Tag Archives: Cliff Edwards

CELEBRATING ADRIAN ROLLINI, THEN AND NOW

Adrian Rollini has been gone from us for nearly sixty-five years, but his imagination, his huge sound, his virtuosity lives on.  He has been celebrated as associate of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, the California Ramblers and their spin-offs, Cliff Edwards, Frank Trumbauer, Annette Hanshaw, Vic Berton, Stan King, Abe Lincoln, Miff Mole, Fred Elizalde, Bert Lown, Tom Clines, Bunny Berigan, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, Lee Morse, Jack Purvis, Benny Goodman, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Wingy Manone, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, and many more; multi-instrumentalist: the premier bass saxophonist, a pianist, drummer, vibraphonist, xylophonist, and master of the goofus and the “hot fountain pen,” with recordings over mearly three decades — 473 sessions, says Tom Lord — to prove his art.

Here, in about six minutes, is Rollini, encapsulated — lyrically on vibraphone for HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, then playing TAP ROOM SWING (really THE FARMER IN THE DELL with a domino on) alongside Berigan, Teddy Wilson, and Babe Russin — for the Saturday Night Swing Club, with Paul Douglas the announcer. Thanks to Nick Dellow for this two-sided gem:

and later on, the vibraphone-guitar-trio:

I love the song — as well as the weight and drive Rollini gives this 1933 ensemble — to say nothing of Red McKenzie, Berigan, and Pee Wee Russell:

and the very hot performance of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART by Fred Elizalde:

Rollini died on May 15, 1956, not yet 53, so by most perspectives he is a historical figure, outlived by many of his contemporaries (Nichols, Mole, Hackett, Buddy Rich come to mind).  He made no recordings after December 1947.  But recently, several exciting fully-realized projects have made him so much more than a fabled name on record labels and in discographies.

The first Rollini exaltation is a CD, TAP ROOM SWING, by the delightful multi-instrumentalist Attila Korb, “and his Rollini Project,” recorded in 2015 with a memorable cast of individualists getting a full orchestral sound from three horns and two rhythm players.

Attila plays bass saxophone, melodica, and sings beautifully on BLUE RIVER and SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL,  and is responsible for the magical arrangements; Malo Mazurie plays trumpet and cornet; David Lukacs, clarinet and tenor; Harry Kanters, piano; Felix Hunot, guitar and banjo.  Those names should be familiar to people wise to “old time modern,” for Felix and Malo are 2/3 of Three Blind Mice, and with Joep Lumeij replacing Harry, it is David Lukacs’s marvelous DREAM CITY band.  The selections are drawn from various facets of Rollini’s bass saxophone career: SOMEBODY LOVES ME / SUGAR / THREE BLIND MICE / BLUE RIVER / BUGLE CALL RAG / DIXIE / SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL / PE O’MY HEART / TAP ROOM SWING / I LEFT MY SUGAR STANDING IN THE RAIN / SWING LOW / EMBRACEABLE YOU (the last a gorgeous bonus track, a duet for Attila and Felix that is very tender).  The performances follow the outlines of the famous recordings, but the solos are lively, and the whole enterprise feels jaunty, nothing at all like the Museum of Shellac.  You can buy the CD or download the music here, and follow the band on their Facebook page.

Here’s evidence of how this compact orchestra is both immensely respectful of the originals but — in the truest homage to the innovators — free to be themselves.

MY PRETTY GIRL (2018), where the Project foursome becomes the whole Goldkette Orchestra, live, no less:

THREE BLIND MICE, PEG O’MY HEART, SOMEBODY LOVES ME, BLUE RIVER (2016), showing how inventive the quintet is:

CLARINET MARMALADE, LULU’S BACK IN TOWN, BLUE RIVER, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL — with a caffeinated-Bach interlude, not to be missed (2017):

I would chase this band all over Europe if circumstances were different, but they already have expert videography.  And at the end of this post I will share their most recent delightful episode.

But first, reading matter of the finest kind.  For a number of years now, there has been excited whispering, “How soon will the Rollini book come out?”  We knew that its author, Ate van Delden, is a scholar rather than an enthusiast or a mere compiler of facts we already know.  ADRIAN ROLLINI: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF A JAZZ RAMBLER is here, and it’s a model of the genre.  I confess that I am seriously tardy in adding my praise to the chorus, but it’s an example of “Be careful what you wish for.”  I always look for books that will tell me what I didn’t already know, rather than my thinking, “Yes, I read that story here, and this one in another book.”

RAMBLER, to keep it short, has so much new information that it has taxed my five wits to give it a thorough linear reading.  I’ve been picking it up, reading about Rollini’s early life as a piano prodigy (and the piano rolls he cut), his associations with the famous musicians above, his thousands of recordings, and more.  van Delden has investigated the rumors and facts of Rollini’s death, and he has (more valuable to me) portrayed Rollini not only as a brilliant multi-instrumentalist but as a businessman — opening jazz clubs, hiring and firing musicians, looking for financial advantages in expert ways — and we get a sense of Rollini the man through interviews with people who knew him and played with him.

He comes across as a complex figure, and thus, although van Delden does give loving attention to Rollini on record, the book is so much more than an annotated discography.  In its five hundred and more pages, the book is thorough without being tedious or slow-moving, and if a reader comes up with an unanswered Rollini question, I’d be astonished.  The author has a rare generous objectivity: he admires Rollini greatly, but when his and our hero acts unpleasantly or inexplicably, he is ready to say so.  Of course, there are many previously unseen photographs and wonderful bits of relevant paper ephemera.  The book is the result of forty years of research, begun by Tom Faber and carried on into 2020, and it would satisfy the most demonically attentive Rollini scholar. And if that should suggest that its audience is narrow, I would assign it to students of social and cultural history: there’s much to be learned here (the intersections of art, race, economics, and entertainment in the last century) even for people who will never play the hot fountain pen.

And here’s something completely up-to-date — a social-distancing Rollini Project video that is characteristically emotionally warm and friendly, the very opposite of distant, his nine-piece rendition of SOMEBODY LOVES ME, which appeared on May 23.  Contemporary jazz, indeed!

How unsubtle should I be?  Buy the CD, buy the book — support the living people who are doing the work of keeping the masters alive in our heads.

May your happiness increase!

POETS IN THEIR YOUTH (October 11, 1938)

Thanks to Loren Schoenberg for sharing this gem with us.  If, like me, you grew up after the Swing Era had ended, the great creators were still in evidence: Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Gene, Harry, Basie, Duke, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and half a hundred others.  But sometimes they seemed more venerable than lively, and that was to be expected: routine, age, and aging audiences had had their effect.  But it is lovely to be thrust back into late 1938, with fiercely beautiful evidence of just why they were seen as Masters.

Here, in under three minutes, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Lionel Hampton — the last on drums — play a fiery but delicate I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, at top speed, never smudging a note or resorting to cliché.

They were young: Hampton, the eldest of the three (one never thinks of him as such) had turned thirty only six months earlier: Goodman and Wilson were still in the latter half of their twenties.  (Gene Krupa had left Goodman and formed his own band earlier in 1938.)

