Tag Archives: Bert Whyatt

“BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC” (by George Hulme and Bert Whyatt)

BOBBY HACKETT 2 auto

I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so.  If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:

The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding.  One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong.  No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative.  And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis.  LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman.  Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:

And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:

And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:

This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites.  My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.

Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades.  He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.

Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book.  (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.)  So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.

The book looks unobtrusive from the front:

HACKETT book cover

but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:

HACKETT photo for book cover

Its contents are anything but dull.  and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative.  It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans.  The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on.  Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.

From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts).  One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 [1947], with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.”  Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.

Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages.  The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices.  It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.

Here is a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable.  I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm.  And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby:

May your happiness increase!

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CONFESSIN’

Muggsy_Spanier

I just acquired the late Bert Whyatt’s bio-discography of Muggsy Spanier, THE LONESOME ROAD.  Published by Jazzology Press in 1995, it feels fresh.

I read non-fiction books haphazardly, especially when I know the shape of the narrative, but for some reason I began this one at the beginning, where Bert wrote of his connection with Ruth, Muggsy’s widow, and her wholehearted cooperation in the book, which combines his research with her unpublished memoir.

I found this passage on page 7 and think it moving beyond simple explanation. (Note: in his last years, the Spaniers lived in Sausalito, California, a town the Beloved and I came to know):

One evening, we [Bert and his wife and Ruth] returned to Sausalito from San Francisco and Ruth asked us to pull the car off the road which runs down from the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We often would stop here for a last cigarette after the Club Hangover had closed for the night,” she said.  “It helped Muggsy to unwind and we would usually sit quietly, saying little.  Sometimes he would seek reassurance that I loved  him. ‘I feel so lonely and afraid,’ he would say. I would remind him of the affection felt for him worldwide, of all his friends who loved him and, of course, that I did too.”

She paused and then said, “If we ever get that book finished, we should call it ‘Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road.'”

My first reaction to this little tale was astonishment, then sorrow.  To think that a man so much at one with his art, after an evening of sharing joy through his music, could feel so desolate and frightened, was nearly shattering.

I then thought wryly that I had been wrong in assuming that playing hot cornet was armor against existential dread. . . . that a plunger mute could keep such essential anxiety at a distance.

But even as I felt sorrow and sympathy for Muggsy, I was flooded with pride and admiration.  He was born in 1901, and it might be cliched to write  that men of that generation were told it was unmanly to reveal their hearts with such openness, perhaps even to their wives.  Being male required staunchness and emotional reserve. Oh, one could say “I love you!” to one’s Beloved, one could woo the person one wanted to be intimate with by using words like those, one could say it to children.  But to say I NEED LOVE and I AM AFRAID was not something men were trained or encouraged to do. Candor like that might have seemed a confession of weakness.

But somehow Muggsy knew that his emotions were the magical element that made him able to play the blues, or the love song that he aimed directly at Ruth in their courtship, I’M CONFESSIN’. Love was at the center of his art.  And such heartfelt candid utterance.  And he found the courage to push aside his expected role and, in the darkness, speak his truths.

I celebrate Ruth also for creating an atmosphere where her husband could confess his inmost heart and receive reassurance and love, not dismissal or mockery.  She must have understood her husband’s need as genuine and commendable.  She didn’t say to him, “What is wrong with you, talking like that?”

Perhaps she knew that it takes a brave individual to openly say, “I am afraid,” an honest one to say, “I am lonely.”

Because of this anecdote, the man I admired as a jazz musician is now enhanced rather than diminished, a figure larger and more beautiful than an anxious man seeking reassurance.  Muggsy Spanier, perhaps an unlikely figure, is the embodiment of our deep need for love — a hero of that exalted emotion.  He seems to have known that without it, we wither.

His own road might have been lonesome, but I find his openness inspiring and brave.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE FROM DANNY HEP-CAT (1947)

I can’t remember how I first learned of a children’s record, SYLVESTER THE SEAL, which featured Bobby Hackett and other jazz players. (It is not in any discography I know.) But I was terribly excited to find a copy of the two-disc set (two 10″ 78s in a paper sleeve) at an estate sale this summer.  I think it is not only an endearing story but a musically satisfying experience.

SEAL

Charles Grean gets credit for the music (several short blues excerpts, variations on YANKEE DOODLE and AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL); Irving Townsend the story — in part an introduction to jazz, but also a fable with an encouraging moral.

The narrator, Eddie Mayehoff, was a radio star and comic actor; I presume that one of his routines involved speaking in his version of a seal’s voice, which sounds rather like a person talking with his face half-submerged in the bathroom sink. If any seals read JAZZ LIVES, they can write in and comment on his authenticity.

