Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

A FRESHMAN ON CHRISTMAS BREAK VISITS JIMMY RYAN’S (December 1942)

Whitney Balliett (1926 – 2007) the jazz critic for The New Yorker, remains one of my heroes. In music, he shaped my tastes; in writing, he was a lovely idiosyncratic risk-embracing role model. And when I met him in person, he was completely gracious. We corresponded in the old-fashioned way; I sent tapes of our mutual hero Sidney Catlett and he wrote on New Yorker stationery with a fountain pen — casual friendly notes, greeting me as an equal.

That’s his whimsical self-portrait above, for sale here.

When I began to write for publication about jazz, I copied his poetic style, where metaphor was the second language — so much that I had to work to find a voice of my own. But his style, his insights, and his presence remain with me today.

But first, a photograph of one of the Sunday afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s on Fifty-Second Street, taken by Charles Peterson on November 23, 1941. I can’t identify everyone, but from the left, I see George Wettling, Eddie Condon (half-hidden), Sandy Williams, Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Franz Jackson. The trumpeter standing in the striped suit might be Sidney De Paris. Below and to the right is Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan at the piano, an uncharacteristically exuberant Vic Dickenson, and a positively gleeful Al Hall.

What we would give to have been there. Sadly, PBS did not exist, and the March of Time did not take its cameras there to capture the ecstatic BUGLE CALL RAG that closed the afternoon performance. But a series of small marvelous circumstances, with Whitney Balliett the guiding force, bring us closer.

In preparation for a move, I have been tidying my apartment, digging through years of happy and heedless accumulation, focusing most recently on four tall bookcases. I saved the jazz books for last, and a few days ago was anatomizing a shelf of books when I noticed four loose pages sandwiched between two larger books. One was a letter from Whitney himself, friendly, gossipy, loose. And he sent three pages of what we used to call “photostats,” which made me catch my breath. The evidence, first.

I have omitted a non-jazz postscript, which took off the bottom half of Whitney’s signature:

and a week later:

and the careful young man’s tidy enumeration of those two magical visits to Valhalla:

Before moving onward, I suggest you let your mind, heart, and spiritual ears linger on those pages. Imagine!

And, in the magical way things sometimes happen, my tidying turned up an issue of the Atlantic Monthly, from January 1998, which I’d saved because of Whitney’s memoir about playing drums, “Sitting In.” This paragraph is completely and delightfully relevant.

My erratic noncareer as a drummer began in 1942, when I was going on sixteen. I was a freshman at Phillips Exeter Academy, and had been working blindly toward jazz by way of the jazz-flavored dance bands of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw and Harry James. During my first Christmas vacation I was taken to one of Milt Gabler’s Sunday-afternoon jam sessions at Jimmy Ryan’s, on West Fifty-second Street, in New York. They weren’t really jam sessions except for the closing number, a fast “Bugle Call Rag,” in which all the musicians from the two alternating bands Gabler had hired got up on the tiny bandstand and let go. There might be three or four trumpets, several reeds, a couple of trombones, and a four-man rhythm section; the number, with its many breaks, would become a “cutting” contest, in which the trumpets in particular tried to outshout one another. It was the first head-on live jazz I had heard, and it was shocking and exhilarating. The famous old New Orleans drummer Zutty Singleton was hypnotic. He moved his head to the rhythm in peculiar ducking motions, shot his hands at his cymbals as if he were shooting his cuffs, hit stunning rim shots, and made fearsome, inscrutable faces, his eyelids flickering like heat lightning.

It would be arrogance to suggest that Whitney’s spirit, somewhere, is helping me tidy my apartment — I would not lay that burden on anyone — but I send thanks to him for his (I hope) amused presence.

And here’s some music — not from Ryan’s, but from the Eddie Condon Blue Network broadcasts — to summon up that beautiful world of 1942:

and another helping:

Ah, that vanished world where one could go to hear Pete Brown, Vic Dickenson, Bill Coleman, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Elmer James, and Sidney Catlett play the BUGLE CALL RAG. At least we know it happened.

“Dreams of glory don’t ever really die.”

May your happiness increase!

BEAU KOO RAY: MUSIC FROM RAY SKJELBRED, SOLO and TRIO (JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MATT WEINER) and SOLO AT THE ROYAL ROOM

Yes, it’s true. Two new CDs from pianist Ray Skjelbred — one solo, one solo and trio, with Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet; Matt Weiner, string bass. The trio recording pictured above is available here in digital and physical form.

Both trio and solo recordings are available in digital form from Ray himself (19526 40th Place NE, Lake Forest Park, WA 98155) — each one for 17.00 USD.

The disc pictured above has fifteen selections. The trio selections are marked *.

BLUE AIR BLUES* / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / SOLITUDE* / MEMORIES OF YOU / DINAH* / JACK DAILY BLUES* / RUSSIAN LULLABY* / KMH DRAG / THAT RHYTHM MAN / BLUES FOR ART HODES / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL* / FAREWELL BLUES* / COQUETTE* / PIANO MAN / SMILING SKIES //

At Bandcamp you can listen to BLUE AIR BLUES (based on a phrase created by Sidney Bechet in 1941 for a Victor record date with Vic Dickenson) and KMH DRAG (in honor of the fabled Max Kaminsky-Freddie Moore-Art Hodes Blue Note record date).

I created a YouTube video of the trio’s SOLITUDE because it left me awestruck:

Ray’s solo piano recital (shown below) is available only from him, directly, and it’s lovely.

I couldn’t bear people not hearing some music from it, so here are two videos, both of them with deep roots in Earl Hines and his world.

HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? — which Hines sang on record, also in 1929. Ray’s version is jaunty, but if you know the lyrics, a shirt-sleeved melancholy peeps through:

And the hilarious explosion that is Alex Hill’s BEAU KOO JACK:

The solo performances are ROSETTA / BLACK AND BLUE / MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY / SWEET ELLA MAY / ANAGRAM BLUES / HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? / I COVER THE WATERFRONT / BEAU KOO JACK / 313 RAG / SAVOYAGERS STOMP / PINKY ROSE / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU //

I’ve been entranced with Ray and his colleagues since 1988 or so, when John L. Fell sent me a tape containing BERKELEY RHYTHM, and I have been privileged to meet, hear, and video-record him in person for a several years (my “California period,” 2011-2016, more or less) — something I do not take lightly.

Ray and his music are anything but monochromatic. There are touchstones for those who pay attention: Earl Hines, Jess Stacy, Frank Melrose, the Chicago Cubs, Washington Phillips, Alex Hill, Louis Armstrong, Chicago hot music, the dolceola, Count Basie, Sir Charles Thompson, Donald Duck, Joe Sullivan, Bing Crosby, Emerson, Art Hodes, the Marx Brothers, Western Swing, Jim Goodwin, all beings with their own essential personalities, and art that remains its identity no matter how vigorous the transformation.

His playing is at once emotionally deep and instantly accessible, but it wriggles away from those who would compartmentalize it. All I can say is that it is a series of remarkable balances: joy and melancholy, stomp and contemplation, facility and plainness. He is himself, and that is thrilling.

On the trio recording he is joined, shoulder-to-shoulder, by two people who have their own selves firmly intact, although wildness emerges for those who listen closely. It would be possible to build a Swing Era big band purely on the rewarding cardiac thrum of Matt Weiner’s string bass, where he creates engaging melodies while supplying that mobile foundation. Jacob Zimmerman is an explorer at heart, reminding me of Boyce Brown and Paul Desmond andJimmy Giuffre, early Bird and Pete Brown in turn, while peeking out from behind his latest four-bar surprise.

The repertoire chosen on both discs has deep roots in what academia would call a pre-World War Two jazz canon: Clarence Williams and Carroll Dickerson, Johnny Green and Harry Warren, Blue Note Records, Hershel Evans, Benny Meroff, and more. But this is not a trip to the museum, for both CDs, at points, are lifted up by a kind of playful disobedience. “We can play this song the way everyone expects us to play it, but here and there we need to be elastic, to improvise, not only in notes and rests, but spiritually.” All this music exemplifies play at its best, an art that is both puppy-friendly and as serious as one’s life-work,

The real thing, full of delightful shadings.

I am a serious Bandcamp enthusiast, and have applauded many of their releases. And it might be the only way one can acquire the trio CD in digital form. But I applaud even more the direct offering of support (read “love”) to the artist(s). So although I don’t want Ray to be so busy answering the mail and cashing checks that he doesn’t have time to play, I’d love to find out that his mailbox is full of lettuce. Consider yourself pointed in that direction.

May your happiness increase!

HENRY “RED” ALLEN, HOT LIPS PAGE, DUNCAN SCHIEDT

A recent meander through eBay turned up two stunning autographed photographs — photographs taken by the much-missed Duncan Schiedt. I am short on wall space, so I contented myself with watching the bidding race (Lips beat Red, which would have pleased Lips). The Lips photograph sold for over $150; Red brought much less. It’s not the way I would choose to celebrate Red’s birthday, today.

However, they are beautiful photographs from the late 1940s or very early 1950s, when Duncan was a regular at Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza on the weekends.

Lips:

and the signature, which says it all:

Among the great unsolved mysteries of my adulthood: when did Lips begin signing his name this way?

Henry Red, standing in front of the recognizable venetian blinds of Central Plaza:

and a closer look:

If Duncan Schiedt had never held a camera, he would still have a very warm spot in my heart as a sterling person and an accomplished old-fashioned melodic pianist. He moved on in 2014 — with the most splendid easy grace, which I describe here. I urge you to read his farewell letter: it moves me still.

But we can move from grief to more exultant matters.

Red, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Gene Krupa, 1932:

and more of the same, with Red, Pee Wee, Happy Caldwell, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Froeba, Condon, Bland, Pops Foster, Zutty Singleton:

and Lips, Pee Wee, Lou McGarity, Sullivan, George Wettling, 1952:

Lips, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Ralph Sutton, Charlie Treager, Eddie Phyfe, 1950:

Red and Lips are two of my most serious heroes. Delve into their music: joy will greet you. And Duncan: a superb person and wonderful artist.

May your happiness increase!

NOW! WITH UPDATES! MEET ME AT THE EAR INN: JANUARY 15 and 29, 2023

THIS JUST IN. The regularly scheduled evening gigs (8-11 PM) and afternoon delights (4-6 PM) will be recorded on both days. It will all be open to the public.

On January 15th, the band will be Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, John Allred, Pat O’Leary and guests Chris Flory and Scott Robinson.

On January 29th, Kellso, Munisteri, Allred, Neal Miner, and guests Jay Rattman, Scott Robinson, and Evan Christopher.

And I am sure there will be many other good surprises.

Great news from JAZZ LIVES’ hero Jon-Erik Kellso:

We’re going to make a “Live at the Ear” CD for Arbors Records on Sundays, January 15th and 29th, and I really hope you can attend!

We’re going to record the regularly scheduled evening gigs, and also mid/late afternoon sessions there on those days, open to the public, and we hope to pack as many of our friends in there to create the best listening atmosphere.

John Allred, trombone; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass, will be on the 15th.

John Allred, Matt Munisteri, and Neal Miner, string bass, will be on the 29th.

And we expect a few of our other favorites as special guests.

Here’s why this is exciting news.

BEALE STREET BLUES (2018):

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? (2016):

IN A MELLOTONE (2013):

SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL (2011):

COTTON TAIL (2010):

The Ear Inn, the oldest still-active bar in New York City, is at 326 Spring Street. The EarRegulars, a small mobile shape-changing group of players les by Jon-Erik Kellso, has been in attendance every Sunday night — time off for holidays and pandemics — since July 2007. I was there on the second Sunday (Jon-Erik, Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass) and have been a happy visitor ever since, bringing a video camera along in 2009.

The group — often trumpet, a horn player, guitar, string bass — has usually begun the evening session as a quartet, but has expanded to thirteen players on one memorable occasion.

