Monthly Archives: January 2021

GROOVING, DOWNTOWN: CHRIS FLORY, EVAN ARNTZEN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia: November 14, 2019)

An hour ago, I was on the phone with my dear friend Matthew Rivera, and when we hung up I was pierced with nostalgia for past times, joys temporarily suspended.   Nostalgia for pure New York City – Kansas City groove, first created by Eddie Durham. Nostalgia for 15 Barrow Street, Cafe Bohemia nights.  Music by Chris Flory, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, created on November 14, 2019.  The title? TOPSY:

I pray these gatherings will come again, and I know I am not alone in this.

May your happiness increase!

HOW’S YOUR SUPPLY OF CRUMBS?

Let me ask you . . .

Tree sparrows, Passer montanus, on bird table in garden. Co. Durham.

Did you awake from a five-star anxiety dream?  Is the news its own generator of such dreams?  Are the gray days of winter not getting longer quickly enough?  Are the inanimate objects ganging up on you: the banging radiators, the toilet that threatens to overflow?  Can you see the bottom of the crumb supply?

Perhaps you want to insert this piece of music into your mental jukebox.

The song is by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack and it is central to this 1936 musical, with a singularly foolish plotline.  Alice Faye cheerfully delivers this song in one of the obligatory nightclub scenes. (It’s on YouTube.)

It was a small hit in 1936, if these records are any indication.  And I find it cheering now.

Teddy Wilson in Los Angeles, with Chris Griffin (tp) Benny Goodman (cl) Vido Musso (ts) Lionel Hampton (vib) Teddy Wilson (p) Allan Reuss (g) Harry Goodman (b) Gene Krupa (d) Redd Harper (vcl):

Ruby Newman (an unknown recording where his band sounds very much like that of a Chicago clarinetist — Dick McDonough happily prominent! — as well as JAZZ LIVES’ hero Larry Binyon . . . Jack Lacey, Felix Giardina (tb) Alfie Evans, Sid Stoneburn (cl,as) Larry Binyon (cl,ts) Rudolph Adler (bar) Ruby Newman (vln,ldr) Sam Liner (p) Dick McDonough (g) Sam Shopnick (b) Al Lepin (d) Barry McKinley (vcl):

Putney Dandridge, with Henry “Red” Allen (tp) Joe Marsala (cl,as) Clyde Hart (p) Eddie Condon (g) John Kirby (b) Cozy Cole (d):

Bob Howard, with Marty Marsala (tp) Sid Trucker (cl) Zinky Cohn (p) Dave Barbour (g) George Yorke (b) Stan King (d):

Bob Crosby, with Zeke Zarchy, Yank Lawson (tp) Ward Silloway, Warren Smith (tb) Matty Matlock (as,cl) Gil Rodin, Noni Bernard (as) Eddie Miller (ts,cl) Deane Kincaide (ts) Bob Zurke (p) Nappy Lamare (g) Bob Haggart (b) Ray Bauduc (d) [Tom Lord actually identifies the bassist as “Bob Haggard” — those transcription dates could wear you out]:

Charlie Barnet: George Kennedy, Kermit Simmons, Irving Goodman (tp) Johnny Doyle, Sonny Lee (tb) Charlie Barnet (sax,vcl,ldr) Willard Brady, Don Morris, George Vaughn, Murray Williams (reeds) Horace Diaz, Jr. (p,arr) Scoop Thomson (g) Sid Weiss (b) Billy Flanagan (d):

Teddy Stauffer gives those crumbs some Continental seasoning, with Betty Toombs (voc), Harry Herzog, Carl Hohenberger, Max Mussigbrodt (tp) Walter Dobschinski (tb,arr) Erich Bohme, Albert Wollenhaupt (tb) Ernst Hollerhagen, Bertalan Bujka (cl,as) Helmut Friedrich, Teddy Kleindin (ts) Teddy Stauffer (ts,vln,ldr) Franz Thon (bar,as) Jack Trommer (p) Buddy Bertinat (p,vln,accor) Billy Toffel (g,vcl) Andre Schuster (b) Polly Guggisberg (d):

The Swingtimers, who may be unknown (tp) Abe Walters (tb,p) Ern Pettifer (cl,as) unknown p, g, b, d, Sam Costa (vcl):

and let us leap forward from 1936 into this century (January 2016) with a sweetly swinging version from string bassist and raconteur Bill Crow — singing the optimistic message straight to our hearts, nobly aided by Flip Peters:

There will be crumbs — and more — enough for everyone, if we keep singing.

May your happiness increase!

 

HOPEFULLY YOURS: JACOB ZIMMERMAN and STEVE PIKAL (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

It’s time for some music both tranquil and energized: an improvised duet on the Andy Razaf – Paul Denniker ‘S’POSIN’, by Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet, and Steve Pikal, string bass, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020.  Jacob and Steve were part of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, musing their way through this 1929 song, associated with Fats Waller.

This interlude feels like a lovely series of inquiries gently tossed back and forth, a conversation floating in mid-air, touching the melody, stating it, then veering into swinging patterns, to return to the melody:

I find it impossible to listen to that performance only once at a sitting.

A few happy digressions about the song.  Although you don’t hear the lyrics, they are charming variations on “I adore you. May I kneel at your shins,” and so on.  I imagine the slightly abashed wooer quietly inhabiting the conditional tense: “Would it be acceptable to you if I told you how entrancing you are, or would you turn my words away?” or the hypothetical, “Suppose I said you are Alpha and Omega, honey lamb? Would you respond positively or negatively?”  We might characterize this lover-to-be as overly timid, but I think such sweet tentativeness is a tender way of avoiding the usual aggressiveness.

I wanted to wait until this section of the blogpost to mention that my favorite full-scale version of this song was the Seger Ellis when-worlds-collide recording on June 24, 1929, for OKeh: Ellis captures eagerness and worried reticence, and he’s accompanied by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Stan King, Justin Ring, Harry Hoffman, and Mister Strong, formerly known as “Little Louis.”  It’s on YouTube.

Finally, when I Googled “‘S’POSIN’,” this came up:

He’s a Las Vegas attorney, although now his firm is now the Posin Law Group: “Providing personalized and superior representation to the Las Vegas community since 1997 for Family Law, Criminal Law, Personal Injury and Bankruptcy. . . . if you were involved with domestic violence, a car accident, divorce problems, a DUI or any other drug related charges our team of experts will be there to provide support, advice and representation in court. . . . please call our offices at 702-396-8888 and schedule a consultation.”

