Tag Archives: Baby Dodds

“MANHANDLING,” or IMPROVISATIONS ON THE FAMILIAR (January 31, 1944)

Time matters. Pulse matters.  And in music, a tempo even slightly slower or slightly faster makes a substantial difference in how a familiar piece of music comes across to us. Through decades of performance, we are used to hearing Carmichael’s STAR DUST — or STARDUST, if you prefer — as a dreamy, haunting ballad, although it didn’t begin its recorded life that way in 1927. But improvisers take chances. . . .it is as if your favorite sixtyish uncle dyed his white hair bright blue just to see what it would look like, and it looked fine.

Two bold takers-of-chances were the Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper and drummer Baby Dodds, who recorded several duets for the Steiner-Davis label (the creation of John Steiner, revered jazz scholar and collector, and Hugh Davis) in early 1944, at the home of pianist Jack Gardner.

A wonderfully detailed survey, by Robert Pruter, Robert L. Campbell, Konrad Nowakowski, and Tom Kelly, of that label and the stories behind the recordings can be found here, and the two photographs in this posting come from that site.  But most important is the musical evidence: Tut Soper showing his radical exuberance and playfulness, by taking this ballad — and ballad it was, by 1944 — and treating it much as Earl Hines did LOVE ME TONIGHT, a melody to be explored, a song to be swung:

Here’s some fascinating commentary on this side and its fellows, from the site noted above.  (Was violinist Elmer Fearn “Mr. Fearn” of OKeh Records?  It isn’t a common name.)

Pianist Tut Soper was born Oro M. Soper on April 9, 1910. In the early 1920s, Soper made a record on OKeh with a group of kids, all 13 and under, called The Five Baby Shieks. Besides Soper on piano, they included Art Elefson on drums, Howard Snyder on sax, and Elmer Fearn on violin. By the late 1920s he was a regular in Chicago clubs, despite being underaged, and performing with Bunny Berigan, Wingy Mannone, Boyd Brown, and Floyd Town. After years of playing in bands, in the late 1930s Soper went solo, introduced vocals to his repertoire, and played in such clubs as the legendary Three Deuces (222 North State).

By the war years, Soper could be found in the Randolph Street nightclub district. He was playing around the corner from Randolph Street at the Capitol Lounge on State when his S D recordings were made. Steiner and Davis teamed Soper up with Dodds in pianist Jack Gardner’s apartment for the session. Gardner owned a particularly fine piano, which is why the session was held in his place, at 102 East Bellevue, a basement apartment located in the same complex as John Steiner’s. Jazz fans tend to revel in improvisation, and Down Beat columnist George Hoefer loved the idea at how “impromptu” the recording was, as Soper and Dodds had never met before, and had to feel each other out in the recording process.

Down Beat reviewer John Lucas—who tended to give favorable reviews to his collector colleagues’ product—cited these releases as “some of the finest jazz piano waxed in many years.” He raved about each one of the songs, and concluded, “The rip-rattling drum accompaniment provided by the one and only Baby Dodds simply could not be touched by anyone else. If Soper is super, Dodds is at once devastating, dynamic, and droll!”

In a lengthy review published in the October 1944 issue of The Jazz Record, George Avakian gave effusive praise to S D 5000 and 5001. “Picture Earl Hines in the full flower of his wildest period, playing as though it were his last chance to explode through with vital ideas of earth-shaking consequence. This is Tut Soper; an exciting, intensely live pianist whose work doesn’t merely “send” you the way many agitated instrumentalists can—it reaches out, grabs you by the throat, and shakes and chokes hell out of you” (p. 3). Avakian contrasted Soper’s genuineness and avoidance of clichés with the mannerisms of “the present-day frantic clique,” into which he went so far as to lump “such hopeless musicians as Lionel Hampton, Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, and a whole string of trumpet players, electric guitar virtuosos, and Hazel Scotts” (p. 3). Out of the four, Avakian declared that “[t]he originals—Oronics and It’s a Ramble—are my pet sides, displaying Tut’s talents in two tempos and two moods, both nonetheless full of his overall excitement. The first is sheer panic, but good; the Ramble is reflective and rather interestingly developed from the melodic view. The others are Soper franticizations of Thou Swell and Star Dust, and the tunes improve under his manhandling.” (p. 3.) Of Dodds’ contributions, Avakian complained (p. 11) that the drummer “loses much of his subtlety” on Oronics, but praised him for his rapport with Soper elswhere on the session.