Through the research efforts of Hackett discographers Bert Whyatt (now deceased), George Hulme, and Derek Coller, I found out the personnel of the seriously impressive band.  (Thanks to Derek for sharing the facts; the original data was uncovered by Vince Giordano.)

EDDIE MAYEHOFF with All-Star Orchestra (Eddie Mayehoff, narration; Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Peanuts Hucko, tenor saxophone; Sanford Gold, piano; Bob Haggart, bass; Cozy Cole, drums). New York, New York: Monday, December 29, 1947.

(It is intriguing — or odd? — that they recorded Parts 2, 3, 4, and 1 in that order.) I note that Hackett, Hucko, Haggart, and Cole had worked and recorded with Louis Armstrong that year; in addition, SYLVESTER was completed just before the second Petrillo recording ban of 1948.

The records start off inauspiciously, with a stiffly formal trumpet that bears no resemblance to Hackett’s beautiful arabesques, but the atmosphere warms as we hear more from the band.  The fourth side is especially rewarding.

And although amateur brass players know that it is impossible to sound like Bobby Hackett in the space of fourteen minutes, that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.  I wish more people would take up this challenge, whether or not a job with Benny Bunny and his Broadway Band was at stake:

Here, thanks to a site called “The technicolor Dreams of Perri Prinz – Furry Jazz,” I offer the inside covers with four of the eight charming illustrations from the RCA Victor issue for listeners who wish to follow along:

SEAL inside 1

and

SEAL inside 2

Thanks, “Furry Jazz,” which can be explored here.

That moral?  Anything is possible for those who are fervently committed to their goal, who are truly willing to work for it, who will “put the time in,” which is never this easy. But I hope this story encouraged some young listeners on their own paths. It also helps to have wise, kind friends, willing to share what they know.

“You could, if you tried,” says Danny Hep-Cat — help we all could use.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU’RE DEAD

Many of us have made plans, whether vague and silent or specific and detailed, about what should happen to our STUFF (thank you, George Carlin) after we are no longer around to enjoy it.

But this post isn’t to urge people to make such plans. I would like readers to consider the idea of spontaneous philantropies while the giver and the recipient are both alive and sentient.  

Suppose you know that a jazz friend has never heard an unusual or rare record. You could make a bequest of that disc in your will . . . or you could give it to your friend NOW. If that’s too painfully a precursor of your own death, you could invite your friend over to hear it. You could send a copy now — before other responsibilities get in the way of this impulse.

If you know that your niece is playing saxophone in the school band, why not make sure she has AFTERNOON OF A BASIE-ITE, Ben Webster with Strings, and Buddy Tate records to enjoy? Again, NOW. A fledgling singer has never heard Mildred Bailey or Jimmy Rushing? You’re beginning to see a pattern.

These generosities make a number of happy results possible. Who doesn’t love getting a gift that, in its essence, says, “The person who gave this to me knows me so well and loves me”? So your gesture becomes an offering of affection and joy. In addition, acts like these are quiet ways of letting the music reverberate through the universe: jazz proselytizing, if you will.

A good deal of my musical happiness has been the direct result of the active generosity of many people, living and dead, friends and collectors who said, “You HAVE to hear this!”  Marc Caparone, Ricky Ricccardi, Manfred Selchow, Stu Zimny, David Weiner, Rob Rothberg, Bill Gallagher, David Goldin, Butch Smith, John L. Fell, Joe Boughton, Hal Smith, Wayne Jones, Bob Erdos, Bill Coverdale, Roy Bower, Bert Whyatt, Derek Coller, and two dozen others. Without them, my musical range would have been much more narrow. I remember the giver as much as I do the gift.

Much of my work on this blog is my own attempt to give gifts of music old and new. “Wait, you have never heard HAVEN’T NAMED IT YET?” “You never heard Lips Page or Tricky Sam Nanton play the blues?”

It’s a paradox, but giving precious artifacts away to someone who will appreciate them does not diminish your ownership; it intensifies your pleasure.

I am skirting the practical details of sharing; I don’t mean to suggest that you simply burn CDs, because that deprives the original artists of royalties or income. But I do urge people to open their treasure troves and share the music.

So rather than thinking about the next record or CD you absolutely must possess, why not turn the impulse on its head and think, “Who in my life would be thrilled to listen to what I so enjoy? Who deserves a gift of music, and how might I make this possible?”

In return, you will hear their pleasure and gratitude and be warmed by it. Such acts are love embodied, and the energy behind them is never wasted.

P. S.  If you’re reading this and thinking, “All that is very nice, but I have no rare jazz records to share with other people,” there are always chances to make generosity take shape without spending money. Consider the Ethel Waters principle:

If you say to someone today, “I love you,” “Thanks for everything,” “I’m grateful to you,” “I’m so sorry,” “Can you forgive me?” “What can I do for you?” or “It’s been a long time since we spoke,” those words have the ringing beauty of a Bix solo or a Lester Young chorus.

