Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

Hidden in Plain Sight, Volume Three: JAM SESSIONS AT DORIS DUKE’S HOUSE: JOE CASTRO, ZOOT SIMS, LUCKY THOMPSON, OSCAR PETTIFORD, RON JEFFERSON, SONNY TRUITT, JOHNNY GLASEL (February 4-5, 1956)

For the first two volumes of HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT (featuring Hot Lips Page, then Stan Getz and Teddy Wilson) click here.

Then, proceed with appropriate reverence and delight to the musical treasures below . . . .

THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU (February 4: probably Johnny Glasel, trumpet; Lucky Thompson, tenor saxophone; Joe Castro, piano; Oscar Pettiford, string bass; Ron Jefferson, drums. Duke Farms, Somerville, New Jersey):

TRICROTISM (February 5: Lucky Thompson, tenor saxophone; Pettiford, Jefferson):

LESTER LEAPS IN (Zoot Sims, Thompson, tenor saxophone; Joe Castro, piano; Pettiford, Jefferson):

THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE (Sonny Truitt, trombone; Zoot, Castro, Pettiford, Jefferson):

WELL, YOU NEEDN’T (titled “JUST JOE” (Truitt, Thompson, Zoot, Castro, Pettiford, Jefferson):

OUT OF NOWHERE (Truitt, Zoot, Castro, Pettiford, Jefferson):

It’s clear that the treasure chest might not hold everything we’ve ever wished to hear, but it is far from depleted.

May your happiness increase!

Hidden in Plain Sight, Volume Two: TEDDY WILSON, STAN GETZ, BOB BERTEAUX, JIMMY PRATT (Falcon Lair, Beverly Hills, California, July 3, 1955)

My title, I think a borrowing from Poe, refers to those musical performances, rare and surprising, that have gone unobserved on YouTube for months and years. Volume One can be found here.

Joe Castro with Louis Armstrong and Teddy Wilson, backstage at Basin Street in 1956

Doris Duke is usually identified as tobacco heiress, philanthropist, and socialite. She’s less well-known as a fervent supporter of jazz and an amateur pianist. She and pianist / singer / composer Joe Castro had a lengthy relationship, and Doris’ devotion to jazz led her to stage and record jam sessions in studios on both coasts. Two CD box sets on the Sunnyside label, under Castro’s name — LUSH LIFE and PASSION FLOWER — collect astonishing recordings in first-rate sound, the participants relaxed and eloquent. Here, Castro is not the pianist, but Doris’ friend Teddy Wilson is.

Teddy and Stan Getz only recorded together on one other occasion — the soundtrack of the BENNY GOODMAN STORY, but nothing quite so personal as this quartet, where they are supported splendidly by Bob Berteaux, string bass; Jimmy Pratt, drums. I hear parallels to PRES AND TEDDY (which had not yet happened) and the Lester Young – Nat Cole – Buddy Rich date, but Stan is very much himself here, and the quartet soars and muses beautifully.

FALCON BLUES (BLUES IN G):

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS:

OUT OF NOWHERE:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

“Hidden in Plain Sight”? When I assembled these titles for this post, I noted that the music had been on YouTube for three years and none of these performances had received more than a hundred views. Surprising is the most gentle way I can put it. Some digging on YouTube often yields treasure.

May your happiness increase!

CONTEMPORARY ANALYSIS PUTS IT ALL IN A NEW LIGHT: TRAUMA, ADDICTION, CLMATE CHANGE, and GLOBAL WARMING

A site called Hello Music Theory posted this morning “21 Of The Best Songs About Nature And The Environment.” I was delighted to see that they led off with Louis Armstrong, although less so that their selection was “What a Wonderful World.”

And the biographical sketch that follows is sympathetic — but couched in language that would have Louis either laughing or furious (I can’t tell):

Born in 1901 and raised in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong knew firsthand the disastrous effects of climate change and global warming. Despite that, his song, “What a Wonderful World,” is a ballad that lauds the beauty of nature.

From “trees of green” to “clouds of white,” this is a song that mentions forms of nature. Here, Armstrong sings about the beauty of the world around him. However, it’s not just the nature he praises. He also brings attention to friendship and care among people.

The song is a testament to Armstrong’s love of nature and his native city, a Southern oasis home to great oaks and Spanish moss. The song also has a deeper meaning. Armstrong struggled most of his life with trauma and addiction, yet he maintained a cheerful, positive attitude through it all.

I suppose you could call Louis’ poor childhood traumatic. I wouldn’t call his use of marijuana an addiction, and wonder at that censorious term. As to his awareness of global warming and climate change . . . I am more ready than most to give him credit for being omniscient and prescient, but I couldn’t think of his commentary on those subjects. Until the light bulb went on and I realized that his 1927 OKeh recording was not simply an improvisation on the chords of TIGER RAG, but a scientific commentary on rising temperatures. Hear it in a whole new light:

Scorching, no?

Thanks to Ricky Riccardi, who is, even as I speak, writing the definitive book on Louis’ early years — from New Orleans to Chicago, from fireworks and coal cart to fame and recordings. It will be the first volume of his trilogy which already covers Louis from 1929 to the end, with new stories on every page.

May your happiness increase!

“A BIG HUNK OF TERRIFIC JIVE”: ALMOST 900 PAGES, TO BE PRECISE

If you were in school before Google, you know what reference books look like. Dark cloth bindings fraying at top and bottom, thin yellowed pages, tiny type, a dusty smell, heavy in the hand. Useful to find an errant fact but not in the least entertaining.

Mark Cantor’s two-volume book —

THE SOUNDIES: A HISTORY AND CATALOG OF JUKEBOX FILM SHORTS OF THE 1940s (forewords by Leonard Maltin and Will Friedwald) published by McFarland, is a vibrant contradiction of the stereotype. It’s full of lively information, photographs, and vibrant stories. And its cover is a bright orange.

Here’s an eleven-minute film interlude: a tour through Soundies themselves, with Mark as guide:

The publisher writes:

The 1940s saw a brief audacious experiment in mass entertainment: a jukebox with a screen. Patrons could insert a dime, then listen to and watch such popular entertainers as Nat “King” Cole, Gene Krupa, Cab Calloway or Les Paul. A number of companies offered these tuneful delights, but the most successful was the Mills Novelty Company and its three-minute musical shorts called Soundies.


This book is a complete filmography of over 2,500 Soundies: the musicians heard and seen on screen, recording and filming dates, arrangers, soloists, dancers, entertainment trade reviews and more. Additional filmographies cover more than 80 subjects produced by other companies. There are 125 photos taken on film sets, along with advertising images and production documents. More than 75 interviews narrate the firsthand experiences and recollections of Soundies directors and participants. Forty years before MTV, the Soundies were there for those who loved the popular music of the 1940s. This was truly “music for the eyes.”

I first encountered the Soundies through the famous ones by Duke Ellington (with Ben Webster, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, and Sonny Greer) and Louis Armstrong (with precious glimpses of Sidney Catlett driving the orchestra) — then I found Mark Cantor’s invaluable website, https://www.jazz-on-film.com/. (He also calls it “Celluloid Improvisations.”)

Now, I can hear some of you saying, “I like jazz, and I like to see my heroes on film. I can see these Soundies on YouTube. Whatever do I need this book, these books, for?”

It’s true that the bulk of the book is, as its title states, a catalog of these film shorts. But what a deeply researched catalog! To explain the book’s many virtues, let us imagine someone seeing this Soundie for the first time:

Certain things are obvious: the title, director, and producer. Ellington announces Ben Webster, and it’s clear the band and he are playing COTTON TAIL. But who are the dancers? And when was this filmed?

THE SOUNDIES has the answers and more. On page 226 of the first volume, even a casual reader would learn that the Soundie was released on February 2, 1942, that the legendary dancers are Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, featuring Frankie Manning and Norma Miller. Cantor’s book also includes contemporary press reviews and the one-word description on the Soundies production sheet, in this case, “Colored.”

Then the book can reveal more, even to someone paging through casually.

The very first Soundie, thus the first entry in the listing, is SWEET SUE by Six Hits and A Miss, accompanied by the Lorraine Page Orchestra but the music is provided by composer Victor Young’s Orchestra and he is briefly seen on screen. In addition, the orchestra includes Andy Secrest, trumpet; Arthur Schutt, piano; Bill Rank, trombone; Spike Jones, drums.

