Tag Archives: Dill Jones

DAN MORGENSTERN ON VIC DICKENSON, BOBBY HACKETT, DILL JONES (March 3, 2017)

Dan Morgenstern and Vic Dickenson are heroes of mine, and I am not alone. That’s Dan, below.

I first heard Vic on records in adolescence and tried to see him as often as possible in New York City, 1970-1981.  Always surprising, always rewarding.

This is the closing segment from a long and glorious afternoon of video interviews — here are the preceding ones:

Since it would pain me that someone had never heard BOTTOM BLUES — Vic, Hot Lips Page, Don Byas, Albert Ammons, Israel Crosby, Sidney Catlett — here’s spiritual uplift for the week:

For those who like my explications (and it’s fine if you don’t) here is the post I wrote in 2008 about BOTTOM BLUES.  No saucy video, but another sound source.  And another opportunity to hear that music.

News flash: yesterday, April 20, Dan and I completed another round of interviews — recollections more than interviews, really — around two hours of video in thematic segments, which will appear on JAZZ LIVES in due time. Because I was spoken to in terms from gentle to harsh about the previous videos being hard to hear, I bought a different microphone and we made sure more light came into the room.  Thus, the April 20 sessions will be loud and clear, which is as it should be.

Blessings on Dan and the men and women he keeps alive for us all.

May your happiness increase!

IF YOU SLOW DOWN, THE PLEASURE LASTS LONGER

slow_signs

I think my title can be applied many ways, but right now we are talking about music.  One of my particular obsessions — and musicians I’ve talked to about this don’t always agree with me — is that tempos gradually increase, and most bands play music far too fast.  I hear I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME as a ballad or a rhythm ballad; LOUISIANA as a sultry drag; MEAN TO ME as a lament rather than a romp.  (In this, I have noble precedent: think of Louis majestically proceeding through THAT’S FOR ME.  And I heard Ruby Braff play I GOT RHYTHM at ballad tempo with unforgettable results.)

Perhaps because of Henry “Red” Allen, many bands play ROSETTA (officially by Earl Hines but the real story is that it was written by Henri Woode) as an uptempo tune.  But there are two delightful exceptions to this.  One took place during a 1971 concert in upstate New York — led by Eddie Condon, a superb band featuring Bernie Privin, Lou McGarity, Kenny Davern, Dill Jones, Jack Lesberg, and Cliff Leeman.  (It’s been issued on Arbors Records under Davern’s name, as A Night With Eddie Condon, so you can hear it yourself.)  The band leaps in to the first tune, AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, and does it with speed and energy.  Condon, I think, calls ROSETTA to follow, and Dill Jones, used to playing the song as an uptempo number, starts it off quickly — and Condon stops him, correcting the tempo with a “boom . . . . boom” to a slow, groovy sway. Instructive indeed.

The other example I can offer is more readily accessible, and it started with everyone in a delicious groove from the first notes.  I was there to witness, delight, and record it — on November 28, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.  The creators are Ray Skjelbred, piano (who set this fine tempo), Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums:

And you might want to know that there is going to be a 2015 San Diego Jazz Fest, Thanksgiving weekend, November 25-29, 2015. I know Thanksgiving seems so far away, but time rushes on.

Find out more here and here. I know that Ray Skjelbred, Marc Caparone, Katie Cavera, Dawn Lambeth, Clint Baker, the Yerba Buena Stompers, Carl Sonny Leyland, Nicki Parrott, Rossano Sportiello, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Miss Ida Blue, Molly Ryan, Dan Levinson, Jonathan Stout, Bob Schulz, Chloe Feoranzo, and many others will be making music there.

May your happiness increase!

IAN “SPIKE” MACKINTOSH by JIM GODBOLT

(This profile first appeared in JAZZ AT RONNIE SCOTT’S (May-June 1996) and was reprinted in JUST JAZZ (October 2004).  The editor of that excellent British traditional jazz magazine, Mike Murtagh, has made it available to me for this blog, knowing of my nearly obsessive interest in Spike.  More information about JUST JAZZ below.)

I don’t know many timber merchants, white, middle-class, educated at a public school, devout believers in private enterprise and private education, with the unshakeable belief that Tories had the divine right to rule, who were officers in the Tank Corps, who played jazz trumpet as near to Louis Armstrong as any white man of any nationality ever achieved.  In fact, I know of only one — Ian “Spike” Mackintosh, who died on January 18, 1996, aged 77.

He was a much loved man, although frequently, his arrival at sessions with trumpet in hand was cause for alarm.  It was no secret that he was very partial to a taste and after over-imbibing his playing was uncomfortably erratic.  At his best he could uplift a session; at his worst, he could reduce it to a shambles.

Short, dapper, with a military moustache and a Hooray Henry accent — a gentleman jazzman, you might say — he was the most unlikely carrier of the Armstrong torch.

Two other Spikes

Spike Mackintosh was born in London, on the 9 February 1918.  He attended the City of London School where he developed an interest in jazz and took up trumpet to emulate hero Louis Armstrong.  He admired the big black bands of the time — Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Chick Webb and Don Redman, and was particularly fond of the recordings by Spike Hughes and his Negro Orchestra.  He adopted the nickname ‘Spike’ as a mark of respect for the Anglo-Irishman who had travelled to New York in 1933 to make those historic recordings with a personnel that included Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter.

Typically, he volunteered for the Army at the outbreak of war, was soon commissioned in the Royal Tank Corps and saw action in France.  Following Dunkirk, he was one of the few survivors of a troopship sunk by enemy action. He was picked up clutching his trumpet.  He was again in action at El Alemein. Commanding one of the tanks assembled to launch an attack that proved one of the most decisive of the war, Lt. Mackintosh received his order to advance, but at that moment was listening to West End Blues by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five from a Forces station, and it was not until Louis had finished his majestic coda that Spike Gave his order.  Hitler — and Field Marshal Montgomery — could wait.  First things first with Spike.  His tank was knocked out by enemy fire, and German soldiers, believing him to be dead, stripped him of every possession, except his trumpet.

Later, in Naples, Spike was one of a team of judges for a dance band competition. One of the bands included Gunner Spike Milligan on trumpet.  Milligan, quite bitterly, recalled the contest in his ‘Where Have All The Bullets Gone?’ one of his very funny war memoirs.  He wrote, ‘The compère was Captain Philip Ridgeway.  He was as informed on dance bands as Mrs. Thatcher is on groin-clutching in the Outer Hebrides.  The other judges were Lt. Eddie Carroll and Lt. ‘Spike’ Mackintosh.  Can you believe it?  We didn’t win.  WE DIDN’T WIN! I wasn’t even mentioned!  Why were the 56 Area Welfare Services persecuting me like this? At the contest I heard shouts of “Give him the prize.”  No-one listened, even though I shouted it very loud.  Never mind, there would be other wars.’

On demobilisation, Spike Mackintosh returned to the family timber business and sat-in on jam sessions, at the height of the Traditionalists v Modernists war.  He had no liking for Be-bop, nor banjo-dominated revivalism.  He found his musical, and drinking company with the mainstreamers, most of them renegade traditionalists.  One of these was clarinetist / cartoonist Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes, leading his Trogdolytes.  They recorded some twenty excellent sides for the Decca label on which Mackintosh proved just how much he had absorbed the essence as well as the phraseology of Armstrong.  On some of these sessions the Trogdolytes were joined by ‘modernists’ Eddie Taylor (drums), ex-Johnny Dankworth Seven, and Lennie Bush (bass), a founder-member of the seminal Club Eleven where British Be-bop started.

Spike was equally authoritative at a private party session in the company of veteran US saxophonist Bud Freeman, the set captured on portable equipment. He was not the least bit in awe of his distinguished session mate.

Wild Bill Davison

But he was not a consistent performer.  On one occasion he moved, uninvited, to sit-in with a band led by the brilliant Welsh pianist, Dill Jones.  Jones, himself no stranger to the juice, perceived Spike’s condition and turned him away. Undeterred, Spike made his contribution from a seat in the audience.  He had his insensitive side.  He was at a party given in honour of the white US trumpeter, Wild Bill Davison, and the tactful Mackintosh said to Davison, “Ah, Wild Bill, my fourth favourite trumpeter.”  “Oh, yes,” growled Davison, “and who are the other three?” Mackintosh replied, “Louis Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Red Allen and Roy Eldridge.  No — you’re my fifth favourite!”

Spike ran a weekly record session at the one-bar Drum and Monkey, Blenheim Terrace, St. John’s Wood, NW London, his fellow enthusiasts including Jack Hutton, ex-editor of the ‘Melody Maker,’ clarinetist Ian Christie, trombonist Mike Pointon, and pianist Stan Greig, dubbing themselves The Codgers. The rest of the clientele, whether they liked it or not, had their ‘quiet drink’ shattered by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Mills’ Blue Rhythm Band and the like, at a mind-blowing volume.  They were also regaled with Spike vocally duplicating Armstrong’s singing and playing.  The irrepressible enthusiast!  The landlord approved.  His takings shot up at those sessions.

When Spike turned up at Ronnie [Scott]’s, the eponymous Mr. Scott was treated to Spike singing (or, rather playing) Louis phrases.  In face, Ronnie used to do an imitation of Spike imitating Louis.  Not many people know that.

Spike continued playing trumpet almost up until his death, along with Wally Fawkes at the King Alfred, Marylebone Lane, West London.  His thirst remained undiminished, and his ‘lip’ often faltered, but on his good nights the stirring resonances of Armstrong licks sang throughout the pub and beyond.

One of the familiar spectacles of these sessions was pianist Greig, with a tense expression on his craggy features, his hands anxiously poised over the keys waiting to plunge them down for the resolving chord(s) to bring a Mackintosh coda spectacular to a triumphant finish, and when it finally happened there was a great sigh of relief from musicians and audience.  Not that all of these finishes came off.  Spike’s cliff-hangers were fraught occasions.

He was indeed a combination of the opposites; the reiterative soak and erratic trumpeter when too deep in his cups; the amusing companion and fine player when he’d paced himself; the High Tory who was one of the chaps.

Shouldn’t that child be in bed?

There are hundreds of stories about Spike, some of them undoubtedly apocryphal.  One of them about him, totally legless, being apprehended by a policeman and solemnly telling the officer, in that public school posh voice of his, that any unsteadiness was due to a war injury, but my favourite tale concerned him at a party given by Wally Fawkes.  Spike, well loaded, fell against a bamboo room divider, bringing down the ornaments with a tremendous clatter.  The noise awakened Joanna Fawkes, then about five, and, in tears, she stood at the top of the stairs leading to the drawing room.  Spike, wiping bits of Italian pottery and trailus acanthus from his person, looked up, and said, “Wally, it’s none of my business, but shouldn’t that child be in bed?”

I can vouch for that tale.  I was there.

He is survived by his wife Diana, and three sons, Nick, Robert and Cameron, the latter a famous theatrical impresario.

=======================================================

Spike’s glorious sound:

and

Of course, if any UK collector or Bud Freeman fancier can unearth a copy of that private party tape, I know I would be interested in hearing it.  Spike must have been captured live somewhere, sometime, but so far no holy relics have emerged.

About JUST JAZZ: it’s a well-written, candid magazine devoted to traditional jazz in all its forms.  The editor is Mike Murtagh, and the offices are at 29 Burrage Place, Woolwich, London SE18 7BG.  I haven’t found an official website, but you can contact Mike at justjazzmagazine@btinternet.com. to inquire about subscription rates.

May your happiness increase!

PEPPER ADAMS’ JOY ROAD: AN ANNOTATED DISCOGRAPHY by GARY CARNER

I had not known much about baritone saxophonist / composer Pepper Adams before a friend lent me a copy of Gary Carner’s book on him (now in paperback from Scarecrow Press) but I commend both Pepper and the book to you.

JOY ROAD 2

First, some music — an excerpt from an uptempo STRAIGHT, NO CHASER with Clark Terry, recorded in 1978:

The book is well-researched, rather than opinion.  Not only did its author speak with Pepper and JOY ROAD is introduced by the eminent Dan Morgenstern, but no other book I know has enthusiastic blurbs from both Phil Woods (alto) and Philip Levine (poetry).

JOY ROAD is an annotated discography.  To those not deeply involved in the music, such a work may seem a collection of marginally-useful pieces of arcane information, suitable only to those strange creatures, “record collectors,” concerned with whether that Charlie Parker solo recorded on a cardboard disc was issued on a Bolivian compact disc. I am exaggerating, but not that much.

