Tag Archives: Ed Sullivan

EXACTLY LIKE HIM: LOUIS AND FRIENDS on the SMALL SCREEN

In my childhood, I saw Louis Armstrong on television for more than a decade — with Danny Kaye, with Herb Alpert, with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Ed Sullivan.  My memories of sitting too close to the screen, transfixed, are very powerful.  And my feelings were simultaneous and contradictory.  I would be trying to absorb every nuance, every glint off the bell of his shiny trumpet — exultant but mourning because I would never see this again!  But these performances — and ones new to me — have been appearing on YouTube, “the kindness of strangers” who must love Louis and his friends as much as I do.  [If you’re under the age of ____, here’s a new word: KINESCOPE — which refers to filmed versions of television shows, blessedly.]

The three videos that follow are irreplaceable although flawed, perhaps understandably.  In the first, everyone seems to handle the complex “witty” parody (a series of in-jokes) of a song from GIGI more comfortably than Mr. Strong, who might have come in at the last minute from an All-Stars gig in Sandusky, Ohio. Although he could handle lyrics much better than people assume, the words fly by him too quickly.  However, Sinatra seems joyous, not barely masking anger; Crosby sounds so urbanely happy; Peggy Lee glows.

Louis, then appearing in Pittsburgh with the All-Stars, has a lunchtime interview date with the sweetly earnest Florence Sando Manson.  My favorite moment, “I like to hear it too!” but to have him moved on to make way for “a model” is fairly sad at this distance.  Didn’t they know that Louis was a model even though he had never done the appropriate catwalk-strut?:

And — particularly endearing — a duet on OLD MAN TIME with Jimmy Durante on “Hollywood Palace”:

Thank you, Archivists and Collectors wherever you are.  Blessings on those of you who open-heartedly share your treasures!

And I would be reluctant to call one second of this “nostalgia.”  These people and their music are so alive.

May your happiness increase.

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SUNDAY NIGHTS AT EIGHT (July 10, 2011)

In the Fifties and Sixties, Sunday night at eight o’clock meant The Ed Sullivan Show — Asian acrobats, stand-up comedians, Phil Ford and Mimi Hines, the Beatles, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Totie Fields, Sophie Tucker, Barbra Streisand, and more.

I no longer have a television set, and almost all the people on that list are now performing on The Other Side.  But there’s something that draws me even more strongly on Sunday nights at eight o’clock.  If you’ve been reading JAZZ LIVES, you might have guessed . . . . it’s The EarRegulars at The Ear Inn (or The Famous Ear) at 326 Spring Street, Soho, New York City.

July 10, 2011, at The Ear Inn was especially good — or should I say typically uplifting.  And I have a certain bittersweet exultation about that evening, which I will explain at the end of this post.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Matt Munisteri, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Nicki Parrott, bass.  Old friends and a stellar group, in tune with each other — great soloists but also deeply attentive ensemble players.  I am already heroically impressed by Jon-Erik and Matt, but John’s easy range and melodic playing gets better every time I hear him, and Nicki’s speaking eloquence is ever more impressive.

I felt as if I was among friends — not only the musicians, but Jackie Kellso, Victor Villar-Hauser, John Rogers, Peter Collins, and Peter Jung . . . !

The first set was a lovely mix of “traditional” and “modern,” but I’ll let my readers decide where the boundary lines — if they still exist — can be seen.

The Ear Inn has never gone in for Lapsang Souchong or cucumber sandwiches, but we came close enough with the Jazz Age paean to romance, WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

An improvisation on I WANT TO BE HAPPY changes from 1947 or thereabouts, retitled MOVE (is it by Denzil Best?):

Two Italian ladies were celebrating a birthday at a table near the band, so PANAMA (with all its strains intact and a habanera beat) made room for HAPPY BIRTHDAY, seamlessly and hilariously:

Then, a collection of boppish lines on SWEET GEORGIA BROWN chords — DIG (by either Miles Davis or Sonny Rollins) and BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI (by Monk):

And a song I associate with Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, and Richard M. Sudhalter, PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

Then it was time for the special guests — as if the ensemble wasn’t heated, subtle, and special enough!  Chris Flory came in and took over the electric guitar, while Matt brought out his fine-toned acoustic; Nick Hempton came in on saxophone, for a Basie classic followed by more BABY songs.

