On Wednesday afternoon, the OAO and I will board a plane to fly to Eureka, California, for the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which will swing out from Thursday afternoon, September 29, to Sunday evening, October 2. I’ve spent the last hour (this is being written Monday night) with a green highlighter, marking off the sets I would like to attend. This creates a problem. Look at the musical landscapes:
Thursday and Friday:
The problem is not with the green highlighter, I assure you.
The problem is with its owner, faced with one hundred sets of live music. Plenitude like this induces a case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that’s nearly incurable.
If I take myself, camera, notebook, and tripod to X’s set, then I have to miss Y’s. (I am not naming names for obvious reasons.) You may say that this is a serious case of first-world-jazz-entitlement, but the swing struggle is real. There are a number of instances on this schedule where three groups I would like to see are performing at separate venues simultaneously.
I know that such lavishness is reason to embrace this festival as the music-cornucopia-for-the-ages, but I have yet to find a solution short of hiring several friends and training them as associate camera-people (and don’t think I haven’t tried).
Come to the Redwood Coast Music Festival! Bring iPhones and cameras! Help me with my Festival Disorder! (And have the time of your life at the same time.)
That is all I will say. Except that if I were able to make it to a mere fifteen or eighteen sets in four days (a faint hope) I still will go home full to bursting with splendid music.
First, some dazzling sonic evidence. McKenna plays Ellington:
and then he becomes a cosmically swinging GPS, guiding us through STREETS:
Dave McKenna was Bobby Hackett’s favorite pianist; Bill Evans said he had all of Dave’s albums. What Mike Jones calls a “constant inventiveness,” merging the ferocity of the 1938 Basie band with the traceries of the most delicate impressionism — in full orchestral vigor and subtlety — McKenna could do in three minutes, or in thirty.
It’s rare that a jazz documentary — as opposed to a documentary about jazz — succeeds as well as this one has. It doesn’t force the details of McKenna’s life into a stereotypical story; it neatly balances the first-hand reminiscences of those on the scene (Dave’s sister Jean, the notable jazz figures Hank O’Neal and Ron Della Chiesa, Dave’s sons, pianist Mike Jones) with the music. The sounds coming from Dave at the piano (and occasionally from his two interviews) complement each other, beautifully. All praise to director / producer Greg Mallozzi and executive producer Corte Swearingen.
I learned on August 31 that the trumpeter / guitarist / pianist Ted Butterman, much loved in the Chicago area, had died after a long illness. I am not happy when JAZZ LIVES threatens to turn into the obituary pages, but as Linda Loman says, “Attention must be paid.”
I never met Ted, but I have a network of friends who adored and admired him, so the connection, although indirect, is there. It’s also there because an early memorable record that I love is Jim Kweskin’s JUMP FOR JOY, which features him — and it is the way I met him, sonically, perhaps fifty years ago (in the company of Marty Grosz, Kim Cusack, John Frigo, Frank Chace, and Wayne Jones):
I should write first that this post would have irritated Ted immeasurably, because, as his friend Harriet Choice told me, he could not accept compliments; praise annoyed him. So I apologize to his shade, and, rather, embark in the spirit of Ted’s friends, who played YOU RASCAL YOU at his funeral . . . followed eventually by SAINTS, which would have irked him even more — bringing wry levity to a sad time.
And here’s Ted before he came to Chicago, playing hot in San Francisco in 1958:
NASA tells me that the overall temperature of the galaxy drops whenever a hot player moves on: it’s no accident that I had to put on a jacket this morning before sitting down at the computer. (That pale joke is in Ted’s honor: Bess Wade told me he was comical by nature, with a big laugh.)
Some tales, then more music.
Tom Bartlett: He was quite a character and, of course, an excellent musician. Kim Cusack has often said that Ted was the best real musician he ever played with.
