Tag Archives: Anita Thomas

HAIL AND FAREWELL: SACRAMENTO MUSIC FESTIVAL (a/k/a SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE) TO CLOSE AFTER 44 YEARS

More bad news for people who like their jazz in profusion over one weekend: the Sacramento Music Festival, once known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, will not continue on next year. Here is the whole story.

An observant person could tell the reasons for this decision, and they are primarily financial: festivals are terribly expensive to run, and the ratio between costs and audience was not always encouraging.  I am sad to read this, because in the past six months a number of festivals have said goodbye.  I won’t mount the soapbox and harangue readers who had said, “Oh, I’ll go next year,” but the moral — carpe diem over a swinging 4/4 — is clear.

My videos — about one hundred and fifty — show that I attended the SJJ in 2011, 12, and 14.  It was an unusual event.  I seem to remember racing from one side of the causeway (if that is what it was called) to the other for sets, and scurrying (that’s not true — I don’t really scurry) from one venue to another.  There was an astonishing amount of good music in the years I attended, and some very lovely performances took place in the oddest venues.

Here are more than a half-dozen splendid performances, so we can grieve for the loss of a festival while at the same time smiling and swinging.

From 2011, TRUCKIN’ by Hal Smith’s International Sextet:

and one of my favorite 1926 songs, HE’S THE LAST WORD:

The Jubilee also made room for pretty ballads like this one, featuring John Cocuzzi, Jennifer Leitham, and Johnny Varro:

A year later, Rebecca Kilgore was HUMMIN’ TO HERSELF:

Marc Caparone doffs his handmade cap to Louis for HE’S A SON OF THE SOUTH:

Another pretty one — MORE THAN YOU KNOW — featuring Allan Vache:

and some Orientalia out of doors — SAN by the Reynolds Brothers and Clint Baker:

A nice medium blues by Dan Barrett and Rossano Sportiello:

THE BOB AND RAY SHOW in 2014 — Schulz and Skjelbred, performing SHOE SHINE BOY:

CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, featuring Dave Stone and Russ Phillips with Vince Bartels and Johnny Varro:

and an extended performance by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs from 2014:

One of my favorite stories — a Louise Hay affirmation of sorts — comes from the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  It was held over Memorial Day weekend, and there was riotous excitement on the days preceding Monday — but Sacramento on Memorial Day was one of the most deserted urban centers I’ve ever encountered. The nice Vietnamese restaurant I had hopes of returning to was shuttered for the holiday, the streets were quiet with only the intermittent homeless person taking his ease.  Since I have been a New Yorker all my life, the criminal offense termed “jaywalking” does not terrify me.  On one such Monday, the light was red against me but there were no cars in sight.  Full of assurance, I strolled across the street and made eye contact with a young woman standing — a law-abiding citizen — on the opposite curb.  When I reached her and grinned at her legal timidity, she looked disapprovingly at me and said, “Rule-breaker!”  I grinned some more and replied, “Free spirit!”

At its best, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee inspired such free-spirited behavior, musical and otherwise — among dear friends.  Adieu, adieu!

May your happiness increase!

PRETTY LIVELY: EXILED SWEETHEARTS, CAGED BIRDS, SAD DOLLS, RUINED MAIDS

GLAD RAG DOLL 1929Members of repressive societies are forbidden to write about the forbidden; censorship blossoms in the name of morality.  But ingenious writers and artists make their way around prohibitions. Even in the most conservative environment, sin can be explored in popular culture if the writer is lamenting the horrid effects of such behavior.  Lost virginity and illicit drugs could be the titillating subjects of early films — if they were deplored rather than celebrated.

We could go back to 1900 for A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, by Arthur J. Lamb (lyrics) and Harry Von Tilzer (music), a huge popular hit that depicted a young woman in a loveless marriage who has chosen money over affection. The story goes that Lamb approached Von Tilzer with the lyrics, which Von Tilzer liked — but he wanted Lamb’s lyrics to make it clear that the young woman was not someone’s mistress.  The famous refrain is: “She’s only a bird in a gilded cage, / A beautiful sight to see, / You may think she’s happy and free from care, / She’s not, though she seems to be, / ‘Tis sad when you think of her wasted life, / For youth cannot mate with age, / And her beauty was sold, / For an old man’s gold, / She’s a bird in a gilded cage.”

