Tag Archives: Danny Barker

“BANG A FEW NOTES”: HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT (5.5.20)

A long post follows, with many new stories.

My awareness of the amazing musician Donald Lambert began in 1970, when I heard this music coming out of my FM radio speaker when Ed Beach (WRVR-FM of sainted memory) offered a program of Lambert’s then few recordings:

I loved then and still love the beautiful carpet of the verse.  But I was uplifted by the rollicking tempo and swing of the chorus.  And not only by the pianist, but by the drummer, cavorting along — not overbearing, but personal and free, saying “Yeah!” to Lambert at every turn, but not too often.

The magic possible in cyberspace has made it possible for me to talk with Howard Kadison, the nimble drummer on that recording and — no cliche, a witness to history, because he knew and played with people we revere.  First, he and Audrey VanDyke, another gracious scholar, made available to me the text of an entire periodical devoted to the Lamb, which I have posted here eight months ago.  It’s an afternoon’s dive, I assure you: I’ve also presented the two fuzzy videos of Lambert, solo, at Newport, July 1, 1960, that are known on YouTube.

But Howard and I finally had a chance to talk at length, and I can offer you the very pleasing and sometimes surprising results.  Howard doesn’t have a high profile in the jazz world, and I suspect he is content with that.  But he played drums with Danny Barker, Connie Jones, George Finola, and many others whose names he recalls with pleasure.  However, he was most famous to me as the drumming sidekick — the delightful accompanist — to stride piano legend Donald Lambert.  The session they created for Rudi Blesh (pictured above) always lifts my spirits.  As did my conversation with the man himself.

On May 5, Howard graciously talked to me about “Lamb” and his experiences being Lambert’s drummer of choice — both at Frank Wallace’s High Tavern in West Orange, New Jersey, and in the recording studio.  Sit back and enjoy his beautiful narrative.  He was there, and he loved Lambert.

HOWARD KADISON REMEMBERS DONALD LAMBERT

 I always fooled around with the drums.  I was really drum-crazy — I used to have a telephone book with brushes, and I’d play with the radio when I was fourteen, fifteen, twelve years old.  I always liked music and if I heard a song I could always remember it.  I had come from a divorced home and was dividing my time between Chicago and Miami when my parents split up.  And when I was in Miami I heard a radio station, WMBM, “The Rockin’ MB,” Miami Beach, and I didn’t know what kind of music it was, but it was jazz.  I had no idea about jazz.  And I listened to it and just fooled around with it.  Then I went on to college, and in my junior year, I really decided that I wanted to play drums.  Whenever there was music in Miami, I would go to whatever event it was.  I always had a peripheral interest.

In 1959, I went to New York, and was very serious about it, and started taking lessons.  When I was in college, I was an econ major, so it was quite a change.  I studied with Jim Chapin initially, and for a long while with George Gaber.  I had an endless series of day jobs, and one of them had me working in the mailroom of ABC.  George Gaber was a staff percussionist, and he was a brilliant teacher who eventually ran the percussion program at Indiana University.  But before he left New York I studied with him for a couple of years.  The way I met him was he was practicing one day — he came in and was warming up — and I watched him.  I was delivering mail, and he just started talking to me.  He asked me if I was a drummer, because I was watching him so intently.  I told him I was trying to be, and he took me under his wing.

While I was there, I ran into a banjoist and guitar player who became one of my mentors, Danny Barker.  Danny was playing at a place called the Cinderella, which was on West Third Street in the Village.  He kept in touch with me, and he started giving me little gigs that would come up.  And there were a bunch of guys playing around at that time.  There was a wonderful piano player named Don Coates, and Ed Polcer, and Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood.  They were all older than I, but I got to know them a little bit.  I started working, just gradually.  And then Don Coates, who was from Jersey, brought me out to hear Don Lambert play.  I just thought it was the most wonderful music.  I forget exactly how it happened, but this was shortly after Lambert had gone to Newport in July 1960.

Danny Barker told me that Don came up on the bandstand at Newport, at what they called the Old-Timers concert in the early afternoon, and there were a lot of good stride players there, and he got up and, to use Danny’s words, “this old man killed everybody. He got up there and played and scared the crap out of everybody in the place.”  And Danny never used language like that. “He left those people there shaking like a leaf.”

So I met Lambert through Don Coates, and Lambert said, “If you ever want to come in and bring a snare drum, there’s not much room back here, but you can bang a few notes with me.”  That’s a direct quote.  So I took the Hudson Tubes to Newark, and then got on a bus, and finally found myself in West Orange, New Jersey, I think it was, and would walk from the bus to Wallace’s High Tavern, which was where Lambert was playing.  I brought a snare drum, and played some brushes.

I should explain.  He played behind a long oval bar on a platform which was just enough room for a baby grand piano.  Guys would come sit in with him occasionally, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room to play with.  Anyway, I played a couple of tunes, and as I was leaving, Frank Wallace came up to me — he was the owner of the  place — and he said, “Would you like to come in once and a while and play?  Lambert enjoyed your playing.”  You know, Lambert didn’t talk to me; he did.  And I said yes: I didn’t know he was offering me a gig, I thought he was just talking to me to come in and play once in a while.  I did it a couple more times, and then he said, “What would be involved to get a set of drums back here?”  I said, “Well, there’s not much room.”  There was just room for a snare drum to fit in one little place.  I used sit near a display of alcohol on one side and Lambert on the other, and in the middle there was a cash register where he would ring up the sales.  He had me sitting next to the cash register, and when he’d ring up a sale, if I wasn’t careful and didn’t duck, the drawer would hit me in the head, which I’m sure explains a lot of my behavior these days.

