Category Archives: “Thanks A Million”

“HOW’S YOUR LOUISNESS?” (January 1, 1947)

To celebrate the publication of his book REALLY THE BLUES, Mezz Mezzrow was the star of a concert at New York’s Town Hall on January 1, 1947 as a benefit for the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief.

The basic band was Muggsy Spanier, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Sammy Price or Art Hodes, Wellman Braud, Baby Dodds.  Later in the evening Bob Wilber’s Wildcats were added: Johnny Glasel, Ed Hubble, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Charlie Traeger, Eddie Phyfe.  Coot Grant and Kid Sox Wilson also performed.  The concert was recorded on twelve-inch acetates on two machines (hooray!) and ten performances were issued on lp — Jazz Archives JA-39 — but what follows was not.

Quite simply, it is an exultant hymn of praise to Louis.

It’s a life-changing performance of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING by Johnny Windhurst, unlisted in Tom Lord’s discography, with Bechet, prominent, and Dick Wellstood on piano.  My guess is that the veterans gave place to the Youngbloods, but it’s Windhurst who catches our ears and our hearts.  Rather like Hot Lips Page in his prime, Windhurst seems energetically lit from within, and just when you think he might have had enough or done enough, he takes another chorus.  Radiantly.

After Mezz’s announcement, the roadmap (to my ears) is one ensemble statement of the theme, one chorus by Bechet; one chorus by Wellstood; one by Eddie Hubble, trombone; two choruses by Windhurst with Bechet and the ensemble joining in. The tape I was working with was a copy of a reel-to-reel tape where the plastic had started to decay, alas, so there is some distortion and tape squeal.  But if you can turn away from Windhurst’s shining Louisness because of these flaws, we don’t have much to say to each other.

Incidentally, the question, “How’s your Louisness?” is, I believe, a co-invention of two of my favorite people, Riley and Clint Baker. . . . it is another way of saying, “How’s your internal spiritual compass?” and “Have you spread some joy today?”  They do, and certainly young Mister Windhurst does.

Play it again, and feel the warmth of that smile.

May your happiness increase!

 

CHRIS FLORY’S MAGIC DEEP-BLUE SWING ENGINE (with JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, NEAL MINER at CAFE BOHEMIA, November 14, 2019)

I think my subject line says it all.  There are musicians who can swing when the band is swinging (they hitch onto the back of the truck and ride along).  Others can swing the whole room, unaccompanied, in eight bars.

Chris Flory is a shining example of the latter species; his playing is full of emotion but limber, and his music always feels honest.  Here he is, improvising on Harold Arlen’s I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES at Cafe Bohemia in the fabled past — November 14, 2019 — with Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Neal Miner, string bass:

Don’t let the red lighting disconcert you: everything Chris plays has, somewhere in it, indigos.  They shine, and they warm us.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE GIRLS’ SCHOOL (December 1, 1951)

Concord Academy, Concord, Mass., established 1922 for grades 9-12, enrollment less than 500 students.  Surely I don’t understand upper-class girls’ boarding schools, but it seems the last place one would find a hot jazz concert — or was it a dance? — in late 1951.  Then again, jazz was still the popular music.  Doing research on the Boston hot jazz scene of this period, I came upon this passage from a 1950 story in the Harvard Crimson about the genesis of the school’s hot band, the Crimson Stompers.  Savor this as a relic of a vanished time, please:

They went twice to Smith College (Gifford is carried away by the memory where 200 girls in sweat shirts and dungarees sat in a semicircle and shrieked for the real oldtimers like “Coal Cart Blues” (an Armstrong standby).

That, I think, is the emotional connection between Concord Academy and jazz.

One of the musicians, cornetist Johnny Windhurst, then 25, had substantial fame.  Windhurst had been the second horn in Sidney Bechet’s quintet that broadcast from the Savoy Cafe in 1945; he had returned to the Savoy in 1949 with Edmond Hall’s band that had Vic Dickenson in the front line.  In New York, he had performed with Eddie Condon, Jack Teagarden, James P. Johnson, and other notables, at Town Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino; in 1952, he would be playing regularly at Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street.  Windhurst turned down opportunities to travel, would not learn to read music, and stayed close to home until his death in 1981.  He is a glorious player, his solos arching towards the skies.

Trombonist Eddie Hubble was an early associate of Bob Wilber, a superb extension of Jack Teagarden, and by this time he had performed with Red McKenzie, Wild Bill Davison, Frank Chace, George Wein, Doc Evans, Joe Sullivan.  He, too, was heard on Boston radio broadcasts.

“Ollie” Taylor [Oliver S. Taylor, Harvard, ’53] may not have continued on with music, and his recorded career is limited to two performances linked to drummer Walt Gifford.  But he was playing alongside professionals as early as 1948.  His father was a Harvard history professor, and the Harvard hot band, the Crimson Stompers, formed and rehearsed at the Taylor house.

I know even less about the fine supportive pianist Pete Hewitt: he recorded three sides with a band led by Gifford that also had Hubble.  Where did he go after Harvard?  Walt Gifford, Harvard ’52, managed the Crimson Stompers, and he had a professional career which I can follow into the Sixties, he did not get the notice his work deserved.  (Then again, I say to myself, “Who does?”)

That Boston-and-beyond scene was flourishing: Ed Hall, Frank Chace, and Frank Newton played and recorded with iterations of the Crimson Stompers; the young woman who would become Barbara Lea — born Leacock — was both their star singer and Windhurst’s girlfriend.

I also am reasonably sure that the music was recorded by Joe Boughton, who was an early and pious Windhurst devotee [archivist? stalker?], a wonderful thing, seventy years later — although I have a half-memory of some musician writing something like, “Wherever we’d be playing, he’d show up with the damned tape recorder and it would be running.”  To my right, as I write this, I have a photograph of Windhurst on my wall, inscribed to Boughton, with surprise at a “sober Saturday”! Thank goodness we have slightly more than a half hour of the music: all “Dixieland” classics, and beautifully played: strong soaring solos, wonderful rhythm (you don’t miss a string bass), nice riffs and backgrounds.  As young as they were, they were splendidly professional.  And not to slight Ollie Taylor, it is Windhurst and Hubble who continue to astonish (they were both continuing to do so when I saw them, separately, in 1971 and 1972.)

I also don’t know anything about a school like Concord Academy and its cultural anthropology.  Was this a dance?  Did the girls get to invite their beaux?  Or was it a social event where the band played for listening?  I don’t sense a large room crowded with eager teens; in fact, it’s hard to sense an audience at all.  I wish I knew, but here’s the music.  And what music!

In Windhurst I often hear Hackett, but Bobby with almost insolent ease, fluidity and power — although it’s clear that he’s absorbed Louis and the Condon trumpet crew.  When he moves around on the cornet, there’s never any strain, as he accomplishes versions of super-Bix.  And that sound! — full and shining.  Next to him, Hubble echoes Teagarden but also the slippery power and audacity of Lou McGarity and Brad Gowans.  Taylor’s approach is slightly less assured — more Parenti than Hucko — but his earnest lyricism is sweetly appealing, and occasionally (hear the end of his chorus on ONE HOUR, where he asks himself, “What would Pee Wee do?”) he comes up with memorable phrases, although occasionally he’s not completely familiar with the song.  Hewitt is wonderfully orchestral and spare at once, summoning Stacy and streamlined stride (SAINTS is the best example); he isn’t fancy in the ensembles, but you feel him providing solidly moving chordal support.  And Gifford plays splendidly for the band, sometimes pushing the hi-hat in the best Jo Jones fashion, otherwise relying on snare and bass drum, always thinking of what the band needs at the moment in the nicest Wettling manner.  It’s a very cooperative band — players who had worked together and readily created supporting figures.  And although the repertoire is familiar as “Dixieland,” the rhythmic emphasis here is on swing: they’re playing the tunes rather than copying the hallowed recordings.  Hear how Hubble and Windhurst leap into their solos on SAINTS.

Can you tell I admire this band?

The songs are WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / IF I COULD BE WITH YOU / JADA / JAZZ ME BLUES / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / SAINTS / SUGAR (faded out):

The recording — I feel certain it’s tape or a 33 rpm acetate — has been edited to eliminate both applause and pauses between songs, and the microphone is inside the band so that we hear the musicians’ comments to each other.  Was it broadcast on the local radio station?  And the recordist turns up the right knob while Hewitt solos so that his sound isn’t lost: this isn’t an accidental “capture.”

