Here’s a musical enactment about what academics call “discourse,” and what the rest of us call, at best, “gossip,” from January 1927. The singers are Joe Sims (sometimes Simms) and Clarence Williams; the impressive cornetist is the mysterious “Big Charlie Thomas”; the frolicsome young pianist is one Tom Waller:
Never has a lecture on good behavior swung so much — so take heed.
For relief from my attempts to tidy my apartment (think Sisyphus with myopia and a short attention span) I turn to the more cheerful task of tidying my YouTube archives.
I have preserved somewhere around eight thousand videos, recorded from 2007 to this summer, and some of them are labeled in ways that make them elusive. But you and I benefit from my disorder, since wonders emerge and can be shared.
March 2019 seems like decades ago, but it wasn’t — in calendar time. Because of kind invitations from the Juvae Jazz Society, I found myself in Decatur, Illinois, for a one-day jazz festival that also featured Petra van Nuis and her Recession Seven and local hero Bob Havens. I video-recorded several sets by the Chicago Cellar Boys, and I think four posts on JAZZ LIVES resulted. But here are some you ain’t tuned in to yet. The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, saxophones, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Dave Bock, tuba; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo and guitar.
GULF COAST BLUES:
I FOUND A NEW BABY:
WILD MAN BLUES:
BEER GARDEN BLUES comes from 1933, and celebrates the end of Prohibition: Clarence Williams gave it new lyrics and it became SWING, BROTHER, SWING a few years later:
I understand the CCB played splendidly at the most recent Bix Festival — may they once again delight us at many venues. Until then, I have posted nearly sixty performances by this flexible, inventive hot group, so there’s much more to delight you.
What follows is nearly an hour of searing hot music by remarkable players, drawing on the rarely-played repertoire of Clarence Williams, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson.
The band is a Swedish-American hybrid, generating incredible heat. Bent Persson, cornet, trumpet; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet and soprano saxophone; Tommy Gertoft, banjo; Ed McKee, tuba. Recorded between November 25-28, 1988, at the Manassas Jazz Festival (the date posted on the video is incorrect).
INTRODUCTION by Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee / MEAN BLUES / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? / WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO? (continued on 2):
WHAT MAKES ME LOVE YOU SO? (continued from 1, with an incredible solo from Bent) / WILD MAN BLUES / MANDY LEE BLUES / OLD FASHIONED LOVE (continued on 3):
OLD FASHIONED LOVE (continued from 2) / WHIP ME WITH PLENTY OF LOVE (with a dazzling four-chorus solo by Bent, followed by rollicking Dapogny):
Such a glorious combination. Never before, never again. Thanks to two gracious gentlemen: Joe Shepherd for these holy relics, Sonny McGown for accuracies.
Seasonal Hot migrations: the Weatherbird Jazz Band has just paid us another welcome visit. (I’ve posted perhaps two dozen of their performances, which are both gratifying and easy to find.)
Here are six more beautiful performances, mostly celebrating the 1925-28 sides that Louis Armstrong and friends created in Chicago, with celebratory glances at Jelly Roll Morton, Clarence Williams, and the NORK.
The Weatherbirds, for these sessions, are Bent Persson, trumpet or cornet; Kaj Sifvert, trombone; Tomas Ornberg, clarinet or soprano saxophone; Ulf Johansson Werre, piano; Goran Lind, string bass; Goran Eriksson, banjo or alto saxophone; Sigge Dellert, drums. You’ll notice that I refrain from explaining and explicating: this music needs no subtitles, just listeners open to joy.
MY MONDAY DATE:
TIN ROOF BLUES:
BLACK BOTTOM STOMP (today is Mr. Morton’s birthday):
Jazz history as presented by people who should know better is compressed into telephone poles glimpsed through the window of a speeding train: “All aboard! MAPLE LEAF RAG . . . .WEST END BLUES . . . . LADY BE GOOD . . . . COTTON TAIL . . . . KO KO . . . . KIND OF BLUE . . . . A LOVE SUPREME. Last stop, ladies and gentlemen!”
At best, an inexplicable series of distortions, omissions.
One small example of this odd perspective on the music I’ve spent my life immersed in is the discussion of the “jazz ballad.” I take it to be players or singers improvising over a composition in slower tempo, its mood romantic or melancholy or both. Of course people wanted slower tempos to dance to: THE STAMPEDE was a marvel, but you couldn’t hold your darling close to you on the dance floor at that tempo. One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, followed by the Mound City Blue Blowers’ ONE HOUR, 1927 and 1929, respectively. But that leaves out, for one example, Jimmie Noone’s SWEET LORRAINE and many other recordings. And, of course, recordings are only a tiny sliver of what was being performed and appreciated.
But as far as jazz ballads are concerned, I think performances of songs titled I NEED YOU and NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU are certainly relevant. And they have not been considered worthy of notice by those who reduce an art form to easy-to-swallow historical capsules, useful for those who need to pass final examinations.
Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music. We’re told that recording supervisors embraced this hypothesis as well. The exceptions proliferate: tell that to Charles Linton, Pha Terrell, Harlan Lattimore, Eva Taylor, and more. But that’s another posting.
Enough grumbling about those who theorize from a very narrow awareness. Here are two very seductive examples of category-exploding that also fall sweetly on the ear. Neither performance has lyrics, but they would be easy to invent: to me they are very satisfying unacknowledged jazz ballads.
The first is Clarence Williams’ I NEED YOU, composers credited on the label as Jackson and Williams, from May 29, 1928, performed by Clarence Williams’ Jazz Kings : Ed Allen, King Oliver, cornet’ probably Ed Cuffee, trombone; probably Albert Socarras, clarinet, alto saxophone; Clarence Williams, piano; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba:
Then, a beautiful song by Tiny Parham from the last recording session he made for Victor, November 11, 1930, NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU:
That lovely record contains what is, to me, a delectable unsolved mystery. The listed personnel of Tiny Parham And His Musicians is: Roy Hobson, cornet; Ike Covington, trombone; Dalbert Bright, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; Charlie Johnson, clarinet, alto; Tiny Parham, piano, leader; Big Mike McKendrick, banjo, guitar; Milt Hinton, brass bass; Jimmy McEndre, drums. The Victor label clearly indicates “Whistling chorus by Maurice Hendricks.” And a gorgeous twenty-four bars it is, in high style: the Red McKenzie of whistlers. A small sidelight: “Hendricks” whistles the first sixteen bars elegantly, and I find myself missing him through the bridge and elated when he returns for the final eight bars.
