Monthly Archives: February 2013

HOMAGE TO WILD BILL: “THE WILD BILL DAVISON CENTENNIAL CONCERT” (LEON OAKLEY, DAN BARRETT, RICHARD HADLOCK, RAY SKJELBRED, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER, J. HANSEN, BOB MIELKE: January 8, 2006)

Paying tribute to such a strongly idiosyncratic musical personality as cornetist Wild Bill Davison could be a doomed endeavor, if the cornet player in charge attempts to honor Bill by reproducing his repertoire of short phrases, growls, vocalized blurts and sotto-voce murmurs. My reaction to such things has been to turn back to Bill’s recorded legacy.  The copies are the aural equivalent of Al Hirschfeld drawings: ingenious but verging on affectionate caricature.

WILD BILL CENTENNIAL CONCERT

A band of wise players assembled in Berkeley, California, at the Freight and Salvage in early 2006 to celebrate Bill’s centennial.  The results, issued on a Jazzology CD, are a model of what energetic creative tribute should be.

The participants are Leon Oakley, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Mielke, trombone guest star; Richard Hadlock, reeds and master of ceremonies (offering commentary between each selection); Ray Skjelbred, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; J. Hansen, drums.  The CD begins with an excerpt from a recording made in Britain — Bill singing a bit of IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE? in a light, sincere, swinging voice — and it concludes with Bill, ending a set.  So the presence of the great man is immediately evident.  In between, the band plays the hot ones — THAT’S A PLENTY, COLLIER’S CLAMBAKE, I NEVER KNEW and I NEVER KNEW I COULD LOVE ANYBODY, a strong-minded BLUES FOR WILD BILL, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GAVE TO ME.

But the sweet melodic side of Wild Bill gets equal time, with MEMORIES OF YOU, WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE (very successfully evoking a 1944 Condon date for Decca where Bill wasn’t present but Billy Butterfield and Bobby Hackett were), MANDY, I’M CONFESSIN’, SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA, and a particularly moving version of BLACK BUTTERFLY on which we hear Barrett and Mielke in tandem.

The band is superb, because each one of them knows the style deeply but is committed to improvising within it.  Leon Oakley has said he was deeply influenced by Wild Bill, and occasionally he dips into the Davison grab-bag of singular effects, but for the most part he simply, eloquently plays hot cornet — in a way that would fit in at The Ear Inn in 2013 or Condon’s in 1956.  Barrett, Hadlock, and Mielke all sound like themselves (Hadlock in a particularly forceful mood) but they are all obviously overjoyed to be playing with the ideal rhythm sections, with the ghosts of Stacy, Sullivan, Condon, Walter Page, Wettling and Drootin making ectoplasmic appearances.

It may be heretical to say so, but I gave up collecting Wild Bill records because each one sounded precisely like the last (he had created his own master solos and delivered them — perfectly or slightly imperfectly) but I have not tired of this disc.  I’ve already played it several times and found new reasons to cheer each time.  (Excellent recorded sound, too.)

May your happiness increase. 

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DESTINY, “SWEET WATER,” and ALTERNATE JAZZ UNIVERSES

Louis Joe

In an alternate universe, King Oliver brushed his teeth three times a day, ate salads and drank soda water, thus changing the course of the twentieth century.

I have been reading and transcribing oral histories published in CADENCE for a book I am editing.  I am deep into the conversation Louis Armstrong had with the young editor Bob Rusch at Louis’ home in Corona, Queens — February 7, 1969.  Louis happily talks about being mentored (and parented) by Papa Joe — but also that Stella Oliver would make meals for the three of them:

Any of the moments with King Oliver were always choice with me. When I first came from New Orleans to Chicago to play in King Oliver’s band, I used to have my meals with King Oliver and his wife. Whatever she cooked for him, she cooked for me. I enjoyed that, she’d fix mine the same, big pot of rice and beans. A big old tin can, like a peach can, full of water he put about a half pound of sugar in it. That’s what he called “sweet water.” That’s what he liked and I’d have sweet water, too. Every moment was choice with Joe Oliver.

When Joe Oliver went north to Chicago, and asked Little Louis to join him, the King was already in his fifties; his teeth and gums were already deteriorating: regular dental care was for the affluent.  “Pyorrhea” is the ominous name for the disease that meant the end of his reign as King.

But we can trace these events back to the genetic predisposition for all things sweet that Joe allowed to dominate his diet.  Had Oliver tended towards other dietary weaknesses; had he (like Bunk Johnson) a better dentist to make him more effective dentures . . . would he have asked Louis to come up to Chicago and play second cornet?  Louis, for his part, recognized this as the opportunity of a lifetime — and it started him on his path to worldwide fame.  Only later did he recognize that Joe Oliver’s motives were not entirely selfless; the King told other musicians that as long as he had Little Louis in his band “he can’t hurt me,” by outshining him on his own.  But what if Joe’s self-protectiveness turned out to be generosity to the world?

