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.

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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.