Three lyrical cats making great music al fresco in Brooklyn, New York: Arnt Arntzen, banjo, vocal; Danny Tobias, trumpet; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, lowboy cymbal, vocal. Those venerable pop classics feel fresh yet familiar in their hands.
As the weather gets colder, the trio has moved inside. And the food is good.
The past isn’t dead, as long as the evidence survives. Two days ago I posted a rollicking CIRIBIRIBIN by the group named above plus John Bucher, cornet. Here is another long-buried souvenir from Wednesday, June 7, 2006, performed at the Cajun Restaurant, New York City. Two originals and an outchorus, for those noting details. Eddy Davis, leader, banjo, vocals, composer; Scott Robinson, C-Melody saxophone; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Jesse Gelber, piano; Debbie Kennedy, string bass: THE LAUGHING BLUES / AN IDEA FROM MARIAN / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS. I’ve left in all the conversation — at the end of the night — because to edit it out would be painful. Pretend that you were there, no, that you are there. Why not?
One of Marty Grosz’s favorite vaudeville bits is to announce the next number, and say “. . . performed with dispatch and vigor,” and then motion to two musicians near him, saying, “That’s Dispatch, and that’s Vigor.” How old it is I don’t know, but it still provokes a laugh from me and the audience. (The expression goes back to the eighteenth century and before: it crops up in a letter from George Washington, which would please Marty if he doesn’t already know it.)
Perhaps the earliest recording we have of Marty (then playing a four-string guitar) and his miraculous colleague Frank Chace dates from 1951, issued on a limited edition 10″lp by THE INTENSELY VIGOROUS JAZZ BAND. The personnel is John Dengler, cornet; Marty Ill, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Hal Cabot, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Stan Bergen, drums. Princeton, New Jersey, May 1951. I have a copy here somewhere, but it proves elusive. From what I remember of the liner notes, Marty and Frank were ringers, added to the Princeton students’ band of the time.
Through the good offices of the very generous collector Hot Jazz 78rpms — who shares marvels regularly on his YouTube channel — I can offer you all of this rather grainy but certainly precious disc. But before you leap into auditory splendor, may I caution you: not everyone on this session is at the same level, but it would be wrong to give it only a passing grade as “semi-pro college Dixieland.” Close listening will reveal subtleties, even in the perhaps overfamiliar repertoire. Marty, Frank, and John shine. And the three Princetonians, none of whom went on to jazz fame, play their roles. With dispatch and vigor.
NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:
BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (a memorable Chace chorus):
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
THE SHEIK OF ARABY (my favorite):
BASIN STREET BLUES:
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:
and, yes, WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN with some of its original luster intact:
Intense, vigorous, and joyous too. And if you hear echoes of Eddie, Charles Ellsworth, Bix, and their friends, that’s not a bad thing.
I don’t remember details about this particular Wednesday night at the Cajun — which was soon to close to make way for a high-rise apartment building. But my digital recorder stands in for any gaps in my memory, providing wonderful evidence of what happened more than fifteen years ago. Here is a romping sample — CIRIBIRIBIN, suggested by cornetist John Bucher, sitting in for a set with Eddy, Pete Martinez, clarinet (subbing for Orange Kellin); Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano (subbing for Conal Fowkes); Debbie Kennedy, string bass. It wasn’t “Dixieland”; it was more an evocation of the sleeves-rolled-up music one heard on Fifty-Second Street, at Eddie Condon’s, a year or so later at The Ear Inn: loose, friendly, playful, expert but hiding its expertise. I think it’s a memorable nine minutes, and when I first unearthed this disc, more than one computer refused to transfer it, so I played it more than a dozen times in hopes that I could vault over the barrier. I loved it more each time, and I hope you will share my enthusiasm.
The building is gone; some of the musicians have moved to other neighborhoods, but the sounds they made and the emotions they evoke are so durable as to be timeless.
Yes, almost fifty years ago. The admission price was $1.75, and you could buy drinks at the bar from 5 PM on. This Wednesday “pre-dinner” concert series ran from 5:30 to 6:30 or perhaps a few minutes over, and it was indeed a wonderful interlude. This concert was advertised as the George Barnes Quartet, with Dick Hyman, piano; George Duvivier, string bass; and Jo Jones, drums — more than enough bliss for anyone, and the two guest stars [Peter Dean, incidental singing and ukulele; Ruby Braff, cornet] made for even more fun.