TIGER RAG (in two parts, 2011):

and the tip of the tiger’s tail as it curled around the building:

The Sunday sessions at the Ear have provided some of the most intimate thoughtful music I’ve ever heard, and some of the most exuberant jamming. So I have been hoping for a formal recording since the start, and Arbors Records has the experience and expertise (thank you, Rachel Domber) to make the result a wonder.

But musicians thrive on an appreciative audience. So I hope you can attend these sessions. Details above! Mark your calendars.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE RECORD: THE HOT CLUB of NEW YORK IS RETURNING IN PERSON TO CAFE BOHEMIA (15 BARROW STREET, NEW YORK CITY), MONDAY, JANUARY 9, 2023 (7-10 PM) and EVERY MONDAY!

You might hear this music . . . .

It’s all because of this devoted young person, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, who makes ideas become reality. And let us say immediately that the Hot Club of New York is a welcoming place — intent on sharing the music the way it was first heard, on actual 78 rpm records. You don’t have to be a jazz scholar or aficionado (there are always blues and calypso records as well) because there is no final examination. Admission is free; there will be food and drink “for purchase” (as the airlines say) and it will congenial, live, and swinging.

These sessions began in October 2019 and continued until March 2020, when some molecules interfered with our fun. I’m delighted to see them come back, not only for the music but for the community the music engenders. I hope you can join us: new friends and old ones gathered for shared joy.

At the end of 2022, I went to Matthew’s Brooklyn burrow to gather his thoughts and music on the lovely Hot Club phenomenon:

Matthew has the righteous passion but he always lets the records speak for themselves, and they do, gloriously.

And because the Law is always ready to make its presence known, I did this brief legal notice — for the record, as you might say:

See you there! It’s a brief walk from the Christopher Street stop on the #1.

May your happiness increase!

IT MUST HAVE BEEN BLISS: TOWN HALL, NEW YORK CITY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1945.

Rambling through eBay, visiting one of my favorite spots, the intersection of “jazz” and “Entertainment Memorabilia,” I found this. To some, it will be simply an antique jazz concert program, nearly eighty years old, or an example of paper ephemera for sale. For me, it is Ali Baba’s cave, Pandora’s box with no horrors, an auditory Fort Knox. And, no, it wasn’t recorded. But bless Specs Powell for his imagination and ambition, the energy to plan and put on this concert at New York City’s Town Hall.

I will now step aside to let the marvels blossom before your eyes. The Best in Modern Jazz for sure.

The front cover:

The first page, inside:

The program itself:

The back cover was blank, for “Autographs,” which the owner — the person who placed the precious keepsake in a notebook or binder — did not get.

A few obvious comments. Yes, that Bill Cullen, born in 1920, who was at the time a CBS staff announcer — which is how he and Specs Powell crossed paths — but most people will know him better as the host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

And the program speaks to the happy ecumenicism of the times in jazz. I would wager that Buster Bailey and Charlie Parker talked about reeds backstage with Don Byas. Bill Coleman and Frankie Newton, I would guess, knew each other well from Cafe Society and Asch Records. And please notice that the representatives of “modern jazz conceptions” aren’t Bird and Al Haig, but Buster Bailey and Al Hall.

It was a Sunday, so this might well have been an afternoon concert. You can look up what the weather was in New York City, should you care to. I will, instead, delight in imagining the hanging-out that went on backstage and behind Town Hall. Alas, when I was in that hall circa 1972, the echoes had died down. But I did hear and speak to Teddy Wilson and Al Hall, so I consider myself immensely fortunate.

And just to give Specs his proper place . . . here he is, talking with great articulateness, to a younger percussionist and inventor, in 2002. And at around 15 minutes, he talks about the Town Hall concerts, which weren’t economically successful, although Specs pointed out that he preceded Norman Granz and Jazz at the Philharmonic.

A final postscript: the program sold for $25, and the item is headlined as “early CHARLIE PARKER,” amusing to me because young Charlie was not the star of the concert alongside the more heralded players.

History enlarges and deflates reputations. Jazz Studies classes revere Bird; have they heard of Specs? I vote for expansive curricula.

And if you’ve never heard Specs, you’ve been deprived of pleasure:

and this:

A little aural digging online will lead you to more Specs, and I hope, curiosity about the names on the program whose sounds might be unfamiliar.

May your happiness increase!

JOYOUS AND FREE: THE MINT JULEP JAZZ BAND, “WATCH THE BIRDIE”

Even an optimist like me can wake up gloomy. When that happens, I reach for music. I have a long list of proven mood-enhancers. To that list, I gratefully add the new CD by the Mint Julep Jazz Band, WATCH THE BIRDIE.

Its generic name is “joy juice,” or perhaps “aural Welbutrin.” I’ve followed the band on disc for nearly a decade, and this CD satisfies all the way through. Certain passages make me laugh out loud (not that they are jokes or gimmicks, but that they are pure fun) and the variety of material, moods, and tempos is remarkable. The disc ends too soon every time I play it.

The band is expert in ensemble, joyous in their solo passages, and Laura Windley, once again, sings with great expressive fun: her laugh comes through at every turn.

Do your ears need evidence? Find it here.

I need to say a little more about this CD. It’s full of songs that aren’t overdone — several new to me — and each performance is brilliantly executed and loose. Those who know will recognize the ease and wisdom that comes from a working band, especially a band that plays for dancers. And at this writing, the players are not Official Big Names in the jazz press (which says so much about the clogged ears of that wheezing institution) but they are bright lights of improvisation, able to say so much in sixteen bars.

They are: Lucian Cobb, trombone; Laura Windley, vocals, glockenspiel; Aaron Hill, alto saxophone, clarinet; Keenan McKenzie, tenor saxophone, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Matt Fattal, trumpet; Ben Lassiter, guitar; William Ledbetter, string bass; Dan Faust, drums.

And a few lines about Ms. Windley. She not only sings, she is a SINGER — by which I mean that she has the ordinary virtues one hopes for: clear diction, swing, unerring pitch, an emotional awareness of the lyrics — and more. If her voice is new to you, you will hear young Ella and some of the Helens (Humes, Ward, O’Connell) but she’s got her own sound and her own approach. She’s no repeater pencil, and she figures out what a song’s message is and delivers it express to our doorstep. And she has an ebullient sense of fun that would put her in the movies if the movie-makers had any sense. Hear her sing, “Hey, you — get out of the way!” on the title track for instant conversion. She won’t drag us with LUSH LIFE or GOD BLESS THE CHILD: she’s realized that joy is sometimes in short supply and we need it. Pronto.

Laura also surprised me with her delightful liner notes!

Every time we record an album, Lucian says “We’re never doing this again,” but inevitably we do it again. It was special coming into this recording session having that level of comfort with regulars we’ve worked with for years. Lucian decided to forego headphones and sound baffling for the instrumentalists, so everyone except me was playing live in the room. It made a huge difference in everyone’s comfort level, being able to see, hear, and play naturally instead of having the interference of headphones and a mix. This setup carries some risk, of course, but the other approach can really get in the way of the music. We were feeling good, and we hope that comes through to you.

Lucian wants to be clear that we are not creating “art” or “an exquisite piece of music,” though I think some will disagree. We are here providing a service, we’re a dance band, this is an album that will be used at dance parties, and we have no qualms or shame about that. Dancing to music makes people feel joyous and free, and who could argue with that?

The title track (performed with the approval of the Audubon Society) is an obvious choice because of its ties to the movie Hellzapoppin’ and the “other” Lindy Hop scene that’s more social dancing, featuring Martha Raye dancing with SoCal great Dean Collins. I want to sing fun and funny tunes and I absolutely love this scene in the movie. Rather than go with a pop recording of this song, Lucian took his arranging notes directly from the film soundtrack, grabbing the intro from a scene where the Frenchman argues with a caterer about bread. Cameras, birds, telling people to get out of the way…

The second track, Cowbell Serenade, is one that Lucian found and fell in love with. There’s nothing like a cowbell to make people happy and this song has three separately pitched cowbells. We looked everywhere for such a thing and couldn’t find them, online, through friends, or at a drum specialty store. But Jonathan Stout said, “What about almglocken?” That did the trick and, with a little painter’s tape, Lucian got the sound he wanted. Our drummer Dan Faust is the best sport.

Long, Long Train… is one I fell in love with during the pandemic, so it’s one of our newest tunes. Sometimes a song just sits with you the right way and we are leaning into some transportation themes here, with a Jeep on the last album. I particularly love the lyrics and the guys got on board with first-class tickets from the start.

Milkman is one of those songs that’s been around on dance floors forever, but it’s never been played out, which is great. Another silly song with adorable slang in the lyrics, another “go away from me” song. (We can’t ever have enough of those.) I don’t consider myself a belter, but this song just opens everything up for me.

Split the Check is the second newest tune, as Keenan showed up with this chart at the first of our two album rehearsals. I’m always lamenting that we are missing slow/mid-tempo instrumentals and he just basically wrapped this up in a bow for me. It’s a contrafact, one you’ll recognize.

Old Man Mose, I mean, who wants to sing ballads? Nods to Betty Hutton and all the ghost stories I heard growing up in Beaufort. And our friend Michael Steinman thinks that every CD should have a nod to Louis Armstrong.

Stardust is our version of the Benny Goodman recording with the perfect slow Lindy Hop tempo, just the right mix of tenderness and energy. This is one of two charts we asked Dan Barrett to arrange for us. When the chart came in, Lucian noted, “He wrote you a real glockenspiel part,” and I had some moderate panic about that. I practiced this a lot, and I hope Jess Stacy isn’t glaring at me from the other world.

Besame Mucho has been in our book a long time, a crowd favorite. It was Lucian’s idea to add this to our repertoire and he did a wonderful original arrangement, peppered with our love for Oscar Aleman and my high school morning soundtrack that included Kitty Kallen with Jimmy Dorsey on a swing music compilation CD. We didn’t record it on earlier albums primarily because I was not comfortable singing in Spanish. I took Spanish in high school and college, but I could probably only get you through a menu and to the bathroom, if needed. Once, at a holiday gig, one of the Latinx servers came up to me, asked if I was fluent, and was delighted because she had never heard swing music performed in Spanish. I was honest with her, of course, but it gave me a boost of confidence and here we are.

Out of Nowhere is an arrangement Keenan wrote, inspired by a Sidney Bechet recording. This is another one that’s been in our book for a long time and we’re glad to put it out into the universe.

Take Another Guess (like all the Benny/Ella recordings) has been on my list for a while and seemed like another great fit for Dan Barrett to arrange. I didn’t realize there was a verse, but what a nice surprise it is!

The Gal from Joe’s came about during the pandemic as an obvious feature for Aaron, also filling a tempo need in our book, and just being a sassy, badass tune that I love to DJ, be it Ellington or Barnet. I think we achieve a respectable level of sass.

My! My! is one of my pre-pandemic DJ obsessions; this song is just darling with the Pied Pipers on vocals, even though they are overshadowed by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on the original recording.

Caribbean Clipper is the newest tune, with Lucian finishing it after rehearsals and everyone reading it on the spot. I DJ it for Balboa competitions, and love that we have another ocean-themed tune in the mix.

I’m Gonna Sit… is another pandemic tune, inspired by the Boswell Sisters recording, which I got fixated on during the pandemic. It’s so nice to have Bozzies tunes that don’t change tempo so I can DJ them.

Darius Quarles did a fantastic job with the cover art. I gave him photos of a specific camera and of me posing with one and he did the rest. I was going to be happy with whatever he came up with.

It’s our 10th anniversary this year, and I’m excited that we have this music ready to share after the past 3 years. You survived, we survived, and the music will always prevail. Dance with us!

