Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

WE’RE ENCHANTED: JOE SULLIVAN IMPROVISES (March 1963)

The lopsided stereotype of pianist Joe Sullivan is that of a hard-drinking barrelhouse man and player, attacking the keyboard with great power until he day he could do it no more.  But that’s only a small snapshot: if you’ve seen Sullivan, somewhat nervously chatting with Ralph Gleason on JAZZ CASUAL, you see a gentle, sensitive man: underneath the many versions of LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY is the humble romantic, tenderly exploring A ROOM WITH A VIEW or FOREVERMORE.

Here is something rare and precious: Joe’s solo improvisation, thirty minutes long, for the soundtrack of a documentary film about blind children. I don’t know more than this, except it’s aurally clear that the film’s producers did not or could not pay royalties, so they asked Joe to keep far away from copyrighted compositions, his as well as others. Did he watch the screen while playing? I don’t know. This seems to have been one of his last recorded adventures. The tape from which this is taken is third or fourth-generation, so you will hear the high-end distortion characteristic of decaying acetate tape. Sorry!

But any auditory disturbance fades away in the ear and heart as one follows Joe through his — to me — thrilling meanderings:

This is in honor of my great friend, far-away teacher and benefactor John L. Fell.

May your happiness increase!

SHORT YET SOARING: “WEARY BLUES,” BENT PERSSON and GORAN ERIKSSON

The received wisdom is that long-playing records (and then CDs) allowed jazz musicians “room to stretch out,” and in many cases that is a boon.  But I admire those musicians of all styles who can “get it done” in two choruses, smile, and step back.

Here’s a wonderful example: Bent Persson, cornet, and Goran Eriksson, banjo and stop-time percussive effects, romping through WEARY BLUES in the finest Louis Armstrong-Johnny St.Cyr manner, a performance that feels like the most rewarding dinner on a plate the size of a saucer: compressed, heated, expert:

It’s supposed to rain and be gray for the next three days . . . but in my heart the Louis-sun is blazing bright.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

BLISSFUL PLAYS: “EARLY RISERS,” JOHN SCURRY’S REVERSE SWING (Lionshare Records, 2 CDs)

FRAME, John Scurry, 2016.

I’m rarely at a loss for words.  (Whether that’s a virtue or an annoyance, I leave to you.)  So when some new music hits me so deliciously hard that I think, “I don’t know how to write about this,” that phenomenon is fascinating.  I assure you it’s not pandemic-isolation brain: it’s being in the presence of something texturally and emotionally rich that doesn’t neatly compartmentalize itself.

To be precise, I am referring to EARLY RISERS, a brand-new 2 CD release by John Scurry’s Reverse Swing (Lionshare Records).  John is — in no order and all at once — guitarist / painter / composer / optimistic seeker.  The discs feature a variety of John’s compositions, and for once when I read those words on a new release, it inspires happy anticipation, not anxiety.

As I told a friend after hearing the first disc, “If I heard this coming from another room, I would say ‘What IS that?’ in happy astonishment and go to the speaker to get closer, to drink it in, to find out more.

Let me encourage you to follow me towards that sound source . . . https://lionsharecords.com/album/early-risers — if you scroll down — you can hear EARLY RISERS, CLANDESTINE, CHEERS ANTIOCH, EGYPTIAN VIOLET.  And you can read the liner notes.  Please do.  Take your time, and report back.

Isn’t that the damnedest beautiful thing?

Jazz listeners who like experience in little Lego units can say I HEAR THIS and A TOUCH OF THAT.  Some already have their little pads out, noting, “That phrase sounds just like —— on his Atlantic release in 1954.”  Knock yourself out, pals.

But I can only describe John’s music metaphorically.  A bed with brightly-colored coverlets, already warm, with the promise of birdsong in the next morning outside the window.  Music that when you have to drive to the station, it’s escaped into the neighbor’s garden after climbing the roof.  And other times it cozies itself into your lap, purring.  Or it’s like the first forkful of a new ethnic rice dish, whose flavors you can’t quite identify, until you say, “Is that cinnamon?  Is that preserved lemon peel?  Wow!”  It’s like a few kind sentences coming from a person you have never known to be easily kind.

Or look again at John’s painting above.  Simple objects carefully and carelessly arranged, balanced and precarious, quietly vibrating with feeling.  (Morandi reminds me of Scurry.)  His musics, and the plural is intentional, come from the same human(e) source.

I’ve run out of metaphors, but your ears will show you the way.

I hope EARLY RISERS warms and cheers you as it does me.  Or if it doesn’t today, come back and peer at it again.  It’s impossible to anatomize, but that is its charm: it’s alive.  And it plans to stay that way.

In case you lost your way in my at-a-loss-for-words that turned into words, I nudge you again to https://lionsharecords.com/album/early-risers

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

DANIEL HUCK’S JOYOUS MAGIC

If met off the bandstand, Monsieur Huck, peering over his glasses, round-faced in a rose-colored untucked shirt, might resemble the friendly man on line in front of you at the bank.  You wouldn’t know that he is a bubbling irrepressible expert joyous force of nature.  But he is, as they used to say, an absolute wow.  Observe.

I watch this, and I am laughing and weeping.  Magic has entered the room: Daniel Huck has shone his magic healing light and suddenly everything feels better: even the dust on the windowsill is happy.  How he gives himself utterly and completely to joy I don’t know, but I am honored to live in his world.  And the rest of the band so beautifully embodies the most delicate balance between serious melody, serious swing, and pure fun.

I want this in pill form.

Better, I want to drop my ordinary life and go study with Monsieur Huck, who has learned the secrets and is obviously never Too Busy to share them with us.

And.  Even more expansive magic.  TWO choruses on SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS), unbelievably joyous:

Blessings on Daniel Huck, on the other members of the band — so sweetly wise: Shona Taylor, cornet, vocal; Guy Champene, clarinet, alto saxophone; Marc Bresdin, clarinet, alto, tenor saxophone; Philippe Anhorn, piano, vocal; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo, tenor guitar; Eric Perron, tuba; Daniel Huck, scat vocal, alto saxophone.  And let us not forget Vidéo : Jeff Guyot at the Hermes Jazz Festival de Frejus, in France, June 10, 2018 — because without M. Guyot, we wouldn’t have this marvel.  (I have to speak up for my sometimes-neglected roving archivists.)  There are three more videos from the same set: I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, WHYLIE AVNUE BLUES, and THE OWLS’ HOOT.  Look for them on YouTube.

If any of my readers knows Daniel Huck personally or even by email, I would take it as the greatest kindness if they would send him this blogpost as a small token of the deepest marveling admiration and gratitude.  I’m completely serious.  Thank you.

May your happiness increase!

WITH OPEN EARS, CONTINUED: “THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE?”

A few days ago, I conducted what I thought of as an experiment in listening: you can read the original post here.  I published a jazz drum solo I had recorded in 1973, without identifying the player, saying only that it was a professional musician.  I supplied the date to narrow the field . . . thus, it couldn’t be any number of famous contenders.  Because I respect the vast experience my readers bring to this blog, I asked that they do more than supply a name.  I had no prizes to offer, but promised to reveal all.  Here, once again, is the solo:

On this page, and on Facebook, people responded.  I am of course honored that professional musicians read JAZZ LIVES and wrote in.  One or two listeners heard a particular drummer and “answered the question”; others sent in gratifying explanations of what they’d heard.  I’ve edited out the names and offered them in approximate order.

I hear a drummer with excellent time and a swinging feel. This solo is tasteful, thoughtfully composed, and shows an understanding of all the greats associated with the Condon style, the top players of the swing era, and some of the early modern jazz masters. I like that this drummer chose not to make this a technique show, despite apparently having plenty of chops. I’m not sure who it is, but I would bet that it’s somebody with whom I’m familiar. I like! A lot! Oh, and I meant to say I love the use of dynamics, varied phrase lengths, and the tones this drummer gets out of the kit. Great touch.

The timing of the cymbal crashes and the tones of the drums sound like George Wettling (to my ears).  (But it can’t be, as George passed away five years before the recording was made)!

I haven’t the faintest idea who it is, but I appreciate that he/she keeps the listener clued in as to where the beat is and makes real music, not just flashy noise, with taste and drive.

Tasteful drumming. Swings, without being noisy. Have heard Lionel Hampton do things like this.

I’m guessing it’s a trick question that you might have given us a hint to with your use of the word “she”. So I’ll guess Karen Carpenter.

I hear a New Orleans undercurrent.

Swing drummer, listened to Krupa.

I was listening to see if I could pick up a particular melody within the solo, but could not. The swing style is obvious, and the chops are good, but it’s more bashy/trashy than a Rich or Bellson. Cozy Cole comes to mind, but the count off to bring the band back in is too high in tone of voice. The style and vocal “growling” underneath the solo have shades of Lionel Hampton (who always reminded me of a bleating Billy Goat behind his brilliant solos on the Carnegie Hall and other live Goodman stuff). He also makes the crowd laugh at several points, as Hampton might with all his showbiz tricks. So I guess I’m going with Hampton!

Of course you know who I thought of immediately!! Nephew Hal Smith! He’s the best drummer I know.

I like a guessing game, but this IS a stumper. I agree with [  ] – the drums and cymbals sound like the equipment Wettling used and there are a few moments where it does sound like. It’s not Hampton as he didn’t solo that way and that’s not his voice at the end. Oddly enough the voice sounds like Buddy Rich to me, but it’s sure not Buddy. That said – I’m guessing Mel Torme.

It could be Lynn Wallis…but it isn’t.  Sorry..can’t do any better than that. 
(to which someone responded: . . . “way off in every regard.”)

The bass drum is well dampened. Prefers use of snare than his/her toms. Influences are many!

I heard some Wettling influences. Good chops. I would have liked to have heard it in context of what was being played by the band, as it obviously is not a stand alone solo.

I wonder if we should think outside of the box? Definitely some Wettling in there, some Rich as well.

Yes, context is everything. What was the song? I couldn’t determine a count of bars…

Wise enough to pass the challenge on to more qualified ears and brains, preferably those who themselves are drummers and can discriminate between early executers like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and the suchlike, whereas I already know that I cannot. The knowledgeable might ask how bad things can become with the nowadays early jazz listeners´ capabilities and the answer will be that we don´t know that yet since there is still a future. Thanks for the listening opportunity though.

Loved it – that’s all I’ll say.

 In this player, I hear what I hear in Pete Siers: the melody.

Buzzy Drootin?

Yep. It IS Buzzy. Do not have the time now to listen to it properly but will do so later….and yes – of course I love it.

Sounds like someone who is very musical, who must’ve had experience playing snare drum literature. Love it!

Nice drum solo, beautiful touch on the drums and very nice sound on the instrument. I hear a nice technique but he doesn’t use it to much, lot of dynamics in his playing, the drummer keep swinging all the time, I love the way of his playing ! It could be Cozy Cole or Buzzy Drootin…

I hear a master who is taking us on a journey, who is telling us a story in his very own, inimitable way….the second we assume to know where he is leading us, which turn he is going to take, he throws us a friendly curve ball, surprising us pleasantly, reminding us that there are many ways to get to the finish line.

I knew the minute I listened to it Buzzy Drootin.

No crash and bash, very conversational, nice use of space without losing the groove. Love the snare work. I hear music!


“The envelope, please.”

(Sounds of tearing paper, of breath blowing paper apart.)

“For his performance of February 11, 1973, at the Long Beach, New York, Public Library, in an ensemble led by Eddie Barefield, featuring Doc Cheatham, Ray Diehl, and Al Williams, recorded by Rob Rothberg and Michael Steinman, the winner is . . . BUZZY DROOTIN for his work on THAT’S A PLENTY!”

(Applause ranging from politely puzzled to rapturous.)


Why did I set up this experiment?  I assure you my purposes were benevolent.  I’ve always thought that the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests had a hint of malice hidden within, that readers could watch someone they respected be unable to distinguish what to us — who had the answer key — between very clearly different sounds.  “Did you see the new issue?  That [insert abusive slang epithet] thought that Hilton Jefferson was Steve Lacy! ! ! !”

Not here.  Everyone’s a winner; some were reminded of a musician you’d always liked and respected; others have been introduced to someone clearly remarkable, someone to investigate more deeply.  If a reader came away thinking, “I’d never heard of him (or heard him), but he can play!” then all my keystrokes would be completely worthwhile.  And Buzzy is a singular entity: someone with a long recording career who’s not all that well known or remembered in 2021, a musician who’s not predictable, who is completely himself.

But I did have an ideological purpose.

Buzzy, and musicians like him, have been placed into small plastic cubicles with labels according to whom they played with, not what they played.  So he is associated with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, with MUSKRAT RAMBLE and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, with Twenties jazz, rather than his friends Max Roach and Charlie Parker.  (Ever hear a Bird composition titled BUZZY . . . ?)

I knew that if I wrote, “Here’s a previously unheard Buzzy Drootin solo,” some listeners’ ears and minds would close tightly immediately.  “Old-time, pre-Bird, not innovative.  Straw hats, striped vests.  This stuff is no longer played by pros.  Are there any more of those chips?”

Moving to analogy for a moment, I confess to some surprise at the reminder of how many of us think comparatively.  Faced with a new dish, how many of us say, “I taste roasted garlic, Meyer lemon, herbes de Provence, lots of butter, etc.,” or do we say, “That’s just like what Jacques Pepin does with his recipe for ____!”  I know it is hard to listen in isolation, and perhaps that is a great skill.  It’s natural to hear a trumpet player and start checking off Miles-echoes or Roy-resemblances, but that, too, takes away from our focus on what is right in front of us.  If, when we hear a new singer, we start doing chemical analysis, “Hmmm.  12% Ella, 10% Helen Merrill, 40% Sassy, 28% Betty Carter, 10% undefined,” do we hear the actual person’s voice for itself?

Here is the great drummer Kevin Dorn, a superb teacher, speaking of / playing the worlds of Buzzy:

And here is the ebullient Mister Drootin in performance, in color, in Sweden.

Ultimately, my pleasure in sharing this music and encouraging this inquiry is also a little rueful.  In my youth, such splendid musicians could play a free gig at a suburban public library.  They were also gracious; they did not fuss about the two young men who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured their performance without paying union scale or royalties.

I hope Buzzy is pleased to be cherished as he is here.

May your happiness increase!

WITH OPEN EARS

For your consideration, a drum solo, under two minutes.

For the moment, the player — a professional jazz drummer playing live in 1973 — will be unidentified. It’s not a trick, and the player isn’t me.  That the photograph is of a Rogers snare is coincidental.

I offer this as a test run for listeners, because I think even the wisest of us are conditioned by evidence other than what our ears tell us. If we’re given the name X, judgments, associations, preconceptions, likes and dislikes spring to mind.  It’s then difficult for most listeners to actually respond with open-eared curiosity to what they actually hear, rather than guessing who the player is, and other kinds of artistic irrelevancies.

“I don’t know who that is, but wow, she sounds great. . . . ” is a start to true hearing.  “She Sounds Just Like ______,” to me, isn’t.

“What do I hear?” is the central question. This is a “blindfold test” of sorts, but  distinctly not the DOWN BEAT version.  There are no prizes for “getting it right.”

Your thoughts?  I will reveal all in two days, so check back . . .

Since JAZZ LIVES isn’t Facebook, I reserve the right to ignore comments that are unkind.  To anyone.

And just sending in a name — “That’s Big Beat Smoochy! His Chicago period!” — misses the point.  Tell me what you hear . . .

May your happiness increase!

 

WITH OPEN EARS

For your consideration, a drum solo, under two minutes.

For the moment, the player — a professional jazz drummer playing live in 1973 — will be unidentified. It’s not a trick, and the player isn’t me.  That the photograph is of a Rogers snare is coincidental.

I offer this as a test run for listeners, because I think even the wisest of us are conditioned by evidence other than what our ears tell us. If we’re given the name X, judgments, associations, preconceptions, likes and dislikes spring to mind.  It’s then difficult for most listeners to actually respond with open-eared curiosity to what they actually hear, rather than guessing who the player is, and other kinds of artistic irrelevancies.

“I don’t know who that is, but wow, she sounds great. . . . ” is a start to true hearing.  “She Sounds Just Like ______,” to me, isn’t.

“What do I hear?” is the central question. This is a “blindfold test” of sorts, but  distinctly not the DOWN BEAT version.  There are no prizes for “getting it right.”

Your thoughts?  I will reveal all in two days, so check back . . .

Since JAZZ LIVES isn’t Facebook, I reserve the right to ignore comments that are unkind.  To anyone.

And just sending in a name — “That’s Big Beat Smoochy! His Chicago period!” — misses the point.  Tell me what you hear . . .

May your happiness increase!

MEET JACK GARDNER: “EXACTLY LIKE YOU”

For once, I would like to let the music speak for itself.  I will have more by Jack to share with you in a few days, and yards of biographical data, but now, just savor what he does for its own sake.

May your happiness increase!

INSPIRED CARTOGRAPHY: “FALLEN FROM THE MOON: ROBERT EDWARD JUICE WILSON,” by ANTHONY BARNETT (2020)

Because many life-changes are marked by chronological milestones: first tooth, first day of school, first love, first job — we see life as a series of such events.  Most biographies of jazz musicians follow a familiar dramatic arc: childhood musical epiphany, practice and finding a sound, success, public life, and sometimes a drama or several.  Documentation of these events depends on first-and-secondhand accounts, surviving friends, paper trails, and the like, even though too much detail is a proven soporific.

Charting a life as if the reader could move from one bead to the next on a narrative string doesn’t work when beads are missing and the string has frayed and broken.  Such a book, however, while offering an incomplete record, may be much more lifelike, more enthralling.  This is the case with Anthony Barnett’s new book — the only book on the subject — tracing the dots and lines and spaces that form what we know of the life of the violinist / clarinetist Juice Wilson, 1904-72.

