eBay, the nation’s treasure chest, opened its lid to reveal this marvel.
and the wonders continue:
As I write this, it’s still for sale here. I held myself back from purchasing, so it’s yours for the moment.
I’d guess the card dates from 1944-46.
Here are Lips and Cozy in 1937, eminent sidemen in “Chu Berry And His Stompy Stevedores”: Hot Lips Page (tp, vcl) George Matthews (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Chu Berry (ts) Horace Henderson (p) Lawrence “Larry” Lucie (g) Israel Crosby (b) Cozy Cole (d). New York, March 23, 1937
and one of the great “love language” songs:
and a brand-new pop song:
and a song about a venerable London suburb:
and an all-star Don Redman Orchestra, including Hot Lips Page, Dick Vance, Harold “Money” Johnson, Henry Glover (tp) Henderson Chambers (tb) Burnie Peacock, Don Redman (as) Don Byas (ts) Bob Wyatt (p) Cozy Cole (d) and others: New York, January 29, 1946:
CARRIE MAE BLUES:
and MIDNITE MOOD:
These recordings aren’t always noted, so it’s lovely to have such a good reason to share them with you.
First, some music: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY as performed by Don Redman’s Orchestra in Geneva, Switzerland, October 27, 1946. The band is Bobby Williams, Alan Jeffreys, trumpet; Peanuts Holland, trumpet, vocal; Quentin Jackson, Jack Carman, trombone; Tyree Glenn, trombone, vibraphone; Don Redman, alto saxophone, piano, vocal, arranger; Chauncey Haughton, Pete Clarke, alto and baritone saxophone, clarinet; Don Byas, Ray Abrams, tenor saxophone; Billy Taylor, piano; Ted Sturgis, string bass; Buford Oliver, drums; Inez Cavanaugh, vocal:
The music (in this case featuring Tyree Glenn, Ted Sturgis, Don Byas, and others) is relevant to the pieces of paper below. And for those who would like to hear the whole Geneva concert — happily broadcast on Swiss radio and even more happily, preserved for us seventy-five years later! — here are all the performances:
Now I shall modulate into another key.
As a young jazz fan, I had to decide what variety of souvenir I wanted to take home from an evening’s entertainment. At one point, I fancied myself a still photographer — with a Canon AE-1 — and I would take as many shots as I’d bought rolls of 35 millimeter film. That was especially appropriate in the venues where I had learned beforehand that illicit audiotaping would get me thrown out unceremoniously (as in, “We don’t allow that here. Give it to me and please leave”).
I asked very few musicians for autographs, because I was afraid that they would say, “Was that a cassette recorder I saw in front of you? Kindly bring it here so that I can smash it with my shoe, if you don’t mind.” I also felt at the time that asking for a hero’s autograph relegated me to the status of “fan,” where conversation would have been limited. I could speak to Bennie Morton, but if I’d asked him to sign something, perhaps he would have done so, said a few polite words, and the interchange would have ended.
Eventually I also realized that approaching an artist for their autograph right before a set was ungenerous (“Let me get prepared, let me discuss the first song and the key, or let me get my charts together”) and after a set perhaps more so (“I just gave you my all for 45 minutes; I’m depleted, and want to visit the facilities”) so thrusting a tiny piece of paper in the Idol’s face was not always a kindness.
I must say, though, that in 1971 if I delayed Teddy Wilson for three minutes to ask him to sign my copy of PRES AND TEDDY and send beams of admiration at him, I feel no guilt now, and a prize of mine (thanks to the very dear Mike Burgevin) is an enthusiast’s 1933 autograph book that has a Jack Pettis signature. So I am not free from such urges.
Many people, however, perhaps with less timidity, have asked for autographs. Their ease, decades after the fact, results in slips of paper being offered for sale on eBay. One of the most rewarding sites is “jgautographs”— and here are a few items of unusual interest from a recent auction.
Don Redman’s 1946 orchestra (including Don Byas) that “went to Europe”:
and one of its trumpet stars, Peanuts Holland:
another Quentin Jackson signature (he deserves the attention):
our hero, James Rushing, Esquire:
the underrated and superb drummer Kansas Fields:
A souvenir of the 1938 Paul Whiteman orchestra, featuring Charlie Teagarden, Frank Signorelli, and George Wettling, and what looks like a Miff Mole signature squeezed in at the bottom:
Finally, a trio that I would have loved to hear — perhaps at a festival in 1978 — Jo Jones, Milt Hinton, and Ray Bryant:
Holy relics, mingling gratitude, admiration, affection, passing back and forth from artist to happy listeners.
(Postscript: none of these seem mechanical: if you haunt eBay, as I do, you can find what seem like hundreds of signatures by certain famous musicians, and I suspect they sat at a table, as do sports stars, and signed a thousand in an afternoon, which now are for sale. These seem to be signed in real life and under real circumstances, which is a very fine thing.)
I believe that the wondrous Hot Antic Jazz Band is a working band no more. But their sounds (and sights) continue to delight us, thanks to the generous technological skills of their leader, Michael Bastide, and we can enjoy their performances of FOUR OR FIVE TIMES and THE STORY BOOK BALL from Scottish television. (I love the former especially: McKinney’s Cotton Pickers coming to life amid greenery.)
These masters of Hot are Michel Bastide, cornet, valve-trombone, vocal; Virginie Bonnel, alto saxophone, clarinet, vocal; Jean-François Bonnel, tenor alto saxopone, clarinet, trumpet, vocal; Stéphane Matthey, piano; Jean-Pierre Dubois, banjo; Christian Lefèvre, tuba, marching trombone:
Delightful: authentic but not musty, full of expert fun.