Not all the performers listed for every Soundie are audible; Mark has dug out information from union contracts and recollections of the musicians. In one case, Dave Tough is playing drums in 1946 Soundies by Gracie Barrie, accompanied by Jerry Jerome’s Orchestra, but he’s not recognizable.

THE SOUNDIES will add information to what we know about Eddie South and Henry “Red” Allen, but the shorts were not restricted to jazz, which makes the volumes even more valuable as a cross-section of musical taste from 1940 to 1947. But for every solo by Don Stovall, there is comedy, vaudeville, war propaganda in song, mild double-entendre, calypso, and more. (A student of popular culture of the time could dive into this book and never come up for air.)

And more. The book begins with a history of the companies that made these films, the machinery that played them, and — in the process — offers priceless information about singers, dancers, and night spots. “Jaw-dropping” is not a usual phrase in my vocabulary, but it describes my reaction to page 84, where Mark has included a small advertising card from Small’s Paradise — the band then appearing was Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra. New to me, and thrilling.

And even more. One of the most delightful sections of the book is a thirty-plus-page compendium of interviews of people connected with the Soundies. Not surprisingly, the stories spring off the page. Some of the people Mark has spoken with are Van Alexander, Tony Mottola, Les Paul, Ray Anthony, David Raskin, Abe Most, Jane Harvey, Hugh Martin, Joe Wilder, Mary Osborne, Martha Tilton, Kay Starr, Liza Morrow, Tiny Grimes, Pete Candoli, and more.

Three tales:

Saxophonist Jay Migliori tells of making Soundies with the Gene Krupa band when Roy Eldridge was a member and the director saying that Roy could not be seen in the trumpet section. Gene’s reaction? “Pack up, boys,” and Roy stayed.

Mark himself tells the story of watching a Lucky Millinder Soundie — with a trombonist he couldn’t identify — with trombonist Benny Powell and reedman Joe Farrell:

They both watched attentively and seemed stumped. But then Joe asked Benny, “Could that be Trombonesky?” Yes, said Benny, it was a legendary Harlem trombone player everyone listened to, but who mysteriously vanished without a trace. I dutifully took notes and always told audiences about this amazing, unknown musician. “Ladies and gentlemen, please note that this is the only film, or recorded evidence, of the legendary Trombonesky, a Harlem musician briefly on the scene, influencing others, then disappearing in 1941 and not heard from since.

It was years later that I realized I had been conned by these two wonderful gentlemen , who didn’t recognize the soloist as Floyd Brady and decided to put me on. Hats off to their superb improvisation and acting skills. Trombonesky, R.I.P.

And an expurgated comment from the exuberantly profane Henry Nemo:

“Kay Penton [who appears with Nemo in the Soundie Hip Hip Hooray (entry 907)] was really hot. She was what we used to call a real dish, had a great pair of tits. I wanted to get something going with her, but she didn’t have eyes for me.”

“Shit, man, I can’t recall hardly anything from back then. It was just something to make a little money. You don’t really carry that type of thing with you through the years. Let’s see another movie!”

Anything done carefully and with passion is in itself indelibly intriguing. For forty years, Mark Cantor has been doing the hard work that makes this book remarkable. And although his website already has space for additions and corrections, no other book will replace this one. And it’s fascinating, whether the reader starts dutifully at the begining or dips in here and there.

By the way, my title — approved by Mark — refers to a reviewer’s praise for the substantial singer, June Richmond, in a Soundie. But it surely applies to these volumes: enlightening, full of surprises, and great fun.

May your happiness increase!

P.S. As I write this, May 23, 2023, I am still exiled from Facebook because of a hacking two weeks prior. If you are on FB and know someone else who would like to read this, please pass it on. Thank you.

COMING IN FIVE WEEKS! The 47th NJ JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS BASH!

I started collecting jazz records in childhood and can still recall the thrill of the pile of 78s at the antique store, the Salvation Army, and from the Seventies on, visits to jazz collectors’ meetings. Before there was YouTube or eBay, if you wanted to expand your collection, you went where the collectors assembled — perhaps monthly — and you went home with treasures. I can point to records that are dear to me: an autographed Eddie Condon Decca, a Teddy Wilson V-Disc with Joe Thomas, Ed Hall, and Sidney Catlett — that came from the once-yearly Record Collectors’ Bash. And it’s back!

Recollections by my friend Dave Weiner . . . .

GETTING BASHED FOR (ALMOST) A HALF-CENTURY
I first attended the NJ Jazz Record Bash in 1975 at a hotel on Route 1. I think that was the second year it ran. Jazz film expert Ken Crawford had started it as a way for vintage record collectors to buy, sell, trade and schmooze over a weekend in June. The highlight of each event would be an evening of jazz movies, chosen by Ken from his massive collection. To me, it was an amazing experience, the first time I saw vintage 78s and LPs for sale in quantity. Previously I had found such discs occasionally in thrift shops and flea markets. My first purchase there was a Bunny Berigan 78, which still looks better today than I do.

I made many friends of long standing as the years passed. Numerous celebrities, musical and otherwise, visited over time – actor Matt Dillon (a formidable Latin jazz collector), Michael Feinstein, bandleader Vince Giordano, writers Charles Delaunay, Stanley Dance, Frank Driggs, Dan Morgenstern and Russ Connor. As the decades passed, other collectors stepped up to run the yearly event – Russ Shor, Joe Lauro, Howard Berg and Art Zimmerman. The Bash continued regularly until Covid hit in 2020.

Three years passed with no Bash – until now. My partner Barry Miller and I have picked up the threads and have scheduled the latest Bash for June 22-24. Maintaining the tradition, schmoozing and film showings are still in the mix. Many older collectors will attend along with a happily growing contingent of younger folk, who dig the vintage jazz and pop music we all love.

For full information, check our website, jazzbash.net.

And here are the details . . .

Dear Friends,

Hey! Hey! Hey! Only FIVE WEEKS to go before the sensational NJ JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS BASH returns for its 47th year!

The Bash runs from Thursday evening, June 22nd through Saturday evening, June 24th, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Edison, NJ.

If you’re a vendor, let us know soon if you’d like to reserve 1, 2 or more tables, because space is limited. Below you’ll find complete details.

If you’re a collector, you’ll find thousands of vintage 78s, LPs, 45s, cylinders, CDs, DVDs, books, sheet music, catalogs and more.

Three exciting two-hour vintage film and TV programs have been scheduled for Friday evening and Saturday afternoon & evening.

Check the jazzbash.net website for details and don’t hesitate to contact David Weiner at njjazzbash@gmail.com if you have any questions. You can also visit the “NJ Jazz Record Bash” Facebook page for regular updates.

Best regards, David Weiner – (see details below)

47th NJ JAZZ RECORD COLLECTOR’S BASH DETAILS

HOURS

· Thursday, June 22nd – 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Early Buyers Only)

· Friday & Saturday, June 23rd & 24th – 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. (General Public)

GENERAL ADMISSION

· $42 for Thursday Evening Early Buyers — 8:00-11:00 p.m., plus

Friday & Saturday all day/evening

· $22 — all day & evening Friday & Saturday

· $12 — Friday evening after 5 p.m. + Saturday all day & evening

VENDOR DETAILS

Vendors can reserve tables*, which are available on a first-come basis, and cost:

· For Thursday evening, Friday & Saturday all day/evening — $110 per table

· For Friday all day & evening only — $74 per table

· For Saturday all day & evening only — $46 per table.

*Tables range from 6 feet by 3 feet to 8 feet by 3 feet depending on hotel availability.

A 50% deposit is required to reserve your table(s).

PAYMENT METHODS

Advance payments can be made via check, money order or PayPal.

Please make checks or money orders out to “Fun Trends USA, LLC” and mail to:

David Weiner

Fun Trends USA, LLC

7004 Boulevard East, Suite 25E

Guttenberg, NJ 07093

Or pay via PayPal:

Please email your PayPal payment to the following account — barry@miller-weiner.com — “as a friend,” so no commission is deducted.

For final payment, cash and checks will be accepted at the Bash.

