Tag Archives: Benny Goodman

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!

EASY LIVING: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS BILLIE HOLIDAY (Dec. 10, 2019)

Much of what I read about Billie Holiday strikes me as morbidly unhealthy: the fascination with her drug addiction, her abusive men.  I can’t pretend that those aspects of her life did not exist, but I was thrilled to ask Dan Morgenstern, now ninety, to recall the Lady — and to have him share warm, personal stories.

First, a musical interlude:

Now, here’s Dan, at his Upper West Side apartment: the subject, Lady Day as she was in real life, with anecdotes about Martha Raye, Tommy Flanagan, Lester Young, Zutty Singleton as well:

and the second part — more about Billie, with anecdotes about George Wein, Lester Young, Budd Johnson, Paul Quinichette, Chuck Israels, John Simmons, and Benny Goodman:

Thank you, Dan!  And there are more beautiful stories to come.

May your happiness increase!

CONTRITION OR VENGEANCE? RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB at CAFE BOHEMIA (Nov. 22, 2019)

I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough.  Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed.  It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis.  Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)

Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know.  I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)

Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it.  Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:

That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here.  And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)

May your happiness increase!

MAKING NEW MEMORIES: MARC CAPARONE, BRIAN HOLLAND, STEVE PIKAL, DANNY COOTS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 29, 2019)

Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters — a Louis Armstrong trumpet — a few years ago.

I don’t know if people look to pianist Jess Stacy as a model for spiritual enlightenment, but perhaps they should.  Yes, he’s rightly known for his solo on SING SING SING at the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert, and for subtle but memorable playing for decades, but he had a revelation in mid-life that has been one of my cherished stories since I first read it.  I am paraphrasing because the book it comes from is in New York and I am in San Diego, but I have it close to my heart.

He had been successful as a Goodman sideman but had made the mistake of marrying Lee Wiley — they were spectacularly unsuited for each other, a story you can explore elsewhere on the blog — they had divorced, unpleasantly.  And as Jess tells it, he was sitting on the bed in a hotel room, ruminating, despairing, feeling that there was little point in going on.  He could, he thought, follow the lead of his friend Bix Beiderbecke, and “crawl into a bottle and die,” which had its own appeal, its own seductive melodramatic pull.  But Stacy, although in misery, was curious about life and what it might offer.  Musing more, he eventually came to a decision, and spoke to himself, briskly not not sternly, “All right, Stacy.  Time to make new memories!” and he got off the bed and lived a fulfilling life.

I hear in that story something that we all have faced whether we are sitting on a hotel bed or not: stuck in our own lives, do we hug the past like a cherished stuffed bunny or do we “move on,” and see what happens?  It’s not easy.  Despair has a powerful attraction, and memories can feel like a suit of clothing that weighs tons — stifling ye familiar.  And let us say what no one wants to say, that the future is always mildly terrifying as well as alluring.

All of this has been running through my own mind (I am not in danger of ending it all through alcohol, never fear) and I have told the story to a few friends in the past week.  The wonderful trumpeter Marc Caparone provided a musical illustration of it just a few days ago at the San Diego Jazz Fest — with Brian Holland, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Danny Coots, drums — in his performance of MEMORIES OF YOU, a very dear song by Eubie Blake and Andy Razaf.  We don’t hear Razaf’s lyrics, but those who know the song well will have them as a subliminal second theme.

And here’s Marc’s very personal exploration of these themes: a model of passion and control, Louis-like but not Louis-imitative, music that I found very moving, as did others at the San Diego Jazz Fest . . .beauty at once somber and uplifting:

I think of Bobby Hackett, saying of Louis, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”

Thank you, Marc, Brian, Steve, and Danny — as well as Eubie and Andy, and of course Mister Stacy.

