Pee Wee Russell hadn’t taken good care of himself, and his body had rebelled in 1951. Thank goodness for the medical acumen of the times that enabled him to live almost twenty years more. But I also think that knowing that he was so loved — Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong visiting him in the hospital — and events such as this concert must have helped. Music and love were so intertwined that it would be silly to ask where one starts and the other one ends, because neither one of them ends.
It’s odd to write that good things came out of the Cold War. But the belief that one of the best ways to exhibit the happiness possible under capitalism was to share hot music as an emblem of freedom may seem naive now, but it had sweet results. The Voice of America, an active propaganda medium, beamed live American jazz “behind the Iron Curtain,” hoping for conversion experiences.
In 2021, those of us old enough to remember Khruschev’s shoe and the Bay of Pigs, hiding under our desks, terrified of a thermonuclear device, can listen to some rich “Americondon” music. And for those who have no idea what those historical references might mean are encouraged to learn a little history and listen to the joys.
Here’s the menu:
JAZZ CLUB USA (Voice of America): from Town Hall, New York City, February 21, 1951: Tribute to Pee Wee Russell.
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Hall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Casey, Buzzy Drootin / UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE Ernie Caceres, Schroeder, Al Hall, Buzzy / I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, Ray McKinley / IN A MIST Ralph Sutton / BASIN STREET BLUES as FIDGETY FEET:
HOWARD KADISON: Sunday nights, I’d sometimes go with Davern to Ratner’s Dairy Restaurant on Second Avenue. The waiters were noted for their abrasiveness and truculence. Kenny would bait them: “How are the blintzes?” “They’re always good.” “I didn’t ask about always, I asked about NOW!” And so it would go, ending in a generous tip.
DAN BLOCK: Kenny had a mind like an encyclopedia. His knowledge not only of jazz, but archival classical recordings was amazing. My last memory was hanging out with him in New Orleans after he played in a bookstore with Bob Wilber. He held court with three or four of us for about an hour and a half. It was unforgettable.
KEVIN DORN: Something he said to me, sitting at the bar of the Cornerstone: “It’s one thing to come up with your own sound in a style that’s brand new. But to come up with your own sound in a style that’s older, that was there already, is a different and difficult challenge.” I always thought that was a deep observation and something he certainly achieved.
JAMES CHIRILLO: Every note he played had a sound as big as a house, no matter the register, and every note had an intensity that said: “This is how it’s supposed to go.” I still miss him.
MIKE KAROUB: I was playing bass in Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band and we played opposite Davern at a show at the University of Chicago, some time between 1990-92. He might have been there with Butch Thompson or his own group. (Butch had Franz Jackson also.)
I checked into the Blackstone Hotel. Never having met Davern, I saw him outside. I walked up to him in my trench coat – Kenny looking tough in a leather coat — and said, “Uncle Ken, I need a Lucky Strike.” (Or I may have said, “Kenny, give me a Lucky Strike,” but you get the idea.) He said, “OK, man,” and handed me one. He instinctively knew I wasn’t a real hood. We chatted for a second, then later, probably at the intermission. Strangely, I don’t recall if there was a closing number with massed bands, “all hands on deck,” so I have no recollection of playing with him!
I know that when we were teenagers, I told my dear friend Jon-Erik Kellso, “If I ever meet Davern, I’m going to wear a trench coat like the Detroit mafia and demand a Lucky Strike.” I think he was bemused by our. 25 year old impetuous behavior.
Ten years later, at the Atlanta Jazz Party, after my set with Banu Gibson, I went to catch Kenny’s set and sat in front. He waved, and after the show he came down to me. I said, “Uncle Ken, I brought us some Luckies.” He had exhausted his supply (he was very dedicated) so I was in like Flynn.
“Michael, my nephew, I am so glad you could make it.” He sat down, ordered us coffee, and told stories about being on the road with Jack Teagarden.
I have no idea how he knew who I was unless Jon-Erik tipped him off (although I barely saw Jon, who was a floating “all star”) or saw the program or remembered me from Chicago. I believe he smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes (unfiltered Camels his second choice). In any case, he acted like it was the biggest deal that I came to his show. And I was really some long lost relative. I was kept too busy for the rest of the festival to see Uncle Ken. Again or ever again, as it turned out. Ordinarily, I’m not that forward but. something told me this was a once in lifetime deal and to seize the day.
MICHAEL STEINMAN: I saw him a few times when I was still in college and shy (complicated by my attempts to record every note on some variety of tape). One Sunday, I’d seen him in the late afternoon at a Your Father’s Mustache Balaban and Cats session, and then my friend and I went down to the Half Note to hear Ruby Braff. Kenny walked in, I saw him, and exuberantly said, “Kenny!” and seeing his amused expression — part “Who the hell are you?” and part suppressed hilarity, I remembered my place in the cosmos and said, “Mister Davern . . . ” and he looked at me and said, in mock-hauteur, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” gave me a satiric look and walked away. When I saw him for the last time, in Denver, October 2006, I thought it prudent to leave that incident in the past.
And now for some delightful rare music.
The tape that follows (audio only) isn’t from my collection, but the dropouts vanish after three minutes. Recorded by Dave Frishberg, It’s the only evidence I know of Kenny Davern’s Washington Squares, a band he loved, performing at Nick’s in 1961. The repertoire is ancient; the inventiveness and energy are startling. It’s Kenny, clarinet; Johnny Windhurst, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Dave, piano; Jack Six, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums. I read in Edward N. Meyer’s biography of Kenny, JUST FOUR BARS, that Buzzy Drootin was the chosen drummer (imagine a world where your sub on the job is Cliff?), that Buzzy recommended Frishberg, and that Frishberg brought along Jack Six. Unusual and uplifting partners for such a band, but everyone is in exceptional form.
