Tag Archives: Danny Kaye

“WHEN LOUIS MET BIX”: ANDY SCHUMM, ENRICO TOMASSO, MATTHIAS SEUFFERT, ALISTAIR ALLAN, SPATS LANGHAM, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, MALCOLM SKED, NICK BALL (LAKE RECORDS)

A wise philosopher — Gladys Bentley or Blanche Calloway — once said, “There are a thousand ways to do something wrong, but only four or five ways to do it right.”  One of the most eagerly-awaited CDs of recent memory, WHEN LOUIS MET BIX,  on Lake Records, is a shining example of beautiful imaginations at work.

WHEN LOUIS MET BIX two

The assertive cover photograph is slightly misleading, suggesting that we might be getting ready for one of those Battle of the Valves scenes so beloved of film directors.  I offer as evidence one of the most musical (having seen this scene from THE FIVE PENNIES when I was perhaps eleven, it made a deep impression):

Beautiful as it is, that scene is all about mastery and power: the unknown challenger coming out of the shadows (the club dramatically silenced) to claim territory for himself, and being accepted by the gracious King, who makes space for him on the regal bandstand.  It might be satisfying but we know it’s not the way things happen.

And this myth isn’t the story of WHEN LOUIS MET BIX, either historically or in this evocative CD.  Consider this fraternal conversation, instead:

Immediately, the ear understands that this CD succeeds at being more than a recreation of a 1927 or 1928 after-hours jam session or cutting contest.  The music on this disc, even when it is searing hot, is carried along by a fundamental gentleness of spirit, an aura of brotherly love and deep admiration.  No skirmishes, no high notes except as they would logically occur.

As I mentioned at the start, there would have been many ways to make this noble idea turn into a leaden result.  One would have been to hew strictly to factoids: to use only songs that we knew Bix and Louis played or recorded, and perhaps narrow the repertoire to a choking narrowness by sticking to compositions both of them had done.  (By this time, certain well-played songs are reassuring to the audience but must feel like too-tight clothing to the musicians, restricting free movement.)  Another would have been to envision the music as competitive: the Bix of BARNACLE BILL pitted against the Louis of POTATO HEAD BLUES.  Nay, nay, to quote the Sage of Corona.

Instead, the repertoire is spacious — Louis and Bix loved melodies — and it offers Broadway show music by Rodgers and Blake next to pop classics of the time, alongside “jazz standards” and obscurities by Morton, Chris Smith, Fats Waller — and one evocative original by Andy Schumm.  And rather than simply say to the noble players in the studio, “All right.  MILENBERG JOYS, and find your own way home,” or “Meet you at the end,” the performances on this disc are delicately yet effectively shaped so that each seems a complete musical expression.  There are small arrangements on each track, and rather than that being an impiety (affront to the Goddess of Hot, who supposedly loathes anything worked out — although we know better) these little sketches make the performances even more satisfying.  Split choruses, four-bar trades, modulations, duet interludes, balanced conversations where X plays the melody and Y improvises around it, stop-time choruses . . . the wonders that musicians had and have accessible to them instead of the possible monotony of ensemble-solo-ensemble.

On that score, one of the reasons it has taken me longer than usual to review this worthy disc is that I kept falling in love with one track so that I wanted to play it all the way to work and all the way home.  By definition, CDs are economy-sized packages of music, and I think I would have been happier (although weighed down) if this Lake Records CD could have been sold as eight 12″ 78 discs in a heavy cardboard binder, to be listened to deeply one at a time, on and on.  But longing for the past, although understandable, has its limits.  And the imagined 78s would have warped in my car.

For the record, and what a record! –the songs are OL’ MAN RIVER / MILENBERG JOYS / CHLOE / MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND / WHO’S IT / PUT ‘EM DOWN BLUES / WHISPERING / MANHATTAN / SKID-DAT-DE-DAT / BESSIE COULDN’T HELP IT (the one Louis-Bix recording overlap) / COME ON AND STOMP, STOMP, STOMP / MY MELANCHOLY BABY / WHEN SHE CAME TO ME/ I’M JUST WILD ABOUT HARRY / THE BALTIMORE.

And the players.  Rico (Louis) and Andy (Bix) are joined by absolutely stellar folk.  And since neither Bix nor Louis tried to take up all the space on a recording, democracy prevails; thus we hear beautiful work from Alistair Allan, trombone; Matthias Seuffert, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Spats Langham, banjo and guitar; Malcolm Sked, string bass; Nicholas D. Ball, drums.

