Tag Archives: Bunny Berigan

“THE SOURCE OF ALL OUR JOY”: REMEMBERING MILT HINTON

MILT

Milton John Hinton (1910-2000).

“The Judge.”  Universally beloved.  Here, with Herb Ellis, guitar; Larry Novak, piano; Butch Miles, drums:

I have The Judge in my mind as a sweetly heroic presence because he is on so many of the recordings that have shaped my consciousness.  I also have two photographic portraits of him (which he autographed for me in 1981) in my apartment, next to the door.  When I come in or go out, he is there to welcome me home or to wish me safe passage on the day’s journey.

He’s also powerfully in my thoughts because I went to the house in which he and Mona Hinton lived for decades — 173-05 113rd Avenue, Jamaica, New York — last Saturday (June 13) for an estate sale.  More about that later.

First, a reminiscence of Milt from a friend, Stu Zimny, whom I’ve known since high school, 1969.  We were comrades in eccentricity, united in our shared secret love of Milt, of Jo Jones, of Ed Beach, S.J. Perelman — playing records at each others’ houses, going to concerts and clubs.  Swing spies.  Jazz acolytes.

Danny Barker, Stu Zimny, Milt Hinton 1995

Danny Barker, Stu Zimny, Milt Hinton 1995

From Stu:

It was in the late-70’s sometime when I first met Milt Hinton.

It was a strange time in the music’s history. Although rock music had firmly enveloped the attention of most of my generation, my own musical trajectory was towards the the jazz of the 1930’s.  I had heard the incandescence of Louis Armstrong and his many disciples and was converted quickly. There was a power to this music unique in my experience. It is more common now in the internet age but we, myself and the author of this sacred blog in particular, formed a distinct minority, a sort of rear-guard action devoted to preserving this music.  Yet at that time there were still significant numbers of players of that “swing generation” alive and at least semi-active and one could see them play intermittently in certain mostly short-lived clubs in Manhattan and the occasional concert.  Although the general sentiment was that we had arrived a few decades too late.

I had heard that Milt was teaching a jazz seminar at Hunter College, I had taken up study of the double-bass shortly before, had lucked upon and acquired an excellent “axe,” and Milt was a legendary figure to bassists in particular.

In a fortuitous stroke of luck I encountered Milt on the subway on the ride to Hunter. (Milt was a frequent rider of the NYC subway system since he did not drive a car. The story goes that he had been driving a vehicle in Chicago decades before, as a gofer of some sort for the Al Capone organization, and a bad accident occurred which had traumatized him for life against driving a motorized vehicle.) I drove him to a fair number of gigs during the next few years for the mere opportunity to hang out and absorb what I might. Capone’s loss was my gain.

On the “A” train I gathered up my courage and struck up a conversation with him, the ultimate outcome of which was that if I wanted some tutoring I could drop by his home in Queens.  He did not need to make the offer twice. Especially since his attendance at Hunter was spotty due to his being on the road quite a bit.

Milt never really offered me “lessons” as such.  Although he did hand me a manuscript of scale patterns and suggested I work on them “for the next thirty years” and gave me a whole lot of physical advice about dealing with the bass. I would bring him bass music, usually some classical etude or duet, and we would play through it together. He was always up for the challenge. The mere fact that he would be willing to play with me and treat me like a colleague was a huge confidence boost.

Of course it was not only me who benefited from his largesse. Many bassists (and other instrumentalists) would drop by, most often just to hang out with an elder, “The Dean of Jazz Bassists.” Milt and Mona were extremely gracious and generous in opening their home to musicians. And feeding us, and making us feel like family, and part of a lineage that required support and protection.

Throughout the next decade or so I would drop by, often in a vain attempt to help him organize the pile of the concert tapes and recordings collecting in his basement.

In 1989 I departed the east for directions west. When I came back for visits if Milt was in town he was always open for a rendezvous “between sets.”

I recall seeing him at the 1995 Monterey Jazz Festival and in San Diego at some sort of convocation. On the latter occasion, with minimal rehearsal, he was offered some pretty complex charts and played through them with ease. This was not an old guy resting on past accomplishments, he was fully alive to the music, to all music.

Sometimes players like Clark Terry and Major Holley would drop by. The basement couch was famous for having been used for sleep by Ben Webster during a period when he lived with the Hintons or at least paid an extended visit: I never knew which. Sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions.

The last time I saw Milt was around 1997 after I had returned east and lived in the Boston area. By that time he had stopped playing for physical reasons.  I heard of his passing via an NPR broadcast in 2000 at age 90.

Milt has been a major influence in my life, musically and moreover in modeling what it means to be an elder and the tribal obligation and joy of passing on knowledge and skills and musical tradition.

He was cross-cultural in the warmest and most charming and sincere ways; he insisted on wearing a yarmulka when attending the Jewish wedding of a mutual friend of ours.

Despite the hardships he had experienced growing up in the south, the depredations of growing up as a Black person in that era, he never harbored personal resentment about any of it that I could tell towards any individual.  He had an immense sense of dignity and a conscious sense of his own worth and that of his colleagues as men and artists; race was a secondary consideration.  He would say that “music has no color”.  This was also what motivated his legendary photographic documentation.  History was important, preserving it is important, this music is important. And if one was sincere in wanting to learn, he was available.

I am a better person for having known Milt Hinton, tribal chief, The Judge!

We cannot live through the dead, but we can invite them to live through us.

I love him always and forever.

It would be an impudence to follow that with my own tales of Milt.

I will say only that the phrase I’ve taken as my title was spoken by Ruby Braff from the stage of The New School in New York City, at a “Jazz Ramble” concert produced by Hank O’Neal on April 8, 1973 — featuring Ruby, Sam Margolis, Benny Aronov, and Milt.  Ruby spoke the truth.  Thanks to Tom Hustad, whose BORN TO PLAY — the Ruby Braff discography — for helping me be exact in my recollection.

MILT autograph 1983

Fast forward to June 13, 2015.

I had been seriously ambivalent about going to this estate sale.  As I told more than one friend, I didn’t know whether I would be frozen at the door, or, once in, would burst into tears.  Happily, neither took place.  My spiritual guide and comic comrade on line (as opposed to “online”) was Scott Robinson, and we made the time spent waiting in the sun telling tales of Milt. (Later, I met Phil Stern, and we, too, talked of music, joy, and sorrow, of empires rising and falling.)

Here, thanks to Phil, is the promotional video created by the company running the sale:

By the time I was able to enter the house, sometime around 10:00, I discerned that much of the more glossy contents had already been sold.  (I would have bought a chair covered in plastic from this shrine without thinking twice.)  And I sensed that the house had — apparently — been unoccupied since Mona’s death in 2008.  It was not quiet indoors: people shouted and argued.  I was in the land of secular commerce rather than dear worship.  I do not know how many people going in knew who Milt was; before and after my time indoors, I explained what I could of his majesty to a number of people outside who simply had seen ESTATE SALE and stopped by.

I have a limited tolerance for loud voices in small spaces, so I did not look through the hundreds of records in the basement (in cardboard boxes on and in front of the couch on which Ben Webster had slept).  But I bought about ten of Milt’s lps — going back to the early Fifties, mostly records I’d not heard or heard of on which he played.  His collection — even when I got there — was broad, with children’s records and comedy as well.  And he collected his friends’ records also.

Sitting by themselves on top of a pile of books — two 78s.  One, a 1932 Brunswick, Connee Boswell performing HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF and THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN — which touched me and made me think of Milt as a young man rapt in the beauty of Connee’s voice and her wonderful accompaniment of the time (Berigan, the Dorsey Brothers, Dick McDonough, Artie Bernstein, Venuti, Stan King).

The other deserves its own picture.  It has been well-played, but that is a triumph rather than a criticism.

MILT 78Although Milt and Billie Holiday were not regularly recording together, their history on record is a long one — 1936 to 1959 — and I am sure he was proud of the music they made together.  I imagine Milt in 1939 bringing home this new release, which he would have been thrilled to possess and hear — perhaps showing his name on the label to his new bride. (Incidentally, the Brunswick people invented a new guitarist — Dave Barber — instead of properly identifying Milt’s dear comrade in the Cab Calloway band, Danny Barker.  The other side, WHAT SHALL I SAY? has the same error.)

Such a beloved artifact made all the clangor of commerce worthwhile, although I still think sadly of the rubble of mugs in the kitchen, the piles of posters, aging books and records.  Where did they go?  I hope that the rarer items had already gone to a place where they would be treasured.

Stu learned lessons about playing the bass from Milt that he couldn’t have learned any other way, and I celebrate his experience.  But I think we both learned much — even though we might not have understood it at the time — from these men who were, without proclaiming it, great spiritual parents.  We learn from the open-hearted behavior of the greatest teachers.

They treated us with gentleness and respect, an amused kindness, saying by their openness that we were welcome in their world.  No one ever said, “Kid, I’m busy now.  Go away.”

Our real parents might have taken our devotion for granted, or been very busy trying to make us become what they thought we should be, but many of these Elders were happy to know we existed — without trying to get us to buy anything from them.  They accepted our love, and I feel they welcomed it and returned it. In their music and their behavior, they taught by example: the value of beauty, of simplicity; how to say in a few notes something that would take the hearer years to fully grasp.  How to make our actions mean something.

We were able to see and hear and speak with the noblest artists on the planet, and it is an honor to celebrate one of them, The Judge, whose quiet modest majesty will never fade.

May your happiness increase!  