Laura Windley, Head Birdie

Maybe you never wake up gloomy, and maybe you have kitchen cabinets full of music that makes you grin and dance, even if it’s in your computer chair. But you really need to hear WATCH THE BIRDIE. I guarantee it. Latch on here.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING SAMMY MARGOLIS (1923-1996)

Some years before I met the reedman Sammy Margolis in New York City (at the Half Note, 1971, sitting in with his friend Ruby Braff) I had heard and admired him on record: a floating player, thoughtful, incorporating Bud Freeman, Lester Young, and Pee Wee Russell into his own gentle conception. He was never loud or forceful, but a sonic watercolorist.

In the next few years, I had the good fortune to hear and record him in several gigs: at Brew’s, at the New School, on an afternoon gig in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, at the Root Cellar in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, along with Vic Dickenson, Jack Fine, Marshall Brown, Doc Cheatham, Mike Burgevin, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, and others. I was a shy college student, reluctant to impose myself in conversation with my heroes, although from what I know of Sam, he would have made me welcome.

This was my first aural introduction to Sammy, serene in Ruby Braff’s energized wake, thoughtfully creating songs of his own:

and Sammy’s beautiful interlude in the company of George Wein:

About a year ago, I made friends (thanks to Facebook) with his multi-talented daughter Carla, who generously shared her memories of her father. I offer her extended loving portrait to you now, with thanks.

Sammy and Louis: photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

My dad had a fraternal twin brother who was also musically talented. He played piano by ear and whenever they went to the movies as kids, his brother would come home and play themes the pianist played during the showings, having somehow retained all of that musical information in his head. My Uncle Carl (for who I am named) tragically died young (I think from glomular neuphritis) after having returned home from WWII.

His father was a housepainter who died from a burst appendix when my dad was eight. His 12 year old (?) brother Mortie had to go to work as did his mother. He had two sisters as well.

I’m not even sure how he and Ruby came to be friends.  As my dad often loved to say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been friends with Ruby many times.”  My mother actually dated Ruby first.  I don’t know what happened there, but then my mother started dating my dad.

Sammy and Ruby Braff, photograph by Jack Bradley, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

The recordings that you sent me, around 1974, I was surprised that Ruby was on there.  I heard so much about Ruby, but I never met him until I was a teenager.  I was under the impression that they were on the outs, and I thought maybe it was because of the relationship with my mother, but I don’t know.  They both were Boston people who came to New York, but they were really not the same people, my father and Ruby.   

On records, he was the sideman for Ruby most of the time.  But he was on a Martin Mull recording that Ruby wasn’t on.  I didn’t know that he was on fifteen recordings!  He talked about how much he hated doing studio work, that it made him very anxious.  He didn’t like recording.  And I didn’t find out until maybe two and a half years ago that he was on so many recordings.  

Ruby and my dad loved Bud Freeman and Lester Young, but he had considered jumping the fence into be-bop.  He strongly considered that, because that was what was coming, what was current.  He claimed that Ruby had talked him out of it, so they both stayed on that side of the fence.  I don’t know if he was happy about that decision or not, I don’t know how that went.  He didn’t have a great opinion about bop — I went to Indiana University and I was a jazz studies major, and he was kind of unenthusiastic about it, but then he started listening to it more . . . 

I do remember going to Brew’s and the Red Blazer with him.  I remember going to Doylestown, Pennsylvania with him, the club that had the big murals at the back of the stage, Mike Burgevin’s THE ROOT CELLAR.  He took me to the hotel once, and I remember telling him that I wouldn’t go to bed until he played SATIN DOLL.  I was about nine.

Kenny Davern, Mike Burgevin, and Sammy at Brew’s, New York City: courtesy Chuck Slate

When I was in my teens, he had me sitting in a lot, singing, when he was playing at Jimmy Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky, who was the leader.  Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son, was playing drums.  The trombonist might have been Bobby Pratt.  One night I sat in and Roy Eldridge was in the audience, my dad introduced me to him, and I was “Yeah, okay, I don’t know who that is.”  I’m really glad I didn’t know who Roy was when I was singing!  I remember going to Eddie Condon’s with him, and he played a lot in the basement of the Empire State Building, at a restaurant called the Riverboat. 

Back row: Sammy, Ruby, Vic Dickenson, Jackie Williams, Al Hall; front: Wayne Wright, Jimmy Andrews. Brew’s, New York City. Photograph by Mike Burgevin, courtesy Chuck Slate.

A musical interlude, 1974, part one:

and part two:

He was really making a living doing these gigs.  He wasn’t doing anything else.  In the summers he would play in the Catskills, all summer.  The Italian Catskills, not the Jewish Catskills.  I went with him one time; I usually spent my summers with him because my mom and dad weren’t together.  From the time I was about eight I spent summers with him in New York.  My mother sang a little bit but I wouldn’t call her a singer although she liked to sing.  She was an actor and dancer who sang.  She came to New York for that, and my dad was impressed with her dancing but he never saw her act, which I find astonishing, because that’s what her big aspirations were, and that’s what she did, mostly.  She was a dancer at the Copacabana, and I don’t know where else.  And she studied at the Herbert Berghoff Studio.  But she later became a lawyer.  Because of them, I grew up with a lot of exposure to musical theater and to jazz.   

My father was really sweet and affectionate.  He read a lot of Krishnamurti.  He was very much into health foods and supplements, always reading up on those things.  He was into ayurvedic medicine.  He ate other things, but he wanted me to be very healthy.  He was, although culturally, ethnically and gastronomically Jewish, an atheist, but interested in Eastern philosophy. Despite his avid interest in health foods, supplements, etc., he did enjoy the occasional hamburger and jelly doughnut and Sanka with Sweet and Low. When I asked him about that he responded “Years of bad habits.”

He was also a really good athlete, very athletic, forever, up until right before he died.  He played golf and tennis.  I remember he and Ruby had done a date in Hawaii with Tony Bennett, and when they came back he and Tony played tennis often.  Once when they were playing tennis, some guy from the club asked Tony if he would play with him after he got done playing with his instructor (meaning my dad)…my mom loved telling that story.

I remember we went to Tony’s apartment one time and had lunch.  Tony had artwork there and I thought that was really cool, because my dad was also a really lovely artist as well.  He did a lot of watercolors.  I don’t know what happened to his art, whether he got rid of it when he moved to Florida in 1990 or 1991, but it disappeared and I wanted to have some of it.

Portrait of the singer Connie Greco by Sammy Margolis

In NYC, he lived in Hell’s Kitchen on 44th and 10th Avenue. At that time, one had to be rather paranoid to stay safe from crime. Of course he was diligent about locking his car and his apartment. Once he moved to Deerfield Beach, Florida, he refused to live in fear and refused to lock his apartment or his car. Whenever I visited him in Florida, he would not allow me to lock anything either, which I found hilarious. I lived in NYC at the time, and understood completely.

He had had rheumatic fever as a child, and later that caused a leaky heart valve, so some time in the late Eighties he had surgery to replace the heart valve – several surgeries, because there was an artificial heart valve that his body rejected, then there was a pig valve which worked, but he had to be very careful.  I’m not sure if he knew that he had prostate cancer before he moved to Florida.  He moved down there to relax, to be a “snowbird” with family who spent winters in Palm Springs.  There were a lot of musician friends who had retired to Florida, so he did do some gigs there – but he was basically retired when he went down there.  He was very worried that the heart problem was going to do him in, but it was the prostate cancer, and they couldn’t do surgery because of the heart problem. 

When I took my son down to Florida as a baby (I think that was the last time my dad saw him), I had to go to the laundry room in his complex, leaving him alone with my son (who could stand up but wasn’t yet talking). He played clarinet for my son to keep him amused. I only caught the tail end of it when I returned. It was so cute, my son was enthralled.

He was very funny, very outgoing, and he had hilarious stories.  He was a very good storyteller, and I loved that.  There was a story about a tiger in Bermuda, but I don’t remember how it went.  He spent some time on cruise ships going to Bermuda, and he used to bring back gifts for me and art.  There’s one statue of a woman which I have in my house now that he always had on the mantel in his living room. 

He loved taking me to museums, to art museums, oh my gosh.  He would talk to me about composition, and he loved Matisse and vibrant colors.  Did you know he studied at the Art Students’ League?  I mean, he felt it was really kind of a curse to be really good at a lot of things, but not just art.  He was an intellectual, and some things he didn’t really have to try to be good at.  Cooking and art and more.  He was a thinker, and that may have been hard for him later.  He loved Nature, and we’d go to Central Park, and he’d set up some watercolors and we’d draw, but he didn’t interfere with what I was doing, he would just let me do my thing. 

Whenever we were walking down the street in New York, and we did a lot of walking together, and he was always singing or humming.  All the time! – when we were talking or even when we were.  He was a man full of music.  There was never ever a second when it wasn’t turned on.  I should record THE MORE I SEE YOU for him, because he always wanted me to do that song.  I don’t know why it was that particular one, but he did.  And he used to sing ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET all the time. 

He loved having me sing, whenever I was with him in a club.  Once I started that, he loved it.  And he would give me really, really helpful feedback.  Truly helpful.  He was not overly critical of my singing at all.  No, he was lavishing praise,  But when I wanted to be a music major in college – I started out as a French major –which was actually useless to me (what was I going to do with that?) when I was at Indiana University.  But I had friends who were musicians, I interacted with them, and they were super-surprised that I was not a music major.  “You should be a music major!” they told me.  I was terrified that I would not get in to the program.  I went and did an unofficial audition for David Baker first, and he sent me to this classical vocal teacher, then, with their blessing, I officially auditioned for the music school there.  I got it, but I didn’t tell anybody at all that I had auditioned. 

Then I called my dad to tell him I had gotten in, and he was tickled, he was beside himself with joy.  He hung up the phone, and thirty seconds later he called me back.  “Are you sure you don’t want to get a different major as a backup?  Why don’t you stick with the French?”  And I looked at the phone, and I was like, “French???  French is more useless than music.  I don’t know what the hell I would do with French.  Go somewhere and translate?”  I had no vision how that would work into my life.  It cracked me up that he was so overjoyed and then called me back and was “Wait, wait, wait . . . . “  It was the mentality he grew up with; my dad was born in 1923.  I mean, when I moved back to New York as an adult, I saw him every week, at least once a week, we had our official dinner once a week.  I had a day gig at a Japanese insurance company, because I could type.  And he would tell me, “You know, my dream for  you, my goal for you, my life-dream is for you to marry some businessman you meet around there.”  “Wow.  Really? Your dream for me?”  It didn’t work out that way.  Maybe he was right, I don’t know.  He was worried that if I became a singer I would become an alcoholic.  He was sure those two things went together.  It did not happen, but he was very, very worried about that. 

He also helped me be prepared when dealing with musicians, even on pick-up dates, sitting in, or being a leader.  He really told me, “You know, musicians are going to hate you because you’re a singer.  You really have to be super prepared so that they respect you.”  I thought that was the best piece of advice anybody could give me.  I was incredibly spoiled by all the musicians I met even when I was a little girl.  But when I was little even though I played a little piano, I didn’t know what keys I sang in.  I’d just start to sing, they would find the key, and it would be fine.  I was spoiled by that.  But things change.

I remember meeting Vic Dickenson and Doc Cheatham, Marshall Brown, Mike Burgevin, Kenny Davern, and of course Max Kaminsky.  Oh, there’s a sad thing.  I was supposed to meet Louis Armstrong, my dad really wanted to introduce me to him, but I was in Michigan and Louis died before I got back to New York, but later I did meet Lucille Armstrong.  Dill Jones was the first pianist to play for me in public.  My mom and dad were both really good friends with Jack Bradley.  My sister said – I wasn’t old enough to understand this – that Jack facilitated it so that my mother bought Louis’ cream-colored Cadillac from Louis for five hundred dollars.  I remember that car very well and I know there was some connection to Jack Bradley and Louis. 

That same evening. Photograph by Mike Burgevin.

