Tag Archives: Bill Gallagher

GENEROSITIES from MISTER McGOWN: “DAVEY TOUGH” on YOUTUBE

I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music.  When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post.  And I cherish most those who are open-handed.  I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.

One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown.  An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.

On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here.  It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.

Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music.  The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.

About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough”  — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that.  Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another.  How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries.  And surprises!  Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.

I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):

Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.

Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:

And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:

Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:

and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:

These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures.  I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights.  I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.

And thank you, Mister McGown.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES”: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, BEAU SAMPLE, HAL SMITH (SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, November 28, 2014)

Often, “Blues for X” is a memorial for the departed X — grief in the shape of an improvisation.  It’s thus a pleasure to offer this BLUES FOR SIR CHARLES, a celebration, not an elegy, for the remarkable pianist Sir Charles Thompson, born March 21, 1918, still with us, living happily in Japan (playing golf, I understand).

Knighted by Lester Young, Sir Charles has and had a distinctly personal style: the casual listener could mistake him — for a few bars only — for Basie, and his rhythmic engine is just as reliable, but Charles heard and employed a broader harmonic palette than did the Count, so one is always delighted by the strong swing he engenders allied to the boppish harmonies.

He’s recorded for John Hammond’s Vanguard series and also crops up memorably on the Columbia Buck Clayton Jam Sessions.  My friend Bill Gallagher has created a Thompson discography, accessible here.

But I have something more rewarding to offer as a tribute to Charles, which is Ray Skjelbred’s rocking piano evocation of the great man, performed on November 28, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest:

Marc Caparone brilliantly manages to evoke a whole host of Basie trumpeters — Tatti Smith, Lips Page, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, Bobby Moore — while sounding just like his natural self; Beau Sample rocks the rhythm in the great tradition of Walter Page, and Hal Smith’s sweeping hi-hat and accents in the final choruses could swing Mount Fuji joyously.  And Master Skjelbred takes the opportunity to honor his hero with some deliciously unexpected runs and chords, suggesting not only Joe Sullivan on a straightaway but also Monk at Minton’s, 1941.

If you can listen to the final minute of this performance — starting with the riffing hide-and-seek of Marc and Ray — without moving around in your chair, I wonder if your blood pressure might be dangerously low.  Consult your physician. Do not operate any heavy machinery.

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!

GOIN’ TO KANSAS CITY WITH THE IAJRC (Sept. 5-7, 2013)

I’ve been a member of the IAJRC for many years — that’s the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors — and it continues to make many good things possible.  In its quarterly journal, I have read fascinating stories, found out about CDs that would become life-enriching experiences, learned a great deal, and met wonderful people.  (Two Bills, as a matter of fact: Coverdale and Gallagher.)  So I think it’s a marvelous association, in the nicest senses of that overused word.  And their focus isn’t purely on ancient shellac, but on keeping jazz thriving.

Every year, the IAJRC creates a “convention”: but this isn’t simply an excuse to hear other people talk at length.  No, there one can meet friends with similar musical interests; hear rare music on disc; see film presentations; listen to live exciting jazz.  And this year it’s being held in Kansas City, Missouri — where visitors can enjoy the Marr Sound Archives, the American Jazz Museum, half-price on the breakfast buffet, a free drink in the lobby lounge every day (such blandishments are not small things).  Here’s the link to the detailed two-page flyer for the convention.  Go ahead, take a look.  I dare you.  And when you come back, your ears full of swinging four-four, you can then (if the neighbors don’t mind), attempt to sound like Big Joe Turner, “Weeeeeeeeeeeeeelllll, I’ve been to Kansas City . . . ”

May your happiness increase.

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A PARTY (August 9, 2011)

Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth are dear friends and superb musicians.  When they heard that the Beloved and I were coming to California for much of this summer, Marc proposed a jazz evening to be held at their house, and spoke of it in the most flattering way as the “Michael Steinman Jazz Party,” a name that both embarrassed and delighted me.

And it happened on Tuesday, August 9, 2011.  You’ll see some of the results here: great music from good-humored, generous people.

The guests — of a musical sort — were a small group of warmly rewarding musicians.  Besides Marc (cornet and string bass) and Dawn (vocals), there were Dan Barrett (trombone, cornet), John “Butch” Smith (soprano and alto saxophones), Vinnie Armstrong (piano), and Mike Swan (guitar and vocals).  The listeners included the Beloved, Bill and Sandy Gallagher (fine friends and jazz enthusiasts), Cathie Swan (Mike’s wife), Mary Caparone (Marc’s mother), James Arden Caparone (four months but with a great musical future in front of him), and a few others whose names I didn’t get to record (so sorry!).

