As Richard Vacca, author of THE BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, can tell us, Boston was a hot town for jazz, vying with Chicago for second place to New York City. In the Forties and Fifties, there seemed to be a regular commute between the two cities, with steady gigs flourishing. Louis and Bird, Bechet and Tatum, Newton and Sullivan, Fats and Big Sid . . . the list of performers and performances is a long one. And there were radio broadcasts from Boston clubs. Here’s a brief taste of what was happening and what was captured off the air.
This glimpse into an animated past comes from the Music Box, where Bobby Hackett had a residency in early 1951, with his great friend and partner Vic Dickenson, trombone; Gene Sedric, clarinet; Teddy Roy (an old Boston friend), piano; Bill Goodall, string bass; Buddy Lowell, drums.
Caveat for the sensitive: the tape runs fast, perhaps a whole tone, and there are vestiges of AM-radio static. But you are made of strong stuff, and can surmount such things. The songs are Bobby’s theme for these gigs, STREET OF DREAMS, and then three “Dixieland” classics, SQUEEZE ME, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, and BYE AND BYE. The band usually broadcast on Fridays, but this was a Monday-night special. The tape came to me from my dear friend and benefactor John L. Fell, his source unknown. Both Bobby and Vic are in tremendous form, leaping into their solos.
More from Spring 1951 in Boston is coming soon: the Hackett band in a longer broadcast, and a Sunday-afternoon jam session from Storyville, featuring Johnny Windhurst, Peanuts Hucko, Dick Le Fave, George Wein, John Field, Marquis Foster, and guests.
So much of life is a collective enterprise. My breakfast is the result of animals, farmers and truckers and grocers, even though I made the coffee and omelet myself.
This blog is my own little farm, and the produce wouldn’t exist without the musicians, and sharing it couldn’t happen without the help of friends and scholars, generous in so many ways. One such fellow is the tireless Franz Hoffmann, known for his work in documenting jazz in various media and extensive minute-by-minute research into, among others, Henry “Red” Allen and J. C. Higginbotham. Franz also reads this blog and saw my presentation of the performance done by Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna — divided in two in the middle of a song and dark as could be. He, without my asking, sent brighter copies with the songs logically separated.
Watching this restored version, it was as if I’d never seen it before, so I invite you to this new pleasure also, with thanks and salutations to Franz. To Jimmie and Sir Roland, of course. And this post is in honor of someone who loves and evokes Jimmie, the pianist Michael Kanan, who celebrated a birthday earlier this month. Now to music.
Just what it says, and gloriously. This tape came to me through the generosity (so memorable) of John L. Fell, and I have the names “Weinrich-Roscie” stuck in my head, attached to the music. I am guessing that it was a Dick Gibson-styled house party, and I bless the unknown person who recorded the music . . . for us, forty-six years later, to enjoy.
The songs are S’WONDERFUL (ending cut) / MEDITATION / LOVE LIES / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / I GOT IT BAD / THE LADY IS A TRAMP. And if the names are new to you, that’s Billy, trumpet and flugelhorn; Carl, trombone; Ralph, piano; Jack, string bass; Tyrone, drums:
What a great gift was given to us. Hear and marvel.
The trombonist Charlie Halloran has a sweetly audacious imagination. We can all say, “I wonder what this combination of musical experiences would sound like”; Charlie goes ahead and gives his brightly-colored set of possibilities musical shape. And the surprises that result are so very pleasing. Before I introduce you to his latest creation, I would go back a few years to praise one from the past:
Charlie is the first-call trombonist in New Orleans, which means that he plays with a variety of bands — Tuba Skinny, the Shotgun Jazz Band, the Little Big Horns, his own Quality Six, and more. He’s come up to New York to be a featured guest with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, where he played nobly and made everyone happy. But I think his heart beats fastest (without rushing, mind you) to a larger world-view than SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.