In the Seventies, when I was in New York with him, he would go off and do gigs at night, and I wasn’t going out at night so I would stay at the apartment watching TV, but I got hold of his fakebook, and I was going through it, listening to jazz recordings that he had, and jazz radio – he listened to WNEW – teaching myself songs from that fakebook.  Even though I couldn’t really read music yet, I would listen to people singing the songs and I would follow along.  I learned a lot of tunes that way.  I wouldn’t have learned them with him around, or my mother around: that was solo contemplation.  

And on those recordings you sent, you said there were people talking at the start, and I thought, “Oh, I hope I get to hear his voice!” and he wasn’t talking, but he was in the background warming up his saxophone, and that’s why he wasn’t talking, he was on the stand already.       

There’s a story my dad liked to tell, and in my recollection I cannot do it justice because I cannot give you his facial expressions or inflections. He was at his friend’s apartment in upper Manhattan (I don’t remember whose apartment, possibly Lou Levy’s?). Dave Lambert was at the party. Jazz records were being played (of course). Someone knocked on the door and the host asked my dad to answer. He opened the door and Duke Ellington was standing there. My dad was so surprised to see one of his idols standing there. After he let him in, the host asked my dad to pick the next record for everyone to listen to. My dad was so nervous because he couldn’t believe he was picking music for Ellington to listen to. I wish I could remember what he chose. But evidently it was something Ellington liked.

Here is Ruby Braff’s elegy for his friend, Ruby’s liner note to the 1996 BEING WITH YOU (Arbors):

This album, this salute to Louis, is as much about Sam Margolis as it is about Pops!

So much of my musical thinking was formed and inspired by the musical dedication and artistic humility of Sam, my old friend and teacher. No one ever did or could pay more homage to the genius and influence that Louis had on every aspect of American music. In that sense, Sam was a great champ and winner.

On March 23, 1996 tragedy struck out group of friends and many others! Our Sammy lost his fight with cancer. To the end he went with great courage and gallantry! My thoughts were about him as we made this recording a scant few weeks later.

Every one who knew him will miss this enormously talented person of profound influence. Jack Bradley’s great picture of Sam and Pops is the way I think he’d like to be remembered.

May God grant him the eternal peace his great soul deserves.

We will never forget you, Sam . . .

I would add to those grieving words my own perception that Sammy Margolis, up close or at a distance, was a joyous individual, a remarkable man: gentle, funny, modest, multi-talented. I regret now that my shyness got in the way of a real conversation, because I feel that Sammy would have engaged my young self with kindness.

There will be more music to celebrate Sammy, and perhaps JAZZ LIVES’ readers have their own tales. He deserves to be well-remembered. And my deep thanks to Carla Margolis for her memories above.

May your happiness increase!

MOMENTS LIKE THIS (THAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD BEFORE, 1938)

This post is in honor of Luigi Lucaccini, Javier Soria Laso, and Nick Rossi.

First, data. Then, music.

and something even more unusual:

and . . .

On Thanksgiving evening, I published PLAY IT, TEDDY (April and August 1939)

which contained six sides that Teddy had recorded as a sideman with “Redd Evans and his Billy Boys” for Vocalion Records — great records I think few had ever heard.

But a little online research — my effort to answer the question, “How had Teddy or John Hammond or someone else heard of Redd Evans, and what had they heard that would lead them to offer him more than one record date?” led me to these listings in the DAHR:

Victor BS-019565 10-in. 2/11/1938 A shack in the back of the hills Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019566 10-in. 2/11/1938 Please be kind Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019567 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019572 10-in. 2/11/1938 Thanks for the memory Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019573 10-in. 2/11/1938 Prove it Lewis “Red” Evans and the Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

Victor BS-019574 10-in. 2/11/1938 Moments like this Bama Boys Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo director, vocalist

I also found out that the February 11, 1938 session had the following personnel, some names completely unknown, others familiar to those of us who have studied the period: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City.

I have been able to find nothing about Debin and Jones. Potoker was recognizable to me as a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, and part of a Charlie Shavers date (1946) for Vogue on its short-lived picture record line. But the first record date I found for him was in 1945. Russ Case was famous — an early Goodman trumpeter, someone appearing with Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters, and Trumbauer. Most intriguing was this early appearance by guitarist Art or Artie Ryerson, explicated by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi: Artie staking his claim as perhaps one of the first US guitarists to show an explicit Django influence! Ryerson told my friend (and journalist) Jim Carlton that he heard Django on record in 1935 and was influenced by him for the next several years. This, to my ears, is proof of that claim. Ryerson elsewhere in the interview was pretty good with dates by the way – even if he is off by a year or so (which he may very well be based on the research I’ve done around Django’s US record releases), that still gives him ample time to absorb the influence by the time of the recording in question. And who else WAS showing a Django influence in the USA on record in February 1938?

Luigi Lucaccini pointed the way to this gem:

and Javier Soria Laso added more delightful evidence:

MOMENTS LIKE THIS:

https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/200031157/BS-019574-Moments_like_this?fbclid=IwAR2wTkbwuUNTXkemqfTz2gMmQfi-Vn7p-pm15MbcIh4_cyq0LcljWYlch_A

and THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, in a two-sided issue so that all the verses could be included:

https://archive.org/details/78_thanks-for-the-memory-gracias-por-la-memoria-part-2_lewis-red-evans-and-the-b_gbia0037633

These sides are hidden gems in the best pop-songs-swung Thirties tradition. Yes, Evans was more confident on the later sides (or was it Victor’s microphone setup?) but the instrumentalists are splendid; the ocarina solos are delightful — not jokey at all — and the overall effect is polished and homespun at once. And we remember that these three pop tunes were classics in their own way — more memorably recorded, perhaps, by Mildred and Maxine, but touching. I am especially fond of Leo Robin’s wry-mounful lyrics to MEMORY, so true and witty at once; his niece told me a few years ago in conversation that the narrative came from her uncle’s very real heartbreak, and the genuineness comes through in every turn of phrase.

I decided to look deeper on my own and found the two remaining sides from the 1938 date, surprising myself.

PROVE IT:

A SHACK IN THE BACK OF THE HILLS:

If I’d heard any of those sides coming out of a record store speaker or jukebox, I would have been entranced, As I am now. And the gentlemen of the ensemble play so sweetly and easily.

And by the way, if you want what Germans call “the thing in itself,” a reputable eBay seller has the 78 of MOMENTS LIKE THIS and PLEASE BE KIND for sale — $25.00 plus 8.63 shipping) here.

Thanks again for kind erudite diligence, Luigi, Javier, and Nick.

May your happiness increase!

HIS MAJESTY, JOEL PRESS (March 14, 1930 – November 23, 2022)

The saxophonist, teacher, and majestic figure Joel Press has left us. Joel wasn’t tall (neither am I) but he carried himself powerfully. My nickname for him — which I never told him, fearing he might be offended — was THE LITTLE LION. (Joel might have disliked being characterized as little in anything.)

Not aggressive, not arrogant, but a man who knew himself and was proud of what he knew.

I met Joel in sound before I met him in person. In 2004, I was reviewing CDs for CADENCE, the wide-ranging and deeply ethical magazine devoted to “creative improvised music,” The editor, Robert D. Rusch, a wonderful man, knew of my more traditional bent and often tossed me recordings slightly outside my known Paradise — “to make me stretch,” he said. I had not heard of Joel or his fellows, but the CD above convinced me that I had passed by a master. Here is some of what I wrote.

He is one of those musicians—and they are rarer than you might think—who has digested the history of the music and the instrumental tradition that has come before him without parading an assortment of favorite phrases from his five tenor idols. Yes, he has a purring, mellow approach reminiscent of Harold Ashby, but he is no easy-listening recreator: he knows Rollins and Lacy as well as Hawkins and Young. But Press sounds so much like himself that you cannot predict what his next phrase will be – and he is worth championing just because he does not think in four or eight-bar modules. To add to this, his melodic lines are logical, they are rhythmically intriguing, and he has a wonderful respect for songs, savoring their emotions. His version of “Lover Man,” for one example, will make it hard for me to listen to anyone else’s. And he is not harnessed by “Swing” conventions: the repertoire moves easily from classic Bebop to the much more abstract “Is What Is” (based on “What Is This Thing Called Love”). Even better—he plays soprano with fervor, accuracy, and beautiful intonation, no sourness, no intentional harshness. Although the repertoire is primarily standard material, the performances are original—not in some self-consciously radical way, but they encourage listeners to forget how well-worn they might have thought “Groovin’ High,” for instance.

Joel was pleased by the review and we began a correspondence. I no longer have my emails from 2004, but I know his were warm and gracious. And because he had “been there,” he sent me snippets of first-hand jazz history that delighted me. He had seen Sidney Catlett at Town Hall. He could tell me that the hamburgers at Julius’ in Greenwich Village were exceptional. he had seen Charlie Parker live; he had glimpsed obscure worthies: “One of my favorite musicians during the 60s was the alto saxophonist Dave Schildkraut, who played there in a small group led by Buddy Rich. Dave was the hero of all of the young New York saxophone players. Arnie Lawrence, with whom I often jammed after our gigs in the Catskill Mountains, probably switched from tenor to alto because of Dave. Schildkraut’s pianist and close friend, Bill Triglia was a mentor to Lawrence.” Joel had heard Steve Lacy sitting in at Arthur’s Tavern with Loumell Morgan at Arthur’s Tavern; he had played with Peter Ind.

He was a first-class hilarious memoirist: here is his portrait of Jo Jones.

In 1979 I played the Sunday brunch at “Lulu White’s” in Boston’s South End. The club was run by a young Ivy League fellow. Jo Jones had played there and discovered that said owner had an apartment across the street from the club. Jo made himself “guest in residence,” despite the lack of a formal invitation. On Sunday Jo would appear at lunchtime, handsome, elegant and charming. Despite our efforts to get him to sit in, he declined. Although he appeared to enjoy the group’s overall playing, we suspected that our mediocre bassist was not up to his standard.

During my  residence in New York during the 60s, several of us were in the Colony Record Shop on Broadway, opposite Birdland when Jo entered. He was elated and told us with a big smile on his face that he had, to his great delight, added a tenor saxophonist to his group who sounded like Prez. It was Paul Quinichette.

On the dark side, Jo played at Sandy’s in Beverly, Massachusetts in the 80s. The band members , including Budd Johnson, altered the band’s name from “Jo Jones and Friends” to “Jo Jones and Enemies,” each member attempting to stay as distant from the drummer as the bandstand would allow.

When Warne Marsh played at Lulu white’s on a Sunday night, Jo, without being invited, sat down at the drums and started to play, angering the equally temperamental Sal Mosca. The confrontation was thankfully verbal, but no music ensued and Jo left the stand after a few hits on the snare drum.

And here he is on Coleman Hawkins:

Those Coleman Hawkins sides on Asch have always knocked me out. He is still the King. He was our Picasso, constantly changing and showing us the way over many decades. I am so happy to have heard him in many settings…first at The Apollo, when I absented myself from afternoon high school classes to dig a matinee. The band included both Monk and Dizzy…in the 6o’s at MOMA, in the sculpture court, with Roy….at Birdland with Milt Jackson, and alongside Fats Navarro at a JATP concert in Denver. In the 60s I attended a memorable concert at The Little Theater between Broadway and 8th Avenue, with Ben Webster, the pianist Paul Neves, Major Holley, and Eddie Locke. Hawk was on fire. Ben, smiled, obviously enraptured by Coleman, and played well, but didn’t even attempt to match Hawk’s passion. As is so often the case, the best music played goes out the window, unless, of course there is a happy man present with a video camera.

We met in person when Joel moved to New York in 2010 to play: the scene was so much more lively than the one outside of Boston. By then, I had both this blog and a video camera — and I was able to see and capture the magical rapport between Joel and his friend and student, the splendid pianist Michael Kanan.

