Category Archives: The Things We Love

BEAUTIFUL AND RARE: FRAN KELLEY’S “THE DOUBLE QUINTET,” 1945

I haven’t watched ANTIQUE ROADSHOW for years, but to me the record below is like finding that the old painting in my basement is really a Caravaggio.  In 2019, I bought it on eBay for fourteen dollars, thinking, “I’ve never seen this label before nor heard of this session; it has wonderful people on it, and how disappointed could I be?”

I am elated, not disappointed.  Here are reverent still portraits:

And the other side:

The Double Quintet is Emmett Berry, trumpet; Eddie Rosa, Willie Smith, alto saxophone; Eddie Lucas, oboe; Clint Davis, reeds; Arnold Ross, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Billy Hadnott, string bass; Keg Purnell, drums.  Joe Macanarny or Herb Jeffries, vocal; Johnny Thompson or Herschel Gilbert, arranger.  Los Angeles, October, 1945 The four sides issued were LOUISE (instrumental) / PRELUDE TO A KISS (Jeffries, vocal; Thompson, arrangement) / LOVE FOR SALE (Joe Macanarny, vocal?) / YOU’RE BLASE (Jeffries, vocal).  I have not heard the latter sides, and my collector-friends’ network has not found a copy.  I would be interested in obtaining the disc, to put it mildly.

The Fran-Tone label — whose complete output was two discs, four sides — was the creation of Fran Kelley, about whom I would like to know much more.  These two sides received good press in Billboard, January 12, 1946 (thanks to Ellington scholar Steven Lasker for sending this to me):

Fran Kelley wrote articles or reviews of Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Leith Stevens, Bud Shank, Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars, and  others in Metronome in 1955 and 1956.  And (thanks to Brian Kane, Yale University) we know this:

Erroll Garner’s “Frantonality” is named after Frances Kelley, who briefly ran
a label in Los Angeles called Fran-Tone records. Garner’s recording of
“Frantonality” (recorded in Hollywood, April 9, 1946) was for that
label [but was issued on Mercury] and the title is also an advertisement for the
label.  She appears in Duke Ellington’s Music is My Mistress,
the chapter on San Francisco. “And there is one more person–Fran
Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager,
executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a
radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

If you would like to disappear from public scrutiny, meaning no disrespect, pursuing spiritual quests is one surefire way.  As they say in detective films, the trail goes cold after 1956.  But we have this extraordinary record.

I’d start with the arrangers first: both Thompson and Gilbert wrote arrangements for Harry James c. 1943-45 — Gilbert also played viola, and went on to be a prolific orchestrator for television: I looked at the listing of shows for which he provided music over several decades, and concluded that everyone over 50 has heard his work.  But it’s Thompson’s arrangement of PRELUDE that is so beautifully arresting.  As well as James, he did arrangements for Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey (many for her 1944-45 radio show), and Tommy Dorsey.  They were big band charts almost exclusively, but one example of Thompson’s intriguing writing for a small group can be heard on the Norvo Keynote Records 1944 date.  If you need to know more about Thompson’s subtle mastery — more than PRELUDE will tell you — know that Norvo, interviewed for the liner notes of a CD containing live material from an otherwise unrecorded 1942 band (“Live at the Blue Gardens”) speaks of him in the same breath with Eddie Sauter.

Incidentally, only the most superficial listener will say, “Oh, it’s just like the Alec Wilder Octet, those Third Stream experiments.”  Much more, technically and emotionally, is going on here.

When I took the record out of its cardboard box, I first played LOUISE — a song I love — also because I had not seen the curious “vocal phrases” notation on the label of PRELUDE, and thought, “This is going to be a Jeffries vocal feature, and I know both him and the song very well already.”  It’s lovely to be proven wrong, but I will start with LOUISE.  I thought it began with a harpsichord, but the introduction seems to be played by Lucas and Reuss, oboe and guitar — a very unusual sound.  What follows is a little less surprising, a chorus scored for a compressed big band, although with space for Willie Smith and Emmett Berry, their voices so singular, then outings for clarinet (is it Davis?) before everything shifts gears into 3 / 4 for the kind of interlude one hears in films — the hero and heroine are suddenly wearing eighteenth-century clothing and powdered wigs — moving to a swing-to-bop passage for Arnold Ross.  (Yes, that was a car going by beneath my window — think of MISS BROWN TO YOU in July.)  For the last minute of the recording, Gilbert seems to have run out of ideas: yes, Berry noodles beautifully on top of the ensemble, and solo voices have brief moments, and it’s swinging dance music — but it almost feels as if he’d brought an incomplete arrangement to the date and needed to fill space before Billy Hadnott so eloquently closes the performance.  Perhaps I am being unkind to Gilbert, but the opening and closing of this arrangement are so rich in detail that the late interlude seems bare.  I was still glad I’d bought the record.

Consider for yourselves:

When I turned the disc over, I expected a formulaic vocal showcase: an introduction, then Jeffries would deliver a chorus of the song, the band providing background.  Perhaps a piano half-chorus, then a horn solo to finish out, and Jeffries might take the last eight or sixteen.  But what I heard was a delightful rebuke to formulaic expectations.  I won’t delineate all the pleasures of this performance, but I had never heard a recording where a song’s lyrics rose and fell as part of the instrumental background.  Whether Jeffries sings in half-voice or was consciously asked to turn away from the microphone for the first phrase, I can’t know — but the effect is unlike anything I’d ever heard on record.  The first twenty seconds are dreamlike, a mist-enhanced forest landscape, instruments and voices heard from afar, brief but telling personal utterances from Reuss, Ross, Berry — so delicate and earnest, before Willie Smith enters to rhapsodize in the Hodges manner.  Jeffries returns to sing the title, and the record — a marvel — ends.  I couldn’t believe it, and on return listenings, shook my head at the way Thompson treated every instrument in his small orchestra with equal respect: the reed section, Reuss, Hadnott, as well as “the singer” and “the jazz soloists.”

See if you don’t share my pleased amazement:

Marvels appear to us in the most subdued ways.

And I repeat: does anyone have a copy of Fran-Tone 2005?

May your happiness increase!

HER TENDER MAGIC: BECKY KILGORE and FRIENDS (Jazz at Chautauqua, Sept. 21-22, 2012)

Archaeologists always exult over their discoveries — a bone-handled spoon, a bird-skeleton.  Wonderful, I guess.  But when I go back into my YouTube archives, I come up with Rebecca Kilgore and friends touching our hearts.  I’ll trade that for any noseless bust or porcelain ornament.

So very touching: featuring one of the greatest singers I know in a September 21st late-night set with Duke Heitger’s Swing Band at Jazz at Chautauqua: the other members of the Band are Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Mike Greensill, piano; Howard Alden, guitar; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Bill Ransom, drums:

And the next night, Becky sent the Fellows off so that she and Keith Ingham could perform IT’S ALWAYS YOU, a 1941 Jimmy Van Heusen – Johnny Burke song from THE ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, song — of course — by Mr. Crosby to Ms. Lamour:

Such lovely sounds — beyond compare for knowing sweetness.

May your happiness increase!

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

A shrine of a most unusual kind.

