Tag Archives: “Dixieland”

“FIVE LETTERS THAT FEEL LIKE FOUR”

Reading the blog AESTHETIC< NOT ANESTHETIC often makes me laugh — and I always admire what Prof. M. Figg has to say.  Here he takes on the leaden coinage “Dixieland” and makes it lie quiet for good.  It’s well worth reading.

P.S.  Condon would have hated to have his music called “Dixieland,” and the CD reissue is of course posthumous — labeled by people who should have known better.

May your happiness increase.

NOT ONCE, BUT FOUR OR FIVE TIMES: MAL DOES MARTINEZ (August 23, 2012)

One of the great pleasures of this summer stay in California has been the opportunity to hear / enjoy / talk with / delight in the remarkable Mal Sharpe, larger than life and I don’t mean in height or girth.  His music, his wildly improvised deadpan comedies, his stage presence . . . a remarkable fellow indeed.

Once a month, on a Thursday, Mal brings his Big Money in Jazz Band to Armando’s in Martinez — a very pleasant place (more a social club than a nightspot) run by the amiable Roy Jeans.  August 23 was Mal’s “Dixieland” immersion — for our benefit.

He played trombone and sang; Dwayne Rambey played clarinet, tenor saxophone, and soprano, and also sang; Clint Baker sat in the back and directed jazz traffic while playing the banjo or the guitar; youngblood / swing star Sam Rocha gave his all on tuba; fiery Jim Gammon poured his heart into his trumpet; swinging Roy Blumenfeld, drums.  (Notice that a few performances begin with an impromptu Gammon – Baker duet, reminding me of 1928 Louis and Johnny St. Cyr, very happily).

Here are four musical treats and one avian interlude.  For your dining and dancing pleasure, of course.

HINDUSTAN (where there are still a few parking spaces for caravans and no meters):

A magnificent piece of musical architecture — FOUR OR FIVE TIMES — our delight, doin’ things right:

THE SHEIK OF ARABY, clothed or not:

An ancient folktale about a member of the avian family.  Caution!  It contains a naughty word:

And a beautifully earnest reading of JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE:

Wasn’t that nice?

May your happiness increase.

DEAN MARTIN IN THE LAND OF JAZZ?

In May 2012, I visited the National Underground on East Houston Street in New York City to hear John Gill’s National Saloon Band play a few glorious sets, with music ranging from Chicago jazz of the Twenties to Bing Crosby in the Thirties to Jimmie Rodgers . . . see the expansive range of John and the band here and here.

The management of the National Underground might not have had the most solid understanding of what John’s audience would have understood as appropriate background music — but they did the best they could for “older Americana”: a Dean Martin compilation CD.

I always thought Martin was vastly underrated as a swinging singer, and recall with pleasure the words of the late John S. Wilson, jazz critic for the New York Times (he had a seminal radio program on WQXR-FM, which began with Ellington’s ACROSS THE TRACK BLUES — evidence of Wilson’s deep good taste):  he wrote that Martin deserved to record with the best jazz background then possible — a small band featuring Joe Thomas, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor.  (I think that band could have made Raymond Massey swing, but no matter.)  It never happened, and I didn’t have any sense that Dean Martin had actually recorded with a swinging background.

The compilation CD went through the familiar Martin recordings and then arrived at one new to me, a song that borrows elements from a half-dozen songs, not the least of them being I’M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER.  This lyrical conceit is more vindictive than lonesome, addressed to a presumably unfaithful or duplicitous lover, I’M GOING TO PAPER MY WALLS WITH YOUR LOVE LETTERS.  But listen closely to the band:

The opening ensemble reminds me of the Rampart Street Paraders — neatly “arranged Dixie,” in the manner of Matty Matlock or Billy May, with the string bass playing in two, a descending “Dixieland” figure scored for the horns, then a clarinet obbligto making its way in as the chorus continues — it could be Matlock or two dozen other players to my ears.  After Martin finishes his first chorus, things get looser and more heated.  Is that Dick Cathcart on trumpet?  Clyde Hurley?  And the trombonist, expertly maneuvering around in the middle and low section of the ensemble, could be Moe Schneider — lacking the violent swashbuckling of Abe Lincoln.

But wait!  There’s more!

At 1:27,more or less, the veil of polite behavior lifted, the businessman’s-Dixie got put aside, and the Masters came out to play.  To my ears, the drummer is Nick Fatool, the trombonist Lou McGarity (based on the shouting entrance into the solo).  This deliverance lasts less than thirty seconds, but it’s a wonderful surprise.  (And — so reminiscent of the 1928-31 “hot dance”records that had a peppy orchestral rendition of a danceable melody, then a winning but restrained vocal chorus — with a fiery eight or sixteen bars of jazz improvisation in the last chorus . . . if the prospective buyer had gotten that far, the sale was complete and Mother or Father were not going to scared off by some unbridled devil’s music.)

The closing chorus is slightly more emphatic than the first, but it’s fairly clear that the players have gone back to the manuscript paper: the whole recording, presumably from the middle Fifties, has a sweetly nostalgic air, harking back to Bing Crosby and the John Scott Trotter small groups.

I confess that what has appeared above has very little solid evidence to support it.  I could find no hard evidence of personnel, recording date, and location: the only evidence I have is that the song was recorded by The Ravens and the Andrews Sisters . . . my guess is that this order is right.  If anyone knows more than I have offered here, please chime in.  Until then, I invite you to savor Martin, the band, and that brief hot interlude in the middle.  Eckhart Tolle tells us that it is not our true work to name the beautiful bird or plant that we encounter in our travels, but to enjoy it . . . so if it turns out to be  someone entirely unknown to me on drums, on trombone, I will be surprised but I will live through it.

And this post is for the fine trumpeter and subtle singer Andrew Storar, who told me two days ago that Dean Martin was his favorite.

May your happiness increase.

SHALL WE RAMBLE? (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, May 20, 2012)

In the land of Creative Improvised Music — let’s avoid the narrow little definitions for a moment* — all sorts of delightful cross-pollinations take place.  In this wonderful performance of MUSKRAT RAMBLE that you are about to hear and see, of course the guiding spirits are Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, Chicago, 1926 . . . but I hear a delightful simultaneous current of the Kansas City Six, 1938: Lester Young, Charlie Christian, Buck Clayton, Walter Page.  See if you don’t agree.

The living creators playing MUSKRAT are, of course, Bria Skonberg, trumpet; Scott Robinson, metal clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Kelly Friesen, string bass.

Thank you, beloved EarRegulars, for filling the air so beautifully!

May your happiness increase.

*About those “definitions.”  Some listeners like their cozy boxes.  “I only listen to “Trad.” “Mainstream.” “New Orleans.”  What difference does the name make if the music lifts you up?  On my recent trip to the Sacramento Music Festival, I was suggesting to a new friend that she go to see one of my favorite bands, the Reynolds Brothers.  “Oh,” she said, “I don’t know them.  Are they Dixieland?”  I smiled and said the first thing that came to me, “Gee, I don’t use that word.”  I doubt that my reply acted as an effective inducement to hear the band, but I didn’t want to start defining terms . . . not while there was actual music to be heard.

DOWN-HOME DELIGHTS WITH DUKE HEITGER, RANDY REINHART, DAN LEVINSON, BOB HAVENS, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, FRANK TATE, ARNIE KINSELLA (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA, Sept. 17, 2011)

The wonderful Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who writes both hilariously and sensitively of living between Nazism and Socialism in the Forties, would call this music “Bob Crosby Dixieland.”  That would be a high compliment.  You might describe it as “New Orleans, “Condon-style,” or “Dixieland,” but the labels are too small for the superb music created by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Randy Reinhart, cornet; Dan Levinson, reeds; Bob Havens, trombone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Frank Tate, bass; Arnie Kinsella, drums.