But who is or was Maurice Hendricks? If he is a real musician, why doesn’t his name appear in any discography? The theory that it might be young Milt Hinton (the initials are the only hint) is implausible because Milt is audibly playing brass bass — tuba, or sousaphone, what you will — throughout the record, not putting the horn down while the Whistler is so prettily doing his thing. Brian Rust and “Atticus Jazz” say that “Maurice Hendricks” is Big Mike McKendrick, and I would grant a certain aural similarity between the name and the pseudonym, but a) why would a pseudonym be needed on the label, and b) why are there apparently no other recorded examples of Big Mike whistling? Was “Maurice” a friend of the Parham band, welcomed into the studio to amaze us now, ninety years later?
My best answers for the moment are of course whimsical: “Maurice Hendricks” is really Lew Le Mar, who made the hyena and billy goat sounds for the 1927 Red Hot Peppers session, or, if you don’t think that Lew hung around Chicago for three years just to get back in the Victor studios, I propose that the Whistler is Cassino Simpson, who was capable of more than we can imagine, but that’s only because Jack Purvis was busy making many recordings in New York in November 1930.
Theorize as you will, though, the music rises above whatever we can say about it. Listen again. Thanks to Mike Karoub for his ears, to Matthew Rivera of the Hot Club of New York and especially to Charles Iselin for bringing the second recording to my attention.
The JAZZ LIVES quarantine-collection of venerable lively recordings, ever-expanding.
Every Monday night, Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera has been gathering the Hot Club of New Yorkfor a Zoom session from 7-10 PM, playing wonderful 78 rpm jazz records with great flair and great sound. You can become a member here. And there’s more information here.
Last Monday night, one of the sides was Clarence Williams’ MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — whose composer credits read Clarence Williams, (Banjo) Ikey Robinson, and Alex Hill. My money is on Mister Hill. Matthew, who knows things, has suggested wisely that Mister Robinson would have been responsible for the jivey lyrics. I wish I could trace the story I once read that Clarence, late in life, told someone that none of the compositions under his name had been his. Amazing if so.
But this post is about MISTER, WILL YOU SERENADE? — a song of great melodic simplicity, with two-note phrases that have burned themselves into my brain, and lyrics that are unforgettable because they are so much a part of their time that they have a majestic silliness. And we could all use a Serenade. Please join me in Incid. Singing.
Here’s the first version, with Eva Taylor singing first (her voice is catnip) and Cecil Scott, clarinet; Herman Chittison AND Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Ikey Robinson, banjo, tenor-guitar; Clarence Williams, jug; Willie Williams, washboard; Clarence Todd, vocal. New York, August 7, 1933:
That recording has so many delights: the almost staid way it begins with Eva’s demure yet emotive delivery, and the underrated Cecil Scott, Chittison’s very “modern” piano — remember, this is 1933 . . . then the short pause while the band has to get it together for the key change into Clarence Todd’s much more exuberant Calloway-inflected vocal AND the rollicking duo-piano background. It may be a Silly Symphony, but it is a symphony nonetheless.
Here’s the second Williams version, brighter, with the leader’s potato-ey vocal: Ed Allen, cornet; Cecil Scott, clarinet; James P. Johnson, piano; Roy Smeck, guitar, steel guitar; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba; Floyd Casey, washboard. New York, January 17, 1934:
Notable for me is the emphasis on steady rocking ensemble playing — and the sound of Clarence’s closing inquiry: he means it.
But wait! there’s more! — a frolicsome big band version from the little-known Tiny Bradshaw band: Lincoln Mills, Shad Collins, Max Maddox, trumpet; George Matthews, Eugene Green, trombone; Russell Procope, Bobby Holmes, alto saxophone; Edgar Courance, clarinet, tenor saxophone; Clarence Johnson, piano; Bob Lessey, guitar; Ernest Williamson, string bass; Harold Bolden, drums; Tiny Bradshaw, vocal. New York, September 19. 1934:
The Williams recording looks backwards to chugging leisurely ways (it feels rural in its approach) where the Bradshaw band is aerodynamic, speeding down the Swing highway — beautiful solos (Maddox, Procope, Courance, Matthews?) and an uncredited effective arrangement. That band’s eight Decca sides (autumn ’34) deserve more attention.
Here’s a more recent version, at a lovely tempo, with the verse, the group led by Ted des Plantes with some of my friends : Leon Oakley, cornet; Larry Wright, clarinet, saxophones, ocarina; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Ted des Plantes, piano; John Gill, banjo; Ray Cadd, tuba, jug; Hal Smith, washboard. Berkeley, California, August 15-17, 1997:
The most contemporary version — reminiscent of a Teddy Wilson session! — by Hal Smith’s Rhythmakers: Marc Caparone, cornet; Alan Adams, trombone; Bobby Gordon, clarinet; John Otto, alto saxophone, clarinet; Chris Dawson, piano; Rebecca Kilgore, vocal, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. San Diego, California, November 29 & 30, 1999.
See if you can go through the next few days without humming a phrase from this song. I dare you.
I love the arc of this chronology — even though I couldn’t produce versions by Mike Durham and Bent Persson — that starts with a rare record from 1933 and ends up with performances by some of my most respected friends.
If you detect the aroma of a pie baking in your neighbor’s house, it’s not necessary to analyze its appeal at length.
