Category Archives: Irreplaceable

A LETTER FROM RUBY TO JACK, APRIL [3?], 1987

A small surprise from eBay, where surprises flourish: here‘s the link.  The seller’s price is $175 and $12 shipping, The latter substantially more than the original postage.

Ruby Braff, at home on Cape Cod, c. 1995. Photograph by George Borgman.

It’s a letter from Ruby Braff, who left us in 2003, to Jack Bradley, his friend and sometime manager, and of course close friend of Louis Armstrong.

Louis and Jack.

The letter isn’t dated, but the envelope is postmarked April 4, 1987:

Dear Jack (Fuckey),

I’m looking forward & backward to our gig. As we draw closer I’ll get the name of everything—oh, by the way, you’ve got plenty time now to get cash for me that nite, if possible.

You know I’m down in Zinno’s every nite, all our cats are so happy I’m there that it’s like 1941. Everybody’s in to see me. Buck Clayton, Morey, everybody. Packed!!!

Bad news—I’m depressed we lost Buddy Rich tonite. I played anyway. What a drag!

Every nite is Cafe Society for me! Unbelievable. Wild!!

Anyway ding ding you 2.

Later

love

Ruby.

Written in pencil on Braff’s letterhead. Folding creases, some light smudging, overall fine with original envelope. 8.5 x 11 inches (21.5 x 28 cm).

and . . .

and . . . .

A few annotations.  Buddy Rich died on April 2, 1987.  “Ding ding!” was Vic Dickenson’s all-purpose salutation, celebration, toast.  Buck Clayton should need no annotation.  “Morey” cannot be drummer Morey Feld, who died in 1971.

As to “Fuckey,” one interprets as one wishes.

Here, because I can —  life is not all about objects for sale — is what remains of the Braff-Steinman correspondence, two 1971 letters from Ruby to me.  Although Ruby was subject to unpredictable outbursts of rage (I witnessed one) his letters are gentle, touching, kind, and I did nothing special to evoke this kindness.

And an appropriate song — Ruby in duet with Dick Hyman in that same 1987:

We were lucky — and beyond — to have Ruby with us for fifty years.  And his music has no expiration date.

Should you want to know more — more than you ever thought you could know — about Ruby and his times, this book is a delightful and wise mountain of information and stories, Thomas Hustad’s BORN TO PLAY.

May your happiness increase!

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POETS IN THEIR YOUTH (October 11, 1938)

Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us.  If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others.  But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect.  But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.

Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.

They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties.  (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)

I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen.  And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us.  The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes.  The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn.  And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic.  One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:

It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song.  And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.

But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo.  It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.

It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings.  Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.

May your happiness increase!

“AFTER YOU’VE GONE”: BEN COHEN’S HOT SEVEN at BUDE, 2000

Ben Cohen Hot 7 at Bude 1998, courtesy of Alex Revell. L-R: Nick Ward, Terry McGrath, Alex Revell, Mick Clift, Ben Cohen, Geoff Over, Jon Penn.

I came very late to this particular party, but happily the party still rocks on in cyberspace.  Let me explain.  The searing yet also lyrical cornet player, singer, and bandleader Ben Cohen moved to another neighborhood in 2002, when he was 73.  I didn’t take notice of his work until last year, when I heard him on a record featuring the late clarinetist Pierre Atlan, which also starred Humphrey Lyttelton — but one side of the disc was a 1987 session showcasing Ben, whose KNEE DROPS astonished me with its hot fluency and mastery.  I regret that I can’t share this music, but the record is on eBay, like so much else (including two CDs featuring Ben, posthumously).

I contented myself with playing the record many times, then browsing through my shelves, where I found him appearing with Jean Francois Bonnel and Wally Fawkes, among other luminaries.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that Ben had recorded widely from 1950 to 2000, a very long time to be in one’s prime.

And there the matter would have remained, were it not for the gracious fellow who calls himself JazzVideoMike on YouTube — the link will lead you to his channel, where you will find yourself enchanted.  In real life, he answers to Mike Stevens.

I asked Mike to tell me something of his involvement with Ben, and Mike graciously wrote:

Ben Cohen played in Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band for many years right up to his passing. The Magna played weekly and from about 1990 I went weekly and got to know Ben. I started videoing jazz when I went to the French Quarter Festival in 1995 and bought my first camcorder on Canal Street. I then started going to the Bude and Keswick UK jazz festivals and making videos whenever possible, which I have continued right up to now.

I met Ben at these festivals and found that his style of playing with his Hot 5 & 7 was much more to my taste than his style with the Magna band. His early Louis style playing caused quite a stir, and admiration from many musicians. After 2000 Ben suffered several strokes, but he refused to stop playing and it was a more serious stroke which eventually brought him down.

Ben was a lovely man and greatly admired by many. [Sarah Spencer, below, says that Kenny Davern loved Ben.]  Brian White still says he was the best trumpeter he ever had in his bands. Ben and Alex Revell were the front line along with Chris Barber in his amateur band before Chris made it a full time professional band. Ben was an engineer with his own business and remained a part time musician throughout his career. Alex was a also a noted engineer and designer, and they played together again in Ben’s Hot 5 & 7. Jon Penn was the pianist, and Nick Ward the drummer, both now at Whitley Bay every year.

