Sometimes, even for someone like me, enthralled by the computer, it’s worth checking the mail (aside from the usual deforesting) . . . when it’s something like this. Disregard the 1935 jingoism (were Americans being besieged from abroad by records made by foreigners?) and consider this lovely artifact:
I thought, when I saw this precious disc, that perhaps some JAZZ LIVES readers might not know it, might not have risen in hope and fallen in sorrow along with Connie, in her three-minute journey from exultant hope to rueful acceptance (all thanks to Sam Coslow, who didn’t need any collaborator on this song, Victor Young, and the only identified member of the orchestra, Larry Altpeter, trombone). The steps up are also the steps down, only more steep:
Connie is passionate, yet she never overacts: she doesn’t break up the line to impress us, to convey her authenticity. And the result is a deeply-felt soliloquy and a three-minute dance record, succeeding at both. If you haven’t, investigate Connie’s solo recordings from 1931 onwards. I mean no slight to Vet and Martha, but Connie can go right to your heart in four bars.
This is not a posting about August 4, 1901 as “Louis Armstrong’s real birthday”: let those who want to chew that crust have at it. However, I began my lifelong adoration of Louis not with WEST END BLUES or WEATHER BIRD, but with three long-playing records: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND GORDON JENKINS (1949-52 Decca sides on a 10″ lp), TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS (RCA Victor 12″) and, perhaps oddly, the soundtrack to THE FIVE PENNIES (Dot 12″). It took a long time for me to be excited by the Hot Five, but I was wooed completely by Louis’ romanticism: a few examples will open the door to a lifetime’s devout listening.
These are not the songs you associate with Louis: no 250 high C’s, just sweetness, an openness to passionate feeling. On the Jenkins sides below, I can’t be sure, but I would give Milt Gabler credit for placing unfamiliar beautiful songs in front of Jenkins and Louis — what wonders!
JEANNINE (I DREAM OF LILAC TIME):
IT’S ALL IN THE GAME:
LISTEN TO THE MOCKING BIRD:
and, in 1941:
and in 1936:
a 1935 film song (listen to the “Louis” accompaniment to his vocal, and catch his four emphatic perfectly timed quarter notes after his vocal, too):
and a song I only knew through Connee Boswell’s tender reading:
and a 1957 record (with backing by Russ Garcia) that my father brought home as a gift, and I treasure today. There should be ten or so songs on this playlist, and this recording is truly the work of a mature artist at his peak of feeling. I have read that this album was made after Louis and Garcia performed this repertoire live at the Hollywood Bowl, thus “under the stars.” Where were the television cameras then?
I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without the mystical appearance of Louis Armstrong in it, decades ago. And I don’t even want to try.
I don’t know what happens today if a young fan writes a letter to Lady Gaga, let us say, requesting a signed photograph or, better yet, asking a question. That rhetorical question in itself may mark me as hopelessly antique, since fans can find out everything online as it happens. But my guess is that the Lady doesn’t have time to send back handwritten personalized replies, and that is nothing against her. Even in the Swing Era, musical personalities had their secretaries or staff sign photos for fans. On my wall, for instance, is a lovely shot of Connee Boswell — her name signed in pen — but inscribed to the fan in a different hand, leading me to believe that Connee took a stack of a hundred photographs and signed her name on each one.
So what came up on eBay several days ago is remarkable. I can’t do much detective work, because the seller seems innocent about the trove, and perhaps (s)he has no other connection. Here’s the listing description:
This 1950’s collection of famous jazz musicians includes autograph letters, signed photographs and autographs. There is an autograph letter signed “Pops Foster” and a photograph signed “George Pops Foster.” There is an autograph note signed “Don Redman” and an 8 x 10 inch photo of Redman also signed. There is an autograph note signed “Meade “Lux” Lewis” There is an autograph note signed “Pete Johnson” and a letter by Pete Johnsons wife. There are two autograph letters signed “Alberta Hunter.” There is an autograph note signed “Buster Baily” and an autograph letter signed “Terry Spargo.” There is also a typed letter by Terry Spargo and a signed photograph. There are several autographs including “Moondog” “Israel Crosby” and a few others. All the letters, notes, photographs and autographs are in very good condition! NO RESERVE!
While you peruse and consider, here is a most appropriate musical soundtrack:
“Christopher,” whose last name may have been “Jameson,” seems to have been a young aspiring pianist and fan who wrote to his heroes, either asking a question and / or asking for an autographed photograph. We don’t have any of his inquiries, but they must have been polite and admiring, because he received gracious unhurried answers. And what strikes me is that in 1959 he wasn’t writing to Dizzy, Trane, or Mobley, but — for the most part — jazz pioneers. A few of the pages in his collection look like in-person autographs, but much is unknown and will probably remain so. But we have the most delightful evidence: paper ephemera of a kind not often seen. Here, without further ado:
POPS FOSTER gives his address twice, clearly pleased by this correspondence:
DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:
TONY SPARGO, handing off to Eddie “Daddy” Edwards:
More from TONY SPARGO:
PETE JOHNSON wasn’t up to much writing, but his wife was encouraging and Pete did send a nice autograph:
“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:
Are the signers (from Brunswick, Georgia) a vocal group I don’t recognize? I do see MOONDOG:
I don’t recognize the signatures on the first page, but below I see VERNEL FOURNIER, AHMAD JAMAL, and ISRAEL CROSBY:
BUSTER BAILEY signs in kindly and also mentions his new recording, perhaps the only long-playing record under his own name:
an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:
and an even more generous second chapter:
Christopher must have written extremely polite letters to have received such answers, but this selection of correspondence speaks to the generosity and good will of people who were actively performing, who took the time to take a young person seriously.
When the bidding closed, the collection sold for $660 a few minutes ago. So you can no longer possess these holy artifacts, but you can lose yourself in rapt contemplation of the images and the kind people who not only created the art we revere, but wrote to Chris.
I’ve been following and delighting in the work of Connee Boswell (and Vet and Martha too) since I first heard them on records more than forty years ago.
I found out about the fine singer Alex Pangman a little later through her two CDs with brass legends Dick Sudhalter and Jeff Healey: she’s lyrical, she swings, and she understands the lyrics.
Thus when friends told me about Alex’s performance of a new — unrecorded song written by Connee, I was even more delighted . . . and I can share the song and its story with you. Story first:
Unearthed Composition by Jazz Vocal Icon Connee Boswell To Be Released December 3rd 2019 by Songstress Alex Pangman on Justin Time Records.
Connee Boswell was an immensely influential singing star of the 1930s and 1940s, in the United States. Her joyful, innovative, highly popular records with The Boswell Sisters, and solo, brought joy to so many people during a very dark time in America’s history, selling 75 million records.