But young Louis seems to have been deeply grateful and perhaps a little complacent (“All I want to do is blow the horn,” he said more than once during his career).  Might he have stayed in New Orleans forever — recording in 1925 or 1927, then again twenty years later — a local legend without the global reputation?

The little things that shape our paths in life!  When you consider how you got to be where you are (however you define “where”) ask yourself: how much of it is intent, how much accident — good or bad — or things that seemed irrelevant at the time?

And here’s the soundtrack for those ruminations — courtesy of Louis, Barney Bigard, and Vic Dickenson in 1946:

May your happiness increase.

IT’S THE “Y” THAT MAKES IT

We tend to believe that artists perform only the repertoire we know from studio recordings — and when we find out otherwise, it is always a pleasant shock.  Thus, the concert program that shows Louis in Europe with HOW AM I TO KNOW? as one of his songs; the airshot from the Famous Door (1938) with the Basie band beginning — unfortunately not completing — a riotous EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY . . . and more.  One never knows if the “featured by” on Thirties and Forties sheet music means that the artist pictured on the cover actually performed the song.  I doubt that Bobby Hackett often played LITTLE SKIPPER or TINKLE TIME, but anything is possible.

Here are Connie, Vet, and Martha — pictured on the cover of a song by Bud Green and Sam H. Stept . . .

SWINGY LITTLE THINGY

Although the Sisters look quite serious — a Greek statue? — the song is a light-hearted Thirties trifle.  Perhaps, deep in the Boswell family archives, there are airshots of this?  We can hope.  Here is a 1933 recording of the song — music by Joe Robichaux, vocal by Chick Bullock — so we can imagine what the Sisters would have done with it:

May your happiness increase.

“DOUCE AMBIANCE”: DJANGOLOGIE (EMMA FISK, JAMES BIRKETT, GILES STRONG, MICHAEL SHOULDER)

This tidy Gypsy jazz quartet evokes the easy flowing lyricism of the original performances by Django and Stephane.  Hear for yourself: the melodies unfold in leisurely ways, and everything is sweetly in balance.

The UK group is called DJANGOLOGIE, but they don’t restrict themselves to the QHCF repertoire.  Emma Fisk, who made such an impression on us in a variety of musical contexts at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, is on violin; James Birkett takes the first guitar solo; Giles Strong the second; Michael Shoulder is on bass:

Here’s the band’s Facebook page and here you can check out their CD.  Sweet ambiance indeed!

May your happiness increase.

PETER VACHER’S SUBTLE MAGIC: “MIXED MESSAGES:

The best interviewers perform feats of invisibility.  Yes, they introduce the subject, give some needed context or description, and then fade away – – – so that we believe that X or Y is speaking directly to us.  This takes a great deal of subtlety and energy . . . but the result is compelling.  Whitney Balliett did it all the time; other well-regarded interviewers couldn’t.  Peter Vacher, who has written for JAZZ JOURNAL and CODA, among other publications, has come out with a new book, and it’s sly, delightful, and hugely informative.

Vacher

MIXED MESSAGES: AMERICAN JAZZ STORIES is a lively collection of first-hand recollections from those essential players whose names we don’t always know but who make the stars look and sound so good.  The title is slightly deceptive: we are accustomed to interpreting “mixed messages” as a combination of good and bad, difficult to interpret plainly.  But I think this is Vacher’s own quizzical way of evaluating the material he so lovingly presents: here are heroic creators whose work gets covered over — fraternal subversives, much like Vacher himself.  One might think, given the cover (Davern, Houston Person, and Warren Vache) that this is a book in which race features prominently (it does, when appropriate) and the mixing of jazz “schools” is a subject (less so, since the players are maturely past such divisive distinctions).

Because Vacher has opted to speak with the sidemen/women — in most cases — who are waiting in the lobby for the band bus, or having breakfast by themselves — his subjects have responded with enthusiasm and gratitude.  They aren’t retelling the same dozen stories that they’ve refined into an automatic formula; they seem delighted to have an attentive, knowledgeable listener who is paying them the compliment of avidly acknowledging their existence and talent.  The twenty-one musicians profiled by Vacher show his broad-ranging feeling for the music: Louis Nelson, Norman ‘Dewey’ Keenan, Gerald Wilson, Fip Ricard, Ruby Braff, George ‘Buster’ Cooper, Bill Berry, Benny Powell, Plas Johnson Jr, Carl ‘Ace’ Carter, Herman Riley, Lanny Morgan, Ellis Marsalis, Houston Person Jr, Tom Artin, John Eckert, Rufus Reid, John Stubblefield, Judy Carmichael, Tardo Hammer, Byron Stripling.  New Orleanians, beboppers, late-Swing players, modern Mainstreamers, lead trumpeters and a stride pianist, and people even the most devoted jazz fancier probably has not heard of except as a name in a liner note or a discography.  Basie, Ellington, and Charlie Barnet make appearances here; so do Johnny Hodges, Jimmie Lunceford, Al Grey, Charlie Shavers, Bobby Hackett, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Red, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Knepper, Lee Konitz, Ornette Coleman, Papa Celestin, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, the AACM, Freddie Green, John Hammond, Roy Eldridge, Dick Wellstood, Duke Jordan, Sal Mosca, Junior Cook, Bill Hardman, Art Farmer, Mary Lou Williams.

