Tag Archives: Cecil Scott

WE RETURN TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM, FOR A HALF-HOUR: JIMMY McPARTLAND, DICKY WELLS, CECIL SCOTT, JOE SULLIVAN, WALTER PAGE, GEORGE WETTLING, MARIAN McPARTLAND (“Jazz Club USA,” broadcast 1952)

Thanks to CB Detective Agency for this newspaper ad.

The music that follows is brilliant, but the details surrounding it are vague.  For one thing, most writers have misspelled the restaurant owner’s name as Terassi for decades.  I’ve done it myself.  Apologies to Lou.

I read in a British trade paper that this band, the Jimmy McPartland Sextet, was appearing at Lou Terrasi’s Hickory Log at the end of 1952, but I haven’t found a specific date for this recording.  All trace of the Hickory Log has vanished, although it was still in operation in 1964.  In 1975, the address was a restaurant that also featured music, the Spindletop (there’s a review of Maxene Andrews at that time) and should you go to that address now, it is Trattoria Tricolore.

Assuming that Terrasi was Italian, I’ve always thought the cuisine was also, but “Hickory Log” suggests charcoal-broiled steaks.  I had two friends who celebrated their engagement at the bar in 1952, between Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton — a story I love.  But I can no longer ask them for details.

Here’s a 1952 portrait by Bob Parent of Joe Sullivan at the Hickory Log piano, which also shows something of the decor.  That curtain would haunt me:

2nd October 1952: American jazz musician Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) plays piano at Lou Terrasi’s ‘Hickory Log’ on West 47th St., New York City. (Photo by Bob Parent/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But the music is vivid, a previously unknown version of the half-hour broadcasts done by Aime Gauvin, “Dr. Jazz,” featuring the Jimmy McPartland Sextet: McPartland, cornet; Dicky Wells, trombone; Cecil Scott, clarinet; Joe Sullivan, piano; Walter Page, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Marian McPartland, piano, on EMBRACEABLE YOU and SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  A bonus: even though we hear the crash of dishes (the kitchen and bandstand always seem to be adjacent) the ambiance is serene in comparison to Central Plaza or the Stuyvesant Casino.

The band, introduced by Leonard Feather, who also chats with both McPartlands, plays LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER / TIN ROOF BLUES / EMBRACEABLE YOU / BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME / SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.

Broadcasts like this originated with the Voice of America, beamed overseas to show the Communists the virtues of democracy and capitalism.  Leaving the ideological wrappings aside, the music is superb: everyone is focused and effective, and no one sounds bored by the repertoire or its conventions.  I don’t know if Walter or Dicky missed being with Basie, but I am sure they were pleased to spend their days at home rather than being on the band bus; Jimmy, Joe, George, Cecil, and Marian had been playing in small groups for decades.  We hear the assurance of people who know the way, and that’s truly delicious.

May your happiness increase!

THEY DANCED TO IT, AND STILL DO

Jazz fans of a sedentary nature (I count myself among them) need to be reminded that this was and is music for dancing.  Dancing.  And I thank my friend, the splendid singer Laura Windley, for gently reminding me of this. But rather than create a long didactic episode, I offer this as evidence — just spotted on eBay.

The three pages depicted here tell quite a story.  I’d never seen Teddy Hill’s photograph on sheet music before, but he and his band did not get to record this number, which isn’t surprising. We also know that musicians had their photographs on sheet music covers — whether as publicity for both sides or because the song was in their repertoire.  The Hill band released eight sides in three sessions in 1935-36: at the time, I think they were considered by the record companies a second-string group, which is a real pity.

Their later recordings — eighteen sides — for Bluebird were billed as Teddy Hill and his NBC Orchestra, which suggests not only a radio connection but an accompanying higher level of fame.  In 1937, Teddy and the band toured England and France (which is why Bill Dillard, Shad Collins, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman, and other Harlemites recorded with Django Reinhardt for Swing Records); he led bands until 1940, alas without recordings, and then changed course and became manager of Minton’s jazz club in Harlem.  He died in 1978.

As you will hear below, the band offered a deft combination of swinging dance music, hot solos, and interesting arranging touches.

A song by the same name was recorded by George Scott-Wood and his Six Swingers, but I can’t tell if it was this Blake-Taylor composition.  The owner of the sheet music, Virginia, wrote her name and another detail, dating this in 1934: you did this so you got your sheet music back.  Notice that the place all this TRUCKIN’ ON DOWN was happening was not Harlem or Chicago’s South Side, but Danville, Illinois, 138 miles from Chicago, which, in 1934, was a long drive.  Swing and swing dancing was everywhere: a blessed phenomenon we can only imagine.  We’re told that even the “O-Fays” [see the lyric] loved the dance:

One page from the inside shows that this was not just music that someone bought to gaze upon — or to have sit on the piano.  It was played:

Even though I don’t dance — I have “a lazy gate” — the back page is entrancing:

It’s nearly all upper-body pantomime, and there’s no partner in sight to endanger: I could do this.  Especially to the sound of Teddy Hill’s 1935-6 band.

Here‘s the link — should your impulses lead you to click on Buy It Now as a substitute for truckin’ it down uptown — although the seller is asking $399.99 plus $8.50 shipping (of course, that can be spread out over 24 months, a boon).

And here are the details about the Teddy Hill recordings that follow.  But you can skip them with my blessing to get the dancing underway.

Teddy Hill And His Orchestra : Bill Dillard (tp,vcl) Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman (tp) Dicky Wells (tb) Russell Procope (cl,as) Howard Johnson (as) Teddy Hill, Chu Berry (ts) Sam Allen (p) John Smith (g) Richard Fullbright (b) Bill Beason (d).  New York, February 26, 1935: LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE / GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS / WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN / WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART /
Frank Newton, Shad Collins (tp) replaces Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, Cecil Scott (ts,bar) replaces Chu Berry.  New York, April 1, 1936
UPTOWN RHAPSODY / CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (unissued) / May 4, 1936: AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL / BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY / PASSIONETTE /

And here’s some music.  WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART, with a pretty vocal by Bill Dillard, followed by a gently hot chorus by Bill Coleman, and a very danceable final chorus, complete with piano plinks:

and one of my favorite silly tunes, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE, which starts with a searing Roy, who returns to light up the sky, in solo and leading the brass at the start of the verse, before a supercharged Chu Berry takes precedence — but wait, that’s the swing anarchist Dicky Wells taking the bridge.  The YouTube poster’s copy has a few small skips, but it’s a romp:

Bill Dillard takes the vocal on GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS before Chu — almost sedately — comes in for a few comments:

WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN is a wonderful combination of swing dance music, then things heat up with Bill Coleman, Howard Johnson for the bridge, then Coleman.  Chu Berry is clearly in aerodynamic form, with Dicky Wells at his splendid surrealistic best, before Chu returns and Sam Allen plays a poised interlude:

UPTOWN RHAPSODY is a very daring chart at that tempo — like CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM in a funhouse mirror — with Procope, Johnson, and Wells:

On AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL, Sam Allen, Cecil Scott, Newton, Procope and Wells tell us in [Hendersonian] terms that we are in Harlem where riffs are born:

Here’s the band version of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s PASSIONETTE (what a wonderful reed section sound) with Frank Newton in his prime, then Russell Procope, and skywriter Dicky Wells, before the band rocks it out:

and Chappie Willet’s delightfully “modernistic” BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, with Wells, Howard Johnson, Procope, and a swaggering Newton, then Cecil Scott:

I hope those sounds inspired some dancing!

Did you Truck On Down?  It’s good for you.

May your happiness increase!

SHARP IT, FLAT IT! (1933-1999)

The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.

Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New York for a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound.  You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.

Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill.  My money is on Mister Hill.  Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics.  I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his.  Amazing if so.

But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness.  And we could all use a Serenade.  Please join me in Incid. Singing.

Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal.  New York, August 7, 1933:

That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background.  It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.

Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal:  Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:

Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.

But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal.  New York, September 19. 1934:

The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement.  That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.

Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:

The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.

See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song.  I dare you.

I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.

I’ll Serenade.  Won’t you?

May your happiness increase!

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS MUGGSY SPANIER, GEORGE BRUNIS AND THE ELEPHANT, EDDIE CONDON and FRIENDS (April 21, 2017)

Still more from our friend and hero Dan Morgenstern, recalling those days when the boundaries between “styles” weren’t quite so high or solidly built: the “Dixieland” scene in New York of the late Forties and the Fifties, with quick portraits of George Brunies (or Georg Brunis) but also Steve Lacy.

Brunis is legendary — from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings to Ted Lewis to Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtime Band and Eddie Condon, as well as his own groups, but he’s not often heard.  Here he is in concert in 1947 — his own blues, which gives a very good idea of his ebullient personality (along with Joe Sullivan, Pops Foster, and Baby Dodds):

Here’s Brunis’ “two Irishmen” version of IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, featuring Max Kaminsky:

YouTube offers videos of Brunis with Art Hodes in 1968 and with Bobby Hackett, Eddie Condon, and Pee Wee Russell thirty years earlier.  But enough prelude: here’s Dan:

The segment ends incompletely, which is my fault, but it means that when Dan and I meet again I will ask him about Cecil Scott, a hero of mine.  And of his.

May your happiness increase!

THE MANY LIVES OF “DINAH LOU”

“DINAH LOU,” music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Ted Koehler, from the 29th COTTON CLUB PARADE, perhaps would have gotten less attention and affection if it had not been the subject of several memorable recordings.

