Tag Archives: Clara Smith

I’M GETTING MY BONUS IN STRIDE: JAMES P. FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!

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SHE CAME TO PLAY: SARAH SPENCER STOMPS IT DOWN, PART TWO (June 10, 2015)

I can precisely document the time and place my admiration for Sarah Spencer began.  The site was the second floor of Casa Mezcal (86 Orchard Street, on the Lower East Side of New York City) around 3 PM on Sunday, June 5 — an event I’ve documented here. Witnessing this was Tamar Korn (it was her gig), violinist / baritone saxophonist Andy Stein and pianist Ehud Asherie.  Then, happily, Sarah brought her tenor saxophone to the Wednesday, June 10 gig of the Hot Jazz Rabble at the Tryon Public House (4740 Broadway).

Her friends in the Rabble were Jim Fryer, trombone; Mike Davis, trumpet; Glenn Crytzer, banjo; Jennifer Vincent, string bass.

A word before readers jump into the videos.  To tenor saxophone aficionados who have grown up on Hawk, Ben, Lester, and their modern descendants, Sarah’s playing may take sixteen bars to get used to.  If, however, you know the New Orleans tradition of Cap’n John Handy and Emmanuel Paul, Sarah’s bubbling, exuberant work will make you feel at home immediately.

She told me that she doesn’t see herself as a member of the front line, alongside trumpet and trombone, but rather as part of the rhythm section, energizing it in naturally.  What you’ll hear in her joyous ensemble playing sounds like a cross between water rushing over rocks and a very dark, ferocious Bud Freeman who’s been boling crawfish.

With that as preface, here she is on MARIE:

And here Sarah sings DOWN IN THE MOUF’ BLUES, which is a late Clara Smith performance.  Please note that she does more than copy the recorded performance.  Even better, she varies her phrasing from chorus to chorus with lovely shifts of emphasis and meter.  There is the surface appearance of don’t-care roughness, but underneath there is many subtle variations on the simple theme:

Sarah’s authenticity and enthusiasm are very winning.  Her personality doesn’t come through entirely in the videos, so you have to see and hear her for yourself.  I think of her as a youthful Earth Mother of New Orleans stomp by way of the UK and Connecticut.

And she and her Transatlantic Band are playing a gig this June 20th: details here!

May your happiness increase!

THEY FOLLOWED ME HOME

My title might make some readers think of the little boy or girl clutching a reluctant kitten or puppy: “Can we keep it, Ma?  It followed me home!”  But this posting isn’t about pet adoption, although that’s something I applaud — it’s about record collecting. 

These days, the phenomenon known as “junking,” where a collector years ago might find treasured rarities in people’s attics, antique stores, or junkshops, seems dead.  Record collectors go to shows; they bid on eBay.  But I found three exciting jazz records in the past week. 

The first occurrence was purely serendipitous.  While my car was being repaired (meet me at the intersection of Tedium and Economic Ruin), I walked a few blocks to the St. Vincent de Paul store.  The objects for sale there are often curious, sometimes sad: I LOVE GRANDPA coffee mugs, ornate furniture, homemade ceramics.  I hadn’t remembered a bookshelf full of records, and although I was not optimistic, I began to find jazz discs I had never seen before, a Neal Hefti long-play SALUTE TO THE INSTRUMENTS (Coral), fairly tame (I haven’t found out anything about the personnel) and a 10″ Brunswick lp, MUSIC AFTER MIDNIGHT, with Tony Scott, Dick Katz, Milt Hinton, and Philly Joe Jones. 

I was ready to take my treasures to the cashier, but I noticed a worn paper album of 78s — Forties pop.  Except for this one.  Yes, it has a crack, which makes for an audible, regular tick; two names were misspelled, but I didn’t care:

The other side, incidentally, featured Sarah Vaughan singing LOVER MAN.

When I brought my trove up to the counter, the cashier held court: everyone was “Sweetheart.”  She looked at the Guild 78.  “Dizzy Gillespie,” she said.  “I kinda know that name.  My mother used to listen to the radio.”  I said, “You know, you could have seen him on television yourself: he lived on until fairly recently.”  She agreed, so I ventured on, “If someone remembers you, you don’t die,” I said.  “You’re so right, Sweetheart!” she said.   

Last Saturday, the Beloved aimed us towards Columbia County (a good omen for a record collector?) where we had spent the past summer.  I was happy: she could enjoy beautiful gardens, and I could go to my favorite store on Warren Street in Hudson, New York — Carousel Antique Center, supervised by the very gracious Dan. 

I went into the back of the shop and spotted a box of 78s on the floor.  I had bought Clara Smith and Buck Clayton records here last year.  Initially, it offered only calypso records.  Then I reached for the lone 12″ 78 — in a decaying paper sleeve, its sides taped together:

I’m not so vain as to think that the cosmos works to make me happy, but this record might have provoked that feeling, for this side and the reverse, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, were the soundtrack to my childhood Louis-reveries (after the Gordon Jenkins sessions). 

But there was something else, a 10″ Harmony.  Most of the late-Twenties Harmony discs (excepting a Dixie Stompers surprise) I’ve found are dance bands and singers.  This one’s special:

I knew very well what I was holding — even though it looked as if someone had played it over and over.  And then I turned it over:

“Best Bix.” it says at top.  Someone not only loved this record, but knew who was on it, even if a devoted listener thought Frank Trumbauer was playing an alto saxophone instead of his C-melody.  Here’s a close-up of that annotation:

I paid much less than “25.00” for this one, but I found a treasure.  The music still sounds splendid but the worn grooves speak of love; the label does also.  Do any Bix-scholars care to comment on the handwriting and on the pricing?  