Here is a splendidly touching example of Joel and Michael, at Smalls, on October 20, 2011:

Listeners with good ears will hear the jaunty approach that comes from Jimmie Rowles. Others, even if the Rowles current is not evident, will note the mix of tenderness and playfulness, the mutual respect for melody and its possibilities. Joel was fascinated with the purr of the tenor, its ability to glide between notes and phrases: songs were his friends, his ideals.

Joel was pleased to have me in evidence, “a happy man with a video camera,” and so, between 2010 and 2016, I captured him at a goodly number of New York City gigs — with Michael, Neal Miner, Spike Wilner, Tardo Hammer, Joe Hunt, Fukushi Tainaka, and others. Were you to look Joel up on YouTube, some eighty-plus videos there are my attempts to honor him and his music in perpetuity. And they are lovely, satisfying, multi-dimensional. I hope you visit and enjoy them.

Michael Kanan speaks beautifully of Joel:

Joel used to play with my first piano teacher, Harvey Diamond: they played a lot together.  When I first heard Joel play I was probably a teenager, and I went to many gigs before I played with him.  I don’t remember my first introduction to him but everyone in Boston at some point was at Joel’s sessions in his house in Newton. He had six or seven sessions a week, where people got together and played tunes.  More experienced players were going there every week, young Berklee students – I don’t know how he would find them — young to old, sometimes his contemporaries.  It would be one group, usually a quartet. 

At some point I started going there to play.  I was very young: looking back on it now, I enjoyed it but I really didn’t deeply understand what was so great about his playing.  After I moved to New York in 1991 I lost touch with him.  When my mother was in her declining years, I was spending more time in Boston – sometimes a week at a time.  Then I went to Joel’s every day to play, and I really started understanding musically what he was doing.  The most basic things: what does it mean to have a good rhythm, what does it mean to have a swing feel – the things the older generation knew naturally.  Going to Joel’s that second time I was really stunned. Here was someone who was a great example of everything I was trying to do myself. 

He had a real appreciation for Lennie Tristano and his whole approach to music.  Initially, that’s what bonded me to Joel, because that way of playing was what I was interested in.  But there was a lot more to him than that.  He had heard Konitz and Marsh but there was also Ben and Hawk and Lester and everyone else, so when I was interested in things other than the Tristano tradition, it was a experience to talk and play with Joel, who had been at their gigs. 

It wasn’t about building a huge repertoire, it was about getting deeper with the tunes you were playing.  I appreciated that – I could play the tunes I loved over and over.  You can get in deeper if you know the terrain. 

Joel was a master of melody, he had a beautiful sound, and he also played with real fire and passion.  He always taught by example – sometimes I would ask him questions.  I asked him once how he developed his kind of rhythmic feel, and he told me when he was doing gigs as a young guy, it would be a horn, piano, and drums, and he figured out he had to play with real command because there was no bass player. 

We had a mutual feeling.  He told me once that he loved how I comped, that it must be because I had played with singers for so many years that I knew how to lay in a chord at the right moment. 

Joel loved all the masters, Pres, Hawk, Ben, Warne, all the great players.  He talked about getting to hear them in person.  He knew how to get a big sound without it being a loud harsh sound.  He had a huge sound but it wasn’t overwhelming – it was more of an inviting sound. 

I had something to do with Joel’s moving to New York in 2010.  I knew there would be players here who would get out of him what I got out of him, so I set up sessions with people just as he had done for me.  It was a homecoming.  He was so thrilled and energized by it that he moved here in his eighties – dragging that tenor saxophone on the subway to go to people’s sessions and gigs. 

He lived the way he wanted to live.  It was great to witness that.  Once we were both here he talked a lot about the history of the city and places – the gigs he had attended and ones he had played.  Joel was so enamored of the city.  He and Steve Little had done sessions in the Sixties, so I arranged a jam session for the two of them, and they looked at each other and said, “Is that YOU?  Is that YOU?”  Getting to play with the two of them it was just amazing.  And there was an excitement in the clubs when Joel played, you could feel that crackling electric atmosphere.  I’m glad he got to experience that. 

A life beautifully lived.  I want to celebrate Joel.        

The string bassist and jazz scholar Stu Zimny also learned from and played with Joel:

I was very surprised and and saddened to hear of the passing of Joel Press at age 92. Partly because I did not think he was much older than I. He was always youthful in demeanor, appearance and attitude.

I have not seen him for a long time but our association goes back to the 1980’s in the Boston area. I was an aspiring bassist and Joel would hold regular weekly sessions at his home in Newton, which was almost next door to where I lived. His was a rambling old house with many rooms. Downstairs was a spacious living room hosting a nice piano and, if I recall correctly, a drum set and amps.

Most of the attendees were skilled players so there was not the customary 27 choruses of “Donna Lee” by players who could barely carry off a single chorus with interest. Joel was also aware of “musical life outside the Berklee Real Book”. The home also served as a landing area for various touring jazz and classical players so one could be pleasantly surprised by unexpected guests. We would play for a while, retire to the kitchen for some high-octane Java, then return to playing. I suspect Joel kept going even after we left!
Joel had a gig as a musical contractor I believe, among other pursuits. He introduced me to a great classical bassist (a laid-back Midwesterner, on the BSO sub-list, with a plethora of talent) with whom I studied intermittently for a few years.

Joel himself, judging by his style and and vinyl records being spun on his coveted stereo gear, preferred the older styles. One was more likely to hear Ben Webster than Hank Mobley. That was rare in those days and I appreciated it since it aligned with my own archeological musical interests. I suspect that he also appreciated that about me. Joel’s style placed an emphasis on tone and swing rather than proffering strings of eighth and sixteenth notes. He had “chops” but governed by a great deal of discernment and seemed more interested in hearing what others might be putting out there. We also shared an interest in high-end audio and, in particular, McIntosh electronics. There was a local Mac dealership which became an audiophile watering hole of sorts for both of us.

He was a sweetheart. His passing leaves a gap in the musical firmament.

Happy travels, my friend.

Let us honor this man, both durable and playful — a model of how to live a long creative life.

Thank you, Joel. In your honor, I forego the usual closing words and pictures.

MENNO DAAMS and ALEX HILL INTRODUCE US TO GLORY (Thursday, November 4, 2016, 11:30 AM, the Village Hotel, Newcastle, UK)

I admit that my title may seem over-detailed. But take those details with some whimsy, and I will explain. Of course, impatient or eager readers may skip right to the video and return or not. Having retired from what was called “college teaching,” I no longer take attendance. But here are the principal players.

Menno Daams (cornet, trumpet, compositions, arrangements) is a brilliant friend and musical hero, someone balancing taste, wit, bravura, and subtlety in all his musical endeavors. When last seen, he was playing brilliantly at this year’s Ascona Jazz Festival.

Pianist, composer, arranger, singer Alexander Hill, alas, lived a truly intense and truncated life — one of those driven geniuses who didn’t seem to sleep and whose bright spark flickered out at 30. Tuberculosis was the culprit or perhaps he was one of those people meant to cram several lifetimes of art and work into one short span.

I attended the Whitley Bay Jazz Party (now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party) from 2009 to 2016, as a jazz enthusiast, blogger, and videographer . . . and in that last capacity I posted almost 450 videos of bands large and small, formal and informal, and a variety of singers. Exhausting but joyous work and you can see the results of my “swingyoucats” YouTube channel.

Certain managerial decisions made it first difficult, then impossible for me to continue, and I haven’t been back. Others have taken on my role, and I now have the perhaps odd luxury of watching their videos from my computer. But that is another novella entirely.

One of the delights of the weekend was the opportunity to watch and record bands rehearsing in the morning and afternoon — large combinations of musicians who didn’t play together, reading manuscripts — reading charts for the first time, stopping and starting. No one told me to leave (bless you, heroes) and once in a great while the rehearsals, unbuttoned and playful, surpassed the evening’s “concert” performance. An example you can find on YouTube is my capture of the rehearsal by a Bent Persson group of CAFE CAPERS. And this: Menno Daams’ International Serenaders paying tribute to Alex Hill by performing his spiritual, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.

Menno had granted me permission to post the video, which I did in 2019. Recently, as a delightful surprise, he reposted it with the musical information rolling along above the image. You can call it the “director’s cut” or the “DVD version with special enhanced features.” Call it what you will, but it’s lovely.

I confess to a didactic-emotional-spiritual purpose of mine. The band sounds so good, and the enhanced version is such a work of art, that it bothers me how few people have seen this: fewer than 200 took in the first posting (three years ago) and fewer than 70 have seen this version. People! This will make you sit up straight in your chairs: it will spark joy for free. (Take that, Marie Kondo.)

I bow to Menno, to Alex, and to this great band. Thank you for letting me visit, thank you for certain.

May your happiness increase!

“PLAY IT, TEDDY” (April and August 1939)

One of the great pleasures of jazz recording and performance is the sound of Teddy Wilson, born 110 years ago today: a complete orchestra, every measure of jewel-box of shining details. The records he made with Billie Holiday have to be among the most famous in the last century, with his sides with Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter, Louis Armstrong, Jo Jones creating a galaxy of pleasures.

But here are some sides from 1939 that few have heard.

They require a bit of speculative research for context. It’s hard in 2022 to imagine how violently the world, and, yes, the entertainment world, was racially segregated. Benny Goodman had broken “the color line” by hiring black musicians who would appear on the same bandstand, but the integration of those artists into radio orchestras and recording groups (as in “studio work”) happened very slowly.

One of the people fighting to break this barrier was John Hammond. I have a good deal of ambivalence about him: he created self-glorifying narratives, he played favorites, he had numerous agendas — but the results of his crusading cannot be denied.

At the start of 1939, Wilson had had almost five years in the spotlight from his work with Goodman; he made many small-group recordings under his own name for Brunswick; he even had a business venture, the “Teddy Wilson School for Pianists.” This was a transitional period: he appeared on a few broadcasts as a member of Benny’s band while his own orchestra was taking shape and broadcasting from the Savoy Ballroom.

Hammond tried, often without success, to stage-manage musicians’ careers (Ellington, Holiday, Frank Newton, and Rex Stewart are the most dramatic examples) and often those musicians grew exasperated and broke off the relationship. But I think he and Teddy respected each other, and Teddy was grateful.

One of John’s ideas was to slowly, subversively mix white popular artists with black jazzmen and women on record. So in 1939-41, Wilson was part of a band or the leader of his own unit for record dates with Redd Evans, Eddy Howard, and Chick Bullock. All of those sessions are rewarding and more: the mix of sweet crooning and hot solos and accompaniment is, to me, irresistible.

Of the three, Redd Evans is perhaps the most obscure, and his fame is now as a lyricist for NO MOON AT ALL, THERE! I’VE SAID IT AGAIN, THE FRIM FRAM SAUCE, ROSIE THE RIVETER, LET ME OFF UPTOWN, and DON’T GO TO STRANGERS. But in 1938 he made six sides for Victor or Bluebird as “Lewis Evans and his Bama Boys,” which I have never seen nor heard. (Anyone?) Here the connections become pure speculation. Did Hammond hear those records, or was Evans performing in a club or on the radio? Or did Evans reach out to Wilson or Hammond? A side note: an internet source says that Evans was a saxophonist and that he played the ocarina.

This just in, as they say on news programs. Luigi Lucaccini pointed me to the one “Bama Boys” record — on Bluebird — that not only delights but answers the question. It’s PLEASE BE KIND:

That’s perfectly charming — I want to hear all of them! And I can completely understand Hammond or someone else wanting Evans, a delightful singer and ocarina soloist, to record again with jazz accompaniment. The facts about this session are: Russ Case, trumpet; John Potoker, piano; Art Ryerson, guitar; Syd Debin, string bass; Bobby Jones, drums. February 11, 1938, New York City. Again, this is a worthy entry in the pop-song-swung tradition, and it shows that fine music was played by people who weren’t stars, although Potoker, Case, and Ryerson are certainly known.