I invite JAZZ LIVES listeners to do the nearly-impossible, that is, to clear their minds and ears of associations with these artists, their reputations, our expectations, and simply listen.  And thus admire: the precision, the near-audacity of improvisations at such speed, the intensity and the clarity with which the details are offered to us.  The unflagging swing, and the compact art: seven choruses in slightly less than three minutes.  The architecture of this performance, balancing solo and ensemble, giving each of the players the spotlight in turn.  And the fact that it was live — no second takes or studio magic.  One can admire this as a chamber-music performance thoroughly animated by the impulses that made “hot jazz” hot:

It’s easy to hear this in historical context: ten years earlier, Jimmie Noone and his Apex Club Orchestra had fashioned their own variations (Cliff Edwards, a dozen years earlier, had sung it with his Hot Combination) and Goodman had played it as an orchestral piece from 1935 on — with special mention to the Martin Block jam session of early 1938 where Benny, Teddy, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Benny Heller, and Sid Weiss had jammed on the Vincent Youmans song.  And it comes out of a larger musical world: I hear late-Twenties and early-Thirties Louis and Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, and Zutty Singleton standing behind this trio.

But I can also imagine the radio audience of 1938 — not only the children and adolescents who nagged their parents for drum sets, clarinets, pianos and piano lessons (some signing up for the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists) but also the youthful Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach hearing and studying, thinking of ways to emulate and then outdo.  It would have been considered “popular music” or “entertainment,” but now we can value it as it deserves.

It’s a magnificent performance, with details that glisten all the more on subsequent listenings.  Thanks to Benny, Teddy, Lionel, Loren, and the noble Sammut of Malta for art and insights into the art.

May your happiness increase!

“BIRDS DO IT”: TAMAR KORN’S WILDWOOD RAMBLERS TAKE FLIGHT (Part Two): June 17, 2018

The stereotype of improvising musicians is that they come out at night; like bats, they avoid bright sunlight.  But this crew (Tamar Korn, Evan Arntzen, Dennis Lichtman, Adam Brisbin, Sean Cronin) seems so happy to be out in Nature, with no one calling to the bartender for another Stella.  The greenery and friendship is positively inspiring, and they offer us uplifting music.  You can savor the first part of this restorative afternoon here.  And here’s a second helping of brilliant joyous invention.  Thrilling to be there.

MILENBERG JOYS:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING, vocal harmonies by Sean and Tamar:

LET’S DO IT (yes, let’s!):

I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS (with a Spanish tinge):

IT WAS ONLY A SUN SHOWER:

ONE LITTLE KISS, verse and chorus by host Brice Moss (a song I associate with Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys):

Enjoying these videos again, I am reminded of 2009, when I brought Leroy “Sam” Parkins down to Banjo Jim’s to hear Tamar and the Cangelosi Cards, and he said, “You know, she gets me right in the gizzard.  She, Caruso, and Louis,” and that was no stage joke.  I think he would say the same thing of not only Tamar, but this band.  And somewhere, Sam is happily sitting in with them.

There’s more to come, two more posts’ worth.  Yes.

May your happiness increase!

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Three): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler.  There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.

Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo.  There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight.  This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.

And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”?  Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:

A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?

Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:

Who needs an umbrella?  I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:

and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:

Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.

And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD.  I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name.  Details as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them.  I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.

Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz.  And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that.  Evidence below.

A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.

Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play.  I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so.  I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity.  As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.

I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too.  Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before.  They do wonderful vocal harmonies.  They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight!  This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up.  Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks.  I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”

So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera.  I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting.  I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana.  In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.

And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone.  (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)

The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet.  The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.

A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon.  Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):

MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):

CHICAGO:

ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):

TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):

POOR PAPA:

There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come.  Not blasphemous, just paradisical.

May your happiness increase!

ARTIFICE TRANSFORMED: CLIFF EDWARDS and DICK McDONOUGH, 1933

I spent some time yesterday morning trying to find in tangible shape what I could hear in my mind’s ear — a complete recording of what was a new song in 1933 — lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and perhaps Billy Rose, music by Harold Arlen — IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, sung and played by Cliff Edwards with accompaniment by Dick McDonough, guitar. Yes, it’s on YouTube, but because reissues removed the verse, those video postings are unsatisfying.


Since the Forties, the song has been performed without the verse, as above, and in the most famous recordings by Sinatra / Nat Cole / Ella / Goodman, at a swinging medium-up tempo, which to me undermines its sweet flavor.  The version I present here is a tender love ballad, hopeful rather than swaggering.

The Wikipedia entry notes, “It was written originally for an unsuccessful Broadway play called The Great Magoo, set in Coney Island. It was subsequently used in the movie Take a Chance in 1933.”  Wikipedia doesn’t add that there seem to have been two films released that year with that title; the other one with James Dunn and Buddy Rogers, the one song in the film by Vincent Youmans.  In his book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder notes that in its first incarnation it was called IF YOU BELIEVE IN ME, a much less lively title than the one we know.

The composer credits intrigue me: Arlen’s melody, of course, souunds so simple but that simplicity has made it memorable (thus the appeal of the song to instrumentalists).  He didn’t write dull songs.

As to the lyrics, I wonder what, if anything, Billy Rose contributed to the song. Did he say to a stagehand, “Don’t drop that!  Yeah, it’s only a paper moon, but it costs more than your salary!”  Or is it a quiet reference to the wonderful prop in photo studios of the preceding century, where couples could snuggle in the crescent curve, pretending to be miles aloft because of love?

Yip Harburg’s lyrics are a marvel, bridging contemporary and eternal in the most moving yet casual way.  Leave aside “bubble” and “rainbow,” which were cliches even then, but savor “a temporary parking place,” “a canvas sky,” — and the entire bridge, which is beautiful, affecting and sharp, ” “Without your love, it’s a honky-tonk parade.  Without your love, it’s a melody played in a penny arcade.” Urban folk poetry at the highest level.  (Wilder calls the lyrics “innocent,” which is puzzling, but he admires Arlen’s bridge . . . .)  In Harburg, I hear his sense of a whole world no more grounded than a series of stage props, created to fool an audience but clearly unreal.  His words are Manhattan-tough but the toughness is there only to convey great wistful feeling.  You’d have to live in the city to understand the resonance of a temporary parking place; not only might it disappear, but you might be punished by the authorities.

A few sentences about Cliff Edwards, who seems a sculpture with so many surprising facets that when he is looked at from different angles, he is unrecognizable each time.

There’s Jiminy Cricket. There’s the goofily appealing Twenties vocalist, ukulele player, and scat singer — “eefin'” his way through one “novelty” chorus after another, often on dim-sounding Pathe 78s.  (I suspect that if Edwards had come to prominence ten years later and had had no ukulele, he would be much better known and regarded today.)  A comic film actor. There are the party records: I LOVE MOUNTAIN WOMEN comes to mind, and, yes, you can imagine the lyrics.  Later, there’s the unstable older man capering around with the Mouseketeers, and what we know of as the terrible husband and self-destructive alcoholic who dies in poverty.

