This photograph is for sale for four thousand dollars on eBay, but you can inspect it here for free. And you should.
and the back:
The signatures are authentic, circa 1949. I would also love to have that suit in my size, complete with fountain pen in the breast pocket.
From still pictures to moving pictures: two excerpts from a May 24, 2019 conversation I had with our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern. In the first excerpt, I said to Dan that I was “going to throw him a curveball,” but asking Dan about Louis Armstrong was sure to result in a home run:
Then our conversation, punctuated by street drama, led to Louis’ Decca recordings:
From moving pictures to moving music: two selections from the Decca period. First, the tender IN THE GLOAMING:
My wife gave this documentary the best capsule review last night: “It made you fall in love with the guy.”
Perhaps nothing more needs to be said.
But I earnestly want to send JAZZ LIVES readers to theatres (ideally) to watch this film. In 104 minutes, it offers a compact, fast-moving portrait of a man at once complicated and plain. It offers a generous sampling of music — most of it filmed performance. But it is far more than a filmed concert. It demonstrates the joy Louis so open-handedly created while revealing the rage and sadness inseparable from it.
We see him grin, we see him hit high notes, we see him sing soulfully, but this is not the cardboard caricature, not the man-child some have attacked. There is JEEPERS CREEPERS and YOU RASCAL YOU, but there is also SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD. Time after time, he comes forth as the Grave Wise Elder, pained and serious, the man who kept silent, choosing rather the cause of happiness.
The street isn’t always sunny. vividly, we see corrosive racism throughout his career, from his childhood to the 1931 Suburban Gardens; we hear Orval Faubus and hear from the reporters who caught Louis’ response to Little Rock. There is the Caucasian fan (one out of how many thousand) who tells Louis that he admires him but “doesn’t like Negroes.” We hear Louis say that his flag is a Black one, but we also hear him talk about the great honor of playing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.
And the information is stunningly first-hand: his written words and his voice — taken from the hours of private, uncensored, often scalding conversations he recorded on tape, for he was a man who knew that he would have a place “in the history books.” Sometimes his voice is world-weary, sometimes enraged, but there is no polite expurgation. The man comes through whole, a colossus of awareness and emotion.
Unlike the often hypnotic but sometimes gelatinous cinematography of Ken Burns’ JAZZ, this film is so packed with information — auditory, visual, emotional — that the screen is always busy. I have studied and idolized Louis my whole life and I was consistently surprised and elated by what was so generously offered. And the narration by rapper Nas is so emotionally right that it adds a great deal, subliminally reminding us that Louis was not always a senior citizen.
The range of the documentary is astounding. The cameo appearances by Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie are splendidly on target but we have seen those heroes before. I hoped Bobby Hackett would put in an appearance, and was thrilled that Count Basie did also.
But to hear the voices of Arche Shepp, Miles Davis, and Amiri Braka alongside Danny Barker, Barney Bigard, George James is a series of delightful shocks, showing just how many artists understood and respected Louis.
Thanks to the preeminent Armstrong scholar Ricky Riccardi, the film never loses its way in detail or inaccuracy. Jimi Hendrix makes a brief but telling appearance; senior eminence and friend-of-Louis Dan Morgenstern brings in James Baldwin and has some pointed comments as well. Lucille Armstrong and Lil Hardin tell hilarious loving tales. Swiss Kriss is here, the little Selmer trumpet, and so is “Mary Warner.”
I thought I might be one of the worst people to write a review of this documentary, because Louis has been a hero, an old friend, a beacon, a father-once-removed since childhood. So I braced myself for oversimplifications and inaccuracies. Given the title, I worried that the film would show Louis as undermined by racism (jazz chroniclers love tragic stories) without letting his essence blaze through. I thought it might tell the same dusty stories in order, making him mythical and distant.
I need not have worried. It is an honest thoughtful respectful work. No life so charged could be captured in under two hours, and some have written that they wanted more of X or of Y. But Louis is there for the discovery for those who want to go deeper.
I was in tears at the start, the middle, and the finish, with interludes for catching my breath and wiping my eyes.
If you know everything about Louis, this is a film not to be missed; if you know little or nothing, the same assertion holds true. If you are intrigued by film-making, by popular culture, it is also a revealing delight. It is the story of a jazz creator, a beloved entertainer, a Black man in a systematically hostile world, an American so relevant, and so much more. Louis stands tall and energized as an exceptional human being who sent love out like a clarion trumpet call to all who could hear.
I have a sentimental attachment to the music issued on the Black and White label in the Forties. My father, a motion-picture projectionist, spent his working life “in the booth.” In addition to keeping the picture and sound on the screen, the projectionist was expected to fill the theatre with music during intermissions. In my childhood, theatres were making the transition from turntables in the booth that played 78s, and my father would occasionally liberate a disc he thought his music-mad son would like.