So these would be called “crossover” recordings, mixing jazz and Western swing. And here is the discographical data, thanks to Tom Lord (I’m puzzled by the note that Evans sings on the first session but the vocals are done by “Hot Sweet Potato,” since Evans played the ocarina. But this doesn’t stop me from enjoying the music.)

Redd Evans (vcl) acc by tp, ts, g, Buster Bailey (cl) Teddy Wilson (p) unknown (b) J.C. Heard (d).  New York, April 17, 1939.
W24381 They cut down the old pine tree Voc 4836
W24382 Red wing –
W24383-B Carry me back to the lone prairie 4920
W24384-A Red River Valley –

Here are files (courtesy of the Internet Archive) of the first four songs.

https://archive.org/details/78_they-cut-down-the-old-pine-tree_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-raskin-eli_gbia0465068a

https://archive.org/details/78_red-wing_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-mills_gbia0465068b/RED+WING+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

https://archive.org/details/78_carry-me-back-to-the-lone-prairie_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans-robison_gbia0446460b

https://archive.org/details/78_red-river-valley_redd-evans-and-his-billy-boys-redd-evans_gbia0446460a/RED+RIVER+VALLEY+-+REDD+EVANS+and+his+BILLY+BOYS.flac

The trumpeter sounds both fine and familiar: Emmett Berry, possibly?

Those four sides enjoyed some popularity — if you count appearances on eBay as a valid indicator. I have one of the two discs (OLD PINE TREE and RED WING) and made rudimentary transfers of the worn 78 for YouTube, for those who like to see the disc spin.

RED RIVER VALLEY and RED WING were classic Americana; the other two were more contemporary creations, with the light-hearted morbidity of OLD PINE TREE, which always catches me unaware.

The other two sides were both fascinating and elusive: the digital transfers are a gift from collector Peter J. Doyle, although I have never seen the disc. But brace yourself for BAGGAGE COACH, which is an ancient barroom ballad (Eugene O’Neill used it in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN) much more morbid than OLD PINE TREE. This rocking version owes something to Jerry Colonna and the Tommy Dorsey “glee club.” It’s a favorite record of mine. And MILENBERG JOYS simply rocks: when wasn’t that the case?

Redd Evans And His Billy Boys : Willis Kelly (tp) Floyd Brady (tb) Reggie Merrill (as) Clark Galehouse (ts) Teddy Wilson (p) Al Casey (g) Al Hall (b) Cozy Cole (d) Redd Evans, “Hot Sweet Potato” (vcl).  New York, August 11, 1939.
25189-1 Milenberg joys (re vcl) Voc 5173
25190-1 In the baggage coach ahead (re vcl) –
25191-1,2 Am I blue ? (re,hsp vcl) (unissued)
25192-1,2 When it’s springtime in the Rockies (hsp vcl) –

and a less unusual composition:

Are these six sides imperishable jazz classics? Perhaps not. But Teddy’s work is stunning — a magical combination of ease and intensity. As always.

Thank you, Mister Wilson, for all you gave us and continue to give us.

May your happiness increase!

THEY’RE BACK!

This is AN EVENT.

I’ve been a fan of Vince and the Nighthawks for twenty years or more, and they are unique at what they do. And now, a weekly gig again!

Almost all of the shows are sold out, but tickets are still available for December 13 and January 3. The Birdland Theater is a compact space, so I suggest you get tickets without delay. Visit BirdlandJazz.com . . . .

You’ll notice that I don’t offer video evidence, although I often brought my camera to the Nighthawks’ gigs. They are too large, too splendid for a camera of my sort — and Birdland does not allow video-ing, so they have to be caught live, hot, in person. If you know them, you know, and if you don’t know, come and be uplifted.

See you there, I hope.

May your happiness increase!

INDIGO HUES: DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG at the REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, CARL SONNY LEYLAND, KATIE CAVERA, JOSH COLLAZO (September 29, 2022)

Dave Stuckey is a beacon of swing and fun, presenting both while compromising neither. He lives the double truth, that jazz can be hilarious without being childish, and that entertainment can be high-level art, simultaneously satisfying. Before the band comes in, he’s set a danceable groove, and even people like myself, who leave their seats only when the set is over, feel it. Although Google Maps will tell you something else, Dave and the Hot House Gang are firmly situated at the intersection of Cindy Walker Drive and Fats Waller Terrace, which is to say the mid-Thirties meadow where sad songs were swung so hard that we couldn’t remember how sad they actually were. And he feels the music: no postmodern irony for this fellow.

Here’s a little Blue Suite, performed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on September 29, 2022, with the best cast of characters: Dave, guitar, vocal, and inspirations; Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.

First, Fats’ BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU, which (as its lyrics would suggest) is usually slow, verging on the melodramatic (or in the case of Fifties’ Louis, the operatic). But Fats and his Rhythm made a 12″ 78 of this tune for Victor in 1937, completely instrumental and at a faster tempo. Dave sings it but also nudges it along into late-Thirties swing dance tempo:

then, almost without a break, into BLUE DRAG, which many know from early Django:

But no one in the audience felt blue. That’s what Dave does. What a spirit, and what a band!

There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

THEIR “MOST ENJOYABLE GIG”: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, SHANNON WADE, DAWN GIBLIN (with thanks to Wyman Video): “CULTIVATE,” Ann Arbor, Michigan, August 25, 2016.

James Dapogny’s absence is painful to me, and I know I am not alone. The eight videos of him and the band he called PLENTY RHYTHM — thank you, Ferdinand — are joyous and poignant. I asked Laura Wyman, videographer and dear friend, to offer commentary, which she does beautifully.

James Dapogny

Laura writes:

Those Thursday nights were relaxed, fun, magical, and giddy while they lasted. It’s hard to believe a hundred people would cram into an old garage to talk, dance, drink, play, and listen to live music. Before Erin Morris moved, before Jim died, before Covid. But this life IS coming back – with most of the same players, carrying much of that music, adding new tunes, in re-opened and new venues.

Plenty Rhythm was started by Erin (on tuba, but you probably know her better as a dancer) and Jim Dapogny, about May 2016. Erin got them the weekly gig at Cultivate Coffeehouse (in Ypsilanti: Ann Arbor’s grittier, less-pretentious cousin, a few miles to the east). They dragged in Erin’s (or was it Jim’s?) upright piano, and Jim brought his music. He’d run a similar group several years earlier, and added more music to the books: 1920s-1940s standards, Dapogny originals, almost everything written in his distinctive handwriting.

The most important part: Jim said Cultivate was his most enjoyable gig – this as a “retired” professor who still had at least 2 gigs every week, and often 4 or 5. (Karoub said it was his MEG also) No setlists, no complicated choreography. Just calling tunes, setting the tempo by starting in, and playing with talented and inventive players, making things happen – and often getting fiery and/or pretty results. Regardless of money or listeners. (Though we see Jim, at times, looking out into the room with a “do you people realize what’s going on up here?!” )

(On that note, I like watching JD and MK work out stuff mid-tune, or Jim pointing to Rod or Shannon: “You’re up!”)

The group was always 4 people. After Erin moved to St Louis, Jim led the group, usually with Mike Karoub on cello, sometimes Chris Smith on trombone, or Chris Tabaczynski on sax/clar. In addition to the official 4, people always sat in – Dawn Giblin on vocals, and Chris T on reeds. It became a laboratory, where the band could try new (or new-old) tunes, in front of a noisy oblivious forgiving audience. All the players loved learning and playing together. There were always dancers in that tiny crowded space.

Cultivate paid the band $100 (a whopping $25 each!) and they divided the tip-jar. CTabs remembers Jim slipping him $5 for sitting in.

I guess that band is extinct now, though Chris S. still uses Jim’s black folders, and continues to add to the library.

I went every Thursday for a few years, but because it was so noisy, filmed only a handful of times. Jim suggested I put an Elizabethan collar around the video camera’s microphone.

I’d help Jim and Rod set up, then get a couple orders of toast (turkey/pear/honey, or PBJ), dark coffee, Chicago popcorn, beer and stout. The music ran from 7-10pm. The building was a former truck repair garage, converted into a community gathering place. The band played inside in cold weather, and outside in their beautiful flower & vegetable garden in warm and hot weather.

Plenty Rhythm stopped playing there in 2017. Cultivate didn’t survive the pandemic and is currently closed indefinitely.

Laura pointed out that the room was noisy. True. On one visit to Cultivate, in August 2016, I also shot video but the results were unusable. So these are a blessing. If you find the chatter intrusive, I understand, but I will bet that the crowd listening to Basie at the Savoy (insert your favorite band and time-travel site) was not hushed, even when Pres was soloing. Savor the music: this band will not come again.

For those making notes: the band performed twenty-five songs in three sets that night, and these are presented in performance order.

SWEET LORRAINE:

TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE:

CHEEK TO CHEEK:

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:

OH, BABY!:

IF I HAD YOU, vocal by Dawn Giblin:

MY BLUE HEAVEN:

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN:


I think you can understand why both Jim and Mike Karoub said that this was their most enjoyable gig. These sounds are precious. Bless Prof, Mike, Shannon, Rod, and Dawn — and a special bow and hug to Laura, videographer, archivist, and friend-of-the-music, without whom this gig would only be something talked about in “Wow, you should have been there!” reverent tones.

May your happiness increase!

“LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES”

My wife gave this documentary the best capsule review last night: “It made you fall in love with the guy.”

Perhaps nothing more needs to be said.

But I earnestly want to send JAZZ LIVES readers to theatres (ideally) to watch this film. In 104 minutes, it offers a compact, fast-moving portrait of a man at once complicated and plain. It offers a generous sampling of music — most of it filmed performance. But it is far more than a filmed concert. It demonstrates the joy Louis so open-handedly created while revealing the rage and sadness inseparable from it.

We see him grin, we see him hit high notes, we see him sing soulfully, but this is not the cardboard caricature, not the man-child some have attacked. There is JEEPERS CREEPERS and YOU RASCAL YOU, but there is also SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Time after time, he comes forth as the Grave Wise Elder, pained and serious, the man who kept silent, choosing rather the cause of happiness.

Louis Armstrong, 1969. Photograph by Jack Bradley. Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

The street isn’t always sunny. vividly, we see corrosive racism throughout his career, from his childhood to the 1931 Suburban Gardens; we hear Orval Faubus and hear from the reporters who caught Louis’ response to Little Rock. There is the Caucasian fan (one out of how many thousand) who tells Louis that he admires him but “doesn’t like Negroes.” We hear Louis say that his flag is a Black one, but we also hear him talk about the great honor of playing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.

And the information is stunningly first-hand: his written words and his voice — taken from the hours of private, uncensored, often scalding conversations he recorded on tape, for he was a man who knew that he would have a place “in the history books.” Sometimes his voice is world-weary, sometimes enraged, but there is no polite expurgation. The man comes through whole, a colossus of awareness and emotion.

Unlike the often hypnotic but sometimes gelatinous cinematography of Ken Burns’ JAZZ, this film is so packed with information — auditory, visual, emotional — that the screen is always busy. I have studied and idolized Louis my whole life and I was consistently surprised and elated by what was so generously offered. And the narration by rapper Nas is so emotionally right that it adds a great deal, subliminally reminding us that Louis was not always a senior citizen.

The range of the documentary is astounding. The cameo appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie are splendidly on target but we have seen those heroes before. I hoped Bobby Hackett would put in an appearance, and was thrilled that Count Basie did also.

But to hear the voices of Arche Shepp, Miles Davis, and Amiri Braka alongside Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, George James is a series of delightful shocks, showing just how many artists understood and respected Louis.

Thanks to the preeminent Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi, the film never loses its way in detail or inaccuracy. Jimi Hendrix makes a brief but telling appearance; senior eminence and friend-of-Louis Dan Morgenstern brings in James Baldwin and has some pointed comments as well. Lucille Armstrong and Lil Hardin tell hilarious loving tales. Swiss Kriss is here, the little Selmer trumpet, and so is “Mary Warner.”

