Today, one of our great heroes and pathfinders turns 90 — the down-to earth jazz deity of the Upper west Side, Dan Morgenstern. (He’ll be celebrating with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band at Birdland this afternoon into evening.)
I’ve been reading Dan’s prose and absorbing his insights for more than fifty years now, and in the video interviews he’s graciously encouraged me to do since 2017, I know I have learned so much and I hope you all have as well. And some of what I’ve learned is about Dan’s generosity and the breadth of his interests.
During those interviews, he has often caught me by surprise. We were speaking about another musician who had played with pioneering string bassist George “Pops” Foster, and Dan said . . . hear and see for yourself:
I’ll return to the culinary subject at the end. Right now, some glimpses of Pops.
First, a trailer from a short documentary done by Mal Sharpe and Elizabeth Sher called ALMA’S JAZZY MARRIAGE:
I’d seen this documentary on a DVD and was thrilled to find it was still for sale — so Steve Pikal (a serious Pops devotee) and I will have copies in a short time. You can, too, here.
Here’s a 1945 interview Wynne Paris (in Boston) conducted with Pops:
and Roger Tilton’s astonishing 1954 film JAZZ DANCE, once vanished, now found, on YouTube (featuring Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, George Wettling, and Pops):
Those who want to understand the glory of Pops Foster — there are recordings with Luis Russell and Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, Art Hodes, Sidney Bechet, and many more.
You’ll notice that I haven’t included more of the interviews I’ve done with Dan here. They are all on YouTube — stories about everyone from Fats Waller to Miles Davis onwards (with more to come) which you can find as part of my YouTube channel “swingyoucats”.
The tense shift in my title is intentional: it pleases me to think of Pops making dinner for friends in some eternal present. I just got through idly perusing a new book on the relationship between brain health and diet, where the ideal is greens, grains, wild salmon, and more. Now I wonder: are ham hocks the secret ingredient to health and longevity? Or do we have to have Pops Foster’s recipe?
To quote Lennie Kunstadt, we need “Research!” But whatever has kept Dan Morgenstern with us for ninety years, we bless that combination platter.
As we bless Dan. So let us say as one, “Happy birthday, most eminent Youngblood!”
Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto, had never performed with Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal; Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. But when they got together for a set at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, “Music was made,” to quote James Chirillo. The first part of this glorious mutual improvisation can be found here, with exquisite leisurely performances of WABASH BLUES, IF I HAD MY WAY, BOOGIE WOOGIE, also an explanation of my whimsical title.
Here is the remainder of that memorable set.
YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:
ROSES OF PICARDY:
WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE:
47th STREET JIVE:
What a wonderful quartet! I look forward to their next meeeting(s).
You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.
You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.
Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.
Here’s the room as it is now. Notice the vertical sign?
This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .
On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially. This is important news to me and I hope to you. So let me make it even more emphatic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS.
That is as emphatic as WordPress permits. I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.
But back to current events. On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30. These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”! Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar. Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.
Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one. It’s a small room, so be prepared. (I am, and I’ll be there.) And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”
If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you. And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted. I guarantee it.
But who is Matthew Rivera?
I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.
It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.” Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:
and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:
About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES. YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later. Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:
and the second part:
and some samples of the real thing. First, the complete WHO?
DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:
and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:
Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights. Oh, no. When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:
The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments. Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.
See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.
Early on November 4, 2016, an august group of informally-attired gentlemen assembled within the Village Hotel in Newcastle, England, at what is now called Mike Durham’s Whitley bay Classic Jazz Partyto rehearse their set of songs and arrangements by the most-talented and most short-lived Alex Hill. Their aims: to have a jubilee and also do some needed functionizin’.
The truly all-star band was led by trumpeter / scholar / arranger Menno Daams, and was comprised of David Boeddinghaus, piano; Spats Langham, guitar and vocal; Henry Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums; Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, trumpets; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Richard Exall, Robert Fowler, Lars Frank, reeds; Jim Fryer, Alistair Allan, trombones.
This was a rehearsal: thus, not everything had already been polished through focused playing and replaying, but the absence of an audience occasionally lets musicians cut loose and experiment. I’ve intentionally left in the pre-and-post comments to give listeners the experience of being there.
And although they knew I was there, they happily managed to ignore me, which was fine then and turned into a great boon for all of us. I had a wonderful view of the chairs, but one must sit far enough back in the room to capture everyone in the band. My focus wasn’t perfect, but at least you can blame the camera rather than its operator. The sound is clear, and the absence of an audience, bringing pint mugs back and forth and chatting, is a great boon, although sharp-eared video observers will hear some commentary which usually stops when the band begins.
About the band name: I don’t think Menno and Co. had an official collective sobriquet in the program, and many of the original Hill sessions were issued as “his Hollywood Sepians,” and no amount of linguistic immolation on my part could convert that to a group title both appropriate and inoffensive. I will leave the possible variations on that theme to you, and comments offering such names will, alas, never see the light of cyber-day.
