Daily Archives: November 14, 2012

DO WHAT ORY SAY: “CREOLE TROMBONE: KID ORY AND THE EARLY YEARS OF JAZZ,” by JOHN McCUSKER

It’s always a pleasure to encounter a new jazz book that’s not a rehash of overexposed source materials or burdened by academic ideologies, and John McCusker’s fresh look at the life and music of trombonist / composer / bandleader Edward “Kid” Ory (1886-1973) is just such an engaging book.

In CREOLE TROMBONE, McCusker carefully documents Ory’s roots, his development as an artist, and the scenes in which he lived and workd — not only rural Louisiana and New Orleans, but California in the early years of the twentieth century and Chicago in the Twenties.

We learn a great deal about a variety of subjects — life on a sugar cane plantation, New Orleans band battles and etiquette, early recordings and the music business.  And there are portraits, some of them from an unusual angle or an unexpected perspective, of Joe Oliver, young Louis Armstrong, Mutt Carey, Jelly Roll Morton, Freddie Keppard, Buddy Bolden, and others.

McCusker is praised for his “meticulous research” in three of the back-cover blurbs, and the book does not disappoint here.  Not only does he make use of published work by scholars including David Sager, Henry Kmen, Al Rose, and interviews with the surviving musicians held in the Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, but he has spoken to Ory’s relatives and drawn liberally on Ory’s unpublished autobiography (made available to him through the generosity of Ory’s daughter Babette).  As usual, there are brief “historical” passages in which the author works to set the scene for those unfamiliar with it, and the expected use of census and baptismal records.

The book offers thirty pages of endnotes, contains twenty photographs of Ory, his family, and the bands — only three of which will be familiar.  CREOLE TROMBONE also reproduces lead sheets from six unpublished Ory songs — the most intriguing being MUSSOLINI CARRIES THE DRUM FOR HITLER and DON’T FORGET THE SANTA FE TRAIN AND BUS.  (Do I hear a CD project, “The Unrecorded Kid Ory,” in the works?)

I came away from the book with an increased awareness of and respect for Ory — not only as independent and ambitious, but someone with a keen eye for making his musical activities pay off.  I was struck by Ory the entrepreneur (circa 1912-13) who not only booked his own dances — arranging for his band to play in a hall he had rented — but because he was worried about competition, paying to rent a hall two blocks away and keep it dark that night.

The most animated parts of the book, of course, are the first-hand recollections of the musicians: a leisurely word-picture of the worst place Ory ever played, Spano’s, that catered to prostitutes and “freakish” men and women; his depiction of life in a Storyville brothel, where a customer who hung his trousers over a chair would find himself wishing he had been more cautious.  McCusker’s research delves into the musical communication between more formal ragtime-dance music and hotter jazz, between Ory and his colleagues and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Ory and Joe Oliver were advertising their band as playing “Jazz” as early as November 1917; in 1922, “Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra” was broadcasting on the radio in California.

McCusker is by profession a photographer and journalist, someone obviously wanting to add to the record and to make it accurate, so that Ory would not be overshadowed, forgotten, or ignored — very good reasons to research and write a book.  McCusker clearly admires Ory but the book is not worshipful.  His writing is lively and the book moves quickly; although he relies greatly on sources, it does not resemble an academic thesis.

Because McCusker sees Ory as a seriously influential figure, I was not surprised to find a great deal of study devoted to the years before Ory made his first recordings in 1922.  Ory’s musical career continued until 1933 or so, then — after a decade of non-musical work) it resumed for nearly two decades.  But CREOLE TROMBONE covers the years from 1943 to Ory’s death in a few quick pages.

Had Ory retreated into an old man’s obscurity, I could understand this, but in that period Ory made more than two-thirds of his recordings, many for major labels (Columbia, Decca, Victor, and the Norman Granz conglomerate) toured Europe several times — and was more popular than ever before.

Since I first encountered Ory’s music in this period — as a member of a 1946 Armstrong group and on two Verve recordings that paired him effectively with Henry “Red” Allen, I find the omission curious, and the book feels to me hurried or deflating.  This could have been an economic decision (a press choosing a manuscript of X words only and its author deciding to concentrate on the less explored early period), but the last pages of this otherwise rewarding book feel truncated.

But here’s my offering to make up for it:

Another view of the authorship of MUSKRAT RAMBLE from Louis himself — twice (thanks to Ricky Riccardi) — here.  Who knew that fried muskrat had such powers?

May your happiness increase.