Barnett’s previous work and publications — primarily on violinists Eddie South and Stuff Smith — are frankly astonishing.  He is an indefatigable researcher, but his books are never indiscriminate upendings-of-the-wastebasket onto the reader.  He loves what in other hands might seem trivial, but always finds a relevant place in the narrative.  He isn’t burdened by ideology (although he is irked when other writers have gotten it wrong) and he doesn’t fabricate.  Barnett is also a poet, and that sometimes eerie sensitivity to nuance raises the texture of his work far above anything else in jazz literature.  And he’s been researching Wilson for thirty years.

So, if you’re in a hurry: this little book, delightfully ornamented with photographs and more, is a gem.  Buy it here.  (You’ll notice that this post does not contain the usual YouTube clips — because they are suspect for many reasons.  Barnett will supply links — clean, speed-corrected, and so on — to purchasers.)

Incidentally, the book is beautifully done: a pleasure to see as well as to read.

But let us return.  Barnett calls himself the editor of this “dossier” on Juice, which is both modest and accurate, and the whole title of this dense little book is FALLEN FROM THE MOON: ROBERT EDWARD JUICE WILSON — HIS LIFE ON EARTH: A DOSSIER.  That evocative beginning comes from someone who saw the subject at close range, Antoni Tendes, “He gave the impression of a man who had fallen from the moon.”

With rare exceptions (Bolden, Florence Mills) a jazz musician has a discography, a collection of recordings for succeeding generations to analyze.  Juice Wilson was a member of the 1929 Noble Sissle orchestra, a fourteen-piece ensemble including Buster Bailey and Rudy Jackson.  Juice solos on two titles recorded in England: KANSAS CITY KITTY and MIRANDA.  And that’s it.  Barnett’s book offers transcriptions, for those who want to try these things at home.

A flattened map — like a bus route — of Wilson’s life might look like this, although mine is intentionally monochrome and one-dimensional:

Born in St. Louis, 1904.  Playing with Jimmy Wade in Chicago in 1916, with Freddie Keppard (alongside Eddie South) in 1918.  Working with bands in Toledo, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, alongside Jimmy Harrison, Budd Johnson, J. C. Higginbotham.  In New York City, 1928-29, working with Lloyd Scott’s big band, alongside Frank Newton, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman, other jobs with Luckey Roberts and James P. Johnson.  Left for Paris with Noble Sissle, played in England, then work with Edwin Swayzee, Leon Abbey, in Switzerland and elsewhere.  Arrived in Malta, late 1937, played at the “Cairo Bar” for five years, but stranded in Malta until the end of the war, remained there until 1954.  Gave up violin in 1950; postwar gigging on saxophone.  Returned to Chicago in 1963.  Died there in 1972.

That’s a thrilling life in music, with gaps more numerous than the spatters of evidence: newspaper reports and clippings, photographs, letters to and from Juice, reminiscences.  What Barnett does with those precious bits and pieces is as fascinating as the bits and pieces themselves.  I have intentionally not quoted from the book to keep readers’ appetites whetted for the stories.  And photographs: Juice seems to have avoided opportunities to be recorded, but he delighted in posing for photographs, and he is delightful to the eye.

It’s a fascinating book, for its subject, its editor, and its balance between what can be known and what remains unseen.  Here you can see Barnett’s complete works — as of now — learn how to purchase this book and those on Eddie South and Stuff Smith . . . since Barnett is immensely thorough, there is also a brief errata section with material received too late for publication and corrections.

An afterthought.  Certain stories and novels first read forty years ago have stayed with me, and passages bubble up to the surface when the stimulus is strong.  While I was writing this essay, I kept thinking of these lines from the first paragraph of Melville’s Bartelby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street — where the narrator speaks of a former employee, now dead, who remains mysterious:

I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him.

Substitute “Juice Wilson” for “Bartelby” and you enter the world of this book.

May your happiness increase!

“MEN AT WORK,” HOT LIPS PAGE, EARLY (and LOST) TELEVISION

The singular musician and personality Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page was born today, January 27, in 1908.  Alas, he moved to another neighborhood on November 5, 1954.  Happily, he left behind a good deal of evidence: soaring heroic trumpet solos, wonderful vocals.  He remains an inspiring presence who comes through whole on record.  I don’t ordinarily celebrate birthdays on JAZZ LIVES, but he deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

Here’s Lips — leading the way as only he could — at a concert on February 22, 1947, at the Caravan Hall at 110 East 59th Street in New York City, with Charlie Castaldo, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Pops Foster, string bass; Charlie Minogue, drums.  Beautifully recorded as well:

Music from three of these Caravan Hall concerts has been issued on Jazzology Records (including performances by Bunk Johnson, Muggsy Spanier, James P. Johnson, Albert Nicholas, Baby Dodds, and others).  The CD notes do not explain what saintly benefactor(s) recorded the concerts, but apparently the evenings were structured as friendly battles between two groups of musicians: established African-Americans, often from New Orleans, and a band of young Caucasians, some of whom went on to be famous, others remaining obscure — Castaldo, who worked with Goodman and Shaw . . .was he Lee Castle’s brother?  and Minogue here).

I think that’s a mighty helping — and accurate depiction — of the energies Lips Page brought to music and to performance.

What follows is in celebration not only of Lips, but of Dr. Scott E. Brown, the James P. Johnson scholar.  The second edition of his JAMES P. JOHNSON: A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is something I eagerly look forward to.

Unlike the eight minutes above, what follows is silent, static, tantalizing (made available by the resourceful Jean-Marie Juif):

That’s a CBS television camera; the three stylishly-dressed men are Lips; Zutty Singleton, drums; James P. Johnson, piano.  This is a less-reproduced photograph from the same occasion: one that is currently eluding me shows Lips playing, his body bent over Zutty’s drum kit, if memory is accurate.

Jean-Marie also opened the door to new information.  There were two television shows — not preserved — by what Getty Images calls “Eddie Condons Jazzopators,” a name that would have made Eddie recoil and then lie down in his version of a Victorian swoon.  CBS broadcast a variety show, MEN AT WORK, and Eddie Condon brought a band twice: these photographs are from April 16, 1942; the second show was May 14.  Here‘s the sketchy IMDb link, and here tells who appeared on almost all of the sixteen episodes.  Of greatest interest to us would be the appearance of “jazz harpist Adele Girard” on October 20, 1941, on a show that also included Professor Nelson’s Boxing Cats.

This description comes from tvobscurities.com and I take it as reasonably accurate, even though it makes no mention of Eddie and calls Robert Alda a “comic”: Beginning July 7th, 1941, WCBW broadcast an hour-long variety show called Men at Work every Monday from 8:30-9:30PM (starting with the December 22nd, 1941 broadcast, the show was cut down to 55 minutes; a five-minute news program was shown from 9:25-9:30PM).

Worthington Minor, the CBS director-in-chief of television, was in charge of Men at Work. Each program took two hours to rehearse and practice. During any given show, viewers might watch singers, dancers, bicyclists, acrobats, roller skaters, mimics, comics, toe dancers, boxing cats, puppeteers, marionettes, Indian dancers, ballroom dancers, comic cellists and more.

Some of the acts seen on the program included Lou and Dorothy Rowlands (roller skaters), Hildegarde Halliday (mimic), the Two Deweys (jugglers), Hank Henry and Robert Alda (comics), Ruth Page and Bentley Stone (dancers), Burl Ives (singer), Reid and Mack (acrobats) and Libby and Betty (bicyclists), to name but a few. Men at Work was last seen on Monday, January 26th, 1942, after thirty broadcasts.

No kinescopes of the Condon episodes [characteristically racially integrated] survive, and so far no home-recordings of the audio portion.  However, my explorations of Getty Images this morning yielded jewels.

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Joe Sullivan and Zutty Singleton:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums;Joe Sullivan on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Eddie, Billy Taylor, Sr., and Pee Wee Russell:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Eddie Condon on guitar; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Zutty, Eddie, Joe, Billy, Pee Wee, Bennie Morton, Max Kaminsky:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums; Eddie Condon on guitar; Joe Sullivan on piano; Billy Taylor, bass; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Benny Morton, trombone; Max Kaminsky, trumpet. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

Max and Bennie have changed places, but the same band:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Television debut of all-star jazz band on CBS Eddie Condon on guitar, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and other jazz greats. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

That trio again!

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

With Eddie, half-hidden, at right:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

That quartet:

NEW YORK – APRIL 16: Eddie Condons Town Hall Jazzopators, jazz musicians, perform on CBS Television. New York, NY. Zutty Singleton on drums, Hot Lips Page, trumpet, James P. Johnson on piano and Eddie Condon on guitar. Image dated April 16, 1942. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

If you’re like me, these photographs may evoke emotions somewhere between sorrow and frustration, expressed briefly as “Why weren’t these programs recorded?”  I offer these speculations.  One, CBS had enough to do with sending these programs out “over the air.”  The number of people who had home television sets was small — beneath “small.”  Perhaps you could see one in the window of what would eventually be called an electronic store.  I am doubtful that bars had televisions in 1942.

Preservation of broadcast material — as in radio — was not seen as crucial, for this was entertainment and thus perceived as ephemeral.  For us, now, the idea of hearing more of James P. Johnson is a wonderful fantasy.  If you lived in New York City then, however, you might be able to hear him five or six nights a week in Greenqich Village; Eddie and his friends were at Town Hall or Nick’s.  So there was no scarcity: if you missed hearing Lips Page on Wednesday, you could always hear him on Friday.

At least we know MEN AT WORK happened and we can see flashes of it.

This just in (Feb. 7) thanks to good friend / deep researcher David J. Weiner:

May your happiness increase!

 

HOW’S YOUR DUDGEON?

First, it’s not Dudgeon and Dragons.  “High dudgeon” is annoyance, anger, resentment.  “She left the meeting in high dudgeon.”  A witty piece on the etymology by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman can be found here.

And it’s also the title of a wonderful Joe Sullivan record.  I present the four sides he recorded in Los Angeles on April 1, 1945, for Sunset Records.  Sunset was the creation of Eddie Laguna, also a concert promoter, who’s proven elusive.  But the music isn’t.  Encouraged by his friend Zutty Singleton, Joe had moved west in 1943, and the first two sides recorded for Sunset were piano solos.

But these records are by a quintet and a trio: Joe, piano; Archie Rosati, clarinet; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums: NIGHT AND DAY / HIGH DUDGEON / BRUSHIN’ OFF THE BOOGIE / HEAVY LADEN (Joe, Archie, Zutty).

Joe is typecast as a “barrelhouse” “Chicago” pianist, and that he could be, but he loved the great lyrical songs — Coward and Porter as well as the blues.  Perhaps this choice was also inspired by another clarinetist named Shaw?

And the very thing:

Hear the crystalline sound of Zutty’s brushes:

and finally a trio performance (the cover of the Nagel-Heyer assemblage is odd at first — although Joe and Bird would have played together without scrapes):

A few small mysteries, without which no blogpost can be said to be complete.  One: I have not found a photograph or biography of Eddie Laguna, although he is references endlessly in articles about Nat King Cole  (Will Friedwald, inexplicably, even makes fun of his name) Wardell Gray, and others of that time and place.

Two: I am assuming that HIGH DUDGEON is Joe’s title, not Eddie’s, because it is credited to Joe.  He went to parochial school in Chicago, although he may have stopped in his teens.  I envision a nun saying, “Do that one more time, Joseph,  and you will see me in high dudgeon!’  Just as possible is that Joe picked it up from Bing Crosby, who loved elaborate flourishes of language.  Joe himself was articulate in speech and prose: see him on JAZZ CASUAL with Ralph J. Gleason; I’ve also seen several of his sophisticated letters to Jeff Atterton, which will turn up on another post.

All I know is that Joe’s music never leaves me annoyed, angry, resentful.  Is the opposite of HIGH DUDGEON something like FLOATING JOY?  Consider this, but listen to Joe as you do.

If you wanted to visit Joe in his San Francisco period — more or less from 1945 to his death in 1971, here’s where you would find him:

. . . . on the fifth floor:

A nifty postscript.  More than one skeptical reader wrote in to dispute the existence of Eddie Laguna, because that name was used as a pseudonym for Nat Cole on a record label.  The fine scholar-professor-guitarist Nick Rossi rode to the rescue with Ray Whitten’s photographs of the December 4, 1947 Dial Records date, led by Dexter Gordon at Radio Recorders, supervised by Eddie Laguna. Personnel as follows: Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards, tenor saxes; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Red Callender, bass; Roy Porter, drums.

