Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

“NO.”

When you’re not smiling.

I’ve spent years saying YES to things that I would rather not have done, out of the misguided notion that I had to, to be liked, accepted, or praised. Often the appeal was wrapped in flattery, and I accepted the task without considering what a careless acceptance would mean.

Only in later years have I worked on the art of saying NO.

This came out of working with women even more downtrodden than I’d ever been, women who had been compelled to think it would be wrong to refuse a burden.

They were trained to stifle the NO they wanted to say. Or “I just can’t.” “I would prefer not to.” “Isn’t there someone else you can exploit?” “Do it yourself,” or a thousand other self-preserving statements, “Are you fucking kidding me?” being the most candid one.

As I age, I see more clearly the limits of my energy and my desire to preserve myself, but I don’t want to be offensive, or perhaps I don’t want to be perceived as that.

So when my inner voice is saying, in response to some request, “I’d rather die,” I am practicing saying, “I’ve got too much on my plate right now to do it.” Among close friends, I can mutter, “I’d rather stick myself in the face with a plastic fork,” often accompanied by an upward-stabbing gesture of the right hand and arm. But that’s only in my inner circle, and accompanied by hilarity on all sides.

In the recent past (and I know I am not alone in this) I framed the backing-off as an apology, “I’m really sorry; I’d like to help you, but (a trailing-off pause)” — but it dawned on me that my requester heard only “I’d like to help you” and pressed on.

So no more apologies. A head-shake, a smile, and “I really can’t,” will have to suffice.

What has this got to do with jazz? Wait.

Victoria Spivey wrote this song, NO, PAPA, NO! — which she recorded in 1928, as did Duke Ellington, and Louis. Her version is rather formulaic (although not outdated) — stern statements to a male lover about what he cannot do to her. As my 78 collection expanded over the pandemic, I obtained this disc, with its much more stark title:

Considering this sacred artifact recently provoked thoughts about the self-preserving power of refusal.

But first, the music: a rather light-hearted twelve-bar blues with key changes lifting it out of the predictable, Earl Hines shining through — Louis, looking backwards to Joe Oliver and forward to the way he would approach the blues until his death:

Now, I imagine myself pressed into a corner by someone insistent, someone who won’t honor my feelings as expressed in more intense refusals. At last I have my secret weapon, in reserve as a last resort.

“Michael, I’m begging you. Only you can do this for me. And I’ll always be grateful.”

“Well, let me check with Louis.”

“Louis?”

“Yes, Louis always helps me make decisions as important as this. I’ll be back in a few.”

Then I can gather my strength, look closely at the OKeh label, perhaps play the record itself, which won’t take long, and say, “Sorry to make you wait. Louis says NO, and I never disagree with him. Take good care,” and leave.

See if it works for you, and report back.

May your happiness increase!

“I HAPPEN TO LIKE BENNY GOODMAN”: DAN MORGENSTERN (August 30, 2019)

“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.

But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.

and more:

I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.

and a few years later, in two versions:

I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?

Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE TREASURE-BOX: ED HALL, RUBY BRAFF, VIC DICKENSON, KENNY KERSEY, JOHN FIELD, JIMMY CRAWFORD; MAX KAMINSKY, VERNON BROWN; RALPH SUTTON (1944-1960)

The music may not go ’round and ’round, but at the moment my collection certainly extends itself from room to room. Because I can envision myself moving house, as the Brits say, I have been slightly more energetic in my tidying, although Marie Kondo would have walked away in despair a long time ago (Marie: what happens if so many things “spark joy”? Hmmmm?)

A few days ago I noticed three cassette boxes that have been on a bedroom windowsill for some time. One was empty and unlabeled; another was Frank O’Connor reading “My Oedipus Complex,” a souvenir of a past life, and the third, mildly waterlogged and soiled, but with its tape safely inside, was this:

I recognized it as a gift from the late Joe Boughton, which, since Joe left us in 2010, already made it an artifact. Joe was a concert and jazz-party impresario (“Jazz at Chautauqua” among other delights), a record producer, but most often he was a collector and enthusiast who brought a tape recorder to many gigs and traded tapes of his favorites. Our tastes ran in the same directions, and when I had obtained something I knew he would like, I would send him a cassette of it, and he would send me one of his homemade anthologies. (We never called them “mixtapes,” but each of us had cars with cassette decks.)

I didn’t know if the tape would play, but it did, and I can share with you the most remarkable portions . . . saved from the recycling bag that holds disposable plastics.

First, four performances captured on home-recorded acetates, radio broadcasts of Ed Hall’s Sextet from the Savoy Cafe, Boston, WMEX, Nat Hentoff, m.c. May-June 1949: Hall, clarinet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Kenny Kersey, piano; John Field, string bass; Jimmy Crawford, drums. CHINA BOY / MORE THAN YOU KNOW (glorious Vic) / S’WONDERFUL into program closing / THE MAN I LOVE //

And a mysterious bonus, mysterious because Joe didn’t type in any data about it, BACK HOME IN INDIANA, by (audibly) Max Kaminsky, trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; others not known. My friend Sonny McGown, a fine listener and collector himself, wrote in quickly, “The version of Indiana sounded familiar to me and I recognized the clarinetist as Ernie Caceres. The recording is from an Eddie Condon Associated transcription session of 24 October 1944. Others listed for this particular tune on the session date are Kaminsky, Lou McGarity, Jess Stacy, Condon, Bob Haggart, and George Wettling. What a band!”

Then, Ralph Sutton at Sunnie’s Rendezvous in Aspen, Colorado, 1960s, playing Willard RobIson’s I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA.

Thank you, gorgeous improvisers, and thank you, Joe, for sharing the music with me . . . so that more than a dozen years later, I can share it with you.

May your happiness increase!

TOMMY SITS IN AT CAFE SOCIETY, FEBRUARY 4, 1944

Yes, that’s right: Tommy Dorsey taking Bennie Morton’s place, briefly, reading the trombone book, alongside Emmett Berry, trumpet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Sidney Catlett, drums. Members of this band we don’t see are the leader Teddy Wilson and the bassist, either Johnny Williams or Slam Stewart. Alas, there’s no recorded evidence, but Brown Brothers had a photographer there to show us that it did happen.

Incidentally, “sits in” means that he wasn’t there as a regular member of the group; his business suit isn’t their tuxedo band uniform, and his posture suggests (even though Tommy was a completely expert professional musician) that he is seeing the music for the first time.

and the front, so remarkable:

I suspect whatever they are playing is or was an arrangement new to them, because Emmett and Ed are looking at their music as well. It must have sounded so fine.

How do I know about this? This photograph, with watermarks added, appeared on eBay about a week ago and I put in a substantial bid and sat back. The auction ended less than an hour ago; I was outbid, and the new owner will pay $134 (shipping included) which was more than I felt up to. But we all can see this version — even with watermarks — and marvel, for free.

And just because it would be cruel tp post silently in this context, here is nearly forty-five minutes from that same Wilson band (Berry, Morton, Hall, Slam Stewart, Catlett) recorded for Associated Transcriptions in 1944. Ignore the incorrect “Onyx Club” description and float along in the finest swing:

That photograph says a good deal about Tommy Dorsey the active and respected jazzman, something that posterity hasn’t always said quite as generously. He could, and did, play, and I am sure that Teddy was delighted to have him on the stand.

May your happiness increase!