Anyway, he figured out a way of getting a bass drum in there, and he moved some things under the bar.  I think there was a connection to a sink or something, he kind of juggled some stuff and I was able to get a small bass drum in there, a hi-hat, and one cymbal.  It was pretty cramped in there, but I was able to do it.  And I started playing on a regular basis, about three nights a week, and it was eight bucks a night plus a sandwich, one of those heated sandwiches where they use an electric bulb and they put them in those cases.  I was working days, and Frank would drive me to the train station after the gig, and I’d take the train home, back to New York City.  But I would go there by bus, from Port Authority bus station, through the Hudson Tubes, and then a pretty long walk.  I’d have to leave the drums there.  That went on for a while.

There was one very critical thing that happened that was helpful.  The set-up didn’t allow me to see Lambert while he was playing.  We would play almost with our backs to one another, or at right angles.  So I had to listen very intently to everything he was going to do, because he didn’t do a lot of talking when he played.  He’d go from one tune to another, and I’ve often thought in retrospect that this experience of really listening was very important, because it required a very specific kind of focus to know what he was going to do.  He’d play an introduction, then he’d play the time, and that was it.

That went on a couple of years, and then there was a project that came up.  It was a guy named Rudi Blesh was going to record Lambert.  That didn’t involve me at all.  I think it was going to be a solo album with Lambert.  I don’t know how the conversation began, but they said that they wanted to add a drummer.  Blesh wanted to use some other players, and Lambert wanted to use me.  Danny Barker, who was at Newport when Lambert played, heard about the project — I’m not quite sure of tthe mechanics involved — but Danny, I learned later, recommended me and said that if I’d been playing with the guy, I’d probably be the one you’d want to get.  When they asked me if I wanted to do it, I was terrified, because I’d never done anything like that before.  Ultimately, I was the one who made the recording, and that was primarily because of Danny.  Frank Wallace, the owner of the bar, had kept in touch with Danny after Lambert played, and evidently Danny told Frank that Lambert should use me.  A lot of tap-dancing, a bunch of up-and-back stuff.  I didn’t know anything about it.  I was just a kid playing drums, and that’s it.

(At this point the Editor interrupted and reminded Howard that there was a story extant of Lambert telling Blesh, “That’s my drummer,” referring to Howard.)

Yes.  That was one of the most thrilling things that had happened to me.  If I’d quit playing drums after that, I could have been happy.  I could have died happy.  I was astounded by all of it.  I didn’t know what the hell to do.  I just sat down, and Lambert said, “Hey, man!  Just do what you do with me at the bar.  That’s it!”

Sometimes I’d go out at night after the gig and shoot pool with Lambert, if I didn’t have to work the next day at my day job, hang with him in Newark, and sometimes he would talk about music.

I learned a lot on the job.  He’d make comments.  If he wanted me to do a specific thing, he’d turn around and say, “Now, don’t do something until you hear me sound like I’m ready to have you play.”  Then he’d wait and turn around and say, “And then, put me in the alley!”  That was one of his favorite phrases, “Put me in the alley!”  He didn’t talk a whole lot, but he spoke volumes, the way he played things.  If you just listened carefully, you didn’t have to watch him.  If I were going to speak about people who guided me, it would be Danny Barker and Don Lambert.

One of the rules that I learned, that I thought was extremely important, is that you have to focus, to remember whom you’re accompanying.  And that’s important.  You’ve got to find a way to connect with the soloist.  I never thought of drumming as soloing, I always thought of it as being an accompanist.  And that was something I took away from two extraordinarily different experiences, completely dissimilar in every respect, as far as music.  But the philosophical approach to every gig is the same: you’ve got to listen, be part of the solo, and help the soloist.  And that’s, I believe, of critical importance.  That’s all you can do!

There was a thing that Danny Barker used to say.  He would tell me, “Hey, man, if you’re a drummer, most of the time you’re going to be playing for other people, you’re not going to playing drum solos.  So it’s nice to do all kinds of monkeyshines” (and I quote) “but your real job is to be an accompanist.  So you gotta learn how to back people up,” and he always talked about that.  He was a wonderful guitarist, and playing time with him was marvelous.  You’d get such a groove, and, hey, if you could get that going, why would you want to do anything else?   So the trick is to be good at accompanying people.  I was lucky, because I got to play with him, and I did an album with him.  And that was a great pleasure.

You could learn on every gig.  You might learn how to develop your chops with a teacher, but in the final analysis, you’re doing it so that you can play with people.  So, to me, the trick is to just stay in the background and play for somebody else.  That’s it.

I’ll tell you a story, and I don’t know the details.  It’s something that Don Coates told me.  At one point, Lambert was working as a janitor or a clean-up guy at the Adams Theatre in Newark.  Jack Teagarden was there with a big band.  There was evidently a piano backstage.  Lambert was fooling around with it, and Teagarden happened to hear what he was doing.  There was a song that Lambert played, a song he had written himself, and Lambert gave Teagarden the music, and, according to what Coates told me, Teagarden used it as a kind of opening theme for his big band.  The story is fuzzy and not very precise, and there’s no way to verify it, because Coates has passed away, but there was some connection between Lambert and Teagarden.  (At this point, the Editor interrupted to tell the story of Lambert being at Jack’s 1940 HRS session, documented in a photograph.)