Girls, don’t sell your beauty and be sure not to mate with age!

Here’s a 1904 version, sung by Harry Anthony:

Forward to two late-Twenties songs, music that motivated my meditations on bad girls who wear cosmetics.

The 1928 GLAD RAG DOLL (music by Milton Ager / Dan Dougherty; lyrics by Jack Yellen) assertively states that money and flashy clothing and jewelry bring only the most shallow happiness, even asking us where and how that finery was acquired.   The verse is almost accusatory: Hester Prynne has just gotten off the train in a small town, and everyone notices the way she’s dressed: “Little painted lady with your lovely clothes / Where are you bound for may I ask? / What your diamonds cost you everybody knows / All the world can see behind your mask.”

Here is Ruth Etting’s wistful version:

“Glad rags” become “sad rags” in a day; the brightly dressed young woman will never find a proper husband “to grow old and grey with,” and her many admirers will desert her — although she can always “amend” her flashy ways.  Presumably the speaker is sedately dressed and long married — neither a boy who “plays” nor a “pretty little toy the boys like to play with” any longer.  Respectable for sure, not aimed for disgrace or disappointment, but the painted woman seems to be having more fun, even if it is transitory.

I couldn’t leave GLAD RAG DOLL without offering Earl Hines’ wordless solo — rollicking without caring for the morals expressed in the stern lyrics:

nosweet1b

Another song in the same moral mode is NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, which most of us know as a Chicago hot number.  But its initial versions had the same warning coloration: the young woman, in this case, has left all her loyal small-town admirers behind for a shady life of glamor in the big city. Music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman.

Here’s the sad verse: “You were ev’rybody’s sweetheart / Not so long ago / And in our home town, each boy around / Longed to be your beau / But things are diff’rent today / I’m mighty sorry to say.” Urban fashion seems to require a loss of purity, in a dichotomy. Either small-town sweetheart or Painted Woman Wearing A Bird of Paradise.

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

Hat with bird of paradise feathers circa 1900

“You’re nobody’s sweetheart now, / There’s no place for you somehow, / With your fancy clothes, silken gowns, / You’ll be out of place in the middle of your own hometown, / When you walk down the avenue, / All the folks just can’t believe that it’s you. / With painted lips and painted eyes, / Wearing a bird of paradise, / It all seems wrong somehow, / You’re nobody’s sweetheart now!”  

It echoes Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser: the young woman who leaves her home for the big city will be changed irrevocably — exiled, outcast.  Neither GLAD RAG DOLL nor NOBODY’S SWEETHEART suggests that the young woman has earned her clothing and jewelry through prostitution, but there seems no moral way for a single woman to earn her keep without a husband, so the worst suspicions are never contradicted.  But she is beautifully and glamorously dressed.  Vice doesn’t endure but it certainly looks good in the short run.

Nobody's Sweetheart 1924

Here is Marion Harris’ sympathetic version from 1929:

A few years earlier, Billy Murray and a tough-talking Aileen Stanley deflated the song’s moral stance from the start:

And for those who might not have seen this 1929 short film, it contains a very swinging vocal by a young man from the heartland who would later say that his singing had always been an error.  He sounds pretty good here!

(Incidentally, there were popular hits depicting small-town women, loyal and true, who would never think of wearing jewelry or painting their faces — MY GAL SAL is just one example.  And thousands of songs, it seems, that celebrate impending matrimony — “when we two are one and someday there’ll be three”.)

Thinking about all those songs that both deplore and secretly celebrate young women who have wandered from the orthodox path of marriage, prudence, and dependence, I remembered a poem (from 1901) by Thomas Hardy, called THE RUINED MAID: 

“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!

Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?

And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —

“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

 

“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,

Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;

And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”

“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“At home in the barton you said thee’ and thou,’

And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now

Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —

“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

 

“Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak

But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,

And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —

“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

 

“You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,

And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem

To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!” —

“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

 

“I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,

And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —

“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,

Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

In theory, Hardy was writing about the hard life of the country maiden, but it seems difficult to take that as the message of THE RUINED MAID, which makes being ruined a delightful version of upward social mobility.  A Moral?  Live fast, paint your face, leave home for the city, and you’ll be the subject of popular art.

