Tag Archives: Commodore Music Shop

“YOU HAD TO WORK FOR YOUR MUSIC”: DAN MORGENSTERN on RECORD-COLLECTING (April 21, 2017)

More delightful memories and stories from Dan Morgenstern.  I’d asked him, “What was it like to buy records in the Forties?” — a scene that few people reading this post have experienced.

First-hand narrative: there’s nothing to compare with it.

Here’s another part of the story of Big Joe Clauberg, as excerpted from Amanda Petrusich’s excellent book, DO NOT SELL AT ANY PRICE.

I took my title for this post from Dan’s recollections of his first phonograph, a wind-up acoustic one, but it has larger meaning for me.

There is still something wondrous about going in to a shop that happens to have a pile of records — an antique store or something else — getting one’s hands dirty, going through a pile of mail-order classical records, red-label Columbias of Dorothy Shay, incomplete sets, and the like — to find a 1938 Brunswick Ellington, Teddy Wilson, or Red Norvo.

Later, the pleasure of going in to an actual record store and looking through the bins — name your dozen favorite artists — and finding something that you didn’t know existed — in my case, recordings of the Eddie Condon Floor Show on Queen-Disc.  More recently, the same experience with compact discs at now vanished chain record stores.

All gone.  The alternative?  Stream forty hours of your cherished jive through one of the services that doesn’t pay the musicians.  Oh, there are happy exceptions: the Blessed Mosaic Records.  But nothing replaces finding treasure on your own.

And, in case the thought hasn’t yet occurred to you, Dan Morgenstern is one of those treasures.

Here’s one of the sides from Dan’s birthday present:

May your happiness increase!

LEON “CHU” BERRY (1908-1941)

A holy artifact from the Larry Rafferty Collection:

CHU BERRY REED

I can’t write the dialogue here, “Mister Berry, could I have one of your used reeds and could you autograph it for me?” but it obviously happened and it feels sacred to those of us who understand the power of Chu.

Because he has been gone nearly seventy-five years (victim of an automobile accident in 1941) Chu has been eclipsed.  But Charlie Parker named his firstborn son Leon in Chu’s honor, and Sonny Rollins has told young musicians asking for advice on tenor players, “Listen to Chu Berry!”

We can still do that: SITTIN’ IN, recorded for the Commodore Music Shop in November 1938, with Chu, his friend Roy Eldridge,trumpet; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums.  It’s based on a strain from TIGER RAG and — although very brief — allows us to hear Chu’s speaking voice as well as his energetic tenor style:

To think of his early death is so sad. Yet he left us so much, if we can only hear it.

May your happiness increase!

A JAZZ SHRINE, DEEPLY MISSED, FONDLY REMEMBERED

By the time I had become deeply involved in the world Eddie Condon and Milt Gabler had created for all time, it was in some ways too late.

I was able to see Eddie in person three times in 1972, but when I bought my remaindered copy of EDDIE CONDON’S WORLD OF JAZZ (in 1967) the Commodore Music Shop had already been replaced by some anonymous urban architecture.

So I am very grateful that the Hagley Library has posted photographs by Victor DePalma in its exhibition.  You’d hardly expect that “100 Years of Picturing the Nation’s Business: Photographs from the Collection of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America” would be so stirring, but what a delightful surprise.  DePalma’s photographs were first seen in a 1950 article in NATION’S BUSINESS (the magazine of the Chamber of Commerce) on, of all things, record collectors.

Here is the link.

And two of the photos — there are five on the site, so please do visit.

Were it there today, I would feel a deep urge to go in there and bow.  Reverently.  It’s not just the “records” — it’s the love of the music made tangible through the faith and enthusiasm of Milt and Eddie and their friends and families.

I think I have written more than once that I am a serious Commodorian (although raised as a secular Jew) . . . on my cork bulletin board at work, in fading green sleeves, I have JADA and TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL.  (When all seems dark, I gaze at those labels.)

