Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MIGHT NEED PROTECTION FROM THOSE WHO ANALYZE IT AND THOSE WHO SQUEEZE IT TOO TIGHTLY

A visual display of the presumed growth of jazz.

I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error.  But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.

A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary:  Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds.  Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.]  Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.

At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way.  Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was.  My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!”  No one offered to buy me a drink.

But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences.  I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.

If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:

Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians.  Solos were not part of it.  When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.”  Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”

I find several problems here, as my comment indicates.  First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.”  I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”

Musicians play, and played MUSIC.  Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.

Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination.  “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.  He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.

Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way.  An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record?  Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926?  And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,”  He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz?  They had solos AND they had written passages.  They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?

I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.

If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it?  The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]

Again, it’s slippery.  IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”?  Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.”  But it was recorded in New York.  The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.”  But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout.  The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion?  I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday.  So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?

From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?

Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer.  Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band.  They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)

Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?

Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good.  I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.

But of course I am wrong: I accept that.  I will sleep better knowing it.

May your happiness increase!

A MAGICAL SESSION IN JAM: JUNE 27, 1945

 

 

 

In case you can’t read the label, these four sides — two 78 discs — were created by the Don Byas All Stars: Byas, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Eddie Safranski, string bass; Denzil Best, drums, in New York City on June 27, 1945, almost seventy-five years ago.

This session has been part of my consciousness for a long time, perhaps going back before 1980.  Don Byas doesn’t get his name written large in those jazz-history-trees I have seen recently, and in the taxonomy of jazz Stars of the tenor saxophone, he’s rarely noticed in the rush to oversimplify: it’s Hawk and Lester and Ben — leaving out Don, Chu Berry, Dick Wilson, Bud Freeman, Gene Sedric, Video Musso, Prince Robinson, George Auld, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Buddy Tate, Robert Carroll, and many others.  But Byas continues to amaze: his lovely expressive ballad playing, his indefatigable work at fast tempos, and his intense swing in general.  He knew his harmonies, and his arpeggios never put a foot wrong.  You might know his early work on a 1938 record date for Victor under the nominal leadership of Timme Rosenkrantz, or his classic opening solo on the 1941 HARVARD BLUES with Basie, but he made perhaps a hundred consistently realized small band sides for small independent labels between 1944-46 before leaving for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, coming back to New York a few times before his death.

On these four sides, he’s in the company of giants who also rarely get their proper recognition.  Eddie Safranski, then a young bassist in Hal McIntyre’s big band, was at the start of a long career — his last recordings are in 1975 — and he played and recorded with everyone from Stan Kenton to Teresa Brewer.  Denzil DaCosta Best began at the top — his playing career ended in 1962 and he died a few years later, sadly, but he also recorded with everyone from Ben Webster to George Shearing to Erroll Garner to Sheila Jordan.

Johnny Guarnieri is one of the finest pianists and musicians, but he also seems neglected.  An ebullient virtuoso, he was a regular life-enhancer on small-group dates going back to the Benny Goodman Sextet: he could do so many things beautifully that he might not be well-known for his delightful swing.

I left the graceful and astonishingly consistent Buck Clayton for last: his autobiography tells of his long career better than I could (BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD) but I can’t think of an uninspired performance in his forty-plus years of recordings.  I have some late-career trumpet videos I will post, and even when his embouchure was not completely certain and his range was seriously limited, he made lovely melodies out of the fewest notes and he always swung.

As to the recordings themselves: you must discover their marvels on your own, but each is both wonderfully impromptu and a careful orchestral composition on its own, their texts being familiar pop songs from 1930-1, with DEEP PURPLE being the newest theme (a piano solo in 1934, a hit with lyrics in 1939).  I can imagine them discussing tunes, tempos, and approach briefly before making a take.  They knew how many choruses would fit on a side; someone took the lead and someone improvised a countermelody; someone took the bridge; they decided on how to begin and how to end — but the records document a peak of this music, the great meeting of experience, professionalism, and passion.

Walter Donaldson’s ode to candor:

and the lovely violet ballad, so rarely played or sung these days:

The eyes are the windows of the soul, aren’t they?

and a more hopeful ballad, about a sudden magical romantic appearance:

Now, a different perspective on these lovely creations.  I never knew anything about the Jamboree Records issues except that they must have sold well — there’s one label in red and silver, another in red and gold — and used copies continue to be offered for sale.  The label had a short run: three four-song sessions with Byas as leader (one where he is the only horn, this one with Clayton, and a third with Joe Thomas), a Dave Tough-led session (with Thomas and Ted Nash), a Horace Henderson-led date featuring Clayton, Eddie Bert, and two reeds (recorded for Harry Lim’s Keynote label and sold to Jamboree), a trio session recorded in Detroit in 1947 featuring pianist Willie Anderson and one vocal by Kenny Hagood, and finally a 1949 date led by pianist Skip Hall, featuring Clayton, Buddy Tate, Walter Page, with six issued and two unissued sides.

Jazz fans deep into the wonderful music of this period know that small labels with terrible pressings were frequent, owing to the number of brilliant improvisers at large (without recording contracts with major labels) and the end of the first Petrillo record strike or ban . . . think of Regis, Manor, Session, Guild, National, Apollo, Signature, Comet, Hub, and a dozen others.

