Monthly Archives: February 2016

“BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC” (by George Hulme and Bert Whyatt)

BOBBY HACKETT 2 auto

I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so.  If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:

The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding.  One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong.  No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative.  And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis.  LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman.  Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:

And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:

And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:

This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites.  My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.

Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades.  He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.

Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book.  (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.)  So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.

The book looks unobtrusive from the front:

HACKETT book cover

but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:

HACKETT photo for book cover

Its contents are anything but dull.  and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative.  It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans.  The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on.  Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.

From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts).  One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 [1947], with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.”  Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.

Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages.  The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices.  It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.

Here is a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable.  I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.  And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby:

May your happiness increase!

“SECOND REUNION”: THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS ON DISC and LIVE

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The debut CD of this wonderful hot band, A HOT REUNION, on Herman Records, came out in 2009.  So the second one is long overdue, and I am happy to report that it is here, and as delightful as its predecessor.  (I am grateful to Trygve Hernaes, the band’s enthusiastic guide and supporter, for enabling me to hear them on disc before I’d met them all in person.)

The band, the Union Rhythm Kings, is a wonderful hot hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish musicians — Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Lars Frank, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar.  For the geographers keeping score, Kris, Lars, and Morten are from Norway; Bent, Frans, and Jacob from Sweden. The band even has its own Wikipedia page.

What sets the URK apart (and above) many other “traditional” jazz bands is the excellence of their solo and ensemble work, expert and impassioned, and free from cliche.  They are inspired by the original recordings and arrangements, but they bring their own energy to the repertoire.  They’ve broken free of the Jazz Museum.

On this disc, much of that repertoire is comfortable Morton, Ellington, Armstrong, Luis Russell, and Beiderbecke — but the URK takes pleasure in Jack Purvis and obscure Morton. Thus, CLARINET MARMALADE, CROCODILE CRADLE, DAVENPORT BLUES, SARATOGA SHOUT, HUMPTY DUMPTY, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE, I DIDN’T KNOW, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, MILENBERG JOYS, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY, SANTA CLAUS BLUES, BLUES OF THE VAGABOND, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, DUSKY STEVEDORE.

I’ve listened to them with great pleasure at their recent annual appearances at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I have some performance video from November 5-8 to share with you — which will embody the band’s virtues better than paragraphs of enthusiastic prose.  The great young drummer Nick Ball helps out on all these performances.

Here are four from their Sunday-evening concert:

DAVENPORT BLUES:

BLUES OF THE VAGABOND:

HUMPTY DUMPTY:

CLARINET MARMALADE:

and four from the Thursday-night pub session:

In honor of the Luis Russell band, SARATOGA SHOUT:

For solitaries everywhere, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

and these last two (with Bix in mind), with Thomas Winteler sitting in for Lars:

SORRY:

JAZZ ME BLUES:

The URK discs (beautifully recorded), can be obtained from Sonor Records AS,
Postboks 4275, NO 7436 Trondheim, Norway.  Information at email: sonoras@online.no.  Price: NOK 200 or USD 25, packing and postage included. Payment via Paypal, to the email address above.

May your happiness increase!

A LEE WILEY PORTRAIT

Thank you, eBay.

Thank you, Culver Service.

Lee Wiley back

Lee is rounder-faced than perhaps we are used to seeing her, posing with her cigarette held over the piano keys, “going through new songs” for the photographer, I assume.  She was born on October 8, 1908, so she would be at most in her very early twenties when this photograph was taken, already a known recording artist and radio star.  Was the setting a photographer’s studio or was it, perhaps, Victor Young’s apartment — with a large portrait, lit from above?

Lee Wiley front

On the piano, visible, is the sheet music for NO MORE LOVE — which Joe Venuti recorded on November 3, 1933, suggesting that this portrait is of that vintage. It was a Harry Warren – Al Dubin song from the Eddie Cantor film, ROMAN SCANDALS, where it was performed by Ruth Etting.

Lee did not record NO MORE LOVE, but Etting did — so those who can hear Lee’s voice can imagine her version of this song:

To the right of Miss Wiley’s pencil and manuscript paper is the sheet music for the 1932 LOVE ME TONIGHT, with Mister Crosby on the cover.

The photograph is five inches by seven inches — far too small to contain all that we know, imagine, and love about Miss Wiley.

P.S.  At close to 7 PM on February 28, a truly eager Wileyphile outbid everyone on eBay and won the photograph . . . $229.59.  That’s what I call keen!

May your happiness increase!

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

DAWN headshot

“Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon.  He didn’t live long enough to savor this trio — Dawn Lambeth, vocals; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — but I feel his approving glance.  They appeared last November at the San Diego Jazz Fest (thanks to Hal Smith and Paul Daspit for such a marvel) and the music was glorious. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here’s Part One; here’s Part Two; here’s Part Three.

And the closing five songs from the second set.

That tender request, relevant to all (not simply those in love), PLEASE BE KIND:

Walter Donaldson’s 1927 hit, MY BLUE HEAVEN:

I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, which I associate with Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Mildred Bailey:

CHLO-E (scored for cornet and piano) in  honor of Henry “Red” Allen:

And another Allen – J.C. Higginbotham classic (also performed much more respectably by Al Bowlly) ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:

I don’t know whether this trio will be at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest, but I have strong hopes.  Also for the NPR, PBS coverage; the continental tour; the merchandise; the DVD and CD . . .

