Tag Archives: Butch Thompson

“I GIVE UP!” TIMES TEN

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Is surrender capitulating to an enemy, saying “I give up.  You are stronger.” or is it an enlightened act, a realization that there are powers we can’t conquer and that the idea of conquering anything is futile?

I SURRENDER DEAR

I’ve always found I SURRENDER, DEAR — so powerfully connected to Bing Crosby — both touching and mysterious.  As Gordon Clifford’s lyrics tell us, the singer is saying, in effect, “Take me back. Here is my heart.  I give up all pretense of being distant.  I need you,” which is deeply moving, a surrender of all ego-barriers and pretense.  But I’ve never been able to figure out whether “Here, take my heart,” is  greeted with “I’d love to welcome you back,” or “No thanks, I’m full.”  Other songs hold out the possibility of reconciliation (consider IN A LITTLE SECOND-HAND STORE or WE JUST COULDN’T SAY GOODBYE) but this one ends unresolved.  It’s also one of those songs that lends itself to a variety of interpretations: both Bing and Louis in the same year, then a proliferation of tenor saxophonists, and pianists from Monk to Garner to Teddy. And (before the music starts) probably thanks to Roy Eldridge, there’s also an honored tradition of slipping into double-time.

I_Surrender_Dear_(1931_film)_advert

Here, however, are ten versions that move me.

January 1931: Bing Crosby with the Gus Arnheim Orchestra.  Note the orchestral flourishes:

Later that same year: Victor Young and the Brunswick Concert Orchestra, featuring Frank Munn, not enough of the Boswell Sisters (acting as their own concert orchestra) and a few seconds of Tommy Dorsey.  I think this was an effort to show that Paul Whiteman didn’t have a monopoly on musical extravagance, and I’ve never seen a label credit “Paraphrased by . . . “.  I also note the vocal bridge turns to 3/4, and Munn sings “are doing” rather than “were doing,” but we wait patiently for the Sisters to appear, and they do:

Imagine anyone better than Ben Webster?  Here, in 1944, with our hero Hot Lips Page:

Forward several decades: Joe Venuti, Zoot Sims, John Bunch, Milt Hinton, Bobby Rosengarden 1975:

1978 — a duet of Earl Hines and Harry Edison:

Raymond Burke, Butch Thompson, Cie Frazier in New Orleans, 1979:

and something I was privileged to witness and record, flapping fan blades and all, from February 2010 (Tamar Korn, Gordon Au, Dennis Lichtman, Marcus Milius, Debbie Kennedy):

Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Jim Buchmann, Katie Cavera, Beau Sample, Hal Smith, at the San Diego Jazz Fest in November 2014:

Nobody follows Louis.  1931:

and the majestic version from 1956:

A little tale of the powers of Surrender.  In years past, I would drive into Manhattan, my car full of perishables, and search for a parking spot.  Of course there were none.  I could feel the gelato melting; I could feel my blood pressure rising contrapuntally.  Frustrated beyond belief, I would roll down my window and ask the Parking Goddess for her help.  “I do not ask for your assistance that often, and I admit that I cannot do this on my own.  I am powerless without your help.  Will you be merciful to me?”  And I would then circle the block again and a spot would have opened up.  My theory is that such supplication works only if one is willing to surrender the ego, the facade of one’s own power.  Of course it has also been known to work for other goals, but that is an essay beyond the scope of JAZZ LIVES.

For now, surrender whole-heartedly and see what happens.

May your happiness increase!

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

HAL SMITH HONORS “MISTER CHACE”

The splendid jazz drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith and I share certain serious devotions.  One is to the pianist Frank Melrose and his daughter Ida; another is to the clarinetist and brave explorer Frank Chace.

Hal has emerged with yet a third talent to share (generously) with us: he has created a beautiful and lively video tribute to Mister Chace, with a glorious soundtrack of SORRY — played by Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band from the Riverside recording called HOORAY FOR BIX — as well as a panorama of rare, never-before-seen, highly evocative photographs that open the door to understanding Frank Chace a little wider.

Thank you, Hal!  Frank would be amused, perplexed, and I think pleased by your creative act of love.  Ultimately, he would be delighted that someone who understood the music so well — and played it with equal grace — had taken the time to honor him:

Hal and Frank can be heard together on two rewarding and illuminating CD sets on the Jazzology label — one with Butch Thompson, John Otto, and Charlie DeVore; the other with Tom Pletcher and Tom Bartlett, among others.  Winning music indeed.

May your happiness increase!

LOOK OUT! STEAMBOAT COMIN’ ROUND THE BEND!

It is May. Yet I am making plans for November 14-16, 2014. That’s the kind of fellow I am, even if it goes against all the good advice about living in the moment.

I learned from Duke Heitger at last weekend’s jubilant Atlanta Jazz Party that the 2014 Steamboat Stomp — a three-day floating jazz festival held on the steamboat Natchez, floating up and down the Mississippi from New Orleans, is going to happen.

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It was a glorious weekend in 2013.

steamboatnatchez-paddle

And Duke has some of the same people lined up — the Yerba Buena Stompers, Banu Gibson, and Topsy Chapman — with hints of other heroes and heroines to come.

Of course, much of my pleasure was in the glorious music. But some of it was deeper and harder to explicate. Maybe it was looking out at the Mississippi River flowing by after all those years of reading and teaching HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Maybe it was being on an actual steamboat listening to jazz — the way one might have heard it in 1921 when Fate Marable’s band swung out. Maybe it was getting to walk down the streets of New Orleans — those fabled streets — and try different varieties of gumbo. I can’t tell you exactly what parts of the experience made the strongest impact. But I will be there! And I hope some of my friends can join me.

Here’s some musical evidence of the New Orleans Joys available to people at the Stomp. I do not overstate, you will see.

Before:

Palm Court Cafe, Part One

Palm Court Cafe, Part Two

Oh, Sheik That Thing!

The Steamboat Stomp itself:

Ms. Gibson’s Singular Cardiological Rhythms

Mr. Thompson’s Indigos

Doctor Pistorius and the Worlds of Love

Rocking the River

Stomping for Joy

Joe Oliver  Is Pleased

If that doesn’t convince the hesitant, I don’t know what will.  For myself, the thought of it suddenly becoming November is terrifying. But as far as the 2014 Steamboat Stomp is concerned, I’m ready.

May your happiness increase!

BLUES BY BUTCH (at the 2013 STEAMBOAT STOMP in NEW ORLEANS)

I think of the slow (or medium-slow) blues, too rarely performed these days, as homeopathic medicine for our own ills.  If you listen to something serious and sad, pensive music with its own rhythmic momentum, a few clouds of your own might lift.

Here are two classic blues performances by a master of jazz improvisation with a steady lilt, someone who understands “sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” deeply — Butch Thompson.

I had the honor of meeting Butch for the first time last October at Duke Heitger’s inaugural Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans.  Of course, like many others, I felt as if I’d known Butch for years through hearing his live performances and beautiful recordings — but the man in person was even more delightful: serious, light-hearted, and generous all at once.  (A good unofficial guardian, and a fine man to share late-night red beans and rice with!)

WORKING MAN’S BLUES:

HOW LONG (BLOOSE):

And a bit of New Orleans laginappe — Butch says a few words about the amazing player and teacher Manuel Manetta, who later opened a teaching studio at his Algiers, Louisiana home and had a tremendous influence on generations of players:

May your happiness increase!

DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMP (October 11-13, 2013), or “WHY DON’T YOU GO DOWN TO NEW ORLEANS?”

Time marches — or rolls — on!  A little reminder of pleasures that await those who know the glories of hot improvised music on its home turf.

NATCHEZ

Esteemed trumpeter / singer / bandleader / friend of jazz Duke Heitger and other worthies have created STEAMBOAT STOMP: CLASSIC JAZZ ON THE RIVER for October 11-13, 2013.

Duke’s friends include Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, the Dukes of Dixieland, Butch Thompson, Solid Harmony, the Yerba Buena Stompers.  And more!

Duke says, “We continue to secure some of the finest jazz musicians in the world” for an “intimate festival dedicated to the finest of classic jazz — on one of the last authentic steamboats still operating in the United States, the Steamboat Natchez.”

Five bands, a gospel brunch, a second line parade, and more.

Duke hopes for support from the classic jazz community that is as enthusiastic as the music he and his friends create.  Ticket prices for the event start at $200 — and one can become a more committed patron, supporter, at higher levels.  Click here for more information, contact Duke directly here, or call (419) 464-1630 for details.  Weekend packages are still available, but space is limited (which words I will translate as DON’T WAIT!).

steamboat-Natchez-1

Highlights include: Friday-night concerts on a special chartered sailing of the Natchez, with simultaneous music on two stages and New Orleans cuisine cooked by the steamboat’s own chef.  Saturday afternoon performances will also take place on the Natchez; the evening concerts will be held in the ballroom and lobby of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.  The festival will conclude Sunday afternoon with a New Orleans-style gospel jazz brunch.

Sounds like a real party!  I’ll be “‘way down yonder in New Orleans” in mid-October.

May your happiness increase! 

HAL SMITH RECALLS WAYNE JONES

With Hal’s permission, here is a tribute from one great jazz drummer to another — its source Hal’s website.

jones

My friend and teacher Wayne Jones passed away on Thursday, May 30. He celebrated his 80th birthday on May 21, and married the devoted and caring Charlotte on May 24.

