Monthly Archives: August 2015

LOUIS, 1953. “RAMONA” / “APRIL IN PORTUGAL”

This post was inspired by an object– odd, rare, mysterious — that surfaced here for a few days.  I assume that fans and “music lovers” still ask their idols to autograph objects for them, and the obvious one used to be a record.  In 2015, with so much music being conveyed digitally, does one go to a concert and hope that The Star will sign one’s iPhone cover with her Sharpie?  (I am not being facetious here; I think the owner of the 45 rpm single below had it easier.)

Whatever circumstances led to the owner of this record obtaining Louis Armstrong’s genuine signature on a paper label on top of another label, here we have the evidence.  And not irrelevantly, Louis had a particularly angular calligraphy: this was on sale at eBay next to a particularly inept forgery.  Starting bid $19.99, should you be curious.  I left it for another Louis-worshipper to buy, frame, possess, venerate, adore.  (Had it been one of the recordings Louis did with Gordon Jenkins, I would have indeed bought it.)

Update: For those who like financial dramas, the record sold for $55.78; there were four bids and the winning bid came in seconds before the bidding closed, perhaps suggesting someone with much eBay experience.

LOUIS Ramona Decca 45 autograph

I find this fascinating on several levels.  Autographs are a gossamer bridge between us and the people we admire and revere: for as long as it took to write those letters, Louis Armstrong touched the piece of paper that we, too, can touch.

And the music.

It is now possible to “do” the entire Louis tour.  Here’s the Oliver band, there’s Henderson and Bessie, Hot Fives and Sevens; wave to Lillie Delk Christian and to Johnny Dodds; big bands, Okehs, SONG OF THE VIPERS, Deccas, Victors, Columbias, MUMBO JUMBO, airshots and broadcasts, all the way up to THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.  It would take some time — one might need a college course to do it properly (calling Professor Ricky Riccardi of Queens College) — but much of the music is available, however poorly or incorrectly annotated, in cyberspace.

But how many people, like me, begin their Louis-journey with music recorded in the Fifties that has small credibility as “jazz”?  I bought many Decca compilation long-playing records before bravely encountering the Hot Fives and Sevens, and these — apparently not very important — records were my introduction to the man.  Legend has it that Joe Glaser, who managed Louis for decades, was always fiercely longing for a hit, a pop record that would sell millions and make money. Thus, we have APRIL IN PORTUGAL (originally written in 1947 and a substantial hit in April 1953) backed by RAMONA, from a 1928 film.

The band — Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra — with arrangements by Sy Oliver, was an expanded version of Louis’ All-Stars, with Louis, trumpet, vocal; Trummy Young, trombone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Milt Yaner, Dick Jacobs, alto saxophone; Sam Taylor [a/k/a Sam “The Man” Taylor], tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; Arvell Shaw, bass; Cozy Cole, drums.  New York, April 21, 1953

RAMONA:

and the “flip side,” APRIL IN PORTUGAL:

I won’t attempt to elevate this “popular music” to the level of “high art,” except to ask you to listen closely to Louis’ trumpet on RAMONA, which to me is astonishing, and to the casual conviction with which he sings both songs.  And if you are one of those who refuses to surrender the myth that Louis, genius, was forced to parade himself and record such inferior materials when he should have been playing WEATHER BIRD, I leave you to your myths.

He did it; he could do it; he always did it.

This just in: if you’d like a truly comprehensive look at these performances, visit here.  But beware!  Ricky’s blogposts — although legal and non-caloric — are seriously addictive.

May your happiness increase!

“WE’RE HERE FOR THE BLUES!”

For about seventy-five minutes last night, Ida Blue showed great passionate artistry once again.  The occasion was her evening of blues — riotous, carnal, spiritual, hushed — performed at Joe’s Pub:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub cover

and here’s Ben Guthrie’s photograph of the Blues Debut as it was actually happening:

Ida Blue Joe's Pub Ben Guthrie

Usually, when I attend a music event that I plan to write about, I make notes. You may have seen me writing: song titles, distinctive things that happened during a particular performance, my own critical shorthand of checks and question marks, of YES, NO, and WOW.

My notes from last night are a delighted mess, because I was having such a wildly good time that the idea of leaning forward attentively to catch when Ida identified the song title and the famous blues performer it was associated with soon became an idea whose time had not come.  Early on in the evening, I gave up the idea of being the careful archivist.  Instead I chose to write down phrases that struck my fancy — from the lyrics and from Ida’s interchanges with her audience.