When we last left our intrepid friends, they were busily sending joy into the atmosphere.  The evidence is here.  It’s Sunday again, time to visit 326 Spring Street, even if the visit has to be navigated through the lit screens of the world. Writing that makes me sad, but I am trying my best to think of these days and nights as a fermata rather than the end of the composition.  So join me in hope.

Here is hopeful music from the EarRegulars’ session of November 22, 2009: the alchemists of Spring Street are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, reeds; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.  As I pointed out in a previous post, in those bygone days, YouTube would not allow a video of more than ten minutes at the video quality (1080) I was using.  So there are longer performances split in two.  We work with what we have.

A swinging act of contrition:

My feeling about the whole EarRegulars’ enterprise:

What day is it today, boys and girls?

And the second part:

Hope springs eternal, and so do hopeful sounds.

May your happiness increase!

THE ROMANTIC MR. DICKENSON (1946)

You remember romance?  (Maybe you have one now: I salute you!)  I certainly do.  When we think of romantic jazz, perhaps we think of Bird or Ben with strings, or Chet Baker singing, but Vic Dickenson’s name doesn’t come to mind.  Both his trombone playing and his too-infrequent singing have been called “sly” or “naughty” so often that the words obscure the real depths of feeling he conveyed.

However . . . .

Over his fifty-five year career, Vic created variations on (mostly) romantic themes for  his feature: when I heard him, it was most often IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD, but he had explored MANHATTAN and SISTER KATE [this last perhaps not terribly romantic, I admit] for extended periods as well.  But Vic’s romantic excursion here is the 1913 YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (James V. Monaco – Joe McCarthy) extremely popular because of recordings and performances by Al Jolson, Judy Garland, and Harry James.  My theory is that Vic decided to play this song because of Harry’s hit record: he said in print that Harry was his favorite trumpet player.

To set the stage, here are the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
I’ve been worried all day long
Don’t know if I’m right or wrong,
I can’t help just what I say
Your love makes me speak this way,
Why, oh! why should I feel blue,
Once I used to laugh at you,
But now I’m crying,
No use denying,
There’s no one else but you will do,

[Chorus]
You made me love you,
I didn’t want to do it
I didn’t want to do it
You made me want you,
And all the time you knew it
I guess you always knew it,
You made me happy sometimes
You made me glad
But there were times, dear,
You made me feel so bad.
You made me sigh for I didn’t want to tell you
I didn’t want to tell you
I want some love that’s true,
Yes I do,
Deed I do,
You know I do.
Give me give me what I cry for,
You know you got the brand of kisses that I’d die for
You know you make me love you.

[Verse 2]
I had pictured in my mind,
Someday I would surely find,
Someone handsome, someone true,
But I never thought of you,
Now my dream of love is o’er,
I want you and nothing more,
Come on, enfold me,
Come on and hold me
Just like you never did before,

[Chorus]

I’d heard Vic play this on various live recordings, but only recently did I obtain the August 5, 1946 recording with Eddie Heywood, photographed below.  This was the only song recorded at the session, a day before Vic’s fortieth birthday.  He had been ill, and the “second” trombonist, Britt Woodman, stepped aside for this feature.  This was not the Heywood band’s 1944 personnel: Doc Cheatham, Lem Davis, and Sidney Catlett, among others; this was the band in California, with Leonard Hawkins, trumpet; Henry Coker, trombone; Jimmy Powell, alto saxophone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Ernie Shepard, string bass; Keg Purnell, drums — although it would be hard to tell exactly who’s playing on this disc.  Incidentally, Vic recorded YOU MADE ME LOVE  YOU with his own band on the Supreme label in 1947, but with a different arrangement; that version has less energy, and the band is silent.  Perhaps they did not know the routine.

Those details aside, here is Vic’s YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU — with the passionate yearning mixed with a wink at the listener that characterized his work.  To me, it feels like an aria or a soliloquy — not simply a solo improvisation on a venerable pop song:

It’s only one chorus with an extended ending, with two vocal interjections by the band, but what mastery of tone, what fascinating phrasing.  A true storyteller, and what Vic has to tell us about love is remarkable, even if you have to invent your own lyrics.

Note: I may be creating discographical chaos here, because — although unlisted in discographies — I believe that this version of YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU comes from an AFRS “Jubilee” transcription.  It is longer than the Decca version, seems to be in a lower key, and has a discernibly different piano introduction, so I cannot blame the anonymous YouTube poster.  Whatever the source, it’s the version I prefer.  

And here’s Vic, much later in life, sweetly pleased by the sounds he’s hearing:

When I saw him, Vic was taciturn, not simply with fans but it seemed with fellow musicians as well.  But what love he could send out to us!

May your happiness increase! 

“IT’S NOT EVERY DAY”: KENNY DAVERN, LARRY EANET, DAVID JERNIGAN, DICK PROCTOR (Manassas Jazz Festival, November 25, 1988)

In the years that I was able to see and hear him live (1972-2006), Kenny Davern had unmistakable and well-earned star power, and on the sessions that I witnessed, his colleagues on the bandstand would have it also: Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Dill Jones, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Milt Hinton, Cliff Leeman, Dan Barrett, Jake Hanna, Bob Barnard, Randy Sandke, Buzzy Drootin, Bucky Pizzarelli.  You can add your own names to that list, but these are some of my memorable sightings.

Here, in 2020, I confess to admiring some musicians more than others, and feeling that some that I know are going to give great performances . . . and they do.  Musicians I’ve  not met before might bring a moment of trepidation, but then there is the joy of discovering someone new — a stranger, now a hero.  I write this as prelude to a video record of a performance Kenny gave (I think it was a patrons’ brunch) at the Manassas Jazz Festival on November 25, 1988.

This band, half of them new to Kenny (Jernigan and Proctor) produces wonderful inspiring results, and if you think of Kenny as acerbic, this performance is a wonderful corrective: how happy he is in this relaxed Mainstream atmosphere.  And he was often such an intensely energized player that occasionally his bandmates felt it was their job to rise to his emotional heights.  When this worked (think of Soprano Summit, Dick Wellstood and Cliff Leeman) it was extraordinary, but sometimes it resulted in firecrackers, not Kenny’s, being tossed around the bandstand.

All three players here are models of easy swing, of taking their time: notice how much breathing space there is in the performance, with no need to fill up every second with sound.  I’d only known Dick Proctor from a few Manassas videos, but he is so content to keep time, to support, to be at ease.  Dick left the scene in 2003, but his rhythm is very much alive here.  I’d met and heard Larry Eanet at the 2004 Jazz at Chautauqua, and was impressed both with his delicacy and his willingness to follow whimsical impulses: they never disrupted the beautiful compositional flow of a solo or accompaniment, but they gave me small delighted shocks.

But the happy discovery for me, because of this video, is string bassist David Jernigan  — the remaining member of this ad hoc quartet (younger than me by a few years! hooray!) — someone with a great subtle momentum, playing good notes in his backing and concise solos, and offering impressive arco passages with right-on-target intonation.  You can also find David here.

That Kenny would invite the receptive audience to make requests is indication of his comfort, as are the words he says after SUMMERTIME:

I accept the applause for Dick and Dave and Larry, because I feel as you do.  It’s not every day you can walk up on the bandstand . . . and really, literally, shake hands with two out of three guys that you’ve not played with before, and make music.  And I think these guys really are splendid, splendid musicians.

