Monthly Archives: October 2015

“IT WASN’T LONG TILL WE WERE HOLDING HANDS”

Our subject for today is a 1936 pop song of no great merit — a pastiche really — by Al Sherman, Abner Silver and Jack Maskill.  I can imagine it being the result of three songwriters sitting around and chatting.  “Hey, what about a Hawaiian song?” “Not more Hawaii!  Pick someplace else.  All it has to have is a beach.” “Yeah, that ____ works.  But enough of the ______ hula maidens and the ______ pineapple calling me home to the islands.”  “Yeah, we have to have a gimmick to load this _____ into the jukeboxes, get those ______ royalties.” “What about this.  Boy meets girl in some ______ island and then they find out they used to live next door down South.”  “You mean the song that’s got everything?” “Yeah.  Bet you drinks that we can get this done in an hour.” “You’re on!”

BALI BALI

I don’t really know if the Brill Building gents really spoke like this, with enthusiastic expletives redacted here, but it pleases me to imagine rather cynical craftspeople turning out popular art that charms me still, eighty years later.  And the mixing of genres on the sheet music cover is most remarkable, but I gather that the couple is enjoying the tulips and their cottage while recalling those tropical moments . . .

Here are three variations on that theme.  The first, Tommy Dorsey’s version with vocal by Edythe Wright.  Some call the early Dorsey band “Dixieland-flavored,” as if true culture didn’t happen until Sy Oliver started writing arrangements and Sinatra began to woo, but this record rocks. You don’t have to wait for Bud Freeman to make a late appearances — on one of those delicious bridges — because the Blessed Dave Tough is making himself heard and felt throughout.  I would urge listeners to hear this performance once as a totality, and then concentrate on the orchestral delights Dave offers:

Then, Miss Connie  Boswell’s.  What an irresistible groove — and her return for the final sixteen bars is like a triumphant aria in Hot.  Some of this is thanks to the  Bob Crosby band of the time — Yank Lawson, I think, and certainly Matty Matlock:

But we save the real multi-layered delights for last, Henry “Red” Allen and his Orchestra.  Even when they’re playing the melody fairly straight — for dancers — with Henry’s bridge, it’s swinging from the start.  And his singing is so personal (boyish and hot) that no one could mistake him for anyone else:

What happens after the vocal is wonderful — a mixture of timbres and approaches beginning with a trumpet solo that could and should have gone on for years.  One of the many times I’ve felt, “That record is too short!”  But what a joy to have it — with Tab Smith and a very sedate J.C. Higginbotham.

What’s the sermon or the lesson?  Great musicians transform ordinary material with memorable results.

May your happiness increase!

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THE MASTER’S TALES (Part Two): TALKING WITH BOB WILBER

If you missed it, here is the first part of my conversations with Bob Wilber during his New York City visit last month.

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

Bob Wilber and Pug Horton in performance

A brief re-introduction:

It was a great privilege — an honor — to be able to interview Bob Wilber at his hotel room in New York City on September 27, 2015. Bob is someone I’ve admired as long as I’ve been listening to this music: as a reed virtuoso of immense passion and expertise, a composer with 135 ASCAP compositions to his credit, an arranger, bandleader, jazz scholar, and Renaissance man of this music — a man who will turn 88 soon, devoted to his art. These interview videos are a great gift, not only to me, made possible by the enthusiastic kindness of Bob’s wife, singer Joanne “Pug” Horton, and Bob himself.

Here are the second two segments of four — delightfully free-form evocations, occasionally guided by questions from me. Since Bob has written an autobiography, a great book, MUSIC WAS NOT ENOUGH, I thought I didn’t want to lead him through that familiar — and glorious — chronicle. Rather, I thought that this was an opportunity to ask Bob about some of the musicians he’s known and played with. How many more chances will any of us have to sit down with someone who heard and experienced, let’s say, Kaiser Marshall?

Enjoy this second offering of wisdom, experience, wit, and joy.  I know I did.

and the fourth part:

May your happiness increase!

TIMME’S TREASURES, or THE BARON’S BOUNTY

Timme Rosenkrantz was born a Danish Baron, but he preferred to identify himself as “a little layman with an ear for music and a heart that beats for jazz.” Duke Ellington, no stranger to the nobility, called him “a very unselfish man who dedicated himself to the great musicians he loved and the music they played.”

A jazz fan on a lifelong pilgrimage, Timme arrived in New York City in 1934 and made dear friends of many musicians, writers, and critics.  His cheerfully light-hearted chronicle of those journeys has been published (translated and edited by Fradley Garner) as HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR, 1934-1969 (Scarecrow Press).

