I didn’t see this one coming, and am delighted that it will soon be on my shelf: a new Mosaic Records 10-CD set devoted to the 1950-57 Jazz at the Philarmonic recordings for Norman Granz’s labels.
Before you read one more word, here‘s a link to the site where you can pre-order the set (at a $20 discount through January 8, 2023) and hear some fine audio evidence (complete performances!) from Gene Krupa, Ben Webster, Flip Phillips, Benny Carter, Oscar Peterson, Buddy DeFranco, Lionel Hampton, Herb Ellis, Ray Brown, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, J. J. Johnson, Percy Heath, Connie Kay.
Others starring in this set are Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young, Bill Harris, Hank Jones, Harry Edison, Jo Jones, Sonny Stitt, Coleman Hawkins, J.C. Heard, Charlie Shavers, Willie Smith, Illinois Jacquet, Louie Bellson, and of course Miss Ella Fitzgerald. For collectors, there are five unissued performances — and since Granz’s documentation was occasionally improvised, there is scholarship to untangle mysteries.
When I began collecting records, the Verve microgroove issues of JATP concerts were easy to find in the cutout bins. Stunned by the profusion of famous names on the covers, I bought them without hesitation, yet at that point in my listening, I found them uneven. There was wild applause and sometimes histrionic display: trumpet and drum battles that were clearly thrilling in person required a certain sensibility to appreciate when coming out of a record player’s cloth speaker grille. But I did remind myself that there were gems from almost every musician in a JATP concert, and when things got too raucous, I could move the needle ahead. (Perhaps my sensibilities were — and are — too delicate. I won’t deny it.)
But I’ve come to appreciate both Granz — as a pioneer in integration AND in keeping my heroes well-paid and well-recorded (imagine a world without Verve, Clef, and Norgran, if you can). And, most importantly to my ears, every JATP concert featured a lengthy ballad medley.
I am sure that the fifteen-minute versions of INDIANA, HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, various BLUES, FLYIN’ HOME and the like will be full of marvels to me in my more mature state, but what I am really looking forward to it close to fifty ballad performances — many of them one well-chosen chorus — by masters of that art, especially Ben Webster, Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, and Coleman Hawkins.
And so you know that JAZZ LIVES has an ethical platform, I’ve pre-ordered a copy before publishing this post. I hope you’ll join me — especially if you are a jazz enthusiast whose family says, “What in the name of all that’s holy will we get for _____ this year?” Show them the Mosaic site and relax. Better than socks. And I like socks.
I have a sentimental attachment to the music issued on the Black and White label in the Forties. My father, a motion-picture projectionist, spent his working life “in the booth.” In addition to keeping the picture and sound on the screen, the projectionist was expected to fill the theatre with music during intermissions. In my childhood, theatres were making the transition from turntables in the booth that played 78s, and my father would occasionally liberate a disc he thought his music-mad son would like.
He told a funny story of playing Bill Haley and the Comets’ ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK, not paying much attention to it until the manager called him in a frenzy to take the ——- ——– record off because of what the kids were doing to the theatre. But I digress.
One of the records he brought home was this 12″ disc:
The other side is LADY BE GOOD, and it made a considerable impression. (“BROWN GAL” is a reference to her composition and 1936 Decca recording of the same name.)
Later on, when I began to actively collect records, I saw that so many issues on this label were rewarding and unusual combinations of musicians: Joe Marsala (with Chuck Wayne and Dizzy Gillespie!), Joe Thomas, Art Tatum, Leo Watson, Nat Jaffe, Art Hodes, Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, an imperishable session with Rod Cless, Sterling Bose, James P. Johnson, and Pops Foster; Barney Bigard, Cliff Jackson, Erroll Garner, Teddy Bunn, Leo Watson, Brad Gowans, Oscar Pettiford, Ivie Anderson, Helen Humes, Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Red Rodney, Howard McGhee, Irving Ashby, Ulysses Livingston, Lucky Thompson, and two dozen others. But almost all of them were simply listings in discographies.
Occasionally a session, transferred from worn discs, would surface on a European anthology, and a supermarket-label, TOPS, issued a compilation called JAZZ GREATS with the unequalled combination of no data and a yearning young woman portrayed on the cover. Still later, perhaps into this century, a short series of CDs appeared on the Pickwick label, anthologies assembled with hope but little logic. And there it stood.
To be fair, the story is not unique to this label. Search for a coherent reissue of many of the small labels that proliferated in the Forties, and you have to hope for the best. Ownership rights are tangled or on the ocean floor, and most — if not all — reissue companies are not relying on an audience thirsting for invaluable music.
But what is that I hear, coming over the hill? The drums and trumpets of Mosaic Records, once again, bringing heart, valor, enthusiasm, and exactitude to a worthy project.
The facts? 243 tracks, spanning 1942 to 1949, primarily studio performances with a few concert ones for leavening; New York, Chicago, California (mostly Los Angeles), eleven CDs, price $179.00 plus shipping. I’ll let you do the math, but just for a thrill, I looked up the Lil Armstrong disc I began with on eBay, and the least expensive version is $23.66 here, assuming of course you have the turntable and stylus to play it properly. You could also look for some of these records on YouTube — happy hunting! — but although the Tube is priceless for certain things, music tends to transfer off-pitch, and some of the collectors (heartfelt as they are) have makeshift methods of getting the music to us.
No, the Mosaic Records issues remain — a cliche but no less true — the gold standard. They are also limited editions, so one cannot really say, “I’ll buy that set in _______ years when and if my ship comes in,” because then the only place to purchase it will be charging a premium price, if, indeed, it can be found.
But enough words about money. How about some sound(s)? Here you can hear Charlie Ventura, Red Rodney, Willie Smith, Barney Kessel, Billy Hadnott, and Nick Fatool play ‘S’WONDERFUL; Jack McVea; Gerald Wilson; Joe Marsala with Dizzy Gillespie, Cliff Jackson, Chuck Wayne, Irving Lang, Buddy Christian play MY MELANCHOLY BABY; Willie “the Lion” Smith, Max Kaminsky, Rod Cless, Frank Orchard, Jack Lesberg, Mack McGrath play BUGLE CALL RAG. Delightful performances.
And the sound is translucent; you hear all the nuances, thanks to lovely transferring from the best original sources by Andreas Meyer and Nancy Conforti of Swan Studios, who have outdone themselves. Perhaps you knew that small labels of this period suffered because shellac was rationed, so many treasured 78s were pressed on a mixture of substances including horse manure, as my expert friend Matthew Rivera tells us.
On that same page, a detailed discography, and, of course, a place to buy the set.
The set has photographs — rare and stunning, beautifully reproduced, and essays by Billy Vera, Scott Wenzel, and the Eminence Dan Morgenstern. Dan’s notes are characteristically witty, heartfelt, and candid. Who else do we have who was in New York in 1947, saw, spoke with, and befriended many of the musicians on this set? Priceless.
It’s a valuable swinging human archive. And you deserve a present, don’t you?
People are known by the company they keep. Kenny Burrell, superb on his own terms, is here surrounded by the finest of them all: Jimmie Rowles, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Reggie Johnson, string bass; Sherman Ferguson, drums, for a brisk HAVE YOU MET MISS JONES? (Why the cinematographer aims everywhere but at Rowles during the piano solo is mysterious; perhaps a technical reason?) And please pay special attention to Bucky, playing splendid solos as well as his usual rhythm:
then, a Rowles feature, one of the finest versions of MY FUNNY VALENTINE I know, questing, mobile, curious, with Scottish whimsy free of charge:
and Diz drops in! Notice how NOW’S THE TIME becomes a playful BAGS’ GROOVE, toying with the harmonies. He mugs for the camera, and goes off. Priceless:
More than Nice, I say. Thanks to the indefatigable jazz-film scholar Franz Hoffmann for the elusive source material.
Facebook is good for something. Last month, Clyde Groves, Billy Butterfield’s son-in-law, cordially reached out to me and we decided to do a profile of Billy – so respected in every context during his lifetime and less known now. I offer the result, a delightful conversation among Clyde, Billy’s daughter Judi, and son Pat.
For reasons of space, I have not written about Billy — from my own perspective — in this post, but tomorrow’s post will add in some previously unseen video and a few lines of mine. I also have not listed who’s playing what on the music excerpts, but can provide those details on request.
But first, some memorable music.
Pat Butterfield: He was a very private person, definitely incredibly generous. He would befriend anyone, which might have been one of his failings, too. Some people took advantage of him because of that. My father was very quiet.
He liked to read a lot. When I knew him, he’d get up in the middle of the night, go sit in the living room and read. Not necessarily the best-sellers, although he liked fiction, but he also would read about musicians. Not actually music itself, but the classical people – the life of Beethoven, people that he admired. And he listened to a lot of music in the house. He particularly liked Ella Fitzgerald, he felt that she was probably the greatest female jazz vocalist of all time. He listened to classical music, and, in fact, he introduced me to it. I can remember listening to SWAN LAKE and things like that, and a lot of Beethoven. In fact, I got the sheet music to the Moonlight Sonata. I’d sit there and peck away at it, and he’d help me with reading some of the difficult parts of the bass clef. He would sit down and play the piano. The problem was his hands weren’t very big, so he did a lot of slurring. My brother Mike had the same ability, an ear for music and a natural understanding of chord systems, but I didn’t inherit any of that. My brother played with string bass with him several times.
