To me, Sidney Catlett is a marvel beyond marvels. An extraordinary soloist; an unmatched team player with the greatest intuition about what his colleagues were creating. An alchemist. And when Big Sid had the finest musicians to work with, which was most of the time, they scaled mountains.
Thankfully for us, he had many opportunities to record between 1929 and 1950. Most of his work is readily available: with Louis, Benny, Duke, Bird, Bechet, Hawk, Ben, Roy, Condon, Lips, James P,, Joe Thomas, Teddy, and three dozen others. But his performances at Carnegie Hall on April 5, 1947, have not often been heard, and they deserve to be.
His pairing with Charlie Shavers is acrobatic magic (catch them on film, although out of synch, in SEPIA CINDERELLA); Hank Jones, so youthful in 1947, was already creating pearls of sound. SID FLIPS HIS LID is beyond belief. And the jam session offers opportunities to hear players who no doubt encountered each other often (the Ventura-Harris unit was a working group) but never recorded together otherwise.
Two by an unassailable trio: Charlie Shavers, trumpet; Hank Jones, piano; Sidney, drums.
SID FLIPS HIS LID — like nothing else before or since:
and the closing jam session on JUST YOU, JUST ME. The label says the drummer is Dave Tough, but I always thought that an error, given his dislike for drum solos and the very Catlett-sound of the set. I asked a few drummer-scholars who agree it’s Sidney, joined by Charlie Shavers, Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Marjorie Hyams, vibraphone; Curly Russell, string bass:
There’s a surprising lack of documentation about this evening (even on its CD issue, as the last offering in a Verve multi-disc Forties JATP set). I believe it was produced by Leonard Feather, even though it was issued on Norman Granz’s Norgran label. I wonder how much of the evening was recorded and not issued: this would have been an interlude rather than a full concert. Where’s the rest of it?
(And Tom Lord’s online discography makes the first selections by the Hank Jones Quartet, with Curly Russell added, and he adds guitarist Bill DeArango to JUST YOU.)
A memory: I was not born when this concert took place, but twenty-plus years later Ed Beach played SID FLIPS HIS LID on a two-hour radio program devoted to Sidney, and when I write that it exploded through the speaker, I am not exaggerating. A number of years later I found a seriously scratched copy of the Norgan issue — with its yellow label — that I must have lent to someone, because it no longer is within my reach. No matter, the music was issued on the JATP set mentioned above.
But here is it for collective astonishment. And just in case your supply of marvels needs replenishment, the drummer on the other performances issued from this concert is Dave Tough: hear them here.
That would have been an evening to remember. Miraculously we have these performances.
As they say, THIS JUST IN. It’s a saving grace to have friends, even better when they’re erudite and generous. Guitarist / writer / scholar Nick Rossi rescued me from my ignorance, as he has done often.
According to author/historian Gayle Murchison, the April 5, 1947 Carnegie Hall concert was promoted by Don Palmer (aka Dominic Plumeri, not the Canadian jazz musician of the same name), who was Ventura’s manager at the time. This is backed up by an April 23, 1947 review in “Down Beat.” As you can see from the clipping it was titled “Concert in Jazz” and did feature Feather as an emcee. The headliner? Mildred Bailey! Williams and her working trio which may have included Bridget O’Flynn (drums) and June Rotenberg (bass) got second billing. Intriguing to me is that Mary Osborne was on the bill, but it is not believed that she appeared with Mary Lou. Feather was still pushing his “Girl Stars” concept — Williams was a key component at the time — so he may have had more to do with the concert than billed. In early May 1947, “Down Beat” reported that the concert had lost money.
and Mike Levin’s DOWN BEAT review:
Nick’s research and the review offer answers to a few questions. Any distorted sound (thanks to the Carnegie Hall microphones) may have made some of the recording unusable. I believe Norman Granz issued this recording in 1956, and whether the rest of the concert tape or acetates were scrapped, we can’t know, but no mention of them turned up in the recent JATP compilation. Second, the “Girl Stars” were recording for RCA Victor and Mildred Bailey may have been under contract to Crown Records, which may have made Granz reluctant to negotiate to issue their work. Did the unissued material end up in Leonard Feather’s archive? I don’t know.
On another note: when I first heard the drumming on JUST YOU, I thought it was, in fact, Dave Tough playing on Sidney’s drum kit. But keener-eared professional jazz drummers told me otherwise. Listening to it again, the drumming up until the middle of Hyams’ solo still sounds very much to me like Tough: the steady bass drum work, the cymbal splashes, the relative absence of the ornamentation Sidney did so beautifully. In JAMMIN’ THE BLUES, we see Sidney hand the sticks over to Jo Jones in mid-solo without losing the beat. I have heard an unissued Eddie Condon concert, announced by Alistair Cooke, where Sidney passes the sticks to Cozy Cole in the middle of a long IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE. My ears tell me that something of the sort — wonderful acrobatics and great visual theatre — is happening here, although I am perfectly content to hug my theory if others disagree. Do listen again.
Honoring Sidney Catlett while remaining completely himself: that’s what the masterful artist-percussionist Josh Collazo does here in spellbinding ways. It was the set closer of Marc Caparone’s Back O’Town All-Stars set at the Redwood Coast Music Festival because nothing — except perhaps SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH or the national anthem could follow that.
And for those of us who understand the music, STEAK FACE (named for Louis’ Boston terrier, a happy carnivore) IS a national anthem. It’s thrilling, a complete drama embodied on a drum set.
