Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

MORTONIC CAPERS: ANDREW OLIVER, DAVID HORNIBLOW, and SURPRISE GUESTS MICHAEL McQUAID and NICHOLAS D. BALL

Two kinds of surprise, one subtle and one cinematic-vaudevillian-theatrical from the Complete Morton Project.  More details here.

First, DIXIE KNOWS — a composition Morton never recorded — played beautifully by Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, clarinet:

Then, a party!  The Complete Morton Project invited two friends over, increasing the band by 200%: Michael McQuaid on reeds and Nicholas D. Ball on drums and hilarity — for HYENA STOMP:

Should you be tempted to dismiss HYENA STOMP as pure goofiness, listen to Morton’s Library of Congress solo rendition:

Anyone who thinks of Morton as a limited improviser who didn’t swing should be given a fifteen-minute immersion in that performance, which I marvel at.

But HYENA STOMP (in the 1927 Victor version) is elusive in one detail.  I tried to find out about Lew LeMar, who says, “That’s terrible, Jelly!” and then does the laughing — choose your own adjective.  I know there is a tradition of laughter being recorded as part of an act (consider the OKeh LAUGHING RECORD and later, LAUGHIN’ LOUIE) but I can find no information on the exuberant Mr. LeMar.  Even William Russell’s seven-hundred page Morton scrapbook has no entry for him in the index.

And thus I am free to imagine.  Did Jelly and Lew know each other from vaudeville?  Had they met at a theatre or bar, with Jelly saying, “I’ve got a record date in three days and I want you on it?”  Or was LeMar appearing on another Victor recording at the same time?  Was he the recording supervisor’s idea?  Was HYENA STOMP — very close to one strain of KING PORTER — created for LeMar?  What was union scale for vocal effects?  This unsolved mystery pleases me.  But it makes me smile, which is a good thing in itself.  Let us hope that we always have reasons to laugh.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

CAN’T HELP IT IF I WONDER: TOMMY DORSEY, DUKE ELLINGTON on eBay

First, the soundtrack to get you in the mood for jazz speculation, even though the subject of this wonderful performance is romance, not authenticity of paper ephemera (anything that gives me an excuse to listen to and share Louis is always welcome):

Now, two pieces of evidence, just spotted today on eBay.  The first one comes from a Detroit newspaper, with no other details, advertising something I would have liked to participate in: a personal appearance and autograph signing by an artist I admire, Tommy Dorsey:

My questions are perhaps reasonable but at this distance, I think unanswerable.  What was the name of the record?  Should we assume that the Dorsey band was playing a gig at the State Fair?  When was this?  And (most poignantly) when can I expect the R.C.A. VICTOR DANCE CARAVAN show up to my town?

I hear some of you hissing, “Never, Michael, never!”  to which I say, “I’ll bet you think Toto is dead, too.”  The link is here — should you want this mysterious sentimental artifact for your own.

The second item also raises questions: advertised as an autographed glossy photograph of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, each member signing his name in fountain pen, a glorious photograph that I had not seen before:

And here is the Ellington link.  I was a little skeptical at first, because real on-the-spot autographs tend to be less careful, and I wondered that everyone in the band either had the same fountain pen or they passed it from one to another.  I would guess that the photograph lay flat on a table for it to be signed by all those heroes ever so neatly.  But I stopped worrying when I saw that Sonny Greer had signed “Luck always,” which is the way he signed a Jazz Panorama lp for me in the Seventies.  Perhaps someone can say why the bassist — Wellman Braud, I assume — didn’t sign.  Now there‘s a mystery.

I can’t afford the Ellington photograph, but it’s lovely to see.

If you look for me, I’ll be scanning the street for Tommy Dorsey.  And I have my own fountain pen, thank you.

May your happiness increase!

