Category Archives: Awful Sad

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!

MELLOW TONES: BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RANDY NAPOLEON, FREDDY COLE, PAUL KELLER, ED METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 25, 2014)

Sometimes what’s in the archives is there for a reason: imperfections; sometimes what’s been hidden is sublime. Case in point: this performance of Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE (a/k/a ROSE ROOM) by a small group at the Atlanta Jazz Party on April 25, 2014. The personnel: Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Freddy Cole, piano; Paul Keller, string bass; Ed Metz, drums. Bucky and Freddy have left us just this year, but when I checked with the younger members of this quintet, their delight in seeing this video was strong, as was their eagerness to share it.

Part of the pleasure of this performance is its infallible swing; another is watching the Old Master, Bucky, direct traffic; a third part is the joy on the faces of Randy, Paul, and Ed.

The archives hold more surprises from Atlanta in April 2014.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST A GLANCE AT YOU”: EDDY DAVIS, CONAL FOWKES, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

It’s reassuring to think that romantic songs nearly ninety years old still have the power to move us.  I know nothing about the  composers of the 1931 LITTLE GIRL, Madeline Hyde and Francis Henry, aside from their credits on this Deco cover, but the song has an irresistible three-note hook that, as they say, hooks the listener.

Proof?  Here’s a sweetly swinging performance of that song from a memorable Thursday-night session at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, at the very end of 2019 (December 26) by Eddy Davis, banjo; Conal Fowkes, string bass and endearing vocal; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

That was the last time I saw and heard Eddy, who was in wonderful form on and off the bandstand, making this video both sad and joyous.

Moments like this . . . .

May your happiness increase!

MANTLE or MARIS? and other PLAYGROUND ARGUMENTS

I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator.  But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.  I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?”  Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like.  But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.

I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert.  And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point.  But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.

A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender).  The first response that caught my eye?  I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.”  Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.

On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal.  You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.

I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.

I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery.  Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history.  Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie.  However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony.  Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.

So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win.  They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry.  Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites.  People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted.  All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared.  Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year.  Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else.  These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.

We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s).  I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.”  I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp.  But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting.  What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality.  It remains that way in art.  If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter?  I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room.  To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.

In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts.  M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.”  C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.

Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does.  If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist?  If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King?  Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?

I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy.  For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis.  The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed.  Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles.  James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil.  And so on.  No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.

Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this.  If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?

But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment.  Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone.  To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this.  Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better?  Are you attacking my discernment?  I must defend my family’s honor!  Pistols at dawn!”

We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys.  Art deserves reverence.  And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.

Try it here:

May your happiness increase!

A ONE-ACT DRAMA ABOUT THE FRAGILITY OF ROMANCE, by CONNIE BOSWELL, SAM COSLOW, and VICTOR YOUNG

Sometimes, even for someone like me, enthralled by the computer, it’s worth checking the mail (aside from the usual deforesting) . . . when it’s something like this.  Disregard the 1935 jingoism (were Americans being besieged from abroad by records made by foreigners?) and consider this lovely artifact:

I thought, when I saw this precious disc, that perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers might not know it, might not have risen in hope and fallen in sorrow along with Connie, in her three-minute journey from exultant hope to rueful acceptance (all thanks to Sam Coslow, who didn’t need any collaborator on this song, Victor Young, and the only identified member of the orchestra, Larry Altpeter, trombone).  The steps up are also the steps down, only more steep:

Connie is passionate, yet she never overacts: she doesn’t break up the line to impress us, to convey her authenticity.  And the result is a deeply-felt soliloquy and a three-minute dance record, succeeding at both.  If you haven’t, investigate Connie’s solo recordings from 1931 onwards.  I mean no slight to Vet and Martha, but Connie can go right to your heart in four bars.

May your happiness increase!

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones.  I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos.  But humor me on this, if you will.

I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter.  Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours.  I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet.  This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.

For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes.  I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish.  Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.

So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again.  In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves.  This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation.  Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right.  I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.”  Childish, perhaps.  But I won’t have people I admire shat on.

I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?”  Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.

Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.”  Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.

But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?”  (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)

I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person.  Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?”  Let that sink in.  Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman.  Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.

But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance.  I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.

Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool.  The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.”  It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.

Artists are not members of a service industry.