On Facebook, I hear many young bands showing their skills — sometimes simply their enthusiasm.  I wish many of them would study this tape: it’s a model of how to play this repertoire with great expertise and passion while making it look easy, aiming for polished small-band swing rather than trying to replicate some more ancient evidence.

Enjoy the glowing sounds as well as the little mysteries that accompany them: the people who could have explained it all are gone. Think of a time when such a band could exist and play a date at a local school.  Days gone by for sure.  (I wonder whether Concord Academy has its own archives: one can dream.  I will send this post to them.)

P.S.  I invite the word-averse to skip what follows.  Between 2006 and 2020, I carried video recording equipment to gigs; with large interruptions, I had brought audio equipment from 1971 to 2006 and sometimes beyond.  Through the immense kindness of jazz benefactors John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bill Gallagher, Bob Hilbert, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Tom Hustad, Hal Smith, Ricky Riccardi, Sonny McGown, and others, I’ve amassed hours — years, it seems — of rare recordings, primarily on audiocassette.  Thanks to a grant from the Charles Sammut Foundation and Laura Wyman’s encouragement, I figured out how to convert those cassettes into moderately-competent YouTube videos, and I’ve been doing this for the last month.  Why?  Some of this activity is an antidote to pandemic boredom-and-loneliness, but there is also my thought that when my executors come to clean out my apartment, and they are a very hip bunch, no one has room for three or four hundred cassettes.  It pained me that if I didn’t do something about it, my tapes (for example) of Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Joe Thomas, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Bennie Morton . . . would never be heard.  That was intolerable to me.  So I hope you greet these audio rarities with the pleasure that I take in sharing them.

May your happiness increase!

THE PERFECT JAZZ REPERTORY QUINTET: DICK HYMAN, BOB WILBER, PEE WEE ERWIN, MILT HINTON, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (Nice Jazz Festival, July 9, 1978)

Truth in advertising.

The PERFECT JAZZ REPERTORY QUINTET actually was.

It was one of those bands that actually lived up to its bold title, whether the front line was as it was here, or the variation that I saw in Morgan Park in Glen Cove, so many years ago — Joe Wilder and Phil Bodner (with Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, and I think Ronnie Zito).

Under Dick Hyman’s astonishing leadership, the Quintet chose to concentrate on jazz before the Second World War, but the result was timeless, full of improvisational brilliance and energy, even though there were many manuscripts on those music stands. One of the pleasures of the video that follows is seeing members of the quintet, professional in every detail, taking their music off the stands at the end of the set.  But I have doubt that a Quintet performance concentrating on the music of Tadd Dameron, Charlie Parker, and early Miles Davis would have been compelling music also.

Here we have their first manifestation: Dick Hyman, piano; Pee Wee Erwin, cornet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones; Milt Hinton, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.

The video that follows captures a performance at the Grande Parade du Jazz, made for French television but apparently not broadcast and certainly not trimmed-down for time limitations.

Setting up [for the impatient, the “music begins at” 5:55] / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE [at a lovely swaying tempo] / MY MAN’S GONE NOW (Wilber) / OLD MAN BLUES / SOPHISTICATED LADY (Hyman, Hinton, Rosengarden) / JUST BEFORE DAYBREAK (Erwin – Hyman) / DOOJI WOOJI / DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / a few seconds of packing up //.

The late reedman Leroy “Sam” Parkins told me, more than once, that great art was in the balance between passionate abandon and expert restraint.  The Quintet embodies that in every note.

A very happy P.S.  I posted this video early on Friday, February 20, and mid-afternoon Mr. Dick Human himself (he will be 94 this March 8) commented on the video:

I am so glad that Michael Steinman posted this performance. I had no idea that we were documented at the time. Everyone was at his best, and I am grateful that he released it.—Dick Hyman

It’s a real thrill to know that your heroes are paying attention to what you do.

May your happiness increase!

JOSH DUNN: MELODY MAN’S DREAM

Photograph by Jessica Keener Photography.

In the past fifteen years of being an involved observer in New York City, I’ve met many musicians.  Sometimes the circles I travel in are both small and reassuring.  But every so often I’ll come to a gig and there will be someone setting up whose face is unfamiliar, and I will introduce myself, then sit back and be ready to take in the new sounds.  More often than not, the experience is a delightful surprise, so much so that I might go up to the person after the set and say, my enthusiasm barely restrained, “You sound wonderful.  Where on earth did you come from?”

That was my experience with young guitarist Josh Dunn, whom I hope many of you have met in person as well as through videos — mine and his own.  And when he said, “Tasmania,” I had to ask him again. “What?” “Tasmania.” And it finally sunk in — that he had traveled over ten thousand miles (sixteen thousand kilometers) to arrive here, bearing sweet inventive melodies and irresistible swing.

I first met and heard Josh at Cafe Bohemia on November 21, 2019 — where he was quite comfortable in the fastest musical company New York City has to offer: Tal Ronen, string bass; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn.  Hear how he fits right in and elevates the proceedings on LADY BE GOOD:

and a few months later, I had another opportunity to admire Josh’s steady rhythmic pulse, his intuitive grasp of the right harmonies (those chiming chords), and the way his single-string lines never seem glib but always offer refreshing ways to get from expected point A to point B.  Here, again — on the last night I visited New York City — he fit right in with the best of them: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Sean Cronin, string bass:

And he understands the guitar’s honored and venerable role as a small orchestra, where a masterful player has to keep melody, harmony, and rhythm going on what George Van Eps called “lap piano.”  Here’s a wonderful solo by Josh on a Duke Ellington- Barney Bigard composition, A LULL AT DAWN:

I’m inspired by how much music Josh makes ring in the air.  But this video of THE GLORY OF LOVE stops abruptly — so be warned — it’s almost painful.  I think, “I want to hear more!”:

Because I was impressed by Josh as a player — the evidence is here and on YouTube — and as a person (he’s soft-spoken, witty in an offhand way, and quite modest . . . he’s thrilled to be on the stand with these heroes) I suggested we do an email interview so that more people could get to know him.  The results:

I come from an incredibly supportive, but non-musical family background. My family are mostly in medical/health-related fields, and as middle child I felt compelled to get as far away from that as possible, hence traditional jazz guitar. I told my folks I wanted to pick up guitar when I was about 7, I can’t recall if there was any reasoning behind this except that guitars looked cool. I still think they look cool.

For its size, Tasmania is an incredibly vibrant place for the creative arts, including music. I am really grateful that I had opportunities to grow up there, and play with and learn from such terrific musicians. My first guitar teacher in Tasmania, Steve Gadd, introduced me to a lot of the music styles I still listen to, practice, and perform now. However, Tassie is such a small community, and it’s hard to find opportunities to make a living playing music when you live on tiny island at the bottom of the world, especially in a somewhat niche style like traditional jazz.

I grew up listening to jazz and the more I learnt about the music and its history, the more I started to gravitate towards New York. I didn’t initially see myself living here (it’s about as far removed from rural Tasmania in lifestyle and environment as you can find) but in 2013 I received a grant to travel and study in the US for three months, and halfway through I arrived in New York and immediately changed my plans so I could spend the rest of the trip exploring the city. As someone who has learnt this music from afar, it was so exciting to experience jazz as a living music and culture, and it made me want to come and learn more. So from there I applied for the Fulbright and that provided the impetus to move to the US and play music.

An interlude from reading: Josh plays SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES:

So a big part of my informal jazz education before coming to New York was watching the Jazz Lives videos on YouTube, particularly the Sunday nights at the Ear Inn with Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri and Company. It was how I learnt a lot of the repertoire, and discovered how this music was actually being played by contemporary musicians today.

Matt’s one of my musical heroes, so when I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I contacted him out of the blue and asked for a lesson. We emailed a little but somehow never quite managed to confirm a time, and I only had a few days left in NYC. So I took the drastic action of working out what approximate neighborhood he lived in from an allusion to a particular local venue in an online interview, and then just spent the afternoon wandering around that part of Brooklyn with a guitar, hoping for the best. Somehow it worked, I ran into him on the street, and we had our lesson, and it was only recently that we talked about how creepy it was to be approached on the block where he lived by a stranger from the other side of the world wanting a guitar lesson. It’s probably commonplace for Matt now, but I get the feeling that in 2013 it was a novel experience him.

You asked me for unusual NYC gig stories — I was hired for a mystery gig a few years back by a singer I didn’t know, I was just given an address, a dress code and a time, and it ended up being a private party hosted by a well known Hollywood actor. Which, as someone who’s only experience with that world was watching rented films while growing up in rural Tasmania, was a bit of culture shock for me.

