This performance is both rare and familiar, famous and infamous, and you’ll hear why. It comes from a jam session organized by Joe Marsala from the St. Regis Hotel in New York City which was broadcast to the BBC — unheard at home. The eager announcer, jazz fan Alistair Cooke, is so eager to explain the new phenomenon of swing to the uninitiated that he explains — to some, insufferably — through most of the track.
But if you have the kind of first-rate mind F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of, and you can listen around the well-intentioned Mr. Cooke, you will hear some astonishing music from Bobby Hackett, cornet; Marty Marsala, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Source material from a Jazz Unlimited CD, GREAT SWING JAM SESSIONS.
I used to expend energy complaining about our Alistair, but as I’ve aged I hear him out of the corner of my consciousness while I prize the splash and drive of Dave Tough’s cymbal work and tom-toms, the ferocious joy of the soloists and ensemble. No Alistair, no jam session, even though his timing is off: he is like a little boy with short legs chasing the parade. Rather than complain, KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE. It’s a bubble, you know:
Hot in November for sure. And as Mr. Cooke wisely says, “This is no concert for people who don’t like swing.” Imagine this blazing out of your radio. And if you are so inclined to comment on Mr. Cooke’s loquacity, remember that he is an anthropologist introducing people to a new culture, and thank him: no Cooke, no music.
First, it’s not Dudgeon and Dragons. “High dudgeon” is annoyance, anger, resentment. “She left the meeting in high dudgeon.” A witty piece on the etymology by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman can be found here.
And it’s also the title of a wonderful Joe Sullivan record. I present the four sides he recorded in Los Angeles on April 1, 1945, for Sunset Records. Sunset was the creation of Eddie Laguna, also a concert promoter, who’s proven elusive. But the music isn’t. Encouraged by his friend Zutty Singleton, Joe had moved west in 1943, and the first two sides recorded for Sunset were piano solos.
But these records are by a quintet and a trio: Joe, piano; Archie Rosati, clarinet; Ulysses Livingston, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Zutty Singleton, drums: NIGHT AND DAY / HIGH DUDGEON / BRUSHIN’ OFF THE BOOGIE / HEAVY LADEN (Joe, Archie, Zutty).
Joe is typecast as a “barrelhouse” “Chicago” pianist, and that he could be, but he loved the great lyrical songs — Coward and Porter as well as the blues. Perhaps this choice was also inspired by another clarinetist named Shaw?
And the very thing:
Hear the crystalline sound of Zutty’s brushes:
and finally a trio performance (the cover of the Nagel-Heyer assemblage is odd at first — although Joe and Bird would have played together without scrapes):
A few small mysteries, without which no blogpost can be said to be complete. One: I have not found a photograph or biography of Eddie Laguna, although he is references endlessly in articles about Nat King Cole (Will Friedwald, inexplicably, even makes fun of his name) Wardell Gray, and others of that time and place.
Two: I am assuming that HIGH DUDGEON is Joe’s title, not Eddie’s, because it is credited to Joe. He went to parochial school in Chicago, although he may have stopped in his teens. I envision a nun saying, “Do that one more time, Joseph, and you will see me in high dudgeon!’ Just as possible is that Joe picked it up from Bing Crosby, who loved elaborate flourishes of language. Joe himself was articulate in speech and prose: see him on JAZZ CASUAL with Ralph J. Gleason; I’ve also seen several of his sophisticated letters to Jeff Atterton, which will turn up on another post.
All I know is that Joe’s music never leaves me annoyed, angry, resentful. Is the opposite of HIGH DUDGEON something like FLOATING JOY? Consider this, but listen to Joe as you do.
If you wanted to visit Joe in his San Francisco period — more or less from 1945 to his death in 1971, here’s where you would find him:
. . . . on the fifth floor:
A nifty postscript. More than one skeptical reader wrote in to dispute the existence of Eddie Laguna, because that name was used as a pseudonym for Nat Cole on a record label. The fine scholar-professor-guitarist Nick Rossi rode to the rescue with Ray Whitten’s photographs of the December 4, 1947 Dial Records date, led by Dexter Gordon at Radio Recorders, supervised by Eddie Laguna. Personnel as follows: Dexter Gordon, Teddy Edwards, tenor saxes; Jimmy Rowles, piano; Red Callender, bass; Roy Porter, drums.
