This post — and the musical surprise it contains — are inspired by my friend Nick Rossi’s celebration of Sidney Catlett’s birthday on Facebook. Nick posted the cosmically glorious STEAMIN’ AND BEAMIN’ by an Edmond Hall group on Blue Note — including Bennie Morton and Harry Carney, so you know it’s remarkable.
There are two or three sessions that Sidney graced, late in his recording career, that have eluded me: one is by “Gloria Mac,” which I suspect might be a mis-typing of “Gloria Mae”:
Gloria Mac (vcl) acc by Dick Vance (tp) Sandy Williams (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) George “Big Nick” Nicholas (ts) Bill McRae (p) Thomas Barney (b) Sidney Catlett (d) New York, May 5, 1949 G657 The one in your memory Abbey 75 G658 What is this thing called love ? –
I dream of hearing Sandy Williams backed by Sidney . . .
I thought the other session would be equally elusive, but I found two of the four sides on the Internet Archive, the treasure chest of unimagined joys:
Kirby Walker Orchestra : Dick Vance (tp) Benny Morton (tb) Hilton Jefferson (as) Sam “The Man” Taylor (ts) Kirby Walker (p,vcl) Al Hall (b) Sidney Catlett (d) New York, June 28, 1949
CO40919 Oh I’m evil Col 30178 CO40920 High brow blues 30170 CO40921 Juke box time 30178 CO40922 Shut up 30170
Before I proceed to the music — that delightful reward — I will note that Kirby Walker doesn’t impress me greatly as lyricist or singer, but he is middle-competent. Both sides are well-arranged, with a written duet for Taylor and Jefferson: I would guess that the charts are by Dick Vance, and they are reminiscent of Hot Lips Page and Wynonie Harris’ contemporaneous efforts: good-time music, no demands made on it to be innovative. And while you’re listening closely, pay attention to the beautiful sound and reliable drive of Al Hall — someone I had the good fortune to see in person circa 1974-5 (Bennie Morton as well).
But the reason to shine a light on these brief interludes is the magisterial presence of Sidney, whose powerful accents, rimshots, and direction are strong but never obtrusive. HE is leading the band, propelling, orchestrating, and shaping the performances. Masterfully.
Hereis OH I’M EVIL. (You can find another version of Kirby Walker performing this song on the air, for the 1947 THIS IS JAZZ series, on YouTube.)
And hereis JUKE BOX TIME (when did the juke box get the name “piccolo”?) with Sidney in especially wonderful form in the second half of the record — kicking Taylor into action and then driving the band exuberantly.
He was such a phenomenon: a percussion orchestra who could be so very gentle when the music required it. Gone in 1951, his loss a tragedy that still reverberates. The only compensation for his abrupt death, his short life, is that he was very well-represented in recordings from 1928 (Al Wynn) to 1950 (Muggsy Spanier): everyone wanted the Catlett magic in their band, from Bechet to Byas to Bird. They knew full well what having Sidney behind the drums meant.
Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.
It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.
In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.
Here’s the menu:
JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:
Sadly, Eddie Condon’s music is misunderstood and dismissed these days. The serious “traditionalists” — whether they bow to Jim Robinson or Turk Murphy or a hundred other icons — accuse him of aesthetic impurity (the way they feel about Happy Cauldwell’s tenor saxophone on Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor session.) More “modern” listeners see FIDGETY FEET and flee; they also associate anything related to Eddie as identical to semi-professional “Dixieland” played from music stands or loud Bourbon Street busking.
I offer this half-hour Voice of America broadcast as a stimulating corrective to both views. Ironically, it is introduced by Leonard Feather, openly hostile to Eddie and his musicians, although he is polite enough here. It pleases me greatly that the VOA broadcasts began with a nearly-violent flourish from Hot Lips Page, one of Eddie’s best musical friends. The generous YouTube poster dates it as April 1951, but the concert — a tribute to the recovering Pee Wee Russell — happened on February 21, 1951, according to Manfred Selchow’s invaluable book on Ed Hall, PROFOUNDLY BLUE.
Something for everyone: serious collective improvisation by a group of players who are both exuberant and precise; rhapsodies; ballads; jazz classics. There’s kinshp between Buzzy Drootin and Max Roach, between Cutty Cutshall and Bill Harris, between Ernie Caceres and Ben Webster, between Joe Bushkin and Teddy Wilson. Heard with open ears, this music is timeless, as inspired as the sounds cherished by the Jazz Bureaucracy.
Here’s the bill of fare:
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Bob Casey, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums. UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE: Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Schroeder; Al Hall, string bass; Drootin. I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, piano; Ray McKinley, drums. IN A MIST: Ralph Sutton, piano. BASIN STREET BLUES: as BUBBLES:
Once again, I am impressed by the storming drumming of Buzzy Drootin. If you share my admiration, I direct you to the two brilliant videos created by Kevin Dorn on YouTube — which made me appreciate Buzzy even more. Eddie and Co. I already appreciate over the moon. To quote Eddie, “Whee!”
Here is some delightfully rare music from a legendary concert — in videos, no less, although the visual quality is seriously limited. I had heard about this music and these films decades ago and, years later, a copy, how many generations removed, I can’t say, made its way to me. The videos are hard to watch, especially for eyes used to today’s brilliantly sharp images, but they are precious. [They will be less eye-stressful for those who can sit far back from the screen.] All of the music performed that afternoon is now blessedly available for a pittance (see details at the end) but the videos add a remarkable dimension of “being there.”
July 1, 1960 was hot at the Newport Jazz Festival, perhaps especially in the afternoon for Rudi Blesh’s “Stride Piano Stars” program, a select group of “old-timers,” none of whom were particularly elderly in years or energy that day.
Here is Eubie’s BLACK KEYS ON PARADE and LOVEY JOE:
Now, the Danny Barker Trio (Danny, banjo and vocal; Al Hall, string bass; Bernard Addison, mandolin) with a feature for Danny on THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:
More virtuosic showmanship on TIGER RAG:
Here’s Donald Lambert’s ANITRA’S DANCE:
Now, the Lamb plays LIZA as the restless camera-eye finds wiggling limbs:
Eubie and the Lamb play CHARLESTON, Eubie taking the star role:
Hat firmly in place, Willie “the Lion” Smith offers Walter E. Miles’ SPARKLETS:
Fats would have been 56: the Lion sings and plays AIN’T MSBEHAVIN’:
Two melancholy postscripts to all this joy. On Saturday, July 2, a riot broke out, and the festival did not return until 1962. Donald Lambert died less than two years later.
But the music remains. Here, at Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, one can download the audio for the entire afternoon concert (slightly more than ninety minutes) for five dollars. The performances are listed below.
