Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

ART IS NOT THE BOX IT COMES IN

 

Have you heard this recently, this ecstatic sustained outpouring of wise joys?

You can read the names off the record label before the music starts, so I don’t have to name the divine figures.

I nearly drowned in an online discussion this morning — what is the difference between “New Orleans jazz” and “Dixieland”?  That dangerous question quickly branched off into definitions of “Chicago jazz” and “true traditional jazz,” with small mutterings about “two-beat” and “four-beat.”

Gentlemen (for they were all male), these names were not invented by musicians.  From what I’ve seen in practice, the Ancestors did not go on the job or into the record studio and say, “Well, fellows, now we are about to create three minutes — or ten minutes — of Authentic _____________ (insert divisive name here).”

They might have said, “Here’s a song we love.  Here’s a good old good one,” but usually they referred to what they were doing as “playing music,” or — when things got too divisive — as “our music.”

(At this point, someone will expect me to repeat what Eddie Condon or Duke Ellington said about music.  I won’t.  My audience already knows those quotations by heart.)

I backed away from the online discussion because my GP is trying to get my blood pressure down, and such conversations are not good for me.  But I think of it this way: if your birthday present comes in a box wrapped with newspaper, and the present pleases you, do you need to obsess on the newspaper?

The nomenclature was invented by clubowners, record companies, journalists — to sell a product.  Music might be made into a product, but it is essentially a heartfelt personal creation, and arguing about the names for it ultimately has little to do with the art.  And such arguments fragment what is already a small audience.

So . . . call it what you will, if you must.  But realize that names are not the reality of what we cherish when we hear or play it.  And perhaps you might want to listen to that sainted recording once again.

P.S.  For once, I am going to exert imperial privilege — my blog is like my house, and if guests behave badly, I point them to the door.  So negative comments will not see the light.  And now, I am going into Manhattan — below Fourteenth Street — to savor some music.

May your happiness increase!

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ASKING THE MUSICAL QUESTION: “BABY, ARE YOU SATISFIED?”

Some questions are too deep for simple answers. And for me, the complete absence of punctuation only adds to the plaintive nature of the inquiry.  Commas and question marks are for those easily distracted from the emotional depths.  This inquiry was recorded on June 27, 1933.

Here is another sound source to muse on.

This recording is a remarkable oddity — left out of the most current expansive online jazz discography.  It was recorded in three takes, the last one being the master, and it was the only side issued, everything else being rejected — they attempted SMOKE RINGS, ANGELINE, THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN with different vocalists including “Detroit Red,” Heywood and Eddie Jackson, unheard washboard by Sammy Page.  At a later session, December 21, 1933, a similar band attempted BABY, ARE YOU SATISFIED? (the discography by Brian Rust adds the comma and question mark) and RED, WHITE, AND BLUES.  I know that Columbia Records (or the American Record Corporation) was nearly bankrupt, which may account for the typographical errors: the first session was, I believe, credited to “DICKEY WELLS’ SHIM SHAMMERS,” and the second to “DICKIE WELLS and KENNY’S KELLOWATTS.”

Dicky Wells (or Dickie Wells) was not the extravagantly creative trombonist, but a dancer who ran the Shim Sham Club in New York’s Harlem, where this group appeared. Pianist Kenny Watts led Kenny Watts and his Kilowatts; drummer Eddie Dougherty is not well-known but is marvelous (catch his work with Bennie Morton, James P. Johnson, and Mildred Bailey).  My late dear friend Mike Burgevin asked bassist Johnny Williams about Eddie and was told that he pronounced his name “Dockerty.”

The personnel provided to us by collector-scholar Steve Abrams (his YouTube channel, a cornucopia of marvels, is SMARBA100) is this: Heywood Jackson, Eddie Johnson, Milton Lane, kazoo; Fred Voorhees, guitar; Watts; Dougherty; Carroll Waldron, string bass.  What they do with the simplest melodic and lyric material is fascinating.

To me, it is a study in timbres: the textures of the singer, who may or may not be the avian whistler, the riffing kazoos, the guitarist’s tone (contrapuntally or in solo), the plunk of the string bass, and the quiet drumming.

The three kazoo virtuosi, who create an odd melancholy haunting reverie that makes me think of 1933 Ellington — the trombones? — and looks forward to Basie.  And the record ends with an engineer’s fade-out, not usual for 1933.  Yes, it runs parallel to the Mills Brothers, the Spirits of Rhythm, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, Red McKenzie’s groups, perhaps the Tramp Band and other skiffle combinations . . . but its very elusiveness makes it memorable.  If we had twenty-four sides, perhaps the magic would grow predictable, but this one three-minute tone poem is precious.  And strange, which increases the magic.  Thanks to Steve Abrams for bringing this one back into our consciousness.