May your happiness increase!

THE POET, GRIPPED BY PURE LOVE, EARNESTLY STATES THAT HE WOULD RATHER HAVE THE COMPANY OF THE BELOVED THAN ANY OTHER PERSON, EVEN ONE OF GREATER WEALTH AND FAME, AND THESE WORDS ARE ACCOMPANIED BY A PLEASING AIR

What follows is the Official JAZZ LIVES Love Song.  It captures my feelings exactly and deeply, and the music that accompanies it is perfectly delightful.

The song is I’D RATHER BE WITH YOU — composed by Harry Akst, Lew Brown, and Elsa Maxwell for a night club “revue” for the Casino de Paree.  (I have read that the New York club Studio 54 occupied the same space, decades later.)

My guess about the composition of this song is that Akst created the melody, Brown the lyrics, and that they called on Ms. Maxwell for the details of Society that would make it authentic.  (I can invent the dialogue for their meeting, and I am sure you can also.)  I’ve not seen the film nor a copy of the sheet music, but the song was recorded in Chicago by Charles LaVere and his Chicagoans, and we have the performance I love through a series of nearly miraculous kindnesses.

The jazz connoisseur Helen Oakley Dance arranged for this racially mixed band — not yet accepted as the norm — to record for the nearly-dead OKeh label, and the records were not issued at the time.  (Thanks to hal Smith for this detail.)

Some thirty years later, Columbia Records was cleaning house and someone decided to dispose of a number of unlabeled one-sided vinyl test pressings.  Helene Chmura, blessed be her name, asked collector Dan Mahony if he wanted them before they were thrown away; he agreed, and among them were the seven sides from the LaVere sessions of March 11 and April 5, 1935 — this performance comes from the latter.  I read that these were “test-only” performances, which means that they were the Thirties equivalent of audition “demo” recordings.  Given the circumstances, we are so lucky — beyond lucky — to have them.  (Mahony passed them on to the fine UK collector and gentleman Bert Whyatt; the discs now are held by Charles LaVere’s son Stephen.)

Before I write more, you should hear the music.  The video below was created by the exceedingly talented Chris Tyle (cornet, clarinet, drums, vocal, jazz scholar, bandleader, archivist, writer . . . . ) as a special commission for JAZZ LIVES.  Alec Wilder would have called the song “notey,” and deplored the repeated notes; I am amused by the way the lines spin out to accommodate the lengthy lyrics . . . but it goes right to my heart.

The musicians are Charles LaVere, vocal (and possibly trumpet); Johnny Mendell and Marty Marsala, trumpets; Joe Marsala, clarinet / alto; Joe Masek, tenor; Boyce Brown, alto; Preston Jackson, trombone; Jess Stacy, piano; Joe Young, guitar; Israel Crosby, bass; Zutty Singleton, drums.  That’s some band.

I find the lyrics particularly charming.  Of course the notion that “I like you a lot” is a familiar refrain in love songs.  “I like pie, I like cake, I like you best of all,” another.  “It all depends on you” and “I wanna go where you go — then I’ll be happy,” other variations.  But this song, where the singer says “I prefer your company to that of famous members of the upper class who would offer me unique experiences so far beyond the ordinary,” is offering a special kind of love-bouquet.  And it is witty and sweet that the singer doesn’t say, “Mrs. Astor wanted to sleep with me but I told her NO because I like you better.”  No, the lyrics advance a series of whimsical rhetorical possibilities — which must have been especially striking in the Depression: IF Mrs. Vanderbilt invited me to dine . . . and I think we are expected to know that this is a dream rather than a real invitation, and that the singer and the Beloved do operate in the world of the shared hot dog at Coney Island.

But love often is charmingly hyperbolic, and the singer insists, “My preference for you, my fidelity to you, is not a simple matter of preferring you more than your real peers.  I’d rather be with you than with anyone else, no matter how rare and glittering the experience anyone else could offer.”  That, to me, makes it a deep and authentic — even while whimsical — offer of love.

And the music!  It might be too much for some when I say I love every note of this performance, but it’s true — from the repeated vamp capped with a Zutty accent (sounds like his pal Sidney) into Boyce’s melody statement, so sweet yet never sentimental, with that rhythm section, Stacy bubbling, beneath.  Marty Marsala takes the bridge in an impassioned way, with the saxophones playing a written figure to emphasize his statement; a break from Boyce leads into an even more beautiful exposition of the melody.  (If anyone doubts that Boyce was a remarkable player, soulful and precise, let the skeptic listen to that chorus a few times.  It stands alongside the best alto playing I know.)

