Tag Archives: Ben Cohen

“AFTER YOU’VE GONE”: BEN COHEN’S HOT SEVEN at BUDE, 2000

Ben Cohen Hot 7 at Bude 1998, courtesy of Alex Revell. L-R: Nick Ward, Terry McGrath, Alex Revell, Mick Clift, Ben Cohen, Geoff Over, Jon Penn.

I came very late to this particular party, but happily the party still rocks on in cyberspace.  Let me explain.  The searing yet also lyrical cornet player, singer, and bandleader Ben Cohen moved to another neighborhood in 2002, when he was 73.  I didn’t take notice of his work until last year, when I heard him on a record featuring the late clarinetist Pierre Atlan, which also starred Humphrey Lyttelton — but one side of the disc was a 1987 session showcasing Ben, whose KNEE DROPS astonished me with its hot fluency and mastery.  I regret that I can’t share this music, but the record is on eBay, like so much else (including two CDs featuring Ben, posthumously).

I contented myself with playing the record many times, then browsing through my shelves, where I found him appearing with Jean Francois Bonnel and Wally Fawkes, among other luminaries.  I looked in Tom Lord’s discography and found that Ben had recorded widely from 1950 to 2000, a very long time to be in one’s prime.

And there the matter would have remained, were it not for the gracious fellow who calls himself JazzVideoMike on YouTube — the link will lead you to his channel, where you will find yourself enchanted.  In real life, he answers to Mike Stevens.

I asked Mike to tell me something of his involvement with Ben, and Mike graciously wrote:

Ben Cohen played in Brian White’s Magna Jazz Band for many years right up to his passing. The Magna played weekly and from about 1990 I went weekly and got to know Ben. I started videoing jazz when I went to the French Quarter Festival in 1995 and bought my first camcorder on Canal Street. I then started going to the Bude and Keswick UK jazz festivals and making videos whenever possible, which I have continued right up to now.

I met Ben at these festivals and found that his style of playing with his Hot 5 & 7 was much more to my taste than his style with the Magna band. His early Louis style playing caused quite a stir, and admiration from many musicians. After 2000 Ben suffered several strokes, but he refused to stop playing and it was a more serious stroke which eventually brought him down.

Ben was a lovely man and greatly admired by many. [Sarah Spencer, below, says that Kenny Davern loved Ben.]  Brian White still says he was the best trumpeter he ever had in his bands. Ben and Alex Revell were the front line along with Chris Barber in his amateur band before Chris made it a full time professional band. Ben was an engineer with his own business and remained a part time musician throughout his career. Alex was a also a noted engineer and designer, and they played together again in Ben’s Hot 5 & 7. Jon Penn was the pianist, and Nick Ward the drummer, both now at Whitley Bay every year.

And here is Mike’s splendid video (let us praise the man behind the camera!) of a ninety-minute plus live session at the Bude Jazz Festival:

Now for a rare treat – a new Ben Cohen Hot Five Seven concert never before published – Launched in 1993, Ben’s Hot Five caused an immediate sensation at the Bude festival that year, since when they have starred at major festivals all over the country. 1994 saw the launch of an even more exciting Hot Seven. Ben Cohen, hailed by Humphrey Lyttleton as today’s finest trumpeter in the “early Louis” style, leads Alex Revell (clarinet), Mick Clift (trombone), Jon Penn (piano), Geoff Over (banjo), and they are joined in the Hot Seven by Terry McGarth (sousaphone), and Nick Ward (drums) with special guest Norman Field (reeds).

Ben Cohen is one of the legendary backroom boys of British Traditional Jazz. He first came to notice in Chris Barber’s amateur band in 1950. He based his style on that of early Louis Armstrong and over the years developed a reputation as a powerful lead player in any band he was in. He stuck religiously to playing the cornet rather than the trumpet and was only ever semi-professional throughout his career. Ben was a popular figure on the UK Jazz scene and for many years led his Armstrong inspired Hot 5.

A brief guided tour: YOU MADE ME LOVE YOU (Ben, vocal); PAPA DIP; GULLY LOW BLUES (Ben, vocal); EAST COAST TROT (featuring Alex and Norman); NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (Alex, vocal); TAKE YOUR PICK (featuring   Geoff Over); an interlude where the band removed their jackets; MABEL’S DREAM; WEARY BLUES; SOME OF THESE DAYS (Ben, vocal); WILLIE THE WEEPER (Geoff Cole, vocal); I CAN’T SAY (Alex and Norman); ONCE IN A WHILE; ROCKIN’ CHAIR (Ben, vocal); BIG FAT MA AND SKINNY PA (Alex, vocal); KNEE DROPS; AFTER YOU’VE GONE (closing theme).

The band is marvelous.  But I keep returning to Ben, who is — in the words of his friend and bandmate Sarah Spencer — “hot as heck.”