I’ve been aided in my fragmentary research into Jamboree by Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of The Hot Club of New York, so thanks to him.  The head of Jamboree Records was one Morty Kline, who ran Melody Record Supply and Record Associates on 314 West 52nd Street, although another address has it on Tenth Avenue.

Where Melody Record Supply once stood.

That address allows one of my favorite hypotheses (“favorite” because I find it plausible but lack any specific evidence that it happened).  Did jazz musicians walk into Melody Record Supply, talk to Morty, and walk out with a handshake agreement to cut four sides next Thursday — bring a quintet at 9 AM for scale, or words to that effect?  Had Morty known Byas’s recordings from his Basie days, or from those on Savoy in 1944, or had he been in the audience for the Town Hall concert produced by Timme Rosenkrantz?  Or did Morty walk east after he closed the shop to have a drink on Swing Street and offer some of the musicians on the stand a record date at the bar?  I don’t know if Morty took a hand in the music’s direction (as did people like Harry Lim and Milt Gabler) or if he was simply the businessman-producer.  I suspect that it was an excellent business move for Melody Record Supply to have its own issues to sell: “product,” as we now say. I can’t ask Morty: he died in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997.  But I can thank him for the commerce that allowed these beautiful minutes of imperishable music to exist and live on.

May your happiness increase!

THE RETURN OF THE WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND

I don’t know anything about migratory patterns between suburban New York and Sweden, but when the Weatherbird Jazz Band flies by, our spirits lift.  Sightings earlier this year were here and here and here.

So here they are with more hot music: intense, focused, playful, exact, and delicate.  You can invent your own words of praise as you listen. And the marvelous players and occasional singers are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.

The Weatherbirds are eager to please, even when technology arbitrarily subdivides the impulse in two:

and more, because it would be cruel to leave us there (and Goran’s rolling-and-tumbling alto solo is worth hearing twice):

a gorgeously somber 1928 BASIN STREET BLUES with the appropriate vocals:

Mister Morton’s THE CHANT with some (perhaps) early-Thirties touches:

a too-brief trip to CHINATOWN by the band-within-a-band:

SOME OF THESE DAYS, with the verse in the middle — it’s only right:

HIGH SOCIETY, based on a Hot Chorus, a thrilling duet for trumpet and piano:

and, to close this offering, a delightful CHICAGO BREAKDOWN:

I guarantee they’ll be back.

May your happiness increase!

AT THE END OF THE ROAD, A WARM EMBRACE: DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

This post is full of emotion for me, and I hope for some of you: not just the music but the reality under the music, the world in which we now read and hear and attempt to proceed.

I offer you two lovely performances of songs by Irving Berlin and by George and Ira Gershwin, by Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass — created for us at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, on May 11, 2019.

The beginning of this story is the last live jazz I saw — at Cafe Bohemia in New York City, celebrated elsewhere on this blog — on March 12, 2020.  And even then people were [wisely, politely, perhaps tactfully] recoiling from one another, because who knew that your dear friend didn’t carry a double helping of death?

A few nights earlier, people were giving each other elbow bumps in lieu of closer contact, and when I, without thinking, shook the hand of a new acquaintance, we both looked at each other in embarrassment and shock, and we both muttered apologies, as if we’d taken an unseemly liberty.  I know all this is prudent and exceedingly necessary — more so than choosing to wash the apple one buys at the farmers’ market before devouring it.  But it adds to the despair.

It’s now almost June, and we greet each other as if we were grenades — and with reason.  I know I am not alone in feeling the deadly deprivation of human contact (I have been hugging people — those I know and who would not back away — for perhaps a decade now, because it seems a natural loving expression) and the emotional aridity that distance imposes.  Grinning and waving is an incomplete substitute.  Hugging oneself just ain’t the same thing.  You know this.

Because there is no live music for me to drink in and to video-record, I have been delving into my YouTube archives, which go back to 2006, in search of satisfying performances that the artists will allow to be shared.  It is easier, of course, for me to pretend I am at the Ear Inn by watching a video than to pretend that I am hugging and being hugged, but it, too, is only a small palliative.

My searching, thankfully, has borne fruit, and I have found a goodly number from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which — on my 2019 visit — seemed the perfection of the art form.  It did not happen in 2020, but those of us who feel such things deeply pray that it will in May 2021.

In the set called featuring Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet, Dawn and the wonderful people I’ve mentioned above performed two songs that are poignant in themselves, but in connection almost unbearably so for what they hold out to us as possibilities unreachable at the moment.

The first is Berlin’s WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, which tells that that there will be “Peace and contentment at the end of the road”; given this tender reading, it’s hard to interpret this song as anything but hopeful, even though the road is longer and darker than perhaps even Berlin imagined:

Three songs later in the set, Marc chose as his feature EMBRACEABLE YOU — thinking, as one would, of Bobby Hackett:

The combination of the two songs is somber and lovely all at once.

I dare not waste energy on discussing what “the new normal” will look like: rather, my wish is that all of us live to see and experience it.  But I do dream that  the end of the road we are now on will have a plenitude of embraces given and received.  We will never again, I hope, take such things for granted.

