of my miscalculation of battery strength — but Dwayne’s vocal on BLUE, TURNING GREY is so powerfully emotional that I couldn’t consign it to the unseen archives.  Prepare yourself for incompleteness but also for great feeling:

May your happiness increase.

DAN BARRETT HAS PLANS FOR THE EVENING OF MONDAY, SEPT. 24, 2012

Dan Barrett thinks ahead . . . and he is coming to New York City for an all-too-brief sojourn, with stops at The Ear Inn, Birdland, Little Branch, and other places.  But after his work on the First Traditional Jazz Workshop at Chautauqua, New York and the party — Jazz at Chautauqua — that follows, he will be putting his horn together the following Monday night to join the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern at 57 Grove Street (that’s Greenwich Village, New York) for a 7-10 PM musicale.  Dan will be joined by pianist Bill Dunham for the first set, Ehud Asherie for the two following sets; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Jack Stuckey, clarinet; Barry Bryson, trumpet; Kelly Friesen, string bass.

I am sure that others will drop by . . . get there early, as Arthur’s has been known to fill up with the faithful!

May your happiness increase.

A FEW WORDS FOR MAT DOMBER

I just received word that Mat Domber, who founded Arbors Records in 1989, died peacefully this morning — with his beloved wife Rachel at his side.  Mat had been ill for some time, but you hardly knew it: when I last saw him, at a Harry Allen Monday night function at Feinstein’s last June, he was cheerful, amused, and gracious as ever.

When the history of any art form is written, it invariably concentrates on the artists who are seen as the prime movers — and logically so.  But artists need patrons and friends and people who help them communicate their vision.  Mat Domber was a stellar example.  Other jazz fans delight in the music; some throw parties for their friends, or concerts.

Mat and Rachel decided that the music they loved wasn’t getting recorded . . . and thus he put his business acumen and his musical taste into play — at first, relying on Rick Fay and Dan Barrett for musical guidance, but eventually building up a roster of players and singers he knew were first-rate.  If you go to your CD shelves at this moment, chances are some of the most gratifying discs there are on the Arbors label.

I list some of the players who might otherwise have had fewer chances to express themselves: Rebecca Kilgore, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, John Sheridan, Scott Robinson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Duke Heitger, George Masso, Bob Wilber, Ehud Asherie, Johnny Varro, Dan Block, Marty Grosz, Eddie Erickson, Jackie Coon, Warren Vache, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Peter Ecklund, Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Harry Allen, Bob Haggart, John Bunch, Derek Smith, Keith Ingham, Ellis Larkins, Bobby Gordon, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Randy Reinhart, Joel Helleny, Howard Alden, Joe Wilder, Jerry Jerome, Flip Phillips . . . you can add other names as well.

Mat was a delight to be with — someone who enjoyed the company of the musicians after the session almost as much as he enjoyed the sessions.  And he made Arbors parties and festivals and happenings for all of us to enjoy.

There will be other things to say about Mat, but I will end this by saying that Ruby Braff and Kenny Davern, two of the most exacting men in the world of jazz, relied on him.  He will be missed.  JAZZ LIVES sends its deepest sympathy to Rachel and the people who loved Mat Domber.

May your happiness increase.  

SWING SIBLINGS TAKE MANHATTAN: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS

Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song.  You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.

Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice.  It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.

The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar.  (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.)  They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them.  And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.

But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved.  In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.  On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey.  It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars.  As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along.  In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.

The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets.  My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself.  It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.

I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59.  This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!

May your happiness increase.   

“WE WERE HAVING TOO MUCH FUN”: JIM LEIGH’S EL DORADO JAZZ BAND, 1955

Often highly publicized “rare” and “previously unheard” jazz reissues do not live up to their potential.  I can’t be the only listener who thinks, “Did they have to play every tune at the speed of light?”  “Someone should have shoved that piano off a cliff.”  “I know Kid Flublip is dead and legendary both, but he sure sounds lousy here.”  And so on.

But a recent CD by Jim Leigh’s El Dorado Jazz Band is a triumph.  Although the material comes from private tapes made onsite in 1955, the sound is clear and sarisfying; the repertoire is varied (as are the tempos and dynamics), and the twenty-one tracks were a delight rather than an test of my endurance.  I new Jim in the last months of his life as a fine writer and a player who understood how to balance technique, knowledge, feeling, and experimentation within an apparently “limited” idiom.  When I read his memoir, where he mourned the early death of clarinetist Rowland Working, I wondered if the evidence would live up to the legend.  It certainly does.

On this CD, Leigh is surrounded by lyrical players who could weave lines like rapidly-growing ivy.  Their inventions delight, but they sing on their instruments, which is the ideal (not always realized) of players trying to make brass and wood as personal as their speaking voices.  The players are Jim Borkenhagen, trumpet; Roland Working, clarinet — and he’s joined by Bob Helm on several tracks! — Pete Fay, piano; Danny Ruediger, banjo and vocals.  The repertoire offers classic Morton, Twenties jazz classics and pop tunes, Louis, and  ancient but still lively blues: JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / ST. JAMES INFIRMARY / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME / GOOD TIME FLAT BLUES / SOME OF THESE DAYS / STRATFORD HUNCH / ACE IN THE HOLE / MILENBERG JOYS / TROUBLE IN MIND / BID BEAR STOMP / SIDEWALK BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / RIVERSIDE BLUES / CHATTANOOGA STOMP / DROP THAT SACK / FRANKIE AND JOHNNY / ALABAMA JUBILEE / SEE SEE RIDER / HOW LONG BLUES / WEARY BLUES.

