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!

“A CONTROLLED, FEVERISH LYRICISM”: COLUMBIA AND RCA VICTOR LIVE RECORDINGS OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND THE ALL STARS

A musician friend of mine who is listening to this new set of rare Louis Armstrong music from 1947-58 wrote me that he has been waiting for this set for ten years. Without being competitive, I can say that I have been waiting for this Mosaic box set — a glorious and rewarding one — for almost fifty.

louis-armstrong-mosaic-records

Yes, I was introduced to Louis and his music through the sessions with Gordon Jenkins and THE FIVE PENNIES, but I treasured my copy of TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS and (later) AMBASSADOR SATCH, playing those records over and over. (When I bought my first Hot Five compilation — the Louis Armstrong Story, Volume One, with a bow to George Avakian — it sounded strange and distant, as did the Creole Jazz Band sessions.  But Thirties – Fifties Louis came to me like a vibrating force of nature.)

There are still too many listeners — and writers, unfortunately — who hold to the great myths we so love in this century — the great narrative of Early Promise and Later Stagnation.  Louis has been a true victim of such mythography: people who don’t listen think that he stopped being creative in 1929, that the All-Stars’ performances were simply crowd-pleasing note-for-note repetitions of perhaps a dozen tunes.

I do not write what follows casually: the music contained on these nine compact discs (over eleven hours of music) will be a revelation.

My title comes from Whitney Balliett’s review of Louis’ concert at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, and it is so very true.  Louis plays, throughout this set, like a man on a fierce mission of joy. Forget the cliche of the small, stocky, tired man, sweating and grinning and mopping his face while he grins his way through some paper-thin song about what a wonderful world it is or some woman named Dolly or Mame.  What you hear on these discs is not tired, not ever.

Indeed, if you were able to take one of the performances on this set and play it for someone whose ears were open, whose mind and heart were wiped clean of stereotype and assumption, I guarantee that my imagined listener would be in awe at the powerful energies to be experienced here.  The Mosaic set is not a loving tribute to a failing Elder; it is an explosive package of evidence showing that Louis was truly powerful and energized in his forties and fifties, playing and singing wonderfully — full of life.  Although a well-known reviewer in a well-known jazz publication called Louis’ performances with his chosen band a “cage,” and others have created platitudes about “antebellum” music, the sounds on this box set transcend all such shallow reportage.

Here is some musical evidence.  And for those of you who might say, “Oh, gee, another version of BLUEBERRY HILL?  For goodness’ sakes, I’ve heard Pops do that song a thousand times,” I would ask only that you sit still, put the iPhone or other distractions at a safe distance, and listen.  Listen anew.  Listen once again. What you hear is not routine, not repetition, not rote — but subtle creations, music springing to life for the millionth time, a piece of metal tubing and a human voice sending gifts of love and wisdom to all of us.

Listening to Louis Armstrong is not only a pleasurable experience but a transformative one, because Louis reminds us to not get weary, to never say, “You know, I am bored with doing, with making, with being.”  Louis never tired of that “show,” of letting music pass through him so it could be aimed like a caress at every member of the audience.  And even though Louis’ mortal body is no more, those vibrations are still able to rattle us in the nicest ways.

Larry Eanet, pianist, trombonist, creative thinker, once said that a gift (1940 or 41) of a set of Louis Armstrong 78s changed his life.  “It hit me,” he said, “like Cupid’s arrow.”

The Mosaic set has the loving power of a whole quiver of such arrows.  They stick but they never wound.

The recordings that changed Larry Eanet’s life were produced (and in some cases unearthed) by the man who, next to Louis and his musicians, is most responsible for this joy: producer and jazz-lover extraordinaire George Avakian.  When Louis was signed by Columbia Records, his record dates were supervised, shaped, and imagined by George — still with us at 95.  It’s clear that Louis trusted George to help him get his message across to as many people as possible, and the idea of AMBASSADOR SATCH owes much to George’s expansive, playful imagination. Almost seventy percent of the music in this set was overseen by George, and the box is a vibrant testimony to the power of someone who never played an instrument to create art that will outlive us all.

There are other figures to be thanked: Mosaic guardian angel Scott Wenzel; heroic engineer Andreas Meyer, and Louis Armstrong scholar and enthusiast and biographer Ricky Riccardi, who first had his encounter with Cupid’s arrow some years back. (Ricky’s is a particular triumph, because he wrote the eloquent notes; he worked to get this project moving into reality for more than a few years; this music was his entrance to the Universe of Louis as well.  The set, not incidentally, makes the perfect soundtrack to his book, WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD: THE MAGIC OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S LATER YEARS.)

It is tribute to all of these men that this set exists, and to Ricky’s dogged loving persistence that we can hear HOURS of previously unheard music in beautiful sound, exquisitely annotated, with rare photographs.

incidentally, in the name of candor, I contributed a rare photograph to the set and its liner-note writer thanks me.  I was honored to be even a small part of the effort — and the glowing result.

I could not leave out the Victor recordings on this set. And though the Columbia material pairs Louis with his most powerful front-line friends, Trummy Young and Edmond Hall, I have a personal delight in the 1947-9 All Stars because of the otherworldly playing of Sidney Catlett and Jack Teagarden — also the too-brief appearances of Dick Cary. The Mosaic set offers the twenty performances from the life-changing Town Hall Concert (it changed mine, so it’s not hyperbole) in the best sound, and then — an entire and previously unheard All Star concert (ninety minutes is all, but that’s a plenty) from Carnegie Hall that same year. And although the same songs are performed, don’t think for a minute these are identical performances.

