Tag Archives: Allan Reuss

BEAUTIFUL AND RARE: FRAN KELLEY’S “THE DOUBLE QUINTET,” 1945

I haven’t watched ANTIQUE ROADSHOW for years, but to me the record below is like finding that the old painting in my basement is really a Caravaggio.  In 2019, I bought it on eBay for fourteen dollars, thinking, “I’ve never seen this label before nor heard of this session; it has wonderful people on it, and how disappointed could I be?”

I am elated, not disappointed.  Here are reverent still portraits:

And the other side:

The Double Quintet is Emmett Berry, trumpet; Eddie Rosa, Willie Smith, alto saxophone; Eddie Lucas, oboe; Clint Davis, reeds; Arnold Ross, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Billy Hadnott, string bass; Keg Purnell, drums.  Joe Macanarny or Herb Jeffries, vocal; Johnny Thompson or Herschel Gilbert, arranger.  Los Angeles, October, 1945 The four sides issued were LOUISE (instrumental) / PRELUDE TO A KISS (Jeffries, vocal; Thompson, arrangement) / LOVE FOR SALE (Joe Macanarny, vocal?) / YOU’RE BLASE (Jeffries, vocal).  I have not heard the latter sides, and my collector-friends’ network has not found a copy.  I would be interested in obtaining the disc, to put it mildly.

The Fran-Tone label — whose complete output was two discs, four sides — was the creation of Fran Kelley, about whom I would like to know much more.  These two sides received good press in Billboard, January 12, 1946 (thanks to Ellington scholar Steven Lasker for sending this to me):

Fran Kelley wrote articles or reviews of Chet Baker, Jimmy Giuffre, Leith Stevens, Bud Shank, Howard Rumsey and the Lighthouse All-Stars, and  others in Metronome in 1955 and 1956.  And (thanks to Brian Kane, Yale University) we know this:

Erroll Garner’s “Frantonality” is named after Frances Kelley, who briefly ran
a label in Los Angeles called Fran-Tone records. Garner’s recording of
“Frantonality” (recorded in Hollywood, April 9, 1946) was for that
label [but was issued on Mercury] and the title is also an advertisement for the
label.  She appears in Duke Ellington’s Music is My Mistress,
the chapter on San Francisco. “And there is one more person–Fran
Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager,
executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a
radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”

If you would like to disappear from public scrutiny, meaning no disrespect, pursuing spiritual quests is one surefire way.  As they say in detective films, the trail goes cold after 1956.  But we have this extraordinary record.

I’d start with the arrangers first: both Thompson and Gilbert wrote arrangements for Harry James c. 1943-45 — Gilbert also played viola, and went on to be a prolific orchestrator for television: I looked at the listing of shows for which he provided music over several decades, and concluded that everyone over 50 has heard his work.  But it’s Thompson’s arrangement of PRELUDE that is so beautifully arresting.  As well as James, he did arrangements for Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey (many for her 1944-45 radio show), and Tommy Dorsey.  They were big band charts almost exclusively, but one example of Thompson’s intriguing writing for a small group can be heard on the Norvo Keynote Records 1944 date.  If you need to know more about Thompson’s subtle mastery — more than PRELUDE will tell you — know that Norvo, interviewed for the liner notes of a CD containing live material from an otherwise unrecorded 1942 band (“Live at the Blue Gardens”) speaks of him in the same breath with Eddie Sauter.

Incidentally, only the most superficial listener will say, “Oh, it’s just like the Alec Wilder Octet, those Third Stream experiments.”  Much more, technically and emotionally, is going on here.

When I took the record out of its cardboard box, I first played LOUISE — a song I love — also because I had not seen the curious “vocal phrases” notation on the label of PRELUDE, and thought, “This is going to be a Jeffries vocal feature, and I know both him and the song very well already.”  It’s lovely to be proven wrong, but I will start with LOUISE.  I thought it began with a harpsichord, but the introduction seems to be played by Lucas and Reuss, oboe and guitar — a very unusual sound.  What follows is a little less surprising, a chorus scored for a compressed big band, although with space for Willie Smith and Emmett Berry, their voices so singular, then outings for clarinet (is it Davis?) before everything shifts gears into 3 / 4 for the kind of interlude one hears in films — the hero and heroine are suddenly wearing eighteenth-century clothing and powdered wigs — moving to a swing-to-bop passage for Arnold Ross.  (Yes, that was a car going by beneath my window — think of MISS BROWN TO YOU in July.)  For the last minute of the recording, Gilbert seems to have run out of ideas: yes, Berry noodles beautifully on top of the ensemble, and solo voices have brief moments, and it’s swinging dance music — but it almost feels as if he’d brought an incomplete arrangement to the date and needed to fill space before Billy Hadnott so eloquently closes the performance.  Perhaps I am being unkind to Gilbert, but the opening and closing of this arrangement are so rich in detail that the late interlude seems bare.  I was still glad I’d bought the record.

Consider for yourselves:

When I turned the disc over, I expected a formulaic vocal showcase: an introduction, then Jeffries would deliver a chorus of the song, the band providing background.  Perhaps a piano half-chorus, then a horn solo to finish out, and Jeffries might take the last eight or sixteen.  But what I heard was a delightful rebuke to formulaic expectations.  I won’t delineate all the pleasures of this performance, but I had never heard a recording where a song’s lyrics rose and fell as part of the instrumental background.  Whether Jeffries sings in half-voice or was consciously asked to turn away from the microphone for the first phrase, I can’t know — but the effect is unlike anything I’d ever heard on record.  The first twenty seconds are dreamlike, a mist-enhanced forest landscape, instruments and voices heard from afar, brief but telling personal utterances from Reuss, Ross, Berry — so delicate and earnest, before Willie Smith enters to rhapsodize in the Hodges manner.  Jeffries returns to sing the title, and the record — a marvel — ends.  I couldn’t believe it, and on return listenings, shook my head at the way Thompson treated every instrument in his small orchestra with equal respect: the reed section, Reuss, Hadnott, as well as “the singer” and “the jazz soloists.”

See if you don’t share my pleased amazement:

Marvels appear to us in the most subdued ways.

And I repeat: does anyone have a copy of Fran-Tone 2005?

May your happiness increase!

“I’M AS HAPPY AS A PUP”: A SONG AND PHOTOGRAPHS TO SUSTAIN US

A friend posted this jubilant photograph about a week ago, and it’s stayed in my mind as the epitome of joyous freedom.  The splendidly happy fellow is Cooper (he asks that his last name not be used: he’d rather frolic than answer mail).

The photo raises the question: “How could I have such joy in my life?” and I don’t pretend to have the answer: these are not joyous times for those whose eyes are open.  But one spiritual panacea has to be music: the sounds that make our eyes bright and our tails wag.

When I saw Cooper’s portrait, “I’m as happy as a pup,” ran through my head, and I tracked it down to the Gershwins’ THINGS ARE LOOKING UP, and the thread went straight to Mr. Astaire, then to Lady Day.  It’s a poignant version, with Buck Clayton whispering I CAN’T GET STARTED in our ears, then Billie approaches the possibly jubilant text with a hint of poignant tentativeness — can this be true? — the sound of someone who has known sadness and is wary of embracing joy too unguardedly.  Her delivery of the bridge is so tender (I think of MANDY IS TWO, a few years later) but her second offering of the title is more exultant, as if she had crossed the fiery river to safety and could relax and contemplate the much more real possibility of joy.  (All of this in under two minutes.)  Teddy Wilson’s sixteen bars characteristically glisten, but it pleases me so much to hear Vido Musso, consciously or otherwise, sounding so much like a wordless Billie.  Completely touching and genuine.

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Buck Clayton , trumpet; Prince Robinson, clarinet; Vido Musso, tenor saxophone; Teddy Wilson, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums [as Swing Roo (d) ] on label, Billie Holiday, vocal; New York, November 1, 1937:

This post is for Cooper (who obviously has so much to teach us) and my friend, for Charles of Sammut, for Penny Bengels, Pika Skjelbred, Winston and Harriet Comba, and a thousand other sentient beings who know how to love, how to frolic.

And if you think I demean Lady by linking her to Cooper, consider this:

and this, which even though it’s stiffly posed, the dogs don’t mind:

and this tenderness:

May your happiness increase!

A YOUNGBLOOD SERENADE: GUILLERMO PERATA and FERNANDO MONTARDIT (June 14, 2019)

These Youngbloods give me hope — people who make lovely music and have a long way to go before asking for the senior discount at the movies.  They are Guillermo Perata, cornet, and Fernando Montardit, guitar: here making merry and making art on the Goldkette-associated pop tune, HOOSIER SWEETHEART at an informal duo session of June 14, 2019.

You’ll also notice (when you listen) that they don’t treat this 1927 song as a holy relic of the Roaring Twenties, but, rather, as a piece of music to improvise on, with lyricism, swing, and a deep love for the melody:

This approach (think Louis, Hackett, Braff, Vache, Tobias, Kellso, Gordon and Justin Au, Caparone in the brass line; think Reuss and Grosz on guitar) never gets old.