“MAN — YOU KNOW IT’S THE COOLEST”

The epitome of cool, or “Gone, man, gone”:

WETTLING COOLThis studio portrait of Mr. Wettling, appropriately inscribed, occupied a place of honor in drummer and friend Walt Gifford’s scrapbook.  Two other facets of the very talented Geo. can be found here and .

Don’t let the period percussive gestures from the apparently ancient disc put you off.  To quote an expert jazz drummer I know, “You could play that in any context and it would sound good.  It never gets old.”  In fact, if possible, I would urge listeners to aurally push aside the glories of Fats, Tommy, Bunny, and McDonough, and simply concentrate on the shifting sound-carpets Mr. Wettling creates for us, alive in 1937 and alive now.

And here — magically — brought to you by the invisible forces of the internet — is another pose from the same studio session.  Intent on being cool.  Cool, you know, is serious business:

WETTLING alternate pose

Whether playing drums, painting, writing satiric doggerel, playing at being a late-Forties hipster, George Wettling was a treasure.  Listen, consider, and be uplifted.

Some cultural critics can balance these photographs against THE NIGHT BEFORE BOPMAS and arrive at a point of balance — I think amused masquerade plus affectionate mockery feels right.  And as a personal aside, perhaps a decade after the poem and the photograph, I dressed up for Halloween as a “beatnik,” complete with beret, cigarette holder, and goatee created with my mother’s eyebrow pencil.  I think I had to explain at many doors what my costume was.  Geo. did it better.

May your happiness increase! 

JAZZ ARCHAEOLOGY, or A NEW TROVE

After my most recent venture into unexpected hot music (finding Lester Young and Charlie Parker 78s) Mal Sharpe told me I was a “jazz archaeologist,” which I take as a great compliment.

I have emerged from another rich unexpected dig, brushed the dust off of my khakis, taken my pith helmet off, and put down my shovels.  Here is my tale.

Yesterday afternoon, while much of the world was engaged in its own pursuits, the Beloved and I were meandering around Sebastopol, California: a paradise of nurseries and antique shops.  We arrived at one of our favorites, FOOD FOR THOUGHT ANTIQUES (2701 Gravenstein Highway South), a non-profit enterprise which gives the proceeds from its sales to the local food bank.  In the past, I’ve found some sheet music there and the odd record or two.  Nothing could have prepared me for the treasure that had arrived there four or five days ago. See for yourself:

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Photograph by Lorna Sass

Yes, perhaps eight hundred ten-inch 78 RPM records in their original paper sleeves. I thought the hoard had some connection to a record store, since many of the discs were blue-label Bing Crosby from 1936 onwards, but I was told that this wasn’t the case: a woman brought them to the store, explained that they were her much-loved collection, and that she now felt it was time to pass them on. I wish I could find out her name to send her thanks, but that might never happen.

And since you’d want to know, the records were one dollar each.

The first afternoon I went through about one-half of the collection: it was a good omen that the first record I picked up was the Victor ST. JAMES INFIRMARY BLUES by Artie Shaw featuring Hot Lips Page. Yes, there were many red-label Columbias by the early-Forties Harry James band, but that’s not a terrible phenomenon.

I gravitated towards the more unusual: KING JOE by Count Basie and Paul Robeson; a Bluebird coupling by Freddy Martin of MILENBERG JOYS and WOLVERINE BLUES; several Fats Waller and his Rhythm sides; a Bob Howard Decca; many Dick Robertson sides featuring a dewy Bobby Hackett; INKA DINKA DOO by Guy Lombardo on Brunswick; BLUE PRELUDE and WE’RE A COUPLE OF SOLDIERS by Bing Crosby on the same label; Johnny Hamp and Arnold Johnson; OLD MAN MOSE by Willie Farmer; a Meade Lux Lewis album set on Disc; Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra on OKeh; WHEN MY BABY SMILES AT ME by Ted Weems on Victor; a blue wax Columbia by Ted Lewis of TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO — with his special label; a Johnny Marvin Victor solo and duet; THE LADY WHO SWINGS THE BAND (that’s Mary Lou Williams) by Andy Kirk on Decca; Bunny Berigan’s SWANEE RIVER; a Gene Kardos Melotone; the Rhythm Wreckers’ TWELFTH STREET RAG on Vocalion; the Bluebird BODY AND SOUL by Coleman Hawkins; JEEPERS  CREEPERS by Ethel Waters; Deccas by Lennie Hayton and Edgar Hayes.

(Who can tell me more about Willie Farmer?)

I returned this afternoon, and found the little flowered stool Valerie had offered me in the same place, so I resumed my inspection — many records but with far fewer surprises.  Wingy, BG, Fats, Jack Leonard, Ginny Simms, Bob Howard, Dick Robertson, Milt Herth (with Teddy Bunn and the Lion) and a few oddities. FOOTBALL FREDDY and FRATERNITY BLUES by “Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys” on Columbia (with, yes, Jack Purvis as the sole trumpet); the Mills Brothers singing lyrics to Pete Johnson’s 627 STOMP.  Les Brown performing two James P. Johnson songs from his 1939 POLICY KINGS: YOU, YOU, YOU and HARLEM WOOGIE. Jean Sablon singing TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE . . . and a few more.

I passed up a few country records, Julia Sanderson solos, Nat Shilkret and Charles Dornberger waltzes . . . but the collection was a rich cross-section of good popular music of the Thirties and middle Forties, with a few detours into the late Twenties. No specialist jazz labels, no country blues rarities — but the middle-of-the-road pop music of that period was rich and honest.

I feel honored to be partaking of this experience — this voyage into a time when Freddy Martin and Coleman Hawkins occupied the same space in the collective consciousness. . . . and when a purchase of a thirty-five cent Decca or Bluebird was a real commitment to art, both economic and emotional.

On the way home yesterday, the Beloved (after congratulating me on this find and rejoicing with me — she’s like that!) asked me pensively, “What do you get out of those records?”

I thought for a minute and said, “First, the music. I am trying not to buy everything just because it’s there, so I am buying discs I don’t have on CD or on my iPod. Second, there’s a kind of delight in handling artifacts from a lost time, relics that were well-loved, and imagining their original owners. Third, and perhaps it’s peculiar to me, these records are a way of visiting childhood and adolescence once again, going back to a leisurely time where I could sit next to a phonograph, listen to the music, and absorb joy in three-minute portions. I know that I won’t keep these records forever, and I hope — maybe in twenty years? — to pass them on to someone who will delight in them as I do now.”

And delight is at the heart of the experience.

To find out more about the Food For Thought antiques store and the food bank the proceeds go to (the staff is not paid; they volunteer their time and friendship) see here. The store — which has other surprises for those immune to “old records” — is at  2701 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. Lovely people, and cookies at the cash register for the low-blood-sugar crowd (like myself: record-hunting is draining work).

May your happiness increase!

“GEORGE WETTLING, MARCH 1953”

That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction.  In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous.  He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.

Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:

and

and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:

and

If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.

May your happiness increase!

WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO PLAY LIKE EDDIE MILLER?

What a wonderful tenor saxophonist (and occasional clarinetist) the late Eddie Miller was!  Whether he was on records with the Bob Crosby Bobcats or big band, next to Wingy Manone, Bunny Berigan, leading his own bands in New Orleans or New York, he was a bubbling, exuberant delight.

Here’s a small sample:

Miller’s easy pulse, bright tone, and irresistible swing make him sound as if he’s simply floating along — but the illusion of weightlessness is never so simple to maintain. Perhaps seven years earlier, Miller was in his natural habitat — as a sideman in a New Orleans-tinged small band:

Miller is hardly acknowledged these days as a remarkably subtle player.  He was modest, content to make the most of sixteen bars, a man less vigorously ambitious than some of his peers, a fellow who enjoyed the camaraderie of the ensemble (how beautifully his lines weave in and out — he never gets in anyone else’s way) without being a Leader, a Star. Modesty doesn’t always make for name recognition, although Miller was well-known in his Crosby days.

I suspect that the rollicking fluidity of his essential style — Miller never seems to be working hard — caused listeners to underrate him in favor of more dramatic players.  Indeed, as I listened to as much Miller as I could to prepare this blogpost, I thought, “Really, he is the Bing Crosby of the tenor saxophone: everyone would think ‘I could do that,’ without realizing how difficult it is.”

But now.  For a limited time only!  If JAZZ LIVES readers would like to learn the secrets of Eddie Miller’s hot style, these hot licks can be yours for a pittance, half a dollar.

Here’s how.

Study these pages.  Practice every day. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 004 Let’s look inside! EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 005 I hear you saying, “But I’m not a tenor saxophone player.” EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 006 Everyone of a certain generation copied Louis (no matter what their instrument), then Bird and Diz (likewise).  Couldn’t we start a small Eddie Miller movement? EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 007 With some concentration, I could play those on the piano (if I weren’t so busy blogging). EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 008 I want to hear my friends work these hot licks into their solos. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 009 It’s not so hard, is it? EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 010 I’d also love to know which of the licks — for the player / historians out there are recognizably the children of other famous saxophonists. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 011 The book was published in 1940, and I think dreamily of a time and place where young people (or older ones) wanted to grow up to sound like Eddie Miller.  This seems like a distant Paradise now. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 012Those sharps are beginning to proliferate.
EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 013Courage!
EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 014Just think what possibilities are open to the person who can perform these hot licks: be the life of the party forever!EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 015 And here’s a complete solo chorus, transcribed for us.  (There is a version of this song by the Crosby Bob Cats on YouTube, but I’ve been hesitant to include it, simply because Eddie doesn’t play all thirty-two bars, so it might be a different version.  Research! as we used to say. EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 016 Bregman, Vocco and Conn had more ideas than simply helping everyone to sound like Eddie Miller.  New worlds to conquer: EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 017 “Fellas!  Gals!  Let’s start our very own Swing Band!” EDDIE MILLER PEE WEE RUSSELL 018 One of the pleasures of this blog is the way it permits — encourages! — me to share what I have.

