Tag Archives: Billie Holiday

TO KAYO, FROM BUD, FATHA, LION, FATS // BILLIE and BABE and HANS KNOPF, 1941

Those who have time, patience, eagerness, can find treasures on eBay: type in “jazz” and “entertainment memorabilia” or “music memorabilia” — as I did.  Here are two treasures, each with hints of mystery.  First.  I have no idea who “Kayo” is or was, what their gender, and so on.  A name or a nickname?  But Kayo got close to the deities for certain.  I’ve seen Earl Hines and Willie “the Lion” Smith autographs fairly plentifully, but not Bud Powell and certainly not Fats Navarro.  Of course the autographs do not have to be contemporaneous with each other, but Fats died in July 1950, which suggests a decade, as does the fountain pen.

Opening bid $100, for a very limited time: details here.

The second item is even more mysterious: we are told these photographs were taken by Hans Knopf of PIX —  of Billie Holiday with Babe Russin’s Orchestra at the Famous Door, 1941.  $1000 or best offer: details here.  The only thing I am deeply certain of is that Hans Knopf existed from 1907 to 1967.

and:

and what I presume is the back of the photograph (I believe that the smaller and larger images are the same thing — note the oddly empty room and the two or three people to the right) with notations that leave me skeptical:

Here is yet another photograph by Knopf, advertised as Billie, 1941, and the Famous Door.

Several thoughts.  Babe Russin appears on Billie’s sessions in May and June 1938, on August 1941 and February 1942, so their connection is plausible.  During those years, no “Babe Russin Orchestra” made commercial records, so there is little evidence to help us figure out the personnel in this photograph.  As for the photographs themselves, I see the same (or similar) cloth-backed chairs.  But the club, long and narrow, does not look anything like the Famous Door at which the Basie band appeared in 1938.  It does more closely resemble the Village Vanguard.

Was it Billie’s gig?  In 1941 she was a star, and was she appearing with Russin, but why would the band name be on the marquee?  Was Hans there one night when she sat in?

I hypothesize that the annotations on the back of the photograph may not be from 1941, that what was blacked out might be a clue, even if it was only “Property of PIX Photo” and that the emendation to “Famous Door” has more to do with another internet site — with the smaller photograph of Billie for sale — than any evidence by Knopf.  (That latter site, selling a “jumbo” photograph, is fascinating for one frosty line only, at the end: If you’re not satisfied this page or Billie Holiday At the Famous Door NY 1941. Jumbo Hans Knopf Pix Photo, you can leave now.
Thank you for visiting.)  

This just in . . . and no fooling, from a 2010 entry on a blog called “The Daily Growler,” Hans Knopf, though there’s not much personal info about him, in 1941 was a staff photographer for PIX. During those years his work was in publications all over the place. In later life, Hans became a sports photographer on the first Sports Illustrated staff, where he was from 1956 until 1964 when he died. Hans was celebrity famous when he married Amy Vanderbilt, called the Staten Island Vanderbilt. Hans and Amy lived life to the fullest!

Fine, you say.  But this blogpost has “the growlingwolf” tell of his adventures at an Allentown, Pennsylvania “paper show,” for collectors of paper ephemera, where he goes through a box of photographs and finds . . .

The first print I saw was of a black woman with a flower in her hair singing live with the Babe Russo Band, an all White band, at the Sherman House in Chicago. I knew she looked familiar–I turned it over and Hans had marked it “Billie Holiday at the Sherman House, 1941.” Holy shit. I dug deeper.

Now we know.  Of course it’s Babe Russin, and it’s the Sherman Hotel . . . but 2020 is going to be a very good year.  Mysteries, all delicious, and all allowing us glimpses of people and their relics we would never have seen otherwise.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

First, a musical interlude:

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

BILLIE AND BLUES at THE CAFE BOHEMIA PREQUEL (Part Two): MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA (Sept. 26, 2019)

Before there was this — the official opening of Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, New York City, one flight down — on October 17, 2019:

there was this, a warm-up for the club, a “soft opening” on September 26:

Glorious music from Mara Kaye, singing with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band — totally acoustic — Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  I posted other performances from that evening, here — but here are seven more beauties for your consideration, mixing blues by Memphis Minnie, the Smith ladies, and of course Lady Day.

