Tag Archives: Billy Butterfield

ERNIE HACKETT REMEMBERS HIS JAZZ FAMILY: “DAD,” “UNCLE VIC,” “PAPA JO,” “MR. SINATRA,” and MORE (December 2020)

Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952

Bobby Hackett remains one of my musical heroes, and I cherish his recordings, the few times I saw him in person, and the sound of his horn in my memory, a sound I can call up at will.  In case you need a reminder of Bobby’s delicate mastery, here is his 1975 performance of SWEET LORRAINE at the Grande Parade du Jazz in July 1975.

Bobby’s son Ernie — swinging drummer and vivid individualist — has fascinated me since I encountered him on Facebook years ago.  Outspoken, tender, kind, hilarious, a man of deep perceptions and deep emotions, he’s been a remarkable presence to me.  Recently, thanks to our mutual friend Clyde Groves — who appears here and here (Clyde is Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law) — Ernie and I had a delightful long phone conversation about the people we both love, a few noted in my title, which it is my honor to share with you here.

Now . . . here’s what Ernie told me, just before Christmas 2020 — a big present for all of us.

Simplicity was Dad’s art. He loved the melody, and he knew how to play around with the melody, but he never got out of control. He didn’t like the spotlight, the glamour, and he rarely took the first chorus. What always hit me in the family, blessed as I was, was his wonderful sense of humor, his dry, witty sense of humor. He was going through Customs once, and the agent looked at the cornet case and said, “Is that a musical instrument?” Dad’s one-word reply was, “Occasionally.” Little things like that: all my life I was familiar with those little things.

He was one of nine children, in Providence, and he dropped out of school at a very early age, because he started playing gigs, I believe on violin, then ukulele in the beginning. He didn’t play horn until he was in his teens. I didn’t know many of my aunts and uncles, except Aunt Dottie was very very close with Dad, and she had the same type of humor. She and her husband used to visit us, after the family relocated to Cape Cod, because they were coming in from Providence. There’s something about a dry sense of humor with musicians to begin with. I can’t say why, but I’m sure you’ve spotted it. Dad’s favorite phrase, if anybody asked him about politics, was “When the President tells me how to play the horn, then I’ll tell him how to run the country.” Plain and simple, to the point.

When he was home, he constantly practiced in the living room. In his boxer shorts. He never played a tune in his practicing, nothing but scales. Modulating scales, up and down, that’s all he ever practiced. And if people were coming over, he might put his robe on, or a t-shirt. That’s how Billy Butterfield was also. I knew Billy to some degree, because when Dad and Billy happened to be in New York at the same time, and Billy was passing through, he would always stay with us at our house in Jackson Heights. And I’ll always remember, Billy, first thing in the morning, coming down in his shorts – at least he had a t-shirt on – hair all messed up, saying good morning to everybody. He was like a shorter, stubbier Dad.

[I’d asked Ernie about Bobby’s generous nature, which sometimes led him to be taken advantage of, and his reaction.] I’d say he shrugged his shoulders, and always moved forward. The one thing that comes to mind would be the Jackie Gleason records. He never berated Jackie Gleason for that. My mother blamed Jack Philbin, his manager at the time, who I just recently learned was Regis Philbin’s father. It was Dad’s decision. He took the ten thousand dollars, because he wanted to buy a house for the family, for us, not knowing what was going to happen in the future. He wasn’t bitter about it. Nobody in the family ever begrudged him for making that decision. He did it for us.

He got along with just about everybody.

Mom was from Fall River, Mass., and Dad was from Providence. I don’t know exactly how they met, but I do know they married on Nantucket, and I think he was with the Casa Loma band at the time. Of course, this is way before my time, so it’s all hearsay and articles that I’m remembering. [Ernie asked his niece, Michelle, and she added this wonderful story: “Grandpa had a two week gig at a posh resort on Nantucket, with full accommodations. He asked Grandma to go with him, but she said she couldn’t travel with him as a single lady. So he suggested that they get married the first day they were there, then they had a two week (all paid) honeymoon on Nantucket.”]

They were wonderful friends. It was a rocky marriage at times: we’ve all been through that. I’m sure you know that Dad was an alcoholic. We’ve always been realistic about that. It was out in the open. Dad’s loving term to refer to Mom was “The Warden.” I’m not going to say he never drank at home: he slipped a couple of times. It became ugly when that happened. My sister and I used to spend nights crying at the top of the stairs with Mom and Dad going at it, arguing. A day or two, they’d get over it and Dad would straighten up again.

Incidentally, contrary to popular belief of “Ernie Caceres” – I was named after my Mom’s older brother named Ernest – who died at an early age in a freak bus accident.

Eddie Condon was my Godfather! I always figured that my parents thought if anything should ever happen to them that Eddie would be sure to teach me how to handle alcohol!

When I was about seventeen, I dropped out of high school. I was still playing drums. From what I understand, George Wettling showed me how to hold a pair of drumsticks when I was about five years old, though I don’t remember that. I’d spent a couple of years playing electric guitar in a high school rock and roll band, but I still had a set of drums.

If I hadn’t become a jazz drummer, I probably would have become a rock drummer. Actually my first choice of music was always rock! What sort of pushed me towards jazz was my association with all the guys that worked with Dad!

Dad had a detached garage that he converted into a sound studio, outside the house. I was in there one night and Dad knocked on the door, came in, and said, “How’d you like to come out on the road with me and learn how to play drums?” I was flabbergasted – I was seventeen — and the first thing that came to my mind was “You don’t dare say no to that.” What an experience. And that’s what proceeded to happen over the next couple of years.

The first thing I realized was that when Dad was on the road, he was off the wagon. My first professional gig with Dad was in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was about a two or three-week stint, and Dave McKenna was with us. And I learned how to drive because it was very rare that Dad and Dave were on the road and could drink together, because Dad had to drive back to the hotel every night. However, they learned quickly that if the kid drove them back home at night, they could have fun during the gig. And that’s how I got my license. It could be sad at times: Dad’s playing suffered quite a bit when he drank, and it was obvious. He was always apologetic to me the next day. He was embarrassed that I saw him like that. But we muddled through it.

I really learned on the job. It was a good education. One of my fortes as a drummer was keeping very good time, not dragging or rushing. And the reason I got that way was because in the beginning, if I started to drag the slightest shade, Dad would stomp his foot, on stage, to the right beat. And, boy, I probably turned beet red. That’s embarrassing! If I started rushing, he would slow me right down. He would correct me immediately. But it paid off. I talk a lot about going into parochial schooling and then into the army, and all the discipline I went through, but when you look back at it as an adult, you’re thankful for it. It taught you. Things were done the right way.

[I asked Ernie about Bobby’s dear friend and colleague (and my hero) Vic Dickenson.] Oh, boy. My uncle. He and Dad had a brotherly relationship. The thing that hit me the most is that after Dad passed, Mom and I relocated to New York City from Cape Cod. That’s when I started hanging around Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, and getting ready to make my move in that direction, and Vic just took me under his wing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ll talk about the risqué parts – the many, many breaks we spent in his Oldsmobile 98, “The Office,” for our smoke breaks.

His sense of humor was astonishing also. Subtle, so subtle. One night at Condon’s, we came out from being in his car on one of the breaks. I remember standing there – he always had the best stuff in the world – I remember getting up on the stage and saying, “How the heck am I going to get through this? My God.” Usually getting high didn’t affect my playing, at least I didn’t think so, anyway, because I was high. So, we started playing, and it was during the first chorus. Now Vic, at Eddie Condon’s, always sat right in front of the mounted tom-tom. And Connie Kay, God bless him, always left his drums for me. So we were playing, and Vic turned around to me with a big smile, and he tapped the tom-tom, and said, “Whaddaya think?” And I said, “Whoa!” and his reply was, “Wait another minute or two. Just wait.”

What a wonderful soul he was, a loving person. You could easily see the love affair between him and Dad. In fact, I was just watching the JUST JAZZ program, where they were doing JITTERBUG WALTZ. You could just see the love between the two of them. It was just amazing. It was a wonderful show. They had such mutual respect for one another – not only as musicians, but as people. It was really quite a friendship. Vic was family. There was no other way around it. We all loved Uncle Vic, and he was just a sweetheart to all of us. And he never acted drunk. He’d drink Cutty Sark all night long, a straight shot in a glass, and a back of water, but he never lost his cool, ever, no matter how much of it he drank. God bless him. He knew himself – very much so.

I have to tell you about Vic and his joints. When Vic rolled a joint, it was the most perfect joint, and the trick was you’d have to roll it quite loose, and leave some room at the end to tuck that end in with the blunt end of a wooden match. So that way the grass wouldn’t fall out of it. And it was perfectly shaped, like an English Oval cigarette. So I taught myself how to do it, so I could roll a joint just like Uncle Vic. So one night we were in his car, hanging out, and I said, “Here, Vic. Do my stick here,” and he said, “All right, OK,” and I lit it up and handed it to him, and he looked at me and said, “Did I give you this?” And I just had the biggest smile, and I said, “Nope. I made that.” He said, “Get outta here!” I said, “No, I taught myself how to roll like you!” and he just got the biggest kick out of that. What an honor!

Dad had a clique of musician friends who came to the house.  I’m told that Louis would occasionally visit our house in Jackson Heights! But I was too young to even remember.  There was Ruby Braff, and I think Sam Margolis a couple of times. He was another sweetheart. Sam subbed from time to time at Condon’s, but we also worked together with Max Kaminsky, after Max’s regular drummer, Freddie Moore, a funny gentleman, really nice guy, wanted to retire, and Max asked me if I wanted to be in the band.

