Tag Archives: cartoons

WHEN HOT JAZZ WAS NEWS

Three clips from a vanished era — when movies were introduced by black-and-white newsreels (and cartoons, short subjects, even travelogues) that had time to show jazz musicians, those vivid people, in action.  Here are three very short excerpts brought to us by that intrepid jazz time-traveler Enrico Borsetti.  The subjects of the first clips will be more than familiar (you’ll see Arvell Shaw in the big band clip) but the surprise, for me, was of the brilliant New Orleans clarinetist Albert Nicholas in the final clip. 

Those of you who don’t speak Italian fluently and rapidly will find the narration difficult at first — but my readers are good at improvising!

In the first post (April 1959) the welcome is provided by the Roman New Orleans Jazz Band, and don’t ignore those beautifully dressed, smiling “stewardesses”:

Then, we move to Holland (May 21, 1958) in front of a very happy audience.  FINE comes all too soon:

Finally, the International Jazz Festival at San Remo (February 1, 1956) with twelve glorious bars of Albert Nicholas — one luminous blues chorus:

Also featured are Italian jazz notables Nunzio Rotondo, Carlo Pes, Romano Mussolini, Gilberto Cuppini and the Milan College Jazz Society.

P.S.  I have a particular sentimental attachment to footage of this kind because my late father worked for a time at Movietone News.  Irrelevantly, perhaps — one of his colleagues was Walter Bishop Sr., father of the modern jazz pianist.

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ABE LINCOLN, SWASHBUCKLER

I have a special fondness for those musicians who never get their share of the limelight — not only Joe Thomas but also Frank Chace, Mike Burgevin, Cliff Leeman, Benny Morton, Shorty Baker, Rod Cless come to mind.  Abe%20Lincoln%20Masthead%20Image

It would be impossible to say who is most underrated or under-recognized, but trombonist Abe Lincoln is certainly a contender for Jazz’s Forgotten Man.  Although his astonishing playing enlivens many recordings — the late Thirties West Coast sessions that Bing Crosby and Hoagy Carmichael made with small jamming bands (often including Andy Secrest on cornet) and later sessions with the Rampart Street Paraders and Matty Matlock’s Paducah Patrol, he’s not well known.  I first heard him out in the open on a wondrous Bobby Hackett Capitol session, COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST, where Abe and Jack Teagarden stood side by side.  It wasn’t a cutting contest, but Abe’s joyous exuberance was more than a match for Big T. 

There are exceptions — cornetist Bob Barnard is a heroic one — but many jazz brassmen start their solos low and quiet, and work up to their higher registers for drama.  Abe Lincoln reminds me of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., leaping from a balcony, sword drawn.  There’s no shilly-shallying; Abe starts his solos with a whoop in his highest register and STAYS THERE.  He’s dazzling. 

I’m currently writing the liner notes for a forthcoming CD on the JUMP label (Joe Boughton’s cherished enterprise) which will feature a “Rampart Street Paraders” group in performance.  The venue was called “Storyville,” apparently located in San Francisco in the Sixties.  The band?  How about Billy Butterfield, Matty Matlock, Stan Wrightsman, Ray Leatherwood, Nick Fatool, and Abe Lincoln.  Looking for information in my discographies, I found sketches of Lincoln’s associations: the California Ramblers, Ozzie Nelson, Paul Whiteman, Roger Wolfe Kahn, West Coast radio and film work, soundtrack work for Walter Lanz Woody Woodpecker cartoons, even!

Then I did what has become common practice for researchers: I Googled “Abe Lincoln” “jazz” “trombone” — to separate him from that other Abe who split rails and ended the Civil War. 

And THIS came up — a whole website devoted to Abe: thorough, accurate, with photographs, articles, a discography, a video clip (!) and a biography:

http://www.abelincolntrombone.com/index.htm

It doesn’t make Abram Lincoln (not “Abraham,” by the way) a great deal more famous, but I applaud the site and bless the person who created it.  Check it out and enjoy Mister Lincoln.

