Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

AUDREY ARBUCKLE, “BUCKLES,” A DEVOTED JAZZ FAN (1954-56)

Since jazz fans seem — note I say seem — to be overwhelmingly male, it’s lovely to find this collection of jazz autographs collected by the young jazz fan Audrey Arbuckle, between 1954-56 in Chicago.  My guess is that “Buckles,” born July 19, 1931, is no longer collecting autographs and may no longer be with us, but I can’t prove it.

Here’s the seller’s description:

Here is a unique and amazing collection of famous jazz musician autographs on matchbooks, tickets and table cards put together during 1954-1956 by a young college student nicknamed “Buckles” who went to jazz clubs like the original Blue Note in Chicago and the Basin Street East.

Eventually Buckles had the autographs she collected laminated between a clear plastic sheet.

On one side, are the autographs of jazz legends Lester Young, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Coleman Hawkins, Illinois Jacquet, Chet Baker, Carmen McRae, Sonny Stitt, Paul Quinichette (“Vice-Prez” to Lester’s “Prez”), Roy Eldridge, Jeri Southern and Paul Desmond. There is even the team of Kai Winding and J. J. Johnson whose combined autographs together, on the same page, from the same club date, is very hard to find.

On the other side of the laminated sheet is: Count Basie, the tragic, talented jazz singer Beverly Kenney, Bob Bates, drummer Candido, singer Chris Connor and the great Paul Gonslaves who signed his name on part of a Duke Ellington ticket. Gonsalves famously blew 27 insane bars during his sax solo on “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” that sent the crowd at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival into a frenzy and put Duke Ellington’s band, which had been going through a popularity slump, back in its rightful place. Also a picture of “Buckles” who got the autographs.

The laminated page — which no doubt preserved those sixty-five year old scraps of paper, although oddly — is up for bid at $850 or “best offer,” and here is the link.

And the photographic evidence: some of these signatures (Beverly Kenney!) are incredibly rare — but to think of this young woman who saw and heard so much, it’s astonishing.  The front side of the page, which takes some careful viewing:

and the reverse:

and some close-ups, the first, Dave Brubeck:

then, the two trombone team of Jay and Kai:

Paul Gonsalves, who played tenor saxophone:

then, Coleman Hawkins and Illinois Jacquet:

and Chet Baker:

Louis, Velma, Arvell, and Barrett Deems:

The Maestro:

and what is the prize of the collection (second place goes to Beverly Kenney’s neat handwriting) a Lester Young autograph.  Even though it looks as though it was written on a piece of Scotch tape, such deity-sightings are rare:

and, a little music, lest we forget the point of these exalted scribbles:

Wherever you are now, Buckles, whatever names you took later in life, know that we cherish you and your devotion.  Did you graduate college, have a career, get married and have a family?  The laminated page says to me that these signatures and experiences were precious.  But what happened to you?  I wish I knew.

This just in, thanks to Detective Richard Salvucci, formerly of the Philadelphia police force, and one of this blog’s dearest readers: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113718218 — which suggests that Audrey Ellen Arbuckle was born in 1934 and died in 2009, buried in an Erie, Pennsylvania cemetery.  I wish she were here to read this, but I am sure her spirit still swings.

May your happiness increase!

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THRILLING TERRIBLE CHILDREN, SEDATELY WELL-BEHAVED ADULTS (IN JAZZ, OF COURSE)

Consider this very truncated list: Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Purvis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Jabbo Smith, Sandy Williams, Cassino Simpson, Dave Tough, Tony Fruscella, Fud Livingston, Dick McDonough, Serge Chaloff, Fats Navarro, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan.

What do they have in common?  Would you, were you a recording supervisor, hire them for a record date?  Would you hire them for your orchestra or gig?  Could you count on them to do the work asked of them?  (A hint here: as much as I revere, let’s say, Fruscella or Livingston, I wouldn’t want them driving the kids to summer camp.)

That list contains poets of the music, artistic trailblazers, instantly recognizable creators, memorable improvisers.  But it is also a list of people who didn’t show up on time or at all for the gig or has to be awakened in the middle of a song to play, people who were addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, and sex; people who had borderline personality disorder; people who stole, lied, and destroyed property; people who refused to bathe or change their clothes . . . and more.

