Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

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

First, an appropriate soundtrack:

and:

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, some photographs of non-musical realities.

Charming everyday life, perhaps a Sunday outing in spring?

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy “Coles,” working for Cab Calloway.

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

DAVE TOUGH AND FRIENDS AT CARNEGIE HALL: CHARLIE VENTURA, BILL HARRIS, RALPH BURNS, BILL DeARANGO, CURLY RUSSELL (April 5, 1947)

Here’s some extraordinary music that doesn’t often get shared, and it affords us opportunities to hear the singular percussionist Dave Tough late in his life playing the music he most preferred then. The occasion was a concert apparently produced (and recorded) by Leonard Feather, with the tapes sold to Norman Granz for issue on his Norgran label. This was a 12″ lp, and then issued on CD as filler material for Verve’s optimistically-named THE COMPLETE JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC ON VERVE, a ten-disc set. Another portion of the concert has Sidney Catlett playing drums: material for a future posting.

Some mysteries accompany this issue: no one has yet documented all the music played that evening: there has to have been more than thirty-six minutes. The record sleeve mis-identifies Dave as playing (JUST YOU, JUST ME) when it is audibly Sidney. And it is difficult to ascertain the order of performance. But perhaps there is a jazz Hercule Poirot who can solve these mysteries. For now, let us hear Dave in the company of Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Ralph Burns, piano; Bill DeArango, guitar; Curly Russell, string bass.

Here’s CHARACTERISTICALLY B.H., for the wonderfully versatile Harris:

and RALPH BURNS UP, by Ralph, Curly, and Dave:

finally, Ventura rhapsodizing on one of the great tenor sax ballads:

More to come, with Sidney and friends. Thanks to Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn for their erudite assistance with this music.

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD and ASSOCIATES on the RADIO (WJZ, Blue Network, December 13, 1944)

What follows is a few seconds less than eight minutes, so you could be forgiven for thinking it a crumb, a scrap — especially in our times of unlimited streaming, box sets with hours of music, and more. But as you’ll hear, it is testimony to the Elders’ ability to fill small spaces brimful with memorable, varied sounds. My guess is that trumpeter Billy and colleagues were on staff at the Blue Network (ask someone venerable what that means in radio-lingo . . . this predates FM) and this little program was a brief scheduled interlude, something to look forward to on Wednesdays. But it’s clearly not impromptu: there’s a theme, a pop song, a ballad, a “Dixieland classic,” (faded out for time) — quite a large portion of music packed in tightly.

And let us say a word about Mr. Butterfield, someone not often given his proper due, overshadowed by more showy brassmen, perhaps, and not an “entertainer,” rather, a shy man who wanted to play but not to talk. But when Bobby Hackett was asked in an early Seventies interview to name his favorite current trumpeter (admittedly a question many would have sidestepped) he named Billy. THAT, to me, says so much. And this group is so stylish yet also so profound. Sleek but not slick, and versatile beyond praise.

The Billy Butterfield Septet (all “characters,” as the announcer states) offer an opening theme / GAL FROM NOGALES / MAYBE / SATANIC BLUES. I’ve identified the players by ear and by reasonable assumptions: possibly Bill Stegmeyer, clarinet, arrangements; Hymie Schertzer, alto saxophone; Deane Kincaide, baritone saxophone, arrangements; Vernon Brown, trombone; Dave Bowman, piano; Bob Haggart, string bass; George Wettling, drums:

If any reader has a large collection of these Wednesday interludes, or knows more about the personnel than I do, please step forward. This lovely offering came from the collection of my dear friend John L. Fell, about thirty years ago, but it stood alone. As I’ve said before, imagine these beauties coming out of the radio speaker . . . . nectar for the ears. And thank goodness someone had the wisdom to preserve this one. . . a brief but intense bouquet from musicians both professional and inspired.

This one’s for Judi, Debbie, Clyde, Pat, and their families.

May your happiness increase!

WHO KILLED HISTORY?

I first wanted to call this post THE DEATH OF HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, but that title, although accurate, seemed too ponderous to be chewed and swallowed. So the BBC-mystery title shall stand. And the blank tombstone.

Maybe it’s collective amnesia, but can people forget what they never acknowledged to begin with?

What do I mean?

I have a large collection of photographs, and I found an extra one of a famous musician, an 8 x 10″ glossy with him in playing position, which I brought with me to a gig led by a then young artist who shone on the same instrument, someone of great promise. I gave him the photo, he looked at it, then at me, and said, “Who is that?” I confess that my first stifled reaction was annoyance, but I didn’t succumb; I didn’t rip it out of his hands. I identified the famous subject, and said, “Would you like it?” and he gratefully said he would.

That’s an extreme case. Is it innocence, shallow awareness, or something more?

But I’ve gotten into conversations with musicians I admire deeply, and bringing up some perhaps obscure name of a player on their instrument, the reaction is often a faraway look, with some embarrassment, and “Ohhhhhh. _______________. I’ve heard of them before, but never had the time to really investigate. Are they good?” And I think to myself, “You are a wonderful artist, but you haven’t put in the time studying the art as it exists and existed beyond your own mouthpiece, or fingers . . . ” It’s not limited to archaeology, for I’ve met North American musicians who live on one coast who are ignorant of great contemporaries on the other.

Now, these may be the rare exceptions, because I have met enough deep musicians who can discourse at length about the Ancestors: Mildred Bailey, Gene Krupa, Ben Pollack, Mouse Randolph, Pete Brown, Tiny Parham, Bernard Addison, and three dozen more. But when I meet this sort of sweet obliviousness, this easy acceptance of ignorance, it makes me cringe and then wonder. Where I come from. a lack of curiosity is a moral problem.

(I won’t linger on those who believe anything before Coltrane isn’t worth listening to, or those who “can’t hear” anything recorded before KIND OF BLUE because it’s so “primitive” and the sound is so poor. Their loss. Their substantial loss.)

You can say, “Well, these young cats are busy honing their craft, making a living, hustling from gig to gig. They don’t have the leisure time you do, Michael, to study the oeuvre of Frank Chace,” and you’d be right. But there is an odd technological twist to this situation: when I was a boy, I didn’t have to walk miles through the snow, barefoot, but much of the recorded history of jazz was not easily accessible to me. But I listened to as much as I could — from records I bought, from the local library’s collection, from FM radio. I learned as much as I could from books and liner notes. There was no Facebook; I didn’t start to have a jazz community of people who leaned as I did until I was almost out of high school.

Given YouTube and Spotify, and other digital resources, if a young pianist wants to hear nearly everything Teddy Wilson, let us, say, ever recorded, she has only to make sure her iPhone is charged and her airbuds in peak condition. I purl though YouTube some days and am open-mouthed at the rarities now easily available. The cornucopia is overflowing for those who are curious, eager to learn more about the art by which they define themselves.

I am reluctant to call this willful self-absorption, but some centuries ago, you couldn’t begin to call yourself A Poet if you hadn’t memorized, imitated, improvised on, analyzed the great works of the past. Serious study was your ticket of admission to the guild of craftspeople. If you wanted to be play cello in a string quartet, you had to have a deep immersion — practice and theory — in Haydn, Mozart, and the Elders. I never taught Creative Writing, but I have friends who do, and when students introduce themselves, “I’m five hundred pages into my novel,” and the question is asked, “What are you reading?” and the answer is either a blank stare or perhaps one contemporary author. Austen, Woolf, Joyce, Faulkner — new phone, who dis? Imagine an aspiring modernist painter who has never seen Kandinsky. Then imagine a young tenor saxophonist to whom the names Harold Ashby and Tubby Hayes are just names.

I wonder how an alto saxophonist can say, “Hey, I practice eight hours a day from the REAL BOOK, and I’m working on my own conception,” but never have heard Hodges, Carter, Pete Brown, Hilton Jefferson, to name four Ancestors. Yes, most modern jazz players know their Trane and Miles, but beyond that . . . ? (We can of course blame Jazz Studies programs in universities that begin in 1945, but they are too easy a target.)

I mentioned Frank Chace before, and when I asked him about his youthful immersion in the music, I said, “In 1954, did you also listen to Lee Konitz?” and his answer was an immediate, “We listened to everything. We thought that was a musician’s job.”

