Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

CLESS IS ALWAYS MORE

Clarinetist Rod Cless, one of my heroes, died far too young.  To most people, his is an unfamiliar name, encountered — if at all — in liner notes or on the label of a few 78s.  But he had a beautiful bright tone and was a delightfully satisfying ensemble player.  As a soloist, he had some of the surprise of Pee Wee Russell but his energies were more often quietly subversive: a Cless chorus sounded sometimes like an easy melodic paraphrase, broken here and there by logical chord explorations — but when it was through, it stuck in the mind as a compact invention of its own.

I’ve written about Cless here (this posting has four audio samples) and here is a reminiscence by clarinetist Paul Nossiter, who actually took lessons from Cless. And my friend Jim Denham has offered his own touching assessment, the very beautiful elegy by James McGraw, and four other audio samples here.

It’s easy to feel isolated in this world, so one of the nicest parts of having this blog is that people reach out to me.  I’m in touch with a young woman whose grandfather dated Billie Holiday, and I hope to have more of that story for you in the future.  And another benevolent reader — Nick, from the UK — found me and offered his own comprehensive audio collection — downloadable files — of everything Rod Cless recorded.  These links, he mentions, may be taken down soon if not used — so let that be an encouragement to you to immerse yourself in Cless, and to have another spirit-friend in music lift up your days and nights.  (If you encounter problems with the links, he bravely suggests that he can be reached at nddoctorjazz@googlemail.com.)

Here is what Nick sent to me.  I think it’s a generous gift.

“Many years ago I gave a record recital to my local society on Joe Marsala. At that time I thought that I should do the same for another clarinet player, Rod Cless, but was surprised to find how little of his music was in my collection apart from the Muggsy Spanier Ragtime Band sessions. I wrote to my old band leader, an excellent amateur clarinettist, for help and he also had very few recordings by him! Many of the original records had not been reissued in Europe. I abandoned the idea and kept my eyes open for likely discs on second-hand record lists. By last August I had enough to give the recital.

I then decided to collect his entire oeuvre together using Tom Lord’s Discography as my source. The music has never been published in this way before. On a couple of the early sessions, he does not solo and may not be present but all is included. I had to use the internet for a few tracks to fill gaps. For instance, I have a Doctor Jazz LP (Signature 78s material) with the Yank Lawson Band but it omitsWhen I grow Too Old To Dream for no obvious reason as It is a good track. I found this on a blog, Jazz Rhythm, <http://jazzhotbigstep.com/24264.html > from a radio program on James P Johnson with guest commentator Mark Borowsky. Other material has poorish sound. Even some commercial CD reproduction is substandard, i.e.: Art Hodes Columbia Quintet. I don’t think that the originals could be improved!

Having got this material together, it seemed a shame not to share it. Apologies for the variable sound and file formats.

It has all been uploaded to Zippyshare which is a no frills site, which restricts file size to 200 MB:

Rod Cless – 1 ~ Early Years & Discography.rar (Size: 98.73 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/sgGS4s3f/file.html

Hodes-1940 Groups.rar (Size: 190.05 MB)

http://www17.zippyshare.com/v/mZ2Jth9r/file.html

Hodes-1942 Groups.rar (Size: 71.1 MB)

http://www8.zippyshare.com/v/BBKxGbKi/file.html

Hodes Chicagoans-1944.rar (Size: 164.21 MB)

http://www1.zippyshare.com/v/2JPVJGQW/file.html

Rod Cless – Small Groups (1943-1944).rar (Size: 149.38 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/A3rvXrQH/file.html

KAMINSKY-1944.rar (184.8 MB)

http://www35.zippyshare.com/v/PbMmXfd3/file.html

The Spanier sessions are not included as I expect most people have them with alternate takes.”

May your happiness increase!

ON MATTERS OF TASTE, HERSCHEL EVANS HAD DEFINITE VIEWS

HERSCHEL FREDDIE 1937

A newly discovered photograph, circa 1937, of Freddie Green and Herschel Evans, thanks to Christopher Tyle from here.

Herschel “Tex” Evans, born in Denton, Texas, did not live to see his thirtieth birthday.  We are fortunate that he was a member of the very popular Count Basie band of 1937-39, thus there are Decca studio recordings and airshots, and that John Hammond set up many small-band record dates for Basie sidemen.  One can easily hear Herschel’s features with the band — BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and DOGGIN’ AROUND — but some of the small-group recordings are not as often heard.  A sample below.

