Tag Archives: Don Ewell

“A SWELL FELLOW”

I don’t know what the proliferation of inscribed photographs of Jack Teagarden says about his, the circumstances, his popularity.  But since I’ve loved his music since childhood, I prefer to see these photographs as indications of a generous character, a man who appreciated his fans and was happy to make even the most fleeting connection with them.  For a start, “Edith” must have been made happier by this:

JACK EDITH

and this later pose:

JACK AUTOGRAPH

and a long sweet [although general] inscription, when Jack was being managed by MCA — circa 1939, if you know his lyrics to JACK HITS THE ROAD:

JACK TEAGARDEN Successful and Happy

and “Warmest regards to a Swell Fellow ‘Pat'”:

JACK TEAGARDEN Warmest Wishes

Then, some official business from 1943:

JACK TEAGARDEN union card front

and the other side:

JACK TEAGARDEN union card back

Even late in life — perhaps a year before his death — Jack retained his mastery, a mastery so deep that he made his great art look casual.  Here he is in Chicago, on television (the host is Willis Conover) performing BASIN STREET BLUES with Don Goldie, Henry Cuesta, Don Ewell, Stan Puls (I think), and Barrett Deems:

May your happiness increase!

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DAVE RADLAUER’S MUSICAL GENEROSITIES

The somber-looking fellow here might not be known to you, but he is the most generous of excavators, finding rare jazz treasures and making them available for free to anyone with a computer and many free hours.  His name is Dave Radlauer, and his site is called JAZZ RHYTHM.

RADLAUER portrait

As is often the case in this century, Dave and I have never met in person, but know each other well through our shared fascinations.  But first a word about JAZZ RHYTHM.  When you go to the site’s home page, you’ll see a left-hand column with famous names from Louis Armstrong to Lester Young, as well as many lesser-known musicians.  Click on one to hear a Radlauer radio presentation, with facts and music and anecdotage nicely stirred together.  The long list of names testify to Dave’s wide-ranging interest in swinging jazz.

But here comes the beautiful part.  Click on “Bagatelle jazz club,” for instance, and you will be taken back in time to a rare and beautiful place where delicious music was played.  Possibly you might not know Dick Oxtot, Ted Butterman, Frank Goudie, Bill Bardin, Pete Allen well, but their music is captivating — and a window into a time and place most of us would not have encountered: clubs in and around San Francisco and Berkeley, California, in the Fifties and Sixties.

Dave has been an indefatigable researcher and archivist, and has had the opportunity to delve into the tape collections of musicians Bob Mielke, Wayne Jones, Earl Scheelar, Oxtot, and others.  And the results are delightful sociology as well as musically: how else would I have learned about clubs called The Honeybucket or Burp Hollow? And there are mountains of rare photographs, newspaper clippings, even business cards.

When I visit Dave’s site, I always feel a mild pleasurable vertigo, as if I could tumble into his treasures and never emerge into daylight or the daily obligations that have to be honored (think: ablutions, laundry, bill paying, seeing other humans who know nothing of P.T. Stanton) but today I want to point JAZZ LIVES’ readers in several directions, where curiosity will be repaid with hours of life-enhancing music.

One is Dave’s rapidly-expanding tribute to cornet / piano genius Jim Goodwin — legendary as musician and singular individualist.

jim-goodwin

And this treasure box, brimful, is devoted to the musical life of Frank Chace — seen here as momentarily imprisoned by the band uniform.

CHACE Radlauer

On Dave’s site, you can learn more about Barbara Dane and Janis Joplin, James Dapogny and Don Ewell . . . all presented with the open-handed generosity of a man who wants everyone to hear the good sounds.

Dave has begun to issue some of these treasures on beautifully-annotated CDs, which are well worth your consideration.

RADLAUER CD one

I’m told that the music is also available digitally via iTunes, but here is the link to Amazon.com for those of us who treasure the physical CD, the photographs, and liner notes.

A postscript.  Until the middle Eighties, my jazz education was seriously slanted towards the East Coast.  But when the jazz scholar and sometime clarinetist John L. Fell befriended me, I began to hear wonderful musicians I’d known nothing of: Berkeley Rhythm, Goodwin, Skjelbred, Byron Berry, Vince Cattolica, and others. So if the names in this piece and on Dave’s site are new to you, be not afeared.  They made wonderful music, and Dave is busily sharing it.

