Tag Archives: Charlie Parker

DAN MORGENSTERN REMEMBERS FRIENDS AND HEROES (Part Three: March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern is a remarkable person, lively and kind, and would be so if he had been a veterinarian with only a passing interest in music.  But even better for us: he hung out with [and wrote about] some of the greatest artists we know and still revere.  I continue to feel immensely fortunate that I could visit him, and that he so generously shared some candid loving stories of people who many of us know only as a photograph or a sound emerging from a speaker.

For those of you who have been otherwise occupied, and I understand, I have posted videos where Dan speaks of Tommy Benford, Frank Newton, Al Hall, Mary Lou Williams and her friends, Donald Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Nat Lorber, Buddy Tate, Gene Ramey, Lester Young (twice for Pres).

But before you leap in, a small caveat.  Dan is soft-spoken, and my few comments from behind the camera are louder.  Friends have pointed this out, and I have been penitent, citing inexperience rather than ego and I will balance the audio better on our future encounters.  The first five videos are here.

More friends and heroes.  Eddie Condon (and I had to say a few things, given my reverence for Eddie):

Buster Bailey, Stanley Dance, Coleman Hawkins, cameos by Milt Jackson, Roy Eldridge, Joe Thomas, John S. Wilson, Billy Kyle, Louis, and Dan’s thoughts on writing about artists:

More about Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, with comments about Sir Charles Thompson, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charlie Parker as well:

Notice in the second interview that Dan took an unpaid gig because “it will be good for the musicians.”  And I am touched by Coleman Hawkins’ generosities (acceptance in to the tribe) to Dan — which Dan has repaid us ten thousandfold.  More to come.

May your happiness increase!

“PLASTIC, OR PAPER?”

Late last year, I did one of my periodic eBay browsings, which have provided many images for this blog.  The items below are no longer for sale, but the images are available for us to linger over.

In HERE AT THE NEW YORKER, Brendan Gill told a story of showing his friend, the writer William Maxwell, a Roman coin he had bought, and Maxwell thoughtfully saying, “The odds are on objects.”  A cryptic utterance, but my time spent on eBay suggests that Maxwell was right.  For one thing, objects are longer-lived than their owners, and they are put up for sale.

These thoughts are motivated by yet another visit to that site — in this case, to a “store” which has folded its tents as far as jazz and big band collectors are concerned.  But they offered these four artifacts for sale.  The seller knew their value: the prices ranged from $279.20 to $2,399.20.  But looking is free.

Here is a postwar V-Disc, its talk and music taken from the April 26, 1947 WNEW Saturday Night Swing Session, hosted by Art Ford, featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Roy Ross, accordion; Nicky Tagg, piano; an unidentified string bassist.  Louis and Jack used the same pen:

louis-v-disc-front

That’s an authentic signature (to me) even if Louis didn’t have his pen, filled with green ink, on hand.

louis-v-disc-rear-signed-by-jackI coveted that disc intensely for a few minutes, then calmed myself down by thinking of the impossibility of displaying it properly — honoring Louis yet turning Jack’s “face” to the wall.  And the price, of course.  Here’s another piece of holy paper, even though this slip has been reproduced in a book on Bird (however, the seller has offered a note from the Parker collector Norman Saks, verifying the authenticity):

bird-cash-advanceWhat I would like to know, of course, is the name of the person who advanced Bird the money — not a small sum in 1950.  Whether Bird actually went to the doctor, and for what reasons, I leave to you.

From Bird to Miles — in 1957:

miles-1957and a close-up of that somewhat faded ink signature:

miles-signatureFinally, a contract for Billie to perform at the Tiffany Club in 1952:

billie-1952-contract

and a close-up of her signature and pianist / bandleader Buster Harding:

billie-1952-signature

Since none of these objects is as durable as a coin, it’s marvelous that they have survived.  Did their owners keep them safe for love of Louis, Jack, Miles, and Billie, or because of an awareness of their monetary value?  Or both?  I can’t surmise, but I am glad that these things exist for us to look at, and perhaps own.

May your happiness increase!

