These are truly entertaining jazz records — and woe to the commenter who calls them simply Goodman-imitations — created by Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Lou Stein, piano; Mundell Lowe, guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Admire at your leisure their splendid swing, their subtle mixture of relaxation and leaning-forward, their ensemble unity and solo brilliance.
But what I’d ask you to do today is to listen to the sounds Dave Tough gets out of his drum kit, his unexpected shifts of rhythm, the intricate and often shifting songs he creates — from one object striking or moving across another! Pure magic, never duplicated.
Thanks to Hot Jazz 78rpms — a rewarding YouTube channel created by the man some of us know as the gracious Tohru Seya — for making these discs available to us.
“STOLEN PEANUTS” (really STEALIN’ APPLES):
I MUST HAVE THAT MAN:
Bless Dave Tough, who gave so much to us in his short life that we still marvel at his ingenuities today.
I will turn things over to my friend David Sager, Prince of Wails as trombonist and scholar, to share his unusual discovery with you.
An Honored but Tromboneless Guest
Among the storied gathering spots for jazz musicians was the Evanston, Illinois home of Edwin “Squirrel” Ashcraft, a talented amateur pianist turned lawyer. Between 1930 and the start of WWII, Squirrel’s home was the Midwest rallying spot for musicians traveling through the Chicago area, where they could play music as they wished, eat, drink, listen to records, and swap stories.
Known as “Sessions at Squirrel’s,” these gatherings of jazz musicians and record collectors were co-hosted by Bill Priestley, who played cornet and guitar, and like Squirrel, had been a member of the old Princeton Triangle Club Jazz Band back in the 20s. The parties were interrupted by WWII. When they resumed in the 50s, the venue changed to Bill Priestley’s home in Lake Forrest, redubbed as “The Annual Bix Festival,” reflecting the musical allegiance of the hosts and their guests.
And their guests included the likes of Red Nichols, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Rushton, Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, as well as a fairly steady “house band” consisting of Squirrel on piano; Priestley – cornet/guitar; Jack Gardner – piano; George Kenyon – trumpet/mellophone; Phil Atwood – bass; Jack Howe – clarinet, and several other locals.
One of these parties, held on July 4, 1952, coincided with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra’s appearance at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel. Anyone familiar with the book Tommy and Jimmy: the Dorsey Years, by Herb Sanford, will recall the chapter about the party and Dorsey being in attendance. This was during an interval where Tommy Dorsey was battling the sinking popularity of the dance band business. His frustration with the popularity of be-bop, which he called “Communist Jazz,” and the encroachment of rock ‘n roll, was palpable. TD did his best to soldier on, and in many ways was successful. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not bring the band biz back and could not quite recapture his reign over the pop music scene, as it was a decade earlier. His current record contract with Decca Records was also a bust. He complained about Decca’s lack of promotion, “My Decca recordings aren’t released, they escape…if they had put the secret of the atomic bomb on Decca, the Russians would never have got it.”
Thus, Dorsey savored such rare moments of relaxation, and was able to find time that July afternoon to attend, sans trombone. Also, in attendance was chemist, jazz historian, and record producer, John Steiner, who – for the sake of posterity – lugged along his tape recorder. Steiner recorded the day’s jam session, ultimately releasing 8 titles on a on a 10-inch LP on the Steiner-Paramount label and titled “The Third Squirrel.” The brief liner notes to that LP tell us that at one point,
An honored but tromboneless guest arrived. A horn was quickly located. Bang went the band into a warmup blues titled understandably TD’s Dt’s. (sic) It was followed after a few anecdotes with Baby Won’t You Please.
As Herb Sanford tells it, another attendee, Park Burgess, who was headmaster of the Lake Forrest Country Day School, had brought his trombone, which he gladly handed over to TD to play. Dorsey, after playing the horn, thanked Burgess with, “This is a great horn, Park. What do you use on the slide—muselage?” (sic) [mucilage].
Sanford, who had been the Triangle band’s pianist and later, Dorsey’s radio producer, continued,
Tommy was the big hit of the afternoon—not on trombone, but as storyteller. He began to reminisce. One anecdote followed another, going from speakeasy days right on through to the present. Listening to the tape, it is as if Tommy was in the room, with all his idiosyncrasies of speech. Tommy had a way of making a mirthful sound in his throat and sustaining it in the pauses. It had the effect of keeping the listener hanging on.
It may come as a surprise that Dorsey was such an engaging raconteur. His legacy is largely that of an intense taskmaster, often unreasonable and even cruel, as well as unpredictably temperamental. A sort of generalization has come down to us characterizing Tommy as the Dorsey to fear, while brother Jimmy was a sweet gentle soul, loved by all. However, looking a little deeper, we see that it was not an accurate characterization. Jimmy was shy, an introvert. He rarely displayed his temper, but rather kept it on the inside. He was a bit of a misanthrope.
Tommy, on the other hand, was a people person; gregarious, generous, energetic. But he also exhibited symptoms of being bipolar. He was volatile and intolerant with those he considered weak. But surrounded by his friends, he was convivial, gracious, and very funny.
The tape referred to in the Sanford book had long intrigued me. There are plenty of recordings of TD speaking to an audience, in an amiable, ever-so-slightly gruff manner. Yet, there are next to no recorded interviews, or even written records of his reminiscences or opinions – at least not ones that are not heavily ghosted by an editor. Therefore, we have almost no first-hand accounts from this seminal figure of American popular music.
In the late 1980s, while I was traveling in Milwaukee with Banu Gibson and her band, pianist David Boeddinghaus and I had the pleasure of visiting John Steiner, himself, in his suburban home. Mrs. Steiner served us some lunch, and then John led us to his basement, where he kept his collection. John’s basement contained the spoils of the Paramount Records business he had acquired years before, when he purchased the name and existing stock of the fabled label. There were test pressings, metal parts, some commercial pressings. There were also lots of audio gadgets: meters, microphones, oscilloscopes, old transcription turntables, tubes…
I asked John about the Dorsey tape and the “Third Squirrel” album. He pulled out a copy of the latter, a 10-inch LP, pressed on transparent red vinyl, which he presented to me. John then foraged around through his collection of open-reel tapes and found the one of Tommy as life of the party. At least, it was part of the complete tape; a few of the stories Sanford reported are not present. And, in their place are some that were new to me. I suspect that there is another reel somewhere in John’s collection, now housed at the University of Chicago. Anyway, John played us the tape, or what he could find of it. It was as good as Sanford said. I asked John for a copy and a week or two later a package arrived at my door containing a cassette, the contents of which I present here.
Sanford transcribed several of these stories for his book. They are slightly amusing. However, one really misses the impact of Tommy’s speech – you really had to be there. Hearing the actual recording, we experience Dorsey, the engaging raconteur, complete with expertly timed pauses and punchlines. This is most evident in the story about the Everglades and its very funny tag line.
The stories take us back to the days of Plunkett’s speakeasy, the most storied watering hole in the annals of 1920s hot jazz. And yes, the anecdotes are dominated by the theme of drinking – to excess – and the results of musicians so influenced performing in high-class establishments. We hear about Davey Tough and Tommy’s attempt to help him dry out. Also, a projectile string bass and the mobster who defended the perpetrator. Then there’s a story about an unusual main dish that will surely offend many. To Tommy’s credit, he did not bring this one up. Rather it was Squirrel who mentioned it. It concerns an obscure Philadelphia musician named Ralph Margavero (I am not sure about that spelling). I did check Philadelphia newspapers and Ancestery.com and could not find out anything about him. But it seems that, like so many working musicians, Ralph would come home late after a gig hungry. Ah, the antics of musicians who will stop at nothing! Fortunately, I think, we have all evolved since then…
Additionally, many of the asides are worth picking through the excess crowd noise to hear. For instance, Tommy mentions a notorious New York hoodlum, who was also the manager of Tommy Guinan’s Playground; Hyman “Feet” Edson. Squirrel offers up a story – barely audible, about Wingy Manone. But then, Tommy chimes in and confirms the urban myth about brother Jimmy sending Wingy one cufflink for his birthday.
Those who own the Sanford book, will notice some discrepancies between Sanford’s transcription and what Dorsey actually says on the tape. For instance, the story about Charlie Shavers will now make some sense. There is one casualty; the story about Pee Wee Russell, which Sanford saved for last, is missing. If the full tape exists perhaps some diligent researcher will someday find it in the Steiner Collection.
The final story on the tape reflects TD‘s distaste for bebop. Obscured by the crowd noise, he begins, “I don’t go in much for bop stories… A bopper walking down the street, and he’s in cloud number 7, and there’s an organ grinder there, and he’s playing a tune, and the monkey’s right on the… organ grinder, ya know, the organ…and the guy looked up and said, “Man, I don’t dig your music, but you got a crazy son!”
