Category Archives: Jazz Worth Reading

“IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL HOW JOY CAN OPEN THE THROAT”: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF RENA JEAN MIDDOUGH, a/k/a “RINK LESLIE” (November 28, 2015)

I should have known something important was about to happen when Dan Levinson approached me on Saturday, November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest and asked if I would video-record his next set.  Dan believes (if I may coarsely paraphrase him) that the beautiful evanescent creations of jazz musicians should remain so; that they can be made subject to eternal scrutiny is not something he prefers.  (I take it as a mark of great respect and friendship that he has humored me and my little camera for years now.)

But once Dan was a quarter of the way through his explanation, I said, “That’s great.  I’ll be there,” and I was.

POSIES TWO

But before this narrative gets too convoluted, too much about myself and the philosophy of video-recording, let me introduce you to Rena Jean Middough. First, through a photograph taken in 1952.  The man on her right is multi-instrumentalist / singer / bandleader / inspiring teacher Rosy McHargue:

Rink-Leslie-and-Rosy-McHargue-in-1952-688x1024

Then, in her own words, a reminiscence she has titled THE JOY OF PLANETARY ASPECTS:

Astrologers think aspects to the planet Uranus trigger unexpected human events.  Some events may be good, some may be not so good, but all will be unexpected.  Three years ago, something moved my son to order a CD of Rosy McHargue’s Ragtimers.  Rosy McHargue was a Dixieland musician who dedicated himself to preserving American music from the early 1900’s.

I had met Rosy because my husband was the director of a TV show in which Rosy appeared, “Dixie Showboat,” and Rosy invited us to his home. Somehow, he asked me to sing two songs while he recorded them on acetate.

In 1952, Rosy made a recording of all the songs the Ragtimers played, and he asked me to record a vocal.  When I got to the recording studio in Hollywood, all Rosy said was, “Hello, sing two choruses.”  The musicians began to play.  I sang two choruses and sat down.  Rosy asked why I was still there.  I replied, “I’m waiting to rehearse.”  “No, no,” he said.  “It was fine.  Go home.”  And that was my great recording career.  Only my kids remembered.

POSIES ONE

Sixty-two years later, Uranus unexpectedly made New York musician Dan Levinson very happy.  Young Dan Levinson was taught to play clarinet and saxophone and to be a full-time musician by Rosy McHargue.  The two were best friends, and when Rosy died, he left all his music and arrangements to Dan.  Dan, who has mde his career playing music from the first half of the twentieth century just as Rosy did, took the old recordings and made them into a modern CD.  He wrote loving biography notes on all Rosy’s musicians, but someone was missing. Who was the girl who sang “Posies”?  When my son ordered the CD, Dan sat down in the subway, opened his laptop, and mailed the good news to everyone he knew.  He had found the girl who had sung two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies.”  He had searched for her for ten years.  My son, when he placed the order for the CD, had written that his mom had sung “Posies” and his dad was the barking dog on “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around.”

Once my son had solved the mystery of the girl singer, Dan and his wife Molly quickly arranged an afternoon for us in New York.  We met at Penn Station under the arrival sign for New Jersey trains.  Dan, at six foot five, had to bend down to be kissed as I thanked him for calling me a National Treasure.  It was a wonderful feeling to be treasured.  During that afternoon in New York, I felt acceptable to the universe.

This summer, Uranus and that silly song merged again.  Once a year, Dan and Molly play the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, and all their Southern California friends swarm to see them.  I persuaded a lady who can drive at night to drive me to Altadena to enjoy the wonderful jazz.  I grabbed the best seat in the house. The show began.  Dan played clarinet and sax, and Molly sang the vocals.  They were backed by a fine bass player and a superb jazz guitarist.  After a while, Dan began to invite fellow musicians he knew in the audience to come up on the stage and sit in with them.  One by one, the friends borrowed saxophones and trombones and performed. After the fourth guest musician, Dan informed the audience that Rosy McHargue’s favorite vocalist was in the audience, and would she like to come up and sing?  Would I?  I rose like the sunrise, shoved out of my seat by my hubris.  Uranus, the unexpected, took my hand and helped me up on that stage.  I surveyed the packed house and announced I was working on my ninetieth year.  Then I, who can no longer sing much higher than Middle C, plucked a good note out of the air, and with the musicians behind me, loudly and enthusiastically rendered verse and two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies, When It’s Shoesies That I Need.”  Breath control, which has forsaken me for a decade, reappeared, and I held the last note strongly for a count of four.  It is truly wonderful how joy can open the throat.