I understand that Guillermo and Fernando will be visiting New York City and then New Orleans in the first half of August.  I haven’t seen Fernando in a few years, and I look forward to meeting Guillermo.  They are real, and the music they make is both tangible and memorable.

May your happiness increase!

A DELICIOUS TASTING MENU OF MELODIES: JONATHAN STOUT, “PICK IT AND PLAY IT”

Here, taste this:

I can think of no one (except the Venerable Marty Grosz) who is doing what Jonathan Stout does.  But the truly important thing is that he IS doing it, and beautifully.  And the evidence is all through his lovely solo CD, PICK IT AND PLAY IT.

The guitar has a long history, and what we call “jazz guitar” does also.  Before amplification, guitarists — solo or in ensemble — had the same complicated orchestral responsibilities as pianists: keep a melody line going, play the harmonies (implied or stated), do all this while offering a solid rhythmic pulse.  If you couldn’t do all three as easily as breathing, talking, and walking, you didn’t get the gig — whether the gig was playing rocking blues in a Mississippi juke joint or supporting a small hot band in Harlem.  The masters of this genre — more than two dozen — did it as a matter of course.  Anyone who has ever picked up a guitar can learn in under a minute just how complex and intimidatingly difficult their art is.  I write this from experience.

Jonathan has mastered the subtle mystical arts of such swing deities as Allan Reuss and George Van Eps, and PICK IT AND PLAY IT presents fifteen delicious sound-paintings that come from the acoustic past but sound fresh, personal, and lively.  More than once, while listening, I found myself thinking, “If Dick McDonough had lived, he might have made a session like this.”  If you understand my reference, you either already have this disc or you owe it to yourself to have several copies, in case rationing comes back.

If I remember correctly, Van Eps — whose gracious presence is vividly audible here — called this style of guitar playing “lap piano,” and it balances sharply-realized single lines with an overall orchestral approach.  Not only does the listener not miss string bass and drums on this CD, but they would be positively intrusive.  Stout doesn’t need them: he is his own resonant orchestra, full of shadings and colors, with a nearly relentless quiet swing.

And unlike many guitarists who are entranced by Django and post-Django, he does not seek to impress us by velocity, endurance, or flash.  His approach is stately, leisurely, full of melodic and harmonic subtlety: although these performances have the breath of improvisatory life, they are not “Hey, let’s do four choruses on [familiar tune] and go home.”  Rather, Stout has a deep compositional sense, so that I arose from each performance refreshed and fulfilled.  The CD is dense with music, but it never gets dull.  And the sense one comes away with of both Stout and his approach to the genre is not “Hey, look at me!  I spent a thousand hours on this piece!” but “How beautiful the guitar is, and listen to what memorable sounds can come from it.”

This CD offers “fifteen arrangements for solo guitar,” with a repertoire that mixes familiar pop classics with rare compositions for the instrument.  The latter are wonderful and I think they will be new to all except the most ardent student of this arcane art: Frank Victor’s PICK IT AND PLAY IT; Roy Smeck’s ITCHING FINGERS; and Allan Reuss’s APARTMENT G and PET SHOP.  (Many listeners, if they know Reuss at all, know him as the steady sweet resonant pulse in the Benny Goodman orchestra and later small-group sessions, but his compositions are a revelation.  And Reuss is Stout’s model, which says a great deal about Jonathan himself.)  Stout’s originals — dedicated to his son, not to Charlie Christian — PICKIN’ FOR CHARLIE and CHARLIE’S LULLABYE — are particularly delightful, the latter tender but never soporific.

To the casual listener, the remaining songs might seem familiar, even too much so (although in this century, the people who have heard, say, PENNIES FROM HEAVEN too often are an increasingly smaller group): STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, MOONGLOW, CHEEK TO CHEEK, IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, SUNDAY, GEORGIA ON MY MIND, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, OVER THE RAINBOW.  But this assumption would be completely wrong.

I came to CHEEK TO CHEEK, for one example, with a half-century of associations, expectations, and prized performances in my head.  But in the first minute of hearing Stout’s playing, I thought, “Wow, I’ve really never heard that song before.”  And it wasn’t that he was being consciously or self-consciously innovative, but his performance had the integrity and wonder that the best musicians bring to even the simplest series of chord changes or melodies.

Two more delights add to the overall pleasure, both provided by people who themselves make splendid music.  One is the too-brief but delicious essay by guitarist Nick Rossi: what a pleasure to read uncliched prose that rests on a deep knowledge of the art.  The other is the gorgeous recorded sound created by master engineer Bryan Shaw: the guitar sounds like itself, with no “natural flavors” synthesized in the laboratory, with a minimum of string noise that is often distracting on recordings of acoustic guitar.

PICK IT AND PLAY IT is a series of small fulfilling delights — and “small” is not a criticism but a compliment.  Even if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, or perhaps especially if you’ve never heard of Frank Victor, you will be thrilled by Jonathan Stout’s masterful subtle art.  Hear and purchase here and here.  And Jonathan is also quite a teacher: visit here to learn more — not only about his solo guitar folios and transcriptions, but about his swinging bands.

May your happiness increase!

“SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND”: JONATHAN STOUT AND HIS CAMPUS FIVE

I did my own private Blindfold Test, and played a track from this new CD for a very severe jazz friend who prides himself on his love of authenticity, and he said, “Well, they’ve GOT IT!” which is how I feel about Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five.

Here’s a sample of how they sounded in 2016 at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

The first piece of good news is that this group knows how to swing.  Perhaps “knows” is the wrong word, because I never believe that genuine swing feeling could be learned in a classroom.  They FEEL it, which is immediately apparent. Second, although some of the repertoire will be familiar, this isn’t a CD devoted to recreating the fabled discs in better fidelity; the group understands the great recorded artifacts but uses them as jumping-off places to stretch out, to offer their own creations.

I hear traces of the Goodman Trio on LIMEHOUSE BLUES, the 1937 Basie band on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE; Don Byas and Buck Clayton drop by here and there; as do Louis and Astaire; NAUGHTY SWEETIE owes some of its conception to Jimmie Noone, as SUNDAY does to Lester . . . but these versions are expressions of the blended personalities that make up a working band, and are thus precious for us in this century.

Jonathan’s two originals, MILL HOUSE STOMP and DANCE OF THE LINDY BLOSSOMS, work on their own as compositions with their own rhythmic energy. The former bridges the late Hampton Victors and 2 AM at Minton’s; the latter suggests EVENIN’, in mood more than chord changes.

Those familiar with the “modern swing dance scene,” however you define it, will recognize the musicians as energized and reliable: the leader on guitar; Jim Ziegler, trumpet; Albert Alva, tenor saxophone and clarinet (both of the horn players bringing a variety of selves to the project — but often I thought of Emmett Berry and Illinois Jacquet, players I am grateful to hear evoked — and a rhythm team of Chris Dawson (yes!) piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums.  Jim takes the vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK, sincerely but with a light heart, and several of the other songs are charmingly sung by Hilary Alexander, who has an engaging primness and delicacy while swinging along.  “Special guests” for a few numbers are the splendid Bryan Shaw, trumpet; Marquis W. Howell, string bass.

The individual soloists are a pleasure: everyone has the right feeling, but I’d just like to single out the leader, because his guitar work is so much the uplifting center of this band.  Stout has obviously studied his Charlie Christian but his solos in that context sound whole, rather than a series of patented-Charlie-phrases learned from transcriptions strung together for thirty-two bars.  His chord work (in the ensemble) evokes Reuss, McDonough, and VanEps in marvelous ways — glimpses of a near-vanished swing landscape in 2017.

And here they are in 2017, once again at the Lindy Blossom Weekend:

When I had heard the CD once again this morning, for purposes of writing this post with the evidence in my ears, I put it on for a second and third time, with no diminution of pleasure.  Later, I’ll play it in my car with the windows open, to osmotically spread joy as I drive.  Look for a man in a Toyota: he’ll be smiling and nodding rhythmically, although both hands on the wheel in approved position.  Rhythm, as they say, will be spread.  Around.

May your happiness increase!

“SINCERELY”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG: THE DECCA SINGLES 1949-1958

its-all-in-the-game-louis

Slowly, slowly, our awareness of Louis Armstrong spreads and deepens.  Of course, someone out there is still saying that everything after POTATO HEAD BLUES was a colossal misstep.  And somewhere, another gently misguided soul is suggesting that “Louis Armstrong was the worst thing that ever happened to traditional jazz,” which is a direct quotation and one that tried my peaceful nature to the breaking point.

But many people understand or have come to understand — to feel — that whatever Louis touched, he made beautiful.  So I write what I believe: that the recordings newly issued by Universal, annotated by our own local hero, Ricky Riccardi, are some of Louis’ greatest.  They are masterpieces of technique, drama, and above all, emotion.  And if I hear whimpers, “But they’re commercial!  The songs are so beneath him,” I will call Security to clear the room.

Here is the official link to the Universal Records issue — 95 songs, available through Apple here for download.  No, they aren’t going to be issued on CD. Downloads, like love, are here to stay — so ask a niece or nephew to assist you. And if the idea of intangible music — sounds without a tangible disc, shellac, vinyl, or plastic, is odd and threatening, think of downloading as new-fangled radio.