I’d call him “Lamb,” because that’s what he always did.  And I’d call him “Don” sometimes.  The other thing you might be interested in, one of the sterling times I had with Lambert, is that Frank Wallace called me one day and said, “We’re going to go visit Eubie Blake at his house in Brooklyn.  Would you like to come along?”  I was tongue-tied, but I said, “Sure.”  And I just sat there and listened to them talk, and didn’t say a word the whole time.  It was great, listening to them talk, up and back.  And they both played.

He had interesting things he would say.  His mother was his piano teacher, and she used to tell him he should learn every tune in every key, and he did.  Every tune he played, he could play in all twelve keys.  He was technically a very fine player.  I’ve heard stories about when he was in New York in the Thirties and early Forties, and then he left and kind of buried himself in Jersey.  He was always very humble.  He told me once that he thought he was one of the better piano players in the state of New Jersey.  That’s a direct quote.  Lambert was a lot of fun.  He had a good sense of humor.  He was generous, and he was helpful.  He’d come over sometime and say, “Remember what you just did, because that was OK.”  And that was nice.  I mean, I just played with the guy and had fun.  I was a kid and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.  I was very lucky, and he was very kind.

Lambert didn’t live a lot longer after the record date.  He had a stroke at one point, and he was still playing, and playing well.  But he wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t always take care of himself as well as he should.  He was in a place in Newark called Martland Medical Center, I think the name of it is, and I visited him there once, and after that he passed away.  I went to his funeral, as a matter of fact.  A very bad time, a difficult time.  I loved him very much.  He was a good guy.

I want to close — in a mist of gratitude to Howard and Audrey and the Lamb — with three ways to celebrate Donald Lambert, and none of them is a photograph of a headstone, because well-loved people are never relegated to such forms.

Second, a marvel.  At the site called Wolfgang’s Concert Vault, the Voice of America tape of the “Old-Timers'” afternoon concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, arranged by Rudi Blesh, including Lambert, Eubie Blake, Willie “the Lion” Smith, the Danny Barker Trio with Bernard Addison and Al Hall — some 93 minutes — can be downloaded here in high-quality sound for $5.

And finally, another marvel.  Videos exist of that afternoon: two solos by Lambert, several each by Barker, Eubie, and the Lion — but this one, I don’t think, has been widely circulated or ever circulated.  I caution finicky viewers that the image is blurry — perhaps this was a film copy from a television broadcast, or it is the nineteenth copy of a videotape (I do not have the original).  But here are Eubie Blake and Donald Lambert essaying CHARLESTON.  Eubie takes over early and Lambert is in the most subsidiary role . . . but we see what he looked like at the piano, and that is a treasure.

Bless Donald Lambert.  Bless Howard Kadison, too.

May your happiness increase!

THE PAST, PRESERVED: “TRIBUTE TO JIMMIE NOONE”: JOE MURANYI, MASON “COUNTRY” THOMAS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JOHNNY WILLIAMS, ROD McDONALD, HAL SMITH (Manassas Jazz Festival, Dulles, Virginia, Nov. 30, 1986)

One moral of this story, for me, is that the treasure-box exists, and wonderfully kind people are willing to allow us a peek inside.

A jazz fan / broadcaster / amateur singer and kazoo player, Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee, Jr. (1923-1990), — he was an accountant by day — held jazz festivals in Manassas and other Virginia cities, beginning in 1966 and running about twenty years.  They were enthusiastic and sometimes uneven affairs, because of “Fat Cat”‘s habit, or perhaps it was a financial decision, of having the finest stars make up bands with slightly less celestial players.  Some of the musicians who performed and recorded for McRee include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, James Dapogny, Don Ewell, John Eaton, Maxine Sullivan, Bob Wilber, Pug Horton, Kenny Davern, Dick Wellstood, Bob Greene, Johnny Wiggs, Zutty Singleton, Clancy Hayes, George Brunis, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Tommy Gwaltney, Joe Muranyi, Danny Barker, Edmond Souchon, Cliff Leeman, Bobby Gordon, Marty Grosz, Hal Smith, Kerry Price . . . .

McRee also had business sense, so the proceedings were recorded, issued first on records and then on cassette.  I never got to Manassas while the Festival was happening, but I did buy many of Fat Cat’s lps (with their red and yellow label) and years later, when I met Hank O’Neal, he told me stories of recording the proceedings on Squirrel Ashcraft’s tape machine here.

My dear friend Sonny McGown, who was there, filled in some more of the story of the music you are about to see and hear.  The 1986 festival was dedicated to Jimmie Noone and these performances come from a Sunday brunch set.  “It was a very talented group and they meshed well. Mason ‘Country’ Thomas was the best clarinetist in the DC area for years; he was a big fan of Caceres. . . . Fat Cat’s wife, Barbara, often operated the single VHS video camera which in later years had the audio patched in from the sound board. As you well know, the video quality in those days was somewhat lacking but it is better to have it that way than not at all. Several years later Barbara allowed Joe Shepherd to borrow and digitize many of the videos. In his last years Fat Cat only issued audio cassettes. They were easy to produce, carry and distribute. FCJ 238 contains all of the Muranyi – Dapogny set except for “River…”. However, the videos provide a more enhanced story.”

