Category Archives: Irreplaceable

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

I don’t know what happens today if a young fan writes a letter to Lady Gaga, let us say, requesting a signed photograph or, better yet, asking a question.  That rhetorical question in itself may mark me as hopelessly antique, since fans can find out everything online as it happens.  But my guess is that the Lady doesn’t have time to send back handwritten personalized replies, and that is nothing against her.  Even in the Swing Era, musical personalities had their secretaries or staff sign photos for fans.  On my wall, for instance, is a lovely shot of Connee Boswell — her name signed in pen — but inscribed to the fan in a different hand, leading me to believe that Connee took a stack of a hundred photographs and signed her name on each one.

So what came up on eBay several days ago is remarkable.  I can’t do much detective work, because the seller seems innocent about the trove, and perhaps (s)he has no other connection.  Here’s the listing description:

This 1950’s collection of famous jazz musicians includes autograph letters, signed photographs and autographs. There is an autograph letter signed “Pops Foster” and a photograph signed “George Pops Foster.” There is an autograph note signed “Don Redman” and an 8 x 10 inch photo of Redman also signed. There is an autograph note signed “Meade “Lux” Lewis” There is an autograph note signed “Pete Johnson” and a letter by Pete Johnsons wife. There are two autograph letters signed “Alberta Hunter.” There is an autograph note signed “Buster Baily” and an autograph letter signed “Terry Spargo.” There is also a typed letter by Terry Spargo and a signed photograph. There are several autographs including “Moondog” “Israel Crosby” and a few others. All the letters, notes, photographs and autographs are in very good condition! NO RESERVE!

While you peruse and consider, here is a most appropriate musical soundtrack:

“Christopher,” whose last name may have been “Jameson,” seems to have been a young aspiring pianist and fan who wrote to his heroes, either asking a question and / or asking for an autographed photograph.  We don’t have any of his inquiries, but they must have been polite and admiring, because he received gracious unhurried answers.  And what strikes me is that in 1959 he wasn’t writing to Dizzy, Trane, or Mobley, but — for the most part — jazz pioneers.  A few of the pages in his collection look like in-person autographs, but much is unknown and will probably remain so.  But we have the most delightful evidence: paper ephemera of a kind not often seen.  Here, without further ado:

POPS FOSTER gives his address twice, clearly pleased by this correspondence:

DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:

TONY SPARGO, handing off to Eddie “Daddy” Edwards:

More from TONY SPARGO:

PETE JOHNSON wasn’t up to much writing, but his wife was encouraging and Pete did send a nice autograph:

“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:

Are the signers (from Brunswick, Georgia) a vocal group I don’t recognize?  I do see MOONDOG:

I don’t recognize the signatures on the first page, but below I see VERNEL FOURNIER, AHMAD JAMAL, and ISRAEL CROSBY:

BUSTER BAILEY signs in kindly and also mentions his new recording, perhaps the only long-playing record under his own name:

an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:

and an even more generous second chapter:

Christopher must have written extremely polite letters to have received such answers, but this selection of correspondence speaks to the generosity and good will of people who were actively performing, who took the time to take a young person seriously.

When the bidding closed, the collection sold for $660 a few minutes ago.  So you can no longer possess these holy artifacts, but you can lose yourself in rapt contemplation of the images and the kind people who not only created the art we revere, but wrote to Chris.

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM! MONTEREY JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY 2020 (March 5-8, 2020)

I’m stunned, but in a delightful way: the band schedule for the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay — although it could change — is available here.   I have all I can do to not print it out and start playing jazz-chess with my highlighter (once I find it).  But you’ll see the reason for my opening emotions: there’s so much good music here, some of it in conflict with other explosions of good music . . .

Now, the schedule is too large to be appropriately reprinted here in the space that WordPress allows, and that is in itself significant.  So a few facts.  There’s hot jazz, blues, gospel, trad, zydeco, hokum, singers, banjo players, gypsy jazz, washboards, saloon songs, stride piano, boogie-woogie, and did I mention just plain hot music for dancers and for listeners?

There’s a special Thursday night session.  Friday and Saturday the music runs for more than twelve hours in eight simultaneous venues (all under the same roof); on Sunday the last set begins at 3 PM.

When I called, yesterday, the Portola Hotel still had a few rooms left at the special Jazz Bash rate; Monterey is a lovely town with interesting shops and good things to eat.  Easy.  Now, a few possibly-impolite lines.  If you are coming to the Bash, I salute you, I embrace you (if we’ve signed the appropriate paperwork).  If you’re not coming because you live too far away or because it costs too much or because of health issues, I do not upbraid you, but sorrow with you and hope you will watch the videos I create from the performances this March.