He told a funny story of playing Bill Haley and the Comets’ ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, not paying much attention to it until the manager called him in a frenzy to take the ——- ——– record off because of what the kids were doing to the theatre. But I digress.
One of the records he brought home was this 12″ disc:
The other side is LADY BE GOOD, and it made a considerable impression. (“BROWN GAL” is a reference to her composition and 1936 Decca recording of the same name.)
Later on, when I began to actively collect records, I saw that so many issues on this label were rewarding and unusual combinations of musicians: Joe Marsala (with Chuck Wayne and Dizzy Gillespie!), Joe Thomas, Art Tatum, Leo Watson, Nat Jaffe, Art Hodes, Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, an imperishable session with Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster; Barney Bigard, Cliff Jackson, Erroll Garner, Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, Brad Gowans, Oscar Pettiford, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Red Rodney, Howard McGhee, Irving Ashby, Ulysses Livingston, Lucky Thompson, and two dozen others. But almost all of them were simply listings in discographies.
Occasionally a session, transferred from worn discs, would surface on a European anthology, and a supermarket-label, TOPS, issued a compilation called JAZZ GREATS with the unequalled combination of no data and a yearning young woman portrayed on the cover. Still later, perhaps into this century, a short series of CDs appeared on the Pickwick label, anthologies assembled with hope but little logic. And there it stood.
To be fair, the story is not unique to this label. Search for a coherent reissue of many of the small labels that proliferated in the Forties, and you have to hope for the best. Ownership rights are tangled or on the ocean floor, and most — if not all — reissue companies are not relying on an audience thirsting for invaluable music.
But what is that I hear, coming over the hill? The drums and trumpets of Mosaic Records, once again, bringing heart, valor, enthusiasm, and exactitude to a worthy project.
The facts? 243 tracks, spanning 1942 to 1949, primarily studio performances with a few concert ones for leavening; New York, Chicago, California (mostly Los Angeles), eleven CDs, price $179.00 plus shipping. I’ll let you do the math, but just for a thrill, I looked up the Lil Armstrong disc I began with on eBay, and the least expensive version is $23.66 here, assuming of course you have the turntable and stylus to play it properly. You could also look for some of these records on YouTube — happy hunting! — but although the Tube is priceless for certain things, music tends to transfer off-pitch, and some of the collectors (heartfelt as they are) have makeshift methods of getting the music to us.
No, the Mosaic Records issues remain — a cliche but no less true — the gold standard. They are also limited editions, so one cannot really say, “I’ll buy that set in _______ years when and if my ship comes in,” because then the only place to purchase it will be charging a premium price, if, indeed, it can be found.
But enough words about money. How about some sound(s)? Here you can hear Charlie Ventura, Red Rodney, Willie Smith, Barney Kessel, Billy Hadnott, and Nick Fatool play ‘S’WONDERFUL; Jack McVea; Gerald Wilson; Joe Marsala with Dizzy Gillespie, Cliff Jackson, Chuck Wayne, Irving Lang, Buddy Christian play MY MELANCHOLY BABY; Willie “the Lion” Smith, Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, Frank Orchard, Jack Lesberg, Mack McGrath play BUGLE CALL RAG. Delightful performances.
And the sound is translucent; you hear all the nuances, thanks to lovely transferring from the best original sources by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti of Swan Studios, who have outdone themselves. Perhaps you knew that small labels of this period suffered because shellac was rationed, so many treasured 78s were pressed on a mixture of substances including horse manure, as my expert friend Matthew Rivera tells us.
On that same page, a detailed discography, and, of course, a place to buy the set.
The set has photographs — rare and stunning, beautifully reproduced, and essays by Billy Vera, Scott Wenzel, and the Eminence Dan Morgenstern. Dan’s notes are characteristically witty, heartfelt, and candid. Who else do we have who was in New York in 1947, saw, spoke with, and befriended many of the musicians on this set? Priceless.
It’s a valuable swinging human archive. And you deserve a present, don’t you?
“Benny Goodman stories” are legendary, and since tales of odd or mean behavior are good copy, they are durable. There’s the man who couldn’t remember his daughters’ names, the villain of the Ray, the man who put on a sweater when the sidemen were cold . . . if you care to, you can add to the list.
But for every truth there is a counter-truth, so here are two brief interview segments I did with the Eminence Dan Morgenstern in 2019, resetting the balance in ways that will surprise anyone committed to the idea of the wicked King of Swing.
