Tag Archives: Bob Haggart

BILLY BUTTERFIELD, A FEW MORE CHORUSES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

But first, some memorable music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judi:  He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.

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

Judi: He did!  He was a funny man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER “TOWN HALL CONCERT”: PAOLO ALDERIGHI, BERT BOEREN, MENNO DAAMS, BERNARD FLEGAR, MORITZ GASTREICH, NICO GASTREICH, HELGE LORENZ, NICKI PARROTT, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, STEPHANIE TRICK, NIELS UNBEHAGEN, ENGELBERT WROBEL (Westoverledingen, Germany, April 10, 2016)

I was there, among admired friends.  And the music was spectacular.

In German, it’s JAZZ IM RATHAUS — Jazz at the Town (City) Hall — but given that Louis’ 1947 Town Hall Concert shaped my life, I realign the words as tribute.  The Dramatis Personae is on the green cover.

April 9, 2016. Photograph by Elke Grunwald

This was the thirtieth annual concert, a series featuring, among others, Wild Bill Davison, Kenny Davern, Marty Grosz, Ralph Sutton, Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Barrett, Randy Sandke, Warren Vache, Bob Haggart, Mark Shane, Danny Moss, Chris Hopkins, Jake Hanna, Rossano Sportiello, Antti Sarpila, Butch Miles, Ken Peplowski . . . . All of this happened because of Manfred Selchow, known to his friends as Mannie, a deep jazz-lover, author of beautifully comprehensive studies of Ed Hall and Vic Dickenson.  He’s the serious man below with both hands on the check, but don’t let that somber visage fool you: he is a warm and easy fellow.

But music is what we’re here for — two rousing selections from the final concert of the April 8-10 jazz weekend at the Rathaus.  The first, LADY BE GOOD, is full of gratifying solos, ensemble telepathy, uplifting surprises.  That’s Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, tenor saxophones; Helge Lorenz, guitar; Bert Boeren, trombone; Menno Daams, cornet; Rico Tomasso, trumpet; Bernard Flegar, later, Moritz Gastreich, drums; Nico Gastreich, string bass; Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano — doing crowd-pleasing handoffs.  AND 1936 Lester!  (Wait for it, as they say.)

The encore, PERDIDO, evokes JATP, with Matthias, Engelbert, Helge, Nicki Parrott on string bass; Bernard, Niels, Stephanie, Paolo, Rico, Menno, and Bert:

Someday, sweethearts, we shall meet again.  And thanks for the lovely sounds.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part Two): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR, with HANJU PAPE): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance began with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”

Here is the first part of this glorious concert, almost eighty minutes in four segments. . . . . and now the second part (all of this divided arbitrarily by YouTube, but not disastrously).

This segment continues the rocking SWEET GEORGIA BROWN that now includes (unobtrusively) the banjoist Hanju Pape and perhaps some of the young players at the rear of the stage, but the real delight is the way the Bob Cats trade phrases — the audience delights in it, also.  Peter Buhr then introduces Pape to sing and play NOBODY KNOWS YOU WHEN YOU’RE WHEN YOU’RE DOWN AND OUT, quite idiomatically.  Haggart quietly and effectively backs him up: friendship on the bandstand!  Fatool adds so much during Pape’s OH, SUSANNAH (is Haggart checking the chords?), then Stein joins in for S’WONDERFUL, and the Cats gentle reassemble behind and around Pape.  Havens begins a beautiful BASIN STREET BLUES — incomplete (in the middle of a Lawson phrase) but to be resumed in the next segment:

The band provides Havens superb stop-time backing (and someone says, fervently, “Yeah, Bobby!) and then the mood changes for the Haggart-Fatool duet, BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA, a beautiful version: great visual and auditory theatre that pleases the audience immensely.  Lawson then begins SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY with Fatool, Haggart, and Stein — tightly muted and whispery, before playing the sound games of which he was a master: this quartet session is reminiscent of the Ruby Braff live gigs I saw, and makes me think it was a pity that Lawson never did a whole session as the only horn.  “We meet again,” says Marty Grosz, before beginning his solo segment with BREAKIN’ THE ICE (catch the descending phrase behind “I guess you know what it’s for”) then ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM, with a nod to Clappo Marx, in a truly swinging version, interrupted before the final words, but you know what they are:

“. . . .got swing.”  Then, SQUEEZE ME, at a leisurely tempo with beautiful expressive solos by Lawson, Havens, and Miller — followed by a rhapsodic MY FUNNY VALENTINE featuring Stein and masterful accompaniment from Haggart and Fatool.  Then what might have been a deplorable interlude — WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN — plus Pape — is transformed by this band’s irresistible swing and quiet lyricism.  Mainstream jazz, my friends: consider Miller’s splendid solo before the applause, band introductions, and more applause.  The band goes off, but there must be an encore, and we know it, SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE, started off by Fatool, whose playing is a graduate seminar in itself:

and here it is! — with everyone knowing just how it should sound, splendidly, Most nodding to George Lewis once or twice, Miller soaring, and Lawson climbing above the ensemble in the best Blackhawk fashion:

“Drive carefully going home,” Lawson tells us, before Peter Buhr closes off the evening for us and we watch the pleasantly-dressed audience leave the hall.

