Tag Archives: Barney Josephson

SWEET, WITH A KICK: MARC CAPARONE, RAY SKJELBRED, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, Mov. 27, 2014)

Thirty years ago, I would have defined “rock and rye” musically — as a hot riff number written by Jimmy Mundy for the 1934 Earl Hines band.  Then I read a Whitney Balliett profile of Helen Humes, who was then appearing at The Cookery, Barney Josephson’s Greenwich Village Seventies evocation of Cafe Society.  In the profile, Josephson teases Humes that she has to have a drink of rock and rye, that he bought a whole case for her, and she had hardly had any. I filed that away in the cerebral spot reserved for Information You Find Fascinating But Will Never Have A Chance To Offer Because No One Else Really Is Interested In It.

At the November 2014 San Diego Jazz Fest, pianist-philosopher Ray Skjelbred — who admires Hines greatly and knew him in his later years — called the tune, and the other members of his ad hoc quartet fell right in.  They are Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.

Photograph by Todd Coleman for SAVEUR

Photograph by Todd Coleman for SAVEUR

But perhaps you’d like to fix yourself a drink before the music starts?  I learned that rock and rye was a cocktail in a bottle, a mixture of rye whiskey and rock candy (to take the edge off the whiskey) sometimes also served with lemon and herbs.  I imagine that it might have been not only delicious but necessary with Prohibition “rye” whose origins might have been dubious.

Here’s the band:

Even if you choose not to imbibe, the music will have the same elating effect.

May your happiness increase!

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MASTERS OF SOUND, 1943

On the surface, the two performances that follow are very simple, possibly hackneyed: a fast blues with a boogie-woogie underpinning and some Basie riffs at the end, followed by a slow blues.

But for those willing to listen deeply, these two familiar recordings are astonishing evidence of the vocalized sounds the great instrumental masters obtained through wood, metal, animal skins and taut strings.  The players worked for Barney Josephson at his Cafe Society Downtown and Uptown in 1943, and recorded these 12″78 sides for Milt Gabler of Commodore Records.  The label credits the Edmond Hall Sextet: Edmond Hall (clarinet), Emmett Berry (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Eddie Heywood (piano), Billy Taylor (double bass) and Big Sid Catlett (drums)

DOWNTOWN CAFE BOOGIE and UPTOWN CAFE BLUES are marvelous syntheses of the music of this century — and they seem vivid in ours as well.  In these performances, I hear country blues figures older than records, and Bessie Smith and the singers of the Twenties.  I hear Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page, the Sunset Cafe and the Reno Club, the piano figures of Cow Cow Davenport and sleek intensity of Charlie Christian.  And more.  Marvel!

May your happiness increase.

THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON, SEEN TWICE

Taken at a 1937 jam session at the Brunswick Studios, New York City, in celebration of the new label, Variety Records.  Newton is protected by George Wettling from the sounds of Mezz Mezzrow.  Knowing Mezz, we can guess that he is playing along while Newton solos, which might account for the expression on Newton’s face:

And ten years later, from October 1947 (the source is http://www.tedgoddard.com/) is this photo of Newton’s clearly integrated band — presumably taken in Boston, with Ted Goddard on tenor saxophone at the far right:

Any scrap of evidence showing us more of Newton is welcome.  I was delighted to find a Cafe Society program in Terry Trilling-Josephson’s book, CAFE SOCIETY — especially because the program was autographed by Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Eddie Barefield.  And a Newton signature also appears in the Bob Inman / Ken Vail SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK.  Can anyone identify the musicians in the picture above?  At one point Flip Phillips played clarinet with Newton, but in 1947, he was already a star.  Suggestions, anyone?

And I’m still looking for a printable copy of the photograph (late Forties or the early Fifties) of Newton by Weegee.  Newton is sitting in the basement of the apartment building of which he was the janitor, playing his trumpet next to the boiler.  It’s heartbreaking, a study of a man exiled from “the music business” but with so much to give us.

BARNEY JOSEPHSON, CAFE SOCIETY, and MORE

It’s a long time since I got so wrapped up in a book that I didn’t want to stop reading it — but CAFE SOCIETY: THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE RIGHT PEOPLE (Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson, Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009) is just that book.

Who was Barney Josephson (1902-88)?  If he hadn’t worked very hard to make his dreams become reality, we would only know him as a successful businessman: his specialty, stylish shoes. 

Happily for us, Barney had thoughts beyond Cuban or French heels: a yearning to run a nightclub in New York City, a keen sensitivity to talent, a hatred of social injustice.  And CAFE SOCIETY is the book his life and accomplishments deserve.  It could have been dull, academic, or third-hand.  But it’s a lively memoir of Barney’s life, taken from the tape recordings he made — he was a born raconteur — subtly annotated and expanded by his widow Terry Trilling-Josephson.  

CAFE SOCIETY (like the Downtown and Uptown nightclubs that had that name) is energetic, memorable, full of memorable anecdote and gossip.  Josephson was someone who had good instincts about what artists — musicians, comedians, or actors — whose work had substance.  He said he viewed himself as a “saloon impresario”: “I love it when people say that because I’m not more than that.  It’s the way I view myself.  In this business if you’re an ‘impresario,’ I say that with quotation marks around the word, you have a feeling.  You hear something, and you say, ‘This is it!’  You go ahead and you do it.  You don’t analyze.  You have to follow your hunches.”

Josephson had the good fortune to have John Hammond as his guide, instigator, and occasional arm-twister.  When Barney wanted to start a New York night club with music, it was Hammond who urged him to hire the three boogie-woogie pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis, the blues singer Big Joe Turner, and Billie Holiday. 

Cafe Society is remarkable for the improvisers who played there: Teddy Wilson with a band including Joe Thomas, Emmett Berry, or Bill Coleman; Benny Morton; Ed Hall or Jimmy Hamilton; Sidney Catlett.  Frank Newton with Sonny White, Kenneth Hollon, Tab Smith, Eddie Dougherty, Johnny Williams.  Ed Hall with Mouse Randolph and Henderson Chambers.  Ellis Larkins with Bill Coleman and Al Hall. 

Later on, at the Cookery, Teddy Wilson, Mary Lou Williams.  Josephson brought back Helen Humes and Alberta Hunter for successful late-life “comebacks.”  And it wasn’t simply jazz and popular songs: think of the Revuers (with Judy Holiday and Adolph Green), of Jack Gilford and Zero Mostel, of the now-forgotten Jimmy Savo, all given encouragement and room to develop by Josephson.   

But this isn’t purely a list of who-sang-what and how they were received, a collection of press clippings and schedules.  Josephson was a first-class storyteller with a remarkable memory, and the stories he remembered are priceless.  Nowhere else would I have learned that Emmett Berry, when trying to get someone to take a drink, would ask, “Will you have a drink of Doctor Berry’s rootin’ tootin’ oil?”  For me, that’s worth the price of the book.  Wonderful photographs, too. 

And the stories!

Billie Holiday, at first not knowing what to do with the lyrics of STRANGE FRUIT when they were handed to her, and showing her displeasure in the most effective non-verbal way when an audience annoyed her.

Zero Mostel, always onstage, making life difficult for the man trying to fit him for clothing.

Barney’s firing of Carol Channing and his missing a chance to hire Pearl Bailey.

Tallulah Bankhead complaining — at high volume — about what she’d encountered in the ladies’ room.

Teddy Wilson’s drinking problem, late in his career.

The dramatic entanglements of Hazel Scott and Adam Clayton Powell.

The amorous hopes of Joe Louis for Lena Horne.

Big Joe Turner and the magic bean.

Mildred Bailey’s religious beliefs.

 And there is a deep, serious undercurrent throughout: the difficulty of having an establishment where neither the bands nor the audiences were segregated, and the looming shadow of the House Un-American Activities Committee.  (Leon Josephson, Barney’s brother, was a particular target, which cast a shadow over Barney’s endeavors.)

Ultimately, the book is delightful for its stories (and the wonderful photographs) and the way Terry Trilling-Josephson has woven recollection and research together.  And the book is — on every page — the embodiment of Barney’s achievements and of the deep love he and Terry shared.  Not to be missed!