Thanks to the musicians here and to the people who make the Redwood Coast Music Festival possible and glorious, and of course heartfelt thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen.  Let this post stand as an IOU for future grateful embraces.

May your happiness increase!

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

“KNEE DROPS” and OTHER MOOD-ENHANCERS: WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND (BENT PERSSON, KAJ SIFVERT, TOMAS ORNBERG, ULF JOHANSSON WERRE, GORAN LIND, GORAN ERIKSSON, SIGGE DELLERT)

Everyone I know, and I include myself, is slightly unhinged these days: you can name the emotions, so drastic measures are needed.  I can’t send homemade soup through the ether, so here’s another infusion of warmth and energy from the Weatherbird Jazz Band, featuring Bent Persson, trumpet and cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano, vocal; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo and alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.

AFTER YOU’VE GONE starts in a pensive mood, and then heats up:

Look out — it’s the WILD MAN!

Only a short leap from WILD MAN to Bechet’s brightly-colored WILD CAT BLUES, featuring Tomas:

I hope your ROAD isn’t LONESOME:

I’ve posted other videos by another edition of the Weatherbirds here and here  — for your dining and dancing pleasure.  And Christophe from Lugano suggests that the supply is not yet depleted, so hold on tight.

May your happiness increase!

WITH A HAPPY REFRAIN: TAMAR KORN SINGS FOR QUINN (and US)

Tamar, 2008

Tamar Korn has been a bright light in my sky for more than a decade now, since I first watched and heard her (I am sure I was open-mouthed astonished) perhaps at Banjo Jim’s.  Early on, I did ask her, “What planet are you from?” and she laughed but wouldn’t answer.  My inquiries to NASA have proven fruitless, and I think the rumor of her being born in California is just to throw us off the track.  Whatever . . . Tamar sent me this video a few days ago and I felt it was and is a great gift.  She wanted me to tell you that she was singing for her three-and-a-half year old nephew Quinn.  But I know that she won’t mind our joining the party.

No Gene Kelly, no puddles, but Tamar, a raincoat, and an umbrella are more than enough to lift our hearts.  Even without the raincoat and umbrella.

and because the prevailing circumstances make it terribly relevant, I offer another of Tamar’s performances — recorded out of doors.

Tamar’s Wildwood Ramblers, ten years later: Evan Arntzen, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin, Dennis Lichtman

It’s a Yiddish song that offers its hearers the most fervent wishes for health and happiness: read about it and witness this outpouring of barefoot joy here.

Photograph by Michael Steinman

I may have told the story of the greenish phone-photograph above, but it pleases me.  When I posted the photograph on one or another blogpost, someone said to me in the mocking tone of one who has discovered a slightly naughty secret, “You love her, don’t you?!”  I grinned at my interrogator and said immediately, “Of course.”  It seemed a very foolish question and it still does.

May your happiness increase!

HOT SOUNDS (Part Two) FROM THE WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND (BENT PERSSON, JESSE LINDGREN, TOMAS ORNBERG, ULF JOHANSSON WERRE, GORAN LIND, GORAN STACHEWSKY)

For the moment, it has stopped raining where I am, but skies worldwide still need to be brightened.  Music is one of the best ways I know.  Hot music.

You can read more about how these videos came to me (thanks to Kriss) and hear a wonderful WOLVERINE BLUES here.

For these performances, the Birds are Bent Persson, trumpet / cornet; Goran Stachewsky, banjo; Goran Lind, string bass; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Tomas Ornberg, reeds; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren, trombone.

Today, a quartet of songs / performances associated with Louis in his late Twenties cosmology.  And please listen closely to Bent, who has spent years in study and performance of the Louis Hot Choruses / Hot Breaks book from 1927: an ascending break can be heard late in NEW ORLEANS STOMP, and a whole chorus in JIMTOWN BLUES, a song Louis never recorded.  And the Weatherbirds romp . . . if birds can be said to romp!  (Perhaps another verb for jubilation?  No matter.)

NEW ORLEANS STOMP:

SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA, with a Hines-chorus from Ulf and an evocative vocal by Jesse, while Tomas imagines Bechet joining Louis in the OKeh studios:

WILLIE THE WEEPER — so much swing in under three minutes:

JIMTOWN BLUES:

Kriss has promised me more, as these wonderful Birds fly over . . .

May your happiness increase!

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE

Mal Sharpe and the “Big Money in Jazz” band

Mal Sharpe moved to another neighborhood on March 10, 2020.  He refuses to go away, so it is both an obligation and a privilege to honor him here.  His official obituary depicts him as a comedian:  

Mal Sharpe, ‘The Man on the Street’ radio gag man, dies at 83

That’s one way to see Mal, but between 2011 and 2014,  I knew him well as the leader of a band of idiosyncratic individualists, playing traditional jazz and standards, and as a friend.  I brought my camera and videoed him and his band, “Big Money in Jazz,” at the No Name in Sausalito, at the Savoy Tivoli and Fior d’Italia in San Francisco, at an outdoor concert in North Beach, and once in Armando’s in Martinez.  You can find my videos on YouTube, of course. 

Even though I celebrate Mal as musician and friend, this demands to be included, with all respect to Larry Scala, who told Mal the joke and was never credited:

You know.”