It is difficult to express just how much Wayne meant to me as a person and as an inspiration for drumming. From the time I met Wayne — at the 1972 St. Louis Ragtime Festival — there was never a moment when I worried about his friendship.

Though I had heard Wayne on 1960s-era recordings by the Original Salty Dogs, hearing him live was a life-changing experience! He unerringly played exactly the right thing at the right time, with the right touch and the right volume, with an economy of motion, though I think he must have had the loosest wrists and fingers of any drummer I ever saw! The Original Salty Dogs were, and are, one of the greatest Traditional Jazz bands of all time. But with Wayne on drums, they were something else. The late Frank Powers described the Dogs’ rhythm section as “The Cadillac of Traditional Jazz Rhythm Sections.” Frank’s description was spot-on, and Wayne’s drumming was an integral part of that sound.

He played with a lift, even when using woodblocks and temple blocks to accompany John Cooper’s ragtimey piano solos. (I remember when a musician who heard one of my early recordings, featuring woodblocks, said “You need to listen to Wayne Jones. Now, there’s a drummer who swings!”) That stung at the time, but my critic proved to be correct. Wayne swung when he played Traditional Jazz! 

Not only did Wayne inspire me with his onstage performances. He also made invaluable contributions to my Jazz education by sending boxes and boxes of reel (later cassette) tapes, LPs, CDs and photocopies of articles. A chance comment such as, “You know, I’m really interested in Vic Berton” would result in a large box of cassettes arriving a few days later, containing every Berton recording in the Jones collection. Wayne was totally unselfish and giving, and I am humbled to think how much of his free time was taken up with educating “The Kid.” Whether in person or in a letter he could be gruff, but always soft-hearted. No one ever had to question his sincerity or generosity.

Years later, Wayne wrote some wonderful liner notes for projects I was involved in. I will never get over the kind words he wrote for a session I made with Butch Thompson and Mike Duffy, but anyone who reads those notes should be aware that my best playing is because of Wayne’s influence!

By the time he wrote those notes, I considered Wayne to be family. I know Wayne felt the same way…Once, during the San Diego Jazz Festival, I commandeered an empty venue with a piano to rehearse the “Rhythmakers” for a recording to be done immediately following the festival. We had been playing for just a few minutes when Wayne wandered in. Obviously he was out for a stroll, in search of coffee for when he walked in the room he was in street clothes — no band uniform or musician badge. He found a seat near the back of the room and settled in to listen. Vocalist Rebecca Kilgore looked up from her music, spotted Wayne and stammered, “Th-th-this is n-not open to the p-public!” Wayne replied, “It’s o.k. I’m family!”

wayne jones color

We had many wonderful “hangs” over the years, during festivals in St. Louis, San Diego and elsewhere. “Talking shop” was always fun, though Wayne had interesting opinions on all kinds of things besides drums and drumming! For instance, he was passionate about Elmore Leonard’s writing and frequently quoted lines of dialogue from Leonard novels when he wrote letters. During the past couple of years, I always enjoyed the phone calls with Wayne when we discussed the characters and plots of the television show “Justified” (which is based on Elmore Leonard characters).

Fortunately I had a couple of chances to visit Wayne at home while he was still able to talk and listen to music for extended periods of time. He had slowed down considerably, but still had a fantastic sense of humor and well-informed opinions concerning a variety of subjects — particularly the contemporary Traditional Jazz scene. The last visit was a lot of fun until his expression turned serious and he looked down at the ground and asked quietly, “You want my cymbal, Kid?” Wayne knew that his playing days were over, and he wanted to find an appropriate place for his “signature” cymbal. It was difficult to keep my composure, but I gratefully accepted “that” cymbal which livens up so many recordings by the Dogs, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the West End Jazz Band, Neo-Passe’ Jazz Band and more. The cymbal went to a good home, where it is respected, well-cared-for and used in special circumstances only. The first time I used it — with the Yerba Buena Stompers — John Gill, Leon Oakley and Tom Bartlett looked up immediately, recognizing the presence of an old friend on the bandstand.

On a recent phone call, Wayne had difficulty conversing on the phone. We got through the conversation — barely — and I wondered if that would be the last time we talked. Unfortunately, it was. When I called again, he had fallen and was headed for the hospital. He died peacefully in the early hours of May 30 and I never had a chance to tell my mentor “good-bye.” But fortunately I was able to convey how much he meant to me during a performance a few years ago. 

There are certain “Wayne licks” that have great appeal to drummers who studied his records and his live performances. (Drummers who have listened closely to Wayne, including John Gill, Chris Tyle, Steve Apple, and Kevin Dorn, will know what I mean). At a festival in the late ’90s, I was playing with Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band when Wayne came into the room and took a seat a few rows back from the stage, but directly in view of the drums. He scrutinized my playing with the usual poker face. I thought about the description of Baby Dodds seeing George Wettling in the audience one time and “talking” to George with the drums. So I deliberately played in Wayne’s style. Tom Bartlett wheeled around and grinned through his mouthpiece. Kim Cusack eyed me and gave a quick nod, as did Mike Walbridge. But, best of all, out in the audience Wayne looked up, set his jaw and slowly nodded his acknowledgement. I would not trade that moment for anything.

Farewell, Wayne. Friend, teacher, inspiration. You will never be forgotten and you will always be loved.

Hal Smith

May 31, 2013

A few words from JAZZ LIVES.  I’m happy that we can see and hear Wayne swing the band.  Here’s YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (I’LL TELL YOU MINE) by a 1996 edition of the Salty Dogs.  Although Wayne doesn’t solo, his sweetly urging time is always supporting the band, and the just-right accents and timbres behind the ensemble and soloists are masterful.  Catch the way Wayne ends off the tuba solo and rounds up the band for the final ensemble choruses.  The other players are Kim Cusack, clarinet; Bob Neighbor, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; John Cooper, piano; Jack Kunci, banjo; Mike Walbridge, tuba:

And at the very end of 2010, nearly the same band (Cusack, Bartlett, Kunci, Walbridge, Jones) with two ringers: Andy Schumm, cornet; Paul Asaro, piano, performing SMILES.  Again, masterful work: hear the end of the banjo chorus into Bartlett’s solo, and the way Wayne backs Schumm:

Thanks to Ailene Cusack for these videos (and there are more appearances by Wayne and the Dogs on YouTube).

After hearing the news of Wayne’s death, I kept thinking of the star system of jazz — which elevates many wonderful players, giving them opportunities to lead bands, have their own record sessions, and we hope make more money.   But so many exceedingly gifted musicians are never offered these opportunities.  I would take nothing from Gene Krupa, for instance, but for every Gene there were many beautiful musicians half in the shadows: think of Walter Johnson, Jimmie Crawford, O’Neill Spencer, Cliff Leeman, Buzzy Drootin, Nick Fatool, Harry Jaeger, Gus Johnson, Shadow Wilson, Denzil Best . . . and Wayne Jones.

Wayne didn’t lead any recording sessions; he might not have had his picture in DOWN BEAT advertising a particular drum set — but he lifted so many performances. Wayne leaves behind some forty years of recordings with Clancy Hayes, Marty Grosz, Frank Chace, Eddy Davis, Jim Kweskin, Terry Waldo, Edith Wilson, Frank Powers, Jim Snyder, Carol Leigh, Tom Pletcher, Bob Schulz, Jim Dapogny, Turk Murphy, John Gill, Don DeMicheal, Jerry Fuller, Sippie Wallace, Franz Jackson, Jim Cullum, Ernie Carson, Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Karoub, Ray Skjelbred, Peter Ecklund, Bobby Gordon, and three dozen other players in addition to the recordings he made with the Salty Dogs.

We won’t forget him.

May your happiness increase.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS (October 2013): DUKE HEITGER’S STEAMBOAT STOMP

“Why not go down to New Orleans in October 2013?” said the little voice.

“What a good idea,” I thought.

NATCHEZ

And you’ll see why.  I received word from the esteemed trumpeter / singer / bandleader / friend of jazz Duke Heitger that he and other worthies had planned a “STEAMBOAT STOMP: CLASSIC JAZZ ON THE RIVER” for October 11-13, 2013.  Duke’s friends include Banu Gibson, Tim Laughlin, the Dukes of Dixieland, Butch Thompson, Solid Harmony, the Yerba Buena Stompers.  Duke promises, “We continue to secure some of the finest jazz musicians in the world” for an “intimate festival dedicated to the finest of classic jazz — on one of the last authentic steamboats still operating in the United States, the Steamboat Natchez.”  Five bands, a gospel brunch, a second line parade, and more.  Duke hopes for support from the classic jazz community that is as enthusiastic as the music he and his friends create.  Ticket prices for the event start at $200 — and one can become a more committed patron, supporter, at higher levels.

steamboat-Natchez-1

Highlights include: Friday-night concerts on a special chartered sailing of the Natchez, with simultaneous music on two stages and New Orleans cuisine cooked by the steamboat’s own chef.  Saturday afternoon performances will also take place on the Natchez; the evening concerts will be held in the ballroom and lobby of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel.  The festival will conclude Sunday afternoon with a New Orleans-style gospel jazz brunch.

I plan to be there.  I’ll let you know more of the details as they appear.  But right now I know I’ll be “‘way down yonder in New Orleans” in mid-October.