But as an annotated bibliography would tell us a great deal about the artistic life of a writer and her relations with the marketplace, an annotated listing of a musician’s recordings would map an artistic journey. The book does not purport to be a biography — Carner is working on one now and hopes it will be finished by Adams’ centennial — but it is full of information about Adams’ life and music from 1947 to his death in 1986.  And that information is more than listings of songs, original compositions, recording data, issued or unissued performances. What makes Carner’s book more than a useful reference work is the interviews he conducted with Pepper and the people who knew and worked with him.

When I received a copy of JOY ROAD, I opened it at random, out of curiosity. I had not been terribly involved in Adams’ work — coming from a long immersion in Harry Carney and Ernie Caceres, among others.  But I stood in the middle of the living room, reading eagerly for a half hour, before remembering that a) I could sit down, and b) other tasks had to be taken care of.  If a book can “stop me in my tracks,” it is one I will read, keep, and value.

Many jazz musicians, so eloquent as creators, grow reticent when asked to speak about their art and their colleagues.  Much of what is published as treasured narrative is frankly insubstantial: “Oh, she liked her drink after the set was through!” “Did I ever tell you the story of X at the diner and what he said to the waiter?” “Y couldn’t stand Z, and always called Z names, but when they got on the stand, they blew!” If we didn’t feel that our heroes were so precious that any scrap of anecdotage, no matter how thin, brought us a step closer, no one would retell such stories. But JOY ROAD is not a collection of shards and detritus important only because they connect with someone we value. Carner’s musicians have been unsually articulate, and their stories have shape and heft.

We read about a bizarre and satisfying gig (even televised) where Pepper, David Amram, and Elvin Jones played at a Horn and Hardart automat in midtown Manhattan; Hank Jones tells Carner, “I never felt I was up to his standards, to tell you the truth.  I was reaching to play along with him”; we learn of Adams’ early work with Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Lionel Hampton, Woody Herman; encounters with Alfred Lion, Joihn Hammond, and Rudy Van Gelder; concert performances with Mingus and Monk; encounters with younger European musicians and elders of the tribe including Fess Williams, Cozy Cole, Joe Wilder, Benny Carter, Milt Hinton; the birth and development of the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Orchestra; an informal session in Eugene H. Smith’s loft with Adams playing piano to Zoot Sims’ tenor; recordings with Donald Byrd, Oliver Nelson, Duke Pearson, Blue Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Joshua Breakstone, and a hundred other notables.

Equally intriguing are glimpses into the life of a valued New York session player, for Adams was understandably in-demand for pop recordings, often as an uncredited member of the ensemble, with Aretha Franklin, Dakota Staton, Sonny and Cher, The Cowsills, The Nice, The Rascals, Brook Benton, Jon Lucien, Esther Phillips, film soundtracks, industrial films, and more.

Ultimately, JOY ROAD did a number of things for me, even though my first reading of this 550-plus page book was of necessity quick rather than deep. I found recordings I’d known nothing about — Carner has had access to Adams’ personal appointment book, and has spoken with more than a hundred musicians. But more than that, I have a sense of Adams as an individual — reading Dostoevsky, listening to Berg, encouraging younger musicians, fierce when he felt unjustly treated — and I look forward to the biography, which Carner is tentatively calling In Love with Night.

I will close with my single Pepper Adams sighting. In 1972, several friends and I followed Ruby Braff to gigs.  Although Ruby was unpredictable and unreasonably given to rage, he was always pleasant to us and allowed us to tape-record him. On July 19 of that year, my friend Stu and I came to the Half Note to record Ruby with the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, bassist George Mraz (then working with Pepper in the Thad Jones – Mel Lewis ensemble, and Dottie Dodgion on drums.  About two -thirds through the evening, where the music had been very sweet, with Ruby’s characteristic leaps through the repertoire of Louis, Duke, and Billie, a tall man ascended the stand with a baritone saxophone, was greeted warmly by the players, and the quintet launched into an extended blues in Ab.  I remember Dottie Dodgion being particularly enthusiastic about the unnamed musician’s playing, who packed his horn and went off into the warm Greenwich Village night.  Who was that unmasked man?  The subject of Carner’s book, and yes, the tape exists, although not in my possession.

To learn more about Adams, JOY ROAD, and Carner, visit his Pepper Adams website and his Pepper Adams blog, THE MASTER.

May your happiness increase!

RHYTHM, THEN BIRDSONG: MICHAEL BURGEVIN (1936-2014)

The heroes and the people we cherish forever don’t always have their names written in huge capital letters. But we know who they are.

One of them was the drummer, artist, raconteur, dear friend and gracious man Michael Burgevin. We lost him — abruptly, of a sudden heart attack — on June 17, 2014.  If you look in Tom Lord’s discography, the listing of official recordings MB (how he signed his emails — a man with things to do!) made is brief, but that is in no way a measure of his effect, his swing, his sweet presence.

MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad

MB and Cornelius, 2001, by Penny Haddad

I had met Mike in 1973, in New York City, and although we were out of touch for about twenty years, he was always in my thoughts as someone I was grateful to.

Because I miss him and admire him — first as a musician, then as a generous friend, then as a thinker who knows and feels the truth — what follows below is the leisurely narrative of my friend MB. The dates are fuzzy, my feelings sharply realized.

When I met him in 1973, I was a college student, deeply involved in jazz, without much money to spend on it. But I read in The New Yorker that there was a little bar / restaurant on East 34th Street, Brew’s, that featured live hot jazz.

You can read more about Brew’s here — on a blog called LOST CITY — with MB’s comments.

I read the names of Max Kaminsky and Jack Fine. I didn’t know about Jimmy Andrews, piano, and Mike Burgevin, drums. But when I saw a listing that advertised “trumpeter Joe Thomas,” I began to pay attention.

Joe Thomas remains one of the great subtle players in the swing idiom, recording with Benny Carter, Ed Hall, Don Byas, Sidney Catlett, Art Tatum, Claude Hopkins, and many other luminaries: he was one of Harry Lim’s favorite players and gets a good deal of exposure on Keynote Records.

I worried that my trip to Brew’s would turn out to be a jazz mirage; how could one of my heroes be playing in a club just ten minutes from Penn Station?  “Joe Thomas” is a very plain name, but I got myself out of my suburban nest, brought my cassette recorder (of course) and came to Brew’s. When I came in the door, the sounds told me I was in the right place.  Not only was Joe on the stand, instantly recognizable, but he had Rudy Powell and Herb Hall with him; Jimmy Andrews was striding sweetly and quietly.

The man behind the drums was tall, elegantly dressed.  His hairline receding, he looked a little like a youthful Bing Crosby without his hat on.  And he sounded as if he’d gone to the magic well of Swing: without copying them, I heard evocations of Dave Tough and George Wettling, of Sidney Catlett and Zutty Singleton: a light, swinging, effortless beat.  Quietly intent but restrained, with not too much flash and self-dramatization.  He didn’t play anything that would have been out of place on a Commodore 78 but it seemed fresh, not a collection of learned gestures and responses.  I can hear his hi-hat and rimshots as I write this, his brushes on the snare drum.  He was leading the band, but he let the men on the stand direct traffic: in retrospect, he was a true Condonite, letting the music blossom as it would.

I was shy then, but I got my courage together and spoke to him — I must have seemed an unusual apparition, a college student breathless with enthusiasm about swing drumming and especially about Sidney Catlett.  I had just purchased the three records (from England) of the complete 1944 Metropolitan Opera House Jam Session, and I asked Mr. Burgevin if he had them or would like a tape of that concert.  He hadn’t known of this music (like many musicians, he loved hearing new things but wasn’t an obsessive collector himself). And so we arranged something: perhaps I asked him for a copy of the records he had made with Doc Cheatham.

That night, Joe Thomas took a solo on a set-ending CRAZY RHYTHM, and although Joe is no longer with us, and the performance is now forty years away, I can hum the beginning of his solo, upon request.  To say the music I heard that night made an impression is putting it mildly.

Memory is treacherous, but what I remember next is being invited to the apartment he and his wife Patty  — Patricia Doyle, if we are being formal — shared on East 33rd Street in an apartment building called The Byron. At some point MB persuaded me to stop calling him “Mr. Burgevin,” and I was made welcome. And often. I had been brought up to be polite, but I blush to think of how many meals I ate in their apartment, how long I stayed, how much time I spent there.

Often MB was at work on a piece of commercial art in his little studio, wedged in a corner: I played the records he had or the ones I had just bought for him. Louis, Bing, Condon, stride piano, Billie, Bud Freeman and his Chicagoans, Dave Tough, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey. We had much to talk about, and I learned to hear more under his gentle tutelage. We didn’t speak of anything deep: I don’t think I knew how at that time, skating over the surface of my life, moving from one small triumph or failure to the next. But we admired J. Fred Coots’ YOU WENT TO MY HEAD and other beauties.

(I cringe now to think that MB and Patty might have liked to be left in peace a little more.  I wonder how many meals were stretched to include a hungry guest.  When, in this century, I apologized to MB  and Patty for my late-adolescent oblivious gaucheries, they said they remembered nothing of the sort. I take this as a great kindness.)

Chicken cacciatore, Dave Tough, a feisty little terrier named Rex, are all inextricably combined in my mind. I can see that rectangular apartment now.  MB lent me records and books, tapes and other music-related treasures, and in general made his house mine, open-handedly and open-heartedly.

In ways I didn’t verbalize then, I felt his kindness, although I didn’t at the time understand how powerfully protective the umbrella was. It was all subtle, never dramatic. One thing MB encouraged me to do was to bring recording equipment along to gigs he was playing. And (again in this century) he told me this story that I had not been aware of while it was happening. One night at Brew’s, the musicians were MB, the Welsh pianist Dill Jones, and Kenny Davern, then alternating between clarinet and soprano saxophone.  Blithely, I came in, said hello to MB, and began setting up my reel-to-reel recorder. Davern turned to MB and said — out of my hearing, but referring to me, “WHAT is THAT?” and MB told Kenny to calm down, that I was a friend, not to worry about me.  As a result, Kenny, with some polite irascibility, showed me where to set up my microphone for better results. Now I know that he would have just as energetically told me where the microphone could be placed, but for MB’s quiet willingness to protect his young friend, myself.

In the next two years, I was able to hear Joe Thomas, Doc Cheatham, Al Hall, Al Casey, Vic Dickenson (at length), Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Wayne Wright, Red Richards, Dick Wellstood, Susannah McCorkle, Norman Simmons, and a dozen others at close range. MB shared his tape library with me, so I heard him as a glowing, uplifting presence with Herman Autrey, Bobby Gordon, Benny Morton, Bobby Hackett, and others. He delighted especially in the sounds of Fats Waller and his Rhythm, and took every advantage possible to get together with Jimmy Andrews, Al Casey, Herman Autrey, and Rudy Powell to recapture some of that jovial spirit.

MB told stories of spending time with Vic Dickenson, of how Bobby Hackett insisted he play sticks, not brushes, behind him, of meeting Pee Wee Russell late in the latter’s life, and a favorite anecdote of an early encounter with Cliff Leeman at Condon’s, in the eraly Fifties, when MB was on leave from the Merchant Marine (I think): he had come into Condon’s and was listening to the band, which then took a break. Leeman stepped down from the drums and MB asked politely if he could sit in with the intermission players — Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone and Ralph Sutton, piano.  Leeman, always tart, said to MB, “Whaddaya want to do with the drums? Fuck ’em all up?” but he let MB play.

Here is a photograph of Michael Burgevin, young, jamming on board the USS IOWA, circa 1955-7:

MIKE 1955-57 USS IOWA

My friendly contact stopped abruptly when MB had a heart attack. I was terrified of going to a hospital to visit anyone (I have said earlier in the piece that I was young, perhaps far too young). Before I could muster the maturity to visit him, he and Patty seemed, as if in a snap of the fingers, to flee the city for points unknown upstate.  I wondered about him in those years, heard his music, and thought of him with love — but we had drifted apart.

We reconnected around 1997, and I am sure I can’t take credit for it, for I felt guilty for my emotional lapses.  I think that Vic Diekenson drew us together once again, through the research Manfred Selchow was doing for his book, and MB got in touch with me when he planned to come down to New York City to play on a Monday night with the Grove Street Stompers at Arthur’s Tavern. Once before, he had played with that group. I don’t know who else was in the band, but I recorded a version of HINDUSTAN that had MB stretching out for a long solo in the manner of STEAK FACE.