My enthusiasm for the disc below and the music it contains is strong: I received the disc in the mail yesterday; I am playing it now while writing this post. And if you like subtle hot jazz that lives at the heart of the music — direct and unaffected — you will want a copy or a download.
That in itself is a cheering sight, and the details are even better.
The musicians: Steve Pistorius, piano / Joe Goldberg, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal / James Evans, clarinet, bass clarinet, C-melody saxophone, vocal / Benny Amon, drums, washboard, bock-a-de-bock cymbals / Tyler Thomson, string bass / Maxwell Poulos, tenor banjo, mandolin.
The songs: Sittin’ on the Curb-stone Blues / Candy Lips (I’m Stuck on You)
Where Did You Stay Last Night? / Maori (A Samoan Song) / Tears / I’m Alone Without You / Piggly Wiggly / Love is the Sweetest Thing / Okey Doke / If You Knew (How I Love You) / Every Evening / Too Tight / Quem me Comprende / Cushion Foot Stomp.
The time, the place, the technology: December 5 and 6, 2019; Steve’s living room; recorded by Ryan Baer on vintage equipment: his reel-to-reel recorder and RCA ribbon microphone.
you can hear thirty-second sound samples of five performances and then purchase the disc. (Notice I do not write, “If you are so moved,” because I am sure most listeners will be.) Here— in the name of instant gratification — you can purchase a digital download of the music.
A few words from me, if needed. I’ve been a convert to Steve’s music — solo piano and the brilliantly heartfelt musical ensembles he creates and leads — for some years now. I warm to their warm, unbuttoned music — loose without being messy, expert without being over-analyzed. The New Orleans repertoire on this disc isn’t overplayed tourist slosh; these are caressingly melodic pieces that could woo a listener if played straight, and the twining improvisations are memorable from the first hearing on. Whether the mood is yearning and dreamy or plunging forward, each track is a delightful aural experience on its own terms.
And the band is made up of people who know the joy of ensemble playing, so the result is a vibrant tapestry of musicians playing “for the comfort of the band” as well as creating brilliant solos. They know the routines and the conventions yet aren’t chained by them. The songs are “old” but the music feels bright and new, never dusty — no scholarly recreations of old records.
The recording studio, even in the best circumstances, is an unnatural place, even if there is joking, there are sandwiches and good coffee. Musicians know that what they do here will be scrutinized for — perhaps not “forever,” but for a long time, and that tends to make the room temperature drop. That so much of our memorable music has been captured in such artificial circumstances speaks to the wisdom and intensity of the musicians. But this disc benefits immensely from the collective relaxation of Steve’s living room — a friendly gathering rather than a doctoral examination. You can hear it. And the “vintage” technology, while never blurring the sound, is also comfortable. The result is rather like being invited to hear music next door — a rent party where everyone is sweetly attentive and the music soars. The disc goes by far too quickly, which is why I am cheered by the hope of more volumes to come.
I could write more, but why? This is a lovely, rewarding disc, and I thank everyone involved with it. You will, too. But now I want pie for breakfast, damn it. Oh, well: I’ll just play the LIVING ROOM SESSIONS again.
If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others. It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.
But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers. But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read. In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion. And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.
These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me. It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936. These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.
Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord. Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured. And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe? I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.
Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d). Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added. Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).
Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection. (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)
I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records. I’ll have some listening comments at the end.
and the 78 version:
Flip it over, as they used to say:
This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:
If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches. However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):
and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):
Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler. That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly. They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians. I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers. (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did. I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music. The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923. I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto. I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend? (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is. An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be. In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit? Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale. It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir. Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times. Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious. What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans. Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
Did you go to the grocery store in search of toilet paper and find this scene?
Photograph by Brittany Newman for the New York Times.
Fear of not-having brought out some people’s worst impulses. A neighbor went to the supermarket and saw a woman with several carts of toilet paper. He politely asked her, “Excuse me, what is all that for?” and she snarled, “IT’S FOR MY FAMILY!”true only if her brood was the size of Josephine Baker’s.
I have some in my closet, so admittedly I write this from complacency. But I have a solution for those who find the shelves empty. Learn the lyrics and melody to this ditty and sing it loudly — or if you can’t do that on short notice, play the video at full volume on your phone, then go to the next aisle, meander through the spaghetti sauce and couscous, and when you return, the shelves will magically be full. Try it:
If my magic doesn’t work, singing WIPE IT OFF loudly will keep people more than eight feet from you. What could possibly go wrong?
On a more serious note: this post may strike some as in bad taste, but laughing beats weeping or punching a hole in the sheetrock (aim between the studs).
Thanks to Lonnie Johnson, Clarence Williams, James P. Johnson, and Spencer Williams for their comic-spiritual uplift.
A few night ago, I was witness to a glorious expression of personalities and an explosion of sounds. The “Cafe Bohemia Jazz Quartet,” which appears regularly on Thursdays at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, was that night led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (as usual), with Scott Robinson, magic man, playing tenor saxophone, taragoto, and a new find from his basement, an “adorable” little Eb cornet. With them were Joe Cohn, guitar, and Murray Wall, string bass.
The evening’s music was characteristically rewarding and varied: a first set of SONG OF THE WANDERER, SUGAR, INDIANA, ROCKIN’ CHAIR, THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE, I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and CREOLE LOVE CALL. In the Bohemia audience, appropriately, were members of the Pilsner Jazz Band, who had just appeared at the Kennedy Center (more about that below) and were enthusiastically responding to the band. I don’t recall if Jon-Erik asked them what they’d like to hear (the act of a brave person) but someone suggested ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and that began the second set.
A word about ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — which has a lovely pedigree, because the song (with lyrics) by Clarence and Spencer Williams, possibly just by Spencer, refers to the place King Oliver played, later the Lincoln Gardens. It’s a century old, if we take as its starting point the unissued recordings pioneering bandleader George Morrison made of the tune.