However, there are characteristically wise and rewarding liner notes by Mister Riccardi, about fifty thousand words, so knock yourself out here.  I believe that the cost for the whole package is $44.95 and individual tracks are priced at $1.29, which is not prohibitive.  As we have gotten used to cheap food in the last forty or fifty years, we also expect music to be free.  Silliness and selfishness, but that’s another blogpost.  This one is to celebrate Louis.

louis-armstrong-decca-singles

I listened to all ninety-five sides recently, and I am floating.

45-record-case-better

I grew up with some of these recordings —  Louis and Gordon Jenkins, especially — so they are very tender artifacts to me.  I came to Louis slightly later than the time period of this set: I think I bought my first record in 1963, although the experience of buying individual 45 rpm discs in paper sleeves is a part of my childhood.  Department stores had record departments, as did the “five and dime” stores, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, W.T. Grant, so hanging out there was a real part of my childhood and adolescence.  Of course, I separated myself from my peers early, but that is not something I lament.  In the Sixties and Seventies, Decca collected many of these sides on 12″ lps — SATCHMO IN STYLE, SATCHMO SERENADES, and the like.  This is to say that perhaps ten of the ninety-five sides were new to me, but the music is astonishing throughout.

Several aspects of this set are powerful to me and will be to you.  One is the trumpet playing. Louis’ unrivaled ability to make a “straight” melody come alive — “tonation and phrasing,” he called it — shines through every track.  Listeners who only see brass instruments in the hands of people who have spent the requisite ten thousand hours may not know how difficult what he does, casually, from track to track.  Ask a trumpet player how easy it would be to reproduce four bars of Louis.  I think you will be startled by the answer.  I know people rightly hold up his recordings of the Twenties and Thirties as examples of astonishing grace and power — and they are — but his trumpet playing in 1949-1958 is awe-inspiring, his huge sound captured beautifully by Decca’s engineers.

(And for those who worry about the “jazz quotient,” Louis is so strongly evident throughout that this should be enough — but one also hears from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Billy Kyle, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Billy Butterfield, Allan Reuss, Charles LaVere . . . )

Another pleasure is the alchemy Louis works on the material.  For those who are appalled by, let us say, YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART or SKOKIAAN, I ask them to take a deep breath and evaluate the lyric and melodic quality of, perhaps, THAT’S WHEN I’LL COME BACK TO YOU before criticizing the “pop” material. And if a record of WINTER WONDERLAND brought people to hear and warm to Louis, then the large reach into popular songs — nothing new — that Jack Kapp and Milt Gabler did is a very good thing.

The final thing that kept revealing itself, over and over, was Louis’ deep innate romanticism, his delight in singing and playing about love — hopeless love, disappointed love, fulfilled love — all the shadings from bleak to ecstatic.  Even those people who admire Louis as I do have not always given him credit as a great poet of love, vocally and instrumentally.  His dramatic sense is peerless on these records.

If you feel as I do, perhaps I am overstating the obvious.  But if you don’t, I ask you to listen to this:

and this, which to me has some of the emotional power of Billie’s Commodore ballads:

and this tender hymn, which I’ve loved for decades:

I know that 2016 has been a dazzling year for reissues and issues of material never heard before — consider several new Mosaic sets and the two volumes of material from the Savory collection — but this music is extraordinary: you can’t afford to miss these dreams.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT A BAND! MICHAEL GAMBLE and THE RHYTHM SERENADERS

Yes, Virginia, there are many “swing” “bands” that “play” Thirties and Forties repertoire for dancers and listeners.  I could tell many a tale.  But Michael Gamble and The Rhythm Serenaders really swing, without a quotation mark in sight.  Maybe it’s because their leader is a swinging string bassist who’s thus situated in the heart of the rhythm section that the disc sounds so good.  Maybe it’s because Michael has surrounded himself with musicians who understand ensemble playing as well as their solo excursions.  Musicians, I point out, who understand Buck Clayton, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Allan Reuss, Pete Brown, Dicky Wells, Charlie Christian, Jo Jones, Billie Holiday without copying them.

Whatever magic it took to create this band and this CD is in the hearts and bodies of the creators, I can only imagine.  I can only comment on the gratifying results.

michael-gamble

Their debut CD is an authentic-sounding tasting menu of good things.  If you’re like me, a close listener who has many Swing Heroes and Heroines, the list of people on the disc will immediately act as confirmation that a purchase would be a good idea (you have a birthday behind you or coming soon, correct?):

Michael Gamble, Bass / Keenan McKenzie, Clarinet and Saxes / Jonathan Stout, Lead Guitar / Paul Cosentino, Clarinet and Saxes / Russ Wilson, Vocals and Drums / Brooks Prumo, Rhythm Guitar / Gordon Au, Trumpet / Craig Gildner, Piano / Noah Hocker, Trumpet / James Posedel, Piano / Josh Collazo, Drums / Lucian Cobb, Trombone / Laura Windley, Vocal / David Wilken, Trombone.

And the repertoire: BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD / I NEVER KNEW / SLIDIN’ AND GLIDIN’ / SEVEN COME ELEVEN / PICK-A-RIB / A MELLOW BIT OF RHYTHM / BUG IN A RUG / HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM / WHO’S SORRY NOW? / WOKE UP CLIPPED / ROSE ROOM / WHAT A NIGHT, WHAT A MOON, WHAT A GIRL / CRAZY ABOUT LESTER /SCOTTIE / SMOKE GETS IN YORU EYES.

You’ll notice that this band has dug deeply and wisely into the music rather than offering the standard two dozen overplayed standards of the swing era.  Rocking tempos with lovely fervent playing and singing throughout.  I guarantee it.

And here’s an audio-visual sampler, quite authentic and lively:

 

Here is the spot that’s hot: where you can purchase this disc. Even if you’re like me, whose swing dancing is the happy motion of my head and my right foot — an imagined choreography much more than a full-body actualized one — you will love the music that Michael and the band create.  It feels real — rhythmically, melodically, and spiritually.  (If you are a swing dancer, you surely have encountered this band somewhere and already have purchased their music, which amounts to a compact party.  Just add bottled water and snacks.)

And here is the band’s schedule: coming soon to a waxed floor near you!

May your happiness increase!

THE CATALYTIC MISTER DANDRIDGE

putney-dandridge-78

We  have so much to thank Fats Waller for.  He could be the subject of a thousand posts, and the joy he spreads won’t ever diminish.  But, like Louis Armstrong, who he was and what he did were perceived immediately as marketable commodities.  In the early Thirties, with the coin-operated automatic phonograph a new and exciting phenomenon, Waller’s popularity was immense.  But he was under contract to Victor Records, so the other labels looked for their own “Fats” to compete for public attention.

Thus, piano-playing entertainers who could put over a song in a jocular way were valuable.  Swinging pop songs of the day — songs often from films — was the thing.  The very talented women Lil Hardin Armstrong and Cleo Brown recorded for Decca, as did Bob Howard.  Willie the Lion Smith did his own recordings for that label.  Tempo King, Stew Pletcher, Adrian Rollini, and Louis “King” Garcia recorded for Bluebird; Taft Jordan for Melotone, Stuff Smith for Vocalion. Henry “Red” Allen, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey existed in their own aesthetic worlds, but it’s clear they ran parallel to the Waller phenomenon, with a substantial bow to Louis.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Photograph courtesy of ON THIS DAY IN JAZZ AGE MUSIC, with thanks to Confetta-Ann Rasmussen.

Our subject for today, though, is Putney Dandridge, who made a series of recordings in 1935-36 for Brunswick Records.  He is well-known to only a few, I believe, and so I am doing something atypical for JAZZ LIVES and reprinting the detailed Wikipedia entry — more detailed than the Blessed John Chilton’s paragraph:

Louis “Putney” Dandridge (January 13, 1902 – February 15, 1946) was an African American bandleader, jazz pianist and vocalist.

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Dandridge began performing in 1918 as a pianist in the a revue entitled the Drake and Walker Show. In 1930, he worked for a time as accompanist for tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, including appearances in the important black musical Brown Buddies. In February 1931, Dandridge appeared in the cast of the musical revue Heatin’ Up Harlem, starring Adelaide Hall at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem. After touring in Illinois and the Great Lakes region, Dandridge settled in Cleveland, Ohio, forming his own band, which included guitarist Lonnie Johnson. This period lasted until 1934, when he attempted to perform as a solo act. He took his show to New York City, beginning a series of long residences at the Hickory House on 52nd Street and other local clubs. From 1935 to 1936, he recorded numerous sides under his own name, many of which highlighted some major jazz talents of the period, including Roy Eldridge, Teddy Wilson, Henry “Red” Allen, Buster Bailey, John Kirby, Chu Berry, Cozy Cole and more. Appearing to vanish from the music scene in the late thirties, it is speculated that Dandridge may have been forced to retire due to ill health. Dandridge died in Wall Township, New Jersey at the age of 44.