The band is modeled on Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, majestically. Marc Caparone, trumpet, vocal; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jacob Zimmerman, clarinet and alto saxophone; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. This marvelous six-minute natural event took place at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, Eureka, California, September 30, 2022:
Josh inhabits the world of that solo so splendidly that it would be an affront to post a photograph of Big Sid here. But I hope he’ll forgive me for posting the source of this composition’s title: “General,” Louis Armstrong’s Boston terrier (Joe Glaser bred dogs) who obviously had deep culinary awareness:
but the real story is told here . . . STEAK FACE in action!
I apologize if the canine candids have distracted you from the glories Josh and the band create — music, to paraphrase Whitney Balliett, that makes you want to dance and shake and shout. All in six minutes: beyond remarkable.
Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.
How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?
and Pops Foster?
and Sidney Catlett?
and Miles Davis, too:
Miles as friend and neighbor:
and it always comes back to Louis:
My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.
One of the benefits of “straightening up” is that, occasionally, treasures resurface. Here’s one whose importance I can’t overestimate. But before I write a word more, this airshot of SING SING SING comes to us because of the generosity of Loren Schoenberg, master of so many arts, who played it on a broadcast he did over WKCR-FM perhaps thirty-five years ago. I captured it on cassette, and now share it with you. (Loren generously provided a pitch-corrected version for JAZZ LIVES.) It was not issued on Jerry Valburn’s set (lp and CD) of Goodman-Catlett recordings, should you reach for that set. Your ears will tell you so.
If you needed more evidence of the superhuman power and joy that Sidney Catlett brought to any group in his two-decades-plus playing career, this should do it. It also suggests, words I write with some ruefulness, why Benny Goodman fired him. Listening to this performance, it’s hard not to believe that Sid was leading the band and Benny was doing his best — which was considerable — to keep up. It also reminds us how much music the Swing Era bands created in performance that the 10″ 78 count not capture, because this performance is ten minutes long. Real life — for dancers, a band released from the recording studio. I bless the unidentified recordist, and so should you.
Here are the names of the heroes in that wonderful band, although on this performance, aside from brief ventures by Vido Musso and Mel Powell, by my count, six of the ten minutes are given over to a Catlett-Goodman experimental interlude in duet improvisation:
Billy Butterfield, Cootie Williams, Jimmy Maxwell, Al “Slim” Davis, trumpet; Lou McGarity, Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet; Skip Martin, Clint Neagley, alto saxophone; Vido Musso, George Berg, tenor saxophone; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Tom Morgan, guitar; Marty Blitz, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. Broadcast, “Meadowbrook,” Cedar Grove, New Jersey, September 27, 1941.
This is an extraordinary piece of music, full of courage, energy, and joy. I hope you feel about it as I do, and that, once again, we may extend our gratitude to Sidney, Benny, Loren, and someone sitting in front of the radio with a microphone and a disc cutter.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
This photograph was on sale a day ago — its price varied from $809 to — but it may have been sold. Here’s what the seller said:
Louis Armstrong & Sidney Catlett “Big Sid” Signed 8 x 10 Photo RCA Building
This Autographed Signed Press Photo is and Estate Find.
This Press Photo has printing that reads,
SIDNEY CATLETT — LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S Sensational Drummer Getting off a Few Hot Licks with “SATCHMO” Himself
Direction JOE GLASER R C A Building 30 Rockefeller Plaza New York N.Y.
It is signed, (in green ink)
To My ‘Pluto Pal” To Lou Gottlieb Louis Armstrong
In blue, possibly black ink, it is also signed,
My boy, Who is this guy, Milton Berle. Big Sid
and this is the rear. I don’t know if this date refers to when the photo was acquired or when it was signed, and perhaps the two signatures were done at different times.
The seller adds:
I, personally, found it in my mother’s garage. She lived in El Cerrito, California.
For reference LOU GOTTLIEB, was a member of the music trio, The Limeliters, lived in El Cerrito, and was a Huge Fan of Louis Armstrong which is why he had the signed photo. My mother received a folder of some of Gottlieb’s papers in which this photo was included.
“Pluto Pal” does not refer to the Disney character or to astronomy, but rather to Louis’ pharmaceutical pleasure in “Pluto Water.” You could look it up. Perhaps Lou Gottlieb had learned the secret to health from Louis. What the Milton Berle connection is might remain a mystery.
And here’s another treasure:
I no longer have the details on the second page — clearly from an autograph book — but the seller wrote that it was from 1949 in New York City, when Arvell and Sidney were a propulsive team in Louis’ All-Stars.
And one of the finest jazz recordings ever: STEAK FACE (dedicated to Louis’ Boston Terrier, “General,” but also a medium blues to show off Sidney amidst Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Dick Cary, and Arvell Shaw) from the 1947 concert at Symphony Hall:
My business card has a photograph of Sidney Catlett on it, and when people stop mis-identifying him (no, that’s not Nat King Cole or Morgan Freeman) some ask me why he’s there. I answer, “He made everyone sound better; he died after telling a good joke in the intermission of a concert, and people still miss him.” And depending on my listeners, I might repeat what Billie Holiday said of him.
