Tag Archives: Abbie Brunies

THE SOUNDS OF MUSIC: PLEASING SHOCKS FROM PAPA JOE, LITTLE LOUIS, BIX, KID ORY, and THEIR FRIENDS

By the time I started listening seriously to jazz, King Oliver had been dead for almost thirty years, Bix nearly forty.  And every year that I delved deeper into the music, more of the original players died.  So recordings became the only way for me to encounter many players, singers, and bands.

I first heard King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band on microgroove vinyl reissues on the Milestone and Epic labels; the Wolverine sessions likewise.  I had read about these records in books about jazz and the musicians had described them reverently (Louis speaking lovingly of his musical father to Richard Meryman and Larry L. King; Richard M. Sudhalter writing about Bix, and so on).

But the sounds that came through the phonograph speaker were disappointing.  Peggy Lee had not yet sung IS THAT ALL THERE IS? but her words would be appropriate.  I could distinguish cornets and clarinets,  banjos and pianos, but it was like putting my head underwater.  The sound could be made loud but it was impossible to make it clear.  Some of my reaction, of course, was the result of my own training in listening to live music and records of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties — clear, electrically recorded, bright.

Eventually I got better at extracting the music from acoustic recordings, better at “filling in” what I imagined the original bands sounded like in the studio.  But the Creole Jazz Band and the Wolverines were always at a distance.  It was rather like hearing someone describe transcendent spiritual experiences I hadn’t had.

Until now.

I know I am coming late to this particular party, but five compact discs issued in the past few years have been astonishing musical experiences.  The first set, KING OLIVER: OFF THE RECORD, presents all the 1923 recordings by the Creole Jazz Band — originally issued on Gennett, OKeh, and Paramount.  37 tracks on two CDs, with all the alternate takes, everything in chronological order, with a beautifully detailed / scholarly set of liner notes.

(A word about the liner notes for these CDs — writer, scholar, trombonist David Sager deserves a round of applause with a hug after for his candor.  Most liner-note writers know that their job is to say every note is a masterpiece, but Sager praises the high points and also honestly notes when things are ever so slightly collapsing.  Hooray for objective listening, even to hallowed masterpieces!)  Beautiful rare photographs and newspaper clippings, too — pages to get lost in.

But all this wouldn’t mean much if the sound was murky or overly processed.  (Some issues of the Oliver band had been made into “stereo,” shrill on the left and thumpy on the right, a bad idea for sure.)

The sound that comes out of the speaker from these CDs is bright without being fraudulent.  One can hear the individual instruments in a way not previously possible.  I can actually HEAR the interweaving of Papa Joe and Louis on cornets; I can get an idea of how the ensemble parts twined around each other.  Without hyperbole, I hear the music — the band — for the first time.

The same is true for Off The Record’s CD devoted to the Wolverine Orchestra.

The Wolverine recordings, like the Olivers, were also seen and packaged, because of the star system in jazz, as showcases for one musician.  True, Bix stands out, across the decades, as THE player in that band.  But these new transfers allow us to hear him in the larger context — not simply as the loudest player in the group.  It is possible to appreciate the particular rhythmic swagger that these young fellows brought to the studio — “sock time,” intense yet relaxed, that strikes us as both new and familiar.  Sager makes a good case for the band being “modern,” which allows us a deeper understanding of what they were attempting and how they did (and didn’t) succeed.

Four tracks by post-Wolverine groups featuring Bix — the SIOUX CITY SIX and BIX AND HIS RHYTHM JUGGLERS — are here, as well as the two later Wolverine sides with Jimmy McPartland (1924) and four from 1927.  But a great pleasure of this CD comes at its close with two recordings from May 24, 1928, billed as THE ORIGINAL WOLVERINES — LIMEHOUSE BLUES and DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, with a clarinetist / saxophonist who could only be Frank Teschemacher (Bud Freeman and Jess Stacy said they heard Tesch on these sides, and who would argue with that?)

The third set, although it initially doesn’t have the “star power” of the Oliver – Louis – Bix issues, is deliciously rewarding.

Most jazz fans of a certain age will have heard at least a few Creole Jazz Band or Wolverine tracks.  But perhaps only diligent musical archaeologists will have heard the music on CABARET ECHOES.

Again, the recordings are wonderfully bright (and I don’t mean harsh with an overemphasis on the treble).

