Rambling through eBay, visiting one of my favorite spots, the intersection of “jazz” and “Entertainment Memorabilia,” I found this. To some, it will be simply an antique jazz concert program, nearly eighty years old, or an example of paper ephemera for sale. For me, it is Ali Baba’s cave, Pandora’s box with no horrors, an auditory Fort Knox. And, no, it wasn’t recorded. But bless Specs Powell for his imagination and ambition, the energy to plan and put on this concert at New York City’s Town Hall.
I will now step aside to let the marvels blossom before your eyes. The Best in Modern Jazz for sure.
The front cover:
The first page, inside:
The program itself:
The back cover was blank, for “Autographs,” which the owner — the person who placed the precious keepsake in a notebook or binder — did not get.
A few obvious comments. Yes, that Bill Cullen, born in 1920, who was at the time a CBS staff announcer — which is how he and Specs Powell crossed paths — but most people will know him better as the host of THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
And the program speaks to the happy ecumenicism of the times in jazz. I would wager that Buster Bailey and Charlie Parker talked about reeds backstage with Don Byas. Bill Coleman and Frankie Newton, I would guess, knew each other well from Cafe Society and Asch Records. And please notice that the representatives of “modern jazz conceptions” aren’t Bird and Al Haig, but Buster Bailey and Al Hall.
It was a Sunday, so this might well have been an afternoon concert. You can look up what the weather was in New York City, should you care to. I will, instead, delight in imagining the hanging-out that went on backstage and behind Town Hall. Alas, when I was in that hall circa 1972, the echoes had died down. But I did hear and speak to Teddy Wilson and Al Hall, so I consider myself immensely fortunate.
And just to give Specs his proper place . . . here he is, talking with great articulateness, to a younger percussionist and inventor, in 2002. And at around 15 minutes, he talks about the Town Hall concerts, which weren’t economically successful, although Specs pointed out that he preceded Norman Granz and Jazz at the Philharmonic.
A final postscript: the program sold for $25, and the item is headlined as “early CHARLIE PARKER,” amusing to me because young Charlie was not the star of the concert alongside the more heralded players.
History enlarges and deflates reputations. Jazz Studies classes revere Bird; have they heard of Specs? I vote for expansive curricula.
And if you’ve never heard Specs, you’ve been deprived of pleasure:
A little aural digging online will lead you to more Specs, and I hope, curiosity about the names on the program whose sounds might be unfamiliar.
If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.
But if he’s only a name to you . . .
Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.
With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.
But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.
Let that sink in.
And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.
Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:
and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:
France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:
I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.
Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.
To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.
Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.
The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.
Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.
A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.
This three-disc set released by Fresh Sounds is a cornucopia of pleasures, both musical and scholarly.
Arv Garrison (1922-60) was a superb guitarist, swinging and inventive, who understood how the melodic and rhythmic inventions of Django Reinhardt and others could be expanded into “the new thing” of Forties bebop. Although his recorded legacy is compact, it’s impressive and diversified. In his prime, he was respected and sought-after, as the names below prove. But for most of us he was hidden in plain sight. Now we can applaud what we approved of subliminally.
Garrison was adaptable; he fit easily into any context while remaining true to himself. He would be a wonderful question for a jazz-trivia night: “What musician played with Charlie Parker, Leo Watson, and Frankie Laine?” Although the most recent recording in this set is from 1948, his work still sounds fresh, and he doesn’t have a small assortment of favorite licks that grow overfamiliar quickly: he is, in the phrase beloved of new audience members, “making it up as he goes along.”
Here’s one version of WHERE YOU AT? — reminiscent of Frishberg before Frishberg:
The new focus on previously known recordings this set encourages is indeed enlightening: “fresh sounds” indeed. I’ve known only a dozen of the sixty-plus performances on this set, but I confess I never paid Garrison proper attention. Listening to YARDBIRD SUITE or A NIGHT IN TUNISIA, for instance, I was captivated by Bird and Miles; laughing my way through the Leo Watson session with Vic Dickenson, I knew there was an excellent guitarist, but I was waiting for Leo and Vic to return. (I’m sorry, Arv.)
But now, listening to him with new attention, I admire the easy brilliance of his soloing — his long lines that surprise, his reliable swing, and what he adds to the tonal color of the whole enterprise. Garrison knew his Django deeply, but he also had absorbed some of Charlie Christian’s loping audacity, and he easily breathed the harmonically-complex air that was 1946-48 California and New York. I also hear a creativity that runs parallel with Les Paul and Oscar Moore — who could be unaware of the early Nat Cole Trio recordings? — but he isn’t copying anyone. Garrison is comfortable in early classic Dial Records bebop; he can play a ballad with grace and emotional intelligence; he can swing out in the best Forties fashion. He’s delightful alongside Frankie Laine; he romps on his own, and he has confidence: in an AFRS broadcast where he solos alongside Barney Kessel, Les Paul, and Irving Ashby, he stands out. If he was intimidated by such fast company, no one heard it.
The nimble string bassist and singer-composer Vivien Garry, who married and outlived Garrison, was more than an oddity, more than a protege. She was the leader on more than half of the performances here, and she is far more than Samuel Johnson’s lady preacher. In fact, had the world of record producing been different (if our world was also) this would have been properly a dual feature. Her recording career began earlier and ended later; she performed with Benny Carter, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and was an integral part of two “all-girl” sessions. Garrison, a rather unworldly (or other-worldly?) young man, was no self-promoter, so we have to thank Garry for making a number of these record dates and radio appearances happen. Garrison was handsome, but Garry was that rarity — an attractive young woman jazz musician — and that helped a great deal in getting gigs, especially in the world of the late Forties where jazz and “entertainment” were friends. (Listen to Art Ford, on the WNEW broadcast — one that includes Charlie Ventura, Babs Gonzales, Kai Winding, and Lionel Hampton! — fuss over Arv and Vivien’s attractiveness, and you’ll understand.)
The musical content of this set is delightfully consistent; I listened to the three discs in two sittings, which is not my usual restless habit. Connoisseurs of the rare and obscure will also find much to delight them: private recordings, AFRS and commercial radio broadcasts, live remotes from a jazz club, and commercially issued 78s on the Sarco and Exclusive labels. Even scholars deep into this time and place will find surprises, and it’s easy to celebrate these three discs as musical anthropology of a world truly in flux.
The great surprise and pleasure is the nearly eighty-page book, with color illustrations (photographs and record labels, club ads) that accompanies this set. I’ve only read portions of it, because I wanted to listen to Arv and Vivien and friends without multi-tasking . . . but the book — to call it a “booklet” would be inaccurate — begins with twenty pages of intertwined portraiture by James A. Harrod and Bob Dietsche, the latter of who met and interviewed Vivien in the mid-Eighties, and it ends with Harrod’s detailed discography of the set.
In the middle is the real prize: nearly forty pages of beautifully detailed biographical-musical analysis by guitarist-scholar Nick Rossi, who has become one of my favorite jazz writers alongside Dan Morgenstern, Mark Miller, Loren Schoenberg, Dave Gelly, and Ricky Riccardi. Rossi does more than trace Garrison’s life from boyhood — staying up all hours playing along with Django in his room — to the sad end in a swimming accident before his 38th birthday. He has a fine awareness not only of guitar playing but of the art and history of jazz guitar and the contexts in which it became the jazz monolith it now is. Rossi’s writing is direct, evocative, clear, modest, and it welcomes the reader in, unlike other writers busy showing off how clever they are.
