Even as jazz as an art form prides itself on “moving forward,” it’s always been affectionately retrospective, cherishing the deep past and the recent past in performance and recordings. Think of Louis bringing his mentor’s DIPPER MOUTH BLUES to the Henderson band, even though Joe Oliver was probably continuing to play it; Bix and Tram recording the ODJB’s OSTRICH WALK; Bird playing Lester’s solo on SHOE SHINE BOY. (I am indebted to Matthew Rivera for reminding me of this idea through his radio broadcast on WKCR.)
One of the most rewarding institutions to come out of jazz’s desire to both honor the past as itself and to make it new was the New York Jazz Repertory Company. Not only did the NYJRC perform at the Newport in New York jazz festival, it brought its “shows” worldwide, most often under the leadership of the brilliant Dick Hyman. I saw Louis and Bix tributes in the early Seventies, and they were electrifying; even better, the NYJRC idea was a staple of the Nice Jazz Festival, and some of the concert performances were broadcast on French television. (I’ve posted a ninety-minute tribute to Benny Goodman recently here.
Trotting through YouTube last night — the cyber-equivalent of my getting on my bicycle when I was thirteen and riding to the public library — I found two half-hour NYJRC delights, posted by others in 2015, that I hadn’t seen before. I predict that you will enjoy them also. The first is a Basie tribute, from July 12, 1978; the second, Duke, July 17, 1977.
Those expecting note-for-note recreations of recordings will be, I think, pleasantly surprised by the openness of the arrangements and the leeway given the “contemporary” soloists to play their personalities. Everything is reasonably idiomatic but there are delightful shocks here and there.
The “Basie band” here is Sweets Edison, Cat Anderson, Jimmie Maxwell, Joe Newman, trumpet; Benny Powell, Dicky Wells, John Gordon, trombone; Paul Bascomb, Paul Moen, Bob Wilber, Pepper Adams, Earle Warren, reeds; Dick Hyman, piano; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Chubby Jackson, string bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums. I count at least six venerated Basie alumni.
JUMPIN’ AT THE WOODSIDE (Paul Bascomb, Harry Edison, Benny Powell, Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman) / ONE O’CLOCK JUMP (Hyman, Paul Moen, Dicky Wells, Bascomb, Joe Newman, Hyman) / ROCK-A-BYE BASIE (Wilber, Moen, Sweets, Hyman and Chubby Jackson) / HARVARD BLUES (Bascomb, Newman, vocal) / BROADWAY (Wilber, Sweets, Hyman, Wilber, Bascomb, Pepper Adams, Powell, John Gordon, Earle Warren, Cat Anderson, Moen):
and “the Ellington band,” made up of many of the same champions, Hyman, Rosengarden, Wilber, Pepper Adams, Maxwell — with Jon Faddis, Pee Wee Erwin, Joe Newman, trumpets; Eddie Daniels, Zoot Sims, Billy Mitchell, reeds; George Duvivier, string bass, John Mosca, Billy Campbell, Earl McIntyre, trombone:
EAST ST. LOUIS-TOODLE OO (Wilber, Pepper, Daniels, Erwin) / DOUBLE CHECK STOMP (Maxwell, Wilber, Billy Campbell) / JUNGLE NIGHTS IN HARLEM (possibly John Mosca, Maxwell, Daniels) / DOCTOR E.K.E. (composition by Raymond Fol, piano; Mosca, Mitchell, Faddis, Sam Woodyard, drums) / HARLEM AIR-SHAFT (McIntyre, Faddis, Daniels, Joe Newman) / BLUE GOOSE (Wilber, Maxwell, Zoot, Mosca, Wilber) / JUMPIN’ PUNKINS (Duvivier, Pepper, Rosengarden, Hyman, Rosengarden) / CHELSEA BRIDGE (Hyman, Zoot, Hyman, McIntyre):
Honoring the originals and their creators but giving plenty of space to honor the present — a lovely balance. And if you’d rather hear the Basie Deccas and Ellington Victors, they will still be there, undamaged and pristine.
In the name of accuracy, I must point out that TOPSY was composed by Eddie Durham and 9:20 SPECIAL (which was meant to be 920 SPECIAL in honor of the AM radio station) was written by Earle Warren — but they were both members of the Count Basie orchestra, so we associate them with William Basie of Red Bank, New Jersey.
Because of the enthusiastic response to the first posting from this session, titled simply FLOATING BRILLIANCE, I thought, “Why wait?” and here are two more performances from that happy gathering — created by Jon-Erik Kellso, Puje trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone and trumpet; Chris Flory, guitar; Pat O’Leary, string bass.
9:20 SPECIAL (catch Scott on trumpet as well as tenor!):
Of course, there’s more to come. But it also happens with real people in real time, so visit The Ear Inn at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City, on a Sunday from 1-3:30. I can’t be there every week, so if you wait for the videos, you will miss some marvels. I guarantee this.
Jake Hanna said it best, “You get too far from Basie, you’re just kidding yourself.” So this post and the performance it contains are as close to Basie as anyone might get in 1975 — the loose jam-session spirit of the 1938-9 band at the Famous Door. Some of the originals couldn’t make it for reasons you can investigate for yourself, but more than enough of the genuine Basieites were on this stage to impart the precious flavor of the real thing.
For the first song, JIVE AT FIVE, the composer, Harry “Sweets” Edison was on hand, among friends: Buddy Tate, Zoot Sims, tenor saxophone; Earle Warren, alto saxophone; Vic Dickenson, trombone; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Marty Grosz, guitar; George Duvivier, string bass; Ray Mosca, drums.
Then, LESTER LEAPS IN, with the addition of Lockjaw Davis, Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophone; Clark Terry, Joe Newman, trumpet. And deliciously, Miss Helen Humes recalled those sweet songs from her Basie days, SONG OF THE WANDERER / BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL / DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME.
I’m certain Jake would have approved, and the Count also.
Because he is justifiably one of the most busy musicians I know, it was hard to find a time when saxophone master and master raconteur Michael Hashim and I could sit down and talk at leisure. And because Michael is so busy gigging, it was hard to find a photograph of him without a horn attached to him, but I did. (I love the dashing color palette here.)
Michael and I had a long afternoon’s conversation last July, the first two segments of which I posted here.
Now, throwing caution to the winds — or another apt cliche — I offer the four remaining segments of our talk. And, as you’ll hear, Michael is one of those rare creatures who can speak beautifully, extemporaneously, without hesitation: lovely long sentences, full of information, feeling, and wit, come tumbling out. A master of improvised prose as well as one of improvised music.
Three. In which Michael speaks so well and affectionately of Jimmy Rowles — the pianist, the man, and the artist — with side-glances at Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, and The Fifth Dimension, Tommy Flanagan, Phyllis Diller, Benny Carter, Michael’s own recording with Rowles, Ray Brown, and some comments on race:
Four. In which Michael tells anecdotes of encounters with heroes in New York, saxophonist Pony Poindexter, trombonist Benny Morton, as well as jazz clubs Eddie Condon’s and Jimmy Ryan’s, with memories of Red Balaban, Jo Jones, Bobby Pratt, Tony Bennett, Joe Muranyi, Artie Baker, Roy Eldridge, Scott Hamilton, Lou Donaldson, Freddie Freeloader, and others:
Five. In which Michael remembers not only individual musicians but the feeling and understanding of their art that they embodied, including Cab Calloway, the Widespread Depression Orchestra, Eddie Barefield, Sammy Price, Jerry Potter, Earle Warren, Phil Schaap,Toots Mondello, Percy France, Doc Cheatham, Scott Robinson, Roy Eldridge, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Lester Bowie, Haywood Henry:
Six. In which Michael lovingly speaks of the importance of the drums and remembers memorable percussionists and the players surrounding them, including Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Locke, Ray Mosca, Oliver Jackson, with a special pause for the master Jo Jones, for Sonny Greer, Johnny Blowers, Brooks Kerr, Russell Procope, Harold Ashby, Aaron Bell, Sidney Bechet, Charlie Irvis, Bubber Miley, Elmer Snowden, Freddie Moore, Eddy Davis, Kenny Washington, Billy Higgins, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, George Butler, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Joe Henderson:
What an afternoon it was, and what a person Michael Hashim is.
After the film WHIPLASH became popular, people visited JAZZ LIVES to investigate the mythic story of drummer Jo Jones hurling a cymbal across the room at a youthful Charlie Parker at a jam session to stop him in mid-solo.
In 2011, I’d written a post debating the validity of that story. Would Jo, known as volatile, have treated his cymbals so disrespectfully? Hereis my post, which I now disavow as emotionally valid but factually inaccurate.
I thank Dan Morgenstern yet again, whose comments directed me to Doug Ramsey’s book, JAZZ MATTERS (University of Arkansas Press, 1989) where he had the good sense and good fortune to ask the august string bassist Gene Ramey, who was there, what happened.
The chapter is called “Bass Hit / Gene Ramey,” and Ramsey tells us that Ramey was drinking a grape Nehi, to me a sure sign of authenticity, while telling the tale of meeting the fourteen-year old Parker in 1934, then moving on to the jam session at the Reno Club in 1936.
“Nobody remembers what the tune was. It would be amazing for anybody to remember. There were dozens of tunes they used to jam. . . . Bird was doing pretty well until he attempted something that took him out of the correct chord sequence, and he couldn’t get back in. He kept getting lost, and Jo Jones kept hitting the ball of his cymbal like a gong, Major Bowes style — remember on his amateur hour on the radio Bowes hit the gong if somebody wasn’t making it. Jo kept hitting that cymbal, but he couldn’t get Bird off the stand. So finally he took the cymbal off and dropped it on the floor. When it hit, it skidded a little. I read one story where Jo was supposed to have thrown the cymbal all the way across the floor. But he just dropped it at Bird’s feet, and that stopped him. . . . it was comical but still pitiful to see the reaction on Bird’s face. He was dumbfounded. He came over and I said, ‘Well, Bird, you almost straightened it out. I remember you made that turn back, but somewhere down in there you got off on the wrong thing.’ We kidded him about it, and he kept telling me, ‘Oh, man, I’ll be back. Don’t worry, I’m comin’ back'” (116-17).
