Tag Archives: collective improvisation

A COMFORTABLE PASTORAL: JOHNNY WIGGS and RAYMOND BURKE on CD

The recordings that cornetist Johnny Wiggs, clarinetist Raymond Burke, guitarist / singer Dr. Edmond Souchon, and string bassist / singer Sherwood Mangiapane made in two sessions in New Orleans (in 1952 and 1955) have been both glorious and elusive.  Issued on two ten-inch microgroove recordings on the even more elusive Paramount and Steiner-Davis labels, they were wonderful yet invisible.  I first heard some of this music on a cassette copy made for me by the late Bob Hilbert, and I knew much more existed but had never heard it.  A year ago, I saw one of the records on eBay at a low price and (atypically) was able to buy it without eroding my savings. I thought the front was very impressive.

WIGGS-BURKE 10

But the reverse was a real surprise (the eBay seller either didn’t turn the record over or wasn’t interested): it was autographed by Doctor Souchon to Pinky Vidacovitch:

WIGGS-BURKE 10 back

But this is a post about music, not about record collecting, so I hope my digression is pertinent here. I should say that the sessions were originally envisioned by collector / archivist / scholar John Steiner as trios — clarinet, guitar, bass — echoing the recordings of George Lewis that William Russell had made earlier.  Russell agreed to record the Burke-Souchon-Mangiapane trio, but — happily for us — Johnny Wiggs came by with his horn and the group became a quartet.  The two vinyl issues collected sixteen performances.

I — and no doubt others — have been waiting, hoping for this music to be effectively issued on compact disc. And it happened!  The American Music label has issued a two-disc set of the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR. Not only does it offer the original sixteen tracks but a good many alternate takes, performances that didn’t make the original issues, and three tracks from 1957 that bring together Burke, Wiggs, Souchon, Art Hodes, and Freddie Moore. On one or two tracks, Raymond plays the harmonica (not a high point in recorded music, but we needed to know about it, and a tin flute.  Wise notes by the deeply-involved Butch Thompson and some rare photographs make the set complete.  The recorded sound is fine and the discs are well-programmed, so each disc sounds like a small rewarding session on its own.

BURKE-WIGGS CD

The songs are (asterisks denoting a title with more than one version) PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET / ALL NIGHT LONG* / AT SUNDOWN / BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES* / MEMORIES / RAY’S TUNE* / CONGO SQUARE / BUCKTOWN BOUNCE / I CAN’T USE IT / IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE / HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?* / MAMA’S BABY BOY* (a/k/a DO WHAT ORY SAY) / ALL THE WRONGS YOU’VE DONE TO ME / MILENBERG JOYS / POSTMAN’S LAMENT* / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / SMILES / SINGIN’ THE BLUES / SPANISH TINGE* / HARMONICA BLUES / WALKIN’ THE DOG / TULIP STOMP (a/k/a WHEN YOU WORE A TULIP) / DARKTOWN STRUTTERS’ BALL / GOING HOME / CHINATOWN / JUST A LITTLE WHILE TO STAY HERE / BABY WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME? / JOHNNY’S BOUNCE / BUCK TOWN / HEEBIE JEEBIES / MAKE ME A PALLET ON THE FLOOR / SISTER KATE / TIN CAN ALLEY / UNKNOWN TUNE / CITY OF A MILLION DREAMS.

Here  is Jazzology Music (the GHB Jazz Foundation): the primary site where the discs can be bought — and if you notice the Index, bottom right of the page, with a careful scrolling motion you can hear the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR play PUT ON YOUR OLD GREY BONNET.  If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

I don’t usually become hyperbolic and tell my readers that this is “the one disc they must buy,” “the one festival they must go to,” etc., because there is so much enticing and enduring music both being reissued and being made live even as I write this.  Yet I think that the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR has given me an extraordinary amount of the pleasure in the months that I have had and played it . . . and played it.  And I certainly think that the musicians who think of themselves as “traditionalists” and beyond should be listening intently to this music for its lightness, its depth of feeling, and its expertise. Let me explain.

Although I don’t identify myself as purely a New Orleans jazz aficionad0 (in my mind, the Armstrong Town Hall Concert, Jones-Smith Inc., the 1938 Basie band, the Goodman Trio, the 1940-1 Ellington band, the Keynotes, the Vanguards . . . all have their assured places in my affections) but I do love collective improvisation as a musical way of life.  In fact, some of my favorite moments in hearing / video-recording live jazz in 2013 are provided by those groups that understand their existence as BANDS — improvising, creating backgrounds, playing riffs, working as ensembles — whether they model themselves on Bunk’s Last Testament band or much more “modern” in their approach.

Wiggs, Burke, Souchon, and Mangiapane very occasionally present themselves as a single-soloist-with-rhythm; more often, we hear four sweetly idiosyncratic voices going their own ways while fulfilling their roles as members of a band.  So “there’s always something going on” to interest a close listener.

Souchon and Mangiapane create a firm, fluid, old-time but swinging acoustic rhythm: the way guitar and bass used to be played before the late Thirties (guitar) and Forties (string bass).  They don’t push or drag; they provide the most delightful swing counterpoint.  As well, Souchon (especially) is an instantly compelling, saucy singer — with a wink or a twinkle for the listener. I doubt that a few of his naughty vocals (hardly so by 2013 standards) are his own invention, but the metaphors of the songs are hilarious in the fashion of mid-Twenties blues.  Since I carry a backpack for work and play, I empathize with his earnest reading of POSTMAN’S LAMENT, whose refrain is “Lord, take this pack off my back.”

The great voices on this disc are paradoxically the sounds that come through Burke’s clarinet and Wiggs’ cornet — sounds I found endearing as soon as I heard them, years back.  Wiggs heard Joe Oliver in the flesh in the very early Twenties and was impressed by the King for the rest of his life — thus he has some of Oliver’s terse power.  But he also heard Bix, and I think the latter’s lyricism won out: Wiggs (although not as harmonically ambitious as Bobby Hackett) captured something of Bix’s brief epigrammatic ways: a Wiggs phrase is like a great, sometimes sad, utterance: it hangs in the air the way a Joe Thomas phrase did, and we are musing over its meaning while he is eight bars away.  In his own fashion, Wiggs is a great sad poet: his melancholy is always lightened by his joy in the rolling rhythms beneath him, but his sound is autumnal, dark red and gold.

Burke, for his part, can at first sound like an elliptical version of the great New Orleans clarinetists — I am thinking specifically of Ed Hall, of Bujie Centobie — but he has his own phrasing and his own, always surprising sound.  And, just in passing, I must say that the most famous group with this instrumentation was the Bechet-Spanier Big Four of 1940, but the Wiggs-Burke quartet is far more easy, less pugilistic. Friends playing for their own enjoyment, weaving melodies for the sake of song, not musicians out to show who’s boss of the session.

My friend Joe Shepherd made available two videos of Johnny, Raymond, Danny Barker, Graham Stewart, Bob Green, and Freddie Moore and he shot at the 1972 Manassas Jazz Festival.  Time hasn’t treated the visual image well, but the music is eternal:

OLD STACK O’LEE BLUES:

TONY, LET THE MEATBALLS ROLL:

Why my title?  The music on the WIGGS-BURKE BIG FOUR discs suggests a kind of informal play among friends that very rarely takes place in a recording studio — more often in a living room or on a porch when only the musicians and their friends are there.  Certainly this would be a perfect set of CDs for a backyard party . . . sweet melodies in swing.

May your happiness increase!

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“PERFECT!”: THE EARREGULARS “COAST TO COAST” (May 1, 2011)

My title comes from a wonderful Bobby Hackett Capitol record date where Bobby (New York by profession, Massachusetts by birth) went out to California with one Jack Teagarden and played with the West Coast boys — COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST.  Years ago, such sessions were both novel and fashionable — one side of a Columbia lp devoted to Eddie Condon, the other to the Rampart Street Paraders, or “battles” between East and West Coast players.

No battle here, no head-cutting or manicuring, just beauty.

Last Sunday, the EarRegulars were having a wonderful time at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) — they were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Pete Martinez, clarinet; Frank Tate, bass.  They devoted their first set to GREAT JAZZ CITIES OF THE WORLD (without saying a word): thus, CALIFORNIA, HERE I COME; ‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS; a slow-drag CHICAGO; ST. LOUIS BLUES; MEMPHIS BLUES, and a few others.  Exquisite soloing, interplay, and creativity.

But I had noticed two familiar faces who nearly surprised me off my barstool — the great San Francisco acoustic guitarist Craig Ventresco and the singer Meredith Axelrod.  They were in town for a flying unannounced family visit — celebrating Craig’s parents’ fiftieth anniversary (hooray for Mr. and Mrs. Ventresco of Maine, hooray!).

Matt Munisteri, bless him, had known Craig was coming . . . so he brought a second guitar for Craig to play.  And lovely things happened.  I knew Craig from my jazz rebirth in 2005 — he played with the Red Onion Jazz Band as well as other floating ensembles (often in the noble company of Kevin Dorn, Jesse Gelber, Barbara Rosene, Michael Bank): he is the poet of archaic music that should never be forgotten — waltzes, stomps, blues, rags, tangos, pop songs — but he also brings depth and richness to any ensemble he’s in.  And Meredith is an unusual combination of demure and passionate, as you’ll hear.

After the set break, everyone settled in for four long sweet performances, which I present here with great delight and pride.  You’ll hear musical jokes, echoes of Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, the Mississippi Delta coming to Soho, and a great ocean-swell rocking swing . . . music to live for!

They began with the seductively rolling WABASH BLUES — its climbing and descending lines gaining momentum although never getting louder or faster.  Jon-Erik preached through his plunger mute (his sermons are secular but compelling); Pete Martinez showed himself a wonderful dramatic actor on the clarinet, alternating between the primitive and serene; Matt’s lines rang and chimed; Frank brought forth his own brand of casual eloquence.  And Craig played as if sitting on the porch, with all the time in the world:

“Perfect!” you can hear Terry Waldo say — the only thing anyone could say!

After some discussion, the quintet arrived at ROSE ROOM (was it a memory of Charlie Christian or just a good tune to jam on): I savor the conversation between Jon-Erik and Pete in the second chorus, followed by the string section and Pete.  Then there’s Mister Tate, the Abraham Lincoln of the string bass — every note resonating with joy and seriousness.  He knows how to do it, he does!  And then the band, led by Slidin’ Jon Kellso, eases into a rocking motion that would have made the Goodman Sextet of 1941 happy.  (I thought also of the way Ruby Braff slid and danced over his two guitars and bass viol in 1974-5, not a bad memory to have.)  Matt winds and sways in his own fashion — it’s like observing a championship skater improvising on the ice, isn’t it?  And those deliciously playful conversations between Pete and Jon-Erik, then Matt and Craig . . . then some powerful riffing and jiving.  Wow, as we say!

Charlie Levenson, patron saint of informal jazz, suggested SOMEDAY SWEETHEART, and although it was late and ordinary circumstances a closing hot tune would have been the only choice, it was clear that the EarRegulars were having such a good time that no one wanted to end the music a moment too soon.  The EarRegulars and Craig immediately settle into a kind of well-oiled glide that summons up Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman — or perhaps an imagined Vanguard Records session — swaying sweetly for a good long time.  Soulful is the word for this performance:

For the closing song, Jon-Erik brought Meredith up for MY BLUE HEAVEN — that pastoral / domestic celebration.  Only a very few singers are invited to sit in at The Ear, but Meredith stepped right into the role!  Celebration was what I felt, and I daresay that my joy was shared by many people at The Ear — with more to come because of these videos.  And — since I love cats — Pete’s solo reminds me so much of a kitten with a toy furry mouse, turning it over and batting it around.  He is at the very apex — ask another clarinetist, such as Dan Block!  While the fellows were playing, the political news was on the television above — and Jon-Erik wove DING, DONG, THE WITCH IS DEAD! and YOU RASCAL YOU into his solo — although JAZZ LIVES isn’t about politics but sharing beauty:

This is what Fifty-Second Street must have sounded like.  Only better!  And it exists here and now.  What blessings!

FOR EDDIE at 105

That’s Eddie Condon, born 105 years ago today. 

This filmed performance of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES — from the 1964 ABC-TV show, SALUTE TO EDDIE CONDON — doesn’t harm anyone, even though Eddie was present only in spirit.  The celebrants are Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; George Wettling, drums; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano, cigar, and derby; Al Hall, bass:

And another fast blues — this one from 1938 with Bobby Hackett, cornet; George Brunis, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor; Jess Stacy, piano; Eddie, guitar; Artie Shapiro, bass; Wettling, drums:

To be remembered with affection is a great thing, and it’s how we feel about Eddie and the musical worlds he created.

EDDIE CONDON’S IDEAL JAZZ WORLD

Charles Peterson’s famous photograph of Eddie Condon looks more pensive than exuberant, but the joy is there in the music. Casual listeners call it “Dixieland,” a term Condon hated, because it relies on collective improvisation, often on jazz tunes written before 1920. And “Royal Garden Blues” sounds much less hip than “One O’Clock Jump” or “Billie’s Bounce” to some. But the records Condon made for forty-five years prove that his jazz was hard-driving and raucous but tender and deeply blues-based. There wasn’t a straw boater in sight and sing-alongs were forbidden.

Condon’s jazz had its roots in Joe Oliver and the Chicago scene of the early Twenties, but his sessions showcased musically sophisticated players: Bobby Hackett, Jess Stacy, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Rex Stewart, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Cliff Leeman, Red Allen, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Fats Waller, Bud Freeman, Lee Wiley, Benny Morton, Sidney Bechet, Hot Lips Page and Louis himself.

This isn’t to call for a re-evaluation of his music, or to urge a Condon renaissance. He’s never been away to those who enjoy their jazz Hot. Many contemporary jazz players keep his music alive — Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Kevin Dorn, Mark Shane, Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, Chris Tyle, Ray Skjelbred, James Dapogny, Duke Heitger, Jim Fryer, Vince Giordano, Dick Hyman, Bent Persson, David Ostwald, Johnny Varro, Randy Reinhart, Bobby Gordon, Bob Barnard and a host of others.

A new CD, produced by the Italian Jazz Institute, is a happy reason to write about Eddie and his friends — especially since it contains some delightfully rare performances. Giorgio Lombardi, author of Eddie Condon on Record 1927-72, has gathered nearly two dozen tracks from 1929 to 1968. The CD begins with the soundtrack from a Vitaphone Red Nichols short film, featuring Pee Wee revisiting his solo on “Ida” and a surprisingly winning Condon vocal on “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now.” Ten years later, we find Bobby Hackett in pearly form amidst George Brunis and Ernie Caceres; then several performances document the concerts that Condon gave in the Forties. Hear Catlett behind the horns on “Peg O’My Heart” and rejoice. A real rarity follows, from Condon’s television series, the Eddie Condon Floor Show. It features Johnny Mercer singing “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll” with splendid impudence. The Fifties recordings come from Condon’s own club and feature Ralph Sutton, Ed Hall, and Walter Page, as well as a few band performances. The radio nnouncer, Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” talks over Dick Cary’s trumpet solo on “Bill Bailey,” but it’s worth straining to hear. A 1965 television tribute to Condon is uneven but offers rousing work by Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, and Vic Dickenson. And an Art Hodes jazz series puts Condon back where he started, on banjo (how much persuading did that require?) but you can hear Eddie exhorting Tony Parenti and J.C. Higginbotham.  Condon’s pushing rhythm guitar is delightfully evident all through the CD, but even when he isn’t playing, his presence is invaluable.

For information on ordering this CD, visit www.italianjazzinstitute.com. The joyous energy of the music fairly bursts through the speakers.