So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!”  I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish.  I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.”  You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication.  What’s next?

I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level.  In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things.  But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications.  So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration.  I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.

I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage.  And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.

I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them.  It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited.  Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.

Great art outlives its critics.  The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.

To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians.  They own themselves.  And we should bless them rather than carp at them.

May your happiness increase!

 

WITH RUE MY HEART IS LADEN: REBECCA KILGORE SINGS FUD LIVINGSTON at JAZZ at CHAUTAUQUA (with DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, September 18, 2011)

This fellow is little known except to connoisseurs of late-Twenties jazz.  He was a wonderful reedman, imaginative arranger, composer of modernistic melodies, but perhaps more people know Fud Livingston because of one mournful song:

Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore to those who haven’t yet taken her to their hearts — with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing this lament at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend:

Performances like this — consistently for several decades — are why, when someone says, “Have you heard the new singer _____?  She’s great!” I often say, “Before you launch someone at me, do you know Rebecca Kilgore’s work?”  Becky’s individual mix of delicacy and intensity here is so touching — her quiet emotional fervor, her beautiful natural-sounding phrasing and diction.  She’s it. Dan Block matches her in feeling: his vocalized sound is close to tears.  And that rhythm section: the very soul of soulful understated support.  Watching this, I feel so fortunate that I was there to witness this music and how glad I am to be able to share it with you.

A relevant postscript from our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, who, in the late Fifties, was “in between,” and working at Colony Records in midtown New York City, the hours 7 pm to 4 AM:

A sad note: Fud Livingston, not quite sober, with a guy he wanted to show how many recordings there were of his “I’m through with Love” which I looked up for him in that big Phonolog. He was gassed that I knew who he was, or had been. Wanted to do an interview but didn’t connect…he was in twilight zone.   (This would have been before March 25, 1957, when Livingston, fifty, died.  I hope he made a good deal of money from the song’s appearance in SOME LIKE IT HOT, sung with breathless ardor by Marilyn Monroe.)

I can promise you more treasures created at Jazz at Chautauqua, although this one is singular in its art and feeling.

May your happiness increase!

 

EUREKA! A LITTLE MORE MUSIC FROM LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON (Redwood Coast Music Festival, Friday, May 10, 2019)

The words “2020 has been a year of losses” are a painful understatement.  One such human loss was the sudden death of the joyously energetic guitarist Little Charlie Baty, whom I met for the first and only time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, in early May 2019.

Here is one set of facts, as presented by the Sacramento Bee on March 15, 2020:

CHARLES ERIC BATY 1953-2020

Charles passed away suddenly on March 6, 2020 at age 66. He developed pneumonia and died of a heart attack while hospitalized in Vacaville. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he moved to California in 1961. He was preceded in death by his wife Sylvia, sister Paige, and mother Patricia. Charles, a well-known Blues guitarist, taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar at the age of twelve. After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a degree in mathematics in 1975, he worked for many years at U. C. Davis while performing music at night. In 1976 Charles and Rick Estrin formed the group Little Charlie & the Nightcats. The group signed with Alligator Records in 1987. Charles retired from the group in 2008 but continued to perform in numerous venues. Services will be held Monday, March 16, 11 am at Klumpp’s Funeral Home, 2691 Riverside Blvd. Sacramento CA 95818, followed by interment at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Those facts are useful — coordinates for us to locate ourselves in relation to Little Charlie’s sudden absence — but they are just facts.

Charlie (I find it hard to think of his gently imposing presence as “Little” in any way) was a precise, powerful player, but his appeal to me and to others was emotional.  He created melodies that, even when phrased with delicacy, felt strong; his rhythms caught us; we swayed to his pulse and his lines.

So here is the story behind the performance and the performance videos I present now.  I had an extraordinarily gratifying time at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, listening to bands that might otherwise have been fantasies I’d dreamed of — now in the flesh, playing and singing.  Most of the music I heard was in small venues (the Morris Graves Library) and a few larger halls.  I walked to the cavernous Eureka Municipal Auditorium (thanks to Derral Alexander Campbell for supplying the name and also agreeing that it was “a sound man’s nightmare”) — a huge hall with a balcony running around its upper level — but a band led by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, and featuring Little Charlie; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, was scheduled to appear there.

