It isn’t heralded with drums, parades, fireworks, and headlines, but sometimes the miraculous happens. Musically, I mean.
It did two Sundays ago, May 7, 2023, at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) when a singular version of the EarRegulars assembled in the corner that has been their stage and pulpit for about sixteen years now.
They were Danny Tobias, trumpet and Eb alto horn; Dan Block, clarinet and tenor saxophone; James Chirillo, guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass. And here’s an example of their gliding lyrical mastery: the Count Basie-associated pop tune, I’LL ALWAYS BE IN LOVE WITH YOU, written in 1929 (Bud Green, Sam H. Stept, and Herman Ruby). Did the Basie musicians play and sing it in Kansas City then? I can’t say, but it certainly enjoyed a renaissance in 1936 . . . and in 2023.
But let us consider the source material, a very pretty waltz:
It came from a pioineering sound film, with an enticing one-word title:
so I assume that musicians as well as civilians went to see the film and had the song in their minds. But when Count Basie picked it up again, perhaps seven years later, it was not to be a waltz, but a swing number for the dancers. And the Basie way — sly, understated joy through swing — lives on here:
But “the Basie way” is a beautiful paradox: taking life and art with the greatest seriousness while refusing to be perceived as doing so. Literary people will recognize Castiglione’s sprezzatura, or nonchalance . . . grooving without sweating over it, making the most difficult work appear easy. Messrs. Tobias, Block, Chirillo, and Adkins know how in their cells, and show it here. Bless them as they bless us.
More to come. And you’ve never been to the Ear Inn on a Sunday night?
P.S. as of today, May 25, I am still exiled from Facebook, thanks to a hacker. So please share this with people who will get its spirit. Thank you.
Perhaps because I have been listening to this music adoringly, obsessively, for decades, occasionally I think there will be no more surprises, no more electric shocks of delight. And then someone comes along and wonderfully proves me wrong. Without further ado, Arifa Hafiz and “Arifa’s Reefers,” led by Ewan Bleach, in performance in the Netherlands in November 2022.
ROSES OF PICARDY:
BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD:
Now, a pause for breath. And for information. The band is Ewan Bleach, clarinet and saxophones; Mike Soper, trumpet; Will Scott, clarinet; Colin Good, piano; Jean-Marie Fagon, guitar; Louis Thomas, string bass. And Ms. Hafiz.
DID I REMEMBER?:
and, finally, FOOLS RUSH IN:
Now, a few words, although they are hardly necessary. That band is completely grounded in the present: they aren’t museum curators. But they have the finest swing-romp one could have, a mixture of Basie and the Commodore Music Shop, with a good deal of Teddy Wilson stirred in for warmed leavening. Arifa is passionate but not melodramatic, joyous yet exact. She loves the song: that’s clear immediately, and she gets right inside it and makes herself comfortable. And in my very brief correspondence with her, she reveals herself to be without pretense: modest, friendly, and gracious — what you hear in her voice is who she is as a person.
You can’t imagine how much my happiness has increased. And there’s a CD in the works. Bless everyone in these videos, and (to borrow from Whitney Balliett) may they prosper.
Even as jazz as an art form prides itself on “moving forward,” it’s always been affectionately retrospective, cherishing the deep past and the recent past in performance and recordings. Think of Louis bringing his mentor’s DIPPER MOUTH BLUES to the Henderson band, even though Joe Oliver was probably continuing to play it; Bix and Tram recording the ODJB’s OSTRICH WALK; Bird playing Lester’s solo on SHOE SHINE BOY. (I am indebted to Matthew Rivera for reminding me of this idea through his radio broadcast on WKCR.)
One of the most rewarding institutions to come out of jazz’s desire to both honor the past as itself and to make it new was the New York Jazz Repertory Company. Not only did the NYJRC perform at the Newport in New York jazz festival, it brought its “shows” worldwide, most often under the leadership of the brilliant Dick Hyman. I saw Louis and Bix tributes in the early Seventies, and they were electrifying; even better, the NYJRC idea was a staple of the Nice Jazz Festival, and some of the concert performances were broadcast on French television. (I’ve posted a ninety-minute tribute to Benny Goodman recently here.
Trotting through YouTube last night — the cyber-equivalent of my getting on my bicycle when I was thirteen and riding to the public library — I found two half-hour NYJRC delights, posted by others in 2015, that I hadn’t seen before. I predict that you will enjoy them also. The first is a Basie tribute, from July 12, 1978; the second, Duke, July 17, 1977.
Those expecting note-for-note recreations of recordings will be, I think, pleasantly surprised by the openness of the arrangements and the leeway given the “contemporary” soloists to play their personalities. Everything is reasonably idiomatic but there are delightful shocks here and there.
The “Basie band” here is Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Jimmie Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Benny Powell, Dicky Wells, John Gordon, trombone; Paul Bascomb, Paul Moen, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Earle Warren, reeds; Dick Hyman, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Chubby Jackson, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. I count at least six venerated Basie alumni.
JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE (Paul Bascomb, Harry Edison, Benny Powell, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman) / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP (Hyman, Paul Moen, Dicky Wells, Bascomb, Joe Newman, Hyman) / ROCK-A-BYE BASIE (Wilber, Moen, Sweets, Hyman and Chubby Jackson) / HARVARD BLUES (Bascomb, Newman, vocal) / BROADWAY (Wilber, Sweets, Hyman, Wilber, Bascomb, Pepper Adams, Powell, John Gordon, Earle Warren, Cat Anderson, Moen):
and “the Ellington band,” made up of many of the same champions, Hyman, Rosengarden, Wilber, Pepper Adams, Maxwell — with Jon Faddis, Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, trumpets; Eddie Daniels, Zoot Sims, Billy Mitchell, reeds; George Duvivier, string bass, John Mosca, Billy Campbell, Earl McIntyre, trombone:
EAST ST. LOUIS-TOODLE OO (Wilber, Pepper, Daniels, Erwin) / DOUBLE CHECK STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Billy Campbell) / JUNGLE NIGHTS IN HARLEM (possibly John Mosca, Maxwell, Daniels) / DOCTOR E.K.E. (composition by Raymond Fol, piano; Mosca, Mitchell, Faddis, Sam Woodyard, drums) / HARLEM AIR-SHAFT (McIntyre, Faddis, Daniels, Joe Newman) / BLUE GOOSE (Wilber, Maxwell, Zoot, Mosca, Wilber) / JUMPIN’ PUNKINS (Duvivier, Pepper, Rosengarden, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Hyman, Zoot, Hyman, McIntyre):
Honoring the originals and their creators but giving plenty of space to honor the present — a lovely balance. And if you’d rather hear the Basie Deccas and Ellington Victors, they will still be there, undamaged and pristine.