Here he is, appearing as “the Stage Manager,” in the 1932 film HARLEM IS HEAVEN, starring Bill Robinson and James Baskette.  Putney appears about ten minutes into the film, and you can see him speaking, chewing gum, scatting, at the piano:

Now, I am not making a case for Dandridge as Waller’s equal.  He was a serviceable swing / cocktail pianist at best, and he plays on five of the first six sides of the series.  But something spectacular can come from a liability, and the result of Putney’s piano playing — say that quickly if you dare — was that Teddy Wilson was called in for the remaining sessions.  As a singer, he was an enthusiastic amateur with a wide uncontrolled vibrato, a limited range, and a scat-singing tendency that was, I think, anachronistic even for 1935.  But in the great vaudeville tradition, he knew the songs, he put them  over with verve, and even when his vocals are most difficult to listen to, one focuses on the gem-like accompaniment.

I have no record of John Hammond’s involving himself in these sessions. I believe the Brunswick supervisor for these dates was Harry Gray.  Perhaps Wilson acted as contractor and went to the Rhythm Club the night before a date and said, “Are you free at noon tomorrow?  It’s fifty dollars?” and selected the best musicians he could from the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, Willie Bryant, Chick Webb, Stuff Smith, Goodman, Ellington, Henderson, Calloway, Redman.

It intrigues me that often the splendid playing on these discs is done by musicians who were less in the public eye, thus giving us opportunities to hear people who played beautifully and were not given the opportunities that the stars were.  The players include Roy Eldridge, Henry “Red” Allen, Doc Cheatham, Shirley Clay, Richard Clarke, Bobby Stark, Wallace Jones, Chu Berry, Buster Bailey, Johnny Russell, Tommy Mace, Teddy McRae, Charles Frazier, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Arnold Adams, Nappy Lamare, Clarence Holiday, Lawrence Lucie, Dave Barbour, John Trueheart, Eddie Condon, Allan Reuss, John Kirby, Grachan Moncur, Mack Walker, Wilson Myers, Ernest Hill, Artie Bernstein, Bill Beason, Walter Johnson, Cozy Cole, Slick Jones, Sidney Catlett.  When Wilson was out of town with the Goodman orchestra, Clyde Hart, Ram Ramirez, or James Sherman took his place.  I’d suggest that students of Thirties rhythmic practice have a two-semester intensive study seminar in front of them in these discs.  Without fanfare, these were racially mixed sessions.

Here’s a sample — goofy, exuberant, and delightfully swinging.  Don’t take your eyes off the screen, for the great jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann has inserted a (silent) clip of Putney performing in 1933 from the film SCANDAL, and he looks exactly as he sounds:

I wrote before that Dandridge is little-known, and that might be true, but his SKELETON IN THE CLOSET was part of the soundtrack for a video game, BIOSHOCK 2, so it pleases me to imagine some Youngblood listening to the complete Putney through his earbuds on his way to school.  Stranger things have happened.

The Dandridge anthology I knew in the Seventies was three records on the Rarities label; there are two CDs on the Chronological Classics series, and (the best — sound by John R.T. Davies) is a two-CD set on the Timeless label, issued in 1995.  YouTube — or “Orchard Enterprises” — has made all 44 sides available here.  I don’t recommend listening to all of them in a row, because Putney’s vocal approach might pall — but they are  priceless reminders of a time when great songs and great musicians were in the air in a way that would be unusual today.  Here’s the YouTube collection.  (Please, I can’t vouch for its correctness, and if it doesn’t play in your country I can’t fix it . . . but consider the price of admission).

Thanks to Marc Caparone, the great Inspirer.

May your happiness increase!

“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

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 to www.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

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:

with a smile and a song two

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:

MOON SONG Becky 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.

May your happiness increase!

“WITH A SWEET BOUQUET”: VARIATIONS ON A LOVE-THEME

A fairly well-known (now obscure?) pop song from 1951 is the text for my mellow sermon for today:

its-all-in-the-game-tommy-edwards

This ten-inch Decca recording — more than fifty years old now — which I guard tenderly — is the music of my childhood that has never disappointed me.

LOUIS and JENKINS

Another issue:

LOUIS and JENKINS one

And just because the photograph of Louis and Gordon turned up on eBay ( I know nothing about the  photograph below it) here it is once again:

LOUIS and JENKINS two

Since my dear friend Ricky Riccardi is in New Orleans for the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, I asked his permission and checked with his legal staff and was allowed a one-time exception to create a Riccardi-style posting which, of course, is not up to his standards . . . but he’s about half my age.  More energy.

Let’s begin where it all began — Charles G. Dawes’ MELODY [or sometimes, MELODY IN A].  Dawes is the most unlikely composer I can think of, a Brigadier General who had taught himself piano and composition, a banker who became  Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.  Dawes lived a long time — 1865-1951, and wrote this piece in 1911.  Here is a 1924 recording with Fritz Kreisler, violin; Carl Lamson, piano:

The opening phrase — a simple ascent and descent — is what we call a hook now, although that phrase wouldn’t have applied in 1911.  It’s in 6/8, and it seems as far as one could get from a danceable pop tune in 1924 and later.  But wait.

In 1940, Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra recorded LET ME DREAM, “adapted” from Dawes — I don’t think the melodic emendations are improvements, and I note that on the Decca label no lyricist is listed.  Bob Eberly sings it pleasantly enough, but the lyricist may have wanted to remain anonymous:

Two years later — perhaps as part of the famous Dorsey rivalry, perhaps in an attempt to find non-ASCAP material — brother Tommy recorded what I consider the first truly beautiful “modern” version, on a Red Seal Victor label which meant it was (loosely) a classical recording:

I don’t know who did the string arrangement, but it is dreamily beautiful even before Tommy enters.  And the trombonists in the audience (along with the rest of us) can marvel at Tommy’s tone and range.

I can’t find other recordings of this beautiful melody, but in 1951 Carl Sigman wrote lyrics for it and changed its name to IT’S ALL IN THE GAME.  Whether he modified the high notes or an arranger did — somewhere — I can’t say.  But this is the composition and performance I grew up with: Louis and Gordon Jenkins. Note: some listeners find the pairing of these two great artists unsatisfying; others make light of Jenkins’ sound, vocal and string arrangements.  I won’t have it.  If you want to write dismissively of this side, please refrain and come back tomorrow.

Incidentally, the personnel here is more than respectable in jazz players per inch, in addition to Louis and Gordon: Charles Giffard [misspelled as Gifford in all reference works: see below], George Thow, Bruce Hudson, trumpet; Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, tenor saxophone; Charles LaVere, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums . . . plus strings.

What you’ll hear is not just a 1951 pop tune orchestrated for jazz singer, small jazz band, and strings.  It has a compositional density — Jenkins thought orchestrally, his work a beautiful offering of contrasts and similarities — and the listener who is attentive will hear beautiful sounds.  I know: I’ve been listening to this record since perhaps 1959.  I’m never bored with this 3:22 concerto.

I don’t know if the “new” IT’S ALL IN THE GAME has a verse or an elaborate introduction, so I am assuming that this one is Gordon’s creation.  And what an oddly ominous one it is: the first fourteen seconds a variation on the ascending figure with accents from orchestra bells.  It sounds to me as if a funeral is approaching, or (perhaps) a variation on the verse to WHEN DAY IS DONE — both unusual ways to approach a song that is ultimately redemptive.  Sigman’s lyrics are not about death, but a beautiful escape from emotional death: the lovers have had a serious spat and all is / can be repaired — so that the end is a love-ecstasy.  And the singer — in this case Louis — is beautifully asked to play the part of a gentle wise elder, counseling the young lover who is tearfully despondent: “It’s going to be all right.  You just wait.  I know,” which is advice all of us have needed at some time.

The minor mood gets slightly brighter when the strings enter, the top end of the violin section quite high, with beautiful shifting harmonies underneath — the most glorious waltz one could imagine.

Then, about a minute and a quarter in, one hears the jazz ensemble start to underpin the whole beautiful enterprise — the shift to 4 / 4 made clear by the addition of the rhythm section — and the horns and reeds create a simple echoing descending figure to change the key.  But before we can take this in for long, Louis enters at 1:30.  (Notice, please, that the recording is nearly half over before its Star comes on — which suggests that Gordon knew that Louis deserved the most wondrous buildup.)

The vocal is just sublime.  All the people who dismissed Louis as a romantic singer, someone who made nonsense of words, “gravel in his throat,” might do well to listen to this.  The horns play simple figures behind him and the rhythm section of LaVere, Reuss, Stephens, and Fatool — the best imaginable on the West Coast at that date) rock softly and with conviction.  And Louis treats the simple words with the utmost respect.  And close listeners well-versed in the Gospel of Louis will of course notice that Gordon’s figures are evocative of Armstrong licks.  (A liner note writer for a CD issue of this material whose name I am choosing to ignore called this practice “blatant,” not understanding that it was both an in-joke and an expression of the deepest reverence: surrounding Louis with Louis, amen.)

The strings come in when the lyrics describe having “words with him” — interesting that the singer is speaking to an unhappy young woman.  Singers, please pay attention to the rubato within “And your future’s looking dim!” — the phrasing there is worth a whole Jazz Studies degree.  And, happily, after Louis sings “above,” the strings play — written — one of Louis’ most famous scat figures.  I can’t imagine that Louis wasn’t dee-lighted to hear that.