But if could come but you don’t make the effort and say wistfully, “Gee, I’d like to get there.  Maybe in a year or two,” I just hope this and other festivals are ready for you when you are ready to attend.  Festivals, although they look huge and solid, are fragile affairs, and they don’t survive when there are too many empty chairs in the room.  It’s easy, after the fact, to say that “they” did a bad job, whoever “they” are, but you and your attendance are the fuel necessary for the festival car to make it up the hill year after year.  I have spoken.

May your happiness increase!

KEN’S POTATO, AN ENDEARING OBJECT

I have friends who aren’t involved in jazz, and one of the most dear is the writer and literary scholar Gretchen, whom I’ve known and admired for over a decade.  Gretchen’s short stories are slippery marvels; her scholarship is both substantial and deeply felt.  (She’s also private; hence the first-name-only.)  Gretchen speaks with the most tender affection of her father, Ken, who is no longer on this planet.

Recently Gretchen told me of the travails of moving her mother from the family residence — but said that she had managed to rescue Ken’s “potato.”  I don’t think I made any witticisms about tubers and their perishable nature; perhaps I just said, “Oh?” and she then explained that Ken had grown up on a farm in Pennsylvania and the “potato” was a musical instrument he had made of clay, painted red and gold, and it had the shape of the root it was named for, with holes in it to play musical notes.  I said, “Oh! An ocarina!” and we met in the middle of the nomenclature.  Here’s Ken’s “potato”: he was neither a professional musician nor an artist, but he clearly had a witty style.

I told Gretchen, that as the “ocarina,” this instrument had cropped up on several of my favorite recordings — from sessions supervised by John Hammond, marrying “hilbilly” music and “swing,” led by the singer / successful composer Redd Evans, featuring the jazz master pianist Teddy Wilson, and an ocarina solo by one of the musicians, identified on the label only as “Hot Sweet Potato.”  I wrote a long post about those sides here but it’s from the jazz side of the aisle, its emphasis on Teddy Wilson.  Since our focus today is on the potato, I will simply share the music.  First, the frolicsome-somber THEY CUT DOWN THE OLD PINE TREE:

The flip side of that 78, RED WING, is much more worn (someone loved it even more) and the first reed solo is by Buster Bailey, another hero, on clarinet, but the potato gets in a few notes at the end:

This post isn’t about the cultural history embodied in 1939 “crossover music,” nor is it about the ocarina per se — so I ask for some restraint in the commenting audience for the moment.

It is, however, about the way some adults are such good and loving parents that their adult children still remember them with the deepest affection.

Gretchen told me today that “Ken often picked it [the potato] up from where it stood on the hutch in the family room and played it for sheer enjoyment.”  I imagine I can hear those notes, and Ken is alive to me in them, as he is to Gretchen, in that space where music, love, and memory hold hands sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO GO, BUT I COULDN’T

Had someone taken me, I could have seen Coleman Hawkins play — he did live until 1969 — but this concert I missed: my parents did not know each other yet.

That’s Hawkins, Freddy Johnson, piano, and Maurice van Kleef, drums, in Amsterdam, April 20, 1938.  The inscription reads: “To Aunt Hattie, In remembrance of all her kindness to my family and self. I shall never forget it, Freddy.”  The photograph is in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Here’s something surprisingly rare — not only because pieces of paper don’t always survive for eighty years — the impetus for this posting.

The seller’s link is here ; the price: $767.99 or “make offer.”  (His other items are intriguing — some posters are autographed — but lovers of “pure jazz” will find only a Louis Jordan concert poster to fixate on.)

To make up for the concert that perhaps none of my readers attended, here (thanks to Heinz Becker, one of the great gracious swing benefactors of YouTube, who has uploaded a stellar record library for us) is that trio, a marvel of swing energies:

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

The ferocious SWINGING IN THE GROOVE:

DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

WHEN BUDDHA SMILES:

and the gorgeous BLUES EVERMORE (a themeless improvisation on ONE HOUR, which some YouTube correcter tells me is IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT):

What rhapsodic majesty and unflagging swing he displayed.  These sides do not make up for having missed the concert, but we grasp the consolations we can.

And just for fun: I couldn’t go to this 1949 jazz party either.  I was closer to being born (my parents had met and more) but it still didn’t help.  I’m glad I am able to go hear music now!

May your happiness increase!