First, NINE-TWENTY SPECIAL:

I FOUND A NEW BABY:

Then, Don Redman’s wooing lament, GEE, BABY, AIN’T I GOOD TO YOU?:

Corin Stiggall took over for Nicki Parrott, and Tamar Korn had a wonderful time with the sweetly sad BLUE, TURNING GREY OVER YOU.  Catch Matt’s own version of Eddie Lang:

Nicki came back in for the last song of the night, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

The bittersweet pleasure of this July 10 evening is purely personal: the Beloved and I embark this week for a long stay in California, where we will meet and hear some of our friends and heroes: Marc Caparone and Dawn Lambeth, and nascent cultural critic James Arden Caparone; Rae Ann Berry, Clint Baker, Jeff and Barbara Hamilton, Katie Cavera, Hal Smith, Dan Barrett, Ralf Reynolds, John Reynolds, and I hope many more . . . as well as exploring the Golden State.  But The Ear Inn will have to wait until early September . . . anyone with a video camera want to step in?  No audition required!  Or — much simpler — go and enjoy for yourselves in my stead.

TIMES THREE: JIM FRYER at Birdland (Dec. 1, 2010)

The Beloved and I braved the ominous weather last Wednesday night to see David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Centennial Band at Birdland.  Onstage with David were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Dan Block, clarinet, alto, and vocal; Jim Fryer, trombone, euphonium, and vocal; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Kevin Dorn, drums.

High-powered indeed! 

Early in the evening, David asked Jim to take a solo feature.  Trombonists in such settings often think of their hero, Jack Teagarden, and rely on BASIN STREET BLUES or STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, but although Jim admires Big T, he has other things in mind.  And the song he chose was THE GYPSY, famous in some circles as one of the few pop songs that both Louis Armstong and Charlie Parker immortalized. 

In a very few minutes, Jim showed off — casually and modestly — every facet of his considerable talents: his smooth and elegant playing of the possibly-ungraceful euphonium, then his sleek and suave approach to the trombone. 

In between his two instrumental selves, he sang both verse and chorus in the most convincing yet understated way.  Clearly he understands that each song is its own story, its own drama, and he invites the audience into the world of that song, without “dramatizing” it or copying anyone.  There’s something of the great crooners in his approach, but nothing’s “nostalgic” or mannered. 

It was a quietly masterful performance, but those of us who have observed Jim at close range expect no less.  In fact, when we see he’s at a gig, or notice him coming through the door to sit in, we get comfortable and eagerly expectant: something good is going to happen!  As it does here:

And watching this video performance again, it struck me that Jim (like so many of his colleagues) is someone who, in another decade, would have been a star of popular television, with a large, enthralled audience.  Those of my readers who recall THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW . . . can’t you see Jim on it?  Alas that such a thing is no longer possible: we will have to content ourselves with seeing Jim in person, not a bad consolation at all.

LOOKING FOR LOUIS, THEN AND NOW

But which one?  The sound on the records, the iconic image on the television screen, or the actual person?

In the spring of 1967, I was fourteen — someone who had been secretly listening to Louis Armstrong records for a few years.  And I was fortunate enough to be alive when Louis was popular — HELLO, DOLLY! was still vivid in his repertoire and in people’s memories so that he appeared on the Hollywood Palace, with Danny Kaye, alongside Herb Alpert and the Tiajuana Brass, on Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, and Johnny Carson.

I don’t recall how I learned that Louis and the All-Stars would be playing a concert at the Island Gardens in Hempstead, New York, only a few miles from where we lived.  But the Gardens were terribly far off for me: I had been to New York City but never on my own, and Hempstead had a bad reputation at night.