I think the emphasis on a cruel miserly inexplicable Benny has also led to a meager assessment of his gifts. Consider these examples. If you played them for someone who knew nothing of the legends and gossip, I think they would be astonished by the music made by the Unknown Clarinetist — and the music he made possible.
and a few years later, in two versions:
I could expound at length on the reasons Benny has been attacked as a person (and he had his failings: no bandleader is always a hero to the people he employs) but that’s another blogpost, one I will leave aside for the moment. For one thing, he became prosperous, which is at odds with the myth of the jazz creator as suffering doomed outsider. Ultimately, though, mocking someone as emotionally lacking or imbalanced is an easy way to undermine the validity of their art. Benny should be regarded for his work — on the level of, let us say, Benny Carter and Bobby Hackett — rather than for his foibles. Who among us doesn’t have them?
Fairness, not vindictiveness. The time is ripe for a balanced view.
Many words follow, which one could skip in favor of the music, but this was and is an event of some significance. Here’s the press release.
The Museum of Modern Art Saturday, July 17, 1965 Pee Wee Russell will lead an all-star quintet Including cornetist Bobby Hackett in the Garden at The Museum of Modern Art on Thursday, July 22, at 8:30 p.m. The legendary clarinetist will also be joined by Dave Frlshberg, piano, George Tucker, bass, and Oliver Jackson, drums. The group plays the sixth In a series of ten Thursday evening promenade concerts sponsored jointly by the Museum and Down Beat Magazine. The regular Museum admission, $1.00, admits visitors to galleries,open Thursdays until 10 p.m. Tickets for Jazz in the Garden are an additional 50 cents. A few chairs are available on the garden terraces, but most of the audience stands or sits on the ground. Cushions may be rented for 25 cents. Sandwiches and soft drinks are available to concert-goers in the Garden Restaurant. Dinner Is served to the public in the Penthouse Restaurant from 6 to 8. In case of rain, the concert will be canceled; tickets will be honored at the concert following. Once dubbed “the Gertrude Stein of jazz” because of his highly individualistic approach to his instrument, Russell, with a style ranging from poetic to satiric, has never become dated. Though frequently associated with jazz of a Dixieland flavor, in 1963 he surprised the jazz world by recording with a pianoless quartet, playing a modern repertoire with pieces by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. In 1965 he was teamed with Monk and his quartet at the Newport Festival. Born in 1906 in St. Louis, Russell was a close associate of such pioneer jazzmen of the 20s as Bix Beiderbecke, Leon Rappolo and Frank Trumbauer. He played in Chicago with the founders of Chicago Style Jazz. In 1927 he came to New York where he worked and recorded with Red Nichols, Benny Goodman, Ben Pollack, Jack Teagarden and other leading players of the day. He was among the first to bring jazz to New York’s famed 52nd Street, working at the Onyx Club with trumpeter Louis Prima, whose big band he later joined. After working briefly with Bobby Hackett’s big band in 1938, he began a long association with guitarist Eddie Condon, sparkplug of small-group traditional jazz, and was for years a fixture at Nick’s and Eddie Condon’s in Greenwich Village. Russell won first place on clarinet in the Down Beat International Critic’s Poll in I964 and I965. Russell’s Museum concert will be videotaped by NBC-TV for broadcast later this summer as part of the Kaleidoscope series. For Jazz in the Garden. Dan Morgenstern, New York editor of Down Beat, is Chairman of a Program Committee consisting of David Himmelsteln, editor of FM Magazine, Charles Graham, a sound systems specialist, and Herbert Bronstein, Series Director. The series will continue July 29 with the Roy Eldridge Quintet featuring Richie Kamuca.
My friend and benefactor John L. Fell sent me, as part of an early cassette, the music from the NBC “Kaleidoscope” broadcast of September 4, 1965, hosted by Nat Hentoff: ‘DEED I DO, featuring Russell and Hackett; THE MAN WITH THE HORN, an unusual Hackett feature (the only recording of it by him that has been documented), and I’M IN THE MARKET FOR YOU, a Russell feature with Hackett joining in.
The remarkable bio-discography by Bert Whyatt and George Hulme, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, notes that eleven songs were played at this concert. Whitney Balliett reviewed it in THE NEW YORKER as well. It is too late to wonder, “Where is the rest of the video-recording?” because networks erased videotape for economy, but I would love to know if anyone ever had a complete recording of the concert. (And, while the researchers are at it, the Eldridge-Kamuca quintet and another concert, the front line Buster Bailey, Joe Thomas, and Vic Dickenson. Do I dream in vain? And I think: I was alive and reasonably sentient in 1965, and my parents had a television set. Was KALEIDOSCOPE under-advertised so that it escaped my notice, I, who read TV GUIDE avidly?)