May your happiness increase! 

LITTLE WONDERS at AMOEBA MUSIC (The Next Chapter)

August 14, 2012.  Amoeba Music.  1855 Haight Street, San Francisco.

Flash!  Money can’t buy happiness, but money can buy the music that creates it.

Six vinyl records = $15.14.

JOE SULLIVAN: NEW SOLOS BY AN OLD MASTER (Riverside, 1953)

RAY SKJELBRED / HAL SMITH: STOMPIN’ EM DOWN (Stomp Off, 1985)

HARRY JAMES: DOUBLE DIXIE (MGM, 1962)

BUTCH THOMPSON / MIKE DUFFY / HAL SMITH: LITTLE WONDER (Triangle Jazz, 1987)

AL “JAZZBO” COLLINS: SWINGING AT THE OPERA (Everest, 1960)

THE SAINTS AND SINNERS “CATCH FIRE” (Seeco, 1960)

Explication du texte herewith.

The Sullivan is a famous record — I believe I had the music in poorer sound on a Classics CD, but the sentimental value of this disc in its crinkly wax-paper inner sleeve was something I chose not to resist.  And Sullivan’s sweet violence at the keyboard — filling A ROOM WITH A VIEW with ferocious right-hand splashes and mad Waller right-hand tinkling ornamentations — continues to astonish.  And if that weren’t enough, the disc is NON BREAKABLE, LONG PLAYING MICROGROOVE, HI FI.  What more could I ask for?

Ray Skjelbred deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, and Hal Smith’s intuitive empathy is splendid.  All I will say about STOMPIN’ ‘EM DOWN is that the duo’s performance of LOVE ME TONIGHT is another delightful version of sweet violence, honoring Bing Crosby and Earl Hines simultaneously.

I haven’t heard a note of DOUBLE DIXIE yet, but it is an intriguing experiment: the whole James band of the time, with Willie Smith and Buddy Rich, surrounding the “Dixie Five” of James, Dick Cathcart, Eddie Miller, Matty Matlock, Ray Sims.  How could I pass up a record that had TWO DEUCES on it, and all the arrangements by Matlock?

On my most recent trip to Amoeba Berkeley, I bought a Prairie Home Companion lp featuring the Butch Thompson Trio with Red Maddock on drums — and it has been giving a great deal of pleasure, both now in the present moment and reminding me of my 1981 self, listening to PHC live and waiting for those trio sessions.  This trio recording with Butch, Mike, and Hal is going to be a treat . . . a special little pleasure was in looking at the back-cover photograph of the trio, smiling . . . and reading that the photographer was none other than our friend and wondrous singer Becky Kilgore.

For me, a little “hipsterness” goes a long way, but Al “Jazzbo” Collins always had good taste.  What could be wrong with a big band recording of melodies from famous operas — when the band includes as soloists Harry Edison, Phil Woods, and Bob Brookmeyer . . . when the rhythm section is Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Joe Benjamin (Milt must have had a conflict that day), and Jo Jones?  Plus Harvey Phillips and Eddie Costa, arrangements by Fred Karlin, the whole thing supervised by Raymond Scott.  Can’t beat that!

Any record by the SAINTS AND SINNERS is rare these days — a compact group co-led by Red Richards and Vic Dickenson, it featured Norm Murphy or Herman Autrey, trumpet; Joe Barifaldi or Rudy Powell, reeds, and a solid rhythm section (this issue has Barrett Deems, drums).  I remember hearing Vic play TEACH ME TONIGHT from a program Ed Beach did on the S&S and so this was a superb find.  “My heart stood still,” to quote Larry Hart.

Now, there is no hidden ideology here about the goodness of vinyl over any other medium of sound reproduction; I amnot urging anyone to buy a turntable or to begin collecting more stuff, to quote George Carlin.  But there are Wonders out there for those who seek them!

P.S.  And as an added bonus, the cheerful young woman behind the counter had family that had grown up on Long Island and had gone to the high school I had graduated from when buying records was what you did.  The young woman had made it to San Francisco by way of Brooklyn, and she had wonderful instincts: when I said, in closing, “May your happiness increase,” she answered immediately, “Thank you very much!  You, too!”

May your happiness increase.

“ON A COCONUT ISLAND” (March 26, 2011)

Here’s a delightful example of the multiculturalism that jazz embodies. 

What could be more expansive than a band of French musicians (with an American pianist sitting in) playing music created by a mixture of races and ethnicities in New Orleans? 

They’re playing a Hawaiian pop song (or at least its subject is Hawaii) recorded by an African-American trumpet player and singer — and my friend Melissa Collard, too.

And they’re playing it in Hungary. 

Call that narrow or insular at your own peril!

The facts:

The Night Owls, from Paris, play a leisurely ON A COCONUT ISLAND, at the 20th International Bohém Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary, March 26, 2011.  The Owls are Jerome Etcheberry, trumpet; Christophe Deret, trombone; Enzo Mucci, banjo; Sebastien Girardot, string bass; Guillaume Nouaux, drums.  And the meditative-looking fellow at the piano is none other than Butch Thompson!

The 2011 Bohém Festival DVD compilation can be obtained from order@bohemragtime.com.  See more at: www.bohemragtime.com.

FRANK CHACE, SEEKER

Clarinetist Frank Chace stood very still when he played, his eyes closed.  In the fashion of the true mystic, he looked inwards, seeking something new, beautiful, personal.  His own speech, his own pathways. 

A Chace solo winds around the melody and the chords, hesitant but guided by its own self-trust: “I don’t know the way but I know where I’m going.” 

He didn’t record enough for any of us, and often he seemed to be making his way through his fellow players — yearning to break free.  When he was playing alongside his great friends Don Ewell or Marty Grosz, he knew that they would supply an indefatigable rhythmic pulse, they would lay down the right chords, and he could then soar.

And soar he did.

In 1985, when I had only recently encountered the mysterious, elliptical Chace universe, Jazzology Records issued a record of a live session led by pianist Butch Thompson.  I thought it remarkable that here was a new Frank Chace record: it remains a treasure.  Charlie DeVore, cornet, John Otto, clarinet, alto sax, vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass, were the other fellows on the stand.  And the session was full of delights, aside from Frank: Hal’s press rolls and shimmering hi-hat; the solid rhythm section; Otto’s sweet, thoughtful alto; De Vore’s Muggy Spanier-emphases.  But Frank Chace produces marvel after marvel. 

Hear him chart his own paths, his eyes closed, his only goal to create his own speech.  Frank was rarely — if ever — satisfied with something he had recorded, so I can’t say that he was complacently pleased with this or any other disc.  About an early session with the Salty Dogs, he told me, “I was fighting for my life!”  But no strain can be heard here: just beauty, impassioned or quietly subversive.     

Now, the complete session (offering twenty-four selections) is available on a double-CD Jazzology set.  (JCD 373/374), available at a variety of online sources.  I can’t praise it highly enough. 

The selections are I FOUND A NEW BABY / ROSE ROOM / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME / SWEET SUBSTITUTE / SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE / ONE HOUR / JAZZ BAND BALL / IDA / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU / SWEET LORRAINE / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART / HOME / JELLY ROLL / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / OH, SISTER, AIN’T THAT HOT? / DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? / FROM MONDAY ON / S’POSIN’ / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS / THANKS A MILLION. 

Frank doesn’t make an obsession out of being “untraditional,” but he won’t play the expected lines, the predictable harmonies.  You might think you know where his next phrase is going . . . but it turns out that he has led us in his own way, eyes closed, finding new surprises.

Listen to his ardor, his courage, his whimsical explorations. 

“THANKS A MILLION”: CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

SIGN UP FOR “OHYEAHDAY”!

From Tamas Itzes, virtuoso pianist, violinist, and director of the Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band and its annual jazz festival:

 
1. The 20th International Bohém Ragtime & Jazz Festival in Kecskemét, Hungary (March 25-27, 2011), again, offers a great line-up and different tourist packages.  Because it will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt, the event runs under the theme “Liszt Year in Ragtime” and we will feature 5 fabulous pianists (Mimi Blais, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Butch Thompson, Paolo Alderighi, Adam Swanson) and the fantastic Paris-based New Orleans style band, The Night Owls. “Festival Only” packages and “7-day Wellness packages” are available.  Visit http://www.bohemragtime.com/en/act.html for more information. 
 
2. LET’S MAKE THE 4TH OF AUGUST INTERNATIONAL DAY OF CLASSIC JAZZ EVERY YEAR.

August 4 is Louis Armstrong’s documented birthday (although he always celebrated on the 4th of July and stated that he was born in 1900), so his 110th anniversary in 2011 is a perfect date to start such a movement.

We have plenty of ideas about how to use this International Day all year long for different projects that help generate more media coverage for jazz events worldwide and would also draw young audiences in. 

But to achieve this, we need plenty of supporters (not financial support, only people who join the movement by signing it on the website). So if you agree (and why wouldn’t you?), please visit www.OhYeahDay.com and support the idea.

Our goal is to get 100,000 (yes, one hundred thousand) supporters (no, not Facebook Like’s but people who sign up at the website).
 