This — eighty seconds — is a fully satisfying musical offering.  But there’s more.  After an interlude concluded by Zutty and a two-note phrase from Preston Jackson, Charles LaVere begins to sing.  (Is it Marsala or  Mandell echoing and improvising around and under him?)  His diction is refined; he is offering us the story in the clearest way.  But the vibrato-laden way in which he ends phrases is both intense and heartfelt; his reading of “be” in the song’s title is so touching.  We know he cares!  On a second or third listening, we can honor Jess Stacy, stealing the show yet again.  Tenorist Joe Masek brings out his best early-Thirties Hawkins, and one of the musicians (or a studio onlooker) lets out a fervent yell of approval at 2:37.  I agree with the anonymous emoter.  And the final eight bars are a full-band ensemble, both tender and rocking, driven on by embellishments from Preston Jackson and Zutty’s cymbal.

It’s the combination — witty lyrics without a hint of satire, delivered with the utmost feeling over a hot jazz background — that does it for me.

(In this century, James Dapogny urged Marty Grosz to record the song — which he did, splendidly, on an Arbors CD called MARTY GROSZ AND HIS HOT COMBINATION.)

I send this to performance and video to my Beloved, who has already heard and felt the song.

I encourage you to send it to your Beloved.

If you don’t have a Beloved at the moment and would like one, play this over and over until the music and the lyrics are brilliantly resonant in your head, then hum and sing it under your breath as you go through your day.  It will, I am sure, attract the love of your life to you.

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S LIFE IN (AND BEYOND) THOSE GROOVES: THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS

I suspect that most people, asked to describe “a jazz record collector,” would create at best a gentle caricature.  It wouldn’t be too far from the general stereotype of someone who assorts, covets, arranges, and studies any kind of ancient artifact.  In the imagined cartoon, the man showing off his prize collection of mint Brunswick 78s by the Boswell Sisters is simply a cousin of the museum curator, happily dusty.

But stereotypes are meant to be exploded by reality, and many jazz record collectors have seen the daylight and know that there is life beyond the shelves, beyond their notebooks of sought-after discs.  One sign of life is the refreshing friskiness of the Journal of the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors.  I would have written this blogpost a few weeks ago but I kept on finding new things to read in the March 2012 Journal . . . so I apologize for my tardiness but it is another sign of life.

I was entranced immediately by the cover — a comic portrait of trombonist Miff Mole, taken in Chicago in the early Fifties (courtesy of the jazz scholar Derek Coller): boys and girls, don’t try this at home without adult supervision.

Inside I found Bert Whyatt’s discography of the rough-and-tumble West Coast pianist Burt Bales (including recordings with Bunk Johnson and Frank Goudie), a chapter in Don Manning’s novel SWING HIGH! — its subject being an insider’s look at life on the road with a big band in the Forties.  I read an extensive affectionate report by Perry Huntoon on Jazz Ascona, and made my way through many CD reviews.

And that’s not all.  In an initial offering of jazz research done by Dr. Ian Crosbie — who sent questionnaires to many musicians and got remarkably candid answers, we learn from the Paul Whiteman reedman Charles Strickfadden that (in his opinion) Bill Challis’ arrangements for the Whiteman band were “melodic, uncomplicated, non-swinging . . . No affect on trend.”

In another section of the Journal I read a fascinating long letter by the scholar and current IAJRC President Geoffrey Wheeler — its focus on Charlie Parker’s RELAXIN’ AT CAMARILLO.  To give this its proper context, the previous issue of the Journal (December 2011) had an intriguing study of Parker’s actual stay at  the mental hospital located in Camarillo — written by William A. Pryor.  Wheeler adds this, which surprised me: “During a stay at Bellevue Hospital in New York City in the early 1950s, Parker was interviewed by a resident psychiatrist regarding his use of drugs.  At one point, the psychiatrist asked Parker if he wanted to give up drugs.  Parker’s response was an emphatic ‘no’!  . . . . This was related to me by a personal friend who was later on the staff at Bellevue and was told this by the attending psychiatrist.”

There’s more.  The IAJRC will be holding its annual convention in New Orleans (Sept. 6-8, 2012) and in addition to scholarly presentations and the opportunity to buy records, chat with fellow jazz enthusiasts, and tour the city, there will be live music, video presentations by Tom Hustad, Ruby Braff expert and author of the new book BORN TO PLAY, film scholar Mark Cantor, and jazz researcher Sonny McGown (the last one having as its subject the eccentric clarinetist Irving Fazola).  The banjoist and singer Michael Boving (of the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys) will speak about Eva Taylor touring Scandinavia in the Seventies — with filmclips, photos, recordings never heard — and he will be joined by Clarence Williams’ grandson, Spencer.   

To join the IAJRC and get in on the fun, click here.  To learn more about the convention, click here.

May your happiness increase.