Tag Archives: Al Sidell

FROM AUSTIN COMES JAZZ: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET and FRIENDS at SACRAMENTO (May 28, 2011)

What you will see and hear below is the second half of a set of music performed outdoors at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee by Hal Smith’s International Sextet and some musical friends from Austin, Texas. 

The Sextet is comprised of Hal, drums; Kim Cusack, tenor sax, clarinet; Anita Thomas, alto sax, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [in this case a keyboard, which he transformed heroically into an almost-piano]; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass. 

The guests were bassist Ryan Gould and clarinetist Stanley Smith (the latter leader of the Jazz Pharoahs). 

To give Ryan a chance to show off his bass playing, Clint switched over to cornet and there is an unannounced guest appearance by a steam train during Anita’s solo on the first song, which is a hymn to the United States Post Office (vocal by Carl), ONE SWEET LETTER FROM YOU:

Here’s a rocking HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

And an even more exuberant closer, with Clint singing, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL:

Jazz al fresco!

Just a note about my title, a JAZZ LIVES in-joke.  In 1940, John Hammond arranged for a session with Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra.  A nearly perfect group with Freeman, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Dave Bowman, Eddie Condon, and a variety of bassists and drummers, including Mort Stuhlmaker, Clyde Newcombe, Al Sidell, Fred Moynahan, Stan King, and Dave Tough.  For the recording, Hammond (an inspired meddler) brought in Jack Teagarden instead of Gowans (for which Gowans never forgave Hammond, understandably) and the rest of the band was the same: Bud, Max, Pee Wee, Bowman, Condon, Mort Stuhlmaker, and an incandescent Tough.  The eight sides they made are in their own way as glorious as the Kansas City Seven or any Ellington small group, although only Richard M. Sudhalter, I think, has properly celebrated them.  They were (not incidentally) recorded in Liederkrantz Hall, and their sound was and is resonantly beautiful.  Search out THAT DA DA STRAIN, AFTER AWHILE, PRINCE OF WAILS, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, JACK HITS THE ROAD, FORTY-SEVENTH AND STATE, MUSKRAT RAMBLE.

WHAT does all this have to do with the title?  The Chicagoans — real, imagined, and honorary — stem from fellows who went to Austin High School, thus the title of the 78s in their album: “From Austin High COMES JAZZ.”  My title has everything to do with Austin, Texas, but I could not resist writing encomia about those 1940 sides.  If you haven’t heard them, you are missing something luminous, moving, and thrilling; if you know them but haven’t heard them recently, you will feel the same way, I am sure.

And it is a tribute to Hal Smith’s International Sextet that I associate them with these 1940 marvels!

A postscript: I was web-searching for material about the 1940 session, and found this March 1954 review of the music in the UK GRAMOPHONE by Edgar Jackson, someone I believed had taste that was allied alongside mine.  But to call Pee Wee Russell a “cackler”?  My word, indeed . . . !

Just why this has been named “Comes Jazz” I am at a loss to understand.

Jazz had ” arrived ” long before Bud Freeman and his cohorts here became prominent, towards the end of the mid-1920’s. Admittedly the music is in a mode brought about by the younger, mostly collegiate amateur, white musicians of Chicago, such as Freeman, Benny Goodman, et al, as a result of the influence of various New Orleans coloured jazz musicians who had commenced to emigrate north and made Chicago more or less their headquarters. But it adhered too closely to the New Orleans tradition to be looked upon as anything sufficiently different to warrant any suggestion that it was a new jazz, let alone one which came to be accepted as the jazz. That distinction remained then, as it still does, the honour of the original New Orleans jazz.

Furthermore the purists will tell you that for all their enthusiasm the Chicagoans missed something of the basic New Orleans character that was the essence of what they still call true jazz, and that in fact there was something slightly phoney about their music.

As time went on, and jazz became even more adulterated by the dictates of “commerciality”, this accusation was dropped. For at any rate the Chicagoans had come much nearer to playing real jazz than did such other so-called jazz bands of the time, as for instance Paul Whiteman’s, and to-day Chicago jazz is accepted as more or less righteous.

