Monthly Archives: January 2016

“MOONSHADOW DANCE”: REBECCA KILGORE, ELLEN VANDERSLICE, and MIKE HORSFALL

I’m delighted to tell you about a new Rebecca Kilgore CD, delicious and new. I’ve repeated NEW in the first sentence for a reason: MOONSHADOW DANCE is not only a new plastic artifact in a new cardboard sleeve, but it contains new music — songs by Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and Rebecca herself.

MSD_Cover

The idea of the singer-songwriter is such a familiar one in the last half-century that I won’t make a fuss about it.  However, our Rebecca has made her wondrous reputation by singing “the Great American Songbook,” which in most cases has meant songs from the late  Twenties to the late Fifties, with some exceptions. And for most CD-buyers and audience members, that has meant a certain amount of comfort.  Rebecca is a happily curious Songhound — she searches out deserving songs whether they are rare or familiar, and they glisten when she sings them.  But at a concert, for instance, I can almost feel the audience sigh with pleasure when Rebecca finishes the verse of a Rodgers and Hart song and tenderly makes her way into the chorus.  “A beloved friend,” is our unspoken response, our happiness at hearing something we have the most tender feelings for.

It is of course possible and even delightful to devote one’s career to singing or playing the familiar.  Louis never got tired of WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and Hot Lips Page is reputed to have said, “The material is immaterial.” But the great pleasure of this new CD, MOONSHADOW DANCE, is that almost every song is a new creation by Vanderslice, Horsfall, and Kilgore.

But before any reader panics and snorts, “New songs?  Why doesn’t anyone sing any of the great old songs anymore?” and reaches for a familiar sheaf of 78s . . . here’s some pleasing evidence that “new” doesn’t have to mean “loud,” “coarse,” or “postmodern,”when the songs are written by the masterful Ellen Vanderslice, Mike Horsfall, and our Rebecca:

Not only do you hear Rebecca’s silken voice, but the melody and lyrics are beautifully crafted — no cliches, either musical or lyrical — but with a certain fresh flair, so that a listener doesn’t think for a moment, “Wow, that turn of phrase must have been the cat’s meow or the cat’s pajamas in 1929.”  Rather, this song and the fifteen others on this disc are musically substantial but not imitations of older songs, and the lyrics sound the way an elegant, witty speaker of this century might talk.

A digression about the video: words and music by Ellen Vanderslice, music by Mike Horsfall.  Musicians are Rebecca Kilgore, vocal; Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, string bass; Todd Strait, drums; Dan Balmer, guitar; Mike Horsfall, vibraphone / arrangement.  The wonderful dancers are Rachel Lidskog-Lim and Jack Lim.  (I am a literal-minded type, so I was relieved that the pasta did not get overcooked and gummy and that Rachel and Jack — unlike me — can cook so neatly that they don’t mess up their formal clothes.)

Back to the CD.  On it, you’ll hear wry portraits of contemporary life (a blues about the civilization and its discontents) that are mildly reminiscent of Portland’s master viewer-at-a-slant, Dave Frishberg, but there are plenty of songs about songwriters’ favorite subject: love.  There’s ONE LITTLE KISS, AEOLIAN SHADE, I’M NOT SUSCEPTIBLE TO LOVE, UM MINUTO A MAIS (ONE MINUTE MORE), TO HAVE, TO HOLD, TO LOVE, ONE MORE TIME TO SAY GOODBYE, and the even more emphatic THAT’S IT!  There’s also what I believe is the first recorded performance of Rebecca’s multilingual fantasy, THE DAY I LEARNED FRENCH.  And I already have found myself humming BIRTHDAY SONG, GENERIC, which has a hilarious punchline.

The instrumental accompaniment from Randy Porter, Tom Wakeling, Todd Strait, Dan Balmer, Israel Annoh, Steve Christofferson, Marco DeCarvalho, David Evans, Mike Horsfall, Tim Jensen, Mike Horsfall, John Moak, and Dick Titterington is first-rate: singer Susanna Mars joins in on YOU MAKE IT LOOK SO EASY.

