These video performances (thanks to Simon Stribling, a brilliant trumpeter and alto saxophonist) have been on YouTube for perhaps fifteen years, but even I didn’t know of all of them, so I urge you to watch, enjoy, and marvel.
The band alongside Bob, cornet, is Neville Stribling, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Ade Monsbourgh, tenor saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Conrad Joyce, string bass; Peter Cleaver, guitar / banjo; Allan Browne, drums, washboard. Jazz royalty. And the repertoire has a distinct Louis flavor with one bow to the Rhythmakers and another to Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter: what could be wrong with that?
Astonishing lyrical hot playing, offered to us with the greatest casualness: the work of masters.
WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:
IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT (vocal, Neville):
OH, PETER (YOU’RE SO NICE)!:
MY BUDDY (for Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter):
I’M A DING DONG DADDY (FROM DUMAS):
I rarely make such claims, but if you can listen to this music without being uplifted, I would think we have little in common.
I am, for the moment, concluding my little series of loving homages to Bob Barnard. But he and his sound are never far from my ears and heart. And I — a retired academic — offer JAZZ LIVES’ readers the most pleasing homework: go and find more of his music, to start and end your days in joy.
Thanks also to John Scurry for his consistent support and his help with this post.
Coleman Hawkins’ birthday was the 21st of November. Although he’s no longer here to celebrate with us, we continue to celebrate him. He was the tenor saxophonist before other musicians had figured out ways to make that horn an effective part of a jazz ensemble, and — even more tellingly — a compelling solo voice. And then he blazed a path for forty-five years.
Two weeks ago, at the Monday-night Zoom meeting of the Hot Club of New York, our friend-scholar Matthew Rivera played the issued take of MY BUDDY — several times — with the affectionate reverence and admiration it deserves. But the band, this wonderful mix of Americans and Europeans, recorded it three times, and some members had never heard the alternate takes.
I want to fill that gap here, and am also offering the two takes of PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY, a sweet rouser of a whimsical-romantic appeal (these versions are instrumental, so you won’t hear the winsome question, “Don’t I look familiar to you?” and the rest of the chipper lyrics by Ray Klages and Jack Meskill).
The band was led by Hawkins’ friend and colleague, the masterful Benny Carter, who played trumpet, alto saxophone, and clarinet; also joining in the swing were Freddy Johnson, piano; George Chisholm, trombone; Jimmy Williams, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Ray Webb, guitar; Len Harrison, string bass; Robert Montmarche, drums — all of this recorded in the Netherlands for Decca / Vocalion on August 18, 1937.
A word about “alternate takes.” I gather that the term was first used in film production.) I suspect that the recording executives, having such a band in their studios, were ready to say — even if a performance was excellent — “Let’s try another.” Or it might have been Carter himself. One of the musicians might have said, “I’d like another try at that: I wasn’t happy with my solo.” The listener will notice on this session that the soloists follow some of the same general path from take to take, but the variations are fascinating, particularly on MY BUDDY, where the general looseness is more prevalent from one take to the next.
Exuberant, inventive, ingenious playing on all five performances. And we hear Hawkins and Carter plunging into their solos with fervor and exactitude, followed closely behind by Freddy Johnson. Let us also praise Benny’s wondrous trumpet playing! He may have been responsible for the little but telling arranging touches, or they may have been “head arrangements,” invented on the spot, but they give these performances shape and focus. And consider — in this era of performances with no time limit — how much music these people created in three-minutes-and-change. Two players sharing a thirty-two bar chorus (a “split chorus”) makes so much eloquent compression possible.
PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY (master take):
and the alternate take:
Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY (master take):
The first alternate:
The second alternate:
Finally, for the detail-minded, a few words about the presumed sequence of performances and record-keeping. It would be natural to count #1 and #2 as the first and second performances created, but those official designations might only be ways of noting first and second choice, by the musicians or the record-company people. But the music is what matters, and it is happily timeless.
If you haven’t checked out the Hot Club of New York (the link is above), you will enjoy it — timeless music in a community of people enjoying it, every Monday night from 7-10 PM.
It was below forty degrees this morning — good-bye, t-shirts and sandals; hello, scarves and bowls of soup. But the chill can’t spoil our joys as long as we have enlivening music: the kind that the EarRegulars make (they’re now back inside The Ear Inn on Sunday nights, 8-11). A heartening sample follows.
The composition is called BEAN SOUP, and it’s based on the harmonies of TEA FOR TWO. Coleman Hawkins, referred to as “Bean” for decades — the late Phil Schaap told us whenever he could that the monicker began as “The Best and Only” and was then shortened — has composer credit.
The creators here are our friends: Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor and bass saxophone, mellophone, cornet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass. I’ve included a few more photographs than usual because this summer scene is now a memory, and I for one will not forget it.
Photographs taken with the lowly iPhone 10:
and now, the music:
Tasty, homemade, good to the last drop. Or spoonful. Or swinging note.
Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.
How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?
and Pops Foster?
and Sidney Catlett?
and Miles Davis, too:
Miles as friend and neighbor:
and it always comes back to Louis:
My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.
Ray Skjelbred and the Cubs — that’s Ray, piano and inspiration; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Katie Cavera, guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton — answer the musical question at the now-vanished Sacramento Jazz Jubilee (d. 2017), with the notes on the music staff written by Johnny Green as their guide, but also the many performances of this tune, including Bing Crosby, Coleman Hawkins, and Django Reinhardt.
I try to collect rather than hoard — the first is a vocation; the second a disorder — but I’ve been hoarding videos of Ray and his Cubs . . . the way I’d store food for the winter, until I have the good fortune to see them again. Soon, I hope. They mean so much more than canned tuna.
Before darkness fell, there was light. And although the stage lighting was sometimes an unusual deep red, one of the places where it shone brightly was the basement of 15 Barrow Street in New York City, Cafe Bohemia.
Here’s a glowing example: radiance created with unaffected skill by Tal Ronen, string bass; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet. Heroes of mine.
But first . . . their choice of material is not the usual, but A SHANTY IN OLD SHANTY TOWN — one of those popular songs given new life by improvisers. On YouTube, you can find Ted Lewis’ 1932 let-no-heartstring-be-untugged version, the 1940 Johnny Long hit (where the band sings vaguely-hip glee club lyrics) and there’s also a Soundie. But many deep listeners will know it from recordings by Edmond Hall and Coleman Hawkins, then Red Allen and George Lewis and on and on. The harmonies are not the usual, with many traps for the unwary.
The lyrics, not heard here, are a Depression-era fiction (1932) where the speaker rhapsodizes about his decrepit home in the poorest section of town, but inside there’s a “queen / with a silvery crown,” whom I take to be Ma. Another version of “We’re incredibly poor but we’re happy,” which I suspect kept Americans from rioting. Cultural historians are invited to do their best.