I have no lofty ambitions of fame or fortune in music (but I admire those that do). The thing I have spent most of my life doing is playing guitar, usually by myself in my bedroom, but also with some of my favorite people in front of an audience. Since moving to the US I’ve somehow been able to turn that into something I get paid to do most nights of the week. So I want to keep learning and honing my craft as a musician, and also to continue making good music with good people. More recently I’ve started keeping a list of notes on my phone whenever I have the thought of “I wish someone had told me that a few years ago,” so maybe down the track I’ll be more involved in teaching in some form, but my main goal is to be in New York playing music.

More recently I’ve been enjoying the challenge of making solo jazz guitar an interesting thing to listen to for people who aren’t solo jazz guitarists. I could see myself pursuing this avenue too.

If you asked me for a compact embodiment of Beauty, as it happens now, I might very well reach for this:

Or if you asked me to define Collective Joy.  You don’t see Josh until three minutes’ in, but you certainly hear what he adds is the real thing, and then:

I’ll leave with this.  At one of the Cafe Bohemia gigs, I talked with a musician who’d dropped by to admire the band, and I said, “How about that Josh Dunn?” His reaction was immediate and emphatic, “We’re not letting him leave New York any time soon!”  My thoughts exactly.

Thank you, Josh, for improving the air.

May your happiness increase!

I’LL STRING ALONG WITH THEM: “STRAIGHT AHEAD,” THE DON STIERNBERG QUARTET

Listening to a new CD, my desires are simple.  Swing, lovely sonorities, collective empathy, improvisation that sounds easy and natural but is really expert, good recorded sound, respect for melody, an avoidance of cliche, variety in repertoire, approach, tempos.

I’m really easy to please.  It should sound like music.  And STRAIGHT AHEAD, by the Don Stiernberg Quartet (the leader on mandolin, Andy Brown, guitar, Jim Cox, drums, Phil Gratteau, drums) gets all the checkmarks and more.  I was in the middle of the second track when I started writing this post, which says something about the pleasure these four players create.

The only thing missing — a matter of economics, I am sure — are liner notes, so I hope that my words will fill the gap.  The press-release cliche might be, “Four Chicagoland veterans of the swing scene get together for a session, hitting all the marks from Ray Noble to Jacob do Bandolin and late Django, with affectionate glances at the Great American Songbook.”  I am satirizing the language of the emails that come to me introducing a variety of artists, but the substance is true.

Perhaps the place my press release would have as a headline would be NOT FAKE, NOT SHOWY.  Not tremolo-laden Come Back To Sorrento, not burn-the-fretboard-look-how-fast-I-can-play, but music.  I can’t overemphasize that: not overproduced product, but the real sound of people playing together with affection for the art, and affection for the listeners.

I also want to point to a freshness in the group’s melodic inventions.  A dozen times through my first listening, I was dreading the expected quote or cliche — the Wedding March, LOVE IN BLOOM, I’M BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT — and these blessed fellows had their own sweet ideas, instead.  How very refreshing!  And while I was admiring the ease and pace of Don’s inventive lead, I kept on getting distracted by Andy — rhythm and solo; Phil and Jim’s great pulse and subtle sonic variety . . . hear Jim’s arco on ANOUMAN — that’s the way it’s supposed to sound, and Phil’s varied brush sweeps are a delight.

All I can say is that when I finished my first playing, all I wanted to do was hear it again.  And I’m now on my fourth go-round.  It’s not “Easy Listening” (does anyone remember that record-store category, which, translated, meant Inoffensive Aural Pillow?) but it certainly is easy to listen to.  And for me, there was no faux-astonishment: “Isn’t it wonderful he plays just fine jazz on a mandolin?”  It all sounds good: Don and the instrument are one: the quartet is a soulful sweet entity.

You can hear more here — and you can purchase a download or a disc.  The music is also available at Amazon and iTunes.  However you find it, it’s really worth finding.

May your happiness increase!

“TWO TALKIN’ HORNS”: THIMO NIESTEROK, DAN BARRETT, HARRY KANTERS, STEFAN REY

Thimo, Dan Barrett, Harry Kanters, Stefan Rey, Breda 2019. Photo by Barbara Kanters.

Before you look warily at the title and say to yourself, “WHO is Thimo NiesterokI never heard of him,” as jazz fans often do when facing the unfamiliar, remember that music speaks louder than words, as Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson:

Isn’t that nice — like celestial tap-dancing by four masters?  And just to show you there’s no studio trickery, here they are live:

and this:

Convinced?  Thimo can display a quiet lyricism even at brisk tempos, but he also has wonderful energy and facility.  Go back to the SHEIK and watch Dan Barrett — who’s played cornet for decades — look on like admiring, astonished, awe-struck Uncle Dan as Thimo negotiates the curves, never spilling a drop.

It’s clear that the young man [born in 1996, for goodness’ sake!] knows how to swing, and that he isn’t dependent on the other members of the ensemble to make him do so.  Although they do.  Of course you know Dan Barrett, you should know Harry Kanters, and even though Stefan Rey is new to me, he has a big tone, plays the right notes, bows beautifully, and swings in 2 or 4.

I know some readers will start the quest for who Thimo “Sounds Like,” to quote Barbara Lea.  Perhaps it’s irresistible, especially given our collective nostalgia and yearning to hear more notes our Departed Heroes.  But I wonder: if we say that X sounds just like Warm Jaws Sirloin, we no longer hear X because we are so busy listening for echoes of Warm.  In some way, X has become Jonah in the Whale of the Past.  Not useful to us, and wi-fi in the belly is poor.

I’m writing this, as you might have guessed, to tell you about Thimo’s second CD, TWO TALKIN’ HORNS, with Dan, Harry, and Stefan [beautifully recorded, by the way].  The songs are an engaging bunch: EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY / FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN / WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM / LULLABY OF THE LEAVES / I’M GONNA CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / BREDA (by Thimo) / PLAY GYPSIES, DANCE GYPSIES / TWO TALKIN’ HORNS (Thimo) / COCKTAILS FOR TWO [Dan, vocal] / YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO / I’LL BE SEEING YOU / LULU’S BACK IN TOWN / HEART AND SOUL //

Every effort is made here — effortlessly — to keep things light and bright and sparkling, and varied.  The horns switch off lead and improvised passages; there’s jammed polyphony, riffs, and backgrounds; sounds varied through mutes; the quartet subdivided into solos and duos; split choruses; if a song has a worthwhile verse, you’ll hear it.  I thought of the quartet of a small orchestra, every architectural potential gently explored in the best Braff manner.  Incidentally, the title track harks back to the Rex Stewart – Dickie Wells CHATTER JAZZ, but loquacity of that sort is exhibited only there.

And Thimo’s nicely compact liner notes show that he is articulate even when the horn is in its case:

The intimate sound of small bands without drums (nothing against drummers!) has haunted me for a long time.  This instrumentation leaves space for a different kind of playing, for a special way of feeling time and creating melodies.  When Dan and I met in 2018 and he suggested recording together I was thrilled — as you can imagine!  This is a collection of songs made by Dan and me.  I tried to pick songs that really touch me — both when listening and playing.  But for Dan it seemed to be even more fun to think about the repertoire.  He came up with songs that he had been wanting to play for years, almost forgotten, and it was such a pleasure to see him go through his mental library of hundreds of songs and pick some of the sweetest melodies I’ve heard!  Together with the incredibly swinging Harry Kanters (p) and Stefan Rey (b) this album full of joy, swing, and humor will hopefully lighten a cloudy day or complete the mood of a cozy evening with a good drink!  Whatever it might be — enjoy!

I did.  You will.  You can hear more and purchase copies here.

May your happiness increase!

www.vjm.biz

DANIEL HUCK’S JOYOUS MAGIC

If met off the bandstand, Monsieur Huck, peering over his glasses, round-faced in a rose-colored untucked shirt, might resemble the friendly man on line in front of you at the bank.  You wouldn’t know that he is a bubbling irrepressible expert joyous force of nature.  But he is, as they used to say, an absolute wow.  Observe.

I watch this, and I am laughing and weeping.  Magic has entered the room: Daniel Huck has shone his magic healing light and suddenly everything feels better: even the dust on the windowsill is happy.  How he gives himself utterly and completely to joy I don’t know, but I am honored to live in his world.  And the rest of the band so beautifully embodies the most delicate balance between serious melody, serious swing, and pure fun.

I want this in pill form.

Better, I want to drop my ordinary life and go study with Monsieur Huck, who has learned the secrets and is obviously never Too Busy to share them with us.

