Category Archives: Irreplaceable

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Three): Words by EDWARD MEYER. Music by KENNY DAVERN, WALLACE DAVENPORT, FREDDY LONZO, ORANGE KELLIN, OLIVIA COOK, FRANK FIELDS, FREDDIE KOHLMAN (Nice Jazz Festival, June 10, 1978)


Edward Meyer has written the definitive biography of Dick Wellstood, GIANT STRIDES: THE LEGACY OF DICK WELLSTOOD (1999), and an even more extensive book on Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF KENNY DAVERN (2010), both published by Scarecrow Press.

When it came to his friends, Kenny Davern was a generous man who loved to share the things that gave him pleasure.  One Sunday afternoon, I had driven down to Manasquan to talk with Kenny about the Wellstood book. Elsa was away and he wasn’t working that evening, so he wasn’t pressed for time. After we finished talking about Dick, we went out for pizza, after which we went back to his house.

He  was in a talkative mood that night and we schmoozed about a number of things and people – not many of whom were connected with jazz. Several hours passed. I had to get up and go to work the next day and was facing a 60+ mile drive back to my apartment in Manhattan in Sunday night traffic. But,  just when I was ready to leave. the conversation turned to Wilhelm Furtwängler, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. Kenny passionately believed that Furtwangler had never gotten the recognition due him and that he was far better at getting the best out of the musicians in his orchestra than Arturo Toscanini. who led the NBC Symphony. I had no views on the subject – mainly because I knew little about classical music and even less about the skills of either man – but that only spurred Kenny into his role as teacher.

He left the room and came back with two recordings of the same piece – one by Furtwangler and the other by Toscanini. “Listen to this,” he said, and played about five minutes of the Furtwangler recording. “Do you hear how Furtwangler brings out the individual sound of each horn? Now listen to this.” And he played about five minutes of the Toscanini recording.  “Do you hear the difference?” Fool that I was, I said that I couldn’t really tell.

That was clearly the wrong answer because we went through the exercise again. By this time, it was about 10:00 p.m., and  although I was no better informed at the end of the second round of recordings than I had been before, when Kenny asked if I could tell the difference, I nodded my head vigorously. And, before the demonstration could progress any further, I stood up and said that it was time for me to go home. And I left.

I saw him about a week later and as soon as he had a free moment he came over and gave me a short handwritten list on which he had jotted down the titles and numbers of a few Furtwangler CDs. He thought that I might like them.

Years later, I learned that my experience was not unique. If one of his friends liked something that Kenny had, Kenny would make, or buy, a copy of for him, or lend it to him, or tell him where and how to get one for himself. This didn’t jibe with Kenny’s public image: but then, very little did.

The musical portion of this remembrance was created at the Grande Parade du Jazz, June 10, 1978, in a program called “JAZZ CLASSIQUE,” featuring Wallace Davenport, trumpet; Freddy Lonzo, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Olivia Cook, piano; Frank Fields, string bass; Freddie Kohlman, drums — with Kenny joining them for the last two songs, BLUES and CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.

I asked Orange if I could post this video and he graciously wrote, The memories came flooding back. I played a lot with Wallace’s bands in those years and we were on the George Wein festival circuit frequently. We got to play with all sorts of guest stars and Kenny was one of those. This was our first time meeting. I don’t think he knew of me, but I was very well aware of him and very impressed by his playing. I was nobody and apprehensive, to say the least, to play with the clarinet star. Kenny sounded fantastic.

He always did. Kenny performed and recorded for more than fifty years. It doesn’t seem enough. We miss him.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR KINDS OF RADIANCE: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN at CAFE BOHEMIA (January 16, 2020)

Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.

Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.

But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.

The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.

I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.

Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:

I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.

To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:

Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .

May your happiness increase!

“GOOD OLD GOOD ONES” at MANASSAS: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, PEE WEE ERWIN, LARRY EANET, SPENCER CLARK, BUTCH HALL, PAUL LANGOSCH, BARRETT DEEMS (February 6, 1980)

Leopold Stokowski said, “There is no exhausted repertoire. There are only exhausted musicians.”

It applies to the session you are about to indulge in, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy Butterfield and Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Larry Eanet, piano; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Butch Hall, guitar; Paul Langosch, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums. The songs are familiar: INDIANA / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / JADA / an excerpt from I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE / SALT PEANUTS jocularly leading into I FOUND A NEW BABY: twenty-six minutes of expert joy-making. None of the players would have said, “For goodness’ sake, I’ve played INDIANA too many times. Could we take out charts for an obscure Cole Porter tune, instead?” No, they enjoyed the freedom of familiar repertoire, which was in itself comforting and giving them freedom to take chances . . . while pleasing an audience that was both comforted and excited by the familiar. So everyone was happy, and I hope that happiness of forty years ago is vividly transferred to you all in 2021:

Of the brilliant incendiaries above, Billy Pee Wee, Larry, Spencer, Butch, and Barrett have moved to other neighborhoods. I am happy to report that bassist Paul Langosch (who’s also played with Tony Bennett) is very much alive and well, and giving a presentation on April 28: details here.