PRECIOUS HOT MUSIC, 1983, BILL NAPIER, LARRY STEIN, TOM BAKER, and FRIENDS

Bill Napier, clarinet

News flash (April 14, 2022): the correct personnel is Bill Napier, clarinet; Larry Stein, soprano saxophone; Tom Baker, tenor saxophone; Robin Hodes, trumpet; Bob Mielke, trombone; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; unidentified, solo guitar; possibly Jim Cumming, string bass.

The beloved and much-missed string bassist and spiritual leader Mike Fay brought recording equipment to gigs — a blessing, as you will hear. I have been privileged to hear some of the results and will share a brief surging interlude, performed live. Mike’s homemade CD read HOT REEDS 1983, nothing else, and that brief description is surely accurate. (I apologize for not having a good photograph of Mike, who moved on in 2017: those I took show him hidden in the rhythm section, which is I think where he always wanted to be.)

Here is a hot track from a live session that stretches over two CDs — wonderful, leisurely and relaxed.

I will post more in future; this hot rendition of THEM THERE EYES is a proven mood-enhancer. Blessings on Mike Fay and his friends, here and in other neighborhoods, and thanks to Marc Caparone and Clint Baker for their detective work.

May your happiness increase!

“AN HONORED BUT TROMBONELESS GUEST”: MUSIC and STORIES by TOMMY DORSEY, July 4, 1952

and . . .

I will turn things over to my friend David Sager, Prince of Wails as trombonist and scholar, to share his unusual discovery with you.

An Honored but Tromboneless Guest

Among the storied gathering spots for jazz musicians was the Evanston, Illinois home of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft, a talented amateur pianist turned lawyer. Between 1930 and the start of WWII, Squirrel’s home was the Midwest rallying spot for musicians traveling through the Chicago area, where they could play music as they wished, eat, drink, listen to records, and swap stories.


Known as “Sessions at Squirrel’s,” these gatherings of jazz musicians and record collectors were co-hosted by Bill Priestley, who played cornet and guitar, and like Squirrel, had been a member of the old Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band back in the 20s. The parties were interrupted by WWII. When they resumed in the 50s, the venue changed to Bill Priestley’s home in Lake Forrest, redubbed as “The Annual Bix Festival,” reflecting the musical allegiance of the hosts and their guests.


And their guests included the likes of Red Nichols, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, as well as a fairly steady “house band” consisting of Squirrel on piano; Priestley – cornet/guitar; Jack Gardner – piano; George Kenyon – trumpet/mellophone; Phil Atwood – bass; Jack Howe – clarinet, and several other locals.

One of these parties, held on July 4, 1952, coincided with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra’s appearance at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel. Anyone familiar with the book Tommy and Jimmy: the Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, will recall the chapter about the party and Dorsey being in attendance. This was during an interval where Tommy Dorsey was battling the sinking popularity of the dance band business. His frustration with the popularity of be-bop, which he called “Communist Jazz,” and the encroachment of rock ‘n roll, was palpable. TD did his best to soldier on, and in many ways was successful. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not bring the band biz back and could not quite recapture his reign over the pop music scene, as it was a decade earlier. His current record contract with Decca Records was also a bust. He complained about Decca’s lack of promotion, “My Decca recordings aren’t released, they escape…if they had put the secret of the atomic bomb on Decca, the Russians would never have got it.”


Thus, Dorsey savored such rare moments of relaxation, and was able to find time that July afternoon to attend, sans trombone. Also, in attendance was chemist, jazz historian, and record producer, John Steiner, who – for the sake of posterity – lugged along his tape recorder. Steiner recorded the day’s jam session, ultimately releasing 8 titles on a on a 10-inch LP on the Steiner-Paramount label and titled “The Third Squirrel.” The brief liner notes to that LP tell us that at one point,


An honored but tromboneless guest arrived. A horn was quickly located. Bang went the band into a warmup blues titled understandably TD’s Dt’s. (sic) It was followed after a few anecdotes with Baby Won’t You Please.


As Herb Sanford tells it, another attendee, Park Burgess, who was headmaster of the Lake Forrest Country Day School, had brought his trombone, which he gladly handed over to TD to play. Dorsey, after playing the horn, thanked Burgess with, “This is a great horn, Park. What do you use on the slide—muselage?” (sic) [mucilage].


Sanford, who had been the Triangle band’s pianist and later, Dorsey’s radio producer, continued,


Tommy was the big hit of the afternoon—not on trombone, but as storyteller. He began to reminisce. One anecdote followed another, going from speakeasy days right on through to the present. Listening to the tape, it is as if Tommy was in the room, with all his idiosyncrasies of speech. Tommy had a way of making a mirthful sound in his throat and sustaining it in the pauses. It had the effect of keeping the listener hanging on.


It may come as a surprise that Dorsey was such an engaging raconteur. His legacy is largely that of an intense taskmaster, often unreasonable and even cruel, as well as unpredictably temperamental. A sort of generalization has come down to us characterizing Tommy as the Dorsey to fear, while brother Jimmy was a sweet gentle soul, loved by all. However, looking a little deeper, we see that it was not an accurate characterization. Jimmy was shy, an introvert. He rarely displayed his temper, but rather kept it on the inside. He was a bit of a misanthrope.


Tommy, on the other hand, was a people person; gregarious, generous, energetic. But he also exhibited symptoms of being bipolar. He was volatile and intolerant with those he considered weak. But surrounded by his friends, he was convivial, gracious, and very funny.


The tape referred to in the Sanford book had long intrigued me. There are plenty of recordings of TD speaking to an audience, in an amiable, ever-so-slightly gruff manner. Yet, there are next to no recorded interviews, or even written records of his reminiscences or opinions – at least not ones that are not heavily ghosted by an editor. Therefore, we have almost no first-hand accounts from this seminal figure of American popular music.

In the late 1980s, while I was traveling in Milwaukee with Banu Gibson and her band, pianist David Boeddinghaus and I had the pleasure of visiting John Steiner, himself, in his suburban home. Mrs. Steiner served us some lunch, and then John led us to his basement, where he kept his collection.
John’s basement contained the spoils of the Paramount Records business he had acquired years before, when he purchased the name and existing stock of the fabled label. There were test pressings, metal parts, some commercial pressings. There were also lots of audio gadgets: meters, microphones, oscilloscopes, old transcription turntables, tubes…

I asked John about the Dorsey tape and the “Third Squirrel” album. He pulled out a copy of the latter, a 10-inch LP, pressed on transparent red vinyl, which he presented to me. John then foraged around through his collection of open-reel tapes and found the one of Tommy as life of the party. At least, it was part of the complete tape; a few of the stories Sanford reported are not present. And, in their place are some that were new to me. I suspect that there is another reel somewhere in John’s collection, now housed at the University of Chicago. Anyway, John played us the tape, or what he could find of it. It was as good as Sanford said. I asked John for a copy and a week or two later a package arrived at my door containing a cassette, the contents of which I present here.

Sanford transcribed several of these stories for his book. They are slightly amusing. However, one really misses the impact of Tommy’s speech – you really had to be there. Hearing the actual recording, we experience Dorsey, the engaging raconteur, complete with expertly timed pauses and punchlines. This is most evident in the story about the Everglades and its very funny tag line.