Here he is with a Harry James small group (among others, Vernon Brown, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones) for ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:

Mildred Bailey with Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, Jimmy Sherman, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, IF YOU EVER SHOULD LEAVE:

from the same session, IT’S THE NATURAL THING TO DO:

And HEAVEN HELP THIS HEART OF MINE:

from a Harry James date, I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? with a sweet vocal by Helen Humes:

Herschel has been overshadowed by Lester Young, and has been seen by many as the artistically conservative foil to Lester’s amazing inventions — but one hears in Herschel something lasting, a deep, leisurely, soulful romanticism.  In sixteen bars at a slow or medium tempo, he emerges as a leisurely explorer of sound and timbre, a man sending romantic love through his tenor saxophone. Listening to Herschel is rather like having a big woolly coat thrown around one’s shoulders on a cold night, his sound is so embracing and so warm.

So we might encapsulate Herschel as a young man who died far too soon and as a great Romantic.

But he was also remembered by his colleagues as a serious discerning person, someone with strong opinions and positions, fiercely defended positions.  The excerpts below come from the delightful book BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD (Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 111, 108):

Herschel Evans was one of the neatest dressers I had ever known and would always take some time to dress. Tex was so immaculate that he wouldn’t go out of his room until everything, and I mean everything, was just right.  He looked more like a very handsome schoolteacher or a lawyer than a jazz musician.  He was very popular with the ladies and didn’t either smoke or drink.  I should say that he was popular with most ladies, because I can’t say that Billie  Holiday was in the same category. From the very first time they laid eyes on each other there was a deep dislike for each other. Neither had done anything to the other, they just couldn’t stand each other and that was the only reason. Sometimes, when Herschel wouldn’t even be aware of Billie looking at him, she would say, “Look at that MF, I can’t stand him.  Look at him, standing back on his legs and sucking his teeth.  He thinks he’s cute.”  And Herschel would do the same thing when Billie wasn’t looking.  He’d say, “Look at that old bitch.  Who the hell does she think she is?” In other words they got along like a cat and a dog, natural enemies if there ever were any (111).

. . . shortly after Basie had arrived in New York and we didn’t know anybody, we were invited by John Hammond to attend a big jam session where Chick Webb was going to play.  Duke Ellington was going to be there with his band, Eddie Condon was going to be there with all his dixieland guys and a lot of other musicians who lived in New York.  Basie accepted the invitation and we all went to this big bash downtown somewhere in New York on the 16th floor.  I don’t remember the address nor the building but there were many, many people there to dig these three big bands and all the other cats.  It was there that I first saw Stanley Dance, who had just been in New York a short while from England; he hadn’t yet married Helen Oakley, who was then very prominent in jazz circles. We arrived at the building where the jam session was being held and went downstairs to listen to whoever was playing at the time and before we were to play.  I think Duke was playing.

After digging the Duke for a few minutes I noticed that I had forgotten my little bottle of trumpet-valve oil which I needed, so I went back to the dressing room to get it.  While I was looking for it in my trumpet case Herschel Evans came in and there were only the two of us in the room.  I don’t know why he came in but a few minutes later, after we had talked about the  guys jamming downstairs, he noticed Walter Page’s sousaphone mouthpiece laying on a table, where I guess Page had left it before he went downstairs.  “Well look here,” said Herschel when he saw Page’s piece, “I won’t be hearing that damned sousaphone anymore.” Herschel hated it when Page would play the sousaphone sometimes in our arrangements.  So he goes over to the table, picked up Page’s mouthpiece, went over to the window and threw it out.  Out the window from sixteen stories up.  Then he looked at me and said, “Don’t tell anybody.”

I said, “Hell, it’s none of my business.  Why should I say anything about it?” Then he went to where Freddie Green’s pork-pie hat was hanging along with Freddie’s coat.  He walked over to the window again and threw it out of the window too.  Then he went back downstairs to the big session.  When it was all over and we went upstairs to put our instruments away Page was fuming about not finding his mouthpiece and Freddie couldn’t find his pork-pie hat. Herschel hated pork-pie hats too.  So they both just had to come back to the hotel without the mouthpiece and the hat.  I don’t think they ever knew what happened.  I know I never told them. Herschel just went in and acted like he didn’t know from nothing (108).

Exhibit A:

sousaphone mouthpiece

and Exhibit B (although the more characteristic hat seems to have been black):

 

porkpie hat

Now, this narrative is not to be construed as JAZZ LIVES’ endorsement of such capricious behavior.  Theft of property is a serious offense.  However, there were no police reports of any innocent passers-by below suffering a concussion because of a sousaphone mouthpiece dropped from sixteen floors up (perhaps a calculation for a swing Galileo?) and perhaps someone with less exalted fashion standards than Herschel’s took the pork-pie hat as a stylish gift from Heaven.

Some may see Herschel’s behavior as deplorable, and I wonder what would have happened had he time-travelled to my apartment and opened my clothes closet: what would have remained on my return?  (I don’t have any pork-pie hats, but I surmise there is a goodly assortment that would offend his sensibilities.)

However, Freddie Green kept the Basie band afloat long after this mysterious incident, and if he felt a deep wound he never told anyone.  (There is a new biography of him coming out soon; I will immediately check to see “Evans, Herschel,” in the index.)