Feast your eyes, friends! Laguna, should you need a clue, holds no instrument.
At least for now, face-to-face meetings still seem fraught. So this wonderfully sweet song seems an alternative, perhaps. Whether “Dreamland” was an actual amusement or an imagined nocturnal lovers’ rendez-vous, I leave to you. In either case, the song presents possibility, more so than I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS, where dreams must suffice because there’s no chance of an actual meeting. But enough philosophy.
From 1909 (one of Tim Gracyk’s beautifully detailed presentations):
Fifty years later, Bing and Rosie, with strings attached:
And the 1938 explosion that started this chain of thought, the delightful Condon-Gabler alchemy that turned old sweet songs into Hot Music for the ages:
As an aside, Allen Lowe’s CD sets and book, THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE, have brought me much pleasure: well worth investigating here.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
Those are two unassuming-looking sides of a Decca “sunburst” label 78 disc. Fine music with small mysteries attached, and no one around to tell the tale(s). This 78 is not easy to find these days but it seems to have been a popular issue: I have had two copies, the first a (now-vanished) sunburst, the second (near me as I write) a later Decca reissue. It was also issued on UK Decca.
This group, not a working band, recorded only these two sides in the New York Decca studios on January 17, 1936. The personnel was Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Frank Signorelli, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Stan King, drums. Erwin and Mastren would work with Tommy Dorsey in early 1937, but at the time Erwin was in New York with the young Benny Goodman band before it went to Chicago; the rest of this group might have been together on Fifty-Second Street with Manone or Louis Prima, or freelancing in other record or radio studios.
Marsala and Mastren had been in the Decca studios for another small-group date, apparently organized by Wingy Manone, in whose recording groups they were working consistently for Bluebird — “the Delta Four,” with Roy Eldridge and Sid Weiss making up a quartet, also completing only two sides, FAREWELL BLUES and SWINGIN’ ON THAT FAMOUS DOOR, on December 20, 1935. Signorelli and Mastren had done a date at Decca with Bunny Berigan as “Bob Terry’s Orchestra” on the 15th; Signorelli, King, and possibly Mastren were in the Decca studios on the 20th with Red McKenzie.
What or who brought these musicians together is one of the mysteries. It could have been that one of the six got a call from someone at Decca, perhaps Bob Stephens, saying, “We need a small band tomorrow in the studios at 11. No more than six, and for scale,” and whoever picked up the phone or got the message at Hurley’s (the bar-gathering place before Jim and Andy’s) talked to other musicians down the bar or made some phone calls.
One more small gush of data: the Six Blue Chips were a late-morning or afternoon assemblage: blues singer Georgia White (piano, vocal, with unknown bass) recorded three sides earlier in the day, and Mike Riley (of THE MUSIC GOES ‘ROUND AND ‘ROUND fame or infamy) recorded four sides later. American Decca, still quite a new company, was busy recording music and selling discs at lower prices than, say, Victor, as shown by three disparate sessions in one day.
Note the absence of composer credits, something unusual on Decca recordings of current pop tunes, but seen often on their recordings of “hilbilly” music, where the company could pretend that there were no people owed royalties. It suggests even more that this was a hurry-up session, or perhaps someone’s idea to add to the Delta Four (whose labels do have composer credits).
Incidentally, the reason that all this prose is speculative is because no one connected with the session seemed to remember it or wrote about it. If King, Shapiro, and Signorelli were ever interviewed, I haven’t encountered it. I met Carmen Mastren once — on either Lloyd Rauch’s or Dave Weiner’s radio show — and at the time did not know of this recording. He was very kind . . . and I don’t know where the V-Disc he autographed for me went.