Charlie has immersed himself in that wonderful Venn diagram where New Orleans jazz meets the music of the Caribbean, as astute listeners could hear above. This brings listeners to places they’ve never been but where the music is — although the songs are new — deeply heartfelt and satisfying. When I first began to listen to CE BIGUINE, for example, I thought within a few minutes, “This is going to be one of my favorite discs, full of embracing surprises.” And it’s remained so. When I heard Charlie play some of the same music at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I looked away from my camera to see the room swaying, the band playing. Smiles proliferated. And the room was gently sashaying in time.
Charlie’s new CD, THE ALCOA SESSIONS, is just extraordinary: not a simple plastic disc with good sounds embossed digitally into it, but a combination of a novel, a travelogue, a happy series of musical voyages to places that only exist in our ears and imaginations. Here’s the cover: doesn’t it make you feel like finding sandals and sunscreen? (It’s not even lunchtime as I write this, but a mojito dances before my eyes.)
But I hear you saying. “Alcoa. Isn’t that an antique brand of aluminum foil? What has all this got to do with music?” Patience. All will be revealed.
The Alcoa Sessions
Tomas Majcherski……Tenor Sax
Jonathan Doyle….Tenor Sax. Clarinet.
Don Vappie, John Rodli and John Maestas………..Guitar
Tyler Thomson, Pete Olinciw……..Bass
Joe Lastie, Doug Garrison, Chris Davis……..Drums
Larry Sieberth, David Boeddinghaus…….Piano
Dédé St. Prix, Drew Gonsalves, Don Vappie………Vocals
Now, a pause for some enlivening musical evidence:
Trombonist Charlie Halloran’s fifth album, and first on the ArtistShare label, imagines the musical experience aboard cruises run by the Alcoa Steamship Co. out of New Orleans from 1949-1959. Pulling from dance band repertoire of Mid Century New Orleans, Trinidad, Venezuela and Guadeloupe, the Alcoa Sessions presents a band in the style of Paul Barbarin or Dave Bartholomew, augmented by Cuban percussion, French Creole and calypso vocals, fully leaning into the Crescent City’s placement as the northernmost city in the Caribbean.
Don Vappie leads the band through “When I Was a Little Child,” a swinging creole number from the Paul Barbarin / John Bruinous band, followed by the appropriately titled “Everybody’s Wailin’,” originally recorded by Huey Piano Smith.
By now the cruise has left the Mississippi River and we begin to explore ports further south. Considered Venezuela’s unofficial national anthem, “Alma Llanera” is given a Trinidadian dance band treatment ala Johnny Gomez. The moody and exotic “Margarita Rosa” comes from the Fitz Vaughan Bryan Orchestra, another dance band working in Port of Spain throughout the 1950s.
Back on the boat now, Halloran provides the vocals for the old jazzstandard, “I Used To Love (But It’s All Over)”. 1950s New Orleans saw the explosion of seminal Rock and Roll and R&B recordings, so surely a New Orleans dance band of the era would be ready to let rip on a tune such as Dave Bartholomew’s “Twins” featuring fine trumpet work here from Mike Davis.
Lionel Belasco was a prolific composer working in Barbardos, Trinidad, Venezuela and New York City through the 1960s. His composition “Miranda” is a Venezuelan waltz and provides theperfect outlet for practicing some Arthur Murray dance steps, whose classes were often taught on these cruises. But don’t get too comfortable in 3/4, as Martinique’s Dédé St. Prix is up next to lead the band through “Moune a ou, ce moune a ou,” a brisk biguine from the French Caribbean, featuring the interplay between the trombone and reeds, particularly Tomas Majcherski’s tenor, giving the trumpet player a moment to grab a drink.
Jonathan Doyle steps to the front on the raucous, “Feeling Good”, harkening to Herb Hardesty, Lee Allen and the screaming tenor saxdriven R&B of the 1950s. Trinidadian/Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves of the band Kobotown joins the band for a humorous calypso from Lord Funny, featuring Gonsalves’ infectious rhythm and cadence.