I thought I might be one of the worst people to write a review of this documentary, because Louis has been a hero, an old friend, a beacon, a father-once-removed since childhood. So I braced myself for oversimplifications and inaccuracies. Given the title, I worried that the film would show Louis as undermined by racism (jazz chroniclers love tragic stories) without letting his essence blaze through. I thought it might tell the same dusty stories in order, making him mythical and distant.

I need not have worried. It is an honest thoughtful respectful work. No life so charged could be captured in under two hours, and some have written that they wanted more of X or of Y. But Louis is there for the discovery for those who want to go deeper.

I was in tears at the start, the middle, and the finish, with interludes for catching my breath and wiping my eyes.

If you know everything about Louis, this is a film not to be missed; if you know little or nothing, the same assertion holds true. If you are intrigued by film-making, by popular culture, it is also a revealing delight. It is the story of a jazz creator, a beloved entertainer, a Black man in a systematically hostile world, an American so relevant, and so much more. Louis stands tall and energized as an exceptional human being who sent love out like a clarion trumpet call to all who could hear.

May your happiness increase!

A SATURDAY NIGHT, ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AGO: JIMMIE ROWLES, BILL EVANS, ELLIS LARKINS (Carnegie Hall, July 7, 1973)

I don’t know where you were on that Saturday night at 8:30 PM. Perhaps you didn’t exist. But I was in Carnegie Hall, close to the stage, for a Newport Jazz Festival in New York concert called SO-LO PIANO.

Even then, I couldn’t bear the evanescence of the beautiful sounds I heard in person, so I had been an illicit tape-recordist, if that is the term, for two years. My methods were coarse and direct. I had an airline bag over one shoulder, my father’s gift, inside it a portable cassette recorder, a decent Shure microphone, perhaps extra batteries.

In those innocent times, I was never stopped going in to a concert hall or club, and there were no metal detectors. When I got to my seat, I positioned the bag in my lap, connected the microphone, slid it and the wire down my jacket sleeve so that the ball of the microphone was concealed in my hand. When the lights went down, I pressed RECORD, sat very still, did not speak and did not applaud. Several friends may remember my odd behavior, all in service to the art.

When I got home with my aural treasure, I transferred it to reel-to-reel tape to edit it, however crudely, and it was the way I could make the mortal, the transient, immortal — something that would never go away and could be visited any time.

What follows is precious to me — a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. And since I have yet to find a more formal source, it seems irreplaceable.

BUT, and it is a huge pause, if the listener comes to it expecting clean digital sound, they should, to quote Chaucer, turn over the leaf and choose another page. The cassette recorder had a limited range; there is a good deal of “air” in the aural ambiance, and the undercurrent of some 3600 people inhaling, exhaling, gently shifting in their seats. The good news is that the piano seems well-tuned, and the only amplification is of master of ceremonies’ Billy Taylor’s microphone. (Carnegie Hall’s sound crew had done violence to pianos in the 1972 concert series; they had learned well by July 1973.)

So, please: if your first response is, “Michael, why didn’t you learn how to improve the sound?” or “Send me that tape and I will fix it for you,” read Hawthorne’s THE BIRTHMARK or get up from your chair and watch the cardinals at the feeder. Or simply imagine you are hearing precious music from another room, and be grateful that it exists. End of sermon.

I offer you thirty-five minutes of joy and wisdom and splendor, captured illicitly and with love. You will notice the audience applauds when they “recognize the tune.” But there were adults in attendance, thus reverent silence during performances. I don’t hear program-rattling or coughing. Blessings on my fellow July 1973 concert-goers. AND the heroes onstage.

Jimmie Rowles: THE MAN I LOVE – BEAUTIFUL LOVE – JITTERBUG WALTZ / EMALINE / LIZA – MY BUDDY //

Bill Evans: I LOVES YOU, PORGY / HULLO BOLINAS / BUT BEAUTIFUL //

Ellis Larkins: HOW’D’JA LIKE TO LOVE ME? / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BY MYSELF //

Is it too self-absorbed of me to be happy I was there on that July evening and am still working for this music, in awe? Perhaps. But I hope you are happy that this tape was created and that it can be shared.

May your happiness increase!

DAVE STUCKEY and THE HOT HOUSE GANG PREACH A MELLOW SERMON AGAINST HYPOCRISIES (Redwood Coast Music Festival, September 30, 2022)

Try to behave better, will you?

WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH has a strong pedigree: recordings by Henry “Red” Allen, the Boswell Sisters, Adrian’s Ramblers, 1934 dance bands, and more. (There are two delightfully odd versions on YouTube — a 1935 duet on film by vaudevillians Blossom Seeley and Benny Davis, and a nearly surrealistic piano / vocal explosion by Speckled Red . . . for you to investigate as you might.)

I suspect that the gentleman in the drawing is “all alone by the telephone,” waiting for the call, promised, that hasn’t arrived.

And for those who want to learn the verse or see the original chords, here is a sample of what people in 1934 would have to practice:

I am certain that the stern patriarch of American popular song, Alec Wilder, would have furrowed his brow over this one: its limited melody, relying on simple patterns and repeated notes (a particular Wilder irritation), and its conversational lyrics with perhaps predictable rhymes. But one could say some of the same things about a number of Berlin songs, and PREACH sticks in the mind. Is it because it is singable? Or is the easy colloquial nature of the lyrics part of the charm — one can imagine a writer in the Brill Building saying in a cranky voice, “For God’s sake, Harry, why don’t you practice what you preach?” and Harry, as they did in films, pushing his fedora back from his forehead and saying, “Say that again. We got a song there!”

But I think the appeal of the song is its light-hearted but serious approach to a universal situation. Who among us has been promised something — and I don’t mean thin-crust pizza, but fidelity, devotion, monogamy — to find that the verbal promise was not matched by behavior. This isn’t a “You lied to me and now it’s all over” aria, but it is, “Why don’t you cut out what you’re doing and be straight with me?” which is all too often the song in our heads.

This performance comes from the second set the OAO and I enjoyed at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: Dave Stuckey, guitar, voice, and focused enthusiasm, led his Hot House Gang: Marc Caparone, cornet; Nate Ketner, tenor saxophone; Carl Sonny Leyland, keyboard, Katie Cavera, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums, with the very special guest Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor saxophone. I have heard Dave perform this song before, so I was ready for joy, and I was entranced by the “right” tempo, the glee club effects, the general we’re-rockin’-this-town spirit, all the way to the vocal triple ending. I loved it in the moment and I love it now. I hope you dig it too:

So swing out. But heed the sermon of Deacon Stuckey. Get yourself together. It’s easier to tell the truth. Collect friends, not enemies. And don’t let your mouth write checks your tail feathers can’t cash. Amen, brothers and sisters.

See you at the 2023 Redwood Coast Music Festival . . . even if you bring all your sins with you in checked luggage.

May your happiness increase!

ALICE SPENCER SINGS AND WE ARE GLAD (with Hal Smith, Kris Tokarski, James Singleton, Marc Caparone)

Cover art by Sarah Greene Reed

I am delighted to report that the wonderful singer Alice Spencer has just issued her first solo session — on Hal Smith’s TUXEDO CAT label — called SING IT WAY DOWN LOW. She has the eminently groovy support of Marc Caparone, cornet; Kris Tokarski, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And you can purchase the download and hear samples here. I’m a fan — no, more a devotee — and here are my notes to the session:

I remember very clearly the first time I heard Alice Spencer (on disc: I haven’t had the pleasure of encountering her in person).  My reaction was loud pleased astonishment, and the expurgated version would read: “Who in the sacred name of Jack Kapp is she?”   

“Jazz singers” proliferate these days, but some seem to have given more thought to their hair stylist or their cover photograph than to the music.  Alice’s love for this music and this period bubbles up on every track.

For me the great singer-virtues are a deep understanding of the emotional content of the lyrics — without jokes on one hand or melodrama on the other.  An unforced swing, a willingness to improvise without undermining melody or lyrics, plain-spoken diction, and, perhaps most importantly, the ability to convey joy.  

We gravitate to music that doesn’t hurt our feelings, or our ears.  Alice understands that as well as embodying it.  

This disc reminds me, perhaps at an unusual angle, of the miracles Basie and friends created, imbuing the saddest song (hear DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND) with a wink at the listener (“Isn’t it fun to swing along so gloomily?”) or reminding us that there is a touch of melancholy in any elation.  

I’d direct you first to I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW, one of the gorgeous Thirties songs (linked to Fats and Louis, one of the ideal combinations of Western civilization) that are the gems in the constellation of this disc.  What I hear, and I hope you do also, is a rare combination of emotional intelligence — Alice knows how to feel, how to tell a story in song — and light-heartedness.  

Her art is both delicate and sincere.  She doesn’t have to take off her shoe and hit us over the head, but we know the tale of hope, longing, and ardor the song, and she, convey.  And the subtly memorable variations on the theme between her first and second choruses are a Jazz Studies program in themselves.  No, better.

It’s also clear that although this might not be Alice’s conventional repertoire (the wonderful program is inspired by the deep listening of Hal Smith, scholar and swing percussionist) that she is being herself on every performance.  Yes, I hear echoes of young Ella and of Helen Humes and Connee, but Alice has not spent her evenings mimicking them.  What Louis called TONATION and PHRASING are all hers, and they touch our hearts in each phrase. Hear her “I need you!” in BABY, WHERE CAN YOU BE?  The way she handles the verse to SUNDAY, rising to pure pleasure at the end.  Wow is what I say.  The wistful tenderness of THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION and HOW CAN I?  The “It’s my birthday today!” delight of I’M HAVING MY FUN.  To paraphrase Whitney Balliett, Alice is a great actress who doesn’t need a script.

The same mastery comes through in the instrumentalists who join Alice on her musical journeys.  No one needs multiple choruses to tell their tale.  Perhaps you’ll hear echoes of the great Holiday-Wilson sessions, of Bing, Jack, Louis: I could call the names of the Heroic Ancestors who have informed the music of honored individualists Marc, Kris, James, and Hal, but I’ll leave that to you — what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like.”  A lifetime research project with a lifetime of rewards.        

If these notes go on too long, I might get in the way of your absorbing the delights captured here, not once but many times.  In an extended California sojourn, I learned about “sound healing,” how the right vibrations could put a psychically lopsided being into happy balance.  I think that Doctor Spencer and her practitioners have just the remedy for what ails us, and I hope the prescription is renewable for many more sessions.      

I confess that I held myself back in writing the words above, for fear of hyperbole, but I think this session is a triumph — aesthetically and emotionally — and I hope enough of us agree so that there are more sessions to come. I didn’t list the songs, but here they are: WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET / I JUST COULDN’T TAKE IT, BABY / BELIEVE IT, BELOVED / I HATE TO LEAVE YOU NOW / BLUE RIVER / BABY, OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SUNDAY / HOW CAN I (With You in My Heart)? / SING IT WAY DOWN LOW / THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION / I’M HAVING MY FUN / SAY IT SIMPLE / DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.

The digital download costs very little, and it is your introduction to Alice Spencer and the swinging affection she inspires among these fine musicians. You will arise from listening feeling gratified. Again, here is the link.

And for those who, like me, are utterly captivated, here’s more evidence, Alice with Hal and Kris, Clint Baker, Sam Rocha, Bill Reinhart, Loren Schoenberg:

and one more, with Nick Rossi on guitar:

May your happiness increase!

THE SOUNDS WE HEARD LAST WEEKEND

. . . we’ll remember all winter long. No videos yet, just some words. Oh, and a portrait.

Twerk Thomson and Jonathan Doyle.

Thursday night, two sets in a row by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang, which began with Dave (vocal, guitar, ebullience) and Marc Caparone, Nate Ketner, Carl Sonny Leyland, Katie Cavera, Josh Collazo — featuring memorable Thirties classics such as GOT A BRAN’ NEW SUIT — and then adding Jonathan Doyle for a set that offered a choral vocal on WHY DON’T YOU PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH? — a song whose rendition led many in the audience to closely consider their past hypocrisies.

