Tag Archives: Chas McDevitt

MORE BOUQUETS FOR EPHIE RESNICK, “A YOUNG SOUL”

EPHIE RESNICK, 1959: This band, which played in the waterfront loft of painter Maurice Bugeaud, featured Danny Barker on banjo, Kenny Davern on clarinet, Ahmed Abdul-Malik on bass, Walter Bowe on trumpet and Ephie Resnick on trombone. Photo by Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.

 

This is the third in a series of celebrations of the singular trombonist, pianist, composer Ephie Resnick that began in July 2020.  The earlier posts — words and music by Ephie — are here and here.  Ephie continues to be a born seeker and explorer — someone who wants to live in the moment rather than contemplate the glories of the past from a seated position — so although he was pleased by being brought to light, it was less important to him than the work.

Response to the posts about Ephie was enthusiastic, and I started to reach out to the musicians he had played with during his years in England: most were eager to say something about this man they think of as frankly irreplaceable.  Without involving Ephie in any of this, I collected reminiscences and admiring glances, which I offer below.  Ephie deserves this and much more.

Let’s hear Ephie and the wonderful pianist Fergus Read in 1997 (who died young, sadly) creating and recreating WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR:

Simon Da Silva:

Ephie was always so encouraging and friendly to me, I loved playing with him.

Enrico Tomasso:

Ephie was a real positive influence on the guys he came across in London and even now when his name crops up a surprising number of us remember playing with him or hearing him play and warm recollections ensue on his individuality and his little quirks but mostly of how his ideas were always fresh and new and his never ending enthusiasm. Regrettably I only played one or two gigs with him but his effect on opening my musical vision was immense. I remember chatting to him when the age old subject of musicians and families came up and how he intimated that it’s often a stark choice and warned me to be careful that families don’t get in the way. For an Italian descendant like me the family is important but his philosophy helped me in making the right choices so I am now one of the lucky jazz musicians who are able to combine the two.

Here’s part one of Ephie and Marty Grosz in duet, THE END OF INNOCENCE [ROSE OF WASHINGTON SQUARE, RUNNIN’ WILD, STRUT MISS LIZZIE]:

Chas McDevitt:

Ephie played a gig with the Merseysippi Jazz Band once and on the tune Mood Indigo he had nowhere to go as all the available harmonisations has already been covered by the front line. So he added a major 7th to the harmony with astonishing and memorable effect – recalled by the leader many times since to me!

Another time at a regular gig in Shere in Surrey – he was accosted outside while he was having a smoke of one substance or another! All I could see was this rather tall lady – I think it was a gregarious jazz singer who had sat in – towering over Ephie talking at him with great passion. When I asked Ephie if he knew the lady – he looked at me and said ‘Apparently!’

Final one, recounted by Warren Vache. In hospital recovering from his car accident, he built up a collection of teddy bears by his bed which the nurses all found very sweet. Turned out this was the only way he could get his weed into the hospital!

Mike Bennett:

I was the bass player in Chas’s band and it’s lovely to hear Ephie’s voice again and to know that he has fond memories of those times.

He and I would often share a ride to gigs when we’d have long discussions about all sorts of topics and as a relatively young man and much less experienced musician I learned so much from him about music but also about all sorts of other things and will always be grateful. He gave me the best advice I’ve ever had when he said ‘All you can do is behave like a gentleman’. It was helpful in the stress of my failing marriage at that time and has been useful to remember since.

Ephie is a truly wonderful player but an inexperienced non-jazz audience would occasionally struggle to follow some of his solos . There was an occasion when the band was booked to play for a very up-market wedding – the reception would be held in a beautiful country hotel overlooking the River Thames but the actual wedding ceremony beforehand was to take place in a lovely rural field on the other side of the river with a small vintage steam launch to ferry the guests across in batches. Chas’s six piece band would at this point be divided in two, with three musicians playing to the guests already in the field whilst Ephie, Candy the banjo player, and I were to play on the boat as it delivered more guests. On our first number Ephie played a mind-blowing cutting-edge solo but Candy and I saw that the passengers looked somewhat mystified. When the tune ended to noticeably muted applause Candy said diffidently ‘ Um..Ephie, this is a wedding…’ to which he responded ‘ Oh, you think we should just play nice toons? ‘ ‘ I think so..’ she said. After which Ephie played some of the loveliest mellow jazz I’ve ever heard, to a very appreciative audience. And we played at that hotel on countless subsequent occasions.

Thank you Ephie.