Boswell was both wildly popular and hugely influential on some of America’s greatest singing stars, including the Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby. Boswell famously inspired the young Ella Fitzgerald the night the fledgling singer stood on stage at the Apollo Theater talent contest and imitated Connee’s singing style, and launching the singing career of one of world’s most heralded and idolized vocalists.
This is why the discovery of a “new” and unpublished Connee Boswell song called “If I Don’t Mean It” is so important and exciting. She was an American treasure and an international star.
Enter Alex Pangman, the say-no-more quintessential jazz and swing artist Canada knows and adores. In a fortuitous connection with Connee’s grandniece, Kyla Titus, Pangman was gifted a previously unpublished song by Connee, on hand-written sheet music, along with a pair of the singer’s red stage gloves. To add to the excitement, compositions by the singer are a complete rarity.
“It was a ‘pinch-me’ moment to be holding the sheet music and singing this song, one that few had seen or sung, except for Boswell and those closest to her. I felt like I was holding buried treasure!”
Pangman is a JUNO nominated (Canada’s Grammy) old-school jazz/pop singer who has previously recorded with Bucky Pizzarelli, Jeff Healey, Dick Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, John Royen, Kevin Clark, and The New Orleans Cottonmouth Kings. She continues to make recordings strongly inspired by the 1930s despite having received two double lung transplants.
“Connee is one of my vocal idols, but also, I looked up to her because despite singing from a wheelchair, she was a huge star of radio, television and on film. An artist who persevered and created great music despite physical challenges is a huge symbol of heart and determination. Did I mention she swung the hell out of a song?!”
As to why Boswell is important, the answer is easy – she is one of the Mothers of modern jazz and pop singing. And now is a time when the world needs a new Boswell tune, if ever there was one! Sunny and bright, the tune will lift the corners of your mouth into a smile.
Pangman’s digital-only launch is set for December 3rd, which was Connee Boswell’s birthday. Listen to ‘If I Don’t Mean It’ here. A second single will follow in January 2020 of “I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart”, a song Connee Boswell sang so memorably.
And here’s Alex’s delightful performance of IF I DON’T MEAN IT, with Drew Jurecka, violin; Nathan Hiltz, guitar — recorded August 2019:
Connee continues to delight us. Thanks to Alex, Kyla, Drew, and Nathan. (Incidentally, this is a belated birthday salute to Connee: even obsessive bloggers like myself find that what’s called “real life” intrudes.)
There’s a wonderful tradition that began on records in the late Twenties: sweet and hot singing — female or male — backed by a small improvising combination. To some, it reached its apex with the series of recordings done by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson, but it continues on in this century, something I find reassuring.
Vocalion Records ceased production a long time ago, and the last time I was near a diner jukebox, it lacked Red McKenzie, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Putney Dandridge, Maxine Sullivan, Nan Wynn, Tempo King, Lee Wiley, Connee Boswell, or Dick Robertson, but our friend Dawn Lambeth embodies the tradition beautifully. As do her Rascals, an ad hoc group of friends who swing.
Here’s the second half of a performance by a lovely little jam band of friends at the 2019 Jazz Bash by the Bay: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Riley Baker, drums; Jeff Hamilton, piano; Ike Harris, string bass; Jerry Krahn, guitar; Jacob Zimmerman, alto; Clint Baker, trumpet. And here‘s the first part.
The very antidote to melancholy . . . with the verse, no less:
Now you know the truth — none of this New Orleans mythology. Jazz came here to Tiffin (south of Toledo) as the performance below shows.
The exultant event you will see and hear took place thirty years ago, in July 1989, and was recorded by Bob and Ruth Byler — before digital video, but the music roars through, sweet, hot, and expert. (Bob left us in April 2018 at 87; Ruth had died earlier.) While I was still hiding a cassette recorder in an airline bag, hoping to go undetected at concerts, Bob was capturing hours and hours of live music on video. Here is the 2016 post I wrote about Bob’s archive.
Banu Gibson and the New Orleans Hot Jazz Orchestra (properly titled) offer what I can only describe as a hustling lyricism — free-wheeling improvisations within carefully-worked-out routines, with a glorious sense of Show, even comedy (“Show ’em how it comes apart!”), as well as a marvelous intuitive synergy between the horns and the rhythm section. And Banu is so full of lovely energy that she never seems to stand still: her voice a caress a la Connee Boswell or a roof-raising shout, as the song dictates — full of power but also exquisitely controlled. Singers could learn so much from watching her perform, and the same is true for players.
This concert is a complete lesson in “how to put on a show,” and how to pace a program. Although the repertoire was far from new in 1989, not a note seems tired or formulaic (and the arrangements are both lovely and exceptionally well-played, often suggesting a 1936 swing band).
In case the players are not familiar to you (and how could this be?): Banu sings, plays guitar or banjo on the instrumentals; Charlie Fardella, cornet; David Sager, trombone, vocal on SOME OF THESE DAYS and MAKIN’ FRIENDS; Tom Fischer, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal on I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU; David Boeddinghaus, piano; James Singleton, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. They are perfectly splendid.
The songs are DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN / THE WANG WANG BLUES / MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (instrumental) / TIN ROOF BLUES / HELLO, LOLA (instrumental) / I’VE GOT WHAT IT TAKES / MUDDY WATER / SOME OF THESE DAYS (vocal Sager) / I’M GOING TO CHARLESTON BACK TO CHARLESTON / CAKE WALKIN’ BABIES FROM HOME / intermission / TRUCKIN’ / I MUST HAVE THAT MAN / I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU (vocal Fischer) / MAKIN’ FRIENDS (vocal Sager) / WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO / WHY DON’T YOU DO RIGHT? / I GOT RHYTHM //
I haven’t explicated all the delightful surprises — you can find them for yourselves, such as Banu’s duets with Fardella, and the exuberant solo work — but so much of the energy of this performance comes from Ms. Gibson herself, with the vocal power of a young Merman and the joyous energies of, let us say, Gwen Verdon. She captivated the audience then and does so now.
The video isn’t a sophisticated multi-camera shoot; the audio is occasionally slightly hard to hear; the video has the slight murkiness of digitally-recovered VHS tape — but this is precious. And since I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing in person every one of the stars on this stage with the exception of Charlie Fardella, whom I’ve only encountered on disc, I can say that this is a glorious record of the talent still at work in New Orleans and elsewhere.
I don’t know what the Tiffin audience members said when the powerful applause died down, perhaps, “That was a very nice show. Let’s buy one of her records?” but now, thirty years later, this video record of a concert seems a precious gift to us all. Thanks to everyone on the stage, to Bob and Ruth Byler, but especially to David Sager, who set this post in motion.
