Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

PLAYLAND, or SONNY STRIDES BY (2011)

I met the delightfully imaginative Carl Sonny Leyland a decade or more ago, and was quickly made welcome in his many-hued world.  More about that whimsy of mine after the music.  Don’t let the somber photo study above spook you: that is the face he puts on when he wants a minute’s peace after having been polite to his many admirers.

Hot Jazz sometimes can seem a little lopsided, tilting in the direction of the past, of course because there is so much beauty to be found there).  Musicians in the present treat the past in divergent ways: I’ll call them Strict Tempo and Rubato.  The ST people approach with awe and reverence, as if the materials we have — mostly recordings and sheet music, transcriptions and the like — are tiles in a holy mosaic.  Their commendable goal is to reproduce past glories as accurately as possible.  That’s not easy, as anyone who has tried to sound like Charlie Christian or Joe Thomas can tell you.  The Rubato fellows have lovely vintage neckties, but theirs are loosened; Rubato women wear gorgeous vintage dresses but might pair them with red Keds.  They feel that the heroes were innovative, and would encourage a kind of respectful innovation as the greatest tribute.

I write this to introduce Sonny’s lively and individualistic treatment of James P. Johnson’s CAROLINA SHOUT in March 2011, location unknown, although perhaps a house party, with the gentleman on the couch exhausted by it all — hedonism is tough work:

I have no doubt that James P. is admiring this and pointing to that young fellow at the keyboard with pride.

To PLAYLAND.  I could have put on my English-professor garb and said that Sonny lives by the light of Whitman and Emerson, encompassing multitudes, delighting in contradictions, trusting himself.  True — perhaps a little pompous, but valid.

However, even though it is childish to pun on people’s names, I had the vision of Sonny as creator and proprietor of a vast — although secret — amusement park, with bright lights, sleek modernist rides made of gleaming metal in curves and elliptical orbits, snack bars serving Bombay gin and chickpea curry, and at odd corners of the park signs enticing Annoying People, pedants, and arm-grabbers to be sucked into darkness and deposited miles away, to teach them to be less Annoying.  No hot dogs, no distorted music coming through speakers.  I’d be delighted to visit.  But until we are invited, we can hear its proprietor creating lively surprises at the keyboard.

 

ERNIE HACKETT REMEMBERS HIS JAZZ FAMILY: “DAD,” “UNCLE VIC,” “PAPA JO,” “MR. SINATRA,” and MORE (December 2020)

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will.  In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.

Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago.  Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me.  Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appears here and here (Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.

Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.

Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.

He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.

When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.

[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.

He got along with just about everybody.

Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]

They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.

Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.

Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!

When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.

If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!

Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.

The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.

I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.

[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.

His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”

What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.

I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!

Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house.  I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember.  There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.

I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.

Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.

On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.

Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.

I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra.  [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]

Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.

The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.

I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.

Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.

But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.

But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”

Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!

So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.

Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.

One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.

I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.

My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.

So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.

And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.

The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.

There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.

So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”

Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!

The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”

“Just an honor!” sums it up for me.  Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, “A VERY LOVING MAN,” RECALLED BY HIS FAMILY

Facebook is good for something.  Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now.  I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.

For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine.  I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.

But first, some memorable music.

Pat Butterfield:  He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous.  He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too.  Some people took advantage of him because of that.  My father was very quiet.

He liked to read a lot.  When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read.  Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians.  Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired.  And he listened to a lot of music in the house.  He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time.  He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it.  I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven.  In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata.  I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef.  He would sit down and play the piano.  The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring.  My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that.  My brother played with string bass with him several times.

Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also.  We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most.  And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.

Billy was very humble.  He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak.  I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah.  So, Clyde, how’s school?  How’re you doing in baseball?”  He would just change the subject.

Judi Groves: He was very shy.  He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say.  It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done.  You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa.  He came home and never even spoke about it.  I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards.  He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience.  He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel.  He was very loyal to his band in that way also.  He was a very loving man.

When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister.  My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins.  My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia.  He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed.  We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from.  They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there.  He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it.  But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight.  I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.

Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything.  That was his favorite thing.  He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice.  And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE.  Yank Lawson was an all-time great.  And I put Billy there too.  They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were.  He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five.  He played with everybody.

Judi:  He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.

Clyde:  Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials.  Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX?  That’s a true joy to listen to.  There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names.  He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.

Judi: He did!  He was a funny man.

Clyde:  When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was.  I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones.  I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was.  My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”

Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating.  He was thoughtful and kind.  I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me.  Of course, then all my drinks were on the house.  All around us, people would be whispering.  You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew.  He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me.  There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.

Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.

Clyde:  It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals.  But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it.  He was pretty young then.

You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him?  Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band.  As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed.  After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band.  Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.”  Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it.  I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York.  So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby.  The chances of the stars aligning like that.  If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy.  That was his big start.  He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York.  He played football.  He was on the high school and college team.

Judi:  He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.

Pat:  Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road.  The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt.  The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York.  He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC.  I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt.  That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times.  My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit.  That entailed a few arguments.

I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen.  After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house.  It was really strange.  But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles.  Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other.  I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton.  Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.

Clyde:  Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale.  They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal.  I went over with a friend of mine to help them move.  Billy was built like a bulldog.  But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also.  We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy.  Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.”  And he picked that thing up like it was a feather.  I was thinking, “All he does is play music.  He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up.  I was the one struggling with it.

You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later.  I was always in love with her.  I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how.  But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information.  Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house.  And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do.  You want to bet?”  I said, “Yes.”  And she said, “This is Clyde.”  I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.”  People didn’t have Caller ID then.  So her mom helped reunite us.

Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92.  She was something!  She was a lot of fun.  Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.

Clyde:  They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect.  And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young.  She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out.  She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.

Judi:  When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin.  I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor.  I know he went to the University of Transylvania.  His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father.  I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice.  When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college.  Hard times back then.  His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.

He was beyond talented.  Most of his recordings were done in one take.  But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life.  He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians.  He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha.  When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was.  Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s.  They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band.  You know with musicians, they all have big heads.  Daddy wasn’t about that.  I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.

When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv.  We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat.  We always lived on or near the water, he loved that.  He loved being around family.

Clyde:  They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill.  Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time.  He enjoyed his time at home for sure.

Judi:  And he liked to watch golf.  I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv.  He liked to play.

Pat:  When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around.  We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti.  We were all members of the same country club in Brookville.  My father was apparently a terrible golfer.  He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!

Judi:  But he never really kept anything he ever did.  Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it.  Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records.  And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay.  He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous.  Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him.  So we didn’t.

Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band.  Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall.  But he loved playing.  That was his passion.  Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.

The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra.  When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.

You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy.  So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”

Judi:  He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it.  He had to keep his lip up, you know.

Clyde:  He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig.  It was part of him.  You have to keep your skills up.

Judi:  I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball.  He was on the road a lot.  Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot.  Jazz was very big in Europe.  He played over there all the time.  I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks.  That was really cool.  That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show.  But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns.  These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow.  It was a wonderful trip.  I got to see how much the people really loved him.  I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad.  I’ll never forget that.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  This was 1981-1982, something like that.

Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel.  Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy.  He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally.  He was a very giving man.  If he could help somebody out, he would.  And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.

Judi:  Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad.   He was a saint!

Pat:  He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together.  I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.

Clyde:  Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.

Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE.  He always played that for me.  But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL.  I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time.  Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video.  And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever.  They did really well with the harmony of that.  I really loved it.

Pat:  It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life.  And Dad definitely drank.  He functioned, though.  He tended to be more of a binge drinker.  He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot.  But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road.  My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back.  He spent the night on the train quite a few times.

Clyde:  I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor.  They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool.  And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up.  He was a lot of fun to be around.

Pat:  He was a really genuine individual.  He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance.  He enjoyed life.

I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield.  More about Billy tomorrow!

May your happiness increase!

NANCY HARROW COMES BEARING GIFTS, AGAIN: “PARTNERS II”

There are many signs that 2021 will be a New and Improved Year: you can list your own.  A significant one is the appearance of a new Nancy Harrow CD, PARTNERS II: I Don’t Know What Kind of Blues I’ve Got.  For those of you who greet this news with delight — and for those of you who have the pleasure of discovering Nancy Harrow waiting for you — here’s her HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME, with Clark Terry, Dick Katz, Ray Drummond, and Ben Riley:

One of the most beautiful things about that performance is that, hearing it again, I don’t think, “Oh, that’s a Billie Holiday song,” but rather, “How wonderful Nancy sounds!” For the moment, Billie has retired to another room.

This, to me, is testament to the strength — a winning strength — of Nancy’s artistic self.  The cliche is “She sounds like herself,” but it is not a cliche, especially when so many singers do not.

Singing should be easy — we are organisms capable of making all kinds of vocal sounds, from the pleased wordless sounds of delight when we meet, by chance, someone we haven’t seen for a long time, to the sound we might make when something falls on your bare foot.  But we know that singing is more than opening one’s mouth and — even knowing the melody and the words — letting our impulses take over.  So much is craft, simultaneously delicate and passionate, the way one phrases a particular word in a line, the tone one uses to surround that word, the timbre.

In HAVIN’ MYSELF A TIME, the placement of each syllable is the result of Nancy’s lifetime of on-the-job immersion; at the same time, it is improvised and fresh, a kind of emotion-driven speech set to music.  She has immersed herself in the song so that the sharp edges of where Song ends and where Nancy starts are happily erased, but her personality shines through in every choice she makes.  It’s not Acting in some melodramatic way but Nancy is having herself a time for those minutes it takes the performance to unfold.  I hear her smile, but it is a wise smile, not boundless enthusiasm, separate from craft.

Not for the first time, hearing Nancy, I think of the paradox she presents, evoking Whitman,

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

where at once she leans forward to tell us a secret in her own quiet way, even as the secret is sung aloud to everyone in the room.  Her art is completely personal and completely universal.  I haven’t described the perfect tang of her singing voice, at once tender and salty, her emotional range, also moving from sly amusement to grief, her innate rhythmic pulse, her complete connection with the words as well as the melody line: you must hear these magics for yourself.  And you have a new opportunity in PARTNERS II.

This disc is an anthology of performances Nancy selected — from 1961 to 2016 — with two previously unissued performances.  Even if you have squirreled away all of Nancy’s CDs (a lovely shelf-full) as I have, it is thrilling to hear her own choices, arranged as if brilliant tiles in a mosaic or familiar poems in new contexts, each reflecting the sheen of its neighbor, seeming new because of it.  And PARTNERS II (there is a I, also available) speaks to Nancy’s sense of the buoyant jazz community, so we also hear Buck Clayton, Phil Woods, Kenny Barron, Grady Tate, Frank Wess, Bob Brookmeyer, Roland Hanna, Jack Wilkins, Jim McNeely, Rufus Reid, John Lewis, Richard Davis, Connie Kay, Terri Lyne Carrington, George Mraz, and Bob Brookmeyer.

Here’s one more — Nancy’s own (yes! words and music) IF I WANT TO, with Chris Ziemba, Owen Broder, Alex Claffy, Dennis Mackrel:

PARTNERS II is available as a physical disc from Amazon, and in digital format at all the usual places.  More importantly, it is Nancy’s gift of her music, of her irreplaceable self — things told in confidence that we can treasure as our own.

May your happiness increase!

“APOSTLE OF SHELLAC”: MATTHEW RIVERA (The Syncopated Times, January 2021)

Matthew Rivera, music lover, filmmaker, scholar, writer, record collector, broadcaster, someone devoted to sharing not one but several Gospels, has been someone I admire for a few years now.  I first heard him playing wondrous music on WKCR-FM, then met him in person in Greenwich Village, playing rare jazz 78 rpm records to live people in public — imagine that! — then as the Proprietor and Democratic Guide of the Hot Club of New York, which holds free Zoom sessions every Monday night from 7-10 PM, where you can hear surprising music and lively discussion.  (Visit the site to get the Zoom link.)  In October 2019, I did a video interview with Matthew, which you can see here.  Matthew also presents on various aspects of jazz — in a relaxed erudite way — for the New York Adventure Club.  I predict we will read, see, and hear more from this flourishing young man.

Some music to get you in the mood: OUT OF NOWHERE, by Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, and Veronica Lake (thanks to Emrah Erken for the clear transfer):

It was a real pleasure to be able to write a profile of Matthew for the remarkable and durable (the January 2021 issue is their sixtieth) The Syncopated Times  — that issue’s cover story is devoted to the splendid Jen Hodge.  Matthew’s story can be read here (with illustrations) but I trust that the good-natured Andy Senior, editor of TST, will forgive me for offering the full text here, under the same elastic law that allows the person doing the cooking to sample the soup to see if it’s done.  I encourage you to subscribe to TST — which is why I have been running an ad for it at the bottom of JAZZ LIVES posts for many moons now.

But here’s Matthew himself.

APOSTLE OF SHELLAC: MATTHEW “FAT CAT” RIVERA

Born in 1996, in Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew Rivera is making jazz vibrate to new audiences in many ways.  I met him first as a sound-phenomenon on the radio: who was this young man playing rare hot music from 78 rpm discs he treasured, and offering wise commentary?  He started “Hot Club” 78-listening sessions in New York jazz clubs, regularly at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York, then founded the Hot Club of New York, which has free Monday-night Zoom sessions, he continues to broadcast; he gives erudite yet relaxed presentations of jazz for the New York Adventure Club, and has a book in progress. 

MS: Did jazz hit you like a conversion, or was it a gradually growing fascination?

Both. We’re fascinated when music catches us off guard, but we’re converted when we return to it. For instance, I first heard Billie Holiday’s “Did I Remember” on a movie soundtrack and I was smitten, but my ear truly changed after I sought out the recording and heard it again and again. I try to balance my love for the familiar with fascination for the unfamiliar, though often the familiar wins out. To use Amiri Baraka’s phrase, we have to “Keep Digging.”

MS:  Was there jazz on the family soundtrack when you were growing up?

 There were only scraps of jazz to hear or see in my youth. Maybe I’d see something in a movie, or hear a blues based tune on the oldies station. That truly sad fact indicates jazz’s position in our contemporary world. Somewhere we lost sight of the ongoing struggle for jazz’s power. The incredible thing you have to stress about jazz history is that in 1938 everyone was listening to jazz. Whether you wanted to or not, or even whether you knew it or not, in 1938, near a high point in the industrialization of music, it was impossible to escape an essentially non-conformist music that spoke about the conditions of life in America. That didn’t happen simply because people liked jazz then or because it was a new thing, it happened because of the tough fight the musicians put up to be seen and heard. What we may have forgotten is that this struggle, like all social struggles, is recurring.  The fight for jazz was obviously not won forever in 1938.  On every level—socially, economically, in essence politically—the situation today is completely different from the height of jazz’s popularity.  We have to change our strategy.  I have no prescription for how to change things, but I spend a lot of time thinking, “How did we get here?”

MS:   I first encountered you as a disembodied voice, broadcasting music rarely if ever heard in public, such as Red Allen’s 1935-36 delights, on an afternoon jazz program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, in 2017.  How did you get there?

 I arrived at Columbia in 2014 with the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins stuck in my head. My friend Evan Sennett and I had just made a movie in Louisville about two friends of ours who are searching for a fictional jazz musician, and I added in lines like, “I like Prez better than Hawk.” It was just a complete fantasy about my friends also liking jazz from the ’30s. I was walking around campus on the first day thinking “I bet no one here knows who Bunny Berigan is,” having no clue about the incredible jazz legacy of Columbia’s radio station or that I was standing on the sundial in the middle of campus where Red Allen had once played. Then someone approached me with a box of LPs to promote WKCR. The first thing I saw was a Bunny Berigan record. When I picked up my jaw, I found out where WKCR was, and there I eventually met the great Charles Iselin who was hosting a multi-part show on Red Allen. Shortly thereafter, a tall, boisterous man in a seersucker suit and pink socks appeared and did a voluminous impression of Red Allen driving his car around Times Square, said a few things about the California Ramblers, made a point about Tommy Ladnier that trailed into Muggsy Spanier, and then stormed out of the station to catch the subway. When I caught my breath, Charles told me that was Phil Schaap.

I went to Columbia to study film, though I ended up studying English and anthropology instead because of professors like Ann Douglas, Brent Edwards, and Robert O’Meally who incorporate jazz heavily into their literature courses and teach cultural history. My love for jazz came about initially from movies. My parents wisely took me to see The Aviator when I was eight and I remember being affected not only by the planes and movie cameras, but by the jazz age soundtrack.  Later on I saw Anatomy of a Murder one summer at the Palace Theater. After I saw Duke Ellington in that film and heard the truly ‘noirvana’ soundtrack, I went to Highland Records in Louisville and asked if they had any Ellington LPs. They didn’t have any, which only added to my curiosity. I felt provoked to hear the music whenever I could.

When I showed up at WKCR, I already loved jazz, but I didn’t quite yet realize its importance or vastness. That came from Phil Schaap and older students like Charles Iselin, David Beal, and Francis Mayo. Suddenly I was thrown into a tradition of 24-hour birthday broadcasts, memorial broadcasts, morning listening sessions, five-hour profiles, and discographical inquiries. I came to the station thinking Star Dust by Louis Armstrong, Easy to Love by Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, Burgundy Street Blues by George Lewis, and If I Were a Bell by Miles Davis were all I would ever need to know and now I’m seeing Charles spinning these heavy, fragile 78s and listing off personnel and dates from fat red volumes. Early on, Fran Mayo organized a caravan — three vans of students — to drive to Bessie Smith’s grave and pay our respects. Not long after that the Norwegian solographer Jan Evensmo showed up at the station.  Charles and I spent the day listening to rare Roy Eldridge airshots with him that only exist at the station. I learned about the station’s efforts to save Eldridge’s collection when it washed up on the beaches of Far Rockaway during Hurricane Sandy. I heard Schaap’s 45- minute mic breaks, I learned about the Dizzy Gillespie red chair, I saw the thousands of interview reels in the vaults.  I was in the middle of complete and total love for music which up to that point I had only known in solitude.

Ultimately what amazed me about WKCR was what I would learn more formally from Phil Schaap when he became my mentor without me even realizing it. First, I learned from him that all music is present tense and not to get caught up in ideologies about progress or overvalue either the future or the past. Secondly, I learned not to be a swing chauvinist or a BeBop chauvinist. One of the most beautiful traditions we have on WKCR is our back to back Ornette Coleman and Bix Beiderbecke birthday broadcasts and I have learned, albeit rather belatedly, to love both dearly. Ultimately, I learned that music has a social and political function, and this, and the biographies of musicians, is inseparable and essential to understanding the sounds I loved. I learned from friends at WKCR and my teachers at Columbia to hear the essential spirit of the music’s makers. I learned to appreciate the very real connections that popular taste and criticism have largely overlooked. I learned that tastes are mutable, therefore I can’t let my taste or the taste of others guide my ears or changes my direction. I learned to follow musical daring.

