Tag Archives: Al Haig

OSCAR PETTIFORD, FOUND

OP front

Bassist, cellist, and composer Oscar Pettiford is in the odd position of being both legendary and forgotten (as Whitney Balliett wrote of Pee Wee Russell). If you ask any aficionado of jazz string bass playing to name a dozen favorites — living and dead — it’s likely that the names will come easily.  But Pettiford’s is often not among them.

Yes, he died young, but not before performing and recording every famous musician (with some notable exceptions) in a short career.  An incomplete list would include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, Gil Evans, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Charles Mingus, Zoot Sims, John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Julius Watkins, Ben Webster, Sammy Price, Ruby Braff, Mel Powell, Ellis Larkins, Max Roach, Shelly Manne, Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, Clifford Brown, Buddy De Franco, Phineas Newborn, Kai Winding, Roy Eldridge, Ray Brown, Lionel Hampton, Don  Byas, Clyde Hart, Earl Hines, Budd Johnson, Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Giuffre, Martial Solal, Attlia Zoller, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Billy Eckstine, Cozy Cole, Shadow Wilson, Charlie Shavers, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ed Hall, Lawrence Brown, Sonny Greer, Maxine Sullivan, Dick Hyman, Eddie Bert, Joe Derise, Ike Quebec, Jonah Jones, Buck Clayton, Helen Humes, Benny Harris, Boyd Raeburn, Serge Chaloff, Howard McGhee, Sir Charles Thompson, Wynonie Harris, Vic Dickenson, Red Rodney, Tal Farlow, Denzil Best, Jo Jones, Leo Parker, Al Haig, Al Hibbler, Nat Pierce, Bill Harris, Howard McGhee, J.J. Johnson, Art Taylor, Wynton Kelly, Lockjaw Davis, Jackie McLean, Kenny Clarke, Dave McKenna, Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Chris Connor, Hank Jones, Earl Coleman, Thad Jones, Tommy Flanagan, Donald Byrd, Billy Taylor, Chuck Wayne, Roy Haynes, Art Farmer, Gigi Gryce, Al Cohn, Frank Wess, Jimmy Cleveland, Barry Galbraith, Joe Morello, Joe Wilder, Harry Lookofsky, Jimmy Jones, Urbie Green, Ernie Royal, Herbie Mann, George Barnes, Clark Terry, Dave Schildkraut, Helen Merrill, Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, Doug Mettome, Quincy Jones, Duke Jordan, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Cecil Payne, Toots Thielmans, Red Garland.

This suggests that Oscar’s peers respected him and called him for gigs and recordings.  It’s not as if he was obscure: his career was longer than, say, Blanton’s or Steve Brown’s.  But, oddly for jazz, which loves to mythologize the musicians who die young and abruptly (and Pettiford died as the result of a 1960 automobile accident) he hasn’t received the benefit of the weird reverence fans and writers have for the young dead.

Of course, it could be that bass players don’t get the respect they and their instruments deserve, but it is and was hard to ignore Pettiford on a session. He offered a rhythmic foundation that was powerful rather than obtrusive, but when he soloed, his lines have the solid eloquence that any horn player would aspire to — while seeming light rather than ponderous.  And as the list of players above suggests, his musical range was exceedingly broad: he wasn’t captured on record in free jazz or ragtime, but he elevated every other variety of jazz and jazz vocal performance he was part of.  Had he lived longer, he might have enjoyed the visibility of a Milt Hinton or a Ray Brown, but we have only brief moments of him on film (the 1945 THE CRIMSON CANARY) and a few seconds of his speaking voice.

Surely he should be better known.

Enough words and keystrokes for the moment: listen to his 1960 feature on WILLOW WEEP FOR ME:

and here he is, playing his own BLUES IN THE CLOSET — from a little-known 1953 television broadcast — on cello (which he took to for a time after breaking an arm in a baseball game):

And his stirring solo on STARDUST:

Now, two pieces of good news that might go some distance in making Oscar’s name and music known to a larger audience.  One is that there is a YouTube channel, PettifordJazz, with sixty videos of Pettiford solos, ensembles, and compositions.  That means that no one has to start collecting Oscar’s music — it is being made available to all for free.

Oscar (or “O.P.”, as his colleagues called him) also spent the last two years of his life in Europe (mostly in Scandinavia and Germany), and recorded often there.  Sessions with guitarist Attila Zoller have been issued and reissued on a variety of labels (in the vinyl era, they appeared on Black Lion) and a famous 1960 concert in Essen with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Coleman Hawkins was available forty years ago.  Recordings made in 1958-59 for the German radio network have now been issued for the first time on compact disc, in beautiful sound, as OSCAR PETTIFORD: LOST TAPES — GERMANY 1958 / 1959, on SWR Music.

American expatriates Lucky Thompson (on soprano sax for a gorgeous, melancholy SOPHISTICATED LADY) and Kenny Clarke (drums on the final five performances of the disc) are the “stars,” but Zoller stands out as a beautifully measured guitarist.

OP cover rear

And although some US critics of the time might have been condescending to European players, this disc shows their equal mastery. Trumpeter Dusko Goykovich duets with Oscar on the opening BUT NOT FOR ME.  Other notable players here are clarinetist Rolf Kuhn; light-toned tenorist Hans Koller; baritone saxophonists Helmut Brandt, Helmut Reinhardt, Johnny Feigl; altoist Rudi Feigl; guitarist Hans Hammerschmid; drummers Jimmy Pratt and Hartwig Bartz.  The songs are a mix of standards and originals: BUT NOT FOR ME / SOPHISTICATED LADY / A SMOOTH ONE / O.P. (Hans Koller) / MINOR PLUS A MAJOR (Kuhn) / POOR BUTTERFLY / ANUSIA (Hans Koller) / MY LITTLE CELLO (Pettiford) / THE NEARNESS OF YOU / YESTERDAYS / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET (Pettiford) / BIG HASSLE (Hammerschmidt) / ATLANTIC (Helmut Brandt) / ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE / BLUES IN THE CLOSET — the last two are live performances.

And just because it’s accessible and stirring, here is that film clip — from an otherwise undistinguished 1945 murder mystery, THE CRIMSON CANARY, which features Hawk, Pettiford, Howard McGhee, trumpet; Sir Charles Thompson, piano; Denzil Best, on a fast SWEET GEORGIA BROWN line by Hawkins called HOLLYWOOD STAMPEDE:

Ultimately, I think if you’d asked Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, or any number of jazz luminaries, “What about this O.P. fellow?  Should I listen to him?” the answer would have been a very strong affirmative.  So let us do just that. These tapes were lost, but have been found: spread the word about Oscar.  Remind those who have forgotten; introduce those who never knew.  “Learn it to the younguns!” as the youthful protagonist of Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN hears at the start of that novel.

May your happiness increase!

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THEY FOLLOWED ME HOME

My title might make some readers think of the little boy or girl clutching a reluctant kitten or puppy: “Can we keep it, Ma?  It followed me home!”  But this posting isn’t about pet adoption, although that’s something I applaud — it’s about record collecting. 

These days, the phenomenon known as “junking,” where a collector years ago might find treasured rarities in people’s attics, antique stores, or junkshops, seems dead.  Record collectors go to shows; they bid on eBay.  But I found three exciting jazz records in the past week. 

The first occurrence was purely serendipitous.  While my car was being repaired (meet me at the intersection of Tedium and Economic Ruin), I walked a few blocks to the St. Vincent de Paul store.  The objects for sale there are often curious, sometimes sad: I LOVE GRANDPA coffee mugs, ornate furniture, homemade ceramics.  I hadn’t remembered a bookshelf full of records, and although I was not optimistic, I began to find jazz discs I had never seen before, a Neal Hefti long-play SALUTE TO THE INSTRUMENTS (Coral), fairly tame (I haven’t found out anything about the personnel) and a 10″ Brunswick lp, MUSIC AFTER MIDNIGHT, with Tony Scott, Dick Katz, Milt Hinton, and Philly Joe Jones. 

I was ready to take my treasures to the cashier, but I noticed a worn paper album of 78s — Forties pop.  Except for this one.  Yes, it has a crack, which makes for an audible, regular tick; two names were misspelled, but I didn’t care:

The other side, incidentally, featured Sarah Vaughan singing LOVER MAN.

When I brought my trove up to the counter, the cashier held court: everyone was “Sweetheart.”  She looked at the Guild 78.  “Dizzy Gillespie,” she said.  “I kinda know that name.  My mother used to listen to the radio.”  I said, “You know, you could have seen him on television yourself: he lived on until fairly recently.”  She agreed, so I ventured on, “If someone remembers you, you don’t die,” I said.  “You’re so right, Sweetheart!” she said.   

Last Saturday, the Beloved aimed us towards Columbia County (a good omen for a record collector?) where we had spent the past summer.  I was happy: she could enjoy beautiful gardens, and I could go to my favorite store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York — Carousel Antique Center, supervised by the very gracious Dan. 

I went into the back of the shop and spotted a box of 78s on the floor.  I had bought Clara Smith and Buck Clayton records here last year.  Initially, it offered only calypso records.  Then I reached for the lone 12″ 78 — in a decaying paper sleeve, its sides taped together:

I’m not so vain as to think that the cosmos works to make me happy, but this record might have provoked that feeling, for this side and the reverse, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, were the soundtrack to my childhood Louis-reveries (after the Gordon Jenkins sessions). 

But there was something else, a 10″ Harmony.  Most of the late-Twenties Harmony discs (excepting a Dixie Stompers surprise) I’ve found are dance bands and singers.  This one’s special:

I knew very well what I was holding — even though it looked as if someone had played it over and over.  And then I turned it over:

“Best Bix.” it says at top.  Someone not only loved this record, but knew who was on it, even if a devoted listener thought Frank Trumbauer was playing an alto saxophone instead of his C-melody.  Here’s a close-up of that annotation:

I paid much less than “25.00” for this one, but I found a treasure.  The music still sounds splendid but the worn grooves speak of love; the label does also.  Do any Bix-scholars care to comment on the handwriting and on the pricing?  