In recent years, I might meet a young pianist deeply immersed in Bud Powell, which is of course admirable. But when I ask, “Hey, have you heard Nat Cole, Billy Kyle, Kenny Kersey, Clyde Hart?” and the answer is “Who?” I have to say, “They are where Bud came from, pianists he heard.” “Oh.”

The musicians I’ve depicted (or you may think, slandered) above are myopic but they can be helped: no twelve-step program is needed. You’re a young trombonist and you’ve never heard of Bill Harris? Here’s five minutes of convincing . . . and curiosity takes over. Conversion isn’t the desired end, but education is.

But when I consider how this myopia has undermined the listening audience, I get even more depressed. I won’t even bother to invent fanciful names for imaginary bands (although I toyed with The Too-Tight Polo Shirt Collective and The Birkenstock Buskers for a moment) but I will just call them all SFB, for Someone’s Favorite Band.

So a fan I encounter after a festival set which includes some too-hasty Jelly Roll Morton compositions, complete with long drum solos, comes to me ecstatic, saying, “Wasn’t that wonderful?!” and I politely but sourly say, “They really made a mess of SHREVEPORT STOMP,” and I get what is casually called “the fish-eye,” but I continue. “Do you know that song? Have you ever heard the original version? Do you know the Morton trios, James Dapogny’s recordings, or the Bob Wilber versions?” and the fan is already starting to back up, appalled by pedantry. I imagine myself shouting down the corridor, “Omer Simeon! Barney Bigard! Tommy Benford!” as the traumatized fan runs off and calls for Security.

Or, even more prevalent, the fan wearing the SFB shirt and giving the secret SFB handshake applauds a rendition of some obscure jazz classic made rustic, the melody flattened, some important chord changes missed, and the verdict is, “They are the greatest band I’ve ever heard!” which may be true, simply because the ecstatic listener has heard no one else. Who’s Clarence Williams? Who’s Floyd Casey?

You may call my perspective a snobbish one, but it is as if (for readers who eat cheese), “Manchego? Brie? What’s that? Nothing’s better than Cheez Whiz in a can.” Go to it, I think. But I am declining any dinner invitations from you, no matter how nice you are.

And perhaps the fans feel that SFB is “keeping the music alive,” and if you count the millions of YouTube visits to videos by Someone’s Favorite Band, perhaps they are. But if the fans of SFB will only follow them, because they are The Truth, other worthy and more worthy bands go under for lack of gigs. The fan base becomes intensely narrow . . . and you cannot build a tall building on an upended plastic cup.

Years ago I might have despaired because I couldn’t hear the Ellington Fargo 1940 dance date. Now I can hear it whenever I want, and I despair because other people haven’t taken the time to hear it. Devoted fans. Eminent musicians.

Those who ignore history may not be condemned to repeat it. But if people don’t descend deeply into the art form they say they love, they are cutting off its air and are missing out on breathtaking creations. It’s all spread out on the cyber-table. But one has to start one’s own investigation, and see a reason to do so.

May your happiness increase!

“LIVE AND LIVELY” (Part Three): BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, LOU FORESTIERI, FRANKLIN SKEETE, GEORGE HAMILTON (Detroit, August 30, 1969) — and MR. HACKETT MEETS MR. SHAVERS (CBS-TV, New York City, July 27, 1968)

This is the third segment of music broadcast from “Cabaret La Boheme,” atop Detroit’s Hotel Ponchartrain, featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet-trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Lou Forestieri, piano; Franklin Skeete, string bass; George Hamilton, drums. I’ve been able to present two one-hour live programs (with commercials edited out, I assume) first preserved by Jim Taylor.

First, the end of the August 30 broadcast, with two songs from the Great American Songbook and two jazz classics, then a program broadcast on CBS-TV, “Dial ‘M’ for Music,” hosted by Father Norman J. O’Connor, and featuring Bobby and Charlie Shavers — two players who crossed paths thirty years earlier. The music is superb, the little snippets of talk revealing and genuine. But two small mysteries remain: why weren’t Bobby and Charlie encouraged to play more duets? And I have no information about the three-piece rhythm section, which could have been Bobby’s at the time or Charlie’s (Ray and Tommy Bryant, Oliver Jackson) or studio musicians. But the music is a find: perhaps some of my readers saw this program live on CBS?

Bobby and Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Franklin Skeete, George Hamilton in Detroit: THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (Vic) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / SPEAK LOW / BOURBON STREET PARADE // Bobby and Charlie Shavers, rhythm section unidentified: CBS-TV, “DIAL M FOR MUSIC” – Father Norman J. O’Connor, host: BLUES (BH-CS) / SAVOY (BH) / SWING THAT MUSIC (BH) / ST. LOUIS BLUES (CS) / NATURE BOY (CS) / INDIANA (CS, vocal) / Charlie and Bobby talk / UNDECIDED (BH) / BERNIE’S TUNE (BH-CS) //

Thank goodness for people with tape recorders and other such contrivances; thank goodness for the musicians who create beauty that never ages.

And just because I never see such things, here’s Charlie’s autograph from 1953, presumably from a JATP tour:

May your happiness increase!

GETTING HOT IN THE PARK: EDDIE CONDON and FRIENDS in CENTRAL PARK, NEW YORK CITY, 1945: BOBBY HACKETT, BUCK CLAYTON, JAMES P. JOHNSON, HARRY CARNEY, SIDNEY CATLETT, VERNON BROWN, JOE DIXON, HANK D’AMICO, GENE SCHROEDER, BOB HAGGART, JOE GRAUSO (thanks to the Voice of America)

This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.

My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.

But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.

Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:

Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —

LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.

IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //

I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.

If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.

Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.

This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.

May your happiness increase!

“THE COMPLETE LIPSKIN RECORDINGS OF DONALD LAMBERT,” ALMOST AN HOUR OF CONCENTRATED DELIGHT, AND MORE . . .

To me — and I am not alone — Donald Lambert is one of the most fascinating and elusive figures in jazz.

Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.

A stride pianist of legendary inventiveness, he recorded little that was issued commercially in his lifetime, yet if you were living in or close to New Jersey, the Lamb (“the Jersey Rocket,” “the Lamb of God”) was playing regularly in Wallace’s Tavern for a number of years. I am very fortunate in that I have been able to add to the knowledge of Lambert — if you search his name on JAZZ LIVES you will find videos of him at the Newport Jazz Festival, an issue of a specialist newspaper devoted to his life and music, and endearing first-hand recollections of him by “his drummer,” my friend Howard Kadison. (I am not putting those posts in the foreground here, because I don’t want to take attention away from the marvels that follow.)

But, as they say, wonders never cease. In the last twenty-four hours, I have met the scholar of this music Sterling J. Mosher III, who goes by “Sugar Bear Mosher” on YouTube — subscribe to his channel for more delights. Facebook can be a lurid annoyance, but I found myself in a discussion of materials pertaining to Lambert — a discussion involving, among others, Robert Pinsker, Mark Borowsky, Sterling, and the ever-surprising Mike Lipskin, pianist and on-the-scene witness and participant. And in the world of music “criticism” and music “collectors,” how lovely to see adults working generously towards the common end. In harmony, you might say.

If you think this trail of words is leading up to something, you’re correct.

How about nearly an hour of Lambert, solo, playing what he liked to play, music whose existence had been known but that hadn’t been easily audible? Here ‘t’is, as Fats occasionally said.

I don’t yet know the exact date(s) of these recordings, nor the medium with which they were preserved (standard recording tape of the time, circa 1960-61, or wire recordings — they do not have the audio artifacts of disc recordings), nor the circumstances under which Mike created them. But those bits of essential information will surface. Right now we have the MUSIC, and it is so refreshing, vigorous, and personally idiosyncratic that it is a treasure, a little world unto itself. The piano is no one’s Bosendorfer, but its sound is not abusive. And we hear Lambert storming through uptempo fireworks displays, ruminating on rhythm ballads and popular songs, striding the classics, playing two songs at once, and more. He’s having fun — there are many well-executed musical in-jokes — and he always swings.

It is as if a door to the past, one that we hoped for but didn’t dare to imagine, swung open, inviting us in, and urging us to make ourselves welcome by the piano for just under an hour.