Hear and see for yourselves.

‘DEED I DO / LAZY RIVER / “Shall I speak?”/ THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU / Johnson McRee and Kenny talk / SUMMERTIME / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS //

Indeed, it’s not every day we hear music of this caliber.  How fortunate we are.

May your happiness increase!

EXTREMELY NICE: HOMAGE TO COUNT BASIE, with SWEETS EDISON, JOE NEWMAN, CLARK TERRY, VIC DICKENSON, EARLE WARREN, ZOOT SIMS, BUDDY TATE, LOCKJAW DAVIS, ILLINOIS JACQUET, JOHNNY GUARNIERI, MARTY GROSZ, GEORGE DUVIVIER, RAY MOSCA, HELEN HUMES (Grande Parade du Jazz, July 22, 1975)

Jake Hanna said it best, “You get too far from Basie, you’re just kidding yourself.”  So this post and the performance it contains are as close to Basie as anyone might get in 1975 — the loose jam-session spirit of the 1938-9 band at the Famous Door.  Some of the originals couldn’t make it for reasons you can investigate for yourself, but more than enough of the genuine Basieites were on this stage to impart the precious flavor of the real thing.

For the first song, JIVE AT FIVE, the composer, Harry “Sweets” Edison was on hand, among friends: Buddy Tate, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Earle Warren, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums.

Then, LESTER LEAPS IN, with the addition of Lockjaw Davis, Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Clark Terry, Joe Newman, trumpet.  And deliciously, Miss Helen Humes recalled those sweet songs from her Basie days, SONG OF THE WANDERER / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL / DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME.

I’m certain Jake would have approved, and the Count also.

May your happiness increase!

 

TWO HOT DANCES and AN IMPROVISED MEDITATION: the HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the EVERGREEN JAZZ FESTIVAL: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, JOHN OTTO, MARC CAPARONE (July 28-29, 2019)

Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Here is some wonderful music from one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, appearing at the Evergreen Jazz Festival (that’s Evergreen, Colorado) in July 2019.  For this weekend, the quintet was Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Marc Caparone, cornet; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; Steve Pikal, string bass.

I might be paraphrasing Yogi Berra, but this piece of music is so famous that no one every plays it anymore.  I’m referring to the 1923 CHARLESTON, words and music by Cecil Mack and Jimmy Johnson, as noted below:

In my childhood, when several television shows purported to reproduce the ambiance and music of “The Roaring Twenties,” one by that title starring Dorothy Provine, CHARLESTON was played and sung often.  But now, I can’t remember the last time I heard a jazz band play or sing it.  (Note: I know there are wonderful recordings, and as I write this, the Original Boulevardiers of Bucharest are driving audiences wild with their rendition, but you don’t need to write in.)  Here’s the HCJQ’s frisky version:

and a cool tender IMPROVISATION on a theme recorded but not composed by Fats Waller — the performers are John Otto and Steve Pikal:

Another HOT DANCE (as it would say on the record label), KRAZY KAPERS, perhaps harking back to the comic strip? — variations on the theme of DIGA DIGA DOO:

This band knocks me out, song after song.  I saw them most recently at the Jazz Bash by the Bay . . . and you will get to see and hear them also, more . . . .

May your happiness increase!

LEGENDS REVISITED: THE SONS OF BIX (Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978: Tom Pletcher, Don Ingle, John Harker, Don Gibson, Russ Whitman, Dave Miller, Glenn Koch) with an APPRECIATION by DAVID JELLEMA

Of course, the Legends are Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, and their majestic colleagues.  But from this distance — can it be a little more than forty years ago? — Messrs. Pletcher, Ingle, Harker, Gibson, Whitman, Miller, and Koch are legendary as well.

I asked someone who is too young to be a legend but certainly plays like one, David Jellema, to write an appreciation of this band, this video, and Tom Pletcher, and I am delighted to present it to you.  David, whom I’ve known for more than a few years, is a world-class cornet and clarinet hero, hot and lyrical, his work intelligent and passionate, his style all his own even when he is paying tribute to the Masters who have inspired him.  At the end of this presentation, I’ll share a few videos where David shines and list a few sessions that delightfully showcase his work.

But now, to the Sons, through David’s affectionate and perceptive lens.

In the 1970s and 80s, many of the founding fathers of jazz and swing, although in their twilight years, were fortunately yet with us. It was also a great time for the second generation of jazzmen not only to be personally influenced by the ancestors, but to be mingling and collaborating to make their own unique sweet preserves of musical fruits. Bands featured at many of the revival traditional jazz festivals tapped specific, living veins of American jazz heritage.

There were a few bands on the scene that dedicated themselves to the memorialization of the legend of Bix Beiderbecke, some featured over the years at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society jazz festival in Davenport, Iowa where Bix was born. One such specialty band, western Michigan’s “The Jackpine Savages,” formed in 1971, had the expected repertoire of traditional jazz standards and many tunes that Beiderbecke had recorded, but had the honored distinction of including leader Don Ingle (Baldwin, Michigan) on valve trombone and vocals, and Tom Pletcher (Montague, Michigan) on cornet.

Ingle’s father, Ernest ‘Red’ Ingle, played tenor sax and violin,and over his career had recorded with Ted Weems, Spike Jones Orchestra, and his own group,the Natural Seven. For an engagement in Cincinnati in May and June 1927, Red appeared on tenor sax with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra. So Don Ingle (1931-2012, who, as an infant, had been held in Bix’s own arms), inheriting his father’s music, humor, and artistic talents, was tutored on cornet by Red Nichols, on arranging by Matty Matlock, and played at Chicago’s Jazz Limited in the mid ‘60s. When he formed The Jackpine Savages in the early 1970s to play at the Lost Valley Lodge on Lake Michigan’s shore near Montague (also for various appearances locally and at aforementioned festivals), he switched to the valve trombone and hired local business-man Pletcher to play the cornet.It was just a few years later that Ingle collaborated with Chicago-based bandleader and piano player Don Gibson (Al Capone Memorial Jazz Band) in forming the Bix-style repertory band heard here, the “Sons of Bix,” whose repertoire and arrangements were primarily informed by Bix’s recordings and as well by period tunes Bix may have played.

This cornet player, Tom Pletcher (1936-2019), was fortunate to have been born to a sterling jazz trumpet player who had played in a few of the earliest jazz groups in collegiate circles. Stewart (“Stu” or “Stew”) Pletcher had friends and associates among the likes of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett, and Roy Eldridge (who had once exclaimed to young Tom sweet profanities of praise about his dad), and played professionally for Ben Pollack, Smith Ballew, Red Norvo. Young Tom had the nurturing environment of the earliest of the jazz pioneers even in his home growing up; and at 15, hearing his first Bix record, decided to take up the cornet. After formative youth years on the West Coast, adult Pletcher ended up taking over his grandfather’s decorative metal business in the White Lake, Michigan area (something his jazz musician father was not in position nor disposition to do) throughout a good deal of his life. This metal fabricator shop was a little more than 7 miles from where Ingle’s band would play at that lone restaurant overlooking Lake Michigan shores.