“WAITER, PLEASE, A HUNCH AND SOME WATERS!”: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

I’m so glad these two indefatigable fellows continue offering us musical presents.  That’s Andrew Oliver at the piano (supple, exact, swinging) and David Horniblow playing clarinet (his Tonation and Phrasing can’t be beat).  As always, you may learn more about their Complete Morton Project here and subscribe to their YouTube channel here.  I am pleased to see that the number of subscribers is now more than one hundred: art like this deserves the widest possible audience.

SEATTLE HUNCH, which I can only characterize as “jolly”:

and the more pensive MUDDY WATERS BLUES:

Two ruminations came to mind, along with the first half of this morning’s coffee (an aid to imaginative thought).  One: we forget the depth of Morton’s catalogue of compositions.  I suspect that most people versed in this idiom could name a dozen of his pieces, but David and Andrew, wondrous excavators, are just about halfway through one hundred.

Two: the first song sent me to inquire, however shallowly, into the etymology of “hunch,” as in having an intuitive notion, a feeling, a guess.  The origins are vague, but it goes back to around 1620, as a push, a shove, a thrust.  I envision two people on the street, one nudging the other — if only to mutely say, “Don’t step in that,” or “Look at who’s coming down the street!”  There are, of course, all the speculations about physical deformity and good luck, but those I will leave you to explore on your own, preferably not in comments.

What Morton’s hunch about Seattle was, for this morning, will remain mysterious as well.  He also had a hunch about or in Stratford, now that I remember.  Since he also made a living hustling the suckers at the pool table, I wonder if one or the other hunch was “It’s now time to get out of this burg, and soon.”  An intuitive fellow.

But the music!  The music is luminous.  Another great gift from Andrew, David, and Mister Jelly.

May your happiness increase!

OUR PRIDE AND JOY: RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO, at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26-27, 2016)

Those of us who have heard Ray Skjelbred play the piano will not be at all surprised that he is also a poet of words and images, captured at a different keyboard.

Sycamore

One day all the leaves blow away.
I have been worrying
about the wrong things.

Let those words take up residence inside you before moving on, in a southerly direction, to the rest of this post.  You can read more of his poetry at the link above.

Ray has written a sketch of his development as a poet, starting as a boy who “got up early to listen to the birds in the courtyard of our apartment building,” which tells me more than a hundred pages of analytic prose by an outsider would.

A rare and deep fellow.

Most of us encounter Ray when he has settled himself on the piano bench and is ready to fill us with sounds and colors, as he did at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here is my earlier presentation of music he created there on November 26, 2016.

And more.  I will preface these selections by saying only that tenderness is so rare in life, and certainly more so in jazz played for audiences.  Let Ray’s melodic explorations, gentle and whimsical, move into your house.

Joe Sullivan’s MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY:

“a tiny shred” of I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, with a beautiful ending that loops around to the opening phrase of the verse:

A version of THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT that has the quiet intent seriousness of a hymn at the start:

Ray told me that he thinks of Joe Sullivan or Ginger Rogers in this scene from SWING TIME — so if you haven’t seen it recently, you might want to steal three minutes from your day and dream into this world of lovely possibilities:

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP KEEPIN’ ON: ANDREW OLIVER / DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

More from the Complete Morton Project, with never a letup: Andrew Oliver, piano, and David Horniblow, reeds.  They seem so supercharged that even I, who spend more time at the computer than my MD would like, lag behind.  Here’s a roundup of recent delights.

From Morton’s 1938 solo session, HONKY TONK MUSIC:

and Morton’s paean to his common-law wife, Anita Gonzales, SWEET ANITA MINE:

and the rather dark and somber, I HATE A MAN LIKE YOU, recorded by Morton and Lizzie Miles in 1929:

I wouldn’t feel right ending this blogpost on that particularly dark note, so Andrew and David romp for us through THE NAKED DANCE, which must have been exhausting as well as thrilling:

Not surprisingly, Andrew and David and their colleagues have to eat, pay utility bills and rent, do laundry — all things that require funding — so in addition to watching these free videos (that concept unhinges me a bit when I consider an economy for artists who offer us such beneficences for nothing) — I encourage you to support them in tangible ways.  If you live in England or thereabouts, go to gigs — the Dime Notes, the Vitality 5, and others; if you are not so close, you can support their efforts buy purchasing CDs, and get some fine music for yourself in this fashion, through a monthly series of e-78s (what a gentle oxymoron of epochs contained there).

