Tag Archives: Don Redman

IN 1959, THEY SAT RIGHT DOWN AND WROTE HIM LETTERS

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.

May your happiness increase!

“WARM REGARDS” and “THANK GOD FOR EARS”: A COLLECTION OF PRECIOUS PAGES

The nimble folks atjgautographs” 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:

Smack:

Jay Jay:

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.

May your happiness increase!

“A STRENGTH OF SOUND”: CLINT BAKER EXPLAINS (AND PLAYS) THE NEW YORK TROMBONE SCHOOL: (Stomptime, April 30, 2019)

Clint Baker, tbn.

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.”

May your happiness increase!

“IT MUST BE SOME MAGIC ART”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Yes, it’s the Real Thing.

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.

May your happiness increase!

GUESS WHO’S IN TOWN? THE CHICAGO CELLAR BOYS at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: ANDY SCHUMM, JOHN OTTO, PAUL ASARO, JOHNNY DONATOWICZ, DAVE BOCK (Nov. 24, 2018)

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 herehere, 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.

May your happiness increase!

“THAT AMAZING MUSIC”: PHILLIP JOHNSTON and the SILENT SIX at SMALLS (November 27, 2018)

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”):

and his own LATER:

Phillip’s HOFSTRA’S DILEMMA (for stalwart string bassist Dave):

TEMPORARY BLINDNESS:

PLANETELLA ROCK:

Phillip also has two new CDs for us — DIGGIN’ BONES and THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED.  You can read reviews of them here.  Learn more / buy DIGGIN’ BONES here; for more about ACHMED, visit here.

This post is for Maurice Kessler, gig-friend extraordinaire.

May your happiness increase!

 

IN RECORD TIME: A VISIT, ALL TOO-BRIEF, TO THE VINTAGE MUSIC COMPANY OF MINNEAPOLIS

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.

May your happiness increase!

WHEN LOVE COMES IN THE EAR: JON-ERIK KELLSO, MATT MUNISTERI, SCOTT ROBINSON, NEAL MINER (The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn, Sunday, June 10, 2018)

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.

May your happiness increase!

“IT’S NICE TO SEE YOU FOLKS HERE”: RAY SKJELBRED at the SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST (November 26, 2016) PART ONE

Ray Skjelbred, poet and explorer, at the piano, musing, feeling, sharing colorful worlds of his own invention.

PINKY ROSE, a blues rumination:

NO COMPLAINTS, a lilting homage to Jess Stacy:

SITTING ON TOP OF THE WORLD, a blues by the Mississippi Sheiks:

IT’S A RAMBLE, by the mysterious Oro “Tut” Soper, a pianist who once kissed the young Anita O’Day passionately before remembering he wasn’t [because of religious beliefs] supposed to:

HEAH ME TALKIN’ TO YA, celebrating Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and Don Redman:

Rambles and saunters in worlds known and unknown: elegant, rough, always alive.

More to come from the Esteemed Mr. Skjelbred.  And this aural bouquet is in honor of Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, who understands.

May your happiness increase!

KRIS AND HIS GANG: MORE FROM THE SAN DIEGO JAZZ FEST: KRIS TOKARSKI, HAL SMITH, LARRY SCALA, JONATHAN DOYLE, NOBU OZAKI, MARC CAPARONE (Nov. 26, 2017)

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.

May your happiness increase!

“BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY: BIG BAND JAZZ ARRANGING IN THE SWING ERA,” by JOHN WRIGGLE (University of Illinois Press)

john-wriggle-cover

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.

May your happiness increase!

FANTASY, IMPROMPTU: ERIN MORRIS, JAMES DAPOGNY, JON-ERIK KELLSO, LAURA WYMAN (January 21, 2017)

jon-erik-kellso-photo-by-aidan-grant

Jon-Erik by Aidan Grant

Sometimes your dreams do come true.

James Dapogny

James Dapogny

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

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

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.

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC FOR TONIGHT: RUBY BRAFF / DON REDMAN

happy-new-year

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.)

Hence:

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.

And, as always —

May your happiness increase!

DON REDMAN’S GOOD MEDICINE

bed

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.

