Category Archives: Awful Sad

A LONG LINE OF GENEROSITIES TO US: GEORGE WEIN (1925-2021)

I don’t have any influence with the Authorities, but I am worn down by the recent deaths of jazz heroes: John Sheridan, Phil Schaap, and now George Wein. When someone dies at 95, my first reaction is, “That was a beautiful long life,” and it was a long life filled with his energetic desire to give music to as many people as possible. Think of any musician active between 1954 and now, and they played or sang at a Newport Jazz Festival, whether the festival took place in Newport, New York, or was a traveling version overseas. And when I think of how music from those festivals was broadcast by the Voice of America, George’s eager spreading-the-gospel was cosmic. Think of every musician you revere — Billie, Miles, Trane, Louis, Hawk, Ben, Monk, Donald Lambert, Basie, Duke . . . . from Eli’s Chosen Seven, Vince Giordano, David Ostwald to Cecil Taylor — and there’s some documentation of them at Newport. And these concerts and recordings would not have happened without George’s fervent desire to make sure that his heroes got heard by the largest audiences possible.

I’ve chosen the portrait of George and Louis below for a reason: I think George’s ripples-in-a-pond effect on the music was congruent, if not equal, to Louis’. Imagine a world without the Newport Festivals . . .

But George was more than the fellow who offered Ellington or Roland Kirk a concert set and whose name was on the check. Early and late, he saw himself as a musician, and his great delight was to sit at the piano among congenial friends — the many incarnations of the “Newport All-Stars,” which included great swing-modern players from Pee Wee Russell to Warren Vache. Whitney Balliett, I believe, noted that his piano style was a mix of Jess Stacy and Lennie Tristano: he loved to swing and he loved to surprise. And he was an affecting homegrown singer, although he didn’t take many opportunities to do so.

His idea of jazz was ecumenical: here he is with George Brunis and Roy Haynes — a delightfully expansive band:

Please note that the live broadcast — introduced by Nat Hentoff, no less — came from a Boston club George ran, Storyville, along with “Mahogany Hall,” where Lee Konitz might have a week and be followed by Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz.

Here’s another sample of George at the piano, from the Nice Jazz Festival:

As I said, I found George to be an engaging low-key singer, with Ruby Braff and the wonderful Sam Margolis:

I never made it to Newport, but I did attend a number of the Newport in New York festivals, and they were memorable beyond belief. The last great Eddie Condon concert, with Lee Wiley, Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Thomas, J. C. Higginbotham; the first jam session at Radio City Music Hall, with Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, and Gene Krupa; piano concerts that included Jimmie Rowles, Jess Stacy, Ellis Larkins, Art Hodes, Bill Evans; the Benny Cater “Swing Masters” big band . . . and others will have memories of Ellington and Mingus.

Without George, we would not have had what I consider one of the highlights of my life — perhaps twelve minutes by Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones. I wouldn’t have seen and heard Lee Wiley sing MANHATTAN. And because Ruby Braff was one of my earliest heroes, I couldn’t help but notice that Ruby had many many more recordings and concerts because of George, and George’s loyalty to the usually prickly Ruby.

There will be dozens of tributes to George, and all of them will focus on different facets of his open-handedness. From the late Forties in Boston (where he was friend and champion of Ed Hall, Frank Newton, Doc Cheatham, and two dozen others) to his last years, George approached this music generously, bringing us treasures of every sort. We would be so much poorer had he never existed.

I keep thinking, “Someday there’ll be no more Old Folks,” and since Jack Teagarden sang and played at Newport, I will close with Jack’s version:

George, we miss you already.

PHIL SCHAAP (1951-2021) AND HIS WORLDS

Phil Schaap, who moved on to another bandstand yesterday, was an unusually complex figure: he was his own novel, someone who deserves a Moliere or Henry James. Readers might know him as a tireless worker in the jazz vineyard: radio broadcaster, professor, writer, producer, enthusiast, and much more. Indeed, I can’t envision a Phil-moment that isn’t connected with the music: I cannot imagine him eating a sandwich, for instance, although I am sure he did. What I write today cannot do him justice, and I know that.

He loved the music, he loved the people even tangentially connected to it, but I think he loved facts the most. I have a magpie-mind, with fragments of information falling out of my ears, but Phil was several hundred encyclopedias packed into a tall talkative indefatigable human being. Baseball statistics, law cases, matrix numbers, reed sections, addresses, record label colors, telephone numbers, anecdotes, imitations of Jo Jones in full cry . . .

I knew Phil the way most people did — first, in 1970, as a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker, offering us music and words from Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR-FM, then, much later, as an eminent larger-than-life participant in the Hot Club of New York’s Monday-night Zoom sessions. But I also encountered him as the master of ceremonies at gigs — at the West End Cafe and elsewhere — and once or twice in 1972, between sets at Your Father’s Mustache, we actually had brief, somewhat tart conversations. Mostly I knew Phil as a series of observations, paragraphs, a sprawling narrative in human form.

He lived to spread the gospel of jazz. Making sure that as many people as possible knew the difference between the sounds of an alto and tenor saxophone was the highest goal. Finding “the best possible sound source,” too. Having us understand “the swing-song tradition,” the “Golden Era bebop five,” giving people “shout-outs” . . . he loved to do this and I think he needed to do this. Having a deep grasp of social-cultural-racial history was a true goal: reminding his audience that Teddy Wilson came before Jackie Robinson was vital to him.

Yes, he could talk beyond some people’s endurance, but he gave so much. Who else was interviewing Bernard Addison and Bennie Morton? Who else played Charlie Parker every weekday morning at 8:20 AM, ran day-and-week long festivals devoted to Louis, Mingus, Frank Newton, Coleman Hawkins?