It’s a very rewarding CD, full of small sweet / tangy surprises.  I predict that some of the “new” songs” will become memorable friends in one or two listening.

Now — if you live in Portland, Oregon, and are reading this early on Sunday, January 31, 2016, you have a special opportunity to enjoy this music in an experience larger than your earbuds: a concert from 2-4 PM, with Rebecca, Randy Porter, Todd Strait, Tom Wakeling, Mike Horsfall and other musicians, as well as dancers Rachel and Tim from the video above.  Details here at the bottom of the page.  Also on that same page you will find links to help you purchase the CD as a disc or download.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get dressed up and cook some pasta.  And MOONSHADOW DANCE will be the entirely fitting soundtrack.

May your happiness increase!

KINGS OF SWING: ALLAN VACHÉ, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOHN COCUZZI, PAUL KELLER, DARRIAN DOUGLAS at the 2015 ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY (April 18, 2015)

ALLAN VACHE

Allan Vaché knows what swing is all about, and when you get him on a bandstand with a good rhythm section, floating jazz improvisations happen.  And that was the case at the 2015 Atlanta Jazz Party — when he and Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Paul Keller, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums, took their happy way through three Charlie Christian / Lionel Hampton riff tunes that have been associated with Benny Goodman for seventy-five years.

I’m amused that one title seems to refer to air travel (more of a novelty in 1939 than now), one to Benny’s clarinet, one to shooting craps.

FLYIN’ HOME:

SOFT WINDS:

SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Yes, we certainly could lament that this is no longer our popular music, and occasionally I myself dip into that pit of despair, but the music that these five people made and still make is a true cure for any sadness.

And here is the information you’ll need about the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Party, April 22-24.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER HIGHLIGHT OF 2015: THE DAWN LAMBETH TRIO (The Second Set) at SAN DIEGO, NOVEMBER 28, 2015: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE

Delicious music, full of warm surprises.

DAWN headshot

The infinite varieties of love in swingtime — the lover bemoaning aloneness; proclamations of the highest fidelity; celebrations of the lover’s sweetness; love couched as the wish for an extended life span . . . with gentle nods to Bix, to Lee Wiley, to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, to Louis, to Bing, to Jim Goodwin — all of these tenderly and heatedly embodied by Dawn, Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet, on the morning of November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.

REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Ray and Marc):

ANYTIME, ANYDAY, ANYWHERE (the Trio):

SUGAR (the Trio):

AS LONG AS I LIVE (the Trio):

CABIN IN THE PINES (Marc and Ray):

(Let’s have a Billy Hill set by this band at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.)

Here — for those who vibrate to such beauty — is the trio’s first set, on the preceding day.

Thanks again to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for making such beauty not only possible but visible and audible.  I can’t wait to see what happens at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  And, as I pointed out, the Trio is setting up its touring schedule for this coming year, and might have a few dates available.  If you have a festival or a concert series . . . I’ll help you get in touch with them.

May your happiness increase!

DICK, RYAN’S, FIVE CONNIE-SIGHTINGS, and PEE WEE

An eBay assortment of curiosities!

A Forties photograph autographed to Dick — by Count Basie (who seems to have signed it first in some careful way, then inscribed it on the site) and Jimmy Rushing:

TO DICK BASIE RUSHING

An autographed flyer for Jimmy Ryan’s — that jazz oasis (after a fashion) of West Fifty-Fourth Street, featuring Roy Eldridge, Bobby Pratt, Joe Muranyi, Dick Katz, and Ted Sturgis, Eddie Locke:

JIMMY RYAN'S DIXIELAND flyer

Collectors of sheet music know that the artists pictured or photographed on the cover may have had only the most tenuous connection to a particular song (I’ve seen copies of — among other oddities — WHEN THEY PLAYED THE POLKA featuring Adrian Rollini, LITTLE SKIPPER featuring Bobby Hackett, and LIGHTS OUT featuring Louis, which of course they may have played.)  But here are five Connie Boswell-sightings, circa 1931-33, both reassuring and elusive.

