Tag Archives: Chicago

EDDY DAVIS, PRESENT TENSE (1940-2020), Part Five — “WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” AT THE CAJUN with SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV, BOB RINGWALD

Eddy Davis at ScienSonic Laboratories

For the moment, this is my final bowing-low in a series in honor of Eddy Davis (even though I have more music and words from December 26, 2019, to share).  I’ve devoted nearly a week of posts to him because of the intense emotional collision of grief and joy he brings forth in me and those who knew him and enjoyed his work.  His play, I should say.  I’ve been going backwards chronologically, and although I saw and enjoyed Eddy and “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” at The Cajun possibly very early in 2005, this 2006 session was the first time I brought a video camera there.

THE CAJUN, by Barbara Rosene –a Wednesday night.

Ordinarily, the band would have been Eddy; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Greg Cohen or Debbie Kennedy, string bass, with guests.  For this night — July 5, 2006 — it was Eddy, Scott, Conal, Dmitri Kolesnikov, string bass, Michael Hashim on alto and soprano saxophones, with a guest appearance by Bob Ringwald, piano and vocal.

The camera I was then using recorded to mini-DVD discs, a particularly stubborn medium, so these videos stayed on the shelf until 2017, when I found that I could transfer and share them.  I asked Eddy if that was something he would like (he did) and then asked if he would write something about the gig:

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

SWING THAT MUSIC:

WHO WALKS IN WHEN I WALK OUT? / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob Ringwald:

BLACK BEAUTY / SWEET MAMA (vocal Eddy) / THE CASTLE RENOVATED:

THE CASTLE, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

DAPHNE / MY FRIEND (vocal / composition by Conal) / TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE (Conal):

This band was — without exaggeration — a doctoral seminar in ensemble playing and collective momentum.  It was an honor to be there, and a greater honor to be able to share these videos with you.  And this was a complete evening at the Cajun, just under two hours of live performance.  It is as close as any of us will get to that deeply-remembered and now-departed experience.

Debbie Kennedy, the wonderful bassist, Eddy’s dear friend (I think she’d also call herself a student at the University of Davis) has written lovingly about Eddy, and I present her words here:

Eddy was one of the most amazing musicians I ever met in my entire life. SUCH a character with a fierce love of music. One of the best bandleaders I’ve ever played with. I just hope that his passing was painless and that his transition was smooth.

Apart from all the incredible happiness/joy that I experienced from playing with Eddy every Wednesday night at the “Cajun” restaurant from 2000 to 2006 in an extremely special band, I lucked out in 2008 and won a Greencard in the “Greencard Lottery.” Part of that process was that the immigration authorities needed a “Letter of Employment” showing that I would be earning a certain amount of money every year (even though I’d already been living in NYC for 10 years and earned enough to support myself comfortably, I guess they wanted to see that I would be self sufficient and not claim welfare).

Eddy very kindly wrote that Letter of Employment for me, stating that I was working with Woody Allen’s band (which was the truth – I had subbed frequently with the band starting October 2004, but I still wasn’t yet playing on a weekly basis when he wrote it). I strongly feel that his letter (especially with the name “Woody Allen”) clinched the decision for my Greencard to be granted.
Thank you Eddy!!

Then, eventually, he was kind enough to have me on the gig with Woody every week, starting a few years ago. It was actually Greg Cohen’s gig, but Greg moved to Berlin at a certain point around 2011 / 2012, so I did end up playing the gig on a weekly basis at that time, when Greg moved to Berlin.

This was an absolutely invaluable experience and was the gig that kept me alive when so many other freelance gigs had dwindled in recent years.

I feel incredibly indebted to Eddy and I feel blessed to have had such regular playing with him for so many years: Giving me the steady gig at the Cajun in 2000, and when that finished in August 2006, I still played with him pretty regularly, culminating in playing every week with him in the Woody band right up until last month.

March 9th was our last gig.

Like some others who knew Eddy well, I thought he was invincible and thought he was going to pull through this – he’d pulled through so many other illnesses before: terrible car accident, shingles, hellish Sciatica, High Cholesterol, high blood pressure, Diabetes…you name it, he’d had it (and he loved to tell you all about it, ha, ha! 😉).

Nothing will equal the pure joy that I felt on such a deep level when we were in the middle of playing a tune, him horsing around, having a great ol’ time.

Rest In Peace, my beautiful friend ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Eddy loved what I will call “false endings,” where the band appeared to have concluded the song and the performance — and the audience would applaud — but, no, they weren’t through as he would (grinning hugely) launch into a bravura ending that left us cheering.

I think of those “false endings” as a metaphor for Eddy and his art. He appears to have gone, but he hasn’t.  As long as we can hear him, see him in videos (and he left us hundreds of solo performances from his apartment), and remember him, he ain’t gone.

Incidentally, I have been posting Barbara Rosene’s painting of The Cajun because it pleases me so — Debbie Kennedy is in it as well as Eddy, Scott Robinson, and Simon Wettenhall — but Barbara has done many other paintings of jazz clubs, landscapes, and abstracts — that are not yet in private collections.  And you know me: I only promote artists (visual as well as musical) whose work I love: find out more here.

May your happiness increase!


“BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”: EDDY DAVIS, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN, CONAL FOWKES (Cafe Bohemia, December 26, 2019)

Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York City

Eddy Davis — banjo, vocals, compositions — is a glorious eccentric I’ve been admiring for fifteen years in New York.  And he has a long history in Chicago, playing with the greats of previous generations, including Albert Wynn, Bob Shoffner, and Franz Jackson, among others.  Here are four selections from a beautiful evening with the Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Conal Fowkes, string bass / vocal — at the end of last year.