May your happiness increase!

GEORGE BARNES COULD DO IT ALL, AND HE DID

"Georgie," youthful

“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.

George Barnes Country JAzz

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.

george-barnes_thumb

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.

May your happiness increase!

“HERE COMES THE BAND” RAY SKJELBRED AT THE KEYBOARD (SAN DIEGO, NOV. 27, 2015)

Ray, a few days a go

Ray, a few days ago

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.

May your happiness increase!

DOCTOR REDMAN’S PRESCRIPTION

Good advice from the Doctor, 1931:

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.

May your happiness increase!

GOT WALL SPACE FOR HEROES?

Clint Baker told me about this photograph — a reproduction for sale on eBay, inexpensively.  I am trying to figure out where it might go, but so far haven’t solved the decor problem.  The hero portrayed here is Sandy Williams — a wonderfully expansive trombonist who was one of the true stars of the Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson bands, recorded with Sidney Bechet, Buck Clayton, Bunk Johnson, Ethel Waters, Art Hodes, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, Stuff Smith, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Hot Lips Page, Red Allen, Ella Fitzgerald, Fletcher Henderson, Roy Eldridge, Rex Stewart, and many others.

Where he is, and why he is wearing a parade uniform — these mysteries are for others to solve.

Here is where you can find your own copy to adorn that bare wall.  Bedroom, living room, or foyer?  Your choice. Operators are standing by.

SANDY WILLIAMS

This photograph is one-of-a-kind, so it was offered for sale for three hundred dollars (I believe) and it is — no doubt, as Mister Morton would say — already in someone’s collection.  But it is a dream in itself: a photo portrait of Hot Lips Page, circa 1937, inscribed to Jimmy Rushing:

LIPS PAGE TO RUSH

And a close-up of the inscription:

LIPS TO RUSH closeup

Finally, something very touching — I lifted this from Facebook, and its source is Michelle Fey, granddaughter of Bobby Hackett.  Here is the earliest photograph of Robert Leo Hackett with his sister Dot — very touching (even if you ignore the tiny coveralls and the way he is holding her hand).  In that serious gaze I see the beloved person who, with cornet, mustache, and bow tie, gave us imperishable music for almost forty years:

Grandpa with Aunt Dotty

I could find wall space for Sandy Williams, Hot Lips Page, Bobby Hackett and his family.  Couldn’t you?

 May your happiness increase!

WITH POWER TO SPARE: LIONEL HAMPTON AND HIS ORCHESTRA (1947-48)

The publishers of the Dutch jazz magazine and CD label DOCTOR JAZZ don’t overwhelm us with issues, but what they offer is rare and astonishing. First, they offered  a two-CD set, DINNERTIME FOR HUNGRY COLLECTORS, which contained previously unheard Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lester Young; Don Redman and Cab Calloway soundtracks from Max Fleischer cartoons; Lionel Hampton on the air; Jimmie Lunceford transcriptions; unissued alternate takes featuring Frank Newton, Bobby Hackett, Adrian Rollini, “The Three Spades,” Spike Hughes with Jimmy Dorsey / Muggsy Spanier; Charlie Barnet; Earl Hines; Mildred Bailey with the Dorsey Brothers; Frank Trumbauer; Joe Venuti; Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald; Paul Whiteman; Jack Teagarden; Bob Crosby featuring Jess Stacy; Billie Holiday; Raymond Scott Quintette; Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins in Europe.

Lionel-Hampton-cd-cover-1024

Their new issue, “THAT’S MY DESIRE,” is exclusively focused on the 1947-48 Lionel Hampton big band, and offers seventy-nine minutes of previously unheard (and unknown) aircheck material. Eighteen of the performances come from November 2-30, 1947, at the Meadowbrook in Culver City, California; the remaining four originate from the Fairmont in West Virginia, on June 29, 1948.