But what I’ve consciously left off of that ungenerous list is Edwards the truly convincing ballad singer, someone whose wistful voice and sweet delivery stays in my ear.  He never got the attention or opportunities to woo audiences, perhaps because he had natural comic talents, but more, I think, because he wasn’t perceived as sufficiently handsome.  He could not rival Bing or Russ in erotic power, so in films and on records he was rather a light-hearted comic foil instead of the leading man.  Alas, audiences in the  Twenties and Thirties — as they do today — tend to listen to singers with their eyes rather than their ears.  I suppose that becoming Jiminy Cricket was a great thing for Edwards’ career, but being invisible and an animated insect did not help him as a romantic singing star.

But back to IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON.

Thanks to the generosity of Laurie Kanner and Jonathan Alexiuk, I can offer both takes, complete, to be accessed at https://archive.org/details/CliffEdwardsCollection1927-1933/ItsOnlyAPaperMoon1933CliffEdwards-Take1.mp3 — a collection of mp3’s of his complete 1927-1935 recordings.

I’ve left the whole ungainly web address visible so that if the link doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to go to the archive.org site for Edwards and hear IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON and more.

I think this performance is a model of the most endearing singing — he means every word, and it’s not by rote. It’s also the gentle tempo that I hear PAPER MOON at.  I haven’t analyzed these records nuance by nuance because they work their way into the heart instantly.  Or, if they don’t for you, listen intently, without distractions or preconceptions, from the rubato verse to the hip little ending.

In preparing this post, I shared these two sides with the fine guitarist and scholar Nick Rossi, a solid sender from San Francisco, who admires Dick McDonough as I do, and he wrote, “What a masterclass it is in sensitive guitar accompaniment to a vocal.”  And — we might add — in McDonough’s staying out of the way yet never upstaging Cliff’s ukulele.

But I keep coming back to the affectionate hopeful totality of Edwards, Arlen, Harburg, and even Billy Rose, who in these recordings say — no, sing — to us, “Love miraculously transfigures artifice,” which is a wondrous thought.  Cherish its power to create new realities.

May your happiness increase!

“PUCKER UP AND BLOW!”: DANCING MICE, A DUCK WITH A BOWTIE, AND ENDEARING SONG (1955)

The pianist and composer Kris Tokarski, someone I both respect and like, started a discussion on Facebook on March 31, asking the question,

Facebook Survey: In your opinion, what makes a jazz singer, a jazz singer? Musically speaking what qualities/skills must they have? Is there a difference between singers who just sing tunes from the Great American Songbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a “jazz” singer? Go!

The responses were intriguing — and although I find such questions ultimately not terribly “useful” as more than an excuse to air our deeply-held personal tastes, I couldn’t resist entering in. It gave me an excuse to utter the sacred name of Lee Wiley, for one thing.  But I soon retired and left the field to more eager debaters.

But Facebook — which can be terribly irritating and an unsubtle call to our worst instincts — is also a wondrous playground. The jazz scholar Steve Zalusky found and posted this kinescope of Cliff Edwards singing and playing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE on the Mickey Mouse Club television show — in the Cliff Edwards Ukulele Ike Facebook group, and I love it.  A few cautionary remarks.  If you hate all things Disney, try to calm down for a few minutes, since a half-dozen of the songs from the early films are true classics. Aside from SOMEDAY MY PRINCE WILL COME (ideologically charged, I know, but such a beautiful melody) there’s WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (which Rebecca Kilgore has recorded memorably, for all time) and this one.

The description of this performance is:

“Cliff Edwards appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club Nov 15, 1955. Edwards is 60 here. He sings and plays tenor ukulele. With Clarence ‘Donald Duck’ Nash doing baby noises and Jose Oliveira (next to Cliff) playing guitar and keeping it jazzy. And the Mouseketeers!! See more of Jose Oliveria here:
http://youtu.be/7cIZdPkvyHs.”

And the performance itself:

This makes me perilously happy.  And I think it is both superb jazz singing, hilarious theatre, and ineradicable art.  If you think it is none of the above, I will still love you, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I wish all the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts that I know would start playing this video for the Young Talent — think of a generation that 1) knows how to sing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE, 2) subliminally absorbs the message that to think of others is a good thing, 3) perhaps begins to play the ukulele, 4) begins to speak like Donald Duck or do what Edwards called “eefin'” — his own brand of weird scat-singing.  We could transform the cosmos.

May your happiness increase!

SPATS LANGHAM, ONE MAN WHO DOES THE WORK OF FOUR: DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, MALCOLM SKED, JOSH DUFFEE, ANDY SCHUMM, ENRICO TOMASSO, ALISTAIR ALLAN at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2014)

First, a little context.  On the evening of November 7, 2014, I and many other delighted souls were midway through the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party at the Village Hotel Newcastle — when someone in the hotel detected a fire (emanating from the Victory Pub, appropriately the scene of unfettered after-hours hot music).

We were all hustled out of the hotel and stood in the parking lot for nearly an hour until the fire brigade had satisfied themselves that the fire was out.  For reasons unknown to us all, we were allowed back into the main ballroom (where the music had been taking place) but by a side entrance, rendering the familiar landscape a bit odd.

I had left my video equipment in the ballroom, and when I’d found a seat, the impromptu band (Spats Langham, banjo; David Boeddinghaus, piano; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Josh Duffee, drums; Andy Schumm, Enrico Tomasso, cornet; later joined by Alistair Allan, trombone) was rocking its way through EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, which I caught the end of.  Disregard the parade of people, for the music is certainly there:

Then, Spats — equal parts wicked satirist and deep romantic, gathered the troops and launched into a song, with no announcement.  Here’s his magical mixture of affectionate light-hearted recreation and astonishing vocal impersonation:

I love it.

I couldn’t make up my mind whether to call this post MR. INK SPOT or (perhaps reaching too far) THE INK SPATS.  The music counts for more than any witticisms.

And if you’ve never seen this video (so very touching) here’s Spats, two nights later, performing NIGHT OWL:

And festival promoters here and abroad: hire Mr. Thomas “Spats” Langham: vocal, comedy, sentiment, swing, guitar, ukulele, banjo, scholarship, and crowd control.  You’ll get more than your money’s worth.  He and his friends will be at the 2015 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party (November 6-8) and we hope that this time the only hot thing will be the music.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET LIKE THIS: SPATS LANGHAM, LARS FRANK, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, PHIL RUTHERFORD, JOSH DUFFEE at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2014)

Thomas “Spats” Langham is one of the great romantic singers of our time.  Every year at the Whitley  Bay Classic Jazz Party he moves me to tears.  I do not write those words lightly.  He can perform his deep emotional magic on a love song like GUILTY (you can find it here) but his wizardry is not restricted to amorous crooning.  No, it’s even deeper and less conventional, as he demonstrated on the evening of November 7, 2014, in his performance of a song associated with Cliff Edwards, “Ukulele Ike” to those on close terms.