And here is Mike’s splendid video (let us praise the man behind the camera!) of a ninety-minute plus live session at the Bude Jazz Festival:

Now for a rare treat – a new Ben Cohen Hot Five Seven concert never before published – Launched in 1993, Ben’s Hot Five caused an immediate sensation at the Bude festival that year, since when they have starred at major festivals all over the country. 1994 saw the launch of an even more exciting Hot Seven. Ben Cohen, hailed by Humphrey Lyttleton as today’s finest trumpeter in the “early Louis” style, leads Alex Revell (clarinet), Mick Clift (trombone), Jon Penn (piano), Geoff Over (banjo), and they are joined in the Hot Seven by Terry McGarth (sousaphone), and Nick Ward (drums) with special guest Norman Field (reeds).

Ben Cohen is one of the legendary backroom boys of British Traditional Jazz. He first came to notice in Chris Barber’s amateur band in 1950. He based his style on that of early Louis Armstrong and over the years developed a reputation as a powerful lead player in any band he was in. He stuck religiously to playing the cornet rather than the trumpet and was only ever semi-professional throughout his career. Ben was a popular figure on the UK Jazz scene and for many years led his Armstrong inspired Hot 5.

A brief guided tour: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (Ben, vocal); PAPA DIP; GULLY LOW BLUES (Ben, vocal); EAST COAST TROT (featuring Alex and Norman); NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (Alex, vocal); TAKE YOUR PICK (featuring   Geoff Over); an interlude where the band removed their jackets; MABEL’S DREAM; WEARY BLUES; SOME OF THESE DAYS (Ben, vocal); WILLIE THE WEEPER (Geoff Cole, vocal); I CAN’T SAY (Alex and Norman); ONCE IN A WHILE; ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ben, vocal); BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA (Alex, vocal); KNEE DROPS; AFTER YOU’VE GONE (closing theme).

The band is marvelous.  But I keep returning to Ben, who is — in the words of his friend and bandmate Sarah Spencer — “hot as heck.”

I am sorry that I never got to hear him in person, and — even more — tell him how much his music moves me.  But here is evidence of gorgeous nimble heat in the best Louis manner.  Thank you, Ben Cohen.

May your happiness increase!

DEEP FEELINGS, 1933-34

This song made a deep impact on me decades before I might have encountered the emotional situation it describes.  Perhaps it’s something about the intense but elliptical declaration of love: I am so deeply entranced by you that IF you decided to behave in opposition to those feelings I wouldn’t be able to “take it.”  “Baby.” By the way, singers could have a whole course of study focused on the ways each singer pronounces and phrases that meaningful word.

Here I present Thirties versions of this song (our friends Banu Gibson, Hanna Richardson, and Becky Kilgore have done more recent versions, as did Maxine Sullivan in Sweden, but that’s another blogpost; I’ve also skirted versions by Eddy Duchin, Frances Wayne, and a particularly raucous reading by Lionel Hampton from 1937).

I think you will hear why the song struck home, as well as understand my admiration for the singers and their particular approach to the material.  (And imagine a time when the jukebox would play new recordings by Jack Teagarden and Ethel Waters.  I know that had I been there, I would not be writing this blog, but still . . . . )  I also suspect that the connection between the Teagarden, Waters, Bullock recordings is the wonderfully omnipresent Victor Young, and that all the recordings use an arrangement by Arthur Schutt.

First, an unexpected pleasure — the Leo Reisman recording from December 28, 1933, with Thelma Nevins singing.  Years ago I would have scorned this as “just a dance-band record,” but it’s so pretty, and Miss Nevins does the song beautifully.  Google turns up no photographs of her, but she’s mentioned in an April 1939 Variety as a “svelte looker” and in a 1947 Billboard as singing at the Chateau in New York City, so she didn’t disappear, thankfully:

Now, the first of two 1933 versions for which I can offer personnel: Frank Guarente, Sterling Bose, trumpet; Jack Teagarden, trombone, vocal; Chester Hazlett, Jimmy Dorsey, clarinet, alto saxophone; Mutt Hayes, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Walter Edelstein, violin; Joe Meresco, piano; Perry Botkin, guitar;  Artie Bernstein, string bass; Larry Gomar, drums; Victor Young, director. New York, November 11, 1933.  Jack only sings; before this, on the session, he recorded two takes of A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY:

Jack takes it fairly briskly — one would think “matter-of-factly,” but listen to his variations on “Baby.”

Here’s Ethel Waters, accompanied by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Ethel Waters; Charlie Teagarden, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Jack Teagarden; Benny Goodman; Art Karle, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Dick McDonough,  guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, drums.  (Two takes were issued; only one shows up on YouTube.)  New York, November 27, 1933  (the session at which Billie Holiday recorded her first side — YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW, also written by Nichols and Hollner — with the same band.  Ethel went first, as befitting a Star, with two takes of HUNDRED and of BABY.  And please notice that although Victor Young saw Jack as vocalist only on his own date, he is memorable, as is Benny, in duet with Ethel as if two voices.)

