Tag Archives: Columbia Records

DON’T GO WEST, YOUNG WOMAN

The bespectacled fellow was only a name in a discography to me until today.

Thanks to Tim Gracyk and his YouTube channel, I now have one more new-old-favorite-record, HOLLYWOOD, by Art Gillham, “The Whispering Pianist.”

According to the Discography of American Recordings entry here, this performance was recorded on November 25, 1929, in New York City.  The composers of this thin but irresistible song (with a rising chromatic motif and unadventurous lyrics) are Arnold Johnson (music) — who may have been the bandleader known to some for his associations with Jack Purvis and Harold Arlen — and Charles Newman (lyrics).  Newman is better known for the lyrics of SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, I’LL NEVER HAVE TO DREAM AGAIN, WHAT’S THE USE, I WOULDN’T CHANGE YOU FOR THE WORLD, YOU’VE GOT ME CRYING AGAIN, I’M PAINTING THE TOWN RED, TAKE ANOTHER GUESS, WHY DON’T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN? (a song I learned through the recording Melissa Collard and Eddie Erickson made of it) and the imperishable A HOT DOG, A BLANKET, AND YOU.  Apparently Newman took current conversational phrases and bent them into songs — songs more memorable for their performers.

Here’s the recording — moral message, free of charge:

The message first: another cautionary tale (think of GLAD RAG DOLL, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, and a dozen others) about young women who go to the big city, get their hearts broken, their virtue damaged beyond repair.  “Mothers, tie your daughters to the sink so that nothing bad can happen to them!”  (Theodore Dreiser’s AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, five years earlier, is a variation on this theme.)

A month and a day before this recording, the stock market had crashed: was that one of many reasons for this song?  The record of copyright notes that HOLLYWOOD is dated November 9 — slightly over two weeks after the crash, which may be even more significant.

Gillham is a pleasant singer, even with wobbly vibrato.  Radio audiences and song publishers must have loved him, because every word came through. But I am particularly interested in the little band: muted trumpet or cornet, bright and agile clarinet, sweet violin, Gillham’s own piano, perhaps someone at a drum set, although aside from one resonant thump at 1:25, it’s hard to tell. (Was it multi-tasking Eddie King or Justin Ring?)  I believe that “novelty” came from the presence of horns, rather than a more “legitimate” polite accompaniment by piano or piano and violin.

But this record has not been annotated or noticed by the official jazz scholars.  A selection from Gillham’s recordings makes its way into the discographies I have (Rust and Lord) — because those sessions feature Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Louis Hooper, Murray Kellner, Andy Sanella.  The three or four sides concluding either discography [thus defined as jazz recordings] have him accompanied by Alex Hill on piano, and Gillham performs Hill’s YOU WERE ONLY PASSING  TIME WITH ME.  The lack of documentation of HOLLYWOOD — which sounds like a certifiable “jazz record” — says much more about the “star system” in jazz than it does about the lightly swinging instrumental music heard here.  The players do not sound like those stars most featured and idolized: not Mannie Klein or Jack Purvis or Nichols, not Jimmy Dorsey or Tesch, Joe Venuti, or Stan King.  But the music is memorable, inventive and rhythmic, and I would rather have this record, offered as an anonymous effort, than a dozen others with more famous names that might have satisfied less.  Once again we encounter rewarding art that no one has designated as such.

May your happiness increase!

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GRamercy 5-8639

rotary phone

Perhaps, for the Youngbloods in the audience, I should explain.  Older telephone numbers were patterned after words — presumably easier to remember — in the same way some business numbers are (whimsically) 1-800-BUY JUNK.  My childhood phone number began with “PE” for Pershing, the general; now it would simply be 7 3.  All clear?

I love Eddie Condon’s music and everything relating to it.  I wan’t of an age to visit West Third Street, nor the club on Fifty-Sixth, although I spent some delightful evenings at the posthumous version on Fifty-Fourth (one night in 1975 Ruby Braff was the guest star and Helen Humes, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Brooks Kerr and a few others sat in).

This delightful artifact just surfaced on eBay — from 1958:

CONDONS front

The English professor in me chafes at the missing apostrophe, but everything else printed here is wonderful: the names of the band and the intermission pianist.  The reverse:

CONDONS back

I didn’t buy it — so you might still be able to — but I did have fleeting thoughts of taking it to a print shop and ordering a few hundred replicas, more gratifying than the glossy cards with pictures of Tuscany on them.

We don’t need a time machine, though, because a version of that band (with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and others) did record, in glorious sound.  Don’t let “Dixielan” Jam or the CD title keep you away.  Savor the sound of Eddie’s guitar.  The music here was originally issued as THE ROARING TWENTIES, and the sessions were produced by the amazing George Avakian:

I did buy something, though — irresistible to me —  that struck a far more receptive chord.  Whether I will use it or frame it has not yet been decided.  I’ll know when it arrives.

SWIZZLE STICK

If you have no idea what this is, ask Great-Grandma, who used such a thing to stir her whiskey sour.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES P.’S SPACIOUS UNIVERSE

Someone unknown to me — a generous anonymous benefactor — has posted on YouTube two of the irreplaceable 1939 piano solos by James P. Johnson.  I think they are uplifting creations that never grow over-familiar.

BLUEBERRY RHYME, Johnson’s own musing original composition, has not only several strains but feels multi-layered, as if two moods were moving along in time and sound throughout the piece.  One is sweetly, sadly ruminative — thoughts of a solitary seeker in a meadow, perhaps, with calm and loss intermingled.  The other is joyous — all of James P.’s most elegant trickeries offered to us at half-speed and half-volume, so that we could think, for an evanescent moment, “Hey, I could play the piano like that if I only practiced.” In this stratum, we hear what so many pianists — Tatum, Fats, Basie — worshipped and borrowed from him.  (There’s a tinkling figure at :20 that Tatum nipped off with and made his own.)

Is BLUEBERRY RHYME sweet thoughts of home, or of a love that might have been, musings on a pie, or something private to James P.?  We cannot know, but we can enter this world for a few minutes, its gently rocking motions and lingering melodies both comforting and elusive.

BLUEBERRY RHYME is followed by one of my favorite interludes, a joyous yet stately romp on Edgar Sampson’s IF DREAMS COME TRUE.  This recording has been one of my consolations and dear musical friends for perhaps forty-five years, and it not only provides happiness but embodies it.  Within the first ten seconds — that prancing bassline, the treble chords announcing the melody — we know we are somewhere elation is the common language, where all will be given over to the dance.

Each chorus is a complete utterance in itself, and each chorus’ variations look backwards to its predecessor and anticipate what is to come.  Stride piano is also misunderstood by some as a metronomic left hand with a freer but rhythmically-obedient right hand creating variations in its own realm, but notice the playful elasticity between the steady bass lines and the widening rhythmic freedom of the treble, in a playful push-and-pull that we feel as the performance continues. The dance gets more and more ambitious, but James P.’s time and volume are both steady delights, and form is never abandoned.

Compare, for instance, the opening chorus where the melody is explicitly stated in contract to what happens at 5:30, magical in itself. Although the performance has offered a certain ornateness, the thrilling competitive display the Harlem players loved, here James P. seems to pull back into softer enigmatic utterances, offering space and an abstraction of what he has been playing instead of attempting to dazzle the hearer even more.  And the three ascending chords at 6:19!  So simple and yet so memorable.  On my admittedly untuned piano, they are a C, D, and E — the first do re mi of a beginning student, but what ringing sounds they are here.

Should I end my days in a hospice, I hope I will have these recordings with me to take on the journey.  And I exult in them now.

Hear for yourself:

Coincidentally, James P. was the subject of a brief cyber-discussion the fine pianist Michael Bank and I were having, and Michael (lyrical in prose and music) wrote that James P. “creates a portal to the universe.”  James P. Johnson was and is his own universe, vast, inviting, heartfelt.  How fortunate we are to hear such beauty!

(Blessings on the often-imperious John Hammond, who booked the studio time in 1939 to make these recordings and treasured them when Columbia Records would not issue them, saving them for future generations.)

I have heard that Mosaic Records is preparing a James P. Johnson set.  Talk about DREAMS coming true.

May your happiness increase!

“HAVIN’ A BALL” with JAMES P. JOHNSON, ANDY RAZAF, and . . . BENNY GOODMAN (1937)

The global attic / museum / antique shop known as eBay never fails to surprise.  Here’s something recently posted — the sheet music for a James P. Johnson / Andy Razaf song, HAVIN’ A BALL.  I don’t think it enjoyed wide currency, and I suspect it was another version of SPREADIN’ RHYTHM AROUND and THE JOINT IS JUMPIN’ — that is, once the music is hot, everyone is happy.  Valid enough.

James P. recorded it for Columbia in 1939 — under the aegis of John Hammond — with a band including Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Sedric, J. C. Higginbotham, and Sidney Catlett — but the sides weren’t issued at the time and they only emerged on a 1962 compilation of James P.’s Columbia recordings.

Sometimes the business of music is as intriguing as the music itself.  Too much has been made of Goodman as Caucasian exploiter, and in 1937 he hardly needed to extort money from James P., Razaf, or Joe Davis to have his picture on the cover — a sure guarantee of increased sales.  And he isn’t a “co-composer” here, which suggests that the Goodman band actually played this song.  Goodman expert/ discographer David Jessup says that no broadcast performances of it exist to his knowledge.  Of course, the band might have played it at a dance that wasn’t documented or for a broadcast that wasn’t notated by Bob Inman or captured by an enthusiast with a disc recorder.

But I wonder how this partnership came to be.  Did one of the composers or publisher Davis “reach out” (as they used to say on television police shows) to a Goodman arranger and work out a mutually advantageous arrangement: a good tune for a swing band, let’s get it some airplay?  Youth wants to know.

Alas, I can’t provide an audio track.  You’ll have to find a copy of the Columbia lp FATHER OF THE STRIDE PIANO or the Classics CD on which it appears: I recall a Meritt Record Society vinyl issue had several alternate takes.

In its heyday, the tune was recorded by Fats Waller, Billy Kyle, George Zack, Max Kaminsky . . . and there is presumably a 1958 Goodman version, which suggests that an actual arrangement was created.  But when?  The only contemporary version I know is found on the Arbors CD by the International Hot Jazz Quartet — Duke Heitger, Engelbert Wroebel, Paolo Alderighi, Oliver Mewes.

Have yourself a ball!

May your happiness increase.

TAKING RISKS, HAVING A BALL: TWO CINEMATIC MASTERPIECES from “THE SOUND OF JAZZ” (1957)

Next to JAMMIN’ THE BLUES and HOT HOUSE, the 1933 footage of Louis in Copenhagen, Duke in CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK, the silent newsreel film of the Randall’s Island Carnival of Swing, the 1957 THE SOUND OF JAZZ might be the most famous film of jazz performance extant.  I’ve seen it in various forms: on a muzzy VCR copy, an improved DVD, and in bits and pieces on YouTube.

And I hope everyone has seen it so many times that it has the gleam of photographs of a dear old friend — lovingly glimpsed from many angles in a leisurely way.

But when the generous collector Franz Hoffmann opened his Henry “Red” Allen box of wonders, I thought, “What if there are some people who haven’t seen ROSETTA and WILD MAN BLUES — ever?”  So in the same way we return to stand awestruck in front of a Sargent portrait or we settle in for a long night with KING LEAR, let us return to these two magical filmed performances.

The first thing, of course, is the music — music made by titans at the peak of their casual achievements.  Henry “Red” Allen, trumpet and vocal; Rex Stewart, cornet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax; Nat Pierce, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.

Let us be frank about this band.  It was a gathering of strong personalities — players who demanded space for themselves (perhaps with the exception of Pierce and Barker) who — given the wrong audience, could caricature themselves.  To some this will seem like heresy, but the evidence exists.  But what remains here is an exuberant jostling in the name of the music:  the combat between Red and Rex is subtle and sly, and Jo’s solo — although perhaps a digression — is constrained rather than a show-stopper.

Careful observers will note that in a program ostensibly devoted to the blues, neither ROSETTA nor WILD MAN BLUES is one, although the latter descends into those emotional depths with great fervor.

So one could watch these clips over and over, marveling at the balance between individual ego and cohesion.  What Red Allen does is also an advanced course in leadership.  I know that the band had had a “rehearsal” for the purposes of recording the music for Columbia Records (more about that later) but it’s clear that not much had been worked out aside from the basics: who solos first and for how long.

But I would propose another reason to marvel at these clips, and it’s a silent one — almost in the name of moving sculptures and shadows.  The director of the program, Jack Smight, was a great jazzman himself — not that he played an instrument, but in the chances he took.  This was live television, so his decisions were made on the spot and there were no retakes.  He had five cameramen — their names Bob Heller, Harold Classen, Joe Sokota, Jack Brown, and Marty Tuck.  And Smight moved from one to the other with great logic, sensitivity, and freedom.  Musicians hard at work — in love with their art — are great studies, and these five cameras captured not only the usual visual cliches: the sweating face, distended cheeks, intake and outflow of breath, but the musicians listening and responding to one another.  And to their own creations: one of the most memorable seconds of this is the expression on Rex Stewart’s face after he has pulled off what he understands is a particularly felicitous epigram in WILD MAN BLUES.  It’s self-congratulatory but in a sweetly hilarious way, “Hey, Ma!  Look what I just played!”  And who would deny Rex his pleasure in his own art?

In an era where multiple-camera setups often lead to restlessness that is difficult to endure (even before everyone had a video camera) these cuts and chance-takings are both beautiful and highly rewarding.  I propose something nearly audacious: one could watch these films with the sound off and marvel at the faces and their expressions.  Truly rewarding film of a musical performance is not only the soundtrack, but the way the players present themselves to us, as we see here.

WILD MAN BLUES:

ROSETTA:

And a purely aural note.  In the vinyl era, both a monaural and a stereo record were issued.  They captured the music at the “rehearsal,” December 5, 1957.  (I assume that this session also captured the disembodied voices we hear on the television program, explaining what the blues meant to them.)  Both of those issues were slightly different: at one point in the last minutes of DICKIE’S DREAM, the brass and reeds got out of synch with one another; on one issue, the raggedness is documented (very reassuring for those of us who are not giants on the scale of these players!); on the other, a neater passage and a different Basie piano bridge have been spliced in.  George Avakian was apparently not involved with this project, but Irving Townsend seems to have picked up some of George’s skill with a razor blade.  But — even better! — the CD issue, now possibly difficult to find (Columbia Legacy CK 66082) includes a previously unissued take of WILD MAN BLUES that runs almost nine minutes.  (Much harder to find is the late Bob Hilbert’s vinyl issue on his own Pumpkin label, THE “REAL” SOUND OF JAZZ, which presents the audio from the television show.)

Even if you think you know these performances, I will wager whatever you like that something will come and surprise you in a repeat viewing.  Bless these musicians; bless Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff; bless Smight and his cameramen; bless Franz Hoffmann, too.

“RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED, JEROME F. NEWHOUSE”

This is the most fascinating (and witty) bill I’ve ever seen, and I would have gladly paid it. 

The letter below will not be new to Charlie Christian devotees, but I recently learned about it from Peter Jung.  Its owner Chris Albertson (jazz scholar, record producer, and blogger) very graciously encouraged me to repost it here. 

In the late Thirties, Jerome F. “Jerry” Newhouse of Minneapolis was a devout swing fan.  This profile in itself would not be unusual, but Jerry did more than sourrounding himself with Benny Goodman Victors and Columbias.  He bought a professional disc-cutting machine and began recording Goodman and other bands off the radio: And he took his disc cutter with him to the Harlem Breakfast Club for an after-hours session with two players from the Goodman band and two local players.  Although the session had not been issued commercially, it was known among Charlie’s admirers — who understandably treasured every note their laconic, short-lived hero had played.     

I don’t know how Newhouse and John Hammond came to know each other, but when Hammond was producing a new two-lp Charlie Christian collection, the  session that Newhouse had recorded in 1939 emerged as exciting material for reissue.  It was a remarkable session — one of Charlie’s earliest live appearances on record, an unusual opportunity for him to be recorded after hours (Jerry Newman’s Harlem sessions were still two years in the future), and it found Christian among excellent players. 

Pianist (presumably a local Minneapolis player) Frankie Hines lacks some of the flash of his almost-namesake, but his ump-cha is all that is needed to accompany the soloists, and he plays credible solos.  

Tenor saxophonist Jerry Jerome was one of the hot soloists of the 1939 Goodman band, merging Lester and Ben in his own fashion, and I suspect he did not get space to stretch out on solos within that orchestra.  Jerome continued to have a rolling fluid approach to his instrument for many decades. 

Bassist Oscar Pettiford was still a minor in the eyes of the law, and although his playing is not assertive in the fashion of his great Forties and Fifties playing, this is his earliest appearance on disc. 

Charlie Christian lived for the hours he could spend on the bandstand without facing arrangements on manuscript paper: although someone on YouTube has commented that Charlie is “overrated,” that is only because his graceful, pulsing work has been so absorbed into the collective unconscious of all jazz guitarists that it takes a small leap backwards to understand just how striking his work was.

The letter is a hilarious recounting (masquerading as a bill) of what the session must have been like.  Close your eyes and imagine — in appropriate black-and-white — Newhouse waiting until the Goodman band had finished to bundle Jerome and Christian into his car, guitar, heavy amplifier, tenor sax included.  Imagine the delight of the patrons of the Harlem Breakfast Club when the jazz stars showed up; invent some small dialogue between Hines, Pettiford, Jerome, and Christian.  I don’t know (in my imagined screenplay) where the two bottles of liquor and the ccome in, but they were invaluable.  Don’t leave out the dialogue — polite for sure — of Newhouse trying to get Charlie to stop stomping his foot so energetically.  “General malaise and headaches” will have to be imagined individually by each reader.  And gasoline at thirty cents a gallon . . . .

Who cares that Newhouse couldn’t spell RHYTHM?  This piece of paper takes us behind the scenes . . .and is thus priceless, especially since none of the participants are living to tell their version of the story.

And because technology makes many surprising things possible, here is TEA FOR TWO recorded at that session:

Here’s a link to Leo Valdes’ analysis and transcription of Charlie’s solo:

http://home.roadrunner.com/~valdes/xTea%204%202.htm

And the thing in itself, a disc from Jerry Jerome’s collection: not Newhouse’s original Presto, but what I assume is a contemporaneous copy. 

Thank you, musicians, Jerry Newhouse, Columbia Records, and the enterprising (and generous) Chris Albertson.

THE ELLINGTON MOSAIC, 2011

This post is a being written on the Duke’s 112nd birthday, but in my mind every day we can hear his music is a kind of birthday.  

I confess I am not an Official Ellington Idolator: you won’t catch me, here or elsewhere, referring to him as “the Maestro.”  But for me, his music accomplishes so many things that no one else’s did.  It exists at the intersection of Sound and Stomp, or beautiful tone-paintings and gutbucket rhythms.

Oh, I hear you saying — all jazz does that in some way. 

True, but Ellington knew how to balance both of those qualities so that neither obliterated the other.  And in his world the relentless plunging rhythms (think of Sonny Greer’s drums, Ellington’s smashing chords on the piano) enhanced the cloudlike auras of sound he loved — that saxophone section.  Debussy meets Sidney Catlett, both of them happy uptown.  And oone of the delights of his Thirties recordings is to hear him experimenting with the textures and timbres of “sweet music” mingled with distinctly vernacular sounds and rhythms. 

The apex of Ellington’s art — depending on which ideologist you choose — is commonly held to be the Victor period, specifically those two years when Ben Webster and Jimmie Blanton were illuminating the band — in the recording studio, at a dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, and more.  I think the music captured during that period is irreplaceable and unimprovable: MAIN STEM, the airshots, the pure sound and pulse of that band.  Across town, Basie and Lester and Buck, Walter, Herschel, and Jo, were accomplishing something of equal beauty and force, but Ellington’s Victors are something else!*

But the critical emphasis on those recordings has tended to flatten out the music that preceded that glorious period.  Until now, with the Mosaic set of the recordings for Brunswick, Master, and Columbia from 1932 to 1940, which I am listening to in astonishment and joy as I write these words.

A digression about Mosaic sets.  Some find them expensive, others are intimidated, and others say, “Gee, I have much of this music elsewhere.”  All these statements are valid reactions.  I felt differently about some of the sets that were objects I KNEW I had to have — the Buck Clayton Jam Session box, for instance, many years ago.

And I, like many collectors, thought all of the above — plus, “The sound on those cramped, stuffy Ellington Brunswicks was so irritating.”  This set transcends the limitations of the original 78s and the sound is bright (but never harsh) throughout; there is wonderful unfussy scholarship from Steven Lasker, and marvelous photographs.  There might be, perhaps, an Ellington collector who had managed to amass all of the 78s (including the alternate takes on Japanese Lucky), the Up-to-Date, Raretone, Blu-Disc, FDC microgroove issues . . . but who among us has been invited into George Avakian’s basement to hear and copy his previously unheard test pressings?

But the point of any Mosaic set is not, I submit, the six or seven new tracks.  It is the wonderful totality — all neatly bound up with a figurative bow, rather like having the best scholarly edition of Shakespeare you can find, or the complete DVD set of the Astaire-Rogers films. 

I used to hear a radio commercial for some very expensive watch, where the oleaginous announcer would intone, “You don’t buy a [insert name here] for yourself, you merely keep it for the next generation.”  It irritated me no end, because I am perfectly happy with drugstore timepieces, but in the case of the Mosaic boxes I understand the principle perfectly.  I hope to live long enough to have heard all the music in this set forty or fifty times, to have indulged myself in the sound of the reeds on DROP ME OFF AT HARLEM, the sound of Tricky Sam Nanton on IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, the slow-motion TIGER RAG that is SLIPPERY HORN, every note that Ivie Anderson sang, the bright splash of Sonny Greer’s cymbals . . . too many delights to enumerate! 

Here’s the link.  And the set is limited to an edition of 5000 copies; mine is number 3099 . . . does that suggest something about TEMPUS FUGIT?  Or, “What are you waiting for, Mary?”

*For the people whose musical world is bounded by Blanton and Ben — the final session on this elaborate banquet of a box set has them both, along with Ivie, singing a meltingly sad SOLITUDE . . .