Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

FOUR DAYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 24-27, 2016)

san-diego-jazz-fest-stock-photo

THINGS I LEARNED (OR RE-LEARNED) AT THE 2016 SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST:

1. Never set up a travel schedule that gets you home (after a long weekend of life-changing music) at 5:20 AM Monday.  Not “sleeping” on a plane is worth a higher fare.

2. Music is best experienced in the company of friends — those on the bandstand, those in the audience.  The former, a partial list: Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Ray Skjelbred, Conal Fowkes, Kris Tokarski, Clint Baker, John Gill, Duke Heitger, Jeff Hamilton, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Dan Barrett, Tom Bartlett, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Katie Cavera, Josh Duffee, Andy Schumm, John Otto, Dave Stuckey, Dan Barrett, Larry Scala, David Boeddinghaus, Nobu Ozaki, Virginia Tichenor, Marty Eggers, Mike Davis.

Off the stand: John Ochs, Pamela Ochs, Donna Feoranzo, Allene Harding, Rae Ann Berry, Barbara L. Sully, Judith Navoy, Mary (“The Ambassador of Fun”) and her twin, Chris and Chris, Paul Daspit, Jim and Mary McNaughton, Gretchen Haugen, Patti Durham, Angelica, Carol Andersen, Bess Wade, Cat and Scotty Doggett, Ed Adams.

Much-missed and I await their return: Hal Smith, Janie McCue Lynch, Donna Courtney, Mary Cross.

I know those lists are incomplete, and I apologize to any reader I’ve accidentally omitted.

3. This festival is delightfully overwhelming.  At any given time, music was happening in seven rooms simultaneously.  There was a Wednesday night session, a Thursday night session, full days on Friday and Saturday (with approximately seventy offerings of music, most an hour long) and a full afternoon on Monday.  By six PM on Monday, I was full and sloshing.

4. I am a man of narrow, precisely defined “tastes.”  I didn’t grow up sitting in Turk Murphy’s lap — now there’s a picture! — I began my listening education with Forties and Fifties Louis, so I need lyricism and melody the way plants need sun and air.

Many of the bands so dear to my California friends strike me as perhaps over-exuberant.  And when a fellow listener, politely curious, asked me “When did you get into trad?” I had to consider that question for a moment before saying, “I didn’t start listening to ‘trad’ . . . ”  As I get older, I find my compass needle points much more to subtle, quiet, sweet, witty, delicate — rather than the Dixie-Apocalypse.  Each to his or her own, though.

5. Videos: I videoed approximately eighteen sets, and came home with perhaps ten times that number of individual videos.  They won’t all surface; the musicians have to approve.  And I probably didn’t video your favorite band, The New Orleans Pop Tarts.  Rather than mumble about the unfairness of it all, come to next year’s Fest and live in reality rather than virtually!  Or buy an RV and a good camera so that you can become an official NOPT groupie-roadie-archivist.

6.  For the first time in my life I helped sponsor a group.  It was extremely rewarding to think that I had helped some music to be heard in public that otherwise would not have.  I’ve offered to do it again for 2017.  And, not incidentally, sponsors get to sit in the very front row, a great boon for people like me who want to capture the music to share with you.  Videographers like myself want to be made welcome.

7.  Moral tradeoffs are always possible and sometimes happily inevitable.  At the San Diego Jazz Fest, one can share a large platter of tempura-batter-fried pickle slices and fresh jalapenos . . . because one is doing so much walking that the second activity outweighs the first.  Or one tells oneself this.

8.  On a darker note, odd public behavior is more pungently evident. People who call themselves jazz fans talk through a whole set about the new puppy (and I like puppies).  Years ago I would have blamed this on television and the way viewers have been able to forget the difference between private and public behavior.  Now I simply call it self-absorption, and look for a window that I can open.

Others stand up in front of a band to take iPhone photos of the musicians, pushing their phones into the faces of people who are playing and singing. Photographers have treasured costly cameras that beep, whir, and snap — we ignore these aberrations at many events (I think some photographers are secretly excited by such things) but at musical performances these noises are distracting.

I won’t say anything about those folks who fire off flash explosions in well-lit rooms.