John Chilton described Soper as one of the leading pianists in Chicago, and credited him with working with Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison, Boyce Brown, Bud Jacobson, and Eddie Wiggins, among others. In the early 1950s, Soper worked in California with Muggsy Spanier and Marty Marsala. He toured with Eddie Condon in 1960.

Soper in his later years worked mostly as an insurance salesman for the Chicago Motor Club. He died in March 1987. His obit described him as a former jazz pianist, who had played for 50 years in “some of Chicago’s most famous jazz clubs and with the bands of Gene Krupa and Bud Freeman.”

Soper sources: M/Sgt. George Avakian, “Records—Old and New,” The Jazz Record, October 1944, pp. 3, 11; George Hoefer Jr., “The Hot Box,” Down Beat, 15 June 1944; [John Lucas] “Diggin’ The Discs,” Down Beat, 15 July 1944, p. 8; Catherine Jacobson, “Oro ‘Tut’ Soper,” Jazz Vol. 1, No. 10 (December 1943): 8-9; “Oro Soper” [Obit], Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1987; Tom Lord, The Jazz Discography, Volume 21 (West Vancouver, B.C.: Lord’s Music, 1999): S1057.

STAR DUST — shaken and stirred, manhandled and franticized — remains undamaged, and we are grateful to Tut and Baby for their emotional fervor and technique.

May your happiness increase!

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

IN THE SACRED NAME OF LOUIS: THE NORWEGIAN JAZZ KINGS “Live at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, February 17, 2018”

I think of the deliriously pleasurable precedent established by Bent Persson and friends some forty years ago — that of understanding Louis Armstrong and colleagues so deeply and expertly that they could move in and out of his music, embellishing a characteristic phrase here or there, reminding us gently of a particularly memorable invention, but ultimately, going for themselves.  Bent and colleagues are still playing beautifully, but here are some slightly younger players from Norway, having the most wonderful time with Louis’ music.  These three performances were recorded at Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, Oslo, on February 17, 2018, and they are made available to us through reed virtuoso Lars Frank’s YouTube channel.

They are the Norwegian Jazz Kings, and I am not going to argue with a single letter of that band-title.  On trumpet and cornet, Torstein Kubban; on clarinet and saxophone, Lars Frank; playing the bass saxophone and sousaphone, Christian Frank; piano, Morten Gunnar Larsen; banjo and guitar, Børre Frydenlund.  I have a particularly warm feeling for Torstein, Lars, and Morten, because I met and spoke with them several times at the jazz party formerly known as the Whitley Bay Jazz Party.  Christian and Børre I know from recordings, and admire them deeply as well.  (Incidentally, the gentleman sitting right in front of the sousaphone is friend-of-jazz, patron-of-the-arts, and record producer Trygve Hernaes, whom I also know from visits to Newcastle.)

These three videos honor the exalted period of Louis’ life when he was working with Earl Hines, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, and Zutty Singleton.  Certainly regal even if not Norwegian.

I don’t know the order in which these pieces were performed, but let’s begin this blogpost with the lyrical and majestic TWO DEUCES, by Miss Lil:

Here’s a riotous but precise frolic on COME ON AND STOMP STOMP STOMP.  I had to play it several times because I couldn’t believe it.  I’m amazed that the fire marshals were not called in.  (I adore the translated title on the Dodds record.  Don’t you?):

And for me what is the piece de reistance, POTATO HEAD BLUES.  In case of historical quibbling, just remember Louis’ words, “Cat had a head shaped like a potato”:

As befits any person or organization in this century, the Norwegian Jazz Kings have a Facebook page.  Those in the know will immediately go there and do the fashionable act of “liking” it.  And since the wonders of cyberspace are limitless, here you can read the menu of the Stortorvets Gjæstgiveri, an Oslo landmark since the 1700s.  It made me hungry and wistful at the same time.

What a band, balancing elegance and focused power.  I wish them well and look forward to more marvels.

May your happiness increase!