The fellow I do want to commemorate is trumpeter / archivist / all-around gentleman Joe Shepherd, who left us this month. I don’t know details, except that Joe was over ninety, and more generous than I could imagine. I encountered him some years ago because of the one-song magical videos he had offered on his YouTube channel, “Sflair,” videos that featured Vic Dickenson, Don Ewell, and others. I wrote to him and he made me parcel after parcel of DVD transfers, most of which you have seen on JAZZ LIVES. And until very recently, he was practicing the horn at home. A true hero, and not just because of the parcels: when I asked him what I could do in return, his answer was always that he was so happy people were enjoying the music. A resonant gentle kindness I won’t forget, nor will anyone who knew him.

May your happiness increase!

LEE KONITZ, LOCKJAW DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice 7.9.78) — a second take.

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties, especially when they leap right past SNAFU to become totally FUBAR.

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“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Five) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Speaking of “something to look forward to,” did you know that Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside The Ear Inn on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30? Of course you knew.

It’s premature to play this, but I don’t care. And any excuse to feature Bobby Hackett, Ernie Caceres, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, and Sidney Catlett has to be seized:

And here are some “old times” that are forever new, from January 16, 2011. provided generously by Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Mark Lopeman, Neal Miner, and friends Pete Martinez, Chris Flory, Tamar Korn, and Jerron Paxton.

Chris sits in for Matt on that most durable of philosophical statements, I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

Tamar sings of love — surrender and power — in BODY AND SOUL:

Jerron Paxton tells us what will happen SOME OF THESE DAYS:

Tamar sings a faster-than-usual WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

May your happiness increase!

OUR LUCKY STARS: LEIGH BARKER BAND, “MELBOURNE” and “PARIS”

ROSIE’S CHAIR NEAR THE WINDOW, by Megan Grant

Brace yourself, dear people. I have some more lovely music to share with you: expert, swinging, full of feeling.

Dee-lightful. And . . .

The wonderfully inventive Leigh Barker has created two discs — available here — joyous documents of his journey, with friends, from Melbourne to Paris. You might know Leigh from his all-too-brief visits to the US as part of the Hot Jazz Alliance and with Josh Duffee’s Goldkette-Orchestra trip to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but he is known and admired worldwide for his elegant, gutty string bass playing and imaginative bands.

More about that shortly, but here’s some music — complete versions of the two video-montage presentations above: YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR and LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN.

That effervescent music says “Take me along: we’re going to go unfamiliar places full of familiar joys and comforts.”

Details, you say?

For MELBOURNE, the inspired perpetrators:

Leigh Barker – Double Bass
Heather Stewart – Violin and voice
Donald Stewart – Trombone
Ben Harrison – Trumpet / Cornet
Jason Downes – Clarinet and Alto Saxophone
John Scurry – Guitar and Banjo
Matt Boden – Piano
Sam Young – Drums
SPECIAL GUEST: Brennan Hamilton-Smith on clarinet track 4 and 9

performing: LONELY ONE IN THIS TOWN / WOLVERINE BLUES / GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON / SAY IT ISN’T SO / THE PEARLS / THE STEVEDORE STOMP / PLAY THE BLUES AND GO / WHAT’S THE USE OF LIVING WITHOUT LOVE? / CHINATOWN, MY CHINATOWN.

for PARIS, les amis:

Leigh Barker – Contrebasse
Heather Stewart – Chant et Violon
Bastien Brison – Piano
David Grebil – Batterie
Romain Vuillemin – Guitare et Banjo
Bastien Weeger – Clarinette et Saxophone Alto
Noe Codjia – Trompette
Gilles Repond-Quint – Trombone

performing YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / VARIATIONS ON A NORK / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / THE SONG IS ENDED / INDIAN SUMMER.

and some words from Leigh:

IT”S HIGHLY recommended to listen to this album with the tracks in order! It segues like a real set in a club.

