The wonderful clarinetist Barney Bigard (think Duke, Louis, Joe Oliver, and Django for prominent associations) appeared often at the Nice Jazz Festival, happily, in many different contexts. He is in splendid form, as are Eddie Hubble and Johnny Guarnieri; in fact, the whole band rocks on an extended PERDIDO, a down-home CREOLE LOVE CALL, and a feature for Major Holley, MACK THE KNIFE.
Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Bob Wilber, clarinet; Eddie Hubble, trombone; Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Major Holley, string bass; Tommy Benford, drums. Introduced by Dick Sudhalter. PERDIDO (nearly thirteen minutes) / CREOLE LOVE CALL (Bigard, Hall, WIlber, Sammy Price, Holley, Benford) / MACK THE KNIFE (featuring Major Holley) (“La grande parade du jazz,” performed July 26, 1975; broadcast August 5, 1976).
P.S. I’ve posted a good deal of Barney’s work at Nice and always found it rewarding. Oddly, some of my armchair critics are very severe about “poor Barney, past his prime,” which I find ungenerous in reference to someone born in 1906 playing in the hot July sun outdoors. No, he played differently in 1927, but how many of us run as quickly as we did at 14? Respect the Elders.
The jazz I grew up listening could be pure harmonic improvisation — Coleman Hawkins was a powerful example — but many of the musicians I idolized then and still do: Louis, Jack, Teddy, Ed Hall, Buck, Bobby, and two hundred others, had such love for the melody, which they had grown up with, that they ornamented and embellished it. They put earrings or a scarf on it, a bold bow tie or a cloak, but you always knew it was there. Hearing one of these embellishers play a solo, you could hum the melody alongside (or underneath) and the two lines would gently trot down the same road — not hand-in-hand, but in the same direction and arriving at the same good place.
Some performances dazzle and amaze me; others warm and embrace me. Here’s a gently leisurely example of the latter kind.
It’s a group trotting happily through ROSE ROOM at the Grande Parade du Jazz: Barney Bigard, clarinet, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Dick Sudhalter, cornet; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Panama Francis, drums.
Some small ruminations, first. ROSE ROOM — in its original 1920 form, a love song — was one of Bigard’s features for years, but it’s pleasing to hear he doesn’t revert to his set solo. Listening to his late work is always a joy for me because age had slowed him down just a touch, so his phrases were more varied, and you listened for his tone. (YouTube commenters, vinegary in their recliners, have been mean-spirited about Barney; I wonder how many of them run at the same speed they did thirty-seven years ago.)
Vic Dickenson fit in anywhere as long as the tempo wasn’t punishingly fast, or the band too loud. He didn’t like backgrounds, one of which appears in his second chorus, but he is playing something so delightful that even Bigard and Sudhalter don’t unsettle him. Somewhere I read that Barney and Buster Bailey were two of Vic’s favorite clarinetists; I wish I could remember the third, but it was a mild surprise. Unlike Barney, Vic retained much of his phrase-making fluidity to the end of his life, but his tones, and I emphasize the plural, were marvels in themselves.
Dick Sudhalter was the new boy in the group, but he plays with wonderful style and variety — not reverting to the Bix-phrases some demanded of him, but being comfortable in a kind of easy Mainstream. I’ve highlighted his photograph because — aside from Placide Adams — I think he in this group is most in danger of being forgotten, and he plays so nobly here.
The rhythm section has the diversity (or oddity?) one finds at festivals, where producers delight in assembling people who don’t play together “to see what happens”: Placide Adams, from New Orleans, might have seemed out of his element in this late-Swing context, but he had played and recorded often with Paul Barbarin, so he knew about time; Panama Francis, unlike many of the famous drummers at Nice, also knew time: his steadiness is so comforting. Marty Grosz — a wonderfully fluid rhythmic cushion, filling in all the spaces the other three might have left. Art Hodes, the patriarch, could be unsettlingly spare and percussive, but he is happy in this context in ways that suggest Basie more than anyone else, perhaps resting comfortably on Marty’s eloquent swing support. He takes his time. They all do. There is a tiny train-wreck at the start — confusion that is more on the scale of a model train set — but it repairs itself quickly, and they are off: masters of melody, in solo and ensemble. I, too, find the fidgety multi-camera approach very distracting, but it is part of the particular package — perhaps an emblem of that time and style.
I find it a very sweet performance.
And it says certain things to me about the comfort of a common language, the wisdom and joy that comes from decades of experience in a congenial community. Masters of Melody, so endearing, so durable, who know that ROSE ROOM is more than a set of chord changes:
I wish this band had recorded hours of music, and I think of the times I saw some of its members (bless Marty Grosz for hanging out with us still!) — those sounds are translucent gold in my memory and ears.
Where were you on July 15, 1977? I don’t remember, and I think I’m not alone. I hope that many of my readers were fortunate enough to be at the Grande Parade du Jazz, watching yet another clarinet spectacular featuring Barney, Kenny, Bob, Eddie, and Tony, supported by Dick Hyman, piano; Jack Sewing, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums. Now you can be there, for BYE BYE BLUES / MOONGLOW / TAKE THE “A” TRAIN — classic repertoire enabling all the players to display their most vivid individualities:
How marvelous that such a thing happened, and that it was captured so that we can savor it, nearly half a century later.
Your love belongs to me. Or, I hope, to the music.
Even if Valentino is no longer with us, this 1920 song has a sweet energized durability — as shown here at the Grande Parade du Jazz, by four wonderfully distinctive clarinetists. I’ve retained Kenny Davern’s exasperated address to the audience because it’s as good as a four-bar break. Here are Barney Bigard, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, and Eddie Daniels (the idiosyncratic explorer), supported by Dick Hyman, piano; Jack Sewing, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums:
Please feel free to supply the appropriate lyrics: teach the children.
Note: the first version of this post was completely in chaos: the audio was Konitz and colleagues but the video was the World’s Greatest Jazz Band — enough to make anyone race for Dramamine. I was informed by several attentive readers, withdrew everything for repairs, and hope it is now brought into unity. Apologies!Barney Bigard’s hand gesture at the start of the video (the last seconds of his set) conveys my feelings about technical difficulties, especially when they leap right past SNAFU to become totally FUBAR.
“Strange bandfellows?” you say. I think some festival producers operate on the principle of the one Unexpected Element creating a great Chemical Reaction, that if you line up seven musicians who often play together, you might get routines. But add someone unusual and you might get the energy that jam sessions are supposed to produce from artists charged by new approaches. Or, perhaps cynically, it could be that novelty draws audiences: “I never heard X play with Y: I’ve got to hear this!”
Here are Lee Konitz, alto saxophone; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Red Mitchell, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums, placed together at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 9, 1978.
I’m not ranking these remarkable musicians, but this is a group of players who hadn’t always been associated in the past: yes to Konitz and Rowles, Rowles and Mitchell; Bucky and Shelly played with everyone. But Lockjaw comes from another Venn diagram.
I can imagine Lee, who was strong-willed, thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this group?” and I wonder if that’s why he asked Shelly to improvise a solo interlude, why he chose to begin the set with a duet with Bucky — rather than attempting to get everyone together to play familiar tunes (as they eventually do). At times it feels like carpooling, where Thelma wants to eat her sardine sandwich at 8 AM to the discomfort of everyone else in the minivan. But sets are finite, and professionals make the best of it.