I begged my father to let me go to the concert, promising that I would not inconvenience anyone but would take a bus there and back.  I think I was a particularly awkward child, myopic and naive, and I am sure that my father shuddered at the thought of me making my way in the bus station.  Both he and my mother enjoyed a wide range of music, although not jazz, and they tolerated the loud rhythmic sounds that came through the floor of my upstairs bedroom.  At least if I was upstairs playing Louis and the Dukes of Dixieland, they knew where I was.  Other children were far more rebellious.

As a result of whatever behind-the-scenes negotiations I can’t imagine now, my father told me that he would take me to the concert, attend it, and take me home.  I was delighted — and the memory of his generous impulse pleases me now.  I wonder only why my mother didn’t want to join us.  Perhaps it was frugality; perhaps there was something she wanted to watch on television that night; she might have welcomed a night to herself.

I was bad at waiting, but as the days ticked down to the concert, it ballooned in my thoughts.  Although I had a pocket Instamatic camera (capable of poor pictures under most circumstances) I never thought of bringing it along. Perhaps I feared that my father would suggest to Louis that he pose with me (or the reverse) and I didn’t take much pleasure at seeing myself in pictures then.  I hadn’t yet been introduced to the cassette recorder, so that was a number of years in the future.  But I could and did spend a good deal of time obsessing over getting Mr. Armstrong’s autograph.

The problem was — in what format?  I had a few of his records, but found reasons to undermine the idea.  The soundtrack of THE FIVE PENNIES somehow didn’t seem appropriate, nor did SATCHMO’S GOLDEN FAVORITES or HELLO, DOLLY!  I could have brought along my precious 10″ LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND GORDON JENKINS, or TOWN HALL CONCERT PLUS, or even my more recent acquisition, LOUIS ARMSTRONG AND HIS HOT FIVE, a Columbia record produced by George Avakian.  I may have had a half-dozen more, but the idea got more and more complicated.  I didn’t know how deeply Louis loved his own recordings, and I might have thought, “What if he says, ‘I don’t like this record,’ and that ruins the whole encounter?”

I had spent countless hours next to the phonograph’s speaker drinking in the 1927 STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE and its triumphant outchorus, the sweet ruckus of the 1947 AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, the glorious melding of Louis and Gordon Jenkins.  But one by one I dismissed them all.  What would I do with an autographed record album?  How would I display it?  Would it evoke the proper response in Mr. Armstrong, in the one chance I had to approach him?

I’ve read of studies in how much choice people are comfortable with, the extreme end being placing a child at a breakfast table with ten or twelve boxes of cereal . . . and the result is a child in tears.  I didn’t begin to cry at any point in my autograph-considerations, but ultimately I swept all the possibilities away and thought of the simplest situation: a plain unadorned piece of paper for Mr. Armstrong to sign.  True, the 3 x 5 index card I chose lacked character, but it could cause no offense.

I don’t remember going to the concert, although I would guess now that I gave my indulgent father a journey-long informal talk on why Louis Armstrong was important.  And I don’t remember him asking me to be quiet: he understood hero-worship even if he would have chosen a different object for it.

The Island Gardens, which may no longer exist, was a large hall with a semi-circular roof — rather like an elongated Quonset hut — and many rows of pale-grey metal folding chairs.  I am sure we were there early, seated in the front row, and my father bought me the official concert program.  (I may still have it.  As a jazz irrelevancy, I remember that it listed Buster Bailey as the clarinetist, although he had died not long before.)

Then, with no fanfare, no massed bands at the airport, Louis and his musicians entered through a doorway to the right.  I don’t remember what anyone was wearing, but they came in casually, with no one seeming to notice.  They were chatting to themselves.  Probably the bus was parked right outside the door, or had Louis been driven from Corona, perhaps a half-hour away?  I am sure I said in a near-hysterical whisper to my father, “There he is!” and my father would have said, “All right, then, go up and get his autograph.”