Let us hold the past for what’s dear in it, what it has to teach us, but let us not sit on the edge of the bed, musing, forever.  Make new memories.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF SWEETNESS, OR, LIFE BEYOND “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, a/k/a “THE HOT CORNER” (September 15, 2019)

Hot Lips Page is supposed to have said, on the subject of repertoire one could improvise on, “The material is immaterial.”  Or, as a segment on the Benny Goodman Camel Caravan was headlined, “Anything can swing!”  Many jazz fans cling to a favored selection of songs, performed loud and fast — you know the tunes that the audience is ready to applaud even before a note is played, the lure and comfort of the familiar.  Not so here.  This is music for people willing to pay close attention, and to feel what’s being created for them.

Ray Skjelbred goes his own way, deep in the heart of melody, and we are glad.  Here he is with Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, documented for all of us and for posterity by RaeAnn Berry.  Ray’s renamed this trio “The Hot Corner,” a reference to third base in baseball, but the music lives up to the name in very subtle ways.  In fact, it’s quiet and thus even more compelling, reminding me of the passages on 1938-40 Basie records where only the rhythm section is playing, quiet and even more quiet: enthralling!

Ray loves Bing Crosby, and Bing inspired some of the best songs, including his theme, a melody almost forgotten now:

Here’s what my dear friend Mike Burgevin would call “another Bingie,” this one best listened to over a dish of fresh — not canned — pineapple:

We wander from Bing to King — Wayne King, “the Waltz King,” that is:

Notice, please, the sweet patience of musicians who don’t have to jump into double-time, who can stay contentedly in three-quarter time, and it all swings so affectingly.  And here, just because technology makes it so easy, for those listeners who might not know the originals (and can now marvel even more at what Ray, Jeff, and Marty make of them), here they are.

Bing, with added attractions Eddie Lang and Franklin Pangborn:

and in a Hawaiian mood:

That famous waltz (which Bob Wills and Tamar Korn have also made their own):

and the Wills version, because why should I deny us the pleasure?

May your happiness increase!

THE MUSIC WAS HOT IN AVALON, BESIDE THE BAY: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

The rainbows I associate with the Evergreen Jazz Festival weren’t always in the sky.  More often than not, they appeared on the bandstand and went vibrating towards everyone in the audience, memorably. One of the people I most associate with cosmic phenomena is pianist-singer-composer Carl Sonny Leyland.  People who like to categorize say that Sonny is a fine boogie-woogie and Chicago blues pianist and singer . . . and they would be correct.  But he’s also a rollicking full-spectrum jazz pianist, and one of my great pleasures is listening to him rip into a classic pop song as if he were a large puppy and the song a brand-new chew toy.  Or, once you’ve calmed down after this performance, you may want to invent a more demure metaphor, and I invite you to do so.

I associate AVALON with numberless Benny Goodman small-group performances and Goodman-inspired performances, but the song was “written” and published in 1920 — composer credits Billy Rose, Al Jolson, and Buddy De Sylva (to figure out who actually “wrote” this would tax my five wits, especially since its initial melody came from Puccini’s TOSCA).  However, it remains a reliable uptempo jazz standard for performers with certain associations.

Here is the strain from Puccini, sung by that Caruso fellow:

Hear Sonny, Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, make a meal out of it at the Evergreen Jazz Festival:

By the way, no matter what MyLife might say, there is only ONE Jeff Hamilton.  Accept no substitutes.

May your happiness increase!

MR. WILBER, THE SAGE

Days gone by: December 1946, Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Johnny Glasel, Charlie Trager, Eddie Phyfe. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

Robert Sage Wilber, born in 1928, who never played an ugly or graceless note in his life, has left us.  I first heard him on recordings more than fifty years ago, and saw him in person first in 1970 with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band.  He was a magnificently consistent player — his time, his intonation, his creativity, his vital force, his melodic lyricism — and one of the world’s most versatile.  He didn’t care to be “innovative” in the best modern way, but kept refining his art, the art of Louis and Bechet and Teddy Wilson, every time he played.