These two albums come at the end of a very long period of gestation, starting in May 2018 in Melbourne Australia, and finishing at the very end of 2020, which as every single person on the planet earth knows has been marked by a historic pandemic. I was already procrastinating about releasing the ‘Melbourne’ session, and had been putting very little effort in to booking shows under my own name in Europe (Thanks to Gordon Webster, Duved Dunayevsky, Tatiana Eva Marie and everyone else for keeping me on the road…) However, a 4 week tour of Australia was booked for November and December 2020 (hah!) and I knew this was the moment to release a new album and CD, to take on the road with the ‘Australian Band’. As I sit here writing these notes on Sunday December 27th 2020, it is still more or less impossible to enter Australia from Europe, even if all the events and venues were able to put on our shows as envisaged (which they’re not!…)

The Paris session was miraculously put together in November 2019 between touring dates, we got together all in one room together for 2 days, around one single microphone – the french-made Melodium 42B. This was not for any particular reasons of purity or authenticity, just because Simon Oriot convinced me to give it a shot, and ‘that way there is no mixing to do’ as he put it…

The Melbourne session on the other hand was edited and mixed all over the planet. I remember selecting takes, editing, making several attempts at mixing and gradually pulling together the shape of the album in places such as Saint Cyr-la-Rosiere and Champagne-sur-Seine in France, Hildesheim in Germany, the suburbs of Paris, on tour in Stockholm, Budapest, London and Cambridge – and during two separate visits to Australia in 2019 and 2020, in a supermarket parking lot in Moruya, NSW or in the car on the Clyde Mountain between Mossy Point (…if you know, you know…) and the capital Canberra where Hi Hat Studios is located. I also remember making several attempts with several engineers, sometimes remotely, sometimes in person, with an infected cancerous leg wound, on holiday, in airports…. and of course in the end drawn out over several months in total isolation due to a global pandemic….

This year has asked too many questions of musicians, from the very practical to the most existential. In the end we are all driven by the compulsion to CREATE, something, anything, and it’s almost always better when you can share it with other people….

TWILIGHT CAMPSITE, by Megan Grant

Maybe after all that, more words from me will be superfluous. But you’ll notice the “traditional” repertoire — which will reassure some (perhaps alienate others?) but it is not treated with finicky reverence. Oh, Leigh and Heather and the band do the damnedest encapsulation of Louis and the 1935 Luis Russell band on LUCKY STAR — but their approach is not that of severely protective rare-book curators, insisting that anything short of monastic worship is sacrilege. There’s a good deal of stretching within the revered outlines, a good deal of affectionate disrespect that turns out to be the highest adoration, because they remember that the innovators we prize so highly were themselves in favor of innovation. And these musicians practice what they preach, so their music is honest always, raw when it feels like it, dainty otherwise, and breathing all the time.

These recordings are magnificent. And unruly. And alive.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

HOT NOTES TO YOU: JOE VENUTI’S BLUE FOUR at CARNEGIE HALL (Friday, June 27, 1975)

I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve.  Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power.  The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.

But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad  hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone.  Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece.  Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter.  The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:

The captured butterfly, still alive today.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

VJM Banner 2020

“DO WHAT YOU CAN, WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, WHERE YOU ARE,” or GEORGE BARNES TEACHES PERSEVERANCE (BENNY CARTER, JOE VENUTI, MICHAEL MOORE, Nice, July 22, 1975).

The quotation is attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, who might not have expected it to emerge in this context, but it fits perfectly. And since “T.R.” lived until 919, he could have heard the ODJB, being an adventurous soul.

The text for the sermon is the lovely DEEP PURPLE, by Peter Du Rose and Mitchell Parish.

On the evening of July 22, 1975, an eminent chamber jazz group took the stand at the Grande Parade du Jazz, introduced by Dick Sudhalter: Michael Moore, string bass; Joe Venuti, violin; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; George Barnes, guitar.

I didn’t write “electric guitar,” the instrument Barnes played magnificently. No, something undefined and mysterious had happened to his amplifier, I am assuming, just before the set, and his volume was very low, making those electrifying single-string lines full of percussive notes impossible or at best unrealistic.

But what do you do if you’re George Barnes, a professional for forty years? You follow Teddy Roosevelt’s motto, or, in less formal terms, you “keep on keepin’ on,” and you play. As he did, quietly but splendidly, laying down chordal patterns, keeping the rhythm on track — both Venuti and Moore were strong-willed players who wanted the pulse to go their way, and Joe was ready to play over everyone, everywhere. (I wish George had plugged into Joe’s amplifier and disconnected the cable to that raspy violin, but not all my dreams come true.)

But the group held together — all credit to George’s steadiness and Benny Carter’s elegant reserve — “the King” was not to be pushed around.

Here’s to steadfast souls who “stay the course.”

May your happiness increase!

“WHEN SHADOWS FALL”: BENT PERSSON, MICHEL BASTIDE, and the HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND (Akersunds, 2010)

In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.”  It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others.  I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering.  I am home.  I was home.  But not really.  Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some.  In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.

So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME.  (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.) 

But HOME. 

And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded.  The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature.  I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.

HOME cover

But for me it all comes back to Louis.  I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version.  Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time.  Good tears, rich ones:

We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.

Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.  

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.


I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.
I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.
When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.

Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.

Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

ART UNDER ATTACK: RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL JAM SESSION featuring GENE KRUPA, ROY ELDRIDGE, BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, BENNY CARTER, RED NORVO, BUD FREEMAN, TEDDY WILSON, JIM HALL, LARRY RIDLEY (July 3, 1972)

There is a good deal of history within and around the live performance you are about to hear. However, the sound is not ideal — which I will explain — so sonically-delicate listeners may want to come back tomorrow.

It might be difficult for younger readers to imagine the excitement that I and my jazz friends greeted the Newport Jazz Festival in New York in 1972. It was the Arabian Nights — a cornucopia of concerts where we could see and hear musicians who, for the most part, had been sounds coming out of a cloth-covered speaker grille or posed on the cover of a long-playing record. My friends and I, specifically Stu Zimny, bought tickets to the concerts we could afford — we were college students — and I brought my cassette recorder with the more exotic Shure microphone attached. I don’t remember the ticket prices at Radio City Music Hall, but for people of our class, it was general seating which required climbing flights of stairs. I looked it up today and the hall seats just over 6000.

I think we might have scored seats in the front of the highest mezzanine. Our neighbors were two exuberant women from Texas, younger than I am now, understandably ready for a good time. They’d brought Scotch, offered us some, which we declined, and they politely declined our offer of Cadbury chocolate. I kept silent because I had a cassette recorder in my lap; the Texas contingent gave out with appropriate exultations. The audience in general was excited and excitable, although they paid attention to the solos. (One of the women, commenting on the applause, can be heard to say, “You like something, you tell ’em about it,” and who would disagree?)

The players were a constellation of heroes: Gene Krupa, drums; Larry Ridley, string bass; Teddy WIlson, piano; Jim Hall, guitar; Red Norvo, vibraphone; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Roy Eldridge, trumpet.

The first set offered four long songs, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID were the closing pair, with Gene, whose health was not good, playing only those two, taking over for the younger Bobby Rosengarden. (Gene would die fifteen months later.) There is some distortion; my microphone was not ready for 6000 people; the engineers seemed only partially aware of how acoustic instruments might sound in such a huge hall. The ensembles are not always clear, and the applause can drown out part of a solo, although this excitable audience is tame when compared to some recorded at JATP concerts. Even in substandard sound, the music comes through, the individual voices of the soloists, and their pleasure at being on this stage together. Our pleasure you will have to imagine, but it was substantial then, perhaps more so now.

Consider for yourself, with or without Scotch or chocolate:

The Festival concerts were reviewed regularly in the New York Times. Here are the opening paragraphs of Don Heckman’s review, “MIDNIGHT JAM SESSION AT MUSIC HALL,” in the New York Times, July 5, 1972:


The jam session, that most venerable of institutions, is still at the very heart of the jazz experience. Rare though it may be in these days of musical eclecticism, it continues to be a kind of proving ground for musicians, in which they can test and measure themselves against their contemporaries.

The Newport Jazz Festival had the first of two scheduled Midnight Jam Sessions at Radio City Music Hall Monday at midnight. The first group of the session, a mainstream‐oriented ensemble, included Bud Freeman, Gene Krupa, Bobby Rosengarden, Jim Hall, Larry Ridley, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson and Bobby Hackett. They bounced happily through a passel of swing standards, with Carter, Eldridge and Freeman sounding particularly energetic.

Then the old gladiator of the swing drums, Gene Krupa, was announced and the proceedings went rapidly down hill. Krupa dashed buoyantly on stage and proceeded to hammer away in a style that would have been more appropriate for a Blaze Starr strip show than for the backing of some of the finest jazz players in the world. Yet his reputation and his flair for showmanship sustained him, and every tasteless clang of the cymbal was met with shouts of approval from the overflow audience.

I know Mr. Heckman (born 1932) is widely-published, has a musical background, and is well-respected. Several of my readers may know him; others may find nothing extraordinary in his prose. After all, “Aren’t we all entitled to our opinions, Michael?” But I am amazed at what he heard — balanced against what readers in 2021 can hear even on my murky tape — and by his positioning himself above the artists and above the audience. His three sentences read as contempt for Krupa — a hammering gladiator who would have been more appropriate playing for a stripper — and for an audience too foolish to know, as did Mr. Heckman, that they should have sat silent in disapproval.

That kind of self-aggrandizing disapproval makes good copy, but it is to me a repellent attitude towards the art one is supposed to depict and evaluate. I know that if I had been able to ask Gene his reaction, he might have sighed and said, “Chappie, these fellows do it to sell papers. I don’t take them seriously,” and he told Harriet Choice that the wild applause was because the young audience perceived him as an icon of marijuana culture — which I think says more about his deep modesty than anything else.

At this late date, I am offended by Heckman’s paragraph, for the sake of this holy art. Sneering is not art criticism.