A footnote: the song was composed several years earlier, and recorded by Red Nichols (leading an expert but little-known post-Pennies Chicago band) at the end of 1932: I hope to share that disc in a future posting.

The first version I encountered was Red Allen’s, from July 19, 1935, with Henry “Red” Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Albert Nicholas, Cecil Scott, Horace Henderson, Lawrence Lucie, Elmer James, Kaiser Marshall.  Notably, it was the first of four songs recorded at that session — a warm-up, perhaps, for the delightful Frolick that is ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON.  I think you can hear what captivated me years ago: a good song and lots of very satisfying, individualistic melodic improvisation: much art packed into a small package:

On August 1, Chuck Richards sang it with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band — Red was in the band, but sang on the Bloom-Koehler TRUCKIN’.  However, he takes a soaring solo — more in a Louis mode than his usual way — with marvelous interludes from Billy Kyle, J. C. Higginbotham, and Buster Bailey.  Richards was a competent balladeer, but to me the real star here is the band, with a very lovely reed section:

On January 20, 1936, Ivie Anderson sang it with the Duke Ellington Orchestra (three takes, of which two survive).  I don’t know which of these two was recorded first, but I’ve distinguished them by sound and length.  Talk about wonderful instrumental voices — in addition to Ivie, whom no one’s equalled.

2:25:

2:34:

And the most delightful surprise (August 25, 1955): a live performance by Humphrey Lyttelton, trumpet; Bruce Turner, clarinet, alto saxophone; Johnny Parker, piano; Freddy Legon, guitar; Jim Bray, string bass; Stan Greig, drums:

The motive behind this leisurely long satisfying performance may have been nothing more complex than “Let’s stretch out and keep taking solos,” but it works so splendidly: hearing this is like watching two marvelous tennis players volley for hours with the ball always in the air.  It feels very much like a magical return to a late-Thirties Basie aesthetic, with none of the usual patterns of an opening ensemble giving way, after the horn solos, to rhythm section solos.

Will anyone adopt DINAH LOU as a good tune to improvise on in this century?

May your happiness increase!

“THE MAIN THING, OF COURSE, WAS THE MUSIC”: DAN MORGENSTERN on SANDY WILLIAMS, BENNY MORTON, and THE SCENE (April 21, 2017)

Once again, our friend, hero, and down-home Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, shares his stories with us. . . . stories that you can’t get on Spotify.

But first, some musical evidence — both for people who have never heard Sandy Williams play the trombone, and those, like me, were happy to be reminded of this “barrelhouse solo”:

Here’s Dan in a wide-ranging memory-journey that encompasses not only Sandy and Benny Morton, the Stuyvesant Casino and Central Plaza, but an astounding cast of characters, including Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Bob Maltz, Conrad Janis, Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey, Clarence Williams, Bob Dylan, Carl Kendziora, Annette Hanshaw, Bernie Privin, Leadbelly, Josh White, Horace Henderson, Lips Page, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge,Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, and more.

and just so no one forgets Mr. Williams or his associates:

Or the very sweet-natured Benny Morton (heard here with Billie Holiday, Buck Clayton, Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Walter Page, Freddie Green, Jo Jones) — it would be a sin to forget Benny!

I emphasize that Dan’s stories — squatting next to the piano to hear James P. Johnson more clearly, the kindness of Benny Morton, and other bits of first-hand narrative — have a larger resonance, one not limited to hot jazz devotees.

When the music is gone, when the band has packed up, when the chairs have been upended on the tables, the memories and stories remain.  I urge my readers to tell theirs — and to record the stories of older generations.  These stories are priceless now; as the participants leave us, the stories are even more precious.

The people in them don’t have to be famous, and the tales don’t have to be dramatic: asking Grandma what she ate when Grandpa took her out for their first date is irreplaceable.  (I nag at my students to do this — aim your iPhone at someone! — and I am fairly sure they won’t.  Forty years from now, their loss will be irreparable.)

That is also why Dan Morgenstern’s generosity of spirit — taking time to share his memories with us — is a great gift, one that won’t wear out or fade.

May your happiness increase!

GOOD ADVICE / GOOD MUSIC

Thank you, George Carlin.  Now, musical variations on this most crucial theme — whether local or global.

Clarence Williams’s performance of a composition by Cecil Scott and Don Frye, with an interesting personnel as notated by Tom Lord: unknown (cnt), Cecil Scott (cl,ts) unknown (as) unknown (ts) or 2nd (as), prob. Don Frye (p) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) prob. Floyd Casey (d) Little Buddy Farrior (vcl), New York, June 28, 1934.  (This is the session, famous or not in the annals of jazz discography, where Brian Rust suggested, on some fragment of hopeful hearsay, that Lester Young was in the band.  If he was, he’s not soloing.)

All I can add to the commentary is that the cornetist seems to be playing into a metal derby, and that the whole record is a wonderful example of jazz genres subtly in transition: solos and vocal over riffing ensembles.

Take One:

Take Two.  The message is so important we need to hear it twice:

That’s positive and romantic.  Tampa Red’s version from May 10, 1940 (which I learned about thanks to the very candid Carl Sonny Leyland) is much more direct.  Tell the truth OR ELSE:

Now, go out and live the message, please.  Thanks to AJS for encouragement.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS STAN GETZ (March 3, 2017)

This is the sixth part of a series of video-interviews the irreplaceable Dan Morgenstern sat for on the afternoon of Friday, March 3, 2017.  The previous five parts can be found here.

In those segments, Dan shares remarkable stories about the people he’s heard and met and become close with: everyone, including Lester Young, Jimmy Rowles, Tony Fruscella, Tommy Benford, Brew Moore, John Carisi, Nat Lorber, Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Rushing, and two dozen more.

Here he speaks lovingly of the magnificent Stan Getz — including an anecdote of one way to deal with noisy spectators at a jazz club:

I would have you notice — as well as Dan’s eye for the telling detail (that quality that makes great storytellers as well as novelists) — that even his retelling of incidents that might be painful is shot through with kindness.  These interviews are not a settling of scores; rather, they are graceful homages to the giants and friends he has known — and Dan continues to make friends in 2017.

Here, for those who have other thoughts about Stan, a sweet yet little-known 1954 performance by him, Jimmy, Bob Whitlock, and Max Roach, of the early-Thirties song, DOWN BY THE SYCAMORE TREE:

Dan refers to Stan’s PARKER 51:

and one of Stan’s duets with Kenny Barron at the end of his life:

I look forward to a second set of interviews.  Dan has hinted that he has tales of Cecil Scott.  Who could resist such knowledge?

May your happiness increase!

A SERENADE TO THE GODDESS OF GOOD FORTUNE: THOMAS WINTELER, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, JACOB ULLBERGER, HENRY LEMAIRE at MIKE DURHAM’S WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 8, 2015)

MAMIE SMITH LADY LUCK BLUES

This song — new to me although almost a century old — made a powerful impression on me when Thomas Winteler, the great soprano saxophonist (and clarinetist) performed it at Mike Durham’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz  Party on November 8, 2015.  Accompanying him were Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  It’s a passionate performance:

Here’s the original 1923 recording, with Mamie Smith’s powerful penetrating voice matched by Bechet’s soaring soprano (and Buddy Christian, banjo):

And the first, even more convincing recording, that same year, by Bessie Smith and Fletcher Henderson:

And a 1935 instrumental version with Williams, Cecil Scott, Ed Allen, Jimmy McLin, Cyrus St. Clair, and Willie Williams:

I hope the Goddess smiles on your efforts.

May your happiness increase!

QUIETLY ACCOMPLISHED: CHRIS BARBER’S “JAZZ ME BLUES”

The biographies of jazz musicians often follow a predictable path, from Mother at the organ or Dad’s 78s, precocious talent, hours of rigorous training, encounters with older professionals, early gigs, and then success.  If the musician is stable and fortunate, the narrative quiets down to a series of gigs and concerts; if the subject is tragic, the pages darken: alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, auto accident, major illness, premature death.

The jazz eminences who have written autobiographies (excepting Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day, although I am sure some readers will add to that list) have been the more fortunate ones, and their books depict elders looking back on friendships and triumphs.  Often the narrator is justly proud, and his / her singular personality is a strong consistent presence.

Trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber, born in 1930, continues to have a wonderful career — one that began with “traditional jazz” and stretched the definition to include different music incorporated into his own.  He’s played and recorded for more than sixty years with British jazz legends Ben Cohen, Ottilie Patterson, Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk, Pat Halcox, Lonnie Donegan, Monty Sunshine, Bruce Turner, Ian Wheeler, Beryl Bryden; with American stars Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Louis Jordan, Ed Hall, Ray Nance, Albert Nicholas, Joe Darensbourg, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Cecil Scott, Don Frye, Floyd Casey, Ed Allen, Sidney deParis, Hank Duncan, Wild Bill Davis, Russell Procope, Dr. John, Big Bill Broonzy, John Lewis and George Lewis, Clarence Williams, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Sam Theard, Jack Teagarden, Ornette Coleman, Scott LaFaro, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band . . .so the reader who opens a Barber autobiography hopes for good stories.

But this long list of names isn’t all there is to JAZZ ME BLUES (written with the very capable help of Alyn Shipton . . . Barber says in his acknowledgments that they first talked about this book in 1982) — published this year by Equinox in their Popular Music History series.

Barber follows the usual chronological path from his early encounter with jazz to becoming an international eminence. However, it took me about thirty-five pages (the book is 172 long) to settle in to JAZZ ME BLUES because of his distinctive personality.

He isn’t forceful or self-absorbed, telling us of the wonderful thing he did next. Barber comes across as a quietly modest man who has no need for us to admire him. Chronicling his life, he is so placidly matter-of-fact that it might take readers by surprise. But once we do, the absence of self-congratulation is refreshing, as if we were introduced to a very talented person who had been brought up to think self-praise was vulgar.

An interval for music.  First, STEAMBOAT BILL and HIGH SOCIETY from the Fifties:

GOIN’ HOME BLUES from 2013:

Aside from its subject’s remarkably modest approach to his own life, JAZZ ME BLUES has two great pleasures.  One is Barber’s unwillingness to stay neatly in the style that had brought him success. Beginning in the Sixties, his band takes on different shadings while not abandoning the music he loves: he brings in electric guitarist John Slaughter, altoist Joe Harriott, organist Brian Auger; he works and records with blues and gospel legends; he plays extended compositions. Again, since Barber speaks about these events with polite restraint, one must estimate the emotional effect of being booed by British traditionalist fans who wanted “their” music to stay the same. Barber is not making changes to woo a larger audience or to stay in the public eye, but because he is genuinely interested in adding other flavorings to a familiar dish. He is a determined seeker, and he grows more intriguing in his quests.

The other pleasure I alluded to at the start, delightful first-hand anecdotes. Readers deprived of their own contact with their heroes always want to know what the great men and women were like, and JAZZ ME BLUES — although never mean-spirited in its quick sketches — is a banquet here. Not only do we hear about Sonny Boy Williamson and Zutty Singleton (the latter saying he is most happy in a band without a piano because pianists all “lose time”) but about Van Morrison, George Harrison (who likes the 1930 BARNACLE BILL THE SAILOR) and colleagues Lennon and McCartney; we read of Howlin’ Wolf saying grace quietly and sweetly before a meal. Trumpeter Ed Allen tells Barber that he always used to learn the songs for Clarence Williams record dates in the taxi on the way to the studio.

And Barber has been in the right place at the right time. When he comes to America, he sits in at Condon’s. After an uneventful beginning, “. . . suddenly the rhythm section started to swing. I looked round and Eddie had picked up his guitar and joined in. From then on, with him there, every tempo was just right, and everything swung. His presence was subtle, but it made the world of difference. I knew what a fine player he could be, as, when the band had appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in 1957. I’d gone along to their late night concert. The thing that sticks in my memory from that night was Eddie taking a half-chorus solo on a tune in the ballad medley. It was just perfect, and with the tuning of his four-string tenor guitar it had a very distinctive sound. It reminded me of Carmen Mastren, who was a true virtuoso.”

JAZZ ME BLUES is an engaging portrait of a continuing life in jazz (with rare photographs, a selective discography, and an index). It is available in North America exclusively through ISD ($34.95 hardcover): ISD, 70 Enterprise Drive, Suite 2, Bristol, CT 00610: orders@isdistribution.com.

May your happiness increase!

LOOK. LISTEN.

Considering the context — James P. Johnson, solo piano, playing his own HARLEM STRUT — the advertising exhortations seem reasonable.

BLACK SWAN

Over a twenty-five year period, James P. was recorded — in the studio, on radio, and in concert — alongside Bessie Smith, Clarence Williams, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Henry “Red” Allen, Sidney Catlett, Pee Wee Russell, Freddie Green, Dicky Wells, Max Kaminsky, Zutty Singleton, Perry Bradford’s Jazz Phools (with Louis, Buster Bailey, Kaiser Marshall), Lavinia Turner, Trixie Smith, Fats Waller, Sadie Jackson, Louis Metcalf, Cootie Williams, Garvin Bushell, Jabbo Smith, Gene Sedric, Johnny Dunn, Ethel Waters, King Oliver, Teddy Bunn, Spencer Williams, Cecil Scott, Roy Smeck, Mezz Mezzrow, Tommy Ladnier, Eddie Dougherty, Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, Pops Foster, Omer Simeon, Ida Cox, Pete Brown, Frank Newton, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Hot Lips Page, J.C. Higginbotham, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, Al Casey, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Eddie Condon, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy Rushing, Vic Dickenson, Vernon Brown, Sidney Bachet, Tommy Dorsey, Baby Dodds, Dave Tough, Johnny Windhurst, George Brunis, Albert Nicholas, Bunk Johnson, George Wettling . . . which sounds as if he recorded with everyone in creation.

Here is his 1923 solo, BLEEDING HEARTED BLUES:

And his 1930 romp, JINGLES:

And the musing 1944 ARKANSAW BLUES:

From the middle of the Twenties, James P. (1894-1955) was comfortably earning money because of royalties on his most famous compositions (consider CHARLESTON, ONE HOUR) but he wasn’t satisfied to be a composer of hit songs.  He wanted to be known and respected as a serious composer of extended works, perhaps the race’s answer to George Gershwin.  He didn’t gain the respect and attention he desired, which hurt him. Both his discography and biography suggest that he was not always in good health — another good reason for our not having even more recorded evidence.

I wonder if James P. was more than the cliche of the popular entertainer yearning for serious acceptance, but a man who knew that he had more to offer than writing thirty-two bar songs and playing piano, solo or in bands.  Did he distance himself from “the music business” or did it ignore him because he would not fit in to one of its tidy categories?

James P.’s pupil Fats Waller died younger, but received more attention because of his ebullient personality: hundreds of recordings, radio broadcasts, film appearances.  Willie “the Lion” Smith outlived them both and was always ready to play, sing, and talk.

I wish James P. had recorded more, had received more attention of the kind his talents deserved. If someone uncovers a James P. trove, I’d like to know about it.

Because this blogpost threatens to slide into the morose, I will offer a recording that has never failed to cheer me up: the duet of James P. and Clarence Williams on HOW COULD I BE BLUE? What a pleasure to hear James P. somewhat awkwardly negotiate the vaudeville dialogue . . . and then to hear his intense rhythmic lead, his melodic inventiveness, in the duet that follows:

May your happiness increase!

MORE ABOUT THAT WONDERFUL PARTY ON FILM (1935): THANKS TO MARK CANTOR

Just yesterday, I stumbled into a delight (thanks to Franz Hoffmann and Tom Saunders) — a YouTube video offering musical selections from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film: music by Clarence Williams, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Hank Duncan, Cecil Scott, Jimmy McLin, and Eunice Wilson.  Here is that posting, with a link to the film.

That is a kind of delicious time-warp experience in itself.  Soon after, my friend, the most eminent / diligent jazz film scholar I know, Mark Cantor, asked me if I’d like to know more — and I not only said YES! but asked if he would mind if I shared his work with you.  Generously, he agreed.  And here it is.

CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS by MARK CANTOR

Lem Hawkins’ Confession featuring Clarence Williams and his Jazz Band

I. Introduction: Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, Lem Hawkins’ Confession, and the Leo Frank Lynching

In Names & Numbers #61, within the general text of the Clarence Williams “Personnelography” (part 4), a pair of Oscar Micheaux feature films are cited as containing appearances by Clarence Williams. In point of fact, however, Williams is present in only one of these films, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (also known as Murder In Harlem). In light of the work that has been done with Williams’s recordings, personnels and solos, it makes sense to share what details are available regarding his sole film appearance. The second film noted in the article, Oscar Micheaux’s Swing, features the orchestra of Leon “Bossman” Gross, with Dolly Armina Jones added as a featured trumpet soloist. This film is a topic worthy of a detailed discussion in itself, although it should be noted here that Clarence Williams does not appears in the film: alto sax Leon Gross is the leader of the band, and the pianist is Arthur Briggs. To eliminate any further misunderstandings, it must be noted that the music track by Clarence Williams used in the SOUNDIE “Sweet Kisses,” which features dance performances by The Mitchell Brothers, Evelyn Keyes and other, with no band on screen, is not a unique recording for the producer, W.F.C. Productions, but rather one of Williams’s Lang-Worth broadcast transcriptions.

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) is often cited as the greatest of early African-American filmmakers. While this is certainly open to discussion — the films of Spencer Williams are often more coherent, and those of William Alexander better made in terms of production values — one cannot argue with the talent and tenacity that Micheaux displayed in getting some forty-plus features produced and distributed between 1921 and 1949. Micheaux saw musical entertainment as an important factor in his films, both because audiences had come to expect cabaret scenes in black cast features, but also because musical performances could extend the length of a feature with relatively little additional cost, or risk of mistakes by less experienced actors and actresses. Lem Hawkins’ Confession contains an extended fifteen minute cabaret sequence in which a great deal of music and dance is seen and heard as the plot continues to develop. The music of Clarence Williams’ band aside, which is discussed in detail below, Lem Hawkins’ Confession is one of Micheaux’s most ambitious projects.

Based on his original novel, The Forged Note (1915), the story was first filmed by Micheaux in 1921 as The Gunsaulus Mystery. On-screen credits also note the story The Stanfield Murder Case as an addition source of the film’s plot. Both the novel, story and film were based, in turn, on the notorious Leo Frank case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of the murder of 13 year old factory worker Mary Phagan. Leo Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison due to what the governor saw as a miscarriage of justice. In August 1915 Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a mob of prominent Atlanta civic leaders. Later evidence suggests that the factory janitor, Jim Conley, actually committed the murder, although that has never been proved. What is known is that a mob, including a former governor of the state, two mayors (one of whom was still in office), three law enforcement officers and a number of other prominent citizens lynched Leo Frank on August 5, 1915. While this became the foundation of the story filmed in 1935 as Lem Hawkins’ Confession, Micheaux altered the story considerably, to the point of eliminating the lynching, in his screen adaptation.