The band swings out the last two numbers, first with the uptempo “Goodnight” written by Pat Castagne for the sign-off music for Radio Trinidad, and finally the dreamy tropical standard, “Song of the Islands.”
The “Alcoa Sessions” mines wonderful, under the radar repertoire, allof it danceable and from the era when calypso, biguine, R&B, and traditional New Orleans Jazz were exploding and intermingling, alongside the tiki craze, mambo and tropicalia. The Alcoa Steamship company used music imagery and language in their ads and brochures, and Halloran’s “The Alcoa Sessions” is sure to melt the ice in your drink and have you packing your suitcase for a TWA plane bound for warmer climes this winter.
Excited? I certainly was. You can check in here to hear a sample, purchase a download or a disc. Echoes of calypso, early rhythm and blues, and delicious old-school NOLA music. I’ve heard the music and am delighted. You will be, too.
I’ll let Charlie have the last word(s):
I like to imagine a young band aboard the Alcoa steamships,comfortable playing traditional jazz and New Orleans R&B, but incorporating local musicians while in port, blending calypso, beguine, and mazurkas, with their New Orleans sensibilities. This album will feature the sounds likely heard on a 13 day excursion from New Orleans through the Caribbean on the Alcoa Clipper, Corsair, and Cavalier.
Every time he faced the piano, John Sheridan generously shared his affection for the melody, his consistent clarity and coherence. His creations passed what I think of as the test of great art: making it look so simple when it is anything but. And his swinging rhythmic energies never failed us. Here are two more (previously unseen) performances from the 2012 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend.
Terry Shand’s LOVE LIES (a delightful nod to Louis in the middle):
Irving Berlin, over rolling rhythms:
and — something I wanted more people to experience — because beneath the surface gruffness, John was a deep romantic, Frank Loesser’s I’VE NEVER BEEN IN LOVE BEFORE:
These three performances are only a small part of why we miss John Sheridan. Fortunately for us, he recorded prolifically on Arbors Records and was caught often on YouTube . . . but those reminders are now poignant as well as memorable.
Here are two savory solo piano performances by John Sheridan, almost a decade ago, having his own kind of intent fun at the piano in the parlor of the Hotel Athenaeum, the Friday afternoon before the proceedings officially began.
John had a vast repertoire, so these two performances — riotous yet exact, meditative yet focused — are simply two aspects of his multifarious self. I invite you to savor them, and also share my slight amusement at John’s crisp rapport with the listeners, never mean-spirited but always slightly brusque, at least on the surface.
COME BACK, SWEET PAPA, by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell, made immortal by Louis Armstrong in Chicago, 1926. Verse and chorus, delightfully orchestral and vivid:
and the other end of the emotional spectrum, a ruminative impressionistic THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE by Eastwood Lane, a composer and composition Bix Beiderbecke knew well:
It’s easy to say that artists are immortal as long as their art is within reach, and it’s true . . . but I wish the telephone would ring and John would be on the other end. Seeing and hearing him, however, is a delight, even if tinged with regret.
You’d better dig that JAZZ BAND BALL. As Johnny Mercer told us, “It’s the ball of them all.”
Here the venerable jazz standard gets up on its hind legs and romps around the stage — thanks to leader / trombonist Russ Phillips; Bria Skonberg, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Sean Cronin, string bass; Darrian Douglas, drums. Never mind that the song was almost a century old, composed by two members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band: it’s completely at home in 2015. And in 2022.
This joy comes to us thanks to the much-missed Atlanta Jazz Party, where so much good music happened. I know; I was there, as you can guess from the video.
Here’s how the eBay seller described this unique object:
“Absolutely mammoth early 1940s photo album with 690 original photographs. Album of Allen, an African American man – a chauffeur, photos of his friends and family, the family he works for and various travel locations. Rochester, NY, factors heavily – not sure if Allen, the family he works for – or both, are from Rochester. Also a lot of photos in New York City.