NIGHT OWL is a captivating song — music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld — with a melody that, once heard, refuses to leave, and lyrics that move from the poetic wordplay of “I make light of the darkness” to the time-filling repetition of “hooting” . . . but it casts its own spell, verse and chorus.

I think Mr. Langham’s mastery comes from a double sensibility.  You can see him give himself utterly to the song and its romance, yet, at the same time, there is a hint of amusement: “These are the most important words in the world and I must make sure that you feel them deeply but I also know they are just a touch silly . . . and I love them for both reasons.”  Imagine a huge heart and the slightest hint of a grin, simultaneously. His approach is subtle — not the let’s-have-a-ball ebullience of Fats Waller, nor the lush wooing of Russ Columbo, but it is its own splendid personal amalgam.  There’s no one like him, and we are blessed that he exists.

Lester Young told Francois Postif, speaking about the music he was searching for, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”  Lester would have enjoyed Spats Langham immensely.  As do we:

Postscript:  Some YouTube viewers are impatient creatures, so they will want to know that the musical part of this performance begins at 2:10, but if you skip forward you will miss Mr. Langham’s narrative about the intriguing-looking, rare and precious musical instrument he is holding (and playing expertly).  It’s a novella in itself.

May your happiness increase!

PILGRIMAGES TO BEAUTY

I urge anyone who loves the music to experience it live.  For some, that isn’t possible because of cost or one’s health.  But even though I am proud of my video recordings, they are not the same thing as being on the spot while beauty is created.  And jazz festivals, parties, clubs, concerts can only go on if there are people in attendance.

My readers know all this.  But the trick is to make the great leap from an intellectual awareness (“I should go hear some live jazz . . . someday.”) to action. All of us who have said, “I’ll go to hear Hot Lips Ferguson some other Sunday . . . those gigs will go on forever!” know the sadder reality.)

End of sermon.

I cannot attend this year’s Steamboat Stomp in New Orleans, but my absence means there’s another seat for you.  It begins Friday evening, November 14, and ends Sunday afternoon, the 16th.  In  between I count nineteen one-hour sets of music, in addition to a presentation about the Historic New Orleans Collection, four steam calliope concerts by Debbie Fagnano.  Much of the music will be performed on the two decks of the steamboat Natchez, gliding up and down the Mississippi River.  The artists include Duke Heitger, Don Vappie, Evan Christopher, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Dukes of Dixieland, Tim Laughlin, David Boeddinghaus, Hal Smith, Banu Gibson, Solid Harmony, Jon-Erik Kellso, John Gill, Kevin Dorn, Clint Baker, Tom Bartlett, Conal Fowkes, Orange Kellin, Leon Oakley, Steve Pistorius, and another dozen.

I was able to attend in 2013, and had a wonderful time.  Some evidence!

SWEET LOVIN’ MAN by Duke and the Steamboat Stompers:

Steve Pistorius considers the deep relationship between music, memory, and love in A DOLLAR FOR A DIME:

Banu Gibson, as always, shows us her heart, and it’s full of RHYTHM:

and the Yerba Buena Stompers play a later King Oliver piece, EDNA:

INSERT FOUR-BAR MODULATION HERE.

I returned last night from the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, exhausted and uplifted.  The exhaustion will wear off (it always does) after a day or two of treating myself like an invalid, nut the joy is permanent.  It comes from seeing people make friends through music.  The music began with rehearsals at 9 AM on Thursday and ended sometime late Monday morning (I heard the jam session at the pub as I was going up the stairs around 1 AM).  The texts for those mellow sermons were based on the teachings of Johnny Dodds, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, Jabbo Smith, Jean Goldkette, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Chu Berry, Paul Whiteman, Cootie Williams, Adrian Rollini, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Johnny Dunn, Luis Russell, Bing Crosby, Helen Morgan, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Don Byas, Willie Lewis, Sidney Bechet, Al Bowlly, Cliff Edwards, Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson, Chick Webb, Jelly Roll Morton . . . you get the idea.

And the performers!  Rico Tomasso, Duke Heitger, Menno Daams, Andy Schumm, Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, Thomas Winteler, Matthias Seuffert, David Boeddinghaus, Graham Hughes, Alistair Allan, Martin Litton, Janice Day, Morten Gunnar Larsen, Keith Nichols, Richard Pite, Malcolm Sked, Phil Rutherford, Spats Langham, Emma Fisk, Frans Sjostrom, Josh Duffee, Nick Ball, Mauro Porro, Henri Lemaire, Kristoffer Kompen, Lars Frank, Martin Wheatley, Jean-Francois Bonnel. . . and sitters-in at the Pub, including Torstein Kubban.  (If I’ve omitted anyone’s name, it is because yesterday was nearly twenty hours of travel, which does terrible things to cognition.)

And the friends!  Everyone who was there will have a mental list, but I think we all start with Patti Durham — then I think of Bob Cox, Bobbi Cox, Derek Coller, Veronica Perrin, Chris Perrin, the young woman clarinetist, so intent, Jonathan David Holmes, Julio Schwarz Andrade, Andrew Wittenborn — and many more.

If you are wondering, the answer is Yes, I did bring my video cameras.  Plural. Safety first.

And I shot video of all the sets, one jam session / concert in the Victory Pub, and many of the rehearsals — several hundred performances.  It takes some time to upload and download, so I have nothing from this last weekend to share with you at the moment.  But I will.

While you are thinking, “How could I start putting money away for the 2015 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY?” (for that will indeed happen), I invite you to revel in this, recorded at a rehearsal at the 2012 Party:

All over the quite comfortable Village Hotel in Newcastle (with a very solicitous staff) are signs and photographs advertising the pleasures to be found there, all sharing a lower case “v.” at the start, both to show an intensity of feeling (“very!”) as well as remind you of the hotel chain’s identifying logo.  In the mechanism that takes you from one floor to another (I called it an elevator and was reminded that it was a “lift,” because I was in the  United Kingdom now) was a photograph of three pillows reading “v. snuggly” “v. cheeky” and “v.lazy.”

All I will say here, as a bow to the Party and to the Village Hotel and to my heroes and friends, is that I am “v.joyous.”

May your happiness increase!

ONE SOUNDTRACK FOR MY IDEAL WORLD

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW was a very popular song in the late Twenties: in my memory, it is connected to Whiteman, Bix, and the Rhythm Boys; Helen Kane; Cliff Edwards, and I am sure two dozen others.

If you’ve never heard it, here is Miss Kane’s 1927 version (with the verse and at a sweet tempo):

Its bouncy melody and amorous conceit –“[S]he loves these [apparently difficult] acts, so I am compelled to perform them also — pity poor me who has to suffer billing and cooing [but not really]” — made both singers and audiences float along in amusement.

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But between 1929 and 1939 no one recorded it in a jazz context (according to Tom Lord’s discography) and it’s understandable: its bouncy two-beat melody line and rhythms didn’t lend themselves all that easily to a smoother Swing Era treatment, and it may have seemed to contemporary audiences a relic of their parents’ now-ancient flapper / sheik past.  (The song re-emerged in later decades — with recordings by George Lewis and Humphrey Lyttelton — as a sweet homage to the late Twenties, and that is how modern bands play it today.)

