Tag Archives: Chris Albertson

MISS LIL, FOREMOTHER

I like the universe I was born into, but I imagine alternate ones all the time — the debt I owe to my Big Sister, who introduced me to Golden Age science fiction in my late childhood.  So I imagine one where this woman — pianist, singer, composer, bandleader, natural leader, innovator — was a star of the magnitude she deserved.

Lillian Hardin

Lillian Hardin is ill-served as being perceived primarily as just “the second wife of Louis Armstrong.”  My admiration and love for Louis is beyond the normal measuring tools, but Lil is someone and would have been someone if she’d never devoted her energies to that chubby young man from the South for a decade or so.  She herself didn’t have a substantial ego, which may have accounted for her somewhat shadowy presence in jazz history.  How she would have been celebrated had she not been female is something to consider.

You could ask one of the heroes of this music, Chris Albertson, about Lil, for sure. Here — on Chris’ STOMP OFF blog — is a trove of information, all enlivened by his love for Miss Lil.  (His memories of Lil — including a three-part audio interview — are treasures.)

Rather than write about her in ways admiring or polemical or both, I offer a banquet of her Swing Era Decca recordings, which — I know it’s heresy — stand up next to the Teddy Wilson, Fats Waller, and Henry “Red” Allen small groups of the period for swing, charm, melodic inventiveness, and fun.  On these discs, I know our ears go automatically to the horn soloists — but imagine them with a flat rhythm section and inferior tunes.  Lil’s exuberance makes these recordings much more memorable.  Although none of her original compositions had much longevity except for JUST FOR A THRILL, sixteen of the twenty-six are hers, and I’d guess the effective arrangements are hers as well.

Underneath the picture on the YouTube posting are all the titles: further details here: Lillian Armstrong And Her Swing Band : Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Teddy Cole (p) Huey Long (g) John Frazier (b) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  Chicago, Oct. 27, 1936.  OR LEAVE ME ALONE / MY HI-DE-HO MAN / BROWN GAL / DOIN’ THE SUZIE-Q / JUST FOR A THRILL / IT’S MURDER /

Joe Thomas (tp) Buster Bailey (cl) Robert Carroll (ts) James Sherman (p) Arnold Adams (g) Wellman Braud (b) George Foster (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, April 15, 1937: BORN TO SWING / I’M ON A SIT-DOWN STRIKE FOR RHYTHM / BLUER THAN BLUE / I’M KNOCKIN’ AT THE CABIN DOOR /

Shirley Clay (tp) replaces Joe Thomas, Prince Robinson (ts) replaces Robert Carroll, Manzie Johnson (d) replaces George Foster.  New York, July 23, 1937:
LINDY HOP / WHEN I WENT BACK HOME / LET’S CALL IT LOVE / YOU MEAN SO MUCH TO ME /

Ralph Muzzillo, Johnny McGhee (tp) Al Philburn (tb) Tony Zimmers (cl) Frank Froeba (p) Dave Barbour (g) Haig Stephens (b) Sam Weiss (d) Lil Armstrong (vcl).  New York, Feb. 2, 1938: LET’S GET HAPPY TOGETHER / HAPPY TODAY, SAD TOMORROW / YOU SHALL REAP WHAT YOU SOW / ORIENTAL SWING /

Reunald Jones (tp) J.C. Higginbotham (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) O’Neil Spencer (d).  September 9, 1938: SAFELY LOCKED UP IN MY HEART / EVERYTHING’S WRONG, AIN’T NOTHING RIGHT / HARLEM ON SATURDAY NIGHT / KNOCK-KNEED SAL (is the unidentified male voice on the last track Clarence Williams?) /

Jonah Jones (tp) Don Stovall (as) Russell Johns (ts) Lil Armstrong (p,vcl) Wellman Braud (b) Manzie Johnson (d) Midge Williams, Hilda Rogers (vcl).
New York, March 18, 1940: SIXTH STREET / RIFFIN’ THE BLUES / WHY IS A GOOD MAN SO HARD TO FIND? / MY SECRET FLAME /

I salute Lillian Hardin as a joyous Foremother.  Her virtues should be celebrated on many other days of the year.

May your happiness increase!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lester-Young-standing-changing-reed

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

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

LESTER BASIE Mosaic

Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May your happiness increase!