Sadly, Eddie Condon’s music is misunderstood and dismissed these days. The serious “traditionalists” — whether they bow to Jim Robinson or Turk Murphy or a hundred other icons — accuse him of aesthetic impurity (the way they feel about Happy Cauldwell’s tenor saxophone on Jelly Roll Morton’s 1939 Victor session.) More “modern” listeners see FIDGETY FEET and flee; they also associate anything related to Eddie as identical to semi-professional “Dixieland” played from music stands or loud Bourbon Street busking.
I offer this half-hour Voice of America broadcast as a stimulating corrective to both views. Ironically, it is introduced by Leonard Feather, openly hostile to Eddie and his musicians, although he is polite enough here. It pleases me greatly that the VOA broadcasts began with a nearly-violent flourish from Hot Lips Page, one of Eddie’s best musical friends. The generous YouTube poster dates it as April 1951, but the concert — a tribute to the recovering Pee Wee Russell — happened on February 21, 1951, according to Manfred Selchow’s invaluable book on Ed Hall, PROFOUNDLY BLUE.
Something for everyone: serious collective improvisation by a group of players who are both exuberant and precise; rhapsodies; ballads; jazz classics. There’s kinshp between Buzzy Drootin and Max Roach, between Cutty Cutshall and Bill Harris, between Ernie Caceres and Ben Webster, between Joe Bushkin and Teddy Wilson. Heard with open ears, this music is timeless, as inspired as the sounds cherished by the Jazz Bureaucracy.
Here’s the bill of fare:
FIDGETY FEET / I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES: Wild Bill Davison, cornet; Cutty Cutshall, trombone; Edmond Hall, clarinet; Gene Schroeder, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Bob Casey, string bass; Buzzy Drootin, drums. UNDER A BLANKET OF BLUE: Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Schroeder; Al Hall, string bass; Drootin. I CAN’T GET STARTED – HALLELUJAH! Joe Bushkin, piano; Ray McKinley, drums. IN A MIST: Ralph Sutton, piano. BASIN STREET BLUES: as BUBBLES:
Once again, I am impressed by the storming drumming of Buzzy Drootin. If you share my admiration, I direct you to the two brilliant videos created by Kevin Dorn on YouTube — which made me appreciate Buzzy even more. Eddie and Co. I already appreciate over the moon. To quote Eddie, “Whee!”
I’ve known Kevin Dorn for nearly fifteen years now, and he beautifully balances the improvising musician and the improvising thinker. Both his playing and his imagination have a rich orchestral beauty and solid originality; he also knows when to be richly silent, a rare gift. Before the semi-quarantine (however you want to call it) changed our daily lives, I saw and heard Kevin at a session at Cafe Bohemia, where with his snare and wire brushes, he made us all levitate, without the need for oxygen masks to drop down from the ceiling.
and more recently . . . .
Yesterday, Kevin sent me an email with the subject line “Wolverine Blues,” and the text simply “Social Distancing version!”: which I can now share with you. It’s a marvelous virtuoso excursion — Kevin dancing in and out of Condonia while being utterly himself:
Kevin modestly annotated this video as, “No one to play with, so it’s just the drum part.” And that made me think of Larry Hart’s lyrics for THERE’S A SMALL HOTEL, “Not a sign of people. / Who needs people?” which speaks to Kevin’s beautiful orchestral conception, his sounds, his variety, his ebullient motion. But another part of my brain says, “I can hear Wild Bill, Cutty, Ed, Gene, Eddie, Bob, very easily.” You’ll have to see where your perceptions emerge.
Kevin, maybe you’ll consider IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE into OLE MISS if we’re cooped up for months? That is, if you’re taking requests.
LANDSCAPE WITH BUSHES, Ivana Falconi Allen, 2020. In a private collection.
The little world we know as jazz has moved so quickly in its hundred-plus years that sometimes it seems precariously balanced between the beloved Living and the heroic Dead. I can go out in New York City to hear people I admire tremendously blow breath through horns and out of mouths, to make music right in front of me. But at times jazz seems like a well-tended graveyard, with death announcements hitting me between the eyes every morning, adding to the great graveyard where Buster, Bessie, Billie, Bean, Brownie, Blanton, Ben, Bix, Big Sid, and Bunny are buried.
Where the music I am about to present — thanks to our great friend “Davey Tough” — fits in this formulation is a large charming paradox. I do not think any of the players on this transcription disc, recorded before my birth, are alive in 2020. But their music is resoundingly alive, and their ability to make a shining personal statement in sixteen bars, a time span of under thirty seconds, is marvelous. Their names are announced, and you can read more on the label.
What’s the moral?
Emulate our great heroes, by doing something so well that when our bodies have said, “All right, that’s enough!” our selves live on.
And like “Davey Tough,” share your joys generously.
And a postscript: if you don’t know the artwork of the endearingly imaginative Ivana Falconi Allen, you are missing work as sharply realized and as delightful as any jazz solo you cherish. Here is her website, full of sweet shocks.
Yes, I’ve been eBaying at the moon when I should have been grading student essays. But one brings more pleasure than the other, I write ruefully.
Concert ephemera from the Condon ensemble — and what a band! — doing Florida gigs in, I think, 1955. If you can find it, there is a recording on the Pumpkin label (the gift to us of the much-missed Bob Hilbert) of that same band in Palm Beach, 1955:
And I do know that Eddie hated the word DIXIELAND, but he didn’t write the ad copy. Here’s some beautiful contemporaneous music from the “Bixieland” session supervised by George Avakian for Columbia, with a chance to hear Eddie, Walter Page, and George Wettling in glorious sound — to say nothing of Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, and Ed Hall:
and here’s an earlier piece of Americana that I’d never seen (nor imagined). Why a football? I don’t know. But it’s great Stuff:
And the appropriate music, in two parts, mixing vaudeville, illicit substances, and Swing:
Aside from Stuff, that’s Jonah Jones, Clyde Hart, Mack Walker, Bobby Bennett, and Cozy Cole — a truly rocking band. Listen to the great beat of that rhythm section behind the vocal jive:
Sometimes great art flourishes in corners where it is not at all expected even to survive.