The stories take us back to the days of Plunkett’s speakeasy, the most storied watering hole in the annals of 1920s hot jazz. And yes, the anecdotes are dominated by the theme of drinking – to excess – and the results of musicians so influenced performing in high-class establishments.
We hear about Davey Tough and Tommy’s attempt to help him dry out. Also, a projectile string bass and the mobster who defended the perpetrator. Then there’s a story about an unusual main dish that will surely offend many. To Tommy’s credit, he did not bring this one up. Rather it was Squirrel who mentioned it. It concerns an obscure Philadelphia musician named Ralph Margavero (I am not sure about that spelling). I did check Philadelphia newspapers and Ancestery.com and could not find out anything about him. But it seems that, like so many working musicians, Ralph would come home late after a gig hungry. Ah, the antics of musicians who will stop at nothing! Fortunately, I think, we have all evolved since then…

Additionally, many of the asides are worth picking through the excess crowd noise to hear. For instance, Tommy mentions a notorious New York hoodlum, who was also the manager of Tommy Guinan’s Playground; Hyman “Feet” Edson. Squirrel offers up a story – barely audible, about Wingy Manone. But then, Tommy chimes in and confirms the urban myth about brother Jimmy sending Wingy one cufflink for his birthday.


Those who own the Sanford book, will notice some discrepancies between Sanford’s transcription and what Dorsey actually says on the tape. For instance, the story about Charlie Shavers will now make some sense. There is one casualty; the story about Pee Wee Russell, which Sanford saved for last, is missing. If the full tape exists perhaps some diligent researcher will someday find it in the Steiner Collection.


The final story on the tape reflects TD‘s distaste for bebop. Obscured by the crowd noise, he begins, “I don’t go in much for bop stories…
A bopper walking down the street, and he’s in cloud number 7, and there’s an organ grinder there, and he’s playing a tune, and the monkey’s right on the… organ grinder, ya know, the organ…and the guy looked up and said, “Man, I don’t dig your music, but you got a crazy son!”


As a finale, here is the one issued jam session title, “TD’s Dt’s,” on which Dorsey is heard playing three choruses of blues on a borrowed trombone, and a tremendous performance, at that. There has been so much in print about Dorsey’s lack of ability when it came to playing jazz, I find it maddening. It’s true that Tommy, in his jazz playing, stuck close to the melody, varying it in predictable ways, with a repertoire of about a dozen pet licks. But here, during those three choruses, I don’t hear even one of his usual “go-to phrases.” Although dominated by a huge ego, Tommy Dorsey was modest, even embarrassed by his jazz playing. That was not necessary, for despite a narrow harmonic imagination, his attack, forcefulness, and musical conviction were more convincing and compelling than most.

Here’s the too-brief blues (its sound improved, thanks to Doug Benson and Karl Pierson).

and the stories:

Thanks to David Sager for his typically perceptive diligence and generosity.

May your happiness increase!

“IMPROMPTU”: DAVE BRUBECK, BENNY GOODMAN, BOBBY HACKETT, PAUL DESMOND, EUGENE WRIGHT, JOE MORELLO (Rock Rimmon Jazz Festival, New Hampshire, July 12, 1963)

This CD was released in 2021:

I don’t quite know the circumstances that made this unusual and wonderful meeting possible, nor how this was recorded . . . but it’s a marvelous event.

Here are the 1963 performances, posted on YouTube by someone I don’t know.

First, a brisk POOR BUTTERFLY featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet, with the Brubeck rhythm section of Dave, piano; Eugene Wright, string bass; Joe Morello, drums. And you can hear Bobby express his pleasure when the song concludes. Then, Benny Goodman joins in for an eleven-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the magical Paul Desmond adding his alto saxophone and choruses of riffing and an improvised ensemble. As an encore, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a standard the CD liner notes indicate that Brubeck had never recorded before (his solo is anything but formulaic) and that Desmond had never recorded at all, with the same unusual but congenial front line:

I’ve not been able to find out anything more about this performance. The official Brubeck website corroborates the details above, although noting that the other tracks on the CD are not all correctly labeled. As to the Rock Rimmon Jazz Festival? I saw that Rock Rimmon is in Manchester, New Hampshire, and I already knew that Benny had recorded an original called ROCK RIMMON with a small group including Ruby Braff for Capitol Records, but the trail grows cold there. At least we have the music!

Festivals make odd stage-fellows, but here the unusual combination is completely enlivening. . . .twenty-four minutes of friendly exploration of the common language of lyrical swing. Bless the players, the expert sound crew, the archivists who preserved this, and the company (Domino Records) that issued it, and the person posting it on YouTube for us to savor.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER TEA, SEEN and HEARD

Early on in my listening career I was frankly enraptured by Jack Teagarden, trombone and voice. I heard his ST. JAMES INFIRMARY from Louis’ 1947 Town Hall concert and although I played that whole recording until it turned grey, that track and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ were especially worn. In my local department store, a Decca anthology, THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, was a cherished purchase, with recordings from 1929 to 1947. Ask any trombonist how astonishing Jack’s technique is — and note I use present tense. And as for his singing . . . who has matched its easy fervor?

This little meditation on the man from Texas is motivated by two autographed photographs on eBay. The seller is from Belgium. Here is one link (the portrait); here is the other (the group photo).

First, a standard publicity shot when Jack was a member of Louis’ All-Stars (and thus employed by Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation) — inscribed “To Rosie and Tony,” in peacock-blue fountain-pen ink. I suspect that either Rosie or Tony dated the photograph at the bottom; the neat printing is probably not Jack’s:

That photograph holds no mysterious half-submerged stories. But this one does. It is heralded by the seller as “Louis Armstrong – Lucille Wilson – Jack Teagarden – RARE back signed photo – COA,” and I have no quibbles with that except that by 1942, “Lucille Wilson” had taken “Armstrong” as her surname.

But wait! There’s more! Is the partially obscured clarinetist to the left Peanuts Hucko? I believe the seated baritone saxophonist is not Ernie Caceres, but the elusive Bill Miles. And standing behind Louis is a naggingly familiar figure: the penny dropped (as my UK friends may say) — drummer Kaiser Marshall. His headgear suggests that this is a candid shot from a 1947 gathering, “Jazz on the River,” that also included Art Hodes and possibly Cecil Scott — connected to the premiere of the film NEW ORLEANS at the Winter Garden Theater in New York City.

William P. Gottlieb took a good number of photographs of this concert which was to benefit the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, and you can see them at the Gottlieb holdings at the Library of Congress here. Here’s one:

Other musicians in this band were Cecil Scott, Sandy Williams, and Henry Goodwin. We have even more evidence: an NBC radio broadcast of a concert at the Winter Garden on June 19, 1947, the performers being Louis and Jack, Peanuts and Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and Sidney Catlett. The broadcast, m.c.’d by Fred Robbins, offered ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS, MUSKRAT RAMBLE, DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, and TIGER RAG.

Back to the second photograph for a moment. It does not look to me like a Gottlieb shot. Was it was a candid one, created by another photographer. Is the number on the back significant of anything more than the developer’s index? I do not know. Did Louis, Lucille, and Jack sign this photograph at or after the concert? And . . . who can decipher the fourth signature, quite cryptic and unfamiliar to me?And an aside: we don’t always think of Kaiser Marshall when we list Louis’ great drummers, but they were colleagues in the Fletcher Henderson band during Louis’ 1924-5 tenure, and they teamed up so very memorably for the 1929 KNOCKIN’ A JUG session — although not after that, at least in terms of recorded evidence. You can hear Kaiser (born Joseph) with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and, in 1946-47, with Mezz Mezzrow and Sidney Bechet for KING JAZZ recordings. Kaiser died on January 2, 1948; he was only 45.

