The singular musician and personality Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page was born today, January 27, in 1908. Alas, he moved to another neighborhood on November 5, 1954. Happily, he left behind a good deal of evidence: soaring heroic trumpet solos, wonderful vocals. He remains an inspiring presence who comes through whole on record. I don’t ordinarily celebrate birthdays on JAZZ LIVES, but he deserves to be remembered and celebrated.
Here’s Lips — leading the way as only he could — at a concert on February 22, 1947, at the Caravan Hall at 110 East 59th Street in New York City, with Charlie Castaldo, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Charlie Minogue, drums. Beautifully recorded as well:
Music from three of these Caravan Hall concerts has been issued on Jazzology Records (including performances by Bunk Johnson, Muggsy Spanier, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Baby Dodds, and others). The CD notes do not explain what saintly benefactor(s) recorded the concerts, but apparently the evenings were structured as friendly battles between two groups of musicians: established African-Americans, often from New Orleans, and a band of young Caucasians, some of whom went on to be famous, others remaining obscure — Castaldo, who worked with Goodman and Shaw . . .was he Lee Castle’s brother? and Minogue here).
I think that’s a mighty helping — and accurate depiction — of the energies Lips Page brought to music and to performance.
What follows is in celebration not only of Lips, but of Dr. Scott E. Brown, the James P. Johnson scholar. The second edition of his JAMES P. JOHNSON: A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is something I eagerly look forward to.
Unlike the eight minutes above, what follows is silent, static, tantalizing (made available by the resourceful Jean-Marie Juif):
That’s a CBS television camera; the three stylishly-dressed men are Lips; Zutty Singleton, drums; James P. Johnson, piano. This is a less-reproduced photograph from the same occasion: one that is currently eluding me shows Lips playing, his body bent over Zutty’s drum kit, if memory is accurate.
Jean-Marie also opened the door to new information. There were two television shows — not preserved — by what Getty Images calls “Eddie Condons Jazzopators,” a name that would have made Eddie recoil and then lie down in his version of a Victorian swoon. CBS broadcast a variety show, MEN AT WORK, and Eddie Condon brought a band twice: these photographs are from April 16, 1942; the second show was May 14. Here‘s the sketchy IMDb link, and here tells who appeared on almost all of the sixteen episodes. Of greatest interest to us would be the appearance of “jazz harpist Adele Girard” on October 20, 1941, on a show that also included Professor Nelson’s Boxing Cats.
This description comes from tvobscurities.com and I take it as reasonably accurate, even though it makes no mention of Eddie and calls Robert Alda a “comic”: Beginning July 7th, 1941, WCBW broadcast an hour-long variety show called Men at Work every Monday from 8:30-9:30PM (starting with the December 22nd, 1941 broadcast, the show was cut down to 55 minutes; a five-minute news program was shown from 9:25-9:30PM).
Worthington Minor, the CBS director-in-chief of television, was in charge of Men at Work. Each program took two hours to rehearse and practice. During any given show, viewers might watch singers, dancers, bicyclists, acrobats, roller skaters, mimics, comics, toe dancers, boxing cats, puppeteers, marionettes, Indian dancers, ballroom dancers, comic cellists and more.
Some of the acts seen on the program included Lou and Dorothy Rowlands (roller skaters), Hildegarde Halliday (mimic), the Two Deweys (jugglers), Hank Henry and Robert Alda (comics), Ruth Page and Bentley Stone (dancers), Burl Ives (singer), Reid and Mack (acrobats) and Libby and Betty (bicyclists), to name but a few. Men at Work was last seen on Monday, January 26th, 1942, after thirty broadcasts.
No kinescopes of the Condon episodes [characteristically racially integrated] survive, and so far no home-recordings of the audio portion. However, my explorations of Getty Images this morning yielded jewels.
Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton:
Eddie, Billy Taylor, Sr., and Pee Wee Russell:
Zutty, Eddie, Joe, Billy, Pee Wee, Bennie Morton, Max Kaminsky:
Max and Bennie have changed places, but the same band:
That trio again!
With Eddie, half-hidden, at right:
If you’re like me, these photographs may evoke emotions somewhere between sorrow and frustration, expressed briefly as “Why weren’t these programs recorded?” I offer these speculations. One, CBS had enough to do with sending these programs out “over the air.” The number of people who had home television sets was small — beneath “small.” Perhaps you could see one in the window of what would eventually be called an electronic store. I am doubtful that bars had televisions in 1942.
Preservation of broadcast material — as in radio — was not seen as crucial, for this was entertainment and thus perceived as ephemeral. For us, now, the idea of hearing more of James P. Johnson is a wonderful fantasy. If you lived in New York City then, however, you might be able to hear him five or six nights a week in Greenqich Village; Eddie and his friends were at Town Hall or Nick’s. So there was no scarcity: if you missed hearing Lips Page on Wednesday, you could always hear him on Friday.
At least we know MEN AT WORK happened and we can see flashes of it.
This just in (Feb. 7) thanks to good friend / deep researcher David J. Weiner:
May your happiness increase!