Here’s what I have, noble and lively: the interplay between Bobby and Pee Wee, friends for almost thirty years in 1965; the wonderful terse support of Frishberg . . . and, as a side-note, the way Pee Wee says, wordlessly, “That tempo is much too fast for what I have in mind,” at the start of MARKET, and how Frishberg listens — some would have simply kept on obliviously.
Dan Morgenstern, intimately involved in this series, recalled asking Pee Wee to lead a group, Pee Wee said yes instantly and when I asked who he wanted he said, in less than two seconds, ‘Bobby,’ and we instantly agreed on Dave whom he had encountered, while the great, alas short-lived Tucker and Ollie were our choices, Pee Wee wanted Black musicians in there. He also said he did not want Condonites—not for strictly musical reasons but for a much desired environmental change.
And from Dan’s column in JERSEY JAZZ . . . . beginning with praise of the wonderful pianist Dave Frishberg . . .
Sometimes things happen in a strangely appropriate but unexpected way. When we lost Dave Frishberg recently I didn’t have to read the obits to learn that his well earnedsuccess as a songwriter sadly overshadowed, maybe even hid from view, his great gifts as a pianist. When I caught him live he’d give us a wee taste of his keyboard skills, almost like a teaser. I wanted to complain to his attorney Bernie and ask Dear Bix to pull his coat for some keyboard Quality Time but had to settle for some peeled grapes. Then I was gassed when I got a CD of a concert featuring Al and Zoot, with Dave at the piano, but the asinine producer had edited out all of his solos—something my colleague in the Crow’s Nest told me Dave was angry about, so he still did care about the keyboard…. A bit later, Dave called to tell me about a local tenor player he thought highly of and said he’d send me a sample. I was of course interested but primarily happy that I’d get to hear some of that piano! Well, guess what? There was plenty of a nice enough sax man but far too little piano, alas…. Then, just a few days ago as I write, my good friend Michael Steinman, who is a great finder of buried treasure, sent me something that not only was of special musical but also special personal value: an excerpt from a concert in the “Jazz in the Garden” series at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, co-produced by yours truly, in this instance from July 22, 1965. (The summer series ran for several years, successfully, until MOMA, modern to the core, decided that jazz was no longer in the moment and suggested we blend it with what was then considered hip, if not quite hop, to which we (Ira Gitler, David Himmelstein, Don Schlitten and I) said no thanks. (They hired a musician whose name escapes me; after a few performances, the concerts ceased due to noise complaints from neighboring tenants—who during the jazz regime had invited guests to join them in enjoyment, forfree, of the sounds emanating from the Garden. Sic transit non gloria mundi, needless to say to our considerable schadenfreude!) But I digress, the concert in question featured the inimitable Pee Wee Russell in the too rare role as leader of a band of his own choice—Bobby Hackett, bassist George Tucker, drummer Oliver Jackson and—you guessed it—Dave Frishberg. It was, uniquely, televised by NBC in an arts series, but when we asked for a copy we were told it had been wiped. However, audio fragments survived—one tune eventually appeared on a Xanadu LP, but that, we thought, was all. However, two more had been captured, and all three have now been heard by me more than half a century later. The band was great, Pee Wee was happy which made me happy, and there is great work by Dave. As I said—things happen. Ah, sweet mystery of life!
Some lament the loss of the Library of Alexandria; I lament that we cannot hear (and see!) the other eight selections this lovely band performed. What wonders they created.
I’ve been publishing interviews done with Dan Morgenstern over the past few days — the best tribute I can pay Dan is to let him be himself — but here is one that hasn’t been seen yet.
Dan praises Tommy’s beautiful art and character . . . many of the same things could be said of the man seen in his Upper West Side apartment:
Here’s Tommy, solo, at the 1981 Montreux Jazz Festival:
If you’re reading this post early on Wednesday, October 27, and you’re within reach of midtown Manhattan, there’s still time to get to Birdland for the celebration of Dan’s 92nd birthday with David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band . . . the music starts at 5, the doors open at 4.
Dan Morgenstern’s birthday celebration is too large to be contained in one twenty-four hour period, so this is the third day of posting interviews he did in front of my camera. I present this small tasting menu to remind people of Dan’s even-handed expansiveness: other jazz writers range across styles and decades, but few do it with the comfort and empathy he shows. And his first-hand experiences with his and our heroes are priceless.
How about Coleman Hawkins and Jack Purvis?
and Pops Foster?
and Sidney Catlett?
and Miles Davis, too:
Miles as friend and neighbor:
and it always comes back to Louis:
My informants in the Jazz Under-and-Overworld tell me that this Wednesday, at 5 PM (doors open at 4) David Ostwald and the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band will be paying loving tribute to Dan, who will be there (we hope!) at Birdland, in New York City. Birdland does not allow impromptu videography, so I hope you can join us. Or if you are far away, Dan is on Facebook and I am sure he could endure some more congratulations and greetings.