I checked my email files and found that I first met him through my friend Jeff Hamilton in 2011: I’d written to Mal for permission to video his gig at Armando’s, and he was very gracious, telling me that he had seen my blog many times.  Later, I came to his regular gigs, chatted with him, and took pleasure in the band.  He was physically large — tall and broad-shouldered, even though he slumped down in his chair while playing — well dressed in an intentionally casual way.

In those years I was commuting-for-romance from New York, and although I loved being in California, I missed the banquet of music at home.  I was sustained by Clint Baker’s Cafe Borrone All-Stars and the occasional swing dance gig, but initially found driving to and parking in San Francisco terrifying.  Going to Sausalito was easier — I clearly recall parking my car on Bridgeway and walking past a vertical bank of nasturtiums, which I ate liberally, much to the horror of my companion: I compromised by eating only those above dog-height.  I digress, of course.

The No Name Bar in Sausalito was quite awful, and since I had not been a bar-goer in my youth, I recoiled from its most remarkable features: the broken toilet in the men’s room, the bill of fare that was microwaved popcorn in paper bags, local beer, ordinary spirits, an odd clientele, Nancy, behind the bar, gracious in a rough-hewn way, the band assembled on a narrow stand parallel to the bar.  I remember coming outside after the gig and feeling that the world was strange because it was so clean and bright.  

I never knew in advance who was going to be on the stand with Mal — sometimes superb players, sometimes those who had once been superb, and some others — but the music was always interesting, if only because it was precarious: would X know the chords to the bridge? would Y accelerate his usual glacial pace to get to the end of the chorus when everyone else did?  And there was always Mal, who had his routines, but delivered them with that combination of “I know this by heart” and “I just made this up” that I found charming.  Hearing and watching him do something as mundane as gently hector the crowd to put tips in the jar was worth the drive. 

Mal also had regular improvisations.  One of them was that he would go to a local thrift store (was it in Berkeley or in Oakland?) and buy nearly-useless trinkets — little plastic toys or medical items of no value but much strangeness — and set up mock-contests whose winners would receive some bizarre prize.  I don’t think I am making this up, but once it was the empty case in which one could carry an enema bag.  The takers were few. 

Here is Mal’s New-England based improvisation with which he closed the afternoon’s music:

He played trombone and sang.  As a singer he could be marvelously affecting, and one of the delights of the band was that it was not a stereotypical Bourbon Street band.  If they played the SAINTS, I don’t recall.  And — in the fashion of the great postwar ensembles of Boston (where Mal had grown up (he’d been to George Wein’s Mahogany Hall) and New York, where I had, the band explored standards.  You were much more likely to hear PENNIES FROM HEAVEN than BOURBON STREET PARADE, although they did perform ICE CREAM and Mal liked women singers who favored Billie and Ella, so the band had a less-raucous air to it.  Here’s an example I found moving at the time and still do:

That’s classic Mal — singing with sly tenderness, but also with new lyrics he probably made up on the drive from Berkeley to the gig.

Mal and I bonded because he saw that I was going to use the blog and camera to celebrate him — not embarrass him — and he once said to me, after a post, “Michael, you made us sound so good!” which pleased me.  He knew he was an amateur trombonist, and he said as much, but he stayed within his limitations and thus did no harm. 

We also drifted into a sideways friendship over delicatessen sandwiches at Saul’s, and talked of our mutual hero Vic Dickenson.  I gave him copies of recordings I’d made of Vic, and sometimes our phone conversation would start with his commenting about what Vic had done on the second chorus of SONNY BOY on the CDs I’d made for him.  When I visited him at home once or twice, he invited me into his den, which had photographs of his and my heroes on the wall, a barber’s chair that he sat in to practice, and other oddments. 

I emailed him often, mostly propelled by my finding a new picture or video that I knew he would like, and his brief responses had a telling comical snap.  Face to face, Mal and I spoke of recordings we were listening to; I brought him jazz gossip from New York and he talked about chance meetings with great people and odd ones, taking perhaps more delight in the latter than the other. 

As noted in the newspaper obituary, he was a great on-the-spot improviser of nearly-surreal sketch comedies, and once that I recall I felt (years after the fact) that I had become a character in a Sharpe sketch.  We both knew someone on the New York scene — a fan, amateur musician, and schnorrer (Mal loved Yiddish) who was always on the lookout for some apparently-altruistic scheme that would benefit no one but himself.  He came into the conversation and Mal and I took turns enthusiastically narrating his small-time thieveries.  The next time we met I brought him up with vengeful glee and told of his latest feats while Mal sat silent, listening.  When I ran out of energy, Mal looked at me after a long pause and said that he had decided to speak of this person no more, that it was not what he should be doing, and so on.  At the time, I felt as if Mal had let me walk blindfolded into a hole he had just dug, and said, “Hey, you could have stopped me at the start of blackening this person’s character,” and I don’t recall what he said.  Years later I understood that he had let me go on for the pleasure of the punchline, and I appreciated it as much as I could.