I’ve listened to the set with great pleasure, mingled with ruefulness that Garrison’s life and career ended as they did; now I plan to read Rossi’s essay with equal pleasure, and go back to the music. If that seems an expenditure of time and energy, I assure you that this set has already repaid me in excitement, discovery, and joys.
You can purchase the set at Amazon, no surprise, or directly from Fresh Sounds here, as I did (don’t let the price in euro scare you off if it’s not your native currency). Either way, it’s a lovely set.
(A note to readers: if any member of the Woke-Jazz-Patrol is offended by my use of the “D” word, please note it is historically accurate here — this band is announced as playing “Dixieland” by Nat Hentoff, a most energetic spokesman for all kinds of humane equality. So please fuss elsewhere. You’ll miss out on some good music while you’re fussing.)
The greatest artists are often most adaptable to circumstances, while remaining themselves. No working musician I know can afford much aesthetic snobbery, so if Monday you are playing with your working band, and Tuesday is a Balkan wedding, and Wednesday an outdoor cocktail party . . . the checks or cash still work the same.
Roy Haynes, born March 13, 1925 — thus 96 this year — began his recording career with Luis Russell’s big band in 1945 and played many sessions as the chosen drummer for Lester Young, Bud Powell, and Charlie Parker. I don’t think we expect to find him soloing on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES. Yet he does.
What we have here is a half-hour broadcast from George Wein’s “Storyville” club in Boston, on February 22, 1952 — young Mister Haynes was not yet 26. The band is George Wein, piano; John Field, string bass; “an anonymous drummer’; George Brunis, the guest star; Ruby Braff, cornet; Al Drootin, clarinet.
Musically, this may take time to get used to: Brunis shows off, musically and comically, overshadowing the band at first. I don’t know if Roy was filling in for Marquis Foster or Buzzy Drootin — for the week or for the broadcast? Brunis fully identifies him at 16:52. Hentoff tells the story that just before the broadcast, Brunis told him, for reasons he explains on the air, “Turn the name around,” so he is announced as “Egroeg Sinurb,” not easy to do on the spot.
The repertoire is standard, but the band enters into it with vigor, as does Roy. TIN ROOF BLUES (intro, Hentoff, m.c.) / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES (Haynes solo) / UGLY CHILD (Brunis, vocal) / HIGH SOCIETY / TIN ROOF BLUES //
Lively music, and no one cares what name it’s called. No doubt it was just a gig, but it sounds like a fun one. And how nice it is that both George Wein (born October 3, 1925) and Roy are still with us.
On the basis of empirical observations made over the last fifteen years, I would state without fear of contradiction that Rebecca Kilgore, residing in Portland, Oregon, is a recognizable member of our species, genus, phylum, etc. I’ve seen her drink cranberry juice, check her iPhone, write something down with a pen, eat Thai food, and so on. Once, she picked me up at the airport in a little white car, a great honor.
Yet something magical that I can’t explain happens when she sings in front of an ensemble. She doesn’t grow larger or louder, she has no magic wand or pointed hat, and if she has a cauldron it’s out of sight behind the stage. She entrances us. She doesn’t make us meow or bark or do silly things for the mocking amusement of others, but we fall under her spell — musical and emotional.
If you think I exaggerate, I present nearly seven minutes of magic (on the second or third viewing, look at how happy the band is!) created by Rebecca on a 1945 pop hit by Billy Reid — we know it, probably, from the recordings by Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. This performance, created on the spot at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party, finds Rebecca among friends and magicians Ed Metz, drums; Paul Keller, string bass; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Dan Barrett, trombone; Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Duke Heitger, trumpet. Entrancing.
Don’t go back to preparing dinner or that Zoom call too quickly — an abrupt descent from the sublime to the mundane could have damaging side-effects. If you’re like me, one visit to THE GYPSY as imagined by Becky and friends won’t be enough.
That was seven years ago. Rebecca, pianist Randy Porter, and string bassist Tom Wakeling (“the Rebecca Kilgore Trio”) have recorded a new CD — a mixture of wonderful songs, many new to me, all equally entrancing. It’s not released yet, but you will be able to find out more about it and Rebecca’s other recordings here.
Jazz is often dominated by our personal Star Systems: people like and listen to their particular favorites, and are suspicious of the New, but if you open the gate and look around, you will find pleasures. Those four names in the title and the four faces above may be new to you — even though I’ve profiled drummer-composer Doron Tirosh here — but they make beautiful music and they’ve created a CD: Ofer Shapira, clarinet, alto, flute; Ofer Landsberg, guitar; Ram Erez, string bass.
Jazz is sometimes joyously assertive. Having soundwaves rocking the room or the inside of your skull can be an experience you abandon yourself to. But there’s also a sweetly subversive music that woos and insinuates, quietly, music with pauses, air space, nearly translucent, but still paying homage to melody, harmony, rhythm, improvisational swing. To put it another way: this new CD adds oxygen to the room rather than removing it.
Here’s BIRD OF PARADISE (based on Charlie Parker’s improvisation on ALL THE THINGS YOU ARE):
and the Gil Evans – Miles Davis classic:
This music in itself doesn’t need explication, although I will say it’s melodic and thoughtful rather than “running changes”; this quartet walks into the songs rather than treating them as stereotypical “bebop and cool tunes that everyone has to know.” But Ofer’s note is valuable:
2020 has been a challenging year for everyone associated with the world of music and art, including myself, but it has also given me a chance to let go of the everyday activities and look deeply into myself and my art. This album – Lockdown, has been a product of this search within. After several intensive years of playing in different jazz bands, combos, teaching, etc. I had the welcome chance of playing with no special purpose, deciding what and how I wanted to practice, focusing on my sound and approach and trying to refine them and so I got the urge to record and capture this moment. The great Duke Ellington once said: “I don’t need time, what I need is a deadline,” and so I set myself a record date and started writing some new tunes – two of which I liked and will feature on this album. I also carefully handpicked some jazz standards that I really liked playing over the years and that I felt complemented the sound and feel of this album. I’m so grateful to the three wonderful musicians who agreed to join me on this project – Ofer, Ram, and Doron. They simply played magnificently and I’m sure anyone who listens to this album would agree. And so here is the album is in front of you – I hope you’ll enjoy the music and that the 2020 lockdown will have some positive memories for us all.
What else do you need to know? The CD contains a lovely mix of standards, jazz classics, and two melodic originals by the leader: BIRD OF PARADISE / SHALIACH / CELIA / LOCKDOWN / SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL / SKYLARK / JITTERBUG WALTZ / BOPLICITY. It’s issued on Gut String Records (seehere) and it’s available on Spotify and iTunes as well. Your ears will tell you everything else about this unpretentious warm music.
Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him. He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it. I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.
Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog. But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.
Dan talks about Ella:
Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:
and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):
Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:
Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:
Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:
and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:
We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!
Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews. I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long. It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.
Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).
Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him. The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:
Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:
and a brief coda:
More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .
I’ve written about the wonderful and elusive Fran Kelley here and here. I had hoped that her connections to Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington would have stirred up more research, but little has come to light. (I thank Brian Kane, Nick Rossi, Paolo Alderighi, and CB Datasearch for invaluable finds.)
Let me reintroduce this remarkable person.
You would think that the producer of this concert [advertised in the Los Angeles Times, June 23, 1946] would be as famous as Norman Granz or George Wein:
For those who have forgotten, this was her first concert at UCLA:
These are the beautiful sounds she made possible.
