(A note to readers: if any member of the Woke-Jazz-Patrol is offended by my use of the “D” word, please note it is historically accurate here — this band is announced as playing “Dixieland” by Nat Hentoff, a most energetic spokesman for all kinds of humane equality. So please fuss elsewhere. You’ll miss out on some good music while you’re fussing.)
The greatest artists are often most adaptable to circumstances, while remaining themselves. No working musician I know can afford much aesthetic snobbery, so if Monday you are playing with your working band, and Tuesday is a Balkan wedding, and Wednesday an outdoor cocktail party . . . the checks or cash still work the same.
Roy Haynes, born March 13, 1925 — thus 96 this year — began his recording career with Luis Russell’s big band in 1945 and played many sessions as the chosen drummer for Lester Young, Bud Powell, and Charlie Parker. I don’t think we expect to find him soloing on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. Yet he does.
What we have here is a half-hour broadcast from George Wein’s “Storyville” club in Boston, on February 22, 1952 — young Mister Haynes was not yet 26. The band is George Wein, piano; John Field, string bass; “an anonymous drummer’; George Brunis, the guest star; Ruby Braff, cornet; Al Drootin, clarinet.
Musically, this may take time to get used to: Brunis shows off, musically and comically, overshadowing the band at first. I don’t know if Roy was filling in for Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin — for the week or for the broadcast? Brunis fully identifies him at 16:52. Hentoff tells the story that just before the broadcast, Brunis told him, for reasons he explains on the air, “Turn the name around,” so he is announced as “Egroeg Sinurb,” not easy to do on the spot.
The repertoire is standard, but the band enters into it with vigor, as does Roy. TIN ROOF BLUES (intro, Hentoff, m.c.) / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (Haynes solo) / UGLY CHILD (Brunis, vocal) / HIGH SOCIETY / TIN ROOF BLUES //
Lively music, and no one cares what name it’s called. No doubt it was just a gig, but it sounds like a fun one. And how nice it is that both George Wein (born October 3, 1925) and Roy are still with us.
Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews. I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long. It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.
Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).
Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him. The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:
Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:
and a brief coda:
More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .
Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Willis Conover, late Forties: photograph by Norm Robbins. Photograph courtesy University of North Texas Music Library, Willis Conover Collection.
Once upon a time, what we like to call “jazz” was divided into warring factions. Divided, that is, by journalists. Musicians didn’t care for the names or care about them; they liked to play and sing with people whose artistry made them feel good. And gigs were gigs, which is still true. So if you were, let us say, Buck Clayton, and you could work with Buddy Tate playing swing standards and blues, or rhythm and blues, that was fine, but playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE with Tony Parenti was just as good, as was playing NOW’S THE TIME with Charlie Parker.
But this was not exciting journalism. So dear friends Jimmy McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie were asked to pose for a photograph as if they were enemies, and people like Hughes Panassie, Leonard Feather, Rudi Blesh, and Barry Ulanov fought the specious fight in print. Even some musicians caught the fever and feuded in public, but perhaps that was jealousy about attention and money rather than musical taste.
One positive effect was that musical “battles” drew crowds, which musicians and promoters both liked.
Since every moment of Charlie Parker’s life seems to have been documented (the same for Bix Beiderbecke, by the way) we know that he played a concert in Washington, D.C.’s Washington [or Music?] Hall on May 23, 1948; that the masters of ceremonies were Willis Conover and Jackson Lowe, and that the collective personnel was Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, Wild Bill Davison, Joe Sullivan, Sir Charles Thompson, George Wettling, Tony Parenti, Earl Swope, Benny Morton, Charlie Walp, Sid Weiss, Ben Lary, Mert Oliver, Sam Krupit, Joe Theimer, Arthur Phipps. We know that the concert began at 2:30 PM, and — best of all — that private acetate recordings exist. A portion of the concert, heavily weighted towards “modernism,” appeared on the CD above, on Uptown Records, and copies of that disc are still available on eBay and elsewhere.
Details from Peter Losin’s lovely detailed Charlie Parker site here and here.
But for those of us who hadn’t bought the Uptown disc, there it might remain. However, through the kindness and diligence of Maristella Feustle of the University of North Texas Digital Library, excavating recordings in the Willis Conover collection, we now have twenty-seven minutes of music — some of it unheard except by those who were at the concert. There’s the closing C JAM BLUES / a partial RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, talk, and a partial SQUEEZE ME / S’WONDERFUL / TINY’S BLUES / TINY’S BLUES (continued). Yes, we have no Charlie Parker here . . . but a great deal of lively fine music. (Do I hear Eddie Condon’s voice in this or do I dream?).
But wait! There’s more. My dear friend Sonny McGown sent me a photograph I’d never seen before, from a similar concert of the same vintage, at the National Press Club, with this description: “Your email this morning reminded me of a photo that belonged to my father. He is in the picture with his head visible just above the bell of the trombonist on the far left. Some of the musicians’ identities are obvious such as Jimmy Archey, Wild Bill Davison, Ben Webster, and George Wettling. The rest are unknown to me. I wonder if the trumpet at the microphone is Frankie Newton? The clarinetist looks a bit like Albert Nicholas. It is quite possible that some of the fellows are locals.” [Note: in an earlier version of this post, I had assumed that the photograph and the concert tape were connected: they aren’t. Enthusiasm over accuracy.]
My eyes and ears were ringing while I stared at this gathering. I couldn’t identify the others in the photograph, but did not think the tall trumpeter in the middle was Newton. (And Sonny’s father, Mac, was a spectator, not a player.) Sonny then found two more photographs from the concert that we hear the music — their source being Maggie Condon, which would place Eddie there, logically, as well.
Tony Parenti, George Wettling, Wild Bill Davison, either Sid Weiss or Jack Lesberg, Bennie (the spelling he preferred) Morton:
Joe Sullivan, happy as a human can be:
This photograph popped up online, labeled “Washington Press Club,” but I wonder if it is from the same occasion. Even if it isn’t, it’s always a pleasure to portray these sometimes-ignored majesties:
Now, might I suggest two things. One, that JAZZ LIVES readers go back and listen to this almost half-hour of joys here— giving thanks to the University of North Texas Digital Library at the same time — for instance, the five-hour interview Louis gave to Conover on July 13, 1956, which starts here, and ten years later, something astonishing, Louis playing COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN and singing “This is the Voice of America,” the former of which I would like as a ringtone: here.
Still hungry for sounds? A January 31, 1956, interview with Eddie Condon here; a brief 1946 interview with Duke Ellington where he seems to say nothing about the death of Tricky Sam Nanton — the music section begins with Ellington’s BLUE ABANDON, which contains a stunning solo by Oscar Pettiford, which is then followed by lovely records by Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Kenton: here.
There are many more gems in the University of North Texas Music Library, which seems better than any ancient debate about the merits of different kinds of jazz. There is music to listen to and photographs to stare at . . . and gratitude to express, nor only to the musicians and Mr. Conover, but to Ms. Feustle and Mr. McGown. Those who keep the archives tidy and share their gifts are our lasting friends.
Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:
I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.
But I must start with a small odd anecdote. Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it. It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison. I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.” Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea. Cue rueful laughter.
Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by extension, the recordings in this box set.
Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries. One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her. The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string. True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle. But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable. Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.
His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid. But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero. I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues. And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.
Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography. From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance. There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.) Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises. I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.
He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps. Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week. In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered. I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to. I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art. They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.
The music impresses and moves me on several levels. One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic. Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole. There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical. The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues. The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part. The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type. Check the Mosaic discography.
