Category Archives: The Real Thing

PRES: PAIN INTO JOY

“Lester Young 1st tenor.”

Memorial Day, an American “holiday,” celebrates those who have died in war. But some live on, wounded, even when the wounds are not visible. Some who suffer return home without medals. I am thinking of Lester Young, captured by the American military machine. To say that he was treated without understanding or kindness is to understate the facts and their repercussions.

I offer an excerpt from the saxophonist Leroy “Sam” Parkins’ memory of Pres, posted here in 2009:

September 1945 I found myself back in the infantry at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The army had lost some of my training records and they needed me to fire the Bazooka and the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle – 30 cal. and a real bear to shoot), and they were in no hurry. I was going to have to re-graduate from basic training. Most of the rest of this rag-tag company were hardened combat veterans who had been fucked over by the army losing their records. It’s after VJ day.

The sergeants in charge were totally sympathetic; roll-call in the morning, traditionally out on the company street, included a lot of hung-over guys in bed, shouting from the sack, “I’m here sergeant.” Days on end with nothing to do so I found the band, started doing parades, the officers club ($5.00),the non-coms club ($4.00), and the USO. Played baritone with the big band. The drummer was a veteran of the entire European campaign, had been running into a fire fight with his best buddy beside him and watched the guy’s head being completely blown of by a mortar shell. He simply didn’t give a shit, and kept a bottle of Gordon’s gin under the bed for breakfast to keep the boogies away.

The army was totally, and I mean totally, segregated. The colored soldiers had their own gate, and there was a 100 yard lawn – a DMZ – between the two posts. No one allowed to pass in either direction. But their band had Count Basie’s drummer, Jo Jones, other Basieites, Lester Young (Basie’s star saxophonist) had just been drafted, was in basic training and played with the band when he could. Our drummer was the only one of us with the balls to walk across the lawn to rehearsals and dances and to get to know the black musicians.

He came back one night with a really lousy story. Lester Young (street name ‘Pres’) was in the guard house. He had pleaded to be excused from basic and be allowed in the band; the band leader petitioned the authorities, to no avail (and I wonder if a white musician would have made out better. I knew some who did, and after all, the war was over…).

In Geoff Dyer’s book, “But Beautiful” (great book if you can stand unvarnished tragedies), the author, using the Freedom of Information Act, got the transcript of the trial; there’s a lot of detail, all brutal, that I wasn’t privy to, but this here narrative is missing from all biographical accounts. No way any latter day historian could know it.

It’s night firing on the fifty caliber machine-gun range. Outside of the noise, it’s a pretty sight. Maybe twenty machine-guns lined up about eight feet apart, shooting down a slight incline at cardboard cutouts of enemy soldiers; every tenth bullet (tracer bullets) lights up as it’s fired so you see slightly arched lines of electric magic flowing from each gun barrel.

The sergeant, off to the side and slightly down-range, notices one line of magic markers disappear. He goes to investigate, and finds Lester Young lying on his back smoking a joint. Sergeant is aghast. “On your feet soldier!” Pres’ reply is to hand the sergeant the joint and – “Hey sarge — aren’t the stars pretty up in the sky?”

In his left hand pocket of his fatigue jacket were five more joints; sergeant calls the MPs and the founder of a style that was to sweep the country (think Stan Getz and “The Girl From Ipanema”) is led off to jail.

There was no rush to bring him to trial. He started acting up in his cell, noisy, woke guys at night, he wanted his horn. So the guard got it for him. End of the world. He played 24 hours a day, made everyone crazy, so they took it away from him. And he really lost it. I have no details, but the guards were white – and so forth.

Disobeying a direct order, possession of narcotics, 400 days in an army detention center.

There are other stories of how a sensitive person was fed into the gears and cogs of a machine that — of necessity — cared nothing for individuality or sensitivity, and the familiar end of this narrative is that “the Army destroyed Pres, and you can hear it in his playing.”

But maybe not.

Here is Lester’s own composition, “D. B. BLUES,” named for “detention barracks,” a blues-with-a-bridge, recorded in December 1945, with his dear friend Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dodo Marmarosa, piano; Red Callendar, string bass; Henry Tucker, drums:

from December 1953, the NEW D. B. BLUES, with Jesse Drakes, trumpet; Gildo Mahones, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Connie Kay, drums:

and finally (for this survey — Lester played this “composition” many times more) — a sweetly light-hearted version from December 1956, with Bill Potts, piano; Norman Williams, string bass; Jim Lucht, drums:

I wouldn’t presume to know what went through Lester’s mind when he was playing. I think we can be sure that he named this composition for the place he was imprisoned. But you’ll notice it is music — not a scream of rage or hatred for his oppressors.

This might be the great gift he and others give us: to not only state but embody how pain can be transmuted into beauty and joy. That joy sustains not only us, but in some way it sustained its creator. We should stand in awe of the power of the soul to transcend the harshness of the world.

May your happiness increase!

RUNNIN’ WILD . . . BUT STILL IN CONTROL: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, ANDY BROWN, EHUD ASHERIE, ARNIE KINSELLA (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 17, 2009)

This is a sort of EarRegulars prequel, since the current version got rained out of their Sunday-afternoon ecstasy at the Ear Out, in front of the Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street. With luck and sunshine, they will be back next Sunday.