All of that has taken us some distance from Jack Teagarden, but I hope you found this jazz-mystery solving rewarding. Now, for some relevant music from the 1947 Winter Garden broadcast — with Louis in that brief golden period when he appeared and recorded with a group of musicians we would most happily associate with Eddie Condon, to great effect:

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE :

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Bobby Hackett at the start, and a gorgeous solo by Jack):

(Note: the YouTube compilers seem to have hidden DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, a duet for Louis and Dick Cary, and SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY. I have no idea why.)

TIGER RAG (with raucous Jack and a wonderful Sidney solo):

Photographs, imperishable music, and a small mystery: JAZZ LIVES’ gift to you.

May your happiness increase!

THE CRITICS THAT BLOOM IN THE SPRING, TRA-LA (an ungentle rumination)

I feel motivated to write these words because of a sudden influx — rather like a termite swarm — of unsolicited negative criticism directed at performances I post on YouTube. Yes, I might seem “thin-skinned,” “grouchy,” “over-sensitive,” but I gotta right to sing these blues also. There will also be many instances of the first-person pronoun in what follows. Caveat lector.

I — yes, me — make arrangements to go to a certain club or venue, which involves travel and carrying video equipment. I’ve already asked permission of the musicians and the clubowner, wherever possible. I get there early, test the camera, and spend the time recording the music. When I get home, I process the videos, edit them, annotate them, and carefully present them, again, after sending them to the musicians for their approval.

A video hits YouTube, and perhaps two minutes later some anonymous John Simon has clicked the “dislike” icon. “The _______ player has a bad sound.” Or, “I like _______’s version better.” Sometimes the poster simply puts up his own version of the song as if to say, “See? This is how you do it.” Or, more personally, “It’s a pity that there was an echo in the room,” or “I wish the cameraman had been able to do close-ups and move around. We can’t see ___________ well.”

Yes, I think that unexplained anonymous public dislike is rude and needless.

Of course it’s too easy in cyberspace. And I want to say to these people, “How well do you sing MORE THAN YOU KNOW”? “How well do you play all the strains of PANAMA”? Or, “Would you have done a better job with a video camera under those circumstances? Do you understand the difference between television’s multi-camera possibilities and what is possible by one human being with one camera?”

I want to say other things, but when those impulses descend, I make another cup of tea and put some laundry away. I stopped reviewing CDs for a famous jazz publication because I realized that my visceral reaction to someone’s creation was just that — a visceral reaction — and it didn’t necessarily have validity beyond the personal. I’m not fond of mushrooms to excess in a dish, but that shouldn’t stop people from harvesting and enjoying them.

Everyone, of course, has an opinion, to which they are all entitled. Everyone has their own taste. And not everything is equally worthy of praise. But I wonder about the basis of some expressions of distaste. If the only rendition of PANAMA you like is by Wild Bill on Commodore in 1943, I can understand your enthusiasm. But does your enthusiasm give you the right to implicitly or explicitly insult artists by suggesting their work is inferior to your ideal? I would have the audience remember that the artists I record and present are offering their art for free, as am I. So sometimes the negative reaction seems ungracious, as if you’d come to my house for lunch, I’d taken trouble over the meal, and you told me you disliked the silverware.

I understand that cyberspace has made possible and encouraged the free expression of anonymous opinion. And that is usually preferable to censorship. But I cannot figure out why the quickest response is negative. Is it that the world of 2022 is so full of free-floating hostility that people have to let it out, rather like other expressions best confined to the lavatory? Or is it a deep-seated and unacknowledged jealousy: “Why should X be singing on YouTube when I can’t?” “What about ME?” I hope not, but those possibilities do come up.

Yes, there is a precedent for accurate negative “reviewing.” When a gentle unmalicious saxophonist says to me, “I can’t listen to Y: he’s never in tune,” I have to take that seriously. And if I were to write a Google review of a new car whose engine burst into flames, I might be saving someone’s life. On a less extreme note, if I write a sharp Yelp review of a restaurant where the chicken is cold and red in the middle, I might be saving someone from a painful evening. But . . . if a YouTube disliker turns thumbs-down on someone’s work, is he saving us from injury, pain, vomiting? Is he performing a public service? Or is he merely saying, “Look at me. I know what good music is and this ain’t it.”

I watch many videos of performers, and some of them do not please me. But I do not reach for the mechanical icon of castigation. Why should I?

That’s all for the moment. But there are real people on your lit screen, singing and playing and making videos for you. Don’t be so quick to shit on them. It’s not nice. It’s not necessary. You’re not serving a purpose.

I usually close a post with May your happiness increase, and I still wish that for any and every one reading. But I say that the contrary is true: Don’t decrease others’ happiness. Please.

MUGGSY, DARNELL “and Friends” PLAY FATS

This airshot on a cassette tape came to me with no more identification than “Honeysuckle Rose, Muggsy,” and those two elements are beyond debate. So is the presence of Darnell Howard, clarinet. And the arranging touches suggest a working band. One source says Ralph Hutchinson, trombone; Floyd Bean, piano; Truck Parham, string bass; Barrett Deems, drums, performed at George Wein’s Storyville, Boston, September 23, 1951. That’s only a listing in a discography, so I don’t know if that is this HONEYSUCKLE or another, and drumming friends who have heard this suggest Teddy Roy on piano and a different drummer.

Whatever: it’s lovely to hear Muggsy and Co. in this groove. Original source material possibly from Joe Boughton, my tape from John L. Fell.

“Every honey bee,” and onwards to swing pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

FAME FADES, IGNORANCE LASTS

There are millions of things I don’t know and don’t recognize. But this example of ignorance did seem worth noting. Please consider the photograph below, on sale at eBay:

and a magnified version of the autograph in the lower right corner:

Drummer Bobby Donaldson (a fine player whose fame hasn’t lasted) and pianist Hank Jones (much better-known) are identifiable in the photograph. It took me a minute to recognize Patti Page, who was indeed famous in her day, but her face was indeed recognizable. There’s a fourth figure in the photograph, his expression mildly quizzical, a cigarette in one hand, a clarinet over the other arm. More about him shortly.

The eBay seller, not known to me, lives in New Hampshire (so the assumption of ignorance of North American popular culture would be unwarranted). And (s)he advertised the photograph in this way: “1940’s signed photo jazz Bobby Donaldson Hank Jones drummer to clarinetist.” and then continued,

“10 x 8 inches, glossy, 2 tiny creases to corner. o/w very good. Legendary jazz drummer Bobby Donaldson posing with jazz great Hank Jones, receiving some recognition from? some steve allen looking guy and a woman. Original pen inscription by Donaldson to a fellow musician: “To Joe a fine clarinetist and musician Bobby Donaldson”. guaranteed. Not signed by Jones.

From this I deduce that the seller is somewhat aware of venerable popular culture to be able to identify — or guess at — Steve Allen, even in this haphazard way. I am trying to find it amusing that Allen, who starred in a film biography of the clarinet player, should have been more tenacious in the seller’s memory than the clarinet player himself.

You in JAZZ LIVES readership know who the clarinet player is. And some will know that this photograph documents Patti Page’s 1957-58 television show, THE BIG RECORD, from which this shot seems to be taken. Some others, possessing a discography of the “some steve allen looking guy” (mine is temporarily inaccessible) can no doubt quote the date and the music played. I will simply continue to shake my head sadly at the evanescence of fame, the shallowness of the popular memory, and more. The clarinet player died in 1986; Steve Allen in 2000. Make of that what you will.