Jazz musicians take great pleasure in these informal, relaxed happenings: no pressure to play faster, louder, to show off to an already sated crowd.  In such settings, even the most familiar old favorites take on new life, and unusual material blossoms.  We all witnessed easy, graceful, witty, heartfelt improvising on the spot.  And you will, too.

Jazz itself was the guest of honor.  Everyone knew that their efforts were also reaching the larger audience of JAZZ LIVES, so this happy cyber-audience was in attendance as well, although silent.

The first informal group (Dan on cornet, Butch on soprano, Vinnie, Marc on bass, and Mike) led off with Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, performed at what I think of as Lionel Hampton 1939 tempo:

Then, evoking memories of Jim Goodwin and the Sunset Music Company (more about that later), the band created a buoyant homage to Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, to Duke Ellington, and to Bill Robinson, in DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN:

A request from the Beloved for ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (in 1945 Goodman Sextet tempo) was both honored and honorable:

Dawn — sweetly full of feeling and casual swing — joined the band for S’WONDERFUL:

After Dan told one of his Ruby Braff stories, Dawn followed up with BLUE MOON, one of her favorites, and you can hear The Boy (that’s James Arden) singing along in his own fashion:

Then the band shifted — Marc put down the string bass and picked up his cornet to lead the way alongside Dan, now on trombone, for ROSETTA:

And a really fascinating exploration of a song that isn’t played much at all (although Billie, Lester, Roy, and the Kansas City Five are back of it), LAUGHING AT LIFE, explored in the best way by Marc, Butch, and Vinnie:

Mike Swan joined this trio for a truly soulful IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN:

Without prelude, Mike launched into the verse of WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Dan couldn’t help himself and joined in): what a singer Mike is (and he’s listened hard to Crosby, always a good thing)!

Mike also began MELANCHOLY with Dan — wait for Marc and Vinnie adding their voices to this improvisation:

And the session ended with GEORGIA ON MY MIND, scored for a trio of Dan, Mike, and Vinnie:

The informal session came to a gentle stop there, but the music didn’t go away.  Butch had brought with him a video (taken from Dutch television in 1978) of the Sunset Music Company — a band featuring banjoist Lueder Ohlwein, cornetist Jim Goodwin, trombonist Barrett, reedman Smith, pianist Armstrong.  Since Vinnie and Dan and I had never seen the video, we all retreated to the den and watched it.

It was both moving and hilarious to see the men of 2011 watching their much younger 1978 selves, as well as a moving tribute to those who were no longer with us.  I wish there had been time and space to make a documentary about those men watching themselves play. . . . perhaps it’s possible.

I feel immensely fortunate to be surrounded by such beauty, and to have my name attached to it in even the most tangential way is a deep honor.  I can’t believe that it happened, and I send the most admiring thanks to all concerned.  Even if you weren’t there, unable to witness this creation at close range, I think the generous creativity of these musicians will gratify you as well.  This post is a gift also to those who will see it and couldn’t be there: Arianna, Mary, Melissa, Aunt Ida, Hal, June, Candace, Dave, Jeff, Barbara, Sonny, Clint, David, Maxine, Ricky, Margaret, Ella, Melody . . . the list goes on.  These gigabytes and words are sent with love.

A postscript.  JAZZ LIVES is so engrossed with music that I rarely write about anything else, but if you are ever in the Paso Robles, California, area, I urge you to consider spending a night (as the Beloved and I did) at the accurately-named INN PARADISO, 975 Mojave Lane (805-239-2800: innparadiso@att.net).  We have never stayed at a more satisfying place.  Everything was beautiful and comfortable — from the room to the view to the quiet to the dee-licious breakfast, to the gentle friendly kindnesses of Dawna and Steve — making it a genuinely memorable experience.  I want to go back!  See for yourself at www.innparadiso.com.

ARE YOU FREE NEXT WEEKEND? DIXIELAND MONTEREY 2011: JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY

This is where I’ll be March 4-6, 2011.  I’ll be the fellow with the video camera and tripod, who’s either three hours ahead or behind.  It will straighten itself out, I’m sure.

Tickets are still available:

http://www.dixieland-monterey.com/?page_id=121

And if you need convincing, here’s the schedule of events: I’ve already got conflicts, but that’s a good thing:

http://www.dixieland-monterey.com/?page_id=19

Who could resist?

I’m looking forward to seeing West Coast friends, getting to meet musicians I’ve only seen on YouTube, celebrating players and singers I’ve known for some time . . . and having a good long weekend, busily carpe-ing away. 

CLICK HERE TO GIVE SOMETHING BACK TO THE MUSICIANS WE ALL ADMIRE.  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM:

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REMEMBER! BILL GALLAGHER RECALLS DOTTIE BIGARD

Dottie in her apartment: the crooked picture over her shoulder is one of Charles
My friend, jazz scholar Bill Gallagher, writes,
Dorothe “Dottie” Bigard was the wife and widow of Barney Bigard and a virtual encyclopedia of jazz personalities. I first came to know Dottie around 1990. Barney had passed away in 1980 and, at the time, she was a companion of Sir Charles Thompson.

Charles and I had been in close contact, as he and I were working on his discography (http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Artists/Thompson/index.html). Often, Dottie and I would chat a bit before Charles picked up the phone, and that is how our friendship began. Not long after, their relationship broke up (Charles had moved to Japan and married over there) but Dottie and I had, by that time, become good friends. We talked on the phone at least once a week and I would visit with her when I was in Southern California while on business trips. On those occasions she preferred to stay in, so we’d order in Chinese and sit around and talk for the evening.

With a large potrait of Barney over her head, to the right

Dottie’s relationship with Barney began shortly after the outbreak of World War II and so she first became part of the Ellington family and, later, with the Armstrong family when Barney joined Louis in 1947. I remember watching the Ken Burns JAZZ series and seeing a clip of Louis and Lucille entertaining in their home in Queens and there was Barney and Dottie sitting in the living room having a great time. She tossed off those experiences like they were just every day occurrences, like brushing your teeth, but to me it was hallowed ground. To my everlasting regret, I didn’t evoke more jazz anecdotes from her because she could have filled a book. More often, our conversations would just as likely be about news, weather and politics as it would  be about jazz.

Dottie and Barney in Nice, France, 1977

She knew everyone associated with jazz, it seemed. There wasn’t a single name that I could throw her way that she didn’t have some experience to share. Once, I mentioned that I had just picked up a CD featuring Albert Nicholas and she went on to say that he and Barney used to room together when they lived in Chicago and Barney was playing with Joe Oliver. However the friendship and the living arrangement broke up when they both started dating the same girl. “Is there anyone you don’t know?” I’d ask her, and she would just laugh.

Dottie’s manner was casual and friendly and there was a certain rough charm about her that, perhaps, came from her Wyoming origins. Whatever her exterior, she had a heart of gold and a love of all things jazz. I recall her telling me that when she first met Barney, she really didn’t connect him with Ellington – she was a Goodman fan. But all that changed and later when she would attend gatherings of the Ellington Society, she was treated like royalty.

A social call from Kenny Davern

In August 2000, my wife and I were driving home from a few days in Carmel and she was checking our phone messages. There was a call from Floyd Levin telling me that Dottie had suffered a fatal heart attack. She was 82, but in my mind we were contemporaries, and I knew that I would probably never get to know anyone like her again. They say that after God made certain people, He threw the mold away. It couldn’t have been more true in the case of Dottie Bigard.

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HOLY RELICS (of LOUIS)

A Selmer trumpet in the collection of the Smithsonian, dating from the mid-Thirties or later:

And a characteristic autograph, circa 1950, courtesy of Bill Gallagher’s father, Jim.  Bill recalls, ” The Gallagher clan was on vacation in SouthernCalifornia and we were staying a night in Los Angeles.   We had just returned to our motel from dinner and, after getting settled in, dad left to go to the Roosevelt Hotel to listen to a set or two of the Armstrong All Stars.   The next day he showed us autographs from Louis, Jack, and Arvell.”

I hope my title doesn’t strike my readers as impious, but if these aren’t holy relics, I don’t know what might be.

“JAZZ LIVES”: SETH COLTER WALLS

Excerpts from his piece, “JAZZ IS DEAD.  LONG LIVE JAZZ.”  (From NEWSWEEK, Dec 21, 2009.)