HILTON GARDEN INN RESERVATIONS

The Hilton Garden Inn offers Bash attendees the special reduced room price of $139 per night. Make your reservations here.

Postscript from Michael: if you see this at the Bash, at a reasonable price, please pick one up. I can always use an extra copy.

May your happiness increase!

THEY ROCK: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG and GUESTS (MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO, JONATHAN DOYLE, and DAWN LAMBETH at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL, September 29, 2022)

Dave Stuckey (“Pappy” to his intimates) is a rewarding example of something the Ancients knew well . . . the Ancients being Louis Armstrong, Bob Wills, Wingy Manone, Fats Waller, and a hundred others: that good music is also by definition entertaining, that even people who had never heard of Clarence Williams or Hilton Jefferson should be patting their feet and grinning if the people onstage understand their purpose.

And he doesn’t only know that truth, he lives it — in his rocking rhythm, his congenial vocalizing, and the friendly environment he and the Hot House Gang bring to live in performance.

Here’s some delightful evidence from his second set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, where his Gang was the very best. They were Marc Caparone, trumpet; Nate Ketner, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums; Carl Sonny Leyland on a piano-shaped object — and guests Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Dawn Lambeth, vocals.

Dave asks the musical (and non-musical) question, HOW COULD YOU?:

It’s true: THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND:

Sonny celebrates a Chicago shero, MY GAL SAL:

Dawn explores the night skies, with WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

Amanda is indecisive at a crucial juncture in her life: MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND:

A banquet of joyous sounds. Dave and the Hot House Gang will also be appearing at the 2023 Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . a head-spinning all-you-can-experience weekend.

May your happiness increase!

KATHERINE HAS SINGULAR TALENTS: T.J. MULLER and his JUG BAND (May 5, 2023)

Clarence Williams would be so happy, and so are we. Here’s the multi-talented T.J. Muller and friends, telling the story once again of Sister Kate, who attracts friends wherever she goes. T.J. sings, plays kazoo and banjo; Ryan Keonig, jug; Adam Hoskins, guitar; Jacob Alspach, banjo, slide whistle; Joey Glynn, string bass; Ethan Leinwand, piano; Kellie Everret, harmonica. Later in the set, Valerie Kirchoff, sings (always a good thing).

Good time music in St. Louis!

Your homework for today? Find someone to shimmy with.

P.S. When Ricky Riccardi’s first volume of his invaluable Louis Armstrong trilogy, STOMP OFF, LET’S GO!, is published, you’ll find out even more about the genesis of this song . . . and its original, even less polite title — not the one the insiders know. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!

LYRICAL BRILLIANCE, or A GATHERING OF GIANTS: BOBBY HACKETT, BENNY CARTER, TEDDY WILSON, LARRY RIDLEY, DAVID LEE, Jr. (Nice Jazz Festival, July 18, 1975)

Jazz festivals, by their very nature, lean heavily on all-star groups of musicians who don’t work together often — sometimes resulting in a gathering of brilliant names that is less than the sum of its parts. This set, nearly an hour, is an exception. Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson had associations going back to 1933; Bobby Hackett appeared memorably on a few of Teddy’s recording dates in 1938. Larry Ridley was a versatile player, often called in for such gatherings (he supported Benny, Bobby, and Teddy at the Newport Jazz Festival in New York for a jam session at Radio City Music Hall). Sometimes his bass is not caught well by the microphones, but when it is, it is lovely.

Those four players did not travel in the same orbits in the Seventies, so it is a wondrous thing that they were caught together, not only in performance, but for posterity by French radio.

I’ve left the drummer, David Lee, Jr. (1941-2021) for last, because initially he seems distant from the rhythmic feel of the other players, even though his working associations were with Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins, who understood swing, if in their own idiosyncratic ways. But Lee adapts himself more as the session continues and his hi-hat, initially relentless, is less distracting.

In 2023, only Larry Ridley (born 1937) survives. Bobby would die of a heart attack less than a year later. Note that Bobby, always gracious, calls a Carter composition for his feature. Easy medium tempos and arching lyrical solos are consistent beauties here.

The details.

Bobby Hackett, trumpet (or cornet?); Benny Carter, alto saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Larry Ridley, string bass; David Lee, Jr., drums. Grande Parade du Jazz, July 18, 1975. Broadcast on French radio: audio only.

I MAY BE WRONG / LOVER, COME BACK TO ME / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? / ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET / BLUES IN MY HEART (Hackett) / BODY AND SOUL (Carter) / WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE?

I’m not sure that great art ever points the way to a “moral,” but two occur to me. One is to bless these adaptable musicians, so sweetly durable. Their lyricism did not age and will not. The second is to tip our hats in the direction of Thomas Edison’s lab in New Jersey . . . and bless all recording equipment. Yes, “recording” brings us TikTok, but it also made these notes and tones eternal, undying.

May your happiness increase!

KRISTINA RAY and the PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

One of the most pleasing things about having a blog, and there are many, is that people find me who wouldn’t otherwise know my “contact information.” I met the singer Kristina Ray in 2015 — perhaps in Mezzrow, or at Michael Kanan’s Willoughby Street studio — and she impressed me as a cheerful warm person. But at that time I’d not heard her sing.

That lack has been remedied, and I wanted to let you hear her also. Her approach isn’t abstruse or complex; rather, she gives melody and words a friendly embrace, and swings them over to us:

and an even older standard made real through sincerity:

Kristina hails from Slovenia and her current home base is Paris, but she has spent time in New York, studying with Barry Harris and singing with Steve Ash and other notables. A more extensive biography is here.

She has plans for the future — as well as New York gigs — and such things are expensive, so I am spreading the word:

The world never has a surfeit of light-hearted melody, so I encourage you to help Kristina on her swinging path.

May your happiness increase!

CHARLIE CHRISTIAN, THREE “NEW” PERFORMANCES (BENNY GOODMAN, LIONEL HAMPTON, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, ARTIE BERNSTEIN, NICK FATOOL, WALTER IOOSS, COOTIE WILLIAMS, GEORGE AULD, HOT LIPS PAGE, JOE GUY, DON BYAS, KERMIT SCOTT, “TEX,” NICK FENTON, KENNY CLARKE 1940-41)

The bare facts: Charles Henry Christian, electric guitar (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942).

I’m not sure that much could be sadder than that. But Charlie had one piece of good fortune in his brief life. However you write the story of his “discovery,” he was well-known, heard by many, and captured by various microphones for our listening and that of future generations. From August 1939 to June 1941, he appeared in the recording studio, the concert hall, radio studios, and after-hours jazz clubs. Tom Lord’s standard online jazz discography lists 94 sessions on which he appears, and his recorded oeuvre can (loosely) be contained on ten compact discs.

Between 1992 and 1994, the French CD label “Masters of Jazz” attempted to present his recorded work complete on eight discs. Nearly a decade later, they issued a ninth volume which presented music that had eluded them, plus three performances that had never appeared on record . . . which it’s my pleasure to present here. The preponderance of Charlie’s recorded work was with Benny Goodman, who was generous in featuring his brilliant young sideman. (Not only that, but had Christian been working with a less-famous organization, how much of his work would have been lost to us?) Two of the three performances, alas, incomplete, are with Benny’s Sextet. But Charlie had another life, one blessedly captured by Columbia University student-archivist Jerry Newman . . . so we can follow him to Minton’s Uptown House.

The blissful music.

POOR BUTTERFLY, April 27, 1940 (Christian, Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Nick Fatool):

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, May 8,1941 (Christian, Lips Page, Joe Guy, Don Byas, Kermit Scott, “Tex,” Nick Fenton, Kenny Clarke):

STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, June 1941: the last recording we have of Charlie, “Monte Prosser Dance Carnival,” Madison Square Garden, New York City (Christian, Goodman, Cootie Williams, George Auld, Guarnieri, Walter Iooss, Fatool):

Charlie, we miss you. Thank you for the jewels you left us: they still shine so brightly.

And if you are, like me, fascinated by Benny Goodman, you’ll want to read this. Enthralling.

May your happiness increase!

SAYS WHO?

