SIX MINUTES OF SWING MYSTERY (May 25, 1939)

We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.

Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list.  Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.)  I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.

When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons.  Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb.  I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording.  When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified.  A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.

I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson.  But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.

About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.

Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:

Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)

My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey.  Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director.  I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.

On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music.  de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour.  Or three minutes.

Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:

About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.

Your thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

JAMMIN’ AT TOWN HALL: EDDIE CONDON, WILD BILL DAVISON, BUZZY DROOTIN, EDMOND HALL, JOE BUSHKIN, CUTTY CUTSHALL, RALPH SUTTON, RAY McKINLEY, ERNIE CACERES, GENE SCHROEDER, BOB CASEY, AL HALL (February 21, 1951)

Sadly, Eddie Condon’s music is misunderstood and dismissed these days.  The serious “traditionalists” — whether they bow to Jim Robinson or Turk Murphy or a hundred other icons — accuse him of aesthetic impurity (the way they feel about Happy Cauldwell’s tenor saxophone on Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor session.)  More “modern” listeners see FIDGETY FEET and flee; they also associate anything related to Eddie as identical to semi-professional “Dixieland” played from music stands or loud Bourbon Street busking.

I offer this half-hour Voice of America broadcast as a stimulating corrective to both views.  Ironically, it is introduced by Leonard Feather, openly hostile to  Eddie and his musicians, although he is polite enough here.  It pleases me greatly that the VOA broadcasts began with a nearly-violent flourish from Hot Lips Page, one of Eddie’s best musical friends.  The generous YouTube poster dates it as April 1951, but the concert — a tribute to the recovering Pee Wee Russell — happened on February 21, 1951, according to Manfred Selchow’s invaluable book on Ed Hall, PROFOUNDLY BLUE.

Something for everyone: serious collective improvisation by a group of players who are both exuberant and precise; rhapsodies; ballads; jazz classics.  There’s kinshp between Buzzy Drootin and Max Roach, between Cutty Cutshall and Bill Harris, between Ernie Caceres and Ben Webster, between Joe Bushkin and Teddy Wilson.  Heard with open ears, this music is timeless, as inspired as the sounds cherished by the Jazz Bureaucracy.

Here’s the bill of fare:

FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Bob Casey, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums. UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE: Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Schroeder; Al Hall, string bass; Drootin.  I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH!  Joe Bushkin, piano; Ray McKinley, drums.  IN A MIST: Ralph Sutton, piano.  BASIN STREET BLUES: as BUBBLES:

Once again, I am impressed by the storming drumming of Buzzy Drootin.  If you share my admiration, I direct you to the two brilliant videos created by Kevin Dorn on YouTube — which made me appreciate Buzzy even more.  Eddie and Co. I already appreciate over the moon.  To quote Eddie, “Whee!”

May your happiness increase!

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

Something you ought to Ear.

Wow.  It’s Sunday again.  How the days go by so quickly when it feels as if more than half of our former lives have been put in the freezer . . . a puzzlement, as the King said.  Here ‘s the record of last week’s pilgrimage to the Soho Shrine, The Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street.

And now, we spin the dial on the cyber-roulette wheel and take you back to May 16, 2010, when the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Greg Cohen, string bass.

Let’s start with a pretty song, one that could be our national anthem these days, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES:

Now, the fable of a remarkable Texan, I’M A DING DONG DADDY FROM DUMAS:

DING DONG DADDY (concluded):

I looked up Dumas, Texas, and it’s just under 1750 miles from New York, a straight shot of 26 hours in the car.  All things are possible for those who believe:

WILLIE THE WEEPER had a wonderful dream.  No words, but join him:

Care to Stomp?  Here’s MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, with Dan Block, tenor, sitting in, a performance that astonishes me ten years later:

For the final song of this offering, I’M CONFESSIN’, Dan sat out, and they were joined by Alex Norris, trumpet, from Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks:

Let us all believe in Miracles.  Honestly, we should.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, STOMP THAT THING!” (Part Two): THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: LEON OAKLEY, DUKE HEITGER, TOM BARTLETT, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, JOHN GILL, CLINT BAKER, KEVIN DORN (November 28, 2019)

Here‘s the first part of a wonderful set at the San Diego Jazz Fest, where the Yerba Buena Stompers play and sing MILENBERG JOYS, SOME OF THESE DAYS, and THE TORCH.  The Stompers are John Gill, banjo and vocal; Kevin Dorn, drums; Clint Baker, tuba; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Leon Oakley, cornet.  And what fine noises they make.

“More!” the crowd shouts.

Here’s the ODJB’s CLARINET MARMALADE — as John Gill says, “For the kids”:

To the NORK, for TIN ROOF BLUES, with John’s down-home vocal:

A G minor vamp starts the BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

and the Louis Hot Five ONCE IN A WHILE:

Alas, we won’t have a reunion in person this November, but I permit myself to hope for one in 2021.

May your happiness increase!

“THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE”: JEN HODGE ALL STARS (JEN HODGE, JOSEPH ABBOTT, CHRIS DAVIS, BRAD SHIGETA, JOSH ROBERTS, MIKE DAUGHERTY, CLARA ROSE)

Jen Hodge is the real deal — as melodically propulsive ensemble player or soloist, singer, bandleader, or jazz-instigator / investigator.  (Now we can add “whistler” to the list of credits, by the way.)  So I’m not at all surprised that her new CD, THE GIRL IN THE GROOVE, is lively, varied, and flavorful.  Incidentally, the second link will lead you to Jen’s online CD release party via Facebook, on Friday, October 2, from 9-11, EDT.  Consider yourself invited.