More evidence:

Through this CD, we are able to travel to an alternate universe, where glorious improvised music evokes and summons up the Great Departed.  And unlike actually attending the after-hour jam session at the Sunset Cafe or the Savoy Ballroom and thinking, “Where is all this beauty going?” we can have this dramatic evocation to visit over and over again (without our clothes smelling of smoke, spilled whiskey, or beer).

Incidentally, may I urge you to do the most venerable thing and purchase the actual physical disc (from Amazon US or UK or elsewhere).  Not only does the glorious sound Paul Adams got through his vintage microphones deserve to be reproduced in the highest fidelity (as opposed to mp3s played through earbuds on a noisy train in the common fashion) but you’ll miss out on wonderfully detailed but light-hearted liner notes by scholar-producer Julio Schwarz Andrade and many wonderful photographs that convey the joy that reigned at this session.

My hope is that Lake Records will continue this series of mystical voyages that make an imagined past into tangible present reality.  I’m sure that Julio, Paul, and the fellows have even more thrilling ideas for us in future.  And I hope that there is an on-the-spot Louis / Bix meeting at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party so that we can marvel again.

Thanks to all the participants for making a visit to the alternate universe possible and so joyous. . . . a world where lyricism, abandon, passion, and expertise shape the music.

May your happiness increase!

“IT IS TRULY WONDERFUL HOW JOY CAN OPEN THE THROAT”: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF RENA JEAN MIDDOUGH, a/k/a “RINK LESLIE” (November 28, 2015)

I should have known something important was about to happen when Dan Levinson approached me on Saturday, November 28, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest and asked if I would video-record his next set.  Dan believes (if I may coarsely paraphrase him) that the beautiful evanescent creations of jazz musicians should remain so; that they can be made subject to eternal scrutiny is not something he prefers.  (I take it as a mark of great respect and friendship that he has humored me and my little camera for years now.)

But once Dan was a quarter of the way through his explanation, I said, “That’s great.  I’ll be there,” and I was.

POSIES TWO

But before this narrative gets too convoluted, too much about myself and the philosophy of video-recording, let me introduce you to Rena Jean Middough. First, through a photograph taken in 1952.  The man on her right is multi-instrumentalist / singer / bandleader / inspiring teacher Rosy McHargue:

Rink-Leslie-and-Rosy-McHargue-in-1952-688x1024

Then, in her own words, a reminiscence she has titled THE JOY OF PLANETARY ASPECTS:

Astrologers think aspects to the planet Uranus trigger unexpected human events.  Some events may be good, some may be not so good, but all will be unexpected.  Three years ago, something moved my son to order a CD of Rosy McHargue’s Ragtimers.  Rosy McHargue was a Dixieland musician who dedicated himself to preserving American music from the early 1900’s.

I had met Rosy because my husband was the director of a TV show in which Rosy appeared, “Dixie Showboat,” and Rosy invited us to his home. Somehow, he asked me to sing two songs while he recorded them on acetate.

In 1952, Rosy made a recording of all the songs the Ragtimers played, and he asked me to record a vocal.  When I got to the recording studio in Hollywood, all Rosy said was, “Hello, sing two choruses.”  The musicians began to play.  I sang two choruses and sat down.  Rosy asked why I was still there.  I replied, “I’m waiting to rehearse.”  “No, no,” he said.  “It was fine.  Go home.”  And that was my great recording career.  Only my kids remembered.

POSIES ONE

Sixty-two years later, Uranus unexpectedly made New York musician Dan Levinson very happy.  Young Dan Levinson was taught to play clarinet and saxophone and to be a full-time musician by Rosy McHargue.  The two were best friends, and when Rosy died, he left all his music and arrangements to Dan.  Dan, who has mde his career playing music from the first half of the twentieth century just as Rosy did, took the old recordings and made them into a modern CD.  He wrote loving biography notes on all Rosy’s musicians, but someone was missing. Who was the girl who sang “Posies”?  When my son ordered the CD, Dan sat down in the subway, opened his laptop, and mailed the good news to everyone he knew.  He had found the girl who had sung two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies.”  He had searched for her for ten years.  My son, when he placed the order for the CD, had written that his mom had sung “Posies” and his dad was the barking dog on “You Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around.”