I cannot be the only person who thinks of creatively improvised music as holy, a phenomenon not to be soiled by oblivious behavior.  As a friend of mine says, “You’re not the only person on the planet.”

9. The previous paragraph cannot overshadow the generosity of the people who put on the Fest and the extreme generosity of those who create the music.  Bless them.  And the nice young sound people who worked hard to make music sound as it should!

It’s appropriate that the Fest takes place at Thanksgiving: I feel so much gratitude as I write these words, upload videos, and look at my notes of the performances I attended.

More — including videos! — to come.  Start planning to come to the 2017 Fest, to bring your friends, to sponsor a band.  Any or all of these activities are so much more life-enhancing than Black Friday.

May your happiness increase!

GOIN’ TO SAN DIEGO (The San Diego Jazz Fest, November 23-27, 2016)

california-here-i-come-eddie

Why, you ask?  Why would a reasonably stable person spend most of a day traveling across the country on Thursday and then do the same on Sunday night? The answer is the 37th San Diego Jazz Fest, which runs from November 23 through the 27th.  Many of my friends — musical, personal, and both! — will be there.  (Facebook page here).

Here’s a sample of what happened in November 2015:

and in 2014:

a day earlier in 2014:

and in 2013:

Optimism in 2012:

and a feature for the rhythm section in 2012.

Tim and Connie won’t be there this year — Connie has retired from playing, alas — but these videos sum up what I find most endearing about the Fest.  There’s nothing like it.  And it’s worth sitting in seat 7C, coming and going.  I assure you. And here is the schedule: if you can’t find something / someone to listen to, you might not be trying at all.

And, as a joyous bit of laginappe, here is a Frolick from Dixieland Monterey 2011 (John Reynolds, ever polite, calls this song, CALIFORNIA, HERE I BREATHE HEAVILY):

Dixieland Monterey is no more.  You — yes, you — are essential to keeping these mammoth enterprises afloat.  But you know that.

May your happiness increase!

 

MASTERY UNACKNOWLEDGED: THE ARTS OF RAY SIMS

zoot-the-swinger

Most people who have heard of Ray Sims (1921-2000), trombone and vocal, know him as Zoot’s brother, which is understandable.  On record, he was captured between 1945 and 1979, primarily as lead trombone or session player in the bands of Jerry Wald, Earle Spencer, Lyle Griffin, Bobby Sherwood, Benny Goodman, Les Brown, Anita O’Day, Dave Pell, Billy Eckstine, The Four Freshmen, Ray Anthony, Peggy Lee, Bill Holman, Harry James, Jackie and Roy, Lena Horne, Georgia Carr, Red Norvo, John Towner Williams, Jerry Gray and Maxwell Davis [supermarket recordings in tribute to Glenn Miller and Harry James] Ernie Andrews, Frank Capp, Corky Corcoran.  He stayed the longest with with Brown and James.  He never made a recording under his own name except for four tracks in a Capitol session called THE LES BROWN ALL STARS — available on CD — where he is featured, with strings, as one of Brown’s sidemen, and THE SWINGER (about which more below).

But I think trombonists who know him hold him in high regard.

Here is the only piece of Ray on film I have found, although I am sure he was captured on television many times, for both the Brown and James bands were very visible.  It is a ballad medley from the James band’s tour of Japan in 1964, and Ray is the middle soloist, between Joe Riggs, alto saxophone, and Corky Corcoran, tenor:

It would be easy to see Ray’s solo as simply “playing the melody,” but we know how difficult it is to accomplish that, and we can hear his huge gorgeous tone and his respectful, patient caress of Richard Rodgers’ lines.  Although it’s clear that he has the technique to sail over the horn, he is devotedly in the service of the song, with a tone reminiscent of Benny Morton.  Indeed, although he came of age as a musician in the middle Forties, when bebop had changed trombonists’ approach to their instrument, I hear not only Bill Harris but Tyree Glenn in his work.

And because I can’t go on without presenting more evidence of Ray’s beautiful playing, here is ON THE ALAMO, from the properly titled Pablo Records recording, THE SWINGER — with Zoot, Ray, Jimmy Rowles in spectacular form, John Heard, Shelly Manne, and one track with Michael Moore and John Clay:

But Ray Sims also sang.  I don’t know if he ever took voice lessons, but his warm heartfelt lyricism is very touching.  (The reason for this blog is my re-purchasing THE SWINGER on compact disc — the original record vanished in one seismic disorder or another — but I have remembered Ray’s singing for thirty-five years.)