And if any of the above sounds ungracious, I know what a privilege it was to be on the same planet as these artists (I saw Bucky, Lee, and Jimmie at close range) and how, forty-plus years later, they seem surrounded by radiance.
The songs are INVITATION Lee – Bucky / WAVE / THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU Bucky, solo / IMPROVISATION Shelly, solo / COOL BLUES, which has been shared in whole and part on YouTube, but this, I believe, is the first airing of the complete set.
All of them, each of them, completely irreplaceable.
Writing about Kenny Davern and sharing people’s memories of him have left me wanting to share more, so I thought I might share this wonderful on-the-spot piece of musical architecture with you. The participants are Barney Bigard, Kenny, Bob Wilber, and the rather idiosyncratic Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Dick Hyman, Jack Sewing, string bass, and J.C. Heard, drums. It was performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz — known to its friends as the Nice Jazz Festival — on July 15, 1977.
CREOLE LOVE CALL is thematically as plain as you could want, but the simplicity becomes a beautiful freeing place from which to soar, to sing individual songs, to moan dark feelings and reach for the stars in the space of a chorus. This performance, for me, is intense and intensely melodic: a triumph of understanding, leaving Mr. Daniels aside for the moment.
The video also catches Kenny amusing himself and attempting to amuse the crowd — for once, without success. I know that the audience might not have had a preponderance of English-proficient people, but their absolute silence after Kenny’s patented jape is a little unnerving (surely they’d heard those names before?) and his annoyance is palpable . . . but I am glad this exchange is captured for posterity, for it summons up the whole of the much-missed Mr. Davern. But, the music. The music!
Here’s a group of musicians you would only see at a festival, playing “the music of Duke Ellington”: Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Barney Bigard, clarinet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ruby Braff, cornet; Jimmie Rowles, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Shelly Manne, drums. Take a moment to let those names sink in.
Sometimes these groups don’t coalesce: they are the musical equivalent of a soup made with the contents of the refrigerator, and even in this case the closing “Ellington composition” might seem like the lowest common denominator, but it works wonderfully — thanks to the experience of the soloists and the splendid rhythm section. And if you look closely, you will see Vic Dickenson mutely ask to be left alone while he’s soloing — he didn’t like horn backgrounds — but he’s eloquent even when annoyed. Any chance to see Jimmie Rowles at the piano is exquisite, and I feel the same way about watching Ruby and Vic together.
The two selections — the end of a longer set which, alas, I don’t have on video — are ALL TOO SOON (Jacquet and rhythm) / C JAM BLUES (ensemble). They were performed at the “Grande Parade du Jazz,” July 7, 1979, and broadcast on French television.
Sometimes a JAZZ LIVES post is the result of a record I’ve heard, a musician I’ve been thinking about, or a particular idea. Other times, it takes a village, which I define as members of my emotional jazz-family to make something coalesce into print. In this case, I am grateful to adopted-brothers Bernard Flegar and Mark Cantor, who may never have met in person — that’s the way my extended family works. (I also have Brothers Hal Smith and Mike Karoub: someday we can all have Thanksgiving together!) Others, less beloved, who acted as stimuli, are the late Andre Hodeir and a sour YouTube armchair critic who will not be named.
About a week ago, to celebrate George Wein’s 95th birthday, I posted an eighteen-minute video featuring Barney Bigard and friends playing at Nice, and you can see the video here. Barney was 71. He sounded beautiful.
But the first YouTube comment was a dismaying “Not Barneys finest hour ?” I gently replied that Barney couldn’t be expected to play as he had in 1940, and did take a swipe at the commenter — without correcting his punctuation, “Your comment says more about you than about him.” His vinegary response came right back: “I’m 83 and an avid jazz fan ; there’s a time to leave your instrument in its case if you can’t keep up ! Just like boxers who hang on too long ; singers who hung on to long ( Frank was a classic example) Barney would have agreed . Unrepentant !” Someone else chimed in to echo the unrepentant avid fellow.
I sighed and didn’t write any of the things I could have about the irony of people of 83 being ageist. “Don’t insult my musicians!” is my credo, and I would rather hear Lester Young in Paris in 1959 than not at all.
Then, the splendid film scholar Mark Cantor and I conversed online about the French jazz critic Andre Hodeir. I was delighted to find that I had written about Hodeir in 2011 here. In his first book, Hodeir had rhapsodized over the “romantic imagination” of Dicky Wells as displayed in his memorable 1937 recordings. Dicky then came to France in 1952, but he was no longer the player he had been. Hodeir attacked him in an essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” stating that Wells had no reason to keep on playing, that his work no longer met Hodeir’s standards. I saw Dicky playing splendidly in the early Seventies, but Hodeir’s criticism stung not only him but readers like myself.
Yesterday morning, the wise drummer-scholar Bernard Flegar (whose eyes are open to the good stuff) led me to something that, in the fashion of Edgar Allan Poe, had been hiding in plain sight: a video shot by Bob Byler at the 1988 Elkhart Jazz Festival, a tribute to our mutual deity Eddie Condon, two sets featuring Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Marty Grosz, Dave McKenna, and (set one) Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones; (set two) John Bany, Wayne Jones — nearly two hours of extraordinary music.
Wild Bill could sometimes coast, but not here. And he was 82 and a half. Please consider that number for a moment. By the standards of Hodeir and YouTube critics, he should have stopped long before. But he’s so charged; the rest of the band, including younguns Hedges and Grosz, is also. A viewer who looks for double chins and thinning hair will find them. But the music — inventive, surprising, and fun — is anything but geriatric.
Bob Byler (with his devoted wife Ruth) shot many videos — some of them are cinematically flawed, but this one is fine.
Here’s the roadmap.
The first set [afternoon turning into evening, outdoors] offers leisurely swinging improvisations on LADY BE GOOD, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY (Saunders, vocal), ‘S’WONDERFUL (Bill tells a joke) I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY (Marty Grosz), IF I HAD YOU (Masso and Hedges out), INDIANA (Milt, at a beautiful tempo), NOBODY ELSE BUT ME (Masso) SKYLARK (Hedges), AM I BLUE, I NEVER KNEW.
The second set [evening, indoors}: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN (at a sweet tempo), AS LONG AS I LIVE, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF (Masso and Hedges out), TEA FOR TWO (Masso), RUNNIN’ WILD (ending with a spectacular solo from Wayne Jones).
We listen with our ears and our hearts, not our actuarial tables, I hope.
And if anyone wants to tell me I am too old to be blogging (I started in February 2008) tell me to my face and I’ll throw my pill bottles at them. That’ll do it.
Many thanks to the true heroes, here and elsewhere: Bill, Tommy, George, Chuck, Dave, Marty, Milt, John, Rusty, Wayne, Bernard and Mark, Hal and Mike. Their life-force cheers me and gives me strength.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
Jazz festivals and jazz parties with a proliferation of star soloists sometimes get everyone who’s available to take a few choruses on a standard composition, which can result in brilliant interludes or dull displays. The results are not the same as a working jazz ensemble, but they do often create splendid surprises.