One:

CONNIE ONE

Two:

CONNIE TWO

Three:

CONNIE THREE

Four:

CONNIE FOUR

Five:

CONNIE FIVE

If anyone has acetates of Connie singing these songs, do let me know!

For those who want the rarest Boswelliana, check out the official Boswell Sisters eBay store — http://stores.ebay.com/theboswellsistersstore — which is run by Kyla Titus, Vet’s granddaughter, so you know the treasures are authentic. You can also visit it at helvetia520 — which has a 100% approval rating from buyers.

And this — I know that Al Bandini, a trumpet player who for a time ran the band at the Riviera in New York (which still exists, although serving food rather than music)  and Pee Wee Russell collaborated on GABRIEL FOUND HIS HORN, but this was new to me:

PEE WEE sheet music

I note with pleasure that this song comes from Mr. Russell’s Boston period, circa 1945, and find it particularly affecting that it was part of a music therapy program, which is more than apt.  (Someone outbid me on this, which is fine with me, although I won’t have Pee Wee gazing down at me from one of my apartment walls, alas.)

Draw your own conclusions about provenance and what it might mean that these lovely odd artifacts are bubbling to the surface.  I’m just delighted that they are.

May your happiness increase!

“IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL HOW JOY CAN OPEN THE THROAT”: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF RENA JEAN MIDDOUGH, a/k/a “RINK LESLIE” (November 28, 2015)

I should have known something important was about to happen when Dan Levinson approached me on Saturday, November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest and asked if I would video-record his next set.  Dan believes (if I may coarsely paraphrase him) that the beautiful evanescent creations of jazz musicians should remain so; that they can be made subject to eternal scrutiny is not something he prefers.  (I take it as a mark of great respect and friendship that he has humored me and my little camera for years now.)

But once Dan was a quarter of the way through his explanation, I said, “That’s great.  I’ll be there,” and I was.

POSIES TWO

But before this narrative gets too convoluted, too much about myself and the philosophy of video-recording, let me introduce you to Rena Jean Middough. First, through a photograph taken in 1952.  The man on her right is multi-instrumentalist / singer / bandleader / inspiring teacher Rosy McHargue:

Rink-Leslie-and-Rosy-McHargue-in-1952-688x1024

Then, in her own words, a reminiscence she has titled THE JOY OF PLANETARY ASPECTS:

Astrologers think aspects to the planet Uranus trigger unexpected human events.  Some events may be good, some may be not so good, but all will be unexpected.  Three years ago, something moved my son to order a CD of Rosy McHargue’s Ragtimers.  Rosy McHargue was a Dixieland musician who dedicated himself to preserving American music from the early 1900’s.

I had met Rosy because my husband was the director of a TV show in which Rosy appeared, “Dixie Showboat,” and Rosy invited us to his home. Somehow, he asked me to sing two songs while he recorded them on acetate.

In 1952, Rosy made a recording of all the songs the Ragtimers played, and he asked me to record a vocal.  When I got to the recording studio in Hollywood, all Rosy said was, “Hello, sing two choruses.”  The musicians began to play.  I sang two choruses and sat down.  Rosy asked why I was still there.  I replied, “I’m waiting to rehearse.”  “No, no,” he said.  “It was fine.  Go home.”  And that was my great recording career.  Only my kids remembered.

POSIES ONE

Sixty-two years later, Uranus unexpectedly made New York musician Dan Levinson very happy.  Young Dan Levinson was taught to play clarinet and saxophone and to be a full-time musician by Rosy McHargue.  The two were best friends, and when Rosy died, he left all his music and arrangements to Dan.  Dan, who has mde his career playing music from the first half of the twentieth century just as Rosy did, took the old recordings and made them into a modern CD.  He wrote loving biography notes on all Rosy’s musicians, but someone was missing. Who was the girl who sang “Posies”?  When my son ordered the CD, Dan sat down in the subway, opened his laptop, and mailed the good news to everyone he knew.  He had found the girl who had sung two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies.”  He had searched for her for ten years.  My son, when he placed the order for the CD, had written that his mom had sung “Posies” and his dad was the barking dog on “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around.”