May your happiness increase! 

THE LATEST PRANCE, WORDS AND MUSIC

Thanks to Dick Karner of TradJazz Productions for providing inspiration and source material for this blogpost. (You could look into the label’s inspiring hot backlist for some good sounds, too.)

Before we get to Dick’s beneficience, I must ask a difficult question.  Do you know how to do the SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE?  Or, like me, are you simply someone who loves the 1917 song?  Hark to the lyrics and perhaps you can learn.

SHIM 1

The verse:

SHIM 2

The chorus:

SHIM 3

Like the very best teaching, it leaves ample space for personal improvisation. You’re on your own.  But you look perplexed.  Before you start to “bounce ’round like a big rubber ball” in silence, I have something that will help.  For the impatient listeners, the music takes about nineteen seconds to start:

Frank Chace, clarinet; Don Ewell, piano, Beale Riddle, drums.  Ewell’s apartment, either Chicago or Baltimore, c. 1952.

Isn’t that brave lovely music?  Please don’t write in to say that Ewell sounds just like Jelly or that Frank imitates Pee Wee: I don’t have the psychic army that will protect you from their avenging spirits.  Emulation, homage, but not imitation: these are courageous swinging melodists getting under the skin of the music to have their own glorious say.

Now you can truly do the SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE.

May your happiness increase!

I’M GETTING MY BONUS IN STRIDE: JAMES P. FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Everyone who follows jazz devotedly has theories about why some musicians become Stars and others remain Obscure.  It clearly isn’t artistic quality, as one could find out quickly by playing recordings of famous and neglected artists. No, other factors interfere.

In that wonderfully uplifting sub-genre known as Harlem stride piano, the pantheon seems to have room for only one man, Fats Waller.  His fame is well-deserved: his genial embellishments, his rhythmic drive, his delicious pianistic surprises.  But we also have to consider the effect of Fats as a Personality (many recordings and some film appearances) and a Composer.  (In the jazz mythology, he is also remembered as a joyous Dionysiac child who died young — elements that stick in our minds.) Willie “the Lion” Smith seems a collection of delightful eccentricities — melodies, derby hat, cigar, scraps of Yiddish, an elegant braggadocio.  In our time, pianists Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Don Ewell, and their current counterparts have (or had) the advantage of being accessible.

But what of the man who came first (leaving aside Eubie Blake and Luckey Roberts), Fats’ teacher, James P. Johnson?  He was not a Personality; the one or two times he sings on record he seems uncomfortable; a quiet man, almost shy, he did not thrust himself forward.  It would seem that he didn’t record sufficiently, but the discographies prove otherwise.  Wellstood once said in print that James P.’s recordings didn’t always document his greatness — although for those of us who didn’t see and hear James P. at all, that would be a moot point.

Mosaic Records, blessedly, has seen fit to put Wellstood’s casual assertion to the test.

JAMES P. Mosaic

This box set will be available in mid-December; it offers the usual Mosaic largesse spread over six CDs; rare material (eleven sides not previously issued), beautiful photographs; a lengthy essay by Dr. Scott Brown, James P.’s biographer, familiar material in the best sound.

And should some worry about six CDs of stride piano, fear not: we hear James P. accompanying blues and pop singers (including Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, Clara Smith, and Ethel Waters) and as a sideman in bands that include Frank Newton, Jabbo Smith, Clarence Williams, Garvin Bushell, Louis Metcalf, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams, Arthur Whetsel, King Oliver, Jimmy Archey, Teddy Bunn, Lonnie Johnson, Roy Smeck, Tommy Ladnier, Sidney DeParis, Mezz Mezzrow, John Kirby, Cozy Cole, Sidney Catlett, Henry “Red” Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Al Casey, Hot Lips Page, Charlie Christian, Ed Hall, and others.

Here‘s the discography, for those who (like myself) find listings of music we are going to hear very enticing.  And if you haven’t heard James P. recently — someone Thelonious Monk admired — scroll down on this Mosaic page and listen.