I’ve found half a dozen vocals by Ray (found, not necessarily heard) from 1949 to his last session forty years later, with Brown, Pell, James, brother Zoot.  He seems to have been the musician-in-the-band who could put over a ballad or a love song without breaking into scat, someone who would be multi-talented and thus useful for the band payroll.  There’s IT ISN’T FAIR (a current pop hit), THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL, RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET, LET’S FALL IN LOVE, as well as a few possible vocals with Harry James, one with Corky Corcoran in 1973, and the final track on THE SWINGER from 1979.

Here is Ray’s vocal feature with Corcoran, IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND. It’s not a polished performance, but it is warm naturalness is enchanting.  He means it, which is beautiful in itself:

Here is what I think of as a masterpiece of loose, feeling singing: Ray performing the Lunceford band’s hit DREAM OF YOU.  My guess is that Rowles suggested this: he had a deep affinity for that band — although there is extraordinary trombone playing on that Decca recording, which might have made a tremendous impression on young Ray:

And Ray Sims was obviously a wonderfully devoted parent.  Evidence here:

Here’s what Danielle herself had to say when posting this track in 2010:

Song written by Al Cohn by request of my dad (Ray Sims) and my uncle Zoot. it was recorded on Zoot Sims-The Swinger
Trombone Ray Sims (Zoot’s brother). Growing up I remember my dad playing this song to me and my mom would always say “he’s playing your song” it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that it really was “my song”. I am so blessed to have had such a wonderful family to love and so blessed to have such a wonderful man in my life to make such a beautiful video for me so I can share that love. Thank you.  Video made by JeeperG for Danielle

Jazz, like any other art, is full of people who create beauty without calling much attention to themselves.  Let us always remember their names, their creativity, and the results.

May your happiness increase!

TRUTH IN (HOT) ADVERTISING: THE FAT BABIES, “SOLID GASSUH,” DELMARK RECORDS 257

We hope this truth can be made evident.  The new CD by The Fat Babies, SOLID GASSUH, on Delmark Records, embodies Truth in Advertising in its title and its contents.

solid-gassuh

“Solid gassuh,” as Ricky Riccardi — the Master of all things Louis — informs us in his excellent liner notes, was Louis’ highest expression of praise.  (I’d like to see it replace “sick” and “killin'” in the contemporary lexicon.  Do I dream?)

The Fat Babies are a superb band — well-rehearsed but sublimely loose, authentic but not stiff.  If you don’t know them, you are on the very precipice of Having Missed Out On Something Wonderful — which I can rectify herehere, and here.  (Those posts come from July 29, 2016 at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, and feature the “new” Fat Babies with the addition of the heroic Jonathan Doyle on reeds.)

SOLID GASSUH was recorded at the Babies’ hangout, the Honky Tonk BBQ, but there’s no crowd noise — which is fine — and the recorded sound is especially spacious and genuine, thanks to Mark Haynes and Alex Hall.  I know it’s unusual to credit the sound engineers first, but when so many recordings sound like recordings rather than music, they deserve applause.

The Babies, for this recording, their third, are Andy Schumm, cornet and arrangements; Dave Bock, trombone; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals (also the chart for EGYPTIAN ELLA), Jake Sanders, banjo and guitar, Beau Sample, leader, string bass; Alex Hall, drums.

Their repertoire, for those deep in this music, says so much about this band — DOCTOR BLUES / AFTER A WHILE / FEELIN’ GOOD / DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / ORIGINAL CHARLESTON STRUT / PENCIL PAPA / I MISS A LITTLE MISS / PARKWAY STOMP / YOU WERE ONLY PASSING TIME WITH ME / ALABAMY BOUND / SLOW RIVER / DELIRIUM / EGYPTIAN ELLA / SING SONG GIRL / MAPLE LEAF RAG.  There are many associations here, but without looking anything up I think of Ben Pollack, Paul Mares, Boyce Brown, Ted Lewis, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Fud Livingston, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Luis Russell, Bud Freeman, Bing Crosby, Nat Finston, Thomas Morris, Lil Hardin, Sidney Catlett, Al Wynn, Punch Miller, Alex Hill . . . and you can fill in the other blanks for yourself.  And even though some of the songs may be “obscure,” each track is highly melodic and dramatic without ever being melodramatic.  (As much as we love ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, it’s reassuring to know that it wasn’t the only song ever played.)