Here is Sterling’s introduction and a list of the songs Lambert played:

Special Thanks To my good friend, “Uncle” Mike Lipskin for making these recordings of Donald Lambert. Also special thanks to an equally good friend, Robert Pinsker for his aid in making this happen. A few of them are choppy near the beginning or end (Marked as partial in time stamps), and a couple have some damaged portions with no sound. All in all, these are a treasure and have only been heard until this moment likely by a handful of ears. Mike, we appreciate you so much for doing this back in the day and allowing us to release it publicly for ease of access. (Pardon the misspelling of Oscar MICHEAUX)

00:00 Tenderly (Partial) 01:14 I Know That You Know (Partial) 02:34 Sweet Lorraine (Partial) 04:02 Hallelujah (Damaged) 06:11 Harlem Strut (Partial, sounds like a hint at On Green Dolphin Street for the start!) 07:53 Carolina Shout (Partial) 10:26 Tea for Two 13:31 The Bells of St. Mary’s (Partial) 15:42 “Meditation” intermezzo from the opera “Thaïs” by Massanet 16:52 Elegie (Partial, amazing to hear another recording of this! Sounds as hot as the 1941 recording) 19:28 Twelfth Street Rag 21:36 Blue Lou 23:46 St. James Infirmary 25:07 Honeysuckle Rose 27:17 Keep Your Temper (Hold Your Temper) 29:32 Love Me Or Leave Me 31:58 Tea For Two (Partial, damaged) 33:04 Limehouse Blues (Really HOT!!!) 34:27 Jitterbug Waltz (EASILY competes with Fats’s recordings! Truly beautiful.) 37:26 Hallelujah (Partial) 40:21 Moonglow 42:26 Overnight (This is now the third known recording by The Lamb. Louis Mazetier and Federico Insoli are star performers of this early 1930s song, influenced by The Jersey Rocket himself. Listen to the last few chorus lines, especially at 44:58! Absolutely incredible how he plays with that rolling style) 45:47 Liza 48:48 Love Nest 51:50 Golden Wedding (A true Lambert knock out!)

And while you and I were sleeping, Sterling added this gem, a 1960 performance of CHINA BOY — Lambert among hot players, their names perhaps lost to history:

and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the same or similar group of energetic homegrown players:

As if that were not enough, here is another trove of Lambert — the complete 1949 Circle recordings, unissued at the time, thanks to Mark Borowsky:

00:00 Golden Earrings 03:12 Overnight 06:18 Blue Waltz 09:23 Harlem Strut 12:08 Tea For Two 15:10 Russian Lullaby 18:25 Lullaby In Rhythm 21:24 Liza

This is the second time this week I have been absolutely speechless.

Sterling assures me that much more previously unheard Lambert is waiting in the wings for us . . . . astonishing. Blessings on the Lamb and his friends who keep his sound alive. Lambert’s gravestone is here to remind us that our temporal lives are finite, but what we create lives on — in his case, so splendidly.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT’S SO PRETTY!”

My thoughtful friend Richard Salvucci introduced me to the Fifties recordings of pianist / arranger Elliot Lawrence and his big band, and I am entranced by them.

My delight surprised me: I ordinarily lean towards small groups with vivid solo improvisations. Years ago, I would have scoffed at this music as “Easy Listening,” “bland pop,” “businessman’s bounce,” played by a “society orchestra.” But this innocent-looking Decca session of songs associated with college life and college dances, merits more than a reflex dismissal. The collective personnel for these 1950-51 sessions is (more or less): Joe Techner, John Dee, Gerry LaFuru, trumpets; Rob Swope, Earl Swope, Ollie Wilson, trombone; Bill Danzien, French horn; Mike Goldberg, Buddy Savitt, Al Steele, Merle Bredwell, reeds; Elliot Lawrence, piano; Mert Oliver, string bass; Howie Mann, drums; Rosalind Patton, vocal.

Possibly JAZZ LIVES’ readers know of Elliot Lawrence because of his more famous Fantasy sessions devoted to Gerry Mulligan arrangements, or his work on many different transcriptions, but his very appealing music stands on its own. I present some for your pleasure.

Those who live for the next solo might be disappointed, for this is an orchestra more than a showcase for soloists: the shifting textures and voicings are so attractive. This is a well-rehearsed, highly professional group playing compact, deft arrangements — in time, in tune, with fine intonation. The band is subtle: it doesn’t get loud or strain for effect. Rosalind Patton was never famous, but her charming voice is eloquent in its restraint. She does everything right. (Alas, she was a chain smoker who died at 63 in 1985.) Even the choral arrangements on a few tunes — not my favorite thing — do no harm.

Listen for yourself, and listen to this half-hour for its splendid understated musicianship:

Here’s another example:

And something perhaps out of the ordinary, a 1948 “cowboy song,” that I wanted to hear again:

I am aware that some of my readers may have left the room, in search of more brightly-colored sensations. But there is something larger than my new fondness for the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra here.

“Jazz fans” and “jazz critics,” for the most part, privilege rhythmically-charged improvisation. “That‘s jazz,” they say. If a recording doesn’t have those qualities, it’s “sweet” or “popular,” and thus it is less worthy. But eager listeners have not always been ideologically-driven fans or critics. I would wager that dancers enjoying Henderson or Goldkette at Roseland, Oliver at the Lincoln or Royal Gardens, the parade of bands at Harlem ballrooms, enjoyed the music . . . if Goldkette played VALENCIA in 6/8 or Henderson played a waltz, those who could dance, danced to it. And records of well-played music caught the ear, and sold.

But divisiveness crept in — in the guise of “authenticity.” “Sweet” was for the older generation, the parents and grandparents who didn’t understand, were ancient, they couldn’t hear “the new music.” And for the self-defined jazz cognoscenti who truly “knew,” the real thing was of course “hot.” It was Louis on I MISS MY SWISS, Bubber on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?, or Bix on SWEET SUE.

It was a commonplace that you could find one of those discs with the hot chorus worn grey through repeated playing and the rest of the record shiny, nearly pristine. But the received wisdom was that people who preferred the “sweet” orchestra as well as the “hot” chorus lacked discrimination. Probably they didn’t even know the difference between Jack Purvis and young Bunny Berigan. Unthinkable!

Thanks to Richard Vacca and his BOSTON JAZZ CHRONICLES, I just saw a wonderful handbill advertising Frank Newton’s band at the KEN club in Boston, 1943: here. What struck me was the guarantee of authenticity to entice an audience: “They [the band] never blew a schmaltzy note in their lives.”

And from this sometimes snobbish hierarchy of what was worthy and what was not, a fascinating and perhaps perverse value system solidified. It was sometimes organized along racial lines: Andy Kirk’s band playing a Mary Lou Williams arrangement was “real”; if a White band played the same chart well, it was an aberration. Or it was “commercial.” The divisiveness could be read along Marxist lines as well: White musicians were imitators; White bandleaders were capitalist oppressors; Black musicians were original; Black bandleaders suffered because of White popularizers. Bessie Smith was genuine; Mildred Bailey a good pop singer. Real musicians suffered and died young; if you lived a long life without trauma, how authentic were you?

The musicians themselves were not reading these books and articles, and they were hanging out with their friends at the Union or the Copper Rail. Maybe they were jealous of X for getting that good gig, but in general they knew that music, well-played, was beautiful, and that it took as much skill to read a complicated chart as it did to stand up and create a hot chorus.

These arbitrary distinctions affected an audience that had never read Panassie or Hammond, as public taste changed over years and decades. Some “new art” aims to shock the bourgeoisie. If your mother likes your new record, there must be something wrong with it. It can’t be “cutting-edge” or “innovative.” People might whisper that you spent New Year’s Eve watching Guy Lombardo with your family. How very uncool.

But when did “pretty” music lose its value? Was it at the height of the Swing Era, where a “killer-diller” was seen as superior to a pretty ballad? Did the rise of a more abstract jazz in later decades set up a value system where if you could hum it or dance to it, it wasn’t worth study and emulation? Was “pretty” for squares too limited to understand Miles? Should we blame Wynonie Harris, or Elvis? Or the hauteur of modern art in general — I think of Eliot and THE WASTE LAND or late Joyce — consciously closing the door on the “average” reader, proposing a much smaller, more arrogantly erudite audience?