This post comes out of decades of listening to, talking about, and proselytzing about jazz, whatever name you want to honor it with. And recent discussions with long-time listeners and creators my age who wonder why X is celebrated and Y isn’t. A is always mentioned when people speak of the music but B is unknown. C gets awards and record contracts but D scuffles. I am, of course, going to restrict myself to people no longer playing: to extend this question to ask, “How come N and not L?” when they are both active rightly invites angry response. Five-star reviews and gigs in well-publicized places, also. Grants and residencies, paragraphs in books.

A recent example, from New York City, certainly one of the jazz capitals of the world. A wonderful musician I know [a stellar player without his own publicity office] was a side-person on a gig, and I asked them, “When’s your next leader gig,” and was given a date four months from that evening. Four months. Yes, I know all about the math: number of clubs, number of spaces, audience posteriors in seats. But still.

It’s in part the question of recognition and identification. When I used to be introduced at parties as “someone who likes jazz,” the polite person (although sometimes responding through now-heavy eyelids) would ask if I listened to Miles. And when I said with a smile that Miles was a great creator but my taste was for music in pre-fusion styles, the polite blankness grew deeper. “You know, like Louis and Ellington and Billie Holiday,” I’d say, and then the polite person made a run for the distant tray of drinks or canapes. I repeat, nothing against Miles. But Miles = jazz. Surely an iconic figure. And I never wanted to interrogate the polite person but I would have loved to know where the identification came from, as if I’d said, “That food,” and the response was, “Oh, yes, pad Thai.” Ending the conversation right there.

Certain principles seem to apply. There is a Pantheon of creators so identified with jazz that their names seem to glow in huge neon. In no order: Coltrane, Miles, Bird, Louis, Duke. And before anyone gets irate, this post is not about knocking them down from their well-deserved pedestals.

Those who study jazz history or Jazz History know of other trumpeters, for an example. Buddy Bolden, perhaps. Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge. But where are Art Farmer, Don Rader, Frank Newton, Mouse Randolph, Shad Collins?

Some will know of Clifford Brown, Bix Beiderbecke, Bunny Berigan — celebrated not only for their artistic merit but for their short lives, for we love Drama also.

Drama means Trauma plus Truncated Life plus (often) Substance Abuse or Illness. Martyrdom. Billie and Bird. Chick, Blanton, Charlie Christian, LaFaro, Lang.

But let us move from individual awareness or the lack of it to the larger institutions that surround creative individuals. Let us also sidle up into the present.

There have long been Readers’ Polls and Critics’ Polls. Sometimes they truly recognized talent. Other times they reflected ideological scuffles, and “popular taste” emphasized the first word. Tex Beneke could “win more votes” than Lester Young in a listing of the best tenor saxophonists, and with no disrespect to Tex, he benefited from exposure on hit records, his name being called on radio broadcasts, his handsome profile in major studio productions. Winning a DOWN BEAT poll meant you could add it to your advertising, and presumably play gigs that paid better. If you were a METRONOME All-Star, you recorded in the company of your elected peers. ESQUIRE’s “All-American” jazz band played at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Politics. Recognition means money, which means more recognition. All fine, but the obverse is also a dark truth.

Eighty-five years ago, when there were record companies, someone heard a fine musician in a club and told someone else, and then (let us say) the word got to Helen Oakley Dance or Tommy Rockwell, Eli Oberstein, Harry Lim, or John Hammond, who then convinced a record company that R was not only good but that R’s records would sell. Records, radio, perhaps film, club dates, and so on.

But that machinery no longer exists, although CDs still get produced and Spotify hums along. What replaced it often seems like a Charles Ives clamor of self-advertisement, which I am not mocking, because it is necessary. I am not qualified to discuss the relationship of Instagram to art, but I have heard musicians tell of being required to bring “followers” in certain numbers to a gig to assure more gigs.

The splendidly worthy Bandcamp attempts to fill the void where once Columbia, RCA, Decca, Blue Note, Riverside, Chiaroscuro, Pablo, and Arbors once filled the shelves.

But I wonder (“I dream in vain”?) who books the remaining jazz clubs, cruises, and festivals. Who decides which musicians are featured on the remaining jazz periodicals? Who becomes Musician of the Year? And on what grounds? And to make the question more pointed, which agency is in charge of Silence? Who implicitly decides who gets ignored or forgotten?

That contemporary Silence is what most interests me. One could say, with justification, “Look, there were so many magnificent trumpet players in 1944 that you can’t expect me to know who Joe Thomas is.” Or, “You say that Nat Jaffe was a remarkable pianist. But I can’t find him on YouTube. How do I know he really existed and you didn’t make him up?”

But now. I know hundreds of glorious creative musicians who don’t get interviewed or profiled, who must pay to produce their own music for public consumption, who never get awards or grants, who scuffle for low-paying club dates.

Did something happen to jazz when I was sleeping that narrowed the Pantheon down into two dozen people who would get the spotlight? Was it the market, or the shrinking audience? Did technology — music for free — destroy a system that had a larger sense of merit to be rewarded? Did TikTok replace Nat Hentoff and Otis Ferguson?

I know some of the decisions — who will get Page One, who will show up only in the obituaries — are a matter of editorial judgment, human energy, as well as economics. I could not write about all the new CDs I am asked to review. (And that’s leaving aside that some of them I don’t like.) A magazine or newspaper has only so many column inches and there are publication deadlines. Of course periodicals want to attract readers and advertisers. But it does seem as if the same faces get the attention, and others, creative and diligent, remain in the shadows.

Is it a matter of who makes the most noise, whose “product” is the most likely to garner attention, what offering seems most singular? Sometimes those seem the only explanations. Packaging triumphing over substance.

JAZZ LIVES leans to the side of what some may call perverse. I write about what moves me, and stay silent about what doesn’t. And all the urging of publicists and fans sometimes add to the stubbornness. I think to myself, “I don’t have to write about __________, whose most recent YouTube video got nine hundred thusand hits in less than a week. They don’t need me. I want to write about ___________, who had ten people in the audience at their last gig. There I can do some good.”

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but at times it seems as if there is a faux-Wizard or committee of “influencers” behind the curtain deciding Who gets the limo and Who has to walk. Is it really “who you know?” more than “can you play / sing / write?” Or “Whose face on the cover will make people buy this issue?”

Are choices determined by extra-musical criteria?

That would be very sad news.

If you want me, I’ll be in the front row, next to Diogenes. He knows what’s good and he seeks it out.

May your happiness increase!

HOT LIPS PAGE ON FILM (1954): “MAMBO’S GONE MAD”

A new discovery — and as has been the fate of Hot Lips Page, even seventy years after his death, he is hidden in plain sight. Facebook friends told the world about MAMBO’S GONE MAD, a collection of short performances by lesser-known Black artists, perhaps for television, introduced by the very refined Mary Smith. There’s a good deal of mambo, costumes, dancing, pulchritude; then a ballad sung by Charles Riley or Reilly in the best Bill Kenny – Orlando Roberson manner . . . then Lips and one Connie Carrol do THROW IT OUT [OF] YOUR MIND, another paean to marriage and premarital chastity.

Lips doesn’t get to play here, and the camera clearly lingers on Connie, but he is his ebullient self, as much as the number allows, even when playing a semi-supporting role:

Those of us who admire Lips more than words can say always shake our heads and ask, “Why should such a charismatic performer never have become a star?” The answers — sad ones — have nothing to do with talent.

In the three television / film appearances I know of, Lips is always placed in a subsidiary role. He tries to get Pearl Bailey to stay the night at his house, and she is clearly the star; he woos Connie in this performance but she takes his money and won’t be his lover without a wedding; in another performance, he teaches a ventriloquist’s dummy how to swing and scat-sing. In none of those three instances, is he given any particular power: either he is a semi-comic implorer or on an equal footing only with a wooden miniature. White America in 1954 wasn’t ready for a handsome Black man who triumphed, even in musical numbers.

And Lips was dead — at 46 — on November 5. A heart attack and then pneumonia. I think of two other heroes, Frank Newton and Sidney Catlett, neither of whom reached fifty, and their world, where men smoked and drank, ate delicious deadly food, didn’t get enough sleep, and didn’t have regular physical examinations. Men went to the doctor only when they felt terrible, and the first heart attack was soon followed by death. And, yes, I know, the list could be much longer.

