Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

“PLAY IT, TEDDY” (April and August 1939)

One of the great pleasures of jazz recording and performance is the sound of Teddy Wilson, born 110 years ago today: a complete orchestra, every measure of jewel-box of shining details. The records he made with Billie Holiday have to be among the most famous in the last century, with his sides with Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Jo Jones creating a galaxy of pleasures.

But here are some sides from 1939 that few have heard.

They require a bit of speculative research for context. It’s hard in 2022 to imagine how violently the world, and, yes, the entertainment world, was racially segregated. Benny Goodman had broken “the color line” by hiring black musicians who would appear on the same bandstand, but the integration of those artists into radio orchestras and recording groups (as in “studio work”) happened very slowly.

One of the people fighting to break this barrier was John Hammond. I have a good deal of ambivalence about him: he created self-glorifying narratives, he played favorites, he had numerous agendas — but the results of his crusading cannot be denied.

At the start of 1939, Wilson had had almost five years in the spotlight from his work with Goodman; he made many small-group recordings under his own name for Brunswick; he even had a business venture, the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.” This was a transitional period: he appeared on a few broadcasts as a member of Benny’s band while his own orchestra was taking shape and broadcasting from the Savoy Ballroom.

Hammond tried, often without success, to stage-manage musicians’ careers (Ellington, Holiday, Frank Newton, and Rex Stewart are the most dramatic examples) and often those musicians grew exasperated and broke off the relationship. But I think he and Teddy respected each other, and Teddy was grateful.

One of John’s ideas was to slowly, subversively mix white popular artists with black jazzmen and women on record. So in 1939-41, Wilson was part of a band or the leader of his own unit for record dates with Redd Evans, Eddy Howard, and Chick Bullock. All of those sessions are rewarding and more: the mix of sweet crooning and hot solos and accompaniment is, to me, irresistible.

Of the three, Redd Evans is perhaps the most obscure, and his fame is now as a lyricist for NO MOON AT ALL, THERE! I’VE SAID IT AGAIN, THE FRIM FRAM SAUCE, ROSIE THE RIVETER, LET ME OFF UPTOWN, and DON’T GO TO STRANGERS. But in 1938 he made six sides for Victor or Bluebird as “Lewis Evans and his Bama Boys,” which I have never seen nor heard. (Anyone?) Here the connections become pure speculation. Did Hammond hear those records, or was Evans performing in a club or on the radio? Or did Evans reach out to Wilson or Hammond? A side note: an internet source says that Evans was a saxophonist and that he played the ocarina.

This just in, as they say on news programs. Luigi Lucaccini pointed me to the one “Bama Boys” record — on Bluebird — that not only delights but answers the question. It’s PLEASE BE KIND:

That’s perfectly charming — I want to hear all of them! And I can completely understand Hammond or someone else wanting Evans, a delightful singer and ocarina soloist, to record again with jazz accompaniment. The facts about this session are: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City. Again, this is a worthy entry in the pop-song-swung tradition, and it shows that fine music was played by people who weren’t stars, although Potoker, Case, and Ryerson are certainly known.

So these would be called “crossover” recordings, mixing jazz and Western swing. And here is the discographical data, thanks to Tom Lord (I’m puzzled by the note that Evans sings on the first session but the vocals are done by “Hot Sweet Potato,” since Evans played the ocarina. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the music.)

Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d).  New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –

Here are files (courtesy of the Internet Archive) of the first four songs.

https://archive.org/details/78_they-cut-down-the-old-pine-tree_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-raskin-eli_gbia0465068a

https://archive.org/details/78_red-wing_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-mills_gbia0465068b/RED+WING+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

https://archive.org/details/78_carry-me-back-to-the-lone-prairie_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-robison_gbia0446460b

https://archive.org/details/78_red-river-valley_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans_gbia0446460a/RED+RIVER+VALLEY+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

The trumpeter sounds both fine and familiar: Emmett Berry, possibly?

Those four sides enjoyed some popularity — if you count appearances on eBay as a valid indicator. I have one of the two discs (OLD PINE TREE and RED WING) and made rudimentary transfers of the worn 78 for YouTube, for those who like to see the disc spin.

