Tag Archives: collecting

GENEROSITIES from MISTER McGOWN: “DAVEY TOUGH” on YOUTUBE

I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music.  When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous.  I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post.  And I cherish most those who are open-handed.  I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.

One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown.  An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.

On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here.  It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.

Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music.  The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.

About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough”  — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that.  Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another.  How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries.  And surprises!  Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.

I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):

Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.

Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:

And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:

Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:

and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:

These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures.  I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights.  I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.

And thank you, Mister McGown.

May your happiness increase!

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A COLLECTOR’S TROVE, AT AUCTION NOW

A cyber-friend and reader of JAZZ LIVES sent me the link to the Yonkers, New York auction house COHASCO, INC. , that is running an auction of jazz memorabilia ending January 5, 2016.  Much of the paper ephemera was new to me, and my friend thought it would be of interest to JAZZ LIVES’ readers.  So I am offering the information and the beautiful pictures here.  Full disclosure: I’m doing this for the usual reasons — interest rather than reimbursement — in case you needed to know.

The items are being offered as a collection: individual treasures are not available for bid.  And there’s been a good deal of interest in it already.

Here are three pictures that should speak louder than words:

AUCTION 1

and

AUCTION 2

and

AUCTION 3

The consignor (who wishes to remain anonymous) has written these words, which should reverberate with many of us:

People collect all types of objects, from thimbles to stamps, to paintings and cars. I attribute my appreciation of swing and big band music to my parents. While other kids my age were enamored with the Beatles, I watched my dad carefully place a record player stylus down upon an old 78 rpm record and soon became captivated by the sounds of Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and other orchestras of the time. As I grew older, I realized that the melodies I enjoyed were truly the soundtrack to another era. As a record and memorabilia collector, the swing and big band music of the 1930’s and 40’s struck such a chord in the psyche, that collecting and preserving the ephemera of that era was a natural extension of my admiration for the music.  If I look at a ticket stub for a Benny Goodman concert, I suddenly hear Gene Krupa drumming the memorable beat of Sing, Sing, Sing, followed by Goodman’s sweet clarinet–like a sound wave time machine pulling me straight into the past. If I hold a Glenn Miller program I hear Miller’s theme song, Moonlight Serenade and in my mind’s eye, I see a newsreel projecting WWII soldiers coming home, marching back from victory and embracing wives and family. To me, collecting is about more than the ephemera itself, its a way to pay homage to not only the musicians, but to the “greatest generation.”

And here are some practical details about the collection.  It was “compiled over decades by an impassioned musicologist,” and its focus is on the Thirties and Forties, although the 235 vintage items are dated 1926-1966.

“Signed items (some in pencil) include Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Jess Stacy, and Teddy Wilson, on a Hotel Pennsylvania drink menu • Blue Barron on contract • Eddie Duchin and Shep Fields on Aragon Ballroom postcards • Ziggy Elman and Benny Goodman on 1938 recording contract • Glen Gray band member autographs on Palladium Ballroom Café menu, 1941 • 1943 letter of Milt Gabler (famous Decca Records producer and founder of Commodore Records) • Horace Heidt on hotel drink menu, with band signatures on verso • Dick Jurgens on postcard • Kay Kyser (signed with full name James K. Kyser) on letterhead, with original envelope, 1928 • Waldorf-Astoria Starlight Roof Supper Club menu signed inside by Guy Lombardo, printed cover art by Xavier Cugat • Hal McIntyre on contract • Art Mooney on contract • Buddy Morrow postcard • and numerous vintage signatures of artists and band members, including Harry James and “Tiny” Timbrell who later appeared on Elvis records and soundtracks.

From Basie to Ellington, Goodman to Miller, the collection offers a wide panorama of the cultural artifacts underpinning the era. The assemblage includes concert ticket stubs, show programs, handbills, record store posters, nightclub souvenirs, period autographs, lobby cards, movie stills, postcards, fan and record industry magazines, sheet music, an oversize RKO theatre owners’ advertising book for the 1942 sensation “Syncopation,” starring Charlie Barnet, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Gene Krupa, et al, and curiosa such as novelty promotional pieces. Broad representation is present of both the bands and their individual artists, male and female, instrumental and vocal – a near who’s-who of jazz.