This LP shows that some of the practitioners of Chicago style deserve the esteem in which they are still held, but that others do not.

Taking Freeman’s Chicagoans as a group, and remembering that these records by them were made in 1940, by when all those who were ever going to understand must have reached that stage, we find an ensemble which is not only technically competent, but which, with the excellent Dave Tough driving it exhilaratingly, also swings in the better sense of the word.

But the solos are not all so impressive. Jack Teagarden proves that he well merits the great reputation he has for so long enjoyed. Max Kaminsky also does well. So does Freeman himself, except that his style has dated somewhat noticeably and his ideas are rather limited. He is best remembered for his work in The Eel by Eddie Condon’s Orchestra (Parlophone R28o7), and no matter what the tune might be, Bud always still played The Eel.

Of Pee Wee Russell I am afraid I can only say that he indicates all too clearly that he was never much more than a cackler whose melodic lines were more conspicuous for the ” jazzy ” way in which he played them than for anything worth praising in their construction.

Which leaves among the soloists pianist Dave Bowman—the problem child of the proceedings because his style is a curious mixture of Chicago, New Orleans and ragtime. But somehow he gets there all the same.

Thank you, Mr. Jackson.  Here in the Colonies we have a saying, “There’s no accounting for the lack of taste.”

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CHARLES PETERSON’S VISION

This is the second part of what I hope will be a long series on the jazz photography of Charles Peterson, who mystically saw the essence of jazz.  00000005

Here’s Peterson the documentary photographer — his casual, offhanded shot of a quartet led by Sidney Bechet, who is characteristically both in command and absolutely at the service of the music he is creating, the experience ecstatic and powerful.  What I find fascinating are the expressions on the faces of his sidemen: Cliff Jackson (whom I remember seeing in later photographs as white-haired) looks up at the Master to see where the currents of music are going; Eddie Dougherty, a wonderful and little-known Brooklyn-born drummer, seems anxious, although he may have only been caught in mid-comment, and Wellman Braud is quietly gleeful, rocking in rhythm.  They seem small objects drawn into Bechet’s vortex.  The photo suggests that any cohesive jazz group forms itself into a unit, but each musician retains his or her essential personality, and in this picture we see the quiet tension between the Selves and the Community.  And this photo brings up another of Peterson’s unintended gifts to us: how many people ever were fortunate enough to be at the Mimo Club in Harlem to hear this quartet, much less at this moment on February 16, 1942?  But — with a substantial record collection, some memory and imagination — we can invent the music that this band is creating. 

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This is a new split-second capture from a famous jazz session and photo shoot: the Commodore Records session of April 20, 1939, where Billie Holiday recorded STRANGE FRUIT, YESTERDAYS, I GOTTA RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, and FINE AND MELLOW.  The musicians are bassist Johnny Williams, trumpeter Frank Newton, altoist Stanley Payne, and tenorist Kenneth Hollon.  Billie is holding a long-noted syllable; is it the “Yes” in YESTERDAYS?  And she is very young, very beautiful, also giving herself up to the music, her hands folded, her eyes almost-shut, Peterson’s lighting capturing her mouth, chin, and throat.  What distinguishes this portrait from others at this session is Billie’s lovely and obviously-treasured fur coat.  I find it ironic, seventy years after the session, that there is such a gap between Billie in her fur — which she deserved more than anyone — and the material she sings with such deep emotion.  One song, most famous, describes lynchings in the South; another describes a “fine and mellow” lover who doesn’t treat his woman well; a third and fourth describe bygone happinesses, all gone now, and the blues one sings when one’s lover has left.  And Billie sang these four songs as if her heart would break . . . wearing that fur coat.  Later in the session, of course, she got warm and took it off.  And no doubt the irony didn’t occur to her and she would have laughed it off if someone pointed it out, “Lady, you look too good to be singing those blues!”00000010

