Tag Archives: Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival

WHERE THE WILD ARCANA GROWS: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG at GRUMPY’S in DAVENPORT, IOWA (Set Two, August 1, 2018)

Many jazz bands that identify themselves as steeped in Twenties Hot are devoted to the Ancestors and the irreplaceable recordings, but have reduced their  repertoire to a dozen-plus familiar songs: DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, TIN ROOF BLUES, THAT’S A-PLENTY, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, and so on.  Those songs achieved classic status for good reason, but they quickly come to feel like the same Caesar salad.  (“Mainstream” groups do the same thing with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, ALL OF ME, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET . . . continuing forward to GROOVIN’ HIGH and the bop -OLOGIES also.)

But the noble and flourishing Andy Schumm is not only a marvelous multi-instrumentalist (on this session, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, “Reserphone,” and one voice in the glee club) but a truly diligent researcher — coming up with hot tunes and lyrical songs that rarely — or never — get performed.  At the end of the video presented here, you should observe the thickness of manuscript that he picks up off his music stand, and when he announces the next tune to the band by number as well as title, the numbers are notably three digits, suggesting a substantial “book.”

Andy and his Gang performed two wonderful sets of lively, “new” “old” material at the August 2018 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival in Davenport, Iowa.  The Gang was a streamlined version of the Fat Babies, with Andy; John Otto, reeds; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Dave Bock, tuba, and guest star David Boeddinghaus, piano.  All of this good music was beautifully preserved for us by “Chris and Chris,” whose generosities you know or should know.  My posting of the first set is here.

As far as arcana is concerned, here are the songs performed: CUSHION FOOT STOMP (Clarence Williams), EL RADO SCUFFLE (Jimmie Noone: supposedly the club was the ELDORADO but not all the letters in the sign were visible), AIN’T THAT HATEFUL? (Oliver Naylor), JUST LIKE A MELODY (a Walter Donaldson composition, one known in recent decades thanks to Scott Robinson’s recording of it), FLAG THAT TRAIN (watch out for the Reserphone), I MUST BE DREAMING (a sweet duet for John Otto and David Boeddinghaus), BEER GARDEN BLUES (Clarence Williams, with glee-club vocal; Williams also recorded this melody with different lyrics, perhaps called SWING, BROTHER, SWING, but not the Billie-Basie song), GRAVIER STREET BLUES (Clarence Williams again, his Jazz Kings — thanks to Phil Melnick for catching the title, something I didn’t recognize, which proves my point about arcana), CROSS ROADS (California Ramblers), WAILING BLUES (thanks to Cellar Boys Wingy, Tesch, Bud, and Frank Melrose), an impish Boeddinghaus chorus of WE’RE IN THE MONEY, perhaps a satiric reference to the undernourished tip jar? — and closing with a wild SAN in honor of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.

Thanks to Andy, John, John, Dave, Dave, and Chris and Chris.  (I see a pattern here, don’t you?)

“Chris and Chris” at the 2015 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans. Photograph by Bess Wade.

May your happiness increase!

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NINETY MINUTES at HIGH HEAT: THE FAT BABIES SWING OUT at the BIXFEST (Davenport, Iowa, August 4, 2017)

For no particular medical reason aside from age-based entropy, I’ve slowed down the mad pace of recent years.  At my most passionate peak of obsession and love, I flew or drove to seven or eight jazz festivals or parties in twelve months.  I haven’t given up, just slowed down.  One of the festivals I was sorry to miss was the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival held in Davenport, Iowa, at the start of this August.  I knew that — unlike the tree in the metaphysical forest — that the bands I love would play even if I were not there to video them — but still.

So I was very glad that “jazzmanjoe100” recorded the wonderful music that Hal Smith’s SWING CENTRAL  performed at that festival.  And I am delighted that “CANDC” did the same for several sets: the one most pleasing being by The Fat Babies.  “CANDC” isn’t an impossible-to-pronounce word; rather, it stands for “Chris-and-Chris,” (pronounced as a rapid triplet) a Swedish pair, immaculately dressed as if going out for a carriage ride c. 1917: he videos; she dances.  In general, they both light up the place.

As do The Fat Babies, the beloved brainchild (b. 2010) of string bassist Beau Sample; featuring Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, and other instruments; Dave Bock, trombone and tuba; John Otto, reeds; Paul Asaro, piano and vocals; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar; Alex Hall, drums.  For this set, alumnus and guest Jonathan Doyle joined in on clarinet and tenor.