Once my son had solved the mystery of the girl singer, Dan and his wife Molly quickly arranged an afternoon for us in New York.  We met at Penn Station under the arrival sign for New Jersey trains.  Dan, at six foot five, had to bend down to be kissed as I thanked him for calling me a National Treasure.  It was a wonderful feeling to be treasured.  During that afternoon in New York, I felt acceptable to the universe.

This summer, Uranus and that silly song merged again.  Once a year, Dan and Molly play the Coffee Gallery in Altadena, and all their Southern California friends swarm to see them.  I persuaded a lady who can drive at night to drive me to Altadena to enjoy the wonderful jazz.  I grabbed the best seat in the house. The show began.  Dan played clarinet and sax, and Molly sang the vocals.  They were backed by a fine bass player and a superb jazz guitarist.  After a while, Dan began to invite fellow musicians he knew in the audience to come up on the stage and sit in with them.  One by one, the friends borrowed saxophones and trombones and performed. After the fourth guest musician, Dan informed the audience that Rosy McHargue’s favorite vocalist was in the audience, and would she like to come up and sing?  Would I?  I rose like the sunrise, shoved out of my seat by my hubris.  Uranus, the unexpected, took my hand and helped me up on that stage.  I surveyed the packed house and announced I was working on my ninetieth year.  Then I, who can no longer sing much higher than Middle C, plucked a good note out of the air, and with the musicians behind me, loudly and enthusiastically rendered verse and two choruses of “Don’t Bring Me Posies, When It’s Shoesies That I Need.”  Breath control, which has forsaken me for a decade, reappeared, and I held the last note strongly for a count of four.  It is truly wonderful how joy can open the throat.

It must have sounded all right.  Uranus and I stepped down to enthusiastic applause.  One lady with a tin ear asked me where else I was singing.  People bought Rosy’s Ragtimers CD to take home.  The bass player demanded that I stay and take a picture with him.  Somebody in the audience had taken my picture and sent it to Facebook as I was singing.  (My niece Laura saw me on Facebook before dawn the next day.)  Dan wrote his review of the evening and posted it on Facebook at 2 a.m.  The bass played posted our picture at 4 a.m. Within 24 hours all my nieces and their myriad cousins had seen me on stage.

A week later, I wrote Dan and Molly a thank you letter.  I said that when we met in New York they had made me feel acceptable to the universe.  Now that they had placed me center stage, I was infamous on Facebook.

Bless  Uranus.  I can’t wait for next year.  Maybe they will unexpectedly let me sing again.

POSIES THREE

So here is “Rink Leslie” (a pseudonym made up because “Rena Jean Middough” would have been too long for a record label: “Rink” came from a classmate’s nickname for Rena; “Leslie” was Rena’s father’s name) appearing with Dan Levinson, reeds; Chris Dawson, piano; Katie Cavera, guitar; Marty Eggers, string bass; Danny Coots, drums, and guests from the Titanic Jazz Band, Keith Elliott, trombone; Dan Comins, trumpet — at the 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest — to recreate the Middough – McHargue recording of DON’T BRING ME POSIES (WHEN IT’S SHOESIES THAT I NEED):

That’s splendid fun.  And it would be splendid fun even if the singing ingenue were not 89.  When Rena Jean came off the bandstand, I rose to congratulate her, and she sweetly told me what she’s written above, “When Dan discovered me, he made me feel as if I was acceptable to the universe, someone wonderful.” And I — speaking from my heart or shooting from the hip — said, “My dear Ms. Leslie (for at the time I don’t think I had taken in her lovely elaborate name), you have been acceptable to the universe your whole life, and more!” and she grinned at me but with old-fashioned very becoming modesty.

I, too, look forward to a return appearance of Rena Jean Middough and / or Rink Leslie at the 2016 San Diego Jazz Fest.  I will, in future, post the lovely music that preceded her . . . but for the moment I would like you to admire her poise, her joy, her ebullience. (Incidentally, when she and I spoke on the telephone some weeks after this event, she told me that she had been an excellent dancer and a good singer in college — but that her inspiration for the delighted energy she offered in the original recording and at the end of November 2015, right here, was Danny Kaye in the 1941 film LET’S FACE IT. Another reason to thank Mr. Kaminski, don’t you think?)