As a finale, here is the one issued jam session title, “TD’s Dt’s,” on which Dorsey is heard playing three choruses of blues on a borrowed trombone, and a tremendous performance, at that. There has been so much in print about Dorsey’s lack of ability when it came to playing jazz, I find it maddening. It’s true that Tommy, in his jazz playing, stuck close to the melody, varying it in predictable ways, with a repertoire of about a dozen pet licks. But here, during those three choruses, I don’t hear even one of his usual “go-to phrases.” Although dominated by a huge ego, Tommy Dorsey was modest, even embarrassed by his jazz playing. That was not necessary, for despite a narrow harmonic imagination, his attack, forcefulness, and musical conviction were more convincing and compelling than most.
Here’s the too-brief blues (its sound improved, thanks to Doug Benson and Karl Pierson).
and the stories:
Thanks to David Sager for his typically perceptive diligence and generosity.
Here’s some extraordinary music that doesn’t often get shared, and it affords us opportunities to hear the singular percussionist Dave Tough late in his life playing the music he most preferred then. The occasion was a concert apparently produced (and recorded) by Leonard Feather, with the tapes sold to Norman Granz for issue on his Norgran label. This was a 12″ lp, and then issued on CD as filler material for Verve’s optimistically-named THE COMPLETE JAZZ AT THE PHILHARMONIC ON VERVE, a ten-disc set. Another portion of the concert has Sidney Catlett playing drums: material for a future posting.
Some mysteries accompany this issue: no one has yet documented all the music played that evening: there has to have been more than thirty-six minutes. The record sleeve mis-identifies Dave as playing (JUST YOU, JUST ME) when it is audibly Sidney. And it is difficult to ascertain the order of performance. But perhaps there is a jazz Hercule Poirot who can solve these mysteries. For now, let us hear Dave in the company of Charlie Ventura, tenor saxophone; Bill Harris, trombone; Ralph Burns, piano; Bill DeArango, guitar; Curly Russell, string bass.
Here’s CHARACTERISTICALLY B.H., for the wonderfully versatile Harris:
and RALPH BURNS UP, by Ralph, Curly, and Dave:
finally, Ventura rhapsodizing on one of the great tenor sax ballads:
More to come, with Sidney and friends. Thanks to Hal Smith and Kevin Dorn for their erudite assistance with this music.
This performance is both rare and familiar, famous and infamous, and you’ll hear why. It comes from a jam session organized by Joe Marsala from the St. Regis Hotel in New York City which was broadcast to the BBC — unheard at home. The eager announcer, jazz fan Alistair Cooke, is so eager to explain the new phenomenon of swing to the uninitiated that he explains — to some, insufferably — through most of the track.
But if you have the kind of first-rate mind F. Scott Fitzgerald spoke of, and you can listen around the well-intentioned Mr. Cooke, you will hear some astonishing music from Bobby Hackett, cornet; Marty Marsala, trumpet; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. Source material from a Jazz Unlimited CD, GREAT SWING JAM SESSIONS.
I used to expend energy complaining about our Alistair, but as I’ve aged I hear him out of the corner of my consciousness while I prize the splash and drive of Dave Tough’s cymbal work and tom-toms, the ferocious joy of the soloists and ensemble. No Alistair, no jam session, even though his timing is off: he is like a little boy with short legs chasing the parade. Rather than complain, KEEP SMILING AT TROUBLE. It’s a bubble, you know:
Hot in November for sure. And as Mr. Cooke wisely says, “This is no concert for people who don’t like swing.” Imagine this blazing out of your radio. And if you are so inclined to comment on Mr. Cooke’s loquacity, remember that he is an anthropologist introducing people to a new culture, and thank him: no Cooke, no music.
I’ve enjoyed hearing and meeting the great drummer and drum scholar Nicholas D. Ball, thanks to the Whitley Bay jazz parties that I attended 2009-2016. Nick not only understands vintage drum artistry in academic ways but embodies them: he swings the hell out of a very — by modern standards — constricted authentic set, while combining complete seriousness and wicked glee. You can see him in action (just one example of many)hereand also delve into his absorbing site, “Drums in the Twenties,” here.
But this post isn’t about Nick. He’s a gateway to the real subject.
He asked me if I’d like to hear solo drum recordings by someone I think of as an unknown master, Bob Matthews. Would I? Indeed I would. And you can also.
I listened, was entranced, and asked Nick to tell all:
I was first contacted by Bob in 2018, he having stumbled across my Drums In The Twenties website. He explained who he was and recounted some of his memories of personal encounters with our mutual drumming heroes when he was a young man, during the 1940s and 50s in New York and New Orleans. We began a semi-regular correspondence, during which I got to know all about his jazz career, learning at the feet of Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds, his recordings with Raymond Burke and Johnny St. Cyr and his travels across America. Also I learned about his current life, then aged 90 and more or less alone, in retirement in a remote rural town in North Carolina. Despite the great distances between us in both age and geography, over the months we became regular pen pals, to the extent that Bob entrusted to me (by international mail), the one extant copy of the EP he recorded for the great historian Bill Russell’s ever-hungry tape recorder, in New Orleans in October 1955: DRUM SOLOS.
Bob was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1928. Throughout his childhood he was bewitched by music, beginning on drums at the age of nine and also studying mallet percussion and piano to a high level.
As a jazz-mad high-school student, Bob became an avid record collector and attended concerts whenever his heroes visited Atlanta on tour, managing to slip backstage to meet many of the top drummers of the era including Dave Tough and Jo Jones. Aged 18, he travelled to New York, where he befriended and played with several resident jazz greats including Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson and Baby Dodds; he then moved to New Orleans where he became a fixture on the traditional jazz scene for over a decade. He then served three years playing with three different US Army bands during the early 1950s, and in 1957 relocated to San Francisco, working in a trio with pianist Don Ewell and clarinettist Ellis Horne, both of whom became close friends.
On the solo session in 1955 that yielded DRUM SOLOS, Bob’s playing, whilst clearly inspired by Dodds (as whose protégé he was proudly known) and firmly within the New Orleans drum tradition, has a distinct character and quality of its own.
‘When we started the session I just couldn’t get it together. We then took a break & had a meal at a nearby cafeteria I always ate at. After we returned it started to fall into place. I don’t know how, but it did. I recorded a variety of things: Morton’s New Orleans Joys, Scott’s Climax Rag, 2 Improvisations (full set and soft mallets on tom toms), and 3 others. I don’t remember how I thought of using complex rags & melodies to inspire me to try & follow. I could have done even better, but I never had the chance again. I had to choose the repertoire from memory at that moment. No time to plan or practice for.’
Whilst Matthews did perform on sessions with several notable bands during the 1940s and 50s, his DRUM SOLOS record was never commercially released, and has never before been made available to the public – until today, 66 years later. When Bob suggested he mail me some of his most treasured possessions, including the one copy of DRUM SOLOS (which had been dubbed onto a 10” vinyl disc some time in the 1950s) I was wary of the responsibility, but excited that perhaps I might be able to at last make this hitherto-unheard artifact from jazz drumming history available to the public after 66 years. With Bob’s blessing and co-operation, I’m really proud and delighted to at last be able to present the record for release via VEAC Vaults; as a set of downloadable audio files accompanied by a 7-page PDF document tracing Bob’s story and illuminated with his memoirs and photographs.
The solo drum recordings are unbelievably interesting: hear a sample here.
They aren’t what Whitney Balliett called “fountains of noise.” They feel like measured yet passionate melodic explorations. Bob looks into the sonic treasure-chest and pulls out gems (in a nice steady 4/4) to show us.
Some of you, deep in the tradition, will say, “Ah, these are just like the Baby Dodds drum improvisations,” and you will have created the nicest pocket to place the music into. That will be an inducement to go to Bandcamp — the link right above this paragraph — and buy a copy. Others, more quick to judge, will say, “I already know what this sounds like,” and, without listening, ready yourself for another diversion. But I suggest that you listen first.
Preconceptions shape reality. Tell someone, “This is the funniest joke in the world,” and almost whatever follows falls flat. Or, “This soup is so spicy, you’ll need gallons of water,” and we brace ourselves. Thus it is with naming music: if we allow ourselves, we create a concept and are unable to hear beyond it.
If a jazz broadcaster presented this release, “We have a new set of experimental, innovative Sonatas for Solo Percussion by T. Vasile, the young Romanian percussion star (she just turned 30) that combine ‘free’ playing with traditional New Orleans convention, down to the antique sound quality of the recordings,” some of us would turn up the volume to hear the marvels.
And — as couples say in “discussions,” one other thing. As you’ll read in the notes, Bill Russell recorded this on his tape machine, and some time later, Bob Matthews paid a local engineer to make a disc copy. A disc copy. One. So I feel in the presence of a weird greatness, facing a singular object (think of the Jerry Newman acetates, for the easiest instance) rather as I did when reading TRISTRAM SHANDY and Laurence Sterne tells the reader he is drawing on a manuscript that only he possesses the sole copy. In this case, it’s not a whimsy, but it’s true. Even if this it’s-the-only-one-in-the-universe fact does not win you over, I hope the music does.