People who didn’t quite understand his masteries (the plural is intentional) thought of him as derivative, whatever that means, but even when he was playing SONG OF SONGS in the Bechet manner or WARM VALLEY for the Rabbit, he was recognizably himself: passionate and exact at the same time, a model of how to do it.  And if you appreciate the jazz lineage, a man who performed with Baby Dodds, Tommy Benford, Kaiser Marshall, Joe Thomas, Sidney Catlett, Billy Strayhorn, Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Leeman . . . so deeply connected to the past while remaining fiercely active, has moved to another neighborhood.  I send my condolences to his wife, the singer Pug Horton, and his family.

I was extremely fortunate to cross paths with Bob — not only as an admiring spectator of Soprano Summit, where he and Kenny Davern were equally matched — but as an admiring jazz journalist and videographer.  He was not worried about what I captured: he was confident in himself and he trusted that the music would carry him.  Here are some glimpses of the Sage in action, in music and in speech.

Rare photographs and music from 1947 here.

A session with David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band (2010) and Daryl Sherman here.

Two parts of an intimate session at Smalls in 2012 with Ehud Asherie and Pug Horton as well here and here.

And a particular prize: a two-part 2015 interview session (thanks to Pug!) here and here.

More than a decade ago, when I began this blog, I worked hard to keep away from the temptations of necrology — my joke is that I didn’t want it to be JAZZ DIES — but if I didn’t write and post something about Robert Sage Wilber, I’d never forgive myself.  We will keep on admiring and missing him as long as there is music.

May your happiness increase!  

FOR CHARLIE, BY CHARLIE (PART TWO): LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, JAMEY CUMMINS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

From this distance, it feels as if Charlie Christian (July 29, 1916 – March 2, 1942) was an extra-terrestrial phenomenon, some entity that touched down so briefly on this planet, played a great deal of music — some of it, thank the Goddess, recorded — and then said he had to visit another neighborhood and we should study what he had given us.  Charlie feels more like a beam of light reflected through a spinning prism than an actual mortal, although we have stories of him at the back of the band bus, singing Lester Young solos.  And I suspect that what the doctors at the sanitarium on Staten Island, New York, wrote down as “tuberculosis” on his chart was an inter-galactic summons to another place that needed his particular blaze of joyous enlightenment.

He wasn’t the first to play jazz on the electric guitar (check out George Barnes, Eddie Durham, Floyd Smith, and others) but what he did was completely fresh then and remains so: the looping lines, the rhythmic attack both fierce and subtle, the harmonic suggestions, the incisive swing.  We celebrate him!

Charlie Christian as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, September 1939. Thanks to Nick Rossi for the photograph.

This most recent celebration took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 11, 2019, and the brilliant players are Little Charlie Baty (right) and Jamey Cummins, guitars; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are the first four performances: FLYING HOME, ROSE ROOM, BENNY’S BUGLE, and STAR DUST.

And the second half, beginning with SEVEN COME ELEVEN:

Dawn Lambeth stops by to sing I’M CONFESSIN’:

and the splendid 1931 I SURRENDER, DEAR:

Something Middle Eastern that isn’t hummus? Perhaps THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

And the closing swing delight, WHOLLY CATS, which I always think should have an exclamation point at its close:

Incidentally, it’s easy to be distracted by the gleaming sounds of the “two guitar heroes,” Little Charlie and Jamey, but I would direct or re-direct your attention to that glorious rhythm section of Dan Walton, Sam Rocha, and Jeff Hamilton; the sweet song of Dawn Lambeth; the wonderful improvisations of Jacob Zimmerman and Marc Caparone, whose idea this set was.

Make plans to visit the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020 — thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen and their wonderful musical friends.

And for more about Charlie, from a different angle, here is Mel Powell’s recollections of the young man.  And a memory of Benny Goodman as well.

May your happiness increase! 

FOR CHARLIE, BY CHARLIE (PART ONE): LITTLE CHARLIE BATY, JAMEY CUMMINS, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, MARC CAPARONE, DAN WALTON, SAM ROCHA, JEFF HAMILTON, DAWN LAMBETH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

Charlie Christian didn’t have many birthdays on this planet, but yesterday would have been another one.  We celebrate him and his music, and with good reason.

Charlie Christian as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, Waldorf-Astoria, New York City, September 1939. Thanks to Nick Rossi for the photograph.