Here are four sterling “good old good ones,” and if their pedigrees are slightly scattered — from Memphis to Twenties pop, from a song created in the Forties for Louis and Billie, to a hit record for the ODJB (a piece of hot zoology that Jelly Roll Morton said he created) — it all swings marvelously.  And there’s the great bonus of a touching vocal from Duke on DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS — he looks terribly embarrassed when someone points it out, but he’s a great singer.

From Memphis with love!  BEALE STREET BLUES:

Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid,” taken uptown or to Clark and Randolph Streets, NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW:

What a terrible movie NEW ORLEANS was!  But it gave us this paean to the Crescent City, DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?

Finally — call the Animal Rescue people: that tiger’s on the loose in the Hotel Athenaeum ballroom.  Hide the children!  TIGER RAG (with bravura work from Rossano):

Wow!

“WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?”

With some regularity, I get an email note from a sincere, curious JAZZ LIVES reader or viewer who has encountered a stirring, perhaps unclassifiable musical performance: “What style is that?” or “What do you call that kind of jazz?”

The questions make me sad.  Sometimes it seems as if listeners are made nervous by the music’s potential to surprise, as if jazz had become a little dog, very sweet-natured, that could turn around and bite badly.

Uncertainty makes us tremble, but I didn’t think that the need for certainties would have so infected our ability to love the music on its own terms.  Some people with good hearts and ears will only be truly easy and happy when they know that a performance of ATLANTA BLUES is “down-home,” “Mainstream,” “pre-bop,” “trad,” “neo-retro,” and the like.  Pick your terminology.  It reminds me of those charts in INTRODUCTION TO JAZZ books with everyone neatly listed, either in tables or in timelines, from Buddy Bolden (he was “New Orleans,” we knew) to Charlie Parker (safe at home in “be-bop”).  Roy Eldridge gave birth to Dizzy Gillespie, and so on.  I always found those charts annoying because of their conservative narrowness: were Ben Webster and Lester Young “Swing” players who weren’t allowed to go out of their front yards?  And the charts left so many people out: I never saw Joe Thomas anywhere.

Although I am an “academic” by profession (I have taught English to college freshmen and sophomores for longer than Bix Beiderbecke’s time on earth) I blame the academics even before there were Jazz History courses, in their attempts to standardize, categorize an organic art form into something teachable — with final exam questions to be determined later.  Charts and boxes, timelines and categories are attempts to quantify something that threatens to spill out and over the edges.  These restrictive mechanisms have governed literary anthologies (organized by “schools” and arranged by the birthdates of the writers being studied) for many generations.

It’s a tribute to any art — jazz, poetry, painting — that such well-meaning acts haven’t killed it dead.

Then, of course, jazz is a music that blessedly stirs up fierce allegiances.  That’s a good thing!  I love to see people who hug their music to their hearts: both they and the music are fully alive in such moments.  But allegiance devolves into party skirmishes and ideological statements: my music is PURE; yours is COMMERCIAL.  Mine is THE TRUTH; yours is CORRUPTED.  The journalists and critics saw good copy here and thus we had DIXIELAND versus BE-BOP and the like, the ancient doing battle with the new.  The musicians knew better and respected each other: Baby Dodds and Max Roach weren’t at war.

But the need to name, to classify, to take big living entities and force them into little boxes — a chilling process — hasn’t gone away.  Too bad.  It gets in the way of our ability to sink deeply into the collective creativity that jazz offers us if we’re wondering what to call what we’re hearing.

Let us be guided by Eddie Condon: WE CALLED IT MUSIC.

FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SOUTHWEST at THE EAR INN (May 15 / 22, 2011)

In the Thirties and Forties, “Swing Street” was the name given to one special block — New York City’s Fifty-Second Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where jazz flourished. 

Given tectonic shifts and climate change, it’s no surprise that everything we know has moved — so Swing Street reappears every Sunday night from 8-11 PM at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City).

Here are glimpses of two enchanted evenings — May 15 and 22, 2011, with the EarRegulars and friends at their best.  The magicians that first Sunday were Dan Block, reeds; Harvey Tibbs, trombone; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Jon Burr, bass.  How about a tender ballad — Irving Berlin’s SAY IT ISN’T SO:

Then, trombonist Jim Fryer joined in for UNDECIDED (no dithering here):

And Matt gave up his seat (his guitar and amplifier, too) to Chris Flory, who made TOPSY sound just like uptown, 1941:

Fast-forward. 

The calendar pages fall off the wall.  The work week evaporates. 

It’s Sunday, May 22.  On the imaginary Ear Inn bandstand: Danny Tobias, cornet; Pete Anderson, reeds; James Chirillo, guitar; Frank Tate, bass — joined later by friends Andy Stein, violin, Mike Carrubia, cornet.   In the audience, Sir Robert Cox and family, on their New York City jazz tour.

W.C. Handy didn’t know about rayon and soymilk a hundred years ago, but he certainly understood the perils of LOVELESS LOVE:

Yes, I WANT TO BE HAPPY.  Easily accomplished at The Ear Inn:

Another good old good one — circa 1922 — THAT DA DA STRAIN:

And the romantic pleasure of I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, a rhapsody for two cornets and friends in 4 / 4 time:

A Dixieland classic, not too fast — THAT’S A PLENTY:

Without leaving their seats — RUNNIN’ WILD, courtesy of James P. Johnson:

Ballads are never out of season — so Danny called for SPRING IS HERE (perhaps a geographical comment more than an emotional utterance?):

And to conclude the evening, the groovy blues line called CENTERPIECE by Sweets Edison:

The EarRegulars will be celebrating their fourth anniversary in early July 2011.  What a remarkable accomplishment!  And these Sunday evenings are marvels, best viewed first-hand.

A WARM NIGHT AT THE EAR (May 2, 2010)

It was in the eighties outside last Sunday — but the unsually high temperature isn’t the subject of this post.  I’m sure that the warmth in the West Village was emanating from inside The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street) where fervent jazz was once again being played. 

This edition of The Ear Regulars had co-founders Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri, joined by tenor saxophonist Andy Farber and bassist Danton Boller.  Jon-Erik was stuck in traffic (coming straight from gigging in his home state, Michigan) so the trio began the festivities with a medium-tempo exploration of THE MAN I LOVE.  Andy’s sound is big, reminiscent of Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, but he is an individualist, approaching his horn with a mix of seriousness and delicacy.  Danton is a serious storyteller: his swinging pulse was steady and buoyant; his solos rang and climbed.  And Matt, as always, is a whole orchestra in himself:

Late in the first set, Jon-Erik proposed a favorite Ear Regulars gambit — take a “Dixieland” tune and see what would result.  In this, he has heroic antecedents.  SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL was memorably done by Fats Waller and Count Basie (to say nothing of Bix Beiderbecke) and it lends itself to this band’s relaxed yet energetic approach:

To close the set, Jon-Erik suggested BEALE STREET BLUES, which lends itself to an easy, rocking motion.  He delights in a variety of mutes (often using the rubber plunger) but took a new tack — using his empty beer glass to create hallooing sounds worthy of Joe Oliver.  In his honor, I have retitled W.C. Handy’s composition BEER STREET BLUES, in two parts:

The final delectable swallow:

Warm enough for you?

TUESDAYS WITH CHARLIE (CARANICAS)

Charlie Caranicas, trumpet / fluegelhorn player by night, lawyer by day, is an often under-acknowledged New York jazz hero.  He can lead a “Dixieland” ensemble with power and grace, then turn around and play Monk with subtlety and deep feeling.  Or he can create jazz that both enhances the melody but doesn’t scare away the uninitiated.  I first heard him perhaps five years ago with Kevin Dorn’s band at the Cajun, and have delighted in his playing ever since.

New Yorkers have new opportunities to hear Charlie in low-key, intimate surroundings at two restaurants. 

One of them, Pane e Vino, is in Brooklyn (www.panevinony.com).  It’s located at 174 Smith Street, thirty seconds away from the F train’s Bergen Street stop.  The music begins at 8:30 PM and goes until 11, more or less.  Charlie appears there with his own trio — a guitarist and bassist, the latter often the admirable Kelly Friesen.  The trio will be there on Tuesday, May 4th, and on May 18th. 

