Tag Archives: Eddie Barefield

WITH OPEN EARS, CONTINUED: “THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE?”

A few days ago, I conducted what I thought of as an experiment in listening: you can read the original post here.  I published a jazz drum solo I had recorded in 1973, without identifying the player, saying only that it was a professional musician.  I supplied the date to narrow the field . . . thus, it couldn’t be any number of famous contenders.  Because I respect the vast experience my readers bring to this blog, I asked that they do more than supply a name.  I had no prizes to offer, but promised to reveal all.  Here, once again, is the solo:

On this page, and on Facebook, people responded.  I am of course honored that professional musicians read JAZZ LIVES and wrote in.  One or two listeners heard a particular drummer and “answered the question”; others sent in gratifying explanations of what they’d heard.  I’ve edited out the names and offered them in approximate order.

I hear a drummer with excellent time and a swinging feel. This solo is tasteful, thoughtfully composed, and shows an understanding of all the greats associated with the Condon style, the top players of the swing era, and some of the early modern jazz masters. I like that this drummer chose not to make this a technique show, despite apparently having plenty of chops. I’m not sure who it is, but I would bet that it’s somebody with whom I’m familiar. I like! A lot! Oh, and I meant to say I love the use of dynamics, varied phrase lengths, and the tones this drummer gets out of the kit. Great touch.

The timing of the cymbal crashes and the tones of the drums sound like George Wettling (to my ears).  (But it can’t be, as George passed away five years before the recording was made)!

I haven’t the faintest idea who it is, but I appreciate that he/she keeps the listener clued in as to where the beat is and makes real music, not just flashy noise, with taste and drive.

Tasteful drumming. Swings, without being noisy. Have heard Lionel Hampton do things like this.

I’m guessing it’s a trick question that you might have given us a hint to with your use of the word “she”. So I’ll guess Karen Carpenter.

I hear a New Orleans undercurrent.

Swing drummer, listened to Krupa.

I was listening to see if I could pick up a particular melody within the solo, but could not. The swing style is obvious, and the chops are good, but it’s more bashy/trashy than a Rich or Bellson. Cozy Cole comes to mind, but the count off to bring the band back in is too high in tone of voice. The style and vocal “growling” underneath the solo have shades of Lionel Hampton (who always reminded me of a bleating Billy Goat behind his brilliant solos on the Carnegie Hall and other live Goodman stuff). He also makes the crowd laugh at several points, as Hampton might with all his showbiz tricks. So I guess I’m going with Hampton!

Of course you know who I thought of immediately!! Nephew Hal Smith! He’s the best drummer I know.

I like a guessing game, but this IS a stumper. I agree with [  ] – the drums and cymbals sound like the equipment Wettling used and there are a few moments where it does sound like. It’s not Hampton as he didn’t solo that way and that’s not his voice at the end. Oddly enough the voice sounds like Buddy Rich to me, but it’s sure not Buddy. That said – I’m guessing Mel Torme.

It could be Lynn Wallis…but it isn’t.  Sorry..can’t do any better than that. 
(to which someone responded: . . . “way off in every regard.”)

The bass drum is well dampened. Prefers use of snare than his/her toms. Influences are many!

I heard some Wettling influences. Good chops. I would have liked to have heard it in context of what was being played by the band, as it obviously is not a stand alone solo.

I wonder if we should think outside of the box? Definitely some Wettling in there, some Rich as well.

Yes, context is everything. What was the song? I couldn’t determine a count of bars…

Wise enough to pass the challenge on to more qualified ears and brains, preferably those who themselves are drummers and can discriminate between early executers like Baby Dodds, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and the suchlike, whereas I already know that I cannot. The knowledgeable might ask how bad things can become with the nowadays early jazz listeners´ capabilities and the answer will be that we don´t know that yet since there is still a future. Thanks for the listening opportunity though.

Loved it – that’s all I’ll say.

 In this player, I hear what I hear in Pete Siers: the melody.

Buzzy Drootin?

Yep. It IS Buzzy. Do not have the time now to listen to it properly but will do so later….and yes – of course I love it.

Sounds like someone who is very musical, who must’ve had experience playing snare drum literature. Love it!

Nice drum solo, beautiful touch on the drums and very nice sound on the instrument. I hear a nice technique but he doesn’t use it to much, lot of dynamics in his playing, the drummer keep swinging all the time, I love the way of his playing ! It could be Cozy Cole or Buzzy Drootin…

I hear a master who is taking us on a journey, who is telling us a story in his very own, inimitable way….the second we assume to know where he is leading us, which turn he is going to take, he throws us a friendly curve ball, surprising us pleasantly, reminding us that there are many ways to get to the finish line.