A little history: in 1972, George had recorded for Harry Lim’s Famous Door label as the Second George Barnes Quartet (with Milt Hinton and Hank Jones in for part). Alexandra Barnes Leh, daughter of George and Evelyn and erudite creator of the George Barnes Legacy Collection, told me, hearing this tape, “They were booked for this concert before Dad and Ruby decided to put together their own quartet for Newport…and Dad asked Ruby to join these festivities because, by May 23, they’d made their decision, and had been rehearsing with Wayne Wright and John Giuffrida.” (She was at the concert also: a pity we didn’t get to say hello!)
What follows is what I recorded from the first row, and a blissful souvenir of energized music led by the playful genius of the electric guitar, George Barnes: MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS (Barnes, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / FUNKY BLUES / THOU SWELL / HARLEM STRUT (Hyman, solo) / OOH, THAT KISS (Barnes, Ruby, Hyman, Duvivier, Jo) / I’M NUTS ABOUT SCREWY MUSIC (Peter Dean, ukulele and vocal, for Ruby) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? (Dean) / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER (Dean) / DING DONG DADDY (Dean) / ALMOST-CLOSING BLUES (everyone) / JUST YOU, JUST ME (ditto) / WHERE’S FREDDIE? (ditto) //
Great joys, surprising, witty, and moving all at once. New York still offers musical delights with an open hand, but an assemblage of these heroes will not come again.
Coleman Hawkins’ birthday was the 21st of November. Although he’s no longer here to celebrate with us, we continue to celebrate him. He was the tenor saxophonist before other musicians had figured out ways to make that horn an effective part of a jazz ensemble, and — even more tellingly — a compelling solo voice. And then he blazed a path for forty-five years.
Two weeks ago, at the Monday-night Zoom meeting of the Hot Club of New York, our friend-scholar Matthew Rivera played the issued take of MY BUDDY — several times — with the affectionate reverence and admiration it deserves. But the band, this wonderful mix of Americans and Europeans, recorded it three times, and some members had never heard the alternate takes.
I want to fill that gap here, and am also offering the two takes of PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY, a sweet rouser of a whimsical-romantic appeal (these versions are instrumental, so you won’t hear the winsome question, “Don’t I look familiar to you?” and the rest of the chipper lyrics by Ray Klages and Jack Meskill).
The band was led by Hawkins’ friend and colleague, the masterful Benny Carter, who played trumpet, alto saxophone, and clarinet; also joining in the swing were Freddy Johnson, piano; George Chisholm, trombone; Jimmy Williams, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Ray Webb, guitar; Len Harrison, string bass; Robert Montmarche, drums — all of this recorded in the Netherlands for Decca / Vocalion on August 18, 1937.
A word about “alternate takes.” I gather that the term was first used in film production.) I suspect that the recording executives, having such a band in their studios, were ready to say — even if a performance was excellent — “Let’s try another.” Or it might have been Carter himself. One of the musicians might have said, “I’d like another try at that: I wasn’t happy with my solo.” The listener will notice on this session that the soloists follow some of the same general path from take to take, but the variations are fascinating, particularly on MY BUDDY, where the general looseness is more prevalent from one take to the next.
Exuberant, inventive, ingenious playing on all five performances. And we hear Hawkins and Carter plunging into their solos with fervor and exactitude, followed closely behind by Freddy Johnson. Let us also praise Benny’s wondrous trumpet playing! He may have been responsible for the little but telling arranging touches, or they may have been “head arrangements,” invented on the spot, but they give these performances shape and focus. And consider — in this era of performances with no time limit — how much music these people created in three-minutes-and-change. Two players sharing a thirty-two bar chorus (a “split chorus”) makes so much eloquent compression possible.
PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY (master take):
and the alternate take:
Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY (master take):
The first alternate:
The second alternate:
Finally, for the detail-minded, a few words about the presumed sequence of performances and record-keeping. It would be natural to count #1 and #2 as the first and second performances created, but those official designations might only be ways of noting first and second choice, by the musicians or the record-company people. But the music is what matters, and it is happily timeless.
If you haven’t checked out the Hot Club of New York (the link is above), you will enjoy it — timeless music in a community of people enjoying it, every Monday night from 7-10 PM.
This is the third segment of music broadcast from “Cabaret La Boheme,” atop Detroit’s Hotel Ponchartrain, featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet-trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. I’ve been able to present two one-hour live programs (with commercials edited out, I assume) first preserved by Jim Taylor.