I know that it is a critical commonplace to look down upon Louis as someone who traded in his vital jazz creativity for “showmanship.”  Louis thought that “pleasing the people” was a good thing, giving them soaring melodies, hot rhythms, and hilarious comedy was what he was on stage for.  I can listen to improvised music that goes in different directions, but the snobbery that puts Louis down is frankly inconceivable and intolerable to me.  Miles Davis, the enduring icon of cool disdain for the audience, loved Louis and was not ashamed to say so.  James Baldwin, too.  Louis had so deeply mastered the art of multifaceted and multilayered art that when he looked like he was “clowning,” he was delivering very subtle music and very deep performance.

A few candid words about Mosaic sets in general.  In my long experience of purchasing and listening, I think they have no equal. Rare material, issued legitimately for the first time, beautiful thorough documentation, wonderful sound. I know that box sets like this seem costly.  $149.00 plus shipping. But there are more than one hundred and sixty performances and interviews here. And I would propose that one purchases a Mosaic set in the same way one buys a new edition of Proust, of the complete Shakespeare, the Mozart symphonies. One is not expected to listen to the nine discs all at once, in one continual immersion, on the bus, while eating, and so on.  The music blurs and may even cloy.  One purchases such a set as a long-term investment: a wise listener would play ONE Louis track a day — that would take half a year — and savor each moment.  And then one could take a brief rest and begin in 1947, all over again.  This set has been produced in a limited edition of 5000 copies, and I can guarantee that when they are all purchased, they will appear on eBay for much much more.

And if you really want to say, “Well, I have heard enough (later) Louis Armstrong for my life,” I am afraid you will get no sympathy from me.  It’s rather like saying, “I don’t feel like laughing any more.  Been there, done that.”  And I am someone who, this last Friday, when a Louis record came on over the sound system at Cafe Borrone, I stood up and put my hand over my heart.  I wasn’t exaggerating my feelings at all. I don’t exaggerate them here.

Just for inspiration: Louis signs someone's telephone book in France.

Just for inspiration: Louis signs someone’s telephone book in France.

May your happiness increase!

WHEREVER THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY

Let me begin with a jubilant piece of music from the 1929 McKinney’s Cotton Pickers — featuring a wistful vocal by Don Redman, rousing solos from Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller and beautiful ensemble playing from Joe Smith, Leonard Davis, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Benny Carter, Ted McCord, Dave Wilborn, Billy Taylor, Kaiser Marshall:

That cheerful recording will seem an odd introduction to my topic, which is Death.

I think about that subject a great deal — not in a terrified way — because I am surrounded by reminders of those dear ones who have moved on (or away) and the Things that people leave behind.

When I go to an estate sale and I learn that the beautiful shirt I am wearing belonged to a man who is now dead, it is a spiritual lesson — intense and to the point.  When I go to Amoeba Music or the Down Home Music Store and find a dozen records all autographed to the same person — let us call him Dewey — I can safely guess that Dewey is no longer here, listening to those discs.

I feel grateful to be the recipient of objects that people cherished so when they were alive, yet sad that they are no longer here to enjoy them, and of course it makes me think of the finite shape of our lives.

So let us assume you have — as many jazz-lovers have — amassed a hoard, large or small, of objects related to the music you love.  Maybe they are records (cylinder to CD), autographs, photographs, ephemera (DOWN BEAT from 1939, a necktie that once belonged to _____): there are a thousand possibilities.

I wish no one of my readers of JAZZ LIVES to vanish, but I must ask them, collectively and singly, to imagine the possibility, and then to ask the question, “What will happen to my Treasures when I’m not here?”

For those who are prepared, the answer is easy.  “I’ve made a will.  I have an executor.  I have another name should that executor not be able to do what I’ve asked.  My executors have copies of the will; we have discussed what I have asked them to do. The will is recent; it was witnessed, notarized, and is properly done.  I do not like to think of my own death, but I have Taken Care of Business.”

Others say, “Oh, this is such a dreadful topic.  I don’t want to think about it today [this month, this year, ever, ever].  I know I should do something but I find it so depressing.  Besides, I have great plans for my collection of Tiny Parham Victors. And I think my infant grandchild Parham will want them when she grows up.  I’ll take care of it.”

I understand this.  It is very difficult for some of us to imagine the universe without us. But it will happen.

In my most kind voice, may I suggest that this pretending it will not happen is not wise. When the jazz collector dies, if (s)he dies without a will, the collection and all the deceased’s possessions have to be appraised — which costs money — before an item can be given away, disposed of, sold. This process isn’t quick, and establishing the value of anyone’s things — unless the dead person was a true minimalist — takes time and costs money.

If you have a partner or children, do you wish to add to their grief the burden of this legal and economic maze?  Or, if you have no one close to you, what will happen to your precious collection of deep-groove blue label Riversides?  My guess is that the landlord will haul them out to the curb or perhaps sell them to the local record store (not the worst thing).