And rather than offer familiar video evidence of Jo Jones and Charlie Parker, here (in two parts) is a 1961 film of Buck Clayton’s All Stars with Gene Ramey, Sir Charles Thompson, Buddy Tate, Oliver Jackson, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Emmett Berry, and Jimmy Witherspoon — Gene in his natural habitat. Part One:
As a tip of the hat to Mr. Ramsey, and a token of gratitude, I suggest you visit his estimable jazz blog, Rifftides.
I think that on Sunday, October 27, 1968, I might have been helping my father rake leaves in the backyard, or perhaps doing my homework for the next day. (I was in eleventh grade.)
I can say with regret that I wasn’t at the jazz event above. And I certainly didn’t have a video camera yet. The forces in the cosmos didn’t work together on my behalf that Sunday — but it’s very pleasing to know that these musicians had a gig. And that we can see the evidence now.
Before WCBS-AM radio in New York became an all-news station, Jack Sterling had a famous morning show, which is why he would have been a good host for this concert. Here’s more about Jack:
From the same eBay prowl, I offer another holy relic. True, that Oran Thaddeus Page felt that his nickname needed an apostrophe makes the English professor in me wince, but Hot Lips Page could do whatever he wanted.
And here’s why (with the noble assistance of Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, and Sidney Catlett):
Another eBay prowl (taking a long respite from grading student essays) with glorious results.
The selleris offering an amazing collection of autographs, some dating back to 1938. Since a few items were inscribed to “Bob” or “Robert” Bierman, it was easy to trace these precious artifacts back to the man of the same name, a Krupa aficionado, now deceased (I believe his dates are 1922-2009) who lived for some time on Staten Island.
The jazz percussion scholar Bruce Klauber tells me: Bob passed several years ago. He had things you wouldn’t believe and was kind enough to share several audios with me. Anything he was connected with was rare and authentic.
My friend David Weiner recalls Bierman as quiet, reticent, with wonderful photographs and autographs.
I never met Mr. Bierman in my brief collectors’ period, but in 1938 he must have been a very energetic sixteen-year old who went to hear hot jazz and big bands, asking the drummers and sidemen for their autographs. The collection is notable for the signatures of people not otherwise documented — as you will see.
Incidentally, the seller has listed the items as “Buy It Now,” which means that indeed the race is to the swift.
Three heroes from what I presume is Art Hodes’ Forties band that recorded for his own JAZZ RECORD label: Rod Cless, Georg[e] Bruni[e]s, Danny Alvin.
Bunny and his Orchestra.
Basieites, circa 1940: Walter Page, Joe Jones, Buck Clayton, Tab Smith, Freddie Greene, and James Rushing. The story is that John Hammond convinced Jo and Freddie to change the spelling of their names . . . perhaps to be more distinctive and memorable to the public? I don’t know if this is verifiable.
Gene! But where and when?
Wettling, promoting Ludwig drums — when he was with Paul Whiteman.
And some advice to the young drummer.
Teddy Wilson. It’s so reassuring to see that there was actually letterhead for the School for Pianists.
Some wonderful players from the Bob Crosby band: Jess Stacy, Eddie Miller, Bob Haggart, Matty Matlock, Hank D’Amico, Nappy Lamare.
Liz Tilton, Ray Bauduc.
Gil Rodin from Ben Pollack and Crosby.
Earle Warren of Basie fame.
Al Donahue, and another Bunny signature.
To me, a page with the signatures of Hank Wayland, and George Rose — plus a caricature — is worth many thousand letters with a secretary’s “Bing” or “Benny” at the bottom.
You want famous? Here’s famous: Duke Ellington, Joe Venuti.
and Mary Lou Williams.
Some fairly obscure Benny Goodman sidemen — Buff Estes, Toots Mondello, Arnold “Covey” — and the leader-turned-sideman Fletcher Henderson.
Gentlemen from the reed section of Fats Waller’s big band: Jackie Fields and Bob Carroll.
Fats’ “Honeybear,” Gene Sedric.
A letter from Art Hodes! (“Bob, there’s a letter for you!”)
Finally, the Hawk. 1943.
It makes me think, “What will happen to our precious stuff [see George Carlin] when we are dead? eBay certainly is better than the dumpster, although these pages remind me that everything is in flux, and we are not our possessions. Beautiful to see, though, and to know that such things exist. You, too, can have a piece of paper that Rod Cless touched — no small thing.
Although some of us understandably recoil from chronicles of suffering, pain and oppression make for more compelling narrative than happiness does. Think of Emma (Bovary) and Anna (Karenina), their anguish and torment so much more gripping than the story of the main character in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky.” Montherlant, the French writer Larkin loved to quote, said that happiness “writes white,” that it has nothing to tell us. Give us some despair, and we turn the pages. It is true in jazz historiography as it is in fiction. Consider the ferociously detailed examination of the painful lives of Bix Beiderbecke and Charlie Parker. Musicians like Hank Jones, Buck Clayton, Buster Bailey or Bennie Morton, artists who showed up early and sober to the session, are not examined in the same way.
Suffering, self-destruction, misery — those subjects engross us.
And Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959) whose birthday approaches, will be celebrated on WKCR-FM this weekend, is a splendid example of how the difficulties of one’s life become the subject of sad scrupulous examination.
The “Lester Young story” that is so often told is that of his victimization and grief. And there is sufficient evidence to show him as a man oppressed — from childhood to his final plane ride — by people who didn’t understand him or didn’t want to. Readers who know the tale can point accusing fingers at a stock company of betrayers and villains: Willis Young, Leora Henderson, John Hammond, the United States Army, a horde of Caucasians (some faceless, some identifiable) and more.
Although he is simply changing a reed, the photograph below is most expressive of that Lester. Intent, but not at ease. Skeptical of the world, wondering what will happen next, his expression verging on anxious.
But there is the music, lest we forget. It speaks louder than words, Charlie Parker told Earl Wilson.
A different Lester — ebullient, inventive, full of joyous surprises — is the subject of one of the most grand musical productions I have ever seen, an eight CD set onMosaic Records, its cover depicted below. Every note on this set is a direct rejection of the story of Lester the victim and every note tells us that Lester the creator was even more important, his impact deeper and more permanent.
Where did this mournful myth come from, and why?
Few African-American musicians received perceptive and sympathetic media coverage in the Thirties, perhaps because jazz was viewed as entertainment and writers often adopted the most painful “hip” jargon. (I leave aside Ansermet on Sidney Bechet and early analysis of Ellington as notable exceptions.) So the writings on Lester, some of which were his own speech, come late in his life and are cautious, full of bitterness and melancholy. He was by nature sensitive and shy, and which of us would feel comfortable speaking to a stranger in front of a microphone? Yes, the Lester of the irreplaceable Chris Albertson and Francois Postif interviews is quite a bit more unbuttoned, but much of what comes through is despair, exhaustion, suspicion, hurt. (I make an exception for Bobby Scott’s gentle loving portrait, but that was posthumous, perhaps Scott’s effort to say, “This was the Lester I knew.”)
Even the film footage we have of Lester (leaving aside those jubilant, silent seconds from Randalls Island) supports this image of the suffering Pres, a bottle sticking out of the pocket of his long black coat, elusive, turning away from the world because of what it had done to him. The mystical icon of JAMMIN’ THE BLUES is to me a mournful figure, even though Lester participates in the riotous closing blues. The Lester of THE SOUND OF JAZZ evokes tears in his music and in his stance. And on the 1958 Art Ford show, the song Lester calls for his feature is MEAN TO ME, a fact not cancelled out by JUMPIN’ WITH SYMPHONY SID. The 1950 Norman Granz film, IMPROVISATION, is a notable exception: in BLUES FOR GREASY Lester quietly smiles while Harry Edison struts. But the visual evidence we have is in more sad than happy.
Adding all this together, the mythic figure we have come to accept is that of Pres on the cross of racism, a man watching others less innovative getting more “pennies” and more prominent gigs. Then, there’s the conception of him “in decline,” running parallel to Billie Holiday, “still my Lady Day.” Although some have effectively argued for a more balanced view — why should a musician want to play in 1956 the way he played twenty years earlier, assuming even that it was possible? Some critics still muse on the change in his sound around 1942, constructing the facile story of a man bowed down by adversity. And we are drawn to the gravity-bound arc of a great artist, blooming beyond belief in his twenties, alcoholic and self-destructive, dying before reaching fifty.
But the brand-new eight-disc Mosaic set, taken for its own virtues, is a wonderful rebuke to such myth-making. If you have heard nothing of it or from it, please visit here.
I am writing this review having heard less than one-fourth of this set, and that is intentional. We do not stuff down fine cuisine in the same way one might mindlessly work their way through a bag of chips; we do not put the Beethoven string quartets on while washing the kitchen floor, and we do not play these Lester Young tracks as background music, or in the car. To do so would be at best disrespectful.
I think that by now everyone has heard about the virtues of Mosaic’s delicate and thoughtful work. Fine notes by Pres-scholar Loren Schoenberg, rare and new photographs, and transfers of familiar material that make it shine in ways I could not have imagined. The music bursts through the speakers and I heard details I’d never heard, not even through forty years of close listening.
The news, of course, is that there are four astonishing discoveries on this set: alternate takes of LADY BE GOOD, EVENIN’, and BOOGIE WOOGIE from the 1936 Jones-Smith, Inc., session, and a previously unknown alternate take of HONEYSUCKLE ROSE by the 1937 Basie band.
Now, what follows may mark me as a suburban plutocrat, but if you’d come to me at any time in the past dozen years and said, “Pssst! Michael! Want beautiful transfers of three alternate takes from Jones-Smith, Inc., and I’ll throw in an unissued Basie Decca — for a hundred and fifty dollars?” I would have gone to the ATM as fast as I could.
When I first heard the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY in 1969 — I taped it from an Ed Beach radio show and treasured it — the music went right to my heart in a way that only Louis did. It still does, a living embodiment of joy.