As I write this, Michel Bastide‘s YouTube channel has a very small number of subscribers. I ask JAZZ LIVES’ readers to make sure the eminent Doctor Bastide does not feel that his efforts are in vain. Subscribe, s’il vous plait. (Or, as Red Allen would shout, “Make him happy!”)
I’ve always felt Don Redman’s plaintive love song deeply — posed as a question, explaining devotion to someone who needs an explanation, which makes it more poignant (“Don’t you understand why I do these things for you, my dear?”) — GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?
Hot Lips Page, Jimmy Rushing, Billie Holiday, and Nat Cole sang it . . . but even if you know only the title, you get the feeling. And the EarRegulars specialize in feeling.
Here they are, laying it on us, outside the Ear Inn, on May 2, 2021:
Delightfully, this is not meant to be a single remarkable occasion, like the appearance of Halley’s Comet in the night sky. No, the EarRegulars have plans — pray for no rain! — for Sunday, May 9, 2021, with Kellso, Munisteri, O’Leary, and John Allred, trombone. What’s that? “It’s Mother’s Day, Michael!” “Doesn’t Mom deserve the best?“
Did you miss the joys of May 2 that I’ve posted so far? Get comfortable and let yourself be pleasedhere. And if you understand the significance of this event and the promise of Sundays to come, you will notice more people grinning as you get closer to Spring Street.
I’ve revealed more of my personal life on JAZZ LIVES in recent years, but this post isn’t about me. I do know people, however, who are still paying bills that a now-ex-lover incurred when they were a couple. Such is the credit economy: Monday’s splendid dinner is just a memory on Tuesday, but MasterCard is insistent a month later. Or perhaps you’re a domestic type who bought the once-darling a new lawnmower? Romance with Finance Charges is also a drag.
Rex in Europe, courtesy of “crownpropeller”
Decades ago, I heard the record pictured below, hilarious, swinging, and rueful all at once. Rex’s talk-singing reminds me of Jimmy Harrison and Don Redman in that style, which owes something to Bert Williams and a storytelling tradition.
I believe “Herschman” is Leo Roger Herschman, but I know nothing about him or his collaboration with Rex.
Before you click on the link, the JAZZ LIVES Legal Department requires that I make this statement. “JAZZ LIVES does not condone or encourage violent acts against any person or persons, and encourages those suffering emotional stress to seek counseling.”
Now, Rex’s soliloquy, recorded in Paris, January 1948:
I don’t know what happens today if a young fan writes a letter to Lady Gaga, let us say, requesting a signed photograph or, better yet, asking a question. That rhetorical question in itself may mark me as hopelessly antique, since fans can find out everything online as it happens. But my guess is that the Lady doesn’t have time to send back handwritten personalized replies, and that is nothing against her. Even in the Swing Era, musical personalities had their secretaries or staff sign photos for fans. On my wall, for instance, is a lovely shot of Connee Boswell — her name signed in pen — but inscribed to the fan in a different hand, leading me to believe that Connee took a stack of a hundred photographs and signed her name on each one.
So what came up on eBay several days ago is remarkable. I can’t do much detective work, because the seller seems innocent about the trove, and perhaps (s)he has no other connection. Here’s the listing description:
This 1950’s collection of famous jazz musicians includes autograph letters, signed photographs and autographs. There is an autograph letter signed “Pops Foster” and a photograph signed “George Pops Foster.” There is an autograph note signed “Don Redman” and an 8 x 10 inch photo of Redman also signed. There is an autograph note signed “Meade “Lux” Lewis” There is an autograph note signed “Pete Johnson” and a letter by Pete Johnsons wife. There are two autograph letters signed “Alberta Hunter.” There is an autograph note signed “Buster Baily” and an autograph letter signed “Terry Spargo.” There is also a typed letter by Terry Spargo and a signed photograph. There are several autographs including “Moondog” “Israel Crosby” and a few others. All the letters, notes, photographs and autographs are in very good condition! NO RESERVE!
While you peruse and consider, here is a most appropriate musical soundtrack:
“Christopher,” whose last name may have been “Jameson,” seems to have been a young aspiring pianist and fan who wrote to his heroes, either asking a question and / or asking for an autographed photograph. We don’t have any of his inquiries, but they must have been polite and admiring, because he received gracious unhurried answers. And what strikes me is that in 1959 he wasn’t writing to Dizzy, Trane, or Mobley, but — for the most part — jazz pioneers. A few of the pages in his collection look like in-person autographs, but much is unknown and will probably remain so. But we have the most delightful evidence: paper ephemera of a kind not often seen. Here, without further ado:
POPS FOSTER gives his address twice, clearly pleased by this correspondence:
DON REDMAN, smiling and fashionably dressed:
TONY SPARGO, handing off to Eddie “Daddy” Edwards:
More from TONY SPARGO:
PETE JOHNSON wasn’t up to much writing, but his wife was encouraging and Pete did send a nice autograph:
“Musically yours,” MEADE LUX LEWIS:
Are the signers (from Brunswick, Georgia) a vocal group I don’t recognize? I do see MOONDOG:
I don’t recognize the signatures on the first page, but below I see VERNEL FOURNIER, AHMAD JAMAL, and ISRAEL CROSBY:
BUSTER BAILEY signs in kindly and also mentions his new recording, perhaps the only long-playing record under his own name:
an extraordinary and extraordinarily generous letter from ALBERTA HUNTER:
and an even more generous second chapter:
Christopher must have written extremely polite letters to have received such answers, but this selection of correspondence speaks to the generosity and good will of people who were actively performing, who took the time to take a young person seriously.