RED RIVER VALLEY and RED WING were classic Americana; the other two were more contemporary creations, with the light-hearted morbidity of OLD PINE TREE, which always catches me unaware.

The other two sides were both fascinating and elusive: the digital transfers are a gift from collector Peter J. Doyle, although I have never seen the disc. But brace yourself for BAGGAGE COACH, which is an ancient barroom ballad (Eugene O’Neill used it in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN) much more morbid than OLD PINE TREE. This rocking version owes something to Jerry Colonna and the Tommy Dorsey “glee club.” It’s a favorite record of mine. And MILENBERG JOYS simply rocks: when wasn’t that the case?

Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl).  New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –

and a less unusual composition:

Are these six sides imperishable jazz classics? Perhaps not. But Teddy’s work is stunning — a magical combination of ease and intensity. As always.

Thank you, Mister Wilson, for all you gave us and continue to give us.

May your happiness increase!

“LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES”

My wife gave this documentary the best capsule review last night: “It made you fall in love with the guy.”

Perhaps nothing more needs to be said.

But I earnestly want to send JAZZ LIVES readers to theatres (ideally) to watch this film. In 104 minutes, it offers a compact, fast-moving portrait of a man at once complicated and plain. It offers a generous sampling of music — most of it filmed performance. But it is far more than a filmed concert. It demonstrates the joy Louis so open-handedly created while revealing the rage and sadness inseparable from it.

We see him grin, we see him hit high notes, we see him sing soulfully, but this is not the cardboard caricature, not the man-child some have attacked. There is JEEPERS CREEPERS and YOU RASCAL YOU, but there is also SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Time after time, he comes forth as the Grave Wise Elder, pained and serious, the man who kept silent, choosing rather the cause of happiness.

Louis Armstrong, 1969. Photograph by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

The street isn’t always sunny. vividly, we see corrosive racism throughout his career, from his childhood to the 1931 Suburban Gardens; we hear Orval Faubus and hear from the reporters who caught Louis’ response to Little Rock. There is the Caucasian fan (one out of how many thousand) who tells Louis that he admires him but “doesn’t like Negroes.” We hear Louis say that his flag is a Black one, but we also hear him talk about the great honor of playing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.

And the information is stunningly first-hand: his written words and his voice — taken from the hours of private, uncensored, often scalding conversations he recorded on tape, for he was a man who knew that he would have a place “in the history books.” Sometimes his voice is world-weary, sometimes enraged, but there is no polite expurgation. The man comes through whole, a colossus of awareness and emotion.

Unlike the often hypnotic but sometimes gelatinous cinematography of Ken Burns’ JAZZ, this film is so packed with information — auditory, visual, emotional — that the screen is always busy. I have studied and idolized Louis my whole life and I was consistently surprised and elated by what was so generously offered. And the narration by rapper Nas is so emotionally right that it adds a great deal, subliminally reminding us that Louis was not always a senior citizen.

The range of the documentary is astounding. The cameo appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie are splendidly on target but we have seen those heroes before. I hoped Bobby Hackett would put in an appearance, and was thrilled that Count Basie did also.

But to hear the voices of Arche Shepp, Miles Davis, and Amiri Braka alongside Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, George James is a series of delightful shocks, showing just how many artists understood and respected Louis.

Thanks to the preeminent Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi, the film never loses its way in detail or inaccuracy. Jimi Hendrix makes a brief but telling appearance; senior eminence and friend-of-Louis Dan Morgenstern brings in James Baldwin and has some pointed comments as well. Lucille Armstrong and Lil Hardin tell hilarious loving tales. Swiss Kriss is here, the little Selmer trumpet, and so is “Mary Warner.”

I thought I might be one of the worst people to write a review of this documentary, because Louis has been a hero, an old friend, a beacon, a father-once-removed since childhood. So I braced myself for oversimplifications and inaccuracies. Given the title, I worried that the film would show Louis as undermined by racism (jazz chroniclers love tragic stories) without letting his essence blaze through. I thought it might tell the same dusty stories in order, making him mythical and distant.