The other side:
The Fran-Tone “waxery” was mentioned in the March 25, 1946 BILLBOARD:
I know that at least four copies of 2004 exist. But I have no evidence that 2005 has ever been issued. It’s clear that Fran-Tone did not thrive as a money-making proposition because Fran sold the eight masters she had recorded to Capitol, and Capitol did nothing with them, as far as I know, which amazes me. Do any readers have access to a comprehensive Capitol discography, and do the Fran-Tone sides appear there?
You would want to hear more about and more from this writer, writing her own condensed autobiography for the liner notes of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, RARE — BUT WELL DONE, on Liberty Records:
Fran Kelley is strictly from Pisces and New York. Her love and understanding of music just comes naturally, stemming from her father, whose distinguished voice was heard in leading concert centers both here and abroad. Fran’s musical background is varied: as an arranger-composer [one score was accepted by Duke Ellington], as a producer [she worked with Lester Horton and Duke Ellington to stage jazz-ballet], as an impresario [Fran presented the first jazz concert ever held at the University of California at Los Angeles which presented Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Nat “King” Cole and Benny Carter], and as an expert in the field of musical therapy. Fran is currently West Coast Editor and Representative for Metronome Magazine.
Here is evidence (from BILLBOARD, February 24, 1958) of what might have been the start of a new brilliant collaboration:
The end of the story is told by Ellington himself, in a few lines in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her spiritual quests in San Francisco.”
When I first bought Fran-Tone 2004, I was captivated by the music and intrigued by its guiding genius. Surely, I thought, she would have merited an essay if not a biography — multi-talented, one of very few women operating at this high level in the boys’ club of jazz at the time. But no. Because I have friends who graciously do research, the twenty or so clippings that are the basis of this research were offered to me. But Fran seems absent from any book on Bird or Duke. Why?
Thanks to Brian Kane, a lead opened up — an audible one — because four sides recorded by Fran for her label, with arrangements by Tom Talbert, were preserved and issued on Hep 22, “Memphis in June: Boyd Raeburn and his Orchestra.” That’s a vinyl issue; the CD (Hep 95) contains only the two Allyn vocals:
Vince DeRosa, French horn; Lenny Hartman, English horn; Harry Klee, alto saxophone, flute; Sam Sachelle, bass clarinet; Hy Mandel, baritone saxophone; Ray Still, oboe; Erroll Garner, piano; Leonard “Lucky” Enois, Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Babasin, Red Callender, string bass; Jackie Mills, drums; David Allyn, vocal; Tom Talbert, arranger. AFRS Downbeat, Los Angeles, early 1946
BLACK NIGHT AND FOG (David Allyn vocal) / C JAM BLUES / PLEASE LET ME FORGET (David Allyn vocal) – [also known as PASTEL] / CARAVAN //
Note: Following from “The Most Happy Piano – Errol Garner Discography” by James M. Doran : “According to Jack McKinney, the following personnel are definitely not Raeburn’s, even though these performances were released under his name on Hep (E)22. This studio session was produced by Fran Kelley, probably in conjunction with her Swingposium concert of June 24, 1946, which was to be released on her Fran-tone label. This never happened.”
I’ve obtained a copy of Hep 22, and those four sides are gorgeous. Guess whose name is absent in the detailed notes by Jack McKinney? And, for a chance to compete in the bonus round, guess whose name . . . in the biography of Talbert?
And two nearly irrelevant postscripts. Fran Kelley was married to the trumpeter Clyde Reasinger, who lived until 2018. Reasinger turns up twice in a data-search in the Sixites, two gossip-column entries. In a 1962 entry, “Stripper Titian Dal is will shelve her career in favor of marriage to trumpeter Clyde Reasinger,” and a year later Reasinger is playing trumpet for the show NO STRINGS and is married to Karen, who is not identified as a stripper. I don’t know what that says about the Reasinger-Kelley marriage, but twenty years later, the two parties were apparently living in very different worlds.
As I wrote at the start, no answers. Speculations, yes. I could understand that the secular world has taken little notice of someone who chose to leave it, decisively, perhaps in 1958. And I hope that moving into the spiritual realm gave Fran Kelley the satisfaction that “the music business” did not. Our choices are mysterious to others, and often they are mysterious to us as well. So I cannot offer more evidence about why Fran Kelley seemed to disappear. I can wonder if there was a connection between music therapy and spiritual work, but it is only a speculation. Did she go underground to write poetry in an ashram? Did she become a nun ministering to the wounded in a Catholic hospital?
I was ready to publish this post and end on a somewhat despairing note: “I am baffled by the lack of reportage devoted to her, and even now — can I and my little band of research-friends be the only ones on the planet fascinated by who she was, what she did, and where she went?”
But before ending my quest for information, I posted inquiries on an online jazz-research group I belong to, not expecting much, and then Patricia Willard, long-time jazz scholar and writer, emerged like a blessed apparition, and wrote this, which I reprint with her permission and with gratitude:
Re: Fran Kelley, Duke considered her a genius, in 1958 signed her to a contract specifying that anything she produced–music, poetry, spoken ideas et al would be owned by him in exchange for continuing financial support. They both told me this but I never saw the actual contract or knew the precise terms. Among her talents that Duke found most intriguing was that she always knew what time it was–to the second–but never wore a watch (nor did he). Their collaborations were largely on the West Coast during a time when Strayhorn was East. The last times I heard from her (several years hence) were letters, always written on music ms. paper with a San Francisco hotel return address. She had a daughter whose name I unfortunately cannot recall. I met her in the mid-1980s at the invitation of my L.A. neighbor Benny Carter. The daughter was searching for Fran or any of her work and trying to find out if she were still alive. The daughter remembered that Fran had spoken often about her friend Benny. Benny had no recent knowledge of her activities or whereabouts. Two years ago I asked Hilma Carter, Benny’s widow, if she remembered the daughter’s name, and she didn’t. I only recall that it wasn’t Kelley.
Fran Kelley is a novel, although I am no novelist. But fascinating books are on the horizon. Patricia Willard is completing three of them — one on Ellington, one on Sinatra, and one a memoir. I can’t wait to have them on my coffee table, at this desk, and on my nightstand. I will let you know when they appear.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
First, some music. I’m told it speaks louder than words. Ephie Resnick, trombone, and Marty Grosz, guitar — the epitome of passionate tenderness in IT MUST BE TRUE:
and the same pair of brave improvisers, energized beyond belief, for ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, a frolicsome RUNNIN’ WILD, and STRUT MISS LIZZIE:
My first post on Ephie Resnick, based on a phone conversation we had on July 6 (and a few postscripts afterwards) here, got some deserved attention. Some time later, Ephie’s remarkable friend Cyra Greene called and we chatted at length; she told me that Ephie had more stories for me. I was elated and said I would be delighted to write more, so the phone rang and it was Ephie, who — after brief courtesies — said, “Thank you for making me relevant,” and we agreed to extend his musical memoir a bit more. It is more a free-association than a chronological journey, but these gaps Ephie and I were eager to fill in.
I was in London for ten years, and I played with a Dixieland band — and the leader, I wish you’d put his name down, Chas McDevitt — incidentally, he had an uncle who was a trumpet player, who was a doctor, and he told me, it didn’t matter what time he came home, how tired he was, he would go into a room and play for half an hour, to keep up his chops. So I thought that was a great thing. With Chas, we played almost every week. We played clubs all over the country. We did some festivals, and we did a record. And on that record I play a couple of solos that are the most beautiful solos I’ve done on record. I don’t have a copy. Maybe I can ask him for one. And that’s that.
I did a six-week tour with the pianist Billy Taylor. The other guys in the band, except for the trombone player, who was Eddie Bert, were all from a black collective. It was a black band except for Eddie and myself, and Billy Taylor was a beautiful guy, and I just wanted to mention that.