Pletcher’s fascination with Beiderbecke’s music led him into remarkable musical circumstances and personal associations that fueled and lent credence to his knowledge of Bix’s life and music. He corresponded with and visited the homes of the guys who had known and played with Bix. As a layman, he was diligent in seeking, and lucky in finding, not only information, facts, and stories about Bix, but even unseen pictures and a previously unheard recording, thereby to a small degree aiding in the research of Phil Evans toward two different exhaustive books about Bix. In that respect alone he deserves some credit toward the shaping of a factual account of Bix’s life beyond romantic and apocryphal mythologies and fantasies, something the dreamy jazz icon was victim to even before his tragic early death.

Pletcher’s acute intimacy with Bix’s music found its real recognition, however, in how he played a Getzen Eterna cornet(–one from 1965 that Ingle sold to him when Tom joined the Jackpines, and another large bore Eterna he bought in 1987). Certainly Pletcher had been influenced by his own father, Stu, and the musicians Stu associated with (especially Armstrong and Teagarden). Pletcher was an avid fan of Bobby Hackett, and often could deliver a solo sounding convincingly like the gentle man from Providence. He loved the recordings of Bunny Berigan, listening til the end of his life. Tom had acquired and absorbed all the lp records of Chet Baker. (Pletcher was also a keen listener, with Bix, to the music of the French Impressionist composers, Debussy, Ravel, and Delius, beautiful sounds that also influenced how he felt the music.) So a broad base of jazz (and classical) sounds made for a rich depth and diversity of the ideas that he expressed on the horn: he didn’t just play Bix’s licks or try to copy Bix. (The note-for-note tribute solo features like “Singin’ the Blues” mark the rare exception).

It was the extent to which Pletcher had absorbed and internalized technical aspects of Bix’s playing (attack and articulation, tone, vibrato, dynamics, effects and idiosyncrasies, and often, humor) without slavishly or consciously copying Beiderbecke that allowed him the acclaim among fans and musicians, contemporaneous to his generation and that of Beiderbecke’s, that he had come closest to Bix’s sound and spirit of anyone to date. All the other influences that had seasoned his playing allowed him freedom to express his own modern feel of the Bixian sound, keeping those sounds fresh.

Among musicians in the 1980s and early 1990s, he would be the first call to sit in “Bix’s chair” for a host of projects that recreated that period in repertory bands. While yet still alive, Bill Challis, the Bix-friendly arranger for the famous Jean Goldkette Orchestra and Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the man who transcribed and published Bix’s piano compositions), joined with protégé Vince Giordano to do some newer, expanded renditions of songs from the Goldkette years, including tunes Bix had recorded and some he hadn’t. Legendary piano demi-god and musical powerhouse Dick Hyman had Pletcher featured in a 92nd Street Y concert in New York City (and subsequent CD for Arbors Records) called “If Bix Played Gershwin,” a delicious pallet of all Gershwin tunes rendered as if they had been played in some of the formats that Bix had been grouped in. (Actually, only one Gershwin song from the concert was one that Bix had recorded, “Sunny Disposish.”) An Italian film producer had Pletcher playing the Bixian lead and solos for the stellar soundtrack of a not-so-stellar film loosely based on Bix’s life called “Bix: An Interpretation of a Legend.” John Otto’s “Hotel Edison Roof Orchestra” made in two recordings the perfect setting for Pletcher’s sound: hot jazz arrangements from Jean Goldkette, California Ramblers, Ted Weems, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Sam Lanin, Frank Skinner, and more.

A word must be said about one of Pletcher’s longest standing gigs of fairly consistent personnel. Pletcher played yearly among a group of musicians who gathered to play at Princeton 50th class reunions (months of June, 1975-1981), partly to entertain alumni, but mostly to enjoy their own private ongoing reunions of musicians who were fond of Bix’s music and some who were there when Bix played at Princeton near the end of his life. Squirrel Ashcraft, Bill Priestley, Jack Howe, and other Princeton grads had continued playing music under Bix’s spell at jam sessions in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; they were joined by later Princeton grads like Ron Hockett and Doug James, and collegiate and commercial band alumni like Spencer Clark, Bud Wilson, and Bob Haggart. The music had Eddie Condon-like small group spirit and freedom, and a relaxed approach. Live recordings from these were privately issued on vinyl for the musicians, friends, and alumni. They too called themselves “Sons of Bix.” They later went into Jazzology studios to record formal lps under Haggart’s name, with arrangements on “Clementine” and “In a Mist” by Hockett. They also did a number of private parties on the east coast that carried the reunion flames forth, one among many in Vero Beach which produced a nice album of cassettes with a complete 8-page history of the various “Sons of Bix” configurations over the decades, written by Jack Howe.

The Sons of Bix that you hear in this video (originally calling themselves, tongue in cheek, “The Sons of Bix’s”) only have Pletcher in common with the Princeton Reunion Sons of Bix, although their personnel may have had associations in the Evanston, Illinois jam sessions at Squirrel’s. These SOBs had three lp albums that were released (“A Legend Revisited” on Fairmont Records;“Ostrich Walk,” “Copenhagen”both on Jazzology). One was recorded but not issued on vinyl, and only in part much later online, called “San.” They played at the popular traditional jazz festivals like San Diego, Central City, and Sacramento. They toured Europe in 1979, playing in numerous countries and at the Breda Jazz Festival. (That is no small feat for loads of luggage, many horn and drum cases, a bass sax, train schedules and coaches, plane rides, small alleys, streets, and bars, wives and my own tagging aunt and uncle..)

In their “first East Coast appearance,” introduced here by the director of the DC-area Manassas Jazz Festival, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, the personnel consists of Glenn Koch, drums; Don Ingle, announcer, valve trombone, arranger, co-leader; Don Gibson, piano, arranger, co-leader; John Harker on clarinet and alto sax; Dave Miller, banjo and guitar; Tom Pletcher, cornet; and Russ Whitman, bass saxophone. In this video you’ll hear six songs that Beiderbecke had recorded, and one traditional tune they occasionally played.

I heard this band live for the first time at this very festival. I was a little boy, almost 14, with a bowl-cut Dutch-boy head of blonde hair and corduroy pants climbing high over white socks. I joined some of them for a brief after-hours jam session, along with another young Bix-Pletcher protégé named Ralph Norton, whose hair was slicked back and parted down the middle. (By the next time I heard them live, Ralph and I were in a cordial race to see who could part with his hair first.)Fast forward. In August 1987, I was just graduated from college, and for that summer was at my family farmhouse near Montague, Michigan (within a 12-minute walk from the Lost Valley Lodge where I first had heard the Jackpine Savages as a lad). The Sons of Bix had two appearances in the area the 8th and 9th, one at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp with guest Marian McPartland, in which she joined the band for a standard, played “In a Mist” solo, and did a haunting duet of “Stardust” with Pletcher. The next day,the SOBs were at a country club near Muskegon. Tom was playing that weekend on a brand new, large-bore Getzen Eterna, and any adjustments he needed to get used to the feel of the new horn on its maiden voyage Saturday night had been made into a crackling performance for the local jazz society the next day.