Note that there IS an International Day of Jazz but it is not connected to any birthday of a jazz giant but to the Sacramento Jazz Festival as the initiative came from the Jubilee’s side decades ago.  But almost nobody knows about this today anymore and it would be a waste of time to try to bring that back to life as it never really has been a worldwide festive event. That’s the reason that I found out about the day of CLASSIC jazz; Armstrong’s name is still known around the globe and his anniversary would be a good starting point for such a festivity.
 
Therefore I really am asking everyone not only to sign the idea but to send it around to ALL of your friends so we can reach that high number of supporters. Please, understand that I am only the initiator but this movement is NOT for my benefit, this is for ALL OF US, jazz lovers, jazz musicians.
 
Please sign up at www.OhYeahDay.com

I’ve signed up: won’t you?

HAL SMITH REMEMBERS FRANK CHACE

The drummer and versatile bandleader — man of many personalities, all of them rocking — Hal Smith is also a fine writer, someone who counted his too-rare opportunities to play alongside the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace as life-altering experiences.  Here, with Hal’s permission, I’ve reprinted his tribute to Frank, first published in JAZZ RAMBLER and reprinted in JAZZ BEAT. 

FRANK CHACE — FREE SPIRIT OF THE CLARINET

By Hal Smith

President, America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Society

Chicago pianist Oro “Tut” Soper once said, “A Chicago Jazz musician will always have to fight to keep a free, wild heart.” For over 60 years, clarinetist Frank Chace fought for that same freedom.

Chace was born in Chicago on July 22, 1924—over three years before the first classic recordings that would define the Windy City’s musical style. As a youth he played flute, but did not stay with the instrument. In 1943, while attending Yale University, he was drafted by the U.S. Army. The Army is often castigated—justly—for its treatment of musicians such as Lester Young. Luckily for Frank Chace, his Army hitch yielded a benefit: A posting to New York, which resulted in an opportunity to hear Pee Wee Russell at Nick’s. Chace was instantly drawn to Russell’s idiosyncratic sound. He took up clarinet and used Pee Wee Russell’s music as a template for his own playing.
His first recordings were made with the “Cellar Boys” in New York in 1951. The personnel included three musicians who became lifetime friends of Chace: guitarist Marty Grosz, multi-instrumentalist John Dengler and pianist Dick Wellstood. (The great New Orleans bassist Pops Foster and Jelly Roll Morton’s drummer Tommy Benford also played on the records).

Later in 1951, Chace played with Wild Bill Davison at George Wein’s Storyville Club in Boston. Two of the evenings with Davison were recorded and several tracks were issued on the Savoy label.

In 1952, Chace played at the Barrel in St. Louis. The band included another lifelong friend: pianist Don Ewell. Live recordings made at the Barrel indicate that although Pee Wee Russell was still his main inspiration, Chace had also listened to Omer Simeon, Johnny Dodds, Frank Teschemacher and Darnell Howard.

After the St. Louis job ended, Chace established permanent residence in Chicago. In 1955 he played with the Salty Dogs. He also recorded with pianist Dave Remington for the Jubilee label and with Natty Dominique’s New Orleans Hot Six for Windin’ Ball. (Dominique’s group also included the legendary Baby Dodds and Lil Hardin Armstrong). Two years later Chace played a concert in Minneapolis with Doc Evans—later issued on a Soma LP.

One of Frank Chace’s greatest performances was recorded in 1957, when Marty Grosz organized a recording session for the Riverside label. The record, “Hooray For Bix,” by the Honoris Causa Jazz Band, featured Chace on clarinet and bass sax. The other sidemen were: Carl Halen, cornet; Bud Wilson, trombone; Bob Skiver, tenor sax and clarinet; Tut Soper, piano; Chuck Neilson, bass; and Bob Saltmarsh, drums. Bill Priestley, a longtime friend of Bix Beiderbecke, played cornet and guitar on a few tunes. Grosz played guitar, led the band and wrote the arrangements. His charts were based on the sound of Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band (which was also the inspiration for the band name). Chace is in top form throughout the record, but his first chorus on “Sorry” is the crown jewel of the session. After the four-bar introduction by the horns and string bass, the horns play the melody in tight harmony. Chace floats above the ensemble, joyfully deconstructing the melody in the best tradition of Pee Wee Russell. His use of extended harmonics and rhythmic suspension is as close to “free jazz” as one can get in a swing setting. This breathtaking chorus is Chace’s supreme moment on record and one of the most inspired solos in the history of recorded jazz!

Another highlight for the clarinetist in 1957 was the opportunity to meet Lester Young when both were performing in Indianapolis. One night, after their club date was finished, drummer Buddy Smith offered to take Chace to the hotel where Young was staying. The other musicians gathered around “The Prez,” but Chace hesitated. Young finally asked the shy clarinetist to join the throng, addressing him as “Long-Distance Man.” Compare Lester Young’s introspective clarinet playing on “I Want A Little Girl” (with the Kansas City Six) with Chace’s on “For No Reason At All In C” from the “Hooray For Bix” session. In Lester Young’s own words, “See if you hear something.”
In 1959, Chace was reunited with Don Ewell and John Dengler when Grosz assembled a recording band for the Audio Fidelity label. The band, with Max Kaminsky, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder (alternating sessions with Ewell) and Don Maclean, recorded enough material for two LPs: “Roaring Twenties at the Gaslight” and “Banjo at the Gaslight Club.” As good as these recordings are, Chace is even better on some private tapes made during the same period. One of these—a session at Bill Priestley’s home in the summer of 1959—features the clarinetist in a trio with Ewell and Grosz. Musicians and jazz fans agree that Chace’s playing on “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” ranks with “Sorry” as one of his greatest performances.

He also worked briefly with Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings in 1959. That particular edition of the band included banjoist and vocalist Clancy Hayes. During that period, Chace and Hayes were involved in another memorable session at Priestley’s, with vocalist Lee Wiley. Fortunately, the tape recorder was running on that occasion too!

Chace’s only commercially-issued recordings from the early 1960s are two LPs on the Jazz Art label, taken from rehearsal sessions with the legendary trumpeter Jabbo Smith; these sides are being reissued with this release. .

During the early and mid ‘60s, except for a brief stint with Muggsy Spanier, Chace worked with the Salty Dogs and also led his own bands. One such group included veterans Johnny Mendel, Floyd O’Brien, Tut Soper and Jim Lanigan as well as younger musicians—Bob Skiver, Grosz and Wayne Jones. When this group played for the Chicago Historical Society in 1964, they were joined by a very special guest—Gene Krupa!

A late-60s Chicago recording session by guitarist/vocalist Jim Kweskin resulted in three more classic Chace solos. The album, “Jump For Joy,” released in 1967, paired Kweskin with cornetist Ted Butterman’s Neo-Passé Jazz Band. In addition to Butterman, the personnel consisted of Chace (clarinet and bass sax); Kim Cusack, clarinet; Johnny Frigo, violin; Grosz (guitar, banjo and arranger); Truck Parham, bass; and Wayne Jones, drums. Fellow reedman Kim Cusack called Chace’s playing on “You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew” “one of the sublime moments in jazz.” The clarinet choruses on “Memphis Blues” and “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” are two more outstanding examples of Frank Chace at his best.

Recently, the GHB label released a two-CD set of Chace playing with a specially-assembled band in 1967 at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, Minnesota. The group included Bill Price (cornet), Jimmy Archey (trombone), Don Ewell (piano), Bill Evans (bass) and Sammy Penn (drums). A cursory glance at the personnel and their stylistic differences might cause concern. However, the musicians—particularly Chace and Ewell—sound wonderful together.

Sometime during the ‘60s, or possibly the ‘70s, Chace went to work as a technical writer. He continued to work with bands around Chicago, and to play sessions, but did not rely on music for a living. As musician/author Richard Hadlock explains,
“Most jazz players learn to adjust, at least somewhat, to shallow audiences, wrongheaded entrepreneurs, pandering bandleaders and jaded or inept sidemen.

“Not clarinetist Frank Chace, however. Over the thirty-some years I’ve been observing his largely hidden talent, I have heard story after story to do with Frank’s losing out because he wouldn’t play ‘pretty’ or ‘straight’ or ‘traditional’ or some other term that meant going outside his own natural way of making music…

“There have been occasions when Frank simply would not take a paying but dumb job. At other times he hasn’t been hired or was let go because someone wanted to hear, say, Stardust and didn’t recognize Frank’s version of it. The result is that Frank Chace has kept one of the lowest profiles among outstanding jazz players.”

During the 1970s, Chace also listened closely to the music of John Coltrane and other modern jazzmen. In the right setting, his solos often went farther “out” than ever before! Delmark Records producer Bob Koester, a longtime admirer of Chace’s music, wrote about his plan to record the clarinetist with a “modern rhythm section.” Alas, the session never materialized.

This writer’s first encounter with Frank Chace was on Apr. 28, 1985. Pianist Butch Thompson assembled a band to play a concert for the Good Time Jazz Club in Libertyville, Illinois. Butch invited Frank to play clarinet, in a group that included Charlie Devore, cornet; John Otto, alto sax; Jack Meilahn, guitar; Bill Evans, bass; and myself on drums. It was an unbelievable thrill to hear that intense, wailing, clarinet coming from directly in front of the drums! The concert flew by—much too fast—and my only contact with Frank Chace for the next year would be written correspondence. The letters are priceless, especially for the humor. In one exchange, he obviously remembered the salutation on my first letter (“Dear Mr. Chace”). At the end of a very funny letter, which ran to several pages, he signed off as Your Friend, Mr. Chace.