Once my son had solved the mystery of the girl singer, Dan and his wife Molly quickly arranged an afternoon for us in New York.  We met at Penn Station under the arrival sign for New Jersey trains.  Dan, at six foot five, had to bend down to be kissed as I thanked him for calling me a National Treasure.  It was a wonderful feeling to be treasured.  During that afternoon in New York, I felt acceptable to the universe.

This summer, Uranus and that silly song merged again.  Once a year, Dan and Molly play the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, and all their Southern California friends swarm to see them.  I persuaded a lady who can drive at night to drive me to Altadena to enjoy the wonderful jazz.  I grabbed the best seat in the house. The show began.  Dan played clarinet and sax, and Molly sang the vocals.  They were backed by a fine bass player and a superb jazz guitarist.  After a while, Dan began to invite fellow musicians he knew in the audience to come up on the stage and sit in with them.  One by one, the friends borrowed saxophones and trombones and performed. After the fourth guest musician, Dan informed the audience that Rosy McHargue’s favorite vocalist was in the audience, and would she like to come up and sing?  Would I?  I rose like the sunrise, shoved out of my seat by my hubris.  Uranus, the unexpected, took my hand and helped me up on that stage.  I surveyed the packed house and announced I was working on my ninetieth year.  Then I, who can no longer sing much higher than Middle C, plucked a good note out of the air, and with the musicians behind me, loudly and enthusiastically rendered verse and two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies, When It’s Shoesies That I Need.”  Breath control, which has forsaken me for a decade, reappeared, and I held the last note strongly for a count of four.  It is truly wonderful how joy can open the throat.

It must have sounded all right.  Uranus and I stepped down to enthusiastic applause.  One lady with a tin ear asked me where else I was singing.  People bought Rosy’s Ragtimers CD to take home.  The bass player demanded that I stay and take a picture with him.  Somebody in the audience had taken my picture and sent it to Facebook as I was singing.  (My niece Laura saw me on Facebook before dawn the next day.)  Dan wrote his review of the evening and posted it on Facebook at 2 a.m.  The bass played posted our picture at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours all my nieces and their myriad cousins had seen me on stage.

A week later, I wrote Dan and Molly a thank you letter.  I said that when we met in New York they had made me feel acceptable to the universe.  Now that they had placed me center stage, I was infamous on Facebook.

Bless  Uranus.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe they will unexpectedly let me sing again.

POSIES THREE

So here is “Rink Leslie” (a pseudonym made up because “Rena Jean Middough” would have been too long for a record label: “Rink” came from a classmate’s nickname for Rena; “Leslie” was Rena’s father’s name) appearing with Dan Levinson, reeds; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, and guests from the Titanic Jazz Band, Keith Elliott, trombone; Dan Comins, trumpet — at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — to recreate the Middough – McHargue recording of DON’T BRING ME POSIES (WHEN IT’S SHOESIES THAT I NEED):

That’s splendid fun.  And it would be splendid fun even if the singing ingenue were not 89.  When Rena Jean came off the bandstand, I rose to congratulate her, and she sweetly told me what she’s written above, “When Dan discovered me, he made me feel as if I was acceptable to the universe, someone wonderful.” And I — speaking from my heart or shooting from the hip — said, “My dear Ms. Leslie (for at the time I don’t think I had taken in her lovely elaborate name), you have been acceptable to the universe your whole life, and more!” and she grinned at me but with old-fashioned very becoming modesty.

I, too, look forward to a return appearance of Rena Jean Middough and / or Rink Leslie at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I will, in future, post the lovely music that preceded her . . . but for the moment I would like you to admire her poise, her joy, her ebullience. (Incidentally, when she and I spoke on the telephone some weeks after this event, she told me that she had been an excellent dancer and a good singer in college — but that her inspiration for the delighted energy she offered in the original recording and at the end of November 2015, right here, was Danny Kaye in the 1941 film LET’S FACE IT. Another reason to thank Mr. Kaminski, don’t you think?)