And the joy is still profound. I know this not only because of the feelings that course through me while listening to the Mosaic set, but because of an entirely unplanned experiment earlier this week. I had lunch with a young musician whom I admire and like, and after the food was eaten we went back to my place — as is our habit — so that I could “play him some Dixieland!” as he likes to say.
But this time I asked, “Do you like Lester Young?” Had he said “No,” I would have invented an appointment with my podiatrist that I had to get to right away, but he answered properly and with enthusiasm. He had never heard SHOE SHINE BOY, so I put the first Mosaic disc on. He is someone whose emotions bubble through him, and although he is taller and broader than I am, he capered around my living room, completely ecstatic. Lester’s magic is potent and undiminished: I could see the music hitting him as hard and sweetly as it had done to me in 1969.
And as I have been listening to this set while writing these words, I am continually astonished — by recordings I heard forty years ago, by recordings I first heard a week ago — not only by how alive they sound, but by the complete picture of Lester’s first decade of recordings, so influential. Jones-Smith, Inc. Una Mae Carlisle. Dickie Wells. The Kansas City Six and Seven, and Lester’s 1943 Keynote quartet. The Aladdins. TI-PI-TIN. I FOUND A NEW BABY with Teddy Wilson, twice. The Philo trio with Nat Cole. A few Helen Humes sides. The only studio recordings beyond Mosaic’s reach are the Savoy sessions.
The joy is not only Lester. There’s Count Basie, Walter Page, Teddy Wilson, Freddie Green, Jo Jones, Johnny Guarnieri, Doc West, Sidney Catlett, Vic Dickenson, Slam Stewart, Shad Collins, Sweets Edison, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham, Nat Cole, Red Callendar, Buddy Rich, Buster Bailey, Bill Coleman, Dickie Wells, Joe Bushkin, Benny Goodman, Herschel Evans, Bennie Morton, Earle Warren, Jack Washington, Helen Humes . . . and more.
I’ve read a good deal of discussion of this set, of price, of value — as always! — on Facebook, and I won’t reiterate it here. I will only say that this box is superb listening, provocative and rewarding music. And as a wise person used to say, “Amortize!” — that is, instead of buying ten lesser CDs, buy this. And think of the expense as ten manageable chunklets: that’s what credit cards allow us to do. You will be listening to this music for the rest of your life.
Some, reared on Spotify and Pandora — and the idea that everything should be free — will burn copies of the set from jazz Enablers, will wait for the material to be “borrowed” by European labels. I think this is at best polite theft, and the sole way that we have of keeping enterprises like Mosaic afloat — and there’s nothing like Mosaic, if you haven’t noticed — is to support it.
For those who have their calculators out, the set is eight CDs. There are 173 tracks. The cost is $136.00 plus shipping. There are only 5000 sets being produced. They won’t be around in five years, or perhaps in one. (I paid for my set, if you wonder about such things.)
Thank you, Pres, for being so joyous and for sharing your joy with us. We mourn your griefs, but we celebrate your delight in sounds. And thank you, Mosaic, for bringing us the joy in such profusion.
One of John Hammond’s many good ideas was this two-part (1937/8) small group session under trumpeter Harry James’ leadership, using almost all members of the Count Basie band. Harry was already a star, he had a deep rapport with the Basie band, and I think this session may have been part of a prelude to Harry leaving Benny Goodman and forming his own orchestra. Or, more simply, making records equaled fun, money, perhaps fame.
This wonderful session has not received the attention it deserves because of the star system in jazz. Lester Young is one of my most luminous stars in the musical night sky, but he is not the only one. This session gives space to musicians less heralded: tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, who died so very young, and trombonist Vernon Brown. On other sides, a young Helen Humes sings — beautifully. I can hear her I CAN DREAM, CAN’T I? in my mental jukebox: how touching she was!
But today our focus is the blues, swung.
The Basie blues-plus-riffs, ONE O’CLOCK JUMP, had been a head arrangement by Eddie Durham and Buster Smith some years before, perhaps 1935. I have read that the unofficial name for this JUMP was BLUE BALLS, something that was not suitable for the radio audience, although some male listeners would recognize the ailment.
Basie had officially recorded it for Decca in July 1937; Goodman began using it on broadcasts not long after, so it was a piece of common language quickly.
And here is ONE O’CLOCK JUMP, twice.
January 5, 1938, under the supervision of John Hammond. Harry James And His Orchestra :Harry James, trumpet, arranger; Buck Clayton, trumpet; Vernon Brown, trombone; Earle Warren, alto saxophone; Herschel Evans, tenor saxophone; Jack Washington, alto and baritone saxophone; Jess Stacy, piano; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums.
The 78 take:
The “microgroove” take:
I think the tempo is a hair quicker on the second version, although the general outlines of solos and the overall plan of this recording are similar. But I delight in the intensity and ease of these two discs, and some details stand out immediately: Jo Jones’ accents behind Harry’s solo on each take, for one. The breadth and passion of Herschel Evans’ sound. The deep, rich, guttiness of Vernon Brown. Jess Stacy, for goodness’ sake.
Thank heavens for the recording machine, and for the idea that you could preserve music, reproduce it, sell it, and have it for posterity. Brunswick Records is as much a wonder to me as is moveable type. I regret the three minute limit, but these fellows could write an memorable opus in twenty-four bars.
Incidentally, this blogpost is because YouTube gave me an opportunity to present both takes of this recording in sequence, something rarely encountered otherwise.
A postscript: I feel a Vernon Brown blog in gestation — both to celebrate him and to wonder about him. Until that time, here he is with Goodman, Dave Tough, Harry, Bud Freeman, Dave Matthews, in 1938, live:
Aside from being one of the most handsome men in jazz, and a gloriously consistent soloist, Buck Clayton was also a splendid arranger and composer. In his hands, an apparently simple blues line had its own frolicsome Basie flavor, and his compositions take simple, logical, playful ideas and connect them irresistibly.
Here’s a winning example — a blues from 1961 or earlier, from the period when Buck and his Basie colleagues (sometimes Emmett Berry, Dicky Wells, Earle Warren, Gene Ramey, and others) toured Europe and the United States, teaching and re-reaching everyone how to swing, how to solo effectively and concisely, and how to play as a unit.
Such nice things as this — a spontaneous Buck Clayton evocation (thanks to Rossano Sportiello) happen as a matter of course at the Cleveland Classic Jazz Party(held this year September 15-18). OUTER DRIVE is performed by Duke Heitger, trumpet; Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Nicki Parrott, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums.
Please, on your second or third listening, notice the variety of ensemble textures — how well five musicians who understand the swing tradition can and do sound like an orchestra, and how they intuitively construct riffs and backgrounds to keep the presentation lively.
I’m a very tough audience when it comes to jazz history books. Many of them, understandably, are pastiches of familiar evidence with big helpings of speculation mixed in. Nice enough for people new to the subject, but give me first-hand information rather than paraphrases of what has already been published.
In addition, most jazz literature seems star-struck, fixated on the forty or fifty BIG NAMES. That’s splendid: books about Louis, Lester, Ben, Hawkins, Roy, Red, and others are treasures. But since the musicians themselves didn’t always get the attention they merited, much jazz biography is brilliant posthumous research. If someone were to turn up pages by Walter or Hot Lips (I couldn’t resist) they would be priceless. And the people who never get to report on what they saw, felt, heard, experienced are likely to have the best stories to tell. This brings us to Peter Vacher’s new book, SWINGIN’ ON CENTRAL AVENUE: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ IN LOS ANGELES (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, 331+ pages, many photographs).
It is an irresistible book, and I speak as someone who finds many books — after decades of reading — utterly resistible.
Peter Vacher (much like the recently-departed John Chilton, although Peter is still very much alive) is one of those rare multi-talented writers: a splendid unaffected prose stylist, a very diligent researcher and “connecter,” someone with an eye for what’s true and what’s intriguing. In this case, he offers us oral histories and historical research into the lives and music of sixteen musicians — his research done over more than two decades. The musicians profiled are Andrew Blakeney, Gideon Honore, George Orendorff, “Monk” McFay, Floyd Turnham, Betty Hall Jones, “Red Mack” Morris, Caughey Roberts, Chester Lane, Monte Easter, Billy Hadnott, Norman Bowden, John “Streamline” Ewing, Chuck Thomas, Jesse Sailes, “Red” Minor William Robinson.
I knew of perhaps one-half of those musicians: Blakeney had played with Kid Ory; Honore with Jimmie Noone; Orendorff with Les Hite and Louis; “Red Mack” with Lee and Lester Young’s band; Caughey Roberts had been replaced in the early Basie band by Earle Warren; Billy Hadnott was on famous JATP recordings as well as with Nat Cole; Norman Bowden had recorded with Zutty Singleton; “Streamline” Ewing had played with Hines, McShann, Horace Henderson.
Because of the “star-system” in jazz, many might assume that these interviews with people who — apparently — were on the fringes of the big time would be narrow and not terribly interesting. To assume this would be a huge error. For one thing, these sixteen people hadn’t been interviewed much, if at all, so their reminiscences are fresh and eager, full of good stories. Not one page in Vacher’s book has the stale, “Must we go through this again?” quality of the recitals the stars have given so often they take on an inescapable sleepiness (both in the speaker and the reader). Although many older musicians expressed themselves through their instruments, sometimes their narratives are enthusiastic but closed: “Big Boy was a terror when he got into that whiskey, but he sure could blow.” Not here. And Vacher’s interludes are brief, lively, and the very antithesis of narcissism: he shines the light with great skill and affection on his subjects.