The songs are RED TOP / THAT’S MY DESIRE / HAWK’S NEST / VIBE BOOGIE / MUCHACHOS AZUL (BLUE BOY) / GOLDWYN STOMP / LONELINESS / HAMP’S GOT A DUKE / MIDNIGHT SUN / GOLDWYN STOMP #2 / MINGUS FINGERS / OH, LADY BE GOOD / RED TOP #2 / CHIBABA CHIBABA (My Bambino Go To Sleep) / ADAM BLEW HIS HAT / I’M TELLING YOU SAM / PLAYBOY / GIDDY UP / ALWAYS / DON’T BLAME ME / HOW HIGH THE MOON / ADAM BLEW HIS HAT #2

These are newly discovered airchecks, and Doctor Jazz tells us, “In this period the band was musically very creative and a tight musical aggregation. The Hampton band was one of the top jazz bands in business. In this version we hear a young Charles Mingus performing his ‘Mingus Fingers’. We don’t know who recorded these acetates, but our ‘recording man’ was very active at that time (1947-1948). He recorded a lot from the radio and may have had some other sources where he could dub then rare recordings. In 2013 a building contractor worked on an old abandoned Hollywood house in the Hollywood Hills and discovered a storage area that was walled off and filled with several wrapped boxes of acetate records. Among them these Hampton acetates. They are now carefully restored by Harry Coster and released for the first time. The CD contains a booklet of 32 pages including photos and a discography.”

Collectors who know airchecks — performances recorded live from the radio or eventually television — savor the extended length and greater freedom than a band would find in commercial recordings of the time. And the sound is surprisingly good for 1947-48, so the string bass of Charles Mingus comes through powerfully on every cut even when he or the rhythm section is not soloing. Another young man making a name for himself at the time is guitarist Wes Montgomery, and the West Virginia HOW HIGH THE MOON is a quartet of Hampton, Mingus, Wes, and pianist Milt Buckner (although Wes does not solo on it). Other luminaries are trombonist Britt Woodman, trumpeter Teddy Buckner; tenor saxophonists Johnny Sparrow, Morris Lane, and clarinetist Jack Kelso take extended solos as well.

The Hampton aggregation, typically, was a powerful one. If the Thirties and early Forties Basie band aimed to have the feeling of a small band, Hampton’s impulses led in the other direction, and even in these off-the-air recordings, the band is impressive in its force and sonic effect. Hampton tended to solo at length, although his solos in this period are more melodic and less relentless than they eventually became. The rhythm section is anchored by a powerful drum presence, often a shuffle or back-beat from Walker.

It is not a subtle or a soothing band, although there are a number of ballad features. What I hear — and what might be most intriguing for many — is a jazz ensemble attempting to bridge the gap between “jazz” and “rhythm and blues” or what sounds like early rock ‘n’ roll. Clearly the band was playing for large audiences of active dancers, so this shaped Hampton’s repertoire and approach. It is music to make an audience move, with pop tunes new and old, jump blues, boogie-woogie, high-note trumpets, honking saxophones, and energy throughout. As a soloist, Hampton relies more on energy than on inventiveness, and his playing occasionally falls back on familiar arpeggiated chords, familiar gestures. He is admirable because he fit in with so many contexts over nearly seventy years of playing and recording — from Paul Howard in 1929 to the end of the century — but his style was greatly set in his earliest appearances, although he would add a larger harmonic spectrum to his work.

The Meadowbrook personnel (although labeled “probably”) includes Wendell Culley, Teddy Buckner, Duke Garrette, Leo Shepherd, Walter Williams or possibly Snooky Young, trumpet; James Robinson, Andrew Penn, Jimmy Wormick, Britt Woodman, trombone; Jack Kelso or Kelson, clarinet; Bobby Plater, Ben Kynard, Morris Lane, John Sparrow, Charlie Fowlkes, saxophones; Milt Buckner, piano; Charles Mingus, string bass (Joe Comfort or Charles Harris may also be present); Earl Walker, drums; Wini Brown, Herman McCoy, Roland Burton, the Hamptones, vocals.

For the 1948 West Virginia airchecks, Jimmy Nottingham is the fifth trumpet; Lester Bass, bass trumpet; the trombones are Woodman, Wormick, and Sonny Craven; the reeds are Kynard, Plater, Billy “Smallwood” Williams, Sparrow, Fowlkes, with the same rhythm section.