And just in case this socio-literary survey has left you melancholy, here’s a modern version of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW by Hal Smith’s International Sextet at Sacramento in 2011.  You can sing along with Kim Cusack by now:

That’s Hal Smith, drums; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Anita Thomas, clarinet; Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal. Uncredited appearance of a Recalcitrant Microphone Stand courtesy of the local Musicians’ Union.

May your happiness increase!

THE REAL THING: JAMES DAPOGNY and his EAST COAST CHICAGOANS in CONCERT (Nov. 16, 2012)

What follows is the video record of a rewarding evening I spent observing — and being uplifted by — James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans on November 16, 2012, at the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, Silver Spring, Maryland.

The Real Thing, as we say: a small band neatly yet passionately improvising and recreating lively hot music.

Leader James Dapogny, pianist, scholar, poet, wit, barrelhouse master, is one of my heroes — and if you don’t know his work . . . . where have you been?  He assembled a fine band: Randy Reinhart, cornet; David Sager, trombone (who did the hard work of making this concert a reality); Anita Thomas, Scott Silbert, reeds; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Craig Gildner, guitar; Brooks Tegler, drums.  No funny vocals, no gimmicks or tricks — just surging, delicate, detailed jazz.  An honor to be there!  And this post is for those of you, like the writer Gretchen Comba and Aunt Ida Melrose, and many other friends, who couldn’t make it.  It was good.

W. C. Handy’s BEALE STREET (in the arrangement that I recognize from the 1944 Commodore session that featured a front line for the ages — Miff Mole, Ernie Caceres, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell):

Jelly Roll Morton’s forward-looking (1930!) BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

Alex Hill’s DELTA BOUND:

Hoagy Carmichael’s OLD MAN HARLEM:

Roy Eldridge’s THAT THING:

Chris Smith’s TOOT TOOT, DIXIE BOUND:

A lyrical Thirties song, something I’ve only heard when Professor Dapogny is at the keys, COUNTRY BOY:

In honor of the Ellington small groups, LOVE’S IN MY HEART:

Juan Tizol’s Middle Eastern revery, CARAVAN:

The ideal state of affairs, BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE:

Hill’s TENNESSEE TWILIGHT:

I’d like to see Dapogny concerts like this in every city on a regular basis.  Wouldn’t you?

May your happiness increase.

SWING SEMINAR, INDEPENDENT STUDY: PROFESSOR JAMES DAPOGNY AND HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS (November 16, 2012)

I’ve long since been too impatient to sit in a classroom . . . call it a restless spirit or attention-deficit disorder.  But there are a few Professors I know I can always learn from.  One of them is James Dapogny, that barrelhouse / lyrical pianist, who shows us new ways in and out of the music — always lighting the way to pleasure without a hint of scholarly tedium.  Professor Dapogny is Emeritus from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, so the only lessons I’ve gotten from him since 2004 have taken place in informal hot seminars held at the Jazz at Chautauqua party.

I know that to some readers of JAZZ LIVES, what is coming up might provoke a barely muffled sigh.  “Is that fellow telling us AGAIN that there’s something to buy, somewhere to go, someone to hear?  Doesn’t Michael know that the enterprises he urges us towards cost money, take time and effort.”

Yes, I know.  And I wouldn’t suggest that you water the children’s milk or pay the credit card bill late.  But the concert that is coming up on November 16, 2012, by James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will be special.  If you buy a ticket online (see details here: DAPOGNY) it is $21.69.  I don’t think that’s an intimidating sum.  But, of course, the concert is held in Silver Spring, Maryland — which is out of reach for many people reading this post.  All I can tell you is that I admire the Professor’s deep feeling for the music that I am willing to drive a nine-hour roundtrip to get there . . . rather than say to myself in five or ten years, “It was inconvenient but I wish I had gone.”

Enough hocking, as my people say.  The concert is on a Friday; it begins at 7:30 and the site is the Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9545 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

And the Professor knows the value of collaborative learning, so this isn’t a solo lecture.  He’ll be bringing fellow scholars: Randy Reinhart, Anita Thomas, David Sager, Brooks Tegler, Tommy Cecil, Scott Silbert, Craig Gildner.  It’s open seating, so make your plans early — I believe the church is somewhat more cozy than Bill Graham’s Fillmore or Carnegie Hall.

