Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading


My friend Kris Bauwens will be one of the great collectors of jazz paper ephemera — and he already has an astonishing collection.  He recently purchased this  gem, and generously shares it with us.

The envelope is an unassuming document in itself, but what is inside is astonishing:

SID Envelope

We don’t have Jack’s admiring letter to Sidney Catlett, but it says so much about Sid that he would take the time to write a five-page letter to a young drummer, and take him so seriously, with such great humility:










“P.S.  Photo coming up.”

SID photo for Jack 1941

I have shared this with a dear jazz percussionist friend, who says that the advice is wise and deep.  But for me, the most moving sentence in these beautifully written and generous pages is this: I assure you I will do my best to hold the admiration you express toward my work.  That is a sweet and humble statement, nearly Shakespearian, with Sidney saying to his young fan, “I will strive to be worthy of the picture you have created of me,” which shows an openness of heart, with Sidney reversing the roles of Master and Student . . . deep humility and generosity of spirit.  And if you wonder what Sidney was doing in Chicago, he was midway through his emotionally stressful period as drummer to Benny Goodman.  That he would have the time and desire to write to Jack in this fashion speaks so highly of his character.

Here’s some more evidence of Catlett generosity: recorded on January 16, 1944 at the Metropolitan Opera House: a quartet of Sid, Barney Bigard, clarinet; Art Tatum, piano; Oscar Pettiford, string bass — playing ROSE ROOM — as well as Sidney’s spoken introduction to the V-Disc:

Sidney Catlett wasn’t just tall: his spirit was Big.

May your happiness increase!


Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!



Jazz scholar Michael Zirpolo, who created the rewarding biography of Bunny Berigan, has also written a fine study of Billy Strayhorn for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors (IAJRC)  Journal.  It’s not a simple reiteration of biographical information;  rather, the essay covers the early years of the Strayhorn / Ellington musical association (1939-1942), and it disentangles to a large degree, who wrote what in those years, Duke or Billy, or Duke and Billy.

With characteristic generosity, Mike wants to make his Strayhorn piece, ten thousand words long, available to any interested readers — no fuss, no muss, no cost.  You may email Mike at and he will send it to you in PDF form for you to read at your leisure.

A portrait of the jazz scholar:


And while you’re reading the latest Zirpolo opus, listen to the Billy Strayhorn Orchestra (directed by Michael Hashim) here.  Are you going to their November 20 concert?

May your happiness increase!


For Part One of these delights, please click here.

Rico CD front better

Trumpeter / singer / bandleader / composer Enrico Tomasso, “Rico” to the legions of people whom he’s adopted and vice versa, is an endearing human being (fully embodying the spirit of Louis) and stellar musician. What might not be immediately apparent is that he is also a superhuman trumpet player.  What you will see and hear below is the final performance of a four-day marathon party (Thursday through Sunday) where Rico had often been playing lead trumpet in front of large ensembles.  And he ended the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on a high note, no a series of high notes, with his rendition of Louis’ 1938 Decca recording of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE.

BBQ Decca

I will leave the discussion of the song’s authorship to others, and merely point out that the title is then-contemporary slang for walking proudly down the street with one’s stunning woman partner, not eating a dripping meat sandwich on the run.  And the arrangement you’ll hear is by the brilliant Chappie Willet, whose work has been extensively explored by John Wriggle — and is the subject of John’s forthcoming book.

But to the music.

Rico is joined by and supported by Duke Heitger, Andy Schumm, Kristoffer Kompen, Alistair Allan, Michael McQuaid, Lars Frank, Matthias Seuffert, Robert Fowler, Keith Nichols, Spats Langham, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee:

That’s superhuman but also delicately beautiful.  Thank you, Rico, and friends. And as I said in my previous post, the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party is scheduled once again for 2016, but it would be terribly nice if you were there. Since all human enterprises are finite, do what you can to attend this fiesta of music while it’s accessible, rather than saying, “Oh, I’ll get there some day!” and then saying, “I wish I had gone.”   It can be done.  Class dismissed.

May your happiness increase!

WHERE I’VE BEEN, AND WHAT I HEARD (November 5, 2015)

There won’t be much prose in this blogpost: a seventeen-hour travel day has a way of overpowering ordinary cognition (Newcastle to Amsterdam to New York to home, including a taxi, two planes, two airports, a shuttle, and a drive home in rush hour).

But I wanted to let the JAZZ LIVES faithful know that I hadn’t decided to abandon them or the blog.   I will have something to say about the glorious cabaret evening that singer Janice Day and pianist Martin Litton put on in Hay-on-Wye.  And I assure you I will have much more to say about the Mike Durham Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, which is still ringing beautifully in my ears.

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

Nick Ball and Josh Duffee in the Victory Pub, November 2015, at the Party

But music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker reminded Earl Wilson. So here’s a sample from the Thursday, November 5, 2015, after-hours jam session at the Victory Pub in the Village Hotel Newcastle . . . on RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

The energized participants are Torstein Kubban, cornet; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Thomas Winteler, clarinet; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Nick Ball, drums:

The Party will go on in 2016, but it needs you to survive and flourish.  So do make a note of that, in honor of hot jazz, in honor of Hoagy and Bix too.

May your happiness increase!


Yes, I’ve been nosing around on eBay again . . .

First, Louis c. 1952: possibly Russ Phillips, Milt Hinton, Cozy Cole, Louis, Barney Bigard, in front of some startled-looking patrons (did the flashbulb make them jump?):

LOUIS 1952 candid

then, a handbill from 1970, when Vic Dickenson had left the Bobby Hackett Quintet to join the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  “Singles welcome”:

WGJB Hacket flyer

and a Jimmy Ryan’s flyer from 1963:

RYAN'S 1963 front

and if you needed it explained to you by Virgil Thomson, here you are:

RYAN'S 1963 inside

Perhaps you’d like some New Orleans music in Boston, May 12, 1952:


It’s pleasing when collectors clean out their troves and put them up for sale. Otherwise, how would we live vicariously?

May your happiness increase!


Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

On September 3, James Dapogny (“Jim” to some, “Prof” to some of his devoted students) celebrated a major birthday.  I can’t remember what the number is, and I don’t quite care, but JAZZ LIVES wants to return the compliment and celebrate Jim.  It is perhaps offensive to value one mortal over another, but he’s been giving us musical presents — and presence — for a good long time now, as a pianist, arranger, bandleader, scholar, researcher {Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson primarily] trumpeter, valve trombonist . . . on recordings from 1975 on and in person before that.

Many people know Jim as a stomping yet subtle pianist on records and now on videos, and we cherish that.  But I’ve been privileged over the past decade to encounter him as a friend, and in that role he is someone I deeply value: under an occasionally gruff or satiric exoskeleton, there is someone wise, generous, and thoughtful, someone I am proud to know.

But back to the music.  Last year, at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, Jim brought his “A-team” Chicago Jazz Band: Pete Siers, drums; Rod McDonald, guitar; Dean Ross [a Denver native], string bass; Russ Whitman, Kim Cusack, reeds, Christopher Smith, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  They played a number of sets and I’ve posted a good deal of the music on JAZZ LIVES.  But one set was particularly dear to my heart.  Jim is a master arranger — one way he makes the hallowed music of our shared past come alive in this century — but this set was outdoors, and it was raining seriously.  As a result, no music and no music stands.  The Chicago Jazz Band wailed — on six glorious romping selections. “The way it used to was,” came to my lips then and now.

Here are the first three performances from that set.  And here are the remaining three.




Jim is atypically modest.  When I asked him whether he was OK with my making these videos public, he wrote back:

These show what a wonderful group of musicians this is.  I can take no credit for how well these guys play as individuals.  And here, unfettered by my jottings and scribblings, unreasonable demands and Draconian discipline, is the band as a group, just playing nice material without preparation–in a conversation in the rain.  I listen to these and gasp at the ingenuity here, laugh out loud at the fun and interaction, and realize why, every day, I lament the lack of opportunity to play more with them.  No matter whose name is on the posters, a band like this has eight de facto leaders who make things happen.

Thank you, Professor Jim, for being.  You improve our world.

May your happiness increase!