We all have our favorite versions, from Bix to the Goodman Sextet to Tatum to Louis, and as I write this, another’s being created. But since it was taken up from the Forties onward by “trad” groups — define them as you will — it’s one of the three songs played nearly to a crisp (the others are MUSKRAT RAMBLE and STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE). Too many formulaic renditions in my history have caused me slight flutters of ennui when someone suggests it. But not with this quartet. After a gentle ensemble start (I missed a bit due to camera rebellion) this performance escalates into a wonderfully friendly joust between Jon-Erik and Scott. Quite uplifting, with every tub securely on its own botom, seriously cheering
I felt like cheering then, and I do now. See what happens when you leave your house to confront the music face to face? More about the notion of leaving-your-house, at least temporarily, here.
Beauty awaits us, if we just look for it.
And just because this title was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of this post, here’s an evocative jazz artifact:
Postscript: here’s the Pilsner Jazz Band at the Kennedy Center, Jan. 27, 2020:
To my ears, modern bands don’t find it easy to reproduce the music of Twenties and early Thirties medium-sized ensembles beyond playing the notes, although I commend their attempts. The most pleasing exceptions have been Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, still doing the thing regularly in New York and elsewhere; I’ve also delighted in some ad hoc ensembles put together at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Festival. (Listeners have other favorites, I know: I am not compiling a list here.)
But most recently, the Chicago-based FAT BABIES are are a consistent pleasure.
Here’s UPTOWN, performed at the July 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival:
UPTOWN is also the name of the Babies’ latest CD, their fourth for Delmark, beautifully thought-out, played, and recorded.
Visit here to buy the disc and hear samples, or vice versa.
The band on this disc is the 2016-18 version, with Andy Schumm, cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet; Dave Bock, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet, tenor, soprano; John Otto, clarinet, tenor; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, tenor banjo, tenor guitar; Beau Sample, string bass; Alex Hall, drums, percussion. They deeply understand the music without being stuffy.
Of the thirteen selections, UPTOWN and THAT GAL OF MINE are originals by Andy Schumm; SWEET IS THE NIGHT by Jonathan Doyle. The arrangements and transcriptions are by Schumm, Doyle, and Paul Asaro, who also sings on five tracks with proper period flourishes. The rest of the repertoire — venerable songs — EDNA, HARMONY BLUES, THE BATHING BEAUTY BLUES, RUFF SCUFFLIN’, OUT OF A CLEAR BLUE SKY, THUMPIN’ AND BUMPIN’, THE SPELL OF THE BLUES, TRAVELIN’ THAT ROCKY ROAD, THE SOPHOMORE, HARLEM RHYTHM DANCE — have noble associations with King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Andy Kirk, Eubie Blake, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, Bing Crosby, the Dorsey Brothers, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, Clarence Williams, Claude Hopkins, and others. But you’ll notice that the song selection, although deep and genuine, is not The Same Old Thing (you know: the same two Ellingtons, one Bix, DIPPER MOUTH BLUES, MOTEN SWING, and so on): even scholars of the period might not be used to hearing some of these compositions.
What makes this band so delightful? The answers come thick and fast. They are a working band, so their section work is beautifully polished but never stiff. The solos caress or explode, depending on what the song requires. There’s also a refreshing variety in tempo and mood: the Babies do not need to play racetrack tempos all the time, and they know that hot is best served with with nicely seasoned side dishes of sweet. This is music for dancers as well as listeners. I’ve seen other ensembles do creditable work with charts they are seeing for the first or second time, but nothing can replace the comfortable familiarity that comes with playing a song twenty times in a month.
“Authenticity” is always a slippery subject, but the Babies manifest it in every note and phrase: they’ve lived with this music long enough and intensely enough to have the rhythmic feel of this period as part of their individual and collective nervous systems, so there is no self-conscious “going backwards,” but the band feels as if they’ve immersed themselves in the conventions of the style — which go beyond slapped bass and choked cymbal. It doesn’t feel as if they are acting, pretending to be ancient: their joy in being comes through. And the solos are stylistically gratifying without being museum-pieces. It’s been said before, but if the Babies were to be dropped in Harlem in 1931, they would cause a sensation and be welcomed at the Rhythm Club, the dance halls, and after-hours clubs.
It’s joyous music, joyously played. And my only reservation about this Delmark CD (which, again, I point out, is beautifully recorded) is that it’s not a three-disc set. Maybe next time.
There are so many names for the music The Easy Winners create (is it string-band music, ragtime, roots music, Americana, or venerable popular song?) that I have given up the quest to name it. But it’s light-hearted, sweet, sometimes hilarious, sentimental in the best ways, old-fashioned without being stuffy.
THE EASY WINNERS, photograph by Wendy Leyden.
Here’s RAGGED BUT RIGHT, swinging and comedic at once:
Who are these gifted and friendly people? In the middle, that’s Nick Robinson, to his left is Zac Salem; for this appearance at the 2019 Historic Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival they are joined by Robert Armstrong — you’ll know which one he is because he sings with great subtle skill. I’m also pleased to point out that the very fine videos are the product of Unigon Films: video and audio by Rob Thomas, edited by Lewis Motisher.
To me, this music is completely charming — what I envision people who lived some distance from cities playing and singing at home (ideally on the porch in summer), old songs, pop songs, swinging without trying hard to, joining their individual string sounds and vocal harmonies to entertain family, friends, neighbors. They feel a million miles away from music funneled through the iPhone into earbuds or blasting from someone’s car speaker: they remind me of a time when people made music on their own and they were expert at it even when Ralph Peer didn’t offer them a record contract: a landscape full of wonderful sounds, people creating beautiful melodies for their own pleasure.
One of the additional pleasures of this group is their varied library, “ragtime era music of the Americas on mandolin and guitar . . . classic rags, waltzes, cakewalks, tangos, marches, and songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” For those whose little “is this jazz?” alarm bells are going off, calm down and remind yourself that Oliver, Henderson, Gioldkette, and other fabled bands (we celebrate them as hot ensembles) played tangos and waltzes because the crowd wanted them and expected them — as delights for the ears and intriguing dance music, variety over the course of an evening.