And.  Even more expansive magic.  TWO choruses on SUSIE (OF THE ISLANDS), unbelievably joyous:

Blessings on Daniel Huck, on the other members of the band — so sweetly wise: Shona Taylor, cornet, vocal; Guy Champene, clarinet, alto saxophone; Marc Bresdin, clarinet, alto, tenor saxophone; Philippe Anhorn, piano, vocal; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo, tenor guitar; Eric Perron, tuba; Daniel Huck, scat vocal, alto saxophone.  And let us not forget Vidéo : Jeff Guyot at the Hermes Jazz Festival de Frejus, in France, June 10, 2018 — because without M. Guyot, we wouldn’t have this marvel.  (I have to speak up for my sometimes-neglected roving archivists.)  There are three more videos from the same set: I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, WHYLIE AVNUE BLUES, and THE OWLS’ HOOT.  Look for them on YouTube.

If any of my readers knows Daniel Huck personally or even by email, I would take it as the greatest kindness if they would send him this blogpost as a small token of the deepest marveling admiration and gratitude.  I’m completely serious.  Thank you.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S RAINING SWING! (1942)

The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.

 

Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable.  If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.

In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).

Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.

AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).

AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.

Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.

I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free.  CDs are for dinosaurs.”  In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.

This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser.  Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time.  It scrapes the clouds.

May your happiness increase!

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Six) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

I am writing this on February 14, 2021 — Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

From one Sunday to the next, it’s as if time rushes and drags at once.  I look out of my window at my snow-encrusted car and consider the very slow pace of melting; I check my watch and three hours have passed.  Thank goodness we have things to hang on to: for me and I hope for you, our mystical-magical-metaphysical Sunday nights at The Ear Inn are a landmark and a comfort.

The Ear Inn, 2012 Photograph by Alexandra Marks

This week, our comfort, uplift, and joy comes Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Joel Forbes, string bass.  December 12, 2010.

Be honest.  IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE:

Create intimacies.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU:

Realize that everything’s fluid.  THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Now go out and apply what you’ve learned here.  I’ll see you tomorrow.

May your happiness increase!

 

WITH OPEN EARS, CONTINUED: “THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE?”

A few days ago, I conducted what I thought of as an experiment in listening: you can read the original post here.  I published a jazz drum solo I had recorded in 1973, without identifying the player, saying only that it was a professional musician.  I supplied the date to narrow the field . . . thus, it couldn’t be any number of famous contenders.  Because I respect the vast experience my readers bring to this blog, I asked that they do more than supply a name.  I had no prizes to offer, but promised to reveal all.  Here, once again, is the solo:

On this page, and on Facebook, people responded.  I am of course honored that professional musicians read JAZZ LIVES and wrote in.  One or two listeners heard a particular drummer and “answered the question”; others sent in gratifying explanations of what they’d heard.  I’ve edited out the names and offered them in approximate order.

I hear a drummer with excellent time and a swinging feel. This solo is tasteful, thoughtfully composed, and shows an understanding of all the greats associated with the Condon style, the top players of the swing era, and some of the early modern jazz masters. I like that this drummer chose not to make this a technique show, despite apparently having plenty of chops. I’m not sure who it is, but I would bet that it’s somebody with whom I’m familiar. I like! A lot! Oh, and I meant to say I love the use of dynamics, varied phrase lengths, and the tones this drummer gets out of the kit. Great touch.

The timing of the cymbal crashes and the tones of the drums sound like George Wettling (to my ears).  (But it can’t be, as George passed away five years before the recording was made)!

I haven’t the faintest idea who it is, but I appreciate that he/she keeps the listener clued in as to where the beat is and makes real music, not just flashy noise, with taste and drive.

Tasteful drumming. Swings, without being noisy. Have heard Lionel Hampton do things like this.

I’m guessing it’s a trick question that you might have given us a hint to with your use of the word “she”. So I’ll guess Karen Carpenter.

I hear a New Orleans undercurrent.

Swing drummer, listened to Krupa.

I was listening to see if I could pick up a particular melody within the solo, but could not. The swing style is obvious, and the chops are good, but it’s more bashy/trashy than a Rich or Bellson. Cozy Cole comes to mind, but the count off to bring the band back in is too high in tone of voice. The style and vocal “growling” underneath the solo have shades of Lionel Hampton (who always reminded me of a bleating Billy Goat behind his brilliant solos on the Carnegie Hall and other live Goodman stuff). He also makes the crowd laugh at several points, as Hampton might with all his showbiz tricks. So I guess I’m going with Hampton!

Of course you know who I thought of immediately!! Nephew Hal Smith! He’s the best drummer I know.

I like a guessing game, but this IS a stumper. I agree with [  ] – the drums and cymbals sound like the equipment Wettling used and there are a few moments where it does sound like. It’s not Hampton as he didn’t solo that way and that’s not his voice at the end. Oddly enough the voice sounds like Buddy Rich to me, but it’s sure not Buddy. That said – I’m guessing Mel Torme.

It could be Lynn Wallis…but it isn’t.  Sorry..can’t do any better than that. 
(to which someone responded: . . . “way off in every regard.”)

The bass drum is well dampened. Prefers use of snare than his/her toms. Influences are many!

I heard some Wettling influences. Good chops. I would have liked to have heard it in context of what was being played by the band, as it obviously is not a stand alone solo.

I wonder if we should think outside of the box? Definitely some Wettling in there, some Rich as well.

Yes, context is everything. What was the song? I couldn’t determine a count of bars…

Wise enough to pass the challenge on to more qualified ears and brains, preferably those who themselves are drummers and can discriminate between early executers like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and the suchlike, whereas I already know that I cannot. The knowledgeable might ask how bad things can become with the nowadays early jazz listeners´ capabilities and the answer will be that we don´t know that yet since there is still a future. Thanks for the listening opportunity though.

Loved it – that’s all I’ll say.

 In this player, I hear what I hear in Pete Siers: the melody.

Buzzy Drootin?

Yep. It IS Buzzy. Do not have the time now to listen to it properly but will do so later….and yes – of course I love it.

Sounds like someone who is very musical, who must’ve had experience playing snare drum literature. Love it!

Nice drum solo, beautiful touch on the drums and very nice sound on the instrument. I hear a nice technique but he doesn’t use it to much, lot of dynamics in his playing, the drummer keep swinging all the time, I love the way of his playing ! It could be Cozy Cole or Buzzy Drootin…

I hear a master who is taking us on a journey, who is telling us a story in his very own, inimitable way….the second we assume to know where he is leading us, which turn he is going to take, he throws us a friendly curve ball, surprising us pleasantly, reminding us that there are many ways to get to the finish line.

I knew the minute I listened to it Buzzy Drootin.

No crash and bash, very conversational, nice use of space without losing the groove. Love the snare work. I hear music!


“The envelope, please.”

(Sounds of tearing paper, of breath blowing paper apart.)

“For his performance of February 11, 1973, at the Long Beach, New York, Public Library, in an ensemble led by Eddie Barefield, featuring Doc Cheatham, Ray Diehl, and Al Williams, recorded by Rob Rothberg and Michael Steinman, the winner is . . . BUZZY DROOTIN for his work on THAT’S A PLENTY!”

(Applause ranging from politely puzzled to rapturous.)


Why did I set up this experiment?  I assure you my purposes were benevolent.  I’ve always thought that the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests had a hint of malice hidden within, that readers could watch someone they respected be unable to distinguish what to us — who had the answer key — between very clearly different sounds.  “Did you see the new issue?  That [insert abusive slang epithet] thought that Hilton Jefferson was Steve Lacy! ! ! !”

Not here.  Everyone’s a winner; some were reminded of a musician you’d always liked and respected; others have been introduced to someone clearly remarkable, someone to investigate more deeply.  If a reader came away thinking, “I’d never heard of him (or heard him), but he can play!” then all my keystrokes would be completely worthwhile.  And Buzzy is a singular entity: someone with a long recording career who’s not all that well known or remembered in 2021, a musician who’s not predictable, who is completely himself.

But I did have an ideological purpose.

Buzzy, and musicians like him, have been placed into small plastic cubicles with labels according to whom they played with, not what they played.  So he is associated with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, with MUSKRAT RAMBLE and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, with Twenties jazz, rather than his friends Max Roach and Charlie Parker.  (Ever hear a Bird composition titled BUZZY . . . ?)

I knew that if I wrote, “Here’s a previously unheard Buzzy Drootin solo,” some listeners’ ears and minds would close tightly immediately.  “Old-time, pre-Bird, not innovative.  Straw hats, striped vests.  This stuff is no longer played by pros.  Are there any more of those chips?”

