Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett at the Metropolitan Opera House, January 18, 1944
Here’s an extraordinarily fulfilling eighteen minutes, as if — in the name of humanity and enlightenment — a New York radio station was able to gather everyone of note into its studios to uplift listeners: Billie Holiday, vocal; Roy Eldridge, Charlie Shavers; trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Bennie Morton, trombone; Ed Hall, clarinet; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; Art Tatum, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Slam Stewart, string bass; Arthur Trappier, drums; Josh White, vocal and guitar.
“NEW WORLD A-COMING: THE STORY OF NEGRO MUSIC,” Broadcast on WMCA, June 25, 1944, based on the book by Roi Ottlei, narrated by Canada Lee. Theme by Duke Ellington. Introduction / I GOT A HEAD LIKE A ROCK Josh White / FINE AND MELLOW Billie / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / ALL OF ME Billie / I GOT RHYTHM // Hall Johnson Choir announced but edited out of this recording.
The music is timeless; the commentary may seem less so: I was struck by “from cabin to cabaret,” and sensitized listeners might find other archaisms. But the music!
P.S. “Jazz can be hot or languid.” You knew that, of course.
P.P.S., based on fifteen minutes of online curiosity: WMCA was a rock-and-pop AM station in the Sixties, home of the “Good Guys.” Started in 1925, it had a wide range of popular music programming, with programs aimed at an African-American audience. In 1989, it became a Christian radio station and continues today.
The news is that I’ve fallen in love with a six-minute collection of vibrations, and my neighbors have not called in the authorities.
Yes, there’s surface noise. And two or three speed fluctuations at the start. Be calm. There’s also some of the finest swing imaginable. If you think, “But I don’t like jazz violin,” or “UMBRELLA MAN is such a dumb tune,” just listen.
In 1942 violin wizard Stuff Smith led a band of Fats Waller alumni — not after Waller’s death, as has been suggested. The band was Herman Autrey, trumpet; Ted McCord, tenor saxophone; Sammy Benskin, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Al Hall, string bass; Slick Jones, drums. This performance is part of a late-August broadcast from the Old Vienna Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, taken off the air by William E. Loeffler. The source of all this joy is an available CD — fancy that! — on violin scholar Anthony Barnett’s AB FABLE label (ABCD 015).
Barnett has released incredibly rare recordings: Ella Fitzgerald in 1937 with a Smith-led big band combining players from his own band, from Chick Webb’s band and Cab Calloway’s.
AND a private jam session with Ray Nance, Ben Webster, Jimmie Blanton, Fred Guy, and Sonny Greer, on which Ben plays clarinet (!).
AND wonderful recordings by Eddie South, Ray Perry, Ginger Smock, and more.
Visit http://abar.net/index.htm to see the CD releases and books. Barnett’s research is deep and impeccable, and the recordings he unearths are incredibly rewarding: this is just an uplifting sample.
I can hear some of you grumbling, “I listen on _______ for free. CDs are for dinosaurs.” In the forests, T-Rex is swinging like mad, and those berries are like vintage wine.
This public service announcement is brought to you by an enthralled purchaser. Now I’m going to play UMBRELLA MAN for perhaps the thirtieth time. It scrapes the clouds.
We know many people born on February 28th. However, we know a much smaller number born on that date in 1930. And there is only ONE Martin Oliver Grosz, who will thus turn ninety in a few days.
Marty won’t read this post, so I will spare him and all of us a lengthy explication of his particular virtues. But let me inform you about a few events related to his birthday . . . and then there will be a reward for those with high reading comprehension skills. “Three ways,” not chili . . . but a book and two parties. And patient readers will find another reward, of a particularly freakish nature, at the end of this post.
Marty has talked about writing his autobiography for years now (I was almost a collaborator, although not in the wartime sense) — he has stories! And the book has finally happened, thanks to the Golden Alley Press, with the really splendid editorship of Joe Plowman, whom we know more as a superb musician. Great photos, and it’s a pleasure to look at as well as read.
The book is entertaining, readable, funny, and revealing — with stories about people you wouldn’t expect (Chet Baker!). It sounds like Marty, because the first half is a tidied-up version of his own story, written in longhand — with elegant calligraphy — on yellow legal paper. I’m guessing that a few of the more libelous bits have been edited out, but we know there are severe laws about such things and paper is flammable.
The second part of the book, even more vividly, is a stylishly done series of interviews with Marty — a real and sometimes startlingly candid pleasure. I’ve followed Marty musically for more than twenty-five years and have had conversations with him for two decades . . . this, as he would say, is the real breadstick, and I learned a great deal I hadn’t already known. More informationhere and here. The official publication date is March 4, but you can pre-order the book from several of the usual sites — as noted above.
And two musical events — Marty encompasses multitudes, so he gets two parties.
One will take place at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, tomorrow at 6 PM, where Marty will be joined by Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, and Gary Cattley, for an evening of swing and badinage, sometimes with the two combined. Details here. And on March 4, another extravaganza — at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, with what used to be called “an all-star cast”: Vince Giordano, Danny Tobias, Scott Robinson, Dan Block, Randy Reinhart, Joe Plowman, Jim Lawlor, Jack Saint Clair, and I would guess some surprise guests. Details here. Even though I am getting on a plane the next morning to fly to Monterey for the Jazz Bash by the Bay, I am going to this one. You should too!
Now, the unearthed treasure . . . for all the Freaks in the house, as Louis would say, a congregation in which I happily include myself. I’ve written elsewhere of taking sub rosa videos at the 2007 and 2008 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend ecstasies, and I recently dug out this spiritual explosion. The camerawork is shaky and vague (I was shooting into bright light), but the music is life-enhancing. Even the YouTube Disliker is quietly applauding:
Let us celebrate Marty Grosz. He continues to be completely Himself, which is a fine thing. With Dispatch and Vigor, Fats, Al Casey, and Red McKenzie looking on approvingly.
Anna Moffo, one of my mother’s favorite sopranos: my definition of a “trained singer.”
Everyone of us has pet theories: there’s a secret way to fold fitted sheets; day-old bagels, toasted, are better than fresh, and so on. You, no doubt, have yours.
One of mine that is relevant to JAZZ LIVES is that often, singers who never sing because they are busy playing are the best singers of all. I don’t mean those who are clearly identified as singers — Louis, Jelly, Teagarden, Cleo Brown — but those instrumentalists who have recorded once or twice only. So I assembled a host of my favorites, leaving out scat choruses. Some recordings were inaccessible: Sid Catlett’s OUT OF MY WAY, Basie’s HARVARD BLUES (where he, not Jimmy, takes the vocal) Ed Hall’s ALL I GOT WAS SYMPATHY — but this is, I hope, a pleasing, perhaps odd offering. I present them in no particular order, except for Lester being the last, because that recording so touches me.
