I’ve always thought of Jay Rattman as a masterful musician, his playing a sly down-home eloquence, full of passion that catches the listener unaware. I’m thrilled that he has released his debut CD, IN THE TOWNS — available through Bandcamp both digitally and as an actual plastic-and-cardboard-and-art entity. (It will also be released through Tone Rogue Records on April 7, only a few days from now.)
As much as I respect Jay as an improviser, I also know of him as a thoughtful composer, but I’ve never had the chance to hear his original compositions. IN THE TOWNS fills that gap in the most satisfying ways, because it presents nine of them (along with one Irving Berlin classic approached with great tenderness) for an hour’s worth of explorations.
For these journeys, varying in mood and ardor, Jay plays alto saxophone and clarinet, and he is joined by Can Olgum, piano; Desmond White, piano; Guilhem Flouzat, drums — three delightful improvisers I had not known before.
Each performance seems a short story, with the plot and mood ranging from LATE FOR SUPPER (adults playing at being children playing in the May sun), LONESOME SHORTY (soundtrack for an unshot Western film starring Warne Marsh and Earl Bostic, alto cowpokes battling rustlers who have stolen the good reeds), WATER GAP TUNE (a canoe trip with one’s love and a well-packed picnic hamper), ANACHRONISTIC STOMP (which puts Jelly Roll Morton on Instagram but also reminiscent of two shelter kittens chasing each other before someone says, “Oh, well, I’ll take both of them!”) — and more.
Listeners will, I am sure, create their own narratives to go with what they hear. Or perhaps they will simply saunter comfortably into the musical worlds these four creators make, each a series of bright prism flashes. I hear a ballad reminiscent of one Strayhorn never got to write, dance grooves, music to walk through forests by . . . all full of life. Unlike many other sessions of original compositions, this one leans seriously towards the melodic and rhythmic; there is no abrasiveness for its own sake to say how hard the modern world is, and the performances have themes, structure, beginnings, middles, and ends.
I should say that I have most often encountered Jay in what some would call “traditional” or “neo-traditional” contexts: with the EarRegulars indoors and outside, with Colin Hancock, Conal Fowkes, and Mike Davis. He has always had his own distinctive memorable voice on whatever reed instrument he chooses to play: lyrical, thoughtful, surprising. But we must now value him as a composer with the same attributes, and this CD doesn’t falter for a second.
Mister Rattman, al fresco on Spring Street, June 2021.
Perhaps you should hear some of Jay’s music and words rather than being asked to embrace one more metaphor:
And here‘s another way of visiting the music — and, one hopes, purchasing it.
IN THE TOWNS is a pleasure both serious and playful, and the sonic vibrations of the music stayed with me long after the disc concluded, which is all anyone could ask for.
I don’t know who I would thank at the Voice of America these days, but I do know we can all thank Tohru Seya, the generous collector whose YouTube channel Hot Jazz 78rpms provides us with excellent music. Much of it is beautifully preserved original discs that sound wonderful, but here is something even nicer — transcription discs of jazz recorded live and hot that I’d never known of before. I would guess from the sonic ambiance that it was recorded at Central Plaza or Stuyvesant Casino circa 1951-52 (parallel to the “Dr. Jazz” broadcasts of the time, but without announcements by Aime Gauvin) for broadcast overseas. The title is “All-Star Concert,” the subtitle “American Jazz,” and the disc is Voice of America J-18 (VOA-402)
Max Kaminsky(tp); Ed Hubble(tb); Joe Barufaldi(cl); Bud Freeman(ts); Dick Cary(p); Arthur Herbert(d)
JAZZ ME BLUES / SQUEEZE ME:
The same band, J-17 (VOA 401), performing SOMEDAY SWEETHEART and MUSKRAT RAMBLE:
Here, the band is “Wild” Bill Davison(cnt); “Big Chief” Russell Moore(tb); Omer Simeon(cl); Joe Sullivan(p); Eddie Phyfe(d). [J-20; VOA 404.] — Sullivan in wonderful form. A few bars are missing from the start of each song, suggesting that an announcer’s words may have been edited out.