I didn’t have sufficient opportunities to video-capture MB at play in this century, although there are examples of him on YouTube with his concert presentation of three men at drumsets “drumatiCymbalism” — but here is a 2009 video he made to promote his concerts and his paintings.  It seems odd to hear him gently trying to get gigs, but it is a good all-around picture of Michael Burgevin, his sound (solo and in an ensemble with Warren Vache, Dan Block, Harry Allen, Howard Alden, and others) and it gives glimpses of his paintings:

A few years ago, MB seriously mastered the computer and moved from writing letters to writing emails, and we stayed in contact, sometimes several times a week, that way. I sent him music and jazz arcana, and we had deep philosophical conversations — the ones I had not been ready for in the early Seventies. I hadn’t known that he had become a Jehovah’s Witness (as had Trummy Young and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Joe Thomas and Babe Matthews) but our discussions were fervent, even when we were gently disagreeing about our views of the world. Recently he burst forth of Facebook, and had a delighted time sharing photographs of his friends from the old days.

If Ricky Riccardi posted some new Louis / Sidney Catlett on his blog, I forwarded it to MB, and we shared our joy and excitement often. A few years ago, he came down to New York City to meet the Beloved, and he and our mutual friend Romy Ashby had lunch together.  MB was beautifully dressed and as always sweetly gallant.

It was foolish of me to think we would always have our email conversations, or another meeting in person, but we never want the people we love to move to another neighborhood of existence. I know he read JAZZ LIVES and delighted in the videos and photographs of the men and women we both revered. That thought gave and continues to give me pleasure.

He wrote a little self-portrait more than a decade ago:
As a child was riveted by marching band drums in firemen’s parades on Long Island. Born with rhythm! Given a pair of drumsticks at age seven and a 1920’s style trap set at age 15 and began his professional career playing weekends at Stanbrook Resort in Dutchess Co. (NYS) Played with bands in high school and at Bard College. Strongly influenced by his uncle George Adams’ jazz collection of 78’s (rpm records). Studied drums in Pine Plains High School (1950’s) and later under Richard Horowitz percussionist with the Metropolitan Opera Symphony Orchestra (1970’s). Studied (and uses) many of the early African tribal rhythms- Dinka, Bini, Malinke, Bakwiri, Watusi. About 10 years away from music working as a freelance commercial artist and graphic designer. Returned to drumming in 1968. Spent many nights sitting in at famed Jazz clubs Jimmy Ryan’s on 57th Street and Eddie Condon’s 55th St. There met legends Zutty Singleton, Freddie Moore, and Morey Feld often subbing for them. Lived in Manhattan. Worked steadily at Ryan’s with Max Kaminsky’s band. Also became friends with George Wettling, Cliff Leeman and Jo Jones. Worked full time with almost all the titans of small band jazz during this period of time (late 1960’s through 1980’s) including Roy Eldridge, “Wild Bill” Davison, “Doc” Cheatham, Bobby Hackett, Claude Hopkins, Bobby Gordon, Marian and Jimmy McPartland. Toured Canada & USA with Davison’s Jazz Giants. Made Bainbridge, NY, situated on the beautiful Susquehanna River, a permanent residence in the 1990’s. Traveled to NYC for many engagements. Connected with Al Hamme, professor of Jazz Studies at SUNY Binghamton, playing several concerts there. Since 2001 has been producing Jazz concerts in the 100-year-old, Historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge, featuring world-class jazz personalities: Kenny Davern, Warren Vaché, Peter Ecklund, James Chirillo, Joe Cohn, Howard Alden, Harry Allen, Joel Forbes, Phil Flanigan, Dan Block and many, many others.

Why do I write so much about this man?

Michael Burgevin seems to me to be the embodiment of kind generosity. Near me, as I write, I have a little 1933 autograph book full of inscriptions of jazz musicians that he bought and gave to me. Invaluable, like its owner.

But MB’s giving was more than the passing on of objects: he gave of himself so freely, whether he was behind the drum set or just sharing ideas and feelings. Reading these words, I hope his warmth and gentle nature comes through, his enthusiasm for Nature and for human nature, for the deep rhythms of the world and the way a good jazz ensemble could make us feel even more that life was the greatest privilege imaginable. A deeply spiritual man, he preached the most sustaining gospel without saying a word.

I have a story I can only call mystical to share. Yesterday, on the morning of the 17th, I was writing a blogpost — which you can read here. I had indulged myself in the techno-primitive activity of video-recording a spinning record so that I could share the sounds on JAZZ LIVES.  It was a slow blues featuring, among others, Joe Thomas and Pee Wee Russell, two of MB’s and my heroes. Through the open window, the softer passages had an oddly delightful counterpoint of birdsong, something you can hear on my video. I was not thinking about MB while I was videoing — I was holding my breath, listening to music and birdsong mixed — but now I think that strange unearthly yet everyday combination may have been some part of MB’s leaving this earthly realm — music from the hearts of men now no longer with us overlaid by the songs of the birds, conversing joyously.

Patty, Michael’s wife, tells me that the funeral will be Friday, June 20, at the C.H. Landers Funeral Home in Sidney, New York (the place name is appropriate for those who understand): the visitation at noon, the service at 1 PM. Landers is on 21 Main Street, Sidney, New York 13838. (607) 563-3545.

Adieu for now, Michael Burgevin. Kind friend, lovely generous man, beautiful musician.  Born January 10, 1936. Made the transition June 17, 2014.

It seems odd to close this remembrance in the usual way — but someone like MB increases my happiness, even in sadness, that I will continue as I always have.  May you, too, have people like him in your life, and — more importantly — may you be one of the loving Elders to others, and older brother or sister or friend who shelters someone who might not, at the time, even recognize the love he or she is being shown.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T BE CRUEL

Recently the French jazz critic and composer Andre Hodeir died.  The elegies I read made much of his severity, his intolerance for anything that he felt was inferior.  This discussion took me back to his famous essay about the singular trombonist Dicky Wells.  In his first book, JAZZ: ITS EVOLUTION AND ESSENCE, Hodeir praised the “romantic imagination” Wells showed in his early solos; in a later collection, TOWARDS JAZZ, Hodeir wrote the disillusioned essay, “Why Do They Age So Badly?” — which emerged from his disappointment in hearing an older Wells in the flesh in 1952.

My citations come from memory, but what sticks in my mind is the ferocity of Hodeir’s critical rancor.  Candor and critical objectivity in his hands became punitive.  For one example, when the young Hodeir wrote about the recordings of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, he praised Louis, but scorned the vocal efforts of Mae Alix as “among the ugliest and most grotesque things ever recorded.”  I am paraphrasing, but you get the idea.  Confronted with an aging Dicky Wells, Hodeir seemed furious at what he perceived as a disappointingly diminished musician.

Had he written, “Wells no longer sounds the way he did in 1937, and I am sorry that this is no longer possible,” I would not complain.  But his pique was so strong that it was as if he felt Wells no longer had a reason to play in public.  There was little human awareness of the ways a creative style might change over the decades, and no compassion for the great physical effort it takes to play the trombone or sing.  No, Hodeir was personally disappointed that Wells had not remained the same artist he was in 1937 — as if his favorite restaurant no longer cooked his dinner in the manner he was accustomed.

Of course we are entitled to our reactions — our subjectivity tethered to some vestiges of objective “evidence.”  But I find the harshness with which some of these “critical assessments” are delivered to spring from cruelty, not enlightenment.  “Let’s give that one no stars, and let’s click on DISLIKE while we’re at it.”  (There is something to say about the “star system” in art — where viewers and listeners have “heroes” and reject others as inept pretenders . . . but that’s another essay entirely.)

Perhaps thirty-five years ago, when I encountered the fine jazz pianist Dill Jones on a gig, he was nearly tearful when recalling the review given him by the Toronto “jazz critic” Patrick Scott.  Scott had written that Dill’s fingers should have been broken if they weren’t already.  That makes for “good journalism,” if one savors cruelty, but it still seems inhuman some thirty-five years later.

“I like the way X plays” is a statement hard to find fault with.  “X is a better player than Y” is more suspect.  By what standards?  And this variety of criticism is especially prevalent online.  A good many musical commentators — and I don’t know their basis of musical knowledge or experience — share what’s on their minds in very bold strokes.  “A’s performance is mediocre.”  “B’s band played that song too fast.”  “X was a bad player.”

Some of this criticism I will take as valid (if amusing): Sidney Bechet had a right to tell an eager Yank Lawson, “Young man, you played that song too fucking fast,” after Yank had stomped off an impetuous tempo for JAZZ ME BLUES.

But I would urge all the jazz critics — professional and avocational — to be kinder in their public judgments.  We ought to be supremely grateful for the music that we hear and see.  Were we to say, “This isn’t the tempo I prefer,” or “I like the way A sings this,” our objectivity won’t be compromised.  And generosity is always a good thing.

If we allow others to be imperfect, who knows?  They might extend us the same courtesy.

DRUMATIC CYMBALISM is COMING!

Artist Alex Craver, Mike Burgevin, and Sadiq Abdu Shahid

“DRUMATIC CYMBALISM” CONCERT SERIES

May – October 2011, Stamford, New York

Two of Central New York’s top kit drummers will perform six concerts of  spell-binding rhythms and creative drumming. The focus will be The American Drum Kit from the 1930’s until the present day.

Professional drumming is a way of life for these seasoned performers “Mike” Burgevin and Sadiq Abdu Shahid (formerly Archie Taylor, Jr.).

“Sadiq,”who resides with his family on their farm in Masonville, New York, was born and raised in the Midwest and studied with Cleveland Symphony Orchestra percussionist Charles Wilcoxon.  He performed and recorded with many famous avant-garde jazzmen: Pharaoh Sanders, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor (among others) and was a resident drummer for Motown Records in Detroit, there recording many albums backing R&B groups.

His father, Archie Taylor, Sr., was also a famous drummer accompanying Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, and the one and only Billie Holiday.

Michael “Mike” Burgevin, now a resident of Bainbridge, New York, began drumming professionally at age 15.  From the mid 1960’s through the 1980’s he worked regularly at famous NYC jazz clubs, Jimmy Ryan’s, Sweet Basil, Eddie Condon’s, and Brew’s side by side with many of the great jazz “Swing” players (now legends) Max Kaminsky, “Doc” Cheatham, Jimmy and Marian McPartland, Roy Eldridge, Wild Bill Davison, Warren Vaché and many, many others.

He has had the honor and privilege of playing with Joe Thomas, Herman Autrey, Vic Dickenson, Bobby Hackett, Benny Morton, Bobby Gordon, Rudy Powell, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Al Casey, and many others.  It was my privilege to see him swing the band every time he started a gentle beat with his brushes or tapped his closed hi-hat.

Mike studied with Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra percussionist Richard Horowitz.  He also performed in several of the “Journey in Jazz” concerts with saxophonist Al Hamme in Binghamton University’s Anderson Center as well as producing many jazz concerts in the historic Town Hall Theatre in Bainbridge between 2001 and 2007.

No two DRUMNASTIC CYMBALISM concerts are ever the same!

Drumming becomes a musical art form in the hands of these outstanding percussionists.  A show may begin with “Curious Curlicues & Nimble Noodles” then move to whisper-quiet ruffs and other rudiments… then pass through sonorous tonalities before roaring into layered polyrhythmic styles of Jazz, and Free Form drumming.  Sadiq and Mike totally explore the drum set with all its possibilities.  Their concerts open with a brief discourse on the history and development of the drum and the evolution of various styles of drumming.

A Master Creative Drum Workshop will take place on July 16th from 3:00 to 5:00 at The Gallery East, 71 Main Street, Stamford, NY.  Workshop fee is $25. Students should bring sticks, a practice pad or snare drum and stand.

Questions?  Call The Gallery in Stamford at 607 652 4030.

Before the concerts: Come early and enjoy dining in one of Stamford’s fine restaurants.  Then visit artist Timothy Touhey’s two galleries, both located on Main Street (Route 23).

You will be uplifted by the art and music!

So mark your calendar: May 21st / June 18th / July16th / August 21st / Sept.17th / Oct.15th — Performances begin at 7:00. Tickets at the door are $10.00 / $8.00 in advance.

For information in advance call:   THE GALLERY EAST 71 MAIN ST. STAMFORD, NY @ 607 652 4030.   On the day of the concert please call 607 353 2492.   Tour The Gallery at www.touhey.com.

JOE LICARI / MARK SHANE: SWEET MUSIC

Clarinetist Joe Licari has been a fixture on the New York scene for a good long time now and he shows no signs of slowing down or of losing his light touch.  Tangible proof of this can be heard on his latest compact disc (recorded in December 2010), ALL MY LIFE — a series of duets with the irreplaceable Mark Shane on piano.