LESTER’S BLUES is a septet (often with guests) based in Gent, Belgium, and they swing like mad.
In instrumentation, they resemble the Reno Club band and they have much of the same free-wheeling joyous spirit. Basie always started with the saxophone section, so I will also: Tom Callens, tenor, alto, vocal; David Lukacs, clarinet, tenor; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Luk Vermeir, piano; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Sam Gersmans, string bass; Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; guests Dree Peremans, trombone; Monique ‘Mo’ Harcum, vocal.
I found their first album so delightful that I did everything but hug the disc. I distrust hyperbole, but called it “a triumph” here. Visit that post, by the way, and you can savor some delightful video evidence. Just be sure that the Depression glass is not too close to the edge of the shelf, because your castle will be rocking.
One of the pleasures of this band is that their repertoire is intelligently spacious. “Basie tributes” often fall back on familiar lines on I GOT RHYTHM, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, the blues, and a few ballads . . . but JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE has been picked clean, and many forget that the Basie band was also playing IF I DIDN’T CARE, THE YOU AND ME THAT USED TO BE, and originals like TAXI WAR DANCE, inspirations that LESTER’S BLUES follows. They remember that Lester loved the music he heard on the radio.
Enough with the words, as they say. Some music!
Thinking about the blues idiom and Bessie — in a performance that, to me, imagines a Basie-Bessie performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 (think FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING). Totally evocative without raising its voice:
and the expertly frolicsome GEORGIA JUBILEE, credited to Arthur Schutt and a young man from Chicago named Benny:
Several things leap out at me: not only the immense subtlety of the soloists, but the wonderful mix of exactitude and freedom in the ensembles. And the sound! Delicious and warm, never clinical.
In addition to these two performances, the new disc, RADIO RHYTHM, offers LITTLE WHITE LIES, WHEN THE SUN SETS DOWN SOUTH, MOTEN’S SWING, ROLL ‘EM, CLIMAX RAG, I LEFT MY BABY, THAT’S ALL, and the title tune for a total of ten performances both leisurely and compact. The band is comfortably “modern,” in its grooving, but no one needs six choruses to get rolling. Readers with memories will notice associations with Jelly Roll and Mary Lou, Smack, Bechet, and Mister Five by Five in addition to Basie and Lester in a variety of periods.
And what this recording and this band remind me, with gentleness and integrity, is that classic jazz is an unbroken continuum over the last century-plus, with our heroes in contemporary times offering love to the past, while the past says, “Go on and be yourselves! We did it, and that’s why you admire us so.”
I offer as testimony to the greatness of this orchestra and of this session my chunk of enthusiastic prose — but don’t quail, it’s only a little more than six hundred words. Or you can skip to the end and purchase the music.
There are two ways to approach the Past. One is to handle it tenderly as fragile relic, ready to dissolve into dust. Thus, bands play CHANT OF THE WEED from manuscript paper, aiming to sound like a 1933 Don Redman 78 rpm record. Expertly done, it sends shivers down the spine. But for others it is like a parlor trick, an impressionist pretending to be someone else. The other approach acknowledges that our heroes were innovative, horrified at the idea of being “a repeater pencil.” LESTER’S BLUES knows the originals by heart and has taken them to heart, but they are a band with spice. They have a glorious wildness at their center of their deep love of classic jazz. They are respectful of the original arrangements – they do not destroy the cathedral to put up a shopping mall — but within the arrangements they go their own idiosyncratic joyous ways. They create devoted homages to the recorded past, but those prayers to Bluebird Records and the Famous Door are springboards for creativity, not ankle bracelets to keep living artists restricted to older conventions. And what I hear is exultant, even when melancholy andslow.
The musicians have a common love of swing. Sadly, manycontemporary players and singers keep “the pocket” or “the groove” at arm’s length, as if swing is Grandpa’s pocket watch and fob in the era of the iPhone. How sad. On the rock of this rhythm section this band could build a new swinging city on a hill. And the soloists! Bless them for their strong personalities, rooted yet playful, and celebrate them for how well they meld into vivid unity. And bless the light-hearted and sublimely effective arrangements, at once roadmaps and wind in the trees.
Each performance has its own singularity. I won’t praise the soloists, nor will I anatomize each performance or tell the history of each song – that’s your delightful homework – but these ten performances fill the room with light and joy. And more: each track is at once music and beyond music: one is a Turner landscape, another a Jacob Lawrence, a Calder, a Kandinsky.
None of this is by accident. Tom Callens told me, “We have a total of ten tracks which were chosen out of a bigger pool of songs. We chose these for their freshness, special arrangements, strong melodies, less popularly known (except ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out’ of course), or just because we have an emotional attachment to them. That’s why it’s not a concept or tribute album. It’s just us trying to play really well, having a new repertoire, a cohesive and rhythmic sound, and enjoying the ride. We recorded at the same place as earlier and this time did it using one stereo ribbon mic (in blumlein configuration), positioning ourselves around it and adjusting our positions to mix the individual volume levels. The L-R signal was fed through a state of the art dual tube microphone preamp and sent straight to two-track tape. Tracks were recorded in one go (one-takes) so there’s no editing involved.”
Just like the old days, but brand-new. Passion and exactitude; personal freedom within defined frameworks, power and airy lightness (like Jimmy Rushing on the dance floor). And it all fuses in the nicest communal way. LESTER’S BLUES feels like “a band,” spiritually: a happy group united for a communal purpose. I imagine them getting together for a celebratory meal after the session, laughing and enjoying what they have created. I am sure that Pres, Basie, Jo, Benny, Bessie, Jelly Roll, Mister Five by Five, and Charlie (Christian and Parker) are grinning their faces off. You will be, too.
Yes, music for dancers, but also music for people who pat their foot and grin while seated in front of their computer and speakers. Music for people who understand joy, recognize it, and avidly choose it.
You can find both their albums (or downloads) here.