And let us not forget the indefatigably devoted Dan Levinson, solver of mysteries, tracer of lost persons, someone who makes wonderful musical entanglements happen even when he is not playing or singing.

May your happiness increase!

HE’S JUST OUR BILL: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

Bill Crow is one of the finest jazz string bassists ever.  But don’t take my word for it — hear his recordings with Marian McPartland, Jo Jones, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Hank Jones, Jimmy McPartland, Manny Albam, Art  Farmer, Annie Ross, Jimmy Cleveland, Mose Allison, Benny Goodman, Cliff Leeman, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Morello, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Jackie and Roy, Bob Wilber, Ruby Braff, Eddie Bert, Joe Cohn, Mark Shane, Jay McShann, Al Grey, Barbara Lea, Claude Williamson, Spike Robinson, and two dozen others.

Here’s Bill, vocalizing and playing, with guitarist Flip Peters on SWEET LORRAINE:

And if you notice that many of the names on that list are no longer active, don’t make Bill out to be a museum piece.  I’ve heard him swing out lyrically with Marty Napoleon and Ray Mosca; I’ve heard him lift the room when he sat in with the EarRegulars, and he plays just as beautifully on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE as he does on a more intricate modern piece.

Bill Crow - From Birdland to Broadway

Bill is also a splendid raconteur — someone who not only has a million stories, but knows how to tell them and makes the experience enjoyable.  You should know of his book JAZZ ANECDOTES, which grew into a second volume, and his FROM BIRDLAND TO BROADWAY, a charmingly casual but never meandering autobiography.  (Like  his colleague and friend Milt Hinton, Bill is also a wonderful photographer.)

And did I mention that Bill recently turned 88?

I don’t know which of these three offerings of evidence should take precedence, but put them all together and they are excellent reasons to join in the musical pleasures offered this Thursday, January 28, 2016 — details below:

227917ee-3815-4ca8-8925-dc8c48667946

To reiterate, thanks to www.project142.org

Thurs. – Jan. 28, 2016 – 8:00pm – 9:30 pm. – The DiMenna Center for Classical Music – NYC – Bill Crow Project 142 Concert with Flip Peters – 450 West 37th St. (between 9th & 10th Aves.) – Benzaquen Hall (elevator to 1st Floor) – Doors open @ 7:30p. – $15.00 Concert Charge @ door.

I asked the delightful guitarist / singer Flip Peters to speak about his relationship with Bill:

I first became aware of Bill Crow in the early 1960s when as a young jazz fan I heard him with Gerry Mulligan. I remember around that time reading a quip in Down Beat about bass players with bird names, Bill Crow, Gary Peacock, and Steve Swallow.

In the early 1980s, I began to read Bill’s column, “The Band Room,” in the Local 802 paper, Allegro. That column is a highlight and I turn to it first each month when I get that paper. I received a copy of his Jazz Anecdotes as a Christmas present a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I first played gigs with Bill in 2014. The first one we played on together was a Gatsby-themed party with Marti Sweet’s Sweet Music (www.sweetmusic.us). On that gig Bill doubled on bass and tuba and I was struck by his mastery of the tuba. After that we played private party gigs and some Dixieland gigs with trumpeter Tom Keegan. Then in 2015, I played on gigs with Bill in Rio Clemente’s band (www.rioclemente.com). On one of those gigs, Bill asked me to join him at Shanghai Jazz where he had been hired to speak and play for the Jersey Jazz Society. After that gig I decided that it would be a good idea to present this to a wider audience. Anyone who loves jazz would be fascinated to hear Bill recount some of his many stories, and of course to hear him play.

I am honored and thrilled to play music with Bill. He is a rare person and musician. Not only is he a virtuoso on his instruments but he is a true gentleman. When you are in his presence you can’t help but feel comfortable. When he relates his experiences, everyone present feels as though they are sharing those moments with him. And he continues to play at an extremely high level. He has truly stayed at the top of his game for many years. He maintains a busy playing schedule and plays with the energy of a young musician who possesses the experience of an elder statesman.

