A new recording by a band led by drummer-historian Hal Smith (a man whose scholarship swings) is a delightful event, and EARLY HOURS is a pleasure.
It’s a bracing shot of lively honest music — although the repertoire has deep roots in New Orleans jazz history of all kinds, the result is anything but dusty archaeology. In the nicest ways, this band leaps right out of the speakers at us.
The details. First, this is a digital issue through Bandcamp (an enterprise worth supporting on its own terms, since musicians have much more control over what happens to their own work and how it is presented).
You can listen and purchase here for the basic price of a large Starbucks concoction, although I hope purchasers will be as generous as the music is.
The players are T.J. Muller, cornet, vocal (4); John Gill, trombone (3, 8), vocal (6); Clint Baker, trombone (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9); Ryan Calloway, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Bill Reinhart, banjo; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums/leader.
“You know ’em, you love ’em,” or if you don’t, you will. Hot and ready, as we say.
The repertoire goes deep into New Orleans jazz history as represented on recordings by Sam Morgan, Bunk Johnson, Turk Murphy, the New Orleans Bootblacks, the El Dorado Jazz Band, Ken Colyer, Papa Ray Ronnei, and others: BOGALUSA STRUT, STORYVILLE BLUES, FLAT FOOT, EARLY HOURS, CIRIBIRIBIN, I LOVE MY BABY, SWEET BABY DOLL, YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM, SNOOKUM. (No “trad favorites,” no overworked chestnuts.)
It’s a splendid mixture of blues, romps, and music for dancing, passionate but exact.
Each track has its own distinctive character and eloquent gifts. The solos are eloquent and “native” (listening will make that adjective real to those who know) but, even better, this is a band, where the ensemble unity and collective understanding is the lovely goal. It thus came as a surprise to me that the sessions were done remotely, between November, 2021 and April, 2022. It says so much about the community of jazz that there is not an iota of remoteness to be heard or felt. Bravo!
When I convinced myself that I needed more records, and would go through boxes at the yard sale, antique store, or secondhand shop, I would often encounter Dave Brubeck’s JAZZ GOES TO COLLEGE. Much rarer and never seen were Max Kaminsky’s JAZZ ON THE CAMPUS and the wonderful series of small-band recordings Billy Butterfield made on one and another college campus. Of course, going back a few decades, bands played dances. The college I once taught at had a notation in its files that a Charles Mingus group had played there in 1973: of course, the cassette that had captured the music was now missing.
I sense that college audiences, once rock came in, wanted the most “modern” music, which meant that jazz rarely was on the bill. But in 1947, a college audience was not too hip for TIN ROOF BLUES. And — if I can take the risk — “Dixieland” was popular: think of THIS IS JAZZ on the Mutual radio network. Although the players on this gig — at the Alumni Gymnasium at Hamilton College — were venerable, they were still late-middle-aged: Miff Mole had just turned fifty, James P. Johnson, fifty-four.
So here is the popular music of ago, played with Dispatch and Vigor (a nod to Marty Grosz, now ninety-one and concertizing next week in Philadelphia) by Max Kaminsky, cornet or trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; Tony Parenti, clarinet; Art Hodes or James P. Johnson*, piano; Jimmy Butts, string bass; Danny Alvin, drums.
BLUES / ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP / JAZZ BAND BALL* / PEG O’MY HEART / BALLIN’ THE JACK / BASIN STREET BLUES / MUSKRAT RAMBLE* / TIN ROOF BLUES / SQUEEZE ME* / THAT’S A-PLENTY / HOW COME YOU DO ME? / (James P. Johnson solo) BACKWATER BLUES / LIZA / SNOWY MORNING BLUES / CAROLINA SHOUT / (James P. Johnson, Parenti, Alvin) MAPLE LEAF RAG / BLACK AND BLUE / (solo) BOOGIE WOOGIE STRIDE – TEA FOR TWO //
This transfer came from the collection of the late John L. Fell, who was a student at Hamilton, and someone had access to the original discs. BACK WATER BLUES and LIZA were issued on an lp compilation of James P. performances, “AIN’T CHA GOT MUSIC?” worth finding, on Bob Hilbert’s Pumpkin Records label. There was, John told me, a private party after the concert, where someone recorded James P. playing LIZA / HALLELUJAH / BOOGIE WOOGIE STRIDE – TEA FOR TWO – SQUEEZE ME / AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – JUST BEFORE DAYBREAK – I CAN’T GET STARTED / KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW. But James P. became inebriated and his playing was not up to his usual standard, I remember John explaining.
Here’s what we have of the concert, and of those days when hot music was in the air, on the campus, and welcome everywhere:
I looked up “May 3, 1947” in Tom Lord’s online jazz discography, and found that Bunk Johnson and Don Ewell were playing a college concert at Coffman Memorial Auditorium, the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. A different time zone and more than eleven hundred miles away, but evidence that the kids dug the hot sounds.
And before you nostalgicize too much, remember that it you were even a precocious college student at either concert, you’d be over ninety now. Choose cautiously before you step into your home-built time machine.
I’ve enjoyed hearing and meeting the great drummer and drum scholar Nicholas D. Ball, thanks to the Whitley Bay jazz parties that I attended 2009-2016. Nick not only understands vintage drum artistry in academic ways but embodies them: he swings the hell out of a very — by modern standards — constricted authentic set, while combining complete seriousness and wicked glee. You can see him in action (just one example of many)hereand also delve into his absorbing site, “Drums in the Twenties,” here.
But this post isn’t about Nick. He’s a gateway to the real subject.
He asked me if I’d like to hear solo drum recordings by someone I think of as an unknown master, Bob Matthews. Would I? Indeed I would. And you can also.
I listened, was entranced, and asked Nick to tell all:
I was first contacted by Bob in 2018, he having stumbled across my Drums In The Twenties website. He explained who he was and recounted some of his memories of personal encounters with our mutual drumming heroes when he was a young man, during the 1940s and 50s in New York and New Orleans. We began a semi-regular correspondence, during which I got to know all about his jazz career, learning at the feet of Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, his recordings with Raymond Burke and Johnny St. Cyr and his travels across America. Also I learned about his current life, then aged 90 and more or less alone, in retirement in a remote rural town in North Carolina. Despite the great distances between us in both age and geography, over the months we became regular pen pals, to the extent that Bob entrusted to me (by international mail), the one extant copy of the EP he recorded for the great historian Bill Russell’s ever-hungry tape recorder, in New Orleans in October 1955: DRUM SOLOS.