The standard repertoire — ALL MY LIFE, BODY AND SOUL, CHINA BOY, I MUST HAVE THAT MAN, and MOONGLOW — would suggest that this is very much in the mood and style of the greatest early Goodman small groups.  And indeed it is easy to close your eyes and to think that the King of Swing and Teddy Wilson have come back for a visit to this century.  The light touch, the easy, flowing melodies, the respect for the composers’ intentions, the delicate yet convincing swing are all there.  The longest track is five minutes and it seems too short.  But there’s more here than just another “let’s pretend to be Benny and Teddy” project.  This CD is more than Goodman Lite or Tofu-based Swing Era, especially when we move into Django (DJANGO’S CASTLE), a jointly-composed blues that begins with a minor theme that reminds me of KING OF THE ZULUS, a Bob Wilber original and two of Joe’s own compositions — all of the three with simple, haunting melodic lines.

Listened to closely, Licari brings much more than the usual pastiche of Goodmania to his playing.  In fact, his woody lower register suggests those two less-heralded masters, Joe Marsala and Rod Cless.  And where other clarinetists need to dazzle (or occasionally pummel) us with their facility, running up and down the keys, this is not Licari’s way.  He is not overcautious or tentative — he knows where he’s going at every turn of phrase — but he is sparing with his notes and he uses them to construct logical, sweetly balanced phrases that fit in to one another to create fulfilling solos, never getting too far from the melody but enlivening it nonetheless.

And Shane remains a wonder.  Yes, his style owes a great deal to Teddy and Fats Waller and Earl Hines . . . but it’s clear that he has also listened hard to the masters Tommy Flanagan and Hank Jones.  This is particularly evident in his unaccompanied introductions, each a four or eight-bar jewel, a little resonant composition that would be complete and satisfying in itself.  He never rushes, never drags, never overacts . . . he is the very model of a delicious, fully formed composer-at-the keyboard.  And Joe and Mark make a wonderful team: no one steps on the other one’s lines.  The CD has a lovely homelike natural sound, and it is thoroughly heart-warming, rather like having the good fortune to hear Joe and Mark in your living room.  It is available at http://www.joelicari.com., and I think every house should have not one but several copies.

On that same site, you can find a whole big handful of compact discs Joe has recorded with a wide variety of musicians, and his own book — his delightfully down-to-earth memoir, THE INVISIBLE CLARINETIST.  Most memoirs are exercises in self-absorption and self-praise or there’s some wrenching trauma at the center.  Not so for Mr. Licari — his book is a series of cheerful tales of encounters with Benny Goodman (on record), Bob Wilber, Wild Bill Davison, Dill Jones, Kenny Davern, Larry Weiss, Bernie Privin, Cliff Leeman, and many more.  It’s very entertaining because it’s so unaffected — rather like having Joe come over to your house and tell you stories.  A delightful experience — and it’s also available on Joe’s website.

Joe Licari is not invisible: he’s alive and well and playing beautifully.

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BUNK and WIGGS

 Names to conjure with — the classic monickers of two New Orleans brass giants, Willie “Bunk” Johnson (1879 or 1889-1949) and John Wigginton Hyman (1899-1977).  Bunk is widely-known; Wiggs should be.   

Two new compact discs present these men in very congenial settings. 

Let’s take “Johnny Wiggs” first.  Wiggs is yet another living proof that there are second and third acts in American lives: he recorded in 1927 and then not again for two decades (in the meantime, he had a successful career as a teacher and home-builder); he continued playing until his death.  Wiggs also fascinates me because of his deep lyrical strain: his early influence was Joe Oliver, but he fell under the spell of Bix Beiderbecke and (to my ears) he often sounds the way I imagine an elder Bix would have sounded: melancholy, introspective, singing softly to himself.

Wiggs has often been represented on record as the lead horn in a traditional New Orleans ensemble, and these settings haven’t always done him justice, because the energetic bandsmen have sometimes created a raucous good-time environment.  Best of all are his chamber sessions with only clarinetist Raymond Burke (another poetic soul), guitar (often Dr. Edmond Souchon), and bass — recorded on the Paramount label in the Fifties and I think impossible to find. 

But the Wiggs sessions collected on a new CD show his deep feeling and wide range.  Some of this music was issued on an lp — also called CONGO SQUARE — but this CD issue adds previously unissued material.  Here’s one of the original 78s:

 The music on the CD covers the years 1948-73, and was primarily recorded in New Orleans — one particularly exuberant small group includes Wiggs, clarinetist Bujie Centobie, tenorist Eddie Miller (their limpid sounds intertwining), and the Stacy-Bix pianist Armand Hug.  But to me the most interesting combination was suggested by the ever-inventive Hank O’Neal, who set up a date for Wiggs to record four of his own compositions . . . in New York, with a “New York” quartet of Dill Jones (from Wales), Cliff Leeman (from New England), and Maxine Sullivan (from Baltimore).  The results are special, making me wish that Wiggs had been transported out of his native element more often.  He’s worth discovering or rediscovering.

Bunk Johnson is a different case entirely: someone who has his own mythology, a figure with such a clearly defined identity that there were pro-and-anti Bunk forces at work.  I first heard Bunk on his earliest recordings, and was unimpressed: he seemed a rudimentary player doing his best but not always being able to break free from the near-amateur musicians surrounding him. 

It was only later when I heard his “Last Testament” recordings for Columbia in 1947 that I could hear what he was doing and revel in his beautiful melodic simplicity, the emotional directness of his lines, the delicacy of his embellishments. 

But it was clear to me (although some disagree) that Bunk was a more sophisticated musician than the contexts he was often placed in.  Put next to the vehemently competitive Sidney Bechet in Boston, he often held his own but sometimes sounded as if he had been dropped into the Golden Gloves. 

In front of a sympathetic, swinging band, he blossomed and relaxed.  He had just that setting in the recordings now issued on an American Music CD — a 1947 concert with cornetist Doc Evans’s rocking little band and the perfect support of pianist Don Ewell.

Ewell hasn’t been celebrated enough — certainly not sufficiently in his lifetime.  But he was an elegantly swinging pianist, his subtle approach encompassing Jelly Roll Morton’s ruffles and flourishes and the later swing of Hines, Stacy, Fats, and James P. Johnson.  It says a good deal about Ewell that he seemed to be the favorite pianist of both Jack Teagarden and Frank Chace.  And Bunk Johnson.  A year before this concert, Bunk, Ewell, and drummer Alphonso Steele had recorded as a trio in New York for American Music — playing pop tunes and old favorites: WHEN THE MOON COMES OVER THE MOUNTAIN, I’LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN, IN THE GLOAMING, OH, YOU BEAUTIFUL DOLL, JA-DA, YOU’VE GOT TO SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT, POOR BUTTERFLY, and WHERE THE RIVER SHANNON FLOWS. 

At the Minneapolis concert, there are vibrant full-band versions of traditional standards such as HIGH SOCIETY, THE SHEIK OF ARABY, and SISTER KATE, but there are also wonderful examples of the Bunk-Ewell partnership.  (One elaborately wayward performance after hours, where Bunk is trying to teach Ewell the harmonies to HEARTACHES, both of them having imbibed more than they should, has been preserved in the Jazzology book on Bunk: SONG OF THE WANDERER, by Barry Martyn and Mike Hazeldine, as is their IN THE GLOAMING.)

But this concert presents what is, to me, the clearest representation of what Bunk could do — out of the recording studio, having a wonderful time, inspiring and being inspired by a first-rate group. 

 And now for some compelling musical evidence (music also available from the George H. Buck family of labels):

Bunk, Ewell, and Alphonso Steele in New York City, 1946:

Wiggs with the legendary guitarist Snoozer Quinn in 1948:

To order the Bunk / Ewell / Evans CD, click here:

 http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=AMCD-129

To order the Wiggs CD, click here:

http://www.jazzology.com/item_detail.php?id=BCD-507

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REMEMBERING LARRY WEISS by RAY CERINO

Larry Weiss, the New Jersey-based cornetist and pianist, has died at 83, after a long illness.  His friend and mine, the jazz aficionado, popular music scholar, and amateur tenor saxophonist Ray Cerino, sent these lines at my request:

Larry Weiss, a good friend of mine, and an extraordinary musician, died over a week ago. Because I had played with Larry for several years in a pro-bono quartet at a life-care facility, the writer of this blog asked me to provide my thoughts on Larry the musician.

The first thought that comes to mind is a word in the title of a book by his friend, Warren Vache called “The Unsung Songwriters”. Although Larry was well-known and respected by all the famous musicians he played with, the majority of jazz concert-goers never heard of him. In that regard, Larry was unsung, and his special, musical ability went largely unrecognized.

The way I like to describe Larry is as a self-taught, natural, supremely gifted musician. When Larry soloed on a song, he did not simply play the notes of the chords underlying the melody, nor did he play the scales in the modal form of the harmony, as is frequently offered as an improvised chorus by younger players today. Larry created a new, beautiful variation, under which the original melody could always be heard. And often he would substitute an altered chord of his own devising, especially audible on the piano, which would introduce a new, intense feeling to the music. He did this all without ever referring to a printed note. The music came from his heart, to his ear, to his hands, seamlessly. And the music that emerged contained original, surprising passages that could move the astute listener deeply.

As a friend of Larry’s for over twenty years, we spent a lot of time together at my house, playing and listening to music. Larry was always gracious in offering to play piano accompaniment to my pedestrian tenor sax solo efforts, never making harshly critical remarks about my playing. He had a good many live recordings on cassette tape that he had acquired over the years, and we would play and listen to these on my stereo system. I recall how he would listen intently to a particular passage of which he was proud, and point to the speakers to underline his high regard for the music. When I asked him how he created so noteworthy a phrase of music, he would just shrug, and say “that’s what I heard”. Like I said, a gift.

As I mentioned above, other well-known and knowing musicians were well aware of the quality of Larry’s musicianship. Larry told me once that he was on the stand with Bob Haggart, bassist and composer of “What’s New”. Larry had just finished a solo of that tune when he felt a tap on the shoulder. He turned around and saw Bob smiling and giving him a big “thumbs up”. Many times as we listened to other famous musicians, Larry would say “I played with him”. He was never boastful: in fact he was modest to a fault. In talking about his solos, he would often say “I’m not claiming this is great, but I am rather proud of it. (And if Larry was proud, you know if it had to be good).

Unfortunately there are only a few commercial recordings of Larry’s work on cornet available, two with a group led by his friend, Warren Vache,and one CD, on piano, with Joe Licari.

That’s Larry, the unsung musician. I was lucky to have been his friend, and to have spent time discussing and listening to the music we both love.

A few words from Michael Steinman:

I am glad that Jim Balantic had uploaded to YouTube two duo selections by the fine clarinetist Joe Licari and Larry on piano — HAUNTING MELODY and MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU, where Larry plays subtle Teddy Wilson-style piano with great delicacy:

That CD, and others, can be obtained on Joe’s site: http://www.joelicari.com/

I never met Larry Weiss, but I knew his work as a cornetist and admired it greatly.  He shared my admiration for Bobby Hackett’s beautiful tapestries of melody.  And Larry was more than a copyist — not that it would have been easy to copy Hackett — he was someone who had so thoroughly internalized the Master’s style in broad outlines that he could then invent his own personalized utterances at a moment’s notice. 

I heard Larry play cornet in many rather vigorous traditional ensembles, and his voice was a clarion one.  “Luminous” is an overused adjective these days, but it applies.  He was modest; he didn’t shout; his tone glowed.

I have one example alone of Larry’s gentle mastery for the JAZZ LIVES audience.  I have shared this video clip — from the 1983 Manassas Jazz Festival — before, as an aching tribute to the much-beloved Vic Dickenson, in memory of the astonishing band he and Bobby Hackett led at the Roosevelt Grill in 1969 (its rhythm section usually Dave McKenna, Jack Lesberg or Milt Hinton, and Cliff Leeman). 

But this time I would ask my readers to do what is nearly impossible — to tear themselves away from Vic and from Dill Jones and Steve Jordan — and listen to Larry Weiss.  Modest and unassuming, using his mute, sometimes creating obbligatos that one has to strain to hear, he makes great beauty, great empathy, lasting music. 

In the world of jazz, the night sky is full of stars.  There’s Louis, blazing bright; Jack, Lester, Bird, Ben, the two Sidneys . . . and more.  Galaxies, in fact.  But there are also stars not often seen.  You might need a telescope to find them.  But their light is just as memorable: that’s how I think of Larry Weiss.

FIRST-HAND: KEITH INGHAM AND THE JAZZ MASTERS

Happily for me, I have written the liner notes for pianist Keith Ingham’s new CD for Arbors — with Frank Tate and Steve Little, aptly called ROCKIN’ IN RHYTHM. 

