Tag Archives: Darnell Howard

I CALL ON KIM CUSACK (Part One): MARCH 27, 2018

Paul Asaro, piano; Kim Cusack, clarinet

I admire the reedman and occasional vocalist Kim Cusack immensely and had done so through recordings for a long time before we met in person.  When we exchanged courtesies and compliments at a California festival — perhaps the San Diego Jazz Fest in 2011? — I was thrilled by his music as it was created on the spot, and I liked the man holding the clarinet a great deal.

A hero-worshiper, I found occasions to stand at the edge of a small circle when Kim was telling a story.  And what he had to tell us was plenty.  He never tells jokes but he’s hilarious with a polished deadpan delivery and the eye for detail of a great writer.

I had said to another hero, Marc Caparone, “I wish I could get Kim to sit for a video interview,” and Marc — ever the pragmatist — said, “Ask him!” I did, and the result was a visit to Kim and the endearing Ailene Cusack (she’s camera-shy but has her own stories) in their Wisconsin nest.

The results are a dozen vignettes: illuminating, sharply observed, and genuine.  Kim’s stories are about the lively, sometimes eccentric people he knows and has known.  I am honored to have had the opportunity, and I hope you enjoy the videos.  I know I did and do.

I’ve prefaced each video with a very brief sketch of what it contains.

Early days, going back to fifth grade, and early influences, including Spike Jones, moving up to high school and a paying gig, with side-glances at rock ‘n’ roll and the Salty Dogs:

From Career Day at Kim’s high school to early adulthood, and a seven-year stint teaching, with Eddy Davis, Darnell Howard, Mike Walbridge, James Dapogny, the Chicago Stompers, the Salty Dogs, Frank Chace, Marty Grosz, Lew Green, Wayne Jones, and the saga of Paul’s Roast Round:

From the Chicago Stompers and union conflicts to Art Hodes and Ted Butterman and Wayne Jones to Kim’s secret career as a piano player . . . and the elusive piano recording, and a mention of Davey Jones of Empirical Records:

Kim’s portraits of distinctive personalities Ted Butterman, Bob Sundstrom, Little Brother Montgomery, Booker T. Washington, Rail Wilson, Peter Nygaard, Phyllis Diller and her husband “Fang,” the Salty Dogs, Eddy Davis, George Brunis, Stepin Fetchit and OL’ MAN RIVER in Ab. Work with Gene Mayl and “Jack the Bear” on trumpet. And Barrett Deems!  (More Deems stories to come.)

More portraits, including Gene Mayl, Monte Mountjoy, Gus Johnson, the legendary George Brunis, Nappy Trottier, who “could really play,” Wild Bill Davison, Johnson McRee. And a playing trip to Alaska for three weeks with Donny McDonald and later Ernie Carson:

Scary airplane trips with the Gene Mayl band over Alaska, and a glance at the splendid pianist John Ulrich, a happy tourist:

I have six more vignettes to share, with memories of Norm Murphy, Frank Chace, Barrett Deems, Bob Skiver, Little Brother Montgomery, and more.  My gratitude to Kim and Ailene Cusack, for making this pilgrimage not only possible but sweet, rewarding fun.

May your happiness increase!

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NAT HAD GOOD TASTE AND A CAMERA, 1949-55

OPEN PANDORA’S BOX, by Sofia Wellman

The eBay treasure chest is overflowing with delights, and occasionally the treasures are startling.  I’ve come to expect autographed records and photographs and concert programs, as well as little scraps of paper cut from someone’s autograph book.  There’s been a recent flurry of checks — bearing the signature of an otherwise obscure musician on the back as the necessary endorsement.  And more, some of it dross.

I am always slightly ambivalent about the rarities coming to light.  On one hand, what a joy to see relics and artifacts that one never knew existed.  On the other, I feel melancholy that these offerings are (plausibly) because collectors age and die, need money, and their heirs are understandably eager to convert the fan’s collection into something more useful at the mall.  But it’s all just objects, and they go from one hand to another: better this than the recycling bin.