Bob was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. Throughout his childhood he was bewitched by music, beginning on drums at the age of nine and also studying mallet percussion and piano to a high level.
As a jazz-mad high-school student, Bob became an avid record collector and attended concerts whenever his heroes visited Atlanta on tour, managing to slip backstage to meet many of the top drummers of the era including Dave Tough and Jo Jones. Aged 18, he travelled to New York, where he befriended and played with several resident jazz greats including Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds; he then moved to New Orleans where he became a fixture on the traditional jazz scene for over a decade. He then served three years playing with three different US Army bands during the early 1950s, and in 1957 relocated to San Francisco, working in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and clarinettist Ellis Horne, both of whom became close friends.
On the solo session in 1955 that yielded DRUM SOLOS, Bob’s playing, whilst clearly inspired by Dodds (as whose protégé he was proudly known) and firmly within the New Orleans drum tradition, has a distinct character and quality of its own.
‘When we started the session I just couldn’t get it together. We then took a break & had a meal at a nearby cafeteria I always ate at. After we returned it started to fall into place. I don’t know how, but it did. I recorded a variety of things: Morton’s New Orleans Joys, Scott’s Climax Rag, 2 Improvisations (full set and soft mallets on tom toms), and 3 others. I don’t remember how I thought of using complex rags & melodies to inspire me to try & follow. I could have done even better, but I never had the chance again. I had to choose the repertoire from memory at that moment. No time to plan or practice for.’
Whilst Matthews did perform on sessions with several notable bands during the 1940s and 50s, his DRUM SOLOS record was never commercially released, and has never before been made available to the public – until today, 66 years later. When Bob suggested he mail me some of his most treasured possessions, including the one copy of DRUM SOLOS (which had been dubbed onto a 10” vinyl disc some time in the 1950s) I was wary of the responsibility, but excited that perhaps I might be able to at last make this hitherto-unheard artifact from jazz drumming history available to the public after 66 years. With Bob’s blessing and co-operation, I’m really proud and delighted to at last be able to present the record for release via VEAC Vaults; as a set of downloadable audio files accompanied by a 7-page PDF document tracing Bob’s story and illuminated with his memoirs and photographs.
The solo drum recordings are unbelievably interesting: hear a sample here.
They aren’t what Whitney Balliett called “fountains of noise.” They feel like measured yet passionate melodic explorations. Bob looks into the sonic treasure-chest and pulls out gems (in a nice steady 4/4) to show us.
Some of you, deep in the tradition, will say, “Ah, these are just like the Baby Dodds drum improvisations,” and you will have created the nicest pocket to place the music into. That will be an inducement to go to Bandcamp — the link right above this paragraph — and buy a copy. Others, more quick to judge, will say, “I already know what this sounds like,” and, without listening, ready yourself for another diversion. But I suggest that you listen first.
Preconceptions shape reality. Tell someone, “This is the funniest joke in the world,” and almost whatever follows falls flat. Or, “This soup is so spicy, you’ll need gallons of water,” and we brace ourselves. Thus it is with naming music: if we allow ourselves, we create a concept and are unable to hear beyond it.
If a jazz broadcaster presented this release, “We have a new set of experimental, innovative Sonatas for Solo Percussion by T. Vasile, the young Romanian percussion star (she just turned 30) that combine ‘free’ playing with traditional New Orleans convention, down to the antique sound quality of the recordings,” some of us would turn up the volume to hear the marvels.
And — as couples say in “discussions,” one other thing. As you’ll read in the notes, Bill Russell recorded this on his tape machine, and some time later, Bob Matthews paid a local engineer to make a disc copy. A disc copy. One. So I feel in the presence of a weird greatness, facing a singular object (think of the Jerry Newman acetates, for the easiest instance) rather as I did when reading TRISTRAM SHANDY and Laurence Sterne tells the reader he is drawing on a manuscript that only he possesses the sole copy. In this case, it’s not a whimsy, but it’s true. Even if this it’s-the-only-one-in-the-universe fact does not win you over, I hope the music does.
First, some music. I’m told it speaks louder than words. Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:
and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:
My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention. Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me. I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more. It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.
I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops. So I thought that was a great thing. With Chas, we played almost every week. We played clubs all over the country. We did some festivals, and we did a record. And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record. I don’t have a copy. Maybe I can ask him for one. And that’s that.
I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor. The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective. It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.
I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too. That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.
I studied with Lennie Tristano. I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff. He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students. I never worked with him, but he played with us. The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible. Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself. So you have to keep searching. That was an important experience for me, I loved that.
The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin. I worked a lot for Lester Lanin. And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name. Both of them were horrible people. Just absolutely horrible. But they worked a lot. Meyer Davis, he was busy. He worked two jobs every day. So he bought an ambulance. After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time. I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting. About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people. He was very good.
One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody. And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again. So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes. He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.
I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him. He did two of those things — big, splashy things. FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band. I was on the one with the big band. He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake. Everything was perfection. Absolute perfection.
In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith. We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one. He was crazy. He was wonderful.
I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims. Buddy was mean. Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten. He exuded evilness, or something. He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up. He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up. Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early? Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.” Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play. The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational. He could do anything. He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks. He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it. So he was positively a genius of some sort. Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people. And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards. It was fun. Beautiful, easy.
I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk? I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us. He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special. He was wonderful. And it was Thelonious Monk. And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me. He was willing to hear.
Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger. He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing. Nobody played like him. He was wonderful.
I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot.
Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time. ALL of the time. But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill. But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop. He’d call it a lambchop. He knew I was Jewish. So I thought that was nice. He was a funny man. And for what he did, he was the best. His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need. He was wonderful in his own way of playing. George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk. Then he was a terrible person.
I went down to see Bunk Johnson. I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot. I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music. He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places. And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that. Beautiful. And there were crowds every night when he was there. Dancers. It was an exciting time.
I loved playing with Max Kaminsky. I worked a lot with him, for years. He was a simple player, but he kept the time. His time was great. I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records. But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him. His wife was wonderful. I loved her. I played with her a couple of times, with him. She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.
I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE. In the back there are signatures. Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him. And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen. I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door. I didn’t do that.
