Category Archives: Irreplaceable

YOU CAN CURE YOUR ILLS

What do artists do?  Some show us the world as it is.  Others help us dream of what it might be.  I put the Russian refugee Israel Baline — Irving Berlin to you — in the second group.  His songs often depict a world where love and joy are possible, even inevitable.

He wrote of “a land that’s free for you and me.”  Of course, another immigrant. And a Jew. If he came here today, would he be welcomed?

He understood that humans need music and words, beautifully allied, to get closer to joy for ourselves and to offer it to others.

Doctor Berlin prescribed this in 1928, and it is still good advice: regular doses of spiritual phototropism.

sunshine-irving-berlin-rare-antique-original-sheet

Nick Lucas, vocal and guitar:

 

Whispering Jack Smith’s subversively swinging version:

And something much more recent, from Tal Ronen’s Holy Moly at Smalls, December 24, 2015, with Tamar Korn, Tal, Steve Little, Rossano Sportiello, Jon-Erik Kellso, Jay Rattman:

Everything that grows, and that includes people in front of their computers, needs sunshine to thrive, something more than Vitamin D: we need sunshine in our souls.  I offer Berlin’s music and these three bright performances as bright rays streaming through the window.

Nourish your own soul in the sunshine, but don’t block anyone’s else’s view.

May your happiness increase!

BECKY, BUCKY, BEAUTY (2014, 2012)

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Beauty is so rare, so precious.  And it isn’t arrived at easily.  But it is one of the ways in which we can save ourselves, especially if we understand that in its deep center, it is love in action: the love of the music that leads an artist to spend a lifetime in creating it.  And that love is sent to us.  We all need it, as a salve for the wounds the world’s rough edges would inflict on us.

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Here are two performances of the same touching song, TRES PALABRAS, performed at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party (a duet between Becky and Bucky) and three years earlier (Bucky’s solo).

Beauty never goes to waste.

Maybe these will help.  And if you hiss, “There goes Michael again, one of those people who talk so much about love and beauty,” I accept it as a compliment.

May your happiness increase!

SEVENTY YEARS AGO, EVERYONE WAS VERY YOUNG: BOB WILBER, DICK WELLSTOOD, WILDCATS AND FRIENDS

Let’s begin with some good sounds:

And some explanation, from New York City, 1947:

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This post (like so many others) is the result of others’ kindness: in this case, the still-swinging clarinetist Bob Sparkman, who at 88, is “still playing and listening.” Some months ago, Bob sent me this note: Thought maybe you’d be interested in four old photos of Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood recently sent to me by a local fan, taken, probably, in 1945 or 46, at a place called The Hanger, in either Springfield or Westfield, Mass.

I certainly was interested, but this post had to wait until I had a functioning scanner: what better way to inaugurate it than with rare jazz photographs I could share with you?

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Dick Wellstood for sure.

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More sounds, from February 1947:

and it’s only fitting to conclude the musical segment with a DREAM:

If you can identify any of the musicians in the photographs, I will be happy to add the information.  If your contribution to the post is twofold: one, to listen to the recordings and smile; two, to be thankful for Bob Wilber and all he has given us, those two things will more than suffice.  Bob and his beloved wife, Pug Horton, are still trucking along in their home in England, and we salute them.

A postscript, or THIS JUST IN.  Chris Tyle, indefatigable and many-talented, sent me cleared-up versions of the four photographs above — out of pure generosity.  Here they are.

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May your happiness increase!

TIMELESS SWING ON CONTI STREET: LARRY SCALA / KRIS TOKARSKI TRIO featuring JAMES SINGLETON (January 12, 2017)

Larry Scala, January 2017, New Orleans. Courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.

Larry Scala, January 2017, New Orleans. Courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.

The title is all you need to know, or almost.  Jazz in New Orleans (or “New Orleans jazz”) is widely and wildly diversified, with many savory tastes . . . but what follows is some of the best, of a kind you don’t always  hear — smooth, lyrical, rocking small-band swing that draws from Fifties Basie as well as the great standards.  The heroes are the deeply melodic guitarist Larry Scala, his equally lyrical comrades, pianist Kris Tokarski and string bassist James Singleton.  These four performances come from a wonderful session held at The Bombay Club in the Prince Conti Hotel on Conti Street on January 12, 2017, underthe benevolent guidance of Mr. Scala.