There is a Phil-Schaap-sized hole in the cosmos, and not only the jazz cosmos. But the good news is that, in some way, evidence of his devotion and devotions will never go away. His interviews are being archived as I write this and will be available for us. And, like any great — albeit eccentric — teacher, he created students who have grown to be teachers. I think of the whole generation of WKCR radio hosts who have become our teachers because of Phil’s half-century and more, and an even younger generation: shout-outs (!) to Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera and Charles Iselin, among them.

One of my greatest heroes is the writer and editor William Maxwell, with whom I was privileged to work and to admire. In his last years, he devoted himself to playing the piano, his beloved Bach — but it wasn’t easy going. On his deathbed, facing the unknown calmly, he was with a young friend, who said, lightly, “In the next life, Bill, all those fugues will be so easy for you.” And Maxwell said, “In the next life I will not be making music. I will be music.”

Goodbye, Phil, and thank you for the decades of enthusiastic fervor. In the next life, perhaps you are a twenty-chorus Pres solo on SWEET SUE. You deserve no less.

SONG FOR A RECOVERING CITY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out, May 2, 2021

When the EarRegulars — my heroes below — played this pretty tune from the movie NEW ORLEANS, there was no Hurricane Ida. But given Ida’s power and fury, it seems so appropriate to offer it now as a hope for healing and reconstruction. (I was fortunate in my New York suburban apartment, but many were not.)

Those heroes, if you don’t already know them by now, are Pat O’Leary, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, here on C-melody saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.

Music might not be able to rebuild destroyed landmarks or cur down trees that fell . . . but it heals in its own way:

And in response to the question, “Michael, when are you going to get tired of posting videos from the EarRegulars?” the most polite answer is, “When the moon turns green.” Or you can think of your own appropriate variations signifying “Never.”

They are so reassuring in the midst of this very lopsided world. Bless them: they bless us.

May your happiness increase!

OUR THOUGHTS ARE OF NEW ORLEANS

This morning, Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana, and is proving to be a very terrifying storm — on the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I know some of my friends have found safe havens elsewhere, but I send these sounds out to everyone feeling the wrath of Ida.

Ironically, the apt sounds — melancholy but with a groove — were created almost a month ago, on July 25, 2021, at the Ear Out, 326 Spring Street, by the EarRegulars: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass. The song? Hoagy Carmichael’s NEW ORLEANS, which I associate with Jimmy Rushing and Louis Armstrong, among others. Here it is, without words but with feeling:

I present it here as a prayer for durability and resilience of that “quaint old Southern city” and its people.

IN THE BLUE OF EVENING: JOHN SHERIDAN, OVERHEARD (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2013)

My readers will know that pianist, arranger, composer John Sheridan died on August 24, 2021, due to cancer. I celebrated him the day after, here. But John’s beautiful sounds continue to ring in my mind, so it is only right I should share something only a few people heard — although many were in attendance.

Preface: here is the studio recording of IN THE BLUE OF EVENING, young Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey:

and, because it’s such a pretty song, here’s Sinatra’s 1960 “I Remember Tommy” version:

Even though I had had the Sinatra-Dorsey 78 in my childhood, I hadn’t thought about the song for decades. But during the pandemic, I began returning to the surreptitious audio-recordings I had made at the 2006 and 2007 Jazz at Chautauqua weekends, some of which I have shared with you. Many featured John (Joe Boughton loved pianists, and in those early years he had Sheridan, Jim Dapogny, Rossano Sportiello, Larry Eanet, and Keith Ingham, among others).

I had a digital recorder concealed in my blazer pocket, but knew that if I put it on the table to start it, my companions would ask about it, and that might become a problem, since I had not asked Joe for permission to record. In retrospect, I could have — because I was writing about the festival — but timidity won out. So I would go out in the hall or even up a flight of stairs, start the recorder, and come down to the ballroom. I had transferred the digital segments to CDs and then to YouTube, and was able to edit out the sounds of my walking down the hall and concentrate on the music.

But one segment, unidentified, came up in my progress, and I listened to it. Nothing but fifteen minutes of between-set talk, loud audience conversations around me. But I did not leap to delete it, and it is a blessing I didn’t, because while the audience was talking (released from the burden of Being Quiet while their heroes were making music, John Sheridan was experimenting with IN THE BLUE OF EVENING. He did not play it at Chautauqua and no studio recording of it exists.

I came back to it when I learned that John was ill. And it haunted me: faraway, lovely, the “tinkling piano in the next apartment,” although John was stronger than that cliche even when he was delicately outlining a ballad; perhaps “music when soft voices die,” although the voices were not soft: no one said, “Shhhh! Do you hear that!”

So I present it to you. Those whose ears are easily affronted, will want to pass it by. There is a pause in the middle, perhaps someone asking John a question, and then he returns. But give it your full attention — it lasts slightly over two minutes — and you will hear something precious: John Sheridan, in his element, free to explore because no one in particular was paying close attention. But we can, now:

There are many better-sounding videos on YouTube, more than a few of them mine, and John left a substantial discography. But I cherish these moments in the midst of noise as John’s elegy: in the noise of this century and I hope those to follow, his beauty will ring through and not be forgotten.

A FEW WORDS FOR JOHN SHERIDAN

We’re all so fragile, although we don’t like to talk about it.

The magnificent, understated pianist, arranger, and composer John Sheridan has left us. I don’t have more details except that he had been ill with cancer for some time. I knew him, off and on, for more than fifteen years, and this comes to mind: a performance from 2013 at Jazz at Chautauqua:

John’s playing was so steady, so trustworthy, that he didn’t get his due, except from close listeners and the musicians he worked with. Oh, he could make the best brilliant romping noise at the keyboard — his stride was infallible, and you can find his performances of Bob Zurke’s EYE OPENER should you be tempted to pass him by as insufficiently flashy. But his tradition was the steady swing of Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy more than pyrotechnics, and he had a deep romantic heart — his ballads were so very touching, and he got to the heart of the song.