[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.] Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with. When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me. They all were above me. Every one of them was above me.
Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK. (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)
Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.
Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world. And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor. In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’ He was a dentist. And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’ When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”
I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him. At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful. I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:
I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.
I’ve been reading liberally in the jazz-fan groups on Facebook, which (as I’ve suggested in an earlier post) might be my first error. But several reactions to the music I and others love caught my eye and I could not walk away from them. I characterize these reflex actions as ENTHUSIASTIC “ANALYSIS”.
A recent example: a fan posted a YouTube video of a band performing and recording in New Orleans, c. 1928, with this commentary: Surely this is how a true vintage New Orleans band sounds. Later, a second fan responded: As I understand it, with bands started soloing like that they started calling at Chicago Jazz [.] Fortunately, I no longer teach English for a living and thus would not comment “PROOFREAD!” on the second fellow’s analysis, but the first fan wanted to straighten the second one out: This band never left N.O. Chicago Jazz really started with the white groups that played in Chicago in the 30’s line Muggsy Spanier.
At this point the room started to spin in a most unpleasing way. Rejecting my usual prudence, I wrote: So musicians who played jazz in Chicago in the Twenties weren’t playing “Chicago jazz”? Music is larger than labels. The musicians themselves never called what they were playing these names: these names are inventions of fans and critics, and they are artificial. And to label “schools” of music by race is really not a good idea and never was. My prose was not greeted with shouts of “Yeah you rite!” No one offered to buy me a drink.
But I think the first few assertions are so restrictive that they deserve a few perhaps didactic sentences. I do not set myself up as an Oracle, mind you, but I find narrowness of perspective troubling.
If I were to expand on the original assertions above, they might be:
Authentic New Orleans jazz was an ensemble music performed in that city by Black musicians. Solos were not part of it. When the music opened up to solos, it conveniently changed its name from “New Orleans jazz” to “Chicago jazz.” Then, the final metamorphosis happened when White people who lived in Chicago — including Mr. Spanier — started playing “Chicago jazz.”
I find several problems here, as my comment indicates. First, as someone before me wisely said, it is unlikely that any group of jazz musicians went into a recording studio, and before the downbeat, heard the leader say, “Well, fellows, now we are going to play a piece of music that will define ‘New Orleans jazz’ for all time.” I presume it is more likely that they said, “Let’s try that new tune, and don’t mess up the breaks in the first chorus, all right?”
Musicians play, and played MUSIC. Fans and journalists and “critics” invented names for the ways they thought the music sounded, and from that impulse came divisiveness, theorizing, and other expenditures of energy that may have diverted people from actually listening to the music.
Second, we must acknowledge stylistic cross-pollination. “White Chicago jazz” comes directly from “Black New Orleans jazz,” and Mr. Spanier would tell you that his inspirations were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. He openly acknowledged his reverent debt to them, by the way, so this is not about Muggsy the Cultural Pillager.
Third, jazz lends itself to wonderful examples of creative people who went their own way. An electric guitar on a 1941 Sidney Bechet record? Louis Armstrong recording popular songs and comic numbers in 1926? And, going back to the asphyxiating categories of New Orleans and Chicago jazz . . . Jelly Roll Morton, a self-defined Creole who, according to his sister Frances, was Jewish, would have been classified as “colored,” He came to Chicago and recorded his Red Hot Peppers with a preponderance of New Orleans musicians — Chicago jazz or New Orleans jazz? They had solos AND they had written passages. They are larger than any category, except if you want to have a large box labeled EXTRAORDINARY MUSIC?
I offer a musical example, and I wish people could listen to it blindfolded.
If you had to characterize or anatomize this, say, for a prize on a quiz show, what would you call it? The gracious gentleman who posted it describes it thusly: Early NO revival recorded in NY in 1946 and played in the true original No style some lovely mortonesque piano by Don Ewell with Bunk on trumpet and Alphonse Steele drums [.]
Again, it’s slippery. IN THE GLOAMING is an Irish song from 1877: perhaps someone wants to call this “folk-jazz”? Bunk Johnson, Black, from New Orleans: if you give the horn player primacy, this is “New Orleans jazz.” But it was recorded in New York. The annotator wants it both ways — it’s “Early NO revival” “in the true original No style.” But there are solos: the trio does not play ensemble throughout. The pianist, White Don Ewell from Baltimore, plays “lovely mortonesque piano,” but does that make the record less “authentic” because of the White Maryland infusion? I confess that I could not find out where Alphonse Steele was born — my books ignore him — but I am guessing he was Black, and he recorded in New York with Henry “Red” Allen and Billie Holiday. So was he a New York Swing Era jazz musician?
From whence comes this intense urge to classify, to label, to dissect?
Digression: I won’t even touch the vitriolic discussions of “authenticity” and which “style” of playing — insert beloved and vilified band names here — people prefer. Very few people seem willing or perhaps able to distinguish between “I like this band. They sound good to me.” and “This is the best band that ever was and anyone who doesn’t like them is an ignorant moron” (Facebook encourages the highest kind of discourse, such as — a direct quote, “Lol u are insane.”)
Could all the jazz fans who have this urge to stuff the music in airless labeled boxes learn this 1906 Bert Williams song and let it guide them?
Ultimately, I think this slicing-and-dicing, weighing and measuring, does the music no good. I think of Lennie and the mouse in OF MICE AND MEN.
But of course I am wrong: I accept that. I will sleep better knowing it.
A few night ago, I was witness to a glorious expression of personalities and an explosion of sounds. The “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet,” which appears regularly on Thursdays at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, was that night led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (as usual), with Scott Robinson, magic man, playing tenor saxophone, taragoto, and a new find from his basement, an “adorable” little Eb cornet. With them were Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray Wall, string bass.
The evening’s music was characteristically rewarding and varied: a first set of SONG OF THE WANDERER, SUGAR, INDIANA, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and CREOLE LOVE CALL. In the Bohemia audience, appropriately, were members of the Pilsner Jazz Band, who had just appeared at the Kennedy Center (more about that below) and were enthusiastically responding to the band. I don’t recall if Jon-Erik asked them what they’d like to hear (the act of a brave person) but someone suggested ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and that began the second set.
