Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

A GLORIOUS WILDNESS: “LESTER’S BLUES” IS BACK WITH A SECOND ALBUM, “RADIO RHYTHM,” AND YOU WILL BE GLAD.

LESTER’S BLUES is a septet (often with guests) based in Gent, Belgium, and they swing like mad.

In instrumentation, they resemble the Reno Club band and they have much of the same free-wheeling joyous spirit. Basie always started with the saxophone section, so I will also: Tom Callens, tenor, alto, vocal; David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Luk Vermeir, piano; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Sam Gersmans, string bass; Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; guests Dree Peremans, trombone; Monique ‘Mo’ Harcum, vocal.

I found their first album so delightful that I did everything but hug the disc. I distrust hyperbole, but called it “a triumph” here. Visit that post, by the way, and you can savor some delightful video evidence. Just be sure that the Depression glass is not too close to the edge of the shelf, because your castle will be rocking.

One of the pleasures of this band is that their repertoire is intelligently spacious. “Basie tributes” often fall back on familiar lines on I GOT RHYTHM, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, the blues, and a few ballads . . . but JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE has been picked clean, and many forget that the Basie band was also playing IF I DIDN’T CARE, THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE, and originals like TAXI WAR DANCE, inspirations that LESTER’S BLUES follows. They remember that Lester loved the music he heard on the radio.

Enough with the words, as they say. Some music!

Thinking about the blues idiom and Bessie — in a performance that, to me, imagines a Basie-Bessie performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 (think FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING). Totally evocative without raising its voice:

and the expertly frolicsome GEORGIA JUBILEE, credited to Arthur Schutt and a young man from Chicago named Benny:

Several things leap out at me: not only the immense subtlety of the soloists, but the wonderful mix of exactitude and freedom in the ensembles. And the sound! Delicious and warm, never clinical.

In addition to these two performances, the new disc, RADIO RHYTHM, offers LITTLE WHITE LIES, WHEN THE SUN SETS DOWN SOUTH, MOTEN’S SWING, ROLL ‘EM, CLIMAX RAG, I LEFT MY BABY, THAT’S ALL, and the title tune for a total of ten performances both leisurely and compact. The band is comfortably “modern,” in its grooving, but no one needs six choruses to get rolling. Readers with memories will notice associations with Jelly Roll and Mary Lou, Smack, Bechet, and Mister Five by Five in addition to Basie and Lester in a variety of periods.

And what this recording and this band remind me, with gentleness and integrity, is that classic jazz is an unbroken continuum over the last century-plus, with our heroes in contemporary times offering love to the past, while the past says, “Go on and be yourselves! We did it, and that’s why you admire us so.”

I offer as testimony to the greatness of this orchestra and of this session my chunk of enthusiastic prose — but don’t quail, it’s only a little more than six hundred words. Or you can skip to the end and purchase the music.

There are two ways to approach the Past. One is to handle it tenderly as fragile relic, ready to dissolve into dust. Thus, bands play CHANT OF THE WEED from manuscript paper, aiming to sound like a 1933 Don Redman 78 rpm record. Expertly done, it sends shivers down the spine. But for others it is like a parlor trick, an impressionist pretending to be someone else. The other approach acknowledges that our heroes were innovative, horrified at the idea of being “a repeater pencil.” LESTER’S BLUES knows the originals by heart and has taken them to heart, but they are a band with spice. They have a glorious wildness at their center of their deep love of classic jazz. They are respectful of the original arrangements – they do not destroy the cathedral to put up a shopping mall — but within the arrangements they go their own idiosyncratic joyous ways. They create devoted homages to the recorded past, but those prayers to Bluebird Records and the Famous Door are springboards for creativity, not ankle bracelets to keep living artists restricted to older conventions. And what I hear is exultant, even when melancholy and slow.

The musicians have a common love of swing. Sadly, many contemporary players and singers keep “the pocket” or “the groove” at arm’s length, as if swing is Grandpa’s pocket watch and fob in the era of the iPhone. How sad. On the rock of this rhythm section this band could build a new swinging city on a hill. And the soloists! Bless them for their strong personalities, rooted yet playful, and celebrate them for how well they meld into vivid unity. And bless the light-hearted and sublimely effective arrangements, at once roadmaps and wind in the trees.

Each performance has its own singularity. I won’t praise the soloists, nor will I anatomize each performance or tell the history of each song – that’s your delightful homework – but these ten performances fill the room with light and joy. And more: each track is at once music and beyond music: one is a Turner landscape, another a Jacob Lawrence, a Calder, a Kandinsky.

None of this is by accident. Tom Callens told me, “We have a total of ten tracks which were chosen out of a bigger pool of songs. We chose these for their freshness, special arrangements, strong melodies, less popularly known (except ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out’ of course), or just because we have an emotional attachment to them. That’s why it’s not a concept or tribute album. It’s just us trying to play really well, having a new repertoire, a cohesive and rhythmic sound, and enjoying the ride. We recorded at the same place as earlier and this time did it using one stereo ribbon mic (in blumlein configuration), positioning ourselves around it and adjusting our positions to mix the individual volume levels. The L-R signal was fed through a state of the art dual tube microphone preamp and sent straight to two-track tape. Tracks were recorded in one go (one-takes) so there’s no editing involved.”

Just like the old days, but brand-new. Passion and exactitude; personal freedom within defined frameworks, power and airy lightness (like Jimmy Rushing on the dance floor). And it all fuses in the nicest communal way. LESTER’S BLUES feels like “a band,” spiritually: a happy group united for a communal purpose. I imagine them getting together for a celebratory meal after the session, laughing and enjoying what they have created. I am sure that Pres, Basie, Jo, Benny, Bessie, Jelly Roll, Mister Five by Five, and Charlie (Christian and Parker) are grinning their faces off. You will be, too.

Yes, music for dancers, but also music for people who pat their foot and grin while seated in front of their computer and speakers. Music for people who understand joy, recognize it, and avidly choose it.

You can find both their albums (or downloads) here.

May your happiness increase!

EVENINGS IN THE THEATRE, ALL ABOUT LOVE: NANCY HARROW, JAZZ, CHEKHOV, TURGENEV

I first encountered Nancy Harrow as a wondrous singer, an individualist deeply immersed in the blues: someone with feeling and spirit but entirely lacking in affectation. (That her early fans included Buck Clayton, John Lewis, and Roland Hanna did not escape me.)

When I had the opportunity to hear Nancy in person, those impressions were only reinforced. But by that time, I had learned that she was also songwriter, lyricist, dramatist — someone for whom the word “theatrical” would be the highest praise.

Just before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to see ABOUT LOVE, a musical play with songs, inspired by Turgenev’s story, songs by Nancy, script and direction by Will Pomerantz, and I was bewitched, as I wrote here. I remember very clearly the subtlety of the acting, the way that music, dance, and words blended; the way that the plot seemed new because of the electricity onstage. Even the pandemic has not blurred my memories of that evening.

A scene from ABOUT LOVE.

Now, ABOUT LOVE is back — joined in repertory by a new adaptation of Chekhov’s THREE SISTERS, again with music by Nancy and direction by Will. Here is one of Nancy’s songs that you will hear:

And here are more facts:

Chekhov + Turgenev is two Russian classics presented in repertory, and underscored in jazz: About Love, a musical play with songs, inspired by Ivan Turgenev’s novella, “First Love”; and Three Sisters, a new adaptation of the play by Anton Chekhov. is now playing a limited engagement, in repertory, through June 5 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in The Frank Shiner Theater. The official opening for both production is Thursday, May 19. Tickets are available online at SheenCenter.org, by phone at 212-925-2812, or in-person at The Sheen Center box office Monday to Friday noon to 5PM and one hour before performances. Tickets are $39 – $69. Premium seating is available. Rush tickets will be available at the box office an hour before any performance for $20.

A scene from THE THREE SISTERS.

The company of Chekhov + Turgenev features John AhlinSilvia BondEssence BrownNathan HintonMiles G. JacksonNehal Joshi, Amanda NicholsTom PattersonElizabeth RamosTommy SchriderJean TaflerPilar Witherspoon and more to be announced.

Chekhov + Turgenev features a live jazz quartet nightly: music director Misha Josephs on guitar, Frederika Krier on violin, Jared Engel on bass, and Steve Picataggio on drums.

Here‘s the link for tickets.

I hope to be there, and I urge you to join me: delights await.

May your happiness increase!

“A HEROIC THING”: VIC, SUPREME

Vic Dickenson spent most of 1945-47 in California and recorded prolifically with a wide variety of bands — appearing memorably alongside Louis, Hawkins, Leo Watson — as well as playing on JUBILEE broadcasts. And he had the opportunity to record as a leader for I think the first time, for the rather under-publicized SUPREME label, in late 1947. (The impending record ban may have made this even more of an opportunity.) From what I saw of Vic in person, later in life, he was perfectly happy to be a sideman, although he was asked to lead in the recording studio often in the last three decades of his life.