This celebration took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 11, 2019, and the brilliant players are Little Charlie Baty (right) and Jamey Cummins, guitars; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; Dan Walton, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet; Dawn Lambeth, vocal.  Here are the first four performances.

FLYING HOME:

ROSE ROOM:

BENNY’S BUGLE:

STAR DUST:

More to come in Part Two.  And more to come from the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 2020 — thanks to Mark and Valerie Jansen and their wonderful musical friends.

And for more about Charlie, from a different angle, here is Mel Powell’s recollections of the young man.  And a memory of Benny Goodman as well.

May your happiness increase! 

“SUPERSTRIDE: JOHNNY GUARNIERI” by Derek Coller (Jazzology Press)

I know it’s not true of other art worlds (say, literature and painting) where a proliferation of deities is not only allowed but encouraged, but jazz seems to want a very small number of Stars.  Singers? Billie and Ella.  Trumpet players?  Miles and Louis.  Saxophonists?  Trane and Bird.  And so on.  This reductionist tendency makes me sigh, especially when it comes to pianists, because there are so many more to celebrate than (let us say) Fats, Monk, Tatum.  You don’t want to get me started, from Clarence Profit to Sam Nowlin to Alex Hill to Frank Melrose to Nat Jaffee, and so on up to the present day.

Someone who deserves more attention is the expert and rollicking Johnny Guarnieri, whose recording and performance career covers forty-five years, from 1939 to 1984.  When I think of Johnny, I think of irresistible swing, lightness of touch, beautifully perceptive ensemble playing, amazing technique both in and out of the stride idiom, and (perhaps not an asset) stunning mimicry of any pianist or style you’d want.  I heard him live once, at Newport in New York, and even given the hall’s terrible acoustics and amplification, he was dazzling: it was clear why Eubie Blake called Johnny the greatest pianist he had heard.

And on any Guarnieri recording — with Goodman, Lester, the Keynote aggregations, Ziggy Elman, Artie Shaw, both the big band and the Gramercy Five, Cootie Williams, Ben, Hawk, Rex Steart, Benny Morton, Louis, Lips, Bobby, Don Byas, Slam Stewart, Red Allen, Ruby Braff, Joe Venuti, Buddy Tate, Vic Dickenson, Stephane Grappelly, solos and small bands on his own — he is instantly recognizable and enlivening: he turns on the light switch in a dim room.

Yes, he sounds like Fats in the opening chorus of SHOULD I — but his comping behind the soloists is immaculate, displaying a strong terse simplicity, propelling Joe Thomas and Don Byas along.  If you have him in your band, it’s a given that the performance will swing.

Guarnieri’s life and music are documented beautifully (typically so) in a new book — an  bio-discography, SUPERSTRIDE (Jazzology Press) by the fine writer and careful researcher Derek Coller.  The compact book — around 260 pages — is full of new information, first-hand reminiscence, splendid source materials including photographs.  Best, not only is it a satisfying five-course dinner of fact and information, but it presents Guarnieri as one of those undramatic people who behaved well to others, was a professional, and didn’t demand attention to himself through narcissism or self-destructive tendencies.  He comes off as someone I regret not meeting, generous, gracious, an old-fashioned gentleman and craftsman.  (Read the story of his generosity to then unknown actor Jack Lemmon, who was himself quite a pianist; read the recollections of Johnny’s “boys,” who learned from him.)  He had one vice: he smoked a pipe; one physical problem, seriously poor eyesight, which kept him out of the military during the war.

Because Johnny led a quiet life, his biography is more brief than the record of high dramas and crises other musicians present.  Coller’s chronological overview is detailed although not overly so, and it moves very quickly for just over a hundred pages.  I remember saying to myself, “Wait!  We’re in 1947 already?”  But the speed and the lightness of the narrative — Coller is an old-fashioned plain writer who wants the light to shine on his subject, not on his linguistic capers — make it delightful and a quiet reproach to other writers whose ego is the true subject.  The book slows down a bit, a pleasant change, when we get to the longtime residency Johnny had at the Tail of the Cock in Los Angeles, but it is much more a narrative of a professional taking whatever jobs came his way rather than psychobiography or pathobiography.  I’ve left out the fascinating exploration into his family — both his father and mother and the information his daughter provides — and his interest in playing, with such elan, in 5/4.