A word about ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — which has a lovely pedigree, because the song (with lyrics) by Clarence and Spencer Williams, possibly just by Spencer, refers to the place King Oliver played, later the Lincoln Gardens. It’s a century old, if we take as its starting point the unissued recordings pioneering bandleader George Morrison made of the tune.
We all have our favorite versions, from Bix to the Goodman Sextet to Tatum to Louis, and as I write this, another’s being created. But since it was taken up from the Forties onward by “trad” groups — define them as you will — it’s one of the three songs played nearly to a crisp (the others are MUSKRAT RAMBLE and STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE). Too many formulaic renditions in my history have caused me slight flutters of ennui when someone suggests it. But not with this quartet. After a gentle ensemble start (I missed a bit due to camera rebellion) this performance escalates into a wonderfully friendly joust between Jon-Erik and Scott. Quite uplifting, with every tub securely on its own botom, seriously cheering
I felt like cheering then, and I do now. See what happens when you leave your house to confront the music face to face? More about the notion of leaving-your-house, at least temporarily, here.
Beauty awaits us, if we just look for it.
And just because this title was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of this post, here’s an evocative jazz artifact:
Postscript: here’s the Pilsner Jazz Band at the Kennedy Center, Jan. 27, 2020:
I know someone who can both Do and Teach: my friend and jazz hero above.
When Clint and I were on the STOMPTIME cruise last April and May, we had free time in the afternoons, and (because of my pleasure in video-interviewing others, including Dan Morgenstern, Mike Hashim, and Kim Cusack) I asked Clint if he wanted to sit for my camera. He was graciously enthusiastic, and because of our recent conversations, he chose to talk about a school of trombonists, working in New York in the early part of the last century, who aren’t praised or noticed as much as they should be.
So here is a beautiful swinging lesson from Professor Baker, the first portion examining the work(s) of Arthur Pryor, Charlie Irvis, Charlie Green, Miff Mole, and the overarching influence of Louis Armstrong:
Here Clint finishes the tale of Charlie Green, considers the work(s) of Jimmy Harrison, Jack Teagarden, Bennie Morton, the “vocal style,” and that influential Louis fellow:
The world of J.C. Higginbotham, with side-trips to Henry “Red” Allen and Luis Russell, Bill Harris, Kid Ory, Honore Dutrey, Preston Jackson, and more:
and finally, a portrait of Sandy Williams, with comments on Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson, Jack Teagarden, Chick Webb, and Tommy Dorsey:
Any good classroom presentation asks the students to do some research on their own, in their own ways. Clint has pointed to many recorded examples in his hour-plus interview / conversation. I offer a sampling below; for the rest, you are on your own . . . a lifetime of joyous study awaits.
Arthur Pryor’s 1901 masterpiece, THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND:
A recording that always is heralded for the brilliance of Louis and Bechet, rightly. But listen to Charlie Irvis all the way through, who’s astonishing:
Charlie Green on the Henderson “Dixie Stompers” CLAP HANDS, HERE COMES CHARLEY:
“Big” Green with Louis, for HOBO, YOU CAN’T RIDE THIS TRAIN:
and, because it’s so rewarding, the other take (which sounds like their first try):
Lawrence Brown showing the Pryor influence on the Ellington SHEIK (YouTube doesn’t offer the 1940 Fargo dance date version, yet) — with a later solo by someone we didn’t speak of, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton:
Jimmy Harrison on the “Chocolate Dandies” DEE BLUES:
Cross-fertilization: Jack Teagarden on RIDIN’ BUT WALKIN’:
Bennie Morton, on Don Redman’s 1931 I GOT RHYTHM, with a glorious trio:
J.C. Higginbotham, Henry “Red” Allen, and Pops Foster — with the 1929 Luis Russell band, for JERSEY LIGHTNING:
Higgy, Red, and Cecil Scott, 1935, with ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:
Preston Jackson, explosively, on Jimmie Noone’s 1940 NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:
Sandy Williams with Bunk and Bechet, UP IN SIDNEY’S FLAT:
Sandy with Bechet, Sidney De Paris, Sidney Catlett, OLD MAN BLUES:
and Sandy on Chick Webb’s DIPSY DOODLE:
A wonderful postscript: Dan Morgenstern recalling Sandy Williams at a 2017 interview, as well as the kindness of Bennie Morton, and a James P. Johnson story:
But my question is this, “Clint, what shall we talk about next? I can’t wait . . . and I know I have company.”
That’s the opening track of Benny’s new CD, and when the band shifts into tempo after Benny’s interlude I find myself in tears of joy.
Benny Amónis one of my heroes And hero Benny can also write.
Often I’ve felt complete awe and incredulity for my experiences playing music in the city of New Orleans. I have been incredibly fortunate to gain mentors, many of whom are featured on this recording session, who have taught me to play New Orleans traditional music with the right feeling and spirit while also encouraging me to find my own voice as a musician.
This recording session is snapshot of that journey after spending most of my 20’s living in this beautiful city. The session is comprised of some of the most treasured musicians to come from this city and some of the greatest to have moved here. This exchange of generations, of cultures, of perspectives of music and life is what has helped make this recording session so successful.
My most important mentor and collaborator over the past several years, Steve Pistorius is featured prominently on this record whether it be ragtime duets, trios with horn players, or in the 7 piece ensemble. As Wendell Brunious likes to say, Steve is the #1 interpreter of the Jelly Roll Morton style of piano. Steve contributed much by writing out good melodies and chords as well.
Speaking of Wendell Brunious, we have worked together often at Preservation Hall over the past few years. Wendell is one of the best trumpet players and entertainers in the whole world and comes from one of the most important musical families of New Orleans. He is a gem that we cannot take for granted.
Freddie Lonzo is another of the New Orleans born and raised musicians who I have been working with over the past years at Preservation Hall and also at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe. He is one of the few trombone players left who understands how to play New Orleans style tailgate trombone. His positive energy and humor is infectious, as is his singing.
Tom Fischer has been in New Orleans for longer than I have been alive and his dedication to excellence on both clarinet and alto saxophone is evident on this record.
New Orleans’ own clarinetist Tim Laughlin recorded two songs on this cd that turned out beautifully. He is one of the my first and most important mentors in New Orleans.
Tyler Thomson also known as “Twerk” by many, is absolutely on fire on this record. Bringing incredible power and solidity to the bands he plays with. He would make Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, and Alcide Louis “Slow Drag” Pavageau proud.