But the strength and validity of this book is not to be measured by the number of names it includes, but in the stories.  (Vacher’s subjects are unusually candid without being rancorous, and a number of them — Braff, Berry, Stripling — take time to point out how the elders of the tribe were unusually kind and generous mentors.)  Here are a few excerpts — vibrant and salty.

Benny Powell on working with Lionel Hampton:

He was a pretty self-centered guy.  Kinda selfish.  When something wasn’t right or he wanted to admonish somebody in the band, he would have a meeting just before the show.  He’d get us all on stage and tell us how unworthy we were.  He’d say, “People come to see me.  I can get out on stage and urinate on stage and people will applaud that.”  He would go on and on like this, and when he was finished, he’d say, “All right, gentlemen, let’s have a good show.”  I’d say to myself, “Good show!  I feel like crying.”

Pianist Carl “Ace” Carter:

. . . the drummer . . . . was Ernie Stephenson, they used to call him Mix.  He said, “Why don’t you turn to music?  You can get more girls.”  He’s passed on now but I said if I ever see him in heaven I’m gonna kill him because to this day I haven’t got a girl.” 

Trumpeter John Eckert:

I didn’t appreciate Louis Armstrong until I played a concert with Maynard Ferguson’s band, when I was. maybe, 26 years old [circa 1965].  A lot of big acts were there, including Maynard, Dave Brubeck with Paul Desmond, and three or four other modern groups.  Louis ended the concert.  I’d always seen him as this old guy, with the big smile, saying negative things about bebop, but I was just thunderstruck at how he sounded.  I couldn’t believe how powerful he was, his timing, just the authority he played with — his group wasn’t really that impressive — but he was the king.

To purchase this very satisfying book, click here.

May your happiness increase.

REBECCA and HARRY ARE COMING TO NEW YORK (March 6-10, 2013)

Becky_Kilgore

This is indeed good news.  Ms. Kilgore is not seen on the East Coast as often as we would prefer, and she will be appearing — and singing — with some favored musical friends: Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Joel Forbes, string bass; Kevin Kanner, drums . . . in a show at New York City’s Metropolitan Room.  Click I LIKE MEN for details.

I have been sworn to secrecy about the song list — to give it here would be like telling what happens during Season Four of Downton Abbey — but I can offer these hints.  Songs associated with James Bond, Peggy Lee, and Billie Holiday will be part of the bill of fare.  Harold Arlen, Leo Robin, Truman Capote, Eubie Blake, Frank Loesser, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Hoagy Carmichael, and the Gershwin brothers will drop by.

Familiar songs (the ones where the audience goes “Aaaaaaahhhhh,” as Rebecca slides from verse to chorus) and delightfully obscure ones will be treated appropriately.  And those of us wise and fortunate enough to have experienced a Kilgore-Allen evening know that it unfolds beautifully with its own shape — a small fulfilling concert rather than a bunch of songs that everyone likes at the moment.

March 6-7-8-9-10 at 9:30 PM.  The Metropolitan Room is at 34 West 22nd Street, New York 10010 (MetropolitanRoom or 212.206.0440 for reservations.  Tickets $30.)  Don’t miss it: you don’t want to be thinking about THE EVENING THAT GOT AWAY on March 11.

May your happiness increase.

“OLD-FASHIONED LOVE”: CHLOE FEORANZO, STEPHANIE TRICK, JOHN REYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 23, 2012)

Gender-neutral, cross-generational, child-friendly, organic, locally sourced, gluten-free, and hot: Chloe Feoranzo (clarinet); Stephanie Trick (piano); Katie Cavera (string bass); John Reynolds (guitar).  Recorded on November 23, 2012, at the San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Fest. . . !

OLD-FASHIONED LOVE:

CHINA BOY:

That’s the recent past.  How about a hint of what is expected for Thanksgiving 2013 in San Diego?  Here’s something to consider . . . with eagerness and old-fashioned love — the most recent list of artists invited to perform there:

If you are averse to clicking, I can tell you that I see Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, the Reynolds Brothers, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, Bob Schulz, High Sierra, Dave Bennett, Carl Sonny Leyland, Chloe Feoranzo,  Bob Draga, Glenn Crytzer, Grand Dominion, Jason Wanner . . . . and I know more swinging surprises are in store.

May your happiness increase.