It was and is a blessing to be in the same room with these players.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Three) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I don’t know what the headlines for Sunday, January 2, 2011, were — I would guess the usual mix of celebration and catastrophe. But if you were to measure global achievements and happiness by what happened at The Ear Inn that night, it stands as a milestone in Western Civilization. If you think I exaggerate, I suggest you sit back, watch and listen to the collective joys created by the EarRegulars and their best friends. Collectively, they are Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Tobias, Bria Skonberg (trumpets); John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin (trombones); Pete Martinez, Dan Block (clarinets); Lisa Parrott (alto sax); Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden (guitars); Nicki Parrott (bass); Chuck Redd (wire brushes). Ecstasy at The Ear! Here, in honor of Bix Beiderbecke and the Chicagoans:

Nothing foolish here, especially the rueful sentiments of this 1936 ballad:

First, it belonged to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band — it’s still stirring us more than a hundred years later:

There’s still more from this glorious nighttime explosion of hot music and community — we hope a harbinger of things to come. Their joyous welcome to 2011 still rings true a decade later.

And just in case someone might think I am ignoring Easter Sunday, may I respectfully submit this aural bouquet:

May your happiness increase!

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EASTER SERENADES, NOW (April 4, 2021) and THEN (1944-45)

I offer the keys to an Easter Sunday compact outdoor jazz festival in New York City — like water for people who have been parched by deprivation far too long — and Easter celebrations of the hallowed past. Yes, JAZZ LIVES is your full-service Easter jazz blog. Did you doubt it?

The good news for Sunday, April 4, 2021, for those people within easy reach of Manhattan, is that what Jay Rattman modestly calls “the little gig at the church” is going to happen. Hark! It’s 2-3 on Sunday in front of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 81 Christopher Street. (Take the #1 subway if you are so inclined.) Danny Tobias on trumpet, Jay on soprano saxophone assuming it’s a little too chilly for clarinet, Josh Holcomb on trombone, James Chirillo on banjo, and Brian Nalepka on tuba. I won’t be there with a video camera . . . other commitments . . . . so you have to make the scene yourself. And that, as E.B. White’s Charlotte says, is SOME BAND.

Here’s music to get in the mood, no matter what your Sunday plans are.

Eddie, Phyllis, and their daughters Liza and Maggie in Washington Square, New York

The live performances below combine all sorts of pleasures: Irving Berlin, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Pee Wee Russell, Gene Krupa, George Wettling, Sidney Catlett, and more. Eddie liked the song — he loved American pop music of the highest order — as you can hear, he didn’t save it for the one spring Sunday.

I have another EASTER PARADE that didn’t get shared with the troops, but that will appear as part of a Condon concert that only a handful of people have ever heard. Watch this space.

Back to the issued music: if it needs to be pointed out, these performances stand alongside the more-heralded jazz recordings of the time, the small-group sides of the middle Forties, for delight, ingenuity, swing, and feeling. Let no one characterize Eddie and his friends’ music as “Dixieland”; let no one stereotype it as too-fast renditions of traditional warhorses. There’s elegance and lyricism here, exploration of the subtle variations possible within medium and medium-fast tempos. I think those truths need to be said repeatedly, to re-establish a proper hierarchy of great jazz performances.

Bobby Hackett, Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell, Edmond Hall (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Gene Krupa (d). Town Hall, New York, Sept. 23, 1944:

Max Kaminsky (tp) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (cl,bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Bob Casey (b) Joe Grauso (d). November 11, 1944:

Billy Butterfield (tp) Lou McGarity (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar,cl) Gene Schroeder (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Sid Weiss (b) Sidney Catlett (d). March 31, 1945:

Max Kaminsky (tp) Miff Mole (tb) Pee Wee Russell (cl) Ernie Caceres (bar) Jess Stacy (p) Eddie Condon (g,mc) Jack Lesberg (b) George Wettling (d). Audition for a Chesterfield cigarette-sponsored radio program, Spring 1945:

People who celebrate Easter as the most serious Christian ritual may do it in their own way; perhaps some families will still get together for closeness and food; some will just take the occasion to get dressed up or to watch others, so spiffy in their spring finery. Wise types who understand the importance of pleasure will get themselves down to 81 Christopher Street between 2 and 3 on Sunday. Heretics like myself may entertain themselves by thinking that chocolate bunnies will be half-price on Monday.

May your happiness increase!

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BEFORE YOU BOOK THAT THERAPY APPOINTMENT, LISTEN TO THIS:

Leo Cullum’s cartoon gets it, even for those who aren’t canine.

I’m sure your insurance plan has Doctors WIllie “the Lion” Smith, Frank Newton, Buster Bailey, Pete Brown, Jimmy McLin, John Kirby, and O’Neil Spencer as participating providers. Their theraputic model was based in a text written on July 14, 1937, by Doctors Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. Here’s the mission statement of this medical group. (First the label; the music is below this photograph.)