One of the great pleasures of the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was their Fats Waller tribute concert — guess who was second row center with camera and tripod as his date? I will share videos of the Holland-Coots Quintet playing and singing superbly, but first, something rich and rare, the opportunity to hear Neville Dickie in person. I’ve heard him on recordings for years, but how he plays! Steady, swinging, inventive, and without cliche.
Some pianists who want to be Wallerizing go from one learned four-bar motif to the next, but not Neville, who has so wonderfully internalized all kinds of piano playing that they long ago became him, as natural as speech. Eloquent, witty speech, I might add.
Some might think, “What’s a drummer doing up there with that pianist?” but when the drummer is Danny Coots, it’s impudent to ask that question, because Danny adds so much and listens so deeply. And there is a long tradition of Piano and Traps. I thought immediately of James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty, of Frank Melrose and Tommy Taylor, of Donald Lambert and Howard Kadison, of Willie “the Lion” Smith and Jo Jones, of Sammy Price and Sidney Catlett, of Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, and Jimmy Hoskins . . . and I am sure that there are other teams I have left out here.
Danny’s tap-dancer’s breaks may catch your ear (how expert!) but his steady color-filled but subtle support is what I admire even more. He’s always paying attention, which is no small thing no matter what instrument you play. In life.
Here are the four selections this inspired duo performed at the concert: only one of them a familiar Waller composition, which is also very refreshing. Need I point out how rewarding these compact performances are — they are all almost the length of a 12″ 78 but they never feel squeezed or rushed. Medium tempos, too.
A NEW KIND OF A MAN WITH A NEW KIND OF LOVE comes, as Neville says, from a piano roll — but this rendition has none of the familiar rhythmic stiffness that some reverent pianists now think necessary:
TAKE IT FROM ME (I’M TAKIN’ TO YOU) has slightly formulaic lyrics by Stanley Adams, but it’s a very cheerful melody. I knew it first from the 1931 Leo Reisman version with Lee Wiley and Bubber Miley, which is a wondrous combination. But Neville and Danny have the same jovial spirit. And they play the verse! Catch how they move the rhythms around from a very subtle rolling bass to a light-hearted 4/4 with Danny accenting in 2 now and again:
Then, the one recognized classic, thanks to Louis and a thousand others, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING. Neville, who certainly knows how to talk to audiences, is a very amusing raconteur in addition to everything else. And the feeling I get when he and Danny go from the rather oratorical reading of the verse into tempo!
Finally (alas!) there’s CONCENTRATIN’ (ON YOU) which I know from recordings by the peerless Mildred Bailey and Connie (not yet Connee) Boswell: I can hear their versions in my mind’s ear. But Neville and Danny have joined those aural memories for me:
What a pair! Mr. Waller approves. As do I. As did the audience.
In his seriously masterful AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder was unkind to “IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN,” calling it “nostalgic,” but adding that “its melody simply isn’t that good.” Songs have feelings, too, and I disagree. I’ve never been jilted at the altar (or a week before) but I always find the song touching and it works well as a ballad or in medium tempo. In my mind’s ear I hear Joe Thomas playing and singing it, getting particularly impassioned in the last eight bars. I wish he’d recorded a long vocal version. And that Louis had done so also.
First, the song as a new pop hit, performed by the marvelously emotive Connie Boswell (sweet and then swung gently):
Coleman Hawkins with Fletcher Henderson, 1933:
and with Sir Charles Thompson, 1945:
and from this century — September 14, 2017 — at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, a version nicely balancing melancholy and swing, by Rossano Sportiello, piano; Pete Siers, drums; Joel Forbes, string bass; Andy Brown, guitar; Dan Block, clarinet; Duke Heitger, trumpet. Keynote / Vanguard style, with split choruses, easy rocking lyricism, climbing to the stars:
Two negative statements can make a positive one. Oh, how very positive. The song here is the nearly-impossible to sing I’LL NEVER SAY “NEVER AGAIN” AGAIN, by the one and only Harry Woods, and for most of us immortalized by Henry “Red” Allen or Connee Boswell when the song was new. (Benny Goodman featured it in the Sixties, and in our time there’s a delectable version by Rebecca Kilgore.)
The narrative premise of the song (no doubt arising from the wordplay of the title) is that a couple has had some disagreement — what people used to call “a spat” or “a fight,” and the singer is now repentant, swearing endless high fidelity, which is always a nice concept.
But what we have here isn’t a matter for couples counseling or an exploration into the archives of recorded sound. Rather, it is a sweetly frolicsome duet — I think of Earl and Louis in the wings, grinning — between two of the masters, Ray Skjelbred at the piano and Marc Caparone on cornet — at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 27, 2016:
This performance is dedicated to all those wise enough to kiss and make up.
In the history of jazz, people who do not play instruments do as much, in different ways, to sustain the art without getting equal credit. Think of Milt Gabler, George Avakian, Henry Sklow, Norman Granz, George Wein, Whitney Balliett, Nat Hentoff, and other catalysts. Then there are broadcasters. “Broadcasting” meant something even before radio and television: spreading something widely, effectively: a newsboy shouting the headlines or a farmer distributing seed over a field. Jazz radio broadcasters — in previous decades Martin Block, Art Ford, Fred Robbins, Sid Torin; in our time Ed Beach, John S. Wilson, Phil Schaap, Dan Morgenstern, Alisa Clancy, Linda Yohn and many others – do more than play records. They become our friends, teachers, and benefactors. We look forward to their voices, personalities, and insights. Before there was streaming radio, we arranged our schedules around them; we tape-recorded their programs, which became sweet swinging libraries, introducing us to new artists or rare records.
Rich Conaty, who died of cancer on December 30, 2016, gave his energy and ultimately his life in the reverent and delighted service of the music he loved: the pop and jazz of the teens, Twenties, and Thirties, roughly 1911-1939. For forty-four years, he shared that music on a Sunday-night broadcast on Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV-FM (90.7). Rich’s THE BIG BROADCAST, named in homage to the 1932 film with Bing Crosby, Eddie Lang, the Boswell Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Cab Calloway, and others, was a consistent pleasure.
Rich was enchanted by this music when he was thirteen or fourteen, began broadcasting as a high school student on New York’s Hofstra College radio station. When he had to choose a college, he picked Fordham University because of its radio station, and beginning in January 1973, was on the air every Sunday night, live perhaps fifty weeks every year, taping shows in advance when he went away, perhaps to visit his mother in Florida.