This book cost $2.95 at an antique store a few years ago.  I bought it without hesitating and only thought of it again recently, because of a conversation with a young reedman about the Pee Wee Russell folio.

So now I feel I’ve done my part in making the air full of the light-hearted buoyant sounds of Eddie Miller.

The rest is up to you.  Be sure to report back!

May your happiness increase!

THE TEACHINGS OF CHARLES ELLSWORTH RUSSELL (PRICE 50 CENTS)

Thanks to my sharp-eyed friend Andrew Jon Sammut*, I am now in possession of this Ancient Writ, the inexpensive pages a beguiling yellow. Its owner loved, used, and admired it: as the creases and fingermarks on the back show.

CHAUTAUQUA, LAURA SMITH, SAN DIEGO, PWR 056

It allows us another way to experience — perhaps at a distance — the legerdemain of Pee Wee Russell.

Those of us who revere certain musicians know enough to be mildly suspicious of these folios.  The more idiosyncratic a musician’s style, the less likely it could be reproduced as a series of notes on paper.  Also, the  “method books” that propose to be presenting solos performed by our heroes are often untrustworthy.  Did Dave Tough or Cliff Edwards ever sit down to create the books that bear their imprimatur?

Apparently many famous “name” musicians were paid to come to a  studio to record one-chorus solos on songs owned / published by Feist.  The recorded solos were then transcribed and clarinet players (for instance) could have something they could read, study, copy, emulate. Some of this information is hypothesis; some of it is supported by the issuing, years ago (on one of Bozy White’s SHOESTRING vinyl records) of choruses recorded by Bunny Berigan for just this purpose.  The pioneers in such endeavors were Red Nichols and Louis Armstrong.

This folio is not dated, but the one-page introduction refers to Pee Wee’s work with Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, and Bud Freeman, so I would place it no earlier than 1938 and perhaps more into the very early Forties. Whether it was connected to Charles Peterson’s famous photograph of Russell in LIFE I cannot say, but he surely was enjoying sufficient fame — as the antidote to Goodman and Shaw, perhaps? — to be awarded such an honor.

I am struck by how very uncomfortable Russell looks in his photograph: needing a haircut (or is it the shadow of the bright flashbulb?) and without a mustache. Perhaps the recordings were done in the morning, which might make any jazz musician look haunted, despairing:

CHAUTAUQUA, LAURA SMITH, SAN DIEGO, PWR 058

And the main event:

CHAUTAUQUA, LAURA SMITH, SAN DIEGO, PWR 057

I haven’t had the time even to try that on the piano, but it strikes me as quite simple — for the student clarinetist — one of those muttering-around-the-melody first choruses Russell loved so.  How would the transcriber have notated the growls and surreal arching sounds that Pee Wee made?  (Think of SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK, for example.) I don’t know, and perhaps it is best that the attempt was not made.

Here’s something that would elude all but the most subtle transcriber, Pee Wee’s solo (beginning at 1:30) on the 1936 Louis Prima CROSS PATCH, a marvel of sound:

To return to the All-Star Series of Modern Rhythm Choruses (ask for that at your local music shop in one breath!) I think it plausible that after Charles Ellsworth Russell recorded ten one-chorus solos, and was given (let us hope) fifty dollars at least in cash, he never thought of his morning in the studios again. But we, now, have another little sliver of Russell to consider into the twenty-first century.

I plan to pack this book with my clarinet — which I used to play quite amateurishly and now perhaps will sound even worse — to take to California. Whether my squeaks and moans will be my own or Russellian, I can’t say. But perhaps I can be inspired by his courage.

*Andrew wrote his own marvelous post on the Feist folio created by Buster Bailey here. As you’ll see, my effort above is what jazz critics would call “derivative” and “imitative”; I call it homage to an inspiring friend who is on the same path. And this post is for Stan Zenkov, another inspirer!

May your happiness increase!

RARE, UNIQUE, NICE (featuring LOUIS, LUCKY, BUNNY, BILLIE, HAWKINS, CLAUDE, ISRAEL, FLETCHER)

Delights from the eBay treasure chest . . . costly but surely unique.

This  is a concert program from the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival (notice that Louis and the All-Stars are billed as the Hot Five).  That would be enough in itself, but notice the autographs: Louis himself, Big Sid Catlett, Lucky Thompson, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Velma Middleton, Humphrey Lyttelton, Bob Wilber, Baby Dodds, Sammy Price, Sandy Williams, and more.

And here’s a picture (the eBay site has other close-ups):NICE FESTIVAL 1948 program 1But wait!  There’s more!

How about a copy of HOT  DISCOGRAPHY— signed by Billie Holiday, Bunny Berigan, Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson, Buster Bennett, Israel Crosby . . . ?  No, I didn’t believe it, either.

But here is some evidence.  Even though the photographs are (perhaps intentionally?) blurry, the overall effect is dazzling:

Billie, once:

eBay BILLIE ONE

Billie, twice:

eBay BILLIE TWO

Claude Jones:

eBay CLAUDE JONES

Coleman Hawkins:

eBay HAWK

Buster Bennett:

ebay BUSTER BENNETT

Bunny Berigan:

eBay BUNNY

Fletcher Henderson:

eBay FLETCHER

Israel Crosby:

eBay ISRAEL

The Nice concert program obviously has a specific location in time and space.  The seller hasn’t said anything about this copy of HOT DISCOGRAPHY, but given the signatures, I suspect that its owner was at one time a Chicagoan . . . and you can guess when the signers took out their pens, at least by their death dates.

To me what is important here is that the owners of these artifacts not only loved the music but idolized the players and singers — so much so that having the seconds of personal contact needed to approach Lucky Thompson or Israel Crosby and ask for an autograph was worth the effort.  We benefit immensely from this kind of devotion.

Neither item is inexpensive, but the value here is immense.

May your happiness increase!

OUR HERO, BUNNY BERIGAN: TALKING WITH MICHAEL P. ZIRPOLO (October 20, 2013)

Michael P. Zirpolo, Mike to his friends, hails from Ohio — and has devoted himself to the admiring study of trumpeter / singer / bandleader Bunny Berigan.  About a week ago, we met for the first time in person, fittingly at The Ear Inn, where Mike and clan got to hear The EarRegulars for that Sunday, Jon-Erik Kellso, Scott Robinson, Joe Cohn, and Pat O’Leary, do what they do so well.  Before the evening’s frolic, Mike and I had a short video conversation about the man we admire so, the gloriously memorable Mr. Berigan:

To learn more about Bunny and especially Mike’s book, MR. TRUMPET, visit    here — and you can also find out more about a new compact disc on the Hep label, SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’, of live 1937-39 Berigan performances that he has made possible.  And here are my posts on the book and the disc.

May your happiness increase!

BUNNY BERIGAN IN HIS ELEMENT: “SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN’ 1937-39”

Any documentation of an artist’s work may be distant from the day-to-day reality of the work.  In the case of the noble trumpeter Bunny Berigan, many of his admirers understandably focus on those record sessions where he is most out in the open — aside from the Victor I CAN’T GET STARTED, the small-group recordings with Holiday, Norvo, Bailey, the Boswell Sisters, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, and so on.  Some, rather like those who listen to Whiteman for Bix, delve into hot dance / swing band sides for Bunny’s solos: I know the delightful shock of hearing a Fred Rich side and finding a Berigan explosion when the side is nearly over.

But the Berigan chronology — on display in Michael Zirpolo’s superb book, MR. TRUMPET — as well as the discography shows that Bunny spent much of his life as a player and (too infrequently) a singer with large ensembles: studio groups, Whiteman, Hal Kemp, Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, before forming his own big band for the last six years of his very short life.

Ignoring Berigan’s big band records would be unthinkable, even for someone not choosing to hear everything.  Goodman’s KING PORTER STOMP and SOMETIMES I’M HAPPY, the Dorsey MARIE and SONG OF INDIA; Berigan’s own Victors.  Of course, like other bandleaders of the time, he was required to record a fairly substantial assortment of thin material.  Almost always, Berigan bravely transcends what the song-pluggers insisted he record.

Even the bands that came through well on records sounded better in live performance.  There is something chilly about a recording studio, especially when there are more than a dozen people trying to play arrangements flawlessly, that occasionally holds back the explorer’s courage. So if one wants to hear what a band was capable of, one must rely on recordings of radio broadcasts (and the much rarer on-location recordings from a dance date, such as the Ellington band at Fargo, North Dakota — itself a miracle).  Radio was consoling in its apparent evanescence; if you made a mistake, it was there and gone.  Who knew, fluffling a note nationwide, that someone with a disc cutter in Minneapolis was recording it for posterity?

Up to this point, there has been a small but solid collection of Berigan “live” material on vinyl — a good deal of it issued by Jerry Valburn and Bozy White in their prime.  I cannot offer my experience as comprehensive, but I recall listening to many of those recordings and enjoying their rocking intensity, but often waiting until Bunny took the solo.  But there were worlds of music I and others were unaware of.

