Monthly Archives: July 2014

KILGORE SWINGS EMERSON

In SELF-RELIANCE, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home.” BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, written by Dave Dreyer, Billy Rose, and Al Jolson in 1928 (I would give almost all of the credit to Mr. Dreyer) makes the same claim in a different way. It proposes that home is so lovely that it makes travel unnecessary, and that those who roam find their greatest happiness when they return — nostalgia more than transcendentalism, perhaps, but the effect is the same.

Rebecca Kilgore doesn’t present herself as a philosopher, although she does hail from Massachusetts, home of Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts, but she makes this philosophical statement exultant in its hopefulness and its swing.

This performance was recorded at the 26th San Diego Jazz Party, on February 22, 2014.  The other philosophers on the stand are Chuck Redd, drums; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Eddie Erickson, guitar; Johnny Varro, piano; Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Antti Sarpila, clarinet.

Home is where such music is.

May your happiness increase!

THE BLACK DIAMOND BLUE FIVE: CLINT BAKER, LEON OAKLEY, ROBERT YOUNG, BILL REINHART, MARTY EGGERS, ISABELLE FONTAINE, JUNE 1, 2014 (Part Two)

Jazz flourishes where you wouldn’t expect it, but always amidst its fervent supporters.  What follows was the second half of an afternoon concert for the San Joaquin Dixieland Jazz Society, held at an Elks Lodge in Stockton, California. (I posted the first half some weeks back here.)

It was worth the drive to hear one of the bands most effectively committed to a style, a period, an energized way of playing: the music that Clarence Williams and friends made between the early Twenties and the middle Thirties.

The Black Diamond Blue Five was created almost two decades ago by the banjoist George Knoblauch, sadly no longer with us, and George’s friends carry on the hot, earnest, deeply felt tradition: Clint Baker, banjo, guitar, vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Robert Young, soprano / alto saxophone, vocal; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Reinhart, tuba, and special guest Isabelle Fontaine, washboard, vocal.

Here’s a second helping of hot jazz, dance tunes, blues, serenades to imaginary figures, mildly naughty inventions, and more:

COME BACK SWEET PAPA:

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES:

I’M NOT ROUGH:

DREAMING THE HOURS AWAY:

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

WEST END BLUES:

WAIT ‘TILL YOU SEE MY BABY DO THE CHARLESTON:

Two postscripts.  The BDBF also appeared at the 2014 Cline Wine and Dixieland Festival, so more video performances will be gracing your screens before long. And this particular post was motivated by Andrew Jon Sammut’s offering on his THE POP OF YESTERCENTURY, where he focuses on the original Clarence Williams recordings of several of these songs.

May your happiness increase!

“HIS HEART WAS IN JAZZ”: IAN ROBERT “SPIKE” MACKINTOSH

I have to thank the writer / musician Dave Gelly for increasing my happiness immeasurably. In Gelly’s AN UNHOLY ROW (Equinox), his delightful book on British jazz and its audiences between 1945-60, this sentence appears on page 93, in Gelly’s survey of the Fifties work of clarinetist Wally Fawkes: “Particularly revealing is the playing of Spike Mackintosh (1918-1986) who, perhaps more than any other trumpeter, catches the grave elegance of classic Armstrong.”

“Grave elegance” is a lovely phrase, and since I am a continuing student in what Ruby Braff called the University of Armstrong, it stuck in my mind. About ten days ago, I ordered a copy of the Lake Records CD compilation, FLOOK DIGS JAZZ (Lake LACD 143).

The original vinyl issue of FLOOK DIGS JAZZ on Decca

The original vinyl issue of FLOOK DIGS JAZZ on Decca

The first track, Cole Porter’s WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE, so affected me that I played it over and over again.  Listen and you will understand (even though my homemade video presentation is amateurish):

That’s Wally, clarinet; Eddie Harvey, trombone; Ian Armit, piano; Lennie Bush, string bass; Eddie Taylor, drums — recorded March 24, 1957. Wally, of course, always catches my ear because of the depth of his beautiful sound, his placement of notes, and the rest of the band is quite fine.

But hearing Spike Mackintosh was a wonderful revelation to me.  (He was another rebuke to Philip Larkin’s “Larkin’s Law” that states if a musician or band was any good, you would have heard of him / her / them by now.)  Spike, at first, might sound to the casual listener an expert Louis-copyist, but that isn’t the case.

Spike does so much more than put one Louis phrase next to the other to create a solo; he has his own beautiful, graceful sense of that idiom while making it his own.  Rather like Joe Thomas, he is delicate rather than overstated; he builds a solo from melodic embellishment to grand architecture, with the effect being sun bursting through clouds. Love, not caricature, drives his lyricism. No handkerchiefs.

