Here are two savory solo piano performances by John Sheridan, almost a decade ago, having his own kind of intent fun at the piano in the parlor of the Hotel Athenaeum, the Friday afternoon before the proceedings officially began.
John had a vast repertoire, so these two performances — riotous yet exact, meditative yet focused — are simply two aspects of his multifarious self. I invite you to savor them, and also share my slight amusement at John’s crisp rapport with the listeners, never mean-spirited but always slightly brusque, at least on the surface.
COME BACK, SWEET PAPA, by Paul Barbarin and Luis Russell, made immortal by Louis Armstrong in Chicago, 1926. Verse and chorus, delightfully orchestral and vivid:
and the other end of the emotional spectrum, a ruminative impressionistic THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE by Eastwood Lane, a composer and composition Bix Beiderbecke knew well:
It’s easy to say that artists are immortal as long as their art is within reach, and it’s true . . . but I wish the telephone would ring and John would be on the other end. Seeing and hearing him, however, is a delight, even if tinged with regret.
Since I’ve been collecting recordings of jazz music in every conceivable form for over fifty years, I don’t always know what I have — which makes for a certain disorganization. (Some people I know have spreadsheets, indices, notebooks of their holdings: not me.) But it also makes for delirious surprises, one of which I will share with you.
The eminent (and generous-spirited) jazz writer and historian Derek Coller was at the 1975 Nice Jazz Festival, an experience I envy. But he also brought along a portable cassette recorder, and sent me copies for me of the tapes he achieved. Wonderful gifts. The sound isn’t recording-studio, and there is talk from enthusiastic fans, but the results are priceless.
Here is the last set of July 23, 1975: Dick Sudhalter, cornet; George Barnes, electric guitar; Joe Venuti, violin; Marty Grosz, guitar; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums, paying tribute to the dear boy from Davenport, Iowa. Everyone is in wonderful form — even though Joe is characteristically a little overbearing — but the hero of this set is George Barnes, leaping in at wonderfully odd angles, honoring a musician and an inspiration.
JAZZ ME BLUES / SUNDAY [a few measures missing, possibly the tape being turned over] / BLUE RIVER (Sudhalter-Grosz) / SWEET SUE (Sudhalter out) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SAN //
Somewhere, Bix is grinning, because these noble creatures had the right idea: follow their impulses, and who knows what’s coming next? — rather than bowing down to the past. I hope you agree.
One of Marty Grosz’s favorite vaudeville bits is to announce the next number, and say “. . . performed with dispatch and vigor,” and then motion to two musicians near him, saying, “That’s Dispatch, and that’s Vigor.” How old it is I don’t know, but it still provokes a laugh from me and the audience. (The expression goes back to the eighteenth century and before: it crops up in a letter from George Washington, which would please Marty if he doesn’t already know it.)
Perhaps the earliest recording we have of Marty (then playing a four-string guitar) and his miraculous colleague Frank Chace dates from 1951, issued on a limited edition 10″lp by THE INTENSELY VIGOROUS JAZZ BAND. The personnel is John Dengler, cornet; Marty Ill, trombone; Frank Chace, clarinet; Hal Cabot, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Stan Bergen, drums. Princeton, New Jersey, May 1951. I have a copy here somewhere, but it proves elusive. From what I remember of the liner notes, Marty and Frank were ringers, added to the Princeton students’ band of the time.
Through the good offices of the very generous collector Hot Jazz 78rpms — who shares marvels regularly on his YouTube channel — I can offer you all of this rather grainy but certainly precious disc. But before you leap into auditory splendor, may I caution you: not everyone on this session is at the same level, but it would be wrong to give it only a passing grade as “semi-pro college Dixieland.” Close listening will reveal subtleties, even in the perhaps overfamiliar repertoire. Marty, Frank, and John shine. And the three Princetonians, none of whom went on to jazz fame, play their roles. With dispatch and vigor.
NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:
BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES (a memorable Chace chorus):
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
THE SHEIK OF ARABY (my favorite):
BASIN STREET BLUES:
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:
and, yes, WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN with some of its original luster intact:
Intense, vigorous, and joyous too. And if you hear echoes of Eddie, Charles Ellsworth, Bix, and their friends, that’s not a bad thing.
My time machine won’t go back to 1935 and the Reno Club, nor to Fifty-Second Street, no matter how hard I twist the dials, but it does go back to 1970 — audio only — and 2009 — adding video. One of the great pleasures of this century for me was being allowed to bring my video camera to what was Jazz at Chautauqua and then took on different names and a different venue. We miss it terribly. But some wonderful evidence remains.
It was held during a long weekend late in September at the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua, New York, and its founder Joe Boughton had certain rituals in scheduling. Friday afternoon, solo piano recitals in the parlor; Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon were for organized sets in the large ballroom.
