Tag Archives: Billy Banks

THE AUTOGRAPH DANCE, CONTINUED

Yes, Billy Banks!

Once I was a hero-worshipping autograph-seeker (“hound” is so dismissive). Beginning in 1967, I asked Louis, Teddy Wilson, Jo Jones, Vic Dickenson, Sonny Greer, Buck Clayton, Bobby Hackett, Zoot Sims, and others, for theirs.  Oddly, only Jo, who had a reputation for being irascible and unpredictable, asked my name and inscribed my record “To Micheal.”  Other musicians I would have liked to ask but either found them intimidating, or — since I was a criminal with a poorly concealed cassette recorder — thought it best to stay hidden.

Autograph-seeking presumes reverential distance.  I am a Fan, you are The Star.  The Fan approaches the Star, timidly, politely, holds out a piece of paper or some other object, and asks for a signature or an inscription.  In that ten-second interchange, the Fan feels seen, and the Star may feel exhausted or be gratified by the appearance of a Fan or a line of them.  (In my literary life, I asked Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon, Richard Ford, and Julian Barnes to sign books.  And Whitney Balliett.)

But I no longer chase Stars.  Were I to have asked Jim Dapogny, Connie Jones, Jake Hanna, or Joe Wilder for “an autograph,” they would have found the request strange, because I had been talking or eating with them as a presumed equal.  I am sure the anthropologists have a name for this kind of cultural transgression, as if your mother made special waffles for your birthday and you left her a tip, even 25%.  In my world, at least, many of the Stars have become Friends: whether formality is a thing of the past or my stature has changed, I have no need to investigate.

I will say that, a few years ago, when a musician-friend of mine, thinking to praise me, said I was “the best fan” he knew, I snapped, “I’m not a Fan!” and then explained what I associated with the term.  He changed his designation, to what I don’t remember, and it felt better.

Yet I think autographs are sacred — here is a photograph that Sidney Catlett held and wrote on.  The Deity comes to Earth for thirty seconds and touches down.  I have bought or copied pieces of paper signed by Pete Brown, Rod Cless, Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell (who wrote his first name as two separate words, should you wonder), Adrian Rollini, Claude Hopkins, and more.

I continue to keep track of such holy relics on eBay, as people who follow JAZZ LIVES know.  In that spirit, here are manifestations of the autograph dance.

Someone came to Cab Calloway — anywhere between 1942 (when the record was issued) and his death in 1994, and asked him to sign this lovely purple OKeh 78, which he did, with his signature phrase, in the white ink used for record labels:

I have seen enough Cab-signatures to think this one authentic.

And here he is — in his best passionate mode, with a very early reading of Alec Wilder’s classic:

This autograph’s closer to home for me:

Again, completely authentic.  But from what I know — from my own experience of Ruby (and this could have been signed any time between 1954 and 2002) I am reasonably sure that when the admiring Fan approached him, Ruby would have said something dismissive, because he disdained his early work vehemently.  I recall when I first met him in 1971, praising his MY MELANCHOLY BABY on a new Atlantic recording by George Wein’s Newport All-Stars, and Ruby’s response was terse, curt, and precise, “THAT shit?”  Difficult to find shades of ambiguity in that response.

Here’s Ruby’s ELLIE (one of his few compositions) from that date, with Johnny Guarnieri, Walter Page, Bobby Donaldson:

Some artists, remarkably, used the occasion to impart a message — in this case, a moral lesson.  Saxophonist Don Lanphere, later in life, was born again and changed his life completely . . . so much so that an inscription became a chance to spread the Gospel:

It feels as if Don had more than a momentary acquaintance with Debbie, Ron, and Bob, but I may be assuming too much.

Here’s his beautiful DEAR OLD STOCKHOLM from the 1983 sessions, a duet with pianist Don Friedman:

Those three examples suggest face-to-face contact, and certainly a few words being exchanged.  The closing artifact, here, comes from another dance entirely.  For instance, I have a photograph signed by Connee Boswell, in her distinctive hand, and then personalized by her secretary, and I presume this all was done by mail, that the Fan wrote to Miss Boswell asking for an autographed picture — and that Connee, sometime, somewhere, sat down with a pile of them and signed her name a hundred or five hundred times in a sitting, and the photos could then be sent off.  (Better, mind you, than Benny Goodman requiring people who worked for him to copy his signature onto photographs.)

