Tag Archives: airshot

“HAVIN’ A BALL” with JAMES P. JOHNSON, ANDY RAZAF, and . . . BENNY GOODMAN (1937)

The global attic / museum / antique shop known as eBay never fails to surprise.  Here’s something recently posted — the sheet music for a James P. Johnson / Andy Razaf song, HAVIN’ A BALL.  I don’t think it enjoyed wide currency, and I suspect it was another version of SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — that is, once the music is hot, everyone is happy.  Valid enough.

James P. recorded it for Columbia in 1939 — under the aegis of John Hammond — with a band including Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Sedric, J. C. Higginbotham, and Sidney Catlett — but the sides weren’t issued at the time and they only emerged on a 1962 compilation of James P.’s Columbia recordings.

Sometimes the business of music is as intriguing as the music itself.  Too much has been made of Goodman as Caucasian exploiter, and in 1937 he hardly needed to extort money from James P., Razaf, or Joe Davis to have his picture on the cover — a sure guarantee of increased sales.  And he isn’t a “co-composer” here, which suggests that the Goodman band actually played this song.  Goodman expert/ discographer David Jessup says that no broadcast performances of it exist to his knowledge.  Of course, the band might have played it at a dance that wasn’t documented or for a broadcast that wasn’t notated by Bob Inman or captured by an enthusiast with a disc recorder.

But I wonder how this partnership came to be.  Did one of the composers or publisher Davis “reach out” (as they used to say on television police shows) to a Goodman arranger and work out a mutually advantageous arrangement: a good tune for a swing band, let’s get it some airplay?  Youth wants to know.

Alas, I can’t provide an audio track.  You’ll have to find a copy of the Columbia lp FATHER OF THE STRIDE PIANO or the Classics CD on which it appears: I recall a Meritt Record Society vinyl issue had several alternate takes.

In its heyday, the tune was recorded by Fats Waller, Billy Kyle, George Zack, Max Kaminsky . . . and there is presumably a 1958 Goodman version, which suggests that an actual arrangement was created.  But when?  The only contemporary version I know is found on the Arbors CD by the International Hot Jazz Quartet — Duke Heitger, Engelbert Wroebel, Paolo Alderighi, Oliver Mewes.

Have yourself a ball!

May your happiness increase.

HEAR ELLA, STUFF, and BEN in 1937!

Ella Fitzgerald, Stuff Smith, and Ben Webster recorded together in the late Fifties for a Norman Granz project — “Ella Sings The Duke Ellington Songbook.”  But they had been captured on disc twenty years before in what are much more fascinating circumstances.

The good news is that the CD that is so delighting me is available and intensely rewarding — musically, not simply for its rarity.  Anticipation over a long period rarely pays off.  If you wait twenty years for something to appear, often the results, however fine, may not seem worth the wait.  Not in this case.  I first heard an I GOT RHYTHM by a related unit — Teddy Wilson, Jonah Jones, Ben, Lawrence Lucie, John Kirby, Cozy Cole — in the late Seventies, and learned that much more material from these sources existed.

Trust the UK jazz violin scholar Anthony Barnett to unearth it, research it, and present it to us with his usual style.  (The session that I’m referring to — with exquisite singing by Helen Ward, including a winsome DID YOU MEAN IT? — has been issued on another of Barnett’s AB Fable CDs — one capturing the live recordings Stuff Smith made with members of Fats Waller’s little band and other gems (ABCD1-015 STUFF SMITH: That Naughty Waltz.  COMPLETE 1937–1942 TENOR SAX SEPTETS FEATURING 1942 FATS WALLER ALUMNI AND 1937 TEDDY WILSON ORCHESTRA.)

But LET’S LISTEN TO LUCIDIN (AB Fable ABCD I-024) is even more unusual.  Barnett’s detailed and witty liner notes tell the story better than I could, but the Lucidin eye-lotion company decided to present fifteen-minute broadcasts (three times weekly) over New York’s WMCA featuring an all-star band of Black musicians.

The singer was a young Ella Fitzgerald in pearly, playful form.  Some of my readers found my comments about Ella in an earlier blogpost positively blasphemous — but this Ella I could listen to forever: girlish, earnest, sweet, tenderly improvising.

The orchestra — fourteen pieces — was led by the irreplaceable violinist Stuff Smith, and featured (among others) trumpeter Jonah Jones in his best neo-Louis mode, the delightfully risk-taking Sandy Williams on trombone, altoist Edgar Sampson (also responsible for a number of compositions and arrangements), reedmen Garvin Bushell and Walter Thomas, pianist Clyde Hart, bassist John Kirby, and drummer Cozy Cole.  It was a hand-picked organization that drew on the best Black bands of the time (leaving aside Ellington and Basie): Calloway and Chick Webb.  I’d assume that the players and Ella were happy to have opportunities to broadcast and make extra money, and the band sounds well-rehearsed, even on pop material.  (Chick Webb, always ambitious for Ella, obviously did not discourage her from performing with Stuff’s aggregation.)