And let us not forget the indefatigably devoted Dan Levinson, solver of mysteries, tracer of lost persons, someone who makes wonderful musical entanglements happen even when he is not playing or singing.

May your happiness increase!

A FEW GLOWING SECONDS OF GLORY

When I returned to my apartment in New York, I thought, “I need music in here. Music will help remind me who I am, what I am supposed to be doing, where my path might lead.”  Initially I reached for some favorite performances for consolation, then moved over to the crates of homemade audiocassettes — evidence of more than twenty-five years of tape-trading with like-minded souls.

One tape had the notation PRIVATE CHICAGO, and looking at it, I knew that it was the gift of Leonora Taylor, who preferred to be called “Gypsy,” and who had an unusual collection of music.  When I asked drummer / scholar Hal Smith about her, he reminded me that she loved the UK clarinetist Archie Semple. Although I don’t recall having much if any Archie to offer her, we traded twenty or thirty cassettes.

PRIVATE CHICAGO had some delightful material recorded (presumably) at the Evanston, Illinois house of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft — amateur pianist, sometime composer, friend / benefactor to jazz musicians. Squirrel was both a dear friend of Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Eddie Condon, Boyce Brown, Johnny Mercer, George Barnes, Lee Wiley, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and many others — one facet of a very intriguing life.  He deserves a biography.

But back to the music.

I played through the side of the cassette, rewound it, and played it again.  And I kept returning to a short improvisation: BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC, played by Johnny Windhurst (cornet or trumpet) and Jack Gardner (piano) with possibly other players in the background — I hear a murmuring clarinet offering harmony notes — recorded, Gypsy’s typed notes say, circa 1950.

Neither Windhurst nor Gardner is as well known as they should be. Windhurst (1926-1981) was recognized young as a brilliant player, and got to play with the best — Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster in Boston when he wasn’t voting age, then Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Kenny Kersey, John Field, Jimmy Crawford a few years later, moving on to be one of Eddie Condon’s regulars, briefly recording with Jack Teagarden and on his own date with Buell Neidlinger, on a Walt Gifford session, with Barbara Lea (he was both colleague and boyfriend) then moving upstate to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died too young (once being mugged and beaten) of a heart attack.

I saw him in person once, at Your Father’s Mustache in New York in 1972 — with Herb Hall and Herb Gardner (the latter someone who is very much with us) and Red Balaban.  Windhurst was capable of the most beautiful melodic flights of fancy — a cross between heavenly music of the highest order and Bobby Hackett — but he couldn’t read music, disdained the idea of doing so, and thus turned down higher-paying and possibly higher-visibility gigs from bandleaders.  I read somewhere that Woody Herman wanted to hire him, offered him good pay, promised to teach him to read, but Windhurst — a free spirit — would have none of it.

There is one video extant of Windhurst — I wrote about it, and him, in 2009 (and received wonderful comments from people who had played alongside him) here.

I did not know much about pianist Gardner, except that what I’ve heard suggests a delicate barrelhouse approach, and I seem to recall he was a large man called by some “Jumbo Jack.” But an exquisite biographical sketch of Jack by the diligent writer and researcher Derek Coller can be found here.  (Our Jack Gardner is not the man who led an orchestra in Dallas in 1924-5.)  Jack first recorded with Wingy Manone and Jimmy McPartland, then got more visibility with Harry James (you can hear him on SLEEPY TIME GAL and he is also on Sinatra’s first recording with James) 1939-40, then he crops up with Muggsy Spanier, Red Nichols, Bud Freeman, and after being captured on sessions at Squirrel’s from 1950-52, we hear no more from him.

I know THE BATTLE  HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC as a very assertive religious song in which the enemies of the Lord receive divine punishment:  “He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,” and so on, even though later verses of the song — known to how many? — suggest that there is a balm of kindness.

More importantly than the theological, I and others know it as a hot number — think of “Red Nichols” as played by Danny Kaye and “Louis Armstrong” as played by himself in THE FIVE PENNIES, sending the sermon. Everyone from Art Hodes to George Lewis to Gerry Mulligan has recorded it, but I suggest that no version you will ever hear matches the sweet delicacy of this brief celestial interlude by Windhurst and Gardner.