I’m aware that there are far larger things to get annoyed about, and I am sure that my ire is both pointless and the result of forty years in college classrooms, where accuracy was not always evident in my students’ work. But I attempt to be accurate when it is possible. When someone offers a factual correction to something I’ve written, I might hiss through my teeth, but I change my text. So the biographical sketch of Charlie Christian that follows is irritating in many ways.
Charlie Christian December 1, 2006 Edward Southerland
It is not too far a stretch to say that everybody who plays the electric guitar owes something to Charlie Christian.
He was born in Bonham in 1916, but when his father, a waiter, suddenly became blind in 1918, the family moved to Oklahoma City. Christian began his musical career on the cornet, but soon gave it up for his father’s favorite instrument, the guitar.
The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles where he met one of the country’s most influential jazz critics and writers, John Hamilton. Bowled over by Christian’s uncompromising talent, Hamilton took the young man to the Victor Hugo restaurant in L.A. to meet Benny Goodman on August 16, 1939. Without telling the band leader, Hamilton set Christian on the bandstand. Goodman had the band play “Roseland,” a number he thought the guitar man would not be able to follow, but follow he did. After one pass, Christian took a solo, and then another and after 18 breaks, each different from the others, he had a job with the King of Swing.
Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25. When he died, Christian was brought home to Bonham to be buried. A few years ago, a Japanese jazz lover traveled half way around the world to find the grave of this all but forgotten musician, and Charlie Christian was forgotten no more. There is an exhibit about Christian in the Fannin County Historical Museum, each year Oklahoma City hosts a jazz festival in his honor, and once again, the young man with guitar is celebrated by music lovers everywhere.
Over the years, the Red River Valley has contributed more than most know to the music of the land, particularly in jazz, early rock ‘n’ roll and Western swing. Everyone knows Reba McIntire, the Oklahoma girl with the big voice, and Sherman remembers native son Buck Owens with his own section of U.S. Highway 82. Decades before these stars became icons others blazed trails of their own. Texoma has had its fair share of contributors to the world of music. These are just a few.
This article appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Texoma Living!.
Reading it, I wondered if the author had asked a friend for some facts and had heard them incorrectly through a bad phone connection. I amuse myself by writing here that “John Hamilton” played trumpet with Fats Waller, and that “Roseland” was a dance hall of note in New York City.
If I could draw, I would create a cartoon of Charlie’s magical transportation: “The guitar took the young man to Los Angeles . . . ” I do not know what to say about this assertion: “Despite his success, Christian’s legacy to jazz faded after he died of TB and pneumonia in 1942 at the age of 25.”
At least this writer didn’t “get the impression” that Charlie was a heroin addict, and he doesn’t say that he was discovered at a late-night jam session . . . both examples taken from the recent prose of a Jazz Authority, nameless here.
You might ask, “Don’t you have anything better to do, Michael, than take pot shots at someone writing in a ‘regional’ magazine about a subject they can’t be expected to be an expert on? I would tell you, “Yes, I have much better things to do: you should see my kitchen counter. I have laundry that’s piling up, and I should be walking more, blogging less.”
But we know that the internet grants permanence to assertions, and assertions become granite: so a small inaccuracy, repeated and blurred through repetition, becomes a major falsehood — and in that way, it feels like an insult to the dead, who can no longer stand up (not that mild-mannered Charlie would have) and say, “Quit making up that crap about me. It isn’t true!”
In a world where so much source material is available for people who no longer need to leave their chairs, I’d hope that more care would be taken by writers who want to be taken seriously. Had Mr. Southerland been a student in a freshman writing class of mine, had he handed this essay in, I would have written “no” and perhaps even “No!” in the margins and returned the essay with “Please see me” on the bottom and asked him to revise it — sprinkling in some facts, rather like oregano and crushed red pepper on pizza — if he wanted a passing grade.
I won’t go so far as to hypothesize that slovenly “research” indicates a laziness of perception, which is a failure of analysis resulting in a civilization’s slide into darkness. But I won’t stop you if you want to pursue that notion.
The good news is that Charlie Christian’s “legacy” is not “faded.” Consider this precious 1941 artifact, where he’s gloriously present next to Dave Tough, Johnny Guarnieri, Artie Bernstein, Cootie Williams, and George Auld:
I will paraphrase Lord Byron to say, “Southerland and his ilk will be read when Christian and Goodman are forgotten. But not until then.”
Arthur Bradford Gowans, often overlooked but peerless.
Fate did not treat Brad Gowans that well, although I don’t know that he yearned for the limelight. Most of us know him as a wondrous valve trombonist, eloquent as a soloist and deft as an ensemble player; others, going deeper, know his skillful arrangements for Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude band; the true Gowans devotees know him as a delightful clarinet and cornet player. Yesterday, December 3, was his birthday, although the sad fact is that he has been gone since 1954 — he was fifty. We can, however, share some enlivening music thanks to two YouTube posters — the first, Hot Jazz 78rpms.
Here are two recordings not often heard. The first, I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER (originally recorded for Gennett, then reissued on John R.T. Davies’ “Ristic” label) just romps. The band name is “Gowans’ Rhapsody Makers,” the personnel is Herman Drewes (cnt); Eddie Edwards (tb); Brad Gowans (cnt,cl); Jim Moynahan (cl,as); Arnold Starr (vln); Frank Signorelli (p); Paul Weston (tu); Fred Moynahan (d); Frank Cornwell, Bill Drewes (vo);
New York, January 20, 1927. It was a brand-new song then, and although one site says it was first recorded by Nick Lucas, his version is six days later than this; the famous Goldkette and less-known Ben Bernie versions are from the 28th, for those of you marking down such things:
For those who long for warmer climates (even with global warming evident all around us), I’LL FLY TO HAWAII: Brad Gowans (cnt,cl); George Drewes (tb); Unknown (as),(ts); Frank Cornwell (vln,vo); Tony Francini (p); Eddie Rosie (bj); Paul Weston (tu); Fred Moynahan (d); Trio (vo) New York, October 26, 1926:
There were three Drewes brothers, it seems.
And later on — something rarer! — thanks to Davey Tough (whose channel recently has blossomed with unknown performances by the greatest jazz brass players: Bob Barnard, Ruby Braff, Bobby Hackett, Wild Bill Davison), an unissued take of a Yank Lawson blues:
Brad only appears in the last minute of this recording, but two things stand out. One, with busy Yank and Pee Wee in the front line, he keeps his ensemble part as plain yet effective as it could be. Hear the rich sound of his break near the end.
He invented a combination valve-slide trombone, “the valide,” which is held by the Institute of Jazz Studies, although I believe that no one has yet been able to fix the broken trigger. (Like Jack Teagarden, he was mechanically brilliant.)
Dan Morgenstern, holding the valide, which Brad invented and made — it resides at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers. Photo (2010) by fellow brassman Jon-Erik Kellso.
Finally, something astonishing, even if you’ve seen it before: 1946 out-take newsreel footage from Eddie Condon’s first club, on West Fourth Street in New York City — with Brad; Wild Bill Davison; Tony Parenti; Gene Schroeder; Jack Lesberg; Eddie; Dave Tough (amazingly).
For those who don’t know this footage, some explanations are needed. It is staged, and the band repeats the same sequence — the last choruses of IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, which is a medium-slow blues that turns into an uptempo DIPPERMOUTH . . . but please note Brad on the valide, switching from slide to valve for the last notes.
I know it’s useless to write these lines, but had Brad lived until 1974, he could have played alongside Bobby Hackett; perhaps I could have seen him at Your Father’s Mustache, and he would have enlivened so many more recordings and performances. He gave us so much in his short life.
Kevin Dorn doesn’t have an advanced degree in Jazz History. His classroom has always been the bandstand, where he embodies what he’s learned and imparts it both to his bandmates and to us. Kevin’s been creating a series of videos that are edifying and lively: it’s fascinating to watch and hear him clarify what we have heard and enjoyed but without necessarily understanding what makes a particular drummer’s style so intriguing, so singular. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel here.
Kevin’s most recent video presentation is about the drummer Buzzy Drootin, someone I was lucky enough to see several times in 1972. Buzzy was then younger than I am now; he had great enthusiasm and energy, propelling ensembles and supporting soloists. You could tell it was Buzzy in four bars.
Even if you’ve never picked up a pair of sticks, you’ll find this edifying, as I do:
Kevin could surely show some of the academics I know how to do it, and I don’t mean keeping time on a half-closed hi-hat.
In case you can’t read the label, these four sides — two 78 discs — were created by the Don Byas All Stars: Byas, tenor saxophone; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Eddie Safranski, string bass; Denzil Best, drums, in New York City on June 27, 1945, almost seventy-five years ago.