The Babies are remarkable for what they aren’t — not a “Dixieland” or “New Orleans” or “Condon” ensemble, but a group of musicians who obviously have studied the players, singers, and the recordings, but use them as inspired framework for their own creativity.  Occasionally, the Babies do offer us a transcription of a venerable recorded performance, but it is so energized (and by that I don’t mean faster or louder) that it seems as if someone has cleaned centuries of dust off an Old Master and it’s seen freshly.  More often, they use portions of an original arrangement, honoring it, as a way to show off their own bright solos.  So the effect at times is not an “updating,” but music seen from another angle, an alternate take full of verve and charm, as if the fellows had been playing the song on the job rather than in the studio.

If you follow the Babies, and many do, you will have known that this recording is coming, and will already have it.  When my copy arrived, I played it through three times in a row, marveling at its energy and precision, its lively beating heart.  SOLID GASSUH is immensely satisfying, as are the Fat Babies themselves.

You can purchase the disc and hear sound samples here, and  this is the Delmark Records site, where good music (traditional and utterly untraditional) flourishes.

May your happiness increase!

BEAU KOO SPIKE

SANDY'S SIDEMEN with Spike

I became fascinated by the UK trumpeter Spike Mackintosh from reading about him — one sentence! — in Dave Gelly’s beautiful book, AN UNHOLY ROW, and from that point tracked down all of his music that has been issued on records, slightly over seventy-five minutes.  So elusive is Spike, although deeply etched in the memories of those who knew him, that the only photograph I have ever found of him is above — he is bespectacled, off to the right.

And this caricature:

SANDY'S SIDEMEN lp

If he’s new to you, here are three samples of his lovely soaring art.

and my own homegrown video of Spike’s WHY CAN’T YOU BEHAVE?

and FLOOK’S FANCY, which has some of the somber beauty of a new King Oliver recording:

I spoke to the multi-instrumentalist Bob Hunt (or Bob “Ironside” Hunt or Doctor Robert Hunt) — he leads the Chris Barber band these days —  for a few minutes on the morning of July 14, 2016, to ask  him about the late and very much-missed Spike Mackintosh.

And this is what Bob told me.  A long time ago, he and Spike lived near to each other in central London, “just up the road from me” near Abbey Road.  At that time, Spike “could still blow.”  “He’d walk to my house.”  Bob remembered the first time he heard Spike play, in a pub gig, with the front line being Spike, Bob, and Wally Fawkes, with Stan Greig on piano.

Later, Bob used to meet Spike at “The Codgers,” a regular gathering of musicians who shared the same views on jazz — at a time when modern jazz, which Spike disliked, was prevalent — so that they could get together at a pub, talk, play records, and enjoy themselves.  (After Spike’s death, his son Cameron carried it on for Spike’s friends.)

Spike’s favorite record was Louis’ BEAU KOO JACK, and he would insist on playing that at every Codgers meeting.  Spike was always beautifully dressed, with a hand-tied bowtie (a “butterfly”) or a necktie — Bob never saw him dressed informally with an open-necked shirt — “a very smart little chap, not very tall.”

Before Spike would place the needle on the record, he would stand up there and declare in his “posh accent,” “This is the real thing.”

“If there was a God in Spike’s mind it would be Louis,” Bob said.  “He was an extremely intelligent man.”

A pause for spiritual uplift: even if you know the record by heart, take three minutes and indulge:

Bob remembers Spike at one Codgers meeting going on enthusiastically about a singer.  “You must remember him.  One of the best singers those colonials, those Americans.  But I can’t remember his name.  He had a lot of hit records,” and finally everyone got Spike to recall that it was Bing.