I can tell you this: the exuberant young woman — The Lady in Red — who took the stage and told us all that she was sweating (out of emotional enthusiasm, for it wasn’t necessarily warm in Joe’s Pub) won us over time after time.  As did her band: a glorious quintet, the likes of which I’d never seen together: Kevin Dorn, drums; John Gill, National guitar; Dan Block, bass clarinet / baritone saxophone; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet / tenor saxophone.  That band rocked.  And it wasn’t a matter of volume or bar-walking. Rather, each of the musicians showed the finest subtlety — as soloist, and even more as an essential part of an ensemble, organically shape-shifting as the mood struck them.  So the saxophones hummed behind Ida or a guitar solo, or they took solos, or there were gloriously happy dialogues between two and three, phrases traded — in the best New Orleans / Memphis / New York City traditions, traditions being created on the spot in Joe’s Pub.

For her part, Ida was having a wonderful time and shared her joys with us.  No matter what she was singing — songs associated with Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Sister Wynona Carr, Victoria Spivey — her delight came through even when the lyrics were grim.  (That’s what I think of as the Basie paradox: “Look! I’m having such a good time playing these sad, dark blues!  I can’t believe how good this misery makes me feel!”)

Ida’s voice was entirely at her command, and her improvisatory courage utterly commanded the audience.  She sang lyrics with the force of a cornet; growled and moaned, even offering a cantorial cadenza.  Sometimes she sounded on the edge of tears; sometimes she boldly told us something naughty with a great wink. Some lines, although the words weren’t necessarily funny in themselves, became small comedies; other times, she resorted to her own stutter-phrasing, repeating a word or a syllable five or six times for emphasis (as if Kevin was hitting the snare with pistol-shot force).

And, as always, she was in motion.  Hands held high above her head; dancing as wildly as she could on the small stage; ruffling her hair violently; grinning, laughing, having herself a fine time.  She looked out into the audience, saying with great pleasure, “I KNOW you!  I KNOW you too!” She wished her friend Sunny (of Sunny’s Bar in Brooklyn) a happy eighty-first birthday, and asked us all to raise our glasses.  We could refuse her nothing, and we followed suit.  She kicked off each song at a particularly groovy tempo, and although the repertoire was primarily twelve-bar blues, one song did not feel like its predecessor.

Although the mood was often lovelorn, Ida performed a few blues hymns — I’M A PILGRIM TRAVELER (which has “I’ll make it if He holds my hand” as a particularly moving affirmation).  And when she sang “It keeps me singing in my soul,” I felt as if she’d made 425 Lafayette Street into a pop-up revival meeting.

To give you a flavor of the evening, here are a few phrases from assorted lyrics:

I got those itty-bitty legs!

When you see me comin’, pull down your window blind.

Some cold rainy day.

Lord  have mercy on me.

I took his last nickel.

EVERY DAY!

My man’s done evil, and I’ve done evil too.

Buy me a shotgun.

I’m going to shoot my pistol.

Where did you stay last night?

I could make a case that all human experience could be encapsulated in those words — and others — that Ida delivered with such fervent honesty last night.

After the show, when photographer Ben Guthrie and I were standing outside the Public Theater, I said to Ben — fully aware that it was both the truth and a terrible cliche, “When PBS comes around, if we’re still here, we’ll be able to say, ‘We saw her when . . . ‘”

Some ecstatic evening, it was.

May your happiness increase!

“WILL YOU PLEASE PAGE MR. TRUMPET?” (1946)

Rarely do recordings duplicate hearing musicians live, but when the musician we think of has passed into spirit in 1954, records are all we have.

LIPS PAGE photo

I’m speaking of the most exalted Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page, trumpet, mellophone, vocals, born in Corsicana, Texas.  On January 26 and 31, 1946, a group of musicians led by pianist / composer Pete Johnson assembled in a New York studio to make records.  Thankfully.  Someone had the idea of asking the musicians to simulate a house party, a “housewarming,” where Pete would play a solo (one record side), then musicians would be added.  They were given a few words to say at the beginning of each side — which have been edited out of almost all contemporary issues.  The collective personnel was Lips, Ben Webster, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Al Hall, J.C. Heard.  For PAGE MR. TRUMPET, the front line is simply Page and Nicholas, a combination not otherwise on record.

Here’s what I believe is the first take (the alternate), a rocking medium blues:

And the master take, with a cleaner start from an apparently inexhaustible Lips:

And, because no scrap of Lips Page is to be ignored, here is a transfer from the original 78 that includes the opening dialogue:

If this posting has so excited you that you feel thirsty, may I suggest a bottle of this.  Lips himself took the test and the results are in:

LIPS PAGE COLA

May your happiness increase!