I visited Pane e Vino a few weeks ago and was impressed by its quiet atmosphere (the trio plays near a small collection of overstuffed chairs and sofas) and cozy darkness.  (The darkness defeated every camera that I had with me, but it lent the music a lovely intimacy.)  With Charlie that night were Kelly on bass and the very fine guitarist Mark McCarron.  The trio must have felt like honoring Benny Carter, because they began their first set with a walking WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW (Charlie played his solo into a red-and-white metal derby) that showed off McCarron’s subtle chording and Kelly’s fine flexible pulse.  After a version of DINAH that began medium-fast and then went into double-time, with Charlie bowing to Louis’s 1933 Copenhagen version, the trio returned to Carter with a yearning ONLY TRUST YOUR HEART, for which Charlie picked up his fluegelhorn, filling the room with his warm, cushiony sound.  A pulsing THESE FOOLISH THINGS made me think I had gone back in time to hear Harry Edison, George VanEps, and Ray Brown — names to conjure with!  Singer Lisa Hearns sat in for a trio of Basie-infused standards, APRIL IN PARIS, CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS, and OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY. 

Wednesday morning beckoned with its chill finger, so I stayed for only the first set, but it was convincing jazz — relaxed but focused swing.  I was amused to see that Charlie’s derby doubled as a tip jar, and some of the listeners seemed to know what it was for. 

I haven’t been to Charlie’s New York City gig, but he’ll be at BOOM on Tuesday, May 11th.  It’s a restaurant / lounge in Soho, also with a trio, 8:30 until 11:30.  BOOM is at 152 Spring St., just east of West Broadway (www.boomsoho.com).  Charlie’s website is www.charliejazz.com, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you asked to be added to his email list.  He’s worth hearing!

NATE CHINEN: “FIGS AND STONES”

Nate Chinen writes about jazz for The New York Times, JazzTimes, the Village Voice, and he also has a thriving blog, “The Gig”: http://thegig.typepad.com/blog/2010/04/mossy-stone.html#more

Until this year, I would have perceived him as living on the other side of the Jazz Divide, because we clearly loved very different — even irreconcilable — music.  But my opinion changed last January when Nate sent me a friendly email:

I don’t believe we’ve met, but I wanted to get in touch. I’m working on a JazzTimes column about the “new” strain of jazz traditionalism, and the ways in which the culture(s) of swing and bebop have continued to thrive, often well out of the reach of mainstream-media coverage. You struck me as an ideal person to sound off on such matters, so I’m wondering whether you might have some spare time this afternoon or evening. We could speak by phone or I could shoot you a few questions over email. Please let me know, in any case. I’ll look forward to making your acquaintance.

I was delighted — someone was graciously asking whether I would like to discuss my favorite subject!  So we spent an hour on the phone.  Nate asked pertinent questions, listened closely, and let me talk.  I told him that this “new traditionalism” was deep and inventive.  It wasn’t simply young people copying old records. 

I spoke at length about the performances I had seen in New York and elsewhere — musicians comfortable with many approaches to improvising, able to encompass Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and James P. Johnson in a single solo without seeming exhibitionistic or synthetic.  I told Nate about nights at The Ear Inn, where musicians of different “schools” found a common language  — connecting George Mitchell and Don Cherry — that was communal, genuine, and satisfying.  (I also urged him to join me there some Sunday, and he said he would.) 

Of course, I mentioned the names of my living heroes (my readers will be able to name a dozen) throughout the conversation, in hopes that he would understand that jazz — the religion of JAZZ — was very much alive here and now. 

As our conversation progressed, Nate was enthusiastic about his inventing a new name for the old — derisive — term for people who loved older jazz players and styles.  In the ideological wars of the Forties, they were “moldy figs,” defending their territory against the interlopers Bird and Dizzy.  Nate had come up with “mossy stones,” and his coinage made me think of a quotation from W.B. Yeats’s “Easter 1916.”  If I had been worried at the start that Nate was uncomprehending or hostile to my sensibilities, this phone conversation had given me reason to relax.

Yesterday, Nate informed me that the article had been published:   

Figs & Stones

Some time ago Michael Steinman, a professor of English at Nassau Community College, was out to dinner on vacation when the conversation turned to jazz. Hearing of his love for the music, someone at another table proudly claimed that he had been at Carnegie Hall in the early ’60s, for a concert that included tenor titans John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. “I told him my taste in jazz went back a bit further than that,” Steinman recalls. “He looked at me and said, ‘Wait a minute. Are you a moldy fig?’”

The fact that you’re here, dear reader, probably means you know that them’s fightin’ words. To be seen as a moldy fig, at this point in jazz’s post-history, is to be lumped together with the loonies and curmudgeons, hopelessly out of step, terminally uncool. Like Renaissance faire habitués and Civil War reenactors, the moldy fig longs for some receding point on the timeline, striving to transplant its bygone values to an inhospitable soil. Jazz, for such a creature, is a firm ideal, lovingly and narrowly circumscribed.

What’s funny is the fact that “moldy fig” connotes two distinct jazz factions that should be fundamentally at odds. The term originally referred to the early jazz traditionalists who saw the music as having peaked in the 1920s. Soon it was also leveled at swing adherents who decried the advancing tide of bebop. Both meanings were in circulation in the 1940s, reflecting a pair of schisms in jazz at the time. As Bernard Gendron once put it, in a definitive essay on the subject: “The first of these conflicts pitted swing against the newly revitalized New Orleans jazz that it had previously supplanted, and the second against the bebop avant-garde movement that threatened to make it obsolescent.”

Pluck in the face of obsolescence is what unites the moldy figs of both persuasions today: the Benny Goodman fan club, say, with members of the Sidney Bechet Society. The term has even become a badge of honor among some listeners—though not for Steinman, who runs a blog called Jazz Lives. “Traditionalism to me is not tuba and banjo,” he writes in an explanatory note, distancing himself from the moldiest of fig trappings. But he’s clear about the music he loves—“[My] heroes include Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ruby Braff, Eddie Condon,” he writes—and he uses his platform to champion it.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the moldy-fig legacy as it applies to the next wave of jazz traditionalists. While the music has advanced (I’ll refrain from writing “evolved”), the shadow of obsolescence has been lengthening. It no longer stops at the breakthroughs of bebop, or the refinement of modal jazz. So even though jazz’s mid-century modern constituency still has a lot to be thankful for—the Jazz Icons DVD series, for one, and present-day paragons like tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander—the center of the music no longer reflects that reality.

Perhaps you can identify. Depending on your tastes, you might be among the jazz diehards disillusioned with what’s become of the jazz media, with its fetish for newness. You nod your head when you hear of the death of jazz, as it’s commonly understood. Well, don’t look now, but you might be a mossy stone.

Allow me to explain. A mossy stone is a jazz adherent whose core stylistic allegiance is to the music pioneered in the 1940s, streamlined in the ’50s and diversified in the ’60s. This region of inquiry begins with bebop and ends with free jazz, cutting off at the early stirrings of fusion. Wynton Marsalis, once disparaged by critic Gene Santoro as a “latter-day moldy fig,” actually fits this bill: Though vocal in his advocacy of swing and earlier jazz, he’s a modernist at heart, as his own track record proves. (Listen again to his last few albums on Blue Note.) But you could despise Marsalis and still be a mossy stone. All it takes is a tacit understanding that jazz innovation peaked by about 1967, and that nothing of real, lasting value has changed in the music since.

Right about now you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of a mossy stone. Simple: I made the term up, while pondering the distance between results in critics’ polls and readers’ polls. Obviously I’m riffing on the aphorism “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” with its valorization of forward motion. I’m also invoking the Rolling Stones, and rock, with its progressive connotations. A mossy stone finds no traction in the straight-eighth groove and fusionlike flow of so many jazz albums today. He or she appreciates the Monkish aspects of a pianist like Robert Glasper or Jason Moran, but not so much the hip-hop inflections. You can be a mossy stone at any age—I bet there are more than a few working at the high school level—as long as you possess the same stubbornness exhibited by the moldy figs all those years ago.

