Tag Archives: early television

GLIMPSES OF THE GRAIL, 1949

We love the music we have — the wooden boxes of phonograph records and cassettes, the wall shelves of CDs, the iPods with thousands of songs.  But our hearts beat faster for those things imagined but not realized.  Poring over discographies, we breathe faster when reading of unissued takes, the performances rumored to exist, acetates held by someone in another country, the film footage . . .

But thanks to Lorenz Yeung and Fernando Ortiz de Urbana (I’ve had the good fortune to meet the latter in person) are a few bite-sized bits of one kind of Holy Grail: http://jazzontherecord.blogspot.com/

(Fernando’s blog, EASY DOES IT, is a wonderful cornucopia on its own.)

Who assembled this I do not know.  It is a tribute to Sidney Bechet, who well deserves such honors.  But obviously someone followed Bechet around in 1949, on his penultimate visit to the United States.  And Bechet appeared a number of times on television (think of it!) in the States — most often, I believe, on the Eddie Condon Floor Show oon WPIX.

It’s always heartwarming to be able to praise Mr. Condon, so allow me a few sentences.  Whenever he could (later with the help of his wife Phyllis and the publicist Ernie Anderson) he looked for venues where his music could be played — in mixed bands on Fifty-Second Street, at the Park Lane Hotel, at Town Hall, the Ritz Theatre, and Carnegie Hall, several incarnations of his own club . . . on records, radio broadcasts, transcriptions for the servicemen and women . . . and television.

The Floor Show was his rewarding pioneering television series, broadcast between 1948 and 1950 on WPIX-TV.  It brought together the best jazz players and singers — Louis Armstrong, Sidney Catlett, Jack Teagarden, Lee Wiley, Billie Holiday, Earl Hines, Pee Wee Russell, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Hot Lips Page, Count Basie, Bobby Hackett, Buzzy Drootin, Ralph Sutton — alongside Rosemary Clooney and tap-dancer Teddy Hale, and fifty or so other luminaries.

Eddie was wise enough to understand that the human ear and psyche would wilt on a steady unremitting diet of Hot, so in his club there was an intermission solo pianist; there were ballad medleys, slow blues, medium-tempo pop tunes, as well as RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE.

And his understanding of “show,” of variety, developed in the visual world of early television — hot numbers interspersed with slow ballads, sweet singing, tap dancing, and more.  (I’ve seen a still photograph of what must have been a perfect jazz trio: Hot Lips Page, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton.  Pardon me while I rhapsodize silently.)

Some small portion of the music survives on vinyl issues on the Queen-Disc label and in the collectors’ underground trading world, but we know that the kinescopes made at the time — films of the programs — no longer exist.  I have this on very solid authority, unless there were multiple sets made.

However . . . this YouTube surprise package has color silent footage of Sidney with Cliff Jackson, Kid Ory, Muggsy Spanier, Teddy Hale, Peanuts Hucko, possibly Kansas Fields, Gene Schroeder, Buddy Rich, Chubby Jackson, George Wettling, and another saxophonist named Charlie Parker.

You will have to watch the video several times to fully appreciate all its great gifts, including shots of Bechet acting in several French films, occasionally at the stove or battling an over-assertive shirt dickey.

About the television footage: I imagine that someone who loved Bechet followed him onto the soundstage with a movie camera (the kinescopes would have had sound and been in black and white) — blessings on this intrepid soul and those who saved the footage and shared it with us.  (I’ve written to Lorenz Yeung, the poster, to ask the source of the Condon material; he generously told me that it was part of a Bechet CD package he bought in Australia, a bonus CD (!)  I’m also quite amazed that none of the orinthologists have noticed this — and it’s been on YouTube since 2011.  Research!  In color!)

The question, is, of course, “What else is out there?”  And the answer is unfathomable.  But all things are possible.