Let me suggest an alternative, although I am not a lawyer nor do I pretend to be offering legal advice.  One can find an online form to create one’s own will.  Make it as specific as possible.  If you want your magazines to go to Clement, your 78s to go to Marjorie, and so on, put it in writing.  Such directions will not take the place of a will, but wills themselves need not be complicated, and I believe you can name someone (preferably somewhat younger and in good health) to be your executor, and then give that person a clear idea of what you would like.  “When I die, please check my email to see whom I have corresponded most frequently about the music.  Since we have spoken, you know the names of the people involved in jazz of whom I am most fond.  Invite them to the house; let them take home what they want.  Have a little party in my honor.  Save a thousand dollars from my savings.  Hire my favorite band.  Have they play FLEE AS A BIRD TO THE MOUNTAIN . . . and then DIDN’T HE RAMBLE.”

Of late, I am observing the partners of several friends who did not write wills, and their troubles are truly painful.  I am not talking about, “My goodness, I hear that all of Joe’s Paramounts went to Goodwill!  It was horrific!”  I am talking about the bereaved partner who not only has to deal with loss, but has to deal with The Stuff.

It is all too easy to say, “Oh, I think it should all go to this jazz institution or the other. They will want my Harry James and Benny Goodman 78s.”  Don’t be too sure. Libraries and institutions do not have infinitely expanding budgets, and to collect your beloved records, catalog them, store them in the proper fashion . . . all of this requires money and a staff.  Be sure to be sure — before saying, “I’d like my collection to go to ______,” that they really want it and will want it in some time in the future.

All this will sound too grim to some readers, and I apologize.

It was not easy for me to write a will, nor is it pleasant dinner conversation to discuss such things with the Beloved.

But benign neglect is a terrible — even a selfish — burden on the people who live on, and if you care about them, if you care about your Things, you might want to take what I am writing seriously.  (For me, my concern is with the people: once I am dead, I hope that my cherished objects go away in the most easy manner — ideally in to the hands of people I love and admire, but if my records go to Goodwill, it’s no disaster, since I bought many of them there.)

And I’m not just writing this to jazz collectors. Please pass this blogpost on to anyone you know who has more than a few of Anything — whether it’s copies of MARTHA STEWART LIVING in MSL binders or first editions or swizzle sticks.

Please do consider this yourself, though, and act on it, promptly.  I write these paternalistic nagging words with love.

May your happiness increase! 

MELLOW and DIVINE: LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO at CAFE DIVINE (June 15, 2014)

The final three duet improvisations by the masterful Leon Oakley, cornet, and Craig Ventresco, guitar, at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco), recorded on Sunday, June 15, 2014:

SATURDAY NIGHT FUNCTION:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND (with a particularly lovely rubato verse):

Leon and Craig will be back in their chosen spot on Sunday, July 20 — making their way, tender and brave, through the worlds of music.  Divine for sure. And the pizza was delicious.

May your happiness increase!

LESTER’S REPEATER PENCIL, or EVER SHARP

I am always happy when facts enter the scene, even when they prove one of my latest flights of fancy to have been in error. In a recent post, BEWARE OF THE REPEATER PENCIL, I had suggested that Lester Young, as original in linguistic coinage as he was in music, had invented the quirky term “repeater pencil.”

The Dutch cultural historian L. Robert Haacksaeuw has proven this whimsy of mine false by finding real evidence.  Thus!

REPEATER PENCILI wouldn’t want a writing instrument with the power of a machine gun, and I can imagine Lester reading this 1946 advertisement — so soon after his dishonorable discharge from an Army that treated him cruelly — with horror. Who knew a company could sell mechanical pencils by first comparing them to an instrument of death and then offering a placid morning image of coffee with sugar.

Lester, it is too late for us to apologize for what some people did to you, but we are so sorrowful for their acts.  Had you been surrounded by love, perhaps you would not have felt you had to run from a hateful society of people who did not understand nor value you.  Thank you for so generously continuing to give us your own irreplaceable beauties.

May the world be kinder to all people — kinder than it was to Lester Willis Young.

May your happiness increase! 

BEWARE OF THE REPEATER PENCIL

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (Oscar Wilde, DE PROFUNDIS)

I think Wilde’s despairing indictment is far too sweeping, but it is often true in jazz, ironically a music that so vigorously presents itself as celebrating originality, singularity, individual utterance.  Improvisation, inventiveness, and the like are exceedingly difficult. But I witness three varieties of “mimicry” often in the art form I love: imitating an individual artist’s style; copying a recording; copying oneself. Obviously, they overlap.

This post has been simmering in my mind for a long time, motivated by people who try to sing exactly like Billie, play like Bix or Bird or a hundred others.  On a technical level, I occasionally admire such mastery but confess I also find it upsetting — rather like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the Halloween mask is so perfect yet so energetically malicious that it cannot be removed from the wearer’s face.

I revere the artists who deeply move me, and I understand that one might opt to copy Billie Holiday as closely as possible because, in the act of imitation, the singer can perhaps make it appear that Billie has never died, has never left. The singer can hope to move an audience not only by her own vocal skill but by the thrill of recognition, the doubling of emotion we have when we see the Present and the Past simultaneously appearing to occupy the same space.

But is this act of duplication truly reverence or desecration?  Would Billie have admired the copyist as someone paying homage or someone who hadn’t yet found her own voice and was seeking to hitch a ride on someone else’s style and fame?

I have also asked this question when it comes to the recreation of beloved recorded performances, and have annoyed some people, perhaps to excess, so I will leave that for now.  I know there is indeed something exciting about hearing a favorite solo or recording reproduced “live,” but for me the pleasure is limited.