As someone sympathetic to the mossy stone agenda—I too have wondered why young musicians can’t occasionally carve up a standard, or just swing a little—let me offer a reassurance. Moss may be disconcertingly similar to mold, but that’s fine. As Gendron observed, regarding the two schisms in 1940s jazz: “Both contests were fought on much of the same discursive terrain.” Likewise, the mossy stone and the moldy fig have two very different record collections, but they’re cousins in many respects.

Of course moldy figs have had a longer time to refine their contrarianism, honing an admirable combination of staunch defiance and pragmatic resignation. When I mentioned my new bit of jazz taxonomy to Steinman, he picked up on this right away, despite his reflexive wariness about labels, especially those dreamt up by jazz critics.

“Have you read ‘Easter, 1916,’ the Yeats poem?” he asked. Yes, but it had been a while. When I consulted the text, I found its vivid image of a stone planted in a stream. The water moves, as do the reflections of clouds along its surface. A horse and rider splash along. “Minute by minute they live,” Yeats writes. “The stone’s in the midst of all.”

Anyone who’s been interviewed dreads being misquoted, so I was thrilled to find that Nate had paid me the great compliment of accuracy.  And he had given me a short solo at the start, middle, and end — generous journalism.   But the piece does raise a few issues for me, and since Nate invited me to address them here, I will take him up on it. 

I am delighted that he gives such serious attention to this “new traditionalism.”  It would be very easy to depict this phenomena as more evidence of The Death of Jazz: “See, all we have left is these shrinking audiences on cruise ships and jazz parties listening to stale perfomances of jazz-by-rote.  People who are almost dead listening to music that certainly is.” 

Although I am not ready for Medicare, it would also have been easy to satirize or stereotype me: an eager chronicler of a moribund art, recording its final wheezes.  I am pleased that neither of these approaches color Nate’s essay in the slightest.    

But I find it curious that the musicians whose names I utter in his essay are all dead.  It suggests that my “new traditionalism” is entirely antiquarian, as if I did not delight in current performances by players very much alive.  Yes, my iPod is full of now-dead players, but I’ll bet Nate listens to some dead folks, too.  He even writes obituaries of them, as in the case of John Bunch. 

Was it that Nate didn’t want to turn his essay into a list of names?  Or was it that he did not want to offen worthy players by omitting their names?  I admire tact, but Nate’s editing makes me and the Mossy Stones (who share my initials) seem to be the Emily Griersons or Miss Havishams of Dixieland, if you will.

At first glance, changing Figs into Stones sounds wonderful.  But “moldy fig” is such an archaic term that only those deeply involved in jazz history (“Jazz Battle” or “Squabblin,” if you like) would even recognize it.  True, I am pleased to no longer be compared to rotting produce.  And Nate does generously praise the “mossy stones” for their insistent devotion to the art they love. 

But do these names really matter? 

Given the minute notice jazz gets in the larger media, is this meditation on nomenclature the most profound way to bring attention to rewarding music?  And, given the divisive nature of much of the writing purportedly about jazz, is setting up a new sub-category of listeners a good thing?  Perhaps we should be attempting to bring the “schools” and “allegiances” together, so everyone could be open to music that could go back to ragtime and forward to hard bop and beyond. 

But this is the beginning of a deeper conversation — an optimistic one, not mourning the death of jazz but celebrating the life around us.  Nate and I agree that there is astonishing music to be heard and loved, now and in the future. 

And my invitation to dinner at The Ear Inn is still open!

THEY CALL IT MUSIC: “THE BIG 72” (March 19, 2010)

Last night I went to another of Kevin Dorn’s late-Friday evening gigs at The Garage (Seventh Avenue South).  The band, “The Big 72,” plays from 10:30 to 2:30.  Staying for all four sets would require a preparatory nap, something I’ve never managed to do — but I was so delighted with the music that I stayed for two sets rather than my customary one.  You’ll see why. 

Like his hero Eddie Condon, Kevin likes to employ his friends for gigs (you’d be surprised at the rancor floating around the bandstand on some gigs — not Kevin’s) and he had a particularly congenial crew of individualists last night. 

For lyricism, there’s the always-surprising Charlie Caranicas on cornet, who has a singing tone and many nimble approaches, not just one.  The clarinet master (and occasional singer) Pete Martinez was in splendid form, murmuring in his lower register or letting himself go with whoops and Ed Hall-shrieks.  I’d heard Adrian Cunningham only on clarinet before (at The Ear Inn and Sweet Rhythm): it was a revelation to hear him on alto, where he showed raucous rhythm-and-blues tendencies, bending notes in the manner of Pete Brown.  In the background, Michael Bank took tidy, swinging solos and offered just the right chords behind soloists.  He deserves a better piano, but he added so much.  Kelly Friesen, hero of a thousand bands, pushed the beat but never raced the time, and his woody sound cut through the Garage’s constant aural ruckus.  And Kevin — well, he was in his element, letting the music take its own path without getting in its way by “leading.”  His solos were delicious sound-structures, full of variety and propulsion, but I found myself listening even more to his accompaniments: the sound of a stick on a half-closed hi-hat cymbal, the steady heartbeat of his bass drum, the tap of his stick on the hi-hat stem.

Here are ten performances I recorded.  At first the Garage’s patrons were unusually chatty and ambulatory (or should I say Talky and Walky?)  but many of them noticed that me and my video camera.  Surprisingly, they executed sweet arabesques of ducking down and getting small so they wouldn’t walk in front of my lens.  Thank you! 

NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, a pop tune beloved by late-Twenties jazz players (I think of Teagarden and Condon among them):

A devoted, serious reading of SUGAR by Pete Martinez:

If Louis Armstrong didn’t invent THEM THERE EYES, he certainly owned this bright, silly song (until Billie Holiday came and reinvented it for everyone):

That probing, perhaps unanswered question (before Charles Ives), HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO?:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE, played as a Wettling-Davison romp rather than a lament:

MY GAL SAL (whose title musicians happily corrupted into “They called her Syphillis Sal”):

Homage to Bix Beiderbecke — here’s JAZZ ME BLUES:

IDA (Sweet As Apple Cider) is forever associated in my memory with Pee Wee Russell, whose choruses were always unusual in the best way:

BALLIN’ THE JACK, an eternally popular “here’s how to do this new dance” song:

Finally, BLUES MY NAAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME, recollecting JAMMIN’ AT CONDON’S:

The Big 72 calls what they play music.  Or what would you suggest?

“POTATO HEAD BLUES” (March 2010)

Here’s the High Sierra Jazz Band — recorded by Tom Warner at the March 2010 Monterey Dixieland Festival — performing their dazzling version of Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES.  The band is made up of Pieter Meijers, reeds, co-leader; Howard Miyata, trombone; Bryan Shaw, cornet; Bruce Huddleston, piano; Stan Huddleston, banjo, guitar; Charlie Castro, drums; Earl McKee, sousaphone.  On this dazzling homage to Louis, the front line turns into a trumpet / cornet section.  What I need to know (and will probably never find out at this late date) is which of Louis’s Chicago or New Orleans pals apparently had a head that resembled a potato and was thus immortalized?  Whose physiognomy inspired this hot tune?

I wish I could have this performance on my clock radio — music to wake anyone up in the best way!

P.S.  Tom Warner’s YouTube channel is “tdub1941,” a cornucopia of good things.

MAGGIE CONDON HAS A PLAN

Last week, I met Maggie Condon.  If you don’t recognize her immediately, let me give you a hint:

Yes, that family.  Maggie is the elder daughter of Eddie and Phyllis Condon; she and her husband Peter (a most amiable filmmaker) live in the family’s Washington Square apartment, where I visited Maggie recently. 