My personal Holy Grail might no longer exist.  I can’t remember where I heard or read this story, but Ernie Anderson knew a fellow in the advertising trade, quite wealthy, whose son loved jazz.  Father wanted to give his son a present, and asked Ernie to set up a recording session for the boy: Ernie assembled Bobby Hackett, Sidney Catlett, and the fine pianist Harry Gibson (later Harry “the Hipster” Gibson), had them record some music, had the records pressed in perhaps one set, and I assume the boy was terrifically pleased.  But where are those records now?

Readers are invited to submit their own versions of the jazz Holy Grail . . . we could start with the airshots of the King Oliver band with Lester Young in it and go from there.

Thanks to Lorenz Yeung, Fernando, to David J. Weiner, Maggie Condon, Loren Schoenberg, Dan Morgenstern, and to Sidney Bechet (of course): the soundtrack is DANS LES RUE D’ANTIBES.

May your happiness increase!

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“ONE BLASTED SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER”: THE EDDIE CONDON FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948)

The title comes from surrealist-hipster-comedian Lord Buckley, who was master of ceremonies for this half hour of startling juxtapositions.  Thanks to magician Franz Hoffmann, we have the soundtrack and some non-synchronized film footage from the November 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show.*

I offer these videos not only as tribute to the individual artists, but as a kind of swinging rebuttal.  In the last thirty or so years, conventional jazz history has relegated Eddie Condon to, at best, a condescending footnote. “Yes, he organized early interracial recording sessions, but after that his music was no longer important.”  This is what the late Richard Ellmann called the “friend-of” syndrome: that Eddie is important only in his relations to Major Jazz Players Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller.  I beg to differ.  Evaluating creation by skin color has never been a good idea, and in this case it ignores a great deal of evidence.   

Eddie’s Floor Show reminds us, once again, how expansive Condon’s musical vision was.  Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Dick Cary, Jack Lesberg, and George Wettling are strongly present — but so is Johnny Mercer.  And Sidney Bechet, Henry “Red” Allen, Mary Lou Williams, Teddy Hale, Thelma Carpenter,  Pearl Primus, and Lord Buckley having a fine time satirizing both himself and the proceedings (with a quite accurate Louis Armstrong impersonation).  This is not simply a formulaic group of musicians gathered to read through MUSKRAT RAMBLE once again.  I would have Mr. Condon celebrated as a man who embodied jazz — not simply a pale shadow of its former glories.  Some faithful JAZZ LIVES readers may have noted my attempt to revise history so that everyone appreciates Eddie Condon: I won’t give up until everyone does. 

But music speaks louder than . . . .

So here, thanks to Franz, is the music from November 16, 1948.  More important than Milton Berle, boxing, or wrestling.  In his generous desire to give us a true multi-media experience, Franz has also offered still photos and video clips of the relevant artists: the matchup isn’t always perfect, but his efforts are a gift to us all. 

I AIN’T GONNA GIVE NOBODY NONE OF MY JELLY ROLL into HAPPY BIRTHDAY — vocal by Johnny Mercer, who was quite a singer:

CARAVAN — a feature for Mary Lou Williams:

JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS — featuring Sidney Bechet and the rhythm section:

CONGO DRUMS — perhaps hard to visualize Pearl Primus capering around the small screen, but she loved to dance to jazz accompaniment (there’s a picture of her at Gjon Mili’s 1943 jam session, where she is dancing, barefoot, to a little band playing HONEYSUCKLE ROSE . . . the little band is made up of Teddy Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarity, Edmond Hall, Johnny Williams, and Sidney Catlett — a pretty fine pickup group!):

For me, what follows is the prize of the session — a new song for Henry “Red” Allen to sing, the rather tough-minded love ballad (after a fashion), I TOLD YA I LOVE YOU, NOW GET OUT (a song composed by the Soft Winds — John Frigo, Lou Carter, and Herb Ellis):

I don’t know whether having dancers on the show was Eddie’s idea or not, but someone understood that television was a visual medium — and while a band could play for an hour on radio, viewers needed other kinds of stimulation to keep their attention: hence a BLUES played as background for the brilliant tap-dancing of Teddy Hale:

A tribute to Louis by Wild Bill Davison, I’M CONFESSIN’:

And a neat combination of Johnny Mercer (whose lyrics we hear) and Thelma Carpenter on COME RAIN OR COME SHINE:

What a bonanza — thanks to Eddie, his friends, and to Franz Hoffmann.