To get to the point: I found on eBay this morning a trove of one-of-a-kind color slides of jazz musicians in performance, captured between 1949 and 1955 in Cleveland and Chicago, possibly elsewhere.  Each is offered for $50 or the best offer, and here is the link.  An explanation is here: the slides were from the collection of photographer Nat Singerman.  (As a caveat: I have no idea of the process by which these items came to be offered for sale, so if the provenance is murky, I plead ignorance.)

The musicians Nat photographed are (in no order of merit): Miff Mole, Buddy Rich, Earl Hines, Oscar Peterson, Patti Page, Art Hodes, Jonah Jones, Louis Jordan, Jim Robinson, J.C. Higginbotham, Eddie Heywood, Darnell Howard, Lee Collins, Louis Prima, Flip Phillips, Oscar Pettiford, Freddie Moore, Red Norvo, Tal Farlow, Charles Mingus, Pee Wee Hunt, Juanita Hall.  They were caught in action at clubs, the State Theatre in Cleveland, a rib restaurant, and elsewhere.  (Flip, Rich, and others may have been on a JATP tour.)  It’s a powerful reminder of just how much live music there was in this country.  Here are a few samples, but go see for yourselves before they are all purchased.  As some anonymous pitchman once said, “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”  I am not involved in this beyond this blogpost: I spent the February budget for such things on photographs of Vic Dickenson and Sidney Catlett.

J.C. Higginbotham and “Chuck” at the Pinwheel Cafe, 1949, as Nat’s careful label shows:

Darnell Howard, with Lee Collins in the background, presumably at the BeeHive in 1949:

and a shot of the full front line, with Miff Mole (the rhythm section may have had Don Ewell on piano):

Flip Phillips, at Cleveland’s State Theatre in 1949:

Jonah Jones, posing outside the Cab Calloway band bus, parked at the Circle Theatre in Cleveland, October 1951:

Tal Farlow, Red Norvo, Charles Mingus, Chicago, July 1951:

Oscar Pettiford, Loop Lounge, Cleveland, September 1955.  Thanks to Loren Schoenberg, we have a winner — that’s Ben Webster to the right:

The rest you’ll have to find for yourselves.  But what a cache of marvels, and the treasure chest seems bottomless.  And the imagined soundtracks reverberate gloriously.

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” (Part Two): EDDY DAVIS, SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, BOB RINGWALD, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV at THE CAJUN (JULY 5, 2006)

The Cajun Restaurant, no longer extant but the vibrations and sights still exist here and in our memories.

Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel”

A little more than a week ago, I posted the first of a three-part series on this wonderful band, with videos from 2006 that I rediscovered.  I am taking the liberty of reprinting the text from that post here.  And the music from that first post is also here.  (For those impatient with prose — and some have told me this in ungentle terms — the new video is at the bottom of this posting.)

Late in 2005, I made my way to an unusual New York City jazz club, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin. Unusual for many reasons, some of which I won’t explicate here, but mostly because it offered traditional jazz bands nine times a week — seven evenings and two brunch performances.

Who was there?  I will leave someone out, so apologies in advance, but Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Vince Giordano, John Gill, Michael Bank, J. Walter Hawkes, Pete Martinez, Michael Hashim, Scott Robinson, Barbara Rosene, Danny Tobias, Steve Little, Bob Thompson, Barbara Dreiwitz, Dick Dreiwitz, Hank Ross, Craig Ventresco, Carol Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, Brad Shigeta, John Bucher, Sam Ulano, Stanley King, and Eddy Davis — banjoist, singer, composer.  More about Eddy and his wondrously singular little band, “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which was no hyperbole, in a moment.

Originally I brought my cassette recorder to tape some of the music, but I had a small epiphany: seeing that every grandparent I knew had a video camera to take to the kids’ school play, I thought, “If they can learn to do this, so can I,” and I bought my first: a Sony that used mini-DVDs, each of which ran about 30 minutes.  It was, I think, the most inconvenient camera I’ve ever owned.  For some reason that I can’t recall, I tended to let the discs run rather than starting and stopping.  They were, however, nearly untransferable, and they sat in small stacks in a bookcase.