I’m on the recording of the original HELLO, DOLLY!, and they had a black DOLLY, and I’m on that recording too. That was with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, and that was superlative, something special.
I studied with Lennie Tristano. I took a couple of lessons from him, and he said I was a schizophrenic trombone player, because I played Dixieland and I wanted to play his stuff. He was a popular teacher then, and he had sessions, like once a week, with his regular people and a lot of students. I never worked with him, but he played with us. The idea was not to repeat yourself if possible. Whatever you’re doing, don’t repeat yourself. So you have to keep searching. That was an important experience for me, I loved that.
The trumpet player Charlie McCarty was a sub-leader for Lester Lanin. I worked a lot for Lester Lanin. And Meyer Davis, if you remember that name. Both of them were horrible people. Just absolutely horrible. But they worked a lot. Meyer Davis, he was busy. He worked two jobs every day. So he bought an ambulance. After the first job was over, he’d get in the ambulance, change his clothes, and with the siren blowing, he’d get to the next job on time. I don’t know, that’s sort of interesting. About Charlie, when the business was ending, and he was getting sick, we started having sessions in his house, for about five years, every week, with all kinds of people. He was very good.
One of the guys I played with with Billy Taylor called me and said there was a benefit for somebody. And at the time, I’d had an accident and I was out of work again. So I got up on stage and in a couple of minutes Teddy Wilson walked in, and he played four or five tunes. He was old, but beautiful nonetheless.
I did a record with Stan Getz, well, not with him, but with an orchestra behind him. He did two of those things — big, splashy things. FOCUS by Eddie Sauter is one of them, the other with a small band. I was on the one with the big band. He had his son with him at the session, and from the beginning to the end, he didn’t make one mistake. Everything was perfection. Absolute perfection.
In the early Forties, I started to play with all kinds of people, I ran into Willie “the Lion” Smith. We played a couple of — not jobs — but a session, and he invited me to come back to another one. He was crazy. He was wonderful.
I worked in that Buddy Rich group with Sweets Edison and Zoot Sims. Buddy was mean. Mean and cantankerous and sort of rotten. He exuded evilness, or something. He would make the band get up on the stand at the time we were going to play, but he wouldn’t get up. He’d stay down, maybe ten more minutes, and then he’d get up. Somebody once said, “Why do we have to get up here early? Why aren’t you up here?” and he said, “I want you there.” Once in a while he’d invite a drummer from the crowd to come up and play, and then he’d play something as fast as he could play. The greatest drummer in the world, absolutely sensational. He could do anything. He could play a roll with brushes that sounded like sticks. He used to play theatres with his big band, and he couldn’t read, so all he had to do was hear something once, and he knew it. So he was positively a genius of some sort. Zoot and Sweets were sweet people, wonderful people. And the band just swung. No fancy arrangements, we just played standards. It was fun. Beautiful, easy.
I didn’t see Monk, but can I tell you a story about Monk? I was listening to a religious station, and the guy talking, he was a schoolteacher then, and he was supposed to play for us. He told the story that someone walked in — he had a funny hat on and he sat akimbo on the piano stool, and then he started to play, and it was weird stuff, he didn’t understand what he was doing, and then after a while he came to the conclusion that this guy was special. He was wonderful. And it was Thelonious Monk. And coming from a religious guy, that amazed me. He was willing to hear.
Kenny Davern and I played together a lot when we were younger. He had a peculiar style, but it was his own style of playing. Nobody played like him. He was wonderful.
I saw Charlie Parker quite a bit at Birdland, because it was cheap — I think it was two dollars — so I went a lot.
Eddie Condon was such a sweet man, but he was drunk all of the time. ALL of the time. But when I played with him, occasionally, subbing for Cutty Cutshall, once in a while with Wild Bill. But he said when I came there that he wouldn’t call his guitar a porkchop. He’d call it a lambchop. He knew I was Jewish. So I thought that was nice. He was a funny man. And for what he did, he was the best. His chords were good, his time was good, he’d really fill in, whatever you’d need. He was wonderful in his own way of playing. George Wettling was a sweet, wonderful guy until he got drunk. Then he was a terrible person.
I went down to see Bunk Johnson. I didn’t play with him, but I saw him a lot. I was really into that music, and I loved that trombone player, Jim Robinson, he was one of the best I’ve ever heard for that type of music. He didn’t play much but he stuck those notes in in absolutely correct and invigorating places. And Bunk, nobody played like that, nobody ever played like that. Beautiful. And there were crowds every night when he was there. Dancers. It was an exciting time.
I loved playing with Max Kaminsky. I worked a lot with him, for years. He was a simple player, but he kept the time. His time was great. I played with Jimmy McPartland, but I never liked him much, except on old records. But when I played with him in person, I didn’t like him. His wife was wonderful. I loved her. I played with her a couple of times, with him. She was a total piano player, boy, she was great.
I have a book that a friend gave me a couple of months ago, and my picture’s in that book — it’s called THE BEAT SCENE. In the back there are signatures. Barbara Ferraro is one, Gregory Corso and his address, 170 East 2nd Street, George Preston with an address, then Jack Kerouac, Seven Arts Coffee Shop, 82 Club, 2nd Avenue, the Cedar, Chinatown, the Five Spot — that’s where he hung out, in case you wanted to get him. And then there was Dean Dexter, Artie Levin, Bob Thiemen. I never played at the Five Spot or the Open Door. I didn’t do that.
[I’d asked Ephie — of all the musicians he’d played with, who gave the greatest thrills, and he sighed.] Look, when I was playing badly, I didn’t care who I was playing with. When I was playing well, it didn’t matter to me. They all were above me. Every one of them was above me.
Ephie wanted me to make special mention of Max Steuer, that when Ephie went to London and stayed for ten years,” that Max — reader emeritus at the London School of Economics, who liked jazz — and his wife Christine (who, as Christine Allen, worked as an agent for jazz musicians to help them find broader audiences) were very kind to him, subsidized his CD NEW YORK SURVIVOR, and that he lived with them when he first came to the UK. (By the way, Ephie’s British friends, thanks to Malcolm Earle Smith and Chas McDevitt, have sent me wonderful stories — loving and hilarious and insightful — that will appear in a future Ephie post.)
Speaking of real estate, Ephie told me that he had lived in Jackson Heights, New York, for sixty years before moving to Brooklyn, and that his rent in Jackson Heights had started at ninety-five dollars a month.
Incidentally, to someone unaccustomed to it, Ephie’s voice can sound gruff, but I’ve learned through these telephone calls that his heart is large, and he has people who love him all over the world. And he has a sweet puckish sense of humor. In another phone conversation, when he inquired about my health with the greatest sincerity, I said, “I’m going to call you Doctor Resnick,” and he said, not missing a beat, “My father was ‘Dr. Resnick.’ He was a dentist. And we always got mail for ‘Dr. Resnick.’ When I moved out, and I started getting mail for ‘Mr. Resnick,’ I felt cheated.”
I’ve mentioned that Ephie is very deeply engaged in what I would call informal physical rehabilitation, and in our conversations, I revealed myself as seriously sedentary (it takes many hours in a chair in front of a computer to create blogposts like this) which concerned him. At the end of our second conversation, there was this wonderfully revealing sign-off from Ephie, whose compassion for someone he’d never met before the summer of 2020 is beautiful. I present it here so that you can hear his voice, and because I am touched by it:
I will have more to share with you about this remarkable human being, whose singularity does not stop when he is not playing music.