But wait!  Here’s Eddie Miller playing SOPHISTICATED LADY with the same rhythm section at the Cork Jazz Festival, a year later.  Too good to ignore:

And a few words about labeling and categorization.  Dick Gibson named this band and its offshoots THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND as a marketing idea (it was more memorable than the TEN GREATS OF JAZZ on a marquee) and also because he believed it.  But at Gibson’s parties you’d also hear Carl Fontana, Sweets Edison, and Benny Carter.  However, many jazz fans — perhaps those who believe that the music began with KIND OF BLUE — sneered at the label and at the band.  To them, these musicians were elderly, repeating old routines.  I will leave the ageism to those who dote on such things.  But as you listen to “The Bob Cats,” even though some of their repertoire goes back to the ODJB, and a few routines are pre-war, the solos and ensembles are so lively, so timeless.  Mainstream jazz, not museum jazz.  All it requires is that listeners are open to the individualities, the sincerities, and the swing.

Heartfelt thanks again to Bernard, Peter, Yank, Bob, Eddie, Abe, Lou, Bob, Nick, Marty, Hanju, another Michael, and that pleasant audience . . . for making these hours of joy possible then and now.  And I can testify that this concert improves on repeated listening.

May your happiness increase!

“THE BOB CATS” (Part One): YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, NICK FATOOL, MARTY GROSZ, LOU STEIN, ABE MOST, EDDIE MILLER, BOB HAVENS (presented by PETER BUHR): Plochingen, Germany: October 21, 1985

Through the kindness of my friend, the fine drummer and jazz scholar Bernard Flegar, we have an extended performance by “The Bob Cats,” featuring musicians rarely captured on film at this length — who come together to form an expert band, engaged and expert.  In their hands, the most hackneyed tunes sound casual, intense, and fresh.  The band is presented as a subset of “The World’s Greatest Jazz Band,” but in truth only co-leaders Lawson and Haggart were founding members of the WGJB: the others were old friends who could be wooed into a European tour, people who knew the routines, sometimes because of fifty years of professional performance.

Bernard, swinging — a characteristic pose.

The performance begins with a long introduction by Peter Buhr, who was, as Bernard tells me, “the MC and booker of the Bob Cats tour, and to this day leader of his band, the ‘Flat Foot Stompers.’ Peter was a personal friend to many of these legends.”  Here, he plays a chorus of MY INSPIRATION on saxophone with Lou Stein, Marty Grosz (looking at the music for the chords) and Nick Fatool.  Then the full band assembles for an easy ST. LOUIS BLUES, with Bob Haggart glaring at a recalcitrant bass amplifier and even giving it a gentle kick at one point — catch the ingenious Lawson-Fatool conversation; then they head into a very leisurely LAZY RIVER (incomplete on this segment):

More LAZY RIVER, with lyrical Miller and Havens, Marty Grosz shifting in and out of double-time behind them, leading up to a Lawson muted specialty and a gracious interlude for Most and Stein, then a Louis-inspired double-time segment before the impassioned Lawson cadenza.  AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL does not show its age: the rhythm section rocks (Haggart only glares at his amplifier once and takes a solo) and the musicians’ body language suggests comfort and pleasure.  Lou Stein’s feature on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE blissfully starts with a rubato verse — always a lovely touch — before heading into Sullivan / Sutton territory, with side-glances at Dave McKenna.  Havens’ STARS FELL ON ALABAMA of course evokes Jack Teagarden — with Havens’ plush sound that you could stretch out on.  (It stops abruptly, but don’t despair: the third video completes it.)

Here’s the conclusion of ALABAMA (I can see the meteor shower) — gorgeous.  And now for something completely different, Marty Grosz, all by himself, in fifth gear (after the obligatory German joke) for I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY — with a slightly more truncated version of Marty’s extensive encomium of Fats before he changes the mood for a truly touching LONESOME ME.  What could follow that?  A jubilant JAZZ ME BLUES, and we’re back to the Blackhawk Hotel in 1937, with wonderful percussive commentary from Nick.  Eddie Miller’s SOPHISTICATED LADY from this concert has been lost, but we’ll make it up to you someday:

Abe Most’s classic take on AFTER YOU’VE GONE seems familiar until one listens closely: his harmonic and rhythmic sense went beyond 1938 Goodman, with wonderful results.  (Catch his ending!)  Haggart leads the group into a sultry, not-too-fast BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME.  The tempo slows down as this one proceeds, but the Lawson-Fatool duet is magnificent, and the solitary clapper gets the hint and stops, more or less — a nice shuffle beat behind Eddie Miller.  Then, an introduction: does Yank really say, “Get some Coca-Cola”? before the audience, undecided, half-heartedly starts what I think of as European “We want seventeen encores!” applause, and we see the lovely faces of the listeners.  The second half begins with the Bob Cats’ rhythm section — without Marty — surrounded by the high school band for a thoroughly competent SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, with the Bob Cats’ horns joining in later:

The arbitrary editing comes from YouTube, not from any human, but I don’t think that music is lost.  And I promise the second half shall follow — as the night does the day, to quote Polonius.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

Pictorial evidence:

And the other side:

An explanation, or several.

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

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

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

November 28, 1939.

December 5, 1939:

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

SHOOT FIRST. ASK QUESTIONS LATER.

Zoot, riding the range.

The splendid people at jgautographs (on eBay) have reached into the apparently bottomless treasure chest and come up with an assortment of photographs for sale.  The auction has a time limit, so don’t (as we say) dither.

Bill, Kenny, and Bob, also riding the range, although dressed like city slickers.