I stumbled across this YouTube posting of one of the SUPREME sides and noted with dismay that only 33 people had viewed it, the other side had 17 views. This post is my small effort to raise those numbers for the greater glory of Vic.

The band is not what some might expect from Vic — much more 1947 bop than loose improvising — but he stands out beautifully among the more “modern” Californians: Jack Trainor, trumpet; Jewell Grant, alto saxophone; J.D. King, tenor saxophone; Skip Johnson, piano, arranger; Billy Hadnott, string bass; Chico Hamilton, drums. Yes, ST. LOUIS BLUES begins with Vic playing Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza, slightly truncated (I heard him play it all, gorgeously, a number of times in performance) and his later solo is still rooted in his own version of 1928 Louis. And his winning vocal!

and a song Vic made his own many times, YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU. Here, much of the record is given over to the band (Vic was never one to demand the spotlight) and they have their own take on the Eddie Heywood arrangement Vic had recorded a year earlier:

To me, Vic is a hero of sound among heroes, someone consistently underrated — but not by people like Roswell Rudd, who was most eloquent in his praise:

Vic Dickenson. You know it right away from the sound. Every note that he plays. He’s got so much personality. This is something you find in the older players, that every note they play is imbued with their own character. I guess it breaks down to where nowadays it’s hard to separate people by the particular personality that they have in their sound. But back in the days when there were fewer people doing this, there was more identifiable individuality. But now so many more people are doing this that it becomes harder and harder to identify the individuals. But they’re still there! I’m telling you. And especially on this instrument, which is all about imbuing the sound with your own personality so that you can be identified just from the sound of a few notes that you play. . . . You know who he is right away. I don’t know whether it’s because I was there or I grew up on it. But these sounds are so distinctive, these voices. Vic Dickenson liberated the trombone into linear improvisation the same way Jack Teagarden did, and this was a heroic thing.  

from a 2001 “Blindfold Test” conducted for Down Beat by Ted Panken, reprinted from Ted’s blog, TODAY IS THE QUESTION.

Listen to Vic, I say. And not just these sides.

May your happiness increase!

“WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, YOU CAN TURN TO JAZZ”: A CONCERT FOR RICHIE COLE (1867 Sanctuary, Sunday, May 1, 2022)

If you don’t know the alto saxophonist Richie Cole, a New Jersey native who left us in 2020, please listen to these two examples of his work. First, joyously playful:

Here, making a well-worn ballad both entrancing and swinging:

A passionate approach grounded in the great traditions but stamped with his own personality. Please enjoy the video announcing the concert (fine work by Mike Salvatore) and if you are nearby, be sure to come by. The Sanctuary has wonderful acoustics and a lovely ambiance.

And the details of the concert — Richie’s ALTO MADNESS band with sitters-in invited — are in the video:

Richie was not only a sweet soulful player; he was a sweet soulful person. My friend Richard Salvucci, a wise jazz listener and writer, encountered Richie in person:

I guess it was around the summer of 2000 when I was in London for research work. Our kids were with us. So we took every opportunity to take them to museums, concerts, whatever. I was especially happy because there was a lot of jazz around London, and I could take Martin to hear people like Lou Donaldson, Warren Vache, and Ralph Sutton. We didn’t know Richie was gonna be in town until we stumbled on an advert for a new club (run by a singer whose name I can’t recall). I jumped and told Martin we’re gonna go have some fun.

Cole was with a local rhythm section that he seemed to be having a few problems with, but he played superbly. The club was, alas, hardly full, so we got a good seat at the fifty yard line. When you get to hear Cole doing Cherokee (in B), you just smile. He was wonderful. On a break, he walked around to the tables to chat with people (including his then wife, I think!). When he came over to us, Martin, then about 12, was agog. He told Richie he was learning trumpet, and Cole asked him whom he liked. “Miles,” whose “So What” solo he was learning by heart. Well, Cole asked him which Miles, early or late? We sort of said Martin was getting tuition in the real Miles, which amused Cole. I asked him if he was from Trenton, NJ, and he seemed surprised. He wasn’t surprised when I said I was from Philly–my “correct” pronunciation of Trenton gave it away. I guess we must have chatted for 10 minutes. Richie couldn’t have been nicer, and my impression was he talked to most everyone.

He was a wonderful player and a wonderful guy.

For those who like their details on the half-shell with only a squeeze of lemon, the 1867 Sanctuary is at 101 Scotch Rd, Ewing Township, New Jersey 08628-2501: 2 PM on Sunday, May 1 — and here’s more:

A tribute concert to the legendary jazz saxophonist and Trenton native Richie Cole. Event presented by Richie Cole’s family.
Please join us to celebrate Richie Cole’s music, life and legacy!
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/206902128837

Members of Richie’s jazz group will be performing a diverse lineup of Richie’s music. The show will end with a very special farewell from Richie Cole, himself! If you play an instrument or sing, come sit in!
Vince Lardear – Alto sax
Pete Lauffer – Piano, vocals

John Sheridan, Electric guitar
Chris Clark – Bass
Joe Falcey – Percussion
Limited seats!
Tickets can be purchased prior to the event, as well as at the door, if tickets are still available.
Looking forward to an amazing event – Alto Madness style!
Doors: 2 PM – memorial hour // Show: 3 PM

Please reach out to Annie Cole with any questions or if you would like to coordinate purchasing tickets directly: anniecole82@gmail.com. Proceeds go to the musicians and to preserving Richie Cole’s music and other works.

Thanks to Bob Kull, Annie Cole, and Richard Salvucci, who made the concert and this post possible. Inevitable, even!

May your happiness increase!

MASTERS OF HOT: WARREN VACHÉ, EDDIE HUBBLE, BOB WILBER, KENNY DAVERN, RALPH SUTTON, DAVE GREEN, JAKE HANNA (“A Tribute to Wild Bill Davison,” Bern Jazz Festival, 1990)

There is a school of thought, one I don’t subscribe to, that traces the course of hot music as a series of inevitable dilutions. I won’t name names, but this stance points to the great Originators (primarily African-American) and then their disciples (racially diverse) and the end result, watery and Caucasian, amateurs with straw boaters and striped vests, reading music. True, some of the purveyors of this particular genre of jazz have strayed from the intensity and expertise of their forbears (they are the amateurs, asking on Facebook for lead sheets for HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN TONIGHT because they can’t learn it in performance or from recordings) but it isn’t universally true that everyone born after a certain date can no longer “play that thing” with fire and individuality.

I present nearly an hour of wonderful hot jazz performed at the 1990 Bern Jazz Festival — the A+ team — in a tribute to Wild Bill Davison and his world, his approach, his repertoire, and by extension, a tribute to Eddie Condon and his world, and a whole way of approaching pop standards.

Energy and lovely singularity of sounds, in solo and ensemble, is vivid throughout. Glowing music, no tricks, no comedy, played by masters. Warren Vaché, cornet; Eddie Hubble, trombone; Bob Wilber, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Ralph Sutton, piano; Dave Green, string bass; Jake Hanna, drums. NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / TIN ROOF BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / VIPER’S DRAG (Ralph) / BEALE STREET BLUES / BLACK AND BLUE (Bob, Kenny) / AS LONG AS I LIVE:

So hot, so swinging: although the repertoire is familiar, there’s no trace of staleness or over-familiarity. When you get through listening to the singular horn soloists, delight in that steady ferocious rhythm team, and then listen to how the great ones construct ensembles from chorus to chorus. I imagine not only Bill and Eddie, Anne and Phyllis, smiling approvingly, but also Milt Gabler and George Avakian . . . as well as legions of delighted fanciers.

May your happiness increase!

HEALING SOUNDS NOW AND TO COME: MIKIYA MATSUDA, DENNIS LICHTMAN, ALBANIE FALLETTA, MATT WEINER

When I awake and the news is typically violent (even though I remind myself that cruelty and bad behavior are wonderful copy) and the temperature is oddly cold, I look for spiritual uplift through the magical sounds created by people I admire. Some get up and meditate; others pray. I look at YouTube and Facebook to see if anyone has shared their versions of healing blessings through sound.

And here’s a delicious example — new to me, although performed and recorded a year ago. Four of the finest: Mikiya Matsuda, lap steel guitar; Dennis Lichtman, mandolin; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar; Matt Weiner, acoustic string bass. And the text for their mellow sermon is a song I love, Victor Young’s WAS I TO BLAME (FOR FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU) which I came to revere through Louis’ blue-label Decca recording. No trumpets today and no singing, but you won’t miss them in the deep sweet lyricism created here.