Here is a seventeen-minute exploration of the Duke Ellington-Bubber Miley 1932 evergreen that took place at the Grande Parade du Jazz on July 15, 1977, nominally under clarinetist Barney Bigard’s leadership, which really translates here as his being the first horn soloist. The others are John Lewis, piano; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Clark Terry, Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpets; Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, trombones; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone. (To my ears, Daniels seems a visitor from another world.) A “string of solos,” yes, but, oh! what solos:
In the summer of 1972, Red Balaban led one of his often-eloquent bands at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now an empty space for rent) with Bobby Hackett as the guest star — and I recall Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Chuck Folds, Marquis Foster. Barney Bigard was in the house, and Bobby invited him up (Muranyi graciously sat the set out except for a two-clarinet HONEYSUCKLE ROSE). The bell of Barney’s clarinet was perhaps three feet from my face, and his sound — on ROSE ROOM, MOOD INDIGO, and two or three others — was warm and luminous. Yes, he looked exactly like my tenth-grade English teacher, but Mr. Kavanagh had no such glissandos.
There will be more to come from the Nice Jazz Festival. And in case you missed my most recent extravagant offering — ninety-seven minutes of bliss — you can immerse yourself here. MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) used to say it had “more stars than there are in heaven,” and you will find them in that post: George Barnes, Benny Carter, Bobby Hackett, Illinois Jacquet, Ruby Braff, Wingy Manone, Dick Sudhalter, Spiegle Willcox, Michael Moore, Pee Wee Erwin, Eddie Hubble . . . along with Barney, Vic, and others.
Many years ago — in the mid-Seventies — I could buy the few legitimate recordings of music (a series of RCA Victor lps, then Black and Blue issues) performed at the Grande Parade du Jazz, with astonishing assortments of artists.
As I got deeper into the collecting world, friends sent me private audio cassettes they and others had recorded.
Old-fashioned love, or audio cassettes of music from the Grande Parade du Jazz.
A few video performances began to surface on YouTube. In the last year, the Collecting Goddess may have felt I was worthy to share more with you, so a number of videos have come my way. And so I have posted . . . .
music from July 1977 with Benny Carter, Vic Dickenson, Kai Winding, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, J.C. Heard, Ray Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis, and Teddy Wilson here;
a July 1978 interlude with Jimmy Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna at two grand pianos here;
a wondrous Basie tribute from July 1975 with Sweets Edison, Joe Newman, Clark Terry, Vic Dickenson, Zoot Sims, Buddy Tate, Illinois Jacquet, Lockjaw Davis, Earle Warren, Johnny Guarnieri, George Duvivier, Marty Grosz, Ray Mosca, Helen Humes here;
and a delicious session with Benny Carter, George Barnes, Ruby Braff, Vinnie Corrao, Michael Moore, Ray Mosca here.
If you missed any of these postings, I urge you to stop, look, and listen. One sure palliative for the emotional stress we are experiencing.
At this point in our history, Al Jolson is a cultural pariah, so I cannot quote him verbatim, but I will say that you haven’t seen anything yet. Here is a compendium from July 21, 24, and 25, 1975, several programs originally broadcast on French television, in total almost one hundred minutes.
Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Kenny Drew, Arvell Shaw, Bobby Rosengarden BLUES 7.24.75
Benny Carter, Ruby Braff, Gorge Barnes, Michael Moore, Vinnie Corrao, Ray Mosca WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / 7.25
LADY BE GOOD as BLUES
I CAN’T GET STARTED / LOVER COME BACK TO ME as WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS
INDIANA 7.21.75 Pee Wee Erwin, Herb Hall, Eddie Hubble, Art Hodes, Placide Adams, Marty Grosz, Panama Francis
SWEET LORRAINE Bobby Hackett, Hodes, Adams, Grosz, Francis
OH, BABY! as INDIANA plus Bobby Hackett
ROSE ROOM Dick Sudhalter, Barney Bigard, Vic Dickenson, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS Bob Wilber, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
BLUE ROOM Wingy Manone, Sudhalter, Vic, Bigard, Wilber, same rhythm as above
BLUES Wingy, everyone plus Maxim Saury, Alain Bouchet, Erwin, Hackett, Hubble, Vic Spiegle Willcox, Bigard, Hall, Wilber, Hodes, Grosz, Adams, Francis
SWEET GEORGIA BROWN Moustache for Francis
“If that don’t get it, then forget it right now,” Jack Teagarden (paraphrased).
This band was a real treat at the March 2020 Jazz Bash by the Bay — their enthusiasm, their willingness to get dirty, their skill, their passions, and in a repertoire that went comfortably from Ellington to a Buck Clayton Jam Session to Johnny Dodds. I’m speaking of Clint Baker’s New Orleans Jazz Band, which in that weekend’s incarnation, was Clint, trumpet; Riley Baker, trombone; Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano [for this set]; Jess King, guitar, banjo, vocal; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Katie Cavera, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And today I want to share only one performance — because it knocked me out, as they used to say and still do — the groovy Ellington blues, with Rex Stewart certainly a co-composer, SOLID OLD MAN. (I worry about the punctuation of that title, but you should hear the music first.)
SOLID OLD MAN is perhaps most famous as a tune that Rex, Barney Bigard, and Billy Taylor brought to Europe for their recording session with Django Reinhardt — a recording session that is completely ingrained in my heart for perhaps fifty years. Note the more accurate composer credits!
But two postscripts. I taught college English for a long time (a LONG time!) and I know that punctuation makes a difference. I can see the recording supervisor at Brunswick or Master Records, after the session, saying to Ellington, “Duke, what do you call that one?” and Ellington answering in the common parlance of the time, “Solid, old man!” in the sense of “Great work!” or “I totally agree with you, my friend!” or “You and I are brothers.” But it always has had an implicit comma, a pause, as it were. And certainly an explicit exclamation point. So, to me, its title is lacking and perhaps misleading: when I see SOLID OLD MAN, I think of someone over six feet, weighing over three hundred pounds, who has been collecting Social Security for years. Perhaps a security guard at the mall.
The second postscript is not a matter of proofreading. Last night I was on Facebook (my first error) and reading a controversy in a jazz group about who was good and who was bad (my second) that got quite acrimonious. Facebook encourages bad-mannered excesses; I was uncharacteristically silent. But I noted one member of the group (an amateur string player) made a snide remark about “California Dixieland,” and when a professional musician of long-standing asked him to define what he was mocking, the speaker — perhaps having more opinions than knowledge — fell silent. Unnamed adjudicator of taste, I don’t know if you read this blog. But if you do, I suggest you listen to SOLID OLD MAN ten or twenty times to get your perceptions straight before you opine again. And those of us who know what’s good can simply enjoy the performance many times for its own singular beauties.
I woke up yesterday morning with the melody of SHE DIDN’T SAY YES in my head — as performed in 1946 by Joe Thomas and his Orchestra for Keynote Records — and that performance insisted that I share it and write a few words in its honor. The song comes from the 1931 Jerome Kern – Otto Harbach musical comedy THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE, and it is limited in its ambitions (words and music) but it is also irresistible. The steplike melody is difficult to get rid of once one hears it, and the coy naughtiness of the lyric — raising the question of being “bad” when badness seems so delightful, but tossing the moral question back at the listener — combine in a kind of musical miniature cupcake.
Here is a video clip from the 1934 film version of the play — Jeanette MacDonald, looking lovely, sings SHE DIDN’T after a large clump of cinematic foolishness, including post-Code dancing, has concluded. (My contemporary perspective makes this scene slightly painful to watch, as Jeanette is bullied by the crowd into declaring a love that she seems to feel only in part.)