First, the end of the August 30 broadcast, with two songs from the Great American Songbook and two jazz classics, then a program broadcast on CBS-TV, “Dial ‘M’ for Music,” hosted by Father Norman J. O’Connor, and featuring Bobby and Charlie Shavers — two players who crossed paths thirty years earlier. The music is superb, the little snippets of talk revealing and genuine. But two small mysteries remain: why weren’t Bobby and Charlie encouraged to play more duets? And I have no information about the three-piece rhythm section, which could have been Bobby’s at the time or Charlie’s (Ray and Tommy Bryant, Oliver Jackson) or studio musicians. But the music is a find: perhaps some of my readers saw this program live on CBS?
Bobby and Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Franklin Skeete, George Hamilton in Detroit: THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / SPEAK LOW / BOURBON STREET PARADE // Bobby and Charlie Shavers, rhythm section unidentified: CBS-TV, “DIAL M FOR MUSIC” – Father Norman J. O’Connor, host: BLUES (BH-CS) / SAVOY (BH) / SWING THAT MUSIC (BH) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (CS) / NATURE BOY (CS) / INDIANA (CS, vocal) / Charlie and Bobby talk / UNDECIDED (BH) / BERNIE’S TUNE (BH-CS) //
Thank goodness for people with tape recorders and other such contrivances; thank goodness for the musicians who create beauty that never ages.
And just because I never see such things, here’s Charlie’s autograph from 1953, presumably from a JATP tour:
In September 1969, I was entering my senior year in high school, and my parents would not have encouraged a trip to Detroit . . . but through the marvels of ancient and modern technology, I can be there now, and hope you would like to join me. (I did get to hear Bobby and Vic in New York a few years later, blessedly.)
Bobby, Vic, Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums, were concluding a two-month run (imagine that!) at the glamorous Cabaret La Boheme, twenty-five stories in the sky, atop the Hotel Ponchartrain in downtown Detroit. And their “Saturday night dancing parties” were broadcast over WJR, “the goodwill station,” and taken down off the air by the late Jim Taylor. Yesterday I posted forty-five minutes of music by this band; here’s a second serving.
SWEET LORRAINE / WHEN YOU’RE SMILING (broadcast close) / August 30, 1969: TIN ROOF BLUES / CARAVAN / ALONE (Vic) / SATIN DOLL / THE LOOK OF LOVE (rhythm section) / THAT’S A-PLENTY / IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD (a small compact gem) / JUST YOU, JUST ME / HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Noralisa / MY FUNNY VALENTINE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) (incomplete) // (I will share the conclusion of this broadcast shortly.)
Think of being able to turn on your radio and hear such music live, or, better yet, to get dressed up (appropriate for Saturday night) and hear it at close range.
What follows may seem almost inconceivable to musicians and listeners in 2021, but it was possible to have a two-month gig playing lyrical jazz in a posh downtown hotel, it was possible that Saturday nights the music would be broadcast without gimmicks to a radio audience, and — even better — we could hear it now, more than fifty years later. I present forty-five minutes of the “Bobby Hackett Quartet with Vic Dickenson,” featuring Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. And just so that you know Rod Serling is not in charge of this alternate universe, here is an advertisement in the Detroit Jewish News (July 4, 1969) to prove it:
A number of these broadcasts were recorded off-the-air by enthusiast Jim Taylor, and some of the music made its way to me — circa 1975 — through the late British trumpeter and collector Roy Bower. My forty-five year-old cassette has held up beautifully, and it would be an understatement to say that this music has also. As the genial announcer says, “It’s live and lively!” From twenty-five stories up, it’s our “Saturday Evening Dancing Party,” broadcast on radio station WJR, Saturday, August 23, 1969.
TIN ROOF BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / JA-DA / ON THE BEACH AT WAIKIKI / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (Vic) / EXACTLY LIKE YOU / announcer calls Bobby “Buddy” / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / SUNRISE, SUNSET (rhythm section only) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU (Vic) / FIDGETY FEET / SWEET LORRAINE (incomplete) //
This is the first forty-five minute segment: more is on the way. Don’t they sound wonderful?