We’re all complicated as well as fragile, but I both loved John and approached him with caution. He was definite about everything — no meandering, no ambiguity. He wasn’t loud, but he spoke in boldface. It was fortunate for me that he understood that I understood — certain things, anyway. I didn’t follow football; our politics were so separate that we wisely steered clear of any reference to the non-musical world. But I, too, loved Benny and Jess, and I would listen to John without offering dissent. I see him now in my mind’s eye — perhaps we were at the San Diego Jazz Fest? — late at night, at a cafe table, John drinking black coffee and being wooed into having a piece of cake because I was. There was a time we had fairly regular long phone conversations, where John could talk about how things were at home and I would offer consolations, and then the conversation would shift abruptly to the wonders of some Goodman airshot, John’s current pleasure, and I would listen, because he heard deeply and always was insightful.

When I wrote “caution,” above, I had reason. Through the kindness of Mat and Rachel Domber, I wrote a number of liner notes for the glorious CDs created by Arbors Records. I’d written one for a Sheridan Dream Band session, and had been privileged to attend the sessions at Nola Studios in New York — pretty heady pleasures. John liked those, and wanted me to write notes for the next one. I think I was over-enthusiastic and mentioned too many dead heroes as touchstones . . . X’s trumpet coda is reminiscent of Berigan, and so on, something I avoid these days. I don’t know how I found out, but John disliked my notes. I emailed him and said, “Let me know what you don’t like, and I’ll fix it.” Silence. I was paid for my time — Mat and Rachel were and are gracious — but John refused to speak to me, and this went on until the next time I saw him, or perhaps I got a chilly greeting at the next festival. Finally, I got him aside and said to him, “I’m very fond of you, and you got pissed off at me. Do we have to keep on doing this?” and he relaxed and we settled it, as if we’d been in feuding pals in a Warner Brothers film c. 1940. Of course he never explained to me how I had sinned . . . but we moved on.

I had emailed him a few months ago asking his permission to post some videos of his performance, and he called me to say yes, sounding older but still cheerfully declarative. And now he’s left a Sheridan-sized hole in the cosmos.

It’s on days like this I wonder if I should have stuck to collecting stamps (a hobby I had for about a week as a child) because I wouldn’t feel so grieved. But then again, I would have missed the uplifting happiness of hearing John play.

Swing on, Brother Sheridan, in your new neighborhood. You will be missed, and for a long time. You increased our happiness considerably, and your sounds will continue to work their magic.

SADNESS WILL BE GLADNESS, or THE JOYS OF SURRENDER: The EarRegulars Plus at The Ear Out, 326 Spring Street — JON-ERIK KELLSO, SHAYE COHN, JOHN ALLRED, JAMES CHIRILLO, NEAL CAINE (July 25, 2021)

Our culture celebrates victory, but sometimes giving in is the only way: this song dramatizes the surrender to love.

I SURRENDER, DEAR has an ache in its heart. (If you don’t know the classic versions by Bing and Louis, you owe it to yourself to visit them.) But sadness, whole-heartedly dramatized, is joy.

Thank the EarRegulars for this sustained burst of emotions, coming from The Ear Out (that’s located on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 3:30 in front of The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City). On July 25, 2021, they were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass, with NOLA guest Shaye Cohn, cornet, joining them, adding to the collective lyricism.

If you can, and you haven’t participated in these Sunday-afternoon musicales, you are seriously missing out. And you wouldn’t want to tell the grandchildren that you were too busy with the Times puzzle, would you?

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER KIND OF FIREWORKS DISPLAY: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DANNY TOBIAS, JAY RATTMAN, RICKY ALEXANDER, MATT MUNISTERI at The Ear Out, June 27, 2021

“Those things are dangerous. I knew someone who lost a finger,” we hear before and after the Fourth of July. However, there are other kinds of fireworks — lighting up even the afternoon sky with no danger to life or limb — that our beloved incendiary musicians create.

When swing meets the desire to spread happiness, Roman candles go off all over the place. The evidence follows.

This was the closing selection from the EarRegulars’ session of June 27 at The Ear Out, located outside 326 Spring Street in Soho, New York City.

The EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Ricky Alexander, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jay Rattman, bass sax, and Official Friend and Sometimes Leader of the EarRegulars, Danny Tobias, trumpet. And they sounded Vincent Youmans’ clarion call, I WANT TO BE HAPPY. (I can never write that title without hearing either Wild Bill Davison or Kenny Davern in my mind’s ear, a la W. C. Fields, “Don’t we all!”)

No dangerous explosions, just sustained joys.

AND . . . on Sunday, July 4th, Jon-Erik will be joined by Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; Joe Cohn, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass . . . . rockets in the sky, to be sure.

May your happiness increase!

“THE UNKNOWN ARV GARRISON: WIZARD OF THE SIX STRING / CLASSIC AND RARE RECORDINGS FROM THE 1940s”

This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.

Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.

Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”

Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:

The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)

But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.

The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)

The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.

The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.

In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.

I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.

You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.

May your happiness increase!

PRES: PAIN INTO JOY

“Lester Young 1st tenor.”

Memorial Day, an American “holiday,” celebrates those who have died in war. But some live on, wounded, even when the wounds are not visible. Some who suffer return home without medals. I am thinking of Lester Young, captured by the American military machine. To say that he was treated without understanding or kindness is to understate the facts and their repercussions.

I offer an excerpt from the saxophonist Leroy “Sam” Parkins’ memory of Pres, posted here in 2009:

September 1945 I found myself back in the infantry at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The army had lost some of my training records and they needed me to fire the Bazooka and the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle – 30 cal. and a real bear to shoot), and they were in no hurry. I was going to have to re-graduate from basic training. Most of the rest of this rag-tag company were hardened combat veterans who had been fucked over by the army losing their records. It’s after VJ day.