Mara, of course, is herself, which is a damned good thing.

FOOLIN’ MYSELF:

I GOT TO MAKE A CHANGE:

WANTS CAKE WHEN I’M HUNGRY:

ARKANSAS BLUES:

YOUR MOTHER’S SON-IN-LAW:

TOO LATE:

A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT:

Now, even more good news.  Cafe Bohemia is perking along beautifully — on November 21, I was there for a wonderful quartet session by Danny Tobias, Dan Block, Josh Dunn (new to me and a wonder), and Tal Ronen.  “Beyond the beyonds!” as a character in a Sean O’Faolain story says.  And on the 22nd, I heard and admired Ricky Alexander, Adam Moezinia, Daniel Duke, and Chris Gelb, with a glorious appearance by Dan Block for two numbers.  All night, every Monday, my dear young hero Matt “Fat Cat” Rivera, who knows things but is not compelled to flatten people with facts, spins wondrous 78 rpm discs of the real stuff, and he reappears before and after sets on Thursdays.  The HOT CLUB, you know.

And on December 5, our Mara will be celebrating her birthday at Cafe Bohemia, so if you weren’t there for the prequel, you can make up for it in the near future.

It will be a birthday party where Mara and friends give us presents, you know.

Here is the Cafe’s Facebook page, and here is their website.

May your happiness increase!

“WARM REGARDS” and “THANK GOD FOR EARS”: A COLLECTION OF PRECIOUS PAGES

The nimble folks atjgautographs” had their hands full of surprises . . . although their holdings range from Frederick Douglass to Marilyn Monroe to Irene Dunne, Stephen Sondheim, and Thomas Edison, it’s the jazz ephemera — no longer ephemeral — that fascinates me and others.  Here’s a sampling, with a few comments.  (The seller has many more autographs, from Sonny Rollins and Eubie Blake to Gene Krupa and Conrad Janis, so most readers of this blog will find something or someone to fascinate themselves.)  For those who want(ed) to buy what they see here, the auction ended this evening: if you are curious, I bid and lost on the Ivie Anderson and Jimmy Rushing; I won the Henry “Red” Allen and will be giving showings at a future date.  Check Eventbrite for tickets.

A number of the older autographs were inscribed to “Jack,” as you’ll see, and some of the newer ones to “Mark,” “Mark Allen,” and “Mark Allen Baker,” which led me on another path — more about the latter at the end of this post.

Husband and wife, very important figures in popular music, now perhaps less known.  Arranger Paul Weston:

and warm-voiced Jo Stafford:

Yusef Lateef lectures Mark:

while Louie Bellson is much more gentle in his inscription:

Lady Day, to Jack:

and Billie’s former boss, who called her “William”:

Notice that the Count’s signature is a little hurried, which to me is proof of its on-the-spot authenticity, because artists didn’t always have desks or nice flat surfaces to sign autographs after the show.  His calligraphy is in opposition to the next, quite rare (and in this case, quite dubious) signature:

Beautiful calligraphy, no?  But Helen Oakley Dance told the story (you can look it up) that Chick was embarrassed by his own handwriting, and when Helen asked for an autograph, Chick said, no, his secretary should sign it because her handwriting was so lovely . . . thus making me believe that this paper was not in Chick’s hands.  People who are less skeptical bid seriously on it, though.

Blossom Dearie, who arouses no such doubts:

And James Rushing, of that same Count Basie band:

I saw Mister Five-by-Five once, and his sound is still in my ears:

another Jimmy, happily still with us:

yet another Jimmy, playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania:

Would you care to join me for dinner?