“NO CHARGE FOR TABLES”: MR. ARNOLD GOES DOWNTOWN, HEARS JAZZ

The Stuyvesant Casino, Second Avenue and Ninth Street, visually:

And audibly:

One of the nicest parts of having JAZZ LIVES is that generous like-minded people want to share.  I received an email from Mr. Madison Arnold some time back, with this photo-enclosure, a Bob Maltz postcard from 1950, autographed by James P. Johnson, Joe Sullivan, Gene Sedric, Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Archey.  To the left, Tony Spargo and Pops Foster.  Below, that Sidney Bechet fellow:

I was one of the steady jazz loving week-end customers at the Central Plaza and Stuyvesant Casino from around 1950 to 1952 and got these post cards weekly. This is the only one I kept. I started when I was still in Erasmus Hall H.S. (they didn’t card in those days). My favorites were Bechet & Wild Bill but I loved them all. Among my memories: I helped Pops Foster put his bass in a cab one night and we went to the Riviera on Sheridan Sq., Red Allen pulled me up on stage once and we sang “The Saints Go Marching In” together. I became friendly with Baby Dodds and invited him over for dinner one evening to our apartment in Brooklyn. I also visited his place in Harlem. I have a Xmas card he sent me, written, I think, by his lady friend as I don’t think he could write. My personal Louis Armstrong stories are even better! (at least to me). He was a wonderful guy.

You can imagine that I asked Mr. Arnold to tell all.  And he did:

First time I met him was Xmas time 1949. I had just bought a Louie 78 at Big Joe’s record store on W.46th St. I’m walking down B’way and I’m shocked to see Louie walking up B’way.  I remember shouting “Satchmo” and the 2 of us walked, with our arms around each other, uptown to the Capitol Theatre where he was playing. I was so excited, I almost broke my record showing it to him. He invited me to visit him in his dressing room someday. A few days later, with a friend of mine, we bought tickets for a matinee show at the Capitol (75 cents?). I remember that, besides Louie and his group, Jerry Lewis’s father performed some comic stuff. Anyway, after the show, we went to the stage door and I told the door man that Louie invited me to come up. He phoned up to his room, got the OK and up we went. Louie was resting in a cot and the first thing I noticed was the Star of David hanging from his neck and thought, can’t be, he can’t be Jewish! I have no idea what we said but, coming from school, I had my note book which had his picture pasted on the inside cover. He signed it (green ink) and it hangs on my wall today along with a second one he signed at another time.

The second time was my graduation night from H.S. We were having a marshmallow roast on the beach at Coney Island when I remember saying, “Satchmo’s playing at Bop City. Let’s go.” About 5 or 6 of us took the subway and ended up at Bop City on, I believe, 47th and B’way. I told Louie who we were and he made an announcement, the exact words I still remember: “There’s a buncha kids just graduated from Erasmus High School and I’d like to dedicate my next number to them.” He put his horn to his lips and blew Auld Lang Syne ending by skat singing,”old acquaintance, be forgot baba ba doo zip, yeah” all the time looking at me (us).  A great musician and a warm wonderful person.

Louis, as we know, remains a warm wonderful person.  But right next to him is Mr. Arnold, so generous to us all.

May your happiness increase!

RAY SKJELBRED AT THE PIANO: FOR THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 27, 2015)

I read once of how an eminent musician, in a hotel room with musician friends, would open a new bottle of Scotch, and before drinking, pour a little out on the rug and say, “That’s for the guys who have gone before,” or perhaps “That’s for the guys upstairs.”  A libation in honor of the Ancestors.

PIANO keyboard

When Ray Skjelbred plays, no liquids are spilled, but he honors the Ancestors in his own way, by evoking them in his own fashion.  Here are four brilliant evocations that he created at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2015.

SKJELBRED solo

Although Ray is a peerless band pianist (hear him with his own group, the Cubs, and many others, lighting the way from within the ensemble) he comes from the glorious tradition, the days when the pianist was the band.  Perhaps it’s a kind of Scandinavian thrift, a genetic offering from his personal Ancestors, who say, “You have these ten fingers; why only use two or three?”

For Tiny Parham, STOMPIN’ ON DOWN:

For Joe Sullivan, GIN MILL BLUES:

Also for Sullivan and his friends, OH, BABY! — and those delightful startling dissonant surprises at the start:

For Oro “Tut” Soper and the shade of Baby Dodds, IT’S A RAMBLE:

I look forward to seeing and hearing Ray (with Dawn Lambeth and Marc Caparone) at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  Here’s a sample of what that wonderful combination did in 2015:

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH, with YARDEN PAZ and YOAV TRIFMAN (Part Two): Sunday, August 21, 2016

It was an immense pleasure to be part of this experience with Felix Lemerle, Murray Wall, and Doron Tirosh, if only from behind the camera, and the first part has been met with a great deal of enthusiasm, I think properly.

FELIX photograph

Here’s the second: four more performances by Felix Lemerle, guitar; Murray Wall, string bass; Doron Tirosh, with guests Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, on the closing MARMADUKE.