There are photos of famous jazz age / big band era musicians and band leaders performing, including Cab Calloway, Cozy Coles, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Erskine Hawkins, Dolores Brown, Tony Pastor with the Andrew Sisters, Bunny Berigan, with some of the photos autographed.
Measuring 12 x 8 inches and 4 inches thick. Album has wooden cover, with WWII Army Navy Excellence award decal and initial decals “A R A.” There are only a couple of photos of a man in uniform, nearly all photos are civilian, and most are of African Americans. Photos in various sizes: mostly 5 x 3 ¼ inches, 4 x 3 black and white and some 6 x 4 with more sepia tone. Photos are attached to album by photo squares, a handful of photos are loose from the album . . . .”
The auction ended Thursday, and when I checked on Wednesday the high bid was over eight hundred dollars. So it’s not mine.
BUT. Through the magic of “Save image,” which sounds rather mystical, I can share a few particularly evocative photographs. Allen was not an obsessive jazz or big band fan, but the few photographs in the album suggest that he got around and heard some of the good sounds so easily accessible then.
First, some photographs of non-musical realities.
Charming everyday life, perhaps a Sunday outing in spring?
I don’t know whether Allen took the photograph of his five friends, but the caption suggests a fine witty approach to life, at the beach or otherwise.
Even though Allen was presumably the family chauffeur, that’s a comfortable photograph, to me.
Now, to music. Allen went to see the Erskine Hawkins band, and the captions suggest he had a fine swinging time.
The leader to the left, who autographed the photo (at a later date, I presume) and one of Hawkins’ saxophonists to the right: either Paul Bascomb or Julian Dash, I assume.
Witty captions left and right, and the gracious Mr. Berigan (who had beautiful unhurried handwriting) in the middle.
Cozy “Coles,” working for Cab Calloway.
Finally, the prize for those of us whose life revolves around such glimpses:
Benny, with immense casualness — in a pose your clarinet teacher wouldn’t recommend — and a quick signature, but a new glimpse of Charlie Christian, which also helps to date the album.
I wish we knew more about Allen, but this was his prize, and we assume someone will always recognize our treasures as ours . . .
The highest bidder won this prize for $1325 (plus $12 shipping) and for them, a world opens up. I hope the photographs get seen by as many people as possible. This was the link, although I don’t know how long it will remain.
Thanks to Nick Rossi for bringing this box of treasures to my attention.
Some artists, as they age, become more timid versions of their earlier selves. Earl Hines seemed to throw off any polite restraint and have a wonderful time splashing across the keyboard. Here is another brightly-colored solo recital from the Grande Parade du Jazz. Yellow suit and all: he was 71, afraid of nothing.
Part One: MY MONDAY DATE / YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME (captioned as CAN’T) / CAUTION BLUES / ROSETTA / Fats Waller Medley: BLACK AND BLUE – TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – SQUEEZE ME – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (partial):
Part Two: HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (concluded) / ST. LOUIS BLUES:
I had to choose: if I’d called this post A WANDERING RODENT, that would have given the wrong idea. And this photograph might not have helped, except as an advertisement for better dental hygiene:
But it’s only my comedic way of introducing a glorious performance of MUSKRAT RAMBLE by the EarRegulars at the end of their 2021 summer season at The Ear Out. The naturalists whose music charms us so are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Neal Miner, string bass — taking this venerable composition at the proper rambling tempo:
Goodness, how they swing. What a gift to us. And to Louis, too.
Here’s some extraordinary music that doesn’t often get shared, and it affords us opportunities to hear the singular percussionist Dave Tough late in his life playing the music he most preferred then. The occasion was a concert apparently produced (and recorded) by Leonard Feather, with the tapes sold to Norman Granz for issue on his Norgran label. This was a 12″ lp, and then issued on CD as filler material for Verve’s optimistically-named THE COMPLETE JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC ON VERVE, a ten-disc set. Another portion of the concert has Sidney Catlett playing drums: material for a future posting.