When the bidding closed, the collection sold for $660 a few minutes ago. So you can no longer possess these holy artifacts, but you can lose yourself in rapt contemplation of the images and the kind people who not only created the art we revere, but wrote to Chris.
The nimble folks at “jgautographs” had their hands full of surprises . . . although their holdings range from Frederick Douglass to Marilyn Monroe to Irene Dunne, Stephen Sondheim, and Thomas Edison, it’s the jazz ephemera — no longer ephemeral — that fascinates me and others. Here’s a sampling, with a few comments. (The seller has many more autographs, from Sonny Rollins and Eubie Blake to Gene Krupa and Conrad Janis, so most readers of this blog will find something or someone to fascinate themselves.) For those who want(ed) to buy what they see here, the auction ended this evening: if you are curious, I bid and lost on the Ivie Anderson and Jimmy Rushing; I won the Henry “Red” Allen and will be giving showings at a future date. Check Eventbrite for tickets.
A number of the older autographs were inscribed to “Jack,” as you’ll see, and some of the newer ones to “Mark,” “Mark Allen,” and “Mark Allen Baker,” which led me on another path — more about the latter at the end of this post.
Husband and wife, very important figures in popular music, now perhaps less known. Arranger Paul Weston:
and warm-voiced Jo Stafford:
Yusef Lateef lectures Mark:
while Louie Bellson is much more gentle in his inscription:
Lady Day, to Jack:
and Billie’s former boss, who called her “William”:
Notice that the Count’s signature is a little hurried, which to me is proof of its on-the-spot authenticity, because artists didn’t always have desks or nice flat surfaces to sign autographs after the show. His calligraphy is in opposition to the next, quite rare (and in this case, quite dubious) signature:
Beautiful calligraphy, no? But Helen Oakley Dance told the story (you can look it up) that Chick was embarrassed by his own handwriting, and when Helen asked for an autograph, Chick said, no, his secretary should sign it because her handwriting was so lovely . . . thus making me believe that this paper was not in Chick’s hands. People who are less skeptical bid seriously on it, though.
Blossom Dearie, who arouses no such doubts:
And James Rushing, of that same Count Basie band:
I saw Mister Five-by-Five once, and his sound is still in my ears:
another Jimmy, happily still with us:
yet another Jimmy, playing at the Hotel Pennsylvania:
Would you care to join me for dinner?
Perhaps you’d like to meet both Dorsey Brothers?
and we could stay for the “Bombe Borealis,” whatever it looked like:
A woman I would have loved to see and hear, Miss Ivie Anderson:
She continues to charm:
and Cee Tee:
The wondrous Don Redman:
Ella, whose inscription is elaborate and heartfelt:
One of the million he must have signed:
Jim Hall, always precise:
One can’t have too many of these:
an influential bandleader and personality:
one of Lucky’s great stars — and ours — from an era when you noted what instrument the star played, even if you couldn’t quite spell it:
Here’s the musical background, in the foreground:
finally, something that deserves its own scenario, “Mister Waller, could I have your autograph?” “Of course, young lady. What’s your name?” “Mildred.”
which raises the question: was the bus ticket the spare piece of paper she had, or were they both on a Washington, D.C. streetcar or bus? At least we know the approximate date of their intersection:
Neither Fats nor Mildred can answer this for us anymore, but here is the perfect soundtrack:
Mark Allen Baker, in the pre-internet world I come from, would have remained a mystery — but I Googled his name and found he is a professional writer, with books on sports teams and boxing, but more to the point, on autograph collecting. So although I would have hoped he’d be a jazz fan, my guess is that his range is more broad. And the autographs for sale here suggest that he has found the answer to the question, “Why do you collect autographs?” — the answer being, “To hold on to them and then sell them,” which benefits us.
I know someone who can both Do and Teach: my friend and jazz hero above.
When Clint and I were on the STOMPTIME cruise last April and May, we had free time in the afternoons, and (because of my pleasure in video-interviewing others, including Dan Morgenstern, Mike Hashim, and Kim Cusack) I asked Clint if he wanted to sit for my camera. He was graciously enthusiastic, and because of our recent conversations, he chose to talk about a school of trombonists, working in New York in the early part of the last century, who aren’t praised or noticed as much as they should be.
So here is a beautiful swinging lesson from Professor Baker, the first portion examining the work(s) of Arthur Pryor, Charlie Irvis, Charlie Green, Miff Mole, and the overarching influence of Louis Armstrong:
Here Clint finishes the tale of Charlie Green, considers the work(s) of Jimmy Harrison, Jack Teagarden, Bennie Morton, the “vocal style,” and that influential Louis fellow:
The world of J.C. Higginbotham, with side-trips to Henry “Red” Allen and Luis Russell, Bill Harris, Kid Ory, Honore Dutrey, Preston Jackson, and more:
and finally, a portrait of Sandy Williams, with comments on Sidney Bechet, Bunk Johnson, Jack Teagarden, Chick Webb, and Tommy Dorsey:
Any good classroom presentation asks the students to do some research on their own, in their own ways. Clint has pointed to many recorded examples in his hour-plus interview / conversation. I offer a sampling below; for the rest, you are on your own . . . a lifetime of joyous study awaits.
Arthur Pryor’s 1901 masterpiece, THE BLUE BELLS OF SCOTLAND:
A recording that always is heralded for the brilliance of Louis and Bechet, rightly. But listen to Charlie Irvis all the way through, who’s astonishing:
Charlie Green on the Henderson “Dixie Stompers” CLAP HANDS, HERE COMES CHARLEY:
“Big” Green with Louis, for HOBO, YOU CAN’T RIDE THIS TRAIN:
and, because it’s so rewarding, the other take (which sounds like their first try):
Lawrence Brown showing the Pryor influence on the Ellington SHEIK (YouTube doesn’t offer the 1940 Fargo dance date version, yet) — with a later solo by someone we didn’t speak of, Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton:
Jimmy Harrison on the “Chocolate Dandies” DEE BLUES:
Cross-fertilization: Jack Teagarden on RIDIN’ BUT WALKIN’:
Bennie Morton, on Don Redman’s 1931 I GOT RHYTHM, with a glorious trio:
J.C. Higginbotham, Henry “Red” Allen, and Pops Foster — with the 1929 Luis Russell band, for JERSEY LIGHTNING:
Higgy, Red, and Cecil Scott, 1935, with ROLL ALONG, PRAIRIE MOON:
Preston Jackson, explosively, on Jimmie Noone’s 1940 NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES:
Sandy Williams with Bunk and Bechet, UP IN SIDNEY’S FLAT:
Sandy with Bechet, Sidney De Paris, Sidney Catlett, OLD MAN BLUES:
and Sandy on Chick Webb’s DIPSY DOODLE:
A wonderful postscript: Dan Morgenstern recalling Sandy Williams at a 2017 interview, as well as the kindness of Bennie Morton, and a James P. Johnson story:
But my question is this, “Clint, what shall we talk about next? I can’t wait . . . and I know I have company.”
This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.
But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name. The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date. Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?” The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.
Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:
I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus. But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey. Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us. And I, for one, am grateful.
The Chicago Cellar Boys are a lovely band — not only the easy swing, the ringing solos, the choice of material, the consistent lyricism, the faith that melody, played with feeling, is essential — but they have an ensemble conception, so that something pleasing is always going on. Five pieces make a wonderful portable orchestra, where sweet and hot balance and show each other off by contrast. People unfamiliar with this group might think it landlocked — a quintet devoting itself to Twenties and very early-Thirties music — but they would be wrong, because this is one of the most versatile groups I know: tempo, approach, arrangements, instrument-switching, and more. They give great value!
I suggest that any listener who is deeply involved in creative improvisation, not only solos but ensemble timbres, the possibilities of a small group that transcend soloist-plus-rhythm, and the beauty of imaginative arrangements could study any one of these performances with the attention normally given to a hallowed OKeh or Oriole disc and be both enthralled and enlightened.
I’ve posted other videos of them here, here, and (with Colin Hancock sitting in) here.
The individual heroes are Andy Schumm, cornet, tenor, clarinet, arrangements; John Otto, clarinet, alto; Paul Asaro, piano, vocal; Johnny Donatowicz, banjo, guitar; Dave Bock, tuba. Here they are at the 29th San Diego Jazz Fest, in a set performed on November 24, 2018. They began with one of the classic late-Twenties songs about the glory to be found below the Mason-Dixon line:
and from the Clarence Williams book, by Maceo Pinkard, PILE OF LOGS AND STONE, another song glorifying the joys of rustic home life:
Thanks to Irving Berlin, Bing, and Ethel Waters:
Bless Don Redman is what I say:
LET’S DO THINGS is one of those songs I’d never known before (typically, I go away from a CCB set with new discoveries). I was unable to find the composers, but I did stumble into a 1931 Hal Roach comedy of the same name starring ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd, in which the then new song THEM THERE EYES figures happily and prominently. Here is the link to the film. Now, the ingenious song (is it a Schumm concoction? Youth wants to know):
Another song I associate with Clarence Williams, NOBODY BUT MY BABY (IS GETTING MY LOVE):
Finally, James P. Johnson’s GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN — beloved of Ethel Waters and Max Kaminsky on Commodore:
There are many CCB videos (about thirty — yes!) still for me to share with you: I think I missed at most one and one-half of their sets at this jazz weekend. So watch this space for more good news.
Phillip Johnston and friends create music that’s unpredictable but rooted, surprising but deeply immersed in his own versions of the jazz tradition. I had the good fortune to sit right in front of his Silent Six (a whimsical monicker) at Smalls in Greenwich Village last November, and can share with you a number of wonderful highlights.
He began the evening by discussing his recent joyous study of the music of the Twenties and Thirties, focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Don Redman, and you will hear compositions by Louis and the Duke below, elevated by the same exploratory imaginative spirit that animated their creators. (Sometimes we forget that POTATO HEAD BLUES was a brand-new tune in 1927, rather than a hallowed artifact of Hot.)
Phillip described the compositions and arrangements of that period as “that amazing music,” completely modern, larger than categories. Hearing the Silent Six, you realize that he is also (without being immodest) describing what it does in this century.
The Silent Six is Phillip Johnston. soprano and alto saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Mike Hashim, baritone saxophone; Neal Kirkwood, piano; Dave Hofstra, string bass; Rob Garcia, drums. Philip originally formed the NYC-based Six to perform live in WORDLESS!, his multi-media film/music/lecture collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator and graphic art historian Art Spiegelman that had its 2013 debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and continues to tour worldwide.
And now for some music from Smalls. Attentive listeners will hear deep roots: blues, shuffles, variations on familiar harmonic patterns, all performed with vigor, looseness, and wit — over irresistible dance rhythms, the result a series of surprises that immediately become comfortable.
Louis Armstrong’s POTATO HEAD BLUES:
Ellington’s AWFUL SAD:
Phillip’s DUCKET’S GOT A WHOLE IN IT (identified as a “deep shuffle”):
I had the good fortune to visit my long-time dear friends Lisa DuRose and Susan Peters at their St. Paul, Minnesota home this summer. I’d like to think of myself as a passable guest, so once I knew we would have plenty of time to talk and laugh and muse, I kept my requests manageable: interesting things to eat (pride of place went to Cheng Heng, a wonderful Cambodian restaurant (448 University Avenue), visits to thrift shops, a delightful bookstore, Midway Used and Rare Books (1579 University Avenue W.).
I made one Special Request.
I’d heard of a magical place where 78 RPM records and machines to play them flourished, so I asked Lisa and Susan to take me here:
I was worried that I would go down into the depths and never surface, so I asked them to pick me up in an hour, which was an atypical kind of restraint on my part. Lisa and Susan were curious about this museum of sounds and shapes that they’d never entered, so they came in with me.
Scott, the owner, stopped what he was doing and greeted us. I have an odd sense of comedy, so I said that I was a jazz blogger from New York, a collector of records, and that I had brought two friends who lived locally, that Lisa was my probation officer and Susan was my psychotherapist. Perhaps because of Scott’s clientele, he only allowed his eyes to widen a bit, but did not boggle at this news. I started to laugh, gave him my card and a Louis button, and we were off and running into hilarious instant friendship. Here— just so you know I am not describing some time-machine dream — is the store’s Facebook page.
Here is a six-minute film portrait of Scott in his element, blissfully honest, doing what he was meant to do:
And here is a very short film of Scott, playing a cylinder on an Edison “Gem” machine:
Scott and I fell into conversation about Joe Sullivan. That in itself should tell you a great deal — in this century, how many people can talk with depth about Joe? I tore myself away — he is hilarious, erudite, and entertaining — to look at records. Of course there was a Louis section, an Ellington section, but (as you can see from above) there was a Bob Pope section and one devoted to Don Redman, one to Clarence Williams.
I no longer do well with extreme sensory stimulus, and I was grateful that I could find a mere eight records: Joe Sullivan on Sunset (!) and Conqueror (the 1939 Cafe Society Orchestra); Henry “Red” Allen on Banner; the UHCA issue of JAZZ ME BLUES with Tesch and BARREL HOUSE STOMP with the Cellar Boys; a sunburst Decca of Louis’ ON A COCOANUT ISLAND; a beautiful Variety of Chauncey Morehouse and Swing Six (no “his”) of ON THE ALAMO. In the name of realism, I will also point out that the days of finding N- Paramounts at the Salvation Army for a nickel apiece are long gone. With tax, these records cost slightly less than eighty dollars, and I went away feeling gloriously gratified.
Two other record-collecting sidelights. Scott knows a great many kinds of music well and deeply, so the shop offers opera, “roots music,” and many other things that I didn’t have time to explore. If I remember correctly, he has three-quarters of a million records, both on the ground floor and in a well-organized basement. And more machines on which to play them than several large houses could accommodate.
And while I was there, the phone rang and Scott had an extraordinarily courteous gentle conversation with a man of a certain vintage who wanted to bring his beloved and for-sure valuable collection of late-Forties black label Bing Crosby Deccas for Scott to buy. I was touched by the kind seriousness with which Scott handled the man on the phone, never condescending to him or being scornful, while telling him the truth, that it would not be worth his while to bring the Crosbys down in hopes of a splendid payoff.
I admire Scott’s enterprise greatly — where on earth are you going to see a 78 record shop with its own Red Norvo section? Yes, I know a few other stores exist, and I’ve had self-indulgent fun in the 78 section of Amoeba Music — I think the one on Haight Street, but Scott’s store is a paradise of rare music and rare artifacts. You won’t find Oliver’s THAT SWEET SOMETHING DEAR there, but if you visit and go out empty-handed, and you love this music, I marvel at you, and not necessarily in an admiring way.
He is a man of stubborn devotion to his own ideal, and that is a beautiful thing. I will go even deeper and say that if everyone who loves older music — and the way in which it was heard — bought a seven-dollar record from Scott, or, better, a working vintage phonograph, the world we know would be improved. I wish that he and his passionate vision prosper and continue.
Readers of JAZZ LIVES know how deeply I and others treasure the Sunday-evening gatherings of kindred enlightened souls that take place at The Ear Inn, 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City. Here is some joy from June 10, with the personnel listed above: Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet and special mutations; Matt Munisteri, guitar; Scott Robinson, reeds and brass cross-species permutations [translation: tenor saxophone, alto clarinet; miniature French horn]; Neal Miner, string bass.
The EarRegulars, June 10, 2018. Photograph by Neal Siegal.
Here are a few highlights, delights all.
Some Fats by way of Louis, BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU:
YOU BROUGHT A NEW KIND OF LOVE TO ME (its beginning excised because of a collision between my camera and an eager patron):
Don Redman’s soulful plaint, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?:
More Fats! I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING with Scott’s loping, tender solo reading of the verse:
See you at The Ear around 7 some sweet Sunday. And save me a barstool.
Dawn Lambeth, Kris Tokarski, Larry Scala, Nobu Ozaki, Hal Smith, Jonathan Doyle, Marc Caparone at the San Diego Jazz Fest
Oh, how they swing. This band is one definition of happiness.
See here for their version of MY GAL SAL which continues to bring great pleasure, with the same heroes: Kris Tokarski, piano; Hal Smith, drums; Larry Scala, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, clarinet and tenor; Nobu Ozaki, string bass; Marc Caparone, guest nobleman, on trumpet.