Bob used to have a gig at a pub called THORNBURY CASTLE, which was the name of a train, appropriate because the pub was opposite Marylebone train station.  He invited Spike to come down and play, and gave him explicit directions how to get there, because Spike would be on foot.  “Absolutely splendid,” said Spike. “What is the name again?”  The band began to play.  No Spike.  Near closing time, Spike came in, looking a bit run-down.  But when he saw Bob, he greeted him with the question, “Is this THE CROSBY ARMS?” which everyone thought was hilarious.

Bob’s father, also a musician — who had played in UK dance bands — knew and loved Spike, even though they’d never played together, and when they met at The Codgers, they’d be “doing the old embracing thing.”

The last time Bob saw Spike, Bob and his father had gone to The Codgers and seen him.  At the end of the afternoon, Spike ran across the road to get the bus “like a kid,” and his father said, happily, of Spike, “He’s all right for his age, ain’t he?”

Spike was “a big pal of mine.  He was the best Louis-styled trumpet player.  That guy had got it in the pocket.  No one else had done that.”

“Even though he’s gone, Spike knows what I think of him.”

SPIKE MACKINTOSH 78

May your happiness increase!

JUST DELICIOUS: HAL SMITH’S SWING CENTRAL!

swing-central

Please put everything else aside.  Stop multi-tasking for a few minutes.  I invite you to celebrate the birth of a great band: Hal Smith’s Swing Central:

That’s Hal on drums, Jon Doyle on clarinet, Joshua Hoag on string bass, Dan Walton on piano, Jamey Cummins on guitar.  This performance is from a swing dance gig at Central Market in Austin, Texas.  I’ll have more to say about the music — which really “needs no introduction” and “speaks for itself,” later, but I have asked Hal to tell us everything about the creation and gestation of this fine new ensemble.  (Interspersed with his narrative you’ll find other videos from the Central Market gig, like hand-drawn illustrations in a picture book.)

A word about Hal, though.  I’ve been listening to him on records and CDs for a long time (putting the needle back over and over to listen to the way he swings the band and takes solos that seem too short rather than “fountains of noise,” as Whitney Balliett called most drum solos) and I have heard him in person for the last five years.  He’s a splendid drummer — old-fashioned in the best ways — always dreaming of the bands who can really understand and embody the glories of the past.  And he’s always on a quest to put congenial talented people together to form bands: the Roadrunners, his own trios with Bobby Gordon, Albert Alva, James Evans, Ray Skjelbred, Chris Dawson, Kris Tokarski; his California Swing Cats and Rhythmakers, Hal’s Angels, the New El Dorado Jazz Band, the Jazz Chihuauas, the Down Home Jazz Band, and the Creole Sunshine Jazz Band.

Here’s Hal, himself:

In 2015, Dave Bennett and I wanted to put together a jazz quintet. I suggested Dan Walton and Jamey Cummins from Austin and Steve Pikal from the Twin Cities. Even though we had not all played together as a group, I was sure that everything would click.

Interlude: HELLO, FISHIES, by Jon Doyle:

The quintet did click, at the Redwood Coast Music Festival in March, 2016. I secured another engagement for the group at the Capital City Jazz Festival in Madison, Wisconsin but Dave inadvertently double-booked himself that same weekend. Fortunately, the festival organizers were willing to keep the quintet in the lineup with JON DOYLE on clarinet.

Since everyone in the band plays SWING music and lives in the CENTRAL time zone, that was how the group wound up with the name.

Jon and I exchanged many e-mails regarding the repertoire and sound of the band. Since so many swing combos attempt to play in the style of Benny Goodman’s Trio, Quartet, etc. we agreed that a different song list and sound would be the way we would go.

Interlude:  SUNDAY

I have always admired Jon’s sound on clarinet, but he really caught my ear one time before a gig with Floyd Domino’s All-Stars. Jon was warming up by playing Lester Young’s introduction to the Kansas City Six’s “I Want A Little Girl.” Remembering that, I proposed that Swing Central play songs associated with Lester, then further suggested material recorded by Pee Wee Russell and Frank Chace. Jon agreed enthusiastically and began writing charts.

