Category Archives: “Thanks A Million”

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

I don’t know what happens today if a young fan writes a letter to Lady Gaga, let us say, requesting a signed photograph or, better yet, asking a question.  That rhetorical question in itself may mark me as hopelessly antique, since fans can find out everything online as it happens.  But my guess is that the Lady doesn’t have time to send back handwritten personalized replies, and that is nothing against her.  Even in the Swing Era, musical personalities had their secretaries or staff sign photos for fans.  On my wall, for instance, is a lovely shot of Connee Boswell — her name signed in pen — but inscribed to the fan in a different hand, leading me to believe that Connee took a stack of a hundred photographs and signed her name on each one.

So what came up on eBay several days ago is remarkable.  I can’t do much detective work, because the seller seems innocent about the trove, and perhaps (s)he has no other connection.  Here’s the listing description:

This 1950’s collection of famous jazz musicians includes autograph letters, signed photographs and autographs. There is an autograph letter signed “Pops Foster” and a photograph signed “George Pops Foster.” There is an autograph note signed “Don Redman” and an 8 x 10 inch photo of Redman also signed. There is an autograph note signed “Meade “Lux” Lewis” There is an autograph note signed “Pete Johnson” and a letter by Pete Johnsons wife. There are two autograph letters signed “Alberta Hunter.” There is an autograph note signed “Buster Baily” and an autograph letter signed “Terry Spargo.” There is also a typed letter by Terry Spargo and a signed photograph. There are several autographs including “Moondog” “Israel Crosby” and a few others. All the letters, notes, photographs and autographs are in very good condition! NO RESERVE!

While you peruse and consider, here is a most appropriate musical soundtrack:

“Christopher,” whose last name may have been “Jameson,” seems to have been a young aspiring pianist and fan who wrote to his heroes, either asking a question and / or asking for an autographed photograph.  We don’t have any of his inquiries, but they must have been polite and admiring, because he received gracious unhurried answers.  And what strikes me is that in 1959 he wasn’t writing to Dizzy, Trane, or Mobley, but — for the most part — jazz pioneers.  A few of the pages in his collection look like in-person autographs, but much is unknown and will probably remain so.  But we have the most delightful evidence: paper ephemera of a kind not often seen.  Here, without further ado:

POPS FOSTER gives his address twice, clearly pleased by this correspondence:

DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:

TONY SPARGO, handing off to Eddie “Daddy” Edwards:

More from TONY SPARGO:

PETE JOHNSON wasn’t up to much writing, but his wife was encouraging and Pete did send a nice autograph:

“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:

Are the signers (from Brunswick, Georgia) a vocal group I don’t recognize?  I do see MOONDOG:

I don’t recognize the signatures on the first page, but below I see VERNEL FOURNIER, AHMAD JAMAL, and ISRAEL CROSBY:

BUSTER BAILEY signs in kindly and also mentions his new recording, perhaps the only long-playing record under his own name:

an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:

and an even more generous second chapter:

Christopher must have written extremely polite letters to have received such answers, but this selection of correspondence speaks to the generosity and good will of people who were actively performing, who took the time to take a young person seriously.

When the bidding closed, the collection sold for $660 a few minutes ago.  So you can no longer possess these holy artifacts, but you can lose yourself in rapt contemplation of the images and the kind people who not only created the art we revere, but wrote to Chris.

May your happiness increase!

WARM SWINGING MODERNISM: “RAISE FOUR” and FRANK BASILE: FÉLIX LEMERLE, DAN WEISSELBERG, MIKE CAMACHO (Cafe Bohemia, November 15, 2019)


More pleasures from Cafe Bohemia — to no one’s surprise.

RAISE FOUR is a compact, adventurous yet melodic jazz group co-led by guitarist Félix Lemerle and string bassist Dan Y von Weisselberg, with drummer Doron Tirosh and pianist Iftah Kary. For their November 15 appearance, Mike Camacho played drums and Frank Basile was added on baritone saxophone.  (And when you see my videos, do not be alarmed: no member of the band suffers from chlorophyll excess.)

When I’d asked Félix about the group’s name, he told me, “RAISE FOUR is a Thelonious Monk composition, and it has to do with the augmented fourth of a chord (a typical sound of bebop music, also known as its enharmonic equivalent, the flatted fifth). As our repertoire focuses on original music and the compositions of bebop and hard bop composers from the 40s and 50s, it seemed like an appropriate title.”

Dan Y von Weisselberg, photograph by John Herr.

To my ears, many groups exploring harmonically sophisticated music affect a self-conscious angularity, tacitly declaring, “Hey, we’re modern!” — which sometimes feels like trying to hug someone with sharp elbows.  RAISE FOUR is not an aural candy bar, but its innovations welcome us in, inviting us to follow melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic twists and turns.  Underneath it all is a sustaining lyricism: hear the long lines Felix and Dan create, for one thing.  Whatever jazz-category-name you might append to their improvisations is not important: the result is far from the formulaic “hard bop.” RAISE FOUR balances elegant cool modernism and warm emotion.