I don’t know who thought of the song for this July 1944 record date, but it’s a wonderful choice.  This was one of Harry Lim’s Keynote dates, so he might have been the inspiration — or leader Pete Brown might have liked the song as a perfect match for his own jaunty, accented, ebullient playing.

As a record producer, Harry Lim had a thousand virtues: good taste in musicians, a liking for medium tempos and melodic improvisation, and the courage to have players who weren’t household names lead sessions.  His 12″ 78 recordings are a body of work that remains its freshness.  (I am only sad that when I was a young record-buyer at one branch of the New York City Sam Goody’s, I didn’t recognize him, wring his hand embarrassingly and tell him how much his fine musical taste had enriched my life.)

Here is THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW, performed by Brown, alto saxophone; Joe Thomas, trumpet; Kenny Kersey, piano; Milt Hinton, string bass; J.C. Heard, drums.

I think the beauties of this recording are self-evident to anyone willing to listen closely for just over four minutes — perhaps a seeming-lifetime in our restless century.

The disc starts with an unaccompanied introduction by the under-celebrated Kenny Kersey, who had absorbed Teddy Wilson and Earl Hines but also was very much aware of what the jazz critics like to call, retrospectively, “advanced harmonies,” but which musicians of the time might have called “funny chords.” Kersey had played with Andy Kirk as well as with Red Allen’s Cafe Society band, and (for me) his accompaniment nearly steals the show during the first chorus, where the melody is played in a neat, clipped way by the horns.  And as for bass and drums: they provide a swing heartbeat.

The horns offer very individual sounds.  I don’t think an experienced listener would mistake Brown for any other altoist: the way he pushes the beat, as if his notes and phrases were impetuous, his solos impatient to get out of the horn where they could be heard.  And his tone!  Lemony, bittersweet, tart?  One would need a truly subtle food writer to describe the sound of his alto.  Joe Thomas, ah, Joe Thomas — glowing and spare but deeply emotive without playing one more note than needed . . . a true lesson in storytelling, full of nuance but never over-elaborated.  In the melding of the horns, they are synchronous (you hear the professionalism of musicians used to working in sections, in big bands, where blending was essential) but their individual voices are audible, their sounds so personal.

Even on longer-playing discs, the idea of splitting a chorus (the horns play the first sixteen bars of a thirty-two bar chorus; another instrument takes the eight-bar “bridge,” then the horns return or let the other players have the second half) was nothing new, but Kersey’s piano, spare and elegant, is refreshing.  But while Kersey is exploring, so — in the most sympathetic way — is Milt, climbing higher on his instrument without ever seeming to solo.  Heard’s emphatic brushwork (out of Sidney Catlett) never falters, wavers, or becomes mechanical.  The following sixteen bars are equally calm — they are riffing this evening! — with an emphatic flare on the last notes of the chorus, where the horns seem especially determined to repeat the title in song.

Brown was either a  generous or wise leader — I think both — content to build a performance architecturally rather than saying THIS IS MY RECORD and playing all through it, so if we are waiting for the leader to solo, it doesn’t happen for some time.

So the next chorus is apparently a Kersey solo, and what an elegantly swinging pianist — great musical intelligence and no cliches — he was.  But just as Kersey stole the show behind the horns, the horns (with their simple little pushing riff) might easily distract us from his gleam.  Horn backgrounds to a piano solo used to be commonplace — in the departed ideal world — but one does not hear them in this century, with some exceptions.  The way the whole band — is it only a quintet? — sounds, with such sweet subtle variety — is gratifying.  Kersey has some of the same quiet energy of Johnny Guarneri (someone Lim also loved and featured) but he is his own man, steering his own course between Fats and Bud Powell.

With a push from Heard, Thomas is on.  And how beautiful his tone is — dark, clear, not “sweet” but not harsh, brassy.  All his trademarks are in place: the careful repeated notes, the breath-like phrasing, the upward arpeggios, the pace (no matter how fast the tempo gets, at his best, Thomas mastered the Louis trick of relaxing, of “playing whole notes,” of letting everyone else seem hurried while he takes his time, admires the scenery, adjusts the knot on his tie just so.  His bridge is especially luxurious.  If, perhaps, you think, “Oh, that’s just Louis-influenced Swing Era trumpet playing, and everyone was doing that,” may I respectfully suggest that a deep immersion in the period will prove revelatory. No one sounded like Joe.  Ask a trumpet player you know to listen to that solo, closely, and see if it’s easy to create such a sound, such an effect.

Behind Thomas, Brown has been nudging the band along (there are no dead spots on this record) as it shifts into a higher gear, with Heard and everyone else deciding — to use the Thirties expression — “to put the pots and pans on,” to get seriously playful.

And then comes our leader — Mister Brown to you.  What a remarkable sound!  At first, it makes me think of someone with laryngitis who insists on speaking although his voice croaks and cracks, but one quickly gets accustomed to the sound because Brown’s pulse is so warm and enthusiastic.  He doesn’t rush, but he intently gives each phrase its own shape and a rocking momentum.  And his solo is made up of small gems, a phrase turned round and round over the harmonies, without pressure or monotony.  (I am not usually fond of quotations — some musicians overindulge — but Brown’s reference to FUNKY BUTT at 3:12 is hilarious. I hope that there is no particular connection between that subject and what the imagined lover prefers, but more likely it was just a witty idea, floating by, that laid nicely over the chords.)

And that last chorus is a marvel of tidy architecture, of generosity, of variety: sixteen glorious bars for the Judge, Milt Hinton — no one ever talked through his solos! — with the band riffing around and through his sonorous notes, then a “modern” bridge featuring Kersey, four more bars for Milt (how many people understand what Milt understood about the string bass, parallel to Jimmy Blanton?) then four bars where the band says in a politely declamatory ensemble, “THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW!” and the record is over.

Yes, I have heard recordings like this in our century, and, better yet, bands actually doing these glorious acts of solo brilliance and communal swing on the bandstand, in person, but this 12″ 78 is imperishable.  There are a million ways for an improvising jazz group to sound, and I wouldn’t be such a bully to insist that this is the only one, or the best one, but it moves me every time I hear it.

May your happiness increase!

THE TEACHINGS OF CHARLES ELLSWORTH RUSSELL (PRICE 50 CENTS)

Thanks to my sharp-eyed friend Andrew Jon Sammut*, I am now in possession of this Ancient Writ, the inexpensive pages a beguiling yellow. Its owner loved, used, and admired it: as the creases and fingermarks on the back show.

CHAUTAUQUA, LAURA SMITH, SAN DIEGO, PWR 056

It allows us another way to experience — perhaps at a distance — the legerdemain of Pee Wee Russell.