I am sorry that I never got to hear him in person, and — even more — tell him how much his music moves me.  But here is evidence of gorgeous nimble heat in the best Louis manner.  Thank you, Ben Cohen.

May your happiness increase!

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QUIETLY ACCOMPLISHED: CHRIS BARBER’S “JAZZ ME BLUES”

The biographies of jazz musicians often follow a predictable path, from Mother at the organ or Dad’s 78s, precocious talent, hours of rigorous training, encounters with older professionals, early gigs, and then success.  If the musician is stable and fortunate, the narrative quiets down to a series of gigs and concerts; if the subject is tragic, the pages darken: alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, auto accident, major illness, premature death.

The jazz eminences who have written autobiographies (excepting Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, although I am sure some readers will add to that list) have been the more fortunate ones, and their books depict elders looking back on friendships and triumphs.  Often the narrator is justly proud, and his / her singular personality is a strong consistent presence.

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber, born in 1930, continues to have a wonderful career — one that began with “traditional jazz” and stretched the definition to include different music incorporated into his own.  He’s played and recorded for more than sixty years with British jazz legends Ben Cohen, Ottilie Patterson, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, Pat Halcox, Lonnie Donegan, Monty Sunshine, Bruce Turner, Ian Wheeler, Beryl Bryden; with American stars Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Ray Nance, Albert Nicholas, Joe Darensbourg, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cecil Scott, Don Frye, Floyd Casey, Ed Allen, Sidney deParis, Hank Duncan, Wild Bill Davis, Russell Procope, Dr. John, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lewis and George Lewis, Clarence Williams, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Sam Theard, Jack Teagarden, Ornette Coleman, Scott LaFaro, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . . .so the reader who opens a Barber autobiography hopes for good stories.

But this long list of names isn’t all there is to JAZZ ME BLUES (written with the very capable help of Alyn Shipton . . . Barber says in his acknowledgments that they first talked about this book in 1982) — published this year by Equinox in their Popular Music History series.

Barber follows the usual chronological path from his early encounter with jazz to becoming an international eminence. However, it took me about thirty-five pages (the book is 172 long) to settle in to JAZZ ME BLUES because of his distinctive personality.

He isn’t forceful or self-absorbed, telling us of the wonderful thing he did next. Barber comes across as a quietly modest man who has no need for us to admire him. Chronicling his life, he is so placidly matter-of-fact that it might take readers by surprise. But once we do, the absence of self-congratulation is refreshing, as if we were introduced to a very talented person who had been brought up to think self-praise was vulgar.

An interval for music.  First, STEAMBOAT BILL and HIGH SOCIETY from the Fifties:

GOIN’ HOME BLUES from 2013:

Aside from its subject’s remarkably modest approach to his own life, JAZZ ME BLUES has two great pleasures.  One is Barber’s unwillingness to stay neatly in the style that had brought him success. Beginning in the Sixties, his band takes on different shadings while not abandoning the music he loves: he brings in electric guitarist John Slaughter, altoist Joe Harriott, organist Brian Auger; he works and records with blues and gospel legends; he plays extended compositions. Again, since Barber speaks about these events with polite restraint, one must estimate the emotional effect of being booed by British traditionalist fans who wanted “their” music to stay the same. Barber is not making changes to woo a larger audience or to stay in the public eye, but because he is genuinely interested in adding other flavorings to a familiar dish. He is a determined seeker, and he grows more intriguing in his quests.

The other pleasure I alluded to at the start, delightful first-hand anecdotes. Readers deprived of their own contact with their heroes always want to know what the great men and women were like, and JAZZ ME BLUES — although never mean-spirited in its quick sketches — is a banquet here. Not only do we hear about Sonny Boy Williamson and Zutty Singleton (the latter saying he is most happy in a band without a piano because pianists all “lose time”) but about Van Morrison, George Harrison (who likes the 1930 BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR) and colleagues Lennon and McCartney; we read of Howlin’ Wolf saying grace quietly and sweetly before a meal. Trumpeter Ed Allen tells Barber that he always used to learn the songs for Clarence Williams record dates in the taxi on the way to the studio.

And Barber has been in the right place at the right time. When he comes to America, he sits in at Condon’s. After an uneventful beginning, “. . . suddenly the rhythm section started to swing. I looked round and Eddie had picked up his guitar and joined in. From then on, with him there, every tempo was just right, and everything swung. His presence was subtle, but it made the world of difference. I knew what a fine player he could be, as, when the band had appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957. I’d gone along to their late night concert. The thing that sticks in my memory from that night was Eddie taking a half-chorus solo on a tune in the ballad medley. It was just perfect, and with the tuning of his four-string tenor guitar it had a very distinctive sound. It reminded me of Carmen Mastren, who was a true virtuoso.”