I should say here that Eddie Condon — bandleader, man with an idea, guitarist, promoter — is one of my most beloved heroes.  When I started listening to other jazzmen beyond Louis, I naturally gravitated to any and all records that had any connection with Eddie — from the early Twenties to the middle Seventies.  And I was lucky enough to see the great man himself: once at close range, three times in concert. 

I knew I was in the presence of something remarkable when Maggie offered me the tour of the Condon apartment — which began by her walking to the window that overlooked Washington Square Park and pointing out the diagonal path she remembered seeing her father take across the park to the club named for him (47 West Third Street).  Then she opened a box and unwrapped what was and is a sacred object — Eddie’s first banjo, labeled on the back of the head “Slick Condon,” with a date of 1921.  Eddie had his own bedroom in the apartment because he and Phyllis — although truly devoted to each other — kept different hours.  Phyllis, an ambitious woman, was up early, someone with things to do.  Eddie came home late from the club and wanted darkness and silence for his daylight-hours sleeping pleasure: thus his room was painted a dark green, almost black. 

The holy relics continued to surface: one of Eddie’s custom-made Gibson tenor guitars:

From another angle, with reverence:

One more:

And here’s the label on the outside of the guitar case — written by Phyllis:

Eddie called the jazz magazine BROW BEAT — and here’s the only award he ever got from them:

But back to the title.  “Maggie Condon has a plan?”

Yes, Maggie Condon is making a video documentary about her father — possibly a feature-length film.  She’s been planning it for more than twenty years, and is well-qualified, having been a film and television director for a number of years.  As I write this, she is doing a series of video interviews — of jazz scholars who knew and loved Eddie, jazz musicians who played alongside him, people who saw him at close range. 

The film, let me assure you, is a daughter’s tribute to her father — as a man, as a musician — no filmed pathobiography here.

Why Eddie Condon? 

If you were to search blindly through the morass of semi-factoidal information that makes up the web, you might find that Eddie was (some say) more well-known for talking than playing, a not-very-adept rhythm guitarist (according to others) who didn’t take solos; a proponent of a now-dead style.  Even though Eddie loathed the word “Dixieland,” and said that it was “music for the farmers who wanted to hear THE SAINTS,” he is identified with the form.

All wrong. 

Three minutes of any Condon record would sweep some of this fallacy away, but there’s more that needs to be said.  That Bx Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong called him their friend should say something as well. 

First, Eddie was a rebel against the Midwestern world in which he was born.  Who would have expected a young man from Indiana to find his calling in that noisy music called jazz?  And, odder still, who would have expected that Condon boy to be so thoroughly color-blind that he would organize integrated record sessions before 1930, picking musicians by their talent rather than their compliexion at a time when this wasn’t done?  Even as late as the mid-Forties, an integrated Condon band was shut out of a Washington, D.C. concert hall because the DAR wouldn’t countenance race-mixing onstage.  So he was a pioneer.

Critics and social historians get justifiably excited about John Hammond bringing Teddy Wilson into the Benny Goodman band; they extol the heroism of Branch Rickey, getting Jackie Robinson onto the field in the white major leagues. 

But who celebrates Eddie Condon for getting Fats Waller and Hot Lips Page into Carnegie Hall?  And when the Condon groups broadcast from the Ritz Theatre and Town Hall over the Blue Network in 1944-45, how many people (here and overseas) thrilled to the music and then realized that the people whose art they were charmed by were the same people who had to sit in the back of the bus?  (Exhibit A above: “Eddie’s Hot Shots” was what they used to call “a mixed band,” and the record is still a Hot landmark.)

Ken Burns didn’t pay much attention to Eddie; I have yet to see a Jazz at Lincoln Center tribute to the man and his music.  Eddie was Caucasian (unfashionable), he made a living from his music (unthinkable), and he didn’t die young (unbelievable).  Even in the face of all these ideological burdens, he surely deserves to be celebrated.  Was it his fault that he had a good time, and that jazz wasn’t his martyrdom?   

He was the first jazz musician to have his name on a club, and it’s not incidental that the music that came out of that club was free-wheeling and passionately expert.  And he brought jazz to television long before it became the soundtrack for many shows — as early as 1942, and his EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW remains a model of what could be done with the form — informal, funny, and Hot. 

With Milt Gabler, another down-home urban saint, Eddie and his gang made extraordinary records for the Commodore label in the late Thrities and early Forties, moving over to Decca and later (under George Avakian’s benign, wise guidance) to Columbia for classic sessions in the Fifties.    

So I’m thrilled that Maggie is interviewing the elders of the tribe as well as getting acquainted with the younger musicians who know and love the jazz that Eddie nurtured and sustained. 

If you’ve got memories of being in Eddie’s club, let’s hear them!  If you remember the first time you heard a Condon record, tell us!  (And — I’m probably not supposed to say this, but consider it whispered: if you’re a wealthy jazz-lover who would like to make sure more people know who Eddie Condon is — is, not was — it would be nice to hear from you, too.) 

Not someday, but now.  More to come!

HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE

Two biographies of jazz musicians have recently gotten much well-deserved media attention: Robin G. Kelley’s study of Thelonious Monk, Terry Teachout’s Louis Armstrong book. 

The Mercury Press has just published jazz scholar Mark Miller’s biography of pianist-composer Herbie Nichols.  It’s a small paperback, 224 pages, without accompanying fanfare. 

But HERBIE NICHOLS: A JAZZIST’S LIFE is, in its own quiet way, equal and perhaps superior to the larger competition.  It could fascinate a reader who had never heard Nichols on record or in person: Miller is that fine a writer and researcher. 

At this point, “full disclosure” is essential: I have admired Miller’s books before; my praise of his Valaida Snow biography is on the back cover here; I also tried to help him speak to New York musicians who might have played alongside Nichols, among them Leroy “Sam” Parkins and Joe Muranyi.  But if I had received a copy of this book with its author’s name erased, I would have been mightily impressed. 

But more about that later.  Who was Herbie Nichols?  “Dead at 44 of leukemia” is one answer.  “Brilliantly original but underacknowledged in his lifetime.”  “Peer of Monk, not a disciple.”  “Inimitable pianist and composer.”  “He could work with Danny Barker and Roswell Rudd and please them both.” 

Nichols rarely made his living playing the music he had created.  The paying gigs were with rhythm and blues bands or playing for cabarets, chorus lines, and shows, and most often “Dixieland.”  In fact, I first heard him on records with Rex Stewart and Joe Thomas.  (Nichols’ last record was the Atlantic MAINSTREAM session.) 

But Nichols knew a wide variety of music, and didn’t bring his own ideology to the gig, even though the jazz critics were busily pitting “Dixieland” against “modern.”  He was a fine stride pianist, choosing Jelly Roll Morton’s THE PEARLS as his feature when he played with a traditional band. 

But he retained his identity, and the players who worked with Nichols understood that he was going his own way in the traditional ensembles of the time, not always easily.  Dixieland gigs proliferated, even though writers might now see the Fifties as the era of cool jazz or hard bop.  He worked in bands led by drummer Al Bandini (a friend of Pee Wee Russell) at the Greenwich Village club The Riviera, which may still be active, although without music, on Seventh Avenue South.  Buell Neidlinger recalled what I hope wasn’t a typical scene: “I can’t tell you the number of times I trudged over there with my bass just to get a chance to play with Herbie, even with Al there — just to make Herbie feel better.  Al was nasty to Herbie.  Herbie’d be playing one of his tunes and Al would say, ‘Let’s stop that shit now!  Right in the middle of the tune!  Let’s stop that shit now.  Let’s play When the Saints Go Marching In.‘ He’d say that real loud and the audience would scream, ‘Yeah!  Go, man, go, go, go!” 

Nichols’ brief life, the scant recognition he got, and such scenes might encourage a writer to depict him as a victim.  One imagines the Down Beat headline: JAZZ MODERNIST FORCED TO PLAY “ROYAL GARDEN BLUES.”  Intrigued by Nichols the man, Miller avoids the conventional portrait of the suffering jazzman, and shows us that Nichols — refiined, intellectual, chess-player, poet, and painter — was not self-destructive, an alcoholic, an addict.  African-American, he was not victimized by racism — no more than any man of his race in those decades.   