Capturing the golden era of Big Bands, some of the historic nights – and days – represented are 1937’s Benny Goodman vs. Chick Webb Battle of Swing, 1954’s landmark Festival of Modern American Jazz, Glenn Miller at CBS Radio Theatre, and many, many more. Additional venues represented include the Apollo (an early Louis Armstrong appearance), the Capital, Paramount, and Roxy Theatres, the Famous Door, Palomar Ballroom, Savoy Ballroom, Steel Pier, and others.

Much of the unsigned ephemera is very scarce – often magnitudes more so than signed material – and found only by chance. Duplicating such a collection would take many years and inordinate labor. The archive offers a wealth of materials, themes, and graphic choices for an all-encompassing display – or rotating exhibitions in a club, restaurant, performance space, academic music department, or favorite room of a home or office. Color montages on website and by e-mail. Request free detailed prospectus.

The pre-auction estimate is $5400 – $6500.  Bids are accepted up to January 5, 2016, 8:00 P.M. E.D.T. All items are fully described on their website, cohascodpc.com. A 136-page printed catalogue is available by mail, while supplies last.”

May your happiness increase!

REMEMBERING JOHN L. FELL (1927-2008)

In elementary school, your best friend is probably someone you see all the time.  As you get older, proximity isn’t essential.  I never saw John L. Fell in person; I spoke to him only once on the phone and had one snapshot of him (holding his grandson on his shoulders).  But he was a true friend. 

I first saw John’s name on the back of an IAJRC record album devoted to Pee Wee Russell.  John had written the liner notes and assembled wonderful rarities.  The music held me, but I was delighted and a bit awed by John’s prose: he wrote the way I aspired to.  His language crackled; he was precise, evocative, witty, sharp-tongued. 

What also captured my attention was that he had included a few selections from a fabled 1960 television broadcast featuring Russell and Bobby Hackett.  I found John’s address and wrote to him, asking if he would trade a cassette copy of that music, offering him whatever I had recorded on trips into New York City.  

Thus began an intense and rewarding friendship with a hot jazz soundtrack.  It had its own pattern, its own rhythm.  About once a month we would exchange cassettes — four of them in a mailer with a letter enclosed.  The letter was purportedly to list the personnel, but we both quickly delighted in conversing — what I had particularly liked in John’s last batch; what I was enclosing; the jazz he had recently seen; a gossipy story about some musician, living or dead, that we had seen.  John had been part of a group of college students who, in 1947, brought a jazz band to Hamilton College: the band included Hodes, Miff Mole, Tony Parenti, Kaminsky, Danny Alvin, and had — playing intermission piano — James P. Johnson.  John was an amateur clarinetist who had led his own band; I shared stories of seeing Braff and Hackett in the flesh.  We shared common loves: the Condon crowd, obscure 78s, Lester Young, Billy Butterfield, Ed Hall, alternate takes, rarities. 

As my collection of cassettes grew, I created a picture of John in my mind — just like his prose: perceptive, no-nonsense, enthusiastic.  I found out (not from him) that he was a distinguished film scholar and bought several of his books: FILM AND THE NARRATIVE TRADITION is one I particularly admire, showing the connection between early silent film storytelling and comic strips. 

John was generous, and even though I must have seemed voracious, he never complained.  Many collectors hug their treasures to their figurative bosoms, as if to say, “This is mine and you can’t have it!”  There was none of that in John’s largesse.  He added to my library of jazz films and concerts on videotape.  Through him, I saw Sidney Catlett on film (which I’d never imagined) as well as rare concert footage.  I came to value his letters — which, sadly, I no longer have — as much as the music that accompanied them.  Early on, John was still using a manual typewriter whose capital letter jumped at the beginning of the sentence; at some point, we both switched to rudimentary word-processing.

John also gave me a fine compliment.  He took over the incomplete manuscript that his friend Terkild Vinding had written on stride piano, and fleshed it out into a book, STRIDE!, published by Scarecrow Press.  I had volunteered to read the manuscript, and had offered comments and suggestions.  In retrospect, probably most of them were superfluous, but John thanked me in the preface for my “sternly affectionate guidance,” which pleased me no end: the middle word, to be exact.   

We traded music and conversation for perhaps five years — John went through several illnesses — until he wrote a brief, sad note that he was too ill continue.  He thanked me for the music and the pleasure of our conversation, but I never heard from him again. 