BUNNY HEP

A new CD release on the Hep label, “BUNNY BERIGAN: SWINGIN’ AND JUMPIN'” is a delight all through.  It collects seventy-one minutes of material from 1937-39, nicely varied between well-played pop tunes and jazz classics. An extensive booklet with notes by the Berigan expert Michael Zirpolo (and some unusual photographs) completes the panorama.  Eleven of the nineteen selections have never been issued before, and there is a snippet of Bunny speaking.  The sound (under the wise guidance of Doug Pomeroy) is splendid.

Listening to this music is an especially revealing experience.  Stories of Berigan’s alcoholism are so much a part of his mythic chronicle that many listeners — from a distance — tend to think of him as helplessly drunk much of the time, falling into the orchestra pit, a musician made barely competent by his dependence on alcohol.

No one can deny that Berigan shortened his life by his illness . . . but the man we hear on these sides is not only a glorious soloist but a spectacular leader of the trumpet section and a wonderful bandleader.  The band itself is a real pleasure, with memorable playing from George Auld (in his energetic pre-Ben Webster phase — often sounding like a wild version of Charlie Barnet), George Wettling, Johnny Blowers, and Buddy Rich, Ray Conniff and others.

One could play excerpts from these recordings — skipping Berigan’s solos — and an astute listener to the music of the late Thirties would be impressed by the fine section work and good overall sound of the band.  The “girl singers” are also charming: no one has to apologize for Gail Reese, for one.

Did I say that Berigan’s trumpet playing is consistently spectacular?  If it needs to be said, let that be sufficient.  A number of times in these recordings, he takes such dazzling chances — and succeeds — that I found myself replaying performances in amazement.  Only Louis and Roy, I think, were possessed of such masterful daring.

And we are spared RINKA TINKA MAN in favor of much better material: MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, THEY ALL LAUGHED, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, BIG JOHN SPECIAL, LOUISIANA, TREES, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, SHANGHAI  SHUFFLE, HOW’D YOU LIKE TO LOVE ME?, and some hot originals.

This disc doesn’t simply add more than an hour of music to most people’s Berigan collection: it corrects and sharpens the picture many have of him. Even if you care little for mythic portraiture, you will find much to like here. It is available here.  To learn more about the wonderful story of how this music came to be in our hands and, even better, to hear an excerpt from ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, click here.

May your happiness increase! 

UNMISTAKABLY BUNNY

Mister Berigan, if you please.  “The Miracle Man of Swing.” With neat handwriting, too.  The photograph went for $178.00 on eBay today.  (I wasn’t bidding.)  But you can admire it here for a small fraction of that sum.

BUNNY verso

and back:

BUNNY recto

Bunny Berigan, much missed.

May your happiness increase!

BOUNCING BUOYANCY at THE EAR INN: MATT MUNISTERI, DANNY TOBIAS, DAN BLOCK, NEAL MINER (April 14, 2013)

My title comes from a late-Thirties Ellington composition and recording, referring to his definition of swing.  What the Maestro described, the EarRegulars embody every Sunday night (8-11 PM, loosely) at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York. Here’s some buoyant music from the April 14, 2013 session.

The noble participants are Matt Munisteri, guitar; Danny Tobias, cornet; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Neal Miner, string bass.  A nimble British clarinetist sat in for ROSETTA and TIN ROOF but like the Lone Ranger, left without identifying himself.  Perhaps some readers can help credit him?

I don’t know if love was in the air, but the song titles leaned towards the feminine, the romantic, even the heartbroken.  I hope JUBILEE was the prevailing mood.

This music doesn’t need explication: but hats off to Matt, Danny, Dan, Neal, and the UK Ranger — they done outdone themselves!

That Midwestern sweetie — faithful, frisky, and true — MY GAL SAL:

MARIE (for Irving, Tommy, and Bunny):

An EarRegulars classic, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME:

JUBILEE (for Hoagy and Louis):

LOUISIANA (evoking wonderful thoughts of the Kansas City Six, 1938):

WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE (at a tempo far from the morose way it’s often played — a revelation!):

ROSETTA (for Henri Woode):

TIN ROOF BLUES:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

I don’t care how dim the lighting is . . . the music blazes brightly! This one’s for Horace G. Irwin, one of the EarRegulars’ more devoted fans.

May your happiness increase.

BREAKING NEWS OF 1942: PEE WEE ERWIN LAUNCHES OWN NAME IN THE BIG TIME!

This full-page advertisement (a musical history in photographs) comes from the 1942 Conn instruments advertisement book / brochure.  It’s a delightful piece of ancient musical history but also serves as a reason to celebrate George “Pee Wee” Erwin, one of the great yet underrated lyrically hot trumpeters for more than four decades.  Early on (as the photographs show) he worked with Joe Haymes, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Ray Noble, Tommy Dorsey — in that latter situation, being asked in 1937 to follow Bunny Berigan, a nearly impossible task.  I don’t know how long his 1942 fame lasted, but after the end of the Swing Era he led memorable small “Dixieland” bands at Nick’s and Lou Terassi’s . . . I saw him play in 1974 as part of Bob Greene’s THE WORLD OF JELLY ROLL MORTON — in a concert recorded and issued on RCA Victor (the other members of the band were Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford, Alan Cary, Herb Hall, and Ephie Resnick).  Late in life Pee Wee was able to record several relaxed, unhackneyed sessions under his own name for the Qualtro label — one a duet with Bucky Pizzarelli, others just as sweetly expert.

I don’t understand how someone “Launches own Name IN THE BIG TIME,” but perhaps that’s why I was never an advertising copywriter.

As a lead trumpeter or a hot soloist, he is someone we miss!

May your happiness increase.

SWING SIBLINGS TAKE MANHATTAN: THE ANDERSON TWINS PLAY THE FABULOUS DORSEYS

Let’s assume you had an urge to put on a show celebrating the music and lives of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  You’d need at least fourteen musicians, and they’d have to be versatile — a reed wizard able to duplicate the curlicues of JD on BEEBE and OODLES OF NOODLES, to sing soulfully on his more romantic theme song.  You’d need a trombonist who could get inside TD’s steel-gray sound, perhaps someone to evoke Bunny Berigan, a drummer who understood Dave Tough and Ray McKinley, vocal groups, singers . . . a huge undertaking.

Those energetic young fellows, Pete and Will Anderson, twins who play a whole assortment of reeds from bass clarinet and flute to alto, tenor, and clarinet, have neatly gotten around all these imagined difficulties to create a very entertaining musical / theatrical evening doing the Fabulous Dorseys full justice.  It’s taking place at 59E59 (that’s the theatres at 59 East 59th Street in New York City) and you can see the schedule there.

The Anderson Twins have two kinds of surprising ingenuity that lift their tribute out of the familiar.  (You know — the PBS evening where a big band with singers walks its way through twenty hits of X and his Orchestra, punctuated by fund-raising.)  They’ve assembled a sextet of New York’s finest musicians — great jazz soloists who can also harmonize beautifully: Pete and Will on reeds; Ehud Asherie on piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Clovis Nicolas, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.  No, there’s no trombonist — but our man Kellso does a wonderful job of becoming TD on I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU — a tribute to both of them.  And rather than being a parade of the expected greatest hits, this is a musical evening full of surprises: a few rocking charts by Sy Oliver that remind us just how hard the Forties TD band swung; a beautiful piano solo by Ehud in honor of Art Tatum; several of the arrangements that Dizzy Gillespie wrote for JD’s band, and a few improvisations that show just how this sextet, alive and well in 2012, can rock the house: DUSK IN UPPER SANDUSKY, HOLLYWOOD PASTIME, and more.

But the evening is more than a concert — the Andersons have a fine theatrical sense of how to keep an audience involved.  In 1947, Tommy and Jimmy starred in a motion picture that purported to tell the story of their lives — THE FABULOUS DORSEYS.  On the plus side, the movie has the two brothers playing themselves as adults, and some extremely dramatic performances by the stars of the Abbey Theatre, Sara Allgood and Arthur Shields, as Mother and Father Dorsey.  It also has on-screen footage of Art Tatum, Ray Bauduc, Ziggy Elman, Charlie Barnet, Mike Pingitore, Paul Whiteman, Henry Busse . . . a feast for jazz film scholars.  As cinema, it verges on the hilarious — although I must say that its essential drama, the rise to fame of the Brothers, is helped immensely by their true-to-life inability to get along.  In the film, they are finally reconciled at their father’s deathbed . . . which makes a better story than having them join forces because of the economics of the moribund Big Band Era.

The Anderson boys use clips from the film as a dramatic structure to keep the tale of the Dorseys vivid — and it also becomes a delightful multi-media presentation, with the Andersons themselves pretending to feud (with less success: sorry, boys, but you lack real rancor), pretending to break the band in two and then . . . but I won’t give away all the secrets.  My vote for Best Speaking Part in a Musical Production goes to Kevin Dorn, but, again, you’ll have to see for yourself.  It’s musically delightful and — on its own terms — cleverly entertaining.

I will have more to say about this production in the future, but right now I wanted to make sure that my New York readers knew what good music and theatrical ingenuity waits for them at 59E59.  This show will conclude its run on October 7 — don’t miss it!

May your happiness increase.   

A CHANGE IN PLANS: MAL SHARPE MAKES US BELIEVE IT (August 26, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of my California summer was being able to see and hear Mal Sharpe and his Big Money in Jazz Band every Sunday afternoon at the No Name Bar in Sausalito, California.  Mal has so many talents that not all of them get to emerge at once: there’s the comic improviser, the surrealistic jester, the gutty trombonist, the head-arrangements-while-you-wait bandleader . . . as well as the creator of contests and quizzes with prizes of spectacular insignificance.

