Tag Archives: cornet

TWO GENTLEMEN OF THE LYRICAL BRASS FRATERNITY: JOHN BUCHER, PETER ECKLUND

I’ve been putting off this post because it makes me sad to write about these fine musicians I won’t encounter face to face again: I didn’t know either of them well, but felt that we had connected in various ways.  But it would be worse than my sadness to let their beauty be forgotten in the relentless howl of the news.  And although I cannot assume that John and Peter were close friends, their characteristic graciousness suggests to me that they would have known and admired each other.  So I trust they won’t mind the propinquity of this blogpost.

John Bucher, some years ago, photograph courtesy of The Syncopated Times

John Bucher moved on — to “go home,” in his own words, on April 5: he was 89 and had a long-time cardiac condition.  Peter Ecklund, who had dealt with Parkinson’s disease for a long time, moved to his own destination in another neighborhood on April 8: he was 74.

Peter Ecklund, photograph by Lynn Redmile

I didn’t know either of them well enough to have extended conversations, but I believe they both — in the past two decades — recognized me as being on their side, whether I was writing for The Mississippi Rag or another periodical, or, eventually, carrying a camera and a notebook for JAZZ LIVES.  Peter was gracious to me but terse in all communications — in person or in email — but I was aware that his health was a burden to him and perhaps, although I could publicize a gig, I might also capture his playing in ways that did not show him in the best light.  (In both Peter’s and John’s case, I did get permission to make any video public, and would have honored their wish to delete a performance.)  John would give me a substantial grin when I greeted him; circumstances never allowed us to sit down and talk, but he made me very welcome.

My awareness of Peter goes back before I met him in person, to recordings he made in 1987 for the Stomp Off label — one under Marty Grosz’s name (“The Keepers of the Flame”) and one session that Peter led (“Melody Makers”) — brilliant recordings that I played and replayed.  I may have found them at the Corner Bookstore in East Setauket, run by Nancy Mullen: Nancy and Frank were serious jazz fans who had celebrated their engagement at the bar at Lou Terassi’s in 1951 or 2, with Hot Lips Page and Zutty Singleton adjacent to them.  That, I point out, is the way to do it, although you’d have to find other comrades today.

In 1990, Nancy and Frank invited me to join them for a concert given by the Long Island Traditional Jazz Society in North Babylon, if I have the name right — Marty Grosz, Peter, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, perhaps Greg Cohen and Arnie Kinsella — memorable to me now, thirty years later, for Muranyi singing LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE and interpolating, “Can it be NORTH BABYLON at last?”  I bought all the Stomp Off records and, later, the Arbors Records and Jazzology CDs on which Peter appeared, often as a key player in Marty Grosz’s Orphan Newsboys.  Peter had incredible leaping facility — romping through Jabbo Smith’s JAZZ BATTLE at top speed — but he was also a lyrical swinger who could create a memorable short story in a four-bar break.  When I heard him in person, he reminded me of Doc Cheatham — the light-footed dancing in air quality, a man with many delicate ideas to offer us in a chorus.

I met John in person for the first time in 2005, I think, at the Cajun — and admired him instantly.  Like Peter, I had heard him first, but in John’s case, not known his identity: John played on the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s SLEEPER, which was a hit at the movie theatre where I worked as a doorman (“Good evening,” tearing the paper ticket, then returning it with “Thank you.”)  so his firm swinging lead on CANAL STREET BLUES impressed me over and over.  I wish I’d known that he was playing so I could have told him this story when we met, nearly a quarter-century later.  But he knew how much I enjoyed his playing — whether at the Cajun, in a trio with Marty and John Beal at Charley O’s in midtown, or sitting in with the EarRegulars at the Ear Inn.  John was a thoughtful “singing” player who never hurried or missed a step, but he was never stiff.  A favorite quote, inserted neatly, was COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN, which always made me laugh with pleasure.  He stayed in the middle register, but occasionally would end phrases with a growl or find a mute he liked to vary his sound.

Roswell Rudd once told me, “You play your personality,” and both of these gentlemen did just that.  Peter’s playing could be heated and impetuous, rounding the corner of a hot chorus, but he was poised and epigrammatic in person.  John, who made his living as some variety of stockbroker (he told his colleague and my friend Dick Dreiwitz that it was a career where he could go to work at 10 and stop at 3) was beautifully dressed; he sat up straight when playing.

After all those words, here is some lovely music.  I video-recorded John at the Cajun in 2006 (a whole evening) and when he visited The Ear Inn in 2010.  All the details are in the blogposts.

John at the Cajun, June 24, 2006: one and two, and at The Ear Inn, March 21, 2010: one and two.  Peter, sitting in at Radegast, whistling and ukulele, December 13, 2011: here.

It distresses me to realize that I and my camera came along too late in Peter’s playing career to have rewarding video-footage of his beautiful hot cornet playing, so I will include these performances, knowing that John would not feel slighted in the least.

and something for Bing (with a distinct Davison flavor):

I write this at the start of May 2020, having mourned a number of completely irreplaceable musicians — and people — whom I knew as well as heard.  I feel unequal to the task of mourning John and Peter adequately.  I also hope they sensed — when we did encounter each other — how much joy it brought me to see them on the bandstand, a pleasure that sustained itself through the evening and does so, years later, in memory and in video.