The song was recorded a number of times in the early Thirties (by Leo Reisman and Chick Bullock, among others) but may have surfaced again with the 1946 film biography of Kern, who had died suddenly the year before, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY. However, since its performance in the film by the Wilde Twins goes by quickly, I think other reasons may have led to its being chosen for this Keynote Records date. Did Harry Lim hear something in its melody — those repeated notes that Alec Wilder deplored — or did Joe Thomas like to play it? We’ll never know, but it is a recording both memorable and forgotten.
The band was “Joe Thomas And His Orchestra,” itself a rare occurrence. Lim had used Joe on many sessions for Keynote (the Forties were a particular period of prominence on records for him, thankfully — where he recorded alongside Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Roy Eldridge, Don Byas, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Ed Hall, Barney Bigard, and other luminaries). The band was Joe Thomas, trumpet; Tyree Glenn, trombone; Hilton Jefferson, alto saxophone; Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophone; Bernie Leighton, piano; Hy White, guitar; Billy Taylor, Sr., string bass; Lee Abrams, drums, and it was done in New York on August 16, 1946. I don’t know who did the backgrounds and introduction, but the recording is a small marvel of originalities. I listen first for the soloists and their distinctive sounds and then consider the performance as an example of what one could do with texture and small orchestral touches with only an octet.
I first heard this record coming out of my radio speaker when Ed Beach did a show devoted to Joe Thomas — perhaps in 1969 — and then I got to see Joe both on the stage of Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls (with Benny Carter and Eddie Condon, consider that!) and at much closer range in 1972-74, thanks to the kindness of my dear Mike Burgevin.
I don’t want to subject this recording to chorus-by-chorus explication, but I would ask listeners to hear the individual sounds and tones these players had: Joe, Tyree, Hilton, Jerry — each man singing his own distinctively recognizable song — and the perky unflagging rhythm section, with Leighton beautifully doing Basie-Wilson-Guarnieri, and the lovely support of Billy Taylor, Sr., who had kept the Ellington band swinging.
“We had faces then!” to borrow from SUNSET BOULEVARD.
I keep coming back to the gleaming warm sound of Joe Thomas — in the first chorus, outlining the melody as if nothing in the world were more important; in the closing chorus, flavoring and shading it as only he could. And the rest of the band. As a friend said to me recently, “They were pros. They really knew how to do it.” And bless Harry Lim: without him, we would know such things happened but they would now be silent and legendary rather than tangible and glowing.
“La grande parade du jazz” is what the people in charge of the Nice Jazz Festival called it in the last half of the 1970s. And that it was for sure. Here, through the good offices of the scholar Franz Hoffmann, is a nearly ten-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN with sixteen of the great players (Bob Wilber and Marty Grosz, still happily with us) participating.
Twelve horns in the front line might mean chaos, but there is expert, funny traffic direction here by experienced musicians who knew (this was the last performance of a set) that allowing everyone to play three choruses could extend the performance well past plausibility. And SWEET GEORGIA BROWN is so familiar that no one could mess up the chords on the bridge. And although the director / cinematographer on some of these Nice videos made them hard to watch by cutting from one angle to another every few seconds, here the editing is much more sedate and pleasing.
The performance is full of sweet little touches — the affectionate respect these musicians had for each other and the idiom. After an ensmble where — even amidst all the possibility for clamor — Bobby Hackett is audibly leading, with mutters from Vic Dickenson, which then turns into a very characteristic propulsive Art Hodes solo, all his traits and signatures beautifully intact. Watch Barney Bigard’s face as Maxim Saury plays a patented Bigard motive, how amused and pleased he is with the younger man’s tribute, and how he (Barney, that is) pays close attention afterwards. (For what it’s worth, Herb Hall and Barney sound so sweetly demure after Saury.) After some inaudible asides, Alain Bouchet (brave man!) trades phrases with a very impressive Hackett, then, before any kind of disorder can take over, Vic takes control over the trombone section, with Willcox and Hubble having fun playing at being Vic. A conversation between Dick Sudhalter and Pee Wee Erwin reveals two concise lyricists; Bob Wilber, so durable and so profound, soars through his choruses (notice Wingy trying to break in after the first). Wingy takes his turn in opposition to a beautifully-charged Hackett, with supporting riffs coming in for the second chorus (Hackett quotes WITH PLENTY OF MONEY AND YOU, so gorgeously) before the whole ensemble charges for the exit, Moustache commenting underneath, his four-bar break hinting at a deep study of Cliff Leeman:
Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Alain Bouchet, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, cornet / trumpet; Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble, Spiegel Willcox, trombone; Barney Bigard, Herb Hall, Maxim Saury, clarinet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Art Hodes, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Placide Adams, string bass; Moustache Galepides, drums.
Almost ten minutes of bliss, with no collisions and no train wrecks. And if you care to, on the third or fourth viewing, watch the musicians themselves closely — the ones who aren’t playing, as they smile and silently urge their friends, colleagues, and heroes on. Their love is tangible as well as audible.
It’s a cliche to write that “Giants walked the earth,” but this summer performance proves the truism true. And one of the most dear of the giants — never in stature — the blessed Bobby Hackett — wouldn’t live another full year. Oh, what we lost.
For more from Franz Hoffmann, and he has marvels, visit his YouTube channel.
This is not really a post about shopping, but since shopping is one of the experiences held in common by so many of us, it works as metaphor. A dozen years ago, if I thought I needed a new shirt, I would have headed to The Mall, where I could gaze at two dozen machine-made shirts, identical except for size and perhaps color. The plenitude was a reassuring reminder that we live in the Land of Too Much, and often I bought more than I needed.
As my clothing style became more personal, the racks of identical product no longer charmed. I began to go thrift-shopping for the quest for unique pleasures. Surprise was the rule, even among the inexplicable proliferation of plaid shirts (why?). I would spot something thirty shirts away, move towards it as if magnetized, and might have a small breath-taking experience. “That’s for me! I could wear that! That looks like it belongs to me!”
Illustration by Jesse Rimler
Such impassioned bonding happens with music also: I was two minutes into the first track of a new CD — its cover above — and my mental soundtrack alternated between, “Oh, my goodness, this is wonderful!” and the more defensive, “You’re not getting this CD away from me.” And then,addressing the invisible JAZZ LIVES audience, “You need to hear this,” I thought.
“This” is the debut CD of Jacob Zimmerman and his Pals called MORE OF THAT, and to use my own catchphrase, it has increased my happiness tremendously.
The cover drawing, which I love, by Jesse Rimler, says much about the cheerful light-heartedness of the enterprise. Why has this twenty-first century Nipper got his head in a protective cone? Has he been biting himself? Is the cone a visual joke about the morning-glory horn? Is this the canine version of cupping a hand behind your ear to hear your singing better? All I know is that this dog is reverently attentive. You’ll understand why.
Here is Jacob’s website, and you can read about his musical associations here.
I had heard Jacob’s name bandied about most admiringly a few years ago; he appeared in front of me in the Soho murk of The Ear Inn and was splendidly gracious. He’d also received the equivalent of the Legion of Honor: he was gigging with Ray Skjelbred. But even these brightly-colored bits of praise did not prepare me for how good this CD is.