Eddy’s had some health difficulties recently, so I wanted to use the blog as a spiritual telephone wire to send him the best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery, so he can come back to startle and delight us soon.  And just generally, may we all be safe from harm.  Thanks to Eddy’s friends Conal Fowkes and Debbie Kennedy.

TWO DEUCES / “BABY, YOU’RE THE BEST”:

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, with Miss Lil’s major seventh:

CANAL STREET BLUES, some New Orleans jazz that didn’t come from a book:

VIPER MAD (“Good tea’s my weakness!”):

May your happiness increase!

CHARLES IN CHICAGO (The Final Part): KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM (2018)

My friend Charles keeps on providing surprises from his Spring trip to Chicago, where he captured Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm on video at the Honky Tonk, although he assures me that this is The End of his Secret Stash.

Dear Michael,

I dug down into the video archives (where the videos sleep on the computer) and found six more little gems to share with you and your blog-audience.  These performances are a little more noisy — people gnawing on ribs and suchlike — but Kim and Andy come through beautifully.  I’ll be in New York at the start of October, and we shall meet . . . .

Your pal,

Charles

On the Mildred Bailey radio show, circa 1944-45, she refers to her selected jazz group (Teddy Wilson, Al Hall, Red Norvo, others) as her HOT HALF-DOZEN.  Here is the 2018 version of that collective noun:

YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME:

LIMEHOUSE BLUES:

JAPANESE SANDMAN:

TROUBLE IN MIND:

MELANCHOLY BABY:

INDIANA:

And since the Cornucopia According to Charles is now well and truly emptied, it’s up to you to get out and hear Kim and Andy — as a duo, or in other permutations — on your own.  No slacking, now.

May your happiness increase!

THEY KEEP ROLLING ON: ANDREW OLIVER and DAVID HORNIBLOW PLAY MORTON

The Complete Morton Project “never fails to satisfy,” as they used to say: they are (or “it is”) Andrew Oliver, piano; David Horniblow, reeds.  You can read more here.

We begin with LOW GRAVY, the tail end of an expression common in the early part of the last century.  Hard to explain, but if you vanquished an opponent (another person or band) you might have “cut him down to a low gravy,” which in its own oblique way is self-explanatory.  Nothing remained of the challenger except a few spoonfuls at the bottom of the saucepan, I presume.  But the composition is more than that:

STATE AND MADISON was the busiest intersection in Chicago.  Courtesy of WTTW, see representations of that street scene from 1936 to 1918 here.

And the soundtrack:

The irresistible JAZZ JUBILEE — never recorded by Morton — sweeps us along:

Finally (for this week’s offering) HARMONY BLUES, which has brief echoes of other Morton pieces but is a seductive theme on its own.

I thought, hearing it for the first time, that it would also be captivating scored for a small string ensemble:

May your happiness increase!

GIFTS FROM CHARLES: KIM CUSACK and ANDY SCHUMM at the HONKY TONK BBQ

You never know where generosities are going to come from; they can be dear surprises.  On my trip to Wisconsin in March, I was disappointed that I couldn’t get to Chicago to hear Kim Cusack, clarinet / vocal; Andy Schumm, piano, at the Honky Tonk BBQ.

But I received an email — with attachments — the other day:

Dear Michael,

It’s been a long time since we were graduate students, and we haven’t been in touch.  I didn’t talk about it then — we were too worried about doctoral orals — but I was developing into a jazz fan, and I found you through your blog.  I was passing through Chicago at the end of March on my way to visit family in California, and thought I would bring the video camera I use for the grandkids.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so here are a few videos of Kim Cusack and Andy Schumm.  If you can use them on the blog, I’d be delighted.  

Keep well,

Charles

The fog of decades lifted — I’d last seen Charles Schultz (who got annoyed if someone called him “Snoopy”) in 1981.  But what a lovely gift!  Not just for me, but for all of us.  And he does first-rate work.

and

and

and, finally, with vocal refrain:

Charles and I have tentative plans to meet in New York in August.  What a pleasure that will be, and neither of us will video the other.

May your happiness increase!

DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS GENE AMMONS, DEXTER GORDON, ERROLL GARNER, DON BYAS, AND CHICAGO DAYS (September 29, 2017)

On this wintry day — the blizzard outside my New York window looked like bits of ripped-up tissues falling from the skies — what could be more warming than thirty-five minutes with Dan Morgenstern telling tales of his Chicago days, including the story of Gene Ammons’ release from jail?  And Dan reminds us that jazz “is a communal music,” and tells tales of King Kolax and jazz on television as well:

and here’s the second part where Dan talks about jazz on television — the wonderful show “JUST JAZZ,” produced by Robert Kaiser and featuring Erroll Garner, Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson:

Thank you, Dan, for warming not only this day but any other day you’re on the scene.

May your happiness increase!

HEALING WARMTH: THE YERBA BUENA STOMPERS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST, PART ONE (November 25/26, 2016)

ybs-portrait

There is a small-scale blizzard outside my window, with ten inches of snow predicted, so the need for something warming — hot stomping music — is intense, and medically necessary. Therefore I present some videos of one of my favorite bands, the Yerba Buena Stompers, as they rocked the room at the San Diego Jazz Fest, last November 25 and 26th.

The YBS is a working band, with a fairly consistent personnel for the last fifteen years, and their music shows it — the friendly comfort of an ensemble where everyone knows everyone else.  I’ve seen and videoed them at a variety of festivals — most often, I think, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, which (coincidentally) is a place of friendly comfort and hot music.  (I look forward to their return appearances!)