The good people at Doctor Jazz don’t offer sound samples, but having purchased a few of their earlier issues, I can say that their production is splendid in every way: sound reproduction of unique issues, documentation, discography, and photographs. So if you know the Hampton studio recordings of this period and the few airshots that have surfaced, you will have a good idea of what awaits on this issue — but the disc is full of energetic surprises.

May your happiness increase!

NO COMEDY, JUST MUSIC: “THE BOB AND RAY SHOW” (BOB SCHULZ / RAY SKJELBRED)

The CD I present to you is a good idea whose time has come — growing out of the inevitable amusement one would have at a jazz duo CD titled THE BOB AND RAY SHOW.  No Elliott or Goulding, just Schulz (cornet, vocals), and Skjelbred (piano) in duets recorded in 2009 and 2013.

Here’s how the duo sounded — on a slightly crowded bandstand — on May 26, 2014, at the Sacramento Music Festival:

The songs on this wonderful CD, each one with singular associations, are ‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO (Robison, Bix, Whiteman, Crosby); WININ’ BOY BLUES (Mr. Morton); I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (everyone from Bessie Smith onwards); SHOE SHINE BOY (Louis, Basie, and Bing); SAVE IT, PRETTY MAMA (again Louis, Earl Hines, Don Redman); BECAUSE MY BABY DON’T MEAN ‘MAYBE” NOW (Bix, Whiteman, Bing); PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Bing, Louis, and almost everyone else from Billie to Dick Wellstood); MANDY, MAKE UP YOUR MIND ( Clarence Williams into the twenty-first century); ‘TIL TIMES GET BETTER (Jabbo Smith); REACHING FOR SOMEONE (Bix and Tram, also Dick Sudhalter); I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA (Bix and Jimmy Rushing); MONDAY DATE (Earl, Louis, and more); KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Fats, Ruby Braff, and more); OH, BABY! (Tesch, Sullivan, Condon, Krupa, and more); WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS (Bing, Louis, and many others); WEATHER BIRD RAG (King Oliver; Louis and Earl; Braff and Hyman, and more).

The tempos chosen for this disc are primarily pretty Medium Tempos, reminding us of the infinite variations possible in that sonic meadow, the results neither soporific nor hasty.

I imagine that the improvising duet of cornet and piano goes back to the late eighteen-hundreds, when that brass instrument was a feature of homegrown ensembles and pianos were in many parlors. On record, I think of Oliver and Morton, first in a long line including Louis and Earl, Ruby and Ellis, Ruby and Dick, Sweets and Earl, a long series of trumpet duets with Oscar Peterson . . . a lineage continuing as I write this.

The duo of Schulz and Skjelbred is special — for its consistent pervasive lyricism. Many of these pairings have a playful acrobatic quality, with one of the musicians saying to the other, “Oh, yeah?  Top this!”  Some of the playfulness becomes cheerfully competitive, assertive or even aggressive. The two players trot along through each song as friendly equals, neither trying to overpower the other. Bob and Ray aren’t out to show off; they like beautiful melodies and the little surprises that can be found within even the most familiar song.  Hear, for instance, Skjelbred’s harmonic surprises and suspensions that he offers early in the video of SHOE SHINE BOY.

One of the pleasures of the disc is the easy, ardent yet understated singing of Bob — he is known to burst into song when the mood and the material are appropriate during a session of his Frisco Jazz Band, but I find his vocals particularly charming: a Crosby mordent here or there. His singing — clear, unaffected, gentle — is the expression of his cornet playing, which is a model of middle-range melodic improvisation. (In it, one hears a spring-water clarity out of Bix and Hackett, then a Spanier-intensity when Bob takes up the plunger mute.)

Bob’s partner in these explorations, Ray Skjelbred, continues to amaze and delight: his off-center approach, original yet always elating, his rollicking rhythms, his bluesy depths. Ray takes risks, and his playing is deliciously unpredictable, but it is always in the  groove. (With headphones, I could hear Bob say, softly, “Yeah!” at a felicitous Skjelbred pathway — over the rough road to the stars.) Yes, that’s a Sullivan rattle, a Stacy octave, or a Hines daredevil-leap you are hearing, but it’s all transformed in the hands of Mr. Skjelbred, who is one of the finest orchestral pianists I will ever hear — but whose orchestra is shot through with light and shade, never ponderous.