Much of what we call “New Orleans jazz” was inevitably at a distance.  Musicians from that city recorded in Chicago and New York once they had migrated North; some returned home in the Forties and later.  This collection, although it begins with Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, recorded in Santa Monica, California, offers twenty-four selections recorded in New Orleans by OKeh between March 1924 and January 1925.  I had read about Johnny DeDroit, Fate Marable (with a young Zutty Singleton), the Original Crescent City Jazzers (Stirling Bose, likewise), Johnny Bayersdorffer, the Half-Way House Orchestra (with Leon Roppolo), Anthony Parenti’s Famous Melody Boys, Billy and Mary Mack (with Punch Miller), Brownlee’s Orchestra, John Tobin’s Midnight Serenaders, and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra — but I’d heard perhaps three or four sides of this grouping.

It’s easy to hear — from the six sides by Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra — how powerfully energetic that band was in 1922.  And even earlier, there are enthusiastic sides by a 1918-1920 jazz band featuring one Jimmy Durante on piano.  A world of delights that most of us have never heard.

That would be enough for most listeners.  But a surprise awaits,  Between the discs themselves, this collection offers excerpts from oral histories, so that we can hear Kid Ory, his daughter Babette, Johnny DeDroit, Amos White, Yvonne Powers Gass (daughter of saxophonist Eddie Powers), Abbie Brunies, Joe Loyocano, Tony Parenti, Tony Sbarbaro, Billy Mack and Mary McBride, Norman Brownlee, “Baba” Ridgley, and Arnold Loyocano — an amazing set of first-hand narratives from the original sources . . . in their own voices.

Back to the Sound for a moment.  As “new technologies” come into view, many individuals have tried to make the old recordings “listenable.”  Some have seen their role as removing all extraneous noise — which, when done without subtlety, also removes much of the music.  Doug Benson, with help from generous collectors, has done a magnificent job of preserving the sound without reshaping it to a set of arbitrary aesthetics of what it “should” sound like in 2012.

This was accomplished through simple intelligent methods: get the best available copy of the original disc; play it with the stylus that offered the most sound; make sure that the disc was playing at the right speed (so that the music was in a recognizable key); judiciously apply the most subtle digital restoration.

It’s taken me this long to write this review because I’ve been entranced by the sound — and the sounds — and have gone back to the old paradigm of playing one track at a time rather than making the CDs into hot background music.  But each track is a powerful auditory experience.  The veils are lifted.

Click CREOLE  to read more about the Oliver CDs.  Click BIX to read more about the Wolverines CD.  And CABARET  will tell you all about CABARET ECHOES.  You can, when visiting these pages, click on a variety of links to hear brief audio samples, but hearing excerpts through earbuds or your computer’s speakers will give only a small fraction of the sonic pleasures that await.

I seriously suggest that any jazz fan who wants to hear — to know, to understand — what “those old records” really sounded like (and thus be transported) should consider these compact discs.

And — with equal seriousness — I suggest them as aids to a happy relationship: every partner who has ever walked through the room where the “old records” are being played and said, gently or scornfully, “How can you listen to those scratchy old records?  How can you hear anything?” might pick up the Off the Record CDs as a gift — not only for the jazz-loving partner, but to actually HEAR what (s)he loves so deeply.  (“Can these marriages be saved?”  “Yeah, man!”)

May your happiness increase.

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THE SOUNDS OF NEW ORLEANS (on DISC)

Three recent CDs from the George H. Buck family of labels are unusual sound-pictures of the riches of New Orleans jazz.

GEOFF BULL IN NEW ORLEANS (GHB BCD 203) is a CD reissue of trumpeter Bull’s first American session (October 1977, first issued December 1999).  Although Bull says that his first influences were George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, the music he made at Preservation Hall on this recording is far from what we would expect: light, floating, subtle.

A good deal of this is due to his beautiful playing, at times reminiscent of Bunk at his most lyrical (think of the American Music trios with Don Ewell); Bull can also sound like Marty Marsala or Henry “Red” Allen, but he is his own man, with a relaxed conception.  Making this session even more memorable is clarinetist Raymond Burke, free to roam in the front line alongside Bull.  Bassist James Prevost is a melodic swinger, and the rhythm section is completed by two strong individualists: Sing Miller, piano and vocal*; Cie Frazier, drums.