I need not have worried. It is an honest thoughtful respectful work. No life so charged could be captured in under two hours, and some have written that they wanted more of X or of Y. But Louis is there for the discovery for those who want to go deeper.

I was in tears at the start, the middle, and the finish, with interludes for catching my breath and wiping my eyes.

If you know everything about Louis, this is a film not to be missed; if you know little or nothing, the same assertion holds true. If you are intrigued by film-making, by popular culture, it is also a revealing delight. It is the story of a jazz creator, a beloved entertainer, a Black man in a systematically hostile world, an American so relevant, and so much more. Louis stands tall and energized as an exceptional human being who sent love out like a clarion trumpet call to all who could hear.

May your happiness increase!

“THE KEY MAN: DAVE McKENNA”

First, some dazzling sonic evidence. McKenna plays Ellington:

and then he becomes a cosmically swinging GPS, guiding us through STREETS:

Dave at Newport 1970 (saluting Louis)

Dave McKenna was Bobby Hackett’s favorite pianist; Bill Evans said he had all of Dave’s albums. What Mike Jones calls a “constant inventiveness,” merging the ferocity of the 1938 Basie band with the traceries of the most delicate impressionism — in full orchestral vigor and subtlety — McKenna could do in three minutes, or in thirty.

It’s rare that a jazz documentary — as opposed to a documentary about jazz — succeeds as well as this one has. It doesn’t force the details of McKenna’s life into a stereotypical story; it neatly balances the first-hand reminiscences of those on the scene (Dave’s sister Jean, the notable jazz figures Hank O’Neal and Ron Della Chiesa, Dave’s sons, pianist Mike Jones) with the music. The sounds coming from Dave at the piano (and occasionally from his two interviews) complement each other, beautifully. All praise to director / producer Greg Mallozzi and executive producer Corte Swearingen.

You can see it here.

Thanks for the memories. And the melodies linger on.

May your happiness increase!

UNLOCKING THE DOORS TO FIND THE PERSON HIDDEN WITHIN: “SNOOZER QUINN: FINGERSTYLE JAZZ GUITAR PIONEER,” by KATY HOBGOOD RAY and DAN SUMNER (Out of the Past Music, 2021)

Imagine an improvising musician, a dazzling stylist, whose recorded works add up to perhaps forty minutes. Dead of tuberculosis at 42. Admired by Les Paul and Frank Trumbauer, Danny Barker, Peck Kelley, Paul Whiteman, and Leo Kottke. “Slightly deformed at birth,” blind in one eye. Kept the best NOLA company.

Plain:

and Fancy, both from 1931:

and here’s some aural evidence:

and two ballads, rich and pensive:

Edwin “Snoozer” Quinn recorded in his prime but none of his solo recordings were ever issued. (He is audible, here and there, but never out front.) Those solos and duets we possess, a dozen sides, were informally done by cornetist Johnny Wiggs, in Snoozer’s hospital room, some months before his death.

We have a brief film of Snoozer playing solo in 1932, his hands graceful and fluid, but it is silent (as a footnote, the film was made by photographer-guitarist Charles Peterson, who gave us so much of the jazz world in still photographs):

Snoozer Quinn might have remained one of the most shadowy figures in jazz, an art form that has its share. And until recently, although the dozen recordings he made in 1948 were available on lp and CD, knowledge of him was scant.

Both he and his music deserved careful, deep, serious documentation. They have it now, splendidly, in this large-format book, 104 pages without filler or bloat:

Here is a comprehensive overview of this book. And, if you’re like me, whose immediate instinct was “How can I buy a copy?” visit here: you can purchase a paperback ($22.00) or an e-book ($14.99).

This book is extraordinarily satisfying: I am a severe reader and I stumbled over no flaws. Many jazz books of late are dense with theory and theorizing (we watch the author’s speculations about matters only tangentially related to music or biography overwhelm the presumed subject). Many are recyclings of others’ speculations or reminiscences. Ground well-and-thoroughly covered, leftovers presented as dinner, pick your metaphor. Given that, first-hand narrative about a figure who has been mysterious is precious, as is new information.