James P. Johnson, 1944 (with Frank Newton, Al Casey, Pops Foster, Eddie Dougherty). The story is that Alan Lomax thought that James P. was a blues pianist when he interviewed him for the Library of Congress — and compelled him to sing this. I don’t know: James P. is having a good time:
Coleman Hawkins, 1936, highly impassioned (when was he not?):
Vic Dickenson, crooning in 1931 with the Luis Russell Orchestra:
Vic — nearly fifty years later — singing his own composition with Ralph Sutton:
Benny Carter, aiming for Bing and having a dear good time in the process, 1933. (This has been one of my favorite records since 1974. Catch Benny’s trumpet solo and clarinet solo. And Sid Catlett pleases.) Those clever lyrics aren’t easy to sing at that tempo: ask Dan Barrett:
And another helping of Benny-does-Bing, gliding upwards into those notes. Another favorite:
Yes, Art Tatum could sing the blues. Uptown, 1941:
I save this for last, because it leaves me in tears. Lester Young, 1941, and since this is the only copy of a much-played acetate, there’s a lot of surface noise. Be patient and listen deeply:
Little is known about that recording, but I remember learning that one side of it was a dub of SHOE SHINE BOY by Jones-Smith, Inc., and this — a current pop tune with glee-club embroideries — was the other. It’s been surmised that this was a demo disc for Lester’s new small band that he hoped to make flourish after leaving Basie. Some of the sadness, to me, is that the attempt worked poorly, and although Lester loved to sing, there is only one other recording (the 1953 IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO) that exists.
This is the third and final segment of my splendid afternoon at The Lovelace (66 Pearl Street, New York City) with the “Animule Dance,” Evan Arntzen, reeds / vocal; Adam Brisbin, guitar / vocal; Sean Cronin, string bass / vocal. The thought that it is — for the moment — the final segment makes me sad, but the realization that we can enjoy these performances again and again is cheering.
Let’s call a heart a heart. Explanation below.
For the story behind Romy’s heartfelt gift, please visit here — and you’ll also find the first two parts of the music made by this splendid trio that day. As an aside, many musicians don’t like having their work compared to that of the Ancestors, but as I have been delighting in these videos again, I thought I heard an alternate universe where Lester Young, Milt Hinton, and Al Casey were jamming for their own pleasure. Floating, you know. Not imitating, but Being in 2018.
And here are the last of the savory treats from that rare Friday afternoon, so delicious.
INDIANA (with sweet hints of Don Byas and Slam Stewart):
SQUEEZE ME, which couldn’t be nicer:
A Spanish-singed I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS:
OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, which mixes Twenties soul, bluegrass tints, and a little Django and Billy Taylor as well, before Evan wins the Miscellaneous Instruments category by a nose. Thanks to Scout Opatut for direction and continuity: her Oscars are on the way:
an easy yet impassioned RUSSIAN LULLABY:
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING served with a bowl of gumbo:
and the closing Frolick, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:
What a thrilling band! I want lucrative gigs, public and private, club and festival, what the Youngbloods call merch — pinback buttons, hoodies, bath sponges, bumper stickers — CDs I can play in the car, the concert tour (I’ll be press agent and videographer), and worldwide huzzahs. Nothing less.
Again, rambling through eBay — very soothing especially if one doesn’t feel compelled to spend money — I found this wonderful artifact:
This was near the end of Annette’s career, so there are no commercial recordings of her performing the song. However, it was popular enough that three are available to us on that lopsided cosmic jukebox called YouTube. And the eBay seller took pictures of all the pages — so you can, as they used to say, try this out on your piano. Here’s an early version (late November 1934) well-played dance music by Don Bestor with Joy Lynne singing:
and page one:
and another version, this from very early January 1935, featuring Bob Howard, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, first on alto, then on trumpet, Buster Bailey, Clarence Holiday, Elmer James, Cozy Cole (incidentally, those who are delighting in the new Teddy Wilson Mosaic set will find equivalent gems under Howard and Putney Dandridge’s name):
Howard seems to be influenced by another popular pianist-singer. Who could it be? But first, more sheet music.
and page four:
then, the Master, in dewy form, with the Blessed Bill Coleman of Paris, Kentucky, alongside Gene Sedric, Charlie Turner, Al Casey, and Harry Dial — one of the best early Waller dates:
and, for the finale:
I don’t covet a time machine, but it is sweet to dream of a time and place where this was the popular music one would hear from one’s radio.
My business card has a photograph of Sidney Catlett on it, and when people stop mis-identifying him (no, that’s not Nat King Cole or Morgan Freeman) some ask me why he’s there. I answer, “He made everyone sound better; he died after telling a good joke in the intermission of a concert, and people still miss him.” And depending on my listeners, I might repeat what Billie Holiday said of him.
After Louis, he remains my pole star. So I was astonished and delighted to see this photograph, which was new to me, on sale at eBay. Torn right corner and all. I know Sid’s handwriting, so the capital B S and C make me know the signature is genuine, and his fountain pen was working: obviously Marvin was someone special, because the inscription is carefully done, probably on a table or other flat surface.
and a closeup:
Through eBay serendipity, I found out that “Marvin” was Marvin Kohn, who had been the New York State Athletic Commissioner — and a jazz fan. (He also had an autographed photograph of Will Bradley.) Here’s a sketch of Marvin by Leroy Neiman:
I had invented a scenario where Sid and Marvin met at a boxing match, where Marvin offered Sid a ticket to some sporting event and then asked (as one might) for an autographed glossy in return, but I believe what might have happened would be different. Here is Marvin’s obituary in the New York Times:
Marvin Kohn; Boxing Publicist, 70 Published: February 8, 1994
Marvin Kohn, a longtime figure in New York boxing, died Sunday at New York Hospital. He was 70. He died three days after suffering a stroke. Mr. Kohn was appointed a publicist for the New York State Athletic Commission, which oversees boxing, in 1951, and he later served as a deputy commissioner of the agency before retiring in 1989. He also was a press agent for many actors and had served as publicity director for the old Hotel Astor. He is survived by his widow, Mildred.
And a memory of Marvin from Mervyn Gee, whose blog on boxing is called SLIP & COUNTER:
Back in 1987, more than 25 years after moving to London, I was security manger at The Cumberland Hotel, a 1,000 bedroom hotel situated in the Marble Arch area. The reason I mention this is that the World Boxing Council (WBC) held their annual convention there that year and a glittering array of their champions and their entourages were at the hotel. . . . Caroline Fransen was our liason officer . . . . [she] introduced me to Marvin Kohn, who at the time was secretary to the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) based in New York. Kohn was also deputy commissioner at the New York Athletic Commission for over 30 years and over the next decade I visited the Big Apple a number of times and Marvin introduced me to so many fascinating and influential people in the boxing scene.
Long before there were public tours of Madison Square Garden, I was privileged to be a frequent visitor and Marvin was even the only non-actor to have his caricature on the wall at Sardi’s famous restaurant. To this day, the BWAA present a “Good Guy” prize each year named after my late friend as the ‘Marvin Kohn award’. As a result of my friendship with Marvin I was even invited to the VIP lounge and restaurant at the United Nations buildings. Not bad for a little boyo from the valleys!