Blessings on you, inventive gentlemen of brass.  You can’t be replaced.  And I invite those readers who knew and admired John and Peter to chime in.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW THEY SWING! (Part Three): DANNY TOBIAS, WARREN VACHÉ, PHILIP ORR, PAT MERCURI, JOE PLOWMAN (September 22, 2018: 1867 Sanctuary, Ewing, New Jersey)

The proceedings, photographed from above by Lynn Redmile

I apologize to all concerned: because of being overwhelmed and a filing system that I keep in my overwhelmed head, this third part of a glorious afternoon got away from me for a bit.  But all is not lost!  And here is the music created in the first and second sections.

I don’t know who took the picture of Warren (left) and Danny (right) but it is quite nice:

However, it leaves out the rest of the heroes: Philip Orr, piano; Pat Mercuri, guitar; Joe Plowman, string bass.  Here are the four remaining performances — quiet mastery by artists who really know and feel what heartfelt improvisation is:

A Tobias original (based on a song about soporific nature) dedicated to the much-missed Tony Di Nicola:

Harold Arlen, always welcome, as is Danny’s playing the Eb alto horn:

A gorgeous TOO LATE NOW:

And the real national anthem:

What beautiful warm inspired music these heroes make.

May your happiness increase!

THE FROLICS AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO (July 25, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

To some, Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is most famous as the spot where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his troops in 1789.  Others like it because of their wonderfully extensive beer list and straightforward food — nice servers always, too.  Also, it’s a fine place to bring the family if you’re coming or going to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.

For me, it’s a little-known hot spot of rhythm on Saturday afternoons from 1-4. I came there a few months ago to enjoy the hot music of Emily Asher’s Garden Party Trio [plus guest] — which you can enjoy here — fine rocking music.

But let us live in the moment!  Here are four performances by Rob Adkins, string bass; Craig Ventresco, guitar (the legend from San Francisco and a friend for a decade); Mike Davis, cornet AND trombone.

“Trombone?” you might be saying.  Mike is very new to the trombone — a number of months — and he was playing an instrument not his own.  So he was a little sensitive about my making these performances public (those dangerous eyebrows went up and threatened to stay there) but I assured him that his playing was admirable, even if he was severe on himself.  His cornet work is a complete delight.  The music Rob, Craig, and Mike make is delicate and forceful, incendiary and serene.  You’ll see and hear for yourself on these four performances.  Rob swings out with or without the bow, by the way.

LILA, which I associate with a Frank Trumbauer / Bix Beiderbecke OKeh — a song I’ve never heard anyone play live, so thank you!

WHISPERING, which was once one of the most-played songs in this country and is now terribly obscure:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, with memories of Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Andy Secrest, Bix Beiderbecke, and Irving Berlin:

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, another Berlin classic, this performance evoking Red Nichols and Miff Mole:

And although it gets me in trouble with some people every time I write it, these three musicians are not necrophiliac impersonators.  They know the old records — those cherished performances — intimately and lovingly, and the records might act as scaffolding, but they are not restricted to copying them. (Ironically, this session reminds me more than a little of the lovely impromptu recordings made by Johnny Wiggs and Snoozer Quinn, although those two musicians didn’t have the benefit of a wonderful string bassist of Rob’s caliber in the hospital.)

There will be more to come from this Saturday’s glorious hot chamber music performance.  And this coming Saturday (August 1) Rob Adkins has asked trombonist Matt Musselman and guitarist Kris Kaiser to start the good works.  I know they will.

May your happiness increase!

A FRIEND OF OURS: JIM BRANSON REMEMBERS GEORGE FINOLA

Cornetist George FInola (1945-2000) didn’t live long enough, but was loved and respected by many.  (Hoagy Carmichael was a fan.) He spent his life in Chicago and New Orleans, playing gigs and advancing jazz scholarship — helping to establish the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

I had only known of George because of his 1965 debut recording — where he is paired with notable friends Paul Crawford, Raymond Burke, Armand Hug, Danny and Blue Lu Barker:

george finola lpand, just because they exist, here’s a Finola autograph:

george finola autograph

and a matchbook ad for a New Orleans gig:

george-finola-on-cornet-matchbook

My friend Harriet Choice, the esteemed jazz writer, had spoken to me of George — “a very dear person” — but I had never met anyone who had known him, not until September 2014.

Jim Branson and I later found out we had been at many of the same California jazz events (Jim and his wife live in Berkeley) but until Jim said something about George from the audience of the Allegheny Jazz Party, I had no idea of their close and long-term connection.  On my most recent visit to California, Jim very graciously told me stories of a precocious and singular friend.  And it seemed only appropriate to have George’s record playing in the background:

Later, Jim remembered this: When George taught himself to play cornet he learned the incorrect fingering, holding down the third valve instead of the first and second for certain notes and correcting by altering his lip pressure slightly.  This is the same mistake that Bix reputedly made when he taught himself to play.  Did George do it by mistake, or did he do it on purpose because he knew that Bix had done the same thing?

Randy Sandke had crossed paths with George as well:  George and I went to different high schools in Chicago but both grew up on the South Side, him in South Shore and me in Hyde Park. I met him at Bob Koester and Joe Siegel’s record shop, Seymour’s. I put on a record and he came over and said “is Bix on that?” After that we became friends and discovered we both played cornet. We met and jammed together and also exchanged reel-to-reel tapes of 78s we had that at that time had not been reissued. I saw him in New Orleans a few times after that. I always enjoyed his playing and he has a lot of friends from NO that I still see, so his name comes up in conversation. I was very sad to hear of his premature death. More people should have heard him play and known who he was.