Keith invited me to his Manhattan apartment to talk about the songs he’d chosen for the date.  But once we had finished our official business, he was delighted to tell stories about the American jazz masters he had played alongside when he was a young pianist in England, before coming to New York in 1978.   

The first person Keith spoke of was the inimitable Henry “Red” Allen, someone not as well-remembered today as he should be, perhaps because he was having too good a time:

Oh, Red Allen was too upbeat.  There wasn’t that aura of tragedy about Red.  He was probably my first jazz gig in London, where I got a chance to play this stuff.  He had a quartet, and he heard me and said he wanted me to play.  I knew his tunes – SWEET SUBSTITUTE and a thing from a Tony Newley show, THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, something called FEELING GOOD.  I knew that song – a bluesy, lovely gospelly song . . . so when he had to guest with another band, it was very embarrassing, because he’d be guesting with one of the name bands like Humphrey Lyttelton, and he would insist that I play the piano when he was on.  So there was this awkward business of asking the regular piano player if he wouldn’t mind. 

You have to do it courteously.  I remember Dill Jones told me that he was playing somewhere and Martial Solal came in and just pushed him off the piano bench, just shoved him.  And Dill, in his inimitable way, said, “He doesn’t have to be so bloody rude!  He could ask me!” 

Red was a larger-than-life character.  When he came up on the bandstand, he wouldn’t count off a number with “One, two,” but it would be “WHAM! WHAM!” with his foot, and there it was!  And what a player – what technique and what chops.  I remember he had this wonderful red brocade jacket on, always a showman, and he looked great. 

Once he was with a band – no names – and the rhythm section thought he was a bit of a throwback, a ham.  And they wanted to be laid-back and play cool – and I remember Red actually getting down on his knees and put his hands together, almost imploring them, “Please!  Swing!”  They finally got the message. 

He loved Higginbotham, too.  I remember Red singing, in a wonderfully sad voice, Higgy’s chorus on FEELING DROWSY, that beautiful minor-key thing.  He loved Buster Bailey, too – was always on the phone to Buster, and he told me that Buster was a superb clarinet player who, but for being black, could have gone into the symphony, which was what he wanted to do, really.  Listen to Buster’s playing on Bessie Smith’s JAZZBO BROWN FROM MEMPHIS TOWN: his clarinet is pure and gorgeous, a wonderful sound. 

Touring with Red was wonderful: he was such a generous soul.  Like Roy Eldridge, the same sort of guy.  Great characters and human beings. 

Roy was over to the UK accompanying Ella, but he got some gigs on his own and I was lucky enough to be part of them, just a quartet.  He was still playing then, and fabulous. 

Roy loved hot food, and he said to me, “Hey, anywhere we can go for curry?”  There was an Indian restaurant, and when we got there, he said, “What’s the hottest thing on the menu,” and they told him.  He said, “I’ve got to have that.”  It was a chicken dish and when it came out it was violently red with peppers.  Then he went into his trumpet case and brought out the hot sauces he had with him, and threw them all over the dish.  Well, for three days he couldn’t play because he came out in blisters on his lips! 

I have happy memories of those days.  I was fortunate enough to play with Benny Carter – now, that was an experience!  I’d done my little bit of homework: he’d made a lovely record with mostly his compositions on it.  So I’d taken them off the record and came prepared – would he like to play any of those, as well as WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW?  And he still played some trumpet!  There was another guy – you couldn’t pick up a tab when Benny was around, any time you went out, he was that generous.  I asked him to tell me how he’d broken into the Hollywood scene, writing scores for movies.  I asked him about some of the other writers – Bronislav Kaper, who wrote INVITATION, ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, and ALL GOD’S CHILLUN GOT RHYTHM – for Ivie Anderson in that Marx Brothers movie – and Benny said, “Oh, Bronnie?  Yes, I’ll tell you about Bronnie!” 

What a great arranger – those things he did with Coleman Hawkins in Paris, amazing.  And I knew people in England who had played in that big band, the one that recorded SWINGING AT MAIDA VALE, and they said Benny played every instrument in the band better than anyone – except perhaps the piano and the double bass.  He could play chords on the guitar.  One of the ultimate geniuses of the music.  Wonderful to have that experience.

When Pee Wee Russell came over to tour, he was quite eccentric.  People didn’t quite know what to make of him.  Then, of course, everybody associated him with Eddie Condon, and he hated that – he said, “Condon was always making fun of me, making me out to be a fool or a clown.”  The sound he got on the clarinet in the low register was just wonderful – he just projected across a big basement club like the Manchester Sporting Club.  He didn’t need a microphone.  He was just remarkable. 

He took a liking to me, and I was very pleased.  “Chum, meet me in the bar tomorrow around noon.  I want to talk to you.”  I was down there in the bar at lunchtime and somebody had hijacked him – they wanted Pee Wee so they went and collected him from the bar, and of course he wouldn’t say no – so before I got there, he’d disappeared with this bunch of characters, who took him to see the sights in Manchester, the fancy sights.  Later he came back and found me, and I asked, “Well, what was the day like?”  Terrible,” he snorted.  “I’m glad to be back on concrete again.  I saw a lot of leaves!”  That was the last thing he wanted.

Everybody has a Ruby Braff story, but this one the wonderful clarinetist Sandy Brown in it.  Ruby had no sense of humor about himself – he had almost no sense of humor at all, unless he was knocking someone or something.  We were playing in the 100 Club, a basement club in Oxford Street, quite a big space downstairs, just a quartet.  I was lucky enough to be on piano, with Dave Green on bass and Alan Ganley on drums.  And Ruby was always perfect on the stand – excellent! 

But when he got off, the club owner, at intermission, decided he’d put on some music.  He pressed the button and on came the Woody Herman band – the First Herd with Dave Tough and Bill Harris, APPLE HONEY and that sort of thing, the trumpets shouting.  And Ruby goes over to the owner and says, “What’d you put that fucking shit on for?  It has nothing to do with what I play!  I hate big bands!”  And he started to go on and on, how he hated every big band except Duke’s and Basie’s. 

Once you got him on a roll he would just keep going – a torrent of abuse would come out.  So Sandy was standing there, listening to all this, and finally he said, in his Scottish accent, after Ruby finally got finished spitting out all his venom, “Hey, Rooby,” he said, “Why don’t you eat some of those chips instead of stackin’ ‘em up on your shoulder?” 

Sammy Margolis, the great clarinet and tenor player, Ruby’s friend from Boston, would tell me things that Ruby said that would curl your hair.  The two of them shared a house at one point – each of them had one floor, but there was only one phone line with an extension.  One day the phone rang and it was Joe Glaser.  Ruby had picked up the phone but Sammy was silently listening in.  This would have been in 1957 or so, and it was something to do with a tour.  Max Kaminsky didn’t want to do it, and would Ruby do it?  And that set him off.  “I’m not subbing for that son-of-a-bitch.  He can’t play anyway.  And who else is in the band?”  And Glaser said, “Well, there’s Jack Teagarden and Earl Hines.”  “They can’t play either!”  And then he started to attack Glaser.  “Well, you don’t know anything about jazz,” and Sammy said that was very dangerous.  Ruby didn’t always work, and Glaser was not a man you’d cross. 

I remember one story about Sammy.  We’d gotten a trio gig at — of all places — Aqueduct Racetrack in the winter.  Myself, Sammy, and a drummer named Nat who used to work with Eddie Condon.  (Nat had terrible time, and Condon used to say, “Where you AT, Nat?”)  But Nat was a genuine guy, a real New Yorker.

I arranged to meet Sammy, who used to live on the West Side in the Forties.  And he’d been to the dentist that morning, had a shot of Novocain, and couldn’t feel anything — which must have bugged him.  We got in the car and we’re about halfway there, and suddenly Sammy wants us to stop — he hadn’t remembered putting his tenor sax in the car.  And it wasn’t there.  So we went all the way back to his apartment.  And there’s the case with the tenor, still on the sidewalk!  Wonderful. 

We get to the gig, and start playing away.  All of a sudden, there’s this terrible commotion, people shouting, “Shut the fuck up!”  The guys were watching the racing, but it was so cold that they’re watching it on television.  They can’t hear the odds on the horses, because we’re playing too loud.  So we had to play in between their calling the odds.  Every time the intercom would come on, they’d holler, “Shut UP!” and we’d stop.  We’d play forty seconds and have to stop, and we’d hear, “Rosebud.  Twenty to one,” and then we could start up again.  It was the funniest gig. 

The greatest thrill was when I got the gig with Benny Goodman.  We were playing a gig in Vermont, an open-air thing, and they wouldn’t let the bass on the plane, leaving New York.  So it was just Benny, Chuck Riggs, Chris Flory, and me.  And Benny wasn’t happy.  So what I did was give him those chords in the left hand, paddling, you know — and he was happy.  I had the room before we went on, and I was listening to him warming up — what a master musician!  It was like listening to Horowitz playing scales. 

So at the end of it, I wish I’d had a tape recorder, because he asked me to sit with him while he visited with his two sisters — they were pretty old ladies by that time.  So he was talking to me, “I’m going to be calling you, Keith.”  And I said, “May I ask you something?” And Benny said, “Ask me anything you like!”  So I said, “Can I ask you about Chicago?  Did you like Johnny Dodds?”  And he said, “I loved Johnny Dodds.  I used to go and hear him with King Oliver’s band at the Lincoln Gardens.  That band was fabulous!  But one thing you won’t know.  They played a lot of waltzes.  For the dancers.”  He loved Kid Ory.  They were people who weren’t perhaps of his stature technically, but he loved them.  I wasn’t able to work more with Benny, because I had a steady gig at the Regency — security was important — but I’ve never forgotten this time with him. 

BREATHING THE SAME AIR

Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective.  I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City.  Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh.  But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died. 

Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers  — now dead — I did get to see.

Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.

Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.

Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.

Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.

Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.

Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.

Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.

Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.

Violin: Joe Venuti.

Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.

I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.

KENNY DAVERN, REMEMBERED

First, some comedy.  The last time I saw Kenny Davern in action was at Sunnie Sutton’s 2006 Rocky Mountain Jazz Party — only a few months before his death.  At the dinner for musicians and friends the night before the party started, Kenny took a napkin off one of the tables, draped it over his arm, and transformed himself into an elderly, mournful New York Jewish waiter, asking each table, “Is anything all right?”

Then, in the middle of a set, he told one of his many jokes.

Jake always wanted to be a professional actor and appear on Broadway, but the fates are against him.  Finally, his agent gets so tired of Jake’s begging, whining, and pleading that he arranges — as a favor — for Jake to have a one-line walk-on in a production far from Broadway.  Jake’s line?  “Hark!  I hear a cannon roar!”  Jake is thrilled and spends every minute before the production practicing in front of the mirror.  “HARK!  I hear a CANNON roar!”  “Hark . . . I HEAR a cannon ROAR!”  The big night comes, Jake is pinned into his costume and stands muttering his one line in the wings.  He’s pushed out on stage; the cannon fires a thunderous blast, and Jake says, “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!”

But Davern was much more than a comedian, although his timing was impeccable — combined with his mobile face, his vocal inflections.

The Davern we remember is the peerless clarinetist, with a heroic top register and a lustrous chalumeau sound — with plenty of “grease and funk,” to quote Marty Grosz, in between.  Luckily for us, a great deal of Davern’s best playing is documented on Arbors record sessions.  (One of my favorites is EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE, with a front-line of Dan Barrett and Joel Helleny.)

Even though at times I thought I knew what Kenny was going to play next — what variation on a Jimmie Noone passage he was going to use for those particular chords — he never coasted, even on the thousandth version of A PORTER’S LOVE SONG TO A CHAMBERMAID.

I had seen him several decades earlier — in the very early Seventies — when his partnership with Bob Wilber was beginning.  Soprano Summit was a high-intensity group, and when its two horns got going on the closing ensembles of something like EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY they had the force of the great Spanier-Bechet Hot Four.  I also remember Davern as a regular member of the Sunday jam sessions put on by Red Balaban in 1972 — when Kenny was primarily playing the straight soprano with operatic (if not dangerous) focused intensity.  I remember his overwhelming less assertive trumpet and trombone players — as if saying “Get the hell out of my way, if you please.”

Courtesy of Bob Erwig, here is Kenny’s performance of TRAV’LIN’ ALL ALONE from the 1989 Bern International Jazz Festival — backed by Howard Alden, Milt Hinton, and Gus Johnson — where Kenny is ardent without being shrill, powerful while playing quietly.  No wonder John L. Fell, who knew about such things, called Davern “the Coleman Hawkins of the clarinet.”  We miss him.