Perhaps you never thought your bookshelf needed a book all about Snoozer Quinn, but this one is entrancing, not only as his detailed portrait, but as a model of humane scholarship. It is candid and plain-spoken, full of surprises and anecdotes, stories from people who were there.

Here’s a quick tour. Katy Hobgood Ray, musician and deep researcher, is Snoozer Quinn’s great-great niece, which means that she knew of him in different contexts than even the most devoted jazz researcher would have. It also means that she has access to wonderful photos of Snoozer from the beginning to the end of his life, as well as the bands he played with. Those photographs, even without substantive text, would be an unequalled story of a life.

The book is divided into three sections. The first, after an introduction by guitarist Steve Howell, is a biography of Snoozer, the writing clear and evocative, followed by those photographs. The second is eight Snoozer solos, transcribed for guitarists to work at — thankfully, they can hear the recordings as stars to shoot for. The last, to me the most valuable, is a collection of recollections by Snoozer’s friends and colleagues.

Snoozer’s life, from one angle, is tragedy: tuberculosis and alcoholism, missed chances and benevolences that turned out all wrong. Paul Whiteman’s misguided fascination with the guitarist is a sad, almost unbelievable story. Genius, almost undocumented. But from another angle, he remains a marvel on the basis of the scant evidence, and those who heard him were astonished and remained so. The tale of his life is told through sharply realized evidence: oral histories from people who knew him and played alongside him, from members of the Quinn family to jazz musicians famous and less well-known.

For guitarists, the center of this book will be the eight carefully-created transcriptions of Snoozer’s solos on the sides he did solo and with Johnny Wiggs. I’m not a guitarist, but Dan Sumner’s description of Snoozer’s tuning and the way the transcriptions were imagined, honed, and polished is very convincing.

The recollections and reminiscences that conclude the book are arresting in their intimacy. Musicians Godfrey Hirsch, Monk Hazel, Benjie white, Armand Hug, and of course Johnny Wiggs, speak with tenderness, awe, and humor of Snoozer and his place in the universe. A detailed discography (with biographical information and documentation) is the final flourish to a splendidly realized enterprise.

No stone is left unturned: on page 11 of this book you will learn, almost offhandedly, the source of “Snoozer” as a nickname. It was a compliment.

It’s a reviewer’s cliche-encomium to state that a book like this is so definitive that there never need be another on the subject. I agree. But I also hope that new discoveries will be made so that there will be a second edition. Snoozer, obscure, often admired but not treated kindly, deserves every celebration possible. As do Katy Hobgood Ray, Dan Sumner, and Steve Howell. Their collaboration is so very rewarding. This book is thrilling in so many ways.

On another note, a comic-linguistic postscript. I first encountered Snoozer around 1971 when I purchased the Fat Cat’s Jazz lp THE LEGENDARY SNOOZER QUINN, which contained a dozen tracks Wiggs (bless him forevermore) had recorded. I had never heard Snoozer or Johnny Wiggs, but was fascinated by the air of mystery that surrounded the music, enough to spend money on a mysterious offering.

Al Rose’s liner note to that record offers a memorable crumb of awkward prose that I have never forgotten. Noting that cornetist Wiggs had not played in some time, Rose wrote, Wiggs, for the occasion, took his lip out of a quarter-century of mothballs, more to put Snoozer at his ease than anything else, and blew on some of these cuts. Little rust had gathered in the superb cornet.

Yes, mothballs and rust. But I digress.

Don’t linger here: buy this book. And while you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, visit https://snoozerquinn.com/ — a fine preface to the book.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FROM PARIS: ALIX COMBELLE, BILL COLEMAN, FRANK “BIG BOY” GOUDIE, OSCAR ALEMAN and FRIENDS (January 12, 1938)

Jazz continues to be international. What I present here was issued only on an Italian bootleg recording devoted to a trumpeter, born in Paris, Kentucky, who spent much of his life in the other Paris, and the music was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Company, and it is posted for your enjoyment by a born New Yorker.