After Louis, he remains my pole star. So I was astonished and delighted to see this photograph, which was new to me, on sale at eBay. Torn right corner and all. I know Sid’s handwriting, so the capital B S and C make me know the signature is genuine, and his fountain pen was working: obviously Marvin was someone special, because the inscription is carefully done, probably on a table or other flat surface.
and a closeup:
Through eBay serendipity, I found out that “Marvin” was Marvin Kohn, who had been the New York State Athletic Commissioner — and a jazz fan. (He also had an autographed photograph of Will Bradley.) Here’s a sketch of Marvin by Leroy Neiman:
I had invented a scenario where Sid and Marvin met at a boxing match, where Marvin offered Sid a ticket to some sporting event and then asked (as one might) for an autographed glossy in return, but I believe what might have happened would be different. Here is Marvin’s obituary in the New York Times:
Marvin Kohn; Boxing Publicist, 70 Published: February 8, 1994
Marvin Kohn, a longtime figure in New York boxing, died Sunday at New York Hospital. He was 70. He died three days after suffering a stroke. Mr. Kohn was appointed a publicist for the New York State Athletic Commission, which oversees boxing, in 1951, and he later served as a deputy commissioner of the agency before retiring in 1989. He also was a press agent for many actors and had served as publicity director for the old Hotel Astor. He is survived by his widow, Mildred.
And a memory of Marvin from Mervyn Gee, whose blog on boxing is called SLIP & COUNTER:
Back in 1987, more than 25 years after moving to London, I was security manger at The Cumberland Hotel, a 1,000 bedroom hotel situated in the Marble Arch area. The reason I mention this is that the World Boxing Council (WBC) held their annual convention there that year and a glittering array of their champions and their entourages were at the hotel. . . . Caroline Fransen was our liason officer . . . . [she] introduced me to Marvin Kohn, who at the time was secretary to the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) based in New York. Kohn was also deputy commissioner at the New York Athletic Commission for over 30 years and over the next decade I visited the Big Apple a number of times and Marvin introduced me to so many fascinating and influential people in the boxing scene.
Long before there were public tours of Madison Square Garden, I was privileged to be a frequent visitor and Marvin was even the only non-actor to have his caricature on the wall at Sardi’s famous restaurant. To this day, the BWAA present a “Good Guy” prize each year named after my late friend as the ‘Marvin Kohn award’. As a result of my friendship with Marvin I was even invited to the VIP lounge and restaurant at the United Nations buildings. Not bad for a little boyo from the valleys!
And from Mervyn’s site, a lovely photograph of Marvin at his desk:
But back to Sidney Catlett. January 1944, the Metropolitan Opera House, New York City, with Barney Bigard, Art Tatum, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford, for ROSE ROOM:
and one hero speaking of another:
Now I just have to figure out where to hang the picture — because I won it.
P.S. This post is in honor of master jazz-sleuth David Fletcher.
I’m thrilled that I could visit Dan Morgenstern again at his apartment and we could talk and create something permanent that people could enjoy and learn from. The first session took place on March 3, 2017, and the results are here.
About six weeks later, we got together again so that Dan, an enchanting storyteller whose stories have the virtue of being true, could share his love for his and our heroes.
The first segments we did that April afternoon were tributes to mutual deities, Sidney Catlett and Joe Thomas. First, Big Sid:
and then the lyrical, melodic trumpeter Joe:
with a sweet postscript:
Here are Joe, Big Sid, Teddy Wilson, and Ed Hall on a 1943 V-Disc session:
and the Keynote Records side Dan refers to, with Joe, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Trummy Young, Earl Hines, Teddy Walters, and Billy Taylor:
Sidney Catlett, that is. Big Sid. Completely himself and completely irreplaceable. And here’s COQUETTE by the Edmond Hall Sextet on Commodore — Ed on clarinet, Emmett Berry, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Eddie Heywood, piano; Billy Taylor, string bass; Sid, drums, on December 18, 1943.
After Heywood’s ornamental solo introduction, which sounds as if the band is heading towards I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU, Sid lays down powerful yet unadorned support for the first sixteen bars, yet he and Emmett have an empathic conversation on the bridge, Sid catching every flourish with an appropriate accent. More of that to come, but note the upwards Louis-hosanna with which Emmett ends his solo (Joe Thomas loved this motif also) and Sid’s perfectly eloquent commentary, urging the Brother on. His drumming has an orchestral awareness, as if the full band plus Heywood’s leaves and vines is dense enough as it is, and what it needs is support. But when it’s simply Emmett and himself and the rhythm section, Sid comes to the fore.
The timbre of the second chorus is lighter: Ed Hall dipping, gliding, and soaring, with quiet ascending figures from Emmett and Vic, then quiet humming. So Sid’s backing, although strong, is also lighter. Hall, in his own way, was both potent and ornate, so Sid stays in the background again.
The gorgeous dialogue between Emmett and Sid in the third chorus (from 1:44 on) has mesmerized me for thirty years and more. One can call it telepathy (as one is tempted to do when hearing Sid, Sidney DeParis, and Vic on the Blue Note sides of the same period); one can say that Emmett’s solo on COQUETTE was a solo that he had perfected and returned so — you choose — but these forty-five seconds are a model of how to play a searing open-horn chorus, full of space and intensity, and how to accompany it with strength but restraint, varying one’s sound throughout. Even when Sid shifts into his highest gear with the rimshots in the second half of the chorus, the effect is never mechanical, never repetitive: rather each accent has its own flavor, its own particular bounce. It’s an incredibly inspiring interlude. And the final chorus is looser but not disorderly — exultant, rather, with Sid again (on hi-hat now, with accents) holding up the world on his shoulders at 2:40 until the end. He isn’t obtrusive, but it’s impossible to ignore him.