A looser, warmer vocal conclusion follows, ending in “And your heart will fly away,” ending in a scat passage that is like a caress, like someone’s dear hand making the grief go away.

When I hear this recording, I have tears in my eyes, but they are tears of joy. Recovery is possible.

I didn’t know where in this post to place the more famous (how could this be?) recording of the song — by Tommy Edwards in 1958.  It was an immense hit and sold three million copies.  I think it is a descent from the heights, singer and orchestra, but you are welcome to enjoy it.  Quietly, please.  Use your earbuds:

If you want to understand the majesty of Louis and the gracious warm world that Gordon Jenkins created, though, go back to the penultimate version.

I will close with a little anecdote.  In graduate school, one of my professors was Dr. Spencer — a tall woman who had been born in the UK and had retained a crisp manner of speaking.  We were discussing some nineteenth-century love poem, and she said, “There was a hit pop song some years back called IT’S ALL IN THE GAME, and it referred to “the wonderful game that we know as love.” Taking her glasses off and looking at one impish and weary, she said, “Of course, love is a game.  But you must be sure you know the rules of it, and always bring the right equipment.”  Then she said, “I will see you on Thursday.”  I’ve never forgotten that.

Postscript: one of the many wonderful things about having this blog is the people who write in — not to criticize, but to add information that is true and little-known.  I bless Michael Sigman, son of lyricist Carl Sigman, for sending me this beautiful information about the song:

The most interesting story-behind-a-song saga in Carl’s career began with a phone call from a publisher. For years Carl had thought about writing a lyric for a tune he remembered from his classical training. “The Dawes Melody,” or “Melody In A Major,” was a classical violin and orchestra piece composed in 1911 by none other than Charles G. Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.

Dawes composed the piece in a single piano sitting. “It’s just a tune that I got in my head, so I set it down,” he told an interviewer. He played it for a friend, the violinist Francis MacMillan, who liked it enough to show it to a publisher, and Dawes was officially a composer. The tune garnered some popularity when Jascha Heifetz used it for a time as a light concert encore.

Early in 1951, Carl decided to try and write a lyric to the theme, believing that it was in the public domain, as free of complications as an old Mozart melody. He knew the two-octave range would be a problem, but figured he could fool around with the melody, take out the high notes and make it more singable.

By sheer coincidence, Warner Brothers publishing exec Mac Goldman called one day to ask Carl to consider writing a lyric to “The Dawes Melody,” the copyright for which, it turned out, was owned by Warners.

Once Carl recovered from the news that the song was in fact already copyrighted, he rejiggered the tune and realized that a phrase from another song he was working on, a conversational phrase he’d plucked from the vernacular, was perfect for this tune. Once he plugged that title into its proper place, the lyrics to “It’s All In The Game,” to quote Carl, “wrote themselves.”

It’s All In The Game

Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game
All in the wonderful game that we know as love

You have words with him and your future’s looking dim
But these things your hearts can rise above

Once in a while he won’t call but it’s all in the game
Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet bouquet
And he’ll kiss your lips and caress your waiting fingertips
And your hearts will fly away

Carl also wrote this never-recorded intro, to be sung prior to “Many a tear…”

Where love’s concerned
At times you’ll think your world has overturned
But if he’s yours, and if you’re his
Remember this…

Unfortunately, the Vice President never got to hear the lyric. On the day Carl handed in the finished assignment, Dawes died of a heart attack, prompting Mac Goldman to quip, “Your lyric must have killed him.”

“It’s All In The Game” found its way to prominence in a prototypic version, in waltz time, by Tommy Edwards. That record made the top twenty in late 1951, and the song was quickly covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Shore and Sammy Kaye. Seven years later, Edwards, still recording for the MGM label, re-cut the song in the contemporary 4/4 tempo doo-wop mode, and it became one of the biggest hits of the fifties, staying in the top 10 for twelve weeks, six of them at #1.

During the summer of ’58, when “It’s All In The Game” was battling it out for the top spot with another classic, Domenico Modugno’s “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu),” I was a nine-year old attending Kings Point Country Day Camp. As I changed into my baseball uniform in the locker room every day, I’d burst with pleasure when the radio played our song, and “boo” whenever “Volare” came on.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES P. JOHNSON MEETS LES BROWN (January 9, 1939)

On one of my record-hunting trips of 2014 I found a Les Brown 78 that would otherwise not have caught my eye.  That is not meant to demean the Brown band, just to say that I was never drawn to them.  But when I saw a Bluebird 78 of two lesser-known James P. Johnson songs (from the musical POLICY KINGS) I had to buy it to see what they sounded like.  The compositions were a love song called YOU, YOU, YOU — which I knew only through a much later recording by Dick Wellstood and Bob Wilber (instrumental) and one of the many songs celebrating a dance which possibly had a very short vogue if it had one at all, HARLEM WOOGIE.  (About a more famous recording of that song, more below).

The Brown band that recorded these two sides was John Martel, Melvin Hurwitz, Les Kritz (tp) Bob Fishel (tb) Les Brown (cl,as,arr) Steve Madrick (cl,as) Herb Muse (as,vcl) Wolfe Tayne, Carl Rand (ts) Billy Rowland (p) Allan Reuss (g) Bassie Deters (b) Eddie Julian (d):

YOU, YOU, YOU:

HARLEM WOOGIE:

Now, these are quite successful dance-band records, to my ears — although my ears are more accustomed to 1938 Basie, 1940 Ellington, 1939 Goodman, and so on.  And Herb Muse sings the two selections in a style, quite pleasant, that I associate with Pha Terrell and others.  But the records, judged as jazz opuses, are somewhat undramatic.

Here’s the HARLEM WOOGIE I remember, having first heard it around 1967 — featuring James P., Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Sidney Catlett, and Anna Robinson: searing!

Even though Herb Muse sang the lyrics more clearly, Anna Robinson clearly had great force and presence; Red Allen’s echoing the rhythm of her closing vocal phrase is priceless, as are Sidney’s accents behind James P.  And behind Sedric. But listeners can absorb this on their own.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, this is not a post setting up Bland White Swing Era music against Hot Black Authentic Jazz.  If you want to draw such conclusions, you are on your own, but I don’t encourage them, because the Brown and Johnson records have different purposes and intentions.

What does fascinate me is the brief moment-in-the-sun of two of James P. Johnson’s less intoxicating compositions.  Did he, or his publisher, offer them to as many “middle-of-the-road” Swing orchestras as possible, hoping for a hit, hoping for radio play?  Or was it the reverse (which I suspect): James P. was out of fashion in the late Thirties, attempting to be taken seriously as a classical composer — but — anyone who had been paying attention during the preceding decades knew that he wrote hits.  One of them was a love song, IF I COULD BE WITH YOU; another was a dance, CHARLESTON.  So it would be an odd bandleader who would ignore the songs from a James P. Johnson show.  It’s a pity the songs weren’t more memorable . . . or the recordings.  But it is, to me, a small but fascinating example of “crossover” before the term ceased to have any meaning.

May your happiness increase!

“HIS TALE NEEDED TELLING”: THE ODD BRILLIANCE OF P.T. STANTON

PT STANTON

I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many.  I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?

But there are people who understand.  One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others.  Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer.  Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable.  He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others).  It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.

Here’s a quick example.  For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough.  To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better.  To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.

And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well.  Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west?  I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.

But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.

STONE AGE JAZZ BAND

Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here.  But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice.  I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.

Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual.  That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention.  A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role.  One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.

He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating.  And his music!

In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly.  But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.

I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day.  Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES, AT HOME WITH FRIENDS: MASTER IMPROVISER, 1941

Ask any jazz scholar to name another early innovator in jazz electric guitar in addition to Charlie Christian.  A few scholarly types will remember Eddie Durham, Leonard Ware, Floyd Smith, Les Paul. Someone will think of Allan Reuss’s PICKIN’ FOR PATSY.

But few will think of George Barnes.

That’s a pity, because Barnes was exploring the instrument’s possibilities in the late Thirties.

BARNES 1941

Proof of just how inventive he was — at 19! — has recently been offered by the George Barnes Legacy Foundation: a series of delightful home recordings of Barnes and friends in mid-1941.

On these tracks, Barnes improvises masterfully not only on electric guitar but also piano, and he’s aided by Bill Huntington and Bill Iverson, rhythm guitar; Ralph Hancock, cello; Jerry Marlowe, piano; Bill Moore, string bass; Benny Gill, violin; Adrienne Barnes, vocal.

Here’s the story behind the music (from the notes):

In the spring of 1941, 19-year-old guitarist George Barnes had already been a national radio star for almost two years, and enjoyed jamming with his colleagues after they’d wrapped their respective NBC shows. In March, June, and September of 1941, George’s friends — including violinist Benny Gill, rhythm guitarist Bill Huntington, and bassist Bill Moore — dropped by his Chicago apartment in The Chelsea Hotel and played into the wee hours. These 15 tracks were recorded directly to acetate discs by recordist Joe Campbell, who had been a Barnes fan since the first time he heard 17-year-old George play at Gus Williams’ Nameless Cafe on Chicago’s West Side.