And from Mervyn’s site, a lovely photograph of Marvin at his desk:
But back to Sidney Catlett. January 1944, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, with Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, for ROSE ROOM:
and one hero speaking of another:
Now I just have to figure out where to hang the picture — because I won it.
P.S. This post is in honor of master jazz-sleuth David Fletcher.
Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, January 18, 1944.
And here is the soundtrack: DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME, BILLIE’S BLUES, and I’LL GET BY, with Billie accompanied by Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, and Sidney Catlett:
And you all know that Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and Mildred Bailey appeared, with the Goodman Quintet being beamed in from the other coast.
When I bid on and won that photograph of Billie and Sidney on eBay, it came with a small rectangular strip of yellowed paper taped to its back, which read
THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN
“Two top jive artists are shown at the Esquire All-American jazz concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 18th. Billie Holliday does the vocalizing as drummer boy Sid Catlett pounds the skins.”
I am nostalgic about 1944 music, but I am glad that no one feels compelled to write that way anymore. Incidentally, when I looked online to see where this picture might have appeared — searching for THRUSH and SKINMAN — I got a whole host of entries about candida, male and female yeast infections. Mmmmmmm.
My unanswered and unanswerable question about the photograph has to do with it being a posed, rather than candid shot. Notice that neither of the two participants is in motion; there is no blur. So. Did the photographer say to the two of them presumably before or after the concert, “Billie, Miss Holiday. Could you come over here? We need a shot of you and Sidney — how do you people say it — giving each other . . . some skin?” And for those who like metaphysics, which one put out a hand first for this hip charade? I know the photograph is in some ways fake, but the emotions behind it are not.
P.S. If you’re going to lift the photographic image for use on your own site, be my guest. I wouldn’t disfigure it with a watermark . . . but real gents and ladies also write, “Photo courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.” Thanks.
James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson
When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure. James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano. He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.
Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio. Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943. Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes. Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.
Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them. Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues. James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?” Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.
There will never be enough. But what we have is brilliant. And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943. (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)
Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period. And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more. For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.
(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)
I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967. And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on. This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it. The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin. And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.
The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement. (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes. Guitar fanciers please note.) The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.
Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me). It’s a duo-performance for James P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all. Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character. He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting. You’ll have to hear it for yourself.
This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing. I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives. Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music. His sensitivity is unparalleled. For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows. Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment. I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.
I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes. Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.” Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.
I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:
Listen closely to this new Mosaic box setsix compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.
Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure. It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.
In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller. His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises. But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer. (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio. In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.
But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson? He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward. It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise. Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.
Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.
This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.
And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.
Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing. And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page andlisten.
My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.
Many people in the United States celebrate today in honor of Christopher Columbus. (My college does not.) I’m not planning to enter into charged historical dialogue except to say that we now know most of what we learned in elementary school was wrong or intentionally misleading, a pattern that continues onwards in education. But that is a dark subject, which I will forego.
This is one kind of historical representation:
Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus
But I prefer this kind, created by Leon “Chu” Berry and Andy Razaf, music and words, in 1936:
A Roy Eldridge small group, a rejected take from 1936, with Roy (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) John Collins (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):
The Fletcher Henderson band’s hit version in the same year, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Joe Thomas, Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello, Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl,as) Scoops Carey (as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (ts) Horace Henderson (p,arr) Bob Lessey (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):
and the 1937 attempt at a follow-up hit, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Emmett Berry, Russell Smith (tp) John McConnell, Albert Wynn, Ed Cuffee (tb) Jerry Blake (cl,as,vcl,arr) Hilton Jefferson (cl,as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (cl,ts) Fletcher Henderson (p,arr) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Israel Crosby (b) Pete Suggs (d) Chuck Richards (vcl) Horace Henderson (arr):
A Buck Clayton Jam Session, 1953, with Buck, Joe Newman (tp) Urbie Green, Henderson Chambers (tb) Lem Davis (as) Julian Dash (ts) Charlie Fowlkes (bar) Sir Charles Thompson (p,celeste) Freddie Green (g) Walter Page (b) Jo Jones (d):
(I love that this record has a click in it, early and often. Seems like old times.)
and the classic 1936 version by Fats Waller, with Herman Autrey (tp) Gene Sedric (cl,ts) Al Casey (g) Charlie Turner (b) Yank Porter (d):
and just to cool down, Maxine Sullivan in 1956, with Charlie Shavers (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Jerome Richardson (as) Dick Hyman (p) Wendell Marshall (b) / Milt Hinton (b) Osie Johnson (d):
Professor Razaf tells us, “He used the rhythm as a compass.” That’s something I can celebrate, as I hope you can.
The heroes and the people we cherish forever don’t always have their names written in huge capital letters. But we know who they are.
One of them was the drummer, artist, raconteur, dear friend and gracious man Michael Burgevin. We lost him — abruptly, of a sudden heart attack — on June 17, 2014. If you look in Tom Lord’s discography, the listing of official recordings MB (how he signed his emails — a man with things to do!) made is brief, but that is in no way a measure of his effect, his swing, his sweet presence.
MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad
I had met Mike in 1973, in New York City, and although we were out of touch for about twenty years, he was always in my thoughts as someone I was grateful to.
Because I miss him and admire him — first as a musician, then as a generous friend, then as a thinker who knows and feels the truth — what follows below is the leisurely narrative of my friend MB. The dates are fuzzy, my feelings sharply realized.
When I met him in 1973, I was a college student, deeply involved in jazz, without much money to spend on it. But I read in The New Yorker that there was a little bar / restaurant on East 34th Street, Brew’s, that featured live hot jazz.
You can read more about Brew’s here — on a blog called LOST CITY — with MB’s comments.
I read the names of Max Kaminsky and Jack Fine. I didn’t know about Jimmy Andrews, piano, and Mike Burgevin, drums. But when I saw a listing that advertised “trumpeter Joe Thomas,” I began to pay attention.
Joe Thomas remains one of the great subtle players in the swing idiom, recording with Benny Carter, Ed Hall, Don Byas, Sidney Catlett, Art Tatum, Claude Hopkins, and many other luminaries: he was one of Harry Lim’s favorite players and gets a good deal of exposure on Keynote Records.
I worried that my trip to Brew’s would turn out to be a jazz mirage; how could one of my heroes be playing in a club just ten minutes from Penn Station? “Joe Thomas” is a very plain name, but I got myself out of my suburban nest, brought my cassette recorder (of course) and came to Brew’s. When I came in the door, the sounds told me I was in the right place. Not only was Joe on the stand, instantly recognizable, but he had Rudy Powell and Herb Hall with him; Jimmy Andrews was striding sweetly and quietly.