Rather, Miller is sympathetic without being idolatrous, candidly describing the missed chances, the system of jazz-stardom that put Thelonious Monk on the cover of TIME but had Nichols playing the piano for female impersonators.  Nichols is a particularly challenging subject for a biography because the evidence that exists nearly forty-five years after his death is slim. 

However, readers who are intrigued by famous names and the people a working musician might encounter will be delighted by the players Nichols worked with or knew: Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Sidney Bechet, Dick Rath, Ed Polcer, Conrad Janis, Wilbur deParis, Illinois Jacquet, John Kirby, Charles Mingus, Roswell Rudd, Sheila Jordan, Dave Frishberg, Cecil Taylor, Max Roach, Art Blakey.  We find him on a Turkish cruise ship playing traditional jazz with Steve Swallow.  A Nichols melody caught Billie Holiday’s ear and was retitled, with lyrics, LADY SINGS THE BLUES.  He helps a ten-year old Phil Schaap negotiate the New York subway system. 

Miller knits together all these incidents, bits of hearsay and anecdotage without making his book seem like a banquet of crumbs.  The biography moves chronologically, but Miller isn’t tied to the calendar (some jazz books read as if the author wanted to follow the subject gig by gig, month by month); Miller is both expert and free, so the book moves sideways when the material needs it, without losing the thread.  The biography is compact (Miller considers that not every artist needs a five-hundred page monograph) but it is both dense and quickly-paced. 

And in the essential small things, Miller is splendid: he has a fine emotional intelligence that allows him to be fond of Nichols (as everyone except Bandini was, apparently) without idealizing him.  Although the evidence is often sketchy, Miller doesn’t hypothesize excessively; he avoids psychoanalyzing his subject; he doesn’t get irritated by Nichols, nor does he pad the biography by quoting large excerpts from Nichols’ prose.  His musical analysis is pointed but not over-technical; Miller captures the flavor and sensibility of Nichols playing, composing, and imagination.

Another writer might have made himself the subject of the book: “Look how much detective work I had to do to find out this shred of information about that neglected pianist — I forget his name.”  Someone might have shaped the facts of his subject’s life to fit a particular ideology.  Because Miller illuminates Nichols and gently stays out of the way, his subject’s personality shines through, even when the evidence is most thin.  I began the book with great eagerness because I admire Miller’s writing, his perspective, and his research — but very soon I was forcing myself to read it more slowly, because I did not want it to end.  That may be the best tribute a reader can pay — to Nichols and to his chronicler.       

COPYRIGHT, MICHAEL STEINMAN AND JAZZ LIVES, 2009
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Steinman and Jazz Lives with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
 

FINEST FIG JAM

fig jam

Some history might be needed here.  “A fig,” “a Moldy Fig,” even “a Mouldy Figge,” is now-archaic language invented during the Forties, when jazz found itself divided into warring factions called Dixieland and Bebop.  This divisiveness may have splintered the music and its audiences irrevocably.  Much of the noisy conflict was fomented by journalists and publicists seeking to attract audiences through controversy.  At this distance, we know that GROOVIN’ HIGH is only WHISPERING with a new blouse, but people allowed themselves to ignore this.  I find the poet Philip Larkin very endearing in his art and his vinegary energies, but his jazz prose embodies this point of view, where the world had reached an artistic peak in 1932 with the Rhythmakers recordings and had gone steadily downhill.  I agree with the first part of this formulation but not the second. 

I began my devotional listening as a Fig, so it took a long gradual period of contemplative immersion before I could understand that, say, John Coltrane wasn’t The Enemy out to destroy the music I loved.  In truth, I was never an extremist but I had strong, narrow likes and dislikes.  I remember having a brief conversation with another student in a middle-school Music Appreciation class who was deeply immersed in the New Thing — this was forty-plus years ago and the new thing was Archie Shepp, and the conversation went like this:

“Alan,” which might not be his name, but is a good guess: “I hear you like jazz.”

Me (brightening at having found a fellow subversive): “Oh, yes, I do!”

“Alan”: “Do you listen to Archie Shepp?”

Me (horrified that he hadn’t mentioned Louis, and coming up with a wise-acre New Yorker rejoinder): “Archie Shepp?! I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

“Alan”: “Well, the hell with you!”

So goes critical discourse at its finest! 

I would like to boast that I’ve seen the light and the scales have dropped from my eyes, but if you told me I had to choose only one jazz recording to spend eternity with, it still might be AFTER YOU’VE GONE by the Blue Note Jazzmen, even though I can understand and appreciate music that would have perplexed and repelled me in my youth.  And the music was always there, I just didn’t get it. 

This self-scrutiny is provoked by a phone conversation I had yesterday with Bob Rusch (or RDR), editor and chief spiritual guide of the quarterly journal devoted to Creative Improvised Music, CADENCE.  Full disclosure requires me to say that I write reviews for CADENCE, and I continue to admire the journal’s honesty.  And working with Bob has always been a pleasurable lesson in Emersonian candor: when I have felt an inexplicable need to tactfully cloak the truth in polite words, he has always asked, “Why?” 

If you’ve never read CADENCE, you have been missing something special and rare.  See for yourself (www.cadencebuilding.com).

In the course of our conversation — we speak infrequently, but over the past five years it has always been both bracing and affectionate — Bob said gently that he thought I was “getting more figgish,” and I agreed.  But it made me think, and perhaps my experience will ring true with my readers. 

There used to be “the jazz record industry,” and I am not talking about sixty-five years ago, the Commodore Music Shop, and listening booths.  Ten years ago, perhaps, there were many more active companies producing compact discs.  (If you want to have a sobering experience, casually inspect the spines of any fifty CDs in your library and note how many of those labels no longer exist.)  This, of course, has to do with the economy, an aging audience, and more. 

It has had an double-edged result.  On one hand, no more new issues from Chiaroscuro, no more Pablo, fewer ways for musicians to be encouraged by a label.  But because labels no longer exist, many energetic musicians have gone into business for themselves and produce their own discs.  

This can be a boon: musicians can record what they want, have it sound the way they want, without the interference of recording engineers or the heads of record companies . . . and splendid personal statements emerge.  But this asks musicians to be both courageous and affluent (or at least credit-worthy): a self-produced CD might require a $10,000 investment that the artist might get back over ten years of selling the discs one at a time on the gig.  We should all live and be well! 

(Musician joke: “My latest CD is a million-seller.  I’ve got a million in my cellar.”)

Many players I know have made a virtue of necessity, but I think many of them look back nostalgically to the dear dead days when they got a call to go to a studio at noon to make a date, they played their hearts out, they got paid, and eight months later they knew that the disc they had appeared on was being sold all over the world.  Yes, their control over the music was compromised, their pay was a percentage of the profit, but someone else was handling all the annoying business.  

What this means for someone like myself, reviewing CDs, is that a good deal of what I am asked to listen to is by artists new to me (a good thing) who are offering their own music (potentially a good thing).  And occasionally it leads me to sit up in my chair and say, “By God, (s)he’s got it!”  Melissa Collard was new to me when I first heard her OLD-FASHIONED LOVE, and she is one of those singers whose work I most treasure.  Mark Shane, Kevin Dorn, Dawn Lambeth, Marc Caparone, Danny Tobias, Lyle Ritz, Andy Brown, Petra van Nuis, and more.  

But much of what I hear is both competent yet entirely forgettable.  I know that Lips Page said, “The material is immaterial,” but hand me a CD full of original compositions by a player and I wonder, “Gee, you’ve already decided that there’s nothing new for you to say on the blues or on I’VE TOLD EV’RY LITTLE STAR?”  Funny, that hasn’t occurred to Sonny Rollins.

And it is sad to receive a CD by a singer or musician, male or female, where great effort has gone into burnishing the exterior at the expense of other things.  When the artist credits his or her hair stylist and wardrobe person first, I think, “Oh no.  Repertoire, not manicure.  No one listens to the cover.” 