They are: John Gill, banjo / vocal; Leon Oakley, cornet; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Tom Bartlett, trombone / vocal; Orange Kellin, clarinet; Conal Fowkes, piano; Clint Baker, tuba; Kevin Dorn, drums.  Although — on paper — they honor the music of Lu Watters and, by extension, Turk Murphy, their roots are deeper, going back to the hot Chicagoans, Freddie Keppard, Louis, Kid Ory, Joe Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Scott Joplin, venerable pop tunes, and more.  They honor the revered recordings, but their solos — hot and spicy — are their own.  And they make the world a warmer place.

Honoring Doc Cooke and Keppard, HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN:

For Kid Ory and Louis, SAVOY BLUES:

Ostensibly for Scott Joplin, but I think of Paul Mares as well, MAPLE LEAF RAG:

Turk Murphy’s theme song, BAY CITY:

A new dance from the early Twenties, SHIM-ME -SHA -WABBLE:

The snow is abating somewhat.  Thank you, Stompers!  (And there will be more video from their time at the San Diego Jazz Fest.)

May your happiness increase!

A FRIEND OF OURS: JIM BRANSON REMEMBERS GEORGE FINOLA

Cornetist George FInola (1945-2000) didn’t live long enough, but was loved and respected by many.  (Hoagy Carmichael was a fan.) He spent his life in Chicago and New Orleans, playing gigs and advancing jazz scholarship — helping to establish the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

I had only known of George because of his 1965 debut recording — where he is paired with notable friends Paul Crawford, Raymond Burke, Armand Hug, Danny and Blue Lu Barker:

george finola lpand, just because they exist, here’s a Finola autograph:

george finola autograph

and a matchbook ad for a New Orleans gig:

george-finola-on-cornet-matchbook

My friend Harriet Choice, the esteemed jazz writer, had spoken to me of George — “a very dear person” — but I had never met anyone who had known him, not until September 2014.

Jim Branson and I later found out we had been at many of the same California jazz events (Jim and his wife live in Berkeley) but until Jim said something about George from the audience of the Allegheny Jazz Party, I had no idea of their close and long-term connection.  On my most recent visit to California, Jim very graciously told me stories of a precocious and singular friend.  And it seemed only appropriate to have George’s record playing in the background:

Later, Jim remembered this: When George taught himself to play cornet he learned the incorrect fingering, holding down the third valve instead of the first and second for certain notes and correcting by altering his lip pressure slightly.  This is the same mistake that Bix reputedly made when he taught himself to play.  Did George do it by mistake, or did he do it on purpose because he knew that Bix had done the same thing?

Randy Sandke had crossed paths with George as well:  George and I went to different high schools in Chicago but both grew up on the South Side, him in South Shore and me in Hyde Park. I met him at Bob Koester and Joe Siegel’s record shop, Seymour’s. I put on a record and he came over and said “is Bix on that?” After that we became friends and discovered we both played cornet. We met and jammed together and also exchanged reel-to-reel tapes of 78s we had that at that time had not been reissued. I saw him in New Orleans a few times after that. I always enjoyed his playing and he has a lot of friends from NO that I still see, so his name comes up in conversation. I was very sad to hear of his premature death. More people should have heard him play and known who he was.

Other people who have stories of George are New Orleanians Banu Gibson, David Boeddinghaus, and Connie and Elaine Jones . . . perhaps there will be more tales of this beautiful player and intriguing man — and I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers knew him too.

May your happiness increase!

WRITE ON THE HEAD!

I received a fascinating letter some days ago from John Cox, a musician from Melbourne, Australia, who has played with Len and Bob Barnard and many other traditional / New Orleans / swing bands.

John told me that he has a signed banjo head from the Twenties with members of the King Oliver band, that he would like to sell and have go to a good home. Several New Orleans authorities including Greg Lambousy have said they thought it was genuine.  John says he has a Gretsch tenor banjo which the head came from. He’s looking to sell both for a starting bid of $1800 (he has had offers from interested people and institutions) and you can email him at johnpaulacox@optusnet.com.au.

BANJO HEAD

From what I can see, the Louis signature is genuine. And it appears that the original owner of this holy relic offered it to musicians in 1923, 1926, and 1928 for their signatures.  I see Freddie Keppard, Sippie Wallace, Baby Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Honore Dutrey, Manuel Perez, Bud Scott, and one other (top left) that I don’t quite recognize. (News flash!  Kris Bauwens, who knows a great deal about these things, has suggested that it is Bunk Johnson.  Indeed!)

I asked John about the provenance of this object, to learn more about it, and to sense its authenticity, and he told me that he bought the head from a man named Sampson, living in Queensland.  Sampson told John that the banjo had belonged to his father.  When Sampson’s father was about 15, Sampson’s grandfather would take him to the United States from England by ship to New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  They would stay in a hotel and get contraband to take back to England. In the hotels were jazz bands, and he befriended Bud Scott, who looked after him and gave him the banjo, which he had musicians sign over the years.  The banjo would have been fairly cheap at the time.  The boy was nicknamed “Mississippi Sam,” which was shortened to “Sippi Sam.” John believes the story to be true as Sampson’s father had died but Sampson said he could always remember the banjo at the family home.  Sampson had come out to Australia as a child and was about sixty when John met him.

I don’t ordinarily turn JAZZ LIVES into a hot market, but this object is so enthralling on its own that I felt drawn to do so. Please do get in touch with John if your budget can tolerate the purchase of such a beautiful artifact.

May your happiness increase!

