Tag Archives: Commodore Records

THE ODDS ARE ON OBJECTS

Brendan Gill told the story in his book HERE AT THE NEW YORKER of handing a Roman coin to his fellow writer William Maxwell, whose response I have taken as my title.  The objects I’m referring to are also round and ancient, with a different pedigree.

This most recent manifestation of The Quest began in June 2013 in a Novato, California antiques shop.  The Beloved had noted that they had 78s and even checked one to see — it was a Ray Noble Victor — that the pile might have some interest to me.

After assuming the traditional position — somewhere between all-fours and an unsteady squatting balance — I found this one, and walked away with it after offering the natives two dollars and eighteen cents for it:

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Ten days later, we visited the Goodwill in Petaluma, where I’d once found — magically — WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, thanks to Mr. Crosby and some collection of Hidden Powers (a story we treasure).

No such revelations awaited us, but on the floor were four cartons of 78s, most in paper sleeves — more than a few from a Berkeley record store — and some in brown paper albums.  Someone had admired or collected Bing, for two of the cartons held Deccas, from the sunburst 1937 LET’S CALL A HEART A HEART to the early-Fifties duet with son Gary, SAM’S SONG.

I went through them quickly, out of respect for Bing, but my attention was drawn by the scraps of someone’s record collection — the ones I collected for myself reached from the Twenties to the late Forties.  I bypassed any number of sweet bands — Tom Coakley for one — but went for many varieties of Hot and Sweet.  Each was ninety-nine cents plus tax.

The most recent, circa 1946, is a West Coast big band led by reedman Cates — including trumpeter Clyde Hurley:

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Going back nearly a quarter-century earlier, a label that makes collectors’ hearts race:

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January 1924, with Phil Napoleon, Miff Mole, Jimmy Lytell, Frank Signorelli, Tony Colucci or John Cali, Jack Roth.

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Aptly named — from 1940 — conducted and arranged by someone we admire, before he became Paul Weston.

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The way we feel about Miss Wiley.

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Another sweet star — asking a meteorological question.

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Miss Helen Rowland —  a singer memorable but not sufficiently well-known.

2013 104This record isn’t listed in Lord’s discography, but “Comedienne” suggests a certain amount of energy; having heard Miss Walker sing, I wouldn’t expect her to “get hot,” but she’s never a disappointment.

2013 102The other side of this disc appeared first to my eyes: I GOT RHYTHM by the Bud Freeman Trio, with Jess Stacy and George Wettling.  I find it nearly impossible to pass up a Commodore 78 — holy relics of devotion to the Hot Grail! — but this one comes with its own story.

I couldn’t find out anything about William H. Procter, but I do not doubt that he was a swing fan in the late Thirties and mid-Forties.  The two brown paper albums of 78s — mostly Goodman — all had his stickers on the label.  And it took me back to a time before my birth when a proud swing fan would have bought those stickers as a point of pride: “These are my records!” so that when he brought a new group of precious acquisitions to a friend’s house for a listening party, there was never any discussion that his new Bluebird or Blue Note was his.

Where is William H. Procter now?  I hope he is with us — just having decided that he could have the music of his elated youth on his iPod rather than those bulky black discs.  I send him gratitude for his good taste.

And let us consider — at our collective leisure — that these apparently fragile objects (and others) prove to be so durable that they may outlive their first owners.  The Beloved, who is wise, says, “Human beings cannot be stored in closets and attics, which is what happens to records.”

May your happiness increase!

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FACING “MYRIAD SONIC WORLDS,” THE POET CONSIDERS AN UNSOLICITED EMAIL SENT BY A MUSIC PUBLICIST

THE PRELUDE:

Bring me my Basie alternate takes;

Bring me my Commodores of desire:

Bring me my Cornet: O clouds unfold!

Bring me Lips Page soaring higher!

 

I will not cease from Celebrating Swing,

Nor shall my Blog sleep or my Stats:

Till we have built Fifty-Second Street,

God bless Tom Waller (Fats).