I could go on about Max: we had a love-hate relationship. Max could be pretty nasty when he wanted to be. There was one gig he got for us in North Carolina, a wedding at a golf resort. It turned out to be a pain in the neck: Sam was on it with us. We had to fly down, and the gig happened, and then the next day we were supposed to play in the garden for the reception, and it became obvious that we weren’t going to get paid at the end of the gig, but at the month, like a club date, he would have our money. Well, I was living completely hand to mouth at that time, struggling to keep my studio apartment on Central Park West, and I got so mad at him, really mad. We were returning, and we were at the airport in North Carolina, at a long gateway, and I saw Max walking down from the opposite direction. I was just staring at him, because he knew I wanted my money. But sometimes you’d have to love Max, too. He took me off to the side, and he looked really nervous. He gave me a hundred-dollar bill, maybe half of what I was supposed to get, and he said, “I can’t give you the whole thing now, Ernie, but take this, I hope it helps you. Please don’t tell any of the other guys.” So I shook his hand and I kept his secret. We used to get mad at each other a lot, but we forgot about it the next day and hugged each other.

Tony Bennett wasn’t a frequent visitor to the house, but from time to time he’d pop in. Whenever Dad had these visits, everybody disappeared into the garage – are you familiar with the air freshener / deodorizer Ozium? They used to use that to cover up the marijuana.

On that subject: a few years later, before I was going in to the service, I was doing a four-week gig with Dad in New Orleans, my first opportunity to be in New Orleans, and we were at Al Hirt’s nightclub. At the time Dad had a pseudo-manager named Leo Kappos, a Greek gentleman, short little guy, likeable. Mom hated him, because she knew that he was Dad’s enabler. The funny thing was, that at that time, I’ll be honest with you, I was already a pothead. Dad used to try to smoke grass to stay away from alcohol, but it never really worked for him. So one night, I was going downstairs to the gig, in a tux, and I got in the elevator, and Leo was in there too, just Leo and me. And Leo started laughing, and he said, “Listen, I gotta get you and your Dad together, because the two of you are smoking pot all the time and not letting each other know about it. You gotta get to know each other!” I never forgot that.

Dad would try it from time to time, but his high of choice was beer. He had a very low tolerance, because he had a very slight frame, he always suffered with diabetes, which didn’t make drinking any easier. Half a Heineken and he’d almost be on the floor. It was difficult. He had quite a battle to stay away from that.

I’ll slide that around to another story that involves me introducing myself to Frank Sinatra.  [Here you can enjoy Frank and Bobby.]

Dad and I were playing at the Riverboat in New York, in the basement of the Empire State Building, 1966 or 1967. It had to be around July 4. Dad was featured, and I guess a six or seven-piece band. And one night, I noticed Tony [Bennett] came in, and he was only there for ten or fifteen minutes. He and Dad kind of disappeared. And at the next break, Dad came over to me, and said, “Listen. Tony told me that Frank’s going to be at Jilly’s tonight. He’s having a party. We’re all welcome to stop in there and join him.” My sister idolized Frank Sinatra all her life, so Dad said to me, “Call Barbara, and have her and her boyfriend meet us at Jilly’s, around 12:30 or 1 AM,” which I did. Dad and I got in a cab – I wasn’t quite driving at that time – up to Jilly’s, on 55th Street, I think it was, and we went in.

The party was in a private room at the back, and people were throwing firecrackers around the bar. It was Frank’s crew, because it was the Fourth of July and he felt like throwing firecrackers around. We went in the back room, Dad and I, and Dad started to drink, had a Heineken. My sister and her boyfriend showed up, and that was it for the family, the four of us, we’re at a table. Off to my left was a long Last Supper-type of table with Mr. Sinatra in the middle of it, with his back against the wall, and he was entertaining the people at the table. So all of a sudden, Dad said, “Ernie, I want you to go over and introduce yourself to Mr. Sinatra.” My legs almost crumpled out from under me, I almost fainted. When Dad was drinking, you didn’t dare say no. So I had to toughen up for this.

I walked behind the back of the table, and I came up right behind – I don’t like calling him Frank, he was Mr. Sinatra to me. He was in the middle of a story, a joke, whatever, and the two goons on either side of him, with their hands in their laps, were staring at me, like, “What are you doing here?” Nothing was said, but they would not take their eyes off me. I was waiting for Mr. Sinatra to end the story so I could quickly tap him on the shoulder and say, “Hi, I’m Ernie Hackett. My Dad said I had to say hi to you,” which is what happened. When I went to tap him on the shoulder, the two goons went to stand up, so right away, I blurted out, “Mr. Sinatra, I’m Ernie Hackett, Bobby Hackett’s son. He told me to come over, I should say hi.” And he was very gracious, stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, said, “Thank you so much, Ernie. Very nice to meet you,” and that was that.

Now we fast-forward ten to fifteen years. Now I was playing at Eddie Condon’s. Dad had passed. Wild Bill Davison was in town, which is going to lead me into another story. I don’t know if you remember at Condon’s, the big table was the round one right in front of the bandstand, and that’s where the celebrities would sit. Sinatra came in with his wife Barbara, and a priest who always traveled with him – I think that was in case he needed the last rites – and three or four other people at the table, to enjoy Wild Bill. After the set ended, and remember, at Eddie Condon’s, the stage was about two or three feet off the ground, I got down from the drums onto the floor, and there was a table right there, and someone started chatting with me, I don’t know, about Dad or something, two or three minutes. All of a sudden I feel a tap on my shoulder, I turn around, and it’s Frank Sinatra. I couldn’t believe it. He shook my hand, and all he said was, “I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your playing, Ernie. It was just fantastic.” I didn’t know what to say! I just thanked him. I often wonder, with my sense of humor, if I had pulled a Don Rickles on him and said, “Hey, Frank. I’m just talking to people here. Can you wait a minute? I’ll be right with you!” but thank God I didn’t do that. He might have shot me: I don’t know.

But I always liked Frank Sinatra as a person. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, very gracious. He donated – I don’t remember the amount of money – the New Jersey Jazz Society had a benefit for Mom, and I think he donated two or three thousand dollars, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. And he was at Condon’s one night, waiting for the rest of his entourage to come up from the rest room, and he was under the portrait at the end of the bar, just standing there, staring off into the distance. He wasn’t a very tall gentleman, if you recall. I went up to him and said, “Frank, I’m Ernie Hackett. I don’t know if you remember me,” and he just nodded his head. “I just want to thank you so much for the donation you made for Dad’s benefit,” and all he did was nod his head in acceptance. He wouldn’t talk about anything nice that he did. That was very private to him.

But the punchline is this. And I always wondered, and I would almost guarantee that he came up and tapped me on the shoulder because he remembered that’s how I introduced myself to him. I’ll bet you anything, he said to himself, “I remember that kid. He’s Bobby Hackett’s son. He tapped me on the shoulder once.”

Here’s the side story about Wild Bill. You must know about him and his background. He wasn’t the quietest of souls. Cliff Leeman, of course, was his favorite drummer. And Wild Bill would come in to Condon’s, maybe two or three times a year, for a two-week stint. He always insisted on Cliff being there. This time around, Cliff was starting to fail, and he wasn’t feeling well any longer. So he told Ed Polcer and [Red] Balaban, who ran the place, that he couldn’t make it this time around. Well, Ed and Red decided to give me a shot at it, which I was very thankful for. I get to replace Cliff? Good enough that I’m replacing Connie Kay every night!

So, Monday came, and I’m coming in again with my snare and my stick bag, because Connie always left his drums there for me. I walked in to the club, and I saw that Wild Bill and his wife Anne were sitting all the way in the back, having coffee or something. We had never met. I walked in to the club, deposited my snare drum and bag on the stage, and came up, introduced myself. I said, “Hey, Wild Bill, a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ernie Hackett and I’ll be playing drums with you for the next couple of weeks.” He stood up and shouted, “WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF?” Well, that’s a fine how-d’you-do! How do you get over that one? Well, the ending of it was a sweet story. After the first set, Wild Bill came up to me and said, “I like the way you play.” And then he insisted, going forward, that if Cliff couldn’t make it, I had to be his replacement. So I had another medal on my chest. My head got a little bit bigger at that time. But I’ll never forget WHERE THE FUCK IS CLIFF? That was typical Bill.

Another one was Papa Jo Jones. You know how cantankerous he could be. He took me under his wing, and I used to love hanging with him at the bar after the gig, with the two of us getting drunk, or high, whatever, and he would go on a real rant, a tirade about anything! And then he’d turn around with a sly little smile, and wink at me, like “What kind of reaction did I get from that one?” He was letting me in on his game. He was very much an actor. God, what a talent. He used to sit in at the drums sometimes, after the gig, and just go up there with the brushes and play the drums. And my jaw would be on the floor. Then, the honor of letting me sit next to him at the bar, in his court.

One time, Ruby Braff and I had a falling-out. I joined the club! I interrupted him, one night when he was telling a joke. Oh my God. He stopped talking to me. I tried calling him, and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. Well, he’d pick up the phone (we didn’t have Caller ID back then) and hang up on me. We parted ways. We stayed away from each other a good amount of time, maybe six-seven-eight months. And then, all of a sudden, one night the Magic White Powder parade was marching downstairs and Ruby looked at me and said, “Come on. Come with us.” We both did that. And we came downstairs, we looked at each other, and started laughing, and he gave me a hug and said, “OK. The hatchet’s buried.” I said, “Thank you. It took you long enough,” and we were fine after that.

I loved Jimmy Andrews. Jimmy and I were the closest of friends. He was very quiet, but what a sense of humor, and a gentleman. I loved Mike Burgevin. Jimmy and Mike, they were like brothers. And Mike, a quiet guy but a real gentleman of a person.

My splash on the scene was after Dad passed, and I’m kind of happy it worked like that. It allowed me to be more of myself.

So when Dad passed, we were living up on Cape Cod there, and I was doing a lot of odd gigs there – Mom had the house. Mom wanted to sell the house and move back to New York, which is what we ended up doing, and I got married to my second wife at the time. We went back from Cape Cod to New York and got an apartment there. I thought, I have my drums here, I have a car, I’ve got to start getting into the scene. I’d drive into Manhattan and start hanging out at Condon’s and Ryan’s, three-four times a week, just to hang out, and eventually to sit in, which kind of broke the ice for me, because these guys got to hear what the Hackett kid could do.