This session has been part of my consciousness for a long time, perhaps going back before 1980. Don Byas doesn’t get his name written large in those jazz-history-trees I have seen recently, and in the taxonomy of jazz Stars of the tenor saxophone, he’s rarely noticed in the rush to oversimplify: it’s Hawk and Lester and Ben — leaving out Don, Chu Berry, Dick Wilson, Bud Freeman, Gene Sedric, Video Musso, Prince Robinson, George Auld, Herschel Evans, Eddie Miller, Buddy Tate, Robert Carroll, and many others. But Byas continues to amaze: his lovely expressive ballad playing, his indefatigable work at fast tempos, and his intense swing in general. He knew his harmonies, and his arpeggios never put a foot wrong. You might know his early work on a 1938 record date for Victor under the nominal leadership of Timme Rosenkrantz, or his classic opening solo on the 1941 HARVARD BLUES with Basie, but he made perhaps a hundred consistently realized small band sides for small independent labels between 1944-46 before leaving for Europe, where he spent the rest of his life, coming back to New York a few times before his death.
On these four sides, he’s in the company of giants who also rarely get their proper recognition. Eddie Safranski, then a young bassist in Hal McIntyre’s big band, was at the start of a long career — his last recordings are in 1975 — and he played and recorded with everyone from Stan Kenton to Teresa Brewer. Denzil DaCosta Best began at the top — his playing career ended in 1962 and he died a few years later, sadly, but he also recorded with everyone from Ben Webster to George Shearing to Erroll Garner to Sheila Jordan.
Johnny Guarnieri is one of the finest pianists and musicians, but he also seems neglected. An ebullient virtuoso, he was a regular life-enhancer on small-group dates going back to the Benny Goodman Sextet: he could do so many things beautifully that he might not be well-known for his delightful swing.
I left the graceful and astonishingly consistent Buck Clayton for last: his autobiography tells of his long career better than I could (BUCK CLAYTON’S JAZZ WORLD) but I can’t think of an uninspired performance in his forty-plus years of recordings. I have some late-career trumpet videos I will post, and even when his embouchure was not completely certain and his range was seriously limited, he made lovely melodies out of the fewest notes and he always swung.
As to the recordings themselves: you must discover their marvels on your own, but each is both wonderfully impromptu and a careful orchestral composition on its own, their texts being familiar pop songs from 1930-1, with DEEP PURPLE being the newest theme (a piano solo in 1934, a hit with lyrics in 1939). I can imagine them discussing tunes, tempos, and approach briefly before making a take. They knew how many choruses would fit on a side; someone took the lead and someone improvised a countermelody; someone took the bridge; they decided on how to begin and how to end — but the records document a peak of this music, the great meeting of experience, professionalism, and passion.
Walter Donaldson’s ode to candor:
and the lovely violet ballad, so rarely played or sung these days:
The eyes are the windows of the soul, aren’t they?
and a more hopeful ballad, about a sudden magical romantic appearance:
Now, a different perspective on these lovely creations. I never knew anything about the Jamboree Records issues except that they must have sold well — there’s one label in red and silver, another in red and gold — and used copies continue to be offered for sale. The label had a short run: three four-song sessions with Byas as leader (one where he is the only horn, this one with Clayton, and a third with Joe Thomas), a Dave Tough-led session (with Thomas and Ted Nash), a Horace Henderson-led date featuring Clayton, Eddie Bert, and two reeds (recorded for Harry Lim’s Keynote label and sold to Jamboree), a trio session recorded in Detroit in 1947 featuring pianist Willie Anderson and one vocal by Kenny Hagood, and finally a 1949 date led by pianist Skip Hall, featuring Clayton, Buddy Tate, Walter Page, with six issued and two unissued sides.
Jazz fans deep into the wonderful music of this period know that small labels with terrible pressings were frequent, owing to the number of brilliant improvisers at large (without recording contracts with major labels) and the end of the first Petrillo record strike or ban . . . think of Regis, Manor, Session, Guild, National, Apollo, Signature, Comet, Hub, and a dozen others.
I’ve been aided in my fragmentary research into Jamboree by Matthew “Fat Cat” Rivera, founder of The Hot Club of New York, so thanks to him. The head of Jamboree Records was one Morty Kline, who ran Melody Record Supply and Record Associates on 314 West 52nd Street, although another address has it on Tenth Avenue.
Where Melody Record Supply once stood.
That address allows one of my favorite hypotheses (“favorite” because I find it plausible but lack any specific evidence that it happened). Did jazz musicians walk into Melody Record Supply, talk to Morty, and walk out with a handshake agreement to cut four sides next Thursday — bring a quintet at 9 AM for scale, or words to that effect? Had Morty known Byas’s recordings from his Basie days, or from those on Savoy in 1944, or had he been in the audience for the Town Hall concert produced by Timme Rosenkrantz? Or did Morty walk east after he closed the shop to have a drink on Swing Street and offer some of the musicians on the stand a record date at the bar? I don’t know if Morty took a hand in the music’s direction (as did people like Harry Lim and Milt Gabler) or if he was simply the businessman-producer. I suspect that it was an excellent business move for Melody Record Supply to have its own issues to sell: “product,” as we now say. I can’t ask Morty: he died in Boca Raton, Florida, in 1997. But I can thank him for the commerce that allowed these beautiful minutes of imperishable music to exist and live on.
This is part of the world that Hal Smith’s Swing Central comes from — but the world of Swing Central is living and thriving now.
Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives
This little group is packed with pleasures. It’s Hal Smith’s evocation of a world where Pee Wee Russell and Lester Young could hang out at Jimmy Ryan’s, where Teddy Wilson, Charlie Christian, Eddie Condon, Pops Foster, and Dave Tough could have breakfast after the gig, perhaps chicken and waffles uptown. And the music they created as naturally as breathing was lyrical hot swing that didn’t have the time or patience for labels.
This version of Hal’s group has him on drums and moral leadership, Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and some original compositions, Dan Walton, piano and vocal, Steve Pikal, string bass; Jamey Cummns, guitar. This is the first part of a long leisurely showcase at the 2019 Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California.
and a Bing Crosby hit that justifiably entered the jazz repertoire:
Jonathan Doyle’s wonderful HELLO, FISHIES:
something for people who have been to Austin, Texas, or for those who need to take a trip there, BATS ON A BRIDGE:
A dedication to one Mister Capone, who liked jazz when he wasn’t working:
Dan Walton sings and plays Moon Mullican’s PIPELINER’S BLUES, while everyone joins in on this jump blues:
for the Chicagoans and the rest of us as well, WINDY CITY SWING:
and we’ll close the first half of this uplifting set with HELLO, LOLA — a reminder of Red McKenzie and his friends:
Hal’s beautiful little group also made a CD where they strut their stuff quite happily: I wrote about it here.
And they will be appearing — with Kris Tokarski and Ryan Gould in for Walton and Pikal — at the Austin Lindy Exchange, November 21-24 — which, like love, is just around the corner.
Not incidentally, the Redwood Coast Music Festival is happening again, thank goodness and thanks to Mark Jansen and Valerie Jansen, from May 7-10, 2020. More information here as well. Some numbers: it’s their 30th anniversary; it runs for 4 days; there are 30 bands; more than 100 sets of music. Do the math, as we say, and come on.
Consider this very truncated list: Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Purvis, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Jabbo Smith, Sandy Williams, Cassino Simpson, Dave Tough, Tony Fruscella, Fud Livingston, Dick McDonough, Serge Chaloff, Fats Navarro, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan.
What do they have in common? Would you, were you a recording supervisor, hire them for a record date? Would you hire them for your orchestra or gig? Could you count on them to do the work asked of them? (A hint here: as much as I revere, let’s say, Fruscella or Livingston, I wouldn’t want them driving the kids to summer camp.)
That list contains poets of the music, artistic trailblazers, instantly recognizable creators, memorable improvisers. But it is also a list of people who didn’t show up on time or at all for the gig or has to be awakened in the middle of a song to play, people who were addicted to alcohol, food, drugs, and sex; people who had borderline personality disorder; people who stole, lied, and destroyed property; people who refused to bathe or change their clothes . . . and more.
Even if this seems blasphemous, do me the kindness to read on.
And if you proclaim that Genius must be forgiven anything because it’s Genius, I wonder how you would feel if the Genius vomited on your living room rug or stole money from you.
I suspect that most jazz fans are Apollonian (in Nietzsche’s dichotomy): they drive in the proper lane; they shower regularly; they hold jobs; they change the registration sticker on their car when the law says they must. But, perhaps as a result, they are fascinated by the Dionysiac, the Bad Boys and Girls of Jazz, the people whose behavior is flashy, self-destructive, eccentric, illegal.
Consider this: if someone could come up with an authenticated needle used by Billie or Bird, or a piece of Bix’s mummified blue sweater, how much would those holy relics — the jazz Shroud of Turin — fetch on eBay?