Clyde Groves: I met him when I was fourteen – that’s when I met Judi and her twin sister Debbie, and her mother Dottie, who was a wonderful vocalist also. We always thought that she sounded a lot like Ella, the vocalist she admired the most. And Billy was fortunate enough to have recorded with Ella.
Billy was very humble. He wasn’t one to toot his own horn, so to speak. I would be over at their house, for instance, and he’d have just gotten back from a tour, or he’d been on the Johnny Carson show, or with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band on Mike Douglas, or by himself on Merv Griffin, and I would tell him, “Oh, Mr. Butterfield, I just saw you on Johnny Carson!” and he would go, “Yeah. So, Clyde, how’s school? How’re you doing in baseball?” He would just change the subject.
Judi Groves: He was very shy. He was a man of few words, but when he would speak, because he didn’t talk a lot, you perked up and wanted to listen to what he had to say. It was like pulling teeth to get him to talk about his childhood and things that he had done, amazing things that he had done. You know, he played for the first all-integrated audience in South Africa. He came home and never even spoke about it. I didn’t even know about it until years afterwards. He told them that would be the only way he would play, that he could bring his black musicians and play for a mixed audience. He also – and I found this kind of neat – back then, they had the Green Book: you couldn’t go to hotels with black musicians, and since they wouldn’t let them stay in the hotel with him, he would go to the black motel. He was very loyal to his band in that way also. He was a very loving man.
When my dad did those college tours, my mom travelled with them, and we stayed with my mom’s sister. My cousins are more like my brothers and sisters than cousins. My dad wanted us to move down to Virginia. He wanted us to be with family. Once, I remember that my dad was kind of embarrassed. We lived in Smithfield, Virginia, where the meat-packing plant is, where the hams come from. They had asked my father to be the Grand Marshall of the parade there. He didn’t want to turn it down, because they really wanted him to do it. But he wasn’t about that kind of thing – that put him back in the limelight. I think he wanted people to like him for himself rather than for what he had accomplished, which is why he didn’t want us to talk about it all the time, either.
Clyde: He liked playing ballads more than anything. That was his favorite thing. He looked at the trumpet as his singing voice. And Yank and Billy, when they were with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band, they could really play off each other, the harmonies they could make on their horns on BABY, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME or BLACK AND BLUE. Yank Lawson was an all-time great. And I put Billy there too. They’re being forgotten, unless it’s younger people who are playing the horn or in a jazz ensemble – most people don’t know who they were. He played that STARDUST with Artie Shaw, and he was in the Gramercy Five. He played with everybody.
Judi: He liked Bix Beiderbecke, too.
Clyde: Yes, Louis and Bix were his essentials. Are you familiar with the album BILLY PLAYS BIX? That’s a true joy to listen to. There’s the album on Victor called GUS HOO – I think the musicians were all in some kind of contract disputes, so they couldn’t play under their own names. He picked “Gus Hoo,” which was his sense of humor.
Judi: He did! He was a funny man.
Clyde: When I first met Judi, I was fourteen, and I had no idea who Billy Butterfield was. I was into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I had never heard of him, but of course my mom and dad knew who he was. My dad would try to get under Judi’s mom’s skin and say, “Yes, Billy’s a great cornet player,” and Dottie would correct him, “He’s a TRUMPET player.”
Billy was on the road so much when Judi and I were dating. He was thoughtful and kind. I used to go see him at Andy Bartha’s, and whenever he’d spot me in the audience, during the break he would come and sit with me. Of course, then all my drinks were on the house. All around us, people would be whispering. You could hear them, “Oh, that must be his nephew. He’s got to be related,” because every break Billy would come and sit with me. There were all these people he could have sat with, and I felt really honored that he would do that.
Judi: I found a record of my dad singing, and I was kind of amazed that he had a pretty good voice.
Clyde: It was with his big band, and Billy had commented that, back then, all the rage was that the trumpet players, the leaders of the band, would do vocals. But Billy said that this was the record company’s way of saving money, by not hiring a vocalist, but he hated doing it. He was pretty young then.
You know the story of how Bob Crosby discovered him? Bob and Yank or Bob Haggart were driving to a gig, and their car broke down near Lexington, where the University of Transylvania was, so when they went to the hotel, they asked the clerk if there was any good music around in this town, and the clerk referred them to the Austin Wylie band. As soon as they heard Billy play, they were amazed. After they stopped playing, Bob and either Yank or Haggart went over to Billy and said, “We’d like you to join the band. Are you interested?” Of course he said yes, and they said, “Well, we’ll send you a ticket to New York.” Weeks went by, and Billy was, “Well, they were just pulling my leg and praising me,” which was nice, but he thought nothing would come of it. I guess they knew there was going to be an opening, and here comes a telegram with a ticket to New York. So that’s how he got found by Bob Crosby. The chances of the stars aligning like that. If the car hadn’t broken down, who knows if anyone would have heard of Billy. That was his big start. He was in college, and he dropped out and went to New York. He played football. He was on the high school and college team.
Judi: He got cleated in the leg, and that was when penicillin first came out, because he almost lost his leg.
Pat: Dad got out of the service in 1945, when they said that anyone who could employ twenty-five people could get out, so he immediately did that, put this band together, and went on the road. The first year, which would have been ’45-’46, he did all right, and then in 1947, they basically went in debt. The Big Band Era was over, so he moved to New York. He had accrued a debt of twenty-five to maybe thirty thousand dollars, and he went to work as a staff man for ABC. I was five or six, and we lived out in Great Neck, in a house we called “House Horrible,” a big old Victorian they rented while Dad was paying off the debt. That period, my parents went through pretty difficult times. My mother insisted on making sure that he cleared his debt, that they have good credit. That entailed a few arguments.
I think Debbie and Judi were about two when they moved down to Virginia, and he left for Florida when they were about thirteen. After my mom and dad got divorced, she moved to Florida, and eventually she lived in a place called Coral Ridge, and the house where my dad and Dottie lived was, as the crow flies, five hundred yards from my mother’s house. It was really strange. But in order to get to their house from my mom’s house, you had to drive four or five miles. Five hundred yards, but they couldn’t see each other. I stayed in touch with them, and every summer I spent about a month with them in Virginia, a little place called Carrolton. Then, my wife and I would see them in Florida.
Clyde: Billy and Dottie were moving from these condominiums by the ocean, in Fort Lauderdale. They had bought a house on the water, by the Intercoastal. I went over with a friend of mine to help them move. Billy was built like a bulldog. But I was 16, 17, an athlete, really strong, and my buddy was also. We were lifting all this furniture, and there was one piece that was really heavy. Billy went to grab one end of it, and I told him, “No, don’t do that, Mr. Butterfield, that’s really heavy!” and he looked at me and said, “Just pick it up.” And he picked that thing up like it was a feather. I was thinking, “All he does is play music. He can’t be that strong,” but he just picked it up. I was the one struggling with it.
You know, Judi and I dated all through high school, and then things happened, and we got back together twenty-five years later. I was always in love with her. I was married, and I loved my wife, and we had two children, but when I saw on the national news that her dad had passed away, in 1988, I wanted to get back in touch with Judi, but I didn’t know how. But Dottie always had a public number, it wasn’t unpublished, so I called Information. Billy had been deceased for a number of years, and I got her number and called her house. And when Dottie answered, I said, “You’ll never guess who this is,” and she said, “Of course I do. You want to bet?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “This is Clyde.” I said, “Dottie, how do you remember that, after all these years?” and she said, “I’ll never forget your voice.” People didn’t have Caller ID then. So her mom helped reunite us.
Judi: Dottie lived a long time, to 92. She was something! She was a lot of fun. Daddy was very quiet, but she was very outgoing.
Clyde: They were a perfect husband and wife in that respect. And after Billy passed away, Dottie never wanted to remarry, because there was no man that could ever compare to him, even though she was still fairly young. She was never interested in meeting anyone, even though she was still beautiful and men were always asking her out. She was gorgeous and always dressed impeccably.
Judi: When he was a kid, he first started out playing the violin. I’m not sure about the story that he was going to become a doctor. I know he went to the University of Transylvania. His brother, Donald, was a doctor, and I think he was eleven years older than my father. I’m not sure what his specialty was, whether he was a brain surgeon – I think that’s what he was – but he went in to the military in World War One and it affected him so much that he couldn’t go back into practice. When Billy first started out, he was playing violin on a riverboat – earlier than 13, he was just a small kid, so that he could help his brother who was going through college. Hard times back then. His dad would drive him where he had to go, because he was too young to drive.
He was beyond talented. Most of his recordings were done in one take. But he didn’t talk about the music business, and he dissuaded us from ever going in to it, because he felt it was a very hard life. He never talked about himself, and he didn’t talk about other musicians. He would have some friends he would play with, Andy Bartha. When Andy was playing, my dad would go and be the headliner where Andy was. Yank Lawson was a good friend of Daddy’s. They were good friends from Bob Crosby’s band. You know with musicians, they all have big heads. Daddy wasn’t about that. I think that annoyed him a bit, because they always wanted to talk about themselves.
When he came home, he would read the paper, watch tv. We had a boat, wherever we lived, and he loved to go out on the boat. We always lived on or near the water, he loved that. He loved being around family.
Clyde: They had a pool, they’d be out there swimming, relaxing, cooking on the grill. Even when he was at home, a lot of times he would have local gigs, so he wouldn’t get home until late at night, but he always would get up to spend family time. He enjoyed his time at home for sure.
Judi: And he liked to watch golf. I can picture him in the reclining chair, watching golf on tv. He liked to play.