Feast your eyes, friends!  Laguna, should you need a clue, holds no instrument.

and

and Mister Rowles in his Sweater, too:

and BILLBOARD, March 20, 1948:

May your happiness increase!

“YOU GET A NUMBER FOR A NAME”: SCOTT ANTHONY with BOB SCHULZ and his FRISCO JAZZ BAND (Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014)

Here’s a parable about someone who fools the “chumps,” who lies for power and profit.  (It’s also Country Bumpkin and City Slicker, or Crime Doesn’t Pay.)

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B (thanks to Amy King):

I’ve been thinking about WISE GUYS of late.  But first, a story.

My friend in graduate school, Sal, once told me, “My father grew up poor, so he had a very loose attitude toward property.  If it was unattached, it became his.  So I grew up thinking that was OK, that ‘everybody does it’ — sugar packets, office supplies.  Nothing big, but it was an attitude.  Then when somebody broke into my car and stole all the Christmas presents I had stashed in the trunk, I thought, ‘Somebody is trying to tell me something.’  Now, I don’t swipe anything.  I buy my own paper clips and it won’t break me.  You know I’m a dog-lover.  If your puppy is stealing a sock or a cookie, you make eye contact and say, ‘Is that yours?’ and he’ll drop it.  Why aren’t we that smart?”

WISE GUYS sounds as if written in 1890, but it was composed by Bonnie Windsor, about whom I know very little except that she collaborated with Tom Glazer on RUGGED BUT RIGHT c. 1952.  Our song was recorded and performed by Julia Lee, Turk Murphy, Pat Yankee, and John Gill.  (In his essay on Julia Lee, Bill Millar refers to its “anti-mobster” theme, but Windsor is describing behavior not limited to the Mafia.)

The message of WISE  GUYS is plain: cheating people is shameful and stupid, because you will be punished.  (Also, Windsor suggests that the people you are trying to fool are smarter than you, hence Bumpkin and Slicker.)

It’s performed here by Scott Anthony, banjo and vocal; Bob Schulz, cornet; Doug Finke, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Ray Skjelbred, piano; Jim Maihack, tuba; Mike Daugherty, drums, at the Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2014:

Any resemblance to real-life characters is, of course, unintentional.

May your happiness increase!

“THE DAPOGNY EFFECT,” or, PROF. TO THE RESCUE

James Dapogny at Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

I am never sure how closely the audience at a live performance is paying attention to the details of the music being created in front of them.  Because I have spent a long time considering the subtleties of this holy art, I believe I hear and see more near-collisions than those who (happily) absorb only the outlines of the music.

I’m not boasting: my over-attentiveness is like being the person at the movies who can notice that a character went out the door in one scene with a green scarf and when we see her in the next shot — no scarf. . . not exactly like having perfect pitch, but the analogy might work.

Today, I am going to show-and-tell an experience that I happened to capture for posterity (or, perhaps, “for posterior”).  I present it not to embarrass the musicians I revere, but to praise their collective resilience, ingenuity, and perseverance.  In this case, that redemption in 4/4 is because of my hero, Professor James Dapogny, who might have cocked a skeptical eyebrow at what I am doing and said, “Michael, do you really need to do this?” and I would have explained why.

For those who already feel slightly impatient with the word-offering, I apologize.  Please come back tomorrow.  I’ll still be at it, and you will be welcome.

An uncharitable observer might consider the incident I am about to present and say, “Well, it’s all Marty Grosz’s fault.”  I would rather salute Marty: without a near-disaster, how could we have a triumphant transformation?  Or, unless Kitty escapes from her basket and climbs the tree, how can she be rescued by the firemen?  Precariousness becomes a virtue: ask any acrobat.

But this is about a performance of I WISHED ON THE MOON that Marty and Company attempted at Jazz at Chautauqua on a late morning or early afternoon session in September 2008, along with Duke Heitger, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Chuck Wilson, alto saxophone; Dan Barrett, trombone; Professor Dapogny, piano; Marty, guitar and vocal; Vince Giordano, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  The amateurish camera work in bright sunshine is evidence that it was one of my sub rosa escapades: I was using a Flip camera and trying to not get caught by the authorities.

We know Marty as a peerless work of nature: guitarist, singer, wit, artist, vaudevillian.  But many might not be aware that one of his great talents is arranging.  Yes, he can uplift an impromptu session on BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, but he loves the effects that can be created by any ensemble with directions sketched out on manuscript paper and then hastily explained on the spot: “No repeats!” “jump to letter D,” “trumpet break at the start of the last chorus,” and so on.  Marty works hard on these things, and his earliest recordings — although he dismisses them as “‘prentice work” — show him in pursuit of the ideal: swinging, varied, surprising, effective.

But he is happier with pen and pencil than with the computer, so a Marty score is handwritten, in calligraphy that is italic, precise, lovely, but not as easy to read (especially in dim stage light, seen for the first time, without rehearsal) as the printed scores many musicians are used to in this century.

Thus, the possibility of chaos.  Thus, the possibility of triumph.

In the recording studio, when things start to go awry, musicians used to look at each other and break into a sort of Twenties near-hokey jamming, away from the score, and the “take” would end in laughter.  A “breakdown,” the recording engineer would call it.  Or the engineer would give a piercing whistle, to say, “Let’s start over.”  You can hear this on “rejected takes” by Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker, and many other jazz heroes, that have been saved over the decades.  They are reassuring proof that our jazz-deities are human, that people get off on the wrong foot, that someone missed a cue or made a mistake.

In performance, though, in front of an audience, musicians do not want to stop and say, “We loused this up.  Let’s start over,” although I have seen it happen: it is the equivalent of Groucho speaking directly to the audience in a film, “breaking through the fourth wall,” and it is always surprising.