I thought “shanty” came from Gaelic, but it’s French Canadian. The shanty on the cover of the sheet music is really rather attractive, with electric wires visible. Even though there’s erosion, it would be listed high on Zillow.
Here’s the luminous performance by these four, shining their particular light:
I am very sentimental about performances like these: without fuss or fanfare, musicians taking little stages in New York City to illuminate the darkness and uplift us. We didn’t know (or at least I didn’t) that it was all going to stop in March. But I see glimmerings and rumblings of new life. For one thing, directly related to the joys above, Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars will be playing outside the Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, New York City) on Sunday, May 2, 2021, from 1 to 3:30. I expect that our friend Phillip (“the Bucket”) will also be in attendance.
To keep your spirits high, here is a recording that I think few know — a soaring, Louis-inspired version of SHANTY, from 1938, by Willie Lewis and his Entertainers, recorded in Holland, featuring Herman Chittison, piano; Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, clarinet; Bill Coleman, vocal and trumpet — giving that tumble-down shack wings:
Those New York days and nights will come again and are starting to happen . . . .
In the darkest days of the pandemic, I found myself muttering under my breath, “I want to go home.” It was of course unattainable: my parents had been gone for decades and my childhood home long occupied by others. I have lived in this apartment for sixteen years, so wanting to “go home” was physically attainable and emotionally wavering. I am home. I was home. But not really. Home feels like a peaceful state of mind, somewhere you are safe and welcomed, perhaps even where someone makes a salad and asks if you would like some. In the midst of fear, grief, and uncertainty, “Home” still means to me a time and space where I don’t have to read the headlines in the morning and find out how many have died, been killed, are abused, are suffering.
So even before the pandemic, when the other person in the car asked me, “What’s your favorite song?” I said, “One?” and the first that came to mind was Louis’ THAT’S MY HOME. (Second place was IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, which is revealing also.)
And in musical terms, HOME is one of those songs so ennobled by performances, live and recorded. The last time I saw Bobby Hackett, at a January 1976 concert tribute to Louis, it was that song he picked as his feature. I can hear and feel embraced by the performances of Jack Teagarden, Joe Thomas, Coleman Hawkins on a 1944 Keynote Records date.
But for me it all comes back to Louis. I first heard him sing and play HOME on a glorious, touching Verve session, backed by Russell Garcia, LOUIS UNDER THE STARS, and then the 1931 OKeh version. Louis makes me want to stand up and put my hand over my heart, an impulse I must stifle because people at adjacent tables might ask if I need the Heimlich maneuver, but this Louis-inflected reading of the song, by Bent Persson and the Hot Antic Jazz Band, led by Michel Bastide, has me in tears every time. Good tears, rich ones:
We owe deep thanks to musician and videographer Andreas Kågedal for preserving this beauty and sharing it. I apologize to him for not naming him at the start.
Wherever you are, may it be comfortable and haimisch — you don’t need a translation.
Matthew Rivera, music lover, filmmaker, scholar, writer, record collector, broadcaster, someone devoted to sharing not one but several Gospels, has been someone I admire for a few years now. I first heard him playing wondrous music on WKCR-FM, then met him in person in Greenwich Village, playing rare jazz 78 rpm records to live people in public — imagine that! — then as the Proprietor and Democratic Guide of the Hot Club of New York, which holds free Zoom sessions every Monday night from 7-10 PM, where you can hear surprising music and lively discussion. (Visit the site to get the Zoom link.) In October 2019, I did a video interview with Matthew, which you can see here. Matthew also presents on various aspects of jazz — in a relaxed erudite way — for the New York Adventure Club. I predict we will read, see, and hear more from this flourishing young man.
Some music to get you in the mood: OUT OF NOWHERE, by Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Django Reinhardt, and Veronica Lake (thanks to Emrah Erken for the clear transfer):
It was a real pleasure to be able to write a profile of Matthew for the remarkable and durable (the January 2021 issue is their sixtieth) The Syncopated Times — that issue’s cover story is devoted to the splendid Jen Hodge. Matthew’s story can be read here (with illustrations) but I trust that the good-natured Andy Senior, editor of TST, will forgive me for offering the full text here, under the same elastic law that allows the person doing the cooking to sample the soup to see if it’s done. I encourage you to subscribe to TST — which is why I have been running an ad for it at the bottom of JAZZ LIVES posts for many moons now.
But here’s Matthew himself.
APOSTLE OF SHELLAC: MATTHEW “FAT CAT” RIVERA
Born in 1996, in Louisville, Kentucky, Matthew Rivera is making jazz vibrate to new audiences in many ways. I met him first as a sound-phenomenon on the radio: who was this young man playing rare hot music from 78 rpm discs he treasured, and offering wise commentary? He started “Hot Club” 78-listening sessions in New York jazz clubs, regularly at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village, New York, then founded the Hot Club of New York, which has free Monday-night Zoom sessions, he continues to broadcast; he gives erudite yet relaxed presentations of jazz for the New York Adventure Club, and has a book in progress.
MS: Did jazz hit you like a conversion, or was it a gradually growing fascination?
Both. We’re fascinated when music catches us off guard, but we’re converted when we return to it. For instance, I first heard Billie Holiday’s “Did I Remember” on a movie soundtrack and I was smitten, but my ear truly changed after I sought out the recording and heard it again and again. I try to balance my love for the familiar with fascination for the unfamiliar, though often the familiar wins out. To use Amiri Baraka’s phrase, we have to “Keep Digging.”
MS: Was there jazz on the family soundtrack when you were growing up?
There were only scraps of jazz to hear or see in my youth. Maybe I’d see something in a movie, or hear a blues based tune on the oldies station. That truly sad fact indicates jazz’s position in our contemporary world. Somewhere we lost sight of the ongoing struggle for jazz’s power. The incredible thing you have to stress about jazz history is that in 1938 everyone was listening to jazz. Whether you wanted to or not, or even whether you knew it or not, in 1938, near a high point in the industrialization of music, it was impossible to escape an essentially non-conformist music that spoke about the conditions of life in America. That didn’t happen simply because people liked jazz then or because it was a new thing, it happened because of the tough fight the musicians put up to be seen and heard. What we may have forgotten is that this struggle, like all social struggles, is recurring. The fight for jazz was obviously not won forever in 1938. On every level—socially, economically, in essence politically—the situation today is completely different from the height of jazz’s popularity. We have to change our strategy. I have no prescription for how to change things, but I spend a lot of time thinking, “How did we get here?”
MS: I first encountered you as a disembodied voice, broadcasting music rarely if ever heard in public, such as Red Allen’s 1935-36 delights, on an afternoon jazz program on Columbia University’s WKCR-FM, in 2017. How did you get there?