MS:  For those who don’t know Phil Schaap, who is he?

Phil is a radio host, educator, sound engineer, and historian—simply a worker for jazz and the hardest working person I’ve ever met. There is an unbelievable passion in the man who speaks on air for 45 minutes straight listing record personnel, dates, and Dodgers scores by heart, remembering what he ate when he met Duke Ellington, flipping, cuing, EQing, and playing a 78 in a matter of seconds, excerpting the eight-bar Chu Berry solo and playing it twenty times in a row, working for jazz like he is running a lifelong marathon. What he teaches is basically music appreciation, not performance. Phil has aimed to get musicians better gigs, to teach listening to experts and newcomers alike, to introduce new generations of listeners to jazz, and to make jazz sound better through high quality sound productions. 

I never would be able to learn as much as I have without Phil because he taught me how to find the music, not just to settle with what I already knew. Because of his unusual methods and his aversion to mediocrity, people like to imagine Phil as a modern version of Balzac’s Père Goriot: a tragically misunderstood artifact from a different world. But Phil became a friend, a mentor, and my main influence because his mission is to bring people to jazz. He showed me what work needed to be done, and what a worker for jazz should be.

The other person I have to explain and give a big shout out to is CHARLES ISELIN! When I met Charles, I was interested in 78s because I had seen Crumb and was curious about the records in that movie. I’m a collector at heart and I don’t think that’s a shameful or embarrassing thing if the collector reflects upon him or herself, reads some Walter Benjamin, and remembers to shower once in a while. I asked Charles if he had any 78s and he went back to the archive and hauled out a box of records he had just bought. Flipping through the stack, I noticed Who by Frankie Newton on Bluebird, not because of Newton, who is now my hero, but because of Mezz Mezzrow, whose book Really the Blues I had just read and loved! Charles grinned and put on Who. I think that devil knew I was about to get hooked on some deep s*** because sure enough that night I went on eBay and bought a Red Allen Vocalion though I didn’t even have a way to play it. He showed me that the 78s were the closest I could get to the music.

MS: What led up to your founding the Hot Club of New York, whose central purpose is offering listeners “a chance to hear scarce records in their historic and aesthetic contexts, and to discuss jazz in a relaxed environment”?

Remember, I’m a filmmaker who likes jazz, but slowly there were events that led to the Hot Club. I met Parker Fishel and David Beal, two righteous fellows who loved the music, and particularly loved the Blues which was always the heart of it. That’s the main thing: the Blues is the spirit and when jazz loses the Blues, jazz loses the spirit. Everyone from Freddie Keppard to Cecil Taylor knew that. So I know that anyone who loves the Blues, like Parker and David do, is going to be a friend. Parker invited me over to his place to listen to Pete Brown records, and David and Ben Young showed up too. That was the first Hot Club I went to, and the beginning of the Neo Hot Club Movement. I’d never had that experience, other than with Charles, of listening to the music deeply and quietly, and lovingly. That’s the experience I’ve always tried to recreate with the Hot Club, whether it was at a dressed up cellar in the Village or on Zoom on Monday nights.

 MS: They call you “Fat Cat.”  But you’re not a bulky plutocrat.

Yes, I hope that handle is unlike me in more ways than one—like Tiny Parham. That really gets us to the first official Neo Hot Club: Morristown, hosted by Melissa Jones. Phil, Ben, Charles, Emily Fenster, Sam Engel, and a whole bunch would drive or ride the train out to Morristown, New Jersey, to listen to rare 78s on a top of the line sound system. I still didn’t have a turntable or anything at that time. I was only listening to my 78s at WKCR, which didn’t sound as good as at Melissa’s. On the ride back from Morristown once, Phil mentioned a Sippie Wallace 78 of which he had only known two copies to exist. There was his, and there was Johnson “Fat Cat” McRree Jr.’s, a collector and jazz festival host from Virginia. I was shocked because I had just bought the record for $8 on the internet, only it had a sizable dig in the grooves near the end.  So the next time we went out to Morristown, I brought the Sippie Wallace record and showed it to Phil.  It was the first time I had ever seen him impressed by anything. He was sweating, his eyes were bulging like a Crumb cartoon, his voice was cracking, and he told me to put on the record which I’m already in the middle of doing. As we were all listening to this unbelievably emotional, soulful blues record with Louis Armstrong and someone who wants to sound like Bechet, it gets to the chip in the grooves and Phil goes absolutely berserk, stands up in his chair, his face red, shouting “That’s Fat Cat’s copy!! You’re the Fat Cat! Fat Cat Rivera.” I had bought Fat Cat McRree Jr.’s copy for eight dollars.

MS:  You took piano lessons for ten years: tell us your James P. Johnson story.

My first encounters with music were encounters with the piano. My uncle and grandmother both played and inspired me to play. I took lessons with a true friend Calvin Pinney, a kind, churchgoing woman who would not stand for rushing or fast tempos and would have no deviation from the notes on the page. I still have her look of “You didn’t practice, did you?” burned into my mind. I took lessons up to the point where I was playing Bach two-part inventions and the four Gershwin preludes pretty solidly. Then I found a transcription of James P. Johnson playing If Dreams Come True. I listened to that music non-stop, I tried to play it, and it basically broke me down completely. I realized then, I can read music, I can interpret the old masters, I play the Rodgers and Hart songbook at a party for tips, I can even slide into Gershwin, but I can’t do THAT. I realized I was an audience member.

MS: It’s obvious you aren’t traveling this rocky road alone.

I learn from my peers, and it’s here I must thank Colin Hancock, the single most important jazz scholar living today and one of my best friends. Vince Giordano has helped me quite a bit, and with his working orchestra, The Nighthawks, he has shown us all the power of the jazz age ten piece big bands. I didn’t realize it until about ten years later, but one of my first introductions to jazz, watching The Aviator, was an introduction by Vince Giordano who performed most of the music for that film. Not to lift the curtain, Michael, but you are also an important peer and friend. Al Vollmer, David Sager, Ricky Riccardi, Scott Wenzel, Jan Evensmo, Lloyd Rauch, Andrew Oliver, Scout Opatut, Evan Arntzen, Lucy Yeghiazaryan, and countless others have taught me more than a thing or two about jazz. Still the people I learn the most from are my close friends Sam Fentress, Alex Garnick, Evan Sennett, Aaron Friedman, Laura Cadena, and Sophie Kovel, and most importantly my love, Elena Burger. They are all tuned in to our generation. They understand what the Hot Club mission is about and the sociality and politics of art and history.  In their own individual ways, they are all non-conformist thinkers which is what I want to be. Then there’s the rarest of them all, a non-conformist thinker who understands jazz: my professor Ann Douglas who wrote Terrible Honesty and has guided me in everything from Charlie Parker to Raymond Chandler. She is someone I am honored to say is my friend.

MS:  How does jazz fit into your other passions — politics, film, American culture?  Are there connections between Charlie Johnson and your literary heroes?

Jazz is the most specific of these topics because it relies essentially on an attitude and outlook towards life. It is the best part of American culture, but it is obviously not all of American culture. The outlook is, plainly enough, the Blues outlook—an honest square look at all of life’s nasty stuff that is deeply hurt by it and still finds a way to laugh it off, to see light not only at the other side of the tunnel but in the tunnel itself. Though not always successful at looking, or at laughing, and not always the most approachable thing, if you judge jazz at its best (as we should always judge) it’s the only light. I appreciate other music through jazz—certainly Cuban son, Puerto Rican plena, Old Time mountain music, Cajun, gospel, Dominican merengue, Hawaiian hula, Bach, Bob Dylan, West African palm wine, Greek rebetika—but I’ve learned I basically appreciate everything that has the Blues outlook. Outside of jazz, film noir and noir literature have been the strongest expression of this Blues spirit. The spirit, of course, predates the modern Blues as well, and it can be seen in the novels of Balzac and the poems of Sappho.  Although Charlie Johnson, as a person and artist, was basically nothing like David Goodis, they both dug into the Blues with a feeling, as a song by Duke Ellington is titled.

MS:  How did you get from being “A 78 record collector” to founding the Hot Club of New York, and what do you see as its future?

Through the path people like Phil, Charles, Melissa, David, and Parker have shown me, I have seen that jazz is a social phenomenon. There’s a book called Musicking by Christopher Small which says the music is more than the object on stage, but the entire social interaction, the space, the love and the people. Dancing, record collecting, record listening, and most certainly performance attending are all acts of musicking with almost as much importance for the social space as the performance itself.

This way of understanding music is lost on us.  Generally, we have lost sight of the need for an audience. If there are more musicians on stage than audience members in the house — which I’m sad to say I have witnessed — then it’s only public practice. I realized the same thing about collecting the records. If I’m only playing them for myself I’m not getting them all they’re worth. Even having the 78s is only half the battle. I’ve got to play them for people, and I have to find people who want to listen and teach more people to want to listen. The ultimate mission of the Hot Club is to introduce a new audience to jazz, and to create a space of active jazz musicking. 

Melissa Jones, whom I first met as a classmate at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University, basically lives this idea of music, supporting and bringing together the jazz community in any way possible. I’ve already mentioned the Hot Club of Morristown. Melissa would host young musicians and listeners at her house, feeding all of us to the gills. It didn’t matter who we were as long as we loved jazz. I think the most important part of the Neo Hot Club came from Melissa as she constantly reminded me of jazz’s ultimate cause: to bring people together. She exemplified an angel of musicking to a generation of young jazz people, and when the future hit all too soon this year I took her cue to begin hosting Zoom Hot Club meetings on Monday nights. Her presence there has continued to bond the group of listeners from all backgrounds. I dedicate this interview to Melissa Jones.