Sammy Cahn doesn’t mention this song in his autobiography, but I wonder if it was his whimsical response to some self-help book popular at the time, perhaps Napoleon Hill’s THINK AND GROW RICH, surely one of the most enticing book titles ever. But Cahn’s lyrics are good homespun advice; Chaplin’s melody is simple and thus memorable, and the singing of O’Neil Spencer, and the solos — this is, for me, an irreplaceable recording. See if it doesn’t stick with you, also:

A little four-chorus masterpiece, full of individualistic voices and great ensemble unity. It’s not as well-known, but it’s surely the equal of the more-heralded Billie Holiday and Fats Waller recordings of the time. And it contains truths. “Take personal inventory” is advice that never ages. Sing it, play it, live by it.

May your happiness increase!

MUSICAL SOUVENIRS FROM THEIR TRIP TO EASTBOURNE, UK: BILLY BUTTERFIELD and DICK WELLSTOOD in CONCERT (October 1986)

Here is a lengthy and rewarding concert performance — piano solos, trumpet and piano duos — by two of the great explorers of jazz, two exuberant risk-takers whose work, singly and together, has a glowing playful intensity. Listening to Billy and Dick once again, I’m struck by their energetic unpredictability . . . I’ve heard them in many contexts over several decades, and I still can’t predict with certainty what the next phrase will be, where they will land. And it’s clear that they — without the usual constraints of trombone, clarinet, bass, drums, and what have you — are free to play the most familiar repertoire and make it incredibly alive.

What we have is an audience-recording done by the late UK trumpeter Roy Bower (who played in the Benny Simkins’ band) — some tape hiss, but one gets used to it:

WELLSTOOD solos: LULLABY OF BIRDLAND / SHOE SHINE BOY / ST. JAMES INFIRMARY / HANDFUL OF KEYS / HERE’S THAT RAINY DAY / FIDGETY FEET / THE ENTERTAINER / JINGLE BELLS //

Duets: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / WHAT’S NEW? / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND //

WELLSTOOD solos: TAKE ME BACK TO MY BOOTS AND SADDLE / THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ / SNOWY MORNING BLUES / CAROLINA SHOUT / HOW ABOUT YOU? / SO IN LOVE //

Duets: STARDUST / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / I CAN’T GET STARTED / SUMMERTIME / IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD / SWING THAT MUSIC //

Isn’t that extravagantly lovely? In retrospect, I think how fortunate we have been to have artists like Billy and Dick share the planet with us, and that people — wise enthusiasts like Roy — couldn’t bear to let the sounds evaporate as soon as they hit the air. And — since the inventor of the cassette tape just died after a long like — I celebrate those little plastic memory boxes that didn’t fall apart (mine is thirty years old). A whole chorus of gratitude, if you please.

May your happiness increase!

QUITE RARE and QUITE HOT: NAPPY LAMARE and his RENDEZVOUS BALLROOM ORCHESTRA, SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA. Collective personnel: JOHNNY WINDHURST, CHUCK MACKEY, GEORGE THOW, LOU McGARITY, BUD WILSON, JOE YUKL, MATTY MATLOCK, MARVIN ASH, MORTY CORB, NAPPY LAMARE, RAY BAUDUC, NICK FATOOL, JOHN FREELING (September 1947)

You wouldn’t think that a long-playing record issued in the US in 1974 could be rare, but this one is — I heard this music first on a cassette from one of my devoted collector friends, and then found a copy for sale (inexpensively, because I think few people sensed what delightful music it contains) — and it isn’t even listed in Tom Lord’s comprehensive THE JAZZ DISCOGRAPHY. So I thought it would only be right to share it with you.

Lamare is not well-known, or if he is, it’s for novelty vocals with Bob Crosby and Wingy Manone, and later in his career he was placed in the role of a straw-boater-and-striped-jacket-banjo-player, which reputation tended to follow him, especially for those of us who saw his apparently stereotypical records at yard sales. But it’s obvious he could play, he could swing, and he could inspire an ensemble. I offer this 1941 Epiphone advertisement as proof of life without a straw boater:

1941-epiphone-emperor-nappy-lamare_1_43ebcccc738cf85e708caf7eb8f685ce

But to our musical sermon for today.

NAPPY LAMARE

The facts, according to Jack Webb, who loved this music.

a) Chuck Mackey, Johnny Windhurst, trumpet; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Marvin Ash, piano; Nappy Lamare, guitar; Morty Corb, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums. 9.14.47

b) George Thow, trumpet; Matlock; Bud Wilson, trombone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Lamare, Ash, Corb, Ray Bauduc, drums. 9.28.47

c) as for a) but Joe Yukl replaces McGarity and John Freeling replaces Fatool 9.21.47.