JAZZ ME BLUES is an engaging portrait of a continuing life in jazz (with rare photographs, a selective discography, and an index). It is available in North America exclusively through ISD ($34.95 hardcover): ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Suite 2, Bristol, CT 00610: orders@isdistribution.com.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ AGE PARENTS: HOT MUSIC FOR MARSHALL AND RUTH LORD, 1977

A number of small CD companies make available “historic” recordings of hot jazz — often with fabled players no longer with us.  One of the best of these companies is Dick Karner’s TradJazz Productions, and a particularly endearing CD issue (TJP 2145) is

THE CHARLESTON CHASERS 

(IN MEMORY OF RUTH AND MARSHALL LORD)

LORD PARTY 2

Son Jack Lord — banjo player and nominal leader of the ensemble captured here) tells the story:

“My mom was a real flapper. She and my dad met in high school, class of 1926. They loved jazz and were quite the dancers. They used to tell how everyone at a dance would stand in a circle around them and watch them do the Charleston (they especially liked to dance to Sweet Georgia Brown). Fast forward to 1953, and son Jack goes to Purdue and is introduced to a band called THE SALTY DOGS. After following them around for several years, I finally got the banjo chair. My folks were huge fans, never missing a Chicago job. So for their 50th anniversary in 1977, it seemed like a great idea to get as many of the old Dogs together and have a party at the Sabre Room where the band played many times in earlier days. Dick Karner drove up from Lafayette, and as luck would have it, Bob Rann and Leon Oakley were in Chicago from California for the Electronics Convention. The players from Chicago from the old days were Tom Bartlett, Frank Chace, and Jack Carrell. Much forgiveness is necessary for the quality of the recording as it was done on a little voice recorder. Intros are missed, tags are cut off, and to say the fidelity is poor is an understatement. However, I think it conveys the spirit of the evening with a very hot pick-up band.”

Jack was fortunate in his choice of parents, and having this band play for their party is a true expression of gratitude — not only for them, but for the generations in this century who can now hear the music. The personnel is Jack, banjo; Leon Oakley, cornet; Jack Carrell, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Bob Rann, tuba; Dick Karner, drums.  The songs (some misidentified on the cover) are TISHOMINGO BLUES / SHAKE THAT THING / TROUBLE IN MIND / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / BLACK AND BLUE / DOCTOR JAZZ / FRIENDLESS BLUES / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / CANAL STREET BLUES / SEE SEE RIDER / AFTER YOU’VE GONE / JELLY ROLL / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN.

Dick Karner adds a little bit to the story (as do the photographs by Reta Karner):

“Through the ‘50’s while we (Dogs) were in college, Mr. and Mrs. Lord were our hosts on all our weekend gigs in Chicago. Jack wanted to do something special for their 50th wedding anniv. They really loved the band, so Jack tried to round up as many of the ‘55 members (Dogs) as he could for a surprise party at the Sabre Room where we had played a lot. He partially succeeded with the exception of Jim Snyder, John Cooper, Bill Price, who were on other gigs the night in question. None of us had played together for years. Jack had a small portable cassette player he left on all evening. This was a fun time. We had a ball playing. A few months later Jack sent me a copy of the cassette tape. Sound was not very good, but I worked on it for a long time—used what was marginal at best, and we decided to go ahead and release the CD. Frank was outstanding and very relaxed in his solos as was Leon, Tom and the rest of us…even without a piano player. A true impromptu session of some great music and one hell-of-an-anniversary gift for Mr. and Mrs. Lord who loved it!”

LORD PARTY 1

Jack and Dick are correct but perhaps too severe in their assessment of the fidelity.  It’s far below official studio standards. What one hears in this slice of history is the party — from within the band.

And with no slight meant to the living members of this ad hoc gathering, any evidence of clarinetist Frank Chace in action is precious. I think none of the members of the band were (excepting Jack) particularly aware that a recorder was running, and certainly the partygoers do not sit in hushed silence, which leads to a particular kind of musical abandon. On a few occasions, a guest’s speech breaks in to the music (as happens in many live settings) — but in general, the recording is clear, the microphone placement effective.

I recommend it highly.  The level of inspiration is very high, and it is a true glimpse behind the scenes of hot jazz in action.  I wrote — during Frank’s lifetime, much to his pleasure, that one could learn so much about taking risks in solo playing and in ensemble work from any recording or performance of his, and THE CHARLESTON CHASERS is, in its own way, another graduate seminar in Chace — with thanks to Lord, Oakley, Bartlett, Rann, Carrell, and Karner, professors of Hot.

I miss Frank Chace, and this CD is both exciting evidence of what he did so often during his playing years and reason to feel that we lost someone rare.

The TradJazz Productions site is here — full of other clandestine and official marvels, featuring Kim Cusack, Bud Freeman, Hal Smith, the Salty Dogs, Bob Helm, Burt Bales, Birch Smith, Jim Snyder, Ben Cohen, Turk  Murphy, Lu Watters, the South Frisco Jazz Band, Gremoli, Ev Farey — and three dozen other luminaries — music you don’t see at your local record store these days.

May your happiness increase!