George “Bon Bon” Tunnell (1912-1975) was an engaging singer — yet not well-remembered. He was first a member of The Three Keys, and from 1937-42, he was the first African-American male singer to appear with a Caucasian band: Jan Savitt and his Top Hatters. Incidentally, he was heavily featured with the band — and — one of the trombonists there was Cutty Cutshall (1939-40) something that would interest Condon scholars like myself.
The two sides below come from Bon Bon’s early solo career — four sides from this date, two the next year (where Decca seems to have wanted him to be an African-American Bing, or at least a Chick Bullock or Dick Robertson) and then some solo features with Steve Gibson’s Red Caps. But with no disrespect to Bon Bon’s very nice singing, the two sides offer a rare combination — two musicians who, at this point in the Swing Era, did not receive all the opportunities to record their talents warranted.
They are guitarist / trombonist / arranger Eddie Durham, whose guitar sound is instantly recognizable — swinging but with sharp corners — and trumpeter Joe Thomas, also instantly recognizable and inimitable. The second song, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, is also Durham’s — although there are three other names on the label. And, on clarinet, the”Prof” of deep Kansas City jazz, Buster Smith. New York City, July 23, 1941: Tunnell, Joe Thomas, Eddie Durham, Buster Smith, Jackie Fields, alto saxophone; Jimmy Phipps, piano; Al Hall, string bass; Jack Parker, drums. The other two sides — which you’d have to track down on your own (they are on the THREE KEYS CD on the Chronological Classics label) are BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, and Fats Waller’s ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES.
SWEET MAMA (from 1920, I believe, and recorded by the ODJB) has lyrics that suggest domestic abuse and a real need for anger management, but the band is splendid. But first we hear Durham’s spiky arpeggios, a very dark and threatening orchestral passage featuring growl from Thomas (not his usual approach) and leafy clarinet from Smith — a passage reminiscent of Durham’s approach to GOOD MORNING BLUES for Basie. I find Bon Bon hilariously sweetly unconvincing in his gentle singing: this man couldn’t do damage to a sandwich, but we will let that pass. (When he returns for his second vocal, he wants to convince us: “Papa’s really gone mad,” but his heart isn’t in it. Too kind to make anyone cower.)
The half-chorus Thomas solo that follows is quietly magnificent: even through his mute, the steady glow of his tone comes through, as does his fondness for repeated notes, his love of 1927 Louis; his stately glide. Where other trumpeters shout, Thomas caresses, and his solo winds down rather than moving out of the middle register. It is equally affecting for what he doesn’t care to do — remember, 1941 was the age of great brass virtuosity — as for what he does. Thomas whispers sweet epigrams to us, and their impact is only felt on the third or fourth hearing. I’d also call your attention to the strong but not overdone rhythm that Hall and Durham offer, as well as Smith’s sweet commentaries. Bon Bon returns to assure us of his menace, but no one would be all that scared of “the fine undertaker,” which seems like a Waller touch.
The more famous song, justly, begins with an orchestral introduction that borrows quietly from THE MOOCHE, and we then move to a love song — where Bon Bon sounds more comfortable. Durham’s arpeggios threaten to take our attention away: he’s not aiming to copy Charlie Christian’s smoothness, but he makes a deep impression. Eddie is much more prominent here — it was his song and I wonder if he’d brought a small-band chart to the session. Then, less than half a minute of Thomas, but his sound, even muted, is like sunshine coming through the windows in late afternoon. His gentle intensity; his love of the melody — and that upwards arpeggio in the middle is purest Joe (and purest Louis, if you need to find an ancestor) — quite touching. When the band and Bon Bon return, the blending is completely polished and fetching.
(Joe gets three more extroverted outings on BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, which he executes nicely, and Bon Bon scats in the best almost-Leo-Watson manner. ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES bounces along pleasantly, but once again Bon Bon must pretend to menace — “I’m fit to fight” — which is sweetly unconvincing. Durham is delightfully in evidence and the other horns show their individual voices — but the two sides here are, to me, the standouts. Tunnell’s final side for Decca, before the recording ban, SLEEPY OLD TOWN, could pass for Bing, and it is delightful — with Russ Solomon doing a commendable Bobby Hackett. But it’s no longer on YouTube.)
And just because it exists on eBay, a little more Bon Bon memorabilia — a signed contract, with amendments.
and the reverse:
I haven’t analyzed the contract. Perhaps Laura Windley, our swing star and lawyer, might have something to say about it. Until then, I will cherish those two Decca sides, full of instrumental surprises and engaging singing.
Initially, I was somewhat skeptical of this set, having heard the late cornetist — in person and on record — repeat himself note-for-note, the only questions being whether a) he was in good form and thus looser, and b) whether the surrounding musicians provided some extra energy and inspiration. However, this 2-disc set, released in 2015, is fascinating and comprehensive . . . even if you were to find William a limited pleasure. The Amazon link — which has a title listing — is here.
The set covers Bill’s work from 1925 to 1960, and I would bet a mint copy of THAT’S A PLENTY (Commodore 12″) that only the most fervent Davison collectors would have heard — much less owned — more than twenty percent of the 52 tracks here. Thanks for the material are due Daniel Simms, who is undoubtedly the greatest WBD collector on this or any other planet. (And some tracks that I’ve heard and known for years in dim cassette copies are sharp and clear here.)
A brief tour. The set begins with three 1925 Gennett sides where Bill is a member of the Chubb-Steinberg Orchestra of Cincinnati. He’s much more in the open on three 1928 Brunswick sides by the Benny Meroff Orchestra, SMILING SKIES being the most famous. On the Meroff sides, although Bill was at one point billed as “The White Armstrong,” I hear him on his own path . . . at times sounding much more like Jack Purvis, exuberant and rough, rather than Louis.