My holiday shopping list is now complete — my gift to myself, I mean.

May your happiness increase!

“THINK ABOUT THAT LEAD”

Louis Armstrong said it clearly: “. . . there’s people all over the world, they like to hear that lead.  Ain’t no sense playing a hundred notes if one will do, Joe Oliver always used to say, ‘Think about that lead.'”

What many people cherish in the music they call jazz is improvisation.  I understand this: much of the pleasure in hearing a jazz musician at work or at play is observing the new beautiful structures (s)he builds on familiar melody, chords, and rhythms. Consider Lester Young playing I GOT RHYTHM.  As I write now, someone is creating something lovely and surprising on familiar themes. Experienced listeners can discern the original structure as they admire the variations on the theme.

But melody still has so much to say to us, to give us, and while melodic embellishment with a swinging harmonic and rhythmic underpinning may not be the only way to present creative improvised music, it can still be deeply satisfying.

Two examples, from mid-1946: Bunk Johnson, trumpet; Don Ewell, piano; Alphonse Steele, improvising on melodies that were “pretty” and well-established even then.  KATHLEEN was written in 1875; DOLL in 1911:

and

I don’t espouse this as the only rewarding way to play, but it still sounds very good to me.

May your happiness increase! 

HOT MUSIC TRAVELS WELL: ALVIN ALCORN IN AUSTRALIA WITH THE YARRA YARRA JAZZ BAND 1973

We take our personalities with us wherever we go. In the case of creative musicians, this is always a good thing, and a new double-disc set showcasing the fine New Orleans trumpeter Alvin Alcorn in concert with a nifty Australian jazz band is a very rewarding example of how well hot music keeps its essential self no matter how many miles from “the source” it is.  The set, from the Victorian Jazz Archive (VJAZZ 026), is subtitled “Rare Collectible Jazz From the Archive,” and that’s accurate.  By itself, the VJA is a fascinating place: read more here.

The VJA has been quietly yet steadily releasing a series of compact discs of previously unheard or at least quite rare material — featuring Tom Baker, Fred Parkes, Ade Monsbourgh, Frank Traynor, Graeme and Roger Bell and other luminaries, as well as several CDs for “The Progressives”. Details — and sound samples — here.

ZZ 610 Alvin Alcorn

The newest release in the series is a double-disc package spotlighting New Orleans trumpeter / singer Alvin Alcorn and the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band in concert in 1973.  The selections are a comfortable mix of “good old good ones,” with several very fine impromptu vocals from Alvin and one from Kay Younger: THE SECOND LINE / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / TIPI-TIPI- TIN / EENY MEENY MINEY MO / SAY “SI SI” / BUGLE BOY MARCH / BOURBON STREET PARADE / THAT’S A-PLENTY / BEALE STREET BLUES / INDIANA / TIN ROOF BLUES / JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE / MUSKRAT RAMBLE / I CAN’T GET STARTED / HINDUSTAN / SOME OF THESE DAYS / FIDGETY FEET / ROYAL GARDEN BLUES / BILL BAILEY / ST. LOUIS BLUES / PANAMA / OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE – SAINTS.  Each disc is nearly seventy-seven minutes of music, and the sound is better than one hears on other concert recordings of this vintage.

The Yarra Yarras (a band formed in 1960) had fine credentials and connections with musicians as diverse as Don Ewell and Ken Colyer, and they bring a fine springy bounce to the sessions.  I did notice the rhythm section being slightly at sea on a few of the more unfamiliar songs, but this wasn’t enough to disturb my pleasure.

The real pleasure, for me, is in Alcorn.  I came to jazz from a “later” perspective, musically: Forties and Fifties Louis, Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buck Clayton . . . so I often find “authentic” New Orleans trumpet playing — that I am expected to admire if not revere — a bit rough around the edges.  But Alcorn was obviously someone with great subtleties, even when playing the most familiar repertoire. The band rocks and powers along around and below him, and he creates tidy filigree — sounding more like Jonah Jones or Doc Cheatham than Kid Thomas. Everyone seems happy, and Alvin’s vocals are delightful.  I encourage you to investigate this set and its colleagues at the VJA site.