And since Jen and friends often play for swing dancers, the music on this disc has a definite warm pulse, felt rather than being a matter of volume, that is consistently cheering.  That’s evident from the first notes of the aptly named HODGE PODGE (all right, it was named for Johnny Hodges) that keeps the bounce of late-Thirties Ellington without being a museum piece.  Brad Shigeta growls and snarls his way through the main strain of HERE LIES LOVE before involving the rest of the band in the swinging elegy.  Incidentally, any 2020 CD that has a little-played Ralph Rainger composition, made famous by Bing Crosby, has already curled up at the foot of my bed — even before Mike Daugherty’s stop-time chorus and the singular Chris Davis and Joseph Abbott.

What could be more overdone than I GOT RHYTHM, you ask?  Not in Jen’s version, which begins with her winsome singing of the verse, rubato, over Josh’s guitar tapestries . . . sliding into a rocking vocal chorus with the band taking turns around her — then taking things to a cheerfully higher level with vocal twists and turns.  Jen’s singing is sweetly unfussy and genuine, charming because she isn’t imitating anyone, just having a good time sharing the song with us.  SUMMERTIME, also teetering on the brink of extinction, sounds both fresh and ominous — March of the Aliens, and they are coming to your town in the next hour! — but it continues on its own singular path with Joseph Abbott’s lyrically clear improvisation on the melody, then Brad Shigeta’s affectionate snarl (he means no harm) and Abbott’s sky-blue tones as the band riffs somewhat menacingly underneath.  You’ll have to hear it to understand.

USE YOUR HEAD, an old-time-modern original by Jen, starts off at marvelously low volume — as if the band had decided to jam the insinuating composition in whispers.  Apparently the lyrics are a series of instructions to a prospective lover, auditioning for the gig.  I hope so.  More blessed to give, and all that.  When the performance was over, rocking itself to a kind of pleasurable summit, thanks to Clara Rose as well as the band, I was only disappointed that Jen didn’t come back to sing a half-dozen more choruses.  Yes, it’s 2020, but it’s a song that would have done nicely for Clara, Mamie, or Bessie in 1931.  Or Fats Waller, any decade.  I played it three times before moving on, and I expect to repeat the pleasurable experience tomorrow.  Come for the philosophy, stay for the swing.

I must halt matters here and praise Jen’s string bass playing.  As wonderful as the other musicians are on this CD — and they damned well are — my ears kept coming back in delight to the lines she was creating under and through the ensembles, and her concise swinging “speaking” solo work.  And her arco passage on DEAD MAN BLUES is so poignant, so focused.  And, just for the record, she plays with equal beauty and conviction in person: I have shared videos of Jen at Cafe Bohemia, where no one talked through a single solo, because every solo kept us rapt.

Then there are the arrangements, mostly group efforts by the band, three by Jen herself, and HODGE PODGE by the sterling Alan Matheson.  On Joseph Abbott’s THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL, I had to look at the band personnel again to remind myself that this was a compact, flexible, sauntering sextet — no piano — because so much was going on in this fast blues, and not only a SING SING SING interlude for clarinet and drums.  You could — and you will want to — listen to the whole disc several times, once focusing on the soloists, once on the charts, once . . . you will figure it out.  It sounds happy and natural: this band floats on the fun it creates.

Every jazz CD needs some side-glances at The End, to keep the hoodoo away: this one has not only HERE LIES LOVE, but a jaunty variation on the “New Orleans Function” theme, where FLEE AS A BIRD turns the corner into DEAD MAN BLUES — less Morton than Manone, I think, until the final choruses, reminiscent of MOURNFUL INTERLUDE, providing a splendid trot home from the imagined gravesite.  Be not afraid: nothing’s dead on this disc, even with some ancient repertoire, frisky and bold.

Speaking of frisky and bold, there’s Jen’s soulful rendition of UP ABOVE MY HEAD, which has the appropriate words, “I really do believe / there’s joy somewhere.”  How true for this disc.  And although the original composition reaches all the way back, Jen’s version hints both at a revival service and something Charles Mingus might have invented and played — spirituality with a deep (mildly whimsical) seismic motion.

And the CD ends with a lovely tribute — not only to generations of trumpet players who gently begin STARDUST with the verse — but to the much-missed swing matriarch and Sage, Dawn Hampton, who left us a YouTube video of her whistling that composition in the most heartfelt manner.  Jen’s whistling reminds me not only of the mysterious Maurice Hendricks (look him up, do), but also of someone whistling — earnestly and passionately — on her way home from school or a tennis match.  And, in ways that surprised me, of Louis: I felt the same chills up and down my spine.  I don’t write such praise lightly.

Here you can pre-order the digital CD (it will slide down the birth canal on October 2) and hear samples.  It’s a wow.

May your happiness increase!