Some mysteries accompany this issue: no one has yet documented all the music played that evening: there has to have been more than thirty-six minutes. The record sleeve mis-identifies Dave as playing (JUST YOU, JUST ME) when it is audibly Sidney. And it is difficult to ascertain the order of performance. But perhaps there is a jazz Hercule Poirot who can solve these mysteries. For now, let us hear Dave in the company of Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Ralph Burns, piano; Bill DeArango, guitar; Curly Russell, string bass.
Here’s CHARACTERISTICALLY B.H., for the wonderfully versatile Harris:
and RALPH BURNS UP, by Ralph, Curly, and Dave:
finally, Ventura rhapsodizing on one of the great tenor sax ballads:
More to come, with Sidney and friends. Thanks to Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn for their erudite assistance with this music.
I could have called what follows HOT MUSIC FROM DEEP CHICAGO and it would have been equally true: intense improvised readings of two popular songs of the late Twenties by Marty Grosz, guitar; Frank Chace, clarinet; Joe Benge, drums . . . privately recorded, probably by John Steiner, on October 25, 1956. (Source material from Joe Boughton or Wayne Jones, preserved and edited by Hal Smith.)
Marty, of course, is internationally renowned; Frank deserves to be equally celebrated. (Frank called Marty, reverently, “a one-man rhythm gang,” and that’s still true, but I think neither man gets full credit for a lovely yearning lyricism.)
Drummer Joe Benge is almost unknown in jazz circles; he was an Amherst College alumnus at the time of this session, and a member of the college’s Delta Five, which also included the late and much-missed cornetist John Bucher. But he led a fascinating life: he went to Evanston High School, which probably led to his connection with this group; he studied German at Amherst and Northwestern, and worked in advertising: he’s responsible for the “Maytag repairman” ads. In 1972, he became a manager for a canoe outfitter in Ontario; he was an ecological activist and naturalist, also teaching native children. He lived until 2016. Clearly a remarkable person.
Back to my hero (and once-upon-a-time phone conversationalist) Frank Chace. The reflex reaction of the first-time listener is to say, “He sounds just like Pee Wee Russell!” to which I would say, “He revered Pee Wee, but he also revered Omer Simeon, Frank Teschemacher, Jimmie Noone . . . and he folded all these influences into a shape uniquely his.” Close listening will reveal his own sweet-strange inventiveness, which continues to reward, elate, and surprise.
Music, then. CHERRY, from the McKinney’s Cotton Pickers’ book:
and Rodgers and Hart’s BLUE MOON:
As memorable as Casals -Thibaud – Cortot, and hotter. Bless these cats. Forevermore.
What follows is a few seconds less than eight minutes, so you could be forgiven for thinking it a crumb, a scrap — especially in our times of unlimited streaming, box sets with hours of music, and more. But as you’ll hear, it is testimony to the Elders’ ability to fill small spaces brimful with memorable, varied sounds. My guess is that trumpeter Billy and colleagues were on staff at the Blue Network (ask someone venerable what that means in radio-lingo . . . this predates FM) and this little program was a brief scheduled interlude, something to look forward to on Wednesdays. But it’s clearly not impromptu: there’s a theme, a pop song, a ballad, a “Dixieland classic,” (faded out for time) — quite a large portion of music packed in tightly.
And let us say a word about Mr. Butterfield, someone not often given his proper due, overshadowed by more showy brassmen, perhaps, and not an “entertainer,” rather, a shy man who wanted to play but not to talk. But when Bobby Hackett was asked in an early Seventies interview to name his favorite current trumpeter (admittedly a question many would have sidestepped) he named Billy. THAT, to me, says so much. And this group is so stylish yet also so profound. Sleek but not slick, and versatile beyond praise.