MS: What are some prizes of your collection?  Do you have desert island discs?

Well, assuming I can take a ship the size of the Titanic to the island…. My number one is Out of Nowhere by Coleman Hawkins with a stunning muted trumpet by Benny Carter on HMV. 

I’m also grateful to say I have a mint copy of Cecil Scott’s Lawd, Lawd on Victor, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band’s Chattanooga Stomp and Camp Meeting Blues on Columbia, Chick Webb’s If Dreams Come True on Columbia, Jack Purvis’s Down Georgia Way, Charlie Johnson’s Charleston is the Best Dance After All, both takes of Louis Armstrong’s Star Dust, Armstrong’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue on OKeh, a west coast pressing of Art Karle’s Lights Out with my favorite Frankie Newton solo, Tell Me, Dreamy Eyes by Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra on Gennett (thanks to Colin Hancock), Wipe ’em Off by the Seven Gallon Jug Band, Noah’s Blues by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Ice Freezes Red by Fats Navarro, My Baby’s Blues by the Blues Man on Juke Box, a vinylite pressing of Coleman Hawkins’s Talk of the Town, a vinylite of Bird of Paradise on Dial and my favorite Charlie Parker Thriving on a Riff on a beautiful sounding vinylite Savoy. Every record I own is one I could never part with! A test pressing of With a Smile and a Song, an unissued side from a Teddy Wilson session with the beautiful singer Sally Gooding and the tenor great Chu Berry, is a crown jewel.

MS:  Does record collecting feed the music or vice versa?

Through collecting records I came to understand that there are alternative ways to listen to and find music. Jazz came to have a context, and context is never icing on the cake. Context is always the thing itself when you get down to it. We’ve lost sight of that fact through the current ways of distributing music, and that’s why I think we are left with an understanding of music that is supporting an ideology that handicaps the music and strips it of its active life. Jazz is not an abstract music just like Pollock and Krasner were not abstract painters. Pollock painted about the censorship of the cold war; he danced around the oppressors to say exactly what they were afraid art was capable of saying, which is what the jazz musicians he was listening to had already done. Jazz musicians danced around power to create something seemingly nonsensical to the unhip, but explicitly communicative to its righteous audience. Spotify, YouTube, and all of the current ways of distributing music decontextualize and deactivate music. The way these apps envision music shows exactly where those in power want it to be: in the background. Ironically, their outlook inadvertently acknowledges the importance and power of jazz.  It’s our way out.   

MS: You’ve been doing intriguing research on Frankie Newton.  Why is he a hero?

Frankie Newton is important to me because he was on the first 78 I heard, and he has since become more important to me because he showed me the way to the music.  For someone who was dead for over forty years before my birth to show me the way is nothing short of the ultimate vision of jazz’s power. The same can be said of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, or Billie Holiday, but for me Newton has had the loudest voice because whenever you find him, he is never caught up in the zero sum game of the culture industry, playing hide and seek to make a living and still not lose his soul. Perhaps Coltrane equals him in this regard. Newton was politically minded, but even before I knew about his politics I knew about his activities as a painter.

As someone who was balancing playing jazz records and making films and studying literature I found any character who delved into another medium from a jazz perspective to be fascinating and exceptional. The more I’ve learned about Newton, combing through newspapers, periodicals, and an interview disc I found in a junk shop, the more I’ve found that his position on the margins of jazz popularity shows the fault lines in our understanding of the music, and a point of view that contrasts revealingly with the more famous artists of his time. Moreover, and most importantly, Frankie Newton is a truly great musician.  He is the best kind of soloist—he speaks for the whole group when he solos, not just for himself. I’m always curious to hear what he has to say.

MS:  We feel the same way about Matthew Rivera! 

Although I’ve thanked a lot of people in this interview, ultimately there are two groups of people to whom I’m most grateful.  First, my parents and family in Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, and Puerto Rico, and secondly, the pioneering jazz musicians of every generation.  They are the original jazz workers, and all I want to do is work for them.

Matthew can be found broadcasting (from his apartment) via wkcr.org on Mondays 12-3 PM EST.  Join the Hot Club of New York at http://hotclubny.com (there’s also a HCNY Facebook page) where you can find the Zoom link for his Monday night sessions from 7-10 PM.  Information about his programs for the New York Adventure Club can be found at https://nyadventureclub.com.

May your happiness increase!

 

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS ABOUT PETER

Yesterday, I posted a video of Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs performing BIG BOY here, and the response was so enthusiastic that I thought, “Let’s have another one right now.”

Ninety-five years ago, people were praising Peter — first instrumentally (Herb Wiedoft, Glen Oswald’s Serenaders, the Broadway Dance Orchestra, Paul Specht, Alex Hyde, Red Nichols)  — then vocally (Arthur Fields with Sam Lanin) and the 1932 “Rhythmakers” sessions that Philip Larkin thought the highest art.

Here, as a historical benchmark, is a 1924 version by Glen Oswald’s Serenaders (recorded in Oakland, California)  — a varied arrangement, full of bounce:

“Peter” remains a mystery – – but we do know that he was “so nice,” as proven by four versions of this secular hymn of praise to his romantic ardor recorded in April and May 1932 by the Rhythmakers, a beyond-our-wildest-dreams group featuring Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Zutty Singleton. If you don’t know the Rhythmakers sessions, you are honor-bound to do some of the most pleasurable research.

But here we are in 2014, with Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at the one-day al fresco jazz party held at Cline Wineries in Napa, California. This wondrous little band — having themselves a time while making sure we do also — is Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Members of the Cubs have been known to burst into song, but this time Peter’s praises must be imagined or implied.  However, Ray and the Cubs are clearly nice and more: no ambiguity there.

The Cubs continue to delight me for the best reasons.  They don’t wear brightly-colored polo shirts; they are humorous but not jokey; they play hot and sweet music — honoring everyone from Frank Teschemacher and Eddie Condon to Jimmie Noone and Jeni Le Gon — without putting on the kind of show that more popular “trad” bands get away with.  They are what Milt Hinton called GOOD MUSIC, and I celebrate them.  Tell the children that such a thing exists, please.

And a digression (what’s a blog for if the CEO can’t digress?) — OH PETER — no comma in the original — was composed by Herb Wiedoft, Gene Rose, and Jesse Stafford.  Wiedoft played trumpet and led his own orchestra, where Rose played piano and wrote arrangements; Stafford played trombone and baritone horn.  And here is the original sheet music, verse and chorus.

I take a deep breath and point out that “peter” has been slang for “penis” since the mid-nineteenth century. . . . so “When you are by my side / That’s when I’m satisfied,” and “There’s nothing sweeter, Peter, Peter,” in the chorus, has always made me wonder, and the verse, new to me, contains the lines, “I’m missin’ / Your love and kissin’ ? And lots of other things too.”  The lyrics do state that Peter is a real person who has been “stepping out,” but if the song were titled OH SAMMY, would it have the same effect?  (What of Morton’s 1929 SWEET PETER, by the way?)  Perhaps you will propose that I need a more virtuous life, but I wonder if this song was sung with a wink at the audience, even though it’s clearly not a double-entendre blues of the period.  Do think on it.  And please admire my superb restraint in not titling this post IS YOUR PETER NICE?

Note: any connections between BIG BOY and OH PETER that readers might perceive are their own responsibility.

May your happiness increase!

ANDY MacDONALD’S “SUITE SOLITUDE”

I first encountered Andy MacDonald on Facebook — a shy but amiable presence who liked my postings.  We had similar tastes, so we actually had a conversation (now, how nineteenth-century is that?).  Jazz guitarist, songwriter, singer — and for once that latter combination of words did not inspire fear.

He shared his new three-song opus, SWEET SOLITUDE, and I liked it very much, so much so that I am encouraging you to take a sniff, or several, at it.

But first.  Andy and “pandemic puppy,” whom he’s named Duke Ellington, the inspiration for one of three parts of the Suite, which veers delightfully from hot small-band swing, to Lang-Venuti frolic and meditation, to a song which I think of as our century’s Tom Lehrer goes to Eddie Condon’s.

But every blog should have a photograph of a cute puppy and his happy owner:

One is not enough:

Here are two videos from the Suite, the first asking the musical question, “Will everything be all right soon?” featuring Andy, guitar; Drew Jurecka, violin:

and “March 13, 2020,” featuring Andy, guitar and voice; Drew Jurecka, violin; Dave Kosmyna, cornet;  Tom Richards, sousaphone and trombone:

I’d asked Andy to write something about himself to introduce himself to the mass of people who hadn’t yet realized what was lacking in their lives, and here’s his verbal opus:

I’m a Canadian guitarist, banjoist, and vocalist playing hot jazz in a cold country. I’m from Toronto, but I decided Toronto wasn’t cold enough so I moved to Montreal in 2015. I’ve played (and taught) jazz in Canada, USA, and Europe and my favourite audience members are swing dancers. Django Reinhardt has always been my greatest influence on the guitar, but recently I’ve been going backwards and getting inspired by the players who influenced Django. Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller are my new muses.

