Tag Archives: Al Lucas

MR. CARNEY TAKES A HOLIDAY OR THREE

Regally, Harry Carney played baritone saxophone and other reeds in the Duke Ellington Orchestra from his adolescence to his death, a record of loyalty I think unmatched, even by Freddie Green with Basie.  But even he could be wooed into other people’s record sessions now and again. An early and glorious appearance is on this 1936 Teddy Wilson date, where he sounds positively limber on WHY DO I LIE TO MYSELF ABOUT YOU?

On this side, Billie Holiday sat out, or went home, but the instrumental performance of June 30, 1036, is priceless: Jonah Jones, Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Teddy Wilson, Lawrence Lucie, John Kirby, Cozy Cole.

On this Edmond Hall session, Carney majestically states the melody of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME at the blissfully romantic tempo I think is ideal for the song:

The date is from May 5, 1944.  An anecdote I cannot verify is that Hall wanted Tricky Sam Nanton to play trombone but that Nanton’s loyalty to Ellington so strong that he would not.  This record is an astonishing combination of timbres nonetheless, with Alvin “Junior” Raglin aboard as well.  And Sidney Catlett, for whom no praise is too much.

Finally (although I could offer many other examples) one of  Harry Lim’s wonderful ideas for Keynote Records — he also created a trumpet choir of Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas; a trombone one of Benny Morton, Vic Dickenson, Claude Jones, and Bill Harris — this extravaganza of sounds with Carney, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Johnny Guarnieri, Al Lucas, Sidney Catlett, recorded on May 24, 1944.  Whether it was the tempo or the imposing members of the sax ensemble, Carney seems ever so slightly to lumber, like a massive bear trying to break into a lope, but his huge sound carries the day.  Tab Smith arranged for the date, and on this side he gives himself ample space: he sounds so much like our Michael Hashim here!

The inspiration for this blogpost — did I need a nudge to celebrate Harry Carney?– was, not surprisingly, an autographed record jacket spotted on eBay:

Wouldn’t it be so rewarding in whatever our line of work might be to be so reliable and sought-after as Harry Carney was to Ellington and everyone else?

May your happiness increase!

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THE SPECIAL FOR TODAY (AND FOREVERMORE)

What’s for dinner?

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or, in another guise:

FISH FOR SUPPER 78

Notice the composer credits: drummer Jack Parker and trumpeter Joe Guy, who has gained deep posthumous fame for being married to Billie Holiday for a brief period.

But we’re here to have some music.  Music about food.  What could be better?

The YouTube algorithm has linked this performance to Ben Webster and Sonny Rollins, but such things are mere trifles.  Some listeners may move to dismiss this as a mere novelty, looking forward to rhythm and blues performances of thin material.  But if we can resist the urge to categorize and condescend, it’s audible that this little band swings more — vocally at the start — than many more famous ensembles do in their highest gear.

The song was first recorded in 1941 by Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans — a recording I’ve  not heard.  This performance (one take only) is led by Hot Lips Page, whose delighted spirit is audible throughout: Lips, trumpet and vocal; Earl Bostic, Butch Hammond, alto saxophone; Don Byas, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Al Lucas, string bass; Jack Parker, drums:  September 29, 1944.

Now for eight bars of name-dropping.  Circa 1974, several friends and I were invited to visit Ruby Braff at his Riverdale apartment.  When I’m invited to a new place, I often look at the bookshelves and record collection.  Ruby had several dozen of the then new Chiaroscuro recording — live at the New School — of the quartet he and George Barnes led.  Leaning at an angle to the lowest bookshelf was an unsleeved copy of FISH FOR SUPPER on the 78 pictured above.

I am sure that Ruby admired the sound of that little band, the frolicsome energy of Lips Page.  Or perhaps he warmed to the poetry: “We ain’t got no menu / But our fish will send you,” worthy of Robert Frost at his best.

May your happiness increase!

THE ELUSIVE MR. WILSON

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Although I have tried to hear all the recordings Teddy Wilson ever made over more than half a century, the man himself was harder to find.  True, I did hear him in person several times at Newport Jazz Festival concerts in New York City, once at the Highlights in Jazz concert series, at The New School (alongside Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, and Eubie Blake!), and once at a shopping mall, Roosevelt Field, where, in the winter of 1971, he was one of four or so jazz performers who had hour-long gigs among the shoppers.  (I recall that one other group was Roy Eldridge, an organist whose name I can’t recall, and the recently departed Eddie Locke; another was Joe Farrell, Wilbur Little, and Elvin Jones.  My friend Stu Zimny was there, too, and might have driven the car as well.)  Wilson brought with him the veteran bassist Al Lucas and drummer Gary Mure, son of the guitarist Billy Mure — if I remember correctly.  In his perfformance, Wilson did what had, by that time, become an “act”: his Benny Goodman medley, his Gershwin medley, his Fats Waller medley, his Count Basie medley — glistening but routine.  