The fifteen selections are BARNES’ BLUES / BARNES’ BOOGIE WOOGIE / BODY AND SOUL / JA-DA / MEMORIES OF YOU / NIGHTFALL (four versions) / SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (two versions) / SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY / SWEET LORRAINE / TEXAS BLUES.

And for those who shy away from “old private recordings,” these sound good for their age.  The originals have been well-mastered, and they were originally 12″ acetates, which afforded longer playing time. Barnes’ colleagues, although their names are not well-known today, are rewarding players who hold our attention throughout. Violinist Gill plays beautifully on BODY AND SOUL, MEMORIES OF YOU, SUNNY SIDE, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY — in an Eddie South mood; Adrienne Barnes (George’s first wife) reminds me beautifully of Ella Logan and Maxine Sullivan, and the supporting players are first-rate.

In addition, the collection offers two rare October 1941 electric guitar duets by Barnes and Ernie Varner, G MINOR SPIN and SWOON OF A GOON, as well as a brief audio reminiscence by recordist Campbell.

A video and audio taste:

And here, a little reiteration is necessary.  Barnes was 19.

What does it all sound like?  Since George’s first instrument was the piano, it’s fitting that the set begins with a violent but precise boogie-woogie that sounds as if Albert Ammons had been studying the Romantic tradition (Rachmaninoff, not love ballads); the guitar blues that follows is delightful, a subtle mixture of harmonically deep chordal playing and sharp single-line inventions, a JA-DA that alternates between musing interludes and straight-ahead swing. MEMORIES OF YOU has touches of Louis and of what we would come to call “American roots music,” and is the work of a compelling melodist, someone with his own sound on guitar, someone more than able to make electricity work for him.

When he is backing Adrienne Barnes on NIGHTFALL (the first version), his accompaniment is a beautiful orchestral tapestry, moving the melody along while creating a rich hamonic background. The three versions that follow — solo, duo, and trio — are also lessons in what can be done, so evocatively, with lyrical material.

The solo piano SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is also a pleasure, combining an endearing simplicity with harmonic experimentation (think of, say, Nat Jaffe two and three years later) and an audible sense of humor: had Barnes chosen piano as his instrument, he would be known in jazz histories.  SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY, which begins with extravagantly rhapsodic piano, shifts into fourth gear when Barnes begins his guitar solo. SWEET LORRAINE has a melody statement worthy of Eldridge in its contained force; the closing TEXAS BLUES is rocking from the start, merging Western swing and the hot jazz of the time.

The Barnes-Varner duets that close the set are intricate, twining duets — compositionally rich, the sort of playing Barnes and Carl Kress, Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli did later on.

It might be hard for some to hear how radical Barnes was in 1941, but that’s tribute to his mastery, for all of his style has been subliminally integrated into the mainstream of jazz guitar playing: the pistol-shot single notes, the audacious harmonies, the singular way of constructing a solo — in these solo guitar performances, he has the mastery of Django or Lang, weaving even the most simple material (JA-DA) into a concerto with shifts of mood and tempo.

This set — which I hope is the first of many — has been produced by George’s daughter, Alexandra Barnes Leh, who hopes to make more people aware of her father’s swinging, innovative playing.  For more information on how to order this set — available only as a digital download — click here.  There, you can learn more about what the Legacy Project — how you can purchase instructional materials (audio and print) created by Barnes for beginners and for advanced students — and more.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

“AS LONG AS I HAVE YOU”: JAZZ VALENTINES, CONTINUED

Readers of JAZZ LIVES will have noticed that it is that rare thing — a Romantic Jazz Blog.  This morning, while I was sitting alongside the Beloved, having breakfast, discussing a bit of mundane difficulty which was causing discomfort even though I knew it wouldn’t be permanent, I said to her, “Well, I’ll get by — as long as I have you.” Thank you, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, for giving us another way to express these sentiments — that the worst things in life are made more easy by the presence of a Beloved, that love helps us to endure. “Getting by” often seems like the minimum, “just getting by,” but this song gives it substance and dignity.

I'LL GET BY

I know that isn’t the original sheet music (which has only a floral design) and I think that the Beloved leaves Irene Dunne in the dust, although I am no Spencer Tracy . . . but the vision of a couple finding comfort in each other’s presence is a sustaining ideal.

As is the song itself.  There are many other versions, among them by Bing and Ruth Etting, but these two by Lady Day do it for me.  (She was often annoyed by John Hammond’s pushing “old songs” on her — this one from 1928 — but his instincts were fine here.) The first version begins with the much-belittled Buster Bailey (if he was so unimaginative, why did all the major bands fight for him?), then moves into a rapturous Johnny Hodges chorus, and then Miss Holiday, curling around the melody with the help of Buck Clayton and that rhythm section (Artie Bernstein, Allan Reuss, Cozy Cole):

Seven years later, with an even more emphatic Sidney Catlett driving things along, and Billie finding new curlicues with which to be soulfully expressive: 

1944: with Eddie Heywood, Doc Cheatham, Vic Dickenson, Lem Davis, Teddy Walters, John Simmons, Sidney Catlett.

I’ll get by.  You will, too.

May your happiness increase!

KEY NOTES

I bought myself a truly gratifying holiday present:

KEYNOTE BOX

For details from the Fresh Sound website, click here.

It’s possible that some readers might be unfamiliar with the Keynote Records catalogue, so if the tiny portraits above don’t pique your interest, here are a few words.  Between 1941 and 1947, with the bulk of its sessions taking place in 1944-6. this independent jazz label produced a wide sampling of the best jazz records ever made — from the New Orleans jazz of George Hartman to the “modern sounds” of Lennie Tristano and Red Rodney.  Keynote was the expression of one man’s intelligent taste — the Javanese jazz fan and producer Harry Lim (1919-1990).  Lim’s records neatly balance written arrangements, head arrangements, and improvised solos.  Many of the Keynote issues were recorded for issue on 12″ 78s, thus giving musicians room to create in more leisurely ways.  In fairness, the Keynote sessions were not the only ones taking place in the wartime years: Lim’s issues ran parallel with Commodore, Blue Note, Hot Record Society, Signature, and even smaller labels — Asch, Jamboree and Wax among them.  Keynote featured jazz players who were already stars: Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Lester Young, Red Norvo, Benny Carter, Sidney Catlett, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Slam Stewart, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Count Basie (pseudonymously), as well as improvisers of equal worth who were often not given their due: trumpeter Joe Thomas, Milt Hinton, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Kenny Kersey, Jonah Jones, George Barnes, Johnny Guarneri, Emmett Berry, Aaron Sachs, Herman Chittison, George Wettling, Hilton Jefferson, Tyree Glenn, Gene Sedric, Juan Tizol, Rex Stewart, Pete Brown, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Nick Fatool, Bujie Centobie, Irving Fazola, Allan Reuss, Dave Tough, and many others.  Three particularly remarkable sessions brought together like-minded but singular horn players: trumpeters Eldridge, Thomas, and Berry; saxophonists Hawkins, Don Byas, Tab Smith, Harry Carney; trombonists Vic Dickenson, Harris, Claude Jones, and Benny Morton.

Several things need to be said about the new Fresh Sounds reissue.  For one, it is a “European bootleg,” which will repel some collectors of this music, and I think rightly so.  However, the Keynotes have never been issued in any systematic way on compact disc — in their home country or otherwise.  And the Fresh Sound set concentrates, with a few exceptions, on issued material.  I don’t know whether this was a choice designed to entice listeners who find alternate takes annoying, or to keep the set’s price attractive.  (I bought mine on Amazon for $94, which seems a good value for 243 sides.)  The sound is good, although I haven’t compared it to any 78 or vinyl issues.  True Keynote devotees will, of course, have their own copies of the comprehensive vinyl issue of the label’s offerings, and the Fresh Sound box won’t replace that.

The reissue history of the Keynote recordings is characteristically odd — leaving aside the comprehensive vinyl set — with early vinyl assortments assembled by instrument (trumpet, trombone, or saxophone), then later ones featuring stars Hawkins, Young, Woody Herman sidemen, Norvo, Tristano, etc.  As I write this, I am taking great pleasure in the sixth disc — selected at random — hearing sessions led by Barney Bigard, Horace Henderson, Bill Harris, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, and Milt Hinton — a fascinating cross-section of timeless jazz recorded in 1945.  “Fresh Sound” is an apt description for these sides recorded more than half a century ago.