And this is not a disc of two great soloists who happen, perhaps against their will, to find themselves asked to become members of a team and do it with some reluctance. It’s clear that Bob and Ray are musical comrades who look forward to exchanging ideas, celebrating the dear old tunes while making them feel just like new.  Incidentally, the disc offers — in the best homage to George Avakian — an example or two of judicious overdubbing, with Bob both singing and playing at once. . . . something we would like to hear and see in real life, but he hasn’t managed such magic on the stand. Yet.

The thoughtful musical conversations Bob and Ray have on this disc are emotionally sustaining. Each performance has its own dramatic shape, its own structure — more than a series of ensemble / solo choruses — and I would send copies of this disc to all the young musicians in and out of this idiom.  And a test: I would ask purchasers to pick out what they think is the most “overplayed” song on the disc and listen seriously to the Bob-and-Ray version, to see what magic can be made when two earnestly playful masters go to work on rich materials. Not incidentally, the sound on this disc captures all the nuances without any engineering-strangeness, and the neatly comprehensive liner notes by drummer / historian / writer Hal Smith are a pleasure.

You can hear musical samples here (go to the “CD” section — this disc is at the top of the page). Even better, you can search out Bob or Ray at an upcoming gig and press some accepted local currency into one or the other master’s hand. As I’ve noted, Ray is touring California (that’s San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Menlo Park, Sonoma, and back to San Francisco) between July 8 and the 14th, so you can have the double pleasure of hearing him live and purchasing a CD.

Unlike the shows put on by Elliott and Goulding, I didn’t find myself laughing while I was listening, although I was smiling all the time, at the beautiful, wise, mellow music.  Get yourself some.

May your happiness increase!

 

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part Two): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the second of two tasting menus offered for your delectation. (And here is the first, in case it passed you by.)

SEE SEE RIDER:

TOO BUSY (with Meredith evoking Lillie Delk Christian):

A sweet KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW at the most sweetly romantic tempo imaginable:

The rarely played CHERRY:

Meredith goes south with I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:
And I ask you.  Did you ever hear the story of WILLIE THE WEEPER?
I look forward to sessions in the months to come.
May your happiness increase!

(CAFE) DIVINE MUSIC (Part One): LEON OAKLEY and CRAIG VENTRESCO (with MISS MEREDITH AXELROD)

Just beautiful.  Leon, cornet; Craig, guitar; guest star Meredith, vocals — at Cafe Divine (a fine restaurant at 1600 Stockton Street in San Francisco). Leon Oakley and Craig Ventresco play there on the third Sunday of every month, and this session — in two parts — took place on May 18, 2014.

A caveat to start.  Leon and Craig play without amplification, and Cafe Divine is a restaurant, not a concert hall, so you will hear the conversation of the diners. I don’t think that the Savoy Ballroom was reverently still, or the dinners at which Bach and Mozart swung out with their latest compositions.

Their intoxicating music soars.  I told Craig after the first set that he and Leon had performed time-and-space-warping magic: they had made 2014 North Beach into 1928 Chicago, and he agreed: that was their intention!

Here is the first of two tasting menus offered for your delectation.

The Hot Five’s ONCE IN A WHILE:

A very moving MEMORIES OF YOU:

Robert Johnson’s HOT TAMALES (THEY’RE RED HOT) which at first I mistook for HOW’M I DOIN’? — being more familiar with Redman than Johnson:

A song I didn’t know, from Amanda Randoph’s repertoire, here sung by Meredith, HONEY, DON’T YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ME:

A highlight: MABEL’S DREAM:

Meredith offers I’M A LITTLE BLACKBIRD from the Clarence Williams book:

And we close with a spicy MESSIN’ AROUND:

Other bands are playing these songs, and beautifully, too, but no one else is making music quite like this in 2014, I propose. I’ve marked my calendar for the Oakley-Ventresco magical appearances at Cafe Divine, a place that lives up to its name.

May your happiness increase!

May your happiness increase!