But Thursday night was informal, because musicians and guests arrived as they could — for me, it was about a seven-hour trip there whether I drove or flew to Buffalo — but certain rituals were observed. I believe the open bar opened itself around 5 PM, and the line for the buffet dinner began also. At around 6, music began in the smaller back room, and I learned quickly to bring my plate, my knapsack of video equipment there rather than dining like a civilized person at a table among others. (“I can always eat, but I can’t miss this set,” I reminded myself.)
I’m not exaggerating when I say some of the best musical moments of this century, for me, took place on those Thursday evenings. Sometimes the piano wasn’t perfect, or I had to sit behind friends and shoot video with their heads as part of the scenery, but those sessions are joyous memories. And they exist to be shared with the faithful. The little ad hoc groupings didn’t have official leaders, but someone might suggest a tune that everyone knew, they would agree on a ley and tempo, and magic would happen.
It did on Thursday, September 19, 2013, thanks to Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Andy Schumm, cornet; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums. They did three classic standards; they had fun; so did we.
A SAILBOAT IN THE MOONLIGHT, which suggests what might have happened if Bix had lived into 1937:
I have a real affection for the recordings and performances of the New York Jazz Repertory Company: a floating all-star ensemble I saw in person in 1974 and 1975, honoring Louis and Bix, among others.
At their best, they were expert, passionate, and evocative — the supporting players were the best studio players / jazz improvisers who could sight-read with elan and then solo eloquently. And they always had the best ancestral guest stars: in the concerts I saw, Ruby Braff, Ray Nance, Vic Dickenson, Taft Jordan, Chauncey Morehouse, Paul Mertz, and Joe Venuti. I can’t leave out the superb guidance and playing of Dick Hyman, whose idiosyncratic brilliance is always a transforming force.
Later in the Seventies, someone, probably George Wein, understood that the NYJRC was a compact, portable way of not only reproducing great performances but in taking jazz history, effectively presented, on the road, to France, the USSR, and elsewhere. Thus they made appearances at festivals and did extensive tours — bringing POTATO HEAD BLUES with Louis’ solo scored for three trumpets, frankly electrifying, as I can testify.
Here they are at the Nice Jazz Festival, making Bix come alive by (with some exceptions) not playing his recorded solos, gloriously. And the rhythm section swings more than on the 1928 OKehs, which would have pleased Bix, who didn’t want to be tied to what he’d played in 1923. Occasionally the “big band” tends to be a fraction of a second behind where one would like it, and Spiegle Willcox uncharacteristically gets lost in a solo . . . but the music shines, especially since this is the joyous evocation of Bix rather than the too-often heard elegies for his short life. My small delight is that someone — Pee Wee Erwin — quotes SHINE ON, HARVEST MOON in the last sixteen bars of AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL. And Dick Sudhalter and Bob Wilber positively gleam throughout.
The collective personnel: Dick Hyman, piano, leader; Dick Sudhalter, cornet, flugelhorn; Spiegle Willcox, trombone; Bob Wilber, clarinet, reeds; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; Pee Wee Erwin, Ernie Royal, Jimmie Maxwell, trumpet; Budd Johnson, Arnie Lawrence, Norris Turney, Haywood Henry, reeds; Britt Woodman, Eddie Bert, and one other, trombone.
RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE / DAVENPORT BLUES (Sudhalter, flugelhorn – Hyman) / IN THE DARK (Bucky, Hyman, Duvivier) / ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (Sudhalter, Turney) / IN A MIST (Hyman) / CLEMENTINE (Sudhalter, unid. tbn, Bucky, Hyman / JAZZ ME BLUES (Sudhalter, Spiegle, Wilber, Hyman — playing Bix’s solo) / SWEET SUE (Spiegle, Bucky, Wilber, Sudhalter playing the 1928 solo) / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL //
This televised presentation was designed to show what the NYJRC could “do”: a varied selection of music across decades and styles. I will post another segment, by “The Unobstructed Orchestra,” soon.
Forty-five minutes of the past made completely alive.
May your happiness increase!
Postscript, which could be called ON THE FUNCTION OF CRITICISM. A few minutes after I’d posted this, someone I don’t know wrote to comment on YouTube: I offer an edited version: “The great weakness of this re-creation is Z, I am sure he plays all the notes, but somehow it does not work at 100%. L was still a good mainstream player and the rythm section is very adequate, P consistently good.”
I find this irksome, perhaps out of proportion to the size of the offense, and, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But to make it public, in print, is upsetting to me — as if the commenter had been invited to my house for dinner and, upon being served, told me that my place settings were somehow not up to his standards. I do not like everything I hear, but I think “criticism” of this sort contributes nothing to the discussion, except, perhaps, a buffing of the ego of the commentator, who Knows What’s Good.
I am aware that this is hugely anachronistic, out of place in 2021, but I bridle when my heroes are insulted . . .