Part two of THE END OF INNOCENCE [DON’T LEAVE ME, DADDY, and AVALON]:

Jimmy Jewell:

We got on really well and when he was in London we used to get together and play standards along with bass and drums on a PC program called Band in A Box. He said the drummer on it was much better than a lot he had worked with. I don’t know if he told you but I recorded his second CD at my flat in London and he was on my second CD, ALMOST STRAIGHT AHEAD. It was recorded in 1997 at my flat. Ephie said that the ballad he was featured on was the best thing he put on record.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the Bandcamp link for that CD, still available.  MAINSTREAM MAGIC and MAINSTREAM MAGIC both feature Jimmy and Ephie in a quintet setting — extraordinary music.  “Nice toons” indeed.]

Mark Aston:

I only met him a few times as I joined Chas’s band late-on but we did a few gigs together. I have very fond memories of our brief encounters and really loved his playing – creative, adventurous and inspiring. He was kind and encouraging of my own efforts (on sax) and that was a lovely thing coming from the great man.

Liam Noble:

I didn’t meet Ephie that many times. I remember playing with him probably 20 years ago (at least) — the main thing I recall is the filthy hollowed out carrot that he used to smoke dope through. And his tunes, which were somehow old and new at the same time and also in the tradition whilst being very personal in style.

Paul Dawson:

I played in Chas McDevitt’s band in London when Ephie was in it, and he and I also did a few gigs in other bands and as a duo (I’m a guitar player). Ephie used to come to my house and we’d work through some musical things, but I was a young man at the time, too wrapped up in my own problems to really learn from Ephie as much wisdom, musical and otherwise, as he had to offer me, which I very much regret. It’s wonderful to know that he’s still around and playing, and great to hear his voice again – although I could almost hear it just reading the interview, because, as in music, his phrasing is so personal an idiosyncratic.

Part three of THE END OF INNOCENCE: [ODJB ONE-STEP / MISS BROWN TO YOU / WOLVERINE BLUES / DON’T BLAME ME / BIG BUTTER AND EGG MAN / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME]:

Malcolm Earle-Smith:

Ephie Resnick is a superb musician and a wonderful, remarkable man. He wouldn’t agree with me of course, but it’s true. I am so lucky to know him. This year, we’ve been in touch more than in previous years; partly due to the global shutdown, and the need for us to stay in closer contact, but it’s also because we have work to do.

We’ve been talking on the phone and exchanging compositions by mail. We talk about what we feel is important in music. We affirm each other’s efforts (a word that Ephie liked to use when I first knew him). It’s ‘work in progress’: a bit messy, a bit incomplete, but there’s substance there. When I called him a few days ago, I told him I would like us to record some of this material – and hopefully in the not too distant future. We recorded some standards back in February (just before the lockdown), and although the results were promising, I think we’d both like to record again, this time with more original material.

Some of the original material will be co-written. I’ve already worked on one of his tunes, which has quite a chromatic and contemporary feel to it. I had been talking to him about the principles of George Russell’s music, which I find fascinating. This is hard to explain down the phone and in letter, but I feel that Ephie has taken the essence of some of these principles on board, and worked them in his own beautiful way. He’s sent me another tune which sounds almost baroque in places – this is the next one to work on. He also sent me a beautiful melody without chord changes. This is also something we’ve talked about. Giving the melody freedom without specific harmonic constraints. For the melody to stand up in its own right. In a recent letter he wrote: “I’m seeing that making melodies for me is easier than making chords. I was using chords to make melodies but I’m how reversing the process’. After quite a fallow period, I now feel motivated to compose again. I needed inspiration. And being mailed scraps of notated paper has done just that. Some of the phrases are hard to make out (his eyesight is not too good), but there are plenty of gems. That’s the important thing. He’s still making the effort. I’ll work with them, send them back and we’ll see where things go from there. My own compositions have so far been based on well known standards: All the Things you Are and Out of Nowhere. But my aim has been to make the melodies very different to what you might expect from these sequences: ‘In the cracks,’ Ephie might say. Don’t follow the your regular path; explore outside it. This is a central part of Ephie’s musical outlook and what makes him such an engaging musician. Make notes work that shouldn’t, make your lines unexpected. In his last letter, Ephie almost apologised for not sending me anything recently – ‘My piano is being repaired’ he explained. ‘My chord sense is still primitive, so I need the piano to test out new sounds’. I’m glad to say he now has his piano back.

At 92, Ephie still has his young soul. It’s how he keeps being creative. Sometimes when I talk to him I think of him as being younger than me. There’s never a feeling of ‘I’ve seen it all’; instead, a simple openness to learn and move forward. He chooses not to dwell too much on the past, prefers the present and, even at this uncertain time for everyone, looks a little to the future. This is driven by his desire to learn, grow, and improve. And he has always been very generous and supportive towards anyone who is trying to do the same. He is a wonderful friend and mentor.

