Tag Archives: Bob Erwig

UP IN THE CLOUDS with BILL COLEMAN

No other trumpeter sounded quite like graceful Bill Coleman, who should have put his profession as “aerialist” on his passport.

It wasn’t a matter of playing high notes, for other trumpeters have gone higher, but the ease with which Coleman accomplished his arcs in the sky.  Most astonishingly, he made the whole thing sound so easy, which even non-trumpeters will know is a great feat of magic. And his sound!  Not brass and valves and air pressure and force, but “gold to airy thinness beat.”

Here he is in glossy form in late 1935 in Paris:

The band was billed as “Garnet Clark and his Hot Club’s Four,” with Bill on trumpet and vocal; George Johnson, clarinet and tenor; Clark, piano; Django Reinhardt, guitar; June Cole, bass.

Here’s Bill in 1972 — playing fluegelhorn, his sound heavier, and darker, but still masterfully light.

We have this clip from a French television program, “Jazz Harmonie,” thanks to trumpeter and film scholar Bob Erwig.  Bill is joined by Marc Hemmeler, piano; Jimmy Gourley, guitar; Pierre Sim, bass; Michel Silva, drums.

And — thanks to eBay — Bill signs in, too:

Postscripts: I realized, perhaps too late, that this blogpost was seriously indebted to that of my friend Michael McQuaid, hot musician from Australia, who had recently paid homage to Bill with THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION.  The evidence of the borrowing is here, but the theft was purely imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.  And — also from Oz — the trumpet player who most reminds me of Mr. Coleman is the equally dazzling Bob Barnard.

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DELICIOUS GOOD FORTUNE

Ruby Braff wasn’t terribly interested in what was on his plate — the way others obsessively considered their food bored him, but one of his favorite words of praise was DELICIOUS.  It applies to the video below, courtesy of Bob Erwig:

He would have told you that Louis, Lester, and Billie were his deities — so YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY resonated with him as one of the handful of songs recorded by all three of them. 

In this nice little band — loose and focused at the same time — are Gray Sargent and Howard Alden on guitar; Eddie Jones on bass; Oliver Jackson on drums.  And Ruby, his hair mussed, in wonderful form. 

Although Ruby was classified as “retro,” looking back when everyone else was looking forward to Miles, there is an intriguing balance here.  Yes, you will hear Louis-intensity, Billie-cool, Lester-space, but there are many Bird and Dizzy phrases in Ruby’s 1989 vocabulary.  And he was never in the position of trying to steal anyone else’s stuff to improve his identity, so the wide emotional and stylistc range is evidence of his mastery.

No one can deny!

OUR GOOD FORTUNE!

Very simple, beautiful, swinging, and uplifting: a kind of SUNRISE SEMESTER in jazz.

The easy floating and unaffected sincerity (and understatement) of Miss Maxine Sullivan in Bern, 1986.

She’s singing one of my favorite songs;  even when the lyrics are a bit thin at points, the sunny affirmation is worth hearing.  It’s the Sammy Cahn – Saul Chaplin YOU’RE A LUCKY GUY, from a Cotton Club show that featured both Maxine and that Louis fellow.  (His Decca recording of the song has a wonderful J.C. Higginbotham break and Sid Catlett accent that I can hear in my head right now.)

And alongside Maxine — as we say, “Couldn’t they get anyone good?” — a perfect rhythm section: Jack Lesberg on bass, Dick Hyman on piano, and Uncle Jake, Jake Hanna, on the drums.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for sharing this.  Breathing?  Have music?  We’re lucky!

ALTERATIONS WHILE YOU WAIT: MARTY GROSZ, 1977

This lovely video performance is courtesy of the great jazz archivist (and musician) Bob Erwig — his YouTube channel is “erwigfilms” and it catches the irreplaceable Marty Grosz on Canadian television in 1977.  Marty’s accompanied by vibraphonist Peter Appleyard and Jim McHarg’s Metro Stompers in a version of THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE that starts off somberly, pensively, before jumping up and exulting:

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KENNY DAVERN, REMEMBERED

First, some comedy.  The last time I saw Kenny Davern in action was at Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party — only a few months before his death.  At the dinner for musicians and friends the night before the party started, Kenny took a napkin off one of the tables, draped it over his arm, and transformed himself into an elderly, mournful New York Jewish waiter, asking each table, “Is anything all right?”

Then, in the middle of a set, he told one of his many jokes.