A few years back, I stumbled across a video that Joe had put up on YouTube — I think it was Vic Dickenson singing and playing ONE HOUR late in his life, very precious to me for many reasons — and I wrote to him.  Joe proved to be the most generous of men and he still is, sending me DVDs and CD copies of Fat Cat recordings I coveted.  I am delighted to report that, at 93, he is still playing, still a delightful person who wants nothing more for his kindnesses than that the music be shared with people who love it.

Because of Joe, I can present to you the music of Jimmie Noone, performed on November 30, 1986, by Joe Muranyi, clarinet, soprano saxophone, vocal; Mason “Country” Thomas, clarinet; James Dapogny, piano; Rod McDonald, guitar; Johnny Williams, string bass [yes, Sidney Catlett’s teammate in the Armstrong Decca orchestra!]; Hal Smith, drums; Johnson McRee, master of ceremonies and vocalist.  The songs are IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (vocal, Joe); CRYING FOR THE CAROLINES (vocal, Fat Cat); MISS ANNABELLE LEE (Joe); SO SWEET; RIVER, STAY ‘WAY FROM MY DOOR; APEX BLUES; SWEET LORRAINE (Fat Cat).

Some caveats.  Those used to videocassette tapes know how quickly the visual quality diminishes on duplicates, and it is true here.  But the sound, directly from the mixing board, is bright and accurate.  YouTube, in its perplexing way, has divided this set into three oddly-measured portions, so that the first and second segments end in the middle of a song.  Perhaps I could repair this, but I’d rather be shooting and posting new videos than devoting my life to repairing imperfections.  (Also, these things give the busy YouTube dislikers and correcters something to do: I can’t take away their pleasures.)

One of the glories of this set is the way we can see and hear Jim Dapogny in peak form — not only as soloist, but as quirky wise ensemble pianist, sometimes keeping everything and everyone on track.  Joe has promised me more videos with Jim . . . what joy, I say.

Don’t you hear me talkin’ to you?  It IS tight like that:

Who’s wonderful?  Who’s marvelous?

I’ve just found joy:

I started this post with “a” moral.  The other moral comes out of my finding this DVD, which I had forgotten, in the course of tidying my apartment for the new decade.  What occurs to me now is that one should never be too eager to tidy their apartment / house / what have you, because if everything is properly organized and all the contents are known, then surprises like this can’t happen.  So there.  Bless all the people who played and play; bless those who made it possible to share this music with you.  Living and “dead,” they resonate so sweetly.

May your happiness increase!

“DIASPORA”: MICHAEL McQUAID, ANDREW OLIVER, NICHOLAS D. BALL

A few nights ago, I was sitting in my apartment, entertaining friends (one of them the fine guitarist Larry Scala) and I was playing 78s for them.  After a particularly delightful performance, which may have been the Keynote I WANT TO BE HAPPY with Roy, Emmett Berry, and Joe Thomas, or 46 WEST 52 with Chu Berry, Roy, and Sidney Catlett, I turned to them and quietly said, “Music like this is why some bands that everyone else goes wild about do not appeal to me.  I’ve been spoiled by the best.”

But there are glorious exceptions to my assessment of the present.  One of the shining musicians of this century is  Michael McQuaid — heard on a variety of reeds and cornet, even possibly breaking in to song when it seems right.  I first heard him live in 2010 and admired him powerfully, and although our paths don’t cross often (we meet every few years, not only in Newcastle but also in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and in New York City) he remains a model to me of what can be created within and without those venerable musics.  (Full disclosure: he quotes from JAZZ LIVES on his blog, but I simply take that as evidence of his good taste in literature.)

Michael, informally

If you’d like to read a brief biography of Michael, you can do just that here, but I will offer three salient facts: he is Australian by birth; he has been playing professionally for twenty years even though he is a mere 35; he and the lovely Ms. Anna Lyttle will take up residence in London in November 2017.

Michael, feeling the spirit

His newest CD, DIASPORA, is an exceptional pleasure.  It’s a trio CD — Michael’s first as a leader in this format — where he is nobly paired with pianist Andrew Oliver and percussionist Nicholas D. Ball.  When you click on the title above, you can hear selections from the disc, and if so moved, then purchase it from Bandcamp or CDBaby.

But enough commerce.  I’ve found it daunting to review this CD in a hurry, not, I assure you, because I had to dig for adjectives, but because each performance — none of them longer than a 12″ 78 — is so dense with sensation, feeling, and music, that I feel gloriously full and satisfied after each track.  I couldn’t compel myself to listen to this disc, stuffing in track after track at one sitting: too much glorious stuff was going on.  So I promise you that it will not only appeal at the first listening but for many more to come.  Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. are strong personalities but willing to merge their egos into a band, which in itself is a deep reward for us.

The music here is nicely contradictory: comforting but full of surprises, aesthetically familiar but never rote.  “Clarinet, piano, and traps,” as they would have written in 1928, lends itself to all sorts of formulae: the Goodman / Dodds / Noone “tribute” album.  Or, more loosely, “Chicago jazz.”  DIASPORA, it is true, nods affectionately to early Benny, Wingy, Leon, the Halfway House boys, Fats, Bud Jacobsen, Charles LaVere, and others, but it is not a series of copies: it’s as if Michael, Andrew, and Nicholas D. have made themselves so familiar with the individual songs and the idioms they came from that they are at ease and can thus speak for themselves.  There is so much shining energy in their playing: nothing seems forced or tense.  And although this would be marketed as “hot jazz,” some of the finest moments in this recital are sweet, rueful, tender: Fats’ CHELSEA, for one.