In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another. Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane. The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.
The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record. Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions. What more could one create within this form? How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?
Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so. But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.
I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear. Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs. When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations. However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.
I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise. Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards. So I won’t belabor that point here. If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do. But I will leave that to others to argue.
I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over. And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research. And the photographs. And the splendid transfers. I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.
For more information, go here— either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available. Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box? Is it a good value? I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds. Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.
And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.
We know “curious” as being eager to learn or know something, but the less well-known definition is unusual, rare, unexpected.
Photograph by Jennie Karpadai
The inventive jazz pianist and composer Jinjoo Yoois both of these things, qualities sweetly embodied in her debut CD, I’M CURIOUS, a trio session with Neal Miner and Jimmy Wormworth on Gut String Records. And if you think you’ve heard and seen her before, you are correct: I wrote admiringly of her at the end of February 2018 here.
The disc offers six of Jinjoo’s originals, and although I ordinarily view “originals” with some trepidation, I welcomed hers and wish that a full-scale CD is coming soon.
Her music is unhackneyed, melodic, welcoming. She spins out long graceful lines that aren’t four-bar modules copied from other pianists. She has her own voice, or I should say, “voices.” The performances often begin with a simple melodic motif set over a clear, swinging rhythmic foundation . . . and they transparently show off her curiosity.
I can hear her asking of the music, “Notes, chords, where will you take me?” And the results are gently playful, as if she were turning over brightly-colored bits of melody and harmony in the sunlight to see what reflections they cast on the while wall. She can be tender, ruminative, but she can also create vivid joyous dances: songs that call out for lyrics.
Her playing is spare but I never felt it to be sparse, the sonic equivalent of a large room with one canvas chair against the wall. No, her single notes seem just right — percussive commentary when needed, lyrical otherwise, and her harmonies are lovely, neither formulaic nor jarring. Her voicings are subtle but right: the listener isn’t overpowered by force or volume, but welcomed in. And she works wonderfully with the stellar members of this trio. It’s music that will deeply reward those steeped in the modern piano tradition, but music one could play for someone outside the circle who would find it refreshing. It’s clear that she has steeped herself in the jazz tradition — reaching far and wide to include bebop, Jimmy Rowles, Ellington, Monk, and American popular song at its best — but she is herself. And she has an essential sense of humor: even her most pensive moments have an airy quality.
The titles are: BLULLABY, DIZZY BLOSSOM, I’M CURIOUS, AND I CALL IT HOME, TO BARRY WITH LOVE, BLULLABY (alternate take).
Jinjoo writes, “I owe my inspiration to the blue morning light sneaking in through my window (Track 1, 6), A bird singing, and flower petals floating in the air during springtime (Track 2), Fantasies created by desire and curiosity (Track 3), Teymur Hajiyev’s film about the reality of life in the slums of Azerbaijan <Shanghai, Baku> (Track 4), My hero, my teacher, the one and only Barry Harris (Track 5).”
I predict a bright future for this sensitive, intuitive artist — both as pianist and composer. You can learn more about I’M CURIOUS and other Gut String Records releases here. I encourage you to do so: these CDs don’t always get the press barrage their contents deserve, but they are rewarding in music and sound.
Here’s Neal’s video of BLULLABY, from the recording session:
and TO BARRY, WITH LOVE:
Welcome, Ms. Yoo! Consider yourself invited to stay. And thank you.
Our man in jazz Dan Morgenstern has always distinguished himself by his happy ability to hear good things wherever he goes; his range is not limited by styles and schools. So it’s not surprising that he should be so fond of the “new music” that greeted him on his arrival in the United States in the second half of the Forties.
His recollections of Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, and Tadd Dameron are not only tributes to their music, but to their warm personalities.
First, a brief soundtrack: Dizzy’s 1945 recording of Tadd’s GOOD BAIT (with Don Byas, Trummy Young, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, and Shelly Manne):
and, from 1971, the same GOOD BAIT as performed by Moody and Al Cohn, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, Roy Brooks:
Then, Dan’s very affectionate portrait of Dizzy, which ends up in Corona, Queens, with a famished John Birks foraging for snacks at a friend’s house:
Intimately connected with Dizzy, James Moody, another joy-spreader:
And finally, the vastly influential Tadd Dameron:
This post is in honor of my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, who — like Dan — continues to spread joy.
Long-playing high fidelity turned into song by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler:
and performed here at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party(formerly known as the Allegheny Jazz Party) on September 10, 2015, by Howard Alden, guitar; Frank Tate, string bass; Ehud Asherie, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet.
“Mainstream” was the term invented by jazz critic Stanley Dance to describe this easy, uncluttered, floating kind of improvisation — a music that had carefully dismantled all the boundaries created by sectarian listeners and journalists to take a wide-ranging approach to jazz without ruling anything out if it drank deeply of melody, swing, and harmony. Hank Mobley and Buster Bailey could talk about reeds; Tommy Benford and Art Blakey could discuss calfskin versus plastic. You get the idea: a sweet world that no longer saw “Dixieland” and “bebop” as hostile antitheses.
Music of this free-breathing variety happens all the time in the places I frequent, but one of the most comfortable places for it is the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, which will happen again this September 15-18, 2016. Get in the Main Stream.
The wonderful pianist Hod O’Brien has fans worldwide, so at intervals I get polite emails from people far from me, asking, “Michael, any chance of our getting to see the second set with Hod and Ray Drummond from Mezzrow?” By popular demand, then . . .
And hereis the first set, complete with admiring and well-deserved prose.
Now, for the second. Notice Hod’s precise yet warm lyricism, and don’t ignore the beautiful spirit of Ray Drummond — what a gentle wise person and player.
IF I WERE A BELL:
THEME FOR ERNIE:
LULLABY OF THE LEAVES:
BLUES BY FIVE:
Hod has a new book out — a wonderful unaffected chronicle of his musical adventures — “Have Piano … Will Swing! Stories about the Jazz Life.” Here is an engaging article by David A. Maurer about Hod and the book. I’ll write more soon about the book, which I’m enjoying, but you can find a copy at Hod’s website.
Yes, “the Swing Era” was over by January 1954. But swing — as a concept easily and authentically realized — was not. (It is lively and possible today.)
I offer as evidence one of my favorite recordings, another gem — issued by who-knows-what “authority” on YouTube, SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES by the Sir Charles Thompson Quartet — from one of the sessions supervised by John Hammond for Vanguard Records. Sir Charles, who is still with us in his nineties (born March 21, 1918) was joined by three angelic presences of rhythm — three-quarters of the original Count Basie rhythm section, Jo Jones, drums; Walter Page, string bass; Freddie Green, guitar, for this exploration of Jimmy Mundy’s swing classic, more usually encountered as a big-band performance.
Jake Hanna, who not only knew everything that could be known about swing but embodied it, said (often), “Start swinging from the beginning!” and Charles does just that with his solo passage to begin the performance: a simple figure that is already the most effective dance music possible. Then the “rhythm men” join in, with more than fifteen years of experience from playing together night after night. One hears the shimmer of Jo’s brushes on the hi-hat, with the dry slap and slide of those brushes on the snare drum, the resonant strings of Walter and Freddie, all complementing the bright percussive sound of Charles at the piano:
It all seems simple — and it goes by so quickly — but lifetimes of expert work in the field of swing are quietly on display here. Note, for instance, how the overall sound changes at the bridge of the first chorus when Jo moves from his cymbal to the snare head, padding and patting away. When they turn the corner into the second chorus (which, for Charles, has been a straightforward chordal exposition of the simple melodic line) we hear what set Charles apart from the great forebears, Waller, Basie, Wilson, Tatum, Cole, Kyle — his intriguing single-note lines which have a greater harmonic freedom than one might initially expect. (Look at Charles’ discography and you see early work alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, Leo Parker.) Hear the bridge of the second chorus, and delight in Charles’ wonderful mixture of stride, Kansas City swing, and bebop: James P. Johnson meets Al Haig, perhaps. The Basie influence — paring everything down to its most flowing essence — comes out more at the start of the third chorus, with the theme simplified for the greatest rhythmic effect, as if a trumpet section was playing these chords.