BEWARE OF THE REPEATER PENCIL

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (Oscar Wilde, DE PROFUNDIS)

I think Wilde’s despairing indictment is far too sweeping, but it is often true in jazz, ironically a music that so vigorously presents itself as celebrating originality, singularity, individual utterance.  Improvisation, inventiveness, and the like are exceedingly difficult. But I witness three varieties of “mimicry” often in the art form I love: imitating an individual artist’s style; copying a recording; copying oneself. Obviously, they overlap.

This post has been simmering in my mind for a long time, motivated by people who try to sing exactly like Billie, play like Bix or Bird or a hundred others.  On a technical level, I occasionally admire such mastery but confess I also find it upsetting — rather like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the Halloween mask is so perfect yet so energetically malicious that it cannot be removed from the wearer’s face.

I revere the artists who deeply move me, and I understand that one might opt to copy Billie Holiday as closely as possible because, in the act of imitation, the singer can perhaps make it appear that Billie has never died, has never left. The singer can hope to move an audience not only by her own vocal skill but by the thrill of recognition, the doubling of emotion we have when we see the Present and the Past simultaneously appearing to occupy the same space.

But is this act of duplication truly reverence or desecration?  Would Billie have admired the copyist as someone paying homage or someone who hadn’t yet found her own voice and was seeking to hitch a ride on someone else’s style and fame?

I have also asked this question when it comes to the recreation of beloved recorded performances, and have annoyed some people, perhaps to excess, so I will leave that for now.  I know there is indeed something exciting about hearing a favorite solo or recording reproduced “live,” but for me the pleasure is limited.

Copying an artist — in moderation — has its virtues for the young or inexperienced performer, someone whose identity is still malleable. As a way of finding out who one is and who one was meant to be, it can be rewarding. For an amorphous artist to find someone from whom (s)he can “steal” is part of the long process of self-education and self-selection. Young poets and painters in centuries past were set to imitate Horace or Rodin. At the very least, practicing Bix’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo over and over means that you are listening to something beautiful, enduring, something beyond your own improvisations.

But creating a self seems to be a process both of accretion and divesting: of taking on models, to be reproduced to the best of one’s ability, and then gradually sloughing them off so that one’s “authentic” self, grown silently, can be revealed in all its shifting iridescent beauty. I wonder if the desire to wholly take on someone else’s essential self is destructive to the borrower.

I have read many reminiscences where The Great Man or Woman (Louis, Bird, Pres, Jo) is approached by a young follower who then plays or sings exactly a cherished chorus that the GM/W has recorded in the past . . . and the Master’s reaction is either gentle puzzlement or strong annoyance, “What are you doing all that shit for? What is the matter with you?”

Benny Goodman did not need clarinet players to be Benny Goodman onwards in to the future.  He was Benny Goodman; he is Benny Goodman. Nothing more needs to be said.

“Who are you?” is the larger question. If you play SEVEN COME ELEVEN, if you sing STRANGE FRUIT, what do you have to offer us that is yours?

My thoughts are motivated by more than one singer devotedly attempting to be Billie Holiday, slowing down the tempo during the performance so that a cheerful song becomes a despairing moan, ending phrases with a large vibrato and downward slides, choking an otherwise open voice into a constricted meow.  I believe that these singers are genuine in their admiration, but the result sounds as if they are offering a product — “Get your Billie Holiday right here!” — for sale.

I do understand such acts as outpourings of love. When I was given a cornet and I could croak through a melody statement of HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY, I felt very proud that I could play something remotely like the sounds I adore, though I was aware of the mighty distances between what I heard in my memory and the sounds emerging from the bell — and I sent it into the air as a thank-you to my dear benefactor and an offering to Louis.

But ultimately I think, should I have succeeded as a player, that I would want to be my own original synthesis of everyone I’d ever admired, mixed into a concoction that sounded, for better or worse, like Me — reflecting my love for Louis, for Joe Thomas, for Bobby Hackett, mixed together in what I would hope was a pleasing way.

