Tag Archives: Barbara Lea

FINDING MISS WILEY

Readers will have noticed my fascination with used bookstores.  When it’s hot, they offer the promise, sometimes illusory, of being dark and cool.  “Fine” books means everything is clean but costly; “old” books sometimes means 1846 town registers, intriguing but irrelevant.  What we require is a large stock of gardening books and cooking pamphlets for the Beloved, who is very selective, and sheet music mixed liberally with old records for your correspondent.  We found both yesterday at Owl Pen Books, 166 Riddle Road, Greenwich, New York. 

Here are my latest treasures, both 10″ long-playing microgroove records, to call them by their proper name:

Lee Wiley 003

You might not recognize Miss Wiley, especially if you have in your mind’s eye the late Thirties picture of her, her hair long, straight, and dark, wearing a while blouse and a dark vest.  Fashion photographer Peter Marshall gave her the full VOGUE treatment: a low-cut ruffled strapless dress, a necklet, a formal hairdo, and what look like false or mascara-ed eyelashes.  The music inside has been issued on Mosaic, I believe, and the idea of putting Miss Wiley alongside Stan Freeman and Cy Walter doesn’t entirely work — too much piano-busyness in the background.  But the picture is worth a great deal, and I wonder if Miss Wiley approved of her temporary makeover.

Lee Wiley 001

Lee Wiley 002

The caricatures on the cover are by John DeVries, who wrote the lyrics for WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, and on this issue Miss Wiley is surrounded by Bunny Berigan, Joe Bushkin, Sid Weiss, and George Wettling for four selections, and a small group with Bushkin, Berigan, and members of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, arranged by Paul Weston. 

Should you wonder, the other records for sale — at a pittance — at Owl Pen — were classical and Broadway show music.  I bought these and two more (a bootleg collection of Bert Lahr on stage, screen, television, and radio) and a UK compilation, annotated by Brian Rust, of early Irving Berlin songs recorded before 1922 — for a modest amount.  It made me quite happy to acquire these, but also to imagine someone who loved Miss Wiley as much as I and others do.  I saw her only once, at her last public performance in 1972, but she was a magical presence.  And she remains so.

For another perspective on Lee Wiley — one I find quite touching — here is an excerpt from a documentary about the Japanese actress, Nobuko Miyamoto, who starred in the film A TAXING WOMAN, and her visit to the United States in search of “her” Lee Wiley.  She was fortunate enough to meet — and sing with — the memorable vocalist Barbara Lea, who knew Miss Wiley well.  There is a good deal of untranslated Japanese in this clip, but it’s all understandable:

And here are two YouTube clips, posted by “leewileyandfriends,” who generously offer 78 videos of Miss Wiley — looking lovely — and her gorgeous sound.  The first comes from the Irving Berlin sessions, a jaunty RISE AND SHINE; the second is the wistful LOOKING AT YOU, from her Cole Porter recordings:

BARBARA LEA’S 80th BIRTHDAY (AND MORE)

Etiquette books don’t line my shelves (I find the word difficult to spell), so I don’t know if sending someone birthday felicitations this late is forgivable.  But Barbara Lea, the wonderful but oddly under-recognized singer, turned eighty years old on April 10.

b-leaReaders of this blog should know her and have her imperishable recordings with Johnny Windhurst, Dick Sudhalter, Loren Schoenberg, and others.  (Barbara was a fine writer, too: her liner notes to the Sudhalter-Connie Jones CD, GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON, still stick in my memory.)  But for those of you who never heard her sing, a few words.  Although Barbara has been compared to Lee Wiley, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey, she sounds like herself.  Her voice is warm, her delivery powerful yet subtle.  She conveys emotion without strain; she swings in the great manner.  She is at home with a solo pianist, a Condon-style ensemble, a lush big band.

Her most recent CDs find her in the latter two settings. The first, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? (Audiophile) was recorded there in March 2006, with Barbara fronting a small band featuring such wonderful players as Hal Smith and Bob Havens.  Here, she shows her fine unfettered range of feeling, from the Morton romp DR. JAZZ to the rather ephemeral wartime favorites I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT and MY DREAMS ARE GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME — songs that have never sounded so good.  She weaves in and out of the band with great style.