Watching this beautiful souvenir of hot times, I think, “Now THAT’s the way to do it!” The Thursday-night informal sessions at Jazz at Chautauqua — a weekend delight that I first attended in 2004 — were always friendly, loose, and joyous. And sometimes they “scraped the clouds.” Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Ehud Asherie, piano; Andy Brown, guitar; Arnie Kinsella, drums, all have their say and rock the room. And yes, there are heads in the way of my camera now and again, but they are the heads of friends.

I think Arnie is no longer active — is he living the life of a gentleman farmer on Staten Island? — but I bless him and the other four luminaries, who are tangible presences in my life. My goodness, do they swing!

See you any Sunday at 326 Spring Street, New York, from 1-3:30. . . . where new memories are made.

May your happiness increase!

MORE MUSIC FROM AN “EDDIE CONDON REUNION”: KENNY DAVERN, TOMMY SAUNDERS, MARTY GROSZ, CONNIE JONES, BOBBY GORDON, JOHN JENSEN, ART PONCHERI, JOHNNY BLOWERS, BROOKS TEGLER, BETTY COMORA, CLYDE HUNT, TOMMY GWALTNEY, AL STEVENS, STEVE JORDAN, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, JOHNSON McREE (Manassas, Virginia, May 21, 1989)

Here’s almost an hour of late-period Condonia, presented by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee as a simulation of one of Eddie’s Town Hall / Ritz Theatre / Carnegie Hall concerts or broadcasts, circa 1944-5. By 1989, few people who had actually played with Eddie were still doing it, but the people on this stand knew their roles well and they offered heartfelt hot music. They are or were John Jensen, Art Poncheri, tbn, Brooks Tegler, Johnny Blowers, d; Marty Grosz, Steve Jordan, g; Kenny Davern, Tommy Gwaltney, Bobby Gordon, cl; Connie Jones, Tommy Saunders, cnt; Clyde Hunt, tp; Betty Comora, voc; Al Stevens, p; Johnny Williams, b.

CHINA BOY Stevens, Davern, Saunders, Poncheri, Hunt, Johnny Williams, Jordan, Brooks / SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES Poncheri, Stevens, Williams / UNDECIDED Jensen-Poncheri, Stevens, Jordan, Williams, Brooks / [RIALTO RIPPLES Stevens] / AT SUNDOWN Saunders, Hunt, Davern, Gordon, Gwaltney, Jensen, Poncheri, rhythm / Blowers in for Brooks, add Connie NEW ORLEANS / Betty DON’T BLAME ME / add Marty Grosz et al. SHEIK – OLE MISS [McRee, kazoo] //

Here’s the flyer for the series, thanks to JAZZ LIVES’ friend, Mr. McGown: obviously printed well in advance, because not everyone announced was able to make the concerts — but those who could brought their best selves:

Beautiful music, embracing the past but wholly alive in 1989.

May your happiness increase!

May

THE FORECAST IS “BEAUTY”: SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY (The Ear Out, May 23, 2021)

Pat O’Leary, string bass; Scott Robinson, alto clarinet (with Martin Committee trumpet and tenor saxophone at the ready); Chris Flory, guitar. 326 Spring Street, Sunday, May 23, 2021.

On three Sunday afternoons this month, I have had the immense privilege of watching worlds come back to life, stretch their limbs, sniff the sweet air, and create boundless joy. I refer, of course, to the al fresco sessions created by The EarRegulars in front of The Ear Inn, from 1-3:30, when the threatened rain holds off.

This coming Sunday, the quartet will be Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Josh Dunn, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Pray for cloudless skies, Brothers and Sisters.

A week ago, the trio above created wondrous floating sounds — their text being Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW, with Scott playing the tenor saxophone, a horn he loves:

If that isn’t love transmuted into vibration, I don’t know.

See you some Sunday soon.

May your happiness increase!

NOT SO SLEEPY: DUKE HEITGER, BRIA SKONBERG, ALLAN VACHE, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, PAUL KELLER, EDDIE METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 25, 2014)

SLEEP cover

The last song of the night, when both musicians and the audience are drained, is traditionally a rouser.  When everyone is overwhelmed by an evening of sensations, the leader might call for SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, or JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE to send the crowd to their rooms feeling exhilarated, feeling that they’ve got their money’s worth.  In truth, some of these spectacles seem formulaic, seasoned lightly with desperation: I would imagine that the last thing the band wants to do is to play Fast and Loud through weary lips and hands, but it’s expected of them.

I always think that calling AFTER YOU’VE GONE is an inside joke — a hot way of saying, “Could you go away, already?” to an audience that surely has had its fill.  (Audience members sometimes stand up and shout “MORE! MORE!” although they’ve been well and over-fed, and perhaps have talked through the last set.)  For Duke Heitger to call SLEEP as a closing tune is a nice bundle of ironies: it doubles as the kind suggestion, “Go to bed, so that we can stop playing and relax,” but it’s also a high-energy, spectacular jazz performance.  The song didn’t begin that way.  Here’s Fred Waring’s first recorded performance of it (he took it as his band’s theme):

So it began as lulling, soporific, but since 1940 (Benny Carter’s big band) and 1944 (Sid Catlett – Ben Webster) the song SLEEP has often been a high-powered showcase . . . as it is here, featuring Duke Heitger, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Allan Vache, clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums. 

