Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

“IN POP & JAZZ HE’S GREAT!”: JIMMIE ROWLES (1968)

Two weeks ago, I saw this 45 rpm single on sale at eBay and immediately checked my online discography.  No information.  But the price was low, so I took a chance: both compositions were Rowles originals, and he’d recorded AFTER SCHOOL late in life.  I entertained the whimsy that his singing voice could, I thought, be called “THE GRAVEL PIT.”

How many Jimmy (he preferred Jimmie) Rowleses could there be, anyway?

I looked up “Dick Noel” and “Patrice Records” and found that Noel, a trombonist and singer (I think) had recorded sessions with “The Academy Brass,” whose august West Coast personnel included Billy Byers (arranger), Carol Kaye, Rolly Bundock (string bass); Jack Sperling (drums); Bud Shank (reeds); Al Hendrickson, Bobby Gibbons (guitar); Emil Richards (vibraphone); Larry Bunker (tympani); Billy Byers, Charlie Loper, Dick McQuary, Dick Noel, Ernie Tack, George Roberts, Joe Howard, Ken Shroyer, Lloyd Ulyate, Milt Bernhart (trombone).

AND Jimmy Rowles (keyboards).

If you’re still with me, May 1968 ads in BILLBOARD and CASH BOX advertised the coupling of AFTER SCHOOL and BEHIND THE FACE.

Now, the 45s do not have the whole band: definitely string bass and drums and some quiet guitar on BEHIND THE FACE.  I theorize that at the end of the session, after the horns had gone home, someone either suggested to Rowles that he record — playing and singing — two originals, or perhaps he had the idea himself.  That they were issued (as far as I know) only on a “promotional copy” suggests that they were given or sent to radio disc jockeys with the hope that they could become quirky hits, perhaps in the manner of Mose Allison.  (Dave Frishberg had not become famous in 1968 as a singer of his own songs.)

The idea didn’t work, but we do have the six or so minutes of music.  (My transfers are imperfect, but you knew that anyway.)

His quirky love song:

and a hard-to-characterize song that marries sly wit and a plea for equality:

This post is for Michael Kanan, Jacob Rex Zimmerman, and Stephanie Rowles, but everyone else is encouraged to listen in and marvel.

May your happiness increase!

“SUMMIT REUNION”: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, and the “Mega Swing Trio” (Berlin, 1993)

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

My good friend, the swinging drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, has come up with another treasure: forty minutes of “Summit Reunion,” the wonderful quintet (sometimes sextet) co-led by the much-missed Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern.  Here they are in Berlin, in 1993, accompanied by the fine — and superbly unfussy — “Mega Swing Trio,” Franck Jaccard, piano; Jean-Pierre Rebillard, string bass; Stéphane Roger, drums.  Thanks to Robeurt Feneck for the identifications!

As for Kenny and Bob, they remain masters with sublimely strong personalities and individual voices.  I first saw the two of them at a (free) outdoor lunchtime concert in 1973 and was thrilled — an emotion that is just as strong now.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (beginning edited) / SUMMERTIME (Davern, bass, drums) / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / INDIAN SUMMER (Wilber, bass, drums) / S.K.J. BLUES (piano, bass, drums) / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a fine drum solo that nods to Zutty and Jo, a splendid surprise) //

Blessings on Bernard, Kenny, Bob, and the trio.  Surprises like this give me and others joyous resilience . . . to keep on keeping on.

And for those of you who know JAZZ LIVES’ Sunday routine, of course we will meet metaphysically at The Ear Inn tonight also — this is just an extra dollop of swing.

May your happiness increase!

MANTLE or MARIS? and other PLAYGROUND ARGUMENTS

I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator.  But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.  I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?”  Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like.  But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.

I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert.  And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point.  But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.

A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender).  The first response that caught my eye?  I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.”  Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.

On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal.  You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.

I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.

I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery.  Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history.  Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie.  However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony.  Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.

So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win.  They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry.  Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites.  People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted.  All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared.  Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year.  Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else.  These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.

We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s).  I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.”  I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp.  But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting.  What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality.  It remains that way in art.  If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter?  I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room.  To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.

In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts.  M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.”  C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.

Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does.  If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist?  If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King?  Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?

I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy.  For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis.  The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed.  Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles.  James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil.  And so on.  No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.

Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this.  If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?

But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment.  Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone.  To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this.  Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better?  Are you attacking my discernment?  I must defend my family’s honor!  Pistols at dawn!”

We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys.  Art deserves reverence.  And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.

Try it here:

May your happiness increase!

JACK PURVIS, DAN MORGENSTERN, COLEMAN HAWKINS, CHARLIE BARNET

Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more.  There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self.  I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:

Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.

And, there is a delightful Facebook Trumpeter Jack Purvis Appreciation Page Group — full of photographs and music new to me.

Now, to my particular views of Purvis.  First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:

Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar.  Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”

We’ll settle that shortly.

First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):

POOR RICHARD:

DOWN GEORGIA WAY:

When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis.  But I was delighted when he did:

Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”

And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.

My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away.  Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories.  He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music.  Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player.  You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him.  You never knew what he was going to do.”

Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims.  He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part.  And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”

Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:

A sad footnote.  Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them.  I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.

May your happiness increase!

“HONESTLY, I DO”: MUSIC FOR WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2020

I think that, as a species, we don’t do well with uncertainty.  Is that shadow on the wall a shadow or is it The Wolf coming to get us?  I suggest that music can help us turn on the light and see clearly that The Wolf is only a stuffed toy.  To that end, I offer a soundtrack for this Wednesday, November 4. 2020.  Yes, the lyrics are — if you take them at face value — a fairly predictable 1935 love song, but I encourage you to embellish them in your thoughts, making them as relevant as you can.  The song?  I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES, by Pete Wendling, George Meyer, and Sam M. Lewis.