And the stories are amazing. Andy Blakeney was in Chicago when Louis joined King Oliver; he played in a Doc Cooke band. Streamline Ewing was asked to join the Basie band; he heard Charlie Parker before Bird had made records. Speaking of Bird, he stayed with Billy Hadnott and his wife — and it’s a sad story — before the Hadnotts were compelled to ask him to leave. Ewing also mentions seeing both Mutt Carey and Nat Cole at the union — consider that pairing! Norman Bowden talks of rehearsing with Jelly Roll Morton, “the most sophisticated man I ever met in my life,” in 1940. We hear of Benny Goodman sitting in with Mutt’s band in 1925; the book offers the first substantial sketches of drummer Cuba Austin, of bandleaders Reb Spikes, Sonny Clay, the pianist Lady Will Carr. We learn — in just a sentence — that the short-lived and extremely talented pianist Margaret “Countess” Johnson was Lester Young’s “heartbeat.”That Eddie Nicholson was Billie Holiday’s drug supplier. There are extended stories about a young Charlie Christian, about Lester, about the Basie band at the Reno Club in 1935, about Louis, marijuana, Charles Mingus, Buck Clayton in Shanghai, Lionel Hampton in 1936 . . . And some musicians, like Kid Ory and Christian, pop up in different contexts, so one has the advantage of seeing them as if they were characters in a Faulkner novel, from many angles.
I deplore the kind of advertising assertion that suggests, “If you don’t buy / read / eat ____________, your life will be joyless, devoid of meaning.” But I found myself thinking, “Every jazz fancier I know would find something delightfully memorable in these pages.”
And there’s more. Extraordinary photographs, many from the subjects’ personal hoards. Interludes of fact taken from contemporary music magazines. And, should you think this to be simply a collection of oral histories of little-known musicians retelling their careers, the book presents so much more — as in race and racism from the Twenties onwards. Not all the stories are grim, but they are all revealing. I offer only one example — in Billy Hadnott’s section, Vacher includes this comment from DOWN BEAT, March 15, 1944, where Frankie Laine and a four-piece “mixed group” are praised for their music, then the reporter notes, “Despite their excellent air shots the group has found difficulty in club bookings because of the racial angle involved in the mixed group. Setup includes two colored and three ofays, and it will be interesting to find if this group can break through the Jim Crowism so strong out here.” That quotation — both in subject and style — is worth a good deal of study, and it reminds us that there were two unions at the time in Los Angeles.
Such fascinating evidence spills out of Vacher’s book — because his subjects haven’t simply played or lived locally, and they are people one would otherwise know only as names in discographies or on record labels.
The book is entertaining, powerful, and eye-opening. Peter Vacher has surpassed himself, and that is saying a great deal. Now I’m going back to read more. As a postscript, I opened the book at random and found Chester Lane’s story about working with Bob Alexander’s Harmony Kings in El Dorado, Arkansas, circa 1928, with Louis Jordan . . . and the band is taken over by one Wilson, who owns Wilson’s Tell-‘Em-‘Bout-Me Cafe. I’ll stop there, but you will see why such real-life details make the book a deep pleasure.
Miles Davis has often been quoted as saying, “All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke.”
I would never disagree with this. I don’t wish to set up any competition, but I think everyone should give thanks to Count Basie — and not just once. And not just musicians, either.
It is fashionable, still, to affect hipness, and that is not limited to people under 30. And some intriguing theoretician has suggested that the qualities we praise as hip — subtlety, originality, a wry way of perceiving the world — were exemplified by Lester Young before Kerouac and the Beats took them as their own. I like this theory, although what Pres would have made of a Williamsburg or Berkeley or Portland hipster is not known.
But I would propose Basie as the original Parent of many virtues we prize. Singularity, although a loving reverence for one’s ancestors (as in Basie’s affectionate nods to Fats Waller), an awareness that joy and sorrow are not only wedded but interdependent (that the blues are at the heart of everything), and a deep emotional commitment to swinging one’s way through life. Swinging, as embodied by Basie, his peers and their descendants, meant the maximum of grace with the minimum of visible labor. The style later exemplified by Astaire with a Kansas City world-view. Passion and fun, no less powerful for being streamlined to their essentials. His playing and his approach have been characterized and parodied as “minimalist,” but I think of it more as a Thoreau-inspired simplicity. Don’t need that note, do we? Let it be implied. Unheard melodies and all that. How Basie knew what he knew is beyond us, but the evidence is there for us to hear.
Here’s an audible example of what Basie did. And does:
That’s one of four tracks from the 1939 Chicago session, issued in the Seventies as “Basie’s Bad Boys”: Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, trumpets; Dan Minor, trombone (audibly?), Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Basie, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page; string bass; Jo Jones, drums. Yes, the studio sound is foggy and dense, but the music just flies and smiles and rocks.
These thoughts are provoked by two photographs for sale on eBay — from the Frank Driggs Collection (each one for three hundred dollars plus) — of Basie and his colleagues and friends in 1941 and 1943. Lester had leapt out, but they seemed to be doing fine on their own. Here’s a rehearsal session at the New York studio of Columbia Records. They are apparently listening to a playback. Details first:
What I notice first, always (this is a photograph often reproduced but also often cropped) is Basie’s dreamily unfocused expression which might be deep concentration. Jo’s nearly angry attentiveness, his thinness (that protruding Adam’s apple), his full head of hair and tidy mustache. Walter Page’s substantial girth. The handkerchief not quite tucked away in his back pocket. The way his vest is strained by what’s in it. The height of Jo’s beautiful trousers, and his suspenders. The way Page (casually?) is listening to what handsome Buck Clayton is playing. How beautifully everyone is dressed, in an era before jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and knapsacks.
And a more formal pose, 1943, where cake predominates:
Jimmy Rushing steals the show, and all eyes are on him (although Buck is somewhat quizzical and Basie — aware of the photographer — doesn’t turn around; Jo’s smile is world-weary). What, I must know, is Rushing saying to that forkful? “Sent for you yesterday and here you come today,” perhaps? Or “Tell me, pretty baby, how you want your lovin’ done”? Or perhaps the plainer, “I am going to EAT YOU ALL UP!”
I chose to title this posting BASIE SAYS YES because I believe he always did. Although Basie spent his life “playing the blues,” his approach to them was always life-affirming. Even on the darkest dirge, there is a slight grin. “Look how sad I can make this music sound. Isn’t it a lot of fun to play such sad music?”
Cool, swinging, affirmative. We could follow him, a Sage, for life-lessons.
You can’t afford to miss this dream, to quote Louis.
Ray Mosca, Marty Napoleon, Bill Crow
Pianist Marty Napoleon is now 91. Yes, 91. And he is still exuberantly playing, singing, composing, telling stories. He’s played with everyone of note including Louis, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Barnet, Harry Carney, Serge Chaloff, Kai Winding, Allen Eager, Shelley Manne, Charlie Ventura, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, Charlie Shavers, Ruby Braff, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Rex Stewart, Jimmy Rushing, Bud Freeman, Earle Warren, Emmett Berry, Vic Dickenson, Buster Bailey, George Wettling, Max Kaminsky, Urbie Green, Clark Terry, Randy Sandke, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Billy Butterfield, Doc Cheatham, Peanuts Hucko, and more.
That history should count for something — recording and playing from the middle Forties until today. Lest you think of Marty purely as an ancient figure, here is some very lively evidence, recorded less than six months ago: Marty, Joel Forbes, Chuck Riggs, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harry Allen, Joe Temperley — exploring SATIN DOLL:
If you’re like me, you might say at this point, “Where is this musical dynamo playing? He sounds very fine for a man twenty years younger.”
The news is good, especially for Long Island, New York residents who despair the lack of swinging jazz here. The gig is at a reasonably early hour. And it’s free.
Details below. I hope to see you there, and hope you give Marty, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Ray Mosca the enthusiastic welcome they deserve.
Some time ago, an eBay seller offered an autograph book for sale.
That rather ordinary exterior gave no hint of the marvels it contained: not someone’s schoolmates but the greatest players and singers — of the Swing Era and of all time. Now individual pages are being offered for sale, and I thought that they would thrill JAZZ LIVES readers as they thrill me. The owner of the book was “Joe,” residing in New York City and occasionally catching a band at a summer resort. We know this because Joe was meticulous, dating his autograph “captures” at the bottom of the page. Understandably, he didn’t know much about the lifespan of paper and put Scotch tape over some of the signatures, which might mean that the whole enterprise won’t last another fifty years — although the signatures (in fountain pen, black and colored pencil) have held up well.
Through these pages, if even for a moment, we can imagine what it might have been to be someone asking the greatest musicians, “Mr. Evans?” “Miss Holiday?” “Would you sign my book, please?” And they did. Here’s the beautiful part.
Let’s start at the top, with Louis and Red:
This page is fascinating — not only because Louis was already using green ink, or that we have evidence of the band’s “sweet” male singer, Sonny Woods, but for the prominence of trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen. Listening to the studio recordings Louis made while Red was a sideman, it would be easy to believe the story that Red was invisible, stifled, taking a position that allowed him no creative outlet. But the radio broadcasts that have come to light — from the Cotton Club and the Fleischmann’s Yeast radio program — prove that Red was given solo spots during the performance and that he was out front for the first set. Yes, Red had been creating a series of exceptional Vocalion recordings for two years, but I suspect Joe had much to hear on this Saturday night at the Arcadia Ballroom.
Something completely different: composer / arranger Ferde Grofe on the same page with Judy Ellington, who sang with Charlie Barnet’s band:
Time for some joy:
Oh, take another!
Joe really knew what was going on: how many people sought out pianist / arranger / composer Lennie Hayton for an autograph:
A good cross-section of the 1938 Benny Goodman Orchestra — star pianists Teddy Wilson and Jess Stacy, saxophonists Vido Musso, Herman Shertzer, George Koenig, Art Rollini, as well as the trombonist Murray McEachern, guitarist Ben Heller, arranger Fred Norman, and mystery man Jesse Ralph:
Someone who gained a small portion of fame:
You’ll notice that Joe knew who the players were — or, if you like, he understood that the men and women who didn’t have their names on the marquee were the creators of the music he so enjoyed. So the special pleasure of this book is in the tangible reminders of those musicians whose instrumental voices we know so well . . . but whose signatures we might never have seen. An example — the heroes who played so well and devotedly in Chick Webb’s band: saxophonists Chauncey Houghton, “Louie” Jordan, Theodore McRae, Wayman Carver, bassist Beverley Peer, pianist Tommy Fulford, guitarist Bobby Johnson, trumpeters Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, Taft Jordan, trombonists Nat Story, Sandy Williams . . . .Good Luck To You, indeed!