A little personal history: in 2013 I delighted in Nick’s former band, The Ragtime Skedaddlers, at the Cline Wine & Jazz Festival, and it was my pleasure to write about them and post video from their performance here. Nick happily reminded me that I called the R.S. “old-fashioned melodists,” true then, true now, no matter what the band is called.
The R.S. gave way to The Easy Winners — an optimistic title with echoes of Joplin (and much easier to spell). I wasn’t at the Sutter Festival, but 17 (!) beautiful videos have emerged and I am delighted to share a few with the JAZZ LIVES audience in hopes of introducing them to this beautiful expert unaffected group. You can see them all
hereor here(the first is Nick’s playlist; the second the filmmakers’ channel).
But here are two more that I particularly like because the songs have deep jazz connections for me and perhaps you as well:
DIANE always makes me think of Jack Teagarden, although the verse is new to me — as is Robert’s fine playing on that home-improvement item (he doesn’t sing “Did you see what I saw?” but perhaps he should):
BREEZE, which I associate with Clarence Williams and Jess Stacy:
I didn’t have the good fortune to grow up among people so talented (although my father played a round-back mandolin in his youth) but the Easy Winners are not only a musical delight but a kind of spiritual one. Although we are listening to them digitally through our computers, they link us to a time and place where sweet music helped us to perceive the world as a benevolent place. I hope they prosper.
If I had a house with a porch (my apartment complex has unyielding concrete benches) I would want to hire The Easy Winners for late-spring serenades. There could be pie and lemonade, too.
I read recently that the Chicago Cellar Boys were celebrating being a band for two years: I don’t know whether we should wish them HAPPY BIRTHDAY or HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, but my impulse is to celebrate them: their wonderful mixture of exactitude and abandon is so very inspiring, so hot, so sweet. How do we celebrate here at JAZZ LIVES? We share video that you haven’t seen before unless you were at the gig. That’s what we do!
KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE, not only a good song but a fine life-maxim, performed in the style of the Apex Club Orchestra, with its verse as well:
ROSY CHEEKS, with an idiomatic vocal chorus by Paul Asaro:
Clarence Williams’ BOTTOMLAND, played at a yearning tempo:
A word about husbands who suffer; take it seriously or not, POOR PAPA:
Another song related to Jimmie Noone’s small band, which performed at the El Dorado Club — I read that EL RADO SCUFFLE was named because some of the lighting on the club’s sign was not working:
SO TIRED, which is obviously not the Cellar Boys’ theme song:
SWEET EMMALINE, recorded in 1928 by Clarence Williams. Is there any truth to the rumor, half-remembered, which has Clarence saying, late in life, that he wrote none of the music for which he took credit?
A great band!
Incidentally, parents in the JAZZ LIVES audience are surely familiar with “the terrible twos,” where the toddler says NO to everything, dramatically. The CCB say NO to many things: inauthentic music, badly played music, striped vests, stuffed pets on the gig, poor-quality snacks in the musicians’ room, too-tight polo shirts. To wonderful music they say YES, as do we.
Two other bits of relevant information. The Cellar Boys will be back at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest, and they will have copies of their debut CD, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, which is a Rivermont Records production. Also for Rivermont, they’ve recorded a microgroove 78 rpm record (four songs) if it isn’t sold out by now.
And if you’ve never seen a copy of THE SYNCOPATED TIMES, you owe it to yourself to click on the bright-blue rectangle below, which is there for some good reasons.
These Boys don’t disappoint in their hot and sweet renditions of Twenties and Thirties Chicago-style jazz and pop music. The CCB are Andy Schumm, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone; John Otto, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. I recorded these performances on November 15, 2018, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.
BLUES IN A MINOR honors the Blue Ribbon Syncopators, a reasonably obscure territory band from Buffalo, New York, who recorded this song in 1925 for OKeh. It’s not a blues; it’s not in A minor. An error in labeling? You’re on your own:
Jelly Roll Morton’s dark lesson in keeping your own counsel, BIG LIP BLUES:
Clarence Williams’ rousing CUSHION FOOT STOMP (and I need a good answer about the etymology of the title):
The very pretty melody, A GARDEN IN THE RAIN:
Cliff Jackson’s (stride pianist with intriguing bass patterns, also leading the “Krazy Kats”) THE TERROR:
I have more video of the CCB in various places, but you should also know about their debut CD for Rivermont Records, BUSY ‘TIL ELEVEN, and that wonderful new oddity, a 10″ 78 rpm microgroove stereo vinyl record — a limited edition of 550 copies — that plays four songs in lovely fidelity while its ornate label rotates at the reassuringly high speed of a vanished time and place. Learn more, hear more, and buy more here.
Our subjects today are the overlap of “madness” and “pleasure.” Please be prepared to take notes.
“But first, this,” as they used to say on public radio.
PLEASURE MAD, a Sidney Bechet composition, was recorded in 1924 but the vocal versions weren’t issued, except for this one. Did the record company find it too direct to be acceptable? Here’s Ethel Waters’ version, clear as a bell:
Perhaps the song continued to be performed with those lyrics, but I don’t have any evidence. However, it resurfaced in 1938 as VIPER MAD, new lyrics, as sung — memorably — by O’Neil Spencer:
There might be other ways to pose the rhetorical question, but at what moment in those fourteen years did sexual pleasure become a less interesting subject in popular song than smoking reefers?
While you consider that intriguing philosophical question, I have a new double-CD set (36 tracks! 12 pounds!) to share with you. A little personal history: I attended the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, then renamed Mike Durham’s International Classic Jazz Party, from 2009 to 2016, and had a fine time: the best American, European, Australian, and occasionally South American musicians turned loose for a long weekend of hot and sweet jazz, its spiritual center the late Twenties and early Thirties.