Mikiya’s YouTube channel can be found here — better than homeopathy, I promise. And you can find everyone above in their own nests:

Mikiya Matsuda – https://mikiyamatsuda.com/

Dennis Lichtman – https://www.dennislichtman.com/

Albanie Falletta – https://www.albaniemusic.com/

Matt Weiner – https://www.weinerbass.space/

And this is all related to an event — the Centrum Red Hot Strings Workshop, May 25-29 in Port Townsend, Washington: details here. Matt Munisteri’s the Artistic Creator, so that is the Good Housekeeping Seal, and Jonathan Stout, Aaron Weinstein, Joel Patterson, and other luminaries will be there. I am not going to make it there in person, but there will be streaming.

And I’ll bet all the instruments and discs in my living room that the music will be wise, joyful, and healing.

May your happiness increase!

TOMMY SITS IN AT CAFE SOCIETY, FEBRUARY 4, 1944

Yes, that’s right: Tommy Dorsey taking Bennie Morton’s place, briefly, reading the trombone book, alongside Emmett Berry, trumpet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Sidney Catlett, drums. Members of this band we don’t see are the leader Teddy Wilson and the bassist, either Johnny Williams or Slam Stewart. Alas, there’s no recorded evidence, but Brown Brothers had a photographer there to show us that it did happen.

Incidentally, “sits in” means that he wasn’t there as a regular member of the group; his business suit isn’t their tuxedo band uniform, and his posture suggests (even though Tommy was a completely expert professional musician) that he is seeing the music for the first time.

and the front, so remarkable:

I suspect whatever they are playing is or was an arrangement new to them, because Emmett and Ed are looking at their music as well. It must have sounded so fine.

How do I know about this? This photograph, with watermarks added, appeared on eBay about a week ago and I put in a substantial bid and sat back. The auction ended less than an hour ago; I was outbid, and the new owner will pay $134 (shipping included) which was more than I felt up to. But we all can see this version — even with watermarks — and marvel, for free.

And just because it would be cruel tp post silently in this context, here is nearly forty-five minutes from that same Wilson band (Berry, Morton, Hall, Slam Stewart, Catlett) recorded for Associated Transcriptions in 1944. Ignore the incorrect “Onyx Club” description and float along in the finest swing:

That photograph says a good deal about Tommy Dorsey the active and respected jazzman, something that posterity hasn’t always said quite as generously. He could, and did, play, and I am sure that Teddy was delighted to have him on the stand.

May your happiness increase!

“AN HONORED BUT TROMBONELESS GUEST”: MUSIC and STORIES by TOMMY DORSEY, July 4, 1952

and . . .

I will turn things over to my friend David Sager, Prince of Wails as trombonist and scholar, to share his unusual discovery with you.

An Honored but Tromboneless Guest

Among the storied gathering spots for jazz musicians was the Evanston, Illinois home of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft, a talented amateur pianist turned lawyer. Between 1930 and the start of WWII, Squirrel’s home was the Midwest rallying spot for musicians traveling through the Chicago area, where they could play music as they wished, eat, drink, listen to records, and swap stories.


Known as “Sessions at Squirrel’s,” these gatherings of jazz musicians and record collectors were co-hosted by Bill Priestley, who played cornet and guitar, and like Squirrel, had been a member of the old Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band back in the 20s. The parties were interrupted by WWII. When they resumed in the 50s, the venue changed to Bill Priestley’s home in Lake Forrest, redubbed as “The Annual Bix Festival,” reflecting the musical allegiance of the hosts and their guests.


And their guests included the likes of Red Nichols, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, as well as a fairly steady “house band” consisting of Squirrel on piano; Priestley – cornet/guitar; Jack Gardner – piano; George Kenyon – trumpet/mellophone; Phil Atwood – bass; Jack Howe – clarinet, and several other locals.

One of these parties, held on July 4, 1952, coincided with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra’s appearance at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel. Anyone familiar with the book Tommy and Jimmy: the Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, will recall the chapter about the party and Dorsey being in attendance. This was during an interval where Tommy Dorsey was battling the sinking popularity of the dance band business. His frustration with the popularity of be-bop, which he called “Communist Jazz,” and the encroachment of rock ‘n roll, was palpable. TD did his best to soldier on, and in many ways was successful. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not bring the band biz back and could not quite recapture his reign over the pop music scene, as it was a decade earlier. His current record contract with Decca Records was also a bust. He complained about Decca’s lack of promotion, “My Decca recordings aren’t released, they escape…if they had put the secret of the atomic bomb on Decca, the Russians would never have got it.”


Thus, Dorsey savored such rare moments of relaxation, and was able to find time that July afternoon to attend, sans trombone. Also, in attendance was chemist, jazz historian, and record producer, John Steiner, who – for the sake of posterity – lugged along his tape recorder. Steiner recorded the day’s jam session, ultimately releasing 8 titles on a on a 10-inch LP on the Steiner-Paramount label and titled “The Third Squirrel.” The brief liner notes to that LP tell us that at one point,


An honored but tromboneless guest arrived. A horn was quickly located. Bang went the band into a warmup blues titled understandably TD’s Dt’s. (sic) It was followed after a few anecdotes with Baby Won’t You Please.


As Herb Sanford tells it, another attendee, Park Burgess, who was headmaster of the Lake Forrest Country Day School, had brought his trombone, which he gladly handed over to TD to play. Dorsey, after playing the horn, thanked Burgess with, “This is a great horn, Park. What do you use on the slide—muselage?” (sic) [mucilage].


Sanford, who had been the Triangle band’s pianist and later, Dorsey’s radio producer, continued,


Tommy was the big hit of the afternoon—not on trombone, but as storyteller. He began to reminisce. One anecdote followed another, going from speakeasy days right on through to the present. Listening to the tape, it is as if Tommy was in the room, with all his idiosyncrasies of speech. Tommy had a way of making a mirthful sound in his throat and sustaining it in the pauses. It had the effect of keeping the listener hanging on.


It may come as a surprise that Dorsey was such an engaging raconteur. His legacy is largely that of an intense taskmaster, often unreasonable and even cruel, as well as unpredictably temperamental. A sort of generalization has come down to us characterizing Tommy as the Dorsey to fear, while brother Jimmy was a sweet gentle soul, loved by all. However, looking a little deeper, we see that it was not an accurate characterization. Jimmy was shy, an introvert. He rarely displayed his temper, but rather kept it on the inside. He was a bit of a misanthrope.


Tommy, on the other hand, was a people person; gregarious, generous, energetic. But he also exhibited symptoms of being bipolar. He was volatile and intolerant with those he considered weak. But surrounded by his friends, he was convivial, gracious, and very funny.


The tape referred to in the Sanford book had long intrigued me. There are plenty of recordings of TD speaking to an audience, in an amiable, ever-so-slightly gruff manner. Yet, there are next to no recorded interviews, or even written records of his reminiscences or opinions – at least not ones that are not heavily ghosted by an editor. Therefore, we have almost no first-hand accounts from this seminal figure of American popular music.

In the late 1980s, while I was traveling in Milwaukee with Banu Gibson and her band, pianist David Boeddinghaus and I had the pleasure of visiting John Steiner, himself, in his suburban home. Mrs. Steiner served us some lunch, and then John led us to his basement, where he kept his collection.
John’s basement contained the spoils of the Paramount Records business he had acquired years before, when he purchased the name and existing stock of the fabled label. There were test pressings, metal parts, some commercial pressings. There were also lots of audio gadgets: meters, microphones, oscilloscopes, old transcription turntables, tubes…

I asked John about the Dorsey tape and the “Third Squirrel” album. He pulled out a copy of the latter, a 10-inch LP, pressed on transparent red vinyl, which he presented to me. John then foraged around through his collection of open-reel tapes and found the one of Tommy as life of the party. At least, it was part of the complete tape; a few of the stories Sanford reported are not present. And, in their place are some that were new to me. I suspect that there is another reel somewhere in John’s collection, now housed at the University of Chicago. Anyway, John played us the tape, or what he could find of it. It was as good as Sanford said. I asked John for a copy and a week or two later a package arrived at my door containing a cassette, the contents of which I present here.

Sanford transcribed several of these stories for his book. They are slightly amusing. However, one really misses the impact of Tommy’s speech – you really had to be there. Hearing the actual recording, we experience Dorsey, the engaging raconteur, complete with expertly timed pauses and punchlines. This is most evident in the story about the Everglades and its very funny tag line.