Please note all the fun these possibly-exhausted musicians are having: the glance Bucky gives Rossano when the latter begins the performance, “Oh, so THAT’s the tempo?!” and the delightful hi-jinks between Eddie, Paul, and Rossano (Eddie, especially, is the boy at the back of the classroom passing notes while Mrs. McGillicuddy is droning on about the Pyramids) — they way the horns float and soar; Duke’s idea of having an ensemble chorus in the middle of the tune (no one else does this); Bucky’s super-turbo-charged chord solo, Paul and Eddie taking their romping turns, all leading up to a very tidy two-chorus rideout. 

If you’re like me, one viewing won’t be enough: 

I don’t feel sleepy at all.

May your happiness increase!Bunk Johnson FB

“VENGEANCE IS MINE,” SAYS LOUIS.

Louis Armstrong told Larry L. King in 1967, “I got a simple rule about everybody. . . If you don’t treat me right—shame on you!”

Louis, 1944.

He wasn’t a malicious man and it comes through in every second of his music, but it’s clear that Louis had no patience for those who weren’t fair or generous to him. It occurred to me, seeing a video performance of SO LONG, DEARIE from a 1964 Ed Sullivan Show, just how he gravitated to songs whose essential message was “You weren’t nice. I put up with it longer than I should, but now it’s over, I’m leaving, and my last act — as my feet move to the exit — will be to elaborate on your bad behavior for everyone to hear.”

In fairness, Louis wrote only one of these songs — his famous SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — and there is a long tradition in popular music for songs that waggle an accusing finger at someone (AFTER YOU’VE GONE, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON are two that come immediately to mind, and, yes, Louis recorded both of them) but this was an emotional thread in his performing career.

JAZZ LIVES does not endorse vengeance as a way of life, but it does celebrate people’s coming to realize when they are not treated well and acting on it.

The 1942 Soundie version of (I’LL BE GLAD WHEN YOU’RE DEAD) YOU RASCAL YOU, with glorious Sidney Catlett, the remarkable Velma Middleton, and appropriate political commentary:

The grave, mournful NOW DO YOU CALL THAT A BUDDY? from the previous year:

a spinoff from the 1931 YOU RASCAL YOU, (YOU SO-AND-SO) YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN:


A terribly swinging series of threats and warnings, AS LONG AS YOU LIVE (YOU’LL BE DEAD IF YOU DIE):

The song that Louis said came to him in a dream, SOMEDAY (YOU’LL BE SORRY), in its first recording:

THROW IT OUT [OF] YOUR MIND, from a 1965 Connie Francis film, WHERE THE BOYS MEET THE GIRLS:

and the performance that began my train of thought, the 1964 SO LONG, DEARIE — where Louis packs so much music and comedy into slightly over two minutes, on the Ed Sullivan Show:

One could write a good deal about these performances as evidence that Louis felt betrayed at least one of his wives; male insecurity about the threat of more appealing lovers; a cultural tradition rooted in “the dozens,” where the insults may be good-natured or deadly; Louis and songwriters looking for new material that would be hits.

Or one could simply be moved, cheered, and amused by these variations on the theme of public rebuke for betrayal, deceit, and harm.

And one could quote Louis — to Richard Meryman in 1966: “. . . a baby or a little dog always knows the one who ain’t slapping him on the rear all the time.”

Thank you, Mister Strong. Again and again. Even when he appears to be wishing someone dead, we are having the time of our lives, as he was.

May your happiness increase!

A LITTLE LOUIS IN THE PUB: TORSTEIN KUBBAN, MENNO DAAMS, LARS FRANK, THOMAS WINTELER, JON PENN, and FRIENDS (November 5, 2016, Newcastle, UK)

The performance that follows — incredibly passionate music in honor of Mister Strong — was created at an after-hours jam session in the Victory Pub in the Village Hotel, Newcastle (after the formal proceedings of the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival had concluded for the day, November 5, 2016) featuring Torstein Kubban, trumpet; Menno Daams, cornet; Thomas Winteler, clarinet / soprano saxophone; Lars Frank, tenor saxophone; Jon Penn, keyboard; unidentified, string bass.

P.S. Comments noting — what a surprise! — that the audience isn’t silent will be deleted. It’s a pub, for goodness’ sake. They were enjoying themselves: savor the music:

May your happiness increase!

THAT “ONE-MAN RHYTHM GANG”: MARTY GROSZ THEN AND NOW (FRANK CHACE, DAN SHAPERA, 1984, and an upcoming Philadelphia performance, May 26, 2021, with DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, JACK SAINT CLAIR)

Nattily attired Marty Grosz: photograph by Lynn Redmile.

I find it amazing and wonderful when my jazz heroes actually inhabit the same planet that I am on, that they are not only sounds coming out of a speaker but people I can see and hear in 2021. One such remarkably durable fellow, born in 1930, is Martin Oliver Grosz, MOG to some, Marty Grosz, guitarist, singer, banjoist, monologist, vaudeville star, writer (have you read his autobiography, IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE?).

Marty will be appearing (yes!) in concert at the Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, May 26, from 6:30 – 8:30, with Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, and Jack Saint Clair, all of this presented by the Barry Wahrhaftig and the Hot Club of Philadelphia: details here. Tickets here. But it’s a small venue, so I wouldn’t wait until Wednesday to attempt to get a seat.