The man behind the drums was tall, elegantly dressed. His hairline receding, he looked a little like a youthful Bing Crosby without his hat on. And he sounded as if he’d gone to the magic well of Swing: without copying them, I heard evocations of Dave Tough and George Wettling, of Sidney Catlett and Zutty Singleton: a light, swinging, effortless beat. Quietly intent but restrained, with not too much flash and self-dramatization. He didn’t play anything that would have been out of place on a Commodore 78 but it seemed fresh, not a collection of learned gestures and responses. I can hear his hi-hat and rimshots as I write this, his brushes on the snare drum. He was leading the band, but he let the men on the stand direct traffic: in retrospect, he was a true Condonite, letting the music blossom as it would.
I was shy then, but I got my courage together and spoke to him — I must have seemed an unusual apparition, a college student breathless with enthusiasm about swing drumming and especially about Sidney Catlett. I had just purchased the three records (from England) of the complete 1944 Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session, and I asked Mr. Burgevin if he had them or would like a tape of that concert. He hadn’t known of this music (like many musicians, he loved hearing new things but wasn’t an obsessive collector himself). And so we arranged something: perhaps I asked him for a copy of the records he had made with Doc Cheatham.
That night, Joe Thomas took a solo on a set-ending CRAZY RHYTHM, and although Joe is no longer with us, and the performance is now forty years away, I can hum the beginning of his solo, upon request. To say the music I heard that night made an impression is putting it mildly.
Memory is treacherous, but what I remember next is being invited to the apartment he and his wife Patty — Patricia Doyle, if we are being formal — shared on East 33rd Street in an apartment building called The Byron. At some point MB persuaded me to stop calling him “Mr. Burgevin,” and I was made welcome. And often. I had been brought up to be polite, but I blush to think of how many meals I ate in their apartment, how long I stayed, how much time I spent there.
Often MB was at work on a piece of commercial art in his little studio, wedged in a corner: I played the records he had or the ones I had just bought for him. Louis, Bing, Condon, stride piano, Billie, Bud Freeman and his Chicagoans, Dave Tough, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey. We had much to talk about, and I learned to hear more under his gentle tutelage. We didn’t speak of anything deep: I don’t think I knew how at that time, skating over the surface of my life, moving from one small triumph or failure to the next. But we admired J. Fred Coots’ YOU WENT TO MY HEAD and other beauties.
(I cringe now to think that MB and Patty might have liked to be left in peace a little more. I wonder how many meals were stretched to include a hungry guest. When, in this century, I apologized to MB and Patty for my late-adolescent oblivious gaucheries, they said they remembered nothing of the sort. I take this as a great kindness.)
Chicken cacciatore, Dave Tough, a feisty little terrier named Rex, are all inextricably combined in my mind. I can see that rectangular apartment now. MB lent me records and books, tapes and other music-related treasures, and in general made his house mine, open-handedly and open-heartedly.
In ways I didn’t verbalize then, I felt his kindness, although I didn’t at the time understand how powerfully protective the umbrella was. It was all subtle, never dramatic. One thing MB encouraged me to do was to bring recording equipment along to gigs he was playing. And (again in this century) he told me this story that I had not been aware of while it was happening. One night at Brew’s, the musicians were MB, the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, and Kenny Davern, then alternating between clarinet and soprano saxophone. Blithely, I came in, said hello to MB, and began setting up my reel-to-reel recorder. Davern turned to MB and said — out of my hearing, but referring to me, “WHAT is THAT?” and MB told Kenny to calm down, that I was a friend, not to worry about me. As a result, Kenny, with some polite irascibility, showed me where to set up my microphone for better results. Now I know that he would have just as energetically told me where the microphone could be placed, but for MB’s quiet willingness to protect his young friend, myself.
In the next two years, I was able to hear Joe Thomas, Doc Cheatham, Al Hall, Al Casey, Vic Dickenson (at length), Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Wayne Wright, Red Richards, Dick Wellstood, Susannah McCorkle, Norman Simmons, and a dozen others at close range. MB shared his tape library with me, so I heard him as a glowing, uplifting presence with Herman Autrey, Bobby Gordon, Benny Morton, Bobby Hackett, and others. He delighted especially in the sounds of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, and took every advantage possible to get together with Jimmy Andrews, Al Casey, Herman Autrey, and Rudy Powell to recapture some of that jovial spirit.
MB told stories of spending time with Vic Dickenson, of how Bobby Hackett insisted he play sticks, not brushes, behind him, of meeting Pee Wee Russell late in the latter’s life, and a favorite anecdote of an early encounter with Cliff Leeman at Condon’s, in the eraly Fifties, when MB was on leave from the Merchant Marine (I think): he had come into Condon’s and was listening to the band, which then took a break. Leeman stepped down from the drums and MB asked politely if he could sit in with the intermission players — Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Ralph Sutton, piano. Leeman, always tart, said to MB, “Whaddaya want to do with the drums? Fuck ’em all up?” but he let MB play.
Here is a photograph of Michael Burgevin, young, jamming on board the USS IOWA, circa 1955-7:
My friendly contact stopped abruptly when MB had a heart attack. I was terrified of going to a hospital to visit anyone (I have said earlier in the piece that I was young, perhaps far too young). Before I could muster the maturity to visit him, he and Patty seemed, as if in a snap of the fingers, to flee the city for points unknown upstate. I wondered about him in those years, heard his music, and thought of him with love — but we had drifted apart.
We reconnected around 1997, and I am sure I can’t take credit for it, for I felt guilty for my emotional lapses. I think that Vic Diekenson drew us together once again, through the research Manfred Selchow was doing for his book, and MB got in touch with me when he planned to come down to New York City to play on a Monday night with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern. Once before, he had played with that group. I don’t know who else was in the band, but I recorded a version of HINDUSTAN that had MB stretching out for a long solo in the manner of STEAK FACE.
I didn’t have sufficient opportunities to video-capture MB at play in this century, although there are examples of him on YouTube with his concert presentation of three men at drumsets “drumatiCymbalism” — but here is a 2009 video he made to promote his concerts and his paintings. It seems odd to hear him gently trying to get gigs, but it is a good all-around picture of Michael Burgevin, his sound (solo and in an ensemble with Warren Vache, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Howard Alden, and others) and it gives glimpses of his paintings:
A few years ago, MB seriously mastered the computer and moved from writing letters to writing emails, and we stayed in contact, sometimes several times a week, that way. I sent him music and jazz arcana, and we had deep philosophical conversations — the ones I had not been ready for in the early Seventies. I hadn’t known that he had become a Jehovah’s Witness (as had Trummy Young and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Joe Thomas and Babe Matthews) but our discussions were fervent, even when we were gently disagreeing about our views of the world. Recently he burst forth of Facebook, and had a delighted time sharing photographs of his friends from the old days.
If Ricky Riccardi posted some new Louis / Sidney Catlett on his blog, I forwarded it to MB, and we shared our joy and excitement often. A few years ago, he came down to New York City to meet the Beloved, and he and our mutual friend Romy Ashby had lunch together. MB was beautifully dressed and as always sweetly gallant.
