Tag Archives: Clarence Williams

GOOD ADVICE / GOOD MUSIC

Thank you, George Carlin.  Now, musical variations on this most crucial theme — whether local or global.

Clarence Williams’s performance of a composition by Cecil Scott and Don Frye, with an interesting personnel as notated by Tom Lord: unknown (cnt), Cecil Scott (cl,ts) unknown (as) unknown (ts) or 2nd (as), prob. Don Frye (p) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) prob. Floyd Casey (d) Little Buddy Farrior (vcl), New York, June 28, 1934.  (This is the session, famous or not in the annals of jazz discography, where Brian Rust suggested, on some fragment of hopeful hearsay, that Lester Young was in the band.  If he was, he’s not soloing.)

All I can add to the commentary is that the cornetist seems to be playing into a metal derby, and that the whole record is a wonderful example of jazz genres subtly in transition: solos and vocal over riffing ensembles.

Take One:

Take Two.  The message is so important we need to hear it twice:

That’s positive and romantic.  Tampa Red’s version from May 10, 1940 (which I learned about thanks to the very candid Carl Sonny Leyland) is much more direct.  Tell the truth OR ELSE:

Now, go out and live the message, please.  Thanks to AJS for encouragement.

May your happiness increase!

SARAH AT SARAH’S: AUGUST 28, 2016 (Part One)

sarah-spencer

My friend Sarah Spencer (tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet, vocal) is an impeccable hybrid.  London-born, New Orleans-sourced.  Although her speaking voice and cadences are purest UK, her musical soul is situated somewhere on the Rue Conti.  And, yes, she encountered Raymond Burke and Percy Humphrey and several dozen Masters, now-Ancestors in her musical and spiritual development.

On August 28, 2016, I had the very pleasant opportunity to hear and record Sarah and her Quartet (Jimmy Mazzy, banjo and vocal; Art Hovey, string bass and tuba; Bill Sinclair, piano and vocal) at the Jazz Masters Series at Sarah’s Wine Bar (an outgrowth of Bernard’s, a wonderful restaurant) in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  (The Jazz Masters Series is held on the last Sunday of each month.)

Before we begin, here are two performances featuring Jimmy Mazzy from that evening.  One is eloquently tender; the other ribald.  You’ll be able to tell them apart.

And several emotionally energized highlights from the first set.  (I’ve left the beginnings unedited, for the most part, so that you can see the endearing friendly exchanges among the quartet)

ANYTIME:


MY MEMPHIS BABY:


BOGALUSA STRUT:


THE LAUGHING SAMBA:

WE’LL MEET AGAIN:

Part Two will be along anon.

May your happiness increase!

A VERY SIMPLE REQUEST IN MUSIC at THE EAR INN: JON-ERIK KELLSO, SCOTT ROBINSON, ADAM MOEZINIA, ROB ADKINS (August 14, 2016)

BABY WON'T YOU PLEASE COME

Beauty never gets old.  Here’s a nearly-ancient jazz classic made new and wistful at a serenely floating tempo, performed by the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) on August 14, 2016.  The EarRegulars, for this particular session, are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Adam Moezinia, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.  And not only are the individual solos so richly personal, but this band — led by Jon-Erik — displays a true orchestral instinct, as evidenced in the hums and phrases played while Rob (eloquent Mister Adkins) is soloing.  Hear, see, and marvel:

This song, I am told, was composed in 1919 by Charles Warfield “and” Clarence Williams; the quotation marks are to suggest that Williams’ authorship is in doubt.  But enough legal prose.  I digress to write that I seem to be one of the few people — but don’t call me didactic or a grammarian — who write the title of this song with a comma after BABY and a question mark at the end.  Is their omission a matter of thrifty typography?  I don’t know.  But BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME seems abrupt, too rushed, without the proper punctuation.  A sample label below (you can find the music on YouTube).

BABY Louis

But the music that the EarRegulars create doesn’t need any punctuation.  The most scrupulous English professor gives it the highest grades possible. (And, speaking of professors, this one is also dedicated to the glowing scholar from Bahia.)

May your happiness increase!

“LAZY ‘SIPPI STEAMER GOING HOME”: LEON OAKLEY, CLINT BAKER, RILEY BAKER, MARTY EGGERS, BILL RINEHART (May 15, 2016)

LEON

I’d heard and admired Leon Oakley on records for a long time before I first met him in five years ago.  We became friends instantly because of our shared love for lyrical hot music and our reverence for Louis.

But in all the performances of Leon’s that I’ve been privileged to witness, I’d never seen him sing.  Although I’m sure he’s done it before in public, this is a first for me — and it’s so lovely.