As is sometimes the case with Micheaux films, the narrative is somewhat convoluted and often unclear, made even muddier by the constant use of flashbacks. It is important to note that the film is not a strict retelling of the Leo Frank case — the historical case is used as a very loose “frame” — and that Micheaux added a number of secondary plots; as noted above, Micheaux did not end the film with a lynching. A full and fairly accurate synopsis of the film can be found at the American Film Institute web site (http://www.afi.com). Here we are primarily concerned with the nightclub sequence in which all of the music is performed. The details of the musical content of the film follows a brief description of the film’s production.

II. The Production of the Film

According to on-screen credits, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (along with the three Micheaux features that preceded it) were produced for Oscar Micheaux Pictures by A. Burton Russell. However, this is a nom-de-production of sorts for Alice B. Russell, Micheaux’s second wife. The Russell family would probably not have been able to invest in a project such as this one, and we are still two years away from the time that Sack Enterprises would be become involved in the financing of Micheaux’s films. Where Micheaux got the funding for this film, probably in the neighborhood of $15,000, is unknown. Relatively little is known about the actual production of the film, although further information about the plot, casting of actors and so forth can be found in Patrick McGilligan’s Oscar Micheaux – The Great and Only (Harper Perennial, 2008). The only known advertisement in the press (New York Amsterdam News, May 11, 1935) notes that the “Premiere New York showing” of the feature would be held that week at the Apollo Theater. While it is somewhat unusual to find copyright registrations for black cast films, this feature was indeed registered for copyright with the Library of Congress, along with a handful of other film produced by Oscar Micheaux on August 23, 1935. This informationallows us to estimate a production date as between fall 1934 (so claimed by McGilligan) and spring 1935. Lem Hawkins’ Confession was released in the late summer or early fall of 1935. At some point in time the film was reissued as Murder In Harlem, with the new titled used for release in the South. Other sources suggest that the film was re-released yet again as Brand of Cain, although this has not been verified, and Brand of Cain may actually be an early pre-production title.

While a production location has not been established, Micheaux would have probably worked at a rental stage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, although other facilities were also available in Manhattan. My suspicion is that it would have taken no more than a week, or perhaps 10 days, to shoot the entire film. Micheaux produced, directed and wrote the feature. He also gathered a group of technicians who were quite likely inexperienced in film production, but nevertheless able to help Micheaux turn out a fascinating dramatic piece. With the exception of recording engineers Harry Belock and Charles Nason, none of the men involved in the production appear to have made a film before this feature, and none turns up in the credits of any subsequent film. While none of his cast members appeared regularly in major Hollywood productions, many of were cast fairly often in black cast films of the period. Among the more familiar names are Clarence Brooks, Alec Lovejoy, Laura Bowman, Bee Freeman, Eunice Wilson and “”Slick” Chester.

III. The Music: Clarence Williams and his Band

Although he is not credited on-screen, the band featured in the extended cabaret sequence is led by Clarence Williams. As musical director of the band, and presumably the entire floor show, Williams leads the combo, but does not play piano. Indeed, two well-known Harlem stride pianists sit side-by-side at the piano: to the front, almost certainly sits Hank Duncan, and to the rear, Willie “The Lion” Smith. (Smith’s trademark cigar can be seen in freeze frames of the duo.) Regrettably, there is no band feature per se, and neither Duncan nor Smith can be seen or clearly heard as soloists. The band includes two reeds, a musician who doubles on clarinet and tenor sax, and an alto sax. The first musician, seated to the left, is Cecil Scott. Not only has Howard Rye identified Scott aurally (Storyville Magazine no. 132, page 209), but Scott can be visually identified as well: compare the image of the musician here with Cecil Scott as he appears a decade later in four SOUNDIES produced for Filmcraft Productions. The alto sax who sits to Scott’s right is less easy to identify, but to my eyes it appears that this is Louis Jordan. While Jordan was a member of Chick Webb’s orchestra at this time, he had freelanced with Williams the previous year, and he recorded at least four titles with Williams in March 34; one of the numbers from this session, Williams’ “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants) was repeated in this film. Mr. Rye is very astute in hearing a trumpet on soundtrack, especially because the musician can be seen only briefly on screen. While it seems logical that this might be Ed Allen, from what little can be seen of the musician on screen, it does not look like Allen to me. Howard also hears a string bass on soundtrack, but I can neither hear the bass, nor locate a bass player on screen. The band is rounded out by a guitarist, who I am certain is Jimmy McLin.

Two other performers appear with the band, an unidentified male tap dancer, and vocalist Eunice Wilson. Wilson was a popular singer and dancer who presumably appeared as a club and stage performer in the Chicago and New York City areas. Three notices in Franz Hoffman’s Jazz Advertised cite performances around the time of the film’s production. The Chicago Defender (November 12, 1932) notes that Wilson will appear at a Thanksgiving Party at the Regal Theater, along with Earl Hines and his Orchestra. In June 1934 it is reported that she will be one of many on stage in a National Auditions Benefit Show, also at the Regal Theater, this time backed by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. ` In late 1934 Wilson appeared in a Warner Brothers / Vitaphone one reel short, All Colored Vaudeville Show, filmed in Brooklyn and released the following year. In this short subject Wilson appears with a small rhythm quintet billed as The Five Racketeers, personnel unknown. Her vocal feature is a song by Leonard Reed titled “I Don’t Know Why,” which is followed by a dance to “Tiger Rag.” Subsequent to the production of the Micheaux feature Ms. Wilson sailed to London (May 1936) as a member of the Lew Leslie Blackbirds troupe. More than a decade passes before we hear from Eunice Wilson again, this time in two final film appearances. No Time For Romance (Norwanda Pictures, 1948) stars Wilson, and also features a jazz combo led by Austin McCoy; it is the first black cast film to have been produced in color. Sun Tan Ranch was made the same year, with a similar cast, and is probably also a Norwanda Production.

Detailing the music in the cabaret sequence is difficult for a number of reasons. Save for the vocal and dance features, the music is played in the background, largely behind dialog, sometimes in complete performance, sometimes as a partial take. In addition, Micheaux’s rather rough editing, plus jump cuts resulting from damage to the master print over the years, makes it somewhat unclear where some numbers begin and end. Further uncertainty revolves around the actual recording of the soundtrack. While some black cast musical performances from the period are clearly filmed and recorded simultaneously, I suspect that the soundtrack for this film was prerecorded, with the musicians miming to the playback. While it seems that certain short segments, and even longer performances, might be repeated behind the dialog, I think that it is equally likely that the soundtrack numbers were recorded in a number of takes that could be “recycled” during the sequence.

IV. Film and Music Details

Lem Hawkins’ Confession An A. Burton Russell Production Micheaux Pictures Corporation Oscar Micheaux, producer, director and writer produced ca. late fall 1934 – spring 1935 Clarence Williams, musical director Clarence Williams and his Band: Clarence Williams, vocal and leader; unidentified trumpet; Cecil Scott, clarinet and tenor sax; possibly Louis Jordan, alto sax; probably Hank Duncan, piano; Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Jimmy McLin, guitar Much of the music is heard behind dialog, or in support of vocal or dance performance. Regrettably, there is no feature for the band in the cabaret sequence. (1) Ants In My Pants (Clarence Williams) – Clarence Williams and his Band (Clarence Williams and members of the band, vocal) (2) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (3) unidentified title, based on chord changes to “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with an altered release – unidentified male tap dancer, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (4) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (5) unidentified title, partially based on the chord changes to “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (6) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (7) Harlem Rhythm Dance (Clarence Williams) – Eunice Wilson, vocal and dance, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (8) unidentified title, or perhaps two titles linked closely together, the second of which is definitely a repeat of # 5 above (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band.

V. Evaluation, Conclusions and Post Script

The problems inherent in evaluating black cast films are many, and perhaps more so with this film than with most. Like other orphan films (that is, a film without copyright owners or custodians to care for the material) or other “poverty row productions,” Lem Hawkins’ Confession is plagued by poor picture and sound quality, poor edits and lost footage, and inadequate camera coverage where the music performance is concerned. However, considering Clarence Williams’s important to the music —- as a pianist, bandleader, composer and entrepreneur —- the fact that his band was captured film and is available to us is significant. As Howard Rye point out in Storyville Magazine, the music is wholly consistent with what Williams was recording during this period. Interestingly enough, Film Daily (2/20/40) noted an upcoming film series that was to feature Williams and his music. Sadly, nothing seems to have developed from the proposition that a series of two reel musical shorts was to be produced on the East Coast by Clover Swing Productions. Al Ford was slated to produce, and the series was to feature Eva Taylor, with music by Clarence Williams. The first release titled, which never saw the light of day, was to be Money Mad. After the release of Lem Hawkins’ Confession, save for the use of his compositions in various films, Clarence Williams disappears from our history of jazz on film. Once again, as with so many jazz film appearance, we are left wanting so much more, but thankful for what we do have!  

(My note: if every scholar in any field did work as careful and diligent as this, it would transform what we now call “research.”  Thanks to Mark Cantor!)

May your happiness increase!