A rather plain version by Greta Keller, a starting point, verse and chorus:

Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Mousie Alexander:

An early recorded version, by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra with Bob Crosby:

Marty Grosz, Dick Meldonian, Greg Cohen, 1992:

Our very own EarRegulars in 2010 — Jon-Erik Kellso, Pete Martinez, Matt Munisteri, Greg Cohen:

Wingy Manone, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Gil Bowers, Nappy Lamare, Harry Goodman, Ray Bauduc, 1935:

and the wellspring, the inspiration . . . Fats Waller, Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Charlie Turner, Harry Dial, 1935:

Love can weave a miracle.  Keep believing.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2020

Photograph by Jack Bradley, 1969

I choose this music for Election Day.  Find solace.  Find hope.

A more powerful spiritual tincture:

Join me in my musical prayer for peace.

ANNIVERSARY STOMP: HAPPY BIRTHDAY to RAY SKJELBRED!

Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: from left, Clint Baker, gazing skyward; Kim Cusack, arms folded; Katie Cavera, instantly recognizable; Ray, with blue cap, inviting us to come along; Jeff Hamilton, thinking his thoughts.

I’m honored to share the planet with Ray Skjelbred, who turns eighty today.

At the piano bench as well as elsewhere, he is a poet, a teacher, an inventor and then revealer of secrets, a writer of mysteries populated by velvet moles, eagles, and dogs, where no one gets killed.  Tenaciously yet delicately, he walks through walls as if they were beaded curtains.

Ray Skjelbred calls his Cubs “my favorite band,” and it’s easy to see why — a lovely combination of Basie and Bobcats, illuminated by a sweet lyricism at once on-the-porch and Milt Gabler-joyous.

We salute him; we salute his Cubs, who are Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. These performances took wing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2015.

OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:

Kim swears he’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, but the jury is still out:

something for the Apex Club Orchestra, EVERY EVENING:

If my wishes aren’t enough, here’s a HAPPY BIRTHDAY (March 10, 1938) from Bobby Hackett, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, Ray Biondi, Artie Shapiro, George Wettling, Leo Watson.  Since it’s mislabeled below, I also offer the nostalgic maroon Commodore label, a jazz madeline:

as it appeared on turntables:

To borrow Whitney Balliett’s words, “Bless Ray Skjelbred.  And may he prosper.”

May your happiness increase!

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones.  I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos.  But humor me on this, if you will.

I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter.  Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours.  I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet.  This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.

For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes.  I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish.  Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.

So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again.  In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves.  This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation.  Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right.  I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.”  Childish, perhaps.  But I won’t have people I admire shat on.

I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?”  Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.

Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.”  Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.

But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?”  (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)

I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person.  Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?”  Let that sink in.  Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman.  Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.

But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance.  I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.

Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool.  The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.”  It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.

Artists are not members of a service industry.

So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!”  I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish.  I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.”  You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication.  What’s next?

I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level.  In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things.  But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications.  So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration.  I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.

I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage.  And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.

I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them.  It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited.  Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.

Great art outlives its critics.  The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.

To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians.  They own themselves.  And we should bless them rather than carp at them.

May your happiness increase!

 

“WHAT ARE THIS BLISS?”

The music you will hear below is is my new favorite experience.  Because of it, I want to go back to 1932 and (respectfully) hug Marion Harris (so stylish, above) or at least invite her to dine, although my implausible devotion keeps on being interrupted by laughter.  Please put down what you are doing and join me for three minutes and thirteen seconds:

I don’t know if I love this performance more because of its deadpan wackiness — which is to say, Ms. Harris’ complete sweet sincerity, making the verbal jokes more perilously hilarious — or is it because I taught college English for more than forty years to young men and women who blithely could say “Him and me”?  Or is it the combination of those two elements?  I also feel that Ms. Harris’ seriousness is truly adult: this is not baby-talk in a child’s voice (think of Dot Dare and Helen Kane and others of the time).  I believe her completely, down to her sigh after the word “kiss,” even though, were she a student, I would have commended the sincerity of her ideas while walking her through the doors of the Writing Center for an extended stay.

Another wonderful aspect of this recording is its thoughtful, delicate tempo: other recordings I’ve heard, thanks to YouTube, take this song as a fairly quick one-step, emphasizing its comedy.  The one film version, where ingenue Pat Paterson sings it in a 1934 Spencer Tracy Film, BOTTOMS UP, also presents it as a comic turn.  Ms. Harris’s slower tempo permits the song to exist simultaneously as a love ballad where the singer is discovering these new emotions and as a verbal tour-de-force.

What I do know about this recording is, as we say, not much.  Ms. Harris recorded the then-current pop song (music by J. Russel Robinson, lyrics by Mercer Cook) in May 1932 in England.  No reference work on my shelves says anything about this dear recording — it’s not “jazz” enough for the chroniclers — so I know nothing about Ms. Harris’ accompanists, except my ears tell me that the unidentified guitarist has learned his Eddie Lang deeply and well.

But this just in!  Informed evidence from the masterful guitarist Martin Wheatley:

As to the guitarist, I would say the most likely candidate is Len Fillis. Albert Harris and Ivor Mairants would have been contenders had the record been made a few years later. Even so Fillis would be favourite. In addition, the pianist sounds to me rather like Sid Bright, Fillis’ regular partner-in-crime. And in addition to that I found that Fillis recorded with Marton Harris in London on 2nd June that same year – Spring Is Here Again. It all points in one direction ! 