It was foolish of me to think we would always have our email conversations, or another meeting in person, but we never want the people we love to move to another neighborhood of existence. I know he read JAZZ LIVES and delighted in the videos and photographs of the men and women we both revered. That thought gave and continues to give me pleasure.
He wrote a little self-portrait more than a decade ago: As a child was riveted by marching band drums in firemen’s parades on Long Island. Born with rhythm! Given a pair of drumsticks at age seven and a 1920’s style trap set at age 15 and began his professional career playing weekends at Stanbrook Resort in Dutchess Co. (NYS) Played with bands in high school and at Bard College. Strongly influenced by his uncle George Adams’ jazz collection of 78’s (rpm records). Studied drums in Pine Plains High School (1950’s) and later under Richard Horowitz percussionist with the Metropolitan Opera Symphony Orchestra (1970’s). Studied (and uses) many of the early African tribal rhythms- Dinka, Bini, Malinke, Bakwiri, Watusi. About 10 years away from music working as a freelance commercial artist and graphic designer. Returned to drumming in 1968. Spent many nights sitting in at famed Jazz clubs Jimmy Ryan’s on 57th Street and Eddie Condon’s 55th St. There met legends Zutty Singleton, Freddie Moore, and Morey Feld often subbing for them. Lived in Manhattan. Worked steadily at Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky’s band. Also became friends with George Wettling, Cliff Leeman and Jo Jones. Worked full time with almost all the titans of small band jazz during this period of time (late 1960’s through 1980’s) including Roy Eldridge, “Wild Bill” Davison, “Doc” Cheatham, Bobby Hackett, Claude Hopkins, Bobby Gordon, Marian and Jimmy McPartland. Toured Canada & USA with Davison’s Jazz Giants. Made Bainbridge, NY, situated on the beautiful Susquehanna River, a permanent residence in the 1990’s. Traveled to NYC for many engagements. Connected with Al Hamme, professor of Jazz Studies at SUNY Binghamton, playing several concerts there. Since 2001 has been producing Jazz concerts in the 100-year-old, Historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge, featuring world-class jazz personalities: Kenny Davern, Warren Vaché, Peter Ecklund, James Chirillo, Joe Cohn, Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Phil Flanigan, Dan Block and many, many others.
Why do I write so much about this man?
Michael Burgevin seems to me to be the embodiment of kind generosity. Near me, as I write, I have a little 1933 autograph book full of inscriptions of jazz musicians that he bought and gave to me. Invaluable, like its owner.
But MB’s giving was more than the passing on of objects: he gave of himself so freely, whether he was behind the drum set or just sharing ideas and feelings. Reading these words, I hope his warmth and gentle nature comes through, his enthusiasm for Nature and for human nature, for the deep rhythms of the world and the way a good jazz ensemble could make us feel even more that life was the greatest privilege imaginable. A deeply spiritual man, he preached the most sustaining gospel without saying a word.
I have a story I can only call mystical to share. Yesterday, on the morning of the 17th, I was writing a blogpost — which you can read here. I had indulged myself in the techno-primitive activity of video-recording a spinning record so that I could share the sounds on JAZZ LIVES. It was a slow blues featuring, among others, Joe Thomas and Pee Wee Russell, two of MB’s and my heroes. Through the open window, the softer passages had an oddly delightful counterpoint of birdsong, something you can hear on my video. I was not thinking about MB while I was videoing — I was holding my breath, listening to music and birdsong mixed — but now I think that strange unearthly yet everyday combination may have been some part of MB’s leaving this earthly realm — music from the hearts of men now no longer with us overlaid by the songs of the birds, conversing joyously.
Patty, Michael’s wife, tells me that the funeral will be Friday, June 20, at the C.H. Landers Funeral Home in Sidney, New York (the place name is appropriate for those who understand): the visitation at noon, the service at 1 PM. Landers is on 21 Main Street, Sidney, New York 13838. (607) 563-3545.
Adieu for now, Michael Burgevin. Kind friend, lovely generous man, beautiful musician. Born January 10, 1936. Made the transition June 17, 2014.
It seems odd to close this remembrance in the usual way — but someone like MB increases my happiness, even in sadness, that I will continue as I always have. May you, too, have people like him in your life, and — more importantly — may you be one of the loving Elders to others, and older brother or sister or friend who shelters someone who might not, at the time, even recognize the love he or she is being shown.
On the surface, what follows is a video recording of a vinyl record turning, the sound captured by the most primitive means — the camera’s microphone aimed vaguely at the “record player”‘s speaker.
Were I more willing to concentrate on the niceties of technology, you would all have this music in more precisely-edged sound, but I have a nostalgic fondness for such archaisms as this. And while I was recording it, I heard a good deal of birdsong — audible while Tony is soloing — from the world outside. I think it a great melding of songs rather than an interference.
(For those who deplore my methodology, this session is available on two Tony Scott bootleg CDs, but you’ll hear no birdsong. Your choice.)
Going a little deeper, one could discern that the record, called 52nd STREET SCENE, was originally issued on Coral Records in 1958 under clarinetist Tony Scott’s name. (Tony — Antonio Sciacca — was born on June 17, 1921, and left us on March 28, 2007.)
Here, on BLUES FOR THE STREET and LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, he is joined by Sonny White, piano; Al Casey, guitar; Oscar Pettiford, string bass; Wilbur DeParis and J. C. Higginbotham, trombone (Wilbur takes the second solo); Joe Thomas, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet.
I took the trouble of videoing this disc because it speaks to me — and I hope to you — in many ways. For one thing, it is a slow blues, a form of expression often neglected in post-World War Two improvisation, except for rural blues musicians. Everything gets faster, so musicians and audiences often grew restless during a slow blues. Ballads were fine, because they lasted only a chorus. But recording a slow blues — aside from wisely utilizing the technology of the time — was a tribute to the way it all used to be, when we all had the time to linger, to muse, to sink deep into a musical world without feeling irritably restless after three or four minutes.
Intentionally, it was called BLUES FOR THE STREET — that block on New York’s Fifty-Second Street, now anonymous, that in the decade between the mid-Thirties and the mid-Forties held a cornucopia of jazz clubs. People who were there said the crowds were loud, the drinks watered, the atmosphere in general anything but reverential, but all the musicians one ever wanted to hear played and sang there, from deep New Orleans traditionalists to the most modern of modernists.
And they seem to have enjoyed a convivial respect and pleasure in one another’s company, even when journalists and publicists tried to divide them into schools and warring factions. Elders took care of youthful strivers (Tony Scott was mentored and fathered by Ben Webster, for one) without any personal motive larger than the flowering and continuation of the music they all loved. Postwar cultural shifts (once you settle down in the suburbs, raise a family, watch television, and mow the lawn, you can’t stay out all night anymore) and other factors made the Street vanish. But its memory remained bright, a vision of a musical Eden where all was possible.