[O]n an economic level, right: as a mass-culture force, jazz is dead. Simply look at the contemporary brand most familiar to a lay audience: the Marsalis family. In the early ’90s, one brother (Branford) was leading Jay Leno’s late-night band, while another (Wynton) was the preeminent trumpeter on Columbia, Miles’s old label. By the middle of this decade, both of them had lost those public perches—and no one has reached that stature since. 

Multi-disc sets of previously unissued live concerts from Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz are also competing for the public’s limited attention span this season. So no wonder folks keep saying jazz is dead: devotion to its past is stealing oxygen from the same room in which the present hopes to draw a breath.

[A]t the point where a relatively young art like jazz amasses enough history to merit these important tomes and huge box sets, the more difficult it becomes for the culture to absorb what’s happening in real time. And real time is how jazz is best experienced. Like baseball—another great American invention—part of jazz’s appeal is in how it unspools without deference to the clock. Just as drama asks for suspension of our disbelief, jazz asks us for the suspension of our need to program our every moment. Meantime, our contemporary mania for abbreviated text updates—think Twitter, Facebook, and BlackBerrys—feels as if it stands in direct opposition to jazz’s deliberate, instrumental abstractions. Enjoying the music—really swinging with it—is a glorious sacrifice of the need to micro-manage the moment. And though it can be dreamy, this surely isn’t a recipe for amassing a stable brand that can support itself in the modern marketplace. At the beginning of the 21st century, the economic status of jazz is more like that of the symphony orchestra, only without the economic safety net of foundation funding that undergirds concerts featuring Beethoven and Brahms.

In fact, the arts community should debate whether a greater share of the music endowment pie ought to be going to jazz musicians. The rub is that it never will, unless there is an understanding that jazz’s economic status isn’t a hideous reflection of poor aesthetic health. But even if jazz is finally buried in that (expanding) graveyard of former mass-culture obsessions, that doesn’t mean the music isn’t still happening, or that it isn’t still perfectly capable of talking to us at an individual level. As long as they don’t starve to death, committed jazz musicians will be there for you, the forbidding economics of their pursuit be damned. And even if no one you know is talking about what they’re playing, be wary of any strangers who tell you they aren’t swinging anymore.

In reprinting excerpts from Walls’ piece, sent to me by Bill Gallagher, I am definitely not trying to awaken the Teachout-driven controversy about whether “jazz is dead” or not.  But I think Walls makes splendid points about the competitive marketplace that makes jazz — for most listeners — less essential, and the short attention span so characteristic of our times that makes many people too impatient for the music, too eager for instant gratification to immerse themselves in a musical form that no longer seems like a common language.  It wasn’t difficult to get listeners to appreciate jazz in 1936 or even 1956, because it was still part of the contemporaneous art . . . but now everyone has to work a bit harder.  I would quibble about his division between “past” and “present” in his second paragraph, since the jazz I revere brings those two artificial entities together from the first bar.  But that’s semantics. 

Since I think that much of what Walls writes makes good sense, and especially because “swinging” is the penultimate word of his essay, I hope he is able to come to New York City some Sunday night: I’ll buy him dinner at the Ear Inn. 

Comments, anyone?

The full piece can be found here: http://www.newsweek.com/id/226331/output/comments. 

And I would try not to be startled by the many unfamiliar names Walls cites: you can, if they make the room spin around, insert the names of musicians you love.

EDDIE HIGGINS (1932-2009)

My good friend Bill Gallagher was lucky enough to know the late pianist Eddie Higgins.  With Eddie’s help, Bill became his discographer as well.  Here is Bill’s beautiful elegy for Eddie:

Eddie Higgins: 2/21/1932 – 8/31/2009

The world of jazz has lost one of its most talented pianists and I have lost a good friend.  Eddie Higgins’ life was brought to an end by complications of lymphatic and lung cancer, an event that seemed to have developed in a matter of a few months.  I had seen Eddie perform in Sacramento in late May, had dinner with him, and he showed no evidence or indication of what was to come in a few brief months.

Eddie was a generous and talented person in so many ways.  He not only played great piano, but he could write well and discuss matters outside of music in ways that were thoughtful and revealing.  Although he could be generous with his time, it took a while to crack the veneer of New England reserve that was part of his persona.  But the effort and the result was worth it.  Underneath was a man who was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a man of taste, a highly developed wit, and one hell of a pianist.