One of the most tantalizing sections of that book — full of lively anecdotes — is its discography of private recordings that Timme made between 1944 and 1946: a trove, including pianists Erroll Garner, Herman Chittison, Jimmy Jones, Billy Taylor, Ellington, a young Monk, Eddie Heywood, Willie “the Lion” Smith, hornmen Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Shavers, Barney Bigard, Bobby Pratt, Jack Butler, Benny Harris, Vic Dickenson, bassists Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, violinists Stuff Smith and Ray Perry, guitarists Bernard Addison and Zeb Julian, drummers George Wettling and Cliff Leeman . . .

A few of these recordings have been issued commercially (the best example being the Smith and Perry sides on Anthony Barnett’s ABFable label) and others less properly or in edited form.  I first heard some of the music Timme recorded through the collectors’ grapevine, on cassette, in the Eighties, and it still sounds magical, with musicians stretching out, free from the tension of the recording studio or the imposition of the producer’s “taste.”

You can hear more — although there’s only one private recording — of the music Timme cherished from sessions he produced at THE JAZZ BARON, a site devoted to him, his musical adventures, and the book.

But we are going to be able to peek behind the curtain that has kept those privately recorded sessions private . . . soon, because Storyville Records is issuing what I hope will be the first in a series, TIMME’S TREASURES.

TIMME'S TREASURES

I haven’t heard a copy yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to it. How about ten minutes of solo Monk from 1944 — a six-minute THESE FOOLISH THINGS and a four-minute ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT?  Or a quartet of Don Byas, Monk, Al Hall, and an unidentified drummer playing something called LET’S GO for another six?  Broadcast material featuring Stuff Smith, Frank Froeba, Byas, and Sidney Catlett?  More from Lucky Thompson, and a trio session for Jimmy Jones, bassists John Levy and Slam Stewart?

The liner notes are by Timme’s friends Dan Morgenstern and Fradley Garner. And the Storyville Records site will soon have more information about this exciting release.

Here’s a wonderful example — imperishable — of Timme’s taste: a duet for tenor saxophone (Don Byas) and string bass (Slam Stewart) recorded in concert in 1945:

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

FIRST-RATE FROLICS: DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG: “HOW’M I DOIN’?!”

HOT HOUSE GANG two

These fellows mean business: to swing and to lift our spirits.  And unlike a good many bands who market themselves as “retro swing,” the Hot House Gang can really play.  Experience, not imitation via the iPhone 92S.

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Happiness is hearing new music that has an old-time feel with modern vivacity. May I present Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang?

Their new CD, HOW’M I DOIN’?!, is a delight.

HOT HOUSE GANG

Dave himself (guitar and vocals) has an infectious swing, and the musicians he’s gathered around him are some of the best in the West, or perhaps the known world.  I was immediately reminded of Fats Waller and the ebullience he created on his Victor discs . . . but Dave has an advantage here.  Where Fats often had to lampoon substandard material (I am thinking of ABERCROMBIE HAD A ZOMBIE, where the last word refers to a particularly potent drink, not the night creature), Dave writes many of his own songs, words and music, and they have a jaunty, side-of-the-mouth comic flair: I found myself listening several times to each track — for the band, for Dave’s singing, for the lyrics.  In a different era, these would be hit singles — although they might be too hip for the room.  And although Dave urges the band on a la Waller, he can also be tender — on a rhythmic performance of GHOST OF A CHANCE or a romping I NEVER KNEW.

I knew this was a fine band and a fine CD about ninety seconds into the first track because I was smiling and bobbing my head — sure signs of swing pleasure. Dave’s ebullient singing caught me instantaneously, and I thought, “This is a song that would have fit right in on a 1936 Bluebird, although the lyrics are as hip as Mercer and the band has more room to rock.”

About those originals — they are new but seem immediately familiar (and the CD includes a lyric sheet for those readers on long car trips) — and each one rocks in its own fashion.  I worry about CDs that are entirely composed of the leader’s originals, but Dave is a triple threat: singer, rocking guitarist, and songwriter. Dave also has done the clever trick so beloved of Thirties songwriters: to base the conceit of his lyrics on a familiar phrase: LET’S GET HOT AND GO, STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE, WHAT WILL IT TAKE?, MAYBE IT’S THE BLUES, and two oddities, SISTER KATE (The Potentate of Harlem) and OPTIMISTICIZE.

And there is a pleasing sheaf of jazz classics that will never grow old: I NEVER KNEW, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, ‘T’AIN’T NO USE.

Dave has two overlapping bands, each one filled with stars who can create mellow sermons — as soloists or as an ensemble playing Dan Barrett’s charts, which grace seven songs):  Corey Gemme, cornet, trombone, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone, trumpet; Nate Ketner, alto, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums — or Corey; Josh “Mooch” Petrojvic, piano; Larry Wright, alto, soprano, clarinet; Wally, Josh.

I confess to a surge of pleasure that the CDBaby page devoted to this CD says you will like it if you like Clarence Williams, Fats Waller, and Wingy Manone.  Someone’s got the best intentions, and someone’s been listening closely: mid-Thirties joy without any museum dustiness.  And that page offers a chance to buy the disc (how twentieth-century of us!) or to download the music.

