Tag Archives: Bob Casey

“I’LL PUT YOUR PICTURE IN THE PAPERS”

Several eBay rambles turned up a hoard of beautiful unseen portraits — from the archives of the photographic giant Brown Brothers (who, I believe, divested themselves of the print archives a number of years ago).  They remind me of a time when musicians, now obscure, were known to a large audience and had their remarkable faces in print.

Here are some of the treasures: the bidding was intense, so I did not acquire any of these, but the images are here for  you to admire for free.  The seller, evansarchive, has only one jazz photograph for sale as I write this, but the other photographs — film and stage actors — are equally fascinating.

Let us start with a particularly rare image — an unusual shot of the John Kirby Sextet on a very small bandstand, with glimpses of Kirby, Charlie Shavers, and Russell Procope (alas, no Buster Bailey) but a remarkable photograph of the short-lived drummer / vocalist O’Neil Spencer:

And here’s another under-celebrated hero, baritone saxophonist Jack Washington, definitely in action in the Count Basie band, with Vic Dickenson and another trombonist, possibly Bennie Morton, to his right.  Vic is ignoring the photographer, but Jack — I think — is a little suspicious of the flash camera so near to his face:

and the real prize (which eluded me), a portrait of Frank Newton on a job:

I suspect this is a spring or summertime gig, given the lightweight suits — at some point Newton put his hand in his right jacket pocket and the flap is half-undone. I can’t identify the pianist, and the club is not familiar to me (which makes me think of Boston rather than New York City) but Ernie Caceres is immediately identifiable — with clarinet rather than baritone saxophone — and the skeptical-looking trombonist (gig fatigue or suspicion of a flashbulb explosion) might be Wilbur DeParis.  But I’d love to know where and when: perhaps this is a hall rather than a jazz club?

Here’s composer, arranger, alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson in a photograph by Otto Hess:

Another Otto Hess photograph: Albert Nicholas and Zutty Singleton.  Does the wall covering suggest Jimmy Ryan’s?

Stuff Smith in action (the photographer crouched behind the drum kit and the flashbulb rendered the underside of the cymbal bright white:

Bobby Hackett at Carnegie Hall, Eddie Condon behind him:

and just in case anyone needed confirmation:

Erroll Garner:

Now, a few masterful percussionists.  Jimmie Crawford:

Ray Bauduc:

and someone identified as Bauduc, but clearly not.  Who’s it?

and some well-dressed luminaries who can certainly be identified, as well as the occasion — World Transcription session, 1944 — Wilbur DeParis, Bob Casey, and Pee Wee Russell:

From another source, Sidney Catlett in full flight.  I can hear this photograph:

As I said, once upon a time these people were stars in larger orbits.  Rather than mourn the shrinking of interest and knowledge, I celebrate the glorious circumstances that made these photographs “news.”

May your happiness increase!

 

KEVIN DORN and the SOCIAL DISTANCING JAZZ COLLECTIVE: "WOLVERINE BLUES" (March 19, 2020)

Years gone by: 2008.

I’ve known Kevin Dorn for nearly fifteen years now, and he beautifully balances the improvising musician and the improvising thinker.  Both his playing and his imagination have a rich orchestral beauty and solid originality; he also knows when to be richly silent, a rare gift.  Before the semi-quarantine (however you want to call it) changed our daily lives, I saw and heard Kevin at a session at Cafe Bohemia, where with his snare and wire brushes, he made us all levitate, without the need for oxygen masks to drop down from the ceiling.

and more recently . . . .

Yesterday, Kevin sent me an email with the subject line “Wolverine Blues,” and the text simply “Social Distancing version!”: which I can now share with you.  It’s a marvelous virtuoso excursion — Kevin dancing in and out of Condonia while being utterly himself:

Kevin modestly annotated this video as, “No one to play with, so it’s just the drum part.”  And that made me think of Larry Hart’s lyrics for THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, “Not a sign of people. / Who needs people?” which speaks to Kevin’s beautiful orchestral conception, his sounds, his variety, his ebullient motion.  But another part of my brain says, “I can hear Wild Bill, Cutty, Ed, Gene, Eddie, Bob, very easily.”  You’ll have to see where your perceptions emerge.

What mastery.

Kevin, maybe you’ll consider IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE into OLE MISS if we’re cooped up for months?  That is, if you’re taking requests.

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!

“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL TOGETHERNESS WE HAVE”: DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS TONY PARENTI, HARRY JAMES, HERSCHEL EVANS, BOB CASEY, ROBERT CLAIRMONT (April 20, 2017)

Here are several more interview segments from Dan Morgenstern (the second series).  What an honor to be permitted to capture Dan’s generosity and insights.

Here, Dan speaks of the great (and now nearly forgotten) clarinetist and bandleader Tony Parenti:

Here’s some music from Tony, Ralph Sutton, and George Wettling:

And a little “digression,” so tenderly revealing, with the characters being Harry James and Herschel Evans — maybe two minutes in the recording studio, but a short example of great kindness:

The man pictured below might not be familiar — Robert Clairmont — but he is obviously a fascinating figure, someone Dan knew:

And here’s Dan’s recollection — by way of great string bassist Bob Casey:

In honor of Mister Casey and young Mister Morgenstern, buying his first jazz records in Denmark:

The music played at W.C. Handy’s April 1928 Carnegie Hall concert, made possible by Robert Clairmont, as listed on the BIXOGRAPHY Forum, thanks to the research of Albert Haim.  I had not heard of Clairmont before this, but he gave Handy $4000 — a large sum of money — to finance that concert, where James P. Johnson’s YAMEKRAW was given its premiere, Fats Waller at the piano.

(Internet research, that funny thing, identifies Clairmont as “poet” and “Wall Street investor,” an unusual pairing.)  I also found this brief biographical sketch:

ROBERT CLAIRMONT, poet, was born in 1902 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. He attended the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University. Clairmont is author of Quintillions, Star in the West, and Forever X; and the first volume of the series Poets of Today (1938) is given to his work. He was editor of the periodical New Cow of Greenwich Village and, in the early 1950’s, of the poetry magazine Pegasus.

And . . . because I find it irresistible, here is one of Clairmont’s poems for children, THE ANSWERS, later set to music by Alec Wilder:

The Answers

“When did the world begin and how?”
I asked a lamb, a goat, a cow:

“What’s it all about and why?”
I asked a hog as he went by:

“Where will the whole thing end, and when?”
I asked a duck, a goose and a hen:

And I copied all the answers too,
A quack, a honk, an oink, a moo.

Here’s an inscription from Handy to his friend and benefactor:

“Togetherness” and kindness: Tony Parenti making spaghetti for Buck Clayton and teaching him the new / old repertoire; Harry James helping Herschel Evans out at that Lionel Hampton record date; Robert Clairmont saving a man’s life and then making it possible for W.C. Handy to have a Carnegie Hall concert; Dan Morgenstern’s uncountable gifts, which continue as I write this.

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!

TWO BY EDDIE: RAY SKJELBRED, DAWN LAMBETH, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER, KATIE CAVERA, JEFF HAMILTON at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (Nov. 25, 2016)

Eddie Condon (pictured above in 1946) has a well-deserved reputation as a superb leader, a musical catalyst, a guitarist — but not as a composer of popular songs. He wrote only a few, but their melodies are memorable.

By way of illustration, a 1944 record label:

Although we associate Eddie more with the hard-charging small-band jazz he loved so well (think of Wild Bill, Pee Wee Russell, Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, Cliff Leeman playing RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE) it’s clear he had a deeply romantic spirit, and WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE — not only De Vries’ lyrics — exemplifies this.

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, Katie Cavera, and Jeff Hamilton admire Eddie and his musicians, thus they happily gave shape to Marc’s tribute to Eddie as composer, which happened at the San Diego Jazz Fest last November 25, 2016.

Here is Dawn’s tender version of WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE:

and Eddie’s LIZA — written with George Rubens, not Gershwin — first performed on the 1927 McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans date:

For me, the test of a song is that it lodges in my ear and memory.  Those two Condon compositions do, helped immeasurably by the passion and swing of these musicians.

May your happiness increase!

HEROIC FIGURES IN THE SHADOWS

A friend recently asked me about a valued musician, now gone, who never seemed to get the honors he deserved. “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention to X?”  I recalled that X was always working in groups led by A Star, a powerful personality.  I have no idea if X wanted to lead a group and couldn’t, but he never said in public that he felt the opportunity had been denied him.

It made me think again about “being a leader” in jazz.  We celebrate the musicians whose names appear on the record labels and the marquees, in boldface in discographies.  Theirs are the sounds we know, and they do deserve our attention and our love. Think of a universe without Count Basie — the sky suddenly grows dark at the mere statement of such a void.

But the Stars rely on the often semi-anonymous players who keep the great ship’s rhythmic engines humming.  Consider Ed Lewis, Joe Muranyi, Fred Guy, Leo McConville, Bobby Tucker, Wendell Marshall, George Stafford, Tommy Thunen, Curley Russell, Dave Bowman — players who didn’t chafe to be center stage.  There is a special cozy corner of Paradise for those who didn’t have the urge to solo, but who created backgrounds and section sounds that delight us, that made the Stars sound so fine.

Although he was a famous leader and a notable Personality, I think of Eddie Condon in this respect, as someone who cared more about how the band sounded than whether he soloed. Dave Tough, Freddie Green, also.

Musicians will tell you that “being a leader” brings what we call “fame,” but this public place can be a nuisance.  Visibility brings recognition: no longer are you third alto in the reed section, one of the Wisconsin Skyrockets, you are THE Skyrocket, and people know your name and recognize you.

But that recognition also means that fans want to talk with you when you are on your way to the bathroom.  People who “just love your music” grab your upper arm.  Some have their own ideas about songs you should be playing, in what tempos, and who you should Sound Like.  Play the clarinet, and you are told about an admirer’s favorite Benny Goodman record.  Sing, and you hear all about Billie Holiday (“Tsk, tsk.  Those drugs.”) or perhaps Diana Krall.

If you are leading a group in a club, the club-owner heads directly for you when something goes wrong.  You have to get the gigs.  You have to handle the money.

You have to deal with the personalities in the band (A, late again; B, grimy again; C, in despair; D, texting when not playing; E, a model in all things but eager to point out the flaws of A, B, C, and D.)

You have to talk on the microphone.  You must encourage the crowd to put money in the tip basket or buy CDs.  You deal with requests, with people who drink too much and talk too loudly.

Often, when your musicians are upset, frustrated, or angry, they blame you, or they simply mutter. “Sixty bucks?  Is that all?”  “My shepherd’s pie is cold.”  I hate that song.  Do we have to play it?”

To paraphrase Judy Syfers, “My God, who would want to lead a band?”

So let’s cheer for the Invaluable Near-Anonymities, the wonderful professionals in the String section of Charlie Parker with Strings, the baritone wizard Charlie Bubeck, who anchored the Ozzie Nelson band — reed players talked of him reverently, but he never led a date; the fellows strumming behind Django and Stephane.  They may have looked deeply into “the music business” and said, “I’d rather drive a cab than lead a band.”