I had to do some quick research to find out (to remind myself) that the 8-track tape was popular between 1965 and the late Seventies . . . it was replaced by the smaller, more flexible cassette tape, which could also be recorded on.  I saw these tapes and players in action, but neither my parents nor I had an 8-track deck in our respective cars.

But some people did.  Thus . . .

I note with amusement the ages of the attractive couple on the cover: would you think that in 1970 they would be close-dancing to Harry rather than the Stones?  I doubt it.  And inside:

This was on sale on eBay for a very low price: $10 plus 3.99 shipping, and I asked a dear friend who admires Harry if he wanted it as a gift, and he snorted and said, “Please,” in the way that people do when they really mean, “I’ll kill you.”  I amused myself by imagining the scene of the person or couple coming across the dance floor to Harry at the set break and asking him to sign their new treasure, which he did quickly and without fanfare.  But I was wrong, because a return to eBay showed two other signed sets, which suggests to me that Harry spent some tedious hours at home or in a hotel room, signing set after set, box after box.  Hence:

At least those purchasers got a “Sincerely.”  I remember sets packaged by the Longines Symphonette Society, but can’t recall whether they were offered on television after 11 PM, and whether the autographed sets cost more.

Here’s a favorite recording by Harry, the October 1939 SLEEPY TIME GAL, in three tempos, with just the rhythm section — Jack Gardner, piano;  Brian “Red” Kent, guitar; Thurman Teague, string bass; Ralph Hawkins, drums:

I hope you noticed the profound Louis-influence there, starting with the opening references to SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  It’s the perfect segue to this delightful photograph — place, date, and photographer unknown (thanks to Loren Schoenberg for the Facebook “Rare Jazz Photos” group) of two men beaming love at each other.  Feel free to invent appropriate dialogue:

Heroes.  Oh, such heroes.

May your happiness increase!

PEOPLE SAY THE NICEST THINGS ABOUT PETER

Yesterday, I posted a video of Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs performing BIG BOY here, and the response was so enthusiastic that I thought, “Let’s have another one right now.”

Ninety-five years ago, people were praising Peter — first instrumentally (Herb Wiedoft, Glen Oswald’s Serenaders, the Broadway Dance Orchestra, Paul Specht, Alex Hyde, Red Nichols)  — then vocally (Arthur Fields with Sam Lanin) and the 1932 “Rhythmakers” sessions that Philip Larkin thought the highest art.

Here, as a historical benchmark, is a 1924 version by Glen Oswald’s Serenaders (recorded in Oakland, California)  — a varied arrangement, full of bounce:

“Peter” remains a mystery – – but we do know that he was “so nice,” as proven by four versions of this secular hymn of praise to his romantic ardor recorded in April and May 1932 by the Rhythmakers, a beyond-our-wildest-dreams group featuring Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Jack Bland, Al Morgan, Zutty Singleton. If you don’t know the Rhythmakers sessions, you are honor-bound to do some of the most pleasurable research.

But here we are in 2014, with Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs at the one-day al fresco jazz party held at Cline Wineries in Napa, California. This wondrous little band — having themselves a time while making sure we do also — is Ray, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Clint Baker, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums. Members of the Cubs have been known to burst into song, but this time Peter’s praises must be imagined or implied.  However, Ray and the Cubs are clearly nice and more: no ambiguity there.

The Cubs continue to delight me for the best reasons.  They don’t wear brightly-colored polo shirts; they are humorous but not jokey; they play hot and sweet music — honoring everyone from Frank Teschemacher and Eddie Condon to Jimmie Noone and Jeni Le Gon — without putting on the kind of show that more popular “trad” bands get away with.  They are what Milt Hinton called GOOD MUSIC, and I celebrate them.  Tell the children that such a thing exists, please.

And a digression (what’s a blog for if the CEO can’t digress?) — OH PETER — no comma in the original — was composed by Herb Wiedoft, Gene Rose, and Jesse Stafford.  Wiedoft played trumpet and led his own orchestra, where Rose played piano and wrote arrangements; Stafford played trombone and baritone horn.  And here is the original sheet music, verse and chorus.