I arrived at Columbia in 2014 with the music of Jelly Roll Morton and Coleman Hawkins stuck in my head. My friend Evan Sennett and I had just made a movie in Louisville about two friends of ours who are searching for a fictional jazz musician, and I added in lines like, “I like Prez better than Hawk.” It was just a complete fantasy about my friends also liking jazz from the ’30s. I was walking around campus on the first day thinking “I bet no one here knows who Bunny Berigan is,” having no clue about the incredible jazz legacy of Columbia’s radio station or that I was standing on the sundial in the middle of campus where Red Allen had once played. Then someone approached me with a box of LPs to promote WKCR. The first thing I saw was a Bunny Berigan record. When I picked up my jaw, I found out where WKCR was, and there I eventually met the great Charles Iselin who was hosting a multi-part show on Red Allen. Shortly thereafter, a tall, boisterous man in a seersucker suit and pink socks appeared and did a voluminous impression of Red Allen driving his car around Times Square, said a few things about the California Ramblers, made a point about Tommy Ladnier that trailed into Muggsy Spanier, and then stormed out of the station to catch the subway. When I caught my breath, Charles told me that was Phil Schaap.
I went to Columbia to study film, though I ended up studying English and anthropology instead because of professors like Ann Douglas, Brent Edwards, and Robert O’Meally who incorporate jazz heavily into their literature courses and teach cultural history. My love for jazz came about initially from movies. My parents wisely took me to see The Aviator when I was eight and I remember being affected not only by the planes and movie cameras, but by the jazz age soundtrack. Later on I saw Anatomy of a Murder one summer at the Palace Theater. After I saw Duke Ellington in that film and heard the truly ‘noirvana’ soundtrack, I went to Highland Records in Louisville and asked if they had any Ellington LPs. They didn’t have any, which only added to my curiosity. I felt provoked to hear the music whenever I could.
When I showed up at WKCR, I already loved jazz, but I didn’t quite yet realize its importance or vastness. That came from Phil Schaap and older students like Charles Iselin, David Beal, and Francis Mayo. Suddenly I was thrown into a tradition of 24-hour birthday broadcasts, memorial broadcasts, morning listening sessions, five-hour profiles, and discographical inquiries. I came to the station thinking Star Dust by Louis Armstrong, Easy to Love by Teddy Wilson and Billie Holiday, Burgundy Street Blues by George Lewis, and If I Were a Bell by Miles Davis were all I would ever need to know and now I’m seeing Charles spinning these heavy, fragile 78s and listing off personnel and dates from fat red volumes. Early on, Fran Mayo organized a caravan — three vans of students — to drive to Bessie Smith’s grave and pay our respects. Not long after that the Norwegian solographer Jan Evensmo showed up at the station. Charles and I spent the day listening to rare Roy Eldridge airshots with him that only exist at the station. I learned about the station’s efforts to save Eldridge’s collection when it washed up on the beaches of Far Rockaway during Hurricane Sandy. I heard Schaap’s 45- minute mic breaks, I learned about the Dizzy Gillespie red chair, I saw the thousands of interview reels in the vaults. I was in the middle of complete and total love for music which up to that point I had only known in solitude.
Ultimately what amazed me about WKCR was what I would learn more formally from Phil Schaap when he became my mentor without me even realizing it. First, I learned from him that all music is present tense and not to get caught up in ideologies about progress or overvalue either the future or the past. Secondly, I learned not to be a swing chauvinist or a BeBop chauvinist. One of the most beautiful traditions we have on WKCR is our back to back Ornette Coleman and Bix Beiderbecke birthday broadcasts and I have learned, albeit rather belatedly, to love both dearly. Ultimately, I learned that music has a social and political function, and this, and the biographies of musicians, is inseparable and essential to understanding the sounds I loved. I learned from friends at WKCR and my teachers at Columbia to hear the essential spirit of the music’s makers. I learned to appreciate the very real connections that popular taste and criticism have largely overlooked. I learned that tastes are mutable, therefore I can’t let my taste or the taste of others guide my ears or changes my direction. I learned to follow musical daring.
MS: For those who don’t know Phil Schaap, who is he?
Phil is a radio host, educator, sound engineer, and historian—simply a worker for jazz and the hardest working person I’ve ever met. There is an unbelievable passion in the man who speaks on air for 45 minutes straight listing record personnel, dates, and Dodgers scores by heart, remembering what he ate when he met Duke Ellington, flipping, cuing, EQing, and playing a 78 in a matter of seconds, excerpting the eight-bar Chu Berry solo and playing it twenty times in a row, working for jazz like he is running a lifelong marathon. What he teaches is basically music appreciation, not performance. Phil has aimed to get musicians better gigs, to teach listening to experts and newcomers alike, to introduce new generations of listeners to jazz, and to make jazz sound better through high quality sound productions.
I never would be able to learn as much as I have without Phil because he taught me how to find the music, not just to settle with what I already knew. Because of his unusual methods and his aversion to mediocrity, people like to imagine Phil as a modern version of Balzac’s Père Goriot: a tragically misunderstood artifact from a different world. But Phil became a friend, a mentor, and my main influence because his mission is to bring people to jazz. He showed me what work needed to be done, and what a worker for jazz should be.
The other person I have to explain and give a big shout out to is CHARLES ISELIN! When I met Charles, I was interested in 78s because I had seen Crumb and was curious about the records in that movie. I’m a collector at heart and I don’t think that’s a shameful or embarrassing thing if the collector reflects upon him or herself, reads some Walter Benjamin, and remembers to shower once in a while. I asked Charles if he had any 78s and he went back to the archive and hauled out a box of records he had just bought. Flipping through the stack, I noticed Who by Frankie Newton on Bluebird, not because of Newton, who is now my hero, but because of Mezz Mezzrow, whose book Really the Blues I had just read and loved! Charles grinned and put on Who. I think that devil knew I was about to get hooked on some deep s*** because sure enough that night I went on eBay and bought a Red Allen Vocalion though I didn’t even have a way to play it. He showed me that the 78s were the closest I could get to the music.
MS: What led up to your founding the Hot Club of New York, whose central purpose is offering listeners “a chance to hear scarce records in their historic and aesthetic contexts, and to discuss jazz in a relaxed environment”?
Remember, I’m a filmmaker who likes jazz, but slowly there were events that led to the Hot Club. I met Parker Fishel and David Beal, two righteous fellows who loved the music, and particularly loved the Blues which was always the heart of it. That’s the main thing: the Blues is the spirit and when jazz loses the Blues, jazz loses the spirit. Everyone from Freddie Keppard to Cecil Taylor knew that. So I know that anyone who loves the Blues, like Parker and David do, is going to be a friend. Parker invited me over to his place to listen to Pete Brown records, and David and Ben Young showed up too. That was the first Hot Club I went to, and the beginning of the Neo Hot Club Movement. I’d never had that experience, other than with Charles, of listening to the music deeply and quietly, and lovingly. That’s the experience I’ve always tried to recreate with the Hot Club, whether it was at a dressed up cellar in the Village or on Zoom on Monday nights.
MS: They call you “Fat Cat.” But you’re not a bulky plutocrat.