Because I followed Ruby Braff around circa 1971-82, I had many opportunities to see him in a variety of contexts. But I saw him in duet with Dick Hyman only twice, I think, and neither time was Dick playing the gorgeous pipe organ he has at his command here. Thank goodness for the BBC, which took the opportunity of recording Ruby and Dick in concert at a spot which had an actual Wurlitzer pipe organ.
I’d heard this forty-minute session on a cassette from a British collector, but only this year — through the kindness of a scholar-friend did I get to see the performance and have an opportunity to share it with you. The details:
Dick Hyman, Wurlitzer pipe organ; Ruby Braff, cornet, introduced by Russell Davies. SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH / THEM THERE EYES / LOUISIANA / HIGH SOCIETY / WHEN I FALL IN LOVE / JITTERBUG WALTZ (Braff out) / BASIN STREET BLUES. Recorded for broadcast on the BBC at the Thursford Fairground Museum, Norfolk, UK. A few audio and video defects come with the package: the occasional pink hue, the slight static. I’m not complaining. Annotations thanks to Thomas P. Hustad’s definitive bio-discography of Ruby Braff, BORN TO PLAY (Scarecrow Press, 2012).
Music that impresses the angels and moves the heavens. And speaking of blessedness, let us honor the durably lovely Dick Hyman, still making celestial sounds.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal.
I’ve already posted MILENBERG JOYS, BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN, CLARINET MARMALADE, WHISPERING, EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT, and YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT — one pleasure for each day of the week.
Here are two Twenties classics, glorious hot music, the last evidence of what was a stunning evening.
and FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE:
Now. This concert ended (for those who were there) and the nine performances I’ve posted are also, in their own way, glorious yet finite. Suppose you thirst for more of the hot music Colin and friends create? If you live in New York City or nearby, you can visit him on various gigs . . . but you might also want to have a little shiny plastic hour of superb joys for your very own. Hence, I urge you to investigate his new CD on the Rivermont Records label, COLLEGIATE.
and here’s what I had to say about it just a few days ago:
I’ve admired Colin Hancock since 2017, when I heard the first disc by the Original Cornell Syncopators — a group of wonderfully gifted college students who were majoring in everything except music — who romped through Twenties tunes with enthusiasm, vigor, and feeling. They are my living answer to “Jazz is dead.” “Young people only want to play Charlie Parker solos.” “No one under seventy really knows how to play Hot,” and other widely-circulated falsehoods.
I knew that Colin and “the Syncs,” as those in the know, call them, had recorded a new CD for Rivermont Records, its repertoire focused on music composed, played, recorded by Twenties ensembles with connections to college life. From what I know of Colin and a number of his colleagues, I expected that the results would be well-researched and historically accurate, and that I would hear music new to me, played idiomatically. I knew that the results would also be fun, spirited, enthusiastic: playful rather than white-gloves dry reverence. I knew the band would be mostly Youngbloods (with the exception of guest pianist Ed Clute and banjo-guitar master Robbert VanRenesse) that they would be ethnically diverse, with women as well as men sharing the limelight as instrumentalists as well as singers.
Yesterday I had errands to do, so I brought the disc with me to play in my car — my mobile studio — and I was astonished by how compelling it was, how fine — well beyond my already high expectations. I know it’s an oxymoron, but the words “ferocious polish” kept coming to my mind as I listened, and if you’d seen me at a red light, you’d wonder why that driver was grinning and nodding his head in time. I hadn’t read the notes (a forty-page booklet, with contributions by Julio Schwarz-Andrade, Colin, Hannah Krall, Andy Senior, Bryan Wright) and had only a vague idea of the repertoire, so in some ways I was the ideal listener, ready to hear the music without the historical apparatus and the assumptions it would necessarily impose.
I will write here what another reviewer would save as the closing “pull quote”: if you take any pleasure in the music that was American pop — not just hot jazz — before the Second World War, you will delight in COLLEGIATE.
You can hear selections from the recording, purchase a CD or download the music here. There are tastes from COLLEGIATE, MAPLE LEAF RAG, CONGAINE, ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP, CATARACT RAG BLUES, SAN, PERUNA, EVERY EVENING, SICK O’LICKS, IF I’M WITHOUT YOU — songs whose names will conjure up Twenties joys, Earl Hines, Jimmie Noone, Scott Joplin, and the ODJB . . but other songs and performances have connections to Ted Weems, Hal Kemp, Curtis Hitch, the Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band, Jimmie Lunceford, the Cornell Collegians, Zach Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, Charlie Davis, Stu Pletcher and Carl Webster’s Yale Collegians.
What’s so good about it? The selections are beautifully played — with joy and spirit — and expansively recorded. When the whole ensemble gets going (and do they ever!) I thought I was listening to what the Paul Whiteman Orchestra must have sounded like in its heroic orchestral glory: the band and the recording have expansive life. And the solos are lyrical as well as hot, fully “in the idiom.” A good deal of this music has its roots in the Middle West rather than the South . . . so even though it may strike people who revere Louis as I do as heresy, the disc is delightful living proof that other, convincing, kinds of hot improvised music were being played and sung that owed little to Armstrongiana except for ingenuity and rhythmic enthusiasm.