Four more beauties:

Murray Wall’s brilliant, gentle exploration of I GOT IT BAD (with a dropped piece of cutlery early in the first chorus — for once, not my fault):

One of my favorite rhythm ballads — I hear Joe Thomas singing and playing it — IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

An extraordinary song, which Felix thanks Tal Ronen for, DEEP NIGHT:

And a closing Charlie Parker line, with Youngbloods Yarden Paz, alto saxophone, and Yoav Trifman, trombone, joining in, MARMADUKE:

I look forward to the surprises Felix Lemerle and friends will bring next time.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE GARDEN, WHERE MELODIES GROW: FELIX LEMERLE, MURRAY WALL, DORON TIROSH (Part One): Sunday, August 21, 2016

FELIX photograph

Young Felix Lemerle — guitarist, teacher, composer — swings easily and with a natural grace, has a deep repertoire of memorable songs, has a real respect for melody and interesting harmonies that don’t distort the original, and gets a lovely sound from his guitar.  He’s not a reactionary who’s devoted his life to copying old records, so he sounds happily like himself, and in his hands the guitar is an electrified wooden sculpture that beams love to us.  And his playing breathes, as he creates a graceful balance between sound and silence. You can find out more about Felix here.

I had my first-ever opportunity to hear him on the closing performance at The Ear Inn on Sunday, August 20, but he was playing on a guitar not his own (an obstacle to most musicians, although I would not have known this through what I heard).  I asked Felix — who is as gracious a being as he is a player — to let me know when he had a gig of his own.  And a week later, he played an afternoon session at Romagna Ready 2 Go on Bleecker Street in New York’s Greenwich Village — the food and ambiance were lovely — with sensitive, intuitive musicians: drummer Doron Tirosh and the wonderful bassist Murray Wall.  And two guests, in the second part.

A few words about Murray and about Doron.  Murray is soft-spoken and light-hearted, but his music resonates long after he has packed his bass.  His playing reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s definition of the ideal writing style: “the natural words in the natural order.” In Murray’s soft, wise playing, there is a floating cushion of exquisite notes, fascinating harmonies, and fine time.  He never plays an ugly note or phrase.

I had known nothing of Doron except for the few words of praise from Felix. And I confess that youthful drummers new to me arouse anxiety. I become Worried Elder: “Young man, are you planning to strike that ride cymbal with those wooden sticks?  Why, and how, and how often?”  But Doron and I bonded over dehydration and exhaustion, and I knew he came in peace.  When he began to play, my spirits rose even higher, because he is a melodic drummer in the great tradition of the Masters, of Dodds, Singleton, and Catlett.  Before each number, Felix would tell Doron the name of the song, and I could see from their expressions that they knew the melody and the lyrics as well.

One anecdote says worlds about Felix.  After I heard him play one song at the Ear Inn and was greatly impressed, I went on Facebook (it is 2016, after all) and said so . . . and the musicians who responded with enthusiasm nearly shut Facebook down.

Here are four very rewarding performances from the first half of the afternoon. Four more will follow.

HOW ABOUT YOU?:

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET:

LULLABY IN RHYTHM:

WILL YOU STILL BE MINE?:

(Felix thanks the very fine Tal Ronen for introducing him to BASKET and to DEEP NIGHT, which will appear in the sequel.  We thank Tal, too, here at JAZZ LIVES.)

Now that you’ve seen the videos, you understand that I do not overpraise Felix, Doron, or Murray.  And the horticultural reference of my title might become clearer, since the back room of the restaurant, their “garden,” has a glass roof — charming, even when I would look up and see the rain.  I know the plants were happier and bushier when the trio had finished than they’d been at the start. Music does that, especially music of this caliber.

May your happiness increase!

HOT CLASSICISM: The TOKARSKI-SCHUMM-SMITH CHAMBER TRIO IN CONCERT, JANUARY 13, 2016

Kris Tokarski Trio

Here is video evidence of an extraordinary trio concert of the Kris Tokarski Trio — Kris Tokarski, piano; Andy Schumm, cornet / clarinet; Hal Smith, drums — performed at the Old US Mint, New Orleans, on January 13, 2016.  The stuff that dreams are made on:

Albert Wynn’s PARKWAY STOMP:

Tiny Parham’s CONGO LOVE SONG:

Doc Cooke’s HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY:

Mister Morton’s ode to Joe Oliver, MISTER JOE:

FROG-I-MORE RAG (or FROGGIE MOORE, if you prefer):

In honor of Danny Altier, MY GAL SAL:

ANGRY:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Please note: these lovely performances, simultaneously delicate and intense, aren’t copies of the recordings, but evocations of cherished multi-layered creations.  Yes, you’ll hear echoes of Beiderbecke, Keppard, Dominique, Oliver, Noone, Simeon, Livingston, Hines, Morton, James P. Johnson, Alex Hill, Catlett, Benford, Singleton, Stafford, Pollack, Krupa, Dodds . . . but what you are really hearing is the Kris Tokarski Trio, graciously embracing present and past, leading us into the future of hot music.  And in its balance, the trio reminds me of the legendary chamber groups that embody precision and passion in balance, although Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak created no trios for piano, cornet, and trap kit.  Alas.  They didn’t know what was possible.

I’m thrilled that these videos exist, and although I am fiendishly proud of my own efforts, these are much better than what I could have done.  Now, all I want is the Kris Tokarski World Tour, with a long stopover in New York.

Here is Kris’s Facebook page, and here is  his YouTube channel.  Want more? Make sure your favorite festival producer, clubowner, concert promoter, or friends with a good piano and a budget experiences these videos.

May your happiness increase!

“EAST COAST TROT”: THOMAS WINTELER, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, DUKE HEITGER, KEITH NICHOLS, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICHOLAS D. BALL at the 2015 MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 7, 2015)

NYC foot traffic

I’ve been back in New York for eleven months now, and it does move at a fast pace now and again.  I still don’t walk at a proper Manhattanite tempo, but I’m getting back into tempo.  So when I was at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party on November 7 of this year and heard Thomas Winteler announce the next song as EAST COAST TROT, I thought, “They’re playing my song.”

Originally, it was an etude for two clarinets (Johnny Dodds and Junie Cobb), piano (Tiny Parham) and the irreplaceable Eustern Woodfork, banjo.  This session offers a splendidly enhanced ensemble: Thomas Winteler and Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Keith Nichols, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nicholas D. Ball, washboard.

Trot along!

And just to show the phenomenal emotional range of this  group, I would point readers to the performance that took place just before the TROT — an immensely soulful reading of BLUES IN THIRDS.

Great things happen at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and will happen again in November 2016 . . . from the 4th to the 6th.  Details to come.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUES IN THIRDS”: THOMAS WINTELER, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, DUKE HEITGER, KEITH NICHOLS, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICHOLAS BALL at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 7, 2015)

CAUTION BLUES

Let us begin at the beginning: Earl Hines’ composition, called CAUTION BLUES, offered as a piano solo in 1928:

and the next evocation, a 1940 trio of Hines, Sidney Bechet, and Baby Dodds for Victor.  Hines remembered Bechet as being “evil” that day yet repeating, “I want to play Hines’ tune,” which he did, by then titled BLUES IN THIRDS:

Both those performances — one for solo piano, the other for a trio — are full of variations: improvisations on the theme, variations in timbre and dynamics, and an impressive compositional variety.  So, in its own way, is this magical performance from our century — November 7, 2015 — at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party held in Newcastle, England, not a month ago.  The inspired participants are Thomas Winteler, clarinet / leader; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Keith Nichols, piano; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nicholas Ball, spoons.  Yes, spoons — and since Nick is a beautifully imaginative percussionist, hear the variety of sounds and effects he obtains from what we take for granted in the silverware drawer.  Notice, please, how no one chorus is exactly like the one before or after it, and how this performance — without getting louder or faster — builds and ascends to something like true majesty:

A glorious performance — the sort of thing that has happened regularly at this party and its predecessors.  And I guarantee it will happen again in 2016.  Details to follow.  And, this just in!  The next Party will take place at the comfortable Village Hotel Newcastle, Friday, November 4 to Sunday the 6th.

May your happiness increase!

HE RODE WITH JAMES P. JOHNSON: TALKING WITH IRV KRATKA (July 31, 2015)

irv

Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50.  I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.

But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot.  Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say.  His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.

I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today.  It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.

Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.

One:

Two:

Three:

Four:

Now, here’s another part of the story.  Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.”  Serious inquiries only to ikratka@mmogroup.com.

May your happiness increase!

THE MIGHTY MEZZ: A NEW NYC JAZZ CLUB OPENS (September 3, 2014)

MEZZROW club

Spike Wilner, pianist, clubowner, and a true Disciple of Swing, has another bold idea: a new New York City jazz club that presents genuine improvised music in kind settings.