Moving to analogy for a moment, I confess to some surprise at the reminder of how many of us think comparatively.  Faced with a new dish, how many of us say, “I taste roasted garlic, Meyer lemon, herbes de Provence, lots of butter, etc.,” or do we say, “That’s just like what Jacques Pepin does with his recipe for ____!”  I know it is hard to listen in isolation, and perhaps that is a great skill.  It’s natural to hear a trumpet player and start checking off Miles-echoes or Roy-resemblances, but that, too, takes away from our focus on what is right in front of us.  If, when we hear a new singer, we start doing chemical analysis, “Hmmm.  12% Ella, 10% Helen Merrill, 40% Sassy, 28% Betty Carter, 10% undefined,” do we hear the actual person’s voice for itself?

Here is the great drummer Kevin Dorn, a superb teacher, speaking of / playing the worlds of Buzzy:

And here is the ebullient Mister Drootin in performance, in color, in Sweden.

Ultimately, my pleasure in sharing this music and encouraging this inquiry is also a little rueful.  In my youth, such splendid musicians could play a free gig at a suburban public library.  They were also gracious; they did not fuss about the two young men who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured their performance without paying union scale or royalties.

I hope Buzzy is pleased to be cherished as he is here.

May your happiness increase!

WITH OPEN EARS

For your consideration, a drum solo, under two minutes.

For the moment, the player — a professional jazz drummer playing live in 1973 — will be unidentified. It’s not a trick, and the player isn’t me.  That the photograph is of a Rogers snare is coincidental.

I offer this as a test run for listeners, because I think even the wisest of us are conditioned by evidence other than what our ears tell us. If we’re given the name X, judgments, associations, preconceptions, likes and dislikes spring to mind.  It’s then difficult for most listeners to actually respond with open-eared curiosity to what they actually hear, rather than guessing who the player is, and other kinds of artistic irrelevancies.

“I don’t know who that is, but wow, she sounds great. . . . ” is a start to true hearing.  “She Sounds Just Like ______,” to me, isn’t.

“What do I hear?” is the central question. This is a “blindfold test” of sorts, but  distinctly not the DOWN BEAT version.  There are no prizes for “getting it right.”

Your thoughts?  I will reveal all in two days, so check back . . .

Since JAZZ LIVES isn’t Facebook, I reserve the right to ignore comments that are unkind.  To anyone.

And just sending in a name — “That’s Big Beat Smoochy! His Chicago period!” — misses the point.  Tell me what you hear . . .

May your happiness increase!

 

ROMANTIC SOUNDS from DUKE ELLINGTON IN CLEVELAND (August 29, 1942)

 

Duke and Evie [Ellis] Ellington

Deep wartime romance, recorded four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor:

I might have heard the music that follows in 1990, but it’s more than memorable to me.  Yes, it’s a medley of current hits for the dancers — but what hits, and how gorgeous they sound.  I only dimly remembered Tricky Sam being inimitable on TANGERINE, but Ben Webster’s absolutely romantic reading of I DON’T WANT TO WALK WITHOUT YOU by Jule Styne and Frank Loesser is a paean to intimacies, never to be forgotten.

It’s the post-Blanton, post-Bigard, but still celestial Ellington orchestra on an NBC broadcast from the Palace Theatre, in Cleveland, Ohio, August 29, 1942 — proving once again Barbara Rosene’s assertion that everything good comes from that state, even if the band was only passing through.

Rex Stewart, cornet; Wallace Jones, trumpet; Ray Nance, trumpet, violin; Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Lawrence Brown, trombone; Juan Tizol, valve-trombone; Chauncey Haughton, clarinet, tenor saxophone;  Johnny Hodges, alto saxophone; Otto Hardwick, alto saxophone, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass-clarinet; Duke Ellington, piano, arranger; Fred Guy, guitar; Junior Raglin, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.

TANGERINE (featuring Tricky Sam Nanton) / WHO WOULDN’T LOVE YOU? (Lawrence Brown), / (unidentified interlude for Chauncey Haughton[?]) / I DON’T WANT TO WALK WITHOUT YOU (Ben Webster) //

May your happiness increase!

 

DAPOGNY, PERSSON, MORTON (Manassas Jazz Festival, November 29, 1985)

“Oh, Mister Jelly!”

I didn’t create this video, but I bless Bob and Ruth Byler for doing just that: James Dapogny, piano, and Bent Persson, cornet, playing CHICAGO BREAKDOWN / BLACK BOTTOM STOMP at the Manassas Jazz Festival, November 29, 1985. It’s been hidden in plain sight [think of that Poe mystery] in the middle of a much longer video, but it was worth the price of the software needed to dig it out.  For me, and of course for you.

Even though the composer credits for WILD MAN BLUES read Armstrong-Morton or the reverse, we know that such a collaboration, on manuscript paper or public performance, didn’t happen.  But this episode gives us a chance to imagine the two of them in duet, north of TOM CAT, west of WEATHER BIRD:

What swing, what intensity, what ease — breathing the idiom and making it live. I will have more of Jim and Bent to share with you (when the Swedish Jazz Kings came to Manassas) shortly: for now, bask in these fine hot sounds.

May your happiness increase!

WITH OPEN EARS

For your consideration, a drum solo, under two minutes.

For the moment, the player — a professional jazz drummer playing live in 1973 — will be unidentified. It’s not a trick, and the player isn’t me.  That the photograph is of a Rogers snare is coincidental.

I offer this as a test run for listeners, because I think even the wisest of us are conditioned by evidence other than what our ears tell us. If we’re given the name X, judgments, associations, preconceptions, likes and dislikes spring to mind.  It’s then difficult for most listeners to actually respond with open-eared curiosity to what they actually hear, rather than guessing who the player is, and other kinds of artistic irrelevancies.

“I don’t know who that is, but wow, she sounds great. . . . ” is a start to true hearing.  “She Sounds Just Like ______,” to me, isn’t.

“What do I hear?” is the central question. This is a “blindfold test” of sorts, but  distinctly not the DOWN BEAT version.  There are no prizes for “getting it right.”

Your thoughts?  I will reveal all in two days, so check back . . .

Since JAZZ LIVES isn’t Facebook, I reserve the right to ignore comments that are unkind.  To anyone.

And just sending in a name — “That’s Big Beat Smoochy! His Chicago period!” — misses the point.  Tell me what you hear . . .

May your happiness increase!

The BOBBY HACKETT SEXTET with ROBERTA PECK at The RIVERBOAT (June 30, 1967)

Bobby Hackett by Charles Peterson

This almost half-hour set is audio, not video (I wasn’t allowed to go to New York jazz clubs yet); some of the personnel is unknown.  However, Bobby is in splendid form and the sound — taken from a microgroove transcription disc, possibly the GUEST STAR series — is superb.  It also offers us a second chance to meet the intriguing and little-documented singer Roberta Peck.

The Riverboat was a restaurant with jazz in the basement of the Empire State Building, where Bobby, Urbie Green, Stan Rubin, and other groups played — with their brief programs recorded by CBS radio and transcribed for distribution to “the men and women of our armed forces,” and to sell U.S. Savings Bonds. Except for Roberta Peck, the personnel is not identified: my guess is Eddie Barefield, alto saxophone; Johnny Mince, clarinet; Ernie Hackett, drums.

This just in: Ernie Hackett, who might be the sole survivor of this lovely band, says he recalls hanging out with Eddie Barefield between sets.  So that’s three out of six plus Roberta.

The songs are BERNIE’S TUNE / EMILY / ‘S’WONDERFUL / Savings Bond promo / FINE AND MELLOW (Peck) / TIME AFTER TIME (Peck) / WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE / SAINTS (incomplete) //.  The photograph of an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert is spiritually connected but not factually so.

Bobby — in glorious form — needs no explanation beyond our rapt attention.  But Roberta Peck deserves some admiring words.

Thanks to her older daughter, Karen Iuliano, and Roberta’s niece, Carol Vater, for their generous help.  The stories below come from my lively conversation with Karen.

Her debut effort (not on CD, although much of it is on YouTube) was produced by John Hammond, and had Clark Terry, George Benson, Buck Clayton, and Frank Wess on it, uncredited arrangements by Quincy Jones, and it received five stars from our own Dan Morgenstern in DOWN BEAT.  Roberta died at 90 in late January 2019.  Here is her obituary — a life well-lived, to me.  Roberta the singer needs to be distinguished from another person with the same name, whose art is visible online.  Karen says, “I don’t even remember my mother doodling.”

Karen wasn’t there at the Riverboat this night in summer 1967, but she remembers the restaurant — she, then fourteen, was there during her mother’s gig, and she recalls when a distinguished visitor — his name is Tony Bennett — danced with her.