I think of it as a good-natured rebuke to another stereotype, that “collegiate jazz” of the Twenties was primarily groups of young men jamming on pop tunes and originals of the day — I think of Squirrel Ashcraft and his friends, and it’s true that this CD has a goodly share of small-band hot . . . but that oversimplification is rather like saying that the Twenties = flappers, flivvers, and raccoon coats. The research that Colin and others have done results in a presentation that is imaginative and expansive: the twenty performances here are a kind of aesthetic kaleidoscope, all of it coming from similar syncopated roots but with delightfully varied results. No cliches.
And maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but the music produced by college students and graduates a hundred years later has a kind of spiritual authenticity. There is a good deal of thin, fragile “authenticity” out there among people attempting to play “vintage” music: this recording is real, both grounded and soaring.
The ensembles are wonderfully cohesive: that the players aren’t full-time musicians is something amazing. And there are vocal trios. I want nothing more. Everyone here is magna cum laude. And there was, as trumpeter-vocalist Lior Kreindler says in the video, marveling, “magic going on.”
As James Chirillo has been known to say after a particularly satisfying session, “Music was made.” That it was, last Sunday afternoon in the bright sunshine (and cooling breezes) in front of the Ear Inn on 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. The EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Ricky Alexander, clarinet and tenor saxophone. But before a note had been played, Jon-Erik noticed that theCheckEngine light was shining from his trumpet, so he absented himself for a bit to get it looked at, secure that music would be made in his absence. (He came back before the set was over.)
This was a novel instrumentation, one that might have been either earthbound or unbalanced in the hands of lesser musicians. But the synergy here was more than remarkable, and the pleasure created in each chorus was palpable. This hot chamber trio — soaring, lyrical, rambunctious — performed six songs in their trio set. Here are the first three, to be savored.
SUNDAY, which goes back to 1926 (think Jean Goldkette and Cliff Edwards) but was also a favorite of Lester Young. Here, the Mini-EarRegulars also play the verse, an unexpected pleasure:
UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE was one of Frank Chace’s favorite songs, and I think of the tender version by Ella and Louis. A rarity, though: when was the last time you heard a group play it?
And Edgar Sampson’s rocking BLUE LOU:
A fellow listener turned to me between songs and said, marveling, “Aren’t they grand?” I agreed, as I hope you would have also.
Music like this nourishes the soul, so it’s not surprising that many jazz classics are — actually or metaphorically — connected to food. Here are three stirring examples. Dig in!
HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN, in honor of Freddie Keppard:
Albanie Falletta and Arnt Arntzen have fun with BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, thinking of Louis and May Alix:
And Colin’s second foray into that new technology: CLARINET MARMALADE, two ways:
Those are the basic food groups: ingest these portions of joy and you’ll have your hot nourishment for today. And in case you missed the previous spiritual sustenance from that evening, here it is:
and even more:
And — this just in, from Colin, whom I am honored to say is a pal — news of a Father’s Day gig: “It’s myself on cornet and reeds, Ricky Alexander on more reeds, Josh Dunn on guitar (and maybe banjo), and Julian Johnson on drums and washboard. Gonna be doing some hot Jimmie Noone style stuff as well as just a bunch of good old good ones! 1-3 at Freehold in the Park, on the North side of Union Square.” That’s Greenwich Village, New York. Details (and reservations) here.
It was a wonderful evening, and this post is simply to say so — a review of the Broadway opening the next morning — and to share the joys. The event, to give it its official title, was SOUNDS OF THE JAZZ AGE with COLIN HANCOCK’S RED HOT EIGHT, and it was held on the back deck of the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, overseen by the very kind and efficient Brett Messenger.
The purveyors of joy were Colin, trumpet, tenor saxophone, and imagination; Vince Giordano, bass saxophone, string bass, tuba, and vocal; Dan Levinson, clarinet, alto saxophone; Troy Anderson, tenor and soprano saxophone; Mike Davis, cornet, trombone, mouthpiece, vocal; Julian Johnson, drums; Albanie Falletta, resonator guitar, vocal; Arnt Arntzen, banjo, guitar, vocal. The scope of the program was narrow in time — perhaps 1920-1928 — but transcontinentally and stylistically broad. Arranged passages sat neatly next to explosive hot improvisations; dance-band melodies, “hot dance” rhythms, and small-band ecstasies nestled comfortably against the setting sun as they did in real life Jazz Age dance halls, speakeasies, malt shoppes, and recording studios.