And, not incidentally, I think these lyrics would be fiendishly difficult to memorize and to perform without a piece of paper to glance at: the reasonably-literate singer would want to supply grammatically correct alternatives: think of Jo Stafford singing off-key and out-of-time as “Darlene Edwards.”

I would give a great deal to have been present at the collaboration of Robinson and Cook.  Did either of them suggest, “Am I In Love? I Am,” and then find out how little relevant rhymes with “am,” and propose this comic alternative?

As for I, I is smitten.

So I will listen again.  And if someone thinks, “Michael made this all up,” here’s empirical proof.  Another sheet music cover has Ethel Shutta prominently featured, and more than a half-dozen other recordings by American and British bands and vocalists are on YouTube.  But none so nice:

And that often overlooked but invaluable resource, the Internet Archive, presents 29 recordings by Ms. Harris — her complete electrical recordings from 1925-1934, with a less filtered copy of IS I IN LOVE? — here.  Treasures.

May your happiness increase!

THE WEATHERBIRDS FLY BY AGAIN

Seasonal Hot migrations: the Weatherbird Jazz Band has just paid us another welcome visit.  (I’ve posted perhaps two dozen of their performances, which are both gratifying and easy to find.)

Here are six more beautiful performances, mostly celebrating the 1925-28 sides that Louis Armstrong and friends created in Chicago, with celebratory glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and the NORK.

The Weatherbirds, for these sessions, are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.  You’ll notice that I refrain from explaining and explicating: this music needs no subtitles, just listeners open to joy.

MY MONDAY DATE:

SOMEDAY SWEETHEART:

TIN ROOF BLUES:

BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (today is Mr. Morton’s birthday):

SWEET EMMALINA:

and I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE:

May your happiness increase!

PLAY NICE: MILT JACKSON, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, SLAM STEWART, DUFFY JACKSON (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 13, 1979)

Some jazz groups “have history”: that is, the intuitive understanding that comes from playing often, even if not night after night, together.  (In the dating world, it’s called “chemistry.”) Other collaborations — by whatever circumstance — emerge when people who don’t ordinarily work together are asked to play for the public.  I don’t know whether the producer of the Grande Parade du Jazz, colloquially called the “Nice Jazz Festival,” decided it would be interesting to mix it up, or whether Milt Jackson said, “Here are the people I’d like to play with.”  I suspect the former.

But, for almost an hour, we have a set of music from Milt, vibraphone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Duffy Jackson, drums.  I would guess that Milt and Jimmie might have encountered each other as far back as the mid-Forties in California; Bucky and Slam worked as a duo and in many rhythm sections at this time; Duffy, the youngest of the group, had experience as Basie’s drummer.  Being a Rowles-devotee, my overpowering first reaction was, “Goodness!  Nearly on  hour of Jimmie in a different context, on video!”

Preparing this post, I looked in Tom Lord’s discography for any evidence that this quintet — or a near-relation — had recorded, and found none.  But Milt, Jimmie, and Ray Brown (and perhaps others) had performed a year earlier in Sao Paulo as part of the Montreux Jazz Festival tour, and here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly would like to hear this:

Milt, someone with great awareness, treats the repertoire as he would if presiding over a jam session, and calls songs that no one could get lost in — THE MAN I LOVE / STARDUST / BLUES / DISORDER AT THE BORDER / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / BAGS’ GROOVE //.  I don’t know, if when the set was over, the players said to each other, “Well, we got through that.  Did you see all those television cameras?  Damn, people are going to be watching this?  I need to lie down,” or if the general reaction was, “What a triumph!”

2020 criticism of 1979 joys will be discouraged.  I think this is a priceless hour, and am thrilled it exists.  I hope you feel the same way.  And I am able to share this with you through the generous kindness of A Good Friend.

May your happiness increase!

SIX MINUTES OF SWING MYSTERY (May 25, 1939)

We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.

Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list.  Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.)  I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.

When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons.  Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb.  I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording.  When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified.  A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.

I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson.  But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.

About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.

Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:

Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)

My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey.  Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director.  I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.

On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music.  de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour.  Or three minutes.

Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:

About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.

Your thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

“STRICTLY FROM PISCES AND NEW YORK”: The FRAN KELLEY MYSTERIES (Part Three)

New information, no answers.

I’ve written about the wonderful and elusive Fran Kelley here and hereI had hoped that her connections to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have stirred up more research, but little has come to light.  (I thank Brian Kane, Nick Rossi, Paolo Alderighi, and CB Datasearch for invaluable finds.)

Let me reintroduce this remarkable person.

You would think that the producer of this concert [advertised in the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1946] would be as famous as Norman Granz or George Wein:

For those who have forgotten, this was her first concert at UCLA:

These are the beautiful sounds she made possible.

The other side:

The Fran-Tone “waxery” was mentioned in the March 25, 1946 BILLBOARD:

I know that at least four copies of 2004 exist.  But I have no evidence that 2005 has ever been issued.  It’s clear that Fran-Tone did not thrive as a money-making proposition because Fran sold the eight masters she had recorded to Capitol, and Capitol did nothing with them, as far as I know, which amazes me.  Do any readers have access to a comprehensive Capitol discography, and do the Fran-Tone sides appear there?

You would want to hear more about and more from this writer, writing her own condensed autobiography for the liner notes of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, RARE — BUT WELL DONE, on Liberty Records:

Fran Kelley is strictly from Pisces and New York.  Her love and understanding of music just comes naturally, stemming from her father, whose distinguished voice was heard in leading concert centers both here and abroad.  Fran’s musical background is varied: as an arranger-composer [one score was accepted by Duke Ellington], as a producer [she worked with Lester Horton and Duke Ellington to stage jazz-ballet], as an impresario [Fran presented the first jazz concert ever held at the University of California at Los Angeles which presented Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Benny Carter], and as an expert in the field of musical therapy.  Fran is currently West Coast Editor and Representative for Metronome Magazine.   