And all the Black people had such respect for Dad and everyone took me under their wing. Do you know Jackie Williams? I understand he’s still going — another wonderful friend of the family, a funny, funny guy. I played with Roy Eldridge quite a bit, a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he enjoyed my style of playing as much as Condon’s did. But that didn’t get me. I don’t expect everyone in the world to love my style of drumming. But Roy was a wonderful guy. I loved him, and he always treated me with the utmost respect. I loved Jimmy McPartland too, a great character. And his wife! We weren’t that close as friends because he wasn’t as much a hanger-outer. I think he was curbing his drinking. Marian was very polite and demure, such a lady, and a fantastic musician. The two of them took me up to Salem, Massachusetts for a one-week gig with Frank Tate – he and I were great buddies, through Dad – and we had a great time.

The hangouts after the gig were the cream of the crop at Condon’s. The gigs were great, but I had to stay sober until the end of it, so I used to ration one Heineken at a break. But then, after the last set, I started mixing shots of Johnnie Black with it, and that’s when the party would begin. It was such an honor to be exposed to all that, to get to know all these guys.

There’s a thirty-minute video on YouTube of a night at Eddie Condon’s. That’s me on drums. I’ll never forget that night. It was, I believe, a Monday night, and I was subbing for Connie. I came in and was setting up my snare drum, and a couple of college-looking kids were setting up very professional video equipment, right in front of the bandstand. And I was always a rabble-rouser. I’m not proud of it all the time, but if there was trouble to be started it was started by me. I got done setting up the drums and rearranging the stands, and then I came down the stairs and the one guy who seemed to be more in charge – as it turned out, it was Red Balaban’s cousin – I politely asked him, “What are you going to be filming this for?” “Oh, it’s just a college project. It’s nothing more than that.” But there were two very professional-looking cameras. I said, “Oh, really. Is the club planning to pay the band scale for this, for the videotaping?” And he said, “No, we’re just a couple of college students.” I said, “Oh. I have to talk to Eddie Polcer about this,” and that’s how I left it. I think I told one of the college kids, “If the red light goes on, and we’re not getting paid scale, I’m not playing,” and evidently the kid went back to Eddie and told him.

So Eddie came in, and it was getting closer to hit time, maybe 8:30, and we were supposed to be going on in ten or fifteen minutes. I went outside to have a cigarette, and Polcer always bummed cigarettes off of me – that’s another story. Eddie came outside, and said, “So, you’re not going to play if the red light goes on?” I said, “Yeah, exactly. Eddie, you know how this works. You’re going to make a video, you’ve got to pay the musicians.” We were going back and forth. He didn’t want to give in. Finally, he said to me, “Do you know how much scale is?” “No,” I said, “but we can both find out in the morning with a call to Local 802.” This is what really got under his skin. He said, “If I pay you scale, will you play?” My reply was, “If you pay the whole band scale, yes,” and he just looked at me like he wanted to kill me, and he gave in at that point, “All right. You got it. They’ll all get scale.”

Years later, he was at the Atlanta Jazz Party, and my wife and I, when she was still here, God bless her, we used to go every year and visit with the guys from New York, and Eddie and I remained close friends. We’d hug each other and reminisce. And he told me, years later, “Red Balaban went to his death never knowing that you did that, that night. If I’d ever told him, he would have banned you from the club completely.” I said, “Thank you.” I was always on the ins and the outs with Eddie Condon’s. They finally stopped using me. If you go back and look at that video, Jimmy Andrews and I were the only two they didn’t interview – because we were the rough guys!

The good old days. Just an honor! And as Vic would say, “Ding ding!”

“Just an honor!” sums it up for me.  Bless Ernie, and all our heroes above.

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, A FEW MORE CHORUSES

Billy, at work / at play, at one of Joe Boughton’s Conneaut Lake jazz weekends.

When I was compiling yesterday’s post — a conversation with Billy Butterfield’s family that revealed him to be a sweet-natured, generous man who loved being with them — read it here — I also returned to the music he made, and there’s a proliferation of it on YouTube, showing Billy in many contexts.  (Trust me: this post will not be silent . . . )

I knew about the breadth of Billy’s working career — more than forty years of touring with big bands, small jam-session groups, concerts here and overseas, radio and studio work, club dates and gigs a-plenty — which pointed me to Tom Lord’s discography.

Recordings are only a slice of a musician’s career, a narrow reflection of what (s)he may have created, but in Billy’s case, the list of people he recorded with is astonishing in its breadth: it says so much about his professionalism and versatility, and the respect his peers afforded him.

For my own pleasure and I hope yours, here is a seriously edited list — in alphabetical order — of some of the people Billy recorded with . . . many surprises.  I did get carried away, but it was impossible to stop.

Louis Armstrong, Georgie Auld, Mildred Bailey, Pearl Bailey, Tallulah Bankhead, George Barnes, Andy Bartha, Tony Bennett, Eddie Bert, Johnny Blowers, Will Bradley, Ruby Braff, Lawrence Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Kenny Burrell, Connie Boswell, Dave Bowman, Les Brown, Vernon Brown, John Bunch, Ernie Caceres, Nick Caiazza, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Sidney Catlett, Charlie Christian, Buck Clayton, Al Cohn, Cozy Cole, Eddie Condon, Ray Conniff, Jimmy Crawford, Bing Crosby, Bob Crosby, Cutty Cutshall, Delta Rhythm Boys, John Dengler, Vic Dickenson, Tommy Dorsey, Buzzy Drootin, Dutch College Swing Band, Billy Eckstine, Gil Evans, Nick Fatool, Irving Fazola, Morey Feld, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest, Bud Freeman, Barry Gailbraith, Erroll Garner, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Brad Gowans, Teddy Grace, Freddie Green, Urbie Green, Tyree Glenn, Henry Grimes, Johnny Guarnieri, Bobby Hackett, Bob Haggart, Al Hall, Edmond Hall, Sir Roland Hanna, Coleman Hawkins, Neal Hefti, J.C. Higginbotham, Milt Hinton, Billie Holiday, Peanuts Hucko, Eddie Hubble, Dick Hyman, Chubby Jackson, Harry James, Jack Jenney, Jerry Jerome, Taft Jordan, Gus Johnson, Osie Johnson, Hank Jones, Jo Jones, Roger Kellaway, Kenny Kersey, Carl Kress, Yank Lawson, Peggy Lee, Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, Abe Lincoln, Jimmy Lytell, Mundell Lowe, Joe Marsala, Carmen Mastren, Matty Matlock, Jimmy Maxwell, Lou McGarity, Red McKenzie, Hal McKusick, Johnny Mercer, Eddie Miller, Miff Mole, Benny Morton, Tony Mottola, Turk Murphy, Hot Lips Page, Walter Page, Oscar Pettiford, Flip Phillips, Mel Powell, Buddy Rich, Max Roach, Jimmy Rushing, Babe Russin, Pee Wee Russell, Doc Severinsen, Charlie Shavers, Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Jess Stacy, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, Bill Stegmeyer, Lou Stein, Rex Stewart, Joe Sullivan, Maxine Sullivan, Ralph Sutton, Buddy Tate, Jack Teagarden, Claude Thornhill, Martha Tilton, Dave Tough, Sarah Vaughan, Helen Ward, Earle Warren, Dick Wellstood, George Wettling, Paul Whiteman, Margaret Whiting, Bob Wilber, Joe Wilder, Lee Wiley, Roy Williams, Shadow Wilson, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, Bob Zurke . . . 

This list is breathtaking.  Sure, some of the associations come from Billy’s being a Swing-Era-and-beyond big band star, sparkplug, and valued section player.  And some of the associations come from studio work.  But the whole list says so much about Billy’s marvelous combination of skills: he could play a four-chorus solo that would astonish everyone in the room, but he could also blend in and let other people take the lead.

And these associations speak to a wonderful professionalism: you could be the most luminous player in the firmament, but if you showed up late, were drunk or stoned, didn’t have your instrument ready, couldn’t sight-read the charts or transpose or take direction, your first studio date would be your last.  Clyde and Judi Groves (Billy’s son-in-law and daughter) told me that Billy’s house in Virginia had that most odd thing, a flat roof over the garage, and it was spectacularly reinforced . . . so that a helicopter could land on it, and I am sure that was to get Billy to a New York City record date quickly.  In today’s parlance, that’s “essential services,” no?   And it says how much in demand he was for his beautiful sound, his memorable improvisations, and the maturity he brought to his work.

Now, to move from words to music.  One of the video-performances I most cherish is from the December 1, 1978, Manassas Jazz Festival, featuring Billy, Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass saxophone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony Di Nicola, drums. “Fantastic!” says Marty when the second number suggested is SWEET SUE in G.  I can’t disagree:

Judi also mentioned that Billy had — under duress — essayed a vocal on one of his Capitol sides, that he disliked the result and said that the company was trying to save money.  Here’s one example, showing his gentle, amused voice . . . with a searing trumpet solo in between the vocal interludes (followed by the instrumental JALOUSIE):

You may decide to skip the next performance because there is an added echo and a debatable transfer — but Billy sings with easy conviction and plays splendidly:

There is a third vocal performance (very charming) of AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ on YouTube, but the owner plays the record on a seriously ancient portable wind-up gramophone that allows very little sound to emerge, so you’ll have to find that one on your own.

For a palate-cleanser, a little of the famous Butterfield humor, from my friend Norman Vickers, a retired physician who is one of the founders of Jazz Pensacola in Florida:

My late friend, record producer Gus Statiras, would sometimes handle a tour for the group—Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield – remnants of World’s Greatest Jazz Band. There was a practicing physician in Georgia who played piano. He would sponsor the group so he could play piano with them. Of course, they would have preferred a professional pianist, but he doc was paying for the gig.  During the event, Haggart said to Butterfield, “How’d you like to have him take out your gall-bladder?”  To which Butterfield replied, “ Yeah, and I think he’s doing it RIGHT NOW!”

To return to music.  When I asked the multi-instrumentalist Herb Gardner if I had his permission to post this, he wrote back in minutes, “Fine with me.  Those guys were great fun to work with.”  That says it all.