They started off with FIDGETY FEET, with no lesson in sight, except to demonstrate, “We are here to play lively living music,” and they succeeded. Next, Art Hickman’s pretty 1920 standard ROSE ROOM, its origin in San Francisco, which has had a long life, both in its own clothing and as IN A MELLOTONE — displaying a lovely passage scored for two saxophones, in this case Dan and Troy. Someone wandering by might have thought, “This is tea-dance music,” but it had a hot pulse with rocking solos, and the genre-sliding was more than entertaining. From Hickman, Colin moved to the great star of Twenties music — call it and him what you will — Paul Whiteman — for an idiomatic and swinging WHISPERING with a patented crooning chorus by Mike Davis. I know this sentence is unsubtle, but Colin and his Eight made no artificial distinctions between “sweet” music as played by white bands and “hot” music played by their black counterparts, acknowledging without lecturing us that there was no dividing line between the two.
Colin then nodded to the great Twenties phenomenon of recordings of the blues and bent that definition to include a jolly YOU’VE GOTTA SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, which is, after all, good advice, if Mama wants all that attention. Bennie Moten’s frolicsome EIGHTEENTH STREET STRUT and LOUISIANA, subtle homage to both Whiteman and Beiderbecke, followed — the band hitting on all cylinders, the audience enthusiastic, the sky darkening (as it should) and the stage lighting properly illuminating the players.
I can’t have been the only one in the audience who was hungry (it had been a long ride to Morristown) so I was happy to hear two songs about food, however indirectly: the Keppard-flavored HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN and Louis’ Hot Five I WANT A BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN, with hilarious vocals by Albanie and Arnt. Vince sang THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE in a truly hot version (Dan evoked Frank Teschemacher) that summoned up the Austin High Gang. In honor of Red Nichols and the whole tradition of Sam Lanin, there was FIVE FOOT TWO, EYES OF BLUE.
A “Jazz Age” concert typically would end with a lengthy rousing closer — this one took a slightly different turn, with fairly brief (although searing) renditions of MILENBERG JOYS and CLARINET MARMALADE not only played but recorded on the spot on a vintage phonograph — and the records played back on the spot. It was a wonderful demonstration of the new technology, great hot music (we applauded the live rendition, we applauded the record) and wonderful theatre.
I won’t praise every musician — you will hear for yourself — but the patriarchs of Twenties jazz were cheered and inspired by the youngbloods on the stand. And Colin (whose solos were intense and incendiary) found ways to show the depth and breadth of this music, avoiding the overused repertoire (no DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, for one) and sketching in a vast panorama of joyous sounds that moved all around the country and also — without slighting him — said politely, “Louis Armstrong brought his own way to play, but not everyone went in his direction all the time.”
Here’s MILENBERG JOYS, which shows off the band and Colin’s easy scholarship — history made alive and in delighted motion. I’ve edited the video so you at home don’t have to sit through the necessary non-musical portions. What a show!
The Morris Museum had held concerts on the Back Deck through the pandemic, cheers to them, so the singles and couples last night in their lawn chairs had a good deal of space. It was easy for me to imagine the heroic shades of the past — Louis and Jimmy Joy, Art Hickman and Jack Pettis, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, Sam Lanin and Ben Selvin, Ikey Robinson and Kaiser Marshall, George Johnson and Vic Berton, Adrian Rollini and Freddie Keppard, Eva Taylor and Clarence Williams, all the cats from the ODJB and the NORK, Bix and Tram, Bennie Moten and May Alix and a hundred others, comfortable in lawn chairs, grinning their faces off at the living energized evocation of the music they made about a hundred years ago.
“The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.”
Were you there to share the joys? I hope so. Bless Colin, Vince, Dan, Troy, Mike, Julian, Albanie, Arnt — the heroes among us — and the enthusiastic audience.
And yes, there will be more videos. But . . . if you want more concerts, you have to leave your house.
I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve. Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power. The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.
But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone. Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece. Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter. The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:
These four shining performances, and the context in which they were created, made me think of Samuel Beckett, “After all, when you are in the last bloody ditch, there is nothing left but to sing.” Beckett was talking about the Irish, beset by enemies, but his words so well depict these musicians playing as if everyone’s life depended on it in the face of death.
Michael McQuaid with the Vitality Five, February 2019, photo by Michel Piedallu.
The pandemic doesn’t need any explication. Michael McQuaid’s Melodians do, an all-star group . . . and I do not use that term lightly . . . playing Chicago jazz — three performances that nod to 1927-28 recordings with Muggsy Spanier, Frank Teschemacher, Gene Krupa, Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, and Bud Freeman, and one (I MUST BE DREAMING) as homage to the Wolverines. The participants: Michael McQuaid, clarinet and arrangements; Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; David Horniblow, tenor sax; Andrew Oliver, piano; Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham, banjo; Louis Thomas, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.
Please note that these performances, so nicely captured for us by Stephen Paget, follow the outline of the recordings (in three cases) but the soloists go for themselves, most gloriously. The original players were innovative; these heroic descendants are also.
