Tag Archives: Bill Haesler

GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU: STEVE WRIGHT, RAY SKJELBRED, DAVE BROWN, MIKE DAUGHERTY (January 24, 2015)

I am sitting in my suburban New York apartment awaiting a predicted blizzard, which means reacquainting myself with my essential inanimate pals, Ms. Down Parka and Mr. Snow Shovel.  The thought fills me with dread and gloom.

But there are always palliatives, and what I offer you requires no prescription, no copay, no trip to the pharmacy.  And it works just as well if the sun is blazing in through your windows.

Hot jazz — performed and recorded in this century — is the organic remedy offered here.

The thermodynamic healing practitioners are known both as the First Thursday Band and the Yeti Chasers: Ray Skjelbred, piano, vocal, leader; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophones, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal; Mike Daugherty, drums, vocal.  They created these sounds at the Royal Room in Seattle, Washington.

CARELESS LOVE is often performed as a dirge — a cautionary tale, “You see what careless love can do / has done?” but here it’s a swinging romp, with no weeping or moaning:

Another romp built on the threat of impending doom (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen for this and so many other inspirations), YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL.  Watch out for that cymbal (Mike’s performance-art piece in tribute to Zutty Singleton, 1928)!

And another tribute to the Red Allen small-band recordings, ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON, which is the only song that can make me think of J. C. Higginbotham and Bob Hoskins at once.  Steve Wright reminds us that this approach to the alto saxophone, so satisfying, did not utterly vanish in 1945:

Improvisers have always loved the subversive challenge of taking apparently inappropriate material (sweet love ballads) and making them swing.  Here’s a fine example: the Yeti Chasers’ LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

In honor of Mister Morton, who didn’t like snow either, the BLUE BLOOD BLUES:

Andy Razaf had it right — the world can’t do without THAT RHYTHM MAN (especially when he uplifts us at such a swinging tempo):

THE TORCH — evoking memories of Turk Murphy (commentary below*). It sounds as if it was written in 1885 to be performed in a barroom, which is emotionally although not factually correct:

Say the word.  You’ll be heard.  Ray’s always touching performance of ANY TIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE:

My favorite DIGA DIGA DOO, with a lovely leap into its second chorus before Ray’s Stacy ecstasy:

Finally, SKID ROAD BLUES, which I hope isn’t prophetic for future driving:

I don’t think this band needs a serious explication of its virtues, individual and collective.  Don’t they sound fine?  I feel better, and hope you do, too.

*Thanks to generous and erudite Bill Haesler, I now know everything worth knowing about THE TORCH:

“The song is called variously:
The Torch That Didn’t Go Out
The Kansas City Torch
The Torch of Kansas City
When You Carry The Torch
and was, allegedly, taught to Turk Murphy by Patsy Patton (cabaret
singer and wife of banjo player Pat Patton. We know him from when he
came to Sydney on the Matson Line ships). The first ‘jazz’ version was recorded by Turk Murphy for a Columbia LP on 19 Jan. 1953. The notes by George Avakian to that ‘Barrelhouse Jazz’ LP says that Turk came to it from the Castle Jazz Band (who recorded it later in Aug 1957) via Don Kinch and Bob Short, ex Castle band members).

It was composed (music and lyrics) in 1928 by the great Harry Warren
(we all know him) using the name Harry Herschel and originally
published by Robbins Music Corp.

WHEN YOU CARRY THE TORCH
[Verse]:When the gang has turned you down,
And you wander ’round the town,
Longing for someone in sympathy.
As you go from place to place,
Looking for some friendly face,
You can hear the old town clock strike three;
Then you wish you had your old gal back again.
You’re lonesome, oh, so lonesome,
And your poor hear cries in vain:

[Chorus]:
Oh, gee, but it’s tough,
When the gang’s gone home;
Out on the corner,
You stand alone;
You feel so blue
With nothing to do;
You’re cravin’ someone’s company.
The gang leaves you there
With an old time stall,
While you go home and gaze
At the four bare walls.
Ev’ry tear seems to scorch,
When you carry the torch
And the gang’s gone home.

[2nd Verse]:
When you haven’t got a friend,
And your worries never end,
When the future doesn’t look so bright.
As you sit there in the gloom
Of an empty silent room,
As the hallway clock ticks through the night,
Then you long to hear a knock upon your door.
You’re weary, oh, so dreary,
And your poor heart cries once more:

[Chorus]”

May your happiness increase!

JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN

The best biographical or autobiographical writings make a person the reader has never encountered come to life on the page.  JOTTINGS OF A JAZZMAN: SELECTED WRITINGS OF LEN BARNARD, edited by his niece Loretta Barnard, has just that magic. 

When I was a few pages into it, I felt as if I had met and heard Len, which says much — not only about the power of Len’s personality and insights but also about Loretta’s loving presentation. 

Len Barnard was a major figure in Australian jazz, and the players and singers from Oz are, at their best, possessed of a fierce focus, a strength of purpose, an intensity.  Len was an excellent drummer and washboardist and first-rate pianist and composer. 