The sergeants in charge were totally sympathetic; roll-call in the morning, traditionally out on the company street, included a lot of hung-over guys in bed, shouting from the sack, “I’m here sergeant.” Days on end with nothing to do so I found the band, started doing parades, the officers club ($5.00),the non-coms club ($4.00), and the USO. Played baritone with the big band. The drummer was a veteran of the entire European campaign, had been running into a fire fight with his best buddy beside him and watched the guy’s head being completely blown of by a mortar shell. He simply didn’t give a shit, and kept a bottle of Gordon’s gin under the bed for breakfast to keep the boogies away.

The army was totally, and I mean totally, segregated. The colored soldiers had their own gate, and there was a 100 yard lawn – a DMZ – between the two posts. No one allowed to pass in either direction. But their band had Count Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, other Basieites, Lester Young (Basie’s star saxophonist) had just been drafted, was in basic training and played with the band when he could. Our drummer was the only one of us with the balls to walk across the lawn to rehearsals and dances and to get to know the black musicians.

He came back one night with a really lousy story. Lester Young (street name ‘Pres’) was in the guard house. He had pleaded to be excused from basic and be allowed in the band; the band leader petitioned the authorities, to no avail (and I wonder if a white musician would have made out better. I knew some who did, and after all, the war was over…).

In Geoff Dyer’s book, “But Beautiful” (great book if you can stand unvarnished tragedies), the author, using the Freedom of Information Act, got the transcript of the trial; there’s a lot of detail, all brutal, that I wasn’t privy to, but this here narrative is missing from all biographical accounts. No way any latter day historian could know it.

It’s night firing on the fifty caliber machine-gun range. Outside of the noise, it’s a pretty sight. Maybe twenty machine-guns lined up about eight feet apart, shooting down a slight incline at cardboard cutouts of enemy soldiers; every tenth bullet (tracer bullets) lights up as it’s fired so you see slightly arched lines of electric magic flowing from each gun barrel.

The sergeant, off to the side and slightly down-range, notices one line of magic markers disappear. He goes to investigate, and finds Lester Young lying on his back smoking a joint. Sergeant is aghast. “On your feet soldier!” Pres’ reply is to hand the sergeant the joint and – “Hey sarge — aren’t the stars pretty up in the sky?”

In his left hand pocket of his fatigue jacket were five more joints; sergeant calls the MPs and the founder of a style that was to sweep the country (think Stan Getz and “The Girl From Ipanema”) is led off to jail.

There was no rush to bring him to trial. He started acting up in his cell, noisy, woke guys at night, he wanted his horn. So the guard got it for him. End of the world. He played 24 hours a day, made everyone crazy, so they took it away from him. And he really lost it. I have no details, but the guards were white – and so forth.

Disobeying a direct order, possession of narcotics, 400 days in an army detention center.

There are other stories of how a sensitive person was fed into the gears and cogs of a machine that — of necessity — cared nothing for individuality or sensitivity, and the familiar end of this narrative is that “the Army destroyed Pres, and you can hear it in his playing.”

But maybe not.

Here is Lester’s own composition, “D. B. BLUES,” named for “detention barracks,” a blues-with-a-bridge, recorded in December 1945, with his dear friend Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dodo Marmarosa, piano; Red Callendar, string bass; Henry Tucker, drums:

from December 1953, the NEW D. B. BLUES, with Jesse Drakes, trumpet; Gildo Mahones, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Connie Kay, drums:

and finally (for this survey — Lester played this “composition” many times more) — a sweetly light-hearted version from December 1956, with Bill Potts, piano; Norman Williams, string bass; Jim Lucht, drums:

I wouldn’t presume to know what went through Lester’s mind when he was playing. I think we can be sure that he named this composition for the place he was imprisoned. But you’ll notice it is music — not a scream of rage or hatred for his oppressors.

This might be the great gift he and others give us: to not only state but embody how pain can be transmuted into beauty and joy. That joy sustains not only us, but in some way it sustained its creator. We should stand in awe of the power of the soul to transcend the harshness of the world.

May your happiness increase!

IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN: THE “MARTY PARTY” IS POSTPONED TO JUNE 23, 2021

I am sorry to report that the concert by Marty Grosz and Friends (presented by Barry Wahrhaftig for the Hot Club of Philadelphia) scheduled for this evening at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia has been postponed because of the threat of thunderstorms. But it will happen on Wednesday, June 23rd and I believe there are a few seats left.

Disappointing news. But we wouldn’t want the sounds of the band “drowned out” by rain on the roof. And here is a consolation, I hope — Marty and the Collector’s Item Cats performing IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE) which is meteorologically appropriate. The Cats — recorded by our hero Doug Pomeroy in 1993 — are Peter Ecklund, Scott Robinson, and Greg Cohen:

I am sorry that YouTube doesn’t offer Marty playing INTO EACH LIFE SOME RAIN MUST FALL, but you get the idea. See you on the 23rd!

May your happiness increase!

A FEW MUSICAL NOUNS AND VERBS FROM CURTIS FULLER (1934-2021) with JIMMIE ROWLES, BARNEY WILEN, RED MITCHELL, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (July 13, 1978)

The cold facts. Trombonist / composer / bandleader Curtis Fuller, born December 15, 1934, left us on May 8, 2021.

In Michael J. West’s farewell piece in Jazz Times, he wrote this, “Asked in a 2012 interview by writer Mark Stryker about the keys to a good solo, Fuller replied, ‘Humor and dialogue. … Music is English composition. Each song should have a subject, and phrases should have a noun, a verb, and like that. It should be expressive. Exclamation points: Bap!’”

I knew there were reasons I admired this man. And although I was initially excited about the music you will hear because of the presence of my hero Jimmie Rowles, I celebrate Curtis Fuller as well. This session from the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 13, 1978 — audio only — presents Curtis Fuller, trombone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Barney WIlen, tenor saxophone; Red Mitchell, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, playing a repertoire that I would call sophisticated Mainstream: SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE / ALL OF YOU / THESE FOOLISH THINGS (Mitchell) / STELLA BY STARLIGHT with Fuller cadenza / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Rowles, Mitchell, Rosengarden).

I know some of my more “traditional” readers might feel that jazz trombone begins and ends with Jack Teagarden, and I revere Jack, Vic, Bennie, Dicky, their ancestors and their modern heirs, but I urge them to give Curtis Fuller an open-eared hearing. He is a great vocal player; he speaks to us; he has things to say. Fuller is technically adept but he is more interested in telling us his very vocal stories. Hear him out. And you can, on a second hearing, absorb Rowles’ subversive beauties, and the way the rest of the band — apparently an unusual mixture of players — settles in to swing:

Thank you, Curtis, for your energy, humor, and open-heartedness.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Three): Words by EDWARD MEYER. Music by KENNY DAVERN, WALLACE DAVENPORT, FREDDY LONZO, ORANGE KELLIN, OLIVIA COOK, FRANK FIELDS, FREDDIE KOHLMAN (Nice Jazz Festival, June 10, 1978)


Edward Meyer has written the definitive biography of Dick Wellstood, GIANT STRIDES: THE LEGACY OF DICK WELLSTOOD (1999), and an even more extensive book on Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF KENNY DAVERN (2010), both published by Scarecrow Press.

When it came to his friends, Kenny Davern was a generous man who loved to share the things that gave him pleasure.  One Sunday afternoon, I had driven down to Manasquan to talk with Kenny about the Wellstood book. Elsa was away and he wasn’t working that evening, so he wasn’t pressed for time. After we finished talking about Dick, we went out for pizza, after which we went back to his house.

He  was in a talkative mood that night and we schmoozed about a number of things and people – not many of whom were connected with jazz. Several hours passed. I had to get up and go to work the next day and was facing a 60+ mile drive back to my apartment in Manhattan in Sunday night traffic. But,  just when I was ready to leave. the conversation turned to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kenny passionately believed that Furtwangler had never gotten the recognition due him and that he was far better at getting the best out of the musicians in his orchestra than Arturo Toscanini. who led the NBC Symphony. I had no views on the subject – mainly because I knew little about classical music and even less about the skills of either man – but that only spurred Kenny into his role as teacher.

He left the room and came back with two recordings of the same piece – one by Furtwangler and the other by Toscanini. “Listen to this,” he said, and played about five minutes of the Furtwangler recording. “Do you hear how Furtwangler brings out the individual sound of each horn? Now listen to this.” And he played about five minutes of the Toscanini recording.  “Do you hear the difference?” Fool that I was, I said that I couldn’t really tell.

That was clearly the wrong answer because we went through the exercise again. By this time, it was about 10:00 p.m., and  although I was no better informed at the end of the second round of recordings than I had been before, when Kenny asked if I could tell the difference, I nodded my head vigorously. And, before the demonstration could progress any further, I stood up and said that it was time for me to go home. And I left.

I saw him about a week later and as soon as he had a free moment he came over and gave me a short handwritten list on which he had jotted down the titles and numbers of a few Furtwangler CDs. He thought that I might like them.

Years later, I learned that my experience was not unique. If one of his friends liked something that Kenny had, Kenny would make, or buy, a copy of for him, or lend it to him, or tell him where and how to get one for himself. This didn’t jibe with Kenny’s public image: but then, very little did.

The musical portion of this remembrance was created at the Grande Parade du Jazz, June 10, 1978, in a program called “JAZZ CLASSIQUE,” featuring Wallace Davenport, trumpet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Olivia Cook, piano; Frank Fields, string bass; Freddie Kohlman, drums — with Kenny joining them for the last two songs, BLUES and CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.

I asked Orange if I could post this video and he graciously wrote, The memories came flooding back. I played a lot with Wallace’s bands in those years and we were on the George Wein festival circuit frequently. We got to play with all sorts of guest stars and Kenny was one of those. This was our first time meeting. I don’t think he knew of me, but I was very well aware of him and very impressed by his playing. I was nobody and apprehensive, to say the least, to play with the clarinet star. Kenny sounded fantastic.

He always did. Kenny performed and recorded for more than fifty years. It doesn’t seem enough. We miss him.

May your happiness increase!

“GOOD OLD GOOD ONES” at MANASSAS: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, PEE WEE ERWIN, LARRY EANET, SPENCER CLARK, BUTCH HALL, PAUL LANGOSCH, BARRETT DEEMS (February 6, 1980)

Leopold Stokowski said, “There is no exhausted repertoire. There are only exhausted musicians.”

It applies to the session you are about to indulge in, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy Butterfield and Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Larry Eanet, piano; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Butch Hall, guitar; Paul Langosch, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums. The songs are familiar: INDIANA / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / JADA / an excerpt from I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SALT PEANUTS jocularly leading into I FOUND A NEW BABY: twenty-six minutes of expert joy-making. None of the players would have said, “For goodness’ sake, I’ve played INDIANA too many times. Could we take out charts for an obscure Cole Porter tune, instead?” No, they enjoyed the freedom of familiar repertoire, which was in itself comforting and giving them freedom to take chances . . . while pleasing an audience that was both comforted and excited by the familiar. So everyone was happy, and I hope that happiness of forty years ago is vividly transferred to you all in 2021:

Of the brilliant incendiaries above, Billy Pee Wee, Larry, Spencer, Butch, and Barrett have moved to other neighborhoods. I am happy to report that bassist Paul Langosch (who’s also played with Tony Bennett) is very much alive and well, and giving a presentation on April 28: details here.

The fellow I do want to commemorate is trumpeter / archivist / all-around gentleman Joe Shepherd, who left us this month. I don’t know details, except that Joe was over ninety, and more generous than I could imagine. I encountered him some years ago because of the one-song magical videos he had offered on his YouTube channel, “Sflair,” videos that featured Vic Dickenson, Don Ewell, and others. I wrote to him and he made me parcel after parcel of DVD transfers, most of which you have seen on JAZZ LIVES. And until very recently, he was practicing the horn at home. A true hero, and not just because of the parcels: when I asked him what I could do in return, his answer was always that he was so happy people were enjoying the music. A resonant gentle kindness I won’t forget, nor will anyone who knew him.

May your happiness increase!

“BADVERTISING”

You know, a true friend is one who will tell you your fly is unzipped or that you have something in your teeth. One stellar example is Eric Devine, or CineDevine, as he’s known on YouTube. Although Eric started later than I did, he is a much more skilled videographer than I’ll ever be. See his expert videos of Jeff Barnhart, the Fat Babies, Tuba Skinny, Bria Skonberg, Johnny Varro, Heather Thorn, and many others on his YouTube channel.

Eric told me that YouTube was endlessly attaching advertisements to the videos we create. I know that nothing, and that includes paper napkins and hot sauce at Chipotle, is free, but I had forgotten about YouTube as a money-making arm of Google. Why? Because I had voluntarily participated in a process like extortion or the “protection rackets” of years gone by. I pay a monthly sum to YouTube to keep my viewing ad-free, like paying the exterminator to come regularly to keep the termites away. But I checked with my research bureau in Oregon (JJKS, Ltd.) and the answer came: the joint was crawling with ads.

I could give you examples, but why publicize these firms? Below is a photograph of the label of a great record. Take your own trip to YouTube to see what products are being sold, and report back. Did anyone ask Smack or Louis?

Eric and I agree: you’d think Google had enough money already, but I tried, with small success, to look on the bright side: who would have thought that we’d have the privilege of going to a festival, being welcomed, and being able to spread joy up to the maximum and help artists and enterprises as well. And he ruefully agreed.

We’re not totally naive: Google, YouTube, Facebook, and the rest require revenue to survive. But it feels sneaky, like the stories of the subliminal ads that were supposedly inserted in films at the drive-in theatre: a sixteenth of a second of a photograph of an icy bottle of Coca-Cola, with the words WOULDN’T AN ICE-COLD COKE TASTE GREAT RIGHT NOW? And everyone was thirsty and didn’t know why.

This post is just to say that if you click on a video of mine or Eric’s — which we did for free and the musicians allowed us to use for free — and see ads for pet shampoo, vitamin supplements, body-part alteration, fast food, gutter cleanouts, life insurance, or any of a thousand annoyances . . . we weren’t asked for our permission; we don’t profit from it, and we’re sorry that commerce gets in the way.

Since I’ve started JAZZ LIVES in 2008, people have said I was foolish for not “monetizing” it, and I tell them that art is pure and money, although necessary, should be kept in a separate drawer, except when it comes to paying artists lavishly.

“Badvertising” is my own coinage, but you’re welcome to it.

And if anyone accuses me of hypocrisy because I too run ads on JAZZ LIVES — for The Syncopated Times and Vintage Jazz Mart — I offered to do this; I believe in these publications, I’d like to support them, and I am not receiving a monthly check for the ad space.

Even in this dramatically capitalist world, art should not have to float in a bath of tepid commerce. Beware of hucksters, grifters, con men, card sharps, and pickpockets, I say.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.


I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.
I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.
When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.

Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.

Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

ART UNDER ATTACK: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL JAM SESSION featuring GENE KRUPA, ROY ELDRIDGE, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BENNY CARTER, RED NORVO, BUD FREEMAN, TEDDY WILSON, JIM HALL, LARRY RIDLEY (July 3, 1972)

There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.

It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.

I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)

The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.

The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.

Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:

The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:


The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.

Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.

I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.

That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.

At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.

It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR HOPEFUL SERENADES IN THE FACE OF IMPENDING DARKNESS: McQUAID’S MELODIANS JUST BEFORE LOCKDOWN: MICHAEL McQUAID, ENRICO TOMASSO, DAVID HORNIBLOW, ANDREW OLIVER, THOMAS “SPATS” LANGHAM, LOUIS THOMAS, NICHOLAS D. BALL (“The Spice of Life,” March 16, 2020)

These four shining performances, and the context in which they were created, made me think of Samuel Beckett, “After all, when you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.”  Beckett was talking about the Irish, beset by enemies, but his words so well depict these musicians playing as if everyone’s life depended on it in the face of death.

Michael McQuaid with the Vitality Five, February 2019, photo by Michel Piedallu.

The pandemic doesn’t need any explication.  Michael McQuaid’s Melodians do, an all-star group . . . and I do not use that term lightly . . . playing Chicago jazz — three performances that nod to 1927-28 recordings with Muggsy Spanier, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Bud Freeman, and one (I MUST BE DREAMING) as homage to the Wolverines.   The participants: Michael McQuaid, clarinet and arrangements; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; David Horniblow, tenor sax; Andrew Oliver, piano; Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, banjo; Louis Thomas, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

Please note that these performances, so nicely captured for us by Stephen Paget, follow the outline of the recordings (in three cases) but the soloists go for themselves, most gloriously.  The original players were innovative; these heroic descendants are also.

SUGAR (echoing McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans):

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (shades of the Chicago Rhythm Kings):

BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (thinking of everyone!):

I MUST BE DREAMING (new to me, a homage to the Wolverines, but recorded by the All Star Orchestra, Seger Ellis, Joe Venuti, and Bob Haring):

Bless these expert generous players, who give so much.  They can be part of the collective soundtrack while we dream of a more spacious future.

May your happiness increase!

IN PURSUIT OF THAT ELUSIVE QUANTITY, VERIFIABLE INFORMATION, or “CAN THE DEAD BE PROTECTED FROM STUPIDITY?”

I’m aware that there are far larger things to get annoyed about, and I am sure that my ire is both pointless and the result of forty years in college classrooms, where accuracy was not always evident in my students’ work.  But I attempt to be accurate when it is possible.  When someone offers a factual correction to something I’ve written, I might hiss through my teeth, but I change my text.  So the biographical sketch of Charlie Christian that follows is irritating in many ways.

Charlie Christian
December 1, 2006 Edward Southerland

It is not too far a stretch to say that everybody who plays the electric guitar owes something to Charlie Christian.

He was born in Bonham in 1916, but when his father, a waiter, suddenly became blind in 1918, the family moved to Oklahoma City. Christian began his musical career on the cornet, but soon gave it up for his father’s favorite instrument, the guitar.

The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles where he met one of the country’s most influential jazz critics and writers, John Hamilton. Bowled over by Christian’s uncompromising talent, Hamilton took the young man to the Victor Hugo restaurant in L.A. to meet Benny Goodman on August 16, 1939. Without telling the band leader, Hamilton set Christian on the bandstand. Goodman had the band play “Roseland,” a number he thought the guitar man would not be able to follow, but follow he did. After one pass, Christian took a solo, and then another and after 18 breaks, each different from the others, he had a job with the King of Swing.

Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25. When he died, Christian was brought home to Bonham to be buried. A few years ago, a Japanese jazz lover traveled half way around the world to find the grave of this all but forgotten musician, and Charlie Christian was forgotten no more. There is an exhibit about Christian in the Fannin County Historical Museum, each year Oklahoma City hosts a jazz festival in his honor, and once again, the young man with guitar is celebrated by music lovers everywhere.

Over the years, the Red River Valley has contributed more than most know to the music of the land, particularly in jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll and Western swing. Everyone knows Reba McIntire, the Oklahoma girl with the big voice, and Sherman remembers native son Buck Owens with his own section of U.S. Highway 82. Decades before these stars became icons others blazed trails of their own. Texoma has had its fair share of contributors to the world of music. These are just a few.

This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.

Reading it, I wondered if the author had asked a friend for some facts and had heard them incorrectly through a bad phone connection.  I amuse myself by writing here that “John Hamilton” played trumpet with Fats Waller, and that “Roseland” was a dance hall of note in New York City.

If I could draw, I would create a cartoon of Charlie’s magical transportation: “The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles . . . ”  I do not know what to say about this assertion: “Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25.”

At least this writer didn’t “get the impression” that Charlie was a heroin addict, and he doesn’t say that he was discovered at a late-night jam session . . . both examples taken from the recent prose of a Jazz Authority, nameless here.

You might ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do, Michael, than take pot shots at someone writing in a ‘regional’ magazine about a subject they can’t be expected to be an expert on?  I would tell you, “Yes, I have much better things to do: you should see my kitchen counter.  I have laundry that’s piling up, and I should be walking more, blogging less.”

But we know that the internet grants permanence to assertions, and assertions become granite: so a small inaccuracy, repeated and blurred through repetition, becomes a major falsehood — and in that way, it feels like an insult to the dead, who can no longer stand up (not that mild-mannered Charlie would have) and say, “Quit making up that crap about me.  It isn’t true!”

In a world where so much source material is available for people who no longer need to leave their chairs, I’d hope that more care would be taken by writers who want to be taken seriously.  Had Mr. Southerland been a student in a freshman writing class of mine, had he handed this essay in, I would have written “no” and perhaps even “No!” in the margins and returned the essay with “Please see me” on the bottom and asked him to revise it — sprinkling in some facts, rather like oregano and crushed red pepper on pizza — if he wanted a passing grade.

I won’t go so far as to hypothesize that slovenly “research” indicates a laziness of perception, which is a failure of analysis resulting in a civilization’s slide into darkness.  But I won’t stop you if you want to pursue that notion.

The good news is that Charlie Christian’s “legacy” is not “faded.”  Consider this precious 1941 artifact, where he’s gloriously present next to Dave Tough, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Cootie Williams, and George Auld:

I will paraphrase Lord Byron to say, “Southerland and his ilk will be read when Christian and Goodman are forgotten.  But not until then.”

May your happiness increase!

“MEN AT WORK,” HOT LIPS PAGE, EARLY (and LOST) TELEVISION

The singular musician and personality Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page was born today, January 27, in 1908.  Alas, he moved to another neighborhood on November 5, 1954.  Happily, he left behind a good deal of evidence: soaring heroic trumpet solos, wonderful vocals.  He remains an inspiring presence who comes through whole on record.  I don’t ordinarily celebrate birthdays on JAZZ LIVES, but he deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

Here’s Lips — leading the way as only he could — at a concert on February 22, 1947, at the Caravan Hall at 110 East 59th Street in New York City, with Charlie Castaldo, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Charlie Minogue, drums.  Beautifully recorded as well:

Music from three of these Caravan Hall concerts has been issued on Jazzology Records (including performances by Bunk Johnson, Muggsy Spanier, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Baby Dodds, and others).  The CD notes do not explain what saintly benefactor(s) recorded the concerts, but apparently the evenings were structured as friendly battles between two groups of musicians: established African-Americans, often from New Orleans, and a band of young Caucasians, some of whom went on to be famous, others remaining obscure — Castaldo, who worked with Goodman and Shaw . . .was he Lee Castle’s brother?  and Minogue here).

I think that’s a mighty helping — and accurate depiction — of the energies Lips Page brought to music and to performance.

What follows is in celebration not only of Lips, but of Dr. Scott E. Brown, the James P. Johnson scholar.  The second edition of his JAMES P. JOHNSON: A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is something I eagerly look forward to.

Unlike the eight minutes above, what follows is silent, static, tantalizing (made available by the resourceful Jean-Marie Juif):

That’s a CBS television camera; the three stylishly-dressed men are Lips; Zutty Singleton, drums; James P. Johnson, piano.  This is a less-reproduced photograph from the same occasion: one that is currently eluding me shows Lips playing, his body bent over Zutty’s drum kit, if memory is accurate.

Jean-Marie also opened the door to new information.  There were two television shows — not preserved — by what Getty Images calls “Eddie Condons Jazzopators,” a name that would have made Eddie recoil and then lie down in his version of a Victorian swoon.  CBS broadcast a variety show, MEN AT WORK, and Eddie Condon brought a band twice: these photographs are from April 16, 1942; the second show was May 14.  Here‘s the sketchy IMDb link, and here tells who appeared on almost all of the sixteen episodes.  Of greatest interest to us would be the appearance of “jazz harpist Adele Girard” on October 20, 1941, on a show that also included Professor Nelson’s Boxing Cats.

This description comes from tvobscurities.com and I take it as reasonably accurate, even though it makes no mention of Eddie and calls Robert Alda a “comic”: Beginning July 7th, 1941, WCBW broadcast an hour-long variety show called Men at Work every Monday from 8:30-9:30PM (starting with the December 22nd, 1941 broadcast, the show was cut down to 55 minutes; a five-minute news program was shown from 9:25-9:30PM).

Worthington Minor, the CBS director-in-chief of television, was in charge of Men at Work. Each program took two hours to rehearse and practice. During any given show, viewers might watch singers, dancers, bicyclists, acrobats, roller skaters, mimics, comics, toe dancers, boxing cats, puppeteers, marionettes, Indian dancers, ballroom dancers, comic cellists and more.

Some of the acts seen on the program included Lou and Dorothy Rowlands (roller skaters), Hildegarde Halliday (mimic), the Two Deweys (jugglers), Hank Henry and Robert Alda (comics), Ruth Page and Bentley Stone (dancers), Burl Ives (singer), Reid and Mack (acrobats) and Libby and Betty (bicyclists), to name but a few. Men at Work was last seen on Monday, January 26th, 1942, after thirty broadcasts.

No kinescopes of the Condon episodes [characteristically racially integrated] survive, and so far no home-recordings of the audio portion.  However, my explorations of Getty Images this morning yielded jewels.

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums;Joe Sullivan on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Eddie, Billy Taylor, Sr., and Pee Wee Russell:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Eddie Condon on guitar; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Zutty, Eddie, Joe, Billy, Pee Wee, Bennie Morton, Max Kaminsky:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums; Eddie Condon on guitar; Joe Sullivan on piano; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Benny Morton, trombone; Max Kaminsky, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Max and Bennie have changed places, but the same band:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Television debut of all-star jazz band on CBS Eddie Condon on guitar, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and other jazz greats. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

That trio again!

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

With Eddie, half-hidden, at right:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

That quartet:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano and Eddie Condon on guitar. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

If you’re like me, these photographs may evoke emotions somewhere between sorrow and frustration, expressed briefly as “Why weren’t these programs recorded?”  I offer these speculations.  One, CBS had enough to do with sending these programs out “over the air.”  The number of people who had home television sets was small — beneath “small.”  Perhaps you could see one in the window of what would eventually be called an electronic store.  I am doubtful that bars had televisions in 1942.

Preservation of broadcast material — as in radio — was not seen as crucial, for this was entertainment and thus perceived as ephemeral.  For us, now, the idea of hearing more of James P. Johnson is a wonderful fantasy.  If you lived in New York City then, however, you might be able to hear him five or six nights a week in Greenqich Village; Eddie and his friends were at Town Hall or Nick’s.  So there was no scarcity: if you missed hearing Lips Page on Wednesday, you could always hear him on Friday.

At least we know MEN AT WORK happened and we can see flashes of it.

This just in (Feb. 7) thanks to good friend / deep researcher David J. Weiner:

May your happiness increase!

 

DILL JONES LIVE IN WALES

When the Welsh jazz pianist and composer Dill Jones (born Dillwyn Owen Paton Jones) died far too young in 1984, the New York Times obituary was titled Dill Jones, Pianist, Dies at 60; Expert in Harlem Stride Style.  No one who ever heard Dill rollicking through Waller, James P., Sullivan, or his own improvisations on ANYTHING GOES, could quibble with that.  But Dill was so much more, and now we have a half-hour’s vivid evidence, on several pianos, in his homeland (I don’t know a date, but I see that this recital was recorded in BBC Llandaff, Studio C1. — and Dill’s trio partners are Craig Evans, drums; Lionel Davies, string bass.  The songs are GRANDPA’S SPELLS / I WANT TO BE HAPPY (interpolating HANDFUL OF KEYS) / SLOW BUT STEADY (trio) / JITTERBUG WALTZ (solo) / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (solo, Dill, vocal)  hints of boogie and IN A MIST / ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET / YELLOW DOG BLUES (trio) / Reprise: GRANDPA’S SPELLS:

I saw Dill first as a member of the JPJ Quartet (Budd Johnson, Bill Pemberton, and Oliver Jackson), then at a solo recital in April 1972, thanks to Hank O’Neal — with Eubie Blake, Teddy Wilson, Claude Hopkins, as pianist in the Basie-reunion small band “The Countsmen,” and with Mike Burgevin, Sam Margolis, and Jack Fine in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, circa 1974.  The last time I saw Dill was not in person, but on one of Joe Shepherd’s videos at the Manassas Jazz Festival in December 1983, a tribute to Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson at the Roosevelt Grille (with Ernie Hackett, Larry Weiss, and Vic): Dill was not in good health but I can hear his ringing piano even now.

His stylistic range was broad and authentic: he could play in the best two-handed style but also be sweetly ruminative, and his musical intelligence was not limited to any one period.  And in our one person-to-person meeting, he showed himself as unaffectedly funny, gentle-spirited, articulate, and full of feeling.  A rare man, not only at the piano.

He left us far too soon, but — for half an hour — he is back with us.

May your happiness increase!