“My mom was in addition to a beyond talented vocalist, a fabulous pianist, composer of hundreds of pieces of music including spiritual, children’s and a musical about The Flying Wallendas, an enlightened teacher of piano, vocal and performance skills for all types of students.”

Roberta was the oldest of seven children.  Her father, a part-time builder, played the saxophone.  During her brief success, Roberta toured and performed in Chicago and Nashville as well as other cities — she performed with Red Norvo at the Rainbow Grille in New York.  But before her success, she had composed a piece that a local musician, Ray Beller (altoist with Benny Goodman and others) who ran a music shop, encouraged her to send to Pete Seeger, who was delighted by it.  Roberta met Pete at the Village Gate in New York City; he heard her sing and told her to make a demo tape and send it to John Hammond at Columbia Records.  Karen and I agreed that John was always on the lookout for new talent, and the result was this recording.  I think that Columbia might have seen her as a jazz version of Barbra Streisand: a fine young singer who looked lovely on the cover as well.

After such an auspicious start, although she kept gigging into her seventies, Roberta didn’t become a star, but that had nothing to do with talent, everything to do with shifting musical tastes.  Now, it’s a given that young singers of the jazz persuasion will perform repertoire like Roberta’s, but I think after 1967 the venues for such music were slowly vanishing.  When Roberta was a promising talent, her husband gave up being a music teacher to act as her road manager for a year, creating a debt for both of them that it took some time to shed.

Roberta went to Hampshire College in her fifties and became a teacher of “performance skills,” her classes attended not only by aspiring musicians but by executives who wanted to know how to present themselves well before an audience.  She also composed a great variety of music . . . and lived a long life, remembered with love by her family.  We catch one musical glimpse of her — Karen says her mother sounds nervous, but I don’t hear it.  What I hear is a young woman singing with fervor, comfortable standing next to Bobby Hackett, who knew and admired melody.  As do we.

May your happiness increase!

MORE BOUQUETS FOR EPHIE RESNICK, “A YOUNG SOUL”

EPHIE RESNICK, 1959: This band, which played in the waterfront loft of painter Maurice Bugeaud, featured Danny Barker on banjo, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Walter Bowe on trumpet and Ephie Resnick on trombone. Photo by Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.

 

This is the third in a series of celebrations of the singular trombonist, pianist, composer Ephie Resnick that began in July 2020.  The earlier posts — words and music by Ephie — are here and here.  Ephie continues to be a born seeker and explorer — someone who wants to live in the moment rather than contemplate the glories of the past from a seated position — so although he was pleased by being brought to light, it was less important to him than the work.

Response to the posts about Ephie was enthusiastic, and I started to reach out to the musicians he had played with during his years in England: most were eager to say something about this man they think of as frankly irreplaceable.  Without involving Ephie in any of this, I collected reminiscences and admiring glances, which I offer below.  Ephie deserves this and much more.

Let’s hear Ephie and the wonderful pianist Fergus Read in 1997 (who died young, sadly) creating and recreating WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR:

Simon Da Silva:

Ephie was always so encouraging and friendly to me, I loved playing with him.

Enrico Tomasso:

Ephie was a real positive influence on the guys he came across in London and even now when his name crops up a surprising number of us remember playing with him or hearing him play and warm recollections ensue on his individuality and his little quirks but mostly of how his ideas were always fresh and new and his never ending enthusiasm. Regrettably I only played one or two gigs with him but his effect on opening my musical vision was immense. I remember chatting to him when the age old subject of musicians and families came up and how he intimated that it’s often a stark choice and warned me to be careful that families don’t get in the way. For an Italian descendant like me the family is important but his philosophy helped me in making the right choices so I am now one of the lucky jazz musicians who are able to combine the two.

Here’s part one of Ephie and Marty Grosz in duet, THE END OF INNOCENCE [ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, RUNNIN’ WILD, STRUT MISS LIZZIE]:

Chas McDevitt:

Ephie played a gig with the Merseysippi Jazz Band once and on the tune Mood Indigo he had nowhere to go as all the available harmonisations has already been covered by the front line. So he added a major 7th to the harmony with astonishing and memorable effect – recalled by the leader many times since to me!

Another time at a regular gig in Shere in Surrey – he was accosted outside while he was having a smoke of one substance or another! All I could see was this rather tall lady – I think it was a gregarious jazz singer who had sat in – towering over Ephie talking at him with great passion. When I asked Ephie if he knew the lady – he looked at me and said ‘Apparently!’

Final one, recounted by Warren Vache. In hospital recovering from his car accident, he built up a collection of teddy bears by his bed which the nurses all found very sweet. Turned out this was the only way he could get his weed into the hospital!

Mike Bennett:

I was the bass player in Chas’s band and it’s lovely to hear Ephie’s voice again and to know that he has fond memories of those times.

He and I would often share a ride to gigs when we’d have long discussions about all sorts of topics and as a relatively young man and much less experienced musician I learned so much from him about music but also about all sorts of other things and will always be grateful. He gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when he said ‘All you can do is behave like a gentleman’. It was helpful in the stress of my failing marriage at that time and has been useful to remember since.

Ephie is a truly wonderful player but an inexperienced non-jazz audience would occasionally struggle to follow some of his solos . There was an occasion when the band was booked to play for a very up-market wedding – the reception would be held in a beautiful country hotel overlooking the River Thames but the actual wedding ceremony beforehand was to take place in a lovely rural field on the other side of the river with a small vintage steam launch to ferry the guests across in batches. Chas’s six piece band would at this point be divided in two, with three musicians playing to the guests already in the field whilst Ephie, Candy the banjo player, and I were to play on the boat as it delivered more guests. On our first number Ephie played a mind-blowing cutting-edge solo but Candy and I saw that the passengers looked somewhat mystified. When the tune ended to noticeably muted applause Candy said diffidently ‘ Um..Ephie, this is a wedding…’ to which he responded ‘ Oh, you think we should just play nice toons? ‘ ‘ I think so..’ she said. After which Ephie played some of the loveliest mellow jazz I’ve ever heard, to a very appreciative audience. And we played at that hotel on countless subsequent occasions.

Thank you Ephie.

Part two of THE END OF INNOCENCE [DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY, and AVALON]:

Jimmy Jewell:

We got on really well and when he was in London we used to get together and play standards along with bass and drums on a PC program called Band in A Box. He said the drummer on it was much better than a lot he had worked with. I don’t know if he told you but I recorded his second CD at my flat in London and he was on my second CD, ALMOST STRAIGHT AHEAD. It was recorded in 1997 at my flat. Ephie said that the ballad he was featured on was the best thing he put on record.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the Bandcamp link for that CD, still available.  MAINSTREAM MAGIC and MAINSTREAM MAGIC both feature Jimmy and Ephie in a quintet setting — extraordinary music.  “Nice toons” indeed.]

Mark Aston:

I only met him a few times as I joined Chas’s band late-on but we did a few gigs together. I have very fond memories of our brief encounters and really loved his playing – creative, adventurous and inspiring. He was kind and encouraging of my own efforts (on sax) and that was a lovely thing coming from the great man.

Liam Noble:

I didn’t meet Ephie that many times. I remember playing with him probably 20 years ago (at least) — the main thing I recall is the filthy hollowed out carrot that he used to smoke dope through. And his tunes, which were somehow old and new at the same time and also in the tradition whilst being very personal in style.

Paul Dawson:

I played in Chas McDevitt’s band in London when Ephie was in it, and he and I also did a few gigs in other bands and as a duo (I’m a guitar player). Ephie used to come to my house and we’d work through some musical things, but I was a young man at the time, too wrapped up in my own problems to really learn from Ephie as much wisdom, musical and otherwise, as he had to offer me, which I very much regret. It’s wonderful to know that he’s still around and playing, and great to hear his voice again – although I could almost hear it just reading the interview, because, as in music, his phrasing is so personal an idiosyncratic.

Part three of THE END OF INNOCENCE: [ODJB ONE-STEP / MISS BROWN TO YOU / WOLVERINE BLUES / DON’T BLAME ME / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME]:

Malcolm Earle-Smith:

Ephie Resnick is a superb musician and a wonderful, remarkable man. He wouldn’t agree with me of course, but it’s true. I am so lucky to know him. This year, we’ve been in touch more than in previous years; partly due to the global shutdown, and the need for us to stay in closer contact, but it’s also because we have work to do.