The most likely candidate for an informed recollection would have been Pee Wee Erwin, who told his life story to Warren Vache, Sr., over four hundred pages, in what would be published as THIS HORN FOR HIRE. But although Vache mentions this disc in an appendix, it seems as if that discography was assembled after Erwin’s death. Pee Wee mentions meeting Bob Stephens in the very early Thirties (when Stephens was a trumpet player) but nothing of substance is offered about the date or the other musicians. One of the sad surprises of that biography is that Pee Wee had a substantial alcohol problem, which might have erased his memory of casual record dates.
None of this would matter if the music wasn’t delightful. Here it is:
STEEL ROOF, of course, steals from TIN ROOF BLUES, but it took me decades to realize this. The side begins with a familiar — to some of us painfully familiar — piano introduction, with which Frank Froeba began all of the Dick Robertson sides, much loved because of the opportunity they offer to hear a young Bobby Hackett. I’m always struck by the ease with which everyone plays this medium-slow blues, and how readily identifiable their sounds are, including King’s idiosyncratic but telling accents. Erwin runs parallel to Bunny, but with his own sound; how lovely to hear Mastren out in the open, and Marsala always charms — even though this is “a slow blues,” he is charmingly optimistic. The solos and closing ensemble have deep roots in the past: Oliver, Noone, Lang or Lonnie Johnson, but it’s clearly 1936, not a decade earlier. And what a pleasant surprise to find that same piano passage used to wind down the performance — with the punchline being a King bass drum accent. Unpretentious and completely effective.
Then, the reverse, with its elusive title: was Cheech someone who cheated or were they describing the process of cheating him (or her)?
There really isn’t much to CHEECH — it sounds like two or three familiar cadences taped together to make a chorus, but the overall effect is jolly, with the wonderful emphasis that the great improvisers placed on individual sound. The record seems over before it’s through, but I hear Marsala’s luminescence and Mastren taking a trip into the land of what I first associated with McDonough, but Nick Rossi, who can play, suggests it is much more like Lang. (I know the game of “sounds like” is silly, but I wonder how much Carmen had absorbed of Teddy Bunn and Lonnie Johnson as well?)
How these sides came to be remains mysterious, but they are little slices of Swing Street life, captured forever. These discs, incidentally, come to us through the generosity of “Cliff,” whom I’ve been unable to identify further, but who has a wonderful YouTube channel, cdbpdx— full of now-rare 78 discs.
A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment, entertaining friends (one of them the fine guitarist Larry Scala) and I was playing 78s for them. After a particularly delightful performance, which may have been the Keynote I WANT TO BE HAPPY with Roy, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas, or 46 WEST 52 with Chu Berry, Roy, and Sidney Catlett, I turned to them and quietly said, “Music like this is why some bands that everyone else goes wild about do not appeal to me. I’ve been spoiled by the best.”
But there are glorious exceptions to my assessment of the present. One of the shining musicians of this century is Michael McQuaid— heard on a variety of reeds and cornet, even possibly breaking in to song when it seems right. I first heard him live in 2010 and admired him powerfully, and although our paths don’t cross often (we meet every few years, not only in Newcastle but also in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in New York City) he remains a model to me of what can be created within and without those venerable musics. (Full disclosure: he quotes from JAZZ LIVES on his blog, but I simply take that as evidence of his good taste in literature.)
If you’d like to read a brief biography of Michael, you can do just that here, but I will offer three salient facts: he is Australian by birth; he has been playing professionally for twenty years even though he is a mere 35; he and the lovely Ms. Anna Lyttle will take up residence in London in November 2017.
Michael, feeling the spirit
His newest CD, DIASPORA, is an exceptional pleasure. It’s a trio CD — Michael’s first as a leader in this format — where he is nobly paired with pianist Andrew Oliver and percussionist Nicholas D. Ball. When you click on the title above, you can hear selections from the disc, and if so moved, then purchase it from Bandcampor CDBaby.