LIVE MUSIC IS EVERYTHING WHEN YOU HAVE A PARTY (1935)

murderinharlem1

I’ve always believed this, but now I have even more proof: visible and audible in excerpts from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film, MURDER IN HARLEM (also called LEM HAWKINS’ CONFESSION) which has several scenes at a party, with extraordinary music provided by Clarence Williams and his Orchestra: Cecil Scott, clarinet / tenor saxophone; unknown tenor; Jimmy McLin, guitar; Willie “the Lion” Smith and Hank Duncan, piano; Eunice Wilson, vocal / dance; unknown tap dancer:

I believe that is Clarence himself singing I CAN’T DANCE (I GOT ANTS IN MY PANTS); the tap dancer works out to a themeless DOIN’ THE NEW LOW DOWN; the band returns to I CAN’T DANCE behind the odd “bogeyman” scene; Eunice Wilson shows off her talents to HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE.

Thanks to the eminent and diligent jazz scholar Franz Hoffmann for sharing this with us — it’s rather like discovering Leo Watson on film. (Thanks also to Tom Saunders for commenting on this on Facebook.)

Cecil’s sound is absolutely unmistakable — and the Lion AND Hank Duncan on film in their prime? Astonishing.

Who would have thought that a film with some connection to the 1913 Leo Frank case would have had such delightfully jubilant music?

May your happiness increase!

EVERYBODY LOVES CECIL SCOTT

Photograph by Nat Goodwin

Photograph by Nat Goodwin

Clarinetist and saxophonist Cecil Scott remembered by Art Hodes:

I’ll never forget the day Baby Dodds and I visited Cecil at his home in Harlem (N.Y.C.).  He had what we referred to as “a railroad flat.”  It was a first floor apartment with a long hallway running through the length of the apartment. Cecil took us into the kitchen for a taste, then called in the family. He had 11 children, from the baby to the eldest going on seventeen. I had to ask, “Man, how do you guys operate?” To which he answered, “We eat in shifts and we sleep in tiers.”

One of the warmest people I knew, Cecil Scott.  His smile was contagious. Here’s a guy, operating on one leg (and I won’t go into how he lost the other; the only story I heard was hearsay); always jolly and passing it on. People running in and out of his home; all day. Plus a few cats and a dog. Life all around him. And the spirit of that home, unbelievable.

I had a trio at Jimmy Ryan’s that consisted of Cecil (sax and clarinet) and Baby Dodds (drums) plus Chippie Hill (Bertha) doing the vocals. There was a performer. She’d go out, a’singing, to the end of the room, and start from there.  And by the time she’d hit the bandstand she’d have “gathered her children” in; that whole audience was like in the palm of her hand. No mike. And Cecil could charm her. For when she came to work she could be in a mood; but Scott would look at her, and then say, “Chippie, where did you get that hat; you look beautiful.” And she’d wild, and beam.  And we’d be together. They were beautiful people.

There was a style of clarinet playing we used to call “dirty.” Then there was a way of playing it that would make me think of someone a’callin’ to a chicken. Cecil knew all about that. It was later that I learned that the recording by Clarence Williams that I loved to listen to, especially because of the clarinet playing on it, was something Cecil had done. Yeh! And when my boy Bob was born, Cecil sent his oldest daughter over to my house to take care of things while my wife was hospitalized. “Man, don’t mention money, what do you wanna do? Insult me? I’m your friend.” And then one scene that keeps comin’ back.

I’d gone out to Harlem to do a benefit with Scott and others.  It was a warm affair, and I partook of the goodies. In fact I “over” partook. Now we had to get to our gig (J. Ryan’s). I drove and Cecil sat beside me. It seemed bouncey, beautiful, with lights flashing on; most enjoyable. Even sirens. Eventually I got the message and stopped. I had been “bouncing” up and down on the snow-covered street, and the lights and sirens were the po-lice. I was “in a cast.” The one-legged man had to get out and talk to the gendarmes. He must have sounded convincing because I got off with a lecture. You know I’ll never forget Cecil.

EVERYBODY LOVES CECIL (by H. B. M.)

Photograph by William P. Gottlieb, c. October 1946

Photograph by William P. Gottlieb, c. October 1946

Cecil Scott was sitting on the stool before the piano, his elbow on the keys and his right leg thrust stiffly forward. I sat across from him on a metal framed settee that looked a little like a double seat on a bus. There were several similar chairs in the room, a few music stands, and a tenor sax case on top of the piano. On the walls were several posters and many photographs showing Cecil at various times in his career. His weight varied with each picture, for his hobby is food and he eats until he weighs 210, diets until he weighs 160, and starts all over again. He is about 170 now, going down.

Almost as soon as I had met him, I liked Cecil. He is as warm and companiable as a fireplace. He is an energetic man, too, despite that awkward, unwieldy, artificial right leg. He’d suddenly lunge across the room to show me something, and lunge back again. It was more like an idiosyncrasy than a handicap.

“I suppose you want to know about the children,” he said. “There are thirteen of them, and I’ve got three grandchildren, with one more on the way. They’re from my eldest daughter, the one that deserted me. She’s the only one of my girls to get married.” He seemed to be peeved about that. “I’ll bet that’s her in the hallway right now. She’s in this house most of the day.”

It was the prodigal daughter. She entered the house very spryly.

“Has he been tellin’ you ’bout my children?” she asked. “They call him ‘Big Brother.’ You trying to keep young, Daddy?”

Actually Cecil looked very young, more like a man of thirty than a grandfather, and his wife, who entered then, didn’t look old enough to be a grandparent either. A little girl, about nine years old, was with her. She looked timidly about the room. There was a large white bandage about her ankle. 

“This is Elaine,” said Cecil. “She’s always wearing bandages. This morning it was her head. Now it’s her ankle. You run along, Elaine, and don’t you come back with that bandage ’round your nose.”

“But, let’s see now. About the music. It started when I was eleven years old out in Springfield, Ohio. I wanted to be a surgical doctor; spent all my time in doctors’ offices, and I figured I could make money with music. For two years I took lessons in clarinet and theory three times a week, and never missed a day. Started playin’ home dates with my brother Lloyd’s band. When I was seventeen I got married.”

“Eating is our big problem,” Cecil informed me. “Everybody has to eat in shifts. The little ones eat first shift, the middle ones second shift, and the big ones last shift. The dogs eat every shift.”

The house was full of children now. I could hear them moving everywhere. I met some more of the family, and Cecil coninued. He had come to New York and played with Lloyd’s band at the Saratoga Club. By 1928 he had his own band, and by 1930 was quite famous, playing at the Renaissance Ball Room with a band that had Roy Eldridge, Chu Berry, Dicky Wells, Frankie Newton, and Don Frye. Then he moved to the Savoy and trouble started.

“There was a girl at the Savoy,” said Cecil. “She had a man who was takin’ care of her, but she was makin’ quite a play for me. I didn’t pay her no mind until one night she asked me to a ‘rent party’ that her landlord was giving. It was one of those parties where they sold pigmeat and ‘white mule.’ There was a crap game going on and I started to win. I began buying everybody big pitchers of that white mule. Then her boy friend came in. There was some kind of misunderstanding right away. He slapped her, and she slapped him, and a fight started. Pitchers of while mule started flying through the air. Well, I had a big name, I had a reputation. I had to get out of there. I ran to the front door, but it had six locks I couldn’t open, so I ran to the back door. That had six locks too.

Well, I was a very active man in those days, so I jumped out the window, but it was a three story drop and I broke my ankle real bad.

Gangrene set in and they had to amputate several times. For a while the doctors didn’t have much hope. Chu Berry, my pupil, held the band together for me. Everyone was real nice. But, when I got out I didn’t feel like playin’. I was a very active man, used to jump off the piano with my saxophone and do a split on the floor, and things like that. I didn’t feel right standing with that band, a a cripple. So I disbanded it, although the boys sure didn’t want me to.

Then the neighbors started doing things for me. They brought me soup and stew, and stuff like that, and started sending me their kids to teach. First one, then two, then seven, eight, ten. I soon forgot about playing. For four and a half years I taught twelve to eighteen kids a day, and never had to advertise. At the same time I studied theory with Clarence Hall three times a week and took up weight lifting. I was too busy, and liked it that way.

It wasn’t until Albert Socarras, a flute player with a Latin band, came to see me that I started playing again. He needed a sax player real bad. I didn’t want to go but he and his wife finally persuaded me. I played three days, and they gave me leader’s pay. I’ve been playin’ off and on ever since.

I think that my wife is the real reason for most of my success. When I lost my leg and became sensitive, afraid to face people, she was the one who revived me and gave me confidence again. She’s always encouraged me. We were born in the same town, in the same month, in the same year. We went to the same school together! Why, she’s been with me all my life!”

from SELECTIONS FROM THE GUTTER, edited by Hodes and Chadwick Hansen, pp. 214-16.

May your happiness increase!

ZUTTY and CECIL by NAT GOODWIN

More eBay treasures . . . photographs from the late Forties (I assume) taken by Nat Goodwin.  Here is a study of Zutty Singleton:

Zutty by Nat Goodwin

Drummers will be able to tell us more about Zutty’s equipment, or fashion scholars will be able to date his suit.  I don’t recognize the venue — it doesn’t look like a club, but rather a room.  But what I do notice is that Mister Singleton did not have or did not bring his own drum throne, and is making do with a wooden chair, a flat box (perhaps part of his own percussion luggage?) and a towel to soften it.  However, it must have been uncomfortable as the evening wore on.  Could this have been taken in France, where Zutty worked circa 1952?

Here’s Cecil Scott, energetic reedman on many recordings in the late Twenties and early Thirties (he bubbles up on so many later Clarence Williams sides) — a man fully in touch with his playful self:

CecilScott by Nat Goodwin

For those who don’t know Cecil Scott, I will just say that he was featured on recordings with Billie Holiday, Alex Hill, Frank Newton, Slim Gaillard, Ed Hall, and many others.  He was also the proud father of twelve children and had lost one leg in an accident — a narrative that frankly defies belief.  (I will tell these tales in a future blogpost if there is sufficient interest.)