STARDUST, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, and UGLY CHILE:
and SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:
and I NEVER KNEW (I COULD LOVE ANYBODY):
But wait. There’s more! Under the heading of “Eddie Condon Dixieland Band,” there are a handful of performances from a 1949 Condon Floor Show with Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Bob Casey, and Buddy Rich; under “Dixieland All-Stars,” several pearly improvisations by Bobby Hackett — NEW ORLEANS and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
All exceptional music, given to us in the most open-handed ways. And for those who crave discographical details more than the labels of these 16″ transciptions provide, I can only say, “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your copy of Tom Lord or Brian Rust.”
To me, Sidney Catlett is a marvel beyond marvels. An extraordinary soloist; an unmatched team player with the greatest intuition about what his colleagues were creating. An alchemist. And when Big Sid had the finest musicians to work with, which was most of the time, they scaled mountains.
Thankfully for us, he had many opportunities to record between 1929 and 1950. Most of his work is readily available: with Louis, Benny, Duke, Bird, Bechet, Hawk, Ben, Roy, Condon, Lips, James P,, Joe Thomas, Teddy, and three dozen others. But his performances at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1947, have not often been heard, and they deserve to be.
His pairing with Charlie Shavers is acrobatic magic (catch them on film, although out of synch, in SEPIA CINDERELLA); Hank Jones, so youthful in 1947, was already creating pearls of sound. SID FLIPS HIS LID is beyond belief. And the jam session offers opportunities to hear players who no doubt encountered each other often (the Ventura-Harris unit was a working group) but never recorded together otherwise.
Two by an unassailable trio: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Sidney, drums.
SID FLIPS HIS LID — like nothing else before or since:
and the closing jam session on JUST YOU, JUST ME. The label says the drummer is Dave Tough, but I always thought that an error, given his dislike for drum solos and the very Catlett-sound of the set. I asked a few drummer-scholars who agree it’s Sidney, joined by Charlie Shavers, Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Marjorie Hyams, vibraphone; Curly Russell, string bass:
There’s a surprising lack of documentation about this evening (even on its CD issue, as the last offering in a Verve multi-disc Forties JATP set). I believe it was produced by Leonard Feather, even though it was issued on Norman Granz’s Norgran label. I wonder how much of the evening was recorded and not issued: this would have been an interlude rather than a full concert. Where’s the rest of it?
(And Tom Lord’s online discography makes the first selections by the Hank Jones Quartet, with Curly Russell added, and he adds guitarist Bill DeArango to JUST YOU.)
A memory: I was not born when this concert took place, but twenty-plus years later Ed Beach played SID FLIPS HIS LID on a two-hour radio program devoted to Sidney, and when I write that it exploded through the speaker, I am not exaggerating. A number of years later I found a seriously scratched copy of the Norgan issue — with its yellow label — that I must have lent to someone, because it no longer is within my reach. No matter, the music was issued on the JATP set mentioned above.
But here is it for collective astonishment. And just in case your supply of marvels needs replenishment, the drummer on the other performances issued from this concert is Dave Tough: hear them here.
That would have been an evening to remember. Miraculously we have these performances.
As they say, THIS JUST IN. It’s a saving grace to have friends, even better when they’re erudite and generous. Guitarist / writer / scholar Nick Rossi rescued me from my ignorance, as he has done often.
According to author/historian Gayle Murchison, the April 5, 1947 Carnegie Hall concert was promoted by Don Palmer (aka Dominic Plumeri, not the Canadian jazz musician of the same name), who was Ventura’s manager at the time. This is backed up by an April 23, 1947 review in “Down Beat.” As you can see from the clipping it was titled “Concert in Jazz” and did feature Feather as an emcee. The headliner? Mildred Bailey! Williams and her working trio which may have included Bridget O’Flynn (drums) and June Rotenberg (bass) got second billing. Intriguing to me is that Mary Osborne was on the bill, but it is not believed that she appeared with Mary Lou. Feather was still pushing his “Girl Stars” concept — Williams was a key component at the time — so he may have had more to do with the concert than billed. In early May 1947, “Down Beat” reported that the concert had lost money.
and Mike Levin’s DOWN BEAT review:
Nick’s research and the review offer answers to a few questions. Any distorted sound (thanks to the Carnegie Hall microphones) may have made some of the recording unusable. I believe Norman Granz issued this recording in 1956, and whether the rest of the concert tape or acetates were scrapped, we can’t know, but no mention of them turned up in the recent JATP compilation. Second, the “Girl Stars” were recording for RCA Victor and Mildred Bailey may have been under contract to Crown Records, which may have made Granz reluctant to negotiate to issue their work. Did the unissued material end up in Leonard Feather’s archive? I don’t know.