A HOMEOPATHIC REMEDY FOR MISERY: ANDY SCHUMM, PAUL ASARO, JOHN DONATOWICZ at SAN DIEGO (11.30.19)

A homeopathic practitioner would tell us that “like cures like”: if you’re suffering from an excess of X, take a tincture of more X.  I don’t know how it works, but allium cepa works on my allergies.  You heard it here first.  Many people I encounter these days are unhappy as can be — for a multiplicity of reasons that I don’t need to explore here.  So I offer some mournful music by Andy Schumm, clarinet; Paul Asaro, piano; John Donatowicz, banjo, performed at last year’s San Diego Jazz Fest on November 30, 2019.  (This trio is a band-within-a-band from the esteemed Chicago Cellar Boys, whom I’ve praised and posted often here.)  And Andy is working in and around Johnny Dodds’ choruses on the Louis Armstrong Hot Five recording — the composition is by Lil Hardin:

Feeling better?  I thought not.  Tune in tomorrow for more attempts at spiritual rescue.

May your happiness increase!

“STRICTLY FROM PISCES AND NEW YORK”: The FRAN KELLEY MYSTERIES (Part Three)

New information, no answers.

I’ve written about the wonderful and elusive Fran Kelley here and hereI had hoped that her connections to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have stirred up more research, but little has come to light.  (I thank Brian Kane, Nick Rossi, Paolo Alderighi, and CB Datasearch for invaluable finds.)

Let me reintroduce this remarkable person.

You would think that the producer of this concert [advertised in the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1946] would be as famous as Norman Granz or George Wein:

For those who have forgotten, this was her first concert at UCLA:

These are the beautiful sounds she made possible.

The other side:

The Fran-Tone “waxery” was mentioned in the March 25, 1946 BILLBOARD:

I know that at least four copies of 2004 exist.  But I have no evidence that 2005 has ever been issued.  It’s clear that Fran-Tone did not thrive as a money-making proposition because Fran sold the eight masters she had recorded to Capitol, and Capitol did nothing with them, as far as I know, which amazes me.  Do any readers have access to a comprehensive Capitol discography, and do the Fran-Tone sides appear there?

You would want to hear more about and more from this writer, writing her own condensed autobiography for the liner notes of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, RARE — BUT WELL DONE, on Liberty Records:

Fran Kelley is strictly from Pisces and New York.  Her love and understanding of music just comes naturally, stemming from her father, whose distinguished voice was heard in leading concert centers both here and abroad.  Fran’s musical background is varied: as an arranger-composer [one score was accepted by Duke Ellington], as a producer [she worked with Lester Horton and Duke Ellington to stage jazz-ballet], as an impresario [Fran presented the first jazz concert ever held at the University of California at Los Angeles which presented Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Benny Carter], and as an expert in the field of musical therapy.  Fran is currently West Coast Editor and Representative for Metronome Magazine.   

Here is evidence (from BILLBOARD, February 24, 1958) of what might have been the start of a new brilliant collaboration:

and

The end of the story is told by Ellington himself, in a few lines in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “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.”

When I first bought Fran-Tone 2004, I was captivated by the music and intrigued by its guiding genius.  Surely, I thought, she would have merited an essay if not a biography — multi-talented, one of very few women operating at this high level in the boys’ club of jazz at the time.  But no.  Because I have friends who graciously do research, the twenty or so clippings that are the basis of this research were offered to me.  But Fran seems absent from any book on Bird or Duke.  Why?

Thanks to Brian Kane, a lead opened up — an audible one — because four sides recorded by Fran for her label, with arrangements by Tom Talbert, were preserved and issued on Hep 22, “Memphis in June: Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra.”  That’s a vinyl issue; the CD (Hep 95) contains only the two Allyn vocals:

Vince DeRosa, French horn; Lenny Hartman, English horn; Harry Klee, alto saxophone, flute; Sam Sachelle, bass clarinet; Hy Mandel, baritone saxophone; Ray Still, oboe; Erroll Garner, piano; Leonard “Lucky” Enois, Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Babasin, Red Callender, string bass; Jackie Mills, drums; David Allyn, vocal; Tom Talbert, arranger.  AFRS Downbeat, Los Angeles, early 1946

BLACK NIGHT AND FOG (David Allyn vocal) / C JAM BLUES / PLEASE LET ME FORGET (David Allyn vocal) – [also known as PASTEL] / CARAVAN //

Note: Following from “The Most Happy Piano – Errol Garner Discography” by James M. Doran : “According to Jack McKinney, the following personnel are definitely not Raeburn’s, even though these performances were released under his name on Hep (E)22. This studio session was produced by Fran Kelley, probably in conjunction with her Swingposium concert of June 24, 1946, which was to be released on her Fran-tone label. This never happened.”

I’ve obtained a copy of Hep 22, and those four sides are gorgeous.  Guess whose name is absent in the detailed notes by Jack McKinney?  And, for a chance to compete in the bonus round, guess whose name . . . in the biography of Talbert?

And two nearly irrelevant postscripts.  Fran Kelley was married to the trumpeter Clyde Reasinger, who lived until 2018.  Reasinger turns up twice in a data-search in the Sixites, two gossip-column entries.  In a 1962 entry, “Stripper Titian Dal is will shelve her career in favor of marriage to trumpeter Clyde Reasinger,” and a year later Reasinger is playing trumpet for the show NO STRINGS and is married to Karen, who is not identified as a stripper.  I don’t know what that says about the Reasinger-Kelley marriage, but twenty years later, the two parties were apparently living in very different worlds.