And think — if you can — of the Basie rhythm section anchored not by string bass but by sousaphone.  The mind reels.

I like people who not only state their principles but who put them into action.  So I miss Herschel Evans, singular musician and man of definite tastes.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, DAVE GELLY!

JAZZ JOURNAL Feb

My dear friend Patti Durham* sent me a copy of two pages from the February issue of JAZZ JOURNAL  — Dave Gelly’s monthly column, “On The Other Hand,” which would have been fine reading matter any time.  I didn’t expect this bouquet, which I reprint with deep gratitude:

Swing You Cats!

Looking out for the reviews, after publishing a book or having a record released, was always a moderately nail-biting business, but at least one knew more or less where to look.  Nowadays, with websites, blogs and so forth, comment comes whizzing in from all directions and without watchful friends to tip you the wink you might miss it altogether.  One such friend of mine is Peter Vacher, who fielded a substantial review of my recent book, An Unholy Row, from a more than substantial website called Jazz Lives (“lives” being used as both noun and verb).

It is the work of Michael Steinman, who is Professor of English at Nassau Community College, Garden City, NY, although how he contrives to make time for that I can’t imagine.  Not only does his website carry reviews and opinion pieces, it comes up with an endless stream of live video recordings from clubs, parties, festivals etc. uploaded every day or so.  There are now around four thousand in his archive.  I have only been able to view a small sample of them, but they’re technically OK and most of them are musically excellent.  They also reflect the tastes of the author/editor/producer himself, which are well summed up in his list of heroes — among them Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young…  You get the picture.  Furthermore, they reveal a whole world of small-scale, local activity in the swing-mainstream style whose existence you would never suspect from reading the usual magazines.

There is an atmosphere about Jazz Lives, a literate, clubbable air of genuine dedication.  Each posting signs off with the motto: “May your happiness increase.” Mine certainly did when I read Michael Steinman’s glowing review of my book, which proves he’s the right man for the job! Not only that, he also sent for a copy of my previous one, Being Prez, thereby setting a good example for one and all.

Give the site a try: jazzlives.wordpress.com or email Michael at swingyoucats@gmail.com for more information.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To say I am delighted would be inadequate: not only because of the praise, not only for possibly bringing this site to more people who would enjoy it, but because honest gratitude, publicly expressed, is not always easy to find. Blessings on Dave, and Patti, too.

Three postscripts: *Patti doesn’t play an instrument but she certainly does heroic work for those who do and those who appreciate: she is the kind motivator behind the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party after Mike’s death (it’s now the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party). I’ll be there in November, grinning.

And — being a speaker of American English even though I’ve read British and Irish authors all my life — I thought it would be best to look up “clubbable,” even though I thought I sensed its meaning.  JAZZ LIVES can’t frequent coffeehouses, even though I am drinking that beverage as I write (the first citation seems to have been Boswell’s 1783 description of Dr. Johnson), but I translate “suitable for membership of a club because of one’s sociability or popularity” into “welcoming” and hope that the idea transfers undamaged across the Atlantic.

If you are swept away by Dave’s praise and would like to meet the phenomenon who does my laundry, types at my computer, and holds the camera — you’d have to be close to New York City on February 24 — here are the details.

And with even more heartfelt enthusiasm, I write:

May your happiness increase!

“RHYTHMOODS,” 1940

Browsing in my favorite antiquarian second-hand store, eBay, I encountered a 1940 music folio that I’d never seen.  Now, I know that the music in these books is often suspect: “compositions” by a famous artist that (s)he had only a tenuous link to, solos created over songs owned by the publisher of the folio, and so on. Of course, anything connected to Irving Mills is a touch more suspect . . . but here’s the cover:

DUKE Rhythmoods frontWithout being a deep Ellington scholar, I recognized those titles: aside from SOPHISTICATED LADY and CARAVAN, which date from the start and end of the Thirties, the rest come from the Twenties.  But what of RUB-A-TUB-LUES? Did Ellington whistle a blues line to Mills while he (Duke) was bathing?  It’s a mystery. Here’s the first page of the folio, to substantiate even more solidly:

DUKE Rhythmoods inside

It’s perplexing . . . can any Ellington scholars ride to the rescue?

Were I even an amateurish pianist, I would purchase the book (several copies are for sale on eBay) in hope of solving the mystery myself.  But I have to be realistic.

May your happiness increase!

TOMORROW NIGHT: “LET ME OFF UPTOWN”: A LISTENING SESSION on FEBRUARY 24, 2015

I don’t usually see JAZZ LIVES as a place to promote myself, but I hope you’ll forgive me if I invite you to a Listening Session, a Musical Interlude, a Platter Party — whatever term you like — on Tuesday, February 24, 2015, from 7-8:30 PM.