The overall ambiance is deep Minton’s 1941, Keynote, and Savoy Records sessions, that wonderful period of music where “swing” and “bop” cuddled together, swinging but not harmonically or rhythmically constrained. And although Jacob and Pals have the recorded evidence firmly in their ears and hearts, and under their fingers as well, this is not Cryogenic Jazz or Swing Taxidermy (with apologies to Nipper’s grandchild on the cover).
As a leader, Jacob is wonderfully imaginative without being self-consciously clever (“Didja hear what the band did there? Didja?”) Each performance has a nifty arrangement that enhances the song rather than drawing attention from it — you could start with the title tune, MORE OF THAT, which Jacob told me is based on MACK THE KNIFE, “MORITAT,” so you’ll get the joke — which begins from elements so simple, almost monochromatic, and then builds. Each arrangement makes full use of dynamics (many passages on this CD are soft — what a thing!), there’s some dark Ellingtonia and some rocking neo-Basie. And each song is full of delightful sensations: when I get through listening to BALLIN’ THE JACK (a song often unintentionally brutalized) I think, “That’s under three minutes? How fulfilling.” So the Pals are a friendly egalitarian organization with everyone getting chances to shine.
A few words about the compositions. SIR CHARLES is Ray’s homage to our hero Sir Charles Thompson; Jacob says RADIATOR “was composed as a feature for Ray and was inspired by the Earl Hines record “Piano Man.” It’s based on “Shine.” SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY “is a feature for bassist Matt Weiner and pays homage to the record of that tune by Lester Young and Slam Stewart.” “FIRST THURSDAY is based on”Sunday.” My monthly gig at the jazz club “Egan’s Ballard Jam House” has happened every first Thursday for over 5 years.” And SCULPT-A-SPHERE “is based on “Nice Work If You Can Get It”…I tried to imagine what it would be like if Thelonious Monk and Lester Young wrote a tune together.”
Before I get deeper into the whirlpool of praise, some data. Jacob plays alto and clarinet (more about that in a minute), aided immeasurably by: Matt Weiner, string bass; Josh Roberts, guitar; Ray Skjelbred, piano; D’Vonne Lewis, drums; Cole Schuster, guitar; Christian Pincock, trombone; Meredith Axelrod brings voice and guitar to the final track. And the compositions: RADIATOR / SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY / FIRST THURSDAY / SONG OF THE ISLANDS / BLUE GUAIAC BLUES / BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES / IN A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN / MORE OF THAT / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? / SCULPT-A-SPHERE / I AIN’T GOT NOBODY. All immensely tasty, none crowding its neighbor.
This being the twenty-first century, many saxophonists live in a post-Parker era, which works for some. But Jacob has deeply understood that there are other sounds one can draw upon while playing that bent metal tube: a mix of Pete Brown (without the over-emphatic pulse), Hilton Jefferson (rhapsodic but tempered), and Lee Konitz (dry but not puckering the palate). On clarinet, he suggests Barney Bigard but with none of the Master’s reproducible swoops and dives: all pleasing to the ear.
Because I have strongly defined tastes, I often listen to music with an editor’s ear, “Well, they’re dragging a little there.” “I would have picked a brighter tempo.” “Why only one chorus?” and other mind-debris that may be a waste of energy. I don’t do that with MORE OF THAT, and (imagine a drumroll and cymbal crash) I love this CD so fervently that I will launch the JAZZ LIVES GUARANTEE. Buy the disc. Keep the jiffybag it came in. Play it twice. If you’re not swept away, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, send me the CD and I’ll refund your money and postage. I don’t think I will be reeling from a tsunami of mail, and should some people (inexplicably) not warm to this disc, I’ll have extra copies to give away.
I invite JAZZ LIVES’ readers and viewers to join Dan Morgenstern and myself for an afternoon conversation about Duke Ellington which took place a few months ago in early March 2018. I don’t ordinarily post ninety-five minutes of video in one heaping serving, but Dan’s narrative is so comfortably wide-ranging and expansive that I couldn’t cut it into sections.
Part One, where Dan begins by remembering himself as a young Danish record collector, comments on various Ellingtonians and admirers, and loops around to the 1938 Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing:
Here’s DUSK — for your spiritual edification, from a HMV 78, too:
Part Two is focused on Duke in the recording studio, with quick asides about Willie Cook, Norris Turney, Harry Carney, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson, and Mercer Ellington:
Part Three begins with Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, detours to ripe tomatoes, and returns to Billy Strayhorn, Bob Wilber, and Barney Bigard:
Part Four starts with one of my heroes, Ray Nance, then Cootie Williams, Toney Williams, and offers the famous story about disciplining a wayward Paul Gonsalves:
Part Five again recalls Duke in the recording studio, next to Basie, next to Louis. I wish there were some documentation of Louis sitting in with Duke’s octet!
Finally, Dan’s tale, very amusing, of three bandleaders in one night, which ends with Johnny Hodges on the AT THE BAL MASQUE Columbia lp:
and here is the very pretty ALICE BLUE GOWN:
Blessings and gratitude to the very generous Dan Morgenstern.
In this case, a song title is a perfect embodiment of a musical endeavor — the Complete Morton Project of David Horniblow (reeds) and Andrew Oliver (piano) — brilliant players and imaginers both. They’ve been astonishingly posting two new performances of Mister Jelly Lord’s music for much of 2018, and I have been happily reposting them here. Read more on Andrew Oliver’s blog.
From doctorjazz.co.uk, with this explication: Mark Miller sends the following pictorial advert for a previously unknown engagement featuring “Jelly Roll” Morton and His World Famous Victor Recording Orchestra at Madison Lake, New York from The Brookfield Courier, dated Wednesday, 26th June 1935, page 4, columns 6—7.
Here’s THAT’S LIKE IT OUGHT TO BE:
On that performance, David plays Barney Bigard’s solo precisely — no easy task. He’s written, “The clarinet player on the original recording is the great Barney Bigard, and his style was so compellingly odd that I’m playing it note-for-note, and on a vintage Albert System Selmer clarinet which is very similar to the instrument he would have played it on. Excessively nerdy I guess.” To which I must respond, “‘Nerdy,’ my Aunt Fanny. ‘Extraordinary’ is more like it.” And Andrew’s playing is explosively fine.
GAMBLING JACK, frolicsome and certainly rare:
Incidentally, deep Mortonians will know this already, but the music you are admiring was often not scored or recorded by piano and clarinet — so these performances are much more ambitious than transcriptions of recorded performances. More from Andrew’s blog about the next two songs here.
LOAD OF COAL (which had the then-young drummer William “Cozy” Cole on the original recording, so I have always thought its title a pun):
As shown by the Gennett label, STRATFORD HUNCH was at first a piano solo, but it lives many lives:
STRATFORD HUNCH became — slightly streamlined — CHICAGO BREAKDOWN, and was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1927 in a band arrangement that, among other things, omits Morton’s introduction — but features brilliant playing by Louis and Earl Hines.
Since David and Andrew pay Louis’ record homage, I include it here as well. And if anyone thinks Swing didn’t start until 1936, please offer the closing chorus of this recording as refutation:
Back to Mister Jelly for a moment, to comment with admiration that Andrew and David have created twenty-two videos to date, and they intend to keep going until they reach one hundred. What splendid diligence, I say.
I believe that most people reading these words understand the sustained power of Louis Armstrong through the decades. (If you think he went into “a deep decline” or “became commercial,” please go away and come back next week.)
But I think that many are in danger of taking Louis for granted, in the same way we might take air or sunlight as expected. Yet there is always something new and uplifting to experience. My text today is the glory of Louis in his and the last century’s late forties, as displayed on two very different but equally desirable CDs. “Mid-century modern,” we could call it, with no side glances at architecture aside from Louis’ own creations.
Two new CDs provide heartening reminders. Both are equally delightful: suitable as gifts to others or to oneself, with no greater occasion needed than “Wow, I got through that week!”
The first, on the Dot Time label, presents music few have ever heard, taken from Louis’ own archives, the “Standard School Broadcast” of January 30, 1950, recorded in San Francisco, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, and a clarinetist, string bassist, and drummer whose names are not known or are — in the case of the clarinetist — a guess. (If anyone known more about “Lyle Johnson,” please write in.) Clancy Hayes is the master of ceremonies — he doesn’t sing — and the premise is that he is helping Jack Cahill, “Matt the Mapmaker,” construct a musical map of America: in this case, New Orleans jazz.
There is a good deal of music issued that presents Louis alongside Jack and Earl. But this CD is better than what we already know. For one thing, there is a very small studio audience, and the recorded sound is superb: when Hayes picks up his acoustic guitar to add rhythm, it’s nicely audible. And everyone sounds relaxed, playful, inventive, even with familiar repertoire. I know that some listeners might pass this CD by because, “I already have two versions of Louis playing LAZY RIVER and I don’t need another.” That would be an error, I suggest. Not a note on this disc sounds routine or stale.
About that repertoire: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? [plus two rehearsal takes] / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / BASIN STREET BLUES / STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE / BOOGIE WOOGIE ON THE ST. LOUIS BLUES / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS / PANAMA / LAZY RIVER / BACK O’TOWN BLUES [issued performance plus Louis playing along with the 1950 tape two years later]. Those wise enough to purchase this CD and play it — attentively — all the way through will have a wondrous aural surprise on the final track, where Louis duets with himself. When the performance is over, he’s still practicing, and there is a solo exposition of the first sixteen bars of the current pop tune, I COULDN’T SLEEP A WINK LAST NIGHT, that is positively awe-inspiring. Louis, completely alone and at his peak, one of many.
DotTime Records is releasing the Louis Armstrong Legacy Series — four CDs, of which this is the first, and the second, “Night Clubs,” has just come out. For more information, visit their website. These issues have funny, friendly, edifying notes by Ricky Riccardi, the Louis-man of great renown.
The other Louis issue is possibly more familiar to collectors but is musically thrilling. Here’s Bert Stern’s famous photograph to get you in the mood, or perhaps the groove.
That photograph comes from the film NEW ORLEANS, which starred Louis and Billie Holiday, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, and others too rarely seen on film.
I remember sitting in front of the television in the den of my parents’ house in early adolescence, having waited all week for this movie to be shown, perhaps on MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE on a weekday afternoon. The consensus was that the film was disappointing. As a showcase for my heroes, even more so. Watching it, waiting for my idols to break through the terrible script, was depressing. I had grown up on false representations of the jazz-past (“The Roaring Twenties,” starring Dorothy Provine, for example) but NEW ORLEANS was spectacularly bad, especially when Louis and Billie would appear, read a few lines, do their feature numbers, and disappear.
Some years later, an album — music recorded for the film but for the most part not used — was issued on the Giants of Jazz label. I see in the discography that the Giants of Jazz issue was “reissued” on several bootleg CDs, and it now appears, with even more music, on the Upbeat label — which issue I recommend to you. The music was recorded in Hollywood in late 1946, and the participants, in addition to Louis, Billie, Bigard, and Kid Ory, are Charlie Beal, Red Callender, Zutty Singleton, Minor Hall, Meade Lux Lewis, Arthur Schutt, Mutt Carey, Lucky Thompson, Louis’ 1946 big band (that recorded for Victor) and more.
As poor as the film was, the music on this CD is just as wonderful. Anything even tangentially associated with “my old home town” made Louis happy, and that happiness and relaxation comes through the music. I expect that because he and Billie were pre-recording music for the film, they had not been compelled to face what their roles in the film would be . . . Billie playing a maid, a grievous insult.
The CD enables us to spend seventy minutes embraced by the music itself, with Louis in the company of old friends and mentors Ory and Mutt Carey, playing “good old good ones” — the cadenza to WEST END BLUES, FLEE AS A BIRD, SAINTS, TIGER RAG, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, KING PORTER STOMP, MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, heard in multiple versions. For one example, there is DIPPERMOUTH, played as a medium-slow-drag with Mutt Carey in the lead, as if taking Joe Oliver’s place, then a version at the expected romping tempo with the young “modernist” Lucky Thompson audible in the ensemble before Barney Bigard takes the Johnny Dodds solo. Fascinating, and I looked in astonishment to see that the second version was only one minute and thirty-four seconds, because it felt so complete.
SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, BALLIN’ THE JACK, KING PORTER STOMP, and MAHOGANY HALL STOMP also feature this splendidly hybrid band of Louis, Mutt, Lucky, Ory, Bigard, Beal, Callender, and Zutty: realizations of what was possible in 1946. One could do a fascinating study of ensemble playing as created by Ory and Lucky, side by side. They solo in sequence on KING PORTER STOMP as well. Incidentally, if you are familiar with the jazz “journalism” of this period, as practiced by Feather, Ulanov, Blesh, and others, you might believe that the “beboppers” loathed and feared “the old men,” and the detestation was mutual. Nothing of the sort. What is audible is pure pleasure: hear Louis on the two versions of MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, leisurely and intense. Attentive listeners will also delight in the very fine string bass work of Callender — someone who deserves more celebration than he has received.
I have said little of Billie Holiday’s recorded performances on this CD: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS (twice), FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE, THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ — these tracks have often been issued in various forms, and she sounds wonderful.
I thought of printing the complete discography of what music had been issued, but it was a confusing labyrinth, so I will simply list the titles on the Upbeat release and hope that purchasers will be guided by their ears: FLEE AS A BIRD – SAINTS / WEST END BLUES / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / BRAHMS’ LULLABY / TIGER RAG / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (2) / BASIN STREET BLUES / RAYMOND STREET BLUES / MILENBERG JOYS / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / FAREWELL TO STORYVILLE / BEALE STREET STOMP / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES (2) / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / BALLIN’ THE JACK / KING PORTER STOMP / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (2) / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’ / ENDIE / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / HONKY TONK TRAIN / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS? / WHERE THE BLUES WERE BORN IN NEW ORLEANS / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP / ENDIE / THE BLUES ARE BREWIN’.
The Upbeat issue is generous: the last five titles are from issued Victor 78s of the same songs, giving us an opportunity to compare. Hereis the Upbeat site where this disc can be ordered.
Incidentally, to see the wonderful photographs Phil Stern took of Louis and other luminaries, visit here.
And for those who have never seen the film NEW ORLEANS or don’t believe me, here is the whole thing uploaded to YouTube. But don’t get your hopes up: once the first three minutes of WEST END BLUES is over, we have left the reality of the “Orpheum Cabaret” for the melodrama of a routine script:
At times the subtitles are the most diverting thing. But we have the music, in full flower, on the Upbeat CD.
Billie Holiday and Sidney Catlett in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, January 18, 1944.