Writing about Marty without providing evidence of his musical life-force would be mingy. So here’s a half-hour of multicolored joys from the past. It was recorded on 1/29/84, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago: Frank Chace, clarinet; Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Dan Shapera, string bass. The songs are OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU / LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (MG vocal) / SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. Possibly recorded by Joe Boughton; details thanks to Hal Smith:

This photograph, circa 1965, has nothing to do with the particular recording. But it has Frank (nearest to the camera) and Jim Dapogny, on second cornet, and is thus priceless.

Two other things, very briefly. The wonderful string bassist heard here, Dan Shapera, is still with us. Blessings and thanks to you, Sir! And my Homeric epithet for Marty, “a one-man rhythm gang,” was the coinage of Frank Chace, who valued Marty more than words could and can say. For all the hot hi-jinks on this tape, it’s Frank’s two ballads that go right to my heart.

Enjoy the past — but get you to the Arboretum to savor the present. And the presents.

May your happiness increase!

LET JOY BE UNCONFINED: The EarRegulars return to The Ear Inn / The Ear Out: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, MATT MUNISTERI, PAT O’LEARY (May 2, 2021)

I said to a friend while we were seated outside The Ear Inn, “During the pandemic, if you’d told me that I would be sitting outdoors in the sunshine, watching and listening to the EarRegulars, I would have said it was cruel to tease.”

But now it’s happened, and it’s glorious. On May 2, the band was Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Matt Munisteri, and Pat O’Leary. Two weeks later (rain got in the way) it was Jon-Erik, John Allred, Neal Miner, and Joe Cohn.

AND on May 23 — which is today! — from 1-3:30, the band will be Jon-Erik, Scott, Pat, and Chris Flory. So if you (in the tri-state area, of course) are sitting home amidst coffee mugs and the remnants of the Times, you could be feeling the spirit at 326 Spring Street. I don’t mean to nag. Just a suggestion.

In case you woke up and said, “Honey, what day is today?” the EarRegulars answer the question:

and this venerable song, so associated with Billie Holiday, is addressed to those who can see live music but choose to live their aesthetic lives through the computer, wherever they are:

Will there be more? Oh goodness, yes. Joy will be spread like cream cheese on a genuine New York bagel.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S SO GOOD: ALICE SPENCER with HAL SMITH’S OVERLAND SWING EXPRESS (CLINT BAKER, LOREN SCHOENBERG, KRIS TOKARSKI, NICK ROSSI, BILL REINHART, SAM ROCHA, HAL SMITH)

The pandemic brought us many things that we had not requested, and I will forbear listing them here. But it also brought marvelous musical surprises — our jazz heroes are resilient, and many adapted to the challenge of sewing individual creations into a swinging tapestry. You’ve seen the delightful results: musicians in different “rooms,” which might be thousands of miles away, everyone with headphones or earbuds, making delightful swing harmonies although not able to shake hands or hug. Miraculous and there’s nothing else to call it. Many of my friends have made the technological hurdles seem no more than cracks in the sidewalk, but a new and rewarding group effort has been the merging of the superb singer Alice Spencer with Hal Smith’s Overland Swing Express.

A few words about Ms. Spencer of Austin, Texas. Just as the world is full of restaurants, some producing full stomachs and happy satiety, others producing uneasiness, there are many who call themselves “singers.” Alas, only a small percentage know what it means — that it is more than being personable, chipper, good to look at, well-dressed. Singing is the most personal of the arts, with no keyboard or valves to get in the way, the singer has a message to send us, a story to tell, with only her voice, her dramatic sense, her facial expressions: no tenor saxophone to use as a big shiny prop.

Alice Spencer brings to her songs a remarkable emotional maturity that is beyond her years: put plainly, she sings like a Grownup rather than a Cute Teen.

Her voice has shadings, dark and light; she bends phrases stylishly; she lets us know that she knows what the words mean: she’s not copying famous recordings nor is she singing by rote. And her performances are both emotionally dense and light-hearted: hear her little exhalation of breath at the end of T’AIN’T GOOD — as close to a wordless “Gee, that was fun!” as anyone could create, or the way she wends her way through WHAT SHALL I DO IN THE MORNING? — which, in other hands, could have been maudlin, but when you hear her final sixteen bars and note the sign-off of a gently raised eyebrow, you know that Alice has been having a good time “being sad” and then holding it, gently, at arm’s length. Don’t miss out on the cluster of rapid-fire notes in the middle of T’AIN’T GOOD, either, navigated with accuracy and hilarious style: she might well be the Peggy Fleming of Swing Singing.

I first heard Alice on Brooks Prumo’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, and wrote this:

And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated for decades with Billie Holiday into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction.  She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed.  I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles.  Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.

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It would be unkind and unfair, though, to ignore the Gents of the Ensemble: Clint Baker, trumpet; Loren Schoenberg, tenor saxophone; Kris Torkarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar on MORNING and tech-alchemies; Nick Rossi, guitar on GOOD; Sam Rocha, string bass; Hal Smith, drums, leader, arranger.

Because the two tunes are associated with Fats Waller (whose birthday was yesterday) there is a jaunty bounce, a reassuring rocking motion. Clint gets hot, as is his delightful habit; Kris summons up not only Fats but that Wilson fellow c. 1938; Loren evokes 1941 Pres in the Victor studios; Bill knows his way around lovely chords; Nick provides just the right mix of enthusiasm and accuracy; Sam keeps everyone honest; Hal rocks the church.