Early on, Rich formed an alliance with Vince Giordano, leader of the Nighthawks, and these two did more to introduce this music to a wider, younger audience than perhaps anyone. Rich said that his program was “for the old and the old at heart,” for his humor was sharply wry (occasionally painfully self-deprecating) but he was most happy to learn that some seventeen-year old was now collecting Chick Bullock 78s or had fallen in love with Lee Wiley. He had other interests – vintage Nash automobiles, cats, and other kinds of vintage pop culture – but was devoted to the music and musicians above all.
Listening to Rich for decades, I was able to trace the subtle development of a scholarly intelligence. Years ago, his library of recordings was small (as was mine) so he played the Mills Brothers’ TIGER RAG frequently. As he became the person and the scholar he was meant to become, his awareness, knowledge, and collection deepened.
We’ve heard earnest but ignorant radio announcers – those who call the Ellington clarinetist “Barney Biggered,” or the King of Jazz “Paul White Man,” but Rich knew his music, his musicians, and his history. Every show, he created tributes to musicians, songwriters, and other figures whose birthday he would celebrate: not just Bix, Bing, Louis, Jolson, Annette; his enthusiasm for songwriters and figures, once renowned, now obscure, was astonishing. He had interviewed Bob Effros, Edward Eliscu, Ben Selvin, and Vet Boswell on the air; he was friends with Dolly Dawn, had gotten drunk with Cab Calloway. Connee Boswell sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to him over the phone; Arthur Tracy performed at his wedding to Mary Hayes (“Manhattan Mary,” who also died too young of cancer).
Rich expanded our knowledge and our joy by playing an astonishing range of music from his own collection of vintage records. Every Sunday that I heard the program, I would say several times, “What is that? I never heard that record before!” and this was true in 2015 and 2016, where it seems as if everything is accessible on CD, download, or YouTube. He spent his life surrounded by 78s – those he had acquired at auction, those he was selling at record shows. Because the idea of THE BIG BROADCAST was not just famous, documented recordings, he would often play a record about which little was known. But he could offer an educated guess about the true band behind the Crown label pseudonym, whether the singer was Irving or Jack Kaufman, when the song had been premiered – much more than statistics gleaned from books. He took requests from his devoted audience, gave away tickets to jazz concerts, and with Bryan Wright, created a series of BIG BROADCAST CDs — I have more than a few — which are wonderful cross-sections of the period.
I should say that his taste was admirable. He didn’t play every 78 he had found — no sermons, no organ recitals of light classics, no comedy records — but within the “pop and jazz” area I could trust him to play the good stuff, the music that would otherwise be forgotten. He left IN THE MOOD to others, but he played Henry Burr, Bill Coleman, Jane Green, Johnny Marvin, Fred Rich, Ben Selvin, Annette Hanshaw, Lee Morse, Emmett Miller, Eddie Lang, Jack Purvis, Luis Russell, The Sunshine Boys, Kate Smith, Ted Weems, early Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and on and on.
And part of the pleasure of his expertise and of radio in general (at its best, when the programmer is subtle and wise) is not just the delighted shock of one record, but of the juxtapositions Rich created in three-sides-in-a-row. THE BIG BROADCAST was rather like being invited to an evening at Jeff Healey’s house, where you knew the music would be embracing, uplifting, and educational in the best way. (I should also say that Rich did talk — digressing into his own brand of stand-up comedy, with little bits of slightly off-key a cappella singing — but music made up the bulk of the program. He wouldn’t tell you the personnel of the thirteen-piece big band, by choice, I am sure, because it would mean he could play fewer recordings.)
On a personal note: I, like many others, made cassettes of the program and played them in the car. I fell asleep to the program on hundreds of Sunday nights. When I was young and diligent, I graded student essays to it. Although Rich and I had much of the same focused obsession with the music, we met in person only a few times (I think always at Sofia’s when the Nighthawks were playing) and THE BIG BROADCAST was his world — and by extension the health and welfare of WFUV. So our conversations were brief, before the band started or in between sets. But my debt to him is immeasurable, and it would not have increased had our conversations been lengthy.
I do not know what will happen to Rich’s recorded legacy – more than eight thousand hours of radio. Some shows have been archived and can be heard through wfuv.org, but whether the station will share others as a tribute is not yet decided. More information can be found on the Facebook page devoted to Fans of the WFUV Big Broadcast.
I think of Wild Bill Davison’s puzzled question about Frank Teschemacher, dead in an auto accident in Bill’s car, “Where are we going to get another sax player like Tesch?” Paraphrase the question to apply to Rich Conaty, and the answer is, “We never will.” But his generosity will live on.
I have been listening ardently to the Mosaic Records Coleman Hawkins 1922-1947 set, which is like reading all the works of a great author in chronological order — a wondrous journey. (It’s now no longer available: Mosaic is serious about “limited editions,” so the race is to the somewhat-swift.)
There are many points on the journey where I put down my coffee and listened to one track a half-dozen times, marveling, before moving on. But here’s a glorious interlude: a brief visit to a studio in New York City on March 8, 1934, for a series of duets between Hawkins and the seriously underrated pianist Buck Washington (born Ford Lee) who had recorded with his partner John W. Bubbles as well as Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong.
Together, they recorded IT SENDS ME (two versions), I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, OLD-FASHIONED LOVE (a piano solo), and ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET (two versions). The session was one of John Hammond’s ideas: the sides were released first in England, where the listening public was much more aware of African-American creative improvisers.
The alternate takes of SENDS and SUNNY are available only on the Mosaic set, but I can offer here YouTube transfers of the issued sides, slightly out of sequence.
I’ve been drawn back to this music by its beauty and assurance. Hawkins seems so much in command of both his instrument and his imagination. It’s not arrogance but mastery, the grace of a great artist sure of his powers, rather like a magnificent actor or athlete who is sure of what needs to be done, what can be done, and what is possible beyond the expected.
Hawkins displays his marvelous embracing tone — play this music in another room and you might think there is a small orchestra at work or a glorious wordless singer, caressing the melody, pausing to breathe, to reflect. Nothing is rushed; all is both serene and deep. And on the faster sections, he offers us a joyous playfulness.
About Hawkins as a “singer”: you can find his recording of LOVE CRIES (which I think is very dear) also on YouTube . . . but for me, the people traveling on the same path are not other instrumentalists but Connee Boswell and Bing Crosby. Listen and consider.
Washington, never given his due, presents a relaxed but never lazy stride piano but we hear an elegant wildness in his embellishments (and a harmonic sophistication) that shows he, like others, had assimilated not only James P. Johnson but also Earl Hines and Art Tatum. He’s a superb accompanist, but his sparkling playing demands our attention, and his solo passages do not disappoint.