I wanted to find out more about Spike, and was very pleased to see that writer Ralph M. Laing devoted half of his beautiful liner notes on the man himself. Since he knew Spike, these words are precious.

I first heard Spike play around 1956 in the regular Thursday night session at the ‘100’ Club in Oxford Street. He was an unlikely icon, always dressed in jacket, shirt and tie, relatively small in stature, with black semi-chastened hair, and RAF moustache and accent to match. On stage he drank what he fondly imagined we all believed to be tea from a cup and saucer (in those days the ‘100’ Club had no liquor license). And he played quite beautifully, in the later style of his idol, Louis. He was featured by Al Fairweather and Sandy Brown in 1956 on the seminal SANDY’S SIDEMEN (on LAKE LACD133); indeed his feature High Time is the most melodic of the eight Al Fairweather originals which made the album so remarkable. The melody was sold by Spike with such majesty and melodic simplicity that it remains for me one of British trad’s finer moments.

More derivative of Louis than Al, his nearest stylistic contemporary, Spike concentrated on tone and economical phrasing. While both had a gorgeous sound for which most other British brass players would kill their mothers, Al strove to create his own style. Spike on the other hand believed that there would never be another sound as perfect as mid-period Louis. All his life he sought to emulate this majesty. And, on the basis of these recordings alone, it is fairly evident that, at his peak, he has yet to be equalled in Europe. His solo on Talk of the Town is a masterpiece of subtle simplicity, while he roared above the band on When You’re Smiling with the same sort of regal authority which we think of as Louis’ sole province. Half a dozen of Britain’s finest trumpet players, including Spike, congregated to greet Louis on the Heathrow tarmac when he briefly flew into London in December 1956 to play for the Hungarian Relief Fund at the Royal Festival Hall. The player who caught Louis’ ear was Spike.

Wally and Spike had much in common. To begin with their musical education was similarly weighted towards the swing music of the 1930s. Today’s readers will find it difficult to realise that any British players who had reached any prominence by the mid-1950s were probably self-educated from a relatively small number of 78rpm records. Most of what little jazz was available in our shops came from Parlophone, HMV and Columbia, and we bought everything we could. Then we played it until the black grooves turned grey. Stylistically we didn’t really care. Although, of course, we could differentiate between, say, the type of music played by the Hot Five, the Goodman Quartet, Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson, we were so grateful to get our hands on any new re-releases at all that ideology was a non-starter. Sectarian warfare was only to raise its head with the Born Again movement, which surrounded Ken Colyer on his return from the promised land of New Orleans. But for most of us, by the mid-1950s our fate was cast. Our tastes were catholic and fundamentalism was unlikely to recruit us as converts. Both Wally and Spike, to be sure, fell into this category.

As well as being good friends, Wally and Spike also shared another bond. In the heady days when these recordings were made it was perfectly sensible (and eminently feasible) for talented semi-professional jazz musicians to turn professional. Most of my pals, several with university degrees and all with their heads well screwed on, made the jump. Others, however, had occupations which it would have been foolhardy completely to jettison. For example, Sandy Brown was bent on building his practice in acoustic architecture. By 1957 Wally was one of Britain’s most respected cartoonists, and Spike ran a sizeable family timber business. And neither relished life on the road.

I was lucky enough to know Spike reasonably well towards the end of his life, as he religiously made the annual trip to the Edinburgh Festival. He, Stan Greig and I would usually end up indulging in Spike’s two favorite pastime — listening to jazz records and indulging in good conversation until the small hours. He was still dapper, and, although he always carried his trumpet with him, was inordinately reticent about playing. These 21 tracks (plus High Time on Sandy’s Sidemen) represent, to the best of my knowledge, his entire recorded work. It is a relatively small legacy in size, but a substantial one indeed in quality. British jazz may never see his like again, more’s the pity.

At this point, I must thank Paul Adams of LAKE Records for issuing both FLOOK DIGS JAZZ and SANDY’S SIDEMEN, and direct readers to the LAKE site, as well as being grateful to Ralph M. Laing for his memoir.

I could find very little information on Spike online. Here, for example, is the only photograph that emerged — from the LAKE reissue of SANDY’S SIDEMEN, with Spike the barely visible figure third from right, “dapper” indeed:

Sandys+Sidemen

I was astonished to find that Ian Robert “Spike” Mackintosh was father of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the famous West End theatre producer, responsible for LES MISERABLES and CATS. When Sir Cameron was interviewed in THE SCOTSMAN, September 20, 2012, he had a few words — a little more derisive than affectionate, perhaps — about his father, once the interviewer set the stage:

[Sir Cameron’s] connections to Scotland go back through generations. His grandfather came from the east coast, his great-grandfather from Raasay, and his great-grandmother from Skye. His father was Scottish: a brilliant jazz trumpeter who put aside his instrument to take over the family timber yard.