Hard at work is all I can say.  The caption states that this is the Summa Cum Laude band — led in part by Bud Freeman, arrangements by valve-trombonist Brad Gowans — performing at Nick’s in December 1938.  The band must be negotiating some serious ensemble passage, for they all look so intent.  Bassist Clyde Newcome stares out into space, as does Pee Wee Russell; Gowans and Freeman, especially Brad, are watching the band warily, or perhaps Brad is reading the music off the stand in the center.  I would guess that the drummer is Al Sidell, but I would hope that it is Stan King* — drummers shuttled in and out of this band.  The rather somber effect of this picture suggests to me that the band is playing one of its medleys of current hits (you can hear them on the airshots in 1939-40 from Chicago’s Panther Room at the Hotel Sherman . . . grown men of this artistic stature playing SIERRA SUE, but what can I say?)  Serious business indeed.  (In his later comment, Mike Burgevin points out that I left out Max Kaminsky.  How did I do this?)  *Don Peterson confirmed that the drummer is indeed Stan King — one of jazz’s entirely forgotten men. 

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This photo lets me imagine a time before I was born when James P. Johnson could wear his pin-stripe suit and play the piano, which is what he was meant to do.  It was taken in 1946, on a “Jazz on the River” cruise organized by Rudi Blesh and Art Hodes to go up and down the Hudson River.  From left, there’s the hand of an unidentified bassist, James P., Baby Dodds, Marty Marsala on trumpet (with the appropriate handkerchief) and guitarist Danny Barker — some of the same crew who turned up on the THIS IS JAZZ radio broadcasts.   But my secret pleasure in this photograph comes from the pretty woman whose head seems (although much smaller) in the same plane as James P.’s.  She is tidily dressed; her cardigan, pulled together at the collar, reveals a neat floral blouse beneath; we sense that she wears a neat wool skirt.  Her eyeglasses gleam in Peterson’s flashbulb; her hair is demure; her modest lipstick is in place.  Her hands are decorously in her lap.  Yet it’s clear — although she is prim, restrained, the last person to whoop and knock over her highball — that she is deeply pleased by what she hears.  As much as Bechet or James P., she is in the grip of the music, wanting it to go on forever. 

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Berenice Abbott told Hank O’Neal that most of photography was having the patience to wait for the right moment.  I’ll end this series with a superbly right moment — with only two musicians, Eddie Condon and Bobby Hackett, playing at the “Friday Club” jam sessions held at the Park Lane Hotel in Manhattan — this one on February 17, 1939.  Hackett here is much as I remember him, up close, in 1972: a small, slender man, neatly dressed, dark eyebrows, thin wrists with black hair on them.  Here he is all of 24, and so small that while standing he is only inches taller than Condon, sitting.  The expression on his face might be a smile or it might be that he is working hard to bring off a particular nuanced phrase.  But our attention is drawn to Condon, also young and healthy.  Condon called Hackett “The Impostor,” because — with his peculiarly ornate wit, he said “Nobody can be that good.”  The teasing compliment almost slips away, but you get the point.  What is more important in this picture — more than Condon’s neat attire — is his grin, his head turned in delight and pleasure and admiration towards Hackett, who is clearly playing something marvelous, inimitable, lovely.  Condon is astonished by what he’s hearing, but he’s expected no less from Bobby.  This photograph captures the joy (and the labor) of this music better than any prose. 

Thank you, Charles Peterson!

P.S.  It didn’t surprise me that Peterson’s offspring were particularly talented in music, film, and writing.  His daughter, Karen Yochim, a successful country-and-western songwriter, lives in Louisiana, has written extensively about Cajun culture for newspapers and magazines — and is branching out as a crime novelist.  Peterson’s granddaughter Schascle “Twinkle” Yochim (her name is Cajun, pronounced “Suh-Shell”) is a professional singer with several CDs, concentrating on soul, rock, and to a limited extent, country-and-western. She’s also a songwriter, with songs accepted in feature films currently in production.  

After a career in the Navy, Peterson’s son, Don, worked for the Navy Department in Washington, DC, doing motion picture & television scriptwriting.  Don also wrote scripts for many film and television productions.  He retired in 1986 and now concentrates on marketing his father’s photographic legacy, most lavishly accessible in the book SWING ERA NEW YORK.