But one of Mal’s talents often overlooked is his singing — and I don’t mean the exuberant JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE that begins most sessions or the almost as joyous THE SONG IS ENDED.  He says, “I just like to sing,” and that’s clear.  But a recent performance of the Dietz-Schwartz I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN continues to be bittersweet without being maudlin, memorable without being overdramatic.

The song has a lovely melody (think of the instrumental version by Bobby Hackett and Jack Teagarden) but a singer has to get inside the mixture of emotions — rueful surprise that admits to self-pity and self-blame without saying so.  Call it jaunty despair.  Mal conveys all of this beautifully, mixing wit and delicate sadness.  He does summon up some of the lightness of Astaire, the sorrow of Rushing and Louis — and there’s even a joke in the lyrics — but he so completely gives himself to the song that when I return to California I am sure that I will ask him to sing more songs like this.  He could be the next sensation as a rhythm balladeer, don’t you think?

Here’s I GUESS I’LL HAVE TO CHANGE MY PLAN, recorded on the spot on Sunday, August 26, 2012 — with the assistance of Leon Oakley, trumpet; Richard Hadlock, soprano saxophone; Si Perkoff, keyboard; Harley White, string bass (who told us about Earl Hines and his many toupees); Carmen Cansino, drums.  And the band manages to summon up the great ones, too — Si’s quirky piano hints at Basie and Monk; Richard hints at late, late Lester; Leon tells us that Bunny and Wild Bill would have loved to play this; Carmen punches it home with the vigor of Thirties Wettling . . .

If anyone in California reads this and then goes to one of Mal’s haunts — the No Name on Sundays; the Savoy Tivoli (in North Beach SF) on Saturdays; Armando’s in Martinez . . . tell him, “I saw you on JAZZ LIVES!”  Maybe he’ll give you a zipper or a letter-B sticker.  And we’ll all be pleased.

May your happiness increase.

HOLY RELICS OF A GLORIOUS TIME

I mean no blasphemy.  Jazz fans will understand.

Some time ago, an eBay seller offered an autograph book for sale.

That rather ordinary exterior gave no hint of the marvels it contained: not someone’s schoolmates but the greatest players and singers — of the Swing Era and of all time.  Now individual pages are being offered for sale, and I thought that they would thrill JAZZ LIVES readers as they thrill me.  The owner of the book was “Joe,” residing in New York City and occasionally catching a band at a summer resort.  We know this because Joe was meticulous, dating his autograph “captures” at the bottom of the page.  Understandably, he didn’t know much about the lifespan of paper and put Scotch tape over some of the signatures, which might mean that the whole enterprise won’t last another fifty years — although the signatures (in fountain pen, black and colored pencil) have held up well.

Through these pages, if even for a moment, we can imagine what it might have been to be someone asking the greatest musicians, “Mr. Evans?”  “Miss Holiday?”  “Would you sign my book, please?”  And they did.  Here’s the beautiful part.

Let’s start at the top, with Louis and Red:

This page is fascinating — not only because Louis was already using green ink, or that we have evidence of the band’s “sweet” male singer, Sonny Woods, but for the prominence of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen.  Listening to the studio recordings Louis made while Red was a sideman, it would be easy to believe the story that Red was invisible, stifled, taking a position that allowed him no creative outlet.  But the radio broadcasts that have come to light — from the Cotton Club and the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program — prove that Red was given solo spots during the performance and that he was out front for the first set.  Yes, Red had been creating a series of exceptional Vocalion recordings for two years, but I suspect Joe had much to hear on this Saturday night at the Arcadia Ballroom.

Something completely different: composer / arranger Ferde Grofe on the same page with Judy Ellington, who sang with Charlie Barnet’s band:

Time for some joy:

Oh, take another!

Joe really knew what was going on: how many people sought out pianist / arranger / composer Lennie Hayton for an autograph:

A good cross-section of the 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra — star pianists Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, saxophonists Vido Musso, Herman Shertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, as well as the trombonist Murray McEachern, guitarist Ben Heller, arranger Fred Norman, and mystery man Jesse Ralph:

Someone who gained a small portion of fame:

You’ll notice that Joe knew who the players were — or, if you like, he understood that the men and women who didn’t have their names on the marquee were the creators of the music he so enjoyed.  So the special pleasure of this book is in the tangible reminders of those musicians whose instrumental voices we know so well . . . but whose signatures we might never have seen.  An example — the heroes who played so well and devotedly in Chick Webb’s band: saxophonists Chauncey Houghton, “Louie” Jordan, Theodore McRae, Wayman Carver, bassist Beverley Peer, pianist Tommy Fulford, guitarist Bobby Johnson, trumpeters Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, trombonists Nat Story, Sandy Williams . . . .Good Luck To You, indeed!

But one name is missing — the little King of the Savoy (subject of the wonderful new documentary, THE SAVOY KING — which is coming to the New York Film Festival at the end of September 2012 — more details to come):

Jimmie Lunceford and his men, among them drummer Jimmie Crawford, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Paul Webster:

saxophonists Joe Thomas and Austin Brown, Jas. Crawford (master of percussion), bassist Mose Allen, pianist Edwin Wilcox, and the little-known Much Luck and Best Wishes:

Blanche Calloway’s brother, the delightful Cab, and his bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton:

trumpeter irving Randolph and Doc Cheatham, drummer Leroy Maxey, pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Walter Thomas, Andrew Brown, “Bush,” or Garvin Bushell, and Chu Berry, and Cab himself:

Paul Whiteman’s lead trumpeter, Harry “Goldie” Goldfield, father of Don Goldie (a Teagarden colleague):

I can’t figure out all of the names, but this documents a band Wingy Manone had: vocalist Sally Sharon, pianist Joe Springer, Don Reid, Ray Benitez, R. F. Dominick, Chuck Johnson (?), saxophonist Ethan Rando (Doc?), Danny Viniello, guitarist Jack Le Maire, and one other:

Here are some names and a portrait that would not be hard to recognize.  The Duke, Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy, Barney Bigard, Freddie Jenkins, Rex Stewart, and either “Larry Brown,” squeezed for space, bottom right (I think):

And Lawrence Brown, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Billy Taylor, and lead man Art Whetzel:

Calloway’s trombones, anyone?  De Priest Wheeler, Claude Jones, “Keg” Johnson, and trumpeter Lammar Wright:

Our man Bunny:

Don Redman’s wonderful band, in sections.  Edward Inge, Eugene Porter, Harvey Boone, Rupert Cole, saxophones:

The trumpets — Otis Johnson, Harold Baker, Reunald Jones, and bassist Bob Ysaguirre:

And the trombone section — Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Bennie Morton — plus the leader’s autograph and a signature that puzzles me right underneath.  Sidney Catlett was the drummer in this orchestra for a time in 1937, but that’s not him, and it isn’t pianist Don Kirkpatrick.  Research!: 

The rhythm section of the Claude Hopkins band — Claude, Abe Bolar, Edward P. (“Pete”) Jacobs, drums:

And some wonderful players from that band: Joe Jones (guitar, nort drums), trumpeters Shirley Clay, Jabbo Smith, Lincoln Mills; the singer Beverly White (someone Teddy Wilson thought better than Billie), saxophonists Bobby Sands, John Smith, Arville Harris, Happy Mitchner (?); trombonists Floyd Brady and my hero Vic Dickenson, whose signature stayed the same for forty years and more:

I suspect that this triple autograph is later . . . still fun:

If the next three don’t make you sit up very straight in your chair, we have a real problem.  Basie at Roseland, Oct. 12, 1937: Earle Warren, the Count himself, Billie, Buck Clayton, and Eddie Durham.  The signature of Paul Gonsalves clearly comes from a different occasion, and I imagine the conversation between Joe and Paul, who would have been very pleased to have his name on this page:

Miss Holiday, Mister Shaw, before they ever worked together ANY OLD TIME.  I’d call this JOYLAND, wouldn’t you?

And a truly swinging piece of paper, with the signatures of Walter Page, Lester Young, James Rushing, Bobby Moore, Herschel Evans, Ronald “Jack” Washington, Edward Lewis, Freddie Greene, Joe Jones, Bennie Morton . . . when giants walked the earth.

To view just one of these pages and find your way to the others, click here  – I’ll content myself with simple gleeful staring.  And since I began writing this post, the seller has put up another ten or more — Mary Lou Williams, Ina Ray Hutton, Clyde Hart, Roy Eldridge . . . astonishing!

May your happiness increase.

ETSY MEETS TD, FRANK, BUNNY, BUDDY (1940)

That’s Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Buddy Rich, and John Huddleston, caught by a fan at Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrook in 1940.  All of them — or their signatures — can be yours here!

Thanks to hot man Chris Tyle for pointing me to this rare piece of paper, and to Berigan scholar / biographer Michael P. Zirpolo, who says  it’s authentic, based on calligraphy.

May your happiness increase.

THE HOME OF SWEET ROMANCE

Nowhere but the Savoy Ballroom in New York City:

Let’s go this Thursday!  My air-step is earth-bound, but we could listen to the bands and watch the people who can really dance.

Another treasure for sale on eBay, thanks to mdt141mike.

For the real story of the Savoy Ballroom and its King, visit here to learn more about Jeff Kaufman’s brilliant and moving film, THE SAVOY KING: CHICK WEBB AND THE MUSIC THAT CHANGED AMERICA.