Violently erratic “bad” behavior makes good copy. How many biographies of Bix are there, as compared to his more restrained contemporaries? How many theatrical presentations “recreating” Billie are there, as opposed to the lives of other singers who drank Seven-Up?
I was motivated to write this piece because of the just-issued biography of Johnny Guarnieri, SUPERSTRIDE, beautifully written and researched by Derek Coller, depicts a good husband and father, and a craftsman, someone serious about his art even when striding joyously.
I think of others of the same general character: people who kept pocket notebooks and were thus early to gigs, who came prepared to make music, with horns that worked and a knowledge of the charts; musicians who could transpose and knew their keys; who came to the club date in appropriate, even elaborate formal wear; whose clothes were clean; who conducted themselves as professionals and whose behavior might have been placid and thus not worthy of chronicling, but who behaved as adults.
Think of Maxine Sullivan, George Duvivier, Milt Hinton, Joe Wilder, Teddi King, Eddie Barefield, Al Hall, Ed Hall, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Bennie Morton, and Buster Bailey among others: artists who didn’t use “genius” as an excuse for childishness. Sadly, I sense a silent snobbery among jazz fans, who look down on these mature men and women because their personal lives are uneventful. And, aside from Hinton, Wilder, and Ed Hall, how many of the artists in the list above have been properly chronicled? Men and women who didn’t destroy themselves and others are proper figures to contemplate and admire. Even if they are tediously busy being professional, monogamous, and sober, their lives have much to show us.
Obviously it’s not thrilling to write about someone who does his or her job without drama, but we should be celebrating these artists as grownups. And grownups are hard to find in any field.
Here’s music made by several grownups: musicians, classically trained who could cut the charts and swing like mad, who appear on many record dates because they were both creative and reliable: William C. Bailey of Memphis, Tennessee, coincidentally backed by Osie Johnson, drums, and that very same Johnny Guarnieri among others:
I wonder what would happen to us, as an audience, if we chose not to fetishize childish self-destructive behavior, and instead celebrated adult behavior?
Inspiration for this post is, as it often is, thanks to Sammut of Malta, whose thoughts are always inspiring.
The seller describes the holy relic thusly: An original 1930’s album containing 88 autograph signatures of jazz musicians, sporting figures and other personalities. The musicians represented include Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Desmond, Gene Krupa, Bid Sid Catlett, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, “Hot Lips” Page, Cab Calloway, Anita O’Day, Roy Eldridge, Woody Herman, Les Brown, and many more. The album with a two-ring binding, with some signatures signed directly onto the album leaves and others clipped and mounted, some on larger folded sheets. 31 pages of autographs, with further blank pages in the middle; on the last several pages, all the grades from the owner’s report cards from 1930 to 1943 are meticulously recorded! An inscription to the owner on the verso of the title page dates the album to 1931. Light toning and edge wear; overall in fine condition. 6.25 x 4.5 inches (15.8 x 11.7 cm).
Hereis the link, and the price is $750 plus $20 shipping. I don’t need it, but I certainly covet it: pieces of paper touched by people I have revered for half a century. (And, of course, imagine having heard, seen, and spoken to them!)
Before we get to the treasures within, I can only speculate that someone listing report cards from 1930 to 1943 was born, let us say, in 1925, and so might no longer be on the planet. But he or she was an avid Hot Lips Page acolyte, so we are certainly related spiritually.
The only name unfamiliar to me in this rich collection was Mart Kenney, whom I learned was a well-known Canadian jazz musician and bandleader (his “Western Gentlemen”) and long-lived, 1910-2006. Did our autograph collector visit Canada?
In general, the signatures collected here suggest a wealth of bands seen and heard in 1941: Lips, Dave Tough, and Max Kaminsky with Artie Shaw; Mel Powell with Goodman; Anita O’Day and Roy Eldridge with Krupa.
Here’s a peek.
Artie Shaw, with two Lips Page signatures!
Benny Goodman, with Mel Powell, Billy Butterfield, and John Simmons!
My favorite page. And Page (with equal time for Walter)!
I wonder how many of these pages Gene signed in his life.
Others in Gene’s band, including Sam Musiker and Roy Eldridge.
Anita O’Day and Joe Springer.
Hi-De-Ho, on a tiny label.
Bob Higgins and Les Brown.
Mart Kenney and musicians.
And I presume more members of the Western Gentlemen.
For once, this seems like a bargain: 88 signatures plus thirteen years of the owner’s report cards. Who could resist?
Just because no JAZZ LIVES post should be completely silent, here (thanks to Loren Schoenberg) is a 1941 airshot from the Steel Pier of Artie Shaw’s band featuring Hot Lips Page, Dave Tough, and George Auld on THERE’LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE:
I’ve been collecting jazz records as long as I’ve been fascinated by the music. When I began, so much of the music I craved was not easily available, so I turned to other collectors for assistance, trading items back and forth with those who were generous. I have benefited so much from the kindness of collectors, some of whom who have moved on and others who are reading this post. And I cherish most those who are open-handed. I think of John L. Fell, Bill Coverdale, Bob Hilbert, Bill Gallagher among the departed: the living people know who they are and know how I value them.
One of the open-handed folks I celebrate is collector, discographer, and scholar Sonny McGown. An amiable erudite fellow, he doesn’t feel compelled to show off his knowledge or point out that his records are better than yours.
On this 2015 podcast, Sonny, in conversation with “spun counterguy,” tells of becoming a jazz-loving record collector here. It’s an entertaining interlude with good stories (among other subjects, DON’T BE THAT WAY and POP-CORN MAN) and musical excerpts.
Sonny is fully versed in 78s and 45s, and he understands the power technology has to make generosity easy, to share precious music. The word “broadcast” is apt here: one collector sending another a cassette, mp3, or burned CD is casting very small bits of bread on the waters.
About four months ago, he created his own YouTube channel, “Davey Tough” — and although it doesn’t yet have a large audience by YouTube standards, I am counting on this blogpost to remedy that. Sonny has been quietly offering rare music, well-annotated, one surprise after another. How about Goodman, Jack Teagarden, the aforementioned Dave Tough, Peanuts Hucko, Ray McKinley, Yank Lawson, Helen Ward, Dick Wellstood, Kenny Davern, Soprano Summit, Joe Marsala, Lou McGarity, Bobby Gordon, Charlie Byrd, Tommy Gwaltney, Clancy Hayes, Ralph Sutton, Wild Bill Davison, and other luminaries. And surprises! Some are from truly rare non-commercial records, others from even rarer tapes of live performances in clubs and at jazz parties.
I’ll start with the one performance that I already knew, because it is so much fun: clarinetists Ernie Caceres, Joe Marsala, Pee Wee Russell, playing the blues at a 1944 Eddie Condon concert — backed by Gene Schroeder, Bob Haggart, and Gene Krupa (with Bobby Hackett audible at the end):
Notice, please, unlike so much on YouTube, this is factually correct, in good sound, with an appropriate photograph.
Here’s a real rarity: Dave Tough as a most uplifting member of Joe Marsala’s very swinging mid-1941 band, more compact than the norm, certainly with Joe’s wife, Adele Girard on harp, and plausibly brother Marty on trumpet:
And another performance by the Marsala band with Adele and Dave prominent:
Backwards into the past, in this case 1933, not the familiar version of AIN’T ‘CHA GLAD, although we know the arrangement by heart:
and, finally, backwards into the more recent past, for Pee Wee Russell and Charlie Byrd at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C., from December 1957:
These are but a few of Sonny’s treasures. I resist the temptation to rhapsodize both about the sound of Dick McDonough and about Pee Wee, free to explore without restrictions, but you will find even more delights. I encourage readers to dive in and to applaud these good works by spreading the word.
Hal Smith is someone whose music I’ve admired long before I was able to meet him and hear the magic he works from a front-row seat. Dogs bark; cats meow; Hal swings, and I’ve never known him to fail. Better than CPR.
Put it another way: I’ve had a driver’s license for decades, and am thus less comfortable in the passenger seat. When I hear a performance with Hal at the drums, I can relax — the same way I do when Jo or Sidney or Wettling or Tough is in control: I know everything’s going to be all right.
A new CD with Hal is always a pleasure; the debut recording of a new Hal Smith band is an event, one to be celebrated. SWING CENTRAL lives up to its title, and there’s more at work here than a) a quintet playing a swing repertoire and b) that the musicians all live in the Central time zone.
Those musicians — exuberant and focused at the same time are, besides Hal — Jonathan Doyle on clarinet; Dan Walton, piano; Jamey Cummins, guitar; Steve Pikal, string bass, and appearing on one track, Joshua Hoag, also on bass.