The photograph, by the way, has a minimum bid of $49.99. It is also remarkable to me because I’ve never seen a Donaldson signature before, and he was a superb drummer, recording with Louis Armstrong, Hot Lips Page, Buster Bailey, Zoot Sims, Benny Carter, Mel Powell, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton, Sarah Vaughan, Clifford Brown, Ray Bryant, Kenny Burrell, Frank Wess, Johnny Hodges, Buddy Tate, and many others. Like Osie Johnson, he was a first-call New York studio drummer who could be mistaken for Jo Jones, and that is no small compliment. He also recorded regularly with the clarinet player in 1954-55 and a few times more a decade later.

Is the moral SIC TEMPORA GLORIA MUNDI or O TEMPORA! O MORES! or some other Latin tag? Don’t know; can’t say. And should anyone mistake my own sense of whimsy for puzzlement, there’s no need to write in to tell me who the clarinet player is. I’m somewhat familiar with his work. But thanks anyway.

And here’s Bobby Donaldson (in a Latin mood) on Jimmy Rushing’s 1952 WHERE WERE YOU? — a performance I immediately fell in love with:

May your happiness increase!

HERESIES IN SWING

Margaret “Countess” Johnson

At many points in my life, I had to put down the cherished belief in my own indispensability. Yes, each of us is unique, but if we’d never existed, would the cosmos stagger to a halt? This meditation is fueled by the repercussions from a holiday-season view of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, where Clarence the angel-in-training shows George Bailey how the world he knows would be a cistern had he never been born. Yes, JAZZ LIVES believes that even Jimmy Stewart could have had his slot in the imaginary queue filled by someone else.

In science: anyone versed in the history of medicine will tell you that had (let us say) Pasteur had decided to go into baking memorable croissants, or Alexander Fleming taken up carpentry, someone would have discovered pasteurization and penicillin. The history of invention tells us much the same thing: people were racing alongside Edison to patent the phonograph, sound film, and so on. In literature, if James Joyce had been unable to see the page, we would simply be paying much more attention to Lawrence and Woolf, Pound and Eliot.

We don’t much like this heresy in jazz. Imagine, we say, if Louis Armstrong had decided to go into the more lucrative career of crime. If John Hammond’s car radio had been broken. If Coleman Hawkins had stayed with the cello, or Buster Bailey gotten first chair clarinet in the Chicago symphony. Getting darker, think of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald succumbing to the horrors and blandishments of their environments. Perhaps Jack Teagarden would have invented his own line of automobiles.

It is difficult for us to imagine a world without Charlie Parker, but would his harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic inventions never had happened if his life had taken another path? Would there be no jazz trumpet be if its early stars were Johnny Dunn and Crickett Smith, Johnny Wiggs and Mutt Carey?

And, turning the coin over, imagine the jazz world in which Blanton, Bolden, Brownie, Bix lived on. Margaret “Countess” Johnson and Cassino Simpson, Snoozer Quinn and Emmett Hardy as healthy senior citizens, happy, productive.

Some varieties of creative joyous rhythmically inventive improvised music would have flourished.

As much as anyone, I revere the heroes of our jazz heritage. But art is a collective endeavor. So let us acknowledge with gratitude the other runners in the race while we are celebrating the person who comes in first.

As we say, just asking.

May your happiness increase!

AN HOUR WITH BILLY BUTTERFIELD, CARL FONTANA, RALPH SUTTON, JACK LESBERG, TYRONE MARTIN (Denver, Colorado: December13, 1975)

Just what it says, and gloriously. This tape came to me through the generosity (so memorable) of John L. Fell, and I have the names “Weinrich-Roscie” stuck in my head, attached to the music. I am guessing that it was a Dick Gibson-styled house party, and I bless the unknown person who recorded the music . . . for us, forty-six years later, to enjoy.

The songs are S’WONDERFUL (ending cut) / MEDITATION / LOVE LIES / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / LIMEHOUSE BLUES / I GOT IT BAD / THE LADY IS A TRAMP. And if the names are new to you, that’s Billy, trumpet and flugelhorn; Carl, trombone; Ralph, piano; Jack, string bass; Tyrone, drums:

What a great gift was given to us. Hear and marvel.

May your happiness increase!

ALLEN, FROM ROCHESTER, NEW YORK, HAD A CAMERA (circa 1940)

First, an appropriate soundtrack:

and:

Here’s how the eBay seller described this unique object:

“Absolutely mammoth early 1940s photo album with 690 original photographs. Album of Allen, an African American man – a chauffeur, photos of his friends and family, the family he works for and various travel locations. Rochester, NY, factors heavily – not sure if Allen, the family he works for – or both, are from Rochester. Also a lot of photos in New York City.

There are photos of famous jazz age / big band era musicians and band leaders performing, including Cab Calloway, Cozy Coles, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Erskine Hawkins, Dolores Brown, Tony Pastor with the Andrew Sisters, Bunny Berigan, with some of the photos autographed.

Measuring 12 x 8 inches and 4 inches thick. Album has wooden cover, with WWII Army Navy Excellence award decal and initial decals “A R A.” There are only a couple of photos of a man in uniform, nearly all photos are civilian, and most are of African Americans. Photos in various sizes: mostly 5 x 3 ¼ inches, 4 x 3 black and white and some 6 x 4 with more sepia tone. Photos are attached to album by photo squares, a handful of photos are loose from the album . . . .”

The auction ended Thursday, and when I checked on Wednesday the high bid was over eight hundred dollars. So it’s not mine.

BUT. Through the magic of “Save image,” which sounds rather mystical, I can share a few particularly evocative photographs. Allen was not an obsessive jazz or big band fan, but the few photographs in the album suggest that he got around and heard some of the good sounds so easily accessible then.

First, some photographs of non-musical realities.

Charming everyday life, perhaps a Sunday outing in spring?

I don’t know whether Allen took the photograph of his five friends, but the caption suggests a fine witty approach to life, at the beach or otherwise.

Even though Allen was presumably the family chauffeur, that’s a comfortable photograph, to me.

Now, to music. Allen went to see the Erskine Hawkins band, and the captions suggest he had a fine swinging time.

The leader to the left, who autographed the photo (at a later date, I presume) and one of Hawkins’ saxophonists to the right: either Paul Bascomb or Julian Dash, I assume.

Witty captions left and right, and the gracious Mr. Berigan (who had beautiful unhurried handwriting) in the middle.

Cozy “Coles,” working for Cab Calloway.

Finally, the prize for those of us whose life revolves around such glimpses:

Benny, with immense casualness — in a pose your clarinet teacher wouldn’t recommend — and a quick signature, but a new glimpse of Charlie Christian, which also helps to date the album.

I wish we knew more about Allen, but this was his prize, and we assume someone will always recognize our treasures as ours . . .

The highest bidder won this prize for $1325 (plus $12 shipping) and for them, a world opens up. I hope the photographs get seen by as many people as possible. This was the link, although I don’t know how long it will remain.

Thanks to Nick Rossi for bringing this box of treasures to my attention.

May your happiness increase!

DAVE TOUGH AND FRIENDS AT CARNEGIE HALL: CHARLIE VENTURA, BILL HARRIS, RALPH BURNS, BILL DeARANGO, CURLY RUSSELL (April 5, 1947)

Here’s some extraordinary music that doesn’t often get shared, and it affords us opportunities to hear the singular percussionist Dave Tough late in his life playing the music he most preferred then. The occasion was a concert apparently produced (and recorded) by Leonard Feather, with the tapes sold to Norman Granz for issue on his Norgran label. This was a 12″ lp, and then issued on CD as filler material for Verve’s optimistically-named THE COMPLETE JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC ON VERVE, a ten-disc set. Another portion of the concert has Sidney Catlett playing drums: material for a future posting.

Some mysteries accompany this issue: no one has yet documented all the music played that evening: there has to have been more than thirty-six minutes. The record sleeve mis-identifies Dave as playing (JUST YOU, JUST ME) when it is audibly Sidney. And it is difficult to ascertain the order of performance. But perhaps there is a jazz Hercule Poirot who can solve these mysteries. For now, let us hear Dave in the company of Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Ralph Burns, piano; Bill DeArango, guitar; Curly Russell, string bass.

Here’s CHARACTERISTICALLY B.H., for the wonderfully versatile Harris:

and RALPH BURNS UP, by Ralph, Curly, and Dave:

finally, Ventura rhapsodizing on one of the great tenor sax ballads:

More to come, with Sidney and friends. Thanks to Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn for their erudite assistance with this music.

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD and ASSOCIATES on the RADIO (WJZ, Blue Network, December 13, 1944)

What follows is a few seconds less than eight minutes, so you could be forgiven for thinking it a crumb, a scrap — especially in our times of unlimited streaming, box sets with hours of music, and more. But as you’ll hear, it is testimony to the Elders’ ability to fill small spaces brimful with memorable, varied sounds. My guess is that trumpeter Billy and colleagues were on staff at the Blue Network (ask someone venerable what that means in radio-lingo . . . this predates FM) and this little program was a brief scheduled interlude, something to look forward to on Wednesdays. But it’s clearly not impromptu: there’s a theme, a pop song, a ballad, a “Dixieland classic,” (faded out for time) — quite a large portion of music packed in tightly.

And let us say a word about Mr. Butterfield, someone not often given his proper due, overshadowed by more showy brassmen, perhaps, and not an “entertainer,” rather, a shy man who wanted to play but not to talk. But when Bobby Hackett was asked in an early Seventies interview to name his favorite current trumpeter (admittedly a question many would have sidestepped) he named Billy. THAT, to me, says so much. And this group is so stylish yet also so profound. Sleek but not slick, and versatile beyond praise.

The Billy Butterfield Septet (all “characters,” as the announcer states) offer an opening theme / GAL FROM NOGALES / MAYBE / SATANIC BLUES. I’ve identified the players by ear and by reasonable assumptions: possibly Bill Stegmeyer, clarinet, arrangements; Hymie Schertzer, alto saxophone; Deane Kincaide, baritone saxophone, arrangements; Vernon Brown, trombone; Dave Bowman, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; George Wettling, drums:

If any reader has a large collection of these Wednesday interludes, or knows more about the personnel than I do, please step forward. This lovely offering came from the collection of my dear friend John L. Fell, about thirty years ago, but it stood alone. As I’ve said before, imagine these beauties coming out of the radio speaker . . . . nectar for the ears. And thank goodness someone had the wisdom to preserve this one. . . a brief but intense bouquet from musicians both professional and inspired.

This one’s for Judi, Debbie, Clyde, Pat, and their families.

May your happiness increase!

WHO KILLED HISTORY?

I first wanted to call this post THE DEATH OF HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, but that title, although accurate, seemed too ponderous to be chewed and swallowed. So the BBC-mystery title shall stand. And the blank tombstone.

Maybe it’s collective amnesia, but can people forget what they never acknowledged to begin with?

What do I mean?

I have a large collection of photographs, and I found an extra one of a famous musician, an 8 x 10″ glossy with him in playing position, which I brought with me to a gig led by a then young artist who shone on the same instrument, someone of great promise. I gave him the photo, he looked at it, then at me, and said, “Who is that?” I confess that my first stifled reaction was annoyance, but I didn’t succumb; I didn’t rip it out of his hands. I identified the famous subject, and said, “Would you like it?” and he gratefully said he would.

That’s an extreme case. Is it innocence, shallow awareness, or something more?

But I’ve gotten into conversations with musicians I admire deeply, and bringing up some perhaps obscure name of a player on their instrument, the reaction is often a faraway look, with some embarrassment, and “Ohhhhhh. _______________. I’ve heard of them before, but never had the time to really investigate. Are they good?” And I think to myself, “You are a wonderful artist, but you haven’t put in the time studying the art as it exists and existed beyond your own mouthpiece, or fingers . . . ” It’s not limited to archaeology, for I’ve met North American musicians who live on one coast who are ignorant of great contemporaries on the other.

Now, these may be the rare exceptions, because I have met enough deep musicians who can discourse at length about the Ancestors: Mildred Bailey, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Mouse Randolph, Pete Brown, Tiny Parham, Bernard Addison, and three dozen more. But when I meet this sort of sweet obliviousness, this easy acceptance of ignorance, it makes me cringe and then wonder. Where I come from. a lack of curiosity is a moral problem.

(I won’t linger on those who believe anything before Coltrane isn’t worth listening to, or those who “can’t hear” anything recorded before KIND OF BLUE because it’s so “primitive” and the sound is so poor. Their loss. Their substantial loss.)

You can say, “Well, these young cats are busy honing their craft, making a living, hustling from gig to gig. They don’t have the leisure time you do, Michael, to study the oeuvre of Frank Chace,” and you’d be right. But there is an odd technological twist to this situation: when I was a boy, I didn’t have to walk miles through the snow, barefoot, but much of the recorded history of jazz was not easily accessible to me. But I listened to as much as I could — from records I bought, from the local library’s collection, from FM radio. I learned as much as I could from books and liner notes. There was no Facebook; I didn’t start to have a jazz community of people who leaned as I did until I was almost out of high school.

Given YouTube and Spotify, and other digital resources, if a young pianist wants to hear nearly everything Teddy Wilson, let us, say, ever recorded, she has only to make sure her iPhone is charged and her airbuds in peak condition. I purl though YouTube some days and am open-mouthed at the rarities now easily available. The cornucopia is overflowing for those who are curious, eager to learn more about the art by which they define themselves.

I am reluctant to call this willful self-absorption, but some centuries ago, you couldn’t begin to call yourself A Poet if you hadn’t memorized, imitated, improvised on, analyzed the great works of the past. Serious study was your ticket of admission to the guild of craftspeople. If you wanted to be play cello in a string quartet, you had to have a deep immersion — practice and theory — in Haydn, Mozart, and the Elders. I never taught Creative Writing, but I have friends who do, and when students introduce themselves, “I’m five hundred pages into my novel,” and the question is asked, “What are you reading?” and the answer is either a blank stare or perhaps one contemporary author. Austen, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner — new phone, who dis? Imagine an aspiring modernist painter who has never seen Kandinsky. Then imagine a young tenor saxophonist to whom the names Harold Ashby and Tubby Hayes are just names.

I wonder how an alto saxophonist can say, “Hey, I practice eight hours a day from the REAL BOOK, and I’m working on my own conception,” but never have heard Hodges, Carter, Pete Brown, Hilton Jefferson, to name four Ancestors. Yes, most modern jazz players know their Trane and Miles, but beyond that . . . ? (We can of course blame Jazz Studies programs in universities that begin in 1945, but they are too easy a target.)

I mentioned Frank Chace before, and when I asked him about his youthful immersion in the music, I said, “In 1954, did you also listen to Lee Konitz?” and his answer was an immediate, “We listened to everything. We thought that was a musician’s job.”

In recent years, I might meet a young pianist deeply immersed in Bud Powell, which is of course admirable. But when I ask, “Hey, have you heard Nat Cole, Billy Kyle, Kenny Kersey, Clyde Hart?” and the answer is “Who?” I have to say, “They are where Bud came from, pianists he heard.” “Oh.”

The musicians I’ve depicted (or you may think, slandered) above are myopic but they can be helped: no twelve-step program is needed. You’re a young trombonist and you’ve never heard of Bill Harris? Here’s five minutes of convincing . . . and curiosity takes over. Conversion isn’t the desired end, but education is.

But when I consider how this myopia has undermined the listening audience, I get even more depressed. I won’t even bother to invent fanciful names for imaginary bands (although I toyed with The Too-Tight Polo Shirt Collective and The Birkenstock Buskers for a moment) but I will just call them all SFB, for Someone’s Favorite Band.

So a fan I encounter after a festival set which includes some too-hasty Jelly Roll Morton compositions, complete with long drum solos, comes to me ecstatic, saying, “Wasn’t that wonderful?!” and I politely but sourly say, “They really made a mess of SHREVEPORT STOMP,” and I get what is casually called “the fish-eye,” but I continue. “Do you know that song? Have you ever heard the original version? Do you know the Morton trios, James Dapogny’s recordings, or the Bob Wilber versions?” and the fan is already starting to back up, appalled by pedantry. I imagine myself shouting down the corridor, “Omer Simeon! Barney Bigard! Tommy Benford!” as the traumatized fan runs off and calls for Security.

Or, even more prevalent, the fan wearing the SFB shirt and giving the secret SFB handshake applauds a rendition of some obscure jazz classic made rustic, the melody flattened, some important chord changes missed, and the verdict is, “They are the greatest band I’ve ever heard!” which may be true, simply because the ecstatic listener has heard no one else. Who’s Clarence Williams? Who’s Floyd Casey?

You may call my perspective a snobbish one, but it is as if (for readers who eat cheese), “Manchego? Brie? What’s that? Nothing’s better than Cheez Whiz in a can.” Go to it, I think. But I am declining any dinner invitations from you, no matter how nice you are.

And perhaps the fans feel that SFB is “keeping the music alive,” and if you count the millions of YouTube visits to videos by Someone’s Favorite Band, perhaps they are. But if the fans of SFB will only follow them, because they are The Truth, other worthy and more worthy bands go under for lack of gigs. The fan base becomes intensely narrow . . . and you cannot build a tall building on an upended plastic cup.

Years ago I might have despaired because I couldn’t hear the Ellington Fargo 1940 dance date. Now I can hear it whenever I want, and I despair because other people haven’t taken the time to hear it. Devoted fans. Eminent musicians.

Those who ignore history may not be condemned to repeat it. But if people don’t descend deeply into the art form they say they love, they are cutting off its air and are missing out on breathtaking creations. It’s all spread out on the cyber-table. But one has to start one’s own investigation, and see a reason to do so.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE AND LIVELY” (Part Three): BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, LOU FORESTIERI, FRANKLIN SKEETE, GEORGE HAMILTON (Detroit, August 30, 1969) — and MR. HACKETT MEETS MR. SHAVERS (CBS-TV, New York City, July 27, 1968)

This is the third segment of music broadcast from “Cabaret La Boheme,” atop Detroit’s Hotel Ponchartrain, featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet-trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. I’ve been able to present two one-hour live programs (with commercials edited out, I assume) first preserved by Jim Taylor.

First, the end of the August 30 broadcast, with two songs from the Great American Songbook and two jazz classics, then a program broadcast on CBS-TV, “Dial ‘M’ for Music,” hosted by Father Norman J. O’Connor, and featuring Bobby and Charlie Shavers — two players who crossed paths thirty years earlier. The music is superb, the little snippets of talk revealing and genuine. But two small mysteries remain: why weren’t Bobby and Charlie encouraged to play more duets? And I have no information about the three-piece rhythm section, which could have been Bobby’s at the time or Charlie’s (Ray and Tommy Bryant, Oliver Jackson) or studio musicians. But the music is a find: perhaps some of my readers saw this program live on CBS?

Bobby and Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Franklin Skeete, George Hamilton in Detroit: THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / SPEAK LOW / BOURBON STREET PARADE // Bobby and Charlie Shavers, rhythm section unidentified: CBS-TV, “DIAL M FOR MUSIC” – Father Norman J. O’Connor, host: BLUES (BH-CS) / SAVOY (BH) / SWING THAT MUSIC (BH) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (CS) / NATURE BOY (CS) / INDIANA (CS, vocal) / Charlie and Bobby talk / UNDECIDED (BH) / BERNIE’S TUNE (BH-CS) //

Thank goodness for people with tape recorders and other such contrivances; thank goodness for the musicians who create beauty that never ages.

And just because I never see such things, here’s Charlie’s autograph from 1953, presumably from a JATP tour:

May your happiness increase!

GETTING HOT IN THE PARK: EDDIE CONDON and FRIENDS in CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK CITY, 1945: BOBBY HACKETT, BUCK CLAYTON, JAMES P. JOHNSON, HARRY CARNEY, SIDNEY CATLETT, VERNON BROWN, JOE DIXON, HANK D’AMICO, GENE SCHROEDER, BOB HAGGART, JOE GRAUSO (thanks to the Voice of America)

This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.

My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.

But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.

Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:

Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —

LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.

IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //

I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.

If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.

Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.

This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.

May your happiness increase!

“THE COMPLETE LIPSKIN RECORDINGS OF DONALD LAMBERT,” ALMOST AN HOUR OF CONCENTRATED DELIGHT, AND MORE . . .

To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.

Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.

A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)

But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.

If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.

How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.

I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.

It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.

Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:

Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)

00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)

And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:

As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:

00:00 Golden Earrings 03:12 Overnight 06:18 Blue Waltz 09:23 Harlem Strut 12:08 Tea For Two 15:10 Russian Lullaby 18:25 Lullaby In Rhythm 21:24 Liza

This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.

Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT’S SO PRETTY!”

My thoughtful friend Richard Salvucci introduced me to the Fifties recordings of pianist / arranger Elliot Lawrence and his big band, and I am entranced by them.

My delight surprised me: I ordinarily lean towards small groups with vivid solo improvisations. Years ago, I would have scoffed at this music as “Easy Listening,” “bland pop,” “businessman’s bounce,” played by a “society orchestra.” But this innocent-looking Decca session of songs associated with college life and college dances, merits more than a reflex dismissal. The collective personnel for these 1950-51 sessions is (more or less): Joe Techner, John Dee, Gerry LaFuru, trumpets; Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson, trombone; Bill Danzien, French horn; Mike Goldberg, Buddy Savitt, Al Steele, Merle Bredwell, reeds; Elliot Lawrence, piano; Mert Oliver, string bass; Howie Mann, drums; Rosalind Patton, vocal.

Possibly JAZZ LIVES’ readers know of Elliot Lawrence because of his more famous Fantasy sessions devoted to Gerry Mulligan arrangements, or his work on many different transcriptions, but his very appealing music stands on its own. I present some for your pleasure.

Those who live for the next solo might be disappointed, for this is an orchestra more than a showcase for soloists: the shifting textures and voicings are so attractive. This is a well-rehearsed, highly professional group playing compact, deft arrangements — in time, in tune, with fine intonation. The band is subtle: it doesn’t get loud or strain for effect. Rosalind Patton was never famous, but her charming voice is eloquent in its restraint. She does everything right. (Alas, she was a chain smoker who died at 63 in 1985.) Even the choral arrangements on a few tunes — not my favorite thing — do no harm.

Listen for yourself, and listen to this half-hour for its splendid understated musicianship:

Here’s another example:

And something perhaps out of the ordinary, a 1948 “cowboy song,” that I wanted to hear again:

I am aware that some of my readers may have left the room, in search of more brightly-colored sensations. But there is something larger than my new fondness for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra here.

“Jazz fans” and “jazz critics,” for the most part, privilege rhythmically-charged improvisation. “That‘s jazz,” they say. If a recording doesn’t have those qualities, it’s “sweet” or “popular,” and thus it is less worthy. But eager listeners have not always been ideologically-driven fans or critics. I would wager that dancers enjoying Henderson or Goldkette at Roseland, Oliver at the Lincoln or Royal Gardens, the parade of bands at Harlem ballrooms, enjoyed the music . . . if Goldkette played VALENCIA in 6/8 or Henderson played a waltz, those who could dance, danced to it. And records of well-played music caught the ear, and sold.

But divisiveness crept in — in the guise of “authenticity.” “Sweet” was for the older generation, the parents and grandparents who didn’t understand, were ancient, they couldn’t hear “the new music.” And for the self-defined jazz cognoscenti who truly “knew,” the real thing was of course “hot.” It was Louis on I MISS MY SWISS, Bubber on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, or Bix on SWEET SUE.

It was a commonplace that you could find one of those discs with the hot chorus worn grey through repeated playing and the rest of the record shiny, nearly pristine. But the received wisdom was that people who preferred the “sweet” orchestra as well as the “hot” chorus lacked discrimination. Probably they didn’t even know the difference between Jack Purvis and young Bunny Berigan. Unthinkable!

Thanks to Richard Vacca and his BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, I just saw a wonderful handbill advertising Frank Newton’s band at the KEN club in Boston, 1943: here. What struck me was the guarantee of authenticity to entice an audience: “They [the band] never blew a schmaltzy note in their lives.”

And from this sometimes snobbish hierarchy of what was worthy and what was not, a fascinating and perhaps perverse value system solidified. It was sometimes organized along racial lines: Andy Kirk’s band playing a Mary Lou Williams arrangement was “real”; if a White band played the same chart well, it was an aberration. Or it was “commercial.” The divisiveness could be read along Marxist lines as well: White musicians were imitators; White bandleaders were capitalist oppressors; Black musicians were original; Black bandleaders suffered because of White popularizers. Bessie Smith was genuine; Mildred Bailey a good pop singer. Real musicians suffered and died young; if you lived a long life without trauma, how authentic were you?

The musicians themselves were not reading these books and articles, and they were hanging out with their friends at the Union or the Copper Rail. Maybe they were jealous of X for getting that good gig, but in general they knew that music, well-played, was beautiful, and that it took as much skill to read a complicated chart as it did to stand up and create a hot chorus.

These arbitrary distinctions affected an audience that had never read Panassie or Hammond, as public taste changed over years and decades. Some “new art” aims to shock the bourgeoisie. If your mother likes your new record, there must be something wrong with it. It can’t be “cutting-edge” or “innovative.” People might whisper that you spent New Year’s Eve watching Guy Lombardo with your family. How very uncool.

But when did “pretty” music lose its value? Was it at the height of the Swing Era, where a “killer-diller” was seen as superior to a pretty ballad? Did the rise of a more abstract jazz in later decades set up a value system where if you could hum it or dance to it, it wasn’t worth study and emulation? Was “pretty” for squares too limited to understand Miles? Should we blame Wynonie Harris, or Elvis? Or the hauteur of modern art in general — I think of Eliot and THE WASTE LAND or late Joyce — consciously closing the door on the “average” reader, proposing a much smaller, more arrogantly erudite audience?

All I know is that when Richard Salvucci sent me music by Elliott Lawrence, my first reaction was, “That’s so pretty!” And “pretty” was not in any way condescending.

Here’s another illustration of the same principle, in the singing of Nat King Cole. He was an astonishing and influential pianist, but I know some people who say “He should have stuck to the piano!” in the tones one uses for traitors.

Consider this — one of the most beautiful expressions of expert art and deep feeling I know of:

His voice; his acting; his idiosyncratic rubato phrasing — those hesitations and accelerations — beyond words. For once, I am not obsessing about the people who “disliked” the YouTube video. Let them find their own pleasures, far from me.

But I am sure some readers of JAZZ LIVES will say, “That’s very nice, but it’s just pretty,” denying its sublime mastery. Imagine a modern trumpeter playing what Nat sings, if it were possible: would we not be awestruck? But he was “such a success,” “a great popular singer,” appealing to the unsophisticated masses, so perhaps some undervalue that performance.

And here’s a final illustration, dear to me for years. There’s no hot solo; the orchestral background is reverent, not raucous, but it is one of the most convincing pieces of art I know:

Here’s my mission statement. There should be some place in art for work that does not leap out of the closet and scare the viewer, some place for beauty that seems so very simple. Here one can quote Thelonious Monk or Aubrey Beardsley: I would rather that readers listen again to Elliot Lawrence and Nat Cole and Louis, and re-examine their own internalized value systems, give them a good shake to see if there’s any validity there or just a set of unexamined, now limited, beliefs.

I won’t enter into the squabble over whether the music I’ve presented is or isn’t jazz. I don’t care about those air-tight compartments with their neat labels. But these performances are frankly beautiful, and I will brook no disagreement.

It could be that “pretty music,” even “schmaltz,” varieties of “decorative art,” that touch hearts, that pleases a large amount of people, has more merit than we ever afford it.

May your happiness increase!


NEVER BEFORE, NEVER AGAIN: BOBBY HACKETT and JACK GARDNER (February 15, 1945)

These performances are legendary and rare — sterling duets by Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet, and Jack Gardner, piano, rollicking telepathic improvisation. The date is approximate, but they were recorded in Chicago by John Steiner. Late in 1944, Bobby had joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, so this would have been like playing exalted hooky, especially with the barrelhouse joys provided by Jack — fun and frolic reminiscent of WEATHER BIRD.

My cassette copies came from the late Bob Hilbert and Roy Bower, and I am indebted to Sonny McGown for his educated commentary on these pearls.

The song is I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, and there are three versions, presented here in possibly arbitrary order — they may be reversed in terms of actual performances. And they might need speed-correction, but my technical expertise stops at that door.

Take X: two duet choruses, two piano choruses (suspensions in second), chorus of trading phrases, duet chorus. Time: 4:12

Take Y: (rehearsal?) one duet chorus, two piano choruses, Gardner starts a third and then they go to duet, two duet choruses. Time: 3:48

Take Z: (second rehearsal?) one duet chorus, one piano chorus, two duet choruses with Hackett overblowing Time 3:00.

And here, thanks to Sonny McGown, is another acetate version of take X:

This sweet offering is for Charles Iselin, Rob Rothberg, Marc Caparone, John Ochs, and everyone else who holds Bobby Hackett in the highest esteem. . . . and those enlightened types who value Jack Gardner as well. I suggest repeated reverent listenings to this music, both raucous and ethereal.

May your happiness increase!