Arthur Bradford Gowans, often overlooked but peerless.
Fate did not treat Brad Gowans that well, although I don’t know that he yearned for the limelight. Most of us know him as a wondrous valve trombonist, eloquent as a soloist and deft as an ensemble player; others, going deeper, know his skillful arrangements for Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band; the true Gowans devotees know him as a delightful clarinet and cornet player. Yesterday, December 3, was his birthday, although the sad fact is that he has been gone since 1954 — he was fifty. We can, however, share some enlivening music thanks to two YouTube posters — the first, Hot Jazz 78rpms.
Here are two recordings not often heard. The first, I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER (originally recorded for Gennett, then reissued on John R.T. Davies’ “Ristic” label) just romps. The band name is “Gowans’ Rhapsody Makers,” the personnel is Herman Drewes (cnt); Eddie Edwards (tb); Brad Gowans (cnt,cl); Jim Moynahan (cl,as); Arnold Starr (vln); Frank Signorelli (p); Paul Weston (tu); Fred Moynahan (d); Frank Cornwell, Bill Drewes (vo);
New York, January 20, 1927. It was a brand-new song then, and although one site says it was first recorded by Nick Lucas, his version is six days later than this; the famous Goldkette and less-known Ben Bernie versions are from the 28th, for those of you marking down such things:
For those who long for warmer climates (even with global warming evident all around us), I’LL FLY TO HAWAII: Brad Gowans (cnt,cl); George Drewes (tb); Unknown (as),(ts); Frank Cornwell (vln,vo); Tony Francini (p); Eddie Rosie (bj); Paul Weston (tu); Fred Moynahan (d); Trio (vo) New York, October 26, 1926:
There were three Drewes brothers, it seems.
And later on — something rarer! — thanks to Davey Tough (whose channel recently has blossomed with unknown performances by the greatest jazz brass players: Bob Barnard, Ruby Braff, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison), an unissued take of a Yank Lawson blues:
Brad only appears in the last minute of this recording, but two things stand out. One, with busy Yank and Pee Wee in the front line, he keeps his ensemble part as plain yet effective as it could be. Hear the rich sound of his break near the end.
He invented a combination valve-slide trombone, “the valide,” which is held by the Institute of Jazz Studies, although I believe that no one has yet been able to fix the broken trigger. (Like Jack Teagarden, he was mechanically brilliant.)
Finally, something astonishing, even if you’ve seen it before: 1946 out-take newsreel footage from Eddie Condon’s first club, on West Fourth Street in New York City — with Brad; Wild Bill Davison; Tony Parenti; Gene Schroeder; Jack Lesberg; Eddie; Dave Tough (amazingly).
For those who don’t know this footage, some explanations are needed. It is staged, and the band repeats the same sequence — the last choruses of IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, which is a medium-slow blues that turns into an uptempo DIPPERMOUTH . . . but please note Brad on the valide, switching from slide to valve for the last notes.
I know it’s useless to write these lines, but had Brad lived until 1974, he could have played alongside Bobby Hackett; perhaps I could have seen him at Your Father’s Mustache, and he would have enlivened so many more recordings and performances. He gave us so much in his short life.
May your happiness increase!