The source: a friendly approachable silly-memorable 1937 tune, based in the appeal of adults pretending to be children (deconstruct the lyrics at your peril):
A little later on, the Basie way — slightly increased tempo, a hilarious Fats-based piano chorus, with wonderful soloing from Jack Washington and Buck Clayton, and a deliciously adult vocal (so good-humored!) by Jimmy Rushing that leads to a hot trumpet solo from Bobby Moore. And the band is rocking irresistibly in the final chorus: the finest dance music ever:
Next, Professor Wingston and his Mighty Men, George Brunis, trombone; Matty Matlock, clarinet; Joe Marsala, tenor saxophone; Conrad Lanoue, piano; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Danny Alvin, drums. Note Joe bubbling behind the vocal, where Wingy disconnects the lyrics line by line:
And a surprising instrumental version by Fats Waller and his Rhythm, jamming all the way through. Did Fats say, “I won’t sing that _____?” Anyway, the hot results are rewarding:
Is there a moral here? An aesthetic lecture on the intrinsic superiority of improvisation? No, because you could hear all four of these versions on the radio and live in 1937 (also Russ Morgan and Harry Roy) — people danced to them and enjoyed them. And there’s much to enjoy in each one. I like all four versions!
If you must muse on deeper meanings, I encourage you to begin here:
Knock, knock! Who’s there? Boo. Boo who? Oh, I’m sorry….I didn’t mean to make you cry!
No, this post isn’t about cross-species jam sessions.
But the material chosen for the group improvisation in the October afternoon sunshine was Herschel Evans’ DOGGIN’ AROUND, a line on familiar chords much beloved by the 1938 Count Basie band. The wonderfully skilled musicians — a pocket orchestra with the delicacy and force of the Basie band transported decades forward — are Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Neal Miner, string bass. Expertly capering.
Marcus has given the paw: he approves, and we surely do.
A note from the CEO: I’m writing this thirty minutes into December 27, the end of an extended period of Judeo-Christian holidaying, and a Monday return to work. I send this swing out to you who might be feeling a thud as a return to the mundane happens . . .
John Lewis is known to many as the musical center of the Modern Jazz Quartet, and we might think of four handsome, austerely solemn men in tuxedos . . . improvising sedately on near-classical themes. But John himself was a delightfully swinging pianist — hear his work with Lester Young and this irresistible, warm improvisation on I GOT RHYTHM, which he called DELAUNAY’S DILEMMA for Charles Delaunay.
This performance comes from a May 8, 1959 trio session where John is buoyed by George Duvivier, string bass, and Connie Kay, drums. I hear Kansas City and Count Basie in John’s bell-like swinging minimalism:
There’s an immense Groove to whatever the EarRegulars play: think Louis and Basie having a good time together.
Yes, those two deities are posing for a photographer, but I imagine them grinning at the music made by the EarRegulars one Sunday afternoon, July 25, 2021 (although any EarRegulars gathering would produce the same response).
That Sunday, the EarRegulars were Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; John Allred, trombone; James Chirillo, guitar; Neal Caine, string bass — lovingly playing Louis’ 1947 composition, SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY, which I think of as the sweetest song of reproach and revenge possible:
The EarRegulars have been appearing all summer at The Ear Out, details specified above, from 1-3:30 on Sundays. Have you been?
If you already know Percy France, don’t spend another moment reading what I’ve written. Go immediately to www.percyfrance.info — where you can hear him play, read about him (tributes by people who loved him), and learn more.
But if he’s only a name to you . . .
Perhaps because it is often mistaken for simple entertainment, jazz is oddly distinguished from other art forms by a powerful Star System. There is too much of “the greatest of all time,” which negates the broader accomplishments of many beautiful artists. But those who listen deeply know that alongside — not behind — Louis, there are Ray Nance and Bill Coleman; alongside Art Tatum there are Ellis Larkins and Jimmie Rowles, and so on, creative men and women ignored in the speeding-train chronicles of Important Artists.
With that in mind, and the joy of discovering someone “new,” here is tenor saxophonist Percy France. He may be little-known or even unknown to many. I did hear him on the radio (broadcasts by WKCR-FM, Columbia University’s station, from the West End Cafe in New York, presided over by Phil Schaap), but I never saw him in person.
But before you assume that Percy’s semi-obscurity is the result of a diluted talent, let me point out that this summer when Sonny Rollins was asked about him, his response was as enthusiastic as it could be. The excerpt that caught my eye is simple: I never could beat him. We were good friends, and I think of him as my brother.
Let that sink in.
And since you might be saying, “All right . . . praised by Sonny. What did he sound like?” here are three samples, thanks to Daniel Gould, about whom I will have more to say.
Here’s Percy, fluid, melodic, cheerfully making the over-familiar come alive:
and a different kind of groove, quietly lyrical:
France plays Fats, light-hearted and witty:
I admire honest deep research unashamedly, since often what’s passed off as information is made of cardboard. So I present to you Daniel Gould’s wonderful Percy France site — solid and ever-growing — his energetic tribute to a musician who should be cherished as more than a name in a discography: www.percyfrance.info will take you there.
Daniel has done and continues to do the great hard work of the reverent researcher: he proceeds without ideological distortion, for his sole purpose is to ensure that Percy and his music (as if one could separate the two) are not going to be forgotten. And, also quietly and without fanfare, he wants us to honor Percy as an individualist, someone “with his own voice,” not simply another “tough tenor” following well-worn paths.
To the site. What will you find there? First a biography (audio as well as print) documenting his too-brief life (1928-1992) his musical development, his associations with Sonny Rollins, Bill Doggett, Jimmy Smith, Freddie Roach, Sir Charles Thompson. Charlie Parker and Count Basie make cameo appearances as well. Then, even more beautiful, remembrances by Doggett, Bill Easley, Allen Lowe, Mike LeDonne, Sascha Feinstein, Michael Hashim, Sammy Price, Randy Sandke, Chris Flory, Scott Hamilton and others — all testifying to Percy’s qualities as musician and gentleman.
Then the treasure-box opens, revealing hours of unknown enlightenment and pleasure: a session by session listing, complete with newspaper clippings, photographs, record labels — first, Percy’s King and Blue Note record dates of 1949-1962.
The sessions continue — 1977-81, live dates featuring Percy alongside Doc Cheatham, Sammy Price, Chris Flory, Loren Schoenberg, Randy Sandke, Allen Lowe, Dick Katz, and others . . . and here Daniel has provided selections from these wonderful and wonderfully rare performances.