I asked Michael for his thoughts about the CD, especially because there are no liner notes, and he told me that he wanted to let the music speak for itself, and that DIASPORA has been on his mind for some time: “I wanted to do a project featuring my OWN playing rather than a larger group with a more democratic purpose. I also wanted to record in a very good studio, because I think the clarinet is rarely recorded well . . . it’s just me and my Albert system clarinet! And my colleagues, of course.”  [Note from Michael: the recorded sound is superbly natural.]

The songs Michael chose are admiring homages to various clarinetists without imitating them.  “For instance, ‘Do Something’ was imagined as a hypothetical Don Murray/Arthur Schutt/Vic Berton collaboration; ‘Tiger Rag’ asks ‘what if Rappolo and Jelly Roll made a trio side?’.”

I’d asked Michael about his original compositions.  “‘Black Spur’ takes its name from a treacherous mountain road to the north east of Melbourne, while ‘Diaspora’ is a Beguine/Jazz mix, paying tribute to the musical styles (and peoples) scattered widely throughout the world by the time of the 1920s/30s.  Of course, there’s a link there to the album title as well; an Australian, playing music of American origin (broadly speaking) with an American and a Briton, recorded and mixed in London and mastered in Helsinki!”

I hope all my readers take the opportunity to hear DIASPORA: it’s music that travels well.

May your happiness increase!

BLOWINGLY, 1951

As part of my continuing quest to make the world more aware of Oran Thaddeus Page — known to those who know as Lips or Hot Lips, here is SWEET SUE, recorded at a session organized by Rudi Blesh in New York City on February 10, 1951, with Lips, Tyree Glenn, trombone; Burnie [or “Burney”?] Peacock, clarinet, alto saxophone; Paul Quinichette, tenor saxophone; Kenny Kersey and Dan Burley, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Sonny Greer, drums.  Some of the shorter tracks from what was eventually issued as JAMMIN’ AT RUDI’S came out on Circle 78s; the most recent official CD issue is on the Jazzology label (JCD 262) with five tracks from this 1951 date, and a good deal of it — circuitously — has found its way to YouTube.  (Blesh had sponsored an earlier, more “traditional” session with Conrad Janis, Bob Wilber, Ralph Sutton, Eubie Blake, and others, so this was JAMMIN’ No. 2.)  Thanks to Jon-Erik Kellso for reminding me to revisit this session, a few weeks ago.

I’ve always been fascinated by this session because it successfully replicates the feel of an actual jam session — in good sound — with musicians who didn’t usually work together.  Some of them did play gigs as members of Hot Lips Page’s little band of the time, but others seem assembled as former Swing Era stars who were no longer working with big bands: Page (Basie); Greer (Ellington); Barker and Glenn (Calloway); Kersey (Kirk and others), Peacock (Calloway, Basie).  I suspect that these musicians, for Blesh, were perilously “modern,” and I admire him for venturing into unusual territory.  Peacock, for me, was the least-known of the bunch: here is a Wikipedia entry with some possibly verifiable facts.

But there is a wonderful looseness, a let’s-start-this-and-see-if-we-can-get-out-of-it-safely feel to this performance, that speaks to familiar repertoire and no charts in sight.  I suspect Blesh might have even encouraged this as “authentic” and frowned on head-arrangement riffs and backgrounds, something Lips and the others created masterfully as a matter of course.  What else do we hear?  A nicely unhurried tempo, the tender expressiveness of Lips’ lead in the first chorus (a sweet conversational approach), Greer rattling and commenting all through; the sounds Lips got with his plunger — an emphasis on pure sound — before Quinichette dances in, Lester-airy; the powerful motion of Walter Page’s bass in duet with Danny Barker’s single-string solo.  Then the contrast between Lips, apparently at full power, alternating with Greer, before Tyree peaceably returns us to the melody.  How beautifully individualistic his sound is!  A more familiar Barker chordal solo (again, with impressionistic support from Walter Page and Sonny) before Lips returns, as if to say, “You thought I was piling it on before?  Hear THIS!”  Pure drama, and it — like the Jerry Newman recordings and a MUSKRAT RAMBLE recorded in Philadelphia (issued on a Jerry Valburn recording years ago) — shows Lips’ intuitive understanding of dynamics, and even more, the dramatic construction of a large-scale solo.

Never mind that the YouTube picture makes Walter Page the leader of the session and that the cover picture is of his own orchestra, decades ago.  We live in strange times.

And here is more tangible evidence of Mr. Page’s gracious spirit, if you didn’t hear it coming through those notes — a thank-you note to (I am assuming) some Swedish friends:

This emerged on eBay a week ago, and the lucky owner ventured much more money for it than I was willing to spend (the imaginary grandchildren tell me they need sneakers) but you can see it here for free.  I know it’s authentic because of the way Lips made his capital L (he went to school when “penmanship” was still part of your report card) and, for better or worse, “Lip’s” as part of his signature.  I’ve also seen an autograph where Lips — enthusiastically, I assume, signed VERY BLOWINGLY above his name.

SWEET SUE, to me, equals VERY BLOWINGLY by all.  And it didn’t cost $103.56.

May your happiness increase!

THANK YOU, SIR CHARLES (1918-2016)

Sir Charles Trio

The news from Yoshio Toyama (from Mike Fitzgerald’s online jazz research group):

“Sir Charles Thompson left us on June 16th in Japan.