David explains: “So this month’s Vitality Five e78 – available on Spotify, Itunes, Deezer etc etc, features a couple of things I did for the band. Firstly the spooky faux-exotic ‘Sphinx’ – originally recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in London, 1920. The ODJB prided themselves of their supposed roughness and musically illiteracy (although that was more hype than reality). As a contrast, ‘Deep Blue Sea Blues’ pays homage to two of the great sophisticates of 1920’s saxophone, alto player Bobby Davis – ably recreated by Michael McQuaid – and the high priest of the bass sax, Adrian Rollini. Follow the link if you fancy a listen https://vitalityfive.com/…/06/17/sphinx-deep-blue-sea-blues/.”

Here’s a sample of their May e-78 of EVERY EVENING:

Truly remarkable.  And generous in ways hard to imagine but glorious to receive.

May your happiness increase!

MONSIEUR HUCK, AVIATEUR

I don’t know if Daniel Huck, alto saxophone, vocal, has a pilot’s license.  But he can certainly soar, do loops and rolls like no one else.  The cheerful-looking man in the mauve shirt, his reading glasses perched on his nose, has surprises for those unacquainted with him.  (As an aside, I know some finicky readers will turn away from this post.  “Who is that?  I never heard of him.”  Too bad.)

This band is called (I believe) JAZZ A BICHON, and these nice videos (there are more) were recorded by the musician-videographer Jeff Guyot at the Hermes Jazz Festival in Frejus, France, on June 10 of this year.  The personnel is Shona Taylor, cornet, vocal; Guy Champeme, clarinet, alto; Marc Bresdin, clarinet, alto, tenor; Philippe Anhorn, piano, vocal; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo, tenor guitar; Eric Perrion, tuba; guest star Daniel Huck, alto, vocal.  I knew M. Huck’s work from the Anachronic Jazz Band, but these videos are a special pleasure, building from peaceful to electrifying by my choice.

Here’s a very sweet introduction to M. Huck, on the irresistible tune HONEY.

But wait!  There’s more!  A performance that reminds me of Lillie Delk Christian’s TOO BUSY:

That wonderful one-chorus explosion makes me think of Little Louis — as well as Leo Watson and the recent vocals of Lee Konitz (since time is a field and not a series of beads on a string).  If you can watch it just once, without bobbing your head, you are made of genetic material unlike mine.

And the roaring finale — hilarious and astounding all at once.  Two choruses on SUSIE, from the Wolverines by possibly circuitous routes:

Isn’t M. Huck splendid — singing lines that others couldn’t sing or play — rambunctious, joyous, and precise as well.  It’s a very cloudy day here, with rain predicted, but the sun is out because of him.  Thanks to Jeff Guyot for the videos.  You might want to subscribe to his YouTube channel: it’s better than pharmaceuticals.

May your happiness increase!

“PARTNERS”: NANCY HARROW’S GIFT

The singer, composer, artist Nancy Harrow is not only a rewarding musician but, from what I can see, someone doing a fine job of navigating this complicated human-being business with art, energy, grace.  She has opened her hand again to reveal a gift for us: a new CD, PARTNERS.

Here you can read details of the CD (the song list, the personnel) and admire the spunky cover photograph.  Go to the top of the page and hear Nancy’s recording of IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — previously unissued and unheard, from 1964, Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.

Incidentally, you can skip what follows and go directly here to hear samples, purchase the disc, download the music.