Just to whet your appetite for the CD — or to pass the time until it arrives — here are a few videos of the band in their natural habitat:

TOO  BUSY, from December 2014, with Carl Sonny Leyland, Corey Gemme, Rob Hardt, Jeff Hamilton and Marquis Howell:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, from October 2015, shot by JediJen7:

and BLUE LOU from the same evening:

Here’s Dave’s Facebook page, for those people fortunate enough to live in Southern California, where the band currently romps; you can also see and hear more and even find out how to purchase the CD.

The CD asks the question — even though the song is not one of the twelve titles — HOW’M I DOIN’?!  I can answer in the enthusiastic affirmative for Dave and his band.  Long may they swing and cheer us.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE and PHYLLIS, AT REST (September 26, 2015)

Eddie, Phyllis, and their daughters Liza and Maggie in Washington Square, New York

Eddie, Phyllis, and their daughters Liza and Maggie in Washington Square, New York

Maggie Condon — the surviving daughter of Eddie and Phyllis Condon — has been my friend for years, a fact I am proud to write.  Both of her parents passed into spirit some time ago, and their ashes had been kept in the family apartment.

Newlyweds Phyllis and Eddie

Newlyweds Phyllis and Eddie

This year, Maggie decided to put Eddie and Phyllis to rest in the cemetery where their headstone was, where they would be surrounded by Phyllis’ family, the Smiths.  This ceremony — very touching, both loving and sad and funny — took place on September 26, 2015, at Christ Church in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. When Maggie mentioned it to me, I immediately asked if I could come along, and then — with some trepidation — asked if she would like me to video it, and she agreed without a qualm.

I offer this as a tribute to all Condons, Smiths, and Reppliers, at the gravesite or living vibrantly in our hearts.  The other speaker is our friend and my hero Hank O’Neal, who has done so much for the music for nearly forty years.

and the conclusion:

The video is not even up to my standards — there is wind noise and people occasionally block the camera.  But an outdoor scene is far less easy to document than even a noisy club, so I present it with those reservations.

This is the music played in the cemetery, which deserves to be heard complete:

But this is the song that keeps running through my mind as I think of this Saturday afternoon:

To me, this isn’t “Goodbye, Eddie.  Goodbye, Phyllis.”  Rather, it’s “Thank you, Eddie and Phyllis.”

May your happiness increase!

WYMAN VIDEO SWINGS OUT (Allegheny Jazz Party, September 2015)

Laura Wyman, completely focused on the task at hand

Laura Wyman, completely focused on the task at hand

WYMAN VIDEO is the new brainchild and business venture of Laura Wyman, whom you should know as the CEO and head videographer of JAZZ LIVES’ Michigan Bureau, headquartered in Ann Arbor.  She has taste and a dilligent perfectionism.

Before there was a WYMAN VIDEO, Laura was bringing us video of such wonders as this:

ST. LOUIS BLUES (W.C.Handy; arr James Dapogny) – Erin Morris, Brittany Armstrong Morton, Sarah Campbell, Rachel Bomphray & Hayden Nickel (dancers). Tom Bogardus (cl), Paul Finkbeiner (tpt), Chris Smith (tbn), James Dapogny (pno), Shannon Wade (bass), Rod McDonald (bjo) & Van Hunsberger (drms). Zal Gaz Grotto, Ann Arbor, Mich. 6-21-15.

and this gorgeous interlude:

FIREFLY (James Dapogny) – The James Dapogny Quartet. James Dapogny (pno), Mike Karoub (cello), Rod McDonald (gtr) & Kurt Krahnke (bass). Kerrytown Concert House, Ann Arbor, Mich. 1-10-15.

But WYMAN VIDEO really came in to its own at the 2015 Allegheny Jazz Party, with evidence right here:

CHERRY  (Don Redman) – Dan Block (cl & bass cl), Andy Stein (vln), Scott Robinson (bari sax & tarogato), James Dapogny (pno), Marty Grosz (gtr & leader) & Hal Smith (drms). Allegheny Jazz Party, Cleveland, Ohio. 9-11-15. Filmed by Laura Beth Wyman for Wyman Video.

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY from the same session:

All of this would suggest that WYMAN VIDEO is rather like JAZZ LIVES, and it is true that Laura is deeply involved in hot music and swing dance.  But her range is far broader than mine: Laura has been capturing speakers, readings, weddings, and other occasions.  I don’t think she goes to traffic court or other gloomy events, but I know she’s captured for posterity graduations, parties, swing dances, and other occasions where people gather happily.

So I urge you — if you live in or near Ann Arbor, Michigan, or if you want an expert videographer, contact Laura Wyman for videography that will help you have swinging memories.  And if you are not on Facebook, you can certainly contact her at wymanvideoa2@gmail.com.

May your happiness increase!