Now, sing along with me, “‘S’posin’ I should fall upon my face / Would you think that you would take my case?” or your own variation, apologies to Andy Razaf.  Then go back and admire Messrs. Zimmerman and Pikal anew.

May your happiness increase!

GLOWING IN THE DARKNESS (Part One): BARBARA ROSENE, DANNY TOBIAS, CONAL FOWKES (Mezzrow, June 13, 2017)

Since 2006, when permitted, I have been going to jazz performances with a knapsack of video cameras, etc.  Hard on my shoulders, good for my soul.

In the musically-arid landscape of the pandemic, that world seems mystically distant, but it is accessible: what was fleeting was captured.  I have been rediscovering joyous music to share with you.

One such evening was spent at Mezzrow, downstairs on West Tenth Street in Greenwich Village, in the company of three heroic friends: Barbara Rosene, vocal; Danny Tobias, cornet; Conal Fowkes, piano — an intimate presentation of songs associated with Mildred Bailey . . . but each song made warmly individual by these three generous creators.  And a bonus: Barbara’s delightful commentary, veering between heartfelt and hilarious, in between songs.

A different night at Mezzrow, but you get the idea.

Let’s start with some fun: Fats Waller’s CONCENTRATIN’ ON YOU:

A revenge song with a bounce, SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

The people at the adjacent table had a loud discussion with the gracious waitperson — so this video starts after Barbara’s first chorus, alas, but I love this song, THE MOON GOT IN MY EYES, and couldn’t bear to lose it:

and, to close off this segment, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, particularly relevant:

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, A FEW MORE CHORUSES

Billy, at work / at play, at one of Joe Boughton’s Conneaut Lake jazz weekends.

When I was compiling yesterday’s post — a conversation with Billy Butterfield’s family that revealed him to be a sweet-natured, generous man who loved being with them — read it here — I also returned to the music he made, and there’s a proliferation of it on YouTube, showing Billy in many contexts.  (Trust me: this post will not be silent . . . )

I knew about the breadth of Billy’s working career — more than forty years of touring with big bands, small jam-session groups, concerts here and overseas, radio and studio work, club dates and gigs a-plenty — which pointed me to Tom Lord’s discography.

Recordings are only a slice of a musician’s career, a narrow reflection of what (s)he may have created, but in Billy’s case, the list of people he recorded with is astonishing in its breadth: it says so much about his professionalism and versatility, and the respect his peers afforded him.

For my own pleasure and I hope yours, here is a seriously edited list — in alphabetical order — of some of the people Billy recorded with . . . many surprises.  I did get carried away, but it was impossible to stop.

Louis Armstrong, Georgie Auld, Mildred Bailey, Pearl Bailey, Tallulah Bankhead, George Barnes, Andy Bartha, Tony Bennett, Eddie Bert, Johnny Blowers, Will Bradley, Ruby Braff, Lawrence Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Kenny Burrell, Connie Boswell, Dave Bowman, Les Brown, Vernon Brown, John Bunch, Ernie Caceres, Nick Caiazza, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Sidney Catlett, Charlie Christian, Buck Clayton, Al Cohn, Cozy Cole, Eddie Condon, Ray Conniff, Jimmy Crawford, Bing Crosby, Bob Crosby, Cutty Cutshall, Delta Rhythm Boys, John Dengler, Vic Dickenson, Tommy Dorsey, Buzzy Drootin, Dutch College Swing Band, Billy Eckstine, Gil Evans, Nick Fatool, Irving Fazola, Morey Feld, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Bud Freeman, Barry Gailbraith, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Brad Gowans, Teddy Grace, Freddie Green, Urbie Green, Tyree Glenn, Henry Grimes, Johnny Guarnieri, Bobby Hackett, Bob Haggart, Al Hall, Edmond Hall, Sir Roland Hanna, Coleman Hawkins, Neal Hefti, J.C. Higginbotham, Milt Hinton, Billie Holiday, Peanuts Hucko, Eddie Hubble, Dick Hyman, Chubby Jackson, Harry James, Jack Jenney, Jerry Jerome, Taft Jordan, Gus Johnson, Osie Johnson, Hank Jones, Jo Jones, Roger Kellaway, Kenny Kersey, Carl Kress, Yank Lawson, Peggy Lee, Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, Abe Lincoln, Jimmy Lytell, Mundell Lowe, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Matty Matlock, Jimmy Maxwell, Lou McGarity, Red McKenzie, Hal McKusick, Johnny Mercer, Eddie Miller, Miff Mole, Benny Morton, Tony Mottola, Turk Murphy, Hot Lips Page, Walter Page, Oscar Pettiford, Flip Phillips, Mel Powell, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Jimmy Rushing, Babe Russin, Pee Wee Russell, Doc Severinsen, Charlie Shavers, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Jess Stacy, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Rex Stewart, Joe Sullivan, Maxine Sullivan, Ralph Sutton, Buddy Tate, Jack Teagarden, Claude Thornhill, Martha Tilton, Dave Tough, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Ward, Earle Warren, Dick Wellstood, George Wettling, Paul Whiteman, Margaret Whiting, Bob Wilber, Joe Wilder, Lee Wiley, Roy Williams, Shadow Wilson, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Bob Zurke . . . 

This list is breathtaking.  Sure, some of the associations come from Billy’s being a Swing-Era-and-beyond big band star, sparkplug, and valued section player.  And some of the associations come from studio work.  But the whole list says so much about Billy’s marvelous combination of skills: he could play a four-chorus solo that would astonish everyone in the room, but he could also blend in and let other people take the lead.

And these associations speak to a wonderful professionalism: you could be the most luminous player in the firmament, but if you showed up late, were drunk or stoned, didn’t have your instrument ready, couldn’t sight-read the charts or transpose or take direction, your first studio date would be your last.  Clyde and Judi Groves (Billy’s son-in-law and daughter) told me that Billy’s house in Virginia had that most odd thing, a flat roof over the garage, and it was spectacularly reinforced . . . so that a helicopter could land on it, and I am sure that was to get Billy to a New York City record date quickly.  In today’s parlance, that’s “essential services,” no?   And it says how much in demand he was for his beautiful sound, his memorable improvisations, and the maturity he brought to his work.