We jump forward to 1941 — Bill sounding perfectly like himself — and the two rare “Collector’s Item Cats” sides featuring the deliciously elliptical Boyce Brown on alto, and eight acetates from Milwaukee — where Bill plays mellophone as well as cornet, offering a sweet melody statement on GOIN’ HOME before playing hot. Two Western Swing sides for Decca, featuring “Denver Darling” on vocals and “Wild Bill Davison and his Range Riders,” from 1946, follow — here I see the fine sly hand of Milt Gabler at work, getting one of “the guys” another gig.
A live recording from Eddie Condon’s club — with Brad Gowans, Tony Parenti, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey, and George Wettling — is a rare treat, and with the exception of the “American Music Festival” broadcast from 1948 on WNYC, much of the second disc finds Bill and Eddie together, with Pee Wee Russell, Lord Buckley, Walter Page, Peanuts Hucko, Cutty Cutshall, Buzzy Drootin and other heroes, both from the fabled Condon Floor Show and even Steve Allen’s Tonight Show, covering 1948-1953, with a lovely ballad medley on the last set. One track, KISS ME, a hit for singer Claire Hogan, has her delivering the rather obvious lyrics, but with some quite suggestive yet wholly instrumental commentary from Bill which suggests that more than a chaste peck on the cheek is the subject. Incidentally, Condon’s guitar is well-recorded and rich-sounding throughout these selections.
A basement session (St. Louis, 1955) provides wonderfully fanciful music: Bill, John Field, Walt Gifford, improvising over piano rolls by Zez Confrey, Fats, and James P. Johnson. These four t racks — beautifully balanced — offer some gently melodic improvisations from Bill as well as nicely recorded bass and drums. Also from St. Louis, six performances by a “Pick-Up Band” with standard instrumentation, including Herb Ward, Joe Barufaldi, and Danny Alvin (the last in splendid form). Four unissued tracks where Bill, George Van Eps, Stan Wrightsman, Morty Corb, and Nick Fatool (the West Coast equivalent of Hank Jones, Barry Galbraith, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson) join Bill in backing the otherwise unknown singer Connie Parsons; and the set ends with three tracks from a 1960 session where Bill shares the front line with the astonishing Abe Lincoln (who takes a rare vocal on MAIN STREET) and Matty Matlock.
The level of this set is much higher than what most have come to expect from a collection of rarities — in performance and in audio quality. It isn’t a typical “best of” collection, repeating the classic performances well-known to us; rather, it shows Bill off at his best in a variety of contexts. Thus, it’s the kind of set one could happily play all the way through without finding it constricting or tedious. I recommend it highly.
Perhaps, for the Youngbloods in the audience, I should explain. Older telephone numbers were patterned after words — presumably easier to remember — in the same way some business numbers are (whimsically) 1-800-BUY JUNK. My childhood phone number began with “PE” for Pershing, the general; now it would simply be 7 3. All clear?
I love Eddie Condon’s music and everything relating to it. I wan’t of an age to visit West Third Street, nor the club on Fifty-Sixth, although I spent some delightful evenings at the posthumous version on Fifty-Fourth (one night in 1975 Ruby Braff was the guest star and Helen Humes, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Brooks Kerr and a few others sat in).
This delightful artifact just surfaced on eBay — from 1958:
The English professor in me chafes at the missing apostrophe, but everything else printed here is wonderful: the names of the band and the intermission pianist. The reverse:
I didn’t buy it — so you might still be able to — but I did have fleeting thoughts of taking it to a print shop and ordering a few hundred replicas, more gratifying than the glossy cards with pictures of Tuscany on them.
We don’t need a time machine, though, because a version of that band (with Vic Dickenson, Billy Butterfield, and others) did record, in glorious sound. Don’t let “Dixielan” Jam or the CD title keep you away. Savor the sound of Eddie’s guitar. The music here was originally issued as THE ROARING TWENTIES, and the sessions were produced by the amazing George Avakian:
I did buy something, though — irresistible to me — that struck a far more receptive chord. Whether I will use it or frame it has not yet been decided. I’ll know when it arrives.
If you have no idea what this is, ask Great-Grandma, who used such a thing to stir her whiskey sour.
The string bassist Leonard Gaskin (1920-2009) could and did play with anyone: from Forties bop small groups (including Bird, Miles, Max, Cecil Payne, J.J., and more), to Billie and Connee, to Louis Armstrong to Eddie Condon to pickup groups of all shapes and sizes. Like Milt Hinton, he was steady, reliable, with a beautiful big sound that fit any ensemble: backing Odetta, Solomon Burke, Earl Hines, Butterbeans and Susie, as well as LaVern Baker, Cecil Scott, Ruby Braff, Kenny Burrell, young Bob Dylan, and Big Maybelle too.
Hereis Peter Vacher’s characteristically fine obituary for Leonard. (I’d like Peter to write mine, but we have yet to work out the details.)
And if you type in “Leonard Gaskin” on YouTube, you can hear more than two hundred performances.
Leonard was the nominal leader of a few “Dixieland” sessions for the Prestige label in 1961. Another, led by trumpeter Sidney DeParis, was called DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN (draw the imagined cover for yourself) with Kenny Davern, Benny Morton, Charlie Queener, Lee Blair, Herbie Lovelle. . . . from whence this sly gem comes:
Here is a loving tribute to Leonard from the singer Seina — it will explain itself:
And since anything even remotely connected with Miles Davis is judged important by a large percentage of jazz listeners, I offer the very Lestorian FOR ADULTS ONLY from February 1953, with Al Cohn (tenor, arranger) Zoot Sims (tenor) John Lewis (piano) Leonard (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums):
and from another musical world, the 1950 poem in praise of awareness, from a Hot Lips Page date, where Lips and Leonard are joined by Jimmy Buxton (tb) Vincent Bair-Bey (as) Ray Abrams (ts) Earl Knight (p) Herbie Lovelle (d) Janie Mickens (vcl):
Now, why am I writing about Mr. Gaskin at this moment?