And one more Davern-sighting.  In 1972, friends and I saw Kenny and company at a Sunday afternoon jam session at Your Father’s Mustache and we then went downtown to The Half Note where Ruby Braff was leading a quartet — possibly with Dill Jones, George Mraz, and Dottie Dodgion.  The door opened during a set break and Davern walked in.  I was excited and envisioned a wonderful jam session.  My exuberant college-age self got the better of me, and I greeted Davern with an enthusiastic “Kenny!” then realized that I had perhaps overstepped myself and retreated into a quieter, “Mister Davern.”  With his usual glint of a half-smile, he looked at me and murmured, “Oh, pardonnez-moi,” and turned away.  I’m still decoding that one.

“BIX AND HIS GANG” REDUX, 1975

I don’t exactly know the source of the videos below — except that they’ve been posted by “sergech” on YouTube some time ago.  I was in the audience at several New York City concerts of the New York Jazz Repertory Company in 1974 and 1975: two tributes to Louis Armstrong, two to Bix Beiderbecke, but I can’t say whether these clips come from either of the two Bix concerts that I saw.

And perhaps the whole world has already seen them on YouTube.  But since I keep returning to them with pleasure, awe, and sadness, perhaps they will be new to someone?  The personnel is Richard M. Sudhalter and Warren Vache, cornets; Ephie Resnick, trombone; Bob Wilber, reeds; Kenny Davern, bass sax; a nearly invisible Dill Jones, piano; Marty Grosz, banjo; Chauncey Morehouse, drums.  Although the color is murky (perhaps the source was a videotape?) the camerawork is professional, as is the sound. 

Here’s a serious, steady ROYAL GARDEN BLUES that features Sudhalter and Vache trading congenial solos at the end, anchored by Davern’s stately bass sax (he sounds as if he’s playing LESTER LEAPS IN at one point) and Morehouse’s rocking drums:

DAVENPORT BLUES, where Sudhalter takes the solo:

And GOOSE PIMPLES, solidly anchored by Morehouse’s parade beats on the snare, Dill Jones both audible and visible, Vache having the last word:

Finally, a moving SINCE MY BEST GAL TURNED ME DOWN, with the “slow-drag” section firmly in place and a wonderful Davern solo:

Shall we mourn all of them who are gone — Davern, Dill Jones, Morehouse, Sudhalter?  Or shall we celebrate the survivors — Grosz, Resnick, Vache, Wilber?

Both, I believe.  And Bix, both gone and surviving.

REMEMBERING JOE THOMAS

The trumpeter Joseph Eli Thomas — fabled but truly little-known — is almost always confused with his higher-profile namesake, who played tenor sax and sang in the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. 

But a quick scan of the people our Joe Thomas played with should suggest that his colleagues thought very highly of him.  How about Fats Waller, James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Guarneri, Earl Hines, Fletcher Henderson, Sidney Catlett, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Bud Freeman, Ed Hall, Vic Dickenson, Red Norvo, Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry, Cozy Cole, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Claude Hopkins,  Buddy Tate, Pee Wee Russell, Tony Scott, Buck Clayton, Woody Herman, Trummy Young, Rudy Powell, Eddie Condon, Benny Carter, Jo Jones, Benny Morton, Al Hall . . . . ?  Clearly a man well-respected.  But he is an obscure figure today. 

He can be seen as a member of Art Kane’s famous 1958 Harlem street assemblage.  Shirtsleeved and hatless, he stands with Maxine Sullivan and Jimmy Rushing to one side, with Stuff Smith on the other.  Fast company, although the sun must have been bothering him, for he looks worried. 

In another world, Thomas would have had little reason to worry, but he came up in jazz when hot trumpeters seemed to spring out from every bush.  To his left, Red Allen and Rex Stewart; to the right, Bill Coleman, Emmett Berry, Bobby Hackett.  Rounding the corner, Buck Clayton, Cootie Williams, Benny Carter, Frank Newton.   So the competition was fierce.  And Thomas often had the bad fortune to be overshadowed: in Fletcher Henderson’s 1936 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS band — the one that recorded extensively for Victor and Vocalion — his section-mate was a fireball named Eldridge.  In Fats Waller’s big band, Thomas played section trumpet and the prize solos in Fats’ Rhythm went to Herman Autrey or Bugs Hamilton.  And then there was a colossus named Armstrong, apparently blocking out the sun.  John Hammond was busy championing other players, all worthy, and never got around to pushing Joe Thomas into the limelight.  Although he recorded prolifically as a sideman, he never had a record date under his own name after 1946. 

But Thomas got himself heard now and again: his solos shine on Decca recordings (alongside Chu Berry) under Lil Armstrong’s name, and on a famous Big Joe Turner date for the same label that featured Art Tatum and Ed Hall.  On the much more obscure Black and White label, he recorded alongside Tatum and Barney Bigard; for Jamboree, he was captured side-by-side with Don Byas, Dave Tough, and Ted Nash. 

Later in his career, the British jazz scholar Albert McCarthy featured him on a Vic Dickenson session (Vic, like Tatum, seems to have admired Joe’s quiet majesty), and he popped up on sessions in the Fifties and Sixties in the best company.  Whitney Balliett celebrated him in an essay, and the drummer Mike Burgevin used him on gigs whenever he could.

Thomas’s most important champion has to have been the Javanese jazz enthusiast and record producer Harry Lim, whose biography should be written — producing jam sessions and heading one of the finest record labels ever — Keynote — then shepherding another label, Famous Door, through perhaps a dozen issues in the Seventies.  I gather that his day job was as head of the jazz record section in the Manhattan Sam Goody store: probably I saw him, but was too young and uninformed to make the connection. 

Lim loved Thomas’s playing and featured him extensively on sessions between 1944 and 1946.  Regrettably those sessions were reissued in haphazard fashion in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies — vinyl anthologies on the Emarcy and Trip labels — then in a wonderful box set first appearing in Japan, then briefly in the US, then disappearing for good.  A number of compilations drawn from that set — featuring Hawkins, Eldridge, Norvo, and Young — made it to CD but seem to have gone out of circulation.  And wise collectors aren’t putting them up on eBay.  Thomas also appears on a few sessions for the HRS (Hot Record Society) label, and those sessions have been collected in a Mosaic box set, which I believe is still available — although the Keynotes show him off far better. 

What made Thomas so special?  His tone was luminous but dark, rich — not shallow and glossy or brassy.  His notes sang; he placed his notes a shade behind the beat, giving the impression of having all the time in the world at a fast tempo.  Like Jack Teagarden, he wasn’t an improviser who started afresh with every new solo.  Thomas had his favorite patterns and gestures, but he didn’t repeat himself.  Listening to him when he was on-form was beautifully satisfying: he sounded like a man who had edited out all the extraneous notes in his head before beginning to play.  His spaces meant something, and a Thomas solo continued to resonate in one’s head for a long time.  I can still hear his opening notes of a solo he took on CRAZY RHYTHM on a New York gig in 1974. 

What made his style so memorable wasn’t simply his tone — a marvel in itself — or his pacing, steady but never sluggish.  It was his dual nature: he loved upward-surging arpeggios that spelled out the chord in a gleaming way, easy but urgent.  Occasionally he hit the same note a few times in a delicate, chiming way (much more Beiderbecke than Sweets Edison) — and then, while those notes rang in the air, he would play something at one-quarter volume, which had the shape of a beautiful half-muttered epigram, something enclosed in parentheses, which you had to strain to hear.  That balance between declarations and intimacy shaped many a memorable solo. 

And when Thomas was simply appearing to play the melody, he worked wonders.  I don’t know where a listener would find the Teddy Wilson V-Disc session that produced only two titles (and one alternate take) with a stripped-down version of Wilson’s Cafe Society band in 1943: Thomas, Ed Hall, Wilson, and Sidney Catlett.  I mean them no disrespect, but Benny Morton and Johnny Williams may have wanted to go home and get some sleep.  The two titles recorded were RUSSIAN LULLABY and HOW HIGH THE MOON — the latter of interest because it is one of the first jazz recordings of that song (including a fairly straight 1940 reading by a Fred Rich studio band with Benny Carter and Roy Eldridge as guest stars!) that I know of.  But RUSSIAN LULLABY is extra-special, taken at a slow tempo, enabling Thomas to illuminate the melody from within, as if it were a grieving anthem. 

Alas, there are no CD compilations devoted to Thomas; someone eager to hear him on record might chase down the Keynotes in a variety of forms.  One session finds him alongside Eldridge and Emmett Berry, and it’s fascinating to see how easily Thomas’s wait-and-see manner makes his colleagues seem a bit too eager, even impetuous.  His playing alongside Teagarden and Hawkins on a session led by drummer George Wettling couldn’t be better, especially on HOME and YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME. 

But he came to prominence, at least as far as the record studio executives were concerned, most often in the years of the first record ban, during World War Two.  After that, he emerged now and then in a variety of Mainstream revivals — he played at Central Plaza on an elusive “Dr. Jazz” broadcast; he was a member of an Eddie Condon troupe in the Forties that did a concert in Washington, D.C.  

I was lucky enough to hear him a few times in the early Seventies, primarily because of the enthusiastic generosity of Mike Burgevin, a classic jazz drummer whose heroes were Catlett, Tough, and Wettling — someone who also sang now and again, his model (wisely) being early-and-middle period Crosby. 

For a time, Mike took care of the jazz at a club named Brew’s — slightly east of the Empire State Building — that had a little room with tables and chairs, a minute bandstand, a decent upright piano.  His sessions usually featured himself and the quietly persuasive stride pianist Jimmy Andrews (or Dill Jones), perhaps Al Hall on bass, and a noted horn player.  It could be Ruby Braff or Kenny Davern, but often it was Max Kaminsky, Herb Hall, Herman Autrey, or Joe Thomas.  (One week, blessedly, Vic Dickenson played three or four nights with a shifting rhythm section: glorious music and a rare opportunity to observe him on his own.) 

The sessions were even noted in The New Yorker.  I remember noting that these players — people I had heard only on record — seemed to be gigging about ten minutes away from Penn Station.  When Joe Thomas’s name came up in print, I was nearly-incredulous.  Could this be our Joe Thomas, the trumpeter who was nearly luminescent on his choruses on SHE DIDN’T SAY YES?  I think I prevailed on my friend Stu Zimny to come into the city and see whether this was miracle or mirage, and I remember one brilliant set — Joe, Waller-altoist Rudy Powell, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, and Burgevin — that featured Rudy on WHERE OR WHEN and there was a closing CRAZY RHYTHM for the whole band.  Of course I had my cassette recorder, but where these tapes are I cannot say.  Joe’s chorus, however, is fresh in my mind’s ear.  

We struck up a friendship with Mike Burgevin, who was thrilled to find college-age kids who were deeply immersed in the music he loved, and he told us that Joe and he would be leading a quartet for an outdoors concert in a park at the very southern end of Manhattan.  I remember that Stu and I brought a heavy reel-to-reel tape recorder, the better to capture Joe’s golden sound, and set it up in the shade, near a tree.  This provoked the only conversation I remember having with him.  Understandably, perhaps, the sight of young strangers with a big tape recorder made him nervous, and he kept on telling us that we shouldn’t do this, because “the union man” could come by.  Perhaps impatiently, we assured him that Local 802 representatuves didn’t seem to be hiding in the bushes, and that we would take the blame if anyone came around.  He could pretend that he had no knowledge of our criminalities.  It was a less memorable occasion: the quartet was filled out with someone of moderate abilities on a small electric keyboard, the bassist played an over-amplified Fender.  Joe fought his way upstream, but it was difficult.  In retrospect, I feel guilty: was he worrying about the union man all the time he was playing?  I hope not. 

He also got a chance to shine twice at the 1972 Newport in New York concerts, once at an affair devoted to Eddie Condon and his music.  It was a characteristically uneven evening.  The sound engineer at Carnegie Hall amplified the piano so that it sounded other-worldly, and Thomas (perhaps playing the role of a more modest Hot Lips Page) was brought on, along with J.C. Higginbotham, for a closing version of IMPROMPTU ENSEMBLE.  Of that occasion, I remember a stunning Bobby Hackett chorus and break, but Thomas didn’t get the space to do what we knew he could.  He also was a member of Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS big band — its rhythm section featuring Teddy Wilson, Bernard Addison, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones (!) and Thomas took a wonderful solo on a very fast rendition of SLEEP.

I don’t know what kept him out of the limelight after that, whether it was ill health or tiredness?  Was it that more showily assertive trumpeters (and there were plenty) got the gigs?  Whatever the reasons, he seems to have faded away. 