Happy 92nd birthday, Eminent Dan Morgenstern, friend of Louis, George Wein, Hot Lips Page, two hundred others, and deep friend of the music. I’ve been privileged to bring my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and stand back while the magic — insights, memories, stories, and affection — unfolds. Here are a few of his conversations about his and our heroes, with more to come.
Lester Willis Young:
Lester, George Holmes Tate, and Eugene Ramey:
I will share a few others tomorrow — names you will recognize — and also some interviews you haven’t tuned in on yet.
I believe I was in the second row for this, the first concert of the 1975 Newport Jazz Festival in New York (its fourth in this city and its twenty-second, for those keeping track) and I had my cassette recorder and better-quality microphone, the wire concealed in my blazer sleeve. Not everything I recorded was priceless and not all of it has survived, but the rescued music has its own happy power. The concert was a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, featuring Marian McPartland, Johnny Mince, Warren Vache, John Glasel, and Bix’s replacement in the Wolverines, Jimmy McPartland, as well as veterans of the Jean Goldkette orchestra Spiegle Willcox, Bill Rank, and Chauncey Morehouse.
But the explosive high point of the evening for me was a right-here-right-now version of Joe Venuti’s Blue Four, featuring Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone, Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar, and the surviving member of that ad hoc group, the durable Vince Giordano, bass saxophone. Here’s how they sounded on CHINA BOY and no doubt an unscheduled encore, C JAM BLUES, with Venuti doing his unique “four-string Joe” party piece. Dan Morgenstern tells me that he isn’t doing the introduction, so the cheerful announcer is mysterious to me, although it might well be Dick Sudhalter. The photograph below comes from the Chiaroscuro Records compilation, JOE AND ZOOT AND MORE, also glorious:
Jack Purvis: trumpeter, trombonist, composer, arranger, incidental singer, adventurer, chef, imposter, con man, vandal, sociopath, thief, fabulist, inmate, and more. There are few photographs of Purvis, appropriate to his slippery self. I offer the cover of the superb Jazz Oracle three-CD set, which is a consistent delight, both in the rare music and the stories:
Here is a well-researched chronicle of his parents, his birth, and his early life as (if we are to be charitable) a Scamp, a Rogue, and A Rascal, written by George A. and Eric B. Borgman.
Now, to my particular views of Purvis. First, some music, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY (May 1, 1930) with J.C. Higginbotham, trombone; Greeley Walton, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano; Dick McDonough, guitar; Charles Kegley, drums:
Then, three famous sides from April 4, 1930, whose personnel has been in dispute for decades, but there’s Purvis, Higginbotham, Rollini, Froeba, Kegley, and Will Johnson, guitar. Some sources listed Coleman Hawkins on tenor, but Bob Stephens, recording director for OKeh Records said no, it was Castor McCord, as quoted by Jan Evensmo: “Bob Stephens, studio manager at Okeh and responsible for organizing virtually all the Okeh race sessions, stated in connection with the Purvis sides : ‘Hawk wasn’t on those. We used another guy who played like him – Castor McCord. I was organizing the Blue Rhythm at the time, and I hired him because we wanted a rival attraction to get business away from Henderson.'”
We’ll settle that shortly.
First, DISMAL DAN (an odd title for this cheerful original):
DOWN GEORGIA WAY:
When I visited Dan Morgenstern at his Manhattan apartment last year, I did not expect him to bring up Purvis. But I was delighted when he did:
Yesterday, I asked Dan to clarify something I thought was part of our off-camera conversation, and he wrote, “The issue of the tenor on the Poor Richard date was settled for me when Hawk’s response to my bringing up Purvis was instant,
as he recalled, without prompting, that very session and that he was
astonished at what he considered a most peculiar manner of paying
tribute to his recently deceased brother. He added some positive comments about his playing and amusing eccentricity. So I consider that my greatest contribution to discography.”
And the Facebook page notes that Richard Purvis lived on until 2014.
My friend Connor Cole suggested, some months ago, that I might find Charlie Barnet’s autobiography, THOSE SWINGING YEARS, worth reading — warning me in advance that it was often more a chronicle of sex and drink than music, which did not scare me away. Barnet knew Purvis, who, “after all, could charm you to death while he picked your pocket,” and had some remarkable stories. He refers to Purvis as “one of the wildest men I have ever met in my life” and praises him as a trumpeter far ahead of his peers, both in jazz and in symphonic music. Quickly, though, Purvis became a burden: “By this time [circa 1930] I had had my fill of Jack. There was enough trouble to get into without his help, but he was a mad genius and a wonderful trumpet player. You couldn’t be a close friend, because you couldn’t trust him. You never knew what he was going to do.”