Other people who have stories of George are New Orleanians Banu Gibson, David Boeddinghaus, and Connie and Elaine Jones . . . perhaps there will be more tales of this beautiful player and intriguing man — and I am sure that some JAZZ LIVES readers knew him too.

May your happiness increase!

WITH BIX IN MIND: WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (ANDY SCHUMM, BENT PERSSON, ANDY WOON, GRAHAM HUGHES, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, FRANS SJOSTROM, JOSH DUFFEE: NOVEMBER 3, 2013)

At the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, held in the Village Hotel, Newcastle, UK, the musicians work hard at creating the fabled jazz ensembles of the past — Henderson, Morton, Ellington, great British hot dance bands, and more — with sheaves of manuscript paper and splendid results.

To balance all of this, there are jam sessions in the hotel’s Victory Pub where no arrangements are to be found, but the same devotion to the heroes of the past is evident. But the music is more loose-limbed, and the evocations more playful. Here are four samples — recorded late Sunday night, November 3, 2013 (or was it Monday morning by then?) after the closing set of the party. The man on everyone’s mind was “the dear boy” from Davenport, Iowa — honored by Andy Schumm, Bent Persson, and Andy Woon, cornet; Graham Hughes, trombone (appearing on all but the first, and singing cheerfully on MARGIE), Morten Gunnar Larsen, keyboard; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums.

AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL:

LOVE NEST:

TODDLIN’ BLUES:

MARGIE:

A Jazz Band Ball, indeed.

See you at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party this November, where this music will blossom, in the light or in the darkness.

May your happiness increase!

BEWARE OF THE REPEATER PENCIL

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (Oscar Wilde, DE PROFUNDIS)

I think Wilde’s despairing indictment is far too sweeping, but it is often true in jazz, ironically a music that so vigorously presents itself as celebrating originality, singularity, individual utterance.  Improvisation, inventiveness, and the like are exceedingly difficult. But I witness three varieties of “mimicry” often in the art form I love: imitating an individual artist’s style; copying a recording; copying oneself. Obviously, they overlap.

This post has been simmering in my mind for a long time, motivated by people who try to sing exactly like Billie, play like Bix or Bird or a hundred others.  On a technical level, I occasionally admire such mastery but confess I also find it upsetting — rather like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the Halloween mask is so perfect yet so energetically malicious that it cannot be removed from the wearer’s face.

I revere the artists who deeply move me, and I understand that one might opt to copy Billie Holiday as closely as possible because, in the act of imitation, the singer can perhaps make it appear that Billie has never died, has never left. The singer can hope to move an audience not only by her own vocal skill but by the thrill of recognition, the doubling of emotion we have when we see the Present and the Past simultaneously appearing to occupy the same space.

But is this act of duplication truly reverence or desecration?  Would Billie have admired the copyist as someone paying homage or someone who hadn’t yet found her own voice and was seeking to hitch a ride on someone else’s style and fame?

I have also asked this question when it comes to the recreation of beloved recorded performances, and have annoyed some people, perhaps to excess, so I will leave that for now.  I know there is indeed something exciting about hearing a favorite solo or recording reproduced “live,” but for me the pleasure is limited.

Copying an artist — in moderation — has its virtues for the young or inexperienced performer, someone whose identity is still malleable. As a way of finding out who one is and who one was meant to be, it can be rewarding. For an amorphous artist to find someone from whom (s)he can “steal” is part of the long process of self-education and self-selection. Young poets and painters in centuries past were set to imitate Horace or Rodin. At the very least, practicing Bix’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo over and over means that you are listening to something beautiful, enduring, something beyond your own improvisations.

But creating a self seems to be a process both of accretion and divesting: of taking on models, to be reproduced to the best of one’s ability, and then gradually sloughing them off so that one’s “authentic” self, grown silently, can be revealed in all its shifting iridescent beauty. I wonder if the desire to wholly take on someone else’s essential self is destructive to the borrower.

I have read many reminiscences where The Great Man or Woman (Louis, Bird, Pres, Jo) is approached by a young follower who then plays or sings exactly a cherished chorus that the GM/W has recorded in the past . . . and the Master’s reaction is either gentle puzzlement or strong annoyance, “What are you doing all that shit for? What is the matter with you?”

Benny Goodman did not need clarinet players to be Benny Goodman onwards in to the future.  He was Benny Goodman; he is Benny Goodman. Nothing more needs to be said.

“Who are you?” is the larger question. If you play SEVEN COME ELEVEN, if you sing STRANGE FRUIT, what do you have to offer us that is yours?

My thoughts are motivated by more than one singer devotedly attempting to be Billie Holiday, slowing down the tempo during the performance so that a cheerful song becomes a despairing moan, ending phrases with a large vibrato and downward slides, choking an otherwise open voice into a constricted meow.  I believe that these singers are genuine in their admiration, but the result sounds as if they are offering a product — “Get your Billie Holiday right here!” — for sale.

I do understand such acts as outpourings of love. When I was given a cornet and I could croak through a melody statement of HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY, I felt very proud that I could play something remotely like the sounds I adore, though I was aware of the mighty distances between what I heard in my memory and the sounds emerging from the bell — and I sent it into the air as a thank-you to my dear benefactor and an offering to Louis.