I take a deep breath and point out that “peter” has been slang for “penis” since the mid-nineteenth century. . . . so “When you are by my side / That’s when I’m satisfied,” and “There’s nothing sweeter, Peter, Peter,” in the chorus, has always made me wonder, and the verse, new to me, contains the lines, “I’m missin’ / Your love and kissin’ ? And lots of other things too.”  The lyrics do state that Peter is a real person who has been “stepping out,” but if the song were titled OH SAMMY, would it have the same effect?  (What of Morton’s 1929 SWEET PETER, by the way?)  Perhaps you will propose that I need a more virtuous life, but I wonder if this song was sung with a wink at the audience, even though it’s clearly not a double-entendre blues of the period.  Do think on it.  And please admire my superb restraint in not titling this post IS YOUR PETER NICE?

Note: any connections between BIG BOY and OH PETER that readers might perceive are their own responsibility.

May your happiness increase!

TWO HOT, ONE WISTFUL: UNSEEN MUSICAL TREASURES FROM THE 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Three New Beauties from the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party — recorded on October 26 and 27, 2012 — living advertisements of what the musicians and the Party-givers do so superbly.

Part of a rousing tribute to the power behind the throne, Lil Hardin Armstrong (pianist, composer, bandleader, inspiration) — a song named for her young husband, PAPA DIP.  It’s performed here by Bent Persson, cornet; Stephane Gillot, alto saxophone; Matthias Seuffert, clarinet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Martin Seck, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo; Malcolm Sked, string bass.

YOU RASCAL YOU has serious Armstrongian associations, although the performance here takes its impetus from the magnificent series of 1932-33 recordings by the “Rhythmakers,” ostensibly led by Billy Banks or Jack Bland — but really driven by Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Lord, Tommy Dorsey, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pops Foster, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton and other luminaries.  At the Classic Jazz Party, the New Rhythmakers kept things hot — Andy Schumm, cornet; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Norman Field, clarinet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, tenor; Martin Seck, piano; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums. This video also contains a sweet, sad memento: the voice and right hand of our much-missed Mike Durham introducing the band and cracking wise (as was his habit).  Thank you, Mike, for everything:

After all that violent heat, something rueful seems just right, so here is Cecile McLorin Salvant’s melancholy reading of the Willard Robison song A COTTAGE FOR SALE, with the empathic assistance of Norman Field, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Spats Langham, guitar; Alistair Allan, trombone; Emma Fisk, violin; Martin Litton, piano; Henri Lemaire, string bass; Richard Pite, drums:

We don’t have to end on a wistful note.  I have three more 2012 delights to post and many more from 2013 . . . and (with a Nick Ward drum roll) the 2014 Party is happening this November 7 through 9 — details here.

You can learn all about it — the accomodations, pricing, concert themes . . . I’ll content myself my lingering over the list of musicians who will be there:

Trumpets: Bent Persson (Sweden), Duke Heitger (USA), Andy Schumm (USA), Ben Cummings (UK), Enrico Tomasso (UK) / Trombones: Kristoffer Kompen (Norway), Alistair Allan (UK), Graham Hughes (UK) / Reeds: Jean-François Bonnel (France), Mauro Porro (Italy), Claus Jacobi (Germany), Matthias Seuffert (Germany), Lars Frank (Norway), Thomas Winteler, (Switzerland) / Piano: Keith Nichols (UK), Martin Litton, (UK), Morten Gunnar Larsen (Norway), David Boeddinghaus (USA) / Banjo/Guitar: Spats Langham (UK), Henry Lemaire (France), Jacob Ullberger (Sweden), Martin Wheatley (UK) / String Bass: Richard Pite (UK), Henry Lemaire (France) / Brass Bass: Phil Rutherford (UK), Malcolm Sked (UK) / Drums: Josh Duffee (USA), Richard Pite (UK), Debbie Arthurs (UK) / Bass Sax: Frans Sjöström (Sweden) / Violin: Emma Fisk (UK) / Vocals: Janice Day (UK), Debbie Arthurs, (UK), Spats Langham (UK).

May your happiness increase!

GREATNESS SIGNS ITS NAMES

A few more remarkable pages from the recent eBay explosion — Joe’s autograph book, most of the signatures from 1936-40 with a few later additions.  Some of the appeal is deeply simple: Sidney Bechet touched this object and it has his power.  For me, these pages also summon up a time and place where people would throng around jazz players and singers and ask (or demand) their autographs — a time in our recent past when Jess Stacy and Edythe Wright (obviously left-handed) were stars rather than footnotes.  Whatever their appeal to others, these pages resonate.

Roy Eldridge and guitarist John Collins, presumably from their 1939 appearance at the Arcadia Ballroom in New York City.

More members of that same band: Truck Parham, the short-lived and legendary Clyde Hart, Joe Eldridge, Billy Bowen, Dave Young, Harold “Doc” West.