Barnet hires him in 1933: “Jack started to write some charts for us, but even in this area he had to indulge his diabolical whims. He would figure out the weaknesses of each member of the band–low notes, high notes, strange key signatures, whatever–and that would be central to each individual’s part. And Jack chuckled to himself at the struggle.”
Certainly “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”
But on this 1935 recording, from his last session — where he speaks and sings — you hear his swinging ease alongside Slats Long, clarinet; Herbie Haymer, tenor saxophone; Frank Froeba, piano and leader; Clayton “Sunshine” Duerr, guitar; Carroll Waldron, string bass; as well as some powerful drumming from the elusive Eddie Dougherty:
A sad footnote. Dan and I had wondered about the writer / researcher / archivist Michael Brooks, whose idiosyncratic liner notes still stick in my head — he took great chances and usually got away with them. I learned today that Michael had died (he was born in 1935) on November 20, 2020: details here.
Today, October 24, 2020, Dan Morgenstern celebrates his ninety-first birthday, and we celebrate him. He’s been an eager participant on the jazz scene since his mother took him to see Fats Waller and the Quintette of the Hot Club of France in 1939; he’s hung out with Louis, Billie, Duke, Lester, Bird, Miles, Stan, Rowles, and a hundred others; if there was a jazz event in New York, Boston, or Chicago in the last seventy years, chances are he was there and wrote about it. I could continue, but I’d rather let him speak for himself.
Since spring 2017, I’ve had the immense privilege of bringing my camera to Dan’s Upper West Side apartment and capturing his singular memories: you can find memorable ones on the blog. But for today, I offer two interview segments that have not been seen.
Dan talks about Ella:
Ella in 1936 with Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Bennie Morton, Jerry Blake, Teddy McRae, Leemie Stanfield, John Trueheart, and Cozy Cole:
and about Lena, Maxine, and Eva Taylor (I apologize for the ragged ending of the segment, but YouTube refused to let me be any neater):
Lena in 1941 with Teddy Wilson, Bennie Morton, Emmett Berry, Jimmy Hamilton, Johnny Williams, J.C. Heard:
Maxine in 1938 with Bobby Hackett, Bud Freeman, Chester Hazlett, and others:
Eva Taylor, 1926, with Clarence Williams and Charlie Irvis, others unidentified:
and fifty years later (!) with the Peruna Jazz Band:
We are so fortunate to have our Jazz Eminence, Mister Morgenstern, with us!
This fellow is little known except to connoisseurs of late-Twenties jazz. He was a wonderful reedman, imaginative arranger, composer of modernistic melodies, but perhaps more people know Fud Livingston because of one mournful song:
Here’s our Becky — Rebecca Kilgore to those who haven’t yet taken her to their hearts — with Dan Block, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Pete Siers, drums, performing this lament at the 2011 Jazz at Chautauqua weekend:
Performances like this — consistently for several decades — are why, when someone says, “Have you heard the new singer _____? She’s great!” I often say, “Before you launch someone at me, do you know Rebecca Kilgore’s work?” Becky’s individual mix of delicacy and intensity here is so touching — her quiet emotional fervor, her beautiful natural-sounding phrasing and diction. She’s it. Dan Block matches her in feeling: his vocalized sound is close to tears. And that rhythm section: the very soul of soulful understated support. Watching this, I feel so fortunate that I was there to witness this music and how glad I am to be able to share it with you.
A relevant postscript from our Jazz Eminence, Dan Morgenstern, who, in the late Fifties, was “in between,” and working at Colony Records in midtown New York City, the hours 7 pm to 4 AM:
A sad note: Fud Livingston, not quite sober, with a guy he wanted to show how many recordings there were of his “I’m through with Love” which I looked up for him in that big Phonolog. He was gassed that I knew who he was, or had been. Wanted to do an interview but didn’t connect…he was in twilight zone. (This would have been before March 25, 1957, when Livingston, fifty, died. I hope he made a good deal of money from the song’s appearance in SOME LIKE IT HOT, sung with breathless ardor by Marilyn Monroe.)
I can promise you more treasures created at Jazz at Chautauqua, although this one is singular in its art and feeling.
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 . . .
Yesterday, I posted two lovely Jimmy Rowles piano solos here. Today, I offer you two segments of an interview I did with Dan Morgenstern almost a year ago about his and my hero Rowles. Symmetry, no? (Incidentally, I am more of a participant in these segments, because I occasionally recalled a piece of information more rapidly: not my habit, but perhaps useful.)
and then . . .