Windhurst doesn’t venture far from the melody — the recording catches less than a whole chorus, and aside from a bluesy transformation near the end, it is melodic embellishment rather than harmonic improvisation.  But he treats the melodic line with lightness, fervor, and love; every note is caressed; his tone is so beautiful as to make “golden” into an affront.  Gardner plays a simplified version of barrelhouse support but never gets in Windhurst’s way. The whole duet is tender, yearning — the music of the spheres in under a minute.

Glory, glory, hallelujah.

May your happiness increase!

MORE FROM THE NATIONAL ATTICS: BG, GENE, LEE, LOUIS, EDDIE and FRIENDS

Artifacts and relics and remembrances!

BG autographs 1935

A very prescient autograph collector captured Benny, Gene, Helen, and Frank Froeba (at the “piana”) in mid-1935.

Lee Wiley 1933 frontFor a newspaper story, Miss Lee Wiley in 1933, billed as “Indian radio singer.”

Lee Wiley 1933 back

The other side of the news story: “Just as I finally learned how to knit.”THE FIVE PENNIES Israel poster

An Israeli film poster!

CONDON'S postcardFrom Facebook, thanks to Stephen Hester: someone made a pilgrimage!  Cutty Cutshall, Freddie Ohms, Walter Page, Wild Bill Davison, Edmond Hall, and the Master himself.  “Good luck” for sure.  And “Best regards.”

May your happiness increase!

HOME, JAZZ. JAZZ, HOME: RAY SKJELBRED’S FIRST THURSDAY BAND (RAY SKJELBRED, STEVE WRIGHT, DAVE BROWN, JAKE POWEL: December 6, 2012)

Wherever there’s music like this — sweet, warm, hot, impassioned but restrained in its beauty, there’s home*.

These videos celebrate and document Ray Skjelbred’s First Thursday Band at the New Orleans Restaurant in Seattle, Washington, on December 6, 2012.  The players and singers are Ray, piano, trombone, vocal; Steve Wright, cornet, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal, and videographer too; Jake Powel, banjo, guitar, vocal; Dave Brown, string bass, vocal.  

Here’s OH, BABY!  And in case you are tempted to say, “Oh, I’ve heard that song a thousand times since it was a new pop tune in 1920-whatever,” please sit still for the deliciously surprising duet of Steve (alto) and Ray (piano) in the first chorus.  And the duet between Jake and Dave is like a wonderful ripe tangerine for the ears:

I really try to wish no one harm, so please take this rocking rendition of YOU RASCAL YOU in the spirit of amused kindness — especially since the music is anything but threatening.  I suppose someone might fall out of his / her chair while smiling and having a good time, but just hold on:

WHEN DAY IS DONE, where Steve, on clarinet, sounds much like my heroes Bujie Centobie or Rod Cless — but primarily like my hero S. Wright.  Music to dream by:

And another sweet dream — the one the Rene brothers laid on Mr. Strong and he gave us all every night of his performing life for forty years, WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH — here performed as a Thirties romp — at a tempo Ruby Braff liked later in life.  It will keep you awake, but you’ll never regret it:

Would you care for some more?  Click here to visit Steve Wright’s YouTube channel, where he has posted THE RIVER’S TAKIN’ CARE OF ME / ANYTIME, ANY DAY, ANYWHERE / ROAMIN’ / IT’S BEEN SO LONG / LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY / JIG SAW PUZZLE BLUES from this session, and more wonderful music — especially from a session that had Chris Tyle joining in.

*I thought of several things while listening to this video — all personal, so I place them down here to be less distracting.  One is that I can’t hear HOME — by Louis, by Jack Teagarden / Joe Thomas / Coleman Hawkins — without finding tears gather in my eyes.  Home, wherever you find it, and it could be a suitcase that has your cherished things in it, opened up in the motel room, is precious and we need to have something like it for ourselves.  This is why being “homeless,” however you define it, strikes terror at the very center of our beings.

But one other story about “home.”  I grew up in suburban Long Island, and my parents loved me.  When they set up my “new room” for me in the house (I was not yet six years old) they would not let me come in until it was all ready.  I had to close my eyes and when I opened them, there was my bed, a desk, and my phonograph playing my favorite music — a Danny Kaye children’s record.  So home is where you can hear the sounds that make you glad and even more glad that you are alive.  And, by the way, this incredibly fortunate little boy has grown up and still thinks himself lucky in ways that his five-year old mind could not have put into words.

May your happiness increase.