On another note: when I first heard the drumming on JUST YOU, I thought it was, in fact, Dave Tough playing on Sidney’s drum kit. But keener-eared professional jazz drummers told me otherwise. Listening to it again, the drumming up until the middle of Hyams’ solo still sounds very much to me like Tough: the steady bass drum work, the cymbal splashes, the relative absence of the ornamentation Sidney did so beautifully. In JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, we see Sidney hand the sticks over to Jo Jones in mid-solo without losing the beat. I have heard an unissued Eddie Condon concert, announced by Alistair Cooke, where Sidney passes the sticks to Cozy Cole in the middle of a long IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. My ears tell me that something of the sort — wonderful acrobatics and great visual theatre — is happening here, although I am perfectly content to hug my theory if others disagree. Do listen again.
Yes, it’s true. Two new CDs from pianist Ray Skjelbred — one solo, one solo and trio, with Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Weiner, string bass. The trio recording pictured above is available here in digital and physical form.
Both trio and solo recordings are available in digital form from Ray himself (19526 40th Place NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155) — each one for 17.00 USD.
The disc pictured above has fifteen selections. The trio selections are marked *.
BLUE AIR BLUES* / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / SOLITUDE* / MEMORIES OF YOU / DINAH* / JACK DAILY BLUES* / RUSSIAN LULLABY* / KMH DRAG / THAT RHYTHM MAN / BLUES FOR ART HODES / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL* / FAREWELL BLUES* / COQUETTE* / PIANO MAN / SMILING SKIES //
At Bandcamp you can listen to BLUE AIR BLUES (based on a phrase created by Sidney Bechet in 1941 for a Victor record date with Vic Dickenson) and KMH DRAG (in honor of the fabled Max Kaminsky-Freddie Moore-Art Hodes Blue Note record date).
I created a YouTube video of the trio’s SOLITUDE because it left me awestruck:
Ray’s solo piano recital (shown below) is available only from him, directly, and it’s lovely.
I couldn’t bear people not hearing some music from it, so here are two videos, both of them with deep roots in Earl Hines and his world.
HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? — which Hines sang on record, also in 1929. Ray’s version is jaunty, but if you know the lyrics, a shirt-sleeved melancholy peeps through:
And the hilarious explosion that is Alex Hill’s BEAU KOO JACK:
The solo performances are ROSETTA / BLACK AND BLUE / MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY / SWEET ELLA MAY / ANAGRAM BLUES / HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? / I COVER THE WATERFRONT / BEAU KOO JACK / 313 RAG / SAVOYAGERS STOMP / PINKY ROSE / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU //
I’ve been entranced with Ray and his colleagues since 1988 or so, when John L. Fell sent me a tape containing BERKELEY RHYTHM, and I have been privileged to meet, hear, and video-record him in person for a several years (my “California period,” 2011-2016, more or less) — something I do not take lightly.
Ray and his music are anything but monochromatic. There are touchstones for those who pay attention: Earl Hines, Jess Stacy, Frank Melrose, the Chicago Cubs, Washington Phillips, Alex Hill, Louis Armstrong, Chicago hot music, the dolceola, Count Basie, Sir Charles Thompson, Donald Duck, Joe Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Emerson, Art Hodes, the Marx Brothers, Western Swing, Jim Goodwin, all beings with their own essential personalities, and art that remains its identity no matter how vigorous the transformation.
His playing is at once emotionally deep and instantly accessible, but it wriggles away from those who would compartmentalize it. All I can say is that it is a series of remarkable balances: joy and melancholy, stomp and contemplation, facility and plainness. He is himself, and that is thrilling.