Finally, and most expansively, the period 1982-1990, is documented through the Leonard Gaskin Papers held at the Smithsonian — and it contains seventy-five percent of Percy’s recorded work . . . with Gaskin, Cliff Smalls, Oliver Jackson, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Lance Hayward, Bill Pemberton, Major Holley, Bob Neloms, Bill Berry, Wild Bill Davis, Big John Patton, Doug Lawrence, and others. And there’s MUSIC . . . my goodness, how much music there is. I abandoned my chores for the better part of the day to listen, and I still have more to hear.
A few more words about Daniel Gould and his site. He is a clear fluent writer; his site is a pleasure to visit, and the treasures overflow. And he has a purpose: that Percy France, one of the lovely creators now no longer on the planet, shall be remembered with the attention and affection he deserves. I delight in Percy and in Daniel’s efforts.
In the name of accuracy, I must point out that TOPSY was composed by Eddie Durham and 9:20 SPECIAL (which was meant to be 920 SPECIAL in honor of the AM radio station) was written by Earle Warren — but they were both members of the Count Basie orchestra, so we associate them with William Basie of Red Bank, New Jersey.
Because of the enthusiastic response to the first posting from this session, titled simply FLOATING BRILLIANCE, I thought, “Why wait?” and here are two more performances from that happy gathering — created by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
9:20 SPECIAL (catch Scott on trumpet as well as tenor!):
Of course, there’s more to come. But it also happens with real people in real time, so visit The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on a Sunday from 1-3:30. I can’t be there every week, so if you wait for the videos, you will miss some marvels. I guarantee this.
I’ve written about the wonderful band, “Lester’s Blues,” led by tenor saxophonist Tom Callens, here, when they released their first recording, a few years ago. Those who play know that such swing isn’t something one learns in the first weeks of practice, but these musicians make it feel effortless . . . in the grand tradition.
But here is an hour of them in performance, lightly swinging but firmly in that 1936-40 groove: emulating but not copying. This session was aired 9th of April 2021 for the online Swing Paradise festival of Vilnius, Lithuania. The players are Frederik Van den Berghe, drums; Sam Gerstmans, string bass; Victor Da Costa, guitar; Luk Vermeir, piano; Frank Roberscheuten, clarinet / tenor saxophone; Hans Bossuyt, trumpet; Tom Callens, tenor saxophone.
And the songs — so well-chosen — are ESQUIRE BOUNCE / BROADWAY / I LEFT MY BABY / LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / SIX CATS AND A PRINCE / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP / LITTLE WHITE LIES / TICKLE TOE / BASIE’S BOOGIE (I MAY BE WRONG) / AFTER THEATRE JUMP / JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE.
Listening to them, I am reminded that the early glorious Basie band was really a small group with extra horns added for volume and force, so that the dancers in large halls (before everything was amplified) could feel the band’s power. LESTER’S BLUES harks back to the streamlined, all-muscle Reno Club band — its essence so warmly and happily captured here:
I hear that this band — so right, so swinging — is making a second recording. You’ll learn of it here. For now, let your day and night be guided by this easy rocking motion. What a group!
Thanks to these delightful musicians, a reminder that swinging jazz is resilient and, what’s more, present: this concert was shown recently on television, a very pleasing phenomenon in itself. Its theme? Swinging jazz is thriving.
Matthias Seuffert, January 2020.
The creators are Matthias Seuffert, tenor saxophone and clarinet (hear him on the latter on AFTER SUPPER); Patrick Artero on trumpet; Thilo Wagner on piano; Lindy Huppertsberg, string bass and announcements; Gregor Beck, drums. The repertoire honors “New Testament” Basie and Neal Hefti, Fifties American pop classics, Louis and Hoagy Carmichael, Edgar Sampson and the Swing Era, neatly evoked without all those music stands: FLIGHT OF THE FOO BIRDS / AFTER SUPPER / SECRET LOVE (Thilo, Lindy, Gregor) / JUBILEE / and the encore, BLUE LOU.
Wonderful music, so expert, so warm, and so reassuring. Bless its vividly imaginative friends, making it get up and do its dance in 2019.
Michael Gamble amid friends. How many swing stars do you recognize?
In person, bandleader-string bassist Michael Gamble is quiet and unassuming, but he really knows how to swing. It’s a pleasure to tell you about four new digital-EP releases by his virtual groups, now available at Bandcamp. Those who like can skip the rest of this post and go directly there to listen.
They sound great, which is particularly remarkable, considering how hard the musicians have to work to make music in “isolation sessions.”
Michael explains, “All recordings from this series were made remotely, each of the 18 musicians (from 9 states) playing either in their homes, home-studios, or whatever they could make work! Despite the logistical challenges, we were determined to make an artistically cohesive and exciting project. Sections were pieced together painstakingly to make sure that no part was recorded prior to something that it needed to react creatively to, which often required multiple takes by the same musician on the same tune, spread over weeks. We believe the result — while certainly different in feel than prior Rhythm Serenaders albums which were recorded live in a single room — is a special set of recordings with their own completely unique flavor. We hope they’ll be enjoyed for years to come!”
I can swear to that last sentence. Without a hint of museum dustiness, it is as if Michael and friends lifted me out of my chair and teleported me to splendid sessions truly happening, let us say, between 1934 and 1947. Or, if you prefer, he came to my house and gave me a waist-high stack of perfectly recorded 16″ transcription discs of all my heroes and heroines. Both of those science-fiction scenarios require a suspension of disbelief: all you have to do to drink at the extraordinary Fountain of Swing is to go here and buy yourself and friends holiday and early-holiday and post-holiday presents. (Friday, December 4, by the way, is one of Bandcamp’s special days where all the proceeds go to the musicians, with no fees deducted, so it’s a wonderful time to do this.)
The musical worlds (note plural) Michael and friends live in are so spacious that each of these has its own distinctive flavor, which I will try to describe.
Volume One, LATCH ON TO THAT RHYTHM, goes like this: Somebody Loves Me / Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise / Lester Smooths It Out / Bounce Me Brother, with a Solid Four / Did I Remember? / Joe Louis Stomp / One Never Knows, Does One? and the musicians are Laura Windley, vocals (1, 4, 5, 7); Dan Levinson, clarinet / tenor; Noah Hocker, trumpet; Jonathan Stout, acoustic and electric guitars / Chris Dawson, piano; Michael Gamble, string bass; Hal Smith, drums. The overall flavor is multi-layered, with tastes of mid-Thirties Wilson and Billie, the Gramercy Five, and a splendid infusion of 1946 Aladdin and Keynote. Even if the references mean little to you, hear how good the band sounds on JOE LOUIS STOMP. And listen to Laura Windley work her magic on ONE NEVER KNOWS, DOES ONE?— that rarest of compositions, a song about the magic of love balancing frail hope and deep melancholy. (By the way, it’s a Mack Gordon-Harry Revel creation from 1936, and although everyone knows it from Billie, it’s first sung by Alice Faye in a Shirley Temple film. Consider that.)