We’ve been talking on the phone and exchanging compositions by mail. We talk about what we feel is important in music. We affirm each other’s efforts (a word that Ephie liked to use when I first knew him). It’s ‘work in progress’: a bit messy, a bit incomplete, but there’s substance there. When I called him a few days ago, I told him I would like us to record some of this material – and hopefully in the not too distant future. We recorded some standards back in February (just before the lockdown), and although the results were promising, I think we’d both like to record again, this time with more original material.

Some of the original material will be co-written. I’ve already worked on one of his tunes, which has quite a chromatic and contemporary feel to it. I had been talking to him about the principles of George Russell’s music, which I find fascinating. This is hard to explain down the phone and in letter, but I feel that Ephie has taken the essence of some of these principles on board, and worked them in his own beautiful way. He’s sent me another tune which sounds almost baroque in places – this is the next one to work on. He also sent me a beautiful melody without chord changes. This is also something we’ve talked about. Giving the melody freedom without specific harmonic constraints. For the melody to stand up in its own right. In a recent letter he wrote: “I’m seeing that making melodies for me is easier than making chords. I was using chords to make melodies but I’m how reversing the process’. After quite a fallow period, I now feel motivated to compose again. I needed inspiration. And being mailed scraps of notated paper has done just that. Some of the phrases are hard to make out (his eyesight is not too good), but there are plenty of gems. That’s the important thing. He’s still making the effort. I’ll work with them, send them back and we’ll see where things go from there. My own compositions have so far been based on well known standards: All the Things you Are and Out of Nowhere. But my aim has been to make the melodies very different to what you might expect from these sequences: ‘In the cracks,’ Ephie might say. Don’t follow the your regular path; explore outside it. This is a central part of Ephie’s musical outlook and what makes him such an engaging musician. Make notes work that shouldn’t, make your lines unexpected. In his last letter, Ephie almost apologised for not sending me anything recently – ‘My piano is being repaired’ he explained. ‘My chord sense is still primitive, so I need the piano to test out new sounds’. I’m glad to say he now has his piano back.

At 92, Ephie still has his young soul. It’s how he keeps being creative. Sometimes when I talk to him I think of him as being younger than me. There’s never a feeling of ‘I’ve seen it all’; instead, a simple openness to learn and move forward. He chooses not to dwell too much on the past, prefers the present and, even at this uncertain time for everyone, looks a little to the future. This is driven by his desire to learn, grow, and improve. And he has always been very generous and supportive towards anyone who is trying to do the same. He is a wonderful friend and mentor.

I first met Ephie in London in the early 1990s when he was performing with Chas McDevitt’s band. My friend Candy Prosser who played banjo in the group, told me I must come down and hear him. Although there were things I didn’t ‘get’ about his music (and that is still sometimes the case!), the impact that Ephie made on me that day was profound: that youthful energy and wonderful sense of swing; his ability to create extraordinary lines that no other trombonist would attempt. The risk taking and ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of the best kind of jazz. And the soulfulness. And when the set finished, I was introduced to one of the most warm, polite, and humble human beings I’ve ever met.

This is not to say Ephie doesn’t have directness of approach and an ‘edge’ on occasion. He’s mellowed a little now, but when I first knew him, he was always keen to observe young musicians and to ‘tell them’ something about their playing. He could be abrupt. His observations and comments were, I think, often linked to his own ongoing development. Muscular tension was one preoccupation which he said had hampered his trombone playing, and he was always keen to observe it others! I remember him telling one young trumpet player not to push himself up on his toes when he played – ‘It’s tension – you have to relax’. He was always telling me to keep still when I played (I hope I move a little less now). Most younger players were grateful for this directness, but sometimes he could push a little too far! One story, concerning my friend Candy (mentioned above), sticks in my mind. After her apparent reticence to learn chord sequences from memory, Ephie decided, mid tune on a gig, to turn her chord book over! After the tune had ground to a finish, Candy, never one to mince her words, said ‘Ephie, don’t you EVER do that again’, to which he impishly replied “Ahhhhh..you’re angry. That’s WONDERFUL!!!’

Shortly after first meeting him, I introduced Ephie to a fellow trombonist and friend of mine, Mark Bassey. For the next couple of years, probably every fortnight or so, we met up at my parents place in North London. It was a workshop – a time for comparing notes, playing jazz standards (three trombone counterpoint!), improvising freely, and even playing Corelli string trios! This last activity was not only challenging as a reading exercise, it was wonderfully instructive on how to phrase and play melody; something that Ephie does beautifully. More recently, I’ve reflected on the classical influence in Ephie’s music. The compositions he has sent me recently certainly have that feel about them. It should be noted that he studied classical trombone at Julliard, 1946-9, and at the same time, was going to hear Bird and Diz at the original Birdland!

A great example of Ephie’s strong sense for melody appears on a Kai Winding Trombones record (1960), a group which I believe he toured with quite extensively:

Kai’s and Ephie’s solos are so different. Kai’s solo is buoyant, bubbles along in lovely relaxed, boppish manner. But Ephie’s entry (after the piano solo), is in full-voice. The opening melody, which underpins the whole solo, could almost be a symphonic theme. After a bustling quaver passage he refers to this theme again, before hitting one of the fattest top F’s I’ve ever heard a trombonist play on record. It swings so wonderfully. It’s loud – not in a tasteless way; a jubilant and affirming way (there’s that word again). I wonder what the other trombonists in the group thought? You can’t compare it to anyone else. This solo has stayed with me. In fact, the opening melody inspired one of my own compositions.

Ephie’s stay in London during the 90s touched many UK musicians. Just being around him could do that. Listening to him, observing him and taking delight in the way he went about things, gave you something of substance to take away. Something that the best conservatoire course could never give you. Something that wasn’t always easy to quantify, but something you could digest for years. He still affects me in this way. It’s often to do with the way he says something, his sincerity and love of the musical process. One of the things I love about his music is that it doesn’t fall into any stylistic bracket, something which I feel has become rather a problem for jazz today. I have heard him in a wide variety of musical contexts, and yet he always sounds like Ephie. This all embracing approach is so healthy. It has no bounds and keeps him exploring. These explorations are done solely on piano now. He ‘threw the trombone out’ over ten years ago and has since been focusing on the keyboard. He has found this very liberating – it represents a new chapter in his musical life and the music is just as engaging as it has always been. Although physically Ephie says he is ‘falling apart’ (he is actually in pretty good shape), he is proceeding musically as he has always done. His work is his lifeblood. I’ll be speaking to him soon having completed a new composition and looking out for his next envelope through the mailbox!

Afterword . . .

Let’s end with a Frolic — Ephie and Fergus Read in 1997, performing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

As I was compiling this blogpost — which would not have been possible without all of Ephie’s friends — someone I explained it to said, “Michael, that sounds like a memorial service.  How wonderful it is that Ephie is around to read all those great tributes!”

Yes.  We value Ephie Resnick.  We love him.

May your happiness increase!

 

PREPARE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY: “MY BANNER IS THE MOON UP ABOVE” (1936)

I know it’s almost a week away.  But all satisfactory endeavors require planning.

When you detach Valentine’s Day from its commercial roots — flowers, chocolate, intriguing articles of clothing, New York pizza delivered anywhere — there’s still something to be cherished.  Especially in this arduous landscape, it’s uplifting to dream of romance even if it hasn’t yet taken shape.  If you do have someone in your life who accelerates your pulse rate in the best ways, I celebrate that enthusiastically.  And all celebrations need the right music.

My post about SING, BABY, SING pleased a few viewers, so I am inspired to present another 1936 pop hit — I DON’T WANT TO MAKE HISTORY (I Just Want to Make Love) by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger — in several versions.  I’d like to see this song picked up by jazz singers: not much has happened to it since its first decade: it could be the Official JAZZ LIVES Romance Song, so see if you might commit it to memory.

The film it came from, PALM SPRINGS, seems exceptionally silly, even though it had in its cast Spring Byington, Grady Sutton, Smith Ballew as a triumphant cowboy-love interest, Sterling Holloway, young David Niven, and the irreplaceable Fuzzy Knight, it lost money.

Disclaimer: I think that in 1936, “I just want to make love” did not refer to position 5.1.a in the Kama Sutra, but the larger, sweeter notion of Romance, which could lead to such aerobics.  (In 5.1.a., one partner sings OL’ MAN MOSE while the other shreds cabbage for cole slaw.  Not for the timid but satisfying.)