Question: what do Bobby Hackett, George Barnes, Flip Phillips, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Connie Jones, Max Kaminsky, Joe Venuti, Lou Stein, Joe Wilder, Zoot Sims, Ralph Sutton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Scott Hamilton, Milt Hinton, Bucky and John Pizzarelli, Greg Cohen, Dick Hyman, Urbie Green, Trummy Young, Vic Dickenson, Hank Jones, Bob Haggart, Dick Cathcart, Jess Stacy, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, John Best, Franz Jackson, Wild Bill Davison, Butch Miles, Jack Lesberg, Dick Johnson, Bob Havens, and a few others have in common . . . . aside from their musical glories?

Urbie, the one, the only.

Answer: They were all caught in performance by Al White and his roving camera (many of them at Dick Gibson’s Colorado jazz parties) — asked to sign the photos — the ones I’ve seen have all been inscribed to Al — and these 8 x 10″ black and white beauties are now being offered at the site above.

In 2000, Al and Ralph Sutton’s biographer James D. Schacter created a large-format book, JAZZ PARTY, with over a hundred of these inscribed photographs, but that book is now out of print, although copies can be found.

Al started life as an amateur drummer and jazz fan, then put on concerts and parties in Arkansas . . . . and at some point began to specialize in candid shots of the musicians he admired.

The noble Dick Cathcart.

The photographs offered on eBay have, for me, a special resonance.  For a moment in time, Bobby or Urbie had to touch this piece of paper to sign it, so they are beautiful artifacts or relics or what you will.

I’ve been running out of wall space for some time now (and it would be disrespectful as well as damp to start hanging photographs in the bathroom) so the field is clear for you to visually admire and place bids, even though I might be tempted in two days and twenty-something hours.

I thought you might like some jazz-party-jazz, so here is the priceless 1977 color film (102 minutes) of the Dick Gibson party, “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party,” featuring everyone:

May your happiness increase!

A MUSICAL LANDSCAPE: MARCH 13, 1951

LANDSCAPE WITH BUSHES, Ivana Falconi Allen, 2020.  In a private collection.

The little world we know as jazz has moved so quickly in its hundred-plus years that sometimes it seems precariously balanced between the beloved Living and the heroic Dead.  I can go out in New York City to hear people I admire tremendously blow breath through horns and out of mouths, to make music right in front of me.  But at times jazz seems like a well-tended graveyard, with death announcements hitting me between the eyes every morning, adding to the great graveyard where Buster, Bessie, Billie, Bean, Brownie, Blanton, Ben, Bix, Big Sid, and Bunny are buried.

Where the music I am about to present — thanks to our great friend “Davey Tough” — fits in this formulation is a large charming paradox.  I do not think any of the players on this transcription disc, recorded before my birth, are alive in 2020.  But their music is resoundingly alive, and their ability to make a shining personal statement in sixteen bars, a time span of under thirty seconds, is marvelous.  Their names are announced, and you can read more on the label.

What’s the moral?

Emulate our great heroes, by doing something so well that when our bodies have said, “All right, that’s enough!” our selves live on.

And like “Davey Tough,” share your joys generously.

And a postscript: if you don’t know the artwork of the endearingly imaginative Ivana Falconi Allen, you are missing work as sharply realized and as delightful as any jazz solo you cherish.  Here is her website, full of sweet shocks.

May your happiness increase!

THE WORLD’S GREATEST JAZZ BAND: YANK LAWSON, BOB HAGGART, GUS JOHNSON, DICK WELLSTOOD, BOB WILBER, BUD FREEMAN, SONNY RUSSO, BENNIE MORTON, MAXINE SULLIVAN // AL KLINK, PEANUTS HUCKO, GEORGE MASSO, RALPH SUTTON, BOBBY ROSENGARDEN (1975)

I wouldn’t have known of these programs (now shared with us on the Musikladen YouTube channel) except for my good friend, the fine drummer Bernard Flegar.  They are rich and delicious.

The WGJB lasted from the late Sixties (when they were a development of the Nine / Ten Greats of Jazz, sponsored by Dick Gibson) to 1978.  In some ways, they were both a touring assemblage of gifted veteran players — I believe Robert Sage Wilber, known to his friends worldwide as Bob, is the sole survivor — and a versatile band that echoed the best of the Bob Crosby units, big and small.  The WGJB came in for a good deal of sneering because of their hyperbolic title, which was Gibson’s idea, not the musicians’, but from the perspective of 2019, they were great, no questions asked.  And they weren’t just a collection of soloists, each taking a turn playing jazz chestnuts (although JAZZ ME BLUES was often on the program); Haggart’s arrangements were splendid evocations of a Swing Era big band with plenty of room, and the WGJB brought its own down-home / Fifty-Second Street energy to current pop tunes (I remember their UP, UP, AND AWAY with delight).  And they played the blues.

I remember them with substantial fondness, because the second jazz concert I went to (the first was Louis in 1967, which is starting at the apex) was held in Town Hall, with Gibson as host, probably in 1970, and it featured the WGJB — Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble on trombones — and a small group with Al and Zoot, possibly Joe Newman, where they performed THE RED DOOR and MOTORING ALONG, titles no one would forget, and Gibson told his anecdote of the white deer.

These two programs seem to have been sophisticated television offerings: multi-camera perspectives with a great deal of editing from one camera to the other, and beginnings and endings that suggest that these were not finished products.  The absence of an audience — or their audible presence — on the first program seems odd, but I don’t mind the quiet.  The WGJB could certainly add its own charging exuberance — hear the final ensemble of CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME — that few bands have matched.