And Edgar Sampson’s fervent wish, IF DREAMS COME TRUE:
Don Redman’s CHERRY:
and Alex Hill’s I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU:
Not only might they do anything for us, or would do anything for us: they DO. And so splendidly. I recorded another four sets (if memory serves) so there might be a few more delicacies to come. Such joy, such generosity of spirit, such art.
One way to answer the questions “Who was Chappie Willet, why haven’t I heard of him, and why does he deserve a book?” can be found here:
That was recorded in 1937 and is notable — to some — for solos by a young Dizzy Gillespie and others as members of Teddy Hill’s NBC Orchestra. But if there were no solos to concentrate on, keen listeners would notice the depth and complexity of Willet’s composition and arrangement, full of surprises.
An extended BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, performed by Gene Krupa:
We are trained by the “star system” in jazz to listen for soloists, to disregard the orchestral textures of a performance for the brief passages where Our Person improvises. More erudite listeners will recognize the “charts” created by Mary Lou Williams, Bill Challis, Eddie Durham, Don Redman, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Ellington and/or Strayhorn — distinctive expressions of the writer, as recognizable as an individual soloist. John Wriggle’s superb book — a rewarding study of one brilliant arranger, his music, the world in which he operated, and the implications of Wriggle’s research — does a good deal to begin resetting the balance.
Francis “Chappie” Willet (1907-76) was a great arrangers and composer: we have heard his work for Hill, Krupa, Goodman, Armstrong, Lunceford, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, and Norvo. Yet he is almost unknown and the wonderful settings he created are taken for granted. Consider his arrangement of STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE for Louis Armstrong, heard here in a 1938 performance. But here I ask the reader / listener to consider only the first fifteen seconds of this performance. I know it’s nearly impossible to consider anything but Louis, but try:
In two pages (123-24), Wriggle provides a transcription of what is happening in that opening, and then analyzes it. The reader need not be a musicologist to follow and enjoy this book because Wriggle writes so clearly.
The experience of reading this book — well-organized and exquisitely documented but with beautiful control (some writers, unlike Wriggle, think every dust mote is equally important and thus overwhelm a reader) — is concentric.
Were it simply a biography of Willet, it would be a thin, perhaps limited study. But Wriggle is fascinated by context — “the economic, political, and professional landscape of popular music arrangers working during the Swing Era,” so we learn about the intersection of race and visibility; how arrangers learned their trade and the various rates of pay; Willet’s “Broadway Music Clinic,” music for nightclubs, Broadway shows and theatrical revues; the various clubs and venues themselves. Wriggle examines — I oversimplify here — how Swing Era arranging worked, with close analysis of excerpts from various scores and recordings, and how each arranger had a particularly recognizable identity. He looks closely at the fluid relationships between jazz and the Western classical canon.
The book’s scope is refreshingly broad; at one point, Wriggle analyzes Willet’s elaborately dramatic score for the Lunceford version of YESTERDAYS; a few pages later, we learning all there is to know about a new dance, THE HICKY RICKY — novelty numbers, ballads, and jazz exotica are all considered with particular enthusiasm and research.
Rare photographs add a great deal to the experience, and the collaboration of Wriggle and the University of Illinois Press is a happy one: the book is carefully presented and well-edited. I found no misprints or errors, rare in this century. The paper edition (a manageable 320 pages) is $30.
Reading this book over the past few months, whether I proceeded chronologically or opened it at random, I was always enlightened, ever bored: a great tribute to Wriggle from an impatient and often irritable reader. His background explains a good deal: he is a trombonist, composer, arranger, and scholar, who has transcribed period jazz repertoire for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks, and served as music editor for Oscar-winning Hollywood film scores.
As a writer and scholar, he is thoughtful without being pedantic or theoretical, without a confining ideological bias. To get a sense of his and the book’s virtues, I offer excerpts from his interview (from the publisher’s blog) about this work.
As an aspiring composer-arranger, I first took notice of Willet’s music in the mid-1990s, when I was co-hosting a pre-stereo themed jazz program on college radio station WKCR. I heard the 1937 Mills Blue Rhythm Band session he arranged, including a version of “Blue Rhythm Fantasy.” The combination of musical adventurousness and balanced logic in those arrangements is beautiful, and I was an immediate fan. In 1999, I composed and presented a series of “Variations on Blue Rhythm Fantasy” for a new music ensemble I was leading. But as I tried to find more about Willet through standard jazz history sources, it was always a dead end. When I applied to the Rutgers Jazz History and Research program in 2003, I decided I would see if I could make a thesis project of it. A telephone book cold call led me to a musician named Chico Hicks, who had performed with Willet during 1933-34, and the pieces finally began to fall into place.
The more I was able to discover in newspapers and archives, the more I realized what a fascinating figure Willet was. His career reflects so many aspects of the music industry during that period that it made perfect sense to build a book around him. He was really tied into the Swing Era stage entertainment scene, which is something that jazz historians have attempted to ignore for decades as too “commercial.” Willet was also involved in music publishing, home recording, talent booking, and a music school—all the stuff that professional musicians still to do today in order to eke out a living.
Similar to music performers working in recording studios during the 1920s and ‘30s, swing big band arrangers were able to cross lines of racial segregation simply because no one could see them. As long as they weren’t appearing in mixed company on the public stage, it didn’t bother the establishment so much for white bandleaders to hire black arrangers, or vice versa. Whether or not these shrouded work opportunities actually helped to break down inequality is an interesting question—and one that was debated in the African American press at the time. On the one hand, arrangers could be considered pioneers of integration; on the other hand, these less-publicized instances of black writers working for white bands could also be interpreted as another form of exploitation. Some black bandleaders even worried that black arrangers were providing unfair advantage to their white competitors, as concerns regarding music and jazz authenticity were often tied to race. The popular success that white bandleaders enjoyed while playing the music of black arrangers like Jimmy Mundy, Sy Oliver, or Chappie Willet certainly highlighted issues of racism and segregation that America was struggling with leading up to the civil rights era. Willet himself was embraced as a “race man” in the African American press: a role model for economic success in an entertainment industry that was just beginning to consider strategies for integration.