It must have sounded all right.  Uranus and I stepped down to enthusiastic applause.  One lady with a tin ear asked me where else I was singing.  People bought Rosy’s Ragtimers CD to take home.  The bass player demanded that I stay and take a picture with him.  Somebody in the audience had taken my picture and sent it to Facebook as I was singing.  (My niece Laura saw me on Facebook before dawn the next day.)  Dan wrote his review of the evening and posted it on Facebook at 2 a.m.  The bass played posted our picture at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours all my nieces and their myriad cousins had seen me on stage.

A week later, I wrote Dan and Molly a thank you letter.  I said that when we met in New York they had made me feel acceptable to the universe.  Now that they had placed me center stage, I was infamous on Facebook.

Bless  Uranus.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe they will unexpectedly let me sing again.

POSIES THREE

So here is “Rink Leslie” (a pseudonym made up because “Rena Jean Middough” would have been too long for a record label: “Rink” came from a classmate’s nickname for Rena; “Leslie” was Rena’s father’s name) appearing with Dan Levinson, reeds; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, and guests from the Titanic Jazz Band, Keith Elliott, trombone; Dan Comins, trumpet — at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — to recreate the Middough – McHargue recording of DON’T BRING ME POSIES (WHEN IT’S SHOESIES THAT I NEED):

That’s splendid fun.  And it would be splendid fun even if the singing ingenue were not 89.  When Rena Jean came off the bandstand, I rose to congratulate her, and she sweetly told me what she’s written above, “When Dan discovered me, he made me feel as if I was acceptable to the universe, someone wonderful.” And I — speaking from my heart or shooting from the hip — said, “My dear Ms. Leslie (for at the time I don’t think I had taken in her lovely elaborate name), you have been acceptable to the universe your whole life, and more!” and she grinned at me but with old-fashioned very becoming modesty.

I, too, look forward to a return appearance of Rena Jean Middough and / or Rink Leslie at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I will, in future, post the lovely music that preceded her . . . but for the moment I would like you to admire her poise, her joy, her ebullience. (Incidentally, when she and I spoke on the telephone some weeks after this event, she told me that she had been an excellent dancer and a good singer in college — but that her inspiration for the delighted energy she offered in the original recording and at the end of November 2015, right here, was Danny Kaye in the 1941 film LET’S FACE IT. Another reason to thank Mr. Kaminski, don’t you think?)

And let us not forget the indefatigably devoted Dan Levinson, solver of mysteries, tracer of lost persons, someone who makes wonderful musical entanglements happen even when he is not playing or singing.

May your happiness increase!

HE’S JUST OUR BILL: AN EVENING WITH BILL CROW and FLIP PETERS (January 28, 2016)

BILL CROW

Bill Crow is one of the finest jazz string bassists ever.  But don’t take my word for it — hear his recordings with Marian McPartland, Jo Jones, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Hank Jones, Jimmy McPartland, Manny Albam, Art  Farmer, Annie Ross, Jimmy Cleveland, Mose Allison, Benny Goodman, Cliff Leeman, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Morello, Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Jackie and Roy, Bob Wilber, Ruby Braff, Eddie Bert, Joe Cohn, Mark Shane, Jay McShann, Al Grey, Barbara Lea, Claude Williamson, Spike Robinson, and two dozen others.

Here’s Bill, vocalizing and playing, with guitarist Flip Peters on SWEET LORRAINE:

And if you notice that many of the names on that list are no longer active, don’t make Bill out to be a museum piece.  I’ve heard him swing out lyrically with Marty Napoleon and Ray Mosca; I’ve heard him lift the room when he sat in with the EarRegulars, and he plays just as beautifully on JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE as he does on a more intricate modern piece.