The songs: DIPPERMOUTH (a) / PEG O’MY HEART (b) / IN THE MOOD (a) / WOLVERINE BLUES (a) / SENSATION RAG (b) / I’M GONNA MOVE TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN, vocal Lamare (b) / CHARMAINE (c) / TIM ROOF BLUES (c).

Recorded by Dave Caughren onto 12″ acetates with a single microphone, released on Fairmont Records LPM 105.

You’ll have your own champions here, but Fatool, Bauduc, Windhurst, and McGarity make the angels dance:

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Forty-Two) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring The EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Ear-Inn_rsz-1024x768Music first, credits below.  Ecstasy at the Ear!

Never did the threat of loneliness swing so hard:

The stuff that dreams are made on:

These musicians could spoil us for anyone else, don’t you think? This performance was part of an extraordinary jam session at The Ear Inn, on January 2, 2011, with Jon-Erik Kellso, Danny Tobias, Bria Skonberg (trumpets); John Allred, Emily Asher, Todd Londagin (trombones); Pete Martinez, Dan Block (clarinets); Lisa Parrott (alto sax); Matt Munisteri, Howard Alden (guitars); Nicki Parrott (bass); Chuck Redd (wire brushes). And in case you missed the glorious finale that I posted last week, make sure you’re seated securely and have a firm grip on that TIGER:

and the delightful concluding seconds.  The TIGER, last seen, was running north to Houston Street to get a snack of a lamb gyro, triple lamb, hold the pita, no red onions, at a Greek restaurant:

There’s more to come.  True in the larger sense, we hope and believe.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

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“WHAT DID YOU BRING US?”: MICHEL BASTIDE’S PRICELESS MEMORY-GIFT: July 1974

I know Michel Bastide as the slender, bespectacled hot cornetist of the Hot Antic Jazz Band, a very earnest, gracious man and musician.  Here he is leading a small incendiary group at the 2010 Whitley Bay Jazz Party, “Doc’s Night Owls.”  The “Doc,” incidentally, is because M. Bastide’s day gig is as an ophthalmologist.  But before this week, I didn’t know that he was also an early member of my guild of jazz archivists, and my admiration for him has soared.  I stumbled across his priceless half-hour memory tour on YouTube, was immediately thrilled, and I suggest you will feel as I do.  

Monsieur and Madame Bastide went to the 1974 Grande Parade du Jazz.  It was one year before any of the proceedings were broadcast on television, so although some recordings were made, the active life of the festival was not documented.  Perhaps Doctor Bastide has a deep spiritual respect for the powers of the eye, of visual acuity and visual memory, or he simply could not bear going home without some tangible souvenirs that could be revisited and cherished once again.  He brought a color 8mm film camera, which was the technology of the times, and his wife carried a small cassette recorder that got surprisingly clear audio fidelity.

Perhaps because of the inertia and tedium that are the gift to us of Covid-19, eleven months ago M. Bastide began the difficult, careful, and no doubt time-consuming work of attempting to synchronize music and image.  The results are spectacular and touching: he is quite a cinematographer, catching glimpses of the musicians hard at work and having a wonderful time.

I’ll offer some a guided tour of this impromptu magic carpet / time machine, beginning at the Nice airport on July 14, 1974: glimpses of Claude Hopkins, Paul Barnes, Vic Dickenson, Beryl Bryden, Lucille Armstrong;

An ad hoc sidewalk session for Lucille with Michel Bastide, Moustache, Benny Waters, Tommy Sancton;

Dejan’s Brass Band in the opening parade, July 15;

Cozy Cole, Vic Dickenson (talking!) and Arvell Shaw;

Lucille Armstrong unveils a bust of Louis with Princess Grace of Monaco in attendance (how gorgeous she is!);

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Wallace Davenport, Wild Bill Davison, Bill Coleman, Jimmy McPartland, Barney Bigard, Budd Johnson, Vic Dickenson, George Wein, Arvell Shaw, Cozy Cole;

Eubie Blake talks and plays;

Moustache All-Stars with George Wein;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Kid Thomas Valentine, Emmanuel Paul, Louis Nelson, Alonzo Stewart, Joseph Butler, Paul Barnes, Charlie Hamilton;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band, with Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart, Bennie Morton (in shirtsleeeves!), Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland;

a glimpse of Claude  Hopkins, Buddy Tate, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis;

the Barney Bigard – Earl Hines quartet;

Buddy Tate signing an autograph;

Milt Buckner, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Tiny Grimes, Jo Jones;

Cozy Cole, to the side, smoking a substantial joint, watching Jo;

George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Wayne Wright, Michael Moore;

Kid Thomas Valentine and Alonzo Stewart signing autographs; Tiny Grimes walking to the next set; Claude Hopkins; Arvell Shaw waving so sweetly at the camera;

Earl Hines solo;

World’s Greatest Jazz Band with Lawson, Haggart, Wilber, Morton, Ralph Sutton, Bud Freeman, Gus Johnson;

Benny Waters;

Vic Dickenson joining the WGJB for DOODLE DOO DOO;

Preservation Hall Jazz Band performing TIGER RAG with Barney Bigard off to the side, joining in.