Volume Two, EFFERVESCENT SWING, features A Sunbonnet Blue (and a Yellow Straw Hat) / Coquette / Me, Myself, and I / South / Am I Blue? / Sweet Sue / Effervescent Blues / Tickle-Toe, and some of the same rascals are present: Laura Windley (1, 3, 5); Dan Levinson (tenor 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; clarinet 5; alto 8); Chloe Feoranzo (clarinet 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8; tenor 6); David Jellema, cornet; Charlie Halloran, trombone; Jonathan Stout; James Posedel, piano; Michael Gamble, Hal Smith. The flavors — still delicious — are a little different. Think the small-group Basie riffing of the Kansas City Six; toss with Reuss and Catlett seasonings; add some Commodore Condon rideouts; mix gently with the Charlie Christian – Benny Goodman Sextet (yes, I have those names in the right order); several tablespoons of 1938 Bobby Hackett, top with modern tailgate from Charlie Halloran, and you get the idea. And the three songs associated with Billie — and sung gloriously by Laura — have sly arrangements that honor the period but don’t copy the records. For one instance only, hear how the rideout of ME, MYSELF, AND I nods to LAUGHING AT LIFE, and Michael’s cross-dressing riffs that start off AM I BLUE remarkably. So rewarding. For musical samples, hie thyself to the Bandcamp page!
Volume Three, DIGGIN’ IN THE DEN, offers these daily specials: Good Morning Blues / Scuttlebutt / I’m Painting the Town Red / Tumble Bug / It’s Like Reaching for the Moon / Diggin’ in the Den / Honeysuckle Rose — performed by these swing alchemists, Laura Windley (3, 5); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet / tenor); Gordon Au (trumpet); Jonathan Stout; Craig Gildner (piano); Michael Gamble; Riley Baker (drums). Here, the recipe calls for a dark Kansas City groove (think Eddie Durham, Lips Page, Dick Wilson), with equal parts Gramercy 5 pre-bop gloss, Lady Day Vocalions (the gorgeous trumpet-tenor interplay at the start of IT’S LIKE REACHING FOR THE MOON) — all mixed together with modern ingenuity harking back to Basie and Ellington small groups but sounding fresh — even on HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, which (admit it!) has been played to shreds in its various incarnations.
Volume Four THE GAMBLER, unwraps its digital box to reveal these gifts: Something to Pat Your Foot To / The Gambler / Smokey Shoulders / Sunday / Cotton Tail / Night Bloom / What’s the Fuss? / Bottoms Up. The musicians radiating expert joy here are Laura Windley (4); Keenan McKenzie (clarinet and tenor); Jacob Zimmerman (clarinet and alto); Gordon Au; Lucian Cobb (trombone); Jonathan Stout; Chris Dawson; Michael Gamble; Josh Collazo (drums). Here the aura is pleasantly situated between just-after-the-war sessions led by Sir Charles Thompson and Illinois Jacquet and the late-Forties Basie band. I hear a good deal of mute work from the brass (all those not-terribly frightening snarls and growls) and glistening late-Forties electrified Reuss, with reed playing that soars and slides. COTTON TAIL leaps over the fence likea caffeinated bunny, the originals stick in my head — always a good sign — and the last few tracks nudge so wondrously into what I’d call 1951 Clef Records territory.
If you’ve lost your way in the forest of words, the musical oasis can be found here. I encourage you to visit there now, or December 4, or any old time.
Three things. One is that I listened to all four discs in one sitting (a tea break between Two and Three doesn’t count) with delight, never looking at my watch.
Second, if you ever meet one of the Official Jazz Codgers who grumps, “Oh, these kids today try, but they don’t know how to swing,” I encourage you to box his ears with digital copies of this music — a wild metaphor, but you’ll figure it out — until he stops speaking nonsense.
Three, a paradox. These are “isolation sessions,” with everyone miles apart, earbuds or headsets, praying for swing synchronicity — and that is a miracle itself. (Ask any musician who’s participated in such rigors.) But as I listen to this music, I feel much less alone — less isolated, to be exact. Try it and see if you don’t feel the same way.
This musical interlude is an absolute triumph — not a cutting contest, but a jovial conversation among three brass legends (Braff, cornet; Sweets and Joe, trumpet) with a thoroughly congenial modern-swing rhythm section (the splendid virtuosi Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Michael Moore, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums).
Harry “Sweets” Edison
Ruby, Joe, and Sweets are vehement individualists with roots in the same earth that gave us Louis and Basie. You’ll hear florid declamatory phrases, side-of-the-mouth whispers and in-jokes, loud blasts and half-valve things a gentleman does not say in company. They live in 1975 yet are completely aware of the half-century of music that came before. And they live now, thirty-five years later.
The songs are ROSETTA, JUST FRIENDS, CAROLINA SHOUT (Guarnieri, solo), TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, all performed at the Nice Jazz Festival, July 26 and 27th, 1975. Heartfelt thanks to Tom Hustad, who made all this possible:
What gifts these magicians gave us. What gifts the music continues to give us.
I’m told it’s Sunday again. How this happened, I have no idea, but here we are.
Sunday means that it’s time to saddle the cyberspace pack animals and head to 326 Spring Street, The Ear Inn, the home of happy ears, for a restorative session with the EarRegulars: our weekly uplift. I am assuming you can find your way “there,” to the previous twenty-two weekly posts. If not, just ask.
Ready? Bang your ruby slippers together and it’s Sunday night, June 13, 2010. And although our Guardian Angel might be Billy Kyle, that night it was a quiet, witty, irreplaceable fellow from New Jersey, Bill Basie — with the swinging music being created by Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Chris Flory, guitar; Neal Miner, string bass:
Here’s Herschel Evans’ DOGGIN’ AROUND:
and a Youmans melody that started its life with Jimmie Noone and still keeps its freshness, I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:
For Ruby Braff as well as Herschel, we have BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:
Thinking of Lester Young, we have Andy Farber, Dan Block, tenors left and right; Chris Flory, guitar; Fumi Tomita, string bass:
Beautiful, isn’t it? I know better times are coming, and I hope to celebrate with you all at 326 Spring Street . . . sooner rather than later.
Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: from left, Clint Baker, gazing skyward; Kim Cusack, arms folded; Katie Cavera, instantly recognizable; Ray, with blue cap, inviting us to come along; Jeff Hamilton, thinking his thoughts.
I’m honored to share the planet with Ray Skjelbred, who turns eighty today.
At the piano bench as well as elsewhere, he is a poet, a teacher, an inventor and then revealer of secrets, a writer of mysteries populated by velvet moles, eagles, and dogs, where no one gets killed. Tenaciously yet delicately, he walks through walls as if they were beaded curtains.
Ray Skjelbred calls his Cubs “my favorite band,” and it’s easy to see why — a lovely combination of Basie and Bobcats, illuminated by a sweet lyricism at once on-the-porch and Milt Gabler-joyous.
We salute him; we salute his Cubs, who are Kim Cusack, clarinet and vocal; Katie Cavera, rhythm guitar; Clint Baker, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums. These performances took wing at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2015.
OH, BABY, DON’T SAY NO, SAY MAYBE:
Kim swears he’s KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW, but the jury is still out:
something for the Apex Club Orchestra, EVERY EVENING:
If my wishes aren’t enough, here’s a HAPPY BIRTHDAY (March 10, 1938) from Bobby Hackett, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, Ray Biondi, Artie Shapiro, George Wettling, Leo Watson. Since it’s mislabeled below, I also offer the nostalgic maroon Commodore label, a jazz madeline:
as it appeared on turntables:
To borrow Whitney Balliett’s words, “Bless Ray Skjelbred. And may he prosper.”
Today, Saturday, October 31, is Halloween — but no “spooky” posts, because the holiday is eviscerated for valid health reasons. And at my age, the only costume I don is my own, and I don’t buy candy bars for myself.
But Sunday, November 1, is the official end of Daylight Saving Time in most of the United States, “giving us” an extra hour of sleep or some other activity. (Sundays are reserved for the EarRegulars, which is why this post comes early.)
I encourage all of you to enjoy the faux-gift of sixty minutes in some gratifying ways. But here are my suggestions about how you could happily stretch out in the extra time: versions of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT, the unaging classic by James P. Johnson and Henry Creamer, which speaks to our desire to spend time in pleasurable ways.
Here’s a pretty, loose version from the September 2010 Jazz at Chautauqua, performed by Marty Grosz, guitar, vocals, and commentary; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Block, Scott Robinson, reeds; John Sheridan, piano; Vince Giordano, string bass, tuba, bass sax; Arnie Kinsella, drums:
Two years later, Andy Schumm’s evocation of the Mound City Blue Blowers, at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, paying tribute to one “Red” McKenzie, hot ambassador of the comb / newspaper — here, with Andy, comb; Jens Lindgren, trombone, off-screen because of a patron’s coif; Norman Field, Jean-Francois Bonnel, reeds; Emma Fisk, violin; Spats Langham, banjo, vocal; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Malcolm Sked, brass bass; Josh Duffee, drums:
and, from the 2018 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, here’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, for that set, Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone, vocal; Marc Caparone, cornet; Marty Eggers, string bass (subbing for Steve Pikal, who was on secret assignment):
1944, for V-Disc, with Jack Teagarden, trombone and vocal; Bobby Hackett, cornet; Lou McGarity, trombone; Ernie Caceres, clarinet; Nick Caiazza, tenor saxophone; Bill Clifton, piano; Herb Ellis, guitar; Felix Giobbe, string bass; Cozy Cole, drums — one of those perfectly memorable recordings I first heard decades ago, with its own sweet imperfections: some uncertainty about the chords for the verse, and the usually nimble Caiazza painting himself into a corner — but it’s lovely:
Of course, we have to hear the composer, in 1944, with Eddie Dougherty, drums:
Marion Harris, 1930:
Sidney Bechet, Muggsy Spanier, Carmen Mastren, and Wellman Braud, 1940:
Helen Humes and Buck Clayton with Count Basie, 1939:
Ade Monsbourgh and his Late Hour Boys, 1956, with Bob Barnard, trumpet; Ade Monsbourgh, reeds, vocal; Graham Coyle, piano; Jack Varney, banjo, guitar; Ron Williamson, tuba; Roger Bell, washboard:
George Thomas with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, 1930:
and at the very summit, Louis in 1930:
Now, you’re on your own: use the time for pleasure.
The new CD by the Brooks Prumo Orchestra, THIS YEAR’S KISSES, is wonderfully groovy, rather like the thing you can’t stay away from, Bert Lahr’s single Lay’s potato chip. (You can look that up on YouTube. I’ll wait.) By the way, I loved the BPO’s first CD, PASS THE BOUNCE (2017): read about it here.
Here‘s the Bandcamp link for KISSES, where you can see the personnel, the song titles, hear a sample, download, or purchase this CD.
The description reads: The Brooks Prumo Orchestra was made for dancing. Featuring brand new arrangements of long-lost big band tunes, original compositions, and crowd favorites, the Brooks Prumo Orchestra aims to embody a big band dance orchestra of the Swing era. Filled with world-class musicians, the band will evoke thoughts of Count Basie, Earl Hines, Andy Kirk, and Billie Holiday.
The noble members of the BPO are Alice Spencer, vocals*; Mark Gonzales, trombone; Jonathan Doyle, tenor saxophone, clarinet; Lauryn Gould, alto saxophone; David Jellema, cornet; Oliver Steck, cornet; Hal Smith, drums; Ryan Gould, string bass; Kris Tokarski, piano; Brooks Prumo, guitar.
And the delicious repertoire is CASTLE ROCK / SOMEBODY LOVES ME* / ‘T’AIN’T LIKE THAT / PEEK-A-BOO / THIS YEAR’S KISSES* / JO-JO / DON’T BE THAT WAY / ARMFUL O’ SWEETNESS* / OUT OF NOWHERE / THE THEME / WHAT’S YOUR NAME?* / BLUE LESTER / BROADWAY / I’M THRU WITH LOVE* / JEEP’S BLUES.
Those who know will see splendid associations: Al Sears, Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Count Basie, Karl George, Billie Holiday, Joe Bushkin, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Alex Hill, Fats Waller, Henry “Red” Allen, Dexter Gordon, Nat Cole.