Here’s another video of COQUETTE, this time taking the source material from a well-loved 78 copy:
I confess that I think about Louis fairly constantly, with Sid a close second — marveling at them both. An idle late-evening search on eBay turned up this odd treasure, something I did not need to buy but wanted to have as another mental picture. It’s the cardboard album for a 1946 four-song session under Sid’s leadership for Manor Records, with Pete Johnson, Jimmy Shirley, Lockjaw Davis, Bill Gooden, Gene Ramey. Because of the boogie-woogie format and the piano / organ combination, the four sides have a rather compressed effect.
What one of the original 78s looked like.
Unfortunately, no one as of yet has put this music on YouTube, so you’ll have to do your own searching. (The sides were issued on CD on the Classics CD devoted to Sidney.)
I present the cardboard artifact here as one of the very few times that Sidney would have seen his own name on an album — although he’d seen his name on many labels, even a few sessions as a leader. Sid recorded from 1929 to 1950; he lived from 1910 to 1951. Not enough, I say — but so generous a gift to us all. “Good deal,” as he often said.
It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January. But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter. I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:
Details? How about a schedule of artists and times. (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)
FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)
7:20 – Bumper Jacksons
8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner
10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson
11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders
SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)
7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years
8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet
10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band
with special guest Oran Etkin
11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers
with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn
That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber. And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing. New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.
If you need more evidence,hereare videos of the artists above.
Here‘s the way to buy tickets. It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.
The place? The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.
And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.
Many people in the United States celebrate today in honor of Christopher Columbus. (My college does not.) I’m not planning to enter into charged historical dialogue except to say that we now know most of what we learned in elementary school was wrong or intentionally misleading, a pattern that continues onwards in education. But that is a dark subject, which I will forego.
This is one kind of historical representation:
Portrait of a man said to be Christopher Columbus
But I prefer this kind, created by Leon “Chu” Berry and Andy Razaf, music and words, in 1936:
A Roy Eldridge small group, a rejected take from 1936, with Roy (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) John Collins (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):
The Fletcher Henderson band’s hit version in the same year, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Joe Thomas, Roy Eldridge (tp) Fernando Arbello, Ed Cuffee (tb) Buster Bailey (cl,as) Scoops Carey (as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (ts) Horace Henderson (p,arr) Bob Lessey (g) John Kirby (b) Sidney Catlett (d):
and the 1937 attempt at a follow-up hit, with Dick Vance (tp,arr) Emmett Berry, Russell Smith (tp) John McConnell, Albert Wynn, Ed Cuffee (tb) Jerry Blake (cl,as,vcl,arr) Hilton Jefferson (cl,as) Skippy Williams, Chu Berry (cl,ts) Fletcher Henderson (p,arr) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Israel Crosby (b) Pete Suggs (d) Chuck Richards (vcl) Horace Henderson (arr):
A Buck Clayton Jam Session, 1953, with Buck, Joe Newman (tp) Urbie Green, Henderson Chambers (tb) Lem Davis (as) Julian Dash (ts) Charlie Fowlkes (bar) Sir Charles Thompson (p,celeste) Freddie Green (g) Walter Page (b) Jo Jones (d):
(I love that this record has a click in it, early and often. Seems like old times.)
and the classic 1936 version by Fats Waller, with Herman Autrey (tp) Gene Sedric (cl,ts) Al Casey (g) Charlie Turner (b) Yank Porter (d):
and just to cool down, Maxine Sullivan in 1956, with Charlie Shavers (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Jerome Richardson (as) Dick Hyman (p) Wendell Marshall (b) / Milt Hinton (b) Osie Johnson (d):
Professor Razaf tells us, “He used the rhythm as a compass.” That’s something I can celebrate, as I hope you can.
This post is intentionally a little mysterious, since I am not at liberty to reveal certain details in public. A dear and trusted friend has asked me to help offer certain treasured items for sale — something I do not often do on JAZZ LIVES, but since the friend and I have a decades-long relationship, I am happy to do it.
To begin: a 1920’s 5 1/2 x 15 Ludwig Black Beauty Snare Drum Pat. 1924 on snare throw Engraved Leaf Design with “Ludwig Chicago” on shell “Super Ludwig” engraved on bottom rim All snare tension adjustment screws, all lug screws in place Condition includes small dimple, one snare damaged:
and 2 Original RCA 77DX Microphones in excellent condition, includes yoke stand mount:
and some music to help you consider purchases. Without drums and microphones, this record would never have existed:
Interested serious buyers may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org — I’m Michael Steinman — and I will pass along those inquiries to the owner of these beauties.
The heroes and the people we cherish forever don’t always have their names written in huge capital letters. But we know who they are.
One of them was the drummer, artist, raconteur, dear friend and gracious man Michael Burgevin. We lost him — abruptly, of a sudden heart attack — on June 17, 2014. If you look in Tom Lord’s discography, the listing of official recordings MB (how he signed his emails — a man with things to do!) made is brief, but that is in no way a measure of his effect, his swing, his sweet presence.
MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad
I had met Mike in 1973, in New York City, and although we were out of touch for about twenty years, he was always in my thoughts as someone I was grateful to.
Because I miss him and admire him — first as a musician, then as a generous friend, then as a thinker who knows and feels the truth — what follows below is the leisurely narrative of my friend MB. The dates are fuzzy, my feelings sharply realized.