I am not sure if I discerned it or Mal himself told me, but he was a classic paradox — a shy man who sought the limelight as long as he could control it.  I think he needed to be onstage, to make people laugh and applaud, but (with the tuna or turkey sandwich he had Nancy get for him) he needed even more to drive home in silence, then be at home with no one bothering him.  Later on he told me that it wasn’t just shyness, it was anxiety, and I felt very sorrowful, but it also helped me understand him better: as if someone afraid of drowning forced himself to take swimming lessons, even though they scared him terribly and he never got any better.  

When I came back to New York in January 2015, I was happy to be home but I missed Mal greatly, and I would pick up the phone and call him.  I think the last time we spoke was in 2017, and I sensed that he had retreated from the world more than a little.  He stopped responding to emails as well.  But that is too sad a note to end my recollections on.  

How could you not love a man whose email signature (edited by me) was . . . .

MAL SHARPE
Host of KCSM’s Back on Basin Street 91.1
Man On The Street Productions & Big Money in Jazz
Home phone xxx xxx xxxx cell xxx xxx xxxx
Teenage Home phone in Newton, Ma. Bi-4-9509 (If my mother answers, hang up)

DON’T LOOK AT THE TROMBONES, IT ONLY ENCOURAGES THEM—RICHARD STRAUSS

and then there’s this song and performance.  Larry told me today, as we spoke of Mal, that it was Mal’s opening song for gigs:

I think Mal would be embarrassed by having more than fifteen hundred words written about him, but when he could be by himself in his barber chair, he would be secretly pleased.  Perhaps he would have emailed me to say he never ate turkey.

My condolences to Sandra and Jennifer Sharpe.  And my gratitude to Mal for letting me be one of the band in my own way

.

May your happiness increase!

BOB HAVENS SHOWS US HOW: JAMES DAPOGNY, VINCE GIORDANO, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

I take my title from what Bobby Hackett told Max Jones about his friend Jack Teagarden, “The Good Lord said to Jack, ‘Now you go down there and show them how to do it.”  (I am paraphrasing, because the book, TALKING JAZZ, is hiding from me.)

My subject is one of Jack’s noble colleagues, the trombonist Bob Havens, born May 3, 1930, in Quincy, Illinois — thus seventy-nine in the performance I will share with you, which he created at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend — with Arnie Kinsella, drums; Vince Giordano, string bass; James Dapogny, piano.  The song Havens chose for his feature is the venerable IDA, SWEET AS APPLE CIDER, which has its jazz immortality due to the 1927 Red Nichols recording featuring Adrian Rollini and Pee Wee Russell along with Red and Miff Mole.  Bob’s performance is three choruses, a continuing amazement.

Bob Havens, 2016

What strikes me immediately is the serious ease with which Bob approaches the melody, not rushing, not being in a hurry to get to the “hot” part, but playing it, slightly embellished, in his first chorus.

His tone.  His huge sound — a sound on which you could build your church.  His generous but intelligently applied phrase-ending vibrato.  His complete command of the trombone in all registers.  And, for me, that first chorus is a complete meal in itself, so beautifully offered.  But to look at the video and know, as I do, that there are two more choruses that will follow leaves me nearly open-mouthed.

Please, on your second and third viewing, and there should be occasions to revisit this splendor, savor the solid drumming of Arnie Kinsella, who knew how to play simply but with great soul; the delicious supportive work of Vince Giordano, who knows not only the right notes but where they should fall and how; James Dapogny’s intuitive embrace of both the soloist and the music in every phrase.

Bob’s turning-the-corner into his second chorus is exultant: now this is serious business, his shouting announcement seems to say.  I’ve laid out the melody, now let me show you what I can do with it.  Only a trombonist could explicate the dazzling variety of technical acrobatics — all beautifully in service of the song — Bob creates in that chorus, ending with a bluesy flourish.  And the third chorus is a magnificent extension of what has come before, with technique and taste strolling hand in hand.  (Again, no one in this quartet of masters rushes.)  Admire the structure, variations on variations, as simplicity gives way to complexity but the simplicity — IDA is a love song! — remains beneath.  Bob’s virtuosity is amazing, super-Teagarden thirty stories up, but his pyrotechnics never obscure emotions, and his sound never thins or becomes hard.

I invite you to admire someone who astonishes, who gives us great gifts.

What glorious music. in some ways, beyond my words.

This post is in honor of my Auntie, Ida Melrose Shoufler, the young trombone whiz and friend Joe McDonough, and Nancy Hancock Griffith, who made so much beauty possible.

May your happiness increase!

FEAR, OR JOY? YOU PICK.

Someone asked me last week why I wore a Louis Armstrong button, and without thinking, I said, “He taught me how to live my life,” which I was proud of saying. I know that CABARET was written by Kander and Ebb, but I encourage you to take three minutes or so and listen — I mean listen — to Louis’s 1966 version (the one with strings).

That song, and Louis’ performance of it, has a special relevance for me at this moment.  Friends and family are devoting their energies to being afraid of the Coronavirus.  I hear of their buying masks and hand sterilizer, stocking up on food and water for when “the lockdown” comes, restricting their travel.  I can hear their voices over the phone, trying to mask their frightened disapproval, when I say I am getting on a plane in perhaps ninety hours to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, which begins March 5.  “You’re getting on a plane, Michael?  Well, be careful not to to touch your face.  You could wear a pair of gloves . . . ”

Their caution might be well-founded.  I could contract the virus, it could turn into pneumonia, I could die.  Or, I could get hit by a Range Rover as I cross the street, even when I have the light in my favor. I’m  not being facetious.  And I hear the voices of my loving over-cautious parents, “Be careful.  Be careful!”