I got to the hall early, and found an energetic band, not to my liking, more rock than jazz or blues, pummeling a rapt audience who had filled the front half of the hall.  It was loud.  When they had mercifully (to me, at least) finished, I looked for a seat in the front from which to video, but the happy listeners had no intention of leaving, and I climbed up to the balcony to catch my friend-heroes in action.  I set up my camera (small) and my microphone (sensitive but also small) and settled in to video-record the performance.

The sound people at this festival were generally superb — and what follows may reflect my predilection for small halls and almost-or-completely unamplified sound — but whoever was running the board for this set wanted a good deal of volume to fill the hall.  I have never been to a rock concert, but this sounded like rock-concert volume.  The music was splendid, but I felt like a pineapple chunk in a blender, and after a few selections I left.  As I walked to the next venue, I could hear the music from far away.  I write this long prelude to explain the unusual sonic ambiance.  I thought these videos were unusable, and when I sent them to a few of the musicians and heard no comment, I felt as if they agreed.

But this year — the desert of music as well as so much else — I thought, “Let me listen again.  These are precious documents: Charlie isn’t going to play anymore,” so I offer them to you — loud, funky, good and greasy.  (“Greasy,” for the timidly scrupulous, is praise.)

47th STREET JIVE, a series of life-instructions and exhortations:

CHERRY RED, a color Big Joe Turner found in life, not in a Crayola box:

FISHERMAN’S BLUES, for my pescatorian readers:

INDIANA BOOGIE: “the moonlight on the water” never sounded like this:

As I wrote yesterday here in a post featuring Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang performing CLEMENTINE (From New Orleans) at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, it’s been postponed to September 30 – October 3, 2021, and I am looking forward to being there.  I’ll tell you more as those months approach, but I have already purchased a 2021 wall calendar and marked off those boxes.  It’s never too early to anticipate joys.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS IRA GITLER (March 22, 2019)

Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews.  I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long.  It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.

Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).

Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him.  The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:

Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:

and a brief coda:

More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .

May your happiness increase!

A HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY FOR MISERY: ANDY SCHUMM, PAUL ASARO, JOHN DONATOWICZ at SAN DIEGO (11.30.19)

A homeopathic practitioner would tell us that “like cures like”: if you’re suffering from an excess of X, take a tincture of more X.  I don’t know how it works, but allium cepa works on my allergies.  You heard it here first.  Many people I encounter these days are unhappy as can be — for a multiplicity of reasons that I don’t need to explore here.  So I offer some mournful music by Andy Schumm, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano; John Donatowicz, banjo, performed at last year’s San Diego Jazz Fest on November 30, 2019.  (This trio is a band-within-a-band from the esteemed Chicago Cellar Boys, whom I’ve praised and posted often here.)  And Andy is working in and around Johnny Dodds’ choruses on the Louis Armstrong Hot Five recording — the composition is by Lil Hardin:

Feeling better?  I thought not.  Tune in tomorrow for more attempts at spiritual rescue.

May your happiness increase!

IN WISTFUL CELEBRATION: “GOOD OLD NEW YORK”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

We can celebrate and mourn at the same time, and the combination feels right today, because Eddy Davis — imaginative, unpredictable, magical, mysterious — would have been eighty today, September 26, 2020.  Yes, he went away, but he is never far from us.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

I offer a triple homage: to Eddy, his hand a blur, his mouth open in song; to Jelly Roll Morton; to the good old New York that we had before the pandemic so altered our lives.  Here are Eddy and friends, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, where joy flourished regularly:

I look forward to a future where we can once again gather joyously.  How I’ll bring my easy chair along is a problem, but perhaps they can be provided.

May your happiness increase!

JIM DAPOGNY, NOT FORGOTTEN

Jim Dapogny, September 2, 2018, photograph by Laura Beth Wyman (Wyman Video)

He answered to various names.  Jim Dapogny, James Dapogny, Professor Dapogny, “American musicologist,” as an online source calls him.  I prefer to think of him as admired artist, departed friend.

Jim would have turned eighty today, September 3, 2020. He didn’t make it that far, moving somewhere undefined and inaccessible on March 6, 2019.  I have not gotten used to his absence, and I am not alone.  Others knew him better, longer, at closer range, but his absence is something tangible.

I promised myself I would not write a post on the metaphysics of bereavement, but rather offer evidence so those who never heard Jim in person would understand more deeply why he is so missed.