Pat: When I was small, a lot of musicians would come around. We spent a lot of time with Felix Giobbe, Bob Haggart, and a really good friend, Andy Ferretti. We were all members of the same country club in Brookville. My father was apparently a terrible golfer. He could hit it a long way, but he never knew what direction it was going in!
Judi: But he never really kept anything he ever did. Anything we have of his, besides the trumpets – my sister and I have all of them – he said, “I did it. Why would I want to hear it again?” We don’t have all the records. And pictures, we’ve had to buy off eBay. He was totally the opposite of anyone who was famous. Even when we were growing up, he didn’t want us to talk a lot about him. So we didn’t.
Clyde: The only album that he had out on display was an album he made with the Dutch College Swing Band. Out of all his recordings, that was the only one he had framed and put up on the wall. But he loved playing. That was his passion. Even though you’re on the road most of the time, travelling, he wouldn’t have given that up for anything.
The reason they moved to Florida was that when Jackie Gleason moved his show down to Miami Beach, he wanted Billy to be down there, and the arrangement was he would pay him X dollars a year so that when he was available, he would play in the Sammy Spear orchestra. When Billy wasn’t available, Jackie was fine with that.
You know, after Billy had moved down to Virginia, just so the girls could have their mother’s family around them, when he was on the road, he and Dottie were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, and across the street, he heard, “Hey, Billy!” and he looked over and it was Dizzy. So Billy said, “Hey, Dizzy, how’re you doing?” And Dizzy yelled back, “Hey, what’s this I hear about you moving south of the Cotton Curtain?”
Judi: He walked around all the time with a mouthpiece in his pocket, and he would always take it out and blow in it. He had to keep his lip up, you know.
Clyde: He’d go out on the boat and he’d have it with him, even though he’d just played a gig. It was part of him. You have to keep your skills up.
Judi: I remember he played at Nixon’s inaugural ball. He was on the road a lot. Especially in the late Sixties, he was in Europe a lot. Jazz was very big in Europe. He played over there all the time. I got to go on a tour with him, with The Great Eight, in Germany, for three weeks. That was really cool. That was the first time I got to see him really play, outside of going to the Jackie Gleason Show, or the Merv Griffin Show. But this was actually being with the guys, and even they didn’t toot their own horns. These were gentlemen like Sam Woodyard, who had played with Duke Ellington, and Tal Farlow. It was a wonderful trip. I got to see how much the people really loved him. I never got to see that when I was growing up, so for me it was a real treat, and it gave me a real appreciation for my dad. I’ll never forget that. It was the trip of a lifetime. This was 1981-1982, something like that.
Clyde: Judi’s dad had his own nightclub for a time, in Fort Lauderdale, at the Escape Hotel. Andy Bartha had a standing gig at the Moonraker, and whenever he was off the road, he would always go there to support Andy. He got the album made with Andy, and he just liked the man personally. He was a very giving man. If he could help somebody out, he would. And he never had anything bad to say about anyone, because his premise was, if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything, instead of putting somebody down.
Judi: Yes, the only negatives we heard were from my mom (laughing), about other people, not my dad. He was a saint!
Pat: He was disappointed with the way the music industry went after the Fifties, but he really enjoyed the World’s Greatest Jazz Band, all the travelling they did together. I never heard him say anything negative about them, but he wasn’t the type to complain.
Clyde: Even now, sometimes I’ll be playing some of his music, and Judi will ask me to please turn it down, because she gets really emotional hearing her father.
Judi: STARDUST was my favorite record of his, but if I was around when he was playing, I would ask him to play MY FUNNY VALENTINE. He always played that for me. But my favorite album, I think, was BOBBY, BILLY, BRASIL. I had the reel-to-reel tape and would play it all the time. Dad wasn’t mechanical, so I was always the designated person to set up the tape recorder or the video. And I knew exactly where to stop the tape to get it to play SUNNY or whatever. They did really well with the harmony of that. I really loved it.
Pat: It’s unfortunate that he really didn’t take care of himself, and that had a big effect, that he died at what I think is a really early age, 71, and he was in pretty lousy health the last five years of his life. And Dad definitely drank. He functioned, though. He tended to be more of a binge drinker. He could go for a month and not have a drink, and then he’d drink a lot. But those days in New York when he was a staff member, they’d all go over to Nick’s in Greenwich Village, after the job was over, and have jam sessions, and that would result in his getting home very late at night, and he often fell asleep on the Long Island Rail Road. My mother would be there, waiting for him, and he wouldn’t get off the train because he was asleep, and he’d go all the way out to the end of the Island and come back. He spent the night on the train quite a few times.
Clyde: I wasn’t there, but I heard a story about their Virginia house. He had a good sense of humor. They were having parties at that house, and they had a big pool. And they’d all been partying, having fun, and Billy took his horn and walked down the steps of the pool, playing, and when he got underwater, the bubbles were all coming up. He was a lot of fun to be around.
Pat: He was a really genuine individual. He wasn’t impressed with his own self-importance. He enjoyed life.
I really appreciate the time and effort and kindness of Clyde Groves, Judi Butterfield Groves, and Pat Butterfield — helping me insure that no one will forget the very talented musician and very sweet man Billy Butterfield. More about Billy tomorrow!
I have never been involved in sports as participant or spectator. But when I was not yet ten, at recess, there were intense discussions, often arguments, among my male classmates about the merits of baseball stars Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris, competing to break Babe Ruth’s home run record. I tried to join in, because I wanted to belong, and it would have been foolish to say, “Who cares?” Looking back at least in this situation, we had statistical evidence: hits, runs, RBI’s and the like. But this hierarchical squabbling struck me as silly then, and seems even sillier now when applied to art and creativity.
I should preface what follows by writing that jazz is a holy art to me, to quote Schubert. And if what follows sounds irritable, you can say, “Michael’s gotten crabby in semi-quarantine, I see,” and I wouldn’t argue the point. But the reason for this post is that it disturbs me when I see people who believe themselves experts and advocates about the music debasing it by their reactions.
A day or so ago I made the mistake of entering into a Facebook discussion on a wonderful page devoted to Lester Young, where someone with fine taste posted Lester’s 1942 version of BODY AND SOUL (Nat Cole and Red Callender). The first response that caught my eye? I quote, “Sorry, but coleman hawkins owns this song.” Various people chimed in to proclaim the superiority of their favorite player, and I, rather than leaving the keyboard, wrote, “Art is not a competitive sport,” which also met with a variety of responses, which I won’t go into here.
On another page, someone posted that a revered drummer was the “GOAT,” or “Greatest of All Time,” not an omnivorous animal. You can imagine the discussions that ensued, the rimshots and ride-cymbal crashes.
I found it odd that fans were so much more vehement about presumed superiority than most musicians were and are.
I don’t deny that some musicians were competitive by nature, wanting to show their powers, their mastery. Some of the greatest lived to “battle,” among them Roy Eldridge, and “cutting contests” have a long history. Norman Granz, knowing his audience, made these tests of strength and audience appeal the center of Jazz at the Philharmonic with “the drum battle” between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, or gladiatorial exercises between Illinois Jacquet and Flip Phillips, between Roy and Dizzy GIllespie. However, when the concert was over, these musicians were friends who rode the band bus in harmony. Artists with even a small amount of self-awareness respect each other, because they know how hard it is to play or to sing well, how it requires great skill and constant devotion to the art and the craft.
So these discussions of WHO’S THE BEST? are driven by audiences who want to see their team win. They are also fueled by journalism and press-agentry. Jazz has been weighed and measured by people who gave recordings and concerts stars and letter grades, in magazines that encouraged readers to vote for their favorites. People would then buy the next issue to see how their votes counted. All of this seems inexplicable now, that in 1956 a new record that we think a classic was given two stars in Down Beat when it appeared. Or that X placed forty-seventh in the Critics’ Poll for that year. Polls and year-end lists of the Ten Best CDs of the Year still go on, the latter energized by people of good character, but I think of them as marketing tools, not much else. These competitions were good business for winners: if you won the poll, your price would increase.
We continue to live in a culture that greatly values the subjective opinion of the audience member(s). I bought kitchen knives recently, and the company invited me to “submit my review.” I was happy to, because the knives are exceedingly sharp. But my review was a way of their getting free copywriting. What I wrote might motivate someone to buy a knife, but it would have no effect on the knife’s quality. It remains that way in art. If you say that Tatum is your favorite pianist, does his work get any better: if you say he is too ornate, does he falter? I am also reminded of someone who ran a jazz club, who told me that the way they knew if a band was good was the number of people in the room. To me, the symphony means more than the volume of applause.
In print and in person, there were and are the jazz ideologues offering verdicts. M “is the greatest jazz singer,” where P “is just a pop vocalist.” C is “ground-breaking,” “harmonically adventurous,” “innovative,” “cutting-edge,” “genre-bending.” Reading this, I must assume that everyone else is sitting in the dirt, looking sadly at their dinner, a half-done potato covered with ash.
Art does not lend itself to the collection of evidence that baseball does. If a singer has a larger range, is she a “better” artist? If a drummer has a more dazzling technique, is he the King? Is the superior musician the one who has more gigs, more fame, more money, more recognition?