As I wrote at the start, no answers.  Speculations, yes.  I could understand that the secular world has taken little notice of someone who chose to leave it, decisively, perhaps in 1958.  And I hope that moving into the spiritual realm gave Fran Kelley the satisfaction that “the music business” did not.  Our choices are mysterious to others, and often they are mysterious to us as well.  So I cannot offer more evidence about why Fran Kelley seemed to disappear.  I can wonder if there was a connection between music therapy and spiritual work, but it is only a speculation.  Did she go underground to write poetry in an ashram?  Did she become a nun ministering to the wounded in a Catholic hospital?

I was ready to publish this post and end on a somewhat despairing note: “I am baffled by the lack of reportage devoted to her, and even now — can I and my little band of research-friends be the only ones on the planet fascinated by who she was, what she did, and where she went?”

But before ending my quest for information, I posted inquiries on an online jazz-research group I belong to, not expecting much, and then Patricia Willard, long-time jazz scholar and writer, emerged like a blessed apparition, and wrote this, which I reprint with her permission and with gratitude:

Re: Fran Kelley, Duke considered her a genius, in 1958 signed her to a contract specifying that anything she produced–music, poetry, spoken ideas et al would be owned by him in exchange for continuing financial support. They both told me this but I never saw the actual contract or knew the precise terms. Among her talents that Duke found most intriguing was that she always knew what time it was–to the second–but never wore a watch (nor did he). Their collaborations were largely on the West Coast during a time when Strayhorn was East. The last times I heard from her (several years hence) were letters, always written on music ms. paper with a San Francisco hotel return address. She had a daughter whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. I met her in the mid-1980s at the invitation of my L.A. neighbor Benny Carter. The daughter was searching for Fran or any of her work and trying to find out if she were still alive. The daughter remembered that Fran had spoken often about her friend Benny. Benny had no recent knowledge of her activities or whereabouts. Two years ago I asked Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, if she remembered the daughter’s name, and she didn’t. I only recall that it wasn’t Kelley.

Fran Kelley is a novel, although I am no novelist.  But fascinating books are on the horizon.  Patricia Willard is completing three of them — one on Ellington, one on Sinatra, and one a memoir.  I can’t wait to have them on my coffee table, at this desk, and on my nightstand.  I will let you know when they appear.

May your happiness increase!

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

Brothers and Sisters, here‘s last week’s prayer meeting, in case any of you were otherwise occupied — at your country retreat or perhaps hiding behind the towels, praying for deliverance.  After fifteen weeks of this series, you wouldn’t need a map to find 326 Spring Street, New York City, but it’s pleasing to the eye:

I take you to the Ear Inn, where the EarRegulars play on Sunday nights — for one of those time-bending moments of THEN and NOW . . . in this case, May 9, 2010, “Mother’s Night,” where the inspired core quartet is Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass, and Jim Masters, trombone.

For the cinematographers in the JAZZ LIVES audience, I point out that I had purchased a more light-sensitive camera, so we have emerged from the darkness, always a good thing.

From Mothers to Babies, in this case I FOUND A NEW BABY:

IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN, so pretty, always makes me think of Joe Thomas, who loved to play and sing it.  The EarRegulars catch the mood.  And the core quartet changes a bit: Chris Flory sits in for Matt, and Dan Block sings out on the alto saxophone:

The quintet stays for PLEASE DON’T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I’M GONE:

The closing performance is LAZY RIVER, by Jon-Erik, Matt, Pat, and Jim:

As my friend, the Listening Woman (the title of a superb short story by Sylvia Townsend Warner) suggests, rapt attentiveness is the one true way, and it will help us get through the days and nights to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN WISTFUL CELEBRATION: “GOOD OLD NEW YORK”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

We can celebrate and mourn at the same time, and the combination feels right today, because Eddy Davis — imaginative, unpredictable, magical, mysterious — would have been eighty today, September 26, 2020.  Yes, he went away, but he is never far from us.

Eddy Davis and Conal Fowkes, Cafe Bohemia, Dec. 26, 2019.

I offer a triple homage: to Eddy, his hand a blur, his mouth open in song; to Jelly Roll Morton; to the good old New York that we had before the pandemic so altered our lives.  Here are Eddy and friends, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, string bass, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, where joy flourished regularly:

I look forward to a future where we can once again gather joyously.  How I’ll bring my easy chair along is a problem, but perhaps they can be provided.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part Two): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR, with HANJU PAPE): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance began with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”

Here is the first part of this glorious concert, almost eighty minutes in four segments. . . . . and now the second part (all of this divided arbitrarily by YouTube, but not disastrously).

This segment continues the rocking SWEET GEORGIA BROWN that now includes (unobtrusively) the banjoist Hanju Pape and perhaps some of the young players at the rear of the stage, but the real delight is the way the Bob Cats trade phrases — the audience delights in it, also.  Peter Buhr then introduces Pape to sing and play NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT, quite idiomatically.  Haggart quietly and effectively backs him up: friendship on the bandstand!  Fatool adds so much during Pape’s OH, SUSANNAH (is Haggart checking the chords?), then Stein joins in for S’WONDERFUL, and the Cats gentle reassemble behind and around Pape.  Havens begins a beautiful BASIN STREET BLUES — incomplete (in the middle of a Lawson phrase) but to be resumed in the next segment:

The band provides Havens superb stop-time backing (and someone says, fervently, “Yeah, Bobby!) and then the mood changes for the Haggart-Fatool duet, BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA, a beautiful version: great visual and auditory theatre that pleases the audience immensely.  Lawson then begins SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY with Fatool, Haggart, and Stein — tightly muted and whispery, before playing the sound games of which he was a master: this quartet session is reminiscent of the Ruby Braff live gigs I saw, and makes me think it was a pity that Lawson never did a whole session as the only horn.  “We meet again,” says Marty Grosz, before beginning his solo segment with BREAKIN’ THE ICE (catch the descending phrase behind “I guess you know what it’s for”) then ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, with a nod to Clappo Marx, in a truly swinging version, interrupted before the final words, but you know what they are:

“. . . .got swing.”  Then, SQUEEZE ME, at a leisurely tempo with beautiful expressive solos by Lawson, Havens, and Miller — followed by a rhapsodic MY FUNNY VALENTINE featuring Stein and masterful accompaniment from Haggart and Fatool.  Then what might have been a deplorable interlude — WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN — plus Pape — is transformed by this band’s irresistible swing and quiet lyricism.  Mainstream jazz, my friends: consider Miller’s splendid solo before the applause, band introductions, and more applause.  The band goes off, but there must be an encore, and we know it, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE, started off by Fatool, whose playing is a graduate seminar in itself:

and here it is! — with everyone knowing just how it should sound, splendidly, Most nodding to George Lewis once or twice, Miller soaring, and Lawson climbing above the ensemble in the best Blackhawk fashion:

“Drive carefully going home,” Lawson tells us, before Peter Buhr closes off the evening for us and we watch the pleasantly-dressed audience leave the hall.

But wait!  Here’s Eddie Miller playing SOPHISTICATED LADY with the same rhythm section at the Cork Jazz Festival, a year later.  Too good to ignore:

And a few words about labeling and categorization.  Dick Gibson named this band and its offshoots THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND as a marketing idea (it was more memorable than the TEN GREATS OF JAZZ on a marquee) and also because he believed it.  But at Gibson’s parties you’d also hear Carl Fontana, Sweets Edison, and Benny Carter.  However, many jazz fans — perhaps those who believe that the music began with KIND OF BLUE — sneered at the label and at the band.  To them, these musicians were elderly, repeating old routines.  I will leave the ageism to those who dote on such things.  But as you listen to “The Bob Cats,” even though some of their repertoire goes back to the ODJB, and a few routines are pre-war, the solos and ensembles are so lively, so timeless.  Mainstream jazz, not museum jazz.  All it requires is that listeners are open to the individualities, the sincerities, and the swing.

Heartfelt thanks again to Bernard, Peter, Yank, Bob, Eddie, Abe, Lou, Bob, Nick, Marty, Hanju, another Michael, and that pleasant audience . . . for making these hours of joy possible then and now.  And I can testify that this concert improves on repeated listening.

May your happiness increase!

“MANHANDLING,” or IMPROVISATIONS ON THE FAMILIAR (January 31, 1944)

Time matters. Pulse matters.  And in music, a tempo even slightly slower or slightly faster makes a substantial difference in how a familiar piece of music comes across to us. Through decades of performance, we are used to hearing Carmichael’s STAR DUST — or STARDUST, if you prefer — as a dreamy, haunting ballad, although it didn’t begin its recorded life that way in 1927. But improvisers take chances. . . .it is as if your favorite sixtyish uncle dyed his white hair bright blue just to see what it would look like, and it looked fine.

Two bold takers-of-chances were the Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper and drummer Baby Dodds, who recorded several duets for the Steiner-Davis label (the creation of John Steiner, revered jazz scholar and collector, and Hugh Davis) in early 1944, at the home of pianist Jack Gardner.

A wonderfully detailed survey, by Robert Pruter, Robert L. Campbell, Konrad Nowakowski, and Tom Kelly, of that label and the stories behind the recordings can be found here, and the two photographs in this posting come from that site.  But most important is the musical evidence: Tut Soper showing his radical exuberance and playfulness, by taking this ballad — and ballad it was, by 1944 — and treating it much as Earl Hines did LOVE ME TONIGHT, a melody to be explored, a song to be swung:

Here’s some fascinating commentary on this side and its fellows, from the site noted above.  (Was violinist Elmer Fearn “Mr. Fearn” of OKeh Records?  It isn’t a common name.)

Pianist Tut Soper was born Oro M. Soper on April 9, 1910. In the early 1920s, Soper made a record on OKeh with a group of kids, all 13 and under, called The Five Baby Shieks. Besides Soper on piano, they included Art Elefson on drums, Howard Snyder on sax, and Elmer Fearn on violin. By the late 1920s he was a regular in Chicago clubs, despite being underaged, and performing with Bunny Berigan, Wingy Mannone, Boyd Brown, and Floyd Town. After years of playing in bands, in the late 1930s Soper went solo, introduced vocals to his repertoire, and played in such clubs as the legendary Three Deuces (222 North State).

By the war years, Soper could be found in the Randolph Street nightclub district. He was playing around the corner from Randolph Street at the Capitol Lounge on State when his S D recordings were made. Steiner and Davis teamed Soper up with Dodds in pianist Jack Gardner’s apartment for the session. Gardner owned a particularly fine piano, which is why the session was held in his place, at 102 East Bellevue, a basement apartment located in the same complex as John Steiner’s. Jazz fans tend to revel in improvisation, and Down Beat columnist George Hoefer loved the idea at how “impromptu” the recording was, as Soper and Dodds had never met before, and had to feel each other out in the recording process.