Here are three samples, videoed by me, songs and personnels named:
I ended with GOT BUTTER ON IT so that JAZZ LIVES readers can — as they say — get a flavor of the experience. The Party continues to do its special magic splendidly, a magic that videos only partially convey. This year it’s November 1-3, and details can be found here. And if you search JAZZ LIVES for “Whitley Bay” or “Durham,” you will find a deluge of posts and videos.
But this post isn’t exactly about the Party as such, nor is it about my videos. Its subject — now, pay attention — is a 2-CD set of live performances from the 2018 Party, which is just thrilling. It’s called PLEASURE MAD: ‘LIVE RECORDINGS FROM MIKE DURHAM’S INTERNATIONAL CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY 2017 (WVR RECORDS WVR1007). As I wrote above, 36 live performances in beautiful sound.
And the sound is worth noting, with delight. At the Party, some fans record the music from the audience with everything from ancient cassette recorders to digital ones; when I was there, I videoed as much as I could. But this CD issue has the benefit of superb sound, because of the young Norwegian trumpeter and recording engineer Torstein Kubban, who has recorded every session for the past six years. Torstein is a phenomenal player, so I may be permitted this digression:
He’s got it, for sure. And his recordings are wonderful.
Here are the songs performed — referencing Duke Ellington, Ben Pollack, Bennie Moten, the Halfway House Orchestra, Alex Hill, Rube Bloom, Jabbo Smith, Louis Armstrong,Eddie Condon, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Clarence Williams, Luis Russell, King Oliver, James P. Johnson, and more:
And the musicians: Mike Davis, Andy Schumm, Duke Heitger, Jamie Brownfield, Malo Mazurie, Kristoffer Kompen, Jim Fryer, Graham Hughes, Ewan Bleach, Michael McQuaid, Richard Exall, Claus Jacobi, Matthias Seuffert, Lars Frank, Jean-Francois Bonnel, Emma Fisk, David Boeddinghaus, Martin Litton, Keith Nichols, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Martin Wheatley, Spats Langham, Peter Beyerer, Henry Lemaire, Jacob Ullberger, Phil Rutherford, Elise Sut, Malcolm Sked, Josh Duffee, Richard Pite, Nick Ward, Nick Ball, Joan Viskant, Nicolle Rochelle. If I’ve left anyone out, let me know and I will impale myself on a cactus needle as penance, and video the event.
I think it’s taken me so long to write this post because every time I wanted to take the CDs into the house to write about them, I would start them up on the car player and there they would stay. A few highlights, deeply subjective: Martin Litton’s sensitive and tender solo LAURA; the riotous hot polyphony of CHATTANOOGA STOMP (which I recently played six times in the car, non-stop); the exuberant GIVE ME YOUR TELEPHONE NUMBER; Spats Langham’s NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE; a completely headlong RAILROAD MAN; a version of THE CHARLESTON that starts with Louis’ WEST END BLUES cadenza; SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE that rocks tremendously; I FOUND A NEW BABY that sounds as if Hines (in the guise of Boeddinghaus) visited a Condon jam session in 1933; SOBBIN’ BLUES with layers and textures as rich as great architecture. You will find your own favorites; those are mine of the moment.
My advice? If you can, get thee to the Party, where seats are going fast. Once there, buy several copies of this set — for yourself, national holidays, the birthdays of hip relatives — and enjoy for decades. If you can’t get to the UK, you can still purchase the set, which I urge you to do.
And when the authorities knock on your door to ask about the ecstatic sounds coming from within, you can simply show them this CD and say, “Well, Officers, I’m PLEASURE MAD! Would you like to come in?” And all will be well.
The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on. Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast. People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more. They give great value!
I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.
I’ve posted other videos of them here, here, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.
The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018. They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:
and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:
Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:
Bless Don Redman is what I say:
LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries). I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently. Here is the link to the film. Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):
Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):
Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:
There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend. So watch this space for more good news.
I had the good fortune to visit my long-time dear friends Lisa DuRose and Susan Peters at their St. Paul, Minnesota home this summer. I’d like to think of myself as a passable guest, so once I knew we would have plenty of time to talk and laugh and muse, I kept my requests manageable: interesting things to eat (pride of place went to Cheng Heng, a wonderful Cambodian restaurant (448 University Avenue), visits to thrift shops, a delightful bookstore, Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Avenue W.).
I made one Special Request.
I’d heard of a magical place where 78 RPM records and machines to play them flourished, so I asked Lisa and Susan to take me here:
I was worried that I would go down into the depths and never surface, so I asked them to pick me up in an hour, which was an atypical kind of restraint on my part. Lisa and Susan were curious about this museum of sounds and shapes that they’d never entered, so they came in with me.
Scott, the owner, stopped what he was doing and greeted us. I have an odd sense of comedy, so I said that I was a jazz blogger from New York, a collector of records, and that I had brought two friends who lived locally, that Lisa was my probation officer and Susan was my psychotherapist. Perhaps because of Scott’s clientele, he only allowed his eyes to widen a bit, but did not boggle at this news. I started to laugh, gave him my card and a Louis button, and we were off and running into hilarious instant friendship. Here— just so you know I am not describing some time-machine dream — is the store’s Facebook page.
Here is a six-minute film portrait of Scott in his element, blissfully honest, doing what he was meant to do:
And here is a very short film of Scott, playing a cylinder on an Edison “Gem” machine:
Scott and I fell into conversation about Joe Sullivan. That in itself should tell you a great deal — in this century, how many people can talk with depth about Joe? I tore myself away — he is hilarious, erudite, and entertaining — to look at records. Of course there was a Louis section, an Ellington section, but (as you can see from above) there was a Bob Pope section and one devoted to Don Redman, one to Clarence Williams.