Even now, when it seems that everything can be known, some people appear for a moment and then vanish. One such is Fran Kelley, whose work as an imaginative record producer came to me some months ago, as I describe here.
Before I offer more information and speculation — all of the print data excavated by the diligent, generous Professor Brian Kane of Yale University — please hear one of the two sides that Fran made possible. Ethereal music:
A gentle caution: if you come to JAZZ LIVES only for videos, I’ll see you tomorrow or the next day. I think this is a terribly important post, though: my attempt to make sense of a brilliant life from fragments of information. And I can’t promise any melodrama: death from automobile accident or medical crisis: no, Fran Kelley seems to have turned from “the scene” to choose another life.
Here is not only a portrait (a disembodied one, alas) but the most thorough biographical sketch we have, even though it might be based on her answers to a questionnaire, when Fran was West Coast Editor of METRONOME (1953-57):
For the moment, a few additional facts. 1246 Orange Grove Avenue would have been near Spaulding Square, in what is now considered “West Hollywood,” once a residential area of single-family houses and small apartment buildings, but Google turns up no photographs, which leads me to think Fran’s residence was torn down sometime after 1957. Whether the “Met” was the opera or the museum, I could find nothing relevant about her father. Clyde Reasinger, famous for his work with Kenton and for being a section trumpeter on the television performance of MILES AHEAD, was long-lived, 1927-2018. He has a Facebook page (whose administrator did not reply to my inquiry); his spouse has none.
Based on decades of reading, but jazz writing circa 1945-1957 (the years in which we have the most evidence) was primarily if not exclusively done by men, exceptions being Helen Oakley Dance and a few others, so even given the mildly patronizing tone of the sketch, it shows the regard in which Fran was held by her colleagues. (In my previous post, I note the stories / reviews she’d written for Metronome.) I am sure no one asked Bill Coss what he cooked, but that merits only a sigh. By the way, if you think it condescending of me to call her “Fran,” I am writing this post out of fond admiration: “Kelley” seems icy. Please don’t write in to lecture.
She accomplished great things, and I say here to readers, “Fran is now invisible in a landscape of Gene Norman, Norman Granz, George Wein and more, all of whom deserve their fame. Her name is absent from studies of Dizzy, of Bird, of Benny Carter. Had Fran been Francis, would she be so erased?”
She feels so much, at this distance, like Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s sister.”
Let us follow the paper trail.
DOWN BEAT, 15 November 1945: “Fran Kelly [sic] of Hollywood House of Music will launch her new international label with star jazz headliners.”
The Nebraskan son of an Union Pacific Railway accountant, Glenn Everett Wallichs had been interested in electronics since his childhood — focusing on the design of radio sets and the mechanics of train railroads. A North Hollywood transplant (at 16 years of age, in his family’s company), he started his adult workdays locally, as a radio station technician (at WFWB) and then as the owner of a car-radio repair shop (at Ivar Avenue). Wallichs’ small shop evolved into a radio and electronics store, and that one store brought enough profit to allow for its multiplication into a chain (a total of five stores, all of them in the Hollywood area). In 1938, Wallichs took his business ventures even further. Accompanied by his brother Clyde, he joined forces with former WFWB co-worker Al Jarvis (the pioneering disc jockey, who also happened to be an LA record shop owner) to create Hollywood House of Music, a compound that merged Jarvis’ record shop with the fifth, youngest of Wallichs’ electronics stores. The most noteworthy aspect of the merger was that the latter was no longer just a retail store: it was converted into a small specialty recording studio, whose specialty became custom recordings. Though “normal civilian” requests for recordings of events such as weddings or parties were certainly taken, the studio primarily catered to artists’ requests of airchecks from radio broadcasts. It also chiefly became the place from which Jarvis’ legendary creation, the Make Believe Ballroom show, was broadcast during the late 1930s. Known to have been recorded there in 1938 is a novelty tune that featured Wallichs himself along with Stan Kenton, Paul Weston, Jo Stafford and others (all of them playing instruments, Stafford included, and some of them under pseudonyms). The resulting instrumental number was chucklingly titled “The World’s Worst Record.”
METRONOME Yearbook, 1956, showing the astonishing roster of musicians who performed at the concert Fran organized on April 12, 1946:
My friend Nick Rossi — guitarist, jazz scholar, painter — magically turned up the program for the concert here. Someone’s bought it, but what can be seen here is stunning.
One exception to the contemporary erasure of Fran Kelley is Douglas Daniels’ 2002 biography of Lester Young, LESTER LEAPS IN, where he writes of this concert:
In Los Angeles, [Norman] Granz, Billy Berg, and Fran Kelly [sic] typiﬁed a new type of jazz promoter dedicated to racial equality. Kelly, with the aid of Lester Young, Ray Bauduc, Kay Starr, Lucky Thompson, Red Callender, Charlie Parker, Nat Cole, Benny Carter, and other artists, sought to foster racial tolerance by booking UCLA’s Royce Hall for a performance to beneﬁt the scholarship fund of the George Washington Carver Club, named after the famous Tuskegee scientist. A Metronome recap reported that Young and Parker offered ‘‘the best number of the program.’’ All the musicians either donated their services or received a nominal fee, with proceeds going to the scholarship fund. This marked a ﬁrst for UCLA. . . .
Granz gets top billing; Kell[e]y is unidentified.
DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1946, a very small comment on the concert, compared to the coverage of Les Brown’s “ball team”:
CLEF, June 1946, a concert review which begins with a beautiful quote:
METRONOME, August 1946. More about the concert. Linger, please, over the names of the musicians, and when you are through with time-travel, also note that a new Lester Young record gets a “C+”:
Because online research is part pearl diving and part trash collection, my continued inquiries into the George Washington Carver Club led me to this site, which I avoided as if made of Kryptonite: Twin Towers 911 Video Clips Video De Sexo De Paris Hilton …8.aksuchess.ru › VkjWBA.
We move on.
BAND LEADERS AND RECORD REVIEW, August 1946, notes “Kelly,” “gal platter impresario”:
DOWN BEAT, 6 May 1949, noting that the Fran-Tone masters were sold to Capitol (which Wallichs, Johnny Mercer, and Buddy De Sylva had founded) — my guess is that they did not sell and they were never issued on that label . . . plus a famous Lester interview:
DOWN BEAT, 14 December 1955, a nameless reviewer mocks Fran’s liner notes for a Chico Hamilton record: “Only clinker are the notes on the individual numbers by Fran Kelley, written in her inimitable prose, a cross between science fiction and theosophy.”
DOWN BEAT, 4 April 1956, an approving review of Jimmy Rowles’ first session as a leader, where Fran is called “the only pretty jazz critic”:
And here are the notes for that album, with a tiny portrait of the author:
METRONOME, February 1957, Fran’s imaginative profile of Keely Smith:
DOWN BEAT, 3 April 1958: the last mention of Fran — “poetess,” working for Ellington:
There the trail stops, except for Ellington’s coda in MUSIC IS MY MISTRESS: “And there is one more person–Fran Kelley, musician, poet, songwriter, singer, orchestrator, manager, executive. This great woman with all these talents gave up running a radio station and record company in Los Angeles to pursue her
spiritual quests in San Francisco.”
I have not been able to find out anything about Fran Kelley’s life after 1958. And that may have been the way she wanted it, to turn away from the secular world, “the music business,” to shuck off being called “pretty,” and live another life. If you are born Fran Kelley and you enter a religious order and take the name of Sister Angela, even Google cannot find you. (Consider Boyce Brown, “Brother Matthew.”) And even a rudimentary glance at actuarial tables would suggest that she is no longer living.