Even if this seems blasphemous, do me the kindness to read on.

And if you proclaim that Genius must be forgiven anything because it’s Genius, I wonder how you would feel if the Genius vomited on your living room rug or stole money from you.

I suspect that most jazz fans are Apollonian (in Nietzsche’s dichotomy): they drive in the proper lane; they shower regularly; they hold jobs; they change the registration sticker on their car when the law says they must.  But, perhaps as a result, they are fascinated by the Dionysiac, the Bad Boys and Girls of Jazz, the people whose behavior is flashy, self-destructive, eccentric, illegal.

Consider this: if someone could come up with an authenticated needle used by Billie or Bird, or a piece of Bix’s mummified blue sweater, how much would those holy relics — the jazz Shroud of Turin — fetch on eBay?

Violently erratic “bad” behavior makes good copy.  How many biographies of Bix are there, as compared to his more restrained contemporaries? How many theatrical presentations “recreating” Billie are there, as opposed to the lives of other singers who drank Seven-Up?

I was motivated to write this piece because of the just-issued biography of Johnny Guarnieri, SUPERSTRIDE, beautifully written and researched by Derek Coller, depicts a good husband and father, and a craftsman, someone serious about his art even when striding joyously.

I think of others of the same general character: people who kept pocket notebooks and were thus early to gigs, who came prepared to make music, with horns that worked and a knowledge of the charts; musicians who could transpose and knew their keys; who came to the club date in appropriate, even elaborate formal wear; whose clothes were clean; who conducted themselves as professionals and whose behavior might have been placid and thus not worthy of chronicling, but who behaved as adults.

Think of Maxine Sullivan, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Joe Wilder, Teddi King, Eddie Barefield, Al Hall, Ed Hall, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Bennie Morton, and Buster Bailey among others: artists who didn’t use “genius” as an excuse for childishness.  Sadly, I sense a silent snobbery among jazz fans, who look down on these mature men and women because their personal lives are uneventful.  And, aside from Hinton, Wilder, and Ed Hall, how many of the artists in the list above have been properly chronicled?   Men and women who didn’t destroy themselves and others are proper figures to contemplate and admire.  Even if they are tediously busy being professional, monogamous, and sober, their lives  have much to show us.

Obviously it’s not thrilling to write about someone who does his or her job without drama, but we should be celebrating these artists as grownups.  And grownups are hard to find in any field.

Here’s music made by several grownups: musicians, classically trained who could cut the charts and swing like mad, who appear on many record dates because they were both creative and reliable: William C. Bailey of Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally backed by Osie Johnson, drums, and that very same Johnny Guarnieri among others:

I wonder what would happen to us, as an audience, if we chose not to fetishize childish self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrated adult behavior?

Inspiration for this post is, as it often is, thanks to Sammut of Malta, whose thoughts are always inspiring.

May your happiness increase!

BROTHERS, ARE YOU DROOLING WHILE YOU SEEM TO BE LISTENING?

Certain essays I write have been simmering in my consciousness for years, and when the moment comes, they demand to be written.  This post comes from my years of experience as a member of the jazz audience.  It is about an uncomfortable subject.

Cornelis Dusart (1660-1704), “Caricature Head of a Leering Man, A Recorder Tucked into his Hat.”

My motivation for this piece comes from a private conversation I had yesterday morning with a male jazz fan of my generation who had enthusiastically posted on Facebook that a lovely young woman instrumentalist had “a movie-star profile.”  Although his comment was meant as praise, it jarred me, and I privately asked him to consider why he had written it.  To his immense credit, he replied graciously, was self-aware, and removed the comment: acts that I admire.  But I felt a need to explore this phenomenon.

What follows is an expanded and edited version of my comment to him, names redacted.  I ask only that those who respond to this post pause before leaping in.  Comments including the words “Not all men” will be deleted.