Bill Crow - From Birdland to Broadway

Bill is also a splendid raconteur — someone who not only has a million stories, but knows how to tell them and makes the experience enjoyable.  You should know of his book JAZZ ANECDOTES, which grew into a second volume, and his FROM BIRDLAND TO BROADWAY, a charmingly casual but never meandering autobiography.  (Like  his colleague and friend Milt Hinton, Bill is also a wonderful photographer.)

And did I mention that Bill recently turned 88?

I don’t know which of these three offerings of evidence should take precedence, but put them all together and they are excellent reasons to join in the musical pleasures offered this Thursday, January 28, 2016 — details below:

227917ee-3815-4ca8-8925-dc8c48667946

To reiterate, thanks to www.project142.org

Thurs. – Jan. 28, 2016 – 8:00pm – 9:30 pm. – The DiMenna Center for Classical Music – NYC – Bill Crow Project 142 Concert with Flip Peters – 450 West 37th St. (between 9th & 10th Aves.) – Benzaquen Hall (elevator to 1st Floor) – Doors open @ 7:30p. – $15.00 Concert Charge @ door.

I asked the delightful guitarist / singer Flip Peters to speak about his relationship with Bill:

I first became aware of Bill Crow in the early 1960s when as a young jazz fan I heard him with Gerry Mulligan. I remember around that time reading a quip in Down Beat about bass players with bird names, Bill Crow, Gary Peacock, and Steve Swallow.

In the early 1980s, I began to read Bill’s column, “The Band Room,” in the Local 802 paper, Allegro. That column is a highlight and I turn to it first each month when I get that paper. I received a copy of his Jazz Anecdotes as a Christmas present a few years back and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I first played gigs with Bill in 2014. The first one we played on together was a Gatsby-themed party with Marti Sweet’s Sweet Music (www.sweetmusic.us). On that gig Bill doubled on bass and tuba and I was struck by his mastery of the tuba. After that we played private party gigs and some Dixieland gigs with trumpeter Tom Keegan. Then in 2015, I played on gigs with Bill in Rio Clemente’s band (www.rioclemente.com). On one of those gigs, Bill asked me to join him at Shanghai Jazz where he had been hired to speak and play for the Jersey Jazz Society. After that gig I decided that it would be a good idea to present this to a wider audience. Anyone who loves jazz would be fascinated to hear Bill recount some of his many stories, and of course to hear him play.

I am honored and thrilled to play music with Bill. He is a rare person and musician. Not only is he a virtuoso on his instruments but he is a true gentleman. When you are in his presence you can’t help but feel comfortable. When he relates his experiences, everyone present feels as though they are sharing those moments with him. And he continues to play at an extremely high level. He has truly stayed at the top of his game for many years. He maintains a busy playing schedule and plays with the energy of a young musician who possesses the experience of an elder statesman.

You can find out more about Bill at his website but I politely urge you to put the phone down, back away from the computer, and join us on Thursday night to hear Bill and Flip, in music and story.  Evenings like this are rare.

May your happiness increase!

HOD O’BRIEN, WRITER

Hod O'Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Hod O’Brien and wife, singer Stephanie Nakasian

Pianist Hod O’Brien is a master of melodic improvisations.  If you missed his July 2015 gig at Mezzrow with bassist Ray Drummond, the evidence is here.

But here’s the beautiful part.  Some jazz musicians keep words at a distance and their expressiveness comes out through the keyboard, the brass tubing, and so on.  But Hod has written a pointed, light-hearted memoir that operates the way he plays.  His words seem simple, his constructions are never ornate, but he gets to the heart of things and leaves the reader enlightened, renewed.

HOD BOOK

The first thing to say about this book is how pleased I am to read a book by someone who, like Hod, has been an active part of jazz for six decades.  It’s not “as told to,” nor is it embellished by a jazz scholar as a posthumous tribute.  Here is part of  Hod’s preface, which reveals much about his character:

“This book is not intended to be a strictly biographical text, but, rather a collection of funny, little incidents and stories I’ve witnessed and heard along my way, on my path as a freelance jazz musician over the past 60 years of my professional life.

It’s intended mostly for fans of mine, whomever and wherever you all are, and fellow musicians, who might be interested in hearing a little bit more about me from another perspective, rather than from just my music and recordings alone. . . . The jazz community is a small, but hip part of the world, of which I’m happy and proud to be a member, and to whom I wish to express my deep gratitude — to those of you in it and interested in my work.”