I’ve bought my ticket.  Come join me!  And there’s no final exam: Professor Dapogny wants to elate us, not force us into little wooden desks.  And he’s got phenomenal ratings on that wicked Rate My Professor.  See for yourself.

May your happiness increase.

JAMES DAPOGNY, BARRELHOUSE POET — in CONCERT WITH HIS EAST COAST CHICAGOANS! (November 16, 2012)

James Dapogny — pianist, composer, arranger, scholar, wry and thoughtful — is one of my heroes.  But the eminent Professor doesn’t have much patience for hyperbole, so I will keep it to a low murmur.

He didn’t learn his Swing from a book; rather, he embodies it in playing that is both bluesy / funky / downhome / greasy (these are the highest compliments) and lyrical / singing.  He can call to mind the dark-blue shadings of Jess Stacy or Frank Melrose; he can evoke Jelly, Little Brother, Hines, Sullivan, Fats . . . but what he’s best at is off-handedly creating his own singular worlds that resonate in the mind long after he has stepped away from the piano.

We can’t ask Sippie Wallace or Frank Chace for testimonials anymore, but if you run into Jon-Erik Kellso or Kim Cusack, ask them what they think of Professor Dapogny — who is both a Professor emeritus and a “professor” in the old New Orleans definition of the term.

Trombonist and scholar David Sager, who admires Dapogny as I and many others do, has created an opportunity for the Professor and eminent friends to become his East Coast Chicagoans in a concert in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Friday, November 16, 2012.  The musicians David has assembled are stellar team players and soloists: Randy Reinhart, cornet; Anita Thomas and Scott Silbert, reeds; David Sager, trombone; Craig Gildner, guitar; Tommy Cecil, bass; Brooks Tegler, drums.

Details can be found here— a Kickstarter campaign to fund the concert, to pay the musicians (what a delightful idea), and to record the proceedings.

I know that some readers will groan — silently or otherwise — at the mention of Kickstarter, because it occasionally seems that every improvising artist is asking for financial support through it, but times’ getting tougher than tough . . . and with all the things that we are urged to buy that will give us only the most brief pleasure (at best) supporting James Dapogny and his East Coast Chicagoans will not only benefit the listener but the musicians.

So I encourage you to consider supporting this enterprise, even if you can’t get to Silver Spring.  I have hopes of attending, and the District of Columbia is not my usual Friday destination . . . but this is important.

Don’t forget this Friday date!

May your happiness increase.

TOO GOOD TO IGNORE: CONDON’S WEST: HAL SMITH and FRIENDS at SACRAMENTO (May 29, 2011)

I published this post slightly more than five years ago, and the music remains so delightful that I thought it would be a sin not to offer it to the eager public once again.

hal-6-2011

My title isn’t hyperbole.  For when the band hit the first four bars of LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, I felt as if I had been time-and-space transported to the original Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street . . . even though I’d never been to the actual club.

This was the penultimate set I saw and recorded at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, and it was one of the high points.  I had been enjoying Hal Smith’s International Sextet through the Memorial Day weekend, but this version hit not one but many high notes.  The regulars were there in splendid form: Hal on drums, Katie Cavera on guitar and vocals; Anita Thomas on clarinet, alto, and vocals; Kim Cusack on clarinet, tenor, and vocals.  But Clint Baker had shifted from string bass to trombone (sounding incredibly like a gutty evocation of Sandy Williams and Jimmy Harrison, taking tremendous chances throughout), and Austin, Texas, native Ryan Gould played bass.  And — as a special treat — Bria Skonberg joined in on trumpet and vocal.

Here’s what happened.

Hal called LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (always a pleasant thought), surely inspired by the memory of that famous Commodore session in 1938 with Pee Wee, Bobby, Brunis, Bud, Stacy, Condon, Shapiro, and Wettling: the 2011 band had a similar instrumentation and the same drive:

How about something rocking and multi-lingual for the charming Ms. Skonberg to sing and play — like BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

Something for our canine friends?  LOW DOWN DOG, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, is reminiscent of both Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson — a neat trick!