Here’s the location — a place that should be both well-known and loved:

NJMH banner

er tA

I look forward to meeting old friends and making new ones. Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for offering me this opportunity.  And if you want to join the party via Facebook, just click here.

May your happiness increase!May your happiness increase!

 

HIS HOBBIES ARE SWIMMING AND READING

Circa 1936-7, and indicative of his essential humility.  Gene Krupa to an aspiring journalist (a letter now available on eBay):

GENE KRUPA letter

 

May your happiness increase!

THE NIGHT BEFORE BOPMAS, by George Wettling

George Wettling, painter, c. 1948, by William Gottlieb

George Wettling, painter, c. 1948, by William Gottlieb

“Christmas greetings from Mr. and Mrs. George Wettling, via the December 1952 issue of PARK EAST, The Magazine of New York*.”

THE NIGHT BEFORE BOPMAS

It was originally called “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and the illustrations here reproduced from the first edition show its vintage. This irreverent version for hipsters is recommended only for those who know and hold dear the earlier classic.

‘Twas the dim before Bopmas when all through the trap,

Not a goatee was moving — and who gave a rap?

The berets were hung by the jukebox with care

In big hopes that Daddy-O soon would be there.

The boppers were stashed real cool in their pads,

‘Cause Frustration and Frenzy didn’t bother those lads.

My queen in her scanties and I in my robe,

Had just fixed our wigs for a long winter’s load,

When out in the backyard I heard such a rumpus,

I thought all the saints had marched down to stump us.

Away for my horn-rims I flew like a jet

And latched on real crazy, like Macbeth at the Met.

When I dug that sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,

I thought I had flipped drinking whisky and beer.

With a little old hipster so jivey and mellow,

I knew in a minute it wasn’t Longfellow.

His eight tiny coursers were really insane,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name.

Blow Jackson, blow Yardbird,

Blow Basie and Hackett,

Go Louie, Go Dizzy,

Go Big T and Jacquet.

Just blow up a storm — get all over the scale,

Now, blow away, blow away, really sway wail.

As long hairs that sight-read a Bartok will fly

When they meet Stravinsky, rise to the sky.

So up to the fil-mill the Hipsters they flew,

And really got righteous — and Daddy-O, too.

And then they were jiving and mellow and fine,

And snapping their caps on King Kong and wine.

As I drew in my fuse box and was turning around,

Down the chimney old Daddy-O went with a bound.

He looked like a mess from his head to his feet,

His drapes were all crummy, his toupee was beat.

A bundle he had to beat off his fears,

And he looked like a peddler just getting ten years.

His eyes, how they lit up — his dimples so crazy,

His cheeks like Four Roses,

His nose was a daisy

His dry little mouth was drawn up like a prune,

And the beard on his chin hummed a flatted-fifth tune.

The butt of a stogie held tight in his choppers,

And the smoke would have knocked over six dozen boppers.

He had a round face that was covered with hair,

And he really came on like a square at the fair.

He was big, round, and fat,

A right frantic old cat,

And I laughed like a fool as he stood on the mat.

He spoke not a word, he didn’t say nuttin’,

And I thought for a minute he’d sure lost his button.

And laying his index aside of his smeller,

And giving a nod, went down to the cellar.

He dug up his horn, to his boys gave a cue,

And away they all blew up the flew to see you.

But I heard him exclaim as he hit early bright,

Boppy Xmas to all, and to all a good nite.

 * A word or two about “provenance.”  I never knew the exquisite George Wettling to write poetry, but he did paint, so I am comfortable in assuming his talents did not stop with drumstick or paintbrush.  I found this poem or parody stretching over two pages with the requisite antiquarian Christmas drawings pasted into drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook. I thought it a peerless piece of Americana and wanted to share it with JAZZ LIVES readers on Christmas Eve. Recently, however, I learned that it was also printed in the January 1957 issue of NUGGET, an early “men’s magazine,” so it is possible Mr. Wettling knew full well the axiom I heard in graduate school, “Waste nothing.”  I can’t quite tell — at this distance — how much of this is affectionate spoof or barbed satire.  Jazz scholars now often say that the war between the “Dixielanders” and the “beboppers” was created and fomented by journalists and publicists eager for copy, and we know that (let us say) that Louis and Dizzy and Jimmy McPartland were friends for years.  Yet I also recall Lee Konitz saying on a radio interview that he found Louis’s BOPPENPOOF SONG so offensive that he couldn’t listen to Louis for years.  I wonder whether George Wettling had become tired of being called “old-fashioned” and “corny” when his playing was neither.  Musicians who lose work because they are told they are out of fashion might see mockery as fit revenge.  Ultimately, all we can do is wish each other “Boppy Xmas,” no matter what musical variety we celebrate.  And I send those wishes to anyone reading these words.

May your happiness increase!