But I hope she wasn’t driven away by misogyny. Yes, regarding the past through the lenses of the present can distort, but someone so sensitized might want to abandon the world where music was for sale and one’s best efforts got ignored. A world where Lester Young got a C+.
I feel her absence. A great loss. Her legacy is and should be more than a dozen or so clippings from jazz trade papers.
This post is in memory of Fran Kelley, once remarkable and now unknown, with no biography and no Wikipedia page. And it is also in honor of all the women who create imaginative ideas and art and don’t get heard at the meetings or find their ideas vacuumed up and presented by men, but still keep creating.
Thanks to Katherine Vasile, Brian Kane, and Richard Salvucci: without them, this post would never have happened.
I can’t believe how many people who love jazz are asleep on Benny Carter.
The King, a few years before 1977.
The hierarchy of stardom in jazz gets narrower with time, so it feels as if there is only room at best for a dozen boldface Names from Louis to Ornette. Can contemporary jazz audiences understand the absolute reverence that Benny Carter received from his peers during his lifetime and now? How many students in jazz education programs know him as he should be known? After 1945, Charlie Parker cast a giant shadow, but Carter, quietly indefatigable, pursued his half-dozen careers with immense grace. Perhaps his life lacked drama: he wasn’t a tragic figure; he lived a long time and was happily married (his widow, Hilma, is with us at 99!); he was a professional who made it all look easy: alto, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, compositions, arranging, bandleading, film and television scores — a genuine Renaissance man. Ben Webster said that Benny could bake a cake as light as a feather and whip any man: what better testimonial could anyone want? But I wonder how many fans today could name more than one Benny Carter record?
Recently a Irish collector-friend, Mchael O’Donovan, has passed on to me a substantial assortment of videos, some broadcast on French television, of La Grande Parade du Jazz, in the second half of the Seventies. I’ve shared a duet between Jimmie Rowles and Sir Roland Hanna here. I think these videos are precious, even though the cinematography is unusual: multi-camera setups where no shot is longer than a few seconds, and the videos came to me arbitrarily cut into time-chunks, so one will end at twenty minutes, no matter what is happening . . . but these are small complaints when one considers the wonderful assortments of jazz stars, the good sound, the leisure to stretch out. Occasionally someone in the band rushes, but we’re all human.
And now, for some Benny Carter — with a wondrous feature for Vic Dickenson (I saw Vic play this perhaps twenty times, but watching him at close range is something I never dared to think I would see on video), delightful Mel Lewis, and some late-period but refreshing Teddy Wilson.
7-9-77 THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE Carter, Kai Winding, Ray Bryant, Slam, J.C. Heard 7-7-77 IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD Vic, Hank Jones, Bill Pemberton, Oliver Jackson (identified by Bo Scherman, who was there!) 7-10-77 THREE LITTLE WORDS Benny, Bryant, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis and the first few notes of the next song.
7-10-77 WAVE Carter, Ray Bryant, Milt, Mel Lewis
7-7-77 SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER – I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING – AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ – HONEYSUCKLE ROSE // SOPHISTICATED LADY – SATIN DOLL (partial) Teddy solo.
Doc Cheatham told James Dapogny that his secret to a long life was to listen to Louis Armstrong every morning, sound medical advice. Matt Rivera begins his Monday-night Zoom sessions of the Hot Club of New York (7-10 PM, the link can be found here) with a Carter record. Maybe that’s a perfect healing regimen: breakfast with Louis, dinner with the King. In between, you’re on your own. You can do this.
I’ll let Ted Brown introduce this beautiful new recording:
This is the 4th album Brad and I have done together. It is the first time we have recorded with an audience and the first time we have worked with a Hammond B-3 organ.
Brad arranged for us to do it at the Jazz Gallery on Broadway in New York on February 2nd. We did two sets with Gary Versace on organ, Aaron Quinn on guitar, Deric Dickens on drums, and Brad and I on tenor saxophones. I am now 92 years old and was not really expecting this.
It felt really good and we all had a good time. Also, st Brad’s urging, I managed to write a new tune entitled “Watch Out!” based on an old standard called “Sunday.”
Brad and Ted allowed me to come to the recording session wih my camera, so here are two performances that I captured. Know that the sound on the issued download is far superior. Both are Charlie Parker tunes; Brad told me that he picked the repertoire to celebrate Bird’s centennial and his intersection with Tristano. The CD is also dedicated to Lee Konitz for obvious reasons.
SCRAPPLE FROM THE APPLE:
DRIFTING ON A REED (alias AIR CONDITIONING or BIG FOOT):
Now, before you rush to bandcamp.com to purchase this music, may I ask you to do the least contemporary act — that is, to delay gratification? On Friday, May 1, Bandcamp will waive its usual fees and give all revenue from sales directly to the musicians. So if you are reading this on Thursday, April 30, you are too early to make the most effective purchase; if you are reading this on Saturday, May 2, or later, you’ve missed the window of the greatest collective good. But buying the music is the thing to do in any case.
Just what the title says! Dan Morgenstern, Jazz Eminence, celebrates the unique Slim Gaillard as swing linguist, singer, riff-monger, guitarist, pianist, comic improviser, ingenious composer, with glances at an ailing Charlie Parker, Brew Moore, Loumell Morgan, Arthur’s Tavern, Leo Watson, Red McKenzie, scat singing, Red McKenzie, Milt Gabler, and more.
and the appropriate soundtracks, to save you the search:
and Slim, justifiably celebrated in his later years:
and the first part of a 1989 BBC documentary on Slim:
Part Three, with Dizzy:
And a swing detour, to one of my favorite recordings ever:
Leo also quotes BLACK AND BLUE . . .
McKenzie was often dismissed as sentimental, but here it works: THROUGH A VEIL OF INDIFFERENCE, with Jess Stacy, Lou McGarity, Buddy Morrow, Red Norvo, Ernie Caceres:
As always, thanks to Dan for making the past and present shake hands so graciously.More tales to come, I promise you.
The great innovators began as imitators and emulators, but their glory is they went beyond attempts to reproduce their models: think of Louis and Joe Oliver, think of Bird and Chu Berry, of Ben and Hawk.
I was present for a glorious example of honoring the innovators on January 30, 2020, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet, and more; Murray Wall, string bass; Joe Cohn, guitar, crated merriment, art, and enlightenment. I’ve posted their extravagant ROYAL GARDEN BLUES here. It’s worth the nine minutes and ten seconds of your time.
A few songs later, Jon-Erik suggested that Scott take the lead for a performance, which he did, most splendidly, with FOOLIN’ MYSELF. Yes, it’s a homage to a heard Lester and a remembered Billie, but it also takes in a fragment of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN, and creates on the spot a riff reminiscent of Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS as reimagined by Ruby Braff:
Thus it isn’t the little box of Homage or Tribute but a large world, elastic, expansive, gratifying. The way to honor the trail-blazers is to blaze trails.
Postscript: this is being posted on Tuesday, February 18. On Thursday, the 20th, Scott will be leading a quartet at that very same Cafe Bohemia, with sets at 8 and 10. Break the piggy bank and come down the stairs!
To me, this is living, breathing music. Listen and see if you don’t agree. And here’s one of the places it flourishes — Cafe Bohemia at 15 Barrow Street, New York City.