I was a terribly earnest jazz-mad college student; one of my most precious records was the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, reuniting Lester Young, Teddy, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones.  After the concert was over, I stood by the piano, waiting patiently until some of the fans and hand-shakers had dispersed (perhaps some of them were telling how much they remembered Teddy’s work with the Benny Goodman Trio in 1935).  I shyly came up to Wilson, told him how much I admired his work and how much I loved this recording and would he sign it for me (all in one breath), and he gave me the faintest hint of a polite smile, said, “Thank you very much,” signed his name neatly and handed the record back to me.  And that was it.  

The photograph at the top of the page — with Teddy, Lester, and Jo — comes from that session, I believe. 

In retrospect, Teddy’s reticence makes a good deal of sense.  Playing music for shoppers can’t have been good for the psyche: Wilson logically would want to have collected his fee and gone home.  And he was perfectly polite: I just had the sense that talking to fans was alien, that I had unwittingly attempted to breach his privacy, the door had opened a crack and had closed quickly and decisively. 

I was reminded of this experience today in my small expedition to the New York State Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

As someone whose fact-chasing predates the internet — I like doing research in libraries.  I’ve spent a good deal of my life in the stacks, or in Special Collections, or in handling one-of-a-kind documents (while protective librarians usually come up behind me and hiss that I am NOT to put my elbow on the page). 

Which brngs us back to Teddy Wilson.  Years ago, I found a 10″ lp on the Jolly roger label in a second-hand store (price four dollars) of his solo performances of songs I had never heard before — among them WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — which I bought, clutching my treasure until the moment I could put it on the phonograph.  The solos were new to me, and they were splendid, including a version of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS which had a sweet little descending figure in the bass after the first statement of the title phrase. 

Eventually I learned that these 1938-39 performances were part of a business enterprise called THE TEDDY WILSON SCHOOL FOR PIANISTS.  I don’t think Wilson was terribly ambitious, but he was looking for ways to capitalize on the fame and recognition his work with Goodman and Holiday had brought him in the second half of the Thirties.  And someone (was it Wilson?) suggested that he could set up a correspondence course for the young men and women who wanted to play in the Wilson manner.  Leo Feist and other music publishers had tried to capitalize on this by selling music books of Waller, Tatum, James P., and other pianists’ transcribed solos — how accurate the transcriptions were is always open to dispute.  Wilson’s “school” was different in one crucial aspect: at the end of his Brunswick sessions, he would record one or two solos, which would be pressed as 78 records with the SCHOOL label and sold through the mail, as well as transcriptions of what had been played.  Theoretically, the student could follow along — hearing the record and reading the score — to know exactly what Wilson was doing. 

In his oral history, TEDDY WILSON TALKS JAZZ, Wilson recalled this about the experience (an excerpt I found at www.doctorjazz.co.uk., a thrilling site for anyone interested in piano jazz and jazz arcana of the highest order):

I have done quite a bit of private teaching in my life, too, and the young people I’ve had as pupils have always been between sixteen and twenty years of age. At one time I had my own school in New York, “The Teddy Wilson School for Pianists,” from 1936 to 1939, with three excellent partners, and we turned out some very good students. J. Lawrence Cook was my chief assistant there and he was great on the theoretical side of the jazz piano and shaped the printed courses we had, containing sheet music of my improvisations on popular melodies. They proved very successful in teaching by mail. However, I had to give it up in the end because costs just kept soaring. Advertising and copyright payments were heavy items, especially as the latter were always for very popular songs. The other partners in my school were Eve Ross and Teddy Cassola. Their contribution rounded out the work done by the [sic] Cook and me. My having to be away traveling and performing so much of time led some to believe I only “fronted” the school. Not so. I was completely involved. [TW 110-111]

I have never seen an original SCHOOL 78, although a vinyl issue on one of Jerry Valburn’s collectors’ labels — probably Meritt — collected all the issued and alternate takes from this series, and I have it — a prize!  And later the SCHOOL recordings were issued chronologically on the Classics and Neatwork CDs.  (The Commodore Music Shop was involved in this project as well, so I think that the music was first “officially” reissued on the first Mosaic Commodore box set.

But ever since I’ve had a computer, I’ve been checking Google for the scores themselves.  I am a sub-amateur pianist, but I harbor the hope that if I had a Wilson score in front of me, something placid, not TIGER RAG, then perhaps I could spend a winter working my way through thirty-two bars.  (I have the “Teddy Wilson” music books from the Thirties and Forties, but don’t trust them.)