It is not only musicians who aspire to be their idols; I think of those fans who are most happy when their favorite band reproduces their favorite performance, heard numberless times before. I have been seated in a festival audience when the leader announces that the Romano Bean Famous Players will now offer their version of “WIND MY SPRING AND WATCH ME GO,” and the crowd both sighs with pleasure at something they all know and love and cheers for the same reason. It’s rather like the joy (or is it relief?) one finds in going to a favorite restaurant and finding that the long-imagined dish tastes just as one remembers.

Sometimes this desire to have Everything The Way We Like It has a sharp edge. I recall Buddy Tate, heroic improviser of the Count Basie band and his own orchestras, telling the story of an angry fan who came up to him after a set, saying accusingly, “You didn’t play that the way it was on THE RECORD!” When Tate attempted to explain to the young man that such variations were jazz, he was met with uncomprehending irritation.

I think of the man who sat next to Tate for two years in the Basie reed section, Lester Young.  Ironically, when Lester became famous and his style clearly recognizable, he was imitated by people who made more money doing it than he did, playing himself.  Lester told either Chris Albertson or Francois Postif, who asked why he, Lester, didn’t play in the old style with his old friends, that he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil.” People have puzzled over this singular phrase, and I submit that what Lester was speaking of was his own blending of “mechanical pencil” and “repeater pistol,” a device by which one could reproduce the same object — a factory assembly line for art — but with deadly effects. (It is of course possible that Lester did start to say “repeater pistol” but, always gentle, caught himself before that word emerged.)

In two words, Lester reminded us what Emerson had written a century before, that imitation is suicide. In Lester’s coinage, it’s homicide as well — not only killing off those one Reveres, but perhaps an art form as well.

I expect some disagreement with what I have written. I would not step on anyone’s pleasures. If you and your colleagues want to get together, in basement or bandstand, and reproduce note-for-note the recordings that you love, it would be impudent of me to suggest that you cease and desist. If you want to sing exactly as Billie did “on the record,” I would not try to stop you. It would puzzle me, but I would not quibble with you in person.

My question, though, would be, “Now that you can do THAT, what else could you do that would move to exploring new possibilities, giving us worlds we haven’t even dreamed of?”

May your happiness increase!

“THE ETERNAL PRESENT,” or ONWARDS TO the SAN DIEGO THANKSGIVING DIXIELAND JAZZ FESTIVAL(Nov. 23-27, 2011)

England, Summer, 2009

We all know that it’s crucial to live in the Moment — NOW — not to be looking over our shoulders at the triumphs and failures of the past, or to be “killing time” waiting for Something Good That’s Coming.  Occasionally, living in the Moment is nothing more than effectively focusing ourselves on the reality that is right in front of us: how the coffee really tastes to us, how the sunlight gleams on the red leaves outside the window.

But when it comes to the delightful and sometimes odd intersection of jazz and the internet, the Moment gets harder to pin down.  As I write this, in the background of my computer, I am downloading videos from Jazz at Chautauqua — music performed in the Past of mid-September 2011 — so that JAZZ LIVES can share them.  And in another room, videos taken just this past weekend at Mike Durham’s Classic Jazz Party at Whitley Bay (Newcastle, England) are being copied from my camera onto a presumably more durable external hard drive.  And as I write this, I am listening to a “new” CD — from 1992 — of THE YOUNG GENERATION OF SWING — including those youths Kellso, Barrett, Sandke, Alden, Allen, Allred . . . in their collective boyhoods.

Now, which one of these is the Present?

And, to complicate matters, Chris Albertson posted the third part of an interview he did with Lil Hardin Armstrong —

stomp-off.blogspot.com/2011/11/lil-armstrong-1968.html

The interviews are wonderful, but what caught my eye and stays in my imagination is a photograph that Lil saved — a portrait of her young husband Louis, which he inscribed most tenderly: “To my Dear Wife, whom I’ll love till I die, from “Hubby,” Louis Armstrong.”  Chris tells me that the photograph is from September 23, 1929.  And I read that sweet inscription, knowing that the happiness Louis and Lil shared wouldn’t last — but I imagine the romance and delight that is in that inscription, which is its own kind of Moment, not to be tarnished all that much by our knowledge of what was to come.

The flower at the top of this post is dead.  Or is it?  It seems tangibly alive through the bright colors of the photograph.

