Tag Archives: Charlie Davis

“THERE’S SOME KIND OF MAGIC GOING ON”: “COLLEGIATE,” by THE ORIGINAL CORNELL SYNCOPATORS (Rivermont Records, 2021)

Words later. First, this magical video:

I’ve admired Colin Hancock since 2017, when I heard the first disc by the Original Cornell Syncopators — a group of wonderfully gifted college students who were majoring in everything except music — who romped through Twenties tunes with enthusiasm, vigor, and feeling. They are my living answer to “Jazz is dead.” “Young people only want to play Charlie Parker solos.” “No one under seventy really knows how to play Hot,” and other widely-circulated falsehoods.

I knew that Colin and “the Syncs,” as those in the know, call them, had recorded a new CD for Rivermont Records, its repertoire focused on music composed, played, recorded by Twenties ensembles with connections to college life. From what I know of Colin and a number of his colleagues, I expected that the results would be well-researched and historically accurate, and that I would hear music new to me, played idiomatically. I knew that the results would also be fun, spirited, enthusiastic: playful rather than white-gloves dry reverence. I knew the band would be mostly Youngbloods (with the exception of guest pianist Ed Clute and banjo-guitar master Robbert VanRenesse) that they would be ethnically diverse, with women as well as men sharing the limelight as instrumentalists as well as singers.

Yesterday I had errands to do, so I brought the disc with me to play in my car — my mobile studio — and I was astonished by how compelling it was, how fine — well beyond my already high expectations. I know it’s an oxymoron, but the words “ferocious polish” kept coming to my mind as I listened, and if you’d seen me at a red light, you’d wonder why that driver was grinning and nodding his head in time. I hadn’t read the notes (a forty-page booklet, with contributions by Julio Schwarz-Andrade, Colin, Hannah Krall, Andy Senior, Bryan Wright) and had only a vague idea of the repertoire, so in some ways I was the ideal listener, ready to hear the music without the historical apparatus and the assumptions it would necessarily impose.

I will write here what another reviewer would save as the closing “pull quote”: if you take any pleasure in the music that was American pop — not just hot jazz — before the Second World War, you will delight in COLLEGIATE.

You can hear selections from the recording, purchase a CD or download the music here. There are tastes from COLLEGIATE, MAPLE LEAF RAG, CONGAINE, ORIGINAL DIXIELAND ONE-STEP, CATARACT RAG BLUES, SAN, PERUNA, EVERY EVENING, SICK O’LICKS, IF I’M WITHOUT YOU — songs whose names will conjure up Twenties joys, Earl Hines, Jimmie Noone, Scott Joplin, and the ODJB . . but other songs and performances have connections to Ted Weems, Hal Kemp, Curtis Hitch, the Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band, Jimmie Lunceford, the Cornell Collegians, Zach Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, Charlie Davis, Stu Pletcher and Carl Webster’s Yale Collegians.

What’s so good about it? The selections are beautifully played — with joy and spirit — and expansively recorded. When the whole ensemble gets going (and do they ever!) I thought I was listening to what the Paul Whiteman Orchestra must have sounded like in its heroic orchestral glory: the band and the recording have expansive life. And the solos are lyrical as well as hot, fully “in the idiom.” A good deal of this music has its roots in the Middle West rather than the South . . . so even though it may strike people who revere Louis as I do as heresy, the disc is delightful living proof that other, convincing, kinds of hot improvised music were being played and sung that owed little to Armstrongiana except for ingenuity and rhythmic enthusiasm.

I think of it as a good-natured rebuke to another stereotype, that “collegiate jazz” of the Twenties was primarily groups of young men jamming on pop tunes and originals of the day — I think of Squirrel Ashcraft and his friends, and it’s true that this CD has a goodly share of small-band hot . . . but that oversimplification is rather like saying that the Twenties = flappers, flivvers, and raccoon coats. The research that Colin and others have done results in a presentation that is imaginative and expansive: the twenty performances here are a kind of aesthetic kaleidoscope, all of it coming from similar syncopated roots but with delightfully varied results. No cliches.

And maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, but the music produced by college students and graduates a hundred years later has a kind of spiritual authenticity. There is a good deal of thin, fragile “authenticity” out there among people attempting to play “vintage” music: this recording is real, both grounded and soaring.

The ensembles are wonderfully cohesive: that the players aren’t full-time musicians is something amazing. And there are vocal trios. I want nothing more. Everyone here is magna cum laude. And there was, as trumpeter-vocalist Lior Kreindler says in the video, marveling, “magic going on.”

May your happiness increase!

“MR. AND MRS. IS THE NAME” (FOR ANA and MIKE)

Photograph by Rosibell Adolfo

That’s Ana. L. Quintana and Mike Davis, who are getting married in Puerto Rico this weekend.  Lovely people, they are — I speak from experience.