To some, Blanche Calloway is notable only because she was Cab’s sister — but she recorded with Louis and led good bands in the Thirties.

What would Philip Larkin say?  As a vocal stylist, Banks was more odd than memorable, but he had been the figurehead for some of the hottest records ever made — not simply in 1932-33, but for all time — the Rhythmakers — records that Larkin thought were one of the high points of Western art.

Noble Sissle’s band also gave Sidney Bechet a regular gig in the Thirties.

Andy Kirk’s men were exceptionally polite, adding sweet-natured wishes as well as their names — the outstanding signature on that page is that of saxophonist Dick Wilson, influential, handsome, and short-lived.

A few Goodmen and women: Peg LaCentra, Harry James, Lionel Hampton, Harry Goodman, Benny himself, Gordon “Chris” Griffin, both Gene Krupa and Dave Tough — this page, like others in the book, suggests that Joe asked musicians to sign in on relevant pages at different occasions.  I haven’t yet figured out whether he glued the photos onto the pages before asking for autographs or after . . .

More heroes: Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, and the other vocalist in Norvo’s band, Terry Allen.

Two other minute points of swing anthropology come to mind.  I wonder when the practice of musicians identifying themselves by their instrument was in fashion?  And — as my friend David Weiner has pointed out — the often hasty signatures are further proof of authenticity: a studio portrait of, say, Glenn Miller with “his” name signed in a flowing hand is more likely to be the creation of a secretary in his office: the Mildred and Red signatures above, for one example, are much more likely to be real — the product of someone standing up, leaning on a small book for support.

Ultimately, these pages are resilient evidence that once all our heroes and heroines were alive — they had fountain pens, you could ask them to sign your book, perhaps have a few sentences of conversation.

May your happiness increase.

HOTTER THAN THAT: HENRY “RED” ALLEN AND FRIENDS, 1932-33

Thanks to the indefatigable jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann, here are four hot records featuring Henry “Red” Allen and Pee Wee Russell, Fats Waller, Tommy Dorsey, Eddie Condon, Zutty Singleton, among others.  The band name was the RHYTHMAKERS and Philip Larkin was not alone in thinking this series of hot records the apex of Western civilization.  You can see a variety of 78 record labels and photographs and read the personnel in Franz’s videos, but the real substance is the joyous music, unbridled but expert. 

OH, PETER:

YES SUH!:

SOMEONE STOLE GABRIEL’S HORN:

And an amazing 1933 jam-session-on-record on SWEET SUE, under the nominal leadership of UK composer / string bassist Spike Hughes — the participants are Allen, Dicky Wells, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry, Benny Carter, Wayman Carver (flute), Nicholas Rodriguez, Lawrence Lucie, and Sidney Catlett —

May your happiness increase.

TOO HOT FOR WORDS: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT’S RHYTHMAKERS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

In 1932 and 1933, a small but determined group of New York jazz musicians took part in a series of recording sessions that might well still be the hottest jazz on record.  Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Zutty Singleton, Pops Foster, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon . . .   The vocalists were Red himself, Fats, Chick Bullock, and the elusive Billy Banks — who, like Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, specialized in singing in an abnormally high register.

The sessions were recorded for the Banner and Melotone labels and were meant to be sold inexpensively in “dime-stores,” so I imagine that the recording directors didn’t notice or didn’t care just how unfettered the performances were.  And no one seemed to care that “colored” and “white” musicians were playing together, either — a good omen of things to come, albeit slowly.

Many recordings of this time begin sedately, wooing the prospective buyers with a calm exposition of the melody before launching into improvisation in the last third of the disk: not the Rhythmakers.  It’s often been stated that Philip Larkin saw these sessions as one of the high points of the twentieth century, perhaps of Western civilization.  I wouldn’t argue with this position, although Larkin, chronically morose, saw everything else that came after as somehow small, which is a pity.

The superb reedman (here on clarinet) Matthias Seuffert was asked to close off the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party with his own version of the Rhythmakers.  He had help, of course, in Bent Persson (trumpet); Rico Tomasso (using his many voices and having fun vocalizing); David Sager (trombone); Steve Andrews (tenor sax); Philippe Guignier and Keith Stephen (banjo and guitar); Martin Seck (piano); Henry Lemaire (bass); Richard Pite (drums).

