Tag Archives: Brian Rust

DON’T GO WEST, YOUNG WOMAN

The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.

Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”

According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City.  The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics).  Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU.  Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.

Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:

The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair.  “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!”  (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)

A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song?  The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.

Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato.  Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?)  I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.

But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars.  A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella.  The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING  TIME WITH ME.  The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here.  The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King.  But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less.  Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.

May your happiness increase!

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FACTS ABOUT FACTS ABOUT THE MUSIC

Imagine an engrossing book “about” jazz that has very little to say about the music. None of the usual content or digressions: anecdotal stories of musicians; portraits of club owners, record producers, concert impresarios. No one’s mother plays the organ; no one has a loving mentor or a horrible first gig.

But the book, MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MUSIC, by Bruce D. Epperson (University of Chicago Press, 2013) is an intriguing study of something most people involved in the music in more than a casual way find invaluable: discographies.

EPPERSON DISCOGRAPHY

A discography, for those new to this, is an essay — or book-length — or a dozen volumes — or an online source — that documents the recorded history of this music. As a bibliography (at the end of your fifth-grade report on The Eye) lists the works consulted, a discography seeks to present all the information known on these recordings.  It can be limited to one artist, a span of time, a style or genre, or it can attempt to be encyclopedic, comprehensive.  Before jazz existed, of course, there were catalogues of compositions — think of the BWV numbers or Kochel numbers for Bach or Mozart.  But it was only when listeners and collectors began seriously to both amass and study recorded evidence — artifacts of performance — that the idea and the actual realization of discography came into being.

Epperson comes to this book (the result of five years’ study — and it shows in the best way) from a singular perspective. He is neither a musician nor a collector; rather, he is a bibliophile fascinated by the books and the people who envisioned and created them. (For some “jazz readers,” this is a perspective that takes some getting used to. It is as if one was handed “a study of Shakeapeare” that was really a history of the most renowned and influential editors of the texts of the plays. If one feels at a distance reading about everyone from the first innovators up to Tom Lord, Epperson’s lively prose will stand up to the accompaniment of one’s favorite recordings — all the master and alternate takes in chronological order, of course.)

A good deal of the book is a serious but not dry historical survey of the form — discographical research and publication, as we know it, began in England in the late Twenties and continues as I write this. At first, it was an outgrowth of the urge common among collectors to know all so that all could be possessed. If one fell in love with the sound of Bix Beiderbecke or Eddie Lang, for instance, one wanted to know exactly what recordings they had appeared on (and which were tempting imitations) so that one could, in this world or an ideal one, possess all their music or at least know that it existed. I think of an orinthologist’s “life-list,” where birds spotted get checked off, and I have seen many discographies that are also tidy or untidy lists of what a particular collector has. (I’ve done it myself, and I recall reading my copies of Rust, Jepsen, Lord, and specialized discographies with a mixture of awe and yearning: “Another take of X MARKS MY SPOT exists?  And it was issued on Bolivian OKeh?  And I don’t have it?  How can I hear it?”)

Why were discographies desirable or necessary?  When jazz performances were issued on single discs, often without the individual players listed on the label, one couldn’t be sure who the Kentucky Grasshoppers or Lil’s Hot Shots were. One could trust one’s ears, but that method has often led to what I would call Collector’s Enthusiasm, where every muted trumpet solo had to be by King Oliver; a vague aural shadow of saxophone on a 1934 Clarence Williams record — could that be Lester Young?  So, at first, they were lists created by collectors, then made public as more widespread enthusiasm about famous and obscure recordings developed.  Then, discographies could serve an ideological purpose: all the recordings in these pages have notable “jazz interest” (translation: they reflect my aesthetic values); they could be divided along racial lines to reflect theorizing about the development of an art form.  From more balanced perspectives, they could reflect much about the ways in which art was made public, and tell a great deal about individual artists or groups.

Epperson’s book deals adeptly with the ideas behind the varieties of discographies, and he does so by specific reference — tracing the changes in the form through specific publications and the writers / researchers responsible for them. This might, to the uninitiated, seem like a scriptural list of begats beginning with R.D. Darrell, but the creators themselves seem to have been at best energetic, at worst acrimonious. There are many small contentions documented in this book: questions of accuracy, of plagiarism, of theory and practice. Epperson’s story begins in England, takes in France and New Orleans, digresses most pleasingly into the phenomenon of “field recordings” and the changes brought in discography and record collecting by the long-playing record, and comes up as close to the present as possible. I was amused and pleased to see jazz scholars I know and admire depicted in these pages: Jan Evensmo, Manfred Selchow, Robert Rusch.

Epperson concludes with some deep philosophical questions (with commentary by Michael Fitzgerald, who knows the field deeply): in this new world, where it appears that everything one wants to hear can be heard in digital format, stripped of its evidence, what effect on discography as a scholarly endeavor or a music-lover’s act of reverence? And for the twenty-first century listener who can have all the issued and some unissued recordings of The Bohemian Stompers in one neat multi-disc set, are comprehensive discographies necessary or are they an antique manifestation of the urge to have all the rarities in one place?

Incidentally, the title isn’t Epperson’s point of view — it comes from a 1947 article by Ernest Borneman, “The Jazz Cult.”  The book has useful illustrations of pages taken from the respective discographies, generous footnotes and bibliography.

I think this book will have a lasting place in the libraries of many jazz enthusiasts and collectors, and I can see it treated with equal pleasure and respect in graduate programs in library science. But that makes it sound too serious. Epperson is a lively, witty writer, and although he tends to fairness to all sides so thoroughly as to occasionally seem diffident, his sharp observations are a real pleasure.

I said at the start that the book was different from most jazz tomes in that it wasn’t deeply based on anecdotage, but one story has stuck in my mind.  The renowned British discographer Brian Rust, Epperson tells us, was already collecting jazz records by the time he was 13 — in 1935 — “it was cheap, and it was approved by the family nurse, who assured them that ‘it’s not possible for germs to survive on smooth surfaces.'”

If anyone comes to you and asks what you are doing, for the love of goodness, with those records or compact discs, feel free to offer that answer.  Jazz records are, if nothing else, sanitary, and thus laudably safer than other objects by which we might amuse ourselves.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES, CHARLES, SALVATORE: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Nine)

Say that my glory was I had such friends,” writes W.B. Yeats.  If we’d never heard a note of Leo McConville’s playing, never seen him in the Walt Roemer and his Capitolians short film . . . we would know him as a man admired and respected by the finest creators in his field.

See for yourself.

JAMES MELTON is hardly a Jack Purvis man of mystery, but he had more than a handful of careers — as the “hot” alto player in Francis Craig’s 1926 band, as a radio personality beginning in the next year, then an opera star.  Melton was a lyric tenor with a light, high voice — and all the formal hallmarks of that style: the exact enunciation, the rolled R — a style that became less popular when the crooners of the late Twenties came to prominence.

Melton is also known, oddly, to jazz fans, as having led a 1929 session of sacred songs that featured Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto, even though a measure of his jazz fame might be that my edition of Brian Rust’s discography has a Melton entry in the index that lacks a page number.  Did Leo meet him on the radio in the late Twenties?

CHARLES MARGULIS has much more presence to jazz listeners for his trumpet work with Jean Goldkette and with Paul Whiteman — but he continued on as an impressive soloist into the Sixties, and he can be heard on recordings with pop artists (Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte) as well as his own trumpet showcases.  John Chilton notes that Margulis had a chicken farm in the Thirties: I imagine Charles and Leo discussing the intricacies of the best feed, which breeds gave the most reliable output, and so on.  But here he is, completely urbane:

And the prize, as far as I am concerned — EDDIE LANG (born SALVATORE MASSARO) — one of the most distinctive instrumental voices of his era, in ensemble or solo.

The career that Lang might have had if he had not died on the operating table in 1933 is hinted at in these two film appearances.  The first finds him in the BIG BROADCAST with Bing Crosby, performing DINAH (off-screen) and PLEASE (very much a part of the scene).  And from the less-known A REGULAR TROUPER, he accompanies Ruth Etting on WITHOUT THAT MAN!

Although Lang would not be alive today, I can imagine him accompanying a pop or jazz singer on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW or the HOLLYWOOD PALACE.

More to come . . . !

Two postscripts about Charles Margulis: the Bixography Forum (a treasure-house of information, occasionally a hotbed of controversy) offers a 1962 conversation with the trumpeter:

http://bixography.com/MargulisHolbrook/A%20Conversation%20With%20Charles%20Margulis.html

And just to show that Margulis had great fame into the second half of the last century, here is a picture of one of his long-playing recordings:

“I WANT! I WANT!”

I have been trying to put all my compact discs away neatly in alphabetical order, and the very dullness of doing this made me think . . .

When I was collecting records in my late teens (before CDs and cyber-space) the music I could obtain was narrowly defined by fixed circumstances: money was one, availability another.  Originally what I heard and could possess was limited to what was played on the radio; what records were available from department stores and the Salvation Army; the records my friends had, and not much more.

Eventually my horizons (but not necessarily my fortune) blossomed: there were wonderfully enticing record stores on and near Eighth Street in New York City; I could send money off to “Tony’s” in the UK for treasures unheard and unimagined. 

But it was nearly impossible to get more than a sampling of the work of an artist or band, so that when I was able to buy a copy of Brian Rust’s two-volume JAZZ RECORDS, I began checking off the performances I had copies of.  I still have those books nearby, their bindings worn through being handled and loved and held. 

So underneath listening and acquiring was The Quest.  Occasionally there would be a jazz rescuer on the horizon — say, the late Jerry Valburn, who put out record after record containing performances that had been marked “rejected” in Rust and performances no one knew existed.  And it moved listeners like myself closer to the elusive goal of “having it all.” 

“Having it all” became easier through vinyl box sets and European issues — for instance the French CBS Ellington two-record sets or the French Victors, which I bought earnestly.  

Oddly, though, although the music was delicious, I would often play those records once or twice and put them on my shelf, where their spines were very fulfilling to look at: I was that much closer to having it all, complete! 

If I woke up seized with the desire to hear the two takes of STARS, to pick the most esoteric example I can now think of, they were there, on the shelves, ready to be played.  That was comforting, although I can’t think of playing STARS more than once or twice.

With box sets, as well, I knew but didn’t want to admit to myself that the allure of completeness was different from listening to the music.  Would I ever sit down and work my way through (note the language of obligation) the entire output of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, although I loved Fats?  Not likely, because the sheer imposing bulk of that collection quickly began to feel like homework.  “Uh oh, I’ve been bad and neglected my aesthetic responsibilities; I’ve got to listen to 1939 before nightfall or I won’t get any supper.”

Forward to 2010, where CD collections and internet access are both so taken-for-granted that the idea of not being able to hear a particular performance for twenty years seems fascinatingly, weirdly antiquated . . . . when we are able to buy all the recordings of Louis or Django at one expensive shelf-filling gulp, do we listen to them completely?  Or are we perversely overawed by the completeness, the profusion? 

I love the Mosaic box sets I’ve bought and would fight to keep them, but the experience of having them, gazing on their spines, and listening to them is somehow different than the Quest of my teens, where hearing on the radio one three-minute track I did not know about was an illuminating experience. 

The extension of this idea, of course, is the spiritual balancing act: in one hand you hold Everything; in the other Just One Thing — and I am reminded of my conversation with a musician who is now eighty, who talked about being able to buy one 78 record a week, so it had better be perfect.  I am sure that had he, in 1944, been able to visualize the Complete Art Tatum Solo Performances in one package, he would have seen it as a wondrous mirage.  How does it make us feel, I wonder.  When our wants are gratified, will we be happier?

FINDING MISS WILEY

Readers will have noticed my fascination with used bookstores.  When it’s hot, they offer the promise, sometimes illusory, of being dark and cool.  “Fine” books means everything is clean but costly; “old” books sometimes means 1846 town registers, intriguing but irrelevant.  What we require is a large stock of gardening books and cooking pamphlets for the Beloved, who is very selective, and sheet music mixed liberally with old records for your correspondent.  We found both yesterday at Owl Pen Books, 166 Riddle Road, Greenwich, New York. 

Here are my latest treasures, both 10″ long-playing microgroove records, to call them by their proper name:

Lee Wiley 003

You might not recognize Miss Wiley, especially if you have in your mind’s eye the late Thirties picture of her, her hair long, straight, and dark, wearing a while blouse and a dark vest.  Fashion photographer Peter Marshall gave her the full VOGUE treatment: a low-cut ruffled strapless dress, a necklet, a formal hairdo, and what look like false or mascara-ed eyelashes.  The music inside has been issued on Mosaic, I believe, and the idea of putting Miss Wiley alongside Stan Freeman and Cy Walter doesn’t entirely work — too much piano-busyness in the background.  But the picture is worth a great deal, and I wonder if Miss Wiley approved of her temporary makeover.

Lee Wiley 001

Lee Wiley 002

The caricatures on the cover are by John DeVries, who wrote the lyrics for WHEREVER THERE’S LOVE, and on this issue Miss Wiley is surrounded by Bunny Berigan, Joe Bushkin, Sid Weiss, and George Wettling for four selections, and a small group with Bushkin, Berigan, and members of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, arranged by Paul Weston. 

Should you wonder, the other records for sale — at a pittance — at Owl Pen — were classical and Broadway show music.  I bought these and two more (a bootleg collection of Bert Lahr on stage, screen, television, and radio) and a UK compilation, annotated by Brian Rust, of early Irving Berlin songs recorded before 1922 — for a modest amount.  It made me quite happy to acquire these, but also to imagine someone who loved Miss Wiley as much as I and others do.  I saw her only once, at her last public performance in 1972, but she was a magical presence.  And she remains so.

For another perspective on Lee Wiley — one I find quite touching — here is an excerpt from a documentary about the Japanese actress, Nobuko Miyamoto, who starred in the film A TAXING WOMAN, and her visit to the United States in search of “her” Lee Wiley.  She was fortunate enough to meet — and sing with — the memorable vocalist Barbara Lea, who knew Miss Wiley well.  There is a good deal of untranslated Japanese in this clip, but it’s all understandable:

And here are two YouTube clips, posted by “leewileyandfriends,” who generously offer 78 videos of Miss Wiley — looking lovely — and her gorgeous sound.  The first comes from the Irving Berlin sessions, a jaunty RISE AND SHINE; the second is the wistful LOOKING AT YOU, from her Cole Porter recordings: