Tag Archives: Al Bandini

DICK, RYAN’S, FIVE CONNIE-SIGHTINGS, and PEE WEE

An eBay assortment of curiosities!

A Forties photograph autographed to Dick — by Count Basie (who seems to have signed it first in some careful way, then inscribed it on the site) and Jimmy Rushing:

TO DICK BASIE RUSHING

An autographed flyer for Jimmy Ryan’s — that jazz oasis (after a fashion) of West Fifty-Fourth Street, featuring Roy Eldridge, Bobby Pratt, Joe Muranyi, Dick Katz, and Ted Sturgis, Eddie Locke:

JIMMY RYAN'S DIXIELAND flyer

Collectors of sheet music know that the artists pictured or photographed on the cover may have had only the most tenuous connection to a particular song (I’ve seen copies of — among other oddities — WHEN THEY PLAYED THE POLKA featuring Adrian Rollini, LITTLE SKIPPER featuring Bobby Hackett, and LIGHTS OUT featuring Louis, which of course they may have played.)  But here are five Connie Boswell-sightings, circa 1931-33, both reassuring and elusive.

One:

CONNIE ONE

Two:

CONNIE TWO

Three:

CONNIE THREE

Four:

CONNIE FOUR

Five:

CONNIE FIVE

If anyone has acetates of Connie singing these songs, do let me know!

For those who want the rarest Boswelliana, check out the official Boswell Sisters eBay store — http://stores.ebay.com/theboswellsistersstore — which is run by Kyla Titus, Vet’s granddaughter, so you know the treasures are authentic. You can also visit it at helvetia520 — which has a 100% approval rating from buyers.

And this — I know that Al Bandini, a trumpet player who for a time ran the band at the Riviera in New York (which still exists, although serving food rather than music)  and Pee Wee Russell collaborated on GABRIEL FOUND HIS HORN, but this was new to me:

PEE WEE sheet music

I note with pleasure that this song comes from Mr. Russell’s Boston period, circa 1945, and find it particularly affecting that it was part of a music therapy program, which is more than apt.  (Someone outbid me on this, which is fine with me, although I won’t have Pee Wee gazing down at me from one of my apartment walls, alas.)

Draw your own conclusions about provenance and what it might mean that these lovely odd artifacts are bubbling to the surface.  I’m just delighted that they are.

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBER! HERBIE NICHOLS AND THE OLD DAYS

My friend, the clarinetist H. Grundoon Chumley (he’s Scottish – Malaysian, hence his beautiful and unusual name), called me up to tell me stories from the late Fifties onwards on Seventh Avenue South in New York City. 

You know that the pianist Herbie Nichols played in Dixieland bands.  One night, I popped into a club called the Riviera — across from Nick’s on Seventh Avenue — and there was a jazz band.  The clarinetist was someone I knew from school and he forced me to sit in.  To my amazement, I got through it.  After the set was over, Herbie said to me, “Man, you’re a real player.”  That really egged me on, encouraged me tremendously, so I stayed with the horn and enjoyed it.  It was much later through a book by A.B. Spellman that I discovered the esteem in which Herbie was held.  I do recall the band at the Riviera — a Dixieland band led by the trumpet player Al Bandini, a friend of Pee Wee Russell’s.  Tom Lord played baritone.  After Herbie died, Bandini got Eddie Wilcox (who had taken over the Jimmie Lunceford band after Lunceford passed) who became the house piano player at the Riviera.  Once in a while Bandini would call and I would go down there and play.  A lot of pros would come and sit in: in those days there were many places to sit in and famous people walked in.  I never forgot one night.  A chap in a sailor suit came in and said, “Can I sit in?” and took out his trombone.  He played a solo on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN and our jaws dropped: it was Bill Watrous.  Another trombonist was Benny Morton — a wonderful man.  Once Dick Dreiwitz got us a gig to play Central Plaza (this would have been around 1961) because we all knew Jack Crystal from the Commodore Music Shop.  At the end of the night, the two bands would get together to play THE SAINTS.  I looked over at the other band, and it was Willie “the Lion” Smith, Charlie Shavers, and Jo Jones, and I couldn’t stop shaking.  Then I felt an arm around my shoulders, and Benny Morton was saying to me, “Come on, man, relax.  Just play!”  And I did.

One other thing.  We used to go to the Metropole and see all the greats — Coleman Hawkins, Buck Clayton, Gene Krupa, and Roy Eldridge.  I was a friend of Jack Bradley and he called me up — around 1964 or so — to tell me that Louis was going to play one night there.  There was a line around the block.  But I’ve never heard a record that captured a live performance, and that night I thought the ceiling was going to fall down with the power and purity of Louis’s sound.

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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