I was immediately struck by Hod’s self-description as “happy and proud,” and the book bears him out.  “Proud” doesn’t mean immodest — in fact, Hod constantly seems delighted and amazed at the musicians he’s gotten to play with, but his happiness is a great and reassuring undercurrent in the book.  (When was the last time you met someone deeply nourished by his or her work?  Hod is that person.)

His  book moves quickly: at the start he is a child picking out one-finger melodies on the piano, learning boogie-woogie, hearing JATP and bebop recordings; a few pages later it is 1955 and he filling in for Randy Weston at a gig in Massachusetts, hearing Pepper Adams, getting threatened by Charles Mingus, meeting and playing with Zoot Sims and Bob Brookmeyer.  Oscar Pettiford (called “Pet” by Thad Jones) gets a longer portrait.  The O.P. portrait is so good that I won’t spoil it, but it has cameo appearances by Bill Evans and Paul Chambers, Chet Baker, and Philly Joe Jones.  In case you are realizing that Hod has managed to play with or hear or meet many jazz luminaries in the past sixty years, that alone is reason to buy the book.  There’s J.R. Monterose and a defective piano, a compromised Wilbur Ware, friendliness from Max Roach and Arthur Taylor.

The book (and Hod’s life) takes a surprising turn with Hod losing interest in his jazz career, studying with Charles Wuorinen, and delving into physics, higher mathematics, and early computer programming.  But a reunion with his old friend Roswell Rudd moves him back to performance and the club scene.

Interruption: for those of you who can only read about doomed heroic figures, victims, or the chronically self-destructive, this is not such a book.  Hod has setbacks but makes friends and makes music; he marries the fine singer Stephanie Nakasian, and they remain happily married, with a singer in the family, daughter Veronica Swift (born in 1994) — who just won second place in the Thelonious Monk jazz competition.  Now back to our regularly scheduled narrative.

Hod’s experiences as a clubowner are somewhere between surreal, hilarious, and sad — but his reminiscences of Sonny Greer (and a birthday gift), Joe Puma, Chuck Wayne, Al Haig, Stan Getz, and the little East Side club called Gregory’s (which I remember although I didn’t see Hod there).  There’s  Hod’s playing a set with Dizzy, Ornette, Ed Blackwell, and Teddy Kotick . . . and much more, including more than fifty photographs, a discography, and a list of Hod’s compositions: very nicely done at 122 pages.

You can buy it here — and you can also find out more about Hod . . . such as his return to Mezzrow on March 18-19, 2016. But until then, you can entertain yourself with a copy of HAVE PIANO . . . WILL SWING! — a book that surely lives up to its title.

May your happiness increase!

FATS, CONNIE, BUNNY, LIPS, BIRD, CHICK

As the people who were swing / jazz / popular music fans in the Thirties and Forties leave the planet, their possessions come up for sale on eBay.  This makes me mildly sad — let’s make money off Gramps’ stuff! — but it is far better than the beloved artifacts being tossed in the recycling bin.  Four treasures that are or were for sale.  I don’t know who Joe Walsh was.  But I do know that Fats Waller autographed this photograph in green fountain pen ink to him:

FATS TO JOE WALSH full

and a magnified view:

FATS TO JOE WALSH detail

Fats Waller’s best wishes are always free, thankfully:

DO ME A FAVOR:

WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU?:

and then there is Carol (Lotz) Lantz:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL front

and the back:

CONNIE BOSWELL to CAROL rear

and the provenance:

Signed and inscribed to CAROL (Lotz) Lantz, daughter of Charles Lotz (1891-1965), a prominent band director from Canton, Ohio. Apparently Boswell performed sometime with Lotz’s band and signed this photo for his daughter. From the Lotz family collection.  SOURCE: From the archives of the World War History & Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, Ohio. WWHAM designs and delivers WWI and WWII exhibits to other rmuseums. Our traveling exhibts include Brushes With War, a world class collection of 325 original paintings and drawings by soldiers of WWI, and Iron Fist, an HO scale model of the German 2nd Panzer Division in 1944 with 4,000 vehicles and 15,000 men.