Here is evidence (from BILLBOARD, February 24, 1958) of what might have been the start of a new brilliant collaboration:

and

The end of the story is told by Ellington himself, in a few lines in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

When I first bought Fran-Tone 2004, I was captivated by the music and intrigued by its guiding genius.  Surely, I thought, she would have merited an essay if not a biography — multi-talented, one of very few women operating at this high level in the boys’ club of jazz at the time.  But no.  Because I have friends who graciously do research, the twenty or so clippings that are the basis of this research were offered to me.  But Fran seems absent from any book on Bird or Duke.  Why?

Thanks to Brian Kane, a lead opened up — an audible one — because four sides recorded by Fran for her label, with arrangements by Tom Talbert, were preserved and issued on Hep 22, “Memphis in June: Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra.”  That’s a vinyl issue; the CD (Hep 95) contains only the two Allyn vocals:

Vince DeRosa, French horn; Lenny Hartman, English horn; Harry Klee, alto saxophone, flute; Sam Sachelle, bass clarinet; Hy Mandel, baritone saxophone; Ray Still, oboe; Erroll Garner, piano; Leonard “Lucky” Enois, Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Babasin, Red Callender, string bass; Jackie Mills, drums; David Allyn, vocal; Tom Talbert, arranger.  AFRS Downbeat, Los Angeles, early 1946

BLACK NIGHT AND FOG (David Allyn vocal) / C JAM BLUES / PLEASE LET ME FORGET (David Allyn vocal) – [also known as PASTEL] / CARAVAN //

Note: Following from “The Most Happy Piano – Errol Garner Discography” by James M. Doran : “According to Jack McKinney, the following personnel are definitely not Raeburn’s, even though these performances were released under his name on Hep (E)22. This studio session was produced by Fran Kelley, probably in conjunction with her Swingposium concert of June 24, 1946, which was to be released on her Fran-tone label. This never happened.”

I’ve obtained a copy of Hep 22, and those four sides are gorgeous.  Guess whose name is absent in the detailed notes by Jack McKinney?  And, for a chance to compete in the bonus round, guess whose name . . . in the biography of Talbert?

And two nearly irrelevant postscripts.  Fran Kelley was married to the trumpeter Clyde Reasinger, who lived until 2018.  Reasinger turns up twice in a data-search in the Sixites, two gossip-column entries.  In a 1962 entry, “Stripper Titian Dal is will shelve her career in favor of marriage to trumpeter Clyde Reasinger,” and a year later Reasinger is playing trumpet for the show NO STRINGS and is married to Karen, who is not identified as a stripper.  I don’t know what that says about the Reasinger-Kelley marriage, but twenty years later, the two parties were apparently living in very different worlds.

As I wrote at the start, no answers.  Speculations, yes.  I could understand that the secular world has taken little notice of someone who chose to leave it, decisively, perhaps in 1958.  And I hope that moving into the spiritual realm gave Fran Kelley the satisfaction that “the music business” did not.  Our choices are mysterious to others, and often they are mysterious to us as well.  So I cannot offer more evidence about why Fran Kelley seemed to disappear.  I can wonder if there was a connection between music therapy and spiritual work, but it is only a speculation.  Did she go underground to write poetry in an ashram?  Did she become a nun ministering to the wounded in a Catholic hospital?

I was ready to publish this post and end on a somewhat despairing note: “I am baffled by the lack of reportage devoted to her, and even now — can I and my little band of research-friends be the only ones on the planet fascinated by who she was, what she did, and where she went?”

But before ending my quest for information, I posted inquiries on an online jazz-research group I belong to, not expecting much, and then Patricia Willard, long-time jazz scholar and writer, emerged like a blessed apparition, and wrote this, which I reprint with her permission and with gratitude:

Re: Fran Kelley, Duke considered her a genius, in 1958 signed her to a contract specifying that anything she produced–music, poetry, spoken ideas et al would be owned by him in exchange for continuing financial support. They both told me this but I never saw the actual contract or knew the precise terms. Among her talents that Duke found most intriguing was that she always knew what time it was–to the second–but never wore a watch (nor did he). Their collaborations were largely on the West Coast during a time when Strayhorn was East. The last times I heard from her (several years hence) were letters, always written on music ms. paper with a San Francisco hotel return address. She had a daughter whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. I met her in the mid-1980s at the invitation of my L.A. neighbor Benny Carter. The daughter was searching for Fran or any of her work and trying to find out if she were still alive. The daughter remembered that Fran had spoken often about her friend Benny. Benny had no recent knowledge of her activities or whereabouts. Two years ago I asked Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, if she remembered the daughter’s name, and she didn’t. I only recall that it wasn’t Kelley.

Fran Kelley is a novel, although I am no novelist.  But fascinating books are on the horizon.  Patricia Willard is completing three of them — one on Ellington, one on Sinatra, and one a memoir.  I can’t wait to have them on my coffee table, at this desk, and on my nightstand.  I will let you know when they appear.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT DID THEY SOUND LIKE? (Toronto, September 1943)

This just in — corrections and additions from jazz scholars Mark Miller and Kris Bauwens.  It’s good to have wise friends!

Christine Manchisi, a very gracious Canadian antique dealer-entrepreneur, found an intriguing jazz artifact, a souvenir from a now-vanished night club, and then found me . . . and a match was made.  First, a little background.