Simple facts first: the club opens on September 3, 2014.  It will thrive in the basement of 163 West 1oth Street, steps away from the happily thriving SMALLS, co-piloted by Spike and Mitch Borden.  (For those who worry about such things, both clubs are a few minutes’ walk from the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station on the Seventh Avenue subway line. And it’s a calm area to be in.)

The club is a “piano room,” which is a term that needs a little explanation.  I don’t mean a “piano bar,” where people accost the pianist at close range and insist (s)he play songs whose title they half know, or where sing-alongs explode like small wildfires — with much the same result.  No.

Once upon a time, New York City had a number of such rooms, usually small, with well-tuned pianos where solos and duos were what you came to hear.  I saw Jimmy Rowles at Bradley’s, Ellis Larkins and Al Hall at Gregory’s.  Although horn players might sit in, these rooms were meant for thoughtful improvisation. In this century, where patrons have a hard time keeping still, paying attention, turning their phones off, Spike’s determination to make such a spot possible is a beautiful and courageous act — in a city that prides itself on having every kind of entertainment and enlightenment in profusion, his new club is a rarity if not a solitary gem.  (Yes, there is the Knickerbocker, and thankfully so, but that large room is a different species entirely.)

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

MEzz, James P. Johnson, Hughes Panassie, Tommy Ladnier at the Victor studios

Spike has named the club for one of his musical heroes, the clarinetist / saxophonist / organizer / man with plans Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow. Mezzrow was a fascinating figure, someone whose deep-hued nearly-surrealistic autobiography REALLY THE BLUES made a profound impression on me when my sister gave it to me as a birthday gift (I was, I think, 14).  The dream of this century and the preceding one is “You can be anything you want to be if you only want it fiercely enough,” and Mezz — in his own way — exemplified that romantic notion.  Mezz was a White Jewish Chicago kid (those identifiers are important to the story) who was so entranced by the Black music he heard that he knew that was what he wanted to play.  More importantly, he knew that “that” was the person he wanted to be, the life he wanted to lead.

So, although he was never a great musician, he became a friend to Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier; he heard and hung around Bix, Joe Oliver, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, and the rest.  He organized record dates with Teddy Bunn, Bechet, Hot Lips Page, Chick Webb, Frank Newton, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Benny Carter, J.C. Higginbotham, Sidney Catlett, Art Hodes, George Wettling, Zutty Singleton, and more.  He was deeply involved in a near-religious crusade to offer marijuana as a more healthy alternative to whiskey or hard drugs.

And he crossed the color line early and without pretense.  In an era when having mixed-race record sessions was rare, Mezzrow (like Eddie Condon) pushed this idea forward with historic results.  He led a band, the Disciples of Swing, where “white” and “colored” musicians played together.  And more seriously, he identified as Black — marrying a woman of color, and taking his convictions into everyday life.

I think (although I could be presuming here) that this latter figure — the man so deeply committed to a music and the ideas behind it: community, equality, creativity — is the man Spike honors by naming this new club MEZZROW.

Here is the club’s website, where you can learn more about it — the schedule, ticketing, about Mezz himself, and more. I don’t know when I’ll make my first visit, but since I see my friends Rebecca Kilgore, Ehud Asherie, Rossano Sportiello, Michael Kanan, Scott Robinson, Neal Miner . . . I expect to be there often, and it may well be a deeply needed oasis of quiet creativity in New York. And https://www.facebook.com/mezzrowclub is the club’s Facebook page.

Blessings on you, Spike.

May your happiness increase!

RED HOT CHICAGO at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ANDY SCHUMM, DUKE HEITGER, GRAHAM HUGHES, MARTIN SECK, JACOB ULLBERGER, PHIL RUTHERFORD, NICK WARD (November 3, 2013)

Erastus was very pleased, and told me so.  He wasn’t alone.

One of the things the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party does best — perhaps with no equals — is to offer vivid panoramas-in-sound of what our heroes sounded like . . . not exactly copying the records, but swinging out in devoted, accurate loving style

Here’s one such example: four beautiful evocations of hot Chicago 1927, in honor of Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers (and its close relatives) — brought to life again in 2013 by clarinetist (and Dodds scholar) Matthias Seuffert, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, trumpet; Graham Hughes, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Jacob Ullberger, banjo; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Nick Ward, drums.

The players in this video are really in there, as they used to say: I delight in the intricate ensemble dance they do and their intense yet loose soloing.