And here ‘s a 2017 interview I did with Dan that starts with Rowles and then happily wanders to Georgia and potato salad. I learned early in interviewing that you let the speaker go where (s)he wants to go and the results are more fun. See for yourself.
Before you go, here’s that extended performance of TIGER RAG (1957) that Dan admires, by Rowles, Barney Kessel, Ben Webster, Frank Rosolino, Leroy Vinnegar, and Shelly Manne:
Since I can’t (for the moment) visit Dan Morgenstern at his Upper West Side apartment to listen and learn, I am inviting all of you to go back into the recent past for a few previously unseen interview videos, showing his large range: the music he has advocated for and the friends he has made. There was construction going on outside, but Dan comes through clearly.
Some music from Tubby Hayes, tenor saxophone; Clark Terry, trumpet; Horace Parlan, piano; George Duvivier, string bass; Dave Bailey, drums. October 1961 in New York: OPUS OCEAN:
From last December, Dan speaks briefly and with affection about UK tenor saxophonist / vibraphonist Tubby Hayes:
More from the irreplaceable Cee Tee, that is, Clark Terry, here in 1976 with Nick Brignola, saxophone; Sal Maida, piano; Bill Crow, string bass; Larry Jackson, drums, performing MACK THE KNIFE:
and Dan’s fond recollections:
Music by the beloved Chicago pianist Art Hodes, SOUTH SIDE SHUFFLE, 1939:
Memories of Art and friends, including Lester Young:
Glimpses of worlds that most of us never got to visit, thanks to Dan. And there are more interviews to come . . . to quote Tubby, “Lovely!”
Postscript: we have a real scholar — diligent and affectionate — of Tubby Hayes (and many others) in our midst, the tenor saxophonist / biographer / musical archivist Simon Sipllett on Facebook and elsewhere: he offers information and sounds with great grace.
“You have an awful good voice,” Johnny St. Cyr told Mrs. Christian, “Why don’t you do something with that voice?”
Mrs. Christian said, “Why don’t you help me do something with it?” and Johnny replied, “Well, I will. I’ll see what I can do.”
And here’s what happened:
A few days ago, the fine reedman John Clark of the Wolverine Jazz Band sent me an information-present that I will share with you.
Eight years ago, I published a post about Lillie Delk Christian, who recorded sixteen sides with the finest musicians on the planet (Armstrong, Hines, Noone), and then seemed to vanish — here. I was asking questions, and my friend, scholar-drummer Hal Smith, provided answers; four days later I had more answers and photographs, thanks to the splendid writer-researcher Mark Miller and Dan Morgenstern, who actually met Lillie in the 1960s: read here.
But John has topped them all by pointing out an audio interview Mrs. Christian gave on April 25, 1961. You can listen to it just below, but if you haven’t got sixty-four minutes to spare, I can offer some highlights. Unfortunately, the interviewer stops the flow of Mrs. Christian’s story to deal with a particular hobby-horse. Pro tip: stay quiet or say “And then what happened?” rather than intruding. Alas. I believe the interviewer may be Samuel Charters; the later male voice is surely Mr. Christian, Charles, no relation to the guitarist.
The conversation takes place in the Christian house, their residence for twenty-seven years, presumably not with the same barking dog nearby. Mrs. Christian was born in Mobile, Alabama, and chooses not to tell her birth year; the Delk family moved to Chicago in 1915.
Her singing career started with the OKeh recordings. Her friend, Johnny St. Cyr, heard her when they were all living at 3938 Indiana Avenue, singing around the house — without training, but it “went over all right.” She seems to have had no public career between 1929 and 1934, and we do not find out whether she retreated from show business or that gigs dried up during the hard times of the Depression, but mentions that she toured in the summer of 1935 with Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra and had an engagement in a club in Stockton, California.
But she cannot remember every detail the interviewer wants to know, although she recalls that she and her husband ran a “tea-house” restaurant around the corner, with the piano played by Ellington and other famous musicians.
Eventually, she sang at the Club De Lisa with reedman Dalbert Bright, drummer Jimmy Hoskins and guitarist Ike Perkins, perhaps trumpeter Guy Kelly, then Red Saunders led the band. Another gig was at the Cotton Club, the band possibly led by Thamon Hayes. A later stint at the Club De Lisa was with Eddie Cole (without brother Nat) and then Horace Henderson, at a club with a white orchestra in Springfield, Ohio — the Continental Club, where Lillie’s accompanist was pianist Marlow Nichols. (All spelling errors are my fault.)
It puzzles me that the interviewer didn’t ask Mrs. Christian, “Whose idea was it for Louis to scat on TOO BUSY?” “What was it like to record for OKeh?” At least we get a few words about Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, “in his highest bloom” in the Thirties.
“When my kind of singing came out, it was kind of unusual. And the people seemed to like it.”