Introductions by Willis Conover and Rudi Blesh / Stride Piano Demonstration (“Sweet Lorraine”)- Donald Lambert / Development of Ragtime and Stride Piano-Blesh / Early Hits from 1920’s-Eubie Blake / Black Keys On Parade / Lovey Joe // Take Me Out To The Ballgame- Danny Barker Trio / Muskrat Ramble / The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise // Anitra’s Dance-Lambert / Tea For Two / Liza // Polonaise- the Lion / “Shout” Defined / Carolina Shout / Ain’t Misbehavin’ // Fats Waller Medley-Lambert / James P. Johnson Medley // Old Fashioned Love-Eubie / Charleston / Charleston (Part 2) // My Gal Sal-Danny Barker / Tiger Rag // Sparklets-the Lion // I Know That You know-Lambert // Memories Of You-Eubie // Stars and Stripes Forever-Eubie, Lambert, the Lion //
This film or video is a wonder, even greenish and blurred. With the audio, we can revel in vivid art.
My awareness of the amazing musician Donald Lambert began in 1970, when I heard this music coming out of my FM radio speaker when Ed Beach (WRVR-FM of sainted memory) offered a program of Lambert’s then few recordings:
I loved then and still love the beautiful carpet of the verse. But I was uplifted by the rollicking tempo and swing of the chorus. And not only by the pianist, but by the drummer, cavorting along — not overbearing, but personal and free, saying “Yeah!” to Lambert at every turn, but not too often.
The magic possible in cyberspace has made it possible for me to talk with Howard Kadison, the nimble drummer on that recording and — no cliche, a witness to history, because he knew and played with people we revere. First, he and Audrey VanDyke, another gracious scholar, made available to me the text of an entire periodical devoted to the Lamb, which I have posted here eight months ago. It’s an afternoon’s dive, I assure you: I’ve also presented the two fuzzy videos of Lambert, solo, at Newport, July 1, 1960, that are known on YouTube.
But Howard and I finally had a chance to talk at length, and I can offer you the very pleasing and sometimes surprising results. Howard doesn’t have a high profile in the jazz world, and I suspect he is content with that. But he played drums with Danny Barker, Connie Jones, George Finola, and many others whose names he recalls with pleasure. However, he was most famous to me as the drumming sidekick — the delightful accompanist — to stride piano legend Donald Lambert. The session they created for Rudi Blesh (pictured above) always lifts my spirits. As did my conversation with the man himself.
On May 5, Howard graciously talked to me about “Lamb” and his experiences being Lambert’s drummer of choice — both at Frank Wallace’s High Tavern in West Orange, New Jersey, and in the recording studio. Sit back and enjoy his beautiful narrative. He was there, and he loved Lambert.
HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT
I always fooled around with the drums. I was really drum-crazy — I used to have a telephone book with brushes, and I’d play with the radio when I was fourteen, fifteen, twelve years old. I always liked music and if I heard a song I could always remember it. I had come from a divorced home and was dividing my time between Chicago and Miami when my parents split up. And when I was in Miami I heard a radio station, WMBM, “The Rockin’ MB,” Miami Beach, and I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but it was jazz. I had no idea about jazz. And I listened to it and just fooled around with it. Then I went on to college, and in my junior year, I really decided that I wanted to play drums. Whenever there was music in Miami, I would go to whatever event it was. I always had a peripheral interest.
In 1959, I went to New York, and was very serious about it, and started taking lessons. When I was in college, I was an econ major, so it was quite a change. I studied with Jim Chapin initially, and for a long while with George Gaber. I had an endless series of day jobs, and one of them had me working in the mailroom of ABC. George Gaber was a staff percussionist, and he was a brilliant teacher who eventually ran the percussion program at Indiana University. But before he left New York I studied with him for a couple of years. The way I met him was he was practicing one day — he came in and was warming up — and I watched him. I was delivering mail, and he just started talking to me. He asked me if I was a drummer, because I was watching him so intently. I told him I was trying to be, and he took me under his wing.
While I was there, I ran into a banjoist and guitar player who became one of my mentors, Danny Barker. Danny was playing at a place called the Cinderella, which was on West Third Street in the Village. He kept in touch with me, and he started giving me little gigs that would come up. And there were a bunch of guys playing around at that time. There was a wonderful piano player named Don Coates, and Ed Polcer, and Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood. They were all older than I, but I got to know them a little bit. I started working, just gradually. And then Don Coates, who was from Jersey, brought me out to hear Don Lambert play. I just thought it was the most wonderful music. I forget exactly how it happened, but this was shortly after Lambert had gone to Newport in July 1960.
Danny Barker told me that Don came up on the bandstand at Newport, at what they called the Old-Timers concert in the early afternoon, and there were a lot of good stride players there, and he got up and, to use Danny’s words, “this old man killed everybody. He got up there and played and scared the crap out of everybody in the place.” And Danny never used language like that. “He left those people there shaking like a leaf.”
So I met Lambert through Don Coates, and Lambert said, “If you ever want to come in and bring a snare drum, there’s not much room back here, but you can bang a few notes with me.” That’s a direct quote. So I took the Hudson Tubes to Newark, and then got on a bus, and finally found myself in West Orange, New Jersey, I think it was, and would walk from the bus to Wallace’s High Tavern, which was where Lambert was playing. I brought a snare drum, and played some brushes.
I should explain. He played behind a long oval bar on a platform which was just enough room for a baby grand piano. Guys would come sit in with him occasionally, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room to play with. Anyway, I played a couple of tunes, and as I was leaving, Frank Wallace came up to me — he was the owner of the place — and he said, “Would you like to come in once and a while and play? Lambert enjoyed your playing.” You know, Lambert didn’t talk to me; he did. And I said yes: I didn’t know he was offering me a gig, I thought he was just talking to me to come in and play once in a while. I did it a couple more times, and then he said, “What would be involved to get a set of drums back here?” I said, “Well, there’s not much room.” There was just room for a snare drum to fit in one little place. I used sit near a display of alcohol on one side and Lambert on the other, and in the middle there was a cash register where he would ring up the sales. He had me sitting next to the cash register, and when he’d ring up a sale, if I wasn’t careful and didn’t duck, the drawer would hit me in the head, which I’m sure explains a lot of my behavior these days.
Anyway, he figured out a way of getting a bass drum in there, and he moved some things under the bar. I think there was a connection to a sink or something, he kind of juggled some stuff and I was able to get a small bass drum in there, a hi-hat, and one cymbal. It was pretty cramped in there, but I was able to do it. And I started playing on a regular basis, about three nights a week, and it was eight bucks a night plus a sandwich, one of those heated sandwiches where they use an electric bulb and they put them in those cases. I was working days, and Frank would drive me to the train station after the gig, and I’d take the train home, back to New York City. But I would go there by bus, from Port Authority bus station, through the Hudson Tubes, and then a pretty long walk. I’d have to leave the drums there. That went on for a while.