Now, to move from words to music.  One of the video-performances I most cherish is from the December 1, 1978, Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy, Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony Di Nicola, drums. “Fantastic!” says Marty when the second number suggested is SWEET SUE in G.  I can’t disagree:

Judi also mentioned that Billy had — under duress — essayed a vocal on one of his Capitol sides, that he disliked the result and said that the company was trying to save money.  Here’s one example, showing his gentle, amused voice . . . with a searing trumpet solo in between the vocal interludes (followed by the instrumental JALOUSIE):

You may decide to skip the next performance because there is an added echo and a debatable transfer — but Billy sings with easy conviction and plays splendidly:

There is a third vocal performance (very charming) of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ on YouTube, but the owner plays the record on a seriously ancient portable wind-up gramophone that allows very little sound to emerge, so you’ll have to find that one on your own.

For a palate-cleanser, a little of the famous Butterfield humor, from my friend Norman Vickers, a retired physician who is one of the founders of Jazz Pensacola in Florida:

My late friend, record producer Gus Statiras, would sometimes handle a tour for the group—Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield – remnants of World’s Greatest Jazz Band. There was a practicing physician in Georgia who played piano. He would sponsor the group so he could play piano with them. Of course, they would have preferred a professional pianist, but he doc was paying for the gig.  During the event, Haggart said to Butterfield, “How’d you like to have him take out your gall-bladder?”  To which Butterfield replied, “ Yeah, and I think he’s doing it RIGHT NOW!”

To return to music.  When I asked the multi-instrumentalist Herb Gardner if I had his permission to post this, he wrote back in minutes, “Fine with me.  Those guys were great fun to work with.”  That says it all.

This brief performance comes, like the one above, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, this time December 3, 1978, where Billy plays alongside Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto, soprano saxophones; Herb Gardner, trombone; John Eaton, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Dean Keenhold, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums: SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / STARDUST / a fragment of STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — that performance does not exist on this tape although Johnson McRee issued it on an audiocassette of this set / COTTON TAIL / SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

Savor that, and help me in my quest to make sure that the great players — the great individuals — are not forgotten.  Gratitude to Clyde, Judi, and Pat (the Butterfield family), Norman Vickers, and my enthusiastic readers.  And there is more Manassas video featuring Billy, and others, to come . . .

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, “A VERY LOVING MAN,” RECALLED BY HIS FAMILY

Facebook is good for something.  Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now.  I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.

For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine.  I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.

But first, some memorable music.

Pat Butterfield:  He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous.  He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too.  Some people took advantage of him because of that.  My father was very quiet.

He liked to read a lot.  When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read.  Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians.  Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired.  And he listened to a lot of music in the house.  He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time.  He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it.  I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven.  In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata.  I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef.  He would sit down and play the piano.  The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring.  My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that.  My brother played with string bass with him several times.

Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also.  We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most.  And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.

Billy was very humble.  He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak.  I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah.  So, Clyde, how’s school?  How’re you doing in baseball?”  He would just change the subject.

Judi Groves: He was very shy.  He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say.  It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done.  You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa.  He came home and never even spoke about it.  I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards.  He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience.  He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel.  He was very loyal to his band in that way also.  He was a very loving man.

When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister.  My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins.  My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia.  He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed.  We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from.  They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there.  He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it.  But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight.  I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.

Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything.  That was his favorite thing.  He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice.  And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE.  Yank Lawson was an all-time great.  And I put Billy there too.  They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were.  He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five.  He played with everybody.

Judi:  He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.

Clyde:  Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials.  Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX?  That’s a true joy to listen to.  There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names.  He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.

Judi: He did!  He was a funny man.

Clyde:  When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was.  I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones.  I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was.  My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”

Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating.  He was thoughtful and kind.  I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me.  Of course, then all my drinks were on the house.  All around us, people would be whispering.  You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew.  He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me.  There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.

Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.

Clyde:  It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals.  But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it.  He was pretty young then.

You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him?  Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band.  As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed.  After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band.  Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.”  Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it.  I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York.  So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby.  The chances of the stars aligning like that.  If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy.  That was his big start.  He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York.  He played football.  He was on the high school and college team.

Judi:  He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.

Pat:  Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road.  The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt.  The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York.  He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC.  I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt.  That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times.  My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit.  That entailed a few arguments.

I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen.  After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house.  It was really strange.  But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles.  Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other.  I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton.  Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.

Clyde:  Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale.  They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal.  I went over with a friend of mine to help them move.  Billy was built like a bulldog.  But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also.  We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy.  Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.”  And he picked that thing up like it was a feather.  I was thinking, “All he does is play music.  He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up.  I was the one struggling with it.

You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later.  I was always in love with her.  I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how.  But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information.  Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house.  And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do.  You want to bet?”  I said, “Yes.”  And she said, “This is Clyde.”  I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.”  People didn’t have Caller ID then.  So her mom helped reunite us.

Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92.  She was something!  She was a lot of fun.  Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.

Clyde:  They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect.  And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young.  She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out.  She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.

Judi:  When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin.  I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor.  I know he went to the University of Transylvania.  His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father.  I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice.  When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college.  Hard times back then.  His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.

He was beyond talented.  Most of his recordings were done in one take.  But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life.  He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians.  He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha.  When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was.  Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s.  They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band.  You know with musicians, they all have big heads.  Daddy wasn’t about that.  I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.

When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv.  We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat.  We always lived on or near the water, he loved that.  He loved being around family.

Clyde:  They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill.  Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time.  He enjoyed his time at home for sure.

Judi:  And he liked to watch golf.  I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv.  He liked to play.

Pat:  When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around.  We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti.  We were all members of the same country club in Brookville.  My father was apparently a terrible golfer.  He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!

Judi:  But he never really kept anything he ever did.  Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it.  Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records.  And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay.  He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous.  Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him.  So we didn’t.

Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band.  Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall.  But he loved playing.  That was his passion.  Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.

The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra.  When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.

You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy.  So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”

Judi:  He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it.  He had to keep his lip up, you know.

Clyde:  He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig.  It was part of him.  You have to keep your skills up.

Judi:  I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball.  He was on the road a lot.  Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot.  Jazz was very big in Europe.  He played over there all the time.  I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks.  That was really cool.  That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show.  But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns.  These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow.  It was a wonderful trip.  I got to see how much the people really loved him.  I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad.  I’ll never forget that.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  This was 1981-1982, something like that.

Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel.  Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy.  He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally.  He was a very giving man.  If he could help somebody out, he would.  And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.

Judi:  Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad.   He was a saint!

Pat:  He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together.  I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.

Clyde:  Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.

Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE.  He always played that for me.  But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL.  I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time.  Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video.  And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever.  They did really well with the harmony of that.  I really loved it.