(after William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time,” much after)

This burst of friendly parody — or is it four-to-the-bar doggerel? — is the result of reading another mass email sent to JAZZ LIVES from a music publicist, which I excerpt below, with details omitted to take it out of the realm of personal abuse:

HOOBOY is the solo project of 23-year old – – – – -, an artist who builds on frenzied electronic tensions with a futuristic take on psychedelic electronic and sampling.  With a highly anticipated debut record, HOOBOY has released a new single, showcasing his expert manipulation and interest in translating the surreal into music.  The music site Yeehaw, notes how the song “starts at a peak, deconstructs itself and builds vertically from there on, finding intriguing ways to explore the tension between pop formality, the orderly nature of computer programming, and the wild artistic impulses that are currently pulsing.”   Another music site, Yesma’am, writes “It’s frenetic, phantasmagoric pop, and it’s often brilliant…- – – – – is lost in the myriad sonic worlds he meticulously crafts throughout this sublime album.”

You get the picture.  Asked to choose between the sound of Dave Tough’s drums in the opening choruses of TAPPIN’ THE COMMODORE TILL and music that evokes “the orderly nature of computer programming,” it’s a hard choice.  I’d have to struggle for many nanoseconds to figure it out.  I might have to ask my friend Stompy Jones for help.

It’s enough to make me want to delete every piece of email unread that comes in without being addressed to “Dear Michael” or “Dear Mr. Steinman.”  Music publicists and other cyber-soliciters, take a note from the South: know your audience and address people by name.

And for me, I’m going to translate the surreal into music by getting up from the computer and taking a walk with the Beloved.

May your happiness increase. 

“A LOST JAZZ TREASURE”: TURK MURPHY’S SAN FRANCISCO JAZZ BAND / LIVE 1973

A child of the East Coast, I didn’t grow up listening to Turk Murphy — and I retained a New Yorker’s mild disdain for “that style” because the sounds that first made their way into my heart were more Commodore and Teddy Wilson, more Basie and Hackett.

But on my most recent California stay, I bought a copy of the Columbia NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE (with trumpeter Birch Smith and the most exalted Don Ewell) and my disdain began to drop away.  Emboldened, I also acquired a “new” Turk Murphy CD — unissued live material from 1973 — which had the dual imprimatur of Leon Oakley and John Gill (whose notes are delightful).

The band had a powerful front line — Turk, Leon, and the magnificent Bob Helm — supported by Pete Clute, piano; Bill Carroll, tuba; Carl Lunsford, banjo on NEW ORLEANS STOMP / SEE SEE RIDER / DUSTY RAG / SILVER DOLLAR / SUGAR FOOT STRUT / KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES / BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME / TOM CAT BLUES / WOLVERINE BLUES / CHIMES BLUES / DOCTOR JAZZ / THE PEARLS / THE TORCH / NEW ORLEANS JOYS / TEXAS MOANER / WILLIE THE WEEPER / RAGGED BUT RIGHT / SIDEWALK BLUES / DIPPERMOUTH BLUES / BAY CITY.

Obviously the repertoire owes a good deal to Oliver and Morton, but the overall effect is what I think of as mid-Twenties Chicago, with Leon’s powerful attack being matched by Helm’s sinuous, graceful lines.  Turk’s trombone is reliably gutty, marking out the bottom.  And there are little subtleties: the way the horns support the tuba melody on SEE SEE RIDER; the prancing motion of DUSTY RAG, the easy romp of SUGAR FOOT STRUT.  The rhythm section on KANSAS CITY MAN BLUES has every note, every nuance in place.  Although the band charges into DOCTOR JAZZ (with the verse), the performances are varied in tempo and dynamics — this isn’t a band playing at the top of its range on every song.  All the strains and breaks in WOLVERINE BLUES, NEW ORLEANS JOYS, and THE PEARLS are beautifully in place, with not a hint of the museum around them.  And THE TORCH is a peerless piece of Americana.

For those who are wary of “unissued” “live” recordings, the sound on this one is first-rate — recorded close to the band with all six instruments nicely balanced, not drowned out by audience enthusiasm — and it’s a generous seventy-two minutes.

To purchase this CD (MMRC-CD-48) contact the Merry Makers Record Company at their toll-free number, 1-866-563-4433, or click here.

May your happiness increase.

MASTERS OF SOUND, 1943

On the surface, the two performances that follow are very simple, possibly hackneyed: a fast blues with a boogie-woogie underpinning and some Basie riffs at the end, followed by a slow blues.

But for those willing to listen deeply, these two familiar recordings are astonishing evidence of the vocalized sounds the great instrumental masters obtained through wood, metal, animal skins and taut strings.  The players worked for Barney Josephson at his Cafe Society Downtown and Uptown in 1943, and recorded these 12″78 sides for Milt Gabler of Commodore Records.  The label credits the Edmond Hall Sextet: Edmond Hall (clarinet), Emmett Berry (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), Eddie Heywood (piano), Billy Taylor (double bass) and Big Sid Catlett (drums)

DOWNTOWN CAFE BOOGIE and UPTOWN CAFE BLUES are marvelous syntheses of the music of this century — and they seem vivid in ours as well.  In these performances, I hear country blues figures older than records, and Bessie Smith and the singers of the Twenties.  I hear Louis Armstrong and Hot Lips Page, the Sunset Cafe and the Reno Club, the piano figures of Cow Cow Davenport and sleek intensity of Charlie Christian.  And more.  Marvel!

May your happiness increase.

POST-GRADUATE SWING SCHOOL at THE EAR INN (Dec. 11, 2011)

The students were arranged in a neat row at the bar (and a few sat at tables); the Visiting Professors began the seminar.

We weren’t taking notes, but we were learning a great deal last Sunday night, Dec. 11, 2011, at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

The EarRegulars that night were Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Jon Burr, string bass; Harry Allen, tenor sax; and sitting in for the Official Christmas Song, Michael Blake; tenor sax.

What did we learn?  A great deal about love for melody and respectful although playful melodic embellishments.  We filled our mental notebooks with observations on the state of twenty-first century Swingmatism, and Einstein’s Law of Time as it applies to the elasticticity of the beat.  We observed the sweet variations of Medium Tempo, and once again had an opportunity to revisit the philosophy of Oran Thaddeus Page, who uttered the timeless words, “The material is immaterial,” as well as his observations on the necessity of having his livelihood remain serene.

I wish all the Jazz History students in the known world could attend these seminars at The Ear Inn, and the people currently squabbling in the blogosphere about what to call this music (How about “Music”?) and who owns it . . . could study what we studied.

Of course, I have provided an online study guide below.

Very few bands play WHAT’S THE USE?; very few players know it, and it got a divine performance from the EarRegulars.  I think it was originally a rather sad love ballad written by Isham Jones; I first heard it on a red-label Commodore 78 that featured Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, and Eddie Condon.  Here is it, reimagined for us:

That Irving Berlin fellow wrote mighty good tunes — no postmodern irony, no hip posturing.  He celebrates love and faithfulness — as do the EarRegulars, as a nice rocking tempo, with ALWAYS:

More Berlin!  Shades of Louis and the Mills Brothers, of Ruby Braff, early and late, inhabit MY WALKING STICK:

Michael Blake (tenor sax on the right) joined in for another Berlin classic — a song ennobled by Bing, Louis, and Connee: WHITE CHRISTMAS:

Someday we will speak nostalgically of the great Sunday evenings at The Ear Inn!  I hope they go on and on: there is no need to graduate from the University holding classes at 326 Spring Street.

This post is affectionately dedicated to Ace Irwin, formerly an aerospace engineer, a theatrical set designer, and artist who is enjoying the sounds with all his heart in Mendocino, California.  He loves to listen to the EarRegulars and is someone who understands the various scenes at The Ear Inn, although he’s never been there.  It’s an honor to send this music across the continent to him!  I’ve never met Ace, but knowing that he is on the other end of the cyber-pipeline warms my heart.  (How do I know about him?  His daughter is one of my warm-hearted Ear Inn pals, and she speaks of her father with affection and gratitude.  Good deal!)

I keep JAZZ LIVES going for all the people I might never meet, the lovely men and women who might or might not ever get to New York City or the California festivals that have been so festive.  This blog is for the Beloved (of course), for Aunt Ida and Boris, Eric and Noya, Bill and Melissa, Ricky and Clint, Hal and James Arden . . . the list could be very long.  You, you, and especially you!

CELEBRATING EDDIE CONDON’S BIRTHDAY

Eddie Condon left us in 1973, but the musical cosmos he created lives on in 2011 and beyond.  It’s not difficult to imagine his approving shade at Whitley Bay, at The Ear Inn, at Jazz at Chautauqua — when gifted men and women get together to worship at the shrine of Hot Jazz, of graceful melodic improvisation, of swinging solos and ensemble.  And today would have been his birthday.  But any day is a good one to remember Eddie, as a prophet and advocate of beautiful energetic collective improvisations. 

I’ve chosen to honor him through music rather than on film.  Here are three examples of what he did so well.  The first is the opening segment from a 1944 Condon concert, as broadcast on the radio and to the troops.  You’ll hear Bobby Hackett, Pee Wee Russell, Benny Morton, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Sid Weiss, and Gene Krupa:

And just because Eddie and the boys (in this case, Max Kaminsky, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee, Joe Sullivan, Al Morgan, Eddie, and George Wettling) found the twelve-bar blues a real source of inspiration, here are two of the life-enhancing Commodore 12″ 78s in honor of John Steinbeck — Tortilla B Flat:

and More Tortilla B Flat:

Thanks to Hal Smith — who knows the spirit of Condon well! — for the timely reminder.

TOO GOOD TO IGNORE: CONDON’S WEST: HAL SMITH and FRIENDS at SACRAMENTO (May 29, 2011)

I published this post slightly more than five years ago, and the music remains so delightful that I thought it would be a sin not to offer it to the eager public once again.

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My title isn’t hyperbole.  For when the band hit the first four bars of LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, I felt as if I had been time-and-space transported to the original Eddie Condon’s on West Third Street . . . even though I’d never been to the actual club.

This was the penultimate set I saw and recorded at the 2011 Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, and it was one of the high points.  I had been enjoying Hal Smith’s International Sextet through the Memorial Day weekend, but this version hit not one but many high notes.  The regulars were there in splendid form: Hal on drums, Katie Cavera on guitar and vocals; Anita Thomas on clarinet, alto, and vocals; Kim Cusack on clarinet, tenor, and vocals.  But Clint Baker had shifted from string bass to trombone (sounding incredibly like a gutty evocation of Sandy Williams and Jimmy Harrison, taking tremendous chances throughout), and Austin, Texas, native Ryan Gould played bass.  And — as a special treat — Bria Skonberg joined in on trumpet and vocal.

Here’s what happened.

Hal called LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER (always a pleasant thought), surely inspired by the memory of that famous Commodore session in 1938 with Pee Wee, Bobby, Brunis, Bud, Stacy, Condon, Shapiro, and Wettling: the 2011 band had a similar instrumentation and the same drive:

How about something rocking and multi-lingual for the charming Ms. Skonberg to sing and play — like BEI MIR BIS DU SCHOEN:

Something for our canine friends?  LOW DOWN DOG, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, is reminiscent of both Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson — a neat trick!

The next selection — deliciously low-down — poses a philosophical question.  When Katie Cavera sings and plays about SISTER KATE, is it meta-jazz, or M.C. Escher in swingtime?  Puzzle me that.  Anyway, it’s a wonderful performance complete with the tell-it-all verse:

Then a jazz gift from Hal and the band — a POSTCARD TO AUNT IDA, celebrating one of the warmest people we will ever know, Ida Melrose Shoufler of Farmer City, Illinois, the surviving child of Chicago piano legend Frank Melrose, a pianist, singer, and deep-down jazz fan herself — here’s Kim Cusack to tell us all that THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE.  Today!

Anita told us all how everything would be make-believe if love didn’t work, in IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON:

Then, some hi-jinks.  Jazz and comedy have always gone together, even if Gunther Schuller sneered at “showmanship,” and what follows is hilarious impromptu choreography.  I don’t know which of the happily high-spirited players noticed that this was a two-camera setup (independently, Rae Ann Berry on the band’s right, myself on their left) and said, “Do something for the camera.  So you have Clint exuberantly singing DINAH while the rest of the band plays the most musical of musical chairs:

I’d like to see that video get international exposure: could we start the first (and last) JAZZ LIVES chain letter, where readers send this clip of DINAH to their friends?  The world needs more joy . . .

Finally, Bria sang and played her own version of LULU’S BACK IN TOWN to close off this exultantly satisfying performance:

It was a big auditorium, with advertisements for a Premier Active Adult Community behind the band, but it looked and sounded like the original Eddie Condon’s to me. . . .