Wonderful glimpses: to me, who looks happy in the band; who takes an extra chorus and surprises the next soloist; adjusting of tuning slides; spraying oil on one’s trombone.  Grace Kelly’s beauty; Arvell Shaw’s sweet grin.  Just magic, and the camera is almost always focused on something or someone gratifying:

Monsieur and Madame Bastide have given us a rare gift: a chance to be happy engaged participants in a scene that few of us could enjoy at the time.  I was amazed by it and still am, although slightly dismayed that his YouTube channel had one solitary subscriber — me.  I hope you’ll show him some love and support.  Who knows what other little reels of film might be in the Bastide treasure-chest for us to marvel at?

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

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“CREOLE LOVE CALL”: BARNEY BIGARD, KENNY DAVERN, BOB WILBER, EDDIE DANIELS, DICK HYMAN, JACK SEWING, J.C. HEARD, and a brief DAVERN INTERLUDE (Nice, July 15, 1977)

Writing about Kenny Davern and sharing people’s memories of him have left me wanting to share more, so I thought I might share this wonderful on-the-spot piece of musical architecture with you. The participants are Barney Bigard, Kenny, Bob Wilber, and the rather idiosyncratic Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Dick Hyman, Jack Sewing, string bass, and J.C. Heard, drums. It was performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz — known to its friends as the Nice Jazz Festival — on July 15, 1977.

CREOLE LOVE CALL is thematically as plain as you could want, but the simplicity becomes a beautiful freeing place from which to soar, to sing individual songs, to moan dark feelings and reach for the stars in the space of a chorus. This performance, for me, is intense and intensely melodic: a triumph of understanding, leaving Mr. Daniels aside for the moment.

The video also catches Kenny amusing himself and attempting to amuse the crowd — for once, without success. I know that the audience might not have had a preponderance of English-proficient people, but their absolute silence after Kenny’s patented jape is a little unnerving (surely they’d heard those names before?) and his annoyance is palpable . . . but I am glad this exchange is captured for posterity, for it summons up the whole of the much-missed Mr. Davern. But, the music. The music!

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part Two): Words BY MIKE KAROUB, HOWARD KADISON, JAMES CHIRILLO, KEVIN DORN, DAN BLOCK. Music by KENNY DAVERN, JOHNNY WINDHURST, CUTTY CUTSHALL, DAVE FRISHBERG, JACK SIX, CLIFF LEEMAN (1961)

 

kennydavern-1_v1000

HOWARD KADISON:  Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second
Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would
bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I
asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.

DAN BLOCK:  Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.

KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.

JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.

MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)

I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!

I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.

Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.

“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.

I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.

MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away.  When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.

And now for some delightful rare music.

The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes.  Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961.  The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling.  It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six.  Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.

Did I say we miss Kenny Davern?  We certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

THE GROOVE, SO NICE: ERSKINE HAWKINS, JAY McSHANN, CLAUDE “FIDDLER” WILLIAMS, VIC DICKENSON, BUDDY TATE, JIM GALLOWAY, GENE RAMEY, GUS JOHNSON (July 12, 1979)

Here’s a classic jazz festival / jazz party set (or at least the second part of one): it could have been a completely disconnected group of stars doing their feature numbers, but they are unified by The Groove.

And it helps immensely that Jay McShann, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Gus Johnson, drums, were having a little reunion of the original McShann rhythm section.  The band is in a Kansas City mood, even though none of them hails from that city: Erskine Hawkins, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Jim Galloway, soprano saxophone; Claude “Fiddler” Williams, violin.  (Alabama, Ohio, three from Texas, Scotland, two from Oklahoma, should you wonder.)

This video begins with Hawkins’ hit — recorded almost forty years before to the day, TUXEDO JUNCTION, then the song Vic featured with the Eddie Heywood band and also the band Ed Hall led in Boston, PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE, and a slow raunchy BLUES featuring Buddy and McShann.

Erskine didn’t record after 1971, but he had a rewarding steady gig, well-remembered by our friend Hank O’Neal in this lovely portrait of the man and the musician who got people on the floor to dance, wherever he was:

Perhaps this will send people back to hear Erskine’s Bluebird and Victor recordings — entertaining documents of a danceable swinging band.  This post, by the way, is for my friends Nick Rossi and Michael Gamble, among others, who know The Groove when it enters the room.

May your happiness increase!