On October 17, Evan Arntzen (tenor sax, clarinet, vocal), Felix Lemerle (guitar), Alex Claffy (string bass), and Andrew Millar (drums) played two sets of lively, varied, heartfelt music. And here’s a sample, Charlie Parker’s MOOSE THE MOOCHE:
Cafe Bohemia is hallowed ground — more about that hereand here — BUT it is not a museum of archaic sounds. Nothing’s dusty at Cafe Bohemia, and that includes the tabletops and floor — the music is alive, and that counts a great deal.
And it’s happening tonight: get tickets for a splendid evening of vivid sounds with Jon-Erik Kellso, Jared Engel, Evan and Arnt Arntzen here (the early show) and here (the late show). Before and after the music, as well, the Fat Cat (that’s Matt Rivera) will be spinning his rare and delightful records, and you will hear vibrant music.
Because you love this art, come visit it in its native habitat.
Postscript: if any more skeptical readers ask, “Michael is pushing this new club with enthusiasm. I wonder how much they are paying him?” The answer, dear Skeptic, is that I am not asking to be paid nor am I being paid: I want people to share the joy of fine music in a friendly new place with deep roots. And as we know, sitting home soon means there is nowhere else to go but home.
You might be walking along Barrow Street, on the Bleecker Street side of Seventh Avenue South (all this conjecture is taking place in Greenwich Village, New York City, New York, the United States); you could look up and see this sign.
You might just think, “Oh, another place to have an ale and perhaps a burger,” and you’d be correct, but in the most limited way.
Surprises await the curious, because down the stairs is the sacred ground where the jazz club Cafe Bohemia existed in the Fifties, where Miles, Lester, Ben, Coltrane, Cannonball, Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Pettiford played and live sessions were recorded.
Here’s the room as it is now. Notice the vertical sign?
This isn’t one of those Sic Transit Gloria Mundi posts lamenting the lost jazz shrines (and certainly there is reason enough to write such things) BECAUSE . . .
On Thursday, October 17, yes, this week, the new Cafe Bohemia will open officially. This is important news to me and I hope to you. So let me make it even more emphatic.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17, THE NEW CAFE BOHEMIA OPENS.
That is as emphatic as WordPress permits. I was there on September 26, for the club’s trial run (more about that below) and I was delighted to find very friendly staff, good food and drink, pleasing sight lines and a receptive crowd, so it was a nostalgic return to a place I’d never been.
But back to current events. On this coming Thursday, there will be two shows, an early show at 6:45 and a late one at 9:30. These shows will be, as they say in retail, “value-packed”! Each show will feature wonderfully entertaining and enlightening record-spinning of an exalted kind by Fat Cat Matthew Rivera, bringing his Hot Club to the Village on a regular basis, AND live jazz from the Evan Arntzen Quartet including guitarist Felix Lemerle, string bassist Alex Claffy, and drummer Andrew Millar. Although the Bohemia hasn’t yet posted its regular schedule, their concept is both ambitious and comforting: seven nights of live jazz and blues music of the best kind.
Buy tickets here for the early show, here for the late one. It’s a small room, so be prepared. (I am, and I’ll be there.) And here is the Eventbrite link for those “who don’t do Facebook.”
If you follow JAZZ LIVES, or for that matter, if you follow lyrical swinging jazz, I don’t have to introduce Evan Arntzen to you. And if, by some chance, his name is oddly new to you, come down anyway: you will be uplifted. I guarantee it.
But who is Matthew Rivera?
I first met Matt Rivera (to give him his full handle, “Fat Cat Matthew Rivera,” which he can explain to you if you like) as a disembodied voice coming through my speakers as he was broadcasting on WKCR-FM a particularly precious musical reality — the full spectrum of jazz from before 1917 up to the middle Fifties, as captured on 78 RPM disks.
It isn’t a dusty trek into antiquity: Matt plays Miles and Bird, Gene Ammons and Fats Navarro next to “older styles.” Here’s Matt in a characteristically devout pose, at Cafe Bohemia:
and the recording (you’ll hear it on this post) that is the Hot Club’s theme song:
About two weeks ago, I visited the Fat Cat in his Cafe Bohemia lair and we chatted for JAZZ LIVES. YouTube decided to edit my long video in the middle of a record Matt was spinning, but I created a video of the whole disk later. Here’s the nicely detailed friendly first part:
and the second part:
and some samples of the real thing. First, the complete WHO?
DEXTERITY, with Bird, Miles, and Max:
and finally, a Kansas City gem featuring tenor player Dick Wilson and Mary Lou Williams and guitarist Floyd Smith:
Cafe Bohemia isn’t just a record-spinning listening party site, although the Fat Cat will have a regular Hot Club on Monday nights. Oh, no. When I attended the club’s trial run on September 26, there was live jazz — a goodly helping — of the best, with Mara Kaye singing (acoustically) blues and Billie with the joyous accompaniment of that night’s Cafe Bohemia Jazz Band: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Brian Nalepka, string bass. Here’s their opening number, ST. LOUIS BLUES:
The first word Mara utters on that video is “Wow,” and I echo those sentiments. Immense thanks are due owner Mike Zieleniewski and the splendid Christine Santelli as well as the musicians and staff.
See you downstairs at Cafe Bohemia on Thursday night: come over and say hello as we welcome this birth and rebirth to New York City.
Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Willis Conover, late Forties: photograph by Norm Robbins. Photograph courtesy University of North Texas Music Library, Willis Conover Collection.
Once upon a time, what we like to call “jazz” was divided into warring factions. Divided, that is, by journalists. Musicians didn’t care for the names or care about them; they liked to play and sing with people whose artistry made them feel good. And gigs were gigs, which is still true. So if you were, let us say, Buck Clayton, and you could work with Buddy Tate playing swing standards and blues, or rhythm and blues, that was fine, but playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE with Tony Parenti was just as good, as was playing NOW’S THE TIME with Charlie Parker.
But this was not exciting journalism. So dear friends Jimmy McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie were asked to pose for a photograph as if they were enemies, and people like Hughes Panassie, Leonard Feather, Rudi Blesh, and Barry Ulanov fought the specious fight in print. Even some musicians caught the fever and feuded in public, but perhaps that was jealousy about attention and money rather than musical taste.
One positive effect was that musical “battles” drew crowds, which musicians and promoters both liked.
Since every moment of Charlie Parker’s life seems to have been documented (the same for Bix Beiderbecke, by the way) we know that he played a concert in Washington, D.C.’s Washington [or Music?] Hall on May 23, 1948; that the masters of ceremonies were Willis Conover and Jackson Lowe, and that the collective personnel was Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, Wild Bill Davison, Joe Sullivan, Sir Charles Thompson, George Wettling, Tony Parenti, Earl Swope, Benny Morton, Charlie Walp, Sid Weiss, Ben Lary, Mert Oliver, Sam Krupit, Joe Theimer, Arthur Phipps. We know that the concert began at 2:30 PM, and — best of all — that private acetate recordings exist. A portion of the concert, heavily weighted towards “modernism,” appeared on the CD above, on Uptown Records, and copies of that disc are still available on eBay and elsewhere.
Details from Peter Losin’s lovely detailed Charlie Parker site here and here.
But for those of us who hadn’t bought the Uptown disc, there it might remain. However, through the kindness and diligence of Maristella Feustle of the University of North Texas Digital Library, excavating recordings in the Willis Conover collection, we now have twenty-seven minutes of music — some of it unheard except by those who were at the concert. There’s the closing C JAM BLUES / a partial RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, talk, and a partial SQUEEZE ME / S’WONDERFUL / TINY’S BLUES / TINY’S BLUES (continued). Yes, we have no Charlie Parker here . . . but a great deal of lively fine music. (Do I hear Eddie Condon’s voice in this or do I dream?).