“His heart was in jazz. He played with Louis Armstrong, who gave him one of his trumpets. The great clarinet player Ian Christie said that ‘between drinks three and nine Spike Mackintosh was a genius’.” He roars with laughter. “After that, beware…”

His Maltese mother was the pragmatist to his father’s dreamer. “I inherited her drive and his dreaming,” Sir Cameron says. “We had very little money. A chicken on a Sunday was a treat. My mother was amazing at keeping the family together.”

Another mention of Spike came from the obituary for Melody Maker editor Jack Hutton, 28 August 2008, THE INDEPENDENT:

Hutton’s retirement from Spotlight in 1987 was celebrated with a party at Ronnie Scott’s club in London, where he played trumpet on stage in a jam session. In later years he enjoyed playing trumpet regularly with a trad jazz group and was a founder member of the Codgers Club with former Fleet Street pals Ian Christie (clarinet), Peter York (bass) and fellow trumpeter Spike Mackintosh, the father of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the theatre producer. The club met regularly in Covent Garden and Hutton played trumpet with their band, dubbed “The Codgers” by his wife, inspired by the Daily Mirror’s “Old Codgers” letters column.

I think that someone who created such beauty and was also so “reticent” deserves even more attention than I have been able to offer here.  I have asked people here and in the UK for information and memories of Spike. I have written to Wally Fawkes (now ninety and no longer playing); I have sent an email to the official Sir Cameron Mackintosh site, but so far no revelations. Spike should be better known and more fervently celebrated. Inspired by our greatest hero, he shone his own light for us.

May your happiness increase! 

HAL SMITH HONORS “MISTER CHACE”

The splendid jazz drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith and I share certain serious devotions.  One is to the pianist Frank Melrose and his daughter Ida; another is to the clarinetist and brave explorer Frank Chace.

Hal has emerged with yet a third talent to share (generously) with us: he has created a beautiful and lively video tribute to Mister Chace, with a glorious soundtrack of SORRY — played by Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band from the Riverside recording called HOORAY FOR BIX — as well as a panorama of rare, never-before-seen, highly evocative photographs that open the door to understanding Frank Chace a little wider.

Thank you, Hal!  Frank would be amused, perplexed, and I think pleased by your creative act of love.  Ultimately, he would be delighted that someone who understood the music so well — and played it with equal grace — had taken the time to honor him:

Hal and Frank can be heard together on two rewarding and illuminating CD sets on the Jazzology label — one with Butch Thompson, John Otto, and Charlie DeVore; the other with Tom Pletcher and Tom Bartlett, among others.  Winning music indeed.

May your happiness increase!

SWINGTIME AT THE LIBRARY with LAURA WINDLEY and the MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND

I haven’t had a librarian say “Shhhhhh!” to me since junior high school, so I know that stereotype might be long gone. But it’s lovely to see a library expand into sweet, swinging music, as it does here.

The wonderful musicians are the warm, easy singer Laura Windley and the Mint Julep Jazz Band: Lucian Cobb, trombone; Paul Rogers, trumpet; Aaron Hill, alto sax and clarinet; Keenan McKenzie, tenor sax and clarinet; Ben Lassiter, guitar; Aaron Tucker, drums; Jason Foureman, string bass. They perform the magical time-travel of bringing a 1938 Cotton Club show with an Ellington small group to the library in Greensboro, North Carolina (videos shot by Our State magazine). I’m very happy to see and hear this, and I am sure you will like it / them, too.

SWINGTIME IN HONOLULU:

ROCK IT FOR ME:

and a rollicking instrumental invention (I think of the John Kirby Sextet in its 1943-44 guise plus gallons of coffee) called MIAMI BOULEVARD:

And here is the band’s website. If they come to the library, what could prevent them from coming to you?  Or the reverse.

May your happiness increase!

THE BLACK BUTTERFLY

In conversation, I have been known to say, “Music saved my life.” And the other person smiles and nods, sometimes saying, “Yes, I understand,” or “Me, too.” But very few people know how serious my four words are.

Although I am by nature optimistic and hopeful, before 2004 I was seriously unhappy for long periods of time — situational rather than biochemical despair. The reasons for my sadness are not relevant here. When I was most hopeless, I thought seriously of ending my life.  I checked out the Hemlock Society website (earnest but very complicated) and lay on my bed thinking of the items I would purchase from Home Depot that would do the job.

But one thought recurred in the darkness, “Is there any guarantee you will be able to hear music — Louis Armstrong first and everyone else you love — if you kill yourself?”  It kept me from putting my plans into action.