A brief, wholly improvised list:

Zilner Randolph, Les Robinson, Buzzy Drootin, Mary Osborne, Nick Fatool, Ed Cuffee, Bill Triglia, Danny Bank, Dick Vance, Max Farley, Frank Orchard, Bob Casey, Red Ballard, Mickey McMickle, Jimmy Maxwell, Cliff Leeman, George Berg, Al Klink, Lee Blair, Leon Comegys, John Simmons, Les Spann, Allan Reuss, Don Frye, Kansas Fields, Louis Metcalf.

And a thousand more.  And certainly their living counterparts.  (I’ve limited my list to the Departed because I thought that no one I know would like to see their name on a list of the Brilliant Shadowy Underrated.  You and I know the people who make jazz go . . . !)

These people don’t win polls.  They don’t have to stand still for autograph hunters.  But where would we be without them?

May your happiness increase! 

“POUR ME ONE MORE PAL”: MISTER RUSSELL INSCRIBES A PRECIOUS OBJECT

There are only two record albums (in the 78 RPM sense) circa 1944-45 that have Pee Wee Russell as leader.  One is on Disc, and features an uncredited Muggsy Spanier, Vic Dickenson, Cliff Jackson, Bob Casey, and Joe Grauso: the cover is a drawing by David Stone Martin.

The other, a year or so earlier, was part of a project started for the musicians appearing at Nick’s in Greenwich Village to have records to sell — to publicize their efforts and the club’s music.  Three 78 albums were created: featuring Muggsy Spanier, Miff Mole, and Pee Wee.  Other musicians on these dates included Lou McGarity, Gene Schroeder, guitarists Fred Sharp or Carl Kress (Eddie Condon was under contract to Decca), and drummer Charles Carroll, if I recall correctly.

A friend passed this one on to me.  It is inscribed, but more about that in a moment:

ROLLINI and RUSSELL 002

The inscription reads

To The Good Doc.

Henry Sklow

Pour me one more Pal

Best to you

Pee Wee Russell

ROLLINI and RUSSELL 003

If I could time-travel, one of my requests would be to be back somewhere in the Forties, so that I could ask Pee Wee Russell for his autograph and be called “Pal.”  Or perhaps “Chum.”  What more could I ask for?

I learned from Hank O’Neal and Eddie Condon’s EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ that Henry Sklow was a dentist who loved the music and his job was to keep an eye on the bottle or bottles at the Jimmy Ryan’s jam sessions . . . so the request Pee Wee made in his autograph must have been one he made often in real life.

May your happiness increase, Pals!

CLIFF LEEMAN’S SOUND LIVES ON

Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music.  You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.

He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit.  Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point.  He spoke briefly about his approach in this interview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.

In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:

In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey.  I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing.  Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had.  But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us.  Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).

But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music.  Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:

Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:

I first met Clifford at Nick’s.  I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.

Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.

He wore Capezios on the job.

He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself.  He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.

He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.

Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”

He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”

Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”

Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol.  Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other.  They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.

Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone.  And he could read music.  He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____?  He can’t read!”

Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.

He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together.  Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.

“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said.  Billy was so cute.

He loved his cymbals.

He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart.  They had a good time.  They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.

Kenny Davern!  Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man.  He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.

Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.

Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows.  He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.

I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa.  In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg.  I was lucky to have known such things and such people.  How fortunate I was!

We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on.  And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE ME TO THE LANDS OF JAZZ — 1948 and 1949

These postcards (being sold on eBay) have a certain poignancy for me — not only because I can’t get to these occasions by any means short of the paranormal — but because when I go down to Greenwich Village in New York to hear jazz at Smalls, for instance, I could walk to these fabled sites.

Read the postcard, close your eyes, and imagine the band!

I can hear Benny Morton and that rhythm section . . . and I’ll bet there were some serious blues played that night.  Worth $1.25.

Three of the finest cornetists / trumpeters one could imagine — with Gowans and Marsala, James P., and that Bechet fellow.  Have mercy.

Well, it is reassuring to know — even at this distance — that such things happened — not once but often.

May your happiness increase.

“BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS” by Hal Willard (1999)

BOYCE BROWN: JAZZMAN IN TWO WORLDS by Hal Willard

Originally published in The Mississippi Rag, February 1999

In the relatively short history of jazz, many strange and spectacular characters have made unique contributions to the music and its lore.  April 1999 marks the 43rd anniversary of the time one of the strangest, and in some ways most spectacular characters attracted attention with a comeback album.

His name was Boyce Brown, and he had been among the best saxophonists in jazz, rating high in the survey lists of Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz.  But it wasn’t so much the comeback as it was where he came back from that attracted attention.

Brown had given up music to become a Brother in the Catholic Church and was in the midst of undergoing years of training to enter the strict Servite Order.  He was having a middle-age metamorphosis, and his effort to create a new life was causing considerable controversy within the Church, where many priests and Servites questioned his seriousness of purpose and wondered whether he really had abandoned his former life.

Boyce Brown was a man out of place — out of place in jazz, and, because he came from the jazz world, perhaps out of place in the world of Catholicism that he sought.

If ever a soul seemed lost in the raucous, raunchy, rigorous life of jazzmen, it was the gentle, contemplative, ascetic Boyce Brown, whose quiet, unobtrusive nature was made the more so by impaired vision, an odd appearance, and herky-jerky body movements caused by physical deformities.  Yes, for 20 years or more, he was listed among the top alto saxophonists in jazz.

His birth in Chicago, or April 16, 1910, had been difficult.  It was a breech delivery, and when Boyce finally emerged, he was seriously injured.  The doctor put Boyce aside and devoted his attention to saving the mother.  Boyce’s Aunt Harriet, who was in the delivery room, saw what was happening and moved to do what she could for the baby.  She picked up the misshapen and struggling newborn and literally shaped his head with her hands, saving his life.  But, among other injuries he suffered, one eye was gone and the other was damaged.

So, as an adult, Boyce Brown faced the world with a glass eye, limited vision in the other eye,an oddly-shaped head and a partially caved-in chest.  He walked sort of lop-sided, with a halting, loping gait, one shoulder drooping.  Sometimes he would hold his head at funny angles, stretching out his neck like a bird truing to find kernels of grain.  Some people even called him “Bird” in those days before fellow altoist Charlie Parker came along and became “Bird” for all time.

It wasn’t just his appearance that set Brown apart in the jazz world.  He liked to write poetry, and he liked to talk about it and discuss philosophy and other deep, unjazz-like subjects, to the confusion and consternation of his fellow musicians.  Besides, he lived with his mother.

Boyce started playing the saxophone at 14 and by the time he was 17 in 1927 got his first job.  It was with a trio in a joint called Amber Light, owned by Al Capone and managed by Bugs Moran.  Moran showed solicitude for the youngsters in the band by telling them to hide behind the piano if customers started shooting.

Brown’s playing attracted the attention of other musicians, and when Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey came to town with their new joint band, Tommy went to hear Boyce and then asked him to join them.  But when Boyce sat in with the Dorsey band, he got the volatile Tommy upset when he cocked his head at a strange angle and leaned over to squint at the music.  Tommy thought the audience would be distracted and put off by the contortions.  Boyce told Tommy he had to bend over only once per sheet of music because he could memorize it at a glance, despite his poor vision.  He had a photographic memory, and perfect pitch as well.

Nevertheless, Brown lacked self-confidence, and he also was afflicted by a sense of responsibility.  He felt he should stay with and support his mother because his father was an alcoholic and unreliable.

So, Brown stayed home.  Although he subsequently toured around the country with different bands, he chose to play most of the 20 prime years of his musical career at the Liberty Inn, a strip joint on Chicago’s rowdy North Clark Street.

Boyce Brown in the Liberty Inn was the definition of incongruity.  He drank, but not to excess, and, of course, he couldn’t see much of what was going on.  Sometimes he sat backstage between shows reading philosophy, his face literally buried in the book.  This disturbed some people because they didn’t understand it.

Despite his aloofness, Brown liked the girls.  They were kind to him and seemed to understand him — although they perhaps wondered why he never made passes at them and otherwise ignored their nakedness.  He told friends that the girls were nice and not bad as most people seemed to think.  At one point, Brown was briefly engaged to a girl outside the business, but he again decided he couldn’t leave his mother and Aunt Harriet, whom he also was helping.

Time and again he left the Liberty Inn to play with other bands, but he always returned.  Something there suited him.  Maybe it was a psychological refuge; there was much honesty and little pretense in the Liberty Inn.

As the years passed, Brown was bothered more and more by the contrast between his manner of making a living and his attitudes about life and people developed through his philosophical readings.  He got in the habit of going for long walks in the early morning hours after work, wondering about his life as a musician, the paradoxes and the fact that he wasn’t fully utilizing his abilities.  He became depressed and even thought about suicide.

One morning his walk took him past St. Gertrude’s Catholic Church on Granville Avenue, and he heard organ music.  He stopped to listen.  As children, he and his brother, Harvey, had been iterested enough in classical music to stage record concerts for their friends.

Brown returned to the church morning after morning to listen to the music, and he soon began going inside to hear better.  One morning a priest noticed him standing in the shadows at the back of the church and approached to welcome him.  From that contact, one thing led to another and on August 12, 1952, Boyce Brown, who had been raised an Episcopalian, became a Catholic.  He was 42 years old.

But just being a Catholic didn’t satisfy him.  He wanted deeper involvement.  One day at St. Gertrude’s, he met Father Ed Calkins, a missionary of the Servites, a religious order of friars started in the 13th century.  Brown asked about taking his religious feelings further.

Father Ed sent Brown to the Servites’ director of vocation, Father Hugh Calkins, his brother (two other Calkins brothers also were priests).  Father Hugh listened as Brown described his concern about being accepted for further work in the church.  He feared his background of playing jazz in “low” places for so many years would rule him out.  Father Hugh let Brown ramble on about his worries for a time, and then told him he would make a good Brother in the Servite Order.

As for jazz, Father Hugh said, it just so happened that he himself was fond of jazz.  In fact he was a pretty good amateur pianist, if he did say so himself, and felt he and Brown would enjoy playing together.

After a few more interviews, in the fall of 1953 Boyce Brown entered the monastery and began training to become a Brother.  When Father Hugh was questioned by a superior about Brown’s seriousness of purpose, he said Brown was one of the most deeply spiritual men he had ever met.

That was fine, the superior said, bring him in.  “He might say enough prayers to get the rest of us into Heaven.”

Two years later, Brown entered the Novitiate at Mount Saint Philip Monastery about 10 miles north of Milwaukee and on Feb. 26, 1956, took his vows as Brother Matthew.

Part of Boyce Brown’s training, and his vocation as a Brother, involved menial work in the monastery, kitchen, tailor shop, laundry, bakery, and boiler room, and he swept the halls.  Sometimes, when his work was done, he played the saxophone, but not often.  His first year of training, he played hardly at all, so everyone was surprised when, at the Christmas party, Brother Hugh sat down to play the piano — and called on Brown to get his saxophone.  When he and Brown got going, Father Hugh said, they “rocked the refectory,” and played together many times after that.

Father Hugh, outgoing and enthusiastic, had a talent for public relations — another incongruity — and when Brown took his vows, the priest sent out a press release.  A week later, Time Magazine and other publications carried items with the news.