A BIG BEAR COAT AND A CREAM PITCHER OF GIN: GOOD TIMES, CHICAGO 1928

Young Art Hodes

Young Art Hodes

Art Hodes recalled:

Wingy [Manone] had a big bear coat that we both took turns wearing. Louis would greet us with “Who’s the bear tonight?”  Joe Oliver would drop in to see Louis regularly.  Louis and the boys in the band kept a flat especially for themselves, to be able to drop in at all hours and relax.  You know the conversation that takes place on the record by Armstrong called “Monday Date” where Louis says to Earl Hines: “I bet if you had a half pint of Mrs. Circha’s gin . . . . ” (and I’m spelling her name the way it sounds, I’ve never seen it in print) – well, that was the name of the woman who kept the flat for the boys.  For a half-buck you got a cream pitcher full of gin which was passed around as far as it would go.  In those days that was what the boys drank.

From SELECTIONS FROM THE GUTTER, edited by Hodes and Chadwick Hansen.

EV FAREY’S BAY CITY JAZZ BAND (1958)

Sometimes the fabled past, unearthed, falls short of our expectations.  The rare recordings of the memorable band occasionally seem small: “Is that what we were waiting for all these years?” we ask.

But one disc by Ev Farey’s Bay City Jazz Band (TradJazz Productions CD 2123) has been a delight rather than a disappointment.

I first became interested in this music as after reading Jim Leigh’s insightful and witty memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE — where he writes about this gig at the Sail ‘N.  And in the wake of Jim’s recent death, I have been listening even more to this disc — with great pleasure.

The band is led by cornetist Ev Farey (someone still playing beautifully — I can testify to this from seeing him in person just a few weeks ago); Jim on trombone; Tito Patri, banjo; Art Nortier, piano; Walt Yost, string bass . . . . and the remarkable Bob Helm on clarinet.

Some bands conspicuously exert themselves, as if they had to get our attention — but the 1958 Bay City Jazz Band knew how to take its time, to be intense without strain.  An easy-rocking momentum dominates the disc, whether the band is emulating Oliver on SNAKE RAG or building slow fires under RICHARD M. JONES BLUES and RIVERSIDE BLUES.  No one gets much out of the middle register; there are no long solos.  The emphasis is on a communal ensemble and each selection moves along on its own swinging path.  But the music is bright, imaginative, with no one tied to the original recordings.

The mood overall is lyrical — I found myself admiring Farey’s gentle, down-the-middle melodic embellishments, his singing tone, his amiable gliding motion.  Helm has long been celebrated as a nimble soloist but his ensemble playing doesn’t sound like anyone else’s (except perhaps his own version of Dodds and Simeon.)  Leigh’s  concise, homegrown ardor fits in neatly.  On recordings of this sort, often the front line and the rhythm section seem to be running on approximately parallel tracks — the two trios meet at the start and end of selections.  Not so here.

The repertoire comes from an imagined 1926 Chicago, with an emphasis on early Louis with a sideways glance at Morton and contemporaries: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE; JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES; HOUSE OF DAVID BLUES; GEORGIA BO BO; NEW ORLEANS STOMP; SMOKEY MOKES; GUT BUCKET BLUES; SAN; MECCA FLAT BLUES; COME BACK SWEET PAPA; SAN; SKID-DAT-DE-DAT; WILLIE THE WEEPER; MILENBERG JOYS.  Turk’s tribute to Helm, BROTHER LOWDOWN, is here, as is another Murphy discovery, GOT DEM BLUES, an 1897 composition believed to be the earliest published blues.

And in case you were wondering about the sonic quality of 1958 tapes, they were recorded close to the band and have been well-treated, so the music comes through nicely.

One of the particular bittersweet pleasures about this issue is that Jim Leigh wrote the notes.  Here’s an excerpt:

The music here can speak for itself.  There is quite a lot of tape wound on the band during my time on board, and this is some of the very best.  Helm would not have been comfortable to hear it said, but he is the star as he had been three years earlier with our ElDorado JB, as he was so often, with no matter whom.  As always, it is impossible to say whether he was more brilliant as a soloist or an ensemble player; it is all one pure stream of music and there was no virtue he valued more highly than what he called continuity.  From having been lucky enough to play with the man many times in different groups, my impression is still deep that Helm’s presence on the stand invariably brought out the best in his band mates.  Not through competitiveness, but rather the joy he communicated and the sheer pleasure of listening to/playing with such a musician.

To hear samples from a wide range of the TradJazz Productions CDs — featuring Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Hal Smith, Claire Austin, Darnell Howard, Leon Oakley, Jim Leigh, Frank Chace, Bud Freeman, Clint Baker, Earl Scheelar, Russ Gilman, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, and others, click here.

To purchase LIVE! AT THE SAIL’N and learn about the Trad Jazz Production label’s other issues, click here.  (I understand that there’s a new Leigh CD, just released . . . . more about that soon.)

May your happiness increase.

“COME AND GET IT”: PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN at THE JAZZ SHOWCASE, CHICAGO

Not everyone knows the wonderful singer Petra van Nuis — but they’re missing out on a rare pleasure.  The same sentiments apply to guitarist Andy Brown: both are subtle, winning improvisers much admired by Chicagoans.  Petra and Andy know the rare art of becoming the songs they sing and play rather than standing at a distance from the material.