Yes, I hope that handle is unlike me in more ways than one—like Tiny Parham. That really gets us to the first official Neo Hot Club: Morristown, hosted by Melissa Jones. Phil, Ben, Charles, Emily Fenster, Sam Engel, and a whole bunch would drive or ride the train out to Morristown, New Jersey, to listen to rare 78s on a top of the line sound system. I still didn’t have a turntable or anything at that time. I was only listening to my 78s at WKCR, which didn’t sound as good as at Melissa’s. On the ride back from Morristown once, Phil mentioned a Sippie Wallace 78 of which he had only known two copies to exist. There was his, and there was Johnson “Fat Cat” McRree Jr.’s, a collector and jazz festival host from Virginia. I was shocked because I had just bought the record for $8 on the internet, only it had a sizable dig in the grooves near the end. So the next time we went out to Morristown, I brought the Sippie Wallace record and showed it to Phil. It was the first time I had ever seen him impressed by anything. He was sweating, his eyes were bulging like a Crumb cartoon, his voice was cracking, and he told me to put on the record which I’m already in the middle of doing. As we were all listening to this unbelievably emotional, soulful blues record with Louis Armstrong and someone who wants to sound like Bechet, it gets to the chip in the grooves and Phil goes absolutely berserk, stands up in his chair, his face red, shouting “That’s Fat Cat’s copy!! You’re the Fat Cat! Fat Cat Rivera.” I had bought Fat Cat McRree Jr.’s copy for eight dollars.
MS: You took piano lessons for ten years: tell us your James P. Johnson story.
My first encounters with music were encounters with the piano. My uncle and grandmother both played and inspired me to play. I took lessons with a true friend Calvin Pinney, a kind, churchgoing woman who would not stand for rushing or fast tempos and would have no deviation from the notes on the page. I still have her look of “You didn’t practice, did you?” burned into my mind. I took lessons up to the point where I was playing Bach two-part inventions and the four Gershwin preludes pretty solidly. Then I found a transcription of James P. Johnson playing If Dreams Come True. I listened to that music non-stop, I tried to play it, and it basically broke me down completely. I realized then, I can read music, I can interpret the old masters, I play the Rodgers and Hart songbook at a party for tips, I can even slide into Gershwin, but I can’t do THAT. I realized I was an audience member.
MS: It’s obvious you aren’t traveling this rocky road alone.
I learn from my peers, and it’s here I must thank Colin Hancock, the single most important jazz scholar living today and one of my best friends. Vince Giordano has helped me quite a bit, and with his working orchestra, The Nighthawks, he has shown us all the power of the jazz age ten piece big bands. I didn’t realize it until about ten years later, but one of my first introductions to jazz, watching The Aviator, was an introduction by Vince Giordano who performed most of the music for that film. Not to lift the curtain, Michael, but you are also an important peer and friend. Al Vollmer, David Sager, Ricky Riccardi, Scott Wenzel, Jan Evensmo, Lloyd Rauch, Andrew Oliver, Scout Opatut, Evan Arntzen, Lucy Yeghiazaryan, and countless others have taught me more than a thing or two about jazz. Still the people I learn the most from are my close friends Sam Fentress, Alex Garnick, Evan Sennett, Aaron Friedman, Laura Cadena, and Sophie Kovel, and most importantly my love, Elena Burger. They are all tuned in to our generation. They understand what the Hot Club mission is about and the sociality and politics of art and history. In their own individual ways, they are all non-conformist thinkers which is what I want to be. Then there’s the rarest of them all, a non-conformist thinker who understands jazz: my professor Ann Douglas who wrote Terrible Honesty and has guided me in everything from Charlie Parker to Raymond Chandler. She is someone I am honored to say is my friend.
MS: How does jazz fit into your other passions — politics, film, American culture? Are there connections between Charlie Johnson and your literary heroes?
Jazz is the most specific of these topics because it relies essentially on an attitude and outlook towards life. It is the best part of American culture, but it is obviously not all of American culture. The outlook is, plainly enough, the Blues outlook—an honest square look at all of life’s nasty stuff that is deeply hurt by it and still finds a way to laugh it off, to see light not only at the other side of the tunnel but in the tunnel itself. Though not always successful at looking, or at laughing, and not always the most approachable thing, if you judge jazz at its best (as we should always judge) it’s the only light. I appreciate other music through jazz—certainly Cuban son, Puerto Rican plena, Old Time mountain music, Cajun, gospel, Dominican merengue, Hawaiian hula, Bach, Bob Dylan, West African palm wine, Greek rebetika—but I’ve learned I basically appreciate everything that has the Blues outlook. Outside of jazz, film noir and noir literature have been the strongest expression of this Blues spirit. The spirit, of course, predates the modern Blues as well, and it can be seen in the novels of Balzac and the poems of Sappho. Although Charlie Johnson, as a person and artist, was basically nothing like David Goodis, they both dug into the Blues with a feeling, as a song by Duke Ellington is titled.
MS: How did you get from being “A 78 record collector” to founding the Hot Club of New York, and what do you see as its future?
Through the path people like Phil, Charles, Melissa, David, and Parker have shown me, I have seen that jazz is a social phenomenon. There’s a book called Musicking by Christopher Small which says the music is more than the object on stage, but the entire social interaction, the space, the love and the people. Dancing, record collecting, record listening, and most certainly performance attending are all acts of musicking with almost as much importance for the social space as the performance itself.
This way of understanding music is lost on us. Generally, we have lost sight of the need for an audience. If there are more musicians on stage than audience members in the house — which I’m sad to say I have witnessed — then it’s only public practice. I realized the same thing about collecting the records. If I’m only playing them for myself I’m not getting them all they’re worth. Even having the 78s is only half the battle. I’ve got to play them for people, and I have to find people who want to listen and teach more people to want to listen. The ultimate mission of the Hot Club is to introduce a new audience to jazz, and to create a space of active jazz musicking.
Melissa Jones, whom I first met as a classmate at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University, basically lives this idea of music, supporting and bringing together the jazz community in any way possible. I’ve already mentioned the Hot Club of Morristown. Melissa would host young musicians and listeners at her house, feeding all of us to the gills. It didn’t matter who we were as long as we loved jazz. I think the most important part of the Neo Hot Club came from Melissa as she constantly reminded me of jazz’s ultimate cause: to bring people together. She exemplified an angel of musicking to a generation of young jazz people, and when the future hit all too soon this year I took her cue to begin hosting Zoom Hot Club meetings on Monday nights. Her presence there has continued to bond the group of listeners from all backgrounds. I dedicate this interview to Melissa Jones.
MS: What are some prizes of your collection? Do you have desert island discs?
Well, assuming I can take a ship the size of the Titanic to the island…. My number one is Out of Nowhere by Coleman Hawkins with a stunning muted trumpet by Benny Carter on HMV.