This post is the result of a long conversation, one I’ve had with male and female musicians I respect. I am 66, and although I am in a wonderful relationship, I am also sensitive to female beauty.  We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, sexualized creatures, and that is not a bad thing.  But how we express our erotic impulses is worth considering.

In my experience of the past fifteen years, much of the jazz audience is made up of men of my generation.  Amiable, enthusiastic people.  But many apparently don’t seem to be getting a great deal of sexual fulfillment.  And without thinking about it, they publicly drool over and objectify any attractive young woman performer.  It seems some can’t decide if they want to caress her or take her out for an ice cream soda or both.  They crowd around.  They ogle.  They stare at her body as if she were a particularly appealing entree.  They follow her when she makes it clear she has to leave.

This leering response extends into their writing.  Look at the “admiring” comments on, say, a woman performer’s Facebook page.  “Wow, she’s so Hot!” is one example.  When an alluring woman musician is ooooohed over in print, it’s often evident that the man praising her is in part hearing her music but is more powerfully in the grip of his own sexual attraction.

In person, this kind of sexualizing is sometimes cloaked in fake-benevolent paternalism: “Oh, A is so cute.  I love the way she dances around the stand.”  Did anyone say of Rod Cless, “He’s so cute?”  If they did, it hasn’t been recorded.  More likely, they said, “What a beautiful tone he gets on the clarinet,” which is a critical expression with no murky subtext.

Once, at a table near me, a male jazz fan made lecherous yearning remarks about the woman musician on the stand, that he’d “like to get her away for a weekend,” while his wife sat next to him, looking elsewhere, drinking her beer.  Another man pointed out to him that the object of his affection had a partner, but he grinned and said that this did not matter.  This wasn’t an aberration; it happens often.

I am on a crusade to get people to listen to the music and assess it deeply.  To me, this is better than fetishizing the body of the artist.  That prurient response is not art criticism; it is not appropriate humane behavior.  And listening to music is done with the ears, not the eyes.

I know that this reproach goes against decades of having men tell men, “It’s OK to be like that: that’s what a man does.” We were trained to think of women as gorgeous objects, collections of delightful parts, and implicitly told that we had the right to assess them solely on their physical attributes.  “I voted for Miss December.”  Our popular culture continues, with exceptions, to tell men that lasciviousness is a commendable mark of manhood.  I don’t think we are wicked when we are sexual: this is a delightful part of being alive.  Saying to our partner, “You look so sexy in those jeans!” is not a criminal act.  Behaving lecherously to strangers who have not signed on for it is another matter.

Thus I strongly suggest that we make distinctions between the music a woman makes and her physical appeal.  We may, of course, admire both, but they are not the same thing, and our admiration requires a certain self-scrutiny, at least if we do it in public.  We all vibrate to certain powerful attractions, but to act on them in ways that cause others discomfort is not right.

This mixture of badly-concealed lust, casual expressions of power, implied ownership, and plain bad manners takes other forms.  A demure young woman musician I know says that male fans always try to touch her when they speak to her, how she must back away from them.

I do not set myself up as a model here.  I have not always behaved well, but at least I think about what I do.  But I am distressed when these attitudes and actions I have described here debase the music I love and the people who spend their lives perfecting their art.

To all the JAZZ LIVES audience: thank you for reading my long meditation on this delicate subject. I hope you always have beautiful music to hear, music that makes you feel it is a great thing to be alive.  And I hope we all can treat our fellow denizens of this planet with kindness and awareness.

May your happiness increase!

“TO SWING FAN No. 1”: AN AUTOGRAPH ALBUM c. 1941

More delightful eBaying.

The seller describes the holy relic thusly: An original 1930’s album containing 88 autograph signatures of jazz musicians, sporting figures and other personalities. The musicians represented include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Desmond, Gene Krupa, Bid Sid Catlett, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, “Hot Lips” Page, Cab Calloway, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Les Brown, and many more. The album with a two-ring binding, with some signatures signed directly onto the album leaves and others clipped and mounted, some on larger folded sheets. 31 pages of autographs, with further blank pages in the middle; on the last several pages, all the grades from the owner’s report cards from 1930 to 1943 are meticulously recorded! An inscription to the owner on the verso of the title page dates the album to 1931. Light toning and edge wear; overall in fine condition. 6.25 x 4.5 inches (15.8 x 11.7 cm).