He was a very unique pianist with style in between swing and bebop, also very close to great Count Basie’s piano style. He was married to Japanese wife Makiko Thompson in 1990s, lived in Japan in 1990s and 2002 to this day. Funeral will be held in Tokyo, Japan, Higashi Kurume, by his wife Makiko Thompson and family and friends on June 21st.

He was born March 21, 1918, and he just turned 98 last March. He started as professional when he was very young, played with and admired people like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins . . . .

He was very active in Bebop era also, and his style has lots of Bebop flavor mixed with mellow swing. He was very good golf player too.

He left so many great jazz records including “Vic Dickenson Showcase”. In Japan, he made recording with Yoshio and Keiko Toyama in late 1990s.  Had appeared in many concerts held by Toyama’s Wonderful World Jazz Foundation.  Sir Charles and Toyama stayed very close friends.

We all miss him. Yoshio and Keiko”

sircharlesthompson

Readers will know that I have worked very hard to keep this blog focused on the living thread of the music I and others love.  Were it to become a necrology (and the temptation is powerful) it would slide into being JAZZ DIES.  But I make exceptions for musicians whose emotional connection with me is powerful.  I never met Sir Charles, but he was an integral part of recordings I loved and knew by heart forty-five years ago.  Here he is in 1955 with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  You could make a case that anyone would swing with those three people, but Sir Charles was consistently his own subtle swing engine: he could light up the sonic universe all by himself.

Hearing that, you can understand why Lester Young knighted him.

And — from that same period — another glorious Vanguard session featuring Vic Dickenson (the second volume, since I presume the first was a success, both musically and for its wonderful clarity of sound) on EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY, where Vic and Sir Charles are joined by Shad Collins, trumpet; Ruby Braff, cornet; Ed Hall, clarinet; Steve Jordan, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums:

That’s been one of my favorite recordings since my teens, and it continues to cheer and uplift.  But listen to Sir Charles — not only in solo, but as a wonderfully subtle ensemble player.  With a less splendid pianist (I won’t name names) these soloists would have been less able to float so gracefully.

If you measure a musician’s worth by the company (s)he keeps, Sir Charles was indeed remarkable: the pianist of choice for the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions; work with Coleman Hawkins early and late, with Charlie Parker both in the studio and on the air in Boston, with Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Buck Clayton, Danny Barker, Lucky Millinder, Shadow Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Stitt, Leo Parker, Pete Brown, J.J. Johnson, Milt Jackson, Jimmy Rushing, Earl Bostic, Ike Quebec, Buddy Tate, Paul Gonsalves, Paul Quinichette, Joe Williams, Harry Edison, Ben Webster, Eddie Condon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bobby Hackett, Don Byas, Humphrey Lyttelton, Herbie Steward . . . and on and on.

If you want to hear more of Sir Charles, YouTube is full of musical evidence, from the 1945 sides with Bird and with Hawkins, all the way up to 2012 with Yoshio’s band (playing, among other things, RUSSIAN LULLABY) and as a speaking member of a panel — with Allan Eager and Hank Jones — talking about Charlie Parker.

But I will remember Sir Charles as the man who — in his own way and with his own sound — played a good deal like Basie, but understanding that impulse from within rather than copying him, adding in Fats, Wilson, and more advanced harmonies.  His sound, his touch, and his swing are unmistakable, and although he lived a very long life and had a long performance career, his death leaves a void in the swing universe.

I’ll let the poetic pianist Ray Skjelbred have the last word: “He was a perfect player who knew the force of silence around his notes. An inspiration to me.”

There is a silence where Sir Charles Thompson used to be.

BOB AND RUTH BYLER + CAMERA = HOURS OF GOOD MUSIC

Bob and Ruth Byler

Bob and Ruth Byler

I first became aware of Bob Byler — writer, photographer, videographer — when we both wrote for THE MISSISSIPPI RAG, but with the demise of that wonderful journalistic effusion (we still miss Leslie Johnson, I assure you) I had not kept track of him.  But he hasn’t gone away, and he is now providing jazz viewers with hours of pleasure.

“Spill, Brother Michael!” shouts a hoarse voice from the back of the room.

As you can see in the photograph above, Bob has always loved capturing the music — and, in this case, in still photographs.  But in 1984, he bought a video camera.  In fact, he bought several in varying media: eight-millimeter tape, VHS, and even mini-DVDs, and he took them to jazz concerts wherever he could. Now, when he shares the videos, edits them, revisits them, he says, “I’m so visual-oriented, it’s like being at a jazz festival again without the crowd.  It’s a lot of fun.”  Bob told me that he shot over two thousand hours of video and now has uploaded about four hundred hours to YouTube.

Here is his flickr.com site, full of memorable closeups of players and singers. AND the site begins with a neatly organized list of videos . . .

Bob and his late wife Ruth had gone to jazz festivals all over the world — and a few cruises — and he had taken a video camera with him long before I ever had the notion.  AND he has put some four hundred hours of jazz video on YouTube on the aptly named Bob and Ruth Byler Archival Jazz Videos channel. His filming perspective was sometimes far back from the stage (appropriate for large groups) so a video that’s thirty years old might take a moment to get used to. But Bob has provided us with one time capsule after another.  And unlike the ladies and gents of 2016, who record one-minute videos on their smartphones, Bob captured whole sets, entire concerts.  Most of his videos are nearly two hours long, and there are more than seventy of them now up — for our dining and dancing pleasure.  Many of the players are recognizable, but I haven’t yet sat down and gone through forty or a hundred hours of video, so that is part of the fun — recognizing old friends and heroes.  Because (and I say this sadly) many of the musicians on Bob’s videos have made the transition, which makes this video archive, generously offered, so precious.