Alix Combelle was what the music magazines of the time might have called a “booting” tenor saxophonist and lyrical clarinetist. You would know him from his recordings with Django Reinhardt, from his part in the 1937 Benny Carter-Coleman Hawkins date, from later recordings with Lionel Hampton and Buck Clayton: a fertile recording career from 1933 to the late Fifties, with one last recorded performance in 1978.

Someone, presumably in England, recorded this broadcast of what would then have been called “modern dance music,” owing a great deal to the alliance of Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, Edgar Sampson, and Chick Webb. I don’t know the provenance, but this is audibly a professional recording cut at 33 rpm, if my ears are accurate. That it survived for us to enjoy is delightful.

It’s not simply a showcase for Combelle: for me, the star is the luminous trumpeter (able to leap tall buildings in a single bound) and singer Bill Coleman. And because it was the start of 1938 in Paris, I am sure that the European news encouraged him to scat-sing and ignore the phrase, “that you want to go to war” in Berlin’s ALEXANDER’S. Django Reinhardt did not make the broadcast, but his presence is evident in DAPHNE, his composition and (we are told) his arrangement. From recording sessions, I gather that Django was in London on January 12, although he did return to Paris by March 4.

BBC broadcast of January 12, 1938 from Paris with the possible personnel: Bill Coleman, trumpet, vocal on ALEXANDER’S; Pierre Allier, Alex Rewail, trumpet; unidentified trombone; Alix Combelle, tenor saxophone; Christian Wagner, clarinet, alto saxophone; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, tenor saxophone, clarinet; unidentified piano; Oscar Aleman, guitar; unidentified string bass; Tommy Benford, drums. Issued only on the Italian label Two Flats Disc TFD5010.

DAPHNE / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (vocal Bill Coleman) / DON’T BE THAT WAY:

A wonderful swinging interlude: it reminds us of what music came out of people’s radios in 1938, before and after.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY SENIOR, POET

I’d say that more than most people, Andy Senior has many selves. JAZZ LIVES readers are likely to have encountered him as the creator and editor of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES; others know him from his internet music program devoted to the sounds of 1900-40, RADIOLA!. I feel fortunate to have met him and his wife Sue in person at a jazz weekend in Connecticut; he is a deep, articulate person, generous in his devotion to the music, with a side of wry darkness in his makeup.

But it was only recently that I encountered Andy the poet. I have a long history of reading poetry (studying and writing about Yeats, although that was long ago) and I admire the way it can deliver a variety of shocks to the system, startling as a Sidney Catlett rimshot or as reassuring as Ben Webster’s furry tone. I stumbled over one of Andy’s poems — terse, vinegary, with a kick at the end — on Facebook, a venue I don’t associate with original poetry of value.

Andy is completely himself as a poet: he does not write paeans to The Great Dead as did Philip Larkin, nor does he seek to be conspicuously “inspirational” in the usual ways.

Andy told me: It’s been my experience that when people see you doing one thing they think that’s the only thing you do. (Like eating tomato pie, for example.) My problem is that I’m a confirmed dilettante and I’ve done plenty of different things–some of which I have no intention of spotlighting. But I’m proud of what I’ve written and I’m happy to get it out there. 

Here’s the poem that first climbed into my lap, its snap as sharp as an energized rubber band:

The adjectives that come to mind are “shockingly delightful.” And while you are still reeling, here’s another:

His poems straddle stand-up comedy and philosophy, with darts of mockery aimed all around. A third:

At this point, a musical interlude might be both refreshing and needed. Preparing this post, I asked Andy for some music most dear to him, and he offered some favorites. Here’s one:

Where did Andy the poet come from? I asked him.

I’ve aspired to write ever since it became less of a chore–which is when I learned to type, starting about age 12. Owing to my natural clumsiness and mild dyslexia, when I tried to write in longhand I felt like I was dragging my trombone case to school. (And I demonstrably had the handwriting of an idiot, which didn’t encourage me.) Once I started typing I began to have fun playing with words and ideas. From childhood I loved MAD Magazine (and the verse and parodies by Frank Jacobs), progressing to humorists like Benchley and Thurber, the archy and mehitabel poems of Don Marquis, and the short, acerbic poems of Stephen Crane.