EXACTLY LIKE HIM: LOUIS AND FRIENDS on the SMALL SCREEN

In my childhood, I saw Louis Armstrong on television for more than a decade — with Danny Kaye, with Herb Alpert, with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan.  My memories of sitting too close to the screen, transfixed, are very powerful.  And my feelings were simultaneous and contradictory.  I would be trying to absorb every nuance, every glint off the bell of his shiny trumpet — exultant but mourning because I would never see this again!  But these performances — and ones new to me — have been appearing on YouTube, “the kindness of strangers” who must love Louis and his friends as much as I do.  [If you’re under the age of ____, here’s a new word: KINESCOPE — which refers to filmed versions of television shows, blessedly.]

The three videos that follow are irreplaceable although flawed, perhaps understandably.  In the first, everyone seems to handle the complex “witty” parody (a series of in-jokes) of a song from GIGI more comfortably than Mr. Strong, who might have come in at the last minute from an All-Stars gig in Sandusky, Ohio. Although he could handle lyrics much better than people assume, the words fly by him too quickly.  However, Sinatra seems joyous, not barely masking anger; Crosby sounds so urbanely happy; Peggy Lee glows.

Louis, then appearing in Pittsburgh with the All-Stars, has a lunchtime interview date with the sweetly earnest Florence Sando Manson.  My favorite moment, “I like to hear it too!” but to have him moved on to make way for “a model” is fairly sad at this distance.  Didn’t they know that Louis was a model even though he had never done the appropriate catwalk-strut?:

And — particularly endearing — a duet on OLD MAN TIME with Jimmy Durante on “Hollywood Palace”:

Thank you, Archivists and Collectors wherever you are.  Blessings on those of you who open-heartedly share your treasures!

And I would be reluctant to call one second of this “nostalgia.”  These people and their music are so alive.

May your happiness increase.

GLIMPSES OF MEL POWELL

The pianist and composer Mel Powell (1923-88) was admired by so many of his colleagues in jazz: Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Buell Neidlinger, Ruby Braff, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hackett . . . Before his eighteenth birthday, he had composed and arranged for the Goodman band and held his own in what might have been the best (alas, unrecorded) rhythm section imaginable: Mel, Charlie Christian, John Simmons, and Sidney Catlett).  A child prodigy, Powell was playing professionally at Nick’s, then went on to study composition with Paul Hindemith.  And his obituary in the New York Times — correctly, I think — terms him an “atonal composer.”

For the moment, I will not explore the question of why Powell “turned away” from jazz (the phrase isn’t mine) except to suggest that his imagination, from the start, was more spacious than the music he heard.  Perhaps he feared what might happen to that imagination on a steady diet of easy chord changes in 4 / 4.

This post is meant only to remind or re-introduce jazz listeners to one of the most remarkable improvisers at the piano that the music has known.

Hearing Powell, one knows, in two bars, that a quirky, searching soul — a down-home Zen master — is at the keys.  Powell’s touch is enviable; he never falters or seems mechanical at the quickest tempo.  But what remains in my ear is more than technical mastery: it is Powell’s ability to sound translucent and dense at the same time.  In some ways, his solos shimmer and tease: the first impression says, “Oh, I’m just striding away, embellishing the melody.  I love Teddy and Fats, and here’s a slimmed-down Tatum run at a fifteen-degree angle.  Nothing up my sleeve.”  But then the rest of the tapestry comes into view, and we hear new harmonies, voicings that both delight and surprise.

Here are three YouTube presentations that will repay close attention:

The first is nearly painful in the suspension of disbelief it requires — Did someone in a film studio say, “It’ll be hilarious to give Benny Goodman bad heavy makeup and a fraudulent accent and cast him as a classical musician who knows nothing of jazz — then we can have him ‘get hip’ at the end”?  But this clip offers a young Mel — in Technicolor — among his peers, jamming on STEALIN’ APPLES from the 1948 film A SONG IS BORN, with BG, Lionel Hampton — and an “audience” of Louis, Tommy Dorsey, Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo:

The only visual here is a still photograph of an even younger Mel — the soundtrack being two of his 1945 solos recorded in France: POUR MISS BLACK and DON’T BLAME ME:

And finally, a March 1957 Perry Como television show, Benny Goodman, Mel, and Roy Burnes playing Gershwin:

A few glimpses of Mel Powell, who sounds like no one else.

I will, in a few months, have much more to say about the man and his imagination — with help from someone who knew him well.

May your happiness increase.