All I know is that when Richard Salvucci sent me music by Elliott Lawrence, my first reaction was, “That’s so pretty!” And “pretty” was not in any way condescending.

Here’s another illustration of the same principle, in the singing of Nat King Cole. He was an astonishing and influential pianist, but I know some people who say “He should have stuck to the piano!” in the tones one uses for traitors.

Consider this — one of the most beautiful expressions of expert art and deep feeling I know of:

His voice; his acting; his idiosyncratic rubato phrasing — those hesitations and accelerations — beyond words. For once, I am not obsessing about the people who “disliked” the YouTube video. Let them find their own pleasures, far from me.

But I am sure some readers of JAZZ LIVES will say, “That’s very nice, but it’s just pretty,” denying its sublime mastery. Imagine a modern trumpeter playing what Nat sings, if it were possible: would we not be awestruck? But he was “such a success,” “a great popular singer,” appealing to the unsophisticated masses, so perhaps some undervalue that performance.

And here’s a final illustration, dear to me for years. There’s no hot solo; the orchestral background is reverent, not raucous, but it is one of the most convincing pieces of art I know:

Here’s my mission statement. There should be some place in art for work that does not leap out of the closet and scare the viewer, some place for beauty that seems so very simple. Here one can quote Thelonious Monk or Aubrey Beardsley: I would rather that readers listen again to Elliot Lawrence and Nat Cole and Louis, and re-examine their own internalized value systems, give them a good shake to see if there’s any validity there or just a set of unexamined, now limited, beliefs.

I won’t enter into the squabble over whether the music I’ve presented is or isn’t jazz. I don’t care about those air-tight compartments with their neat labels. But these performances are frankly beautiful, and I will brook no disagreement.

It could be that “pretty music,” even “schmaltz,” varieties of “decorative art,” that touch hearts, that pleases a large amount of people, has more merit than we ever afford it.

May your happiness increase!


NEVER BEFORE, NEVER AGAIN: BOBBY HACKETT and JACK GARDNER (February 15, 1945)

These performances are legendary and rare — sterling duets by Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet, and Jack Gardner, piano, rollicking telepathic improvisation. The date is approximate, but they were recorded in Chicago by John Steiner. Late in 1944, Bobby had joined the Casa Loma Orchestra, so this would have been like playing exalted hooky, especially with the barrelhouse joys provided by Jack — fun and frolic reminiscent of WEATHER BIRD.

My cassette copies came from the late Bob Hilbert and Roy Bower, and I am indebted to Sonny McGown for his educated commentary on these pearls.

The song is I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL, and there are three versions, presented here in possibly arbitrary order — they may be reversed in terms of actual performances. And they might need speed-correction, but my technical expertise stops at that door.

Take X: two duet choruses, two piano choruses (suspensions in second), chorus of trading phrases, duet chorus. Time: 4:12

Take Y: (rehearsal?) one duet chorus, two piano choruses, Gardner starts a third and then they go to duet, two duet choruses. Time: 3:48

Take Z: (second rehearsal?) one duet chorus, one piano chorus, two duet choruses with Hackett overblowing Time 3:00.

And here, thanks to Sonny McGown, is another acetate version of take X:

This sweet offering is for Charles Iselin, Rob Rothberg, Marc Caparone, John Ochs, and everyone else who holds Bobby Hackett in the highest esteem. . . . and those enlightened types who value Jack Gardner as well. I suggest repeated reverent listenings to this music, both raucous and ethereal.

May your happiness increase!

“PHOTO OF UNKNOWN MAN WITH BANJO” and “CREATORS OF JAZZ AND DIXIE LAND MUSIC”

Given the sorrow created by the deaths of John Sheridan and Phil Schaap, I felt the need for a different kind of post.

Todd Bryant Weeks, author of the fine biography of Hot Lips Page, LUCK’S IN MY CORNER, sent me the unidentified photograph below. He told me that the sender was a high school friend. “The face looked familiar and I thought he was quizzing me… But in fact it is from an old family scrapbook, and the owner of the scrapbook has passed away recently.” Todd added, “There is little or nothing to go on. The photograph was likely taken between 1950 and 1965 and may well have been taken in Massachusetts, possibly on the campus of Amherst College. The owner of the scrapbook is now deceased and his memory of the photograph was not clear enough to remember the time nor the location.”

Todd thought — and I hope — that some JAZZ LIVES readers might recognize this genial fellow. But beware: not everyone is or was famous.

See below! for a lovely answer to the question, provided by the wise Youngblood Colin Hancock, who knows.

And this just in, from eBay:

I can find nothing on either band.

The two pieces of tantalizing ephemera just remind me of a line from HAMLET: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your Jazz History books.”

Or, more seriously, there are always people playing and singing — documented only by a snapshot or perhaps as “Harlem’s Snappiest Night Club Entertainers,” than the books can contain. And that, whether at this distance or just two weeks ago, seems a wonderful thing, that the energetic music we cherish is overflowing its banks all the time, even if Ralph Peer of Victor wasn’t there to offer those bands a contract or no one can recall the banjoist’s name.

Here’s what Colin says about the happy man with the banjo:

The last addition to the Blue Ribbon Syncopators was banjoist Robert ‘Gil’ Roberts. Born on April 5, 1896 in Amherst, MA, he was a descendant of a prominent Black Massachusetts family that had fought in the Civil War as members of the legendary 5th Massachusetts Cavalry, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and Connecticut 29th Colored Infantry. Roberts took up the banjo at a young age, and eventually found his way to Buffalo’s North side where he met George West and joined the Blue Ribbons. He performed with them on all of their recordings for both Okeh and Columbia. He left the band in 1928, eventually travelling to Europe with “Eubie Blake’s Blackbirds” in the early 1930s. He later went on to perform with Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, before settling in Boston, then his hometown of Amherst, MA. He lived there working around Amherst College as a handyman, but also serving as a guardian to the limited number of African-American students at the school. He also was an honorary member of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, performing with them for many years. He lived to be 106, passing away peacefully on October 6, 2002.

Roberts was more than a man with a banjo. Take the time to read this, please:

https://www.amherst.edu/amherst-story/magazine/issues/2012spring/insights/node/398112?fbclid=IwAR1sAFMUkc1X0iesq3nFAkD4VsqMCZrT78-nL1p3k-WsBoUeThJnCYy-X-4

May your happiness increase!

HOT SOUNDS IN ILLINOIS (1939-1950): GEORGE BARNES, BOYCE BROWN, JIMMY McPARTLAND, BUD FREEMAN, ROSY McHARGUE, TUT SOPER, JOHNNY WINDHURST, MIFF MOLE, DARNELL HOWARD, DON EWELL, JOE RUSHTON, SQUIRREL ASHCRAFT, JACK GOSS, BUD WILSON

What follows is what I would call a Hot Jazz Mixtape — forty minutes of unissued performances, their provenance a matter of informed guesswork — that serves as an aural tour of Red Hot Chicago, 1939-50, combining club and living room music.

I was “trading tapes” with fellow collectors from the mid-1970s, and that usually consisted of in-person handoffs, “You recorded X last week? I’d love a copy of that!” “Sure, if you will copy your 78 acetate of A and B for me.” There was a good deal of finger-to-the-lips secrecy; some tapes had DO NOT COPY written on them in red or orange crayon — prohibitions we promptly violated, because it was important that a friend hear the new treasure. I would like to think that I and my fellow scoundrels did some good in making music heard, and we were busily buying records and compact discs, so we absolved ourselves of the crime, “Your cassettes are cutting into my sales!” The accusing ghost of Frank Newton never appeared in my bedroom to upbraid me, which I am thankful for.

The music that follows was sent to me by that rare person, a woman jazz collector, whose name I will keep unwritten; her tapes were annotated in pretty cursive, often with strips of paper — coarse-grained and narrow — of the kind most often seen as cash register tape or court reporters’ paper. This tape was labeled PRIVATE CHICAGO, and I have copied down all the information she supplied below.

Here’s the skeletal listing, with commentary to follow.