But ultimately I think, should I have succeeded as a player, that I would want to be my own original synthesis of everyone I’d ever admired, mixed into a concoction that sounded, for better or worse, like Me — reflecting my love for Louis, for Joe Thomas, for Bobby Hackett, mixed together in what I would hope was a pleasing way.

It is not only musicians who aspire to be their idols; I think of those fans who are most happy when their favorite band reproduces their favorite performance, heard numberless times before. I have been seated in a festival audience when the leader announces that the Romano Bean Famous Players will now offer their version of “WIND MY SPRING AND WATCH ME GO,” and the crowd both sighs with pleasure at something they all know and love and cheers for the same reason. It’s rather like the joy (or is it relief?) one finds in going to a favorite restaurant and finding that the long-imagined dish tastes just as one remembers.

Sometimes this desire to have Everything The Way We Like It has a sharp edge. I recall Buddy Tate, heroic improviser of the Count Basie band and his own orchestras, telling the story of an angry fan who came up to him after a set, saying accusingly, “You didn’t play that the way it was on THE RECORD!” When Tate attempted to explain to the young man that such variations were jazz, he was met with uncomprehending irritation.

I think of the man who sat next to Tate for two years in the Basie reed section, Lester Young.  Ironically, when Lester became famous and his style clearly recognizable, he was imitated by people who made more money doing it than he did, playing himself.  Lester told either Chris Albertson or Francois Postif, who asked why he, Lester, didn’t play in the old style with his old friends, that he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil.” People have puzzled over this singular phrase, and I submit that what Lester was speaking of was his own blending of “mechanical pencil” and “repeater pistol,” a device by which one could reproduce the same object — a factory assembly line for art — but with deadly effects. (It is of course possible that Lester did start to say “repeater pistol” but, always gentle, caught himself before that word emerged.)

In two words, Lester reminded us what Emerson had written a century before, that imitation is suicide. In Lester’s coinage, it’s homicide as well — not only killing off those one Reveres, but perhaps an art form as well.

I expect some disagreement with what I have written. I would not step on anyone’s pleasures. If you and your colleagues want to get together, in basement or bandstand, and reproduce note-for-note the recordings that you love, it would be impudent of me to suggest that you cease and desist. If you want to sing exactly as Billie did “on the record,” I would not try to stop you. It would puzzle me, but I would not quibble with you in person.

My question, though, would be, “Now that you can do THAT, what else could you do that would move to exploring new possibilities, giving us worlds we haven’t even dreamed of?”

May your happiness increase!

CORNET MASTERS: GEORGE FINOLA, DOC EVANS, REX STEWART

Cornet

Although I never was drawn to cigarette smoking, I remember personalized matchbooks with fondness — whether they encouraged you to sign up for correspondence courses or to revisit a restaurant or night club.  They were portable advertising before Facebook, business cards that had more than one use.  Here are two jazz-related ones, courtesy of eBay, that house of surprises.

One celebrates a New Orleans gig and a much-missed cornet player, a man of great lyricism, who made his debut recording in the company of Armand Hug, Raymond Burke, Danny Barker, which should tell you something about the esteem in which he was held — the late GEORGE FINOLA:

GEORGE FINOLA on CORNET matchbook

Here’s George, late in his short career, in a very Hackett mood for CABIN IN THE SKY:

Then, we venture, somewhat whimsically, into politics:

DOC EVANS FOR PRESIDENT

and an encouraging bit of wordplay on the reverse.  Was Doc Evans in competition with Dizzy Gillespie or well in advance of the front-runners?

DOC EVANS FOR PRESIDENT rear

This is why Paul “Doc” Evans deserves your vote — a brief clip of Doc, Art Hodes, and Bob Cousins burning through WOLVERINE BLUES in 1969 (from the public television series JAZZ ALLEY):

Most people don’t think of Rex Stewart as a cornetist, but it’s clear — in the film footage that we have of him — that it was his preferred brass instrument.  What a pleasure to find this piece of sheet music on sale:

BOY MEETS HORN

and the back is indeed priceless.  I want all those orchestrations!

BOY MEETS HORN backFifty cents each, too.

And here’s Rex (although not visible), performing BOY MEETS HORN, the fanciful enactment of what a young player’s first halting steps might sound like.  From the 1943 Carnegie Hall concert, announced by Ellington:

and in France, 1947:

The cornet is a demanding instrument — but it takes even more ingenuity (and pressing valves only half-way down) to make those glorious eccentric sounds as Rex does.

May your happiness increase!

“I WAS DETERMINED”: LOUIS, 1964

This is quite wonderful — and even if someone still can’t spell “cornet,” it is very touching and worth watching.  I will let it speak for itself:

“It worked out all right.”

May your happiness increase!

PLAYING FOR KEEPS: REBECCA KILGORE QUARTET with TIM LAUGHLIN at SWEET AND HOT 2011

I mean my title literally.  This band is at its easy playful best — but what they offer us won’t erode with time.  The music that Rebecca Kilgore, Tim Laughlin (clarinet), Dan Barrett (trombone and cornet), Eddie Erickson (guitar, banjo, vocal), and Joel Forbes (string bass) created at the September 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival will last.

It’s energetic, personal, lively, sweet, as you;ll see and hear.  And Ms. Kilgore, our Becky, is in top form — her opening choruses are thirty-two bar seminars in melodic invention over a swinging pulse; her second choruses say, “There’s always another way to sing these words and these notes,” and I know she could go on from one set of subtle variations on the theme to another all night long. (A Kilgore chorus has the same subtlety and structure as the solo of a great instrumentalist.)

