Tag Archives: Connee Boswell

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

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.

May your happiness increase!

CONNEE BOSWELL, SONGWRITER — “IF I DON’T MEAN IT,” SUNG BY ALEX PANGMAN

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’ hereA second single will follow in January 2020 of “I’m All Dressed Up With a Broken Heart”, a song Connee Boswell sang so memorably.
Inquiries:

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.)
May your happiness increase!

“TENDER EYES THAT SHINE”: DAWN LAMBETH and her RASCALS at MONTEREY (Part Two): DAWN LAMBETH, JACOB ZIMMERMAN, CLINT BAKER, JEFF HAMILTON, IKE HARRIS, JERRY KRAHN, RILEY BAKER (March 2, 2019)

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:

Dawn’s venture into rare cosmology:

Those nocturnal visions swing sweetly:

Memorable yet understated music.

May your happiness increase!

THIRTY YEARS AGO, WHEN JAZZ CAME UP THE RIVER TO TIFFIN, OHIO: BANU GIBSON AND THE NEW ORLEANS HOT JAZZ ORCHESTRA: CHARLIE FARDELLA, TOM FISCHER, DAVID SAGER, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, JAMES SINGLETON, HAL SMITH (July 1989)

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.

May your happiness increase!

TAKE IT FROM THEM: NEVILLE DICKIE and DANNY COOTS PLAY FATS WALLER (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival; Sedalia, Missouri; May 31, 2018)

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.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN”: DUKE HEITGER, DAN BLOCK, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, ANDY BROWN, JOEL FORBES, PETE SIERS (Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, Sept. 14, 2017)

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:

May your happiness increase!

TWO NEGATIVE STATEMENTS, TAKEN TOGETHER, MAKE A POSITIVE ONE (November 27, 2016)

ill-never-say-never-again-again

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.

May your happiness increase!