But wait! There’s more. My dear friend Sonny McGown sent me a photograph I’d never seen before, from a similar concert of the same vintage, at the National Press Club, with this description: “Your email this morning reminded me of a photo that belonged to my father. He is in the picture with his head visible just above the bell of the trombonist on the far left. Some of the musicians’ identities are obvious such as Jimmy Archey, Wild Bill Davison, Ben Webster, and George Wettling. The rest are unknown to me. I wonder if the trumpet at the microphone is Frankie Newton? The clarinetist looks a bit like Albert Nicholas. It is quite possible that some of the fellows are locals.” [Note: in an earlier version of this post, I had assumed that the photograph and the concert tape were connected: they aren’t. Enthusiasm over accuracy.]
My eyes and ears were ringing while I stared at this gathering. I couldn’t identify the others in the photograph, but did not think the tall trumpeter in the middle was Newton. (And Sonny’s father, Mac, was a spectator, not a player.) Sonny then found two more photographs from the concert that we hear the music — their source being Maggie Condon, which would place Eddie there, logically, as well.
Tony Parenti, George Wettling, Wild Bill Davison, either Sid Weiss or Jack Lesberg, Bennie (the spelling he preferred) Morton:
Joe Sullivan, happy as a human can be:
This photograph popped up online, labeled “Washington Press Club,” but I wonder if it is from the same occasion. Even if it isn’t, it’s always a pleasure to portray these sometimes-ignored majesties:
Now, might I suggest two things. One, that JAZZ LIVES readers go back and listen to this almost half-hour of joys here— giving thanks to the University of North Texas Digital Library at the same time — for instance, the five-hour interview Louis gave to Conover on July 13, 1956, which starts here, and ten years later, something astonishing, Louis playing COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN and singing “This is the Voice of America,” the former of which I would like as a ringtone: here.
Still hungry for sounds? A January 31, 1956, interview with Eddie Condon here; a brief 1946 interview with Duke Ellington where he seems to say nothing about the death of Tricky Sam Nanton — the music section begins with Ellington’s BLUE ABANDON, which contains a stunning solo by Oscar Pettiford, which is then followed by lovely records by Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Kenton: here.
There are many more gems in the University of North Texas Music Library, which seems better than any ancient debate about the merits of different kinds of jazz. There is music to listen to and photographs to stare at . . . and gratitude to express, nor only to the musicians and Mr. Conover, but to Ms. Feustle and Mr. McGown. Those who keep the archives tidy and share their gifts are our lasting friends.
Jimmie Rowles is one of my most exalted musical heroes — unpredictable, witty, full of feeling, unpredictable yet always right in ways that no one could expect.
This is a particularly rare Rowles-hearing, and one that people haveci, sought after for some time (my fellow Rowlesians Michael Kanan, Jacob Zimmerman, and Richard Salvucci, this is for you). Many jazz fans will be excited by this because it pairs Charlie Parker and Chet Baker for one of the few times they were captured together, but for me the attraction is Rowles.
The Stash record with this rare music; background by Tommy Bahama.
The occasion: a concert at the University of Oregon. These three songs or excepts from songs appeared on a Stash lp sometime before 1988: as far as I know this music, recorded on tape, has not appeared on compact disc. Typically for that time, the unnamed recordist was thrifty: recording tape was costly, so (s)he concentrated on Bird. Thus the recordings are excerpted — COOL BLUES less so — so we have to wait until eleven minutes in to hear Rowles out in the open, and he sounds so delightful.
Sonic caveats here: I decided a long time ago that I would rather present imperfect videos than spend time learning how to perfect the technology, so what follows is the original Stash lp, played through speakers, recorded by my camera. Thus the sharp-eared may hear rustlings of cars outside, my refrigerator singing its own songs, and the pre-school brother-and-sister upstairs who live to chase one another. I apologize for all this, but the music is the gift.
Consider this very truncated list: Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Purvis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Jabbo Smith, Sandy Williams, Cassino Simpson, Dave Tough, Tony Fruscella, Fud Livingston, Dick McDonough, Serge Chaloff, Fats Navarro, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan.
What do they have in common? Would you, were you a recording supervisor, hire them for a record date? Would you hire them for your orchestra or gig? Could you count on them to do the work asked of them? (A hint here: as much as I revere, let’s say, Fruscella or Livingston, I wouldn’t want them driving the kids to summer camp.)
That list contains poets of the music, artistic trailblazers, instantly recognizable creators, memorable improvisers. But it is also a list of people who didn’t show up on time or at all for the gig or has to be awakened in the middle of a song to play, people who were addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, and sex; people who had borderline personality disorder; people who stole, lied, and destroyed property; people who refused to bathe or change their clothes . . . and more.
Even if this seems blasphemous, do me the kindness to read on.
And if you proclaim that Genius must be forgiven anything because it’s Genius, I wonder how you would feel if the Genius vomited on your living room rug or stole money from you.
I suspect that most jazz fans are Apollonian (in Nietzsche’s dichotomy): they drive in the proper lane; they shower regularly; they hold jobs; they change the registration sticker on their car when the law says they must. But, perhaps as a result, they are fascinated by the Dionysiac, the Bad Boys and Girls of Jazz, the people whose behavior is flashy, self-destructive, eccentric, illegal.
Consider this: if someone could come up with an authenticated needle used by Billie or Bird, or a piece of Bix’s mummified blue sweater, how much would those holy relics — the jazz Shroud of Turin — fetch on eBay?
Violently erratic “bad” behavior makes good copy. How many biographies of Bix are there, as compared to his more restrained contemporaries? How many theatrical presentations “recreating” Billie are there, as opposed to the lives of other singers who drank Seven-Up?
I was motivated to write this piece because of the just-issued biography of Johnny Guarnieri, SUPERSTRIDE, beautifully written and researched by Derek Coller, depicts a good husband and father, and a craftsman, someone serious about his art even when striding joyously.
I think of others of the same general character: people who kept pocket notebooks and were thus early to gigs, who came prepared to make music, with horns that worked and a knowledge of the charts; musicians who could transpose and knew their keys; who came to the club date in appropriate, even elaborate formal wear; whose clothes were clean; who conducted themselves as professionals and whose behavior might have been placid and thus not worthy of chronicling, but who behaved as adults.
Think of Maxine Sullivan, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Joe Wilder, Teddi King, Eddie Barefield, Al Hall, Ed Hall, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Bennie Morton, and Buster Bailey among others: artists who didn’t use “genius” as an excuse for childishness. Sadly, I sense a silent snobbery among jazz fans, who look down on these mature men and women because their personal lives are uneventful. And, aside from Hinton, Wilder, and Ed Hall, how many of the artists in the list above have been properly chronicled? Men and women who didn’t destroy themselves and others are proper figures to contemplate and admire. Even if they are tediously busy being professional, monogamous, and sober, their lives have much to show us.
Obviously it’s not thrilling to write about someone who does his or her job without drama, but we should be celebrating these artists as grownups. And grownups are hard to find in any field.
Here’s music made by several grownups: musicians, classically trained who could cut the charts and swing like mad, who appear on many record dates because they were both creative and reliable: William C. Bailey of Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally backed by Osie Johnson, drums, and that very same Johnny Guarnieri among others:
I wonder what would happen to us, as an audience, if we chose not to fetishize childish self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrated adult behavior?
Inspiration for this post is, as it often is, thanks to Sammut of Malta, whose thoughts are always inspiring.