Whenever I met his friend James Lincoln Collier in New York, I asked for news of John, bot no one seemed to know.  I don’t know when the obituary below appeared in the Hamilton College alumni bulletin, but I present it here as a measure of a generous, multi-talented, irreplaceable man. 

I have only to move from my desk to pick up one of the cassettes John sent me to feel his presence.   

I miss him. 

John Louis Fell ’50, emeritus professor of film at San Francisco State University and a noted authority on early cinema history as well as a jazz aficionado, was born on September 19, 1927, in Westfield, NJ. The son of Shelby G., a business executive, and Frances Hildebrand Fell, he grew up in Westfield and was graduated in 1945 from Westfield High School. He entered Hamilton that fall but left the Hill after a semester in response to an irresistible call from Selective Service.

In 1947, following a year in the U.S. Army Air Force, John Fell returned to College Hill and resumed his studies with such success that he gained election to Phi Beta Kappa. He served on the staff of campus radio station WHC, played clarinet in the College Band, and also contributed his instrumental talent to the Fallacious Five jazz band. Called by The Hamiltonian the “perfect example of the rational mind in an irrational world,” he received his diploma with honors in anthropology in 1950.

After briefly taking courses in anthropology at Northwestern University, John Fell headed to New York City, where he pursued graduate studies in cinema and eked out a living as a magazine editor, free-lance writer, and jazz musician. Besides writing “pulp” for men’s magazines and numerous film scripts, he joined fellow jazz enthusiasts in Greenwich ­Village, including classmate and fellow Fallacious Five veteran James Lincoln Collier, in playing gigs with his clarinet. For a time he also taught in a private secondary school, where he “supervised a class of schizophrenic boys, which prepared me for academia.”

John Fell, who had acquired an M.A. in communications from New York University in 1954, stayed on at N.Y.U. to earn his Ph.D in that field in 1958. Upon obtaining his doctorate, he left the East Coast for Montana State College (now University) to take over its film and television department. He remained there in Bozeman for two years as an assistant professor, primarily supervising educational television. On December 5, 1958, while at Montana State, he was married to Suzanne Shillington in Idaho Falls, ID.

In 1960, John and Sue Fell moved to California when John was appointed to the faculty of San Francisco State College (also now University). As an assistant professor, he taught courses in motion picture history, theory, and esthetics in the department of radio-TV-film. His intellectual curiosity and wry sense of humor permeated his classroom presentations, which were drawn from his impressively wide reading in film. Appointed in 1964 to develop and administer a new film program, he supported student demands for a full-fledged cinema department, which was established under his chairmanship in 1967. He chaired the department until 1970 and again in 1975-76. A reluctant administrator who was happiest sharing his passion for cinema and jazz culture, and being a mentor and guide to his students, he led the department only long enough to get and keep it on its feet. He was promoted to full professor in 1970 and continued to teach at San Francisco State until his retirement in 1984.

In addition to contributing articles and reviews on film, music, books, theater, and photography to publications ranging from arts journals to Esquire and the Saturday Review, John Fell wrote album notes for jazz recordings. He also served on the editorial board of Film Quarterly, the advisory board of Film History, and as guest editor for Cinema Journal. A member of numerous professional organizations, including the Writers’ Guild of America and the American Federation of Musicians, he was a former president of the national academic film organization, the Society for ­Cinema Studies (1981-83).

However, John Fell’s enduring influence and lasting impact was through his shaping of the film department at San Francisco State and his scholarship as reflected in five books, most notably Film and the Narrative Tradition, published in 1974. He went on to write Film: An Introduction (1975), A History of Films (1979), and Film Before Griffith (1983). His last book, Stride! (1999), was an important contribution to jazz piano history.

In retirement, John Fell, residing in Larkspur in Marin County, north of San Francisco, continued to teach film and jazz courses at the College of Marin. He also continued to write and to “play very dated jazz with a group of old gentlemen on Friday afternoons.”

John L. Fell died on October 8, 2008, following a massive stroke. He is survived by his wife of almost 50 years. Also surviving are two daughters, Justine R. Fell and Eliza M. Durkin, and three grandchildren and a sister. His son, John S. Fell, the victim of a diving accident, died in 1989.