A STAGE FULL OF BRIGHT LIGHTS: WILD BILL DAVISON, BOBBY HACKETT, JIMMY McPARTLAND, BUCK CLAYTON, JIMMY ARCHEY, VIC DICKENSON, GENE SEDRIC, ED HALL, FRANK SIGNORELLI, JOE BUSHKIN, MARIAN McPARTLAND, MILT HINTON, POPS FOSTER, MAX WAYNE, GEORGE WETTLING, JO JONES, TONY SPARGO, LEE WILEY (Town Hall, New York City, April 12, 1952)

 Here’s a vibrant paradox: the musicians who understand themselves deeply know that singularity is the great goal.  Be aware of where you’ve come from, revere your heroes and know the tradition, but be yourself.  At the same time, play well with others: understand that the community of jazz improvisation is sacred, and work for “the comfort of the band,” to quote Baby Dodds.

In this Town Hall concert, from April 12, 1952, that delicate paradox is on display in every performance.  Here’s the roadmap.

This Saturday concert, produced by Bob Maltz, was billed as a farewell party for Wild Bill Davison, who was leaving New York to tour. It was recorded by the Voice of America for broadcast overseas, which may be the source of this copy.  The introduction is by Al “Jazzbo” Collins, with Marian McPartland playing softly underneath his paragraphs:

BLUE SKIES / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU”RE IN LOVE WITH ME / HINDUSTAN Wild Bill Davison, Ed Hall, Jimmy Archey, Frank Signorelli, Pops Foster, George Wettling /

THE LADY IS A TRAMP / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (Bushkin) – DON’T BLAME ME (Milt) – DINAH (Buck) – HALLELUJAH! – BLUES (Jo) Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /

CLARINET MARMALADE / DAVENPORT BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, Tony Spargo /

ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / STREET OF DREAMS / MANHATTAN / [Roy Haynes mentioned] ‘DEED I DO / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Lee Wiley, Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /

Collins jokes and talks to fill time . . .

FIDGETY FEET / SISTER KATE (Vic, vocal) / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, George Wettling //

THAT’S A PLENTY (explosively) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SAINTS Davison, Archey, Hall, Signorelli, Foster, Wettling //

Listening to these musicians, at the peak of their expressive powers, I thought of Ruby Braff (in Boston when this concert took place) and the subject of the party, Wild Bill Davison.  Ruby was often cutting about his colleagues, except for half-a-dozen who he held sacred.  Thus, in my hearing, Wild Bill was “that moron.”  But later in life — perhaps in the wonderful conversations he had with Steve Voce, Ruby unwound enough to praise Bill: he “had drama.” 

But my point is not to praise Bill in isolation.  Every musician at this concert has their own drama — Lee Wiley wooing, Vic Dickenson telling stories, Wild Bill taking a hot-jazz-flamethrower to the curtains to see if they would catch fire.  The concert reminds me of a televised production of KING LEAR where every role was filled — gorgeously — by a star actor (Laurence Olivier, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Leo McKern, Diana Rigg) — and they meshed wonderfully, their reverence for the play and for each other evident.

It also reminds me that there was a time, nearly seventy years ago, where both Milt Hinton and Pops Foster were available for a gig, as were Marian McPartland and Tony Spargo.  A proliferation of riches!  And even if you think, “God.  Another version of FIDGETY FEET, for goodness’ sake?” listen — you’ll be startled out of your preconceptions and hustled into joy.

May your happiness increase!

One response to “A STAGE FULL OF BRIGHT LIGHTS: WILD BILL DAVISON, BOBBY HACKETT, JIMMY McPARTLAND, BUCK CLAYTON, JIMMY ARCHEY, VIC DICKENSON, GENE SEDRIC, ED HALL, FRANK SIGNORELLI, JOE BUSHKIN, MARIAN McPARTLAND, MILT HINTON, POPS FOSTER, MAX WAYNE, GEORGE WETTLING, JO JONES, TONY SPARGO, LEE WILEY (Town Hall, New York City, April 12, 1952)

  1. A superb piece of prose, Michael, prefacing the recording with elegance and insight. ‘Playing for the comfort of the band’ is surely the foundational principle of collective improvisation at its best. And Wild Bill pointing his flamethrower/cornet at the curtains in creative arson so apt and palpable!

    I could hear the musicians playing and swinging their hearts out and driving the audience to ecstasy, while the large-sounding crowd’s responses in turn drove the bands to greater heights! Reflexivity between band and audience and back again, and reflexivity between the musicians! A wonderful thing musically, and a great metaphor for a perfect society! Freedom, difference and cultural creativity respected, encouraged and exploited for the common good!

    How appropriate then that this was enacted in the Town Hall, not the posher, older, domed one of America’s politicians and orators of the past, but the performance space motivated by the League for Political Education, as it says on the crisply carved, prominent cartouche perfectly placed on the front wall outside!

    A beautiful building of 1920, I note on investigation it was designed by McKim Mead and White’s second generation of top architects with disciplined elegance and involving the finest of craft skills! Note the perfect, ubiquitous, Flemish Bond brickwork designed as a russet foil to the crisply carved cream window arcades, cartouche and Greek fretwork banding, which classicism, taken together, has been seen in America as the historic architecture of democracy!

    Who would notice on the day? ‘We make buildings, then they make us’, said Churchill, so I wouldn’t rule its influence out!

    All the best for the holidays and thank you for that memorable post!

    Sam

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