Copying an artist — in moderation — has its virtues for the young or inexperienced performer, someone whose identity is still malleable. As a way of finding out who one is and who one was meant to be, it can be rewarding. For an amorphous artist to find someone from whom (s)he can “steal” is part of the long process of self-education and self-selection. Young poets and painters in centuries past were set to imitate Horace or Rodin. At the very least, practicing Bix’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo over and over means that you are listening to something beautiful, enduring, something beyond your own improvisations.

But creating a self seems to be a process both of accretion and divesting: of taking on models, to be reproduced to the best of one’s ability, and then gradually sloughing them off so that one’s “authentic” self, grown silently, can be revealed in all its shifting iridescent beauty. I wonder if the desire to wholly take on someone else’s essential self is destructive to the borrower.

I have read many reminiscences where The Great Man or Woman (Louis, Bird, Pres, Jo) is approached by a young follower who then plays or sings exactly a cherished chorus that the GM/W has recorded in the past . . . and the Master’s reaction is either gentle puzzlement or strong annoyance, “What are you doing all that shit for? What is the matter with you?”

Benny Goodman did not need clarinet players to be Benny Goodman onwards in to the future.  He was Benny Goodman; he is Benny Goodman. Nothing more needs to be said.

“Who are you?” is the larger question. If you play SEVEN COME ELEVEN, if you sing STRANGE FRUIT, what do you have to offer us that is yours?

My thoughts are motivated by more than one singer devotedly attempting to be Billie Holiday, slowing down the tempo during the performance so that a cheerful song becomes a despairing moan, ending phrases with a large vibrato and downward slides, choking an otherwise open voice into a constricted meow.  I believe that these singers are genuine in their admiration, but the result sounds as if they are offering a product — “Get your Billie Holiday right here!” — for sale.

I do understand such acts as outpourings of love. When I was given a cornet and I could croak through a melody statement of HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY, I felt very proud that I could play something remotely like the sounds I adore, though I was aware of the mighty distances between what I heard in my memory and the sounds emerging from the bell — and I sent it into the air as a thank-you to my dear benefactor and an offering to Louis.

But ultimately I think, should I have succeeded as a player, that I would want to be my own original synthesis of everyone I’d ever admired, mixed into a concoction that sounded, for better or worse, like Me — reflecting my love for Louis, for Joe Thomas, for Bobby Hackett, mixed together in what I would hope was a pleasing way.

It is not only musicians who aspire to be their idols; I think of those fans who are most happy when their favorite band reproduces their favorite performance, heard numberless times before. I have been seated in a festival audience when the leader announces that the Romano Bean Famous Players will now offer their version of “WIND MY SPRING AND WATCH ME GO,” and the crowd both sighs with pleasure at something they all know and love and cheers for the same reason. It’s rather like the joy (or is it relief?) one finds in going to a favorite restaurant and finding that the long-imagined dish tastes just as one remembers.

Sometimes this desire to have Everything The Way We Like It has a sharp edge. I recall Buddy Tate, heroic improviser of the Count Basie band and his own orchestras, telling the story of an angry fan who came up to him after a set, saying accusingly, “You didn’t play that the way it was on THE RECORD!” When Tate attempted to explain to the young man that such variations were jazz, he was met with uncomprehending irritation.

I think of the man who sat next to Tate for two years in the Basie reed section, Lester Young.  Ironically, when Lester became famous and his style clearly recognizable, he was imitated by people who made more money doing it than he did, playing himself.  Lester told either Chris Albertson or Francois Postif, who asked why he, Lester, didn’t play in the old style with his old friends, that he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil.” People have puzzled over this singular phrase, and I submit that what Lester was speaking of was his own blending of “mechanical pencil” and “repeater pistol,” a device by which one could reproduce the same object — a factory assembly line for art — but with deadly effects. (It is of course possible that Lester did start to say “repeater pistol” but, always gentle, caught himself before that word emerged.)

In two words, Lester reminded us what Emerson had written a century before, that imitation is suicide. In Lester’s coinage, it’s homicide as well — not only killing off those one Reveres, but perhaps an art form as well.

I expect some disagreement with what I have written. I would not step on anyone’s pleasures. If you and your colleagues want to get together, in basement or bandstand, and reproduce note-for-note the recordings that you love, it would be impudent of me to suggest that you cease and desist. If you want to sing exactly as Billie did “on the record,” I would not try to stop you. It would puzzle me, but I would not quibble with you in person.

My question, though, would be, “Now that you can do THAT, what else could you do that would move to exploring new possibilities, giving us worlds we haven’t even dreamed of?”

May your happiness increase!

WE MUST CULTIVATE OUR GARDEN: EMILY ASHER and GARDEN PARTY ARE STARTING SOMETHING

I had sworn off Kickstarter appeals for a time, but for trombonist / singer / composer / arranger Emily Asher and her neat band, GARDEN PARTY, I surely will make an exception.

Why?

Freshness without ostentatious “genre-bending,” a loving respect for melodies old and new, consistent loving good feeling and consistent inventive swinging. Who could ask for more?  Not even Voltaire, who liked his music more sedate, I am told.

Emily and Garden Party are seeking funding to make a new full-length CD. Their mini-CD, CARNIVAL OF JOY, a Hoagy Carmichael tribute, was both reverential and lively (in the right spirit), and the new one promises to be even better.