Sometimes our ability to have a rewarding Moment relies on planning for it well in advance.  Thus, while I am downloading Chautauqua and still fresh from Whitley Bay, I must remind myself and you all about what is to come at the end of November 2011: the 32nd Annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival.  Hot jazz in profusion, giving us all things to be deeply thankful for.  I found out that tickets are still available . . . . take a look at this schedule, and you’ll see what there is to get excited about:

http://www.dixielandjazzfestival.org/pdfs/ScheduleGrid.pdf

It’s reassuring for me to be able to see where I might be having a good time all through that weekend.  I hope to see you there — and even if I’m filming, I will smile and wave (all in silent-film fashion): tell them that JAZZ LIVES sent you!

That’s the music that we love so deeply — a series of Moments that don’t die, giving us an Eternal Present.

“RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED, JEROME F. NEWHOUSE”

This is the most fascinating (and witty) bill I’ve ever seen, and I would have gladly paid it. 

The letter below will not be new to Charlie Christian devotees, but I recently learned about it from Peter Jung.  Its owner Chris Albertson (jazz scholar, record producer, and blogger) very graciously encouraged me to repost it here. 

In the late Thirties, Jerome F. “Jerry” Newhouse of Minneapolis was a devout swing fan.  This profile in itself would not be unusual, but Jerry did more than sourrounding himself with Benny Goodman Victors and Columbias.  He bought a professional disc-cutting machine and began recording Goodman and other bands off the radio: And he took his disc cutter with him to the Harlem Breakfast Club for an after-hours session with two players from the Goodman band and two local players.  Although the session had not been issued commercially, it was known among Charlie’s admirers — who understandably treasured every note their laconic, short-lived hero had played.     

I don’t know how Newhouse and John Hammond came to know each other, but when Hammond was producing a new two-lp Charlie Christian collection, the  session that Newhouse had recorded in 1939 emerged as exciting material for reissue.  It was a remarkable session — one of Charlie’s earliest live appearances on record, an unusual opportunity for him to be recorded after hours (Jerry Newman’s Harlem sessions were still two years in the future), and it found Christian among excellent players. 

Pianist (presumably a local Minneapolis player) Frankie Hines lacks some of the flash of his almost-namesake, but his ump-cha is all that is needed to accompany the soloists, and he plays credible solos.  

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome was one of the hot soloists of the 1939 Goodman band, merging Lester and Ben in his own fashion, and I suspect he did not get space to stretch out on solos within that orchestra.  Jerome continued to have a rolling fluid approach to his instrument for many decades. 

Bassist Oscar Pettiford was still a minor in the eyes of the law, and although his playing is not assertive in the fashion of his great Forties and Fifties playing, this is his earliest appearance on disc. 

Charlie Christian lived for the hours he could spend on the bandstand without facing arrangements on manuscript paper: although someone on YouTube has commented that Charlie is “overrated,” that is only because his graceful, pulsing work has been so absorbed into the collective unconscious of all jazz guitarists that it takes a small leap backwards to understand just how striking his work was.

The letter is a hilarious recounting (masquerading as a bill) of what the session must have been like.  Close your eyes and imagine — in appropriate black-and-white — Newhouse waiting until the Goodman band had finished to bundle Jerome and Christian into his car, guitar, heavy amplifier, tenor sax included.  Imagine the delight of the patrons of the Harlem Breakfast Club when the jazz stars showed up; invent some small dialogue between Hines, Pettiford, Jerome, and Christian.  I don’t know (in my imagined screenplay) where the two bottles of liquor and the ccome in, but they were invaluable.  Don’t leave out the dialogue — polite for sure — of Newhouse trying to get Charlie to stop stomping his foot so energetically.  “General malaise and headaches” will have to be imagined individually by each reader.  And gasoline at thirty cents a gallon . . . .

Who cares that Newhouse couldn’t spell RHYTHM?  This piece of paper takes us behind the scenes . . .and is thus priceless, especially since none of the participants are living to tell their version of the story.

And because technology makes many surprising things possible, here is TEA FOR TWO recorded at that session:

Here’s a link to Leo Valdes’ analysis and transcription of Charlie’s solo:

http://home.roadrunner.com/~valdes/xTea%204%202.htm

And the thing in itself, a disc from Jerry Jerome’s collection: not Newhouse’s original Presto, but what I assume is a contemporaneous copy. 