My story to share: While playing with the Cubs Band at Wrigley Field, whenever Ted spotted a TV cameraman sneaking up on the band to get a sound bite and often shoving the camera up to Ted’s trumpet bell, Ted always yelled “Rapscallian”. We immediately launched into I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You. That means that every sound bite on all TV stations in Chicago had the same piece of this tune. That was just one of Ted’s private little jokes, Our little trio HAD to play that tune at his gravesite yesterday in his memory.
Rapscallian? Ted enjoyed a play on words.
Although Ted never lost the innate heat of his playing, later in life he could be so mellow, remembering the Teddy Wilson – Billie Holiday classics of the Thirties. Here’s MISS BROWN TO YOU from a 1980 gig:
That middle-register ease makes me think of Buck Clayton, one of Ted’s heroes, and a story about fashion that Harriet Choice told me: One night Ted was playing at the Gate of Horn, and Buck Clayton walked in, horn in hand, and sat in. Ted noticed that Buck, always an elegant dresser, had a particularly lovely shirt with an unusual collar. After the gig, they went back to Ted’s apartment to swap stories, and Ted complimented Buck on the shirt, and asked him where it had come from. Buck simply removed the shirt, gave it to Ted as a token of esteem, and when the evening was over, Buck walked back to his hotel in his undershirt. Hearing this story some time later, Harriet asked Ted to put the shirt on so she could see it, and Ted flatly refused. “Oh no,” he said, “It’s sacred.”
Russ Phillips simply told me, Ted was so unlike anyone I’ve ever known and played with.
And Kim Cusack reiterated, Ted always played and sounded great, no matter the situation and/or band. I was awed by his playing the first I got a chance to play with him in the late ’50s and he kept me awed in all the variety of bands I got a chance to play in with him. Everything he played was exactly what it should have been.
Here is a long interlude of Ted at work — with Kim, Frank Chace, Bob Sundstrom, Wayne Jones, John Deffauw, Ransom Knowling, Art Gronwall, and others — a 1961 gig tape, nearly two hours’ of on-the-job easy heat, given to me by Wayne. (Full disclosure: Kim told me that he didn’t think this was an outstanding example of Ted, but my feeling is that it is quite spectacular, and I can only imagine the music Kim heard that put this in the shade.)
A quirky energy ran through Ted’s playing — he was deep in the idiom but a listener can’t predict the next phrase — and that same quirky energy seems to have animated his approach to life. Harriet told me that once Ted said, “I think I’ll call Hoagy,” found our hero’s phone number in some way, called him, and they spent an hour talking about music. (Although music wasn’t his sole passion: he was an expert builder of model airplanes and loved electric trains.)
His hero was Louis, she said, which you can hear. Ted led the Cubs band at Wrigley Field for more than thirty-five years, and his was the first “five o’clock band” at Andy’s jazz club. He loved good ballads, and Harriet remembers his rendition of CABIN IN THE PINES with tears. They exchanged emails about records to take to that imagined desert island.
More music, if you please. Ted doesn’t come in until the second half, but his beautiful melodic lead and coda are precious:
I am aware that this is quite an inadequate survey of a singular person and musician. For more music, there is Ted’s own YouTube channel, quietly waiting to be marveled at, and Dave Radlauer’s treasure trove of rare live recordings, here.
For the totality, I think we’d have to gather Ted’s friends and let them share their own tales, “Remember the time when Ted . . . ?” or “Ted always used to . . . . ” I know I have provided only the most meager sample. Readers who knew him or have stories are invited to chime in.
And I’ll close with this recording. “Lucky” is not the way I feel writing another jazz obituary, but we are lucky that Ted shone his light so beautifully for us in so many ways:
A memorable bouquet of rare sounds, music I’ve loved for decades.
and Marty Grosz, young:
Selections 1-9 recorded at Bill Priestley’s house, Evanston, Illinois, by John Steiner, either March or June 21, 1959.
Don Ewell, piano; Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar; Bill Priestley*, cornet. I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN'(with the verse) / SUNNY SIDE UP / SQUEEZE ME / JUST YOU, JUST ME / EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA* / SINGIN’ THE BLUES (Chace out)* / I FOUND A NEW BABY (Ewell, Grosz, Chace, Priestley)*.