They’ve been performing with a swinging ensemble candidly titled PETRA’S RECESSION SEVEN, which features superb musicians: clarinetist Kim Cusack; trombonist Russ Phillips; trumpeter Art Davis; bassist Joe Policastro; drummer Bob Rummage — everyone in lyrical, rocking form.  Here, Petra and the band woo us with DO IT AGAIN:

Another invitation — of another sort — to join the band on a trip to BASIN STREET.  I always think this song could be given a brief vacation (it’s been done so often) but this version makes it new:

Wonderful music — and perhaps someday the band name will appropriately be PETRA’S PROSPERITY PLAYERS?  Until that day . . . we can savor the charming sounds here.  And to find out more about Petra and Andy, please visit here.

May your happiness increase.

TODAY’S MUSIC IS SWING: HOWARD ALDEN / ANDY BROWN QUARTET at THE GREEN MILL (November 12, 2011)

I haven’t yet made it to Chicago to hear guitarist Andy Brown in his native habitat (although he travels well), but this extended romp on the theme song from the 1959 film classic will do for now.  It finds Andy in the company of one of his musical friends and idols, Howard Alden, with bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Bob Rummage.

This isn’t “nostalgia” or “repertory” jazz — it shines in its own ways.  First admire the ease of the soloists as both Andy and Howard intuitively build their solos, moving from quiet single-note lines to percussive chords.  Notice their wise use of space (hear the phrase with which Howard begins).  Then move back a bit and listen to the thoughtful, rocking support each guitarist gives the other, and the strong sweet heartbeat of the bass and drums.  Who needs a piano, a big band, or amps turned way up high?  What we need to make us happy is contained within this remarkable subtle quartet.  Any CD producers out there?  Seems to me many of us would enjoy a whole hour of this music . . .

And there are two other performance videos by this group on YouTube: Tal Farlow’s METEOR and Barney Kessel’s BERNARDO.  Click here to enjoy them:

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! — THE FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND (ON DISC and VIDEO)

Imagine a jam session after hours in Chicago, circa 1934 or so (the date, being imagined, is flexible).  Waiting their turn to play are Pee Wee Russell, Rod Cless, Omer Simeon, Boyce Brown, Guy Kelly, Jess Stacy, Earl Hines, Cassino Simpson, Frank Melrose, Joe Sullivan, Wellman Braud, Truck Parham, Zutty Singleton, George Wettling, and others.

No, the late John Steiner didn’t record such a gathering of saints and heroes. 

But a modern evocation of such a gathering is to be found when one of my new-irreplaceable-favorite jazz groups, the FIRST THURSDAY JAZZ BAND, comes to play. 

They are Ray Skjelbred, leader, piano; Steve Wright, reeds, cornet; Dave Brown, string bass, Mike Daugherty, drums.  Everyone in the quartet has been known to sing a chorus or two.  It’s a thrifty, focused, engaging quartet — listeners get more than their money’s worth!

I’ve shared some YouTube videos of the band, performing at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant in Seattle, Washington — and more are at the bottom of this blogpost. 

But there’s good news tonight, as a famous radio broadcaster used to say.  The First Thursday Jazz Band has just come out with their debut CD — drop evertyhing and pay attention, please! 

It’s an old-fashioned production: recorded on the job (but with a sweetly attentive audience) in good sound, with a variety of songs and approaches — one of those CDs you can listen to the whole way through and come back to again right away. 

If you know anything about Ray Skjelbred, you know that he rocks — and he loves both classic and unusual material.  And people who admire him can argue (in the nicest of ways) if he is a greater soloist than an accompanist.  Like Stacy, Ray is so fine backing up someone else that occasionally I want to listen to the track again just to hear his bubbling down-home fills and figures. 

Ray’s partner in the rhythm section is the quietly propulsive Dave Brown.  String bassists tend to get less respect than they deserve, but rhythm is Dave’s business.  And business sure is swell.  He has a big plush sound (no amps, thank you kindly) but he doesn’t need one.  And his time is neither stodgy nor over-eager: I think of the Blessed Walter Page when I hear Dave play.

Mike Daugherty (the man with the red drum) is a jovial player with fine time and a whole galaxy of sonic effects from his kit.  He doesn’t opt for the usual tricks, but often just stays on his snare with a rich, padding brush carpet, or moves around his set in a way that feels just right.  No showboating, no look-at-me, not ever.

Steve Wright should get triple or quadruple pay, but I don’t think he’d even entertain the notion of asking for it.  A sweet alto player (a style I miss a great deal) with deep but casual lyricism, a clarinet player who can be Russell-tart or Darnell Howard-smooth, and a neat, unflurried Bixian trumpeter — sweetly to the point.

That’s the band — and these fellows are having a good time purling through the repertoire.  Their quiet pleasure comes through from the first note.

The CD is called simple RAY SKJELBRED and the FIRST THURSDAY BAND, and it’s on the Orangapoid label (number 103).  It has a wonderfully diverse repertoire — Don Redman and Chris Smith, Louis and Red McKenzie, old favorites, oddities, and deep blues.  (JAMES ALLEY BLUES, sung guttily by Bob Jackson, is priceless — immediately identifiable as authentic.) 

The songs are YELLOW DOG BLUES / YEARNING AND BLUE / CAVERNISM / SOLID ROCK / TRY GETTING A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP / DON’T BLAME ME / LOVER COME BACK TO ME / FAR AWAY BLUES / NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART / HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY / JAMES ALLEY BLUES / CHERRY / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / SHAKE THAT JELLY ROLL. 

I wish I could send you to your local record shop and be assured that it would be there — several copies! — but I think those days are gone, gone, gone.  However.  Obviously if you meet Ray at a gig (or the other FT chaps) you can buy a copy for the pittance of $15.  But for most of us, the idea of meeting Ray or the FTJB in person has a certain dreamlike quality.  So for $18, Ray himself will mail you a copy.  He promises!  The details go like this.  Ray Skjelbred can be found at 19526 40th PL. NE., Lake Forest Park, Washington 98155.  If you need more information or want to make a quantity order of a hundred copies, feel free to let me know and I will tell Ray immediately.  Here’s what the cover looks like.