The Kickstarter campaign ends on July 29, and if they don’t raise the money they are aiming for, nothing comes out of your or my pocket.  I know some people, both musicians and fans, are chagrined by Kickstarter and similar appeals, but there are few record labels who can bankroll such projects.

Have you read enough for the moment?

Here is where you can find out more, watch an endearingly witty video that Emily has made (she explains it all) and even part with a few crumpled bills in the name of sweet hot music.

And if Emily and her trowel-wielding candid pals are new to you, I propose you sit yourself down on the soft moist earth and watch Carnival this (announcing CARNIVAL OF JOY, aptly named) —  One (the first part of their San Francisco house concert) — Two (the second) — and a little taste from Cafe Divine, February 2014:  Divine.

For those who simply can’t get enough, and I understand the feeling, I’ve also captured Ms. Asher and friends in performance in New York, at The Ear Inn, at Radegast, and elsewhere.

“Every nickel helps a lot,” even if you’re not a Shoe Shine Boy. Or, as Candide said (in the original), “Dig you now, plant you later.”

May your happiness increase!

NO COMEDY, JUST MUSIC: “THE BOB AND RAY SHOW” (BOB SCHULZ / RAY SKJELBRED)

The CD I present to you is a good idea whose time has come — growing out of the inevitable amusement one would have at a jazz duo CD titled THE BOB AND RAY SHOW.  No Elliott or Goulding, just Schulz (cornet, vocals), and Skjelbred (piano) in duets recorded in 2009 and 2013.

Here’s how the duo sounded — on a slightly crowded bandstand — on May 26, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival:

The songs on this wonderful CD, each one with singular associations, are ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO (Robison, Bix, Whiteman, Crosby); WININ’ BOY BLUES (Mr. Morton); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (everyone from Bessie Smith onwards); SHOE SHINE BOY (Louis, Basie, and Bing); SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA (again Louis, Earl Hines, Don Redman); BECAUSE MY BABY DON’T MEAN ‘MAYBE” NOW (Bix, Whiteman, Bing); PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Bing, Louis, and almost everyone else from Billie to Dick Wellstood); MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND ( Clarence Williams into the twenty-first century); ‘TIL TIMES GET BETTER (Jabbo Smith); REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Bix and Tram, also Dick Sudhalter); I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Bix and Jimmy Rushing); MONDAY DATE (Earl, Louis, and more); KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Fats, Ruby Braff, and more); OH, BABY! (Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Krupa, and more); WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Bing, Louis, and many others); WEATHER BIRD RAG (King Oliver; Louis and Earl; Braff and Hyman, and more).

The tempos chosen for this disc are primarily pretty Medium Tempos, reminding us of the infinite variations possible in that sonic meadow, the results neither soporific nor hasty.

I imagine that the improvising duet of cornet and piano goes back to the late eighteen-hundreds, when that brass instrument was a feature of homegrown ensembles and pianos were in many parlors. On record, I think of Oliver and Morton, first in a long line including Louis and Earl, Ruby and Ellis, Ruby and Dick, Sweets and Earl, a long series of trumpet duets with Oscar Peterson . . . a lineage continuing as I write this.

The duo of Schulz and Skjelbred is special — for its consistent pervasive lyricism. Many of these pairings have a playful acrobatic quality, with one of the musicians saying to the other, “Oh, yeah?  Top this!”  Some of the playfulness becomes cheerfully competitive, assertive or even aggressive. The two players trot along through each song as friendly equals, neither trying to overpower the other. Bob and Ray aren’t out to show off; they like beautiful melodies and the little surprises that can be found within even the most familiar song.  Hear, for instance, Skjelbred’s harmonic surprises and suspensions that he offers early in the video of SHOE SHINE BOY.

One of the pleasures of the disc is the easy, ardent yet understated singing of Bob — he is known to burst into song when the mood and the material are appropriate during a session of his Frisco Jazz Band, but I find his vocals particularly charming: a Crosby mordent here or there. His singing — clear, unaffected, gentle — is the expression of his cornet playing, which is a model of middle-range melodic improvisation. (In it, one hears a spring-water clarity out of Bix and Hackett, then a Spanier-intensity when Bob takes up the plunger mute.)

Bob’s partner in these explorations, Ray Skjelbred, continues to amaze and delight: his off-center approach, original yet always elating, his rollicking rhythms, his bluesy depths. Ray takes risks, and his playing is deliciously unpredictable, but it is always in the  groove. (With headphones, I could hear Bob say, softly, “Yeah!” at a felicitous Skjelbred pathway — over the rough road to the stars.) Yes, that’s a Sullivan rattle, a Stacy octave, or a Hines daredevil-leap you are hearing, but it’s all transformed in the hands of Mr. Skjelbred, who is one of the finest orchestral pianists I will ever hear — but whose orchestra is shot through with light and shade, never ponderous.

And this is not a disc of two great soloists who happen, perhaps against their will, to find themselves asked to become members of a team and do it with some reluctance. It’s clear that Bob and Ray are musical comrades who look forward to exchanging ideas, celebrating the dear old tunes while making them feel just like new.  Incidentally, the disc offers — in the best homage to George Avakian — an example or two of judicious overdubbing, with Bob both singing and playing at once. . . . something we would like to hear and see in real life, but he hasn’t managed such magic on the stand. Yet.