(I have no idea what the double-time knocking is in the later tracks: whether something is vibrating or someone is drumming on a surface near the microphone. I didn’t do it.)
Don Ewell, solo piano, December 20, 1941, Louisville, Kentucky: ROSETTA / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? //
Original tape from the collection of Eugene Kramer.
Marty Grosz told me once that when he and Frank Chace were listening buddies as well as intuitive playing colleagues, they would listen to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on the Muggsy Spanier Commodore recording of SWEET SUE over and over, take a break and listen again. And that one of them said, “Doesn’t that just scrape the clouds?”
That is how I feel about this session. An earful of blossoms, with depth under the surface beauties. Each of these individualists bows respectfully to the great Ancestors, but the deep listener will hear four individual personalities come through: this isn’t a Russell-Waller-Beiderbecke-Lang hologram, and it would be an insult to hear only those glancing resemblances, instead of unique personalities coming together to fuse remarkable community.
Accept no substitutes: the Micros make Merry in Tarrytown.
This post is the fourth in a series documenting the 2022 New York reunion of the Microscopic Septet: Phillip Johnston, Joel Forrester, Don Davis, Dave Sewelson, Michael Hashim, Dave Hofstra, Richard Dworkin, at the Jazz Forum in Tarrytown. Fewer words, more music.
LET’S COOLERATE ONE:
MY, WHAT AN UGLY BABY (The Unattractive Child Two-Step):
YOU GOT THAT:
A REALLY GOOD QUESTION:
And there’s one more substantial helping of Microscopia to come.
“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is too difficult a question and even for celestial beings, perhaps a little cramped. “How much joy can two superb improvisers pack into ten minutes?” is an easier question since we have the tangible evidence.
This delightful interlude — THE CRAVE / GRANDPA’S SPELLS / IF DREAMS COME TRUE — two by Jelly Roll Morton, and a classic stride test piece by Edgar Sampson that works beautifully on its own (think of Billie’s version) were performed in concert (thanks to Dick Gibson) at the Paramount Theatre in Colorado, sometime between September 4-6, 1982. Dick Hyman, Dave Frishberg, pianos, if you were guessing:
Everyone who’s immersed in this music bows to Dick Hyman, part Eminence, part Keyboard Gazelle. For spirited inventiveness, only Art Tatum has surpassed him. But because Dave Frishberg was rarely in the foreground as a solo pianist, especially after his success as a sardonic-whimsical singer-songwriter, he’s been underestimated for too long. But he was a peerless soloist and accompanist, with this own mixture of Duke-Rowles-Basie, which once heard is unforgettable.
Here, he is shoulder-to-shoulder with Hyman, musically and fraternally. These ten minutes are expert and exact, but they are also joyous play — a too-brief interlude. But now you can share the grinning as well, and return at leisure.
A new recording by a band led by drummer-historian Hal Smith (a man whose scholarship swings) is a delightful event, and EARLY HOURS is a pleasure.
It’s a bracing shot of lively honest music — although the repertoire has deep roots in New Orleans jazz history of all kinds, the result is anything but dusty archaeology. In the nicest ways, this band leaps right out of the speakers at us.
The details. First, this is a digital issue through Bandcamp (an enterprise worth supporting on its own terms, since musicians have much more control over what happens to their own work and how it is presented).
You can listen and purchase here for the basic price of a large Starbucks concoction, although I hope purchasers will be as generous as the music is.
The players are T.J. Muller, cornet, vocal (4); John Gill, trombone (3, 8), vocal (6); Clint Baker, trombone (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9); Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums/leader.
“You know ’em, you love ’em,” or if you don’t, you will. Hot and ready, as we say.
The repertoire goes deep into New Orleans jazz history as represented on recordings by Sam Morgan, Bunk Johnson, Turk Murphy, the New Orleans Bootblacks, the El Dorado Jazz Band, Ken Colyer, Papa Ray Ronnei, and others: BOGALUSA STRUT, STORYVILLE BLUES, FLAT FOOT, EARLY HOURS, CIRIBIRIBIN, I LOVE MY BABY, SWEET BABY DOLL, YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM, SNOOKUM. (No “trad favorites,” no overworked chestnuts.)