The first program features co-leaders Yank Lawson, trumpet; Bob Haggart, string bass, arrangements; Billy Butterfield, trumpet; Bob Wilber, clarinet, soprano; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Bennie Morton, trombone; Sonny Russo, trombone; Dick Wellstood, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Maxine Sullivan, guest vocalist, and the songs performed are BLUES / MERCY, MERCY, MERCY / DOODLE DOO DOO / THE EEL (featuring its composer, Bud Freeman) / THAT’S A PLENTY (featuring Bob Wilber and Dick Wellstood) / A HUNDRED YEARS FROM TODAY (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / THE LADY IS A TRAMP (Maxine) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE/ MY INSPIRATION (closing theme) //:

And here’s another forty-five minute program, presumably aired October 17 of the same year, with certain personnel changes — this time there’s an audience but the band is also dressed with great casualness: Ralph Sutton, piano; Al Klink, tenor saxophone; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Bobby Rosengarden, drums; George Masso and Sonny Russo, trombones; Lawson, Haggart, Butterfield, and Maxine, performing AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL / BASIN STREET BLUES (featuring Masso) / CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME (featuring Sutton) / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME (featuring Lawson and Butterfield) / LIMEHOUSE BLUES (featuring Russo and Masso) / HARLEM BUTTERFLY / EV’RY TIME (featuring Maxine Sullivan) / ST. LOUIS BLUES / STAR DUST (featuring Klink) / RUNNIN’ WILD (featuring Hucko) / BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (featuring Haggart and Rosengarden) / SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE / MY INSPIRATION //:

The repertoire for the longer program is more familiar, with few surprises, but that band could roar as well as play pretty ballads and its own version of Thirties funk.  What unexpected treasures these programs are.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Two): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

What a wonderful afternoon of music this was, among friends, in a splendid place.  Here is my post of the first four performances.

What brass friendship looks like.  Warren’s on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the scene of the musical joy:

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

Here’s the second helping, with two band-within-a-band delights as well.

I NEVER KNEW:

an Ellington blues for the supple rhythm section:

Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU, with memories of Louis and Ruby:

and a real delicacy by Pat Mercuri (who explains it all) and Joe Plowman:

How wonderful, I think.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part One): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

I love that I live about an hour from the jazz-metropolis that is New York City, but I will drive for hours when the music beckons.  It did last Saturday, when brassmen Danny Tobias and Warren Vaché joined with Philip Orr, piano; Joe Plowman, string bass; Pat Mercuri, guitar, for a wonderful afternoon of acoustic improvisations at the lovely 1867 Sanctuary Arts and Culture Center in Ewing, New Jersey.  (101 Scotch Road will stay in my car’s GPS for that reason.) Here’s some evidence — thanks to the very subtle photographer Lynn Redmile — to document the scene:

 

 

 

 

 

 

and the two Swing perpetrators:

It’s an immense compliment to the melodic swinging inventiveness of this ad hoc quintet, that their music requires no explanation.  But what is especially touching is the teamwork: when portrayed in films, trumpet players are always trying to outdo each other.  Not here: Danny and Warren played and acted like family, and a particularly loving branch.  They have very individual voices, but if I said that the approving ghosts up in the rafters were Ruby Braff, Joe Wilder, Kenny Davern, and Tony DiNicola, no one would object.  Phil, Joe, and Pat listened, responded, and created with characteristic grace.  Thanks to Bob and Helen Kull, the guiding spirits of the 1867 Sanctuary, for making us all so welcome with such fine music.

It was a memorable afternoon, and I wish only that this was a regular occasion, to be documented by CD releases and general acclamation.  We can hope.

I have a dozen beauties to share with you.  Here are the first four.

Irving Berlin’s ALL BY MYSELF, and someone in the band breaks into song, most effectively:

Another Berlin treasure, CHANGE PARTNERS:

Edgar Sampson’s paean to hope, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

To celebrate the start of Fall, AUTUMN LEAVES:

May your happiness increase!

GENEROSITIES from MISTER McGOWN: “DAVEY TOUGH” on YOUTUBE

I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music.  When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post.  And I cherish most those who are open-handed.  I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.

One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown.  An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.

On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here.  It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.

Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music.  The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.

About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough”  — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that.  Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another.  How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries.  And surprises!  Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.

I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):

Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.

Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:

And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:

Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:

and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:

These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures.  I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights.  I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.

And thank you, Mister McGown.

May your happiness increase!

TWEETING BEFORE TWITTER: LIPS PAGE and FRIENDS, 1944, 1952

Mister Page signs in — first on paper, then audibly and memorably.

The response to my recent posting of Hot Lips Page playing and singing CHINATOWN (here) at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert was so strong that I thought it would be cruel to not offer more of the same immediately.

(Note: the cross-species inventiveness of this cover — that the birdies have cute human faces — is a whimsy of the sheet music artist’s, and it’s not part of the song, in case you were anxious about the possibilities of such genetic mingling.)

One of Lips’ favorite showpieces was the 1924 WHEN MY SUGAR WALKS DOWN THE STREET, and here are two sterling versions.  The first is very brief but no less affecting.  The collective personnel is Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Lips, Bill Harris, Ernie Caceres, Clyde Hart, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  New York, June 10, 1944:

Eight years later, Lips was part of an extraordinary little band, nominally led by drummer George Wettling: with Joe Sullivan, Pee Wee Russell, and Lou McGarity — a peerless quintet captured at the Stuyvesant Casino during one of “Doctor Jazz”‘s broadcasts, this one from February 15, 1952:

More Lips to come.

May your happiness increase!

“THANK YOU . . . FOR THAT”: LIPS PAGE, CENTER STAGE (1944)

The advertisement shows that musicians were always trying to make an extra few dollars, and it also offers some unusual pictures of one of my heroes, Hot Lips Page, someone who couldn’t help swinging, no matter what the context.