You can find out more about Bill at his website but I politely urge you to put the phone down, back away from the computer, and join us on Thursday night to hear Bill and Flip, in music and story.  Evenings like this are rare.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING BILL DUNHAM (1928-2016)

Often the latest jazz news is an obituary notice. It’s not surprising given the age of some of my friends and heroes, but I don’t always linger on such news: if I immersed myself in it, I might become too sad to continue stating confidently that JAZZ LIVES.

BILL D one

But I will make an exception for William B. Dunham — known to me as Bill, known earlier in his life as Hoagy.  For more than half a century he was the regular pianist with the Grove Street Stompers, who play on Monday nights at Arthur’s Tavern in Greenwich Village, New York.

Bill died on January 11: details here.

Like most of us, Bill had many facets he showed to the world.  Officially he was a New York City real estate eminence who signed his emails thusly:

William B. Dunham
Licensed Real Estate Broker
Barrow Grove Associates Inc.
P.O. Box 183, Cooper Station P.O.
New York, NY 10276-0183

But this serious signature was only one side of a man who was at heart puckish. I’d met him perhaps a decade ago and we had become friendly, so when I hadn’t seen or heard from him last year, I emailed him in August to ask if all was well, and got this response:

Hey Michael……………….Thanks for asking. For a couple of doddering old geriatrics we are doing OK – not quite at the strained food stage. I have had a little problem which has kept me out of Arthur’s. Getting better.

Blog recommendation. Every Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 a great trio at Cafe Loup on 13th Street. Piano, bass and guitar. Not to be missed! Could you video there?

Our cat population has dwindled by 50%. We had to download Manning because he tended to bite. Love bites mind you. I used to enjoy the occasional love bite – but not by a cat!

Let me know if you ever want to visit Cafe Loup on a Sunday…………

Best……Bill

PS……….LOVE your blogs!!

That was the Bill Dunham I will always remember: the enthusiastic jazz-lover who turned up at gigs, always beautifully dressed, the man who marveled at the music and the musicians, who would email me to share his delight in a video I’d just posted.  He and his wife Sonya were a reliable couple at New York City jazz gigs, cheerful and ardent.

I don’t remember whether I first met Bill at Arthur’s Tavern and then at gigs or the reverse, but our early correspondence was often his urging me to come down to hear the Grove Street Stompers on a Monday night, or telling me what wonderful things had happened the previous Monday.  I am afraid I put him off fairly consistently, because I have taught early-morning Tuesday classes for thirty years and even when the GSS gig ended at ten, I yawned my way through my work.  But I did make my way down there — with camera — one night in 2010, and recorded this performance, the regular band with guest stars Dan Barrett, cornet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone (later in the evening Rossano Sportiello took to the piano):

Others in that band are Peter Ballance, trombone (seen here in front of the narrow bandstand, keeping track of the songs played that night); Joe Licari, clarinet; Giampaolo Biagi, drums; Skip Muller, string bass.

Here is a more recent still photograph of that band, with Scott Ricketts, cornet; Steve Little, drums:

BILL D at Arthurs Ballance Ricketts Licari Little perhaps MullerAs a pianist, Bill was an ensemble player who offered the plain harmonies as the music moved along.  He knew this, and did not seek to inflate his talents: when I saw him at a gig where Rossano Sportiello or Mark Shane was at the keyboard, he spoke of them and their playing as versions of the unreachable ideal.  He was proud of the Grove Street Stompers as a durable organism upholding the collective love of jazz, but modest about himself.

A digression.  Bill became one of my most enthusiastic blog-followers but he often found technology baffling, which is the right of people who came to computers late in life.  WordPress would inexplicably unsubscribe him from JAZZ LIVES, and I would get a plaintive telephone call and then attempt — becoming Customer Service — to walk him through the steps that would re-establish a connection.  Once the complication was beyond my powers to fix on the telephone, and since I knew I was coming in to Manhattan, I offered to come to his apartment and fix things there, which he happily accepted.  There I found out about the four cats — I don’t remember their names, and since I was a stranger, they went into hiding (perhaps they didn’t like something I’d posted on the blog?) and I never saw them.