Pat:  It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life.  And Dad definitely drank.  He functioned, though.  He tended to be more of a binge drinker.  He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot.  But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road.  My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back.  He spent the night on the train quite a few times.

Clyde:  I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor.  They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool.  And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up.  He was a lot of fun to be around.

Pat:  He was a really genuine individual.  He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance.  He enjoyed life.

I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield.  More about Billy tomorrow!

May your happiness increase!

PAINTED PEACOCK AND PURPLE SUNBIRD: JON-ERIK KELLSO, TOM PLETCHER, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, BOB REITMEIER, EHUD ASHERIE, VINCE GIORDANO, HOWARD ALDEN, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 19, 2009)

Preparing to write this post, I needed to know, so I spent a few minutes while my coffee cooled, inquiring of Google, “Where is Hindustan located?”  And finally the reliable Encyclopedia Britanica (much more hip than the World Book Encyclopedia) of my childhood genially answered:

Hindustan, (Persian: “Land of the Indus”) also spelled Hindusthan, historically, the northern Indian subcontinent—in contrast to the Deccan, the southern portion of the Indian subcontinent. This area can be defined more particularly as the basin of the five Punjab rivers and the upper Indo-Gangetic Plain. As a mostly fertile and well-populated corridor situated between walls of mountain, desert, and sea, Hindustan has been regarded as the principal seat of power in South Asia, containing the bulk of wealth and physical energy. The name Hindustan is sometimes used to indicate the lands “north of the Vindhya Range.” It is also occasionally used as a synonym for the entire Indian subcontinent.

Now that’s settled.  Moving closer to our usual concerns, there is the 1918 hit song of the same name.  I didn’t know that one of the composers, Oliver Wallace, also wrote the score for Disney’s DUMBO; his collaborator, Harold Weeks, seems only to have composed HINDUSTAN.

A more erudite cultural historian schooled in “Orientalism” could write a great deal about the fascination in the late teens and early Twenties with popular songs celebrating the non-Western: THE SHEIK OF ARABY, SONG OF INDIA, SO LONG OOLONG, CHINA BOY, SAN, NAGASAKI, CHINATOWN MY CHINATOWN: songs that Americans and others sang and played, while they regarded people from those regions with suspicion — “You’re not from around here, are you?  Where were you born?” — and refused them employment and housing.  As a species, we are fascinating.

I think I first heard the song on Jean Shepherd’s radio program (circa 1969) and he is the reason I knew a portion of these lyrics — which, I confess, I also looked up this morning for accuracy: “HINDUSTAN, where we stopped to rest our tired caravan / HINDUSTAN, where the painted peacock proudly spreads his fan / HINDUSTAN, where the purple sunbird flashed across the sand /  HINDUSTAN, where I met her and the world began.”

“Where we stopped to rest our tired caravan”! This performance, from the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, is anything but tired, sparked by Jon-Erik Kellso’s idea of changing the key for every chorus (I believe between C and Eb). Trumpeter Jon is joined by Tom Pletcher, cornet; Bob Havens, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:

Wow.  I’m off to find the painted peacock.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Since time is a field rather than a series of beads on a string, we can savor 2021 and 2010 at once . . . as we will do now!  October 17, 2010: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; West Coast luminary Dan Barrett, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass. . . . and welcome surprise guests.

Where?  Why, EAR!  (For those who haven’t been taking notes, that’s The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York City, where the EarRegulars have made us happier on Sunday nights since the summer of 2007.)

For Louis and Fats, I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED:

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, with sitters-in Dan Block (clarinet), Danny Tobias (cornet), and Simon Wettenhall (Eb alto horn):

DONNA LEE plus INDIANA, scored for the original Quartet:

IF I HAD YOU, with Danny Tobias sitting in for Jon-Erik:

Jon-Erik returns to make it a brass trio for LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART:

What exquisite sounds: what other-worldly swing.  It happened, and it will happen again.  And, yes, I’m an optimist, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.  Come join me on the trip, however you define it: pleasures await.

May your happiness increase!

SZECHUAN HOT (Part Five): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

The last of five splendid performances that took place at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2008, celebrating the hot music of the Bechet-Spanier Big Four, enlivened in the present moment by Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass.  The first four performances: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, SWEET SUE, and IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) can be savored here.

And the inspiration, although not on the original Hot Record Society label:

And here we go!

All I will say is that these informally-captured treasures have been in the Official JAZZ LIVES vault for a dozen years.  They haven’t gotten stale; in fact, their flavors seem richer today than ever.  Bless them all: Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, Wellman Braud, Steve Smith (HRS record producer), Vince Giordano, Marty Grosz, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Wilber, Joe Boughton, family, and friends . . . even the people crossing in front of me with plates of food and Styrofoam cups of coffee, because they, as the audience, made Jazz at Chautauqua possible.  Days gone by.

May your happiness increase!

NANCY HARROW COMES BEARING GIFTS, AGAIN: “PARTNERS II”

There are many signs that 2021 will be a New and Improved Year: you can list your own.  A significant one is the appearance of a new Nancy Harrow CD, PARTNERS II: I Don’t Know What Kind of Blues I’ve Got.  For those of you who greet this news with delight — and for those of you who have the pleasure of discovering Nancy Harrow waiting for you — here’s her HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME, with Clark Terry, Dick Katz, Ray Drummond, and Ben Riley:

One of the most beautiful things about that performance is that, hearing it again, I don’t think, “Oh, that’s a Billie Holiday song,” but rather, “How wonderful Nancy sounds!” For the moment, Billie has retired to another room.

This, to me, is testament to the strength — a winning strength — of Nancy’s artistic self.  The cliche is “She sounds like herself,” but it is not a cliche, especially when so many singers do not.

Singing should be easy — we are organisms capable of making all kinds of vocal sounds, from the pleased wordless sounds of delight when we meet, by chance, someone we haven’t seen for a long time, to the sound we might make when something falls on your bare foot.  But we know that singing is more than opening one’s mouth and — even knowing the melody and the words — letting our impulses take over.  So much is craft, simultaneously delicate and passionate, the way one phrases a particular word in a line, the tone one uses to surround that word, the timbre.

In HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME, the placement of each syllable is the result of Nancy’s lifetime of on-the-job immersion; at the same time, it is improvised and fresh, a kind of emotion-driven speech set to music.  She has immersed herself in the song so that the sharp edges of where Song ends and where Nancy starts are happily erased, but her personality shines through in every choice she makes.  It’s not Acting in some melodramatic way but Nancy is having herself a time for those minutes it takes the performance to unfold.  I hear her smile, but it is a wise smile, not boundless enthusiasm, separate from craft.