Here are some highlights from that evening:

Harold Arlen’s THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME:

Félix’s DAHLKA (its subject portrayed in characteristic splendor below):

and now that you are no longer dazzled by ears and tail, here’s the music.  What happened at 6:40 I no longer remember, but it was clearly my fault:

Thad Jones’ LADY LUCK:

Elmo Hope’s MOE’S BLUFF:

Félix’s PACHA CHERI, named (with a twist) for someone much admired:

Duke Pearson’s MINOR LEAGUE, with Will Anderson, alto saxophone, and Tamir Hochman, tenor saxophone, added:

RAISE FOUR is a pleasure: follow them here.  I will — and not just on Facebook.

May your happiness increase!

CARPE DIEM, YOU CATS: DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, JOSH DUNN, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, 11.21.19)

Many jazz fans are seriously prone to excessive nostalgicizing (see E.A. Robinson’s “Minniver Cheevy”) and I wonder why this music that we love is such a stimulus.  How many classical-music devotees dream, “I wish I were having dinner with the Esterhazys tonight so I could hear Joe Haydn’s new piece”?  I am sure sports aficionados imagine themselves at the Polo Grounds or another fabled place for the moment when ____ hit his home run.

But in my experience, those who love jazz are always saying, wistfully, “I wish I could go back to hear the Goldkette band / Fifty-Second Street / Louis at the Vendome Theatre / the Fargo dance date / Bird and Diz at Billy Berg’s,” or a thousand other part-forlorn wishes.  To be fair, I too would like to have been in the studio when COMES JAZZ was recorded, or the 1932 Bennie Moten session in Camden.

But sometimes such yearning for the past obscures the very much accessible glories of the present.  (I see this in those fans so busy making love to their recordings that they never go to a club to hear live jazz, which is their loss.)  Yes, many of our heroes will play or sing no more.  But THE GOLDEN ERA IS NOW and it always has been NOW.  And NOW turns into THEN right before our eyes, so get with it!

Here’s proof: more music from a life-enhancing evening at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York — November 21, 2019 — with Danny Tobias, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass.

I’ve already posted several beauties from this gig here and here.

And now . . . .

LINGER AWHILE:

BLUE ROOM (at a wonderful tempo, cool but lively):

MY HONEY’S LOVING ARMS (with the obligatory Irish-American reference):

MY MELANCHOLY BABY:

LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

I’VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE, so very tender:

and finally, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

I want to hear this band again — such peerless soloists and ensemble players — could that happen?  I hope so.

May your happiness increase!

 

REALLY, THEY COME OUT SWINGING! — Hal Smith’s ON THE LEVEE JAZZ BAND at SAN DIEGO (Part One: Nov. 30, 2019): BEN POLCER, RILEY BAKER, JOE GOLDBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, JOSH GOUZY, HAL SMITH and JOHN GILL

One of the pleasures of the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest was getting to hear and see Hal Smith’s gliding On the Levee Jazz Band.  Although they are devoted to the later music of Kid Ory and his California-based bands, they are a very subtle, swinging group whose music delights the dancers.  The personnel of this OTL incarnation is Ben Polcer, trumpet, vocal; Riley Baker, trombone; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Josh Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, leader, drums. Ordinarily Alex Belhaj is the OTL guitarist, but Alex was home sick in New Orleans, so for this set his place was taken, splendidly, by John Gill, who also sang one for us.

A technical note (as one says): the band played in the large hall which had space for dancers in front, and the dancers happily took advantage of it.  But that would have made conventional filming difficult, so I took myself, camera, and tripod onto the stage, found a chair, made myself to home, and video-ed from there.  Yes, I lost a little volume on Joe Goldberg’s wonderful clarinet playing, but Joe is a forgiving sort, and I got to feature him in the last set of the festival with John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm.  Ordinarily I don’t set up near the drums, but Hal is one of the handful of drummers I know who plays for the band, who understands dynamics.  So this was a delightful opportunity to capture exactly what he is doing, visually as well as audibly, and I hope you enjoy the results.

DOWN IN JUNGLE TOWN:

SUGAR BLUES, in honor of Joe Oliver’s glucose addictions:

Feeling low?  Feeling sore?  Consult DOCTOR JAZZ, who makes house calls:

ALL THE ‘GIRLS’ GO CRAZY, a hymn of appreciation:

A feature for Joe Goldberg, Ellington’s CREOLE LOVE CALL, which can be traced back to Joe Oliver:

A swinging treatment by Kris, Josh, and Hal of Jelly Roll Morton’s classic:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE, at a nice easy tempo which shows off all its beauties:

More Morton, WININ’ BOY BLUES, so soulfully sung by John Gill:

The On the Levee Jazz Band, you’ll hear, is playing a venerable repertoire, but their first priority is danceable swing.  You can read more about their CD here and the two CDs that Kris, Hal, and Josh (or Cassidy Holden) have made of delicious New-Orleans-flavored ragtime here.  “Check it OUT,” as they used to say in New York City forty-plus years ago.