This April, though, I tried to take a cyber-detour, and was able to transfer all the videos, perhaps forty hours or so, to my computer and thus to YouTube.  I sent some to the players and the response was not always enthusiastic, but Eddy Davis was thrilled to have his little band captured, even though it did not have all of its usual personnel.  Usually, WR and WR had Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Conal Fowkes, piano and vocal; Debbie Kennedy, string bass, in addition to Eddy. On this night, Michael Hashim replaced Orange; Dmitri Kolesnikov took Debbie’s place.  [Update to this posting: pianist / singer Bob Ringwald of California and father of Molly, sits in for this set.]

I find these videos thrilling: this band rocked exuberantly and apparently was a small jazz perpetual motion machine, a small group where the musicians smiled at each other all night long, and it wasn’t a show for the audience.  And there’s some of the most exciting ensemble interplay I’ve ever heard — to say nothing of the truly false “false endings.”

I’d asked Eddy to write something for this post, and he responded gloriously.

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

The songs are AFTER YOU’VE GONE / OLD BONES / YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME / TROUBLE IN MIND, all with vocals by Bob.

It’s so lovely to be able to reach back into the past and find it’s not only accessible but glowing.  There’s more to come.

May your happiness increase!

“WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM” (Part One): EDDY DAVIS, SCOTT ROBINSON, MICHAEL HASHIM, CONAL FOWKES, DMITRI KOLESNIKOV at THE CAJUN (JULY 5, 2006)

Eddy Davis, “The Manhattan Minstrel.”

Hallowed ground.

Late in 2005, I made my way to an unusual New York City jazz club, The Cajun, run by Arlene Lichterman and the late Herb Maslin. Unusual for many reasons, some of which I won’t explicate here, but mostly because it offered traditional jazz bands nine times a week — seven evenings and two brunch performances.

Who was there?  I will leave someone out, so apologies in advance, but Kevin Dorn, Jon-Erik Kellso, Vince Giordano, John Gill, Michael Bank, J. Walter Hawkes, Pete Martinez, Michael Hashim, Scott Robinson, Barbara Rosene, Danny Tobias, Steve Little, Bob Thompson, Barbara Dreiwitz, Dick Dreiwitz, Hank Ross, Craig Ventresco, Carol Sudhalter, Peter Ecklund, Brad Shigeta, John Bucher, Sam Ulano, Stanley King, and Eddy Davis — banjoist, singer, composer.  More about Eddy and his wondrously singular little band, “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm,” which was no hyperbole, in a moment.

Originally I brought my cassette recorder to tape some of the music, but I had a small epiphany: seeing that every grandparent I knew had a video camera to take to the kids’ school play, I thought, “If they can learn to do this, so can I,” and I bought my first: a Sony that used mini-DVDs, each of which ran about 30 minutes.  It was, I think, the most inconvenient camera I’ve ever owned.  For some reason that I can’t recall, I tended to let the discs run rather than starting and stopping.  They were, however, nearly untransferable, and they sat in small stacks in a bookcase.

This April, though, I tried to take a cyber-detour, and was able to transfer all the videos, perhaps forty hours or so, to my computer and thus to YouTube.  I sent some to the players and the response was not always enthusiastic, but Eddy Davis was thrilled to have his little band captured, even though it did not have all of its usual personnel.  Usually, WR and WR had Orange Kellin, clarinet; Scott Robinson, C-melody saxophone; Conal Fowkes, piano and vocal; Debbie Kennedy, string bass, in addition to Eddy. On this night, Michael Hashim replaced Orange; Dmitri Kolesnikov took Debbie’s place.

I find these videos thrilling: this band rocked exuberantly and apparently was a small jazz perpetual motion machine, a small group where the musicians smiled at each other all night long, and it wasn’t a show for the audience.  And there’s some of the most exciting ensemble interplay I’ve ever heard — to say nothing of the truly false “false endings.”

I’d asked Eddy to write something for this post, and he responded gloriously.