Sometimes I feel that the cosmos tells me, gently, what or whom to write about — people or artistic creations to celebrate. I don’t say this as a great puff of ego, that the cosmos has JAZZ LIVES uppermost in its consciousness, but there is a reason for this post.
Recently, I was in one of my favorite thrift stores, Savers, and of course I wandered to the records. Great quantities — wearying numbers — of the usual, and then I spotted the 1958 record above. I’d owned it at one time: a Condon session with Rex Stewart, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Leonard, and George Wettling, distinguished by a number of songs associated with the ODJB. (A completely uncredited Dick Cary is audible, and I am fairly sure he would have sketched out lead sheets and spare charts for the unfamiliar songs.) An interesting band, but not the apex of Fifties Condonia.
I debated: did I need this hot artifact. Then I turned it over, and decided that I did, indeed.
I suspect that signature is later than 1958, but the real autographs are usually not in the most perfect calligraphy. And, as always, when a record turns up at a thrift store, I wonder, “Did Grandpa have to move? Did the folks’ turntable give out? What’s the story?”
I won’t know, but it gently pushed me to celebrate Leonard Gaskin.
And for those who dote on detail, I’d donated some items to this Savers, and so the record was discounted: I think I paid seventy-two cents. Too good to ignore.
It’s getting colder, which is both appropriate and reassuring because it is January. But if the descending temperatures oppress you, here’s a wonderful chance to become HOTTER THAN THAT in the New York winter. I don’t refer to new down parkas or thermoses full of the preferred hot dram . . . but to the New York Hot Jazz Festival. . . . the continuing creation of the indefatigable Michael Katsobashvili:
Details? How about a schedule of artists and times. (And there are seats — first come, first served, as well as room to dance.)
FRIDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Tom McDermott (New Orleans piano explorer)
7:20 – Bumper Jacksons
8:40 – Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road with Hilary Gardner
10:00 – Jon-Erik Kellso and the EarRegulars with Kat Edmonson
11:20 – Mike Davis’ New Wonders
SATURDAY (doors at 5:45 pm)
6:20 – Christian Sands (solo stride)
7:20 – Michael Mwenso & Brianna Thomas: Ella and Louis Duets – 60 Years
8:40 – Rhythm Future Quartet
10:00 – Tatiana Eva-Marie & The Avalon Jazz Band
with special guest Oran Etkin
11:20 – Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers
with Molly Ryan & Tamar Korn
That’s a wonderful mix of music — solo piano, small band, gypsy jazz, singers — all of the highest caliber. And although some New Yorkers might note local favorites, consider what it would cost to see them all in one evening, even if you could work out the transportation and timing. New Orleanians McDermott and Evan Christopher will bring their own special rhythmic tang to the New York winter.
If you need more evidence,hereare videos of the artists above.
Here‘s the way to buy tickets. It’s an absolute bargain, and New Yorkers love nothing better.
The place? The Ballroom at Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street (West of 7th Ave South), New York, New York.
And for inspiration, here’s a 1949 version of HOTTER THAN THAT, performed live on the Eddie Condon Floor Show — Eddie was the first jazz musician to have his own television show — featuring Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, and Sidney Catlett.
Memorable music blossoms forth without fanfare when the right creative spirits come together. And such music isn’t always created by Stars — people who win polls, who record CDs for major labels. Two examples from a Saturday brunch gig in New York City follow.
Matt Musselman, welcoming us in
The very perceptive Rob Adkins, string bassist extraordinaire, arranged this session on August 1, 2015 — Matt Musselman on trombone, Kris Kaiser on guitar. And they made lovely music. But then someone came in — new to me but very talented: trombonist / jazz whistler Ryan Snow.
There’s a small tradition of two-trombone teams: Cutshall and McGarity, Johnson and Winding, Vic and Eddie Hubble are the first teams that come to mind. And two trombones lend themselves to trading off: you play eight bars, I’ll play the next, and so on.
Matt and Ryan knew and respected each other, and everyone was eager to hear Ryan play. So they began to trade phrases — on the one horn, passing it back and forth without missing a beat or smudging a note. It was a lovely exercise in jazz acrobatics, but it was more — wonderful music. I thought, at the end, “This is why I carry a knapsack full of video equipment to jazz gigs, because anything can happen and usually does.”
(If you can’t tell who’s who, Matt has a rolled-up long-sleeve white shirt; Ryan is wearing short sleeves.)
OUT OF NOWHERE:
And for the next number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, Ryan proved himself a superb jazz whistler:
Marvels take place amidst the hamburgers and Cobb salads, the gallons of beer and Diet Coke . . .
Since I’d never heard of Ryan, I asked for a brief biography. You should know that his August 2015 visit to New York was prelude to his attending law school at the UVA School of Law in Charlottesville. He will do great things . . . but I hope he visits New York again to play and whistle, to lift our spirits.
Here’s Ryan’s self-portrait:
Born and raised in Stanford, CA, child of two professors and avid music lovers, grew up surrounded by music in the home and going to see live music of all kinds. Started playing piano privately at 9 (hated it), trombone at 10 (loved it) playing in the school band. Parents gave me Blue Train, Kind of Blue, and a J.J. Johnson on Columbia album for my 12th birthday and I began listening to jazz obsessively, buying CDs and spinning them till I knew every note, then going to get more. That and being lucky enough to have a good jazz program in middle school and high school really developed my ears. I had fun playing in small combos with friends. I toured Japan four summers with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band, through which I connected with some amazing young players (including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, Charles and Tom Altura, Justin Brown, Milton Fletcher, Ryan Scott, Bram Kincheloe to name a few); I learned a lot and caught a glimpse of professional music life on the road.