Happily, the CD is very forgiving of the dance-challenged: it allows me to sit in my chair, listen, and beam. And to give you an idea of the intense attraction I had for this CD on my first hearing I thought, “I want this CD!” and then calmed down enough to think, “You already have it.”
Listening to it again and again, I envisioned the eleven members of this orchestra as a kind of M.C. Escher drawing, people swimming blissfully in two divergent streams at once. One could be labeled NOW, which means that the musicians here sound like themselves — and their voices are so individualistic — but they are also having a high old time splashing around in THEN, so that many of the performances have a tender connection to past recorded performances. But there is no conscious attempt (use your Steve Martin voice) to say, “Hey! Let’s Get OLD!” — no archival stiffness. And the familiar material, say SOMEBODY, BROADWAY, NOWHERE, is delightfully enlivened by the band’s passionate immersion in not only the notes but the emotions.
The rhythm section is fine-tuned, flexible and resourceful, four individuals playing as one; the solos are memorable; the ensemble work is both loose and graciously cohesive. This is a band, and even if there isn’t the official BPO band bus for the one-nighters, you can hear their pleasure in working together, easy and intense.
And a few lines, once again, for the miracle of nature known as Alice Spencer, who takes familiar music and makes it fresh, who makes songs associated with Billie Holiday for decades into her own without warping their intent, who can be perky or melancholy with utter conviction. She is full of surprises — many singers telegraph what they are going to do in the next four bars, but she doesn’t — although her surprises always seem like the right thing once they have landed. I won’t compare her to other singers: rather, she has an aura like a great film actress, comfortable in many roles. Think Joan Blondell or Jean Arthur, and you have some idea of her great personal appeal.
This CD is a great gift. It’s music for dancers, music for those of us who know the originals, music for people who need joy in their lives. THIS YEAR’S KISSES is like sunshine breaking through: a consistent delight, much appreciated. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to listen to it again.
Some may read those words as blasphemy, but the music is its own divine truth.
One of John Hammond’s best ideas, and he had many, was the two FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING concerts in 1938 and 1939: marvelous events with irreplaceable music from Benny Goodman, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Hot Lips Page, Ida Cox, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Count Basie, and more. The music was recorded, and even with some technical flaws, it remains monumental. Because of Hammond’s connection with Vanguard Records, it was issued there — first a two-record set, and more recently, on CDs. (Like most CD sets, it’s “out of print,” but you can find copies.)
But this post is concerned with “newer” music . . . created in 1967.
In 1967, someone had the good idea of booking Carnegie Hall for a thirtieth anniversary concert, and selections from the concert were recorded and (five years later) issued on a two-record set featuring Basie, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, John Handy, George Benson, and Marion Williams. I wrote on the back of my copy that I bought it at Record World, a local chain, for $5.29, on April 23, 1972. (I no longer annotate purchases this way: life got more complicated.) The segment I love the most has a distinct Basie flavor.
In conversation with a new erudite jazz friend, Randy Smith, I found that we both had hoped for this music to be issued on CD, but obviously the glory days of jazz reissues are gone for whatever corporate entity controls this music, and even the European issuers have not touched it. So — since yesterday was oddly and happily quiet in my apartment building, the families and dogs elsewhere for the moment, I made a DIY transfer of the music. There’s a certain echo-y quality, but pretend that you have been taken by magic back to Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1967, and let me — and us — have our fun.
Goddard Lieberson introduces the “Cafe Society Band,” with some rueful amusement that the crowd response to that fabled place is small (the generation that had heard Frank Newton and Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, and Basie there had probably stayed at home) and he stumbles over Milt Hinton’s name, but he brings on the celestial orchestra: Count Basie, piano; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Buddy Tate, tenor saxophone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Milt Hinton, string bass; Jo Jones, drums, for SWINGIN’ THE BLUES. I won’t explicate the delights here, but these nine minutes have been special music since 1972, and when I return to this performance I hear gratifying surprises, the hallmark of the greatest art.
The solos and ensemble interplay between Buck, Ed, and Buddy are priceless, showing that the players so brilliant in 1937 were still brilliant thirty years later, without a hint of repeating their routines. (How DO they age so well?) For me, though, this is a post-graduate seminar in rhythm-section playing, with each of the three “in the back” bringing so much sonic and textural variety, playing little aural games of hide-and-seek. Basie, especially, shows once again that he was not only the master of silence, which is not a paradox, but of how to push a soloist with the right note or propulsive chord. I think only Sidney Catlett approached his mastery in this — when to bide his time, when to create one accent that would have the effect of a “Yeah!”:
“They called him a shouter.” Big Joe Turner, who had appeared at Hammond’s original concerts, comes onstage. In his later years, he often appeared to be very little concerned with what verses he sang in what order (although he may have had a plan that I am not able to discern) and the result was a kind of swing autopilot, where I and others just listened to the majestic roar and holler of his voice. But here, on a blues called (perhaps after the fact) I’M GOING AWAY TO WEAR YOU OFF MY MIND, his dramatic gift, his sadness, is lovely and powerful. Hear how he sings his initial “Thank you,” and note the wonderful support Ray Bryant gives him, Buck’s solo, and Jo Jones’ exhortations:
Then, ROLL’EM, PETE — which Joe and Pete Johnson first recorded in 1938. Pete Johnson had been ill, but he was at this concert. I’ll let Dan Morgenstern, who was also there, describe the scene that you will hear, as he did in DOWN BEAT (included in Don DeMicheal’s fine liner notes):
Then, for the concert’s most moving moment, Lieberson escorted Pete Johnson on stage and introduced him as one of the participants in the original Spirituals to Swing and the greatest boogie-woogie pianist. Johnson had suffered a series of paralytic strokes and had not played piano for many years. His old buddy, Turner, took him by the hand, and for a moment the two middle-aged men looked touchingly like little boys.
Turner dedicated ROLL ‘EM PETE to his old friend, as Lieberson and Johnson were about to leave the stage. Instead, they stopped, and the pianist seated himself next to Bryant at the piano and began to play the treble part of his old showpiece, Bryant handling the bass. Johnson was a bit shaky but game, gaining in confidence as the number built in intensity:
It wasn’t 1938 any longer, but it was a damned fine evocation, with Buddy Tate at his vocal best, Edmond Hall matching him in exuberance (Hall died later that year), Buck and Jo building castles of swing as only they could:
In 2020, no one who sang or played on that stage in 1967 is around to uplift us. (I take pleasure in knowing that Dan Morgenstern will read this post.)