But one name is missing — the little King of the Savoy (subject of the wonderful new documentary, THE SAVOY KING — which is coming to the New York Film Festival at the end of September 2012 — more details to come):
Jimmie Lunceford and his men, among them drummer Jimmie Crawford, saxophonist Willie Smith, trumpeter Paul Webster:
saxophonists Joe Thomas and Austin Brown, Jas. Crawford (master of percussion), bassist Mose Allen, pianist Edwin Wilcox, and the little-known Much Luck and Best Wishes:
Blanche Calloway’s brother, the delightful Cab, and his bassist, the beloved Milt Hinton:
trumpeter irving Randolph and Doc Cheatham, drummer Leroy Maxey, pianist Bennie Payne, saxophonists Walter Thomas, Andrew Brown, “Bush,” or Garvin Bushell, and Chu Berry, and Cab himself:
Paul Whiteman’s lead trumpeter, Harry “Goldie” Goldfield, father of Don Goldie (a Teagarden colleague):
I can’t figure out all of the names, but this documents a band Wingy Manone had: vocalist Sally Sharon, pianist Joe Springer, Don Reid, Ray Benitez, R. F. Dominick, Chuck Johnson (?), saxophonist Ethan Rando (Doc?), Danny Viniello, guitarist Jack Le Maire, and one other:
Here are some names and a portrait that would not be hard to recognize. The Duke, Ivie Anderson, Cootie Williams, Juan Tizol, Sonny Greer, Fred Guy, Barney Bigard, Freddie Jenkins, Rex Stewart, and either “Larry Brown,” squeezed for space, bottom right (I think):
And Lawrence Brown, Otto Hardwick, Harry Carney, Billy Taylor, and lead man Art Whetzel:
Calloway’s trombones, anyone? De Priest Wheeler, Claude Jones, “Keg” Johnson, and trumpeter Lammar Wright:
Our man Bunny:
Don Redman’s wonderful band, in sections. Edward Inge, Eugene Porter, Harvey Boone, Rupert Cole, saxophones:
The trumpets — Otis Johnson, Harold Baker, Reunald Jones, and bassist Bob Ysaguirre:
And the trombone section — Quentin Jackson, Gene Simon, Bennie Morton — plus the leader’s autograph and a signature that puzzles me right underneath. Sidney Catlett was the drummer in this orchestra for a time in 1937, but that’s not him, and it isn’t pianist Don Kirkpatrick. Research!:
The rhythm section of the Claude Hopkins band — Claude, Abe Bolar, Edward P. (“Pete”) Jacobs, drums:
And some wonderful players from that band: Joe Jones (guitar, nort drums), trumpeters Shirley Clay, Jabbo Smith, Lincoln Mills; the singer Beverly White (someone Teddy Wilson thought better than Billie), saxophonists Bobby Sands, John Smith, Arville Harris, Happy Mitchner (?); trombonists Floyd Brady and my hero Vic Dickenson, whose signature stayed the same for forty years and more:
I suspect that this triple autograph is later . . . still fun:
If the next three don’t make you sit up very straight in your chair, we have a real problem. Basie at Roseland, Oct. 12, 1937: Earle Warren, the Count himself, Billie, Buck Clayton, and Eddie Durham. The signature of Paul Gonsalves clearly comes from a different occasion, and I imagine the conversation between Joe and Paul, who would have been very pleased to have his name on this page:
Miss Holiday, Mister Shaw, before they ever worked together ANY OLD TIME. I’d call this JOYLAND, wouldn’t you?
And a truly swinging piece of paper, with the signatures of Walter Page, Lester Young, James Rushing, Bobby Moore, Herschel Evans, Ronald “Jack” Washington, Edward Lewis, Freddie Greene, Joe Jones, Bennie Morton . . . when giants walked the earth.
To view just one of these pages and find your way to the others, click here – I’ll content myself with simple gleeful staring. And since I began writing this post, the seller has put up another ten or more — Mary Lou Williams, Ina Ray Hutton, Clyde Hart, Roy Eldridge . . . astonishing!
This Buescher trumpet, the advertisement tells us, is the model Emmett Berry plays with Johnny Hodges. For tremendous power and range, which Mr. Berry would have had on any horn.
Emmett Berry came from the tradition of individualistic players — with an intense near-ferocity no matter what the context . . . with Fletcher or Horace Henderson, Don Byas, Coleman Hawkins, Cozy Cole, Edmond Hall, Bennie Morton, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Buddy Tate, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Walter Thomas, Ben Webster, Budd Johnson, Oscar Pettiford, Harry Carney, Johnny Guarneri, Illinois Jacquet, Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, Eddie Heywood, Vic Dickenson, John Kirby, Gerald Wilson, Betty Roche, Helen Humes, Johnny Thompson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Al Sears,Al Hibbler, Lem Davis, Dodo Marmarosa, Slim Gaillard, John Simmons, Zutty Singleton, Sidney Catlett, Sammy Price, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones, Eddie Bert, Lucky Thompson, Bennie Green, Lawrence Brown, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Art Farmer, Claude Hopkins, Pee Wee Russell, Bob Brookmeyer, Andy Gibson, Paul Gonsalves, Cannonball Adderley, Shorty Baker, Chu Berry, Earl Hines, Joe Williams. On Keynote he was the third trumpet player with Joe Thomas and Roy Eldridge. He was in the trumpet section for a Miles Davis and Gil Evans session.
Between 1937 and 1967, he seems to have been active on gigs and in the recording studio, even if some of that work had him playing second trumpet to Buck Clayton or as part of the brass section behind a singer. But this record of activity says to me that various people (Harry Lim, John Hammond, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Buddy Tate) valued him as a powerful, reliable, creative player — someone who could swing, improvise, blend with a section, sight-read music the first time he saw it.
Buck Clayton’s story of Berry whacking Jimmy Witherspoon in the head with his trumpet when Spoon had been particularly out of line suggests that Berry was not someone to be trifled with, and his phrasing does suggest an expert boxer and dangerous counterpuncher.
But no one seems to have interviewed him during his playing career, and I have it in my memory (true?) that he suffered some sort of late-life mental collapse and retired from music. (What does anyone know of him in the years from 1967 to 1993?)
His sound– so vehement — remains in my ears. On the early Clef sessions with Hodges, on THE SOUND OF JAZZ, backing Rushing on Vanguard — unmistakable.
Here’s “a little good blues” with Earle Warren, Sir Charles Thompson, Gene Ramey, and Oliver Jackson, from 1961:
Berry doesn’t take enough space, and his vehemence is hinted at rather than fully released, but his sound and physical presence are fully evident.
No, not my fifth-grade one where cute Suzanne DeVeaux signed her name and then wrote “Yours till bacon strips,” which was not the declaration of love it might have seemed to be, alas.
But THIS autograph book is something special — even given the twenty thousand dollar price tag on eBay. Its owner was a deep swing and jazz fan in the Thirties, and (s)he got everyone’s signature . . . at gigs, at the Arcadia Ballroom, and other places. It is the calligraphic companion to the late Bob Inman’s SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK, summoning up a magical and vanished time where you could wait patiently at the stage door and get “Art Shaw” to sign his name as well as his new singer, “Billie Holiday.”
Feast your eyes.
And, just as an aside, several people — musicians and collectors alike — who have seen this — keep muttering something about how their birthdays are coming soon. I don’t blame them. The eBay link is
Here are some sample pages. WOW is all one can say — and that’s even before one encounters the signatures of Eddie Durham, Maurice Purtill, a young Milt Hinton, and the others. And as my friend David Weiner has pointed out on other occasions, the pencil and sometimes odd handwriting prove that these are on-the-spot signatures, not neat calligraphy done in someone’s office by the hundreds.
I don’t know who Anthony is on the left, but there’s Billie and “Art” on the right.
Earle Warren (Every Good Wish, Count Basie, Billie, Buck Clayton, Eddie Durham. And — I think from a later date! — Paul Gonsalves. “Roseland Shuffle,” I think. And this comes from the era when musicians, signing a fan’s autograph book, identified themselves by the instrument(s) they played. That suggests a sweet lack of ego: I’m not a star yet! (And Buck’s signature was very much the same about forty years later.)
Sincerely, Nat King Cole, Johnny Miller, and Oscar Moore — people who knew about sincerity.
Harry Goldfield (father of Don Goldie) on the left — and some other trumpeters named “Satch” and “Red,” as well as drummer Sammy Weiss.
Another trumpet player. He could get started — don’t let his theme song fool you. But why do these trumpet players all have nicknames? Wouldn’t “Bernard” have done just as well?
1936. The Blessed Thomas Waller.
Did someone say HI-DE-HO? And there’s youthful Milt — not yet the Judge.
The Duke is on the page — along with Ivie, Sonny, Rex, Juan Tizol, Cootie Williams, Fred Guy, and one or two others.
Noble Sissle and his Orchestra with Sidney Bechet, Wendell Culley, Don Pasquall, and Sara Turner . . .
Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra, Part One: Johnny Mince, Maurice Purtill, Carmen Mastren, Bud Freeman, Gene Traxler, Jack Leonard, Lee Castaldo (later Castle), Andy Ferretti, Freddie Stulce, and one or two others.
Part Two! Mince signs in again, the Sentimental Gentleman himself, Edythe Wright, and Pee Wee Erwin.
Hamp, before FLYIN’ HOME.
Isn’t this frankly astounding?
I knew you’d agree.
And what we have here is perhaps fifteen pages out of one hundred and twenty.
One of the best small groups I know is the ABQ — the Alden-Barrett Quintet — originally Howard Alden, guitar; Dan Barrett, trombone and cornet; Chuck Wilson, alto and clarinet; Frank Tate, string bass; Jackie Williams, drums. Like the Ruby Braff – George Barnes Quartet and the various permutations of Soprano Summit, they had energy and delicacy, force, precision, and sweetness. And they also swung like mad.
