To celebrate the publication of his book REALLY THE BLUES, Mezz Mezzrow was the star of a concert at New York’s Town Hall on January 1, 1947 as a benefit for the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief.
The basic band was Muggsy Spanier, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Sammy Price or Art Hodes, Wellman Braud, Baby Dodds. Later in the evening Bob Wilber’s Wildcats were added: Johnny Glasel, Ed Hubble, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Charlie Traeger, Eddie Phyfe. Coot Grant and Kid Sox Wilson also performed. The concert was recorded on twelve-inch acetates on two machines (hooray!) and ten performances were issued on lp — Jazz Archives JA-39 — but what follows was not.
Quite simply, it is an exultant hymn of praise to Louis.
It’s a life-changing performance of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING by Johnny Windhurst, unlisted in Tom Lord’s discography, with Bechet, prominent, and Dick Wellstood on piano. My guess is that the veterans gave place to the Youngbloods, but it’s Windhurst who catches our ears and our hearts. Rather like Hot Lips Page in his prime, Windhurst seems energetically lit from within, and just when you think he might have had enough or done enough, he takes another chorus. Radiantly.
After Mezz’s announcement, the roadmap (to my ears) is one ensemble statement of the theme, one chorus by Bechet; one chorus by Wellstood; one by Eddie Hubble, trombone; two choruses by Windhurst with Bechet and the ensemble joining in. The tape I was working with was a copy of a reel-to-reel tape where the plastic had started to decay, alas, so there is some distortion and tape squeal. But if you can turn away from Windhurst’s shining Louisness because of these flaws, we don’t have much to say to each other.
Incidentally, the question, “How’s your Louisness?” is, I believe, a co-invention of two of my favorite people, Riley and Clint Baker. . . . it is another way of saying, “How’s your internal spiritual compass?” and “Have you spread some joy today?” They do, and certainly young Mister Windhurst does.
Play it again, and feel the warmth of that smile.