But back to our musical and heroic interlude.  I WISHED ON THE MOON is made famous by Billie Holiday, but it is not by any means a classic, a standard, part of “the repertoire” so often played that musicians perform it with full confidence (take AS LONG AS I LIVE as an example of the second kind).  MOON has its own twists and traps for the unwary.  The very expert musicians in this band, however, had at most been given a minute or two before the set to know the tune list and to glance at the manuscripts Marty had given them — roadmaps through the treacherous landscape.  But since everyone on this bandstand is a complete professional, with years of sight-reading and experience, it would not have been expected that they needed rehearsal to play a song like MOON.

That Marty gives directions to this crew before they start suggests to me that they hadn’t seen his score before, nor would they stand in front of the audience studying it and discussing it.  Professionals don’t want to give the impression that they are puzzled by any aspect of their craft while the people who have paid to see and hear them are waiting for the next aural delicacy to be served.

Thus, Professor Dapogny, who “knew the score,” plays his four-bar introduction with verve and assurance.  He knows where he is.  But the front line is faced with a score that calls for Dan Barrett, master melodist, to play the theme while the reeds back him up, and Dan Block, another sure-footed spellbinder, plays the bridge neatly.  Marty has his eyeglasses on — to read his own chart — and he essays a vocal, trusting to memory to guide him through the mostly-remembered lyrics, turning his lapses into comedy, more Fats than Billie.  While this is unrolling, the Professor’s rollicking supportive accompaniment is enthralling, although one has to make an effort to not be distracted by Marty’s vocalizing.

I feel his relief at “having gotten through that,” and lovely choruses by Duke Heitger and Dan Block, now on tenor saxophone, follow.  However, the performance has a somewhat homemade flavor to it — that is, unless we have been paying attention to the Professor’s marking the chords and transitions in a splendidly rhythmic way: on this rock, he shows us, we can build our jazz church.  He has, in the nicest and most necessary way, taken charge of the band.

At this point, my next-seat neighbor (there by chance, not connection) decides she needs more lemon or a napkin; her entrance and sudden arising are visually distracting, even now.

But, at around 3:55, the Professor says — with notes, not words — that he himself is going to climb the ladder and rescue Kitty; he is going to turn a possibly competent-but-flawed performance into SOMETHING.

And does he ever! — with a ringing phrase that causes both Marty and Dan Block to turn their heads, as if to say, “Wow, that’s the genuine article,” and the performance stands up, straightens its tie, brushes the crumbs off its lap, and rocks.  Please go back and observe a thrilling instant: a great artist completely in the moment, using everything he knows to focus a group of adult creators towards a desired result that is miles above what would have resulted if he had blandly played an ordinary accompaniment.

And you thought only Monk danced during his performances?  Watch Marty, joyously and goofily, respond to what his friend Jim has made happen.  After that, the band must decipher Marty’s swing hieroglyphics, his on-the-spot directions, “Play a fill!” and someone — to cover up a blank spot — whistles a phrase, and the performance half-swings, half-wanders to its conclusion.  Relief sweeps the bandstand.

These five minutes are highly imperfect, but also heroic: great improvisers making their courageous way through territory where their maps are ripped, unreadable, and incomplete — refusing to give up the quest.

If you need to understand why I have written so much about Professor Dapogny, why his absence is a huge void in my universe and that of others who knew and love him, watch this performance again for his masterful individualistic guidance: Toscanini in a safari jacket.  Completely irreplaceable, modeling joy and courage all at once.

May your happiness increase!

THE WEATHERBIRD JAZZ BAND SOARS ALOFT, AND WE ARE GRATEFUL

In these most tempestuous times, we need some relief, and the phenomenon known as the Weatherbird Jazz Band offers it — hot jazz with passion and precision.  And although I wouldn’t want to move permanently to 1928 Chicago, these musicians make the trip easy and rewarding.

The marvelous players and occasional singers are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums.  They don’t rush; they aren’t noisy; they have a deep dark authentic groove over which luminous soloists soar.

LIVIN’ HIGH:

ST. JAMES INFIRMARY:

ORY’S CREOLE TROMBONE:

FUNNY FEATHERS:

FIREWORKS:

Over the past ten months, I’ve posted more than two dozen videos of this reassuringly groovy hot band: you can enjoy them here, herehere, herehere, and here.  I don’t know what the CDC says, but if you are suffering from the news, be assured that this band is systemically healing, an anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, anti-nausea, anti-fungal, anti-whatever-the-hell-might-be-ailing-you-at-the-moment panacea, cure, and solution.  Or your money back.  I speak from experience: playing FUNNY FEATHERS four times in a row has made me feel better about life . . . try it!

May your happiness increase!

THE AUTOGRAPH DANCE, CONTINUED

Yes, Billy Banks!

Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs.  Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.”  Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.

Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance.  I am a Fan, you are The Star.  The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription.  In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them.  (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books.  And Whitney Balliett.)

But I no longer chase Stars.  Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal.  I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%.  In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.

I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term.  He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.

Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on.  The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down.  I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.

I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know.  In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.

Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:

I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.

And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:

This autograph’s closer to home for me:

Again, completely authentic.  But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently.  I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?”  Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.

Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:

Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson.  Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:

It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.

Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:

Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged.  The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely.  For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off.  (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)

I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on.  I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.

But some people did.  Thus . . .

I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones?  I doubt it.  And inside:

This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.”  I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare.  But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box.  Hence:

At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.”  I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.

Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano;  Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:

I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other.  Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:

Heroes.  Oh, such heroes.

May your happiness increase!

I GUESS I’LL GET THE PAPERS, or HOLY JAZZ RELICS FOR SALE

Some more eBay spelunking: surprises await.

First, Wally Fawkes, clarinetist and cartoonist, 95 in June 2019, interviewed here.  It’s lovely to know he is still with us.

Wally in 2013. Photograph by the fine jazz historian Peter Vacher.

This has the look of an authentic signature: paper taken from someone’s pocket notepad, the calligraphy of someone not lifting the pen a great deal from letter to letter.  No date, no place, but it doesn’t inspire skepticism:

and a vignette from Wally’s most recent recording (2003) — with Doug Murray, piano; Eddie Taylor, drums.  He doesn’t come in immediately, but when he does!