On to the blessed music. LET’S HAVE A JUBILEE:
SONG OF THE PLOW:
AIN’T IT NICE?:
DISSONANCE (Mezz Mezzrow took credit, but it is a Hill composition and arrangement):
DELTA BOUND (with wonderful singing by Mr. Langham, typically):
FUNCTIONIZIN’, a close cousin of SQUEEZE ME:
KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL, wise advice:
One of the unannounced pleasures of this Party, held this November in the same space [the “v.snuggly” Village Hotel] is that well-behaved listeners are welcome to sit in on rehearsals — a rare pleasure. Blessings on Alex, Menno, and the wonderful musicians for their splendid work in keeping the good sounds alive.
And just so you know my enthusiasm is global, not local, this comment, relayed through my good friend Sir Robert Cox: “Tom [that’s Spats] said how brilliant Menno’s arrangements were and how much, to their astonishment, rehearsal had taken only 45 minutes. He said that, never in the history of the party, had a rehearsal lasted less than an hour.”
I am moderately accident-prone: I can trip over an uneven sidewalk; have the last bit of salad dressing adhere to my shirt; while driving, I may unsuccessfully avoid a pothole with an $800 repair bill as the result. I laugh about it.
So I admire those who see the looming catastrophe, however its size and shape, and step around it without spilling their tea. They aren’t Bojangles, Fred, or Gene — just people who sense the landmine and gracefully avoid it. Jazz musicians are especially good at fixing errors before they turn into train wrecks.
Two of these Masters — you could call them spiritual acrobats or merely veterans of the trade — are trombonist Bob Havens and guitarist / singer / arranger Marty Grosz. Both of these heroes are born in 1930, so when this brief interlude took place on September 16, 2011, they were 81. Decades of experience! The occasion was the yearly Jazz at Chautauqua, the beloved child of Joe Boughton, that was held at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York (ninety minutes from Buffalo). It was a memorable jazz weekend, with about thirty musicians playing and singing from Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon.
One of the particular delights of Chautauqua grew out of Joe’s love for beautiful semi-forgotten songs. Thus the weekend began and ended with a ballad medley. Four musicians were chosen as a skilled rhythm section, and from one side of the stage, everyone else walked on, indicated briefly to the rhythm section what song they had chosen and in what key, played or sang a chorus at a slow tempo, and walked offstage from the other side. Emotionally powerful, visually charming, full of surprises and sweet sensations.
For the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua’s closing medley, the rhythm section was Keith Ingham, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums. The complete medley ran perhaps twenty minutes: I’ve excerpted a segment I find particularly touching.
You’ll see at the start of this excerpt Bob Havens step onstage and explain by words and gestures that he plans to play — in seconds — LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND, the nostalgic creation of Charles and Nick Kenny and Danny Coots’ great-uncle, J. Fred. It’s a favorite song of mine, first recorded in 1931 by (among others) Ruth Etting, then made into a huge success by Pat Boone. I won’t comment on what the trajectory from Ruth to Pat suggests to me, especially because it was one of Vic Dickenson’s favorites also (his medium-bounce version can be found on YouTube). In its homespun way, it’s a seventeenth-century poem: human love always loses the battle with nature and time, and tears are inevitable.
The opening phrase is familiar, the harmony simple, but unless my ears deceive me, there is a slight uncertainty in the rhythm section about the harmonies that follow, so Havens, used to this sort of thing for decades, “spells out” the harmony by emphasizing arpeggiated chords as he goes along — and the performance not only reaches its goal but our hearts as well.
Then Marty, who always goes his own way, thank goodness, asks everyone to be silent while he essays EMALINE. That in itself would be brave — the lyrics to the chorus are pure Waltons-Americana, but they might be fairly well known. No, our hero Martin Oliver Grosz begins with the verse and gets about one-third of the way before realizing his memory of the lyrics is incomplete: hear his inimitable rescue! And the chorus is just lovely. Incidentally, Frank Tate is someone I deeply admire: watch and listen to this clip again, and look at his facial expressions as Marty walks the thorny path he has chosen for himself.
For those who need to know (I had to look them up) the pretty although seriously hackneyed lyrics to the verse are: Ev’ning breezes hum a lullaby / There’s a million candles in the sky / I’ve put on my Sunday suit of blue / Emaline, just for you / Here I’m standing at your garden gate / While the village clock is striking eight / Hurry up! Hurry down! / Honey, don’t be late! (I especially like the “up” and “down,” but I’m a sentimentalist.)
The musicians on this stage (and their friends) are my role models. What does a brief error matter if you either head it off or make a joke out of it: in both cases, they not only avoid trouble but cover it up so stylishly that the result is even better than plain old competence. All hail!
There will be more previously unknown treasures from the Jazz at Chautauqua weekends — and then its successor, the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party — in months to come. “Too good to ignore,” said Eddie Condon, who spoke truth.