The next selection — deliciously low-down — poses a philosophical question.  When Katie Cavera sings and plays about SISTER KATE, is it meta-jazz, or M.C. Escher in swingtime?  Puzzle me that.  Anyway, it’s a wonderful performance complete with the tell-it-all verse:

Then a jazz gift from Hal and the band — a POSTCARD TO AUNT IDA, celebrating one of the warmest people we will ever know, Ida Melrose Shoufler of Farmer City, Illinois, the surviving child of Chicago piano legend Frank Melrose, a pianist, singer, and deep-down jazz fan herself — here’s Kim Cusack to tell us all that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Today!

Anita told us all how everything would be make-believe if love didn’t work, in IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON:

Then, some hi-jinks.  Jazz and comedy have always gone together, even if Gunther Schuller sneered at “showmanship,” and what follows is hilarious impromptu choreography.  I don’t know which of the happily high-spirited players noticed that this was a two-camera setup (independently, Rae Ann Berry on the band’s right, myself on their left) and said, “Do something for the camera.  So you have Clint exuberantly singing DINAH while the rest of the band plays the most musical of musical chairs:

I’d like to see that video get international exposure: could we start the first (and last) JAZZ LIVES chain letter, where readers send this clip of DINAH to their friends?  The world needs more joy . . .

Finally, Bria sang and played her own version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN to close off this exultantly satisfying performance:

It was a big auditorium, with advertisements for a Premier Active Adult Community behind the band, but it looked and sounded like the original Eddie Condon’s to me. . . .

CHICAGO CLARINETS: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Sacramento Jazz Jubilee 2011)

This little map celebrates the intersection of 35th Street and Calumet Avenue in Chicago, a place Jess Stacy called “the center of the universe.”  Cosmologically he may have been inexact, but in jazz terms in the Twenties and early Thirties, he was precisely correct — especially when it came to clarinet players.  How about Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Leon Roppolo, Volly de Faut, Rod Cless, Benny Goodman, Omer Simeon, Pee Wee Russell, and two dozen more?

At the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, drummer Hal Smith took the stage with his International Sextet to commemorate this reedy legacy.  And he had swinging, creative players around him — reed wizards Kim Cusack and Anita Thomas, pianist Carl Sonny Leyland, guitarist / banjoist Katie Cavera, and bassist / tubaist Clint Baker.  Here’s the vivid, rocking jazz history they offered at the Sheraton ballroom, miles away from Chicago on the map but right there in spirit.

Nothing says “Chicago hot” more than I FOUND A NEW BABY:

BLUE CLARINET STOMP doesn’t stomp in the formal sense of the word — a fast tempo — but Anita’s evocation of Johnny Dodds (or “Dotts,” as he and friends pronounced it) is full-blooded and blue:

For Jimmie Noone and Joe Poston, that hymn to simultaneous enlightenment, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

An extra-groovy slow-drag version of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings’ classic, FAREWELL BLUES:

“She’d be out of place in her own home town,” the twenties version of Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” but she was having a really good time — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

One of my favorite naughty-but-nice songs, about a Chicago Clark Kent who turns into Harry Reams when the time is right — HE’S THE LAST WORD — sung most engagingly by the winsome but well-informed Katie Cavera:

In honor of a great and less-heralded session in 1935, featuring Omer Simeon, Paul Mares, Santo Pecora, Jess Stacy, Marvin Saxbe, Pat Pattison, and George Wettling (have I got that right?), NAGASAKI:

And when “Chicago style” moved to New York City, it was caught hot and fresh on Commodore Records in 1938, with Pee Wee Russell’s marvelous star turn on LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

As Art Hodes sadi so often, “Man, I remember Chicago!”

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a rocking HONEYSUCKLE ROSE:

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

Jazz al fresco!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWINGING FOR JOHN PENDLETON: HAL SMITH’S INTERNATIONAL SEXTET at SACRAMENTO (May 27, 2011)

What better way to honor a beloved jazz friend, now gone, than with the music he loved so much?  And played so eloquently by the people he admired so deeply. 

The man: John Pendleton, whom you’ll hear spoken of in the videos that follow.

The musicians: Hal Smith’s International Sextet, recorded on May 27 at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.  That’s Hal (drums), Katie Cavera (guitar / vocals), Clint Baker (string bass / vocals), Anita Thomas (clarinet, alto, vocals), Kim Cusack (clarinet, tenor, vocals), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano, vocals).