So my “figgishness” or “figitude” (both my own coinings) is a way to get back to what music means to me — a spiritual / intellectual / experience that makes me want to grin foolishly and shout exultantly.  I would indeed rather hear a wonderful performance of an original composition by musicians I don’t know than a tired rendition of OUR BUNGALOW OF DREAMS, but I need to hear jazz that makes me remember why I began to listen to the music in the first place: joy, inventiveness, clear delight in being alive in the face of death.  If your listening is purely an intellectual exercise and you find that gratifying, fine, but mine is tied up with the emotions.  Is the music beautiful?  Does it make me feel some strong emotion, preferably happiness?  Can I admire the players?            

So I close this post with a new example of FINEST FIG JAM — pure, organic, and locally sourced.  It’s another YouTube clip from the lucky and generous SFRaeAnn of the Eldorado Serenaders, whose front line is Don Neely on reeds, Robert Young on reeds, trumpet, and vocal, Dave Frey, plectrum banjo, Jim Young, tenor banjo, Steven Rose, sousaphone, Stan Greenberg, percussion.  This performance of BALTIMORE (one of those delightful songs-about-a-new-dance-craze) honors Bix and Wingy and Red, and I think this band is terribly, admirably brave to be shouting it out in a bookstore.  “Fit audience, though few,” said Milton, but he never had to worry about the tip jar.  It was recorded on October 25, 2009 at North Light Books in Cotati, California.  

NOW, WE’RE GETTING WARM!

I hope readers have not wearied of my chronicles of jazz-shopping . . . but another chapter took me and the Beloved to Troy, New York, for a multi-dealer antique store on River Street.  I spent a long time poring through albums of dull late-Forties 78s (who knew that there was such enthusiasm for the Harmonicats?) with little enthusiasm until I came to the last album, most of its pages empty, which clearly dated from another time.  First:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 002

 More interesting than Tony Martin, but nothing to make the pulse race.  I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it was an early (acoustic) Brunswick.  However, I dimly remembered that the elusive Jack Purvis had made his first recordings with Arnold Johnson, circa 1928 (see the wonderfully-documented Jazz Oracle issue), so I turned the record over:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 003

 Since I always associate CHINA BOY with hot music, I bought the record (without depriving us of groceries for even a moment).  Later on, I saw online that it was circa 1923, so I have no hopes of Purvis.  Has anyone heard this, and is it an iota more than a dance-band curio?  But that was only the jazz hors d’oeuvre as it were.  In the rear of the store I saw a metal stand with horizontal slots meant for Ludwig drum accessories.  The stand was empty, fairly characterless and, at $225, not essential.  Below the empty shelves were music instruction books — piano, show tunes, accordion, and the last one, face down:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 004

 That looked promising, but I held myself back — too many “Dixieland” records and music books have a very tenuous relationship to the real thing.  I turned it over:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 005

 and opened it up . . . . to see a long written introduction and analysis of the style, as well as this glorious picture:Amy Bauduc ChinaBoy 006

My thanks go out to the no doubt defunct W.F.L. drum company, to the noble shade of Ray Bauduc, and to the anonymous person who in 1937 gave up a hard-earned dollar to buy this book in hopes of sounding just like Mister Bauduc on those wonderful Bobcats Deccas.  Oh, how I hope he or she realized that objective!  This post, of course, is for Kevin Dorn, Mike Burgevin, Hal Smith, Arnie Kinsella, Jeff Hamilton, and the other players who keep the faith, who know what it is to beat out the time on the wooden rim of the snare drum.  I’ll be holding viewings in September . . . say the word.

“ONE HOUR” WITH HUMPH AND HENRI CHAIX

YouTube is full of moving surprises: this is a 1982 quartet performance by Humphrey Lyttelton (tpt), Henri Chaix (p), John Treichler (b), and Gerry Ceccaroni (dr).  Other concert clips feature Lyttelton, Chaix, and Acker Bilk (cl) with the Harlem Ramblers Dixieland Band from Zurich.  (www.harlemramblers.ch)

Lyttelton was so multi-talented, in and out of music, that people sometimes forget that he was one of the great lyrical trumpeters of the last century: he could sing a ballad in a deeply feeling way.  And Chaix, also now gone, was a wonderful soloist and superb accompanist. 

James P. Johnson’s seriously pretty song is often flattened out through bands that trot trhough it at a medium-tempo.  Humph and Henri take its sweet sentiments to heart — which is, after all, what this music is all about.

When Vic Dickenson used to sing “One Hour” and get to the title phrase, he would emphatically hold up two fingers, letting us know that what he wanted to accomplish would take twice the time.  In his honor, why not watch this performance twice?  It deserves no less. 

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.

cork-1108-ear-inn120708007

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!

REMEMBERING DAVE TOUGH

I read in the December 2008 issue of Jersey Jazz that Dave Tough died sixty years ago on December 6, tough-by-gottlieb2 1948. Because so many of my musical and spiritual heroes are dead, my devotion to jazz always threatens to turn into sad necrology, but Tough deserves a few words and a few pictures.

I won’t dwell on his near-scholarly intellectualism (rare among jazz musicians in those days) and his deeply self-destructive alcoholism, his frustrations.   William P. Gottlieb’s famous photograph of Tough, working away at his practice pad in the basement of Eddie Condon’s, is on the right.

dave-toughRather, I think of a brief list of brilliant recorded moments.  There’s Tough’s luminous, shape-changing drumming all through the 1940 Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans session (most notably available on the Mosaic Classic Condon Mob Sessions), where he shifts from splashing cymbal work to brilliant use of the hi-hat and bass drum, propelling soloists.

It would be difficult to delineate, let alone reproduce, what Tough does so naturally through “Forty-Seventh and State” or “Prince of Wails,” his sound captured with extraordinary clarity in Liederkrantz Hall.  But as marvelous as the horn soloists are, and the under-acknowledged pianist Dave Bowman, I find myself listening to what Dave is playing (and, by implication, choosing not to play) throughout those records.

Two years earlier, although he was reputedly in bad physical shape, he levitated another Bud Freeman date, this one for Commodore, where his wandering, unpredictable work on the jam blues”Tappin’ the Commodore Till” has yet to be equalled.  On that record, Tough comes through as a blindfolded genius, ready to tap on or against anything in the studio, testing the pure sounds he might get out of the equipment around him.  Again, the soloists — Freeman, Bobby Hackett, PeeWee Russell, Dave Matthews, Jess Stacy — are wondrous, but I am distracted in the best way by Tough’s gloriously weird, urging counterpoint.

I was lucky enough to find a Commodore 78 of that — in the days when such artifacts were more easily available — and it ornaments my office wall, a talisman of artistic individuality.

I think also of Tough’s solo –he was repelled by the idea of soloing and did it only under duress — on “Just You, Just Me,” which closes off a Charlie Ventura concert in 1947 — music once available on a Norgran lp and most recently on a Verve set collecting Jazz at the Philharmonic music from the Forties.  Again, Tough explores pure sound as well as rhythm: the solo is even more unusual because it sounds so much like Sidney Catlett, who also played that night.  I suspect that Dave sat down at Sidney’s drums: two kings trading courtesies.

Tough also shines all through a little-known and rarely-reissued 1946 Brad Gowans session for RCA Victor, where Gowans leads his “New York Nine,” featuring his own arrangements loosened up by solos by Billy Butterfield, among others.

Dave was usually happiest in small jamming groups — although concert bills show that he appeared at Eddie Condon’s Forties concerts, he does not appear on any of the famous half-hour broadcasts.  With all respect to George Wettling and Joe Grauso, that’s a real pity.  But the one film clip of Tough has him, all too briefly, amid a 1946 Condon group recorded at the club.  Wild Bill Davison, Tony Parenti, Gowans, Gene Schroeder, and Jack Lesberg are visible, roaring through the end of “Farewell Blues,” in a “March of Time” newsreel called “Nightclub Boom.”