One of the pleasures of Jazz at Chautauqua through the seven years I’ve been attending is the reunions of the ABQ — usually with four of the original members onstage, romping through charts that they created or were done for the group by Buck Clayton (someone whose hundredth birthday just took place on the calendar).
At the September 2011 Chautauqua, Chuck Wilson couldn’t be there, but his place was taken — nobly — by the ever-ready Dan Block. Here are four wonderful performances from their set:
Basie always merits first place: here’s Earle Warren’s 9:20 SPECIAL:
Buck Clayton’s BLACK SHEEP BLUES (perhaps referring to the necktie that used to be one of Dan Barrett’s sartorial trademarks, with an ebony fellow in the midst of the flock):
Something for Louis! ORIENTAL STRUT, by Johnny St. Cyr. Not to be pedantic, but I hear very little “Asian” in this composition: I think Johnny had been to the movies and seen some film with Rudolph Valentino in the desert:
And a mini-evocation of the 1940 Ellington band in COTTON TAIL:
The group doesn’t get many occasions to get together, which is a pity. Come to the 2012 Chautauqua and — while you’re waiting — look for their CDs on Arbors and Concord Records.
Fifty-Second Street lives when the ABQ is playing.
My experiences with music at poolside have been less than ideal: someone’s iPod or a boom box, or even oleaginous background music being piped through speakers.
None of that for the Sweet and Hot Music Festival in Los Angeles this past Labor Day weekend (September 2011)! Here are two wonderful instrumental performances by members of the Rebecca Kilgore Quartet that took place beside the pool on Sunday afternoon, September 4, 2011. In the spirit of accuracy, I have to point out that the bluish lighting is not an entirely accurate representation of everyone’s skin tone, and the wind does cut through the singing and playing . . . but it is so far above anything I’ve ever heard by any pool that it deserves to be presented and immortalized.
Here’s a deeply lovely duet — DAY DREAM as caressed, sadly, by Eddie Erickson and Howard Alden. I make Eddie blush and mumble when I say this, but he is the best male ballad singer I know . . . full of tenderness and spirit. He doesn’t belt or overact; he gives us his heart. And Howard’s playing is subtle, sweet, and restrained. Don’t blame the wind: it wanted someone to request THE BREEZE AND I.
Something more festive followed — a trio of Dan Barrett, Howard, and Joel Forbes, working their happy way through Earle Warren’s 9:20 SPECIAL — a Basie classic:
Were I a different sort of person, I could blame my parents, who were lovingly overprotective. I could be irked at them now for not encouraging me to leave my suburban nest at 14 or 15 to go into New York City. Had they been more adventurous souls themselves, I might have seen Red Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart in the flesh. But by the time I began to make the trek, Ben Webster had left for Europe; Coleman Hawkins had died.
Rather than lament the ones I’ve missed, I will list the names of the heroic players and singers — now dead — I did get to see.
Trumpets / cornets: Louis Armstrong, Bobby Hackett, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ray Nance, Louis Metcalf, Herman Autrey, Doc Cheatham, Pat Jenkins, Joe Newman, Joe Thomas, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Erwin, Dick Sudhalter, Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Jimmy McPartland, Johnny Windhurst, Taft Jordan, Franc Williams, Jimmy Maxwell.
Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Dicky Wells, Benny Morton, Bobby Pratt, Georg Brunis, Dick Rath, Tyree Glenn, Eli Robinson.
Reeds: Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Al Klink, Herb Hall, Kenny Davern, Sal Pace, Russell Procope, Benny Carter, Johnny Mince, Bud Freeman, Buddy Tate, Phil Bodner, Sam Margolis, Harold Ashby, Earle Warren, Rudy Rutherford, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Clifford Jordan, Rudy Powell, Budd Johnson, Eddie Barefield, Lockjaw Davis, Allen Eager, Barney Bigard, Paul Quinichette, Illinois Jacquet, George Kelly.
Pianos: Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Claude Hopkins, Dill Jones, Dick Wellstood, Ralph Sutton, Jane Jarvis, Hank Jones, John Bunch, Jimmy Rowles, Eubie Blake, Mary Lou Williams, Bill Evans, Ross Tompkins, Joe Bushkin, Ellis Larkins, Sammy Price, Art Hodes.
Guitars: Eddie Condon, Freddie Green, Wayne Wright, Herb Ellis, Al Casey, Bernard Addison, Carmen Mastren, George Barnes.
Basses: Milt Hinton, George Duvivier, Charles Mingus, Al Hall, Bill Pemberton, Gene Ramey, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Franklyn Skeete.
Drums: Jo Jones, Gene Krupa, Cliff Leeman, Chauncey Morehouse, Buzzy Drootin, Tommy Benford, Oliver Jackson, Eddie Locke, Sonny Greer, Sam Woodyard, Gus Johnson, Jake Hanna, Connie Kay, Freddie Moore.
Vibraphone (or Vibraharp): Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo.
Violin: Joe Venuti.
Vocals: Jimmy Rushing, Helen Humes, Lee Wiley, Bing Crosby, Al Hibbler, Maxine Sullivan.
I miss them all, but feel so fortunate that I was there to breathe the same air, to hear their sounds.
Between 1953 and 1957, John Hammond supervised a series of record dates for the Vanguard label. I first heard one of those records — the second volume of the THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE — at my local library in the late Sixties, and fell in love.
The Vanguard sessions featured Ruby Braff, Shad Collins, Buck Clayton, Joe Newman, Emmett Berry, Pat Jenkins, Doug Mettome, Vic Dickenson, Benny Morton, Benny Green, Urbie Green, Lawrence Brown, Henderson Chambers, Ed Hall, Peanuts Hucko, Jimmy Buffington, Coleman Hawkins, Buddy Tate, Rudy Powell, Earle Warren, Lucky Thompson, Frank Wess, Pete Brown, Paul Quinichette, Mel Powell, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Jones, Hank Jones, Sammy Price, Ellis Larkins, Nat Pierce, Steve Jordan, Skeeter Best, Kenny Burrell, Oscar Pettiford, Walter Page, Aaron Bell, Jo Jones, Bobby Donaldson, Jimmy Crawford, Jimmy Rushing, and others.
The list of artists above would be one answer to the question, “What made these sessions special?” but we all know of recordings with glorious personnel that don’t quite come together as art — perhaps there’s too little or too much arranging, or the recorded sound is not quite right, or one musician (a thudding drummer, an over-amplified bassist) throws everything off.
The Vanguard sessions benefited immensely from Hammond’s imagination. Although I have been severe about Hammond — as someone who interfered with musicians for whom he was offering support — and required that his preferences be taken seriously or else (strong-willed artists like Louis, Duke, and Frank Newton fought with or ran away from John). Hammond may have been “difficult” and more, but his taste in jazz was impeccable. And broad — the list above goes back to Sammy Price, Walter Page, and forward to Kenny Burrell and Benny Green.
Later on, what I see as Hammond’s desire for strong flavors and novelty led him to champion Dylan and Springsteen, but I suspect that those choices were also in part because he could not endure watching others make “discoveries.” Had it been possible to continue making records like the Vanguards eternally, I believe Hammond might have done so.
Although Mainstream jazz was still part of the American cultural landscape in the early Fifties, and the artists Hammond loved were recording for labels large and small — from Verve, Columbia, Decca, all the way down to Urania and Period — he felt strongly about players both strong and subtle, musicians who had fewer opportunities to record sessions on their own. At one point, Hammond and George Wein seemed to be in a friendly struggle to champion Ruby Braff, and I think Hammond was the most fervent advocate Vic Dickenson, Sir Charles Thompson, and Mel Powell ever had. Other record producers, such as the astute George Avakian at Columbia, would record Jimmy Rushing, but who else was eager to record Pete Brown, Shad Collins, or Henderson Chambers? No one but Hammond.
And he arranged musicians in novel — but not self-consciously so — combinations. For THE VIC DICKENSON SHOWCASE, it did not take a leap of faith to put Braff, Vic, and Ed Hall together in the studio, for they had played together at Boston’s Savoy Cafe in 1949. And to encourage them to stretch out for leisurely versions of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” “Jeepers Creepers,” and “Russian Lullaby” was something that other record producers — notably Norman Granz — had been doing to capitalize on the longer playing time of the new recording format. But after that rather formal beginning, Hammond began to be more playful. The second SHOWCASE featured Shad Collins, the masterful and idiosyncratic ex-Basie trumpeter, in the lead, with Braff joining in as a guest star on two tracks.
Now, some of the finest jazz recordings were made in adverse circumstances (I think of the cramped Brunswick and Decca studios of the Thirties). And marvelous music can be captured in less-than-ideal sound: consider Jerry Newman’s irreplaceable uptown recordings. But the sound of the studio has a good deal to do with the eventual result. Victor had, at one point, a converted church in Camden, New Jersey; Columbia had Liederkrantz Hall and its 30th Street Studios. Hammond had a Masonic Temple on Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, New York — with a thirty-five foot ceiling, wood floors, and beautiful natural resonance.
The Vanguard label, formed by brothers Maynard and Seymour Solomon, had devoted itself to beautiful-sounding classical recordings; Hammond had written a piece about the terrible sound of current jazz recordings, and the Solomons asked him if he would like to produce sessions for them. Always eager for an opportunity to showcase musicians he loved, without interference, Hammond began by featuring Vic Dickenson, whose sound may never have been as beautifully captured as it was on the Vanguards.
Striving for an entirely natural sound, the Vanguards were recorded with one microphone hanging from the ceiling. The players in the Masonic Temple did not know what the future would hold — musicians isolated behind baffles, listening to their colleagues through headphones — but having one microphone would have been reminiscent of the great sessions of the Thirties and Forties. And musicians often become tense at recording sessions, no matter how professional or experienced they are — having a minimum of engineering-interference can only have added to the relaxed atmosphere in the room.