Not for the first time, hearing Nancy, I think of the paradox she presents, evoking Whitman,

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

where at once she leans forward to tell us a secret in her own quiet way, even as the secret is sung aloud to everyone in the room.  Her art is completely personal and completely universal.  I haven’t described the perfect tang of her singing voice, at once tender and salty, her emotional range, also moving from sly amusement to grief, her innate rhythmic pulse, her complete connection with the words as well as the melody line: you must hear these magics for yourself.  And you have a new opportunity in PARTNERS II.

This disc is an anthology of performances Nancy selected — from 1961 to 2016 — with two previously unissued performances.  Even if you have squirreled away all of Nancy’s CDs (a lovely shelf-full) as I have, it is thrilling to hear her own choices, arranged as if brilliant tiles in a mosaic or familiar poems in new contexts, each reflecting the sheen of its neighbor, seeming new because of it.  And PARTNERS II (there is a I, also available) speaks to Nancy’s sense of the buoyant jazz community, so we also hear Buck Clayton, Phil Woods, Kenny Barron, Grady Tate, Frank Wess, Bob Brookmeyer, Roland Hanna, Jack Wilkins, Jim McNeely, Rufus Reid, John Lewis, Richard Davis, Connie Kay, Terri Lyne Carrington, George Mraz, and Bob Brookmeyer.

Here’s one more — Nancy’s own (yes! words and music) IF I WANT TO, with Chris Ziemba, Owen Broder, Alex Claffy, Dennis Mackrel:

PARTNERS II is available as a physical disc from Amazon, and in digital format at all the usual places.  More importantly, it is Nancy’s gift of her music, of her irreplaceable self — things told in confidence that we can treasure as our own.

May your happiness increase!

TWO QUARTERS FOR THE METER (Part Four): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

The scene of the gorgeous music, and now, the poignant memories:

Where it happened!

The inspiration:

The reality, as created forty-eight years later, by Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass:

How lyrically they swing out — and before noon, no less.  For those of you who slept late (in a manner of speaking) here you can enjoy the first three songs performed that morning: THAT’S A PLENTY, SQUEEZE ME, and SWEET SUE.

Three footnotes.

My title . . . in my suburban town, parking meters ornament the sidewalks except for a very few oases.  And municipalities such as mine are always looking for more money, so when I moved here in 2004, a quarter bought me sixty minutes on the meter.  A few years ago, the Code Enforcement people decided that this was too generous, and now I’d need two quarters for the same time.  Love, or even a trip to the pizza parlor, became twice as costly.  But still worth the price.

The title of the song.  Exhibit A:

But also Exhibit B:

I prefer the latter, perhaps because I was trained by the late — and very much missed — John L. Fell, who would type WDYINO for the famous song about New Orleans.  Life is too short to spell everything out, and you can always ask.

Finally, when my hero Vic Dickenson, very late in his life, sang ONE HOUR, when he got to that phrase, he would very clearly and vehemently hold up two fingers so that everyone could see that sixty minutes would be insufficient for “I’d love you strong.”  You can see that performance here — a small masterpiece.

One more performance from 2008 exists: see you and it tomorrow.

May your happiness increase!

“APOSTLE OF SHELLAC”: MATTHEW RIVERA (The Syncopated Times, January 2021)

Matthew Rivera, music lover, filmmaker, scholar, writer, record collector, broadcaster, someone devoted to sharing not one but several Gospels, has been someone I admire for a few years now.  I first heard him playing wondrous music on WKCR-FM, then met him in person in Greenwich Village, playing rare jazz 78 rpm records to live people in public — imagine that! — then as the Proprietor and Democratic Guide of the Hot Club of New York, which holds free Zoom sessions every Monday night from 7-10 PM, where you can hear surprising music and lively discussion.  (Visit the site to get the Zoom link.)  In October 2019, I did a video interview with Matthew, which you can see here.  Matthew also presents on various aspects of jazz — in a relaxed erudite way — for the New York Adventure Club.  I predict we will read, see, and hear more from this flourishing young man.

Some music to get you in the mood: OUT OF NOWHERE, by Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, and Veronica Lake (thanks to Emrah Erken for the clear transfer):

It was a real pleasure to be able to write a profile of Matthew for the remarkable and durable (the January 2021 issue is their sixtieth) The Syncopated Times  — that issue’s cover story is devoted to the splendid Jen Hodge.  Matthew’s story can be read here (with illustrations) but I trust that the good-natured Andy Senior, editor of TST, will forgive me for offering the full text here, under the same elastic law that allows the person doing the cooking to sample the soup to see if it’s done.  I encourage you to subscribe to TST — which is why I have been running an ad for it at the bottom of JAZZ LIVES posts for many moons now.

But here’s Matthew himself.

APOSTLE OF SHELLAC: MATTHEW “FAT CAT” RIVERA

Born in 1996, in Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew Rivera is making jazz vibrate to new audiences in many ways.  I met him first as a sound-phenomenon on the radio: who was this young man playing rare hot music from 78 rpm discs he treasured, and offering wise commentary?  He started “Hot Club” 78-listening sessions in New York jazz clubs, regularly at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York, then founded the Hot Club of New York, which has free Monday-night Zoom sessions, he continues to broadcast; he gives erudite yet relaxed presentations of jazz for the New York Adventure Club, and has a book in progress. 

MS: Did jazz hit you like a conversion, or was it a gradually growing fascination?

Both. We’re fascinated when music catches us off guard, but we’re converted when we return to it. For instance, I first heard Billie Holiday’s “Did I Remember” on a movie soundtrack and I was smitten, but my ear truly changed after I sought out the recording and heard it again and again. I try to balance my love for the familiar with fascination for the unfamiliar, though often the familiar wins out. To use Amiri Baraka’s phrase, we have to “Keep Digging.”

MS:  Was there jazz on the family soundtrack when you were growing up?

 There were only scraps of jazz to hear or see in my youth. Maybe I’d see something in a movie, or hear a blues based tune on the oldies station. That truly sad fact indicates jazz’s position in our contemporary world. Somewhere we lost sight of the ongoing struggle for jazz’s power. The incredible thing you have to stress about jazz history is that in 1938 everyone was listening to jazz. Whether you wanted to or not, or even whether you knew it or not, in 1938, near a high point in the industrialization of music, it was impossible to escape an essentially non-conformist music that spoke about the conditions of life in America. That didn’t happen simply because people liked jazz then or because it was a new thing, it happened because of the tough fight the musicians put up to be seen and heard. What we may have forgotten is that this struggle, like all social struggles, is recurring.  The fight for jazz was obviously not won forever in 1938.  On every level—socially, economically, in essence politically—the situation today is completely different from the height of jazz’s popularity.  We have to change our strategy.  I have no prescription for how to change things, but I spend a lot of time thinking, “How did we get here?”