*I believe the yearning for the kinescopes of this television show will forever be unsatisfied: the details are not appropriate here, but the primary kinescopes no longer exist.  One may, of course, imagine a jazz fan with a sound film camera aiming it at the television screen — but the combination of happy events that would have made this possible in 1948 is frankly unlikely.  Better to treasure what we have!

“IT’S IN THE GROOVE,” or FORTY-FIVE SECONDS WITH EDDIE CONDON (1949)

If you were to take all the video footage of Eddie Condon and his bands before the early 1960s, it wouldn’t add up to an hour, and that is sad.  But this clip from a 1949 March of Time short just came up on YouTube thanks to “pappyredux,” and although I’ve seen it before, it is delightful. 

BILLBOARD’s reviewer disliked “IT’S IN THE GROOVE” and seemed bored by the shallow coverage of the history of records offered in its eighteen minutes, I don’t share that negative opinion at all: 

The actual date for this rehearsal is unknown, although a version of this assemblage — identified on the labels of the Atlantic 78 as “Eddie Condon and His N.B.C. Television Orchestra” recorded four sides for that company on May 25, 1949.  The reference to television is of course to the Eddie Condon Floor Show.  And it is tragic but true that no kinescopes of those shows have ever surfaced: we are lucky to have as much audio from those shows as we do (even though little of it ever made its way to CD — my collection exists on cassette tapes and five records issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label). 

On two of the Atlantic sides, recorded on May 29, 1949 in New York City, the band played rather undistinguished scored background (arranged by Dick Cary, I would guess) for the new singer Ruth Brown — those titles are IT’S RAINING and SO LONG.  The recording band was composed of Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Dick Cary, Eb alto horn; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon,guitar; Jack Lesberg, bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. 

The other two sides (a 78 I now have in my collection again, thanks to David Weiner and Amoeba Music) are SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES — identified in a subtitle as the theme for Arthur Godfrey’s television show — and a fast blues seated midway between Basie and late Goodman, called TIME CARRIES ON, a nod to the MARCH OF TIME.  Eddie and friends had recorded for Decca a slow blues theme — their version of DEEP HARLEM, retitled IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, so I suspect Atlantic wanted a similar recording.  The Erteguns were deep into what we would call the best small-band swing, and I wish only that they had signed Eddie up for record session after record session.  Herb Abramson told Chip Deffaa a story that suggests that this whole session was the idea of Condon’s friend, the indefatigable publicist Ernie Anderson, and that the two vocal sides launched both Ruth Brown and Atlantic Records.  I wonder myself whether Condon was temporarily released from his contract with Decca Records (overseen by Milt Gabler) to make this session, or whether Decca hadn’t signed another contract with the musicians’ union after the 1948 recording ban.

But all this historical rumination matters less than what we see here.  For me, it took a few serious episodes of staring-at-the-screen to get past the newsreel touches (the overly serious voice of the narrator, the animated stack of discs growing larger, then the large-print display of one statistic (a repetitive tendency predating Power Point by sixty years).  Then, after a visual reminder of Atlantic Records — the disc on the turntable (yes, try this out at home), we are in a quite small room, microphones visible but pushed aside, two soda bottles on the piano — an oddity, perhaps. 

Everyone is arranged around the piano for a rehearsal of TIME CARRIES ON, a fast blues with arranged passages, riffs, and a four-bar drum break at the end.  However, Lesberg seems hidden to the right, and I would not swear that I hear either Cary or Caceres . . . were they added only for deeper background harmonies on SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES?

The music seems reasonably well synchronized with the film, suggesting that the players were not miming to a prerecorded soundtrack.  Great things happen: we can hear and see Eddie playing the guitar; his bowtie is especially beautiful.  (Hucko’s necktie is superb as well.) 

