Tag Archives: Art Hodes

MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE: “PIANO JAZZ – CHICAGO STYLE!” featuring RAY SKJELBRED

Like other jazz fans and collectors, I have had many dreams of music I would like to hear, and in my lifetime many of those dreams have come true: the alternate takes of the Jones-Smith, Inc. session; airshots of the Basie band at the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing; the Ellington Fargo concert; the Jerry Newman uptown recordings; more Louis and Big Sid, on and on.

Earl Hines and Ray Skjelbred

The pianist Ray Skjelbred — treasured courageous explorer of beauty — is part of this story of dreams taking lovely shape.  I heard him on recordings perhaps fifteen years ago, and I encountered him in videos perhaps eight years ago, first in those of Rae Ann Berry, then in my own attempts, having met him, to capture him with appropriate skill and reverence.

In whatever medium I found him, I was astonished by the spacious, emotionally dense worlds he invented at the keyboard.  I still am.  And although Ray allowed me to capture individual performances that he approved of, solo and in duet; Ray leading his own Cubs — I am proud of the results, but they are beautiful snapshots for the most part.  In my videos, the sound might be imperfect; the audience might be chatting or moving in and out; Ray would speak, memorably, but briefly.

I came to dream of a Skjelbred film, a recital-explanation that would help us capture his secrets and his deep essence, as much of his history and magic that he cared to reveal.  But it remained a dream until Ray’s friend John Ochs, with Ray, created a profound but never sententious portrait of Ray and the musical atmosphere he both swims in and has enriched for decades.  It exists, and it can be seen.

From the first pearly notes of Joe Sullivan’s GIN MILL BLUES to Ray’s reminiscences-with-music of Burt Bales, Johnny Wittwer, Earl Hines, Joe Sullivan, Art Hodes, Jess Stacy, stride piano, octaves, tenths, the blues, tremolos, a stomping LITTLE ROCK GETAWAY, anecdotes of Sullivan — among well-trained kindergarten children, or listening to Bob Zurke play GETAWAY, a  brilliantly meandering chorus of ROSETTA which reminds me of someone picking up glittering beach glass at the ocean’s edge, and a riotous BEAU KOO  JACK, and so much more — the film is a treasure.  It is both the chronicle of a questing artist and his interactions with Hines, Sullivan, Stacy, Hodes, and a series of casual lessons from a Master about other Masters.

I admire it tremendously.  Ray’s deadpan puckish humor animates all of his conversation with us, as when he describes a heart attack at the keyboard turning, for seconds, into stride piano . . .his description of a poor traditional band as “six people with shotguns.”  I encourage viewers to savor his after-midnight introduction to I FOUND A NEW BABY and the last minutes of MY LITTLE PRIDE AND JOY.

It isn’t a how-to film that entices the viewer with the kinds of promises historically made on matchbooks, “See, you can play _____ too if only you learn these sixteen gestures,” nor is it a chronological autobiography of gigs and encounters, but a warming combination of sounds, techniques, memories and music created right at the moment.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget Ray’s story of Jess Stacy’s summation of a visit from jazz acolytes, at first  unfamiliar to him, as “Those nice boys.”

The film is emotionally filling without being overwhelming: when I finished watching for the first (of several times) I felt as if I had spent a month with Ray, yet it felt like a seamless easy journey, over too soon.

Recorded in one sitting, at a fine piano, with subtle, telling editing, it is so far beyond my best videos that I am both thrilled it exists and slightly embarrassed by my own earnest amateur sallies.

I am not the only person to appreciate this film: it has been selected by the New York Jazz Film Festival and will receive an award for HISTORY / DOCUMENTARY at the end of August.

I am able to share the film with you — and frankly I would find it inexplicable if hundreds of people did not take advantage of the opportunity — but I do not know for how long this will be possible.  These things are mysterious, but Imight not be able to share this film indefinitely.

So I urge and beseech my viewers to be with Ray Skjelbred, man and artist of independent spirit, for one hour (and twenty-three minutes and fifty-eight seconds) tonight, or, if not tonight, then tomorrow night.

Early on in the film, Ray says, as if to himself, “All music is a narrative of some kind — it starts somewhere and it goes somewhere.”  He could have been describing this very fulfilling film as well.

May your happiness increase!

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THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE: A NEW BOOK BY DEREK COLLER and BERT WHYATT

Before you read another word: if you know the remarkable work of Derek Coller and the late Bert Whyatt, you can skip to the bottom for details on how to buy it: you won’t need me to convince you of its worth.

Full disclosure, for those who like FD: I corresponded with Bert and exchanged information and tapes for the Bobby Hackett book he and George Hulme did, and I am mentioned in this new book as a source pertaining to Frank Chace.

Now for larger matters: when I pick up a book purporting to be on jazz, I value clear presentation of information, at best first-hand narrative or close informed analysis, any ideological basis (if there must be one) aboveboard.  I should come away from any reading feeling that I know many new things or have been given new ways of perceiving what I know.