I’m also grateful to say I have a mint copy of Cecil Scott’s Lawd, Lawd on Victor, King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band’s Chattanooga Stomp and Camp Meeting Blues on Columbia, Chick Webb’s If Dreams Come True on Columbia, Jack Purvis’s Down Georgia Way, Charlie Johnson’s Charleston is the Best Dance After All, both takes of Louis Armstrong’s Star Dust, Armstrong’s Struttin’ With Some Barbecue on OKeh, a west coast pressing of Art Karle’s Lights Out with my favorite Frankie Newton solo, Tell Me, Dreamy Eyes by Perley Breed’s Shepard Colonial Orchestra on Gennett (thanks to Colin Hancock), Wipe ’em Off by the Seven Gallon Jug Band, Noah’s Blues by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Ice Freezes Red by Fats Navarro, My Baby’s Blues by the Blues Man on Juke Box, a vinylite pressing of Coleman Hawkins’s Talk of the Town, a vinylite of Bird of Paradise on Dial and my favorite Charlie Parker Thriving on a Riff on a beautiful sounding vinylite Savoy. Every record I own is one I could never part with! A test pressing of With a Smile and a Song, an unissued side from a Teddy Wilson session with the beautiful singer Sally Gooding and the tenor great Chu Berry, is a crown jewel.
MS: Does record collecting feed the music or vice versa?
Through collecting records I came to understand that there are alternative ways to listen to and find music. Jazz came to have a context, and context is never icing on the cake. Context is always the thing itself when you get down to it. We’ve lost sight of that fact through the current ways of distributing music, and that’s why I think we are left with an understanding of music that is supporting an ideology that handicaps the music and strips it of its active life. Jazz is not an abstract music just like Pollock and Krasner were not abstract painters. Pollock painted about the censorship of the cold war; he danced around the oppressors to say exactly what they were afraid art was capable of saying, which is what the jazz musicians he was listening to had already done. Jazz musicians danced around power to create something seemingly nonsensical to the unhip, but explicitly communicative to its righteous audience. Spotify, YouTube, and all of the current ways of distributing music decontextualize and deactivate music. The way these apps envision music shows exactly where those in power want it to be: in the background. Ironically, their outlook inadvertently acknowledges the importance and power of jazz. It’s our way out.
MS: You’ve been doing intriguing research on Frankie Newton. Why is he a hero?
Frankie Newton is important to me because he was on the first 78 I heard, and he has since become more important to me because he showed me the way to the music. For someone who was dead for over forty years before my birth to show me the way is nothing short of the ultimate vision of jazz’s power. The same can be said of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, or Billie Holiday, but for me Newton has had the loudest voice because whenever you find him, he is never caught up in the zero sum game of the culture industry, playing hide and seek to make a living and still not lose his soul. Perhaps Coltrane equals him in this regard. Newton was politically minded, but even before I knew about his politics I knew about his activities as a painter.
As someone who was balancing playing jazz records and making films and studying literature I found any character who delved into another medium from a jazz perspective to be fascinating and exceptional. The more I’ve learned about Newton, combing through newspapers, periodicals, and an interview disc I found in a junk shop, the more I’ve found that his position on the margins of jazz popularity shows the fault lines in our understanding of the music, and a point of view that contrasts revealingly with the more famous artists of his time. Moreover, and most importantly, Frankie Newton is a truly great musician. He is the best kind of soloist—he speaks for the whole group when he solos, not just for himself. I’m always curious to hear what he has to say.
MS: We feel the same way about Matthew Rivera!
Although I’ve thanked a lot of people in this interview, ultimately there are two groups of people to whom I’m most grateful. First, my parents and family in Kentucky, Indiana, Alabama, and Puerto Rico, and secondly, the pioneering jazz musicians of every generation. They are the original jazz workers, and all I want to do is work for them.
Matthew can be found broadcasting (from his apartment) via wkcr.org on Mondays 12-3 PM EST. Join the Hot Club of New York at http://hotclubny.com(there’s also a HCNY Facebook page) where you can find the Zoom link for his Monday night sessions from 7-10 PM. Information about his programs for the New York Adventure Club can be found at https://nyadventureclub.com.
Oh, I wish. They have a great trio. Never mind that it’s 1937 in Holland:
That’s Coleman Hawkins with Freddy Johnson, recorded August 13, 1937.
and with the addition of Maurice van Kleef, drums:
You can hear more from this date (and much more rare jazz) at the YouTube channel of Heinz Becker. But wouldn’t it be nice to get away from the computer for an evening?
I entertain these thoughts because of an autographed postcard that turned up on eBay. (The winning bid was $223, I believe, and it wasn’t mine.) The blank back-side is above (although it has the valuable information of address and phone number) but what caught me is the front:
Today, November 21, is Hawk’s birthday. If you are reading this in what is loosely called “real time,” WKCR-FM in New York is playing his music all day and night: you can hear it online as well at wkcr.org. He’s never gone away.
I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator. But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?” Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like. But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.
I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert. And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point. But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.
A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender). The first response that caught my eye? I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.” Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.
On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal. You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.
I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.
I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery. Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history. Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie. However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony. Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.
So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win. They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry. Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites. People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted. All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared. Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year. Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else. These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.
We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s). I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.” I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp. But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting. What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality. It remains that way in art. If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter? I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room. To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.
In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts. M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.” C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.
Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does. If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist? If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King? Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?
I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy. For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis. The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed. Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles. James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil. And so on. No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.
Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this. If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?
But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment. Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone. To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this. Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better? Are you attacking my discernment? I must defend my family’s honor! Pistols at dawn!”
We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys. Art deserves reverence. And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.
Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more. There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self. I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:
Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.
Now, to my particular views of Purvis. First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:
Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar. Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”
We’ll settle that shortly.
First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):
DOWN GEORGIA WAY:
When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis. But I was delighted when he did:
Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”
And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.
My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away. Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories. He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music. Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player. You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him. You never knew what he was going to do.”
Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims. He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part. And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”
Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:
A sad footnote. Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them. I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
This just in — corrections and additions from jazz scholars Mark Miller and Kris Bauwens. It’s good to have wise friends!
Christine Manchisi, a very gracious Canadian antique dealer-entrepreneur, found an intriguing jazz artifact, a souvenir from a now-vanished night club, and then found me . . . and a match was made. First, a little background.
Club Top Hat, “Toronto’s Night Spot,” Sunnyside, as photographed on Aug. 25, 1944: Club Top Hat, Sunnyside. View looking north from Lakeshore Blvd. Built as the The Pavilion restaurant, over time the building grew in size, evolving into Club Esquire (1936 – 1939) and then Club Top Hat (1939 – 1956). – Credit: Toronto Harbour Commissioners / Library and Archives Canada / PA-098571. MIKAN 3655526 (courtesy of the Vintage Toronto Facebook page).
In those days, not only did musicians sign their names, but they wrote the instrument they played: thus, Miff Mole, trombone; Shad Collins, trumpet; Hank D’Amico, clarinet; Cozy Cole, drums; Pinie Caceres, piano.