Thank you, musicians, Jerry Newhouse, Columbia Records, and the enterprising (and generous) Chris Albertson.

BRAD LINDE and TED BROWN and FRIENDS at TOMI JAZZ (Feb. 5, 2011)

The musical intelligence of youthful saxophonist Brad Linde continues to impress me.  Brad also has good taste in friends: Lee Konitz and Ted Brown. 

One of the high points of seeing Ted Brown and friends live at Sofia’s in January 2011 was the impromptu pairing of Ted and Brad, eminence and youthful star, musing over the chord changes, having a lovely empathic dialogue.  Affectionate, thoughtful collaboration, not competition. 

So when Brad told me that he and Ted would be leading a quartet (with Joe Solomon, bass, and Taro Okamoto, drums) at Tomi Jazz on East 53rd Street in New York City, I was there . . . quite early, as always, to document the good sounds I knew would be created. 

Tomi Jazz is very cozy (you could pass right by it on the street) and for much of the evening the audience was made up of intent listeners.  

Here are some of the songs that Brad, Ted, Joe, and Taro (with surprise guests) reinvented that night.  Obviously they are honoring their own creative impulses and going their own way, but they also do honor to the Masters: Pres and Bird, Lee and Lennie.  And the contrasts of pure sound are so revealing here: Ted often has a particularly focused, intense sound on his tenor that suggests a double-reed instrument (an English horn, perhaps?) while Brad’s sound is more orthodox, more furry, broader.  (Not meaning to be taken seriously, I told Brad that at points they reminded me of Herschel and Pres in the Basie band . . . and we both laughed.)  Joe Solomon’s bass sonority is big and warm, and Taro Okamoto knows just what to play, when, and when not to!  I’ll let you discover Jim, Sarah, and Lena as we go along . . .

From the first set, here’s Ted’s improvisation on the changes of THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER YOU — celebrating perhaps more than a little ruefully what it was like in Los Angeles — SMOG EYES:

Here’s the tender, winding SWEET AND LOVELY.  I always wonder where the more “modern” musicians picked this one up from.  Bing?  Ed Hall?  Hawkins?  Whatever the source, it is a song that lives up to its title:

Not too fast, but truly exuberant — one for Lester Willis Young from Woodville, Mississippi — LESTER LEAPS IN (I believe a title created by John Hammond, someone Lester came to abhor):

Still on a 1939-40 Basie kick — always a good idea!  Here’s BROADWAY:

Since Lester’s spirit was at Tomi Jazz and is always in the room — delicately but tangibly — I should point out that the eminent Chris Albertson has just posted on his STOMP OFF IN C site a recording of the 1958 interview he did with Lester: click here to hear it: http://stomp-off.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-interview-with-lester-young.html

Joined by trumpeter Jim Ketch, the band launches into a song honoring that Parker fellow and his early creation.  Jim Ketch, by the way, is Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Here’s his website: http://www.jimketch.com/index.html.  And here’s YARDBIRD SUITE:

Another song with unusual chord changes was the Ned Washington – Victor Young I’M GETTING SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU, which Tommy Dorsey took as his theme song:

Two songs about memory and memories:

I REMEMBER YOU:

and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL:

The young, gifted altoist Sarah Hughes joined the quartet for a romp on Lee Konitz’s SUBCONSCIOUS-LEE, based on WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? changes:

Another song with subtle, unusual harmonies is YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM:

The very fine player Lena Bloch came on board, tenor at the ready, for Harold Arlen’s exhortation GET HAPPY.  (The ding-dong at the start is Tomi Jazz’s doorbell rather than an aesthetic comment from extraterrestrials.):

A very rewarding evening — even for a man standing up through three sets with a video camera.

For those who, like me, enjoy reading what the musicians have to say, there’s a wonderful interview with Ted done by Clifford Allen: read it here:

http://cliffordallen.blogspot.com/2011/01/ear-conditioning-with-tenor-saxophonist.html?showComment=1297609944573#c7835830240652120113.