I no longer do well with extreme sensory stimulus, and I was grateful that I could find a mere eight records: Joe Sullivan on Sunset (!) and Conqueror (the 1939 Cafe Society Orchestra); Henry “Red” Allen on Banner; the UHCA issue of JAZZ ME BLUES with Tesch and BARREL HOUSE STOMP with the Cellar Boys; a sunburst Decca of Louis’ ON A COCOANUT ISLAND; a beautiful Variety of Chauncey Morehouse and Swing Six (no “his”) of ON THE ALAMO. In the name of realism, I will also point out that the days of finding N- Paramounts at the Salvation Army for a nickel apiece are long gone. With tax, these records cost slightly less than eighty dollars, and I went away feeling gloriously gratified.
Two other record-collecting sidelights. Scott knows a great many kinds of music well and deeply, so the shop offers opera, “roots music,” and many other things that I didn’t have time to explore. If I remember correctly, he has three-quarters of a million records, both on the ground floor and in a well-organized basement. And more machines on which to play them than several large houses could accommodate.
And while I was there, the phone rang and Scott had an extraordinarily courteous gentle conversation with a man of a certain vintage who wanted to bring his beloved and for-sure valuable collection of late-Forties black label Bing Crosby Deccas for Scott to buy. I was touched by the kind seriousness with which Scott handled the man on the phone, never condescending to him or being scornful, while telling him the truth, that it would not be worth his while to bring the Crosbys down in hopes of a splendid payoff.
I admire Scott’s enterprise greatly — where on earth are you going to see a 78 record shop with its own Red Norvo section? Yes, I know a few other stores exist, and I’ve had self-indulgent fun in the 78 section of Amoeba Music — I think the one on Haight Street, but Scott’s store is a paradise of rare music and rare artifacts. You won’t find Oliver’s THAT SWEET SOMETHING DEAR there, but if you visit and go out empty-handed, and you love this music, I marvel at you, and not necessarily in an admiring way.
He is a man of stubborn devotion to his own ideal, and that is a beautiful thing. I will go even deeper and say that if everyone who loves older music — and the way in which it was heard — bought a seven-dollar record from Scott, or, better, a working vintage phonograph, the world we know would be improved. I wish that he and his passionate vision prosper and continue.
Here’s the good news. I took as many opportunities as I could, without slighting other much-loved bands, to hear and video the Chicago Cellar Boysat the 2018 San Diego Jazz Fest. Although I had some technical difficulties with my camera, I came home with over forty performances captured on video. Here’s the second installment (the first offering is here).
There is no bad news.
LOVIN’ SAM FROM ALABAM’ (one of those songs particular to that decade that celebrates the amorous magic of a legendary figure — in some versions, Sam is also a Sheik, thus getting double credit):
THE THINGS THAT WERE MADE FOR LOVE:
WHO’S SIT? (originally recorded by the Hot Five, and some bright person suggested recently that the title we see here was missing a letter, but I propose that Mr. Fearn would not let that title be printed on an OKeh label):
APEX BLUES (for Messrs. Noone and Poston):
BLUE BLACK BOTTOM (homage to Fats, piano solo by Paul Asaro):
TIA JUANA (thinking of the Wolverines):
BEER GARDEN BLUES (a 1933 Clarence Williams song that I am sure celebrates the end of Prohibition, with a group vocal — later, Clarence, always industrious, gave it new lyrics as SWING, BROTHER, SWING, predating the Basie / Billie song of the same title, which had a different set of composers — one of them Walter Bishop Sr., whom my father worked with at Movietone News:
If you’ve listened closely to any of these performances, perhaps these words will be superfluous. Although the CCB is (are?) young in terms of the calendar — born in 2017 — they are a glorious working band: yes, their solos are magnificently realized, sweet or hot; they are masters of Tonation and Phrasing — but they are a band, with gratifying ensemble telepathy.
Add to that their love of unusual repertoire, from the deeply sentimental to the searing, from love songs to dark blues; add to that the orchestrally-wise arrangements where something beautiful is always going on, the instrumental doubling that makes this quintet seem like a whole host of bands . . . may they go on and prosper for a long long time. Each set was full of surprises, songs I’d never heard or heard of before, and songs I knew but heard for their first time — played with such conviction, intelligence, and joyous expertise. Yes, there are homages to Noone, the Wolverines, and the Hot Five, but nothing’s hackneyed: this band loves later Clarence Williams and obscure territory bands, as well as songs possibly never recorded but still full of melodic substance.
They bring me (and others, of course) so much joy.
You can, as they say, find the CCB here on Facebook. And two other bits of relevant information: the CCB is a smaller version of the delightful band, the Fat Babies, and the CCB has a steady Sunday-night gig here in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. I’ve never been, but Charles has promised to take me. And I hear that a CD of the band is in the making.
For the historians among us — here is the Blessed Antecedent:
Many jazz bands that identify themselves as steeped in Twenties Hot are devoted to the Ancestors and the irreplaceable recordings, but have reduced their repertoire to a dozen-plus familiar songs: DIPPERMOUTH BLUES, SINGIN’ THE BLUES, TIN ROOF BLUES, THAT’S A-PLENTY, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, and so on. Those songs achieved classic status for good reason, but they quickly come to feel like the same Caesar salad. (“Mainstream” groups do the same thing with PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, ALL OF ME, SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET . . . continuing forward to GROOVIN’ HIGH and the bop -OLOGIES also.)
But the noble and flourishing Andy Schumm is not only a marvelous multi-instrumentalist (on this session, cornet, clarinet, tenor saxophone, “Reserphone,” and one voice in the glee club) but a truly diligent researcher — coming up with hot tunes and lyrical songs that rarely — or never — get performed. At the end of the video presented here, you should observe the thickness of manuscript that he picks up off his music stand, and when he announces the next tune to the band by number as well as title, the numbers are notably three digits, suggesting a substantial “book.”
Andy and his Gang performed two wonderful sets of lively, “new” “old” material at the August 2018 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Festival in Davenport, Iowa. The Gang was a streamlined version of the Fat Babies, with Andy; John Otto, reeds; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo / guitar; Dave Bock, tuba, and guest star David Boeddinghaus, piano. All of this good music was beautifully preserved for us by “Chris and Chris,” whose generosities you know or should know. My posting of the first set is here.