So, dear JAZZ LIVES readers, take good care of yourselves and the ones you love. And immerse yourself in the music of Lips, Frank, and Sidney: this way their lives will never have ended.

May your happiness increase!

MISTER BLOCK TO YOU (DAN BLOCK, STEVE ASH, LEE HUDSON): COMING to MEZZROW, MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2023

Dan Block, Rob Adkins at Casa Mezcal, a few years ago.

Note: An earlier version of this post had the gig as Tuesday, not Monday. I have fired the offending staff member.

Dan Block is one of my living heroes and a consistent pleasure. Lyrical, thoughtful, swinging, unpredictable. And I don’t get to see him as often as I’d like, so his upcoming Mezzrow gig: that’s this coming Monday, April 24, 2023, is one that I and the OAO are going to attend.

To cut to the chase, tickets here. Mezzrow is at 163 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village, New York City. Dan will be appearing with other heroes, Steve Ash, piano; Lee Hudson, string bass, at 7:30 and 9 PM. If you’ve never been to Mezzrow, it is a gem: friendly staff, a fine piano, good sight lines, an attentively quiet crowd. And splendid music is created there.

I’ve followed Dan around with recording equipment for nearly twenty years, so I have a good deal of evidence to support my feelings about his mastery — emotional, intellectual, and technical. Here are a few examples which I hope will hasten your cyber-footsteps to the Mezzrow site above. I apologize to Steve and Lee for not having video examples of their mastery with Dan . . . I hope this blogpost acts as suitable penance for that lapse.

one ravishing chorus of PENTHOUSE SERENADE (with Rossano Sportiello, Marty Grosz, Kerry Lewis, Pete Siers):

TICKLE-TOE (with Michael Kanan and Pat O’Leary):

I hope you’ll be able to join us. And if you live far away from West Tenth Street, both sets will be streamed on the website above. So don’t deprive yourself of rare pleasure.

May your happiness increase!

SEEING BENNY PLAIN: “GOODMAN,” A SCREENPLAY BY ALESSANDRO KING

Benny Goodman, taciturn and reserved, was larger than life and remains so in death, with several selves created through the perceptions of those who knew him and those who mythologized him.

One self was the IRREPLACEABLE MUSICIAN, as evidenced here:

His playing was both exultant and expert; he made superb music on his own (an eight-bar solo on a 1931 dance-band recording is both immediately recognizable and completely uplifting); he gathered superb musicians around him for fifty years and gave them space to express themselves.

He hired Black and White musicians who were seen onstage, in films and television: Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton pre-dated Jackie Robinson. He drew inspiration from the greatest musicians of his time and was himself an inspiring force. And he brought American music to audiences who might otherwise have not known it, and his sixty-year career is a monument to his love of the music.

But even when Benny was alive, another, darker self was given room — and posthumously, the INEXPLICABLE ECCENTRIC has grown, fueled by anecdote after anecdote.

Some of them are surely true: he was so engrossed by the music and his craft that he didn’t remember people’s names; he demanded perfection of others, the same level of art he expected of himself. Few bosses are heroes to their subordinates, and satirizing one’s employer is a time-honored way of reducing their power. Benny was frugal, but he had come from real poverty where “having nothing to eat” meant empty cupboards; he was self-absorbed, but spent much of his life in physical pain.

That second perception also comes from our uneasy relation to heroic achievers in recent times. People applaud the striver, but when someone is too successful, those same people become envious. The audience can buy the records but they are resentful that they didn’t play the music that filled Carnegie Hall. A public person’s fame, coming from unique abilities, makes them feel inadequate and they take the only revenge they have, creating destructive narratives.

“She’s a great singer.” “Yes, but she was mean to the waitstaff.” And more.

The tale of Benny, putting on a sweater because someone else says they’re cold makes better copy than another beautiful solo or ensemble, another triumph. The King of Swing, once a monarch, must be dethroned, must be brought down below us. A Facebook commenter recently offered Benny in subjective miniature: two negatives to one positive and of course, an emoji:

Hard taskmaster – but great musician . Not known for being over generous 😂.

Benny was also unfortunate to become famous, to live long, to die wealthy, without any of the suffering some expect from jazz heroes.

So the collective assessment slants towards cheap, mean, thoughtless Benny — as if the inventive virtuoso who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Billie Holiday, Lester Young, and Charlie Christian was merely a dim memory.

But a new work, a screenplay titled simply GOODMAN, by Alessandro King, has the power to change all that.

King is, in his own words, “a mega swing fan,” a playwright who’s spent the last years researching Benny, his music, his world, and coming to new understanding of what has been taken as truth for so long. And he’s also a singularly gifted dramatist.

Although many good books have been written about Benny, he remains larger than any biography or discography. King’s screenplay embodies the reality that Benny’s life was inherently and consistently dramatic, not just one successful performance after another, that the dramas persisted when there were no crowds in evidence. When I read it, I was entranced by King’s ability to see, to perceive situations that made Benny who he is. His Chicago poverty; his work ethic; his romantic entanglement with Billie Holiday; his fraught relations with his spiritual brother John Hammond; his intense need to create and share his art. In GOODMAN, Benny comes alive as a person — not simply as a face attached to a clarinet nor as a collection of unpleasant quirks — a son, a friend, a lover, a pioneering artist.

It will be an engrossing film.

But I should let Alessandro take the stage.

I have been very lucky that my writing style has evolved in recent decades, from simple naturalistic stage plays to expansive screenplays and pilots. This development has been contemporaneous with my passion for the music of Benny Goodman, which began with a single compilation CD and is now embodied in a collection of over 2,500 songs spread out over 150 discs; there is not a day that goes by without my listening to Goodman’s music or thinking about its maker.

These two through-lines have overlapped in my screenplay GOODMAN, and it is perhaps because of this melding that GOODMAN is the best thing I have ever written. The script conjures Benny’s role in the launch of the swing era and demolition of the music industry’s racial segregation, and I am proud to say the results have garnered attention from organizations such as New York Stage and Film and the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.

I am confident that this movie is ready to be made. To that end, I have accepted Michael Steinman’s generous offer to promote the piece on Jazz Lives, in the hope that it will be recognized by those who’d perhaps appreciate it most: members of the music community. Please accept my invitation to read the first twelve pages of the script here; if you are interested in perusing the full screenplay, please email me at AlessandroMKing@gmail.com.

Thanks very much for reading this self-promotion. As a token of my gratitude, please enjoy this photograph of my grandmother snagging an autograph from a certain reed player; is this the only visual evidence of Benny getting caught incognito (without glasses)? 

GOODMAN is a marvelous human story, subtle and revealing. Reading the screenplay, each time I saw the movie in my head. Now I want to see it on the screen.

May your happiness increase!

A SUPERB NEW BOOK: “RHYTHM MAN: CHICK WEBB AND THE BEAT THAT CHANGED AMERICA,” by STEPHANIE STEIN CREASE (Oxford University Press, 2023)

I confess: I haven’t finished this wonderful biography of William Henry Webb of Baltimore — we know him as Chick — but operating on the principle that you only need one bite of the omelet to know if it’s drab or life-changing, I will proceed.

In brief: Crease is a fine fluent writer, steering a comfortable middle course between the unbuttoned and the stuffy. Her book is not burdened with theoretical clouds of rhetoric, nor with pages of educating-the-reader. She is thorough but not pedantic. She has a story, no, make that many stories, to tell.

And if her subtitle seems hyperbolic, perhaps you haven’t heard this recently. It’s Chick on the air in 1938, with solos by Roy Eldridge and Sandy Williams:

I’ve been reading books about jazz since the late Sixties. My public library was well-stocked, and the books were free, easier to acquire than the music, so sometimes I knew all about X without ever having heard a note of X’s music. I first read about Chick in the liner notes to a Columbia Records reissue, STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, a brief evocative remembrance by Baron Timme Rosenkrantz. In the intervening decades, I heard many of his recordings, and in this century, delighted in Jeff Kaufman’s documentary, THE SAVOY KING.

But nothing comes close to the easy yet majestic sweep of this book.