Nothing emerged in cyberspace until a year or so ago, when I found that the Performing Arts Library (in the Lincoln Center complex) had an entry for the scores.  It seems that an American composer-pianist-arranger named Brainerd Kremer left his papers to the library, and in one of the boxes he had a set of the Wilson School scores. 

I filed this information away in the back of my mind until today, when I found myself with several hours of free time twenty blocks north of Lincoln Center, and set out, a brave researcher in search of the jazz Grail. 

The quest required a series of small perseverances on my part, taking me from one floor of the library to the other.  I hadn’t had a New York Public Library card for nearly fifteen years, so I had to reapply for one (simple and pleasant), had to log onto their system and find my way (reasonably simple), had to explain myself to the reference librarian (easy and quite pleasant) and then take my slip of paper to the third-floor Special Collections print department, hand it in, and wait for my number — 24 — to be displayed on the indicator above.  They were both busy and understaffed, so the ten minutes I had been told it would take turned out to be more like thirty-five, but then 24 was visible and I approached the desk.  The pleasant young woman had nothing in her hands but a piece of paper, always a bad sign, and she politely told me that they could not find what I was asking for, but that I should give them my name, phone, and email, and they would call me in a week if they found it. 

I hope they do, even if I have to buy a pad of music staff paper and start copying (for nothing so simple as photocopying happens without labyrinthine restrictions in most Special Collections) but I’m not optimistic.  Do any of my readers have a copy of the Wilson scores they wouldn’t mind lending me?  Or any good suggestions?  I need to learn how to play I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS as Teddy did.  I know this.  And I would hate to think that the elusive Mr. Wilson had eluded me after death in the library, too.

GJON MILI’S 1943 JAM SESSION

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Thanks to jazz scholar and old friend David Weiner, I encountered this glorious photograph two nights ago.  Gjon Mili is known to most of us as the man behind the 1944 film JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, but he made his primary mark as a still photgrapher, shooting many pictures at jam sessions staged for LIFE.  Now that Google has made the picture archives of that long-lived weekly magazine available, we can all enjoy such lively archaeology.

If you can’t wait to see previously unknown pictures of Mildred Bailey, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon and friends, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and others, the link to the site is http://images.google.com/hosted/life and I’ve already spent a good deal of time there.  It is fascinating not only for the jazz players, but for the glimpses of what is, for most of us, a lost world — where, as John Cheever once wrote, all the men wore hats.  If you enter the search term “jam session,” always a good idea, you will find 183 images including everyone from Gene Krupa to George Wettling to Dizzy Gillespie and Vic Dickenson.

The picture above is a wonderfully odd mix of players: the man at far left, holding a glass, might be drummer Zutty Singleton.  To his right, the altoist has been identified as a young Leo Parker.  Then there’s Hot Lips Page at the microphone.  Nearly hidden behind him is clarinetist Buster Bailey and bassist Al Lucas.  The drummer (in Navy uniform) is Kansas Fields, the pianist Teddy Wilson.  And, inescapably, in the back, clarinet at the ready, is Mezz Mezzrow.  Any guesses about the other players will be appreciated — and I’m indebted to the discussion already held by members of the jazz research group moderated by Michael Fitzgerald for the additional identifications above.  This jam session and one other was recorded for V-Disc, but legend has it that the recordings were rejected because the assembled multitudes were having a noisy good time.  Given these musicians, I would have shouted, too.

Here’s another from the same session:

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My long-time myopia holds me back here, but I see Eddie Heywood at the piano, Buster Bailey again, and the wondrous pairing of Dizzy Gillespie and Vic Dickenson, at a time before producers, clubowners, and other people had decided that one played “bebop” and the other one “Dixieland.”

Too many players to list them all (even if I recognized everyone) but I’ll bet that the musical atmosphere was both festive and creative when Mili clicked his shutter:

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How about Mezz Mezzrow, Muggsy Spanier, bassist Al Hall, Dizzy, and Duke?

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Then, there’s a less ecumenical gathering: drummer George Wettling (who could play in anyone’s band), the irreplaceable PeeWee Russell, and a bassist who might well be Al Lucas once again.

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A rare early portrait of Vic Dickenson, with Heywood at the piano.

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Properly at the center of things — he could shape a jam session like no one else — is William Basie.  You know, the fellow from New Jersey?

I had to stop myself before posting more than a dozen images on this blog, although I will return to this site for uniquely posed evidence of the lost Golden Age, the Eden that very few people now alive got to visit.  Thank you, Gjon Mili!  And thank you, LIFE, which I once thought hopelessly middlebrow: these pictures prove me wrong.