The one drawback of the Masonic Temple was that loud drumming was a problem: I assume the sound ricocheted around the room. So for most of these sessions, either Jo Jones or Bobby Donaldson played wire brushes or the hi-hat cymbal, with wonderful results. (On the second Vic SHOWCASE, Jo’s rimshots explode like artillery fire on RUNNIN’ WILD, most happily, and Jo also was able to record his lengthy CARAVAN solo, so perhaps the difficulty was taken care of early.) On THE NAT PIERCE BANDSTAND — a session recently reissued on Fresh Sound — you can hear the lovely, translucent sound Freddie Green, Walter Page, and Jo Jones made, their notes forming three-dimensional sculpture on BLUES YET? and STOMP IT OFF.
(Something for the eyes. I am not sure what contemporary art directors would make of this cover, including Vic’s socks, and the stuffed animals, but I treasure it, even though there is a lion playing a concertina.)
What accounted for the beauty of these recordings might be beyond definition. Were the musicians so happy to be left alone that they played better than ever? Was it the magisterial beat and presence of Walter Page on many sessions? Was it Hammond’s insistence on unamplified rhythm guitar? Whatever it was, I hear these musicians reach into those mystical spaces inside themselves with irreplaceable results. On these recordings, there is none of the reaching-for-a-climax audible on many records. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the sessions featuring Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins. Braff had heard Larkins play duets with Ella Fitzgerald for Decca (reissued on CD as PURE ELLA) and told Hammond that he, too, wanted to play with Larkins. Larkins’ steady, calm carpet of sounds balances Braff’s tendency towards self-dramatization, especially on several Bing Crosby songs — PLEASE and I’VE GOT A POCKETFUL OF DREAMS.
Ruby and Ellis were reunited several times in the next decades, for Hank O’Neal’s Chiaroscuro label and twice for Arbors, as well as onstage at a Braff-organized tribute to Billie Holiday, but they never sounded so poignantly wonderful as on the Vanguards.
Hammond may have gotten his greatest pleasure from the Basie band of the late Thirties, especially the small-group sessions, so he attempted to give the Vanguards the same floating swing, using pianists Thompson and Pierce, who understood what Basie had done without copying it note for note. For THE JO JONES SPECIAL, Hammond even managed to reunite the original “All-American Rhythm Section” for two versions of “Shoe Shine Boy.” Thompson — still with us at 91 — recorded with Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones for an imperishable quartet session. If you asked me to define what swing is, I might offer their “Swingtime in the Rockies” as compact, enthralling evidence.
Hammond was also justifiably enthusiastic about pianist Mel Powell — someone immediately identifiable in a few bars, his style merging Waller, Tatum, astonishing technique, sophisticated harmonies, and an irrepressible swing — and encouraged him to record in trios with Braff, with Paul Quinichette, with Clayton and Ed Hall, among others. One priceless yet too brief performance is Powell’s WHEN DID YOU LEAVE HEAVEN? with French hornist Jimmy Buffington in the lead — a spectral imagining of the Benny Goodman Trio.
The last Vanguards were recorded in 1957, beautiful sessions featuring Buck Clayton and Jimmy Rushing. I don’t know what made the series conclude. Did the recordings not sell well? Vanguard turned to the burgeoning folk movement shortly after. Or was it that Hammond had embarked on this project for a minimal salary and no royalties and, even given his early patrician background, had to make a living? But these are my idea of what jazz recordings should sound like, for their musicality and the naturalness of their sound.
I would like to be able to end this paean to the Vanguards by announcing a new Mosaic box set containing all of them. But I can’t. And it seems as if forces have always made these recordings difficult to obtain in their original state. Originally, they were issued on ten-inch long-playing records (the format that record companies thought 78 rpm record buyers, or their furniture, would adapt to most easily). But they made the transition to the standard twelve-inch format easily. The original Vanguard records didn’t stay in print for long in their original format. I paid twenty-five dollars, then a great deal of money, for a vinyl copy of BUCK MEETS RUBY from the now-departed Dayton’s Records on Twelfth Street in Manhattan. In the Seventies, several of the artists with bigger names, Clayton, Jo Jones, and Vic, had their sessions reissued in America on two-lp colletions called THE ESSENTIAL. And the original vinyl sessions were reissued on UK issues for a few minutes in that decade.
When compact discs replaced vinyl, no one had any emotional allegiance to the Vanguards, although they were available in their original formats (at high prices) in Japan. The Vanguard catalogue was bought by the Welk Music Group (the corporate embodiment of Champagne Music). in 1999, thirteen compact discs emerged: three by Braff, two by “the Basie Bunch,” two by Mel Powell, two by Jimmy Rushing, one by Sir Charles, one by Vic. On the back cover of the CDs, the credits read: “Compilation produced by Steve Buckingham” and “Musical consultant and notes by Samuel Charters.” I don’t know either of them personally, and I assume that their choices were controlled by the time a compact disc allows, but the results are sometimes inexplicable. The sound of the original sessions comes through clearly but sessions are scrambled and incomplete, except for the Braff-Larkins material, which they properly saw as untouchable. And rightly so. The Vanguard recordings are glorious. And they deserve better presentation than they’ve received.
P.S. Researching this post, I went to the usual sources — Amazon and eBay — and there’s no balm for the weary or the deprived. On eBay, a vinyl BUCK MEETS RUBY is selling for five times as much. That may be my twenty-five dollars, adjusted for inflation, but it still seems exorbitant.
On eBay I also saw the most recent evidence of the corruption, if not The Decline, of the West. Feast your eyes on this CD cover:
Can you imagine Jimmy Rushing’s reaction — beyond the grave — on learning that his reputation rested on his being an influence on Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, and Harry Connick, Jr.? I can’t. The Marketing Department has been at work! But I’d put up with such foolishness if I could have the Vanguards back again.
As a high school student, I supplemented my intermittent jazz record purchases by listening to the records available at my local public library. One of the librarians was hip. Someone had good taste! The collection included Ellington and George Lewis, Jimmy Rushing and Vic Dickenson, Benny Goodman and “The Sound of Jazz,” among others. On those records — particularly the Vanguard sessions supervised in the early and middle Fifties by John Hammond — I first heard the sound of Jo Jones, his swishing hi-hat cymbals, his emphatic rimshots, his irresistible swing.
I had already fallen in love with the propulsion and pure sounds of Catlett and Wettling, but Jo was a revelation: I can still hear the way he brought the band in on Vic’s RUNNIN’ WILD, or the three perfectly placed accents (all different) he used to propel Tommy Ladnier in a fast WEARY BLUES at the 1938 “From Spirituals to Swing” concert. And, a little later, when I bought my first Billie Holiday records, the Kansas City Fiva and Six, the Decca Basie band . . . I wanted to hear every record Jo Jones had ever been part of.
Here is Jo — exuberant, explosive, grinning, soloing at the end of a fast blues, on a 1957 Nat King Cole television show devoted to Norman Granz and the Jazz at the Philharmonic troupe. This clip begins at the end of Roy Eldridge’s solo (in mid-scream) and at the end Oscar Peterson, Herb Ellis, and Ray Brown are visible:
But that clip gives way to my own memories of Jo in person, onstage and off.
This post is motivated by a recent conversation I had with the Beloved about the subject of retiring from one’s job, leaving a career behind. I told her one of the stories below and she said, astonished, “You spoke to Jo Jones? Smiling Jo Jones?” hence my title.
Not only did I speak to Jo Jones: I took this photograph of him in 1981:
Jo Jones at the West End Cafe
True, the shot is amateurish: a head is in the way, my flash’s explosion is visible, the overall hue suggests Halloween . . . but Jo’s slow-motion mallet, on its ways down, pleases me greatly. And the photo evidence that I was there, capturing this moment, which is no small thing.
Many other moments come back to me now.
My friend Stu Zimny found out, sometime before 1972, that one could see Jo at Frank Ippolito’s drum shop. We decided to go there, as if we were making a pilgrimage to some sacred place. Was Jo holding court there, as befits an artist and aristocrat, or was he making a few dollars in a job unworthy of him, as I have read? I don’t know. I do remember buying a pair of 5B parade drumsticks from him — to practice with — and snippets of this conversation.
In person, Jo was animated, inscrutable, vehement. Something in his manner and approach defied easy explanation. It felt as if we were speaking to a character in a play — and only Jo had the script. There was also some element of unpredictability, even of danger, as if he might suddenly get furious at you in the middle of a conversation, as I saw happen with Ruby Braff.
(Ruby, incidentally, told us a wonderful story about working with Jo at Storyville, almost twenty years earlier: Jo would never say, “Let’s play ROSETTA,” but start a rhythmic pattern and tempo on his hi-hat or snare and leave it up to the musician to guess which tune might best go with that tempo. Ruby shook his head in disbelief when he recalled, somewhat in desperation, picking some song that he thought might be fine at that tempo, and Jo saying, “That’s it! You got it!” as if Ruby had telepathically found the answer. “I don’t play with him any more. He’s nuts,” said Ruby.)
Even when speaking to people he knew and liked, Jo had a particular tone of voice that in someone else might have been ironic verging on contemptuous. But with him it was a form of emphasis. You could hear capital letters, boldface, italics in his voice. And he had a fierce energy in his speech: a conversation with him was like being strapped into a centrifuge, an untiring monologue, rising and falling.
Spotting Jo at Ippolito’s, I imagine that we introduced ourselves as jazz listeners, fans, admirers. And then one of us asked Jo where we could hear him play. Was he gigging anywhere?
He looked at us with weary resignation, two innocent Caucasian college boys who had asked a silly question.
“I’m re-ti-red,” he said, by way of explanation. “I don’t play the drums anymore. Leave all that to the kiddies,” he continued. We couldn’t believe it, and asked him again. He wasn’t playing any gigs, no festivals? All he would say was that he was “re-ti-red.” If we needed a drummer, he suggested that we call Buddy Rich. Stu points out that Jo offered no contact information for Buddy.
We went away from that encounter half grieving, half amazed. We had gone to the mountaintop to meet one of the elders, to receive counsel and inspiration, and the elder had said he had packed it in.