When I met him in 1973, I was a college student, deeply involved in jazz, without much money to spend on it. But I read in The New Yorker that there was a little bar / restaurant on East 34th Street, Brew’s, that featured live hot jazz.
You can read more about Brew’s here — on a blog called LOST CITY — with MB’s comments.
I read the names of Max Kaminsky and Jack Fine. I didn’t know about Jimmy Andrews, piano, and Mike Burgevin, drums. But when I saw a listing that advertised “trumpeter Joe Thomas,” I began to pay attention.
Joe Thomas remains one of the great subtle players in the swing idiom, recording with Benny Carter, Ed Hall, Don Byas, Sidney Catlett, Art Tatum, Claude Hopkins, and many other luminaries: he was one of Harry Lim’s favorite players and gets a good deal of exposure on Keynote Records.
I worried that my trip to Brew’s would turn out to be a jazz mirage; how could one of my heroes be playing in a club just ten minutes from Penn Station? “Joe Thomas” is a very plain name, but I got myself out of my suburban nest, brought my cassette recorder (of course) and came to Brew’s. When I came in the door, the sounds told me I was in the right place. Not only was Joe on the stand, instantly recognizable, but he had Rudy Powell and Herb Hall with him; Jimmy Andrews was striding sweetly and quietly.
The man behind the drums was tall, elegantly dressed. His hairline receding, he looked a little like a youthful Bing Crosby without his hat on. And he sounded as if he’d gone to the magic well of Swing: without copying them, I heard evocations of Dave Tough and George Wettling, of Sidney Catlett and Zutty Singleton: a light, swinging, effortless beat. Quietly intent but restrained, with not too much flash and self-dramatization. He didn’t play anything that would have been out of place on a Commodore 78 but it seemed fresh, not a collection of learned gestures and responses. I can hear his hi-hat and rimshots as I write this, his brushes on the snare drum. He was leading the band, but he let the men on the stand direct traffic: in retrospect, he was a true Condonite, letting the music blossom as it would.
I was shy then, but I got my courage together and spoke to him — I must have seemed an unusual apparition, a college student breathless with enthusiasm about swing drumming and especially about Sidney Catlett. I had just purchased the three records (from England) of the complete 1944 Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session, and I asked Mr. Burgevin if he had them or would like a tape of that concert. He hadn’t known of this music (like many musicians, he loved hearing new things but wasn’t an obsessive collector himself). And so we arranged something: perhaps I asked him for a copy of the records he had made with Doc Cheatham.
That night, Joe Thomas took a solo on a set-ending CRAZY RHYTHM, and although Joe is no longer with us, and the performance is now forty years away, I can hum the beginning of his solo, upon request. To say the music I heard that night made an impression is putting it mildly.
Memory is treacherous, but what I remember next is being invited to the apartment he and his wife Patty — Patricia Doyle, if we are being formal — shared on East 33rd Street in an apartment building called The Byron. At some point MB persuaded me to stop calling him “Mr. Burgevin,” and I was made welcome. And often. I had been brought up to be polite, but I blush to think of how many meals I ate in their apartment, how long I stayed, how much time I spent there.
Often MB was at work on a piece of commercial art in his little studio, wedged in a corner: I played the records he had or the ones I had just bought for him. Louis, Bing, Condon, stride piano, Billie, Bud Freeman and his Chicagoans, Dave Tough, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey. We had much to talk about, and I learned to hear more under his gentle tutelage. We didn’t speak of anything deep: I don’t think I knew how at that time, skating over the surface of my life, moving from one small triumph or failure to the next. But we admired J. Fred Coots’ YOU WENT TO MY HEAD and other beauties.
(I cringe now to think that MB and Patty might have liked to be left in peace a little more. I wonder how many meals were stretched to include a hungry guest. When, in this century, I apologized to MB and Patty for my late-adolescent oblivious gaucheries, they said they remembered nothing of the sort. I take this as a great kindness.)
Chicken cacciatore, Dave Tough, a feisty little terrier named Rex, are all inextricably combined in my mind. I can see that rectangular apartment now. MB lent me records and books, tapes and other music-related treasures, and in general made his house mine, open-handedly and open-heartedly.
In ways I didn’t verbalize then, I felt his kindness, although I didn’t at the time understand how powerfully protective the umbrella was. It was all subtle, never dramatic. One thing MB encouraged me to do was to bring recording equipment along to gigs he was playing. And (again in this century) he told me this story that I had not been aware of while it was happening. One night at Brew’s, the musicians were MB, the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, and Kenny Davern, then alternating between clarinet and soprano saxophone. Blithely, I came in, said hello to MB, and began setting up my reel-to-reel recorder. Davern turned to MB and said — out of my hearing, but referring to me, “WHAT is THAT?” and MB told Kenny to calm down, that I was a friend, not to worry about me. As a result, Kenny, with some polite irascibility, showed me where to set up my microphone for better results. Now I know that he would have just as energetically told me where the microphone could be placed, but for MB’s quiet willingness to protect his young friend, myself.
In the next two years, I was able to hear Joe Thomas, Doc Cheatham, Al Hall, Al Casey, Vic Dickenson (at length), Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Wayne Wright, Red Richards, Dick Wellstood, Susannah McCorkle, Norman Simmons, and a dozen others at close range. MB shared his tape library with me, so I heard him as a glowing, uplifting presence with Herman Autrey, Bobby Gordon, Benny Morton, Bobby Hackett, and others. He delighted especially in the sounds of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, and took every advantage possible to get together with Jimmy Andrews, Al Casey, Herman Autrey, and Rudy Powell to recapture some of that jovial spirit.