Remarkable portraits.  I haven’t found out any information about Nat Goodwin; the eBay seller says that the photographs were sold by his widow.  He had good taste in subjects and a good eye.

May your happiness increase.

JON-ERIK KELLSO HONORS HENRY “RED” ALLEN (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, September 22, 2012)

Henry “Red” Allen deserves to be celebrated — a monumentally surprising individualist with deep New Orleans roots but as modern as you could want.  He demonstrated his quirky powers for four decades on record and in performance: in one phrase, harking back to street parades and the great trumpet tradition including his friend and sometime employer Louis Armstrong, then creating dancing angular phrases that came from nowhere, broke in through the side window, tap-danced in the air, and left in a flash.

If the history of jazz had not been compressed by star-makers and taxonomists (Louis to Roy to Dizzy to Miles, no local stops) more people would have noticed that Red’s phrasing and note choices are as deliciously odd as Lester’s or Monk’s — earlier.  With some splendid musicians, you can anticipate what they might play and what directions their solos might take: not Henry Red.  And as a singer. he blends the romance of an African-American Crosby and the wildness of Leo Watson, the good grease of Lips Page — always recognizable as himself.

In the Thirties, Red worked with the Fletcher Henderson band, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and eventually with Louis’ large band — which grew out of the 1929-30 Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the happiest band in jazz.  He recorded with a variety of blues singers, with Billie Holiday and James P. Johnson — but the records that many of us treasure are a series made for jukeboxes between 1933 and 1937.

Their premise was simple: get a small band of expert swing musicians (none of them famous enough to command salaries above scale), pass out current pop tunes, make sure the melody and lyrics were clear and distinct in an opening chorus, and let the fellows swing out.

Red’s cohorts on these recordings were (among others) trombonists Bennie Morton, Dicky Wells, and J.C. Higginbotham; reedmen Coleman Hawkins, Cecil Scott, Chu Berry, Hilton Jefferson, Russell Procope, Tab Smith, Buster Bailey, rhythm players Don Kirkpatrick, Horace Henderson, John Kirby, Bernard Addison, Lawrence Lucie, Walter Johnson, and others.  Many years ago these records were available in complete chronological order on vinyl and CD, but those issues are hard to find.  They rank with the best Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and Mildred Bailey recordings.

But this is not simply a celebration of the hallowed dead.  Rather, like so many musical occasions that delight me, the music presented below merges the past and the present at once.  And if ever a musician could straddle 1933 and 2012 without ripping his suit trousers, it would be our man Jon-Erik Kellso.  He is wise enough to play himself rather than copying Red, but he loves the small band recordings Red and Coleman Hawkins created.  He and a congenial small band — Alex Hoffman, tenor saxophone; Bob Havens, trombone; John Sheridan, piano; Kerry Lewis, string bass; Pete Siers, drums — swung out in tribute to Red, Hawk, and the good music you could hear on a jukebox or at home in 1933-4 . . . at Jazz at Chautauqua 2012.

I’M RHYTHM CRAZY NOW comes from the (Horace) Henderson book, and it lives up to its title in an understated way:

THE DAY YOU CAME ALONG was a voluptuous hit for Bing Crosby at his most romantic — and it became a great showcase for Coleman Hawkins (yet another example of Crosby’s magnificent influence across “schools” and “styles”):

YOU’RE GONNA LOSE YOUR GAL, for better or worse, is purely instrumental here, so we miss out on the profound lines, “acting like a two-time lover / sneaking kisses under cover / you’ll wake up and you’ll discover”:

Fats Waller’s rhetorical urging us to joy, AIN’T CHA GLAD?:

From the very first session Red and Hawk attempted — with tuba and banjo at the orders of the recording executives — SISTER KATE:

I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED, a hot tune, might not have been recorded by Red — but Fats and Louis created memorable recordings of it (in Fats’ case, a film appearance) so it’s welcome here:

May your happiness increase.

KEITH NICHOLS’ BLUE DEVILS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye and Jonathan David Holmes)

Thanks to Flemming Thorbye and Jonathan David Holmes* for the quartet of hot performances that follow — by Keith Nichols’ Blue Devils in a tribute to the territory bands of the late Twenties — going on into the next decade.

Keith had a wonderful complement of swinging sight readers and jazz scholars for this set, as he led from the piano and occasionally burst into song.  They were Bent Persson, Rico Tomasso, Andy Woon, trumpets; Steve Andrews, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Richard Pite, string bass; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Nick Ward, drums.  This band has a wonderfully rich sound and a deep idiomatic approach, turning this hotel ballroom into a simulation of a local dance hall: you can see some dancers off to the right.

We begin with SPRINGFIELD STOMP (Jonathan), recorded by Lloyd Scott’s Bright Boys, a band based in Springfield, Ohio — that at various times had Bill Coleman, Frank Newton, brother Cecil Scott, and Dicky Wells on the stand :

Early Bennie Moten, before Eddie Durham revolutionized Kansas City jazz, can be heard in the THICK LIP STOMP (Jonathan):

SIX OR SEVEN TIMES (Thorbye) comes from a small group out of the Don Redman / McKinney’s Cotton Pickers group; the familiar opening riff surfaces again, at twice the tempo, in ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:

SOME OF THESE DAYS features Steve Andrews, paying tribute to Coleman Hawkins and the recordings he made with the Ramblers in Holland:

*A few lines about Jonathan — he lives in Lincoln, Lancashire, has studied journalism.  At twenty, he’s a new but dedicated collector and restorer of hot and dance band 78s, a man with his own YouTube channel, and is busily teaching himself both the trumpet and the Charleston.

JAZZ LIVES salutes him and encourages you to visit him on YouTube: mojoman4147 and facebook.com

“FOR YOUR PRIVATE COLLECTION”

From the national attic / museum / antique store / informal auction room, eBay:

When bandleaders looked like movie stars!  I’d never seen a picture of Mr. Kahn before, and even if his secretary autographed it, this photograph is a rarity.

In a recent posting, I showed off one of my latest treasured purchases — a Pee Wee Russell 78 of JELLY ROLL and INDIANA on the short-lived Manhattan label.  Here’s the advertising brochure for three 78 sets to be sold at Nick’s — with autographs of the principal players!

Hurry, this is a limited edition.

Mr. Spanier, if you please.

Mr. Mole (born in “the country,” Freeport, Long Island).

Charles Ellsworth Russell, irreplaceable.

Jimmy Rushing didn’t look like he could move around easily (although a film clip with the Basie band shows him to be a very nimble dancer) but this document seems to say otherwise.  Entering Kansas City, Missouri, in 1930 — the beginning of great things for Jimmy and for us.

I never joined a fraternity, so all of this is somewhat mysterious . . . but I would guess that this is St. Louis, circa 1936-7?  I am sure that the college men and women danced to some fine music for $1.75 apiece.

KAISER MARSHALL’S TRUTH

The drummer Kaiser Marshall, who died more than sixty years ago, is not someone oten mentioned, although he was Fletcher Henderson’s drummer when Henderson’s band was the most innovative jazz orchestra.  Ironically, Kaiser is most famous as an aesthetic scapegoat.  Drummers are always asked to tone it down, and Kaiser is jazz history’s most notable example of Someone Who Played Too Loud. 

But first, a picture of Kaiser, happy at his drum set, in a wagon advertising a 1947 concert in Times Square — one of photographer William P. Gottlieb’s many brilliant moments:

kaiser-1947-hodescecilsandygoodwin

Kaiser’s colleagues are pianist Art Hodes, trombonist Sandy Williams, reedman Cecil Scott, and trumpeter Henry Goodwin.  But I offer this picture simply to show Kaiser, a year before his death, having a fine time, beating out the rhythm on the wooden rim of his bass drum, something few drummers indulge in today.

But back to Kaiser Marshall as an intrusive player, someone who got in the way.  One of Louis Armstrong’s most famous recordings, deservedly so, is the slow blues KNOCKIN’ A JUG.  Recorded in 1929, it might be the first all-star session, although it wasn’t issued with any fanfare, and it features what they used to call a “mixed band”: Jack Teagarden on trombone, Eddie Lang on guitar, Joe Sullivan on piano, Happy Cauldwell on tenor sax, Kaiser on drums, Louis on trumpet.  The story is that these musicians had been hanging out and jamming uptown and made their way back to the OKeh studios for an early morning record date.  Presumably Tommy Rockwell saw this gang — inebriated, hungover, elevated from stimulants and the stimulating experience of being up all night — and suggested that they record something. 

They did two sides — the other, I’M GONNA STOMP MR. HENRY LEE, was rejected and no one has heard it.  My guess is that it was riotously wonderful but too good and too undisciplined for the times.

KNOCKIN’ A JUG, though, was issued.  Perhaps as a curiosity, or because Louis’s closing three choruses were as majestic a piece of soulful music as anyone can imagine.  But the recording balance is imbalanced.  Kaiser’s drums are louder than Joe Sullivan’s piano, and they take center stage.  When you hear this recording for the first time, it’s hard to get used to the prominence of the drum set, and you might find yourself listening around Kaiser to hear the soloists.  I have done this in the past, and I was vastly amused to read in Sally-Ann Worsfold’s notes to the JSP box set of early Louis that she compared he sound of Kaiser’s playing on this side to a pair of amplified knitting needles.  A precise — if ungenerous — simile.