May your happiness increase.

“A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART,” by GARY MARMORSTEIN

The biographer’s chosen task is either difficult or impossible.  Any competent researcher can amass a proliferation of facts, beginning with the subject’s grandparents and concluding with the coroner’s report.  The more public the biographical subject, the easier the task, apparently.

But although readers want to know the facts of the subject’s many lives — creative, philosophical, emotional, quotidian — the questions we want answered are deeper.  I think we ultimately want to know what it felt like to be the person under scrutiny; why did he behave as he did; what choices did he make; what drove him?  And since most of us are puzzles even to ourselves, the answers to these questions are often beyond our reach.

These speculations are the result of my reading A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL: THE LIFE OF LORENZ HART, by Gary Marmorstein (Simon and Schuster), just published.  Marmorstein does several things very well.  For one, he has taken stock of everything written about Hart — a fourteen-page bibliography and hundreds of endnotes.  He is admirably diligent and more thorough than the two Hart biographies that proceeded this book.

The book moves along at a swift pace, although Marmorstein has chosen often to show that he is as clever as his subject, as witty, as colloquial — often adopting his own version of Thirties slang, where a man gets punched in “the kisser” and a failing business goes “flooey.”  I wish his editor had told the author that referring to the troubles Richard Rodgers had with his collaborator as “Hart-aches” was not wise.  That same editor might have limited Marmorstein’s usage of “must,” as in “Larry must have reacted with a jolt” when watching the sound film THE JAZZ SINGER when there is no evidence to support the speculation.

To his credit, Marmorstein is more candid than his predecessors, although he does not dwell on scandal-mongering.  He is fair to Hart’s collaborator, Richard Rodgers, who on one hand tried to protect Hart from himself and on the other, referred to him as “the shrimp” while Hart was alive and “that little fag” twenty years after Hart’s death.  And where there is room for speculation, Marmorstein painstakingly balances opposing narratives.  In these things, A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL seems ideal.

But Hart would not have been an easy subject under the best of circumstances, and the facts and myths of his brief life lend themselves to mythologizing.  One such encapsulation of Hart’s hectic, creative, unhappy life is as (in Marmorstein’s coinage) the “lovelorn dwarf.”  Hart was short, under five feet, and although he made and permitted jokes about his height, it was apparently not something he accepted, and it added to his perception of himself as irredeemably physically unattractive.

Hart was a gay man in a profession where homosexuality was more common, but he seems not to have had long-term emotional attachments  He kept no diary and had a habit of disappearing — at night and other times.  Biographers before Marmorstein have speculated where Larry Hart got to, and with whom . . . but all the people who might have told us stories are dead.  Commendably, Marmorstein shuns ancient homophobic formulations, suggesting that Hart drank himself to death because his sexual preference made him miserable, or that Hart chose to be gay because he was unattractive to women.

Any book about Hart also must record his alcoholism, which ultimately contributed to his early death.  But Hart was also incredibly creative — not just in terms of writing new lyrics for show after show, but being someone who could go off with an envelope and pencil and create two new choruses of lyrics while others were taking a break.  (Hart’s creativity makes the author’s choice of title somewhat strange, ill-fitting.)

I was eager to read A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL in hopes that it would be a satisfying synthesis.  What would its author make of the combination of Hart’s creativity and unhappiness?  What was it like to be a man in public view who thought of himself as unattractive?  What was it like to be a gay man who wrote memorable paeans in praise of heterosexual romance, to be sung in public by men to women and vice versa?  What might this book tell us about Hart’s apparently self-destructive behavior?  Having recently read and admired Michael P. Zirpolo’s MR. TRUMPET, his biography of the alcoholic genius Bunny Berigan, dead at 33, where Zirpolo successfully puts forth plausible explanations of Berigan’s drinking, gently and ruefully, I hoped that Marmorstein would do the same and more.

Alas, the book ultimately is only a collection of engaging anecdotes in chronological sequence.  One can learn what the Hart’s housekeeper and cook, Big Mary Campbell, said to Josephine Baker.  One can read how Hart would not let anyone else pick up the check.  One could buy Hart an overcoat in the boys’ department of Wanamaker’s.  We learn the name of the nurse who might have been at his deathbed.

Famous loyalties — Hart for Vivienne Segal — and emnities — Rodgers and Hart versus George M. Cohan — are entertainingly delineated here.  And the book rolls on, page after page, year after year, show after show, from Hart’s lyrics in summer camp to his final words on his deathbed, “What have I lived for?”  But the reader, closing this well-documented book, may feel that Hart, elusive in life, took his secrets with him.

Ultimately, Mary Cleere Haran’s rendition of THIS FUNNY WORLD sums up Hart far better for me — searching, wise, grieving — than Marmorstein’s book:

May your happiness increase.

INDOOR SPORTS IN SAUSALITO: MAL SHARPE, LEON OAKLEY, RICHARD HADLOCK, BILL DE KUIPER, SAM ROCHA, CARMEN CANSINO at THE NO NAME BAR, July 22, 2012

Some pleasurable experiences evaporate almost as soon as they’ve ended.  But July 22, 2012, was our third consecutive visit to Mal Sharpe’s Sunday afternoon gig (3-6 PM) at The No Name Bar in Sausalito (757 Bridgeway) and the pleasure was as powerful as ever.

Mal remains a solid gutty player and his comedic improvisations (involving Thanksgiving, zippers, the NBC Red Network) are as fresh and unbalanced as ever.  But he shines greatly as a trombonist and lively singer.  Those who think of him only as a radio and television personality would be surprised at his deep immersion in hot jazz.

To Mal’s right was the jazz critic and reedman Richard Hadlock, floating behind the beat or keening on his straight soprano.  In the middle was the cornetist who could lead the troops into battle with never a qualm — someone capable of great subtleties and shadings, too — Leon Oakley.  In the back were swinging regulars Bill De Kuiper, guitar; Carmen Cansino, drums — with the eloquent bassist and eager swing singer Sam Rocha.  A band to conjure with!

After a holiday-themed introduction, the band swung into a version of LONESOME ROAD.  (It was a highly inappropriate soundtrack — the path to the No Name Bar was sunny, filled with people, and one could feast on Thai or Mexican cuisine, fish and chips, ice cream, or my choice — spicy nasturtium blossoms.  I saw no one trudging under a heavy load, but it was still a good opener.)

A nearly perverse defiance seemed behind the second song choice, too.  July, warm, sunny?  No, SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN:

Some people in the audience were visiting from Indiana, and I had hopes that Mal would call ALABAMMY BOUND or THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS, but all turned politely respectful as the band swung into BACK HOME AGAIN IN INDIANA:

Laying bare his soul (but keeping his green hat on), Mal called for I’M CONFESSIN’:

If Mal could Confess, it was only right that Sam could sing about ROSETTA:

The No Name Bar serves drinks that are some distance from a pot of Earl Grey, but Mal’s version of WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA was suitably hot and sweet:

YELLOW DOG BLUES connected neatly with Leon’s deep interest in steam trains:

One of the young women in the audience who had come from the Canary Islands, directly, it seemed, to 757 Bridgeway, was named Maria: a good reason to call Berlin’s MARIE, even if Bunny was not in the house:

Everyone got serious for an impassioned BLACK AND BLUE, so strongly identified with Louis, Fats, and Andy Razaf:

The somber mood was quickly dispelled by Mal’s romping though an accusatory YOU RASCAL YOU, called late enough in the session so that none of the patrons would stalk out into the sunlight, offended, too early:

And Mal and the Big Money in Jazz Band told us it was time to go home with another Berlin classic, THE SONG IS ENDED:

But only for a week, as Fred Robbins used to say at the end of the 1944-45 Eddie Condon Town Hall broadcasts.  And Mal brings the Big Money in Jazz Band to the Savoy Tivoli in San Francisco every Saturday afternoon, and there’s a once-a-month Thursday gig at Armando’s in Martinez . . . as well as other spectaculars unknown to JAZZ LIVES but worth investigating.

May your happiness increase. 

NEW BUNNY BERIGAN DISCOVERIES!

Some researchers, having completed a massive project, never want to think about the subject again.  Not Michael P. Zirpolo.  His research into the life and music of Bunny Berigan didn’t come to a halt once his excellent biography, MR. TRUMPET, was published.  (For an enthusiastic review of that fine book, click here.)

No, it seems as if Mike put on his miner’s hat — the one with the lamp — and went into the archives, determined as he could be to make sure the world could hear more of Bunny’s playing, singing, and his great band.

But first — some Berigan music from 1937 — a famous Disney song, HEIGH-HO, with a vocal by Gail Reese, a tenor saxophone solo by George Auld, astonishing trumpet by Bunny and entrancing drumming by Dave Tough:

Now for the delightful news, courtesy of the MR. TRUMPET website:

FLASH!…I have found at least 25 previously unissued aircheck and other recordings made by Bunny Berigan in the years 1936-1939 in the Berigan archive at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have also found approximately a dozen other aircheck and other recordings in this cache that were issued many years ago on the Shoestring label with absolutely no remastering or clean-up done on them. These recordings were made by either the Harry Smith Recordings studio, by Brunswick Records, or as a part of the “Modern Rhythm Choruses” demonstration recordings made by Berigan in March of 1939. (All of these recordings were part of Berigan’s private record collection, which included many commercial recordings by other bands, and orchestras, including many “classical” recordings. It appears that Bunny had very broad taste in music. Most of the commercial records in his collection still had stickers on them from a record store on Broadway near 52nd Street where he bought them.)