And here is the soundtrack: DO NOTHIN’ TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME, BILLIE’S BLUES, and I’LL GET BY, with Billie accompanied by Roy Eldridge, Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, and Sidney Catlett:
And you all know that Louis Armstrong, Teddy Wilson, and Mildred Bailey appeared, with the Goodman Quintet being beamed in from the other coast.
When I bid on and won that photograph of Billie and Sidney on eBay, it came with a small rectangular strip of yellowed paper taped to its back, which read
THE THRUSH AND THE SKINMAN
“Two top jive artists are shown at the Esquire All-American jazz concert, held at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 18th. Billie Holliday does the vocalizing as drummer boy Sid Catlett pounds the skins.”
I am nostalgic about 1944 music, but I am glad that no one feels compelled to write that way anymore. Incidentally, when I looked online to see where this picture might have appeared — searching for THRUSH and SKINMAN — I got a whole host of entries about candida, male and female yeast infections. Mmmmmmm.
My unanswered and unanswerable question about the photograph has to do with it being a posed, rather than candid shot. Notice that neither of the two participants is in motion; there is no blur. So. Did the photographer say to the two of them presumably before or after the concert, “Billie, Miss Holiday. Could you come over here? We need a shot of you and Sidney — how do you people say it — giving each other . . . some skin?” And for those who like metaphysics, which one put out a hand first for this hip charade? I know the photograph is in some ways fake, but the emotions behind it are not.
P.S. If you’re going to lift the photographic image for use on your own site, be my guest. I wouldn’t disfigure it with a watermark . . . but real gents and ladies also write, “Photo courtesy of JAZZ LIVES.” Thanks.
Clarinetist Bill Napier might be one of the finest musicians that few people outside of California have ever heard, or heard of. Marc Caparone says, “I only played music with him twice, but he was a god, a very quiet man who didn’t get much publicity but was always superb.” Leon Oakley remembers him as a “warm, creative player.” Hal Smith told me that Bill cared about the music more than “traditional” ways of playing a chorus.
Almost all of the recordings Bill made, and the live performances captured outside of the studio have him in the middle of six or seven-piece units. What I now can share with you here is intimate, touching music, with Bill the solo horn in a congenial trio.
The personnel of these live recordings is Napier, clarinet; Larry Scala, banjo; Robbie Schlosser, string bass. They were recorded on August 8, 1994, outdoors at Stanford University, by Dr. Arthur Schawlow, who won the Nobel Prize (with others) for his work on the laser beam. Dr. Schawlow not only liked jazz, but was an early adopter of high-tech: Larry says that he recorded these performances on a digital recorder, the first one he had ever seen.
Here are five delicious chamber performances, beginning with ALL MY LIFE.
ST. LOUIS BLUES:
IF I HAD YOU:
and a masterpiece:
Napier’s sound comes in the ear like honey. He never plays a superfluous note; he honors the melody but in the most gentle supple way. It is rather as if he were leaning forward, softly saying something heartfelt that was important to him and that he knew would uplift you. Beauty and swing without affectation.
Before we move on to precious oral history, a few words about one of the other members of this trio. After you have bathed in the liquid gold of Napier’s sound, listen once again to the very relaxed and gracious banjo playing of Larry Scala. Like Napier, he understands melodic lines (while keeping a flexible rhythm going and using harmonies that add but never distract). Banjos in the wrong hands can scare some of us, but Larry is a real artist, and his sound is a pleasure to listen to. (You can find examples of his superb guitar work elsewhere on this blog.) And this post exists because of his generosity, for he has provided the source material, and Larry’s gift to us is a great one. Music to dance to; music to dream by.
I asked California jazz eminences for memories of Napier, and this is some of what people remembered. Bill was obviously A Character, but everyone I asked was eager to praise him, and you’ve heard why.
From Hal Smith: I was going through tapes in the archive of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. One tape had several of the bands which performed at the Clancy Hayes benefit at Earthquake McGoon’s in May of 1970. Napier led a band for the occasion. I heard him get onstage, walk to the mic and say “Here we are!” Then, a couple of seconds later, “Where ARE we?”
By the way, Bill’s real name was James William Asbury. I’m not sure how it got changed to “Bill Napier.” When he would tell stories about his youth, or time in the Army, he always referred to himself as “little Jimmy Asbury.”
Bill told me about the clarinetists he admired, including Jimmie Noone and Jimmy Dorsey. He also liked Albert Nicholas and went to hear him at Club Hangover in San Francisco. He asked to sit in, but was turned down. As he described it, “I asked Albert Nicholas if he needed any help and he said he didn’t think so.”
Bill was the original clarinetist with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band. He left the group following Jack Sohmer’s mean-spirited review of Schulz’s CD which was published in The Mississippi Rag. After that, whenever Schulz would ask if Bill was available to play a gig, Bill would say, “No. Jack Sohmer may be in the audience.” Before he left the Schulz band, we played a concert at Filoli Mansion outside San Francisco. M.C. Bud Spangler asked each musician to explain why they play music for a living. There was a wide range of responses, but Bill’s was the best: “Well, I have to pay my taxes!”
From Clint Baker: Bill Napier was a bit of a prodigy, as a teenager he was playing at the Dawn Club as part of a young band that was one of the substitute bands for the wartime Yerba Buena Jazz Band. By the late 40’s he was working with Wingy Manone in San Francisco. He went on to have a couple of stints with the Turk Murphy band and also with Bob Scobey, a band for which he was better suited for sure. He later worked with all the better bands around here; he was not all that interested in playing music on the road and kept close to home for the most part after the Fifties.
I encountered him many times when I was coming up. He was always the consummate sideman, and always played with great imagination; he had the most amazing tone, liquid would best describe his. But he NEVER ran out of ideas, he was a wellspring of original musical thought. If he did fall back on a device such as quote, it was always the most obtuse thing one could come up with.
Bill was one of the only players I ever played with who perfectly combined the elements of swing clarinet and New Orleans style clarinet; he all at once sounded like Goodman or Shaw or Simeon or Bigard. He was hip to all of it and could combine all of the musical DNA of those styles in to his own rich sound. I remember speaking with him about to old masters and he told Simeon was one of his main favorites. BUT he was truly his own man with the richest of musical imaginations. I was always honored to work with him, and wish I had had more chances, but the times I did, I cherish. You knew when you were on the bandstand with him you were in the presence of greatness. Bill was a master.
From Paul Mehling: I worked with him for nearly thirty years in a trio of bass, guitar, and clarinet, and he is on two of our CDs. He was very shy, quiet, and private. He loved his two (or more?) cats. He and his wife would take the two cats camping and one year when it was time to leave they couldn’t find one of their cats. They called and called but feared he’d been abducted or eaten so they drove home very sad. Next year, they went camping again, same spot/campground. Guess who showed up! They were overjoyed. He never really believed how much I loved his playing and all I aspired to at that time was to be GOOD ENOUGH TO SHINE HIS SHOES (musically). I used to try to get into his head during each song and try to give him the kind of rhythm that he’d be most comfortable with.
I was 18 when I first played a full gig with him, but I first met him at the Alameda County Fair when I was 16, long-haired, and didn’t know anything about music but had enough gumption to drag my acoustic guitar into the fairgrounds and find those guys- Lueder Ohlwein, banjo; maybe Ev Farey, trumpet; for sure Bob Mielke, trombone, was there and probably Bill Carrol on bass. They said Do you know any songs?” I said “Sure, whaddabout Avalon and I Got Rhythm,” and probably one other song. I played, they liked it, and a few years later Napier remembered me!