My musical mission is to write honestly about profound subjects without taking myself too seriously. I feel like Fats Waller and Marty Grosz take a similar approach. Fats wrote sincerely about heavy stuff like depression, heartbreak and loneliness, yet his music sounds lighthearted and whimsical. His tune Draggin’ my Poor Heart Around (recorded March 13, 1931) opens with the line: «Sweet mama, did you ever hear of depression? Well, that’s what you did to my heart, I’m tellin’ ya!» When he starts his piano solo, he declares: «Oh baby, listen to my pleadin’ on the ivories!» My 2019 album Asking For A Friend is a heartbreak album that for me is comedic and upbeat in its tone.

I love drawing inspiration from classic hot jazz recordings to create new works. The balancing act of respecting the tradition while saying something original is a tricky challenge. Luckily, there seems to be a new resurgence of interest in this music so even in Canada, it’s possible to find talented players to help bring the music to life. In the “before times”, I ran a weekly hot jazz jam in a dive bar with cheap whiskey and free pool. I can’t wait to get back there!

About Suite Solitude

Suite Solitude is a collection of three songs brought on by the tragedy of social isolation and the COVID19 pandemic. The original idea for the project was to do a real-time, live recording using state-of-the-art software. Well, the software and internet speeds are still about 5 years away from that being feasible, so we recorded it all one track at a time in this order: 1) guitar & banjo; 2) sousaphone; 3) cornet; 4) violin; 5) trombone; 6) voice. Each time, the latest mixdown would be sent to the next player to record so that there could be at least some social and musical interaction.

I wrote about how much my life has flipped upside down since this pandemic began. I lost all my work as a musician and music therapist so it felt like the rug got pulled from under me in a very sudden way. Although the themes are profound at face value, there’s a good deal of comic relief and lightheartedness to the music. For example, when writing about my new puppy, I sing: «Pandemic puppy will help me see when times get rough, you can just say {RUFF} He’s chasing squirrels, he’s chasing ducks, he gives no [BARK]s

You can purchase the music on Bandcamp for $8CAD: https://andymacdonald.bandcamp.com/album/suite-solitude.

Consider yourself encouraged to do such a thing — I mean purchase the music on Bandcamp.  With or without cute puppy, Mr. MacDonald shows great promise and I would like to see his talents encouraged.

May your happiness increase!

 

I GUESS I’LL GET THE PAPERS, or HOLY JAZZ RELICS FOR SALE

Some more eBay spelunking: surprises await.

First, Wally Fawkes, clarinetist and cartoonist, 95 in June 2019, interviewed here.  It’s lovely to know he is still with us.

Wally in 2013. Photograph by the fine jazz historian Peter Vacher.

This has the look of an authentic signature: paper taken from someone’s pocket notepad, the calligraphy of someone not lifting the pen a great deal from letter to letter.  No date, no place, but it doesn’t inspire skepticism:

and a vignette from Wally’s most recent recording (2003) — with Doug Murray, piano; Eddie Taylor, drums.  He doesn’t come in immediately, but when he does!

My hero Buck Clayton, with Charlie Shavers at the Esquire record date of 1946:

and here’s a remarkable autograph:

and a smaller, complete version:

Obviously this is a page from a deep fan’s autograph book –(s)he taped the signature to the page and then annotated it.  What’s most intriguing to me is that the city and date are noted: the night before (or in the same 24-hour period) the JATP assemblage had played and been recorded at Carnegie Hall in New York City: Buck, Trummy Young, Willie Smith, Flip Phillips, Coleman Hawkins, Kenny Kersey, Benny Fonville, and Buddy Rich — BELL BOY BLUES, HOW HIGH THE MOON, and an unissued FLYIN’ HOME.

You can hear BELL BOY on YouTube for yourself.  I chose something more focused on Buck and less violent: Buck, in France (October 1949) BLUES IN FIRST with Charlie Lewis, piano; Georges Hadjo, string bass; Wallace Bishop, drums.  Don Byas and Merrill Stepter were on the session but don’t play here:

Coming back to this page, the eBay seller has noted the signature of “Ken Kenny” on the other side — obviously Kersey.  If this could be more authentic, I don’t know how.  Even the decaying Scotch tape speaks of years.

Here’s another beautifully annotated holy relic:

and an inset:

If there is a date on this page, the seller did not photograph it — but it is also Boston.  And on the other side, there’s “Sonny Green,” which should be “Greer.”  Ray Nance is quite a hero of mine, and I had the honor of seeing him perform several nights in a row with a local rhythm section in suburbia, 1975 (and Sonny, in the same period, in New York City).

Here’s Ray in 1942 with the Duke and Sonny, espousing strategic reticence:

One more, from a man who probably signed his name as many times as any movie star (which he was, also), Gene Krupa:

and the larger image:

I wonder what the owner blanked out at top, but this is as authentic as one could want.  The seller doesn’t say anything about a signature on the reverse; perhaps Gene got his very own page.  And here, for me, is the great Krupa moment, from the rather unsatisfying film — as a film — BOY, WHAT A GIRL! (1947) with Sidney Catlett, Dick Vance, Bennie Morton, Don Stovall, and others, and “You are Gene Krupa!”:

I didn’t buy the Wally Fawkes autograph, but I did bid on the others and win: to keep my spirits up until the days get brighter and my feelings follow suit.  And at least you can look at the holy relics and (I hope) murmur admiringly.  The eBay seller —alvarez1 — is a very gracious fellow, who has two more pages from that same book for bidding: one Charlie Shavers (backed by Charlie Queener), the other Jess Stacy (backed by Cy Baker). . . .as well as many fascinating non-jazz signatures.  I don’t need to have everything, so if you move quickly, they might be yours.

May your happiness increase!

 

TWENTY MINUTES OF PURE INSPIRATION: “THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF BARRY HARRIS”

This morning I broke out of my usual YouTube routines — videos about kitten and puppy rescues (The Dodo), videos showing excellent cookery (Not Another Cooking Show) as well as music (Davey Tough) . . . and I stumbled upon this superb short film — a loving portrait of teacher / composer / pianist / illuminator Barry Harris leading a five-day workshop in Rome.

The description is very simple: “A short movie capturing the amazing synergy of Barry Harris & people. Filmed during the Barry Harris Workshop Rome, March 2019. Made with the ear of a musician, with the eye of a reporter and most of all: straight from the heart. A film by Heleen Schuttevaêr,; video editing by Hidde Kroonbergs.”

Even if you’ve never heard of Dr. Barry, or if he is simply a name in a discography to you, I urge you to watch this frankly enthralling video: I’d like everyone who sings in the car, everyone who teaches, everyone who is open to learning . . . to spend the twenty minutes.  It’s just lovely.  And the thought I went away with is this: we can’t all study with Barry, sing, or play, under his tutelage — but we can work to graciously absorb the experiences that others offer us, and we can work to be our own version of Barry to others who want to join in.

To think that we live on Barry’s planet is very reassuring.  And today is his ninety-first birthday.  We salute you, Doctor Harris!

May your happiness increase!

 

PART TWO: “EDDIE CONDON REVISITED”: MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL: featuring BROOKS TEGLER, CONNIE JONES, BETTY COMORA, KENNY DAVERN, BOBBY GORDON, MARTY GROSZ, TOMMY GWALTNEY, JIMMY HAMILTON, JOHN JENSEN, STEVE JORDAN, ART PONCHERI, TOMMY SAUNDERS, AL STEVENS, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, and JOHNSON “FAT CAT” McREE (May 21, 1989, Set One Sunday brunch)

 

For your dining and dancing pleasure, JAZZ LIVES presents another performance video from the May 1989 tribute to Eddie Condon.  I’ve posted one hour-long video about a week ago, with much explication: here it is.

And what follows truly deserves a WHEE!

Originally I thought this weekend was part of the Manassas Jazz Festival, but my friend Sonny McGown (who was there) reminded me that the MJF was held in the autumn, that this was a special weekend.  Sonny also sent this flyer:

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN Tommy Saunders, cornet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Tommy Gwaltney, clarinet; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Al Stevens, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Johnny WIlliams, string bass; Brooks Tegler, drums

Brooks Tegler and Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee talk about Gene Krupa

ROSE ROOM Bobby Gordon, clarinet, Stevens, Jordan, Williams, Brooks Tegler

EASTER PARADE Bobby Gordon, Kenny Davern, Tommy Gwaltney; Connie Jones, cornet; Saunders, Poncheri, John Jensen, trombone; Hamilton, McRee, kazoo, Stevens, Jordan, Williams, Brooks Tegler

ONE HOUR Kenny Davern

YOU’RE LUCKY TO ME Betty Comora, vocal; Connie, John Jensen, Saunders, Gwaltney et al.

EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; 3 clarinets, rhythm, Saunders, Poncheri, Connie, et al — with a lovely Brooks Tegler solo:

As I write this, the days get darker and shorter.  Many of the wondrous musicians here have moved on to other gigs. But their sounds still light up the rooms of our lives.

Thanks to Brooks Tegler, Betty Comora, Jimmy Hamilton, Al Stevens, Professor Hustad, “Fat Cat,” and of course Eddie himself.

May your happiness increase!

HOT PIANO AND WELCOME DRUMS, 2019: “GUILLAUME NOUAUX & THE STRIDE PIANO KINGS”

Although the idea of stride piano is that the singular player on the piano bench is able to simulate the depth and textures of a larger ensemble in their solo playing, I recall very clearly that my earliest exposure to stride playing was in hearing duets between piano and drums: James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty (and Sidney Catlett’s work with James P. as part of a rhythm section), Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison . . . later, Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones — and of course, Fats Waller with Al Casey, bass, and drums.  So there is a real tradition, and an intuitive percussionist is a bonus rather than an intrusion.