SUGAR (echoing McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans):
THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE (shades of the Chicago Rhythm Kings):
BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (thinking of everyone!):
I MUST BE DREAMING (new to me, a homage to the Wolverines, but recorded by the All Star Orchestra, Seger Ellis, Joe Venuti, and Bob Haring):
Bless these expert generous players, who give so much. They can be part of the collective soundtrack while we dream of a more spacious future.
It’s too late to call for reservations, and — for the Corrections Officers out there — it is late for Bix Beiderbecke’s birthday party, but neither he nor Eddie nor the people in this ninety-minute celebration would object to a little after-party, modeled on a 1944 Condon Town Hall concert where Bix was the subject.
Here’s the roadmap, more or less: Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee talks about Max Kaminsky, who couldn’t come / Connie Jones, Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Art Poncheri, trombone; Jimmy Hamilton, baritone saxophone; Brooks Tegler, drums; Larry Eanet, piano; Tommy Cecil, string bass; Marty Grosz, guitar, vocal: FIDGETY FEET / Grosz, Connie BECAUSE MY BABY DON’T MEAN “MAYBE” NOW / Grosz, Steve Jordan, guitar: DAVENPORT BLUES / I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN Gordon announces and tells a Condon joke, Hamilton plays clarinet / add Kenny Davern, clarinet; Saunders, Poncheri, Tommy Gwaltney, clarinet: BIG BOY / Eanet CANDLELIGHTS-IN THE DARK-IN A MIST / Betty Comora, vocal; Connie, rhythm THE MAN I LOVE / WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE FC, add Marty for the chords / Betty I GOT RHYTHM / Connie, Saunders, Davern, Gwaltney, Gordon, Poncheri, Hamilton, FC [kazoo], Cecil, Brooks, Grosz JAZZ ME BLUES / TIN ROOF sign-off with kazoo, Davern on mouthpiece // “Hayloft Dinner Theatre,” Virginia, Saturday night, set two, May 20, 1989:
Louis, Bix, Brad, Gene, Jack, Buck, Pee Wee, and company . . . all in less than a dozen minutes. These delicious scraps come from the collection of John L. Fell — a potpourri he sent to me around 1987, some seen in the case above. This is part of my crusade (obsession?) to share the music with you.
From “The World Series of Jazz” [Quaker City Jazz Festival] in Philadelphia, CBS Radio, August 28, 1960, I FOUND A NEW BABY, featuring Gene Krupa, Pee Wee Russell, and Buck Clayton, probably Eddie Wasserman, tenor saxophone; Ronnie Ball, piano; Kenny O’Brien, bass.
An undetermined place and time, Jack Teagarden playing along with the 1928 Bix and his Gang recording of MARGIE.
Louis (and the All-Stars with Trummy Young, Ed Hall) selling Rheingold beer, October 1956.
Brad Gowans elaborates on the beautiful theme of JADA, perhaps his feature with the “Sextet from Hunger” transcription group.
The only problem is that now I want a beer, and it’s not even noon. Such is the power of Louis.
Ray Skjelbred is one of my favorite artists — his scope is too large to be confined to “pianist,” and his Cubs are a favorite band of mine. I can’t say that the pandemic has brought an onslaught of pleasures, but the absence of real-time gigs has sent me back to my archives, and I find many unseen video-recordings of Ray and his Cubs, which it is my pleasure to share with you.
The Cubs are a winning team, although they don’t employ the usual sporting goods: rather, they create uplifting music no matter where they are or what the tempo is. This performance of a song associated with Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines took place during Ray’s mid-summer 2014 California tour (here, they are playing for the Napa Valley Dizieland Jazz Society). The Cubs — bless them! — are Ray, piano, occasional vocal, ethical guidance; Jeff Hamilton, drums and slyness; Clint Baker, string bass, occasional vocal, moral rectitude; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar, occasional vocal, warmth; Kim Cusack, clarinet, occasional vocal; whimsical sagacity. If you know Claude Hopkins, you’ll get the reference to THE TRAFFIC WAS TERRIFIC, but the Cubs’ vibrations come right through.
Speaking of “big boys,” a story of dubious relevance. Decades ago, my friend Stu (who reads this blog) and I went to lunch at a kosher delicatessen. I was hungry and ordered a good deal of food; Stu had eaten and said to the very theatrical woman holding her pad and pencil, “I’ll just have an order of fries,” which we did as a matter of course then. She looked aghast and said, mixing mock-horror and mock-solicitude, “Such a small portion for such a BIG BOY?” but Stu resisted the Sirens’ song.
All I will say is that this performance — by the clock — is a small portion; it would fit on a V-Disc, but it is a tableful of joy. And there’s more to come.
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.
In the darkness, there are gratifying rays of light. You can define that sentence in your own ways, but I have the pleasure of introducing you to a new band, the Forest Hill Owls.
