First, some music: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY as performed by Don Redman’s Orchestra in Geneva, Switzerland, October 27, 1946. The band is Bobby Williams, Alan Jeffreys, trumpet; Peanuts Holland, trumpet, vocal; Quentin Jackson, Jack Carman, trombone; Tyree Glenn, trombone, vibraphone; Don Redman, alto saxophone, piano, vocal, arranger; Chauncey Haughton, Pete Clarke, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet; Don Byas, Ray Abrams, tenor saxophone; Billy Taylor, piano; Ted Sturgis, string bass; Buford Oliver, drums; Inez Cavanaugh, vocal:
The music (in this case featuring Tyree Glenn, Ted Sturgis, Don Byas, and others) is relevant to the pieces of paper below. And for those who would like to hear the whole Geneva concert — happily broadcast on Swiss radio and even more happily, preserved for us seventy-five years later! — here are all the performances:
Now I shall modulate into another key.
As a young jazz fan, I had to decide what variety of souvenir I wanted to take home from an evening’s entertainment. At one point, I fancied myself a still photographer — with a Canon AE-1 — and I would take as many shots as I’d bought rolls of 35 millimeter film. That was especially appropriate in the venues where I had learned beforehand that illicit audiotaping would get me thrown out unceremoniously (as in, “We don’t allow that here. Give it to me and please leave”).
I asked very few musicians for autographs, because I was afraid that they would say, “Was that a cassette recorder I saw in front of you? Kindly bring it here so that I can smash it with my shoe, if you don’t mind.” I also felt at the time that asking for a hero’s autograph relegated me to the status of “fan,” where conversation would have been limited. I could speak to Bennie Morton, but if I’d asked him to sign something, perhaps he would have done so, said a few polite words, and the interchange would have ended.
Eventually I also realized that approaching an artist for their autograph right before a set was ungenerous (“Let me get prepared, let me discuss the first song and the key, or let me get my charts together”) and after a set perhaps more so (“I just gave you my all for 45 minutes; I’m depleted, and want to visit the facilities”) so thrusting a tiny piece of paper in the Idol’s face was not always a kindness.
I must say, though, that in 1971 if I delayed Teddy Wilson for three minutes to ask him to sign my copy of PRES AND TEDDY and send beams of admiration at him, I feel no guilt now, and a prize of mine (thanks to the very dear Mike Burgevin) is an enthusiast’s 1933 autograph book that has a Jack Pettis signature. So I am not free from such urges.
Many people, however, perhaps with less timidity, have asked for autographs. Their ease, decades after the fact, results in slips of paper being offered for sale on eBay. One of the most rewarding sites is “jgautographs” — and here are a few items of unusual interest from a recent auction.
Don Redman’s 1946 orchestra (including Don Byas) that “went to Europe”:
and one of its trumpet stars, Peanuts Holland:
another Quentin Jackson signature (he deserves the attention):
our hero, James Rushing, Esquire:
the underrated and superb drummer Kansas Fields:
A souvenir of the 1938 Paul Whiteman orchestra, featuring Charlie Teagarden, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling, and what looks like a Miff Mole signature squeezed in at the bottom:
Finally, a trio that I would have loved to hear — perhaps at a festival in 1978 — Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ray Bryant:
Holy relics, mingling gratitude, admiration, affection, passing back and forth from artist to happy listeners.
(Postscript: none of these seem mechanical: if you haunt eBay, as I do, you can find what seem like hundreds of signatures by certain famous musicians, and I suspect they sat at a table, as do sports stars, and signed a thousand in an afternoon, which now are for sale. These seem to be signed in real life and under real circumstances, which is a very fine thing.)
May your happiness increase!