Club Top Hat, “Toronto’s Night Spot,” Sunnyside, as photographed on Aug. 25, 1944: Club Top Hat, Sunnyside. View looking north from Lakeshore Blvd. Built as the The Pavilion restaurant, over time the building grew in size, evolving into Club Esquire (1936 – 1939) and then Club Top Hat (1939 – 1956). – Credit: Toronto Harbour Commissioners / Library and Archives Canada / PA-098571. MIKAN 3655526 (courtesy of the Vintage Toronto Facebook page).

In those days, not only did musicians sign their names, but they wrote the instrument they played: thus, Miff Mole, trombone; Shad Collins, trumpet; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Cozy Cole, drums; Pinie Caceres, piano.

It was Miff’s band, and after leaving Goodman, he had a brief Toronto residency in September 1943 (the usually impeccable John Chilton has it in August, but Mark Miller provided the dated newspaper advertisement below).  I believe that these men were either on leave from big bands (Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway) or from radio studio work.  I am guessing that the prospect of a few weeks or a month in Toronto with no one-nighters must have been greatly appealing.  A respite from reading charts and doing section work would have been like a vacation.

But let us imagine a little more.  I think that the talent booker for the Top Hat might have sent Miff a telegram (“a wire”) and asked if he’d like to bring a group there, offering a price, perhaps even suggesting accommodations.  The group has been identified as a sextet, but only five signatures are on the club paper we have here, which suggests that the string bassist (if there were one) was a local player.  What interests me more are the people Miff either called or ended up with — we can’t know — and there are logical threads here.  Miff would have known Shad, Cozy, and perhaps Hank from New York gigs or radio work — later, Cozy and Hank would show up at Eddie Condon’s concerts — and he might well have encountered Pinie Caceres through Pinie’s more famous brother, Ernie.  Or they might have spoken to each other at the bar at Julius’.  It’s a particularly intriguing lineup for those who immediately associate Miff with Wild Bill, Bobby, or Muggsy, Pee Wee, and the rest of the Commodore crew.

What tunes did Miff call?  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES?  I don’t dare assume, unless someone comes up with a review in a Toronto newspaper.  (Mark Miller wasn’t born yet.)  Where are the heirs of a Canadian Jerry Newman or Dean Benedetti for some lovely acetate discs?  And did Miff and company enjoy the boardwalk in daylight, or were they sleeping?  Or was part of their day sitting at a table and signing a hundred of these cards to be given to patrons as a souvenir of their evening-out-with-jazz-and-dinner?  The autographs are too tidy to be on-the-spot, the kind a musician would sign for an eager fan while having an autograph book pressed on him.  But they are lovely evidence.

Miff Mole, 1946, at Nick’s, New York City, by William P. Gottlieb.

And I now know that the Top Hat was a jazz mecca even before 1943.  Mark has told me that Coleman Hawkins appeared there with Don Byas and Monk!  Thanks to Kris Bauwens, we have delightful evidence of Fats Waller appearing there in 1942: the playing card comes from a Norwegian sailor who had wonderful memories of the card game:

Research, anyone?

May your happiness increase!

 

ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY POUNDS, at EDDIE CONDON’S CLUB, 1948

First, the appropriate soundtrack:

There is much to say about these two photographs, perhaps too much to say.

The first, a performance shot from Eddie Condon’s downtown club on West Fourth Street, features Wild Bill Davison, Peanuts Hucko, and George Brunis.  The pianist may be Gene Schroeder, the drummer Morey Feld, and I haven’t identified the string bassist.  Eddie is talking to the customers, somewhere. The front line is relaxed; Brunis is in charge of the show, I think.  And he has autographed the photo — along with Eddie (“Me too”), Bill, and Peanuts.  The eBay seller asked for $250, so I contented myself with taking the image and sharing it with you.  Someone did buy it.

When the second photograph remained unsold on eBay, I made the seller a more thrifty offer, which was graciously accepted, and the second photograph is mine.

I do not know if the two photographs were taken the same night, but I would assume it was a Tuesday night (“jam session” or, in Condon’s wry language, “ham section” night) when the equivalent of two bands played in varied combinations.  Gene Schroedr is clearly at the piano, playing and being amused.

The autographs on the second photograph are Wild Bill Davison, Tony Parenti, George Brunis, and Joe Sullivan, who explains what is going on.  Brunis, as one of his many stunts (one involved shots of vodka and hot sauce, alternating) would have one of the lighter members of the band stand on his stomach while he played.  All I can say is “Don’t try this at home.”  And if readers want to comment on the BMI of Joe Sullivan, at 190 pounds, those comments will be deleted.

There isn’t much to say about this beyond WOW, or OH MY GOODNESS . . . and to be thankful that nightclubs had roving photographers who would capture such moments, have the shots developed, put in a cardboard folder for purchase so that properly reverent fans could get their heroes’ autographs.  My photograph came properly framed in black wood, but the seller noted that it “came in original folding cardboard souvenir frame from Condon’s club, displaying the Condon guitar logo.”

I admire such wackiness with all my heart.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

“MEDLEY OF PARODIES”: WHAT WAS LOST NOW IS FOUND: SIDNEY BECHET, VIC DICKENSON, DON DONALDSON, ERNEST MYERS, WILBERT KIRK (December 9, 1943)

A story with a happy ending seems more unusual these days, but I have one for you.  I’ll also provide the moral right here, rather than saving it for the end: Kindness is everything.

Yesterday I published a blogpost here — primarily to show off the new-old eBay purchase above, Sidney Bechet, soprano saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Don Donaldson, piano; Ernest Myers (also known as “Ernest Wilson Myers,” and his nickname was “Serious”) string bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums — a delightfully intent version of ST. LOUIS BLUES.

Recording sessions usually produced four sides, and two others were accepted for issue on V-Disc: AFTER YOU’VE GONE, and BUGLE CALL RAG – OLE MISS.  But one, tantalizingly called MEDLEY OF PARODIES, remained unissued, music I’d heard of perhaps twenty-five years ago but never heard.  It was described as Myers singing parodies of three popular songs: DEAR MOM, TANGERINE, and NAGASAKI.  David J. Weiner had told me that TANGERINE was now called GASOLINE, a hymn to that substance so scarce in wartime, but that was all I knew.  It had come to light and was one track on a giant Bechet CD box set, but that set was not easily purchased.

So yesterday I asked, here and on an online jazz research group, whether anyone had a digital copy of the music to share with me, not expecting much.  I was proven wrong in the nicest ways by Fernando, Mario, David, Tom, James, and Jeremy, who offered digital copies in various formats.  Two people pointed me to archive.org (make sure you have a comfortable chair before visiting that site, because you’ll want to stay a while: the link offers the entire 14-CD Bechet set) — not the highest-quality sound, but the one easiest to share with you, so I offer the MEDLEY OF PARODIES here.

I find it goofily charming — from Bechet as the very smooth master of ceremonies to Myers’ heartfelt vocals, Vic’s little interjections and Kirk’s Catlett-accents . . . “a little entertainment,” as Sidney says.  (I was dreading that NAGASAKI would be anti-Asian, but thank goodness, they stick to the original lyrics with a few variations.)  Did it remain unreleased because of the naughty words or the topical references to Hitler and MacArthur?  Would it have been stopped by the censors?  And the parodies, candidly, are fairly sophomoric although effective.

Dreams don’t always come true when we’re out of Thirties popular songs or Disney films, but this one did, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely.

I thought it possible that some readers might not know the original DEAR MOM and TANGERINE, so here are contemporaneous versions:

and

And to quote Sonny Greer, “Cast your bread upon the waters and it comes back buttered toast.”

Much gratitude to all the generous people who leaped to fill a lack, and to my readers worldwide, as ever.  Knowing you’re out there is a great joy.

May your happiness increase!

“BECHET PARADES THE BLUES”: SIDNEY BECHET, VIC DICKENSON, DON DONALDSON, WILSON MYERS, WILBERT KIRK (December 9, 1943)

Good and hot, rare and fresh, a recent eBay purchase.

It’s immediately recognizable as ST. LOUIS BLUES, but it’s great fun no matter who got the composer royalties. (Whether there was some intended connection to Glenn Miller’s ST. LOUIS BLUES MARCH, recorded for V-Disc in late October, I don’t know.)

This extended performance was recorded for V-Disc on December 9, 1943.  It features Bechet, soprano saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Don Donaldson, piano; Ernest Myers, string bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. Someday I could do a better transfer: maybe when the world is properly back on its axis. Whenever.  Vic and Sidney made a superb team and they gigged as a two-man front line, although in their record dates from 1941 to 1958, there was usually a trumpet player attempting to lead the band.  They were both instantly identifiable soloists but also the best intuitive ensemble players: hear how they hand off the lead here, supported by a fine rhythm section.  

Two other sides — AFTER YOU’VE GONE and BUGLE CALL RAG – OLE MISS were recorded and issued — each selection on one side of a different V-Disc.  But a fourth side was not issued at the time and is thus tantalizing.  It was assigned the matrix number of JB 331, and is called MEDLEY OF PARODIES, the parodies of current pop hits being DEAR MOM, TANGERINE, NAGASAKI.

Decades ago, David J. Weiner, who knows what a glass-based V-Disc acetate looks like, told me (or did I dream it?) that TANGERINE was a parody now called GASOLINE, because of wartime rationing, and that Vic sang it.  I can imagine how his opening phrase sounds.  Tom Lord lists the vocalist as Myers, but I have hopes of Vic. 

And this tiny mystery gets even better, at least to me.  I had thought that recording completely lost, but one copy at least survived, and was issued on a fourteen-CD set called SIDNEY BECHET: COMPLETE AMERICAN MASTERS (1931-1953), issued on the French “Universal” label as (F)533616-7.  But wait! There’s more!  The box set, issued in 2011, seems completely unavailable, but several sites advertising it offer the first sixty seconds of this performance, where Bechet, acting atypically like a jovial master of ceremonies bringing on a production number, introduces Myers to sing DEAR MOM: Myers begins it, the band chimes in, and the sample ends. 

If anyone has that set and can send me a digital copy of the MEDLEY OF PARODIES, I will create an appropriate reward: perhaps I have something here in my apartment-collection that would gratify the as-yet unidentified benefactor.  Find me at swingyoucats@gmail. com, and many thanks in advance!

And until that desire is fulfilled, let us keep on parading with Sidney, Vic, Don, Ernest, and Wilbert.

May your happiness increase!   

WHEN THE FENCES HAVE BEEN TAKEN DOWN: “I’LL BE SEEING YOU: THREE WAY STRETCH” (Malcolm Earle Smith, Dave Wickins, Liam Noble)

Years ago, jazz seemed like a lovely meadow, stretching in all directions, that critics and journalists (I don’t need to name the squabbling troublemakers) had divided into little paddocks, each with its own electrified fence.  So if Fats Navarro and Jimmy Knepper wanted to talk mouthpieces with Shorty Baker and Vic Dickenson, they knew not to venture too far for fear of getting punished.  (Patrick McGoohan, “Number Six,” will do as an encapsulation.)

Much of this silliness has died down in print, but it remains lively among the fan bases, those who look skeptically at “that old stuff” or criticize a slightly streamlined performance as “too swingy.”  The electrified fences still proliferate in Facebook’s exclusionary groups, but you’re on your own there.

I say this because I have just listened to a wonderful new CD, with six selections.  The composers: Ornette Coleman, Irving Berlin, Victor Schertzinger / Johnny Mercer, Charles Mingus, Eddie Harris, Sammy Fain / Irving Kahal.  The songs: RAMBLIN’ / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I REMEMBER YOU / DUKE ELLINGTON’S SOUND OF LOVE / FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE / I’LL BE SEEING YOU.  Consider the beautiful expansiveness of that list for a moment: imagine a windowsill of wildly different plants — cherry tomato, orchid, succulents — all given space to grow and flourish.

This wholly rewarding CD is I’LL BE SEEING YOU, by “THREE WAY STRETCH,” Malcolm Earle Smith, trombone, vocal, effects; Liam Noble, piano; Dave Wickins, drums.  The band’s “cover photo” is a study in itself, and says something about the whimsical powers at work, with Malcolm, Liam, and Dave, from the left:


A few words from the band:

Recorded in November 2018, this album documents a joyful afternoon of music making. Sadly, this was to be drummer Dave Wickins’s last recording. This album is dedicated to Dave, a unique artist and special human being. His passion, humour, and love for the whole tradition of jazz drumming can be heard in these six tracks.

The album artwork, which celebrates Dave’s life and music, is best appreciated by buying the CD, but is also available as a PDF for all digital purchases.

In memory of Dave, we are contributing some of the funds from sales to Prostate Cancer UK. If you would like to contribute a little extra to this charity please consider the ‘pay more’ option above. Or, if you prefer, you can donate directly here: davewickins.muchloved.com.

Here‘s the Bandcamp link to hear more and, I hope, to purchase.

About the music.  I am sent CDs still with some frequency, and I try to listen to at least a few minutes of each; some of them, even with high-powered personnels, make me think, “Well, I am supposed to like this, even though I don’t.  Can I give it another ten minutes?”  And sometimes I can.  But there are others — whose names might not be quite so familiar — that feel both ingenious and comfortable at the same time.  My first reaction to THREE WAY STRETCH was “Wow!” and then, “This is really splendid.”  Its looseness and true improvisation captivated me, and at times I laughed aloud to hear what sport these three ingenious gentlemen had just created.

I should state here that this is a trio recording rather than the standard ensemble theme statement – solos – e.t.s. format.  At times it is a somber dance, a street parade, a musical Frisbee game in the park.  Each of these musicians is masterful not only in imagination but in execution, but at times I thought I was listening to a game rather than a recording session.  It is the music that is made before the audience has arrived or after they have gone.

And the playfulness goes hand-in-hand with deep feeling: quietly impassioned readings of SOUND OF LOVE and I’LL BE SEEING YOU; the puckishness of ALEXANDER’S; the irresistible swing of RAMBLIN’.  (By the way, Malcolm is not only a wonderful trombonist but a surprising and emotive singer.)  Each performance is its own playlet, and the CD feels like an immensely satisfying full-course meal of wonderfully flavored dishes: filling but not overwhelming.  It seems impudent to dissect the trio into its component human parts, since the synergy at work here is rich and honest, but the disc makes me regret that I never saw Dave, Liam, and Malcolm in performance: somewhere between the best improvisatory dramatic troupe and a tap-dance jam session.

No cutting contest, but the sounds of three musicians who love the melody and deep swing, who love the music and the places it can go, and who clearly love and respect each other. . . . and who are having the time of their lives in musical conversation.

At times it sounds as if three masters of comic timing are telling jokes; at times Malcolm, Liam, and Dave compose overlapping soliloquies; at times it’s the wind in the reeds, the branches gently tapping the house, the songs of morning birds.

A truly splendid recording, full of life-energies.  Investigate for yourself.

May your happiness increase!

TWO EARLY JAZZ BALLADS

Jazz history as presented by people who should know better is compressed into telephone poles glimpsed through the window of a speeding train: “All aboard!  MAPLE LEAF RAG . . . .WEST END BLUES . . . . LADY BE GOOD . . . . COTTON TAIL . . . . KO KO . . . . KIND OF BLUE . . . . A LOVE SUPREME.  Last stop, ladies and gentlemen!”

At best, an inexplicable series of distortions, omissions.

One small example of this odd perspective on the music I’ve spent my life immersed in is the discussion of the “jazz ballad.” I take it to be players or singers improvising over a composition in slower tempo, its mood romantic or melancholy or both.  Of course people wanted slower tempos to dance to: THE STAMPEDE was a marvel, but you couldn’t hold your darling close to you on the dance floor at that tempo.  One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, followed by the Mound City Blue Blowers’ ONE HOUR, 1927 and 1929, respectively.  But that leaves out, for one example, Jimmie Noone’s SWEET LORRAINE and many other recordings.  And, of course, recordings are only a tiny sliver of what was being performed and appreciated.

But as far as jazz ballads are concerned, I think performances of songs titled I NEED YOU and NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU are certainly relevant.  And they have not been considered worthy of notice by those who reduce an art form to easy-to-swallow historical capsules, useful for those who need to pass final examinations.

Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music.  We’re told that recording supervisors embraced this hypothesis as well.  The exceptions proliferate: tell that to Charles Linton, Pha Terrell, Harlan Lattimore, Eva Taylor, and more.  But that’s another posting.

Enough grumbling about those who theorize from a very narrow awareness.  Here are two very seductive examples of category-exploding that also fall sweetly on the ear.  Neither performance has lyrics, but they would be easy to invent: to me they are very satisfying unacknowledged jazz ballads.

The first is Clarence Williams’ I NEED YOU, composers credited on the label as Jackson and Williams, from May 29, 1928, performed by Clarence Williams’ Jazz Kings : Ed Allen, King Oliver, cornet’ probably Ed Cuffee, trombone; probably Albert Socarras, clarinet, alto saxophone; Clarence Williams, piano; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba:

Then, a beautiful song by Tiny Parham from the last recording session he made for Victor, November 11, 1930, NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU:

That lovely record contains what is, to me, a delectable unsolved mystery.  The listed personnel of Tiny Parham And His Musicians is: Roy Hobson, cornet; Ike Covington, trombone; Dalbert Bright, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; Charlie Johnson, clarinet, alto; Tiny Parham, piano, leader; Big Mike McKendrick, banjo, guitar; Milt Hinton, brass bass; Jimmy McEndre, drums.  The Victor label clearly indicates “Whistling chorus by Maurice Hendricks.”  And a gorgeous twenty-four bars it is, in high style: the Red McKenzie of whistlers.  A small sidelight: “Hendricks” whistles the first sixteen bars elegantly, and I find myself missing him through the bridge and elated when he returns for the final eight bars.  

But who is or was Maurice Hendricks?  If he is a real musician, why doesn’t his name appear in any discography?  The theory that it might be young Milt Hinton (the initials are the only hint) is implausible because Milt is audibly playing brass bass — tuba, or sousaphone, what you will — throughout the record, not putting the horn down while the Whistler is so prettily doing his thing.  Brian Rust and “Atticus Jazz” say that “Maurice Hendricks” is Big Mike McKendrick, and I would grant a certain aural similarity between the name and the pseudonym, but a) why would a pseudonym be needed on the label, and b) why are there apparently no other recorded examples of Big Mike whistling? Was “Maurice” a friend of the Parham band, welcomed into the studio to amaze us now, ninety years later?

My best answers for the moment are of course whimsical: “Maurice Hendricks” is really Lew Le Mar, who made the hyena and billy goat sounds for the 1927 Red Hot Peppers session, or, if you don’t think that Lew hung around Chicago for three years just to get back in the Victor studios, I propose that the Whistler is Cassino Simpson, who was capable of more than we can imagine, but that’s only because Jack Purvis was busy making many recordings in New York in November 1930.

Theorize as you will, though, the music rises above whatever we can say about it.  Listen again.  Thanks to Mike Karoub for his ears, to Matthew Rivera of the Hot Club of New York and especially to Charles Iselin for bringing the second recording to my attention.

May your happiness increase!

JIMMY ROWLES, SOLO

Jimmy Rowles — a painter, sly and romantic, who sat on a piano bench — was not often recorded as a solo pianist.  Whether by choice or circumstance, I don’t know, but most often he was captured with a string bassist and drummer.  The bassists and drummers were always superb, but the half-dozen recordings of  Rowles unadorned are something extraordinary.

One can hear his chord voicings, his approach to playing in and out of time, his love for the melody.  I think his 1982 performance of HOW DEEP IS THE OCEAN, part of a collective tribute to Bill Evans, is subtle, sad, and quirky all at once, with touching nods to WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? and THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU as poignant salutes:

and a year earlier, for an Ellington-Strayhorn tribute, JUMPIN’ PUNKINS, where Rowles becomes the whole 1941 Ellington orchestra:

He remains a marvel, no matter how many times you hear a performance.

May your happiness increase!

OUR MAN FROM MISSOURI: NEW JESS STACY DISCOVERIES (November 28, December 5, 1939)

In the past year, a few holy relics of the beloved and subtle pianist Jess Stacy have come my way.  (Today would have been his 116th birthday, which counts as well.)  At a swing dance, I purchased one of his Chiaroscuro solo recordings — especially after I turned it over and saw that Jess had inscribed it, “Hi Jack, Well, I tried, Best, Jess.” which says so much about his character.  On eBay two months ago, a late photograph of Jess which he signed, again graciously, to the photographer.  And perhaps ten days ago, this disc crossed my path, and although it is not a Stacy solo, it’s priceless evidence of what he did so well and for so long.

But — for the delicate — these sides have not been well-cared for in their eighty-year life, and I think that aluminum acetates are less gentle to the ear than shellac.  So if you quail at surface noise, there is a substantial amount.

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, handsome and presentable, who had a career because of his last name and a passable although quavery singing voice.  His band — featuring Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Billy Butterfield, and many others — made its fame with a New Orleans-inspired rocking approach and a small band, the Bobcats.  Crosby usually had first-rate pianists, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and, joining the band after five years with Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy.  Goodman had had great success with a radio program sponsored by Camel cigarettes, the “Camel Caravan,” but in 1939, Crosby took over the program.

One of the featured performers with Goodman was songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer, whose feature was “Newsy Bluesy” or I’ve seen it as “Newsy Bluesies.” Mercer had done something like it when he was with Paul Whiteman: a variation on the vaudeville device of straight man and comedian, with Mercer playing the latter with great skill and singing in his inimitable way (which I love) — the weekly theme drawn from odd stories in the newspapers.  The result is a hilarious scripted playlet, set over a quick-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  Mercer shines, especially with a very stiff Crosby as his foil.

But the real treasure here is the rollicking piano of Jess Stacy, lighting the skies alongside Bob Haggart, string bass, Nappy Lamare, guitar, and Ray Bauduc, drums.  You might have to pay close attention or even listen twice, but Jess, bubbling and swinging, is completely there.

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

Small mysteries remain.  Why did Mercer have a New York City recording studio preserve these sides for him?  (He was, one biography says, commuting between New York and Hollywood.)  How did they survive (although the labels have had a rough time of it)? And how did they wind up where a mere collector-mortal could purchase and share them in time for Mr. Stacy’s birthday?

Whatever ethereal forces are at work, you have my gratitude — as do Jess, Johnny, the Crosby band, ACE Recording, and WABC.

And happy birthday, Mr. Stacy.  You not only tried: you are irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!