MS:   I first encountered you as a disembodied voice, broadcasting music rarely if ever heard in public, such as Red Allen’s 1935-36 delights, on an afternoon jazz program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, in 2017.  How did you get there?

 I arrived at Columbia in 2014 with the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins stuck in my head. My friend Evan Sennett and I had just made a movie in Louisville about two friends of ours who are searching for a fictional jazz musician, and I added in lines like, “I like Prez better than Hawk.” It was just a complete fantasy about my friends also liking jazz from the ’30s. I was walking around campus on the first day thinking “I bet no one here knows who Bunny Berigan is,” having no clue about the incredible jazz legacy of Columbia’s radio station or that I was standing on the sundial in the middle of campus where Red Allen had once played. Then someone approached me with a box of LPs to promote WKCR. The first thing I saw was a Bunny Berigan record. When I picked up my jaw, I found out where WKCR was, and there I eventually met the great Charles Iselin who was hosting a multi-part show on Red Allen. Shortly thereafter, a tall, boisterous man in a seersucker suit and pink socks appeared and did a voluminous impression of Red Allen driving his car around Times Square, said a few things about the California Ramblers, made a point about Tommy Ladnier that trailed into Muggsy Spanier, and then stormed out of the station to catch the subway. When I caught my breath, Charles told me that was Phil Schaap.

I went to Columbia to study film, though I ended up studying English and anthropology instead because of professors like Ann Douglas, Brent Edwards, and Robert O’Meally who incorporate jazz heavily into their literature courses and teach cultural history. My love for jazz came about initially from movies. My parents wisely took me to see The Aviator when I was eight and I remember being affected not only by the planes and movie cameras, but by the jazz age soundtrack.  Later on I saw Anatomy of a Murder one summer at the Palace Theater. After I saw Duke Ellington in that film and heard the truly ‘noirvana’ soundtrack, I went to Highland Records in Louisville and asked if they had any Ellington LPs. They didn’t have any, which only added to my curiosity. I felt provoked to hear the music whenever I could.

When I showed up at WKCR, I already loved jazz, but I didn’t quite yet realize its importance or vastness. That came from Phil Schaap and older students like Charles Iselin, David Beal, and Francis Mayo. Suddenly I was thrown into a tradition of 24-hour birthday broadcasts, memorial broadcasts, morning listening sessions, five-hour profiles, and discographical inquiries. I came to the station thinking Star Dust by Louis Armstrong, Easy to Love by Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, Burgundy Street Blues by George Lewis, and If I Were a Bell by Miles Davis were all I would ever need to know and now I’m seeing Charles spinning these heavy, fragile 78s and listing off personnel and dates from fat red volumes. Early on, Fran Mayo organized a caravan — three vans of students — to drive to Bessie Smith’s grave and pay our respects. Not long after that the Norwegian solographer Jan Evensmo showed up at the station.  Charles and I spent the day listening to rare Roy Eldridge airshots with him that only exist at the station. I learned about the station’s efforts to save Eldridge’s collection when it washed up on the beaches of Far Rockaway during Hurricane Sandy. I heard Schaap’s 45- minute mic breaks, I learned about the Dizzy Gillespie red chair, I saw the thousands of interview reels in the vaults.  I was in the middle of complete and total love for music which up to that point I had only known in solitude.

Ultimately what amazed me about WKCR was what I would learn more formally from Phil Schaap when he became my mentor without me even realizing it. First, I learned from him that all music is present tense and not to get caught up in ideologies about progress or overvalue either the future or the past. Secondly, I learned not to be a swing chauvinist or a BeBop chauvinist. One of the most beautiful traditions we have on WKCR is our back to back Ornette Coleman and Bix Beiderbecke birthday broadcasts and I have learned, albeit rather belatedly, to love both dearly. Ultimately, I learned that music has a social and political function, and this, and the biographies of musicians, is inseparable and essential to understanding the sounds I loved. I learned from friends at WKCR and my teachers at Columbia to hear the essential spirit of the music’s makers. I learned to appreciate the very real connections that popular taste and criticism have largely overlooked. I learned that tastes are mutable, therefore I can’t let my taste or the taste of others guide my ears or changes my direction. I learned to follow musical daring.

MS:  For those who don’t know Phil Schaap, who is he?

Phil is a radio host, educator, sound engineer, and historian—simply a worker for jazz and the hardest working person I’ve ever met. There is an unbelievable passion in the man who speaks on air for 45 minutes straight listing record personnel, dates, and Dodgers scores by heart, remembering what he ate when he met Duke Ellington, flipping, cuing, EQing, and playing a 78 in a matter of seconds, excerpting the eight-bar Chu Berry solo and playing it twenty times in a row, working for jazz like he is running a lifelong marathon. What he teaches is basically music appreciation, not performance. Phil has aimed to get musicians better gigs, to teach listening to experts and newcomers alike, to introduce new generations of listeners to jazz, and to make jazz sound better through high quality sound productions. 

I never would be able to learn as much as I have without Phil because he taught me how to find the music, not just to settle with what I already knew. Because of his unusual methods and his aversion to mediocrity, people like to imagine Phil as a modern version of Balzac’s Père Goriot: a tragically misunderstood artifact from a different world. But Phil became a friend, a mentor, and my main influence because his mission is to bring people to jazz. He showed me what work needed to be done, and what a worker for jazz should be.

The other person I have to explain and give a big shout out to is CHARLES ISELIN! When I met Charles, I was interested in 78s because I had seen Crumb and was curious about the records in that movie. I’m a collector at heart and I don’t think that’s a shameful or embarrassing thing if the collector reflects upon him or herself, reads some Walter Benjamin, and remembers to shower once in a while. I asked Charles if he had any 78s and he went back to the archive and hauled out a box of records he had just bought. Flipping through the stack, I noticed Who by Frankie Newton on Bluebird, not because of Newton, who is now my hero, but because of Mezz Mezzrow, whose book Really the Blues I had just read and loved! Charles grinned and put on Who. I think that devil knew I was about to get hooked on some deep s*** because sure enough that night I went on eBay and bought a Red Allen Vocalion though I didn’t even have a way to play it. He showed me that the 78s were the closest I could get to the music.