JAZZ FESTIVAL: BETTY BOOP, DON REDMAN, EDDIE CONDON, LESTER YOUNG

Like you, I tried to imagine all those players assembled in one place and failed.  But everything is possible on YouTube.   Melissa Collard called my attention to the Don Redman / Betty Boop clip, circa 1932-33.

Has anyone written a history of Max and Dave Fleischer and associates?  I know there are Betty Boop fanciers, but I wonder about Fleischer’s choosing famous African-American jazz musicians and their bands in his cartoons.  Did he love the music?  Or was it because he could get these bands and players (think of Louis, Cab, and an uncredited Luis Russell ensemble) fairly inexpensively?  Anyway, here is I HEARD:

The opening theme is CHANT OF THE WEED — the vipers’ theme song, punctuated by wood blocks and the oceanic swaying on beautifully-dressed musicians.  Then we enter the deliciously surrealistic world of the Never Mine — the noon whistle eating its lunch, the beaver cooking pancakes on its tail.  Not to mention the whole peristaltic underground travel system.  All of this while Redman himself sings HOW’M I DOIN’?  I hope he didn’t mind being transformed on film into a canine member of the waitstaff.  Betty’s vocal (presumably that is Mae Questel) is also accompanied by a miniature mixed choir who pop in and out of the staircase in time.

When the lunch hour is through (note how that whistle lets everyone know) all the miners reverse their steps — going back under the shower which now rains down filth so they are suitably attired for the mine — to the strains of I HEARD.  Don’t miss the cat-telephone-switchboard while Claude Jones, Ed Inge, and Bob Carroll have brief solo spots before Don’s vocal.  It’s hard to keep up with the action of a terrifying descent down an elevator shaft (Betty, characteristically, loses her dress for a moment), ghosts playing baseball with a bomb — all the nightmare anyone could imagine while the Redman band plays goblin music.  But everything ends well — the bomb does the miners’ work for them and they can go home to the strains of WEED, which is perhaps an in-joke here.

These cartoons happily mix the surreal and the swinging, the wild camera angles anticipating later films.

After that, almost anything would seem sedate.  However, an Eddie Condon group (circa 1952) does its best in real time, no animation, working out on FIDGETY FEET with Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Condon himself, an off-camera Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  (I was reminded of this and the last clip by Loren Schoenberg.)

The Mob seems to be doing a gig on an aircraft carrier, but that’s of less import than the fine sound and the beautiful interplay of this group.  They had performed FIDGETY FEET thousands of times at the club, so the routines are razor-sharp in performance, but what I delight in here is the collective exuberance, particularly that rhythm section.  Cliff Leeman!

And watching a very expert and enthusiastic Gene Schroeder makes us remember just how much piano he played, night after night, without anyone paying sufficient attention.  (He made one 78 session, four songs, as a leader, for the Black and White label, in 1944, but he deserved more.)  And Condon himself, so often slyly categorized as someone who talked more than played and drank more than he talked, shows how he directed and drove this band.  Imperishable stuff, fierce and compact at the same time.

Finally, how about seeing — not just hearing — Lester Young play POLKA DOTS AND MOONBEAMS?

The rhythm section on this Art Ford telecast (from 1958, I believe) is Ray Bryant on a terrible piano, a happy Vinnie Burke on bass, and an unacknowledged drummer who sweeps his brushes most respectfully.  Yes, the clip is out of synch, but that adds to the poignant dreaminess of the performance, with Rex Stewart wandering in the shot.  Since there’s so little Lester on film, this is even more precious.

What follows suggests that no one — at the moment — recognized how beautiful a performance it was, or perhaps it was just that Art Ford (and his passel or posse of jazz critics at home, ready to call in) had to “keep it rolling.”  Sylvia Syms, with the same rhythm and a perky Rex Stewart offstage, wisely change the mood.  Who would be foolish enough to follow Lester in the same lovely, mournful mood?

All the Olympians . . . .