This little portion of joy has always been slightly mysterious. And it remains so. When I Googled “Eddie Condon” and “Central Park” and my site came up first, I knew the possibilities of getting new information were slim. The late Bob Hilbert issued LADY BE GOOD on his own Pumpkin Records compilation devoted to James P. Johnson, but he mis-identified the drummer as Grauso rather than the quite recognizable Sidney Catlett.
My research team turned up nothing relevant to this event in contemporary newspapers: perhaps it was that in summer 1945, an outdoor concert by these luminaries was not a big news story . . . make of that what you will. Students of history will note that there were other events competing for our attention in those months.
But still. What were Eddie and friends — the people who were ordinarily doing Blue Network concert broadcasts from Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall — doing in Central Park in front of what sounds like a good-sized audience? Obviously baritone saxophonist Ernie Caceres, a Condon mainstay, had another gig somewhere — thus we have the miraculous coupling of Harry Carney, James P. Johnson, and Sidney Catlett . . . which did not get captured on record ever again. The unidentified string bassist on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME might be Bob Casey — hear his steady tread.
Here are the facts as I know them, with details from collectors Roy Bower and John L. Fell as well as Bob Hilbert:
Central Park, New York mid-1945, dir. Eddie Condon —
LADY BE GOOD: Bobby Hackett, cornet or trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Harry Carney, baritone saxophone; Joe Dixon, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums; possibly Bob Haggart, string bass. (This performance was issued on a Johnson compilation with the drums credited to Joe Grauso: our ears tell us it is Big Sid.)
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME: Buck Clayton, trumpet; unid. piano, string bass, Joe Grauso, drums.
IF I HAD YOU: Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Felix Giobbe, string bass, drums //
I would love to know more about this, and would love to hear more from this date . . . but so far, that’s all there is. Savor it along with me.
If anyone has a) more specific information or perhaps b) a stack of nicely preserved 16″ transcription discs from this concert, I’d be more than interested. The phrase “A king’s ransom!” comes to mind.
Even if Frederick Law Olmsted didn’t have hot music in mind when he designed the park, I will guess that the sounds — and the people — would please him. As they do us.
This just in (December 1, 2021): I just found another tape source that identifies the string bassist on IF I HAD YOU as Felix Giobbe, and the original broadcast coming from New York City’s municipal radio station, WNYC.
May your happiness increase!