About two weeks after that, the Chicago Tribune carried a front-page story about the jazzman turned Brother.  This was followed by a picture story in the Trib‘s rotogravure section.

As the word spread, ABC-Paramount telephoned Father Hugh and asked if Brother Matthew could go to New York and make a record.  Father Hugh, bursting with excitement, got an okay from church superiors and then got in touch with jazz spokesman Eddie Condon, who knew Brown in his early days, and asked him to handle arrangements for a record date.

Father Hugh’s press release now had gathered maximum momentum.  Father Hugh had become official spokesman, escort, PR man and general factotum for Brother Matthew.  (Later, he collected considerable information and provided much of the material for this article.)  Father Hugh and his charge appeared and played on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” television program, with Moore himself on drums, the day before the record session.  They played “My Blue Heaven.”

Boyce Brown’s and Father Hugh’s “secret” was that they played jazz in a monastery.  The panel was game show host Bill Cullen, who was raised a Catholic, radio comedian Henry Morgan, supposedly an agnostic; and actress Faye Emerson, then married to bandleader and pianist Skitch Henderson.  Her religious beliefs were unknown, but she was the one who guessed the “secret,” but not until the time allotted to do so had expired.  She finally remembered seeing Brown’s picture in Time, and Henderson had told her about Brown’s past and background.

Father Hugh and Boyce spent that night in the Abbey Hotel, and the religious motif was played to the hilt.  The next day, a Life Magazine photographer showed up at the recording session, and a spread of pictures appeared in the April 23, 1956 issue.

Condon had rounded up a band of star jazzmen: on cornet, Wild Bill Davison, who had played with Brown in the old days; Gene Schroeder on piano; Pee Wee Russell on clarinet; Ernie Caceres on baritone sax; Cutty Cutshall on trombone; George Wettling on drums; Bob Casey on bass and on a few numbers, Paul Smith on guitar.  The session was a little more orderly, somber and sober than might have been the case in Brown’s former life, but Davison and a couple of others nevertheless broke out the booze, and Brown joined in without hesitation, showing he still was one of the boys.

Unfortunately, he still wasn’t one of them musically.  The tunes played included Brown’s “theme song,” “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise,” plus “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Blues for Boyce,” a tune improvised for the occasion.  While Brown still was holed up in the Liberty Inn tootling for the strippers, the others had been learning from each other and their colleagues and developing as musicians.  The upshot was that his horn figuratively became caked with rust.  However, the record was issued, entitled Brother Matthew, and although it wasn’t really that bad, it was not a success.  It did not create a demand for more music from the monastery.  This was a disappointment to Father Hugh, but probably not to Brown.

Father Hugh had hoped to use the record as a fund-raiser for the Servites and their missions in South Africa, but a hit record and satisfying demands for more might not have been Brother Matthew’s idea of serving God, his fellow man and himself in the quietude of a monastery.  Brown told Father Hugh he felt he had said all he had to say through his music.  After all, that was a life he voluntarily gave up.

So, sans success, Brother Matthew was allowed to go back to his chores and his meditations, but his serenity was gone.

In early 1957, Dave Garroway called and wanted to do a segment on Brother Matthew for NBC’s “Wide Wide World” program on Sunday afternoon.  The idea was to contrast Brother Matthew’s playing with a dixieland band with the Gregorian music sung by the Servite members.  This was done and went out over the network, live.  Father Hugh described the broadcast as a success, but perhaps the superiors were beginning to wonder about all the worldliness and all the talk from Father Hugh about good public relations.  Was this a religious order or was it Madison Avenue?

Whatever was actually said, or implied, brown began to worry about his future with the Servites.  Final vows to enter the Servite Order for life were coming up, and Brows was afraid he wouldn’t be accepted.  He told Father Hugh of his concern, and when the priest went before his superiors in the monastery at Hillside, a Chicago suburb, he discovered that Brown’s fears were well-founded.

They thought Boyce Brown was an alcoholic and not ready to devote his life to the Servite Order.  Sometimes the other members smelled alcohol on his breath.  A bottle of booze was found in his room.  One Sunday, he left the monastery to play  a few hours in a band led by drummer Danny Alvin and returned with the smell of liquor about him.  Once, his hands shook when he was helping a priest serve Mass.

Father Hugh pleaded the case.  He pointed out that members of the Order were allowed to drink in moderation and that’s all Brown was doing.  He said there was no evidence that he ever drank to excess.  His hands shook because of nervousness.  Father Hugh cited Brown’s value to the Order as a fund-raiser and as an entertainer of the other members (which may have been the wrong approach).  Father Hugh said he had never known anyone with a deeper spirituality, with a richer goodness of soul.

The superiors were unmoved.  They told Father Hugh he was prejudiced in favor of Brown because they were friends, they played jazz together and Father Hugh loved jazz.  There was every indication they would not accept Boyce Brown when he came up for consideration.  Father Hugh’s grand public relations gambit — a Brother who played jazz — had backfired.

But Brown never came up for consideration.  A few days before the day he was to face the superiors, he helped serve a meal at the monastery, then sat down to eat.  But instead of eating, he got back up and went to his room.  He took off his robe and folded it neatly.  Then he lay down on his bed.  A few minutes later, a painter working in the next room heard an unearthly, terrible moan.  He called a priest.

Boyce Brown was dead.  It was Jan. 30, 1959 — two months and 16 days before his 39th birthday and two years and 10 months after the Brother Matthew record was made.

“God spared him from possible being rejected,” Father Hugh said.

Father Hugh’s feelings about Boyce Brown were profound.  “He was without a doubt one of the most genuinely religious-minded persons I have ever met.  In the sense that he had an intuitive awareness of things that even many priests, many theologians, never grasp.  He said he saw music in colors — he heard chord changes, but he saw them, too.  Some sounds were a rich purple or a deep blue.  I checked with a psychologist and he said that some artists do that; their senses coordinate.  It’s an overlapping of senses.”

In the aftermath of Brown’s departure, Columbia Pictures called Father Hugh to talk about making a movie of Brown’s life, with Father Hugh as technical adviser.  He was, of course, enthusiastic and the idea went as far as a scriptwriter coming to interview Father Hugh in depth.  Then he told the monastery superiors about it.  The rejection was flat and unequivocal; the lives of the seminarians would be disrupted by movie people wandering around and climbing all over the monastery.  The project was called off.

By the way, Father Hugh had envisioned Anthony Perkins in the role.

******************************************************************

Note: I’m very grateful to Jim Denham of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST (http://www.shirazsocialist.wordpress.com.) for uncovering a copy of this truly detailed article.  Hal Willard died not long ago, so I can’t thank him in person, but his research into Boyce’s life and his conversations with Father Hugh Calkins were invaluable.  A long and beautiful overview of Boyce’s life and recordings can be found in Richard M. Sudhalter’s LOST CHORDS, with comments from Dave Dexter, Jimmy McPartland, George Avakian, and others — including excerpts from Boyce’s poetry and a letter he wrote to that “bible of jazz,” Down Beat . . . where he had won the 1940 poll for alto saxophone.

TREASURE ISLAND, 2011

As a young jazz fan, I acquired as many records as I could by musicians and singers I admired.  (There was an Earl Hines phase, a Tatum infatuation, a Ben Webster obsession among many.)  The impulse is still there, but economics, space, and selectivity have tempered it somewhat.  I’ve written elsewhere about Wanting and Having and Enjoying, and those states of being are in precarious balance.

But these philosophical considerations don’t stop me from being excited at the thought of visiting Hudson, New York, once again — and my favorite antique store, “Carousel,” on Warren Street.

Carousel was once a “National Shoe Store,” as it says on the floor in the entrance way, and it specializes in a variety of intriguing goods — furniture, books, planters, metalwork . . . but in the very back of the store, past the cash register most often supervised by the exceedingly pleasant Dan, is a galaxy of records.  I skip the 45s and go to the stacks of 10″ 78s, the browsers full of 12″ lps and one devoted solely to 10″ lps (where one might find THE DINAH SHORE TV SHOW and BRAD GOWANS’ NEW YORK NINE).

Here’s what I found — and purchased — one day last week. 

Richard M. Jones was a pianist and composer who accompanied blues singers, led a few dates in the Twenties . . . and this one in 1944.  The rarity of this 10″ French Vogue vinyl reissue is evident.  The original tracks (four by Jones, two by the ebullient trumpeter Punch Miller) were recorded in Chicago for the Session label — 12″ 78s — with a band including the under-recorded Bob Shoffner, wonderfully boisterous trombonist Preston Jackson, and the heroic Baby Dodds.  I’d seen these sides listed in discographies for years, and the Sessions appeared on a vinyl issue on the Gannet label (with alternate takes!) but I’ve never heard them . . . and any version of NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES is all right with me.  I haven’t heard the music yet, but have high hopes.

 Decca and Brunswick collected four-tune recording sessions as GEMS OF JAZZ and the more pugnacious BATTLE OF JAZZ.  Zutty didn’t record many times as a leader, and this is one of the rarer sessions: 1936, I think, with hot Chicagoans who didn’t reach great fame.  I had these four sides (once upon a time) on sunburst Deccas . . . gone now, so I anticipate hot music here. 

(The shadow above speaks to the haste of JAZZ LIVES’ official photographer.)

The four sides above have often been reissued, although the most recent Tatum Decca CD split them between Tatum and Big Joe Turner.  No matter: they are imperishable, not only for Big Joe, in pearly form, but for the pairing of Joe Thomas and Ed Hall, saints and scholars.

Now for two rare 78s: their music reissued on European vinyl and CD, but how often do the original discs surface?

Whoever Herman was, he had good taste.  The WAX label was the brainchild of solid reliable string bassist Al Hall in 1946-7: its output might have been twenty sides (including a piano recital by Jimmy Jones) using the best musicians one could find in New York or the world.  Herman bought the first issue!

That quintet wasn’t made up of stars — except for Ben — but they were all splendid creative improvisers.

Is the next 78 more rare?  It might be . . .

I believe these 78s were made especially for purchase at the club — and Eddie Condon might have been under exclusive contract with Decca at the time (on other sides, I recall the guitarist as being the much more elusive Fred Sharp).  I recently looked up Joe Grauso in John Chilton’s WHO’S WHO IN JAZZ and was saddened to find that he had died in 1952, which is why we have so little of him aside from the Commodores and the Town Hall Concert broadcasts.

I love the composer credit.  Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

IN SUNNY ROSELAND WITH THE EarRegulars (Jan. 23, 2011)

ROSE ROOM, by Art Hickman and Harry Williams, has a special place in the hearts of jazz fans.  It’s a lovely pastoral song from either 1917 or 1918, but several things raise it above the level of the ordinary pre-Twenties pop hit. 

One is that it is famous as the song Benny Goodman called when that interloper Charlie Christian was sneaked up on the bandstand by the meddlesome but inspired John Hammond.  Legend has it that Goodman thought — not a nice thought — that Charlie wouldn’t know the song or would find the chord changes difficult and either be embarrassed or sneak off the stand in disgrace.  Of course, Charlie had no trouble and he played rings around everyone on the stand.  The rest is too-brief history.