But enough commerce. I’ve found it daunting to review this CD in a hurry, not, I assure you, because I had to dig for adjectives, but because each performance — none of them longer than a 12″ 78 — is so dense with sensation, feeling, and music, that I feel gloriously full and satisfied after each track. I couldn’t compel myself to listen to this disc, stuffing in track after track at one sitting: too much glorious stuff was going on. So I promise you that it will not only appeal at the first listening but for many more to come. Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. are strong personalities but willing to merge their egos into a band, which in itself is a deep reward for us.
The music here is nicely contradictory: comforting but full of surprises, aesthetically familiar but never rote. “Clarinet, piano, and traps,” as they would have written in 1928, lends itself to all sorts of formulae: the Goodman / Dodds / Noone “tribute” album. Or, more loosely, “Chicago jazz.” DIASPORA, it is true, nods affectionately to early Benny, Wingy, Leon, the Halfway House boys, Fats, Bud Jacobsen, Charles LaVere, and others, but it is not a series of copies: it’s as if Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. have made themselves so familiar with the individual songs and the idioms they came from that they are at ease and can thus speak for themselves. There is so much shining energy in their playing: nothing seems forced or tense. And although this would be marketed as “hot jazz,” some of the finest moments in this recital are sweet, rueful, tender: Fats’ CHELSEA, for one.
I asked Michael for his thoughts about the CD, especially because there are no liner notes, and he told me that he wanted to let the music speak for itself, and that DIASPORA has been on his mind for some time: “I wanted to do a project featuring my OWN playing rather than a larger group with a more democratic purpose. I also wanted to record in a very good studio, because I think the clarinet is rarely recorded well . . . it’s just me and my Albert system clarinet! And my colleagues, of course.” [Note from Michael: the recorded sound is superbly natural.]
The songs Michael chose are admiring homages to various clarinetists without imitating them. “For instance, ‘Do Something’ was imagined as a hypothetical Don Murray/Arthur Schutt/Vic Berton collaboration; ‘Tiger Rag’ asks ‘what if Rappolo and Jelly Roll made a trio side?’.”
I’d asked Michael about his original compositions. “‘Black Spur’ takes its name from a treacherous mountain road to the north east of Melbourne, while ‘Diaspora’ is a Beguine/Jazz mix, paying tribute to the musical styles (and peoples) scattered widely throughout the world by the time of the 1920s/30s. Of course, there’s a link there to the album title as well; an Australian, playing music of American origin (broadly speaking) with an American and a Briton, recorded and mixed in London and mastered in Helsinki!”
I hope all my readers take the opportunity to hear DIASPORA: it’s music that travels well.
I just received this now out-of-print “Chronogical” Classics disc.
With all respect to Feather, journalist-publicist, promoter, pianist, composer, arranger of record sessions, I bought this rare item for the company he kept:
From left: Robert Goffin, Benny Carter, Louis, Feather, 1942
For me, the appeal of this now-rare disc in in sessions featuring Bobby Hackett, Leo Watson, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Ray Biondi, Benny Carter, Billy Kyle, Hayes Alvis, Artie Shapiro, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Remo Palmieri, Tiny Grimes, Jack Lesberg, Morey Feld, and two sessions featuring swinging British players. I knew far less about trumpeter / singer Dave Wilkins, reedmen Andy McDevitt and Bertie King, pianist Will Solomon, guitarist Alan Ferguson, string bassist Len Harrison, or drummer Hymie Schneider.
These musicians (with Feather on the final two selections) were presented as LEONARD FEATHER AND YE OLDE ENGLISH SWYNGE BAND, and they recorded for Decca in London on September 12, 1938.
Here’s the personnel for the disc:
Listening in sequence, I discovered this side, which is now an instant favorite:
I hadn’t known this traditional English folksong, obviously updated, but the parade of names is very funny and definitely 1938 hip. I’m sorry the take is so short, because the band has a good time with the simplest material. A similar band had backed Fats Waller on recordings in April. Was the idea of jamming on traditional folk material was modeled on Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 hits LOCH LOMOND and ANNIE LAURIE, perhaps on Ella Logan’s performances of folk songs swung, or a way for a recording company to avoid paying composer royalties. Or both.