Timidly, I got out of my seat, clutching my program and my blank index card.  I remember approaching Louis, with Tyree Glenn standing nearby.  I would not have made any particular impression on any of the musicians: I didn’t have a trumpet case; I wasn’t an attractive young woman.  But this was going to be one of the great moments of my life up to that point: I was going to stand on the same ground as my hero and speak with him, and he would see me.

And (in retrospect) I wanted him to recognize the intensity of my devotion: “Mr. Armstrong, I might say, while everyone around me has been listening to the Beatles and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, I have been in love with your music.  I know every note on this record, and this one, and this one.  I have tape-recorded all your television appearances . . . I ask for your records for birthday presents!”

But when I got close to my hero, the unspoken telepathic communication didn’t happen.  And I was not able to put my impassioned inner monologue into words.  So I simply approached — noticing that he was smaller than I would have expected, having seen him only on record covers and television — and waited.

I hope I waited until he saw me, but I may have put my blank card in front of him and said, nervously, “Mr. Armstrong, would you sign this?”  He barely registered that I was there.  He signed his name and handed the card back, then continued the conversation I probably had interrupted.  For forty years before, he had been signing his name on pieces of paper: what was an extraordinary experience for a little boy hovering in front of the great man was something the great man did every day of his life.

At fourteen I was anything but audacious, so I didn’t even think of saying, “Hey, Mr. Armstrong, what about me?  I love your music!”

All I could do was to turn to Tyree Glenn and ask him for his autograph, which he neatly signed in the space Louis had left.

Disappointed, I went back to my seat and showed my father, who asked me, “Did he say anything to you?”  “No, ” I said — not whimpering, but probably close to it.  I didn’t embellish on that, as I recall, but I might have been thinking, “Here’s the man who seems to be continually having a good time, his features animated by a wonderful grin.  He didn’t look at me.  He didn’t look happy.  Did I do the wrong thing?”

I don’t remember much about the All-Stars show that followed.  Louis, I am sure, gave his all.  He got the audience clapping along on HELLO, DOLLY!  Tyree and he clowned around; Marty Napoleon rippled up and down the keyboard; Buddy Catlett and Danny Barcelona did their features; Jewel Brown (the performer who most intrigued my patient father) sang.  I don’t remember the clarinetist at all, although Ricky Riccardi, my guide in such things, tells me it was probably Johnny Mince.  And Louis?  What I remember most is watching him sit, at the rear of the bandstand, sipping from a paper cup of water, while his All-Stars played.  He seemed drained.  I remember noticing this, but I was wrapped up in my own disappointment.  My ears and eyes may have been so full of the iconic Louis that I was unable to take in the human man in front of me.

I thanked my father when it was all over and we went home.  I had my program and my card (the latter of which I still have — an emotionally-charged piece of paper) and I never got to see Louis again.

The closest I came was being in New York City in early 1971 and seeing posters (two stapled together) around lampposts advertising his appearance at the Waldorf-Astoria, a place that was even more beyond my reach than the Island Gardens had been.  Then he died.

I went on collecting his records, making myself even more of a worshipful Louis-acolyte, and musically he has rarely let me down: in fact, as I have grown older, I have come to hear more in his playing and singing, which both can bring me to tears.

But I have also harbored a small kernel of disappointment, even resentment — both of which are of course unreasonable, but hurt feelings are often not grounded in fact.  How could I have expected Louis to see me, a nearly speechless child, and recognize, “This boy loves my music!  This kid has been listening to my records for years!  He loves me!” if I was unable to say so?

And Louis may simply have been exhausted.  Ricky tells me that Louis’s health was none too good in early 1967, so perhaps he was gathering his strength for a night of exertion.

It has taken me a long time, as much as I revere Louis’s music, to forgive the man for looking right through me.  But it is the adult’s responsibility to do so.

Certainly we expect far more than we should of artists: not only do we demand that they perform up to and beyond our expectations, night after night, but we also crowd around the stage door, asking to be seen, to be acknowledged, when all they may want is to unwind in peace.

Because of the larger-than-life persona Louis created through his music, I expected him to be more than human — to transcend his mortal self.  And when he proved to be — to my eyes — ordinary, life-sized, I was disappointed.  And I remained so, in a small corner of my self, for years.  There is that child-self that is prone to such disillusionments, whether they come from our heroes or our families.  With luck, we never quite leave it behind but it comes to govern us less.

I can imagine an alternate universe where I have stature, where I have brought my Hot Five recording, where the sight of it makes Louis beam — not only recalling the music, but beaming upon the child who has brought him such tribute, obviously a child who understands . . .  But such incidents perfected after the fact are mere indulgences, and I must acknowledge that Louis is dead, 1967 is a long way gone, and I can only have what actually happened, not what should have.

But ultimately Louis was there that night in 1967.  And he remains with us.

BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS, Part Two

Still more from Bent’s recreation and reimagining of Louis’s classic early Thirties recordings — a Whitley Bay highlight from July 12, 2009.  I posted videos from the first part of this concert on August 2.  To refresh your memory, as they say in courtroom dramas, the band was international and truly “all-star,” including Nick Ward (drums), John Carstairs Hallam (bass), Martin Litton (piano), Jacob Ullberger (banjo / guitar), Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert (reeds), Paul Munnery (trombone), Beat Clerc (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (trumpet / reeds), Ludvig Carlson, Spats Langham, Elena P. Paynes, and Bent himself (vocal), and one of two musicians whose names I didn’t catch or write down — being busy clutching my video camera like a man possessed!  (By the way, astute Louis-fanciers will note that Bent is often evoking Louis without playing the solos note for note, which raises these performances far above the limits of jazz repertory, or “playing old records live.”

Here’s a jaunty WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME, no longer the property of Maurice Chevalier — now taken over by Bent and Spats Langham:

If that song celebrates the happiness of the end of a loving evening — infinitely expandable, with kisses and stops for barbecue — I SURRENDER, DEAR (which remains the property of Bing and Hawkins as well as Louis) depicts the lover’s swooning subjection, again offered with proper emotion by Spats:

WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE is, as its title tells us, something very different — grieving and despondent, given a touching performance by Elena P. Paynes, temporarily on loan from the Chicago Stompers:

The destinies of Louis and Hoagy Carmichael were entwined early on, with the 1929 ROCKIN’ CHAIR (which Louis performed until the end of his life, with different bandsmen playing the other part) — but it didn’t stop there.  Carmichael must have been ecstatic to hear his songs immortalized by Louis, and Louis never got such good material.  This medley leaves out LAZY RIVER and GEORGIA ON MY MIND, but includes the rarely-heard MY SWEET and the pretty MOON COUNTRY, which Louis performed during his European tours but never recorded, as well as LYIN’ TO MYSELF and the exultant JUBILEE, sung here by Ludvig Carlson and Elena:

Many jazz wfriters have termed THAT’S MY HOME a brazen attempt to cash in on WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, and it does come from the same root — but what a pretty song it is, both here and in Louis’s 1932 Victor performance.  A pity he didn’t go back to it more often, although there is a 1961 version from the Ed Sullivan Show, full of feeling as always.  As is Spats:

WILL YOU, WON’T YOU BE MY BABY comes from the rare 1934 French Polydor session, and the song from the book of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers.  No vocal here, just romping solos by Bonnel and Seuffert:

Bent concluded the first half of the concert with a luxuriant evocation of the French Polydor ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, originally a six-minute two-sided 78 disc.  Here Ludvig takes care of the vocal refrain:

The second half (from Louis’s Decca days) will appear soon. . . . till then, keep muggin’ lightly!