It’s a splendid mixture of blues, romps, and music for dancing, passionate but exact.
Each track has its own distinctive character and eloquent gifts. The solos are eloquent and “native” (listening will make that adjective real to those who know) but, even better, this is a band, where the ensemble unity and collective understanding is the lovely goal. It thus came as a surprise to me that the sessions were done remotely, between November, 2021 and April, 2022. It says so much about the community of jazz that there is not an iota of remoteness to be heard or felt. Bravo!
I started writing this post about ten days ago and wrote several mournful paragraphs to begin, then thought, “I should put this aside for a bit,” as one does. I came back to it, reread it, and thought, “If Murray read this, he would perhaps say, with a gentle tilt of his eyebrow, ‘Really, Michael,’ and then pause for more than four bars, so that I would know I had been excessive. So since he created joy, I will cut to the music, which is joyous.
But first, as they say, here is the most detailed obituary for Murray:
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, August 27, 2022
Played bass for some of the great jazz musicians
(JAMES) MURRAY WALL September 28, 1945-July 18, 2022
Murray Wall, one of Australia’s most highly regarded jazz musicians, has died in New York City after a short illness. Originally from Melbourne, yet largely unknown in this country, Wall lived and worked for almost 50 years in New York. Over his lifetime, he played and toured with some of the world’s greatest jazz musicians including Benny Goodman, Barry Harris, Jon Hendricks, Eartha Kitt, Clark Terry, Anita O’Day, Billy Eckstine and Mel Torme.
Wall was born in Melbourne and grew up in the bayside suburb of Sandringham. In 1955, at the age of 10, his sister Sheila took him to a Nat King Cole concert at Festival Hall, a performance he would later credit as having inspired in him a life-long love of music. He was largely self-taught and learned jazz by playing along to records by Oscar Pettiford, Ray Bryant, and Lester Young. He also studied classical double-bass with Marion Brajsa, the principal bassist with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Wall began playing professionally in 1962, working in dance bands with his brother Richard before progressing to performing and recording music in the Melbourne jazz scene. In 1969, he moved to Sydney to play bass in the first Australian production of Hair at the Metro Theatre in Kings Cross. Having established himself as a professional musician, he soon became an in-demand bass player for visiting American musicians such as Clark Terry, Billy Eckstine, and Mel Torme.
In 1979, Wall moved to New York and began studying improvisation with the jazz pianist, Lennie Tristano. In the early 1980s, he was invited by the legendary swing band leader Benny Goodman to join his group and continued performing with him until Goodman’s final gig the night before his death in 1986.
Wall was based in New York for his most of his working life and played with some of the most respected musicians including Ken Peplowski, Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Frank Vignola, Chuck Wilson, Buck Clayton, Eddie Locke, Claude Williams, Richard Wyands, Grover Mitchell, Kenny Davern, Warne Marsh, Dave Van Ronk, and Spanky Davis. He was also a regular player at Barry Harris’ renowned weekly jazz masterclasses.
Wall was hugely respected for his peerless musicianship and melodic playing as well as his friendship and camaraderie that made him widely liked and sought after by band leaders. He was generous with his time in helping younger players and Australian jazz musicians on pilgrimages to New York would seek him out for his anecdotes and advice. He was a working musician until the end and kept a regular gig at the 11th St. Bar until shortly before his death.
Wall is survived by his wife Diana, daughter Gabrielle and stepson Alexis, grandchildren Raphael and Olga, brother Richard and sister Sheila and their extended families in Australia.
Written by Guy Freer and his wife, Gabrielle, Wall’s daughter.
That’s one way to sum up Murray, beautifully. Here are four more: portraits in sound, where he is joined by Joe Cohn, Scott Robinson, and Jon-Erik Kellso on January 30, 2020.