I knew the minute I listened to it Buzzy Drootin.

No crash and bash, very conversational, nice use of space without losing the groove. Love the snare work. I hear music!


“The envelope, please.”

(Sounds of tearing paper, of breath blowing paper apart.)

“For his performance of February 11, 1973, at the Long Beach, New York, Public Library, in an ensemble led by Eddie Barefield, featuring Doc Cheatham, Ray Diehl, and Al Williams, recorded by Rob Rothberg and Michael Steinman, the winner is . . . BUZZY DROOTIN for his work on THAT’S A PLENTY!”

(Applause ranging from politely puzzled to rapturous.)


Why did I set up this experiment?  I assure you my purposes were benevolent.  I’ve always thought that the DOWN BEAT Blindfold Tests had a hint of malice hidden within, that readers could watch someone they respected be unable to distinguish what to us — who had the answer key — between very clearly different sounds.  “Did you see the new issue?  That [insert abusive slang epithet] thought that Hilton Jefferson was Steve Lacy! ! ! !”

Not here.  Everyone’s a winner; some were reminded of a musician you’d always liked and respected; others have been introduced to someone clearly remarkable, someone to investigate more deeply.  If a reader came away thinking, “I’d never heard of him (or heard him), but he can play!” then all my keystrokes would be completely worthwhile.  And Buzzy is a singular entity: someone with a long recording career who’s not all that well known or remembered in 2021, a musician who’s not predictable, who is completely himself.

But I did have an ideological purpose.

Buzzy, and musicians like him, have been placed into small plastic cubicles with labels according to whom they played with, not what they played.  So he is associated with Eddie Condon and Wild Bill Davison, with MUSKRAT RAMBLE and RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, with Twenties jazz, rather than his friends Max Roach and Charlie Parker.  (Ever hear a Bird composition titled BUZZY . . . ?)

I knew that if I wrote, “Here’s a previously unheard Buzzy Drootin solo,” some listeners’ ears and minds would close tightly immediately.  “Old-time, pre-Bird, not innovative.  Straw hats, striped vests.  This stuff is no longer played by pros.  Are there any more of those chips?”

Moving to analogy for a moment, I confess to some surprise at the reminder of how many of us think comparatively.  Faced with a new dish, how many of us say, “I taste roasted garlic, Meyer lemon, herbes de Provence, lots of butter, etc.,” or do we say, “That’s just like what Jacques Pepin does with his recipe for ____!”  I know it is hard to listen in isolation, and perhaps that is a great skill.  It’s natural to hear a trumpet player and start checking off Miles-echoes or Roy-resemblances, but that, too, takes away from our focus on what is right in front of us.  If, when we hear a new singer, we start doing chemical analysis, “Hmmm.  12% Ella, 10% Helen Merrill, 40% Sassy, 28% Betty Carter, 10% undefined,” do we hear the actual person’s voice for itself?

Here is the great drummer Kevin Dorn, a superb teacher, speaking of / playing the worlds of Buzzy:

And here is the ebullient Mister Drootin in performance, in color, in Sweden.

Ultimately, my pleasure in sharing this music and encouraging this inquiry is also a little rueful.  In my youth, such splendid musicians could play a free gig at a suburban public library.  They were also gracious; they did not fuss about the two young men who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and captured their performance without paying union scale or royalties.

I hope Buzzy is pleased to be cherished as he is here.

May your happiness increase!

I CALL ON MICHAEL HASHIM, PART TWO (July 19, 2017)

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.

May your happiness increase!

I GOT IN THE GROOVE(S) AT DOWN HOME

I went record-shopping yesterday (January 11, 2014) at one of my favorite places on the planet, the Down Home Music Store on San Pablo Avenue in El Cerrito, California — details here.  The only fault I’ve ever found with DHMS is that they are only open from Thursday through Sunday, so I have to plan my life accordingly.  But I came home with a cardboard box of 78s, one 45, 10″ and 12″ lps.  Total price: less than a hundred dollars for hours of fun and amazement.

A brief list follows, just to encourage all of you who have such leanings to pay the lovely amiable folks at the DHMS a visit soon.  Of course, the records I bought aren’t there in multiple copies, but they have an astonishing selection of new compact discs covering every kind of music I can think of, and some I haven’t even imagined.