This book attempts to provide a window into the broader world of professional arranging in jazz and popular music: What were these musicians trying to do with their music? How were they trained? Where did they work? How much were they paid? And looking in more detail, I also hope to highlight the artistry involved. Audiences of arranged music are being provided more sonic information than just the song lyrics or featured solos. And a good arranger can transmit a lot of information very effectively.
BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY is a wonderfully enlightening experience. It is readable but dense with information — an old-fashioned book not especially suited for reading on one’s phone — a splendidly-documented exploration of an artist and his musical world that will both answer and raise many questions. I hope John Wriggle will write many more books equally wise and appealing.
Here’s one of mine that did and does, in the Zal Gaz Grotto in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the night of January 21, 2017, during the after-party for the River Raisin Ragtime Review: Erin Morris dances while Jon-Erik Kellso and James Dapogny play. And Laura Wyman recorded it on her hand-held camera.
Erin by Jerry Almonte
I bless the four of them.
Three souls in harmony, reflecting motion and sound, each telling Don Redman’s tale: James, seated; Jon-Erik, standing; Erin, mobile. Individuals in community, coming together to create something that enthralls and cheers.
Watch and listen a few more times and go deep in to the splendors. There’s a famous anecdote of Earl Hines at the Chicago Musicians’ Union in 1924, fooling around at the piano with a new pop tune by Isham Jones, THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE) — and a chubby young man formerly of New Orleans comes up, unpacks his cornet, and joins in. No one who wasn’t in that room ever heard that music — although a few intrepid heartfelt souls have made their own variations on that duet. And as far as I know, no one danced.
I wasn’t there, either, but I think this impromptu trio is at the same level: it gives me chills and then a rush of gratitude. Thank you, Erin, James, Jon-Erik, Laura.
Laura and her magic camera
(An alternate take: here you can see the video produced by William Pemberton, director of the RRRR, same time, same place.)
The skies are dark this afternoon, but we live amidst marvels.
On December 31, I have nothing against Guy Lombardo’s rendition of AULD LANG SYNE, part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence. And Louis adored the sound of that band, so who am I to scoff?
But I secretly prefer this version of the Scottish song we use to bid farewell to one moment in chronological time and (perhaps with trepidation) welcome the next.
The people who ran Bethlehem Records decided — wisely — to have a New Year’s Eve party (December 31, 1954 – January 1, 1955) and make it a paying gig, recording the musicians as well, who were Ruby Braff, trumpet; Ed Hubble, trombone; Sam Margolis, tenor saxophone; Dick Katz, piano; Gene Ramey, string bass; Izzy Sklar, drums. (I note with some pride that I saw, heard, and even spoke with everyone in that band except for Mr. Sklar during my time as an eager young jazz acolyte in New York in the Seventies.)
Here’s quite an unusual version from Don Redman and his Orchestra, recorded on December 6, 1938. The band was Carl Warwick, Reunald Jones, Mario Bauza, Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Don Redman, Eddie Barefield, Edward Inge, Pete Clarke, Joe Garland, Nicholas Rodriguez, Bob Lessey, Bob Ysaguirre, Bill Beason. The numerical “lyrics,” if you could call them that, might serve as a test for intoxication — I can see the audience counting up and back with the band, although this seems to be a more difficult test than perhaps mumbling through the Scottish lyrics. Or was it a sideways nod to the numerical antics of Stuff Smith and his Onyx Club Boys on I’SE A MUGGIN’? I can’t say:
What it says about me I don’t know, but in this video from Tim Gracyk, there is a comely young woman with her ice-cream cone who appears at 1:22. Where is she now? She is so unaffectedly pretty. Oh, well.
May 2017 be kind to you; may you not lose hope. Get home safely.
I am totally bushed. Exhausted. Tired. I know it is from having fun: the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party followed right after by five-plus days and nights in New Orleans for the Steamboat Stomp and extra gigs . . . But I am having trouble being fully functional.
So I need a consultation with Doctor Donald Redman, who will bring in his specialists:
That 1932 band, not incidentally, is Langston Curl, Shirley Clay, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, Benny Morton, Edward Inge, Rupert Cole, Don Redman, Robert Carroll, Horace Henderson, Talcott Reeves, Bob Ysaguirre, Manzie Johnson. The song is Don’s composition and he talk-sings it with great charm; Horace Henderson did the arrangement. Thanks to Mark Shane for reminding me of this little whimsical gem.
Note: I do not know the young woman in the photograph, which is fine, since she would destroy my sleep for sure.
“Georgie,” youthful. Photograph reproduced with permission from the owner. Copyright 2013 The George Barnes Legacy Collection.
Alec Wilder told George Barnes that the latter’s music offered “Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!” I agree.
I first heard the magnificent guitarist (composer, arranger) George Barnes without knowing it. His sound cut through the Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography sessions for Decca — in the late Sixties. Even listening to Louis — as any reasonable person does — I was aware of this wonderful speaking sound of George and his guitar: a man who had something important to tell us in a short space (say, four bars) and made the most of it. Not loud, but not timid.
