Daily Archives: February 28, 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.