What is a trumpet (flugelhorn, trombone, and so on) after all except an unforgiving collection of metal tubing through which an idealist propels warm vibrating air? But Joe Wilder could make this hardware-store-in-a-velvet case sing with the delicate intensity of the most touching singer, emotive and expert at once. I had heard him on recordings, but did not meet him until 2004, and it is true, as Roswell Rudd told me, “You play your personality.” Joe’s personality was a gracious warm embrace: of the melody, of the possibility of song, of the audience — and everyone felt it. Here Joe is warmly accompanied by Steve Ash, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, string bass; Marion Felder, drums. The occasion was a “Harlem in the Himalayas” concert organized by Loren Schoenberg, held at the Rubin Museum in New York City in June 2008. I was in the first or second row with my digital recorder, and you can hear the result now. Such beauty:
He was the most rare of gentlemen, and it was a deep privilege to know him, for he greeted the most casual acquaintance as a new dear friend, in the most genuine way. And every note was a friend as well.
This music is especially poignant — joyous and sad in equal measure — because we lost Dave Frishberg yesterday, November 17, at 88. His last years were not easy, but he had given us so much — memorable compositions both sardonic and tender, sung in his distinctively whimsical voice. But while the obituaries remember him for I’M HIP and MY ATTORNEY BERNIE, I remember him as a peerless jazz improviser, a wonderful soloist and inspiring ensemble player. Jimmie Rowles was his model (a summit he would be the first to tell you he’d never reached) but he clearly loved Ellington and Basie and their delightful waywardnesses. I encountered him in person twice, and our one brief conversation showed him to be very modest to the point of shyness, a very endearing personality written in lower-case cursive. There won’t be another like him, and it will take a long time before we stop missing him.
I didn’t get to The Half Note until some six years after this recording, so I missed a great deal, but I remember it as a welcoming place. The friendly Canterino family, the Italian food, the splendid music. Here’s a brief sample — a radio broadcast, no less, with the master of ceremonies Alan Grant, featuring Zoot and Al, tenor saxophones; Dave Frishberg, piano; Major Holley, string bass; Mousey Alexander, drums; Jimmy Rushing, vocal.
It’s a slightly dim copy, but the music bursts right through the tape hiss: HALEY’S COMET / EXPENSE ACCOUNT / [Art Farmer announced] I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME (vocal JR):
Cities never stay the same, so in the sorrowful name of SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI, when I’ve walked to The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, I pass by the corner where The Half Note once flourished: it’s a deli now. But they can’t take our memories away from us.
And a postscript: my friend Mal Sharpe, also no longer tangibly with us, told me he wanted to have a bumper sticker that read HONK IF YOU MISS JIMMY RUSHING. I loved the idea, but told him I would be wary, because I’d never know the clear intent of someone honking at me. But we miss them all so deeply.
In his sixty-year performing career, Earl Hines was never characterized as a timid improviser. No, he was daring — that he had a piano in front of him rather than a machete was only the way the Fates had arranged it. Dick Wellstood called him, “Your Musical Host, serving up the hot sauce,” and that’s apt. Whether the listener perceives it as the freedom to play whatever occurred to him or a larger musical surrealism, it was never staid.
Later in life, Hines had (like his colleague Teddy Wilson) various medleys and tributes that could form a set program for an evening, but he improvised, even within set routines. The listener was in the grip of joyous turbulence, and Hines’ showmanship was always part of the show. Here, first solo and then accompanied by Harley White, string bass, and Eddie Graham, drums, he plays music composed by and associated with his friend Fats Waller. Make sure your seat belt is low and tight across your hips before we start.
The songs are BLACK AND BLUE / TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / JITTERBUG WALTZ / SQUEEZE ME / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . and each of them has its possibilities examined, shaken, stirred, and offered to us in the most multi-colored way. And, yes, my mixing of metaphors is an intentional bow to the Fatha:
Hines told more than one interviewer that his flashing “trumpet style” of playing — octaves and single-note lines exploding like fireworks — was born out of necessity, his desire to be heard over the band. He kept to that path even when no band was present, and it’s dazzling.
The combination of Yaala Ballin, voice, and Michael Kanan, piano, is very special: a swirling-together of melody, joy, and wit in the most delightfully intuitive ways. And because they both know the way to our hearts through music, they can be brave. Each song is a delicately strong exercise in the taking of risks — risks that pay off.
Over the past few years, they have developed a concert “program” where the audience gets to choose the songs from a long list of classics (Porter, Berlin, Gershwin, Ellington, Rodgers and Hart and more) — each audience member picks two titles, and the slips of paper are placed in a basket, from which Yaala draws. It works wonderfully: a combination of surprise and pleasure.