 

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

REBECCA KILGORE and ECHOES OF SWING: “WINTER DAYS at SCHLOSS ELMAU”

Before writing this post, I was thinking about Rebecca (or Becky or Roo — she has many names, as appropriate to a multi-faceted personality) someone I have been listening to with awe and pleasure since 1994, perhaps beginning with I SAW STARS (Arbors).  As for Echoes of Swing, I got to hear them in person in Germany (in 2007, thanks to Manfred Selchow) and could tell them how I admired them.  It’s one of my dreams to have musicians and groups of musicians I revere play together, and the new CD is just such a dream. . . . one that you and I can hear and re-hear.

The disc also affords us a chance to adjust our perspectives, to shake off some preconceptions.  Some listeners have perched Rebecca on a sunny windowsill in the country of Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Yes, she may prefer PICK YOURSELF UP to GLOOMY SUNDAY, but for me a little darkness will suffice.  Hear her on this disc as she sails through I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM and her reputation as an antidote to darkness is intact.  But only shallow listeners will mistake optimism for shallowness: she has depths of feeling.

Echoes of Swing plus Two: Chris Hopkins, Bernd Lhotzky, Rolf Marx, Oliver Mewes, Henning Gailing, Colin T. Dawson. Photo by Katrin Horn.

Echoes of Swing has also been slightly mis-characterized, praised for their large orchestral sound (the core unit is four players, count them, four — even though on this CD they add a string bass and guitar as well as Rebecca) — as if they were somehow marvelous simply for this magic trick, and critics have heard them as successors to the John Kirby Sextet, which is both plausible and confining.  But on this CD, the players — whom I should name now: Bernd Lhotzky, piano and musical director; Colin T. Dawson, trumpet and flugelhorn; Chris Hopkins, alto saxophone; Oliver Mewes, drums, with Henning Gailing, string bass, and (on four tracks) Rolf Marx, guitar — create such rich varied sounds inside and outside of the arrangements by Bernd and Chris that I felt as if I’d wandered into a universe scored by, let us say, Gil Evans, spacious and resonant.

Other artists have created records and CDs devoted to Winter.  And many of those jolly efforts are avalanches of fake snow from the arts-and-crafts store.  Christmas music looms, no matter how many chairs might be wedged against the studio door, or there’s LET IT SNOW, the now-troublesome BABY, IT’S COLD OUTSIDE, or WINTER WEATHER.  Sweet, certainly, but not always true to the reality of the season, for Winter is a time for introspection as the world becomes colder and darker.  This disc, I assure you, is not a descent into Seasonal Affective Disorder, and there are a few familiar cheery songs on it, but it is not the usual forgettable fluff.

Here’s a wonderful example, the text being the 1931 WINTER WONDERLAND, where the focused purity of Rebecca’s voice balances against a complex, shifting orchestral background:

Bernd’s quirkily cheerful setting of the most famous Robert Frost poem:

Rebecca’s own witty and sweet song:

You’ll have to explore the other surprises for yourself — songs I’d never heard by Frishberg, Berlin, and Jobim, and a few poems set to music by Bernd — performances that are remarkable on the first hearing and grow more so.

The disc is dense — which is not to say difficult or off-putting — but it has levels and levels of musical and emotional pleasure.  Some discs make wonderful background music — the soundtrack for rearranging one’s spice rack — but this one has the delicious resonance of one short story after another.  It’s available in all the old familiar places.  Details here. WINTER DAYS is ambitious, heartfelt, completely rewarding.  You won’t regret it, no matter what the temperature.

May your happiness increase!

THE CAPTAIN STRIDES BY (Part Three): JOHN ROYEN’S NEW ORLEANS RHYTHM at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: JOE GOLDBERG, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS (December 1, 2019)

I’ve described the pleasures of meeting and hearing Captain John Royen at the piano and at the microphone during the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest here and  here. I present the third part of Royen’s No Co-Pay Medicine for All Your Ills.  But come back when the videos are done . . . a few words will follow.

Something pretty, IF’N I HAD YOU:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, featuring Joe Goldberg:

CLARINET MARMALADE (with a good deal of audience commentary):

Jelly Roll’s SWEET SUBSTITUTE, complete with history, etymology, and vocal:

and finally, PANAMA:

If you go to the New Orleans clubs where John plays, what I write will already be obvious.  But for those — audience members and festival promoters — who are encountering John or finding him anew, just this.  He is often presented as a stride pianist, and he is a superb one, treating Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and others, with respect and joyous creativity.

But the sets I saw John in, solo and as a band pianist, showed me immediately that he was a complete musician, not just someone locked into a particular style, someone who could immediately take a group of musicians new to him and to each other, and make them into a swinging cohesive band, someone who could take the most familiar repertoire and make it sound fresh.

He is a superb ensemble player, and it would be a fascinating study to listen closely, as I have, to what John does within a band, behind the soloists: he creates consistently uplifting orchestral piano, always swinging, light but intense, with interesting harmonies and variations.  Nothing formulaic, and all very satisfying.

He’s also a delight on the microphone — witty and able to improvise masterfully, no matter what the situation is.  You can’t see it in this room (I don’t walk around or do panoramic views) but John and his band kept a plenitude of dancers very happy.  I will be delighted to see him at festivals in future.  Thank you, Captain!

May your happiness increase!