A little sound from Connie, on a 1936 fifteen-minute radio program in honor of the charms of Florida — with Harry Richman and Fred Rich:

Then there’s Joe Williams, someone I reasonably sure is not the singer:

BUNNY to JOE WILLIAMS

Bunny was proud of his beautiful handwriting, and this one looks authentic. So is this music — A 1938 Disney song (with Dave Tough and Gail Reese):

And one page from a serious scrapbook (with signatures of Chu Berry and Ivie Anderson) belonging to L. Sgt. McKay:

HOT LIPS PAGE to McKay

This record may not be the finest example of Lips (or Lip’s) trumpet playing, but it has a sentimental meaning to me — if I may name-drop — that when I was at Ruby Braff’s apartment, this 78 was leaning against the wall.  So it’s doubly meaningful:

And the Yardbird:

BIRD

Finally, something quite rare: a Chick Webb photograph I’ve never seen before, signed by the Master, who was embarrassed (according to a Helen Oakley Dance story) about his poor handwriting:

CHICK WEBB autographed photo

And Chick in an unusual setting — with an Ellingtonian small group (and Ivie):

I am fond of being alive, and dead people don’t blog, but I wish I’d been around to ask Fats, Connie, Bunny, Lips, Bird, and Chick for their autographs.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRIUMPHS OF JAMES P. JOHNSON

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Baby Dodds, 1946, by Charles Peterson

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson

When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure.  James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano.  He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.

CAROLINA SHOUT eBay OKeh

 

Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio.  Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943.  Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes.  Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.

Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them.  Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues.  James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?”  Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.

There will never be enough.  But what we have is brilliant.  And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943.  (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)

JAMES P. Mosaic

Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period.  And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen,  J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more.  For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.

(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)

I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967.  And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on.  This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it.  The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin.  And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.

The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement.  (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes.  Guitar fanciers please note.)  The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.

Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me).  It’s a duo-performance for James  P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all.  Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character.  He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself.

This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing.  I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives.  Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music.  His sensitivity is unparalleled.  For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows.  Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment.  I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.

I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes.  Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.”  Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.

JAMES P. postage stamp

I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:

jamesp-johnsongravemarker

Listen closely to this new Mosaic box set six compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.

May your happiness increase!

SONGS ON SPRING: The EarRegulars: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JENS “JESSE” LINDGREN, EDDY DAVIS, JAY RATTMAN at THE EAR INN (Dec. 27, 2015)

ear-inn-5The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho or Hudson Square in the West Village of New York City) has been a mecca for heartfelt hot music on Sunday nights since the summer of 2008, thanks to the flexible quartet led by Jon-Erik Kellso, the EarRegulars.

Last Sunday night, December 27, 2015, the EarRegulars were Jon, trumpet; Eddy Davis, banjo and vocal; Jay Rattman, bass sax; Jens “Jesse” Lindgren from Sweden, trombone and vocal.  Here are two of the night’s delightful performances.

W.C. Handy’s adaptation of a folk melody or a hymn, HESITATING BLUES, with an earnest vocal by Eddy and a vocalized solo by Jon through his glass mute:

And here’s Jesse’s version of the lovely song PLEASE (Leo Robin – Ralph Rainger) forever associated with Bing Crosby:

In case your Swedish is as poor as mine is, here are the original lyrics sung by Bing with help from Eddie Lang:

And let Handy’s lyrics be your guide.  Don’t hesitate about visiting The Ear Inn on a Sunday evening, from about eight to about eleven . . . to hear and see The EarRegulars for yourself.

Hesitating Blues

(S)he who hesitates misses the good stuff.

May your happiness increase!

A COLLECTOR’S TROVE, AT AUCTION NOW

A cyber-friend and reader of JAZZ LIVES sent me the link to the Yonkers, New York auction house COHASCO, INC. , that is running an auction of jazz memorabilia ending January 5, 2016.  Much of the paper ephemera was new to me, and my friend thought it would be of interest to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  So I am offering the information and the beautiful pictures here.  Full disclosure: I’m doing this for the usual reasons — interest rather than reimbursement — in case you needed to know.

The items are being offered as a collection: individual treasures are not available for bid.  And there’s been a good deal of interest in it already.