We know that music heals, that beautiful sound itself is a form of moving energy much like prayer. The Beloved thinks that the sustaining power of the jazz we love is in its rhythm, the way it connects our beating hearts to the rhythms of the cosmos, and I think she is correct.  Myself, I hear warm tender voices coming from the instrumentalists and singers I love.  Those voices send love deeper than notes or words.  They tell us, “It can get better.  There is beauty in this world, no matter how cold and dark it seems now.”

And the voices were and are right: the proof is that I am writing these words now, able to tell this story from a safe distance, and I have never been happier.

At this point, some readers might object to what they see as a logical flaw.  To them, music never “saved” my life in the way Lassie saved Timmy.  True. But the thought of an unfathomably silent existence was more frightening, more painful than my current ordeal.

A corollary: some years after I emerged from this emotional abyss I was in one of those philosophical discussions — simultaneously silly and profound — where the question was “If you were going to be deprived of one sense, which one would you choose?”  Immediately I said I prized my hearing, would choose to be blind rather than deaf (making the people around the table both incredulous and scornful of what they saw as bad judgment.)

Writing this post about the life-saving powers of music, I wanted to offer my readers a taste of the music that made me then and makes me now glad to be alive. You know that this is my unstated purpose in my travels with a video camera, my hours spent creating JAZZ LIVES.  I am sure I could compile a long list of songs and performances that delight me now and always, but that would be “favorites” rather than “miraculous healers,” a different thing entirely.

One of the recordings that kept me from leaving this earthly existence I can share with you now, three minutes of glowing sound, a recording I have known for forty years. I first heard it in the company of Michael Burgevin, my dear MB.

It said to me then and says to me now that the universe is filled with love and protection and compassion if we only open ourselves to them.

The record is BLACK BUTTERFLY, an Ellington composition played here with ardor and sensitivity by the trumpeter Joe Thomas and friends for a Keynote Records session in 1946:

Writing this post, I thought I would invite my readers to join in on the chorus, and ask them, “What music do you reach for, would you reach for, when Gloom puts his cold hand on your heart?”

My only requests are these: ONE song only, details as specific as possible.  I am not stepping on anyone’s desert-island-discs or ten-best-list, but those lists too often seem contrived, and often are ways for us to show how wide our range is, how much we know.  So please don’t comment, “Anything by X,” if you don’t mind. And, as you can tell, this inquiry is very serious to me.  So no small comedies. Simply, “If I wanted a cure for deep misery, what one record would do the trick?”

With luck, readers can send in a performance that has a YouTube video attached to it so that others can hear the saving beauty that sustains you.

I look forward to hearing the music that makes burdens lighter for you, and collectively I must say that this business of being alive — often fraught with deep dark surprises — is all we have, and we should be very very grateful that we are allowed to roam around in the meadow we call Life for our short span. And even in the blackness of our sorrow, there is the a butterfly of healing music.

May your happiness increase!

EVER GREEN! (July 25-27, 2014)

I know I am a very fortunate mortal, and am reminded of this every moment. One of the more tangible reminders for me is the Evergreen Jazz Festival in the Colorado city of the same name, happening very soon — July 25-27, in fact. Here is the link which tells you all the exciting necessary details. Tickets are still available.  Plane flights are still possible.  There is going to be so much lovely hot and sweet music that I know I won’t get to more than a small percentage of it.

The Festival is arranged so that each band plays eight sets over three days in five venues (is there a math major in the house?) ranging from intimate to large, with room for energetic swing dancing.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing artists whose music I admire greatly:

JAMES DAPOGNY’S CHICAGO JAZZ BAND (with Jon-Erik Kellso, Kim Cusack, Russ Whitman, Chris Smith, Rod McDonald, Pete Siers)

“IVORY & GOLD”: JEFF and ANNE BARNHART

BIG MAMA SUE (I know her as Sue Kroninger, and she’ll be joined by Eddie Erickson,, and Chris Calabrese)

PETER ECKLUND TRIO

and some bands new to me that come highly recommended:

AFTER MIDNIGHT (reminiscent of the Goodman Sextet)

QUEEN CITY JAZZ BAND with Wende Harston

BOGALUSA STRUTTERS

JONI JANAK and CENTERPIECE JAZZ

HOT TOMATOES DANCE ORCHESTRA

YOUR FATHER’S MUSTACHE BAND

If we’ve never met or if we have, come say hello!  I love meeting my readers in person.  I will be wearing brightly colored clothing; I will be intent and silent and beaming behind a video camera . . . while the music is playing. Otherwise I admit to a great deal of speech. Anyway, it would be lovely to meet more JAZZ LIVES friends in the mountains of Colorado.

May your happiness increase!