Tag Archives: Benny Goodman

“MUSIC THAT YOU DREAM ABOUT”: BENNY GOODMAN, BUDDY RICH, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JACK SIX (Merv Griffin Show, October 15, 1979)

About a year ago, I posted this video, one of those moments when commercial broadcast media and high art created something memorable together. It doesn’t need explication; for me, reverence is the most appropriate reaction.

Now, through the kindness of my friend Alessandro, I can share with you the complete audio of that encounter. The slight buzz suggests that it was recorded directly from someone’s television set, but the music is beyond compare. Grandpa could still play (!) and Rich, often accused of bluster behind the drum set, is a marvel of creative listening. For me, the delight comes from Rowles, that sly subversive one-man orchestra, with sets and costumes, going his own unexpected ways.

It was a “talk show,” so, first, a little chat:

Then, to the real business at hand, LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

A too-brief consideration of AS LONG AS I LIVE:

and that rare thing, an I GOT RHYTHM played for itself alone:

We must thank Merv Griffin for making room for this wondrous interlude, so precious then and now.

May your happiness increase!

THE WORLD BENNY CREATED: “The New York Jazz Repertory Company” featuring BOB WILBER, DICK HYMAN, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, GEORGE DUVIVIER, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN, JIMMY MAXWELL, EDDIE BERT, ARNIE LAWRENCE, BUDD JOHNSON, PEE WEE ERWIN, MIKE ZWERIN, NORRIS TURNEY, HAYWOOD HENRY, ERNIE ROYAL, DICK SUDHALTER, BRITT WOODMAN, PUG HORTON, GEORGE WEIN (La Grande Parade du Jazz, July 1979)

The imaginative types among us sometimes launch the idea of the music we know with a central figure removed from the landscape — a much-diminished alternative universe. What, we say, would our world have been like had young Louis Armstrong chosen to go into waste management? Imagine the musical-cultural landscape without Sinatra, Bing, Billie? Quickly, the mind at play comes to a stop, because such absences are so unimaginable that they serve to remind us of the power of these individuals long after they have left the neighborhood.

I’d like to add a name to that list — Benjamin David Goodman, born in Chicago. These days it seems that Benny, once the King of Swing, is either taken for granted so deeply that he is forgotten, or he is reviled for bad behavior. To the former, I can only point to our cultural memory loss: if it’s older than breakfast, we’ve forgotten its name, so hungry for new sensations we appear to be.

And to the latter, I see it as rooted in an unattractive personal envy. We can’t play the clarinet like Benny; we don’t appear on concert stages, radio, and television. (I exempt professional musicians, often underpaid and anonymous, from this: they have earned the right to tell stories.) This reminds some of us that all the bad things our classmates said of us in fourth grade still are valid. So some of us energetically delight in the Great Person’s failings, as if retelling the story of how he didn’t tip the waiter makes up for our inability to equal his artistic achievements, and the life of diligent effort that made them possible. Benny could behave unthinkingly, but we’ve all done that. If we understood our own need to tear down those larger than ourselves, perhaps we would refrain from doing it. Bluntly, feasting on the story of Benny putting on a sweater says much more about our collective insecurities than about his obliviousness. But enough of that: we have beautiful music to savor here.

I don’t know if the New York Jazz Repertory Company, such a wonderful enterprise in the 1970s and onwards, was George Wein’s idea or perhaps Dick Hyman’s — but it was a marvel. If someone proposed a concert tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, well, you could bring Joe Venuti, Spiegle Willcox, Paul Mertz, and Chauncey Morehouse to the stage alongside Zoot Sims, Vince Giordano, Warren Vache, Bucky Pizzarelli — the best musicians readily available having a splendid time amidst the Ancestors, the Survivors. Concerts for Louis, Duke, and Basie were just as enthralling. The NYJRC experience was a kind of jazz Camelot, and its moments were shining, perhaps brief, and surely memorable.

The Nice Jazz Festival had enough expert musicians — expert in experience and in feeling — to put together NYJRC evenings, and here is a July 1979 one devoted to not only Benny but to the worlds he created.

For me, imagining a world without “BG” is again unthinkable. He wasn’t the only person who made hot music — creative jazz improvisation — such an accessible phenomenon for the widest audience, an audience perhaps unaware that they were dancing to great art, but he did it. And he wasn’t the only person to have Black and White musicians on the public stage, but his contributions to racial equality are too large to be ignored. And he himself made great music and inspired others to do so.

Enough polemic. But Benny remains a King, and efforts to dethrone him are and should be futile.

Both Dick Hyman and Bob Wilber had worked with Benny, and their love, admiration, and understanding shine through this concert presentation devoted to his big band and small groups of the Swing Era. The band is full of Goodman alumnae (we must remind ourselves also that Benny was active on his own in 1979) including Pee Wee Erwin, an integral part of Benny’s 1935 orchestra. Hyman not only plays brilliantly but supports the whole enterprise; Wilber embodies Benny in his own lucent fashion, and Pug Horton sweetly summons up a whole raft of Benny’s singers. Too, the individual players get to have their say in their own fashion — something that was a lovely part of the worlds Benny made and made possible.