REMEMBER THE MUSICIANS!  ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THEM, SO CLICK HERE (EVERY NICKEL HELPS A LOT):

https://.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQASwww

And a possibly superfluous postscript.  I celebrate what some listeners call “OKOM” (Our Kind Of Music) although I also love other styles — with melodies and swing.  I hope that listeners with more firmly defined preferences don’t reject performances such as the ones above because they don’t fit expected formulas: I bow low before the Blue Note Jazzmen of 1943-44, say, but there are worlds and worlds of creativity.  Stretching isn’t just confined to yoga!  End of sermon.  

CELEBRATING “MISS LIL” on RIVERWALK (March 4, 2010 – )

During the week of March 4, 2010, the “Riverwalk” jazz program — featuring Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band and perhaps a guest or two — will be honoring Lillian Hardin Armstrong, someone who deserves attention even when it’s not Women’s History Month. 

Lillian Hardin Armstrong was known as “Miss Lil” to her fellow musicians in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.  On 1945 record labels, she was heralded as “Lil ‘Brown Gal’ Armstrong” — not an offensive racial reference, but a reminder of one of her hit tunes.  But most people know her as one of the earliest (and perhaps most successful) women in jazz and as Louis Armstrong’s second wife and co-composer. 

It’s easy to dismiss Lil Hardin Armstrong as an improviser.  In early recordings, one hears her piano as competent at best: a steady but hardly swinging approach to the music.  Correct and emphatic but not terribly inventive.  And it is ungracious but inevitable to imagine how much more the Hot Five might have swung had Teddy Weatherford or Cassino Simpson or Earl Hines been the pianist. 

But she was one of those musicians we cherish because she improved — by the Thirties, her Decca recordings (now almost impossible to find) show an ebullient vocal personality.  Her compositions were cheerful swing material, and at least one of them — JUST FOR A THRILL — is wonderfully moving.  She knew enough to surround herself with the best players of the period, Chu Berry and Joe Thomas among them.  And she had learned a good deal about playing swing piano — if you compare her recordings from 1926 and a decade later, it’s clear that she had travelled a long distance, not only in concept, but in Hot execution.

But we celebrate her for more personal reasons.  Many married men roll their eyes when they discuss the power that their wives hold in the household and beyond.  “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” Rumpole of the Bailey calls his Hilda.  “The Power Behind The Throne,” says another.  “I’ve got to call home and get my marching orders,” said one of my professors in college, years ago — with some vestige of affectionate resignation.

And Louis Armstrong’s bandmates called him “Hennie,” short for “hen-pecked.”  So Miss Lil, by her own account, was a woman who would say, “Do it this way or I won’t stick around a moment longer.”  She told Louis that she wasn’t going to stay married to a second-trumpet player, and that he had better play first, lead the band. 

But her way — she was ambitious for her husband in ways that he wasn’t — benefitted both Louis and the course of the music.  He would have been more than content to play a supportive role to his musical father, Joe Oliver, for a long time.  But Lil saw what was happening: that Joe was keeping Louis down so that Joe wouldn’t be outshone by the younger man.  She directed Louis’s career until he was a star.  So we owe her thanks for being so — overbearing.  And Louis, late in life, although he was ungenerous about her skills as a pianist and improviser, thanked his pushy wife for aiming him in the directions his talent said he should go.

So when the Riverwalk series (given over to the Jim Cullum Jazz Band and illustrious guest stars) devotes a program to Miss Lil, with the subtitle, “Behind Every Great Man,” it has real validity.  And fine jazz.  The program wil air the week of March 4, 2010 — and, as an extra bonus, the Riverwalk people have included audio clips of Lillian Hardin Armstrong telling her own story. 

Here’s the link where you can find out more AND hear Lil herself reminisce: http://www.riverwalkjazz.org/jazznotes/behind_every_man/

And I’m sure that the Cullum band will do justice to STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE (which I’ve heard was originally a pretty waltz by Lil before Louis changed the tempo) as well as JUST FOR A THRILL and other delights.   

P.S.  If you want to learn more about Miss Lil after you’ve heard the Riverwalk tribute, be sure to visit Chris Albertson’s blog — not only did he record her with a great romping Chicago double-sized band, but he’s also published long sections of her typed autobiography, fascinating stuff.  The first section is http://stomp-off.blogspot.com/2009/09/louis-lil-and-little-gangster.html; others follow.