What makes this clarinet-plus rhythm group different and thus a treasure is vividly apparent from the first notes of the first track. For one thing, SWING CENTRAL is aware that there is music not played by Benny Goodman. Heresy to some, I know, and I treasure my Goodman records as much as anyone, but this band and this disc go another way. And that way is the endearingly individualistic way mapped out by Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, Frank Chace, and Charlie Christian. SWING CENTRAL is a hot band, but not an exhibitionistic one: on this CD or in performance, you won’t hear a ten-minute version of SEVEN COME ELEVEN that’s capped with a drum solo. Hearing the disc again, I thought, “This band is playing for the music, not for the audience,” which is a beautiful and rare thing. And the musicians know the records, but have absorbed them into their cell memory, so that they can play themselves, which is the only way to honor the innovators. “Feelin’ the spirit,” as they used to say.
Now that you’ve gotten over the pleasant shock of the remarkable cover art by JP Ardee Navarro, hear and see the band in performance (Austin’s Central Market, 2016) for yourself:
and Jon Doyle’s charming sweet original, HELLO, FISHIES:
Hal asked me if I would write something for this CD, and I was honored. Here’s what I came up with: easy to tell the truth, and easy to express happiness in words. (And in case what I’ve written seems to favor Jon Doyle and the leader, I will say only that I’d like to hear a CD led by Dan Walton, Jamey, or Steve.)
A MEETING OF KINDRED SOULS
A true story. Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk were in a taxi, discussing “the beat”. Monk favored surprising shifts but Dizzy disagreed. “What would you do if your heart beat irregular? The steady beat is the principle of life.” My cardiologist would agree: healthy, happy organisms swing from the inside out. Hal Smith’s Swing Central is not only a wondrous cohesive group, inspired by the music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace, and friends, but it affirms joyous principles. From Austin, Texas, comes healing jazz.
Leader Hal tells how this band came to be:
I’ve known Jon Doyle since 2009. The first time I heard him warming up on clarinet, quoting Pres’ solo from “I Want A Little Girl,” the seed was planted for this band. Steve Pikal and I worked together in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in 2010. Steve’s outgoing personality and propulsive bass playing is always a positive influence. Dan Walton introduced me to the Western Swing scene in Texas. We played together with Jason Roberts’ band and later with Dan’s own Jump Swing Imperials. He understands that “less is more” and it shows. Jamey Cummins has been in Austin for some time, and is finally receiving the attention he deserves. He plays wonderful Freddie Green-like time and inventive, highly rhythmic solos.
We decided not to pursue the familiar Goodman-based clarinet-and-rhythm repertoire but rather to explore the more introverted music of Pee Wee Russell, Lester Young, Frank Chace. Jon Doyle took to the idea like a bat takes to the Congress Ave. Bridge. When we began, the musicians lived in the Central Time zone, so the band name suggested itself. (However, we are not going to add “Pacific” when a couple of our musicians have relocated to the West Coast!)
This was the easiest recording session I have ever done, and several other band members agreed. I think you’ll hear what a good time we had.
This quietly thrilling band reminds me not only of the three inspiring clarinet playing individualists, but of the possibilities of music that gently breaks down the barriers some listeners and journalists build, cubicles labeled “schools” and “styles.” Swing Central takes familiar songs and make them fresh and dewy; Jon’s compositions and reinventions are witty beyond their titles. And these players – happy rovers in the land of Medium Tempo, great ensemble players as well as inspiring soloists — go for themselves rather than copying.
About the repertoire. Listeners will hear the chord structures of SUGAR, MY GAL SAL, I FOUND A NEW BABY, and LADY BE GOOD reinvigorated. An answer key is available at the end of your workbook, but no peeking until you’ve handed in your finished pages.
BIG AL evokes Mr. Capone, who would have tipped Swing Central generously to keep playing his favorite song. Hal explains BATS ON A BRIDGE as “a real Austin phenomenon, and five of the six musicians here have deep roots in Texas’ weirdest city. http://www.batcon.org/index.php/our-work/regions/usa-canada/protect-mega-populations/cab-intro. HI, FISHIES comes from a sweet cross-species story. Ask Jon when you meet him on a gig. REPEATER PENCIL is for Lester, and for this band: artists who honor the innovators by being innovative themselves.
LONG-DISTANCE MAN owes its title to a Pres-and-Chace story recalled by Larry Kart: “[Chace] also told a very ‘Frank’ story about his encounter with Lester Young in 1957 in Pres’s hotel room in (I think) Indianapolis, where Frank was playing at a club and Pres was in town with a non-JATP package tour. The drummer in the band Frank was part of, Buddy Smith, suggested that they pay Pres a visit after the gig, and when they got there, Frank (‘I’m shy,’ he said), hung back while the other guys gathered around Pres. Having noticed this bit of behavior, Pres beckoned Frank to come closer, addressing him softly as ‘long-distance man.’ Probably a meeting of kindred souls.”
SHEIK OF AIRBNB is named thus because Jamey stayed in an AirBnB directly below the studio where the session was recorded. I MUST HAVE THAT MAN is from the band’s live gig at Central Market in Austin on Aug. 28, 2016. Josh Hoag (now with Asleep at the Wheel) filled in for Steve. The band decided that they must share this track with us: a lovely gift. When you are enjoying SUNDAY, don’t be surprised when the track fades out. Do not adjust your set. Hal explains, “Alex Hall’s reliable recording equipment may have been affected by a sun spot, or maybe one of Doyle’s blue notes. But we liked the overall feel so much — particularly Jon’s playing — that we decided to keep as much as possible and fade before the sudden ending.”
Sir John Davies, a Renaissance poet, wrote ORCHESTRA, his conception of a cosmos vibrating in symphonic harmony. If we are very fortunate, the world might vibrate as does Hal Smith’s Swing Central – tender, relaxed, urgent. We have a long way to go, but it’s a noble aspiration.
Here is the link to hear samples, purchase an actual disc, or a download. Hal and SWING CENTRAL will be appearing at the Bix Festival on the first weekend of August in Davenport, Iowa. . . so you can have the mutual pleasure of buying CDs from the band there, also. And here is the place to find out about all things Smith — the swinging ones, of course.
When I looked up “Benny Goodman” and “1938” in preparation for this blogpost, Google quite naturally led me to the Carnegie Hall concert of January 16. But there was wonderful music made later in the year, by a band elevated by Dave Tough, drums, and Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone. Here’s a sample:
The link between that performance and my odd title might not be clear, so here’s the answer key: the title is the convoluted language of eBay, that odd treasure house. And thanks to David J. Weiner, scholar and friend (pal of my childhood days, to be precise) I have the treasure below to share with you. It’s a remarkable photograph — the negative of one — of the 1938 band, dressed up in performance garb, but not on the stand, and not holding instruments. And even better, the normally somber-looking Dave Tough has just heard something funny or said something of the same kind (I think that Lionel made Dave laugh): a visage rarely if ever captured on film.
The bad news is that I did not win this photograph for my very own. The good news is that someone who wanted it even more fervently did . . . to the tune of $105 and some change. I hope (s)he enjoys it tremendously and hangs it in a place of honor. For us, the magic of “Save image” means that we can hitch a ride for free, and moral questions aside, that is a great thing.
Now, I will confess ignorance and say that I cannot identify everyone in the picture, and I solicit the assistance of the readers of JAZZ LIVES who know more than I do — when they are irksome, I silently call them The Corrections Officials, but today I invite informed responses.
Here’s what and whom I know.
Front row left, unknown; Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor saxophone; unknown woman who doesn’t look like Martha Tilton or, for that matter, Gladys Hampton, at all; Lionel Hampton, vibraphone; Dave Tough, drums; unknown (is that Chris Griffin, trumpet?)
Back row left, Vernon Brown, trombone; unknown; unknown; Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophone; unknown; Harry James, trumpet.
Where’s Benny? Where’s Jess Stacy? I assume some of the heroes I couldn’t identify are a second trombone, perhaps Noni Bernardi and Dave Matthews, guitarist Benny Heller. Does anyone recognize the room? The fireplace suggests a hotel rather than a recording studio, but that is a guess, nothing more.
And while you’re scrambling to prove your Benny-knowledge is just the best, here’s a soundtrack to inspire you, the deliciously loose rendition of SUGAR by Benny, Lionel, Teddy Wilson, and Dave:
This post is in honor of David Weiner, Kevin Dorn, and Richard Salvucci. Of course!
I’ve just finished reading the charming autobiography of saxophonist Arthur Rollini (1912- 93), THIRTY YEARS WITH THE BIG BANDS, and it gave me the opportunity to learn about his first recordings — music graciously provided by the estimable AtticusJazzon YouTube. Here are his first two recorded sides (April 12, 1929, in London) — the first a head arrangement of NOBODY’S SWEETHEART, the second the full Fred Elizalde orchestra performing SINGAPORE SORROWS in an arrangement by Fud Livingston. Arthur was seventeen (as was the brilliant trumpeter Norman Payne, heard briefly on the second side); his legendary brother Adrian was then not yet twenty-six.
Of the first side, Arthur writes, “Bobby Davis took the first half of a chorus and I picked him up for the second half. Adrian played brilliantly.” Recalling SINGAPORE SORROWS, he praises Norman Payne, “This little solo in Bix’s tradition still stands up today.” Especially in SWEETHEART, I hear the influence of the contemporaneous Nichols recordings, and beautiful playing throughout.