The thoughtful musical conversations Bob and Ray have on this disc are emotionally sustaining. Each performance has its own dramatic shape, its own structure — more than a series of ensemble / solo choruses — and I would send copies of this disc to all the young musicians in and out of this idiom.  And a test: I would ask purchasers to pick out what they think is the most “overplayed” song on the disc and listen seriously to the Bob-and-Ray version, to see what magic can be made when two earnestly playful masters go to work on rich materials. Not incidentally, the sound on this disc captures all the nuances without any engineering-strangeness, and the neatly comprehensive liner notes by drummer / historian / writer Hal Smith are a pleasure.

You can hear musical samples here (go to the “CD” section — this disc is at the top of the page). Even better, you can search out Bob or Ray at an upcoming gig and press some accepted local currency into one or the other master’s hand. As I’ve noted, Ray is touring California (that’s San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Menlo Park, Sonoma, and back to San Francisco) between July 8 and the 14th, so you can have the double pleasure of hearing him live and purchasing a CD.

Unlike the shows put on by Elliott and Goulding, I didn’t find myself laughing while I was listening, although I was smiling all the time, at the beautiful, wise, mellow music.  Get yourself some.

May your happiness increase!

 

BARBARA DANE’S HOUSE RENT PARTY IS COMING (July 19, 2014)

Here’s Alex Hill’s description of a “house rent party,” circa 1934, as enacted by Louis Prima, George Brunis, Eddie Miller, Claude Thornhill, Benny Pottle, Nappy Lamare, Stan King:

The legendary singer and activist Barbara Dane — 87 this May — isn’t exactly raising money to pay her own rent, but she is starring in a musical fundraiser for the Bothwell Arts Center in Livermore, California — on Saturday night, July 19, 2014.  Barbara will be joined by her musical friends Tammy Hall, piano; Angela Wellman, trombone; Richard Hadlock, soprano sax/clarinet, as well as a string bassist and drummer.  More details here.

I can’t promise that the items listed in Alex Hill’s lyrics — corn liquor, chitlins, potato salad, pigs’ feet, spaghetti — will be on sale at the Bothwell.  In fact, I think you will probably have to have your dinner before or after the concert.  What I can promise is enthusiastic, deeply-felt, authentic music from someone who has performed with the greatest artists in all kinds of music — from Louis Armstrong to Pete Seeger, Lu Watters, Earl Hines, Bobby Hackett, Wellman Braud, Lightnin’ Hopkins and many more.

I had the good fortune to see and record Barbara and a hot band at KCSM-FM’s JAZZ ON THE HILL, and I present the results here.  As Jack Teagarden sang in SAY IT SIMPLE, “If that don’t get it, well, forget it for now.”

But don’t forget our Saturday date with Ms. Dane and friends.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE SHRINE, SEPTEMBER 29, 1956 // “BARBECUED DISHES TO TAKE HOME”

From eBay.  Of course!  The sixteen-page program for the ninth annual Dixieland Jubilee concert (presented by Frank Bull and Gene Norman) on September 29, 1956, at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE cover

Featured bands were George Lewis and his New Orleans Band, Benny Pollack and his Boys, George Probert and his Orchestra, Matty Matlock All Stars, Teddy Buckner and his Orchestra, New Orleans All Stars, and Bobby Hackett and his All Stars:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE 1956 center

I know that some of the Jubilees were recorded — issued on Decca and GNP — since Capitol took out an advertisement on the back cover, I wonder if they were involved in documenting this surely pleasing concert:

DIXIELAND JUBILEE backI find the names in the program difficult to read — thus, I am not offering JAZZ LIVES readers a complete listing of the players — but I am sure the sounds were delightful.

And — serendipitously found — a culinary invitation to a place where the music and the dinners are both hot:

HAMBONE KELLY

As Captain Video once said, “You can’t always time-travel, but you can always eat dinner.”

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 One)

Jazz flourishes where you wouldn’t expect it, but always amidst its fervent supporters.  What follows was one portion of an afternoon concert for the San Joaquin Dixieland Jazz Society, held at an Elks Lodge in Stockton, California.

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 theraputic offering of hot jazz, dance tunes, blues, serenades to imaginary figures, mildly naughty inventions, and a song about obsessions.  Just the right mixture:

BALTIMORE:

PAPA DE-DA-DA (“He’s the ladies’ man!”):

DOCTOR JAZZ:

ORGAN GRINDER:

I’VE GOT HORSES AND NUMBERS ON MY MIND:

JACKASS BLUES:

JELLY ROLL:

Thanks also to the ladies — not seen on the stand — who make good things happen in hot jazz: Brenda and Jean.

The Black Diamond Blue Five will be making another appearance — and they aren’t as frequent as we’d like — at the Cline Cellars jazz extravaganza that will take place in a week at the Cline vineyards in Sonoma, California.  Details here. I’ll be there.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ JUBILEE 2014 (August 29-September 1)

Traditionally, the Labor Day weekend has not been associated with outpourings of hot jazz — but that has been changing because of the Hot Jazz Jubilee, held in Rancho Cordova, California — an explosion of musical enthusiasm now ready to have its second blast-off.