I searched for more information about WIDDICOMBE FAIR and found this wonderful animated film, hilarious and deft both:
Hereare the complete lyrics — an oral narrative too long to reprint here, the moral being caution about lending important objects / animals / possessions. But a secondary moral is that anything can swing, in the right hands.
This is the first of a series devoted to the wonders created by Eddie Condon and his friends. Unfortunately, I cannot offer rare musical examples. That you will have to do for yourselves, and it is reassuring that so much of what Mr. Condon and his colleagues created was documented on disc so that we can now hear it.
What I have to offer you are snippets of print documentation — new to me at the time I discovered them, and I hope to you. Perhaps a decade ago, at work in the microfilm archives of my college’s library, I was searching the New York Times archives for something literary. On a whim, I typed in “Eddie Condon” and found perhaps thirty or forty mentions of him in that newspaper. I remember putting dimes into the printer and copying each page. The file folder with the copies turned up not long ago — reason to begin a series for JAZZ LIVES.
Eddie’s wife, Phyllis (born Smith) was an invaluable part of the D’Arcy advertising agency (she handled the Coca-Cola account, which should tell you something about her stature at the firm). Eddie was ambitious about getting the music heard — by people who might not come down to a night club where the clientele was drinking liquor and smoking — so Phyllis made connections. A New York Times advertisement from September 4, 1940, is one of my favorite Imagined Delights.
Today at 3 P.M.!
Cum Laude Clinic
(A line drawing of a guitarist, string bassist, trumpeter, clarinetist, trombonist)
Do you know what Bennington girls bowl in? what Smith seniors snooze in? what the Princeton stags think of black? of red? Do you know of what stuff Daisy chains are made–and what about knees? and prom-bees? Get the lowdown insight straight from the shoulders of our cum laude clinic–five brainy beauties from Sarah Lawrence, VAssar, Michigan State, Swarthmore, Mt. Holyoke. See big men from Virginia, Williams, Cornell, M.I.T., Stevens turkey-trot down the runway in tweeds and tails. Learn how pink-snuggle-bunnies can help you get an A-double-plus in Pol. Sci.; learn what clothes distract half-backs, shot-putters.
* * *
Hear swing as swung by Bobby Hackett’s All Star Band from Nick’s-in-the-Village — hear jive experts Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Artie Shapiro, Joe Sullivan, George Wettling. Come early and hear the music, today at 3! Fourth Floor, Fashion Store.
We could deconstruct this advertisement for all the obsolete assumptions about young women and young men, about college life, about materialism in the United States, but I’d rather think about the band.
If I had been twenty in September 1940, I’d be ninety-four now. Had I a Presto disc cutter or a 16 mm sound camera . . . that way sadness lies. Better to bask in the whimsy of one of the best bands ever playing hot those gorgeously and expensively-dressed young men and women.
And, yes, there was once a time when hot music was popular music.
A holy artifact from the Larry Rafferty Collection:
I can’t write the dialogue here, “Mister Berry, could I have one of your used reeds and could you autograph it for me?” but it obviously happened and it feels sacred to those of us who understand the power of Chu.
Because he has been gone nearly seventy-five years (victim of an automobile accident in 1941) Chu has been eclipsed. But Charlie Parker named his firstborn son Leon in Chu’s honor, and Sonny Rollins has told young musicians asking for advice on tenor players, “Listen to Chu Berry!”
We can still do that: SITTIN’ IN, recorded for the Commodore Music Shop in November 1938, with Chu, his friend Roy Eldridge,trumpet; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. It’s based on a strain from TIGER RAG and — although very brief — allows us to hear Chu’s speaking voice as well as his energetic tenor style:
To think of his early death is so sad. Yet he left us so much, if we can only hear it.