When I opened it at random, I was immediately pleased because Crease had done her homework without having it crush her: the book relies gloriously on the first-hand narratives of people who knew Chick, who played with him, his family and friends. Because I have read deeply about my heroes, my strongest requirement for a jazz biography is this: “Tell me something I don’t already know, something I haven’t read elsewhere.” Page after page of RHYTHM MAN blossoms with new stories.

And the facts of Chick’s life are so stark — his physical handicaps, his short life, his climb to fame, his mentorship of Ella Fitzgerald, his “battles” with Basie and Benny. Much has been made of that handful of inescapable facts, and traditionally the stories slant towards victimhood. A “dwarf hunchback,” barely four feet tall, dead at thirty-four. But Crease has a delightful relationship with her subject: she is admiring but rarely sentimental, and it gave me great pleasure to read Lindy Hop legend Norma Miller’s one-word description of Chick as “testy”:

He wasn’t a goody-goody sweet little guy. He was the great Chick Webb — I mean the great Chick Webb. You did everything but bow down in front of him. He had this habit of hitching up his pants like he would take on a giant. He was a ‘Don’t mess with me!’ character.

To me, that says as much as Chick’s ten years of recorded music. And there’s more: recollections from Jo Jones, Helen Oakley Dance, Frankie Manning, Cootie Williams, Ella herself, Van Alexander, Lawrence Lucie, Charlie Holmes, Mario Bauza, Maxine Sullivan, Sandy Williams, and a hundred others.

But the stories the book tells with such grace go beyond the life of one Swing Era drummer-bandleader. Although Crease is no polemicist, there is much about US race relations after the Great Migration north, the tension both open (Sandy Williams’ stories of being on the road in the South) and veiled: when the Webb band played a Yale fraternity dance in 1938, Chick was given an “honorary degree” as “the Dark Master of Swing.”

RHYTHM MAN is also greatly revealing about the uneasy relations between art, entertainment and popular taste, finance, and publicity: we might know the Decca recordings, but their reviews show a great deal, as writers both praise and attack Chick for his band and his singer.

And there are fascinting vignettes: some may have known of Chick’s devoted wife Sally — there is a famous photograph of the two of them at home (the book contains marvelous photographs, many of them new to me) but Crease has discovered Sally’s life after Chicks death, a story that is a BBC film in itself.

I will stop here. But not before saying that RHYTHM MAN is a beautiful work, avoiding the cliches and pitfalls so ingrained in the genre and instead giving us substantial insight into one man’s life, art, and the larger world he both lived in and transformed.

I’m going back to reading RHYTHM MAN, and I suggest that you join me. It’s completely irresistible.

May your happiness increase!

THEY PLAY SWEETLY, THEY GET HOT — WELCOME “THE NOONATICS”: PAUL WOLTZ, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, JONATHAN DOYLE, ANDREW OLIVER, MATT WEINER (Ballard, Washington, March 19, 2023)

That we have wonderful evidence of this new group is thanks to the multi-talented string player and videographer Matt Weiner, who earns thanks redoubled. Were it within my powers, this quintet of stars would already have a CD and a concert tour. Perhaps we’ll have to wait a bit for these beneficences, but for the moment we have two videos to savor. The Noonatics are Matt, tenor banjo; Jonathan Doyle, bass saxophone; Andrew Oliver, piano; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Paul Woltz, alto saxophone. And if you detect a resemblance to Jimmie Noone’s Apex club Orchestra, you wouldn’t be making a mistake. But they are working within that sound and repertoire to show off their own delicious musical selves. I don’t know the writer of this brief witty blurb, but it rings true:

The Noonatics were birthed on Port Townsend during a brief morning bass sax and tenor banjo jam between Jonathan Doyle and Matt Weiner. 

One foot is firmly planted in the style of the great Jimmie Noone bands of the late 20s and early 30s, but when the boys asked Jacob Zimmerman about joining, he said “let’s not just do the Noone repertoire but any tune that might sound good!” Thus, the band dips the toes on the other foot in all sorts of songs that the Noone band did, might have done, could have done, could not have done, and even some that Jimmie would never have done given the chance. 

Here’s some music. I know FOREVERMORE from a lovely Joe Sullivan solo recorded for Commodore Records. The Noonatics are even more touching. And they offer the verse!

And if the room needs heat, CHICAGO RHYTHM:

Matt assures me that more songs were performed and recorded. We’ll be waiting! And since all three reed players double and triple, I wonder if there was some nstrument-switching documented here. But we love them as they are.

And maybe they’ll be gigging FOREVERMORE?

May your happiness increase!

SEVEN ENTICEMENTS: “THE NEW DAY BENDS LIGHT,” by the ERICA SEGUINE – SHON BAKER ORCHESTRA

Many compact discs have a pleasing consistency, which is to say they are the same thing all the way through their seventy-five minutes. I don’t mock this: when one buys a brick of Bulgarian feta cheese, it would be a terrible surprise to find it mixed with cracker crumbs, nuts and bolts, and pencil shavings.

But the new CD by the Erica Seguine-Shon Baker Orchestra, the debut recording of their 21-person orchestra, THE NEW DAY BENDS LIGHT, just issued on Bandcamp, is a trip through seven worlds, each allied to the next by energy, sound, and emotion. Here’s the title track, which speaks louder than words:

One of the aspects of this music that pleases me most is its blending of the pensive and the vibrant: the most exuberant piece (which might be the opening REEL) is anchored by a certain thoughtfulness; THE NEW DAY BENDS LIGHT seems, at points, to be unfolding in slow-motion, but motion there is for sure.

I will launch one more conceit at the reader before offering details: that is, I thought of each composition / performance as soundtrack music for a film the listeners were wooed into inventing in their own mental theatres as the music moved on. It’s that rich, but hardly elusive. Melody follows melody, sonic variation does the same, textures are always shifting, so that the pageant is never dull.

The disc is accompanied by extrordinarily evocative liner notes — a pleasure to read and absorb. More details:

Composing music (or creating any art), affords us the ability to create worlds that make the subtleties of the human condition and natural world larger than life. In Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or “Wheat Field with Cypresses,” we can feel the energy in the stars, or the wind brushing up against the leaves as if we were the tree. There is an inner life in these scenes conveying feelings in a way stronger and truer to human experience than words can. Each composition on this album is an inner world we invite you to immerse yourself in: some joyous, some into areas considered “taboo” in the real world or psychological places you may actively avoid, while others invite youto take perspective, to make meaning out of murkiness, and, hopefully, to find some messy form of healing.

Artist: Erica Seguine | Shon Baker Orchestra

Tracks 1, 3, and 6 composed by Erica Seguine (MusicSegue Publishing, ASCAP)
Track 5 composed by Nurit Hirsh (Y & D Music, ASCAP, ACUM), arranged by Erica Seguine Tracks 2, 4, and 7 composed by Shon Baker (ASCAP)
Words to “New Day Bends Light” (Track 7) by Shon Baker

Personnel:
Erica Seguine – composer, arranger (1, 3, 5, 6), conductor
Shon Baker – composer (2, 4, 7), alto saxophone, soprano saxophone (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6)

Ben Kono- alto saxophone, flute, clarinet
Remy Le Boeuf- alto saxophone, flute, alto flute, piccolo, clarinet (tracks 1-5, 7)
Peter Hess- tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
Quinsin Nachoff- tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
Andrew Hadro- baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute

John Lowery- tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet (track 7)

Nathan Eklund- trumpet, flugelhorn
John Lake- trumpet, flugelhorn
Jonathan Saraga- trumpet, flugelhorn
Adam Horowitz- trumpet, flugelhorn

Scott Reeves- trombone, alto flugelhorn
Nick Grinder- trombone
Kalia Vandever- trombone
Becca Patterson- bass trombone, tuba

Meg Okura- violin, electric violin (tracks 1, 3-6)
Tammy Scheffer- voice (tracks 2, 5-7)
Eric Burns- guitar
Carmen Staaf- piano
Evan Gregor- bass
Paolo Cantarella- drums

And the performances — so blood-warm, so mobile — are REEL / STATES / TANGOING WITH DELUSION / IN DREAMS (meetings that could never occur) / OSE SHALOM / . . . AND THE TIRE SWING KEEPS SWINGING / THE NEW DAY BENDS LIGHT.

I first heard the Orchestra’s music in 2019 and wrote about it here. It crooked its finger and I followed; it drew me in. I won’t attempt to write who or what it Sounds Like — an impudence — but will say only that it is beauty that expands to fill a larger space than you might expect, and its reverberations continue, as gifts from a generous organism, long after the disc player says that the disc has concluded.

I encourage my readers to visit here and immerse themselves in this expansive music. Pleasures and depths await.

May your happiness increase!

SONNY GREER WAS RIGHT

Sonny, Ellington’s long-time percussionist and friend, wasn’t known for philosophical utterances, but one of his has stuck in my mind for decades. Its subject: generosity.

Brother Greer tells us, Cast your bread upon the sea and it comes back buttered toast, which is a witty way of saying that any generosity returns unimagined dividends to the giver.

I think about this a good deal, and have seen it in action. The clenched hand is met with its mirror image, as is the open one.

Last week, WordPress, the organ that enables me to send out blogposts to you on a fairly regular basis — fifteen years now — told me several times that I now could set up my blog to receive payments from readers. I am fortunate enough to not have to consider “monetizing” JAZZ LIVES, and I have no desire to say, “Hey. Pay me for that ______ music you say you like,” because I feel that would taint the enterprise.

BUT I have no trouble asking my readers to support a worthwhile enterprise that I hope many of them rely on already. That enterprise is the monthly newspaper, THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, created, edited, and published by Andy Senior of Utica, New York, since 2016. Astute readers, which means all of you, know that publishing such a paper is an arduous enterprise, and Andy has been making up financial deficits on his own for three years now.

Thus, the story on the front page of the April 2023 issue.

The Syncopated Times launches GoFundMe, seeks 501c3 status

Andy Senior, Publisher and Editor of The Syncopated Times, has launched a GoFundMe fundraising campaign to shore up the paper’s finances prior to converting the entity from a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) under sole proprietorship to a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation. Since its launch in 2016, The Syncopated Times has been the only national publication devoted to traditional jazz, ragtime, and swing. The pandemic led to the closure of many of the jazz festivals TST counted on on as advertisers—which coincided with increases in the cost of paper, printing, and mailing, all making a for-profit model no longer feasible. Senior has been covering losses with his own money since March 2020.

A preliminary fundraising goal has been set at $60,000 so that a new 501c3 nonprofit organization under the name Syncopated Media can be established on a strong footing, with a view to expand beyond the monthly paper to cover the jazz scene and jazz history in the visual and audio formats that engage a modern audience. While The Syncopated Times in print (and online at syncopatedtimes.com) will remain the primary focus, the new organization will be able to secure grant funding to produce documentaries for YouTube, compile albums for Bandcamp, create podcasts, and resurrect Syncopated Times Radio.

Considering the current high quality of The Syncopated Times, which now operates on a shoestring budget, the new organization will be able to accomplish great things with whatever funding can be obtained beyond what currently comes in from subscriptions and advertising. Money raised in this drive will cover necessary expenses during the process of becoming a 501c3 corporation, and allow the new organization to start with a large enough budget to sustain operations until further funding from grants and individual donors can be secured.

Nonprofit status will come with many benefits for TST readers and the jazz community. The reorganization plan includes recruiting a large and experienced Governing Board to pilot the new nonprofit and greatly extend our reach, especially into school and community music programs. The Board will also ensure that the future of professional coverage of the traditional jazz, ragtime, and swing community is not dependent on a single owner-operator, but a reflection of the community itself.

The Syncopated Times will retain a paid subscription model, both in print and online, and count on both new readers and renewals. Subscriptions will account for the majority of our operating budget for the foreseeable future. The editorial process will remain the same for each issue, with Andy Senior editing, designing, and laying out each issue. Nothing will change for current subscribers.

Those considering a donation may visit the below link.

DONATE HERE

We gladly accept checks to:

The Syncopated Times
1809 Whitesboro St.
Utica, NY 13502

I know that not everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES or THE SYNCOPATED TIMES is financially comfortable. At times it seems as if the audience for “classic,” “hot,” or “traditional” jazz is shrinking more quickly than people who listen to other kinds of music. But I urge you to be generous — in the Sonny Greer way or in your own fashion. It will be a smaller, quieter, sadder world if this paper were to cease publishing.

I could have offered a number of pertinent sountracks, from MONEY BLUES to BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? to JUST A KID NAMED JOE, SHOE SHINE BOY, or MAMIE’S BLUES. You may hum and sing and play these songs and recordings at your leisure. But while you do, think of the unselfish joy of giving and the perhaps selfish joy of having something good to read every month.

Thank you.

May your happiness — and your generosity — increase!

STORIES AND SURPRISES: “IN THE TOWNS” by JAY RATTMAN (Tone Rogue Records / Bandcamp)

I’ve always thought of Jay Rattman as a masterful musician, his playing a sly down-home eloquence, full of passion that catches the listener unaware. I’m thrilled that he has released his debut CD, IN THE TOWNS — available through Bandcamp both digitally and as an actual plastic-and-cardboard-and-art entity. (It will also be released through Tone Rogue Records on April 7, only a few days from now.)

As much as I respect Jay as an improviser, I also know of him as a thoughtful composer, but I’ve never had the chance to hear his original compositions. IN THE TOWNS fills that gap in the most satisfying ways, because it presents nine of them (along with one Irving Berlin classic approached with great tenderness) for an hour’s worth of explorations.

For these journeys, varying in mood and ardor, Jay plays alto saxophone and clarinet, and he is joined by Can Olgum, piano; Desmond White, piano; Guilhem Flouzat, drums — three delightful improvisers I had not known before.

Each performance seems a short story, with the plot and mood ranging from LATE FOR SUPPER (adults playing at being children playing in the May sun), LONESOME SHORTY (soundtrack for an unshot Western film starring Warne Marsh and Earl Bostic, alto cowpokes battling rustlers who have stolen the good reeds), WATER GAP TUNE (a canoe trip with one’s love and a well-packed picnic hamper), ANACHRONISTIC STOMP (which puts Jelly Roll Morton on Instagram but also reminiscent of two shelter kittens chasing each other before someone says, “Oh, well, I’ll take both of them!”) — and more.

Listeners will, I am sure, create their own narratives to go with what they hear. Or perhaps they will simply saunter comfortably into the musical worlds these four creators make, each a series of bright prism flashes. I hear a ballad reminiscent of one Strayhorn never got to write, dance grooves, music to walk through forests by . . . all full of life. Unlike many other sessions of original compositions, this one leans seriously towards the melodic and rhythmic; there is no abrasiveness for its own sake to say how hard the modern world is, and the performances have themes, structure, beginnings, middles, and ends.

I should say that I have most often encountered Jay in what some would call “traditional” or “neo-traditional” contexts: with the EarRegulars indoors and outside, with Colin Hancock, Conal Fowkes, and Mike Davis. He has always had his own distinctive memorable voice on whatever reed instrument he chooses to play: lyrical, thoughtful, surprising. But we must now value him as a composer with the same attributes, and this CD doesn’t falter for a second.

Mister Rattman, al fresco on Spring Street, June 2021.

Perhaps you should hear some of Jay’s music and words rather than being asked to embrace one more metaphor:

And here‘s another way of visiting the music — and, one hopes, purchasing it.

IN THE TOWNS is a pleasure both serious and playful, and the sonic vibrations of the music stayed with me long after the disc concluded, which is all anyone could ask for.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING LARRY McKENNA NOW

There’s no one like Larry McKenna on the planet today.

Others knew about the legendary Philadelphia tenor saxophonist before I did, but I fell under his spell when I heard him play five years ago. In person, he is understated: soft-spoken, with a wry way of looking at the scene, but once he picks up the horn, Larry is a master of passionate cool: he doesn’t run scales or emote, but he sings through his tenor in the most memorable ways. Each melody shows he has something to tell us, simple, deep, and lasting. He’s been working at his craft for six decades, and, as a mature artist, he knows how to let the music breathe and he never shouts at us.

Larry is celebrating and being celebrated in two ways this spring.