Mrs. Christian sounds as if she would be willing to be recorded again, but only as part of her church choir. And for those who think of her voice as being brash and brightly-colored, it is delightful to hear her speaking voice: sweet, moderated, gently nuanced.
A glimpse, occasionally frustrating, into the world of someone legendary to us.
Rahsaan’s sweetly respectful SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME:
His energized, theatrical SERENADE TO A CUCKOO from 1972:
and on the same theme, Rahsaan at the zoo:
And here’s Dan . . . . recalling Rahsaan Roland Kirk in a conversation at his NYC apartment, beginning with their first connection through the music of John Kirby, to Harry Carney’s enthusiastic recommendation . . . to Rahsaan’s intelligence, passion, pride, and curiosity. Whatever he did, Dan says, “it always made musical sense.” Triumphs at Newport in New York and on the street in New Orleans, a “beautifully warm person” and a powerful hugger. I’ve learned to follow Dan wherever he leads, so this interview ends with a sweet detour into mid-Forties jazz: Charlie Shavers, Herbie Haymer, Nat Cole, and Buddy Rich. . . . and his one memory of seeing Nat Cole live.
Here, to make JAZZ LIVES your one-stop blogging superstore, is the 1945 LAGUNA LEAP:
Just what the title says! Dan Morgenstern, Jazz Eminence, celebrates the unique Slim Gaillard as swing linguist, singer, riff-monger, guitarist, pianist, comic improviser, ingenious composer, with glances at an ailing Charlie Parker, Brew Moore, Loumell Morgan, Arthur’s Tavern, Leo Watson, Red McKenzie, scat singing, Red McKenzie, Milt Gabler, and more.
and the appropriate soundtracks, to save you the search:
and Slim, justifiably celebrated in his later years:
and the first part of a 1989 BBC documentary on Slim:
Part Three, with Dizzy:
And a swing detour, to one of my favorite recordings ever:
Leo also quotes BLACK AND BLUE . . .
McKenzie was often dismissed as sentimental, but here it works: THROUGH A VEIL OF INDIFFERENCE, with Jess Stacy, Lou McGarity, Buddy Morrow, Red Norvo, Ernie Caceres:
As always, thanks to Dan for making the past and present shake hands so graciously.More tales to come, I promise you.
Some people make themselves comfortable on the moving train, the better to admire the scenery outside their little window. Others are driving the train, decorating the cars, planting trees and painting clouds outside the same window for us to admire. With her red sneakers securely laced, Nancy Harrow continues to be one of the most remarkable examples of the second kind of people. Her latest creation is ABOUT LOVE, inspired by Turgenev’s “First Love,” for which she’s written music and lyrics, with script and direction by Will Pomerantz.
I first encountered Nancy as a voice coming through the radio speaker (thanks to Ed Beach, with Nat Hentoff and Buck Clayton standing invisibly in back of him) in 1970, and was intrigued. Decades later, when Daryl Sherman and Dan Morgenstern spoke of her with pleased awe, I had the opportunity to hear her sing and to meet her — one of those magical instances where the voice turns out to have a person attached to it. I learned quickly that Nancy was not only a much-admired singer, but lyricist, composer, and playwright as well. Although I have seen her sit still, her biography makes it seem that I was fooled by an optical illusion.
A pause for music:
Nancy says this about the play: Turgenev’s story is so human— each character is so true to life that it lives today even though it takes place 150 years ago. That he captures the adolescent boy’s feelings completely is least surprising because it is his own youth he is describing, but he is equally perceptive about the heroine’s powers and her frailties and the father’s strengths and vulnerabilities. The whole story is masterful in its compression— in such a brief time it covers every aspect of life from youth to death and we recognize it in our own experiences and are moved. It is of its own time and place so accurately, yet it is universal and recognizable in 2020, a portrait of the essence of human relationships touching on a wide range of emotions— joy and sorrow, humor and humiliation, cruelty and empathy. Turgenev loved his characters.
I am honored to have Nancy not only as a friend but as an inspiration, and she has told me little enticing stories about the progress of this “play with music” since spring 2019. But this year, when I asked her what translation of Turgenev she recommended for me to read — I have trouble not being a diligent student who worries about passing the final — she encouraged me to play hooky, “maybe you don’t want to spoil the surprises when you see it.”
I encourage you to join me for ABOUT LOVE. It seems that the only way one could spoil the surprise is by staying home.
ABOUT LOVE plays a limited four-week engagement, February 25 through March 22 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in the Black Box Theater. The official opening is Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30 PM. Shows are Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Preview tickets (through March 3) are $25. After opening, all evening performances are $39 – $59. Rush tickets will be available at the box office an hour before any performance for $25.