I assume that the avian part of the name is homage both to the swinging New Orleans band who decided that would be a good animal to model themselves on, and the owls’ reputation for wisdom, inscrutability, and nocturnal energies. (I could be completely wrong, and one of the Owls I know will write in to correct me: it could simply be that there are owls in Forest Hill.)
Chris Lowe, trombonist and leader, tells me that Forest Hill is a part of London where several members of the band live. Nothing elusive about that. They are, from the back, Nicholas D. Ball on drums, David Horniblow on bass saxophone, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo, Michael McQuaid on alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tom Dennis on trumpet. I feel very fraternal about this band, since I have met, chatted with, and admired in person Messrs. Nick, Martin, and Michael; I know and admire David from recordings. Chris and Tom are new to me, but I salute them also.
Here’s what they look like:
and here’s what they sound like. Prepare yourself for exuberance that clearly knows the way.
First, ALICE BLUE GOWN:
and POOR PAPA, one of those Twenties sagas of marriage imbalance, at least in financial terms, sung by Chris:
Subscribe to their YouTube channel here: I did, not wanting to miss a note.
The virtues of the band are immediately and joyously evident: their merging of respect for past traditions (as manifested by Miff Mole and his Molers and the Goofus Five in these two videos) but their delight in going for themselves. They are not afraid to swing; their solo voices are so distinctive, as is the synergy of the band.
I look forward to more video-performances and I hope, when life returns to some semblance of what we know and love, live gigs, audiences, prosperity. Until then, I’ll keep watching these two videos: better than coffee for reminding the nervous system about the joys of being fully awake — which is what the Forest Hill Owls truly are.
“She plays a mean castanet.” What better compliment could one receive?
Delicious hot music from the recent past. Come closer, please.
Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang perform this venerable song, one many of you know because of Bix and Goldkette — verse and chorus, and lyrics — for our delight at the Redwood Coast Music Festival on May 12, 2019. The gifted co-conspirators alongside Dave are Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Wally Hersom, string bass; Nate Ketner, clarinet; Marc Caparone, cornet.
There was no Redwood Coast Music Festival in May 2020 because of certain cosmic problems you might have been aware of. However, brothers and sisters, one is planned for September 30 – October 3, 2021. We live in hope, as my mother used to say.
Because the microphone setup doesn’t always favor rapid-fire lyrics, especially from someone so animated as Dave, I reprint the words (by Henry Creamer: music by none other than Harry Warren) so you can sing along:
VERSE: Say, look up the street, / Look up the street right now! / Hey, look at her feet, / Isn’t she neat, and how! / Oh, ain’t she a darlin’, / Oh, isn’t she sweet, / That baby you’re wild to meet! / Here comes Miss Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans, / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! /
CHORUS: She has those flashing eyes, / The kind that can hypnotize, / And when she rolls ’em, pal, / Just kiss your gal goodbye! / And oh, oh, oh, when she starts dancing, / She plays a mean castanet, / You won’t forget, I mean, / Down in that Creole town / Are wonderful gals around, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans! / Now, you talk about Tabasco mamas, / Lulu Belles and other charmers, / She’s the baby that made the farmers / Raise a lot of cane! / She vamped a guy named Old Bill Bailey, / In the dark she kissed him gaily, / Then he threw down his ukulele / And he prayed for rain! / Look out for Clementine, / That baby from New Orleans. / She’s only seventeen, / But what a queen, oh my! / She has two yearning lips, / But her kisses are burning pips. / They make the fellows shout, / Lay right down and die die die! / Her dancing movements / Have improvements, / She shakes a mean tambourine / Out where the grass is green. / I’ve seen asbestos dames / Who set the whole town in flames, / But none like Clementine from New Orleans!
AND “She shakes a mean tambourine”!
So, make a space on your 2021 calendar for the RCMF. Bring your partner and the family. But perhaps leave the castanets and tambourine at home.
And, to pass the time, Dave Stuckey has been doing a series of virtual Facebook broadcasts of songs — he sings, he plays. Relaxing, refreshing, and my spiritual gas tank gets filled:
The inspiring and inspired Ms. Asher, in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Some new compact discs lend themselves to instant approving review; others, I love but have to take time to write about with proper appreciation. Their impact has to sink in.
Emily Asher‘s latest, IF I WERE A WINDOW, is one of the second kind. It’s not because I had to look under the bed to find the adjectives. Rather, it is like a slim volume of short stories with each story so full of flavor, so different from its neighbors, so that I couldn’t read them all in one sitting. The sensory offerings are so rich, each one its own multi-layered narrative, that I had to take my time and listen to at most two or three performances at a time.
If that has scared off prospective buyers (“Oh, no! This sounds like work!”) let me assure you that this recording is fun and lively and full of good surprises. You’ll be dancing in the kitchen as you carefully (with gloves) remove the seeds from the hot peppers that are going to be part of dinner.