Here’s T’AIN’T GOOD:

and the larger question, WHAT WILL I DO IN THE MORNING?:

If you have any acquaintance with the great swing traditions of the Thirties and Forties — those sessions made for the jukebox by Billie, Mildred, Midge, Teddy Grace, Fats, Lee, Maxine, Connee, Red, Wingy, Louis Prima, Bob Howard, Putney, Slim Green, and a dozen others — you will understand why I say a) I could no more watch these videos a single time and move on to something else than I could leave my sandwich half-eaten, and b) that I have received ethereal texts from John Hammond, Jack Kapp, Eli Oberstein, and Bernie Hanighen, fighting for the right to sign this band and Ms. Alice up to a long-term contract (of course for very little money, but that’s show business, as the elephants will tell you). On the more earthly level, I ask, “Where is the bright festival promoter who wants to sign the Overland Swing Express up for a weekend of gigs?” But since I know that some of them read JAZZ LIVES, I have hope.

I heard (to quote Don Redman) that Alice Spencer will be making a new digital album sometime soon. Stay tuned.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN JAZZ WENT TO COLLEGE, NEARLY 75 YEARS AGO: MAX KAMINSKY, MIFF MOLE, TONY PARENTI, ART HODES, JAMES P. JOHNSON, JIMMY BUTTS, DANNY ALVIN (May 3, 1947, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York)

When I convinced myself that I needed more records, and would go through boxes at the yard sale, antique store, or secondhand shop, I would often encounter Dave Brubeck’s JAZZ GOES TO COLLEGE. Much rarer and never seen were Max Kaminsky’s JAZZ ON THE CAMPUS and the wonderful series of small-band recordings Billy Butterfield made on one and another college campus. Of course, going back a few decades, bands played dances. The college I once taught at had a notation in its files that a Charles Mingus group had played there in 1973: of course, the cassette that had captured the music was now missing.

I sense that college audiences, once rock came in, wanted the most “modern” music, which meant that jazz rarely was on the bill. But in 1947, a college audience was not too hip for TIN ROOF BLUES. And — if I can take the risk — “Dixieland” was popular: think of THIS IS JAZZ on the Mutual radio network. Although the players on this gig — at the Alumni Gymnasium at Hamilton College — were venerable, they were still late-middle-aged: Miff Mole had just turned fifty, James P. Johnson, fifty-four.

Late in life, Miff Mole shared what no one then called “contact information.”

So here is the popular music of ago, played with Dispatch and Vigor (a nod to Marty Grosz, now ninety-one and concertizing next week in Philadelphia) by Max Kaminsky, cornet or trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Art Hodes or James P. Johnson*, piano; Jimmy Butts, string bass; Danny Alvin, drums.

BLUES / ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / JAZZ BAND BALL* / PEG O’MY HEART / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE* / TIN ROOF BLUES / SQUEEZE ME* / THAT’S A-PLENTY / HOW COME YOU DO ME? / (James P. Johnson solo) BACKWATER BLUES / LIZA / SNOWY MORNING BLUES / CAROLINA SHOUT / (James P. Johnson, Parenti, Alvin) MAPLE LEAF RAG / BLACK AND BLUE / (solo) BOOGIE WOOGIE STRIDE – TEA FOR TWO //

James P. Johnson, date and location unknown

This transfer came from the collection of the late John L. Fell, who was a student at Hamilton, and someone had access to the original discs. BACK WATER BLUES and LIZA were issued on an lp compilation of James P. performances, “AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?” worth finding, on Bob Hilbert’s Pumpkin Records label. There was, John told me, a private party after the concert, where someone recorded James P. playing LIZA / HALLELUJAH / BOOGIE WOOGIE STRIDE – TEA FOR TWO – SQUEEZE ME / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JUST BEFORE DAYBREAK – I CAN’T GET STARTED / KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW. But James P. became inebriated and his playing was not up to his usual standard, I remember John explaining.

Here’s what we have of the concert, and of those days when hot music was in the air, on the campus, and welcome everywhere:


I looked up “May 3, 1947” in Tom Lord’s online jazz discography, and found that Bunk Johnson and Don Ewell were playing a college concert at Coffman Memorial Auditorium, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. A different time zone and more than eleven hundred miles away, but evidence that the kids dug the hot sounds.

And before you nostalgicize too much, remember that it you were even a precocious college student at either concert, you’d be over ninety now. Choose cautiously before you step into your home-built time machine.

May your happiness increase!


TELLING DEAR STORIES: NANCY HARROW

Because we live in a world where there is every kind of sensory stimulus bombarding us, once in a while we need to slow down and listen, to take in molecules and atoms of beauty — what Ruby Braff called “aesthetic vitamins.”

By delightful serendipity, I found myself once again stopping — pausing — breathing in the singing of the wonderful Nancy Harrow, and in particular this recording of the Matty Malneck – Johnny Mercer IF YOU WERE MINE.

I know, and you do too, that the song is inextricably associated with Billie Holiday, but do clear your sensorium to hear Nancy — her delicate yet compelling phrasing, the shifting turquoise and grey timbres of her voice, the way she understands the deep message and brings it to us, her hands open, her emotions so present, midway between sigh and speech:

Her beautifully intuitive accompanists are Dick Katz, piano; Ray Drummond, string bass; Ben Riley, drums. And this performance can be found on Nancy’s most recent anthology — like a slim volume of poems in evocative, restorative order, PARTNERS II: I DON’T KNOW WHAT KIND OF BLUES I’VE GOT.