And some more ephemera, documenting the New York jazz club The Hickory House (the first photograph is from 1937):
still another postcard, to mail to the folks back home to show you were having a grand time in the big city:
But that’s mighty thin substance for a jazz blog. How about this? (I wish sellers would erase their pencil annotations from holy relics, but that may be just me.)
and the front:
The eBay link is here; the seller’s price is $79.99 “or Best Offer.” Free US shipping too — who could resist?
The signature looks genuine, and the seller asserts, “Rare Hickory House New York Jazz Club Postcard Signed by Pee Wee Russell. I guarantee the authenticity of the autograph as I discussed it with the wife of the owner who received it from the jazz legend.”
Here‘s a glimpse of the hickory House drink menu . . . although the modern annotator misses the point that a seventy-five cent drink was not “cheap” at all in the Thirties and Forties.
Alas, here is what 144 West 52nd Street looks like (according to Google) now. I daresay there are no aromas of broiled steaks and chops — for my vegan friends, no baked potato, either. And I certainly can’t imagine the music of Pee Wee Russell or Joe and Marty Marsala coming out into the street:
But Mr. Russell is always generous with his sounds, and is thus always alive:
That’s what he, Joe Sullivan, and Zutty Singleton sounded like in 1941. There are, of course, many other samples of Pee Wee’s expansive career on YouTube and elsewhere. Even if you don’t want to make an offer for the postcard, you could spend many joyous and enlightening hours with him.
The eBay seller jgautographs continues to delight and astonish. They (she? he?) have several thousand items for sale as I write this, for auction or at a fixed price, and even if the later items are unusual yet unsigned photographs, what they have to show us is plenty, from Jacquelie Kennedy Onassis’ stationery, a Playbill signed by Arthur Miller (DEATH OF A SALESMAN, of course), Joey Heatherton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Redford, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Frederick Douglass, Stephen Sondheim, and more. When people signed their name in cursive, and often before ballpoint pens were ubiquitous.
And did I mention they have jazz autographs for sale? I remarked upon such wonders here and here about ten days ago. I’ll leave it to you to search the thousands of items, but here are some of very definite jazz interest. (This time, the seller is not showing the reverse of these signatures, as (s)he did earlier, so there is a slight air of mystery to these offerings. But someone was hip.)
There must still be thousands of Tommy Dorsey signatures still circulating, but this one’s unusual: did TD sign it for a family friend, or for someone who asked what his middle name was? I’ve not seen another like it, and the flourishes mark it as authentic.
Coleman Hawkins had gorgeous handwriting, which does not surprise me. I have no idea if the signature and photograph are contemporaneous, though:
Someone who worked on and off with Hawk, including time in the Fletcher Henderson band and reunions in the 1956-7 period, my hero, Henry “Red” Allen:
and a signature rarely seen, Leon “Chu” Berry — also from the time when musicians not only signed their name but said what instrument they played:
So far, this post has been silent, but it would be cruel to not include the two small-group sides that bring together Hawk, Red, and Chu — under the leadership of Spike Hughes in 1933 (also including Sidney Catlett, Lawrence Lucie, Wayman Carver, Benny Carter, and Dicky Wells — truly all-star!
HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?
SWEET SUE, JUST YOU (with a glorious Carver flute chorus):
Back to Chu Berry . . . he was playing in Cab Calloway’s band at the end of his life; in the trombone section was Tyree Glenn, who lived much longer (I saw him with Louis):
A star of that orchestra and a star in his own right, trumpeter Jonah Jones:
Here’s BROADWAY HOLDOVER, originally issued on the Staff label under Milt Hinton’s name, featuring Jonah, Tyree, Al Gibson, Dave Rivera, and J.C. Heard:
Our autograph collector friend also made it to a club where Pete Brown was playing — again, another signature rarely seen:
Pete, Tyree, Hilton Jefferson, Jerry Jerome, and Bernie Leighton join Joe Thomas for one of my favorite records, the Keynote YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:
And (exciting for me) our collector made a trip to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, from whence the signatures of Pee Wee Russell and Miff Mole came. Now, two musicians from the same schools of thought — the short-lived Rod Cless:
and trumpet hero Sterling Bose:
and because they have been so rare, here are the four sides by the Rod Cless Quartet with Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster on the Black and White label — I am told that the Black and White sides will be a Mosaic box set, which is fine news. Here’s HAVE YOU EVER FELT THAT WAY? (with verse):
MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR:
and James P., brilliantly, on I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
If I could play clarinet, I would like to sound like Cless.
And a postscript of a personal nature: the auction ended a few minutes ago. I bid on the Cless, the Pete Brown, the Bose, and on a whim (because I knew it would go for a high price) the Chu Berry. Chu went for nearly $171; someone beat me by a dollar for Sterling Bose, but my bids — not exorbitant — won the Cless and Pete. When they come in the mail, I envision a frame with Pee Wee, Rod, and Pete. It will give me pleasure, and some years from now, it will give someone else pleasure also.