MS: What led up to your founding the Hot Club of New York, whose central purpose is offering listeners “a chance to hear scarce records in their historic and aesthetic contexts, and to discuss jazz in a relaxed environment”?

Remember, I’m a filmmaker who likes jazz, but slowly there were events that led to the Hot Club. I met Parker Fishel and David Beal, two righteous fellows who loved the music, and particularly loved the Blues which was always the heart of it. That’s the main thing: the Blues is the spirit and when jazz loses the Blues, jazz loses the spirit. Everyone from Freddie Keppard to Cecil Taylor knew that. So I know that anyone who loves the Blues, like Parker and David do, is going to be a friend. Parker invited me over to his place to listen to Pete Brown records, and David and Ben Young showed up too. That was the first Hot Club I went to, and the beginning of the Neo Hot Club Movement. I’d never had that experience, other than with Charles, of listening to the music deeply and quietly, and lovingly. That’s the experience I’ve always tried to recreate with the Hot Club, whether it was at a dressed up cellar in the Village or on Zoom on Monday nights.

 MS: They call you “Fat Cat.”  But you’re not a bulky plutocrat.

Yes, I hope that handle is unlike me in more ways than one—like Tiny Parham. That really gets us to the first official Neo Hot Club: Morristown, hosted by Melissa Jones. Phil, Ben, Charles, Emily Fenster, Sam Engel, and a whole bunch would drive or ride the train out to Morristown, New Jersey, to listen to rare 78s on a top of the line sound system. I still didn’t have a turntable or anything at that time. I was only listening to my 78s at WKCR, which didn’t sound as good as at Melissa’s. On the ride back from Morristown once, Phil mentioned a Sippie Wallace 78 of which he had only known two copies to exist. There was his, and there was Johnson “Fat Cat” McRree Jr.’s, a collector and jazz festival host from Virginia. I was shocked because I had just bought the record for $8 on the internet, only it had a sizable dig in the grooves near the end.  So the next time we went out to Morristown, I brought the Sippie Wallace record and showed it to Phil.  It was the first time I had ever seen him impressed by anything. He was sweating, his eyes were bulging like a Crumb cartoon, his voice was cracking, and he told me to put on the record which I’m already in the middle of doing. As we were all listening to this unbelievably emotional, soulful blues record with Louis Armstrong and someone who wants to sound like Bechet, it gets to the chip in the grooves and Phil goes absolutely berserk, stands up in his chair, his face red, shouting “That’s Fat Cat’s copy!! You’re the Fat Cat! Fat Cat Rivera.” I had bought Fat Cat McRree Jr.’s copy for eight dollars.

MS:  You took piano lessons for ten years: tell us your James P. Johnson story.

My first encounters with music were encounters with the piano. My uncle and grandmother both played and inspired me to play. I took lessons with a true friend Calvin Pinney, a kind, churchgoing woman who would not stand for rushing or fast tempos and would have no deviation from the notes on the page. I still have her look of “You didn’t practice, did you?” burned into my mind. I took lessons up to the point where I was playing Bach two-part inventions and the four Gershwin preludes pretty solidly. Then I found a transcription of James P. Johnson playing If Dreams Come True. I listened to that music non-stop, I tried to play it, and it basically broke me down completely. I realized then, I can read music, I can interpret the old masters, I play the Rodgers and Hart songbook at a party for tips, I can even slide into Gershwin, but I can’t do THAT. I realized I was an audience member.

MS: It’s obvious you aren’t traveling this rocky road alone.

I learn from my peers, and it’s here I must thank Colin Hancock, the single most important jazz scholar living today and one of my best friends. Vince Giordano has helped me quite a bit, and with his working orchestra, The Nighthawks, he has shown us all the power of the jazz age ten piece big bands. I didn’t realize it until about ten years later, but one of my first introductions to jazz, watching The Aviator, was an introduction by Vince Giordano who performed most of the music for that film. Not to lift the curtain, Michael, but you are also an important peer and friend. Al Vollmer, David Sager, Ricky Riccardi, Scott Wenzel, Jan Evensmo, Lloyd Rauch, Andrew Oliver, Scout Opatut, Evan Arntzen, Lucy Yeghiazaryan, and countless others have taught me more than a thing or two about jazz. Still the people I learn the most from are my close friends Sam Fentress, Alex Garnick, Evan Sennett, Aaron Friedman, Laura Cadena, and Sophie Kovel, and most importantly my love, Elena Burger. They are all tuned in to our generation. They understand what the Hot Club mission is about and the sociality and politics of art and history.  In their own individual ways, they are all non-conformist thinkers which is what I want to be. Then there’s the rarest of them all, a non-conformist thinker who understands jazz: my professor Ann Douglas who wrote Terrible Honesty and has guided me in everything from Charlie Parker to Raymond Chandler. She is someone I am honored to say is my friend.

MS:  How does jazz fit into your other passions — politics, film, American culture?  Are there connections between Charlie Johnson and your literary heroes?

Jazz is the most specific of these topics because it relies essentially on an attitude and outlook towards life. It is the best part of American culture, but it is obviously not all of American culture. The outlook is, plainly enough, the Blues outlook—an honest square look at all of life’s nasty stuff that is deeply hurt by it and still finds a way to laugh it off, to see light not only at the other side of the tunnel but in the tunnel itself. Though not always successful at looking, or at laughing, and not always the most approachable thing, if you judge jazz at its best (as we should always judge) it’s the only light. I appreciate other music through jazz—certainly Cuban son, Puerto Rican plena, Old Time mountain music, Cajun, gospel, Dominican merengue, Hawaiian hula, Bach, Bob Dylan, West African palm wine, Greek rebetika—but I’ve learned I basically appreciate everything that has the Blues outlook. Outside of jazz, film noir and noir literature have been the strongest expression of this Blues spirit. The spirit, of course, predates the modern Blues as well, and it can be seen in the novels of Balzac and the poems of Sappho.  Although Charlie Johnson, as a person and artist, was basically nothing like David Goodis, they both dug into the Blues with a feeling, as a song by Duke Ellington is titled.

MS:  How did you get from being “A 78 record collector” to founding the Hot Club of New York, and what do you see as its future?

Through the path people like Phil, Charles, Melissa, David, and Parker have shown me, I have seen that jazz is a social phenomenon. There’s a book called Musicking by Christopher Small which says the music is more than the object on stage, but the entire social interaction, the space, the love and the people. Dancing, record collecting, record listening, and most certainly performance attending are all acts of musicking with almost as much importance for the social space as the performance itself.

This way of understanding music is lost on us.  Generally, we have lost sight of the need for an audience. If there are more musicians on stage than audience members in the house — which I’m sad to say I have witnessed — then it’s only public practice. I realized the same thing about collecting the records. If I’m only playing them for myself I’m not getting them all they’re worth. Even having the 78s is only half the battle. I’ve got to play them for people, and I have to find people who want to listen and teach more people to want to listen. The ultimate mission of the Hot Club is to introduce a new audience to jazz, and to create a space of active jazz musicking. 

Melissa Jones, whom I first met as a classmate at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University, basically lives this idea of music, supporting and bringing together the jazz community in any way possible. I’ve already mentioned the Hot Club of Morristown. Melissa would host young musicians and listeners at her house, feeding all of us to the gills. It didn’t matter who we were as long as we loved jazz. I think the most important part of the Neo Hot Club came from Melissa as she constantly reminded me of jazz’s ultimate cause: to bring people together. She exemplified an angel of musicking to a generation of young jazz people, and when the future hit all too soon this year I took her cue to begin hosting Zoom Hot Club meetings on Monday nights. Her presence there has continued to bond the group of listeners from all backgrounds. I dedicate this interview to Melissa Jones.

MS: What are some prizes of your collection?  Do you have desert island discs?

Well, assuming I can take a ship the size of the Titanic to the island…. My number one is Out of Nowhere by Coleman Hawkins with a stunning muted trumpet by Benny Carter on HMV. 

I’m also grateful to say I have a mint copy of Cecil Scott’s Lawd, Lawd on Victor, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band’s Chattanooga Stomp and Camp Meeting Blues on Columbia, Chick Webb’s If Dreams Come True on Columbia, Jack Purvis’s Down Georgia Way, Charlie Johnson’s Charleston is the Best Dance After All, both takes of Louis Armstrong’s Star Dust, Armstrong’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue on OKeh, a west coast pressing of Art Karle’s Lights Out with my favorite Frankie Newton solo, Tell Me, Dreamy Eyes by Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra on Gennett (thanks to Colin Hancock), Wipe ’em Off by the Seven Gallon Jug Band, Noah’s Blues by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Ice Freezes Red by Fats Navarro, My Baby’s Blues by the Blues Man on Juke Box, a vinylite pressing of Coleman Hawkins’s Talk of the Town, a vinylite of Bird of Paradise on Dial and my favorite Charlie Parker Thriving on a Riff on a beautiful sounding vinylite Savoy. Every record I own is one I could never part with! A test pressing of With a Smile and a Song, an unissued side from a Teddy Wilson session with the beautiful singer Sally Gooding and the tenor great Chu Berry, is a crown jewel.

MS:  Does record collecting feed the music or vice versa?

Through collecting records I came to understand that there are alternative ways to listen to and find music. Jazz came to have a context, and context is never icing on the cake. Context is always the thing itself when you get down to it. We’ve lost sight of that fact through the current ways of distributing music, and that’s why I think we are left with an understanding of music that is supporting an ideology that handicaps the music and strips it of its active life. Jazz is not an abstract music just like Pollock and Krasner were not abstract painters. Pollock painted about the censorship of the cold war; he danced around the oppressors to say exactly what they were afraid art was capable of saying, which is what the jazz musicians he was listening to had already done. Jazz musicians danced around power to create something seemingly nonsensical to the unhip, but explicitly communicative to its righteous audience. Spotify, YouTube, and all of the current ways of distributing music decontextualize and deactivate music. The way these apps envision music shows exactly where those in power want it to be: in the background. Ironically, their outlook inadvertently acknowledges the importance and power of jazz.  It’s our way out.   

MS: You’ve been doing intriguing research on Frankie Newton.  Why is he a hero?

Frankie Newton is important to me because he was on the first 78 I heard, and he has since become more important to me because he showed me the way to the music.  For someone who was dead for over forty years before my birth to show me the way is nothing short of the ultimate vision of jazz’s power. The same can be said of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, or Billie Holiday, but for me Newton has had the loudest voice because whenever you find him, he is never caught up in the zero sum game of the culture industry, playing hide and seek to make a living and still not lose his soul. Perhaps Coltrane equals him in this regard. Newton was politically minded, but even before I knew about his politics I knew about his activities as a painter.

As someone who was balancing playing jazz records and making films and studying literature I found any character who delved into another medium from a jazz perspective to be fascinating and exceptional. The more I’ve learned about Newton, combing through newspapers, periodicals, and an interview disc I found in a junk shop, the more I’ve found that his position on the margins of jazz popularity shows the fault lines in our understanding of the music, and a point of view that contrasts revealingly with the more famous artists of his time. Moreover, and most importantly, Frankie Newton is a truly great musician.  He is the best kind of soloist—he speaks for the whole group when he solos, not just for himself. I’m always curious to hear what he has to say.

MS:  We feel the same way about Matthew Rivera! 

Although I’ve thanked a lot of people in this interview, ultimately there are two groups of people to whom I’m most grateful.  First, my parents and family in Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, and Puerto Rico, and secondly, the pioneering jazz musicians of every generation.  They are the original jazz workers, and all I want to do is work for them.

Matthew can be found broadcasting (from his apartment) via wkcr.org on Mondays 12-3 PM EST.  Join the Hot Club of New York at http://hotclubny.com (there’s also a HCNY Facebook page) where you can find the Zoom link for his Monday night sessions from 7-10 PM.  Information about his programs for the New York Adventure Club can be found at https://nyadventureclub.com.

May your happiness increase!

 

SINGULARLY SUSAN (Part Three): BOB WILBER, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MARTY GROSZ, VINCE GIORDANO (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21, 2008)

Where it happened!

As JAZZ LIVES waves adieu to 2020, we continue with our series of five memorably hot performances created at Jazz at Chautauqua on a Sunday morning, September 21, 2008, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Marty Grosz, guitar; Vince Giordano, string bass — honoring irreplaceable recordings from 1940 featuring Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, known to us as the “Bechet-Spanier Big Four.”

If this is your first immersion in Hot, you can visit the first two splendid performances — THAT’S A PLENTY and SQUEEZE ME — here.

And here’s Will J. Harris and Victor Young’s 1928 paean to Miss Sue, with a charmingly period sheet music cover to start the good works.

and the sounds of 2008 as we — hopeful and cautious — peer into 2021:

May your happiness increase!