Tag Archives: Chick Bullock

“ALOHA.”

rich-conaty-portrait

RICH CONATY 1954-2016

In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.

Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.

Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.

Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.

Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence.  Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently.  As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.

We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).

Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.

I should say that his taste was admirable.  He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten.  He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.

And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row.  THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way.  (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program.  He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)

On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car.  I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights.  When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV.  So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets.  But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.

rich-conaty-at-wfuv

I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.

I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.

Aloha.  And Mahalo.

May your happiness increase!

8:45 PM, MORE OR LESS

What time is it?

8 45

One recipe for happiness (there are many) follows below.  Take a wonderful song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — I know it first from the Jolson Decca — ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE.  Then, take one of my favorite singers, Banu Gibson, and match her with the swinging David Boeddinghaus at the piano in a 1990 duo-session:

Please listen closely — from the clock-chimes at the start to the delicious mixture of Banu’s warm but controlled voice (her lovely intonation and pitch and swing) and David’s rollicking piano.  The only thing wrong with this recording is that it is the length of a 78.  So I have to play it several times in a row.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

I know there are many other recorded versions of this song — not only Jolson, but Dean Martin, Mavis Rivers, Susannah McCorkle, Bobby Darin, Chick Bullock, Wingy Manone, Ozzie Nelson, Combo De Luxe, Spats Langham / Keith Nichols, Sarah Spencer, John Sheridan, and others.

But the one that wins the prize for Decline of the West, 1962-style, is this classic by one Debby Woods, who flattens out the melody, rides right over the chord changes, and in general (although she may have been an adorable person) does unintended violence to what I think is a great song:

and the flip side of this 45 — what archaic terms those are now! — is a Woodsian rendering of this Thirties classic, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, which I refuse to post here — even though it is more faithful to the original — out of respect to Bing and Hawk.

But now you know.  When someone wants to argue with you over the thorny question, “WHEN does life begin?” you can answer “At eight forty-five,” smile and slip away unnoticed.

May your happiness increase!

YOU’LL BE INTRODUCED TO GLORY!

Fats Waller and Alex Hill wrote one of the most irresistibly encouraging songs I know, a sweet spiritual paean to optimism, KEEP A SONG IN YOUR SOUL.  I thought it would be fitting to let you hear as many versions of it as I could find.

SONG IN YOUR SOUL cover

Ellington, with a friendly vocal by Chick Bullock (1931):

Fletcher Henderson, arrangement by Benny Carter (1930):

Red Nichols with Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman:

Mamie Smith:

Lou Gold and His Orchestra:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL inside

Now, for some of my favorite intersections — living hot musicians playing beautiful swing classics:

Marty Grosz and his Optimists:

Jeff Barnhart and friends at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

Michael Hashim with Claudio Roditi:

Bohem Ragtime Jazz Band with Viktoria Vizin:

Howard Alden and Warren Vache:

Rebecca Kilgore with Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers, featuring Marc Caparone, Bobby Gordon, Chris Dawson:

Another version from Jeff Barnhart and a British band with Nick Ward:

And an earlier version from Marty Grosz and his Philosophers:

SONG IN YOUR SOUL Brunswick Bill Robinson

There is a wonderful 1931 recording of Bill Robinson, singing and tapping.  Here is Bojangles as a marionette, invented and manipulated in the most extraordinary way by Bob Baker.  Initially it might seem perverse, but I came to marvel at it.  If you see this as demeaning, Robinson’s wife liked this and encouraged Baker to keep it in his show:

I was excited to see that so many versions are accessible to us, and perhaps I got carried away.  But I love this song, its message that music can make everything right, and I love the ways that the music itself blossoms in so many contexts.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN BLISS HAPPENS! AT THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: RAY SKJELBRED, MARC CAPARONE, JIM BUCHMANN, KATIE CAVERA, HAL SMITH, BEAU SAMPLE (Nov. 30, 2014)

SAN DIEGO 2015 flyer 2

One of my friends recently asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving, and I said, “I’m flying to San Diego for a wonderful jazz festival,” and this is why: the San Diego Jazz Fest (all schedules subject to change, but this is a filling menu indeed).