Here is Bob’s own introduction to the collection, which tells more than I could:

Here are the “West Coast Stars,” performing at the Elkhart Jazz Party, July 1990:

an Art Hodes quartet, also from Elkhart, from 1988:

What might have been one of Zoot Sims’ last performances, in Toledo, in 1985:

a compilation of performances featuring Spiegle Willcox (with five different bands) from 1991-1997, a tribute  Bob is particularly proud of:

from the 1988 Elkhart, a video combining a Count Basie tribute (I recognize Bucky Pizzarelli, Milt Hinton, Joe Ascione, and Doc Cheatham!) and a set by the West End Jazz Band:

a Des Moines performance by Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band featuring Judi K, Connie Jones, and Spiegle:

and a particular favorite, two sets also from Elkhart, July 1988, a Condon memorial tribute featuring (collectively) Wild Bill Davison, Tommy Saunders, Chuck Hedges, George Masso, Dave McKenna, Marty Grosz, Milt Hinton, Rusty Jones, John Bany, Wayne Jones, in two sets:

Here are some other musicians you’ll see and hear: Bent Persson, Bob Barnard, Bob Havens, the Mighty Aphrodite group, the Cakewalkin’ Jazz Band, the Mills Brothers, Pete Fountain, Dick Hyman, Peter Appleyard, Don Goldie, Tomas Ornberg, Jim Cullum, Jim Galloway, Chuck Hedges, Dave McKenna, Max Collie, the Salty Dogs, Ken Peplowski, Randy Sandke, Howard Alden, Butch Thompson, Hal Smith, the Climax Jazz Band, Ernie Carson, Dan Barrett, Banu Gibson, Tommy Saunders, Jean Kittrell, Danny Barker, Duke Heitger, John Gill, Chris Tyle, Bob Wilber, Gene Mayl, Ed Polcer, Jacques Gauthe, Brooks Tegler, Rex Allen, Bill Dunham and the Grove Street Stompers, Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, the Harlem Jazz Camels, and so much more, more than I can type.

Many musicians look out into the audience and see people (like myself) with video cameras and sigh: their work is being recorded without reimbursement or without their ability to control what becomes public forever.  I understand this and it has made me a more polite videographer.  However, when such treasures like this collection surface, I am glad that people as devoted as Bob and Ruth Byler were there.  These videos — and more to come — testify to the music and to the love and generosity of two of its ardent supporters.

May your happiness increase!

THE TRIUMPHS OF JAMES P. JOHNSON

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Baby Dodds, 1946, by Charles Peterson

James P. Johnson, Marty Marsala, Danny Barker, 1946, by Charles Peterson

When the Student is more dramatically visible than the Teacher, even the most influential mentor and guide might become obscure.  James Price Johnson, pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader, has become less prominent to most people, even those who consider themselves well-versed in jazz piano.  He was a mentor and teacher — directly and indirectly — of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum. “No James P., no them,” to paraphrase Dizzy Gillespie. But even with memorable compositions and thirty years of recording, he has been recognized less than he deserves.

CAROLINA SHOUT eBay OKeh

 

Fats Waller eclipsed his teacher in the public eye because Waller was a dazzling multi-faceted entertainer and personality, visible in movies, audible on the radio.  Fats had a recording contract with the most prominent record company, Victor, and the support of that label — he created hit records for them — in regular sessions from 1934 to 1943.  Tatum, Basie, and Ellington — although they paid James P. homage in words and music — all appeared to come fully grown from their own private universes.  Basie and Ellington were perceived not only as pianists but as orchestra leaders who created schools of jazz composition and performance; Tatum, in his last years, had remarkable support from Norman Granz — thus he left us a series of memorable recordings.

Many of the players I’ve noted above were extroverts (leaving aside the reticent Basie) and showmanship come naturally to them.  Although the idea of James P., disappointed that his longer “serious” works did not receive recognition, retiring to his Queens home, has been proven wrong by Johnson scholar Scott Brown (whose revised study of James P. will be out in 2017) he did not get the same opportunities as did his colleagues.  James P. did make records, he had club residencies at Cafe Society and the Pied Piper, was heard at an Eddie Condon Town Hall concert and was a regular feature on Rudi Blesh’s THIS IS JAZZ . . . but I can look at a discography of his recordings and think, “Why isn’t there more?”  Physical illness accounts for some of the intermittent nature of his career: he had his first stroke in 1940 and was ill for the last years of his life.

There will never be enough.  But what we have is brilliant.  And the reason for this post is the appearance in my mailbox of the six-disc Mosaic set which collects most of James P.’s impressive recordings between 1921 and 1943.  (Mosaic has also issued James P.’s session with Eddie Condon on the recent Condon box, and older issues offered his irreplaceable work for Blue Note — solo and band — in 1943 / 44, and the 1938 HRS sides as well.)