Interlude: JELLY ROLL

Jon was running late to our first set on Friday evening, and did not have time to go back for his tenor sax — so he played the entire set on clarinet. We kicked off with “Love Is Just Around The Corner,” and the audience responded with enthusiasm, which continued with every number. Jon’s totally unstaged animation and Steve Pikal’s contagious good spirit permeated the crowd. Jamey Cummins scored big with a swinging version of “Shivers.” Jon cued ensembles and solos and kept most performances to 78 rpm length, so with about 20 minutes left on the clock, I got Dan’s attention during a song, and mouthed, “Can you do a boogie woogie feature?” The rollicking version of “Roll ‘Em, Pete” he came up with had the crowd whistling and stomping. Our last song of the first set garnered a standing ovation, and each succeeding set ended the same way.

Fast-forward to August, 2016…I was going to be working with a Western Swing band in South Texas, and coincidentally Jon Doyle was planning to be in Austin also. Jamey and Dan would be in town, so I was able to book an appearance for the band at Central Market-Westgate. (Both Central Market locations in Austin offer a fantastic selection of groceries, an in-store café, and live music by local artists on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition to paying the musicians, the market provides a professional soundman and even feeds the band). However, the performance budget would not cover the cost of an airfare from the Twin Cities, so the great Austin bassist Josh Hoag filled in for Steve Pikal.

Gary Feist, of Yellow Dog Films, was available to videotape several performances.  He captured the band, the audience, and quite a few local dancers in high spirits.

For me, playing in a band like this makes the aches and pains of the music business worthwhile. Dan, Jamey and Josh are great friends as well as great musicians. All of us look to Jon Doyle for inspiration and he always delivers! Best of all, Jon has immersed himself in the recordings of Young, Russell and particularly Chace. He inhabits the styles without copying note for note, but there is no question regarding his influences. A mutual friend, upon hearing Jon’s clarinet work on an audio clip from this session (“I Must Have That Man”) remarked, “I think the torch has been passed!” It has, and is burning brightly!

I know that Hal is speaking with several jazz festival directors about appearances for SWING CENTRAL, and that they are getting together to record their debut CD in Chicago — all excellent news.  There are many other wonderful small jazz groups on the landscape, thank heavens, but this is a real band with its own conceptions.  You wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else; they are not locked in one tiny stylistic box, and my goodness, how they swing!

May your happiness increase!

THE CATALYTIC MISTER DANDRIDGE

putney-dandridge-78

We  have so much to thank Fats Waller for.  He could be the subject of a thousand posts, and the joy he spreads won’t ever diminish.  But, like Louis Armstrong, who he was and what he did were perceived immediately as marketable commodities.  In the early Thirties, with the coin-operated automatic phonograph a new and exciting phenomenon, Waller’s popularity was immense.  But he was under contract to Victor Records, so the other labels looked for their own “Fats” to compete for public attention.

Thus, piano-playing entertainers who could put over a song in a jocular way were valuable.  Swinging pop songs of the day — songs often from films — was the thing.  The very talented women Lil Hardin Armstrong and Cleo Brown recorded for Decca, as did Bob Howard.  Willie the Lion Smith did his own recordings for that label.  Tempo King, Stew Pletcher, Adrian Rollini, and Louis “King” Garcia recorded for Bluebird; Taft Jordan for Melotone, Stuff Smith for Vocalion. Henry “Red” Allen, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey existed in their own aesthetic worlds, but it’s clear they ran parallel to the Waller phenomenon, with a substantial bow to Louis.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Our subject for today, though, is Putney Dandridge, who made a series of recordings in 1935-36 for Brunswick Records.  He is well-known to only a few, I believe, and so I am doing something atypical for JAZZ LIVES and reprinting the detailed Wikipedia entry — more detailed than the Blessed John Chilton’s paragraph:

Louis “Putney” Dandridge (January 13, 1902 – February 15, 1946) was an African American bandleader, jazz pianist and vocalist.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Dandridge began performing in 1918 as a pianist in the a revue entitled the Drake and Walker Show. In 1930, he worked for a time as accompanist for tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, including appearances in the important black musical Brown Buddies. In February 1931, Dandridge appeared in the cast of the musical revue Heatin’ Up Harlem, starring Adelaide Hall at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. After touring in Illinois and the Great Lakes region, Dandridge settled in Cleveland, Ohio, forming his own band, which included guitarist Lonnie Johnson. This period lasted until 1934, when he attempted to perform as a solo act. He took his show to New York City, beginning a series of long residences at the Hickory House on 52nd Street and other local clubs. From 1935 to 1936, he recorded numerous sides under his own name, many of which highlighted some major jazz talents of the period, including Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Henry “Red” Allen, Buster Bailey, John Kirby, Chu Berry, Cozy Cole and more. Appearing to vanish from the music scene in the late thirties, it is speculated that Dandridge may have been forced to retire due to ill health. Dandridge died in Wall Township, New Jersey at the age of 44.