The names you don’t see on the flyer above are Marc Caparone, Kim Cusack, Chris Dawson, Carl Sonny Leyland, Conal Fowkes, Kevin Dorn, Orange Kellin, Tom Bartlett, Duke Heitger, Leon Oakley, Clint Baker, Dawn Lambeth, and many others.  I know that some of you will say, with good reason, “That’s too far away,” and I understand that.  But if you say, “Oh, that’s just another California trad festival,” I hope you are not within swatting range, for it isn’t.  But rather than take this uncharacteristic vehemence as merely the expression of the writer’s personality, look below.

Evidence from November 30, 2014: a small-group session led by Ray Skjelbred, piano and vocal; Hal Smith, drums; Beau Sample, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Jim Buchmann, clarinet and saxello, Marc Caparone, trumpet.  I’ve posted other videos from this session, but here are the two that closed it.  One lyrical, one steaming.

The first song, ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE, which I associate with Lee Wiley — who recorded it a half-dozen times between 1950 and 1972.  Wiley wrote the lyrics; Ned Washington and Victor Young the melody.  I suspect that Ray knew it first from the Mills Brothers recording, but perhaps from the Chick Bullock, Ellington, Hackett, or Nat Cole sides, too.

It is one of those rare love songs that isn’t I WISH I HAD YOU or YOU BROKE MY HEART, but a seriously intent paean to fidelity (rather like I’LL FOLLOW YOU, I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, or I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN).  Yet unlike those two songs, it doesn’t stress super-heroic behavior as testimony of diligent indefatigable fidelity.  There are no caveats: “I have to check my calendar.  I can’t be devoted to you this Tuesday.  How about Wednesday?” There aren’t any mighty distances, rivers, or mountains.  The singer simply says, “Ask for me and I’ll be there,” which I find touching. And Ray’s spare, whispered declaration of the lyrics makes it even more so.  I don’t hear his singing as evidence of a limited vocal range; rather, he sounds like someone uttering his deepest heart-truths about devotion in the form of a vow. A Thirties pop song about love — what could be more common — that suddenly seems a sacred offering:

From a sacred offering delivered in hushed tones to another song-of-relationships, the critical / satirical NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, which — with lyrics — details the small-town girl who has come to the big city and quickly become unrecognizable.  Perhaps she’d come to the South Side of Chicago and started hanging around the Lincoln Gardens?  If so, I’d assess her transformation as an improvement.  Note the easy hot tempo — that’s no oxymoron — and how Marc Caparone sounds a bit like a holy ancestor from Corsicana, Texas.  To quote Ring Lardner, you could look it up.  Or you could simply immerse yourself in the video:

Here’s the festival’s home page and the relevant Facebook page.  I hope you’ll heed the siren call of Good Music and join us there.  Festivals need more than enthusiastic watchers-of-videos to survive.

I hope I will be forgiven for ending on an autobiographical note.  Five years ago, I had some cardiac excitement that was repaired by the best kind of Western medicine: open the patient up and put a little machine in.  It works; I’m fine.  Ask my electrocardiologist.  But when I watch and listen to music at this level — music that I experienced then and have revisited often — I think, “Goodness, I could have died and never seen / heard this,” in a state of astonished gratitude. Not a bad place to be. Rather like the San Diego Jazz Fest.

May your happiness increase!

GOODWILL, NOVATO, CALIFORNIA, JULY 21, 2013

Someone had taste.

RECORDS 7 21 13 001And on the other side . . .

RECORDS 7 21 13 002You could say that again.  1935 solos by the Master.

RECORDS 7 21 13 003These discs were in a cardboard album labeled PIANO / WILSON and OTHERS — and the original owner had handled them tenderly.

RECORDS 7 21 13 004I did have to search through more than a hundred more popular records from the late Forties and early Fifties to uncover these, but a little Perry Como never hurt anyone on a mission.