Dan, Eddie, and Joel work together beautifully — their inventiveness, pulse, and swing — but the guest star, the limpid-toned Tim Laughlin, fit in as if he’d been working with this group for years.  Maybe he should be!

This nimble quintet began their set with an old favorite — but one whose optimistic message is always needed — BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD.  With the little Louis-touches, that backyard might well have been the garden next door to his house in Corona:

Because of Tim’s home town and the love it evokes from all the musicians in this idiom, Becky called for DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?:

Then, the perennial Harold Arlen – Ted Koehler declaration of fidelity (based on BASIN STREET BLUES, more or less), AS LONG AS I LIVE:

The jazz pedigree of I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS goes all the way back to Louis with Fletcher Henderson.  Often this song is played as the last one of the night — I’m glad there was more to come in this set.  And the Barrett – Laughlin riff behind Becky’s first chorus is somewhat reminiscent of “With no pants on” in some versions of THE SHEIK.  Listen to Becky’s pearly phrasing, then dig the hilarious horn conversation of Dan and Tim — bringing Vic Dickenson and Ed Hall into the twenty-first century, with the best aupport from Eddie and then Joel:

I had the original Kapp 45 of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW by the Kenny Ball Jazz Band — but with all respects to them, this version is even better.  Dan is one of the finest cornetists you’ll ever hear — careful and headlong at the same time, while Tim weaves leafy lines around him, Eddie and Joel rocking the room without strain:

Readers of JAZZ LIVES know the name of Edgar Sampson (as well as his main instrument) but it’s always lovely to hear IF DREAMS COME TRUE again, with its echoes of Billie, James P., and Dick Wellstood:

I wonder how many listeners get all the clever Thirties references in the lyrics of TANGERINE (look up Lilly Dache sometime) but the song stands on its own, sinuous and sly — let’s raise a toast to Becky’s choice of tempo and Joel’s eloquent playing:

And as a tribute to New Orleans and the romping early days, the band closed with THAT’S A PLENTY — fitted out with tongue-twisting lyrics perhaps thirty years after its initial recording — Buster’s gang came to town, with Eddie adding his smooth voice in sweet harmony:

This was such a superb set — the only thing missing was a rendition of IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON (appropriate to the decor): maybe next year?

ANDY SCHUMM MAKES A RECORD!

Cornetist Andy Schumm doesn’t do things the usual way — so, with the help of pianist Bryan Wright (the head of his own Rivermont Records), he has made his first record, something we’ve been waiting for . . .

a two-sided 10″ microgroove 78 — a limited edition of 500 copies.

Andy’s chosen two pieces of Twenties esoterica, DOWN IN GALLION (from John Williams’ Synco Jazzers) and THE SWING (really WASHINGTON AND LEE SWING).  Here’s more information about the disc, and a YouTube video that shows that both the performance and the sound are wonderful:

http://www.rivermontrecords.com/592.html

And if “limited edition” makes you think that this 78 will be out of your price range, it’s $16 plus shipping (complete with whimsically ornamented sleeve).

BUNK and WIGGS

 Names to conjure with — the classic monickers of two New Orleans brass giants, Willie “Bunk” Johnson (1879 or 1889-1949) and John Wigginton Hyman (1899-1977).  Bunk is widely-known; Wiggs should be.   

Two new compact discs present these men in very congenial settings. 

Let’s take “Johnny Wiggs” first.  Wiggs is yet another living proof that there are second and third acts in American lives: he recorded in 1927 and then not again for two decades (in the meantime, he had a successful career as a teacher and home-builder); he continued playing until his death.  Wiggs also fascinates me because of his deep lyrical strain: his early influence was Joe Oliver, but he fell under the spell of Bix Beiderbecke and (to my ears) he often sounds the way I imagine an elder Bix would have sounded: melancholy, introspective, singing softly to himself.

Wiggs has often been represented on record as the lead horn in a traditional New Orleans ensemble, and these settings haven’t always done him justice, because the energetic bandsmen have sometimes created a raucous good-time environment.  Best of all are his chamber sessions with only clarinetist Raymond Burke (another poetic soul), guitar (often Dr. Edmond Souchon), and bass — recorded on the Paramount label in the Fifties and I think impossible to find. 

But the Wiggs sessions collected on a new CD show his deep feeling and wide range.  Some of this music was issued on an lp — also called CONGO SQUARE — but this CD issue adds previously unissued material.  Here’s one of the original 78s:

 The music on the CD covers the years 1948-73, and was primarily recorded in New Orleans — one particularly exuberant small group includes Wiggs, clarinetist Bujie Centobie, tenorist Eddie Miller (their limpid sounds intertwining), and the Stacy-Bix pianist Armand Hug.  But to me the most interesting combination was suggested by the ever-inventive Hank O’Neal, who set up a date for Wiggs to record four of his own compositions . . . in New York, with a “New York” quartet of Dill Jones (from Wales), Cliff Leeman (from New England), and Maxine Sullivan (from Baltimore).  The results are special, making me wish that Wiggs had been transported out of his native element more often.  He’s worth discovering or rediscovering.

Bunk Johnson is a different case entirely: someone who has his own mythology, a figure with such a clearly defined identity that there were pro-and-anti Bunk forces at work.  I first heard Bunk on his earliest recordings, and was unimpressed: he seemed a rudimentary player doing his best but not always being able to break free from the near-amateur musicians surrounding him. 