LADY BE GOOD / TIN ROOF BLUES Miff Mole, trombone; Darnell Howard, clarinet; Don Ewell, piano; unidentified drummer. Jazz Ltd., 1949

BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC Johnny Windhurst, trumpet; Jack Gardner, piano; others 1950

SUNDAY Bill Priestley, cornet; Bud WIlson, trombone; Squirrel Ashcraft, piano, others

BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Joe Rushton, bass saxophone; Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, guitar

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME McPartland, Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Rosy McHargue, clarinet; Joe Rushton 1939

TUT STOMPS THE BLUES Boyce Brown, alto; Tut Soper, piano; Jack Goss, guitar 1945

LADY BE GOOD McPartland, Boyce, Rosy McHargue 1939 (incomplete)

SWEET LORRAINE George Barnes, electric guitar 1940

But a few explications. The Miff-Darnell-Ewell band was a regular working unit; the drummer might be Booker T. Washington or someone remembered by Marty Grosz as “Pork Chops.” The performances that follow are most likely recordings made at the Evanston, Illinois house of Squirrel Ashcraft, and some of them may have been issued on the MORE INFORMAL SESSIONS record label — Hank O’Neal’s project — but I gather that there were certain songs the musicians liked to jam on, so that there might be multiple versions of BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND, Jimmy McPartland’s tribute to the land of his people; Bud Freeman would play ADVANTAGE where and whenever. TUT STOMPS THE BLUES might come from a gig recording from a Chicago hotel. There are wonderful glimpses of my heroes Windhurst, Gardner, Soper, and the magnificently elusive Boyce Brown. But for me, the treasure is the concluding SWEET LORRAINE, featuring a nineteen-year old George Barnes, already dazzling.

For more from and about the young George Barnes — masterful even in his teens — visit here — and enjoy this:

To learn more about George, hear more, and purchase some of his invigorating music, visit https://georgebarneslegacy.com/.

I hope you enjoyed the aural travelogue of Hot, Chicago-style. And if you follow your ears to any of the players above, so much the better.

May your happiness increase!

HOW DOES IT SOUND TO YOU?

I was always suspicious of the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests — which now may be ancient history — where a famous musician was played records with no knowledge given about the performers or the circumstances, and their reactions were then printed, along with the star-ratings DOWN BEAT thrived on. Depending on their temperaments, some musicians were highly negative or consistently enthusiastic, severe or gracious. But often it became a test of memory and perception: could X recognize who was playing or not? And did they know a great variety of music deeply? So to me they were a quiz show operating in a minefield, sometimes revealing, sometimes disappointing.

But the premise is valid for those who proclaim their knowledge of and love of this music. Not all of us are close listeners, historians, collectors of sounds, connoisseurs. But I think many people have lost the ability to listen — by that, I mean to absorb a panoply of sounds and gestures, to understand them as manifestations of a particular time and place, and to weigh in on them with uncluttered objectivity. (I am not preening myself here because I would probably mis-identify many famous recordings on any Blindfold Test.) But I think many listeners come to music with judgments about it even before they have heard a note, and those judgments come out of perceptions entirely divorced from sound.

I’ve written in other contexts about listeners who listen with their eyes: admiring the attractive woman artist’s body, dress, and makeup as much as they hear her sounds. (These are the listeners who write on YouTube how they would like to take A away for an evening, or how cute B is when she sways while playing.) But there are other dances of perception: assessments based on the musician’s age, race, or ethnicity. Preconceptions and expectations, which we don’t verbalize to ourselves or aloud. And to be fair, some of the visual information offered us has everything to do with marketing, nothing to do with merit. For better or worse, performers are viewed as product to be sold to an audience — the audience who will go to the club, concert, or will buy the music. And I don’t yet know the artist who wants their cover picture on the CD to be a candid shot of them painting the bathroom ceiling.

But the interferences to objectivity are wider and deeper than getting an endorphin kick from the artist’s portrait. For instance, some listeners will turn away from a musical offering if the names are unfamiliar, foreign, thus unknown. “I don’t know that band, and I am a jazz expert for decades, so how good could they be?” And many of us are suspicious of the unknown — the child who won’t eat something because it looks funny — and thus we don’t want to take a chance on sullying our ears.

By the way, I am assuming that all my readers know the Ellington quotation about good and bad music, and the Condon one about how it enters our ears . . . so we can take them as a foundation.

I am most intrigued by the listeners who guide their listening experience by what I am calling Names. Many say, “I’m going to hear BingBong play — I always love them, and I have all their CDs as well as their new t-shirt, and I saw them in person on our last trip to Levittown, New York.” That sort of loyalty is lovely, and no one would mock a band’s strong fan base. But supposing the fan buys BingBong’s new disc and it sounds awful. The co-leaders hate each other; the rhythm section is annoyed at the horns; everyone is tired or overstimulated, etc. How many listeners will say, “I always love BingBong but their last CD was a letdown,” or “They sounded lousy on their closing set?” And let us say BingBong is expert in a particular style — name your passion — if a listener heard another band, unidentified, who played similar music, could the listener a) tell the difference, or b) make valid judgments about which band was more pleasing — without seeing the video, knowing the names, and so on?

I also write this because of the fan-club nature of so much jazz appreciation. Certain musicians have starry-eyed idolators (you could call them Facebook groups if you like) while other, equally or perhaps more gifted musicians get trickles of attention. Empirical evidence? I can post a video on YouTube of an exceptional performance by someone who stays close to home, doesn’t have a powerful internet presence, and it will receive 16 visits in the first day; post an equally compelling video by someone’s “Favorite,” and it will receive a thousand times the attention, and I do not exaggerate. But I wonder if the fans were blindfolded and listening closely without any evidence, they would make the same judgment. Or is it “We always go to the Olive Garden because they have the best Italian food and because we always go to the Olive Garden . . . “?

I would like to think I have trained myself to actually listen: I revered Ruby Braff and saw him in person a good deal, but I thought — after some time — that I could tell when he was happily inspired or grouchily going through the motions. I never saw Ben Webster or Billie Holiday, again, artists I revere, but I could say of a performance, “This is superb,” or “This is tired,” and mean no disrespect to the individuals or their art. But, before I set myself up as a moral-aesthetic authority, I know that if you tell me, “Here’s the new recording by four of your heroes,” I am predisposed to like it — although I am a very severe critic when I am disappointed. While I was writing this blog, I was (finally) playing a CD by a band whose guest star was someone I absolutely delight in, and I was saying to myself, “That’s good, but I have no compulsion to hear it again,” even though the guest star was in evidence.

The large questions — too large for any one post — are, to me: How well do we listen? What do we hear? On what do we base our assessments? Can we actually brush away all the extra-musical accretions and hear what’s there?

P.S. Readers will note my mild tone in the rumination above. So I state clearly that this post is not to attack, but to consider.

May your happiness increase!

“THE UNKNOWN ARV GARRISON: WIZARD OF THE SIX STRING / CLASSIC AND RARE RECORDINGS FROM THE 1940s”

This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.

Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.

Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”

Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:

The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)

But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.

The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)

The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.

The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.

In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.

I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.

You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.

May your happiness increase!

HOLY RELICS: 1. ALBERTON HANSON, MUSIC LOVER (1940-41). 2. MISS WILEY, SIREN.

It’s amazing how tiny relics carry such weight and hint at such stories. Here’s a small collection of autographs for sale (for the moment) on eBay, and the link is here:

If possible, the back sides of these slips of paper — eighty years old — are even more revealing:

I wrote to the seller who promptly and politely told me that Maxwell’s was in St. Joseph’s, Missouri (although a few might be from his father’s move to Los Angeles), and that these were his father’s treasures — and that “Albertina” might have been an example of his “off-the-wall humor.” So there you have it — a little in-person slice of life documenting what it would be like to stand in front of the band and ask Mr. Miller or Mr. Cole for an autograph — when the Cab Calloway band played the “Frog Hop” — an actual place, a ballroom built by one Frank Frogge.

What a wonderful thing that these pages survive!

In the same eBay sweep, I found these portraits of Miss Lee Wiley, who obviously might have been a film siren if the circumstances had been different. Rumor has it that her one film appearance (circa 1936, in a variety short with Woody Herman) never was seen because she was so difficult to work with. But these photographs are powerful evidence of her beautiful sensuality — even when she wasn’t singing.