What a lovely song this is — by Benny Davis and J. Fred Coots in 1936. I heard it first on record (the second version below) and then I was charmed by it in person when Marty Grosz sang and played it with Soprano Summit in 1976. Characteristically, Marty introduced it by saying it was written by a house detective in a famous St. Louis hotel. (That version of the Summit had Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, Marty, Mickey Golizio, and Cliff Leeman. Yes indeed.)
Here’s Wingy Manone in an uncharacteristically serious, tender performance (even though the lyrics elude him about two-thirds through) both on trumpet and vocal. The other philosophers are Joe Marsala, clarinet; Tom Mace, alto saxophone; Eddie Miller, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sam Weiss, drums:
Then, the masterpiece: Ivie Anderson with the Duke, featuring Rex Stewart, Lawrence Brown, and Barney Bigard:
Wishing you love that is anything but puzzling. You can have it as strange as you want it, but I hope it’s always rewarding.
Postscript: later versions of this song were recorded by two other fellows named Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles. Quality! I know more than a few fine singers — at least — who would have a fine time with this song. Any takers?
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.
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. . . .
This filmed performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — from the 1964 ABC-TV show, SALUTE TO EDDIE CONDON — doesn’t harm anyone, even though Eddie was present only in spirit. The celebrants are Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; George Wettling, drums; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano, cigar, and derby; Al Hall, bass:
And another fast blues — this one from 1938 with Bobby Hackett, cornet; George Brunis, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor; Jess Stacy, piano; Eddie, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Wettling, drums:
To be remembered with affection is a great thing, and it’s how we feel about Eddie and the musical worlds he created.
Over the past half-dozen years, it’s been a rare pleasure to see and hear Bobby Gordon at Jazz at Chautauqua. Without making a fuss about it or announcing himself unduly, he has always been one of the poets of jazz — and not simply of the clarinet. He takes his own unpredictable ways to get where he’s going, and when he arrives you find the journey has been both moving and surprising.
It’s not surprising that one of Bobby’s clarinet heroes is that rare explorer Pee Wee Russell — but Bobby is too much in touch with his own essence to copy Russell’s leaps and weavings. Bobby’s approach is also tempered by the deep-blue sounds and thought patterns of the great but not well-remembered Joe Marsala, a consummate melodist who much admired Jimmie Noone.
Here at Jazz at Chautauqua Bobby was joined by the nimble and down-home pianist Keith Ingham (who has wonderful stories of a career that began when he was a mere boy alongside the finest American and British improvisers), the splendidly multi-instrumental Vince Giordano, here toting his aluminum string bass, and the man of mysterious percussive rumbles and swooshes, Arnie Kinsella. If they sound a little bit like Joe Sullivan / Jess Stacy / Artie Shapiro / Bob Casey / George Wettling / Dave Tough, we don’t mind at all.
Bobby began with a pretty but mobile AT SUNDOWN, a song recorded by an Eddie Condon group back in the halcyon Commodore days:
Another performance with a Commodore pedigree is KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, homage to Fats as well:
A tribute to the later life of Charles Ellsworth Russell (and his friend Nat Pierce), PEE WEE’S BLUES:
Keith, for his feature, thought of the brilliant and much-missed Mel Powell, who wrote this piece as a tribute to Earl Hines when Mel was with the Benny Goodman band — it’s THE EARL:
And Bobby closed his set with a limpid MY MELANCHOLY BABY, in honor of that pretty tune and of Joe Marsala, too:
Bobby’s style is so thoughtful, his voice so human — jazz poetry that comes straight from his heart.
Jimmy Rowles was a wizard of light and shade, of wit and deep feeling at the piano. I momentarily fell into one of my eBay reveries and considered bidding on this artifact (which seems to be less mutable than the recent “Arthur Tatum” sighting) but then thought, “What would I do with it?” Perhaps the wiser act is merely to post it here so that everyone can admire it — without succumbing to the costly need to HAVE it.
And if you haven’t listened to Rowles recently, I urge you to do so — joking around with Billie and Artie Shapiro at a Clef rehearsal, with Ben, Lester, BG, Zoot, or Peggy Lee — inimitable and wholly himself.