This brief performance comes, like the one above, from the Manassas Jazz Festival, this time December 3, 1978, where Billy plays alongside Bob Wilber, clarinet, alto, soprano saxophones; Herb Gardner, trombone; John Eaton, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Dean Keenhold, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums: SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / STARDUST / a fragment of STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY — that performance does not exist on this tape although Johnson McRee issued it on an audiocassette of this set / COTTON TAIL / SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

Savor that, and help me in my quest to make sure that the great players — the great individuals — are not forgotten.  Gratitude to Clyde, Judi, and Pat (the Butterfield family), Norman Vickers, and my enthusiastic readers.  And there is more Manassas video featuring Billy, and others, to come . . .

May your happiness increase!

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, “A VERY LOVING MAN,” RECALLED BY HIS FAMILY

Facebook is good for something.  Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now.  I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.

For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine.  I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.

But first, some memorable music.

Pat Butterfield:  He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous.  He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too.  Some people took advantage of him because of that.  My father was very quiet.

He liked to read a lot.  When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read.  Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians.  Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired.  And he listened to a lot of music in the house.  He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time.  He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it.  I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven.  In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata.  I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef.  He would sit down and play the piano.  The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring.  My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that.  My brother played with string bass with him several times.

Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also.  We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most.  And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.

Billy was very humble.  He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak.  I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah.  So, Clyde, how’s school?  How’re you doing in baseball?”  He would just change the subject.

Judi Groves: He was very shy.  He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say.  It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done.  You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa.  He came home and never even spoke about it.  I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards.  He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience.  He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel.  He was very loyal to his band in that way also.  He was a very loving man.

When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister.  My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins.  My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia.  He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed.  We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from.  They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there.  He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it.  But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight.  I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.

Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything.  That was his favorite thing.  He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice.  And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE.  Yank Lawson was an all-time great.  And I put Billy there too.  They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were.  He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five.  He played with everybody.

Judi:  He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.

Clyde:  Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials.  Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX?  That’s a true joy to listen to.  There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names.  He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.

Judi: He did!  He was a funny man.

Clyde:  When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was.  I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones.  I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was.  My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”

Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating.  He was thoughtful and kind.  I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me.  Of course, then all my drinks were on the house.  All around us, people would be whispering.  You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew.  He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me.  There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.

Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.

Clyde:  It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals.  But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it.  He was pretty young then.

You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him?  Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band.  As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed.  After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band.  Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.”  Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it.  I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York.  So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby.  The chances of the stars aligning like that.  If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy.  That was his big start.  He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York.  He played football.  He was on the high school and college team.

Judi:  He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.

Pat:  Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road.  The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt.  The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York.  He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC.  I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt.  That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times.  My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit.  That entailed a few arguments.

I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen.  After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house.  It was really strange.  But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles.  Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other.  I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton.  Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.

Clyde:  Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale.  They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal.  I went over with a friend of mine to help them move.  Billy was built like a bulldog.  But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also.  We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy.  Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.”  And he picked that thing up like it was a feather.  I was thinking, “All he does is play music.  He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up.  I was the one struggling with it.

You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later.  I was always in love with her.  I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how.  But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information.  Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house.  And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do.  You want to bet?”  I said, “Yes.”  And she said, “This is Clyde.”  I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.”  People didn’t have Caller ID then.  So her mom helped reunite us.

Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92.  She was something!  She was a lot of fun.  Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.

Clyde:  They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect.  And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young.  She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out.  She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.

Judi:  When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin.  I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor.  I know he went to the University of Transylvania.  His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father.  I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice.  When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college.  Hard times back then.  His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.

He was beyond talented.  Most of his recordings were done in one take.  But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life.  He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians.  He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha.  When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was.  Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s.  They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band.  You know with musicians, they all have big heads.  Daddy wasn’t about that.  I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.

When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv.  We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat.  We always lived on or near the water, he loved that.  He loved being around family.

Clyde:  They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill.  Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time.  He enjoyed his time at home for sure.

Judi:  And he liked to watch golf.  I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv.  He liked to play.

Pat:  When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around.  We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti.  We were all members of the same country club in Brookville.  My father was apparently a terrible golfer.  He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!

Judi:  But he never really kept anything he ever did.  Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it.  Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records.  And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay.  He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous.  Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him.  So we didn’t.

Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band.  Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall.  But he loved playing.  That was his passion.  Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.

The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra.  When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.

You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy.  So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”

Judi:  He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it.  He had to keep his lip up, you know.

Clyde:  He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig.  It was part of him.  You have to keep your skills up.

Judi:  I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball.  He was on the road a lot.  Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot.  Jazz was very big in Europe.  He played over there all the time.  I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks.  That was really cool.  That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show.  But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns.  These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow.  It was a wonderful trip.  I got to see how much the people really loved him.  I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad.  I’ll never forget that.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  This was 1981-1982, something like that.

Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel.  Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy.  He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally.  He was a very giving man.  If he could help somebody out, he would.  And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.

Judi:  Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad.   He was a saint!

Pat:  He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together.  I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.

Clyde:  Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.

Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE.  He always played that for me.  But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL.  I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time.  Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video.  And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever.  They did really well with the harmony of that.  I really loved it.

Pat:  It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life.  And Dad definitely drank.  He functioned, though.  He tended to be more of a binge drinker.  He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot.  But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road.  My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back.  He spent the night on the train quite a few times.

Clyde:  I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor.  They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool.  And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up.  He was a lot of fun to be around.

Pat:  He was a really genuine individual.  He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance.  He enjoyed life.

I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield.  More about Billy tomorrow!

May your happiness increase!

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM, FOR A HALF-HOUR: JIMMY McPARTLAND, DICKY WELLS, CECIL SCOTT, JOE SULLIVAN, WALTER PAGE, GEORGE WETTLING, MARIAN McPARTLAND (“Jazz Club USA,” broadcast 1952)

Thanks to CB Detective Agency for this newspaper ad.

The music that follows is brilliant, but the details surrounding it are vague.  For one thing, most writers have misspelled the restaurant owner’s name as Terassi for decades.  I’ve done it myself.  Apologies to Lou.

I read in a British trade paper that this band, the Jimmy McPartland Sextet, was appearing at Lou Terrasi’s Hickory Log at the end of 1952, but I haven’t found a specific date for this recording.  All trace of the Hickory Log has vanished, although it was still in operation in 1964.  In 1975, the address was a restaurant that also featured music, the Spindletop (there’s a review of Maxene Andrews at that time) and should you go to that address now, it is Trattoria Tricolore.

Assuming that Terrasi was Italian, I’ve always thought the cuisine was also, but “Hickory Log” suggests charcoal-broiled steaks.  I had two friends who celebrated their engagement at the bar in 1952, between Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton — a story I love.  But I can no longer ask them for details.

Here’s a 1952 portrait by Bob Parent of Joe Sullivan at the Hickory Log piano, which also shows something of the decor.  That curtain would haunt me:

2nd October 1952: American jazz musician Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) plays piano at Lou Terrasi’s ‘Hickory Log’ on West 47th St., New York City. (Photo by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But the music is vivid, a previously unknown version of the half-hour broadcasts done by Aime Gauvin, “Dr. Jazz,” featuring the Jimmy McPartland Sextet: McPartland, cornet; Dicky Wells, trombone; Cecil Scott, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Walter Page, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Marian McPartland, piano, on EMBRACEABLE YOU and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  A bonus: even though we hear the crash of dishes (the kitchen and bandstand always seem to be adjacent) the ambiance is serene in comparison to Central Plaza or the Stuyvesant Casino.

The band, introduced by Leonard Feather, who also chats with both McPartlands, plays LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / TIN ROOF BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.

Broadcasts like this originated with the Voice of America, beamed overseas to show the Communists the virtues of democracy and capitalism.  Leaving the ideological wrappings aside, the music is superb: everyone is focused and effective, and no one sounds bored by the repertoire or its conventions.  I don’t know if Walter or Dicky missed being with Basie, but I am sure they were pleased to spend their days at home rather than being on the band bus; Jimmy, Joe, George, Cecil, and Marian had been playing in small groups for decades.  We hear the assurance of people who know the way, and that’s truly delicious.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING IT SOUND EASY: BILLY BUTTERFIELD

The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others.  But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.

Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.  When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.

Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.

Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough” (who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.

Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:

And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:

and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:

My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.

And one other piece of beautiful evidence:

How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?

Here is an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.

Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless.  I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted.  Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.

But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session.  I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff.  He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.

And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt.  When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn.  Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.

Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.

Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:

Billy should be more than a half-remembered name.

May your happiness increase!

OUR MAN FROM MISSOURI: NEW JESS STACY DISCOVERIES (November 28, December 5, 1939)

In the past year, a few holy relics of the beloved and subtle pianist Jess Stacy have come my way.  (Today would have been his 116th birthday, which counts as well.)  At a swing dance, I purchased one of his Chiaroscuro solo recordings — especially after I turned it over and saw that Jess had inscribed it, “Hi Jack, Well, I tried, Best, Jess.” which says so much about his character.  On eBay two months ago, a late photograph of Jess which he signed, again graciously, to the photographer.  And perhaps ten days ago, this disc crossed my path, and although it is not a Stacy solo, it’s priceless evidence of what he did so well and for so long.

But — for the delicate — these sides have not been well-cared for in their eighty-year life, and I think that aluminum acetates are less gentle to the ear than shellac.  So if you quail at surface noise, there is a substantial amount.

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

Bob Crosby was Bing’s brother, handsome and presentable, who had a career because of his last name and a passable although quavery singing voice.  His band — featuring Ray Bauduc, Bob Haggart, Eddie Miller, Irving Fazola, Matty Matlock, Billy Butterfield, and many others — made its fame with a New Orleans-inspired rocking approach and a small band, the Bobcats.  Crosby usually had first-rate pianists, Joe Sullivan, Bob Zurke, and, joining the band after five years with Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy.  Goodman had had great success with a radio program sponsored by Camel cigarettes, the “Camel Caravan,” but in 1939, Crosby took over the program.