Her reading, and I mean this as a compliment, is dramatic — a three-minute stage play, with deep feeling throughout.  Her enunciation, her phrasing, her wit and sorrow, are all unforgettable.  I know there was a massive and unsparing biography a few years ago, but where is the Ethel Waters celebration?  She was extraordinary:

Here are a few happy meanderings on the theme, first, a quick instrumental version from the “Bill Dodge” transcription session (circa February 10-28, 1934) featuring Benny Goodman and a nearly savage Bunny Berigan out front.  The collective personnel according to Tom Lord is Berigan, Manny Klein, Shirley Clay, trumpet; Joe Harris, Jack Jenney, or Larry Alpeter, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Hank Ross, Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; Arthur Schutt, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Gene Krupa, Sammy Weiss, or Stan King, drums:                      :

Finally, Chick Bullock and his Levee Loungers from December 12, 1933. He’s accompanied by Guarente, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Hazlett, Hayes, Edelstein, Moresco, Botkin, Bernstein, and Gomar.  I like Chick’s singing a great deal but no singer should have to follow Ethel:

In researching this post, I found a scholarly essay (scholarly in its digging, not in its stuffiness) about Alberta Nichols and Mann Hollner, who were married.  The writer, Molly Ruggles, is much more fascinated by UNTIL THE REAL THING COMES ALONG than this song, but the piece is well worth reading.

I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT BABY is the real thing for those who feel.

May your happiness increase!

SIDNEY, THREE WAYS (with LOUIS and ARVELL)

Care for a hot eBay link?

 

 

This photograph was on sale a day ago — its price varied from $809 to — but it may have been sold.  Here’s what the seller said:

Louis Armstrong & Sidney Catlett “Big Sid” Signed 8 x 10 Photo RCA Building

This Autographed Signed Press Photo is and Estate Find.

This Press Photo has printing that reads,

SIDNEY CATLETT — LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S
Sensational Drummer Getting off a Few
Hot Licks with “SATCHMO” Himself

Direction
JOE GLASER
R C A Building 30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York N.Y.

It is signed, (in green ink)

To My ‘Pluto Pal”
To Lou Gottlieb
Louis Armstrong

In blue, possibly black ink, it is also signed,

My boy, Who is this guy, Milton Berle. Big Sid

and this is the rear.  I don’t know if this date refers to when the photo was acquired or when it was signed, and perhaps the two signatures were done at different times.

 

The seller adds:

I, personally, found it in my mother’s garage. She lived in El Cerrito, California.

For reference LOU GOTTLIEB, was a member of the music trio, The Limeliters, lived in El Cerrito, and was a Huge Fan of Louis Armstrong which is why he had the signed photo. My mother received a folder of some of Gottlieb’s papers in which this photo was included.

“Pluto Pal” does not refer to the Disney character or to astronomy, but rather to Louis’ pharmaceutical pleasure in “Pluto Water.”  You could look it up.  Perhaps Lou Gottlieb had learned the secret to health from Louis.  What the Milton Berle connection is might remain a mystery.

And here’s another treasure:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I no longer have the details on the second page — clearly from an autograph book — but the seller wrote that it was from 1949 in New York City, when Arvell and Sidney were a propulsive team in Louis’ All-Stars.

And one of the finest jazz recordings ever: STEAK FACE (dedicated to Louis’ Boston Terrier, “General,” but also a medium blues to show off Sidney amidst Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Dick Cary, and Arvell Shaw) from the 1947 concert at Symphony Hall:

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS SONNY STITT, WILLIE COOK, and LEE KONITZ (July 6, 2018)

More affectionate sharply focused tales from my favorite Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern — recorded at his Upper West Side apartment last summer.

Here’s the first part of Dan’s recollections of Sonny Stitt, which include an ashtray and a bottle of vodka, not at the same time or place:

More about Sonny and the wonderful trumpeter / arranger Willie Cook:

In these interviews, I’ve concentrated primarily on the figures who have moved on to other neighborhoods, but Dan and I both wanted to shine a light on the remarkable Lee Konitz:

More to come, including Dan’s recollections of a trio of wondrous pianists, Martial Solal, Eddie Costa, and Willie “the Lion” Smith.  And Dan and I had another very rewarding session three days ago . . . with more to come this spring.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, MEMORY! ” MARC CAPARONE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, STEVE PIKAL, BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS at MONTEREY (March 1, 2019)

 

The star dust of a song.

Great artists know that passion without control is nothing.  Together, they scrape the clouds.

Here are Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto; Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, recorded live at the Jazz Bash by the Bay on March 2, 2019, playing Hoagy Carmichael’s STAR DUST:

Hearing that performance, one can talk or think of Bunny Berigan, Louis Armstrong, Artie Shaw, and many others.  But for once, let us celebrate  Caparone, Zimmerman, Pikal, Holland, Coots: people who understand how difficult it is to create Beauty and then do it, in front of our eyes, time after time. Those moments when the dancer and the dance are one: so rare, so compelling.

May your happiness increase!