I first met Ephie in London in the early 1990s when he was performing with Chas McDevitt’s band. My friend Candy Prosser who played banjo in the group, told me I must come down and hear him. Although there were things I didn’t ‘get’ about his music (and that is still sometimes the case!), the impact that Ephie made on me that day was profound: that youthful energy and wonderful sense of swing; his ability to create extraordinary lines that no other trombonist would attempt. The risk taking and ‘in-the-moment-ness’ of the best kind of jazz. And the soulfulness. And when the set finished, I was introduced to one of the most warm, polite, and humble human beings I’ve ever met.

This is not to say Ephie doesn’t have directness of approach and an ‘edge’ on occasion. He’s mellowed a little now, but when I first knew him, he was always keen to observe young musicians and to ‘tell them’ something about their playing. He could be abrupt. His observations and comments were, I think, often linked to his own ongoing development. Muscular tension was one preoccupation which he said had hampered his trombone playing, and he was always keen to observe it others! I remember him telling one young trumpet player not to push himself up on his toes when he played – ‘It’s tension – you have to relax’. He was always telling me to keep still when I played (I hope I move a little less now). Most younger players were grateful for this directness, but sometimes he could push a little too far! One story, concerning my friend Candy (mentioned above), sticks in my mind. After her apparent reticence to learn chord sequences from memory, Ephie decided, mid tune on a gig, to turn her chord book over! After the tune had ground to a finish, Candy, never one to mince her words, said ‘Ephie, don’t you EVER do that again’, to which he impishly replied “Ahhhhh..you’re angry. That’s WONDERFUL!!!’

Shortly after first meeting him, I introduced Ephie to a fellow trombonist and friend of mine, Mark Bassey. For the next couple of years, probably every fortnight or so, we met up at my parents place in North London. It was a workshop – a time for comparing notes, playing jazz standards (three trombone counterpoint!), improvising freely, and even playing Corelli string trios! This last activity was not only challenging as a reading exercise, it was wonderfully instructive on how to phrase and play melody; something that Ephie does beautifully. More recently, I’ve reflected on the classical influence in Ephie’s music. The compositions he has sent me recently certainly have that feel about them. It should be noted that he studied classical trombone at Julliard, 1946-9, and at the same time, was going to hear Bird and Diz at the original Birdland!

A great example of Ephie’s strong sense for melody appears on a Kai Winding Trombones record (1960), a group which I believe he toured with quite extensively:

Kai’s and Ephie’s solos are so different. Kai’s solo is buoyant, bubbles along in lovely relaxed, boppish manner. But Ephie’s entry (after the piano solo), is in full-voice. The opening melody, which underpins the whole solo, could almost be a symphonic theme. After a bustling quaver passage he refers to this theme again, before hitting one of the fattest top F’s I’ve ever heard a trombonist play on record. It swings so wonderfully. It’s loud – not in a tasteless way; a jubilant and affirming way (there’s that word again). I wonder what the other trombonists in the group thought? You can’t compare it to anyone else. This solo has stayed with me. In fact, the opening melody inspired one of my own compositions.

Ephie’s stay in London during the 90s touched many UK musicians. Just being around him could do that. Listening to him, observing him and taking delight in the way he went about things, gave you something of substance to take away. Something that the best conservatoire course could never give you. Something that wasn’t always easy to quantify, but something you could digest for years. He still affects me in this way. It’s often to do with the way he says something, his sincerity and love of the musical process. One of the things I love about his music is that it doesn’t fall into any stylistic bracket, something which I feel has become rather a problem for jazz today. I have heard him in a wide variety of musical contexts, and yet he always sounds like Ephie. This all embracing approach is so healthy. It has no bounds and keeps him exploring. These explorations are done solely on piano now. He ‘threw the trombone out’ over ten years ago and has since been focusing on the keyboard. He has found this very liberating – it represents a new chapter in his musical life and the music is just as engaging as it has always been. Although physically Ephie says he is ‘falling apart’ (he is actually in pretty good shape), he is proceeding musically as he has always done. His work is his lifeblood. I’ll be speaking to him soon having completed a new composition and looking out for his next envelope through the mailbox!

Afterword . . .

Let’s end with a Frolic — Ephie and Fergus Read in 1997, performing WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

As I was compiling this blogpost — which would not have been possible without all of Ephie’s friends — someone I explained it to said, “Michael, that sounds like a memorial service.  How wonderful it is that Ephie is around to read all those great tributes!”

Yes.  We value Ephie Resnick.  We love him.

May your happiness increase!

 

“KEEP SEARCHING”: EPHIE RESNICK, CONTINUED (August 1, 2020)

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.

May your happiness increase!