The technicians at the University of Wisconsin are currently digitizing these previously unissued or once issued Berigan recordings. When they are done, they will send me the digital copies so I can positively identify and date the performances. I will also listen to these digital copies for quality of sound. Visually, the acetate disks on which these recordings were made appeared to be in very good condition. However, until I have heard the dubs, I will not be able to comment on how these recordings sound.

Although there will undoubtedly be copyright issues to be dealt with before these recordings can be issued, I will do everything in my power to see that these recordings are cleaned-up, remastered, and issued with appropriate liner notes. These recordings are the property of the University of Wisconsin, and I will work with the University to see that all revenue generated from their sale will go into a restricted fund at UW-Madison to pay the costs to have the various materials in the Berigan archive curated. At least that is my hope.

I will keep you posted on all developments.

FLASH #2!…The digital copies of the University of Wisconsin Bunny Berigan recordings arrived a couple of days ago. There were three full CDs, each containing about 15 tracks. I listened to all of them in one sitting, and am absolutely delighted with almost all of these either previously unreleased or once released recordings. The sound on most of them is extremely good. Many tracks have sensational sound. The playing of the Berigan band on those from mid-1937 is very good; the band’s playing about a year later is excellent, and the live tracks from the fall of 1938, with Buddy Rich on drums, are extremely exciting. These will be the ONLY live recordings of the Berigan band with Buddy Rich, if we can get them cleaned-up and issued. Bunny’s playing on these recordings ranges from good to magnificent.

I am in the process of organizing these recordings, providing each with either an absolutely accurate date/location or an approximate date/location, and will then add as much relevant info about each track as is necessary to put it into its proper context. I hope to begin posting on this website all info about these recordings as soon as I am able. I will undoubtedly be doing this in stages because of the number of recordings involved, so you will have something like a developing saga to follow here.

I can now say without any hesitation that the number of previously unissued Berigan recordings in this cache is at least 25, making it the largest find to-date of such recordings. This is a major development for Berigan fans!

More to follow…

THE UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN BUNNY BERIGAN FILMS and RECORDINGS

On May 14 and 15, 2012, I was at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison doing research regarding films and recordings where Bunny Berigan appears. I was vaguely aware of what films were there, but had no idea of what recordings were there. What I found will be of great interest to Berigan aficionados. Here is a summary of what I found.

FILMS

I was able to view a 16 millimeter film, which I had previously thought contained a home movie of Bunny and his band that had been taken by arranger Andy Phillips while the Berigan band was appearing at Kennywood Park, just outside of Pittsburgh, in May of 1939. A part of that film strip, about a minute and a half or two minutes long, did in fact contain scenes of Bunny and his father, Cap Berigan, walking and posing at Kennywood. It also contained scenes of a bandstand, presumably the one at Kennywood, and of the Berigan band, including vocalists Danny Richards and Wendy Bishop, in action. Bunny directed the band quite enthusiastically, and moved around in front of it quite a lot while doing so. I say “presumably at Kennywood” because the next stop on the Berigan itinerary then was in Detroit, at Eastwood Gardens, and the bandstand scenes could have been shot there as well. However, I am going to suggest that it is more likely that all scenes of Bunny and his band on this film strip were taken at Kennywood.

The other part of this film strip contains a copy of the 1936 film short where Berigan appeared with Fred Rich’s band, including many of Bunny’s colleagues from CBS. This film short is widely available, and parts of it have been posted on You Tube.

Records at the Library indicate that the Kennywood footage was spliced together with the Fred Rich film short material sometime in the 1960s. The original Kennywood film likely remained in the possession of Andy Phillips, and is now presumably in the hands of his heirs. Many still photos have been extracted from that film strip over the years, some of which now appear in “Mr. Trumpet.”

RECORDINGS

The cache of recordings I discovered can best be organized by year. There are recordings from 1937, 1938, and 1939.

1937

1-May 1, 1937 Madhattan Room, “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight ” —vocal Carol McKay

2-May 1, 1937 Hotel Pennsylvania “The You and Me that Used to Be” —vocal Ford Leary

3-May 5, 1937 New York City “Swanee River”

4-May 5, 1937 “Big John Special”

5-May 8, 1937 “Summer Night” —vocal Carol McKay

6-May 8, 1937 “You Showed Me the Way” —vocal Carol McKay

7-May 8, 1937 “Mahogany Hall Stomp”

8-May 12, 1937 “They All Laughed” —vocal Carol McKay

9-May 13, 1937 “Mr. Ghost Goes to Town”

10-May 13, 1937 “Royal Garden Blues”

11-May 29, 1937 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “You Can’t Run Away from Love Tonight” —spoken introduction by Bunny Berigan

13-June 12, 1937 Roof Garden, “Rose Room”

Hotel Pennsylvania “Peckin’”

1938

1-March 27, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “How’d Ya Like to Love Me?” —vocal Gail Reese

2-March 27, 1938 New York City “Downstream” —vocal Gail Reese

3-March 27, 1937 “Sweet as a Song” —vocal Gail Reese

4-April 1, 1938 Paul Whiteman in “Dark Eyes”

Concert WABC-NYC Berigan appeared as a guest soloist on this Whiteman broadcast, accompanied by the Whiteman orchestra.

5-April 3, 1938 Paradise Restaurant, “It’s Wonderful” —vocal Gail Reese

6-April 3, 1938 New York City “Royal Garden Blues”

“Royal Garden Blues” is a scintillating performance which contains a superbly constructed jazz solo by Berigan, excellent solos by Georgie Auld on tenor sax and Sonny Lee on trombone, terrific drumming by Johnny Blowers, and much swing from the entire band. Bunny’s solo is additional evidence that at this time, he could play jazz as well as anybody then on the scene.

7-April 3, 1938 “Have You Ever Been in Heaven?” —vocal Gail Reese

8-April 3, 1938 “Peg O’My Heart”

9-April 8, 1938 “Am I Blue?”

10-April 8, 1938 “Let ‘Er Go”

“Let ‘Er Go,” a pop tune, which was recorded by the Berigan band in 1937 with a vocal, is played instrumentally, and romps all the way with extended solos by Berigan, Auld, Joe Dixon on clarinet, and Sonny Lee on trombone. Once again, the drumming of Johnny Blowers is excellent.

11-April 8, 1938 “Trees”

This was one of the most played numbers in the Berigan book from the time it was recorded in December of 1937 until Bunny died in 1942. The fidelity on this recording (and almost all of the others from the Paradise Restaurant) is superb and Bunny and the band perform splendidly.

12-May 26, 1938 NBC Magic Key of Radio “Somewhere with Somebody Else” —vocal Dick Wharton

13-September 24, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “Dark Eyes”:

Bunny appeared as a guest soloist accompanied by the CBS band.

14-October 5, 1938(?) Unknown location “Gangbuster’s Holiday”

This recording, (there are two diffferent takes, both of which sound like they were recorded in a studio as opposed to some remote location) and the ones noted below (*), reveal the change in orientation the Berigan band underwent in the summer and early fall of 1938 as a result of Bunny’s admiration of the style of Count Basie’s band. He began to work with the young arranger/trombonist Ray Conniff, who was then a member of the Berigan band, to create a series of arrangements on jazz tunes and originals that highlighted all of the jazz assets of the Berigan band. Consequently, these recordings present what was one of the best swing bands of the day in very congenial jazz settings. The rocking drumming of Buddy Rich and the waves of rhythmic riffs created by Conniff’s charts provide a splendidly swinging foundation for the jazz solos of Berigan on trumpet, Georgie Auld, then in his early Herschel Evans phase, on tenor sax, Gus Bivona on clarinet, and Ray Conniff himself on trombone. When playing these arrangements, the Berigan band of late 1938 was in the vanguard of swing.

15-October 5, 1938 Roseland Ballroom, “Wacky Dust” —vocal Jayne Dover

16-October 12, 1938 (?) New York City “Moten Swing”*

In “Mr. Trumpet,” I stated that this recording was made in the spring of 1938. This assertion was based on research I did (including a statement in the White materials), about this aircheck. At the time, I had not yet heard this recording. Based on newly discovered aural evidence, I am now certain that this aircheck was recorded during the time Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich and Gus Bivona were all members of the Berigan band, which would have been between September 12, 1938, when Bivona joined, and December 15, 1938, when Auld left. The playing of all three of these soloists is plainly discernible in this performance, as is the trombone solo of Ray Conniff. I am not certain however, that this recording was made while the Berigan band was playing at Roseland Ballroom in New York City in the fall of 1938, though it could have been.

17-October 12, 1938 “Gangbuster’s Holiday”*

NOTE: These four recordings are the only ones I have heard (to-date) where drummer Buddy Rich performed on live recordings with the Berigan band. To say that he was playing wonderfully and driving the Berigan band would be an understatement.

18-November 19, 1938 CBS Saturday Night Swing Club “I Can’t Get Started” (no vocal): Bunny performed this with the CBS band.

There may be a couple of more recordings in this cache from 1938. I do believe that the private recordings referred to on page 275 of “Mr. Trumpet,” Bunny made with Joe Bushkin and Bud Freeman in September or October of 1938, are among them. However, I will have to do some very close listening before I am able to provide any worthwhile information about them.