THANKS, JONATHAN SCHWARTZ (and FRANK SINATRA, too)

jonathan-schwartz-wnyc1Jonathan Schwartz has been broadcasting on WNYC-FM (New York City’s NPR station) for a long time now, offering remarkable music and deeply informed commentary.    Every Saturday and Sunday from 12-4, Jonathan plays a large variety of moving and intriguing music — Fred Astaire, Ruby Braff, Becky Kilgore, Tony Bennett and many others.   

Jonathan’s program also appears on Sirius satellite radio and his WNYC shows can be heard online, but I am listening live as I write this. 

Unlike other radio personalities who delve deeply into American popular song and jazz, Jonathan is more interested in presenting the music than a barrage of archival data.  And his program isn’t a museum, for he plays recordings by young performers who keep traditions vigorous. 

When I first heard his WNYC program, years ago, my musical range was deep but narrow.  I knew as much as I could about 1938 Billie Holiday, about the partnership of Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, about the sounds of Jo Jones and George Wettling.  I loved Bing Crosby.  But I was an impatient listener, fidgeting until Jonathan played a song or a musician of whom I approved. 

sinatraAnd I didn’t understand Jonathan’s deep fascination with Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra was everywhere in my childhood and adolescence, and he seemed one-dimensional, someone trying to be hip for the young’uns and a sad tough guy for the people who watched the Ed Sullivan Show.  Louis was always Louis, no matter what he sang or played.  Sinatra seemed so busy selling repackaged versions of himself.  When “Ol’ Blue Eyes” came back, it meant nothing to me — had he ever been away?  The performances I saw on television seemed consciously mannered: “Look how deeply I feel,” he seemed to be saying, which I did not find convincing.   

But I am writing this to say that even our most cherished artistic convictions need to be reinspected now and again, to see if they are valid.  Or if they ever were.  The Beloved listens to Jonathan’s WNYC program faithfully, so I have heard him more often and more regularly than ever before.

More than a year ago, Jonathan played a Sinatra recording I had never heard, from the Capitol sessions with the Hollywood String Quartet, which appered on vinyl and CD as CLOSE TO YOU.  The song was a collaboration of Gordon Jenkins and Johnny Mercer, “P.S., I Love You.”  I had heard Billie Holiday’s sweet-sour Verve version — but Sinatra’s singing, tender, unaffected, wistful — brought tears to my eyes.  The next day, I bought the CD and still think of it as supremely romantic music, superbly realized.  That singer in the Capitol studio didn’t care whether he struck the best I-don’t-care pose for the photographers.  He was inside the music, selling nothing but conveying everything. 

I was suspicious.  I looked into the mirror while shaving.  Was I turning into a Sinatra-phile, one of those people who reveled in every note their hero had sung?  I already had enough musical obsessions, thank you.  So I kept close watch on myself and played CLOSE TO YOU in the car, thinking that it was one atypical occasion when Sinatra had allowed himself to merge with the music. 

But it happened again when Jonathan played another Capitol Sinatra, the arrangement by Gordon Jenkins.  Perhaps it was “Where Are You?”  And, against my more suspicious self, I was staggered by the depth of feeling in that record.  I bought it and played it.  And then there was the slightly angry “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” from THE MOONLIGHT SINATRA.  And the tragically world-weary Sinatra of “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry.”

So this is to say, “Thank you!” to Jonathan Schwartz for enriching my musical and emotional experience.  I now think it is possible to play a great Sinatra recording alongside one of the Billie Holiday Verves and to hear that both singers are — in their own way — considering the mysteries of the human heart. 

Some readers might be thinking, “Isn’t this a jazz blog?  Sinatra wasn’t a jazz singer!”  Those categories don’t matter when the art moves us.  As he was in mourning for his life, drinking cognac, Lester Young  played those mournful Sinatra records over and over.  “Frankie-boy,” Pres called him.  If Sinatra moved Lester Young, who knew everything about elation and despair, that’s good enough for me.  I am sorry that it took me this long to find the inward-looking Sinatra, but I am deeply indebted to Jonathan Schwartz for making it happen.