Tag Archives: Commodore Records

UP IN THE CLOUDS (Part One): The JONATHAN DOYLE SWINGTET at THE REDWOOD COAST MUSIC FESTIVAL: JONATHAN DOYLE, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CHARLIE HALLORAN, KRIS TOKARSKI, JAMEY CUMMINS, STEVE PIKAL, HAL SMITH (May 11, 2019)

Jonathan Doyle, 2015

 

It’s lovely to have heroes, and the man in the photograph is one of mine.  The only problem with the photograph is that it’s a still picture, and he is rarely still, but the videos below will remedy that.

When I was fortunate enough to chat with clarinetist Frank Chace on the telephone (now more than twenty years ago), he remembered that he and Marty Grosz had listened, rapt, over and over, to Pee Wee Russell’s solo on SWEET SUE with the Muggsy Spanier Ragtimers on Commodore. Marty’s comment was, “Well, if that doesn’t scrape the clouds . . . !” which is as good a summation of what artistic bliss feels like.

Those words kept coming back to me all through my weekend immersion in joy at the Redwood Coast Music Festival: I listened, quite amazed, at the wonderful music I was privileged to hear.  I’m still in a state of blissful amazement: feelings shared by those around me.

One of the reasons for this unearthly happiness has to do with reedman / composer / arranger / imaginative-phenomenon Jonathan Doyle, a rare source of  renewable energy in our time. Here ‘s where you can find him on Facebook as well.  Spiritual electricities course through him without harming him or us, and they come out as the most beautiful surprising patterns of notes, tones, and rests.  He never coasts; he never parodies anyone or himself.

Jonathan was a stimulating presence all through the weekend: with Charlie Halloran’s Calypsonians, leading several sets of his own and with Jacob Zimmerman (one a Walter Donaldson tribute with Doyle on bass sax), as lead horn in Hal Smith’s Swing Central, with the extravagant Western Swing Party co-led by Hal and Dave Stuckey.  (He was also one-third of the double tribute to composer-players Gordon Au and Josh Collazo, but by that time I had collapsed as if I’d been made of damp cardboard.  I’ll do better next year, I hope.)

Here are four uplifting performances from the first set of Jonathan’s Swingtet, a glorious affair consisting of Doyle, Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Kris Tokarski, piano; Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Hal Smith, drums.

BLUE DRAG (a nod to 1934 Django):

CHICAGO (he’ll show you around!):

THE FED HOP (Jonathan’s irresistible original):

DICKIE’S DREAM (Basie 1939, anyone?  Because of sudden battery demise, I lost the first ensemble chorus and Charlie Halloran’s delicious solo, but what remains is very satisfying):

When you’re through admiring the solo work and the overall joyous bounce of these four performances, I urge you to listen again to Jonathan’s arrangements, their sweet surprises, their dynamics and voicings.  He’s not just a great player and composer: he’s a wonderful orchestral visionary who makes his dreams and ours come true in swing.

More to come from my hero JD and his friends.

May your happiness increase! 

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“SHE YELLED WITH DELIGHT”: DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG at FRESNO: DAVE STUCKEY, MARC CAPARONE, NATE KETNER, RILEY BAKER, DAVID AUS, SAM ROCHA, GARETH PRICE (February 9, 2019)

The Twenties marked an explosion of female freedom that would blossom in our time, with political empowerment and social power running parallel: the right to vote and the right to choose what you would wear.  I am sure that somewhere in that decade a singer was whimpering through SHE’S ONLY A BIRD IN A GILDED CAGE, and NOBODY’S SWEETHEART appears to — note I write “appears” — say that a young woman could lose her virtue in the big city, with a wink at the listener as if to say that scandal is more fun than conformity. But the songs below, which resurface as hot jazz classics in their own decade, say that the rewards of freedom and pleasure and hugely gratifying.  (I amused myself a few years ago here by writing about several of those songs — with a guest appearance by Thomas Hardy.)

By coincidence, the songs I am considering were given splendid performances by Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang at the 2019 “Sounds of Mardi Gras” in Fresno, California — on February 9.  The HHG was Dave, guitar and vocal; Gareth Price, drums; Sam Rocha, string bass; David Aus (subbing for Carl Sonny Leyland), piano; Nate Ketner, reeds; Marc Caparone, cornet — on LIZZIE, the delightful trombonist Riley Baker joins in the fun.

Let’s begin with Bessie, from 1929 — not Smith, but a young woman with no last name who is completely enjoying herself.  I’ve always wondered if Bessie’s yelling with delight celebrates the female orgasm.  And although the lyrics suggest a faux-pity about Bessie, who “couldn’t help it,” as if she could be an entry in Krafft-Ebing, we are meant to cheer her on:

Then there’s Lizzie, who is dancing all over town with such wild abandon that she shakes the pots and pans in what we must assume is a more sedate lady’s kitchen.  Ah, flaming youth!  (Or, as Dave exhorts the band, “Come on, cats!”).  I also note the repeated reference to what I know as “Oh, they don’t wear pants / in the southern part of France,” which suggests that Lizzie’s dance is close to the hootchy-kootchy:

These songs have wonderful jazz pedigrees, should you want to listen to other versions: Louis and Hoagy and Marty Grosz for BESSIE; “Irving Mills” and then Eddie Condon for LIZZIE.