RECORDS 7 21 13 005and her cousin . . .

RECORDS 7 21 13 006And now for something completely different — Tavern Tunes!

RECORDS 7 21 13 007And another hot one:

RECORDS 7 21 13 008How about some big band classics?

RECORDS 7 21 13 010and the reverse:

RECORDS 7 21 13 015More old chestnuts from a vocalist with a small group in 1936:

RECORDS 7 21 13 011On SAL, Chick sings the verse (new to me) and there’s a bright short solo by Jack Jenney.

RECORDS 7 21 13 012And a pair of Classics — thanks to George Avakian as well as to Mister Strong:

RECORDS 7 21 13 013I’ll keep following the advice on the label: it works well —

RECORDS 7 21 13 014No, I don’t quite believe that this happened, either.  But I am enjoying the experience as well as the music.

May your happiness increase!

IT’S THE “Y” THAT MAKES IT

We tend to believe that artists perform only the repertoire we know from studio recordings — and when we find out otherwise, it is always a pleasant shock.  Thus, the concert program that shows Louis in Europe with HOW AM I TO KNOW? as one of his songs; the airshot from the Famous Door (1938) with the Basie band beginning — unfortunately not completing — a riotous EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY . . . and more.  One never knows if the “featured by” on Thirties and Forties sheet music means that the artist pictured on the cover actually performed the song.  I doubt that Bobby Hackett often played LITTLE SKIPPER or TINKLE TIME, but anything is possible.

Here are Connie, Vet, and Martha — pictured on the cover of a song by Bud Green and Sam H. Stept . . .

SWINGY LITTLE THINGY

Although the Sisters look quite serious — a Greek statue? — the song is a light-hearted Thirties trifle.  Perhaps, deep in the Boswell family archives, there are airshots of this?  We can hope.  Here is a 1933 recording of the song — music by Joe Robichaux, vocal by Chick Bullock — so we can imagine what the Sisters would have done with it:

May your happiness increase.

TOO HOT FOR WORDS: MATTHIAS SEUFFERT’S RHYTHMAKERS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

In 1932 and 1933, a small but determined group of New York jazz musicians took part in a series of recording sessions that might well still be the hottest jazz on record.  Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Krupa, Joe Sullivan, Fats Waller, Pee Wee Russell, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Lord, Happy Caldwell, Zutty Singleton, Pops Foster, Jack Bland, Eddie Condon . . .   The vocalists were Red himself, Fats, Chick Bullock, and the elusive Billy Banks — who, like Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, specialized in singing in an abnormally high register.

The sessions were recorded for the Banner and Melotone labels and were meant to be sold inexpensively in “dime-stores,” so I imagine that the recording directors didn’t notice or didn’t care just how unfettered the performances were.  And no one seemed to care that “colored” and “white” musicians were playing together, either — a good omen of things to come, albeit slowly.

Many recordings of this time begin sedately, wooing the prospective buyers with a calm exposition of the melody before launching into improvisation in the last third of the disk: not the Rhythmakers.  It’s often been stated that Philip Larkin saw these sessions as one of the high points of the twentieth century, perhaps of Western civilization.  I wouldn’t argue with this position, although Larkin, chronically morose, saw everything else that came after as somehow small, which is a pity.

The superb reedman (here on clarinet) Matthias Seuffert was asked to close off the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party with his own version of the Rhythmakers.  He had help, of course, in Bent Persson (trumpet); Rico Tomasso (using his many voices and having fun vocalizing); David Sager (trombone); Steve Andrews (tenor sax); Philippe Guignier and Keith Stephen (banjo and guitar); Martin Seck (piano); Henry Lemaire (bass); Richard Pite (drums).

BUGLE CALL RAG:

YELLOW DOG BLUES:

I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:

OH, PETER:

SPIDER CRAWL:

WHO’S SORRY NOW?:

MEAN OLD BEDBUG BLUES:

An ecstatic conclusion to the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, although JAZZ LIVES will have a postscript — courtesy of Flemming Thorbye, who also captured these sets — to come.