Star of radio — which was THE medium for music in 1934.
What beauty.
I wonder what the photographer suggested to her.
I think the song on the piano is NO MORE LOVE, popular in 1933.
Later, c. 1944, perhaps by Gjon Mili for LIFE, with momentary-husband Jess Stacy.

Here’s Lee with Leo Reisman in 1931, singing Vincent Youmans:

Thanks to eBay, the world’s attic, and to the sellers who keep finding things for us to rhapsodize over.

May your happiness increase!

AN INSPIRED DREAM IN SUNDAY’S SUNSHINE: THE EarRegulars at THE EAR OUT: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JAY RATTMAN, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (June 6, 2021)

Late in the day, The EarRegulars with guests: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Jay Rattman, Tal Ronen, Josh Dunn, Albanie Falletta, June 6, 2021, outside the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

JAZZ LIVES’ readers are an erudite lot, so they know the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER, a craftsperson with a substance abuse problem, to use 2021 terminology. In the song’s original lyrics, of which there are many variants, Willie was a low-down chimney sweeper with a “hop” (opium) habit, which afforded him the most extravagant dreams. An engaging song even without the lyrics, it made its way into Chicago jazz and thus the larger musical world through recordings by Louis Armstrong and others in the later Twenties. And should you investigate the lyrics, you would find that WILLIE is a surrogate parent to MINNIE THE MOOCHER, a creation that Cab Calloway enjoyed for decades.

Jon-Erik, intent.
Jay and Tal, savoring the depths.

The people you see in the photographs above are heroes of mine: they give their hearts to this music, which doesn’t always pay them back generously in currency. They “play their personalities,” as Roswell Rudd told me. They know how to sit up straight and color within the lines when necessary, but they also have huge wandering imaginations that delight and surprise. One of the most delightful of this delightful crew is the quiet subversive Jay Rattman, who brought his clarinet and alto saxophone to yesterday’s heartfelt fiesta. Jay looks prudent, serene: you would have no hesitation about co-signing a small loan for him, or letting him order dinner for the group. Not only would he “help the old lady across the street,” he would even first establish that she wanted to go.

Matt, characteristically in motion.

So what happened on WILLIE THE WEEPER — the fourth song of this warm breezy Sunday afternoon — was a wondrous surprise. Jay was surrounded by a mutual admiration society: Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. I don’t know whether Jay was having a good time with the idea of weeping, or of opium dreams, or if he was simply basking in the joy of being outside among friends playing music . . . but his choruses are the most extravagant — and memorable — dreams. He didn’t implode the song, but he certainly tested its durable elasticity. See and hear for yourself:

To quote Jon-Erik, “Fun one, to be sure.” If you haven’t spent a Sunday afternoon in the company of these wonderful creators, I encourage you to do so. When the sun is shining, 1-3:30, in front of 326 Spring Street. And as hot as it was yesterday, the river provided cooling breezes. As did the music — thrilling, mournful, uplifting.

May your happiness increase!

“PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS”: STEPHANE GRAPPELLI, LEE KONITZ, JIMMIE ROWLES, JOHN ETHERIDGE, DIZ DIZLEY, JACK SEWING at NICE (July 1978)

This set, blessedly preserved, reminds me of inventive restaurant cuisine, where one reads a listing of items one doesn’t expect to find together . . . but the result is surprising and memorable: music that tastes good to the ear. Violinist Stephane Grappelli’s group was patterned after the Quintette of the Hot Club of France — violin, two guitars, string bass — although he, not Django, was the star . . . with guitarists John Etheridge and Diz Dizley, string bassist Jack Sewing, whom I initially mis-identified as Brian Torff. Add to this established group the wondrous individualists Jimmie Rowles, piano, and Lee Konitz, alto saxophone, and unusual sounds result.

Whether everyone dispersed after the set saying, “Wow, that was fun!” or “Why can’t I pick my own friends to perform with?” I have no idea, but the three-quarters of an hour that we have is certainly not formulaic. You can do your own assessment: late-period Stephane, still rhapsodic, given to heroically fast tempos, playing “jazz standards,”; Lee Konitz and Jimmie Rowles on top of a QHCF rhythm team. I think the assemblage is both unpredictable and wonderful:

Stephane Grappelli, violin; Diz Dizley, John Etheridge, guitars; Jack Sewing, string bass.
I WONDER WHERE MY BABY IS TONIGHT / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS / CRAZY RHYTHM / I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE /

add Lee Konitz HONEYSUCKLE ROSE

add Jimmie Rowles LET’S FALL IN LOVE / I’LL REMEMBER APRIL /

Grappelli Quartet: MANOIR DE MES REVES – DAPHNE /

Konitz, Rowles return SWEET GEORGIA BROWN (incomplete on original):

Bless these players, and bless the Grande Parade du Jazz also.

PRES: PAIN INTO JOY

“Lester Young 1st tenor.”

Memorial Day, an American “holiday,” celebrates those who have died in war. But some live on, wounded, even when the wounds are not visible. Some who suffer return home without medals. I am thinking of Lester Young, captured by the American military machine. To say that he was treated without understanding or kindness is to understate the facts and their repercussions.

I offer an excerpt from the saxophonist Leroy “Sam” Parkins’ memory of Pres, posted here in 2009:

September 1945 I found myself back in the infantry at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The army had lost some of my training records and they needed me to fire the Bazooka and the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle – 30 cal. and a real bear to shoot), and they were in no hurry. I was going to have to re-graduate from basic training. Most of the rest of this rag-tag company were hardened combat veterans who had been fucked over by the army losing their records. It’s after VJ day.

The sergeants in charge were totally sympathetic; roll-call in the morning, traditionally out on the company street, included a lot of hung-over guys in bed, shouting from the sack, “I’m here sergeant.” Days on end with nothing to do so I found the band, started doing parades, the officers club ($5.00),the non-coms club ($4.00), and the USO. Played baritone with the big band. The drummer was a veteran of the entire European campaign, had been running into a fire fight with his best buddy beside him and watched the guy’s head being completely blown of by a mortar shell. He simply didn’t give a shit, and kept a bottle of Gordon’s gin under the bed for breakfast to keep the boogies away.

The army was totally, and I mean totally, segregated. The colored soldiers had their own gate, and there was a 100 yard lawn – a DMZ – between the two posts. No one allowed to pass in either direction. But their band had Count Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, other Basieites, Lester Young (Basie’s star saxophonist) had just been drafted, was in basic training and played with the band when he could. Our drummer was the only one of us with the balls to walk across the lawn to rehearsals and dances and to get to know the black musicians.

He came back one night with a really lousy story. Lester Young (street name ‘Pres’) was in the guard house. He had pleaded to be excused from basic and be allowed in the band; the band leader petitioned the authorities, to no avail (and I wonder if a white musician would have made out better. I knew some who did, and after all, the war was over…).

In Geoff Dyer’s book, “But Beautiful” (great book if you can stand unvarnished tragedies), the author, using the Freedom of Information Act, got the transcript of the trial; there’s a lot of detail, all brutal, that I wasn’t privy to, but this here narrative is missing from all biographical accounts. No way any latter day historian could know it.

It’s night firing on the fifty caliber machine-gun range. Outside of the noise, it’s a pretty sight. Maybe twenty machine-guns lined up about eight feet apart, shooting down a slight incline at cardboard cutouts of enemy soldiers; every tenth bullet (tracer bullets) lights up as it’s fired so you see slightly arched lines of electric magic flowing from each gun barrel.

The sergeant, off to the side and slightly down-range, notices one line of magic markers disappear. He goes to investigate, and finds Lester Young lying on his back smoking a joint. Sergeant is aghast. “On your feet soldier!” Pres’ reply is to hand the sergeant the joint and – “Hey sarge — aren’t the stars pretty up in the sky?”

In his left hand pocket of his fatigue jacket were five more joints; sergeant calls the MPs and the founder of a style that was to sweep the country (think Stan Getz and “The Girl From Ipanema”) is led off to jail.

There was no rush to bring him to trial. He started acting up in his cell, noisy, woke guys at night, he wanted his horn. So the guard got it for him. End of the world. He played 24 hours a day, made everyone crazy, so they took it away from him. And he really lost it. I have no details, but the guards were white – and so forth.