BUGLE CALL RAG:

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

OH, PETER:

SPIDER CRAWL:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

MEAN OLD BEDBUG BLUES:

An ecstatic conclusion to the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, although JAZZ LIVES will have a postscript — courtesy of Flemming Thorbye, who also captured these sets — to come.

JAMAICA SHOUT: BENT PERSSON PLAYS RED ALLEN (July 9, 2010)

As promised, the second half of the glorious session (inventive yet very free-minded) that was Bent Persson’s tribute to Henry “Red” Allen’s early recordings — captured at the 2010 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, in a downstairs room that was part of the hotel’s health club.  Healthy music, though — seriously aerobic for players and audience!

The players were Bent and Michel Bastide, trumpets; Paul Munnery (standing in for Red’s pal, J.C. Higginbotham), trombone, Robert Fowler and Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds, Jeff Barnhart, piano and vocals; Jacob Ullberger, guitar and banjo; Henri Lamaire, bass; Josh Duffee, drums. 

The second half began with one of the atypical small-group recordings with men from the Luis Russell band, issued under the euphonious title J.C. HIGGINBOTHAM AND HIS SIX HICKS — playing a serious blues, HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES:

Then, moving forward to one of the Russell recordings less celebrated than their characteristic rompers — a sweet ballad, HONEY, THAT REMINDS ME (originally recorded in 1931 with a lovely, earnest Vic Dickenson vocal — here reimagined by Jeff Barnhart):

Bent scaled down to a rocking small group to give his own version of the incendiary Rhythmakers records (the originals were Philip Larkin’s favorites):

WHO’S SORRY NOW? had a Barnhart vocal (instead of Billy Banks’ warbling):

I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU (which became Claude Hopkins’ theme):

YES, SUH! (a piece of spirited hot vaudeville):

In 1933, Allen and Coleman Hawkins — comrades from the Fletcher Henderson band — teamed up for a series of recordings aimed at the jukebox market.  Some of the songs they recorded were charmingly ephemeral, among them MY GALVESTON GAL, HUSH MY MOUTH (If I Ain’t Goin’ South).  Bent chose to revisit three classic recordings:

SISTER KATE (an old-time tune in 1933):

HEARTBREAK BLUES (where one can hear the cross-fertilization of influence between Hawkins and Bing Crosby):

JAMAICA SHOUT:

The program ended with the moody THERE’S A HOUSE IN HARLEM FOR SALE — a somber conclusion to an uplifting program of hot music: 

You’ll notice that although the players reflect back on the original recordings and the fabled players, there is very little direct imitation of Red, Hawk, Higgy, Pee Wee, Dicky Wells, etc. — the way it’s supposed to be.  Bravo, Bent!

HOT JAZZ: FOR PHILIP LARKIN

The poet and acerbic jazz lover Philip Larkin wrote in ALL WHAT JAZZ (his collected jazz criticism) that he had spent his life waiting for a reissue of the 1932 sides issued under various permutations — mostly THE RHYTHMAKERS — featuring Henry “Red” Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Frank Froeba, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon, Al Morgan, Pops Foster, Zutty Singleton, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Tommy Dorsey, and unique vocalizing by Billy Banks (also Chick Bullock and, happily, Allen himself). 

Having referred to this music in a previous post (FINE FIG JAM) I felt duty-bound to explore the web . . . these records have been in and out of circulation for eighty years now, in a variety of forms.  My CD, on the Collector’s Classics label, has the distinct advantage of being taken from original 78s remastered by my hero John R.T. Davies — but it was issued in 1992!  So, in the name of doing public service, I offer two YouTube clips of the RHYTHMAKERS.  Before you fall over in a faint, there’s no motion picture attached.  That may have to wait for the next life, I fear.  What the generous poster, who calls himself “formiggini,” has provided, is a slideshow of the participating musicians and a good transfer from a mint-copy CD.  Larkin, no doubt, would have had scathing things to say about a world where we could no longer hear records without going to the computer, but I worried that there might be someone in my audience who had never ever heard the fiery interplay of BUGLE CALL RAG (which features Allen, Russell, Sullivan, Condon, Bland, Morgan, Krupa, and Banks) and SPIDER CRAWL (Singleton on drums). 

Larkin thought all of jazz had declined from this point.  I can’t quite agree, but it surely is the apex of a particular kind of rare, cherished Hot Music.

BUGLE CALL RAG:

SPIDER CRAWL:

And if anyone needs a scholarly explication of the lyrics, I will happily provide one,