I’m writing this just in time: Yaala and Michael will be performing one set together, tomorrow, November 17, 2 PM (New York time) on Facebook Live.
Here are four love songs from their Valentine’s Day 2020 concert, an occasion I recall well with great gratitude.
From OKLAHOMA! —
Berlin’s very touching THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL —
OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY (with the verse):
and a fitting close to this segment, AT LAST:
HEART AND SOUL for sure.
Don’t forget: Yaala and Michael will be performing tomorrow, November 17, at 2 PM (New York time). I know it’s only virtual — Facebook Live — but I look forward to the time when they can be experienced in person.
This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.
My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.
But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.
Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:
Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —
LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.
IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //
I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.
If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.
Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.
This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.
This, the second tune of the evening, was completely prescient, because by the end of the evening the impending drizzle had indeed turned to rain and it was, thank you, Harry Warren, September. But these four lovely intrepid musical explorers soldiered on in the nicest ways: Dan Block, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet; Gabrielle Stravelli, vocal; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Paul Bollenback, guitar. All this goodness happened on one of Dan Block’s Tuesday soirees (5:30-8:30 PM) at Swing 46, 349 West 46th Street, New York.
and that swinging Sinatra-rooted ultimatum, ALL OR NOTHING AT ALL:
and after an intentionally other-worldly prelude, Arlen’s OUT OF THIS WORLD:
Finally, at the close of the evening, when it really DID begin to rain, THIS CAN’T BE LOVE, with the multi-talented Michelle Collier (a fine singer herself) scurrying to batten down the hatches:
All praise to this quartet, including the resonant even when invisible Pat O’Leary! And they will be back in November, on the last two Tuesdays (say that quickly — I dare you) to lift our spirits and create joy. Swing 46 has an “inside,” with a piano and a stage, so you won’t have to think about your underwear. Unless, of course, you’d like to: then who am I to stop you?
It’s so delightful to know that scholars of this music — brilliant young ones! — are carrying on the great work of honoring our collective ancestors. You have already heard about Matthew Rivera, Charles Iselin, Andrew Sammut, and Colin Hancock, among others. To this list I again add the name of Sterling J. Mosher III, pianist, researcher, archivist and more, who has now brought us filmed performances of stride pianist extraordinaire Donald Lambert, early and late. Here is his compact, friendly annotation:
As of November 2021, this is the full filmography of Donald Lambert. Dreams are that a full video of the 1960 Stride All Stars Program at the Newport Jazz Festival will be made public. As well as any possible amateur films of Don, perhaps by a visiting customer at Wallace’s or distant family.
00:03 The first film we see is from March of 1932, from the film “Ten Minutes To Die” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald Lambert only is featured in one song with the band.
02:01 May of 1932, “Veiled Aristocrats” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald walks in from stage right with the “piano tuner,” he is initially standing behind the piano while the tuner plays and a woman sings. Donald takes over for the tuner and performs for 2 songs. The final song is “Dragging My Heart Around.” Mabel Garrett sings and tap dances. Donald and all other persons on screen exchange goodbyes and exit stage left and right. We get a clear sound of Donald’s voice, sounding young at the age of 28. (Special Thanks to ARK THEATRE for uploading the cleanest film of both of these rare early pieces of Afro-American Cinema history.)
08:49 01 July, 1960. Newport Jazz Festival (Newport, R.I.) Stride All Stars Program. Donald appears in 3 clips here. The original speed, pitch, and quality is retained in these clips as they originally appeared. Some folks have taken the crystal clear audio from the recorded concert and placed it over the video at correct speed. Some of these videos are available at UNIGONFILMS on youtube. A television announcer narrates through all 3 clips. In order of the concert, Donald plays Anitra’s Dance, later plays Liza, then plays “Charleston” for two takes with Eubie Blake playing the upper register and The Danny Barker Trio. Willie The Lion Smith is seated off camera. Rudi Blesh is heard speaking several times, announcing to the concert attendees.
GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.
Just astonishing. Thank you, Sterling, for your labors of love. Bless you, Donald Lambert, Oscar Micheaux, and Rudi Blesh.