Andy calls his younger self “the Justin Bieber of the Smith-Corona.”

I wrote reams of stories, journals (in unreadable longhand), essays, songs, letters to the editor, and poems through my teens and twenties. I never thought about showing my poems to anyone until 1994, when I was asked to entertain with my songs at a local coffeehouse–called, appropriately enough, Slackers. Slackers had a poetry night and it proved to be an ideal venue for reading my work. 

Slackers closed (as coffeehouses do) and I crashed the poetry night at the Adirondack Coffee Company in Clinton (down the hill from Hamilton College). I made myself such a pest there–even siding with the local kids who got thrown out of the place–that the management rewarded me by making me emcee of their Wednesday poetry readings. During that time, the spring, summer, and fall of 1996, I wrote scores of poems–I had half a dozen new pieces to read every week. 

What was odd that I was a dumpy guy of 34, already starting to lose my hair and put on weight, reading sarcastic poetry–hardly a dreamboat–and women were paying attention to me. In fact, I met my wife Sue there. (Her son Joe was one of the kids who got kicked out by the management of the Adirondack Coffee Co. At present, he is associate editor and webmaster of The Syncopated Times.)

After the tsunami of verse I loosed in ’96 and ’97, I still dash off irregular lines occasionally (or should that be “occasional lines irregularly?”). Now that I am 60 (and more visibly a boat of the tug variety) I may be headed back to the Underwood for further reflections.

Andy, 2015

We welcome the poems. Here are more.

and an alternate version:

and just one more for good measure:

I hear an orchestra of voices emanating from Andy Senior, poet: some elusive, some satirical, some brightly world-weary. Know that what I’ve offered here is only the smallest of samples of his melodies and rhythms.

Incidentally, if you would like to see and hear Andy singing and playing his original songs, you have only to visit his YouTube channel, carpaltunnelkid.

When I read the first few poems I’d ever seen (on Facebook) I wrote to Andy, asking if he would like such a post as I’ve done here, and he was delighted. I even pressed on and said that I would buy a chapbook of his work should one exist or be made to exist. If his poetry twangs within you, let us know. For me, I salute his left-handed energies and applaud them.

May your happiness increase!

JACK LOVED DANCE MUSIC (1933)

It looks like an old book. It is.
The book’s owner.

We believe that everything is knowable. After all, we have Google.

This post is about a ninety-year old artifact that pretends to offer up all its secrets. The oddly appropriate cliche is that it is “an open book,” but its secrets are hidden.

I can’t figure out whether the owner’s name is “Jack E. DuTemple” or “D. Temple,” and no online map turns up a Robert Street; rather, I get sent to Roberts. I never met Jack, but I have faith that he knew where he lived. The last entries in this book are dated Christmas 1933, so that is clear.

THIS JUST IN, thanks to Master Sleuth David Fletcher:

John E. “Jack” Detemple, 1908-1968. Because you knew I would… 🙂
Jack worked in a Binghamton shoe factory along with his dad. Thank God he was a music nut! He ended up in Sidney NY, a longtime Mason and a machinist for Bendix Corp. Several kids– no doubt one of them treasured Dad’s autograph book (and maybe his old records too).

Here is a tour of the music Jack heard in 1933.

Zez Confrey
Henry Biagini
Don Bestor
Rudy Vallee
Fred Waring
Whitey Kaufman
Ace Brigode
“Red” Nichols
Ramona
Paul Whiteman
Kay Kyser
Johnny Johnson
Jack Pettis
Pauline Wright
Bert Lown
Ernie Holst
Todd Rollins
Peggy Healy
Jack Fulton
Eddie Lane
Gene Kardos
Ray Noble
Abe Lyman
Joe Venuti
Dick Fidler (?)
Larry Funk
Happy Felton
Mal Hallett
Doc Peyton
Claude Hopkins
Art Kassel
Charley Davis
a closing cartoon, perhaps of Jack himself.