I first heard BLUES FOR THE STTREET perhaps forty years ago, on Ed Beach’s radio program honoring trumpeter Joe Thomas — the patron saint of sweet, measured simplicities that turn out to be deeply emotional — and his gentle, probing solo stays with me still. Notice, though, that each of the players exhibits a truly personal voice — leisured but intense — while saying how much they miss The Street.
Later, in 1973-5, I was blessed — I do not use that word casually — to hear Joe Thomas in person, thanks to his dear friend, colleague, and advocate Michael Burgevin. I will have more to say about Michael in the near future.
I hear this music as the conversation of the elders, the people who have Been There and Felt Deeply, murmuring their regrets at the loss, their joy at the coming-together, their hope to create something that would live longer than their breaths transmuted into sound. “Out of our sorrows at what has vanished we might make lovely songs.”
LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER was a quietly exuberant tribute to Pee Wee Russell and to the Commodore Music Shop, for Milt Gabler encouraged Pee Wee to stretch out on this pop song — a Bing Crosby movie hit — for one of the new Commodore Records in 1938. Tony Scott, perhaps hearing in his memory the duetting of Pee Wee and Jimmy Giuffre on the December 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ, steps up alongside the Elder to say his own piece.
Music, like love, is always around the corner — even if that corner has been obliterated.
Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.
Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.
Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:
And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:
And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:
From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs. He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin. He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.
I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands. Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?
James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances. Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.
I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.
Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:
Having good friends is a delight in themselves. When the friends are generous, that’s more than one can hope for. Here’s evidence: Jeanie Gorman Wilson, who took very good care of the singer Barbara Lea in Barbara’s last years, shared these pieces of paper with me . . . and with the readers of JAZZ LIVES.
What you’ll see below is admittedly a small collection but absolutely irreplaceable: two 1951 missives from trumpeter / composer Frank Newton to the youthful but impressive Miss Barbara Leacock. These aren’t simply rare pieces of paper, but artifacts from a gifted man, his life too short — but testimony to his humanity, his affectionate wisdom.
The envelope, please:
And the contents:
Here’s thanking you for whatever contribution you made toward the wonderful birthday party.
Let me wish you lots of success with your singing. Don’t be discouraged by a lot of your friends’ opinions, neither feel too exalted by their compliments, but try to work as hard as time will allow, out of which will come something of which you are deserving and will be proud of.
Give Larry [Eanet] my regards.
As ever, your well-wishing friend.
Eight months later, when Newton was working as a counselor at KIDDIE KAMP in Sharon, Massachusetts (the postcard’s motto is “Thanks feller, for the swell vacation!”):
And his note, which ends “hurry and write”:
Hello Barbara: — Just to let you know where I am, and what I am doing. I am counsler at this camp for kids and I am having a ball. I shure wish you could drive over here and see the camp it is only 20 some miles from Boston George Wein and the band were up here last week. If you can write me and tell me what’s what is happening to you
hurry and write
Yes, Newton’s handwriting, spelling, and punctuation are much more informal, but I imagine him dashing off this note, leaning against a tree, while children around him demanded his attention.
More information on KIDDIE KAMP can be found here — thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Thanks to Jeanie for allowing us to read some of Newton’s words. He has been gone for nearly sixty years. If his sound isn’t distinctive in your ears, here is a deep, mournful sample: his 1939 THE BLUES MY BABY GAVE TO ME (with Mezz Mezzrow, Pete Brown, James P. Johnson, Al Casey, John Kirby, and Cozy Cole — the session supervised by Hughes Panassie):
Barbara Lea is nearer to us: December 26 was only the second anniversary of her death, but it’s always a privilege to hear her remarkable voice once again. Here she is, with Dick Sudhalter and James Chirillo, performing the uplifting IT’S ALL IN YOUR MIND:
And since we can all dream of hearing Mr. Newton and Miss Leacock together, I offer here (yet unheard) evidence of such a musical meeting. Newton’s actual birthday was January 4, so it is possible that this disc was cut at the birthday party he mentions in his first letter. Someday . . .
DAO (or more commonly TAO) is a Chinese word and concept meaning loosely “the way,” “the underlying principle.” SWING should be a more familiar word to readers of this blog. The title of Michael Bank’s new CD might be read on the surface as “The Way To Swing,” but it suggests something more profound: that happy unity when the musicians connect with the deeper rhythms of the universe. An ambitious aspiration, but Michael Bank’s Septet makes it come alive.
I first met Michael at a Sunday brunch gig in Brooklyn, with, among other friends, Jesse Gelber, Craig Ventresco and Kevin Dorn. In the most unmusical setting (well-fed young couples speaking loudly about their investments, their architect, and their renovations) Michael’s playing always caught my attention. He had an unerring sense of what to add to the musical conversation. (Working alongside and learning from Jaki Byard, Dick Katz, Al Casey, and other veterans had affected him, audible through his playing, arranging, and compositions.)
Last year, I heard his Septet for the first time. Most of the group’s repertoire was given over to Michael’s compositions. Unlike some “originals,” in this century, they had memorable melodies and voicings. See the end of this post for three examples from that session:.I was delighted to learn that Michael and the Septet had issued a compact disc of his music. Swing, yes; imitation, no — creative evocation, yes. When heard casually from another room, the sound might suggest the rocking little band of Johnny Hodges in the early Fifties, but close listening reveals quirky, surprising touches. The Septet is rhythmically rooted in the great oceanic motion of Mainstream, but Michael’s melodic and harmonic language moves easily between Fifty-Second Street and the present, grounded in the blues and mood pieces. (His compositions are more than disguised reheatings of overplayed chord changes.) Michael’s skills as an arranger are on display through the disc — perhaps most so in his witty reinvention of WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING — the Celts go uptown.
Michael Bank, piano, arrangements and compositions; Simon Wettenhall, trumpet / fluegelhorn; Kris Jensen, Mike Mullens, Geof Bradfield, Ray Franks, saxophones; Kelly Friesen, string bass; Steve Little, drums. The songs are ALTAIR / AZTEC 2-STEP / FOR JAKI / MINOR CHANGES / LL3 / ONE NOTE (by Michael’s mentor, Jaki Byard) / BLUEVIEW / WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING. The players are more than equal to the material: I’d known Simon Wettenhall, Kelly Friesen, and Steve Little before this, but the collective saxophonists are just splendid: everyone understands the tradition but easily moves in and out of it.
Here are three videos from the May 2012 gig:
To hear the music on the CD, the usual suspects: CD BABY, itunes, and The-Dao-of-Swing . Better yet, come to one of the Septet’s gigs. And one is taking place this Tuesday, September 17 — from 4 to 4:45 PM at the East River Bandshell in lower Manhattan. Michael will be joined by Simon Wettenhall, trumpet; Noah Bless, trombone; Jay Rattman, alto; Andrew Hadro, baritone; Michael Bank, piano; Matt Smith, guitar; Trifon Dimitrov, bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.