Lips and Eddie Condon admired each other tremendously as people who could play Hot without any artifice, and the moments when Lips performed at Eddie’s concerts are magical.  (Dan Morgenstern had the wondrous experience of seeing Lips sit in at Eddie’s club on Tuesday nights, something I can only imagine.) These cosmic collaborations took place not only at the 1944 Town Hall and Ritz Theatre concerts but on the television series, “Eddie Condon’s Floor Show” of 1948-50.  Photographs show a trio performance by Lips, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, which I wouldn’t mind hearing.  And before anyone writes in to inquire about the kinescopes of the Floor Show, I am afraid that they no longer exist, unless duplicate and triplicate sets were made.  I feel your pain: it’s been mine for decades.

But we do have uplifting evidence (a recording I’ve loved for forty years).

To call that a live performance would be a gross understatement.  It’s from a June 24, 1944 broadcast at Town Hall in New York City.  Supporting Lips are Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  I admire Haggart’s powerful support, but for me Lips is the whole show.  Yes, there is some admiration for Louis evident, but Lips is playing Lips, and you could ask any trumpet player what a heroic accomplishment his playing is, chorus upon chorus, each one building on the predecessor so when the performance ends, one has the sense of a completed creation rather than a series of phrase-length ideas offered to us.  Marc Caparone, who knows about such things from experience, calls Lips “Atlas,” and although that name might not have sold colas (“Royal Crown Cola . . . when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders,” perhaps?) it’s more than accurate.

One more piece of jazz minutiae.  The opening phrase of Lips’ CHINATOWN solo, the fanfare over Grauso’s drums, a syncopated bounce back and forth over two notes, sounds familiar because it’s the device Lester used to begin the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY.  I suspect it was in the air in Kansas City, and (not surprisingly) I think it probably appears on a Louis recording c. 1927.  You are free to disagree in the privacy of your own homes, but Louis seems to be the root of all good things.

But back to Mister Page Play CHINATOWN again.  It’s monumental.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW PAGES FROM ROBERT BIERMAN, formerly of IRVINGTON, NEW YORK

Another eBay prowl (taking a long respite from grading student essays) with glorious results.

The seller is offering an amazing collection of autographs, some dating back to 1938.  Since a few items were inscribed to “Bob” or “Robert” Bierman, it was easy to trace these precious artifacts back to the man of the same name, a Krupa aficionado, now deceased (I believe his dates are 1922-2009) who lived for some time on Staten Island.

The jazz percussion scholar Bruce Klauber tells me: Bob passed several years ago. He had things you wouldn’t believe and was kind enough to share several audios with me. Anything he was connected with was rare and authentic.

My friend David Weiner recalls Bierman as quiet, reticent, with wonderful photographs and autographs.

I never met Mr. Bierman in my brief collectors’ period, but in 1938 he must have been a very energetic sixteen-year old who went to hear hot jazz and big bands, asking the drummers and sidemen for their autographs.  The collection is notable for the signatures of people not otherwise documented — as you will see.

Incidentally, the seller has listed the items as “Buy It Now,” which means that indeed the race is to the swift.

cless-brunis-alvin

Three heroes from what I presume is Art Hodes’ Forties band that recorded for his own JAZZ RECORD label: Rod Cless, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, Danny Alvin.

bunny-postcard

Bunny and his Orchestra.

walter-page-buck-jo-tab-green-rushing

Basieites, circa 1940: Walter Page, Joe Jones, Buck Clayton, Tab Smith, Freddie Greene, and James Rushing.  The story is that John Hammond convinced Jo and Freddie to change the spelling of their names . . . perhaps to be more distinctive and memorable to the public?  I don’t know if this is verifiable.

gene-postcard

Gene!  But where and when?

wettling-1939-front

Wettling, promoting Ludwig drums — when he was with Paul Whiteman.

wettling-1939-back

And some advice to the young drummer.

teddy-1938

Teddy Wilson.  It’s so reassuring to see that there was actually letterhead for the School for Pianists.

bierman-bob-crosby-front

Some wonderful players from the Bob Crosby band: Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock, Hank D’Amico, Nappy Lamare.

bierman-bob-crosby-rear

Liz Tilton, Ray Bauduc.

bierman-gil-rodin

Gil Rodin from Ben Pollack and Crosby.

bierman-earle-warren

Earle Warren of Basie fame.

bierman-bunny-al-donahue

Al Donahue, and another Bunny signature.

bierman-hank-wayland-george-rose

To me, a page with the signatures of Hank Wayland, and George Rose — plus a caricature — is worth many thousand letters with a secretary’s “Bing” or “Benny” at the bottom.

bierman-ellington-venuti

You want famous?  Here’s famous: Duke Ellington, Joe Venuti.

bierman-mary-lou-williams

and Mary Lou Williams.

bierman-peggy-lee

Peggy Lee.

bierman-henderson-1939

Some fairly obscure Benny Goodman sidemen — Buff Estes, Toots Mondello, Arnold “Covey” — and the leader-turned-sideman Fletcher Henderson.

bierman-fats-waller-sidemen

Gentlemen from the reed section of Fats Waller’s big band: Jackie Fields and Bob Carroll.

bierman-gene-sedric

Fats’ “Honeybear,” Gene Sedric.

bierman-hodes-1947

A letter from Art Hodes!  (“Bob, there’s a letter for you!”)

bierman-hawkins-1943

Finally, the Hawk. 1943.

