Tag Archives: Charlie Barnet

THE JAZZ ADVENTURES OF TIMME ROSENKRANTZ

Imagine if Huckleberry Finn in all his naivete, enthusiasm, and observation had landed in Harlem in 1934 and sought out the best jazz and its players . . .

If an adult Huck with a Danish accent had written his memoirs — with space for everyone from Erroll Garner to Billie Holiday, from Chick Webb to Art Tatum — that book would be the late Timme Rosenkrantz’s HARLEM JAZZ ADVENTURES: A EUROPEAN BARON’S MEMOIR 1934-1969 (adapted and edited by Fradley Hamilton Garner, published this year by Scarecrow Press).

You can find out more and order the book  here, and watch a brief video-introduction by Fradley Garner.

Born in 1911, Timme (a Baron from a noble Danish family) lost his heart to hot jazz early on and came to New York City in 1934.  Disregarding those who said he would be murdered in Harlem, he took the A train uptown — years before taking that train became a Swing commonplace.

His eager good nature and enthusiasm endeared him to the jazz masters immediately, and they insisted on showing him where the best music was to be found at 5 or 6 in the morning, accompanied by large quantities of dubious liquor and fine fried chicken.  Perhaps it was also the novelty of a “white boy” so delighted and so knowledgeable about hot jazz, years before the jitterbugs swarmed, that caused Benny Carter and John Hammond, among many others, to take him as one of their own.

Timme was very good-hearted but a terrible businessman, and all of his doomed or precarious ventures had to do with jazz — jazz magazines that ran for an issue, a Harlem record shop, jam sessions in clubs and concert halls, recording sessions — were for the betterment of the art rather than for his own needs.

He may be best known for his 1945 Town Hall concert and two official recording sessions (one in 1938 for Victor, as “Timme Rosenkrantz and his Barrelhouse Barons,” with Rex Stewart, Billy Hicks, Tyree Glenn, Don Byas, Russell Procope, Rudy Williams, Billy Kyle, Brick Fleagle, Walter Page, Jo Jones, and Timme’s life partner, singer Inez Cavanagh), the other in 1945 for Continental, with Red Norvo, Charlie Ventura, Johnny Bothwick, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Jimmy Jones, John Levy, Specs Powell.

Some will know him for his short essays on Chick Webb (which ran as the liner notes for the Columbia vinyl collection of Webb recordings) and Coleman Hawkins, or for the recently published collection of his photographs, IS THIS TO BE MY SOUVENIR?

And there is a wonderful — still untapped — treasure chest of private recordings Timme made at his apartment.  Anthony Barnett has arranged for the Stuff Smith material to be released on his AB Fable label, and some of the Erroll Garner material has made its way to issue . . . but hours of rare 1944-5 jazz have yet to be heard by the public.

Timme’s memoirs give an accurate picture of what was endearing in the man: his enthusiasm for the music, his love of eccentrics (he was one himself), his amused comic view of the world.  This is not a book of grievances and grudges; reading it is like spending time with a jovial elder who fixes you a drink and launches into yet another hilarious tale of men and women long gone — all first-hand, told with a fan’s ardor.

Some of the stories are of the famous — Coleman Hawkins’ prowess and pride, his one Danish phrase; Timme’s attempt to defend Art Tatum from an audience of jazz-deaf gangsters; the generosities of Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa, and Duke Ellington, the beauty of Billie Holiday; the power of Mezz Mezzrow’s marijuana; the appeal of the new duo of Slim and Slam.

But since Timme didn’t just meet his heroes in clubs, there are more intimate glimpses: Fats Waller in an overflowing bathtub, trombonist / arranger Harry “Father” White, in alcoholic delirium, arranging for a rehearsal of his new band — its members all dead, including Chick Webb, Jimmy Harrison, and Bix, Timme’s being measured for a shirt by Lil Armstrong, and more.

Billie Holiday invites Timme to a party; Louis explains to him that his favorite record is Berigan’s I CAN’T GET STARTED; Bud Powell tells Timme what time it is; Duke Ellington warns about “fresh-air poisoning.”

Even better than the previously unseen photographs and the careful documentation by Donald Clarke and Timme’s friend, jazz scholar Dan Morgenstern, even more enticing than the lengthy discography of issued and unissued recordings, are the stories of people we know little of.

Michigan cornetist Jake Vandermeulen, the forever-thirsty Fud Livingston, little-known guitarist Zeb Julian, the inexplicable demi-deity Leo Watson, the lovely Sally Gooding, suitcase-percussionist Josh Billings, urbane Adrian Rollini.  And they come in clusters: at Rollini’s own club, we encounter Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Charlie Barnet . . .

Timme gives us an insider’s view of Harlem night life and early morning revels, of the numbers racket, of running a record store uptown — the characters and details.  The book is the very opposite of analytic “jazz literature” in its warm embrace of the scene, the musicians, and the reader.