WILD REEDS AND WICKED RHYTHM

I, Eddy Davis, have in my lifetime had the pleasure of having many wonderful Jazz Bands filled with wonderful musicians. It all started back in “The Windy City” in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I was a Composition student at the Chicago Conservatory and working as a band leader for the Syndicate on Chicago’s infamous Rush Street. Boy, those were the days. During this time many great, interesting musicians came through the band.

Fellows like “Kansas” Fields, who had just returned from a ten year stint in Paris and Charles “Truck” Parham who started in the music business as a truck driver for the Fletcher Henderson Band. He was hauling the band instruments from job to job. When I asked Truck how he got his nickname he told me this story. He said: “One night the bass player got drunk and couldn’t play, so Fletcher said “Hey, Truck, get up on the band stand and act like you are playing the bass.” He said he liked it so much that he bought a bass and learned to play it. When he came to my band he had just gotten off the Pearl Bailey/Louie Bellson trio. When he left my band he joined the CBS staff orchestra. I was lucky enough to have the likes of Frank Powers or Bobby Gordon on Clarinet.  I had the wonderful Norman Murphy on trumpet who had been in the Brass section of Gene Krupa’s Big Band. I also had the hilarious Jack “The Bear” Brown on trumpet. My band played opposite the original “Dukes of Dixieland” for a solid year at the club “Bourbon Street” in the middle. There were the Asuntos — Frank, on Trumpet — Freddie on Trombone and PaPa Jack on Trombone and Banjo. Gene Schroeder was on piano (where I learned so much) and the fantastic Barrett Deems on Drums.

At the Sari-S Showboat I was in the band of the great Trombonist Grorg Brunis, the Marsala Brothers, Joe and Marty, along with “Hey Hey” Humphries on drums, were also on the band. Another great band I played on was listed as Junie Cobb’s “Colonels of Corn.” The main reason this band was so great was that they were the very originals of JASS MUSIC. Junie was a multi-instrumentalist who on this band was playing Piano (he also recorded on Banjo). Al Wynn who had been the musical director for the great blues singer “Ma Rainey” was on Trombone and the wonderful Darnell Howard, who made terrific recordings with “Jelly Roll Morton,” was on Clarinet. We were playing at the Sabre Room and I was 17 (maybe 16) years old. I was a member of the last Jabbo Smith “Rhythm Aces” in New York City in the 1970’s.

Well, I could go on and on, but I’ll just say that the band “Wild Reeds and Wicked Rhythm” which I had for four or five years at the “Cajun Restaurant” on 16th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was the thrill of my life. With the GREAT Scott Robinson and Orange Kellin on Reeds and Debbie Kennedy on Bass and MY BROTHER from a another mother — Conal Fowkes — was on Piano (he knows what I’m going to do before I do it and fits me like a glove). These were perhaps the most satisfying Musical Evenings I’ve ever known.

Scott Robinson is easily the best (for me) musical mind and player I’ve ever been in the presents of. I couldn’t come up with enough words to express my JOY with this band for those several years we performed every Wednesday night at the Cajun Restaurant in the great town of Manhattan.

We had two great subs on the night of this video. Dmitri Kolesnikov was on bass and on saxophone, the truly wonderful “The Hat” Michael Hashim.

Mr. Steinman, I would like to thank you so very much for supplying these videos and if you or anyone else has any other footage of any combination of this band, it would please me to no end to know of it.

The Banjoist Eddy “The Manhattan Minstrel” Davis

Here’s the first part of the evening.  Eddy announces the songs, some of them his originals and a few transformations — all listed in the descriptions below the videos.

Come with me to the glorious days of 2006, to a club that has been replaced by a faceless high-rise apartment building, which has none of the joyous energy of the band and the Cajun.  And enjoy the music, with no cover charge — yours for keeps.

Part One:

Part One, concluded (with apologies to Dmitri):

Part Two:

May your happiness increase!

A VIVID MAN: CHARLES “DUFF” CAMPBELL (1915-2014)

Charles “Duff” Campbell — jazz aficionado and art dealer and close friend of the famous — was born on January 9, 1915.  He died on October 3, 2014, peacefully, at his home in San Francisco. Even if he had never become friends with Jelly Roll Morton, Nat Cole, Mary Lou Williams, and many others, he would have been a remarkable man: a childhood in Vladivostok and Shanghai before he returned to California to stay.