HOT JAZZ JUBILEE

You can read more about the Jubilee here and on their Facebook page, but here are a few details. Without getting into the politics of hot jazz, it appears that the HJJ is a way of making the music available on a grand scale as a swinging farewell to the delights of high summer, and also a way of giving bands and musicians (youth bands and experienced stars) who are less-represented elsewhere a place to show what they can do.

Some of the players, in no order of excellence (implied or expressed) are the inimitable Bob Draga and Friends, The Au Brothers with Katie Cavers, The Crescent Katz,  (John) Cocuzzi, (Danny) Coots, and Williams, High Sierra Jazz Band, High Street, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, Sister Swing, Gator Nation Band, The Tepid Club of Cool, Blue Street Jazz Band, Yve Evans and Company, Big Mama Sue and Friends, Wally’s Warehouse Waifs, the Night Blooming Jazzmen, The Professors, Ken Hall, The Smart Fellers, Hot Ticket, Stardust Cowboys, and more surely to be added between now and the end of August.

Sadly, I won’t be there: I’ll be back in my New York apartment, trying to figure out exactly what happened to me (and to understand that I have to go back to work as does the rest of this country) — but this means there is another seat open for you.

And if you visit the Hot Jazz Jubilee site, you will find all your questions (leaving aside the deep metaphysical ones) answered: how to volunteer, what the event pricing is, how to donate, what hotel accommodations there are, where Rancho Cordova is, how much one of those cushions costs, and more.  It’s a deeply enlightening experience, I assure you — and the Jubilee will be even more so. But don’t wait.  Get it while it’s Hot!

May your happiness increase!

WHAT HAPPINESS LOOKS LIKE (October 14, 1952)

Bobby Hackett, listening to Vic Dickenson sing. October 14, 1952. Photograph by Robert Parent, taken while Bobby and Vic were performing at Childs Paramount, New York City. For another vision of happiness at that same gig, although a different evening, click  here.Untitled-1

I believe the photograph is posed rather than a candid shot, since no one is in motion, but the delight on Hackett’s face is not something he could or would have put on for the photographer.

Please study that expression — mingled astonishment, delight, and surprise.

Even though Bobby and Vic had worked together a few years before (their first recorded appearance is a 1945 Jubilee broadcast) and they would play together as friends until Bobby’s death in 1976, the emotions Vic could stir, and still does stir, are always fresh.

In this photograph, Vic is making a point — lightly, not emphatically, and Hackett is indicating, “I need to hear more of this.” If you looked only at each man, you would see a singular version of pleasure.  Vic is ready to laugh — he had a particular high-pitched giggle — and Hackett is clearly enjoying what he hears. Vic might have been singing his own lyrics to SISTER KATE — a story of erotic wooing both difficult and ultimately unsatisfactory — but the song itself is not important.

Here are three versions of Dickensonian happiness.

In Vic’s seventies, he appeared with Trummy Young, Jay McShann, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson at Dick Gibson’s 1982 jazz party.

Forty-five years earlier, in a Claude Hopkins band recording for Decca, revisiting MY KINDA LOVE (a hit for Ben Pollack nearly a decade earlier).  Vic has sixteen bars in the middle of the performance, and he leaps in with a break (tightly muted), and offers balletic ease and witty references to CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM and SHOOT THE LIKKER TO ME, JOHN BOY — rather like a dazzling jazz acrobat who shows you all his twists and turns in less than thirty seconds:

And finally, Vic playing an ancient song (he knew them all) OH, BY JINGO! — introduced by Bobby.  This comes from a Chicago television show, JUST JAZZ, 1969, with Lou Forestieri, Franklyn Skeete, and Don DeMicheal.  Notice the mutual admiration between Bobby and Vic, and hear the latter’s “Yeah!” after Bobby’s break:

Between 1970 and perhaps 1981 I saw Vic as often as circumstances (time, finance, and geography) allowed — and although no one took my picture while he was playing, I am sure that my expression was much like Bobby’s — deep pleasure mixed with surprise.

And, three decades after his death, he still has the power to evoke those reactions. His friend, Mr. Hackett, continues to amaze at the same level.

Even if you do not get to listen to Vic or Bobby, alone or together, I hope that life brings you many opportunities to be just as pleased . . . whatever the reason.

May your happiness increase! 

WITH A TWIST, PLEASE: JULY 1962

Before “genre-bending” or “crossover music,” there were recordings such as this, purchased for one dollar at a local yard / garage sale a few days ago — worth so much more:

DIXIELAND WITH A TWIST BEAT

This music was recorded in New York, July 1962, in what I can assume was an attempt to merge two audiences — those elders, who still liked “Dixieland jazz,” and didn’t think that term was something to shrink from, and their children, who were busy Twisting on the living room rug, thanks to Chubby Checker and a clearly defined loud rhythm pattern.

Both “Dixieland” and “the Twist” were recognizable — and thus saleable — genres that the average consumer of music could be expected to know about.  (A few years earlier, there had been successful recordings called DIXIELAND GOES MODERN, SWING GOES DIXIE, DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN . . . a series of experiments that often produced good — if occasionally odd — musical results.)  Perhaps some consumers saw this disc as a doubly interesting product, a musical two-for-one.

Somerset Records were also offering “popular long play albums” including SING ALONG WITH THE HONKY TONKS, SYMPHONY FOR GLENN, OLDIES FOR PIPE ORGAN, LA PACHANGA!!, POLKA EXTRAVAGANZA, and several records attempting to capture the market for original cast albums (two compressed shows with nearly anonymous singers). I think this label, like Bravo, Design, and Spinorama, was sold in racks near the cashier in your local supermarket.