The stories take us back to the days of Plunkett’s speakeasy, the most storied watering hole in the annals of 1920s hot jazz. And yes, the anecdotes are dominated by the theme of drinking – to excess – and the results of musicians so influenced performing in high-class establishments.
We hear about Davey Tough and Tommy’s attempt to help him dry out. Also, a projectile string bass and the mobster who defended the perpetrator. Then there’s a story about an unusual main dish that will surely offend many. To Tommy’s credit, he did not bring this one up. Rather it was Squirrel who mentioned it. It concerns an obscure Philadelphia musician named Ralph Margavero (I am not sure about that spelling). I did check Philadelphia newspapers and Ancestery.com and could not find out anything about him. But it seems that, like so many working musicians, Ralph would come home late after a gig hungry. Ah, the antics of musicians who will stop at nothing! Fortunately, I think, we have all evolved since then…

Additionally, many of the asides are worth picking through the excess crowd noise to hear. For instance, Tommy mentions a notorious New York hoodlum, who was also the manager of Tommy Guinan’s Playground; Hyman “Feet” Edson. Squirrel offers up a story – barely audible, about Wingy Manone. But then, Tommy chimes in and confirms the urban myth about brother Jimmy sending Wingy one cufflink for his birthday.


Those who own the Sanford book, will notice some discrepancies between Sanford’s transcription and what Dorsey actually says on the tape. For instance, the story about Charlie Shavers will now make some sense. There is one casualty; the story about Pee Wee Russell, which Sanford saved for last, is missing. If the full tape exists perhaps some diligent researcher will someday find it in the Steiner Collection.


The final story on the tape reflects TD‘s distaste for bebop. Obscured by the crowd noise, he begins, “I don’t go in much for bop stories…
A bopper walking down the street, and he’s in cloud number 7, and there’s an organ grinder there, and he’s playing a tune, and the monkey’s right on the… organ grinder, ya know, the organ…and the guy looked up and said, “Man, I don’t dig your music, but you got a crazy son!”


As a finale, here is the one issued jam session title, “TD’s Dt’s,” on which Dorsey is heard playing three choruses of blues on a borrowed trombone, and a tremendous performance, at that. There has been so much in print about Dorsey’s lack of ability when it came to playing jazz, I find it maddening. It’s true that Tommy, in his jazz playing, stuck close to the melody, varying it in predictable ways, with a repertoire of about a dozen pet licks. But here, during those three choruses, I don’t hear even one of his usual “go-to phrases.” Although dominated by a huge ego, Tommy Dorsey was modest, even embarrassed by his jazz playing. That was not necessary, for despite a narrow harmonic imagination, his attack, forcefulness, and musical conviction were more convincing and compelling than most.

Here’s the too-brief blues (its sound improved, thanks to Doug Benson and Karl Pierson).

and the stories:

Thanks to David Sager for his typically perceptive diligence and generosity.

May your happiness increase!

“YIPPIE-YI-O-KI-YAY!”: HILARY GARDNER HITS THE TRAIL AGAIN at MEZZROW (Sunday, February 20, 2022)

“Pay attention!” as Jake Hanna always said.

Hilary Gardner, Noah Garabedian, Justin Poindexter in November

Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.

A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”

Hilary has an intriguing musical plan, which we can participate in on Sunday, February 20, at Mezzrow (163 West Tenth Street), shows at 7:30 and 9. Here‘s the link to purchase tickets or to join in the livestream.

She’s inviting us to join her “on the trail.” Music first, then words:

Hilary writes:

Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I – like many others, I’m sure – dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!

As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.

In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.



This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart. Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Alex Hargreaves, violin. And Mezzrow — that lovely long narrow room — will have miles of vista and horizon, miraculously.

I will say only, “Don’t miss this show,” because Hilary’s first “trail songs” show at Bar 55, in November, sold out.

May your happiness increase!

“SYDNEY BECHET” PLAYS THE CLARIONET (August 14, 1919)

I apologize for not having audio or video from 1919, but . . . here’s something amazing for sale on eBay: an original, four-page printed program for the Southern Syncopated Orchestra’s appearance at London’s Philharmonic Hall on August 14, 1919.  Will Marion Cook is the musical director.  The concert included “Characteristic Blues,” a history-making “clarionet solo” by “Sydney Bechet.”

The seller’s description:  
The SSO’s concerts prompted what may be the first published jazz criticism. In 1919, conductor Ernst Ansermet wrote in the “Revue Romande” about the interest jazz could hold for classical musicians.  The article became famous for its early perception of Bechet’s talent.  (See the last photo, from Walter Schaap’s translation of the article for the French magazine “Jazz Hot.”).
All of the pages are pictured in this listing.
This 7-1/2″ by 10″ program is in very good condition overall.  There is a half-inch tear to the front cover (visible in the first photo at the right margin, opposite the word “southern”).  The program is faintly creased because a prior owner folded it in half horizontally.  The original owner wrote the date of the concert on the cover in fountain pen.

The starting bid, as of January 30, was $100.00; the link is here — and here are some relevant photographs (you can see more on the eBay page):

and

and

I’m entranced by this, although I have heard about Bechet’s triumph in 1919 often before this. Paper artifacts are especially meaningful in mystical ways: this program was so valuable to someone (Joyce and her partner, I assume) that it was kept tenderly for more than a hundred years, and the person who wrote the date on the cover was at the event. It is as close as we can get to time-travel, and I imagine that molecules from 1919 vibrate within this sheaf of papers. (I feel the same way about autographs: the piece of paper that Joe Thomas signed has some spiritual Joe-Thomas-DNA in it and I won’t be argued out of this belief.)

I said at the start that I cannot offer music or video from 1919, and that’s still true. But Bechet did record CHARACTERISTIC BLUES in 1937, and through the generosity of jazz scholar Nick Dellow, we can hear an alternate take unissued in this form on 78:

Astonishing, isn’t that? (Nick Dellow’s channel is full of marvels.)

My only regret is that the 1919 performance, according to the program, was completely instrumental. Imagine, if you will, the ladies and gentlemen there — two shows — hearing tales of bedbugs and alopecia. Quite a wonderful thought.

To see more of this wonderful artifact, visit the eBay page.

May your happiness increase!

HERESIES IN SWING

Margaret “Countess” Johnson

At many points in my life, I had to put down the cherished belief in my own indispensability. Yes, each of us is unique, but if we’d never existed, would the cosmos stagger to a halt? This meditation is fueled by the repercussions from a holiday-season view of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, where Clarence the angel-in-training shows George Bailey how the world he knows would be a cistern had he never been born. Yes, JAZZ LIVES believes that even Jimmy Stewart could have had his slot in the imaginary queue filled by someone else.

In science: anyone versed in the history of medicine will tell you that had (let us say) Pasteur had decided to go into baking memorable croissants, or Alexander Fleming taken up carpentry, someone would have discovered pasteurization and penicillin. The history of invention tells us much the same thing: people were racing alongside Edison to patent the phonograph, sound film, and so on. In literature, if James Joyce had been unable to see the page, we would simply be paying much more attention to Lawrence and Woolf, Pound and Eliot.

We don’t much like this heresy in jazz. Imagine, we say, if Louis Armstrong had decided to go into the more lucrative career of crime. If John Hammond’s car radio had been broken. If Coleman Hawkins had stayed with the cello, or Buster Bailey gotten first chair clarinet in the Chicago symphony. Getting darker, think of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald succumbing to the horrors and blandishments of their environments. Perhaps Jack Teagarden would have invented his own line of automobiles.

It is difficult for us to imagine a world without Charlie Parker, but would his harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic inventions never had happened if his life had taken another path? Would there be no jazz trumpet be if its early stars were Johnny Dunn and Crickett Smith, Johnny Wiggs and Mutt Carey?

And, turning the coin over, imagine the jazz world in which Blanton, Bolden, Brownie, Bix lived on. Margaret “Countess” Johnson and Cassino Simpson, Snoozer Quinn and Emmett Hardy as healthy senior citizens, happy, productive.

Some varieties of creative joyous rhythmically inventive improvised music would have flourished.

As much as anyone, I revere the heroes of our jazz heritage. But art is a collective endeavor. So let us acknowledge with gratitude the other runners in the race while we are celebrating the person who comes in first.

As we say, just asking.

May your happiness increase!

“WARM WATERS, SUNNY AFTERNOONS, AND PACKED DANCE FLOORS”: THE PLEASURES OF CHARLIE HALLORAN’S “ALCOA SESSIONS”

Charlie and friends at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, 2018

The trombonist Charlie Halloran has a sweetly audacious imagination. We can all say, “I wonder what this combination of musical experiences would sound like”; Charlie goes ahead and gives his brightly-colored set of possibilities musical shape. And the surprises that result are so very pleasing. Before I introduce you to his latest creation, I would go back a few years to praise one from the past:

Charlie is the first-call trombonist in New Orleans, which means that he plays with a variety of bands — Tuba Skinny, the Shotgun Jazz Band, the Little Big Horns, his own Quality Six, and more. He’s come up to New York to be a featured guest with the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, where he played nobly and made everyone happy. But I think his heart beats fastest (without rushing, mind you) to a larger world-view than SOMEDAY SWEETHEART.