Advertisements

AN IDEAL NEIGHBOUR: PETE NEIGHBOUR PLAYS “‘DEED I DO”

I would be very happy to have clarinetist Pete Neighbour move in next door — with his pretty tone, fearless swing, neat melodic embellishments, I know I would be entertained all the time.  Here are Pete, Richard Pite, drums; Murray Salmon, string bass; Colin Goode, piano, embarking on ‘DEED I DO in London (October 2012) at Boisdales, Canary Wharf:

Visit / subscribe to Pete’s YouTube channel here.  And for more of his music, or  keep up with him on Facebook here.  Although he was born in London (and he gigs there with his UK pals) he makes his home in Columbia, South Carolina — which means that swing lovers on both sides of the ocean should have ample opportunity to hear him play.  And here you can hear excerpts from (and purchase!) one of his CDs, IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME.

‘Deed he does!

May your happiness increase.

LUCKY THIRTEEN: A NIGHT with the SIDNEY BECHET SOCIETY (Monday, November 5, 2012) featuring JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN CHRISTOPHER, MATT MUNISTERI, EHUD ASHERIE, PAT O’LEARY, MARION FELDER

The days slip away, and I see that I haven’t written a word about the final 2012 concert of the Sidney Bechet Society — an evening devoted to Sidney’s involvement with the New Orleans trumpet players.  Even though he said he disliked trumpeters because they got in his way, Sidney played alongside the very best.  This band at the Kaye Playhouse evoked but didn’t copy the great recordings he made:  in their thirteen performances, they managed not only to summon up Bechet’s musical worlds from 1925 on, but suggested how his spirit animated music being made in November 2012.

In short, a hot time was had by all.  

The members of this band exuded the fraternal delight one would expect from long-time comrades: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary are regular EarRegulars, with Evan Christopher an honored guest; Ehud Asherie and Marion Felder bring their own associations with sessions at Smalls and Birdland to the mix.

The first half of the concert was a more formal evocation of the title and of the hallowed recordings (some of them rather complex songs with multiple themes) highlighted by three vigorous romps — WEARY BLUES and I FOUND A NEW BABY (harking back to the 1932 Feetwarmers session with Tommy Ladnier and Hank Duncan); CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME (honoring Bechet’s early collaboration — or battle — with young Louis Armstrong on Clarence Williams’ dates).

A slower COAL CART BLUES swung with all its might, even though the tempo was less arduous (echoing the 1940 Decca “reunion” session for George Avakian’s NEW ORLEANS JAZZ album).  Three mood pieces took seriously divergent directions: Matt sang BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME in his own half-earnest, half-ironic way, very combustible; Evan took center stage for one of Bechet’s Haitian rhapsodies, TROPICAL MOON (“kind of a funky thing”) which had everyone swaying . . . as did the band’s EGYPTIAN FANTASY — with an “exotic” flavor that also drew on the “Spanish tinge.”

After an intermission during which we all could compare tales of Storm Sandy (many in the audience, I think, were going home to dark cold houses and apartments), the band reassembled for a looser second half . . . as if they had done their required assignment and could now play a bit more.

Some of the repertoire for the second half was drawn from the Kellso-Christopher-Munisteri BLUE ROOF BLUES: A LOVE LETTER TO NEW ORLEANS (Arbors) — one of the most completely realized jazz CDs I know: an intoxicating habanera-flavored PANAMA, a street-parade HIGH SOCIETY, with the famous Picou chorus played softly at first; Kellso’s lyrical JUST LIKE THAT, Evan’s intense improvisation on Tommy Ladnier’s MOJO BLUES, a solo feature for Ehud on WILLOW TREE, where Art Tatum, Cliff Jackson, and Christopher Columbus came for brief visits with Mr. Asherie; the concert ended with a rousing HINDUSTAN, with the always-surprising and always-gratifying key changes.

It was a great band: Marion Felder is one of those exalted drummers who cares deeply about sound, dynamics, and rhythms — a phenomenon rarer than you might think.  He will patiently stay on his snare drum or tom-toms and play simple rhythms for their sweetly intensifying dramatic effect; he can play a song as did Zutty Singleton but he’s always playing himself.  Pat O’Leary stayed in the background, but he is one of the essential guiding forces of any ensemble: his tone, taste, and choice notes keep everyone focused on melodic swing.

Matt Munisteri never fails to surprise: guitarists marvel at his technique, but I marvel more at the way every kind of music seems to osmotically work its way through him — and the end result never seems like a conscious synthesis.  Ehud Asherie continues to delight: his deep soulful range, bridging Then and Now, is a pleasure — because the influences have long since become a cohesive artistic whole, without one saying, “Oh, there’s a Fats lick!” again.

The horn players, as we have come to expect, worked together in friendship but there was the slightest edge of playful tussling — the kind of sweet competition that makes sessions rise above the ordinary.  Both of them are instantly recognizable, with big sounds: you know who’s playing in a bar or two, and the restrained intensity bubbles with elegant down-home ferocity.

It was fun — in case you haven’t guessed.  I’ll say more about the 2013 concerts when we cross into the spring.

May your happiness increase.