Guillaume Nouaux is such a player, and his new CD is wonderful.  But you don’t have to take my non-playing word for it: I shared it with Mr. Kadison, the man about whom Donald Lambert said, “That’s my drummer!” and Howard was delighted by it.

“Delight” is appropriate here, because listening again to the CD — once won’t be enough for anyone — I was reminded of one of the stories I’ve probably told too often here, my feeling when Jo Jones came and sat in with Ellis Larkins and Al Hall.  Guillaume is just that kind of player: varied, intuitive, swinging, always making great sounds, adding some flavors that increase our aural joys.  He is a wonderful accompanist — like a great witty conversationalist who always knows the right thing to say, or perhaps a sly supple dance partner — but also a splendid melodic soloist, someone whose terse outings are shapely and welcome.  I can’t emphasize enough the glorious variety of sounds he gets out of his kit, although he’s not fidgety (some drummers won’t stay in one place for more than four bars) so he’s not restricted to one approach.  He can be very gentle, but he can also create great joyous noises.  (Hear his MOP MOP on this disc.) And neither he nor his great collection of pianists is aiming for the consciously archaic: the music on this disc isn’t trying to wear the same trousers it wore in adolescence, if you get the metaphor.

Each of the seven pianists (some very well-known to me, others new marvels) has two selections — loosely speaking, one up and one down — which is to say one a quick-tempoed stride showcase, the other more ruminative, which makes this disc so refreshing.  The songs are HARLEM STRUT / DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM / I WISH I WERE TWINS / WILLOW WEEP FOR ME / RUNNIN’ WILD / JITTERBUG WALTZ / CHEROKEE – SALT PEANUTS / WHY DID YOU TELL ME “I LOVE YOU”? / HANDFUL OF KEYS / OVERNIGHT / MOP MOP (For Big Sid) — Guillaume’s brief solo feature / TEA FOR TWO / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / THE LADY IS A TRAMP / OVER THE RAINBOW.

Before you read a syllable more: discs and downloads can be obtained through Bandcamp here.  It’s also one of those rare discs — because of its premise (a rainbow of artists) that I play all the way through with pleasure.  And I believe you can hear some of the music for yourself there.  But if you need sonic breakfast-in-bed, here are Guillaume and Louis Mazetier trotting deliciously through DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM:

You can find out more about Guillaume and his imaginative projects here.

I will leave it to you to decide who plays on which track — it would make a very sophisticated Blindfold Test even for those who consider themselves stride experts.

Several other things need to be said.  The recorded sound is lovely (the piano is well-tuned and the balance between piano and drums, ideal).  You might think this is overly finicky of me, but one of my favorite sessions ever is the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, where — I believe — the piano could have been tuned again before the session: I hear its glassy-tinkly upper registers and wince.  Not so here.

The repertoire is in part familiar, but hooray! no AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, no HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  And although both stride piano and jazz drumming are, even at slow tempos, displays of athleticism (try tapping your finger for three minutes and keeping steady time), this isn’t a collection of fifteen kinds of Fast and Loud.  Oh, there’s dazzling playing here . . . but there are also caresses and meanders of the best kind.  And each of the pianists brings his own particular approach to the material.  The CD delights me, and I think it will do the same for you.

Fats would have called it “a killer-diller from Manila.”  Don’t be the last one on your block to be grinning.

May your happiness increase!

“SUMMIT REUNION”: BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, and the “Mega Swing Trio” (Berlin, 1993)

Bob Wilber with the superb drummer Bernard Flegar, after their gig in Bülach, Switzerland, June 11th 2005.

My good friend, the swinging drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, has come up with another treasure: forty minutes of “Summit Reunion,” the wonderful quintet (sometimes sextet) co-led by the much-missed Bob Wilber and Kenny Davern.  Here they are in Berlin, in 1993, accompanied by the fine — and superbly unfussy — “Mega Swing Trio,” Franck Jaccard, piano; Jean-Pierre Rebillard, string bass; Stéphane Roger, drums.  Thanks to Robeurt Feneck for the identifications!

As for Kenny and Bob, they remain masters with sublimely strong personalities and individual voices.  I first saw the two of them at a (free) outdoor lunchtime concert in 1973 and was thrilled — an emotion that is just as strong now.

ST. LOUIS BLUES (beginning edited) / SUMMERTIME (Davern, bass, drums) / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / INDIAN SUMMER (Wilber, bass, drums) / S.K.J. BLUES (piano, bass, drums) / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (with a fine drum solo that nods to Zutty and Jo, a splendid surprise) //

Blessings on Bernard, Kenny, Bob, and the trio.  Surprises like this give me and others joyous resilience . . . to keep on keeping on.

And for those of you who know JAZZ LIVES’ Sunday routine, of course we will meet metaphysically at The Ear Inn tonight also — this is just an extra dollop of swing.

May your happiness increase!

MANTLE or MARIS? and other PLAYGROUND ARGUMENTS

I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator.  But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record.  I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?”  Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like.  But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.

I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert.  And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point.  But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.

A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender).  The first response that caught my eye?  I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.”  Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.

On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal.  You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.

I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.

I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery.  Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history.  Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie.  However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony.  Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.

So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win.  They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry.  Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites.  People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted.  All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared.  Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year.  Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else.  These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.

We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s).  I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.”  I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp.  But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting.  What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality.  It remains that way in art.  If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter?  I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room.  To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.

In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts.  M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.”  C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.

Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does.  If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist?  If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King?  Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?

I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy.  For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis.  The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed.  Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles.  James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil.  And so on.  No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.

Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this.  If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?

But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment.  Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone.  To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this.  Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better?  Are you attacking my discernment?  I must defend my family’s honor!  Pistols at dawn!”

We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys.  Art deserves reverence.  And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.

Try it here:

May your happiness increase!

JACK PURVIS, DAN MORGENSTERN, COLEMAN HAWKINS, CHARLIE BARNET

Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more.  There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self.  I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:

Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.

And, there is a delightful Facebook Trumpeter Jack Purvis Appreciation Page Group — full of photographs and music new to me.

Now, to my particular views of Purvis.  First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:

Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar.  Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”

We’ll settle that shortly.

First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):

POOR RICHARD:

DOWN GEORGIA WAY:

When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis.  But I was delighted when he did:

Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”

And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.

My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away.  Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories.  He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music.  Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player.  You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him.  You never knew what he was going to do.”

Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims.  He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part.  And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”

Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:

A sad footnote.  Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them.  I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM, FOR A HALF-HOUR: JIMMY McPARTLAND, DICKY WELLS, CECIL SCOTT, JOE SULLIVAN, WALTER PAGE, GEORGE WETTLING, MARIAN McPARTLAND (“Jazz Club USA,” broadcast 1952)

Thanks to CB Detective Agency for this newspaper ad.

The music that follows is brilliant, but the details surrounding it are vague.  For one thing, most writers have misspelled the restaurant owner’s name as Terassi for decades.  I’ve done it myself.  Apologies to Lou.

I read in a British trade paper that this band, the Jimmy McPartland Sextet, was appearing at Lou Terrasi’s Hickory Log at the end of 1952, but I haven’t found a specific date for this recording.  All trace of the Hickory Log has vanished, although it was still in operation in 1964.  In 1975, the address was a restaurant that also featured music, the Spindletop (there’s a review of Maxene Andrews at that time) and should you go to that address now, it is Trattoria Tricolore.

Assuming that Terrasi was Italian, I’ve always thought the cuisine was also, but “Hickory Log” suggests charcoal-broiled steaks.  I had two friends who celebrated their engagement at the bar in 1952, between Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton — a story I love.  But I can no longer ask them for details.

Here’s a 1952 portrait by Bob Parent of Joe Sullivan at the Hickory Log piano, which also shows something of the decor.  That curtain would haunt me:

2nd October 1952: American jazz musician Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) plays piano at Lou Terrasi’s ‘Hickory Log’ on West 47th St., New York City. (Photo by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But the music is vivid, a previously unknown version of the half-hour broadcasts done by Aime Gauvin, “Dr. Jazz,” featuring the Jimmy McPartland Sextet: McPartland, cornet; Dicky Wells, trombone; Cecil Scott, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Walter Page, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Marian McPartland, piano, on EMBRACEABLE YOU and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  A bonus: even though we hear the crash of dishes (the kitchen and bandstand always seem to be adjacent) the ambiance is serene in comparison to Central Plaza or the Stuyvesant Casino.

The band, introduced by Leonard Feather, who also chats with both McPartlands, plays LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / TIN ROOF BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.

Broadcasts like this originated with the Voice of America, beamed overseas to show the Communists the virtues of democracy and capitalism.  Leaving the ideological wrappings aside, the music is superb: everyone is focused and effective, and no one sounds bored by the repertoire or its conventions.  I don’t know if Walter or Dicky missed being with Basie, but I am sure they were pleased to spend their days at home rather than being on the band bus; Jimmy, Joe, George, Cecil, and Marian had been playing in small groups for decades.  We hear the assurance of people who know the way, and that’s truly delicious.

May your happiness increase!

WHO’S THE BOSS?

Some readers of JAZZ LIVES may scan this post, see that it is not brimming over with new performance videos of their favorite band, and turn to something more interesting on their phones.  I do understand: words and ideas don’t go down as smoothly as videos.  But humor me on this, if you will.

I was alive and reasonably capable in the world (I had a job, I’d earned some degrees) before I encountered a computer, and at first it was merely a hip typewriter.  Some years later, email, YouTube, social media, and so on, changed my world as they did yours.  I still marvel at the ways human behavior and decorum have been warped by the ubiquity of the internet.  This is most apparent to me in one of my chosen playgrounds, YouTube.