Here’s what repels me (details omitted to avoid legal action):

During the twentieth century, jazz was at the center of multiple debates about social life and American experience. Jazz music and its performers were framed in both positive and negative manners. The autobiographies of _____ musicians _____ and ______ provide insight into the general frames they used to frame jazz experience and agency sometimes at odds with dominant discourses. Through Michel Foucault’s notion of ethical substance, I analyze the way in which jazz is constructed in their autobiographies. Several themes are used by both autobiographers to frame their actions, which are constructed in a complex and ambivalent manner revealing both the ethics of jazz and its covert culture.

A long pause.  Happily, I can leave Foucault to his own devices, and enthusiastically recommend CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE, the opposite of the miasma in italics.  And, for the curious, the picture above is of Sig Meyer and his Druids, c. 1924 — including Volly De Faut, Arnold Loyacano, Marvin Saxbe, and Muggsy Spanier.  In itself, that photograph says everything you might need to know about the depth of research in this book.

Coller and Whyatt come from the old school of scholars — note I don’t write “critics” — who believe that the stories musicians tell about themselves and others are more worthy than what listeners believe they hear.  This is a collection of articles — essays, portraits, studies — by both authors, published in Storyville, The Mississippi Rag, the IAJRC Journal, Jazz Journal, and as liner notes — between 1983 and 2016.

For once, I will quote the publisher’s copy, because it is so apt:

When Derek Coller decided to pay tribute to his late friend – the author, biographer, discographer and researcher, Bert Whyatt – he looked for a common theme under which to group some of the articles they had written together over the years. He found it in Chicago where their research activities had gravitated towards the style of music created by the young white musicians from that city and its environs – particularly those who rallied around the figurehead of Eddie Condon – as they listened to and learned from the pioneer black stylists, many of them the greatest jazz players to emigrate from New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Baby Dodds and Jimmy Noone. Two trips to the USA, made by the authors in 1979 and 1992, led to meetings and correspondence with some of the musicians in this compilation, and to learning about many others. There are connections between most of these articles, interviews and notes, with an over-lapping of jobs, leaders and clubs. Some of the stories are about pioneers: Elmer Schoebel, Jack Pettis and Frank Snyder, for example, were in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923. Trombonist George Brunis, chronicled here, was also a member of that band, though his long career – during which he played with Muggsy Spanier, as did Rod Cless and George Zack, in the Spanier Ragtime Band of ‘Great Sixteen’ fame – has been more widely documented. Floyd Bean and Tut Soper, here too, were also Spanier alumni. The articles originally appeared variously under a dual by-line, or by either Whyatt or Coller, but always with consultation and discussion prior to publication. Here they become a lively mix of the voices of the authors as well as the musicians and their families, building a story through biography, reviews and discography. The book is illustrated with evocative black and white photographs and images, and there is an Index of names and places to help the reader keep track of the musicians, composers, producers, promoters and writers who created this part of the history of jazz.

“A lively mix” is an understatement. First off, the book is full of wonderful anecdotage, primarily by the musicians themselves.  And it helps to explicate Chicago — which is often legendary but certainly under-documented — as its own world of jazz, where one could encounter Jimmy Yancey, Brownie McGhee, Bud Jacobson, Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes — see the 1949 photo facing the table of contents.

For me, the complete and absorbing charm of the book and the research under it is in the focus on those musicians whom I’ve known as names on record labels or in discographies.  Yes, there is coverage of Muggsy Spanier and George Brunis (the first already the subject of a fine biography by — no surprise — Bert), but the other portraits are welcome because the musicians depicted never got the attention during or after their lifetimes.  I will simply list them: Jack Pettis, Frank Snyder, Elmer Schoebel, Rod Cless, George Snurpus, Maurice Bercov, Floyd O’Brien, Oro “Tut” Soper, Floyd Town, Johnny Lane, George Zack, Jack Gardner, Chet Roble, Floyd Bean, Bill Reinhardt and his club Jazz Ltd., Dan Lipscomb, Frank Chace, Jimmy Ille, Art Jenkins, Doc Cenardo, Freddy Greenleaf, and Paul Jordan.

And that is surely not all.  Photographs new to me, of course.  And when I open the book at random, gems leap out: on page 202, pianist Tut Soper describes Chicago as “the center of gravity as far as jazz is concerned.”  On page 63, we are in trombonist Floyd O’Brien’s datebook for 1928, describing gigs and who was in the band.  On page 227, jazz writer Larry Kart recalls hearing (and recording) clarinetist Frank Chace and pianist Bob Wright playing Coltrane’s LAZY BIRD and Tadd Dameron’s IF YOU COULD SEE ME NOW.

I mentioned anecdotage earlier in this post, and will add a few excerpts from string bassist Harlow Atwood (201-2), talking of clarinetist / clubowner Bill Reinhardt and early rehearsals (Fall 1932) for Charlie Barnet’s first big band:

(. . . Charlie then was a 17 years-old pothead fugitive from Moses Brown Prep in Providence, R.I.) which boasted the legendary Jack Purvis on trumpet and Scoops Thompson (he sold drugs by the scoopful!) on guitar.  The two wildest dudes I ever met in the business.  That band, by the way, opened the brand-new Paramount Hotel, owned by Charlie’s family, on New Year’s Eve of ’32-’33 and lasted exactly one set.  Barnet’s mother, shocked to her socks by Purvis’ romping charts, fired Charlie herself.  I was sitting at Charlie’s table and heard the conversation.  

And, later, Atwood’s memories of valve-trombonist Frank Orchard (memorable for appearances on Commodore Records — I also saw him at Jimmy Ryan’s in the Seventies) who also acted as M.C., played piano, guitar, and sang — and who installed “a 2 1/2 times life-sized photo of himself at the club’s street entrance”:

The sets were pure Mack Sennett.  Frank would tinkle a piano intro, then switch to rhythm guitar for the opening chorus, grab his guitar and up to the mike to sing / play a chorus, then do the sock chorus on trombone lead and finally sprint back to the piano for the ending.  Plus, of course, introductory blather.

That’s purest jazz catnip to me, and I hope to you also.

If you’d told me a few years ago that I would hold a book with a detailed portrait of the pianist Jack Gardner in it, or a reference to tenorist Joe Masek, I would have thought that impossible.  And I have taken so long to review this book because of its irresistible nature.  When I received it in the mail, I left it visible in my apartment, and when I passed by it, I would stop to read a few pages: its distracting force was just that powerful.  I apologize to Derek and to the shade of Bert for being so tardy, but if you are in the least curious about Chicago jazz — from the teens to the Seventies — you will find CHICAGO JAZZ: THE SECOND LINE fascinating, quotable, and invaluable. I wish there were a bookshelf of volumes of equal merit.

Buy a copy here or here .  Alas, the book doesn’t come with a I BRAKE FOR SIG MEYERS AND HIS DRUIDS bumper sticker or a multi-volume CD set of previously unheard live sessions recorded by John Steiner, but we will make do with this lovely collection.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS, CONTINUED (July 8, 2017)

Our good fortune continues.  “Tell us a story, Dan?” we ask, and he kindly obliges.  And his stories have the virtue of being candid, genuine, and they are never to show himself off.  A rare fellow, that Mister Morgenstern is.

Here are a few more segments from my July 2017 interlude with Dan. In the first, he recalls the great clarinetist, improviser, and man Frank Chace, with glances at Bob Wright, Wayne Jones, Harriet Choice, Bill Priestley, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Russell, Nick’s, Louis Prima, Wild Bill Davison, Art Hodes, Frank Teschemacher, Eddie Condon, and Zutty Singleton:

Here, Dan speaks of Nat Hentoff, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Charles Edward Smith — with stories about George Wein, Stan Getz, Art Tatum, Sidney Bechet:

and a little more, about “jazz critics,” including Larry Kart, Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance, and a little loving comment about Bunny Berigan:

If the creeks don’t rise, Dan and I will meet again this month.  And this time I hope we will get to talk of Cecil Scott and other luminaries, memorable in their own ways.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN’S CHICAGO DAYS (July 8, 2017)

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know the esteem that we who love this music hold Dan Morgenstern in, and I continue to be pleased and honored that he permits me to ask him questions in front of my camera.  We had another little session on July 8, 2017, and I asked Dan to tell us all about his days in Chicago.  Here are three interview segments, full of good stories.

First, stories about DOWN BEAT, Don DeMicheal, Robert Kaiser, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Harriet Choice, John Coltrane, Joe Segal, Dexter Gordon, Art Hodes, Gene Lees, and others:

and more, about Art Hodes, Jimmy McPartland, Pee Wee Russell, Norman Murphy, Marty Grosz, George Grosz, Wayne Jones, AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams, Jim McNeely, Harriet Choice, John Steiner, Edith Wilson, the Brecker Brothers:

and, finally, tales of Rush Street, Tiny Davis, the blues, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Harlem:

The warmth of Dan’s being comes through in every word.  And who else on the planet has had first-hand encounters with (let us say) both Edith Wilson and the AACM?  I have several more segments from this afternoon to share with you, and Dan and I have a return encounter planned for more.

And because a posting about Dan has to have some relevant music, here is the JUST JAZZ program he produced with Robert Kaiser, featuring Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Lou Forestieri, Frankyln Skeete, and Don DeMicheal:

May your happiness increase!

“I THOUGHT I HEARD”: November 1945

No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case.  Evidence herewith:

Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the  grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged.  The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.

I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building.  You will understand why.

On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.

Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band

Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.

Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.

Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.

Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West. 

Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.

Cafe Society Downtown, Sheridan Sq. — Benny Morton band, Cliff Jackson, piano.

Cafe Society Uptown, 58th St. — Ed Hall and band.

Spotlight, 52nd St. — Ben Webster.

Yes, Sol Yaged is still with us — the only survivor of those glorious days.

To keep the mellow mood going, here is twenty-nine minutes of Art Hodes and friends from those years.  Spot the typo, win a prize:

May your happiness increase!