His career was established in Chicago during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s where his longest running gig was a 12 year stint as the resident trio at the London House.  Eddie could play just about anything and with anybody, but he mainly stuck to Mainstream.  He once described Free Jazz as sounding like “a fire in a pet store.” Over the course of a number of years, he played with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Al Grey and Eddie South. And that’s just the short list. Other well known piano trios that performed at the London House were intimidated by Eddie’s group. Some of the tales that came out of his London House experience were more than entertaining, such as the one involving Buddy Rich. Buddy was drumming like crazy but the customers were leaving because of the volume. The manager asked Eddie to turn down the amplifiers before everyone had left and Eddie did so – but Buddy caught him at it. Accusations were hurled at Eddie, Buddy drummed louder and threatened to get Eddie after the set. Sure enough, he came after Eddie and Eddie hightailed it into the restroom and locked himself in a stall. Buddy found the locked stall and proceeded to do a limbo under the door while Eddie vaulted over the top of the door and out the building. Later, each would avoid bringing up the event when their paths crossed.

Also during his Chicago years, Eddie was invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers. Eddie refused because he had two young children at the time and it wasn’t a good time to go on the road. He also had an offer to become Carmen McRae’s accompanist but he turned down the opportunity for the same reasons and the job went to Norman Simmons. When further pressed for his reasons for turning down Blakey, he said that he didn’t want to be the odd man in the group. Eddie would have been the only white musician, the only non-user and Blakey had a habit of paying his connections before he paid his musicians.

Eddie’s versatility was amazing. During the 70’s he was exposed to some of the early recordings coming out of Brazil and was taken by the new rhythms of the Bossa Nova. Many of his albums include a track or two of a South American composition, but he also produced one of the finest albums of Jobim compositions that exists, “Speaking of Jobim.” If you haven’t heard it, you must.

There will be some who read this who will have no idea who Eddie Higgins was or how brilliantly he played. This won’t surprise me because Eddie traveled in certain jazz circuits and was probably better known in Japan and Korea, where his recordings on the Japanese Venus label are among the top jazz sellers. However, Eddie enjoyed deep respect among fellow musicians who admired him as a consummate professional. So, to those who might say, “Eddie, we hardly knew ye,” I understand. But to those who did know him, he was a national treasure and will be missed more than words can express.

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

About Eddie: he was one of those rare musicians who can make a melody, apparently unadorned, sing.  Any of his Venus recordings (solo, trio, or quartet) demonstrate that he was someone working beneath the surface of the music, giving himself fully to the song.  I also can testify to his gracious nature: having reviewed a Venus CD in Cadence (I believe it was his quartet with Scott Hamilton) I got a letter from Eddie, thanking me for what I had written in the most perceptive way.  I hope that more people come to his music as the years pass.

Jazz photographer John Herr, another Higgins devotee, captured Eddie at the leyboard during the April 2006 Atlanta Jazz Party:

Eddie Herr 406

Eddie’s widow, the singer Meredith D’Ambrosio, sent along this piece on Eddie from the Chicago Tribune — http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-obit-ed-higgins-02sep02,0,1489219.story — a fitting tribute to a man who brought so much music to that city.  We send our condolences to Meredith and to Eddie’s family.  Thanks to Judith Schlesinger, Bill Gallagher, and John Herr.

NOT SO NICE, 2009

World traveler Bill Gallagher sent along his photograph of the latest Nice Jazz Festival lineup:

Nice 2009

Some of my readers will rejoice at the names of venerable jazz players Rollins, Corea, and Burton; others will be pleased to see younger players. 

It must mark me as someone of a nearly-extinct generation when I write that I miss the old days.  European friends, over the years, sent me on-location tapes from Nice festivals in the Seventies, featuring Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Bill Coleman, Vic Dickenson, Benny Carter, Teddy Wilson, Joe Venuti, Jo Jones, Sir Charles Thompson, Mark Shane . . . proving that swinging jazz was what prevailed. 

Now they’ve been replaced by  James Taylor?

Of course, many of the players at Nice in the Seventies are now dead.  But there are five or six dozen younger musicians — from Kellso to Caparone, Block to Blake, Dorn to Nick Ward . . . who would show anyone that jazz existed before Madeline Peyroux.

BILL GALLAGHER, CAMERA AT THE READY

My California friend Bill went to the most recent Sacramento JAZZ JUBILEE and captured these moments on film for the blog, as he so generously did last year. 

