No, JAZZ LIVES is not going away. Nor is there some crisis. Nor am I asking for money. However, I would like my viewers to devote themselves to what follows, which will take perhaps ten minutes.
That man is pianist Junior Mance, born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1928. Before he was twenty, he had begun recording with the stars we revere: Gene Ammons, Howard McGhee, Lester Young, Sonny Stitt, Dinah Washington, Clark Terry, Paul Gonsalves, Clifford Brown, Maynard Ferguson, Israel Crosby, Chubby Jackson, Art Blakey, Johnny Griffin, Cannonball Adderley, Sam Jones, Nat Adderley, Jimmy Cobb, Carmen McRae, Wilbur Ware, Bob Cranshaw, James Moody, Jimmy Cleveland, Bill Crow, Art Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie (he’s on the duet with Louis of UMBRELLA MAN), Leo Wright, Harry Lookofsky, Lockjaw Davis, Johnny Coles, Ray Crawford, Paul Chambers, Bennie Green, George Coleman, Eddie Jefferson, Louis Jordan, Irene Kral, Joe Williams, Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims, Ben Webster, Kenny Burrell, Mannie Klein, Shelley Manne, Etta Jones, Benny Carter, Jim Hall, Joe Newman, Milt Hinton, Richard Davis, Frank Wess, Wilbur Little, Jimmy Scott, Marion Williams, Les McCann, Dexter Gordon, George Duvivier, Carrie Smith, Ken Peplowski, Howard Alden, Milt Jackson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Houston Person, Joe Temperley, Benny Golson, Jay Leonhart, Jackie Williams, Andrew Hadro . . . and I know I’ve left two dozen people out.
Next, in the world of jazz, one would expect a tribute. Or an obituary. Or both.
But not a love story, which is what follows.
A few days ago, I was contacted by Sarit Work, co-producer of SUNSET AND THE MOCKINGBIRD, a not-yet-finished documentary about Junior and his wife, Gloria Clayborne Mance. They have created a Kickstarter to help them finish the documentary. The headline is “The love story of jazz legend Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne Mance. As he loses his identity to dementia she reckons with her own.”
Being a man (although this may not be typical of my gender) I have less ability to cope with illness than women I know. It’s terribly irrational, but I cringe at visiting people in hospitals, visiting the ailing, the dying . . . and so on. There must be a name for this — call it “testosterone terror”? — which makes people like me hide under the couch, if possible. Or in the car. And dementia is especially frightening, because I am closer to being a senior citizen than ever before. But Sarit was very politely persuasive, so I watched the trailer.
And it hit me right in the heart.
Junior has a hard time remembering, and he knows this. But he knows he loves Gloria. And Gloria, for her part, is a lighthouse beacon of steady strong love. It is not a film about forgetting who you are so much as it is a film about the power of devotion.
So I urge you — and “urge” is not a word I use often — to watch the trailer, and if you are moved, to help the project along. It will be a powerful film, and I think that helping this project is very serious good karma. Maybe it will protect us a few percent?
Hereis the link. Yes, the filmmakers need a substantial amount of money. But anything is possible. And, yes, I’ve already contributed. And from this day (or night) the filmmakers have only EIGHT days to raise the sum they need. So please help — in the name of jazz, in the name of love, or both. In my dictionary, the two are synonyms.
I’m always intrigued yet sometimes puzzled by the waves of interest in jazz figures that I can discern in the searchers who find this blog. I’m thrilled to know that somewhere, people yearn to know more about the obscure, “al drootin,” or “bernard addison.”
But often the curiosity (as tabulated by search engine visits) has been both odd and sad. It feels as if unknown people want badly to put large figures into tiny labeled boxes.
I note with discomfort the morbidly voyeuristic fascination with Billie Holiday unrelated to her music, as documented in many inquiries about her last husband, Louis McKay, about heroin (some searchers have gotten the threads tangled and search for “ella fitzgerald heroin death”), as well as “billy holiday nude” and “how much did billie holiday weigh,” which I find both inexplicable and painful.
More recently, I’ve noted a consistent fascination with Jo Jones. That in itself would cheer me up, but it seems to grow out of one legend connecting Jo — disdainful, furious — with a youthful and unprepared Charlie Parker. I wrote about that incident in 2011 here. (Do people still take Clint Eastwood’s BIRD, where this incident is a repeated narrative thread, as an accurate historical record?)
I saw and heard Jo Jones often in person between 1971 and 1982, and although he was not a predictable individual, what I remember about him is more than the potential for violence, as I have written here.
Jazz enthusiasts and makers of myth apparently need to simplify; they take pleasure in flattening out complex individuals into single iconic gestures, as if making plastic action figures out of them. I imagine a series of dolls sold at giant toy store. Buy them. Trade them. Collect the set! Here’s Billie Holiday with a needle in her arm or knocked to the ground by her man. A plastic Louis Armstrong grins and sweats. In another box, Miles Davis scorns the audience. Count Basie strikes a single note. Duke Ellington, in an electric-blue suit, woos a woman.