First, a very rewarding warmup on I CAN’T GET STARTED — music for expandable duo.  I have a very sweet feeling about the music made before the gig officially starts, but very rarely is it as poised and satisfying as this:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU:

And a Basie classic in miniature!  BLUES IN HOSS FLAT:

I celebrate the absence of cliche in people’s solos, the easy friendly interplay, and the irresistible rocking motion.  You’re free to say what and whom “it sounds like,” but often I was reminded of an imaginary Herb Ellis session — but it was taking place in front of my own two looking eyes, which is a great and remarkable thing.  Thank you, Messrs. Scala, Tokarski, and Singleton, for making an evening in New Orleans both subtle and completely memorable, with nary a parasol in sight.

May your happiness increase!

“TO BE SWEETLY RECLINING”

Urged on by a historical impulse I don’t quite understand, I put on the proper clothing and ventured deep into the archives of YouTube to see one or two of my earliest videos of fine jazz I had created.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

A place where one could sweetly recline, alone or in duo.

I came up with this: recorded at Banjo Jim’s (defunct) with a lesser camera (defunct) on November 10, 2008.  The band is Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective, whose musicians are not at all defunct: Kevin Dorn, drums; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone and vocal; Michael Hashim, reeds; Charlie Caranicas, cornet; Jesse Gelber, piano. And led by Walter, they remind us that ROSE ROOM was once a swoony lullaby rather than a Forties romp:

Now I have a better camera and a wide-angle lens.  No doubt the gentleman sitting right in the middle of my viewfinder will come around on my next video gig, but you get used to him.  And Kevin and friends continue to enrich our lives. The video has its cinematic limitations, but its soul is huge.  Blessings on all the fellows herein.  And Art Hickman too.

May your happiness increase!

“ALOHA.”

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RICH CONATY 1954-2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

SEISMIC MOTION, or “WAIL, FELLOWS, WAIL!”: DAVE STUCKEY, DAN BARRETT, NATE KETNER, COREY GEMME, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, GARETH PRICE at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2016)

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Without trying to copy a note or a cadence, Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang can take me back into the imagined past.  It’s not adoration that becomes cloning: at times he and the band resemble Fats Waller and his Rhythm or a Red McKenzie group, but they all sound like themselves: playful, joyously tumbling around — musically, that is. And Dave’s originals have a friendly kinship with the best music of the middle Thirties, so I could imagine some of them having been issued, in an alternate jazz universe, on Vocalion, Decca, Bluebird, and Brunswick.  But they’re here — glowing right in front of us — in this case at the Saturday-night dance party at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 26, 2016. I’d posted the first tune I’d heard, a rollicking SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, here — and I urge you to see it or see it again, because it is a Hoot and a Holler with serious Commodore roots for certain.

But after that, I moved up to a more stable position (on one side, of course, but the side where I could in effect look over Carl’s shoulder, always a nice spot) and I stayed there.  Dave offered three of his originals, all gratifying.  And the Hot House Gang certainly lived up to its name: Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, brass; Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Dave, guitar, vocal; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums.

MAYBE IT’S THE BLUES:

Dave’s Egyptian serenade, THE POTENTATE OF HARLEM:

PARDON MY FRENCH (an expression that my mother used to use before saying something naughty):

Those are really good tunes, aren’t they?  They are complete expressions, words and music — not just scraps pasted together with Gorilla Glue and hope.

Here’s a homage to Wingy Manone in his Capitol Period, BESAME MUCHO:

and the jazz classic I associate with Louis and Lillie Delk Christian, TOO BUSY:

Never too busy to swing!  And the banquet’s not over: three delicious vocals from this set by Dawn Lambeth, bluesy, hot, and tender, will follow shortly.

Incidentally, it is possible that Dave and the Gang possess too much talent, but until the authorities find out, we’ll enjoy the superfluity.

May your happiness increase!