It was Miff’s band, and after leaving Goodman, he had a brief Toronto residency in September 1943 (the usually impeccable John Chilton has it in August, but Mark Miller provided the dated newspaper advertisement below). I believe that these men were either on leave from big bands (Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway) or from radio studio work. I am guessing that the prospect of a few weeks or a month in Toronto with no one-nighters must have been greatly appealing. A respite from reading charts and doing section work would have been like a vacation.
But let us imagine a little more. I think that the talent booker for the Top Hat might have sent Miff a telegram (“a wire”) and asked if he’d like to bring a group there, offering a price, perhaps even suggesting accommodations. The group has been identified as a sextet, but only five signatures are on the club paper we have here, which suggests that the string bassist (if there were one) was a local player. What interests me more are the people Miff either called or ended up with — we can’t know — and there are logical threads here. Miff would have known Shad, Cozy, and perhaps Hank from New York gigs or radio work — later, Cozy and Hank would show up at Eddie Condon’s concerts — and he might well have encountered Pinie Caceres through Pinie’s more famous brother, Ernie. Or they might have spoken to each other at the bar at Julius’. It’s a particularly intriguing lineup for those who immediately associate Miff with Wild Bill, Bobby, or Muggsy, Pee Wee, and the rest of the Commodore crew.
What tunes did Miff call? ROYAL GARDEN BLUES? I don’t dare assume, unless someone comes up with a review in a Toronto newspaper. (Mark Miller wasn’t born yet.) Where are the heirs of a Canadian Jerry Newman or Dean Benedetti for some lovely acetate discs? And did Miff and company enjoy the boardwalk in daylight, or were they sleeping? Or was part of their day sitting at a table and signing a hundred of these cards to be given to patrons as a souvenir of their evening-out-with-jazz-and-dinner? The autographs are too tidy to be on-the-spot, the kind a musician would sign for an eager fan while having an autograph book pressed on him. But they are lovely evidence.
Miff Mole, 1946, at Nick’s, New York City, by William P. Gottlieb.
And I now know that the Top Hat was a jazz mecca even before 1943. Mark has told me that Coleman Hawkins appeared there with Don Byas and Monk! Thanks to Kris Bauwens, we have delightful evidence of Fats Waller appearing there in 1942: the playing card comes from a Norwegian sailor who had wonderful memories of the card game:
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 world is full of Stars — the people who attract crowds, who get five-star reviews and adoring press. But those of us who have been around for more than sixteen bars know that not every excellent musician becomes a Star. There is that really superb singer in a small town who refuses to travel; the guitarist who doesn’t want to record or to be on YouTube, the musicians who don’t end up in this or the other alphabetical reference of Famous Musicians. The locals know these people, and the musicians who travel from town to town know and admire them also.
Cleveland’s Theatrical Grill and owner “Mushy” Wexler: home to pianist Hank Kohout.
One such excellent musician who’s hardly known is pianist Hank Kohout, whose professional career spanned more than forty years. If you hadn’t heard him in person, you missed your chance, because he left us in 2006, just before his 83rd birthday. Some months ago, his brother Jerry found me and asked if I’d heard of Hank. I hadn’t — but I certainly had heard of guitarist Bill De Arango, Red Norvo, Harry James, and Bobby Hackett. And before Hank had turned twenty, he was praised in DOWN BEAT as a promising newcomer.
Jerry’s note to me suggests that not only was Hank a splendid musician but a fine person to have in your family: I miss him on a daily basis . . . . I can’t say he was the best, but he certainly could hold his own and would not embarrass himself. I’ve listened to my fair share of piano men in my time, and I’ll describe him in this way. In my full time job I traveled quite a bit, and if there was a piano player to be found, I would more often than not find him. In many cases, I would not stay long, and rarely would I find someone who would captivate my time and attention, and who actually understood my requests (usually Little Rock Getaway was way out of their league) — conversely, they would come in to hear my brother . . . and stay till closing.
After his passing, I found no less than 40 autographed photos, most with glowing remarks from the likes of Eddie Heywood, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Gene Krupa, Jimmy Durante, Bobby Hackett, etc.
Here’s an informal sample of Hank — his playing strongly melodic, his harmonic understanding subtle yet deep, admiring but not copying Teddy Wilson.
And the full story can be found in this beautifully detailed piece on Hank from “Jazzed in Cleveland,” written by Joe Mosbrook in 2005:
For more than 60 years, Hank Kohout has been one of Cleveland’s leading jazz pianists. He is probably best remembered for playing with the Bob McKee Trio, the house band at the Theatrical Grill on Vincent Avenue, for 17 years, but Hank also played with some of the giants of jazz on New York City’s famous 52nd Street, with leading big bands, and with network broadcast orchestras as well.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Kohout graduated from West Tech High School and studied classical music for ten years before he was exposed to jazz. “One day,” he recalled, “I heard Teddy Wilson play piano and suddenly asked myself, ‘What took me so long?’” He quickly dropped classical music. “I listened to Teddy’s records.” he said, “and tried to copy what he was doing. Teddy was a very clean player and that’s what I like to hear; I like to hear every note nice and clear.”
In 1939, after studying classical music for ten years, teenager Kohout immersed himself in jazz, playing everywhere he could. “There were a lot of people playing jazz in Cleveland at that time,” he said, “and they used to have jam sessions which I attended. I learned a lot just sitting in.” During some of those jam sessions, Hank met and played with an amazing young guitarist from Cleveland Heights who had gone to Ohio State University. “Bill de Arango called me,” Hank recalled, “and wanted to put together a trio. We started playing at some of the nightclubs on Short Vincent.
Eventually the trio went on the road. One day in Indiana, Hank ran into a friend who was playing with the Red Norvo band and said Red was looking for a piano player. “I decided to take a crack at it,” said Hank. “I left the trio and went to New York.” He auditioned for the vibraphonist and bandleader, got the job, and began to tour with the Norvo big band.
They played the theatre circuit including the Palace Theatre in Cleveland. On the bill with the Norvo band were such entertainers as comedian Jimmy Durante, singer Mildred Bailey, and dancers Step ‘n Fetch It. But the Norvo big band was not a huge success. “When we got back to New York,” said Kohout, “the war broke out and the band broke up. We put together a sextet which we took into the Famous Door.”
The Famous Door was one of the jazz clubs along New York City’s fabled 52nd Street where every night for years the top jazz artists were performing. Clevelander Kohout found himself right in the middle of the action. He said, “Red hired Shorty Rogers on trumpet, Eddie Bert on trombone, Aaron Sachs on clarinet and Specs Powell was the drummer. We had Johnny Guarnieri’s brother Leo playing bass with us. And Red and myself.”