Here are three pictures that should speak louder than words:

AUCTION 1

and

AUCTION 2

and

AUCTION 3

The consignor (who wishes to remain anonymous) has written these words, which should reverberate with many of us:

People collect all types of objects, from thimbles to stamps, to paintings and cars. I attribute my appreciation of swing and big band music to my parents. While other kids my age were enamored with the Beatles, I watched my dad carefully place a record player stylus down upon an old 78 rpm record and soon became captivated by the sounds of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and other orchestras of the time. As I grew older, I realized that the melodies I enjoyed were truly the soundtrack to another era. As a record and memorabilia collector, the swing and big band music of the 1930’s and 40’s struck such a chord in the psyche, that collecting and preserving the ephemera of that era was a natural extension of my admiration for the music.  If I look at a ticket stub for a Benny Goodman concert, I suddenly hear Gene Krupa drumming the memorable beat of Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Goodman’s sweet clarinet–like a sound wave time machine pulling me straight into the past. If I hold a Glenn Miller program I hear Miller’s theme song, Moonlight Serenade and in my mind’s eye, I see a newsreel projecting WWII soldiers coming home, marching back from victory and embracing wives and family. To me, collecting is about more than the ephemera itself, its a way to pay homage to not only the musicians, but to the “greatest generation.”

And here are some practical details about the collection.  It was “compiled over decades by an impassioned musicologist,” and its focus is on the Thirties and Forties, although the 235 vintage items are dated 1926-1966.

“Signed items (some in pencil) include Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Jess Stacy, and Teddy Wilson, on a Hotel Pennsylvania drink menu • Blue Barron on contract • Eddie Duchin and Shep Fields on Aragon Ballroom postcards • Ziggy Elman and Benny Goodman on 1938 recording contract • Glen Gray band member autographs on Palladium Ballroom Café menu, 1941 • 1943 letter of Milt Gabler (famous Decca Records producer and founder of Commodore Records) • Horace Heidt on hotel drink menu, with band signatures on verso • Dick Jurgens on postcard • Kay Kyser (signed with full name James K. Kyser) on letterhead, with original envelope, 1928 • Waldorf-Astoria Starlight Roof Supper Club menu signed inside by Guy Lombardo, printed cover art by Xavier Cugat • Hal McIntyre on contract • Art Mooney on contract • Buddy Morrow postcard • and numerous vintage signatures of artists and band members, including Harry James and “Tiny” Timbrell who later appeared on Elvis records and soundtracks.

From Basie to Ellington, Goodman to Miller, the collection offers a wide panorama of the cultural artifacts underpinning the era. The assemblage includes concert ticket stubs, show programs, handbills, record store posters, nightclub souvenirs, period autographs, lobby cards, movie stills, postcards, fan and record industry magazines, sheet music, an oversize RKO theatre owners’ advertising book for the 1942 sensation “Syncopation,” starring Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, et al, and curiosa such as novelty promotional pieces. Broad representation is present of both the bands and their individual artists, male and female, instrumental and vocal – a near who’s-who of jazz.

Capturing the golden era of Big Bands, some of the historic nights – and days – represented are 1937’s Benny Goodman vs. Chick Webb Battle of Swing, 1954’s landmark Festival of Modern American Jazz, Glenn Miller at CBS Radio Theatre, and many, many more. Additional venues represented include the Apollo (an early Louis Armstrong appearance), the Capital, Paramount, and Roxy Theatres, the Famous Door, Palomar Ballroom, Savoy Ballroom, Steel Pier, and others.

Much of the unsigned ephemera is very scarce – often magnitudes more so than signed material – and found only by chance. Duplicating such a collection would take many years and inordinate labor. The archive offers a wealth of materials, themes, and graphic choices for an all-encompassing display – or rotating exhibitions in a club, restaurant, performance space, academic music department, or favorite room of a home or office. Color montages on website and by e-mail. Request free detailed prospectus.

The pre-auction estimate is $5400 – $6500.  Bids are accepted up to January 5, 2016, 8:00 P.M. E.D.T. All items are fully described on their website, cohascodpc.com. A 136-page printed catalogue is available by mail, while supplies last.”

May your happiness increase!