Alex Belhaj is a dear friend of mine who moved to New Orleans a few years ago and he is a frequent collaborator with the Riverside Jazz Collective. His fine banjo and guitar playing is featured in the 7 piece band.
Joe Goldberg is another transplant to New Orleans who has earned the respect of all the top players in both the traditional and modern jazz scenes. His clarinet and soprano saxophone playing as well as his singing is featured on a couple of songs.
As a final note I would like to add a reflection on the actual site of the recording session. George Blackmon, an old friend and excellent studio engineer moved his entire set up to the Scandinavian Jazz Church (Formerly known as the Norwegian Seamen’s Church) to record the bands. The sound he got in that beautiful old church is reminiscent of old New Orleans dance halls where the New Orleans Jazz Revival bands led by such luminaries as Bunk Johnson and George Lewis used to play and record. The Jazz Church unfortunately was sold and since has been closed down after over a 100 years of service to the New Orleans community. The Church hosted jazz concerts and jazz prayer services for decades. The Church generously allowed us to record and use their facilities free of charge. This recording, and the accompanying videos produced, will stand as a last testament to this beautiful and historically important New Orleans institution.
Most importantly, the music on this record is an authentic and timeless account of the New Orleans Jazz scene as I experienced it at this time of my life; full of life, and joy. I am proud to release this music and hope that you enjoy it!
You might think that Benny has said everything that needs to be said, but I want to add some perceptions he might be too modest to write himself. Although he turns 30 this year, he is a mature artist with large heartfelt visions and sensitivity. He is a spectacularly fine drummer. He makes beautiful sounds, he plays for “the comfort of the band,” he knows dynamics and timbres, and he swings no matter what the tempo. But he’s more than a wonderful percussionist.
Much of what is marketed as jazz these days — although it says it is inclusive — is a matter of boundaries and barriers, enacted in terms of repertoire and colleagues. “Ourselves alone,” as the Irish used to say. Benny understands the music as spacious, its boundaries easy and flexible. That doesn’t mean the new CD takes an iconoclastic approach for novelty’s sake, but it does mean that his vision of New Orleans jazz is easy and loose. There are echoes on this disc of Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Blythe, and Zutty Singleton — but also Eddie Condon, Billie Holiday, James P. Johnson. Sidney Bechet is in town, but it is the later rhapsodic French Bechet; the Bunk echoes are of the “Last Testament” session. I am tempted to write a track-by-track guided tour, but why spoil your surprises?
Benny’s gracious understanding also extends to the musicians he chose for this disc. He has opened his musical house to friends who can really play and sing, people who are individualists. And the welcome includes Elders and Youngbloods, which makes the session particularly earthy, fresh, and sweetly -surprising — it has some of the feel of a cross-generational down-home jam session where everyone is grinning their faces off at what they are hearing and what they are part of creatively. It isn’t trad-by-the-numbers; it isn’t busker-stomp; it isn’t formulaic in any way. And the repertoire is splendidly unhackneyed without being consciously esoteric.
Many CDs offer a huge plateful of The Same Thing, the musical equivalent of an eight-pound plateful of shrimp with lobster sauce. But I have played this disc half a dozen times from first to last, enraptured. There are full-ensemble pieces, one-horn, piano-drums trios, a gorgeous drum solo (BENNY FACE, as melodic as any orchestral piece), piano and drums, a few vocals (Goldberg on MY BABY; Brunious on BACKYARD; Lonzo on CALIFORNIA) — and speaking of BACKYARD . . .
How fresh and heartfelt that is!
Now I must explain the “GFP Award.” I’d asked Benny to send me a copy of the disc when it was ready (handsome art direction there, too) and when I got it in the mail, drawn by whatever magnetism, I played it that night and wrote him immediately that it was, and I quote, a GIANT FUCKING PLEASURE (I use the vernacular when possible) and he asked me to please use that language in my blog. I am too restrained to make it the heading . . . but the disc makes me happy. You can buy the physical disc or a digital download here. Don’t miss an opportunity to be uplifted.
Two hot poets. Two brothers at play. Two bold frolicking explorers. Choose your metaphor: pianist-singer Carl Sonny Leyland and cornetist / trumpeter-singer Marc Caparone are friends and heroes, so it was an immense pleasure to see and hear them out in the open, joyously rambling all around. Here is the first part of their duo set performed on July 31, 2018, at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri.
And here are four more beauties:
INDIANA BOOGIE WOOGIE:
SONG OF THE WANDERER:
I shared WANDERER with scholar-musician Richard Salvucci, whose verdict was “That is the way it is done,” and I concur thoroughly. Carl and Marc will be reunited for our joy on the April-May 2019 STOMPTIME cruise: details here.
She’s lyrical; she swings; she has deep feeling and a light heart.
He’s versatile, a wonderful mix of elegance and roistering.
Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters Louis
Marc’s a hero of mine: listen and be moved.
WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE scored for horn and continuo:
Mister Waller tips over due to love, thus I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING:
Rube Bloom and Harry Ruby’s wonderful GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE:
An emotionally intense yet swinging SAY IT ISN’T SO:
PORTO RICO, a wonderful dance number first recorded by Bunk Johnson, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Cliff Jackson, Pops Foster, and Manzie Johnson on March 10, 1945. But I wish audience members wouldn’t enter into dialogues with the musicians, even when they are correct:
Dawn will be appearing with swing / blues guitar master Larry Scala at the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo, California (October 25-28); Marc will be there as well with High Sierra, the Creole Syncopaters, and who knows where Dawn, he, and Larry will turn up?
Conal, Dawn, and Marc will again appear as the Dawn Lambeth Trio at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which takes place over Thanksgiving weekend in that welcoming city, and Conal will be an integral part of the Yerba Buena Stompers there as well.
Both purr; neither is declawed. Carl is to the right.
My title has nothing to do with the NRA. It was King Oliver’s highest praise.
I’m coming out of a delighted exhaustion — a long weekend at the Evergreen Jazz Festival, a cornucopia of good sounds, prefaced by a night at Dorothy Bradford Vernon’s wonderful barn dance in Longmont, CO — so I can’t muster up many words. Yes, Virginia, there will be videos.