At this point I find it impossible to continue annotating because I am simply floating along on the music. But two things stand out. One is that all that I’ve described has taken around two minutes to be, to happen. That’s a rich concision, a conservation of energy. The other is Charles’ intentional use of space, to let us hear the three other players, who are — as they all know, not just subordinates but in some ways the Masters. Charles could certainly swing as a soloist but this is so much more fun.
There’s a brief nod to CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS at 3:04, but it’s just a nod: the pattern of joyous riffing on the opening and closing sections, alternating with single-line explorations on the bridge has been set. And I think — this is all surmise — that the four musicians did not spend more than a few minutes preparing. SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES is, except for the bridge, harmonically dense, so I can imagine Charles saying, “I’ll do four bars to start; you join in at two, and let’s do this as an ending — I’ll let you know how many choruses we want, and let’s do a take.” And I love the way the last chorus is an ornamented version of the first, with Jo returning to the hi-hat.
I think I first heard this record thanks to Ed Beach on his Sir Charles program: this might have been forty years ago. SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES remains at the very apex of glowing inexhaustible swing. It is so reassuring to know that it was created and we can hear it again — to soothe and uplift and remind us of what is indeed possible.
In one way, I think of having a book on the shelf with the most beautiful ode or short story, known and loved for decades, that we can always revisit simply by moving a few feet across the room. But I think the pleasure of SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES goes deeper, at least for me: it’s like waking up, seeing the sun, breathing the air, going to the kitchen faucet for a glass of cold water, feeling one’s needs filled.
Listen. Charles, Freddie, Walter, and Jo create a small universe of motion and joy that reminds us of the dancing universe around us.
Guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Glenn Crytzer has done something remarkable on his latest CD, UPTOWN JUMP. Rather than simply offer effective copies of known jazz recordings, he has created eighteen convincing evocations of a vanished time and place. So convincing are they, I believe, that if I were to play a track from another room to erudite hearers, they would believe they were hearing an unissued recording from 1943-46.
New York’s finest: Glenn, guitar, arranger, composer, vocals; Mike Davis, trumpet; Dan Levinson, soprano, alto, tenor saxophone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Jesse Gelber, piano; Andrew Hall, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums. Recorded this year at Peter Karl Studios (thanks, Peter, for the lively sound!)
Here’s one of Glenn’s originals on the CD, MISSOURI LOVES COMPANY, in performance — video by Voon Chew:
Of course there is explosively fine soloing on the CD — given this cast of characters, I’d expect nothing less. But what particularly impressed me is Glenn’s ability to evoke the subtleties of the period. I hear evocations of a particular time and place: let’s call it a Savoy Records session from 1944, with Emmett Berry, two or three saxophones (Ike Quebec, Eddie Barefield, Foots Thomas); a rocking rhythm section with allegiances to Basie, Pete Johnson, Tiny Grimes, Bass Robinson, Eddie Dougherty, Specs Powell. Then there’s his evocation of the incendiary blues playing that closes JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. And a whimsical post-1943 Fats Waller love song (WHAT DID I DO?) complete with the leader’s wry vocal.
A few more random and delighted listening notes.
UPTOWN JUMP begins with a wild clarinet – drum duet that I would have expected to hear on a V-Disc; NOT FAR TO FARGO has the grit of an Ike Quebec Blue Note side; IT’S ABOUT TIME (which begins with Kevin Dorn ticking off the eroding seconds) would be a perfect dance number for a Soundie, with a hilariously hip vocal by the composer. Mike Davis has been studying his Cootie (he gets an A+) on THE ROAD TO TALLAHASSEE, which has a delightful easy glide. SMOKIN’ THAT WEED is the reefer song — with falsetto vocal chorus effects — that every idiomatic CD or party needs. And Mike’s solo is full of those “modern” chords that were beginning to be part of the vocabulary in wartime. MRAH! shows Glenn’s affection for the possibilities of the John Kirby sound, which I celebrate. THAT ZOMBIE MUSIC depicts the illicit union of Kirby and Spike Jones. COULD THIS BE LOVE? is a winning hybrid — a rhythm ballad with winsome lyrics, voiced as if for a Johnny Guarneri session, with some of that Gillespie “Chinese music” stealing in. THE LENOX would get the dancers rocking at The Track. GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK is that antique cameo: the song to send the audience home with sweet memories.
If it sounds as if I had a wonderful time listening to this CD, you have been reading closely and wisely.
More reliable than time-travel; more trustworthy than visits to an alternate universe.
The nicest way to buy an artist’s CD is to put money in his / her hand at the gig, so here is the link to Glenn’s calendar . . . to catch up with him. But if you’re far away, this makes purchasing or downloading the music easy.
George Wettling, painter, c. 1948, by William Gottlieb
“Christmas greetings from Mr. and Mrs. George Wettling, via the December 1952 issue of PARK EAST, The Magazine of New York*.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE BOPMAS
It was originally called “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” and the illustrations here reproduced from the first edition show its vintage. This irreverent version for hipsters is recommended only for those who know and hold dear the earlier classic.
‘Twas the dim before Bopmas when all through the trap,
Not a goatee was moving — and who gave a rap?
The berets were hung by the jukebox with care
In big hopes that Daddy-O soon would be there.
The boppers were stashed real cool in their pads,
‘Cause Frustration and Frenzy didn’t bother those lads.
My queen in her scanties and I in my robe,
Had just fixed our wigs for a long winter’s load,
When out in the backyard I heard such a rumpus,
I thought all the saints had marched down to stump us.
Away for my horn-rims I flew like a jet
And latched on real crazy, like Macbeth at the Met.
When I dug that sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,
I thought I had flipped drinking whisky and beer.
With a little old hipster so jivey and mellow,
I knew in a minute it wasn’t Longfellow.
His eight tiny coursers were really insane,
And he whistled and shouted and called them by name.
Blow Jackson, blow Yardbird,
Blow Basie and Hackett,
Go Louie, Go Dizzy,
Go Big T and Jacquet.
Just blow up a storm — get all over the scale,
Now, blow away, blow away, really sway wail.
As long hairs that sight-read a Bartok will fly
When they meet Stravinsky, rise to the sky.
So up to the fil-mill the Hipsters they flew,
And really got righteous — and Daddy-O, too.
And then they were jiving and mellow and fine,
And snapping their caps on King Kong and wine.
As I drew in my fuse box and was turning around,
Down the chimney old Daddy-O went with a bound.
He looked like a mess from his head to his feet,
His drapes were all crummy, his toupee was beat.
A bundle he had to beat off his fears,
And he looked like a peddler just getting ten years.
His eyes, how they lit up — his dimples so crazy,
His cheeks like Four Roses,
His nose was a daisy
His dry little mouth was drawn up like a prune,
And the beard on his chin hummed a flatted-fifth tune.
The butt of a stogie held tight in his choppers,
And the smoke would have knocked over six dozen boppers.
He had a round face that was covered with hair,
And he really came on like a square at the fair.
