Category Archives: It’s A Mystery

“LIKE THE RIPPLES ON A STREAM,” or IMPERMANENCE, by HARVEY SHAPIRO and by BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, JOHN OTTO, STEVE PIKAL (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

For those of us who keep music in our hearts, this 1934 song is special.

Yes, it is a carpe diem love song, but it is also about how nothing lasts forever.  It inevitably leads me back to Harvey Shapiro’s poem about Charlie Shavers, reprinted here with apologies for copyright infringement:

That melancholy sharply-realized poem leads me back to these moments in time:

I don’t know the remedy for impermanence — but, as Doctors Holland, Coots, Caparone, Otto, and Pikal enact here: “Take your saddest song and make sure it swings.  You don’t have unlimited chances to swing your song.”

May your happiness increase!

“WARM REGARDS” and “THANK GOD FOR EARS”: A COLLECTION OF PRECIOUS PAGES

The nimble folks atjgautographs” had their hands full of surprises . . . although their holdings range from Frederick Douglass to Marilyn Monroe to Irene Dunne, Stephen Sondheim, and Thomas Edison, it’s the jazz ephemera — no longer ephemeral — that fascinates me and others.  Here’s a sampling, with a few comments.  (The seller has many more autographs, from Sonny Rollins and Eubie Blake to Gene Krupa and Conrad Janis, so most readers of this blog will find something or someone to fascinate themselves.)  For those who want(ed) to buy what they see here, the auction ended this evening: if you are curious, I bid and lost on the Ivie Anderson and Jimmy Rushing; I won the Henry “Red” Allen and will be giving showings at a future date.  Check Eventbrite for tickets.

A number of the older autographs were inscribed to “Jack,” as you’ll see, and some of the newer ones to “Mark,” “Mark Allen,” and “Mark Allen Baker,” which led me on another path — more about the latter at the end of this post.

Husband and wife, very important figures in popular music, now perhaps less known.  Arranger Paul Weston:

and warm-voiced Jo Stafford:

Yusef Lateef lectures Mark:

while Louie Bellson is much more gentle in his inscription:

Lady Day, to Jack:

and Billie’s former boss, who called her “William”:

Notice that the Count’s signature is a little hurried, which to me is proof of its on-the-spot authenticity, because artists didn’t always have desks or nice flat surfaces to sign autographs after the show.  His calligraphy is in opposition to the next, quite rare (and in this case, quite dubious) signature:

Beautiful calligraphy, no?  But Helen Oakley Dance told the story (you can look it up) that Chick was embarrassed by his own handwriting, and when Helen asked for an autograph, Chick said, no, his secretary should sign it because her handwriting was so lovely . . . thus making me believe that this paper was not in Chick’s hands.  People who are less skeptical bid seriously on it, though.

Blossom Dearie, who arouses no such doubts:

And James Rushing, of that same Count Basie band:

I saw Mister Five-by-Five once, and his sound is still in my ears:

another Jimmy, happily still with us:

yet another Jimmy, playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania:

Would you care to join me for dinner?

Perhaps you’d like to meet both Dorsey Brothers?

and we could stay for the “Bombe Borealis,” whatever it looked like:

A woman I would have loved to see and hear, Miss Ivie Anderson:

She continues to charm:

Smack:

Jay Jay:

and Cee Tee:

The wondrous Don Redman:

Ella, whose inscription is elaborate and heartfelt:

One of the million he must have signed:

Jim Hall, always precise:

One can’t have too many of these:

an influential bandleader and personality:

one of Lucky’s great stars — and ours — from an era when you noted what instrument the star played, even if you couldn’t quite spell it:

Here’s the musical background, in the foreground:

finally, something that deserves its own scenario, “Mister Waller, could I have your autograph?”  “Of course, young lady.  What’s your name?”  “Mildred.”

which raises the question: was the bus ticket the spare piece of paper she had, or were they both on a Washington, D.C. streetcar or bus?  At least we know the approximate date of their intersection:

Neither Fats nor Mildred can answer this for us anymore, but here is the perfect soundtrack:

Mark Allen Baker, in the pre-internet world I come from, would have remained a mystery — but I Googled his name and found he is a professional writer, with books on sports teams and boxing, but more to the point, on autograph collecting.  So although I would have hoped he’d be a jazz fan, my guess is that his range is more broad.  And the autographs for sale here suggest that he has found the answer to the question, “Why do you collect autographs?” — the answer being, “To hold on to them and then sell them,” which benefits us.