WILD MAN BLUES:

WHEN ERASTUS PLAYS HIS OLD KAZOO:

MELANCHOLY:

WEARY BLUES:

More of these uplifting sounds to come in November: details here. I am gently nudging those JAZZ LIVES readers who can attend this year’s Party to not wait: both seating and hotel rooms sold out months in advance in prior years.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW CHORUSES AGO

The Nice Jazz Festival, 1948.  Henry Goodwin, trumpet; Robert Sage Wilber, clarinet / soprano saxophone; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Pops Foster, string bass; Sammy Price, piano; Mezz Mezzrow, clarinet.  Not photographed: Baby Dodds, drums.

Mezzrow Band

Happily, Mr. Wilber — then the baby of the band — is still with us, playing, recording, and traveling. Music keeps you young. Thanks to Pug Horton for providing this glimpse of the past, only sixty-six years ago.

May your happiness increase!

“WHAT A KICK!”

Four gifts from from JAZZ LIVES’ friend Bob Sann, banjo / guitarist / artist, who explains it all below:

Barrelhouse-1947
I was privileged to participate in the Bunk Johnson revival movement in NYC in 1947.

Three traditional jazz enthusiasts were friends of mine: Irv Kratka (who later founded Music-Minus-One Records), Dante Bollettino (who later founded Jolly Roger Records) and Harry Newmark knew Bunk was in town because of the Stuyvesant Casino gigs. They booked a ballroom, “Caravan Hall” on east 59th Street, for two concerts. The first (Friday, October 17, 1947) was billed as a “Barrelhouse Brawl,” the second (Friday, October 24, 1947) as a “New Orleans Cutting Contest.” Both concerts paired an all-black band of New Orleans veterans against a young white band of local NYC dixielanders.

JJ_BJ_AN-1947
I was interested in art, at that time, and designed the publicity flyers. While the New Orleans band was on, I made some pencil sketches of Bunk, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, and Albert Nicholas. When the young band was on, I played guitar and banjo with them. At the end of the last set I got to sit-in with Bunk’s band (what a kick!)

CuttingContest-1947

For your information, the New Orleans musicians got paid $20 per concert.

Bob Sann (a/k/a Robert Schiff)
Clearwater, Florida

(I am happy to know that Bob is currently playing banjo/guitar with The Rhythm Kings, a 14-piece hot dance orchestra based in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and is led by the well-known arranger/conductor Dan Fox (formerly of New York City).

Eight tracks from the Caravan Ballroom sessions have been released on the American Music CD (AMCD-45), BUNK JOHNSON AND MUTT CAREY IN NEW YORK, 1947. An additional track was released on the CD accompanying the book by Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn, SONG OF THE WANDERER.

May your happiness increase!

WRITE ON THE HEAD!

I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.

John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine.  John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at johnpaulacox@optusnet.com.au.

BANJO HEAD

From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures.  I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash!  Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson.  Indeed!)

I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland.  Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father.  When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years.  The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time.  The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home.  Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.

I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!

LIGHTLY ASKING DEEP QUESTIONS: BILLY MINTZ QUARTET

When it comes to jazz drumming, I’ve always loved the flow of the rhythms, but I’ve even more deeply gravitated towards sounds, to melodists — Baby Dodds, Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, Kaiser Marshall, George Stafford, Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, Jo Jones, Sidney Catlett, Jake Hanna, Mike Burgevin, Kevin Dorn, Hal Smith, Jeff Hamilton, Clint Baker.  And, more recently, musicians I’ve come to think of as sound-painters: Hyland Harris, Ali Jackson, Eliot Zigmund, Matt Wilson, and Billy Mintz.

BIlly Mintz is a fascinating creative force because he is not only a splendidly rewarding player — inventing and arranging sounds in new, impressionistic patterns that stand on their own next to the best improvisations of any contemporary jazz improviser — but his compositions have flavor, depth, and scope.  His music is curious — peering behind the curtains — rather than formulaic or aggressive.

I’ve heard some of Billy’s compositions explored on live sessions with a a variety of musicians, including saxophonist Lena Bloch.  Here is one of my favorites, HAUNTED, recorded by the composer and pianist Roberta Piket in Austria, earlier in 2013:

I am pleased to tell you that there is now an entire CD of Billy’s compositions issued by Thirteenth Note Records . . . played not only by the composer, but by pianist / singer Roberta Piket; John Gross, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, string bass.

??????????