The two fellows above were stars at Evergreen, and were beautifully hot in duet at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, so here they are. Marc was a wonderful one-fifth of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, and Carl led his own trio. I don’t have the energy to figure out what one-fifth and one-third add up to in grade school math, but the me the result is Startling Joys. Put that in your calculator. Echoes of Big Joe Turner, Bunk Johnson, and W.C. Handy, gloriously.
Marc Caparone and Ricky Riccardi, considering important matters
and when they go crazy, it would not be surprising:
More to come, in many delightful shapes and sizes. You know that Carl and Marc will be gracing the STOMPTIME cruise in 2019, of course? I think the cat has to stay at home, though.
We continue the further adventures of our Quintet of Superheroes at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival: those real-life vanquishers of gloom and inertia being the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.
Here‘s Part One, and a little text of approval from Kerry Mills here.
And three more juicy and flavorful examples of this band’s versatility: a hot ballad (vocal by Marc), a Joplin classic, and a searing tribute to a dangerous animal or to Michigan (you can choose) by Jelly Roll Morton.
SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I prefer the comma, although you can’t hear it):
What some people think of as “the music from ‘The Sting,'” Scott Joplin’s THE ENTERTAINER, here in a version that owes something to Mutt Carey and Bunk Johnson, who loved to serve their ragtime hot:
Jelly Roll’s WOLVERINE BLUES, in a version that (once we get past Danny’s carnivorous introduction) blows the mercury out of the thermometer:
A Word to the Wise. Get used to these five multi-talented folks, singly and as a band. (“These guys can do anything,” says Brian, and he’s right.) They’re going to be around for a long time. I’m going to be posting their music as long as I can find the right keys on the keyboard.
Edward Ory — that’s the Kid to those of us who admire and keep his name and music alive — is a fabled figure. His 1925-28 Chicago recordings with Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Luis Russell, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, George Mitchell, Jelly Roll Morton, Ma Rainey, even Tiny Parham are bedrock masterpieces of the pre-World War Two jazz canon, and many bands celebrate them.
But the California climate — whether you consider the ground-breaking 1922 recordings or the evidence of Ory’s second career — must have agreed with him, because the music he made from 1943 on, while less celebrated, is as gratifying, to some even more so. In the middle Forties, Ory’s band was not a formulaic “trad” group; like Bunk Johnson, he played popular songs. Rather than have a two-beat rhythm section with banjo, tuba, and a pianist playing their impressions of an older style, the Ory band carried a rhythm guitarist, a string bassist who mized 2/4 and 4/4, and often had the elegantly down-home pianist Don Ewell keeping things light, bright, and swinging. At its most gliding, the Ory band suggested a fraternal meeting of New Orleanians still in beautiful form and a swing rhythm section with hints of Basie’s . . . quite a lovely blend.
Ory’s music of the Forties and Fifties has been well-documented on disc, because the band was caught live on radio broadcasts, and, later, for Norman Granz, but I think many lovers of “traditional jazz” associated him with a rough-hewn trombone style over their idea of “traditional” rhythms. That is, until the superb drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith assembled a group of congenial players for his new “On the Levee” Jazz Band, its title referring to a San Francisco club owned by Ory, where he and his band played from 1957-61.
I asked Hal about his first awareness of this period of Ory’s music, and he told me, Back when I bought my first Lu Watters record, the owner of the record store handed me the Watters LP, looked at the label and said “Oh — ‘Good Time Jazz.’ I have another Good Time Jazz record here that someone ordered, but never came in to pick up.” The LP she offered me was “Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1954.” I gladly accepted it, and from the first hearing the combination of Ory’s tailgate trombone and the swinging rhythm section (Minor Hall, Ed Garland and Don Ewell in particular) became some of my favorite sounds in Jazz.
Hal later told me, Based on our performances in New Orleans and Pensacola, I think the On The Levee group most closely resembles the GOOD TIME JAZZ ensembles, circa 1953 – 1955. A lot of that is due to Kris’ admiration for Ewell, and Josh Gouzy’s Ed Garland-inspired bass. (Ory’s sound changed considerably after Ewell and Garland left, and even more in the late ’50s and early ’60s).
The band has already played gigs in New Orleans and in Pensacola, Florida, with Clint Baker nobly filling the Ory role; Ben Polcer, trumpet; Joe Goldberg, clarinet; Kris Tokarski, piano; Alex Belhaj, guitar; Joshua Gouzy, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. And early in 2018 they will again play in New Orleans . . . and will appear at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November. I am sure that there will be many other opportunities to hail this group in between.
For now, here is the band’s website, and here are a few videos. Many more are on YouTube, and the site has a whole cloud of audio-only performances, more than enough to roll up the rugs (if anyone does that) and invite the neighbors over for swinging cheer.
DOWN HOME RAG:
Many bands are playing this repertoire, but few are doing it in this fervent;y swinging way. And since the club no longer exists on the Embarcadero — 987 would be part of the Ferry Plaza Maketplace — we should embrace this new band, so nicely keeping a jazz legacy vibrantly alive.
More delightful memories and stories from Dan Morgenstern. I’d asked him, “What was it like to buy records in the Forties?” — a scene that few people reading this post have experienced.
First-hand narrative: there’s nothing to compare with it.
Here’s another part of the story of Big Joe Clauberg, as excerpted from Amanda Petrusich’s excellent book, DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE.
I took my title for this post from Dan’s recollections of his first phonograph, a wind-up acoustic one, but it has larger meaning for me.
There is still something wondrous about going in to a shop that happens to have a pile of records — an antique store or something else — getting one’s hands dirty, going through a pile of mail-order classical records, red-label Columbias of Dorothy Shay, incomplete sets, and the like — to find a 1938 Brunswick Ellington, Teddy Wilson, or Red Norvo.
Later, the pleasure of going in to an actual record store and looking through the bins — name your dozen favorite artists — and finding something that you didn’t know existed — in my case, recordings of the Eddie Condon Floor Show on Queen-Disc. More recently, the same experience with compact discs at now vanished chain record stores.
All gone. The alternative? Stream forty hours of your cherished jive through one of the services that doesn’t pay the musicians. Oh, there are happy exceptions: the Blessed Mosaic Records. But nothing replaces finding treasure on your own.
And, in case the thought hasn’t yet occurred to you, Dan Morgenstern is one of those treasures.
Here’s one of the sides from Dan’s birthday present:
No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case. Evidence herewith:
Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged. The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.
I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building. You will understand why.
On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.
Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band
Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.
Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.
Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.
Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West.
Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.
Irv Kratka (drums) doesn’t have a huge discographical entry in Tom Lord’s books, but he played with some fine musicians: Bunk Johnson, Dick Wellstood, James P. Johnson, Ephie Resnick, Joe Muranyi, Bob Mielke, Knocky Parker, Jerry Blumberg, Cyrus St. Clair, among others, in the years 1947-50. I knew of Irv from those recordings (many of which are quite rare) but also as the creator and guiding genius of Music Minus One and a number of other jazz labels including Classic Jazz and Inner City.
But I had never met Irv Kratka (human being, jazz fan, record producer, concert promoter) in the flesh until this year when we encountered each other at the Terry Blaine / Mark Shane concert in Croton-on-Hudson, and I immediately asked if he’d be willing to sit for a video interview, which he agreed to on the spot. Irv is now 89 . . . please let that sink in . . . and sharp as a tack, as Louis would say. His stories encompass all sorts of people and scenes, from Bunk’s band at the Stuyvesant Casino, Louis and Bunk at a club, a car ride with James P. Johnson, lessons from Billy Gladstone, a disagreement between Oscar Pettiford and Kenny Clarke, all the way up to the present and his current hero, multi-instrumentalist Glenn Zottola.
I didn’t want to interrogate Irv, so I didn’t pin him to the wall with minutiae about what James P. might have said in the car ride or what Jerry Blumberg ordered at the delicatessen, but from these four casual interview segments, you can get a warm sense of what it was like to be a young jazz fan in the late Thirties, an aspiring musician and concert producer in the Forties, onwards to today. It was a privilege to speak with Irv and he generously shared his memories — anecdotes of Bunk Johnson, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet, George Lewis, Bill Russell, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dick Wellstood, Peg Leg Bates, Lena Horne, Joe Muranyi, Billy Gladstone, Jacques Butler, Jerry Blumberg, Art Hodes, Albert Nicholas, Sarah Vaughan, George Brunis — also fond recollections of Bob Wilber, Bob Mielke, Ephie Resnick and others.
Here are four informal segments from our conversation — the first and last fairly lengthy discussions, the middle two vignettes.
Now, here’s another part of the story. Irv plans to sell several of his labels: Inner City, Classic Jazz, Proscenium (the last with three Dick Hyman discs) Audio Journal (The Beatles at Shea Stadium – Audience Reaction), and Rockland Records which consists of the first and only CD by the Chapin Bros. (Harry, Tom, and Steve) comedy albums by Theodore, and a disc featuring Mae West songs / W.C. Fields. The catalogue includes 141 titles, and there are more than 42,000 discs to turn over to the new owner, all at “a very nominal price.” Serious inquiries only to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will share my secrets (not that they are original with me): search “jazz” in “Entertainment Memorabilia,” then click on “Autographs – Original.” Of course, one has to push aside offerings that don’t belong there. But then, something singular comes up.
Willie “Bunk” Johnson writes (or dictates) a letter asking for gigs:
and the envelope in which it was saved for nearly seventy years:
This comes from the estate of Frederic Teague.
Something more cheerful, no? Consider the mysterious Clarinda, a friend of Fats:
“Fats” always sends his Best Wishes — audible even if I hadn’t found this photograph.
I encourage my readers — those with idle hours — to search among the pages.
The very great Sidney Bechet was an assertive soloist early in the history of jazz, a swaggering melodic improviser who pointed the way for many players. Sometimes his legacy gets compressed into SUMMERTIME (which is an offering in the presentation below) but his legacy was much more expansive than one operatic performance.
Here, at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, reed virtuoso Thomas Winteler and friends Bent Persson, trumpet and vocal; Graham Hughes, trombone; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Henri Lemaire, banjo / guitar; Malcolm Sked, bass; Nick Ball, drums, offer a wide-ranging portrait of Monsieur Bechet from the very early Twenties to the mid-Forties, with familiar songs taking a back seat to less-played ones, including a pair of unrecorded Bechet originals.
Forward more than fifteen years, to his version of Victor Herbert’s lovely INDIAN SUMMER:
From the Decca date with Louis (here Bent sings the blues), 2:19 BLUES:
OLD FASHIONED LOVE:
Two Bechet originals, never recorded — SWEET LOUISIANA / I’LL BE PROUD OF YOU:
A memory of the 1945 Blue Note date with Bunk Johnson, PORTO RICO:
This happens only at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, now called the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party in honor of its beloved founder, and it will happen again on November 5-8, 2015.
I am fascinated by those great artists whose stories don’t get told: Frank Chace, Spike Mackintosh, and George Finola among many. I revere the heroes who have been celebrated in biographies, but where are the pages devoted to Quentin Jackson, George Stafford, Danny Alvin, Dave Schildkraut, Gene Ramey, Joe Smith, John Nesbit, Denzil Best, Vernon Brown, Shad Collins, Ivie Anderson, Walter Johnson, John Collins, Allan Reuss, and fifty others?
But there are people who understand. One is Andrew Sammut, who’s written beautifully about Larry Binyon and others. Another scholar who has a great love for the worthy obscure is Dave Radlauer. Dave’s diligence and willingness to share audio evidence are remarkable. He has done noble work on the multi-instrumentalist Frank “Big Boy” Goudie on his website JAZZ RHYTHM, an apparently bottomless offering, splendidly intimidating in its munificence — with webpages and audio programs devoted to many luminaries, well-known (Louis, Goodman, Shaw, Carter) as well as the obscure (Jerry Blumberg, Benny Strickler, Bill Dart, and three dozen others). It’s not just music, but it’s cultural context and social history — close observation of vanished landscapes as well as loving portraits of characters in unwritten jazz novels.
Here’s a quick example. For me, just to know that there was a San Francisco bar called BURP HOLLOW is satisfying enough. To know that they had live hot jazz there is even better. To hear tapes of it delights me immensely.
And listen to this, another mysterious delight: a quartet from the MONKEY INN, led by pianist Bill Erickson in 1961, with trombonist Bob Mielke and a glistening trumpeter or cornetist who had learned his Hackett well. Was it Jerry Blumberg or Johnny Windhurst on a trip west? I can’t say, but Unidentified is a joy to listen to.
But back to P.T. Stanton. I will wager that his name is known only to the most devoted students of West Coast jazz of a certain vintage. I first encountered him — and the Stone Age Jazz Band — through the gift of a Stomp Off record from my friend Melissa Collard.
Radlauer has presented a rewarding study of the intriguingly nonconformist trumpeter, guitarist, occasional vocalist Stanton here. But “here” in blue hyperlink doesn’t do his “The Odd Brilliance of P.T. Stanton” justice. I can only warn the reader in a gentle way that (s)he should be willing to spend substantial time for a leisurely exploration of the treasure: nine pages of text, with rare photographs, and more than fifty otherwise unknown and unheard recordings.
Heard for the first time, Stanton sounds unusual. That is a charitable adjective coined after much admiring attention. A casual listener might criticize him as a flawed brassman. Judged by narrow orthodoxy, he isn’t loud enough; his tone isn’t a clarion shout. But one soon realizes that what we hear is not a matter of ineptitude but of a different conception of his role. One hears a choked, variable — vocal — approach to the horn, and a conscious rejection of the trumpet’s usual majesty, as Stanton seems, even when officially in front of a three-horn ensemble, to be eschewing the traditional role in favor of weaving in and out of the ensemble, making comments, muttering to himself through his horn. It takes a few songs to accept Stanton as a great individualist, but the effort is worth it.
He was eccentric in many ways and brilliant at the same time — an alcoholic who could say that Bix Beiderbecke had the right idea about how to live one’s life, someone who understood both Bunk Johnson and Count Basie . . . enigmatic and fascinating. And his music!
In the same way that JAZZ LIVES operates, Dave has been offering his research and musical treasures open-handedly. But he has joined with Grammercy Records to create a series of CDs and downloads of remarkable music and sterling documentation. The first release will be devoted to the Monkey Inn tapes; the second will be a generous sampling of Stanton and friends 1954-76, featuring Frank “Big Boy” Goudie and Bunky Coleman (clarinets), Bob Mielke and Bill Bardin (trombones) and Dick Oxtot (banjo and vocals). Radlauer has plans for ten more CD sets to come in a series to be called Frisco Jazz Archival Rarities: unissued historic recordings of merit drawn from live performances, jam sessions and private tapes 1945-75.
I will let you know more about these discs when they are ready to see the light of day. Until then, enjoy some odd brilliance — not just Stanton’s — thanks to Dave Radlauer.
Clint Baker told me about this photograph — a reproduction for sale on eBay, inexpensively. I am trying to figure out where it might go, but so far haven’t solved the decor problem. The hero portrayed here is Sandy Williams — a wonderfully expansive trombonist who was one of the true stars of the Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson bands, recorded with Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, Bunk Johnson, Ethel Waters, Art Hodes, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, Stuff Smith, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Red Allen, Ella Fitzgerald, Fletcher Henderson, Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, and many others.
Where he is, and why he is wearing a parade uniform — these mysteries are for others to solve.
Here is where you can find your own copy to adorn that bare wall. Bedroom, living room, or foyer? Your choice. Operators are standing by.
This photograph is one-of-a-kind, so it was offered for sale for three hundred dollars (I believe) and it is — no doubt, as Mister Morton would say — already in someone’s collection. But it is a dream in itself: a photo portrait of Hot Lips Page, circa 1937, inscribed to Jimmy Rushing:
And a close-up of the inscription:
Finally, something very touching — I lifted this from Facebook, and its source is Michelle Fey, granddaughter of Bobby Hackett. Here is the earliest photograph of Robert Leo Hackett with his sister Dot — very touching (even if you ignore the tiny coveralls and the way he is holding her hand). In that serious gaze I see the beloved person who, with cornet, mustache, and bow tie, gave us imperishable music for almost forty years:
I could find wall space for Sandy Williams, Hot Lips Page, Bobby Hackett and his family. Couldn’t you?
Good things happen at Cafe Divine (1600 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California) — the food and the North Beach ambiance — but for me the best things happen on the third Sunday of each month, when the Esteemed Leon Oakley, cornet,and Craig Ventresco, guitar and banjo, improvise lyrically on pop tunes and authentic blues for two hours. I posted four performances from their satisfying June 15, 2014, session here. I was taught as a child to share . . . so here are five more beauties, in living color both in the view and the soaring improvisations.
STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (with Craig on banjo, delightfully):
BLUES IN F (nothing more, nothing less — evoking Joseph Oliver):
MARGIE (that 1920 lovers’ classic):
And two songs that make requests — one spiritual, connected to Bunk Johnson and Sidney Bechet, LORD, LET ME IN THE LIFEBOAT:
and one secular — I think of Pee Wee Russell with TAKE ME TO THE LAND OF JAZZ:
Four gifts from from JAZZ LIVES’ friend Bob Sann, banjo / guitarist / artist, who explains it all below:
I was privileged to participate in the Bunk Johnson revival movement in NYC in 1947.
Three traditional jazz enthusiasts were friends of mine: Irv Kratka (who later founded Music-Minus-One Records), Dante Bollettino (who later founded Jolly Roger Records) and Harry Newmark knew Bunk was in town because of the Stuyvesant Casino gigs. They booked a ballroom, “Caravan Hall” on east 59th Street, for two concerts. The first (Friday, October 17, 1947) was billed as a “Barrelhouse Brawl,” the second (Friday, October 24, 1947) as a “New Orleans Cutting Contest.” Both concerts paired an all-black band of New Orleans veterans against a young white band of local NYC dixielanders.
I was interested in art, at that time, and designed the publicity flyers. While the New Orleans band was on, I made some pencil sketches of Bunk, Baby Dodds, James P. Johnson, and Albert Nicholas. When the young band was on, I played guitar and banjo with them. At the end of the last set I got to sit-in with Bunk’s band (what a kick!)
For your information, the New Orleans musicians got paid $20 per concert.
Bob Sann (a/k/a Robert Schiff) Clearwater, Florida
(I am happy to know that Bob is currently playing banjo/guitar with The Rhythm Kings, a 14-piece hot dance orchestra based in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and is led by the well-known arranger/conductor Dan Fox (formerly of New York City).
Eight tracks from the Caravan Ballroom sessions have been released on the American Music CD (AMCD-45), BUNK JOHNSON AND MUTT CAREY IN NEW YORK, 1947. An additional track was released on the CD accompanying the book by Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn, SONG OF THE WANDERER.