When the Norvo Sextet broke up, Kohout continued playing on 52nd Street. In 1942, he was playing piano in the house band down the street at the Three Deuces. The other members of that house band were Powell and bassist Milt Hinton. They regularly backed such saxophonists as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Flip Phillips and Georgie Auld. Looking back, Hank smiled and admitted, “That was pretty fast company!”
In the early 1940s, there were still seven jazz clubs concentrated on New York’s 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Top jazz musicians seemed to be almost everywhere on “the street.” Kohout said, “That was an era that will never be duplicated again. There were a whole bunch of clubs and at any given time they had some of the best music in the world by some of the best players.”
For several weeks, Kohout substituted for native Cleveland pianist Al Lerner, playing with the Harry James Orchestra, including an engagement at New York’s Paramount Theatre. He also played briefly with the Bobby Byrne big band. But, he decided to leave New York City in 1943.
“I left because they were looking for a piano player in Cleveland,” he said. “I came back to Cleveland and auditioned for a job with the WHK studio orchestra.” The orchestra, led by Willard Fox, was doing regular radio broadcasts from Cleveland to about 300 stations of the Mutual network. Kohout played for ten years with the radio orchestra, plus six or seven years on a program called The Ohio Story on WTAM. He also did TV work in Cleveland including The Mike Douglas Show which was produced at Channel 3 for a national audience. While working the studio jobs, Kohout was also playing jazz gigs at night at a variety of clubs. He said, “I think I played about every club in town.”
Beginning in 1963, Kohout was the pianist in the house band at the Theatrical Grill for 17 years. With drummer Bob McKee and bassist Ken Seifert, he played six nights a week at the popular club that featured national jazz artists. “It got to the point,” recalled Kohout, “that some of the touring musicians came in without their groups and we would play with them, people like Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson and Doc Severinsen.” When Red Norvo came to the Theatrical, Hank pulled double-duty, playing piano with both his old boss’ group and with the McKee Trio. When Jimmy and Marian McPartland played at the Theatrical, Hank joined Jimmy’s group for several numbers and then sat side-by-side with Marian, playing four-handed piano. Newspaper reports said It brought down the house.
Mushy Wexler, who ran the Theatrical, liked traditional jazz and hired a lot of dixieland bands. Kohout remembered Wilbur de Paris, Billy Maxted, Jonah Jones and many others. “There were so many that I can’t remember them all.”
The Theatrical, Cleveland’s leading night spot for more than 50 years, attracted a wide variety of customers. They included politicians, lawyers, newspaper people, and sports figures. Hank said, “We had them all, clergy sitting next to guys in the Mafia. We had strippers. They were all there and they were like family.”
Kohout finally left the Theatrical in 1979 after Wexler died and the music policy changed. The club stopped presenting live jazz in 1990 and closed a few years later. “If Mushy had lived another ten or twenty years,” said Kohout, “it wouldn’t have changed at all. It would still be today like it used to be.”
Kohout, now 81 and living quietly in Parma, teaches a little, but he is not playing piano very much. He said, “I have Parkinson’s now and it hasn’t helped my playing at all. I get disgusted. I can still do it, but if I can’t do it the way I want to do it, I don’t want to do it.”
Like his early idol, Teddy Wilson, Kohout always played with a clean, pure technique. Performing in almost every musical style, the native Clevelander, who has been heard and appreciated by millions, is still remembered as a piano player’s piano player.
Jerry also sent me an informally-recorded sample of his brother in his native habitat, obviously enjoying himself and making the audience happy. I hear a witty, playful synthesis of Wilson, Tatum, Hines, and others — fused in a gracious individualistic style.
What’s the moral to this tale? People who don’t go on the road or make records, who aren’t “known,” can really play and should be acknowledged for their talent.
If you’re called “crazy,” it’s not usually a compliment. A psychiatrist might assign your particular condition a number according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) so that the health insurance company will know what box your paperwork should go into. But in pop music of a certain era, being “crazy” seems to be an exalted state. Think of the Gershwins’ GIRL CRAZY, or the Fats Waller-Alex Hill I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY. Or this wonderful state of being:
The composition was Fletcher’s, but brother Horace did the arrangement and played piano in this wonderful edition of the Henderson orchestra, recording in New York, October 3, 1933 — Russell Smith, Bobby Stark, Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet; Claude Jones, Dicky Wells, trombone; Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson, Coleman Hawkins, reeds; Horace Henderson, piano; Bernard Addison, guitar; John Kirby, string bass; Walter Johnson, drums. Great dance music, great rhythm section, great solos from Claude Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Bobby Stark, Dicky Wells — I imagine this arrangement being “opened up” for a long romp.
And here’s what that record sounds like:
That riffing composition did not get recorded (although there’s a wonderful video of the Harlem Jazz Camels, featuring Bent Persson, performing it) for another eighty years. But pianist Paolo Alderighi and trombonist Dan Barrett get truly groovy here. What a tempo, and what sounds!
This duo was part of a Rebecca Kilgore record session — recorded in the back room of Portland, Oregon’s Classic Pianos, and you can hear it all on the CD that resulted. Talk to our heroine-friend Ms. Beckyhere about acquiring a copy, order it on Amazon here, or here on iTunes: it’s crazy in the best ways.
Some listeners speak condescendingly of certain jazz performances as “a string of solos.” This dismissal may be understandable if soloists go on and on — one can feel trapped, as one does when facing the conversationalist who shares every in response to, “Nice sneakers! Where did you get them?” After fifteen minutes, the room starts to darken, then spin. But “just solos” can be wonderful.
I know it’s elderly of me to cherish the concision that the ten-inch 78 side demanded, but occasionally it seems just right. Consider this side — famous but little-heard, recorded on January 3, 1940, shortly after Coleman Hawkins came back to New York from his half-decade in Europe. The song originated in 1921, with ties to Valentino and Eddie Cantor, and was often played and recorded by jazz musicians, but (curiously) not that often before 1940. The band is a mix of Hawkins’ colleagues from his Henderson days and a few members of his current orchestra; Polo might have crossed paths with Hawkins in Europe.
In three minutes, they create five choruses of THE SHEIK, and each one is delightfully different: the recording has a built-in structure from the first improvised chorus to the last. (There are nearly a half-dozen transfers of this side on YouTube: I’ve chosen the slightly more honest version here over the very cleaned-up “modern” one others prefer: when surface noise is tidied up and removed, some of the sound goes with it.)
Incidentally, I was recently captivated again by this record (thanks to the silent encouragement of Mister Fat Cat) and by one solo on it — with apologies to Hawk, it’s not his. Care to guess?
I can imagine Hawk briefly issuing directions. “All right, SHEIK. Bright but not too fast. Gene, start us off. Benny, take the lead in the first chorus. I’ll play the melody behind you, and, Danny, you do a little there also. Jack (or “Higgy”) lay out — save it for your chorus. We don’t want to sound too old-fashioned. Danny, take the second. Higgy, take the third. I’ll take the fourth and the first half of the fifth, with maybe a little riff behind me, and then every tub out.”