The second CD, BLACK BUTTERFLY, has special meaning for me.  The only time I ever saw Barbara perform was at the benefit for Dick Sudhalter held in St. Peter’s Church in New York City.  And if memory serves me, she sang only one song — Ellington’s sorrowing BLACK BUTTERFLY — backed by the Loren Schoenberg big band.  Her performance had the intensity of a great aria and the intimate immediacy of trumpeter Joe Thomas’s magnificent 1946 Keynote version.  This CD captures Barbara and Loren’s big band doing that song and sixteen others — ranging from classic themes by Arlen, Wilder, Victor Young, Oscar Levant, Berlin, and Monk — to lesser-known gems: RESTLESS (Sam Coslow) and WHEN THEY ASK ABOUT YOU (Sam H. Stept) as well as a few songs composed in part by Barbara herself.  To accompany Barbara, there are lovely curtains of sound illuminated by beautiful solos by Mark Lopeman, Bobby Pring, James Chirillo, and Loren himself.  It’s an ambitious recording but a hugely gratifying one.

Barbara’s health hasn’t been good of late, and her medical bills arrive with the regularity of the Basie rhythm section. Why not give yourself a gift in honor of her birthday and consider purchasing one of her CDs from her?  (I know that buying CDs from a variety of third-party sellers is economically tempting, but the artists get nothing for their work.)

The list of CDs currently available is at the bottom of this posting.  Each one is $17 (including postage).  Send your check or money order to Jeanie Wilson, 212 Ramblewood Drive, Raleigh, NC 27609-6404.

2007 Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans? (Audiophile)
2006 Black Butterfly (THPOPS)
2005 Deep In A Dream, Barbara Lea Sings Jimmy Van Heusen (Leacock Does Babcock) (Cape Song)
2004 Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Celebrate Vincent Youmans (Challenge)
2004 Barbara Lea and Wes McAfee Live @ RED — our love rolls on (THPOPS)
2002 The Melody Lingers On (BL)
1999 Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Are Mad About The Boy: The Songs Of Noel Coward (Challenge)
1997 The Devil Is Afraid Of Music (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1976
1996 Fine & Dandy: Barbara Lea and Keith Ingham Celebrate The Women Songwriters (Challenge)
1995 Do It Again (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1983
1995 Remembering Remembering Lee Wiley (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1976
1994 Hoagy’s Children: A Celebration of Hoagy Carmichael’s Music, v. 1 & 2 (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1983
1993 Barbara Lea & The Ed Polcer All-Stars “At The Atlanta Jazz Party” (Jazzology)
1991 Barbara Lea (OJC/Fantasy) Added tracks. Original LP 1956
1991 A Woman In Love (Audiophile) Added tracks. Original LP 1955
1990 Sweet and Slow (Audiophile)
1990 Lea In Love (OJC/Fantasy) Original LP 1957
1989 Getting Some Fun Out Of Life with Mr. Tram Associates (Audiophile)
1989 You’re The Cats! (Audiophile)

BILLIE, BARBARA LEA, MINGUS, AND FRIENDS

Jeanie Wilson (dear friend of Barbara Lea and a thoughtful reader of this blog) just sent this along — what a treasure!

billie-poster

When it stops snowing, Jeanie, can we go?  I’ll spring for the tickets.  At $2.50, everyone we know can join us!

(Before my attentive readers write in to add information, I’ll venture that this took place in 1957 — a few minutes with an online perpetual calendar suggested that as the only plausible year.)

JOHNNY WINDHURST, MUCH MISSED

Few people today know of the cornetist Johnny Windhurst, but those who do speak of him with awe and affection. 

I first heard him on a Folkways record called JAZZ OF THE FORTIES, which contained excerpts from a concert put on by Bob Maltz in 1946.  The other participants inckuded Sidney Bechet, Pops Foster, Vernon Brown, Mezz Mezzrow, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson.  Windhurst had a ballad feature on “She’s Funny That Way” that wasn’t very long — perhaps two choruses — but it was instantly memorable.  The idea of a brass player having a golden tone is and was an obvious cliche, but it applied to Johnny.  He had built his style on a synthesis of Bobby Hackett and Louis and moved on from there.  His playing had a simplicity and tenderness I haven’t heard anyone else approach.  At the time, the only Windhurst I could hear was on recordings he had made with the fine singer Barbara Lea. 

In mid-1972, when I began to go into New York City to hear live jazz (with Stu Zimny and Rob Rothberg) the Sunday afternoon sessions led by bassist Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache were a special treat.  Balaban was not a stirring leader, bassist, banjoist, or singer, but he had good taste in guest stars.  One of them was Windhurst, who came down from Poughkeepsie, where his mother lived, to lead the band — either Dick Rath or Herb Gardner on trombone, Herb Hall on piano, either Chuck Folds or Red Richards on piano, and Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin on drums.