It makes me think, “What will happen to our precious stuff [see George Carlin] when we are dead?  eBay certainly is better than the dumpster, although these pages remind me that everything is in flux, and we are not our possessions. Beautiful to see, though, and to know that such things exist.  You, too, can have a piece of paper that Rod Cless touched — no small thing.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN IT’S APRIL IN WESTOVERLEDINGEN, GOOD SOUNDS HAPPEN (April 8-10, 2016)

Westoverledingen

Westoverledingen, Germany, a city with an imposing name, is not known worldwide as the cradle of jazz, but memorable music has been created there for the past thirty years and more by Manfred Selchow.  Manfred doesn’t play an instrument, but I feel secure in writing that he has done more for jazz than many people who do play.

I first encountered Manfred, or Mannie, as people call him, as a jazz scholar, because of his splendid documentation of clarinetist Edmond Hall’s life, performances, and recordings in a substantial book, PROFOUNDLY BLUE. Then he did the same thing for another hero of mine, trombonist Vic Dickenson, in a book he called, properly DING! DING!.

But Manfred likes the real thing, created on the spot, as much as he adores recordings — so he has invented and produced concert tours and festivals of some of the greatest musicians of this era.  (Many of his concerts have been recorded and the results issued on the Nagel-Heyer label.)

I first met Manfred and his wife Renate in 2007, when I also had the distinctive pleasure of encountering Menno Daams, Frank Roberscheuten, Colin T. Dawson, Oliver Mewes, Chris Hopkins, Shaunette Hildabrand, Bernd Lhotzky, and others.  At the time I didn’t have a blog or a video camera, so perhaps I only documented those evenings for the much-missed The Mississippi Rag.  

Jazz im Rathaus

Here’s a wonderful example of what takes place under Mannie’s amiable direction — a 1992 romp by Marty Grosz, Peter Ecklund, Dick Meldonian, Keith Ingham, Bob Haggart, Chuck Riggs (video by Helge Lorenz):

and more recently, a 2013 session with Menno Daams, Nicki Parrott, Bert Boeren, Antti Sarpila, Engelbert Wrobel, Joep Peeters, Chris Hopkins, Helge Lorenz, Jan Lorenz:

And since I gather that “Jazz im Rathaus” means roughly “Jazz at the Town Hall,” the shades of Louis and Eddie Condon are properly approving.

Now, for April 2016!  Consider the listings below:

Friday, April 8, 2016 – 8:00 – 10: 30 p.m.

Swingin’ Ladies + 2
Jazzfestival
(with Engelbert Wrobel, reeds; Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, piano; Nicki Parrott, bass / vocal)
Rathaus Ihrhove
Bahnhofstraße
26810-Westoverledingen
Germany

Saturday, April 9, 2016 – 8:00 – midnight.

Jazzfestival “Jam Session Night”
(with Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, trumpet; Bert Boeren, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Niels Unbehagen, piano; Nico Gastreich, bass; Moritz Gastreich, Bernard Flegar, drums)

Set One: “We Called It Music”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich (leader), Moritz Gastreich.

Set Two: “Around Broadway”: Engelbert Wrobel (leader), Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Nicki Parrott, Bernard Flegar.

Set Three: “The Stardust Road”: Menno Daams (leader), Matthias Seuffert, Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Moritz Gastreich.

Set Four: “What A Wonderful World”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich, Bernard Flegar.

At the finale all the musicians join in.

same location as Friday

Sunday, April 10, 2016 – 11:00 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Jazzfestival “Jazz Frühschoppen”
(with Engelbert Wrobel, Paolo Alderighi, Nicki Parrott, Menno Daams, Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren, Matthias Seuffert, Niels Unbehagen, Nico Gastreich, Moritz Gastreich, Bernard Flegar)

Set One: “Basie Jam”: Enrico Tomasso, Bert Boeren (leader), Engelbert Wrobel, Niels Unbehagen, Stephanie Trick, Helge Lorenz, guitar; Nico Gastreich, Moritz Gastreich.

Set Two: “To Billie, Teddy, and Pres”: Menno Daams, Matthias Seuffert, Paolo Alderighi, Stephanie Trick, Nicki Parrott (leader), Bernard Flegar.

Set Three: “Jazz at the Philharmonic Remembered”: Matthias Seuffert (leader) plus all of the other musicians in various combinations.

same location as Friday and Saturday

And here is another version of that information.  (And now I know what “Vorschau” means, so don’t let anyone tell you that blogging isn’t educational.)

Vorschau

I’m going.  How could I resist?  So I hope to meet some of the faithful there — even people who know of this blog — for good music and good times.

My dear friend Sir Robert Cox tells me that there are many good hotels in Papenburg and Leer only minutes away at €90 – €100/night ($100-110) with breakfast.

For more information, use the phone number on the bottom of the program:

(0049) 04955 933225. (Mainly German speaking, possibly some English)
email: helmer.alberring@westoverledingen.de

or Manfred Selchow (0049) 04955 8216. (English and German)

or Bob Cox (0044) 01634 232934. (English)
email: coxes@tesco.net

May your happiness increase!

RUBY, LOUIS, BUCK, ME (1954, 1983, 1989, 1996)

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff, December 7, 1980. Photograph by Michael Steinman

Ruby Braff remains one of my heroes: brave, curious, exploratory, full of lyrical warmth in his music — and one of those people I had many opportunities to observe between 1971 and 1983, at close range, in New York City.