Ten miles north of the Pennsylvania border, Johnson City, New York is not a metropolis; 15,174 population in the 2010 census. But obviously dance bands came through towns of that size: in 1933, there were more ballrooms and “dance halls” for bands of all kinds. And Jack seems to have been a happily avid listener and perhaps dancer, enjoying both hot and sweet sounds, Black and White groups, famous and less so. The autograph book speaks to his enthusiasm, but also to the variety of live music available to audiences in the Depression. Yes, there was unemployment and breadlines, but there were also men and women making music all over the country, and creating it for actual audiences . . . not people staring into lit screens. I would say flippantly that we have more but they had better.

And “provenance.” I’ve had this book for about ten years. It was a gift from my dear friend and inspiration Mike Burgevin, who found it in an upstate New York antique shop, bought it, and saved it for me, knowing that some day I would share it on the blog. For this and so many other kindnesses I bless him.

My photographic captures are admittedly amateur, but, then again, JAZZ LIVES is not a high-level auction house.

So now you can see how the fabled Jack Pettis signed his name. Hardly a common sight. And perhaps some reader can tell us more about Dick Fidler (?) and Pauline Wright. Google has let me down, which returns me to my original thought: da capo al fine. But energetic readers of JAZZ LIVES now have many more sweet and hot rabbits to chase.

May your happiness increase!

“HOT REEDS”: BILL NAPIER, TOM BAKER, LARRY STEIN, TOM KEATS, JIM CUMMING (1983)

Jazz enthusiasts are as guilty of the Name-Brand-Enchantment as other product purchasers: the people at the supermarket who will only buy Heinz’ baked beans and not very different from the listeners who celebrate their particular Jazz Deity and would ignore splendid performances by people they haven’t yet heard. Think of Joshua Bell, unannounced, playing gorgeously in the Washington, D.C. subway, few people paying attention, and you get the idea.

Here is an ad hoc group of California jazz stars — although some of them never made a record under their own name — playing wonderfully. Tom Baker is a beloved figure, but I suspect many listeners might look at the heading of this post and think, as did Philip Larkin, “If I haven’t heard of them, how good could they be?” and turn away, which would be a pity, because the music is delicious.

Bill Napier, clarinet

This hot effusion — a live gig — comes from the collection of superb bassist and spiritual leader Mike Fay. The collective personnel is Bill Napier, clarinet; Larry Stein, soprano saxophone; Tom Baker, tenor saxophone; Tom Keats, rhythm guitar; unidentified, solo guitar; possibly Jim Cumming, string bass. Robin Hodes, trumpet, and Bob Mielke, trombone, are noted in the personnel but aren’t heard on the first tracks. The CD is labeled HOT REEDS 1983. Here are the first five performances, and they rock and saunter in the best ways.

OH, MISS HANNAH!:

LITTLE GIRL:

CREOLE LOVE CALL:

SWINGIN’ THE BLUES (with a nod to TWISTED):

and THEM THERE EYES:

My guess is that most of the names in this band might be new to many listeners, especially to those less familiar to the California jazz scene of decades past. (How odd to write “decades past” of 1983: some readers will understand this feeling.)

You might never have heard of them, but I hope you are glad that you heard their music. And there are another five or perhaps six performances from this energetic and friendly date to come.

May your happiness increase!

“NO.”

When you’re not smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has this got to do with jazz? Wait.

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, let me check with Louis.”

“Louis?”

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

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

See if it works for you, and report back.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

and more:

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

and a few years later, in two versions:

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

TOMMY SITS IN AT CAFE SOCIETY, FEBRUARY 4, 1944

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

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

and the front, so remarkable:

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

Bill Napier, clarinet

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

and . . .

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

An Honored but Tromboneless Guest

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

and the stories:

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

May your happiness increase!

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

This CD was released in 2021:

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

MISTER TEA, SEEN and HEARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE :

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MUGGSY, DARNELL “and Friends” PLAY FATS

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

FAME FADES, IGNORANCE LASTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

HERESIES IN SWING

Margaret “Countess” Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we say, just asking.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

First, an appropriate soundtrack:

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, some photographs of non-musical realities.

Charming everyday life, perhaps a Sunday outing in spring?

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy “Coles,” working for Cab Calloway.

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!