Windhurst looked much as he had ever looked — boyish, small, bespectacled, with a natty bow tie.  He seemed a little distant, a little tired, but he played beautifully.

After that Sunday, I began to ask my collector-friends for the private tapes they had.  John L. Fell, generous and erudite, shared his treasures.  Joe Boughton, a true Windhurst friend and fancier, let me hear tapes of Windhurst playing in the early Fifties at college gigs; later, I found the two lps on which he had appeared (one, a quartet session under his own name; the other, a session led by the drummer Walt Gifford).  He had recorded with Condon for Decca.  Still later, the “Jazz Nocturne” programs of 1945, where a 19-year old Windhurst stood next to Sidney Bechet and didn’t give an inch, came out on the Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and the “Doctor Jazz” broadcasts from 1952 or so, also appeared on Storyville.  I even found a semi-private recording made in Poughkeepsie at “The Last Chance Saloon,” where Johnny and his friend, trombonist Eddie Hubble, played in front of a local session.  Later, I heard broadcasts from the Savoy Cafe in Boston, where in 1947, Windhurst had run in the quickest of company: Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson,Kenny Kersey, John Field, and Jimmy Crawford.   

In all these recordings, Windhurst took risks but never faltered, and his tone never grew acrid or shrill.  But, for whatever reasons, he stayed out of the limelight.  Because he never cared to learn to read music, he had turned down gigs with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, preferring informal jamming.  He died in Poughkeepsie at 54.  The reference books I have say that he died of a heart attack, but I recall that having been mugged had something to do with his early death. 

Had he lived . . . alas.  And the recordings that have come out in the last few years — one a 1947 jazz concert where Windhurst and Jack Teagarden play beautifully alongside one another — are beautifully stirring, saying much about the musician we lost. 

These thoughts are motivated by a cyber-find: I haven’t given up on my quest for the 1946 “March of Time” clip featuring Dave Tough at Eddie Condon’s.  My quest led me to www.dailymotion.com., where trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig has posted excerpts from a 1958 “Jazz Party,” a television show hosted by jazz disc jockey Art Ford.  Ford’s program was simultaneously broadcast on the radio, so some diligent collectors have tapes that are as close to stereo as we shall get.  The programs tended to be informal to the point of messiness, with players ranging from Lester Young to Willie the Lion Smith to Mary Osborne and Teddy Charles.  Here is the only film footage of Windhurst, accompanied by pianist Roland Hanna, Osborne, bassist Mark Goldberg, and drummer Morey Feld (the last a particular favorite of our own Kevin Dorn).   

On this 1958 clip, an earnest Windhurst considers “Pennies From Heaven” in yearning style, reminding us of the pretty song that Bing Crosby, Hackett, and Louis explored.  In it, we see a player not afraid to take his time, to make beautiful sounds, to gently explore the melody.  It’s a lovely performance, and it doesn’t give up all its secrets on one viewing. 

Did any readers of this blog hear Johnny or play alongside him?  I would love to hear your memories.  Without them, who will remember Johnny Windhurst?

SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT

During the Swing Era, it seemed that swinging women singers (the trade magazines called them “chirps”) were everywhere: Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, Maxine Sullivan, Helen Ward, Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Connee Boswell, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Teddy Grace, and two dozen others.  Now, many years later, the ranks have thinned to a very precious few.  Many of the more famous “jazz singers” veer unattractively into melodrama of one kind or another.  I won’t sully this blog by listing their names, but they have little relation to the art as we know it. 

What might jazz singing consist of — leaving aside the more colorful extremes exemplified by genuises such as Leo Watson and Betty Carter?  How about a neat yet undefinable mix of these qualities: feeling (strong yet controlled), understanding of the lyrics and their emotional potential, innately swinging time, a sense of humor, clear delivery, an ability to improvise on the same level as the best instrumentalists . . .

Molly Ryan, whose new CD I am celebrating here, SONGBIRD IN THE MOONLIGHT, knows the jazz tradition but isn’t trapped inside it.  She has a lovely pure voice, with an especially crystalline upper register, but she isn’t imprisoned by that either.   

cd-songbirdinthemoonlight  When I first heard Molly sing a few years ago, I thought she had good qualities in abundance: she swung, she was enthusiastic without overacting, she had fine time and clear diction, and she sang as if she knew what the words meant.  Her second choruses didn’t simply repeat her first, and she sounded greatly like Helen Ward.  Now, I’m not always in favor of what Barbara Lea called “Sounding Like” as an artistic goal, but Helen Ward was someone special, her vocal beauties not always recognized.  She was passionately earnest without being histrionic, and she had a sweet little cry in her voice — hard to explain but instantly recognizable. 

Molly’s CD shows that she has completely understood the lessons Ward taught on every record date.  Even better, Molly sounds very much like herself.  And what, you might ask, does that sound like?  The flip answer would be, “Buy the CD and find out for yourself,” but my readers deserve better.  Molly’s voice is sweet without being sticky, with a certain winsomeness.  She isn’t venturing into the dark land of High Tragedy on this CD, except for her evocation of “All the Sad Young Men”.  She swings easily and conveys feeling with great style.  A gentle tenderness imbues every track.  I particularly appreciated her warm approach to “I Was Lucky” and “Around the World,” although she drives “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” in fine style.   

The Twenties tradition was that there usually was a gap between the soloist and the accompaniment, or the singer and the band — Bessie Smith sang majestically but her colleagues were sometimes leaden.  Or we waited for Putney Dandridge to finish so that Chu Berry could play.  Here, Molly exists easily and comfortably on the same high level as the fine jazz players around her: Dan Levinson on clarinet and tenor; Mark Shane on piano; Kevin Dorn on drums; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, on three of the eighteen tracks. 

In Levinson’s graceful clarinet playing I hear a good deal of Mr. Goodman, but he isn’t merely copying the King’s pet phrases.  He is mobile without being ornate, always to the point.  His tenor playing, smooth and persuasive, reminds me of Eddie Miller (someone whose name you don’t hear often, which is a pity).  And his homespun singing in “By Myself” is quietly charming.  Kevin Dorn knows all there is to know about irresistibly swinging brushwork that urges the band forward without drmanding the spotlight.  I’d like everyone to pay much closer attention to Mark Shane — his solos dance and glitter; his accompaniment lifts and enlivens.  Shane’s four-bar introductions are wonderful compositions in themselves.  And Jon-Erik is in splendid empathic form on “It’s Wonderful,” “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie,” and “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This is a wonderfully-realized CD, with beautifully intimate recorded sound courtesy of Peter Karl, a rewardingly diversified repertoire, insightful and gracious liner notes . . . . I couldn’t ask for anything more except for a sequel in the immediate future.  For more information about Molly, visit her website at www.mollyryan.com.  To purchase this CD, email loupgarous@aol.com., or visit www.loupgarous.com.  Of course, both Molly and Dan will have copies at their gigs, which will afford you the double pleasure of hearing them live and taking home a jazz souvenir.

HONORING DICK SUDHALTER: JANUARY 12, 2009

 dick-sudhalter-20061A memorial concert in honor of the musician / scholar / writer Richard M. Sudhalter will be held on Monday, January 12, 2009, at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church (619 Lexington Avenue) in the Citicorp Center, New York City, from 7-10 PM.  Among the musicians who will play and pay tribute to Dick are Ed Polcer, Jackie Williams, Daryl Sherman, Dan Levinson, Marty Grosz, Marian McPartland, Sam Parkins, Joe Muranyi, Bill Kirchner, Sy Johnson, Howard Alden, James Chirillo, Carol Sudhlater, Steve Kuhn, Dick Katz, the Loren Schoenberg Big Band, Bob Dorough, Ronny Whyte, Boots Maleson, Bill Crow, James Ferguson, Marshall Wood, Nancy Stearns, Donna Byrne, Armen Donelian, Paquito D’Rivera, and Carol Fredette. 

Albert Haim, Dan Morgenstern, Pat Phillips, Daryl Sherman, and Terry Teachout will speak informally about Dick and his music as well. 

We won’t be in Manhattan on that Monday, and thus don’t have to deal with the deep ambivalent feelings such a concert provokes: the delight at seeing and hearing so many musicians play and speak — balanced against our grief at Dick’s death.  I remember with great clarity being at the benefit held for him in that same space a few years ago.  He was there, preferring to let others speak for him, but clearly moved, clearly fighting with great gallatry and style.  And some musicians who were so distinguished at that concert — Jeff Healey and Barbara Lea among them — have left the public stage through death or illness. 

There isn’t an appropriate moral, except that all of us are fragile even when we don’t seem to be.  If I had a band, I would call it the Carpe Diem Stompers.  Or the Finite Five.  Pay attention!  And go to this concert — to honor Dick’s intelligence, wit, and bravery.  I’ll be listening to the 2001 recordings that Dick  and Jeff Healey made, which leave me with a curious mixture of sadness and elation: sadness that these musicians will play no more, elation at the beautiful, energetic, lyrical jazz they gave us so generously.  The CD, under Healey’s name, is called AMONG FRIENDS, and it is accurately titled, although AMONG HEROES wouldn’t have been hyperbole.