I begin with a distinctly un-jazzy recording, tender rather than hot, to let you hear the verse and an alternate bridge (how clever Robin could be) sung from the feminine perspective, that of the lovely Frances Langford:

Here’s a multi-media bonanza: a Fleischer Studios Screen Song with Mike Riley singing with Vincent Lopez at the piano, a bouncing-ball sing-along, brief visits to YOU HIT THE SPOT and US ON A BUS, and some goofy comedy:

Now the rather tepid crooning of Bob Crosby, with brief inspired spots for Ward Silloway, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Yank Lawson, and Ray Bauduc:

A favorite of mine: Stew Pletcher, singing and playing for Bluebird Records — and that familiar xylophone is of course Red Norvo:

Finally, let’s go to Fifty-Second Street for Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys:

I hope you get to make love, and that it’s historic as well.

May your happiness increase!

 

SUNDAY NIGHTS AT 326 SPRING STREET (Part Thirty-Five) — WE NEED SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: SESSIONS AT THE EAR INN, featuring THE EarRegulars (2007 – the Future)

Tonight, my friends tell me, is Super Bowl Sunday — or, for those more of my ilk, it’s also the Puppy Bowl.  In real life and real time, the Ear Inn would not have featured music on this Sunday.  But because this series of blogposts is (sweetly) in unreal-time, except for the swinging 4 /4 the EarRegulars manifest, we can violate those conventions.  And the music, as always, is Super.

Come back with me to November 21 (Coleman Hawkins’ birthday), 2010, for a few touchdowns by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone plus whatever else, Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

You know, they called her “Frivolous Sal.”  I still don’t know why:

that beautiful expression of romantic incredulity:

and (perhaps logically?) romantic optimism:

Optimism will sustain us.  I’ll have a big bowl, extra hot sauce.  And napkins.

May your happiness increase!

MEET ME IN AISLE SIX (1957)

The multi-talented Chris Smith has a YouTube channel, as I may have mentioned, that will reward your attention — he’s been uploading out-of-print music by Jim Dapogny, all wonderful, and other treasures.  This morning, a “supermarket record,” an lp sold near the cash register in A&P or Bohack’s, perhaps for 69¢.  The labels were often not terribly honest: Spin-o-Rama, Craftsman, Tops — but you could find RCA Camden there, and there were sessions created specifically for this market, wordplay intentional:

This recording is called DIXIELAND (a musical product as clearly labeled as Ajax or Comet) by “Matty Matlock and his Dixie-Men,” for those who didn’t know of Matty — clarinetist and arranger for twenty years and more before 1957. I know some readers will bristle my open use of the D-word, but the shoppers in Waldbaum’s fifty years ago weren’t as enlightened.  Forgive them, Brother Matthew, for they knew not what they did: they just wanted some good music.

Speaking of good music, how’s this?

Although TISHOMINGO BLUES is First World War vintage, the band has an easy sophisticated glide.  These were musicians who took an afternoon off from studio work — reading Matty’s minimal, shapely charts on familiar songs.  But there’s no cliche, no fake-Roaring Twenties clatter: the band is more Forties-Basie (whisper it!) than Bailey’s Lucky Seven.  Dick Cathcart, trumpet; Abe Lincoln, trombone; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Stan Wrightsman, piano; Al Hendrickson, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums.  No striped vests, plastic boaters, club-date amateurishness.

Here’s the whole playlist — a wonderful aubade for those so inclined:

Let’s go shopping to this elegantly rousing soundtrack.  Piggly Wiggly has chuck roast at 59¢ / lb.  Don’t be late: we’ll have to ask the manager, Carmine, for a raincheck, and a raincheck won’t feed the four of us.

May your happiness increase!

MEET JACK GARDNER: “EXACTLY LIKE YOU”

For once, I would like to let the music speak for itself.  I will have more by Jack to share with you in a few days, and yards of biographical data, but now, just savor what he does for its own sake.

May your happiness increase!

INSPIRED CARTOGRAPHY: “FALLEN FROM THE MOON: ROBERT EDWARD JUICE WILSON,” by ANTHONY BARNETT (2020)

Because many life-changes are marked by chronological milestones: first tooth, first day of school, first love, first job — we see life as a series of such events.  Most biographies of jazz musicians follow a familiar dramatic arc: childhood musical epiphany, practice and finding a sound, success, public life, and sometimes a drama or several.  Documentation of these events depends on first-and-secondhand accounts, surviving friends, paper trails, and the like, even though too much detail is a proven soporific.

Charting a life as if the reader could move from one bead to the next on a narrative string doesn’t work when beads are missing and the string has frayed and broken.  Such a book, however, while offering an incomplete record, may be much more lifelike, more enthralling.  This is the case with Anthony Barnett’s new book — the only book on the subject — tracing the dots and lines and spaces that form what we know of the life of the violinist / clarinetist Juice Wilson, 1904-72.

Barnett’s previous work and publications — primarily on violinists Eddie South and Stuff Smith — are frankly astonishing.  He is an indefatigable researcher, but his books are never indiscriminate upendings-of-the-wastebasket onto the reader.  He loves what in other hands might seem trivial, but always finds a relevant place in the narrative.  He isn’t burdened by ideology (although he is irked when other writers have gotten it wrong) and he doesn’t fabricate.  Barnett is also a poet, and that sometimes eerie sensitivity to nuance raises the texture of his work far above anything else in jazz literature.  And he’s been researching Wilson for thirty years.

So, if you’re in a hurry: this little book, delightfully ornamented with photographs and more, is a gem.  Buy it here.  (You’ll notice that this post does not contain the usual YouTube clips — because they are suspect for many reasons.  Barnett will supply links — clean, speed-corrected, and so on — to purchasers.)

Incidentally, the book is beautifully done: a pleasure to see as well as to read.

But let us return.  Barnett calls himself the editor of this “dossier” on Juice, which is both modest and accurate, and the whole title of this dense little book is FALLEN FROM THE MOON: ROBERT EDWARD JUICE WILSON — HIS LIFE ON EARTH: A DOSSIER.  That evocative beginning comes from someone who saw the subject at close range, Antoni Tendes, “He gave the impression of a man who had fallen from the moon.”

With rare exceptions (Bolden, Florence Mills) a jazz musician has a discography, a collection of recordings for succeeding generations to analyze.  Juice Wilson was a member of the 1929 Noble Sissle orchestra, a fourteen-piece ensemble including Buster Bailey and Rudy Jackson.  Juice solos on two titles recorded in England: KANSAS CITY KITTY and MIRANDA.  And that’s it.  Barnett’s book offers transcriptions, for those who want to try these things at home.

A flattened map — like a bus route — of Wilson’s life might look like this, although mine is intentionally monochrome and one-dimensional:

Born in St. Louis, 1904.  Playing with Jimmy Wade in Chicago in 1916, with Freddie Keppard (alongside Eddie South) in 1918.  Working with bands in Toledo, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York, alongside Jimmy Harrison, Budd Johnson, J. C. Higginbotham.  In New York City, 1928-29, working with Lloyd Scott’s big band, alongside Frank Newton, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman, other jobs with Luckey Roberts and James P. Johnson.  Left for Paris with Noble Sissle, played in England, then work with Edwin Swayzee, Leon Abbey, in Switzerland and elsewhere.  Arrived in Malta, late 1937, played at the “Cairo Bar” for five years, but stranded in Malta until the end of the war, remained there until 1954.  Gave up violin in 1950; postwar gigging on saxophone.  Returned to Chicago in 1963.  Died there in 1972.

That’s a thrilling life in music, with gaps more numerous than the spatters of evidence: newspaper reports and clippings, photographs, letters to and from Juice, reminiscences.  What Barnett does with those precious bits and pieces is as fascinating as the bits and pieces themselves.  I have intentionally not quoted from the book to keep readers’ appetites whetted for the stories.  And photographs: Juice seems to have avoided opportunities to be recorded, but he delighted in posing for photographs, and he is delightful to the eye.

It’s a fascinating book, for its subject, its editor, and its balance between what can be known and what remains unseen.  Here you can see Barnett’s complete works — as of now — learn how to purchase this book and those on Eddie South and Stuff Smith . . . since Barnett is immensely thorough, there is also a brief errata section with material received too late for publication and corrections.

An afterthought.  Certain stories and novels first read forty years ago have stayed with me, and passages bubble up to the surface when the stimulus is strong.  While I was writing this essay, I kept thinking of these lines from the first paragraph of Melville’s Bartelby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street — where the narrator speaks of a former employee, now dead, who remains mysterious:

I believe that no materials exist for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature. Bartleby was one of those beings of whom nothing is ascertainable, except from the original sources, and in his case those are very small. What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him.

Substitute “Juice Wilson” for “Bartelby” and you enter the world of this book.

May your happiness increase!