Tag Archives: Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans

MARTY GROSZ’S “BIXIANA” — JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011

Marty Grosz is known for many things aside from playing the guitar and singing.  He always looks for new ways to present what looks to some like a tradition fixed — if not in stone, then in shellac.  He reveres Frank Teschemacher’s scant recorded work, for instance, but doesn’t want living musicians to be copying and reproducing those notes from 1928.

Thus, when Marty was found himself considering a performance of music associated with Bix Beiderbecke for the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua party, he left slow. elegiac readings of SINGIN’ THE BLUES and I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA alone . . . and reinvented a handful of Bix-favorites in styles that didn’t always come from 1923-31.

And he certainly saw to it that any resemblances between the original recordings and what happened on the stage on Sept. 17, 2011, were coincidental.  Marty surrounded himself with players who know Bix and his world deeply, but understand that they have their own songs to sing: Andy Schumm, cornet; Dan Block and Scott Robinson, reeds; Dan Barrett, trombone; Jim Dapogny, piano; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums.

They began with one of the happiest bits of good cheer I know (which Bix recorded with Jean Goldkette for Victor), I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER.  But, Toto, it certainly doesn’t sound like that scroll 78.  Does anyone recognize the source of the romping phrase that begins this performance (somehow I think it’s a closing riff . . . which would suit Marty’s obstinate whimsies) — a performance full if little surprises:

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND has associations with Eddie Condon, Milt Gabler, and the Commodore Music Shop — but this lovely performance reminds me just as much of the John Hammond Vanguard sessions of the early Fifties, in the way it takes its time.  Up until the double-time passages (after the bass solo), you could easily be in 1953, in a Masonic Temple in Brooklyn:

OL’ MAN RIVER came from 1927, but this performance floats along from the start with borrowings from everywhere (isn’t that a mid-Forties “Keynote” riff I hear at the start — or is it the opening fidget from the ROUTE 66 television show theme, circa 1961?).  The overall feel here, with Pete Siers’ swishing hi-hat, is that of a Buck Clayton Jam Session, either the early ones supervised by Hammond or the later Chiaroscuros (thanks to Hank O’Neal for such blessings).  And the musicians float over those neat charts, sounding like themselves (or like Lester and Higgy, when the spirit moves them):

Finally, after some official Grosz-talk, we have COPENHAGEN, named for the Midwestern delicacy.  And look out for letter C!  This performance sounds more like the 1939-40 Bud Freeman band (“Summa Cum Laude” or “his Famous Chicagoans”) which doesn’t do anyone any harm:

One, two . . . they know what to do!

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I, PODIUS

I didn’t want an iPod.

There, I’ve said it.  It must have been my perverse snobbery, my badly-concealed elitism.  I made fun of the millions of people who had little white earbud phones in their ears and (for the most part) dreamy vapid expressions.  I’d see them on the subway, where the clamor coming through those earbuds was audible over the roar of the C train.  Did I fear that if I bought an iPod my musical tastes would become like theirs?  I don’t know.

I kept doing this even when Kevin Dorn, my spiritual guide in many things, said, mildly, that he had the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session on his iPod and could thus listen to “Prince of Wails” whenever he liked.  Even that failed to move me.  Now I am not an unregenerate Luddite: I am addicted to email, and would rather hear 1929 Ellington on CD than on a V- Victor.  But still I resisted.

However, I can’t be separated from the music I love for any length of time.  I’ve brought compact discs to Ireland, to Germany, to Mexico, to Sicily.  Take me away from my jazz library and I start fidgeting because I can’t hear Teddy Bunn sing and play “Blues Without Words.”  So when the Beloved and I went away this summer, the physical manifestation of this urge was a heavy shopping bag of discs in the back of the car.  Did I play them all?  Of course not.  It was exceedingly comforting to know that they were there, but I knew that this was not a good solution to the anticipated deprivation.  (It was the aesthetic equivalent of having five dozen cans of black beans in the kitchen cabinets so that you will never run out.)

At some point, I began, reluctantly and grudgingly, to think about an iPod.  Even when the Beloved insisted on buying it for me as a premature-birthday present, I was still worried, even suspicious.  Part of the dread was, of course, provoked by the mythology that Apple and other firms have created, making a simple purchase seem unfathomable, mystical.  I stared at the online displays, feeling overwhelmed and ignorant.  Did I want a New Generation iPod, a Classic, a Nano?  Finally, I gave in and asked the people who know these things by heart — my sweet-natured students, for whom Technology is a first language.  To their credit, even if it seemed to them that Grandpa was asking about which skateboard to buy, they didn’t snicker but entered eagerly into the game of Teaching Their Professor.  Emboldened, I bought a black Classic and plunged headfirst into the world of iTunes, and syncing.

The result?  Had you seen me on the Long Island Rail Road last night, sleepy and disarranged, with a dreamy vapid look on my face, you might have noticed the white earbuds nearly falling out of my ears (they fit poorly).  But I was twenty feet underwater in my own version of bliss: Mildred Bailey singing “Little High Chairman,” a Buck Clayton Jam Session, Louis playing “Muggles.”  Is there a moral?  I doubt it.  But pick your own cliche: 1) You can teach an old dog new tricks, or 2) Better late than never, if late isn’t too late.