I once tried to be a spirited collector of jazz records; I’ve given that up.  And I have more music within reach than I could possibly listen to if I lived a long time.  But I am going to keep looking through piles and shelves of records if treasures like this are going to want to follow me home.  Wouldn’t you?

RARE DISCS FOR SALE

I find it soothing to visit eBay on a regular basis to see what’s for sale and to muse about it. 

Our topic for today is 78 rpm jazz records, which used to be the only kind until the early Fifties.  I was somewhat overwhelmed the profusion of them on eBay — 1,183 items!  Of course, some of them had no business being in that category — a Dutch hand organ record, Clyde McCoy picture discs, records by Dinah Shore, Xavier Cugat . . . but there were more than enough authentic jazz rarities to make my head spin.  Here are some remarkable ones:

78 1

The combination of the Gennett label and Earl Hines is a potent one.

78 3

When was the last time you saw a Jack Purvis 78 for sale?

78 6

Squirrel Ashcraft and the boys, when they were very youthful.

78 9

Eddie sang on this one and apologized later . . . but it has Tesch, Sullivan, and Krupa, too.

78 11

I think this is a song from an otherwise forgotten musical production; if memory serves, the other side is YOU HAVE MONEY, DON’T YOU? — a song title that doesn’t make my heart leap with anticipation.  I want to know what the record under this one is!

78 12

Early Barry Harris and Frank Foster in Detroit, on the NEW SONG label.

78 14

The other side of this Wardell Gray record is called THE TOUP, no kidding.

78 16

I believe, although perhaps incorrectly, that this record has an early Jess Stacy solo passage; at least he remembered playing with this band.  (The leader would say, “Are you ready, Kittens?”  And they would have to answer “Meow!”  The life of a working musician.)

78 Fats Japan

And finally . . . an eBay seller is offering a dozen Japanese Victor Fats Waller and his Rhythm records . . . for some exorbitant price.  Who knew that Fats had such a reputation in Japan?  Did that country enter the Second World War because they wanted Fats to play for them?  It’s a theory no one, as far as I know, has yet explored.

The larger social significance of this list might be summarized quickly.  78s are unplayable artifacts for almost everyone in this iPod era and they look like valuable antiques that will fetch pleasing prices.  But the economy has made many people look for things to sell that they would otherwise have held on to.  Better that these records get sold on eBay to enthusiasts who can play them, so the music doesn’t vanish entirely.  Who knows how many wonderful 78s get thrown out when collectors die?  “Provide, provide,” as Robert Frost wrote.

INSPIRATION’S SOURCES

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People who live for jazz recordings and performances are often surprised to find that jazz musicians need a more balanced diet — what Ruby Braff called “aesthetic vitamins.”  Coleman Hawkins listened to the “modern classical music” of his day, as did Bix, and Louis drew energy and solace from John McCormack records.  The anecdotes below are testimony from most illustrious sources.  And, since the universe seems occasionally to operate harmoniously, they came to me — independently — in the last two days.

First, from Dan Morgenstern about his hero and mine, Vic Dickenson:

When I interviewed Vic Dickenson years ago and asked him what trombone playing he had listened to in his formative years (making the point, as you will see, wrongly, that trombone playing back then (Vic b. 1906) was of the tailgate variety) he didn’t say anything but went to his small collection of records, pulled out an old 12-inch 78, and put it on. It was a beautiful version of Celeste Aida by Arthur Pryor, Sousa’s trombone soloist and assistant conductor before going out on his own, and most certainly known to Tommy Dorsey. These are the kind of things you won’t learn from most jazz history sources.

And here is a generous website featuring “recordings from the nineteenth century,” where you can hear THERE’LL COME A TIME, made in 1897, featuring Pryor, whose playing is astonishingly mobile.  Although the link probably does not work within this post, visit http://home.clara.net/rfwilmut/19thcent/19th.html.

Then, taking it one step beyond (from appreciation and immersion to actual performance), Sam Parkins testifies:

No one thinks about jazz people’s interest in classical music. Bird listening to Bartok, that awesome tale of Dave McKenna playing the Ravel Piano Concerto chilling out after a record date. “But Dave – you can’t read music -” “Yeah I know. I learned it off a record”. And a friend staying in a hotel in Chicago where Earl Hines was playing. He comes down for breakfast late; after he goes to the lobby and the door to the nightclub is ajar. Hears piano. By the bare single ‘off duty’ light Hines is working on Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111 — the really hard one. Oh – & AL Haig only practiced Chopin.

More to come on this subject.

I took the photograph above about ten months ago.  It is my version of “where inspiration comes from.”  Anyone care to guess the country and region?