Tag Archives: Arthur Trappier

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, 1944

A simple song about a universal, deep desire — by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar.  The melody is very unadorned, as are the lyrics: qualities that would make it memorable to a large popular audience and also great material for jazz improvisers.  It was recorded frequently when it was a new pop song, then given new life by Benny Goodman, his orchestra, and other Swing Era bands.

In my time, I’ve seen leaders call I WANT TO BE HAPPY when they want a trustworthy up-tempo song, often to close a set.  I remember Wild Bill Davison announcing the title and then leering at the audience, “Don’t we ALL?”  Kenny Davern, more an intellectual comedian, would conjugate the statement in a half-Yiddish inflection, “I vant to be happy, he vants to be happy . . . ” and then trail off amidst the audience’s laughter.

Here is a particularly memorable 1944 version, showing that a good melody has its own immortality, especially when explored by brilliant improvisers who never lose sight of the melody’s validity: the Commodore Records classic (from a long session with many alternate takes) featuring Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Arthur Trappier (July 20).  It is easy to take this superficially as a version of a Goodman small group because of the uplifting presence of Wilson, but Hall and Wilson had been working together at Cafe Society for some time.

The YouTube presenter has gotten the date wrong and provides no data; instead there is a constant flow of often irrelevant photographs, but the music is what matters.

And what music!  It’s really a simple recording — a worked-out introduction, a chorus for Hall, one for the rhythm section, another for Hall (low-register with the bridge for bassist Taylor) one for the rhythm section with the bridge for Trappier on brushes, then a quartet improvisation, everyone more intense but hardly louder, ending with no dramatics.  I marvel at Edmond’s tone in all his registers, his easy facility that is allied to great quiet intensity; the depth of Wilson’s harmonic inventions that are always moving — he never puts a foot wrong but nothing seems worked-out — and the solid sweet push of Taylor and Trappier.

It’s a remarkable recording because it never tugs at the listener’s sleeve to say LOOK HOW REMARKABLE WE ARE.  (However, if one hears it through a fog of multi-tasking, it might become background music — what we used to call “elevator music,” which would be a shame.)

This was the peak of a particular style (still practiced beautifully today): swinging melodic inventiveness in solo and ensemble.  There really is no way that a listener could improve on this group effort, and I whimsically theorize that Bird and Dizzy went their own ways because this style, these individualistic players, had so polished this kind of jazz that there was no way to better it without breaking out of it.

We still want to be happy, and music like this points the way, if only we take the time to immerse ourselves in it.

May your happiness increase!

“NO EXTRA CHARGE FOR TABLES” (1948-49)

There was Chicago’s South Side in the mid-to-late Twenties.  There was Fifty-Second Street in New York for a decade starting in 1935 or so.  There was always Harlem and Kansas City . . . but these three advertisements speak to me of a Golden Age that was happening before I was born.

Let’s get prepared.  We need some money, acetates for my Presto disc cutter, several cameras, rare Okehs and Paramounts for everyone’s autograph . . . and be sure to let your parents know we won’t be home early.  All set?

October 8, 1948:

The Beloved has her back cushion.  We’re all set!

December 3, 1948:

We’ll swing by Emily’s house to pick her up: Eric, Noya, Jon-Erik, Matt, and Kevin are meeting us there.  If anyone tends to get carsick, they have to come by subway.

March 25, 1949:

Gordon, Veronica, Lena, and Tamar promised they’d come.

Enough fantasy, perhaps.  All I know is that one of these evenings would have changed my life.

May your happiness increase.

“THAT MAN,” CONCLUDED?

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I doubt that my readers have been kept awake by the mysteries contained in this photograph, but I decided to open the discussion to the members of a jazz research group that includes the most respected jazz scholars . . . and they added a few insights. 

Michael McQuaid had suggested that the unknown baritonist might be Bill Miles — only on the basis of Miles’s apprearance on some Wild Bill Davison Commodores.  Plausible, but neither of us had any idea of what Miles looked like.

Then Peter Vacher, someone who knows things first-hand (he’s written a fine book collecting his interviews of famous jazz players — SOLOISTS AND SIDEMEN — worth searching out) emailed me:

Your photo sent me scurrying to my photo collection.  I’m pretty sure your man is Billy Miles.  I have him in a photo that Joe Darensbourg gave me showing a jam session at the Blue Bird in LA in the early 1950s. It’s an interesting line-up with Joe, Chicago drummer Bill Winston (visiting from Honolulu) and Billy Miles, playing baritone, among others.  My picture shows Miles as identical to your picture, same facial expression, parting and hair style.  Case closed?  Hope so.

That might have been the end of it if not for Dan Morgenstern, who not only knows things but has been a part of the New York jazz scene for more than half a century.  Dan proposed that 1) he had been at Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, both of which were large catering halls (Central Plaza is recognizable in photographs when musicians are posed against its multicolored venetian blinds) and that it might be Lou Terassi’s; 2) the microphone was for radio broadcast; 3) it wasn’t Sidney Catlett but Art  Trappier.  I had written here that the upholstered background seemed more a night club’s decor, but I was crestfallen to lose Big Sid, with all respects to Art.  And there the matter might rest.   

But what if it was taken at a “Doctor Jazz” broadcast?  Doors shut, doors open.