Tag Archives: Billy Banks

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!

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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,