Once I fixed the connection, because it was noon, Bill offered me a glass of iced gin, which I declined, and spoke of his other jazz obsession — Wild Bill Davison. Wild Bill, when he was in New York City in between gigs, would come down to Arthur’s and play, and Bill (Dunham) spoke happily of those encounters: he’d also become a WBD collector, but not in the usual way: Bill’s goal was to acquire a copy of every recording WBD had ever made, perhaps on every label and every speed. I was awe-struck, but perhaps tactlessly asked if this was like collecting stamps, because WBD’s solos had become more worked-out than not. To his credit, Bill agreed.

He also had a substantial collection of paper ephemera and memorabilia. However, by the time I’d met him and had this blog, any ideas of an interview were brushed aside, “Michael!” he’d say, laughing, “I can barely remember my wife’s name!”

Before I’d ever met Bill, though, I knew of him as a youthful eminence in ways more important to me.  He had graduated from Harvard in 1952.  To my mind, this made him a truly sentient being — even if gentlemen at Harvard those days aimed no higher than a C, I believe those C grades meant something.  He was seriously involved with jazz before I was able to crawl.

Thanks to my dear friend John L. Fell, I heard a tape of Bill in 1951 as part of the Harvard jazz band, the Crimson Stompers — including drummer Walt Gifford — on a session where clarinetist Frank Chace, visiting Boston, had been the star. In Manfred Selchow’s book on Edmond Hall, I learned that Hall had been recorded at an informal session in 1948, and “Hoagy Dunham” had played piano on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. I had a cassette copy of what remained of those sessions.  At some point I copied these tapes onto another cassette and sent them to Bill, who was ecstatic.  Through Jeanie Wilson, Barbara Lea’s dearest friend, I learned that Bill — for a very short time — had dated Barbara, and I got Bill to write his memories when Barbara died, which you can read here.  Here is a post in which Bill figures — both in a black-and-white photograph of himself, Barbara, and the Stompers, and a Harvard news story where he is “Hoagie” Dunham.

Another photograph of the Crimson Stompers, from drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook, tenderly maintained by Duncan Schiedt:

CRIMSON STOMPERS 11 48

And here is Bill, as a JAZZ LIVES stringer or jazz town crier, with some New York news (hilariously).

A few memories from cornetist Scott Ricketts, seen above with Bill on the bandstand —

“At the end of a set, Bill would refer to Arthur’s as ‘The West Side’s Finest Supper Club’. But the only food I ever saw there was in the 25 cent glass peanut machine in the front.”  

“Bill would always close the set (over Mood Indigo) by telling the audience, “Have a couple of Wild Turkeys, we’ll be right back.” At the band’s 50th anniversary party, I asked Bill if he was having a Wild Turkey? He said ‘No, I don’t drink that stuff!'”

And a neat summation from a cousin of  Bill’s:

“Bill was a terrific guy, who served in the military in Korea and then came back to attend Harvard on the GI bill. He was a bit of a renaissance man; having gone to Harvard, worked on Wall Street, been a noted jazz musician (his real passion), and then into real estate. I was fortunate enough to get to see him just a few weeks ago, and we coaxed him to play some music on the piano in the front lobby of the assisted living home they were visiting with their daughter. He still had it then.”

How might people count their lives well-lived?  To me (and the person who has made the transition can only know this in some spiritual way) if you’ve lived your life properly, people miss you when you are no longer there.  I know I will from now on think, “I wonder if  Bill will show up tonight?” when I am seated at a particular gig — and then have to remind myself that he won’t.  I send my condolences to Sonya, and Bill’s daughter Amy.

My jazz universe and my personal universe are smaller and less vibrant because of Bill’s death.

Thanks so much to Alison Birch for her generous help in this blogpost.

And “this just in,” thanks to Joseph Veltre and ancestry.com — Bill’s picture from the 1952 Harvard yearbook:

BILL DUNHAM 1952

May your happiness increase!