But their sounds, their passion, their grace remains.
Yesterday I had a brief pleasant phone conversation with Dan Morgenstern, who to me is a Jazz Eminence, and it sent me back to my YouTube hoard of unseen video interviews. I have been saving them, even before the pandemic, like a squirrel worried about the winter (Dan and I talked about squirrels) but I apologize for keeping this one hidden for so long. It’s Dan’s affectionate melancholy remembrance of his “oldest American friend,” the jazz lover and writer Ira Gitler, who died at 90 on February 23, 2019.
Dan speaks of their first meeting in “the salad days” for jazz writers and the “Jewish Jazz Junkies” (Ira, Dan, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten).
Dan recalls Ira’s entrance into jazz by way of Count Basie records, his development into a champion of bebop, then of Coltrane, and his early work for Prestige Records, his prose, his alto saxophone playing, sharply assessed by Joe Thomas, Ira’s well-meant rebuke of a young Miles Davis, and his hockey career. Ira was married to the painter Mary Jo Schwalbach, who survives him. The interview stops abruptly in the middle of Dan’s anecdote about WBAI (thanks to ambulances going by) but you can figure it out:
Dan’s comments (some of them light-hearted) about Ira’s memorial service, Jon Faddis, and Lew Soloff:
and a brief coda:
More interviews to come: Dan recalls and considers Tommy Flanagan, Benny Goodman, Tiny Grimes, Jack Purvis . . .
I’m going to allow myself the freedom of not writing the history of this song, nor posting all the versions, but simply offering a few that please me immensely. This post is in honor of Doctor J, who knows why it is.
A little introduction (2006) by the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, who closed sets with it: Jon-Erik Kellso, Brad Shigeta, Orange Kellin, Morten Gunnar Larsen, John Gill, Skye Steele, Conal Fowkes, Rob Garcia:
Louis gets to introduce his own performance:
and here’s the lovely 1930 version, with magnificent Louis (yes, I know that’s redundant) and his “Rhythm Boys” drawn from the Luis Russell band, starring J.C. Higginbotham and Pops Foster. Apparently Paul Barbarin plays vibraphone and the band’s valet plays drums: he swings!
Count Basie, slightly less than a decade later, with Buck Clayton, Lester Young, and the rest of the Hawaiians (the trumpets make wonderful derisive noises at the end of Lester’s solo — why? I don’t know, but it’s just splendid):
And a more contemporary version I treasure because it seems to convey decades of vernacular music performance, making the transition from waltz-time to quietly majestic rocking (yes, Louis is standing in the wings, very happy). I imagine the opening choruses as a tea-dance or perhaps a summer band concert in a gazebo in the town park, and then the band takes on restorative color and swing, never aggressively but with sweet eloquence. The group is the 1987 Red Roseland Cornpickers, featuring Bent Persson, Claus Jacobi, and Keith Nichols, and this is taken from my prized “long-playing record” on the Stomp Off label:
Details for those who crave data: Bent Persson (tp-2,vcl) Folker Siegert (tb-3,vcl) Claus Jacobi (as-4,ts-5,cl-6,vcl) Engelhard Schatz (cl-7,sop-8,ts-9,vcl) Lothar Kohn (as-10,g-11,vcl) Joachim Muller (bassax-13,cl-14,as-15) Keith Nichols (p,vcl) Gunter Russel (bj-12,vcl) Ulf-Carsten Gottges (d) Gottingen, January 4 & 5, 1987. SONG OF THE ISLANDS: (2,3,4,6,7,9,12,13,14,15, Bent, Folker, Claus, Engelhard, Lothar, and Keith, vocal).
In these stressful times, this music evokes warm days, cool nights, tropical beaches, and fresh pineapple.
Several eBay rambles turned up a hoard of beautiful unseen portraits — from the archives of the photographic giant Brown Brothers (who, I believe, divested themselves of the print archives a number of years ago). They remind me of a time when musicians, now obscure, were known to a large audience and had their remarkable faces in print.
Here are some of the treasures: the bidding was intense, so I did not acquire any of these, but the images are here for you to admire for free. The seller, evansarchive, has only one jazz photograph for sale as I write this, but the other photographs — film and stage actors — are equally fascinating.
Let us start with a particularly rare image — an unusual shot of the John Kirby Sextet on a very small bandstand, with glimpses of Kirby, Charlie Shavers, and Russell Procope (alas, no Buster Bailey) but a remarkable photograph of the short-lived drummer / vocalist O’Neil Spencer:
And here’s another under-celebrated hero, baritone saxophonist Jack Washington, definitely in action in the Count Basie band, with Vic Dickenson and another trombonist, possibly Bennie Morton, to his right. Vic is ignoring the photographer, but Jack — I think — is a little suspicious of the flash camera so near to his face:
and the real prize (which eluded me), a portrait of Frank Newton on a job:
I suspect this is a spring or summertime gig, given the lightweight suits — at some point Newton put his hand in his right jacket pocket and the flap is half-undone. I can’t identify the pianist, and the club is not familiar to me (which makes me think of Boston rather than New York City) but Ernie Caceres is immediately identifiable — with clarinet rather than baritone saxophone — and the skeptical-looking trombonist (gig fatigue or suspicion of a flashbulb explosion) might be Wilbur DeParis. But I’d love to know where and when: perhaps this is a hall rather than a jazz club?
Here’s composer, arranger, alto saxophonist Edgar Sampson in a photograph by Otto Hess:
Another Otto Hess photograph: Albert Nicholas and Zutty Singleton. Does the wall covering suggest Jimmy Ryan’s?
Stuff Smith in action (the photographer crouched behind the drum kit and the flashbulb rendered the underside of the cymbal bright white:
Bobby Hackett at Carnegie Hall, Eddie Condon behind him:
and just in case anyone needed confirmation:
Now, a few masterful percussionists. Jimmie Crawford:
and someone identified as Bauduc, but clearly not. Who’s it?
and some well-dressed luminaries who can certainly be identified, as well as the occasion — World Transcription session, 1944 — Wilbur DeParis, Bob Casey, and Pee Wee Russell:
From another source, Sidney Catlett in full flight. I can hear this photograph:
As I said, once upon a time these people were stars in larger orbits. Rather than mourn the shrinking of interest and knowledge, I celebrate the glorious circumstances that made these photographs “news.”