I understand that there are artists who have been justifiably elevated to the pantheon (which, to me, is different than anyone’s “Hall of Fame”) but this also speaks to the Star System in Jazz, where there must be only one supernova in the galaxy. For you, it’s Miles or Trane, for you Bird or Rollins, for you, Duke, for you, Louis. The Star System is evident in what passes for “jazz criticism,” but perhaps most forcefully in Jazz Studies textbooks, where the Stars whiz by at blurry speed. Louis-Roy-Dizzy-Miles. James P.-Earl-Teddy-Tatum-Monk-Cecil. And so on. No room for Tony Fruscella or Buster Bailey because the publisher’s budget only allows for 650 pages and this price point.
Mind you, not only have I no objection to a rainbow of personal tastes, because I am a walking collection of them, and I revel in this. If the music that makes you most happy is on an Impulse CD or a Dial 78 or an American Music one, who would I be to say that your feelings should be challenged?
But let us give up pretending that preference is empirical judgment. Let us not treat individual reaction as law for everyone. To write that someone is “the best,” or “better than,” is an attempt to say, “I like this. Therefore it is good, because my judgment is always valid,” and then, “Why do you assert that something else that I do not champion is better? Are you attacking my discernment? I must defend my family’s honor! Pistols at dawn!”
We are thus back at recess, a bunch of quarrelsome fourth-grade boys. Art deserves reverence. And the most reverent response may be rapt silence.
Jazz fans of a sedentary nature (I count myself among them) need to be reminded that this was and is music for dancing. Dancing. And I thank my friend, the splendid singer Laura Windley, for gently reminding me of this. But rather than create a long didactic episode, I offer this as evidence — just spotted on eBay.
The three pages depicted here tell quite a story. I’d never seen Teddy Hill’s photograph on sheet music before, but he and his band did not get to record this number, which isn’t surprising. We also know that musicians had their photographs on sheet music covers — whether as publicity for both sides or because the song was in their repertoire. The Hill band released eight sides in three sessions in 1935-36: at the time, I think they were considered by the record companies a second-string group, which is a real pity.
Their later recordings — eighteen sides — for Bluebird were billed as Teddy Hill and his NBC Orchestra, which suggests not only a radio connection but an accompanying higher level of fame. In 1937, Teddy and the band toured England and France (which is why Bill Dillard, Shad Collins, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman, and other Harlemites recorded with Django Reinhardt for Swing Records); he led bands until 1940, alas without recordings, and then changed course and became manager of Minton’s jazz club in Harlem. He died in 1978.
As you will hear below, the band offered a deft combination of swinging dance music, hot solos, and interesting arranging touches.
A song by the same name was recorded by George Scott-Wood and his Six Swingers, but I can’t tell if it was this Blake-Taylor composition. The owner of the sheet music, Virginia, wrote her name and another detail, dating this in 1934: you did this so you got your sheet music back. Notice that the place all this TRUCKIN’ ON DOWN was happening was not Harlem or Chicago’s South Side, but Danville, Illinois, 138 miles from Chicago, which, in 1934, was a long drive. Swing and swing dancing was everywhere: a blessed phenomenon we can only imagine. We’re told that even the “O-Fays” [see the lyric] loved the dance:
One page from the inside shows that this was not just music that someone bought to gaze upon — or to have sit on the piano. It was played:
Even though I don’t dance — I have “a lazy gate” — the back page is entrancing:
It’s nearly all upper-body pantomime, and there’s no partner in sight to endanger: I could do this. Especially to the sound of Teddy Hill’s 1935-6 band.
Here‘s the link — should your impulses lead you to click on Buy It Now as a substitute for truckin’ it down uptown — although the seller is asking $399.99 plus $8.50 shipping (of course, that can be spread out over 24 months, a boon).
And here are the details about the Teddy Hill recordings that follow. But you can skip them with my blessing to get the dancing underway.
Teddy Hill And His Orchestra : Bill Dillard (tp,vcl) Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman (tp) Dicky Wells (tb) Russell Procope (cl,as) Howard Johnson (as) Teddy Hill, Chu Berry (ts) Sam Allen (p) John Smith (g) Richard Fullbright (b) Bill Beason (d). New York, February 26, 1935: LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE / GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS / WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN / WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART /
Frank Newton, Shad Collins (tp) replaces Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, Cecil Scott (ts,bar) replaces Chu Berry. New York, April 1, 1936
UPTOWN RHAPSODY / CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (unissued) / May 4, 1936: AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL / BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY / PASSIONETTE /
And here’s some music. WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART, with a pretty vocal by Bill Dillard, followed by a gently hot chorus by Bill Coleman, and a very danceable final chorus, complete with piano plinks:
and one of my favorite silly tunes, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE, which starts with a searing Roy, who returns to light up the sky, in solo and leading the brass at the start of the verse, before a supercharged Chu Berry takes precedence — but wait, that’s the swing anarchist Dicky Wells taking the bridge. The YouTube poster’s copy has a few small skips, but it’s a romp:
Bill Dillard takes the vocal on GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS before Chu — almost sedately — comes in for a few comments:
WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN is a wonderful combination of swing dance music, then things heat up with Bill Coleman, Howard Johnson for the bridge, then Coleman. Chu Berry is clearly in aerodynamic form, with Dicky Wells at his splendid surrealistic best, before Chu returns and Sam Allen plays a poised interlude:
UPTOWN RHAPSODY is a very daring chart at that tempo — like CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM in a funhouse mirror — with Procope, Johnson, and Wells:
On AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL, Sam Allen, Cecil Scott, Newton, Procope and Wells tell us in [Hendersonian] terms that we are in Harlem where riffs are born:
Here’s the band version of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s PASSIONETTE (what a wonderful reed section sound) with Frank Newton in his prime, then Russell Procope, and skywriter Dicky Wells, before the band rocks it out:
and Chappie Willet’s delightfully “modernistic” BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, with Wells, Howard Johnson, Procope, and a swaggering Newton, then Cecil Scott:
In front, Bobby Hackett, Louis Armstrong, George Wein; behind them, Joe Newman, Dizzy Gillespie — at the July 1970 celebration of Louis at the Newport Jazz Festival.
I saw the pleasing news on Facebook — and in an online source called CELEBRITY ACCESS, which summed it all up with a video and these words (if the New York Times had a front-page story, it eluded me, alas):
NEWPORT, RI (CelebrityAccess) — George Wein, the legendary pianist, jazz and festival promoter, turned 95 on Saturday.
Wein, who founded the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founded the Newport Folk Festival, also played a key role in the creation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Wein’s birthday was marked by tributes from the likes of James Taylor, Senator Jack Reed, Dianne Reeves, Jason Moran, Nate Smith, and Ben Jaffe.
George deserves a little more fuss.
The Newport Jazz Festival, which he founded in 1954 — and is still a going concern — featured everyone. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band to Archie Shepp. Duke, Louis, Miles, Trane, Dizzy, Monk, Hamp, Benny, Billie, Roy, Hawk, Pres, Ben. What other festival featured both Donald Lambert and Sonny Rollins? If you didn’t appear at Newport — in its now sixty-six year span — you had died before it began [Bessie Smith, Charlie Parker, Frank Newton, Hot Lips Page] or you had missed your set. George’s reach was extensive and his tastes heroically inclusive. Those who never got to Rhode Island were nourished by recordings and performance film footage; George created tours — Europe and Japan — that brought the music to eager audiences who would otherwise not have partaken of it first-hand.
Before Newport, George had clubs in Boston: Storyville and Mahogany Hall, where you could enjoy Sidney Catlett, Stan Getz, Sidney Bechet, Lee Konitz, Erroll Garner, and other deities. When the Newport Jazz Festival took a brief trip to New York, as the Kool Jazz Festival or the JVC Jazz Festival, I was able to see Benny Carter, Allen Eager, Charles Mingus, Lee Wiley, Gene Krupa and others who gladden my heart. In the early Fifties, George also had a record label — Storyville — where you could hear Milli Vernon and Beryl Booker, Ruby Braff, Teddi King, Ellis Larkins, Johnny Windhurst and Jo Jones. I’m also reasonably sure that George’s generosity — not publicized, but apparent — kept some musicians in gigs and dinner for long periods.
Incidentally, I am doing all of this delighted salute from memory: George’s 2004 autobiography, MYSELF AMONG OTHERS, is a much more detailed view at almost six hundred pages, so I know I have left out a great deal for which George deserves praise.
George also loves to play the piano and to sing, and although I think those activities have slowed down or ceased in recent years, his pleasure in these activities emerged most fully in the Newport All-Stars, a group that at various times featured Tal Farlow, Pee Wee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, Red Norvo, Norris Turney, Scott Hamilton, Warren Vache, Bud Freeman, Slam Stewart, and others: George’s discography begins in 1951 and its most recent entry is 2012.
I’d like to offer some swinging evidence of George as pianist: not at his own festival in Newport, but at the Grande Parade du Jazz in Nice, in July 1977: a nearly nineteen-minute jam on TAKE THE “A” TRAIN, nominally under the leadership of clarinet legend Barney Bigard — featuring Jimmy Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Clark Terry, trumpet and flugelhorn; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone; Slam Stewart, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. Notice the atypically expansive piano solo that George creates at the start: percussive, surprising, mobile . . . and watch Barney Bigard’s delighted face at the end.
Happy birthday, George! Our lives would be much poorer had you chosen another career.
Chu Berry And His “Little Jazz” Ensemble: Roy Eldridge, trumpet; Chu Berry, tenor saxophone; Clyde Hart, piano; Danny Barker, guitar; Artie Shapiro, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, November 10, 1938.
That is a compact way to introduce you (or remind you) to the joyous mastery of Sidney Catlett — Big Sid to many — not only in his dancing solo, but in his subtly powerful propulsion throughout.
That recording is well-documented: “46 West 52” was the address of the Commodore Music Shop at the time, and the improvisation is based on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.
The eight photographs that I share with you below came to me without equally detailed documentation. Each one is stamped “BY-LINE FEATURES” on the back, and someone had penciled in SID CATLETT. As well, pencil notations may be “cleared 46” and “tkn 45,” but I am not sure. They emerged on eBay over a month or so from a company apparently based in Iceland, and, Reader, I bought them. The company applied numbers to them, which I have followed below, although this sequence may be arbitrary. What I can presume is that a photographer caught Sidney in a solo . . . gorgeously, both his body and his facial expressions making these photographs both intimate and dramatic.
Right now, the question I am enjoying is how to hang them on my wall or walls.
And that’s not all.
In May 1948, Sidney took what I believe was his first overseas trip (Mel Powell recalled that Sid was terrified of flying) to appear at the first Nice Jazz Festival with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars: Louis, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, and Velma Middleton — which resulted in these three pictures, recently shared with the world by Jean Labaye: they come from the archives of the Hot Club of France:
The recipient, properly, of flowers:
I presume “Hot-Revue” was a jazz magazine, thus . . .
As they say, “this just in,” thanks to my friend, the jazz scholar-guitarist (who is one-third of a new YouTube series with Loren Schoenberg and Hal Smith on the early recordings of the Benny Goodman band) Nick Rossi — from a 1942 DOWN BEAT.
“Tub thumper,” my Aunt Fanny, but it’s a lovely photograph:
Back to the ears again, for a favorite recording. James P. Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen: Sidney DeParis, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Ben Webster, tenor saxophone; James P. Johnson, piano; Jimmy Shirley, guitar; John Simmons, string bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. New York, March 4, 1944:
and this, from June 22, 1945, with the Modernists of the time, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, at Town Hall in New York City, in concert, with Al Haig, piano; Curley Russell, string bass; Symphony Sid Torin, MC. The crowd doesn’t want to let Sid go:
More than once, I’ve had a non-jazz friend ask me, “What so fascinates you about this man?” I said, “In no order. He led a Dionysiac life and died young — surrounded by friends and he had just told a good story. He made his presence known and was instantly recognizable as himself, but he selflessly made everyone sound better. He is missed.”
The great jazz trumpet players all — and deservedly so — have their fan clubs (and sometimes Facebook groups): Louis, Bix, Bobby, Bunny and three dozen others. But some musicians, remarkable players, get less attention: Ray Nance, Jimmie Maxwell, Marty Marsala, Emmett Berry, Joe Thomas come to mind.
Then there’s the luminous and rarely-praised Billy Butterfield, who navigated a fifty-year career in small hot groups, in big bands, in the studios, and more: lead and jazz soloist for Bob Crosby, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. When Dick Sudhalter asked Bobby Hackett who was the best trumpeter playing now (circa 1971) Bobby named Billy.
Billy at one of the Conneaut Lake Jazz Parties, perhaps early Eighties.
Coincidentally, Professor Salvucci and I have been discussing Billy (in the gaps in our conversations when we focus on the positive) and it is thus wonderful synchronicity to find my friend “Davey Tough”(who has perfect taste) having posted two beautiful examples of Billy’s playing on YouTube.
Here’s Billy in 1942, with the Les Brown Orchestra, performing SUNDAY:
And in 1955, something I’d never known existed:
and Billy on flugelhorn with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band:
My contribution to the great hoard of Butterfieldiana is this video (thanks to kind Joe Shepherd) of a session at the Manassas Jazz Festival, December 1, 1978, with luminaries surrounding Billy: Tony DiNicola, Van Perry, Marty Grosz, Dick Wellstood, Spencer Clark, Kenny Davern, Spiegle Willcox: savor it here.
And one other piece of beautiful evidence:
How many people have memorized that record, or at least danced to it, without knowing who the trumpet soloist — bravura and delicate both — was?
Hereis an excerpt from a 1985 interview with Billy, so you can hear his voice.
Wondering why some artists become stars and others do not is always somewhat fruitless. I suspect that Billy played with such elegant power and ease that people took him for granted. Looking at his recording career, it’s easy to say, “Oh, he didn’t care if he was a leader or a sideman,” but he did have his own successful big band (recording for Capitol) and in the mid-Fifties, inconceivable as it seems now, his small band with Nick Caiazza and Cliff Leeman was a hit on college campuses and made records; he also led large groups for RCA Victor.
But I suspect he was just as happy playing LADY BE GOOD with a pick-up group (as he did at the last Eddie Condon’s) as he was reading charts for a studio big band or playing beautiful solos on a Buck Clayton Jam Session. I also suspect that he wasn’t instantly recognizable to the general audience or even the jazz fans as were his competitors for the spotlight: Hackett, Jonah Jones, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff. He didn’t have a gimmick, nor did he care to.
And once the big band era ended, other, more extroverted trumpeters got more attention: Harry James, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Hirt. When I’ve watched Billy in videos, he seems almost shy: announcing the next song in as few words as possible and then returning to the horn. Unlike Berigan, whom he occasionally resembles, he didn’t bring with him the drama of a self-destructive brief life.
Finally, and sadly, because he began with Bob Crosby, was an honored soloist at the Eddie Condon Town Hall concerts, and ended his career with a long glorious run with the World’s Greatest Jazz Band (where I saw him) I believe he was typecast as a “Dixieland” musician, which is a pity: he had so much more in him than JAZZ ME BLUES.
Consider this: a duet with Dick Wellstood that bears no resemblance to straw-hat-and-striped-vest music:
Less than a week ago, I published a post here, marveling at the riches made available in an eBay auction by “jgautographs” which have been all bought up now, including this glorious relic.
I don’t know how much Lester’s signature fetched at the end of the bidding, but Mr. Page’s (with the telltale apostrophe, another mark of authenticity) sold for $147.50, which says there is an enlightened and eager audience out there. That auction offered more than 200 items, and I would have thought the coffers were empty.
Now, the gracious folks as “jgautographs” have offered another seventy items for bid. I can say “gracious with certainty,” because I’ve had a conversation with the head benefactor.
Thisis the eBay link, for those who want to get in line early. The new listing has only one item held over from the past sale, and it is full of riches (including blues luminaries). I’ll mention only a portion: Ellington, Brubeck, Armstrong, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Johnny Hodges, Horace Silver, Stan Getz, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Desmond, Don Byas, Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Alberta Hunter, Little Brother Montgomery, Coleman Hawkins, Sippie Wallace, Rex Stewart, Ruby Braff, Lee Konitz, Zoot Sims, Jay McShann, Flip Phillips, Billy Butterfield, Phil Woods, Buck Clayton, Buddy Tate, Benny Carter, Bud Freeman, Thad Jones, Charlie Ventura, Teddy Wilson, Eubie Blake, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, Erroll Garner, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Dorham, Sonny Rollins — you can explore these delights for yourself, and if you have disposable income and wall space, some treasure might be yours. Those whose aesthetic scope is larger than mine will also see signatures of Chick Corea, Archie Shepp, and Keith Jarrett among others . . .
For now, I will offer only five Ellingtonians. And as David Weiner pointed out to me years ago, a sloppy signature is more likely to be authentic, since musicians don’t have desks to sit at after gigs.
Incidentally, “jgautographs” has an astounding website — not just jazz and not just their eBay store: spend a few hours at www.jgautographs.com.
Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Willis Conover, late Forties: photograph by Norm Robbins. Photograph courtesy University of North Texas Music Library, Willis Conover Collection.
Once upon a time, what we like to call “jazz” was divided into warring factions. Divided, that is, by journalists. Musicians didn’t care for the names or care about them; they liked to play and sing with people whose artistry made them feel good. And gigs were gigs, which is still true. So if you were, let us say, Buck Clayton, and you could work with Buddy Tate playing swing standards and blues, or rhythm and blues, that was fine, but playing MUSKRAT RAMBLE with Tony Parenti was just as good, as was playing NOW’S THE TIME with Charlie Parker.
But this was not exciting journalism. So dear friends Jimmy McPartland and Dizzy Gillespie were asked to pose for a photograph as if they were enemies, and people like Hughes Panassie, Leonard Feather, Rudi Blesh, and Barry Ulanov fought the specious fight in print. Even some musicians caught the fever and feuded in public, but perhaps that was jealousy about attention and money rather than musical taste.
One positive effect was that musical “battles” drew crowds, which musicians and promoters both liked.
Since every moment of Charlie Parker’s life seems to have been documented (the same for Bix Beiderbecke, by the way) we know that he played a concert in Washington, D.C.’s Washington [or Music?] Hall on May 23, 1948; that the masters of ceremonies were Willis Conover and Jackson Lowe, and that the collective personnel was Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, Wild Bill Davison, Joe Sullivan, Sir Charles Thompson, George Wettling, Tony Parenti, Earl Swope, Benny Morton, Charlie Walp, Sid Weiss, Ben Lary, Mert Oliver, Sam Krupit, Joe Theimer, Arthur Phipps. We know that the concert began at 2:30 PM, and — best of all — that private acetate recordings exist. A portion of the concert, heavily weighted towards “modernism,” appeared on the CD above, on Uptown Records, and copies of that disc are still available on eBay and elsewhere.
Details from Peter Losin’s lovely detailed Charlie Parker site here and here.
But for those of us who hadn’t bought the Uptown disc, there it might remain. However, through the kindness and diligence of Maristella Feustle of the University of North Texas Digital Library, excavating recordings in the Willis Conover collection, we now have twenty-seven minutes of music — some of it unheard except by those who were at the concert. There’s the closing C JAM BLUES / a partial RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, talk, and a partial SQUEEZE ME / S’WONDERFUL / TINY’S BLUES / TINY’S BLUES (continued). Yes, we have no Charlie Parker here . . . but a great deal of lively fine music. (Do I hear Eddie Condon’s voice in this or do I dream?).
But wait! There’s more. My dear friend Sonny McGown sent me a photograph I’d never seen before, from a similar concert of the same vintage, at the National Press Club, with this description: “Your email this morning reminded me of a photo that belonged to my father. He is in the picture with his head visible just above the bell of the trombonist on the far left. Some of the musicians’ identities are obvious such as Jimmy Archey, Wild Bill Davison, Ben Webster, and George Wettling. The rest are unknown to me. I wonder if the trumpet at the microphone is Frankie Newton? The clarinetist looks a bit like Albert Nicholas. It is quite possible that some of the fellows are locals.” [Note: in an earlier version of this post, I had assumed that the photograph and the concert tape were connected: they aren’t. Enthusiasm over accuracy.]
My eyes and ears were ringing while I stared at this gathering. I couldn’t identify the others in the photograph, but did not think the tall trumpeter in the middle was Newton. (And Sonny’s father, Mac, was a spectator, not a player.) Sonny then found two more photographs from the concert that we hear the music — their source being Maggie Condon, which would place Eddie there, logically, as well.
Tony Parenti, George Wettling, Wild Bill Davison, either Sid Weiss or Jack Lesberg, Bennie (the spelling he preferred) Morton:
Joe Sullivan, happy as a human can be:
This photograph popped up online, labeled “Washington Press Club,” but I wonder if it is from the same occasion. Even if it isn’t, it’s always a pleasure to portray these sometimes-ignored majesties:
Now, might I suggest two things. One, that JAZZ LIVES readers go back and listen to this almost half-hour of joys here— giving thanks to the University of North Texas Digital Library at the same time — for instance, the five-hour interview Louis gave to Conover on July 13, 1956, which starts here, and ten years later, something astonishing, Louis playing COLUMBIA, THE GEM OF THE OCEAN and singing “This is the Voice of America,” the former of which I would like as a ringtone: here.
Still hungry for sounds? A January 31, 1956, interview with Eddie Condon here; a brief 1946 interview with Duke Ellington where he seems to say nothing about the death of Tricky Sam Nanton — the music section begins with Ellington’s BLUE ABANDON, which contains a stunning solo by Oscar Pettiford, which is then followed by lovely records by Sinatra, Glenn Miller, and Kenton: here.
There are many more gems in the University of North Texas Music Library, which seems better than any ancient debate about the merits of different kinds of jazz. There is music to listen to and photographs to stare at . . . and gratitude to express, nor only to the musicians and Mr. Conover, but to Ms. Feustle and Mr. McGown. Those who keep the archives tidy and share their gifts are our lasting friends.
News flash: I started to review this seriously entertaining book a few months ago, lent it to a friend who promised to return it after a weekend, then didn’t . . . so this review is, with apologies, late. But I offer this anecdote to show I am not the only person who found the book irresistible.
Some books, full of invaluable information, are austere and forbidding. “Do you dare to approach, ignorant mortal? Are you worthy of opening my pages? Don’t even think of removing my dust jacket.” Other books, equally worthy or perhaps more so, are casual and welcoming. Reading them is like having a very relaxed old friend over to your house for a meal, and the friend — never boring — is a treasure chest of pleasing stories you’ve never heard before.
HAMP AND DOCis a marvelous example of the second kind of book. I’ve said it often, but books that tell me new stories are enticing reading, as are books that are narrated by the participants. And, I never thought of it as a criteria, but if a book has a great deal of affection in it — in this case, someone’s hugging or getting hugged every few pages — that, too, is a winner.
Lionel Hampton is deservedly well known, not only for his long career, his many talents, his ebullient musicianship, the hundreds of musicians whose lives he touched — so this book has a kind of anchor in its story of Hamp’s last years, from 1984 to 2002, years full of playing and energetic involvement in the lives of everyone he encountered.
Lynn “Doc” Skinner would not be well known, I think, outside of Idaho, but he also has touched many lives — as a musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer, a music educator, a festival organizer, an ingenious and kind man never at a loss for an idea, and ultimately as a friend to hundreds, perhaps thousands — some of them famous, others not known to us. Born in 1940, he is still with us, and HAMP AND DOC is his engaging story as well.
Engaging stories are at the heart of this affectionate, vivid book, and the ones that I find memorable reveal character. Many know that in 1997, a fire in Hamp’s New York apartment destroyed everything he had. He was 88, had had two strokes, and was sitting outside his apartment on the sidewalk in a wheelchair, clad in pajamas and robe, having been helped outside by two attendants. What you won’t know is this telling anecdote. Watching the fire from the street, Hamp calls Doc, who knows nothing of what is going on, and asks him, “Doc, are you okay?” and getting an answer in the affirmative, then tells him about the fire.
Of course, not everyone in this book is a saint (although most of the cast of characters are eminently nice): Doc tells the story of Sarah Vaughan refusing to get in the student’s four-door sedan that is picking her up from the airport because her contract specifies a limousine, and, later, refusing to go on because she does not have her $10,000 fee (cash) in her hand. Other sharp and tender vignettes have Stan Getz, Al Grey, Diana Krall, Ray Brown, Herb Ellis, Claudio Roditi, Clint Eastwood, Dizzy Gillespie, or Bill Charlap at the center. But the affectionate relationship between Doc and Hamp is the book’s backbone, and the wonderful things that resulted — the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival (the first jazz festival aimed at students, the first one named for a musician, the first one named for an African-American) and later, the Lionel Hampton School of Music.
The book is free from ideological bias or theorizing — in that regard it is blissfully old-fashioned, but it is as if we are privileged to spend some delightful afternoons with Doc as he shares his crystal-clear recollections reaching back to his childhood and forward into the present. Like Hamp, he comes across clearly, as a man with a purpose, devoid of artifice or meanness. He is ambitious, but his ambition is for the music alone and what it can do to reach others.
It’s a welcoming collection of lovely stories, well-edited, with beautiful photographs, many in color, and a lively design overall. Not incidentally, the book benefits hugely from the unseen talents of Alan Jay Solan, the man to whom Doc told his stories. The book works wonderfully as a book — not simply as a collection of associated memories — because of Solan.
Any jazz fan who loves Lionel Hampton, who feels good after reading stories where kind people treat each other kindly, or who wants to see lovely candid photographs will love this book.
Here‘s a link to Inkwater Press, although I am sure that the book is available in many other places (there’s a Kindle edition also).
And in case you have done the unthinkable and taken Hamp for granted, here are two pieces of evidence to prove that a truly bad idea.
Hamp and a stellar cast of Ellingtonian friends (Carney, Hodges, Cootie) and Jess Stacy in 1937:
Dan Morgenstern, now 89, is so full of wonderful stories — sharply-realized, hilarious, sad — that my job as a visitor with a camera has usually been to set up the video equipment, do a sound check, ask a leading question, and sit back in bliss. Here’s the first half of my June 2018 visit to Dan’s nest. Beautiful narratives are all nicely set out for us.
I’d already posted the first one — a total surprise, a heroic reaction to injustice — but I would like more people to hear and see it:
More about Cozy Cole and friends, including Milt Hinton, Cab Calloway, and a hungry Benny Carter:
More about Milt Hinton, with wonderful anecdotes about Louis and Joe Glaser, Dizzy Gillespie, Cozy Cole, and Mel Lewis:
And some beautiful stories about Count Basie — including Dan’s attendance at a Town Hall concert with Basie, Roy Eldridge, and John Coltrane:
Finally (for this posting — there will be a continuation) memories of Joe Wilder, Ed Berger, with a comment about Roy Eldridge:
That we have Dan Morgenstern with us to tell such tales is a wonderful thing. As Louis said to the King, “This one’s for you, Rex!”
Slightly less than three years ago, the superbly gifted multi-instrumentalist / composer Dennis Lichtman assembled his Queensboro Six and gave a concert at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. Here is the first half, and here is the second. The music was multi-colored and seriously rewarding: Dennis’ tribute to the true jazz borough, Queens County, New York, home of so many jazz figures — from Clarence Williams and Basie to Louis and Dizzy, Milt Hinton and James P. Johnson — and currently home to so many more of the musicians we love. Dennis assembled his Queensboro Six for a truly delightful new CD, its title above, its theme song below:
This disc is a model of how to do it — musicians and composers take note. For one thing, the band has an immense rhythmic and melodic energy, but the pieces are compact — sometimes explosions of twenty-first century Hot, sometimes evocative mood pieces, but none of them sounding just like the preceding track. Dennis is a real composer, so that even an exploration of Rhythm changes sounds lively and fresh. His arrangements also make for refreshing variety, so that one doesn’t hear him as the featured soloist to the exclusion of the other luminaries, and the performances are multi-textured, harking back to the later Buck Clayton, to Charlie Shavers’ work for the John Kirby Sextet, Raymond Scott, to sensitive elegies and musings that hint at the work of Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt. You’ll also notice compositions by and associated with those Queens denizens Louis, Fats, Clarence Williams. As that borough boasts some of the finest ethnic restaurants, this disc offers one savory musical dish after another. As they used to say, “For listening and dancing”! Peter Karl is responsible for the lovely recorded sound and Ricky Riccardi for the fine liner notes.
Here are some details. The musicians are Dennis, clarinet; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Gordon Au, trumpet; J. Walter Hawkes, trombone; Rob Garcia, drums; Nathan Peck, string bass — with guest appearances by Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, vocal , guitar; Mazz Swift, violin, vocal; Terry Wilson, vocal; Nick Russo, guitar. If you know even a few of those performers, you will want this disc, because they seem especially inspired by Dennis’ compositions, arrangements, and playing. And no one imitates any of the Ancestors.
The songs are 7 EXPRESS / FOR BIX / MIDNIGHT AT THE PIERS / ROAD STREET COURT PLACE AVENUE DRIVE / SOMEDAY YOU’LL BE SORRY / WALTZ FOR CAMILA / L.I.C. STRUT / JUST CROSS THE RIVER FROM QUEENS / BLUE TURNING GREY OVER YOU / 23rd BETWEEN 23rd AND 23rd / SQUEEZE ME / THE POWER OF NOT THEN / I’D REMEMBER HAVING MET YOU / CAKE WALKING BABIES FROM HOME.
You may order a download or a disc hereat very reasonable prices.
But perhaps more important than the disc itself, on August 1, the Queensboro Six will play two sets at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. Tickets and details here. Get yours today:
Teddy Wilson was soft-spoken and reticent, so this is a rare interlude, a 1950 radio interview (from WNYC) by Ralph Berton, a good prelude to the recent banquet of Teddy’s recordings on Mosaic Records:
I’ve been waiting for this set every since I heard rumors of it, and it has not disappointed me in the slightest.
But I must start with a small odd anecdote. Like many, I have a mildly unhealthy attachment to Facebook, and when this set entered the emotionally-charged world of FB dialogue, one jazz fan said that he was waiting to read the reviews before purchasing it. It was as if he had said, “I hear about this writer Toni Morrison. I want to read some reviews before buying one of her books.” Substitute “Brahms” or “Modigliani” or “Connee Boswell” and you get the idea. Cue rueful laughter.
Readers of this blog know how fervently I support Mosaic Records (and I don’t get copies for free) so I offer correctives to misperceptions of Wilson and, by extension, the recordings in this box set.
Wilson gets less praise than he deserves, because of unavoidable events in his life and the lives of his contemporaries. One is the looming dramatic presence of Billie Holiday, without debate one of the finest artists in the music but also someone (like Charlie Parker) wrapped in a mythology that blots out those associated with her. The recordings in this set do not have Miss Holiday, so some listeners might perceive them as second-string. True, so far there has been no coffee-table book chronicling a week in the life of, say, Boots Castle. But the singers here are never inept, and some of them — Helen Ward and Nan Wynn, with brief appearances by Ella and Lena (!) — are memorable. Removing Lady Day from the equation makes it possible to actually savor the instrumental performances, and they are consistently remarkable.
His greatest public exposure was as a sideman with Benny Goodman, and the Trio and Quartet records are splendid. But being typecast as the hero’s friend in the movies is not the same as being the hero. I am sure that Wilson could claim a better salary from 1935 on, but it took some time for him to be understood for his own virtues. And there was always Fats Waller and Art Tatum — talk about looming presences.
Wilson’s consistency has, perversely, made him a quiet figure in jazz hagiography. From his introduction to Louis’ 1933 WORLD ON A STRING to his last recordings in 1985, he was recorded so often that there is a feeling of abundance and perhaps over-abundance. There is no single monumental recording — no WEST END BLUES, no BODY AND SOUL, no SHOE SHINE BOY — to bow down to. (Something of the same fate — almost a punishment for excellence — has befallen Benny Carter, for one.) Some have reduced Wilson to caricature: a medium-to-uptempo sliding right-hand piano arpeggio; true, that some of his late performances were beautifully-done but cast in bronze, with few surprises. I wish his detractors might spend an afternoon with a transcribed solo and see how easy it is to reproduce even four bars of it.
He was always himself — balancing elegance and passion — and the recordings in this set are so consistently rewarding that they tend to overwhelm the listener who sits down to ingest them in large gulps. Not for the first time in reviewing a Mosaic box, I have wanted to compel listeners to take the contents as they were offered in 1936: two sides at a time, no more than once a week. In this way, even an “average” side — say, SING, BABY, SING — emerges as marvelously multi-layered. I will point out that these sessions were intended to be “popular” and thus ephemeral: records to be listened to on jukeboxes at a nickel a side: current tunes, music to dance to. I suspect the musicians were paid scale and went home with the idea that they had made some extra money, not that they had made Great Art. They’ve been proven wrong, but in the nicest ways.
The music impresses and moves me on several levels. One is that it is operating at a high level of excellence, hugely professional and still charmingly individualistic. Everyone’s voice is heard: Buster Bailey, Mouse Randolph, Cozy Cole. There are no dull solos; the swing is wondrous, never mechanical. The ensemble playing is the easy mastery of people who play in sections night after night and thus know all there is about ensemble dynamics and blending — but who are also feeling the pleasure of loose improvising amidst respected colleagues. The three-minute concertos are dense with musical information but are easy to listen to, apparently simple until one tries to mimic any part. The soloists are a cross-section of worthies, a list of them too long to type. Check the Mosaic discography.
In addition, the singers — who range from merely excellent on up — are charming reminders of a time when “jazz” and “pop music” were comfortable with one another. Imagine a time when young and old could hear a new recording of a song from a new Bing Crosby movie (let’s say LAUGH AND CALL IT LOVE) and appreciate it, appreciate a Jonah Jones solo — all on the same aesthetic plane. The most creative improvising was accepted as wonderful dance music, an exalted period where highbrow and lowbrow met, where snobberies were not so deeply ingrained, and certainly the audience was not fragmented and sectarian.
The result is an amiable perfection: I never want to edit a passage on a Wilson record. Perhaps paradoxically, I also understand why Bird, Dizzy, and Monk — who admired Wilson and his colleagues deeply — felt the need to go in different directions. What more could one create within this form? How could one’s swing and improvisation of this type be more perfect?
Eight decades later, these records still sound so buoyant, so hopeful. The news from Europe was grim, and became more so. But in the face of apocalypse, these musicians swung, sang tenderly, and gave us reason to go on.
I first heard Wilson early in my jazz apprenticeship; he was one of the first musicians, after Louis, to catch my ear. Blessedly, I saw him in person several times in 1971-4, and I bought the records I could find — the French “Aimez-vous le jazz?” of his 1935-7 solos, the later Columbia two-lp sets of the small groups issued here and in Japan, Jerry Valburn’s Meritt Record Society discs. When compact discs took over, I bought the Classics and Neatwork, the Masters of Jazz compilations. However, I can write what I have written before: this Mosaic box offers music that I’ve never heard before, in splendid sound.
I’ve written elsewhere on JAZZ LIVES of my strong feeling that Mosaic Records is a noble enterprise. Supporting their efforts is that rare double reward: a moral act that offers deep rewards. So I won’t belabor that point here. If you insist that everything should be for free online, that view that troubles me, especially if you expect a salary for the work you do. But I will leave that to others to argue.
I confess that I am writing this review early, rather than waiting until I’ve arrived at the last track of the seventh disc — I have been savoring the earliest sides over and over. And I have been appreciating Loren Schoenberg’s especially fine liner notes — over and above his unusually high standard! — for their subtleties and research. And the photographs. And the splendid transfers. I haven’t even gotten to the unissued sides at the end of the package: 2018 is still young.
For more information, go here— either to purchase this limited edition while it is still available. Or, so the people who say, “Well, how many unissued sides are there in this box? Is it a good value? I already have a lot of this material already,” can make up their own minds. Those unaware of the beauty of this music can be amazed.
And those who, like me, look at this music as a series of aesthetic embraces, can prepare themselves for seven compact discs of joy and surprise, music both polished and warm.
Our man in jazz Dan Morgenstern has always distinguished himself by his happy ability to hear good things wherever he goes; his range is not limited by styles and schools. So it’s not surprising that he should be so fond of the “new music” that greeted him on his arrival in the United States in the second half of the Forties.
His recollections of Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, and Tadd Dameron are not only tributes to their music, but to their warm personalities.
First, a brief soundtrack: Dizzy’s 1945 recording of Tadd’s GOOD BAIT (with Don Byas, Trummy Young, Clyde Hart, Oscar Pettiford, and Shelly Manne):
and, from 1971, the same GOOD BAIT as performed by Moody and Al Cohn, Barry Harris, Sam Jones, Roy Brooks:
Then, Dan’s very affectionate portrait of Dizzy, which ends up in Corona, Queens, with a famished John Birks foraging for snacks at a friend’s house:
Intimately connected with Dizzy, James Moody, another joy-spreader:
And finally, the vastly influential Tadd Dameron:
This post is in honor of my dear friend Doug Pomeroy, who — like Dan — continues to spread joy.
Now you know. But in all fairness to the graphic designer and the copywriter here, that advertisement might have made people who didn’t know Danny, George, Pat, Phil, or Joe leap to incorrect conclusions. “Pops to Bop” might have suggested a-history-of-jazz-trumpet, or an afternoon vacillating between WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD and DIZZY ATMOSPHERE. But these musicians meet on common ground; they love one another, and the music was so warmly played and presented that there was not even a thirty-second note of the formulaic here. It wasn’t a battle of genres: quite the contrary, if you squinted in just the right way through the stained glass windows, you could see Buck, Louis, Sweets, Basie, and Dizzy grinning like mad.