The four sides are a venerable pop / jazz / vaudeville classic, almost a decade old; a newer pop song, a small homage both to James P. Johnson and the folk tradition, and a Hawkins ballad. I gather that there was some rivalry between Hawkins and Louis, and I imagine that a Hawkins – Washington duet date was a way for Hawkins to say, “I’ve heard Louis and Buck on DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND, and I have my own statement to make to Louis and to anyone who thinks Louis is the sole monarch.” So SUNNY SIDE, taken at that tempo, was a Louis specialty in 1933 — Taft Jordan recorded his own Louis-impersonation before Louis had made his own record of it. It would have been impossible for Hawkins, a champion listener / absorber, to not know what Louis was doing in New York and elsewhere.
and the recording that, to me, is the gem:
and — in a jaunty, assured mood, here’s Buck:
Orchard Enterprises could find a copy of that track that doesn’t start with a hiccup, although I find such eccentricities nostalgic in small doses, having spent decades listening to dusty and scratched records.
And something about the history of listening, one’s personal history. When I began to buy records in wallet-depleting seriousness in the very early Seventies, there were so many Coleman Hawkins recordings available — from his early work with Henderson up to the beautiful and touching late recordings (SIRIUS, on Pablo) that I glutted myself. And predictably I burned out for a long time on Hawkins — hearing the swooping majesty of the Thirties and Forties get more powerful but occasionally almost mechanical in the Fifties and beyond (a similar thing happened, rhythmically, to Don Byas). I turned with obsessive love to Lester Young and Ben Webster: one who never seemed predictable, one who wrapped me in the softest blanket of loving sounds. So I confess I bought the Mosaic Hawkins box set on the principle of “You’re going to be sorry when this one goes away,” which is a valid notion . . . but I have been reminding myself of his genius, over and over, from the early work with Mamie Smith to the 1947 I LOVE YOU. There are many good reasons to love Coleman Hawkins, and, not incidentally, Mosaic Records as well.
Listen, and be startled by beauty. Or remember the beauty that is there, perhaps overlooked for a moment.
“Georgie,” youthful. Photograph reproduced with permission from the owner. Copyright 2013 The George Barnes Legacy Collection.
Alec Wilder told George Barnes that the latter’s music offered “Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!” I agree.
I first heard the magnificent guitarist (composer, arranger) George Barnes without knowing it. His sound cut through the Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography sessions for Decca — in the late Sixties. Even listening to Louis — as any reasonable person does — I was aware of this wonderful speaking sound of George and his guitar: a man who had something important to tell us in a short space (say, four bars) and made the most of it. Not loud, but not timid.
As I amassed more jazz records, George was immediately evident through his distinctive attack. I believe that I took in more Barnes subliminally in those years, in the way I would hear Bobby Hackett floating above my head in Macy’s. (George recorded with Roy Smeck, Connie Francis, Richard M. Jones, Bill Harris, Anita O’Day, Artie Shaw, Pearl Bailey, Jeri Southern, Connee Boswell, the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, LaVern Baker, Earl Bostic, Joe Venuti, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Redman, Little Willie John, Della Reese, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Hans Conried, Solomon Burke, Sy Oliver, Buddy Rich, Bud Freeman, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress — just to give you an idea of his range. And those are only the sessions documented in jazz discographies.)
In the early Seventies I actually saw George and heard him play live — he was sometimes five or six feet from me — in the short-lived quartet he and Ruby Braff led. And then he was gone, in September 1977.
But his music remains.
And here’s a new treasure — a double one, in fact.
Now, some of you will immediately visit here, bewitched and delighted, to buy copies. You need read no more, and simply wait for the transaction to complete itself in the way you’ve chosen. (Incidentally, on eBay I just saw a vinyl copy of this selling for $150.)
For the others. . . . I don’t know what your feelings are when seeing the words COUNTRY JAZZ. Initially, I had qualms, because I’ grew up hearing homogenized “country and western” music that to me seems limited. But when I turned the cardboard sleeve over and saw that Barnes and friends were improvising on classic Americana (OLD BLACK JOE, THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER, CHICKEN REEL, IN THE GLOAMING, MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME) I relaxed immediately. No cliche-stew of wife / girlfriend / woman / dog / truck / rifle / beer / betrayal / pals here. Call it roots music or Americana, but it’s not fake.
And the band is exciting: George on electric guitar, bass guitar, and banjo [his banjo feature is extraordinary]; Allan Hanlon, rhythm guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums, percussion; Phil Kraus, vibes on one track; Danny Bank, mouth harp on one track. The sixteen tracks (and one bonus) come from this 1957 session recorded for Enoch Light — in beautiful sound. The improvisations rock; they are hilarious, gliding, funky, and usually dazzling. There’s not a corny note here. And gorgeously expansive documentation, too.
That would be more than enough fun for anyone who enjoys music. But there’s much more. George began leading a band when he was 14 (which would be 1935) but made a name for himself nationwide on an NBC radio program, PLANTATION PARTY, where he was a featured from 1938 to 1942. The fourteen additional airshots on this generous package come from the PARTY, and they are stunning. Each performance is a brief electrifying (and I am not punning) vignette, and sometimes we get the added pleasure of hearing announcer Whitley Ford introduce the song or describe George’s electric Gibson as a “right modern contraption,” which it was.
I can’t say that it’s “about time” for people to acknowledge George as a brilliant guitarist and musician, a stunning pioneer of the instrument — because the jazz and popular music histories should have been shaken and rewritten decades ago. But I’d bet anything that Charlie Christian and a thousand other players heard PLANTATION PARTY, and that a many musicians heard George, were stunned, and wanted to play like that.
I’m writing this post a few days before July 4, celebrated in the United States with fireworks. George Barnes sounds just like those fireworks: rockets, stars, cascades, and explosions. I don’t know that fireworks can be said to swing, but with George that is never in doubt.
To buy the CD, visit here— and at the George Barnes Legacy site, you can learn much more about George, his music, his family, his career. Worth a long visit.
As the people who were swing / jazz / popular music fans in the Thirties and Forties leave the planet, their possessions come up for sale on eBay. This makes me mildly sad — let’s make money off Gramps’ stuff! — but it is far better than the beloved artifacts being tossed in the recycling bin. Four treasures that are or were for sale. I don’t know who Joe Walsh was. But I do know that Fats Waller autographed this photograph in green fountain pen ink to him:
and a magnified view:
Fats Waller’s best wishes are always free, thankfully:
DO ME A FAVOR:
WHOSE HONEY ARE YOU?:
and then there is Carol (Lotz) Lantz:
and the back:
and the provenance:
Signed and inscribed to CAROL (Lotz) Lantz, daughter of Charles Lotz (1891-1965), a prominent band director from Canton, Ohio. Apparently Boswell performed sometime with Lotz’s band and signed this photo for his daughter. From the Lotz family collection. SOURCE: From the archives of the World War History & Art Museum (WWHAM) in Alliance, Ohio. WWHAM designs and delivers WWI and WWII exhibits to other rmuseums. Our traveling exhibts include Brushes With War, a world class collection of 325 original paintings and drawings by soldiers of WWI, and Iron Fist, an HO scale model of the German 2nd Panzer Division in 1944 with 4,000 vehicles and 15,000 men.
A little sound from Connie, on a 1936 fifteen-minute radio program in honor of the charms of Florida — with Harry Richman and Fred Rich:
Then there’s Joe Williams, someone I reasonably sure is not the singer:
Bunny was proud of his beautiful handwriting, and this one looks authentic. So is this music — A 1938 Disney song (with Dave Tough and Gail Reese):
And one page from a serious scrapbook (with signatures of Chu Berry and Ivie Anderson) belonging to L. Sgt. McKay:
This record may not be the finest example of Lips (or Lip’s) trumpet playing, but it has a sentimental meaning to me — if I may name-drop — that when I was at Ruby Braff’s apartment, this 78 was leaning against the wall. So it’s doubly meaningful:
And the Yardbird:
Finally, something quite rare: a Chick Webb photograph I’ve never seen before, signed by the Master, who was embarrassed (according to a Helen Oakley Dance story) about his poor handwriting:
And Chick in an unusual setting — with an Ellingtonian small group (and Ivie):
I am fond of being alive, and dead people don’t blog, but I wish I’d been around to ask Fats, Connie, Bunny, Lips, Bird, and Chick for their autographs.
My father, Louis Steinman, would have been one hundred on December 26, 2015. From him I get my handwriting, my taste for salty foods, my sense of humor, my willingness to engage strangers in conversation, and much more. He loved a wide variety of music, from Rossini to Jolson to Broadway show tunes. Although he didn’t share my enthusiasm for jazz, he tolerated it, and without him I would never have seen Louis (the other one) live in 1967.
He sang bits of songs that he had heard in his childhood, and I (not the most curious of children) do not remember asking him, “What is the name of that song, and when did you first hear it?” But a number of songs came direct to me because of him. It was only after his death that I learned what a few of the mysteries were. I offer a few songs below in his honor, in versions he might have heard in his childhood.
I knew this song only as “Leaves come tumbling down, ’round my head. Some of them are brown, some are red”:
When I was a fretful child, easily upset and teary, I would hear this (wlthough he didn’t know the verse):
and on a more jubliant note:
and even a silly one that I saw him sing to my eldest niece while she was very young:
Thank you, Dad, for all you were and all you gave.
Our subject for today is a 1936 pop song of no great merit — a pastiche really — by Al Sherman, Abner Silver and Jack Maskill. I can imagine it being the result of three songwriters sitting around and chatting. “Hey, what about a Hawaiian song?” “Not more Hawaii! Pick someplace else. All it has to have is a beach.” “Yeah, that ____ works. But enough of the ______ hula maidens and the ______ pineapple calling me home to the islands.” “Yeah, we have to have a gimmick to load this _____ into the jukeboxes, get those ______ royalties.” “What about this. Boy meets girl in some ______ island and then they find out they used to live next door down South.” “You mean the song that’s got everything?” “Yeah. Bet you drinks that we can get this done in an hour.” “You’re on!”
I don’t really know if the Brill Building gents really spoke like this, with enthusiastic expletives redacted here, but it pleases me to imagine rather cynical craftspeople turning out popular art that charms me still, eighty years later. And the mixing of genres on the sheet music cover is most remarkable, but I gather that the couple is enjoying the tulips and their cottage while recalling those tropical moments . . .
Here are three variations on that theme. The first, Tommy Dorsey’s version with vocal by Edythe Wright. Some call the early Dorsey band “Dixieland-flavored,” as if true culture didn’t happen until Sy Oliver started writing arrangements and Sinatra began to woo, but this record rocks. You don’t have to wait for Bud Freeman to make a late appearances — on one of those delicious bridges — because the Blessed Dave Tough is making himself heard and felt throughout. I would urge listeners to hear this performance once as a totality, and then concentrate on the orchestral delights Dave offers:
Then, Miss Connie Boswell’s. What an irresistible groove — and her return for the final sixteen bars is like a triumphant aria in Hot. Some of this is thanks to the Bob Crosby band of the time — Yank Lawson, I think, and certainly Matty Matlock:
But we save the real multi-layered delights for last, Henry “Red” Allen and his Orchestra. Even when they’re playing the melody fairly straight — for dancers — with Henry’s bridge, it’s swinging from the start. And his singing is so personal (boyish and hot) that no one could mistake him for anyone else:
What happens after the vocal is wonderful — a mixture of timbres and approaches beginning with a trumpet solo that could and should have gone on for years. One of the many times I’ve felt, “That record is too short!” But what a joy to have it — with Tab Smith and a very sedate J.C. Higginbotham.
What’s the sermon or the lesson? Great musicians transform ordinary material with memorable results.
Did I ever tell you about Doc Cheatham’s radio interview in St. Louis? I was playing there with my band and Doc was too. It was a milestone birthday of this, and a St. Louis radio station sent a reporter to interview him. I saw this live, didn’t hear it on the radio.
The interviewer, mentioning Doc’s birthday and that he was still playing great, asked him what “his secret” was. Doc said, “My rule is to listen to a Louie Armstrong record every day of my life.”
This isn’t a difficult prescription to follow. No co-pay, no sitting in the office reading magazines from 2012; no driving to the pharmacy. Just take your daily infusion, your tincture of Joy and Warmth.
The potion for today is . . .
TRUE CONFESSION is a tender ballad (I also know Connee Boswell’s version, just as sweet as anyone could imagine) even though the lyrics borrow pop-song conceits from four or five other songs. If you disdain this as “not jazz,” I suggest you listen to Louis here in the spirit you’d listen to Brahms or Schubert — great impassioned melody. Louis’ complete love of Melody and of Romance comes through in every note. And, by coincidence, the lyrics have “secret” in them, too. But the love that Louis exudes is always with us, always restorative, never hidden.