It was only later when I heard his “Last Testament” recordings for Columbia in 1947 that I could hear what he was doing and revel in his beautiful melodic simplicity, the emotional directness of his lines, the delicacy of his embellishments. 

But it was clear to me (although some disagree) that Bunk was a more sophisticated musician than the contexts he was often placed in.  Put next to the vehemently competitive Sidney Bechet in Boston, he often held his own but sometimes sounded as if he had been dropped into the Golden Gloves. 

In front of a sympathetic, swinging band, he blossomed and relaxed.  He had just that setting in the recordings now issued on an American Music CD — a 1947 concert with cornetist Doc Evans’s rocking little band and the perfect support of pianist Don Ewell.

Ewell hasn’t been celebrated enough — certainly not sufficiently in his lifetime.  But he was an elegantly swinging pianist, his subtle approach encompassing Jelly Roll Morton’s ruffles and flourishes and the later swing of Hines, Stacy, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  It says a good deal about Ewell that he seemed to be the favorite pianist of both Jack Teagarden and Frank Chace.  And Bunk Johnson.  A year before this concert, Bunk, Ewell, and drummer Alphonso Steele had recorded as a trio in New York for American Music — playing pop tunes and old favorites: WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN, IN THE GLOAMING, OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, JA-DA, YOU’VE GOT TO SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, POOR BUTTERFLY, and WHERE THE RIVER SHANNON FLOWS. 

At the Minneapolis concert, there are vibrant full-band versions of traditional standards such as HIGH SOCIETY, THE SHEIK OF ARABY, and SISTER KATE, but there are also wonderful examples of the Bunk-Ewell partnership.  (One elaborately wayward performance after hours, where Bunk is trying to teach Ewell the harmonies to HEARTACHES, both of them having imbibed more than they should, has been preserved in the Jazzology book on Bunk: SONG OF THE WANDERER, by Barry Martyn and Mike Hazeldine, as is their IN THE GLOAMING.)

But this concert presents what is, to me, the clearest representation of what Bunk could do — out of the recording studio, having a wonderful time, inspiring and being inspired by a first-rate group. 

 And now for some compelling musical evidence (music also available from the George H. Buck family of labels):

Bunk, Ewell, and Alphonso Steele in New York City, 1946:

Wiggs with the legendary guitarist Snoozer Quinn in 1948:

To order the Bunk / Ewell / Evans CD, click here:

 http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=AMCD-129

To order the Wiggs CD, click here:

http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=BCD-507

REMEMBER TO CLICK HERE TO REPAY THE MUSICIANS:

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THE GOLDEN EAR(A) (Dec. 12, 2010)

I’ve heard live jazz in many settings here and abroad.  In New York City, I can think of the last Eddie Condon’s, Jimmy Ryan’s, The Cajun, Smoke, Cleopatra’s Needle, Gregory’s, The Cookery, Arthur’s Tavern, Smoke, Iridium, Jazz Standard, The Garage, Bradley’s, The Half Note, The Onliest Place, Banjo Jim’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Bourbon Street, Sweet Rhythm, Smalls, Fat Cat, and many more. 

With all due respect to these clubs that have provided lasting memories from the early Seventies onward, I can’t over-estimate the joyous resonance of the Sunday night sessions at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City) which have been going on for nearly three and a half years now.

The EarRegulars — co-led by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet, and Matt Munisteri, guitar — have offered serene / hot chamber jazz by a quartet staffed by a changing cast of characters . . . with expansion possibilities up to a dozen strolling players. 

But Sunday night, December 12, 2010, was a high point: two brass, two rhythm.  That combination might have been challenging with other players, but when the two others were Joel Forbes, bass, and Randy Reinhart, cornet, I knew great jazz was in store.  Joel and Matt are a wonderful team — as soloists and a wasteless, energetic but never noisy rhythm section.  Piano?  Drums?  Not missed.

Jon-Erik and Randy are pals (as you’ll hear) and although an evening featuring two other trumpeters — even though Randy plays cornet — might turn into a competitive display of ferocity, an old-time cutting contest, nothing of the sort happened here.  The two hornmen sounded for all the world like dear friends having a polite but involved conversation.  They soloed without interruption; their contrapuntal lines tumbled and soared; they created great hot ensembles, each one handing off the lead to the other.

Deep music and rollicking fun as well.

How about two tributes to the forever-young man from Davenport,  the dear boy Bix, compositions that have become hot jazz standards, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES and JAZZ ME BLUES? 

Written by Earl Hines, performed by Louis and Basie — some solid credentials for the song YOU CAN DEPEND ON ME:

What followed was a highlight of the evening — a deep, rocking exploration of DALLAS BLUES.  They’re on the right track!

Honesty counts, and candor is a great virtue.  So IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, as Fats Waller told us:

Fidelity, even for a short period, is a great thing.  IF I COULD BE WITH YOU (ONE HOUR TONIGHT) is James P. Johnson’s wistful evocation of the desire for more than sixty minutes:

But everything in this life is mutable (root word: “muta”) and so THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:

I’m so grateful that such music is being created where I and others can see and hear it!