There was one very critical thing that happened that was helpful. The set-up didn’t allow me to see Lambert while he was playing. We would play almost with our backs to one another, or at right angles. So I had to listen very intently to everything he was going to do, because he didn’t do a lot of talking when he played. He’d go from one tune to another, and I’ve often thought in retrospect that this experience of really listening was very important, because it required a very specific kind of focus to know what he was going to do. He’d play an introduction, then he’d play the time, and that was it.
That went on a couple of years, and then there was a project that came up. It was a guy named Rudi Blesh was going to record Lambert. That didn’t involve me at all. I think it was going to be a solo album with Lambert. I don’t know how the conversation began, but they said that they wanted to add a drummer. Blesh wanted to use some other players, and Lambert wanted to use me. Danny Barker, who was at Newport when Lambert played, heard about the project — I’m not quite sure of tthe mechanics involved — but Danny, I learned later, recommended me and said that if I’d been playing with the guy, I’d probably be the one you’d want to get. When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I was terrified, because I’d never done anything like that before. Ultimately, I was the one who made the recording, and that was primarily because of Danny. Frank Wallace, the owner of the bar, had kept in touch with Danny after Lambert played, and evidently Danny told Frank that Lambert should use me. A lot of tap-dancing, a bunch of up-and-back stuff. I didn’t know anything about it. I was just a kid playing drums, and that’s it.
(At this point the Editor interrupted and reminded Howard that there was a story extant of Lambert telling Blesh, “That’s my drummer,” referring to Howard.)
Yes. That was one of the most thrilling things that had happened to me. If I’d quit playing drums after that, I could have been happy. I could have died happy. I was astounded by all of it. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I just sat down, and Lambert said, “Hey, man! Just do what you do with me at the bar. That’s it!”
Sometimes I’d go out at night after the gig and shoot pool with Lambert, if I didn’t have to work the next day at my day job, hang with him in Newark, and sometimes he would talk about music.
I learned a lot on the job. He’d make comments. If he wanted me to do a specific thing, he’d turn around and say, “Now, don’t do something until you hear me sound like I’m ready to have you play.” Then he’d wait and turn around and say, “And then, put me in the alley!” That was one of his favorite phrases, “Put me in the alley!” He didn’t talk a whole lot, but he spoke volumes, the way he played things. If you just listened carefully, you didn’t have to watch him. If I were going to speak about people who guided me, it would be Danny Barker and Don Lambert.
One of the rules that I learned, that I thought was extremely important, is that you have to focus, to remember whom you’re accompanying. And that’s important. You’ve got to find a way to connect with the soloist. I never thought of drumming as soloing, I always thought of it as being an accompanist. And that was something I took away from two extraordinarily different experiences, completely dissimilar in every respect, as far as music. But the philosophical approach to every gig is the same: you’ve got to listen, be part of the solo, and help the soloist. And that’s, I believe, of critical importance. That’s all you can do!
There was a thing that Danny Barker used to say. He would tell me, “Hey, man, if you’re a drummer, most of the time you’re going to be playing for other people, you’re not going to be playing drum solos. So it’s nice to do all kinds of monkeyshines” (and I quote) “but your real job is to be an accompanist. So you gotta learn how to back people up,” and he always talked about that. He was a wonderful guitarist, and playing time with him was marvelous. You’d get such a groove, and, hey, if you could get that going, why would you want to do anything else? So the trick is to be good at accompanying people. I was lucky, because I got to play with him, and I did an album with him. And that was a great pleasure.
You could learn on every gig. You might learn how to develop your chops with a teacher, but in the final analysis, you’re doing it so that you can play with people. So, to me, the trick is to just stay in the background and play for somebody else. That’s it.
I’ll tell you a story, and I don’t know the details. It’s something that Don Coates told me. At one point, Lambert was working as a janitor or a clean-up guy at the Adams Theatre in Newark. Jack Teagarden was there with a big band. There was evidently a piano backstage. Lambert was fooling around with it, and Teagarden happened to hear what he was doing. There was a song that Lambert played, a song he had written himself, and Lambert gave Teagarden the music, and, according to what Coates told me, Teagarden used it as a kind of opening theme for his big band. The story is fuzzy and not very precise, and there’s no way to verify it, because Coates has passed away, but there was some connection between Lambert and Teagarden. (At this point, the Editor interrupted to tell the story of Lambert being at Jack’s 1940 HRS session, documented in a photograph.)
I’d call him “Lamb,” because that’s what he always did. And I’d call him “Don” sometimes. The other thing you might be interested in, one of the sterling times I had with Lambert, is that Frank Wallace called me one day and said, “We’re going to go visit Eubie Blake at his house in Brooklyn. Would you like to come along?” I was tongue-tied, but I said, “Sure.” And I just sat there and listened to them talk, and didn’t say a word the whole time. It was great, listening to them talk, up and back. And they both played.
He had interesting things he would say. His mother was his piano teacher, and she used to tell him he should learn every tune in every key, and he did. Every tune he played, he could play in all twelve keys. He was technically a very fine player. I’ve heard stories about when he was in New York in the Thirties and early Forties, and then he left and kind of buried himself in Jersey. He was always very humble. He told me once that he thought he was one of the better piano players in the state of New Jersey. That’s a direct quote. Lambert was a lot of fun. He had a good sense of humor. He was generous, and he was helpful. He’d come over sometime and say, “Remember what you just did, because that was OK.” And that was nice. I mean, I just played with the guy and had fun. I was a kid and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was very lucky, and he was very kind.
Lambert didn’t live a lot longer after the record date. He had a stroke at one point, and he was still playing, and playing well. But he wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t always take care of himself as well as he should. He was in a place in Newark called Martland Medical Center, I think the name of it is, and I visited him there once, and after that he passed away. I went to his funeral, as a matter of fact. A very bad time, a difficult time. I loved him very much. He was a good guy.
I want to close — in a mist of gratitude to Howard and Audrey and the Lamb — with three ways to celebrate Donald Lambert, and none of them is a photograph of a headstone, because well-loved people are never relegated to such forms.
Second, a marvel. At the site called Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, the Voice of America tape of the “Old-Timers'” afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, arranged by Rudi Blesh, including Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, the Danny Barker Trio with Bernard Addison and Al Hall — some 93 minutes — can be downloaded herein high-quality sound for $5.
And finally, another marvel. Videos exist of that afternoon: two solos by Lambert, several each by Barker, Eubie, and the Lion — but this one, I don’t think, has been widely circulated or ever circulated. I caution finicky viewers that the image is blurry — perhaps this was a film copy from a television broadcast, or it is the nineteenth copy of a videotape (I do not have the original). But here are Eubie Blake and Donald Lambert essaying CHARLESTON. Eubie takes over early and Lambert is in the most subsidiary role . . . but we see what he looked like at the piano, and that is a treasure.