One of the featured performers with Goodman was songwriter-singer Johnny Mercer, whose feature was “Newsy Bluesy” or I’ve seen it as “Newsy Bluesies.” Mercer had done something like it when he was with Paul Whiteman: a variation on the vaudeville device of straight man and comedian, with Mercer playing the latter with great skill and singing in his inimitable way (which I love) — the weekly theme drawn from odd stories in the newspapers.  The result is a hilarious scripted playlet, set over a quick-tempo OLD-FASHIONED LOVE.  Mercer shines, especially with a very stiff Crosby as his foil.

But the real treasure here is the rollicking piano of Jess Stacy, lighting the skies alongside Bob Haggart, string bass, Nappy Lamare, guitar, and Ray Bauduc, drums.  You might have to pay close attention or even listen twice, but Jess, bubbling and swinging, is completely there.

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

Small mysteries remain.  Why did Mercer have a New York City recording studio preserve these sides for him?  (He was, one biography says, commuting between New York and Hollywood.)  How did they survive (although the labels have had a rough time of it)? And how did they wind up where a mere collector-mortal could purchase and share them in time for Mr. Stacy’s birthday?

Whatever ethereal forces are at work, you have my gratitude — as do Jess, Johnny, the Crosby band, ACE Recording, and WABC.

And happy birthday, Mr. Stacy.  You not only tried: you are irreplaceable.

May your happiness increase!

SEE IT NOW: RARE JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHS

Music to peruse by.

A few nights ago, I was deep in pleasing archaeology-commerce (prowling through eBay) and my search for “Ben Webster” came up with this gem (at a reasonable price).  The slide was attributed to Nat Singerman, although it was the work of his brother Harvey, someone I’d written about (with photographs) here in 2018.

and the more dramatic front side.  From other sildes, I propose that this band, Ben’s, had Howard McGhee, Oscar Pettiford, and Jo Jones.  I couldn’t identify the pianist in my 2018 post, but that is some band:

The seller, celluloidmemories, describes this and other slides here, although misrepresenting Nat as the photographer:

Just a wonderful item for the collector of jazz photography! This is a color “slide” that was owned by Nat Singerman, co-owner of the Character Arts photography studio in Cleveland in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Singerman and his co-workers produced these beautiful images and then would share them with many of their subjects. Here is an example with Art Hodes, the famed jazz pianist, looking at some of these slides through a viewer:


The slides are approximately 4” long by 1 5/8” in width and consist of two pieces of color film placed between glass slides. The result is a wonderful 3D-like view of these jazz legends. We recently acquired a large number of these largely unpublished images at auction and are now able to pass them along to the marketplace. The slides have been left “as found” and may have some dust / dirt / scratches to the glass, etc… The images are striking and very rare to find in bold color like this. For each slide, you will be able to see a close-up of the film image and a photo of the front and back the actual slide being purchased. These slides come from Nat Singerman’s personal collection and have been referenced in a NY Times Magazine piece back in 2013 and then again on Antiques Roadshow – PBS Episode #2005 – Little Rock – 2015.

So, now to the item up for bid here… This is an image of two members of Ben Webster’s Band performing at Cleveland’s Loop Lounge in September of 1955. I think the trumpeter is Howard McGhee. Don’t know who the drummer is. [Jo Jones, say I.] Wonderful image! Please see all photos. Don’t let this rare piece get away! Enjoy! Please note: All slides will be expertly packed for delivery via USPS Mail. This auction does NOT include the Art Hodes slide seen above. The word celluloidmemories will not appear on the actual slide. No copyrights or other rights of reproduction are being transferred or inferred in this auction. This item is being sold strictly as a collector’s item.

And a few other Harvey Singerman slides, with appropriate music — in this case, Art Hodes and Pee Wee Russell in 1968 (also Jimmy McPartland, Bob Cousins, Rail Wilson) on television in Chicago:

Art, Pee Wee, and a string bassist, March 1949, location not identified:

Etta Jones at Lindsay’s Sky Bar, Cleveland, May 1952.  Is that Jonah Jones, and is that Earl Hines’ band of that time?

Here are Etta and Earl:

Earl Hines, May 1952, “studio”:

And one that strikes me as spectacular: Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Tal Farlow, Chicago, July 1951:

 

Freddie Moore, Club Riviera, March 1949:

There are several more worth looking for or at: Flip Phillips, Oscar Peterson, J.C. Higginbotham.

But before you drift away to the eBay page or elsewhere, remember that not all the good performance photographs are taken by professionals.  Jerry Kohout, brother of the Cleveland piano legend Hank Kohout, asked me recently if I would like to see candid photographs of his brother performing (probably at the Theatrical Grill) with well-known stars, and I said YES.

First, music to admire by: Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson in New York, 1957, thanks to my friend “Davey Tough” — whose channel blossoms with rarities you didn’t know existed:

The photographs:

Nancy Ray, vocal; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Hank Kohout, piano.

and perhaps from the same gig, without Nancy for the moment:

Finally, heroes Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson (avec beret) with Hank:

Enjoy the sounds the pictures make: a vanished time that can be called back again.

May your happiness increase!

THE TREASURE CHEST REOPENS, or HOLY RELICS, CONTINUED

Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic. 

and this:

I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there.  That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.

Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid.  I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.

This is the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early.  The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries).  I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours.  Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .

For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians.  And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.

Cootie:

Rex:

Cat:

Paul:

Johnny:

Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.

May your happiness increase!

BRILLIANCE IN A SMALL SPACE: BILLY BUTTERFIELD, SPIEGLE WILLCOX, KENNY DAVERN, SPENCER CLARK, DICK WELLSTOOD, MARTY GROSZ, VAN PERRY, TONY DiNICOLA (MANASSAS JAZZ FESTIVAL, December 1, 1978).

What was lost can return — some papers I thought were gone for good have resurfaced — but often the return needs the help of a kind friend, in this case my benefactor, trumpeter Joe Shepherd, who (like Barney the purple dinosaur) believes in sharing.

Sharing what?  How about forty-five minutes of admittedly muzzy video of Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Kenny Davern, clarinet; Spencer Clark, bass sax; Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Tony DiNicola, drums, recorded at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978.

But first, a few lines, which you are encouraged to skip if you want to get right to the treasure-box.  My very dear generous friend John L. Fell sent me this on a VHS tape in the mid-to-late Eighties, and I watched it so often that now, returning to it, I could hum along with much of this performance.  It’s a sustained example of — for want of a better expression — the way the guys used to do it and sometimes still do.  Not copying records; not playing routinized trad; not a string of solos.  There’s beautiful variety here within each performance (and those who’d make a case that old tunes should stay dead might reconsider) and from performance to performance.  Fascinating expressions of individuality, of very personal sonorities and energies — and thrilling duets made up on the spot with just a nod or a few words.  There’s much more to admire in this session, but you will find your own joys.

YouTube, as before, has divided this video into three chunks — cutting arbitrarily.  The songs in the first part are I WANT TO BE HAPPY / SWEET SUE / I CRIED FOR YOU (partial) //

The songs are I CRIED FOR YOU (completed) / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / I CAN’T GET STARTED (Billy – partial) //

The songs are I CAN’T GET STARTED (concluded) / CHINA BOY //

I feel bathed in joy.

And another example of kindness: my friend and another benefactor, Tom Hustad (author of the astonishing book on Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY) sent along a slightly better — visual — copy that has none of the arbitrary divisions imposed by YouTube.  And here it is!  It will be my companion this morning: let it be yours as well.

May your happiness increase!

CONTRITION OR VENGEANCE? RICKY ALEXANDER, DAN BLOCK, ADAM MOEZINIA, DANIEL DUKE, CHRIS GELB at CAFE BOHEMIA (Nov. 22, 2019)

I think WHO’S SORRY NOW? (note the absence of the question mark on the original sheet music above) is a classic Vengeance Song (think of GOODY GOODY and I WANNA BE AROUND as other examples): “You had your way / Now you must pay” is clear enough.  Instrumentally, it simply swings along. It seems, to my untutored ears, to be a song nakedly based on the arpeggiations of the harmonies beneath, but I may be misinformed.  It’s also one of the most durable songs — used in the films THREE LITTLE WORDS and the Marx Brothers’ A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA — before being made a tremendous hit some twenty-five years after its original issue by Connie Francis.  Someone said that she was reluctant to record it, that her father urged her to do it, and it was her greatest hit.)

Jazz musicians loved it as well: Red Nichols, the Rhythmakers, Frank Newton, Bob Crosby, Lee Wiley, Sidney DeParis, Wild Bill Davison, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Woody Herman, Buck Clayton, Sidney Bechet, Paul Barbarin, George Lewis, Big Bill Broonzy, Archie Semple, Charlie Barnet, Raymond Burke, Rosy McHargue, Oscar Aleman, the Six-and-Seventh-Eighths String Band, Kid Ory, Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Miff Mole, Hank D’Amico, Teddi King, Kid Thomas, Bob Scobey, Franz Jackson, Chris Barber, Matty Matlock, Bob Havens, Ella Fitzgerald, Armand Hug, Cliff Jackson, Ken Colyer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Jonah Jones, Capt. John Handy, Jimmy Rushing, Tony Parenti, Claude Hopkins, Jimmy Shirley, Bud Freeman, Ab Most, Benny Waters, Peanuts Hucko, Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bill Dillard, New Orleans Rascals, Barbara Lea, Allan Vache, Paris Washboard, Bob Wilber, Lionel Ferbos, Rosemary Clooney, Rossano Sportiello, Paolo Alderighi, Vince Giordano, Michael Gamble . . . (I know.  I looked in Tom Lord’s online discography and got carried away.)

Almost a hundred years after its publication, the song still has an enduring freshness, especially when it’s approached by jazz musicians who want to swing it.  Here’s wonderful evidence from Cafe Bohemia (have you been?) at 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, one flight down — on November 22, 2019: Ricky Alexander, tenor saxophone; Chris Gelb, drums; Daniel Duke, string bass; Adam Moezinia, guitar, and special guest Dan Block, tenor saxophone:

That was the penultimate song of the evening: if you haven’t heard / watched the closing STARDUST, you might want to set aside a brief time for an immersion in Beauty here.  And I will be posting more from this session soon, as well as other delights from Cafe Bohemia. (Have you been?)

May your happiness increase!

CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM EDDIE and the GANG

Eddie Condon may not have manifested holiday cheer to the utmost in this staged photograph, but he certainly made joy palpable through music.

condon-christmas

Thanks to Scott Black — keeper of treasures — for this.  In color, too!

A post about Eddie would be incomplete without a solid helping of Americondon music, so here is an AFRS transcription of the May 30, 1944 Town Hall concert, the fourth in the series, this half-hour portion broadcast over the Blue Network.  You’ll hear SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, PEG O’MY HEART, a conversation with novelist John O’Hara that takes a while to get airborne but is ultimately rewarding, CAROLINA SHOUT, WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, UNCLE SAM BLUES, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, and the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, featuring Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Miff Mole, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Joe Grauso, James P. Johnson, Billy Butterfield, Hot Lips Page, Liza Morrow, and Bobby Hackett.

Caveat: it is introduced (in this YouTube version) by dark ominous music and an announcer who has rather unusual opinions about music: unless you have a taste for the bizarre, you may want to skip forward eighty seconds . . . and there is a closing announcement by the presenter as well, which caught me by surprise:

In the name of holiday largesse, all of the Condon broadcasts (with extras) have been issued on a series of two-CD sets on the Jazzology label, in better sound.  But in whatever form, the music Eddie played and made possible is a true, lasting gift to us.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SIDNEY BECHET, DICK WELLSTOOD, KENNY DAVERN, ALONZO LEVISTER, KANSAS FIELDS, and MORE (April 21, 2017)

Here is another unique interlude generously offered to us by Dan Morgenstern. I’ve posted earlier segments here and here — with immense pleasure.

In pursuit of the fine surprising stories that have delighted us so, I’d asked Dan to recall his experiences on Fifty-Second Street, slightly after that street’s legendary height . . . and here’s what he recalled, with portraits of Sidney Bechet, Alonzo Levister, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood among others.

I will have the mental-emotional image of a set-long Bechet / Dickenson blues forever.  And since Dan was close to both Kenny and Dick, here’s a wonderful performance, little-known, recorded by the very gracious Joe Shepherd at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978. I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Spiegel Willcox, Spencer Clark, Dick Wellstood, Marty Grosz, Van Perry, Tony Di Nicola.

The video quality is a little fuzzy, but the music is memorable and more.  And thank you, Dan, for insights and generosities.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: HOLIDAY MUSIC BY BERLIN, READE, and CONDON

Eddie Condon and his friends made hot music lyrical and the reverse, so what they played and sang always makes me glad.  And Eddie loved to improvise on the best popular songs of the time, not just a dozen “jazz classics.”

I think most people associate EASTER PARADE with the film starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, but the song was from the 1933 show AS THOUSANDS CHEER — as the sheet music indicates.  Here is a very sweet contemporaneous version by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, with Joe very reserved. In addition to a nice orchestral sound, fine lively piano (Schutt?) and guitar (McDonough,Victor, or Kress?) — both unidentified in Lord and Rust — there is a gorgeous vocal by Dolores Reade, who gave up her singing career to marry Bob Hope.  Nothing against the comedian, but that was a real loss to everyone else. (I found a copy of this 78 in a California thrift store, so it might have enjoyed some popularity.)

Here are several “Americondon” improvisations for this holiday, taken from the 1944-45 broadcasts of segments of Eddie’s Town Hall Concerts.  Some of these videos end with the introduction to another song, but you can — I believe — find much more from these concerts on YouTube, almost always mysteriously labeled and presented.  (Performances featuring Hot Lips Page are presented on a channel apparently devoted to Willie “the Lion” Smith, for reasons beyond me — whether ignorance or deceit or both, I can’t say.  But if you know the name of a song performed at a Condon concert, you have a good change of uncovering it there.)

Those who listen attentively to these performances will find variations, both bold and subtle, in the four versions that follow — tempo, solo improvisations, ensemble sound.

Here’s that Berlin song again, featuring Bobby Hackett, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Jess Stacy, Sid Weiss, Gene Krupa:

and featuring Max Kaminsky, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Bob Casey, Eddie, Joe Grauso, at a slower tempo, with wonderful announcements at the end.

and featuring Max, Miff, Ernie, Pee Wee, Jess, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, and happily, a much more audible Eddie — doing an audition for a Chesterfield (cigarette) radio program:

and from the very end of the broadcast series (the network wanted Eddie to bring in a comedian and he refused), here are Billy Butterfield, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee, Ernie, Gene Schroeder, Sid Weiss, and my hero, Sidney Catlett, whose accompaniment is a lesson in itself, and whose closing break is a marvel:

You’ll hear someone (maybe announcer Fred Robbins?) shout “WOW!” at the end of the first version: I agree.  Happy Easter in music to you all.

May your happiness increase!

“SINCERELY”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG: THE DECCA SINGLES 1949-1958

its-all-in-the-game-louis

Slowly, slowly, our awareness of Louis Armstrong spreads and deepens.  Of course, someone out there is still saying that everything after POTATO HEAD BLUES was a colossal misstep.  And somewhere, another gently misguided soul is suggesting that “Louis Armstrong was the worst thing that ever happened to traditional jazz,” which is a direct quotation and one that tried my peaceful nature to the breaking point.

But many people understand or have come to understand — to feel — that whatever Louis touched, he made beautiful.  So I write what I believe: that the recordings newly issued by Universal, annotated by our own local hero, Ricky Riccardi, are some of Louis’ greatest.  They are masterpieces of technique, drama, and above all, emotion.  And if I hear whimpers, “But they’re commercial!  The songs are so beneath him,” I will call Security to clear the room.

Here is the official link to the Universal Records issue — 95 songs, available through Apple here for download.  No, they aren’t going to be issued on CD. Downloads, like love, are here to stay — so ask a niece or nephew to assist you. And if the idea of intangible music — sounds without a tangible disc, shellac, vinyl, or plastic, is odd and threatening, think of downloading as new-fangled radio.

However, there are characteristically wise and rewarding liner notes by Mister Riccardi, about fifty thousand words, so knock yourself out here.  I believe that the cost for the whole package is $44.95 and individual tracks are priced at $1.29, which is not prohibitive.  As we have gotten used to cheap food in the last forty or fifty years, we also expect music to be free.  Silliness and selfishness, but that’s another blogpost.  This one is to celebrate Louis.

louis-armstrong-decca-singles

I listened to all ninety-five sides recently, and I am floating.

45-record-case-better

I grew up with some of these recordings —  Louis and Gordon Jenkins, especially — so they are very tender artifacts to me.  I came to Louis slightly later than the time period of this set: I think I bought my first record in 1963, although the experience of buying individual 45 rpm discs in paper sleeves is a part of my childhood.  Department stores had record departments, as did the “five and dime” stores, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, W.T. Grant, so hanging out there was a real part of my childhood and adolescence.  Of course, I separated myself from my peers early, but that is not something I lament.  In the Sixties and Seventies, Decca collected many of these sides on 12″ lps — SATCHMO IN STYLE, SATCHMO SERENADES, and the like.  This is to say that perhaps ten of the ninety-five sides were new to me, but the music is astonishing throughout.

Several aspects of this set are powerful to me and will be to you.  One is the trumpet playing. Louis’ unrivaled ability to make a “straight” melody come alive — “tonation and phrasing,” he called it — shines through every track.  Listeners who only see brass instruments in the hands of people who have spent the requisite ten thousand hours may not know how difficult what he does, casually, from track to track.  Ask a trumpet player how easy it would be to reproduce four bars of Louis.  I think you will be startled by the answer.  I know people rightly hold up his recordings of the Twenties and Thirties as examples of astonishing grace and power — and they are — but his trumpet playing in 1949-1958 is awe-inspiring, his huge sound captured beautifully by Decca’s engineers.

(And for those who worry about the “jazz quotient,” Louis is so strongly evident throughout that this should be enough — but one also hears from Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Billy Kyle, Trummy Young, Barney Bigard, Billy Butterfield, Allan Reuss, Charles LaVere . . . )

Another pleasure is the alchemy Louis works on the material.  For those who are appalled by, let us say, YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART or SKOKIAAN, I ask them to take a deep breath and evaluate the lyric and melodic quality of, perhaps, THAT’S WHEN I’LL COME BACK TO YOU before criticizing the “pop” material. And if a record of WINTER WONDERLAND brought people to hear and warm to Louis, then the large reach into popular songs — nothing new — that Jack Kapp and Milt Gabler did is a very good thing.

The final thing that kept revealing itself, over and over, was Louis’ deep innate romanticism, his delight in singing and playing about love — hopeless love, disappointed love, fulfilled love — all the shadings from bleak to ecstatic.  Even those people who admire Louis as I do have not always given him credit as a great poet of love, vocally and instrumentally.  His dramatic sense is peerless on these records.

If you feel as I do, perhaps I am overstating the obvious.  But if you don’t, I ask you to listen to this:

and this, which to me has some of the emotional power of Billie’s Commodore ballads:

and this tender hymn, which I’ve loved for decades:

I know that 2016 has been a dazzling year for reissues and issues of material never heard before — consider several new Mosaic sets and the two volumes of material from the Savory collection — but this music is extraordinary: you can’t afford to miss these dreams.

May your happiness increase!

GRamercy 5-8639

rotary phone

Perhaps, for the Youngbloods in the audience, I should explain.  Older telephone numbers were patterned after words — presumably easier to remember — in the same way some business numbers are (whimsically) 1-800-BUY JUNK.  My childhood phone number began with “PE” for Pershing, the general; now it would simply be 7 3.  All clear?

I love Eddie Condon’s music and everything relating to it.  I wan’t of an age to visit West Third Street, nor the club on Fifty-Sixth, although I spent some delightful evenings at the posthumous version on Fifty-Fourth (one night in 1975 Ruby Braff was the guest star and Helen Humes, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Brooks Kerr and a few others sat in).

This delightful artifact just surfaced on eBay — from 1958:

CONDONS front

The English professor in me chafes at the missing apostrophe, but everything else printed here is wonderful: the names of the band and the intermission pianist.  The reverse:

CONDONS back

I didn’t buy it — so you might still be able to — but I did have fleeting thoughts of taking it to a print shop and ordering a few hundred replicas, more gratifying than the glossy cards with pictures of Tuscany on them.

We don’t need a time machine, though, because a version of that band (with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and others) did record, in glorious sound.  Don’t let “Dixielan” Jam or the CD title keep you away.  Savor the sound of Eddie’s guitar.  The music here was originally issued as THE ROARING TWENTIES, and the sessions were produced by the amazing George Avakian:

I did buy something, though — irresistible to me —  that struck a far more receptive chord.  Whether I will use it or frame it has not yet been decided.  I’ll know when it arrives.

SWIZZLE STICK

If you have no idea what this is, ask Great-Grandma, who used such a thing to stir her whiskey sour.

May your happiness increase!

ONCE RARE, NOW HERE: LOU McGARITY and FRIENDS, 1955

 LOU McGARITY ArgoTrombonist and very occasional violinist and singer Lou McGarity, who died in 1971, was both reliable and inspiring.  I think I first heard him on recordings with Eddie Condon, with Lawson-Haggart, and with a wild 1941 Goodman band that included Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and Sidney Catlett, who gave McGarity the most extravagant backing.  Lou was a delightful presence, someone who could electrify a performance with a shouting yet controlled eight bars.  I also gather from his discography that he was an expert section player and reader, for many of his sessions have him surrounded by other trombonists.  But Lou very rarely got to lead a session on his own aside from two late-Fifties ones.
He traveled in very fast company, though, as in this gathering at the Ertegun party, held at the Turkish Embassy in 1940.  (Photo by William P. Gottlieb):
LOU McGARITY Turkish Embassy 1940
Let us have a long pause to imagine what that band sounded like, and to lament that it wasn’t recorded.
But onwards to 1955.  I imagine that someone at M-G-M, not the most jazzy of labels, decided that it would be a good idea to have some “Dixieland” to compete with the product that other labels were making money on.  I don’t know who arranged this session (Leroy Holmes? Hal Mooney?) but McGarity was an unusual choice: a thorough professional with fifteen years’ experience, however with no name recognition as a leader.  Was he chosen as nominal leader because he wasn’t under contract to any other label or leader?  And, to make the session more interesting, the four titles are all “originals,” suggesting that M-G-M wanted to publish the compositions themselves or, at the very least, pay no royalties for (let us say) MUSKRAT RAMBLE.  I’d guess that the compositions and arrangements were by the very talented Bill Stegmeyer.
LOU McGARITY EP
Most of the personnel here is connected, on one hand, to Eddie Condon sessions of the Fifties, on the other to the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band. There’s Lou, Yank Lawson, both Peanuts Hucko and Bill Stegmeyer on reeds, Gene Schroeder, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  And here’s the music.  I say gently that it is more professional than explosive, but I delight in hearing it, and hope you will too.
MOBILE MAMA:

NEW ORLEANS NIGHTMARE:

BANDANNA:

BIRMINGHAM SHUFFLE (not SUFFLE as labeled here):

A mystery solved, with pleasing results.

May your happiness increase!

FEEL THAT REFRESHING BREEZE

BREEZE

As a “Fox Trot”: 

As a “Blues”: 

Willie “the Lion” Smith, in 1935, with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, and Willie Williams, feels it too:

Clarence Williams feels the breeze, but it’s a very slow sad one (with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey:

And, on an Edison cylinder, the Premier Quartet:

And perhaps a century later — in our century (2014), Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs celebrate those very same zephyrs:

It was a hit song in 1919, and it stays in our minds today.  Is it that it is so easy to sing, with whole notes and easily remembered steps up and down the scale?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the spirit of Zephyrus is ready to animate us at any moment.  I hope so.

Breeze sheet

My title comes from another place — a John Cheever story, “The Jewels of the Cabots,” where after the narrator’s father and mother have had their ritual Sunday argument about his inability to carve the roast, this passage emerges:

She would sigh once more and put her hand to her heart. Surely this was her last breath. Then, studying the air above the table, she would say, “Feel that refreshing breeze.”

Would it spoil the effect for JAZZ LIVES readers to know that Cheever’s narrator then states, ruefully or realistically, that there was seldom a breeze.

But there is always BREEZE.

May your happiness increase!

FOUR FOR ARTIE: RICHARD PITE’S CHAMBER JAZZ at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2015)

Shaw Granercy 5

When we think of the great small bands of the Swing Era, early and late, Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five is both memorable and overshadowed . . . perhaps because (unlike the Goodman small groups, the Crosby Bobcats, and others I can’t call to mind) it was a studio aggregation, so we don’t have a large history of live performances in concert or recorded off the radio.  (I’ve seen a photograph of the 1945 group with Roy Eldridge and Dodo Marmarosa, apparently performing as part of the Shaw big band presentation, but I don’t think the 1941 group existed outside the Victor studios.)

It was a superb — and quirky — group, with an affectionate kinship to the Raymond Scott and Alec Wilder small bands.  Its instrumentation accounted for much of that — pianist Johnny Guarnieri on harpsichord — but its very tight arrangements were also remarkable.  Al Hendrickson was an excellent electric guitarist — in the dawn of that era; Billy Butterfield, Nick Fatool, and Jud deNaut were also brilliant.

I was delighted to see and capture this four-song evocation at the 2015. Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, where such heartfelt expertise is the main dish.  Led by the masterful drummer Richard Pite, this new Gramercy 5 — what would that be on your smartphone? — soared and rocked.  The noble participants: the brilliant clarinetist Lars Frank, Martin Litton, harpsichord; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Martin Wheatley, electric guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  And they perform four classics: SUMMIT RIDGE DRIVE, KEEPIN’ MYSELF FOR YOU, SCUTTLEBUTT, and SPECIAL DELIVERY STOMP.  A quarter-hour of compact pleasure:

Hot modernism in its own way, and it hasn’t aged.  Try to make your way to the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — where such good surprises proliferate.

May your happiness increase!

EDDIE CONDON, BUD FREEMAN, and THE CREATION OF JOY

Commodore Love

Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman, and I go ‘way back, although those two gentlemen would not have noticed me all that much.  I only saw Eddie once at close range, in the summer of 1972, and at several late concerts; I saw Bud once at a Newport in New York tribute to Eddie.

But I have been following both men since I was a youth in suburbia, when department stores had record departments and there was always a reason to walk to the one nearby or tag along when my parents, who loved to shop for what I think of as home-trivia, went to one that I couldn’t walk to.

I started collecting Louis Armstrong records, which should not shock anyone. But soon I decided that Jack Teagarden was fascinating as well, and bought THE GOLDEN HORN OF JACK TEAGARDEN, which featured Pee Wee Russell, Eddie, Wild Bill Davison, George Wettling, and others.  Then, in 1969, the Mainstream label started to issue vinyl compilations drawn from the Commodore Records catalogue.  Most, if not all, were in reprocessed stereo, had obtuse liner notes, limited discographical information . . . but here I could hear SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK.  I was hooked for life.  And I became a deep convert to Condonia, and the territory known as the Land of Bud.

Both of them are ferociously underrated musicians and their music, when mentioned, is often viewed patronizingly.  More about that later.  But I would fight for the Commodores and later Deccas to be taken as seriously as any small-group recordings of the period.  Click here for several sound samples: clear your mind of jazz-history debris (the categorization of this music as Not Terribly Innovative and Created Mostly by Caucasians) and listen.

CONDON MOSAIC

I’ve had the new Mosaic Records cornucopia of the Condon / Freeman Commodore / Deccas 1938-1950 sitting on my coffee table, the box unwrapped but the discs still virginal, for two weeks now.  I think I was afraid of breaking the spell.  Sometimes the hallowed records one remembers just aren’t what one has idealized, and one hears all the flaws.

But I began to listen, and disillusionment never appeared.  I approached the set in two ways — front and back — starting with the first Commodore session (admiring the way that I could hear shadings and subtleties I’d never heard before) and then the later Deccas . . . unheard Dave Tough, James P. Johnson, Johnny Windhurst, and more.

Here are the details.  Eight CDs, 199 tracks, many new Decca alternates, everything in gorgeous sound, $136.00.  Wonderful photographs, many new to me — and I’m a Condon obsessive.  Notes by Dan Morgenstern, a real plus.

The Commodore and Decca band sides of the first period, 1938 to 1944, are elated and elating music.  Even at slow tempos, a delicious energy bubbles through.  Condon and the Blessed Milt Gabler, the guiding light of Commodore, favored obscure pop songs of the early Twenties — PRAY FOR THE LIGHTS TO GO OUT, TELL ‘EM ABOUT ME, YOU CAN’T CHEAT A CHEATER, IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND, as well as impromptu blues and durable ballads. Where some of the later Commodore sessions (for example, those led by Muggsy Spanier) sound heavy in their earnestness, the Condons sound light, frisky.  One can study a record like MEET ME TONIGHT IN DREAMLAND or TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL for its ensemble lightness or densities, as well as the glowing solos.

And the Deccas that follow are almost as glorious — with alternate takes of beloved performances (IDA and JUST YOU, JUST ME) as well as familiar ones in wonderfully clear sound.

As with any Mosaic set, the incautious listener will go down into the depths and arise befuddled by an over-abundance of beauty.  Although the price is far lower than a collection of the original 78s, I urge any student of the music to listen with serious caution, as one might have in 1938 or 1945: two sides, at most, making up a listening session.