He and I bonded early on over comedy. He liked how often I quoted Groucho. We had a shared love for bad puns: Napier: “Let’s play the suspenders song.” Me: “ What song is that?” Napier: “It all depends on you.” Me: “What?” Napier : “It hold de pants on you.”
Napier: “You like to golf?” Me: “Uh, no. You?” Napier: “No, I never wanted to make my balls soar.”
We’d come up with all manner of re-titling songs to keep us from feeling bad about playing background music and getting almost zero love from “audiences.”
When the Bob Scobey band did a two-year stint in Chicago, Benny Goodman used to show up just to dig on Napier’s playing (which sounded like Goodman/Bigard/Noone!
One thing for sure: the guy never did NOT swing. Never. Even a song he didn’t know. In fact, and more curious was that I could throw all kinds of (gypsy) chord substitutions at him (I didn’t know any better, I thought that’s what jazz musicians did: reharmonize everything) and he never, EVER said “No” or so much as cast an evil eye in my direction. I think the years he played with Bill Erickson at Pier 23 were his favorite years. He didn’t speak much of Erickson, but I could just tell.
Oh, here’s the BEST story. I just remembered: we were at a swanky Sunday brunch on the Stanford Campus, near that big Stanford Mall with Bloomingdales and other stores. We would often try to engage diners by chatting and asking if they had a request. Most people wanted to hear something from CATS (ugh). Or they wanted to hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. So we went up to this table, and there’s a guy there, of a certain age. With an attractive woman half his age. One of us said, “What would you like to hear?” Man: “ I want to you to play “It Had To Be You” but not fast, about here- ….”(snaps his fingers indicating a medium slow tempo) Me, aside to Napier: “Why don’t you ask MR. CONDUCTOR what KEY he’d like to SING it in?” Napier, whispering to me: “I think MR. CONDUCTOR is MR. Getz.” Boy, did I feel stupid: Stan Getz, doing a residency at Stanford, one of Napier’s heroes.
Obviously, a man well-loved and well-remembered.
I have foregone the usual biography of Bill, preferring to concentrate on the music for its own sake. But here is a lovely detailed sketch of his life — unfortunately, it’s his obituary, and here is another week’s worth of rare music — Napier with bands — provided thanks to Dave Radlauer. There are more trio performances, also.
Two photographic treasures. The first, presented by Hugo Dusk, shows Fats Waller holding — not eating — an ice-cream cone. Hugo explains, “On the boardwalk in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where Fats Waller was appearing at the Old Orchard Pier 6th September 1941.”
It’s clearly a posed shot. The ice cream is untouched and not melting, perilously close to Fats’ sweater. The young lady behind the counter looks as if her smile is genuine, although we note her demurely folded hands. Was it not possible or desirable to show her handing “a Negro” anything? I should also note that this was a summer resort. The weather forecast for September 2017 at Old Orchard Beach has temperatures reaching 80, so the season was not over. Because of that, but we have Fats in less formal garb — but the creases on his shirt sleeves suggest that there is a temporarily discarded suit jacket just out of range.
To return for just a moment to the treacherous chronicle of race politics in 1941, this photograph was possible because Fats Waller was a star. True, a counter separates the two participants: they are not putting two straws into a malted, but stardom, at least for a newspaper photograph, allowed a man of color certain privileges. There is no FOR COLORED ONLY sign here, and we are led to assume, for a moment, that people of all races could come to Old Orchard Beach and enjoy themselves. I hope it was true. But I wonder that what looks like the main street of this resort was The White Way.
And the appropriate soundtrack, free from race hatreds:
The second photograph, still for sale on eBay for $375, comes from the collection of Cleveland, Ohio, native Nat Singerman, whose brother Harvey was the photographer (see the comments section for clarification). Hereis the link. It is a candid shot of three members of Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, standing outside their (unheated) tour bus: string bassist Arvell Shaw, clarinetist Barney Bigard, and drummer Sidney Catlett. Sidney was with the band 1947-1949, so we know the time frame, although my assigning the location to Cleveland is only a guess.
The poses are unrehearsed: Arvell is buttoning or unbuttoning his topcoat; Barney leans back with an inscrutable expression beneath his beautiful hat; Sidney is caught in mid-sentence and mid-gesture, possibly speaking to Nat or to someone on the bus. The eBay seller annotates his prize, “Unusual photograph of jazz greats . . . signed in white ink over the image by Bigard and Shaw. 10 x 8 inches. Tape remnants along the left edge, else fine. From the collection of Nat Singerman, a professional photographer and co-owner of Character Arts Photo Studio in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1940’s and 1950’s. During this period he met and befriended many jazz legends who performed at clubs in and around Cleveland and Chicago. He took many photographs of performances as well as numerous candid shots taken backstage. He also hosted jam sessions and dinners at his studio where other images from the archive were shot.”
However, in September 2013, The New York Times ran color shots of Billie Holiday and identified the photographer as Nat Singerman, earning these responses on a jazz blog:
These are indeed, wonderful photographs. Unfortunately, the photographer has been misidentified. They were taken by Nat’s brother, Harvey Singerman, and my own grandmother, Elaine Pinzone, both of whom worked at Character Arts Studio in Cleveland, Ohio. Arrangements are currently being made with The New York Times to correct the mistake.
and the next day, Ms. Garner continued:
I would very much appreciate you removing his name while we negotiate with The Times to correct this travesty.
Ms. Garner continued — on her own blog — to vehemently state that Nat took none of the photos and had stolen credit from Harvey and Elaine (the latter, 1914-1976, if the Social Security records are correct).
I can’t delve deeper into that: however, from the signatures on the photograph, it’s clear that Nat brought the developed photograph to wherever Arvell and Barney were playing, and asked them to autograph it to him. I suspect that the musicians would not have said, “Hey, Nat! Where are Harvey and Elaine?”
But back to my chosen subject.
It would be very easy to draw from this photograph a moral about those same race relations: if you were African-American but not a star in Fats Waller’s league, there might be few places that would serve you dinner. I imagine Sidney being turned away from a restaurant — even in Cleveland, Ohio — because of his skin color. Or that he could buy food from the kitchen but couldn’t eat it there. But other interpretations must be considered.
After Sidney’s death, a number of musicians (Louis and the bassist John Simmons come to mind) spoke of how he was often late — having too good a time — so that might explain why he is the only one in the photograph who appears to not have eaten. Too, the All-Stars covered many miles between gigs on that bus, so the road manager, “Frenchy,” might have said, “You have ten minutes to get some food, and if you’re not back, the _______ bus is leaving without you.”
A mystery too large to solve, especially at this distance in time. I hope the dinner in Sidney’s covered dish was memorable, just as I hope that Fats got to enjoy his ice cream before it melted.
In honor of those hopes, the appropriate soundtrack here (could it be otherwise?) is the blues from the Armstrong All-Stars’ concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall, featuring Sidney and called STEAK FACE. (Of course, for those in the know, that sobriquet refers to “General,” Louis’ Boston terrier, not Sid.) You’ll hear Sidney, Barney, Arvell, Louis, Dick Cary, and Jack Teagarden:
Thanks to David Fletcher, who, whether he knows it or not, has encouraged me to dig into such questions with the energy of a terrier puppy destroying a couch.