It’s available in all the usual places, thankfully.

I’ve written about Nancy since 2017, but rather than read one more line from me, I urge you to enter and re-enter her lovely worlds.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW MUSICAL NOUNS AND VERBS FROM CURTIS FULLER (1934-2021) with JIMMIE ROWLES, BARNEY WILEN, RED MITCHELL, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (July 13, 1978)

The cold facts. Trombonist / composer / bandleader Curtis Fuller, born December 15, 1934, left us on May 8, 2021.

In Michael J. West’s farewell piece in Jazz Times, he wrote this, “Asked in a 2012 interview by writer Mark Stryker about the keys to a good solo, Fuller replied, ‘Humor and dialogue. … Music is English composition. Each song should have a subject, and phrases should have a noun, a verb, and like that. It should be expressive. Exclamation points: Bap!’”

I knew there were reasons I admired this man. And although I was initially excited about the music you will hear because of the presence of my hero Jimmie Rowles, I celebrate Curtis Fuller as well. This session from the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 13, 1978 — audio only — presents Curtis Fuller, trombone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Barney WIlen, tenor saxophone; Red Mitchell, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, playing a repertoire that I would call sophisticated Mainstream: SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE / ALL OF YOU / THESE FOOLISH THINGS (Mitchell) / STELLA BY STARLIGHT with Fuller cadenza / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Rowles, Mitchell, Rosengarden).

I know some of my more “traditional” readers might feel that jazz trombone begins and ends with Jack Teagarden, and I revere Jack, Vic, Bennie, Dicky, their ancestors and their modern heirs, but I urge them to give Curtis Fuller an open-eared hearing. He is a great vocal player; he speaks to us; he has things to say. Fuller is technically adept but he is more interested in telling us his very vocal stories. Hear him out. And you can, on a second hearing, absorb Rowles’ subversive beauties, and the way the rest of the band — apparently an unusual mixture of players — settles in to swing:

Thank you, Curtis, for your energy, humor, and open-heartedness.

May your happiness increase!

“THERE IS DELIGHT, DOING THINGS RIGHT”: THE HOT ANTIC JAZZ BAND TAKES SCOTLAND (BBC-TV, Glasgow, August 20, 1989)

I believe that the wondrous Hot Antic Jazz Band is a working band no more. But their sounds (and sights) continue to delight us, thanks to the generous technological skills of their leader, Michael Bastide, and we can enjoy their performances of FOUR OR FIVE TIMES and THE STORY BOOK BALL from Scottish television. (I love the former especially: McKinney’s Cotton Pickers coming to life amid greenery.)

These masters of Hot are Michel Bastide, cornet, valve-trombone, vocal; Virginie Bonnel, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Jean-François Bonnel, tenor alto saxopone, clarinet, trumpet, vocal; Stéphane Matthey, piano; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo; Christian Lefèvre, tuba, marching trombone:

Delightful: authentic but not musty, full of expert fun.

As I write this, Michel Bastide‘s YouTube channel has a very small number of subscribers. I ask JAZZ LIVES’ readers to make sure the eminent Doctor Bastide does not feel that his efforts are in vain. Subscribe, s’il vous plait. (Or, as Red Allen would shout, “Make him happy!”)

May your happiness increase!

https://syncopatedtimes.com

“IT’S BEEN SO LONG,” or DOWNSTAIRS UPROAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, JOHN ALLRED, MATT MUNISTERI, TAL RONEN (Cafe Bohemia, January 16, 2020)

Walter Donaldson’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG could have been the theme song of the pandemic. But this performance, two months before the lights went out, is cheerful, rambunctious, uplifting.

These celestial noises were created below stairs at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, at one of their Thursday-night revels, this one featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Tal Ronen, string bass. Apologies to John for not including him in the frame: I recall trying to do so and being blocked by someone’s head, never a great accomplishment in cinematography:

Cafe Bohemia has not resumed its revels, although we live in hope. But — did you know — Jon-Erik, John, Joe Cohn, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass, will be playing outside The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York, tomorrow, Sunday, May 15, from 1 to 3:30?

Now you know.

May your happiness increase!

THREE TIMES AROUND THE FLOOR: BOBBY HACKETT, VIC DICKENSON, MAXINE SULLIVAN, LOU FORESTIERI, TITO RUSSO, JOE BRANCATO (January-February 1969)

Imagine that, slightly more than fifty years ago, you could take your partner out for dinner and dancing not a long walk from New York City’s Pennsylvania Station — the Riverboat, in the lower level of the Empire State Building. There, you could dance to the music of the Bobby Hackett Quartet plus Vic Dickenson, with vocals by Maxine Sullivan. A dream, no? And if you simply saw the listings of songs performed on any given night, you could utter the usual implausible requests for a time machine. But for once, the government of a major nation made art accessible, and the programs (about fifteen minutes long) were not only broadcast on CBS Radio in good sound, but were transcribed by the U.S. Treasury Department for service personnel overseas, and here, for everyone, as an inducement to buy U.S. Savings Bonds.

Bobby, listening to Vic at Childs Paramount, October 1952 (photograph by Robert Parent).
A very young Maxine Sullivan.