Like many other listeners, I knew Jane Harvey as a wonderful singer with a singular voice (its charm immediately apparent) beginning with her 1945 recordings with Benny Goodman, later ones with Zoot Sims and Dick Wellstood, among others. Although Jane first recorded as a very young woman in the Swing Era, she is active and vibrant — appearing at Feinstein’s in New York City less than a year ago and continuing to perform. Here she is, appearing in 1988 with Jane Pauley on the Today Show — singing a medley of Stephen Sondheim classics with delicacy and emotional power:
and on a V-Disc with BG, showing off her beautiful voice and innate swing:
Jane’s recordings have never been that easy to find, so it was a delightful surprise to learn of five new compact discs devoted to her — including much music that no one had heard before. This bonanza isn’t a box set — not one of those unwieldy and often costly artifacts that we crave and then don’t always listen to. And it has the even nicer fact of not being posthumous! The CDs can be purchased individually (at surprisingly low prices at Amazon).
Here’s the first. Originally issued in 1988 by Atlantic, this disc originally featured Jane in an intimate setting with Mike Renzi, Jay Leonhart, and Grady Tate. In an attempt to reach a wider audience, Atlantic added a large string orchestra, overdubbed. The CD issue presents the music as originally recorded, with a new version of SEND IN THE CLOWNS.
This CD finds Jane in front of Ray Ellis’ large string orchestra (which works) for a collection ranging from the familiar (MY SHIP) to old favorites refreshed (THE GLORY OF LOVE) to the little-known title tune, with music by Moose Charlap, Bill’s father:
LADY JAZZ presents Jane amidst jazz players, including Doc Cheatham, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Bunch, Gene Bertoncini, Richard Davis, Bill Goodwin, Don Elliott (a session originally supervised by Albert McCarthy for English RCA), as well as six performances from Jane’s time with Goodman, two songs with Zoot Sims, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood, and a duet of SOME OTHER TIME and THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME with Mike Renzi:
TRAVELIN’ LIGHT has been even more obscure, not for any musical reasons — an album originally recorded for Dot in 1960 which pairs Jane with the Jack Kane Orchestra. Eight bonus tracks show Jane off in front of orchestras conducted by Billy Strayhorn and others or the Page Cavanaugh trio:
THE UNDISCOVERED JANE HARVEY might have been the title for any of the preceding discs, but it truly fits the final one. When a disc begins with two performances where Jane is backed by the Duke Ellington orchestra — Strayhorn on piano and Ellington talking in the control booth — listeners are in a magical place. Other performances on this disc have Jane paired with Les Paul, Ellis Larkins (an eight-minute Arlen-Koehler medley), and larger studio orchestras:
The five CDs have been lovingly produced — with Jane’s help — by her friend, publicist, and booking manager Alan Eichler. They feature enthusiastic liner notes by Will Friedwald, Nat Shapiro, Albert McCarthy, Nat Hentoff, and James Gavin.
The time is always right for Jane Harvey. Her energy, jazz feeling, and empathy are undimmed. Her voice is a pleasure to listen to; she honors the melodies, and she deeply understands the lyrics: no pretense, no overacting. The Amazon link to the CDs can be found here.
If you remember Jane only as the lovely voice on the 1945 Goodman red-label Columbia version of HE’S FUNNY THAT WAY . . . or if you’ve seen her in more recent times, you’ll find these new issues full of pleasures.
For some time now, he has been the finest scholar of jazz violin improvisation — with several books devoted to Eddie South and Stuff Smith, as well as the elusive pianist Henry Crowder.
Anthony’s also created a series of extraordinary CD releases on his own label, which are devoted to lesser-known string wizards such as Ginger Smock and rarities we’ve heard about but now have the opportunities to hear for ourselves: Ray Nance and Ben Webster (the latter on clarinet as well as tenor) jamming in Ben’s hotel room in 1941 in lengthy performances with Jimmie Blanton and others! A CD of 1937 broadcasts of Stuff Smith’s big band (drawing on the Chick Webb and Cab Calloway orchestras) featuring Miss Ella Fitzgerald; broadcast material bringing together small groups with Stuff, Al Casey, Teddy Wilson, Helen Ward, Ben Webster, Lionel Hampton . . . Stuff exploring the cosmos with pianist Robert Crum in Timme Rosenkrantz’s apartment . . . and more.
The books and liner notes to the CDs are written with great attention to detail (always with surprising photographs) yet with great humor and warmth. Both the text and the music are at the very peak.
Anthony has announced his latest offering — not a full-fledged CD production, but something that has the mildly subversive charm of an under-the-table offering, with its own rules — a limited edition, for contributors only, available in March 2012 — with approximately fifty-five copies not yet spoken for. Don’t be left out!
AB Fable XABCD1-X025 includes recordings from 1919 to 1957 (actually from 1957 back to 1919), almost all previously unreleased or rereleased for the first time, with Leon Abbey, Audrey Call, Kemper Harreld, Jascha Heifetz as José (or we might say Joké) de Sarasate, Angelina Rivera, Atwell Rose, Stuff Smith incl. Mildred Bailey Show rehearsal Humoresque, Ginger Smock with Monette Moore, Eddie South playing Paganini with Benny Goodman Sextet, Clarence Cameron White and a couple of surprises not previously announced.
This CD-R is in principle available free to the first 111 people who request it. Instead, however, you are asked kindly to make a contribution, if you can, in any amount you can afford, however small or large, to our costs and our work in general. As we have written before, this work, its research, acquisition and releases, over the years has been substantially financially loss making, though rewarding in almost all other ways. Anything you can help us recoup will assist what we may be able to do in the future.
Contributions may be made to PayPal (using this email address as ID) in US dollars, euros or sterling, or by sterling cheque payable to Anthony Barnett. Direct transfer is also possible to our sterling or euro accounts (please ask for details).
Anthony has many more strings to his bow (as the saying goes) and other magical music he would like to share, so consider the rewards now and in the future. If we don’t support the enterprises we love, they go away.
You can reach him at these addresses . . .
14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL England
Tel/Fax: 01273 479393 / International: +44 1273 479393
Mobile: 07816 788442 / International: +44 7816 788442 email@example.com | skype: abfable
Artist Alex Craver, Mike Burgevin, and Sadiq Abdu Shahid
“DRUMATIC CYMBALISM” CONCERT SERIES
May – October 2011, Stamford, New York
Two of Central New York’s top kit drummers will perform six concerts of spell-binding rhythms and creative drumming. The focus will be The American Drum Kit from the 1930’s until the present day.
Professional drumming is a way of life for these seasoned performers “Mike” Burgevin and Sadiq Abdu Shahid (formerly Archie Taylor, Jr.).
“Sadiq,”who resides with his family on their farm in Masonville, New York, was born and raised in the Midwest and studied with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra percussionist Charles Wilcoxon. He performed and recorded with many famous avant-garde jazzmen: Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor (among others) and was a resident drummer for Motown Records in Detroit, there recording many albums backing R&B groups.