Unfortunately, life was making demands on me that did not allow me any further opportunities to hear this band live. But the lp records had to suffice, and the magic had been done on me. In either case, here was a band that liked playing together, liked the specific material they were reviving and reshaping, played with energy and cohesion, joked and giggled a lot. They had intelligent arrangements when needed, they could hug the ballads, and could fire up listeners with the standard barn-burners of the genre. Each musician was a seasoned, veteran master at his craft. Each one had remarkable personal connection to his antecedents at a time when some of those musical forebears were still alive to enjoy their own memories and these new achievements.

I have resisted a number of other opportunities herein to insert myself further into the narrative about this band and its roots, about Ingle, and especially about Pletcher. I will simply close with a note of gratitude to them for their loving treatment of their musical heroes and their influence on the younger musicians they had the chance to shape, to the two horn players that especially mentored me, to all the other musicians who play in these sounds, and finally to the historians, archivists, and documenters that have the cultivating hands in making this tree continue to grow in the shape of a musician from Davenport, Iowa.

And now, that 1978 session.  SUSIE / I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA / BORNEO / CARELESS LOVE / THOU SWELL / CLEMENTINE / FIDGETY FEET // Introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee: Tom Pletcher (cornet), Don Ingle (valve trombone), John Harker (clarinet), Don Gibson (piano), Russ Whitman (bass sax), Dave Miller (guitar, banjo), Glenn Koch (drums).

Back to David for a rewarding short interlude.

What could be nicer than four friends romping through a jazz evergreen: Albanie Falletta, David, Jonathan Doyle, and Jamey Cummins in 2014:

More friends, the Thrift Set Orchestra (yes, that’s Hal Smith!) in 2013, doing KRAZY KAPERS:

Many of the same rascals, plus the wonderful Alice Spencer, in 2014:

You can also hear David on the Brooks Prumo Orchestra’s THIS YEAR’S KISSES, two sessions by the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, THE ROAD TO LEAVING and LIVE AT THE SAHARA LOUNGE, as well as FLOYD DOMINO ALL-STARS.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW WORDS FOR “CLEVELAND JAZZ LEGEND,” PIANIST HANK KOHOUT (1923-2006)

The jazz world is full of Stars — the people who attract crowds, who get five-star reviews and adoring press.  But those of us who have been around for more than sixteen bars know that not every excellent musician becomes a Star.  There is that really superb singer in a small town who refuses to travel; the guitarist who doesn’t want to record or to be on YouTube, the musicians who don’t end up in this or the other alphabetical reference of Famous Musicians.  The locals know these people, and the musicians who travel from town to town know and admire them also.

Cleveland’s Theatrical Grill and owner “Mushy” Wexler: home to pianist Hank Kohout.

One such excellent musician who’s hardly known is pianist Hank Kohout, whose professional career spanned more than forty years.  If you hadn’t heard him in person, you missed your chance, because he left us in 2006, just before his 83rd birthday.  Some months ago, his brother Jerry found me and asked if I’d heard of Hank.  I hadn’t — but I certainly had heard of guitarist Bill De Arango, Red Norvo, Harry James, and Bobby Hackett.  And before Hank had turned twenty, he was praised in DOWN BEAT as a promising newcomer.

Jerry’s note to me suggests that not only was Hank a splendid musician but a fine person to have in your family: I miss him on a daily basis . . . . I can’t say he was the best, but he certainly could hold his own and would not embarrass himself.  I’ve listened to my fair share of piano men in my time, and I’ll describe him in this way.  In my full time job I traveled quite a bit, and if there was a piano player to be found, I would more often than not find him.  In many cases, I would not stay long, and rarely would I find someone who would captivate my time and attention, and who actually understood my requests (usually Little Rock Getaway was way out of their league) — conversely, they would come in to hear my brother . . . and stay till closing.  

After his passing, I found no less than 40 autographed photos, most with glowing remarks from the likes of Eddie Heywood, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Durante, Bobby Hackett, etc.

Here’s an informal sample of Hank — his playing strongly melodic, his harmonic understanding subtle yet deep, admiring but not copying Teddy Wilson.

And the full story can be found in this beautifully detailed piece on Hank from “Jazzed in Cleveland,” written by Joe Mosbrook in 2005:

For more than 60 years, Hank Kohout has been one of Cleveland’s leading jazz pianists. He is probably best remembered for playing with the Bob McKee Trio, the house band at the Theatrical Grill on Vincent Avenue, for 17 years, but Hank also played with some of the giants of jazz on New York City’s famous 52nd Street, with leading big bands, and with network broadcast orchestras as well.

Born and raised in Cleveland, Kohout graduated from West Tech High School and studied classical music for ten years before he was exposed to jazz. “One day,” he recalled, “I heard Teddy Wilson play piano and suddenly asked myself, ‘What took me so long?’” He quickly dropped classical music. “I listened to Teddy’s records.” he said, “and tried to copy what he was doing. Teddy was a very clean player and that’s what I like to hear; I like to hear every note nice and clear.”

In 1939, after studying classical music for ten years, teenager Kohout immersed himself in jazz, playing everywhere he could. “There were a lot of people playing jazz in Cleveland at that time,” he said, “and they used to have jam sessions which I attended. I learned a lot just sitting in.” During some of those jam sessions, Hank met and played with an amazing young guitarist from Cleveland Heights who had gone to Ohio State University. “Bill de Arango called me,” Hank recalled, “and wanted to put together a trio. We started playing at some of the nightclubs on Short Vincent.

Eventually the trio went on the road. One day in Indiana, Hank ran into a friend who was playing with the Red Norvo band and said Red was looking for a piano player. “I decided to take a crack at it,” said Hank. “I left the trio and went to New York.” He auditioned for the vibraphonist and bandleader, got the job, and began to tour with the Norvo big band.

They played the theatre circuit including the Palace Theatre in Cleveland. On the bill with the Norvo band were such entertainers as comedian Jimmy Durante, singer Mildred Bailey, and dancers Step ‘n Fetch It. But the Norvo big band was not a huge success. “When we got back to New York,” said Kohout, “the war broke out and the band broke up. We put together a sextet which we took into the Famous Door.”

The Famous Door was one of the jazz clubs along New York City’s fabled 52nd Street where every night for years the top jazz artists were performing. Clevelander Kohout found himself right in the middle of the action. He said, “Red hired Shorty Rogers on trumpet, Eddie Bert on trombone, Aaron Sachs on clarinet and Specs Powell was the drummer. We had Johnny Guarnieri’s brother Leo playing bass with us. And Red and myself.”

When the Norvo Sextet broke up, Kohout continued playing on 52nd Street. In 1942, he was playing piano in the house band down the street at the Three Deuces. The other members of that house band were Powell and bassist Milt Hinton. They regularly backed such saxophonists as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Flip Phillips and Georgie Auld. Looking back, Hank smiled and admitted, “That was pretty fast company!”

In the early 1940s, there were still seven jazz clubs concentrated on New York’s 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Top jazz musicians seemed to be almost everywhere on “the street.” Kohout said, “That was an era that will never be duplicated again. There were a whole bunch of clubs and at any given time they had some of the best music in the world by some of the best players.”