A word about Bill (who deserves more); one of the gratifying things about jazz is the deep friendships it makes possible between people who wouldn’t otherwise meet.  Bill and I first encountered each other perhaps fifteen years ago (by mail) as people sharing an interest in jazz royalty — in particular, Sir Charles Thompson.  Then we discovered our mutual fascination with Teddy Wilson, with stride piano, and on and on.  Bill and I live on opposite coasts, and we’ve only met face-to-face once (over an Italian dinner in New York City, with Bill’s lively wife Sandy) — but we email almost daily, and we’re as good friends as can be. 

Bill is a fine writer (you can read his reviews in the IAJRC Journal) as well as a meticulous discographer, who’s created a Thompson discography online and one of the fine pianist Eddie Higgins (in print). 

And Bill is one of this blog’s unpaid correspondents — in fact, he heads the California bureau — even though I haven’t found a way to offer health benefits or personal days.  Maybe at the next contract negotiation?  Until then, just enjoy his photographs.

Vince Bartels, Jennifer Leitham, Eddie Higgins

Vince Bartels, Jennifer Leitham, Eddie Higgins

Two Allreds (Bill and John) and a Metz (Ed., Jr.) on trombones and drums

Two Allreds (Bill and John) and a Metz (Ed., Jr.) on trombones and drums

Harry Allen

Harry Allen

Eddie Higgins

Eddie Higgins

Where it all took place

Where it all took place

A POCKETFUL OF DUKES?

dukes-quarterToday, according to the Associated Press, the United States government honored Edward Kennedy Ellington — in its own fashion:

Jazz musician Duke Ellington has become the first Black American to be prominently featured on a U.S. coin in circulation with the release of a quarter honoring the District of Columbia. U.S. Mint and D.C. officials celebrated the release of the coin Tuesday during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “Like many great Americans who succeed in what they love doing, Duke Ellington was equal parts talent, hard work, passion and perseverance,” U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said.  Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born and raised in Washington. He and other Black music legends, such as Ella Fitzgerald, helped establish the city’s U Street as an entertainment corridor. Ellington beat out designs featuring abolitionist Frederick Douglass and astronomer Benjamin Banneker. Last year, the Mint rejected a proposed design for the D.C. quarter that included the slogan “Taxation Without Representation,” a phrase borrowed by D.C. residents to voice objections that they pay federal taxes without full representation in Congress. Instead, the Ellington coin includes the D.C. motto “Justice for All.” The coin with Ellington resting his elbow on a piano was officially released Jan. 26, but officials took time Tuesday to hand out some of the “mint condition” quarters to D.C. schoolchildren. “With Duke on the coin, we are sending an important message to the world that D.C. is a lot more than a government town,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said. Prior to the Ellington quarter, the only U.S. coin to depict a Black person was a 2003 Missouri state coin that featured explorers Lewis and Clark with a Black slave named York, Mint spokeswoman Carla Coolman said. Commemorative coins have also featured Black figures, but those coins weren’t put into circulation.

I don’t know.  It does my heart good to see Ellington honored.  But am I carping when I point out that he was denied the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes?  And that this government waited until he was dead nearly a quarter of a century to give him this honor.  And that it isn’t the hundred-dollar bill?  Of course, more people will see and handle those quarters, I know.  And perhaps when I go to the laundry room I can have the pleasure of a whole pocketful of Dukes.  But we DO seem to honor artists in this country oddly.  And if they happen to have been African-American and “popular,” well, they do end up on the bus — but far too late, and in the back.  Things ain’t what they used to be, and they never were.

Thanks to Bill Gallagher for reminding me, and to Ian Bradley, from whose Ellington-themed site, MIDRIFF, I borrowed the image.

DESERT ISLAND DISCS (FEBRUARY 3, 2009)

desert-island-discsAt the suggestion of my friend Bill Gallagher, I am compiling this afternoon’s list of Desert Island Discs — named for the famous BBC radio program — and invite readers to do likewise.

The rules?  There are always rules, although readers may wish to be less stringent with themselves.  One item by any musician: no ostentatious duplications, although overlaps are inevitable.  Box sets (a generous self-indulgence) are of course allowed and encouraged.  Half of the list may be devoted to the Dearly Departed; the remainder must include a majority of living artists.  Alphabetical order, so as not to imply a ranking by virtue.

Here goes (as of a snowy February 3, 2009) — done off the top of my head, without visits to the CD stacks!  Try it yourself and send in your lists, which I am sure will be revealing.