The small band is Fred Elizalde, arranger / leader; Chelsea Quealey, trumpet; Bobby Davis, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone; Max Farley, tenor saxophone; Adrian Rollini, bass saxophone; Billy Mason, piano; Tiny Stock, brass bass; string bass; Ronnie Gubertini, drums; Al Bowlly, guitar.
The large band is Fred Elizalde; Chelsea Quealey, Norman Payne, Nobby Knight, trumpet; Frank Coughlan, trombone; Bobby Davis, Max Farley, Phil Cardew, Fud Livingston, Arthur Rollini, Adrian Rollini, reeds; George Hurley, Ben Frankel, Len Lees, violin; Billy Mason, Jack Hull, banjo; Al Bowlly, Tiny Stock, Ronnie Gubertini.
Before I was deep into this book, I already valued it because it explained the early death of Adrian. Arthur tells us just how seriously Adrian was accident-prone: “He inadvertently smashed cars, stepped into holes and, although he was not a clumsy person, frequently tripped. It was so bad that insurance companies refused him coverage. Eventually, even his death was the result of an accident. It happened in Florida when he fell down a flight of stairs into a pit of coral rock” (17).
Then, as I read on in this low-keyed, modest book, I encountered compelling anecdotes of Benny Goodman’s oblivious cruelty, Richard Himber’s aberrational behavior (intentionally aimed flatulence as his idea of comedy?!), brief portraits of Bunny Berigan, Dave Tough, Hank D’Amico . . . Paul Whiteman uttering Turk Murphy’s “three little words” to a society matron who had pushed him too far, the eccentric Raymond Scott, and more.
As the Swing Era ends, Arthur and others find comfortable jobs in network radio for a decade or more, but the book slowly records the end of an era in popular music. He doesn’t moan or rant, but “thirty years with the big bands” as a sideman have left him without a place to go. Oh, there are gigs in Long Island clubs, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of, say, Buddy Tate, or the chameleon-like abilities of Al Klink. He and his wife try non-musical businesses, and they have a hard time, with all underscored by her eventually fatal illness. So I felt much sorrow in the final pages of the book, and I was undecided if I would keep my copy or pass it on.
Then I saw this picture (which I have poorly reproduced with my phone) and said, “I’m keeping this!”: the 1938 Benny Goodman softball team with Dave Tough in the front row with a mitt (what kind would it be?) that seems too big for him. The other players, in the back row, are Bud Freeman, Chris Griffin, Harry Goodman, Arthur, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Vernon Brown, Noni Bernardi; in the front, Benny Heller, Pee Wee Monte, Dave, Red Ballard. (And for the Lesterphiles in the audience, Arthur tells of the inside-the-park home run the Pres hit in one game.) You can find a much better copy of this photograph here.
There’s always something to discover, or perhaps re-discover. I know I had heard this recording some time before, but I had forgotten how good it sounds. So I’d like to share the delightful shocks of music perfectly executed — simply, with spirit, to quote Ruby Braff speaking of Hanna Richardson’s singing — as if it were the first time.
Thanks to Tohru Seya, the most generous of collectors, I was reminded of this wonderful recording through Facebook. And thanks to Andy LeMaitre, I can present a vivid-sounding copy. It’s “The Charleston Chasers,” an all-star studio group from June 28, 1929: Phil Napoleon, trumpet; Miff Mole, trombone; Jimmy Dorsey, alto saxophone / clarinet; Arthur Schutt, piano; Joe Tarto, string bass; Dave Tough, drums. And the glorious Eva Taylor singing.
Little touches make this more than a formulaic run-through of a first-class pop tune. For one thing, the way the recording is laid out — its balance between ensemble and solo, between ensemble and simultaneously soloing brass players, between vocal and instrumental, is delightful — and so easily unspectacular that one doesn’t notice all the details going by at first. And at just over three minutes, the performance seems completely fulfilling. It deserves several hearings.
I could muse in print about more related subjects: the continued popularity of this Waller-Razaf classic; the imagined politics of this “mixed band,” if politics there were; the wondrous longevity of Miss Taylor; tempos for dancers (this is a “slow fox trot”); whether this was a Schutt arrangement; the sound that recording engineers achieved in 1929 . . . but I’d rather listen one more time.
I suspect that everyone who reads JAZZ LIVES has heard the magical sounds of Joe Bushkin‘s piano, songs, voice, and trumpet. My birthday celebration for him is a bit early — he was born on November 7, 1916, but I didn’t want to miss the occasion. (There will also be birthday cake in this post — at least a photograph of one.)
He moved on in late 2004, but as the evidence proves, it was merely a transformation, not an exit.
I marvel not only at the spare, poignant introduction but Bushkin’s sensitive support and countermelodies throughout.
“Oh, he was a Dixieland player?” Then there’s this:
and this, Joe’s great melody:
A list of the people who called Joe a friend and colleague would include Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Bunny Berigan, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley, Joe Marsala, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Bobby Hackett,Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Bunny Berigan, Fats Waller, Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton, Zoot Sims, Bill Harris, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Sidney Catlett, Judy Garland, Jimmy Rushing, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Spargo, Red McKenzie, Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Tough, Brad Gowans, Benny Goodman, Joe Rushton, Roy Eldridge, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Ruth Brown, June Christy, Barney Kessel, Pearl Bailey, Gene Krupa, Stuff Smith, Chuck Wayne, Jake Hanna . . .
Here’s a sweet swinging tribute to Irving Berlin in 1951 that segues into Joe’s own homage to Miss Bankhead, PORTRAIT OF TALLULAH:
He’s on Billie’s SUMMERTIME and Bunny’s first I CAN’T GET STARTED; he’s glistening in the big bands of Bunny, Tommy, and Benny. He records with Frank Newton in 1936 and plays with Kenny Davern, Phil Flanigan, Howard Alden, and Jake Hanna here, sixty-one years later:
But I’m not speaking about Joe simply because of longevity and versatility. He had an individual voice — full of energy and wit — and he made everyone else sound better.
A short, perhaps dark interlude. Watching and listening to these performances, a reader might ask, “Why don’t we hear more about this wonderful pianist who is so alive?” It’s a splendid question. In the Thirties, when Joe achieved his first fame, it was as a sideman on Fifty-Second Street and as a big band pianist.
Parallel to Joe, for instance, is Jess Stacy — another irreplaceable talent who is not well celebrated today. The erudite Swing fans knew Bushkin, and record producers — think of John Hammond and Milt Gabler — wanted him on as many record dates as he could make. He was a professional who knew how the music should sound and offered it without melodrama. But I suspect his professionalism made him less dramatic to the people who chronicle jazz. He kept active; his life wasn’t tragic or brief; from all I can tell, he didn’t suffer in public. So he never became mythic or a martyr. Too, the jazz critics then and now tend to celebrate a few stars at a time — so Joe, brilliant and versatile, was standing behind Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum, then and now. He was also entertaining — someone who could act, who could do a television skit with Bing and Fred, someone who could fill a club by making music, even for people who wouldn’t have bought a Commodore 78. Popularity is suspect to some people who write about art.
But if you do as I did, some months back, and play a Bushkin record for a jazz musician who hasn’t heard him before, you might get the following reactions or their cousins: “WHO is that? He can cover the keyboard. And he swings. His time is beautiful, and you wouldn’t mistake him for anyone else.”
One of the memorable moments of my twentieth century is the ten-minute YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY / MOTEN SWING that Joe, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Wayne Wright, and Jo Jones improvised — about four feet in front of me — at the last Eddie Condon’s in 1976. “Memorable” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Consider this: Joe and his marvelous quartet (Buck Clayton, Milt Hinton or Sid Weiss, and Jo Jones) that held down a long-running gig at the Embers in 1951-2:
Something pretty and ruminative — Joe’s version of BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL:
And for me, and I suspect everyone else, the piece de resistance:
For the future: Joe’s son-in-law, the trumpeter / singer / composer Bob Merrill — whom we have to thank for the wire recording (!) of SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY — has organized what will be a stellar concert to celebrate his father-in-law’s centennial. Mark your calendars: May 4, 2017. Jack Kleinsinger’s “Highlights in Jazz” at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. Ted Rosenthal, John Colianni, Eric Comstock, Spike Wilner, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Steve Johns, drums; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Adrian Cunningham, clarinet; Bob Merrill, trumpet; Warren Vache, cornet; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; and of course a surprise guest.
Here’s the promised photograph of a birthday cake. Perculate on THIS:
We must acknowledge the passage of time. Art Tatum, Johnny Guarneri, Hank Jones have become Ancestors. Israel Crosby, Milt Hinton, and Oscar Pettiford have moved to another neighborhood. Sidney Catlett, Dave Tough, and Jo Jones have passed into spirit.