When Louis Armstrong was going to play ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS with his All-Stars, he might say, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to take you down to my home town, to jump a good old good one . . . ” and after Billy Kyle or Marty Napoleon had played a piano introduction, the band would play it at a fairly fast tempo. But it wasn’t always so: the 1922 recording by the “Dixie Daisies” is quite moderate, and the 1927 Bix-and-Tram excursion even more so, although bands took the song faster as the decades went by.
Here, for context, lyrics, verse, and more — and it’s a delightful recording! — is the first recording of the song:
I find that version perfectly charming. Perhaps fifteen years later, Lester Young (who remembered NOLA fondly) performed the song at a faster tempo, but Lester being Lester, there was a good deal of elasticity in his approach to the song as it rollicked by, stretching out over the beat like a cat waking from a nap.
The EarRegulars, that phenomenal jazz-repertory-company of lower Manhattan and environs, took up ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS at their holy gathering of August 29, 2021. Taking it very easy, but with a purpose, they glide through the “good old good one,” a hymn in praise of the Crescent City, in a very Lester-Buck-Durham-Page-and-then-Rollini mood (you could look it up).
They are Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor and bass saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, at The Ear Out — that’s on the sidewalk outside The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York:
Transformative and lovely. The EarRegulars, since Halloween, have gone indoors — Sunday nights from 8-11 (approximately) and I hope to bring myself and my camera there and money for our friend Phillup the Bucket. Maybe we’ll get to say HELLO! (in our Fats-voices or not).
Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.
He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.
Clarinetist JOE LICARI:
I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:
A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October. The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening. Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there. On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car. We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late. The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement. Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested. Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more: Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion. He enjoyed playing there as well. I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.
Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:
Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.
He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!
I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.
Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:
Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.
Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:
As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.
I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.
Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.
How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.
Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.
One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.
So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.
Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:
This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.
Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.
Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.
Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.
In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.
All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.
The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.
I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.
Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:
We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.
Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.
P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.
Let’s set the mood first. I’ll explain in three minutes.
A beautiful song, no? But this post isn’t about a 1940 recording: better, it’s about music that will be made in this month, this year.
Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.
A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”
Hilary has a plan, which we can witness and participate in on Tuesday, November 23, at the 55 Bar at 55 Christopher Street, 6:30 to 8:30. She’s inviting us to join her, “on the trail”:
Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I–like many others, I’m sure–dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!
As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.
In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.
This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart.
Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The cover charge is a mere $10 and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination, pardner. But those things are easy.
I could joke about boots and saddles, but I will say only, “Don’t miss this show.”
Oh, little things. The subtleties of melodic embellishment. Imbuing the familiar written notes with personality. Being witty without being heavy-handed. Creating light-hearted perpetual-motions of swing. Working as a community. Honoring the elders but understanding just how innovative those elders are.
In short, the very foundations of great enticing art that never shouts or insists on capital letters. A wooing art, genial and seductive. Humane and friendly — and graciously old-fashioned in its embrace of listeners, with no hauteur.
The music that exemplifies these assertions was performed and recorded at the cleverly titled Vegans N’ Roses in Spain, a month or so before the pandemic told us that the bar was closed indefinitely. How fortunate we are to have this evidence, which drummer Guillem has just posted on YouTube and which I happily share with you.
TEACH ME TONIGHT:
Children at play in a field, but with the wisdom of the Elders — that’s what I hear. If these musicians are new to you, write their names down on the back of a grocery receipt and carry it in your wallet . . . or note them on your phone, so you won’t forget them. They know how to light the way.
To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.
Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.
A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)
But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.
If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.
How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.
I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.
It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.
Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:
Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)
00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)
And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:
and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:
As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:
This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.
Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.
It was below forty degrees this morning — good-bye, t-shirts and sandals; hello, scarves and bowls of soup. But the chill can’t spoil our joys as long as we have enlivening music: the kind that the EarRegulars make (they’re now back inside The Ear Inn on Sunday nights, 8-11). A heartening sample follows.
The composition is called BEAN SOUP, and it’s based on the harmonies of TEA FOR TWO. Coleman Hawkins, referred to as “Bean” for decades — the late Phil Schaap told us whenever he could that the monicker began as “The Best and Only” and was then shortened — has composer credit.
The creators here are our friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor and bass saxophone, mellophone, cornet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass. I’ve included a few more photographs than usual because this summer scene is now a memory, and I for one will not forget it.
Photographs taken with the lowly iPhone 10:
and now, the music:
Tasty, homemade, good to the last drop. Or spoonful. Or swinging note.