Ironically, Mike Burgevin had issued three vinyl recordings on his own Jezebel label that featured Herman Autrey, Jack Fine, Rudy Powell, and Doc Cheatham . . . which, in a way, led to Cheatham’s rediscovery and second or third period of intense (and well-deserved) fame.  Had circumstances been different, perhaps it would have been Joe Thomas playing alongside Nicholas Payton, and that is to take nothing away from Cheatham.

I had begun to write a post about Joe Thomas very shortly after beginning this blog, but shelved it because so little of his work is now available on CD.  But the impetus to celebrate him came in the past few days when the Beloved and I had the great good luck to hear Duke Heitger on a brief New York City tour.  I have admired Duke’s work for a number of years, and think of him as one of those players who honors the tradition — subtly yet passionately — without imitating anyone.  But on a few occasions this last week, Duke would get off a beautiful phrase that hung, shimmering in the air, for a second, and I would think, “Who does that remind me of?”  And the answer, when it came, startled me: the last time I had heard something quite so lovely was in listening to Joe Thomas in his prime.  Duke is too much his own man to have copied those Keynotes, but it’s an honor (at least in my estimation) to come close to some of Thomas’s quiet majesty. 

One other person who thought Joe Thomas was worthy of notice was the esteemed photographer William P. Gottlieb.  In this shot, taken at the Greenwich Village club “The Pied Piper,” sometime between 1946 and 1946, Thomas is third from the left, the only African-American.  To his left is Harry Lim:

Joe Thomas 1

Here he is playing alongside pianist Jimmy Jones, at the same club:

Joe Thomas 2

Ultimately, Thomas got a number of opportunities to record and to perform, so that a few people still remember him, but it’s sad that his work is so difficult to find.  He deserves so much more.

VIC DICKENSON SINGS OF DESIRE

I never thought I would see this performance again.

I first saw it perhaps twenty years ago on a blurry videocassette copy sent to me by my generous friend John L. Fell, a film scholar and scholarly collector of the best jazz.  John and I shared a deep affection for the poetic improvisers — Billy Butterfield, Pee Wee Russell, Lester, and Vic Dickenson, among a hundred others.

This song was captured on November 26, 1983 at the Manassas Jazz Festival, in a program called ” Remembering the Roosevelt Grill,” in honor of the peerless small band that Vic and Bobby Hackett led there (with Cliff Leeman, Jack Lesberg, and Dave McKenna).  Hackett-disciple Larry Weiss played cornet, Dill Jones, piano; Steve Jordan, guitar; Bob Decker, bass, and Ernie Hackett, Bobby’s son, was on drums.

I don’t need to anatomize Vic’s instrumental style for anyone — he got more vocal sounds, deeply felt and human, out of that recalcitrant instrument than almost anyone.  (Ironically, Vic talked less than most musicians: it all came out of the horn.)  He loved to sing, and was earnest and whimsical at the same time.  I referred to this performance in a posting about Humphrey Lyttelton and Henri Chaix some time back, because it moved me so in memory.  It’s a great surprise to find it sitting quietly on YouTube.  Thank you, unknown benefactor!

Vic was seriously ill when he made the trip to Manassas and knew it.  Although he played intermittently after this festival, I think this is the last glimpse of him in action.  His feeling and humor come out in every note, as well as the joke of holding up two fingers.  Other men might do all they wanted to do in one hour; he would need double the time.

I saw Vic as often as I could between 1971 and 1981, but I wish he had been able to move and enlighten us just a little bit longer.  He died on November 16, 1984.  I miss his sound and his presence.  If only he could be with us still.


For those who want to know more about Vic’s life, the extraordinarily dedicated jazz writer / researcher Manfred Selchow’s book DING! DING!  A BIO-DISCOGRAPHICAL SCRAPBOOK ON VIC DICKENSON is irreplaceable.

LONG ISLAND SOUND?

antique-map

Before my time, Long Island was a hotbed of jazz — Miff Mole was born in Freeport, and there were thriving colonies of jazz musicians in Queens: Louis, of course, in Corona; James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge and many others.  Red Allen had a steady gig at the Blue Spruce Inn in Roslyn.   

When I first became aware of jazz, like love, it was just around the corner.  Louis and the All-Stars came to the Island Garden in Hempstead in 1967; I saw Jimmy McPartland, Vic Dickenson, Joe Wilder, Milt Hinton, Dick Hyman, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dill Jones, Budd Johnson, Connie Kay, and Teddy Wilson in concerts, usually free ones in the parks. Teddy, Roy Eldridge, Wilbur Little, and Joe Farrell played hour-long gigs in the shopping center Roosevelt Field in 1972.   The International Art of Jazz had wonderful concerts — I remember a quartet of Ruby Braff, Derek Smith, George Duvivier, and Bobby Rosengarden.  Ray Nance did a week in a club in Hicksville!   

Some years later, a traditional jazz society whose name now escapes me held concerts in Babylon, with Peter Ecklund, Dan Barrett, Joe Muranyi, Marty Grosz, and others.  Nancy Mullen told me of evenings when Ecklund would show up in a little Port Jefferson spot and play beautifully.  Sonny’s Place, in Seaford, had name jazz players for years.

Now, I know that most of the musicians I’ve listed above are dead.  Try as I might, I can’t make Red Allen come back to Roslyn.  But I wonder:  Is there any Mainstream jazz on Long Island?   Could it be that it has retreated utterly to safer urban refuges?  I would be grateful for any information on some place(s) where the band strikes up a familiar melody to improvise on.  It could even be  “Satin Doll,” although I would hope for better. 

Or has the region I live in given itself over completely to cellphone stores, nail salons, and highways?  Say it ain’t so, Jo (Jones, that is).

WHEN DREAMS COME TRUE

Please note that my title isn’t “If . . . . ”

The ideal jazz club experience, if you were to take fabled movies as a guide, is an exuberantly chaotic spectacle.  One trumpet player vanquishes another by playing higher and louder; two drummers pound away in grinning synchronicity; musicians magically get together in thunderous ensembles.  Everyone knows what the song is and what key they are playing in; musical routines miraculously coalesce without rehearsal.  Inevitably the audience is on its feet, cheering.  Long live the new king of jazz!  Everybody join in!  (Consider, if you will, “Second Chorus,” “The Glenn Miller Story,” or “The Five Pennies,” and other deliciously unreal episodes.)

I doubt that many of these fanciful scenes ever happened away from the soundstage.  Even if they did, hey aren’t my idea of pleasure.  Everything is too loud, and the movies assume that everyone in the crowd is hip, attentive, listeners unified into an appreciative community.  I wonder if this audience ever existed, although in Charles Peterson’s glorious photographs of 52nd Street jam sessions, no one is texting or even reading a newspaper.

For me, the ideal scenario is quieter: a small audience, paying attention, in a quiet club — quiet enough so that I can hear the music.  And the improvising shouldn’t be self-consciously exhibitionistic, one player trying to outdo another.  My dream, rarely realized, needs an intuitive connection between players and audience.  It happened often in the sessions Michael Burgevin led at Brew’s, featuring Joe Thomas, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Sam Margolis, Jimmy Andrews, Kenny Davern, Dill Jones, Rudy Powell, Herb Hall, Marshall Brown, Wayne Wright, and others.

Last night (Sunday, December 7) was frigid and the winds were unkind — perfect weather fo staying indoors.  But I made my way to the Ear Inn to hear the EarRegulars.  Because Jon-Erik and Jackie Kellso are off somewhere around the Mexican Riviera, the Regulars were led by the brilliantly soulful guitarist Matt Munisteri.  He arrived first, his hands cold, looking harried but greeting me pleasantly.

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Next in the door was the fine, surprising tenor saxophonist Michael Blake, whose playing I had appreciated greatly on the only other occasion I had heard him — also at the Ear.  Bassist Lee Hudson and trombonist Harvey Tibbs completed this quartet. Matt, Harvey, and Lee have all played together at the Ear and I would imagine other places, so they know and respect each other.

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Michael, about whom I wrote some weeks ago, fit in immediately.  By his playing, I would guess that he isn’t one of those deeply archival types who thinks, when someone mentions a song title, “Oh, yes, Billie recorded that with Bunny and Artie in 1936.  In two takes.”  But when either Matt or Harvey called Walter Donaldson’s IT’S BEEN SO LONG as their first tune, I could hear Michael listening intently for the first few measures, perhaps to remind himself.  Then he, like Lester, leaped in.  His jazz radar is exquisite.  Someone said of Milt Gabler, the Saint of Commodore Records, that he “had ears like an elephant.”  Michael deserves the same accolade: he is a peerless ensemble player, finding countermelodies, call-and-response, and harmony parts while everything was moving along at a brisk tempo.

cork-1108-ear-inn120708006Harvey Tibbs, resplendent as always in white shirt, was in execptional form as well: several songs began with trombone-guitar duets, beautiful vignettes.  Like Michael, Harvey can fit himself into any ensemble, galloping or loitering.  He has a wonderful musical intelligence, which he displayed on James P. Johnson’s OLD FASHIONED LOVE, which had a truly churchy ambiance to start — helped immeasurably by Matt’s delicate single-note lines, music for a troubadour under his Beloved’s balcony.  Lee Hudson kept lively, limber time, saving himself for an intense solo on WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS in the second set.

A lively JUST YOU, JUST ME followed James P.’s paean to the more seemly days of yore; here, Blake exploded into his solo, sounding at times like a supercharged Lester Young with modern sensibilities.  Michael’s tone is often consciously dry instead of pretty, and he approaches his lines in a sideways fashion (his phrases begin and end in surprising places).  A phrase might have an audacious shape — a Slinky tumbling down an irregular staircase — but each one landed without mishap.  I could hear the whole history of jazz tenor in his work — not only Lester, but Lucky Thompson and Al Cohn, Sonny Rollins as well.  He and Harvey took off on a song I didn’t expect — JAZZ ME BLUES — their version harking back not to Bix but to Glenn Hardman or to some imagined jam session in the afterlife, with Bird sitting amidst the Dixielanders at Copley Square.  Although Tom Delaney’s Twenties classic is full of breaks, Blake bobbed and weaved in the ensembles.  A moody WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED LOVE? followed — suggesting that the four players were really considering that question on the tiny square of floor they claim as the Ear’s bandstand.  Finally, in deference to inescapable holiday music, someone called for a Bird-and-Diz version of WHITE CHRISTMAS, and it joyously closed the set.

A long pause for the quartet’s dinner ensued, but a noble visitor, his tenor saxophone at his side, joined them: none other than Dan Block.  The two players had a good time, playing their solos while standing at the bar, one listening deeply to the other, or forming a loose circle.

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Harvey, perhaps, called for the Basie classic 9:20 SPECIAL to begin the second set, then they all became optimistic (the only way to face the economic news) with WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, then, in honor of the gales outside, a trotting GONE WITH THE WIND.  They ended with a jubilant IF DREAMS COME TRUE, where Blake got so caught up in the vehemence of his double-time phrases that he was almost kneeling on the floor as he soloed.

It was an extraordinary night of music.  Perhaps it would have seemed insufficiently dramatic for the movies, but my jazz dreams came true for a few hours.

P.S.  The delghtful jazz singer Barbara Rosene was also in the audience.  Her new Stomp Off CD, “It Was Only A Sun Shower,” is perhaps her finest recording to date.  A new one is in the works, devoted to naughty double-entendre songs from the Twenties, where the He-Man (whether Handy or Military) always stands at attention, can trim any girl’s garden and make her coffee boiling hot.  What delights await us!

I CONFESS! A JAZZ CRIMINAL TELLS ALL

If the phonograph record had never been invented, jazz might have remained a local art form heard only on a visit to New Orleans.  Charlie Parker might well be only a remote name, an unheard legend to listeners born after 1955. 

Phonograph records are objects that make music accessible and permanent, and I grew up surrounded by them.  My father, a motion picture projectionist, was also expected to be an unpaid disc jockey, someone who would fill the theatre with music between shows by spinning records from the projection booth.  I remember his story of the first explosion of rock ‘n’ roll.  During an intermission, he reached for a record whose title meant nothing to him, put it on with the volume turned off in the booth, and turned back to his book.  Then the theatre manger called him in a near-frenzy, “Take that God-damned record off!  The kids are dancing on the seats and ripping up the theatre!” 

It was the famous (or infamous) record here.   

As 78 rpm records gave way to microgroove, my father would occasionally bring an outmoded record home rather than see it thrown away.  He was intrigued by technology, and we had a Revere reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I learned how to use early on. 

Later, around 1968, he brought home something new, a portable cassette recorder and a few blank tapes. 