In 1986, he was flown to New York, to perform at the JVC Jazz Festival’s “Chicago Jazz Summit.” An LP was subsequently issued, featuring several instrumental combinations recorded live at the festival. Unbelievably, Chace is only heard on one track. However, it is a rip-roaring version of “At The Jazz Band Ball,” played by Yank Lawson, George Masso, Eddie Miller, Truck Parham, Ikey Robinson, Barrett Deems and festival producer George Wein. Though we can wish that Chace was heard on more tracks, it is safe to say that his two idiosyncratic choruses are easily worth the price of the record!

My final gig with “Mr. Chace” was in 1987—another concert for the Good Time Jazz Club. On that occasion, I led the “Chicago Loopers” which also included Tom Pletcher, cornet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Joe Johnson, piano; and Dan Shapera, bass. Frank’s playing that day—passionate, rasping, keening, whispered—was other-worldly. It was an indescribable high.

He continued to play with unlimited creativity for nearly 20 more years. In 2001, Drummer Wayne Jones played with Chace at a gig sponsored by Delmark’s Bob Koester. He reported that “Frank sounded not the least dimmed by the passing years.”

Frank Chace died on 28 Dec., 2007. He never gave up that fight to keep a wild, free heart.

Following is a list of recent CD issues that feature Frank Chace:
Salty Dogs 1955 (Windin’ Ball CD-105)
Marty Grosz & The Honoris Causa Jazz Band: Hooray For Bix
(Good Time Jazz 10065-2)
Marty Grosz & The Cellar Boys 1951/Honoris Causa Jazz Band alternate takes 1957
(J&M CD-004)
Jim Kweskin with Ted Butterman & the Neo-Passé Jazz Band: Jump For Joy
(Universe UV0051)
Jimmy Archey & Don Ewell at the Emporium Of Jazz 1967
(GHB BCD-461/462)
Chicago Jazz Summit
(Atlantic 81844-2)

These sessions are due for release in 2009:
Jabbo Smith – 1961 GHB BCD-510
The Chicago Loopers with Frank Chace – Live, 1987 Jazzology JCD 371-372
Butch Thompson and his Boys in Chicago – 1985 Jazzology JCD 373-374

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN, HAL SMITH, AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

FRANK CHACE ON DISC

This post is meant as a follow-up to my lengthy presentation of letters from the Chicago clarinetist to me.  When Frank Chace died, many jazz listeners who would have admired his work were unaware of it, and the first question asked on several online forums was “Where can I hear his recorded work?  Here’s a brief overviewm beginning with something of a sentimental artifact.

These aren’t compact discs, but 78s from the first recording session of both Marty Grosz and Frank Chace.  Dick Wellstood had already been recording since 1946; Pops Foster and Tommy Benford were veterans. 

Two other titles were recorded: the session was reissued on ten-inch lps on the Pax / Paradox label.  Compact disc reissue, anyone?

Since most of my readers prefer compact discs, here is a brief (and perhaps incomplete) listing of current issues of Frank’s music, in approximate chronological order.

DEWEY JACKSON LIVE AT THE BARREL CLUB, 1952 (Delmark).  This session, recorded by Delmark’s founder Bob Koester, finds Chace with trombonist Sid Dawson and St. Louis trumpet legend Jackson as well as long-time friend Don Ewell. 

SALTY DOGS 1955 (Windin’ Ball).  This features trumpeter Birch Smith, who arranged for the music to be recorded, the legendary trombonist Jim Snyder, John Cooper (piano); Jack Lord (banjo); Bob Rann (tuba); Dick Karner (drums).  Visit http://www.tradjazzproductions.com/music3.html to hear an mp3 of Frank — and to order the CD from TradJazz Productions.

HOORAY FOR BIX: Marty Grosz and his Honoris Causa Jazz Band, 1957 (Riverside / Good Time Jazz).  These sessions — under Marty Grosz’s leadership – pair Frank with cornetist Carl Halen, Bill Priestley on guitar and second cornet, Bud Wilson on trombone, Bob Skiver on reeds, Tut Soper on piano, and others.  (The outlandish names on the liner are pseudonyms — for reasons I have never discerned, since most of the players were not under contract to any other company.)  This might be the best introduction to Frank on record.  A vinyl record of alternate performances showed up very briefly at the end of the vinyl era (and the alternate material was again issued on a compact disc on the British J&M label.)

JIMMY ARCHEY / DON EWELL LIVE AT THE EMPORIUM OF JAZZ, 1967 (GHB: 2 CDs).  Recorded live at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendota, Michigan, home base for the Hall Brothers’ Jazz Band, this live issue features Archey, Don Ewell, trumpeter Bill Price, and drummer Red Maddock among others.

FRANK CHACE and his CHICAGO LOOPERS, 1987 (Jazzology: 2 CDs).  This 2009 issue pairs Frank with the fine drummer Hal Smith, the Bix-inspired cornetist Tom Pletcher, gutty trombonist Tom Bartlett, bassist Dan Shapera, and pianist Joe Johnson.  The candid portrait of Frank at work is by his friend Terry Martin. 

Jazzology plans to issue a complete 2-CD set of the sessions Frank recorded with Butch Thompson, Charlie DeVore, John Otto, Hal Smith, and others — originally issued in part on vinyl as BUTCH THOMPSON AND HIS BOYS.

Should anyone suggest a hidden agenda — ranking the merit of these recordings by the size of the images above — nothing of the sort is implied or expressed. 

Other CDs with appearances by Frank have come and gone — a Vanguard session led by Jim Kweskin (featuring Marty Grosz and Ted Butterman) called JUMP FOR JOY; Frank’s one track from a 1981 Newport Jazz Festival tribute, CHICAGO JAZZ SUMMIT (Atlantic).  Much of his recorded work has been issued on spectacularly obscure recordings: two records by Marty Grosz and his Gaslighters on Audio Fidelity; a session with Dave Remington on Jubilee (a record, oddly enough, that has surfaced a good deal online — in inexpensive V+ copies); with Doc Evans on Soma (where Frank plays baritone sax as well as clarinet).  But Frank’s refusal to play or record music not to his liking make his recorded oeuvre smaller than it should have been.  Ironically, at times I tried to interest two producers of traditional jazz records in doing a Frank Chace recording — preferably a new session — by sending them a cassette of chace in 1958 and 1997.  I received, as I recall, polite demurrers.  Not, mind you, that Frank was ever eager to record: his Chicago friends did herculean wheedling and coaxing with very little result.  But it took until 2009 — and the efforts of Hal Smith — to have a CD issued under Frank’s name, which is a pity.

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2010
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

LETTERS FROM FRANK CHACE, 1998-2002

I first heard the Chicago clarinetist Frank Chace on 1951 broadcast recordings from Storyville (issued on Savoy records and reissued in the late Seventies) where he held his own alongside Wild Bill Davison, Ephie Resnick, and a loud rhythm section.  (Later, Frank would tell me that he was half-deafened by Davison’s habit of blowing into the clarinetist’s ear.)  Chace impressed me as having absorbed Pee Wee Russell’s style without exactly copying Pee Wee.  Years later, I thought that he was to Pee Wee what Buck Clayton was to Louis — a loving reflection, a distillation.  But in the early days of my vinyl-searching, there was no other Chace to be found on record. 

in 1986, when I began corresponding and trading tapes with John L. Fell — film scholar, amateur clarinetist, and erudite jazz collector — he sent a cassette of private Chace performances: some with Marty Grosz, others with the guitarist / cornetist Bill Priestley.  On this tape, I heard thoughtful questing that had only been hinted at on the Storyville recordings.  And I wanted to hear more.  After asking all the collectors I knew (among them the late Bob Hilbert and the still-active Joe Boughton, Wayne Jones, Gene Kramer) to dig into their Chace holdings, I had a good deal of music in settings where he felt comfortable enough to explore, from 1951 duets with Don Ewell to a Marty Grosz nonet and various small groups.  Frank’s brilliance and subtlety — his willingness to take risks — moved me greatly.  I iamgine I was also intrigued by his elusiveness: his name appeared in none of the jazz reference books; his issued recordings were out of print, except for a Jim Kweskin session on Vanguard. 

Quite by accident I learned that he was still playing.  WBGO-FM broadcast live remotes from the Chicago Jazz Festival over the Labor Day weekend.  In 1997, listening idly to the proceedings, I heard the announcer say, “Up next, the Frank Chace Quintet.”  I scrambled for a new cassette, and, feeling as if the heavens had opened to let divinity in, heard Frank play, marvelously, including a bossa nova and LITTLE MAN, YOU’VE HAD A BUSY DAY.  This gave me hope that he was alive and well, and I imagined that I might see him play sometime or have a new Chace recording to study. 

Because I had spent much of my academic life as a literary detective, poring over unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, I became fascinated by Frank as a subject for study.  I knew that he lived in Evanston, Illinois, and when I had his address confirmed by the Chicago musicians’ union, Marty Grosz, and John Steiner, I felt bold enough to proceed by writing to him.

I don’t have my letters to Frank, although his friend and executor Terry  Martin tells me that Frank saved them, but I am sure that I introduced myself as an admirer, someone who would like to write about him (I had been reviewing CDs for the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal and was soon to start writing for The Mississippi Rag).  In this post, I present his side of the correspondence.  I have omitted only a few telephone numbers and addresses of individuals; otherwise I have left the letters intact.  I have guessed at the placement of the few undated items; readers are free to do their own reshuffling if my logic offends. 