For Hoagy, Louis, Jack, Mildred, and others, ROCKIN’ CHAIR:
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
CREOLE LOVE CALL:
Thank you, Murray, and resonant gentlemen. Your sounds will vibrate forever.
I have a sentimental attachment to the music issued on the Black and White label in the Forties. My father, a motion-picture projectionist, spent his working life “in the booth.” In addition to keeping the picture and sound on the screen, the projectionist was expected to fill the theatre with music during intermissions. In my childhood, theatres were making the transition from turntables in the booth that played 78s, and my father would occasionally liberate a disc he thought his music-mad son would like.
He told a funny story of playing Bill Haley and the Comets’ ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, not paying much attention to it until the manager called him in a frenzy to take the ——- ——– record off because of what the kids were doing to the theatre. But I digress.
One of the records he brought home was this 12″ disc:
The other side is LADY BE GOOD, and it made a considerable impression. (“BROWN GAL” is a reference to her composition and 1936 Decca recording of the same name.)
Later on, when I began to actively collect records, I saw that so many issues on this label were rewarding and unusual combinations of musicians: Joe Marsala (with Chuck Wayne and Dizzy Gillespie!), Joe Thomas, Art Tatum, Leo Watson, Nat Jaffe, Art Hodes, Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, an imperishable session with Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster; Barney Bigard, Cliff Jackson, Erroll Garner, Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, Brad Gowans, Oscar Pettiford, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Red Rodney, Howard McGhee, Irving Ashby, Ulysses Livingston, Lucky Thompson, and two dozen others. But almost all of them were simply listings in discographies.
Occasionally a session, transferred from worn discs, would surface on a European anthology, and a supermarket-label, TOPS, issued a compilation called JAZZ GREATS with the unequalled combination of no data and a yearning young woman portrayed on the cover. Still later, perhaps into this century, a short series of CDs appeared on the Pickwick label, anthologies assembled with hope but little logic. And there it stood.
To be fair, the story is not unique to this label. Search for a coherent reissue of many of the small labels that proliferated in the Forties, and you have to hope for the best. Ownership rights are tangled or on the ocean floor, and most — if not all — reissue companies are not relying on an audience thirsting for invaluable music.
But what is that I hear, coming over the hill? The drums and trumpets of Mosaic Records, once again, bringing heart, valor, enthusiasm, and exactitude to a worthy project.
The facts? 243 tracks, spanning 1942 to 1949, primarily studio performances with a few concert ones for leavening; New York, Chicago, California (mostly Los Angeles), eleven CDs, price $179.00 plus shipping. I’ll let you do the math, but just for a thrill, I looked up the Lil Armstrong disc I began with on eBay, and the least expensive version is $23.66 here, assuming of course you have the turntable and stylus to play it properly. You could also look for some of these records on YouTube — happy hunting! — but although the Tube is priceless for certain things, music tends to transfer off-pitch, and some of the collectors (heartfelt as they are) have makeshift methods of getting the music to us.
No, the Mosaic Records issues remain — a cliche but no less true — the gold standard. They are also limited editions, so one cannot really say, “I’ll buy that set in _______ years when and if my ship comes in,” because then the only place to purchase it will be charging a premium price, if, indeed, it can be found.
But enough words about money. How about some sound(s)? Here you can hear Charlie Ventura, Red Rodney, Willie Smith, Barney Kessel, Billy Hadnott, and Nick Fatool play ‘S’WONDERFUL; Jack McVea; Gerald Wilson; Joe Marsala with Dizzy Gillespie, Cliff Jackson, Chuck Wayne, Irving Lang, Buddy Christian play MY MELANCHOLY BABY; Willie “the Lion” Smith, Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, Frank Orchard, Jack Lesberg, Mack McGrath play BUGLE CALL RAG. Delightful performances.
And the sound is translucent; you hear all the nuances, thanks to lovely transferring from the best original sources by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti of Swan Studios, who have outdone themselves. Perhaps you knew that small labels of this period suffered because shellac was rationed, so many treasured 78s were pressed on a mixture of substances including horse manure, as my expert friend Matthew Rivera tells us.
On that same page, a detailed discography, and, of course, a place to buy the set.
The set has photographs — rare and stunning, beautifully reproduced, and essays by Billy Vera, Scott Wenzel, and the Eminence Dan Morgenstern. Dan’s notes are characteristically witty, heartfelt, and candid. Who else do we have who was in New York in 1947, saw, spoke with, and befriended many of the musicians on this set? Priceless.
It’s a valuable swinging human archive. And you deserve a present, don’t you?
This one’s for the Honorary Mayor of Scotia, New York, and his pianistic pals.
I saw Eubie Blake a number of times in New York City between 1972 and a decade later: a Sunday-afternoon session at what used to be Nick’s, playing a barely tolerable upright; as guest artist at an outdoor concert, and at several Newport in New York concerts. To say that he was “a star” in inadequate; he was the whole show, exuberant, declamatory, his playing rhapsodic, sly, bombastic, hilarious. In short, unforgettable — and not because of his age, but because of his enthusiasm, his pure joy, his delight in making music.
Here are two performances: one, a single song, the other, nearly an hour, performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” the Nice Jazz Festival. MEMORIES OF YOU, the Sissle and Blake composition, was performed on July 18, 1975, and broadcast on French television as part of an anthology of piano performances by Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Dorothy Donegan, and their groups. Eubie stood alone:
What follows I think few people have seen: recorded in July 1978 (I don’t know the exact date) but never broadcast. “It’s like having Eubie in your living room,” my friend Sterling says, and who would disagree? The songs are RUSTLE OF SPRING / RAGTIME SCARF DANCE / PILGRIM’S CHORUS (in E major) / THE MERRY WIDOW WALTZ / MEMORIES OF YOU / Excerpts from RHAPSODY IN BLUE and THE MAN I LOVE / CHARLESTON RAG / “Shuffle Along” Medley: BANDANA DAYS – LOVE WILL FIND A WAY – GYPSY BLUES – I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY / MAPLE LEAF RAG — and Eubie sings on the Medley:
Endearing, versatile, rocking, lyrical: a wonderful spectacle Eubie was.
Some people want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the pyramids at Tulum, the Northern Lights . . . . I’ve done some of those things, but what I want in 2022 is to return to the Redwood Coast Music Festival. Keep your monuments: they’ll be around in November. This festival is enduring, but it was made to take a nap in 2020 and 2021 for reasons that should be clear. I was there in 2019 and had the time(s) of my life. So, in less than three weeks, “if the creeks don’t rise,” or “if breath lasts,” (you pick) the OAO and I will be there, grinning and eager, flushed with anticipation.
I should say right here that this post is an unsubtle but perhaps necessary encouragement to all my jazz friends and colleagues to get off their couches and chairs, stop inspecting those books and labels, and enjoy the real thing, fresh, vivid, and multi-hued.
To make it easier to buy tickets, hear sound samples, have questions answered, and more, visit http://rcmfest.org/ (and be dazzled). If someone’s name is unfamiliar to you, the site is the equivalent of an old-fashioned record store’s listening booth.
Kris Tokarski and Hal Smith will be there:
Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, and Dan Walton too:
Jonathan Doyle, Steve Pikal, and Charlie Halloran will be around:
Dave Stuckey and Western Swing pals as well:
Island spice from Charlie and the Tropicales:
Carl Sonny Leyland also:
Thursday and Friday, September 29 and 30:
Again, friends and connoisseurs, that’s http://rcmfest.org/. It is a very congenial experience — even the musicians I know, who are often downtrodden and vocal about it, praise the management, the environment, and more. Good sound technicians, volunteers who don’t shoot first and ask questions later, and a strip of good restaurants in Eureka, a town with a lovely mural and kind feelings.
Also, if you haven’t gleaned it from the schedules, the RCMF is beautifully expansive.