Down Beat reviewer John Lucas—who tended to give favorable reviews to his collector colleagues’ product—cited these releases as “some of the finest jazz piano waxed in many years.” He raved about each one of the songs, and concluded, “The rip-rattling drum accompaniment provided by the one and only Baby Dodds simply could not be touched by anyone else. If Soper is super, Dodds is at once devastating, dynamic, and droll!”

In a lengthy review published in the October 1944 issue of The Jazz Record, George Avakian gave effusive praise to S D 5000 and 5001. “Picture Earl Hines in the full flower of his wildest period, playing as though it were his last chance to explode through with vital ideas of earth-shaking consequence. This is Tut Soper; an exciting, intensely live pianist whose work doesn’t merely “send” you the way many agitated instrumentalists can—it reaches out, grabs you by the throat, and shakes and chokes hell out of you” (p. 3). Avakian contrasted Soper’s genuineness and avoidance of clichés with the mannerisms of “the present-day frantic clique,” into which he went so far as to lump “such hopeless musicians as Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, and a whole string of trumpet players, electric guitar virtuosos, and Hazel Scotts” (p. 3). Out of the four, Avakian declared that “[t]he originals—Oronics and It’s a Ramble—are my pet sides, displaying Tut’s talents in two tempos and two moods, both nonetheless full of his overall excitement. The first is sheer panic, but good; the Ramble is reflective and rather interestingly developed from the melodic view. The others are Soper franticizations of Thou Swell and Star Dust, and the tunes improve under his manhandling.” (p. 3.) Of Dodds’ contributions, Avakian complained (p. 11) that the drummer “loses much of his subtlety” on Oronics, but praised him for his rapport with Soper elswhere on the session.

John Chilton described Soper as one of the leading pianists in Chicago, and credited him with working with Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison, Boyce Brown, Bud Jacobson, and Eddie Wiggins, among others. In the early 1950s, Soper worked in California with Muggsy Spanier and Marty Marsala. He toured with Eddie Condon in 1960.

Soper in his later years worked mostly as an insurance salesman for the Chicago Motor Club. He died in March 1987. His obit described him as a former jazz pianist, who had played for 50 years in “some of Chicago’s most famous jazz clubs and with the bands of Gene Krupa and Bud Freeman.”

Soper sources: M/Sgt. George Avakian, “Records—Old and New,” The Jazz Record, October 1944, pp. 3, 11; George Hoefer Jr., “The Hot Box,” Down Beat, 15 June 1944; [John Lucas] “Diggin’ The Discs,” Down Beat, 15 July 1944, p. 8; Catherine Jacobson, “Oro ‘Tut’ Soper,” Jazz Vol. 1, No. 10 (December 1943): 8-9; “Oro Soper” [Obit], Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1987; Tom Lord, The Jazz Discography, Volume 21 (West Vancouver, B.C.: Lord’s Music, 1999): S1057.

STAR DUST — shaken and stirred, manhandled and franticized — remains undamaged, and we are grateful to Tut and Baby for their emotional fervor and technique.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part One): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance begins with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”  Here, he plays a chorus of MY INSPIRATION on saxophone with Lou Stein, Marty Grosz (looking at the music for the chords) and Nick Fatool.  Then the full band assembles for an easy ST. LOUIS BLUES, with Bob Haggart glaring at a recalcitrant bass amplifier and even giving it a gentle kick at one point — catch the ingenious Lawson-Fatool conversation; then they head into a very leisurely LAZY RIVER (incomplete on this segment):

More LAZY RIVER, with lyrical Miller and Havens, Marty Grosz shifting in and out of double-time behind them, leading up to a Lawson muted specialty and a gracious interlude for Most and Stein, then a Louis-inspired double-time segment before the impassioned Lawson cadenza.  AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL does not show its age: the rhythm section rocks (Haggart only glares at his amplifier once and takes a solo) and the musicians’ body language suggests comfort and pleasure.  Lou Stein’s feature on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE blissfully starts with a rubato verse — always a lovely touch — before heading into Sullivan / Sutton territory, with side-glances at Dave McKenna.  Havens’ STARS FELL ON ALABAMA of course evokes Jack Teagarden — with Havens’ plush sound that you could stretch out on.  (It stops abruptly, but don’t despair: the third video completes it.)

Here’s the conclusion of ALABAMA (I can see the meteor shower) — gorgeous.  And now for something completely different, Marty Grosz, all by himself, in fifth gear (after the obligatory German joke) for I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — with a slightly more truncated version of Marty’s extensive encomium of Fats before he changes the mood for a truly touching LONESOME ME.  What could follow that?  A jubilant JAZZ ME BLUES, and we’re back to the Blackhawk Hotel in 1937, with wonderful percussive commentary from Nick.  Eddie Miller’s SOPHISTICATED LADY from this concert has been lost, but we’ll make it up to you someday:

Abe Most’s classic take on AFTER YOU’VE GONE seems familiar until one listens closely: his harmonic and rhythmic sense went beyond 1938 Goodman, with wonderful results.  (Catch his ending!)  Haggart leads the group into a sultry, not-too-fast BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  The tempo slows down as this one proceeds, but the Lawson-Fatool duet is magnificent, and the solitary clapper gets the hint and stops, more or less — a nice shuffle beat behind Eddie Miller.  Then, an introduction: does Yank really say, “Get some Coca-Cola”? before the audience, undecided, half-heartedly starts what I think of as European “We want seventeen encores!” applause, and we see the lovely faces of the listeners.  The second half begins with the Bob Cats’ rhythm section — without Marty — surrounded by the high school band for a thoroughly competent SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the Bob Cats’ horns joining in later:

The arbitrary editing comes from YouTube, not from any human, but I don’t think that music is lost.  And I promise the second half shall follow — as the night does the day, to quote Polonius.