Here is the link, and the price is $750 plus $20 shipping.  I don’t need it, but I certainly covet it: pieces of paper touched by people I have revered for half a century.  (And, of course, imagine having heard, seen, and spoken to them!)

Before we get to the treasures within, I can only speculate that someone listing report cards from 1930 to 1943 was born, let us say, in 1925, and so might no longer be on the planet.  But he or she was an avid Hot Lips Page acolyte, so we are certainly related spiritually.

The only name unfamiliar to me in this rich collection was Mart Kenney, whom I learned was a well-known Canadian jazz musician and bandleader (his “Western Gentlemen”) and long-lived, 1910-2006.  Did our autograph collector visit Canada?

In general, the signatures collected here suggest a wealth of bands seen and heard in 1941: Lips, Dave Tough, and Max Kaminsky with Artie Shaw; Mel Powell with Goodman; Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Krupa.

Here’s a peek.

Artie Shaw, with two Lips Page signatures!

Benny Goodman, with Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and John Simmons!

My favorite page.  And Page (with equal time for Walter)!

I wonder how many of these pages Gene signed in his life.

Others in Gene’s band, including Sam Musiker and Roy Eldridge.

Anita O’Day and Joe Springer.

Hi-De-Ho, on a tiny label.

Woody Herman.

Bob Higgins and Les Brown.

Mart Kenney and musicians.

And I presume more members of the Western Gentlemen.

For once, this seems like a bargain: 88 signatures plus thirteen years of the owner’s report cards.  Who could resist?

Just because no JAZZ LIVES post should be completely silent, here (thanks to Loren Schoenberg) is a 1941 airshot from the Steel Pier of Artie Shaw’s band featuring Hot Lips Page, Dave Tough, and George Auld on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

May your happiness increase!

BILLIE, SEVERAL TIMES

First, and most striking, even though the disc is in G+ condition.

Here’s another photograph — less sharp but closer in:

The eBay link is here, should you want to spend $799.00 on it outright or start bidding.  Or, you could buy this disc for just under $25 (the seller says it’s in V condition, but as we know such things are terribly subjective:

I’m not proposing any criminal acts, but you’d have a great deal of money left over for a pen and white ink at your local crafts store. Or you could listen to Billie sing NIGHT AND DAY for free:

And if your optimism is threatening to overpower your life, GLOOMY SUNDAY may be just the thing to offset it with darkness:

But hearing Billie and seeing a holy relic should not be gloomy.

May your happiness increase!

TALENT DESERVING WIDER RECOGNITION: “SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY,” WITH VOCAL REFRAIN

To me, and I admit it’s a hugely subjective judgment, women ballad singers outnumber their male counterparts.  I’ve thought for the past decades that if I wanted to hear, let’s say, SKYLARK, sung tenderly, I’d have a better chance hearing it from a woman.  Reverse sexism, you say?  No, just observation.  Follow along with me, and save the quibbles for later.

I’d almost given up on male singers. But that was before a friend — who keeps his hand in — shared this brief compelling video of an unidentified singer with me.  I haven’t yet tracked down the singer, but his rendition of SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY went straight to my heart.  His inherent drama.  His unerring pitch.  His breath control.  His deep emotions.  The pure pathos.

I realize that the singer’s unusual appearance might put some viewers off at the start, but put your preconceptions away for some of the finest heartfelt singing you will hear, this year or any other.  And don’t let the pseudonym unsettle you: I believe he is under restrictive legal contracts, characteristic of the music business, so his name must be hidden for the moment.

The performance is brief, so put down your water bottle, coffee cup, or tuna wrap to hear and admire.

I’ll keep doing the detective work of “Who IS this phenomenon?” to uncover the facts, and I will keep admiring this performance.  I hope you share my enthusiasm.  Young singers, take note.  Or notes.

May your happiness increase!

“LARKIN’S LAW” AND ITS DISCONTENTS, or “WHO’S SORRY NOW?”