I went to my first jazz party / weekend / festival in 2004, so I speak from experience. As budgetary pressures made themselves ominously evident, festivals shrank. There might still be five sets a day, but the cast of characters was a dozen musicians, changing places on stage. A certain airlessness set in, as if we’d paid for an all-you-can-eat buffet and every dish was based on canned salmon and green beans. And such constriction made itself heard in the setlists.
No, the RCMF has many musicians, simultaneous sets, and a variety of approaches: zydeco, rhythm’n’blues, soul, New Orleans jazz, piano boogie-woogie, Fifty-Second Street flavors, Western Swing, country, Americana, “roots,” Louis, Jelly, Duke, Joplin, and everyone in between. I delight in the rich menu; I despair of getting to hear all the good sounds.
I won’t run through the usual didactic sermon about how festivals require active support (I mean people willing to go there and pay for the music) but I will note that every time a jazz fan doesn’t go to a festival when they could have, an angel dies. Clarence never gets his wings. Do you want that on your conscience?
BENT PERSSON is a true hero of mine, and I know I have company around the world. I think of his friendly kind enthusiasm in person — he is ready to laugh at the world’s absurdities — and the soaring trumpet player, at once exact and passionate, who makes Louis and his world come alive in the brightest ways.
I first met Bent in the way that we used to find our heroes in the pre-internet era, sonically. In the middle Seventies, I was passionately collecting records. That meant that I would spend the day in New York City visiting record stores, coming home when I had used up my money. I prowled through Happy Tunes One and Two, Dayton’s, and J&R Records near City Hall, where I spotted a record on a label I hadn’t heard of before (“Kenneth Records”) featuring Bent Persson (someone new) playing his orchestral versions of the Louis Armstrong 50 Hot Choruses book published in Chicago, 1927. Perhaps it was $6.99, the price of two DJ copies or cutouts, but I took the risk. It was electrifying, joyous, and hot beyond my wildest expectations. Here’s what it sounded like.
HIGH SOCIETY, in duet with pianist Ulf Johansson Werre (1977):
I kept on buying every record (then CD) on which he appeared, and he visited the US now and again — although I wasn’t at liberty to meet him — to make sublime hot music, some of it captured in videos from the Manassas Jazz Festival.
CHINATOWN, with Kenny Davern, Jim Dapogny, Tomas Ornberg, and Steve Jordan (1988):
and duets with Jim Dapogny, CHICAGO BREAKDOWN and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (1985):
At some point, I had acquired a computer and an email account, and was writing for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, so I remember starting a correspondence with Bent — admiring and curious on my part, friendly and gracious on his. In the intervening years of record collecting, I understood that Bent was a Renaissance man of hot trumpet (and cornet): yes, Louis, but also Bix, Red, Cootie, and others, and no mere copyist, but a great understander and emulator, always himself while letting the light of his heroes shine through him. A great scholar as well, although that might be too obvious to write.
Finally the circumstances of my life changed so that I could fly — literally and figuratively — and in 2009 I made my way to the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, which I attended every year until 2016, video camera at the ready, approaching my heroes, shyly beaming love and gratitude at them. Bent knew me slightly from our correspondence, but I recall coming up to him, introducing myself, hugging him, and saying that he had been a hero of mine for decades. He took it all with good grace.
I created more than a hundred videos of Bent in that series of delightful parties, and I will share only four: you can find the rest on YouTube with a little earnest searching.
CLEMENTINE with Norman Field, Spats Langham, Frans Sjostrom (2009):
DUSK with Frans and Jacob Ullberger (2009):
LOOKIN’ GOOD BUT FEELIN’ BAD with the Red Hot Reedwarmers (2009):
and for an incendiary closer, DING DONG DADDY with Enrico Tomasso, Spats Langham, Kristoffer Kompen, and other luminaries (2015):
Please don’t let the apparent historical nature of these videos fool you into thinking that Bent has hung up his horns and dumped his valve oil into the trash.
He is still performing, and there were gigs with BENTS JAZZ COCKTAIL as recently as mid-August (what a well-dressed crew!) Visit Bent’s Facebook page for the most current news of his schedule.