 But yesterday I was driving into Manhattan with 1928-31 Louis discs in my CD player, and the chronology led me to KNOCKIN’ A JUG.  Not for the first time, I thought, “Wow! Those drums are loud,” but then fell into a near-reverie, an attempt at a new way of thinking.  I decided, for once, that I would listen to Kaiser’s playing as intently as I could.  Rather than try to avoid it, I would accept it as it came out of the speakers.

Somewhere in his pioneering book Nature Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that everything, observed closely, becomes beautiful.  Emerson never got to hear Kaiser Marshall play, but he might well have reveled in those sounds.  After Lang’s arpeggiated introduction, Kaiser begins to play press rolls on the wooden rim of his snare drum, I assume, rolls broken up with phrase-ending accents and tap-dance patterns.  It is wonderful support and counterpoint at the same time.  Then he shifts to wire brushes to continue behind Teagarden — hardly according to formula, where a drummer might start off quietly on brushes and then go to sticks to build intensity and volume.  Kaiser’s brush sweep is awe-inspiring for its rhythm, its pulse, its inexorability.  “I can keep this up until the end of time,” his sweeping brushes tell us.  And their sound is so hard to describe: part sweeping, padding, slapping — but his time is flexible yet urgent, his momentum invaluable.  For Lang’s solo, Kaiser drops his volume ever so slightly, but continues to end phrases with double-time accents, emphasizing what he’s just heard, saying to Lang, “Yes, I agree with that!”  When Happy Cauldwell takes his turn, Kaiser is the epitome of pulsing steadiness — no accents, just playing very simple yet very intense patterns.  Behind Joe Sullivan, Kaiser is playful, antiphonal, answering, echoing, and shadowing Sullivan’s down-home filigrees. 

These choruses are the portion of the record most troubling to literal-minded listeners.  But if you can, for once, stop feeling sorry for poor overwhelmed Joe Sullivan, who was a tidal wave of a pianist, and just listen to the interplay, new worlds open up.

What a beautiful rocking motion Kaiser creates with those syncopated figures — my swing dancing friends could have a blissful time Lindy Hopping to this.   

Then Louis enters and Kaiser goes back to the simple propulsive stick-pattern with which the record began, although it’s clear that the emotional temperature in the room has risen dramatically.  He doesn’t seek to answer Louis, to accent his phrases, to be anything but deeply supportive.  And, in his own way, his steady pattern is both dramatic and consoling.  “Fly as high as you can, Louis: the band will play chords behind you and I’ll give you the strongest foundation I can!”  The congregation, led by Brother Marshall, says AMEN to Louis in every bar.  And I think that Louis could not have flown so high without Kaiser’s fervent, empathetic support.

That might be LOUD drumming, still.  But it is beautiful jazz playing — earnest, subtle, powerful, and cohesive.  Kaiser Marshall played this way because this WAS his way.  He didn’t have a chameleon-like approach to the music: one style for this group, one style for another, a bagful of synethetic, “learned” poses.  No, this was the way he sounded.  And it was obviously satisfying to the other musicians, as it had been to his colleagues in the Henderson band and the other groups he elevated.  He was himself.  He knew his essential identity, and he didn’t attempt to change it.  

That seems to me a very beautiful thing to say about anyone — jazz drummers or not — that we understand ourselves and stay true to the truths within us by embodying them. 

Find a copy of KNOCKIN’ A JUG and play it again, sweeping your mind clean of preconceptions.  It enters our ears as a great dramatic statement.  A group of artists having a good time, showing their essential selves, merging blissfully in ecstatic harmony at the end.  And Kaiser Marshall is someone I will carry in my mind these days whenever I feel pressured, quietly or otherwise, to become someone I am not.  Pure Emerson, with press rolls as well.

THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the remarkable jazz trumpeter Frank Newton in the last few weeks, even before having the opportunity to repost this picture of him (originally on JazzWax) — taken in Boston, in the late Forties, with George Wein and Joe Palermino. 

Jazz is full of players who say something to us across the years, their instrumental voices resounding through the murk and scrape of old records.  Some players seem to have led full artistic lives: Hawkins, Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bob Wilber come to mind at the head of a long list.  Others, equally worthy, have had shorter lives or thwarted careers.   Bix, Bird, Brownie, to alliterate, among a hundred others.  And all these lives raise the unanswerable question of whether anyone ever entirely fulfills him or herself.  Or do we do exactly what we were meant to do, no matter how long our lifespan?  Call it Nurture / Nature, free will, what you will.     

But today I choose Frank Newton as someone I wish had more time in the sun.  His recorded legacy seems both singular and truncated.     

Frank Newton (who disliked the “Frankie” on record labels) was born in 1906 in Virginia.  He died in 1954, and made his last records in 1946.  A selection of the recorded evidence fills two compact discs issued on Jasmine, THE STORY OF A FORGOTTEN JAZZ TRUMPETER.    His Collected Works might run to four or five hours — a brief legacy, and there are only a few examples I know where an extended Newton solo was captured for posterity.  However, he made every note count. 

In and out of the recording sudios, he traveled in fast company: the pianists include Willie “the Lion” Smith, James P. Johnson, Teddy Wilson, Sonny White, Mary Lou Williams, Buck Washington, Meade Lux Lewis, Kenny Kersey, Billy Kyle, Don Frye, Albert Ammons, Joe Bushkin, Joe Sullivan, Sonny White, and Johnny Guarneri.  Oh, yes — and Art Tatum.  Singers?  How about Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Maxine Sullivan, and Ella Fitzgerald. 

Although Newton first went into the studio with Cecil Scott’s Bright Boys in 1929 for Victor, the brilliant trumpeter Bill Coleman and trombonist Dicky Wells blaze most notably on those sessions. 

It isn’t until 1933 that we truly hear Newton on record.  This interlude, lasting less than a minute, takes place in the middle of Bessie Smith’s “Gimme A Pigfoot,” one of four vaudeville-oriented songs she recorded at her last session, one organized by John Hammond, someone who re-emerges in Newton’s story.  It was a magnificent all-star band: Jack Teagarden, Chu Berry, Benny Goodman (for a moment), Buck Washington, guitarist Bobby Johnson, Billy Taylor on bass.  Hammond wanted Sidney Catlett on drums, but Bessie refused: “No drums.  I set the tempo.”  For all the rent-party trappings of the song, “Pigfoot” is thin material, requiring a singer of Bessie’s majesty to make it convincing.   

What one first notices about Newton’s solo is his subversive approach, his unusual tone and attack.  In 1933, the jazz world was rightly under the spell of Louis, which led to understandable extroversion.  Project.  Hit those high notes loud.  Sing out.  If you were accompanying a pop or blues singer, you could stay in the middle register, be part of the background, but aside from such notable exceptions as Joe Smith, Bubber Miley, trumpets were in the main assertive, brassy.  Dick Sudhalter thought Newton’s style was the result of technical limitations but I disagree; perhaps Newton was, like Tricky Sam Nanton, painting with sounds. 

Before Newton solos on “Pigfoot,” the record has been undeniably Bessie’s, although with murmurings from the other horns and a good deal of Washington’s spattering Hines punctuations.  But when Newton enters, it is difficult to remember that anyone else has had the spotlight.  Rather than boldly announce his presence with an upwards figure, perhaps a dazzling break, he sidles in, sliding down the scale like a man pretending to be drunk, whispering something we can’t quite figure out, drawling his notes with a great deal of color and amusement, lingering over them, not in a hurry at all.  His mid-chorus break is a whimsical merry-go-round up and down figure he particularly liked.  It’s almost as if he is teasing us, peeking at us from behind his mask, daring us to understand what he is up to.  The solo is the brief unforgettable speech of a great character actor, Franklin Pangborn or Edward Everett Horton, scored for jazz trumpet.  Another brassman would have offered heroic ascents, glowing upwards arpeggios; Newton appears to wander down a rock-choked slope, watching his footing.  It’s a brilliant gambit: no one could equal Bessie in scope, in power (both expressed and restrained) so Newton hides and reveals, understates.  And his many tones!  Clouded, muffled, shining for a brief moment and then turning murky, needling, wheedling, guttural, vocal and personal.  Considered in retrospect, this solo has a naughty schoolyard insouciance.  Given his turn in the spotlight, Newton pretends to thumb his nose at us.  Bessie has no trouble taking back the spotlight when she returns, but she wasn’t about to be upstaged by some trumpet-playing boy.     

Could any trumpet player, jazz or otherwise, do more than approximate what Newton plays here?  Visit http://www.redhotjazz.com/songs/bessie/gimmieapigfoot.ram to hear a fair copy of this recording.  (I don’t find that the link works: you may have to go to the Red Hot Jazz website and have the perverse pleasure of using “Pigfoot” as a search term.) 

The man who could play such a solo should have been recognized and applauded, although his talent was undeniably subtle.  (When you consider that Newton’s place in the John Kirby Sextet was taken by the explosively dramatic Charlie Shavers, Newton’s singularity becomes even clearer.)  His peers wanted him on record sessions, and he did record a good deal in the Thirties, several times under his own name.  But after 1939, his recording career ebbed and died. 

Nat Hentoff has written eloquently of Newton, whom he knew in Boston, and the man who comes through is proud, thoughtful, definite in his opinions, politically sensitive, infuriated by racism and by those who wanted to limit his freedoms.  Many jazz musicians are so in love with the music that they ignore everything else, as if playing is their whole life.  Newton seems to have felt that there was a world beyond the gig, the record studio, the next chorus.  And he was outspoken.  That might lead us back to John Hammond. 