Also . . . there are pages of musical analysis of Johnny’s style by someone who knows how the piano can be played, Dick Hyman; reminiscences and reviews by musicians and journalists; a very thorough discography and a listing of Johnny’s compositions . . . and more, including fascinating photographs and newspaper clippings.

The book is to the point, as was its subject, and in its own way, it swings along superbly.  Anyone who’s thrilled to the playful brilliance of a Guarnieri chorus will enjoy it.  And it sends us back to the recordings, a lovely side-effect.  Here’s a later solo performance, so tender:

The Jazzology website is slightly out of date, but I am sure that the book can be purchased directly from them, and it is worth the extra effort to have a copy.

May your happiness increase!

FOR FATHER’S DAY: “THE JAZZ APPLE DOESN’T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE,” by SONNY McGOWN

A touching reminiscence by my friend, jazz collector and scholar Sonny McGown:

Through our correspondence over the years and my recent YouTube posts as “Davey Tough,”  our dear host Michael became aware of my father’s musical impact on my life. Quite often many people ask “How did you discover Jazz?” My story begins in 1952 at age 5, observing my father’s music related activities.

Sonny and Mac, later in life.

His name was Monroe “Mac” McGown and his story began at age 10 in the late 1930’s when he was fascinated and captured by the radio broadcasts he heard of the great Benny Goodman band with Krupa, Stacy, James, Elman et al and he soon started collecting Swing records up until the beginning of World War II. As a result of his boyhood hobby in Chemistry, he enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and became a Pharmacist’s Mate. He deployed with the U.S. Marines and eventually landed in one of the later waves of the horrific and extended battle of Okinawa. After being honorably discharged in 1946, he decided that Radio and TV electronics would be a promising career so he took correspondence classes and mastered the science. Soon he became a TV repairman and stockpiled his home with radios, TVs and various pieces of audio equipment such as turntables, amplifiers, and speakers.

His first job as a TV repairman was with the Southern Electric Appliance Company in Arlington, VA, who also sold phonograph records which necessarily enlarged his record collection and diminished his take home pay each payday. Sometime in 1950 he procured a Wilcox-Gay Home Disc recorder which allowed him to permanently capture radio and TV music broadcasts onto aluminum based acetate discs. Using his electronics skills, he wired the recorder input to the amplifier stages of the TV and radio thereby obtaining the best possible audio fidelity.

This is where my Jazz initiation begins.

Creating a record involved the constant removal of the metal shavings carved out by the heavy cutting arm. This feat was performed gently with a soft brush and without touching the disc in order to not disturb the turntable speed. Watching this process simply fascinated me and my father recognized an opportunity to stimulate my interest.  In 1952 he trained me to be the brush boy. All of a sudden, I was part of the music preservation process! Further, as fate would have it, I started to relate emotionally to the music as well. There was something captivating about it to me, particularly the rhythms and soon he made me keenly aware of artists like Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Eddie Condon, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey among many others.

Thanks to his instruction it wasn’t long before I was able to recognize them by sight and eventually by ear. For a kid this was truly exciting and was similar to seeing your favorite baseball player on TV whose trading card you had but in this case it was a recording that I possessed and could play over and over.

A few years later in 1955, home tape recording became commercially available and my father upgraded to a Magnecord M30 reel to reel recorder and the quality of the recordings vastly improved because there was no annoying surface noise which was inherent in the acetate disc surfaces. More technical training from my father ensued and I soon became an official tape recorder switch operator. At this point he had gained enough confidence in my ability to start and stop the recorder before and after a performance. Eventually he strategically staged a tape recorder setup in the living room, dining room, and master bedroom operational station was usually the bedroom. For upcoming program guidance, we subscribed to the weekly issue of TV Guide magazine which was pretty reliable at listing guest artists on various shows for the week so we had a good idea what to watch for music potential.