His father, Archie Taylor, Sr., was also a famous drummer accompanying Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, and the one and only Billie Holiday.
Michael “Mike” Burgevin, now a resident of Bainbridge, New York, began drumming professionally at age 15. From the mid 1960’s through the 1980’s he worked regularly at famous NYC jazz clubs, Jimmy Ryan’s, Sweet Basil, Eddie Condon’s, and Brew’s side by side with many of the great jazz “Swing” players (now legends) Max Kaminsky, “Doc” Cheatham, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Roy Eldridge, Wild Bill Davison, Warren Vaché and many, many others.
He has had the honor and privilege of playing with Joe Thomas, Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon, Rudy Powell, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Al Casey, and many others. It was my privilege to see him swing the band every time he started a gentle beat with his brushes or tapped his closed hi-hat.
Mike studied with Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra percussionist Richard Horowitz. He also performed in several of the “Journey in Jazz” concerts with saxophonist Al Hamme in Binghamton University’s Anderson Center as well as producing many jazz concerts in the historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge between 2001 and 2007.
No two DRUMNASTIC CYMBALISM concerts are ever the same!
Drumming becomes a musical art form in the hands of these outstanding percussionists. A show may begin with “Curious Curlicues & Nimble Noodles” then move to whisper-quiet ruffs and other rudiments… then pass through sonorous tonalities before roaring into layered polyrhythmic styles of Jazz, and Free Form drumming. Sadiq and Mike totally explore the drum set with all its possibilities. Their concerts open with a brief discourse on the history and development of the drum and the evolution of various styles of drumming.
A Master Creative Drum Workshop will take place on July 16th from 3:00 to 5:00 at The Gallery East, 71 Main Street, Stamford, NY. Workshop fee is $25. Students should bring sticks, a practice pad or snare drum and stand.
Questions? Call The Gallery in Stamford at 607 652 4030.
Before the concerts: Come early and enjoy dining in one of Stamford’s fine restaurants. Then visit artist Timothy Touhey’s two galleries, both located on Main Street (Route 23).
You will be uplifted by the art and music!
So mark your calendar: May 21st / June 18th / July16th / August 21st / Sept.17th / Oct.15th — Performances begin at 7:00. Tickets at the door are $10.00 / $8.00 in advance.
For information in advance call: THE GALLERY EAST 71 MAIN ST. STAMFORD, NY @ 607 652 4030. On the day of the concert please call 607 353 2492. Tour The Gallery at www.touhey.com.
Last Tuesday night at the Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg played us Teddy Wilson, Bob Zurke, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie recordings we had never heard before (and he’s going to keep it up for three more Tuesday evenings in a row). And today he and Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong Archive at Queens College (a most inviting and convivial place) did a radio show for NPR’s WBUR. Click on the link below and hear these tantalizing excerpts —
a searing passionate blues chorus by Bunny Berigan which will astound you, followed by Slam Stewart creating the blues in his own image (this from a Martin Block radio program);
a version of SING SING SING by the 1939 Benny Goodman band;
almost all of a very famous and brief HONEYSUCKLE ROSE from another Block show, featuring Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman, Al Casey, and George Wettling;
and a sweetly charging medium-tempo chorus of ROSETTA for Gene Krupa and an unknown clarinetist who might be Joe Marsala, again from 1938.
It’s taken me some time to write about Hank O’Neal’s book, THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM (Vanderbilt University Press), but admiration slowed me down. What follows is only the smallest sample of its contents.
Between 1985 and 2007, O’Neal (an excellent home-grown journalist who knew how to ask questions and get out of the way) interviewed forty-two jazz giants. Some were well-known (Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Williams, Clark Terry, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Illinois Jacquet, Cab Calloway, Andy Kirk, Sy Oliver, Jonah Jones, Benny Carter, Maxine Sullivan, Buddy Tate), others no less deserving but in semi-obscurity to all but jazz devotees and scholars (Al Cobbs, Ovie Alston, Gene Prince). Almost all of O’Neal’s subjects have now died: Frank Wess, Terry, and Billy Taylor might be the sole survivors.
Rather than ask each musician for a long autobiographical summary, O’Neal focused on their memories of Harlem. Fascinating stories resulted, which eventually proved stronger than their grief for a way of life that they had seen vanish.
O’Neal is also a fine photographer from the old school — Berenice Abbott was his occasionally irritable mentor — so the book has large-format photographs of its subjects, often in their homes, as well as invaulable jazz memorabilia (advertisements and posters, record labels and the like) and photographs of the buildings that now stand where the uptown clubs used to be. I find those transformations hard to take; that Connie’s Inn is now a C-Town supermarket makes me gloomy.
But because many of the musicians had never been asked to talk about Harlem, they responded with fresh stories that were hilarious, profound, touching.
Fats Waller’s advice to guitarist Al Casey: “Don’t ever let your head get too big because there is always that little boy around the corner that can outplay you and outdo everything you do.”
Harry Edison, recalling his mother’s economic advice: ” [When I was fourteen or fifteen] I played with a guy named Earl Hood. I remember I had to have a tuxedo and my mother paid two dollars for it. We played little jobs around Columbus and every time I got home my mother used to ask me, ‘How much did you make?’ I’d tell her that Mr. Hood told me I was playing for the experience, and she said, ‘To hell with experience, you might as well stay home if you’re not going to get paid.’ ”
Edison’s memory of pianist Don Lambert taunting Art Tatum at an uptown jam session: “Get up off that chair. You can’t play, you’ve got no left hand, you’re the world’s worst piano player.”
How clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton asked Teddy Wilson for a raise: “Teddy, I think you ought to put a little yeast in the money.”
Al Cobbs, remembering what Louis Armstrong said about the crowds he drew: “Let me tell you something. The kind of music I’m playing makes people feel good–the folks come in and they buy steaks. But some of the things people are playing make people sad, and these folks will just sit there, drink a Coca-Cola, and stay all night.”
The record session that Nat Cole wanted to organize in California, with Illinois Jacquet: “He’d be on piano. I’d play my horn, and Jimmy Blanton, Sid Catlett, and Charlie Christian would make up the rhythm section. That sounded great to me.”
The book is full of stories: impatient Stuff Smith wandering out on the ledge of a tall building. How Coleman Hawkins explained his record of BODY AND SOUL to Thelma Carpenter as musical love-making. What Milt Hinton’s teacher said to him. Danny Barker explaining the difference between New Orleans and New York in terms of hospitality. Al Casey paying tribute to Teddy Bunn. Buddy Tate remembering the last time he saw Charlie Parker alive.
And the book comes with a compact disc of many of the giants playing (and talking) — musical history.
Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective. I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City. Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh. But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died.
Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers — now dead — I did get to see.
Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.
Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.
Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.
Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.
Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.
Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.
Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.
Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.
Violin: Joe Venuti.
Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.
I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.