Perhaps you’d like to meet both Dorsey Brothers?

and we could stay for the “Bombe Borealis,” whatever it looked like:

A woman I would have loved to see and hear, Miss Ivie Anderson:

She continues to charm:

Smack:

Jay Jay:

and Cee Tee:

The wondrous Don Redman:

Ella, whose inscription is elaborate and heartfelt:

One of the million he must have signed:

Jim Hall, always precise:

One can’t have too many of these:

an influential bandleader and personality:

one of Lucky’s great stars — and ours — from an era when you noted what instrument the star played, even if you couldn’t quite spell it:

Here’s the musical background, in the foreground:

finally, something that deserves its own scenario, “Mister Waller, could I have your autograph?”  “Of course, young lady.  What’s your name?”  “Mildred.”

which raises the question: was the bus ticket the spare piece of paper she had, or were they both on a Washington, D.C. streetcar or bus?  At least we know the approximate date of their intersection:

Neither Fats nor Mildred can answer this for us anymore, but here is the perfect soundtrack:

Mark Allen Baker, in the pre-internet world I come from, would have remained a mystery — but I Googled his name and found he is a professional writer, with books on sports teams and boxing, but more to the point, on autograph collecting.  So although I would have hoped he’d be a jazz fan, my guess is that his range is more broad.  And the autographs for sale here suggest that he has found the answer to the question, “Why do you collect autographs?” — the answer being, “To hold on to them and then sell them,” which benefits us.

May your happiness increase!

A TRIUMPH: “LESTER’S BLUES – RED LABEL: HOMMAGE TO LESTER YOUNG AND THE BASIE-ITES” (2018)

A Preface:

I came to this band through their Facebook page and was thrilled by their sound.  When I noticed the great reed played David Lukacs (whose CD DREAM CITY I have praised here) was one of the two tenor saxophonists (he also plays clarinet) I asked him to put me in touch with saxophonist / leader Tom Callens.  A few days ago, a neat package arrived; I extracted both the CD and vinyl issue, slid the former into the player, played it three times in a row, and was uplifted each time. It has also become the soundtrack to this post, appropriately.

Several Relevant Illustrations:

This is the band’s website, where you will see their video of the recording of DICKIE’S DREAM.  I encourage you to click on it, or visit the video here:

Here’s TICKLE-TOE, a legal stimulant:

and a seductive live version of THE GOON DRAG. It’s also on the record, but the live version shows that their magic comes from inspiration:

Emulation, not Repetition (I):

LESTER’S BLUES is the wonderful embodiment of ideas (to be explicated below) for which Tom Callens may take credit.  The repertoire springs from Lester’s recordings of about a decade, with nods to Count Basie, Billie Holiday, but also Lester’s Aladdin period, his Keynote sessions, and the aforementioned GOON DRAG, originally a Sammy Price recording for Decca. The titles will make this even clearer: KING PORTER STOMP / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / EASY LIVING / LESTER’S BE-BOP BOOGIE / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / MY MAN / THE GOON DRAG / SHOE SHINE BOY / AD LIB BLUES / TICKLE-TOE / SUN SHOWERS / DICKIE’S DREAM.

The Repeater Pencil (II):

There’s evocation and freedom, soulfully balanced, throughout.  Lester said he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil” (my musings on that here and here — the second post has the pleasure of my hero Dan Morgenstern correcting me).

Lester urged musicians to “be original,” to “sing your own song,” so I think he would be pleased by LESTER’S BLUES because it evokes him but does not copy.  The band is not Supersax, nor is it Lester’s Greatest Hits, nor is it The Chronological Lester.  What a relief.  But there’s no thin “innovation,” no playing MY MAN with a Second Line drum beat, nor is it “what would happen if Lester had played GIANT STEPS or THAT’S A PLENTY?”  Another relief.

The Musicians, Being Original (III):

Thus Delphine Gardin understands Billie but sounds pleasingly like herself (a self who knows the records but also knows the futility of mimicking them); ONE O’CLOCK JUMP is based on the small group Basie had ten years after Lester left; drummer Frederik Van den Berghe does not restrict himself to Jo Jones’ hi-hat; David Lukacs and Tom Callens know Lester’s solos but — except in the case of SHOE SHINE BOY — use them as suggestions rather than strictures.  And there are warm traces of Herschel Evans and later reed players here as well.  Singing EVENIN’, Tom Callens bows to Jimmy Rushing but is himself; pianist Luk Vermeir gracefully cuts a path around just-like-the-Count cliches.  Trumpeter Hans Bossuyt has an estimable wildness that breaks out of the Buck Clayton mold; Sam Gerstmans has a beautiful lower-register sound that Walter Page would praise, but he’s heard other players; guitarists Victor Da Costa and Bart Vervaeck swing their own glorious ways.