One 45 EP of the late-Forties West Coast Fletcher Henderson band with Vic Dickenson as prominent soloist.

Several 10″ lps: Paul Lingle solo on Good Time Jazz; Pee Wee and Ruby at Storyville, 1952; early Artie Shaw with strings;

12″ lps: a Queen-Disc Italian bootleg of Goodman 1938, all with Dave Tough; another copy of the Harry James 1937 Brunswicks on Tax; Edmond Hall’s PETITE FLEUR on United Artists; Eddie Barefield with Vic and Taft Jordan on UK RCA Victor’s SWING TODAY series; the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Jazz collection of 1949 airshots from the Savoy in Boston with Hall, Windhurst, and Vic; Wingy Manone’s late-Fifties Deccas as TRUMPET ON THE WING; TUTTI’S TRUMPETS on Buena Vista; Jimmy Rowles playing Ellington / Strayhorn on Columbia . . .

78s: a 12″ Commodore of MEMPHIS BLUES / SWEET SUE with Muggsy and Pee Wee; the Asch album set of Mary Lou Williams with Bill Coleman and Al Hall; two copies of THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE / MOOD AT TWILIGHT by Mel Powell and a clarinetist (one for Kati P); I WANNA WOO by Joe Haymes; Musicrafts by Joe Marsala and Joe Thomas, by Teddy Wilson’s Quintet; late-Twenties Brunswicks by Nick Lucas; early-Twenties ditto by the Cotton Pickers; Tab Smith and Trevor Bacon on Decca; Betty Roche with Earl Hines, Pettiford, Hodges, and Catlett on Apollo; several Forties sides by the Charioteers, one “with orchestra directed by Mannie Klein”; an Edison 78 of some hopeful dance tune; an early Vocalion of TESSIE! STOP TEASING ME; one of the Bluebirds with Peg La Centra and Jerry Sears and Carl Kress . . . and more.  (I am doing this from memory and haven’t even looked at the box.)

And the experience of buying records is so sweetly nostalgic for someone like myself who found great pleasure in stores like the DHMS.  The results are more than “collecting,” “amassing,” and “having”; I learn something every time.  For instance: the soundtrack to this post is the 1938 Goodman band, with glorious work from the Man Himself, Bud Freeman, Vernon Brown, Dave Tough, and Jess Stacy — but did you know that when DON’T BE THAT WAY was announced for a repeat performance on Camel Caravan, it was credited as being “Professor Goodman’s own tune.”  I feel very sorry for Edgar Sampson and hope that the royalty checks made up for the erasure.

Some of the records had identifying labels on them; many were well-played and well-loved.  I thank you, dear Collectors with Taste whose possessions I am now enjoying.  What gifts you pass on!

And as far as record-buying, I know that someone could read this as another example of excessive materialistic self-gratification, when there are people on the planet so much less fortunate.  I know I do not need more music, but I retreat into KING LEAR mode and mutter, “O, reason not the need!”  Records are less expensive than bringing a hundred knights with me wherever I go.

So, if you can get down to the Down Home Music Store, I commend it to you.  If you can’t, I understand, so play some music for yourself today.  It lifts the heart.

May your happiness increase! 

DON BYAS HAD AN IDEA

The great tenor saxophonist composed a line over the chords of STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY called — wittily — BYAS A DRINK, which he recorded for Savoy Records:

That would be enough pleasure for most of us.  But I found something remarkable on eBay (from a seller who offers more than twelve thousand pieces of sheet music among other things):

BYAS A DRINK front

And an explanation on the back:

BYAS A DRINK explanation

and here’s a sample of the drum part:

BYAS A DRINK drum part

Now, I don’t harbor a serious desire to go back to 1945.  Were I there, wouldn’t I be dead by now?  (The logic will keep me up at night.)  But the thought of Don Byas, Eddie Barefield, and Walter “Foots” Thomas making an idea like this available for sale . . . so that I could have a “unique style set” for my modern combo.  Very enticing.  And here  is the actual link.

May your happiness increase!

WORDS AND MUSIC FOR BARBARA LEA (St. Peter’s Church, April 16, 2012)

We miss Barbara Lea, and the gently loving memorial service held last night at St. Peter’s Church didn’t make our loss any smaller.

She gave us so much music for nearly fifty years that it seemed only proper that her friends and musical colleagues (one and the same) crowded the room to do her honor in words and music.