Here is something new to me and I think absolutely remarkable — an interview with Ruby, done August 18, 1989, at the Newport Casino.  Ruby is remarkably patient with a somewhat inept questioner, but the subject is Louis Armstrong, so Ruby was very happy to speak about his and our hero:

Ruby despised his earlier recordings — and said so often, loudly and profanely.  I have no idea if he would have winced and swore at this one, but I am safe from his anger, so I present the 1954 Vanguard session (thanks to John Hammond) that paired him with Buck Clayton, Bennie Morton, Buddy Tate, Jimmy Jones, Steve Jordan, Aaron Bell, and Bobby Donaldson.  The shift into 4 / 4 at the start is one of my favorite moments in recorded jazz.  And the song is, of course, also.

LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER:

Much later, in 1996, Ruby created a gorgeous and irreplaceable Arbors CD, BEING WITH YOU, in honor of Louis and of Ruby’s recently-departed friend, the great reedman Sam Margolis. Along with Ruby, there were Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Dan Barrett, Jerry Jerome, Johnny Varro, Bucky Pizzarelli, Bob Haggart, Jim Gwin.  Ruby gave everyone a spot, and the results are glorious. And if you didn’t know what a magnificent singer he could be, savor LITTLE ONE.

I apologize for the intrusive advertisement that begins the final two videos:

LITTLE ONE:

And my own Ruby story, very brief and elliptical.  I had followed Ruby around with cassette and reel-to-reel recorder, with notebook and (once) camera — so much so that my nickname was “Tapes,” as in “Hey, Tapes!” — from 1971 on. This was not embarrassing to me; rather, it was an honor.

He played a concert at the New School with Dick Hyman early in 1983, and I, recently married, asked my new wife to come along.  She did not particularly like jazz, but it was a novel invitation and off we went.  We sat down in the middle of the auditorium — early, as is my habit — and I looked around for Ruby.  Surely, I thought, I could make eye contact and he would come over, exchange pleasantries, and I could not-so-subtly suggest to my new bride that I was Someone in this jazz world.  Ruby emerged from somewhere, and I stood up.  Perhaps I waved to catch his eye, or said, “Hey, Ruby!”  He looked at me, grinned, and pointed a forefinger.  “You!” he said.  “I remember you when you were in diapers!”  That was not the effect I had hoped to create, so I sat down and the deflated encounter was over.  He played beautifully.  As he always did.

Ask me about lyrical improvisation, and I might play you this as a glowing exemplar.

ONE HOUR:

I miss Ruby Braff, although, like Louis, he is always with us through his music.

May your happiness increase!

 

GOOD ADVICE FROM DANNY HEP-CAT (1947)

I can’t remember how I first learned of a children’s record, SYLVESTER THE SEAL, which featured Bobby Hackett and other jazz players. (It is not in any discography I know.) But I was terribly excited to find a copy of the two-disc set (two 10″ 78s in a paper sleeve) at an estate sale this summer.  I think it is not only an endearing story but a musically satisfying experience.

SEAL

Charles Grean gets credit for the music (several short blues excerpts, variations on YANKEE DOODLE and AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL); Irving Townsend the story — in part an introduction to jazz, but also a fable with an encouraging moral.

The narrator, Eddie Mayehoff, was a radio star and comic actor; I presume that one of his routines involved speaking in his version of a seal’s voice, which sounds rather like a person talking with his face half-submerged in the bathroom sink. If any seals read JAZZ LIVES, they can write in and comment on his authenticity.

Through the research efforts of Hackett discographers Bert Whyatt (now deceased), George Hulme, and Derek Coller, I found out the personnel of the seriously impressive band.  (Thanks to Derek for sharing the facts; the original data was uncovered by Vince Giordano.)

EDDIE MAYEHOFF with All-Star Orchestra (Eddie Mayehoff, narration; Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Peanuts Hucko, tenor saxophone; Sanford Gold, piano; Bob Haggart, bass; Cozy Cole, drums). New York, New York: Monday, December 29, 1947.

(It is intriguing — or odd? — that they recorded Parts 2, 3, 4, and 1 in that order.) I note that Hackett, Hucko, Haggart, and Cole had worked and recorded with Louis Armstrong that year; in addition, SYLVESTER was completed just before the second Petrillo recording ban of 1948.

The records start off inauspiciously, with a stiffly formal trumpet that bears no resemblance to Hackett’s beautiful arabesques, but the atmosphere warms as we hear more from the band.  The fourth side is especially rewarding.

And although amateur brass players know that it is impossible to sound like Bobby Hackett in the space of fourteen minutes, that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying.  I wish more people would take up this challenge, whether or not a job with Benny Bunny and his Broadway Band was at stake:

Here, thanks to a site called “The technicolor Dreams of Perri Prinz – Furry Jazz,” I offer the inside covers with four of the eight charming illustrations from the RCA Victor issue for listeners who wish to follow along:

SEAL inside 1

and

SEAL inside 2

Thanks, “Furry Jazz,” which can be explored here.

That moral?  Anything is possible for those who are fervently committed to their goal, who are truly willing to work for it, who will “put the time in,” which is never this easy. But I hope this story encouraged some young listeners on their own paths. It also helps to have wise, kind friends, willing to share what they know.

“You could, if you tried,” says Danny Hep-Cat — help we all could use.

May your happiness increase!

“EXCUSE ME, SIR, DO YOU HAVE A MATCH?”

I don’t smoke, but this sacred artifact (from eBay) tempts me:

EDDIE CONDON'S matchbook front

And the reverse:

EDDIE CONDON'S matchbook back

Now, the word “D****LAND” irked Mister Condon, so I hope he didn’t see too many of those matchbooks on East Fifty-Sixth Street.