By this time, I had become converted to jazz, which I thought of as my music.  It as a secret pleasure: I thought of myself as a subversive, listening to Louis while everyone around me was deeply absorbed by rock.  In my suburban hermitage, I recorded jazz radio shows — John S. Wilson’s “World of Jazz,” Ed Beach’s “Just Jazz,” and made them my soundtrack.  Records were not easy to get and I couldn’t afford all that I wanted, so the idea of tape-recording a precious performance and listening to it over and over shaped my first experiences of the music.  I lived for the moment when everything seemed cosmically aligned: Beach would be playing two hours of rare Jo Jones records on WRVR-FM; I would be home at the right time with a reel of blank tape; I could listen to it while the show was being broadcast; I would tape it to hear it again.  It would become mine.  In my memory, I can see those tape boxes, each one holding a precious hour or two of Buck Clayton, of 1940 Ellington, or Lee Wiley.    

I grew up on Long Island, an environment defined by the distance from one shopping mall to the next, and I recognize its inherent provincialism.  But for someone like myself, entranced by jazz, being born there rather than in Cape Breton was great good fortune.  In The New Yorker, I could read the names of musicians I had heard on radio or records.  They were playing live in New York City, an hour away by train and subway or car.          

I do not remember the details of the first live jazz I heard in Manhattan.  Was it in Town Hall or the Half Note?  But I prepared for this precious experience by bringing my cassette recorder with me.  It seemed logical rather than perverse to be a jazz anthropologist, a swing explorer.  Vasco DaGama of Dixieland, if you will.  I could poke my nose beyond my comfortable suburban environment, venture into the uncharted City, capture a performance live and return home with the reward.  Not gold or pepper or notes on the marriage rituals in New Guinea, but a homemade recording, however flawed, of the music I had heard last night.  A prize — to revisit, to study, to treasure.

Of course the idea wasn’t new.  Jazz enthusiasts had been capturing the music in its native habitat since the Thirties, perhaps earlier.  I had read about airshots, “on location” acetates, and live recordings, essential parts of jazz’s mythology.  That these recordings had often been made secretly by amateurs happily breaking the rules was even better.  Their illicit behavior was evidence of deep devotion to the art.  They wanted to keep what they had heard once from vanishing forever.  Even though I didn’t think about the implications of what I wanted to do, I now think there was a touch of late-Sixties political rebellion implicit in it.  Why should the recording companies control the music, and why should I be deprived of doing so?  When I had seen Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars in 1967, I had been too naive to bring my Instamatic camera to take twelve snapshots.  Now Louis was dead, and I had only an autograph and my memory of what he had looked like, what he had played. 

I was not sufficiently prideful or self-deluded to think of myself as the Long Island reincarnation of Jerry Newman at Minton’s or Dean Benedetti in search of Bird.  But perhaps I could capture a memorable chorus or ensemble, even in low-fidelity.  Would it become valuable over time?  What did that matter?  It would be precious now.          

This may strike some readers as more peculiar than collecting stamps or baseball cards.  Some jazz-lovers may be satisfied to hear a beautiful performance once, never again.  But this art is so splendidly evanescent that the thought of it going away is nearly painful.  It cries out to be preserved.  In terms of jazz’s brief chronological history, I am a late-comer.  Many of the great players were dead by the late Sixties; many of their portraits greeted me when I turned to the obituary page of The New York Times: I saved those clippings until the sheaf got too depressing.  It felt as if all the creators were leaving town, and this may have goaded me into illicit tape-recording as a way of snaring what moments I could before it was too late. 

I would never see PeeWee Russell or Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins or Rex Stewart . . . but when Benny Morton or Jimmy Rushing played a gig, I would not let their sounds escape me.   

Thus my life of crime began.  Being a criminal is difficult, let me tell you.         

Many club-owners did not care about a couple of college kids with their cassette recorder, sitting as close to the bandstand as possible, as long as the kids bought beer or hamburgers at regular intervals, but some establishments were very serious about such infractions.  I nearly got thrown out of the Village Vanguard a few years ago when the waiter noticed something glittering in my lap – a minidisc recorder, its display a bright phosphorescent blue.  He said that I could stop recording right now or I would have to leave, in tones that suggested New York’s finest were pounding down Seventh Avenue South in hot pursuit of Another Jazz Miscreant.        

And it was even worse in larger places, with notices hanging everywhere that The Taking Of Photographs and The Use Of Recording Devices Is Prohibited By Law.  But I had seen that the ushers were not athletic enough to arrest everyone with a tiny Kodak (flashbulbs went off at many performances) so I thought that I might get away with my criminalities.  I became sly, sidling into a concert hall with a blue plastic shoulder bag, trying to look nonchalant, always a failed enterprise.  The bag held a newspaper or magazine – a thin subterfuge – covering my cassette recorder, a $60 Shure microphone, and extra batteries.  Illegal and delicious.  I evaded what I thought were the peering eyes of the usher, usually someone who wanted only to give me a program and seat me in the right place, then scuttle away.  In the semi-darkness, while people talked, rattled their programs, unwrapped their cough drops, I would connect the microphone to the recorder and drop the heavy wire down through the sleeve of my jacket so that the microphone could be hidden in my lap.  I knew that my applause –the sound of two hands clapping — would be deafening on the tape, so I learned to look enthusiastic while pretending to clap. 

Emboldened by success, I brought a tape recorder to nearly every jazz performance I could.  Sometimes those tapes, heard the next day, were mediocre: routine music, badly recorded, turns out to be not worth the effort.  Occasionally, there were what college radio stations call “technical difficulties” and I had recorded nothing.  In those cases, crime certainly did not pay.  But I captured hours and hours of jazz that gave me pleasure.  Even the roll call of the players delights me now: just to think of pianists, I come up with Earl Hines, Eubie Blake, Dick Wellstood, Art Hodes, Joe Bushkin, Dave McKenna, Jimmy Andrews, Count Basie, Mark Shane, Teddy Wilson, Dick Hyman, Bill Evans, Jimmy Rowles, Ralph Sutton, Dill Jones, Hank Jones, Claude Hopkins, Chuck Folds, Don Friedman, Red Richards, Ellis Larkins, and two dozen others. 

Concert halls were usually terrible places for surreptitious recording because they were often terrible places to hear music.  The sound technicians at Carnegie Hall, for instance, where many of the Newport-New York concerts were held, apparently took perverse pleasure in making the piano sound as much unlike itself as possible.  The eye saw Teddy Wilson seated at a Steinway: the ear heard metal striking metal.  And you can imagine the acoustics at the top of Radio City Music Hall.  At the first of the 1972 jam sessions, Stu Zimny and I were seated in what seemed the upper reaches of the earth, next to a pair of Texas women who whooped happily when Gene Krupa hit his splash cymbal or when Roy Eldridge went for a high note.  Before the concert and during it, they most cordially offered us whiskey from bottles they had hidden in their pocketbooks; not to be outdone in gallantry, I offered them chocolate.  Both of us stuck to the stimulants we knew best.  But I cannot complain.  When I hear those tapes again, their exuberant hollering is part of the experience of the music, of having been there.      

Small clubs were easier to record in, and there was a better chance to be forgiven my wickedness, especially if I had spoken to the musicians beforehand and gotten their permission.  Since I looked at my jazz heroes with reverence, this approach often worked.  Kenny Davern, who had a powerful prejudice against playing into a microphone, showed me how to set mine so that it would record effectively.  Ruby Braff got so used to me and my friends that he dubbed us “Tapes,” as in, “Hey, Tapes!” when he saw us.  

One Sunday in 1972, Bobby Hackett, a gracious man, looked down at my brand-new Teac reel-to-reel recorder, perhaps forty pounds, that I had lugged into Your Father’s Mustache in hopes of recording him.  I was sweating already, and his noticing the machine made me even more moist, from anxiety.  What if he growled, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  But all he said was, mildly, “What brand is that?”  And when I told him, he smiled and said, “I have one like it at home,” and went about the business of getting ready for the gig.     

But my criminality wasn’t always well-received.  The trumpeter Joe Thomas fretted about our taping him at an outdoor concert in Battery Park.  He was insistent that that “the union man” would find us out and that he would get in trouble.  I don’t remember how we soothed his fears (did we hide the recorder in a flowerbed?) but it took a good deal of placating before he let us go ahead. 

Some musicians were unwilling to be taped, and, in retrospect, I can’t blame them.  Perhaps someone unscrupulous had taken advantage in the past.  The pianist Cyril Haynes refused to play a note until I put my recorder away.  

I can see in my mind’s eye the brilliantly eccentric trombonist Dicky Wells, at the back of the bandstand clogged with other musicians, shaking his head from side to side in vehement “No-no-no!” and waving his arm and outstretched index finger in energetic arcs.  I remember a session featuring cornetist Wild Bill Davison, where I set up my microphone right under the bell of his horn.  He asked, gruffly, “Are you planning to record me with that?”  “Yes, Mr. Davison,” I politely replied.  “Well, that will cost you one Scotch now and one for each set you record,” he said in what seems now to have been a well-rehearsed speech.  I considered my budget for a moment and put the recorder back in the bag.  Was he disappointed at the failure of his bargain?  I couldn’t tell. 

Many players looked horrified and refused, politely but vigorously, when I asked if they wanted me to mail them a copy of what they had just played.  Was it modesty?  Perhaps they had no particular desire to relive what they had done in what was supposed to be an informal situation.  I recall Ray Nance playing splendidly as part of a large ad-hoc ensemble at a Queens College concert (with Joe Newman, Garnett Brown, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Al Foster, and others), and I recorded it from the audience.  Some months later, he appeared for a few nights at a tiny local club that had – for whatever reason – ventured into jazz.  Few people came to hear him, and on the second night, I brought a tape copy of that concert, approached him and offered it to him, thinking I was giving him a present.  He was pleasant enough, but I recall his looking at the box, now his, with mild puzzlement, as if I had given him a parakeet or a box of raisins.     

But taping made for delightfully weird interchanges with some players, made more aware of our presence by the machinery set in front of them.  Ruby Braff came over to Rob Rothberg and myself during a set-break one Tuesday night when he was guest star at the 54th Street Eddie Condon’s.  He peered at the small notebook in which I was writing down personnel and song titles for future reference.  “What is that?” he asked.  I showed him, and he said, “Want my autograph?”  “Sure,” I said, although we had met a dozen or more times already.  He took my pen and spent more time than I expected before handing the book to me, proudly chortling.  He had drawn a pistol, smoke curling out of its muzzle, with “Lucky Luciano” signed boldly beneath it.  A fellow law-breaker!     

After beginning my life of crime, in a few years I had piles of tapes, annotated and organized.  It may have made no sense to anyone not a member of the jazz world, but it meant that I could hear Vic Dickenson play Louis’s famous WEST END BLUES, the cadenza note-for-note, as he had in an outdoor concert at Port Jefferson, New York.  I could hear Marty Grosz sing ISN’T LOVE THE STRANGEST THING, as he did when Soprano Summit appeared at the Jazz Museum in midtown.  On a precious cassette, I still have perhaps ten minutes of what might have been the ultimate small group — Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and Jo Jones — strolling through JUST YOU, JUST ME, BODY AND SOUL, and a slow blues — from a Newport concert in 1974. 

Having these tapes did not prevent any of my heroes from dying, but bits and pieces of their music have been saved.

But “saved” is, alas, an overstatement.  The blank tapes I used were thin and inexpensive; even the best ones were inherently fragile.  The coating flaked off, or their sound got dimmer and dimmer.  So I no longer have many of my original tapes, surely an irony in itself.  In my mind’s ear, I hear Al Cohn, Joe Newman, and Zoot Sims surging through THE RED DOOR and MOTORING ALONG at a Town Hall concert sponsored by Dick Gibson (was it 1970?).  The tape has been gone for years, proving that all things fall or decay, that objects disintegrate or scurry away, beyond our reach.  I didn’t succeed in making permanent records, or at least the tapes I made proved to be impermanent.  But the idea of capturing — or nearly-capturing — jazz in full flight appealed to me then and continues to now.

And (as a postscript) such taping allowed me to make friends from Florida to Westoverledingen, Germany – friends who also loved the music and broke the rules.  I will write about such partners-in-crime in a future posting, among them the brilliant and generous John L. Fell. 

My crimes continue unabated, I state proudly.  The ancient cassette recorder gave way to a Sony minidisc recorder in 2005, thanks to my mentor Kevin Dorn, and I try to be an ethical, polite lawbreaker and ask the musicians’ permission to record whenever possible.  But if you see me in a club, vigorously enjoying the music, nodding my head, smiling broadly, but not applauding, you can be fairly sure that I am continuing my wicked (although fairly harmless) ways.  Come say hello – but not while the music is playing, if you don’t mind.