Jake always wanted to be a professional actor and appear on Broadway, but the fates are against him.  Finally, his agent gets so tired of Jake’s begging, whining, and pleading that he arranges — as a favor — for Jake to have a one-line walk-on in a production far from Broadway.  Jake’s line?  “Hark!  I hear a cannon roar!”  Jake is thrilled and spends every minute before the production practicing in front of the mirror.  “HARK!  I hear a CANNON roar!”  “Hark . . . I HEAR a cannon ROAR!”  The big night comes, Jake is pinned into his costume and stands muttering his one line in the wings.  He’s pushed out on stage; the cannon fires a thunderous blast, and Jake says, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”

But Davern was much more than a comedian, although his timing was impeccable — combined with his mobile face, his vocal inflections.

The Davern we remember is the peerless clarinetist, with a heroic top register and a lustrous chalumeau sound — with plenty of “grease and funk,” to quote Marty Grosz, in between.  Luckily for us, a great deal of Davern’s best playing is documented on Arbors record sessions.  (One of my favorites is EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, with a front-line of Dan Barrett and Joel Helleny.)

Even though at times I thought I knew what Kenny was going to play next — what variation on a Jimmie Noone passage he was going to use for those particular chords — he never coasted, even on the thousandth version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID.

I had seen him several decades earlier — in the very early Seventies — when his partnership with Bob Wilber was beginning.  Soprano Summit was a high-intensity group, and when its two horns got going on the closing ensembles of something like EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY they had the force of the great Spanier-Bechet Hot Four.  I also remember Davern as a regular member of the Sunday jam sessions put on by Red Balaban in 1972 — when Kenny was primarily playing the straight soprano with operatic (if not dangerous) focused intensity.  I remember his overwhelming less assertive trumpet and trombone players — as if saying “Get the hell out of my way, if you please.”

Courtesy of Bob Erwig, here is Kenny’s performance of TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE from the 1989 Bern International Jazz Festival — backed by Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson — where Kenny is ardent without being shrill, powerful while playing quietly.  No wonder John L. Fell, who knew about such things, called Davern “the Coleman Hawkins of the clarinet.”  We miss him.

And one more Davern-sighting.  In 1972, friends and I saw Kenny and company at a Sunday afternoon jam session at Your Father’s Mustache and we then went downtown to The Half Note where Ruby Braff was leading a quartet — possibly with Dill Jones, George Mraz, and Dottie Dodgion.  The door opened during a set break and Davern walked in.  I was excited and envisioned a wonderful jam session.  My exuberant college-age self got the better of me, and I greeted Davern with an enthusiastic “Kenny!” then realized that I had perhaps overstepped myself and retreated into a quieter, “Mister Davern.”  With his usual glint of a half-smile, he looked at me and murmured, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” and turned away.  I’m still decoding that one.

BUZZY DROOTIN, TWICE

First, a story from the man I call The Swing Explorer — the magnificent saxophonist Joel Press:

Buzzy Drootin spent his final decades in the Boston area, initially, with brother Al’s excellent Dixie band at the Scotch and Sirloin (Al rescued him from a day gig at Manny’s Music Store in New York City), and later on the Cape and at Sandy’s Jazz Revival in Beverly, Massachusetts.

When Sandy’s reopened in the Eighties, Bob Wilber led a band which included guitarist Gray Sargent, trumpeters Jeff Stout and Dave Whitney, trombonist Phil Wilson, tenor saxophonists Art Bartol and myself.  Gray, Jeff, and I played in Buzzy’s quintet throughout the following  summer.

Buzzy retained his love for the music and his sense of humor throughout his final years. When a member of the audience requested a Latin number, Buzzy replied, “We only play American music.”

Second, a video preserved for us by archivist and musician Bob Erwig, of a Wild Bill Davison group performing in Sweden in 1984:

The other musicians are trombonist Bill Allred, clarinetist Chuck Hedges, pianist Bob Pilsbury, and bassist Jack Lesberg.  Listen to Buzzy behind the first choruses of Bill and Wild Bill, and his work in the final chorus.  You can’t hear Buzzy’s trademark growl-roar as well as you should, but the joy on his face is vivid, his energy is audible, and his pulse is wonderful.

RUSSELL, SMITH, CONDON, DAVISON, FELD, LLC.

A gathering of individualists, playing the blues in two moods.

PeeWee Russell, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Wild Bill Davison, Eddie Condon, Morey Feld.  The film, made for Canadian television, purports to capture what it was like after hours at Condon’s club (the midtown version) in December 1963.  How close it is to reality is anyone’s guess.  Did Helen Ward, looking so pretty here, drop by to sing when there was no camera crew in attendance, and was there usually someone sitting at a table, sketching?

But the music that initially feels tenuous, ready to fall off the edge into disunity, comes together surprisingly.  The sounds are genuine, and so are the smiles on everyone’s face at the close.  “All the Olympians,” to quote Yeats.

Thanks to Bob Erwig for posting this on Dailymotion, and to David Weiner for reminding me about it.