My hero Buck Clayton, with Charlie Shavers at the Esquire record date of 1946:

and here’s a remarkable autograph:

and a smaller, complete version:

Obviously this is a page from a deep fan’s autograph book –(s)he taped the signature to the page and then annotated it.  What’s most intriguing to me is that the city and date are noted: the night before (or in the same 24-hour period) the JATP assemblage had played and been recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City: Buck, Trummy Young, Willie Smith, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Kersey, Benny Fonville, and Buddy Rich — BELL BOY BLUES, HOW HIGH THE MOON, and an unissued FLYIN’ HOME.

You can hear BELL BOY on YouTube for yourself.  I chose something more focused on Buck and less violent: Buck, in France (October 1949) BLUES IN FIRST with Charlie Lewis, piano; Georges Hadjo, string bass; Wallace Bishop, drums.  Don Byas and Merrill Stepter were on the session but don’t play here:

Coming back to this page, the eBay seller has noted the signature of “Ken Kenny” on the other side — obviously Kersey.  If this could be more authentic, I don’t know how.  Even the decaying Scotch tape speaks of years.

Here’s another beautifully annotated holy relic:

and an inset:

If there is a date on this page, the seller did not photograph it — but it is also Boston.  And on the other side, there’s “Sonny Green,” which should be “Greer.”  Ray Nance is quite a hero of mine, and I had the honor of seeing him perform several nights in a row with a local rhythm section in suburbia, 1975 (and Sonny, in the same period, in New York City).

Here’s Ray in 1942 with the Duke and Sonny, espousing strategic reticence:

One more, from a man who probably signed his name as many times as any movie star (which he was, also), Gene Krupa:

and the larger image:

I wonder what the owner blanked out at top, but this is as authentic as one could want.  The seller doesn’t say anything about a signature on the reverse; perhaps Gene got his very own page.  And here, for me, is the great Krupa moment, from the rather unsatisfying film — as a film — BOY, WHAT A GIRL! (1947) with Sidney Catlett, Dick Vance, Bennie Morton, Don Stovall, and others, and “You are Gene Krupa!”:

I didn’t buy the Wally Fawkes autograph, but I did bid on the others and win: to keep my spirits up until the days get brighter and my feelings follow suit.  And at least you can look at the holy relics and (I hope) murmur admiringly.  The eBay seller —alvarez1 — is a very gracious fellow, who has two more pages from that same book for bidding: one Charlie Shavers (backed by Charlie Queener), the other Jess Stacy (backed by Cy Baker). . . .as well as many fascinating non-jazz signatures.  I don’t need to have everything, so if you move quickly, they might be yours.

May your happiness increase!

 

YOU OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES (which are then sold on eBay) WITH A BRIEF DISASTROUS EPISODE OF POKING THE BEAR

In the last years of my teaching career (forty years’ plus) I had had enough of many irritations, and I printed out a page with block letters — DON’T GO POKIN’ THE BEAR (the apostrophe is because I thought it was a rural phrase) — and hung it next to my office door.  I knew what it meant (don’t go out of your way to irritate me) but I am not sure it worked.  And given the social inability of many of my colleagues, no one asked me, “What kind of bear are you, Michael?” and I could have answered, “Stuffed.”

Second, if I had more of a life (as I had before March 12 and hope for again) I would not spend so much time on eBay.  But I hope my ennui is my readers’ gain.  Looking for photographs of my jazz heroes autographed and / or inscribed by them, I encountered some new delights from a Belgian seller.  I present them to you for your pleasure — in each case, with appropriate music.

And to set the stage, the Boswell Sisters and the Dorsey Brothers, 1934:

JOOGIE BOOGIE (Chicago, 1950), Lil Hardin Armstrong, personnel unknown:

To Willie, in 1954:

Oscar Pettiford, with Sidney Catlett, Eddie Heywood, Charlie Shavers, Ed Hall, Frank Socolow, for BLUES IN ROOM 920 (1944):

Oscar, inscribed to Bill Coleman; I don’t recognize the inscription on the right:

Red Norvo, I GOT RHYTHM, with Joe Thomas, Vic Dickenson, Hank D’Amico, Teddy Wilson, Slam Stewart, Specs Powell (1944):

To Willy:

and trumpeter Ernie Royal. STARDUST: Ernie, Billy Taylor, Oscar Pettiford, George Barnes, Osie Johnson (1954):

and the man himself:

and something that strikes me as unusual: Bill Coleman inscribing a photograph to his wife of fifteen years, Lily.  THAT’S KICKS (1944), which Bill recorded with Sammy Price, Joe Eldridge, Ike Quebec, Oscar Pettiford, Doc West:

and here’s to the happy couple:

But, as with many things, especially online commerce, CAVEAT EMPTOR is the law of the land.  If you choose to purchase an autograph or an inscribed photograph, please compare the signature on it with others visible on eBay or on Google.  There are forgers out there, and I have a brand-new story, which seem sour or funny or both.  Hark to my tale.

Possibly the most often-seen jazz autograph on eBay is that of Louis Armstrong, who signed his name a million times over fifty years.  His calligraphy was not smooth and elegant, rather angular and labored.  His genuine signature is completely recognizable.  The forgeries, and I have seen many, are too neat.  And people forget that their heroes often signed their names while leaning against a wall, balancing a small piece of paper in midair.

Yesterday I saw a truly poor forgery on eBay, as if someone had attempted to copy Louis’ idiosyncracies . . . and had failed. It was a first take.  (I’m not displaying it here because I want it to vanish.) “Priced to sell!” the seller trumpeted (forgive me) and it had a “certificate of authenticity” attached.  For some reason, this seemed appalling to me — heretical, an insult to my idol.  And in my annoyance, I wrote a clearly graceless note to the seller:

Dear X—-, sadly, whoever sold this to you as genuine wasn’t being honest. It’s about a C- forgery. I have several originals, one I did get from the great man himself in 1967, and his handwriting was always more angular and messy. Compare it with others for sale on eBay. Sorry to break the news, but I dislike tofu sold as steak. Michael Steinman (a Louis enthusiast for decades)

Who knows what I thought I would accomplish — righteous indignation is always treacherous unless you have an army — but I got a faceful:

Yenta, I don’t think you know what side is up, any further accusations or messages will be considered harassment and reported….

That’ll teach me to not poke the bear, don’t you think?

May your happiness increase!

 

 

“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!