I must have sent him some Pee Wee Russell cassettes, and addressed him (politely) as Mr. Chace:

12 Apr 98

Dear Michael,

     A hasty note of thanks for the astounding packet.  Golly, Pee Wee was even better than I thought.

     I had no idea anyone was tracking my transgressions.  If I recall, some of those pallid Pee Wee-ish peregrinations are even lousier than others.

     You still think I should be interviewed?

     I wish Hilbert had looked me up.  I might have filled in a few spaces, e.g. PWR for Jack T. at Curley’s in Springlfield IL Oct 93 [sic], et alia.  Five glorious drunken nites. 

     My father was from Mayville, N.Y.  Any relation?

Cordially, Frank.

P.S.  I’m Mr. Chace only to the IRS.

Frank’s opinion of his playing here is positively sunny.  “Hilbert” was Robert Hilbert, who had written a Russell biography and compiled a discography.  Later, Frank told me that the Curley’s gig was meant to be a Jack Teagarden quartet — Teagarden was by then appearing only with Don Ewell, a bassist Frank remembered only as “Pappy,” who was derisive about the other players, and drummer Barrett Deems.  When Teagarden took sick, Pee Wee filled in for him, and Frank remembered long explorations of each song that would end with many choruses of eight-bar and four-bar trades among the quartet.  Don Ewell was his great friend and musical mentor.  And “Mayville” is a mild joke; I was living in Melville, New York.

Encouraged by his response, I sent Frank a photocopy of my then amorphous Chace discography:

 20 April 1998

Dear Michael,

     I’ve entered some guesses along with one or two certainties.  I recall some of these sessions vividly, others not at all.

     As for the penultimate entry on the reverse side, if you send a cassette I might sort it out.  But aside from a few tunes with Marty [Grosz] and a bassist [Dan Shapera] from the Chi. Jazz Institute’s Jazz Fair in Jan. 1984 I haven’t listened to myself since before 1982, when I stopped drinking.  Too grisly.  (Except for a few S[alty] D[og] ensembles, below*.)

     There was a 1968 session (at John Steiner’s, like many of them) during Marty’s brief affair with electricity: Lullaby in Rhythm, Exactly Like You.  These should be around, God knows, if the rest of this stuff is.

     Birch Smith sent me a CD “Selty Dogs 1955” last year.  He finally issued them (Windin’ Ball) but so far as I know distributes from his home, only.  I’d make you a dub but don’t know how.  (I have only a Sony Diskman for playing.)

     Do you have the 1961 Jabbos?  Lorraine Gordon issued [a] two-LP boxed set around 1984.  Sure enough, we didn’t try any Jazz Battles or Boston Skuffles, but we thought Jabbo was wonderful seapite reviewers’ demurrers.  I never had other than a tape dub but gave it away 30 years ago!

Cheers back atcha,

 Frank

I don’t remember when I asked Frank if we might talk on the telephone; he agreed, although our conversations were intermittent at best, usually on Sunday evenings.  Once I interrupted him when he was about to eat some soup; other times I would let the phone ring twenty or so times before giving up.  I now assume, and Terry Martin agrees, that Frank was at home — as he aged, his mobility was limited by illnesses — but did not want to talk. 

I do recall his amusement when I asked his permission to record our conversations for a profile of him; he was both flattered and puzzled.  He had said that he didn’t write to me as often as he would like because he lacked paper and pens; ever enterprising (or overbearing?) I sent him some.  Now, I think he was being polite and evasive; I was more interested in interviewing him than he was in being interviewed.  Gene Kramer, who had co-written a book on Don Ewell, had sent me a collection of Pee Wee rarities, which I copied for Frank:            

24 Aug 98

Dear Michael,

     It’s yet unclear how churlish I can get — might at least have sent a thank you card, but didn’t think I had any stamps.  (NO — please don’t send stamps – I found some.)

     *I haven’t listened to it all so far — it’s easier to replay the marvelous alternate Ida.  Marty once opined that PW’s style came to fruition only around Home Cooking time, but it seems PW was annoying and perplexing his colleagues years earlier.  And, how those other guys could play B I Y O Backyard.  I’m reminded again of hos much I love Max.

     *I’ve wondered for a long time how the US got this way — a week ago at the N[orthwestern] U[niversity] library I read NSC 68 (to be found in “Foreign Relations of the United States,” 1950 Vol I page 234).  Example: “We seek to achieve (our values) by the strategy of the Cold War.”  The whole thing is absorbing.  Books I might have mentioned to youare The Frozen Republic by Daniel Lazare and Harry Truman and the War Scare of 1948 by Frank Kofsky.  If you’re interested.

     Later.  it’s to hot and humid for now.

     *The “I” violated your code.

     SPPFL = Society for the Preservation of Pete Fountain’s Legacy.

 Love, Yakov, master of the ocarina.

The “Ida” was an alternate take of the 1927 Red Nichols recording.  In retrospect, this letter mirrors our phone conversations.  Frank was articulate and well-read.  Although he could be wheedled into talking about himself (briefly and grudgingly) and the musicians he admired, his real subject was the downfall of the United States.  I was much less well-informed about global history, and this seemed to exasperate him.  I shared some of his views, but his gloom and rage were far deeper.  I suspect now that he humored me when we spoke of jazz, but that it struck him as almost irrelevant.  His comments about “I” and the “SPPFL,” which he had written on the envelope, need explanation.  Frank disdained players he thought “synthetic”; Fountain was one.  And I had mock-apologized in a letter for beginning several paragraphs in a row with “I”; hence his asterisks.

I didn’t hear from Frank until the end of the year, when a Seasons Greetings card arrived. 

  Dear Michael,

     A bacterial infection put me in the hospital (out cold) Sept 14 – Oct 13 and Rehab Oct 13 – Dec 4, but I recover apace.  Sorry about the hiatus.  Hope you are well and prospering in this psychotic Republic.

 

[undated]

Dear Michael,

     Hoping all’s well with you.  You wanted a picture.  All I’ve unearthed so far are pix from Aspen, where Marty got me a few weeks with The Village Stompers.  The wide angle shot shows Alfie Jones, a dandy Toronto trombonist, greeting Lou McGarity.  The others you know or are listed.

     I’ve been out of touch with Sandy Priestley, Bill’s younger son, the one most interested in his dad’s music.  He one told me that Avis, Squirrel [Ashcraft]’s daughter, had rescued some stuff from the Evanston Coachouse and needed ID’s for some of the players.  He, Seymour, lives in or near Milwaukee.  I don’t want to put him in touch with you without your permission.  The 1951 tracks with Nichols and Rushton, and Bill’s anthem Isn’t It Romantic might interest Sandy and Avis a lot, but it’s been a while . . . . This makes me miss the old “Club 55” (Lake Forest).  John Steiner, too.  The old order passeth.

Cheers anyway,

As ever, Frank.

I had sent Frank a private tape (original source possibly John Steiner, the great archivist of Chicago jazz) of a 1951 Squirrel Ashcraft session featuring Red Nichols and Joe Rushton.

2 Feb 1999

Dear Michael,

     I only just uncovered your Prima cassette amidst four cases of accumulated mail, mostly junko.  I had never even known of the enhanced orch. of side B.  PWR’s chorus-long trill on Dinah has me confounded.  Never knew him to do the circular breathing thing.  Prima clearly exhilarated him.  Egged him on.  Exhorted him.  PWR IS SUPERMAN.

     I (hereby disobeying your paragraph rule) never replied to your probe for an 8 x 10 glossy.  Fact is, I never had one.  The J D Salinger of the clarinet.

     Yet another fellow, a Brit, has written about doing a piece on me for IAJRC publication of Miss. Rag.  I’ve come across his note ten times, but now can’t find it.  Name of Derek Coller from County Berkshire if I recall.  Do you know of him?  I might never find his address.  I am less churlish than lazy and disorganized.

     Your cassettes are better for me that Wodehouse’s BUCK-YOU-UPPO.

Cheers,

Frank

Frank was referring to the Brunswick recordings Pee Wee had made as a member of Louis Prima’s band, which show off Prima as successfully ouis-inspired, and Pee Wee responding with great enthusiasm.  Ironically, Derek Coller (a fine jazz scholar) and Bert Whyatt did finish a long essay on Frank for JAZZ JOURNAL — in 2009 — and an accompanying discography for the IAJRC Journal in the same year.  Like Bix and some of the Austin High Gang, Frank loved P.G. Wodehouse.

9 March 1999

Dear Michael,

      You Leave Me Breathless.  What?  No Simeon too?  Do I not play like Simeon?  Beale (Billy) Riddle thought I played like Simeon.  Possibly not like him on”Bandanna Days” tho.  Beautiful. 

      Your encomiums had me groping for my blue pencil, but I won’t query you less’n you want.  The finale, or coda, “inspired improvisation,” is a dandy.  STET.  I told you I was fighting for my life.

