Monthly Archives: October 2013

ON MY WAY / TO WHITLEY BAY / WHERE GOOD TIMES ARE PLENTIFUL

Feel free to join in with my new song — doggerel created to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s JAMAICA FAREWELL: “I’m on me way / to Whitley Bay / won’t be back / till late Monday / I’m all excit’ / Won’t miss my flight / I know I’ll have a time / at Whitley Bay.”

Obviously, I have no reputation as a composer of calypso.

The omens and portents are much more favorable today than they were in 2012.  That trip that began with this weary traveler leaving his passport at home and making a costly racing roundtrip to retrieve it. The glorious jazz weekend ended with Superstorm Sandy and its global effects.   Of course, in both cases, I was helped immensely by generous strangers (at British Airways) and swing friends.

But Whitley Bay — now the Classic Jazz Party, formerly the International Jazz Festival — has been a special place since my first visit in 2009. There I met and admired Bent Persson, Aurelie Tropez, Nick Ward, Jacob Ullberger, Matthias Seuffert, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Norman Field, and two dozen others. There I basked in the wit and generosity of the late Mike Durham, who still remains a vivid presence. I will be looking around corners for him all weekend long.  And this year the visiting Americans aren’t so bad, either: Andy Schumm, Josh Duffee, Duke Heitger, Jeff Barnhart, Daryl Sherman.

This year’s party offers exciting thematic presentations: the music of Coon-Sanders, early Ellington, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Basie 1937, Johnny Dodds, Eddie South and Stuff Smith, rare Bix, rare Fats, California Ramblers, and more.  My camera batteries are charged and I feel the same way.

I wish I could sweep you all along with me, but the airlines are fussy about bringing unscheduled guests.  So I hope JAZZ LIVES readers have patience: I will video-record as much as possible, and subject to musicians’ approval, you will see much of it in the months to come.

I expect to be busy listening, recording, talking and hanging out — living life away from the computer — so if this blog seems quiet for this long weekend, don’t feel abandoned. I am simply gathering new material for your pleasure.

I don’t anticipate think that any of my readers has sufficient frequent flyer miles to jump on a plane right this minute, but “day tickets” are still available, £50 a day.  Details here.  But you’d have to be fairly close to Newcastle to make this possible.  (On a whim, I checked Expedia for round-trip from New York and the least expensive flight was $1500.)

By the time some of you read this, I will already be on a Delta flight to Newcastle by way of Amsterdam . . . a jazz pilgrim on one of the great pilgrimages, bearing notebook and camera, CDs and snacks, clothing, pills, and an umbrella — instead of a scallop shell.

See you back at the ranch on Tuesday, November 5!

Here’s a little music from the 2012 Party, a video of mine that has not been made public before, to lift up your spirits and embody what the weekend is all about.  Rene Hagmann, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, clarinet; Roly Veitch, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass, performing THAT’S A-PLENTY in hono(u)r of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four. My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase!

CLIFF LEEMAN’S SOUND LIVES ON

Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music.  You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.

He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit.  Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point.  He spoke briefly about his approach in this interview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.

In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:

In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey.  I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing.  Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had.  But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us.  Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).

But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music.  Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:

Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:

I first met Clifford at Nick’s.  I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.

Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.

He wore Capezios on the job.

He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself.  He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.

He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.

Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”

He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”

Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”

Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol.  Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other.  They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.

Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone.  And he could read music.  He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____?  He can’t read!”

Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.

He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together.  Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.

“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said.  Billy was so cute.

He loved his cymbals.

He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart.  They had a good time.  They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.

Kenny Davern!  Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man.  He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.

Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.

Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows.  He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.

I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa.  In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg.  I was lucky to have known such things and such people.  How fortunate I was!

We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on.  And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER WALLER WANTS A DOLLAR (1936)

I think that the credit report issued for one Thomas Waller would be shocking. And it might include his time spent in jail for nonpayment of alimony.

But who among us wouldn’t “advance” Fats a few dollars, even knowing that it wouldn’t make its way back to us?  Money well-spent, I feel.

FATS NEEDS SOME MONEY, 1936

From eBay, of course.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING THE TWO GUITAR QUARTET: HOWARD ALDEN and ANDY BROWN CELEBRATE IN CHICAGO (November 1-2, The Green Mill)

I wish I could be there, because this quartet (Andy Brown, Howard Alden, guitars, Joe Policastro, string bass; Bob Rummage, drums) makes splendid music.

TWO GUITARS

If you can’t make it to these gigs (and even if you can) you will want a copy of their splendid new CD, HEAVY ARTILLERY, on Delmark Records. Here is what I wrote about it.

May your happiness increase!

“THE CAUSE OF HAPPINESS” IN PAPERBACK

Are you looking to begin your holiday shopping early?  Of course, you can shower your friends and family with gift cards, but I propose a more satisfying gifts for the people on your list who might need a portable reminder of how deep happiness goes and how it can be attained.  They don’t need to love jazz; they need to be open to love.

My suggestion?  Ricky Riccardi’s enduring book WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS. Click here for the essential details.

It is a great human story of an artist, joyous and courageous, bringing light to hundreds of thousands of people.  You don’t need to be a jazz fan to admire the story and the book.

Here’s what I wrote in 2011, when the book first came out.  It still seems true to me today.

Ricky Riccardi’s new book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS (Pantheon), will be published in a week, and it has already gotten a glowing review in the Washington Post, with NPR and The New York Times coverage to come.  (You can read the reviews and Ricky’s interview in JAZZ TIMES by clicking here):

Full disclosure: my name crops up in the acknowledgments, and I admired Ricky’s work long before this book came out.  But I would think this book was magical even if I’d never met its author.

On its surface, this biography depicts the last quarter-century of Louis Armstrong’s life — his years of global popularity as a beloved figure, the years of HELLO, DOLLY! and WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.

But the real story in this book is the gap between public perception and essential reality.  “To be great is to be misunderstood,” Emerson wrote, and it rings true here.  Artists cannot defend themselves against those who choose to interpret their work.  There is often a huge gap between what artists create, how the “experts” and “critics” perceive it, and how the art is represented to the world.

There have been many books about Louis — the best of them have been Terry Teachout’s POPS, and LOUIS by Max Jones and John Chilton.  (I am passing over the other biographies, marred by their distance from the subject or by personal rancors.)

But Ricky’s book deeply and effectively faces the complex question of what it is to be a working artist in the modern world.  An artist working in the public world — not a painter or a poet in a studio, but a “performer” on television, on records, onstage.

Louis lived to make music, and to “lay it on the public.”  A musician needs a community, both on and off stage.  Louis was no recluse; he didn’t scorn his audiences.  He spent his days and nights, consciously and subconsciously, living for what would come out of his horn, how he would sing.

This was his quest, his joy, and his “hustle,” what he did for a living.  He didn’t demand to be taken seriously as An Artist, but he did know that he was creating masterpieces; he was proud of his art and the pleasure it brought and continues to bring.

Thus, when he began to be sneered at (and that’s not too strong a word) as an Uncle Tom, an “entertainer,” someone who had sold out, had lost his creativity, had turned his back on “the truth,” even “a good-natured buffoon,” these cruel misinterpretations turned Emerson’s words into knives.

Another artist might have turned his back on his critics and spent his last quarter-century in wounded seclusion.  Louis worked harder; he toured the world; he became “Ambassador Satch,” he created astonishing beauties.  The audiences understood this in deep spiritual ways, even if they had never read Gunther Schuller.

But it took this book — the new material in it and Ricky’s affectionate, dogged diligence — to bring Louis, complete and complicated, to life once again.  And here I want to move slightly to the book itself — and its author.

Ricky Riccardi is, first off, a fine writer.  Not fussy, not academic, but someone whose vigorous, human speaking voice resonates through these pages.  So the book is a pleasure to read: I rationed the pages I allowed myself each night so that it wouldn’t end too soon, as I knew it had to.  He has so steeped himself in the life of the man he is celebrating (and it is a celebratory book!) that his easy assurance illuminates every page.  But the reader never feels intimidated by an impending avalanche of facts and dates and itineraries.

This book places the living Louis Armstrong in front of us, seen anew — the man who had a very intricate relationship with his manager, Joe Glaser, but was in charge of that relationship, not its victim.  There is an astonishing long letter from Louis to Glaser on the subject of marijuana — a revelation not only in the tale it tells, but in Louis’s angry eloquence.

Ricky has delved more deeply into Louis’s private tapes than any biographer before him, thus the book is full of new insights rather than being a synthetic assemblage of what other people have written.  I was surprised and delighted (dee-lighted, really) on every page.  And while this biography is no uncritical fan letter, its affection comes through from start to finish — a fitting celebration of Louis, who created and felt “the love and warmth of a million people.”