For several weeks, Kohout substituted for native Cleveland pianist Al Lerner, playing with the Harry James Orchestra, including an engagement at New York’s Paramount Theatre. He also played briefly with the Bobby Byrne big band. But, he decided to leave New York City in 1943.

“I left because they were looking for a piano player in Cleveland,” he said. “I came back to Cleveland and auditioned for a job with the WHK studio orchestra.” The orchestra, led by Willard Fox, was doing regular radio broadcasts from Cleveland to about 300 stations of the Mutual network. Kohout played for ten years with the radio orchestra, plus six or seven years on a program called The Ohio Story on WTAM. He also did TV work in Cleveland including The Mike Douglas Show which was produced at Channel 3 for a national audience. While working the studio jobs, Kohout was also playing jazz gigs at night at a variety of clubs. He said, “I think I played about every club in town.”

Beginning in 1963, Kohout was the pianist in the house band at the Theatrical Grill for 17 years. With drummer Bob McKee and bassist Ken Seifert, he played six nights a week at the popular club that featured national jazz artists. “It got to the point,” recalled Kohout, “that some of the touring musicians came in without their groups and we would play with them, people like Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson and Doc Severinsen.” When Red Norvo came to the Theatrical, Hank pulled double-duty, playing piano with both his old boss’ group and with the McKee Trio. When Jimmy and Marian McPartland played at the Theatrical, Hank joined Jimmy’s group for several numbers and then sat side-by-side with Marian, playing four-handed piano. Newspaper reports said It brought down the house.

Mushy Wexler, who ran the Theatrical, liked traditional jazz and hired a lot of dixieland bands. Kohout remembered Wilbur de Paris, Billy Maxted, Jonah Jones and many others. “There were so many that I can’t remember them all.”

The Theatrical, Cleveland’s leading night spot for more than 50 years, attracted a wide variety of customers. They included politicians, lawyers, newspaper people, and sports figures. Hank said, “We had them all, clergy sitting next to guys in the Mafia. We had strippers. They were all there and they were like family.”

Kohout finally left the Theatrical in 1979 after Wexler died and the music policy changed. The club stopped presenting live jazz in 1990 and closed a few years later. “If Mushy had lived another ten or twenty years,” said Kohout, “it wouldn’t have changed at all. It would still be today like it used to be.”

Kohout, now 81 and living quietly in Parma, teaches a little, but he is not playing piano very much. He said, “I have Parkinson’s now and it hasn’t helped my playing at all. I get disgusted. I can still do it, but if I can’t do it the way I want to do it, I don’t want to do it.”

Like his early idol, Teddy Wilson, Kohout always played with a clean, pure technique. Performing in almost every musical style, the native Clevelander, who has been heard and appreciated by millions, is still remembered as a piano player’s piano player.  

Jerry also sent me an informally-recorded sample of his brother in his native habitat, obviously enjoying himself and making the audience happy.  I hear a witty, playful synthesis of Wilson, Tatum, Hines, and others — fused in a gracious individualistic style.

What’s the moral to this tale?  People who don’t go on the road or make records, who aren’t “known,” can really play and should be acknowledged for their talent.

May your happiness increase!

THE GERANIUMS UPON THE WINDOW SILLS (April 6, 1933)

In these uncertain times, I feel the need to make room for silliness — goofy archaic cultural history that also sounds pleasing, and if anyone takes issue with the implications of the lyric, the offense lasts at most a few seconds more than three minutes. The song itself is not necessarily a great work of art, but it stayed with me, because of the creamy sound of the orchestra and the winsome vocal.

The song itself — I DO! — is a collaboration between John Jacob Loeb, Paul Francis Webster, and Lester Banker.  The first two names are familiar: Loeb was in part or wholly responsible for SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, GOT THE JITTERS, ME MINUS YOU, BOO HOO, and A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT; Paul Francis Webster wrote lyrics for — memorably — THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE, I GOT IT BAD, SECRET LOVE, BLACK COFFEE, and LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING; about Lester Banker, I can find almost nothing except composer credit for WALTZ IN BLUE.  Perhaps he was the person who said, “Why don’t we write a song called _____ about ______ ?” and then either went to the men’s room or got coffee for everyone.

I heard the song for the first time this year, thanks to a Rivermont Records collection, SHADOWS ON THE SWANEE, 1932-1934: ISHAM JONES AND HIS ORCHESTRA.  (You can also learn more about this reissue — which contains two incredibly rare home-recordings of the Jones group — here.)

What you choose to make of the culture that produced this song, with its sweet-goofy-earnest promises, I leave to you.  I suspect that in 2020 it will be a kind of litmus test, but I’d rather listen to this record than analyze its unspoken biases:

Just remember.  One, no putting in the living room.  Two, make sure there are plenty of Rivermont Records to listen to (since Jones Victor 78s fetch appalling prices on eBay).  Three, get a prenup.

And if all of this is too dusty for you, perhaps this modern icon will help?

May your happiness increase!

“HAPPY MEMORIES”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, BOB HAVENS, DAN BLOCK, JOHN SHERIDAN, TOM BOGARDUS, KERRY LEWIS, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 21, 2013)

The music that follows requires some prelude.  It was created at the now-legendary Jazz at Chautauqua, almost seven years ago — which seems like several lifetimes.  The founder and imperial monarch of this jazz weekend, Joe Boughton, responsible for so many hours and days of wonderful jazz music, loathed what he thought of as overplayed repertoire.  SWEET GEORGIA BROWN was forbidden; A GARDEN IN THE RAIN was bliss.  Not for him Hot Lips Page’s ecumenical idea, “The material is immaterial.”  But, whether it was Jon-Erik Kellso’s idea or Joe’s, a set called “‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS,” its repertoire consisting of well-worn Bourbon Street favorites, happened.  And it was wonderful.

The regular band was Pete Siers, drums; Kerry Lewis, string bass; John Sheridan, piano; Dan Block, clarinet; Bob Havens, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso,  trumpet.  But one of Jon-Erik’s Michigander friends, the fine multi-instrumentalist — clarinet, soprano saxophone, banjo, tenor guitar and perhaps more — Tom Bogardus, was also at Chautauqua, and Jon-Erik not only invited him to join in for this set, but Howard Alden generously lent Tom his tenor banjo and Tom added so much to the sound.  He told me recently, “This was a big night in my musical career, getting to play with these outstanding musicians in today’s jazz. I am so thankful that Jon-Erik asked me and Howard Alden let me use his banjo. Now I have video proof.  It’s a 4 string tenor banjo with traditional tenor tuning. I think it’s a Bacon & Day, but am not sure.”

Before we move on to the music, a small — possibly irrelevant — personal note.  I sat at my table with my video camera on a tripod, as if it were my date, and the world of people talking, getting up for drink refills, and having dinner happily swirled around me.  So the first voice you will hear on the first video is the amiable waitperson asking me, as they are trained to do, if I was finished, “Can I take that away for you?  Are you through?” which is really, “Let me get all the dishes off the tables as we are required to do,” and my response — I am proud to say, not in a snarl, “No.”  My people have certain boundary issues: “Touch my food if I haven’t offered it to you, and I will be unhappy,” which is why I weigh more now than in 2013.  But I digress.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

BASIN STREET BLUES, featuring Bob Havens:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?:

and a quick set-closer, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE:

Alas, Jazz at Chautauqua and its successors, the Allegheny Jazz Party and the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, are no more, but we have our happy memories and these videos.  Incidentally, when I asked Jon-Erik for permission to post these videos, “Happy memories!” is what he said.  So true.  Thanks to the musicians, to Joe Boughton and all his family, to Nancy Hancock Griffith and Kathy Hancock.  And to my polite waitperson: can’t forget her.