Rather than choose a program of Preservation Hall favorites, Bull and friends opted for pretty tunes not often played: PECULIAR / DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME? / A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID / ONE FOR THE ROAD (a leisurely blues) / I’M NOBODY’S BABY / ALL ALONE / NEVERTHELESS / TUCK ME TO SLEEP IN MY OLD ‘TUCKY HOME* /JEEP’S BLUES / ZERO (I NEVER KNEW WHAT A GAL COULD DO) / THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN* / LET JESUS FIX IT FOR YOU* / HONEY – WHEN I GROW TOO OLD TO DREAM*.The results are sweet thoughtful jazz, conversational music that musicians play for their own pleasure.

My own Geoff Bull tale is musically rewarding: I hadn’t heard him play before encountering him (unbeknownst to me) in an after-hours jam session during the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival.  Here’s his performance (with Michael McQuaid’s Late Hour Boys) of MAMA INEZ — Geoff’s rangy, relaxed lyricism is a standout:

Two volumes of rare, previously unheard material from producer Joe Mares’ archives (he was the younger brother of trumpeter Paul) are fascinating, and not only for their rarity (GHB BCD 522 and 530, available separately).  Almost all of the material is in excellent fidelity, and this selection from Mares’ collection — which, when transferred to CD, filed twenty-seven discs — comes from concerts and local clubs as well as radio broadcasts between 1948 and 1953.  Students of New Orleans jazz will be thrilled by new material from their heroes, captured live; others will simply find the music energetic, varied, and refreshing.

Volume One begins with the hilarious HADACOL RAMBLE — with an ensemble vocal chorus — that is somewhere between folk-song, medicine show, down-home comedy, and vaudeville routine advertising the miraculous benefits of Hadacol, a New Orleans patent medicine apparently far more efficacious than Geritol or Serutan.

Other delights on this disc include appearances by Johnny Wiggs, Irving Fazola, Bujie Centobie, Raymond Burke, and Dr. Edmond Souchon.  The repertoire is often familiar, but the musicians play INDIANA (for instance) as if it had not been worn out by decades of bandstand tedium.  The songs are HADACOL RAMBLE / HADACOL RAMBLE (vocal) / I’M GOIN’ HOME / BASIN STREET BLUES / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / TIN ROOF BLUES / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / SAVOY BLUES / THAT’S A PLENTY / HIGH SOCIETY / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BILL BAILEY — and the collective personnel is Sharkey Bonano, Tony Dalmado, George Hartman, Johnny Wiggs, Pinky Vidalcovich, Irving Fazola, Harry Shields, Raymond Burke, Bujie Centobie, Julian Laine, Emile Christian, Jack Delaney, Roy Zimmerman, Bill Zalik, Burt Peck, Stanley Mendelsohn, Frank Federico, Edmond Souchon, Sherwood Mangiapane, Chink Martin, Arnold Loyocano, Johnny Castaing, Fred King, Roger Johnson, Monk Hazel, Abbie Brunies — a fine mix of veterans and less-familiar players — but everyone solos with fine brio and no one gets lost in the ensemble.

The second volume is equally good — with most of the same players remaining.  (This selection adds Tony Almerico, Tony Costa, and Lester Bouchon.) Three standouts are the fine Stacy-inspired pianist Jeff Riddick (heard on seven selections), inspired work from drummer Ray Bauduc (on five), and Jack Teagarden — whose performance of BASIN STREET BLUES is especially inspired and happy, contrary to my initial expectations.

The songs are CLARINET MARMALADE / ALICE BLUE GOWN / THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE /PECULIAR / THE LAND OF DREAMS / INDIANA / SHE’S CRYING FOR ME /MISSOURI TWO BEAT / BASIN STREET BLUES / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / TIN ROOF BLUES / MARIE / HIGH SOCIETY / I’M A DING DONG DADDY / I’M GOIN’ HOME.

If you find yourself tired of routine performances of the “classic” repertoire, these three discs will be a refreshing corrective.

May your happiness increase.

THE MAGIC HORN OF “PAPA RAY” RONNEI (by Hal Smith)

Video by the multi-talented Katie Cavera:

The Magic Horn of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei 

by Hal Smith (originally published in JUST JAZZ)

It has been nearly 40 years since I first heard the cornet magic of ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei… 

In the mid-‘60s I was a dedicated fan of the San Francisco style as played by Lu Watters, Turk Murphy, Bob Scobey, the Firehouse Five and…Vince Saunders’ South Frisco Jazz Band.  In 1966 my parents had taken me to Huntington Beach, California where the South Frisco band played weekends at the ‘Pizza Palace’.  We became instant fans of the SFJB after that first evening and made regular trips up from La Jolla to catch the band on weekends.  The band members were especially kind to a young fan.  Washboardist Bob Raggio, then an employee of Ray Avery’s ‘Rare Records’ was particularly helpful in locating several out-of-print Murphy and Watters LPs for me.   