So much good Jazz was still on the air in the 1950s. Steve Allen was a serious Jazz promoter as well as an accomplished pianist and regularly featured numerous notable Jazz guests. Jackie Gleason promoted the Dorsey Brothers on “Stage Show.” NBC Monitor Radio had 15 minutes segments where they would cut away to another studio or Jazz venue and broadcast live music. Garry Moore was a big Jazz fan and had top flight talent in his “house band.” There were educational programs such as “The Subject Is Jazz” hosted by critic Gilbert Seldes, “The Stars of Jazz” series from the West Coast hosted by Bobby Troup, “The Timex All Star Jazz Concerts” were superb shows and “The 7 Lively Arts” series which included arguably the most famous Jazz TV broadcast which was the “Sound of Jazz” production. As a kid my favorite TV show was “Pete Kelly’s Blues” with the likes of Dick Cathcart, Matty Matlock, and Nick Fatool providing the background music. In hindsight, I was so fortunate to have the real time opportunity to absorb all of these wonderful sights and sounds by so many Jazz Giants including some who had just a few years left to live.

One of the best regular sources for good Jazz was the daily Arthur Godfrey Show on CBS Radio. Arthur loved Jazz and stocked his “house band” with renowned players such as Dick Hyman, Lou McGarity, Urbie Green, Remo Palmieri, Cozy Cole, and my favorite of all, clarinetist extraordinaire Johnny Mince. Each summer day for me began sitting beside our Zenith FM radio at 9 am with hopes that Johnny would be featured which happened quite often. We have some wonderful Godfrey recordings of eminent guests including Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Benny Goodman, and Erroll Garner among many others.  What a show! You can imagine how sad I felt when summer recess ended.

As you can probably tell by now I was happily hooked on this wonderful music called Jazz due to all of the paternal influence around the house between 1952 and 1958. The next logical step was to begin record collecting. Fortunately, another key person entered my life at this time: and that was my Uncle Don who was my father’s brother. I had an RCA Victor 45 rpm only stackable record changer. Unc gave me several 45 rpm records with the first being a box set of the 1938 Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert. He also helped me expand my nascent collection by taking me each Saturday morning to Swillers, our local record shop, and I would pick out one 45 rpm single and they all came from the RCA Gold Standard series. Tommy Dorsey’s “Boogie Woogie” was my favorite followed closely by Benny Goodman’s “King Porter Stomp.”

Don also subscribed to the Jazztone and Columbia Record Clubs and there were new LPs arriving in the mail on a monthly basis. Eventually I expanded into LPs and my very first purchase was Columbia CL 547 titled “Jam Session Coast to Coast” with the Eddie Condon Gang representing the East Coast and the Rampart St. Paraders on the West Coast; truly one of the Classic Jazz LPs of all time. I wore out every groove on that disc!

Lastly, I must not forget my dear mother! We grocery shopped once a week and she allowed me to buy one record; yes, in those days even grocery stores sold records. Thanks to her I purchased the complete twelve volumes of “The RCA Victor Encyclopedia of Recorded Jazz” which cost a whopping $0.79 cents per 10 inch LP.

Eventually, there came a point where my father and I had our musical differences; thanks in particular to the “Jam Session Coast to Coast” album. He was more of a Big and Small Band Swing fan while I was more into the Condon style. He couldn’t convince me that Benny Goodman was better than Edmond Hall and I couldn’t convince him that Wild Bill Davison could cut Louis Armstrong. It took me some time to realize of course that he was right and I was simply naïve.

On another matter, I’m still feeling guilty to this day that I broke one of his most cherished 78 rpm records. He rarely got mad but this mishap was really disappointing to him. It was Brunswick 7699 by Teddy Wilson and His Orchestra. His favorite side was “Why Do I Lie to Myself About You” which is a real swinging instrumental with Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, and Jonah Jones. I love that record myself, but I’ve never been able to find an original replacement copy because the flip side is “Them There Eyes” by the same band but with a vocal by Billie Holiday. All of Billie’s Brunswick records are highly collectible these days and tough to find. The search goes on even though my father passed away in 1997.

One last fond memory that I truly cherish from my formative period pertains to the release of the movie “The Benny Goodman Story”. My father’s Uncle was an accomplished organist and projectionist at the McHenry Theater on Light St. in Baltimore, MD.  When the BG movie came to town we made the 45 mile trip to Baltimore where Uncle George allowed us upstairs into the projection booth to directly access the theater sound system and tape record the soundtrack in the best fidelity. I still have that reel of tape from 1955 and it plays fine today.

To this point, I have addressed the first 6 years of my Jazz foundation all of which I recall as if it were yesterday. Needless to say, we had a fabulous time building a large Jazz archive together over many years until he passed away. One of the most memorable collecting moments occurred in the mid-1960s. I went to the Discount Record Shop in Washington DC and purchased 2 LPs on the Melodeon label produced by Dick Spottswood. These LPs were the first issue of the legendary and mysterious Bill Dodge World Transcription session featuring Benny Goodman and Bunny Berigan. This was unquestionably the greatest recording session with Benny and Bunny together. Also, as avid collectors, this was the kind of session that we never expected to be made available to the public. As soon as I got home that afternoon, I called him at work and he was in total disbelief. He was home in half an hour and we played those records over and over until midnight. For us, this day was like hitting the lottery!

Finally, I must note that my father influenced me in other ways that shaped the course of my life. His alternate passion for electronics lured me into that domain and we spent countless hours building AM and police band radios, repairing TVs and even making loudspeaker baffles from large cardboard boxes. These appealing projects led me to pursue a career in Electrical Engineering, working for the U.S. Navy for 35 years. Never one to be outdone, my father advanced as well by becoming a computer programmer, designing naval shipboard antennas at the Naval Research Laboratory for 40 years. As they say, “like father, like son.” I believe it was just meant to be.

Like many of you, I could go on about my Jazz influences and experiences. The way in which all of this happened has been key to much happiness in my life up to the present day. This music is joyful and comes from the heart. I can’t imagine my life without it and for that I am deeply grateful to my father in particular who fostered my musical and career paths. He didn’t push me into these realms but allowed me to naturally grow within them. As a result, my happiness still increases daily!

Sonny McGown

May your happiness increase!

SOMETHING FOR THOSE PEOPLE, AND WE KNOW WHO THEY ARE: HEALING SOUNDS FROM The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 11, 2019)

The gorgeous music below is sent out as a moral inducement, less of a rebuke, to the people who “don’t know how to Act Nice.”

The boss who raises his voice at a subordinate; the salesperson who tries to flatter us to make the sale; the insecure person who bullies; the driver who tailgates; the liar; the self-absorbed person too busy recounting their own exploits to ask how you might be or too busy to leave that smartphone alone . . . the list is, sadly, long, and there is no need to add to it here.

To these people I send Jonathan Doyle’s instructive but also healing gift of this performance — called DON’T BE THAT WAY — performed at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.  The artful creators are Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone; Jacob Zimmerman, alto saxophone; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  This easy rocking performance (not too fast, thank you!) summons up Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Lionel Hampton small-group recordings rather than the famous Benny Goodman one.

Incidentally, I don’t espouse Goodman-bashing, but the 1934 Webb recording of the song, an instrumental, has Edgar Sampson as composer; later, Mitchell Parish added lyrics; Benny added his name, as the sheet music bearing his image, twice, shows.

The Swingtet scales peaks without stressing itself or us.  How splendidly they glide.  Bless them!  And bless Mark and Valerie Jansen for making this life-changing music happen at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, a sweet explosion of joys which will nuzzle our faces once again on May 7-10, 2020.  For now:

So, please.  Be any way that’s kind, easy, and compassionate.  Be aware that we are all connected.  Be candid, be loving.  Be aware.

But DON’T BE THAT WAY.

May your happiness increase!