May your happiness increase!

GOODBYE, RED BALABAN. FAREWELL, BOB GREENE

I’ve written very sparingly about the deaths of jazz musicians in JAZZ LIVES — for one reason, thinking that turning this blog into an ongoing necrological record was at odds with its title. But without saying that one musician is more important than another (Bobby Gordon, Frank Wess, Al Porcino, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Sam Ulano, and a dozen others I am not mentioning here) I want to write and share a few words about two deaths of late 2013.

One was the bassist / guitarist / singer / impresario Leonard “Red” Balaban, the other, pianist Bob Greene.  Both of them were ardent workers in the jazz vineyards, and both (in their own subtle ways) did as much to advance the music as more-heralded musicians.

I had occasion to observe and interact with Red Balaban many times in 1972-5, again in 1975-the early Eighties, and once in 2013. In the summer of 1972, I learned from reading the listings in THE NEW YORKER that Sunday-afternoon jazz sessions were being held at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage — sic transit gloria mundi) on Seventh Avenue and Tenth Street.  I and several friends made pilgrimages there.  The Mustache was a huge hall with sawdust on the floor, creaking long tables and wobbly chairs.  But for a nominal admission charge and the purchase of food and drink of dubious quality, we could sit as close to the bandstand as possible and (often) illicitly record the music.  The house band — Balaban and Cats — harking back to Red’s heritage in show business with the Chicago movie theatre chain created by Balaban and Katz — was usually a sextet, with Red playing string bass and singing, occasionally guitar or banjo, rarely tuba.  He called the tunes in consultation with the guest star, chose tempos, and led the session.  The Cats I remember were Marquis Foster, Buzzy Drootin, Dick Wellstood, Bobby Pratt, Chuck Folds, Red Richards, Sal Pace, Kenny Davern, Joe Muranyi, Dick Rath, Herb Gardner, Ed Polcer, Doc Cheatham, and I am sure there were others.  The guest stars, stopping in from Olympus or Valhalla, were Bobby Hackett, Ruby Braff, Buddy Tate, Jo Jones, Dicky Wells, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Bob Wilber — enough stiumlation for a lifetime.  I was a college student with limited funds, so I didn’t see every session: missing Gene Krupa, Al Cohn, Lou McGarity, and others.  But I did see Eddie Condon in the audience, which would make the Sunday sessions memorable even if no music had been played.  And his daughter Liza was there now and again, photographing the musicians.

A few years later, I saw Red occasionally as a member of Mike Burgevin’s little band at Brew’s, playing alongside Vic Dickenson and other luminaries.  Eventually, Red and Ed Polcer created the “last” Eddie Condon’s, on 54th Street, and I went there when I could — the house band, as I recall it, included Ed, Vic, Herb Hall, Jimmy Andrews, John Bunch, Connie, Kay, Ronnie Cole, and another galaxy of visitors, including Helen Humes, Al Hall, Jimmy Rowles, Brooks Kerr, Marty Grosz, Bob Sparkman, Ruby Braff, Joe Bushkin, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones.  At Condon’s one could also see Billy Butterfield, Dan Barrett, Soprano Summit, Zoot and Al — a midtown oasis, now gone.

Finally, I got to meet Red once again, after a lapse of decades, at the October 2012 house party created by Joel Schiavone and Jeff Barnhart. I introduced myself as someone who had good reason to be grateful to him for those Sunday sessions, and we chatted a bit.

Thanks to CineDevine, we have two samples of Red, late in his career, gently entertaining the room, with assistance from Jim Fryer, Jeff Barnhart, and others.  In a Waller-Razaf mood:

and something pretty from Rodgers and Hart:

A musician I respect, someone around in those New York years, had this to say about Red: “Not only did he love the music, but thousands upon thousands of dollars went through his hands and into the hands of musicians.  What he did with Condon’s # 3 is part of New York City jazz history.  He was a kind man who came from a very interesting family.  He wasn’t Ray Brown or Bob Haggart, but he kept jazz alive.”

Without Red Balaban, I doubt that I — and many others — would have heard as much memorable music as we did in those New York years.  So we owe him a great deal.  And he will be missed.  Another view of Red can be found here.