This is the most fragmentary celebration of Bent, a man devoted to his art but also a first-rate human being who beams when he talks about the family he adores. If he is new to you, I hope you have been as uplifted and electrified by his music presented here as I have been for almost fifty years. If he is a shining light to you, here is another occasion to thank him for being and sustaining the glories of jazz.
It is, although across too many miles, another hug, so well-deserved.
I was born either too early or too late to truly appreciate Walt Disney films, but a few of the songs are very dear to me: WITH A SMILE AND A SONG, WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO, and WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR, which has been recorded and improvised on by many of my heroes.
Over the past few months, I have been making my way through my CD shelves, repackaging them in flexible plastic sleeves rather than the more cumbersome jewel-boxes, and yesterday I came across the CD recorded live in 1973 by Marian and Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate, Rusty Gilder, and Gus Johnson. Rather than his usual features (IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD or MANHATTAN) Vic chooses this song, and the result — an unadorned two-chorus melodic effort with the key change upwards for the last eight bars — touches me so that I wanted to share it with you. And that led me to a quick survey of a wonderful composition. I don’t know whether Alec Wilder would have singled out Leigh Harline’s music and Ned Washington’s lyrics for praise, but they are emotionally rich to me. And who among us doesn’t have dreams?
The source, an uncredited Cliff Edwards in 1940, beautifully at the top of his vocal range:
Vic Dickenson, Marian McPartland, Rusty Gilder, Gus Johnson at the Royal Box of the Americana Hotel, New York City, June 1973. Jimmy McPartland says, “Wasn’t that pretty?” Who would disagree?
Ruby Braff, Vic, Sam Margolis, Nat Pierce, Walter Page, Jo Jones 1955, one of the lesser-known Vanguard sessions:
And Louis 1968, monumental and tender both:
“If your heart is in your dream / No request is too extreme.”
What follows is, to me, a thrilling four minutes and some seconds: it caused me a good deal of excitement two days ago. Never mind that the people in charge mis-titled the second of two songs, and that the applause, appearing at moments unrelated to what is going on musically, was surely generated by flashing APPLAUSE signs to a willing audience; never mind that Dick Gibson’s name for this wondrous assemblage — yes, “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band” — made many listeners want to puncture the PR balloon.
Here are Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Carl Fontana, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Ralph Sutton, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums. (By the time I’d encountered the band, on June 21, 1970, in Town Hall, New York City, the trombone section was Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, monumentally.)
I hope that the Ed Sullivan Show people uncover more than four minutes, although the two performances — a Lawson / Butterfield BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? and their rollicking chart on UP, UP, AND AWAY — are spectacular. In concert, we didn’t see the two trumpets (in impassioned conversation) at this close range, and, my goodness! — to see Lou McGarity in color is a delight I never thought I’d have.
To think that this was once beamed into American homes on an ordinary Sunday night, in between the comedians making mother-in-law jokes, Topo Gigio or Senor Wences, high-energy pop singers . . . it dazzles. Watch it once, and then again. All the people who did bad impressions of Ed Sullivan, well, they never made music like this happen:
Here, in the welcoming ambiance of The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on July 31, 2022, are two welcoming improvisations by The EarRegulars for that night: Danny Tobias, trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and alto clarinet; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
The composers of the lines are, I hope, well-known to those who know: Sidney Bechet and Bud Freeman, but the memorable lines aren’t often played: Bechet’s KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES and Bud’s THAT D MINOR THING.
The jazz lineage from Bechet to Coltrane is seamless: Scott quotes A LOVE SUPREME in his trading phrases with Danny (thanks to Alessandro King for the catch).
And here’s Bud’s riff from his days with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:
And as for the talkers in the audience: pity them their self-absorption, waste no energy berating a video-recording.
Have you ever visited the Ear Inn on a Sunday night? Talk about life-affirming! And before you write in to say, “It’s so far away and I wish I could,” which I do understand, have you seen some live jazz in 2022? I do hope so.