The players are so tidily attired in business attire that Hackett’s black or dark blue shirt comes as a small shock; we expect drummers to dress more casually, so Rich’s open-necked shirt is not surprising.  The music is hot but insufficient . . . but after the audible splice (or jump from one passage to another) we have a chorus that seems reasonably free-wheeling. 

Readers of JAZZ LIVES have long understood my deification of Sidney Catlett, and I am glad that he is on the record to play his own four-bar break, but I lament that he is not here.  It is possible that he was on the road with Louis Armstrong and that Rich made the film shoot, or (heresy according to my lights) that Rich was the drummer of choice and he couldn’t make the record date.  Buddy, by the way, plays splendidly on many of the Condon Floor Shows. 

It’s not a Town Hall Concert or a 1949 kinescope, but it is a wonderful glimpse into a world we would not other have seen had the March of Time people not wanted to array a variety of live musical groups to depict its own version of the history of recorded music.

EDDIE CONDON ON TELEVISION

From www.earlytelevision.org/images/:

Notice that the group is — as they used to call it — “mixed.”  Condon not only played the right changes and set good tempos; he never cared what his musicians looked like as long as they could play. 

Makin’ friends; making history. 

And solo features for Hot Lips Page and James P. Johnson?  Be still, my heart.

“IDOL OF MILLIONS OF POPULAR MUSIC LOVERS THROUGHOUT AMERICA”

Quick, now.

Which person comes to mind when you read “Idol of popular music lovers throughout America”?

Admittedly, the phrase has a certain archaic sound to it.  But even so: Elvis Presley? Bing Crosby? Benny Goodman?  Glenn Miller?

No, it’s EDDIE CONDON!

I’ve been posting about the fabled Eddie Condon Floor Show for some time now.  My friend Rob Rothberg — who has a fabulous collection of what Ebay calls “entertainment memorabilia” — generously sent along copies of what appears below.  Circa 1949, it appears to be a prospectus for the program, an effort to find a sponsor (cash bulging out of corporate pockets) so that the show could stay on the air.  I assume that the booklet was the creation of Ernie Anderson, but I am sure that Phyllis Condon and Paul Smith, her brother, made some contributions; both of them worked for advertising agencies.

Although the Condons had a dog, whose name escapes me as I write this, I find it difficult to envision Eddie or perhaps Joe Bushkin telling everyone how Ken-L-Ration made for bright eyes and a healthy coat.  Or Tide detergent.  But stranger things have happened.  Some jazz fans will remember the radio and television commercials Louis did for Schaefer and Rheingold beers and Fords — why else would I hear his voice ringing out, “You’re ahead in a Ford / All the way!” some forty-five years later?

The prospectus didn’t succeed, but here are pictures and text:

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Condon and Sidney Bechet, of course.

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Looking off (handsomely) to the mysterious East, where the sponsors ride over the mountains in expensive suits:

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You see I didn’t invent this enthusiastic prose.

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That camera makes me think of the NBC peacock — spreading its animated self as a totem of “living color” even when most viewers saw it in black and white.

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I didn’t know that “the proverbial duck” also played tenor guitar, but no matter.

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These photos are more familiar; they surfaced in Hank O’Neal’s EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ, a wonderful book.

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It’s an interesting mix of “jazz” and “popular” — Condon recognized talented musicians, however they might have defined themselves.  I wonder, however, what songs Frankie Carle played when he appeared.

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A cherubic Billy Butterfield, a pleased Joe Bushkin — sixty years ago, when newspapers paid attention to jazz.

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That’s a dramatic art photo — Gene Krupa and Roy Eldridge framed by the bent wood of the chair.  And, to the left is an easel.  Was this the program on which Mischa Reznikoff (husband of photographer Genevieve Naylor) sketched while the musicians improvised?

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Here comes the hard sell . . .

floor13Oh, how I wish this prospectus had appealed to some firm — Proctor and Gamble, say.  Then, instead of watching BONANZA on Sunday nights, we could have seen Cutty Cutshall and Pee Wee Russell.

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I think that Virgil Thompson was praising the Town Hall concert series, but the sentiments remained true.