Pianist Bob Greene also left us late in 2013.

Bob devoted his life to celebrating Jelly Roll Morton and his music. He wasn’t the only pianist who has done so, but his emulation was fervent. I saw him summon up the Master at Alice Tully Hall in 1974 with a lovely little band (Pee Wee Erwin, Ephie Resnick, Herb Hall, Alan Cary, Milt Hinton, Tommy Benford).  They couldn’t quite turn that austere space into a Storyville bordello or the Jungle Inn (it would have required an architectural reconstruction taking years) but the music floated and rocked.  Across the distance of the decades, I think of Bob as a brilliant actor, committed with all his heart and energy to one role and to the perfection of that role — not a bad life-goal.

Bob was respected by his peers.  Mike Lipskin said, “Bob was a fine performer of Jelly Roll Morton compositions, and devoted much of his life to keeping the memory of this giant early jazz pioneer alive. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert many years ago.”  And a man we just lost, Bobby Gordon, told me, “I have fond memories of Bob for 40 years. He was always enthusiastic about music. I recorded with him 40 years ago and most recently for Jazzology. It was wonderful to record with him again, and a joy to be with such a remarkable talent. I will miss him……..a dear friend.”

Here’s a beautiful expansive piece by Hank O’Neal, a very lively evocation of Bob:

The first time I saw Bob Greene, he was playing a poor electric piano with a fairly loose ensemble, on the back of a flat bed truck. The band on the truck was trying, unsuccessfully, to recreate the feeling generated by old time bands on wagons in New Orleans. It is a long way from New Orleans to Manassas, Virginia, and 1967 was a half a century removed from those heady days in the Crescent City. I don’t remember the enterprise stirring up much support for the first Manassas Jazz Festival, but Bob was on board because his old friend, Edmund “Doc” Souchon was also there, and Doc had probably asked him to come along. I know it happened because I have a snapshot to prove it. In another snapshot from the same day he’s playing cornet.

You had to look pretty hard to find out anything about Bob. He’s not well-known today, rarely mentioned in any of the standard jazz reference books, and you have to dig pretty deep to come up with any information at all, but the bits and pieces are there if you look for them. And the story and the music he’s made along the way are both wonderful.

Bob’s first love was Benny Goodman, Jess Stacy and the swing guys who were all over the place when he was a teenager. He could still, when asked, do the best imitation of Stacy I’ve ever heard, but at some point he heard Jelly Roll Morton, and was hooked. Until his death in 2013, he remained one of the foremost exponent of Jelly’s music in the land. There are other guys who could play more notes, play King Porter Stomp louder or Fingerbuster faster, but when it came to really delivering the goods, with just the right mix of technique, exuberance and sentiment, nobody else even came close.

There are other guys who play Morton’s compositions well, in the style, often with more sheer technique, but, for the most part, this is just a portion, usually a small portion, of their repertory. The music of Jelly Roll Morton and some of his circa 1900 contemporaries, made up about 90 percent of Bob’s playbook, and the telephone doesn’t ring very often these days, or any other days for the past few decades, for someone to play a recital of Morton’s music. Which was just fine for Bob. He never had any intention of being a full time musician. The world was just full of too many other things to try.

Bob made his first recordings in 1950 with Conrad Janis (Circle) and in 1951 with Sidney DeParis (Blue Note) and recorded intermittently for the next sixty years, whenever it was convenient. His performance schedule was about the same. He played in and around New York City in the 1950s and Washington D.C. in the 1960s because he was writing some pretty fancy stuff for assorted notables to read on radio or in political speeches. Goodness knows what else he may have been up to. When he wrote a book about the OSS exploits of his cousin, Paul Blum, he had no difficulty gaining access to the highest levels of the intelligence community. But back to the music.

After Bob climbed down off the back of the truck during the ill-fated parade in Manassas, I discovered he could also play a real piano and when he played Morton it was special. As I’ve suggested, he made up in spirit and authenticity what he may lacked in a formidable technique. Not that he made mistakes, he didn’t, but to this particular pianist, passion was the point, not technique. He had all he needed to get his point across. Much in the same as Thelonoius Monk. Other people played Just A Gigolo better than Monk, but nobody played it with more quirky feeling.