Here is an official obituary — but Duff led such a richly varied life this summary cannot begin to tell more than the smallest bit of his tale.

Through the good offices of his dear friend, cornetist Leon Oakley, I was invited to Duff’s house on the afternoon of April 16, 2014, and I brought my video camera.  Duff’s memory was not perfect, and occasionally it took a few questions from Leon to start a story going, but we knew we were in the presence of a true Elder.

He recalled seeing the Ellington band in California in the late Thirties (“They were so damned good”) and hanging out with Mary Lou Williams when she took a solo piano job at a hotel.  “I went to hear everybody,” he said.  “Everybody” meant the Basie  band on an early trip west; Louis and Jack Teagarden in the first All-Stars; Joe Sullivan, Earl Hines, Don Ewell, Darnell Howard, Muggsy Spanier. Duff remembered sitting near Sullivan at Doc Daugherty’s Club Hangover and Sullivan turning to him and saying, “Well, what would you like to hear?”

For me — a born hero-worshipper — Duff was the most real link with the past imaginable.  He sat in a car with Jelly Roll Morton; he drove Art Tatum to and from the gig; he had listening parties with Nat Cole as a guest.

Before anyone turns to the video, a few caveats.  Duff had lost his sight but could still get around his house without assistance, and he had some involuntary muscle movements — so the unsuspecting viewer might think he was terribly comfortable, but he wanted to talk about the days he recalled, and when the afternoon was over he was intent on having us come back soon for more.  It was a warm day and he had dressed formally for his guests, so he was perspiring, but a gentleman didn’t strip down while company was there.  Here are some excerpts from that long interview, with Leon asking Duff questions:

on his encounters with Jelly Roll Morton:

and with Nat King Cole:

a brush with the law:

memories of Art Tatum:

Everyone I’ve ever mentioned Duff to, before and after his passing, has had the same reaction.  We knew and and know now we were in the presence of an Original: quirky, independent, someone who knew what was good and supported it no matter what the crowd liked. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I first met him at one of Mal Sharpe’s Big Money in Jazz afternoons at the Savoy Tivoli in North Beach San Francisco.  I saw an older gentleman sitting in front of the band, as close as he could get, a drink on the table.  He was dancing in his chair, his body replicating every wave of the music.  When I found out who he was and introduced myself (we had a dear mutual friend, Liadain O’Donovan) he was as enthusiastic in speech as he had been in dance.  And I suspect that enthusiasm, that deep curiosity and energy, sustained him for nearly a century.

Goodbye, Duff.  And thank you. It was an honor to be in your presence.

May your happiness increase! 

“RED HOT! THAT’S WHAT!”: THE FAT BABIES ON DISC: “CHICAGO HOT”

Sometimes — even in this age of instantaneous communication — we are surprisingly insular.  I had heard a good deal about this marvelous Chicago hot jazz band called, oddly, THE FAT BABIES.  I knew they would be superb because of the musicians I knew: Andy Schumm, cornet and more; Paul Asaro, piano;  Dave Bock, trombone and more; John Otto, clarinet and alto saxophone; and Jake Sanders, tenor banjo — all players I had heard in person and of course admired.  Alex Hall, drums, and Beau Sample, string bass / leader, were names new to me, but I figured that musicians are known by the company they keep.

At the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party I acquired a copy of their new Delmark CD, CHICAGO HOT, and before I had a chance to listen to it, I also became the happy owner of WHAT A HEAVENLY DREAM — a Fats Waller and his Rhythm project led by Paul Asaro, this on the Rivermont label.  You can read my unashamedly ecstatic review of the Rivermont CD here.

CHICAGO HOT

CHICAGO HOT is accurately titled.  I was listening to it in the car today, and if you’d seen a very happy man at a stop light grinning like mad and clapping his hands and bobbing his head . . . three guesses as to that man’s identity.