The Billy Butterfield Septet (all “characters,” as the announcer states) offer an opening theme / GAL FROM NOGALES / MAYBE / SATANIC BLUES. I’ve identified the players by ear and by reasonable assumptions: possibly Bill Stegmeyer, clarinet, arrangements; Hymie Schertzer, alto saxophone; Deane Kincaide, baritone saxophone, arrangements; Vernon Brown, trombone; Dave Bowman, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; George Wettling, drums:
If any reader has a large collection of these Wednesday interludes, or knows more about the personnel than I do, please step forward. This lovely offering came from the collection of my dear friend John L. Fell, about thirty years ago, but it stood alone. As I’ve said before, imagine these beauties coming out of the radio speaker . . . . nectar for the ears. And thank goodness someone had the wisdom to preserve this one. . . a brief but intense bouquet from musicians both professional and inspired.
This one’s for Judi, Debbie, Clyde, Pat, and their families.
Probably most readers have never heard of this band, although the names of Wayne Jones, Frank Chace, Ted Butterman, and perhaps Ransom Knowling will be familiar. I don’t know how I got in touch with Wayne, who died in 2013, but we shared a deep love of clarinetist Frank Chace, so we traded a few cassettes. Incidentally, several organizations call themselves by this name, but the one you will hear existed in Chicago in the first half of the 1960s.
Before I proceed, take a few minutes to remember Wayne — man and musician, recalled so well and affectionately by the fine drummer and writer Hal Smith here. Two of the three cassettes Wayne sent me were by the GOLD COAST JAZZ BAND, recorded on Mondays (an off-night) at the famous and now-departed folk-music club, “Gate of Horn,” on Dearborn Street in Chicago.
(If you’d like to hear more from and about the Gold Coast delegates of joy, John Clark’s podcast about the band with four performances from slightly later incarnations can be enjoyed here.)
But our focus today is a very vibrant recording of two sets by a particularly vibrant 1961 band: Ted Butterman, cornet; Peter Nyegaard, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet (possibly subbing for Kim Cusack); Art Gronwall, piano; Bob Sundstrom, banjo and vocal on ALL BY MYSELF; Ransom Knowling, string bass; Wayne Jones, drums. Ted and Bob were co-leaders of the band. The songs are SMILES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / ALL OF ME (Chace’s melody chorus!) / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART (with Condon “Town Hall” breaks at end) // SOUTH / INDIANA / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / ALL BY MYSELF (Sundstrom, vocal) / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:
The tape shows us a remarkable bunch of hot players, their improvisations free from cliche but full of personality. I am struck beyond words by Frank Chace’s lyrical courage and singularity, but the energy level is superb throughout, the swing, the inventiveness. Wonderful ensemble work, inventive solos, and a trotting rhythm section: a small treasure. I wrote a recent post [“WHO KILLED HISTORY?”] urging listeners and musicians to be curious; you might know none of the names of the players, but you will be entranced by this band sixteen bars in to the first selection.
There’s more to come from another evening with this band (with surprise guests), the following Monday night: a gift from the generous Wayne Jones, who lives on in sound and spirit.
Today is January 1, 2022, one of those dates that have a good deal of joyous ceremony (and hope) attached to it. Although some may say, “it’s just another day!” I choose to celebrate the turning of this page with optimism. And I offer beauty in the service of that feeling: Scott Robinson, playing a ballad — dedicated to his mother, who was a Doris Day fan — outdoors on August 28, 2021, with friends Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
These creators, and the sounds they make, move us and bless us. Let joy guide us into 2022 and the years to come.
Last July I was lucky enough to share with you the second portion of this duo-recital, performed by Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna at two grand pianos at the Grande Parade du Jazz. I’ve recently obtained the whole recital, and although there is a break in MY FUNNY VALENTINE, it’s all here: the meeting of two magnificent individualists in the night air. Those who care to can dine out on perceived imperfections, but since we have so little video of Rowles and Hanna in their mature prime, I think such grousing is not a worthy subject. And if you have no idea who’s who, Rowles is dressed in green.
THESE FOOLISH THINGS / I LOVE YOU / INDIANA / MY FUNNY VALENTINE (partial):
MY FUNNY VALENTINE (concluded) / ORNITHOLOGY:
What a blessing that these meetings of giants took place, were recorded, and whether they were televised or not, the complete evidence remains. Technology of the last century gives us big rewarding hugs in these moments.
Let joy be unconfined. It certainly had free room at this July 10, 2014 concert put on by the Dixieland Jazz Club at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek, California. The source of the joy? Ray Skjelbred, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar and vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.
I always want to celebrate Ray, someone who keeps finding new paths to embody deep truths about life and art and the spirit, but today I post this jubilant video to say WOW in the name of two celebrations — you might know about them or not. Clint Baker has come back from a serious cardiac incident and is recovering well. If it wouldn’t hurt or embarrass him, a line of people would be at his door wanting to embrace him and to thank him for hanging around. And the quietly brilliant Kim Cusack, admired and loved for a million reasons, is celebrating a birthday. It would be indecent to ask him what the relevant number is, and an irrelevancy: he’s here on the planet and we rejoice in that fact.
And we rejoice in this music.
The news might be dark and the skies cloudy, but anytime we can hear the Cubs — ideally, in person, but also on lit screens and through speakers — it is a glorious day. We know them, we love them.
A note from the CEO: I’m writing this thirty minutes into December 27, the end of an extended period of Judeo-Christian holidaying, and a Monday return to work. I send this swing out to you who might be feeling a thud as a return to the mundane happens . . .
John Lewis is known to many as the musical center of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and we might think of four handsome, austerely solemn men in tuxedos . . . improvising sedately on near-classical themes. But John himself was a delightfully swinging pianist — hear his work with Lester Young and this irresistible, warm improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM, which he called DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA for Charles Delaunay.
This performance comes from a May 8, 1959 trio session where John is buoyed by George Duvivier, string bass, and Connie Kay, drums. I hear Kansas City and Count Basie in John’s bell-like swinging minimalism:
Appropriate to the season, here are three more holiday-wintry favorites, performed by Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, voice and drama; Rob Adkins, string bass; Matt Koza, reeds; Nick Russo, guitar and banjo; Gordon Au, trumpet, leader, composer, arranger; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Shane Del Robles, drums. Tamar, Molly, and the Grand Street Stompers had their HOLIDAY STOMP at the new venue, Chelsea Table and Stage, on 26th Street in Manhattan, New York City, December 3, 2021. These performances were recorded by Chelsea Table and Stage and are presented here with thanks.
Here’s a song that has wistful resonance, not just for December 25:
Who’s that man kissing Mommy? Why, it’s Kris Kringle as Shorty George:
and the other side of Mr. Claus . . . that scary phenomenon, in honor of Louis Armstrong, the truest giver of gifts:
This performance is both rare and familiar, famous and infamous, and you’ll hear why. It comes from a jam session organized by Joe Marsala from the St. Regis Hotel in New York City which was broadcast to the BBC — unheard at home. The eager announcer, jazz fan Alistair Cooke, is so eager to explain the new phenomenon of swing to the uninitiated that he explains — to some, insufferably — through most of the track.
But if you have the kind of first-rate mind F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of, and you can listen around the well-intentioned Mr. Cooke, you will hear some astonishing music from Bobby Hackett, cornet; Marty Marsala, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Source material from a Jazz Unlimited CD, GREAT SWING JAM SESSIONS.
I used to expend energy complaining about our Alistair, but as I’ve aged I hear him out of the corner of my consciousness while I prize the splash and drive of Dave Tough’s cymbal work and tom-toms, the ferocious joy of the soloists and ensemble. No Alistair, no jam session, even though his timing is off: he is like a little boy with short legs chasing the parade. Rather than complain, KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE. It’s a bubble, you know:
Hot in November for sure. And as Mr. Cooke wisely says, “This is no concert for people who don’t like swing.” Imagine this blazing out of your radio. And if you are so inclined to comment on Mr. Cooke’s loquacity, remember that he is an anthropologist introducing people to a new culture, and thank him: no Cooke, no music.
Going slowly can be a true art, enabling musicians who understand to get behind the song and let light shine through, also. The four people in these two performances are masters of those subtle arts: Gabrielle Stravelli, voice; Dan Block, reeds; Michael Kanan, piano; Pat O’Leary, string bass. They don’t double the tempo; Gabrielle doesn’t reduce the beautiful lyrics to scat-rubble. What emerges, bar by bar, is magic.
First, the Hoagy Carmichael – Johnny Mercer SKYLARK, translucent, tender, intense:
Mercer again, this time with Victor Schertzinger, for I REMEMBER YOU, with the brief but touching verse:
Here’s a vibrant paradox: the musicians who understand themselves deeply know that singularity is the great goal. Be aware of where you’ve come from, revere your heroes and know the tradition, but be yourself. At the same time, play well with others: understand that the community of jazz improvisation is sacred, and work for “the comfort of the band,” to quote Baby Dodds.
In this Town Hall concert, from April 12, 1952, that delicate paradox is on display in every performance. Here’s the roadmap.
This Saturday concert, produced by Bob Maltz, was billed as a farewell party for Wild Bill Davison, who was leaving New York to tour. It was recorded by the Voice of America for broadcast overseas, which may be the source of this copy. The introduction is by Al “Jazzbo” Collins, with Marian McPartland playing softly underneath his paragraphs:
BLUE SKIES / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU”RE IN LOVE WITH ME / HINDUSTAN Wild Bill Davison, Ed Hall, Jimmy Archey, Frank Signorelli, Pops Foster, George Wettling /
THE LADY IS A TRAMP / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (Bushkin) – DON’T BLAME ME (Milt) – DINAH (Buck) – HALLELUJAH! – BLUES (Jo) Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /
CLARINET MARMALADE / DAVENPORT BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, Tony Spargo /
ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / STREET OF DREAMS / MANHATTAN / [Roy Haynes mentioned] ‘DEED I DO / I’VE GOT A CRUSH ON YOU Lee Wiley, Joe Bushkin, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones /
Collins jokes and talks to fill time . . .
FIDGETY FEET / SISTER KATE (Vic, vocal) / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Gene Sedric, Marian McPartland, Max Wayne, George Wettling //
THAT’S A PLENTY (explosively) / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SAINTS Davison, Archey, Hall, Signorelli, Foster, Wettling //
Listening to these musicians, at the peak of their expressive powers, I thought of Ruby Braff (in Boston when this concert took place) and the subject of the party, Wild Bill Davison. Ruby was often cutting about his colleagues, except for half-a-dozen who he held sacred. Thus, in my hearing, Wild Bill was “that moron.” But later in life — perhaps in the wonderful conversations he had with Steve Voce, Ruby unwound enough to praise Bill: he “had drama.”
But my point is not to praise Bill in isolation. Every musician at this concert has their own drama — Lee Wiley wooing, Vic Dickenson telling stories, Wild Bill taking a hot-jazz-flamethrower to the curtains to see if they would catch fire. The concert reminds me of a televised production of KING LEAR where every role was filled — gorgeously — by a star actor (Laurence Olivier, John Hurt, Michael Gambon, Leo McKern, Diana Rigg) — and they meshed wonderfully, their reverence for the play and for each other evident.
It also reminds me that there was a time, nearly seventy years ago, where both Milt Hinton and Pops Foster were available for a gig, as were Marian McPartland and Tony Spargo. A proliferation of riches! And even if you think, “God. Another version of FIDGETY FEET, for goodness’ sake?” listen — you’ll be startled out of your preconceptions and hustled into joy.