Dreams come true, and I can offer you just under an hour of varied, inventive, danceable music by Bobby, Vic, Maxine (I’ve noted her performances by *), Lou Forestieri, piano; Tito Russo, string bass; Joe Brancato, drums: three programs in all.

Friday, 1.17.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / JOANNA (Vic out) / SILVER MOON (Bobby out — a Vic original?) / HARLEM BUTTERFLY* / I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER* / SAINTS //

Friday, 1.31.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / LET’S FALL IN LOVE / EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME* / THE LADY IS A TRAMP* / I’LL TRY (Bobby out – a Vic original for sure) / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / TIN ROOF BLUES //

Friday, 2.14.69: TIN ROOF BLUES / UNDECIDED / I THOUGHT ABOUT YOU* / LOCH LOMOND* / A STRING OF PEARLS //

I don’t always celebrate birthdays, but Maxine’s was yesterday, May 13, and it’s wonderful to hear her easy, floating way with a song — a splendid match for Bobby and Vic. And I think with deep nostalgia of the days (1969 seems both near and far) when such lovely sounds could come out of the radio, as they were happening, and then be preserved for us, decades later.

And a splendid side note: I was meandering along on Facebook, as some of us do, before posting this blog, and I saw the name “Lou Forestieri,” as someone I might know. I’d never encountered Lou in person, and he and I are now a continent apart, but when I asked if he was THE Lou Forestieri who had played with Bobby — at the start of his career, when he was not yet 25 — he responded happily and said he was. Lou has gone on to a distinguished career as composer, arranger, orchestrator for television and films. JAZZ LIVES salutes him.

May your happiness increase!

“FINDING ANOTHER WORLD”: RAY SKJELBRED and his CUBS ASK A DEEP QUESTION (KIM CUSACK, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON, Sacramento, May 25, 2014)

Ray Skjelbred is more than comfortable with taking risks — not hang-gliding or sky-diving, but performing new songs in front of an audience, as he does here. The clues are simple: “Three choruses.” “My favorite Gershwin song,” and he and his Cubs — Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar — take us to another world:

Those of us who follow Ray, and Ray and his Cubs, might quickly associate them with the bedrock of Chicago jazz: dark-blue musings and skyrocket exuberance, and all that would be true. But their deep soulfulness comes out on a quiet but eloquent ballad performance such as this one.

The question is asked, and asked with feeling, leaving listeners to invent their own answers. Bless Ray, and all his friends.

May your happiness increase!

MR. RUSSELL FELT BETTER ALREADY: EDDIE CONDON, WILD BILL DAVISON, CUTTY CUTSHALL, EDMOND HALL, GENE SCHROEDER, BOB CASEY, BUZZY DROOTIN, RALPH SUTTON, ERNIE CACERES, AL HALL, JOE BUSHKIN, RAY McKINLEY (Town Hall, New York, February 21, 1951)

Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.

Pee Wee, distorted, by Weegee, c. 1955.

It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.

In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.

Here’s the menu:

JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.

FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:

And Pee Wee got better. Isn’t that lovely?

May your happiness increase!

GROOVING WITH FREDDY COLE, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, RANDY NAPOLEON, PAUL KELLER, EDDIE METZ (Atlanta Jazz Party, April 25, 2014)

I am delighted to be able to share these two deeply swinging performances (talk about “being in the pocket”!) by Freddy Cole, piano and vocal; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Paul Keller, string bass; Eddie Metz, drums — performed and recorded at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party.

Freddy Cole, 2018. Photograph by Jason Getz.

The Groove here is quite remarkable — as is the ensemble teamwork. Please notice the immaculate empathy among these musicians, with Paul and Ed acting as one but with discrete personalities, Freddy an orchestra in himself, and the wonderful rocking created by Bucky and Randy. Two other things I would call to your attention: the way Maestro Bucky, the senior member of the ad hoc aggregation, takes it upon himself — and why not? — to direct traffic, and does so with decades of experience. Also, the smile on Randy’s face: if we could harness that glowing energy, we could abandon fossil fuel.

What swing feels like, if you believe in it:

and “the highway that’s the best”:

May your happiness increase!

SOME SPLENDID NEWS: THE RETURN OF THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL (Sept. 30 – Oct. 3, 2021)

Given the landscape we have been traveling through, when good news shows up, it’s almost a shock. So brace yourself: I have some, as spelled out in the title of this post.

The Redwood Coast Music Festival is going ahead, energetically and intelligently, for 2021.

I did not take the pandemic lightly, and I spent a good deal of last year scared to bits . . . but I’m going. And I hope you will also, if you can.

Details here — but I know you want more than just details.

Although for those who like it very plain, some elementary-school math: four days, more than a hundred sets performed at eight stages, from intimate to huge. Dance floors. And the festival is wonderfully varied, presenting every kind of “roots music” you can imagine: “jazz, swing, blues, zydeco, rockabilly, Americana, Western Swing, country.”

Off the top of my head — when I was there in 2019, I heard the music of Charlie Christian, Moon Mullican, Pee Wee Russell, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Pete Johnson, Billie Holiday, and much more. Bob Wills said howdy to Walter Donaldson, which was very sweet.

And here are some of the jazz and blues artists who will be there: Carl Sonny Leyland, Duke Robillard, Dave Stuckey, Hal Smith, Andy Schumm, Dan Barrett, Jonathan Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, Dan Walton, Marc Caparone, Joe Goldberg, Bill Reinhart, Joshua Gouzy, Joel Patterson, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Kris Tokarski, Nate Ketner, Brian Casserly, Josh Collazo, Ryan Calloway, and two dozen other worthies whose names don’t yet appear on the site. And of course, bands — ad hoc units and working ones.