“IRISH BLACK BOTTOM”: TERRY WALDO, JON-ERIK KELLSO, JIM FRYER, EVAN ARNTZEN, JOHN GILL, BRIAN NALEPKA, JAY LEPLEY (Fat Cat, January 29, 2017)

okeh-irish-black-bottom

No, this isn’t an early celebration of Saint Patrick, nor is it a lesson in North American vernacular dance.  A week ago today, I had the delightful good fortune of being in the basement known as Fat Cat (75 Christopher Street) to hear Terry Waldo’s Gotham City Band — Terry, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jim Fryer, trombone; Evan Arntzen, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Brian Nalepka, string bass; Jay Lepley, drums.  And one of the lively excursions into hot archaeology that they offered was Percy Venable’s novelty number, IRISH BLACK BOTTOM, premiered by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in Chicago in 1926.  For the full history of this song and that performance, read on in Ricky Riccardi’s quite magnificent Louis blog.

And now, from 1926 to 2017, with a performance calculated to warm you more efficiently than heated seats in a new car:

The genial joyousness of that performance could win anyone over, even without the history.  But I also post this musical episode to reiterate a point.  Many “jazz critics” see the chronological advance of the music as one improvement succeeding another: Roy Eldridge was more “sophisticated” than Louis, Charlie Parker more than Roy, Miles and Trane and Ornette even more so. “Sophisticated” is a weighted word, especially when the appearance of complexity is taken as the highest good.  But for those who look at “Dixieland” as simple, I’d suggest that even a tune as lightweight as IRISH BLACK BOTTOM has its own sophistication, its own complicated routine, and it is not something one could pick up at one hearing, the Real Book notwithstanding.  Court adjourned.

May your happiness increase!

TWELVE STRINGS, THREE IMPROVISERS: JON BURR, FRANK TATE, KERRY LEWIS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 2016)

Jon Burr. Photo by Koko Burr.

Jon Burr. Photo by Koko Burr.

I know the joke about keeping bass solos at bay by any means possible, but surely this ensemble — three very eloquent players joining together for two classics of the jazz repertoire — is remarkable in its delicacy, power, and swing.  I prefer what Milt Hinton told audiences, that the bass is the foundation, that it is basic to all music.  Milt would have loved this little gathering of like-minded creators, and he would have admired how quickly they make beautiful music with no fuss.  Yes, there’s another joke about how people talk during bass solos, but after thirty seconds and two righteous hisses of “Shush!” this music got the rapt attention it deserves.

Simple math: twelve strings, three basses, three eloquent players, four-four time, two compositions.  The results: lasting pleasure.  The musicians (left to right): Jon Burr, Frank Tate, Kerry Lewis.  The place: the Thursday-night informal session at the 2016 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, September 15, 2016.

WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? (without the whimsical comma):

and Charlie Parker’s 1945 blues line, BILLIE’S BOUNCE, named for manager Shaw, not luminary Holiday:

This year’s Cleveland Classic Jazz Party will take place September 14-17, 2017, at the Wyndham Hotel in Playhouse Square in Cleveland, Ohio.  Mark your calendars now, and visit here for more information.

May your happiness increase!

LANGHAM’S LIZARDS, MASTERS OF THE ART: SPATS LANGHAM, RICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, JOEP LUMEIJ, NICK WARD (Nov. 19, 2016, Sassenheim)

Sassenheim Hoofdstraat 197 01

Thanks to the Classic Jazz Concert Club of Sassenheim, we can immerse ourselves in wonderful music created by Thomas “Spats” Langham and Friends. I do not think of Mister Langham as a Lizard, although if he chose the alliterative title, I will bow low respectfully. Rather, I think of Mister Langham (vocal, banjo, guitar, repartee) as a Master of the Art — that wonderful art of surprising and reassuring us simultaneously, making us remember that joy is possible and Things aren’t So Bad.  Here he is joined by string bassist Joep Lumeij (whom I know — through video and recordings), trumpeter  and vocalist Enrico Tomasso, clarinetist / saxophonist Matthias Seuffert, and percussionist Nick Ward — all of them legendary regal figures, and I do not exaggerate.  That we live in a time where such things are possible is uplifting.

TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE (with thoughts of Ethel Waters, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, and Billie Holiday):

SMOOTH SAILING (thanks to Henry “Red” Allen):

THE GYPSY (Spats and his Masters in full Thirties ballad mode — think Bill Kenny and Al Bowlly — with all deference to Louis and Bird.  Pay special attention to the gorgeous Langham / Tomasso duet later in the performance):

SWANEE RIVER (which begins with a trumpet fanfare that I last heard in BACH GOES TO TOWN):

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD (Mister Berlin, with echoes of Bing and the Whiteman Orchestra):

and finally, a bit of theatre — Spats’ divine reading of NIGHT OWL (beloved of Cliff Edwards) in the dark, with an explication of bass-drum heads:

I do not know if these performances happened in this order, so I hope I will be forgiven by archivists of all kinds.  However, I thank the CJCC for putting on this concert and offering us videos, with rather pleasing multi-camera work and fine sound as well.

