JOSEPH “TRICKY SAM” NANTON, 1904-46, thanks to Tohru Seya.
One of the great pleasures of having a blog Few jazz listeners would recognize is the ability to share music — often, new performances just created. But I go back to the days of my adolescence where I had a small circle of like-minded friends who loved the music, and one of us could say, “Have you heard Ben Webster leaping in on Willie Bryant’s RIGMAROLE?” “Hackett plays a wonderful solo on IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE).” Allow me to share some joy with you, even if we are far away from each other.
Some of the great pleasures of my life have been those players with sharply individualistic sounds. Think of trombonists: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Bennie Morton, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Harrison, Bill Harris, Trummy Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Miff Mole, Sandy Williams, and more. And the much-missed fellow in the photograph above. This high priest of sounds is a hero of mine. He left us too young and he loyally refused to record with anyone except Ellington. I don’t ordinarily celebrate the birthdays of musicians, here or in other neighborhoods, but February 1 was Mister Nanton’s 115th, and he deserves more attention than he gets. He was influenced by the plunger work of Johnny Dunn, a trumpeter who is far more obscure because he chose a route that wasn’t Louis’, but Tricky Sam was obviously his own man, joyous, sly, and memorable.
Here he is with Ellington’s “Famous Orchestra” band on perhaps the most famous location recording ever: the November 7, 1940 dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, recorded by Jack Towers and Dick Burris on a portable disc cutter. ST. LOUIS BLUES, unbuttoned and raucous, closed the evening, with solos by Ray Nance, cornet; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Ivie Anderson, vocal; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; and Tricky Sam — before the band combines BLACK AND TAN FANTASY and RHAPSODY IN BLUE to end. (The complete band was Duke, Rex Stewart, Ray Nance, Wallace Jones, Tricky Sam Nanton, Lawrence Brown, Juan Tizol, Otto Hardwick, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, Fred Guy, Jimmie Blanton, Sonny Greer, Ivie Anderson, Herb Jeffries. And the whole date has been issued on a 2-CD set.)
It says a good deal that Duke saved Tricky Sam for the last solo, the most dramatic. Who, even Ben, could follow him?
You will notice — and it made me laugh aloud when I first heard it, perhaps fifty years ago, and it still does — that Tricky Sam leaps into his solo by playing the opening phrase of the 1937 WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK (Larry Morey and Frank Churchill) from the Disney SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. How it pleases me to imagine Ellington’s men taking in an afternoon showing of that Disney classic!
Let no one say that Sonny Greer couldn’t swing, and swing the band. To paraphrase Gloria Swanson in SUNSET BOULEVARD, “They had sounds then.”
And just on the Lesley Gore principle (“It’s my blog and I’ll post if I want to”) here’s a full-blown 2013 version of WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK by John Reynolds, guitar and whistling; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; Katie Cavera, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, clarinet — recorded at the 2013 Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California . . . another stop on the 2019 JAZZ LIVES hot music among friends quest. No trombone, but Joseph Nanton would have enjoyed it for its headlong verve:
May your happiness increase!