Disobeying a direct order, possession of narcotics, 400 days in an army detention center.

There are other stories of how a sensitive person was fed into the gears and cogs of a machine that — of necessity — cared nothing for individuality or sensitivity, and the familiar end of this narrative is that “the Army destroyed Pres, and you can hear it in his playing.”

But maybe not.

Here is Lester’s own composition, “D. B. BLUES,” named for “detention barracks,” a blues-with-a-bridge, recorded in December 1945, with his dear friend Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dodo Marmarosa, piano; Red Callendar, string bass; Henry Tucker, drums:

from December 1953, the NEW D. B. BLUES, with Jesse Drakes, trumpet; Gildo Mahones, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Connie Kay, drums:

and finally (for this survey — Lester played this “composition” many times more) — a sweetly light-hearted version from December 1956, with Bill Potts, piano; Norman Williams, string bass; Jim Lucht, drums:

I wouldn’t presume to know what went through Lester’s mind when he was playing. I think we can be sure that he named this composition for the place he was imprisoned. But you’ll notice it is music — not a scream of rage or hatred for his oppressors.

This might be the great gift he and others give us: to not only state but embody how pain can be transmuted into beauty and joy. That joy sustains not only us, but in some way it sustained its creator. We should stand in awe of the power of the soul to transcend the harshness of the world.

May your happiness increase!

LEE KONITZ, LOCKJAW DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice 7.9.78) — a second take.

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties, especially when they leap right past SNAFU to become totally FUBAR.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is lee-konitz-for-selmer.jpeg

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

FESTIVALS MAKE STRANGE BANDFELLOWS: LEE KONITZ, EDDIE “LOCKJAW” DAVIS, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RED MITCHELL, SHELLY MANNE (Nice, July 9, 1978)

Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies! Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties.

“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”

Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.

I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.

I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.

And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.


The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.

All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

“BADVERTISING”

You know, a true friend is one who will tell you your fly is unzipped or that you have something in your teeth. One stellar example is Eric Devine, or CineDevine, as he’s known on YouTube. Although Eric started later than I did, he is a much more skilled videographer than I’ll ever be. See his expert videos of Jeff Barnhart, the Fat Babies, Tuba Skinny, Bria Skonberg, Johnny Varro, Heather Thorn, and many others on his YouTube channel.

Eric told me that YouTube was endlessly attaching advertisements to the videos we create. I know that nothing, and that includes paper napkins and hot sauce at Chipotle, is free, but I had forgotten about YouTube as a money-making arm of Google. Why? Because I had voluntarily participated in a process like extortion or the “protection rackets” of years gone by. I pay a monthly sum to YouTube to keep my viewing ad-free, like paying the exterminator to come regularly to keep the termites away. But I checked with my research bureau in Oregon (JJKS, Ltd.) and the answer came: the joint was crawling with ads.

I could give you examples, but why publicize these firms? Below is a photograph of the label of a great record. Take your own trip to YouTube to see what products are being sold, and report back. Did anyone ask Smack or Louis?

Eric and I agree: you’d think Google had enough money already, but I tried, with small success, to look on the bright side: who would have thought that we’d have the privilege of going to a festival, being welcomed, and being able to spread joy up to the maximum and help artists and enterprises as well. And he ruefully agreed.

We’re not totally naive: Google, YouTube, Facebook, and the rest require revenue to survive. But it feels sneaky, like the stories of the subliminal ads that were supposedly inserted in films at the drive-in theatre: a sixteenth of a second of a photograph of an icy bottle of Coca-Cola, with the words WOULDN’T AN ICE-COLD COKE TASTE GREAT RIGHT NOW? And everyone was thirsty and didn’t know why.

This post is just to say that if you click on a video of mine or Eric’s — which we did for free and the musicians allowed us to use for free — and see ads for pet shampoo, vitamin supplements, body-part alteration, fast food, gutter cleanouts, life insurance, or any of a thousand annoyances . . . we weren’t asked for our permission; we don’t profit from it, and we’re sorry that commerce gets in the way.

Since I’ve started JAZZ LIVES in 2008, people have said I was foolish for not “monetizing” it, and I tell them that art is pure and money, although necessary, should be kept in a separate drawer, except when it comes to paying artists lavishly.

“Badvertising” is my own coinage, but you’re welcome to it.

And if anyone accuses me of hypocrisy because I too run ads on JAZZ LIVES — for The Syncopated Times and Vintage Jazz Mart — I offered to do this; I believe in these publications, I’d like to support them, and I am not receiving a monthly check for the ad space.

Even in this dramatically capitalist world, art should not have to float in a bath of tepid commerce. Beware of hucksters, grifters, con men, card sharps, and pickpockets, I say.

May your happiness increase!

EDDY DAVIS: IN MEMORY STILL GREEN (Scott Robinson, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Debbie Kennedy, Fernando Kfouri, The Cajun: March 29, 2006)

Scott Robinson wrote this elegy for Eddy Davis on April 8, 2020, and I couldn’t improve on it.


I’ve just lost one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had in music. Eddy Davis was a highly significant and influential presence in my life. He was a fiercely individualistic performer… a veteran of the old Chicago days when music was hot, joyful, exuberant and unselfconscious. A character and a curmudgeon, who could hold court for hours after the gig. And a loving mentor who helped younger musicians like myself learn and grow in this music.
I had only played with Eddy a handful of times when he called me in late 1998 to say that he was forming a new band to fill a weekly Wednesday spot at the Cajun on 8th Avenue. He wanted me to play lead on C melody saxophone, in a little group with two reeds, and no drums. This by itself gives a clue to what an original thinker he was.

I already knew that Eddy was a proficient and highly individualistic stylist on the banjo, who sounded like no one else. What I didn’t know, but soon found out, was that this man was also a walking repository of many hundreds if not thousands of tunes of every description, ranging far beyond the standard repertoire… with a fascinating background story at the ready for nearly every one. I quickly learned that he was also a prolific and idiosyncratic composer himself, with a wonderfully philosophical work ethic: write original music every day, keep what works, and throw the rest away without a backward glance.

Eddy was also what used to be called a “character”: affable, opinionated, hilarious, and irascible all in one, and above all highly passionate about music. What I learned over the ensuing 7 ½ years in Eddy’s little band, I cannot begin to describe. I came to refer to those regular Wed. sessions as my “doctor’s appointment” — for they fixed whatever ailed me, and provided the perfect antidote to the ills of the world, and of the music scene. Over the years we were graced with the presence of some very distinguished musicians who came by and sat in with us, including Harry Allen, Joe Muranyi, Bob Barnard, Howard Johnson, and Barry Harris.

Eddy was generous with his strong opinions, with his knowledge and experience, and with his encouragement. But he was a generous soul in other ways as well. When he heard that I was building a studio (my “Laboratory”), he had me come by the apartment and started giving me things out of his closets. A Roland 24-track recorder… three vintage microphones… instruments… things that I treasure, and use every single day of my life. When my father turned 75, Eddy came out to the Lab in New Jersey and played for him, and wouldn’t take a dime for it.
When I got the call last night that Eddy had passed — another victim of this horrible virus that is ruining so many lives, and our musical life as well — I hung up the phone and just cried. Later I went out to my Laboratory, and kissed every single thing there that he had given to me. How cruel to lose such an irreplaceable person… killed by an enemy, as my brother commented, that is neither visible nor sentient.

One night at the Cajun stands out in my memory, and seems particularly relevant today. It was the night after the last disaster that changed New York forever: the World Trade Center attack. There was a pall over the city, the air was full of dust, and there was a frightful, lingering smell. “What am I doing here?” I thought. “This is crazy.” But somehow we all made our way to the nearly empty club. We were in a state of shock; nobody knew what to say. I wondered if we would even be able to play. We took the stage, looked at each other, and counted off a tune. The instant the first note sounded, I was overcome with emotion and my face was full of tears.

Suddenly I understood exactly why we were there, why it was so important that we play this music. We played our hearts out that night — for ourselves, for our city, and for a single table of bewildered tourists, stranded in town by these incomprehensible events. They were so grateful for the music, so comforted by it.