Late in 1967, Bob sent a note along with an LP he had found for me.  The note mentioned that on the coming weekend, a ‘very special edition of the South Frisco band would perform at the Pizza Palace, with ‘Papa Ray’ Ronnei on cornet.’  I had heard of Ray Ronnei, but had not actually heard him play. 1  Even so, my parents accompanied me to Huntington Beach to hear the band. 

At the Pizza Palace we settled in at a table, not knowing quite what to expect, when the band took off on ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  Ray Ronnei’s brassy, staccato attack and almost surrealistic phrasing was like nothing I had ever heard! 2  It was a glorious and unique sound; one I still have not recovered from!  The tune selection was a radical departure from the San Francisco repertoire I was so used to: ‘Bogalusa Strut’, ‘Salutation March’, ‘Big Chief Battle Axe’, ‘One Sweet Letter From You’, ‘Ugly Chile’, ‘Blue Bells, Goodbye’, ‘Sweet Lotus Blossom’, ‘Bugle Boy March’ etc.  This night at the Pizza Palace the first time I had heard any of these numbers! 3 

When the performance ended—much too soon to suit me!—we headed home to La Jolla.  My head was spinning from the spellbinding sound of Ray Ronnei’s cornet.  Despite my continuing interest in the San Francisco style, I wanted to hear this hornman again—as soon as possible!  I did not have to wait too long, as South Frisco’s cornetist Al Crowne took a leave of absence from the band in 1968.  His replacement: Ray Ronnei!  My family made dozens of journeys north to Huntington Beach during Papa Ray’s tenure with the South Frisco in 1968-69. 

The SFJB lineup varied during this period. 4  Trombonist Frank Demond moved to New Orleans and was replaced on by Eric Rosenau, then Roy Brewer.   Mike Baird was usually on clarinet, though Jim Bogen and soprano saxophonist John Smith sometimes filled in for him.  Ron Ortmann was the regular pianist, spelled at times by Dick Shooshan, Bill Mitchell and Robbie Rhodes.  Tubist Bob Rann was usually present, with Mike Fay on string bass in Rann’s absence.  Banjoist-leader Vince Saunders was a constant, as was washboardist Bob Raggio—until the latter moved to Pittsburgh to play at baseball star Maury Wills’ nightclub.  But despite the shifting personnel, that distinctive cornet sound continued to ring joyously over the ensembles.   

When the South Frisco repertoire expanded,  three of the ‘new’ tunes—at least new to me—caught my fancy: ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man’, ‘Messin’ Around’ (by Cook and St. Cyr) and ‘Flat Foot’.  These three have been my favourite ‘trad’ numbers since hearing Papa Ray play them in 1968.  Though Vince Saunders was the bandleader, he frequently let Papa Ray kick off tunes.  The latter tended towards brisk tempos and kicked them off old-style, i.e. ‘one-two-three-four ONE!  TWO!  With only a little imagination I can still hear the powerful band roaring through all-ensemble versions of ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ and ‘Cakewalking Babies’ (with Papa Ray playing the same burst of capsicum on the outchorus that Mutt Carey played on the ‘New Yorkers’ record of the same tune).  The South Frisco Jazz Band in 1968-69 was truly one of a kind.   

In 1969, Papa Ray left the South Frisco group and Al Crowne returned.  Earlier, the band recorded an LP for the Vault label entitled ‘Here Comes The Hot Tamale Man.’  Unfortunately, that LP has not yet been reissued on CD.  However, Ted Shafer’s Merry Makers Record Company has released a CD of the South Frisco Band live at the Pizza Palace, recorded in 1968 by clarinetist Ron Going.  This disc ‘tells the story’ of just how exciting a time 1968-1969 was for fans of Papa Ray’s cornet work. 

While still a resident of Los Angeles, Papa Ray played with the Salutation Tuxedo Jazz Band, Crescent Bay Jazz Band and other groups.  Before signing on with South Frisco, he worked with Ted Shafer’s Jelly Roll Jazz Band in the Bay Area.  He returned to the Jelly Roll Jazz Band temporarily in 1969.  I was able to enjoy his music via tapes made previously at the Pizza Palace, LPs by the El Dorado Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Jazz Band and the then-new South Frisco LP.  On one occasion, our family was watching a San Francisco Seals hockey game on tv.  After a Seals goal, a jazz band in the stands struck up ‘Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’.  Clarinetist Bob Helm and trombonist Bob Mielke were instantly identifiable, as was the peppery cornet—Papa Ray, of course! 