Charlie has immersed himself in that wonderful Venn diagram where New Orleans jazz meets the music of the Caribbean, as astute listeners could hear above. This brings listeners to places they’ve never been but where the music is — although the songs are new — deeply heartfelt and satisfying. When I first began to listen to CE BIGUINE, for example, I thought within a few minutes, “This is going to be one of my favorite discs, full of embracing surprises.” And it’s remained so. When I heard Charlie play some of the same music at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, I looked away from my camera to see the room swaying, the band playing. Smiles proliferated. And the room was gently sashaying in time.

Charlie’s new CD, THE ALCOA SESSIONS, is just extraordinary: not a simple plastic disc with good sounds embossed digitally into it, but a combination of a novel, a travelogue, a happy series of musical voyages to places that only exist in our ears and imaginations. Here’s the cover: doesn’t it make you feel like finding sandals and sunscreen? (It’s not even lunchtime as I write this, but a mojito dances before my eyes.)

But I hear you saying. “Alcoa. Isn’t that an antique brand of aluminum foil? What has all this got to do with music?” Patience. All will be revealed.

The Alcoa Sessions

Featuring

Charlie Halloran………Trombone

Tomas Majcherski……Tenor Sax

Jonathan Doyle….Tenor Sax. Clarinet.

Mike Davis…………Trumpet

with

Don Vappie, John Rodli and John Maestas………..Guitar

Tyler Thomson, Pete Olinciw……..Bass

Joe Lastie, Doug Garrison, Chris Davis……..Drums

Larry Sieberth, David Boeddinghaus…….Piano

Cesar Bacaro…..Percussion

Dédé St. Prix, Drew Gonsalves, Don Vappie………Vocals

Now, a pause for some enlivening musical evidence:

Trombonist Charlie Halloran’s fifth album, and first on the ArtistShare label, imagines the musical experience aboard cruises run by the Alcoa Steamship Co. out of New Orleans from 1949-1959. Pulling from dance band repertoire of Mid Century New Orleans, Trinidad, Venezuela and Guadeloupe, the Alcoa Sessions presents a band in the style of Paul Barbarin or Dave Bartholomew, augmented by Cuban percussion, French Creole and calypso vocals, fully leaning into the Crescent City’s placement as the northernmost city in the Caribbean.

Don Vappie leads the band through “When I Was a Little Child,” a swinging creole number from the Paul Barbarin / John Bruinous band, followed by the appropriately titled “Everybody’s Wailin’,” originally recorded by Huey Piano Smith.

By now the cruise has left the Mississippi River and we begin to explore ports further south. Considered Venezuela’s unofficial national anthem, “Alma Llanera” is given a Trinidadian dance band treatment ala Johnny Gomez. The moody and exotic “Margarita Rosa” comes from the Fitz Vaughan Bryan Orchestra, another dance band working in Port of Spain throughout the 1950s.

Back on the boat now, Halloran provides the vocals for the old jazz standard, “I Used To Love (But It’s All Over)”. 1950s New Orleans saw the explosion of seminal Rock and Roll and R&B recordings, so surely a New Orleans dance band of the era would be ready to let rip on a tune such as Dave Bartholomew’s “Twins” featuring fine trumpet work here from Mike Davis.

Lionel Belasco was a prolific composer working in Barbardos, Trinidad, Venezuela and New York City through the 1960s. His composition “Miranda” is a Venezuelan waltz and provides the perfect outlet for practicing some Arthur Murray dance steps, whose classes were often taught on these cruises. But don’t get too comfortable in 3/4, as Martinique’s Dédé St. Prix is up next to lead the band through “Moune a ou, ce moune a ou,” a brisk biguine from the French Caribbean, featuring the interplay between the trombone and reeds, particularly Tomas Majcherski’s tenor, giving the trumpet player a moment to grab a drink. 

Jonathan Doyle steps to the front on the raucous, “Feeling Good”, harkening to Herb Hardesty, Lee Allen and the screaming tenor sax driven R&B of the 1950s. Trinidadian/Canadian singer Drew Gonsalves of the band Kobotown joins the band for a humorous calypso from Lord Funny, featuring Gonsalves’ infectious rhythm and cadence.

The band swings out the last two numbers, first with the uptempo “Goodnight” written by Pat Castagne for the sign-off music for Radio Trinidad, and finally the dreamy tropical standard, “Song of the Islands.”

The “Alcoa Sessions” mines wonderful, under the radar repertoire, all of it danceable and from the era when calypso, biguine, R&B, and traditional New Orleans Jazz were exploding and intermingling, alongside the tiki craze, mambo and tropicalia. The Alcoa Steamship company used music imagery and language in their ads and brochures, and Halloran’s “The Alcoa Sessions” is sure to melt the ice in your drink and have you packing your suitcase for a TWA plane bound for warmer climes this winter.

Excited? I certainly was. You can check in here to hear a sample, purchase a download or a disc. Echoes of calypso, early rhythm and blues, and delicious old-school NOLA music. I’ve heard the music and am delighted. You will be, too.

I’ll let Charlie have the last word(s):

I like to imagine a young band aboard the Alcoa steamships, comfortable playing traditional jazz and New Orleans R&B, but incorporating local musicians while in port, blending calypso, beguine, and mazurkas, with their New Orleans sensibilities. This album will feature the sounds likely heard on a 13 day excursion from New Orleans through the Caribbean on the Alcoa Clipper, Corsair, and Cavalier.

May your happiness increase!

WHO KILLED HISTORY?

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

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

What do I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

DONALD LAMBERT ON FILM, 1932-1960

It’s so delightful to know that scholars of this music — brilliant young ones! — are carrying on the great work of honoring our collective ancestors. You have already heard about Matthew Rivera, Charles Iselin, Andrew Sammut, and Colin Hancock, among others. To this list I again add the name of Sterling J. Mosher III, pianist, researcher, archivist and more, who has now brought us filmed performances of stride pianist extraordinaire Donald Lambert, early and late. Here is his compact, friendly annotation:

As of November 2021, this is the full filmography of Donald Lambert. Dreams are that a full video of the 1960 Stride All Stars Program at the Newport Jazz Festival will be made public. As well as any possible amateur films of Don, perhaps by a visiting customer at Wallace’s or distant family.

00:03 The first film we see is from March of 1932, from the film “Ten Minutes To Die” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald Lambert only is featured in one song with the band.

02:01 May of 1932, “Veiled Aristocrats” (Oscar Micheaux.) Donald walks in from stage right with the “piano tuner,” he is initially standing behind the piano while the tuner plays and a woman sings. Donald takes over for the tuner and performs for 2 songs. The final song is “Dragging My Heart Around.” Mabel Garrett sings and tap dances. Donald and all other persons on screen exchange goodbyes and exit stage left and right. We get a clear sound of Donald’s voice, sounding young at the age of 28. (Special Thanks to ARK THEATRE for uploading the cleanest film of both of these rare early pieces of Afro-American Cinema history.)

08:49 01 July, 1960. Newport Jazz Festival (Newport, R.I.) Stride All Stars Program. Donald appears in 3 clips here. The original speed, pitch, and quality is retained in these clips as they originally appeared. Some folks have taken the crystal clear audio from the recorded concert and placed it over the video at correct speed. Some of these videos are available at UNIGONFILMS on youtube. A television announcer narrates through all 3 clips. In order of the concert, Donald plays Anitra’s Dance, later plays Liza, then plays “Charleston” for two takes with Eubie Blake playing the upper register and The Danny Barker Trio. Willie The Lion Smith is seated off camera. Rudi Blesh is heard speaking several times, announcing to the concert attendees.

GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN.

Just astonishing. Thank you, Sterling, for your labors of love. Bless you, Donald Lambert, Oscar Micheaux, and Rudi Blesh.

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHM WAS HIS BUSINESS”: REMEMBERING KEN SALVO

Ken Salvo, the stalwart banjoist and guitarist of Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and many other groups — in Chicago, New York, and Florida — left us this year. I didn’t get to speak with him, but his joy in playing and his steady rhythmic pulse were evident whenever I saw the Nighthawks. And musicians I’ve spoken about Ken to recall his kindnesses off the bandstand: he went out of his way to help them, to rescue them whenever he could.

He was well-liked and well-admired, so I’ve asked people who knew him to recall him for you. I’ve always thought that the measure of a life well-lived is the way people miss someone when they’re gone: Ken lived beautifully.

Clarinetist JOE LICARI:

I was shocked to hear of Ken’s passing as well as that of his wife Sandy just two weeks prior. Over many years I have played hundreds of gigs together. He was a great musician and entertainer and would always greet you with a smile. He was a sweet kind man and gentleman. I feel blessed to have known him on the bandstand and on recordings. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Trumpeter MICHAEL PONELLA:

A few years back there was the intense wind and snow storm late in October.  The Nighthawks were performing a Halloween party near Hartford, Connecticut for that evening.  Ken met me at my house in New York and drove from there.    On the way we encountered stop and go traffic, high winds, blinding snow, accident slowdowns, and crazy drivers that Ken was yelling to in the car.  We made it to the gig amazingly, but a few minutes late.   The party was a success, but Ken was exhausted from all the travel, and excitement.  Luckily that night a local hotel was provided, and Ken had me drive his car the rest of the way while he rested.  Even after a hard/tiring time traveling Ken would still perform his 100% on stage. One more:  Every time the Nighthawks would perform at Town Hall in NYC, Ken would always rise to the occasion.  He enjoyed playing there as well.  I will probably remember him most from those concerts, smiling, and playing faster than he ever played before.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile

Banjoist / vocalist CYNTHIA SAYER:

Ken knew how much I admired his plectrum Epiphone guitar because we had a running joke from me teasing him about it for years. And I knew how much he loved it too, so when he called me from Florida to offer to actually sell it to me, I was alarmed – though I was aware of health issues going on, I also knew he could keep playing, so why did he think he wouldn’t use it anymore? He talked about his local gigs and essentially said that he has faced that he’s now finished with the guitar, and it was time to pass it on to me. And well aware of the difficulties for all musicians during the pandemic, he also offered me generous terms. I accepted his offer with both deep appreciation and a heavy heart.

He knew I’d be coming to Florida soon (last June, during that small time window when we thought things were starting to return to normal, finally visiting our elderly moms there for the first time since pre-pandemic – Ken and Sandy lived close by) so he wanted to take advantage of the visit for me to possibly get the guitar. So while in Florida, we visited, jammed some (I posted a video or two of our jamming on Facebook), and I ended up taking the guitar back with me to NYC. I’m sooooo very grateful that I happened to have this last visit with him!!

I don’t remember when or where we first met, but I figure we’d known each other for most of my adulthood. A nice person and a fine player.

Bassist / tubaist / vocalist BRIAN NALEPKA:

Ken Salvo was a good friend and musical buddy for many years. He was not flashy and didn’t play “busy” solos. He kept good solid time and had that rare talent of making any band he was in better. He laid a solid rhythmic foundation that would let the front line do their work, and fit like a glove with the rest of the rhythm section. I know he is missed by everyone he played with.

Photograph by Aidan Grant

Trombonist / euphonist / vocalist JIM FRYER:

As to Ken Salvo, so many stories start coming into my mind that it’s hard to know where to start and how to organize them. He was a proud father and a devoted husband. He took pride in his “day gig” and I’m sure he was good at it. He was a terrific leader on a gig and a valuable sideman. Playing in the Nighthawks was a stretch for him, reading was not his forte, but he made it work, and his banjo and basic musicianship skills were so good that Vince had him in the band for many years. He also had a kind of old fashioned ethos that younger musicians don’t have today, simply due to changing circumstances. He was a saloon player from the golden olden days, who strove to make everyone in the room happy, in rooms that were full of regular working class folks, not young self-identified hipsters.

Photograph by Bela Szaloky

Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, bandleader VINCE GIORDANO:

I had moved to Brooklyn in 1979, Ken got my number, and we got a gig. He was the leader, he was on banjo, and I had my tuba and string bass . . . and it worked out great, we had a fun time. He played solid banjo, sang nicely, took swinging solos. He was a great banjoist. I like working with banjo, and he was very musical on it at all times. He was very professional, so we worked a bunch over the years. He would call me over the years.

Little by little, I found out more about Ken. I knew he was from the Chicago area and his family were big traditional jazz lovers. When the Dukes of Dixieland would came into Chicago to play, they would come to his house, because Ken was a great Italian cook. There was a great friendship there, and Ken’s dad had all their records, so he became friends with the Assuntos, and that was another inspiration for him to be in traditional jazz music.

How did Ken join the Nighthawks? Different people had come in and out of the band over the years; people move away or decide they want to play vintage jazz, so I gave him a call, “Would you like to try it?” “I love the band, but you might not be happy with my reading,” but he read the charts down perfectly. And he would take the charts home and work on the Eddie Lang pieces. We had a lot of fun on BOARDWALK EMPIRE and playing private parties and working with Garrison Keillor. When we did Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap we would all drive down to Kenny’s house in New Jersey and the bus company — this giant touring bus that would take us and the equipment to Wolf Trap — would pick us up. Kenny and his wife Sandy would have big vats of Dunkin Donuts coffee and donuts for the trip.

Ken was really conscientious sideman — anything he could do to help he did. And he said nice things about working with the band. When we did the RHAPSODY IN BLUE concert with Maurice Peress, he did the solo on LINGER AWHILE and he brought down the house. He was scared about doing it, but I said, “Come on, Kenny, you’re a virtuoso,” and he really did it — even snuck in a RHAPSODY IN BLUE lick. The audience laughed and it broke up Maurice. He would do tasteful things on the banjo, and he was great.

One day, he showed up and told the band that he and Sandy were moving to Florida — a long commute! too long for Monday nights — so he was leaving. We kept in touch for a few years, phone calls and emails. I saw him about a month before he passed — his son got remarried in Maryland and he hired a small contingent of the Nighthawks. I brought a banjo and he played a few numbers and brought the house down. His wife had health problems and passed a few weeks after the party. Between being ill and without his wife, they were married about fifty years . . . that was it.

So we all were sad, and the dance community he would hang with when we played, they all put up nice tributes and pictures. He was a warm friendly guy with a great laugh who liked to talk with people. We all miss him.

Photograph by Jenna Perlette

Trumpeter, cornetist, composer RANDY SANDKE:

This has been a cruel season for jazz fans. First we lost Phil Schaap, and then George Wein, two giants who did so much to spread the joyous and profound message of the music to all corners of the globe. But someone else passed who, though unnoticed by the jazz media, had a long and vital career as a musician. I’m speaking of Ken Salvo, a banjo and guitar player, who led his own groups but was most identified for his decade-long stint with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks.

Ken was a solid rhythm player, but also an exciting soloist who could hold his own in any musical situation. He was heard regularly on Monday and Tuesday nights at Vince’s home base in NYC, Club Cachet and later Iguana. With the Nighthawks, Ken appeared on several film soundtracks, as well as the band’s Grammy award-winning album of selections from the HBO series, Boardwalk Empire.

Ken began his career as a teen-ager, when his father would drive him to Rush St. in Chicago to work at the Red Garter. Ken developed his vast knowledge of tunes and prodigious technique there, working until all hours of the night. This period of the mid-to-late ‘60s was a golden age for banjo and guitar players in Chicago, since Eddy Davis, Marty Grosz, and Ken were all in town at the same time.

Ken moved to New Jersey in the late ‘70s and, in order to support a growing family, became a home inspector. He took to that job so well he became president of the trade organization. He also worked for a time at Allied Van Lines, and was responsible for moving Branford Marsalis and the new Tonight Show Band (including ex-Nighthawk trombonist Matt Finders) from the New York area to L.A. All during this time, Ken continued to play, book jobs, and make himself known in the NY freelance music scene.

In 2017, Ken moved with his wife of nearly fifty years, Sandy, to Venice, Florida. He had managed his finances well and looked forward to many years of playing golf and performing gigs in the area. Before I moved to Venice a couple of years later, Ken called me to offer me a steady job at a club in Cape Coral. He’d drive me down to the gig, about an hour each way, and we’d trade stories about growing up in Chicago, and so much else. We became very close, and he was a total joy on and off the bandstand. He helped smooth the way for me in Florida, and I will be eternally grateful.

All was working out well for him until last fall. He found out that his wife had inoperable brain cancer and her outlook was not good. They tried various treatments with all the attendant hopes and setbacks. In the midst of dealing with Sandy, Ken discovered he had lung cancer, probably from years of smoking in his younger years, plus working in smoky clubs before cigarettes were banned. Somehow he contracted Covid as well.

The end came fast. Sandy died when Ken was in the hospital and he was crushed. They’d known each other since their teenage years and I think Ken couldn’t conceive of living without her. When offered a ventilator he turned it down and passed away a few days later.

I truly loved Ken and grieve his passing. I’m sure that all who knew him, or heard him play, feel the same way. He was everybody’s friend and he will be sorely missed. R.I.P., my dear friend.

Photograph by Marcia Salter

Pianist / composer PETER YARIN:

We played for years in the rhythm section of Vince’s Nighthawks together – the Sofia’s and Iguana days. This was countless hours spent sitting inches away, aligning our chords and quarter notes, doing what we all try to do, maintaining our individual parts while fusing with the music and the band. Ken’s playing was exciting, joyful, full of energy, buoyant. He approached the bandstand with determination, grit, and a smile. Always clear was his commitment to and his faith in the music and the way it was to be played.

Solicitous of others’ welfare in tough times, he would respond with warmth and compassion. We joked together a lot. I will miss him. May his spirit resonate on.

P.S. from Michael: thanks to the musicians above who took the time to write lovely memoirs of a good friend and bandstand companion. I will be pleased to post other remembrances of Ken in the comments or perhaps in a future post.

May your happiness increase!

“YIPPIE-YI-O-KI-YAY!”

Let’s set the mood first. I’ll explain in three minutes.

A beautiful song, no? But this post isn’t about a 1940 recording: better, it’s about music that will be made in this month, this year.

Photograph by Shervin Laniez

Hilary Gardner is one of the finest singers I know. This isn’t hyperbole, but the result of my listening and observing her for the past decade.

A few years ago, I admired (in print), “her multi-colored voice, her unerring time, her fine but subtle dramatic sense, her wit, her swinging ability to let the song pour through her rather than insisting that the song sit behind her.”

Hilary has a plan, which we can witness and participate in on Tuesday, November 23, at the 55 Bar at 55 Christopher Street, 6:30 to 8:30. She’s inviting us to join her, “on the trail”:

Throughout lockdown, I felt completely disconnected from music-making. Shut up in my apartment in the silenced city, I–like many others, I’m sure–dreamed of wide open spaces and the freedom to roam. I started researching “trail songs,” like “Twilight on the Trail,” “Along the Santa Fe Trail,” and others, drawn to their lyrics about purple hills, silver stars, pale dawns, lonesome moons, and other evocative imagery. What heaven, to saddle up a reliable horse and wander, unworried and unhurried, under a vast, open sky…and how absurdly out of reach such an fantasy was (is, really)!

As I learned more and more of these songs, I was struck by how many of them were composed by European immigrants, versed in classical music, who went on to score films in Hollywood. Jazz and Great American Songbook composers got in on the act, too, with the likes of Benny Carter, Frank Loesser, Victor Young, and others writing songs right alongside Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

Because I grew up singing classical, jazz, and country music concurrently (my first paid gigs were in country music, singing Patsy Cline tunes in dive bars in my teens), I felt deeply and immediately at home in this new repertoire, which contains elements of all three genres. And I have a longstanding fascination with the mythology of the American West, particularly the musical tradition of the “hip cowboy,” i.e. Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and countless others recording swinging versions of western music.

In hindsight, I think that these songs also call to me because they ease the pain of the contentious, relentlessly politicized, complicated times we are living in right now. On the trail–at least, as far as this music is concerned–the answers to life’s big questions are simple and immediate, found in the beauty of the natural world, contemplative solitude, and the arms of a loved one.

This musical program isn’t spangles and boots, not nostalgia for the saloon’s swinging doors, nor is it ironic retro-pop. Rather, I think it comes from Hilary’s understanding that there used to be a landscape where the most prominent feature wasn’t Denny’s or the Home Depot, where one could see the horizon and the starry sky. Where there was room to breathe and no iPhone to monopolize one’s attentions. And her love of the songs that celebrate this spaciousness — both on the map and of the heart.

Hilary will be joined on the trail by Justin Poindexter, guitar; Noah Garabedian, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. The cover charge is a mere $10 and you’ll have to show proof of vaccination, pardner. But those things are easy.

I could joke about boots and saddles, but I will say only, “Don’t miss this show.”

May your happiness increase!

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

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

Poe would have called him someone hidden in plain sight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

PART TWO: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OUR MAN DAN MORGENSTERN, 92!

“JUST LIKE THAT,” one of the best stories I know:

Billie, Part One:

Billie, Part Two:

and Bird:

We are and have been blessed by his august and down-home friendly wise presence.

May your happiness increase!

“SOUNDIE”? WHAT’S A SOUNDIE?

Californian Mark Cantor is the finest jazz-film scholar around, a careful devoted researcher for decades. He loves the marriage of music and film and is fierce in his pursuit of the correct answers, when they can be found. And, not incidentally, a gracious witty down-to-earth fellow, eager to share knowledge.

A home Panoram machine (courtesy Mark Cantor)

Mark has a book in the works, and I asked him to write something about it for us:

Today it is not unusual to hear people say, “My nose is running, I need a kleenex.” Or, “I need to xerox the document.” Of course, “Kleenex” and “Xerox” are corporate product names that have taken on a generic meaning. The same is true of “soundie” – note the lower case spelling – which is used to refer to any short musical clip, regardless of origin. In reality, the term “Soundie” – not beginning with a capital letter – refers quite specifically to a three-minute film short distributed by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America (a subsidiary of the Mills Novelty Company) for use on a Mills’ audiovisual projection devise, the Panoram. Between January 1941 and March 1947 more than 1,880 Soundies, films emanating from many sources, were released to those who owned or leased a Panoram machine.

The actual musical content of the Soundies output was democratic to the extreme, meant to appeal to all segments of American society. Today many of us value most the jazz and big band performances, but there were Irish ballads, Hawaiian tunes, country-western music (and Western Swing), novelty performances and “korn,” dance of all styles, vaudeville routines, and just plain “popular music” among the releases.

The history of these films, and a listing of releases, was released by two good friends, Ted Okuda and Scott MacGillivray, some years ago. They are still the foundations of all Soundies research. But I am proud to announce that a follow up work, one tentatively titled The Soundies: A History and Catalogue of Jukebox Shorts of the 1940s, will be published next year. A more than a million words, it will cover the development and collapse of the industry, and will also include an extensive listing for each Soundie. For the first time, a researcher or fan will be able to discover such information as recording and sideline dates, recording and on-screen personnels, arrangers, soloists, vocalists and a lot more.

To promote the book, but also the films for those who might not need this book in their library, I have set up a Facebook page called “The World of Soundies.” You are all cordially invited to click on the page and join the musical adventure. I generally post one Soundie each week, along with an full background and description of the film in question. Here‘s the link.

Any further questions? I am always around and available at markcantor@aol.com.

It would not be a JAZZ LIVES post without music — and in this case, two Soundies . . .

and a less familiar one, but with Dorothy Dandridge:

Having read Mark’s research for years, I can wholly recommend this book — and it’s not just going to be for collectors of arcane film: there’s musical treasure and otherwise-unknown social and cultural history. Mark has found out what the third altoist had for breakfast, but the fascinating details never interfere with the greater stories. And there are photographs! (Easier than trying to find films and a home Panoram, I am sure.)

May your happiness increase!

“ECHOES OF SWING”: APRIL DeSHIELDS IS DOING WHAT WE’D LIKE TO DO, ONLY BETTER

The invisible wall between musicians and non-musicians (“civilians” or, worse, “fans”) is often difficult to hurdle. Oh, there are the polite conversations between sets, and sometimes even a chat over a plate of food or a beverage, but the things we want to know of our heroes — “How do you DO what you do? What is the source of your magic?” — usually must be intuited and are rarely spoken of. April DeShields, a long-time devotee and close observer of the music we love, has made it possible for us to eavesdrop on relaxed, revealing conversations . . . beginning with two of my particular heroes, Hal Smith and Dan Barrett. And — delightfully — April is neither Mister Rogers nor Gunther Schuller: she’s admiring but never fawning, erudite but never austere.

I found April’s YouTube channel “ECHOES OF SWING” and watched her casually expert interviews. Before we move on, here’s a sample — the first part of her conversation with Hal, with musical examples of the very best kind as well as informal, informative chat about Hal’s ROADRUNNERS, and about what can be done with a small group where the only horn is the clarinet, and his own beginnings:

and the second part, where Hal speaks about influential drummers Ben Pollack, Wayne Jones, Nick Fatool, Fred Higuera, and two lessons with Jake Hanna; teaching aspiring jazz players at Banu Gibson’s NOLA trad jazz camp; the superb MY LITTLE GIRL by Hal’s Jazzologists; Hal’s own musical development and forming a personal identity . . . with portraits of Sidney Catlett, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie:

and the third part — with Hal’s affectionate memories of his supportive parents . . . up to current gigs in the time of Covid-19; the rigors and pleasures of remote recording, and of course, a few cat tales:

After I’d seen and enjoyed the first part of the Hal Smith interviews, I contacted April to ask her about herself, and after some reluctance, she opened the curtain:

When I was 6 my folks took me to the Sacramento Jazz Festival, and, during Abe Most’s set, he called up Tom Saunders (cornet player from Detroit, not the bass player – his nephew – who lives in NOLA now), of whom played Black Coffee and made the musical lightbulb go off on in my brain. He caught that from the stage, and being that my folks immediately decided it was late and we should get to bed, we walked out and Saunders followed us. He chatted up my folks, found out they wanted to go to bed, looked at me and said, “You don’t want to go, do you?” – to which I promptly replied “Nope.” He grabbed my hand, told my Dad that when I was tired he would take me back to our room, asked my Dad for a spare key so we wouldn’t wake them up, and off he took me- to the bar where I met Wild Bill Davison.

My father never did something like that, but I am so grateful he did, because every year at Sac and at subsequent festivals in other areas, Saunders was protector, teacher, and best friend. He and Chuck Hedges would load me up with lists of records to listen to as “homework” for the next year, and by the time I was 8 years old, I was correcting a guy who had a Saturday morning jazz show on a local public radio station. He invited me to the station, and from then on Saturday mornings would be very early drives with Dad to the radio station and I kept that up until I was nearly 30 and health kept me from doing it anymore.

My old boss at KRML moved to Palm Desert and is on the Board of the American Jazz Institute – he finally convinced me instead of asking me every month to record shows for him if I started to do my own series with no deadlines, he would re-broadcast material he wanted, and here we are. So it turned out to be a long story…. so many people came to me after Saunders died, thinking he was my father or grandfather, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to festivals for a long time without being in a puddle of tears. Many years later I’m finally ready to do what he would have wanted me to do – he would’ve been very mad at me for quitting in the first place!

So much of what I learned from those guys, and eventually the weekly calls with Saunders about everything, is so much a part of who I am in every way I just can’t imagine who I would be without them!

April has also posted some rare historical material: Tom Saunders’ Wild Bill documentary; a Saunders-Wild Bill set done in celebration of Bill’s eightieth birthday; an interview with Chuck Hedges . . . and just now, a two-part interview with Dan Barrett, beginning with his early jazz-conversion experiences and the history of early New Orleans jazz musicians migrating to California; Dan’s interactions with Andrew Blakeney and Joe Darensbourg — a side-portrait of Tom Saunders by April and her “heaven-opening epiphany”; memories of trombonist George Masso, and wonderful music from Dan and George’s CD:

Part Two begins with Mary Lou Williams’ LONELY MOMENTS from BED (Dan, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, and Joel Forbes); Dan and other trombone-playing arrangers; his long friendship with Howard Alden and how it led to a move to New York — through Jake Hanna, Red Norvo, and Dick Sudhalter — to gigs with Woody Allen and film work, the children’s project BEING A BEAR:

The third and final part of that interview is on the way . . . but I can’t wait to see April’s next gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

“YOU HAVE TO GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR SOMETIME”: LARRY McKENNA with STRINGS (World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, October 12, 2021)

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that October 12 has not come yet, so before someone writes in to explain my error, I am announcing an event that will take place in slightly more than two weeks from this evening. And it concerns this man, seen in the photograph above, the wondrous tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna. Here’s what he sounds like:

Now, imagine that sound backed by a different (but equally splendid) jazz rhythm section, and a string ensemble of three cellos, one violin, one English horn doubling oboe, one flute, arrangements by Larry and by Jack Saint Clair, the latter of whom will also be conducting.

Yes, you don’t need to imagine, but you do need to attend the event in real time as it is taking place at World Cafe Live, 8:30 to 10:30 PM, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. The WCL is located at 3025 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104 — not far from the 30th Street station. (I’ve been there: it was a very welcoming place.)

The price is $35.00 per ticket, and it is general admission: you can buy tickets and read about Covid-19 protocols here. Yes, you will have to show proof of vaccination; yes, you will be expected to wear your mask except when eating or drinking.

Yes, I am attending. Yes, I will bring my video camera, but even I — who prides himself on the possibilities of video-recording — will say that a video is not the same as being there in person. And, no (the first no!) the event is not being streamed, nor is it a seven-night engagement, and the WCL is not the size of Carnegie Hall, so, to quote the oracle Patrick O’Leary, “You snooze, you lose.”

And: before the virus changed the landscape, there were always a thousand reasons to stay home, and we know them well. Given the virus, there are more reasons. But: to me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Perhaps it is to you also. And, in case you want to know the source of the aphorism, “You have to get out of your chair sometime,” c’est moi. I hope to see you there — for beauty’s sake.

May your happiness increase!

NOT A CLOUD IN SIGHT: “SILVER LININGS,” by DANNY TOBIAS, with SCOTT ROBINSON, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JOE PLOWMAN, and KEVIN DORN (Ride Symbol Records)

Roswell Rudd said, “You play your personality,” and in the case of Danny Tobias, that is happily true. Watch him off the stand: he’s witty, insightful, but down-to-earth, someone choosing to spread love and have a good time. And when he picks up the horn (cornet, trumpet, Eb alto horn) that same hopeful sunniness comes through. He can play a dark sad ballad with tender depths, but essentially he is devoted to making music that reminds us that joy is everywhere if you know how to look for it.

Photograph by Lynn Redmile.

Danny’s a great lyrical soloist but he really understands what community is all about — making connections among his musical families. So his performances are never just a string of solos: he creates bands of brothers and sisters whenever he sits (or stands) to play. His jazz is friendly, and it’s honest: in the great tradition, he honors the song rather than abstracting the harmonies — he loves melodies and he’s a master at embellishing them. When I first heard him, in 2005 at The Cajun, I told him that he reminded me of Buck Clayton and Ruby Braff, and he understood the compliment.

But enough words. How about some 1939 Basie and Lester, made fresh and new for us — with a little spiritual exhortation in the middle:

Now, that’s lovely. And it comes from Danny’s brand-new CD with his and my heroes, named above. My admiration for Danny and friends is such that when I heard about this project, I asked — no, I insisted — to write the notes:

What makes the music we love so – whatever name it’s going by today – so essential, so endearing?  It feels real.  It’s a caress or a guffaw, or both at once; a big hug or a tender whisper; a naughty joke or a prayer.  The music that touches our hearts respects melody but is not afraid of messing around with it; it always has a rhythmic pulse; it’s a giant conversation where everyone’s voice is heard.  And it’s honest: you can tell as soon as you hear eight bars whether the players are living the song or they are play-acting.  If you haven’t guessed, SILVER LININGS is a precious example of all these things. 

I’ve been following all of these musicians (except for the wonderful addition to the family Joe Plowman) for fifteen years now, and they share a common integrity. They are in the moment, and the results are always lyrical and surprising.  When Danny told me he planned to make a new CD, I was delighted; when he told me who would be in the studio with him, I held my breath; when I listened to this disc for the first time, I was in the wonderful state between joyous tears and silly grinning.  You’ll feel it too.  There’s immense drama here, and passion – whether a murmur or a shout; there is the most respectful bow to the past (hear the opening of EASY DOES IT, which could have been the disc’s title); there’s joyous comedy (find the YEAH, MAN! and win a prize – wait, you’ve already won it).  But the sounds are as fresh as bird calls or a surprise phone call from someone you love.  Most CDs are too much of a good thing; this is a wonderful meal where every course is its own delight, unified by deep flavors and respect for the materials, but nothing becomes monotonous – we savor course after course, because each one is so rewarding  And when it’s over, we want to enjoy it again.

I could point out the wonderful sound and surge of Kevin Dorn’s Chinese cymbal and rim-chock punctuations; the steady I’ll-never-fail-you pulse of Joe Plowman; Rossano Sportiello’s delicate first-snowflake-of-the-winter touch and his seismic stride; Scott Robinson’s gorgeous rainbows of sounds, exuberant or crooning, and the man whose name is on the front, Danny Tobias, who feels melody in his soul and can’t go a measure without swinging.  But why should I take away your gasps of surprise and pleasure?  This might not be the only dream band on the planet, but it sure as anything it is one of mine, tangible evidence of dreams come true.    

They tell us “Every cloud has a silver lining”?  Get lost, clouds!  Thanks to Danny, Joe, Scott, Kevin, and Rossano, we have music that reminds us of how good it is to be alive.

The songs are Bud Freeman’s THAT D MINOR THING; Larry McKenna’s YOU’RE IT; EASY DOES IT; Danny’s GREAT SCOTT; DEEP IN A DREAM; LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING; I NEVER KNEW; Danny’s gender-neutral MY GUY SAUL; YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING; OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT!; I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE; PALESTEENA; Danny’s BIG ORANGE STAIN; WHY DID I CHOOSE YOU?

On the subject of choosing. You could download this music from a variety of sources, but you and I know that downloading from some of those sources leaves the musicians with nothing but regrets for their irreplaceable art. Danny and his wife Lynn (a remarkable photographer: see above) adopted the adorable Clyde Beauregard Redmile-Tobias some months ago:

I know my readers are generous (the holidays are coming!) so I urge them to buy their copies direct from Danny, who will sign / inscribe them. Your choice means that Clyde will have better food and live longer.

Do it for Clyde! Here‘s the link.

May your happiness increase!