May your happiness increase!

“I’M AS HAPPY AS A PUP”: A SONG AND PHOTOGRAPHS TO SUSTAIN US

A friend posted this jubilant photograph about a week ago, and it’s stayed in my mind as the epitome of joyous freedom.  The splendidly happy fellow is Cooper (he asks that his last name not be used: he’d rather frolic than answer mail).

The photo raises the question: “How could I have such joy in my life?” and I don’t pretend to have the answer: these are not joyous times for those whose eyes are open.  But one spiritual panacea has to be music: the sounds that make our eyes bright and our tails wag.

When I saw Cooper’s portrait, “I’m as happy as a pup,” ran through my head, and I tracked it down to the Gershwins’ THINGS ARE LOOKING UP, and the thread went straight to Mr. Astaire, then to Lady Day.  It’s a poignant version, with Buck Clayton whispering I CAN’T GET STARTED in our ears, then Billie approaches the possibly jubilant text with a hint of poignant tentativeness — can this be true? — the sound of someone who has known sadness and is wary of embracing joy too unguardedly.  Her delivery of the bridge is so tender (I think of MANDY IS TWO, a few years later) but her second offering of the title is more exultant, as if she had crossed the fiery river to safety and could relax and contemplate the much more real possibility of joy.  (All of this in under two minutes.)  Teddy Wilson’s sixteen bars characteristically glisten, but it pleases me so much to hear Vido Musso, consciously or otherwise, sounding so much like a wordless Billie.  Completely touching and genuine.

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Buck Clayton , trumpet; Prince Robinson, clarinet; Vido Musso, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums [as Swing Roo (d) ] on label, Billie Holiday, vocal; New York, November 1, 1937:

This post is for Cooper (who obviously has so much to teach us) and my friend, for Charles of Sammut, for Penny Bengels, Pika Skjelbred, Winston and Harriet Comba, and a thousand other sentient beings who know how to love, how to frolic.

And if you think I demean Lady by linking her to Cooper, consider this:

and this, which even though it’s stiffly posed, the dogs don’t mind:

and this tenderness:

May your happiness increase!

ALMOST LIKE BEING IN PHILADELPHIA, or ANOTHER ETUDE FROM THE MARTY PARTY: MARTY GROSZ, JOE PLOWMAN, BRENNEN ERNST, RANDY REINHART, JACK SAINT CLAIR, JIM LAWLOR, DANNY TOBIAS, VINCE GIORDANO, DAN BLOCK, SCOTT ROBINSON (World Cafe Live, March 4, 2020)

When someone you admire celebrates his ninetieth birthday (and the publication of his autobiography — published by Golden Valley Press) at a public gathering with music, it would be foolish to miss the festivities.  That’s why I took the train to Philadelphia in March to help celebrate (and document) Marty Grosz and his friends rather than spend my remaining years kicking myself that I didn’t.  Here are three posts, each with a performance from the Marty Party.  WABASH BLUES, JAZZ ME BLUES, and  IT DON’T MEAN A THING, for the curious.

But wait!  There’s more!  Marty essays the famous Alex Hill-Claude Hopkins song of complete romantic cooperation. The creators of mirth and hot music are Marty Grosz, guitar and vocal; Joe Plowman, string bass; Randy Reinhart, trombone; Brennen Ernst, piano; Jack Saint Clair, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, clarinet; Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and bass taragoto, Jim Lawlor, drums. Incidentally, the song has two titles: either I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU or the more-tempered I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU.  Your call.  My truncated title is because YouTube has a 100-character limit.

May your happiness increase!

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

It’s Sunday again — and that means it’s time to go to The Ear Inn.  This will explain it all.

I know, perhaps better than you’d think, the difference between a live performance and a video, but I’d ask you to not scoff at the latter, because it is our century’s version of a phonograph record . . . and since I would guess that few people alive in 2020 heard Charlie Christian, we’ve contented ourselves with his “recorded legacy.”

Here’s my humble contribution to keeping The Ear Inn and The EarRegulars fresh and lively in our ears and hearts.

Thanks to the magic of technology, we can go there (or back or sideways) to hear music from November 8, 2009, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass, unaffected Ministers of Magic.

Victor Herbert’s INDIAN SUMMER:

With nods to Whiteman and Horace Henderson, HAPPY FEET:

and Louis’s swinging anthem of reproach, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY:

Blessings on the place, its inhabitants musical and non-musical.  Let us gather there soon in peace and safety, our hearts purged of fear.

May your happiness increase!

WAKING UP WITH LIZA, or THREE MEN ON A TOBOGGAN: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 6, 2020)

The medium, or the message?

The message, or the medium?

Whichever way you choose to perceive it, I invite you on a wild beautiful expert ride through sounds.  The creators are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums: the scene is the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 6, 2020.  And you’ll understand the first photograph as soon as the video begins.  Hold on tight!

I am so glad Sonny and friends and I occupy the same planet.  But my feeling is that had we all been born, say, forty years earlier, we could have gone uptown so that he could astonish the other pianists . . . and John Hammond would have signed him to a recording contract.

Feeling totally alive: what a lovely spectacle to witness!  And more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“A POST-GRADUATE SEMINAR IN NEW ORLEANS CLARINET,” featuring RYAN CALLOWAY with CLINT BAKER’S NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND: RYAN CALLOWAY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, BILL REINHART, JESS KING, HAL SMITH (Jazz Bash by the Bay, Monterey, California, March 7, 2020)

“Don’t be afraid,” Clint says to some audience members, timidly straggling in to this session at the Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I would echo his words.  I know that “seminar,” to some, will mean a dry academic exercise . . . heaven forbid, a lecture. But that isn’t the case here.  Clint guides us through the subject, so I don’t have to write much, but this set is a joyous exploration into music that we take for granted, and players unjustly neglected in the rush to celebrate the newest and the most photogenic.  Take your seat: the fun’s about to begin.

This dapper young man spent eight years studying Albert-system clarinet under the tutelage of Professor Baker, and you’ll hear the delicious results.  (More musical than my doctoral orals.)  Clint plays trumpet here; Riley Baker, trombone; Hal Smith, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Bill Reinhart, Jess King, banjo.

JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE, for Willie Humphrey:

PERDIDO STREET BLUES, for Johnny Dodds:

ORIENTAL MAN, for Dodds and Jimmy Blythe:

JUST TELEPHONE ME, for Tom Sharpsteen and the New Orleans revival players:

WOLVERINE BLUES, for Jelly Roll Morton and his clarinetists:

ST. LOUIS BLUES, for Larry Shields and the ODJB:

BURGUNDY STREET BLUES, for George Lewis:

HIGH SOCIETY, for Alphonse Picou and all the giants who play(ed) it:

I didn’t deceive you.  That was fun, and you’ve gotten some post-graduate music and education also.  Hail Ryan Calloway and his bandmates, and Professor Baker!