But the opposite of Fear is Courage, and Courage has as its reward Joy.  If I stay home, I won’t hear these fellows play and sing:

So I’m on my way to Monterey on Thursday morning, and here‘s the schedule, a wondrous hot-jazz version of Ceres’ cornucopia.  You pick: stay at home with those books you’ve been promising yourself to read, and perhaps some takeout as a treat, or venture forth with plans to live joyously.  (I know some of you can’t fly to Monterey, but adapt my encouragements to your own neighborhood.)

Now I have to finish packing.

May your happiness increase!

SO SWEET, SO MELANCHOLY: JINJOO YOO, KI-HONG JANG, JAMALE DAVIS: CLARENCE PROFIT’S “DON’T LEAVE ME” (February 8, 2020)

This beautiful rueful performance — created by Jinjoo Yoo, piano; Ki-Hong Jang, guitar; Jamale Davis, string bass, and video-recorded by Jackson Notier — from their February 8 evening at Gin Fizz — is doubly obscure but shouldn’t be.  “Obscure” because the melancholy composition, “Don’t Leave Me” is little-known, as is its composer, the pianist Clarence Profit, who died at 32.  (And, as a personal aside, I met Ms. Yoo because of her interest in Mr. Profit, which is a very gratifying thing indeed.)

Clarence Profit and his music are emotionally powerful to me — read here — so when I saw that this YouTube video had only 21 views, I thought to encourage JAZZ LIVES’ readers to partake of this beautiful interlude:

I found myself playing that video several times in a row, and hope you do also.  But let us assume you are one of those rare beings who actually understands the pleasure of hearing music live, not on the computer or through the phone: this supple trio will be playing their debut gig at The Birdland Theater on Sunday, March 15, 2020, from 9:45 to 11:15 PM: 315 West 44th Street, New York City.  It would be lovely if they had an audience, and even better an audience that applauded at the mention of Clarence Profit’s name.  Do I dream?

May your happiness increase!

THE EBULLIENT MISTER DROOTIN and FRIENDS: WILD BILL DAVISON, BILL ALLRED, CHUCK HEDGES, BOB PILLSBURY, JACK LESBERG, CAROL LEIGH, BUZZY DROOTIN (Malmö, Sweden, 1984).

Buzzy Drootin was a superb jazz drummer, hardly remembered today except by the few who know their history and listen deeply.  He became a jazz musician in an era when musicians were proud of being instantly recognizable, and Buzzy was all that: hear four bars of him, in solo or ensemble, and one could tell it wasn’t George (Wettling) or Cliff (Leeman) or Gus (Johnson) or a dozen others.  His beat was steady; he wasn’t afraid to propel the band through his singular combination of time-keeping on the cymbal (ride or with rivets), snare-drum accents, and bass-drum explosions.  I never saw him play a hi-hat or brushes: he was content with his own style, which would fit with any kind of enthusiastic band.  (I can easily imagine him playing behind Dizzy as he played behind Bechet.)  You knew he was there, and his presence was both reassuring and exultant.  And he reminds me greatly of Sidney Catlett in the way his accents become a thrilling series of “Hooray!”s behind a soloist or in a rideout.

Although he was typecast as a traditional jazz musician, his work paralleled the orchestral concept of the younger “modern” musicians — a kind of oceanic commentary — and although the story may be apocryphal, I have read somewhere that Lester Young said Buzzy was his favorite drummer.  And the irascible Ruby Braff used Buzzy as often as he could.

I presume he got his nickname for the throaty roar he emitted when soloing or during exciting ensemble passages.  He was clearly having the time of his life; he didn’t coast or look bored.  (I saw him often in 1972, and because I was shy, and a criminal with a cassette recorder, I never approached him to thank him, which I regret.)

Once, jazz musicians were once accepted as part of the larger fabric of the entertainment industry; Buzzy was well-known in Boston and New York, so that when he died in 2000, the New York Times ran a substantial obituary:

Buzzy Drootin, 80, Leading Jazz Drummer (May 24, 2000)

Mr. Drootin’s family left Russia for the United States when he was 5, settling in Boston. His father was a clarinetist, and two of his brothers were also musicians. He began playing the drums as a teenager, earning money in a local bar, and by 1940 he was touring with the Jess Stacy All-Stars, a band that included Buck Clayton and Lee Wiley.  {Editor’s note: That date is incorrect: it would have been later in that decade; Buzzy’s first audibly documented appearances were with the Max Kaminsky – Pee Wee Russell – Brad Gowans – Teddy Roy – John Field band that played the Copley Terrace in 1945.}

From 1947 to 1951 he was the house drummer at Eddie Condon’s in New York. He also worked in clubs in Chicago and Boston, playing with musicians like Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland and Doc Cheatham. He made recordings in the 1950’s and 60’s with Tommy Dorsey, Bobby Hackett and the Dukes of Dixieland and played with the Dixieland All-Stars, the Jazz Giants and the Newport All-Stars, among other groups, while touring extensively in the United States and Europe.

Mr. Drootin returned to Boston in 1973 and formed the Drootin Brothers Jazz Band, with his brother Al, who survives him. In the 1980’s he appeared at the Los Angeles Classic Jazz Festival, backing up musicians like Wild Bill Davison and Chuck Hedges. 

In addition to his brother Al, he is survived by a daughter, Natasha; two sons, Peter and Tony; and two other brothers, Louie and Max. 

Photo by Ruth Williams.

But Buzzy deserves more than a reprinted obituary, because he was often the most lively, vibrating member of the band.  A friend passed on to me — and I can share with you — a seventy-five minute videotape of Buzzy and friends doing what they did regularly and splendidly for forty years and more.  The friends are, in most cases, much better known that Buzzy, but his majestic propulsion is delightfully in evidence in every phrase — as is his grinning face and mobile body. 
This session features not only Buzzy, but Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Chuck Hedges, clarinet; Bob Pillsbury, piano; Jack Lesberg, then an unidentified string bassist; Carol Leigh, vocal.
The songs are YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME / SLEEP / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART (featuring Bill Allred and Buzzy) / EXACTLY LIKE YOU (Carol Leigh) / I’LL BE A FRIEND WITH PLEASURE (Leigh) / UNDECIDED (Leigh and Wild Bill) / AVALON (Buzzy) // For the second set, the unidentified bassist replaces Lesberg: LADY BE GOOD / IF I HAD YOU / HONEYSUCKLE ROSE / KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (Buzzy) //. 
Thanks to my dear friend and great jazz drummer Bernard Flegar, I now know that this took place in Malmö, Sweden, in 1984, in a large hall — Wild Bill remarks on it — where food and presumably drink are being served to a quiet audience.  Both the camerawork and the sound are reasonably professional, so it’s clearly not an audience effort. 
All that aside, listen to and watch Buzzy as he holds not only the band, but the music, on his shoulders, grinning away.

Thanks to Tony Drootin for being enthusiastic about this posting, and thank you, Buzzy and friends, for the wonderfully memorable noises.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE ONE, TAKE TWO (Chicago, January 24, 1929)

I don’t remember in which antique store I found a shiny copy of the record above, except that my boredom (prowling through aisles of overpriced odd fragments of human history) stopped instantly.  It’s a famous recording, because more than twenty years ago, an unidentified trumpet solo that sounded rather Bixian was seized upon as being a true Bix improvisation.  I assure you that the dramatic discussions that went on — read here if you like — are not my subject.

Before I delve into why, here’s some data: the personnel as stated by Tom Lord: Ray Miller And His Orchestra : Muggsy Spanier (cnt) Max Connett, Lloyd Wallen (tp) Jules Fasthoff (tb) Jim Cannon (cl,as) Maurice Morse (as) Lyle Smith (ts) Paul Lyman (vln) Art Gronwall (p,arr) Leon Kaplan (bj,g) Jules Cassard (tu,b) Bill Paley (d) Bob Nolan, Mary Williams (vcl) Ray Miller (dir).

Why should I post the two takes of CRADLE OF LOVE?  For one thing, I have been putting my 78s in order and I saw the record, decided to play it, liked it, played it several times over.  And I continue to do so: it has become something I love.

The song itself — by the team that had a hit with RAMONA — is delightful in its limited scope.  You might know the story that Ray Henderson, Bud De Sylva, and Lew Brown — responsible for many hits — decided to write the worst song they could, with every tear-jerking cliche, and the result was SONNY BOY, which — with Al Jolson’s fervent performance (and his adding his name to the credits) was a million-seller.

I don’t know if the SONNY BOY story is true, but there’s something about CRADLE OF LOVE that hints at its composers asking themselves what they could do to assure themselves a hit.

First, pick a very optimistic premise: the young couple, so in love, in their tiny rural paradise which will be paid off in a year; they have chickens; their neighbors love them; they will have a baby soon.  Fecundity, domesticity, domestic bliss, prosperity — pleasing dreams, especially in January 1929 with no hint of the Crash to come. Home, young love, sex, and chickens!  And yes, the song is very close to MY BLUE HEAVEN, which made a great deal of money not too long before.

Second, invent a melody with an irresistible hook that sounds much like MAKIN’ WHOOPEE (a song with a clearly divergent view of domestic bliss, curdled) and put the two together.  The one touch of realism in this dream-world is that the neighbors “smile / most of the while” (my emphasis).  Why there are these noticeable lapses in grinning is never explained, especially since “all” would have worked just as well in the line.  Perhaps Wayne and Gilbert had some scruples.

CRADLE OF LOVE should have been memorable, but didn’t become so.  However, there’s so much that pleases me in these recordings (there are rumors of a third non-vocal version, made for the German market, but I don’t know anyone who has heard it).  The Miller band just sounds good, and they balance their instrumental work and the “hot” solos so beautifully.  (Yes, the question has been asked, “Why two trumpet / cornet improvisations on the same — white — dance band record?” to which I have no answer.)  It means a great deal to me that the statement of the verse is a wonderful early Muggsy Spanier episode, as well.  I don’t feel the need to mock Bob Nolan, either.  And Eddy Davis was telling me, a few weeks ago, about working with pianist Art Gronwall — to which I could only say, “Wow!”  The rhythm section has a nice bounce, and the trombone interlude reminds me cheerfully of Miff Mole.