I once tried to be a spirited collector of jazz records; I’ve given that up.  And I have more music within reach than I could possibly listen to if I lived a long time.  But I am going to keep looking through piles and shelves of records if treasures like this are going to want to follow me home.  Wouldn’t you?

ON TREASURE ISLAND

No, my title isn’t a reference to Robert Louis Stevenson, or the 1935 pop song recorded by Louis and Wingy Manone.  It’s how I think of the back quadrant of the antiques-and-collectables shop called CAROUSEL on Warren Street in Hudson, New York.  In a previous post, I happily showed off the Jelly Roll Morton HMV 78 I had uncovered . . . but I hadn’t bothered to look down.  What I found was two boxes of 10″ and 12″ 78s and a few 10″ lps — many of them suggesting that their previous owner had far-ranging and excellent jazz taste.  Here are my latest acquisitions, arranged in rough chronological order for the purists out there . . .

Let’s begin with some classic acoustic blues: two Columbias by a famous pair:

78s from Carousel 001

78s from Carousel 002

78s from Carousel 003

78s from Carousel 004

78s from Carousel 005

This one was fairly dull, but I didn’t expect roaring improvisation.

78s from Carousel 006

Well, we live in hope. SUSAN has some faux-hot playing in its final chorus, where potential buyers might not be scared away, but nothing memorable.

78s from Carousel 007

I recall this tune from Mildred Bailey’s little-girl version, but don’t know the vocalist.

78s from Carousel 008

This 78 is cracked, but this side’s a real prize.  With the song taken at a slower tempo than usual, there’s a good deal of growling from Bubber Miley in the last minute of the record, out in the open and as part of the ensemble.  A find!

78s from Carousel 009

What first caught my eye was the lovely UK label . . . then when I saw this and the next ones were mint Bings from 1933, I couldn’t resist.  And Eddie Lang is added to the Royal Canadians.  Legend has it that the British pressings are quiet and well-behaved.  Is this true?

78s from Carousel 010

Not a memorable song, but I can hear Bing becoming pastoral as I type these words.

78s from Carousel 011

78s from Carousel 012

And my favorite of the four sides — a jaunty naughty song about love-addiction, and perhaps other things, too.  I always knew that “I must have you every day / As regularly as coffee or tea,” didn’t entirely refer to Twining’s Earl Grey.

78s from Carousel 013

Now you’re talking my language!  We jump forward into the Forties (I left aside a number of familiar Commodores and Keynotes, because of the economy) — with a record I’d only heard on an Onyx lp compilation.  Here’s the original 12″ vinyl pressing, with “Theodocius,” as Mildred called him on a 1935 record, who was under contract to Musicraft at the time.  A wonderful quintet!

78s from Carousel 014

And a tune that only one other jazz group (Benny Morton-Red Allen, 1933) ever recorded.

78s from Carousel 015

For whatever reason, 10″ jazz lps are even more scarce than 78s, so this one was a real surprise — even without its cover.

78s from Carousel 016

Just as good!

78s from Carousel 017

The other side of the ideological divide, but equally thrilling.

78s from Carousel 018

Did Mingus overdub his bass lines on this issue, I wonder?

78s from Carousel 019

Take it on faith that side 2 is exactly the same except for the altered digit.  Now, to conclude — a pair of oddities!

78s from Carousel 021

I can see myself listening to this two-sided piece of history once, if that — but the near-mint record and the original sleeve made it an essential purchase.  I’ll also send this photo to my friend, poet Amy King, who isn’t abdicating her throne any time soon.

78s from Carousel 022

Finally, a real gamble and entirely irresistible for that reason.  The logical half of the brain says that what looks like “Hawk” will turn out to be “Hank,” singing about his girl Nona, accompanying himself on the musical saw.  The hopeful side of the brain says “Coleman Hawkins, of course . . . ”  Stay tuned!  My next purchase, obviously, has to be a three-speed turntable.

And two antique-store stories, both cheering.  In Carousel, the gentleman behind the counter saw me come puffing up with my armload of precious 78s.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think the store does a brisk business in 78s, so he was happy to see me.  “I have twelve,” I said, with that hopeful expectant canine look on my face that says, silently, “Can you give me a break on the price, especially if I don’t haggle with you?”  His intuition was splendid.  He grinned at me and said, “Looks like ten to me.”  I was pleasantly flustered and said, conspiratorially, “You knew I was hoping for some sort of discount, didn’t you?” and his smile got bigger.  “No,” he said, “I just count better than you do.”  Very sweet indeed!

And a few days before this, the Beloved and I had spent some time in a store in an odd location — where, I don’t exactly remember.  Its owner was even more amiable, even when we couldn’t find a thing to buy in his place, including gardening books and a small stash of vinyl records.  But we had an exceedingly amusing and thoughtful conversation with him about the changing nature of the area, and how it affected local businesses.  We exchanged friendly good wishes at the end, and went outside to get in the car.  A few beats later, we saw him emerge from the store.  “Did I tell you my clown joke?” he said, and we said no, he hadn’t — hoping for the best but expecting something positively weird or terrifying.  (One never knows, do one?)  “Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one of them looks at the other and says, suspiciously, ‘Does this taste  funny to you?”  It caught me by surprise and, after a moment for cogitation, we were laughing loudly.  Now you can tell it to someone else.