The first time I really heard Bob was when I was asked to round up the gear to record a band to be led by the then legendary, now largely forgotten drummer, Zutty Singleton. The gear came from Squirrel Ashcraft, the recorder, microphones, even the take-up reels. It was February 12, 1967, I remember the date with great affection because it was the very first commercially released record I ever worked on. It was also my first encounter with Zutty, still a marvelous drummer, and the only person I ever heard in person who could almost simulate a melody on the drums.

Bob Greene was a strong presence among many exceptional players that day and the highlight of the recording, to me at least, was a duo, just Zutty and Bob, on Cake Walking Babies From Home. I don’t know if Jelly ever played the tune, but if he did, he would have played it like Bob played it that day, and maybe Zutty would have been around to make sure. This was Johnson McRee’s first record for his Fat Cat’s Jazz label, and except for a solo outing by Don Ewell, perhaps the best record he ever produced.

In the 1970s, I asked Bob to record for Chiaroscuro on many occasions, but he always declined. There was always a semi-legitimate excuse. He was the only person I asked to record in those years who didn’t jump at the chance, including Bob’s first idol, Jess Stacy. In the late 1970’s Bob assembled his World of Jelly Roll Morton band, made a fine record for RCA, played Carnegie Hall a few years and toured successfully with the group. But most of the time he was in between New Orleans, Paris, Tokyo and New York, rarely in any place for very long. He slowed down long enough to record all the Jelly Roll Morton tracks for Louis Malle’s fine film, Pretty Baby and he enthralled audiences with his Jelly Roll show at numerous Floating Jazz Festivals. I recorded one of these shows in the late 1980s. Maybe I’ll listen to it one day and see if it should be released.

In 1994 we produced an event for Cunard on Queen Elizabeth 2, a 12-day survey of the music of New Orleans, and Bob was on board, as both Jelly Roll Morton and as the pianist with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The New Yorker’s noted critic, Whitney Balliett, was also on board, in disguise as Baby Dodds, tastefully accompanying Bob on a snare and cymbal. Romantic that he was, Bob fell in love with the ship and was heartbroken when he learned that much of the furniture in the ship’s Theater Bar, where he held forth nightly with Whitney, was to be taken off QE2 when it reached New York, and given to the Salvation Army. He decided he had to have a table and four leather chairs and set about finding a way to work it out.

When we docked, I left via the crew gangway, and saw Bob at the other end of the pier in heated conversation with a man in a Salvation Army uniform. Longshoreman were hauling the furniture and putting it inside a truck. I later learned that Bob got his furniture. The deal was for a table and four leather chairs, in the best condition possible, delivered to his home on 92nd Street. In exchange, Bob promised to assemble a band, including Whitney, to play for a Salvation Army Christmas party. A decade or so later Bob moved out to the end of Long island and that old Theater Bar furniture moved with him, a few miles closer to Southampton. This is the kind of thing that appealed to Bob.

If Bob had worked at a career in music half as hard as he worked at getting that furniture, who knows what might have happened? But perhaps nothing would have happened, which is the case with most people who try to have a career in jazz, and he wouldn’t have had nearly as good a time as he had for the past 91 years. He was one of a handful of pianists I’d go out of my way to hear because he always made me happy. He had the same effect on others.

In November 2006 he toured Japan and a lot of other people went out of their way to hear him. After that he began working on a project to present a Jelly Roll Morton show at Jazz At Lincoln Center but it didn’t work out. A year or so after that he asked what I thought of getting him together with Joshua Bell for some duets. I thought it sound like a good idea, that Bell could do a lot worse. That didn’t work out either but an awful lot did and the music that resulted with simply wonderful.

Bob and friends:

MAMIE’S BLUES (2006):

I THOUGHT I HEARD BUDDY BOLDEN SAY (2010):

TIGER RAG (2011):

Thinking about these men, all I can say is this.

Not everyone is a Star, but everyone counts.  And fortunate are those who can follow their life’s calling and share their passions with us.

May your happiness increase!