For the justifiably anxious among us, here is the RCMF’s Covid update: several things stand out. First, California has mandated that ticket sales must be in advance. And understandably, there will be fewer people allowed in any space . . . so this translates for you, dear reader, as a double incentive to buy tickets early. I know that festivals always urge attendees to do this, but you can see these are atypical reasons.

How about some musical evidence?

CASTLE ROCK, by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, by Dawn Lambeth and her Quartet:

REACHING FOR SOMEONE, by the Doyle-Zimmerman Sextet:

HELLO, LOLA! by Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL:

SAN ANTONIO ROSE, by Dave Stuckey – Hal Smith’s Western Swing All-Stars:

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, by Marc Caparone and his “Louis Armstrong All-Stars”:

If the videos don’t act as proof, my words may be superfluous. But to paraphrase Lesley Gore, “It’s my blog and I’ll write if I want to.”

I come to this festival-jazz party circuit late — both late for me and for the phenomenon — September 2004. Chautauqua, California, Connecticut, Newcastle, Westoverledingen, and others. I’ve attended a hundred of them. Meaning no offense to any festival organizer, I think Redwood Coast delivers such quality and such range that it is astonishing. I told Mark Jansen that it was the SUPERMARKET SWEEP of festivals: so much to pick up on in so short a time. And readers will understand that my range is narrow: there is much music on the list of genres above that doesn’t stir me, although it might be excellent.

However: in 2019 I came home with over 150 videos in four days of enthusiastic observation-participation. I slept as if drugged on the plane ride home. I’d been perforated by music of the finest kind.

I also need to write a few darker sentences.

There is a blessed influx of younger people — dancers, often — to music festivals like this one. But festivals are large enterprises, costly to stage and exhausting to supervise. Those of us who want to be able to see and hear live music must know that this phenomenon needs what realistic promoters call Asses in Seats.

So if you say, “Well, I’ll come in a few years when I’m retired,” that’s understandable. But Asses at Home mean that this festival, and others, might not wait for you. Grim, but true.

So I hope to see you there. There are a million reasons to stay at home. But who will come in and dust you?

May your happiness increase!

CHANGES WERE MADE: THE RETURN OF THE EarRegulars, May 2, 2021 – THE FUTURE

Some small history: The EarRegulars ceased playing their restorative Sunday-night gig at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) more than a year ago, in March 2020. About a month later, I decided to do what I could to assuage the collective grief and absence by creating a Sunday-night post where I offered video performances by the EarRegulars going back to 2009. It was a ceremonial offering of hope and joy — reminding us of the glories of past Sundays and keeping alive the idea that these communal explosions of life would come again. But my tone was elegiac, because no one could confidently say, “We’ll be right back after this brief pause.”

As of Sunday, May 2, a dream came true when the EarRegulars — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, tenor and C-melody saxophones, Eb tuba, and Pat O’Leary, string bass, performed “at” The Ear Inn, out on the sidewalk, in the sunshine, to a happy crowd.

Nothing is certain in this life, but optimism has taken the place of mourning, so the Sunday-night mood at JAZZ LIVES will no longer be a wistful look into the past but a celebration of what is happening NOW.

In the past few days, I’ve shared videos from that May 2 performance: I’M SORRY I MADE YOU CRY, DON’T BLAME ME, CHINATOWN, An EDDY DAVIS ENDING, HINDUSTAN, and GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU? — which you can visit easily by going backwards through the postings. Today, however, the most appropriate piece of music to the theme (perhaps not exactly death and rebirth, more like induced-coma-and-bringing-the-patient-back?) is the venerable Chicagoan THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

The May 9 performance was cancelled beforehand because of rain, but I expect to have more joyous sidewalk-phenomena to share with you. Dreams do come true, and wonders never cease. Welcome back, heroes.

May your happiness increase!

“LOVE MAKES ME TREAT YOU THE WAY THAT I DO”: The EarRegulars Show Us Love (Outside at The Ear Inn: Jon-Erik Kellso, Matt Munisteri, Scott Robinson, Pat O’Leary, May 2, 2021)

Wise humor by Maria Traversa.

I’ve always felt Don Redman’s plaintive love song deeply — posed as a question, explaining devotion to someone who needs an explanation, which makes it more poignant (“Don’t you understand why I do these things for you, my dear?”) — GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?

Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, Billie Holiday, and Nat Cole sang it . . . but even if you know only the title, you get the feeling. And the EarRegulars specialize in feeling.

Here they are, laying it on us, outside the Ear Inn, on May 2, 2021:

Delightfully, this is not meant to be a single remarkable occasion, like the appearance of Halley’s Comet in the night sky. No, the EarRegulars have plans — pray for no rain! — for Sunday, May 9, 2021, with Kellso, Munisteri, O’Leary, and John Allred, trombone. What’s that? “It’s Mother’s Day, Michael!” “Doesn’t Mom deserve the best?

Did you miss the joys of May 2 that I’ve posted so far? Get comfortable and let yourself be pleased here. And if you understand the significance of this event and the promise of Sundays to come, you will notice more people grinning as you get closer to Spring Street.

May your happiness increase!