May your happiness increase!

AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (Part One): TAL RONEN’S HOLY MOLY at SMALLS (Dec. 24, 2015)

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

Tal Ronen by Lynn Redmile

This is the first of two parts of a wonderful musical event that took place on Christmas Eve 2015 — the inspiration of string bassist / composer / arranger Tal Ronen, who explains it all:

Holy Moly had its start about three-four years ago, when Spike Wilner had me bring my band to play at smalls on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, me being non-observing and so on.  I don’t have a lot of opportunities to bring a band, since I keep pretty busy playing in other people’s bands, and bandleading is a huge headache.  But I welcomed the challenge, and brought a group of great straight-ahead guys to play.  It became sort of a tradition, and I brought my band on those two nights the next year, and the following one.

However, last Christmas I had a different idea.  My mind has been brewing with a musical concept for a while. Plainly put, the concept can be described as “impressionist sketches on romantic themes.”  I have a special passion for the work of great American composers like Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Hoagy Carmichael, who mix a romantic classical approach with the genuine feeling of American folk forms, the blues, roots music, etc. I also have a special passion for the interpreters of what can be called the impressionist age in jazz, namely greats like Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Oscar Pettiford, and my personal mentor, Frank Wess.  I was looking for a way to have both my passions, undiluted. This led me to this great crew – Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jay Rattman, reeds; Steve Little, drums; Tamar Korn, vocals.

I decided to call it Holy Moly as an irreverent wink to the holiness of the holiday that was our birth. It also has a certain old-timey ring to it which denotes our direction, and lastly, well, when you’re done hearing these guys, that would be your response.

Irving Berlin

I will point out that much of the evening’s repertoire came from Irving Berlin, which is always a treat.  On a personal note, I haven’t spent Christmas in New York in years, and when I was at the other side of the continent, I always thought wistfully of the good sounds Tal and Company were creating at Smalls.  I’m thrilled I was able to be there in 2015.  And if you wonder why it took me so long to download this, it was a combination of technical factors and legal ones.  All settled now.  Enjoy.

WHITE CHRISTMAS:

HAPPY FEET:

SUNSHINE:

ALWAYS:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Now I know where I’ll be spending Christmas Eve 2016.  But you might want to know that there was a substantial line outside Smalls for this event in 2015, so make plans to get there extra early.

May your happiness increase!

LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY: DUKE HEITGER, TOM FISCHER, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, PAUL KELLER, CHUCK REDD: ATLANTA JAZZ PARTY, April 18, 2015

rwe_big_portrait

Some wish to honor the past by attempting to reproduce it exactly.  An honorable effort, but I much prefer those bold tightrope walkers who know that the only way to honor the glories of, say, 1929, is to make them alive in this century by adding personal innovative sparks to the outlines of the revered masterpieces.  (I know that this is a controversial position, but I also have enough evidence that the great masters didn’t approve of imitation; they preferred homage through individuality.  Ask Lester; ask Bix.  And I’ve done scholarly work for decades, but I also reverberate to Emerson’s tart words that Shakespeare was not made by the study of Shakespeare.)

So I present to you a too-short set by a vibrant jazz band onstage at the Atlanta Jazz Party (April 18, 2015) led by the eloquent Duke Heitger, trumpet, with Tom Fischer, clarinet / tenor; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Chuck Redd, drums.

What they had to tell us was plenty — and it had no connections to the Wax Museum of Hot, although one could see and hear easily that the Ancestors were being honored: Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Count Basie, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, and their worthy colleagues. No academia, no didacticism, no laser pointer or Power Point.  Just wonderful hot music.

I NEVER KNEW:

IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN:

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (which begins with the time-honored invocation, “Meet you at the end”):

Five noblemen of jazz, honoring the past by being fully alive in Now.

May your happiness increase!

THIS TAKES THE CAKE: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, THOMAS WINTELER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JACOB WINTELER, FRANS SJOSTROM (Victory Pub, November 5, 2015)

cake

This isn’t a recipe post, but who could resist this?  (Erin, who dislikes cake, can skip right to the music.)

CAKE GennettWhat follows is absolutely glorious — evoking Louis and Sidney ninety years later, in the Victory Pub, a place I am sure neither of them ever visited.  This after-hours session took place on November 5, 2015, as part of the revelry of the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party.

CAKE Okeh

The people lighting up the darkness are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Thomas Winteler, soprano saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, keyboard; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone.

CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME:

I know that the original recordings — and the tradition that follows — are somewhat pugnacious, with Bechet and Armstrong each trying to show dominance . . . but this 2015 version evokes the Hot Peaceable Kingdom, with the two lions treating the lambs to Newcastle brown ale after the set.  Mixing metaphors wildly, I know, but these wonderful virtuosic players seem more brotherly than combative, united in the great desire to bring light into the darkness.

Two other performances of equal splendor from this evening can be found here  and here.

See you at this year’s Party. Even more details to be savored here.

There’ll be cake.

May your happiness increase!