May your happiness increase!

TRANSLUCENT SERENADES: “DUETS FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C”– MICHAEL McQUAID and CURTIS VOLP (Bandcamp, 2020)

Artwork by Nicholas D. Ball

I’ve known the multi-instrumentalist and jazz scholar Michael McQuaid for ten years now (we first met at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, on a bus from the airport, if I remember); I just became Facebook friends with guitarist Curtis Volp.  This post is to let you know about their brand-new CD — can I call it a CD if it only, for the moment, exists intangibly? — available here.  There you can hear the first track for free, no obligations implied or expressed.

Some words, not mine, but right on target:

Established hot jazz authority Michael McQuaid and youthful guitar virtuoso Curtis Volp team up for a dynamic yet intimate series of duets, for no reason at all – other than musical enjoyment, of course.

The album features a surprising array of tunes from the 1920s and 30s, ranging from familiar favourites like ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Melancholy’ to unjustly neglected gems such as ‘Forget-Me-Not’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You’.

Though inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Eddie Lang and Teddy Bunn, the duo achieves a fresh new sound through their warm and witty musical dialogue.

Some facts, now that you’ve figured out the personnel.  The songs are THERE AIN’T NO LAND LIKE DIXIELAND TO ME / WITHOUT THAT GAL! / FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C / MELANCHOLY / THE MAN I LOVE / LOTS O’MAMA / MOONLIGHT ON THE GANGES / BLUE RIVER / FORGET-ME-NOT / LOOKING AT THE WORLD (Thru’ Rose-Colored Glasses) / IF I CAN’T HAVE YOU / WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD / BECHET’S STEADY RIDER /

And another sample:

Some random observations, because it seems important to me to make the JAZZ LIVES readership aware of this music right now.  I’m on my third playing, because when the “disc” ended the first time, I was shocked.  “Is it over?  Is that all?” which you can take as a positive endorsement.

The music is nicely varied — in tempo, in mood, in emotions and emotional associations.  Several of the more morose songs (you’ll know them when you hear them) are taken a little more brightly than is conventional, but the approach works.  Both Michael and Curtis are free, imaginative players, but they clearly love the melodies, so no track is a blowing exercise on the chord changes.  The person who has been deep in the music for a half-century (wait, that’s me!) can find subtleties to admire, but this is also unashamedly “pretty” music that wouldn’t scare the new kitten back into the closet.

The repertoire is of a certain era, and the playing is spiritually and chronologically appropriate — there are no quotes from 1958 Rollins or Wes here — but it isn’t a museum tour, with a guard glowering at us to keep our distance and not touch the precious OKeh icons.  Their approach is loving but not timid, reverent but not imitative (except in their FOR NO REASON AT ALL, which has its own little individualistic nuances).  Occasionally I felt as if I’d wandered into an alternate universe of “What if?” as in “What if Tram and Lang had had a whole side to themselves to play BLUE RIVER?” Although Curtis reminds me beautifully of Salvatore Massaro, he isn’t a clone; Michael knows so many reed players so deeply that there’s no danger of him getting buckled into one cosplay suit and never being able to free himself.

I admire this session all the more because I know how risky duet improvisations are when the two musicians are in the same space, can make mutual eye contact to signal changes in the itinerary, and can prance simultaneously together.  Somehow, I think watching the monitor and listening through earbuds doesn’t make it easier, and I rejoice at the warmth of their duet.

Incidentally, there are no jokes, no gimmicks, no earnest or comic vocals, but the musicians are having fun — this is a very lively jovial session, and Curtis even shouts “Yeah!” on BECHET’S STEADY RIDER.  Appropriately.

This is beautiful fulfilling warm music, a real accomplishment.  I think you’ll love it.  I certainly do.

May your happiness increase!

“THE RICH PAGEANT OF HUMANITY,” or A FEW TUNES FROM THE JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Steve Pikal, Marc Caparone, Jacob Zimmerman, March 6, 2020)

Let me be plain: before the skies darkened to the shade they are now, I flew from New York to Monterey in March to immerse myself in the 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay, and I am deeply glad that I did.  Here are the first three performances I saw and captured — by one of my favorite bands, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, which is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone and clarinet.

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS — now, for most of us, a dream out of reach:

Rodgers and  Hart, 1927:

and the vengeance song that sounds like a love ballad to those unaware of the lyrics:

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my mask and gloves on to go get my mail.  It’s the thought that someday soon I might see and hear my friends play jazz again that keeps me from eating the decorative molding.  Be well, dear readers.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY CARTER and FRIENDS // TEDDY WILSON — with KAI WINDING, VIC DICKENSON, RAY BRYANT, HANK JONES, SLAM STEWART, MILT HINTON, MEL LEWIS, J.C. HEARD (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 7, 9, 10, 1977)

I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.

The King, a few years before 1977.

The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette.  Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now?  How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known?  After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace.  Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man.  Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want?  But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?

Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies.  I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here.  I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out.  Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.

And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.

7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.

7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.

Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice.  Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record.   Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King.  In between, you’re on your own.  You can do this.

May your happiness increase!

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

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

I hope I will be forgiven repeating this moody strain: early in 2020, I would be getting ready to get ready (I arrive too early) to be at this Shrine.  If you don’t know it, please read and listen; if you do, the same suggestions apply.

Here you can find parts one and two of this Sunday-night series celebrating good times at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, New York, thanks to the EarRegulars.

And more from the night of September 6, 2009 — the video is appallingly dark and fuzzy [I did buy a more light-sensitive camera, so have patience], but the sounds made by Danny Tobias, cornet; Michael Hashim, alto saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass, are bright.

A serious criminal offense — SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

She came back and will only answer to MY GAL SAL:

But now she’s NAUGHTY:

We add the splendid violinist Valerie Levy to the band for EMBRACEABLE YOU.  Remember when that title didn’t bring up stifled tears and muffled snarls of frustration?

That 1930 celebration of new romance, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

And finally, for this post, POOR BUTTERFLY:

We live in hope that this joyous coming-together can and will happen again.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MIGHT NEED PROTECTION FROM THOSE WHO ANALYZE IT AND THOSE WHO SQUEEZE IT TOO TIGHTLY

A visual display of the presumed growth of jazz.

I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error.  But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.

A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary:  Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds.  Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.]  Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.

At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way.  Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was.  My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!”  No one offered to buy me a drink.

But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences.  I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.

If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:

Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians.  Solos were not part of it.  When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.”  Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”

I find several problems here, as my comment indicates.  First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.”  I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”

Musicians play, and played MUSIC.  Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.

Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination.  “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.  He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.

Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way.  An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record?  Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926?  And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,”  He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz?  They had solos AND they had written passages.  They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?

I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.

If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it?  The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]

Again, it’s slippery.  IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”?  Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.”  But it was recorded in New York.  The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.”  But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout.  The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion?  I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday.  So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?

From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?

Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer.  Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band.  They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)

Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?

Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good.  I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.

But of course I am wrong: I accept that.  I will sleep better knowing it.

May your happiness increase!