Louis Armstrong 1935-49 Decca releases (Ambassador)

Bob Barnard / John Sheridan: The Nearness of Two (Nif Nuf)

BED, Four + One (Blue Swing)

The Blue Note Jazzmen (Blue Note)

Melissa Collard, Old-Fashioned Love (Melismatic)

The Vic Dickenson Showcase (Vanguard)

Eddie Condon Town Hall Concerts (Jazzology)

Billie Holiday: Lady Day (Sony)

Jon-Erik Kellso, Blue Roof Blues (Arbors)

Barbara Rosene, It Was Only A Sun Shower (Stomp Off)

Mark Shane: Riffles (Amber Lake)

I lament that I didn’t invent an Honorable Mention category — but there’s always next week, next month . . . . Then I can sneak in Dan Block, Basie at the Famous Door, the Fargo dance date, Tony Fruscella, Bix, Buck, Bobby . . . . the mind it simply reels! And if you’re going to write in, taking me to task for leaving out Bent Persson, Ben Webster (with or without strings), Fats Waller, Jack Teagarden, Hal Smith, Red Allen, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Dave Frishberg, Bennie Moten in 1932, Goodman, Jess Stacy, Teddy Wilson, Mel Powell, Ehud Asherie . . . . I know, I know, I know.  It’s only a game, mind you.

Thanks to http://www.colindussault.com for the image above!

OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE (I)

Bill Gallagher is a fine candid photographer:

Eddie Erickson and Becky Kilgore, striking a pose

Allan Vache, Harry Allen, Bria Skonberg, John Allred

Paul Keller, Joe Ascione

Russ Phillips, Vince Bartels


BED (Dan Barrett, Becky Kilgore, Joel Forbes, Eddie Erickson)

and finally . . . Bill with Eddie Higgins

OUR FAR-FLUNG CORRESPONDENTS: SACRAMENTO JAZZ JUBILEE (II)

Bill Gallagher, also a fine writer, is encountered too infrequently in the pages of the IAJRC Journal. Here’s his report on the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, held Memorial Day Weekend:

This celebration of jazz was started in 1974, primarily as a Trad Jazz festival. Today it is still mostly a Trad thing but there is a good deal of Mainstream jazz and even Latin, Gypsy and Zydeco. The problem, if you could call it that, is that there are 105 different bands appearing throughout the city at 30 different venues. Commendably, there are a number of youth bands that get to strut their stuff and it is heartening to see jazz attract the younger set, particularly while the audience (myself included) seems to be aging at an alarming rate. Attendance this year was about 75,000 people. Not a bad draw, you might say, but not close to the 200,000 attendees of ten years ago. Another reality in this age of shrinking budgets is that fewer international bands are to be seen. While the festival provides a highly efficient transportation system for getting from one venue to another, the sheer size of the three-day event makes it impossible to see and hear everything. But that doesn’t stop the faint of heart from trying.

Overlooking the magnitude of the event and its associated logistics, there was lots of great jazz. Becky Kilgore and BED knocks everybody’s socks off. Various All Stars in numerous configurations provided stunning, extemporaneous performances. Performers like Harry Allen, Russ Phillips, John Allred, Randy Reinhart, Joe Ascione, John Cocuzzi, Jim Galloway, Jake Hanna and, I’m proud to say, my good friend and pianist with few peers, Eddie Higgins, provided a continuous succession of one great performance after another. But a good part of the fun was listening to the banter that goes on with musicians and the occasionally funny slip by a fan. What do I mean? Well, here’s a sampler.

Tommy Saunders made reference to a compatriot of many years with the aside, “I’ve drunk to your health so much I’ve ruined mine.”

A woman approached Bob Schulz of the Frisco Jazz Band with a request. Would you play “I’ll Be Your Friend For Pleasure”? Sure, but I think you mean “I’ll Be Your Friend WITH Pleasure.”

As Jim Galloway began to introduce a number that featured him, “Bewitched, Bothered and …” But before he could get the last word out, Dan Barrett injected “Bob Wilber-ed.”

Bob Ringwald, father of actress Molly Ringwald, performed “Bethena,” a beautiful Scott Joplin rag. As background, Bob told the audience that his daughter had asked him to play it for her wedding. It was a difficult piece to learn and it took Bob some time to finally get it down. “In fact,” said Bob, “it took me longer to learn it than the marriage lasted.”

Great music. Great fun. Good times.

—- Bill Gallagher