Here he is, appearing as “the Stage Manager,” in the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN, starring Bill Robinson and James Baskette.  Putney appears about ten minutes into the film, and you can see him speaking, chewing gum, scatting, at the piano:

Now, I am not making a case for Dandridge as Waller’s equal.  He was a serviceable swing / cocktail pianist at best, and he plays on five of the first six sides of the series.  But something spectacular can come from a liability, and the result of Putney’s piano playing — say that quickly if you dare — was that Teddy Wilson was called in for the remaining sessions.  As a singer, he was an enthusiastic amateur with a wide uncontrolled vibrato, a limited range, and a scat-singing tendency that was, I think, anachronistic even for 1935.  But in the great vaudeville tradition, he knew the songs, he put them  over with verve, and even when his vocals are most difficult to listen to, one focuses on the gem-like accompaniment.

I have no record of John Hammond’s involving himself in these sessions. I believe the Brunswick supervisor for these dates was Harry Gray.  Perhaps Wilson acted as contractor and went to the Rhythm Club the night before a date and said, “Are you free at noon tomorrow?  It’s fifty dollars?” and selected the best musicians he could from the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Willie Bryant, Chick Webb, Stuff Smith, Goodman, Ellington, Henderson, Calloway, Redman.

It intrigues me that often the splendid playing on these discs is done by musicians who were less in the public eye, thus giving us opportunities to hear people who played beautifully and were not given the opportunities that the stars were.  The players include Roy Eldridge, Henry “Red” Allen, Doc Cheatham, Shirley Clay, Richard Clarke, Bobby Stark, Wallace Jones, Chu Berry, Buster Bailey, Johnny Russell, Tommy Mace, Teddy McRae, Charles Frazier, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Arnold Adams, Nappy Lamare, Clarence Holiday, Lawrence Lucie, Dave Barbour, John Trueheart, Eddie Condon, Allan Reuss, John Kirby, Grachan Moncur, Mack Walker, Wilson Myers, Ernest Hill, Artie Bernstein, Bill Beason, Walter Johnson, Cozy Cole, Slick Jones, Sidney Catlett.  When Wilson was out of town with the Goodman orchestra, Clyde Hart, Ram Ramirez, or James Sherman took his place.  I’d suggest that students of Thirties rhythmic practice have a two-semester intensive study seminar in front of them in these discs.  Without fanfare, these were racially mixed sessions.

Here’s a sample — goofy, exuberant, and delightfully swinging.  Don’t take your eyes off the screen, for the great jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann has inserted a (silent) clip of Putney performing in 1933 from the film SCANDAL, and he looks exactly as he sounds:

I wrote before that Dandridge is little-known, and that might be true, but his SKELETON IN THE CLOSET was part of the soundtrack for a video game, BIOSHOCK 2, so it pleases me to imagine some Youngblood listening to the complete Putney through his earbuds on his way to school.  Stranger things have happened.

The Dandridge anthology I knew in the Seventies was three records on the Rarities label; there are two CDs on the Chronological Classics series, and (the best — sound by John R.T. Davies) is a two-CD set on the Timeless label, issued in 1995.  YouTube — or “Orchard Enterprises” — has made all 44 sides available here.  I don’t recommend listening to all of them in a row, because Putney’s vocal approach might pall — but they are  priceless reminders of a time when great songs and great musicians were in the air in a way that would be unusual today.  Here’s the YouTube collection.  (Please, I can’t vouch for its correctness, and if it doesn’t play in your country I can’t fix it . . . but consider the price of admission).

Thanks to Marc Caparone, the great Inspirer.

May your happiness increase!