In John Updike’s short story, “A&P,” coincidentally also published in 1962, the nineteen-year old narrator, Sammy, describes such products pitilessly as “records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on.”

The “liner notes” on the reverse are enthusiastic almost beyond endurance.  I can’t reproduce the many fonts, but please imagine an exuberant art director who believed in visual stimulation:

THE DIXIE ALL-STARS

FOR YOUR LISTENING OR TWISTIN’ PLEASURE

BLOW UP A STORM OF

DIXIELAND

with a TWIST BEAT

SIDE ONE

SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE

TWISTIN’ DIXIE

GOLDEN SLIPPERS TWIST

LONESOME RAILROAD BLUES

MIDNITE IN MEMPHIS

THE SAINTS

SIDE TWO

MISSISSIPPI MUD

STARBURST RAG

RAMPART ST. STOMP

DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE

MUSKRAT RAMBLE

BOURBON STREET FISHFRY

PEANUTS HUCKO, “CUTTY” CUTSHALL, PEE WEE ERWIN – MY WHAT FINE DIXIE COMPANY. SHADES OF MOTHER COME ON HERE!!!! – ADD THE KING OF THE TWIST DRUMMERS, GARY CHESTER, AL CAIOLA ON GUITAR, BILL RAMAL HONKIN’ SAX, AND MOE WECHSLER ON PIANO (OOPS, WE NEARLY FORGOT “THE BEAVER) – ON BASS, JERRY “BEAVER” BRUNO AND FORGET IT; IT’S A DOWN HOME PARTY THAT SAYS “DIG WHAT YOU WANT – EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.” PARTY TIME!!

Directed by D. L. Miller     Cover art – G.L. Phillips

This stereophonic 33 1/3 R.P.M. long playing record has been mastered employing the Westrex cutter head system driven by a Sculley lathe. We do not claim full fidelity when played on a monaural phonograph. This is a stereo recording manufactured to the highest stereophonic audio standards.

At this point, I know some of my readers want nothing more than to hear a sample — a wish I can easily gratify. Come with me back to 1962.  And let your impulses take you where they may.  It is indeed PARTY TIME!!

Side One:

Side Two:

Should anyone think I focus on this disc in a spirit of mockery, that isn’t my intention. The “jazz soloists” play their parts with spirit, expertise, and conviction — soloing as they would in any context, given these songs to improvise on. I do not hear disdain or ironic distance; rather, I hear professionalism and enthusiasm. The rhythm was perhaps not what they were accustomed to, but a heavy underpinning was not all that different from a rhythm and blues date . . . and it was a paying gig playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE, which was better than many other options offered them. At the end of the sessions, I am sure everyone went home (or to the gig at Condon’s or Nick’s) reasonably satisfied that they had been given a chance to play — and if these records became hits, so much the better. “We called it music,” one of their guiding spirits had said, and what I hear is just that, Twist or not.

May your happiness increase!

 

RED HOT CHICAGO at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ANDY SCHUMM, DUKE HEITGER, GRAHAM HUGHES, MARTIN SECK, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICK WARD (November 3, 2013)

Erastus was very pleased, and told me so.  He wasn’t alone.

One of the things the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party does best — perhaps with no equals — is to offer vivid panoramas-in-sound of what our heroes sounded like . . . not exactly copying the records, but swinging out in devoted, accurate loving style

Here’s one such example: four beautiful evocations of hot Chicago 1927, in honor of Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers (and its close relatives) — brought to life again in 2013 by clarinetist (and Dodds scholar) Matthias Seuffert, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

The players in this video are really in there, as they used to say: I delight in the intricate ensemble dance they do and their intense yet loose soloing.

WILD MAN BLUES:

WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

MELANCHOLY:

WEARY BLUES:

More of these uplifting sounds to come in November: details here. I am gently nudging those JAZZ LIVES readers who can attend this year’s Party to not wait: both seating and hotel rooms sold out months in advance in prior years.

May your happiness increase!

UP WITH THE ROOSTER EACH MORNING: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BARRETT, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, HOWARD ALDEN, KERRY LEWIS, RICKY MALICHI (September 22, 2013)

By temperament, training, or circumstance, most jazz musicians are nocturnal creatures.  The corporate world expects one to be fully aware (hence the essential coffee intake) several hours before noon. But most jazz musicians begin work in the evening, so asking them to perform and improvise at nine o’clock in the morning is . . . unusual.

However, this valiant crew did nobly at the 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) so we commend them here for two particularly sterling performances.  These wide-awake heroes are Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.

And the songs chosen: first, Jimmie Noone’s blues named for the club he performed in — Chicago, 1928, APEX BLUES (usually done at a slower tempo, but very successful at this one):

Harking back to Fred Waring, Benny Carter, or the Ben Webster Quartet, or just a desire to be in this serene state, SLEEP (with grand frolics from Messrs. Sportiello and Malichi):

This set was recorded on September 22, 2013, at what was once called”Jazz at Chautauqua.” That jazz party has assembled its wagon train and headed for Ohio — to Cleveland, where it will be flourishing as the Allegheny Jazz Party, this September 2014. For more good sounds, check out the AJP at their website and Facebook page and even here.

May your happiness increase!