However, an online search for any information turned up this excerpt from dancer Howard “Stretch” Johnson’s unpublished memoir, in a book I immediately bought:

One of the most popular after-hours clubs was Dickey Wells’s Shim Sham Club, which also catered to white customers.  Today, in keeping with the parlance of the recording industry, the Shim-Sham would be called a crossover club.  The Shim-Sham or Shimmy was a dance invented by homosexuals from the chorus line of the 101 Ranch [which Johnson identifies as having a “bizarre transvestite and homosexual chorus line” in the preceding paragraph].  “Shim” was a contraction of the term she-him, and the “sham” was a word serving the dual purpose of denoting the female role as played by males, as well as the shambling nature of the steps, particularly the first eight bars.  The Shimmy combined a hip and shoulder wiggle that was part of the opening movements.  

Dickey Wells was a former Cotton Club dancer who later became a pimp and an entrepreneur.  He ran his club as economically as possible, employing a “jug” band called the Shim Shammers or Kenny Watts and his Kilowatts, instead of regular musicians.  Watts played the piano, Eddie Dougherty drums, Fletch Jahon, Eddie “Hawk” Johnson, Heywood Jackson, and Milton Lane played kazoos [another source mentions that the band had one or several baritone kazoos],  with Carol Walrond, the brother of Harlem Renaissance poet and author Eric Walrond, on bass.  The sound they created was somewhere between Red McKenzie’s Mound City Blue Blowers and Duke Ellington, if you can imagine that.  Fletch and Sammy Page did vocals and whistled, and the group was fronted by an extraordinary “hoofer” whose percussive rhythms afforded an unusually inspirational jazz motif.  His name was Baby Lawrence, a master of  technique, rhythmic flow, and continuous improvisation.  Later, during the bebop phase, he was recognized as the preeminent jazz hoofer.  [Source:  Autobiography of a People: Three Centuries of African American History Told by Those Who Lived It, edited by Herb Boyd.]

That is intensely revealing; it conjures up a scene, and it suggests to me that there is much more to the apparently simple question of the title than we might have naively assumed.  Satisfaction is nothing to take lightly.

May your happiness increase!

“CARE TO DANCE?”: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

It’s Those Men Again: pianist Andrew Oliver and reedman David Horniblow for our weekly benificence of Jelly Roll Morton: their gift to us, the Complete Morton Project, to which you certainly should subscribe . . . it’s free, beautifully done and recorded.

More unpretentious erudition here.

First, THE CRAVE, the nearly-hypnotic exploration of the Spanish Tinge, which Jelly recorded for the Library of Congress in an extended take, and for General as a 10″ 78.

Here’s what we crave in 2018:

MINT JULEP is less famous, but was commercially recorded for Victor in 1929, when Morton took a slightly cut-down version of the Luis Russell band into the studios:

Thanks go to Andrew and David for our weekly helpings of lyrical swinging hot jazz — finely-tuned dance music as well.

May your happiness increase!

“Signed in person from original owner, 100% authentic and lifetime guarantee. Original with Lewis Allen composer credit, Sonny White is the pianist, Commodore first edition 10″ shellac 78 rpm V/V+ condition.”

Something new and old and rare and fragile and lasting and irreplaceable.  And fifteen thousand dollars (15,000.00 USD, as they say).  This is the link.

And the label of the precious object:

And the music:

Check the jar in the kitchen where you toss the quarters.  Who knows what’s added up there?

But I wonder what Billie would say of this offering.

May your happiness increase!

THE HORACE GERLACH FAN CLUB, or ANYTHING CAN SWING: THE ORIGINAL DOWNHOME JAZZ BAND (Toledo, Ohio, February 25, 2017)

On Benny Goodman’s “Camel Caravan” radio show — circa 1938 — there was a feature called ANYTHING CAN SWING, and what follows is a fine illustration.

Louis Armstrong followers like myself know the sacred and mysterious name of Horace Gerlach — co-composer with Louis of three masterpieces: SWING THAT MUSIC, I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, and IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN.  I’ve featured them on this blog as performed by Louis, Marty Grosz, Banu Gibson, and others.

But I’ve never had occasion to spotlight the fourth Gerlach opus, which probably made him the most money, DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL.  In some traditional weddings, it is the song the bride and her father have their ceremonial dance to.  (I don’t know how this makes the groom feel, but leave that to you to ponder.)

Thanks to my friend and friend of JAZZ LIVES Laura Wyman — CEO of Wyman Video — we have this hot performance of DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL by the Original Downhome Jazz Band (February 25, 2017, Ye Olde Durty Bird, Toledo, Ohio) captured on video for everyone to enjoy, whether or not there is a daughter in the house.

The ODJB is Dave Kosmyna, leader, cornet, vocal; Chris Smith, trombone; Ray Heitger, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Pete Siers, drums, and do they beat it out:

Laura has also shared many fine hot videos on her YouTube channel.  Wyman Video (expert, discreet, and informed) can come and video your event: fee schedule available on request. Weddings, recitals, hot bands, basement jam sessions: you name it.

For now, I will muse upon the invisibility of Horace Gerlach: composer, arranger, friend of Louis.  Anyone have a portrait of the man to share?

May your happiness increase!

SALE! REDUCED! DJANGO! A LIMITED TIME ONLY!

Reduced from $12,000.  Now only $10,800.