Now.  I promised some new YouTube clips (I regret that they aren’t mine, but they are still lovely) recorded at the New Orleans Creole Restaurant on June 2, 2011.

Let’s begin with a ruminative PENNIES FROM HEAVEN that has all sorts of bonuses — Ray plays the verse in fine Crosby fashion, and Steve solos on clarinet and cornet:

Something in memory of Frank Melrose and George Wettling (with Tesch and Bud in the dim background), the WAILING BLUES:

Want to be some place where they huggy and kissy nice?  How about NAGASAKI?

And two highly reason-able songs, with connections to Red McKenzie, Wingy Mannone, Jack Teagarden, Fats Waller — the first being NEVER HAD A REASON TO BELIEVE IN YOU (vocalizing by Mike Daugherty):

And that eternal plaint, WHAT’S THE REASON (I’M NOT PLEASIN’ YOU)?

ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON might have been just another Thirties cowboy song if Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham hadn’t been handed it in the Vocalion studios.  “Take another one, Higgy!”  I think also of the version with vocal by Al Bowlly to which Bob Hoskins emoted in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.  Vocal by Mike, doubling by Steve:

And THE SONG IS ENDED:

But that last song title (with apologies to Mr. Berlin) isn’t accurate.  There are more videos from this evening on YouTube, and — that new CD! 

Be the first one in your neighborhood to be walking around with a wide grin — and when someone says, “Why the hell are YOU so happy?” you can say, “Have you heard the new CD by The First Thursday Jazz Band?”  And — if you’re a really charitable spreader-of-the-good-word, you can share your headphones / iPod, or even invite them into your car for a few minutes of The Real Thing.

PAGES WORTH READING: JESS STACY’S STORIES

Jess Stacy

Because I’ve been reading about jazz for decades, I prefer books that offer first-hand information rather than pastiches of familiar quotations.  Reading a revered musician’s own words is a special pleasure.

A new book presenting the reminiscences of pianist Jess Stacy is a delight.

It’s called CHICAGO JAZZ AND THEN SOME: AS TOLD BE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL CHICAGOANS, JESS STACY.  The author is Jean Porter Dmytryk — who, with her husband Edward (the film director), had the good fortune to live next door to Jess and his wife Patricia from 1951.  The book was published in 2010 by Bear Manor Media, and you can find it through their site — http://www.bearmanormedia.com., or through Amazon.

It’s only 138 pages, but it contains more new information — and wonderful rare photographs — than many jazz books weighing three times as much.  Those who love cats will find especially endearing the photograph of the Stacys’ cat, Dollface, peering over the top of the music as Jess plays the piano at home.  Worth the price of admission.  And what comes through on every page is the affection Jess had for his neighbors and his pleasure in telling his stories.

The book takes Jess from his childhood in Cape Giardeau, Missouri, up to his 1974 triumph at the Newport Jazz Festival (I was there, and can testify that he played beautifully — solo and with Bud Freeman), and the back cover mentions that he celebrated his ninetieth birthday with the Dmytryks.

In between there are some stories we know well — Jess’s first meeting with Bix Beiderbecke and his sorrow at Bix’s death, his urging Benny Goodman to keep on going to California and the band’s triumph at the Palomar Ballroom, his eventual retirement from the music business and later return to New York.

But for every familiar story there are five brand-new ones.  Stacy was a keen observer of Chicago nightlife and of the gangsters he worked for: so there are sharply-realized, often surprising sketches of Al Capone, Machine Gun Jack McGurk, even of John Dillinger’s body in the morgue.  Decades after he had left Chicago, Jess would still call the intersection of Thirty-Fifth and Calumet “the center of the universe” and speak fondly of King Oliver, a young Louis Armstrong, of how George Wettling was punished by the gangsters for bad behavior.  And the stories aren’t all about jazz musicians: Sally Rand and Texas Guinan make appearances, as does a forgotten singer named Muriel Leigh who tried to pull a fast one, and two singers who would become deservedly famous — Frankie Laine and Doris Day.

Other personalities — occasionally helpful, more often frustrating — are seen at close range.  I speak of Benny Goodman (Stacy’s association with the King lasted a quarter-century but was often unhappy) and Lee Wiley (their brief but nearly toxic love affair, marriage, and musical partnership).  Those who rhapsodize over Wiley might find the pages where she appears startling, but the stories have the ring of truth.  But Jess is never mean, never vindictive.

Readers will be moved by Jess’s close friendship with Frank Teschemacher (who else could have told us what Stacy does?), his affection for Wingy Manone and Jack Teagarden, for Muggsy Spanier and Wettling, for Bessie Smith, Bunny Berigan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tommy Dorsey.

The story of Jess’s long-time romance with Patricia Peck (with enough twists and turns for a perfect 1946 movie) is a highlight of this book.  Unlike the stereotypical jazz musician, he recognized true love — and even though he almost lost it, it couldn’t be stifled.

Stacy seems a cheerful, down-to-earth person, someone we would have been honored to meet, someone who would have made us feel at home in a sentence: a man who can say that he had liked gin and tried pot, but that nothing beats a Hershey bar.

Two other biographies of Stacy have already been published, but even if you own the admirable books by Derek Coller and Keith Keller, make room on your shelf for this one.

P.S.  Perfectionists will see that Jean Porter Dmytryk is not a polished writer.  Jazz scholars will notice some inaccuracies.  But the pleasure of hearing Jess Stacy tell his own stories far outweighs any flaws in the book.