May your happiness increase!

LESTER YOUNG’S JOY (“Classic 1936-1947 Count Basie and Lester Young Studio Sessions, Mosaic Records: Mosaic MD-8 263)

Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.”  Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us.  Give us some despair, and we turn the pages.  It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker.  Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.

Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.

And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.

The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief.  And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to.  Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.

Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester.  Intent, but not at ease.  Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.

Lester-Young-standing-changing-reed

But there is the music, lest we forget.  It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.

A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set on Mosaic Recordsits cover depicted below.  Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.

LESTER BASIE Mosaic

Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?

Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon.  (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.)  So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy.  He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone?  Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt.  (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)

Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him.  The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues.  The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance.  And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID.  The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts.  But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.

Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs.  Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.”  Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible?  Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity.  And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.

But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making.  If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.

I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional.  We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car.  To do so would be at best disrespectful.

I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work.  Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined.  The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.

The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.

Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst!  Michael!  Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.

When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did.  It still does, a living embodiment of joy.

And the joy is still profound.  I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week.  I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaen we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.

But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm.  He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on.  He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic.  Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.

And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential.  Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle.  Dickie Wells.  The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet.  The Aladdins.  TI-PI-TIN.  I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole.  A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.

The joy is not only Lester.  There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.

I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here.  I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music.  And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this.  And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.

Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels.  I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.

For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs.  There are 173 tracks.  The cost is $136.00 plus shipping.  There are only 5000 sets being produced.  They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one.  (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)

Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us.  We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds.  And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.

May your happiness increase!

“JUST FRIENDS”: EHUD ASHERIE, HOWARD ALDEN, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS, BILL ALLRED, RANDY REINHART, DAN BLOCK (ALLEGHENY JAZZ PARTY, September 10, 2015)

JUST FRIENDS

JUST FRIENDS — when it was originally performed in 1931 — was a sad love ballad, appropriate to the beautifully mournful tones of Red McKenzie — and notice how hip and expansive his second chorus is.  He had known and heard the Chicagoans, Jimmie Noone, and of course Louis:

If you prefer the 1932 Russ Columbo version, it’s beautiful also.

At some point, JUST FRIENDS was treated less as a lament and more as a song to play on.  (One could point to the Charlie Parker with Strings recording in 1949, and subsequent performances, but Bird often treated it as a medium-tempo ballad.)  And that tradition — swing rather than sobbing — prevails today.

I present an extended swing meditation on this song, performed on Thursday, September 10, 2015.  The participants, the creators, are Ehud Asherie, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums; Howard Alden, guitar; Bill Allred, trombone; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone.

That is the sort of wonderful music that happens every year at this party, whether it’s at the informal jam sessions of Thursday night or the sets on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  This year, the Party takes place from September 15 to the 18th.

A word about names.  When I started attending this party, it was held in Chautauqua, New York, and was called Jazz at Chautauqua; then it moved to Cleveland and temporarily was called the Allegheny Jazz Party; now it has become mature and changed its name to the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party.  You can find out more details here, on Facebook, or at the Party’s www.alleghenyjazz.org, or even by calling 216.956.0866.

The Party takes place at the InterContinental Hotel and Conference Center, 9801 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106.  You can call 216.707.4100 or 855.765.8709 to make reservations, but be sure to use the Group Code YOO when you call or reserve online.

Musicians who will be there . . . are the Faux Frenchmen, Rebecca Kilgore, Wesla Whitfield, Andy Stein, Hal Smith, Pete Siers, Ricky Malichi, Frank tate, Kerry Lewis, Jon Burr, Rossano Sportiello, Mike Greensill, James Dapogny, Ehud Asherie, Marty Grosz, Howard Alden, Bill Allred, Dan Barrett. Scott Robinson, Dan Levinson, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Andy Schumm, Randy Reinhart, Duke Heitger.

Come by, hear some wonderful music, eat and drink, and make friends.

May your happiness increase!