And although the brass instruments displayed and played here are often quite assertive, there was none of that signifying stuff, no “I can play higher, I can play louder,” so the sound was resonant, glowing, and in its own way serene, even at faster tempos.
Introducing the second song, HALF NELSON, Danny talks about how George was and is his inspiration, and even if he hadn’t explained that, we could hear it in the air.
Let me share the first four performances with you.
Danny’s original (in the spirit of the season to come) PASS OVER:
Following that thread, I’M CONFESSIN’:
HALF NELSON, credited (I think) to Miles, but who can tell?
And to close off this segment, George’s lovely reading of BODY AND SOUL:
It was a nearly six-hour round trip by car from my place to Ewing: I’d do it every weekend ti hear this band. Aren’t they wonderful? Savor this quartet of beauties: there are ten more to come.
I think what follows is just amazing, and it’s not inflated pride at having been the one who brought the camera and clipped the microphone to Dan’s shirt. The first-hand sources in any field are few and precious. Of course, there are many borrowers and interpreters, capable people who weren’t on the scene but are ready to theorize. “Nay nay,” to quote Louis.
Jazz, so long viewed as “entertainment,” did not get the serious coverage it deserved for its first decades. Thus we could search in vain for an interview with Bubber Miley or A.G. Godley. And few people wrote their memoirs of involvement with Jimmie Blanton or Don Murray or Larry Binyon . . . but we have Dan, who was there and has a good memory. And he has a novelist’s gift for arranging those memories in pleasing and revealing shapes.
When the subject is Charlie Parker, so many recollections of Bird veer between adulation for the musician and a superior attitude towards a man often portrayed as suffering from borderline personality disorder. Thus Dan’s gentle affectionate inquiring attitude is honest and delightful. His memories of Bird go back to the Three Deuces, the Royal Roost, Cafe Society, Bob Reisner’s Open Door, with strings at Birdland with Dizzy’s unsolicited clowning, his “last stand” at Birdland where Bud Powell could not accomplish what was needed, and a “miraculous” one on one encounter late in Bird’s life, balanced by a kind of exploitative incident in which Dan’s friend Nat Lorber was the victim, as well as a sad story of Bird’s late attitude towards life, and a portrait of the Baroness Nica.
Since Dan’s first-hand involvement with Bird was in the latter’s last years, I offer a very early Bird as a counterbalance — the recordings Parker made in Kansas City c. 1943 with the legendary guitarist Efferge Ware and drummer “Little Phil” Phillips, the latter celebrated by Bob Brookmeyer in his memories of K.C. Thanks to Nick Rossi for reminding me of this.
Thank you, Dan. And thank you. Once is insufficient.
On September 3, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mezzrow, that shrine for fascinating rhythms and floating melodies, to hear two sets by tenor saxophonist Tad Shull, pianist Rob Schneiderman, and string bassist Paul Gill. Ted called the group his “Radical Swing Trio,” which to him means a return to the roots: strong melodies, logical emotive improvisations, lovely ballads. And, as I said the first time, don’t be put off by “Radical”: this trio would have been forward-looking but comfortable in the fabled New York jazz past, although they are far from being archaeologists. Listen, and be delighted.
Jazz from a Sunday night on West Tenth Street, but hardly as ordinary as those words would suggest, for the site was not just the Street, but Mezzrow, that wonderful jazz club now beginning its fourth year of sustaining the musical community:
The participants I enjoyed on September 3 were the “Radical Swing Trio”: Tad Shull, tenor saxophone; Rob Schneiderman, piano; Paul Gill, string bass. Here’s their first set.
If the word RADICAL scares you off, it’s merely (I think) a way of saying that this trio, although aware and respectful of the past, players and composers and idioms, is not tied to it: they create rather than replicate. And swing is not tied to any year: it flourished in 1960 as well as in 1940. Hear for yourself how beautifully Tad, Rob, and Paul make it blossom in 2017.
Tadd Dameron’s TADD’S DELIGHT:
Jackie McLean’s OMEGA:
THE NEARNESS OF YOU. “In D.”:
Eddie Harris’ FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE:
Monk’s WELL, YOU NEEDN’T:
and as a closer, Hank Mobley’s SOUL STATION:
Another set was just as exhilarating, with seriously focused, lyrical performances of music associated with Dizzy Gillespie, Dameron, Miles, Wayne Shorter, and a pair of lovely ballads. It, too, will appear here.
At an age when most of us are playing with imaginary friends or real toys, the lovely musician Enrico Tomasso was playing BASIN STREET BLUES for Louis Armstrong and — in that famous photograph — receiving “The Kiss Of Joy” from Louis. So when Marc Caparone refers to Rico as “anointed,” he speaks the truth.
August 9, 2017, was a very special day for me, for Enrico and his family — his wife Debbie and daughter Analucia — thanks to Ricky Riccardi, the Ambassador of Louis and Louisness. For it was on that day that Rico came to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College, my idea of a holy place, to sit among the wonders. I was there, with my camera, and recorded what happened, for all to see. The opening videos of this segment are narrative: Rico, Ricky, and family, looking at Louis’ scrapbooks and photographs. But Rico has marvelous stories to tell: this isn’t “history”: it’s very much alive.
First, Rico’s stories of New York and New Orleans, 1971, with glimpses of Dizzy Gillespie, George Wein, and Big Chief Russell Moore:
Then, going back a bit, stories of Louis in England both in 1933 and 1968. You’ll want to hear what Rico’s mother told him, and that Louis called Rico, “my little trumpet player”:
Looking at one of Louis’ scrapbooks — and there’s a great punchline at 4:25:
And what I find very touching, the scrapbook that Lucille Armstrong kept of letters and notes of condolences sent to her after Louis’ death. I asked Ricky to read out the note from Spike Mackintosh, which is touching beyond words:
A little mouthpiece-talk:
“Now here comes the beautiful part”: Enrico Tomasso playing Louis’ trumpets. Much of the memories above have shown us the grown man reliving parts of his childhood, completely dear and alive — but now we move into the much more vivid present, even though Rico says that he has “holiday chops.”
Here are excerpts from DINAH, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, I COVER THE WATERFRONT, SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, POTATO HEAD BLUES, a story Bob Wilber told about the 1947 Town Hall Concert, a cadenza, and I USED TO LOVE YOU — which the young Rico learned and sent on a tape to Louis:
And a little extra taste:
When someone, as a loving gesture, says, “Have a blessed day,” I have a good sense of where that utterance is coming from. I usually say, “You too! I already am.” But August 9, 2017, with Enrico, Ricky, Analucia, and Debbie, was an especially blessed day. The kiss of joy that Louis gave Rico in 1968 — Rico has returned to us for decades. And this was another glowing unrestrained example of love in the form of sound, from Louis, from Rico: a great gift that warms us like sunshine.
And there will be more music from Rico and friends to come.
A simple song about a universal, deep desire — by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar. The melody is very unadorned, as are the lyrics: qualities that would make it memorable to a large popular audience and also great material for jazz improvisers. It was recorded frequently when it was a new pop song, then given new life by Benny Goodman, his orchestra, and other Swing Era bands.
In my time, I’ve seen leaders call I WANT TO BE HAPPY when they want a trustworthy up-tempo song, often to close a set. I remember Wild Bill Davison announcing the title and then leering at the audience, “Don’t we ALL?” Kenny Davern, more an intellectual comedian, would conjugate the statement in a half-Yiddish inflection, “I vant to be happy, he vants to be happy . . . ” and then trail off amidst the audience’s laughter.
Here is a particularly memorable 1944 version, showing that a good melody has its own immortality, especially when explored by brilliant improvisers who never lose sight of the melody’s validity: the Commodore Records classic (from a long session with many alternate takes) featuring Edmond Hall, Teddy Wilson, Billy Taylor, Arthur Trappier (July 20). It is easy to take this superficially as a version of a Goodman small group because of the uplifting presence of Wilson, but Hall and Wilson had been working together at Cafe Society for some time.
The YouTube presenter has gotten the date wrong and provides no data; instead there is a constant flow of often irrelevant photographs, but the music is what matters.
And what music! It’s really a simple recording — a worked-out introduction, a chorus for Hall, one for the rhythm section, another for Hall (low-register with the bridge for bassist Taylor) one for the rhythm section with the bridge for Trappier on brushes, then a quartet improvisation, everyone more intense but hardly louder, ending with no dramatics. I marvel at Edmond’s tone in all his registers, his easy facility that is allied to great quiet intensity; the depth of Wilson’s harmonic inventions that are always moving — he never puts a foot wrong but nothing seems worked-out — and the solid sweet push of Taylor and Trappier.
It’s a remarkable recording because it never tugs at the listener’s sleeve to say LOOK HOW REMARKABLE WE ARE. (However, if one hears it through a fog of multi-tasking, it might become background music — what we used to call “elevator music,” which would be a shame.)
This was the peak of a particular style (still practiced beautifully today): swinging melodic inventiveness in solo and ensemble. There really is no way that a listener could improve on this group effort, and I whimsically theorize that Bird and Dizzy went their own ways because this style, these individualistic players, had so polished this kind of jazz that there was no way to better it without breaking out of it.
We still want to be happy, and music like this points the way, if only we take the time to immerse ourselves in it.