The sequel to all this is that some months later we saw Jo’s name prominently advertised as one of the musicians who would appear in the Newport-New York Jazz Festival. I think, now, that he had been putting us on. But perhaps in his own head he had decided to retire.
In the next decade, we had the opportunity to see him in a variety of situations: concert halls and jazz clubs. He drove Benny Carter’s SWING MASTERS at their 1972 concert appearance (a band that included Joe Thomas, Benny Morton, Buddy Tate, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, and an out-of-tune Bernard Addison) and took a long solo in the middle of SLEEP — a virtuosic exercise that stopped the song and the show. Two years later, he appeared at the Newport “Hall of Fame,” as part of a quintet with Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Wilson, and Hinton, his playing was immaculate, sensitive, not showy — Hackett turned the last bridge in “Body and Soul” over to Jo, who filled the air with urging, whispering brush strokes and accents.
Tom Piazza, then a student at Williams College, arranged a concert of the jazz elders — when such things were still possible: Milt Hinton, Roy Eldridge, Benny Morton, Budd Johnson, Claude Hopkins, and Jo. Stu and I went there, armed with a heavy tape recorder, and (in the face of numerous obstacles: an inebriated Budd, a student running the sound board who turned the record level up and down for no reason, an over-exuberant audience) we focused on the band. Jo traded eights and fours with Milt on a leisurely STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY, and did his volcanic version of CARAVAN, with every grimace, every surprise firmly choreographed.
He smiled incessantly when he played: he glowed. But when we saw Jo in clubs, at close range, he often appeared to be brimful of some barely contained anger. And though we had come to the gig hoping to hear something delicate, witty — that magical hi-hat sound, those quietly insistent brushes that had levitated so many recordings — he would beat out the time loudly, indefatigably, on a brassily resonant ride cymbal. It was clear that there were two Jonathan David Samuel Joneses: one, the player we had heard on records, lifting the band with what Donne called “gold to airy thinness beat”; the other, furious at something, wanting to control it by pure sound and pure volume. Stanley Dance told me about producing a 1961 session that paired Jo with some Ellington alumni — Paul Gonsalves, Harold Ashby, Ray Nance, Sir Charles Thompson — and Jo being infuriated about something, then playing as loudly as he could.
I recall several instances of this irritation-translated-into-music. When there was a ragtag band of “Basie alumni” assembled at Your Father’s Mustache (once Nick’s, now a Gourmet Garage: sic transit gloria mundi), Jo walloped the ride cymbal as if wanting to drown everyone out. At a short-lived spinoff of the Half Note, “The Onliest Place,” a venture that lasted only a few weekends, Jo led a little band one night. If I remember correctly, it included bassist Tommy Bryant, Ben Richardson on clarinet, Skeeter Best on guitar, and one or two other players. They embarked on a nearly forgotten Thirties pop tune, CALL ME DARLING, which was not terribly familiar, and some members of the band got lost. I can hear Jo shouting, “The middle! The middle!” although I am not sure that this advice averted chaos. Irritability and delighted in-jokes always characterized his appearances with “The Countsmen,” a group that included Doc Cheatham, Benny Morton, Earle Warren, Buddy Tate, Chuck Folds, Franklyn Skeete, and Jo.
Jo could play magically in clubs, though. I remember going to Gregory’s, a tiny room, to hear Ellis Larkins and Al Hall. That duo played splendid embroidered jazz for one set and then Jo walked in, unfurled his newspaper, took out a set of folding wire brushes, spread the paper on a chair, and played with elegance, amusement, and grace.
At the West End Cafe, thanks to Phil Schaap, Jo had a fairly steady gig: “Jo Jones and Friends,” which was most often a quartet of Harold Ashby on tenor, a pianist (sometimes Don Coates), and bassist John Ore, who had played with Monk. One rainy night in particular stands out. It was time for the band to begin and Ore had not arrived. Jo began his sets with a medium-tempo blues in G, and, muttering to himself, he set the tempo by tapping his snare drum with his fingers. Ashby soloed; the pianist soloed, and when it came to the two or four choruses that would have been taken by Ore, Jo grimaced, muttered loudly and incomprehensibly to himself, and played choruses of accompaniment — as if Ore had been there — with the tenor and piano silent. It was mildly eerie. Ore came in soon after, apologized for being late (he lived in Brooklyn), but it took the rest of the night for Jo to become calmer.
One summer on Long Island, I read that Buddy Tate would be bringing a band, including Jo, to play a free outdoor concert somewhere miles from Manhattan on the North Fork. It may have been Southold. We drove out there and saw Tate’s outfit play the first half of the concert, with some of their members, including Jo, missing. Jo’s son may have subbed for his father on drums. Eventually, much later, a fire engine drove up, with a few cars following. Jo came out of one of them. They had gotten lost and asked directions at a firehouse. I would like to report that the Tate band, plus Jo, played magnificently, but that wasn’t the case. The group reassembled itself, and Jo demanded his feature on CARAVAN. It went on, no nuance or flourish omitted, for something like eleven minutes. After that, there was only time for Tate to play a hasty LESTER LEAPS IN, and the concert ended. Perhaps it was because of episodes like this that when we mentioned Jo’s name to musicians of a certain era, their expressions grew wary and guarded. “He’s crazy, man,” was the response we got from more than one well-established player.
But he could be politely accessible to fans. I recall approaching him at the West End, before the gig had started, with a new vinyl copy of a record, FOR BASIE. I had bought it that afternoon and hoped that Jo would autograph it for me. Recorded in 1957 for Prestige-Swingville, it brought together Shad Collins on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor, Nat Pierce on piano, Walter Page on bass (one of his last recordings), and Jo. The cover picture showed Jo in a heavy flannel buffalo-plaid shirt with wide suspenders over it, and he grew animated and showed the other musicians at the table. “See that?” he demanded of them. “That is style!” he insisted, happily. And he autographed the back side of the cover in a large ornate hand. When he was through signing, he said to me that he had never heard the music. I could take a hint, and offered him this copy (I had another at home). I hope that it gave him pleasure.
At another, later West End gig, I had with me a new record, OUR MAN, PAPA JO! — on the Denon label, which had a picture of Jo in full glower at his drum set, on the cover. Thinking that one can never have too many Jo Jones signatures, I asked him to autograph this one also. He stared at the cover, held it at arm’s length.
“This will keep the burglars from your house!” he gleefully told me.
In 1981 and early 1982, he was getting more frail and having more difficulty. Jo played with great delicacy at a “Salute to Pres” concert, offering his familiar dancing trades with Milt Hinton — but he had to be helped up on the drum throne. At the last West End gig I recall, playing was becoming more and more arduous for him. When I heard about him next it was the news of his death in 1985.
Photographer Richard H. Merle was at Jo’s funeral, and he caught this poignant moment of Max Roach at Jo’s coffin — the flag draped over the back because Jo had served — with great reluctance — in the Army in World War Two.
Jo Jones’s body has been gone for almost twenty-five years. Yet his sound remains, and his smile — like the Cheshire Cat’s — has never been effaced.
Copyright 1985 by Richard H. Merle. All rights reserved.
I know it’s a bold statement, but there is nothing better than the Thirties Basie band with Lester, Buck, and the All-American Rhythm Section. So I was eager to buy the new Mosaic set and have derived an anticipatory thrill from the four discs still in their shrinkwrap, knowing what I will be able to listen to when I can’t put off the waiting one moment more.
I had heard from Marc Myers (Mr. JazzWax) that some web-grousers had leaped in online to declare that there was just too much Lester Young on this set for them. I thought he was teasing. But here’s an excerpt from Will Friedwald’s admiring piece in the New York Sun (June 2, 2008), “When Basie Was Young At Heart”:
“[The recordings Lester did with his] musical soul mate Billie Holiday, were amazingly democratic: All of the players get equal solo space, and even the star singer is confined to a single chorus. Not so on the Basie sessions: The bulk of these are solo features that spotlight him more like a king than as an elected official or public servant. There are other solo stars here, notably the trombonist Dicky Wells, trumpeters Harry “Sweets” Edison and Buck Clayton, as well as two excellent band singers in Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes. Still, the material is skewed toward Young. The four discs here do not contain the band’s complete output of the period, just those numbers on which Young solos.”
When was Lester ever a public servant? The mind reels.
I do not share Mr. Friedwald’s muted distress at a possible overabundance of Lester’s music at the expense of those records featuring other players, and direct him back in time to a ten-record vinyl box set put out by French CBS, collecting every recording they could find of Basie’s recordings for Columbia, Vocalion, and OKeh in the 1936-42 period. (Mosaic has come up with new alternates, incidentally.) On paper, that CBS set looks like the Holy Grail, and Mr. Friedwald would be able to hear all five takes of “One, Two, Three, O’Lairy,” or whatever it was called. I find alternate takes thrilling for what they reveal of the creative process, but long stretches of this Basie set were surprisingly monotonous. But completists believe that what they do not have is much more important than what they do, and in some emotive way they might be right.
However, I must thank Mr. Friedwald for using the Sun’s resources to reprint a Gjon Mili photograph of Lester and Basie at a jam session.
I believe this comes from Lester’s 1943-44 stint with Basie, because the drummer (probably Kansas Fields) is in uniform. The other saxophonist is altoist Earle Warren, and (for the moment) the trumpeters elude me. Is this another shot from the session where they were Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Edison? But I direct you to the clarinetist. It’s not Larry Talbot — it’s Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow, Jazz’s very own Zelig. And I am certain that Mezz is blithely playing along while Lester is taking his solo. If you insist on being charitable, let us say that he is joining the riffing behind Lester. Notice how he has wedged himself into the gathering, though, and the man behind him — Jo Jones! — has to crane his neck around Mezz to see what is happening.
Gjon Mili took a number of wonderful shots of Jazz-in-action for a wartime feature published in either LOOK or LIFE around 1943, so this may come from that sequence. If his odd-sounding name is familiar in the context of jazz and Lester Young, he is also responsible for the short film JAMMIN’ THE BLUES. Bless him, and the players, too.
I will have more to say about the Lester Young Mosaic once I have begun to break into my precious hoard.