Hammond did a great deal for jazz, as he himself told us.  But his self-portrait as the hot Messiah is not the whole story.  Commendably, he believed in his own taste, but he required a high-calorie diet of new enthusiasms to thrive.  Hammond’s favorite last week got fired to make way for his newest discovery.  Early on Hammond admired Newton, and many of Newton’s Thirties sessions had Hammond behind them.  Even if Hammond had nothing to do with a particular record, appearing on one major label made a competing label take notice.  But after 1939, Newton never worked for a mainstream record company again, and the records he made in 1944-1946 were done for small independent labels: Savoy (run by the dangerously disreputable Herman Lubinsky) and Asch (the beloved child of the far-left Moses Asch).  The wartime recording ban had something to do with this hiatus, but I doubt that it is the sole factor: musicians recorded regularly before the ban.  Were I a novelist or playwright, I would invent a scene where Newton rejects Hammond’s controlling patronage . . .  and falls from favor, never to return.  I admit this is speculation.  Perhaps it was simply that Newton chose to play as he felt rather than record what someone else thought he should.  A recording studio is often the last place where it is possible to express oneself freely and fully.  And I recall a drawing in a small jazz periodical from the late Forties, perhaps Art Hodes’ JAZZ RECORD, of Newton in the basement of an apartment building where he had taken a job as janitor so that he could read, paint, and perhaps play his trumpet in peace.  

I think of Django Reinhardt saying, a few weeks before he died, “The guitar bores me.”  Did Newton grow tired of his instrument, of the expectations of listeners, record producers, and club-owners?  On the rare recording we have of his speaking voice — a brief bit of a Hentoff interview — Newton speaks with sardonic humor about working in a Boston club where the owner’s taste ran to waltzes and “White Christmas,” but using such constraints to his advantage: every time he would play one of the owner’s sentimental favorites, he would be rewarded with a “nice thick steak.”  A grown man having to perform to be fed is not a pleasant sight, even though it is a regular event in jazz clubs.     

In addition, John Chilton’s biographical sketch of Newton mentions long stints of illness.  What opportunities Newton may have missed we cannot know, although he did leave Teddy HIll’s band before its members went to France.  It pleases me to imagine him recording with Django Reinhardt and Dicky Wells for the Swing label, settling in Europe to escape the racism in his homeland.  In addition, Newton lost everything in a 1948 house fire.  And I have read that he became more interested in painting than in jazz.  Do any of his paintings survive?  

Someone who could have told us a great deal about Newton in his last decade is himself dead — Ruby Braff, who heard him in Boston, admired him greatly and told Jon-Erik Kellso so.  And on “Russian Lullaby,” by Mary Lou WIlliams and her Chosen Five (Asch, reissued on vinyl on Folkway), where the front line is bliss: Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Ed Hall, Newton’s solo sounds for all the world like later Ruby — this, in 1944. 

In her notes to the Jasmine reissue, Sally-Ann Worsford writes that a “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” Newton “made his final appearance at New York’s Stuyvesant Casino in the early 1950s.”  That large hall, peopled by loudly enthusiastic college students shouting for The Saints, would not have been his metier.  It is tempting, perhaps easy, to see Newton as a victim.  But “sick, disenchanted, dispirited” is never the sound we hear, even on his most mournful blues. 

The name Jerry Newman must be added here — and a live 1941 recording that allows us to hear the Newton who astonished other players, on “Lady Be Good” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” in duet with Art Tatum (and the well-meaning but extraneous bassist Ebenezer Paul), uptown in Harlem, after hours, blessedly available on a HighNote CD under Tatum’s name, GOD IS IN THE HOUSE.  

Jerry Newman was then a jazz-loving Columbia University student with had a portable disc-cutting recording machine.  It must have been heavy and cumbersome, but Newman took his machine uptown and found that the musicians who came to jam (among them Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, Thelonious Monk, Joe Guy, Harry Edison, Kenny Clarke, Tiny Grimes, Dick Wilson, Helen Humes) didn’t mind a White college kid making records of their impromptu performances: in fact, they liked to hear the discs of what they had played.  (Newman, later on, issued some of this material on his own Esoteric label.  Sadly, he committed suicide.)  Newman caught Tatum after hours, relaxing, singing the blues — and jousting with Newton.  Too much happens on these recordings to write down, but undulating currents of invention, intelligence, play, and power animate every chorus.

On “Lady Be Good,” Newton isn’t in awe of Tatum and leaps in before the first chorus is through, his sound controlled by his mute but recognizable nonetheless.  Newton’s first chorus is straightforward, embellished melody with some small harmonic additions, as Tatum is cheerfully bending and testing the chords beneath him.  It feels as if Newton is playing obbligato to an extravagantly self-indulgent piano solo . . . . until the end of the second duet chorus, where Newton seems to parody Tatum’s extended chords: “You want to play that way?  I’ll show you!”  And the performance grows wilder: after the two men mimic one another in close-to-the-ground riffing, Newton lets loose a Dicky Wells-inspired whoop.  Another, even more audacious Tatum solo chorus follows, leading into spattering runs and crashing chords.  In the out- chorus, Tatum apparently does his best to distract or unsettle Newton, who will not be moved or shaken off.  “Sweet Georgia Brown” follows much the same pattern: Tatum wowing the audience, Newton biding his time, playing softly, even conservatively.  It’s not hard to imagine him standing by the piano, watching, letting Tatum have his say for three solo choruses that get more heroic as they proceed.  When Newton returns, his phrases are climbing, calm, measured — but that calm is only apparent, as he selects from one approach and another, testing them out, taking his time, moving in and outside the chords.  As the duet continues, it becomes clear that as forcefully as Tatum is attempting to direct the music, Newton is in charge.  It isn’t combat: who, after all, dominated Tatum?  But I hear Newton grow from accompanist to colleague to leader.  It’s testimony to his persuasive, quiet mastery, his absolute sense of his own rightness of direction (as when he plays a Tatum-pattern before Tatum gets to it).  At the end, Newton hasn’t “won” by outplaying Tatum in brilliance or volume, speed or technique — but he has asserted himself memorably.   

Taken together, these two perfomances add up to twelve minutes.  Perhaps hardly enough time to count for a man’s achievement among the smoke, the clinking glasses, the crowd.  But we marvel at them.  We celebrate Newton, we mourn his loss.

Postscript: in his autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, Wein writes about Newton; Hentoff returns to Newton as a figure crucial in his own development in BOSTON BOY and a number of other places.  And then there’s HUNGRY BLUES, Benjamin T. Greenberg’s blog (www.hungryblues.net).  His father, Paul Greenberg, knew Newton in the Forties and wrote several brief essays about him — perhaps the best close-ups we have of the man.  In Don Peterson’s collection of his father Charles’s resoundingly fine jazz photography, SWING ERA NEW YORK, there’s a picture of Newton, Mezz Mezzrow, and George Wettling at a 1937 jam session.  I will have much more to write about Peterson’s photography in a future posting.

LANCELOT ET SES CHEVALIERS

Some weeks ago, I wrote about discovering the Parisian stride wizard Olivier Lancelot. Today, I found an enticing flat package in my mailbox: a CD by Oliver with the clarinetist / altoist Didier Desbois and the washboardist / singer* Stephan Seva, recorded at a concert in 1999.

The trio plays Grandpa’s Spells / Liza / Love Me / Harlem Joys / I Believe In Miracles / Original Dixieland One-Step / Breeze* / Lulu’s Back in Town / Buddy’s Habits / Le Lac des Cygnes [Swan Lake] / High Society / Honeysuckle Rose.

The word “washboard” makes some listeners justifiably anxious, for many players of that instrument are loud, intrusive, unsteady. But Seva is a delicate player, not given to clangorous banging, and his time is just right. In fact, his solo work reminds me of late-period Zutty Singleton. Seva’s tappings and rattlings have a thoughtful sound, as if he was experimenting with his paraphernalia to see what would come out of it.

Desbois is an unusual clarinet player, and his singularity is to be praised. Most clarinetists aim for a full, rounded woody tone — the better to rip off Benny Goodman phrases! — or they growl and sputter, hoping to emulate PeeWee Russell. Desbois has a focused, penetrating, reedy tone, reminiscent of black pre-Goodman clarinetists (Cecil Scott, Benny Carter, Prince Robinson). His approach may take you by surprise when you first hear it, but it is a truly pleasant surprise. He sounds like Pan, if Pan swung this hard, which I doubt. He is also an extraordinary Hodges (and Charlie Holmes) alto virtuoso: his tone on “I Believe In Miracles” is rich but never syrupy, as he glides from note to note.

And then there’s the noble Lancelot himself, someone I have already celebrated as a solo player. But many solo players, in and out of stride, can’t merge their rhythms with other players. Not so Olivier, who proves himself a fine accompanist — in the groove — as Thirties players used to say. And you might, at first, admire his instrumental facility, his sheer mastery of stride conventions, fluidly played and creatively reimagined. But soon you stop saying, “There’s a James P. passage,” or “Hear how Olivier executes that familiar Fats run,” and you admire the serious joy he brings to his own version of the style.

As a group, the trio has its own witty fun — the startling key changes in “Original Dixieland One-Step,” Seva’s heartfelt vocalizing on “Breeze,” and the mournful ending to “Le Lac de Cygnes” — these and other touches give this trio an identity: it’s no one’s repertory band.

Visit Olivier’s website (www.lancelotmusic.com) for information on how to get the CD — and the generous bonus of unissued tracks from this concert. Here they are, in a Parisian club, “Le Petit Opportun,” in 2000.