But he also thought about his music, the world around him, and the way people behaved — a philosopher without the heavy weight of an official philosophy.  His writings show him as curious, opinionated, amused, sharp-eyed, both unsparing and generous.  Here are a few samples:

Len was a reader.  Here he quotes from an obscure cookery book in a letter:

An excerpt from THE ACCOMPLISHT COOK (1712) with the correct verbs for dismembering of various meats and game: lift that swan, rear that goose, unbrace that mallard, allay that pheasant, unlace that coney, unjoynt that bittern, unlatch that curlew, break that egript, thigh that woodcock.  Try a few of those to the bridge of ‘Old Man Ribber.’

From his journal, 1969:

Played Clarence Williams at breakfast.  I’ve always felt that too little has been said of the charm of his music, of its atmosphere, its complete absence of vulgarity, stridency, over-accentuation, and all the other faults of lesser jazz – its easy humour and almost kindly glow, its integrity as art.  Every Clarence Williams record is a benediction.

After offering a tape of a superb live performance to a record producer:

My fears of philistinism were confirmed.  He liked it, but didn’t think that full spontanaiety plus on-stage noises were suitable for his needs.  Offered to buy “Mood Indigo” for $25.  I declined.  Told him he had the studio sickness which is induced by surgically produced recordings and the unimaginative parading of an oft-repeated routine before the microphone before perfection is attained.  A bloodless, sterile perfection . . .This attitude of businessmen is what they call ‘progress,’ bit it is merely satndardization as opposed to less pretentious individualism of the true musician.  It’s a minor form of industrialisation, which nowadays means bad food, pointless bustle and jittery nerves, whereas the other road means good digestion and serenity.

On playing the drums:

Drums have seemed to be bonny imposters at times, as regards the perfection of extension of arm and rhythmic slap on a chair arm.  An in-ness, a tactile link with music that has been hard to replace.  Came close (digression) when in 1982, played a large lobster pot with open palms and a pair of wooden salad servers.  These got shorter as they shattered brittley and there is that wonderful elan andimmediacy that is expedited by this and you extemporise and bring out dishes of ham that even you didn’t know were in your larger of tricks.  The other feeling is the knife in hand, but the heel of hand marking the rhythm on the tablecloth.

The voice is at times cranky, observant, poetic,ruminative — a combination of Larkin, Balliett, S. J. Perelman.  The book is wonderfully amplified by photographs and remebrances of Len by his family and admirers.  When I finished the book, I felt as if I’d been privileged to overhear a fascinating and complex man.  And although I never got any closer to Len than through the medium of a dozen CDs, this book made me miss him terribly. 

As I write this, I have not yet acquired the needed mercantile information — how to buy the book, its price, the best way to acquire it.  I hope to find these things out soon. 

But I would urge anyone who is interested in what an articulate artist sees and hears to read this book. 

Len Barnard was a jazzman but his perceptions were deeper than 4 / 4, larger than his drum kit.  And Loretta Barnard has given us a fine gift of her late uncle and his world.

A postscript: I was so enthralled by the book and by Len that I omitted something delightful and informative — the lengthy section at the end with quick, witty, crisply written biographical portraits of all the people who were part of the book — written by the jazz scholar Bill Haesler, who knows his Oz thoroughly.  Published by itself, this section would be an invaluable overview of Australian jazz and more.

HOOLEY’S HOME MOVIES

From Bill Haesler, the Australian jazz scholar, and courtesy of Denis King, I learned that Harry Oakley has posted on YouTube a four-minute selection from the trumpeter Sylvester Ahola’s home movies, taken in the 1920s.  They are cheerful sketches of musicians mugging for the camera, and in some cases doing vaudeville bits.  But few of young men we see here are identified or perhaps identifiable.  I wonder if these faces are known to my readers?  (I find it delightfully ironic that there’s a sign for ROOSEVELT FIELD in this selection: it was famous as a Long Island airstrip — remember Charles Lindbergh? — before it became a shopping mall.  I’ll drive past it today!)

From Harry:   Trumpeter Sylvester Ahola was a keen filmer and began his hobby in the 1920’s when amateur filming was still a novelty. Ahola filmed much that interested him but we have selected the footage which shows a number of his fellow musicians from different bands of which he was a member. Alas, with only a few exceptions, we have been unable to identify these men and we invite everybody to help us find out who they are. Ahola himself can be seen a few times; rowing a boat, with his camera in his hand (obviously filmed by someone else with another camera although it is possible that he owned two), playing his trumpet, doing a short dance and with an elderly couple, probably his parents. In the scenes with the guys in striped jackets we have identified Adrian Rollini and Tommy Felline – both from the California Ramblers of which Ahola was, very briefly, a member. This footage was shot on the roof of the Newark Branford Theater in March 1927. After leaving the California Ramblers Ahola joined Bert Lowe and his Orchestra (not to be confused with Bert Lown), and several members of this band were also filmed. We have added an appropriate soundtrack; a long version of “The Pay Off”, played by the California Ramblers in 1927.