Before I begin to explain and rhapsodize — for I can do no less — if you visit the band’s website here, you can hear samples from the CD.  The personnel is as mentioned above: Schumm, Bock, Otto, Asaro, Sanders, Sample, and Hall — with tuba legend Mike Waldbridge joining the band for the final track.  The song titles will state where this band is at: SNAKE RAG / LONDON CAFE BLUES / SAN / ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND / I SURRENDER, DEAR / DARDANELLA / BLACK SNAKE BLUES / HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN (with vocal interjections that I have taken as this post’s title) / FROGGIE MOORE / WILLOW TREE / WEARY BLUES / LIZA / PLEASE / SUSIE / TIGHT LIKE THIS / STOMP OFF, LET’S GO.  So you’ll note the exalted Presences: Papa Joe, Jelly Roll, Louis, Fats, James P., Keppard, Doc Cooke, Bix, Miff, Bing, and their pals.  No vocals or jiving around — no funny-hat stuff — just CHICAGO HOT.

The Fat Babies have accomplished something brilliant on this disc and, I gather, continue to do so regularly in front of living audiences at Chicago venues and elsewhere.  That is, they easily handle the question of “transcription,” “imitation,” “emulation,” “evocation,” and creative reinvention.  What do all those words mean?  Put plainly, although many of the performances on this disc are based on hallowed recordings, I never got the sense that these living players were attempting to “play old records live.”  Their success, for me, is in the way they imbue these monumental artifacts with their own personalities, playing within the style but feeling free to move around in it.

Thus, for one example, Paul Asaro, when faced with a thirty-two bar solo on a song made immortal by Louis Armstrong in 1928, doesn’t place on himself the burden of “becoming” Earl Hines or “reproducing” Earl’s famous chorus.  No — Paul Asaro plays Asaro in those thirty-two bars, drawing on a deep knowledge of Morton, Waller, and a thousand other sources.

Dave Bock sounds like someone who’d be first call for a 1929 Henderson date; John Otto moves from Rod Cless to Darnell Howard.  Andy Schumm, who has legions of starry-eyed admirers who want him to do nothing but become Bix before their eyes, evokes the tougher, more vibrato-laden work of Dominique and George Mitchell with a lovely mix of power and delicacy.

And that rhythm section!  I could listen to Asaro, Sanders (very wistful single-string solos and driving rhythm), Sample (somewhere Milton J. Hinton is grinning admiringly), Hall (who moves nimbly from the heavy brushwork Tommy Benford favors to evocations of Chauncey Morehouse, early Jo Jones — before Basie — George Stafford, Wettling, and other heroes) — swinging!

That swing is worth noting in itself.  Too many recordings / concerts devoted to some historically-accurate notion of what “early jazz” sounded like are at a distance from loose, happy swing.  Now, I know that what constitutes “swing” and “swinging” changes from decade to decade and from individual subjective perception, but the Fat Babies don’t feel compelled to imitate the rhythmic conventions of a 1923 recording just because the Gennett disc captured a particular sound.  But they don’t “update” in annoying ways: there are no quotes from ANTHROPOLOGY or BLUE SEVEN.

Too many words?  Take a look at this, recorded by my friend Jamaica Fisher Knauer:

To quote Chubby Jackson, “Wasn’t that swell?”  Or Alex Hill, “Ain’t it nice?”  (As someone who has a smartphone but doesn’t center his life around it, I must say that this video — and others by “victorcornet21” are the only reason to even considering buying an iPhone.)

I don’t write this about all that many discs, but CHICAGO HOT is a splendidly essential purchase if you feel as I do about hot music, exquisitely and expertly played.

And a postscript.  Liner notes are sometimes as energetically effusive — and just as accurate — as the blurbs on the back cover of a best-selling book.  But Kim Cusack, reed wizard and singer, doesn’t do such things.  He is outspoken and candid about the music he loves and the arts he practices — so notes by Kim are both a rare honor and testimony to his joyous endorsement of this band.

And — as a bonus — I learned from those notes what the band’s (to me) odd name was.  It comes from an expression young Beau Sample heard in his home state, Texas: “It’s hotter than a fat baby.”  Now you know.

May your happiness increase.