JAMES P. Mosaic

Scott Brown, who wrote the wise yet terse notes for this set, starts off by pointing to the wide variety of recordings Johnson led or participated in this period.  And even without looking at the discography, I can call to mind sessions where Johnson leads a band (with, among others, Henry “Red” Allen,  J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Johnny Williams, Sidney Catlett — or another all-star group with Charlie Christian, Hot Lips Page, Lionel Hampton on drums, Artie Bernstein, Ed Hall, and Higginbotham); accompanies the finest blues singers, including Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, is part of jivey Clarence Williams dates — including two takes of the patriotic 1941 rouser UNCLE SAMMY, HERE I AM — works beautifully with Bessie Smith, is part of a 1929 group with Jabbo Smith, Garvin Bushell on bassoon, Fats Waller on piano); is a sideman alongside Mezz Mezzrow, Frank Newton, Pete Brown, John Kirby, swings out on double-entendre material with Teddy Bunn and Spencer Williams. There’s a 1931 band date that shows the powerful influence of Cab Calloway . . . and more.  For the delightful roll call of musicians and sides (some never before heard) check the Mosaic site here.

(On that page, you can hear his delicate, haunting solo BLUEBERRY RHYME, his duet with Bessie Smith on her raucous HE’S GOT ME GOING, the imperishable IF DREAMS COME TRUE, his frolicsome RIFFS, and the wonderful band side WHO?)

I fell in love with James P.’s sound, his irresistible rhythms, his wonderful inventiveness when I first heard IF DREAMS COME TRUE on a Columbia lp circa 1967.  And then I tried to get all of his recordings that I could — which in the pre-internet, pre-eBay era, was not easy: a Bessie Smith accompaniment here, a Decca session with Eddie Dougherty, the Blue Notes, the Stinson / Asch sides, and so on.  This Mosaic set is a delightful compilation even for someone who, like me, knows some of this music by heart because of forty-plus years of listening to it.  The analogy I think of is that of an art student who discovers a beloved artist (Rembrandt or Kahlo, Kandinsky or Monet) but can only view a few images on museum postcards or as images on an iPhone — then, the world opens up when the student is able to travel to THE museum where the idol’s works are visible, tangible, life-sized, arranged in chronology or thematically . . . it makes one’s head spin.  And it’s not six compact discs of uptempo stride piano: the aural variety is delicious, James P.’s imagination always refreshing.

The riches here are immense. All six takes of Ida Cox’s ONE HOUR MAMA. From that same session, there is a pearl beyond price: forty-two seconds of Charlie Christian, then Hot Lips Page, backed by James P., working on a passage in the arrangement.  (By the way, there are some Charlie Christian accompaniments in that 1939 session that I had never heard before, and I’d done my best to track down all of the Ida Cox takes.  Guitar fanciers please note.)  The transfers are as good as we are going to hear in this century, and the photographs (several new to me) are delights.

Hearing these recordings in context always brings new insights to the surface. My own epiphany of this first listening-immersion is a small one: the subject is HOW COULD I BE BLUE? (a record I fell in love with decades ago, and it still delights me).  It’s a duo-performance for James  P. and Clarence Williams, with scripted vaudeville dialogue that has James P. as the 1930 version of Shorty George, the fellow who makes love to your wife while you are at work, and the received wisdom has been that James P. is uncomfortable with the dialogue he’s asked to deliver, which has him both the accomplished adulterer and the man who pretends he is doing nothing at all.  Hearing this track again today, and then James P. as the trickster in I FOUND A NEW BABY, which has a different kind of vaudeville routine, it struck me that James P. was doing his part splendidly on the first side, his hesitations and who-me? innocence part of his character.  He had been involved with theatrical productions for much of the preceding decade, and I am sure he knew more than a little about acting.  You’ll have to hear it for yourself.

This, of course, leaves aside the glory of his piano playing.  I don’t think hierarchical comparisons are all that useful (X is better than Y, and let’s forget about Z) but James P.’s melodic improvising, whether glistening or restrained, never seems a series of learned motives.  Nothing is predictable; his dancing rhythms (he is the master of rhythmic play between right and left hands) and his melodic inventiveness always result in the best syncopated dance music.  His sensitivity is unparalleled.  For one example of many, I would direct listeners to the 1931 sides by Rosa Henderson, especially DOGGONE BLUES: where he begins the side jauntily, frolicking as wonderfully as any solo pianist could — not racing the tempo or raising his volume — then moderates his volume and muffles his gleaming sound to provide the most wistful counter-voice to Henderson’s recital of her sorrows.  Another jaunty interlude gives way to the most tender accompaniment.  I would play this for any contemporary pianist and be certain of their admiration.

I am impressed with this set not simply for the riches it contains, but for the possibility it offers us to reconsider one of my beloved jazz heroes.  Of course I would like people to flock to purchase it (in keeping with Mosaic policy, it is a limited edition, and once it’s gone, you might find a copy on eBay for double price) but more than that, I would like listeners to do some energetic reconstruction of the rather constricted canon of jazz piano history, which usually presents “stride piano” as a necessary yet brief stop in the forward motion of the genre or the idiom — as it moves from Joplin to Morton to Hines to Wilson to Tatum to “modernity.”  Stride piano is almost always presented as a type of modernized ragtime, a brief virtuosic aberration with a finite duration and effect. I would like wise listeners to hear James P. Johnson as a pianistic master, his influence reaching far beyond what is usually assumed.

JAMES P. postage stamp

I was happy to see James P. on a postage stamp, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough, as the Mosaic set proves over and over again. I would like James P. Johnson to be recognized as “the dean of jazz pianists”:

jamesp-johnsongravemarker

Listen closely to this new Mosaic box set six compact discs worth of proof that the genius of James P. Johnson lives on vividly.

May your happiness increase!