     As for your S[umma] C[um] L[aude] submissions, they only fortify my esteem for those guys.  How competent they are.  The medley, stitched together with modulations ouf of Easy to Get, seems an outstanding ploy.  Signature segues.  The Miff unissued V-Disc: I heard Peg O’My Heart at Nick’s, then on Commodore, but PWR is positively SEIZED on this on.  And on what you call “Notes on Jazz,” see if you don’t identify Mel Powell.  The Bushkin right-hand grupetti, the fleeting salute to the Lion.  And if Bert Naser is Bob Casey, why?  AFM?  And Joe Sullivans, I’d never heard these.  No wonder [Richard] Hadlock’s fixation. 

     And Swing It.  Priceless.  My undying gratitude is yours.  I’ve watched it only once so far, perhaps refusing to believe it.

     And that fool Brunis.  (Ending tape segment.)  PWR phoned from the hotel upon arriving [in] Chicago with McP (MaFathead) for that NPR thing (Oct. 67?).  I said, “Pee Wee!  You called me”!*  He said, “Who would I call, Brunis”? (Georg was his lifelong tormentor.)

     I found the Coller letter and replied saying that the recounting of my legendary career had been already besought, but omitting your name and address.  If you care to write him . . . .

     Instead of dredging out my apartment I did so with my wallet and found the enclosed.  It’ll have to do.  Soon I’ll be “a tattered coat upon a stick.”  Whence the quote?

Love and XXX,

Frank

*I have to watch my punctuation p’s and q’s, Prof.

P.S.  My regards to [Gene] Kramer.  We’ve got out of touch.

Have you read “the Ends of the Earth” by Robert D. Kaplan?  An outstanding travel book.

Frank admired the Fifties John Coltrane, and “You Leave Me Breathless” was one of his favorites.  I had written an exultant review of the 1955 Salty Dogs CD to the IAJRC Journal and sent Frank a copy.  Since it infuriated him when people assumed he was imitating Pee Wee, I made the point that Frank had reinvented many of the classic clarinet styles — Dodds and Noone among them.  Beale Riddle was a jazz fan, amateur drummer, and recordist who had captured an early trio of Frank, Don Ewell, and himself for posterity.  “Bandanna Days” was recorded by “the Carnival Three” in 1947 for Disc — Simeon, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster.  I had sent Frank airshots of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra (with Kaminsky, Gowans, Pee Wee, and Bud) from the Sherman Hotel in Chicago in 1940, as well as an unissued V-Disc performance of “Peg O’My Heart” by Miff Mole, Pee Wee, Stirling Bose, and others.  “Notes on Jazz” captured a number of Condon concert performances — before the Blue Network series began in 1944 — for distribution to South America.  I had been given thirty minutes of this material by John L. Fell; the announcements were in Portuguese.  I had also sent Frank a videocassette copy of the Thirties film short subject SWING IT — featuring Pee Wee and Louis Prima at their most lively, and may have included the 1967 JAZZ ALLEY television show with Hodes, McPartland, and Pee Wee.  (Frank was in the audience, and remembered that Pee Wee offered McPartland five dollars to change places with him onstage.)  Richard Hadlock continues to be an active West Coast jazz historian and reedman; he did a good deal for an aging Joe Sullivan in the Sixties.  The quotation was from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” which Frank knew I knew.  Still looking for a picture to send me, he had found an outdated bus pass in his wallet and enclosed it, which I still have.  Obviously he was in a happier mood.  And I was thrilled to be purveyor-of-jazz-treats, sharing pleasures.

28 June 99

Dear Michael,

      I went straight to the Marty-Ephie music.  Was there ever a one-man gang like Mart?  And Effie’s dry wit.  I can’t always tell whether he’s trying to be expressive or funny.  And he can play anything, sometimes all at once. 

     Grateful too for the Dodds stuff.  It seems the Harlem hot-shots foreswore mocking him musically – let’s hope they didn’t do so personally.  Terry Martin suggests he probably could hold his own in eiher context, Ewell’s fears notwithstanding.

     I never dreamt the Ashcraft stuff had been orgaznied and documented like that.  Pee Wee, guesting at Priestley’s in 1967, calimed he could identify Joe [Rushton’s] clarinet anywhere.  So far I’ve heard only a little from these cassettes.  Speaking of bass sax I have from the lib. “ART DECO” Sophisticated Ladies (Columbia, 2 CD’s set).  Ella Logan sings I Wish I Were Twins, with Adrian [Rollini], Max, Bud, [Carl] Kress, [Roy] Bargy, [Stan] King.

     It’s raining on this sheet.  Grateful to know someone who connects with my frame of reference.  Must run for cover.  WITH THANKS                      

FC

This time, I had sent a duet recording of Marty Grosz and trombonist Ephie Resnick, as well as the Decca sides pairing Johnny Dodds with Charlie Shavers, Pete Brown, and Teddy Bunn.  The Rushton recordings are informal duets recorded at Squirrel Ashcraft’s — Rushton on clarinet, Bob Zurke on piano.  Whether then or at another date, I had sent Frank a collection of other informal sessions at Squirrel’s: on the telephone, he told me that a prized listening experience was hearing Pee Wee on a 1939 or 1940 “Clarinet Marmalade.”

 27 Mar 00

Dear Michael,

     Don’t get a paper cut from these sheaves.  Not that these observations from K. Amis’s memoirs are new to you.

     I love the references to Hodes, with whom I played off and on between 1957 and 1984.

     Young J. Dapogny introduced me to Lucky Jim.  I evened up by playing him Tea for Two by one T. Monk, of whom he’d never heard.

As ever,

Frank   

The pages were excerpts from Kingsley Amis’s memoirs:  Amis, like his friend Philip Larkin, revered Pee Wee and especially the 1932 Rhythmakers sides.  In 1947, moving into an apartment, Amis glued to the wall “an over-enlarged photograph of the clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, with a typed caption adapted from the last stanza of Tennyson’s poem, ‘To Virgil’: I salute thee, Pee Wee Russell, / I that loved thee since day began, Wielder of the wildest measure / ever moulded by the lips of man.’  Frank also took pleasure in Larkin’s dismissal of Hodes: “he sounded as if he had three hands and didn’t know what to do with any of them.”  When I see James Dapogny (now Professor Emeritus) I will ask him if the Monk anecdote is as he remembers it.

17 Jan 00

Dear Michael,

     I write this on my lap in front of football TV, having no surfaces owing to apt. mucking-out, and having no pen I like andneeding to buy six encased in plastic to find out.

     So this should be short – a mercy considering a sentence like the above.

     Nice to hear Jack [Gardner or Teagarden?] again.  An altogether agreeable cohort.  And such exciting Lester and Fats. Listening to that radio announcer makes my blood run cold.  I hate this f…..g country. 

     In that vein I’m reading Frances FitzGerald’s America Revised.  My high school’s history text was Charles Beard.  Reading him now suggests the textbook was seriously bowdlerized.  No wonder we’re all so ignorant.  Oh by Jingo.

     Do you have, I mean do you know, Bud’s I Remember Rio, done latterly in Chi?  Typical Bud.  He’s like a favorite uncle.  

     At the library I check[ed] out the 2 CD Art Deco, Sophisticated Ladies on Columbia.  I Wish I were Twins: Max, Bud, Adrian, Kress, Ella Logan? 1934.  You Go To My Head unusual sunny Pee Wee yet controlled.  Nan Wynn?  Lee W.[iley] and a flock of canaries w/ nice acc.

     I hear of a complete Django – might buy.

     Ask me sometime about who I thought  (whom, Prof.) was Jerry Winter — turns out to be Jerry Winner who hung around North Brunswick, NJ in 1951-2.  Nice cl. With Raymond Scott 1947/8.

     Also ask about the Victory Club.

TaTa,

Frankie

P.S.  I used “nice” 3 X, C-.

Terry Martin tells me that Frank discarded nothing and hoarded things in stacks and piles.  Were the frequent references to desperate cleaning real or merely rhetorical?  What incensed him so much in this letter was a live 1938 broadcast Fats Waller did from the Yacht Club — infamous for a condescending racist announcer who persists in calling Fats “boy.”  Frank loved football but was aghast at the way the announcers spoke: he told me more than once of a famous sports figure, trying to sound polished, making a grammatical error.  Now, this letter seems to combine politeness and impatience: I did not get the opportunity to ask  about the subjects he threw in at the end.  He had told me that as a young clarinetist, he failed to get involved in the rivalry of Goodman and Shaw; he cited Winner as someone he admired.

29 June 00,

Dear Michael,

     I never expected that fooling around with a clarinet would fetch me such bounty as your books and cassettes.  This Buddy Clark sure had accurate pitch, is it not so?

     As for your Salty Dogs (Saline Canines: MOG) inquiries, as far as those of D. Coller about [Tony] Parenti, [Bill] Reinhardt and [Jimmy] Ille, I wouldn’t know what to say.

     Did I ever tell you of my European summers (’51 and ’52) with the Amherst Delta Five?  Their clarinet player preferred to sell used cars in Utica.  One “Bosh” (Wm. H.) Pritchard came along on guitar (’51) which h’d never played.   Someone showed him how to make a G7 chord.  Some girls on board ship told him he sounded like Eddie Condon.  Protchard became Henry Luce Prof. of Eng. at his alma mater.

Hastily,

Frank

I had sent Hilbert’s Pee Wee biography.  The Buddy Clark session was an oddity — for the Varsity label in 1940, where he is accompanied by a version of the Summa Cum Laude Orchestra, with Freeman and Pee Wee taking surprising solo passages.  “MOG” is Martin Oliver Grosz.  I hope that the story of Prof. Pritchard is true.