MB told stories of spending time with Vic Dickenson, of how Bobby Hackett insisted he play sticks, not brushes, behind him, of meeting Pee Wee Russell late in the latter’s life, and a favorite anecdote of an early encounter with Cliff Leeman at Condon’s, in the eraly Fifties, when MB was on leave from the Merchant Marine (I think): he had come into Condon’s and was listening to the band, which then took a break. Leeman stepped down from the drums and MB asked politely if he could sit in with the intermission players — Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Ralph Sutton, piano. Leeman, always tart, said to MB, “Whaddaya want to do with the drums? Fuck ’em all up?” but he let MB play.
Here is a photograph of Michael Burgevin, young, jamming on board the USS IOWA, circa 1955-7:
My friendly contact stopped abruptly when MB had a heart attack. I was terrified of going to a hospital to visit anyone (I have said earlier in the piece that I was young, perhaps far too young). Before I could muster the maturity to visit him, he and Patty seemed, as if in a snap of the fingers, to flee the city for points unknown upstate. I wondered about him in those years, heard his music, and thought of him with love — but we had drifted apart.
We reconnected around 1997, and I am sure I can’t take credit for it, for I felt guilty for my emotional lapses. I think that Vic Diekenson drew us together once again, through the research Manfred Selchow was doing for his book, and MB got in touch with me when he planned to come down to New York City to play on a Monday night with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern. Once before, he had played with that group. I don’t know who else was in the band, but I recorded a version of HINDUSTAN that had MB stretching out for a long solo in the manner of STEAK FACE.
I didn’t have sufficient opportunities to video-capture MB at play in this century, although there are examples of him on YouTube with his concert presentation of three men at drumsets “drumatiCymbalism” — but here is a 2009 video he made to promote his concerts and his paintings. It seems odd to hear him gently trying to get gigs, but it is a good all-around picture of Michael Burgevin, his sound (solo and in an ensemble with Warren Vache, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Howard Alden, and others) and it gives glimpses of his paintings:
A few years ago, MB seriously mastered the computer and moved from writing letters to writing emails, and we stayed in contact, sometimes several times a week, that way. I sent him music and jazz arcana, and we had deep philosophical conversations — the ones I had not been ready for in the early Seventies. I hadn’t known that he had become a Jehovah’s Witness (as had Trummy Young and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Joe Thomas and Babe Matthews) but our discussions were fervent, even when we were gently disagreeing about our views of the world. Recently he burst forth of Facebook, and had a delighted time sharing photographs of his friends from the old days.
If Ricky Riccardi posted some new Louis / Sidney Catlett on his blog, I forwarded it to MB, and we shared our joy and excitement often. A few years ago, he came down to New York City to meet the Beloved, and he and our mutual friend Romy Ashby had lunch together. MB was beautifully dressed and as always sweetly gallant.
It was foolish of me to think we would always have our email conversations, or another meeting in person, but we never want the people we love to move to another neighborhood of existence. I know he read JAZZ LIVES and delighted in the videos and photographs of the men and women we both revered. That thought gave and continues to give me pleasure.
He wrote a little self-portrait more than a decade ago: As a child was riveted by marching band drums in firemen’s parades on Long Island. Born with rhythm! Given a pair of drumsticks at age seven and a 1920’s style trap set at age 15 and began his professional career playing weekends at Stanbrook Resort in Dutchess Co. (NYS) Played with bands in high school and at Bard College. Strongly influenced by his uncle George Adams’ jazz collection of 78’s (rpm records). Studied drums in Pine Plains High School (1950’s) and later under Richard Horowitz percussionist with the Metropolitan Opera Symphony Orchestra (1970’s). Studied (and uses) many of the early African tribal rhythms- Dinka, Bini, Malinke, Bakwiri, Watusi. About 10 years away from music working as a freelance commercial artist and graphic designer. Returned to drumming in 1968. Spent many nights sitting in at famed Jazz clubs Jimmy Ryan’s on 57th Street and Eddie Condon’s 55th St. There met legends Zutty Singleton, Freddie Moore, and Morey Feld often subbing for them. Lived in Manhattan. Worked steadily at Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky’s band. Also became friends with George Wettling, Cliff Leeman and Jo Jones. Worked full time with almost all the titans of small band jazz during this period of time (late 1960’s through 1980’s) including Roy Eldridge, “Wild Bill” Davison, “Doc” Cheatham, Bobby Hackett, Claude Hopkins, Bobby Gordon, Marian and Jimmy McPartland. Toured Canada & USA with Davison’s Jazz Giants. Made Bainbridge, NY, situated on the beautiful Susquehanna River, a permanent residence in the 1990’s. Traveled to NYC for many engagements. Connected with Al Hamme, professor of Jazz Studies at SUNY Binghamton, playing several concerts there. Since 2001 has been producing Jazz concerts in the 100-year-old, Historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge, featuring world-class jazz personalities: Kenny Davern, Warren Vaché, Peter Ecklund, James Chirillo, Joe Cohn, Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Phil Flanigan, Dan Block and many, many others.
Why do I write so much about this man?
Michael Burgevin seems to me to be the embodiment of kind generosity. Near me, as I write, I have a little 1933 autograph book full of inscriptions of jazz musicians that he bought and gave to me. Invaluable, like its owner.