Those of us who revere certain musicians know enough to be mildly suspicious of these folios.  The more idiosyncratic a musician’s style, the less likely it could be reproduced as a series of notes on paper.  Also, the  “method books” that propose to be presenting solos performed by our heroes are often untrustworthy.  Did Dave Tough or Cliff Edwards ever sit down to create the books that bear their imprimatur?

Apparently many famous “name” musicians were paid to come to a  studio to record one-chorus solos on songs owned / published by Feist.  The recorded solos were then transcribed and clarinet players (for instance) could have something they could read, study, copy, emulate. Some of this information is hypothesis; some of it is supported by the issuing, years ago (on one of Bozy White’s SHOESTRING vinyl records) of choruses recorded by Bunny Berigan for just this purpose.  The pioneers in such endeavors were Red Nichols and Louis Armstrong.

This folio is not dated, but the one-page introduction refers to Pee Wee’s work with Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, and Bud Freeman, so I would place it no earlier than 1938 and perhaps more into the very early Forties. Whether it was connected to Charles Peterson’s famous photograph of Russell in LIFE I cannot say, but he surely was enjoying sufficient fame — as the antidote to Goodman and Shaw, perhaps? — to be awarded such an honor.

I am struck by how very uncomfortable Russell looks in his photograph: needing a haircut (or is it the shadow of the bright flashbulb?) and without a mustache. Perhaps the recordings were done in the morning, which might make any jazz musician look haunted, despairing:

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And the main event:

CHAUTAUQUA, LAURA SMITH, SAN DIEGO, PWR 057

I haven’t had the time even to try that on the piano, but it strikes me as quite simple — for the student clarinetist — one of those muttering-around-the-melody first choruses Russell loved so.  How would the transcriber have notated the growls and surreal arching sounds that Pee Wee made?  (Think of SERENADE TO A SHYLOCK, for example.) I don’t know, and perhaps it is best that the attempt was not made.

Here’s something that would elude all but the most subtle transcriber, Pee Wee’s solo (beginning at 1:30) on the 1936 Louis Prima CROSS PATCH, a marvel of sound:

To return to the All-Star Series of Modern Rhythm Choruses (ask for that at your local music shop in one breath!) I think it plausible that after Charles Ellsworth Russell recorded ten one-chorus solos, and was given (let us hope) fifty dollars at least in cash, he never thought of his morning in the studios again. But we, now, have another little sliver of Russell to consider into the twenty-first century.

I plan to pack this book with my clarinet — which I used to play quite amateurishly and now perhaps will sound even worse — to take to California. Whether my squeaks and moans will be my own or Russellian, I can’t say. But perhaps I can be inspired by his courage.

*Andrew wrote his own marvelous post on the Feist folio created by Buster Bailey here. As you’ll see, my effort above is what jazz critics would call “derivative” and “imitative”; I call it homage to an inspiring friend who is on the same path. And this post is for Stan Zenkov, another inspirer!

May your happiness increase!

NOCTURNAL ADMISSIONS from CLIFF EDWARDS and OTHERS

NIGHT OWLS UNITE!

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Here’s a wonderful song — a catchy melody and irresistible lyrics by Herman Hupfeld, who also gave us AS TIME GOES BY, and two of my favorite songs, LET’S PUT OUT THE LIGHTS AND GO TO SLEEP, and I’VE GOT TO GET UP AND GO TO WORK.

Who better to sing it than the sweetly cunning Cliff Edwards?  Here’s his studio recording of NIGHT OWL:

And this film clip from TAKE A CHANCE is just amazing — featuring Edwards, James Dunn, and June Knight, as well as a line of dancers who could learn any song and any steps instantaneously.  (Some screenwriter had a jazz sensibility — the two musical itinerants, Edwards and Dunn, are “Duke” and “Louie”):

And as an extra treat — a clever YouTube video that begins with the Edwards version and then adds on the 1933 Paul Whiteman recording:

What a joy to watch and hear this.  And the song is just as delightful in the daytime.  I can vouch for that.

I would like a few of my dear friends who sing for a living to learn this one . . . let sweet hooting fill the countryside!

May your happiness increase!

THREE PODS OF PEPPER, July 10, 2009

I’ve posted the second half of this performance, where the Three Pods of Pepper were joined by Bent Persson, but here are the Pods in their original form.  A collection of C-melody saxophone, clarinet, bass saxophone, two banjos, ukulele, and guitar might sound like the inventory of a dealer of moderately-antique instruments, but the Three Pods of Pepper (named as if for a spinoff of Kid Ory’s 1922 recording band with perhaps a nod to Jelly Roll Morton’s Victor band) are fervent, swinging, lively.  How could they not be when their members are Spats Langham, Norman Field, and Frans Sjostrom?

Here they perform NEVER AGAIN, explained in depth by Professor Langham:

Courtesy of Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys, MYSTERIOUS MOSE, a song designed to scare the kiddies, although not fatally:

GONNA GET A GIRL, both lyrically and musically, is one of the dumbest songs ever written (a rebuke to those who think everything in the Jazz Age was by definition more creative) but it sticks in the brain — perhaps for that reason.  And its repetitive simplistic lyrics and melody line exactly capture the woozy thought processes of a hormonally-charged fifteen-year old boy, intent on what’s lacking in his life:

The other side of the amorous condition is the vainglorious pride of ownership, expressed in IT ALL BELONGS TO ME, associated with Annette Hanshaw and Cliff Edwards:

THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH is rhythmically propulsive although not philosophically deep, also connected with Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys:

Finally, a tender masterpiece, MARY (WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?) by Walter Donaldson, which is always — in memory — performed by Bing Crosby with Paul Whiteman, on a wonderful 1927 Victor record where Bix Beiderbecke and Henry Busse represent Old and New (in Bill Challis’ witty arrangement), Old slowly going beneath the waves at the end.  But this version is more than its equal, with Spats singing the lyrics as if his heart was in every line and playing beautiful Eddie Lang guitar; Norman’s eloquently simple playing; Frans, majestic and logically emotional as always:

three_podsIf you’ve watched these performances with the growing awareness that your life — culinary or musical or both — needs more spice, don’t rush to the pantry to spoon Tunisian harissa into your oatmeal.  Relief of another kind is in sight!  Tthe Pods have a wonderful CD, uncluttered and generous, that is just what you (and your friends) need.  It’s called HOT STUFF! (WVR 1003) and it features guest appearances by those masters of capiscum Mike Durham and Keith Nichols. 

Details at www.wjrk.co.uk.

BETWEEN THE SHEETS

Yesterday the Beloved and I visited what we call “Mrs. Rodgers’ Book Barn,” although its official name is “Rodgers Book Barn” — a fine old-fashioned used bookstore (467 Rodman Road, Hillsadle, New York, 518-325-3610).  Mrs. Rodgers herself is a pleasure to talk to and deal with.  The Beloved ended up with four or five new gardening books . . . but her clever eye had spotted a stack of sheet music, and Mrs. Rodgers, seeing me clutch my purchases ardently, told me that more awited in the barn. 

Aside from the one late-Thirties ringer (which you will spot easily) this is a hot collection circa 1931, with photos of musicians and bandleaders I had not seen before.  The original owner or owners had an ear for lively pop music. 