I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory to study jazz and political science, earning bachelor’s degrees in both. There I connected with a really strong community of improvisers (including Peter Evans, Matt Nelson, Nick Lyons, Kassa Overall, Theo Croker, Nate Brenner, and our friend Rob Adkins among others) and found myself pulled towards the avant-garde and to Brooklyn, where I moved after graduation in 2005. I knew at 22 that if I ever wanted to do serious work in music that I would need to start right away, and I’m very thankful I made that choice. I spent the next six years playing as much as possible and contributing to a vibrant improvised music community in Brooklyn, including curating and hosting a regular music series in my basement for two years. During this time I also helped found and build a soul-rock-funk band called Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds that quickly gained a strong following and began touring nationally in 2011. Three years, 200,00 miles and over 500 shows in 45 states later I found that my underlying passions had shifted, that I was spending my down time on the road reading about politics and public policy rather than working on my own music and setting up playing opportunities. I was making music that mattered to people, and having fun doing it, but part of me wasn’t fulfilled; however meaningful my music was to the audience and to my peers it wasn’t making a significant impact on their lives and opportunities, let alone those of the millions (billions) beyond earshot. I felt called, I felt at 30 about political action as had at 22 about music, that I needed to immediately begin working in service of my values and towards a government and a society that I believe in.
My dad used to whistle a lot when I was really young. I don’t remember learning it at any particular point, but when I began listening to jazz obsessively in middle through high school I got in the habit of whistling along just walking around with my Discman all day. So it just became natural to whistle bebop. I kind of had a running stream of quarter note swing going through my head in those days (still notice it at times now but it’s further in the background) and I would often start whistling lines out loud, just externalizing what I was hearing in my head. Plenty of complaints from mom and friends. Did this daily through college and while I never really whistled with other people I was whistling a lot. After moving to NYC I had some opportunities to whistle professionally, laying down a few studio tracks as a guest and busting it out every few shows with Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, and have also done a few jam sessions where I’ve been just whistling. I think the best thing about it actually is being able to sit in credibly and comfortably in a jazz setting even if I don’t have my horn with me, it’s just really fun and freeing, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to share it with people.
There are a lot of similarities with the trombone in that they’re both fretless instruments and so essentially require some kind of attack (air or tongue) to delineate individual notes, which can get tricky at fast tempos. But they’re also so different it’s fun to have both. I hope to continue to develop my whistling and ultimately make some recordings that I can share.
Thank you, Rob, Matt, Ryan, and Chris, for transforming a Saturday afternoon most memorably.
Sweet, hot, romantic, and vernal: another delicious performance from Mike Lipskin’s Stride Summit at Jazz at Filoli on August 10, 2014, featuring Chris Dawson, piano; Mike, piano; Robert Young, soprano saxophone; Paul Mehling, guitar. The song is MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS, which I first heard on Bing Crosby’s recording (“A cozy Morris chair / Oh, what a happy pair!”) and later in various Eddie Condon joy-fests (trombonist Cutty Cutshall called it MAHONEY for short, I have heard).
But here’s some honey-love in the garden for all of you:
For more performances from this wonderful concert (some featuring Dick Hyman) and more information about Jazz at Filoli, click here.
Before “genre-bending” or “crossover music,” there were recordings such as this, purchased for one dollar at a local yard / garage sale a few days ago — worth so much more:
This music was recorded in New York, July 1962, in what I can assume was an attempt to merge two audiences — those elders, who still liked “Dixieland jazz,” and didn’t think that term was something to shrink from, and their children, who were busy Twisting on the living room rug, thanks to Chubby Checker and a clearly defined loud rhythm pattern.
Both “Dixieland” and “the Twist” were recognizable — and thus saleable — genres that the average consumer of music could be expected to know about. (A few years earlier, there had been successful recordings called DIXIELAND GOES MODERN, SWING GOES DIXIE, DIXIELAND HITS COUNTRY AND WESTERN . . . a series of experiments that often produced good — if occasionally odd — musical results.) Perhaps some consumers saw this disc as a doubly interesting product, a musical two-for-one.
Somerset Records were also offering “popular long play albums” including SING ALONG WITH THE HONKY TONKS, SYMPHONY FOR GLENN, OLDIES FOR PIPE ORGAN, LA PACHANGA!!, POLKA EXTRAVAGANZA, and several records attempting to capture the market for original cast albums (two compressed shows with nearly anonymous singers). I think this label, like Bravo, Design, and Spinorama, was sold in racks near the cashier in your local supermarket.
In John Updike’s short story, “A&P,” coincidentally also published in 1962, the nineteen-year old narrator, Sammy, describes such products pitilessly as “records at discount of the Caribbean Six or Tony Martin Sings or some such gunk you wonder they waste the wax on.”
The “liner notes” on the reverse are enthusiastic almost beyond endurance. I can’t reproduce the many fonts, but please imagine an exuberant art director who believed in visual stimulation:
THE DIXIE ALL-STARS
FOR YOUR LISTENING OR TWISTIN’ PLEASURE
BLOW UP A STORM OF
with a TWIST BEAT
SOUTH RAMPART STREET PARADE
GOLDEN SLIPPERS TWIST
LONESOME RAILROAD BLUES
MIDNITE IN MEMPHIS
RAMPART ST. STOMP
DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE
BOURBON STREET FISHFRY
PEANUTS HUCKO, “CUTTY” CUTSHALL, PEE WEE ERWIN – MY WHAT FINE DIXIE COMPANY. SHADES OF MOTHER COME ON HERE!!!! – ADD THE KING OF THE TWIST DRUMMERS, GARY CHESTER, AL CAIOLA ON GUITAR, BILL RAMAL HONKIN’ SAX, AND MOE WECHSLER ON PIANO (OOPS, WE NEARLY FORGOT “THE BEAVER) – ON BASS, JERRY “BEAVER” BRUNO AND FORGET IT; IT’S A DOWN HOME PARTY THAT SAYS “DIG WHAT YOU WANT – EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.” PARTY TIME!!
Directed by D. L. Miller Cover art – G.L. Phillips
This stereophonic 33 1/3 R.P.M. long playing record has been mastered employing the Westrex cutter head system driven by a Sculley lathe. We do not claim full fidelity when played on a monaural phonograph. This is a stereo recording manufactured to the highest stereophonic audio standards.
At this point, I know some of my readers want nothing more than to hear a sample — a wish I can easily gratify. Come with me back to 1962. And let your impulses take you where they may. It is indeed PARTY TIME!!
Should anyone think I focus on this disc in a spirit of mockery, that isn’t my intention. The “jazz soloists” play their parts with spirit, expertise, and conviction — soloing as they would in any context, given these songs to improvise on. I do not hear disdain or ironic distance; rather, I hear professionalism and enthusiasm. The rhythm was perhaps not what they were accustomed to, but a heavy underpinning was not all that different from a rhythm and blues date . . . and it was a paying gig playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE, which was better than many other options offered them. At the end of the sessions, I am sure everyone went home (or to the gig at Condon’s or Nick’s) reasonably satisfied that they had been given a chance to play — and if these records became hits, so much the better. “We called it music,” one of their guiding spirits had said, and what I hear is just that, Twist or not.
I don’t smoke, but this sacred artifact (from eBay) tempts me:
And the reverse:
Now, the word “D****LAND” irked Mister Condon, so I hope he didn’t see too many of those matchbooks on East Fifty-Sixth Street.
I wanted to know what occupies that address now, and found this — a perfectly serene Sutton Place apartment building. I would trade it all for one set with a group selected from Yank Lawson, Buck Clayton, Johnny Windhurst, Bobby Hackett, Cutty Cutshall, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Wilber, Dave McKenna, Bob Haggart, Morey Feld — some of the heroes who played at this club.
“We’ll always have RINGSIDE AT CONDON’S,” as Bogie tells Ingrid in CASABLANCA.
That’s written on the back of this snapshot — originally taken by drummer Walt Gifford, later held by jazz enthusiast Joe Boughton:
I am assuming that it was taken in the Boston area, but Wettling is the main attraction. In the great tradition, Wettling played drums for the band — caring more for that than for any extended solo, although his four-bar breaks at the end of Eddie Condon recordings (Commodore, Decca, and Columbia) are justly famous. He wasn’t as dramatic as some of his more celebrated peers, but any group that had Wettling in the rhythm section could relax, secure that the tempo would be steady, that every accent or sound would make sense as a complementary part of the whole.
Here are two samples of George at work — atypically visible as well — along with Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, Cutty Cutshall, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Al Hall, and Eddie himself — from a 1964 television program:
and — nearly a quarter-century earlier, sounds only:
If you follow the recordings he left behind — with Bunny Berigan, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Bud Freeman, Fats Waller, Joe Sullivan, Hot Lips Page, Lou McGarity, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, Lee Wiley, Louis Armstrong, Chu Berry, Teddy Wilson, Muggsy Spanier, Jess Stacy, Frank Teschemacher, Frank Melrose, Boyce Brown, Paul Mares, Omer Simeon, Wingy Manone, Jimmy McPartland, Joe Marsala, Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, Pete Brown, Jack Teagarden, Joe Bushkin, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Paul Whiteman, Coleman Hawkins, Max Kaminsky, Danny Polo, Herman Chittison, Joe Thomas, Mezz Mezzrow, Benny Carter, Miff Mole, Brad Gowans, Marty Marsala, George Brunis, Ed Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Rod Cless, James P. Johnson, Yank Lawson, Jerry Jerome, Billy Butterfield, Una Mae Carlisle, Dick Cary, Benny Morton, Jonah Jones, Errol Garner, Billie Holiday, Bujie Centobie, Red McKenzie, Chuck Wayne, Lucky Thompson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jo Stafford, Martha Tilton, Connee Boswell, Sidney Bechet, Frank Newton, Bing Crosby, Art Hodes, Doc Evans, Bob Wilber, Tony Parenti, Charlie Parker, Ralph Sutton, Barbara Lea, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Kenny Kersey, Frank Signorelli, Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Urbie Green, Marian McPartland, Stuff Smith, Big Joe Turner, Buck Clayton, Claude Hopkins, Nat Pierce, Jimmy Jones, Marty Napoleon, Buster Bailey, Shorty Baker, Tyree Glenn, Kenny Davern, and many others — you will always hear rewarding music.
Drummer Cliff Leeman had a completely personal and identifiable sound, a seriously exuberant approach to the music. You can’t miss him, and it’s not because of volume.
He’s audible from the late Thirties on in the bands of Artie Shaw and Charlie Barnet, then most notably in Eddie Condon’s bands, later with the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Bob Crosby reunions, Bobby Hackett and Vic Dickenson, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood, and Soprano Summit. Cliff died in 1986, but his slashing attack and nearly violent exuberance are in my ears as I write this . . . including his trademark, the tiny splash cymbal he used as an auditory exclamation point. He spoke briefly about his approach in thisinterview for MODERN DRUMMER magazine.
In case Cliff is someone new to you, here he is on a 1975 television program with Joe Venuti, Marian McPartland, and Major Holley, elevating CHINA BOY:
In spring 2008, Kevin Dorn and I paid a call on Irene (Renee) Leeman, his widow, then living comfortably in New Jersey. I have very fond memories of that afternoon, hearing stories and laughing. Until recently, I thought that those memories were all I had. But a recent stint of domestic archaeology uncovered the small notebook in which I had written down what Mrs. Leeman told us. Here are some of her comments and asides, shared with you with affection and reverence (and with her permission).