But MB’s giving was more than the passing on of objects: he gave of himself so freely, whether he was behind the drum set or just sharing ideas and feelings. Reading these words, I hope his warmth and gentle nature comes through, his enthusiasm for Nature and for human nature, for the deep rhythms of the world and the way a good jazz ensemble could make us feel even more that life was the greatest privilege imaginable. A deeply spiritual man, he preached the most sustaining gospel without saying a word.
I have a story I can only call mystical to share. Yesterday, on the morning of the 17th, I was writing a blogpost — which you can read here. I had indulged myself in the techno-primitive activity of video-recording a spinning record so that I could share the sounds on JAZZ LIVES. It was a slow blues featuring, among others, Joe Thomas and Pee Wee Russell, two of MB’s and my heroes. Through the open window, the softer passages had an oddly delightful counterpoint of birdsong, something you can hear on my video. I was not thinking about MB while I was videoing — I was holding my breath, listening to music and birdsong mixed — but now I think that strange unearthly yet everyday combination may have been some part of MB’s leaving this earthly realm — music from the hearts of men now no longer with us overlaid by the songs of the birds, conversing joyously.
Patty, Michael’s wife, tells me that the funeral will be Friday, June 20, at the C.H. Landers Funeral Home in Sidney, New York (the place name is appropriate for those who understand): the visitation at noon, the service at 1 PM. Landers is on 21 Main Street, Sidney, New York 13838. (607) 563-3545.
Adieu for now, Michael Burgevin. Kind friend, lovely generous man, beautiful musician. Born January 10, 1936. Made the transition June 17, 2014.
It seems odd to close this remembrance in the usual way — but someone like MB increases my happiness, even in sadness, that I will continue as I always have. May you, too, have people like him in your life, and — more importantly — may you be one of the loving Elders to others, and older brother or sister or friend who shelters someone who might not, at the time, even recognize the love he or she is being shown.
Postscript. My pal, the jazz and popular music scholar David J. Weiner, thought the picture could be made to look just like new — and I like his generous efforts very much. Sidney shines through, no matter what the color scheme:
The question I pose in my title becomes rhetorical as soon as Rebecca Kilgore, Paolo Alderighi, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Phil Flanigan, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, begin to play Gene Krupa’s DRUM BOOGIE at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay —
During this set, a musician I know casually sat down behind me, tapped me on the shoulder while Jeff was elevating the proceedings even higher, and said with a grin, “Big Sid’s in the house.” Jeff Hamilton doesn’t imitate anyone, but he has Catlett’s beautiful sense of sound and space. And that’s not to ignore Becky, Dan, Paolo, and Phil — who make the rhythm romp as a matter of course. As for me, I’m still floating.
Cyberspace continues to be an ever-expanding playground. An hour ago, idly, I Googled “Sidney Catlett” to see if anything new to me had emerged, and found this — a photograph of Sidney, inscribed to Ben Webster, which the consignor said had come from the Webster estate. (Bidding on this item ended in 2012, which means, perhaps, that some fortunate collector has it on his / her wall.)
I have no problem with “my boy” as a term of affection. “Blow on King,” even though I note the missing comma, is very clear to me as both affectionate urging and reverent salutation in one. But “mattress to you” is new to me, and I suspect to many of my readers. Might I guess that it is a slang expression — from the Forties or earlier — hinting at “May everything be very comfortable for you”? “May you always sleep blissfully.”
If anyone knows more from digging into their own Jive Dictionaries, I would appreciate elucidation. Until then, “mattress” to all of you. Until I learn otherwise, I am going to assume that this new expression and this blog’s sign-off mean much the same thing, whether they come from JAZZ LIVES or from Sidney Catlett.
Delights from the eBay treasure chest . . . costly but surely unique.
This is a concert program from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival (notice that Louis and the All-Stars are billed as the Hot Five). That would be enough in itself, but notice the autographs: Louis himself, Big Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Velma Middleton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wilber, Baby Dodds, Sammy Price, Sandy Williams, and more.
And here’s a picture (the eBay site has other close-ups):But wait! There’s more!
How about a copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY— signed by Billie Holiday, Bunny Berigan, Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Buster Bennett, Israel Crosby . . . ? No, I didn’t believe it, either.
But here is some evidence. Even though the photographs are (perhaps intentionally?) blurry, the overall effect is dazzling:
The Nice concert program obviously has a specific location in time and space. The seller hasn’t said anything about this copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, but given the signatures, I suspect that its owner was at one time a Chicagoan . . . and you can guess when the signers took out their pens, at least by their death dates.
To me what is important here is that the owners of these artifacts not only loved the music but idolized the players and singers — so much so that having the seconds of personal contact needed to approach Lucky Thompson or Israel Crosby and ask for an autograph was worth the effort. We benefit immensely from this kind of devotion.
Neither item is inexpensive, but the value here is immense.
There surely is a story here. The photograph (offered for sale on eBay) depicts Velma Middleton, Louis Armstrong, Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, a barely-in-the-frame Arvell Shaw and an almost-hidden Sidney Catlett:
That in itself is a find: new documentation of that wondrous constellation of musicians is enough for me. We know that this photograph was taken some time between 1947 and 1949, Big Sid’s time with the band.
But here’s what’s on the back:
Pianist / singer / composer Joe Bushkin played with the All-Stars, but several years after this photograph was taken. Does this artifact refer to the 1947 gathering where Louis and the band recorded Joe’s composition LOVELY WEATHER WE’RE HAVING as a wedding gift to the Bushkins?