As I amassed more jazz records, George was immediately evident through his distinctive attack. I believe that I took in more Barnes subliminally in those years, in the way I would hear Bobby Hackett floating above my head in Macy’s. (George recorded with Roy Smeck, Connie Francis, Richard M. Jones, Bill Harris, Anita O’Day, Artie Shaw, Pearl Bailey, Jeri Southern, Connee Boswell, the Lawson-Haggart Jazz Band, Dinah Washington, Coleman Hawkins, George Wettling, LaVern Baker, Earl Bostic, Joe Venuti, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Redman, Little Willie John, Della Reese, Dick Hyman, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Hans Conried, Solomon Burke, Sy Oliver, Buddy Rich, Bud Freeman, Tony Bennett, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress — just to give you an idea of his range. And those are only the sessions documented in jazz discographies.)
In the early Seventies I actually saw George and heard him play live — he was sometimes five or six feet from me — in the short-lived quartet he and Ruby Braff led. And then he was gone, in September 1977.
But his music remains.
And here’s a new treasure — a double one, in fact.
Now, some of you will immediately visit here, bewitched and delighted, to buy copies. You need read no more, and simply wait for the transaction to complete itself in the way you’ve chosen. (Incidentally, on eBay I just saw a vinyl copy of this selling for $150.)
For the others. . . . I don’t know what your feelings are when seeing the words COUNTRY JAZZ. Initially, I had qualms, because I’ grew up hearing homogenized “country and western” music that to me seems limited. But when I turned the cardboard sleeve over and saw that Barnes and friends were improvising on classic Americana (OLD BLACK JOE, THE ARKANSAS TRAVELER, CHICKEN REEL, IN THE GLOAMING, MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME) I relaxed immediately. No cliche-stew of wife / girlfriend / woman / dog / truck / rifle / beer / betrayal / pals here. Call it roots music or Americana, but it’s not fake.
And the band is exciting: George on electric guitar, bass guitar, and banjo [his banjo feature is extraordinary]; Allan Hanlon, rhythm guitar; Jack Lesberg, string bass; Cliff Leeman, drums, percussion; Phil Kraus, vibes on one track; Danny Bank, mouth harp on one track. The sixteen tracks (and one bonus) come from this 1957 session recorded for Enoch Light — in beautiful sound. The improvisations rock; they are hilarious, gliding, funky, and usually dazzling. There’s not a corny note here. And gorgeously expansive documentation, too.
That would be more than enough fun for anyone who enjoys music. But there’s much more. George began leading a band when he was 14 (which would be 1935) but made a name for himself nationwide on an NBC radio program, PLANTATION PARTY, where he was a featured from 1938 to 1942. The fourteen additional airshots on this generous package come from the PARTY, and they are stunning. Each performance is a brief electrifying (and I am not punning) vignette, and sometimes we get the added pleasure of hearing announcer Whitley Ford introduce the song or describe George’s electric Gibson as a “right modern contraption,” which it was.
I can’t say that it’s “about time” for people to acknowledge George as a brilliant guitarist and musician, a stunning pioneer of the instrument — because the jazz and popular music histories should have been shaken and rewritten decades ago. But I’d bet anything that Charlie Christian and a thousand other players heard PLANTATION PARTY, and that a many musicians heard George, were stunned, and wanted to play like that.
I’m writing this post a few days before July 4, celebrated in the United States with fireworks. George Barnes sounds just like those fireworks: rockets, stars, cascades, and explosions. I don’t know that fireworks can be said to swing, but with George that is never in doubt.
To buy the CD, visit here— and at the George Barnes Legacy site, you can learn much more about George, his music, his family, his career. Worth a long visit.
I think that Ray Skjelbred, in all his varied incarnations, is too expansive for one blogpost at a time, so here — two performances by Ray and his Cubs plus Marc Caparone — is what I offered yesterday. But the urge to honor Ray while he honors the music continues today, so I present four more performances, solo piano, from that same November 27, 2015, at the San Diego Jazz Fest.
“Solo piano” might be somewhat misleading. In the past seventy years, there has been some redefinition of what that sounds like. Of course, it is one person at the keyboard. But with the advent of three and four-piece rhythm sections, the idea of what a pianist might do when seated alone at those white and black keys has changed. Once, the pianist’s role was orchestral: think of Hines, Waller, Tatum — then it got pared down — from Wilson onwards to Haig and his descendants.
Ray Skjelbred is not limited to any one conception of playing, but he likes to make the piano a small but legendary orchestra, all by itself. And in this solo set, he explicitly said that he likes playing “band” repertoire — songs associated with great jazz ensembles — I think not only for their evocative power (think of a magician who can evoke Louis, Don Redman, Bix, Adrian Rollini, Guy Kelly, Jimmie Noone) but for the larger space they offer, the freedom of repertoire that doesn’t arrive with its own set of prescribed conventions.
So here are four beauties. Muse on them, delight in them.
A groovy lowdown version of that new dance, THE BALTIMORE:
Don Redman’s NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU (revived in this century by Ruby Braff and Jon-Erik Kellso and friends):
THE BLUES JUMPED A RABBIT with a slow, sad, half-spoken vocal. We’ve all felt that way:
BEAU KOO JACK (which of course means LOTS OF MONEY, thanks to Louis, Don Redman, and Earl):
Observe this man and his musical transformations closely. He has much to teach us about the poetry of jazz.
I think with longing of catching up on my sleep . . . but there’s so much fine music to hear!
And — just a thought: who remembers Don Redman these days? A world-changing arranger, bandleader, saxophonist, and one of the most charming singers ever. Don’t dare call what he does “talking” in my presence, for the lilt of his voice and his whimsical phrasing are so delightful.