This one’s for Maggie and Liza and all the men and women who make Commodore-flavored music to lift our spirits.

May your happiness increase.

ONE LAST FOUR-BAR BREAK: A WORKSHOP and A WEEKEND (Sept. 16-20 / 20-23, 2012)

In case you’re an amateur or proficient jazz musician or singer with leanings towards the classic repertoire and a desire to study with the Masters, don’t let this opportunity slip by.  A few days from now, the first Jazz at Chautauqua Traditional Jazz Workshop will begin . . .where musicians can study with Duke Heitger, Dan Barrett, Scott Robinson, Rossano Sportiello, Howard Alden, Kerry Lewis, Ricky Malichi, and Rebecca Kilgore.  Students get 30% off our Jazz Workshop and free lodging.  Here’s  a new video about the Workshop.  And after the Workshop concludes, the 15th annual Jazz at Chautauqua party begins.  For information on both events, click here.  These two events are rare birds — and they need the support of listeners young and older and musicians likewise.

I’ve just learned that Jazz at Chautauqua has extended a few scholarships to exceptional college music students and to a member of a great local organization, Infinity Visual and Performing Arts, Inc., which “creates and sustains an environment in which young people, based solely on their desire to participate, can grow, learn, and lead through participation in the visual and performing arts.”  (Visit them here.)

Many jazz fans and writers lament the aging, shrinking audience.  Instead of cursing the greyness, why not send your niece or nephew, your granddaughter who’s starting the string bass or your stepson who yearns to play trombone better . . . to the Workshop and the Weekend?  The young folks will thank you, and in the long run, so will the music.

(I am aware that to many readers this appeal might sound like a broken OKeh, and that many people — for reasons of distance, health, or finances — find any version of the above impossible.  I apologize to them.  But if one out of a hundred people who say, “Young people don’t come to jazz parties” did something about it, the median age — and health — would be changed remarkably.  Didn’t Eleanor Roosevelt say, “Better to enjoy SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE in person than to curse the fact that the Commodore Music Shop is closed“?  I might have the quotation a little wrong, but you get the idea.)

May your happiness increase.

DAN LEVINSON, CHRIS DAWSON, HAL SMITH, COREY GEMME, DAVID SAGER at SWEET AND HOT 2011

Call it what you like — “Chicago style,” “Fifty-Second Street,” “small-band swing.” Perhaps you’d prefer to name the heroic echoes heard — traces of Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Rowles, Jess Stacy, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Marty Marsala, Max Kaminsky, George Lugg, Vernon Brown . . . the list could continue. 

But I prefer to admire the music for itself.

This little band, an impromptu aggregation, has a wonderful nimbleness.  Although its repertoire, except for the 1937 SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN, predated Goodman at the Palomar, there was nothing archaic about their session of the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival (September 2, 2011).

The players:  Dan Levinson (clarinet, tenor sax); Chris Dawson (piano); Hal Smith (drums); Corey Gemme (cornet), and the Mystery Guest for the last two performances, trombonist David Sager.

SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN, for many of us, recalls the 1944 Commodore record by Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtimers.  Dan and friends took a lighter approach:

THEM THERE EYES was a hit record in 1930 and continues to be one of the tunes all the musicians in the world love to play:

CHERRY harks back to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers and the wonderful shouting yet polite vocalizing of George “Fathead” Thomas:

MY MONDAY DATE (or A MONDAY DATE) comes from Earl Hines, whose playful spirit imbued the proceedings:

SORRY owes its endurance in our memories to Bix Beiderbecke and Don Murray:

THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE brought on the agile David Sager:

And the set ended with the 1925 classic, DINAH:

“Excuse me, sir, can you direct me to the Commodore Music Shop?”

SO RARE: SAYING GOODBYE TO “CADENCE”

I think sometimes that becoming a complete human being requires immense daily practice in the art of saying goodbye. 

Our emails (and perhaps the morning paper) tell us all about the deaths of people we love and know, or perhaps have never met.  Jazz blogs like this one have to resist very strongly the urge to turn into the Daily Necrology. 

And we say goodbye to things and situations that are meaningful to us — and I don’t just mean the lost iPod or the very sweet person who used to work at the grocery store who has moved away. 

For the jazz devotee, loss is tangible all around us.  We awaken into this music with the sharp mournful awareness of the people we will never get to encounter in person.  My readers can compile their own list of names. 

Places, too.  Think of all the concerts we never got to, the clubs closed, the record stores now turned into banks and forgettable restaurants.  Nick’s, the Commodore Music Shop, Swing Street, 47 West Third . . . and so on.

The past few years have been especially hard on print journalism, not simply for jazz periodicals, although in my own experience CODA and THE MISSISSIPPI RAG have both ended fruitful existences; JAZZ JOURNAL died and was reborn. 

About a week ago I got an email from CADENCE, which opened (after a polite salutation): By now you have heard that Cadence will stop publishing at the end of this year unless other arrangements come forth. (Any of you want to be a publisher?)

I sidestepped the parenthetical question, but I read the announcement with sorrow and inevitability.  In this century, any periodical that publishes with a minimum of advertising and a commitment to candor is remarkable.  To do it for what will be thirty-six years at the end of 2011 (if my math is correct) is remarkable . . . and when you consider that the subject of CADENCE is and has been Creative Improvised Music, its continued stamina is an accomplishment to be celebrated at the same time we mourn the announced end of their epoch. 

I can’t speak for the world of, say, opera journalism or that of hip-hop.  But about jazz publishing I do know something. 

And because it is a particularly cloistered world, with a smaller (sometimes more intense) audience than many other arts, it has certain inescapable qualities, one of them often a certain slyness. 

In this world, candor is particularly rare: when the business end of a magazine must keep its advertising income up, the possibility of true assessments narrows. 

I have been told, explicitly, by two editors that writing negative reviews did jazz harm; their journals were there to encourage the music.  So if I wrote that the Great Neck Jalapeno Boys were out of tune, my words did jazz an injustice. 

I was younger and more eager for an outlet, so I subsumed my criticisms in my reviews . . . and, to be fair, I was being asked to write about music I liked, for the most part.  But I continue to see “reviews” (in quotations) and advertisements on adjacent pages in journals other than CADENCE

Which came first, the chicken-journalism or the egg-money for the ads?

CADENCE has been different.  I confess that my first experience with the magazine goes a long way back — the Eighties — when Tower Records carried it, and I would stand in their magazine racks and skim it, looking for the names of people I recognized.  My horizons were much narrower, and often I went away from my quick and selfishly unpaid-for reading thinking that it was full of discs by people I didn’t know and whose music I wouldn’t like if I did know.

That changed after I got a chance to write about some CDs that were more to my taste and after I spoke on the telephone to its editor, Bob Rusch (or RDR).  He was imposing on the phone, but we got along fine — he only needled me that I was slow in sending reviews. 

And as our friendship deepened, I had — and have — the deepest respect for him as a person of feeling and perception, someone willing to commit himself to an ideal.  The ideal had a hard time making money, and it would have been so much easier to be polite, take the ad money, make the deals.  But Bob and the Crew are stubborn: their stubbornness coming from ethics and a love for the music. 

When, at the end of 2011, CADENCE might call it quits, I will have writen for it for about six years.  They have been a rewarding experience.  I haven’t liked all of what I’ve been asked to review, but I have been exposed to music and musicians — deeply gratifying — I never would have encountered otherwise.  And Bob’s guidance has made me a better writer, a deeper thinker, a better listener.  Hilariously, he’s only chided me when he thought I was being slippery-tactful, and he’s never asked me to change a word, even if I disliked music he thought was fine. 

I gather that even after CADENCE ceases to publish as a print journal, its other enterprises — creating CDs by worthy artists who aren’t well-represented in the mainstream, and promoting top-flight audio products by way of North County Audio — will continue.  And there may be more, although I don’t know the details.

I will be very sad when it all comes to a close — no more cardboard boxes of surprises! — but I salute Bob and the Crew for their wonderful example of loving fortitude.  And if a publisher were willing to take over the magazine, I could certainly continue to do my bit . . . there is a small mound of CDs on the coffee table near me that I have to write about, now!

Hail, hail!

REMEMBER: ALL MONEY COLLECTED BELOW GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!  OH, CLICK THAT LINK!

 https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS

THE ELUSIVE MR. WILSON

teddy

Although I have tried to hear all the recordings Teddy Wilson ever made over more than half a century, the man himself was harder to find.  True, I did hear him in person several times at Newport Jazz Festival concerts in New York City, once at the Highlights in Jazz concert series, at The New School (alongside Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, and Eubie Blake!), and once at a shopping mall, Roosevelt Field, where, in the winter of 1971, he was one of four or so jazz performers who had hour-long gigs among the shoppers.  (I recall that one other group was Roy Eldridge, an organist whose name I can’t recall, and the recently departed Eddie Locke; another was Joe Farrell, Wilbur Little, and Elvin Jones.  My friend Stu Zimny was there, too, and might have driven the car as well.)  Wilson brought with him the veteran bassist Al Lucas and drummer Gary Mure, son of the guitarist Billy Mure — if I remember correctly.  In his perfformance, Wilson did what had, by that time, become an “act”: his Benny Goodman medley, his Gershwin medley, his Fats Waller medley, his Count Basie medley — glistening but routine.  

I was a terribly earnest jazz-mad college student; one of my most precious records was the 1956 PRES AND TEDDY, reuniting Lester Young, Teddy, Gene Ramey, and Jo Jones.  After the concert was over, I stood by the piano, waiting patiently until some of the fans and hand-shakers had dispersed (perhaps some of them were telling how much they remembered Teddy’s work with the Benny Goodman Trio in 1935).  I shyly came up to Wilson, told him how much I admired his work and how much I loved this recording and would he sign it for me (all in one breath), and he gave me the faintest hint of a polite smile, said, “Thank you very much,” signed his name neatly and handed the record back to me.  And that was it.  

The photograph at the top of the page — with Teddy, Lester, and Jo — comes from that session, I believe. 

In retrospect, Teddy’s reticence makes a good deal of sense.  Playing music for shoppers can’t have been good for the psyche: Wilson logically would want to have collected his fee and gone home.  And he was perfectly polite: I just had the sense that talking to fans was alien, that I had unwittingly attempted to breach his privacy, the door had opened a crack and had closed quickly and decisively. 

I was reminded of this experience today in my small expedition to the New York State Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. 

As someone whose fact-chasing predates the internet — I like doing research in libraries.  I’ve spent a good deal of my life in the stacks, or in Special Collections, or in handling one-of-a-kind documents (while protective librarians usually come up behind me and hiss that I am NOT to put my elbow on the page). 

Which brngs us back to Teddy Wilson.  Years ago, I found a 10″ lp on the Jolly roger label in a second-hand store (price four dollars) of his solo performances of songs I had never heard before — among them WHEN YOU AND I WERE YOUNG, MAGGIE — which I bought, clutching my treasure until the moment I could put it on the phonograph.  The solos were new to me, and they were splendid, including a version of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS which had a sweet little descending figure in the bass after the first statement of the title phrase. 

Eventually I learned that these 1938-39 performances were part of a business enterprise called THE TEDDY WILSON SCHOOL FOR PIANISTS.  I don’t think Wilson was terribly ambitious, but he was looking for ways to capitalize on the fame and recognition his work with Goodman and Holiday had brought him in the second half of the Thirties.  And someone (was it Wilson?) suggested that he could set up a correspondence course for the young men and women who wanted to play in the Wilson manner.  Leo Feist and other music publishers had tried to capitalize on this by selling music books of Waller, Tatum, James P., and other pianists’ transcribed solos — how accurate the transcriptions were is always open to dispute.  Wilson’s “school” was different in one crucial aspect: at the end of his Brunswick sessions, he would record one or two solos, which would be pressed as 78 records with the SCHOOL label and sold through the mail, as well as transcriptions of what had been played.  Theoretically, the student could follow along — hearing the record and reading the score — to know exactly what Wilson was doing. 

In his oral history, TEDDY WILSON TALKS JAZZ, Wilson recalled this about the experience (an excerpt I found at www.doctorjazz.co.uk., a thrilling site for anyone interested in piano jazz and jazz arcana of the highest order):

I have done quite a bit of private teaching in my life, too, and the young people I’ve had as pupils have always been between sixteen and twenty years of age. At one time I had my own school in New York, “The Teddy Wilson School for Pianists,” from 1936 to 1939, with three excellent partners, and we turned out some very good students. J. Lawrence Cook was my chief assistant there and he was great on the theoretical side of the jazz piano and shaped the printed courses we had, containing sheet music of my improvisations on popular melodies. They proved very successful in teaching by mail. However, I had to give it up in the end because costs just kept soaring. Advertising and copyright payments were heavy items, especially as the latter were always for very popular songs. The other partners in my school were Eve Ross and Teddy Cassola. Their contribution rounded out the work done by the [sic] Cook and me. My having to be away traveling and performing so much of time led some to believe I only “fronted” the school. Not so. I was completely involved. [TW 110-111]

I have never seen an original SCHOOL 78, although a vinyl issue on one of Jerry Valburn’s collectors’ labels — probably Meritt — collected all the issued and alternate takes from this series, and I have it — a prize!  And later the SCHOOL recordings were issued chronologically on the Classics and Neatwork CDs.  (The Commodore Music Shop was involved in this project as well, so I think that the music was first “officially” reissued on the first Mosaic Commodore box set.

But ever since I’ve had a computer, I’ve been checking Google for the scores themselves.  I am a sub-amateur pianist, but I harbor the hope that if I had a Wilson score in front of me, something placid, not TIGER RAG, then perhaps I could spend a winter working my way through thirty-two bars.  (I have the “Teddy Wilson” music books from the Thirties and Forties, but don’t trust them.)

Nothing emerged in cyberspace until a year or so ago, when I found that the Performing Arts Library (in the Lincoln Center complex) had an entry for the scores.  It seems that an American composer-pianist-arranger named Brainerd Kremer left his papers to the library, and in one of the boxes he had a set of the Wilson School scores. 

I filed this information away in the back of my mind until today, when I found myself with several hours of free time twenty blocks north of Lincoln Center, and set out, a brave researcher in search of the jazz Grail. 

The quest required a series of small perseverances on my part, taking me from one floor of the library to the other.  I hadn’t had a New York Public Library card for nearly fifteen years, so I had to reapply for one (simple and pleasant), had to log onto their system and find my way (reasonably simple), had to explain myself to the reference librarian (easy and quite pleasant) and then take my slip of paper to the third-floor Special Collections print department, hand it in, and wait for my number — 24 — to be displayed on the indicator above.  They were both busy and understaffed, so the ten minutes I had been told it would take turned out to be more like thirty-five, but then 24 was visible and I approached the desk.  The pleasant young woman had nothing in her hands but a piece of paper, always a bad sign, and she politely told me that they could not find what I was asking for, but that I should give them my name, phone, and email, and they would call me in a week if they found it. 

I hope they do, even if I have to buy a pad of music staff paper and start copying (for nothing so simple as photocopying happens without labyrinthine restrictions in most Special Collections) but I’m not optimistic.  Do any of my readers have a copy of the Wilson scores they wouldn’t mind lending me?  Or any good suggestions?  I need to learn how to play I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS as Teddy did.  I know this.  And I would hate to think that the elusive Mr. Wilson had eluded me after death in the library, too.