“CHICAGO CLARINETS” (San Diego, Nov. 26, 2010)

I don’t necessarily associate Chicago solely with clarinets, since so many other jazz players made it their home, physically or spiritually, from Art Hodes to Marty Grosz to Sidney Catlett to the Armstrongs, Louis and Miss Lil . . . the list could go on for a long time.

But reed players seem to have found that city and its environs congenial, even though the winds coming off the Loop must have dried out freight trainloads of reeds.  Think of Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, Omer Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Bud Jacobson, Benny Goodman, Frank Chace, Franz Jackson, Joe Rushton, Joe Marsala, and many more.

Drummer and jazz scholar Hal Smith led a small group at the 2010 Dixieland Jazz Festival (the thirty-first!) in San Diego, featuring Kim Cusack on clarinet and vocal; Anita Thomas on clarinet and saxophone; Bobby Gordon on clarinet; Chris Dawson on piano; Marty Eggers on string bass and sousaphone, and Katie Cavera on guitar, banjo, and vocal.  Here are four selections from their set, each one splendid in its own way.

The first one is a real surprise.  PRETTY BABY, the aesthetic offspring of Tony Jackson, is usually done as a langorous rhapsody: not Kim Cusack’s romp, which has a decidedly Condon flavor to it, thanks to that rhythm section, which could move mountains:

Katie sings one of my favorite period songs — HE’S THE LAST WORD — another evocation of the innocent-looking but seductive male swain, with intertwining commentaries from Kim and Anita.  (Katie’s amused mock-naivete is perfect for this set of lyrics!):

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW takes us back to the Apex Club Orchestra (with Chris filling in neatly for Earl Hines) — Anita and Kim play at being Doc Poston and Jimmie Noone before Bobby cuts his own ferociously individualistic path through the performance, reminding us that even though Pee Wee Russell said he had no Chicago union card, he did touch down there for periods of time:

Finally, Anita’s gutty tribute to Johnny Dodds — BLUE CLARINET STOMP — that gets down in the emotional depths and stays there, with help from that wonderful rhythm section:

Meet me in Chicago!  Or is it San Diego, next Thanksgiving?  Heartfelt thanks to the tireless and on-target Rae Ann Berry, chronicler of all things swinging.

ART TATUM TRIO, CHICAGO

A good deal of energetic call-and-response was stirred up on this site by my posting what was proposed as an authentic Art Tatum signature.  Reader Gary Pajer has generously shared with us his father’s postcard from the London House in Chicago, signed by the three members of a notable trio:

Gary’s father didn’t remember an exact date for this (he’s 89 now) but recalled that Tatum was very friendly and personable, his fingers “very fast.”  And he did recall having a wonderful time in Chicago!

Let’s add this one to the sometimes heated discussion of what Art’s signature looked like . . . with thanks to both Mr. Pajers — and to the Art Tatum Trio of yore!

COME OUT FROM BEHIND THOSE WORDS!

I’m troubled by the code words that jazz listeners use to describe the varieties of music they prefer. 

Some who believe that jazz only reached fruition when Charlie Parker (or John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman) burst forth, say in print that they prefer jazz that is “forward-looking,” “adventurous,” “innovative.”  Others who think jazz reached the perfection of form sometime before 1945 or 1960 or 2000 and has been in decline ever since, then your music of choice is “authentic,” “the real thing,” “pure,” “uncorrupted.”  Of course, “modern,” “contemporary,” “timeless” get a workout as well.   “Adventurous,” too. 

Veiled in code words, these ideological positions seek to validate a false premise: that Art progresses or declines.  Did Louis “improve” on King Oliver?  Did Clifford Brown “improve” on Roy Eldridge?  Was “Swing” more innovative than “New Orleans” or “Chicago”; did “Bebop” sweep all that come before it away, only to be rumped by “Hard Bop” and “Free Jazz”? 

Seriously, it makes jazz seem like a parade of the years: if you thought 1944 was great, wait till you hear 1945 — or one box of detergent replacing the last one because the NEW box is IMPROVED (and orange with blue stripes, too).

We all have very particular — sometimes idiosyncratic — preferences in our music as well as in everything else. 

But when those preferences are expressed as statements of critical truth, they may do the music a disservice.  I prefer Ellington’s analogy of the diner in a restaurant who likes his fish cooked the way Pierre does it.  So if your definition of the ideal way to play the alto saxophone is Hilton Jefferson or Benny Carter or Phil Woods, say so.  Those who see jazz as a progress year by year, with each new stylistic change an inevitable improvement on the old-fashioned music of the dusty past are missing out on many hot choruses, now and on record.  And the listeners who are so committed to banjo-and-tuba rhythm sections and find anything else oppressively “modern” may deprive themselves of the joy of Andy Brown, Neil Miner, and Jeff Hamilton. 

So let us abandon the ideological structures for an hour or a day.  Say, rather, “I like the way _________ sings, the way ________ plays trumpet,” rather than suggesting that either of these players has somehow made all others superfluous.  “Better” and “greater” might well be dispensable.  Let us be open about our admittedly subjective likes and dislikes (I have boxes of them to share) — to be cherished as personal expressions, but not made into statements of value. 

And perhaps it’s time for listeners and critics, too, to go back to the Blindfold Test — or what CADENCE calls “Flying Blind.”  Let us not be swayed by the famous name (or the absolutely unknown name) on the CD: what does the music sound like? 

A few unsolicited ruminations to begin 2010 . . . .