For this set, they offered their usually varied program that leans towards the esoteric, which is always a nice change.  They began with a hot CHANGES MADE, and then summoned up 1926 Luis Russell (in Chicago, before the incandescent days of Red and Higgy) with SWEET MUMTAZ.

I must ask: is MUMTAZ another slang word for muggles, muta, or pot?  Google has not been terribly forthcoming.

Then, SHE’S CRYING FOR ME from old New Orleans, Jon Doyle’s evocative SWEET IS THE NIGHT, and a heady — c. 1925 Henerson — MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND.

Paul Asaro sings THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, which I associate with 1928 Bing; WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABE? — splitting its associations between McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and 1934 Louis.  It’s followed by Tiny Parham’s ROCK BOTTOM, a reed feature on THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, a sweet LAZY WEATHER (do I correctly think of the underrated 1936 Don Redman band here?) and a closing romp with Clarence Williams 1933 HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

And another wonderful helping.

Paul starts things off with I DON’T CARE (obviously not the case!), and then they move to the Nichols-associated SALLY OF MY DREAMS.  Then Walter Donaldson’s SAY YES TODAY (memorable in the Roger Wolfe Kahn version), followed by the Tiny Parham CLARICE — a wonderful hot rhythm ballad with a tango interlude.  Then, Ellington’s BIRMINGHAM BREAKDOWN; Paul and Johnny Donatowicz summon up Bing and Eddie Lang on DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — always a good question to ask.

Next, Willard Robison’s DEEP ELM, and Frank Bunch’s FUZZY WUZZY — talk about obscure yet delightful.  Then, FOR MY BABY, a 1927 hit, mixing hot dance and romance; Paul essays TEA FOR TWO all by himself, and beautifully, echoing Don Lambert’s habit of mixing tunes with THINKING OF YOU, APRIL SHOWERS, I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY, KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, FRENESI, and a few whose title proved elusive, for a wonderfully low-key display of virtuosity — where he resists the temptation to triple the tempo.

Finally MONA, thanks to Harold Austin’s New Yorkers (a double obscurity to me), and Benny Carter’s KRAZY KAPERS, based on DIGA DIGA DOO — precious to me in its 1933 incarnation and in its 2017 one: the final chorus is my idea of jubliation.

Quite a good deal of beautifully played hot and sweet music indeed.  What makes this band notable, for me, is their mastery of the late Twenties – mid Thirties hot dance sound (with arrangements that summon up the original records and in some cases, build on their glories), soloists who are convincing on a jungle romp or a danceable ballad.  But the band as a whole sounds so good: their intonation, their voicings, so people used to listening for the hot sixteen bars also find themselves admiring the ensemble.  As I do, as you will.

May your happiness increase!

“ROSES OF PICARDY” AND “SUNDAY”: WHAT FUN!

I’m indebted to Flemming Thorbye, whom I’ve never met, for video-recording these two songs and putting them on YouTube, where they held me transfixed through several viewings.  The performances might look informal, but it takes a great deal of hard-earned mastery to be so casual.  Thorbye captured this band at the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, Iowa, July 2005.

The band was officially billed as Spats Langham and his Rhythm Boys, but this ensemble has a democratic strolling feel: routines are improvised on the stand and no one monopolizes the stage.  Even at a distance, you can see the players grinning at each other’s solos, which is not as common as you might think.

The Anglo-American players — what players! — are Thomas “Spats” Langham, guitar and vocal; Tom Pletcher, cornet; Paul Munnery, trombone; Norman Field, clarinet; Jeff Barnhart, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Nick Ward, drums.

The first song was one of Jule Styne’s earliest — “Sunday,” whose lyrics make the trek through the week to arrive at the one day when romance can flourish.  Bix recorded it as a member of the Jean Goldkette band — with an enthusiastic, cheery vocal by the Keller Sisters and Lynch.  Apocryphally, Lynch was the Sisters’ brother, but that might be too confusing a fact to incorporate.

I know “Sunday” from years of listening to jazz sessions that took place on that day: it was and is a comfortable tune to begin with.  Ruby Braff and Bobby Hackett did it often, and Jon-Erik Kellso continues the tradition now.