Don’t let the somber cover picture fool you: beneath that hat and shades, Billy’s eyes gleam and his heart is lively.

The songs (a few have gained wide recognition) are BEAUTIFUL YOU / FLIGHT / DIT / DESTINY (Roberta, vocal) / HAUNTED / SHMEAR / CANNONBALL / BEAUTIFUL / UGLY BEAUTIFUL / RELENT / RETRIBUTION / AFTER RETRIBUTION.

Their titles speak to Billy’s poetic, inquiring sensibility.  His music doesn’t provide pat answers; rather it asks questions: “What is play?  What is sadness?  Where might we be going?  Must it always be the same thing? Who says what is beautiful?  Would you care to join me?” and others of equal weight.

The music on this quartet CD isn’t abrasive or abusive: Billy, John, Roberta, and Putter love melody, but they also love to experiment with the traditional shapes of the improvising quartet — so instruments have amiable conversations, echoing or sweetly correcting one another; duos and solos spring up within compositions; balances shift within the piece.  Each song seems both new and composed, inventive and inevitable, and the procession from one piece to another on the disc is cumulative.  This CD is not the traditional melody-statement / solos / drum fours / melody-statement, and that’s all to the good.  No explorations, no surprises!

Here you can read more about Billy and hear samples from the CD: inquiring readers and hearers will be rewarded.  You can find out more at Thirteenth Note Records as well.

May your happiness increase!

RARE, UNIQUE, NICE (featuring LOUIS, LUCKY, BUNNY, BILLIE, HAWKINS, CLAUDE, ISRAEL, FLETCHER)

Delights from the eBay treasure chest . . . costly but surely unique.

This  is a concert program from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival (notice that Louis and the All-Stars are billed as the Hot Five).  That would be enough in itself, but notice the autographs: Louis himself, Big Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Velma Middleton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wilber, Baby Dodds, Sammy Price, Sandy Williams, and more.

And here’s a picture (the eBay site has other close-ups):NICE FESTIVAL 1948 program 1But wait!  There’s more!

How about a copy of HOT  DISCOGRAPHY— signed by Billie Holiday, Bunny Berigan, Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Buster Bennett, Israel Crosby . . . ?  No, I didn’t believe it, either.

But here is some evidence.  Even though the photographs are (perhaps intentionally?) blurry, the overall effect is dazzling:

Billie, once:

eBay BILLIE ONE

Billie, twice:

eBay BILLIE TWO

Claude Jones:

eBay CLAUDE JONES

Coleman Hawkins:

eBay HAWK

Buster Bennett:

ebay BUSTER BENNETT

Bunny Berigan:

eBay BUNNY

Fletcher Henderson:

eBay FLETCHER

Israel Crosby:

eBay ISRAEL

The Nice concert program obviously has a specific location in time and space.  The seller hasn’t said anything about this copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, but given the signatures, I suspect that its owner was at one time a Chicagoan . . . and you can guess when the signers took out their pens, at least by their death dates.

To me what is important here is that the owners of these artifacts not only loved the music but idolized the players and singers — so much so that having the seconds of personal contact needed to approach Lucky Thompson or Israel Crosby and ask for an autograph was worth the effort.  We benefit immensely from this kind of devotion.

Neither item is inexpensive, but the value here is immense.

May your happiness increase!

GOLDEN STATE ROCK: GOLDEN GATE RHYTHM MACHINE at CLINE CELLARS (June 13, 2013): SCOTT ANTHONY, BOB SCHULZ, JIM MAIHACK, CLINT BAKER, ROBERT YOUNG, BOB HIRSCH, BILL MAGINNIS

For those who keep track: it’s September 1, 2013; I am back in New York, dreaming of California (which translates to the Nymph of Novato).  Since I can’t be there for breakfast with her, some locally sourced music is the next best thing.

The Golden Gate Rhythm Machine, established in 1984, sounds anything but mechanistic in these four performances from the 2013 Cline Wine and Dixieland Jazz Festival in Sonoma, California.  They are Scott Anthony, banjo, vocal; Bob Schulz, cornet, vocal; Jim Maihack, trombone; Clint Baker, clarinet; Robert Young, bass saxophone; Bob Hirsch, piano; Bill Maginnis, drums.  Three good old good ones — evoking Bennie Moten, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis and the Dodds brothers, and a Frank Loesser classic from the mid-Forties.

SOUTH:

MILENBERG JOYS:

MELANCHOLY:

SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

May your happiness increase!