May your happiness increase!

“OH, STOMP THAT THING!”: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE: LEON OAKLEY, DUKE HEITGER, TOM BARTLETT, ORANGE KELLIN, CONAL FOWKES, JOHN GILL, CLINT BAKER, KEVIN DORN (November 28, 2019)

For their first set at the San Diego Jazz Fest (November 28, 2019), the Yerba Buena Stompers did what your bank or insurance company requests — they “went paperless” and had a fine time playing some good old good ones.  Here are the first three songs from that set, to remind you how solidly that band can rock. They are John Gill, banjo, vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.

NORK + Jelly = JOYS:

One of the most durable pop songs of 1920 — I remember Sophie Tucker on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday-night television show:

and a genuine TORCH song about the sorrow of what happens when the gang goes home . . . sung with special ardor by John, in fine voice:

More delights to come from this very durable band: people who know their stuff.

May your happiness increase!

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

Someone asked me last week, “Michael, aren’t you tired of that Ear Inn series?” and I answered, “Not at all.  I’m doing it to keep my spirits up,” and then I added, to be less self-absorbed, “Our spirits.  When we can all go downtown to 326 Spring Street and hear the EarRegulars on a Sunday night, then perhaps this retrospective can take a vacation.  But not until then.”

Here‘s last Sunday’s pilgrimage, in case you were otherwise occupied (and heaven knows there is enough to occupy us).

Herewith and henceforth, some musical souvenirs of the fun that was created on May 2, 2010, by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Danton Boller, string bass.  It’s a smaller than usual bill of fare, but by this time I had purchased a camera that was less afraid of the dark, so you will see more.

THE MAN I LOVE, scored for trio: Messrs. Farber, Munisteri, and Boller:

Halt, miscreant!  SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Variations on W.C. Handy, rechristened by me BEER STREET BLUES in honor of Jon-Erik’s mute:

and the concluding strains of BEER STREET BLUES:

Thank you, kind creative gentlemen.  I look forward to the night when what is now virtual becomes tangible.  Line up for hugs.

May your happiness increase!

 

 

GET BUZZY! (September 20, 2020)

Kevin Dorn doesn’t have an advanced degree in Jazz History.  His classroom has always been the bandstand, where he embodies what he’s learned and imparts it both to his bandmates and to us.  Kevin’s been creating a series of videos that are edifying and lively: it’s fascinating to watch and hear him clarify what we have heard and enjoyed but without necessarily understanding what makes a particular drummer’s style so intriguing, so singular.  You can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.

Kevin’s most recent video presentation is about the drummer Buzzy Drootin, someone I was lucky enough to see several times in 1972.  Buzzy was then younger than I am now; he had great enthusiasm and energy, propelling ensembles and supporting soloists.  You could tell it was Buzzy in four bars.

Even if you’ve never picked up a pair of sticks, you’ll find this edifying, as I do:

Kevin could surely show some of the academics I know how to do it, and I don’t mean keeping time on a half-closed hi-hat.

May your happiness increase!

 

“SONG OF THE ISLANDS,” VARIOUSLY (1930-2006)

I’m going to allow myself the freedom of not writing the history of this song, nor posting all the versions, but simply offering a few that please me immensely.  This post is in honor of Doctor J, who knows why it is.

A little introduction (2006) by the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, who closed sets with it: Jon-Erik Kellso, Brad Shigeta, Orange Kellin, Morten Gunnar Larsen, John Gill, Skye Steele, Conal Fowkes, Rob Garcia:

Louis gets to introduce his own performance:

and here’s the lovely 1930 version, with magnificent Louis (yes, I know that’s redundant) and his “Rhythm Boys” drawn from the Luis Russell band, starring J.C. Higginbotham and Pops Foster.  Apparently Paul Barbarin plays vibraphone and the band’s valet plays drums: he swings!

And a more contemporary version I treasure because it seems to convey decades of vernacular music performance, making the transition from waltz-time to quietly majestic rocking (yes, Louis is standing in the wings, very happy).  I imagine the opening choruses as a tea-dance or perhaps a summer band concert in a gazebo in the town park, and then the band takes on restorative color and swing, never aggressively but with sweet eloquence. The group is the 1987 Red Roseland Cornpickers, featuring Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, and Keith Nichols, and this is taken from my prized “long-playing record” on the Stomp Off label:

Details for those who crave data: Bent Persson (tp-2,vcl) Folker Siegert (tb-3,vcl) Claus Jacobi (as-4,ts-5,cl-6,vcl) Engelhard Schatz (cl-7,sop-8,ts-9,vcl) Lothar Kohn (as-10,g-11,vcl) Joachim Muller (bassax-13,cl-14,as-15) Keith Nichols (p,vcl) Gunter Russel (bj-12,vcl) Ulf-Carsten Gottges (d)  Gottingen, January 4 & 5, 1987.  SONG OF THE ISLANDS: (2,3,4,6,7,9,12,13,14,15, Bent, Folker, Claus, Engelhard, Lothar, and Keith, vocal).

In these stressful times, this music evokes warm days, cool nights, tropical beaches, and fresh pineapple.