It is the privilege of the mature artist who has created a body of work to look back and assemble a selection from that art into a new mosaic, the familiar creations making new patterns.  Yeats, for one example, after he had written poems that would fill a new volume, spent as much time arranging them — new, old, revised — into partnerships and neighborhoods that said as much as the poems themselves did.

PARTNERS has some of the same essence, very different from “Greatest Hits,” “Golden Favorites,” or “Million Sellers,” because Nancy (rather than Decca or Columbia) has been in charge, and her sensibility — not, I state, her ego — is evident when one regards the CD as an artistic whole.  The cover lists a jazz nobility.  PARTNERS is a series of small-group performances: mostly duets, trios, and quartets — an octet in only one instance — that Nancy and friends, no, partners, recorded between 1962 and 2016.  The performances aren’t arranged chronologically, but they offer a limber, mobile, portrait of the artist, for us to marvel at.

Even the most dedicated collector of Nancy’s recorded music will be wide-eyed at six previously unheard (and unknown performances).  Five — IN A MELLOTONE, BUT BEAUTIFUL, YOU’RE MY THRILL, I GOT IT BAD, and IT’S A WONDERFUL WORLD — are demonstration performances (“demos”) recorded in 1964, pairing Nancy with Kenny Burrell, Major Holley, and Denzil Best.  These brief recordings are sweet intense surprises.  When I first received a copy of PARTNERS, I found myself replaying these performances over and over, thinking, “Ah!  That’s what Nancy was up to!”

The sixth gift is a 1991 duet on NOT WHILE I’M AROUND, sung by Nancy and her son Anton, also a wondrous expressive vocalist.  I find tears in my eyes on each rehearing.  In other moods, Vernel Bagneris, Grady Tate, and an irrepressible Clark Terry share the spotlight.

I “knew” the seventeen other songs on this disc: in my alphabetical arrangement of CDs, Nancy is (I hope comfortably) between Mary Cleere Haran and Coleman Hawkins . . . and I have her issued CDs, a generous offering.  But I hadn’t truly heard the performances, I think, until I’d heard them in the shapes that PARTNERS makes possible.

Nancy has remarkable emotional energy and a focused directness, so that her singing — even though I know it’s not the case — seems a completely personal statement aimed at the single listener, like a conversation one has when there are only two or three people in the room.  And the emotions!  Tenderness, joviality, teasing, astonishment, protective love, joyous exuberance . . . and even irritation as well as rue and hopefulness.  Nancy doesn’t shout or carry on, but her range is broad, every expression genuine.  Her quiet honesty is so rare and so embracing.

I shared PARTNERS with the fine singer Petra van Nuis, who wrote,”There is that central element which makes Nancy so special and unique. That element is feeling.”

I’d written this and this about Nancy’s art for JAZZ LIVES — but still I was thrilled that she asked me to contribute a few lines to the new CD:

For those who feel, a universe vibrating with love speaks through melody, harmony, and rhythm. Singing lets a very few, the rarest creators, send deep messages about what it is like to be alive, whether we are perplexed by circumstances, downcast, or rejoicing. In calmer times, everyone would have recognized Nancy Harrow as a priestess of heart-tales, helping us hear, helping us feel. She still seems a magical practitioner of rare arts, although she is a modern divinity who sends emails. I can testify to her tangible self, teacup in hand, grinning broadly, ready to break into laughter. I have seen her eat a cookie. Very reassuring.

I had originally thought to write a few lines about the performances that touched me at my very center. But they all do. What I hear and feel in this recording is a deep, complete, and varied personality shining her light at me, one track after the other. I hear energy, warmth, passions. Distinct and the same all at once. Her voice makes lovely shapes, now tough, now tender, now impish.

It would be impudent of me to squeeze her art into text any more than I have already. Listeners will write their own admiring, perhaps astonished, essays as they move from song to song.

Bless Nancy Harrow. Some of us lived long stretches of time without clearly knowing she was there, but she enriches our lives now and will continue to do so.

PARTNERS is yet another great gift, from and by a great artist.

May your happiness increase!