Incredible 1950s Guest Book for the Liberty Music Shop
Guest book for the famed Liberty Music Shop of New York, containing approximately 200 autographs and inscriptions, signed by distinguished visitors, a virtual who’s who of the cultural life of 1950s New York. Written approximately 15 to a page on the first 14 pages, some with date or place or comments, concluding with a large bold signature by Marian Anderson, written diagonally across the blank page. Oblong 8vo, leatherette. New York, [1956-57]. The signers include Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Barber, Martha Graham, Anna Magnani, Hubert de Givenchy, Anthony Perkins, Fred Astaire, Hoagy Carmichael, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Hayes (with an AMQS), Alan Jay Lerner (2x), Yul Brynner, Ogden Nash, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontaine, Andres Segovia, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, Myrna Loy, Edna Ferber, Zino Francescatti, Byron Janis, Farley Grainger, Rex Harrison, Broderick Crawford, Edward G. Robinson, George Szell, Jessica Tandy, Basil Rathbone, Claudette Colbert, Hazel Scott, Raymond Massey, Michel Auclair, Alexander Smallens, Kate Smith, James Mason, Ray Bolger, Benny Goodman, Noël Coward, Joan Blondell, Arnold Stang, Constance Talmadge, Garson Kanin, Mischa Elman, Erica Morini, Connee Boswell, Mario del Monaco, Robert Helptmann, Andor Foldes, Marta Eggerth, Vincent Price, Lillian Gish, Paulette Goddard, J. William Fulbright and dozens more.
The Liberty Music Shop was a fixture in the New York music scene from the 1930s through the 1950s, catering to cognoscenti and celebrities.
Why should this be on JAZZ LIVES? One, it’s a spectacular rarity. Some of the names above should excite people who apparently only listen to jazz, night and day. But for the most seriously narrow readers, there’s also a genuine Benny Goodman signature and — happiness! — a Jo Jones inscription, which is how he signed two record jackets for me in 1981-2. The seller offered photographs of sample pages — not all fifteen — which means that some of the signatures noted above aren’t visible. But enough are to make it fascinating.
Here’s the first page, beautifully signed by Marian Anderson:
and here I see Mischa Elman, Peter Lind Hayes, Alan Jay Lerner, Farley Grainger, Edward G. Robinson, and Joyce Van Patten, among others.
Here’s Jack Carter (who just left us), Bill Hayes, Garson Kanin, Herman Shumlin, and Earle Hyman . . .
And where else would you find Ray Bolger and Francoise Sagan in such proximity?
I love the strange combinations: Gene Tunney, Herb Shriner, Jo Jones, Margaret Hamilton, Tony Bennett, and Herb Shriner, the last asking for a discount.
Still more: David Rose and Chris Connor.
And Charles Boyer, an authentic Benny Goodman (unless he brought one of his staff to sign for him), Kevin McCarthy, Givenchy, and Anthony Perkins.Finally, Dorothy Gish, Hoagy Carmichael, Fred Astaire.
Keener eyes than mine will no doubt discern other famous names. It’s an awful cliche to say that giants walked the earth, but I know for certain that they went to the Liberty Music Shop.
“The Judge.” Universally beloved. Here, with Herb Ellis, guitar; Larry Novak, piano; Butch Miles, drums:
I have The Judge in my mind as a sweetly heroic presence because he is on so many of the recordings that have shaped my consciousness. I also have two photographic portraits of him (which he autographed for me in 1981) in my apartment, next to the door. When I come in or go out, he is there to welcome me home or to wish me safe passage on the day’s journey.
He’s also powerfully in my thoughts because I went to the house in which he and Mona Hinton lived for decades — 173-05 113rd Avenue, Jamaica, New York — last Saturday (June 13) for an estate sale. More about that later.
First, a reminiscence of Milt from a friend, Stu Zimny, whom I’ve known since high school, 1969. We were comrades in eccentricity, united in our shared secret love of Milt, of Jo Jones, of Ed Beach, S.J. Perelman — playing records at each others’ houses, going to concerts and clubs. Swing spies. Jazz acolytes.
Danny Barker, Stu Zimny, Milt Hinton 1995
It was in the late-70’s sometime when I first met Milt Hinton.
It was a strange time in the music’s history. Although rock music had firmly enveloped the attention of most of my generation, my own musical trajectory was towards the the jazz of the 1930’s. I had heard the incandescence of Louis Armstrong and his many disciples and was converted quickly. There was a power to this music unique in my experience. It is more common now in the internet age but we, myself and the author of this sacred blog in particular, formed a distinct minority, a sort of rear-guard action devoted to preserving this music. Yet at that time there were still significant numbers of players of that “swing generation” alive and at least semi-active and one could see them play intermittently in certain mostly short-lived clubs in Manhattan and the occasional concert. Although the general sentiment was that we had arrived a few decades too late.
I had heard that Milt was teaching a jazz seminar at Hunter College, I had taken up study of the double-bass shortly before, had lucked upon and acquired an excellent “axe,” and Milt was a legendary figure to bassists in particular.
In a fortuitous stroke of luck I encountered Milt on the subway on the ride to Hunter. (Milt was a frequent rider of the NYC subway system since he did not drive a car. The story goes that he had been driving a vehicle in Chicago decades before, as a gofer of some sort for the Al Capone organization, and a bad accident occurred which had traumatized him for life against driving a motorized vehicle.) I drove him to a fair number of gigs during the next few years for the mere opportunity to hang out and absorb what I might. Capone’s loss was my gain.
On the “A” train I gathered up my courage and struck up a conversation with him, the ultimate outcome of which was that if I wanted some tutoring I could drop by his home in Queens. He did not need to make the offer twice. Especially since his attendance at Hunter was spotty due to his being on the road quite a bit.
Milt never really offered me “lessons” as such. Although he did hand me a manuscript of scale patterns and suggested I work on them “for the next thirty years” and gave me a whole lot of physical advice about dealing with the bass. I would bring him bass music, usually some classical etude or duet, and we would play through it together. He was always up for the challenge. The mere fact that he would be willing to play with me and treat me like a colleague was a huge confidence boost.
Of course it was not only me who benefited from his largesse. Many bassists (and other instrumentalists) would drop by, most often just to hang out with an elder, “The Dean of Jazz Bassists.” Milt and Mona were extremely gracious and generous in opening their home to musicians. And feeding us, and making us feel like family, and part of a lineage that required support and protection.
Throughout the next decade or so I would drop by, often in a vain attempt to help him organize the pile of the concert tapes and recordings collecting in his basement.
In 1989 I departed the east for directions west. When I came back for visits if Milt was in town he was always open for a rendezvous “between sets.”
I recall seeing him at the 1995 Monterey Jazz Festival and in San Diego at some sort of convocation. On the latter occasion, with minimal rehearsal, he was offered some pretty complex charts and played through them with ease. This was not an old guy resting on past accomplishments, he was fully alive to the music, to all music.
Sometimes players like Clark Terry and Major Holley would drop by. The basement couch was famous for having been used for sleep by Ben Webster during a period when he lived with the Hintons or at least paid an extended visit: I never knew which. Sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions.