And now, Jo Jones imperiously humiliating Charlie Parker — complete with tiny gold cymbal flying through the air as if to decapitate the boy who has presumed to enter the world of men.
The Jo Jones I experienced was part mannered exhibitionist, a complete commedia dell’arte troupe in himself, grinning, gesticulating, insisting on playing eleven-minute solo spectacles, demanding our sustained attention.
And then there was the unpredictable deity who commanded the ocean, summoning cosmic rhythms. His outward appearance — someone you could see on the subway, the compact balding man wearing short trousers that revealed white socks — was only a guise put on so that he could pass among mortals.
Hear him with his peers Emmett Berry, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Freddie Green, Walter Page, and that same Count, playing SHOE SHINE BOY:
The sounds Jo creates — I use the present tense intentionally — will outlast any concocted myths, searchers and search engines.
And if future cosmologists discover that the Basie rhythm section was and is really the music that animates the universe, it would explain the durability of this cosmos that some people have tried so hard to destroy.
This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges. For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.
Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams. On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge. He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.
Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer. But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.
Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.
But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music. (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)
His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears. On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.
Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:
Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.
Let’s see. How many jazz musicians / singers do you know who have performed and recorded with Norah Jones, Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective (and the Big 72), the Grove Street Stompers, Blue’s Clues, J.C. Hopkins, Willie Martinez, the Pre-War Ponies, and more?
Let’s complicate matters. Make this imaginary personage a singer, trombonist, ukulele virtuoso, composer . . . give up?
Why, it’s Mississippi-born J. Walter Hawkes, someone who raises the spirits of the band and the audience by just walking into the club. I first heard JWH at the Cajun in late 2004 and have delighted in his playing and singing since then.
I knew him primarily as a profoundly moving singer — someone who combined down-home openheartedness with urban subtlety (imagine someone with a Southern flavor — sounding much like a local boy singing with the band, if that local boy knew all about Bing and Hot Lips Page and Buddy Holly). JWH believes what he sings, without any overlay of dramatization: his phrasing comes from the heart. (I was thrilled to be able to capture his slow, innocent-lascivious ROSE ROOM on video.)
And then he picked up his trombone, once again melding the two Greens, Bennie and Big, playing with force and delicacy, bringing hip harmonies into a traditional ensemble.
I’d never had the good luck to hear him show off his ukulele talents on a gig (although I’d seen him do this on YouTube) but JWH is now out in the open for all of us who haven’t yet had the pleasure — he’s recorded and released his first CD as a leader, something we’ve been waiting for. It comes in a brown wrapper — a recycled cardboard sleeve — but there’s nothing low-budget or ordinary about the music within.
And, yes, it is an indication of JWH’s sense of humor that it’s called UKE AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. The songs are COQUETTE / IF I LOVE AGAIN (taken at a rocking tempo) / UNDERNEATH A BROOKLYN MOON (a pretty original by J.C. Hopkins) / YOU AND THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC / SAY IT SIMPLE / BUY ME A BEER, MR. SHANE (not too difficult to unravel) / SUNDAY SUIT (THE GAY 90’s) / WHAT CAN I SAY, DEAR (AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY) / CRYIN’ FOR THE CAROLINES. JWH plays trombone, ukulele, and sings; the fine bassist Doug Largent adds his melodic self (and “Vectrex Dreams,” whatever it or they might be), and Andy Burns is heard on drums and vocals. “Skullduggery,” too. It’s a wonderfully rewarding disc — varied, heartfelt, comic, and tender. You can buy it direct from JWH on a gig (the best way, I think) for $12 or a cassette for $7.
I admire JWH and his work, if that isn’t made clear above — and I was eager to hear this disc. But I’ve been playing it over and over: good music to drive to work by, fine in headphones . . . an all-purpose musical offering. And there are clever overdubs, changes of mood — it’s a well-planned disc, so when it ends, you’ll say, “Give me more!”
Need proof? Here are JWH and Doug (with drummer Russ Meissner) performing the title tune live in May 2010:
I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club. Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.
The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands. Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings. What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity. I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.
Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying. For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other. So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly. This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case. And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below.
For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis. Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday. Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner. His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches. He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this. And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky. The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm. Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support. Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases. George Duvivier would approve. I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative. Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past.
This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military. I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor. Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare. Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless. Welcome back, Pete!
And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have. And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.
Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage. Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis. I hope so.
Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:
Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:
The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:
A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:
In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:
To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:
I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:
I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind. It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments. Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over. That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited. All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:
In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:
And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:
I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.
COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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