EV FAREY’S BAY CITY JAZZ BAND (1958)

Sometimes the fabled past, unearthed, falls short of our expectations.  The rare recordings of the memorable band occasionally seem small: “Is that what we were waiting for all these years?” we ask.

But one disc by Ev Farey’s Bay City Jazz Band (TradJazz Productions CD 2123) has been a delight rather than a disappointment.

I first became interested in this music as after reading Jim Leigh’s insightful and witty memoir, HEAVEN ON THE SIDE — where he writes about this gig at the Sail ‘N.  And in the wake of Jim’s recent death, I have been listening even more to this disc — with great pleasure.

The band is led by cornetist Ev Farey (someone still playing beautifully — I can testify to this from seeing him in person just a few weeks ago); Jim on trombone; Tito Patri, banjo; Art Nortier, piano; Walt Yost, string bass . . . . and the remarkable Bob Helm on clarinet.

Some bands conspicuously exert themselves, as if they had to get our attention — but the 1958 Bay City Jazz Band knew how to take its time, to be intense without strain.  An easy-rocking momentum dominates the disc, whether the band is emulating Oliver on SNAKE RAG or building slow fires under RICHARD M. JONES BLUES and RIVERSIDE BLUES.  No one gets much out of the middle register; there are no long solos.  The emphasis is on a communal ensemble and each selection moves along on its own swinging path.  But the music is bright, imaginative, with no one tied to the original recordings.

The mood overall is lyrical — I found myself admiring Farey’s gentle, down-the-middle melodic embellishments, his singing tone, his amiable gliding motion.  Helm has long been celebrated as a nimble soloist but his ensemble playing doesn’t sound like anyone else’s (except perhaps his own version of Dodds and Simeon.)  Leigh’s  concise, homegrown ardor fits in neatly.  On recordings of this sort, often the front line and the rhythm section seem to be running on approximately parallel tracks — the two trios meet at the start and end of selections.  Not so here.

The repertoire comes from an imagined 1926 Chicago, with an emphasis on early Louis with a sideways glance at Morton and contemporaries: STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE; JAZZIN’ BABIES BLUES; HOUSE OF DAVID BLUES; GEORGIA BO BO; NEW ORLEANS STOMP; SMOKEY MOKES; GUT BUCKET BLUES; SAN; MECCA FLAT BLUES; COME BACK SWEET PAPA; SAN; SKID-DAT-DE-DAT; WILLIE THE WEEPER; MILENBERG JOYS.  Turk’s tribute to Helm, BROTHER LOWDOWN, is here, as is another Murphy discovery, GOT DEM BLUES, an 1897 composition believed to be the earliest published blues.

And in case you were wondering about the sonic quality of 1958 tapes, they were recorded close to the band and have been well-treated, so the music comes through nicely.

One of the particular bittersweet pleasures about this issue is that Jim Leigh wrote the notes.  Here’s an excerpt:

The music here can speak for itself.  There is quite a lot of tape wound on the band during my time on board, and this is some of the very best.  Helm would not have been comfortable to hear it said, but he is the star as he had been three years earlier with our ElDorado JB, as he was so often, with no matter whom.  As always, it is impossible to say whether he was more brilliant as a soloist or an ensemble player; it is all one pure stream of music and there was no virtue he valued more highly than what he called continuity.  From having been lucky enough to play with the man many times in different groups, my impression is still deep that Helm’s presence on the stand invariably brought out the best in his band mates.  Not through competitiveness, but rather the joy he communicated and the sheer pleasure of listening to/playing with such a musician.

To hear samples from a wide range of the TradJazz Productions CDs — featuring Bob Helm, Ev Farey, Hal Smith, Claire Austin, Darnell Howard, Leon Oakley, Jim Leigh, Frank Chace, Bud Freeman, Clint Baker, Earl Scheelar, Russ Gilman, Floyd O’Brien, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, and others, click here.

To purchase LIVE! AT THE SAIL’N and learn about the Trad Jazz Production label’s other issues, click here.  (I understand that there’s a new Leigh CD, just released . . . . more about that soon.)

May your happiness increase.