May your happiness increase!

A CORNER IN CHICAGO, SOME QUESTIONS OF TASTE

A corner in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood: Google says it is “18th and Racine”:

then, multi-instrumentalist, arranger, composer Andy Schumm:

then, some music that ties the two together: a performance of Andy’s own “18th and Racine” on September 13, 2013 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend, with Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, John Sheridan, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malachi:

That’s an admirable piece of music, which nobody can deny.  The players are dressed in adult business attire, but they are neither stiff nor constrained; in fact, there’s a bit of unscripted comic repartee before they start to play.

I have been digging through my archives to find previously unknown performances from Jazz at Chautauqua, starting in 2011.  This video, this performance, was hidden in plain sight: it had been given to the larger YouTube public for free six years and a month ago.  I was dumbstruck to see that it had been viewed fewer than one hundred times.  Was it dull?  Was it “bad,” whatever that means?  Had the Lone YouTube Disliker come out of the basement to award it his disapproval?  No, none of those things.

I write this not because my feelings are hurt (Love me, love my videos, or the reverse) but because I don’t understand this lack of enthusiasm.

“Pop” music videos are viewed by millions, and the audience for “hot jazz,” “trad,” whatever you want to call it, is a crumb in the cosmic buffet.

But — follow me.  Invent a band with a clever name.  Let them sit in chairs on the street in the sunshine.  Let them be a mix of young women and young men.  Let them be emotive.  Let there be a washboard.  Perhaps one of the members is fashionably unshaven.  There are shorts, there are legs, there are sandals, there are boots.  No one wears a suit, because buskers have their own kind of chic, and it has nothing to do with Brooks Brothers.  If the members know who Strayhorn and Mercer are, they keep such knowledge to themselves.  They are very serious but they act as if they are raw, earthy, primitive.  Someone sings a vaguely naughty blues.

Mind you, this is all invention.

But let a fan post a new video of this imaginary group and in four days, eleven thousand people scramble to it.

I understand that my taste is not your taste.  And I know that anyone who privileges their taste (“I know what the real thing is.  I like authentic jazz!”) is asking for an argument.  But . . . .”Huh?” as I used to write on student essays when I couldn’t figure out what in the name of Cassino Simpson was going on.

Is this the triumph of sizzle over substance?  Is the larger audience listening with their eyes, a group of people in love with bold colors in bold strokes?  Is all art equally good because some people like it?

And if your impulse now is to reproach me, “Michael, you shouldn’t impose your taste on others,” I would remind you that imposition is not my goal and shouldn’t be yours, and that there is no schoolyard bully at your door threatening, “Like what you see on JAZZ LIVES or else, and gimme your lunch money!”

Everyone has an opinion.  I spoke with an amiable fan at a jazz festival.  I had been delighting in a singularly swinging and persuasive band, no one wearing funny clothes or making noises, and when I told her how much pleasure I was taking, she said, “That band would put me to sleep!  I like (and she named a particularly loud and showy assemblage whose collective volume was never less than a roar).  I replied, “Not for me,” and we parted, each of us thinking the other at best misguided.  Or perhaps she thought me a New York snob, and I will leave the rest of the sentence unwritten.  The imp of the perverse regrets now, perhaps six years later, that I didn’t ask in all innocence, “Do you like Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins?” and see what her reply was.

As the King says, “Is a puzzlement.”

Legal notice: no such band as described above exists, and any resemblance to a group of persons, real or imagined, is accidental.  No one in the 2013 performance video asked me to write this post in their defense, and they may perhaps be embarrassed by it, for which I apologize.  Any other questions should be directed to JAZZ LIVES Customer Service, to be found in the rear of our headquarters (look for the bright red cat door).  Thank you.

May your happiness increase!

“ARE YOU READY? THEN JUMP STEADY!”

This seems not only an invitation to the dance but to a way of life.