And as a bittersweet bonus, Jim wrote a brief essay for this material in June 2011.  I so admire his writing — terse, affectionate, witty — that I reprint it here.

The members of the original five-piece El Dorado Jazz Band were all twenty somethings when the music on this CD was recorded.  If somebody had told us that summer of 1955 that 56 years later one of us (and I’m the lone survivor) would be writing liner notes for a kind of record that didn’t even exist then we probably wouldn’t have paid much attention.  We were having too much fun.  By 1958 Danny Ruediger had taken over the band, and I had moved to San Francisco.  Rowland and I were playing Watters charts in the Bay City Jazz Band on weekends.  On a Sunday boating and swimming outing with his wife Jane, BCJB pianist Art Nortier and his wife, Rowland drowned.  He was 28 years old.  So I’m extra glad that Dick Karner is putting out this music on Tradjazz; it will allow fans of this music to hear what a brilliant plater he was already in his own right.  He admired Bechet and Dodds — but his real exemplar was Helm himself.  So it was great good luck that brought them together for those few nights with a tape recorder running.  I can’t think of any other clarinet duets in traditional jazz which have the sympathetic brilliance of those two.  Indeed, there are a few places where you need a very good ear to tell them apart.  Helm’s wife Kay would tell me later that Bob was “overwhelmed” at hearing Rowland and thereafter never missed a chance to play with himm — or to fill in for him when the occasion arose.  Like any informal recordings of live performances, these come with a few warts.  We could not have played Morton’s “Stratford Hunch” more than half a dozen times in all and I was delighted it was a clean take.  Listen to the clarinets behind and next to the vocals on “After You’ve Gone” and “Trouble in Mind.”  There are a few tunes here you won’t hear too often lately: “Drop That Sack,” “Good Time Flat Blues,” and others.  Not many people besides Turk sang such complete versions of “St. James Infirmary” and “Frankie and Johnny” as Danny does here.  After so many years I’ll admit I get a lift, hearing how we tore into such indestructible warhorses as “Some Of These Days” and “Milenberg Joys” and, with the clarinets tearing it up, “Big Bear Stomp,” “Naughty Sweetie,” or “Weary Blues.”  If I have one regret it was that I didn’t have the wits to lay hands on an extra vocal mix for Danny, but you can hear that he never let that stop him.  I’m grateful to have been there with him, and Rowland, Bork, Pete, and Brother Red, when he strapped on his leather aviator’s helmet and drove his open-air MG down the peninsula to visit us.  I’m grateful, too, to Dick Karner at Tradjazz for digging up this evidence and making it available here.  It reminds me that I didn’t waste my youth.

To say that Jim and his colleagues — now all of them gone — didn’t waste their youth — would be a substantial understatement.  All I can say from this angle is that I haven’t wasted my time listening to this music, and I think you will agree.  Here are brief samples from tradjazz and cdbaby.  Listen for yourself.  And — just in the name of amused candor — if you had told me five years ago that I would be writing enthusiastically about Fifties “West Coast” “trad,” I would have looked horrified.  But the music is stronger than the boxes we try to force it into.

May your happiness increase.

THE BOYS AND THE BAND: JUSTIN and BRANDON AU VISIT HIGH SIERRA (Sacramento Music Festival, May 27, 2012)

Who says that hot jazz is solely the purview of a generation of elder statesmen?  Certainly not the young brassmen Justin (trumpet) and Brandon Au (trombone), who paid a social call to the High Sierra Jazz Band at the Sacramento Music Festival on May 27, 2012.

Justin and Brandon joined leader / reedman Pieter Meijers, their Uncle How (Howard Miyata on trombone and vocal), Bryan Shaw on trumpet, Stan Huddleston on banjo, Bruce Huddleston on piano, Earl McKee on sousaphone and vocals, and Charlie Castro, drums — for a program of hot cross-generational jazz and hijinks.

The HSJB began with a nineteenth-century favorite, sung with great honest feeling by Earl, THE OLD SPINNING WHEEL:

Then, one of the many animal-themed compositions dear to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and, a bit later, Bix Beiderbecke, OSTRICH WALK:

Here, after Pieter introduces the boys, everyone creates a wonderful street-parade CANAL STREET BLUES:

Justin, Brandon (vocal), and Pieter swing out on NAGASAKI:

And, as an aside, here is what I believe to be the performance — captured for posterity — that Peter refers to.  A slippery composition, CAPITOL-BOUND, performed at the Pismo Jazz Jubilee by the Sea — October 28, 2011 — by Justin, Brandon, Gordon, Uncle How, Danny Coots, and Katie Cavera:

One of the High Sierra’s patented specialties, FROM MONDAY ON, with a vocal by Earl and a five-horn recreation of Bix’s solos at the end:

And, to close, a hot blues for Louis, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP:

Age doesn’t matter in jazz if the spirit is right.

May your happiness increase.