Two is that it is the harmonic basis for Ellington’s IN A MELLOTONE.

Three is that it is one of those songs that reveals itself in different, beautiful ways whenever the tempo is changed.  I’ve heard it played as a romp, a saunter (the 1943 Commodore version with Max Kaminsky, Benny Morton, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, and Sidney Catlett), and as a yearning love ballad (J. Walter Hawkes, in this century, in live performance).

And four is that there is a Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars concert recorded in Vancouver in 1951.  For whatever reason, Louis was (atypically) not onstage when the concert was supposed to begin, so Barney Bigard, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Cozy Cole just jammed ROSE ROOM for a start — an easy hot performance.  Were I Ricky Riccardi of THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG, http://dippermouth.blogspot.com/, I could share it with you right now, but alas . . . you’ll have to imagine it.

But all that is prose.  How about some music?

Last Sunday, the mighty EarRegulars, the reigning kings of small-band swing who appear at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, 8-11 PM on Sundays — except this next week, Feb. 6, because of some large-scale sporting event whose name eludes me) took on ROSE ROOM late in the first set.

The EarRegulars were charter members, co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (in a rousing Eldridge mood); Matt Munisteri, guitar; Neal Miner, bass; and the newcomer to The Ear Inn — but not to New York jazz! — tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, who has a laid-back, coasting behind the beat, relaxed Websterian approach that’s very refreshing.  Here’s what they played (with hints of Webster’s DID YOU CALL HER TODAY in the encouraging conversation between Jon-Erik and Tad at the end):

The Ear Inn is dark, but it was sunny Roseland for ten minutes!

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  SO PLEASE CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW!

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BOBBY GORDON, POET-AT-LARGE

Over the past half-dozen years, it’s been a rare pleasure to see and hear Bobby Gordon at Jazz at Chautauqua.  Without making a fuss about it or announcing himself unduly, he has always been one of the poets of jazz — and not simply of the clarinet.  He takes his own unpredictable ways to get where he’s going, and when he arrives you find the journey has been both moving and surprising. 

It’s not surprising that one of Bobby’s clarinet heroes is that rare explorer Pee Wee Russell — but Bobby is too much in touch with his own essence to copy Russell’s leaps and weavings.  Bobby’s approach is also tempered by the deep-blue sounds and thought patterns of the great but not well-remembered Joe Marsala, a consummate melodist who much admired Jimmie Noone.

Here at Jazz at Chautauqua Bobby was joined by the nimble and down-home pianist Keith Ingham (who has wonderful stories of a career that began when he was a mere boy alongside the finest American and British improvisers), the splendidly multi-instrumental Vince Giordano, here toting his aluminum string bass, and the man of mysterious percussive rumbles and swooshes, Arnie Kinsella.  If they sound a little bit like Joe Sullivan / Jess Stacy / Artie Shapiro / Bob Casey / George Wettling / Dave Tough, we don’t mind at all.

Bobby began with a pretty but mobile AT SUNDOWN, a song recorded by an Eddie Condon group back in the halcyon Commodore days:

Another performance with a Commodore pedigree is KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, homage to Fats as well:

A tribute to the later life of Charles Ellsworth Russell (and his friend Nat Pierce), PEE WEE’S BLUES:

Keith, for his feature, thought of the brilliant and much-missed Mel Powell, who wrote this piece as a tribute to Earl Hines when Mel was with the Benny Goodman band — it’s THE EARL:

And Bobby closed his set with a limpid MY MELANCHOLY BABY, in honor of that pretty tune and of Joe Marsala, too:

Bobby’s style is so thoughtful, his voice so human — jazz poetry that comes straight from his heart.

AMAZING PAGES FOR SALE!

Both James Comer and David J. Weiner brought this to my attention — an amazing auction of jazz and popular music memorabilia that tops anything I’ve ever seen.  Should you wish to explore for yourself, the website is http://www.profilesinhistory.com/items/hollywood-memorabilia-auction-40.  But here are a few highlights I needed to show you, as if they were my treasures:

Better than Button Gwinnett, I’d say: Little T, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling.  I can’t identify the fourth name, if a name it is.  I also wonder if this dates from the association that these players had with Paul Whiteman circa 1938?

Inscribed to Bob Harrington, at the end of the Forties: my hero, Henry Allen Junior.

I wonder if this was inscribed at one of Dick Gibson’s parties?  It certainly seems a sacred artifact to me.  From the bottom, I note reverently Ralph Sutton and Lou Stein, Yank Lawson, Joe Venuti, Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Nick Fatool, Billy Butterfield, Bud Freeman, Zoot Sims, and Buck Clayton.  Oh my!

O fortunate Junior Payne!

VOOT! indeed: that’s Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, a fine pianist before he assumed the hipster’s mantle.

That’s only the second Baby Dodds autograph I’ve ever seen.

Delightfully odd — Count Basie, an unidentified young man, and Mezz Mezzrow.  Sarah Vaughan was at Bop City as well on this night in 1948 and her signature is top left.  Basie’s inscription of the photograph to Mezz as “my 20 year man” makes me wonder if Basie, too, took pleasure in Mezz’s arrangements?  Leaving that aside, I love the neckties.

 Famous names, no?  And in an intriguing order, although this may just have been the way the paper was passed around from one member of the quartet to another.

No explanation needed!

The Ellington band, starting with Arthur Whetsol . . . !

February 19, 1944: with Wettling, deParis, Joe Marsala, Kansas Fields, James P. Johnson, Joe Grauso, Bob Casey, Miff Mole . . .

What is there to say except “Solid!”

And my favorite:

These pictures can only hint at the riches up for auction: for just one instance, the lot that includes the Harry “the Hipster” signature also  publicity photograph of Leo Watson inscribed to “My man Mezz.”  They could make me rethink the decor of my apartment, I tell you.

EBAY JAZZ TREASURES (April 12, 2010)

Edmond Hall, signing in, not only with his name but his borough:

Sandy Williams (with Chick Webb), the great underrated trombonist:

Some jazz 78s — ranging from the famous to the obscure to the odd — beginning with one that’s instantly recognizable and another with everything deliciously spelled out on the label:

They were a territory band — Milt Hinton said that Jimmie Blanton played on this session:

Clarinetist Hank D’Amico isn’t well-remembered today but he kept the best company.  This set is circa 1947, and stems from a WABC show of the same name, featuring Bobby Hackett and George Wettling, superb players taking gigs in the radio studios:

Was Wild Bill Davison on this recording?  Note the composer credits:

 These formerly rare items have been issued on CD, but the personnel still dazzles:

Now for some double-entendre jazz — first, from Vance Dixon and His Pencils:

Then, a late-period lament by Claude Hopkins that might address a feng shui dilemma:

And something more peaceful:

Amazing what comes out of people’s closets!

NOW HEAR THIS: Hal Smith and “OH, KATHARINA!”

 I’d posted this YouTube clip of the JAM SESSION AT COMMODORE (1943) on OH, KATHARINA! in my recent tribute to Sidney Catlett, who would have been one hundred years ago on January 17, 2010.  Here it is again, for a different reason.  Listeners like myself have spent their lives drinking in the sounds — as a child I would put my head against the cloth of the speaker grille — but I know that we don’t listen in the same way musicians do. 

So it’s a particular pleasure to be able to reprint drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith’s “close reading” of this performance, with special emphasis on Sidney’s playing within and through it.  The piece was published in the Bulletin of the Hot Club of France, and it’s a joy:

OH, SID!

By Hal Smith

 A majority of jazz fans would probably agree that Sidney “Big Sid” Catlett was one of the greatest drummers of all time—if not the greatest! Many of Sid’s recordings have been written about at length, but one of his masterpieces is seldom mentioned: “Oh, Katharina” (recorded for Commodore 2 Dec. 1943 with Eddie Condon’s Band). Sid’s playing is so exemplary on this side that it cannot be ignored.

Condon had some exceptional musicians on the session. Joining the guitarist/leader and Catlett were: Max Kaminsky-cornet; Benny Morton-trombone; Pee Wee Russell-clarinet; Joe Bushkin-piano; and Bob Casey-bass. (Catlett had worked with Russell, Kaminsky and Condon since 1933. He knew exactly what to play to bring out the best in all three).

 The other tunes recorded on 2 December were jazz standards—“Rose Room,” “Basin Street Blues” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.” “Oh, Katharina” was definitely the odd number. Supposedly it was a favorite of Bix Beiderbecke’s. That must be the reason it was included on this date, for it has little to offer as a vehicle for swinging or improvising. The melody is uninspiring and the lack of melodic or chordal movement makes it difficult to keep one’s place in the song.

On the master take, the full ensemble plays the first chorus. The chosen tempo is edgy and despite Condon’s strong 4/4 guitar, Casey’s powerful bass and Sid’s wide-open hi-hat and rim shots the band sounds uncomfortable. Bushkin plays the second chorus and the leader temporarily drops out. Almost instantly, the tempo seems to float downward, gently. (Perhaps Sid made eye contact with Bushkin or Casey?) However it happened, the tempo change brings a collective sigh of relief and the proceedings begin to swing. For the first half of the piano chorus, Sid varies the hi-hat beat from what he used on the first chorus. Instead of open and ringing, he plays the cymbals open-and-closed, gently accenting the second and fourth beats. A stinging rim shot launches the second half and a move to ride cymbal, with rim shots in unexpected places.

With the tempo now settled, Condon re-enters the rhythm section in time for Pee Wee Russell’s chorus. Sid tightens things up, playing closed hi-hat, acting as interested listener in a conversation with Russell. However, some well-placed rim shots act as a safety net in the most abstract moments of the dialogue (bars 15-16).

Next, Kaminsky and Morton split a chorus, which also has a conversational quality. Max seems to be telling a story and Sid’s perfectly-timed rim shots (bars 8-9, 11-12) are the approbation. Benny Morton was another old friend of Catlett’s. By 1943, the drummer knew instinctively how to back the great trombonist and actually anticipates Morton’s phrasing on bar 24.

Finally, it is Sid Catlett’s turn to solo and what a solo it is!!! With Bushkin providing discreet stoptimes, Sid begins with solid quarter notes, leading into a barrage of double-stroke rolls (bars 1-4). There is a double-time feel, but Sid feints doubling that meter for just an instant (bars 5-8). Next, his incredible hand-to-foot coordination is displayed by his use of bass drum accents and rhythmic patterns on a choke cymbal (bars 9-12). The virtuoso solo takes on a dense texture, redolent of Chick Webb (bars 13-16) then comes a sudden release of tension and eighth notes between rim shots and bass drum (bars 17-18). Bars 19-20 call to mind Catlett’s early inspiration, Zutty Singleton. Sid keeps Zutty’s style going through bar 27, with accented rolls and bass drum “bombs.” The solo comes to a magnificent climax in a crescendo of accented triplets.

Kaminksy, obviously inspired by what he just heard, tears into the final chorus even before the end of the drum solo! With the tempo in just the right spot, the band is on fire! The final ensemble is underpinned by Sid’s ringing hi-hat and on bar 12 he adds the perfect touch—solid afterbeat rim shots—played to the conclusion of the rideout chorus. The proceedings end with a wide-open cymbal crash and a bass drum “button.”