“TO SWING FAN No. 1”: AN AUTOGRAPH ALBUM c. 1941

More delightful eBaying.

The seller describes the holy relic thusly: An original 1930’s album containing 88 autograph signatures of jazz musicians, sporting figures and other personalities. The musicians represented include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Desmond, Gene Krupa, Bid Sid Catlett, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, “Hot Lips” Page, Cab Calloway, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Les Brown, and many more. The album with a two-ring binding, with some signatures signed directly onto the album leaves and others clipped and mounted, some on larger folded sheets. 31 pages of autographs, with further blank pages in the middle; on the last several pages, all the grades from the owner’s report cards from 1930 to 1943 are meticulously recorded! An inscription to the owner on the verso of the title page dates the album to 1931. Light toning and edge wear; overall in fine condition. 6.25 x 4.5 inches (15.8 x 11.7 cm).

Here is the link, and the price is $750 plus $20 shipping.  I don’t need it, but I certainly covet it: pieces of paper touched by people I have revered for half a century.  (And, of course, imagine having heard, seen, and spoken to them!)

Before we get to the treasures within, I can only speculate that someone listing report cards from 1930 to 1943 was born, let us say, in 1925, and so might no longer be on the planet.  But he or she was an avid Hot Lips Page acolyte, so we are certainly related spiritually.

The only name unfamiliar to me in this rich collection was Mart Kenney, whom I learned was a well-known Canadian jazz musician and bandleader (his “Western Gentlemen”) and long-lived, 1910-2006.  Did our autograph collector visit Canada?

In general, the signatures collected here suggest a wealth of bands seen and heard in 1941: Lips, Dave Tough, and Max Kaminsky with Artie Shaw; Mel Powell with Goodman; Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Krupa.

Here’s a peek.

Artie Shaw, with two Lips Page signatures!

Benny Goodman, with Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and John Simmons!

My favorite page.  And Page (with equal time for Walter)!

I wonder how many of these pages Gene signed in his life.

Others in Gene’s band, including Sam Musiker and Roy Eldridge.

Anita O’Day and Joe Springer.

Hi-De-Ho, on a tiny label.

Woody Herman.

Bob Higgins and Les Brown.

Mart Kenney and musicians.

And I presume more members of the Western Gentlemen.

For once, this seems like a bargain: 88 signatures plus thirteen years of the owner’s report cards.  Who could resist?

Just because no JAZZ LIVES post should be completely silent, here (thanks to Loren Schoenberg) is a 1941 airshot from the Steel Pier of Artie Shaw’s band featuring Hot Lips Page, Dave Tough, and George Auld on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

May your happiness increase!

GOOD MEN AND TRUE (July 6, 1952)

 

 

 

 

 

Written in between sets at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival.

For some jazz fans, however one defines that slippery term, it remains fashionable to look down on Benjamin David Goodman, hot clarinetist. He was popular and prolific, prosperous and famous; he didn’t suffer (except for severe back pain); he lived a long time, was pale in complexion and Hebraic at birth.  Some thought his press-agentry (“the King of Swing”) was both inaccurate and insulting to other monarchs.

And the overwhelming evidence of his music has had, for some, a flattening effect: those who don’t listen closely might find that one version of AVALON runs into the next, high-speed crowd-pleasing set pieces.  (However, I notice that few raise the same objection with Charlie Parker’s returning to his controlled repertoire.)

But he was not only an extraordinary musician; he was a hot improviser who had splendid taste in his colleagues.  This post is for Kati Powell, daughter of the delightful and always-surprising pianist / composer / arranger Mel Powell, pictured above, whose work brightens every recording he ever made.

Here is a new lovely discovery, brought to us by the generous “Davey Tough” — whose YouTube channel is one marvel after another.  Listen, savor, and be transformed.  These three men are not going through the motions, and their hot virtuosity has yet to be equaled, both in solo and in ensemble:

Play that again.  Three minutes more out of your busy life will be rewarded by beauty.  And give thanks to the unknown recordist, who made marvels permanent rather than evanescent.

May your happiness increase!