I have written elsewhere at length about my hopes for a re-evaluation of Eddie Condon as a color-blind prophet of authentic music, but here I wish to praise him as a beautiful Intuitive, someone who knew what tempos (the plural is intentional) would work, a guitarist who knew the right chords and whose beautiful sound uplifted any group.  Even in his last appearances, when the guitar was more an ornament than an instrument, Eddie knew how to make a group cohesive and sprightly.  I mean to take nothing away from Freddie Green, but rhythm guitarists and aspiring swingsters should study his work on these sides.  And if you take contemporaneous sides recorded by similar bands where Condon is not present, his absence is immediately heard and felt.  That’s the musician.  As for the man, history — taking his actions and utterances as the only evidence — has leaned towards a portrait of a man more enamored of alcohol than anything else, a wise-cracking smart-ass whose jibes were often mean. Some of that might be true: his quick-witted retorts were often not gentle, but the music, ultimately, is what counts.  And the Mosaic set offers it in glorious profusion.  (I would offer the WOLVERINE JAZZ sides as an engaging way to play “jazz repertory” that isn’t bound and gagged by the originals.)

Several heroes also shine through these sides.  One of the most noble is Jack Teagarden — as singer and trombonist.  I suspect that Teagarden has been ill-served by his durability (which is an odd statement, I admit) and his narrowing repertoire.  If one were to see him merely as a re-creator, say, of BASIN STREET BLUES into infinity, one would do him a great disservice.  I defy any trombonist to be as limber, as inventive, as surprising.  And as a singer he is simply glorious, even on the less inspiring material, such as IT’S TULIP TIME IN HOLLAND (which I find and always found terribly endearing).

I can’t say enough about Charles Ellsworth Russell, so I will simply say this.  To me he is the equal of Lester Young, of Benny Carter, and (yes!) of the King of Swing.  Too much has been made of his “eccentricities,” which are ultimately the hallmarks of an utterly self-aware and courageous musician.

The later Commodores often featured a violently effective front-line pairing of Wild Bill Davison and George Brunis, but these sides most often have Bobby Hackett and other lyrical trumpeters / cornetists: Max Kaminsky, Billy Butterfield, even Johnny Windhurst.  Hackett is my idea of angelic music: let that statement stand by itself, and Kaminsky’s even, compact playing is a wonderful model.  The rhythm sections on these records are delights in themselves: consider Jess Stacy or Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Dave Tough, coming-to-the-rescue Lionel Hampton and even on one long delicious 1943 date, Sidney Catlett.  I can’t ignore delicious cameos by Fats Waller and Lee Wiley.

In 1969 and onwards, I tended to skip over the Bud Freeman trio sessions (with Stacy and Wettling).  How narrow my perspective was.  I now hear them as gloriously radical creations, slyly subversive answers to the Goodman Trio. In some ways, they are the most “free” recordings before the term became more common in jazz: three rollicking eccentrics going at it, each on his own path, improvising wildly and sometimes acrobatically.

And since Miles Davis is the Great Exalted Potentate of All Jazz in the past decades, I present this little passage (found my accident) where he speaks of Lawrence Freeman:

Lester had a sound and an approach like Louis Armstrong, only he had it on tenor sax. Billie Holiday had that same sound and style; so did Budd Johnson and that white dude, Bud Freeman. They all had that running style of playing and singing. That’s the style I like, when it’s running. It floods the tone. It has a softness in the approach and concept, and places emphasis on one note.

I didn’t make that up.

Rather than reading more of my words, I hope you listen to the music presented on the Mosaic site.  These sessions are as precious as any of the more “hallowed” contemporaries.  I would put them next to the Ellington, Hampton, Basie small groups of the period, and they stand up splendidly in comparison to the independent-label recordings of the Forties.  Clear your mind of the odious categorizations and enjoy.

Postscript: before writing this post, I intentionally did not read the beautiful liner notes by Dan Morgenstern, who was on the scene and knew Eddie . . . because Dan’s influence is so strong (in the best way) that I wanted to attempt to write this from my own perspective.  But I know that Mister Morgenstern and I will agree.

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ WORTH READING: “STRICTLY A MUSICIAN: DICK CARY” by DEREK COLLER

STRICTLY A MUSICIAN

Usually a reviewer waits until (s)he has finished the book before writing. I’ve only read one-sixth (one hundred pages) of Derek Coller’s biography of multi-instrumentalist / composer / arranger Dick Cary, but I didn’t want to wait to tell you how good it is

I think it is one of the most important books about how it feels and what it means to play jazz in public.

Cary (1916-1994) is one of those figures in jazz — invaluable but shadowy — whose identity is defined by associations with famous names.  A long time ago, I knew him the pianist in Louis Armstrong’s first All-Stars. Listening to TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS over and over, I heard him as a masterful accompanist, deferentially but beautifully showing the way, never intruding, quietly swinging in delicate fashion.  Later I delighted in his brilliant, nimble trumpet work — soaring in ways reminiscent of Bobby Hackett.  But it was as the great swinging exponent of the Eb alto horn (the “peck” horn) that he made the greatest impression on me: hear him on Eddie Condon’s JAM SESSION COAST TO COAST or JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S. More recently, I admired his arrangements and compositions performed and recorded with his “Tuesday Night Friends” on Arbors issues.

But even when I noticed his always welcome presence, I never attempted to piece together the evidence to ask, “Who was this Dick Cary?”

I am so glad that Derek Coller — a very well-respected researcher and a fine straightforward writer — has done so. Derek has a well-earned reputation for intelligence, empathy, and candor, so the book is honest and thorough, without being ungenerous.

So many respected volumes (in and out of jazz) are well-crafted syntheses of what others have written. STRICTLY A MUSICIAN is entrancing because of its tireless use of first-hand “new” materials. The book has been written with the help and complete cooperation of pianist Jim Turner, who inherited the Dick Cary Estate and maintains the Cary website.  Cary was interviewed by a number of people, including the late Floyd Levin; friends saved his correspondence and recalled his stories.  But the spine of this book is Cary’s diaries, which he kept (with a few gaps) from 1931 to 1994 — 56 diaries in all.

Diaries.

I feel so grateful for this possibly vanished phenomenon.  Had Cary lived in our times, and communicated by email and social media, his introspective recollections would be gone.  His diaries are essential to our understanding of his life, his work, and his sensibilities.  Keeping a diary is by definition a private act but Cary kept his (unlike Philip Larkin) because he wanted to share — posthumously, I assume — what he had seen, done, and felt.

Anyone’s diary might be intriguing as a candid record of daily experiences and perceptions, but the diaries of musicians — creative individuals making a living in the public sphere by being asked to “perform” in public, to interact with the audience at close range — are bound to be fascinating.

Being human asks us to balance one’s public and private selves.  It isn’t always a battle, I hope, but musicians are on display.  They smile at the bandleader; they shake hands with fans; they might speak more candidly to their colleagues on the stand, but in general we meet their public selves when we ask for an autograph or thank them for a great set. A musician who is candid without tact on the microphone may enjoy the sensation for the moment, but might lose an opportunity for a job, so the Public Self is firmly in place for most of them until they speak among themselves or with others they trust.

Cary’s diaries — and this rewarding book — give a reader a deep feeling for what a working musician sees and experiences, and Coller uses this material wisely, sparingly, yet to great effect.  The book is not a day-to-day record of aches and pains, physical and emotional (although Cary does complain). The diaries contain details that make a typical jazz fan excited: who was on the gig last night, who played what, who was “helpless” from alcohol before the evening was over.   We learn what a night’s work paid in 1944. We find out who is a pleasure to work with, who is a total bore or sharp-tongued mocker.

Through these excerpts from Cary’s diary, we are taken behind the scenes.  Those of us who do not play professionally will find it as close as we will ever come to being part of the band.  No, bands, for their are many. Reading this book, I often felt as if I were sitting with Cary at a small table, and he had decided I was a trusted friend, someone to whom he could share his inner life.

This is invaluable, and it goes beyond the anecdotal.  Coller admires Cary but does not pretend that The Jazz Hero was saintly, so we get a clear sense of Cary as someone who speaks his mind, and not only to his diary. But Coller (unlike many other modern biographers) is not interested in revealing that The Jazz Hero was A Bad Person. When Cary is irritating or foolish — in retrospect — we learn of it, and the book moves on.

A pause for some glorious sounds.  Here’s a sample of what Cary sounded and looked like in performance (with the Climax Jazz Band — he’s the bearded fellow playing an alto horn to the right):

Back to the book.  In the first hundred pages, I encountered head-spinning details of jam sessions, of arranging for Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman.  What it was like to walk home after a gig with Eddie Condon.  How Jack Teagarden came and tuned the piano first on every gig he was on.  That Rod Cless asked Cary (in Pee Wee Russell’s hearing) what he, Rod, could do to be more like Frank Teschemacher. What it felt like to hear Tatum in the forties.  How Dick Hyman — age 21 — appeared to Cary. Cary’s hearing and meeting Charlie Parker. A dinner with Charlie Creath and Zutty Singleton (gumbo!). What being typecast as a “Dixieland” musician did to Cary. An early sighting of Barney Kessel.  The Eddie Condon Floor Shows and the 1944-5 concerts. Working for Billy Butterfield and Jean Goldkette, and Cary’s six-month tour with the first Louis Armstrong All Stars. Cary, in 1941, playing BODY AND SOUL and THE SHIEK OF ARABY with Coleman Hawkins and Sidney Catlett at a Boston gig. Portraits of Brad Gowans, Wild Bill Davison, George Brunis, Danny Alvin, and Nick Rongetti.

Cary was articulate — one of those straightforward writers who captured one aspect (perhaps a transient one) of someone’s personality in a few sharp strokes.  And he was also just as ready to put his own playing and conduct under the microscope.

STRICTLY A MUSICIAN (a phrase that Barney Bigard used to praise Cary instead of Earl Hines) is an enthralling book — one that I have been rationing my reading . . . so that I won’t finish it too quickly. If you love this music, it is invaluable.  Rare photographs, a comprehensive discography, indices, and more. And Coller — who by choice remains almost invisible — is a fine careful graceful writer, shining the light on Cary and his colleagues all the time.

The book is available here, but I also encourage you to contact Jim Turner here and visit the Dick Cary Music site, which has treasures to share. Jim tells me that Dick’s “Tuesday Night Friends,” his rehearsal band, is still going strong after twenty years — because of the devotion of the musicians to Dick’s music.

May your happiness increase!

“GEORGE WETTLING, MARCH 1953”

That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction.  In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous.  He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.

Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:

and

and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:

and

If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!