So, even though it’s too fast to use for a trot up or down the aisle, I offer the appropriate music — created on the spot at Fraunces Tavern (July 25 of this year) by Mike, Craig Ventresco (guitar), Rob Adkins (string bass) — a 1931 love song, LITTLE GIRL, by Francis Henry and Madeline Hyde:

Here’s the contemporary sheet music:

LITTLE GIRL cover

And here, since Mike was too occupied to sing, is a recording from the same year by “Whispering” Jack Smith, where he offers two verses as well as the chorus:

In case you don’t know the other song I reference in this post, enjoy this, sung by Dick Powell, from FLIRTATION WALK (1934), where the love interest is Ruby Keeler.  The music and lyrics are by Mort Dixon and Allie Wrubel.  This recording features some surprising Calloway-influenced scat from Powell, who had begun his career as a hot banjo player with Charlie Davis:

To Ana and Mike, and to everyone:

May your happiness increase!

“THE LAST WORD IN HOT”: FROM THE McCONVILLE ARCHIVES (Part Eight)

New tidings from the world of McConvilliana — always delightful and surprising!

Leo Jr. told me at our last meeting that his father was famous not only for his beautiful lead playing but also for his mastery of half-valve playing!  Who would have thought Leo McConville a precursor of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN?

And — on a more personal note — Leo Jr. said that his father had a substantial and beautiful HO train layout, complete with wooden houses, in a large upstairs room in their three-story house.  Leo Sr. was so proud of his autographed photographs that he had built picture molding for top and bottom, up at the ceiling and running around the four walls of the room, his pictures there on display.

Thus I am happy, in some small way, to recreate that display in installments on JAZZ LIVES.

A less happy story concerns Leo Sr.’s terror of bridges (I’ve also heard that his fears included high buildings) — so much so that his fellow passengers would have to lock him in the car trunk when they went over a bridge.  The solution seems as painful as the problem, but I can’t say — bridges aren’t one of my phobias.  It is possible that the only way Leo could endure going over a bridge would be in an utterly dark place where he couldn’t see what terrified him.

But enough of such matters.

Here’s another half-dozen friends of Leo — some famous, some whose name in the autograph calls up some dim recognition, some obscure.

Let’s start with someone who used to be famous, although you’d have to be a film buff or of a certain age to recognize him instantly:

The publicity still is from later in Powell’s life — did Leo meet him while playing in a radio orchestra, or had their paths crossed earlier, when Powell was a hot banjoist / guitarist (and perhaps cornetist, saxophonist) and singer in hot dance bands — including the Royal Peacock Orchestra and the Charlie Davis Orchestra?

Next, someone far less well-known these days:

The man above is Canadian-born, a saxophonist and bandleader — someone Leo would have known in radio.  He had connections to Sam Lanin and Bing Crosby, and made a few records with an all-saxophone ensemble that backed Seger Ellis on disc.  Or so I think — but there’s another man with the same name, born in 1897, died in 1978, whom I’ve read was “born in Watertown, New York.  Attended Clarkson Institute of Technology.  Teacher of Larry Teal. First American saxophonist to teach regulated vibrato and founder of the New York school of saxophone playing.”

Please advise!

How many readers have heard anything by the tenor saxophonist Jim Crossan (one of the section on a number of OKeh hot dance recordings) much less seen a portrait of him?

Frank Parker — radio singer!  Is this the Irish tenor associated with jack Benny, Harry Richman, and Arthur Godfrey?Now, “the last word in hot” — that’s more like it as a Homeric epithet for our Leo!  The handsome tenor saxophonist here is Dick Johnson — someone who played clarinet with Red Nichols and the Red Heads.  (Obviously “good-fellowship” in those days meant that trumpet players hung out with saxophone players: Leo Jr. remembers meeting Jimmy Dorsey, who was an old friend of his father’s.)

For a perceptive piece on the Red Heads, see Andrew Sammut’s review of the Jazz Oracle reissue: http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=39412

Perceptive readers will notice that Johnson autographed his photo to “Wilbur,” which Leo Jr. said was a teasing name for his father.  I imagine (it is speculation) that Leo Sr. made it known to everyone he talked to that he really wanted to leave the music business, buy some land, and have a chicken farm.  “Wilbur” must have been the sharply-dressed New Yorkers’ nickname for a deep-down hick.

And someone I really knew nothing of:

My friend Rob Rothberg — deep jazz scholar and long-time collector — helped me out here, “The face is unfamiliar, but there was a Cecil Way who played trumpet in Charlie Kerr’s band in the mid-twenties;  I’m not sure what happened to him after that.  Leo and Cecil played alongside an up-and-coming banjoist named Eddie Lang in Kerr’s band in the early twenties.  I think I see some lip muscles, so I’ll vote for that Way.”

We are indeed known by the company we keep, and Leo had a wide range of musical friends!  Not all of them had lip muscles, but Leo was an easy-going fellow. . . .