He was big, round, and fat,
A right frantic old cat,
And I laughed like a fool as he stood on the mat.
He spoke not a word, he didn’t say nuttin’,
And I thought for a minute he’d sure lost his button.
And laying his index aside of his smeller,
And giving a nod, went down to the cellar.
He dug up his horn, to his boys gave a cue,
And away they all blew up the flew to see you.
But I heard him exclaim as he hit early bright,
Boppy Xmas to all, and to all a good nite.
* A word or two about “provenance.” I never knew the exquisite George Wettling to write poetry, but he did paint, so I am comfortable in assuming his talents did not stop with drumstick or paintbrush. I found this poem or parody stretching over two pages with the requisite antiquarian Christmas drawings pasted into drummer Walt Gifford’s scrapbook. I thought it a peerless piece of Americana and wanted to share it with JAZZ LIVES readers on Christmas Eve. Recently, however, I learned that it was also printed in the January 1957 issue of NUGGET, an early “men’s magazine,” so it is possible Mr. Wettling knew full well the axiom I heard in graduate school, “Waste nothing.” I can’t quite tell — at this distance — how much of this is affectionate spoof or barbed satire. Jazz scholars now often say that the war between the “Dixielanders” and the “beboppers” was created and fomented by journalists and publicists eager for copy, and we know that (let us say) that Louis and Dizzy and Jimmy McPartland were friends for years. Yet I also recall Lee Konitz saying on a radio interview that he found Louis’s BOPPENPOOF SONG so offensive that he couldn’t listen to Louis for years. I wonder whether George Wettling had become tired of being called “old-fashioned” and “corny” when his playing was neither. Musicians who lose work because they are told they are out of fashion might see mockery as fit revenge. Ultimately, all we can do is wish each other “Boppy Xmas,” no matter what musical variety we celebrate. And I send those wishes to anyone reading these words.
Dick Hyman was born on March 8, 1927, which makes him just shy of 87 1/2 years of age on August 9, 2014 performances at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland, California — part of Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summit, a generous tradition. Mr. Hyman remains a marvel of consistently surprising creative joy.
In 1936, these four men were the Modern Jazz Quartet. No, not John Lewis, Milt Jackson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay — but Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa. Forget for a moment all the ideological disdain to which Goodman has been subjected — as a successful Caucasian musician who made jazz a popular art form, as an idiosyncratic individual whose foibles have baffled and entertained many for years.
Rather, think of the enthralling effect of these records and performances had in 1936 (following logically on the Goodman Trio). How many houses were introduced to free-spirited small-group improvisation because of those Victor records? How many people, young and old, took up musical instruments or re-applied them to ones already known, because of the Quartet?
And — since we are always in danger of forgetting this — what prejudices and hatreds were gradually weakened by the knowledge that two of the admired musicians in the Quartet were “colored.” Could the race that produced Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton really be inferior?
For those who view jazz through the telescope of modernity, thus making the Quartet dusty and “harmonically and rhythmically limited,” Charlie Parker didn’t think so, and the home acetates of Bird improvising over the Goodman Trio and Quartet records of CHINA BOY and AVALON are evidence enough. It doesn’t require a great imaginative leap to hear echoes of the Goodman small groups in the “bebop revolution” less than a decade later: unison playing on variations on the theme, with fleet work by a reed soloist and a good deal of attention given to percussive counterpoint.
Consider all this as a prelude to a wonderful set of music performed at the 2014 San Diego Jazz Party by four players — international stars — honoring the Quartet. They are Antti Sarpila, clarinet; Rossano Sportiello, piano; John Cocuzzi, vibraphone; Ed Metz, drums. The repertoire was “standard” when the Quartet improvised on it, but it still has energy and freshness in 2014.
STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY:
THE MAN I LOVE:
TIME ON MY HANDS:
THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE:
All the virtues of the original Quartet are on display: its melodic inventiveness, its delightful witty interplay, its swinging rhythms, its indefatigable drive — but these four players honor rather than imitate, which is what the original Quartet did whenever they performed.
A quarter-century ago, in actual bookstores, I could find shelves devoted to books on jazz. That reassuring sight still exists (I saw it in the Strand in New York last week) but the great era of print publishing is, understandably, over. Thus it’s always a pleasure to encounter new books on jazz, and the two below are quite different but will both reward readers.
JAZZ BEAT: NOTES ON CLASSIC JAZZ, by Lew Shaw (AZtold Publishing) is a very amiable collection of profiles written by an admiring, long-time fan and former sportswriter.
What makes these brief affectionate portraits different from the norm is that all (except one) the musicians in this book are living. Not all of them are stars, but they have devoted followings — from the youthful Jonathan “Jazz” Russell, Pete and Will Anderson, Josh Duffee, Michael Kaeshammer, Ben Polcer, Molly Ryan, Bria Skonberg, Andy Schumm, Stephanie Trick, to the veterans Bill Allred, Jim Cullum, Bob Draga, Yve Evans, Chet Jeager, Flip Oakes, Bucky Pizzarelli, Richard Simon, Mike Vax, Pat Yankee, and Ed Polcer — the book’s inspiration, whose picture is on the cover.
Shaw also profiles other regulars on the festival circuit, Tom Rigney, the Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band, the Natural Gas Jazz Band, the New Black Eagles, Igor’s Jazz Cowboys.
His emphasis is on musicians exploring older jazz forms and repertoire, but the book is happily free from ideological bickering (with one exception, and the words aren’t the author’s*. The book is comfortable and easy: I sense that the musicians are delighted to find someone sympathetic, interested, willing to get the facts right for publication.
I was pleased to find a number of my jazz friends and heroes profiled, among them Clint Baker, Kevin Dorn, Banu Gibson, Nicki Parrott, Carl Sonny Leyland, Randy Reinhart, Hal Smith, Rossano Sportiello, and the late Mat Domber. I know I’ve left several people off this list, but readers will have fun seeing some of their favorites here.
Shaw’s method is simple: he establishes the musician’s place in the world of contemporary traditional jazz, constructs a brief biography — a story rather than a collection of dates and a listing of names and places. Some comments from a writer or blogger offer different insights (I’m even quoted here a few times) and the musician speaks for him or herself. The result is a fast-moving collection of short pieces (somewhere between journalistic features and extensive liner notes) that capture their subjects’ personalities in only a few pages.
Shaw is frankly admiring — from a literate fan’s perspective. For instance (I picked this at random), the opening of his piece on Bob Draga: “Clarinetist Bob Draga is considered the consummate entertainer, having mastered the art of pleasing an audience with musical talent, classy appearance and entertaining repartee.” That’s Bob, to the life.
One particularly moving episode in this book is the profile of drummer Joe Ascione — and his life with multiple sclerosis since 1997. If Shaw had done nothing but allow Joe to speak for himself, JAZZ BEAT would still be well worth reading. Many fans come up to musicians at gigs, concerts, and festivals, and ask questions; it is reassuring to see that Lew Shaw has willingly shared his energies and research with us. The 211-page book is nicely produced with many black-and-white photographs, and copies can be ordered here.
*Chet Jaeger, of the Night Blooming Jazzmen, told Shaw about playing in a Disneyland marching band when Dizzy Gillespie was also performing there, and his reaction: “I decided I would attend and try to learn something about modern jazz, but I gave up after a few numbers. I always say that when I hit a bad note, everyone knows it’s a bad note. When Miles Davis hits a bad note, people will say, ‘Isn’t that creative.'”
Cary Ginell, author of a fine book on the Jazz Man Record Shop (reviewed here) and a rewarding biography of Cannonball Adderley (here) has produced another first-rate book in the same series: MR. B: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF BILLY ECKSTINE (Hal Leonard, 228+ pages). Ginell may turn out to be this generation’s model for jazz biography, for he doesn’t indulge in pathobiography (chronicling every time his subject is supposed to have left no tip for a waitperson or some other example of bad behavior) and he isn’t a secret Destroyer (appearing to write admiringly of the subject then deflating the Hero(ine) chapter after chapter).
His books are tidy, graceful, compact affairs — full of stories but never digressive, sticking to chronology but never mechanical.
Eckstine has been treated gingerly by the jazz community: yes, he was Earl Hines’ band vocalist, bringing the blues to a larger audience with JELLY, JELLY, then someone given credit for his “legendary” band featuring Dizzy, Bird, Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, and others . . . but once Eckstine comes to even greater prominence as an African-American balladeer (think of I APOLOGIZE), the jazz audience loses interest and the naughty word “commercialism” enters the dialogue.
Ginell doesn’t over-compensate, and he — unlike Mister B — doesn’t apologize, but he makes a serious case for Eckstine being one of the important figures in the slow struggle for White Americans to respect people of color.
One of Eckstine’s sons remembered, “Until the day he died, whenever he ordered a sandwich, he always separated the two pieces of bread and gently ran his fingers over the meat, because on a number of occasions while touring the South, they would send the band boy. . . to pick up food from a white restaurant. When they got the sandwiches, they would discover finely ground glass, or vermin feces mixed in with the tuna, chicken, egg, or potato salad.” We also learn about the repercussions of a LIFE magazine photograph where Eckstine was captured amidst young White female fans — a horrifying example of racist attitudes in 1950. Stories such as that are invaluable, and make a book both readable and memorable, no matter who its subject might be.
The band business was difficult even when the enemy wasn’t trying to poison you so directly; Ed Eckstein also recalled that the critic Leonard Feather subtly attacked his father’s band because Eckstine refused to record Feather’s compositions. Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie created a parody — sung to the tune STORMY WEATHER, with these lyrics:
I know why, we can’t get a gig on Friday night, / Leonard Feather / Keeps on makin’ it hard for me to keep this band together, / Talkin’ shit about us all the time . . .
We learn about the relationship between June Eckstine and the promising young Swedish clarinetist Stan Hasselgard; we learn of Eckstine’s close friendship with Dr. King, his devotion to his fans, his generosities. And as for Eckstine’s apparent “selling-out,” he had this to say, “Some creeps said I ‘forsook’ jazz in order to be commercial. So I saw one of these creeps, a jazz critic, and I said, ‘What are you, mad at me because I want to take care of my family? Is that what pisses you off? You want me to end up in a goddamn hotel room with a bottle of gin in my pocket and a needle in my arm, and let them discover me laying there? Then I’ll be immortal, I guess, to you . . . It ain’t going to work that way with me, man. I want to take care of my family and give them the things that I think they deserve.'”
And we learn that Eckstine’s last word was “Basie,” which should go some distance in supporting his deep feeling for jazz.
It’s an admirable book. Although nearly everyone who worked with Eckstine is dead, Ginell has had the cooperation of the singer’s family and friends; he has done thorough research without allowing minutiae to overwhelm the narrative, and the book moves along at a fine 4 / 4 pace. With rare photographs, as well.
Ginell’s work — and this series in general — is very fine, and these books fill needed spaces in jazz history. Who’s next?
Some listeners believe jazz can be seen as a series of grassy plots, each sealed off and protected an electrical fence. Thus, the Bad doesn’t infect the Good, the Impure is quarantined from the Truth.
“Old school” bands play GRANDPA’S SPELLS; “swing bands” play DICKIE’S DREAM; “modern” bands play “‘ROUND MIDNIGHT.”
This artifice was created and encouraged by writers, who believed that art could be conceptualized as a straight line, a flow chart, moving towards Progress or Decline. Pres begat Bird who begat Trane . . .
Most musicians I know smile wearily when confronted with these stifling divisions. They know that the distance between King Oliver and Bird doesn’t even exist. In the Forties and Fifties, players trooped into recording studios to make music under these pretenses: HOT MEETS COOL, SWING MEETS DIXIE, and DIXIELAND GOES MODERN (real titles for actual recording dates). But they knew that the names were simply journalistic devices to package music for consumers and to sell products: the music itself was not altered or harmed by the names.
Thirty and more years ago, I saw two discs in a used record store, by a French band I had never heard of, the ANACHRONIC JAZZ BAND.
From “anachronism,” I knew something interesting was happening, and even though my five years of French had eroded, I could figure out that this band was doing something deliciously unusual: playing “bop” and “modern” material in older styles — taking a Charlie Parker line and playing it in the style of a 1926 Jelly Roll Morton recording.
I bought the records in the spirit of “What could possibly go wrong?” — and they were immensely rewarding.
See for yourself in this 1977 performance of ANTHROPOLOGY:
First, you can’t miss the high good spirits here and the immense expertise: the Anachronics are deeply swinging and wonderfully precise but never stiff.
Second, the whole notion is hilariously wonderful, but not in the often mean-spirited way that comedy / parody / satire often operate (think of Chubby Jackson’s DIXIELAND STOMP, where “modern” musicians play “Dixieland” as a messy amateurish creation). And it is deeply inquisitive — asking questions of jazz and its “styles” — rather than presenting a production of KING LEAR where everyone wears jeans and speaks in rap cadences.
The Anachronics aren’t satirizing Dizzy and Bird, Morton and Henderson. Rather, their music is intensely witty play: “What would happen if we brought this composition into this world? How could we honor both of them and have a rousing good time while doing it?”
The AJB began in 1976 and rolled along to great acclaim until 1980. Although they apparently were based in the past, they were thrillingly original: no one was doing what they did! But this post isn’t a nostalgic look back at something rich and rare that is now gone.
I am delighted to write that there is a new AJB CD, just out, and it is a rich banquet of sounds, feeling, and ideas. Recorded in January 2013, it is called BACK IN TOWN — true enough!
The repertoire comes — initially — from Parker, Rollins, Shearing, Monk, Paul Desmond, Mingus, Chick Corea, Clyde Hart, Miles, Quincy Jones — with a few clever originals by AJB members. The dazzling musicians on this disc are Philippe Baudoin, piano; Marc Richard, clarinet / alto; Patrick Artero, trumpet; Pierre Guicquéro, trombone; André Villéger, clarinet / alto / tenor; Jean-François Bonnel, clarinet / C-melody; Daniel Huck, vocal, alto; François Fournet, banjo; Gérard Gervois, tuba; Sylvain Glévarec, drums; Göran Eriksson, recorder. (Arrangements by Baudoin, Richard, Artero.)
The soloing and ensemble work couldn’t be better, and each track is simultaneously a series of small delightful explosions and a revelation. More than “listening to a record,” I felt as if I were perusing a collection of short stories . . . art that reveals itself more and more, a matter of shadings and gleams, on each hearing.
It has become an invaluable disc for me, and I hope it is the first of many to come. See and hear for yourself: the Anachronic Jazz Band is truly back in town, and we are very grateful.
Here’s a sample of their recent work, captured by Jeff Guyot in July 2013: COOKIN’ THE FROG:
“Charlie Christian turns out to be–according to many of the historians–one of the generating forces of bebop, and certainly we knew that Charlie was very special and playing very beautifully. He and I were quite good friends . . . . I took Charlie down to the draft board and — now, I should tell you now, because he’s been gone for so many years, Charlie had virtually every disease in the world. I think I now have them, but he had them at a very young age. And they were kind of ugly. You know, tuberculosis, and syphillis, and God knows what else. And so we went down to the draft board. He asked me to come along with him, down at the Armory someplace. We went down there and I remember the doctor saying, ‘Well, Mr. Christian, is there any reason why you should not be drafted?’ Well, Charlie thought for a minute and said, ‘Well, I wear eyeglasses. I’ve never forgotten that . . . soon enough they found out there was no reason to draft him, but I loved that, thinking about wearing eyeglasses!”
“[Benny Goodman’s band] was a tremendous ensemble. I think Benny was a very, very fine band leader who was inarticulate. Words were not the thing. It was ‘do it again,’ and then he would demonstrate what phrasing he wanted for this or that part of the piece. He knew exactly what he wanted. It was very clear in his mind. He did not make it clear except by doing it again and doing it himself.
I remember one day I was in Chicago, and I had something to do — probably a girl to meet or something — in the afternoon. This was 8:30 in the morning when we were rehearsing, and [when] I looked at the clock it was noon; we’d been at it for three-and-a-half hours, maybe two or three pieces. And I said, ‘Benny, do you know when we’re going to wrap up this?’ Well, he was furious at me for the question. He said, ‘When something happens!’ Well, it’s a very good picture of him, you see. When something happens.”
Excerpts from Mel Powell’s oral histories (c. 1994): questions by Alex Cline. Reprinted by kind permission of Kati Powell.
And a little aural evidence: the 1941 CAPRICE XXIV PAGANINI, arranged by Skip Martin, with wonderful playing from Benny, Mel, Sidney Catlett, and George Berg:
Because I couldn’t resist, here’s the Goodman Sextet with Charlie, Count Basie, George Auld, Cootie Williams, Jo Jones . . . I FOUND A NEW BABY:
Rossano Sportiello, one of the most brilliant pianists (and one of the most genial of men) has put together a tribute to one of his idols, the late George Shearing. “The Smiling Piano” will take place at the Cafe Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street, New York City — for a two-week run, June 11-15 and 18-24, 2013. The trio features Frank Tate (bass, 11th-15th), Joel Forbes (bass, 18th-22nd) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), and the music begins at 8:45pm. For reservations: Tel. 212-744-1600.
If you’ve never been fortunate enough to hear the young Maestro play, let me remedy this immediately. Here he is, recorded in 2012 at a concert at Dominican University in San Rafael, California, playing O SOLE MIO / A TIME FOR LOVE / CHOPIN IN JAZZ:
That would convince anyone.
Here’s what Rossano has to say about Maestro Shearing:
A Smiling Piano is what I think of as soon as I listen to any George Shearing recordings, when I hear the most beautiful piano playing that makes everybody smile. His music is in tune with the way I felt since I became a professional performer at only 16. I felt I wanted to play music that could always be enjoyable and make people feel good.
When the possibility of performing at the Café Carlyle became real, I was asked to find a theme for the show, which would run for two weeks. Without any hesitation I came up with this idea. A tribute to George Shearing means a tribute to jazz piano in general. Early in his career his style was first inspired by Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, and Art Tatum. But Shearing soon became one the masters of that revolutionary music, be-bop. When he moved to New York City in 1946, Hank Jones and Errol Garner became his mentors and good friends and he absorbed their styles as well. Later he formed the George Shearing Quintet and the “Shearing Sound” became one of the inspirational elements for generations of musicians, and it still is.
A Shearing tribute is also naturally a tribute to “The Great American Song Book,” because he was one of its greatest interpreters and one of the most remarkable improvisers of all time — as well as a very prolific composer. Once he chose a song, he could improvise endless variations in any style: he could play a popular song and make it sound like Bach or Rachmaninoff or many others. He might start playing the second movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto and use it as an introduction to a ballad or the reverse! In the sixties he used to tour the USA playing classical concertos with local symphony orchestras in the first set of the show and bringing on his jazz quintet for the second half.
So stride piano, swing, be-bop, the Great American Song Book and classical music are the leading ingredients that will shape my tribute to George Shearing, pianist, composer, interpreter, and improviser.
I’ll be appearing with Dennis Mackrel on drums, Frank Tate on bass (the first week), and Joel Forbes on bass (the second week). In 1983, Count Basie personally selected Dennis Mackrel to join his band, known for having the finest rhythm section in jazz. Dennis has been a sideman of choice for scores of jazz greats. George Shearing himself said, “If I ever have a record date coming up that calls for a drummer and Dennis is not available, I’ll postpone the session. He’s that good.” Dennis is currently one of the greatest jazz drummers and arrangers as well as the Musical Director of The Count Basie Orchestra. Since the late 60’s, Frank Tate has been the sought-after accompanist for legendary musicians. Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Hank Jones, Dave McKenna, Wild Bill Davison, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Milt Jackson, Zoot Sims, and dozens of other jazz greats all have turned to Frank for his brilliant bass lines. Frank worked at the Cafè Carlyle every night with Bobby Short for the last 9 years of Bobby’s career until 2004. Joel Forbes, currently a member of the Harry Allen Quartet and the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet, is one of New York best bass players, well known for is incredibly rich acoustic sound.
Many of the most admired jazz improvisers don’t sit down and “compose” music on manuscript paper; rather, they invent new compositions on the spot while playing.
The reed master Matthias Seuffert is a heartening exception, and this set at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, “Forty Years of Jazz,” allowed him to show off more of his considerable talents. The premise was remarkable in itself: Matthias presented original compositions that evoked the first four decades of jazz and paid tribute to the great figures.
The set also displayed the marvelous professionalism of the players, for I suspect that some of them were seeing these scores for the second time in their lives. The music would have been more polished had there been several long rehearsals, but it exuberantly got to the heart of things.
The players are Matthias, reeds and a surprise vocal; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Martin Litton, piano; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Manu Hagmann, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums.
For Louis and Earl, circa 1928 — SATCHELMOUTH STRUT:
Mr. Beiderbecke, meet Mr. Trumbauer — TAKE A TRAM TO BIXVILLE:
For Fats Waller and his Rhythm — a special tribute to Mike Durham, the generous genius of the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, with a heartfelt vocal by Matthias — WHERE WOULD WE BE WITHOUT YOU?:
The one, the only Coleman Hawkins — FOR THE BEAN (or TO FATHER BEAN):
Ditto for Edward Kennedy Ellington — SOPHISTICATED EDDIE:
For BG, Teddy, and Gene — OPUS 5/6 or 7/8:
And a mid-Forties reconsideration of “I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA,” in which she definitely has a new outfit — VIRGINIA BOP:
Most of the music I hear on the jazz-party circuit stops at an invisible wall labeled 1945 or BEBOP, as if harmonic extensions and rhythmic shifts were a kind of influenza. Of course the musicians slip in and out of larger conceptions of improvised music all the time, but if they don’t announce to a traditionally-minded audience, “We’re now going to play something you won’t like,” no one notices.
And some more “modern” listeners dismiss anything that sounds “old” as “that corny shit,” which is equally sad. It is as if jazz was a small country, and crossing the border meant you couldn’t come in. Or as if there were Dixieland or avant-garde cooties. You get the idea.
Rigidity like this reminds me of children who burst into tears if the mustard is not on the hot dog in the appropriate way. At what point does one’s “comfort zone” become confining?
But it’s all MUSIC, and those who can hear more deeply than the surface find rewards they might not have expected.
Thus, when Messrs. Alden (guitar), Robinson (tenor saxophone), Burr (string bass), and Malichi (drums) embarked on a set of Bill Evans’ compositions at Jazz at Chautauqua, I was delighted. Not, mind you, because I am an Evans fan or conoisseur, particularly. But I thought, “I could hear something new — something not IF I HAD YOU — and I trust the four players on the stand are people who will lead me into beauty, whatever the name of the songs are.”
The music proves it. Yes, to some listeners in that audience, these four selections were unfamiliar, even angular — but they swung and the melodies were often sweet. Worth the trip, and worth suspending one’s anxious prejudices for some part of an hour. Hear for yourself.
TURN OUT THE STARS:
This post is dedicated to Bob Rusch, Stu Zimny, and my father, who would say to me, “How do you know that you won’t like it if you won’t even taste it?”
Sunday was the final official day of this year’s Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay, but it wasn’t a disappointment, even given the heights hit on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Impatient readers may scroll down to the bottom, although you’ll lose points on the final examination.
The first set of the day was especially ambitious — a history of jazz (at least the middle Twenties to the middle Forties) that was gleaming and inventive — because it didn’t traverse the ground from HIGH SOCIETY to ANTHROPOLOGY, but delineated the journey in seven original compositions and arrangements by Matthias Seuffert — one evoking the Hot Five, another Bix and Tram, tributes and sly homages to Basie and Hawkins, to Ellington and a Goodman small group . . . ending up with Matthias’ brilliant rewriting of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA as a 1945 boppish small group. I hope the startling swerve into Modernism upset no one: it kept me enthralled.
An hour-long consideration of Louis, Bechet, and Clarence Williams followed — with strong playing and singing by Bent Persson, Jens Lingren, Thomas Winteler, and Cecile McLorin Salvant — in addition to a scorching two-reed extravagana (Stephane Gillot and Winteler) on CANDY LIPS.
Just as fine — although different — was Matthias Seuffert’s bow to Benny Carter, with Rene Hagmann on trumpet, Alistair Allan, trombone, and a rocking rhythm section of Richard Pite, Martin Litton, Henry Lemaire — with versions of BLUES IN MY HEART, DOOZY, WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW, BLUE INTERLUDE, SMACK, JUST A MOOD, and I’M IN THE MOOD FOR SWING. (My notes read “lovely” and “just perfect.”)
What could follow that? How about Bent Persson, Kristoffer Kompen, Michael McQuaid, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Spats Langham, Martin Litton, Nick Ward, and Rico Tomasso (vocal and trumpet) bringing us a superior version of the Armstrong – Hines Savoy Ballroom Five? The set began with FIREWORKS, which turned out to be truth in advertising. Then — just as good as much more rare — an hour spent with the music of King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators circa 1926 — including a riotous WA WA WA and a chart the band was seeing for the first time, SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT. Topping that was a genuinely exact and ecstatic reincarnation of the Halfway House Orchestra, with glorious playing from Andy Schumm, Michael McQuaid, Stephane Gillot, and Nick Ward — drumming as if possessed by the great spirits of savage grace.
Sunday concluded 9officially) with a stand-up-and-cheer 1937 Goodman concert with masterful playing, ensemble and solo . . . my room one story above was rocking!
After the Goodman tribute ended, sedate souls went to bed.
But I went to the Victory Pub for a jam session that began with Andy Schumm (now informally attired) romping through his favorite late-Twenties repoertoire . . . before friends came along: Rico Tomasso, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Thomas Winteler, Frans Sjostrom, Jens Lindgren, Josh Duffee, Malcolm Sked, Alistair Allan, Michael McQuaid, Matthias Seuffert, and other gifted roisterers. I needed my sleep but stayed there until two in the morning (and you will see some of the reason I couldn’t leave!). Extravagant creativity in near-darkness including sweet leisurely versions of TOPSY, MY MELANCHOLY BABY, AFTER YOU’VE GONE, I NEVER KNEW, ONCE IN A WHILE (the Hot Five version), I SAW STARS and LESTER LEAPS IN . . . Minton’s comes to Newcastle, as lit by Edward Hopper, recorded by Jerry Newman with a video camera.
Because of the “storm” or Hurricane Sandy, my flight to New York was cancelled. But I was given the chance to make the most sublime jazz lemonade. Paul Adams, of Lake Records, was creating a Vintage Recording Session with a Jazz-Age big band of Whitley Bay superstars: Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, Andy Schumm, Alistair Allan, Kristoffer Kompen, Stephane Gillot, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert, Michael McQuaid, Keith Nichols, Malcolm Sked, Spats Langham, Josh Duffee, and a guest appearance by Bent Persson. I couldn’t stay for the whole session, but I heard them play POTATO HEAD BLUES (with the Louis and Dodds solos scored for brass and reeds, respectively), JAZZNOCHRACY, AWFUL SAD, HOT AND BOTHERED, CHANT OF THE WEED, ONE MORE TIME, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, MANDY (MAKE UP YOUR MIND), WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THAT MEAN LOWDOWN (a Berlin tune introduced by Bing in the film REACHING FOR THE MOON), STAMPEDE, MY PRETTY GIRL, and they were part-way through MILENBERG JOYS when I had to leave to make a train . . . It will be a profoundly stirring recording — and the project needs subscribers. Paul and Linda were asking for jazz-lovers to become patrons at a minimum of thirty pounds apiece, for which they would get their names in the CD booklet and a copy of the CD itself. More information to come — but you can click fellside for details.
I will post videos from this year’s extravaganza in a week or so — but take it from me. The 2012 CJP was a sustained explosion of joy, and the 2013 promises to scrape the clouds — with appearances by Les Red Hot Reedwarmers (with Aurelie Tropez) and the Union Rhythm Kings (with Bent Persson, Frans Sojstrom, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Jacob Ullberger, Kristoffer Kompen, and others).
November 1-3, 2013. If you are able to attend and you don’t, you’ll have missed something very special. And if you don’t mind whispering a fact in your ears, the 2012 party was sold out. People had to be turned away.
Here’s something both sweet and hot from Friday, October 26 — part of a tribute to Lovie Austin enacted by Rene Hagmann, Jens Lindgren, Thomas Winteler, Martin Litton, Roly VEitch, and Josh Duffee:
And here’s a valuable lesson in swinging animal husbandry from a JElly Roll Morton tribute (featuring Enrico Tomasso, Kristoffer Kompen, Matthias Seuffert, Martin Litton, Malcolm Sked, Nick Ward, Michael McQuaid — BILLY GOAT STOMP — with the ordinarily quite evolved Nick doing the convincing animal imitations (and making the band laugh in the process):
And — the lovely sound you hear in those videos is in no small part because of the sensitive hard work of Chris and Veronica Perrin — who made sure the music sounded like music.
The trumpet master Joe Thomas, aplacid, reserved man, didn’t make as many recordings as he should have. But he played alongside the finest musicians: Jack Teagarden, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Herman Chittison, Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Joe Marsala, Buck Clayton, Teddy Wilson, Sidney Catlett, Edmond Hall, Art Tatum, Pete Brown, Claude Hopkins, Kenny Kersey, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Russell, Buddy Tate, Tony Scott, Dicky Wells, Oscar Pettiford, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Maxine Sullivan, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon. Harry Lim (of Keynote Records) was a special champion of Joe’s and featured him on many sessions.
Here is a 1945 recording — during the great flourishing of small independent jazz labels — on the Jamboree label, which issued perhaps twenty discs in all, most featuring Don Byas; one session under Horace Henderson’s name; another was the only session under Dave Tough’s name — featuring our Mr. Thomas. One of the Byas discs, recorded by Don, Joe, and the mighty rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri, Billy Taylor, and Cozy Cole, is JAMBOREE JUMP — a groovy 32-bar head arrangement:
My ears tell me that JUMP has a close relationship with STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, exceedingly familiar chord changes for that period. The line sounds at first simple, something out of a child’s scale exercise — but it turns more adventurous. There is a suggestion of a phrase we know from DIZZY ATMOSPHERE as well. Swing and Be-Bop were adjacent, simultaneous, rather than two epochs as the journalists wanted us to believe.
Byas swoops and hollers, evoking Ben, over that concisely effective rhythm section, with Guarneri offering his own synthesis of Waller and Basie over Taylor’s powerful bass and Cole’s restrained drums — their sound somewhat swallowed by the whoosh of the 78 surface, although his bass drum is a swing heartbeat.
The quartet glides for two minutes until Thomas announces himself with one of the upwards arpeggios he loved, a sea creature leaping gracefully through the ocean’s surface. His repeated notes never seem mechanical or over-emphatic: he just states he has arrived! Joe, as Whitney Balliett pointed out, had listened hard to the Louis of the Hot Seven period, although Joe always kept his cool. What follows might seem simple, undramatic for those anticipating the attack of an Eldridge or an Emmett Berry. But Joe knew how to structure a solo through space, to make his phrases ring by leaving breathing room between them. Like Bix or Basie, Joe embodied restraint while everyone around him was being urgent. His pure dark sound is as important as the notes he plays — or chooses to omit. Although his bridge is a leisurely series of upwards-moving arpeggios, it is more than “running changes.”
A simple phrase, in Thomas’s world, is a beautifully burnished object. And one phrase flows into another, so at the end of the solo, one has embraced a new melody, resonant in three dimensions, that wasn’t there before, full of shadings, deep and logically constructed. The band returns for the last statement of the theme, but it’s Joe’s solo I return to.
Louis, speaking about playing the trumpet, praised as the greatest good “tonation and phrasing.” Joe’s tone, dark and shining, makes the simple playing of a written line something to marvel at, and each of his notes seems a careful choice yet all is fresh, never by rote: someone speaking words that have become true because he has just discovered they are the right ones for the moment.
I offer JAMBOREE JUMP as prelude to something even more marvelous.
Harry Lim, the guiding genius of Keynote Records — which, session for session, was consistently rewarding — loved Joe and featured him often. The Pete Brown All-Star Quintet had a splendid rhythm section and the contrast between Joe’s stately sweetness and Pete’s lemony ebullience. IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN shows off not only the contrast between them, stylistically, but also in tempos — this 12″ 78 (another one of the independent labels’ of the time’s great ideas — thank Milt Gabler and Alfred Lion) contrasts sweeping elegance with double-time romping.
That song might well have been Joe’s choice. I was fortunate enough to see him in person a few times in the early Seventies, and he took this song as a kind of personal utterance. I don’t know if the lyrics meant something deep to him — he was happily married to the singer Babe Matthews for many years — or if he associated the song with some event or place in his past, but he played it and sang it as if he had composed it. And given Joe’s delight in the possibility of repeated notes in his soloing, TALK provides ample opportunities in its written melody. (Like DARN THAT DREAM, it is a song that — played mechanically — could grow wearisome quickly.)
Here’s the Keynote recording, beautifully annotated by its generous YouTube creator:
If you’ve heard little of pianist Kenny Kersey, his chiming, serious solo introduction is evidence that he is another unheard master.
Then Joe comes to the fore in a sorrowing embellishment of the theme. Hear his vibrato, his tone — without stating anything in melodramatic capital letters, he says, “What you are hearing is very serious to me. It comes from my heart.” Indeed, I think of the great later Louis of THAT’S FOR ME. Joe is somber and tender at once, lingering over a note here, adding a small ornamental flourish, as he does at the end of the first sixteen bars, almost in a casual whisper, his brass voice trailing away.
Around him, the elements are in place: the warm resonance of Milt’s notes; the gentle timekeeping of J.C. Heard; Kersey, pointing the way; the sweet understated agreements provided by Pete’s alto.
When Joe would sing TALK OF THE TOWN, he would get even more emphatic on the bridge. A song that begins, “I can’t show my face” already starts passionately, but the bridge is a drama of disappointment and betrayal: “We sent out invitations / To friends and relations / Announcing our wedding day. / Friends and relations gave congratulations. / How can you face them? / What can you say?” Here, Joe’s trumpet rises to depict this heartbreak without increasing his volume or adding more notes. The run that begins the second half of the bridge is Joe’s version of an early Thirties Louis phrase in sweet slow-motion.
Something startling comes next, and although I have known this recording for several decades, I can’t prepare myself for it: Pete Brown and the rhythm section go into double-time. Pete loved to push the beat, and perhaps the idea of playing TALK OF THE TOWN as an extended ballad seemed too much of a good thing. I also wonder if Pete knew that to follow Joe in the same fashion was not a good idea*. Whatever the reason, the spirit of Roy Eldridge playing BODY AND SOUL at double-time is in the room. Although Pete’s rough bouncy energy is initially startling, his bluesy vocalized tone is delightful, and the rhythm section digs in (Heard’s soft bass drum accents suggest Catlett). And there’s the SALT PEANUTS octave jump at the end of the bridge, too.
It’s left to Kersey to return everyone to the elegiac tempo set at the start, and he does it beautifully, although the section has to settle in. Joe returns, declamatory and delicate. Where many trumpeters of the period might have gone up for a high one, Joe repeats the title of the song as if to himself.
I have loved Joe Thomas’ work for forty-five years, having heard him first on an Ed Beach radio show with the Keynote SHE DIDN’T SAY YES and then on a Prestige-Swingville session led by Claude Hopkins and featuring Buddy Tate. His playing still moves me. Although his simple notes are not difficult to play on the trumpet, to play them as he does, to learn how to sing through metal tubing is a lifetime’s work. There were and are many compelling Louis-inspired trumpeters, and they all brought their own special joy. But there was only one Joe Thomas.
Thanks to SwingMan1937 for posting JAMBOREE JUMP and to sepiapanorama for IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN. These generous YouTube folks have excellent taste!
*About Pete Brown’s double-time section. I came across another YouTube presentation of IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN — Connee Boswell’s lovely 1933 reading with the Dorsey Brothers in an orchestra directed by Victor Young — and she lifts the tempo, too. Perhaps it was a swing convention when the song was first introduced? (The picture of the singer isn’t Connee but Jo Stafford, by the way.)
Perfect and hilarious. Hilariously perfect. They remind me of the wise capers of the Anachronic Jazz Band . . . also the brilliant epigram: TIME DOESN’T EXIST. CLOCKS EXIST. In this case, the distance between an “Oriental fox-trot” circa 1925 and the “radical” “Chinese music” of Dizzy Gillespie twenty years later doesn’t exist: the two musics are one, and aren’t we glad?
The imperial words from the Rois:
A small musical joke : “A Night In Tunisia”, composed by Dizzy Gillespie, is played by Les Rois Du Fox-Trot in the manner of an oriental fox-trot from the nineteen-twenties…
It was on May 12, 2012, in the village hall of Puget-sur-Durance, in the South of France, where this concert was organized by Michel Bastide (from the Hot Antic), Pierre Costantini and Mr.Sage, the mayor of this small village. Thanks to them.
A “musical joke” worthy of Haydn and Mozart, and John Birks Gillespie is laughing appreciatively somewhere, I know. We salute Les Rois! All hail!