One is the release (download and a limited edition CD) of his session with strings, LARRY McKENNA: WORLD ON A STRING, on BCM+D Records. The collective personnel is Larry, tenor saxophone and arrangements; Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Dan Monaghan, drums; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone, arrangements; Meghan Woodard, oboe, English horn; Alberta Douglas, violin; Justin Yoder, Nellie Smith, Chen Chen, cello; Gloria Galante, harp.

BCM+D Records are a production of the Boyer College of Music and Dance, Temple University, 1715 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122.

Here’s a sample, the ethereal DREAMSVILLE:

The other songs are I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING / BUT BEAUTIFUL / I LOVE YOU, SAMANTHA / EMILY / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY / SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT / Larry’s own SAMBA DE ELSE / WHAT IS THERE TO SAY? It can be downloaded from the usual sources: Apple Music, Amazon, and more.

It’s extraordinary music. I saw this ensemble at Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live on October 12, 2021. Larry has called it a “career event.” For me and others in the audience, it was a life event.

The second event is a CD release concert on April 5 at 7 PM, at Spring Mill Ballroom, 1210 East Hector Street, Conshohocken, PA 19428.

Some details:

The most beautiful songs featuring Philadelphia’s most beautiful sound-Larry McKenna’s latest CD World On A String immerses the veteran saxophonist in a lush world of strings.

After a sold-out performance at World Cafe in the fall of 2021, a community of artists and patrons led by drummer Dan Monaghan were determined to document this extraordinary music on record.

Please join us for a special live performance of this beautiful music to celebrate Larry and this great accomplishment. Unfortunately due to recent health issues, Larry is unable to perform at this time. Larry’s solos will be performed by several special guest soloists who are long-time musical associates and friends. Featuring:

SPECIAL GUEST SOLOISTS: Terell Stafford, Danny Tobias, trumpet. Vince Lardear, alto saxophone. Joe McDonough, trombone.

THE ORCHESTRA: Silas Irvine, piano; Joe Plowman, bass; Dan Monaghan, drums; Meghan Woodard, oboe and English horn; Alberta Douglas, violin; Chen Chen, Nellie Smith, Gozde Tiknaz, cello.

Conducted by Jack Saint Clair; Arrangements by Larry McKenna and Jack Saint Clair.

General Admission $30 advance/$35 at the door (cash and Venmo only)
Student Admission $20 advance/$25 at the door (cash and Venmo only) Show ID at door.
Doors open at 7:00 pm. Concert begins at 7:30 pm
Cash bar. No food will be served.
Offstreet parking available in venue’s lot

CDs will be available for purchase. Supply is limited, email jacksaintclairorchestra@gmail.com to reserve your copy.

The Eventrbrite link to purchase tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/world-on-a-string-larry-mckenna-with-strings-tickets-536539523157

Larry and his music are rare pleasures — like nothing else I can think of beyond Ben or Bird with strings, or Stan Getz performing FOCUS. At times, listening to him play, I forget that this is the sound of a man with an elaborate metal tube he’s holding, and just hear Song. When I’d heard the CD, I told him that I thought of Sinatra, and he happily told me that this was the best compliment I could have offered.

So treat yourself to some unadulterated Song as created by a master of that elusive art, surrounded by people who love it just as much: the CD, the concert, both.

May your happiness increase!

NO GENERATION GAP: NATHAN TOKUNAGA and BOB DRAGA with MARC CAPARONE’S SIERRA STOMPERS (HOWARD MIYATA, KATIE CAVERA, BRIAN HOLLAND, PAUL HAGGLUND, GARETH PRICE) at the JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Monterey, March 4, 2023)

The mythology of jazz (and sometimes the reality) is full of primate-competitiveness, where the Old Lion must defend his kingdom against the Young Cub. Johnny Dunn and Jabbo Smith tried to unseat Louis Armstrong; a myriad of Kansas City tenor saxophonists did their best to outblow Coleman Hawkins.

I’d heard about young — sixteen year-old — reedman Nathan Tokunaga from Marc Caparone and Clint Baker, and although the video evidence was splendid, I came to the Jazz Bash by the Bay last weekend with some ingrained skepticism about musicians too young to drive themselves to the gig.

But Nathan quickly showed himself an adult in every conceivable way except the number on his birth certificate. In conversation, he revealed himself as assured yet humble, gracious and warm. And on the bandstand, he has an adult musical intelligence, which is to say he is not simply someone who has mastered the clarinet, that unfogiving hybrid of wood and metal, but he is a musician, creating phrases that make sense which become choruses with structure, energy, and personality. His solos are compact and satisfying; his ensemble playing is respectful yet inventive. The clarinet lends itself to shrill forays into its highest register, strings of notes where two would be so much more eloquent: Nathan avoids these excesses. The musicians who were meeting and hearing him for the first time were, shall we say, blown away.

Nathan is the featured clarinetist with Marc Caparone’s marvelous new band, the Sierra Stompers, who are Marc, cornet and vocal; Howard Miyata, trombone and vocal; Brian Holland, piano; Katie Cavera, banjo, guitar, vocal; Paul Hagglund, tuba; Gareth Price, drums, washboard, and voca. In one set, Nathan stood next to Bob Draga, a clarinet star and festival veteran who made his first recordings in 1980. It could have been a spectacularly bloody display of ego, but it was gentle, playful, and very musical. Here is RUNNIN’ WILD and Bob’s comments afterwards:

Bob celebrates Nathan:

What a wonderful surprise! And I am honored to know and chronicle Nathan, mature beyond his years.

May your happiness increase!

“DID YOU MEAN THAT REMARK THAT YOU WHISPERED IN THE DARK?”

That’s a very important question, I think. Sincerity leads to shared joy; duplicity to heartbreak. Popular song of the great period revels in the second (think of Bing singing WERE YOU SINCERE?) but we know the delight of being told the loving truth.

Helen Ward, aglow.

We all have recordings that touch us, for a variety of reasons.  I have too many “desert island discs” to consider the possibility to transporting them all, even metaphysically, somewhere else.  But this post celebrates one of them.  The song is the clever and touching DID YOU MEAN IT? from 1936. The title had been used nine years earlier and there is a contemporary version, but this song may be most familiar in a recording pairing Ella Fitzgerald with Benny Goodman, a joint venture that happened only once.

But with all respect to Ella and Benny, this is the version that touches me deeply: I have been playing it over and over.

On this venerable disc — part of a copy of a radio broadcast from March 1937 — Helen Ward’s voice comes through with the most earnest candor.  You can believe that she believes what she is singing: no tricks, no gimmicks. She is sincere through and through, and she has the most wondrous band of musicians having the time of their lives around her.

The recording has a good deal of surface noice but one can ignore that easily. It’s what was called an “airshot,” in this case, a recording made of a live performance “off the air.” We don’t know the source and the date is not certain, but whoever had the disc prized it and played it often.

We can hear it now, eighty-five years later, through the brilliant diligence of the jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett, who has devoted decades to the reverent study of well-known figures Stuff Smith and Eddie South, less well-known ones Johnny Frigo, Ginger Smock, Harry Lookofsky, Dick Wetmore, Henry Crowder, Juice Wilson, and dozens of others. His CDs are models of presentation of the rarest (and most entertaining) material; his books are serious but never ponderous studies in which the people chronicled are instantly alive in evidence and good stories. Learn more here.

Now, to the music.

The band is Helen Ward, vocal; Teddy Wilson, piano; Stuff Smith, violin; Jonah Jones, trumpet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums.

After a declamatory introduction by Jonah, three choruses: one by Helen (obbligati by Stuff and Teddy), one split between Teddy (thank you, Kirby) and Ben at his best pre-1940 rhapsodic, the last for Helen, even more earnest and tender, if such a thing could be imagined, with Jonah making derisive noises behind her as the room temperature rises and she — without changing very much at all — becomes trumpet-like in the best Connie Boswell manner. Please notice the way the band stops, to hold its breath, perhaps, at 2:42. Was this an arrangement based on Helen’s having performed it with the Goodman band, even though Ella made the Victor record?

The applause that closes this performance sounds artificial, but mine is genuine.

This was broadcast on the radio in March 1937. Listen and ponder: do we have it so much better? I wonder.

Thank you, Helen and colleagues. Thank you, Mort Dixon and Jesse Greer.

Thank you, Anthony Barnett.

May your happiness increase!