Here’s ninety minutes of music, delightful on its own and as an evocation of a masterful musician and his impact on us, whether we acknowledge it or not.

The New York Jazz Repertory Company: Bob Wilber, clarinet; Dick Hyman, piano; Arnie Lawrence, Haywood Henry, Norris Turney, Budd Johnson, reeds; Eddie Bert, Britt Woodman, Mike Zwerin, trombone; Jimmie Maxwell, Ernie Royal, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, trumpet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Pug Horton, vocal.

Warming up / George Wein announces / LET’S DANCE (Hyman, Wilber, Lawrence, Hyman) / KING PORTER STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Maxwell, Zwerin, Budd, Hyman, Bucky, Duvivier) / STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY (Hyman, Wilber, Bert, Budd, Bert, Bucky, Wilber) / BODY AND SOUL (Wilber, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHINA BOY (trio) / SEVEN COME ELEVEN (add Bucky, Duvivier) / add Pug Horton, vocal / GOODNIGHT, MY LOVE / SILHOUETTED IN THE MOONLIGHT / SOMEBODY ELSE IS TAKING MY PLACE / Pug out / RACHEL’S DREAM / big band returns / STEALIN’ APPLES arr. Henderson (Hyman, Wilber, Erwin, Turney, Woodman, WIlber // Intermission: Wilber introduces the orchestra while Bucky plays GOODBYE // SWINGTIME IN THE ROCKIES (Budd, Wilber [alto], Hyman, Henry, Bert, Lawrence, Wilber, trumpet section trades / PAGANINI CAPRICE No. 24 arr. Skip Martin (Hyman, Wilber, Budd) / A SMOOTH ONE (Wilber, Maxwell, Budd, Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier, Rosengarden) / AS LONG AS I LIVE / AIR MAIL SPECIAL / (add Pug, big band reed section returns) WE’LL MEET AGAIN / WHEN THE SUN COMES OUT / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO (Hyman) / (Pug out, full band) SING SING SING (Wilber, Rosengarden, Budd, Wilber, Maxwell) / GOOD-BYE //

As the waitperson says when she puts your fish tacos in front of you, “Enjoy.”

May your happiness increase!

“I HAPPEN TO LIKE BENNY GOODMAN”: DAN MORGENSTERN (August 30, 2019)

“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.

But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.

and more:

I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.

and a few years later, in two versions:

I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?

Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.

May your happiness increase!

“IMPROMPTU”: DAVE BRUBECK, BENNY GOODMAN, BOBBY HACKETT, PAUL DESMOND, EUGENE WRIGHT, JOE MORELLO (Rock Rimmon Jazz Festival, New Hampshire, July 12, 1963)

This CD was released in 2021:

I don’t quite know the circumstances that made this unusual and wonderful meeting possible, nor how this was recorded . . . but it’s a marvelous event.

Here are the 1963 performances, posted on YouTube by someone I don’t know.

First, a brisk POOR BUTTERFLY featuring Bobby Hackett, cornet, with the Brubeck rhythm section of Dave, piano; Eugene Wright, string bass; Joe Morello, drums. And you can hear Bobby express his pleasure when the song concludes. Then, Benny Goodman joins in for an eleven-minute SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the magical Paul Desmond adding his alto saxophone and choruses of riffing and an improvised ensemble. As an encore, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, a standard the CD liner notes indicate that Brubeck had never recorded before (his solo is anything but formulaic) and that Desmond had never recorded at all, with the same unusual but congenial front line:

I’ve not been able to find out anything more about this performance. The official Brubeck website corroborates the details above, although noting that the other tracks on the CD are not all correctly labeled. As to the Rock Rimmon Jazz Festival? I saw that Rock Rimmon is in Manchester, New Hampshire, and I already knew that Benny had recorded an original called ROCK RIMMON with a small group including Ruby Braff for Capitol Records, but the trail grows cold there. At least we have the music!

Festivals make odd stage-fellows, but here the unusual combination is completely enlivening. . . .twenty-four minutes of friendly exploration of the common language of lyrical swing. Bless the players, the expert sound crew, the archivists who preserved this, and the company (Domino Records) that issued it, and the person posting it on YouTube for us to savor.

May your happiness increase!

“AIR MAIL SPECIAL”: ANTTI SARPILA, CHUCK REDD, JOHN COCUZZI, EDDIE ERICKSON, DAVE STONE, BUTCH MILES (San Diego Jazz Party, February 23, 2014)

The title once referred to the fastest (and most expensive) way of delivering the mail: in 1940, Charlie Christian invented this line — as a member of Benny Goodman’s sextet. It was initially titled GOOD ENOUGH TO KEEP, and that certainly has remained true.

This 2014 performance is more than a homage to the red-label Columbia recording: it has its own vibrant or is it vibraphonic life, thanks to Chuck Redd and John Cocuzzi, sharing the metal keyboard alongside Eddie Erickson, guitar; Anti Sarpila, clarinet; the late Dave Stone, string bass; Butch Miles, drums:

Flying joyously to be sure.

May your happiness increase!