And the descriptive paragraph:

Rare photograph signed by one of Europe’s first great jazz musicians, considered by many to be the finest guitarist the world has ever known.
Rare Photograph signed: “D. Reinhardt”. B/w, 5×6. Captioned at lower margin: “Club Rythmique de Belgique.” Jean Baptise “Django” Reinhardt (1910-1953), who was born in Belgium, grew up in a gypsy camp near Paris. Originally a violinist, he is best remembered for his jazz and swing performances on the acoustic guitar (because of youthful burn injuries that cost him two fingers, Reinhardt had to develop an original fingering system). In the 1930s, he performed with Stephane Grappelli in the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Although he couldn’t read music, Reinhardt created many influential jazz compositions. The pioneer of the concept of the lead guitarist in a musical group, Reinhardt is best remembered for such songs as “My Sweet”, “Minor Swing”, “Tears”, “Belleville” “Djangology” and “Nauges”. In addition to touring throughout Europe, Reinhardt was acclaimed in the U.S., opening for Duke Ellington and playing at Carnegie Hall. Reinhardt, who influenced a number of styles of music, is consistently named as an influence by many modern guitarists and musicians, including Chet Atkins, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, George Benson and Willie Nelson. Reinhardt is rare in any form. This is a fine example. Slightly soiled at blank margins. Minor surface scratches, some visible on forehead of image. Overall, fine condition.

And the link for those with disposable income.

And the reason — to many of us — for the adulation:

May your happiness increase!

JEN HODGE ALL STARS: “ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND JAZZ”

I sat down for a meal with string bassist / bandleader / singer Jen Hodge last year in New York City, and I was pleased to encounter a person I could admire as much as the music she’s been making: candid, friendly, playful, intelligent.  And her new CD reflects all these qualities.  Since it doesn’t have liner notes, I offer — unsolicited — a few paragraphs.

First, facts: the Jen Hodge All Stars are Jen, string bass, vocals; Chris Davis, trumpet; Connor Stewart, clarinet, tenor saxophone (whom I also met and admired); Josh Roberts, guitar; Marti Elias, drums.  You’ll note the absence of trombone and piano — for the true traditionalists — but you won’t miss them.  In fact, this instrumentation gives the disc a remarkable lighter-than-air quality.  The band soars and rocks.  Here’s a taste.  Admire their dynamics, too:

As soloists, each of the players is superb and sometimes superbly quirky: their imaginations are not hemmed in by constricting notions of appropriate styles, regions, or dates.  No one quotes from Ornette (at least I didn’t notice it if it happened) but everyone on the disc knows that the music didn’t stop when Lil and Louis separated.  The soloists fly with a fervent lightness, and they couldn’t be better as ensemble players.

A particular pleasure of this disc is that its members tend to burst into song, at widely spaced intervals, individually or in combination — a very touching duet on SMOKE RINGS for one.  On SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT, Jen is aided and abetted by the hilariously expert “Jen’s Male Chorus,” whose identities you will learn after purchasing the music; other vocals are by Arnt Arnzen, Bonnie Northgraves, and Jack Ray — he of the Milk Crate Bandits.  HEY LET’S DRINK A BEER is given over to Jen and Bonnie, who suggest vocally they are Fifties carhops at the drive-in, on roller skates — perilously cute but they also know judo.

One could divide the CD’s repertoire into the Familiar and the New, the Familiar being DARDANELLA; BLAME IT ON THE BLUES; IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT; SHOUT, SISTER, SHOUT; SMOKE RINGS, VIPER’S DREAM; HELL’S BELLS; STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY; ROCK BOTTOM; ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM.  But that designation of “The Familiar” would not be so accurate.  The JAZZ LIVES audience could hum or even sing perhaps seven of those songs, but I would be hard put to do the first eight bars of Fletcher Allen’s VIPER’S DREAM, Art Kassel’s HELL’S BELLS, or Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM.

Incidentally, I am not revealing too much by writing that Jen has a Platonic crush on Tiny Parham, which comes out with her recording a Parham song or two on each of her CDs.  It was not possible in this universe for Jen to ask Tiny to the Junior Prom, so these bouquets must suffice.

Here’s the hilariously quirky HELL’S BELLS, flying along in sixth gear:

And “The Familiar” songs are never handled routinely: each performance has a pleasing surprise at its center.  On my first listening, I was now and again happily caught off balance: I thought I knew how a band would end — let us say — IF I COULD BE WITH YOU — but the arrangement here was not predictable, although it was not so “innovative” to violate the mood of the song.  ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM has traces of the Braff-Barnes Quartet versions, with a brief and delightful excursion into Jo Jones’ solo patterns of his later decades.  STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, worn threadbare through repetition, is lively and fresh here.  The “New” material sometimes hints at familiar chord shapes: MY DADDY ROCKS ME, THEM THERE EYES, but the originals are cleverly enticing.

All I know is that I’ve played this disc several times straight through “with pleasure” undiminished.  And I know I am not alone in this.  I delight in hearing evidence that the Youngbloods are swinging so hard, with such taste, and individuality . . . and I delight in the particulars of their music.

Here is Jen’s Facebook page.

You may purchase this music in every imaginable form (except bright blue flexible celluloid 7″ discs and cassette tapes) here which also happens to be Jen’s website).  And I hope you will.

May your happiness increase!