TO KAYO, FROM BUD, FATHA, LION, FATS // BILLIE and BABE and HANS KNOPF, 1941

Those who have time, patience, eagerness, can find treasures on eBay: type in “jazz” and “entertainment memorabilia” or “music memorabilia” — as I did.  Here are two treasures, each with hints of mystery.  First.  I have no idea who “Kayo” is or was, what their gender, and so on.  A name or a nickname?  But Kayo got close to the deities for certain.  I’ve seen Earl Hines and Willie “the Lion” Smith autographs fairly plentifully, but not Bud Powell and certainly not Fats Navarro.  Of course the autographs do not have to be contemporaneous with each other, but Fats died in July 1950, which suggests a decade, as does the fountain pen.

Opening bid $100, for a very limited time: details here.

The second item is even more mysterious: we are told these photographs were taken by Hans Knopf of PIX —  of Billie Holiday with Babe Russin’s Orchestra at the Famous Door, 1941.  $1000 or best offer: details here.  The only thing I am deeply certain of is that Hans Knopf existed from 1907 to 1967.

and:

and what I presume is the back of the photograph (I believe that the smaller and larger images are the same thing — note the oddly empty room and the two or three people to the right) with notations that leave me skeptical:

Here is yet another photograph by Knopf, advertised as Billie, 1941, and the Famous Door.

Several thoughts.  Babe Russin appears on Billie’s sessions in May and June 1938, on August 1941 and February 1942, so their connection is plausible.  During those years, no “Babe Russin Orchestra” made commercial records, so there is little evidence to help us figure out the personnel in this photograph.  As for the photographs themselves, I see the same (or similar) cloth-backed chairs.  But the club, long and narrow, does not look anything like the Famous Door at which the Basie band appeared in 1938.  It does more closely resemble the Village Vanguard.

Was it Billie’s gig?  In 1941 she was a star, and was she appearing with Russin, but why would the band name be on the marquee?  Was Hans there one night when she sat in?

I hypothesize that the annotations on the back of the photograph may not be from 1941, that what was blacked out might be a clue, even if it was only “Property of PIX Photo” and that the emendation to “Famous Door” has more to do with another internet site — with the smaller photograph of Billie for sale — than any evidence by Knopf.  (That latter site, selling a “jumbo” photograph, is fascinating for one frosty line only, at the end: If you’re not satisfied this page or Billie Holiday At the Famous Door NY 1941. Jumbo Hans Knopf Pix Photo, you can leave now.
Thank you for visiting.)  

This just in . . . and no fooling, from a 2010 entry on a blog called “The Daily Growler,” Hans Knopf, though there’s not much personal info about him, in 1941 was a staff photographer for PIX. During those years his work was in publications all over the place. In later life, Hans became a sports photographer on the first Sports Illustrated staff, where he was from 1956 until 1964 when he died. Hans was celebrity famous when he married Amy Vanderbilt, called the Staten Island Vanderbilt. Hans and Amy lived life to the fullest!

Fine, you say.  But this blogpost has “the growlingwolf” tell of his adventures at an Allentown, Pennsylvania “paper show,” for collectors of paper ephemera, where he goes through a box of photographs and finds . . .

The first print I saw was of a black woman with a flower in her hair singing live with the Babe Russo Band, an all White band, at the Sherman House in Chicago. I knew she looked familiar–I turned it over and Hans had marked it “Billie Holiday at the Sherman House, 1941.” Holy shit. I dug deeper.

Now we know.  Of course it’s Babe Russin, and it’s the Sherman Hotel . . . but 2020 is going to be a very good year.  Mysteries, all delicious, and all allowing us glimpses of people and their relics we would never have seen otherwise.

May your happiness increase!

“REQUEST EXIT CHECK FROM WAITER BEFORE LEAVING”: MARCH 10, 1940

A valuable photograph.

Some lovely music from 1940 to begin:

and a studio recording from March 12 with the drums more prominently heard:

We might forget — eighty years later — just how popular Tommy Dorsey was.  And his popularity meant that he signed autographs frequently (more than Louis or Duke, I can’t say).

Here are two examples.  The first, within my budget.  The second, less so.

The first seller is asking 49.95 plus shipping or one can “make offer” here.

and what I assume is the other side of this page:

For this, the seller is asking $1295 — but one can “make offer” here.

I wonder what Lowell Martin, one of the gallant men in the Dorsey trombone section, thought about his brief moment of stardom.  Or what Tommy thought.

The other side:

Of course, on March 10, 1940, it was nothing unusual to have Tommy, Frank, Bunny, and Buddy in the same place.  From this distance it seems like deities caught having a picnic: beyond remarkable.  eBay, the world’s treasure chest in the dusty attic.

May your happiness increase!