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I had never seen the music for this song before and was dismayed to find it has a truly uninspired verse, but any song made immortal by Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt in 1937 and later by Dick Sudhalter and Marty Grosz is worth celebrating.

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Signs of the times — the reverse of one of the music sheets (which, in other cases, show the industry at a crossroads, with ads for music, phonograph records, and piano rolls — anything to keep people from sitting in front of their radios and listening for free).

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In her sweet little Alice Blue gown — a pretty waltz before the jazz players got to it!

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I never heard of Walter Doyle, but was captivated by this because of the hot recording by Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys in 1930 — and a hot performance of the song done by Spats Langham at, you guessed it, Whitley Bay.  It’s one of those period songs that threatens to terrify the listener.  Is it the Ur-text for OL’ MAN MOSE, I wonder?

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In honor of Bix, Whiteman, and that Movietone News clip (1928).

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One of my heroes, looking skeptically off into the distance.  (I gather there’s never been a biography written of Cliff Edwards?)

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Nice publicity still of Bing — although I have never heard him sing this song.

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Then again, I never heard Gene Krupa sing this one, either.

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A lively cover for a hot Twenties tune — again, in my memory because of Spats Langham’s performance.

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I bought this one for the cherubic Whiteman portrait.  All of the sheet music I’ve encountered here and on other vacations tends to wander far from its original source (some sheets were originally purchased in Missouri, one in a Maine music store that billed itself TEMPLE OF MUSIC) but this song must have been well-loved here or elsewhere, if the number of copies unearthed here is any indication.  “Why Wyoming?” I ask myself, with no particular hopes of an insightful answer.

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This is a real oddity — a 1913 folio of original compositions.  At first, I thought it was music for those pianists who improvised to fit what they saw onscreen (the big love scene, the terrible storm) but now I think it’s something even more subversive: music implicitly connected with those pictures and perhaps the fantasy of being the pianist in the pit . . . to make Junior put down his bat and ball and practice that piano. 

Only diehard jazz fanciers will understand why I got terribly excited about the last two sheets, below:

Lorna plus Sheets 013I know that that portrait finds Husk O’Hare perhaps a little past his fame as a bandleader in whose organization hot players could find work, but I’d never seen a picture of him.

Lorna plus Sheets 006I knew Pollack was famous, and that this 1929 engagement brought him fame, but I never expected to see him on the cover of this sheet music.  Of course, in an ideal world, Jack Teagarden’s picture would replace Pollack’s, but you can’t have everything. 

And (speaking of crass commerce) these pieces of irreplaceable jazz ephemera cost less than an entree at the local Mexican restaurant, so I am in the unusual position of being rich in possessions and positively thrifty at the same time — thanks to the unknown Benefactors and gracious Mrs. Rodgers.

SHUFFLE ALONG!

Egged on by the inestimable Messrs. Riccardi and Hutchinson, I present my unexpurgated and hugely idiosyncratic list of the first 25 selections on my iPod, no cheating.  Readers of similar temperaments are encouraged to respond:

Perdido, Stuff Smith

Sleigh Ride, Mark Shane’s Xmas All-Stars

Good Little, Bad Little You, Cliff Edwards (Venuti and Lang)

Blame it On the Blues, Duke Heitger’s Big Four

It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie, Humphrey Lyttelton

Walk It To Me, Hot Lips Page

Gassin’ the Wig, Roy Porter

Under A Texas Moon, Seger Ellis

They Say, Echoes of Swing

Some Rainy Day, Hal Smith’s Roadrunners

Linden Blues, Rex Stewart

There’s Something In My Mind, Ruby Braff

Down By The Old Mill Stream, Benny Goodman

Sweet Sue, Jammin’ at Rudi’s (Rudi Blesh, 1951)

Take the “A” Train, Duke Ellington

My Blue Heaven, Eddie Condon (Town Hall)

Farewell Blues, Eddie Condon (Decca)

Stay On the Right Side of the Road, Bing Crosby

Oriental Man, Simon Stribling

All That Meat and No Potatoes, The Three Keys

Stompin’ at the Savoy – Fine and Dandy, Coleman Hawkins (1967 JATP with Teddy Wilson)

Corrine Corrina, Red Nichols

Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Cliff Edwards

St. Louis Bllues, The Boswell Sisters

I’ll See You In My Dreams, Jeff Healey

 

Perhaps not a scientific cross-section or a scholarly sample, but those tracks — in that idiosyncratic assortment — offer great happiness.  Anyone care to join in?

NEW FAVORITES!

Since I am old-fashioned and like my recorded music in tangible form (no liner notes on a mp3 download) I surround myself with compact discs in arrangements both vertical and horizontal.  However, this post is not about Jazz Decor, but to celebrate three new discs that readers should know about.  And, even better, they are performances by living musicians, people you could actually see and hear in person. 

chasing_shadowsThe first is CHASING SHADOWS, by “Spats and his Rhythm Boys.”  (WVR 1005) “Spats,” of course, is singer / plectrist Spats Langham, who’s appeared on this site in a video clip.  On this disc, he’s accompanied by trumpeter Mike Durham, trombonist Paul Munnery, reed wizard Norman Field, Keith Nichols on piano and accordion, John Carstairs Hallam, string bass, Frans Sjostrom, bass sax, Nick Ward, drums, and Mike Piggott, violin.  The sessions were recorded in November 2008, and a glance at the tune listing will tell all: Spats and friends are thoroughly steeped in the “hot jazz with vocal refrain” of the late Twenties, extended forward into the late Thirties (from Cliff Edwards and Bing Crosby to Jimmy Rushing and Putney Dandridge): CRAZY WORDS, CRAZY TUNE / CHASING SHADOWS / I’M IN THE SEVENTH HEAVEN / CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS / HANG ON TO ME / ME AND THE MOON / ACCORDION JOE / SOMEDAY SWEETHEART / BROWN BOTTLE BLUES / WHAT DO I CARE WHAT SOMEBODY SAID? / HALFWAY TO HEAVEN / SMILIN’ SAM / OH, IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN / HIAWATHA’S LULLABY / YOU DO THE DARNEDEST THINGS, BABY / SWING BRIDGE STOMP.

Like Barbara Rosene and a very few other singers, Spats isn’t trying to offer CD-quality imitations of the original recordings.  Rather, he gets inside the idiom, so that you hear the sound of the period, the rhythmic energy, the delicate ornamentations — but it’s all new.  And hugely entertaining!  He has a light tenor voice, but he has listened thoroughly to Crosby and post-Crosby as well.  On this disc, his singing is thoroughly integrated into a hot improvising ensemble.  I would have wanted this CD because of Sjostrom, Field, Nichols, and Ward — but the best surprise is the playing of trumpeter Mike Durham.  Many trumpeters are in love with the sheer power of their instrument; they shout and carry on.  Mike can, of course, do this capably — leading an ensemble majestically.  But his more usual mode of expression is tender, inquiring, almost pleading.  You need to hear him if you haven’t already!  And his composition SMILIN’ SAM (dedicated to his happy grandson) is a wonderful mood piece with Norman Field on bass clarinet — instantly memorable. 