It is irresistible reading for jazz fans who wish, like Timme, to have been behind the scenes.  He was there, and his stories sparkle with life.  I know that jazz fans have been waiting a long time to read these pages, and I would have expected nothing less from the man Fats Waller dubbed “Honeysuckle Rosenkrantz.”

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A JOHNNY DODDS SIGHTING

It’s been almost seventy years since anyone could hope to glimpse Johnny Dodds in the flesh . . . so this will have to do.  

The Beloved and I were seriously downtown in New York City a few weeks ago, on our way to a presentation.  She spotted a little antique store — “A Repeat Performance,” 156 First Avenue (212. 529.0832) and we walked in.  It’s a long narrow shop, crammed with more than the eye can take in — but all of it neatly arranged, including vintage clothing, musical instruments, typewriters, books.  My eye was caught and held immediately by an elementary-school style phonograph near the entrance.  (I find phonographs captivating, having spent so much of my life in front of them, and the equation is not complicated.  Phonograph = Music = Pleasure.)  

But what really drew me was the 78 on the turntable.  It was a Bluebird 78, which might have resulted in something less than enthralling: Charlie Barnet or Freddy Martin.  But not this time.  I stood still, picked it up, admired its shiny surface, and asked the proprietor, as casually as I could, “How much do you want for this?”  “Five dollars,” she said, perhaps seeing something in my eye that said she had a customer’s interest in something that clearly was worth more than fifty cents.  “Done,” I said, paid her, and we went on our way — because otherwise I would have made us seriously late.

I’ve heard this music before on various vinyl issues, but never seen it on a shiny Bluebird 78 reissue, I presume ten or so years after it was first recorded.  All hail Johnny Dodds! 

We haven’t found our way back to that shop yet, but I wonder what other treasures are there.  Where there’s one jazz record, usually there are more . . . hiding.

COUNT BASIE RECOMMENDS (April 11, 1947)

This clipping comes from SONG HITS magazine — and thanks to “bunky’s pickle” (no kidding) on Flickr for making it available to us.  I’m amused by Basie’s apparent musical conservatism in 1947, but he was a gentle man who didn’t want to leave any one of his friends and peers off the list.

Do YOU have these records in your library?

Do YOU have these records in your library?

WKCR-FM, www.wkcr.org, 212-851-2699

microphoneI don’t like pledge drives on public radio or public television.  More often than not, I have reacted to the extended earnest pleas for financial support by turning off the flow of words.  When I returned to New York this morning and heard that WKCR-FM was asking its listeners for financial support, my initial response was a muffled groan.  But two factors changed my thinking.  One is that the station (Columbia University’s jazz station, on the air steadily since October 1941) was broadcasting Benny Goodman’s music around the clock until June 1 — in honor of BG’s hundredth birthday.  And while I was listening to the flow of familiar BG sides from 1939, I heard a few Helen Forrest vocals I hadn’t heard before.

And — more to the point — the Beloved and I have spent the last week-plus in Utah.  Utah is extraordinarily beautiful, even oppressively and overwhelmingly so — but we couldn’t find any good music on the radio.  Seventies rock and religious music in profusion, but no Charlie Christian, Charlie Parker, Charlie Barnet, or Charlie Green.  Even when a station such as WKCR is broadcasting music that isn’t to my taste, it seems a cultural oasis in the American landscape.

I also remember WRVR-FM and Ed Beach — a glorious aesthetic and educational experience that vanished one day because someone wanted that particular frequency for a station that made more money.

So I called 212-851-2699 and made a contribution.  And I encourage blog-readers to do the same.  Even if you are out of the New York metropolitan area, you can access the station online at http://www.wkcr.org.  And if you did so, you’d hear Benny’s 1941 band with Sid Catlett, Cootie Williams, Lou McGarity, Mel Powell . . . music worth supporting.  Please do!

BEN’S AUTOGRAPH BOOK

Browsing idly through Ebay (or is it eBay?), I entered the search term “jazz autographs” to see what would emerge.  Of course a number of the items for sale were autographs of players for the Utah Jazz, but this one was much more relevant, even though I have no plans to start bidding for it — the suggested price is just under two thousand dollars.

The late Staff Sergeant Benson (“Ben”) Hardy was a jazz fan who carried his copy of Charles Delaunay’s NEW HOT DISCOGRAPHY with him in the late 1940s and got many musicians to sign the pages on which their records were listed.  My eye, of course, was drawn to the page below, signed in 1948:

Catlett autographSomething special and rare, I would suggest.  If you’re interested in seeing the other signatures (including Buddy Rich, Charlie Barnet, Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, Louis, Velma Middleton, Tommy Dorsey and other luminaries), look for “15- RARE-Vintage-BIG BAND-AUTOGRAPHS-Jazz Legensa-SIGNED.”  My man Agustin Perez Gasco helped me to find the working link, which is http://tinyurl.com/ofkfdp

Knowing that items tend to vanish from eBay, I would do it shortly — even if your finances are rather like mine.