UP TO DATE WITH BILL DUNHAM

Hi…………..
– Last Monday was a bumper night at Arthur’s Tavern – the West Side’s smartest supper club. Sitting in was Jiri Kripac, a pocket cornet player from Australia (Bob Barnard referred him). He is a hot player and along with our regular hot cornet player, Scott Black, we peeled some paint off the wall. Subbing for our regular bass player was Brian Nalepka of Manhattan Rhythm Kings fame. Also sitting in was Jack Watanabe – a Japanese stride piano player.
– The Monday before Gary Pace (clarinetist Sol’s son) sat in on piano. Great player!
– Notes from the world of jazz violin players:
– Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, a 13 year old violin player, also sat in with us on the Monday cited above. Jonathan started sitting in with us once a month starting when he was a mop-haired 7 year old.! He has really developed. He recently won the WINS “Tomorrow’s Newsmaker” award in the field of Arts and Entertainment. Past winners have all been classical musicians. He is also playing with Wynton Marsalis and the JALC orchestra on Nov. 6,7 & 8 at Rose Hall as a guest artist in the Nursery Song Swing Series. Quite an accomplishment.
–    A friend dragged me up to Dizzy’s Place at 11:00 P.M. to hear the Caswell Sisters group featuring Sara Caswell on hot violin. I’m glad I went. She is extraordinary – what technique! Turns out she was once Jonathan’s teacher.
Cabaret notes:
–Except to hear Barbara Lea I’m not one to go to cabaret shows. We however have a friend, Chris Marlowe, who is an excellent arranger and piano player for singers who is highly sought after by the top singers. Mostly to see and hear him we went to the Metropolitan Room to hear Marianne Challis. Wow! what an act – great singer with a really funny routine and stage persona! I highly recommend Challis! She’s the one who told this one:
A chicken and an egg were lying on a bed recovering from a steamy session. The egg rolled over and said to the chicken, ” Well, we certainly have the answer to the proverbial question!”
I arranged to have Marianne and Chris booked into the Harvard Club recently and she laid (Ha Ha) that joke on the well heeled audience. I was the only one who laughed! Not to worry, said the entertainment director at the club, it is very difficult to get a Harvard Club audience to laugh at anything!
Regards
Stringer Minion
.

BILL DUNHAM’S GOTHAM NEWS

An email received yesterday from Bill Dunham, pianist-leader and eminence of The Grove Street Stompers, who shake things up every Monday night at Arthur’s Tavern on Grove Street:

         You should have been there! We went to the tribute and benefit for Barbara Lea last night at the West Bank Cafe. Very moving! Sold out two weeks in advance. I first knew Barbara (at the time Barbara Leacock) when we were fixed up on a blind date – she at Wellesley and me at Harvard in 1950. She was a great singer even then. So good in fact that she was taken on as the vocalist with the Harvard Crimson Stompers – a student dixieland band – me a member.  Barbara as you know is not well and really doesn’t recognize anything. Very sad! She received countless warm tributes from the many stars present – Loren Schoenberg (with his Big Band including Dick Katz) , pianist Keith Ingham, many singers including Ronny Whyte, Steve Ross, Daryl Sherman, Karen Oberlin etc. They all spoke so lovingly about Barbara and what she has taught them over the years. Barbara is now 79.

 
        News Flash!! Randy Reinhart, fantastic cornetist and trombonist, is moving back to the area and is available for gigs! His cell number is (917) 273-5106. He is playing with the Grove Street Stompers this Monday at Arthur’s Tavern.
                                   Regards
                                                            Bill
 
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Bill told me today that Randy had gotten marooned in California (a cancelled flight) and so Simon Wettenhall would be taking his place this Monday . . . but I gather the esteemed and modest Mr. Reinhart will be on the New York scene (with his lovely wife Nina) in the future. 

And since a person’s medical expenses are never completely taken care of, since the bills keep coming — here’s more information about aiding Barbara Lea for those who, like myself, didn’t get to the benefit. 

 

 

 

 

Donations can be made to:  Barbara Lea Fund c/o Jeanie Wilson, 212 Ramblewood Drive, Raleigh, NC 27609.  For further information kindly contact: Sue Matsuki, 917-821-4342, or or Karen Oberlin, 917-405-5181.