On the trio recording he is joined, shoulder-to-shoulder, by two people who have their own selves firmly intact, although wildness emerges for those who listen closely. It would be possible to build a Swing Era big band purely on the rewarding cardiac thrum of Matt Weiner’s string bass, where he creates engaging melodies while supplying that mobile foundation. Jacob Zimmerman is an explorer at heart, reminding me of Boyce Brown and Paul Desmond andJimmy Giuffre, early Bird and Pete Brown in turn, while peeking out from behind his latest four-bar surprise.
The repertoire chosen on both discs has deep roots in what academia would call a pre-World War Two jazz canon: Clarence Williams and Carroll Dickerson, Johnny Green and Harry Warren, Blue Note Records, Hershel Evans, Benny Meroff, and more. But this is not a trip to the museum, for both CDs, at points, are lifted up by a kind of playful disobedience. “We can play this song the way everyone expects us to play it, but here and there we need to be elastic, to improvise, not only in notes and rests, but spiritually.” All this music exemplifies play at its best, an art that is both puppy-friendly and as serious as one’s life-work,
The real thing, full of delightful shadings.
I am a serious Bandcamp enthusiast, and have applauded many of their releases. And it might be the only way one can acquire the trio CD in digital form. But I applaud even more the direct offering of support (read “love”) to the artist(s). So although I don’t want Ray to be so busy answering the mail and cashing checks that he doesn’t have time to play, I’d love to find out that his mailbox is full of lettuce. Consider yourself pointed in that direction.
On September 9, 1956, Elvis Presley made his first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, and that changed the course of history.
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles made their debut there, and another transformation happened.
In July 10, 1949, Illinois Jacquet, Jo Jones, and a small band [possibly Johnny Acea, definitely Al Lucas, and Russell Jacquet] appeared on Sullivan’s Toast of the Town.
and this astonishing episode, not even two minutes’ long:
The music is dramatic beyond words, electrifying. What would have happened if millions of Susies and Harolds, decided in a lightning flash that they wanted to play the tenor saxophone like Illinois, the drums like Jo? And that millions of mothers and fathers have enthusiastically helped those dreams come true?
Our world would have been so much different. And rather than dwell gloomily on the absence of monuments to Illinois and Jo, let me dream of an alternate universe, transformed by heated expert improvisation. Jacquet had become a star as early as 1944, along with Jo (whose fame began earlier) through Jazz at the Philharmonic and JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. This was nationwide television, even though fewer households owned sets in 1949 than they did in 1956 and 1964.
It didn’t happen. I think that Elvis and the Beatles have more durable recognition than Illinois and Jo, even in the circle of people who read JAZZ LIVES.
But what a blessing that these kinescopes survive and are being shared with us: visions of jazz utopia for one and all.
which contained six sides that Teddy had recorded as a sideman with “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” for Vocalion Records — great records I think few had ever heard.
But a little online research — my effort to answer the question, “How had Teddy or John Hammond or someone else heard of Redd Evans, and what had they heard that would lead them to offer him more than one record date?” led me to these listings in the DAHR:
Victor BS-019565 10-in. 2/11/1938 A shack in the back of the hills Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019566 10-in. 2/11/1938 Please be kind Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019567 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019572 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019573 10-in. 2/11/1938 Prove it Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
Victor BS-019574 10-in. 2/11/1938 Moments like this Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist
I also found out that the February 11, 1938 session had the following personnel, some names completely unknown, others familiar to those of us who have studied the period: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City.
I have been able to find nothing about Debin and Jones. Potoker was recognizable to me as a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, and part of a Charlie Shavers date (1946) for Vogue on its short-lived picture record line. But the first record date I found for him was in 1945. Russ Case was famous — an early Goodman trumpeter, someone appearing with Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters, and Trumbauer. Most intriguing was this early appearance by guitarist Art or Artie Ryerson, explicated by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi: Artie staking his claim as perhaps one of the first US guitarists to show an explicit Django influence! Ryerson told my friend (and journalist) Jim Carlton that he heard Django on record in 1935 and was influenced by him for the next several years. This, to my ears, is proof of that claim. Ryerson elsewhere in the interview was pretty good with dates by the way – even if he is off by a year or so (which he may very well be based on the research I’ve done around Django’s US record releases), that still gives him ample time to absorb the influence by the time of the recording in question. And who else WAS showing a Django influence in the USA on record in February 1938?
Luigi Lucaccini pointed the way to this gem:
and Javier Soria Laso added more delightful evidence:
These sides are hidden gems in the best pop-songs-swung Thirties tradition. Yes, Evans was more confident on the later sides (or was it Victor’s microphone setup?) but the instrumentalists are splendid; the ocarina solos are delightful — not jokey at all — and the overall effect is polished and homespun at once. And we remember that these three pop tunes were classics in their own way — more memorably recorded, perhaps, by Mildred and Maxine, but touching. I am especially fond of Leo Robin’s wry-mounful lyrics to MEMORY, so true and witty at once; his niece told me a few years ago in conversation that the narrative came from her uncle’s very real heartbreak, and the genuineness comes through in every turn of phrase.
I decided to look deeper on my own and found the two remaining sides from the 1938 date, surprising myself.
A SHACK IN THE BACK OF THE HILLS:
If I’d heard any of those sides coming out of a record store speaker or jukebox, I would have been entranced, As I am now. And the gentlemen of the ensemble play so sweetly and easily.
And by the way, if you want what Germans call “the thing in itself,” a reputable eBay seller has the 78 of MOMENTS LIKE THIS and PLEASE BE KIND for sale — $25.00 plus 8.63 shipping) here.
Thanks again for kind erudite diligence, Luigi, Javier, and Nick.
I admit that my title may seem over-detailed. But take those details with some whimsy, and I will explain. Of course, impatient or eager readers may skip right to the video and return or not. Having retired from what was called “college teaching,” I no longer take attendance. But here are the principal players.
Menno Daams (cornet, trumpet, compositions, arrangements) is a brilliant friend and musical hero, someone balancing taste, wit, bravura, and subtlety in all his musical endeavors. When last seen, he was playing brilliantly at this year’s Ascona Jazz Festival.
Pianist, composer, arranger, singer Alexander Hill, alas, lived a truly intense and truncated life — one of those driven geniuses who didn’t seem to sleep and whose bright spark flickered out at 30. Tuberculosis was the culprit or perhaps he was one of those people meant to cram several lifetimes of art and work into one short span.
I attended the Whitley Bay Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2016, as a jazz enthusiast, blogger, and videographer . . . and in that last capacity I posted almost 450 videos of bands large and small, formal and informal, and a variety of singers. Exhausting but joyous work and you can see the results of my “swingyoucats” YouTube channel.
Certain managerial decisions made it first difficult, then impossible for me to continue, and I haven’t been back. Others have taken on my role, and I now have the perhaps odd luxury of watching their videos from my computer. But that is another novella entirely.
One of the delights of the weekend was the opportunity to watch and record bands rehearsing in the morning and afternoon — large combinations of musicians who didn’t play together, reading manuscripts — reading charts for the first time, stopping and starting. No one told me to leave (bless you, heroes) and once in a great while the rehearsals, unbuttoned and playful, surpassed the evening’s “concert” performance. An example you can find on YouTube is my capture of the rehearsal by a Bent Persson group of CAFE CAPERS. And this: Menno Daams’ International Serenaders paying tribute to Alex Hill by performing his spiritual, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.
Menno had granted me permission to post the video, which I did in 2019. Recently, as a delightful surprise, he reposted it with the musical information rolling along above the image. You can call it the “director’s cut” or the “DVD version with special enhanced features.” Call it what you will, but it’s lovely.
I confess to a didactic-emotional-spiritual purpose of mine. The band sounds so good, and the enhanced version is such a work of art, that it bothers me how few people have seen this: fewer than 200 took in the first posting (three years ago) and fewer than 70 have seen this version. People! This will make you sit up straight in your chairs: it will spark joy for free. (Take that, Marie Kondo.)
I bow to Menno, to Alex, and to this great band. Thank you for letting me visit, thank you for certain.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, some dazzling sonic evidence. McKenna plays Ellington:
and then he becomes a cosmically swinging GPS, guiding us through STREETS:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!:
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.
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’mreally 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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.