One of the great pleasures of this CD is in hearing a band that didn’t record elsewhere splendid hot soloists.  And the CD presents a goodly number of solos by the young Ben Webster, in top form — not yet the player who would spark the 1940 Ellington organization, but a fine, emotive player nonetheless.  The selections (including “trailer” or “teaser” incomplete versions of tunes that would be played the next week) include jazz standards: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, I GOT RHYTHM, THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE, STARDUST, I FOUND A NEW BABY, SHINE, BASIN STREET BLUES, and HONEYSUCKLE ROSE.  But the current pop hits are also covered: Ella is touching on CHAPEL IN THE MOONLIGHT and GOODNIGHT MY LOVE, sweetly energetic on COPPER-COLORED GAL.  Cozy Cole and John Kirby are properly supportive; the under-recorded Clyde Hart is just fine.  For my taste, there isn’t enough Stuff, but he has some features and offers a lovely obbligato to Ella’s vocal on GOODNIGHT MY LOVE.  His feature on CLOUDS is a treat.  And IT’S DE-LOVELY, split between Ella and Ben, is a gem.

This music comes from radio broadcasts, another delight.  Jazz collectors know the Ellington Victors, the Basie Deccas, but they are finite.  To find new “live” material from the Swing Era is always a great gift, especially because thousands of hours of music were broadcast between the early Thirties to the end of World War Two.  We have only the smallest portion, and certain orchestras and players were not well-documented.

This CD is also an anthropological trove of Thirties pop culture, sometimes unintentionally hilarious — because Barnett has wisely kept in all the announcements, commercial and musical.  By the time this disc was finished, I was eager to buy Lucidin: I would have been a loyal consumer!  The commercials are truly amusing, because announcer Don Kerr was required to promote a product not yet available.  But even better, the Lucidin people were unhappy with the frequency and length of their competitors’ commercials.  So Kerr tells us frequently that the company finds such announcements boring and painful, and won’t do them.  Some of Kerr’s disquisitions do go on, but neither he or Lucidin seems to have been indulging in subversive ironies.

A few tracks have unavoidable surface noise, but only the most finicky listeners will reject the opportunity to hear these players in new performances.

It’s a delightful disc throughout, one of those rare CDs I can listen to all the way through at one sitting.  It offers not just Ella, Stuff, and Ben, but what a now-vanished population heard on WMCA.  And Barnett’s meticulous research is a real pleasure: the liner is illustrated with rare photographs and drawings.  It was worth the wait!

It can be ordered through the AB Fable website: www.abar.net.

“YEAH, MAN!” (BIX 2009)

Jamaica Knauer, the patron saint of Midwestern Hot Jazz on video (now there‘s a mouthful of Homeric epithet) very generously uploaded two more of her videos from the 2009 Bix Beiderbecke Festival on YouTube for our collective joy and enlightenment.  To quote Milt Hinton, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like broccoli!”*

Here are “Bix and His Chicago Gang,” fervent and expert, captured live at Fitzgerald’s — in tuxedos, no less.  They are Andy Schumm, cornet; Dave Bock, trombone; Kim Cusack, clarinet; John Otto, bass sax; Paul Asaro, piano; Leah Bezin, banjo; Josh Duffee, drums.  First, one of the affectionate songs of the late Twenties, MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS.  (Cutty Cutshall, that Condon stalwart, used to call it MAHONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS.) 

There are too many delightful details to absorb in one viewing, but the band does the very pleasing thing of returning to the verse several times during this performance, making the most of the possibilities of changing from verse to chorus more than once.  It’s a lovely idea, now abandoned in favor of playing chorus after chorus on the theme, which can (I write this in a whisper) become monotonous.  Notice also how many times one of the musicians is grinning because of something another player has just created, and you know that those smiles aren’t “counterfeited glee” for the benefit of the audience.  This band rocks without raising its voice or accelerating its pace. 

The second performance has nothing to apologize for, even though the source material is the tune SORRY.  Jamaica had to switch from one memory card to another in mid-performance, cutting off a bit of Paul Asaro’s striding solo, but I’m so glad she caught what she did.  And the gap in the middle is in itself nostalgic, reminding all of us of those radio airshots captured on 10″ 78 rpm blanks that have a chorus or two we have to imagine — while the diligent recordist tried to turn the acetate over as quickly as possible or put another blank on the turntable.  Heroically done, Jamaica; romping hot jazz, O you Bixians! 

And my title is more than just a Twenties and Thirties exultation, although it would do just fine on that basis: in 1933, Bing Crosby was asked to fill out a questionnaire — favorite color, music, books, and the like.  When it got to “favorite expression,” that’s the one he thought of.  “Yeah, man!” indeed!

 *And if you don’t like broccoli, perhaps it’s because someone’s been overcooking it: try removing it from the heat when it’s still got some life in it.  Late-life culinary conversions are both possible and uplifting!