Tag Archives: Caucasian

THREE AND ONE-HALF MINUTES OF GRATIFICATION

In the taxonomy of older jazz, we know where we stand, or at least where the classifiers tell us we should be standing.  There are Hot Bands (usually African-American) and Sweet or Dance Bands (Caucasian).  There are, of course, groups that snip the barbed wire to escape or to visit the other side — Claude Hopkins performing TREES in a very arboreal manner, then, several years later, Bunny Berigan setting the forest on fire with the same song.  (The Louis – Gordon Jenkins version of that same song, fifteen years later, is beyond dispute, and I’ve started disputes when people looked askance at it.)

But it has been my experience that most jazz fans of a certain ideological bent prefer — mutely or vividly — their music Hot and either played by African-Americans or by Caucasians in the Hot style.  Or in cases where a Sweet band offers a Hot solo, we can find the 78s that have that twenty-second interlude played to a fine powder, the rest of the record nearly pristine.

What do we do with this curious and wonderful artifact, however?  It is at once a superb dance record; it swings easily and well; it is a wholly satisfying performance and presentation.  I present it to JAZZ LIVES’ listeners in hopes that they can listen to this buff Bluebird 78 from 1933 with open and appreciative ears, enjoying the recording for what it is.

The group is the Joe Haymes Orchestra — Haymes had played piano and arranged for the Ted Weems band — but under the nominal leadership of Mike Doty, thus Roy Wager, Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Mike Doty, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Toots Mondello or Dan D’Andrea, Paul Ricci, Bud Freeman, reeds; Paul Mitchell, piano; probably Mac Cheikes, banjo; Gene Traxler, string bass; Charlie Bush, drums; Joe Haymes, leader / arranger.  New York, November 9, 1933.

And the song is PUDDIN’ HEAD JONES — recorded also by a Ben Selvin group, Don Redman, Hal Kemp, and perhaps a half-dozen other bands in 1933.

Here’s the performance:

From the start, this is an assured, swinging band.  The melody statement — muted trumpets, possibly a baritone saxophone line, Gene Traxler’s strong string bass and Charlie Bush’s rocking drums — is easy and non-threatening for the dancers who simply wanted a fast fox trot, but the band is splendidly rehearsed without being at all stiff.  And a gorgeous modulation follows — leisurely, with clarinet (I guess Paul Ricci) on top, while Bush shifts to either a low-boy or a hi-hat cymbal.  Without overstating my praise, the Haymes band — under Doty’s name — is grooving at the first minute in such a lilting easy way that other bands never reached.  In the first seconds of Doty’s vocal, he sounds more declamatory than the song requires — but that’s a 1933 style of singing when there wasn’t a microphone, and the singer needed to be emphatically clear so that the witty bits of the lyrics were heard and understood.  Beneath him, the band swings and Ricci ornaments it all.  (I’ll get to the lyrics in a bit.)  Even though the lyrics are hilarious and verging on the naughty, the band doesn’t emphasize the punchlines: no rimshots or bass-drum hits.  The listener must pay attention. After the vocal, the band subtly says, “WE can swing like mad, too!” with delicious interludes for clarinet and I think Dick Clark on tenor saxophone (it’s not Bud), supported beautifully by the wonderfully focused slap of Bush’s wire brushes.

(A one-bar digression: what is known about Charlie Bush?  HE COULD PLAY.)

When well-executed, “glee club” choruses for the band are just marvelous — if you needed a musical definition of logical architecture or building momentum, you have it in the way the band voices rock wordless riffs behind Doty.  And although his voice isn’t up to the challenge of shouting over the band at the end, he certainly delivers the message.

Those lyrics.  One encounters this song, depending on one’s level of empathy, with some doubts.  Will this be a narrative about how stupid an elementary-school student was — the equivalent of the polite dozens for middle-class Caucasians?  You know, the sort of humor that builds on “You’re so dumb . . . ” But — the clever turn of the bridge, where the fictional character we have been invited to laugh at turns out to be the Teacher’s Teacher (a folk take in swingtime) with a real punchline in the last words of the bridge — something has turned around, and in some ways we are a little embarrassed at underestimating Puddin’ Head, who is much smarter than we thought and probably much smarter than we are.  Are we meant to assume that  Teacher has already spent time in interdisciplinary studies with Puddin’s older brother?  I leave that to you. But our young dunce turns into an expert wooer, and as an adult a diligent citizen, frugal and energetic — so much so that in this 1933 Depression-era saga, he is presumably the only man in the neighborhood who is well-loved, securely affluent, perhaps even wealthy.  An American success story: from dunce to happy successful man in three minutes and change.