When I first read poet / jazz-lover / jazz-essayist Philip Larkin’s “law,” some forty years ago, I thought it sardonically amusing, as was Groucho’s “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”  Now, I find it and its effects quite sad:

“If I were to frame Larkin’s Law of Reissues, it would say that anything you haven’t got already probably isn’t worth bothering about.  In other words, if someone tries to persuade you to buy a limited edition of the 1924-25 sessions by Paraffin Joe and his Nitelites, keep your pockets buttoned up: if they were any good, you’d have heard of them at school, as you did King Oliver, and have laid out your earliest pocket money on them.”

I’ve always had an odd admiration for Larkin, while making the necessary effort to ignore much of what he wrote: he is the embarrassing relative at the holiday dinner table who shares his racist, misogynistic views.  I am also certain that had we met, he would have satirized me in his diary that evening.  But his vigorous parochialism ran parallel to some of my taste: he thought the 1932 Rhythmakers sessions the height of Western civilization, a sentiment I can understand.

Larkin’s Law would seem valid to many in “the jazz audience” I know, a credo in support of Their Kind of Music.  Caveat immediately: there are so many jazzes and thus so many audiences that I can only speak of the small slice I experience, in person, in correspondence, and through social media.

With JAZZ LIVES as my creation for over a decade, I continue to be thrilled by the music yet often puzzled by the provincialism of the response it receives.  Of course this blog is an expression of my own tastes, which have been shaped by experience(s).  I prefer X to Y even if received wisdom says I shouldn’t.  And although my response may be simply “That band doesn’t move me,” I stand by my aesthetics.

However, even though jazz was once a radical music, an art form relegated to the basement where it wouldn’t upset the pets, the audience can be aesthetically conservative, defining itself in opposition.

As Sammut of Malta writes, people view art as a box rather than as a spectrum.

I think many of the jazz-consumers have decided What They Like and it is often What They Have Always Liked.  Their loyalty is fierce, even in the face of unsettling evidence.  My analogy is the restaurant at which one has a brilliant meal, then a good meal, then a dreadful meal — but one keeps returning, because one always eats there.  Familiarity wins out over the courage to experiment.  “I love this band.  I first heard them in 1978!”

As an aside: I’ve watched audience members at jazz festivals who race to see Their Favorite Band and then talk through the set, applauding loudly what they could not have heard, convinced that they are having the time of their lives.  (This phenomenon is a subject for another blog: it worked its way in here and it deserves its few words.)

Loyalty is a lovely thing, and audience members certainly may gravitate to what pleases them.  If you tell me that Taco Bell is the best Mexican food that ever was, I can protest, I can meet you after lunch, I can invite you to the taqueria down the street, but changing your mind is difficult.  You like what you like for a complex network of reasons, many of them unexamined.

What does worry me is when affection becomes rigidity and turns into a rejection of anything a few degrees away from the Ideal.  It happens on both ends of the aesthetic continuum.  One of my Facebook fans used to dismiss music she found too modern as “Too swingy.”  I suggested to her that jazz of the kind she preferred also swung, but it was clear that some music I embraced seemed heretical to her.  Conversely, “I don’t like banjos and tubas” is a less-heard but prevalent response, to which I want to say, “Have you heard A play the banjo or B play the tuba?  Perhaps your condemnation needs to be refined to ‘I prefer rhythm guitar and string bass in rhythm sections, but other ways to swing can be pleasing as well’.”  I can even say, “Have you heard Bernard Addison and John Kirby in 1933?” but does everyone recognize those names?

In practical terms, Larkin’s Law means that many people reject as unworthy what they do not immediately recognize.  Closing the door on anything even slightly different will not help those who want the music they love to go on.  And it will deny the listener pleasurable surprises.

I, too, know jazz parochialism.  When I was 14, I could have told you that I liked jazz.  Pressed for a definition of what I liked, I would have said Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman small groups, and not much else.  Soon I added the Billie Holiday small groups, 1940 Ellington, 1938 Basie, and so on.  It took a long time before I could “hear” Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie with pleasure and understanding, but I knew there was something worth investigating.  I have not gotten beyond early Ornette or Wilbur Sweatman, but I keep listening and attending live jazz performances.