Since staring at the label can only take us so far, here are the sounds:

That 1940 recording proves that Louis’ maligned Decca band had by this time was a first-rate swing band, as well as a swinging dance band.  Hear how Sidney Catlett understood Louis as few ever did, and Big Sid knew how to express his personality without insisting on being the whole show, a lesson many people can still learn.  If personnel listings are accurate, this band was, in addition to Louis, Bernard Flood, Shelton Hemphill, Henry “Red” Allen, Wilbur DeParis, George Washington, J.C. Higginbotham, Rupert Cole, Charlie Holmes, Joe Garland, Bingie Madison, Luis Russell, Lee Blair, Pops Foster, and Sidney Catlett — a powerful gliding group full of friends from the Luis Russell band of 1929-30.

That would be a post in itself — Louis and Jack Palmer writing a jovial novelty tune that also is a wonderful swing record, showing us why Harlem audiences so enjoyed the band as well as its leader.

Palmer, also, is crucial here: he, Cab Calloway, and Frank Froeba had created THE JUMPIN’ JIVE (whose refrain is “Hep hep hep”) in 1939 — first recorded by a Lionel Hampton small group, and it was a substantial hit.  Whether Palmer found Louis or the reverse, HEP CATS’ BALL (which was not a hit) seems a Louis-enhanced version of the same idea: you can have a wonderful time in Harlem if you know the way uptown.  Almost eighty years later, I wonder how many people spoke this way, and for how long, but it doesn’t perplex me.

But there’s more here than a fine Louis Armstrong performance that gets little to no attention.  How about two?  How about some comparative listening?

This great surprise came into my field of vision just a day ago — thanks to Javier Soria Laso, who found it and sent it to Ricky Riccardi on Facebook, which is where I encountered it:

Louis Armstrong at WABC

As the site-writer points out, Louis and the band recorded this on March 14, 1940, for Decca, and played it on the air three days later.  Mills Music (still run by Irving Mills?) used a service that recorded performances of Mills-owned compositions off the air . . . for their archives or for purposes I don’t, at this remove, understand.  But the result is a treasure.  The conventional wisdom is that live performances are longer than 78 rpm recordings, but the airshot is almost twenty seconds shorter.  The tempo is faster, and it is less restrained — hear Louis’ ad lib comments, including “I mean it!”, there is a splendid break by J.C. Higginbotham, still at the peak of his shouting powers, and we can hear the little variations within the arrangement, with a great deal of delicious Catlett embellishment, encouragement, and joy.

Airshots of Louis before World War Two are not plentiful, or at least that used to be the case before selections from the Fleischmann’s Yeast programs were issued on CD, and the late Gosta Hagglof’s collection of Cotton Club airshots on the Ambassador label — a disc I am proud to have written the notes for.  But who knew that HEP CATS’ BALL would emerge and be so rewarding?

Incidentally, Ricky Riccardi’s second volume on Louis, covering this period, called I’VE GOT A HEART FULL OF RHYTHM, will be published in 2020.  I’ve read an early version and it is characteristic Riccardi: warm, enthusiastic, and full of new information.

While I was shuttling back from one recording to another, I did as we all do — a little online research, and found some relevant trivia.  1697 Broadway, as Google Images tells me, is now home to the Ed Sullivan Theater, Angelo’s Pizza, and various unidentified offices.  Here’s what it looked like in mid-1936, when HELP YOURSELF ran at the Popular Price Theatre of the Federal Theatre Project.  I regret I can’t take you inside the building at that time to show you what Ace Recording looked like in 1940; you will have to imagine:

NEW YORK – JULY 1: Exterior of the Manhattan Theatre at 1697 Broadway at West 53rd Street, New York, NY. It later becomes The Ed Sullivan Theater. Image dated July 1, 1936. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

It’s a foxy hop.  Meet me there!  (“There” is problematic.  The original Cotton Club had been in Harlem, but it was segregated — providing Black entertainment for Whites only.  By the time Louis was broadcasting for CBS “from the Cotton Club,” it had moved downtown to Broadway and 48th Street and was no longer segregated, but it closed in 1940.  So go the glories of hepdom.)

May your happiness increase!