ALLEN, FROM ROCHESTER, NEW YORK, HAD A CAMERA (circa 1940)

First, an appropriate soundtrack:

and:

Here’s how the eBay seller described this unique object:

“Absolutely mammoth early 1940s photo album with 690 original photographs. Album of Allen, an African American man – a chauffeur, photos of his friends and family, the family he works for and various travel locations. Rochester, NY, factors heavily – not sure if Allen, the family he works for – or both, are from Rochester. Also a lot of photos in New York City.

There are photos of famous jazz age / big band era musicians and band leaders performing, including Cab Calloway, Cozy Coles, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Erskine Hawkins, Dolores Brown, Tony Pastor with the Andrew Sisters, Bunny Berigan, with some of the photos autographed.

Measuring 12 x 8 inches and 4 inches thick. Album has wooden cover, with WWII Army Navy Excellence award decal and initial decals “A R A.” There are only a couple of photos of a man in uniform, nearly all photos are civilian, and most are of African Americans. Photos in various sizes: mostly 5 x 3 ¼ inches, 4 x 3 black and white and some 6 x 4 with more sepia tone. Photos are attached to album by photo squares, a handful of photos are loose from the album . . . .”

The auction ended Thursday, and when I checked on Wednesday the high bid was over eight hundred dollars. So it’s not mine.

BUT. Through the magic of “Save image,” which sounds rather mystical, I can share a few particularly evocative photographs. Allen was not an obsessive jazz or big band fan, but the few photographs in the album suggest that he got around and heard some of the good sounds so easily accessible then.

First, some photographs of non-musical realities.

Charming everyday life, perhaps a Sunday outing in spring?

I don’t know whether Allen took the photograph of his five friends, but the caption suggests a fine witty approach to life, at the beach or otherwise.

Even though Allen was presumably the family chauffeur, that’s a comfortable photograph, to me.

Now, to music. Allen went to see the Erskine Hawkins band, and the captions suggest he had a fine swinging time.

The leader to the left, who autographed the photo (at a later date, I presume) and one of Hawkins’ saxophonists to the right: either Paul Bascomb or Julian Dash, I assume.

Witty captions left and right, and the gracious Mr. Berigan (who had beautiful unhurried handwriting) in the middle.

Cozy “Coles,” working for Cab Calloway.

Finally, the prize for those of us whose life revolves around such glimpses:

Benny, with immense casualness — in a pose your clarinet teacher wouldn’t recommend — and a quick signature, but a new glimpse of Charlie Christian, which also helps to date the album.

I wish we knew more about Allen, but this was his prize, and we assume someone will always recognize our treasures as ours . . .

The highest bidder won this prize for $1325 (plus $12 shipping) and for them, a world opens up. I hope the photographs get seen by as many people as possible. This was the link, although I don’t know how long it will remain.

Thanks to Nick Rossi for bringing this box of treasures to my attention.

May your happiness increase!

BENNY SENT ME: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, CHRIS FLORY, PAT O’LEARY at The Ear Out (May 23, 2021)

Puccini, Jolson, Rose, Goodman, and innumerable jazz groups — one of the reliable get-off-the-stand numbers, here performed by the EarRegulars at the Ear Out (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on Sunday, May 23, 2021. They are, from left, Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Pat O’Leary, string bass; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar (who played this song with Benny, himself).

And about this performance? All I can say is Yes.

Here’s hoping you find your love in Avalon, or someplace even closer, and you bring that person to the Ear Out on a Sunday afternoon before winter comes, as we know it will.

May your happiness increase!

EVERYTHING VENERABLE WAS ONCE NEW

It is raining in my world, so that is reason to work more on closet-archaeology (“What was I saving this for?”) and other probing questions, which led coincidentally to emotional-musical introspection. Thanks to Nick Rossi, who holds the lantern for so many of us, I wandered to this brief lovely rousing performance (November 23, 1937):

Three choruses and an extension, a masterpiece of individual improvisations and collective Swing architecture. Imperishable. If you need subtitles: the Benny Goodman Trio, which was Benny, clarinet; Teddy Wilson, piano; Gene Krupa, drums — performed live on the Camel Caravan radio program, recorded for us by the Blessed William Savory and shared with us by the equally Blessed George Avakian. (I understand there are many hours of unheard BG in the Savory discs, but don’t know the state of the negotiations that would make them audible.)

And one more. Anyone for pineapple and plumeria, still fresh, from June 29, 1937?

I heard these recordings when I was still in the first years of high school — the gift of a friend who had played clarinet in his childhood, who later, as a math teacher, helped me pass the Regents — and they stuck with me. Doug Brown, thank you across the decades.

Then and now, I delight in Benny’s enthusiasm, his special kind of melodic embellishment; Teddy’s marvelous pulse and harmonic surprises; Gene’s energetic delight. (If you think that Gene is “heavy” on these recordings, listen to the way Benny and Teddy are inspired by him, then ask yourself, “Is this what I am hearing or am I merely repeating what someone else has said?”)

And one other thing. These were brand-new popular tunes in 1937 (you can look up their histories at your leisure) so it wasn’t a ponderous matter of “the classics from the Great American Songbook,” but three masters having fun with new music. What a blessing such music was made, and captured.

May your happiness increase!

BIG SID and BENNY, TRIUMPHANT (September 27, 1941)

Sidney Catlett, Nice, 1948.

One of the benefits of “straightening up” is that, occasionally, treasures resurface.  Here’s one whose importance I can’t overestimate. But before I write a word more, this airshot of SING SING SING comes to us because of the generosity of Loren Schoenberg, master of so many arts, who played it on a broadcast he did over WKCR-FM perhaps thirty-five years ago. I captured it on cassette, and now share it with you. (Loren generously provided a pitch-corrected version for JAZZ LIVES.) It was not issued on Jerry Valburn’s set (lp and CD) of Goodman-Catlett recordings, should you reach for that set. Your ears will tell you so.

If you needed more evidence of the superhuman power and joy that Sidney Catlett brought to any group in his two-decades-plus playing career, this should do it. It also suggests, words I write with some ruefulness, why Benny Goodman fired him. Listening to this performance, it’s hard not to believe that Sid was leading the band and Benny was doing his best — which was considerable — to keep up. It also reminds us how much music the Swing Era bands created in performance that the 10″ 78 count not capture, because this performance is ten minutes long. Real life — for dancers, a band released from the recording studio. I bless the unidentified recordist, and so should you.

Here are the names of the heroes in that wonderful band, although on this performance, aside from brief ventures by Vido Musso and Mel Powell, by my count, six of the ten minutes are given over to a Catlett-Goodman experimental interlude in duet improvisation:

Billy Butterfield, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell, Al “Slim” Davis, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto saxophone; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor saxophone; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Marty Blitz, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  Broadcast, “Meadowbrook,” Cedar Grove, New Jersey, September 27, 1941.

This is an extraordinary piece of music, full of courage, energy, and joy. I hope you feel about it as I do, and that, once again, we may extend our gratitude to Sidney, Benny, Loren, and someone sitting in front of the radio with a microphone and a disc cutter.

May your happiness increase!

SWING NEVER WENT AWAY: BENNY GOODMAN, JIMMIE ROWLES, BUCKY PIZZARELLI, JACK SIX, BUDDY RICH (“The Merv Griffin Show,” October 15, 1979)

If you read the freeze-dried accounts of American popular music history, this music had been dead for thirty years, when “the Swing Era” expired. But how wrong that oversimplification is, proven by these eight minutes. A very lively corpse, no? This segment is from the Merv Griffin Show (Merv was a big-band singer before he became a talk-show host, television producer, and real-estate mogul, among other attributes) featuring musicians I won’t have to identify — Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Jimmie Rowles, Bucky Pizzarelli . . . you can figure out who Jack Six is and what he is doing by process of elimination, if you don’t already know him. The two songs chosen are a very mellow AS LONG AS I LIVE, harking back to the Sextet recording with Charlie Christian and Count Basie, and then — quite rare in “modern times,” I GOT RHYTHM played as itself. Beautiful playing from everyone — inspired and inspiring:

May your happiness increase!

IN PURSUIT OF THAT ELUSIVE QUANTITY, VERIFIABLE INFORMATION, or “CAN THE DEAD BE PROTECTED FROM STUPIDITY?”

I’m aware that there are far larger things to get annoyed about, and I am sure that my ire is both pointless and the result of forty years in college classrooms, where accuracy was not always evident in my students’ work.  But I attempt to be accurate when it is possible.  When someone offers a factual correction to something I’ve written, I might hiss through my teeth, but I change my text.  So the biographical sketch of Charlie Christian that follows is irritating in many ways.

Charlie Christian
December 1, 2006 Edward Southerland

It is not too far a stretch to say that everybody who plays the electric guitar owes something to Charlie Christian.

He was born in Bonham in 1916, but when his father, a waiter, suddenly became blind in 1918, the family moved to Oklahoma City. Christian began his musical career on the cornet, but soon gave it up for his father’s favorite instrument, the guitar.

The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles where he met one of the country’s most influential jazz critics and writers, John Hamilton. Bowled over by Christian’s uncompromising talent, Hamilton took the young man to the Victor Hugo restaurant in L.A. to meet Benny Goodman on August 16, 1939. Without telling the band leader, Hamilton set Christian on the bandstand. Goodman had the band play “Roseland,” a number he thought the guitar man would not be able to follow, but follow he did. After one pass, Christian took a solo, and then another and after 18 breaks, each different from the others, he had a job with the King of Swing.

Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25. When he died, Christian was brought home to Bonham to be buried. A few years ago, a Japanese jazz lover traveled half way around the world to find the grave of this all but forgotten musician, and Charlie Christian was forgotten no more. There is an exhibit about Christian in the Fannin County Historical Museum, each year Oklahoma City hosts a jazz festival in his honor, and once again, the young man with guitar is celebrated by music lovers everywhere.

Over the years, the Red River Valley has contributed more than most know to the music of the land, particularly in jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll and Western swing. Everyone knows Reba McIntire, the Oklahoma girl with the big voice, and Sherman remembers native son Buck Owens with his own section of U.S. Highway 82. Decades before these stars became icons others blazed trails of their own. Texoma has had its fair share of contributors to the world of music. These are just a few.

This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.

Reading it, I wondered if the author had asked a friend for some facts and had heard them incorrectly through a bad phone connection.  I amuse myself by writing here that “John Hamilton” played trumpet with Fats Waller, and that “Roseland” was a dance hall of note in New York City.

If I could draw, I would create a cartoon of Charlie’s magical transportation: “The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles . . . ”  I do not know what to say about this assertion: “Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25.”

At least this writer didn’t “get the impression” that Charlie was a heroin addict, and he doesn’t say that he was discovered at a late-night jam session . . . both examples taken from the recent prose of a Jazz Authority, nameless here.

You might ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do, Michael, than take pot shots at someone writing in a ‘regional’ magazine about a subject they can’t be expected to be an expert on?  I would tell you, “Yes, I have much better things to do: you should see my kitchen counter.  I have laundry that’s piling up, and I should be walking more, blogging less.”

But we know that the internet grants permanence to assertions, and assertions become granite: so a small inaccuracy, repeated and blurred through repetition, becomes a major falsehood — and in that way, it feels like an insult to the dead, who can no longer stand up (not that mild-mannered Charlie would have) and say, “Quit making up that crap about me.  It isn’t true!”

In a world where so much source material is available for people who no longer need to leave their chairs, I’d hope that more care would be taken by writers who want to be taken seriously.  Had Mr. Southerland been a student in a freshman writing class of mine, had he handed this essay in, I would have written “no” and perhaps even “No!” in the margins and returned the essay with “Please see me” on the bottom and asked him to revise it — sprinkling in some facts, rather like oregano and crushed red pepper on pizza — if he wanted a passing grade.

I won’t go so far as to hypothesize that slovenly “research” indicates a laziness of perception, which is a failure of analysis resulting in a civilization’s slide into darkness.  But I won’t stop you if you want to pursue that notion.

The good news is that Charlie Christian’s “legacy” is not “faded.”  Consider this precious 1941 artifact, where he’s gloriously present next to Dave Tough, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Cootie Williams, and George Auld:

I will paraphrase Lord Byron to say, “Southerland and his ilk will be read when Christian and Goodman are forgotten.  But not until then.”

May your happiness increase!

THE BAND THE ANGELS HIRED FOR THEIR PROM (January 15, 1967, Carnegie Hall)

Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.

One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more.  The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental.  Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs.  (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)

But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.

In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams.  I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972.  (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.)  The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.

In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it.  So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music.  There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.

Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES.  I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.

The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines.  (How DO they age so well?)  For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek.  Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord.  I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:

“They called him a shouter.”  Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage.  In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice.  But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful.  Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:

Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938.  Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert.  I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):

Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.

Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:

It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:

In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us.  (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)

But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY, GEORGE WEIN!

In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.

I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):

NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.

Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.

George deserves a little more fuss.

The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone.  The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben.  What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins?  If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set.  George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive.  Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.

Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities.  When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart.  In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones.  I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.

Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.

George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.

I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums.  Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.

Happy birthday, George!  Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.

May your happiness increase!

WHAT DID THEY SOUND LIKE? (Toronto, September 1943)

This just in — corrections and additions from jazz scholars Mark Miller and Kris Bauwens.  It’s good to have wise friends!

Christine Manchisi, a very gracious Canadian antique dealer-entrepreneur, found an intriguing jazz artifact, a souvenir from a now-vanished night club, and then found me . . . and a match was made.  First, a little background.

Club Top Hat, “Toronto’s Night Spot,” Sunnyside, as photographed on Aug. 25, 1944: Club Top Hat, Sunnyside. View looking north from Lakeshore Blvd. Built as the The Pavilion restaurant, over time the building grew in size, evolving into Club Esquire (1936 – 1939) and then Club Top Hat (1939 – 1956). – Credit: Toronto Harbour Commissioners / Library and Archives Canada / PA-098571. MIKAN 3655526 (courtesy of the Vintage Toronto Facebook page).

In those days, not only did musicians sign their names, but they wrote the instrument they played: thus, Miff Mole, trombone; Shad Collins, trumpet; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Cozy Cole, drums; Pinie Caceres, piano.

It was Miff’s band, and after leaving Goodman, he had a brief Toronto residency in September 1943 (the usually impeccable John Chilton has it in August, but Mark Miller provided the dated newspaper advertisement below).  I believe that these men were either on leave from big bands (Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway) or from radio studio work.  I am guessing that the prospect of a few weeks or a month in Toronto with no one-nighters must have been greatly appealing.  A respite from reading charts and doing section work would have been like a vacation.

But let us imagine a little more.  I think that the talent booker for the Top Hat might have sent Miff a telegram (“a wire”) and asked if he’d like to bring a group there, offering a price, perhaps even suggesting accommodations.  The group has been identified as a sextet, but only five signatures are on the club paper we have here, which suggests that the string bassist (if there were one) was a local player.  What interests me more are the people Miff either called or ended up with — we can’t know — and there are logical threads here.  Miff would have known Shad, Cozy, and perhaps Hank from New York gigs or radio work — later, Cozy and Hank would show up at Eddie Condon’s concerts — and he might well have encountered Pinie Caceres through Pinie’s more famous brother, Ernie.  Or they might have spoken to each other at the bar at Julius’.  It’s a particularly intriguing lineup for those who immediately associate Miff with Wild Bill, Bobby, or Muggsy, Pee Wee, and the rest of the Commodore crew.

What tunes did Miff call?  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES?  I don’t dare assume, unless someone comes up with a review in a Toronto newspaper.  (Mark Miller wasn’t born yet.)  Where are the heirs of a Canadian Jerry Newman or Dean Benedetti for some lovely acetate discs?  And did Miff and company enjoy the boardwalk in daylight, or were they sleeping?  Or was part of their day sitting at a table and signing a hundred of these cards to be given to patrons as a souvenir of their evening-out-with-jazz-and-dinner?  The autographs are too tidy to be on-the-spot, the kind a musician would sign for an eager fan while having an autograph book pressed on him.  But they are lovely evidence.

Miff Mole, 1946, at Nick’s, New York City, by William P. Gottlieb.

And I now know that the Top Hat was a jazz mecca even before 1943.  Mark has told me that Coleman Hawkins appeared there with Don Byas and Monk!  Thanks to Kris Bauwens, we have delightful evidence of Fats Waller appearing there in 1942: the playing card comes from a Norwegian sailor who had wonderful memories of the card game:

Research, anyone?

May your happiness increase!

 

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

OUR MAN FROM MISSOURI: NEW JESS STACY DISCOVERIES (November 28, December 5, 1939)

In the past year, a few holy relics of the beloved and subtle pianist Jess Stacy have come my way.  (Today would have been his 116th birthday, which counts as well.)  At a swing dance, I purchased one of his Chiaroscuro solo recordings — especially after I turned it over and saw that Jess had inscribed it, “Hi Jack, Well, I tried, Best, Jess.” which says so much about his character.  On eBay two months ago, a late photograph of Jess which he signed, again graciously, to the photographer.  And perhaps ten days ago, this disc crossed my path, and although it is not a Stacy solo, it’s priceless evidence of what he did so well and for so long.

But — for the delicate — these sides have not been well-cared for in their eighty-year life, and I think that aluminum acetates are less gentle to the ear than shellac.  So if you quail at surface noise, there is a substantial amount.

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, handsome and presentable, who had a career because of his last name and a passable although quavery singing voice.  His band — featuring Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Billy Butterfield, and many others — made its fame with a New Orleans-inspired rocking approach and a small band, the Bobcats.  Crosby usually had first-rate pianists, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and, joining the band after five years with Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy.  Goodman had had great success with a radio program sponsored by Camel cigarettes, the “Camel Caravan,” but in 1939, Crosby took over the program.

One of the featured performers with Goodman was songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer, whose feature was “Newsy Bluesy” or I’ve seen it as “Newsy Bluesies.” Mercer had done something like it when he was with Paul Whiteman: a variation on the vaudeville device of straight man and comedian, with Mercer playing the latter with great skill and singing in his inimitable way (which I love) — the weekly theme drawn from odd stories in the newspapers.  The result is a hilarious scripted playlet, set over a quick-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  Mercer shines, especially with a very stiff Crosby as his foil.

But the real treasure here is the rollicking piano of Jess Stacy, lighting the skies alongside Bob Haggart, string bass, Nappy Lamare, guitar, and Ray Bauduc, drums.  You might have to pay close attention or even listen twice, but Jess, bubbling and swinging, is completely there.

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

Small mysteries remain.  Why did Mercer have a New York City recording studio preserve these sides for him?  (He was, one biography says, commuting between New York and Hollywood.)  How did they survive (although the labels have had a rough time of it)? And how did they wind up where a mere collector-mortal could purchase and share them in time for Mr. Stacy’s birthday?

Whatever ethereal forces are at work, you have my gratitude — as do Jess, Johnny, the Crosby band, ACE Recording, and WABC.

And happy birthday, Mr. Stacy.  You not only tried: you are irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

CELEBRATING ADRIAN ROLLINI, THEN AND NOW

Adrian Rollini has been gone from us for nearly sixty-five years, but his imagination, his huge sound, his virtuosity lives on.  He has been celebrated as associate of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the California Ramblers and their spin-offs, Cliff Edwards, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Vic Berton, Stan King, Abe Lincoln, Miff Mole, Fred Elizalde, Bert Lown, Tom Clines, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lee Morse, Jack Purvis, Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and many more; multi-instrumentalist: the premier bass saxophonist, a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, xylophonist, and master of the goofus and the “hot fountain pen,” with recordings over mearly three decades — 473 sessions, says Tom Lord — to prove his art.

Here, in about six minutes, is Rollini, encapsulated — lyrically on vibraphone for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, then playing TAP ROOM SWING (really THE FARMER IN THE DELL with a domino on) alongside Berigan, Teddy Wilson, and Babe Russin — for the Saturday Night Swing Club, with Paul Douglas the announcer. Thanks to Nick Dellow for this two-sided gem:

and later on, the vibraphone-guitar-trio:

I love the song — as well as the weight and drive Rollini gives this 1933 ensemble — to say nothing of Red McKenzie, Berigan, and Pee Wee Russell:

and the very hot performance of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART by Fred Elizalde:

Rollini died on May 15, 1956, not yet 53, so by most perspectives he is a historical figure, outlived by many of his contemporaries (Nichols, Mole, Hackett, Buddy Rich come to mind).  He made no recordings after December 1947.  But recently, several exciting fully-realized projects have made him so much more than a fabled name on record labels and in discographies.

The first Rollini exaltation is a CD, TAP ROOM SWING, by the delightful multi-instrumentalist Attila Korb, “and his Rollini Project,” recorded in 2015 with a memorable cast of individualists getting a full orchestral sound from three horns and two rhythm players.

Attila plays bass saxophone, melodica, and sings beautifully on BLUE RIVER and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL,  and is responsible for the magical arrangements; Malo Mazurie plays trumpet and cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Harry Kanters, piano; Felix Hunot, guitar and banjo.  Those names should be familiar to people wise to “old time modern,” for Felix and Malo are 2/3 of Three Blind Mice, and with Joep Lumeij replacing Harry, it is David Lukacs’s marvelous DREAM CITY band.  The selections are drawn from various facets of Rollini’s bass saxophone career: SOMEBODY LOVES ME / SUGAR / THREE BLIND MICE / BLUE RIVER / BUGLE CALL RAG / DIXIE / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL / PE O’MY HEART / TAP ROOM SWING / I LEFT MY SUGAR STANDING IN THE RAIN / SWING LOW / EMBRACEABLE YOU (the last a gorgeous bonus track, a duet for Attila and Felix that is very tender).  The performances follow the outlines of the famous recordings, but the solos are lively, and the whole enterprise feels jaunty, nothing at all like the Museum of Shellac.  You can buy the CD or download the music here, and follow the band on their Facebook page.

Here’s evidence of how this compact orchestra is both immensely respectful of the originals but — in the truest homage to the innovators — free to be themselves.

MY PRETTY GIRL (2018), where the Project foursome becomes the whole Goldkette Orchestra, live, no less:

THREE BLIND MICE, PEG O’MY HEART, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, BLUE RIVER (2016), showing how inventive the quintet is:

CLARINET MARMALADE, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN, BLUE RIVER, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL — with a caffeinated-Bach interlude, not to be missed (2017):

I would chase this band all over Europe if circumstances were different, but they already have expert videography.  And at the end of this post I will share their most recent delightful episode.

But first, reading matter of the finest kind.  For a number of years now, there has been excited whispering, “How soon will the Rollini book come out?”  We knew that its author, Ate van Delden, is a scholar rather than an enthusiast or a mere compiler of facts we already know.  ADRIAN ROLLINI: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF A JAZZ RAMBLER is here, and it’s a model of the genre.  I confess that I am seriously tardy in adding my praise to the chorus, but it’s an example of “Be careful what you wish for.”  I always look for books that will tell me what I didn’t already know, rather than my thinking, “Yes, I read that story here, and this one in another book.”

RAMBLER, to keep it short, has so much new information that it has taxed my five wits to give it a thorough linear reading.  I’ve been picking it up, reading about Rollini’s early life as a piano prodigy (and the piano rolls he cut), his associations with the famous musicians above, his thousands of recordings, and more.  van Delden has investigated the rumors and facts of Rollini’s death, and he has (more valuable to me) portrayed Rollini not only as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist but as a businessman — opening jazz clubs, hiring and firing musicians, looking for financial advantages in expert ways — and we get a sense of Rollini the man through interviews with people who knew him and played with him.

He comes across as a complex figure, and thus, although van Delden does give loving attention to Rollini on record, the book is so much more than an annotated discography.  In its five hundred and more pages, the book is thorough without being tedious or slow-moving, and if a reader comes up with an unanswered Rollini question, I’d be astonished.  The author has a rare generous objectivity: he admires Rollini greatly, but when his and our hero acts unpleasantly or inexplicably, he is ready to say so.  Of course, there are many previously unseen photographs and wonderful bits of relevant paper ephemera.  The book is the result of forty years of research, begun by Tom Faber and carried on into 2020, and it would satisfy the most demonically attentive Rollini scholar. And if that should suggest that its audience is narrow, I would assign it to students of social and cultural history: there’s much to be learned here (the intersections of art, race, economics, and entertainment in the last century) even for people who will never play the hot fountain pen.

And here’s something completely up-to-date — a social-distancing Rollini Project video that is characteristically emotionally warm and friendly, the very opposite of distant, his nine-piece rendition of SOMEBODY LOVES ME, which appeared on May 23.  Contemporary jazz, indeed!

How unsubtle should I be?  Buy the CD, buy the book — support the living people who are doing the work of keeping the masters alive in our heads.

May your happiness increase!

ON MARCH 12, 2020, WHEN BROADWAY WENT DARK, THIS INSPIRED QUARTET MADE BARROW STREET AS BRIGHT AS DAY (JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN)

For those of us who are paying attention, this is a scary time.  But when Jon-Erik Kellso suggested with polite urgency that we might want to join him and the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet on Thursday, March 12 — it seems a lifetime ago — I stuffed a produce-section plastic bag in my jacket pocket (it took a few more days to find gloves) took a half-empty commuter train, got on an even more empty subway, and walked a few quiet blocks to this place, the home of restorative music and friends since last September: Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.

We sensed that the huge dark doors were closing, although we didn’t know what would follow (we still are like people fumbling for the light switch in a strange room full of things to trip over).  But music, artistic intelligence, soulful energy, and loving heat were all beautifully present that night.  I hope that these video-recordings of these performances can light our way in the days ahead.  And, for me, I needed to post music by people who are alive, medically as well as spiritually.  So here are three inventive performances from that night.  Subliminally, the songs chosen were all “good old good ones” that can be traced back to Louis, which is never a bad thing.

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY — perhaps the theme song for quarantined couples and families? — with the world’s best ending:

Honoring another savory part of Lower Manhattan, CHINATOWN:

And the oft-played ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, here all bright and shiny with love.  Everyone in the band lights up the night sky, but please pay attention to Sean Cronin playing the blues in the best Pops-Foster-superhero-style.  This venerable song is often played far too fast, but Jon-Erik kicked it off at a wonderfully groovy tempo, reminding me of Bix and his Gang, and the Benny Goodman Sextet of 1940-41:

If, in some unimaginable future, a brave doctor leans over me and says, “He shouldn’t have gone into the city on March 12, you know,” my lifeless form will resurrect just long enough to say, “You’ve got it wrong.  It was completely worth it.”

Bless these four embodiments of healing joy, as well as Christine Santelli and Mike Zielenewski of Cafe Bohemia, too.  And here are three other lovely performances from earlier in the evening: I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, WILLIE THE WEEPER (he was a low-down chimney sweeper, if you didn’t know that), and the MEMPHIS BLUES.

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.

Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, and what you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.

May your happiness increase!

BUD (Part Two, November 26, 1988)

Here’s the second part of our vision of Bud Freeman — uniquely swinging tenor saxophonist, raconteur, a singular stylist for more than six decades before this appearance (from the Manassas Jazz Festival, introduced by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee).

The first part can be found here — with Al Stevens, Marty Grosz, Johnny WIlliams, Johnny Blowers.  For this set, it’s Bud with Larry Eanet, piano; Steve Jordan, rhythm guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass; Johnny Blowers, drums.

And the roadmap or menu is: ‘S’WONDERFUL / story about Benny Goodman and Hank D’Amico / SUNDAY / Bud praises Johnny Blowers and tells a joke and remembers George Gershwin / THE MAN I LOVE / a John Barrymore story / THREE LITTLE WORDS / a story about Eddie Condon //

Another view of the great man, courtesy of jgautographs on eBay:

Bud is worth everyone’s closer investigation.  Thanks to Joe Shepherd for his sustaining generosities.

May your happiness increase!

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

BRAGGIN’ IN BRASS: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, JOE COHN, MURRAY WALL (Cafe Bohemia, January 30, 2020)

A few night ago, I was witness to a glorious expression of personalities and an explosion of sounds.  The “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet,” which appears regularly on Thursdays at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, was that night led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (as usual), with Scott Robinson, magic man, playing tenor saxophone, taragoto, and a new find from his basement, an “adorable” little Eb cornet.  With them were Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray Wall, string bass.

The evening’s music was characteristically rewarding and varied: a first set of SONG OF THE WANDERER, SUGAR, INDIANA, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and CREOLE LOVE CALL.  In the Bohemia audience, appropriately, were members of the Pilsner Jazz Band, who had just appeared at the Kennedy Center (more about that below) and were enthusiastically responding to the band.  I don’t recall if Jon-Erik asked them what they’d like to hear (the act of a brave person) but someone suggested ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and that began the second set.

A word about ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — which has a lovely pedigree, because the song (with lyrics) by Clarence and Spencer Williams, possibly just by Spencer, refers to the place King Oliver played, later the Lincoln Gardens.  It’s a century old, if we take as its starting point the unissued recordings pioneering bandleader George Morrison made of the tune.

We all have our favorite versions, from Bix to the Goodman Sextet to Tatum to Louis, and as I write this, another’s being created.  But since it was taken up from the Forties onward by “trad” groups — define them as you will — it’s one of the three songs played nearly to a crisp (the others are MUSKRAT RAMBLE and STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE).  Too many formulaic renditions in my history have caused me slight flutters of ennui when someone suggests it.  But not with this quartet.  After a gentle ensemble start (I missed a bit due to camera rebellion) this performance escalates into a wonderfully friendly joust between Jon-Erik and Scott.  Quite uplifting, with every tub securely on its own botom, seriously cheering

I felt like cheering then, and I do now.  See what happens when you leave your house to confront the music face to face?  More about the notion of leaving-your-house, at least temporarily, here.

Beauty awaits us, if we just look for it.

And just because this title was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of this post, here’s an evocative jazz artifact:

Postscript: here’s the Pilsner Jazz Band at the Kennedy Center, Jan. 27, 2020:

May your happiness increase!