After a few cinematographic shudders, we settle down with Pletcher’s firm, nuanced lead — helped immeasurably by neat improvisations from Field and Munnery.  The limber rhythm section moves things along: Sjostrom, as always doing the work of two or perhaps three men, playing rhythm and soloing.  After Tom ends his solo with a “Holiday for Strings” lick, Munnery comes on like a supple Harlem trombonist c. 1931, with easy grace.  Pletcher’s solo outing is full of Bix sound-castles, beautiful architecture, but I would also have you listen closely to Nick Ward’s rocking choke-cymbal (and then his accents behind Field on what Jo Jones used to call “elephants’ nuts”).  Feld is deep into the idiom, but he doesn’t copy anyone’s phrases.  Spats (at Pletcher’s direction) takes a winsome vocal, backed by Barnhart and then Sjostrom.  When Frans solos, it’s easy to get swept away in his pure sound — but on a second listening, one comes to admire the shapes of his phrases, echoing the whole reed tradition.  Jeff Barnhart drifts into some nifty Zez Confrey flourishes in the middle of his solo, paving the way for a fervent but still measured ensemble, driven home by Nick once again.

“Roses of Picardy,” a sentimental favorite from the First World War, is even better.  It was the last tune of the set, and (as often happens) all the horns and the players and their instruments had warmed up.  I can’t connect Bix with this song, but it was a popular favorite of his teens.  Everyone is even more lyrical — Frans, Tom, a very Russellish Field, Langham blending Django and Lang, and Munnery, leading into the final ensemble.  Although the audience drowns out Nick Ward’s break, we know it was there, so that will have to do.  What great ease!

Some discographical comments:

I first heard Nick Ward, Spats Langham, and Norman Field on a Stomp Off CD, THE CHALUMEAU SERENADERS (1394) which also features the reed wizard Matthias Seuffert in the front line.  Spats appeared on only one track — a vocal on a song I associate with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, “Okay, Baby,” but his singing was so wonderful that I sought out the two Lake CDs he had made under his own name — a duet with pianist Martin Litton called LOLLIPOPS (LACD 226) and a small band — also featuring Norman! — THE HOTTEST MAN IN TOWN (LACD 228).  The duet album has its serenely beautiful moments; the small band is cheerfully frisky.  Norman shows off his beautiful alto work as well on these CDs.  And Nick Ward is a quiet powerhouse, rocking the band without getting loud or louder.

I apologize for my not having any Paul Munnery CDs to report on — but a bit of online research suggests that he is a Higginbotham – Nanton man on CD, so I will look for his smaller group, SWING STREET, and his work with a big repertory band, HARLEM.

Jeff Barnhart has made many CDs with multi-instrumentalist Jim Fryer, and he’s also recorded a lovely solo piano CD for Arbors, IN MY SOLITUDE (19324).

I’ve praised Frans Sjostrom elsewhere in this blog and will continue to do so: search out his extraordinary HOT JAZZ TRIO on the Kenneth label (CKS 3417) with Bent Persson, and he also is an essential part of the ensemble on I’M GLAD: TOM PLETCHER AND THE CLASSIC JAZZ BAND (Stomp Off 1353).  Tom has appeared on many earlier vinyl issues with the Sons of Bix — have they made it to CD?  But most recently, he has impresed me deeply on CD, not as a player, but as a writer and annotator of a most special kind.  Many of you will know of Tom’s late father, Stewart (or Stu or even Stew) Pletcher, a wonderfully lyrical player whose most notable recordings were made as a member of Red Norvo’s Thirties orchestra and combos.  I was delighted that the Jazz Oracle label issued THE STORY OF STEWART PLETCHER (BDW 8055) in 2007.  Marvelously researched as always, it gives a thorough picture of Pletcher Sr.’s playing — through rare recordings, of course, from 1924 to 1937.  That would be enough for me.  But I was tremendously moved by his son’s essay on his father.  It is loving yet candid, a tribute to a man much-loved but not always easy to know.  I do not overpraise it by calling it an affecting memoir, honoring both father and son at once.

If you don’t know these players, I hope I’ve given you reason to regret your previous ignorance and repent yourselves of it as soon as possible.

P.S.  The espression “What fun!” comes from Liadain O’Donovan — of Kinvara, Dalkey, New York, and San Francisco — and I hope she doesn’t mind my borrowing it.