2 January 01

Dear Michael,

     Glad to have your letter, but saddened indeed at news of your mother.  Please accept my condolences.  What good is it to know that it happens to most of us before we depart, and that there’s always regret at what we failed to do or say in time.

     As for me, I’m trying to emerge from the Nov. – Dec. blahs — respiratory congestion followed by the BLAHS of SNOW and cabin fever.  Yes, I played a couple of gigs in Nov., just down the street really at Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, a last refuge of cigarette smokers.  I paid for it.  [Bob] Koester showed up both times, and Paige Van Vorst, and someone named Jerry (a friend of Bill Russell of Am. Music) and an OTIS who is a P. W. fancier.  A katzenjammer quartet: [mandolinist  / guitarist Don] Stienberg, [Mike] Waldbridge, me, and an EAGER but blatty trumpet player.  Later, Paige sent me a year’s worth of  Miss. Rag.  Don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

     Koester keeps wanting a record session and I keep demurring.  As for your discography and entries I question the Jazz At Noon dates as to my presence, my having been absent with a misdiagnosed biliary tract infection.  I was in hosp. during the assassination of Fred Hampton.  The Oct. 18, 1968 date shows an odd title inversion suggestive of Steiner: “Pick Yourself Up” is really Let Yourself Go.

Hang in there,

Frankie

My mother had died, at 85, a few months before.  Frank’s comments transcend formula, I think.  And I take it as indicative of his worldview and political awareness that he should recall his hospital stay because of Fred Hampton:  the head of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, killed by police at the direction of the FBI.

02 Nov 02

Dear Michael,

     Terry Martin sent me a photocopy of D. Coller’s thing on Floyd O’Brien.  Takes me back, if not quite aback. 

     Here’s hoping you are somewhat restored to the quotidian world, the humdrum, what an Army buddy and I referred to as the drab mundane.  Meanwhile, I thought you might be bemused by the enclosed pic, from 1978 I think under a wedding-reception tent in Priestley’s backyard. (Lake Forest, IL).  Bill, left, has his back to the crowd as was his wont, duels with Warren Kime.  Your congenial leader is at back, looking like Bergen Evans.  Not shown: Bob Wright, piano; Joe Levinson, bass; Bob Cousins, drums.  Nice gig.

     I’m looking for a cassette to send you: a string of tunes from the Chi. Jazz Fest, Jan. 1984.  Doubt that you’ve heard them.  A trio: Marty, me, Dan Shapera, hass.  Last time Mart and I tangled.  Trying to get my apt. under control – I’m not exactly a fussy taxonomist.

As Ever,

Frank

I will share this photograph in a future posting. 

18 Dec 02

Dear Michael,

     So you laughed out loud at M[ichael]. Chabon – I coarsen myself listen to the enclosed examples of obtuseness, banality, and dead-ass playing.  I wrote Price and Thompson thanking them for the check and rhapsodic blurb, respectively.  Also mentioned that I was both terrified and pissed off throughout.

     Thanks anyway, but I can’t listen to Braff.  Musically, verbally and in print, he is, for me, a prototype of The  Boston Asshole.

     I really must learn to curb my expressionism.

     As Marty once abjured me, For Your Eyes Only.  I continue to rummage for that cassette – my housekeeping is execrable.

Ever,

Frank

The remarks above may offend, but at this late date I prefer candor to ellipsis.  I had sent Frank a copy of a Braff CD I particularly liked; he sent me the 2-CD set of his live recordings from 1967 with Jimmy Archey and Don Ewell — an odd group of players, their styles rarely coalescing.

This is the last letter from Frank — and my Sunday evening attempts to call met with no response.  I assumed he had fallen ill or no longer wanted to talk or correspond.  Thus I was greatly surprised to receive a package months later — that long-promised cassette, with a scrawled note on a tiny scrap of paper, which read something like, “Sorry, man — I’ve been sick with ascites (?)”  That was the last I heard from him.

Frank’s letters were always leavened to some extent by his wit, even when it was extremely dark.  I don’t, however, know if he would have written to me at all if he didn’t feel the need to thank me for the things I sent him, which he did seem to appreciate. 

Talking to him on the telephone, however, was often a depressing experience as conversation wound down.  I found Frank’s mixture of annoyance, contempt, and sadness sometimes difficult, often frustrating.  I wanted to celebrate and gossip about the older music (a fan’s ardor); he wanted me to listen to Coltrane.  But more, he wanted to vent his rage at United States imperialism and the decline of the West.  In retrospect, we had little to talk about.  Someone listening in might have considered our sonversations as little dramas, with each of us wanting to make things go his way, succeeding only briefly.  I know that musicians and non-musicians are often separated by an invisible wall, but these conversations had even greater barriers, although we were enthusiastic about the same things. 

But Frank often seemed as if he was going through some elaborate set of motions; whether he wearied of me, an enthusiastic correspondent who attempted to ply him with cassettes, whether he wearied of talking about what was now the receding past, whether he was weary of people, I do not know.  That enigma, still fascinates me, although the possibilities are saddening.       

Thus I was surprised when I heard from Terry Martin, perhaps in 2006, telling me that Frank was ailing (which did not surprise me: the long spaces between calls or letters were often the result of hospitalizations) and that Frank had mentioned my name to Terry as someone he wouldn’t mind speaking to.  I feel some guilt about this now, but I told Terry I couldn’t attempt to restart the conversation.  I was going through a difficult period and Frank’s darkness was too much to face.  Terry, to his credit, understood.  The next news I heard was that Frank had died at 83.   

I consider myself fortunate that I had these exchanges, and that we can hear him play on recordings.  Frank had something to tell us, and he still does.      

Frank Chace: July 22, 1924 – December 28, 2007. 

A postscript: when I was attempting to interview Frank for a profile, I amassed five or six pages of transcriptions of those taped conversations.  In the spirit of Frank’s housekeeping, these pages have vanished.  However, I recall a few fragments.  When young, Frank was initially intrigued by the sounds coming from the apartment below — a neighbor was a symphony flautist.  When he began to take up the clarinet (moved to do so, of course, by a Pee Wee Russell record), he listened to “everything” and thought it was his responsibility as a musician to do so.  He recalled with great glee a recording with  Don Ewell in the house band at Jazz Ltd: the band was playing the SAINTS, a song Don loathed, and he kept playing MARYLAND through his piano chorus.  (The details may be awry, but the intent is clear.)  When asked what recordings he particularly liked, Frank eventually called to mind the Mezzrow-Bechet OUT OF THE GALLION, Bud Jacobson’s BLUE SLUG, and expressed a special desire to hear Pee Wee’s solo on the Commodore Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers SWEET SUE, which I did not have, but acquired through Gene Kramer.  When Frank heard it, he remembered that he and Marty played it many times, their verdict being that Pee Wee’s solo “scraped the clouds.” 

But he saved his most enthusiastic words for two extremely disparate recordings: Coltrane’s YOU LEAVE ME BREATHLESS and Jerry Colonna’s comic version of EBB TIDE.  Since Frank’s death, I’ve heard both, and was much more impressed by the Coltrane.  Colonna’s version of that pop song has the singer nearly drowned by sound-effects waves — surely an acquired taste.   

Frank had seen my hero Sidney Catlett in concert once (a wartime presentation by Deems Taylor); he had played alongside Bobby Hackett once in an informal session, probably at Priestley’s.  But there were almost no contemporary musicians he admired, and fewer he could see himself playing or recording with: Marty Grosz certainly, Dick Hyman, possibly.  He was sure he was able to play a whole session and that he didn’t need to practice.  Terry Martin and Bob Koester have first-hand experience with Frank’s reluctance to record.  In fairness, few of the recordings he did make usually do not find him in the most congenial settings: he felt comfortable alongside Ewell and Marty and some of his younger Chicago friends, but such congeniality was rare. 

Frank deserved better, but it is difficult to make him into another jazz-victim-of-oppression, as his stubbornness often got in the way of musical opportunities.  I offer these letters and recollections as tribute to a great musician and enigmatic figure.     

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
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LESLIE JOHNSON AND THE MISSISSIPPI RAG

This afternoon, I got an email from Jody Hughes, Leslie’s sister, announcing a jazz memorial to be held on March 22, 2009.  I won’t be in the vicinity, but some of my readers might.  Here are the details:

It will be held at the Mainstreet Bar and Grill from 4-8 PM, which is located at 814 Mainstreet, Hopkins (which I assume is in Minnesota): 952-938-2400 is the phone number, www.mainstreetbar.com, the website.  There will be no cover charge, but donations to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic are encouraged.  Of course there will be music: from Butch Thompson, the Bill Evans New Orleans Jazz Band, the Pig’s Eye Jass Band, Doug Haining and the Twin Cities Seven, and the Mouldy Figs.  Maryann Sullivan, who hosts “Corner Jazz” on KBEM Radio, JAZZ88-FM, will host this event.

Jody adds: “Currently the future of the RAG website is undecided.  We are in the process of going through everything in the office, which we expect to take some time.  Please check the website in late May for information about RAG’s future.”  That website is, of course, www.mississippirag.com.

Leslie gave so much to the jazz that she loved; it’s only fitting that she be honored to its strains.