Fresh Sound producer Jordi Pujol made an intriguing and ultimately rewarding choice when looking for documentary material to fill the 125-page booklet.  He included a careful history of the label — sources unknown — which tells a great deal about how these sessions came to be.  (I feel, once again, that we should all give thanks to selfless men such as Harry Lim.)  Then, rather than reprint the enthusiastic, empathic notes written by Dan Morgenstern for the Keynote vinyl box set, Pujol returned to the archives of DOWN BEAT and METRONOME for contemporary reviews and session photographs.  The photographs — although many of them have been reproduced elsewhere — offer a few treasures: Lester Young, Johnny Guarnieri, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett at their December 1943 session, and photographs from the jam sessions Lim created before Keynote began recording regularly: one, in particular, caught me: a 1940 Chicago session featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, Earl Hines, John Simmons, Tubby Hall . . . and the elusive Boyce Brown.  The reviews from the contemporary jazz magazines are both grating and revealing.  One might forget just how hard those writers and editors worked to appear breezy, slangy, hip — Catlett is referred to as a “colored tubman” in one review — and how severe they were in assessing what now seem masterpieces, using “uneventful,” “nothing distinctive,” “routine,” “pleasant,” “don’t emerge as anything too special.”  Lester Young is referred to as “Les,” his tenor sound as “muddy-toned.”  That the music survived this critical approach from writers who were its advocates says much about its durability.  Here, by the way, is a side DOWN BEAT termed a “fiasco” and gave it a grade of C.  I rest my case:

I think I got more than my money’s worth.  You might agree.

May your happiness increase! 

“PUT A SWING IN YOUR STEP” WITH CHRIS DAWSON and FRIENDS

Chris Dawson hasn’t received the attention his playing deserves, but his latest CD (for Blue Swing Fine Recordings) will fix that.  It’s superb. 

Need proof?

People who admire these musicians as I do won’t need any more prompting.  They can buy copies (note the plural) of the disc at www.blueswing.com.,  www.CDBaby.com., or email Chris personally at chrismartindawson@yahoo.com to purchase personally inscribed copies.  

Here’s some of what I wrote when I first heard the disc:

When a European jazz researcher asked Eddie Durham what he thought of Edmond Hall, Durham said it all in one sentence, “Edmond Hall didn’t know how not to swing!” Those words popped into my head as soon as this disc began to play, because for Chris and his friends inspired jazz improvisation is second nature.

Mind you, I don’t pretend to have cool objectivity.  I first heard Chris as part of the ensemble on a handful of sessions about twenty years ago (with Rebecca Kilgore, Marty Grosz, and Hal Smith) and he leaped out from the speakers although he wasn’t playing any louder than anyone else.  It was the absolute rightness of what he played: time, feeling, harmonic subtlety – an art that didn’t call attention to itself and thus was instantly compelling. Although I heard echoes of Nat Cole, Hank Jones, and Mel Powell, Chris was complete in himself, and his playing was more than a collection of memorized gestures.

It might seem melodramatic for me to write that I spent the next two decades waiting for this CD, but it it’s the truth.  I was delighted to hear Chris’s solo Christmas CD in 2009, and thrilled to see clips from these sessions appearing on YouTube.  Now, the evidence is here to share and treasure!

I doubt that these five players immersed themselves in Golden Era science fiction, but it would explain a great deal, for they are time-travelers who don’t need gleaming machines.  Chris and his gang have reached the kind of musical flexibility and maturity where all swinging jazz is equal and equally worth cherishing: James P. Johnson and Bud Powell live in the same building and chat happily in the elevator.  Listen to PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ, where Chris melds the earthy yet delicate swing I’d associate with a 1938 Vocalion with the harmonic inventiveness and sense of space that characterized “Mainstream” several decades later.  It isn’t artificial: I never feel that he is thinking, “Now I’ll throw in an Augmented Nineteenth chord in the right hand (from Hindemith) over my Official Stride Pattern (Don Lambert) in the left”; it’s genuine and internal, in the manner of such stylistic investigators as Ruby Braff and Dave McKenna.

And although music has the power to make us reflect deeply on the great sadnesses we all face, this session is resoundingly happy – it echoes the reassuring pace of the steady heartbeat.  Even the lovely ballads on this disc aren’t hopelessly gloomy: while their sounds chronicle shattered dreams (as on OH, YOU CRAZY MOON), we admire the beautiful sounds.

Chris’s gang has a cohesive energy that could rearrange the landscape.  Listen to the pulse of that rhythm section, the way the players work together to the common goal.  And there’s the pure sound of Hal’s Sid Catlett- inspired brushes and rimshots, of Denny’s impassioned strum (he loves Allan Reuss and Steve Jordan), of Christoph’s woody, speaking bass, reminiscent of Ray Brown. Each of the members of this rhythm section could propel a big band on their own (hear Denny’s introduction to SAILBOAT); together, they are a living display of joyous synergy.  And with Dan Barrett on the date, no other horns need apply. To me, he is a jazz Midas, casually making everything golden.  (Dan is responsible for the nifty little riff that the band uses to send Christoph on his merry way on SWEETIE.)

Chris said to me, “I felt really fortunate and lucky to have this band. Each guy was my number one pick, so this was my dream team.  I’ve been playing with Christoph for about twenty years.  We met at USC, while he was working on his Masters and I was doing my undergraduate work.  He’s a very serious, dedicated musician, an inspiring player to know and work with.  I’ve known Dan for almost that long while playing gigs together in the local Los Angeles jazz scene.  I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and I respect his musicianship immensely!  I learn new things about music and what it means to be a professional player whenever we talk.  I met Hal while on an Evan Christopher gig around 1992.  I wouldn’t have done this project without him and I’m so happy I got him before he moved to San Antonio to work with Jim Cullum.  I was wondering which guitar player would suit us best, and Dan recommended Denny.  He was new to me, but I trust Dan 100% and it worked out great.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Although Chris doesn’t dramatically demand the spotlight, I find myself listening to a performance over and over, savoring at how Chris’s left hand knows what his right hand is doing, and vice versa.  And he’s my model of an ensemble pianist – how does he pick just the right notes?  Hear him support, cheer, and encourage everyone throughout this disc!

And the wonderful little charts – just right – are also from the noble hand of Mr. Dawson.  Chris told me, “One thing I hope that separates this project from others is those arrangements.  It isn’t a jam session, thrown together in the studio, but it’s a little more thought out.  For example, there’s the recurring introduction, interlude, and ending on THIS TIME THE DREAM’S ON ME, as well as the unison intro and ending on ALL I DO IS DREAM OF YOU.  Also I like to use key changes for variety – ALL I DO modulates from F to C; WE’LL MEET AGAIN goes from Bb to C and ends up in Eb; RITZ bounces back and forth between C minor and G minor before ending in C minor.  I love the way the Benny Goodman Trio did this kind of thing.”

Chris is not only a satisfying small-group arranger but a splendidly masterful pianist.  Admire his unerring gently propulsive pulse; his steady time; the ringing sound he gets out of the instrument; his chord voicings.  And what delights he can create in a small space: his four-bar introductions are gems.  MY IDEAL is a graduate course (for those who can hear) in how to make melody come alive, how to convey tenderness while keeping the rhythm going.  And his HANDFUL OF KEYS honors Fats – in ways both accurate and jubilant – adding his own touches to this great display of playful athleticism.

For once, the title of this CD is accurate, musical truth in advertising: this music will uplift you on your daily rounds in a way that no costly set of orthotics could. And the glowing, generous sounds and textures here will resound in your ears long after the disc has concluded. Denny told me, “Quite honestly, playing time with Hal and Christoph was like breathing air – so natural and so effortless. A real pleasure indeed – they did the work and all I needed to do was open my ears.” 

Pleasures untold greet those who listen!

And a little coda:

Chris is an original, not a copyist.  He isn’t a museum piece but a creative improviser . . . !  And what he does is irreplaceable.

BLANK PAGES AND SILENCES

Serious jazz scholarship (as opposed to reviews) began more than seventy years ago: early books by Robert Goffin, Hughes Panassie, Charles Delanay, Wilder Hobson, Charles Edward Smith and Frederic Ramsey come to mind, as well as essays by Ernst Ansermet, Otis Ferguson, and Roger Pryor Dodge. 

In 2010, there is no scarcity of books on jazz, from musicology to polemical ideology.  Biographies and autobiographies — from Armstrong to Zwerin with perhaps one hundred subjects between — the autobiographies of Buck Clayton, Sammy Price, Bob Wilber, biographies of Monk, Mingus, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Parker, Paul Desmond, Ellington.  Books have been published about musicians who are still relatively obscure: Mark Miller on Herbie Nichols, Anthony Barnett on Henry Crowder.  

John Chilton’s studies of Bechet, Hawkins, Eldridge, and Red Allen are models of the form.  Ed Berger and his father did right by Benny Carter; Ed devoted a book to George Duvivier and is working on one about Joe Wilder.  My shelves are full, and I’m not listing criticism and discography. 

Most of what I have noted above (with admiration) is jazz scholarship from the outside — by enthusiastic listeners who have immersed themselves in jazz.  I would be the last to disparage that as an art form, as writers who do it include Martin Williams, Dan Morgenstern, Gene Lees, Chris Albertson, Frank Driggs, Nat Hentoff and two dozen others.  A few musicians — rare souls — who were also fine writers: Dick Wellstood, Richard M. Sudhalter, Rex Stewart, Dick Katz.    

But even given all of this, how often have jazz musicians been asked to tell their stories? 

I know that there is a history of popular journalism — early on in urban Black newspapers — of getting quotations from musicians, but I wonder how many utterances that were attributed were actually spoken by the musicians themselves.  Later on, one had DOWN BEAT and METRONOME, and smaller magazines — Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD, here and abroad.  Some of this “journalism” perpetuated the stereotype of the musician as an eccentric character who spoke an unintelligible hipster gibberish.     

There are, of course, the pioneering recorded interviews of Jelly Roll Morton done in 1938 — mythic in many ways — that might be the first oral history of a jazz musician.  Whether you take them as an extended piece of performance art or as first-hand narrative / reportage, they remain invaluable.

Others have attempted to let the players speak — the Oral History Project had musicians interviewing their peers and friends, Stanley Dance’s series of books, the Shapiro / Hentoff HEAR ME TALKIN’ TO YA, Gitler’s SWING TO BOP, the diligent work of Bill Spilka, Hank O’Neal’s book THE GHOSTS OF HARLEM, collections of interviews and profiles by Whitney Balliett, Peter Vacher, Max Jones.  Phil Schaap has done extensive, rewarding radio interviews for forty years now.  Lester Young spoke to Chris Albertson and Francois Postif.  And irreplaceable video-documentaries focus on Ben Webster, Lester, Goodman, Phil Woods.  Fifty years ago, Riverside Records recorded Coleman Hawkins and Lil Hardin Armstrong telling their stories.             

But all of this is outweighed by the invisibility, the unheard voices of musicians. 

Who thought to ask Kaiser Marshall or Walter Johnson anything after they had finished a set with the Fletcher Henderson band?  Who interviewed Ivie Anderson?  Allen Reuss?  Jimmy Rowles?  Dave McKenna?  Al Cohn?  Shad Collins?  Barry Galbraith?  Shorty Baker?  Did anyone ask Denzil Best or Nick Fenton about what it was like to play at Minton’s?  Who spoke with Joe Smith or Joe Nanton about their experiences?  George Stafford, Tiny Kahn, Nick Fatool, Dave Tough?  (I know some of these figures were interviewed or analyzed by my hero Whitney Balliett, but the burden of jazz history of this sort shouldn’t have to rest on one writer’s shoulders.)

Granted, many stellar musicians were once anonymous sidemen and women, and the leaders of bands got all the attention.  So there are more interviews of Ellington than of Johnny Hodges, more of Goodman than of Vido Musso, more of Basie than of Jack Washington.  But Swing Era fans knew every member of the reed section in their favorite orchestras.

Thus claims of “obscurity” have to be taken less seriously: there was a time when Cootie Williams was nearly as well known as Jackie Robinson would be — you may substitute names you prefer in this equation of “famous jazz musician” and “famous sports figure.” 

I can imagine a number of reasons for musicians being ignored.

Some musicians would rather play than talk about their playing; some are even taciturn, although articulate.  And sometimes even the most garrulous players are not the best interview subjects.  “What was it like to play with Big Boy Smith?” one asks.  “Oh, it was a ball!  We had a great time!” the musician answers.  The interviewer waits for more.  “Do you remember any specific incidents?”  “Oh, no.  It was a lot of fun.  We couldn’t wait to get on the bandstand.”  And so on.  I’ve had this happen to me with the most sophisticated players here and in Europe.  They wereen’t reluctant to talk, but they weren’t intuitive novelists themselves.

Although cordial to outsiders, many musicians also don’t see the point of discussing serious matters — like music — with them.  Too much explaining.  Life is short; the next set is coming soon.   This does say something about the unseen wall between themselves and fans — people who don’t know what it is to play, to improvise professionally, come from a different planet.  Nice folks, but aliens.  Even sweet-natured Bobby Hackett referred to the audience as “the enemy.”  “Fans” and “academics” are friendly, “critics” and “writers” might be useful, but none of them really know

And oftentimes, musicians are ambushed by people who want to talk wishing to talk at inopportune times.  A musician asked to comment on the music she’s just played after a forty-five minute set may well be drained by the effort.  When they’re not playing, musicians talk of other subjects, including the cost of things, their most recent car repair, health care proposals.  Anything is more interesting than responding to “What inspires you when you take a solo?”  Some may want to be left in peace, to eat their scrambled eggs while they’re somewhat hot.  And who could blame them?       

When some venerable musicains are finallyinterviewed when they have become venerable, they have forgotten the details.  What they did forty years ago wasn’t musical history, but a way of making a living.  And even those who have sharp memories may not want to tell all: candor might mean losing friends or gigs.  And some aren’t interested in reliving their pasts: autobiographies and interviews are career-ending landmarks: what musicians do when they can no longer play.  Doing beats talking and theorizing.      

Others are “saving it for their book” — books that might get poublished posthumously if ever.  And when musicians die, sometimes their spouse discards “all that old clutter,” including letters and memorabilia.  Sometimes a divorce means that possessions get thrown out, or a son or daughter believes that Papa’s papers are worth millions and refuses to let anyone make money from themsee them.    

Having said all that, I want to put it aside. 

There were all the reasons that musicians might not want to be asked. 

But so many, I have to believe, would have been delighted to tell their stories.  Why weren’t they?

Much comes from the earliest perception of jazz as entertainment, hardly serious.  It was played at night in places where people talked loudly, smoked, drank, and danced.  Real art could be found in museums and in concert halls.  Jazz players weren’t ordinary people; they existed outside polite society; some thought them licentious madmen working themselves into ecstasies on the bandstand.  Who would be so bold as to ask one of them a question?  And what savage reply would result? 

The subject of race can’t be pushed aside.  If both White and Black listeners thought that jazz was primarily dance music, why study it?  Why take its players seriously?  And the early preponderance of White jazz scholars and critics — some Europeans and White Americans — can be traced to the idea that jazz was no more than “good-time music,” denying Afro-Americans proper dignity.  Would you want your daughter to marry a jazz musician?  Would you want your African-American child to concentrate his or her academic efforts on Cab Calloway, on Louis Armstrong?  But the initial racial imbalance did shift, and I suspect that Joe Nanton would have been happy to speak with a White college student if the student was both sincere and aware.  As would Rod Cless have been.       

I think of Emerson in “The American Scholar,” delivered in 1846, urging his audience to study their own culture — only in this way could a nation exist.  Many years after Emerson’s death, an American college student couldn’t expect to do advanced study about the authors of his time and place: a college education required German, Chaucer, rather than James T. Farrell and Charlie Chaplin.  To say nothing of Sidney Catlett.  And so it was for jazz.  By the time that academia caught up with it, so many of the progenitors were dead, their stories untold. 

The losses are irreparable.  To urge readers to interview a jazz musician today won’t replace what has been lost. 

What might Frank Teschmacher or Freddie Webster have told us, have someone thought it sufficiently important to ask them?

Those pages remain irrevocably blank.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
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“JONATHAN STOUT and his CAMPUS FIVE” SWING!

Perhaps it’s because I live in New York, but I had heard little about guitarist Jonathan Stout and his various swing ensembles until recently, but when I heard that Jonathan often employed pianist Chris Dawson and Hal Smith, when I read that he considers Allan Reuss his favorite rhythm guitarist . . . then I began to pay attention.

And, as Arthur Miller has Linda Loman say in DEATH OF A SALESMAN in quite a different context, “Attention must be paid.”

To be blunt, there are many orchestras and combos billing themselves as “Swing bands.”  Most of them, although diligent, miss the point.  Swing isn’t simply a matter of wearing the appropriate period clothing; it isn’t a matter of copying arrangements off the records or from the page.  Ellington called it “bouncing bouyancy,” and he was of course right.  It isn’t a matter of letting the tenor soloist wail in a post-bop manner for a number of choruses on A STRING OF PEARLS.  To play Swing convincingly, it’s necessary to swing — and not everyone is born with that rhythmic / harmonic / melodic DNA.  But the musicians who make up Jonathan Stout’s “Campus Five” know what it’s all about — not in some academic way, not by reproducing old records live.  They feel it, and the evidence is right here. 

The band appeared at the Cicada Club in Hollywood on May 17, 2009, for three long sets.  Amazingly, these performances are accessible in their entirety on YouTube (which usually restricts civillians to ten minutes) and in High Definition.  The band, for this occasion, is made up of  Jim Ziegler, trumpet (and an engaging Southern-tinged vocal on CHEEK TO CHEEK), Albert Alva on tenor sax and clarinet; Richard Geere on piano; Jonathan himself on acoustic and electric guitar; Wally Hersom on bass; and, for this occasion, Hal Smith on drums; Hilary Alexander is the sweetly genial girl singer.

Here’s the first set — including a number of variations on jazz classics, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE and S’WONDERFUL; material made famous by the Benny Goodman Sextet featuring Charlie Christian, BENNY’S BUGLE and ROSE ROOM, the Lionel Hampton FLYIN’ HOME, and several charming vocals from Miss Alexander, including COW COW BOOGIE, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, and Lester Young’s vocal feature, JUST A LITTLE BIT SOUTH OF NORTH CAROLINA. 

The dancers enjoyed themselves: I did as well.    

P.S.  Ending the set is some rather tedious period banter between the master of ceremonies and the owner of the club, which some may wish to avoid.