I had originally planned to post two versions of NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT — written six years before the stock market crash of 1929 — by Bessie Smith and Eddie Condon, when I came across this version by Alberta Hunter, in her November 1981 performance at the Smithsonian. Miss Hunter (it feels disrespectful to write about her in any other way) was in her eighties, and was accompanied by Gerald Cook, piano; Al Hall, string bass.
In this song, Miss Hunter teaches a vital lesson about independence, self-worth, and self-trust. She is not only a magnificent singer but a wondrous sage, her brief episode suffused with its own majesty, a violence held back and controlled and thus, to me, even more powerful. The emotions I feel, coming through this song, are her disappointment, regret, even fury — but Miss Hunter tells us to use her experiences to protect ourselves and to transcend the wounds. I celebrate her wisdom: pain can be made into art and in that way, pain is more than itself.
Consider this very truncated list: Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Purvis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Jabbo Smith, Sandy Williams, Cassino Simpson, Dave Tough, Tony Fruscella, Fud Livingston, Dick McDonough, Serge Chaloff, Fats Navarro, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan.
What do they have in common? Would you, were you a recording supervisor, hire them for a record date? Would you hire them for your orchestra or gig? Could you count on them to do the work asked of them? (A hint here: as much as I revere, let’s say, Fruscella or Livingston, I wouldn’t want them driving the kids to summer camp.)
That list contains poets of the music, artistic trailblazers, instantly recognizable creators, memorable improvisers. But it is also a list of people who didn’t show up on time or at all for the gig or has to be awakened in the middle of a song to play, people who were addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, and sex; people who had borderline personality disorder; people who stole, lied, and destroyed property; people who refused to bathe or change their clothes . . . and more.
Even if this seems blasphemous, do me the kindness to read on.
And if you proclaim that Genius must be forgiven anything because it’s Genius, I wonder how you would feel if the Genius vomited on your living room rug or stole money from you.
I suspect that most jazz fans are Apollonian (in Nietzsche’s dichotomy): they drive in the proper lane; they shower regularly; they hold jobs; they change the registration sticker on their car when the law says they must. But, perhaps as a result, they are fascinated by the Dionysiac, the Bad Boys and Girls of Jazz, the people whose behavior is flashy, self-destructive, eccentric, illegal.
Consider this: if someone could come up with an authenticated needle used by Billie or Bird, or a piece of Bix’s mummified blue sweater, how much would those holy relics — the jazz Shroud of Turin — fetch on eBay?
Violently erratic “bad” behavior makes good copy. How many biographies of Bix are there, as compared to his more restrained contemporaries? How many theatrical presentations “recreating” Billie are there, as opposed to the lives of other singers who drank Seven-Up?
I was motivated to write this piece because of the just-issued biography of Johnny Guarnieri, SUPERSTRIDE, beautifully written and researched by Derek Coller, depicts a good husband and father, and a craftsman, someone serious about his art even when striding joyously.
I think of others of the same general character: people who kept pocket notebooks and were thus early to gigs, who came prepared to make music, with horns that worked and a knowledge of the charts; musicians who could transpose and knew their keys; who came to the club date in appropriate, even elaborate formal wear; whose clothes were clean; who conducted themselves as professionals and whose behavior might have been placid and thus not worthy of chronicling, but who behaved as adults.
Think of Maxine Sullivan, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Joe Wilder, Teddi King, Eddie Barefield, Al Hall, Ed Hall, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Bennie Morton, and Buster Bailey among others: artists who didn’t use “genius” as an excuse for childishness. Sadly, I sense a silent snobbery among jazz fans, who look down on these mature men and women because their personal lives are uneventful. And, aside from Hinton, Wilder, and Ed Hall, how many of the artists in the list above have been properly chronicled? Men and women who didn’t destroy themselves and others are proper figures to contemplate and admire. Even if they are tediously busy being professional, monogamous, and sober, their lives have much to show us.
Obviously it’s not thrilling to write about someone who does his or her job without drama, but we should be celebrating these artists as grownups. And grownups are hard to find in any field.
Here’s music made by several grownups: musicians, classically trained who could cut the charts and swing like mad, who appear on many record dates because they were both creative and reliable: William C. Bailey of Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally backed by Osie Johnson, drums, and that very same Johnny Guarnieri among others:
I wonder what would happen to us, as an audience, if we chose not to fetishize childish self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrated adult behavior?
Inspiration for this post is, as it often is, thanks to Sammut of Malta, whose thoughts are always inspiring.
Paper ephemera — but hardly ephemeral — from a recent eBay expedition.
“SATCHMO,” to you, in an unusual newspaper photograph, sporting what looks like Playboy cufflinks, and a white belt.
and the reverse:
and something even more unusual: a copy of Sidney Finkelstein’s 1948 JAZZ: A PEOPLE’S MUSIC, translated into German, with signatures and candid photographs enclosed:
The “Daniel” is mysterious; it’s been attached to Louis’ first name in various canned biographies, but as far as I know he never used it himself, and that does not look like his handwriting. Unlike this uncomplicated signature:
and (I believe that’s Norman Granz on the left):
and the seller’s description:
Signed book `Jazz` (by Sidney Finkelstein), 200 pages – with four affixed unsigned candid photos (three of Ella Fitzgerald), 5 x 8,25 inch, first edition, publisher `Gerd Hatje`, Stuttgart 1951, in German, signed on the title page in blue ballpoint ink “Billie Holiday” – with an affixed postcard (Savoy Hotel): signed and inscribed by Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) in pencil “Daniel – Louis Armstrong” & signed by Buddy DeFranco (1923-2014) in blue ballpoint ink “Buddy DeFranco”, with scattered mild signs of wear – in fine to very fine condition.
Here‘s the seller’s link. Yours for $2492.03. Or the easy payment plan of $120 a month for 24 months. Plus $16.00 expedited shipping from Switzerland to the United States.
Once you’ve caught your breath, here’s something that was within my price range. Reader, I bought this — although I haven’t played it yet — a souvenir of the East Side New York jazz club, Gregory’s, where (among others) Ellis Larkins and Al Hall played . . . also Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, and Sonny Greer; Mark Shane, Al Haig . . . .
Sometimes great art flourishes in corners where it is not at all expected even to survive.
George “Bon Bon” Tunnell (1912-1975) was an engaging singer — yet not well-remembered. He was first a member of The Three Keys, and from 1937-42, he was the first African-American male singer to appear with a Caucasian band: Jan Savitt and his Top Hatters. Incidentally, he was heavily featured with the band — and — one of the trombonists there was Cutty Cutshall (1939-40) something that would interest Condon scholars like myself.
The two sides below come from Bon Bon’s early solo career — four sides from this date, two the next year (where Decca seems to have wanted him to be an African-American Bing, or at least a Chick Bullock or Dick Robertson) and then some solo features with Steve Gibson’s Red Caps. But with no disrespect to Bon Bon’s very nice singing, the two sides offer a rare combination — two musicians who, at this point in the Swing Era, did not receive all the opportunities to record their talents warranted.
They are guitarist / trombonist / arranger Eddie Durham, whose guitar sound is instantly recognizable — swinging but with sharp corners — and trumpeter Joe Thomas, also instantly recognizable and inimitable. The second song, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, is also Durham’s — although there are three other names on the label. And, on clarinet, the”Prof” of deep Kansas City jazz, Buster Smith. New York City, July 23, 1941: Tunnell, Joe Thomas, Eddie Durham, Buster Smith, Jackie Fields, alto saxophone; Jimmy Phipps, piano; Al Hall, string bass; Jack Parker, drums. The other two sides — which you’d have to track down on your own (they are on the THREE KEYS CD on the Chronological Classics label) are BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, and Fats Waller’s ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES.
SWEET MAMA (from 1920, I believe, and recorded by the ODJB) has lyrics that suggest domestic abuse and a real need for anger management, but the band is splendid. But first we hear Durham’s spiky arpeggios, a very dark and threatening orchestral passage featuring growl from Thomas (not his usual approach) and leafy clarinet from Smith — a passage reminiscent of Durham’s approach to GOOD MORNING BLUES for Basie. I find Bon Bon hilariously sweetly unconvincing in his gentle singing: this man couldn’t do damage to a sandwich, but we will let that pass. (When he returns for his second vocal, he wants to convince us: “Papa’s really gone mad,” but his heart isn’t in it. Too kind to make anyone cower.)
The half-chorus Thomas solo that follows is quietly magnificent: even through his mute, the steady glow of his tone comes through, as does his fondness for repeated notes, his love of 1927 Louis; his stately glide. Where other trumpeters shout, Thomas caresses, and his solo winds down rather than moving out of the middle register. It is equally affecting for what he doesn’t care to do — remember, 1941 was the age of great brass virtuosity — as for what he does. Thomas whispers sweet epigrams to us, and their impact is only felt on the third or fourth hearing. I’d also call your attention to the strong but not overdone rhythm that Hall and Durham offer, as well as Smith’s sweet commentaries. Bon Bon returns to assure us of his menace, but no one would be all that scared of “the fine undertaker,” which seems like a Waller touch.
The more famous song, justly, begins with an orchestral introduction that borrows quietly from THE MOOCHE, and we then move to a love song — where Bon Bon sounds more comfortable. Durham’s arpeggios threaten to take our attention away: he’s not aiming to copy Charlie Christian’s smoothness, but he makes a deep impression. Eddie is much more prominent here — it was his song and I wonder if he’d brought a small-band chart to the session. Then, less than half a minute of Thomas, but his sound, even muted, is like sunshine coming through the windows in late afternoon. His gentle intensity; his love of the melody — and that upwards arpeggio in the middle is purest Joe (and purest Louis, if you need to find an ancestor) — quite touching. When the band and Bon Bon return, the blending is completely polished and fetching.
(Joe gets three more extroverted outings on BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, which he executes nicely, and Bon Bon scats in the best almost-Leo-Watson manner. ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES bounces along pleasantly, but once again Bon Bon must pretend to menace — “I’m fit to fight” — which is sweetly unconvincing. Durham is delightfully in evidence and the other horns show their individual voices — but the two sides here are, to me, the standouts. Tunnell’s final side for Decca, before the recording ban, SLEEPY OLD TOWN, could pass for Bing, and it is delightful — with Russ Solomon doing a commendable Bobby Hackett. But it’s no longer on YouTube.)
And just because it exists on eBay, a little more Bon Bon memorabilia — a signed contract, with amendments.
and the reverse:
I haven’t analyzed the contract. Perhaps Laura Windley, our swing star and lawyer, might have something to say about it. Until then, I will cherish those two Decca sides, full of instrumental surprises and engaging singing.
Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music. But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere. I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.
For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).
But before you leap in, a small caveat. Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder. Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters. The first five videos are here.
More friends and heroes. Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):
Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:
More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:
Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.” And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold. More to come.
Timme Rosenkrantz was born a Danish Baron, but he preferred to identify himself as “a little layman with an ear for music and a heart that beats for jazz.” Duke Ellington, no stranger to the nobility, called him “a very unselfish man who dedicated himself to the great musicians he loved and the music they played.”
A jazz fan on a lifelong pilgrimage, Timme arrived in New York City in 1934 and made dear friends of many musicians, writers, and critics. His cheerfully light-hearted chronicle of those journeys has been published (translated and edited by Fradley Garner) as HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR, 1934-1969 (Scarecrow Press).
One of the most tantalizing sections of that book — full of lively anecdotes — is its discography of private recordings that Timme made between 1944 and 1946: a trove, including pianists Erroll Garner, Herman Chittison, Jimmy Jones, Billy Taylor, Ellington, a young Monk, Eddie Heywood, Willie “the Lion” Smith, hornmen Bill Coleman, Gene Sedric, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Charlie Shavers, Barney Bigard, Bobby Pratt, Jack Butler, Benny Harris, Vic Dickenson, bassists Slam Stewart and Oscar Pettiford, violinists Stuff Smith and Ray Perry, guitarists Bernard Addison and Zeb Julian, drummers George Wettling and Cliff Leeman . . .
A few of these recordings have been issued commercially (the best example being the Smith and Perry sides on Anthony Barnett’s ABFable label) and others less properly or in edited form. I first heard some of the music Timme recorded through the collectors’ grapevine, on cassette, in the Eighties, and it still sounds magical, with musicians stretching out, free from the tension of the recording studio or the imposition of the producer’s “taste.”
You can hear more — although there’s only one private recording — of the music Timme cherished from sessions he produced at THE JAZZ BARON, a site devoted to him, his musical adventures, and the book.
But we are going to be able to peek behind the curtain that has kept those privately recorded sessions private . . . soon, because Storyville Records is issuing what I hope will be the first in a series, TIMME’S TREASURES.
I haven’t heard a copy yet, but I am eagerly looking forward to it. How about ten minutes of solo Monk from 1944 — a six-minute THESE FOOLISH THINGS and a four-minute ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT? Or a quartet of Don Byas, Monk, Al Hall, and an unidentified drummer playing something called LET’S GO for another six? Broadcast material featuring Stuff Smith, Frank Froeba, Byas, and Sidney Catlett? More from Lucky Thompson, and a trio session for Jimmy Jones, bassists John Levy and Slam Stewart?
The liner notes are by Timme’s friends Dan Morgenstern and Fradley Garner. And the Storyville Records site will soon have more information about this exciting release.
Here’s a wonderful example — imperishable — of Timme’s taste: a duet for tenor saxophone (Don Byas) and string bass (Slam Stewart) recorded in concert in 1945:
Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick. Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.
But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers. The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding. (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern. My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)
Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME
All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known. One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman. Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.
Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks towww.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally. And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:
WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:
The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti. Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:
The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones. Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could. Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible. When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.
Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:
MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):
This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.
All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction. (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.) Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist. Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.
The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:
I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him. (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?) Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton. Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title. But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics). No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting. When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.
The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here). It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song. I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again. You’ll have to imagine it.
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:
The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on). The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another. In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance. Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases. Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.
I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:
Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody. Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him. Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns. (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.
“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records. Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison? Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades. The single copies of these recordings are all that remain. I am thankful they exist. This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.
Rarely do recordings duplicate hearing musicians live, but when the musician we think of has passed into spirit in 1954, records are all we have.
I’m speaking of the most exalted Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page, trumpet, mellophone, vocals, born in Corsicana, Texas. On January 26 and 31, 1946, a group of musicians led by pianist / composer Pete Johnson assembled in a New York studio to make records. Thankfully. Someone had the idea of asking the musicians to simulate a house party, a “housewarming,” where Pete would play a solo (one record side), then musicians would be added. They were given a few words to say at the beginning of each side — which have been edited out of almost all contemporary issues. The collective personnel was Lips, Ben Webster, J. C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Al Hall, J.C. Heard. For PAGE MR. TRUMPET, the front line is simply Page and Nicholas, a combination not otherwise on record.
Here’s what I believe is the first take (the alternate), a rocking medium blues:
And the master take, with a cleaner start from an apparently inexhaustible Lips:
And, because no scrap of Lips Page is to be ignored, here is a transfer from the original 78 that includes the opening dialogue:
If this posting has so excited you that you feel thirsty, may I suggest a bottle of this. Lips himself took the test and the results are in:
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.
That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:
I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction. In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous. He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.
Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:
and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:
If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.
I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.
One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene. Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.
I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street. I and several friends made pilgrimages there. The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs. But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music. The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba. He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session. The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others. The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime. I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others. But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played. And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.
A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries. Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones. At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.
Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.
Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others. In a Waller-Razaf mood:
and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:
A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians. What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history. He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family. He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”
Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years. So we owe him a great deal. And he will be missed. Another view of Red can be found here.
Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.
Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford). They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked. Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.
Bob was respected by his peers. Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.” And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”
Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:
The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.
You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.
Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.
There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.
Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.
After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.
The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.
Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.
In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.
In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.
When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.
If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.
In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.
Bob and friends:
MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):
I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):
TIGER RAG (2011):
Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.
Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts. And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.
In my Ideal Jazz World — which exists only in my mind and those of a few people who share my leanings (Dan and Mal and Clint among them) — Vic Dickenson is one of the greatest creators.
But Vic’s art was very subtle. People found it easy to see only its broad outlines and thus minimized it as a matter of low-toned naughty growls filling in the gaps in a Dixieland ensemble. Vic often worked with bands where he was alone on the mountaintop, making his way through BASIN STREET BLUES or IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD for the ninth time that week.
In addition, trombones tend to get less attention than they and their players deserve, especially if the men and women behind the mouthpiece and slide are reliable. Reliable players — think of Bennie Morton, Al Hall, Buck Clayton, Ray Nance, Milt Hinton among fifty others — get less attention than dramatic ones.
Vic seems to have come from nowhere — blossoming fully on the 1943-44 Blue Notes, or (for those whose historical perspective starts later) on the Vanguards and Columbias of the Fifties. But he had been working his magic for a long time. There’s his marvelous solo on Benny Carter’s MY FAVORITE BLUES, his work on a few 1940 Basie Columbias . . . and earlier — I’ve posted Blanche Calloway’s I NEED LOVIN’, which I think would amaze and terrify any contemporary trombonist — marvelous tumbling epigrams no matter what the context or the tempo.
That garden of delights, YouTube, offers us another aural glimpse of the Vic the musicians knew and admired. His solo on this little-known record is only sixteen bars, and it comes late in the performance, but it is a marvel.
The original recording was made for Decca in 1937 by the Claude Hopkins band. MY KINDA LOVE was perhaps best known through Ben Pollack’s recording of it with Jack Teagarden a half-decade earlier. The Hopkins record is taken up with Hopkins’ pleasant piano and Beverly White’s singing. Nothing is less than expert — the rhythm section rocks along nicely under Hopkins — but it is music for dancers. Beverly White sounds close to Midge Williams and even Ella Logan: all the notes are in the right places, her enunciation is precise; she sings clearly and rhythmically, but the overall affect is well-behaved rather than memorable. This band could play a senior prom in 1937 and not upset the chaperones overmuch.
Beverly was known as “Baby,” and she has her own place in the Jazz Pantheon because Teddy Wilson said he preferred her singing to Billie Holiday’s. What that statement really means is hard to say: there is so much mythology around the luminous 1935-41 recordings Billie and Teddy made that his words seem heretical. Perhaps Baby White was easier to work with; she didn’t smoke pot in the hall; she was more professional? It could be that Teddy simply liked the sound of her voice more. I wonder if in the years after those recordings were made, there was a slight tinge of rancor that Billie had become BILLIE HOLIDAY and other singers hadn’t. (Michael Brooks wrote that Henry “Red” Allen told him vehemently that Anna Robinson was also much better than Billie.)
For me, the first two-thirds of MY KINDA LOVE are amiably dull — politely swinging without calling attention to itself — an almost faceless “dance record,” perhaps insisted upon by Jack Kapp.
But when Vic leaps in, for about thirty seconds, my musical world changes.
He begins with a break that owes something to Louis, something that might have come from a Hot Seven record, reinvented through Vic’s own prism of sound. It’s a witty solo, glancing at Swing phrases that were already conventions in 1937 . . . but Vic’s staccato phrasing and sound are his own. He doesn’t dramatize; his solo is in the middle register and he doesn’t demand that we admire his pyrotechnics, but the solo amazes as evidence of what he could do in sixteen bars. A writer of musical epigrams, a painter of miniatures, eight bars here or sixteen bars there with their own logical, funny, shapes.
The thought that I can no longer see Vic on the stand at the last Eddie Condon’s or Your Father’s Mustache or an outdoor concert in Suffolk County makes me sad. Had I been able to tell him how many people had their lives uplifted by his music, I think it would probably have embarrassed him. But as I get older and I hear more jazz; as I understand more how difficult it is to create something when the rhythm is moving along inexorably underneath you, the more I prize Vic Dickenson. It was a miracle that he was with us. And he still is.
As a young jazz fan, I acquired as many records as I could by musicians and singers I admired. (There was an Earl Hines phase, a Tatum infatuation, a Ben Webster obsession among many.) The impulse is still there, but economics, space, and selectivity have tempered it somewhat. I’ve written elsewhere about Wanting and Having and Enjoying, and those states of being are in precarious balance.
But these philosophical considerations don’t stop me from being excited at the thought of visiting Hudson, New York, once again — and my favorite antique store, “Carousel,” on Warren Street.
Carousel was once a “National Shoe Store,” as it says on the floor in the entrance way, and it specializes in a variety of intriguing goods — furniture, books, planters, metalwork . . . but in the very back of the store, past the cash register most often supervised by the exceedingly pleasant Dan, is a galaxy of records. I skip the 45s and go to the stacks of 10″ 78s, the browsers full of 12″ lps and one devoted solely to 10″ lps (where one might find THE DINAH SHORE TV SHOW and BRAD GOWANS’ NEW YORK NINE).
Here’s what I found — and purchased — one day last week.
Richard M. Jones was a pianist and composer who accompanied blues singers, led a few dates in the Twenties . . . and this one in 1944. The rarity of this 10″ French Vogue vinyl reissue is evident. The original tracks (four by Jones, two by the ebullient trumpeter Punch Miller) were recorded in Chicago for the Session label — 12″ 78s — with a band including the under-recorded Bob Shoffner, wonderfully boisterous trombonist Preston Jackson, and the heroic Baby Dodds. I’d seen these sides listed in discographies for years, and the Sessions appeared on a vinyl issue on the Gannet label (with alternate takes!) but I’ve never heard them . . . and any version of NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES is all right with me. I haven’t heard the music yet, but have high hopes.
Decca and Brunswick collected four-tune recording sessions as GEMS OF JAZZ and the more pugnacious BATTLE OF JAZZ. Zutty didn’t record many times as a leader, and this is one of the rarer sessions: 1936, I think, with hot Chicagoans who didn’t reach great fame. I had these four sides (once upon a time) on sunburst Deccas . . . gone now, so I anticipate hot music here.
(The shadow above speaks to the haste of JAZZ LIVES’ official photographer.)
The four sides above have often been reissued, although the most recent Tatum Decca CD split them between Tatum and Big Joe Turner. No matter: they are imperishable, not only for Big Joe, in pearly form, but for the pairing of Joe Thomas and Ed Hall, saints and scholars.
Now for two rare 78s: their music reissued on European vinyl and CD, but how often do the original discs surface?
Whoever Herman was, he had good taste. The WAX label was the brainchild of solid reliable string bassist Al Hall in 1946-7: its output might have been twenty sides (including a piano recital by Jimmy Jones) using the best musicians one could find in New York or the world. Herman bought the first issue!
That quintet wasn’t made up of stars — except for Ben — but they were all splendid creative improvisers.
Is the next 78 more rare? It might be . . .
I believe these 78s were made especially for purchase at the club — and Eddie Condon might have been under exclusive contract with Decca at the time (on other sides, I recall the guitarist as being the much more elusive Fred Sharp). I recently looked up Joe Grauso in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ and was saddened to find that he had died in 1952, which is why we have so little of him aside from the Commodores and the Town Hall Concert broadcasts.
I love the composer credit. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
It’s a long time since I got so wrapped up in a book that I didn’t want to stop reading it — but CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE (Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009) is just that book.
Who was Barney Josephson (1902-88)? If he hadn’t worked very hard to make his dreams become reality, we would only know him as a successful businessman: his specialty, stylish shoes.
Happily for us, Barney had thoughts beyond Cuban or French heels: a yearning to run a nightclub in New York City, a keen sensitivity to talent, a hatred of social injustice. And CAFE SOCIETY is the book his life and accomplishments deserve. It could have been dull, academic, or third-hand. But it’s a lively memoir of Barney’s life, taken from the tape recordings he made — he was a born raconteur — subtly annotated and expanded by his widow Terry Trilling-Josephson.
CAFE SOCIETY (like the Downtown and Uptown nightclubs that had that name) is energetic, memorable, full of memorable anecdote and gossip. Josephson was someone who had good instincts about what artists — musicians, comedians, or actors — whose work had substance. He said he viewed himself as a “saloon impresario”: “I love it when people say that because I’m not more than that. It’s the way I view myself. In this business if you’re an ‘impresario,’ I say that with quotation marks around the word, you have a feeling. You hear something, and you say, ‘This is it!’ You go ahead and you do it. You don’t analyze. You have to follow your hunches.”
Josephson had the good fortune to have John Hammond as his guide, instigator, and occasional arm-twister. When Barney wanted to start a New York night club with music, it was Hammond who urged him to hire the three boogie-woogie pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, the blues singer Big Joe Turner, and Billie Holiday.
Cafe Society is remarkable for the improvisers who played there: Teddy Wilson with a band including Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, or Bill Coleman; Benny Morton; Ed Hall or Jimmy Hamilton; Sidney Catlett. Frank Newton with Sonny White, Kenneth Hollon, Tab Smith, Eddie Dougherty, Johnny Williams. Ed Hall with Mouse Randolph and Henderson Chambers. Ellis Larkins with Bill Coleman and Al Hall.
Later on, at the Cookery, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams. Josephson brought back Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter for successful late-life “comebacks.” And it wasn’t simply jazz and popular songs: think of the Revuers (with Judy Holiday and Adolph Green), of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, of the now-forgotten Jimmy Savo, all given encouragement and room to develop by Josephson.
But this isn’t purely a list of who-sang-what and how they were received, a collection of press clippings and schedules. Josephson was a first-class storyteller with a remarkable memory, and the stories he remembered are priceless. Nowhere else would I have learned that Emmett Berry, when trying to get someone to take a drink, would ask, “Will you have a drink of Doctor Berry’s rootin’ tootin’ oil?” For me, that’s worth the price of the book. Wonderful photographs, too.
And the stories!
Billie Holiday, at first not knowing what to do with the lyrics of STRANGE FRUIT when they were handed to her, and showing her displeasure in the most effective non-verbal way when an audience annoyed her.
Zero Mostel, always onstage, making life difficult for the man trying to fit him for clothing.
Barney’s firing of Carol Channing and his missing a chance to hire Pearl Bailey.
Tallulah Bankhead complaining — at high volume — about what she’d encountered in the ladies’ room.
Teddy Wilson’s drinking problem, late in his career.
The dramatic entanglements of Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell.
The amorous hopes of Joe Louis for Lena Horne.
Big Joe Turner and the magic bean.
Mildred Bailey’s religious beliefs.
And there is a deep, serious undercurrent throughout: the difficulty of having an establishment where neither the bands nor the audiences were segregated, and the looming shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee. (Leon Josephson, Barney’s brother, was a particular target, which cast a shadow over Barney’s endeavors.)
Ultimately, the book is delightful for its stories (and the wonderful photographs) and the way Terry Trilling-Josephson has woven recollection and research together. And the book is — on every page — the embodiment of Barney’s achievements and of the deep love he and Terry shared. Not to be missed!
This filmed performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — from the 1964 ABC-TV show, SALUTE TO EDDIE CONDON — doesn’t harm anyone, even though Eddie was present only in spirit. The celebrants are Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; George Wettling, drums; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano, cigar, and derby; Al Hall, bass:
And another fast blues — this one from 1938 with Bobby Hackett, cornet; George Brunis, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor; Jess Stacy, piano; Eddie, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Wettling, drums:
To be remembered with affection is a great thing, and it’s how we feel about Eddie and the musical worlds he created.
As a long-time jazz listener, I find myself mentally editing and revising many recordings (silently, without moving my lips). “Tempo’s too fast for that song, “”That side would have been even better if the tempo had stayed steady,” or “Why couldn’t he have taken just one more chorus?” Since the musicians can’t hear my silent amending and since the recordings remain their essential character, I think I am permitted this fussy but harmless pastime. Fruitless, of course, but amusing exercises in alternate-universe construction that serious readers of fiction know well: every close reader is by definition an unpaid and unheard editor.
But there are some jazz recordings no one could improve on. Here are two flawless sides.
This music was issued on a non-commercial V-Disc (“V” stands for Victory) recorded during the Second World War especially for the men and women in the armed forces. The musicians gave their services for free; the sessions were supervised by (among others) George T. Simon; the discs were 12″ rather than the usual 10″, allowing for blessedly longer performances. And many sessions took place after midnight, when the musicians had finished their gigs, lending them a certain looseness; as well, the recording companies gave up their usual restrictions, so that musicians under contract to one label were free to cross over from the land of, say, Victor, into Decca.
This October 1943 session was led by Teddy Wilson (itself a near-guarantee of success); it is a quartet taken from his working sextet, which would have also included Benny Morton (trombone) and Johnny Williams or Al Hall (bass). Perhaps those men were tired after a night’s work; perhaps they didn’t want to record without getting paid. But as much as I revere Morton and Williams or Hall, the men who remained made irreplaceable music.
What follows is a series of impressionistic notes on the music: keen listeners will hear much more as they immerse themselves in the music, as I’ve been doing for thirty-five years.
The four voices are powerful ones — Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, and Joe Thomas — but this quartet is not a display of clashing ego. Of the four, Thomas is least known, but his work here is deeply moving.
After the little end-of-tune flourish that brings on Wilson’s (scripted) introduction, his harmonically-deep, crystalline lines and embellishments float over Sidney’s steady brush tread (forceful but not loud. I think of the padding of a large animal in slippers). Wilson’s second chorus is pushed forward by a Catlett accent early on; the two men dance above and around the chords and rhythm.
In the third chorus, Hall joins them: as much as I admire the Goodman Trio, how unfortunate that this group never was asked to record — Hall’s tonal variations are beyond notating, in their own world.
Thomas’s entry, clipped but mobile, provokes Catlett into tap-dance figures. No one’s ever matched Joe’s tone, velvet with strength beneath it, the slight quavers and variations making it a human voice. The annunciatory figure midway through his chorus is a trademark, those repeated notes looking backwards to 1927 Louis and forward to a yet-unrecorded Ruby Braff. (Thomas was Frank Newton’s favorite trumpet player, a fact I can’t over-emphasize.) He seems to stay close to the melody, but the little slurs and hesitations, the dancing emphases of particular notes are masterful, the result of a lifetime spent quietly embellishing the written music, making it entirely personal.
And then Sidney comes on. The sound of his brushwork is slightly muffled and muddied by the 78 surface, but his figures are joyous, especially his double-timing, the closing cymbal splashes. Try to listen to his solo and remain absolutely still: hard, if not impossible!
Then the ensemble plays (with everyone facing in the same direction, not breathing hard) a variation on the melody — something taken for granted well before the official birth of bop — with a jammed bridge in the middle. Notice how Catlett and Wilson ornament and encourage the line that the two horns share. And the side concludes with a little jam session finish (Sidney urging everyone on) with Thomas recalling the “Shoot the likker to me, John boy,” that was already a familiar convention perhaps eight years before.
Incidentally, the swing players had discovered HOW HIGH THE MOON as early as 1940: Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter, guest stars on a Fred Rich Vocalion session in that year, improvise on it.
As delightful as I find HOW HIGH THE MOON, the masterpiece –subtler, sorrowing — is RUSSIAN LULLABY. Berlin’s melody was already familiar, and I wonder what thoughts of the Russian Front might have been going through the heads of these four players, what political or global subtext.
Often LULLABY is taken briskly, but this version is true to its title. After Wilson’s introduction, Joe essays the melody: if he had recorded nothing else than this statement, I’d hail his unique trumpet voice: his tone, his vibrato, his use of space, his pacing. Hall sings quietly behind him — but that soaring, melancholy bridge is a creation that is both of the trumpet and transcending it. I hear the passion of an aria in those eight bars, with little self-dramatization.
Wilson, following him, is serious, his lines restating and reshaping. (Some listeners find Wilson’s arpeggios and runs so distracting that they miss out on his melodic invention: he was a superb composer-at-the-keyboard, and his solo lines, transcribed for a horn, would seem even more stunning. Not accidentally, he learned a great deal about melodic embellishment and solo construction from his stint in Louis Armstrong’s 1933 band.)
Keeping Wilson’s mood, Catlett plays very quietly, although you know he’s there. Hall’s approach is more forceful and Catlett follows suit.
Then . . . a drum solo? At this tempo? Most drummers would have found it hard to be as relaxed, as restrained. He quietly paddles along in between the horns’ staccato reduction of the melody, making it clear that he is a serious servant of the rhythm, the time, devoted to the sound of the band — until he moves to double-time figures and two cymbal accents. Music like this is deceptively simple: a casual listener might think it is easy to play in this manner, but how wrong that mild condescension would be! Wilson and Catlett join forces for a momentary interlude before the horns return — Joe, sorrowing deep inside himself, Hall soaring.
How marvelous that we have these two sides!
Thanks to vdiscdaddy for posting them on YouTube; his channel is full of music worth hearing that has been hidden from us. Thanks of a larger sort to Wilson, Thomas, Hall, and Catlett — brilliant creators who knew how to bring their individual selves together to create something brilliant, immortal. And I don’t use the word “immortal” casually.
P.S. I first heard these sides thanks to the late Ed Beach, and then savored them on an Italian bootleg lp on the Ariston label, THE V-DISC. In 1990, they came out on CD — with an incomplete alternate take of RUSSIAN LULLABY — on the Vintage Jazz Classics label (TEDDY WILSON: CENTRAL AVENUE BLUES, VJC 1013-2), a production that brought together, although not face to face, John Fell, Doug Pomeroy, and Lloyd Rauch. I don’t think a copy of that CD would be easy to find today, though.
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.