EDDIE HIGGINS (1932-2009)

My good friend Bill Gallagher was lucky enough to know the late pianist Eddie Higgins.  With Eddie’s help, Bill became his discographer as well.  Here is Bill’s beautiful elegy for Eddie:

Eddie Higgins: 2/21/1932 – 8/31/2009

The world of jazz has lost one of its most talented pianists and I have lost a good friend.  Eddie Higgins’ life was brought to an end by complications of lymphatic and lung cancer, an event that seemed to have developed in a matter of a few months.  I had seen Eddie perform in Sacramento in late May, had dinner with him, and he showed no evidence or indication of what was to come in a few brief months.

Eddie was a generous and talented person in so many ways.  He not only played great piano, but he could write well and discuss matters outside of music in ways that were thoughtful and revealing.  Although he could be generous with his time, it took a while to crack the veneer of New England reserve that was part of his persona.  But the effort and the result was worth it.  Underneath was a man who was a gentleman in every sense of the word, a man of taste, a highly developed wit, and one hell of a pianist.

His career was established in Chicago during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s where his longest running gig was a 12 year stint as the resident trio at the London House.  Eddie could play just about anything and with anybody, but he mainly stuck to Mainstream.  He once described Free Jazz as sounding like “a fire in a pet store.” Over the course of a number of years, he played with Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Al Grey and Eddie South. And that’s just the short list. Other well known piano trios that performed at the London House were intimidated by Eddie’s group. Some of the tales that came out of his London House experience were more than entertaining, such as the one involving Buddy Rich. Buddy was drumming like crazy but the customers were leaving because of the volume. The manager asked Eddie to turn down the amplifiers before everyone had left and Eddie did so – but Buddy caught him at it. Accusations were hurled at Eddie, Buddy drummed louder and threatened to get Eddie after the set. Sure enough, he came after Eddie and Eddie hightailed it into the restroom and locked himself in a stall. Buddy found the locked stall and proceeded to do a limbo under the door while Eddie vaulted over the top of the door and out the building. Later, each would avoid bringing up the event when their paths crossed.

Also during his Chicago years, Eddie was invited by Art Blakey to join his Jazz Messengers. Eddie refused because he had two young children at the time and it wasn’t a good time to go on the road. He also had an offer to become Carmen McRae’s accompanist but he turned down the opportunity for the same reasons and the job went to Norman Simmons. When further pressed for his reasons for turning down Blakey, he said that he didn’t want to be the odd man in the group. Eddie would have been the only white musician, the only non-user and Blakey had a habit of paying his connections before he paid his musicians.

Eddie’s versatility was amazing. During the 70’s he was exposed to some of the early recordings coming out of Brazil and was taken by the new rhythms of the Bossa Nova. Many of his albums include a track or two of a South American composition, but he also produced one of the finest albums of Jobim compositions that exists, “Speaking of Jobim.” If you haven’t heard it, you must.

There will be some who read this who will have no idea who Eddie Higgins was or how brilliantly he played. This won’t surprise me because Eddie traveled in certain jazz circuits and was probably better known in Japan and Korea, where his recordings on the Japanese Venus label are among the top jazz sellers. However, Eddie enjoyed deep respect among fellow musicians who admired him as a consummate professional. So, to those who might say, “Eddie, we hardly knew ye,” I understand. But to those who did know him, he was a national treasure and will be missed more than words can express.

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

Bill and Eddie at Sacramento

About Eddie: he was one of those rare musicians who can make a melody, apparently unadorned, sing.  Any of his Venus recordings (solo, trio, or quartet) demonstrate that he was someone working beneath the surface of the music, giving himself fully to the song.  I also can testify to his gracious nature: having reviewed a Venus CD in Cadence (I believe it was his quartet with Scott Hamilton) I got a letter from Eddie, thanking me for what I had written in the most perceptive way.  I hope that more people come to his music as the years pass.

Jazz photographer John Herr, another Higgins devotee, captured Eddie at the leyboard during the April 2006 Atlanta Jazz Party:

Eddie Herr 406

Eddie’s widow, the singer Meredith D’Ambrosio, sent along this piece on Eddie from the Chicago Tribune — http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-obit-ed-higgins-02sep02,0,1489219.story — a fitting tribute to a man who brought so much music to that city.  We send our condolences to Meredith and to Eddie’s family.  Thanks to Judith Schlesinger, Bill Gallagher, and John Herr.

“GOD IS LAUGHING”: CHICAGO JAZZ HISTORY

sunset-cafe-1About two blocks west of the Supreme Life building is a site that once housed a legendary nightclub, the Sunset Cafe at 315 E. 35th St.

Louis Armstrong, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Benny Goodman all played the Sunset, which was transformed from a garage in 1921 to one of the city’s hottest jazz venues. Armstrong wrote a song and named it “Sunset Cafe Stomp.” In 1937 the nightclub was remodeled again and was renamed the Grand Terrace Cafe. It continued to be a nightclub until 1950.

In the 1960s, the building was transformed into a hardware store. David Meyers, who owns the store with his brother, Daniel, often takes tourists up a short flight of stairs in the back to his office, which used to be the Sunset’s stage. “You’re standing on holy, sacred ground; that’s what a jazz musician told me when he came to see the place,” Meyers says. “I autograph plungers for people all the time.”

In 2005 eight German jazz musicians asked Meyers for more than a souvenir. They wanted to hold a jam session on the old stage. Meyers said yes.

“Imagine,” Meyers says. “Eight German musicians come to play in a black neighborhood in a hardware store owned by a Jew. God is laughing.”

(This is an excerpt from the long story by Don Terry published in the Chicago Tribune on February 1, 2009.)