Sid Catlett’s monumental drumming on “Oh, Katharina” is a genuine work of art. In this writer’s opinion it ranks with “Steak Face,” “Rose Room,” “46 West 52,” “Hallelujah,” “Sleep,” “I Never Knew” and “Afternoon Of A Basie-ite” as one of Catlett’s greatest recordings. It should be heard by every jazz enthusiast!

LETTERS FROM FRANK CHACE, 1998-2002

I first heard the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace on 1951 broadcast recordings from Storyville (issued on Savoy records and reissued in the late Seventies) where he held his own alongside Wild Bill Davison, Ephie Resnick, and a loud rhythm section.  (Later, Frank would tell me that he was half-deafened by Davison’s habit of blowing into the clarinetist’s ear.)  Chace impressed me as having absorbed Pee Wee Russell’s style without exactly copying Pee Wee.  Years later, I thought that he was to Pee Wee what Buck Clayton was to Louis — a loving reflection, a distillation.  But in the early days of my vinyl-searching, there was no other Chace to be found on record. 

in 1986, when I began corresponding and trading tapes with John L. Fell — film scholar, amateur clarinetist, and erudite jazz collector — he sent a cassette of private Chace performances: some with Marty Grosz, others with the guitarist / cornetist Bill Priestley.  On this tape, I heard thoughtful questing that had only been hinted at on the Storyville recordings.  And I wanted to hear more.  After asking all the collectors I knew (among them the late Bob Hilbert and the still-active Joe Boughton, Wayne Jones, Gene Kramer) to dig into their Chace holdings, I had a good deal of music in settings where he felt comfortable enough to explore, from 1951 duets with Don Ewell to a Marty Grosz nonet and various small groups.  Frank’s brilliance and subtlety — his willingness to take risks — moved me greatly.  I iamgine I was also intrigued by his elusiveness: his name appeared in none of the jazz reference books; his issued recordings were out of print, except for a Jim Kweskin session on Vanguard. 

Quite by accident I learned that he was still playing.  WBGO-FM broadcast live remotes from the Chicago Jazz Festival over the Labor Day weekend.  In 1997, listening idly to the proceedings, I heard the announcer say, “Up next, the Frank Chace Quintet.”  I scrambled for a new cassette, and, feeling as if the heavens had opened to let divinity in, heard Frank play, marvelously, including a bossa nova and LITTLE MAN, YOU’VE HAD A BUSY DAY.  This gave me hope that he was alive and well, and I imagined that I might see him play sometime or have a new Chace recording to study. 

Because I had spent much of my academic life as a literary detective, poring over unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, I became fascinated by Frank as a subject for study.  I knew that he lived in Evanston, Illinois, and when I had his address confirmed by the Chicago musicians’ union, Marty Grosz, and John Steiner, I felt bold enough to proceed by writing to him.

I don’t have my letters to Frank, although his friend and executor Terry  Martin tells me that Frank saved them, but I am sure that I introduced myself as an admirer, someone who would like to write about him (I had been reviewing CDs for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal and was soon to start writing for The Mississippi Rag).  In this post, I present his side of the correspondence.  I have omitted only a few telephone numbers and addresses of individuals; otherwise I have left the letters intact.  I have guessed at the placement of the few undated items; readers are free to do their own reshuffling if my logic offends. 

I must have sent him some Pee Wee Russell cassettes, and addressed him (politely) as Mr. Chace:

12 Apr 98

Dear Michael,

     A hasty note of thanks for the astounding packet.  Golly, Pee Wee was even better than I thought.

     I had no idea anyone was tracking my transgressions.  If I recall, some of those pallid Pee Wee-ish peregrinations are even lousier than others.

     You still think I should be interviewed?

     I wish Hilbert had looked me up.  I might have filled in a few spaces, e.g. PWR for Jack T. at Curley’s in Springlfield IL Oct 93 [sic], et alia.  Five glorious drunken nites. 

     My father was from Mayville, N.Y.  Any relation?

Cordially, Frank.

P.S.  I’m Mr. Chace only to the IRS.

Frank’s opinion of his playing here is positively sunny.  “Hilbert” was Robert Hilbert, who had written a Russell biography and compiled a discography.  Later, Frank told me that the Curley’s gig was meant to be a Jack Teagarden quartet — Teagarden was by then appearing only with Don Ewell, a bassist Frank remembered only as “Pappy,” who was derisive about the other players, and drummer Barrett Deems.  When Teagarden took sick, Pee Wee filled in for him, and Frank remembered long explorations of each song that would end with many choruses of eight-bar and four-bar trades among the quartet.  Don Ewell was his great friend and musical mentor.  And “Mayville” is a mild joke; I was living in Melville, New York.

Encouraged by his response, I sent Frank a photocopy of my then amorphous Chace discography:

 20 April 1998

Dear Michael,

     I’ve entered some guesses along with one or two certainties.  I recall some of these sessions vividly, others not at all.

     As for the penultimate entry on the reverse side, if you send a cassette I might sort it out.  But aside from a few tunes with Marty [Grosz] and a bassist [Dan Shapera] from the Chi. Jazz Institute’s Jazz Fair in Jan. 1984 I haven’t listened to myself since before 1982, when I stopped drinking.  Too grisly.  (Except for a few S[alty] D[og] ensembles, below*.)

     There was a 1968 session (at John Steiner’s, like many of them) during Marty’s brief affair with electricity: Lullaby in Rhythm, Exactly Like You.  These should be around, God knows, if the rest of this stuff is.

     Birch Smith sent me a CD “Selty Dogs 1955” last year.  He finally issued them (Windin’ Ball) but so far as I know distributes from his home, only.  I’d make you a dub but don’t know how.  (I have only a Sony Diskman for playing.)

     Do you have the 1961 Jabbos?  Lorraine Gordon issued [a] two-LP boxed set around 1984.  Sure enough, we didn’t try any Jazz Battles or Boston Skuffles, but we thought Jabbo was wonderful seapite reviewers’ demurrers.  I never had other than a tape dub but gave it away 30 years ago!

Cheers back atcha,

 Frank

I don’t remember when I asked Frank if we might talk on the telephone; he agreed, although our conversations were intermittent at best, usually on Sunday evenings.  Once I interrupted him when he was about to eat some soup; other times I would let the phone ring twenty or so times before giving up.  I now assume, and Terry Martin agrees, that Frank was at home — as he aged, his mobility was limited by illnesses — but did not want to talk. 

I do recall his amusement when I asked his permission to record our conversations for a profile of him; he was both flattered and puzzled.  He had said that he didn’t write to me as often as he would like because he lacked paper and pens; ever enterprising (or overbearing?) I sent him some.  Now, I think he was being polite and evasive; I was more interested in interviewing him than he was in being interviewed.  Gene Kramer, who had co-written a book on Don Ewell, had sent me a collection of Pee Wee rarities, which I copied for Frank:            

24 Aug 98

Dear Michael,

     It’s yet unclear how churlish I can get — might at least have sent a thank you card, but didn’t think I had any stamps.  (NO — please don’t send stamps – I found some.)

     *I haven’t listened to it all so far — it’s easier to replay the marvelous alternate Ida.  Marty once opined that PW’s style came to fruition only around Home Cooking time, but it seems PW was annoying and perplexing his colleagues years earlier.  And, how those other guys could play B I Y O Backyard.  I’m reminded again of hos much I love Max.

     *I’ve wondered for a long time how the US got this way — a week ago at the N[orthwestern] U[niversity] library I read NSC 68 (to be found in “Foreign Relations of the United States,” 1950 Vol I page 234).  Example: “We seek to achieve (our values) by the strategy of the Cold War.”  The whole thing is absorbing.  Books I might have mentioned to youare The Frozen Republic by Daniel Lazare and Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948 by Frank Kofsky.  If you’re interested.

     Later.  it’s to hot and humid for now.

     *The “I” violated your code.

     SPPFL = Society for the Preservation of Pete Fountain’s Legacy.

 Love, Yakov, master of the ocarina.

The “Ida” was an alternate take of the 1927 Red Nichols recording.  In retrospect, this letter mirrors our phone conversations.  Frank was articulate and well-read.  Although he could be wheedled into talking about himself (briefly and grudgingly) and the musicians he admired, his real subject was the downfall of the United States.  I was much less well-informed about global history, and this seemed to exasperate him.  I shared some of his views, but his gloom and rage were far deeper.  I suspect now that he humored me when we spoke of jazz, but that it struck him as almost irrelevant.  His comments about “I” and the “SPPFL,” which he had written on the envelope, need explanation.  Frank disdained players he thought “synthetic”; Fountain was one.  And I had mock-apologized in a letter for beginning several paragraphs in a row with “I”; hence his asterisks.

I didn’t hear from Frank until the end of the year, when a Seasons Greetings card arrived. 

  Dear Michael,

     A bacterial infection put me in the hospital (out cold) Sept 14 – Oct 13 and Rehab Oct 13 – Dec 4, but I recover apace.  Sorry about the hiatus.  Hope you are well and prospering in this psychotic Republic.

 

[undated]

Dear Michael,

     Hoping all’s well with you.  You wanted a picture.  All I’ve unearthed so far are pix from Aspen, where Marty got me a few weeks with The Village Stompers.  The wide angle shot shows Alfie Jones, a dandy Toronto trombonist, greeting Lou McGarity.  The others you know or are listed.

     I’ve been out of touch with Sandy Priestley, Bill’s younger son, the one most interested in his dad’s music.  He one told me that Avis, Squirrel [Ashcraft]’s daughter, had rescued some stuff from the Evanston Coachouse and needed ID’s for some of the players.  He, Seymour, lives in or near Milwaukee.  I don’t want to put him in touch with you without your permission.  The 1951 tracks with Nichols and Rushton, and Bill’s anthem Isn’t It Romantic might interest Sandy and Avis a lot, but it’s been a while . . . . This makes me miss the old “Club 55” (Lake Forest).  John Steiner, too.  The old order passeth.

Cheers anyway,

As ever, Frank.

I had sent Frank a private tape (original source possibly John Steiner, the great archivist of Chicago jazz) of a 1951 Squirrel Ashcraft session featuring Red Nichols and Joe Rushton.

2 Feb 1999

Dear Michael,

     I only just uncovered your Prima cassette amidst four cases of accumulated mail, mostly junko.  I had never even known of the enhanced orch. of side B.  PWR’s chorus-long trill on Dinah has me confounded.  Never knew him to do the circular breathing thing.  Prima clearly exhilarated him.  Egged him on.  Exhorted him.  PWR IS SUPERMAN.

     I (hereby disobeying your paragraph rule) never replied to your probe for an 8 x 10 glossy.  Fact is, I never had one.  The J D Salinger of the clarinet.

     Yet another fellow, a Brit, has written about doing a piece on me for IAJRC publication of Miss. Rag.  I’ve come across his note ten times, but now can’t find it.  Name of Derek Coller from County Berkshire if I recall.  Do you know of him?  I might never find his address.  I am less churlish than lazy and disorganized.

     Your cassettes are better for me that Wodehouse’s BUCK-YOU-UPPO.