I know some JAZZ LIVES readers and friends have more open ears than what I describe.  And some of them, whom I celebrate happily, have written to say, “Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to _____ and _________, whom I wouldn’t have heard without your blog.”  Reading this, I think gleefully, “My work on the planet is done,” and go to do the dishes with a big grin.  But I wonder how many listeners have seriously considered, let us say, both Mike Davis and Lena Bloch, Kim Cusack and Ted Brown, Paul Asaro and Joel Forrester, the Chicago Cellar Boys and the Microscopic Septet, Kirk Knuffke and Danny Tobias — to pick a few vivid examples.

My apparent ecumenicism does not mean I like everything.  And I receive a good number of solicitations from music publicists and even CDs: I listen before saying, “No, that’s not for me.”  Rarely do I think, “Wow, that’s bad music!”; rather, I say, “What that artist is doing is not pleasing to me, but that says much about me as well as what it says about the art.”

We all, I believe, fell in love with certain varieties of this art because they made us feel excited, joyous, alive, exuberant — a WOW moment.  For some, the Love Object may be Oliver’s ROOM RENT BLUES or the closing chorus of the Hot Seven’s WEARY BLUES, or a Decca Lunceford, the Jones-Smith session, Hawkins’ SIRIUS . . . .  And no one would propose to say to an enraptured listener, “You really shouldn’t listen to that,” unless one wants to argue.  But what if some musician or band offered a serious WOW moment and the listener had refused to try it out, because, “I don’t listen to anything that isn’t . . . . “?  Should we be so in love with what we love that we keep our ears closed, as if it would be fatal for us to spend two or three minutes with a music that didn’t instantly please us?

Our preferences are strong.  But occasionally those preferences are so negative that they make me envision my fellow jazz-lovers as irritable toddlers.  “Honey, we have A through L for lunch.  What would you like?” The response, in a howl, “No!  No!  No!  Want R!”

There is another manifestation of this calcified reaction, one I perceive regularly through JAZZ LIVES.  Certain artists have powerful magnetism: call it star quality, so whatever they play or sing attracts an audience.  (It is reminiscent of the imagined book with the widest audience, called LINCOLN’S DOCTOR’S DOG.)  I have often thought that the most-desired video I could offer would have technically dazzling music at a fast tempo, performed by young people, women and men both.  A little sexuality, a drum solo, novelty but not too much, evocations of this or the other jazz Deity . . . it’s a hit!

But it also should be music made by Famous Names.  You can compile your own list of stars who often play and sing beautifully.  But when I offer a video without Famous Names, without the visual novelty, fewer people go to it, enacting Larkin’s Law.  “I don’t know who that is.  How could (s)he be any good?”

Do we listen with our ears or our eyes or with our memory for names?

Could listeners, for instance, make serious judgments about music they knew nothing about — the Blindfold Test?  I admire Hot Lips Page above most mortals, but I have learned to be courageous enough to say, “I love Lips, but he seems bored here — he’s going through the motions.”  Whether I am right or not matters less, but making the critical judgment is, I think, crucial.

These thoughts are provoked by Larkin’s Law as an indication of historical allegiance rather than expansive taste, of a narrowness of reaction rather than a curiosity about the art form.

What I conceive as the ideal may seem paradoxical, but I applaud both a willingness to listen outside one’s tightly-defended parameters and, at the same time, to be seriously aware in one’s appreciation and not turn habit into advocacy.  Let us love the music and let us also hear it.

And, in honor of Philip Larkin, who may have stubbornly denied himself pleasure by hewing to his own asphyxiating principles, here are some of his artistic touchstones:

A personal postscript: JAZZ LIVES gives me great joy, and I am not fishing for praise.  Many people have told me in person how much they appreciate my efforts.  But I perceive provincialism creeping up the limbs of the jazz body as sure as rigor mortis, and I would like this music to continue, vigorous, when I am no longer around to video it.

May your happiness increase!