May your happiness increase!

 

FOUR TROMBONES, FOUR RHYTHM, at the MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL: SPIEGLE WILLCOX, HERB GARDNER, BILL ALLRED, GEORGE MASSO, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, CLIFF LEEMAN (December 2, 1978)

The Manassas Jazz Festival, 1969: those names!

The video captures a completely spur-of-the-moment session, arranged at a few minutes’ notice by Johnson (Fat Cat) McRee at the Manassas Jazz Festival.  The trombonists are Spiegle Willcox, the Elder; George Masso, Herb Gardner, and Bill Allred.  Happily, the last two are still with us and Herb is gigging in New England as I write this.  The rhythm section is impressive as well: Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.  The repertoire is familiar and not complicated (the better to avoid train wrecks, my dear): JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / YES, SIR, THAT’S MY BABY / SUMMERTIME / RUNNIN’ WILD, and the eight gentlemen navigate it all with style and professionalism:

Some personal reflections: I never met Van Perry or Spiegle Willcox at close range, although I saw and heard Spiegle at one or two Bix-themed concerts performed by the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1973-4 (alongside Chauncey Morehouse).  Herb Gardner stays in my mind in the nicest way because of more history: Sunday-afternoon gigs with Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache in New York City, where he ably played alongside Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Kenny Davern, and other luminaries.  And Herb graciously gave me his OK to post this.  I had the real privilege of meeting and hearing the very humble George Masso in 2012, playing alongside Ron Odrich, when George was 85, and he allowed me to video-record him also: see it here.  Bill Allred, also a very kind man, brightened many sets at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: you can find some performances including him on JAZZ LIVES: one, from 2015, here.

That rhythm section!  As a 19-year old with a concealed cassette recorder, I was too timid to approach either Dick Wellstood or Cliff Leeman for a few words or an autograph, something I regret.  But I just saw Marty Grosz this year — March 4th — at his ninetieth birthday party, so perhaps that makes up for the timidities of my youth?  I doubt it, but it’s a useful if fleeting rationalization.

The music remains, and so do the players.  This one’s for my dear friends Dick Dreiwitz and Joe McDonough, who know how to make lovely sounds on this instrument.

May your happiness increase!

A SWING AVALANCHE IN C: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, LAKSHMI RAMIREZ, JEFF HAMILTON (Jazz Bash by the Bay, March 7, 2020)

Doctor Leyland, Doctor Ramirez. By appointment only.

Hide the children, and wrap the breakables in bubble wrap — or perhaps the other way around.  But don’t fear: even with the terrifying weather disasters of late this avalanche is only musical and can be enjoyed as something not threatening.

It’s a little set-closing themeless boogie-woogie in C that builds and builds, created by Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Lakshmi Ramirez, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums, at the Jazz Bash by the Bay in Monterey, California, on March 7, 2020 — when we thought we would have all the time we wanted for music in a world that wasn’t in flames:

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER “MONDAY DATE” TO REMEMBER: TOM PLETCHER, DAN BARRETT, BOB REITMEIER, JIM DAPOGNY, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (Jazz at Chautauqua, September 2009)

Yesterday I published a post where four wonderful musicians — Eddy Davis, Conal Fowkes, Jon-Erik Kellso, and Evan Arntzen — improvised on OUR MONDAY DATE in December 2019 at Cafe Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York City.  You can enjoy it here.  And I hope you do.

A MONDAY DATE has a personal resonance.  It’s not unique to me, but I haven’t had the pleasure of “being on a date” with a tangible person since the end of February (dinner and a festival of short animated films).  For me, songs about dating are poignant and hopeful: such encounters can come again, although the February evening was more short than animated.  Mirror-gazing over. Onwards.

This MONDAY DATE was performed at Jazz at Chautauqua in September 2009, although not on a Monday.  These brilliant players are Tom Pletcher, cornet; Dan Barrett, trombone; Bob Reitmeier, clarinet; Jim Dapogny, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums.  I was, as I have explained elsewhere, shooting video sub rosa without Joe Boughton’s permission, which lends a subversive air to the recording, but I was thrilled it came off, then and now.  It is a special pleasure to hear Jim’s piano ringing through, adding magic.

Jim Dapogny and Tom Pletcher are no longer with us: I’ve written about them here and (with a beautiful long essay by David Jellema) here.  Both posts also have video-recordings of performances you won’t see or hear elsewhere.

A note about “recordings” at Jazz at Chautauqua.  Joe Boughton was enthusiastically kind to me long before we met in person: he recognized that we adored the same music.  When I visited Chautauqua in 2004, he greeted me warmly, and I spent the whole weekend writing about the joys I experienced there, and wrote the program biographies for more than ten years.

Joe had certain aversions, in large type.  The most dramatic was his loathing for over-familiar songs: SATIN DOLL, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, slow blues, and more.  Musicians who broke this rule were asked not to return — in one case, in the middle of the weekend.  Secondly, although Joe apparently recorded every note of the weekends I came to — someone operated a videocamera high above our heads — he would not tolerate anyone else recording anything, although he let an amateur jazz photographer make low-quality cassettes.  I gave Joe valuable publicity in The Mississippi Rag, which he appreciated: I don’t know whether he saw me with my camera and tacitly accepted it as part of the Michael-bargain or whether he was too busy with the music to notice, but I send him deep gratitude now.  I hope you do also.

May your happiness increase!