I think I first encountered Emily a decade ago, sitting in at the Ear Inn — in itself a mark of achievement — and was delighted by this elegant young woman who got around the horn so nimbly but also understood the trombone’s less polite origins. Later, I saw her with her own Garden Party and other assemblages, and she was a charming mixture of earnestness, playfulness, and deep feeling: playing, singing, composing. As she is now.
You can read the names of the performers in the photograph below, but they are so admirable that I should write them again: Emily Asher, Mike Davis, Jay Rattman, James Chirillo, Dalton Ridenhour, Rob Adkins, Jay Lepley, Sam Hoyt. They are musical heroes to me, and if you’ve not made their acquaintance, be prepared to be impressed by them as soloists, as ensemble players, as thoughtful soulful artists.
Emily has described the CD as a mix of hot jazz and songs inspired by “the Southern Sun,” as she encountered it in her extended stay in Oaxaca, Mexico. Let us start with some Davenport-infused hot jazz:
Emily’s done a good deal to celebrate the music of Hoagy Carmichael, so I couldn’t neglect her SMALL FRY:
Those performances of venerable tunes are what I would call Old Time Modern. No dust on them but a frisky liveliness in the solos and Emily’s singing (how deftly she winks at us through the lyrics: her phrasing is a marvel) — music that says, “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”
But Emily’s not content to sprawl on the couch and eat pistachios; she is a curious energized explorer. Here’s CHICO MEZCALERO, explication below:
This song, and several of her intriguing compositions, were inspired by her late-2019 trip to Oaxaca to learn Spanish, and they have the psychic depth of the short stories I mentioned above. CHICO MEZCALERO, “little boy mezcal maker,” came from her meeting just such a person at his family’s mezcal plant. She told Brian R. Sheridan in the August 2020 The Syncopated Times, “After I got back to New York, I was thinking about every step of how the mezcal is made — where the boy picks up pieces of the agave plant and throws them into a big smoking fire. I also thought about how his family makes their living, creating this spirit that is precious to the community there. I just sat and listened for the melody of that little boy . . . . ”
Few CDs that I know take listeners on a journey so evocatively.
Here’s Emily’s pensive hymnlike melody I find irresistible, as is its wistful title:
That melody and that performance remind me so beautifully of the Gil Evans – Miles Davis collaborations of the Fifties, and I’ve returned to this song several times in a row. I predict you will do the same with this CD and with the individual performances. They offer delightful evidence of the feathery breadth of Emily’s imaginations, the musical community she has nurtured, and the varied, rewarding results.
You can purchase the music — digitally or tangibly — here. This is a CD you won’t tire of.
And, in the name of self-indulgence, here are the Oaxaca Wanderers: I met them in 2008, and must ask Emily if she gigged with them. I hope they haven’t bought identical brightly-colored polo shirts (the band uniform with appropriate OW logo) since then.
The video captures a completely spur-of-the-moment session, arranged at a few minutes’ notice by Johnson (Fat Cat) McRee at the Manassas Jazz Festival. The trombonists are Spiegle Willcox, the Elder; George Masso, Herb Gardner, and Bill Allred. Happily, the last two are still with us and Herb is gigging in New England as I write this. The rhythm section is impressive as well: Dick Wellstood, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums. The repertoire is familiar and not complicated (the better to avoid train wrecks, my dear): JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / YES, SIR, THAT’S MY BABY / SUMMERTIME / RUNNIN’ WILD, and the eight gentlemen navigate it all with style and professionalism:
Some personal reflections: I never met Van Perry or Spiegle Willcox at close range, although I saw and heard Spiegle at one or two Bix-themed concerts performed by the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1973-4 (alongside Chauncey Morehouse). Herb Gardner stays in my mind in the nicest way because of more history: Sunday-afternoon gigs with Red Balaban at Your Father’s Mustache in New York City, where he ably played alongside Bobby Hackett, Doc Cheatham, Kenny Davern, and other luminaries. And Herb graciously gave me his OK to post this. I had the real privilege of meeting and hearing the very humble George Masso in 2012, playing alongside Ron Odrich, when George was 85, and he allowed me to video-record him also: see it here. Bill Allred, also a very kind man, brightened many sets at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party: you can find some performances including him on JAZZ LIVES: one, from 2015, here.
That rhythm section! As a 19-year old with a concealed cassette recorder, I was too timid to approach either Dick Wellstood or Cliff Leeman for a few words or an autograph, something I regret. But I just saw Marty Grosz this year — March 4th — at his ninetieth birthday party, so perhaps that makes up for the timidities of my youth? I doubt it, but it’s a useful if fleeting rationalization.
The music remains, and so do the players. This one’s for my dear friends Dick Dreiwitz and Joe McDonough, who know how to make lovely sounds on this instrument.