As far as arcana is concerned, here are the songs performed: CUSHION FOOT STOMP (Clarence Williams), EL RADO SCUFFLE (Jimmie Noone: supposedly the club was the ELDORADO but not all the letters in the sign were visible), AIN’T THAT HATEFUL? (Oliver Naylor), JUST LIKE A MELODY (a Walter Donaldson composition, one known in recent decades thanks to Scott Robinson’s recording of it), FLAG THAT TRAIN (watch out for the Reserphone), I MUST BE DREAMING (a sweet duet for John Otto and David Boeddinghaus), BEER GARDEN BLUES (Clarence Williams, with glee-club vocal; Williams also recorded this melody with different lyrics, perhaps called SWING, BROTHER, SWING, but not the Billie-Basie song), GRAVIER STREET BLUES (Clarence Williams again, his Jazz Kings — thanks to Phil Melnick for catching the title, something I didn’t recognize, which proves my point about arcana), CROSS ROADS (California Ramblers), WAILING BLUES (thanks to Cellar Boys Wingy, Tesch, Bud, and Frank Melrose), an impish Boeddinghaus chorus of WE’RE IN THE MONEY, perhaps a satiric reference to the undernourished tip jar? — and closing with a wild SAN in honor of Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra.
Thanks to Andy, John, John, Dave, Dave, and Chris and Chris. (I see a pattern here, don’t you?)
“Chris and Chris” at the 2015 Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans. Photograph by Bess Wade.
Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. Here is the first half, and here is the second. The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love. Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:
This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note. For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track. Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh. His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt. You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams. As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another. As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”! Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.
Here are some details. The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar. If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing. And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.
The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.
You may order a download or a disc hereat very reasonable prices.
But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. Tickets and details here. Get yours today:
I’ve been told that I sound like a New Yorker, which doesn’t surprise me, although I think there are many strains of New Yorkishness, all subtly different. But to think I carry the inflections of my native land even when I’m in Sedalia, Missouri, for the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, is pleasing. So before I walk two blocks to hear more delightful music, I will offer some genuine sounds of New York for you, wherever you may read this.
I made another trip — a pilgrimage, rather, to the shrine for delicate and forthright creative improvisation (call it what you will), The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on Sunday, May 13. And the spiritual guides for that evening convocation were Danny Tobias, various brass instruments; Scott Robinson, taragoto, tenor saxophone, and other instruments; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass. Here are three splendid songs and improvisations created for us by four splendid players.
Hoagy Carmichael’s ROCKIN’ CHAIR, at a very Bixian tempo:
Victor Young’s SWEET SUE, now ninety years old:
KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES, associated with Sidney Bechet, but theoretically written by Clarence Williams:
I couldn’t stay for the second set — my semester was still hobbling to a close — but I hope to make it to The Ear Inn more often this summer. You should, too.
If you don’t get to St. Louis often, these two people may be unfamiliar to you. But they make excellent music.
You say you’d like to hear some? Consider this — a short film by Bill Streeter:
and this, which pairs Ethan with Valerie Kirschhoff:
A friend told me about Ethan and Valerie, and I’ve been listening to their CDs with great pleasure. I know that comparisons are not only odious, but they cause one to lose friends, but Ethan and Valerie, together or singly, have got it. By “it” I mean a certain easy authority and authenticity: when they perform their special music — the low-down St. Louis blues, rags, and pop of the time — I don’t feel as if they are children playing at being adults, nor do I feel that I am listening to copies of 78s. (However, if they’d been born a century ago, you would, I am sure, know them from their recordings on Paramount, Bluebird, and Decca. They’re that much in the groove.)
Ethan and Valerie have a certain brash tenderness that is very much appealing, and although I hear echoes of certain performers (famous and obscure) I hear the personalities of these two — in this century — coming right at me. This is rare and delicious, and even when they perform songs that are by today’s standards “ancient,” they seem full of emotion and fun.
And they are not shallow: by that I mean that certain young “stride” pianists have taught themselves AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and four other tunes; certain young singers know GOD BLESS THE CHILD and FINE AND MELLOW . . . and then it’s time for a break. One of the pleasures of the three CDs I have on hand: THE ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS, MISS JUBILEE: “THROW ME IN THE ALLEY,” and Ethan’s solo piano offering, THE LOW-DOWN PIANO, is the scholarly breadth of their chosen repertoire. It’s not simply a non-stop parade of twelve-bar blues (incidentally, the closing video of this blog shows Valerie, with ukulele and friends, including Marty Eggers, making a meal of MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT, which belongs to Mound City hero Red McKenzie, although Marty Grosz has brought it back in recent times).
In his solo recital, Ethan plays compositions by Romeo Nelson, Little Brother Montgomery, Jabo Williams, Montana Taylor, and others in addition to the expected heroes; I was familiar with two of the sixteen compositions on the GRINDERS CD, and MISS JUBILEE dips happily into Thirties ephemera, including THE DUCK’S YAS YAS YAS and JERRY THE JUNKER. (In fact, on that CD — with friends — the overall effect is somewhere between Clarence Williams and the Lil Hardin Armstrong small groups, with a dash of the Washboard Rhythm Kings, and completely refreshing — a kind of hot elegant rawness, a wild oxymoron that will make sense with the first listening.)
I am not writing as much as I might, because I’d rather listeners go to the videos and sound samples to enjoy for themselves. Ethan and Valerie have put up many videos on YouTube, and they have an expansive online presence, as one must these days.
Hereis Ethan’s website. And here is the site for MISS JUBILEE — the aptly-named group Valerie and Ethan co-lead. And the Facebook page for the ST. LOUIS STEADY GRINDERS— who also live up to their proud title, never faltering or hesitating.
You can listen to excerpts from and buy MISS JUBILEE’s CDs hereand the same is true for Ethan’s solo piano CD here.
They are very welcome: they make the best noises, and they spread joy in all directions.
May your happiness increase!