Much earlier in 2009, a number of jazz photographs came up for sale on eBay. They were taken at Stuyvesant Casino in 1950, and the musicians depicted were heroic figures to me. As always on eBay, two things happened: the bidding skyrocketed at the last minute, and (in the calming grip of Prudence) I refused to plunge into three-digit prices . . . so I ended up the proud purchaser of two of a lot of five or six. (The photograph that isn’t the subject of this blogpost showed Wild Bill Davison and Benny Morton.) The other mild disappointment was the size of the originals, approximately two by four. Inches.
Our subject for today is a little band of deities. Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Ralph Sutton. It’s a poignant photograph, because both Lips and Big Sid wouldn’t live much longer. Pee Wee was months away from his hospitalization and looks gaunt; Sidney, who had suffered a heart attack, looks sadly small behind his drums. Perhaps some of this is the camera angle and that the horns are sitting down, which isn’t the way we usually see them in photographs.
The title of this post, however, refers to the gentleman on the far right, busily playing the baritone saxophone. He isn’t the man you would expect — Ernie Caceres — and even the photographer didn’t know who he was. I showed a copy of this photograph around at Whitley Bay to a number of jazz scholars who happen to be splendid players: Bent Persson, frans Sjostrom, the erudite Norman Field, and Matthias Seuffert — and no one recognized the saxophonist. Of course, it could have been someone sitting in, some alto / baritone player from a big band — but I don’t know if mere mortals ascended the stage at the Stuyvesant Casino to play alongside such deities.
I ask my readers: who’s that man? And while they’re at it, I ask them to consider — in their mind’s ear, if there is such a thing — what this little band might have sounded like. “Celestial” is an understatement as far as I’m concerned.
Final afterthoughts: does anyone recognize the photographer — by style or by handwriting? Somehow I don’t think this is an amateur’s snapshot, not least because of the pencil notation “1432” we see above. And did the Stuyvesant Casino have a bandstand like this one? The upholstered wall (leather or naugahyde) resembles the backdrop I’ve seen in photographs of the Three Deuces. Research!