Cheers,

Frank

Frank was referring to the Brunswick recordings Pee Wee had made as a member of Louis Prima’s band, which show off Prima as successfully ouis-inspired, and Pee Wee responding with great enthusiasm.  Ironically, Derek Coller (a fine jazz scholar) and Bert Whyatt did finish a long essay on Frank for JAZZ JOURNAL — in 2009 — and an accompanying discography for the IAJRC Journal in the same year.  Like Bix and some of the Austin High Gang, Frank loved P.G. Wodehouse.

9 March 1999

Dear Michael,

      You Leave Me Breathless.  What?  No Simeon too?  Do I not play like Simeon?  Beale (Billy) Riddle thought I played like Simeon.  Possibly not like him on”Bandanna Days” tho.  Beautiful. 

      Your encomiums had me groping for my blue pencil, but I won’t query you less’n you want.  The finale, or coda, “inspired improvisation,” is a dandy.  STET.  I told you I was fighting for my life.

     As for your S[umma] C[um] L[aude] submissions, they only fortify my esteem for those guys.  How competent they are.  The medley, stitched together with modulations ouf of Easy to Get, seems an outstanding ploy.  Signature segues.  The Miff unissued V-Disc: I heard Peg O’My Heart at Nick’s, then on Commodore, but PWR is positively SEIZED on this on.  And on what you call “Notes on Jazz,” see if you don’t identify Mel Powell.  The Bushkin right-hand grupetti, the fleeting salute to the Lion.  And if Bert Naser is Bob Casey, why?  AFM?  And Joe Sullivans, I’d never heard these.  No wonder [Richard] Hadlock’s fixation. 

     And Swing It.  Priceless.  My undying gratitude is yours.  I’ve watched it only once so far, perhaps refusing to believe it.

     And that fool Brunis.  (Ending tape segment.)  PWR phoned from the hotel upon arriving [in] Chicago with McP (MaFathead) for that NPR thing (Oct. 67?).  I said, “Pee Wee!  You called me”!*  He said, “Who would I call, Brunis”? (Georg was his lifelong tormentor.)

     I found the Coller letter and replied saying that the recounting of my legendary career had been already besought, but omitting your name and address.  If you care to write him . . . .

     Instead of dredging out my apartment I did so with my wallet and found the enclosed.  It’ll have to do.  Soon I’ll be “a tattered coat upon a stick.”  Whence the quote?

Love and XXX,

Frank

*I have to watch my punctuation p’s and q’s, Prof.

P.S.  My regards to [Gene] Kramer.  We’ve got out of touch.

Have you read “the Ends of the Earth” by Robert D. Kaplan?  An outstanding travel book.

Frank admired the Fifties John Coltrane, and “You Leave Me Breathless” was one of his favorites.  I had written an exultant review of the 1955 Salty Dogs CD to the IAJRC Journal and sent Frank a copy.  Since it infuriated him when people assumed he was imitating Pee Wee, I made the point that Frank had reinvented many of the classic clarinet styles — Dodds and Noone among them.  Beale Riddle was a jazz fan, amateur drummer, and recordist who had captured an early trio of Frank, Don Ewell, and himself for posterity.  “Bandanna Days” was recorded by “the Carnival Three” in 1947 for Disc — Simeon, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster.  I had sent Frank airshots of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra (with Kaminsky, Gowans, Pee Wee, and Bud) from the Sherman Hotel in Chicago in 1940, as well as an unissued V-Disc performance of “Peg O’My Heart” by Miff Mole, Pee Wee, Stirling Bose, and others.  “Notes on Jazz” captured a number of Condon concert performances — before the Blue Network series began in 1944 — for distribution to South America.  I had been given thirty minutes of this material by John L. Fell; the announcements were in Portuguese.  I had also sent Frank a videocassette copy of the Thirties film short subject SWING IT — featuring Pee Wee and Louis Prima at their most lively, and may have included the 1967 JAZZ ALLEY television show with Hodes, McPartland, and Pee Wee.  (Frank was in the audience, and remembered that Pee Wee offered McPartland five dollars to change places with him onstage.)  Richard Hadlock continues to be an active West Coast jazz historian and reedman; he did a good deal for an aging Joe Sullivan in the Sixties.  The quotation was from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” which Frank knew I knew.  Still looking for a picture to send me, he had found an outdated bus pass in his wallet and enclosed it, which I still have.  Obviously he was in a happier mood.  And I was thrilled to be purveyor-of-jazz-treats, sharing pleasures.

28 June 99

Dear Michael,

      I went straight to the Marty-Ephie music.  Was there ever a one-man gang like Mart?  And Effie’s dry wit.  I can’t always tell whether he’s trying to be expressive or funny.  And he can play anything, sometimes all at once. 

     Grateful too for the Dodds stuff.  It seems the Harlem hot-shots foreswore mocking him musically – let’s hope they didn’t do so personally.  Terry Martin suggests he probably could hold his own in eiher context, Ewell’s fears notwithstanding.

     I never dreamt the Ashcraft stuff had been orgaznied and documented like that.  Pee Wee, guesting at Priestley’s in 1967, calimed he could identify Joe [Rushton’s] clarinet anywhere.  So far I’ve heard only a little from these cassettes.  Speaking of bass sax I have from the lib. “ART DECO” Sophisticated Ladies (Columbia, 2 CD’s set).  Ella Logan sings I Wish I Were Twins, with Adrian [Rollini], Max, Bud, [Carl] Kress, [Roy] Bargy, [Stan] King.

     It’s raining on this sheet.  Grateful to know someone who connects with my frame of reference.  Must run for cover.  WITH THANKS                      

FC

This time, I had sent a duet recording of Marty Grosz and trombonist Ephie Resnick, as well as the Decca sides pairing Johnny Dodds with Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, and Teddy Bunn.  The Rushton recordings are informal duets recorded at Squirrel Ashcraft’s — Rushton on clarinet, Bob Zurke on piano.  Whether then or at another date, I had sent Frank a collection of other informal sessions at Squirrel’s: on the telephone, he told me that a prized listening experience was hearing Pee Wee on a 1939 or 1940 “Clarinet Marmalade.”

 27 Mar 00

Dear Michael,

     Don’t get a paper cut from these sheaves.  Not that these observations from K. Amis’s memoirs are new to you.

     I love the references to Hodes, with whom I played off and on between 1957 and 1984.

     Young J. Dapogny introduced me to Lucky Jim.  I evened up by playing him Tea for Two by one T. Monk, of whom he’d never heard.

As ever,

Frank   

The pages were excerpts from Kingsley Amis’s memoirs:  Amis, like his friend Philip Larkin, revered Pee Wee and especially the 1932 Rhythmakers sides.  In 1947, moving into an apartment, Amis glued to the wall “an over-enlarged photograph of the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, with a typed caption adapted from the last stanza of Tennyson’s poem, ‘To Virgil’: I salute thee, Pee Wee Russell, / I that loved thee since day began, Wielder of the wildest measure / ever moulded by the lips of man.’  Frank also took pleasure in Larkin’s dismissal of Hodes: “he sounded as if he had three hands and didn’t know what to do with any of them.”  When I see James Dapogny (now Professor Emeritus) I will ask him if the Monk anecdote is as he remembers it.

17 Jan 00

Dear Michael,

     I write this on my lap in front of football TV, having no surfaces owing to apt. mucking-out, and having no pen I like andneeding to buy six encased in plastic to find out.

     So this should be short – a mercy considering a sentence like the above.

     Nice to hear Jack [Gardner or Teagarden?] again.  An altogether agreeable cohort.  And such exciting Lester and Fats. Listening to that radio announcer makes my blood run cold.  I hate this f…..g country. 

     In that vein I’m reading Frances FitzGerald’s America Revised.  My high school’s history text was Charles Beard.  Reading him now suggests the textbook was seriously bowdlerized.  No wonder we’re all so ignorant.  Oh by Jingo.

     Do you have, I mean do you know, Bud’s I Remember Rio, done latterly in Chi?  Typical Bud.  He’s like a favorite uncle.  

     At the library I check[ed] out the 2 CD Art Deco, Sophisticated Ladies on Columbia.  I Wish I were Twins: Max, Bud, Adrian, Kress, Ella Logan? 1934.  You Go To My Head unusual sunny Pee Wee yet controlled.  Nan Wynn?  Lee W.[iley] and a flock of canaries w/ nice acc.

     I hear of a complete Django – might buy.

     Ask me sometime about who I thought  (whom, Prof.) was Jerry Winter — turns out to be Jerry Winner who hung around North Brunswick, NJ in 1951-2.  Nice cl. With Raymond Scott 1947/8.

     Also ask about the Victory Club.

TaTa,

Frankie

P.S.  I used “nice” 3 X, C-.

Terry Martin tells me that Frank discarded nothing and hoarded things in stacks and piles.  Were the frequent references to desperate cleaning real or merely rhetorical?  What incensed him so much in this letter was a live 1938 broadcast Fats Waller did from the Yacht Club — infamous for a condescending racist announcer who persists in calling Fats “boy.”  Frank loved football but was aghast at the way the announcers spoke: he told me more than once of a famous sports figure, trying to sound polished, making a grammatical error.  Now, this letter seems to combine politeness and impatience: I did not get the opportunity to ask  about the subjects he threw in at the end.  He had told me that as a young clarinetist, he failed to get involved in the rivalry of Goodman and Shaw; he cited Winner as someone he admired.

29 June 00,

Dear Michael,

     I never expected that fooling around with a clarinet would fetch me such bounty as your books and cassettes.  This Buddy Clark sure had accurate pitch, is it not so?

     As for your Salty Dogs (Saline Canines: MOG) inquiries, as far as those of D. Coller about [Tony] Parenti, [Bill] Reinhardt and [Jimmy] Ille, I wouldn’t know what to say.

     Did I ever tell you of my European summers (’51 and ’52) with the Amherst Delta Five?  Their clarinet player preferred to sell used cars in Utica.  One “Bosh” (Wm. H.) Pritchard came along on guitar (’51) which h’d never played.   Someone showed him how to make a G7 chord.  Some girls on board ship told him he sounded like Eddie Condon.  Protchard became Henry Luce Prof. of Eng. at his alma mater.

Hastily,

Frank

I had sent Hilbert’s Pee Wee biography.  The Buddy Clark session was an oddity — for the Varsity label in 1940, where he is accompanied by a version of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, with Freeman and Pee Wee taking surprising solo passages.  “MOG” is Martin Oliver Grosz.  I hope that the story of Prof. Pritchard is true.

2 January 01

Dear Michael,

     Glad to have your letter, but saddened indeed at news of your mother.  Please accept my condolences.  What good is it to know that it happens to most of us before we depart, and that there’s always regret at what we failed to do or say in time.