For a long time, the anonymity of an alias has made it possible for some people who might have gastric reflux disorder or other internal sournesses to be “critics” with high-powered scopes.  I take this personally, which is my problem, but when I post a video, it’s never by someone I think inept or amateurish.  Florence Foster Jenkins, Mrs. Miller, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards are not artists I cherish for my listening.

So when someone writes, “This sucks,” I delete the comment and lock the gate so they can’t do it again.  In the same way that if you invited me for lunch at your house, I wouldn’t say, “This food tastes like shit,” I expect people to keep their harsh estimates to themselves.  This lack of restraint encourages my reciprocation.  Someone writes of a 2008 performance, “Tempo too fast,” I may respond, “You’re so right.  I’ll go back to 2008 right now and ask them to slow it down for you.”  Childish, perhaps.  But I won’t have people I admire shat on.

I’ve given up on the possibly logical rebuttal to “The drummer is lousy,” which is, “Sir, can you tap your index finger on the desk for the length of this performance and keep good time?”  Or “Her screechy voice gets on my nerves,” which is, “When is your next concert tour?” but I think the platform from which one issues a critical judgment ought to be built on some informed experience.

Certain scornful comments have immense validity, but we must (as they say) “consider the source.”  Yank Lawson told the story of the first time he played with Sidney Bechet, wanting to impress the Master, he sailed into JAZZ ME BLUES at a dazzling tempo, and when it was through, looking to Bechet for praise, Sidney said only, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast.” To me, those words are hard, but they are also the syllables that the Sage delivers when you’ve climbed up to the cave in the Himalayas.

But Bechet’s assessment is galaxies away from such inspired nit-picking as “She should have introduced the drummer and bassist by name instead of referring to them as ‘my friends,'” to which I nearly wrote, “Have you considered volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to put all that energy to better use?”  (I did write back and say that the two musicians had been introduced lavishly through the concert, but why I spent energy on this is mysterious even to me.)

I learned early from my mentor Sammut of Malta that what was particularly offensive about such “criticism” was its false courage — as if one could pin an anonymous note on another middle-schooler’s coat, saying what one would never have the courage to say in person.  Sammut wisely suggested to me that the rule of criticism might well be, “Would you walk up to the musician and say this to her face?”  Let that sink in.  Imagine, if you will, someone walking up to Louis at the intermission and saying, “You know, you’re supposed to be a great jazzman.  Why do you play the same solos?” but that was printed over and over.

But there’s a new wrinkle in this anonymous sociopathy which I’d like to ask you to look for, because it’s a thrilling arrogance.  I realized recently that the commenters no longer looked upon themselves as Wise Critics (DOWN BEAT staff, giving this two stars and that five) but . . . . Employers.

Slowly, the criticisms have edged from “I don’t like this,” to “This isn’t good,” to a more haughty disapproval, as if the waitperson had brought our salad too warm or our entree too cool.  The subtext is, “You have not delivered to me the product I wanted, so I will be unsparing in pointing out the limitations of what you have done.”  It’s also worth noting that no one pays to see free videos.

Artists are not members of a service industry.

So “The band isn’t as good as the band I think is really good,” is no longer a statement of personal displeasure but a more powerful expression of official censure, as if the listener could say, “You guys play that tempo again, and OUT with you!”  I wonder where this will go, this impulse not simply to disapprove but almost to punish.  I want to be present with my camera when a fan walks up to one of my admired musicians, stands in front of her, claps his hands to get her attention, and says, “I think that song should be played slower, and I prefer Bb to C.”  You may think I exaggerate, but the notion that the audience is the boss of the musicians is gaining ground, if the comments are any indication.  What’s next?

I entered the land of performance, whether live or in another medium, with the basic assumptions that the musicians had worked long and hard (“ten thousand hours”) to make music at something nearing a professional level.  In performance, I observe someone mis-finger a note, play a wrong chord, slow the tempo down, and I notice such things.  But I also know that I am not at the level of even making such a single mistake in a performance; I’ve been listening all my adult life, but a performance by me would have more errors than gratifications.  So I approach even imperfect performances with a modicum of admiration.  I might not like the way X band plays; it does not appeal to me; I like Y so much better . . . but I wouldn’t mock X in public from behind the paper shield of anonymity.

I can stop the video or the CD, I can leave the club or the concert hall in mid-performance, but I haven’t the right to yell at the people onstage.  And I don’t assume that the musicians exist, or play, to please me.

I went back through my collection of other people’s comments and couldn’t find really dramatic examples of this tendency, and then I realized I had deleted them.  It’s the only way I can protect the artists I admire from sneers of people who think they have the right to be mean-spirited.  Keep an eye out as you travel the byways of YouTube and other organs of public expression: you will find that what I describe here is not an over-sensitive fantasy of my own invention.

Great art outlives its critics.  The writer who called Trumbauer’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES “disappointing,” Mike Levin, who mocked Lester Young’s “cardboard tone,” are no more, but we can still listen to Tram and Pres and exult.

To paraphrase Jim in Huckleberry Finn, we don’t own the musicians.  They own themselves.  And we should bless them rather than carp at them.

May your happiness increase!

 

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

“STRICTLY FROM PISCES AND NEW YORK”: The FRAN KELLEY MYSTERIES (Part Three)

New information, no answers.

I’ve written about the wonderful and elusive Fran Kelley here and hereI had hoped that her connections to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have stirred up more research, but little has come to light.  (I thank Brian Kane, Nick Rossi, Paolo Alderighi, and CB Datasearch for invaluable finds.)

Let me reintroduce this remarkable person.

You would think that the producer of this concert [advertised in the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1946] would be as famous as Norman Granz or George Wein:

For those who have forgotten, this was her first concert at UCLA:

These are the beautiful sounds she made possible.

The other side:

The Fran-Tone “waxery” was mentioned in the March 25, 1946 BILLBOARD:

I know that at least four copies of 2004 exist.  But I have no evidence that 2005 has ever been issued.  It’s clear that Fran-Tone did not thrive as a money-making proposition because Fran sold the eight masters she had recorded to Capitol, and Capitol did nothing with them, as far as I know, which amazes me.  Do any readers have access to a comprehensive Capitol discography, and do the Fran-Tone sides appear there?

You would want to hear more about and more from this writer, writing her own condensed autobiography for the liner notes of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, RARE — BUT WELL DONE, on Liberty Records:

Fran Kelley is strictly from Pisces and New York.  Her love and understanding of music just comes naturally, stemming from her father, whose distinguished voice was heard in leading concert centers both here and abroad.  Fran’s musical background is varied: as an arranger-composer [one score was accepted by Duke Ellington], as a producer [she worked with Lester Horton and Duke Ellington to stage jazz-ballet], as an impresario [Fran presented the first jazz concert ever held at the University of California at Los Angeles which presented Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Benny Carter], and as an expert in the field of musical therapy.  Fran is currently West Coast Editor and Representative for Metronome Magazine.   

Here is evidence (from BILLBOARD, February 24, 1958) of what might have been the start of a new brilliant collaboration:

and

The end of the story is told by Ellington himself, in a few lines in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

When I first bought Fran-Tone 2004, I was captivated by the music and intrigued by its guiding genius.  Surely, I thought, she would have merited an essay if not a biography — multi-talented, one of very few women operating at this high level in the boys’ club of jazz at the time.  But no.  Because I have friends who graciously do research, the twenty or so clippings that are the basis of this research were offered to me.  But Fran seems absent from any book on Bird or Duke.  Why?

Thanks to Brian Kane, a lead opened up — an audible one — because four sides recorded by Fran for her label, with arrangements by Tom Talbert, were preserved and issued on Hep 22, “Memphis in June: Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra.”  That’s a vinyl issue; the CD (Hep 95) contains only the two Allyn vocals:

Vince DeRosa, French horn; Lenny Hartman, English horn; Harry Klee, alto saxophone, flute; Sam Sachelle, bass clarinet; Hy Mandel, baritone saxophone; Ray Still, oboe; Erroll Garner, piano; Leonard “Lucky” Enois, Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Babasin, Red Callender, string bass; Jackie Mills, drums; David Allyn, vocal; Tom Talbert, arranger.  AFRS Downbeat, Los Angeles, early 1946

BLACK NIGHT AND FOG (David Allyn vocal) / C JAM BLUES / PLEASE LET ME FORGET (David Allyn vocal) – [also known as PASTEL] / CARAVAN //

Note: Following from “The Most Happy Piano – Errol Garner Discography” by James M. Doran : “According to Jack McKinney, the following personnel are definitely not Raeburn’s, even though these performances were released under his name on Hep (E)22. This studio session was produced by Fran Kelley, probably in conjunction with her Swingposium concert of June 24, 1946, which was to be released on her Fran-tone label. This never happened.”

I’ve obtained a copy of Hep 22, and those four sides are gorgeous.  Guess whose name is absent in the detailed notes by Jack McKinney?  And, for a chance to compete in the bonus round, guess whose name . . . in the biography of Talbert?

And two nearly irrelevant postscripts.  Fran Kelley was married to the trumpeter Clyde Reasinger, who lived until 2018.  Reasinger turns up twice in a data-search in the Sixites, two gossip-column entries.  In a 1962 entry, “Stripper Titian Dal is will shelve her career in favor of marriage to trumpeter Clyde Reasinger,” and a year later Reasinger is playing trumpet for the show NO STRINGS and is married to Karen, who is not identified as a stripper.  I don’t know what that says about the Reasinger-Kelley marriage, but twenty years later, the two parties were apparently living in very different worlds.

As I wrote at the start, no answers.  Speculations, yes.  I could understand that the secular world has taken little notice of someone who chose to leave it, decisively, perhaps in 1958.  And I hope that moving into the spiritual realm gave Fran Kelley the satisfaction that “the music business” did not.  Our choices are mysterious to others, and often they are mysterious to us as well.  So I cannot offer more evidence about why Fran Kelley seemed to disappear.  I can wonder if there was a connection between music therapy and spiritual work, but it is only a speculation.  Did she go underground to write poetry in an ashram?  Did she become a nun ministering to the wounded in a Catholic hospital?

I was ready to publish this post and end on a somewhat despairing note: “I am baffled by the lack of reportage devoted to her, and even now — can I and my little band of research-friends be the only ones on the planet fascinated by who she was, what she did, and where she went?”

But before ending my quest for information, I posted inquiries on an online jazz-research group I belong to, not expecting much, and then Patricia Willard, long-time jazz scholar and writer, emerged like a blessed apparition, and wrote this, which I reprint with her permission and with gratitude:

Re: Fran Kelley, Duke considered her a genius, in 1958 signed her to a contract specifying that anything she produced–music, poetry, spoken ideas et al would be owned by him in exchange for continuing financial support. They both told me this but I never saw the actual contract or knew the precise terms. Among her talents that Duke found most intriguing was that she always knew what time it was–to the second–but never wore a watch (nor did he). Their collaborations were largely on the West Coast during a time when Strayhorn was East. The last times I heard from her (several years hence) were letters, always written on music ms. paper with a San Francisco hotel return address. She had a daughter whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. I met her in the mid-1980s at the invitation of my L.A. neighbor Benny Carter. The daughter was searching for Fran or any of her work and trying to find out if she were still alive. The daughter remembered that Fran had spoken often about her friend Benny. Benny had no recent knowledge of her activities or whereabouts. Two years ago I asked Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, if she remembered the daughter’s name, and she didn’t. I only recall that it wasn’t Kelley.

Fran Kelley is a novel, although I am no novelist.  But fascinating books are on the horizon.  Patricia Willard is completing three of them — one on Ellington, one on Sinatra, and one a memoir.  I can’t wait to have them on my coffee table, at this desk, and on my nightstand.  I will let you know when they appear.

May your happiness increase!

ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY POUNDS, at EDDIE CONDON’S CLUB, 1948

First, the appropriate soundtrack:

There is much to say about these two photographs, perhaps too much to say.

The first, a performance shot from Eddie Condon’s downtown club on West Fourth Street, features Wild Bill Davison, Peanuts Hucko, and George Brunis.  The pianist may be Gene Schroeder, the drummer Morey Feld, and I haven’t identified the string bassist.  Eddie is talking to the customers, somewhere. The front line is relaxed; Brunis is in charge of the show, I think.  And he has autographed the photo — along with Eddie (“Me too”), Bill, and Peanuts.  The eBay seller asked for $250, so I contented myself with taking the image and sharing it with you.  Someone did buy it.

When the second photograph remained unsold on eBay, I made the seller a more thrifty offer, which was graciously accepted, and the second photograph is mine.

I do not know if the two photographs were taken the same night, but I would assume it was a Tuesday night (“jam session” or, in Condon’s wry language, “ham section” night) when the equivalent of two bands played in varied combinations.  Gene Schroedr is clearly at the piano, playing and being amused.

The autographs on the second photograph are Wild Bill Davison, Tony Parenti, George Brunis, and Joe Sullivan, who explains what is going on.  Brunis, as one of his many stunts (one involved shots of vodka and hot sauce, alternating) would have one of the lighter members of the band stand on his stomach while he played.  All I can say is “Don’t try this at home.”  And if readers want to comment on the BMI of Joe Sullivan, at 190 pounds, those comments will be deleted.

There isn’t much to say about this beyond WOW, or OH MY GOODNESS . . . and to be thankful that nightclubs had roving photographers who would capture such moments, have the shots developed, put in a cardboard folder for purchase so that properly reverent fans could get their heroes’ autographs.  My photograph came properly framed in black wood, but the seller noted that it “came in original folding cardboard souvenir frame from Condon’s club, displaying the Condon guitar logo.”

I admire such wackiness with all my heart.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEP SEARCHING”: EPHIE RESNICK, CONTINUED (August 1, 2020)

First, some music.  I’m told it speaks louder than words.  Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:

and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:

My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention.  Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me.  I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more.  It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.

I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops.  So I thought that was a great thing.  With Chas, we played almost every week.  We played clubs all over the country.  We did some festivals, and we did a record.  And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record.  I don’t have a copy.  Maybe I can ask him for one.  And that’s that.

I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor.  The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective.  It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.

I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too.  That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.

I studied with Lennie Tristano.  I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff.  He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students.  I never worked with him, but he played with us.  The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible.  Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself.  So you have to keep searching.  That was an important experience for me, I loved that.

The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin.  I worked a lot for Lester Lanin.  And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name.  Both of them were horrible people.  Just absolutely horrible.  But they worked a lot.  Meyer Davis, he was busy.  He worked two jobs every day.  So he bought an ambulance.  After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time.  I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting.  About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people.  He was very good.

One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody.  And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again.  So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes.  He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.

I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him.  He did two of those things — big, splashy things.  FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band.  I was on the one with the big band.  He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake.  Everything was perfection.  Absolute perfection.

In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith.  We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one.  He was crazy.  He was wonderful.

I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims.  Buddy was mean.  Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten.  He exuded evilness, or something.  He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up.  He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up.  Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early?  Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.”  Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play.  The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational.  He could do anything.  He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks.  He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it.  So he was positively a genius of some sort.  Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people.  And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards.  It was fun.  Beautiful, easy.

I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk?  I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us.  He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special.  He was wonderful.  And it was Thelonious Monk.  And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me.  He was willing to hear.

Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger.  He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing.  Nobody played like him.  He was wonderful.

I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot. 

Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time.  ALL of the time.  But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill.  But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop.  He’d call it a lambchop.  He knew I was Jewish.  So I thought that was nice.  He was a funny man.  And for what he did, he was the best.  His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need.  He was wonderful in his own way of playing.  George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk.  Then he was a terrible person.

I went down to see Bunk Johnson.  I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot.  I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music.  He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places.  And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that.  Beautiful.  And there were crowds every night when he was there.  Dancers.  It was an exciting time.

I loved playing with Max Kaminsky.  I worked a lot with him, for years.  He was a simple player, but he kept the time.  His time was great.  I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records.  But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him.  His wife was wonderful.  I loved her.  I played with her a couple of times, with him.  She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.

I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE.  In the back there are signatures.  Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him.  And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen.  I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door.  I didn’t do that.

[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.]  Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with.  When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me.  They all were above me.  Every one of them was above me.

Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz  — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK.  (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)

Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.

Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world.  And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor.  In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’  He was a dentist.  And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’  When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”

I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him.  At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful.  I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:

I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.

May your happiness increase!

 

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

STAY SLIM THE JOHNNY DODDS WAY

A scholarly friend recommended Patricia A. Martin’s 2003 doctoral dissertation, THE SOLO STYLE OF JAZZ CLARINETIST JOHNNY DODDS 1923-1938 (Louisiana State University) which you can read here.  She has created transcriptions and analyses of solos, erudite discussions of clarinets, comparative analysis of Dodds and Noone, and more.

But an insight on page 44 stopped me right there: Dodds was the consummate professional. Most people who knew Dodds thought of him as quiet, serious and, unlike most musicians of the time, a man who drank very little (only a little beer, according to his son John).  He took care to maintain his 5′ 8″ 210 pound frame, generally looking fit and trim all in all his pictures.  Dodds always considered himself first and foremost a musician.  John Dodds II recollects:

Father impressed on us by his personal care (chap-preventative to his lips; wearing gloves in the cold; and dieting to avoid unsightly bulges) that his occupation was solely that of a musician!

(Martin’s source is John Dodds Jr.’s 1969 liner note to the Milestone Records issue, CHICAGO MESS AROUND.)

This character study is now incredibly relevant, not only for those of us who have gained weight during quarantine.  Another collector-friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous told me of a previously unseen pocket notebook that Dodds kept.  John Dodds, Jr., let the collector copy down a few relevant sentences.

What was important to the great New Orleans clarinetist?  Joe Oliver’s business practice?  Reed stiffness?  Compositions?  A gig diary?

No.  Johnny Dodds was focused on was not gaining weight, staying trim.  Here are some of his entries, so appropriate today.

Instead of Pie, an Apple.  Instead of a Cookie, have half an Orange.  Instead of a Roll, Melba Toast.

Leave space on your Plate.  If you can’t see the dish, there is Too Much Food.

Half Grapefruit at every meal.  Black Coffee, please.  Hot Water with lemon.

“Clothes too tight?  You ain’t Living Right!”

They used to say when I was a boy, “All that Gumbo making you Jumbo!”

Don’t eat just because everyone else is.  Stop before getting full.  Take a Walk!

Beans and Greens, our Grandparents said.

Say NO THANK YOU to Whisky, Butter, Cream, Sugar!

I am the Boss of my Stomach, my Stomach won’t tell Me what to Do.

REMEMBER TINY PARHAM AND THAT PIANO BENCH.

=====================================================

Sadly, Johnny Dodds left us in 1940, far too early, but his principles feel solid, even now.

Have some MIXED SALAD, always a good meal plan:

if you don’t want your clothes to be TOO TIGHT:

May your happiness increase!