The last time I saw Milt was around 1997 after I had returned east and lived in the Boston area. By that time he had stopped playing for physical reasons. I heard of his passing via an NPR broadcast in 2000 at age 90.
Milt has been a major influence in my life, musically and moreover in modeling what it means to be an elder and the tribal obligation and joy of passing on knowledge and skills and musical tradition.
He was cross-cultural in the warmest and most charming and sincere ways; he insisted on wearing a yarmulka when attending the Jewish wedding of a mutual friend of ours.
Despite the hardships he had experienced growing up in the south, the depredations of growing up as a Black person in that era, he never harbored personal resentment about any of it that I could tell towards any individual. He had an immense sense of dignity and a conscious sense of his own worth and that of his colleagues as men and artists; race was a secondary consideration. He would say that “music has no color”. This was also what motivated his legendary photographic documentation. History was important, preserving it is important, this music is important. And if one was sincere in wanting to learn, he was available.
I am a better person for having known Milt Hinton, tribal chief, The Judge!
We cannot live through the dead, but we can invite them to live through us.
I love him always and forever.
It would be an impudence to follow that with my own tales of Milt.
I will say only that the phrase I’ve taken as my title was spoken by Ruby Braff from the stage of The New School in New York City, at a “Jazz Ramble” concert produced by Hank O’Neal on April 8, 1973 — featuring Ruby, Sam Margolis, Benny Aronov, and Milt. Ruby spoke the truth. Thanks to Tom Hustad, whose BORN TO PLAY — the Ruby Braff discography — for helping me be exact in my recollection.
Fast forward to June 13, 2015.
I had been seriously ambivalent about going to this estate sale. As I told more than one friend, I didn’t know whether I would be frozen at the door, or, once in, would burst into tears. Happily, neither took place. My spiritual guide and comic comrade on line (as opposed to “online”) was Scott Robinson, and we made the time spent waiting in the sun telling tales of Milt. (Later, I met Phil Stern, and we, too, talked of music, joy, and sorrow, of empires rising and falling.)
Here, thanks to Phil, is the promotional video created by the company running the sale:
By the time I was able to enter the house, sometime around 10:00, I discerned that much of the more glossy contents had already been sold. (I would have bought a chair covered in plastic from this shrine without thinking twice.) And I sensed that the house had — apparently — been unoccupied since Mona’s death in 2008. It was not quiet indoors: people shouted and argued. I was in the land of secular commerce rather than dear worship. I do not know how many people going in knew who Milt was; before and after my time indoors, I explained what I could of his majesty to a number of people outside who simply had seen ESTATE SALE and stopped by.
I have a limited tolerance for loud voices in small spaces, so I did not look through the hundreds of records in the basement (in cardboard boxes on and in front of the couch on which Ben Webster had slept). But I bought about ten of Milt’s lps — going back to the early Fifties, mostly records I’d not heard or heard of on which he played. His collection — even when I got there — was broad, with children’s records and comedy as well. And he collected his friends’ records also.
Sitting by themselves on top of a pile of books — two 78s. One, a 1932 Brunswick, Connee Boswell performing HUMMIN’ TO MYSELF and THE NIGHT WHEN LOVE WAS BORN — which touched me and made me think of Milt as a young man rapt in the beauty of Connee’s voice and her wonderful accompaniment of the time (Berigan, the Dorsey Brothers, Dick McDonough, Artie Bernstein, Venuti, Stan King).
The other deserves its own picture. It has been well-played, but that is a triumph rather than a criticism.
Although Milt and Billie Holiday were not regularly recording together, their history on record is a long one — 1936 to 1959 — and I am sure he was proud of the music they made together. I imagine Milt in 1939 bringing home this new release, which he would have been thrilled to possess and hear — perhaps showing his name on the label to his new bride. (Incidentally, the Brunswick people invented a new guitarist — Dave Barber — instead of properly identifying Milt’s dear comrade in the Cab Calloway band, Danny Barker. The other side, WHAT SHALL I SAY? has the same error.)
Such a beloved artifact made all the clangor of commerce worthwhile, although I still think sadly of the rubble of mugs in the kitchen, the piles of posters, aging books and records. Where did they go? I hope that the rarer items had already gone to a place where they would be treasured.
Stu learned lessons about playing the bass from Milt that he couldn’t have learned any other way, and I celebrate his experience. But I think we both learned much — even though we might not have understood it at the time — from these men who were, without proclaiming it, great spiritual parents. We learn from the open-hearted behavior of the greatest teachers.
They treated us with gentleness and respect, an amused kindness, saying by their openness that we were welcome in their world. No one ever said, “Kid, I’m busy now. Go away.”
Our real parents might have taken our devotion for granted, or been very busy trying to make us become what they thought we should be, but many of these Elders were happy to know we existed — without trying to get us to buy anything from them. They accepted our love, and I feel they welcomed it and returned it. In their music and their behavior, they taught by example: the value of beauty, of simplicity; how to say in a few notes something that would take the hearer years to fully grasp. How to make our actions mean something.
We were able to see and hear and speak with the noblest artists on the planet, and it is an honor to celebrate one of them, The Judge, whose quiet modest majesty will never fade.
Bobby Sherwood (1914-81) isn’t well-known as a jazz guitarist today, but in the early Thirties he was so deeply respected that he was Bing Crosby’s accompanist on 1934 recordings (MOONBURN and SOMEDAY SWEETHEART); he recorded with the Boswell Sisters, Cleo Brown, and Joe Venuti. (In 1940 he was guitarist and one of the arrangers for Artie Shaw.)
To me, this means he was viewed as a player equal to the late Eddie Lang, and his beautiful sonority and chordal subtleties — and swing — don’t disappoint.
A few years earlier, violinist Harry Bluestone (1907-92) was recording with hot dance studio bands, Connee Boswell, the Boswell Sisters, Lee Wiley, the Dorsey Brothers, Glenn Miller, Bill Challis, Casper Reardon, and again Artie Shaw . . . .
While Sherwood eventually led his own band (playing a variety of instruments, composing, and singing), Bluestone became the first-chair violinist and concertmaster for many many recordings with everyone from Peggy Lee to Quincy Jones.
But this Decca 78, recorded in November 1938, shows them quietly and wittily evoking Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti — to great effect — while sounding like themselves.
First, the punning KIDDIN’ ON THE STRINGS:
Then, a sweet AM I BLUE?:
The moral? Great music is made by people you might not have heard of except as side-people on more famous people’s record date.
The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.
There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)
Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.
That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:
I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction. In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous. He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.
Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:
and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:
If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.