     As for me, I’m trying to emerge from the Nov. – Dec. blahs — respiratory congestion followed by the BLAHS of SNOW and cabin fever.  Yes, I played a couple of gigs in Nov., just down the street really at Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, a last refuge of cigarette smokers.  I paid for it.  [Bob] Koester showed up both times, and Paige Van Vorst, and someone named Jerry (a friend of Bill Russell of Am. Music) and an OTIS who is a P. W. fancier.  A katzenjammer quartet: [mandolinist  / guitarist Don] Stienberg, [Mike] Waldbridge, me, and an EAGER but blatty trumpet player.  Later, Paige sent me a year’s worth of  Miss. Rag.  Don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

     Koester keeps wanting a record session and I keep demurring.  As for your discography and entries I question the Jazz At Noon dates as to my presence, my having been absent with a misdiagnosed biliary tract infection.  I was in hosp. during the assassination of Fred Hampton.  The Oct. 18, 1968 date shows an odd title inversion suggestive of Steiner: “Pick Yourself Up” is really Let Yourself Go.

Hang in there,

Frankie

My mother had died, at 85, a few months before.  Frank’s comments transcend formula, I think.  And I take it as indicative of his worldview and political awareness that he should recall his hospital stay because of Fred Hampton:  the head of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, killed by police at the direction of the FBI.

02 Nov 02

Dear Michael,

     Terry Martin sent me a photocopy of D. Coller’s thing on Floyd O’Brien.  Takes me back, if not quite aback. 

     Here’s hoping you are somewhat restored to the quotidian world, the humdrum, what an Army buddy and I referred to as the drab mundane.  Meanwhile, I thought you might be bemused by the enclosed pic, from 1978 I think under a wedding-reception tent in Priestley’s backyard. (Lake Forest, IL).  Bill, left, has his back to the crowd as was his wont, duels with Warren Kime.  Your congenial leader is at back, looking like Bergen Evans.  Not shown: Bob Wright, piano; Joe Levinson, bass; Bob Cousins, drums.  Nice gig.

     I’m looking for a cassette to send you: a string of tunes from the Chi. Jazz Fest, Jan. 1984.  Doubt that you’ve heard them.  A trio: Marty, me, Dan Shapera, hass.  Last time Mart and I tangled.  Trying to get my apt. under control – I’m not exactly a fussy taxonomist.

As Ever,

Frank

I will share this photograph in a future posting. 

18 Dec 02

Dear Michael,

     So you laughed out loud at M[ichael]. Chabon – I coarsen myself listen to the enclosed examples of obtuseness, banality, and dead-ass playing.  I wrote Price and Thompson thanking them for the check and rhapsodic blurb, respectively.  Also mentioned that I was both terrified and pissed off throughout.

     Thanks anyway, but I can’t listen to Braff.  Musically, verbally and in print, he is, for me, a prototype of The  Boston Asshole.

     I really must learn to curb my expressionism.

     As Marty once abjured me, For Your Eyes Only.  I continue to rummage for that cassette – my housekeeping is execrable.

Ever,

Frank

The remarks above may offend, but at this late date I prefer candor to ellipsis.  I had sent Frank a copy of a Braff CD I particularly liked; he sent me the 2-CD set of his live recordings from 1967 with Jimmy Archey and Don Ewell — an odd group of players, their styles rarely coalescing.

This is the last letter from Frank — and my Sunday evening attempts to call met with no response.  I assumed he had fallen ill or no longer wanted to talk or correspond.  Thus I was greatly surprised to receive a package months later — that long-promised cassette, with a scrawled note on a tiny scrap of paper, which read something like, “Sorry, man — I’ve been sick with ascites (?)”  That was the last I heard from him.

Frank’s letters were always leavened to some extent by his wit, even when it was extremely dark.  I don’t, however, know if he would have written to me at all if he didn’t feel the need to thank me for the things I sent him, which he did seem to appreciate. 

Talking to him on the telephone, however, was often a depressing experience as conversation wound down.  I found Frank’s mixture of annoyance, contempt, and sadness sometimes difficult, often frustrating.  I wanted to celebrate and gossip about the older music (a fan’s ardor); he wanted me to listen to Coltrane.  But more, he wanted to vent his rage at United States imperialism and the decline of the West.  In retrospect, we had little to talk about.  Someone listening in might have considered our sonversations as little dramas, with each of us wanting to make things go his way, succeeding only briefly.  I know that musicians and non-musicians are often separated by an invisible wall, but these conversations had even greater barriers, although we were enthusiastic about the same things. 

But Frank often seemed as if he was going through some elaborate set of motions; whether he wearied of me, an enthusiastic correspondent who attempted to ply him with cassettes, whether he wearied of talking about what was now the receding past, whether he was weary of people, I do not know.  That enigma, still fascinates me, although the possibilities are saddening.       

Thus I was surprised when I heard from Terry Martin, perhaps in 2006, telling me that Frank was ailing (which did not surprise me: the long spaces between calls or letters were often the result of hospitalizations) and that Frank had mentioned my name to Terry as someone he wouldn’t mind speaking to.  I feel some guilt about this now, but I told Terry I couldn’t attempt to restart the conversation.  I was going through a difficult period and Frank’s darkness was too much to face.  Terry, to his credit, understood.  The next news I heard was that Frank had died at 83.   

I consider myself fortunate that I had these exchanges, and that we can hear him play on recordings.  Frank had something to tell us, and he still does.      

Frank Chace: July 22, 1924 – December 28, 2007. 

A postscript: when I was attempting to interview Frank for a profile, I amassed five or six pages of transcriptions of those taped conversations.  In the spirit of Frank’s housekeeping, these pages have vanished.  However, I recall a few fragments.  When young, Frank was initially intrigued by the sounds coming from the apartment below — a neighbor was a symphony flautist.  When he began to take up the clarinet (moved to do so, of course, by a Pee Wee Russell record), he listened to “everything” and thought it was his responsibility as a musician to do so.  He recalled with great glee a recording with  Don Ewell in the house band at Jazz Ltd: the band was playing the SAINTS, a song Don loathed, and he kept playing MARYLAND through his piano chorus.  (The details may be awry, but the intent is clear.)  When asked what recordings he particularly liked, Frank eventually called to mind the Mezzrow-Bechet OUT OF THE GALLION, Bud Jacobson’s BLUE SLUG, and expressed a special desire to hear Pee Wee’s solo on the Commodore Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers SWEET SUE, which I did not have, but acquired through Gene Kramer.  When Frank heard it, he remembered that he and Marty played it many times, their verdict being that Pee Wee’s solo “scraped the clouds.” 

But he saved his most enthusiastic words for two extremely disparate recordings: Coltrane’s YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS and Jerry Colonna’s comic version of EBB TIDE.  Since Frank’s death, I’ve heard both, and was much more impressed by the Coltrane.  Colonna’s version of that pop song has the singer nearly drowned by sound-effects waves — surely an acquired taste.   

Frank had seen my hero Sidney Catlett in concert once (a wartime presentation by Deems Taylor); he had played alongside Bobby Hackett once in an informal session, probably at Priestley’s.  But there were almost no contemporary musicians he admired, and fewer he could see himself playing or recording with: Marty Grosz certainly, Dick Hyman, possibly.  He was sure he was able to play a whole session and that he didn’t need to practice.  Terry Martin and Bob Koester have first-hand experience with Frank’s reluctance to record.  In fairness, few of the recordings he did make usually do not find him in the most congenial settings: he felt comfortable alongside Ewell and Marty and some of his younger Chicago friends, but such congeniality was rare. 

Frank deserved better, but it is difficult to make him into another jazz-victim-of-oppression, as his stubbornness often got in the way of musical opportunities.  I offer these letters and recollections as tribute to a great musician and enigmatic figure.     

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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KEVIN DORN AND FRIENDS (Dec. 18, 2009)

I originally called this post RINGSIDE AT THE GARAGE, homage to one of the great recordings: a series of live performances by Eddie Condon and his band in 1951-2, taken from the Doctor Jazz radio broadcasts and packaged (by Savoy Records in their characteristic slippery fashion) as if they were live recordings captured on the spot at Condon’s club.  Exuberant and stylish, these performances feature Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling (although Buzzy Drootin or Cliff Leeman might be in there as well.  

The drummer and deep thinker Kevin Dorn has led the Traditional Jazz Collective for several years; I first heard the TJC at the Cajun five years ago, where they had the Monday-night slot, although I had already been delighted by Kevin’s playing with other bands.  Although Kevin reveres the Condon band of the Fifties, he would sooner give up playing than imitate a note on those recordings.  What he aspires to is an energetic, self-reliant creativity.  I saw and heard it in action at the downtown New York club “The Garage” on Friday, December 18, 2009.   

Kevin’s band is doubly satisfying.  For one, when he can, he hires people who are not only fine musicians but also people who like each other.  So the atmosphere on the stand is friendly.  This doesn’t translate into hi-jinks to please the crowd, but the happiness on the stand permeates the music, which isn’t always the case.  And my thinking about the cheerful atmosphere he and his friends inspire gave me what I think is a more appropriate title, not only for this post, but for the videos that follow below. 

For this gig, he had the splendidly energetic trumpeter Simon Wettenhall, who can climb mountains on his horn but also deliver a forceful lead in the manner of Fifties Louis.  Next to Simon (in a delightfully retro cardigan sweater) was the multi-talented J. Walter Hawkes, composer, trombonist, and singer — also a ukulele player of note, but he left his four-stringed buddy home on Friday.  Walter is a virtuoso brassman: someone who can shout, whisper, and croon in the best high-register Tommy Dorsey manner.  His playing is the very opposite of “Dixieland” formulaic: no tailgate cliches.  He’s harmonically sophisticated, rhythmically subtle, and a fine ensemble player – -someone who’s absorbed more modern styles (he admires Bennie Green) without sticking out of a free-wheeling band like this.  And he’s a remarkable singer — engaging, wheedling, sincere without being sticky.  The TJC usually has a pianist, but this edition had the nimble Nick Russo on banjo and guitar, filling the gaps, adding harmonies, driving the rhythm.  Nick’s banjo playing is powerful without being metallic; his guitar lines entwine and support.  Doug Largent, one of the TJC’s charter members, is a little-known wonder: New York City is full of bassists, and Doug is one of the best . . . although he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves.  Steady time, beautiful intonation, lovely plain-spoken phrases.  George Duvivier would approve.  I’ve written a good deal in praise of Kevin — as drummer and leader — so I will only say that the great individualists of the past live through and around him, but the result is personal rather than derivative.  Although he might hit a Krupa lick on the cowbell, he knows about being in the moment, and the moment is always NOW, even when it is informed by the past. 

This gig was also a quiet welcome-back to the clarinetist Pete Martinez, who’s returned from another tour of duty in the military.  I am thrilled he is back and playing: he is a technically brilliant player who avoids the usual Goodmania or the fast-high-loud tendencies lesser musicians favor.  Pete, who is quiet by nature, looks to the mercurial Edmond Hall for inspiration — and he has captured all the shadings of Hall’s tone, from rough-hewn to subtone caress, as well as the cascading phrases Hall pulled out of his hat without fanfare.  Pete is also a wonderful guide: he sets riffs for the front line, and (although I didn’t see this happen at the Garage) he is a jazz scholar whose arrangements and transcriptions are peerless.  Welcome back, Pete! 

And there were musical guests in the audience: the sweetly compelling singer Barbara Rosene, who whispered to me that she had a new CD ready to emerge — where her cohorts were people like Wycliffe Gordon, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, James Chirillo: the best we have.  And the joint was jumpin’ with singers, as the wistful Molly Ryan came up to sing a few tunes as well.