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The VOA transcriptions might be the source for the audio portions of the Floor Show that survive.

floor16Ernie Caceres to the left, Peanuts Hucko, Bushkin, Butterfield . . .

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Alas, it didn’t work.  But Condon’s career didn’t end when the show did, and he kept playing and organizing bands into the early Seventies, when I got to see him in action — a subject for another post.  Right now, let us remember the time and place when it was possible to have such high art on nationwide television, with or without a sponsor.

EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW, REMEMBERED

My esteemed correspondent Mr. Jones (“Stompy” to his poker friends) writes,

You mentioned Eddie Condon’s Floor Show.  We got a TV early, in the fall of ‘49.  There were lots of little musical programs in those early, primitive days of live TV: Morton Downey, the Kirby Stone Quartet, a black pianist-singer named Bob Howard, others.  I think they were all 15 minutes.  They were filler; the stations didn’t have enough programming to fill their schedules.  (Hey, we thought it was exciting to watch a test pattern!)

I watched Eddie Condon’s Floor Show (on channel 7) before I knew anything about jazz.  I remember immediately noticing this trumpeter who played out of the side of his mouth.  They had a regular segment in which someone from the studio audience (probably 15 people dragged in off the street) requested songs for the band to play. Once somebody requested “Rag Mop”.  In those days, when a novelty like “RM” hit, it hit huge.  For a few weeks it would be everywhere, I mean everywhere – then it would disappear without a trace.  (The same thing happened with “One Meatball” and “Open the Door, Richard”.) Well, it was the fall of ‘49 and the Ames Brothers’ record of “RM” had just hit – only it hadn’t hit Condon and his cohorts, so when somebody requested it, the Condonites were incredulous and dismissive.  I remember them laughing derisively saying “There ain’t no such song” or some such.  Too bad they didn’t know it was just a blues.  Wild Bill would have played the hell out of it.

You can see our Stromberg-Carlson with 12-1/2” screen in the attached photo, taken during my Bar Mitzvah party in Jan. ‘52.  Amazing that such larger-than-life memories (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, the Army-McCarthy hearings, Edward R. Murrow, Sugar Ray Robinson, Toscanini conducting with fire in his eyes, countless Dodger games, Jackie Gleason breaking his leg on live TV, my first encounter with Wild Bill Davison) could have come out of such a little box!

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That one of my readers saw the Eddie Condon Floor Show on television is wonderful and startling.  For those of you who aren’t as obsessed as I am with this particular bit of jazz history, I will say briefly that Condon, who was organizing jazz events before most of us were born, had angled a few brief television programs in 1942 — when the medium’s reach was unimaginably small.  Then, in 1948, he began a series of programs that offered live hot jazz with everyone: Louis, Lips Page, Billy Butterfield, Roy Eldridge, Muggsy Spanier, Jonah Jones, Jimmy McPartland, Cootie Williams, Wild Bill Davison, Dick Cary, Jack Teagarden, Cutty Cutshall, Benny Morton, Brad Gowans, Big Chief Russell Moore, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Gene Schroeder, Sammy Price, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Jackson, Joe Bushkin, Teddy Hale, Avon Long, Jack Lesberg, Zutty Singleton, Sid Catlett, George Wettling, Kansas Fields,Buzzy Drootin,  J. C. Heard, Buddy Rich, Lee Wiley, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah vaughan, Thelma Carpenter, June Christy, Johnny Desmond, Helen Ward, and on and on . . .

In case some of the names surprise you, Condon’s appreciation of good music was deep and never restrictive.  Ironically, his name is now associated with a blend of “Dixieland” and familiar routines on Twenties and Thirties pop songs.

Some music from the Floor Shows was preserved and eventually issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label.  To my knowledge, nothing from these recordings (and the collectors’ tapes) has made it to CD.

In addition, no one has found any kinescopes (they were films of television programs, often recorded directly from the monitor or set) of the programs.  We continue to hope.  Perhaps one of my readers has a pile of 16mm reels in the basement.  Let me know before you begin the obligatory spring cleaning!  My father was a motion picture projectionist, so such things are in my blood.