I wanted to know what occupies that address now, and found this — a perfectly serene Sutton Place apartment building.  I would trade it all for one set with a group selected from Yank Lawson, Buck Clayton, Johnny Windhurst, Bobby Hackett, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Wilber, Dave McKenna, Bob Haggart, Morey Feld — some of the heroes who played at this club.

Oh, well.

We’ll always have RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S,” as Bogie tells Ingrid in CASABLANCA.

May your happiness increase!

JOHN SHERIDAN’S AMERICANA: A SOLO RECITAL (September 20, 2013)

The steadfastly swinging pianist John Sheridan is seriously underrated because of two virtues, often misinterpreted.  John never makes what he is doing at the piano look hard; he never sweats or tells us — in words or body language — that he is Accomplishing Something Really Difficult.  No, Sheridan sits down at the piano, makes an offhanded remark or a quick joke, identifies the previous tune, gazes at the keyboard for two seconds, and then is off into another wholly realized creation.  Unless John is telling a shaggy-dog story or relating something that pleases him deeply, he also looks very serious most of the time.  That, I think, has made listeners forget that under that serious exterior there is a deep romantic soul, a very expansive heart — all of which comes through in his playing.

Sheridan’s musical scope is as broad as his mastery at the keyboard. If you listen casually, you will hear his bright clarity steady swing; listen deeper and hear subtle harmonies and his lovely but not over-elaborate improvisations, his beautiful touch.

Here is a very brief solo recital — captured at Jazz at Chautauqua (now the Allegheny Jazz Party) — a half-hour of pleasure, recorded on September 20, 2013.  Hear and admire how easily he moves from one composer to the next, one “genre” to another, always exhibiting a wonderful clarity, sounding just like John Sheridan . . . a very great gift to us.

Ellington’s BLACK BUTTERFLY (which I associate forever with Joe Thomas on a 1946 Keynote Records session):

COME BACK, SWEET PAPA (with fond thoughts of Louis’ Hot Five and,  later on, bands led by Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart):

THE LEGEND OF LONESOME LAKE (Eastwood Lane, for Bix):

IN A MIST (the young man from Davenport, himself):

THIS YEAR’S KISSES (Billie, Lester, and Irving Berlin):

I’M PUTTING ALL MY EGGS IN ONE BASKET (Mister Astaire but also Louis, twice):

Thank you, John, for inviting us to join you on these excursions.

May your happiness increase! 

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

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

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

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

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

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

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

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

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

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

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

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

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

May your happiness increase!

“GOOD AFTERNOON, HOT MUSIC AFICIONADOS,” SEPTEMBER 1944, AND HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO UNCLE DA DA

I don’t ordinarily join in the chorus of people celebrating the birthdays of those who have left us, but, “from Ketchikan to Calcutta,” we can all salute Eddie Condon, who was born November 16, 1905. . . . with a little music, as he would have liked — in this case, an AFRS transcription of a Town Hall concert from September 9, 1944.

A New York Times advertisement for a Condon concert, 1942: courtesy of MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK

An April 1942 advertisement: thanks to MULE WALK AND JAZZ TALK

The collective personnel, as explained by Mister Condon — from the hallowed and gilt-edged Town Hall — is Max Kaminsky, Muggsy Spanier, Billy Butterfield, trumpet / cornet; Miff Mole, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet;  Ernie Caceres, baritone saxophone; Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, bass; Condon, Gene Krupa, Joe Grauso, drums.

Some stream-of-delighted-consciousness notes on the music: LOVE NEST (with Krupa accents during Mole’s solo, continuing to push Max onwards, then Pee Wee).  Some words from Eddie and Gene, leading in to BIG NOISE FROM WINNETKA (how beautiful the sound of Haggart’s bass is!); a salute to Louis — with a brief arranged introduction — in BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN (with Muggsy replacing Max) — pay close attention to Pee Wee’s sixteen bars, where he seems to float backwards against the nearly-violent current of the music — before Muggsy pays the Master homage.  A pause before THE BLUES BY PEE WEE RUSSELL with dark filigree by Schroeder behind him; then HEEBIE JEEBIES featuring Billy Butterfield and Joe Grauso (Krupa may have had to sprint back to his regular gig at the Capitol Theatre) — with some skips in the disc during Miff’s solo; then the closing IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE, with the soloists announced: Schroeder, Caceres, Mole (nifty pushing riffs behind him), Max, Muggsy with his plunger mute, Pee Wee, Billy Butterfield, Haggart, Schroeder for another circuit, Caceres also, Max, Muggsy, Pee Wee (the subject of sarcastic witticisms), Butterfield, Grauso . . . .leading into an ensemble paraphrase of DIPPERMOUTH BLUES with drum breaks.  And that applause was real (with unannounced segments of BIG BOY and SWING THAT MUSIC  — Krupa audibly present on the latter — spliced in from a different concert: I hear Max, Pee Wee, Caceres, and Benny Morton up front.)

I have a wall of CDs, and a good many of them are by Eddie Condon and his friends, but I would certainly love to live in an alternate universe where on a Saturday afternoon I could be sure of turning on my radio and hearing a half-hour of this splendor.

Note: the music from this transcription — without the AFRS “fillers” at the end can be heard, in better sound quality, on Volume Five of the comprehensive Jazzology Records series of Condon concerts 1944-45, more than twenty CDs in all.

This one’s for Hank O’Neal — who enabled many of us to hear the Town Hall concerts for the first time — and for Maggie Condon, for many reasons.

May your happiness increase!