The clip used to be available on YouTube, but it seems to have vanished.  Can any readers help me find a copy to post here?

Here, however, is a Gjon Mili photograph — new to me — taken from LIFE in 1945, showing Condon, Schroeder, Davison, Freeman, Bob Casey on bass, and Tough at the downtown Eddie Condon’s.

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An assiduous listener can find many more glowing surprises in Tough’s work with the big bands of Tommy Dorsey (as well as his sometimes hilarious work with the Clambake Seven), with Bunny Berigan, with Goodman (as well as sessions with the Trio, Quartet, and Sextet), with Artie Shaw (there is a priceless, driving airshot of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” where Tough pushes the band and soloist Hot Lips Page as hard as a drummer could push); finally, there is Tough’s work with Woody Herman’s First Herd, where he is again well-recorded by the Columbia engineers.

He made only one four-tune session under his own name, and (perhaps typically) it doesn’t show him off all that well.  And there has never, to my knowledge, been a record or compact disc simply devoted to him.  What a shame!

I am sure he would have splendidly fit into the “Mainstream” jazz that prevailed a decade after his death, once “Bop” and “Dixieland” had stopped baring their fangs at each other.

Was Tough someone who said all that he had to say in his brief span of time?  Can we mourn him without thinking gratefully of what he did leave for us?  But like Lips Page, Catlett, Frankie Newton, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Blanton and a dozen others, he left too soon.  I miss them all.

P.S.  In Tom Pletcher’s liner notes to an exquisite Jazz Oracle CD devoted to the music and life of his father, Stew Pletcher, he points out that his father — who knew and played alongside Tough — said that Tough hated being called “Davey.”  Even when Edythe Wright did it at the beginning of “At the Codfish Ball,” no doubt.

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EDDIE CONDON’S IDEAL JAZZ WORLD

Charles Peterson’s famous photograph of Eddie Condon looks more pensive than exuberant, but the joy is there in the music. Casual listeners call it “Dixieland,” a term Condon hated, because it relies on collective improvisation, often on jazz tunes written before 1920. And “Royal Garden Blues” sounds much less hip than “One O’Clock Jump” or “Billie’s Bounce” to some. But the records Condon made for forty-five years prove that his jazz was hard-driving and raucous but tender and deeply blues-based. There wasn’t a straw boater in sight and sing-alongs were forbidden.

Condon’s jazz had its roots in Joe Oliver and the Chicago scene of the early Twenties, but his sessions showcased musically sophisticated players: Bobby Hackett, Jess Stacy, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Rex Stewart, Pee Wee Russell, Jack Teagarden, Dick Cary, Cliff Leeman, Red Allen, Dave Tough, George Wettling, Kenny Davern, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Fats Waller, Bud Freeman, Lee Wiley, Benny Morton, Sidney Bechet, Hot Lips Page and Louis himself.

This isn’t to call for a re-evaluation of his music, or to urge a Condon renaissance. He’s never been away to those who enjoy their jazz Hot. Many contemporary jazz players keep his music alive — Dan Levinson, Dan Barrett, Marty Grosz, Kevin Dorn, Mark Shane, Jon-Erik Kellso, Hal Smith, Chris Tyle, Ray Skjelbred, James Dapogny, Duke Heitger, Jim Fryer, Vince Giordano, Dick Hyman, Bent Persson, David Ostwald, Johnny Varro, Randy Reinhart, Bobby Gordon, Bob Barnard and a host of others.

A new CD, produced by the Italian Jazz Institute, is a happy reason to write about Eddie and his friends — especially since it contains some delightfully rare performances. Giorgio Lombardi, author of Eddie Condon on Record 1927-72, has gathered nearly two dozen tracks from 1929 to 1968. The CD begins with the soundtrack from a Vitaphone Red Nichols short film, featuring Pee Wee revisiting his solo on “Ida” and a surprisingly winning Condon vocal on “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now.” Ten years later, we find Bobby Hackett in pearly form amidst George Brunis and Ernie Caceres; then several performances document the concerts that Condon gave in the Forties. Hear Catlett behind the horns on “Peg O’My Heart” and rejoice. A real rarity follows, from Condon’s television series, the Eddie Condon Floor Show. It features Johnny Mercer singing “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of My Jelly Roll” with splendid impudence. The Fifties recordings come from Condon’s own club and feature Ralph Sutton, Ed Hall, and Walter Page, as well as a few band performances. The radio nnouncer, Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” talks over Dick Cary’s trumpet solo on “Bill Bailey,” but it’s worth straining to hear. A 1965 television tribute to Condon is uneven but offers rousing work by Wild Bill Davison, Billy Butterfield, and Vic Dickenson. And an Art Hodes jazz series puts Condon back where he started, on banjo (how much persuading did that require?) but you can hear Eddie exhorting Tony Parenti and J.C. Higginbotham.  Condon’s pushing rhythm guitar is delightfully evident all through the CD, but even when he isn’t playing, his presence is invaluable.

For information on ordering this CD, visit www.italianjazzinstitute.com. The joyous energy of the music fairly bursts through the speakers.

BOBBY HACKETT AND JACK TEAGARDEN

I will have more to say about Hackett and Teagarden in the future, but I was just searching through the happy disorder I create around my computer — a heady mix of papers, minidiscs, and compact discs — for something pleasing to listen to.

What I found pleases me so much that I am using my small perch in the Blogosphere to call your attention to it — a Capitol session, recorded on the West Coast, featuring Bobby and Jack with musicians they rarely recorded with — trombonist Abe Lincoln, clarinetist Matty Matlock, drummer Nick Fatool among others. This group made its living in the Hollywood studios and were sometimes brought together as the “Rampart Street Paraders” for Columbia. The under-recorded but always joyous Abe Lincoln, happy and in top form, whoops and shouts on trombone alongside Teagarden, much sleeker by comparison.

When this music came out on vinyl, it was called COAST CONCERT or COAST TO COAST. I got Hackett to autograph my copy, which I now treasure, but that’s another story. Hackett and Teagarden, perhaps drawn together by their love for melody, for immediately recognizable, personal sounds, by their reverent devotion to Louis Armstrong, never played better than when in tandem. Teagarden, who could often return to his one solo — a beautiful creation which he tinkered with for nearly forty years — seemed to be thinking, not remembering, when he stood next to Bobby.

Hackett didn’t need much inspiration: he could create luminous traceries in the sunset sky surrounded by the most dire musicians — but he sounds tremendously inspired here, even for him. How did “little Bobby Hackett,” as Louis called him so affectionately, always find “those pretty notes”? It’s a mystery — but investigating the Why and the How could make for hours of deeply rewarding listening.

Hear what the two horns do on a slow, meditative “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plan,” which stands next to any jazz ballad ever recorded. Play it after Bix’s “I’m Comin’ Virginia,” Bird’s “Lover Man,” Hawkins’s “Body and Soul,” and there’s no letdown. It’s so simple, too: Hackett improvises an introduction; Teagarden plays a soulfully embellished chorus; there’s a modulation into a higher key, bringing on Hackett for his chorus, backed by the quietest of simple backgrounds. One more modulation, and Teagarden returns for the song’s final eight bars, with an extended ending which leads into a cadenza. Listen to it for the tonal beauties both men get out of what are really unforgiving lengths of brass tubing, for the humming organ tones of the other horns, for the sympathetic rhythm section — but DO listen to it. And any musicians, here or in Budapest, who pride themselves on what is now called “tradiitional jazz” or even “Dixieland,” should commit this music to memory.

And the photograph at the top of this post? A memorable thing in itself — I find the backs of those youthful heads particularly endearing, and would not crop them out for the world — but it is also a visual reminder that once, Virginia, groups of musicians calling themselves “All-Stars” were being accurate. It’s Town Hall, 1947, with Jack, Dick Cary, Louis, Bobby, Peanuts Hucko, Bob Haggart, and Big Sid. Bless them all.  And — for my most fashiob-conscious readers: catch the sharp two-toned shoes on Louis.  Class will tell!