1939

There are nineteen more recordings in this group. Unlike the recordings from 1937 and 1938, which are almost universally in excellent sound (almost all of them were professionally recorded by the Harry Smith Recording Studio), these sides are on Presto acetate disks, and have apparently been played often. Consequently, there is a good bit of surface noise and some skips on many of them. For these recordings to be issued, they will have to be worked on by an audio specialist.  Nevertheless, there is much good Berigan playing on these sides, often in short performances with a pianist who sounds like Joe Bushkin, and a drummer, who sounds like George Wettling. This trio format often suggests the sound the Benny Goodman Trio recordings. Also, there is one performance, where Lee Wiley sings “You Leave Me Breathless,” accompanied only by Bushkin, that is exquisite, among a number of other surprises.

More info later.

FLASH # 3!…Since I have posted these notices about the University of Wisconsin “new” Berigan recordings, I have had a number of inquiries about them, and requests that I make dubs of them. Since these recordings belong to the University of Wisconsin, I cannot make dubs of them, or allow copies to be made in any manner that could lead to them being bootlegged. Indeed, I can’t even appear on any media to play them, though I have already been asked to do that. I will be working with people at the University of Wisconsin to try to get these recordings cleaned-up, remastered, and issued, with relevant photos and intelligent liner notes. Unfortunately, these recordings, like the “Savory Recordings” owned by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, are in a state of limbo because of the current rather bizarre U.S. copyright laws. (Thank you Sonny Bono and the Disney Co.) In order to determine how they can be issued in conformity with the copyright laws, I will have to work with lawyers who are copyright experts. That will take time. In the meantime, I ask that Berigan aficionados around the globe be patient.

Several people have expressed some doubt that these recordings have never been issued before. I can assure you that the vast majority of them have NEVER been issued. I have had many questions about the sound quality on these recordings. Probably 75% of them are in excellent condition, with superb fidelity. The remaining 25% range in condition from good sound quality with varying amounts of hiss, some skips, etc., to a very few that may not be of sufficient quality to be issued. Finally, I have often been asked: “How was Bunny playing on them?” I can say without reservation that several of these recordings contain as good playing by Bunny as I have ever heard, and I have heard almost all of the recordings Berigan made. In short, these are remarkable recordings that must be issued.

While we are waiting for progress on the issuance of these recordings, I will be periodically uploading short excerpts from them to this website. Then you can hear for yourselves what I am talking about.

And the special treat on Mike’s Berigan website is an excerpt from that romping performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, performed at the Paradise Restaurant, New York City, April 3, 1938.  But to hear this, you’ll have to visit MR. TRUMPET (without using Google Chrome as your browser, for a variety of arcane technological reasons).

More to come!  And Mike would love feedback about these treasures: email him at mzirpolo@neo.rr.com

May your happiness increase.

PHYLLIS GER RECALLS HER FATHER, MORT STULMAKER

Can you identify the players in this 1939 Charles Peterson photograph?

Readers will recognize (from left) Eddie Condon, exhorting; Bobby Hackett and Jimmy Dorsey, keeping an eye on their leader, Zutty Singleton, peering around the corner; Pee Wee Russell, aiming for the clouds.

But the left-handed and bespectacled string bassist in the rear of the ensemble is less familiar.  His name?  Mort or Morty Stulmaker.  Although his jazz career was brief, he played and recorded with the best musicians and vocalists of the time: Bunny Berigan, Red McKenzie, Condon, Joe Marsala, Stan King, Jack Teagarden, Dave Tough, Max Kaminsky, Bud Freeman, Brad Gowans, Billy Butterfield, Lee Wiley, Red Nichols . . .

I thought he would be one of the mysterious, shadowy figures of jazz, not only because he was a bassist, but because apparently no dramatic story attached to his life.  I was delighted to meet Phyllis Ger, a jewelry designer who also volunteers at the Louis Armstrong House Museum — and to find out that she was Mort’s only child.

Phyllis and her father, 2012

Here is what Phyllis told me on a pleasant afternoon recently.

My father liked to be called Mort or Morty. His first name was Morton, but the only person he allowed to call him that was his sister. The family name is German, practically always misspelled with an “H” (Stuhlmaker) which would always aggravate my mother but never seemed to bother Dad.

He was born in Albany, New York, in 1906 and had two brothers and one sister. Dad came from a musical family. His mother played piano, his father and two brothers played the violin. There must have been piano lessons because Dad was a trained musician. He started his career playing piano accompanying silent movies when he was in his teens. I don’t know how he made the transition to bass from piano. He was a left-handed bassist which was not that common.

Both sides of my family were from the Albany-Troy, New York area. But, of course, Dad could not make a living as a musician up there, so he moved to New York City. Although I was born in Manhattan, I was two years old when we moved to Albany. Dad would spend weekends at home and travel back to the city during the week to pick up some gigs. After six years of a fabulous time growing up in Albany surrounded by all my cousins, aunts, and uncles, my parents made the decision to move back to NY where we could all be together permanently.

Dad was very unpretentious. He didn’t speak about his life as a musician to me very often. He said it wasn’t a profession that he was that proud of even though he played with some of the greats. He felt that musicians were never given the credit they deserved. But, he never said that there was anything else he had wanted to do; you make a living at something and you stay with it. So, when he married at age 39, he left the life of a traveling musician and became an organ teacher and salesman at Macy’s 34th Street in  New York City. Dad also taught at Aeolian on 57th St. for several years. In addition, he had many private students.

My Dad was a very sensitive and compassionate person. He was not good with handling financial matters and left that to my mother. I could never see him actively promoting himself. That was just not his personality. He was devoted to Mom and me. I am an only child (and not spoiled). They were determined not to spoil me. When I asked Mom why she waited until she was 39 to marry, her response was: “I was waiting to meet your father.” And, so, a marriage of 44 years resulted.

Mort and Ruth on their wedding day

I started to do research about my Dad about five years after his death in 1988 at the age of 82. Since I knew so little about his background, I was amazed at the amount of material I discovered. I didn’t know he played bass with Benny Goodman, Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, Bunny Berigan, and many others. When Did did speak sparingly about his background, Bunny’s name came up quite frequently. As part of my discoveries, I was fortunate to get to know Bob Dupuis, author of the first biography about Bunny entitled: BUNNY BERIGAN: ELUSIVE LEGEND OF JAZZ,. From 1998-2001 I attended the Bunny Berigan Jazz Jubilee in Fox Lake, Wisconsin (Bunny’s hometown). This tribute weekend was originally organized by Bunny’s daughter, Joyce and her husband, Ken Hansen. What a thrill it was for me to be a part of that weekend! Sadly, both Joyce and Ken have passed. But, the Jubilee is still taking place each year (May 18th-20th, 2012) under the very capable leadership of Julie Flemming. I will be attending this year after an absence of 11 years. Even though I do not play an instrument, I got Dad’s creative genes in another way. I am a jewelry designer and will be displaying my music-themed pieces at the Jubilee. Please come and join us for a wonderful weekend of jazz.

I knew Dad played with Artie Shaw. I contacted Mr. Shaw who was in his eighties at the time. An assistant to him answered my letter but unfortunately Mr. Shaw had no recollection of my father. I think I may attribute that to the aging process. I also spoke with Joe Dixon when he was presenting a concert at a library on Long Island. I was able to visit with Buddy Koss and his wife for a lovely visit and that was very nostalgic for me. But, sadly, nobody’s left now. Dad was very much respected by other musicians. He played at Hoagy Carmichael’s wedding, who had handpicked the musicians he wanted. Dad was part of the first mixed band to play on 52nd St. with Joe Bushkin, Eddie Condon, Joe Marsala and Red Allen. Dad was quite friendly with Joe. That’s me proudly pointing to my Dad in the photo.

Mort, smartly dressed, in later life

Here’s Mort as a member of the Tempo King band — clearly a Fats Waller-inspired group, oddly enough, recording for Bluebird in 1936 (Waller’s label) with Marty and Joe Marsala, Queenie Ada Rubin, Eddie Condon, Mort, and Stan King:

And with the pride of Fox Lake, Wisconsin, Bunny Berigan, late in 1936 — where you can really hear his strong rhythmic pulse on THIS FOOLISH FEELING:

I’m hoping that some JAZZ LIVES readers have other information to add to our knowledge of Mort Stulmaker: send it here as a comment or if  you’d like to get in touch with Phyllis, email me at swingyoucats@gmail.com. and I will pass it along to her.

May your happiness increase.

A SHRINE FOR HOT MUSIC in ADRIAN, MICHIGAN

Who knew that Nixons’ Music Store in Adrian, Michigan, was the Mecca for hot trumpet swingfans circa 1940?*  But here’s the evidence from the eBay treasure chest:

But how could Feist Music teach anyone that tone?  Or this one:

Something for the pianists in the house (original source unknown):

I’d love to see the “transcription” of Fats’ solos on SHOE SHINE BOY and WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH. 

That one is priceless for Fats as Pagilacci — an early example of marketing tie-in, connected to his 1939 Lang-Worth transcription date. 

Someone actually owned this folio, and it’s the Second Series, too:

That one comes with its own rubber plunger mute — for no extra charge.

From A to Ziggy. 

*My research found that Nixons’ no longer exists — but an advertisement in the ADRIAN DAILY TELEGRAM, Sept. 2, 1947, says that they had everything in records and music.  Given the evidence here, I am convinced.  To see a vintage photograph of Maumee Street in Adrian with reference to a music shop, click here.  In 1970, it was Nixon-Marboro’s Music Store (120 East Maumee) and currently that address is occupied by a martial arts school, “Black Dragon’s Den.”  I wouldn’t dare to say a word against the Black Dragon, but it makes me think (not for the first time) 

Sic transit gloria mundi.