ANDY SCHUMM LEADS THE WAY at CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 18, 2010)

If you’ve been reading this blog even casually, the name Andy Schumm — the hot cornet / piano man from Milwaukee — will not be new to you.  And he continues to offer surprises: his fine, ringing lead; his well-chosen tempos; his deep immersion in the repertoire; the ease with which he melds the heroic choruses of the recordings we’ve all come to treasure with his own improvisations . . . and more.

Here’s the first set he led at the 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, a fine, compact outing.  It says a great deal about Andy and the respect that his peers offer him that he was so capably able to get all these personalities — these veteran musicians, for the most part, men of strong opinions — going in his direction.  And that says that his direction pleased them and it was right!  

The band had its own delightful reed section in Bobby Gordon, clarinet, and Dan Block, tenor sax and (wonderfully on WHISPERING), bass clarinet; a one-man trombone section in Bob Havens, and a bouncing rhythm team of John Sheridan, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; Jon Burr, bass (Jon fits in everywhere!); Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Andy began with CRAZY RHYTHM, properly not too fast, with Bobby in a wailing Pee Wee Russell mood:

He then called WHISPERING, such a pretty melody (I applaud the inventions of Dizzy and Bird but always hear WHISPERING poking through GROOVIN’ HIGH), where Dan Block picks up his bass clarinet and steals the show until Bobby reminds us of late Lester Young — wandering yet hopeful:

What would a a session be without some homage, large or small, to Louis?  Here, Andy’s idea was a rocking WEARY BLUES, with all the strains of this 1927 favorite firmly in place — fine leadership here:

And, to close, the old anthem to the-eyes-are-the-windows-of-the-soul metaphysical conceit, THEM THERE EYES.  Don’t miss John Sheridan’s romping, tumbling stride chorus:

What a band!  I thought of a Hackett group — from any period — crossed with a Condon Town Hall concert with some Keynote spices and a touch of Fifties Vanguard.  And although it might seem immodest, I keep revisiting these video performances, grinning and bobbing rhythmically in front of the computer, no doubt to the astonishment of my neighbors, should any of them climb a ladder to peer into my second-floor window.

“POTATO HEAD BLUES” (March 2010)

Here’s the High Sierra Jazz Band — recorded by Tom Warner at the March 2010 Monterey Dixieland Festival — performing their dazzling version of Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES.  The band is made up of Pieter Meijers, reeds, co-leader; Howard Miyata, trombone; Bryan Shaw, cornet; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Stan Huddleston, banjo, guitar; Charlie Castro, drums; Earl McKee, sousaphone.  On this dazzling homage to Louis, the front line turns into a trumpet / cornet section.  What I need to know (and will probably never find out at this late date) is which of Louis’s Chicago or New Orleans pals apparently had a head that resembled a potato and was thus immortalized?  Whose physiognomy inspired this hot tune?

I wish I could have this performance on my clock radio — music to wake anyone up in the best way!

P.S.  Tom Warner’s YouTube channel is “tdub1941,” a cornucopia of good things.

PAPER GOODS, or GOOD PAPER

Who would have thought that advertisements could be so compelling?  But now I know.  If I were to find a Rudy Muck cornet, I could sound as good as Bobby Hackett did in 1939, which is saying something.  It would be helpful if I’d mastered the umlaut, but I could do that:

Then I could go to the Zildjian factory, try out some cymbals.  Look out, Gene!  Watch out, Dave!

Finally, I could model myself on George Wettling (not a bad thing, ever) — someone who actually seemed to be loyal to the brand he espoused, by playing Gretsch drums in 1949 and 1954:

eBay, of course . . . !

“BLUE RIVER” — ANDY SCHUMM / PAUL ASARO

This is a priceless collaboration — sounding in the last chorus as if we were eavesdropping on a brilliant casual duet between Bix Beiderbecke and Fats Waller.  But it’s not jazz time-travel.  Rather, it’s cornetist Andy Schumm and pianist Paul Asaro improvising on BLUE RIVER in Davenport, Iowa, Bix’s home town, in July, 2009.  But wait!  There’s more!  That mildly recalcitrant cornet Andy peers at quizzically while Paul is soloing looks familiar.  Yes, it’s Bix’s horn, and the piano is the Beiderbecke family piano.  This is as close as we will get to what it might have sounded like in 1927 or 1929, I think.  Thanks to “bixchick007” for capturing this, and the Putnam Museum for being a congenial spot for such brilliance. 

KING JOE / KING LEAR

King OliverMy iPod isn’t always a subject for philosophical contemplation.  More often it’s merely a calming talisman in my battle against airplane claustrophobia and tedium.  But recent experiences have made me think about it as more thought-provoking than a twentieth-century version of the transistor radio and cassette player of my past. 

It began when I unintentionally erased not only the contents of my iPod but also my iTunes library.  How that happened is not a subject for this blog, but I erased eight thousand tracks.  (Or, to use “the male passive,” I could write “eight thousand tracks had been erased,” but no matter.)  Preparing to go off on vacation far from my CD collection, I began to stuff compact discs into my iTunes library.  This, as readers will know, is a nuisance, and at times I wished for a youthful niece or nephew to whom I could say, “Want a hundred dollars?  Put each of the CDs in that bookcase into iTunes for me, will you?”  The computer did its job well, but it required me to check on it every six or seven minutes.  I began with the tail end of my collection — that’s Lester Young, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Ben Webster, Lee Wiley, and so on, and worked my way back to the Allens, Harry and Henry Red, in the space of ten days. 

And a King — Joe Oliver, pictured top left.   