THEY LED BANDS, OR PLAYED IN THEM: A COLLECTION OF SIGNATURES

Thanks to jgautographs for putting these and other bits of sacred ephemera up on eBay, where I found them.  This seller has a wide range — from Mae West and Rudy Vallee to Stephen Sondheim, Playbills, actors and actresses both famous and obscure.  But I thought the JAZZ LIVES audience would especially warm to these signatures (some, late-career, but all authentic-looking, many inscribed to Al or Albert) from bandleaders and famous musicians.  In no particular order of reverence.

This is not common at all:

Artie Shaw, 1984:


The Kid From Red Bank, undated (but its casualness makes it feel all the more authentic, with rust, mildew, or food embellishments):

Pioneering trumpeter Billie Rogers:

Glorious lead trumpeter Jimmie Maxwell (always listed as “Jimmy”); I regret that he died two years before I moved into his Long Island town:

Yes, Sammy Kaye, included here because of a Ruby Braff story, memorable and paraphrased: an interviewer tried to get Ruby to say something harsh about this sweet band, and Ruby retorted that if he saw Sammy he would kiss him, because “You had to be a MUSICIAN to play in those bands!”  True:

The front of a card, signed by the insufficiently-celebrated Miff Mole:

and the back, which tells the story, although the handwriting is mysterious and the stains might require a good chemical laboratory to identify — circa 1944:

and two signatures from people who spent their lives signing autographs, the Sentimental Gentleman:

and That Drummer Man, 1967:

Once again, it brings up the question of what we leave behind us when we depart, and how are we remembered.  Did Basie or Gene think, when they were signing a fan’s autograph book, that their signatures would be for sale decades later?  I don’t know what to hope.

May your happiness increase!

HERE, BUT NOT HERE: JAMES DAPOGNY at the PIANO (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 29, 2014)

James Dapogny, in thought, at Jazz at Chautauqua. Photograph by Michael Steinman.

James Dapogny’s corporeal self left us six months ago, and we cannot dispute it, although his absence is painful, impossible to accept. But I tell myself he is still here with us in particularly odd and generous ways — appropriate to the man himself, surprising, unpredictable, warm, lively.

When an interviewer talked to Bobby Hackett after Louis’ death, Bobby said that Louis wasn’t dead because we could still hear him, and in some ways that is a consolation.  I will leave it to you whether a collection of recorded music adds up to the whole person or is simply a slice of the pie: I lean to the latter, although I treasure the evidence.  And I know I’ve drawn spiritual nourishment from immersing myself in the art of people who died before I was born.  Still, the loss of the Prof. is too much to rationalize.  So all I can do is offer you the following, Jim warming up the piano by playing his own blues, a video not seen or heard before:

Chris Smith, Jim’s deep friend and co-leader of the band PORK, says this of the video: As you can imagine, I heard Jim do this sort of playing countless times. Just playing the blues in many keys. There is a spiritual aspect to it, that is obvious. But he was also doing the real work of a musician that involves touching on those corners of the music that sometimes trip us up in performance (hitting the V/V, etc.). Playing the blues is good for us in so many ways. And yes, it is really funny that we don’t see him until the very last second.

I feel that Jim would be amused by this video, perhaps touched by how much I and others cherish it.  And him.  When the invisible pianist can make sounds that move us, does he remain invisible?  I don’t know.  And I must muse over Jim as he mused over the piano.  All he gave — and gives — us is precious.

I omit the usual closing.  It will reappear, but it’s not in the right key here.

“AMERICA’S LEADING COLORED THEATRE 125th ST. near 8th Ave. — Tel. UNiversity 4-4490”

If you know jazz and popular music, and something about that part of New York City called Harlem, then you must know about the Apollo Theatre.  And here are some lovely relics from it.

Here is the eBay link for one of these holy artifacts from 1938, 1942, and 1946.  (You can find the other two with a click or two.)  Wondrous pieces of paper that delineate a world of music so delicious it’s hard to imagine now.  I’ve provided somewhat of an idiosyncratic soundtrack of artists who have appeared at the Apollo.

But here’s the evidence, first from 1938:

and

1942:

and

and

and

and 1946:

If you can read these pieces of paper without wishing, “Goodness, why wasn’t I born then?” you are operating on a different level of sentimentality and emotion. But for the rest of us, these are doors into wonderful universes.

May your happiness increase!