I would be most eager to dial SUPERIOR 0026 if I knew that the person on the other end was in some way connected to this photograph.
For extra credit: we see three partially obscured letters behind Louis. What words are we missing?
Postscript (as of 10:30 PM Eastern time, September 3): the photograph is still available on eBay: click here).
The eBay seller says that the photograph came from the Burt Goldblatt collection. Goldblatt (1924-2006), whom we all know from album covers and famous photographs, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts — so I am guessing that this photograph of Sidney (late in his short life) might have been taken in a Boston club — Sidney worked in that city in 1950, after leaving the Louis Armstrong All-Stars due to heart disease.
Perhaps this could be the soundtrack to this photograph:
Every little breeze — if it’s a rhythmic one — whispers “Sidney!”
This one’s for Romy, MB, KD, and Brother Hal . . .
or BIG SID to you, tossing that stick and catching it, marking the catch with a THUMP on his bass drum.
From eBay, of course: I presume this is the booklet created in 1947 when the All-Stars were born, although an autograph on the cover by one Earl “Fatha” Hines suggests it is perhaps early in 1948.
On the left is Louis’ warm tribute to Mister Tea. I wish I could buy this and hang it on my wall (someone has bought it on eBay and I wish them happiness with it) but somehow sharing it with the swinging people who read JAZZ LIVES is even better.
“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.” — Emerson
It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.
I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight. And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock. Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton. Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).
What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band. I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY. This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.
Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work. Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band. Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else. Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious. Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars. And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall. Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening. The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study. But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.
Louis himself is sublimely in charge. Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours. And his playing! There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs. But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed. I hear a leisurely power. Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.
Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi. Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.
Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts. Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES. For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with. However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.
For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals. Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)
And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.
The new, complete two-disc edition of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL: 65th ANNIVERSARY — THE COMPLETE PERFORMANCE is a limited edition of 3000 copies.
I didn’t know about the “limited edition” part of that sentence until a day ago, so I am encouraging JAZZ LIVES readers to act promptly rather than to lament that the edition is all sold out. You can purchase it here — if you live in the New York area, you can visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, which has its very own stash.
What does “the complete performance” mean? THIRTY MINUTES OF NEW MATERIAL . . . .
I’ll let Ricky Riccardi, Louis scholar and the Archivist for the LAHM, explain:
The original 1951 2-LP Decca set had the majority of the music, but there were some edits, including four complete performances, all the themes, Louis’s announcements and some solos (Dick Cary’s on “Royal Garden Blues” and some extra noodling by Barney Bigard at the end of “Tea for Two”). When Orrin Keepnews finally put it on on CD in the 90s, he made the choice to strike three tunes (“I Cried for You,” “That’s My Desire” and “How High the Moon”) AND he completely shuffled the original order of performances. I’m the Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and last year, we learned that the Swedish Armstrong collector Gosta Hagglof donated every scrap of his Armstrong collection to the Museum. It arrived last summer.
The first thing I looked for was “Symphony Hall” because Gosta told me in 2007 he was working on a complete edition. And sure enough, I found a disc…and another…and another…and another. All in all, I found about 30 individual CDs with Gosta’s Symphony Hall work. He somehow had access to the original acetates and made multiple CD copies of those and then he made extra copies with pitch correction, skips edited out, noise reduction, etc.
Last October I contacted Harry Weinger at Universal and he came out to our Archives to listen to it. He flipped and we’ve been off and running since. It’s a 2-CD set on the Hip-O Select label, with the original liner notes by Ernie Anderson and new liner notes by yours truly. The concert will be sequenced in the original order, starting with the band tuning up. All of the announcements will be heard for the first time, in addition to the themes. And there will be complete versions of “Back O’Town Blues,” “St. James Infirmary,” “Velma’s Blues” and “Jack Armstrong Blues.”
They’re all fantastic. I can only assume “Back O’Town,” “St. James” and “Jack Armstrong” were not on the original LP because Victor had just released versions. And even “Velma’s Blues” is a knockout, as it’s almost 7 minutes long with a long interlude where Velma danced and the All Stars just played the blues (Sid Catlett catches her every move).
I’m a biased Armstrong nut who has always loved this concert, of course, but trust me, hearing it complete, in the original order, with the announcements, the new tunes, everything, is a really, really special experience.
For some listeners, this won’t in itself be enough. I understand that in the linguistic battle between “fixed income” and “limited edition,” the first phrase wins.
But I urge you to consider purchasing this set if you can for a few reasons. One is the precious experience of going back in time . . . settling into a chair in your living room and being able to sink into a plush velvet seat at Symphony Hall in 1947 while Louis Armstrong and what I think of as the best small band he ever had play for you. That, in its own way, is far more important than simply being able to hear a new Dick Cary solo.
I first heard this concert (in its edited form) more than forty years ago and I can attest that it is life-changing music.
Secondly, there is the matter of the responsive audience as a motivating force. In blunt words, why do companies like Universal issue Louis Armstrong discs and packages? Some of it is the spiritual love that people like Harry Weinger have for the music: something I do not doubt. But if record companies see that their products sell, they create more . . . so that buying SASH is your way — the only effective way — of saying, “Please, sir, we want some more!”
Don’t wait until they’re gone and you’re reduced to desperate means . . .
But make sure you leave enough in the Jazz Piggy Bank for a copy of the Grand Street Stompers’ CHRISTMAS STOMP. I’ve heard that and it is wonderful. More to say about that one soon . . .