So I invite you to listen, to put aside preconceptions, and simply enjoy.

Take One:

Take Two:

and, just because YouTube makes it possible for me to share it with you, here is the Paul Whiteman version recorded fourteen days earlier, an entirely different orchestral rendition, with a lovely Trumbauer bridge near the end:

Slightly more than ten months after the Miller recording, the stock market crash changed everyone’s lives.  I hope the young couple had paid off every stick and stone before then, and could make a living selling eggs.  How the toad plays into this I can’t imagine, but I hope (s)he and others prospered.  Otherwise it’s too dire to contemplate.

Note: readers who feel a pressing need to extend the Bix-or-not-Bix discussion will not find their comments printed here.  Enough idolatry, thanks.  I don’t think it’s Bix — but it’s my blog and I have some privileges therein.

May your happiness increase!

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:

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

More from TONY SPARGO:

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

“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:

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

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

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

an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:

and an even more generous second chapter:

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

THE HILL COUNTRY DANCE ORCHESTRA: “WORDS”

The chorus begins, “Words that seem so tender / Words of sweet surrender,” so you can invent the rest of this 1924 song — by Al Dubin, Al Tucker, and Otis Spencer — on your own.  I have to improvise as well, because the complete sheet music has eluded me so far.

Most of us, if we know the song at all, know the Fletcher Henderson acoustic Vocalion recording where youthful Louis Armstrong explodes into his chorus, backed by an equally stirring Kaiser Marshall, or perhaps later evocations.

Here is a very remarkable “modern” (i.e., 2019) recording of the song that only a few listeners have made friends with — by the Hill Country Dance Orchestra, a band you won’t find in Brian Rust’s books.  Listen and marvel:

Hot enough for you?  “Authentic” enough for you?  Yes, on both counts.

What’s most remarkable is that the Hill Country Dance Orchestra — its personnel two cornets, trombone, two alto saxophones, baritone saxophone, C-melody saxophone, clarinet, violin, banjo, piano, tuba, drums — is both a discographer’s dream and nightmare, because of this young brilliance, Colin Hancock from Texas (and now studying in New York City):

My more attentive readers might be saying, “But I don’t understand.  Which instrument does Colin play on this recording?”  And then I would respond, with the appropriate emphasis.  “ALL  OF  THEM.”  The magic of modern technology; the exuberance and accuracy of a great artist.

I’ll wait while you return to listen to this marvel once again.

And here is Colin’s newest band, his Signature Seven, rollicking through I’M GONNA STOMP MISTER HENRY LEE and DOWN HOME RAG:

Colin’s noble roisterers (he’s playing cornet) are Jeffery Miller, trombone; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone, clarinet; Troy Anderson, tenor saxophone; Juan Vidaurre, banjo; Isaiah Thompson, piano; Julian Johnson, drums.

Great music.  Tell your friends.  Wake the children.  No one will want to say, “I wasn’t paying attention when Colin Hancock and friends were making glorious sounds.”

And you can get a direct line to the new / old sounds by subscribing to Colin’s YouTube channel SemperPhonographCo here.  (Why wait?)

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2019)

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.

I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should.  Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it.  I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.

He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly.  And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on.  He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull.  But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer.  Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy.  Time to make new memories!” and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.

I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens?  It’s not easy.  Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar.  And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.

All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week.  The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf.  We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.

And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:

I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.

Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever.  Make new memories.

May your happiness increase!

“THE LAMB OF GOD!”: ELEGIES FOR DONALD LAMBERT IN STORIES, PHOTOGRAPHS, AND MUSIC

Meet the Lamb!  Here he is — don’t mind the murky visual — at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

Thanks, deep thanks to Howard Kadison and Audrey VanDyke, keepers of so many flames.  Here is Howard’s prized copy of the PRINCETON RECOLLECTOR, a historical journal almost exclusively devoted — in this issue — to the marvelous and elusive jazz piano genius Donald Lambert.

An editorial about Donald Lambert: will wonders never cease?

Lambert plays the Sextette from Lucia:

Recollections of Bill Priestley, a fine cornetist:

Pee Wee Russell and the milk truck:

Fashions:

More rare narrative:

Lambert in his native haunts:

Playing two melodies at once:

THE TROLLEY SONG, with friend Howard Kadison at the drums:

SPAIN, with Lambert and Kadison:

ANITRA’S DANCE, from the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival:

LIZA, from the same concert:

Yes, Art Tatum:

Physiognomy:

The 1941 Bluebird PILGRIM’S CHORUS:

I GOT RHYTHM (recorded by Jerry Newman, 1940) with Lambert, Hot Lips Page, Herbie Fields, Pops Morgan:

DINAH, from the same party at Newman’s parents’ home):

I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE:

and TEA FOR TWO from the same incredible session, Lambert also playing FRENESI:

 

A very rare (and I think unissued) 1949 performance, BLUE WALTZ:

LINGER AWHILE, with Kadison (the first Lambert I ever heard):

An unlisted WHEN BUDDHA SMILES, with trumpet and string bass:

Another local legend:

May your happiness increase!