This combination of obsessiveness and diligence resulted in an iPod with more than fifteen thousand tracks on it — the Hot Fives and Sevens, the Basie Deccas, the Lester Verves, the Billie Vocalions, the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Fats Waller from 1922 to 1935, Mel Powell on Vanguard, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins . . . all I could desire, more than a hundred full days of music.

But I kept silently asking myself, “What do you need all this music for, knowing that you couldn’t listen to it all in the space of the next twelve months?”

King LearAnother King kept insisting that I pay attention to him.  He didn’t play cornet; he would have been out of place at the Lincoln Gardens.  I had taught a course in Shakepearian tragedy this summer, and ended it with KING LEAR — adding a few scenes from the 1982 Granada television presentation with Sir Laurence Olivier.  

Early in the play, when Lear still thinks he has imperial powers (even though he has renounced the throne), he bargains with his daughters about whose house he shall stay at first, casually letting them know that he will arrive with a hundred knights.  Although Goneril and Regan are cruelly inhuman, I always feel for them at this point, as they ask their father, with some irritable reasonableness, why he, no longer King, needs a retinue.  Lear responds:    

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars

Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.

In the most commonsensical way, I take these lines to suggest that the difference between a reasonably privileged person and a Maltese terrier is that the person, when the impulse strikes, can go to the kitchen cabinet and have another cookie or pretzel.  Choice is at work here, unlike the dog who has to wait for the owner to fill his bowl.  “Need” is constricting; luxury is the freedom to transcend mere needs.  Or, in other terms, to have merely “enough” — the spiritual equivalent of eight hundred calories a day — is emotionally insufficient.

I knew that I didn’t “have to have” Ella Fitzgerald singing MY MELANCHOLY BABY (Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Benny Morton, 1936) in the same way I need food and drink.  I could capably replay most of that performance in my mind.  But not having it accessible provokes feelings of inadequacy, of being separated from my music.  To some, this will seem like an exercise in superfluity: I know there are people in other countries who don’t have clean water, let alone alternate takes of the Albert Ammons Commodores, and I feel for them, but the sensation of having more music than I can possibly listen to is luxuriant bliss.  It means that if, upon awaking, I really NEED to hear Dicky Wells and Bill Coleman play SWEET SUE . . . there it is.

Which leads me to the most brilliant feature of the iPod — not the ability to reproduce album cover artwork (!) but the ability to shuffle songs.  I plugged it in here and started it up . . . so that Dizzy Gillespie followed Mamie Smith who followed the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings who followed Hawkins . . . . a floating Blindfold Test, full of surprises and gratifications.  And no worrying about the hundred knights drinking up all the milk in the refrigerator. 

iPod

Olivier and Oliver, in perfect harmony.

DAN TOBIAS, QUIETLY LYRICAL

After discovering Louis Armstrong, I began my exploration of jazz by way of Bobby Hackett, so I am innately fond of those trumpet and cornet players who make their way to the heart of a song subtly, even subversively.   This inclination led me to Ruby Braff and Buck Clayton, Shorty Baker and Joe Thomas, Joe Wilder, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bob Barnard, Duke Heitger, Peter Ecklund, Marc Caparone, and Dan Tobias.

Dan Tobias may be the least well-known player on that list, which is a pity.  He hasn’t made compact discs under his own name, and he isn’t a regular on the jazz festival / jazz party circuit.  But the good news is that he is alive, youthful,  and playing beautifully.  New Yorkers and Jerseyites (especially the latter) can see him play, and he has two gigs coming up (details below).  But you don’t have to believe me without any evidence.

Here he is, playing BODY AND SOUL with casual unaffected mastery.  Hear his lovely tone, his delicate phrasing, his architectural sense of how to construct a solo.  Admire his love of the melody and respect for it, too.  And his singing approach to that demanding collection of tubing and metal. Dan can lead a shouting ensemble, and he can zip around corners in the best Clifford Brown way, but he is essential a tone-painter.  (In fairness, this impromptu duet favors the capable pianist Joe Holt, but you can’s miss our Mr. Tobias.)

I first heard Dan play on a CD by the Midiri Brothers band, where his compact lyricism was immediately apparent, and then I had the good luck to catch him one night as the cornetist with Kevin Dorn’s Traditional Jazz Collective.  I haven’t heard him regularly enough for my taste, but he has shown up occasionally at the Ear Inn . . . and impressed everyone, even when the front line included his admiring peers Kellso and Ecklund.  On that score, rumor has it that he will once again be at the Ear this Sunday (that’s May 31) with guitarist Matt Munisteri.  I’ll be there, happily.

And there’s another gig in Dan’s home state of New Jersey, in Medford, to be exact — on June 13, from 7:30 to 10 PM.  Dan writes, “The concert will take place at Memorial Hall,Cathedral of the Woods, 100 Stokes Road, Medford Lakes, New Jersey [609-654-4220].  This is a group from Trenton that rehearses weekly (not weakly).  The band features Trenton organ legend Tom Pass, chop monster guitarist Mike Remoli, the fearless saxophonist Dom DeFrancesco, the ever swinging Joe Falcey, and me on the trumpet. The material that we perform is adventurous and the band takes no prisoners!  The venue is a cool log cabin building with really good acoustics.  I hope that you can make it to the concert!”  Admission is $0, $15 for students and seniors, and refreshments are included.

A good deal!  If you’ve heard Dan play live, you won’t need my urging; if you haven’t, wait no longer.