I think that’s glorious. I doubt there was more than one take. Everybody played their individualistic selves but knew their ensemble role . . . and the record soars.
You’ll notice the label advertises another product. If you’ve ever picked up a well-played 78 at a yard sale, and noticed that the expected black glossy surface is a dull gray, you could say, “Well, that record’s been well-loved,” or you could think about the possible culprit, depicted here.
Mug shots. Front:
I know that the modern stylus is also made of metal, perhaps jewel-tipped (I remember the Columbia Records lp sleeves of my youth, with their taxonomy of Sapphire, Osmium, and Diamond — which now sounds like a singing group) but these Victor needles meant business, and with heavy tone arms, they plowed paths through the grooves. But enough of that. Let us return to Araby, and not the Joyce story.
I am slowly getting back into 78-record collecting, thanks to Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, and I emphasize “slowly”: no bidding wars, and many of the records I’ve purchased would be considered “common” by more well-established collectors, although I will — immodestly — begin with a picture of a record I treasure, bought a few years ago.
However, this post isn’t primarily about the recorded obsession. It is about the beauty of the ordinary: the paper sleeves once personalized by record stores. I saw an eBay site devoted to jazz records from Denmark, and was thrilled by the more ornate labels of the records themselves and the beautifully creative sleeves. There will be only three minutes of music on this post, but you can follow my lead to YouTube, where many of these recordings are waiting for your tender, approving touch. Today my subject is advertising art at its most sweetly distinctive.
The eBay seller I directed people to in April 2020 has stopped selling his wares, but he has begun compiling Danish shellac sleeves: see more here.
Tommy Ladnier, in high style:
Billie, originally on Commodore:
Louis, for my friend Katherine:
Hawkins, solo, a two-sided meditation:
This (below) is my absolute favorite of the whole series, and it it were not $10 for the Morton disc and $18 for the shipping, it would be on its way to me now. Please, someone, buy this so I don’t have to?
Ella and Louis:
Fats meets Freddy:
I don’t know the artist but could not resist the sleeve:
and here Aladdin points the way to swing:
I think ten of these beauties is enough for one post, but if there is interest, I have nineteen or twenty more sleeve-images to share with you. And would.
I promised you three minutes of music, so that no one would go to bed feeling deprived. Here’s REINCARNATION by Paul Mares and his Friars Society Orchestra : Paul Mares, trumpet; Santo Pecora, trombone; Omer Simeon, clarinet; Boyce Brown, alto saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Marvin Saxbe, guitar; Pat Pattison, string bass; George Wettling, drums — January 1935, Chicago:
Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic.
I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there. That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.
Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid. I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.
Thisis the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early. The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries). I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours. Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .
For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians. And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.
Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.
Bouncing has been shown to have salutary therapeutic effects, so join us!
The source of all this joy is the Jonathan Doyle Swingtet, recorded in performance at the magical Redwood Coast Music Festivalon May 12, 2019. That’s Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone / compositions / arrangements; Gordon Au, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jamey Cummins [right], Alex Belhaj [left], guitars; Sam Rocha, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums. . . . captured in a still photograph by the JAZZ LIVES staff:
Now to the music played for the first half of this gratifying set — what Mildred Bailey might have called “a hot half-dozen.”
Take us back to 1943, while Coleman Hawkins stands off to the side, smiling:
and something sweet that Jonathan calls DON’T WALK OUT (the harmonic hint is this — imagine Louis’ opening number as a rhythm ballad and you have it):
Winnie the Pooh couldn’t make it, but in his honor, HONEY JAR, his love:
SLIPPERY SLOPE, perhaps named because of ascending and descending lines:
I’VE NEVER BEEN TO NEW YORK. If this is true, I have to invite Jonathan and Corinne to sit in Washington Square Park in the late spring:
Thinking of Austin, Texas, zoology, where THE BATS ARE SINGING:
The best news is that Jonathan and friends will be appearing — in whatever permutations they choose — at the Redwood Coast Music Festival, May 7-10, 2020. Here you can see a list of the other artists, a cornucopia of musical joys that increases my heart rate dangerously.
See you there!
Even better! — here is the schedule for the Festival. I can’t wait.
The great innovators began as imitators and emulators, but their glory is they went beyond attempts to reproduce their models: think of Louis and Joe Oliver, think of Bird and Chu Berry, of Ben and Hawk.
I was present for a glorious example of honoring the innovators on January 30, 2020, at Cafe Bohemia, 15 Barrow Street, Greenwich Village, New York, when Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone, cornet, and more; Murray Wall, string bass; Joe Cohn, guitar, crated merriment, art, and enlightenment. I’ve posted their extravagant ROYAL GARDEN BLUES here. It’s worth the nine minutes and ten seconds of your time.
A few songs later, Jon-Erik suggested that Scott take the lead for a performance, which he did, most splendidly, with FOOLIN’ MYSELF. Yes, it’s a homage to a heard Lester and a remembered Billie, but it also takes in a fragment of Rex Stewart’s BOY MEETS HORN, and creates on the spot a riff reminiscent of Fats’ HANDFUL OF KEYS as reimagined by Ruby Braff:
Thus it isn’t the little box of Homage or Tribute but a large world, elastic, expansive, gratifying. The way to honor the trail-blazers is to blaze trails.
Postscript: this is being posted on Tuesday, February 18. On Thursday, the 20th, Scott will be leading a quartet at that very same Cafe Bohemia, with sets at 8 and 10. Break the piggy bank and come down the stairs!
Had someone taken me, I could have seen Coleman Hawkins play — he did live until 1969 — but this concert I missed: my parents did not know each other yet.
That’s Hawkins, Freddy Johnson, piano, and Maurice van Kleef, drums, in Amsterdam, April 20, 1938. The inscription reads: “To Aunt Hattie, In remembrance of all her kindness to my family and self. I shall never forget it, Freddy.” The photograph is in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Here’s something surprisingly rare — not only because pieces of paper don’t always survive for eighty years — the impetus for this posting.
The seller’s link ishere; the price: $767.99 or “make offer.” (His other items are intriguing — some posters are autographed — but lovers of “pure jazz” will find only a Louis Jordan concert poster to fixate on.)
To make up for the concert that perhaps none of my readers attended, here (thanks to Heinz Becker, one of the great gracious swing benefactors of YouTube, who has uploaded a stellar record library for us) is that trio, a marvel of swing energies:
I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
The ferocious SWINGING IN THE GROOVE:
DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:
WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:
WHEN BUDDHA SMILES:
and the gorgeous BLUES EVERMORE (a themeless improvisation on ONE HOUR, which some YouTube correcter tells me is IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT):
What rhapsodic majesty and unflagging swing he displayed. These sides do not make up for having missed the concert, but we grasp the consolations we can.
And just for fun: I couldn’t go to this 1949 jazz party either. I was closer to being born (my parents had met and more) but it still didn’t help. I’m glad I am able to go hear music now!