I continued to see and hear Ray Ronnei on his visits to the L.A. area.  Sometimes he would play at a Sunday-afternoon jam session at one of the local jazz societies.  On one memorable occasion, I was asked to play a set with Papa Ray, Dan Barrett, Ron Going, Dick Shooshan, Doug Parker and veteran New Orleans bassist Ed Garland.  I don’t have a recording of this session, but at least I got a photo! 

Living away from California, I would hear occasional news concerning Ray’s appearances on various jobs.  Later, there was a disheartening rumor that he had quit playing.  I had the recordings to listen to, but still hoped to hear the ‘real thing’ again some day.  In the early ‘90s I returned to California and wound up playing once a week at the ‘Hofbrau’ in Fullerton (Orange County), California.  The bands in rotation at the time included Gremoli, Evan Christopher’s Quintet and my own Frisco Syncopators.  One night, Mike Fay came to hear the band—with Papa Ray in tow!  Ray looked the same as he had the last time I saw him, in the ‘70s.  What a blast it was to see him, and in good health at that. 

Later, when key personnel became unavailable to play the Hofbrau, the Frisco Syncopators gradually became the New Orleans Wanderers.  Papa Ray was still making an occasional appearance at the club, though I had not been able to induce him to play.  But Mike Fay stepped in, describing the band’s sound and repertoire and we managed to get Ray on cornet!  With Alan Adams (trombone), Mike Baird (reeds), Vic Loring (banjo), Mike Fay (bass) and myself on drums, we hit ‘You Always Hurt The One You Love’.  It unleashed a flood of happy memories, of good times at the Pizza Palace.  And best of all, Ray had his lip and his drive.   No one had to shoulder an extra load that night!  I still don’t know why I didn’t take a tape recorder.  Unfortunately, no one recorded us that night!  The lack of recording is all the more unfortunate because Ray was unable to make the job on a regular basis.  The Golden Eagles’ Ken Smith stepped in and became our regular hornman. 

My last encounter with Papa Ray was in 1995, when the Wanderers recorded a session for release on cassette.  We assembled in Mike Fay’s living room in Claremont, California and saw that a guest was settling in to listen to the session.   Papa Ray was happy to see his musical friends and obviously enjoyed our performances.  He would not join in on cornet, but we managed to coax him into singing ‘How Long Blues’, which was released on the cassette. 

Since then, I continue to hear that Papa Ray has taken part in occasional sessions and the report invariably includes the line ‘He sounded as great as ever’.  I am sure the reports are true.  Hearing Papa Ray Ronnei on cornet has always been a magical experience; one of the biggest thrills I have experienced in jazz.   To me, he will always be one of the greats!

  

Notes

  1. I never heard the El Dorado Jazz Band in person.  They played mostly in bars where a teenager could not enter, according to California state law.  I bought the El Dorado Epitaph and Item-1 LPs after hearing Ray with the South Frisco band.  The band finally broke up in mid-1966, but this ‘special edition’ of the South Frisco Jazz Band would be composed almost entirely of El Dorado veterans. 
  2. At the time I was unfamiliar with the recordings of Freddie Keppard, Abbie Brunies and especially Mutt Carey, who were the premier inspirations for Ray Ronnei.   (Ray studied with Mutt Carey in the late ‘40s).
  3. I discovered Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Kid Ory and ‘British Trad’ after hearing this ‘New Orleans’ version of the South Frisco band.  Bassist Mike Fay played that night, as did pianist Dick Shooshan.  Besides hearing Ray Ronnei for the first time and hearing a wealth of ‘new’ tunes, this was my first exposure to New Orleans style string bass and Jelly Roll Morton type piano.
  4. There were surely more substitutes and guests with the South Frisco Jazz Band during this period.  My listing is based on those I actually heard, or who were recorded at the Pizza Palace.

P.S.  Ray Ronnei, born in 1916, is happily still with us!  Although he no longer plays the cornet, his composition SALTY BUBBLE can be heard in the 2009 Woody Allen film WHATEVER WORKS, and Ray plans to continue composing!  The original recording can be purchased here: http://www.worldsrecords.com/pages/artists/r/ronnei_ray/ray_ronnei_64328.html