Friday, after brief subversive explorations of Willard Robison and others by Jacob Zimmerman at the piano, we had Marc Caparone and his Back O’Town All-Stars, the band honoring Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars even though the sign said “Back O’Day.” They were Marc, Jacob, Charlie Halloran, Dan Walton, Jamey Cummins, Steve Pikal, and Josh, with vocals by Marc and Dawn. The set started explosively with MAHOGANY HALL STOMP and ended with STEAK FACE, and Eureka, California, will never be the same. But in a nice way. Or maybe a Nice 1948 way.

Next, Joel Paterson, Jonathan Doyle, Carl Sonny Leyland, Beau Sample, and Alex Hall got dangerously groovy with compositions by Illinois Jacquet, Freddie King, Bill Jennings, and others. A Chicago club circa 1955, right in front of us.

The Back O’Town All-Stars returned, but with the cosmic gift of Duke Robillard. They began with JUMPIN’ THE BLUES and the set only paused its jumping for a tenderly lyrical PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, sung as if shiny and new, by Dawn Lambeth.

Saturday began with Hal Smith’s Mortonia Seven, with Kris Tokarski, John Gill, Sam Rocha, Dave Kosmyna, T.J. Muller (on trombone), and Dave Bennett: a set notable for energized renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and PANAMA, but also BLUE BLOOD BLUES, MAMIE’S BLUES, and a positively vivid rendition of BALLIN’ THE JACK, sung and nearly-demonstrated by Dave, who told me he was playing a Conn Victor cornet once owned and played by our mutual hero Jim Dapogny. Jim was surely there, “no doubt,” in spirit.

The temperature rose for Charlie and the Tropicales — that’s Charlie Halloran and his musical voyages through the Caribbean, featuring Jonathan Doyle, Nate Ketner, Kris Tokarski, Twerk Thomson, Josh Collazo, and Jamey Cummins. There was calypso — Lord Melody’s FIFTY CENTS, sung nimbly by Charlie, as well as a few waltzes, a “belly-rubber,” and some all-out romps.

Next, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, with Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, and Steve Pikal, which started with Fats Waller’s MOPPIN’ AND BOPPIN’ went SOUTH for that song and PARDON MY SOUTHERN ACCENT, and ended with the Claude Hopkins’ affirmation, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU.

T.J. Muller switched to cornet for a King Oliver tribute — hotter than a forty-five! Even though he told us he had damaged his lip being over-ambitious on trombone, it was in o way audible. Young Louis was Dave Kosmyna, and the rest of the band was Hal Smith, Clint Baker, Ryan Calloway, Kris Tokarski, John Gill, Twerk Thomson, and their opening DIPPER MOUTH BLUES pushed us back in our seats with its expert hot velocity. I wasn’t around at the Lincoln Gardens in 1923, but this band made me feel that I was.

Then, Jonathan Doyle’s “four horn set,” with a front line of Jonathan, Zimmerman, Halloran, and Kosmyna, and the rhythm of Riley Baker, Tokarski, Cummins, and Collazo. I love Jonathan’s compositions — WHAT’S THE RUMPUS?, WHO’S THAT SCRITCHIN’, YOU CAN’T TAKE THOSE KISSES WITH YOU, but he also performed Moten’s HARMONY BLUES, Clarence Williams’ CUSHION FOOT STOMP, the Ellington-small-band GOOD GAL BLUES, and closed with SIX CATS AND A PRINCE. I had the leisure to admire his arrangements, the ways horns and rhythm gently slid over one another.

Sunday began with Twerk Thomson’s DORO WAT, which was streamlined and gutty at once, with Kris Tokarski, Halloran, Doyle, and Kosmyra — no set list, just a whimsical journey through BOUNCING AROUND, DREAMING THE HOURS AWAY, PONCHARTRAIN, and the whimsically-described CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME. This set — straight out of Marvel comics — also featured an exploding bass bridge (I mean the piece of wood itself) and festival angel Mark Jansen coming to the rescue in seconds with yet another string bass. And yes, I have it all on “film.”

Then, Hal Smith’s Jazzologists, a seriously NOLA band of John Gill, Katie Cavera, T.J. Muller (back on trombone), Clint Baker, Ryan Calloway, Kris Tokarski, offering MOOSE MARCH (a favorite of bassist Mike Fay), BLACK CAT ON THE FENCE, and MY LITTLE GIRL, in honor of Esther Muller, one month old.

In between, we went to the Eagle House (I became a civilian for an hour and left my camera in its nest) to hear Dave Stuckey’s Western Swing ecstasy, which finished with SMOKE, SMOKE, SMOKE — most riotously.

And (for us) the festival closed with a gentle set by Holland-Coots, with a highlight being Dawn’s sweet POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS and a solidly romping IF DREAMS COME TRUE.

Were there other glorious sets we missed? Did I take notes? Did I video everything here except the Western Swing yee-haw? Hell yes. Or “That’s for darn sure.”

Will you get to see the videos? As many of them as the musicians say YES to. And should you come to next year’s Redwood Coast Music Festival?

Do you even have to ask?

October 5-8, 2023.

P.S. I apologize to any musician whose name I misspelled above (I am sure I did): my excuse is that yesterday’s travel day began before 7 AM in California and ended after 1 AM in New York.

May your happiness increase!

EAGERLY, WITH EXTRA BATTERIES, WE HEAD TO EUREKA (September 29 – October 2, 2022)

On Wednesday afternoon, the OAO and I will board a plane to fly to Eureka, California, for the Redwood Coast Music Festival, which will swing out from Thursday afternoon, September 29, to Sunday evening, October 2. I’ve spent the last hour (this is being written Monday night) with a green highlighter, marking off the sets I would like to attend. This creates a problem. Look at the musical landscapes:

Thursday and Friday:

Saturday:

The problem is not with the green highlighter, I assure you.

The problem is with its owner, faced with one hundred sets of live music. Plenitude like this induces a case of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that’s nearly incurable.

If I take myself, camera, notebook, and tripod to X’s set, then I have to miss Y’s. (I am not naming names for obvious reasons.) You may say that this is a serious case of first-world-jazz-entitlement, but the swing struggle is real. There are a number of instances on this schedule where three groups I would like to see are performing at separate venues simultaneously.

I know that such lavishness is reason to embrace this festival as the music-cornucopia-for-the-ages, but I have yet to find a solution short of hiring several friends and training them as associate camera-people (and don’t think I haven’t tried).

Come to the Redwood Coast Music Festival! Bring iPhones and cameras! Help me with my Festival Disorder! (And have the time of your life at the same time.)

That is all I will say. Except that if I were able to make it to a mere fifteen or eighteen sets in four days (a faint hope) I still will go home full to bursting with splendid music.

May your happiness increase!

FAREWELL, HOT MAN

I learned on August 31 that the trumpeter / guitarist / pianist Ted Butterman, much loved in the Chicago area, had died after a long illness. I am not happy when JAZZ LIVES threatens to turn into the obituary pages, but as Linda Loman says, “Attention must be paid.”

I never met Ted, but I have a network of friends who adored and admired him, so the connection, although indirect, is there. It’s also there because an early memorable record that I love is Jim Kweskin’s JUMP FOR JOY, which features him — and it is the way I met him, sonically, perhaps fifty years ago (in the company of Marty Grosz, Kim Cusack, John Frigo, Frank Chace, and Wayne Jones):

I should write first that this post would have irritated Ted immeasurably, because, as his friend Harriet Choice told me, he could not accept compliments; praise annoyed him. So I apologize to his shade, and, rather, embark in the spirit of Ted’s friends, who played YOU RASCAL YOU at his funeral . . . followed eventually by SAINTS, which would have irked him even more — bringing wry levity to a sad time.

And here’s Ted before he came to Chicago, playing hot in San Francisco in 1958:

NASA tells me that the overall temperature of the galaxy drops whenever a hot player moves on: it’s no accident that I had to put on a jacket this morning before sitting down at the computer. (That pale joke is in Ted’s honor: Bess Wade told me he was comical by nature, with a big laugh.)

Some tales, then more music.

Tom Bartlett: He was quite a character and, of course, an excellent musician. Kim Cusack has often said that Ted was the best real musician he ever played with.

My story to share: While playing with the Cubs Band at Wrigley Field, whenever Ted spotted a TV cameraman sneaking up on the band to get a sound bite and often shoving the camera up to Ted’s trumpet bell, Ted always yelled “Rapscallian”. We immediately launched into I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You. That means that every sound bite on all TV stations in Chicago had the same piece of this tune. That was just one of Ted’s private little jokes, Our little trio HAD to play that tune at his gravesite yesterday in his memory.

Rapscallian? Ted enjoyed a play on words.

Although Ted never lost the innate heat of his playing, later in life he could be so mellow, remembering the Teddy Wilson – Billie Holiday classics of the Thirties. Here’s MISS BROWN TO YOU from a 1980 gig:

That middle-register ease makes me think of Buck Clayton, one of Ted’s heroes, and a story about fashion that Harriet Choice told me: One night Ted was playing at the Gate of Horn, and Buck Clayton walked in, horn in hand, and sat in. Ted noticed that Buck, always an elegant dresser, had a particularly lovely shirt with an unusual collar. After the gig, they went back to Ted’s apartment to swap stories, and Ted complimented Buck on the shirt, and asked him where it had come from. Buck simply removed the shirt, gave it to Ted as a token of esteem, and when the evening was over, Buck walked back to his hotel in his undershirt. Hearing this story some time later, Harriet asked Ted to put the shirt on so she could see it, and Ted flatly refused. “Oh no,” he said, “It’s sacred.”

Russ Phillips simply told me, Ted was so unlike anyone I’ve ever known and played with.

And Kim Cusack reiterated, Ted always played and sounded great, no matter the situation and/or band.  I was awed by his playing the first I got a chance to play with him in the late ’50s and he kept me awed in all the variety of bands I got a chance to play in with him.  Everything he played was exactly what it should have been. 

Here is a long interlude of Ted at work — with Kim, Frank Chace, Bob Sundstrom, Wayne Jones, John Deffauw, Ransom Knowling, Art Gronwall, and others — a 1961 gig tape, nearly two hours’ of on-the-job easy heat, given to me by Wayne. (Full disclosure: Kim told me that he didn’t think this was an outstanding example of Ted, but my feeling is that it is quite spectacular, and I can only imagine the music Kim heard that put this in the shade.)

A quirky energy ran through Ted’s playing — he was deep in the idiom but a listener can’t predict the next phrase — and that same quirky energy seems to have animated his approach to life. Harriet told me that once Ted said, “I think I’ll call Hoagy,” found our hero’s phone number in some way, called him, and they spent an hour talking about music. (Although music wasn’t his sole passion: he was an expert builder of model airplanes and loved electric trains.)

His hero was Louis, she said, which you can hear. Ted led the Cubs band at Wrigley Field for more than thirty-five years, and his was the first “five o’clock band” at Andy’s jazz club. He loved good ballads, and Harriet remembers his rendition of CABIN IN THE PINES with tears. They exchanged emails about records to take to that imagined desert island.

More music, if you please. Ted doesn’t come in until the second half, but his beautiful melodic lead and coda are precious:

I am aware that this is quite an inadequate survey of a singular person and musician. For more music, there is Ted’s own YouTube channel, quietly waiting to be marveled at, and Dave Radlauer’s treasure trove of rare live recordings, here.

For the totality, I think we’d have to gather Ted’s friends and let them share their own tales, “Remember the time when Ted . . . ?” or “Ted always used to . . . . ” I know I have provided only the most meager sample. Readers who knew him or have stories are invited to chime in.

And I’ll close with this recording. “Lucky” is not the way I feel writing another jazz obituary, but we are lucky that Ted shone his light so beautifully for us in so many ways:

May your happiness increase!