“Underestimate people at your own risk” might be the moral of this tale.

I knew I had to write a blogpost about this record when I needed to hear it four or five times in a row — with great joy — from YouTube.  (And I also purchasesd or re-purchased the three Haymes reissues that exist, and await their arrival.)

Of course, there might be grumbling in the imaginary cyber-audience, “Great record.  But how much better it would be with, say Jimmy Rushing singing, and Ben Webster on tenor.” Perhaps.  But I love what we have, and cherish it as a perfectly accomplished piece of hilarious swinging art that needs no improvements.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“BLACK AND BLUE”: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE by RICKY RICCARDI (Feb. 12, 2011)

Ricky Riccardi has been intensely focused on Louis Armstrong for half of his life, with extraordinary results. 

His book on Louis’s later life and music — a book that will destroy some wrong-headed assumptions with new evidence — will be out in June 2011.  I’ve seen one or two pages of the galleys, and only because the author was across the table was I cajoled into releasing my hold and giving it back.

To whet your appetite — and also to make it easy to find a copy in that rarest of places, the bookstore, here’s the cover picture, an inspiring one.  You can “pre-order” the book online as well.

But this post isn’t about a forthcoming book. 

It’s about a talk that Ricky gave recently at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND RACE.

(That title was so imposing that Michael Cogswell suggested, whimsically, that Ricky could have called it RED BEANS AND RACE, a play on Louis’s favorite dish.) 

Many times, lectures of this sort relate the indignities that African-Americans suffered (and still suffer) at the hands of Caucasians.  We know there’s plenty of evidence. 

And Ricky didn’t ignore it — from the policeman who hit the boy Louis over the head when for politely asking what time it was to the jazz critic who called his performance in the early Fifties “a coon carnival.”  Louis had gone to New Orleans in triumph in 1931 — an international star — only to have an announcer say, “I just can’t announce that nigger on the radio.” 

But what may have wounded Louis much more was his abandonment and rejection by the members of his own race, “my own people,” who called him “a plantation character” (the words are Dizzy Gillespie’s, although Dizzy later apologized) and an “Uncle Tom.”  These slights may have hurt him as much as seeing authorities beating African-American schoolchildren in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Charcteristically Ricky had more than enough material for an entire afternoon (he promises that it’s all in the book) but he gave us an hour filled with insight, pathos, humor, and wit.  Rather than read Louis’s words aloud, he drew on the private tapes Louis made at home and on the road — a priceless document of his expressiveness, his emotions, his consciousness: in his home, his hotel rooms, talking about his hopes and disappointments. 

Here’s Ricky’s presentation, for those who couldn’t make it to the LAHM and those who want to know what’s in store on the 26th:

First, Deslyn Dyer introduces Ricky: through him, we meet the Louis some people never knew — not only the musician, light-heartedly entertaining for fifty years and more, but the man in search of social justice, the civil rights pioneer:

Ricky then shares the story of the young sailor who greeted Louis by saying, “I don’t like Negroes, but I admire you,” a compliment that might have embittered a lesser man:

More stories: the New Orleans policeman; lynchings in the South.  Louis also explains his often misinterpreted relations with manager Joe Glaser:

Next, Louis tells his friends why an African-American artist would need “a white captain,” talks about being elected King of the Zulus in 1949, about recording SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH for Decca, and the pervasiveness of racism:

When Nat Cole, playing for a segregated audience in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1956, was beaten by four men who jumped onstage, the African-American press condemned him, rather than sympathizing with him — which outraged Louis; he also responds to the segregation in New Orleans:

Louis’s violent reaction to what he saw on television in 1957 — in Little Rock, Arkansas: “I have a right to blow my top over injustice”:

And — as a triumphant, mournful climax — Louis’s shattering BLACK AND BLUE in East Berlin (1965), from which I’ve taken the title of this piece:

Louis’s story remains the saga of someone mis-seen and under-acknowledged, a man wounded by the people — of all races — he thought would understand him. 

But Louis prevailed and continues to prevail by embodying great joy in his music.

Ricky will be delivering this lecture again at the Louis Armstrong House Museum on Saturday, February 26th, at 1 and 3 PM.  The house is a remarkable down-to-earth shrine.  And Ricky’s a treasure.

FOR THE LOVE OF LOUIS, CLICK HERE.  ALL MONEY GOES TO THE MUSICIANS.

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