But first: Cliff on film in 1952 with Eddie Condon . . . the epitome of this driving music. Also heard and seen, Edmond Hall, Wild Bill Davison, Cutty Cutshall, Gene Schroeder, Bob Casey:
Some words from Mrs. Leeman to go with all those good sounds:
I first met Clifford at Nick’s. I didn’t go there by myself, but because of a friend who had a crush on Pee Wee Erwin.
Roger Kellaway always asked for Clifford.
He wore Capezios on the job.
He had a colorful vocabulary and didn’t repeat himself. He thought Bing Crosby was the best, but Clifford was always very definite in his opinions.
He came from a Danish-Scandinavian family where the men didn’t hug one another.
Clifford once asked Joe Venuti, “How do you want me to play behind you?” and Venuti said, “Play as if I’m five brass.”
He worked on THE HIT PARADE with Raymond Scott, who timed everything with a stopwatch, “The hardest job I ever had.”
Clifford was the drummer on Bill Haley and the Comets’ Decca recording of ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, and when the session ended, he said, “I think I just killed my career.”
Sidney Catlett was Clifford’s idol. Jo Jones, Ben Webster, Charlie Shavers and Clifford loved each other. They all hung out at Hurley’s Bar, Jim and Andy’s, and Charlie’s Tavern.
Clifford played piano — not jazz, but ROCK OF AGES and MOTHER MACHREE, as well as xylophone. And he could read music. He was always surprised that other musicians couldn’t, and would come home after a gig and say, “Do you know _____? He can’t read!”
Clifford was left-handed but he played with a drum kit set up for right-handed drummers.
He thought the drummer was supposed to keep the time and drive the band and pull everything together. Clifford listened. He was fascinated with rock drummers he saw on television, and would tell me how bad they were.
“Cliff is the best timekeeper,” Billy Butterfield said. Billy was so cute.
He loved his cymbals.
He was hard on himself, and on other people, but he loved working with Yank Lawson and Bob Haggart. They had a good time. They respected each other. They thought that music should be fun. Yank and Bob used to rehearse the band in Lou Stein’s basement in Bayside, New York.
Kenny Davern! Kenny was a challenge to the world and a thinker. He was an angry young man who became an angry old man. He and Clifford were a comedy team wherever they went.
Clifford didn’t embrace the world, and he could be abrasive if people bothered him.
Clifford played with Bob Crosby and Louis Armstrong on one of those Timex television jazz shows. He was so proud of working with Louis you couldn’t stand it.
I have always liked musicians as a group, and never had a 9 to 5 life. Because of Clifford, I got to meet Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson, Gene Krupa. In those days, rhythm sections stuck together, so I knew a lot of bass players and their wives: Milt Hinton, Major Holley, George Duvivier, Jack Lesberg. I was lucky to have known such things and such people. How fortunate I was!
We are all fortunate to have lived in Clifford Leeman’s century, and his music lives on. And I thank Mrs. Leeman for her enthusiastic loving candor.
A very prescient autograph collector captured Benny, Gene, Helen, and Frank Froeba (at the “piana”) in mid-1935.
For a newspaper story, Miss Lee Wiley in 1933, billed as “Indian radio singer.”
The other side of the news story: “Just as I finally learned how to knit.”
An Israeli film poster!
From Facebook, thanks to Stephen Hester: someone made a pilgrimage! Cutty Cutshall, Freddie Ohms, Walter Page, Wild Bill Davison, Edmond Hall, and the Master himself. “Good luck” for sure. And “Best regards.”
All I know is that Robby and Ricky went to Eddie Condon’s in 1953*. They heard the band — Eddie, Cutty Cutshall, Rex Stewart, Gene Schroeder, Herb Hall, Leonard Gaskin, George Wettling. Someone took a color photograph of the band. They asked Mr. Condon for his autograph, and he kindly obliged. Now it belongs to eBay — and to the unnamed bidder who bought it for $42.00 plus $6.55 shipping. But here it is for your admiration!
And here’s a soundtrack from the same period — Billy Butterfield, Rex, Peanuts Hucko, Herb Hall, Bud Freeman, Cutty Cutshall, and others performing AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL and THAT’S A PLENTY — with the leader’s delicious guitar quite audible in stereo.
*The picture is dated 1953. But I am troubled — mildly — by the memory that the musicians pictured were playing Condon’s in 1958. Could someone have misremembered?
I don’t mean to suggest that my return to New York after a California summer is as momentous as that of Louis — but the phrase brought to mind this beloved vinyl issue — cover drawing by Thomas B. Allen, I think, and eloquent commentary by Dan Morgenstern.
Being “back in New York” could be defined in a thousand ways . . . but joy for me is being back at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho) on a Sunday night from 8-11 for a session with the EarRegulars. No fake stereo there, just genuine swinging creativity.
Sunday, September 2, found Matt Munisteri (guitar), Danny Tobias (cornet), Pete Martinez (clarinet), and Jared Engel (string bass) having themselves a time and sharing their pleasure with us. You’ll hear four sweetly intense conversationalists who majored in empathy and telepathy in graduate school. No one steps on anyone else’s line, but it’s clear they all know The Path. And that Path winds around through 1938 Basie, the Keynote sessions, 1929 Ellington, but the EarRegulars are never imprisoned by the past. This music is splendidly vibrant, shining in the twenty-first century.
You’ve never been to The Ear Inn on a Sunday night? You, too, can be BACK IN NEW YORK if you put your mind to it . . . .
MY HONEY’s LOVIN’ ARMS (for Bing and Cutty Cutshall):
CREOLE LOVE CALL (for Barney Bigard and Wellman Braud):
BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME (alas):
I MAY BE WRONG (for Joe Thomas and Pete Brown, among others):
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL (for Bix and Eddie):
The American Decca Jazz Heritage series started off promisingly, but several reissue projects never got to their second volume. No such worries about The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn . . . many more glorious Sunday sessions to come!