“Music speaks louder than words,” Charlie Parker told condescending Earl Wilson in that famous film clip, and Bird was right, so I won’t elaborate the virtues of this rocking group at length: viewers can find their own pleasures for themselves. 

But I would point out that Hal, Katie, Sonny, and Clint make a peerless rhythm section, with their four sonorities weaving together, their pulses aligned without their individualities being flattened for some specious idea of the common good.  Hear the ripe-fruit sound of Katie’s guitar; the swish and flow of Hal’s cymbals, the deep commentaries of Clint’s bass, the down-home rock of Carl’s piano.  And the horns intertwine with each other and float over this sweet propulsion: Kim, bringing his own perspective to Bud Freeman, Eddie Miller, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and Frank Chace; Anita, completely in control but entirely fearless, following her impulses in the best self-reliant way.  And the vocalizing is wonderful (jazz instrumentalists make the best singers!) neither slick nor amateurish.

Watch everyone on the stand smiling — always a guarantee of heartfelt music and deep gratifications being spread all around. 

Katie and Anita tell us all about the new dance craze that everyone’s doing — or should be doing — that’s TRUCKIN’:

RIDIN’ ON THE L&N celebrates a train that ran between Louisville and Nashville, according to Brother Hal, who knows these things:

John loved baseball and swing.  Hence this funny, surprising TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALL GAME:

A hot one!  RUNNIN’ WILD (hear Clint’s bass behind Kim):

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY is such a simple song, but it works so well on our deepest impulses to go home, or some imagined version of it.  Katie and Anita remind us that Doris Day had a great hit with this song; the rest of the band says (implicitly), “Hey, remember the great Buck Clayton Jam Session?”  Works perfectly:

Here’s Carl’s version of the 1949 hit by Sticks McGhee (younger brother of Brownie), DRINKIN’ WINE (SPO-DEE-O-DEE).  Original lyrics — according to Nick Tosches and Wikipedia — reprinted below, definitely unvarnished and unsanitized.*

Katie is not salacious in person, but she loves songs about Twenties flirtation — perhaps she was a naughty flapper in a past life?  Here’s MA! (HE’S MAKING EYES AT ME):

I couldn’t abide THIS OLD HOUSE even when I owned one (no real-life workmen were ever such models of decorum and skill) but I love LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE, and it’s clear that Anita does too.  Music by J. Fred Coots, Danny’s uncle:

And a little Basie is always good for the soul, as Hal reminds us with JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE:

I never met John Pendleton, but he must have been what the Irish call a grand fellow to have these candid people so deeply devoted to him.  And to have such wonderful music played in his memory!

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*”Drinkin’ that mess is our delight, And when we get drunk, start fightin’ all night. Knockin’ out windows and learnin’ down doors, Drinkin’ half-gallons and callin’ for more. Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Drinkin’ wine motherfucker, drinkin’wine! Goddam! Pass that bottle to me!”

LIFE STUDIES from the SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE 2011

Always in motion, Brother Hal Smith brings swing:

Bob Schultz in fourth gear:

Katie Cavera, characteristically dour and grim:

Kevin Dorn of The Big 72:

Anita Thomas, reimagined as Sixties UK pop diva:

Clint Baker and his faithful Tuba:

The winner and still champion!

Bria Skonberg shines her light:

Danny Coots embodies the sign:

Don’t even think of putting your glass there:

Katie, Anita, and Kim Cusack swing out:

Ed Polcer, living the jazz life:

A happy fan meets Brother Hal Smith:

Bisected by bass:

Someone call the police: that boy has picked up another instrument:

Vintage merchandising, Sacramento-style:

SACRAMENTO, HERE I COME!: SACRAMENTO JAZZ FESTIVAL and JUBILEE 2011

The sheer numbers are impressive: over 450 sets of music planned in 24 venues with over 70 bands.  And the Sacramento Jazz organizers are not narrow in their tastes: in addition to traditional jazz, there’s blues, zydeco, and other forms of danceable music.

But for me the desire to go somewhere I’ve never been before is fueled by the jazz-lover’s carpe diem.  Inside me the sentence forms, more urgent than other impulses: “I have to go _____ because I could die never having heard _____ in person.”  The thought of my death or of someone else’s may seem morbid (especially over the Memorial Day weekend) but it is a profoundly deep motivator.

Awareness that the days dwindle down to a precious few got me on an airplane to hear and meet Bent Persson, Frans Sjostrom, Matthias Seuffert, Nick Ward, and two dozen others at Whitley Bay.

At Monterey, I met the Reynolds Brothers, Bryan Shaw, Sue Kroninger, Clint Baker, Carl Sonny Leyland, Danny Coots, Rae Ann Berry . . . as well as surprising the musicians I already knew (Dan Barrett, Joel Forbes, Becky Kilgore, Eddie Erickson, Jeff Barnhart, Marc Caparone, and Dawn Lambeth) by my presence.

At Sacramento, I will re-encounter some associates from New York end elsewhere: Jon-Erik Kellso, John Allred, Bill Allred, Jim Fryer, Bria Skonberg, Dan Block, John Sheridan, and Kevin Dorn . . . but I’ll also finally — meet up with Hal Smith and the International Sextet.  Here’s a taste of what Anita Thomas, Kim Cusack, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, Carl Sonny Leyland, and Hal do with THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Then, there will be clarinetist Bob Draga, cornetists Ed Polcer and Bob Schulz, pianists Johnny Varro and David Boeddinghaus, and the wonderful singer Banu Gibson (here’s a little taste of Banu with Jon-Erik, trombonist David Sager, reedman Dan Levinson, Kevin Dorn and others):

And because not everyone who lives with or loves a jazz fancier shares his / her obsession, there’s a Bloody Mary Festival, zydeco bands including Tom Rigney and Flambeau, blues, soul, rhythm ‘n’ blues, Johnny Cash and Steely Dan tribute bands, Latin bands, “Afrobeat,” marching bands and more — how can you lose, to quote Benny Carter?

I’ll be there — Rae Ann and I will be operating video cameras and wearing PRESS badges, so we’ll be hard to miss.  And here’s more information about the all-event price, hotel rates, and the festivities.  Something happening all through the weekend!

Don’t miss this party!

“CHICAGO CLARINETS” (San Diego, Nov. 26, 2010)

I don’t necessarily associate Chicago solely with clarinets, since so many other jazz players made it their home, physically or spiritually, from Art Hodes to Marty Grosz to Sidney Catlett to the Armstrongs, Louis and Miss Lil . . . the list could go on for a long time.

But reed players seem to have found that city and its environs congenial, even though the winds coming off the Loop must have dried out freight trainloads of reeds.  Think of Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Bud Jacobson, Benny Goodman, Frank Chace, Franz Jackson, Joe Rushton, Joe Marsala, and many more.

Drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith led a small group at the 2010 Dixieland Jazz Festival (the thirty-first!) in San Diego, featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Anita Thomas on clarinet and saxophone; Bobby Gordon on clarinet; Chris Dawson on piano; Marty Eggers on string bass and sousaphone, and Katie Cavera on guitar, banjo, and vocal.  Here are four selections from their set, each one splendid in its own way.

The first one is a real surprise.  PRETTY BABY, the aesthetic offspring of Tony Jackson, is usually done as a langorous rhapsody: not Kim Cusack’s romp, which has a decidedly Condon flavor to it, thanks to that rhythm section, which could move mountains:

Katie sings one of my favorite period songs — HE’S THE LAST WORD — another evocation of the innocent-looking but seductive male swain, with intertwining commentaries from Kim and Anita.  (Katie’s amused mock-naivete is perfect for this set of lyrics!):

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW takes us back to the Apex Club Orchestra (with Chris filling in neatly for Earl Hines) — Anita and Kim play at being Doc Poston and Jimmie Noone before Bobby cuts his own ferociously individualistic path through the performance, reminding us that even though Pee Wee Russell said he had no Chicago union card, he did touch down there for periods of time:

Finally, Anita’s gutty tribute to Johnny Dodds — BLUE CLARINET STOMP — that gets down in the emotional depths and stays there, with help from that wonderful rhythm section:

Meet me in Chicago!  Or is it San Diego, next Thanksgiving?  Heartfelt thanks to the tireless and on-target Rae Ann Berry, chronicler of all things swinging.

THE INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (Part Two)

“Chicago style” is such a misnomer, because only a handful of musicians associated with it were born or worked in that city.  But it is a particular style to cherish — with certain little conventions (flares and explosions) and marked overall by hot intensity (not expressed in volume or speed but in emotional strength). 