A little background.  The group Leon is leading was originally called the Black Diamond Blue Five, founded by the late George Knoblauch — devoted to a particular sound and approach, that being Clarence Williams small groups of the middle Twenties.  “Hot and ready,” would be one way to describe it.  This version, called “Friends of the Blue 5,” a title combining “Friends of Jazz” and “Blue 5,” took the stage at the New Orleans Jazz Club of Northern California in El Sobrante, California, on May 15. 2016.  The recording was done by the indefatigable Rae Ann Berry, who’s captured so many hours of pleasure for us all.  The other members of the band are the always-amazing Clint Baker, clarinet, trombone, vocal; his son Riley Baker, tuba; Marty Eggers, piano; Bill Rinehart, banjo.  The song is a late-Thirties Louis composition about the joys of steamboat travel — going no place in a hurry — down the Mississippi River:

One way to “honor” Louis would involve a handkerchief, grins and grimaces — a caricature that barely evoked the surface.  (Joe Muranyi said more than once that Louis hated such acting.)  I delight in the approach that Leon takes: gently earnest heartfelt singing and playing, completely loving, completely authentic.

I look forward to the 2016 Steamboat Stomp — where Leon, Clint, I, and other heroes will be on the Natchez, up and down that river.  Perhaps Brother Leon can be talked into a few vocal choruses?

And this post is for Jean Knoblauch, a dear friend even when at a distance.

May your happiness increase!

FEEL THAT REFRESHING BREEZE

BREEZE

As a “Fox Trot”: 

As a “Blues”: 

Willie “the Lion” Smith, in 1935, with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, and Willie Williams, feels it too:

Clarence Williams feels the breeze, but it’s a very slow sad one (with Ed Allen, Cecil Scott, Floyd Casey:

And, on an Edison cylinder, the Premier Quartet:

And perhaps a century later — in our century (2014), Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs celebrate those very same zephyrs:

It was a hit song in 1919, and it stays in our minds today.  Is it that it is so easy to sing, with whole notes and easily remembered steps up and down the scale?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the spirit of Zephyrus is ready to animate us at any moment.  I hope so.

Breeze sheet

My title comes from another place — a John Cheever story, “The Jewels of the Cabots,” where after the narrator’s father and mother have had their ritual Sunday argument about his inability to carve the roast, this passage emerges:

She would sigh once more and put her hand to her heart. Surely this was her last breath. Then, studying the air above the table, she would say, “Feel that refreshing breeze.”

Would it spoil the effect for JAZZ LIVES readers to know that Cheever’s narrator then states, ruefully or realistically, that there was seldom a breeze.

But there is always BREEZE.

May your happiness increase!

A SERENADE TO THE GODDESS OF GOOD FORTUNE: THOMAS WINTELER, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, JACOB ULLBERGER, HENRY LEMAIRE at MIKE DURHAM’S WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 8, 2015)

MAMIE SMITH LADY LUCK BLUES

This song — new to me although almost a century old — made a powerful impression on me when Thomas Winteler, the great soprano saxophonist (and clarinetist) performed it at Mike Durham’s Whitley Bay Classic Jazz  Party on November 8, 2015.  Accompanying him were Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Henry Lemaire, string bass.  It’s a passionate performance:

Here’s the original 1923 recording, with Mamie Smith’s powerful penetrating voice matched by Bechet’s soaring soprano (and Buddy Christian, banjo):

And the first, even more convincing recording, that same year, by Bessie Smith and Fletcher Henderson:

And a 1935 instrumental version with Williams, Cecil Scott, Ed Allen, Jimmy McLin, Cyrus St. Clair, and Willie Williams:

I hope the Goddess smiles on your efforts.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRIUMPHS OF JAMES P. JOHNSON

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Baby Dodds, 1946, by Charles Peterson

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson

When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure.  James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano.  He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.

CAROLINA SHOUT eBay OKeh

 

Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio.  Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943.  Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes.  Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.

Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them.  Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues.  James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?”  Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.

There will never be enough.  But what we have is brilliant.  And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943.  (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)

JAMES P. Mosaic

Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period.  And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen,  J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more.  For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.

(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)

I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967.  And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on.  This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it.  The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin.  And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.

The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement.  (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes.  Guitar fanciers please note.)  The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.

Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me).  It’s a duo-performance for James  P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all.  Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character.  He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself.

This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing.  I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives.  Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music.  His sensitivity is unparalleled.  For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows.  Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment.  I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.

I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes.  Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.”  Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.

JAMES P. postage stamp

I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:

jamesp-johnsongravemarker

Listen closely to this new Mosaic box set six compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.

May your happiness increase!