I can’t reproduce here the pleasure of having him speak knowledgeably yet without pretension about the dishes of brightly-colored ethnic food spread in front of us.  Nor can I convey to you his gleaming eyes as he spoke of a favorite dog or the mysterious voicings of a Thirties Ellington record.  And it is beyond my powers to summon up the way he would nearly collapse into giggles while retelling a cherished interlude of stand-up comedy — not a joke, but a presentation — by someone none of us had heard of.

Those who were there will understand the serious yet easy pleasure of his company, the way he was always himself, wise but never insisting that we bow down to his wisdom.  I can only write that he was was boyish in his joys but modest about his own accomplishments, and so gracious in his eager openness to different perspectives.  Those who never had the good fortune of seeing him plain — counting off a tempo by clapping his hands in mid-air, crossing one leg over the other when particularly happy at the keyboard — should know that they missed someone extraordinary.

Jim and I communicated more by email than in any other way, but I did meet him once a year at Jazz at Chautauqua, then the Allegheny Jazz Party, then the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, from 2004 to 2016, with a year out when he couldn’t join us because of illness.  I made a point of going from New York to Maryland to hear his “East Coast Chicagoans” in 2012, and visited him and dear friends in Ann Arbor a few years later.  It is one of my greatest regrets, on a substantial list, that I never made it back for a return engagement.

Our remarkable friend Laura Beth Wyman caught Jim explaining something to me in the informal classroom of a parking lot at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival, and I treasure this moment:

But let us move out of the parking lot before darkness falls.

Here is Jim, with Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass, performing his own FIREFLY (blessedly captured by Wyman Video):

Jim loved the blues, and enjoyed window-shopping in their apparently austere structure, peering in at unusual angles, so what was expected — nothing more than three chords repeating over twelve bars — was all of a sudden a hand-knit tapestry, subtle but ornamented, full of dips and whorls.

I caught him “warming up the piano” at the 2014 Jazz at Chautauqua, in what I think of as full reverie, monarch of an emotional landscape where he and the blues were the only inhabitants, where he could ignore people walking by, and also ignore my camera.  This, dear readers, is the quiet triumph of thought, of feeling, of beauty:

Here he and beloved colleagues create and recreate the TIN ROOF BLUES (al fresco, in rain or post-rain, at the 2014 Evergreen Jazz Festival): Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Chris Smith, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Russ Whitman, tenor saxophone; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross, string bass; Pete Siers, drums:

Jim was thoughtful but not morose.  He delighted in swing and stomp, so here’s COME EASY, GO EASY LOVE, from the same weekend:

One of his set pieces not only was a rousing jam on more austere themes but also a nod to his love of comic surprise, WASHINGTON POST MARCH:

There is much more that could be said, more that can be seen and heard.

But the important thing is this: he remains a model for me and others.  Quietly and without affectation, Jim lived so deeply and generously that we will not forget him nor stop missing him.

May your happiness increase!

YOUR HAPPINESS LIES RIGHT UNDER YOUR EYES: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOSH DUNN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN (Cafe Bohemia, March 12, 2020)

As 2020 ticks on, I find myself daydreaming about being in JFK, my bags checked, the TSA pat-down concluded, walking towards my gate, knowing that soon I will be on a plane for an eagerly-anticipated jazz festival.  Then the emotional mist clears, and I think, “Not yet, even if one is announced,” and I turn my thoughts to the local scene.

This is my local scene: the suburban apartment complex where I’ve lived for sixteen years.  I no longer apologize for my nesting impulse, for the fact that I haven’t driven anywhere since March 24 (yes, I do start the car weekly) and that I spend hours in a triangular rotation of computer – kitchen – bedroom.  This is as close as I can get to having a bosky dell, a garden, or a backyard, and it’s a consolation.  And in this landscape where virus numbers often rise and rarely dip, it’s a good place to spend time.

I also love the song commemorating the pleasures of nesting.  You may think of that vintage composition in connection with Al Jolson or Billie Holiday, but the lovely strains I prize happened right in front of my face, ears, camera, and heart on Thursday, March 12, 2020 — the last song of the last set of music I experienced in New York City (at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street) — a performance that, to me, would still have been transcendent had the circumstances been mild and predictable.

The noble improvisers here, the official uplifters, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Josh Dunn, guitar; Sean Cronin, string bass — with delightful visitors Kevin Dorn, drums (wire brushes and snare, to be exact) and Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar:

Why are tears forming in my eyes?  They aren’t from despair, but from the effort necessary to sustain hope.

As for The Backyard, masked-and-prudent visitors invited.  Transportation’s up to you, but I can provide iced drinks, unhealthy snacks, bathroom facilities, and gratitude.  Two days’ notice, please.  If I’m out, Maisie will take the message.

May your happiness increase!

IMAGINATIVE THEN, INVISIBLE NOW: THE ABSENCE OF FRAN KELLEY

Even now, when it seems that everything can be known, some people appear for a moment and then vanish.  One such is Fran Kelley, whose work as an imaginative record producer came to me some months ago, as I describe here.

Before I offer more information and speculation — all of the print data excavated by the diligent, generous Professor Brian Kane of Yale University — please hear one of the two sides that Fran made possible. Ethereal music:

A gentle caution: if you come to JAZZ LIVES only for videos, I’ll see you tomorrow or the next day.  I think this is a terribly important post, though: my attempt to make sense of a brilliant life from fragments of information.  And I can’t promise any melodrama: death from automobile accident or medical crisis: no, Fran Kelley seems to have turned from “the scene” to choose another life.

Here is not only a portrait (a disembodied one, alas) but the most thorough biographical sketch we have, even though it might be based on her answers to a questionnaire, when Fran was West Coast Editor of METRONOME (1953-57):

For the moment, a few additional facts.  1246 Orange Grove Avenue would have been near Spaulding Square, in what is now considered “West Hollywood,” once a residential area of single-family houses and small apartment buildings, but Google turns up no photographs, which leads me to think Fran’s residence was torn down sometime after 1957.  Whether the “Met” was the opera or the museum, I could find nothing relevant about her father.  Clyde Reasinger, famous for his work with Kenton and for being a section trumpeter on the television performance of MILES AHEAD, was long-lived, 1927-2018.  He has a Facebook page (whose administrator did not reply to my inquiry); his spouse has none.

Based on decades of reading, but jazz writing circa 1945-1957 (the years in which we have the most evidence) was primarily if not exclusively done by men, exceptions being Helen Oakley Dance and a few others, so even given the mildly patronizing tone of the sketch, it shows the regard in which Fran was held by her colleagues.  (In my previous post, I note the stories / reviews she’d written for Metronome.)  I am sure no one asked Bill Coss what he cooked, but that merits only a sigh.  By the way, if you think it condescending of me to call her “Fran,” I am writing this post out of fond admiration: “Kelley” seems icy.  Please don’t write in to lecture.

She accomplished great things, and I say here to readers, “Fran is now invisible in a landscape of Gene Norman, Norman Granz, George Wein and more, all of whom deserve their fame.  Her name is absent from studies of Dizzy, of Bird, of Benny Carter.  Had Fran been Francis, would she be so erased?”

She feels so much, at this distance, like Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s sister.”

Let us follow the paper trail.

DOWN BEAT, 15 November 1945: “Fran Kelly [sic] of Hollywood House of Music will launch her new international label with star jazz headliners.”

More about “the Hollywood House of Music,” from      https://peggyleediscography.com/p/LeeResearchCapitolEarly.php:

The Nebraskan son of an Union Pacific Railway accountant, Glenn Everett Wallichs had been interested in electronics since his childhood — focusing on the design of radio sets and the mechanics of train railroads. A North Hollywood transplant (at 16 years of age, in his family’s company), he started his adult workdays locally, as a radio station technician (at WFWB) and then as the owner of a car-radio repair shop (at Ivar Avenue). Wallichs’ small shop evolved into a radio and electronics store, and that one store brought enough profit to allow for its multiplication into a chain (a total of five stores, all of them in the Hollywood area). In 1938, Wallichs took his business ventures even further. Accompanied by his brother Clyde, he joined forces with former WFWB co-worker Al Jarvis (the pioneering disc jockey, who also happened to be an LA record shop owner) to create Hollywood House of Music, a compound that merged Jarvis’ record shop with the fifth, youngest of Wallichs’ electronics stores. The most noteworthy aspect of the merger was that the latter was no longer just a retail store: it was converted into a small specialty recording studio, whose specialty became custom recordings. Though “normal civilian” requests for recordings of events such as weddings or parties were certainly taken, the studio primarily catered to artists’ requests of airchecks from radio broadcasts. It also chiefly became the place from which Jarvis’ legendary creation, the Make Believe Ballroom show, was broadcast during the late 1930s. Known to have been recorded there in 1938 is a novelty tune that featured Wallichs himself along with Stan Kenton, Paul Weston, Jo Stafford and others (all of them playing instruments, Stafford included, and some of them under pseudonyms). The resulting instrumental number was chucklingly titled “The World’s Worst Record.”

METRONOME Yearbook, 1956, showing the astonishing roster of musicians who performed at the concert Fran organized on April 12, 1946:

My friend Nick Rossi — guitarist, jazz scholar, painter — magically turned up the program for the concert here.  Someone’s bought it, but what can be seen here is stunning.

One exception to the contemporary erasure of Fran Kelley is Douglas Daniels’ 2002 biography of Lester Young, LESTER LEAPS IN, where he writes of this concert:

In Los Angeles, [Norman] Granz, Billy Berg, and Fran Kelly [sic] typified a new type of jazz promoter dedicated to racial equality. Kelly, with the aid of Lester Young, Ray Bauduc, Kay Starr, Lucky Thompson, Red Callender, Charlie Parker, Nat Cole, Benny Carter, and other artists, sought to foster racial tolerance by booking UCLA’s Royce Hall for a performance to benefit the scholarship fund of the George Washington Carver Club, named after the famous Tuskegee scientist. A Metronome recap reported that Young and Parker offered ‘‘the best number of the program.’’ All the musicians either donated their services or received a nominal fee, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. This marked a first for UCLA. . . .

Granz gets top billing; Kell[e]y is unidentified.

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1946, a very small comment on the concert, compared to the coverage of Les Brown’s “ball team”:

CLEF, June 1946, a concert review which begins with a beautiful quote:

METRONOME, August 1946.  More about the concert.  Linger, please, over the names of the musicians, and when you are through with time-travel, also note that a new Lester Young record gets a “C+”:

Because online research is part pearl diving and part trash collection, my continued inquiries into the George Washington Carver Club led me to this site, which I avoided as if made of Kryptonite: Twin Towers 911 Video Clips Video De Sexo De Paris Hilton …8.aksuchess.ru › VkjWBA.  

We move on.

BAND LEADERS AND RECORD REVIEW, August 1946, notes “Kelly,” “gal platter impresario”:

DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1949, noting that the Fran-Tone masters were sold to Capitol (which Wallichs, Johnny Mercer, and Buddy De Sylva had founded) — my guess is that they did not sell and they were never issued on that label . . . plus a famous Lester interview:

DOWN BEAT, 14 December 1955, a nameless reviewer mocks Fran’s liner notes for a Chico Hamilton record:  “Only clinker are the notes on the individual numbers by Fran Kelley, written in her inimitable prose, a cross between science fiction and theosophy.”

DOWN BEAT, 4 April 1956, an approving review of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, where Fran is called “the only pretty jazz critic”:

And here are the notes for that album, with a tiny portrait of the author:

METRONOME, February 1957, Fran’s imaginative profile of Keely Smith:

DOWN BEAT, 3 April 1958: the last mention of Fran — “poetess,” working for Ellington:


There the trail stops, except for Ellington’s coda in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

I have not been able to find out anything about Fran Kelley’s life after 1958.  And that may have been the way she wanted it, to turn away from the secular world, “the music business,” to shuck off being called “pretty,” and live another life.  If you are born Fran Kelley and you enter a religious order and take the name of Sister Angela, even Google cannot find you.  (Consider Boyce Brown, “Brother Matthew.”)  And even a rudimentary glance at actuarial tables would suggest that she is no longer living.

But I hope she wasn’t driven away by misogyny.  Yes, regarding the past through the lenses of the present can distort, but someone so sensitized might want to abandon the world where music was for sale and one’s best efforts got ignored.  A world where Lester Young got a C+.

I feel her absence.  A great loss.  Her legacy is and should be more than a dozen or so clippings from jazz trade papers.

This post is in memory of Fran Kelley, once remarkable and now unknown, with no biography and no Wikipedia page. And it is also in honor of all the women who create imaginative ideas and art and don’t get heard at the meetings or find their ideas vacuumed up and presented by men, but still keep creating.

Thanks to Katherine Vasile, Brian Kane, and Richard Salvucci: without them, this post would never have happened.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN INTIMACY WAS NOT ONLY POSSIBLE BUT DEEPLY FELT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CHRIS FLORY, NEAL MINER (Cafe Bohemia, November 14, 2019)

To start, JAZZ LIVES endorses social distancing, properly positioned mask-wearing (plain or patterned), hand-washing, hand sanitizer, vinyl gloves, intelligent caution, without reservation.  But I miss the intimacies that were part of the common culture only five months ago, give or take a hug.  When I watch any film or television show on YouTube these days, the casual peck on the cheek given and received causes me a real pang.  And hugging?  Unendurable.

But enough of sticking hatpins in myself while I try to write.

THE INTIMACY OF THE BLUES is a haunting piece.  When I first heard it, without liner notes, I would have wagered that it was composed by Horace Silver — a dark blues march, so stark and elusive.  I was startled to learn it was by Billy Strayhorn.  And it makes me think of other improvisations that march.  OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE? has a very clear shouting meaning: “We’re coming back from the cemetery, where we laid our dear friend Keith in the ground.  He had a good life, it’s over, but ours isn’t, so we are going to celebrate himself and ourselves.”  INTIMACY has no such clear direction: we are going somewhere, our feet are heavy, but where are we headed?

This performance has the same haunting quality, and I treasure it.  The players, perhaps looking in to the void or just exploring a medium-slow blues, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass; Chris Flory, guitar.  It took place at Cafe Bohemia on Barrow Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, before Thanksgiving 2019.  Ironically or perhaps coincidentally, Cafe Bohemia was the site of the most recent live-jazz performance I was privileged to witness and record, on March 12, 2020.

May we all assemble there again, intimacies no longer forbidden.  Until then:

More than ever, I bless the courageous musicians who bare their souls to us. The most mournful song on the darkest stage is a statement of resilience.

May your happiness increase!

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MIGHT NEED PROTECTION FROM THOSE WHO ANALYZE IT AND THOSE WHO SQUEEZE IT TOO TIGHTLY

A visual display of the presumed growth of jazz.

I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error.  But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.

A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary:  Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds.  Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.]  Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.

At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way.  Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was.  My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!”  No one offered to buy me a drink.

But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences.  I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.

If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:

Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians.  Solos were not part of it.  When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.”  Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”

I find several problems here, as my comment indicates.  First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.”  I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”

Musicians play, and played MUSIC.  Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.

Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination.  “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.  He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.

Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way.  An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record?  Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926?  And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,”  He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz?  They had solos AND they had written passages.  They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?

I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.

If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it?  The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]

Again, it’s slippery.  IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”?  Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.”  But it was recorded in New York.  The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.”  But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout.  The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion?  I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday.  So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?

From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?

Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer.  Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band.  They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)

Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?

Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good.  I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.

But of course I am wrong: I accept that.  I will sleep better knowing it.

May your happiness increase!

“SAY THAT EVERYTHING IS STILL OKAY”: REBECCA KILGORE, HARRY ALLEN, BOB HAVENS, FRANK TATE, JOHN SHERIDAN (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 20, 2012)

I have little to complain about in tangible things, but today’s mood is such that this meme (courtesy of dear friend Amy King) provoked rueful laughter and recognition:

Those of you who don’t know what a “meme” is can dial one of the grandkids.  “Kinky,” you’re on your own.

Today I thought that cheerful hot music would be out of place, so here is a beautifully rueful creation.

The superficial portrait of Irving Berlin is that he wrote cheerful music, with exceptions like WHAT’LL I DO? and REMEMBER.  But he is also powerfully poignant about romance that has deflated or perished, as in SAY IT ISN’T SO — its title characteristically taken from a popular conversational phrase.  But when Becky Kilgore and her lightly swinging friends approach it, the sadness is balanced against the gentle motion of the beat, everyone’s personal phrasing.  Her friends are Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Frank Tate, string bass.

This performance magically unfolded in front of us (and my camera) on Thursday night, September 20, 2012, at the informal session that began Jazz at Chautauqua at the Hotel Athenaeum.  Fabled times, lovely music.

May your happiness increase!