As a working jazz musician, Ricky also understands much more about the music than many writers who have been on the scene longer.  Even though you don’t need to be a musicologist to read this book, and there is not one intimidating transcribed solo (just lovely photographs), the book never feels distant from Louis’s art.

Louis Armstrong lived “in the cause of happiness.”  Although he knew his art was unique, he wore his achievements lightly, “I’m not lookin’ to be on no high pedestal.  [The people who hear me] get their soul lifted because they got the same soul I have the moment I hit a note.”

More than any other biography of Louis Armstrong, Ricky’s book vibrates with those truths.  Even if you are someone who appreciates Louis Armstrong only casually, you will find in this book a deep, rewarding, honest portrait of a man, an artist, his century.

It’s an extraordinary biography and a wonderful book.  And it brings the same joy that Louis did.

P.S.  Ricky also maintains a wonderful Louis Armstrong blog, with music and video. Here is his most recent posting — full of delights from Louis in Scandinavia, 1933.

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL OFFERING: JON BURR, HOWARD ALDEN, MENNO DAAMS at the EDISON HOTEL (Oct. 4, 2013)

Any Friday, between 4 and 6 PM, you can find a treasure in midtown Manhattan for those who love music.  The Edison Hotel, at 228 West 47th Street, New York 10036, offers a gratifying experience to guests and passers-by alike: wine and snacks with music by string bassist Jon Burr and guitarist Howard Alden.  (Occasionally other musicians will substitute for the world-travelling guitarist; others will visit and sit in . . . as you shall see.)

I was there on Friday, October 4, 2013, and was delighted to capture these marvelous performances for JAZZ LIVES.  Jon and Howard are a lyrical, softly swinging pair by themselves — but things got even better when Menno Daams brought his cornet (and the lyrical heart to make sweet sounds) all the way from the Netherlands.

Beauty was in the air!

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

AUTUMN IN NEW YORK:

I’LL REMEMBER APRIL:

I was waiting to see if they would continue the calendar-theme with JUNE IN JANUARY, but they went in another direction, cosmologically, with STELLA BY STARLIGHT:

Menno joined in for a sweet rendition of Ray Noble’s THE TOUCH OF YOUR LIPS:

And he remained for Berlin’s THE BEST THING FOR YOU (WOULD BE ME):

After a brief break, Howard and Jon embarked on FROM THIS MOMENT ON:

Menno gave voice to what we all felt about the music, IT’S ALL RIGHT WITH ME (with spices from Brazil):

Then the three of them courageously tried out a soft mournful ballad, Fud Livingston’s I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

I’ve already posted the closing song of the session, SHINY STOCKINGS, but it’s so fine no one will mind a repeat performance.

The Edison Hotel‘s Facebook page has more information on the bounty, musical and otherwise, it offers.

May your happiness increase!

WONDERFUL, MARVELOUS, SINFULLY GOOD: MARTY GROSZ, SCOTT ROBINSON, DAN BLOCK, DAN BARRETT, DUKE HEITGER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, PETE SIERS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2012

“Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?”

Easily answered: Marty Grosz, guitar and arrangements; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Scott Robinson, Dan Block, reeds; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. Recorded on September 22, 2012, at Jazz at Chautauqua.

In addition to the sprightly songs, please notice Marty’s swinging arrangements: his assortments of horns, the idiomatic riffs and backgrounds, the way his performances are anything but ensemble – solos – ensemble in formulaic ways.  (Chuck Folds wrote somewhere that Vic Dickenson loved to play MISS ANNABELLE LEE: a pity Vic never got to record his huge repertoire for generations to come.  I hear it as a slow drag . . . )

MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

MY SIN:

(Some impatient viewer is sure to comment on YouTube that the music doesn’t begin until two minutes and two seconds have elapsed.  I write these words as a public service.)

And some audio-visual aids for those, who, like me, find these songs captivating — impossible to forget once heard.

Visual (Cupid takes aim at a flapper; the final S of the title falls to the ground):

MISS ANNABELLE LEE

And again (in what I believe is a later copy of the sheet music):

MY SINFor those who want to hear contemporaneous performances — by one of the most winsome singers ever — here is Miss Annette Hanshaw.

MISS ANNABELLE LEE:

MY SIN:

(Incidentally, the latter song might be the precursor to the 1931 GUILTY — one of several songs that compare romantic infatuation to a moral or criminal offense.  Draw your own conclusions.)

May your happiness increase!