Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert. In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh. The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.
The performance begins with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.” Here, he plays a chorus of MY INSPIRATION on saxophone with Lou Stein, Marty Grosz (looking at the music for the chords) and Nick Fatool. Then the full band assembles for an easy ST. LOUIS BLUES, with Bob Haggart glaring at a recalcitrant bass amplifier and even giving it a gentle kick at one point — catch the ingenious Lawson-Fatool conversation; then they head into a very leisurely LAZY RIVER (incomplete on this segment):
More LAZY RIVER, with lyrical Miller and Havens, Marty Grosz shifting in and out of double-time behind them, leading up to a Lawson muted specialty and a gracious interlude for Most and Stein, then a Louis-inspired double-time segment before the impassioned Lawson cadenza. AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL does not show its age: the rhythm section rocks (Haggart only glares at his amplifier once and takes a solo) and the musicians’ body language suggests comfort and pleasure. Lou Stein’s feature on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE blissfully starts with a rubato verse — always a lovely touch — before heading into Sullivan / Sutton territory, with side-glances at Dave McKenna. Havens’ STARS FELL ON ALABAMA of course evokes Jack Teagarden — with Havens’ plush sound that you could stretch out on. (It stops abruptly, but don’t despair: the third video completes it.)
Here’s the conclusion of ALABAMA (I can see the meteor shower) — gorgeous. And now for something completely different, Marty Grosz, all by himself, in fifth gear (after the obligatory German joke) for I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — with a slightly more truncated version of Marty’s extensive encomium of Fats before he changes the mood for a truly touching LONESOME ME. What could follow that? A jubilant JAZZ ME BLUES, and we’re back to the Blackhawk Hotel in 1937, with wonderful percussive commentary from Nick. Eddie Miller’s SOPHISTICATED LADY from this concert has been lost, but we’ll make it up to you someday:
Abe Most’s classic take on AFTER YOU’VE GONE seems familiar until one listens closely: his harmonic and rhythmic sense went beyond 1938 Goodman, with wonderful results. (Catch his ending!) Haggart leads the group into a sultry, not-too-fast BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME. The tempo slows down as this one proceeds, but the Lawson-Fatool duet is magnificent, and the solitary clapper gets the hint and stops, more or less — a nice shuffle beat behind Eddie Miller. Then, an introduction: does Yank really say, “Get some Coca-Cola”? before the audience, undecided, half-heartedly starts what I think of as European “We want seventeen encores!” applause, and we see the lovely faces of the listeners. The second half begins with the Bob Cats’ rhythm section — without Marty — surrounded by the high school band for a thoroughly competent SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the Bob Cats’ horns joining in later:
The arbitrary editing comes from YouTube, not from any human, but I don’t think that music is lost. And I promise the second half shall follow — as the night does the day, to quote Polonius.
May your happiness increase!