The simple comfort of live music has been taken from us now. We must bear this loss, and those that will surely follow, alone… shut away in our homes. I know that when the awful burden of this terrible time has finally been lifted, when we can share music, life, and love again, it will feel like that night at the Cajun. My eyes will fill, my heart will sing, and the joy that Eddy Davis gave me will be with me every time I lift the horn to my face, for as long as I live.

It should be clear that the passionate honesty Scott offers us when he plays also comes through his words.

Here is an audio document of one of those Wednesday nights, March 29, 2006, recorded at The Cajun. Eddy Davis, banjo, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano, vocal; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Debbie Kennedy, string bass; Fernando Kfouri, trombone (on TAILGATE RAMBLE). I wish I had been less intimidated (underneath his Midwestern affability, I sensed there was a core of steel in Eddy and I initially kept my distance, although I did develop a friendly relationship and did create videos) and brought my video camera, but I’ve left everything that was recorded that night in — including Conal going in search of his car, which had been towed, between-songs chatter, and more, for those not fortunate to be there fifteen years ago or other times.

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

IN RESPONSE TO YOUR MOST RECENT EMAIL . . . .

Because of this blog’s thirteen-year existence, I get a number of email solicitations a week from people I don’t know (or know only slightly) who would like me to listen to their new CD, fall in love with it, and publicize it.  I do not write this to mock them: it is difficult to be an independent artist in any century, and this shifting landscape has not made it easier.  Artists pay thousands of dollars to create and promote their own work, and the publicity that actual record companies, record stores, and mass-market journalism once provided has gone away.  So I sympathize.

HAMP

What follows might be what my mother called “talking to the wall,” but perhaps someone will take this unsolicited advice and use it to be better marketers of their work.  After all, “art” and “product” have become superimposed.  When your CD “drops,” you want to “move” “units.”  And that’s historically valid and respectable.  In 1932, the Moten band hoped their Victor records would sell.  Nothing shameful there.

But many artists — peculiarly, members of the most technologically-astute generation in human history — go about this blindly.  I presume they Google “music blog,” and send out several hundred form-letters, in hope.  It makes me envision someone opening a bag of grass seed on the roof, dumping it over the side, saying gleefully, “NOW I’ll have my very own meadow!”  The birds enjoy the all-you-can-peck snacks, but very little grows.

A series of suggestions.

Be emotionally astute rather than eagerly self-absorbed.  Understandably, you love your work.  The new CD is your wondrous creation.  It took time, money, thought, emotion, so many steps . . . !  But your reader, your “target,” has never heard it.  How can you make them intrigued enough to want to?  How can you make them not instantly click on the wastepaper-basket icon?

Assume you are writing to an adult rather than a teenager, and take deep breaths.  Prose has conventions that aren’t texting, and the more polished — I don’t mean Photoshopped — your email is, the better it will be received.  The cliche, “You have only one chance to make a first impression,” is true.

If writing is not your strongest talent, get someone in your family or circle of friends who can write to look at what you send out before you send it out.  Maybe you believe no one cares that you scatter apostrophes and commas as if you were salting your eggs, but many people do.  If you are writing in a language not your own, have someone look at it for sure: Google Translate is not trustworthy.

Be plain and friendly and clear.  Possibly your reader is already weary of press-release hyperbole: speak as one person to another, although “Hey” is still for horses and “Yo” is for people you are addressing very informally.  And perhaps especially in pandemic-times, expressing hopes that a stranger is “doing well in these _________ days” often sounds stale.

Find out the name of the person you want to reach and use it, deferentially, but use it.  Should it be “Mr. Steinman” or “Michael”?  Have we ever met?  Do we have friends in common?  How would you say hello to me if we were introduced in person?  You can always come down from the formal; the other ascent is tricky.

Know who you’re sending it to.  Crucial.  Know your market.  That means: be willing to do five minutes of research on each prospective blog or site or person.  If you are sending out your version of the Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight to someone whose preferred music is alt-Christian-metal, it’s likely you are not going to get a hearing.  And the reverse.

A few hours ago, I got a very cordial email from a young man who — articulate and friendly — wanted me to listen to and publicize his new song.  It was very sweet pop music of the kind (and, yes, I know I am out of touch) I would expect to hear on the restaurant or mall sound system.  I wrote back to him and, our of curiosity, asked if he knew the music I promoted on the blog.  He said he didn’t, that he’d gotten my name from a new music distribution list or some such; he very graciously apologized for wasting my time.  I wrote back and said he hadn’t, and I wished him well. He did me no harm; in fact, he provided me with a relevant anecdote for this post.  But he did waste his energy.

Research is not only finding out that there might be a connection, but using the hope of that connection as a way of getting in the door.  Showing your reader that you know what (s)he likes sends two messages: “I know your work and have taken the time to admire it,” and “We might be a good fit for these reasons.”  I know that too much of this might veer into false adoration, but if I get an email that says, “Here’s my new CD, and you’ll love it,” or one that says, “Dear Mr. Steinman, I’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES for years, and I see that you admire melodic guitarists like X and Y.  They are my heroes, too, and I wonder if you would be willing to listen to a track from my new CD . . . . ” you know which one will get my attention.  Being candid, you don’t have to have been a life-long subscriber, but a little saucer of attentive fakery based on research will win friends.

After you’ve suggested — gently — why you believe your music would be appealing to them and their audience, make it easy for them to hear it, to read the liner notes, to see the covers.  We readers have other things pulling at our sleeve, just as you do.  Be aware that a review or an interview is not the same thing as a one-sentence blurb, and if someone like myself commits to writing about your disc, there is an expenditure of energy on my part as there is and was on yours.

If you’ve carefully done your research, and your music is aimed at the right person’s ears, perhaps you’ll get an enthusiastic email back.  Or a polite refusal.  Don’t be a pest, but do persevere.  I don’t mind being reminded of something pleasing that I might have neglected the first time around.

Be gracious.  This applies to both sides of the conversation.  The reviewer who writes back, “Your band sucks,” deserves to be ostracized.  If the listener hates the music or finds it boring, silence is the best response.  And the reviewer should not take the opportunity to lecture the artists on their shortcomings.  That you disliked the solo tenor saxophone solo on the subject of Chernobyl, others might not.

And to the artist . . . if you are tempted to write smart sharp rejoinders to a refusal, go make some tea or take a walk.  Graciousness is remembered forever, and rudeness even longer.  Remember that the world of musicians and publicists and bloggers is a small and gossipy one.  “Do you know _______?” is the start of many lethal conversations that no one knows about but that go on all the time.  If I seem to over-emphasize graciousness, it’s because it is in short supply, and some people who pride themselves on truth-telling do so with a hatchet.  For my part, I will always remember the two bandleaders who were — as the Irish say — narky to me, along the lines of, “Well, my wonderful band doesn’t need your little blog at all.”

I can’t guarantee that these suggestions will insure that you will ship boxes of CDs or digital units, but they won’t hurt.  If you’ve been told, “If you send out a thousand emails, you have a better chance of being heard than if you send out ten,” that logic is debatable.  Think of the restaurant menu-flyers you’ve gotten: how many of them have encouraged you to buy an actual meal?

If those ten emails are to the right people, you will get pleasing results.  You have a better chance of your words being read, your music being listened to.  And that’s what ALL of us want: I want to hear a CD by someone I didn’t know existed, twenty minutes ago, and I want to be enthralled.  You want me to be enthralled.  Deal?

Pass this one around.  I spent decades teaching, and I guess the didactic impulse hasn’t left me, but I want to help people on both sides of the exchange to be happier, and I want the art I love to continue, unbruised and flourishing.

For those who like such things, here’s a test.  I received this email today.  I’ve omitted identifying details.  See if you can “read” the many reasons the sender has it all wrong:

Dear Editor,

Hey It’s XXXXXXX, Pop- Rock artist and entertainer. I released my latest song “———–” yesterday and think it would be a great fit for your audience.  “———–” available on all platforms now is a form of art depicting [details and the opening lines of the song omitted.] The video is well over 5k streams in its first day, and would appreciate the feature/review.

It continues on, but I hope you get the idea.  The artist and entertainer might be a wonderful person, but (s)he hasn’t a clue about how to operate in the larger world.

May your happiness increase!

Bunk Johnson FB

http://www.vjm.biz

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