Here are two sets (of a possible three) that I captured at the Garage.  Never mind that many of the people were there for reasons that had nothing to do with the TJC’s cheerful brilliance: perhaps they could absorb beauty, heat, and musical intelligence through a kind of subliminal osmosis.  I hope so.

Kevin kicked things off with a rousing EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Then, what used to be called a “rhythm ballad” — a romantic song with a swinging pulse — IF I HAD YOU:

The TJC version of HINDUSTAN reminds me happily of the good times that Hot Lips Page and Specs Powell had on their V-Disc version of THE SHEIK OF ARABY:

A version of Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR that lives up to its name:

In honor of Bix and Hoagy, in honor of Eddie and the Gang, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

To some, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME summons up the Jimmy Noone-Earl Hines recording, but the TJC’s outing is straight out of Columbia’s Thirtieth Street studios:

I’ve had the good fortune to hear Barbara Rosene sing I’M CONFESSIN’ many times in the recent past, but this rendition impressed me even more with its deep feeling:

I don’t know what — if any — emotional scenario Barbara had in mind.  It could simply have been “ballad, then an up tune,” but after confessing her love, she is ready to switch everything around: THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

It’s always fascinating to stand with a video camera in a New York City club, and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART captures several fascinating moments.  Fortunately, the music continues even when the screen goes dark — a large young man in a down jacket stood in front of me, amiably unaware until another observer suggested he might move over.  That he did, politely, but not before pointing out that the back of his head and of his coat were now in my video, and that he would like to be properly credited.  All I could think was, “Someday, sweetheart!”:

In honor of the season (and perhaps anticipating the snow that covered New York City twenty-four hours later) Molly Ryan offered WINTER WONDERLAND:

And Molly closed the second set with her version of the 1930 song I always think of as ‘ZACTLY, but the sheet music properly titles it EXACTLY LIKE YOU:

I’m so glad I made it to “ringside” to hear Kevin and his friends — energetic, fervent, and hot.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

REMEMBERING DAVE TOUGH

I read in the December 2008 issue of Jersey Jazz that Dave Tough died sixty years ago on December 6, tough-by-gottlieb2 1948. Because so many of my musical and spiritual heroes are dead, my devotion to jazz always threatens to turn into sad necrology, but Tough deserves a few words and a few pictures.

I won’t dwell on his near-scholarly intellectualism (rare among jazz musicians in those days) and his deeply self-destructive alcoholism, his frustrations.   William P. Gottlieb’s famous photograph of Tough, working away at his practice pad in the basement of Eddie Condon’s, is on the right.

dave-toughRather, I think of a brief list of brilliant recorded moments.  There’s Tough’s luminous, shape-changing drumming all through the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session (most notably available on the Mosaic Classic Condon Mob Sessions), where he shifts from splashing cymbal work to brilliant use of the hi-hat and bass drum, propelling soloists.

It would be difficult to delineate, let alone reproduce, what Tough does so naturally through “Forty-Seventh and State” or “Prince of Wails,” his sound captured with extraordinary clarity in Liederkrantz Hall.  But as marvelous as the horn soloists are, and the under-acknowledged pianist Dave Bowman, I find myself listening to what Dave is playing (and, by implication, choosing not to play) throughout those records.

Two years earlier, although he was reputedly in bad physical shape, he levitated another Bud Freeman date, this one for Commodore, where his wandering, unpredictable work on the jam blues”Tappin’ the Commodore Till” has yet to be equalled.  On that record, Tough comes through as a blindfolded genius, ready to tap on or against anything in the studio, testing the pure sounds he might get out of the equipment around him.  Again, the soloists — Freeman, Bobby Hackett, PeeWee Russell, Dave Matthews, Jess Stacy — are wondrous, but I am distracted in the best way by Tough’s gloriously weird, urging counterpoint.

I was lucky enough to find a Commodore 78 of that — in the days when such artifacts were more easily available — and it ornaments my office wall, a talisman of artistic individuality.

I think also of Tough’s solo –he was repelled by the idea of soloing and did it only under duress — on “Just You, Just Me,” which closes off a Charlie Ventura concert in 1947 — music once available on a Norgran lp and most recently on a Verve set collecting Jazz at the Philharmonic music from the Forties.  Again, Tough explores pure sound as well as rhythm: the solo is even more unusual because it sounds so much like Sidney Catlett, who also played that night.  I suspect that Dave sat down at Sidney’s drums: two kings trading courtesies.

Tough also shines all through a little-known and rarely-reissued 1946 Brad Gowans session for RCA Victor, where Gowans leads his “New York Nine,” featuring his own arrangements loosened up by solos by Billy Butterfield, among others.

Dave was usually happiest in small jamming groups — although concert bills show that he appeared at Eddie Condon’s Forties concerts, he does not appear on any of the famous half-hour broadcasts.  With all respect to George Wettling and Joe Grauso, that’s a real pity.  But the one film clip of Tough has him, all too briefly, amid a 1946 Condon group recorded at the club.  Wild Bill Davison, Tony Parenti, Gowans, Gene Schroeder, and Jack Lesberg are visible, roaring through the end of “Farewell Blues,” in a “March of Time” newsreel called “Nightclub Boom.”

The clip used to be available on YouTube, but it seems to have vanished.  Can any readers help me find a copy to post here?

Here, however, is a Gjon Mili photograph — new to me — taken from LIFE in 1945, showing Condon, Schroeder, Davison, Freeman, Bob Casey on bass, and Tough at the downtown Eddie Condon’s.

toughschroedercasey-mili-1945

An assiduous listener can find many more glowing surprises in Tough’s work with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey (as well as his sometimes hilarious work with the Clambake Seven), with Bunny Berigan, with Goodman (as well as sessions with the Trio, Quartet, and Sextet), with Artie Shaw (there is a priceless, driving airshot of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” where Tough pushes the band and soloist Hot Lips Page as hard as a drummer could push); finally, there is Tough’s work with Woody Herman’s First Herd, where he is again well-recorded by the Columbia engineers.

He made only one four-tune session under his own name, and (perhaps typically) it doesn’t show him off all that well.  And there has never, to my knowledge, been a record or compact disc simply devoted to him.  What a shame!

I am sure he would have splendidly fit into the “Mainstream” jazz that prevailed a decade after his death, once “Bop” and “Dixieland” had stopped baring their fangs at each other.

Was Tough someone who said all that he had to say in his brief span of time?  Can we mourn him without thinking gratefully of what he did leave for us?  But like Lips Page, Catlett, Frankie Newton, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Blanton and a dozen others, he left too soon.  I miss them all.

P.S.  In Tom Pletcher’s liner notes to an exquisite Jazz Oracle CD devoted to the music and life of his father, Stew Pletcher, he points out that his father — who knew and played alongside Tough — said that Tough hated being called “Davey.”  Even when Edythe Wright did it at the beginning of “At the Codfish Ball,” no doubt.

davetough-cymbals

JAZZ FINDS ME IN NEW YORK

I made it to Smalls, that casual jazz mecca, on Thursday night to sit close to the bandstand and absorb the sounds.  Smalls seems a blessed place as soon as you descend the stairs and see the huge portrait of Louis, sharp as a tack, dressed in high British style, circa 1933.  And the two players who improvised under that portrait were clearly in tune with his spirit.  The immensely talented Dan Block, bringing his alto and clarinet, filled the hour with melodic shapes inhabited by notes that were full of meaning but never weighty.  And pianist Ehud Asherie gets wittier and wittier, more rhythmically subtle and melodically free, every time I see him.  And more modest, too!

I brought my little friend — Flip the Video Camera — and have two delightful bits of cinema verite to offer here.  The first, “Thanks A Million,” was a pop hit — from a Dick Powell film — in 1935.  Most of us know this pretty tune (expressing gratitudes in swing) from the eloquent Decca recording Louis did — and later versions by Bobby Hackett and Jon-Erik Kellso (the only one of the three who includes the pretty verse when he plays the song).

Following this, the duo offered a leisurely, ranging “The Love Nest,” a 1920 song that was later taken up by George Burns and Gracie Allen as their theme song.  I always think of a wonderfully hot medium-tempo version by Max Kaminsky on Commodore — with Frank Orchard, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey (I think), and George Wettling.  (Sometimes I think I started a blog only for the pure pleasure of writing “Rod Cless” in public, in a quietly worshipful way.)

Incidentally, there are more clips of Ehud on YouTube — with Harry Allen and the aforementioned Jon-Erik.

Then, a beautifully dressed Rossano Sportiello took the stage with his Amici — the brothers Luigi and  Pasquale Grasso on alto and guitar, Luca Santangelo on drums, and Joel Forbes (an honorary Italian-American for the occasion) to saunter through a slow “Lady Be Good” in honor of Basie and “I’m Through With Love” in honor of Bing, perhaps.  Wonderful music — and I was sorry I had to leave, but Friday morning was calling.  (It sounds like an alarm clock.)

That would have been enough to make a splendid evening for anyone — including chats with Ehud and Rossano, with Mitch Borden and pianist Spike Wilner, two of the people who have kept Smalls alive and vibrant.  But two other incidents brought delight.  I had told Mitch about posting here, announcing the pleasures to come.  He looked slightly skeptical (although it might be his typical expression) and began asking people seated near us how they had heard about these Thursday sessions.  And an attractive black-haired young woman said pertly to Mitch, “Online,” with the (“. . . of course . . . “) unspoken but hanging visible in the air.  Blessings on your head, my dear woman, whoever you are.

After the gig, I made my way — valiant warrior that I am — to Penn Station for the trek back to my nest.  Dinner with the Beloved (at Bar Pitti) had been delicious but early, so I was peckish, not an unusual condition.  I headed to one of the better pizza palaces in Penn and bought a slice.  On line ahead of me there was a man and woman, of my generation, arousing no particular notice aside from being the people who had to be served before I could get fed.  This pizza oasis has a seating area, usually filled with sports fans because a television set is tuned to some game or the other.  (Like the audience at old-style movie theatres, the patrons here — sipping beer in plastic cups and eating — talk loudly to each other and to the set.)

All this is elaborate prelude to my finding a seat near this couple: he gray-haired, she auburn-tressed.  They were having an animated conversation, with him in the lead.  He was telling her what had happened at the concert — what the bass player did, where the drummer went, etc.  He sounded hip; he used the word “gig”; he was clearly a professional musician.  My eavesdropping talents, always highly honed, went into higher gear.  I finished my pizza and took one of my business cards out of my wallet, and gingerly approached the couple.  “Eavesdropping is very rude, so I apologize . . . but it sounded as if you were a New York musician.  I have a jazz blog and perhaps you might like to see it sometime.”  Unabashed self-promotion, I admit, but the man smiled and said, “Sure.  My name is Warren Chiasson, and I play the vibes.”

After a brief pause, I closed my mouth and told Warren he needed no introduction, and we had a brief, happy chat.  I had to make my train, so the three of us grinned at the coincidence and went our separate ways.  But I was elated all the way home.  Warren gave me his business card — so I know this was no hallucination — and I’ve added his website to my blogroll.  Hope he sees this posting someday!