Here are two more examples from Anita Thomas, Kim Cusack (reeds), Carl Sonny Leyland (piano), Katie Cavera (guitar), Clint Baker (bass), Hal Smith (drums) — improvising on two old favorites that deserve to be played often:

MY GAL SAL:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

Recorded by Rae Ann Berry on March 7, 2010 at Doxieland Monterey.  Of course!

THE INTERNATIONAL SEXTET (March 7, 2010)

Brought to you through the goodness of the indefatigable Rae Ann Berry . . . live from Dixieland Monterey . . . here’s Hal Smith, drums and leader; Anita Thomas and Kim Cusack, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, bass.

And here’s some down-home rock, reminiscent of New Orleans street parade bounce — WHEN MY DREAMBOAT COMES HOME.  How about the leafy intertwining of Anita and Kim, creating a whole universe of reed sounds (Pee Wee pokes in there, as does Herschel); CSL’s rocking piano (did I hear the FAREWELL BLUES?); Clint’s woody pulse; Katie’s solid guidance (she remembers Carmen Mastren).  And Hal — not raucous, loud, or showy, but melodic — singing out on his snare and bass drum.  I heard Warren and Arthur and Raymond (that’s Messrs. Dodds, Singleton, and Bauduc) with a soupcon of Sidney (that’s Catlett) but Hal’s beat could make the sleepers awake, smiling.  As I am:

SOMETHING FOR LESTER

Lester Young was born in 1909 and died before he reached fifty, so when we celebrate his hundredth birthday, it is with the wonder that he existed at all — and the sadness that his feelings were often “bruised,” to use his evocative word.

Just recently (Nov. 27, 2009) the drummer and swing master Hal Smith staged a tribute to Lester at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California, with some performances caught by our very own and most cherished SFRaeAnn, who signs her checks Rae Ann Berry. 

Hal’s band — wittily dubbed “Hal’s Angels,” is comprised of Anita Thomas, tenor sax and clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal, Mike Earls, bass, and Hal himself.  Hal and band led the audience through a brief musical tour of Lester’s life, from his pre-recording influences to his last decade.  Here are several highlights:

To start things off, Hal and the band embarked on a rocking blues, the kind that Lester loved to play, early and late.  This blues line comes from recordings made at a mid-Fifties gig in Washington, D.C. — and it’s in the key of G, hence the title: “G’S, IF YOU PLEASE”: 

But before Lester ever got into a recording studio, he was astonishing fellow musicians and listeners — among them the writer Ralph Ellison.  But Lester, for all his indefatigable originality, had heard other musicians in the Twenties.  Jazz records were not easy to find, but his fellow reedman Eddie Barefield had acquired several of the 1927 OKeh records featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer.  Lester credited Trumbauer as an early influence, and if one listens to Tram throughout his career, the sound and approach that affected Lester are easy to appreciate.  (In fact, Trumbauer’s final session for Capitol contains a near-ballad version of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA that sounds for all the world like Lester on C-melody saxophone.)

Thus, a properly slow reading of Trumbauer’s solo on WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

One of the glorious sessions Lester made was also his first — “Jones-Smith, Inc.” in late 1936, which produced LADY BE GOOD.  Had Lester recorded nothing else, we would have this recording as evidence of his mastery.  And his influence is heard throughout this performance, which shows off the uplifting rhythm section, even when Anita isn’t soloing:

With the Kansas City Six, Lester played clarinet, unmistakably, and Hal’s Angels turn to I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, with Carl offering a vocal that reminds us of Lester’s work alongside Jimmy Rushing in the Count Basie band.  It’s the only time Anita offers a written-out Lester solo, and she has his tart tone and sideways phrasing down pat:

For perhaps three years, Lester and Billie Holiday turned out one recorded masterpiece after another: here is BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, with Katie singing, in their honor:

I don’t exaggerate when I write that Lester would have been delighted to play with this band.  And since he called everyone “Lady,” I think he would have been most pleased by the playing of Lady Anita, who suggests some of his curving architecture without copying him.  Although many famous players tried to copy him, their energetic imitations only show how individual he was, and how his essence eluded them.  Better to “go for yourself,” as he said, as Hal’s Angels do so well here.