But we cannot mourn those shifts too sorrowfully, because we have Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, string bass; Hal Smith, drums to show us how it’s done in 2016 — Old Time Modern, flawlessly.
They did it (perhaps for the first time ever?) at the 2015 Cleveland Classic Jazz Party, for a short spell. It seemed that by the time I had set up my camera, their set was over.
This year, on September 16, 2016, I was better prepared . . . and caught the whole glorious effusion. I was transported, and the audience was rocking alongside me. You’ll hear immediately that I don’t list the names of the illustrious forbears in vain. This trio has a lightness and grit that I don’t hear very often, and it is good medicine for troubled times and happy ones. They perform two early-twentieth century pop classics, two blues, with nods to Basie, Charlie Christian, and the boogie-woogie masters, as well as Rossano’s Chopin-into-jazz transformations. All with style, grace, and enthusiasm beyond compare. And this is a blissfully natural-sounding group: a fine grand piano (no microphones pushed under its lid); an unamplified string bass; a drum kit of snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, wire brushes to the fore — the old days without anything dusty about them.
SHOULD I? (from Rhapsody to Romp, which could serve as a title for the set):
CHOPIN IN JAZZ:
BASIE BLUES / BOOGIE (exalted dance music):
I have it on good authority that this trio is accepting gigs. Private parties, public concert tours, canonization . . . what you will. They deserve it, and so do we.
It was not a complicated or “innovative” song for its time, and it’s nostalgic rather than ground-breaking now. But it’s lovely, when performed soulfully. I present four sweet variations on the theme. I’ll wait, if you’d like to have some pineapple while you listen.
Bjarne “Liller” Pedersen sings with Papa Bue’s Viking Jazz Band, 1960:
Midge Williams with Miff Mole and his Orchestra:
Edythe Wright with Tommy Dorsey (glorious percussive commentaries from Dave Tough, a modernist interlude from Bud Freeman, and a three-trumpet passage that looks back to Bix and forwards to Bunny, who leads the trumpets, on January 19, 1937):
And the absolute master in March 1937 (this video provided by my friend Austin Casey) — Louis Armstrong accompanied by Andy Iona And His Islanders : Louis Armstrong; Sam Koki (steel guitar); George Archer, Harry Baty (guitar); Andy Iona (ukelele); Joe Nawahi (bass):
This post is for my friend Nick Rossi, who is enjoying the delights of mid-period Louis Armstrong.
At the 2016 Evergreen Jazz Festival, I didn’t see the double rainbows that were so magnificent at the 2014 celebration — but they were musically evident whenever the Kris Tokarski Trio took the stage.
Double rainbow, Evergreen, Colorado, 2014. Photograph by Michael Steinman
The extent of my devotion to this group was evident to anyone who saw me following them around, a happy man, breathing hard because of the altitude and the excitement in equal measure, with video camera and tripod. They played eight sets; I caught seven.
The Trio is Kris Tokarski, piano; Tim Laughlin, clarinet; Hal Smith, drums. It’s a trio that balances deep seriousness and lighter-than-air play. Its music is tangible but translucent: you hear the whole but admire the individual voices twining together. Think of Casals, Thibaud, Cortot. Simeon, James P., and Pops Foster. Benny, Teddy, and Dave Tough. Singing lyricism, floating swing.
And they did the thing I prize most, which is to honor the tradition by being themselves. Heaven knows each of these players knows the clearly-delineated tradition — on records, in performance with other musicians, studying the Masters in person — but they know (to quote Emerson) that imitation is suicide and (to quote Lester) you must go for yourself.
I was telling a friend about a favorite Roddy Doyle novel, THE VAN, about two Irish friends who open a mobile fish-and-chips business, and their proud slogan is “Today’s chips today,” which is what I think of when I hear these performances: nothing warmed up under heat lamps, nothing stale. Music that’s truly alive in now.
Here is the first half of this Trios’s closing set of the Festival (I am working backwards), recorded in a church with wonderful acoustics. Kris chose to make this set a New Orleanian one, with gracious hot results.
JAZZ ME BLUES (for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, then Bix, then the Bobcats and Condon and and and:
SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (no doubt a Morton tune, and I come from the school that places a comma in the middle; it makes better dramatic sense):
THAT DA DA STRAIN, from Mamie Smith onwards to us in 2016:
BOGALUSA STRUT, a nod to the Sam Morgan ensemble:
What wonderful music. You can bet there will be more.
I’ve written at length about my affection and admiration for cornetist Bobby Hackett, someone who illuminated my musical life on recordings and in person and continues to do so. If Hackett is someone you haven’t heard deeply, I offer this as evidence of his quiet soaring majesty — a 1961 recording of LOVE LETTERS with Glenn Osser’s Orchestra — hidden in it are Dave McKenna and Jake Hanna:
The first thing I hear is Hackett’s sound — warm, glowing, controlled but entirely natural-sounding. One doesn’t think of vibrating breath going through metal — just as one doesn’t anatomize birdsong. No, that sound on its own seems both unearthly and completely friendly, evocative. And one does not have to be a cornet player to imagine how difficult it is to “make melody come that alive,” as Hackett said of his greatest inspiration Louis. LOVE LETTERS is itself simple-sounding yet treacherous, a test of a player’s delicacy and ingenuity: how to make all those repeated notes sound as if each one of them had a pulsing life? But Hackett did, and does.
Bobby, listening to Vic Dickenson at Childs Paramount, October 1952
The other side of Hackett’s recording and performing life moved at a faster pace — call it “Dixieland” or other names — often with the best Mainstream musicians, including Eddie Condon, Vic Dickenson, Bob Wilber, Pee Wee Russell, the aforementioned Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg, Cliff Leeman. Here’s a 1962 sample, DARK EYES — from a “theme” album, Condon and friends capitalizing on the success of MIDNIGHT IN MOSCOW:
And the first recording where Hackett was in evidence that I can recall — the 1947 TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS featuring Louis, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko, Sidney Catlett, and AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ — where Hackett takes over for Louis, presumably making his way to the vocal microphone, at :35, and then follows Hucko with his own beautiful solo:
And if you haven’t heard any of the 1937-onwards Dick Robertson sides made for Decca (for the jukebox market, with an identical piano introduction and similar formats) you need to begin your enlightenment here — 24 bars of pearly Hackett in the middle:
This posting isn’t meant to offer all of the Hackett recordings available on YouTube that move me: it would turn impossibly long. Readers can find or discover their own favorites. My purpose is to let you know about a superb book on Bobby and his music.
Although Hackett’s life (1915-1976) was not dramatic in the ways the chronicles of other musicians have been, he has deserved a book for decades. He appeared memorably in profiles by Whitney Balliett and Max Jones, but the first legitimate full-scale study of his musical life has just appeared, and it is a delight. The book, BOBBY HACKETT: HIS LIFE IN MUSIC, by George Hulme and the late Bert Whyatt, is a model of what such books should be, and the only reason it has taken me this length of time to write about it is that every time I open it, I am so suffused with Hackett-love that the book goes down so that I can listen.
Full disclosure: I traded tapes and information with Bert and George, and there is a little Hackett-reminiscence of mine, “Thanks, Bobby Hackett,” at the start of the book. (That is how he signed my record label when I timidly requested his autograph.) So I won’t pretend to objectivity here.
The book looks unobtrusive from the front:
but the cover design is this famous late-Forties photograph:
Its contents are anything but dull. and the 630-plus pages of this book (in a readable typeface, for which we give thanks) are detailed yet unfussy and thoroughly informative. It contains twenty rare photographs and an equal number of record label scans. The book is divided in three parts: after the acknowledgments, there is a fifty-page section of reminiscences — which begins with Hackett in his own words, then continues on to include brief essays by Vic Lewis, Hank O’Neal, Tony Bennett (via Will Friedwald), Warren Vache, Sr., George Hulme, as well as on-the-spot pieces about appearances of Hackett and bands from 1943 on. Hackett was an early recording / stereo equipment enthusiast, and Hulme has written an intriguing essay on that facet of his life.
From there, a truly informative musical biography, organized chronologically, which offers reviews of performances, details of sessions, gigs, and recordings. I find such assemblages of detail fascinating (especially because Hulme and Whyatt offer reasoned research rather than conjecture or repetitions of debatable facts). One small instance: “Eddie Condon offered a concert at Symphony Hall, Boston, MA, on March 21 , with Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, Peanuts Hucko, James P. Johnson and Dave Tough.” Those are words to dream about, and I can hear that band, faintly, as I write this.
Other delights pop up throughout the 135 pages. The remainder of the book — some four hundred pages — is a beautifully clear, well-organized discography, ending with pages of “discographical mysteries,” a bibliography, and two detailed indices. It is a worthy tribute to a musician whose work never disappoints.
Hereis a link to purchase the book — which, because it’s paperbound, is surprisingly affordable. I recommend it with the greatest enthusiasm. And now, I’m going back to listen to more of Bobby: