Category Archives: Awful Sad

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS LESTER YOUNG (March 3, 2017)

Last Friday afternoon, I had the great privilege of sitting with Dan Morgenstern and hearing his priceless stories — priceless not only because they are real, first-hand experiences, but also because of the accurate eye and feeling heart that animates them for us in 2017.  He is a great storyteller for these reasons. Here is the first post, with three video segments.

Dan and I share a mutual friend, the great jazz journalist Harriet Choice, who wrote “Jazz By Choice,” memorably, for the Chicago Tribune — she’s also a founding member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago.  When Harriet and I talked about interviewing Dan, she urged me, “Have Dan tell his story about Lester Young!”  I didn’t need any encouragement.

In this first segment, Dan focuses on Buddy Tate, but his thoughts go to Lester, who sat next to Buddy in the Basie band.  The first anecdote is about Lester’s kindness; the second, later, is about Lester the peaceable gladiator of swing.

and this.  Prepare to be moved by something as wondrous as a Pres slow blues.

Blessed are those who create joy: Lester and Dan.

Dan’s evocative and candid essay about that night at Birdland, “Lester Leaps In,” can be found in his invaluable collection, LIVING WITH JAZZ, published by Pantheon (491-495).

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR THESE TIMES (January 2017)

In moments of stress and turmoil, I turn to Louis.  He reminds me that after grief, there is joy.  After death, there is rebirth.  Brother Gate is no longer with us, but we can ramble.

NEW ORLEANS FUNCTION: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole.

May your happiness increase!

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN’S MELODIES

HOD JP

Hod O’Brien, who left this earthy realm this year, was both taciturn and soft-spoken: I would lean forward to catch a few words. But at the piano keyboard, he was quietly eloquent, offering his own lyrical caress to every song.

Here are a few more performances by Hod and bassist Daryl Johns that I recorded at Mezzrow on March 19, 2016.

BLUE BOSSA:

ALONG CAME BETTY:

RAY’S IDEA:

I HEAR A RHAPSODY:

Thank you, Hod, for letting us eavesdrop on your rhapsodies.  We miss you.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN GILL SINGS A SAD SONG FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Our hero John Gill says, “Everyone has a little Elvis in them somewhere,” and he proved this once again at Terry Waldo’s Sunday gig (December 18) down in the darkness of Fat Cat, 75 Christopher Street, New York City.  There’s a direct line from Presley to Gill to us, and this song is my idea of a healthy corrective to all the manufactured holiday cheer.

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John Gill by Marce Enright / New England Traditional Jazz Plus

John’s colleagues, helping him find his way on his dark indigo quest, are Terry Waldo, piano; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Jon-Erik Kellso, cornet.

May your happiness increase!

“HOPES, UNREALIZED”: WORDS AND MUSIC BY BOYCE BROWN

Thanks again to Scott Black, finder (and rescuer) of lost treasures.  I’d known that the remarkable Chicago alto saxophonist and deep thinker Boyce Brown wrote poetry, but the only example I’d ever read was his paean to the joys of marijuana — Royal-T — that was reproduced in EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ.

But here is a true poem — to be considered slowly and perhaps sadly:

boyce-brown-improvisations

Here are several samples of Boyce’s work — easy to underestimate, to take for granted.  But even at fast tempos, there is some of the same haunting melancholy in it.  This session is from January 1935 (organized by Helen Oakley, later Helen Oakley Dance) and features Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Omer Simeon, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, George Wettling.

THE LAND OF DREAMS (an improvisation on BASIN STREET BLUES, in its own way):

and, from the same session, NAGASAKI:

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

and a slow blues, titled by Boyce, REINCARNATION:

And here is Boyce with Jimmy McPartland, Bud Jacobson, Floyd Bean, Dick McPartland, Jim Lannigan, Hank Isaacs, for CHINA BOY, recorded a few months after the poem:

Euterpe, first the Muse of music and then of lyric poetry, might have been particularly significant to Boyce since in all the representations I have seen she is blowing into a flute or other wind instrument.  Did she destroy this devotee?  I do not think so, but Boyce — eternally dissatisfied with his own work, at least as realized on records, might have disagreed.

Jim Denham, Hal Smith, and I have been fascinated by Boyce for years, and I’ve written several long essay-posts about him.  The links may be defunct, but the facts remain relevant.  You can find out more about Boyce here and here and in Hal Willard’s 1999 portrait here. I find his story engrossing and terribly sad — from his precarious entry into the world to his search for people who would understand him — both in the musical and religious worlds — and what I think of as his gentle despair at his not being welcomed for himself. The “harsh, commercial” world might not have ruined him, but the poetic spirit that was Boyce Brown was ill-fit for its haste and clamor.

May your happiness increase!

PASS THE JUG, PLEASE, or IF YOU DON’T KNOW FRANK MELROSE, YOU SHOULD

frank-melrose

One of the great tragedies in the music we love is the premature and violent death of Frank Melrose — really a brutal murder of a beloved father and husband and a great artist. . . . “Franklyn Taft Melrose (November 26, 1907 – September 1, 1941)” says it all.

But for three minutes or so, you and I can choose to celebrate as well as mourn. Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” on YouTube, the deft and generous Emrah Erken, you may hear a beautiful copy of PASS THE JUG, with Melrose on piano (billed as “Kansas City Frank”) and Tommy Taylor on drums — recorded in Chicago on March 8, 1929.

That rocks!

This one’s for my dear Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.  And it is in memory of Frances Melrose, Frank’s wife and Ida’s mother . . . seen below at the  piano, because she shouldn’t be left out, either.

frances-melrose-at-the-piano

May your happiness increase!