For information about ordering this CD, visit http://uk.geocities.com/mdurham@btinternet.com/wjrk/recordings.htm.  By email, contact mikedurham_jazz@hotmail.com., or (the old-fashioned way) write to WVR Records at 60 Highbury, Newcatle upon Tyne, NE2 2LN. 

Ray Skjelbred CDI’ve been listening to pianist Ray Skjelbred and drummer Hal Smith for some time in a variety of settings — Ray, playing Frank Melrose songs or cowboy ballads, Hal, rocking every band he’s ever been with.  Ray’s new CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO (Jazzology Records, recorded August 2008), is a real winner, featuring delectable hot jazz from Ray, Hal, clarinetist Kim Cusack, guitarist Katie Cavera, and Clint Baker on a variety of songs, familiar and rare, each one with deep associations: OH, BABY (DON’T SAY NO, SAY “MAYBE”) / SUGAR / MY GALVESTON GAL / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / I LOST MY GAL FROM MEMPHIS / BULL FROG BLUES / THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE / IDOLIZING / I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS / FRIARS POINT SHUFFLE / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN / SHANGHAI HONEYMOON / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / UP A LAZY RIVER / SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE / AM I BLUE? / LAUGHING AT YOU / RING DEM BELLS.  This group knows how, through long playing experience, to approach each song on its own terms — wistful or fiery — and the down-home vocals by each member of the quintet are charming.  I have a special fondness for the repertoire of the early Red Allen Vocalions, and my hunger has been satisfied by this band’s versions of MY GALVESTON GAL and I’LL BET YOU TELL THAT TO ALL THE GIRLS.  (But it sure sounds good to me!)  This one’s available through Jazzology and perhaps other places online: for information, visit   http://www.jazzology.com/index.php.

GILL 3Finally, a sentimental favorite.  When I encountered guitarist / singer / multi-instrumentalist John Gill in a club in 2007, he casually told me that he was planning to record a tribute to Bing Crosby, focusing on the dreamy (and often swinging) repertoire of 1931-35.  As politely as I could, I beseeched John to let me be part of this project: Crosby is one of my heroes, and that period of Crosbyana is a consistent delight.  John, most graciously, invited me to the sessions and I ended up writing the notes for the CD, which was immensely rewarding.  The performances on this disc are sweet evocations with a pulsing jazz heart — accompaniment and solos by Jon-Erik Kellso (cornet and trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Matt Munisteri (guitar and banjo), Orange Kellin, Dan Levinson, Marc Phaneuf (reeds), Conal Fowkes (piano), Kevin Dorn (drums), Brian Nalepka (bass and tuba), Andy Stein, Matt Szemela (violins).  The songs are beautiful and well-chosen: DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? / HAPPY-GO-LUCKY YOU / A FADED SUMMER LOVE / STAR DUST / I SURRENDER, DEAR / I FOUND A MILLION-DOLLAR BABY / IF I HAD YOU / PENNIES FROM HEAVEN / STREET OF DREAMS / BABY – OH WHERE CAN YOU BE? / SWEET LEILANI – BLUE HAWAII / WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS / MUDDY WATER / I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE / PLEASE / WERE YOU SINCERE? / WHEN THE FOLKS HIGH UP DO THE MEAN LOW-DOWN / RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET / WHERE THE BLUE OF THE NIGHT MEETS THE GOLD OF THE DAY / JUST ONE MORE CHANCE / LEARN TO CROON / OUT OF NOWHERE.

I managed to make two of the three sessions, and when I walked into the first one and the band was running through DID YOU EVER SEE A DREAM WALKING? — well, I was transported.  John’s vocals are touching; the band is sensitive and danceable; the session is a priceless tribute.  The CD is available at a variety of online sources (Jazz By Mail, Worlds Records) but the nicest thing would be to buy a copy directly from John himself at a New York gig.  He’ll be happy to sign it, too.  (And he has enough material for another volume or two: I hope to hear him record RIDIN’ ROUND IN THE RAIN someday.)

P.S.  I know all about the economy, and if your restaurant has closed or you are looking for work, I apologize for suggesting that you buy things that are perhaps less essential than coffee or shoes.  But if you’re managing to limp along with some degree of optimism, if you’ve decided that your aging car can hold out another year or that you don’t really need a new suit to go with the others in the closet, then you might consider one or all of these new CDs.  For less than the cost of a prix-fixe dinner, they lift the spirits.

HANG ON TO ME (MY FRETTING LIFE BEGINS)

I bought a ukulele yesterday — perhaps not a heirloom, but it is a tenor Pono, made of koa, with a beautiful large sound.  Although I am not so optimistic as to see myself transplanted into the clip below (the lighted cigarettes make me nervous), I wouldn’t mind “a Hawaiian frappe.”  Later in the day, though. 

Edwards had marvelous poise — sweetness, swing, and comedy mixed.  He knows we’re out there, but is pretending that we aren’t. 

FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

Two days ago on Maui, we wandered into a second-hand store in Wailuku and I saw a beautiful ukulele hanging on the wall.  In the grip of musical hubris and hopefulness, I asked to see it and improvised a simple Thirties single-note riff, impressing the Beloved, who said, “I didn’t know you could play!”  “I didn’t either,” I replied.

mele-curly-kpa-tenor-2-holeSince I was quite young, I have made half-hearted attempts at learning a number of musical instruments.  Some of those nstruments ornament my apartment, although I am cautious lest it turn into a one-bedroom version of a music store / pawnshop. 

The ukulele has appealed to me for a long time, because I had the notion that it might be fairly simple to play — four strings rather than some more intimidating number, and not a great deal of aesthetic ambition attached to it (unlike, say, the violin).  It also has a Jazz Age history — on all the Twenties and Thirties sheet music I collect, the line above the treble clef has chord diagrams for imagined ukulele players to read off the page — and the diagrams are just my speed, a diagram of the four strings with a dot on each string to show where the novice should place his or her fingers. 

I haven’t bought the ukulele yet, although we visited the Mele store, where Peter (the resident self-taught virtuouso) tried to teach me to play YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, with middling results. (I am a recalcitrant, stubborn pupil.)   The second-hand store was closed today, and I refuse to pay full price unless I am compelled to by circumstances.  I also don’t plan to turn into Arthur Godfrey, Don Ho, or Tiny Tim, never fear.  My aesthetic model is Cliff Edwards. I don’t aspire to starring in Technicolor, being the voice of a Disney character, or dying penniless, but his swinging insouciance is immensely appealing.

There are many wonderful Ukulele Ike clips on YouTube — too many to up or download, so you might want to investigate them on your own.  I’ll report back about the results of my four-string quest.

(On YouTube, you can also see a brief clip of Buster Keaton at home in 1965, happily croaking his way through “June Night,” accompanying himself on a tenor guitar with a fair deal of skill.  Who knew?)