A First Inducement to Purchase (IV):

Thus, even if you know every performance on this disc by heart; if you can hum Lester’s solos on both takes of Billie’s WHEN YOU’RE SMILING, you will find this recording a series of small warming surprises that, listened to several times, become inevitable and memorable.  And the band is a band — there are beautifully “right” ensemble passages, jammed or written — thus the recording is more than a series of great solos over a rhythm section.  Tom is responsible for all the arrangements, which are varied and delightful.

Technical Data (V):

It’s no small thing that its recorded sound is lovely, the result of old-fashioned technology that still rewards us.  Callens’ liner note — more about that in a minute — is memorable in its rejection of all the digitalia that makes some sessions sound so cold: “Recorded live in one-takes (no edits), in one room with the band centered around two main microphones, mixed straight to analog 1/4″ tape on a two-track MCI 1H-110 machine.  No external effects other than compression were used during tracking.  The tapes were edited the old-school way — cutting and splicing — to prepare for mastering.”  More technical details await interested readers on the LP sleeve.

What it Means, and it Means a Great Deal (VI):

I rarely quote from liner notes except when I’ve written them (!) but Tom’s notes are so quietly fervent and wise that I share them without editing.  They give insights not primarily into the music of the band but the souls of its musicians and the soulful impulse behind its birth.  I don’t exaggerate.

You could say that the members of Lester’s Blues are from the MTV generation: born in a wealthy, predominantly white Western country in the eighties: raised on FM radio hits, as well as underground music like grunge, hip hop, drum’n’bass, triphop, witnessing the change from analog technology like wired phones, television, radio, cassettes, and vinyl to the digital age of computers, compact discs, mp3s, wireless technology, and the internet.  As we grew up, we saw the general ‘dehumanization’ of our world, as the disappearance of religion gave way to even great reliance on machines, the rise of tools for quantification and efficiency made out societies market-and-performance-driven, and the unrelenting blare of media left us in constant chaos and fragmentation.

As a result, the people around us are seeking authenticity, both externally and mentally, subconsciously feeling that they have lost something.  People are looking for connection.  You see it everywhere in specialist, handcrafted bicycles, clothes and beer; in yoga and meditation practices; in the return of past pop culture styles of dance, fashion, music, graphics and videos; in homegrown vegetables, local produce and slow food; in the desire for an original identity through particular choices of dress, tattoos, hobbies, language . . .

Most of our generation-X musicians went to the jazz conservatory and primarily learned the language of bebop and the idioms / styles that followed.  To be sure, that syllabus didn’t include any lessons on ‘connection’. . . After this education, we were thrown into the real world to start honing our craft, possibly playing different genres of music, by choice or financial necessity.  Such was, and still is, my path.  Over the year, I became aware that I was missing something deeper.  It led me to music that could connect to the soul: something healing or even spiritual.  I listened to classical and world music, often religious music, or particular singer-songwriters, gospel, and blues.

In the middle of all of this, I discovered the music of Lester ‘Prez’ Young.  I have kept on listening to him and his peers over the years.  It eventually dawned on me just how deeply his expression could reach me, on many levels, and so much emotion.  I am convinced that this music is one of the strongest, timeless projections in human nature, universally understood, and I get confirmation of that whenever I meet another Lester fan.  It touches me in more ways than I can describe.  It is music in which you feel that every musician is equally important, where everyone’s contributions melt into a single voice.  It has its unpredictabilities and imperfections.  It can be strange and weird, happy, vibrant, fast, slow . . . just like real life or nature.  It is, of course, technically impressive, yet at the same time it reaches an equally (if not more) impressive emotional level, sending shivers up your spine, making it a rare example of both technical prowess and emotional intelligence.

After a moment of deep introspection somewhere in 2016, it came to me that playing this music with people I love and respect professionally was something that I had to do, like a calling.  To study and share that music and its language-fabric, bringing it to life on stage and creating a moment where everybody would come together, right there in the present.  To look for surprises, to try and  have a coherent musical dialogue devoid of excess, to be open to our humanness, with all its quirks, inventiveness, and humor.  In sum: to search for another way of living the music than what we have become used or programmed to do.

This way of seeing things makes every step – the concert, rehearsal, recording – a life-learning experience.  We have already gained so much from being close to the music of Young, Basie, and their peers. Even if Lester Young may hesitate to see us playing his music and emulating his style – he used to say, ‘You got to be original, man!’ – I think we are paying in our own small way a tribute to his always-searching, life-respecting, irreverent yet humble, freedom-seeking being.  That’s what I see in this music, and hope you can see it, too.

After Such Knowledge, What Action? (VII):

Here (on Bandcamp) you can buy a “vinyl” 12″ long-playing record with a lovely Savoy label, or a CD, or download the music digitally.  Another digital version can be purchased through Amazon here and through Apple Music here.

(Other sites offer the music, but JAZZ LIVES doesn’t endorse other streaming music platforms that take advantage of musicians; if you want to exploit creators, you’ll have to find your own paths.)

This is extraordinary uplifting music, and it swings like mad.  Who deserves a copy more than you, Faithful Reader?

May your happiness increase!

HALLOWED GROUND COMES TO LIFE, or THE SOUNDS AT CAFE BOHEMIA (15 Barrow Street, New York City): MARA KAYE, JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, EVAN ARNTZEN, BRIAN NALEPKA (September 26, 2019)

Once . . . .

New York City is full of vanished landmarks: one checks the address of what was once a place both sacred and thriving only to find that it is now a nail salon or, even more common, that its facade no longer exists: it’s now luxury apartments or university offices.  But resurrection, however rare, is possible and delightful. The “new” CAFE BOHEMIA, thanks to the labors and vision of Mike Zieleniewski and Christine Santelli, is one of those urban(e) miracles.

There will be divine music there on Thursday, October 24, featuring Jon-Erik Kellso, Evan Arntzen, Arnt Arntzen, and Jared Engel as well as the Hot Club.  Tickets here for the 7:00 show; here for the 9:30 show.  And for those who “don’t do Facebook,” tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite.

Now . . . .

and another view:

LIVE MUSIC for sure.  And there’s also Fat Cat Matt Rivera’s HOT CLUB, which I’ve written about here.

But let’s go back to some of that LIVE MUSIC, performed on September 26, before the Club’s official opening — a delightful all-acoustic jazz and blues evening featuring Mara Kaye, vocal; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Brian Nalepka, string bass.  Incidentally, only people who regularly attend live-music events know how rare “all-acoustic” is, and how pleasing.

BLACK SHEEP BLUES:

For Billie, I WISHED ON THE MOON:

Also for Lady Day, NO REGRETS:

“How sad I am,” with a grin, for MY MAN:

I’ll have more music from this night, also from October 17 (Evan, Andrew Millar, Felix Lemerle, Alex Claffy) but I urge you to tear yourselves away from those electronic devices and visit the Cafe on the 24th.  It’s tactless to remind people but necessary that clubs, concerts, and festivals need actual human attendees (what a thought!) to survive.  So . . . see you there!

May your happiness increase!

“TENDER EYES THAT SHINE”: DAWN LAMBETH and her RASCALS at MONTEREY (Part Two): DAWN LAMBETH, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, IKE HARRIS, JERRY KRAHN, RILEY BAKER (March 2, 2019)

There’s a wonderful tradition that began on records in the late Twenties: sweet and hot singing — female or male — backed by a small improvising combination.  To some, it reached its apex with the series of recordings done by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, but it continues on in this century, something I find reassuring.

Vocalion Records ceased production a long time ago, and the last time I was near a diner jukebox, it lacked Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Maxine Sullivan, Nan Wynn, Tempo King, Lee Wiley, Connee Boswell, or Dick Robertson, but our friend Dawn Lambeth embodies the tradition beautifully.  As do her Rascals, an ad hoc group of friends who swing.

Here’s the second half of a performance by a lovely little jam band of friends at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Clint Baker, trumpet.  And  here‘s the first part.

The very antidote to melancholy . . . with the verse, no less:

Dawn’s venture into rare cosmology:

Those nocturnal visions swing sweetly:

Memorable yet understated music.

May your happiness increase!