Hot jazz, social emancipation, wild dancing, orgasms.  Fine with me.  And I write with untrammeled pride that I think this is the only jazz blog where Krafft-Ebing and Louis have equal time.

May your happiness increase!

SOUNDS LIKE MUSIC! CLINT BAKER’S GOLDEN GATE SWING BAND (plus Dancers): MAY 26, 2018: CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, BILL REINHART, KATIE CAVERA, RILEY BAKER, PAUL COSENTINO, MARC CAPARONE, CLINT BAKER

I perceive this world as a place where authenticity must battle with fakery all the time — sushi is sometimes shoved aside for plastic food.  So when a dining companion asks me how I like my dinner, I might say, “Tastes like food!” which few understand as sincere appreciation of genuineness.  That expression works equally well for me in what I hear in improvised performance.

This morning, I checked YouTube and found videos — thanks to RaeAnn Hopkins Berry — of Clint Baker’s Golden Gate Swing Band at the Bootleggers’ Jamboree Weekend (I put the apostrophe there whether they like it or not) on May 26th.  The band is Clint, trombone; Marc Caparone, trumpet; Paul Cosentino, reeds; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Bill Reinhart, guitar [whose name I misspelled in my first, pre-coffee, version]; Katie Cavera, string bass; Riley Baker, drums.

I started with JIVE AT FIVE, and was content.  Knowing that such music is possible — inspired by Basie but not copying the Decca 78 — is consoling:

and ROSETTA, at one of many good tempos:

Leaving Jabbo Smith out would be neither wise nor gracious, so here is Clint’s ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY:

and the song Pee Wee Russell would title THREE LITTLE BIRDS (with a Commodore ancestry):

RaeAnn shot twenty-four videos of this fine band (including vocals by Dawn Lambeth and Jessica King) — which I will leave to your investigation (also so that you can subscribe to her YouTube channel) — but those should make you feel delight in the presence of the Real.

May your happiness increase!

“Signed in person from original owner, 100% authentic and lifetime guarantee. Original with Lewis Allen composer credit, Sonny White is the pianist, Commodore first edition 10″ shellac 78 rpm V/V+ condition.”

Something new and old and rare and fragile and lasting and irreplaceable.  And fifteen thousand dollars (15,000.00 USD, as they say).  This is the link.

And the label of the precious object:

And the music:

Check the jar in the kitchen where you toss the quarters.  Who knows what’s added up there?

But I wonder what Billie would say of this offering.

May your happiness increase!

DISMISSED, DERIDED, DELICIOUS: THE VARSITY SEVEN: 1939 and 1940

If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors.  In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.

The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve.  Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.”  I disagree.

The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open.  I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings.  I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex.  Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.

Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there.  I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY.  I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz.  Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers.  Here’s the information for the first session.

Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal.  New York, December 14, 1939.

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal).  The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless.  Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her.  Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!”  My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:

EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal).  Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases.  (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.)  Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal.  Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do.  One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:

SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago.  I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME.  I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect.  Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral.  Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords.  No complaints here:

SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal).  Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section.  I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:

Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.

And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES.  In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work.  Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements.  It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return.  At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted.  A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent.  This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize.  If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it.  Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record.  If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:

A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure.  I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows!  Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio.  Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies.  A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close.  This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:

And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge.  Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed.  Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle.  Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer?  I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:

These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take.  But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale.  All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.

May your happiness increase!

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, 1944

A simple song about a universal, deep desire — by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar.  The melody is very unadorned, as are the lyrics: qualities that would make it memorable to a large popular audience and also great material for jazz improvisers.  It was recorded frequently when it was a new pop song, then given new life by Benny Goodman, his orchestra, and other Swing Era bands.

In my time, I’ve seen leaders call I WANT TO BE HAPPY when they want a trustworthy up-tempo song, often to close a set.  I remember Wild Bill Davison announcing the title and then leering at the audience, “Don’t we ALL?”  Kenny Davern, more an intellectual comedian, would conjugate the statement in a half-Yiddish inflection, “I vant to be happy, he vants to be happy . . . ” and then trail off amidst the audience’s laughter.

Here is a particularly memorable 1944 version, showing that a good melody has its own immortality, especially when explored by brilliant improvisers who never lose sight of the melody’s validity: the Commodore Records classic (from a long session with many alternate takes) featuring Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Arthur Trappier (July 20).  It is easy to take this superficially as a version of a Goodman small group because of the uplifting presence of Wilson, but Hall and Wilson had been working together at Cafe Society for some time.

The YouTube presenter has gotten the date wrong and provides no data; instead there is a constant flow of often irrelevant photographs, but the music is what matters.

And what music!  It’s really a simple recording — a worked-out introduction, a chorus for Hall, one for the rhythm section, another for Hall (low-register with the bridge for bassist Taylor) one for the rhythm section with the bridge for Trappier on brushes, then a quartet improvisation, everyone more intense but hardly louder, ending with no dramatics.  I marvel at Edmond’s tone in all his registers, his easy facility that is allied to great quiet intensity; the depth of Wilson’s harmonic inventions that are always moving — he never puts a foot wrong but nothing seems worked-out — and the solid sweet push of Taylor and Trappier.

It’s a remarkable recording because it never tugs at the listener’s sleeve to say LOOK HOW REMARKABLE WE ARE.  (However, if one hears it through a fog of multi-tasking, it might become background music — what we used to call “elevator music,” which would be a shame.)

This was the peak of a particular style (still practiced beautifully today): swinging melodic inventiveness in solo and ensemble.  There really is no way that a listener could improve on this group effort, and I whimsically theorize that Bird and Dizzy went their own ways because this style, these individualistic players, had so polished this kind of jazz that there was no way to better it without breaking out of it.

We still want to be happy, and music like this points the way, if only we take the time to immerse ourselves in it.

May your happiness increase!

“RARE WILD BILL”: WILD BILL DAVISON 1925-1960

rare-wild-bill

Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of this set, having heard the late cornetist — in person and on record — repeat himself note-for-note, the only questions being whether a) he was in good form and thus looser, and b) whether the surrounding musicians provided some extra energy and inspiration.  However, this 2-disc set, released in 2015, is fascinating and comprehensive . . . even if you were to find William a limited pleasure.  The Amazon link — which has a title listing — is here.

The set covers Bill’s work from 1925 to 1960, and I would bet a mint copy of THAT’S A PLENTY (Commodore 12″) that only the most fervent Davison collectors would have heard — much less owned — more than twenty percent of the 52 tracks here.  Thanks for the material are due Daniel Simms, who is undoubtedly the greatest WBD collector on this or any other planet.  (And some tracks that I’ve heard and known for years in dim cassette copies are sharp and clear here.)

A brief tour.  The set begins with three 1925 Gennett sides where Bill is a member of the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra of Cincinnati.  He’s much more in the open on three 1928 Brunswick sides by the Benny Meroff Orchestra, SMILING SKIES being the most famous.  On the Meroff sides, although Bill was at one point billed as “The White Armstrong,” I hear him on his own path . . . at times sounding much more like Jack Purvis, exuberant and rough, rather than Louis.

We jump forward to 1941 — Bill sounding perfectly like himself — and the two rare “Collector’s Item Cats” sides featuring the deliciously elliptical Boyce Brown on alto, and eight acetates from Milwaukee — where Bill plays mellophone as well as cornet, offering a sweet melody statement on GOIN’ HOME before playing hot.  Two Western Swing sides for Decca, featuring “Denver Darling” on vocals and “Wild Bill Davison and his Range Riders,” from 1946, follow — here I see the fine sly hand of Milt Gabler at work, getting one of “the guys” another gig.

A live recording from Eddie Condon’s club — with Brad Gowans, Tony Parenti, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling — is a rare treat, and with the exception of the “American Music Festival” broadcast from 1948 on WNYC, much of the second disc finds Bill and Eddie together, with Pee Wee Russell, Lord Buckley, Walter Page, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Buzzy Drootin and other heroes, both from the fabled Condon Floor Show and even Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, covering 1948-1953, with a lovely ballad medley on the last set. One track, KISS ME, a hit for singer Claire Hogan, has her delivering the rather obvious lyrics, but with some quite suggestive yet wholly instrumental commentary from Bill which suggests that more than a chaste peck on the cheek is the subject.  Incidentally, Condon’s guitar is well-recorded and rich-sounding throughout these selections.

A basement session (St. Louis, 1955) provides wonderfully fanciful music: Bill, John Field, Walt Gifford, improvising over piano rolls by Zez Confrey, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  These four t racks — beautifully balanced — offer some gently melodic improvisations from Bill as well as nicely recorded bass and drums. Also from St. Louis, six performances by a “Pick-Up Band” with standard instrumentation, including Herb Ward, Joe Barufaldi, and Danny Alvin (the last in splendid form).  Four unissued tracks where Bill, George Van Eps, Stan Wrightsman, Morty Corb, and Nick Fatool (the West Coast equivalent of Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson) join Bill in backing the otherwise unknown singer Connie Parsons; and the set ends with three tracks from a 1960 session where Bill shares the front line with the astonishing Abe Lincoln (who takes a rare vocal on MAIN STREET) and Matty Matlock.

The level of this set is much higher than what most have come to expect from a collection of rarities — in performance and in audio quality.  It isn’t a typical “best of” collection, repeating the classic performances well-known to us; rather, it shows Bill off at his best in a variety of contexts.  Thus, it’s the kind of set one could happily play all the way through without finding it constricting or tedious. I recommend it highly.

May your happiness increase!