FRANKIE-BOY, WHEN YOUNG (JOEY AND BUDDY, TOO)

“Frankie-Boy” is what Lester Young called Frank Sinatra — when, in the last years of his life, Lester would sit in his room, playing Sinatra records endlessly. But this post is not about Lester (even though yesterday was his birthday).  No, it is about Frankie-Boy.

What follows is a generous offering from Bob Merrill, trumpeter and singer — who also happens to have had Joe Bushkin as a father-in-law . . . thus stories as part of the family lineage.

And this photograph, never before seen.

Frank Sinatra

And here’s the story.  Stories, actually, from Bob:

I found a bunch of snapshots in Joe Bushkin’s closet, this among them.  Joe casually informed me that they were photographed by Buddy Rich, and somehow Joe wound up with them.  He never got around to returning them, no surprise there.

It seems a bunch of guys from the Dorsey band were taking the boat to a gig at the Catalina Island Casino Ballroom for a gig.  Some had new-fangled cameras, as Frank is seen with one here.  Akin to a “selfie,” except it was a “Buddy.”

It reminds me of a great story Joey used to tell regarding Frank’s annoyance that Buddy was playing too loud behind his vocals.  This was at a time when the bobby-soxers were going wild to the point that Dorsey started skipping the first-chorus trombone statement of the melody before Frank’s vocal, electing to begin with Sinatra, to the delight of the fans.

One night, Frank was so incensed by Buddy’s loudness, he confronted him backstage after the show.  Suddenly, switchblades were drawn, and Joe and other band members intervened to break up the scuffle.  Tommy Dorsey ran in and yelled to his drummer and vocalist, “If anything happens to those uniforms, I’m going to dock your pay!”  Priceless, if you ask me.

Thank you, Bob!  (Bob has a new CD coming out . . . and you’ll hear more about that here, soon.)

For the moment, a little Frankie-Boy from the Dorsey period:

May your happiness increase!

“THIS ROVER / CROSSED OVER”: MARTY GROSZ, JON BURR, PETE SIERS, ANDY SCHUMM, DAN LEVINSON at the ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY (September 20, 2014)

It’s one of the most familiar songs in American popular music:

SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET

But you might not know this variation on the theme, with an urban New York twist:

Sign on sidewalk: 'Please direct your feet to the sunny side of the street...'

Sign on sidewalk: ‘Please direct your feet to the sunny side of the street…’

And this, courtesy of Marty Grosz, Andy Schumm, Dan Levinson, Jon Burr, Pete Siers:

You wouldn’t have seen this morning musicale unless you’d been at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party.  This is just to say — with thanks to William Carlos Williams — that such glorious effusions will take place once again at this year’s Party from September 10-13.  It’s a chance to be on the sunny side, with no after-effects requiring a dermatologist.

May your happiness increase!

“FEELING CONTRITE?”: TIM LAUGHLIN, CONNIE JONES, DOUG FINKE, HAL SMITH, KATIE CAVERA, MARTY EGGERS, CHRIS DAWSON at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 28, 2014)

I have been thinking about the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — that cornucopia of musical pleasures — not only looking forward to the sounds and friends that await, but also because I decided to book my airline tickets today (rather than wait until holiday fares rise perilously).  The Fest will be held from November 25 through 29, and there is much more information to be found here — including who’s playing, what it costs . . . all the essentials.

One of the pleasures of 2014 and previous years was a glorious band led by clarinetist Tim Laughlin, featuring Connie Jones, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

Here they ask the poignant question — with a beautiful drum solo by Hal — WHO’S SORRY NOW?

You’ll only have reason to ask that question if you miss the San Diego Jazz Fest, the 36th.

May your happiness increase!

BRIGHTENING THE CORNER: JOEL PRESS, MICHAEL KANAN, NEAL MINER at MEZZROW: PART ONE (July 26, 2015)

When I heard that Joel Press, tenor saxophone; Michael Kanan, piano; Neal Miner, string bass, were going to be playing a late-evening session at one of the two jazz shrines of West Tenth Street, Mezzrow, I got down there early to soak it all in — poems in music from three great lyrical poets.

Here are some highlights, and I do not use that word lightly.

Joel, Michael, and Neal tell us, without words, that melody matters, that the old songs are memorable, and that one can sing beautifully through one’s instrument in a community of friends.

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

ALL OF ME:

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE:

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

AS LONG AS I LIVE:

LAST EXIT:

Another assortment of beauties to come in the near future.  The hymn BRIGHTEN THE CORNER WHERE YOU ARE speaks to our responsibility to do good, to be loving — at a moment’s notice — no matter how secular the surroundings.  Mezzrow, seen through the constricting lens of my camera, might be dark, but the music is touchingly bright.

May your happiness increase!