What Daryl Sherman — the evening’s most empathic, witty host — called Barbara’s “extended family” was there both in substance and in spirit.

For those who weren’t there, a thirty-two bar synopsis.

For words: Jan Wallman spoke of having Barbara perform at her club countless times, shaping her program to the individuals in the audience; George Wein remembered her as that remarkable creature in 1951, a “Wellesley girl who sang jazz”: Roger Shore told us how “the song came first” for Barbara; Jack Kleinsinger recalled a memorable “Highlights in Jazz” concert and surprised me by saying that the cornetist Johnny Windhurst had been his first mentor in jazz; Loren Schoenberg’s tribute had him thinking “WHAT WOULD BARBARA LEA DO?” in every situation, so fine was her critical vision; Nat Hentoff’s remarks focused on Barbara’s recordings; David Hadju recalled not only Barbara but the late Roy Hemmings; Lewis Chambers reminded us that what looked easy for her was the result of hard work; Frannie Huxley’s story of Barbara at college brought us a girl we hadn’t known; Peter Wagenaar’s story of falling hard for Barbara and her music from a distance was more than touching, as was Annie Dinerman’s reading of Barbara’s lyric for MOTHER, MAY I GO OUT TO SWIM.

For music: Ronny Whyte sang and played THANKS FOR THE MEMORY with lyrics I had not known; Joyce Breach offered Alec Wilder’s BLACKBERRY WINTER, which George Wein followed by singing and playing SUGAR (in memory of Lee Wiley as well as Barbara).  Marlene VerPlanck tenderly created IS IT RAINING IN NEW YORK? holding spellbound a New York audience on a cloudless night; Sue Matsuki made us laugh with FRASIER (THE SENSUOUS LION) and Karen Oberlin made BITTERSWEET resonate for Barbara and Billy Strayhorn.  Daryl Sherman wickedly delivered the naughty LORELEI, all of the laughs intact; Dick Miller played a strong medley of LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE and OH, YOU CRAZY MOON; Steve Ross slowed down YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO for voice and piano; Bob Dorough emphasized HOW LITTLE WE KNOW; Melissa Hamilton caressed I’M GLAD THERE IS YOU.  Throughout, lovely support and solos were floated by us from pianist Tedd Firth, bassist Boots Maleson, guitarist James Chirillo, and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen — all great singers of melodies.

But the stage belonged to Barbara — in a photo montage over our heads that showed her with Duke Ellington and Morey Amsterdam, with Johnny Windhurst, Cutty Cutshall and Eddie Barefield, with Dick Sudhalter, Daryl Sherman, Harry Allen, and Keith Ingham; Bob Haggart, Larry Eanet, James Chirillo — and many of Barbara and her dearest friend Jeanie Wilson, the two of them grinning like mad, fashionable or down-home.

And the musical interlude of videos by Barbara had great power — singing Bix and Hoagy, in front of a late Benny Goodman band, having herself a time, pacing through Noel Coward and a dramatically slowed-down BEGIN THE BEGUINE.

All of us send thanks to the people who made Barbara’s life better — Jeanie and her husband Bill, their friend and Barbara’s, Robert “Junk” Ussery, and the diligent, gracious Daryl and Melissa Hamilton . . .

In her last years, Barbara didn’t speak.  But her voice still rings:

THE ELUSIVE FRANK NEWTON, SEEN TWICE

Taken at a 1937 jam session at the Brunswick Studios, New York City, in celebration of the new label, Variety Records.  Newton is protected by George Wettling from the sounds of Mezz Mezzrow.  Knowing Mezz, we can guess that he is playing along while Newton solos, which might account for the expression on Newton’s face:

And ten years later, from October 1947 (the source is http://www.tedgoddard.com/) is this photo of Newton’s clearly integrated band — presumably taken in Boston, with Ted Goddard on tenor saxophone at the far right:

Any scrap of evidence showing us more of Newton is welcome.  I was delighted to find a Cafe Society program in Terry Trilling-Josephson’s book, CAFE SOCIETY — especially because the program was autographed by Newton, Vic Dickenson, and Eddie Barefield.  And a Newton signature also appears in the Bob Inman / Ken Vail SWING ERA SCRAPBOOK.  Can anyone identify the musicians in the picture above?  At one point Flip Phillips played clarinet with Newton, but in 1947, he was already a star.  Suggestions, anyone?

And I’m still looking for a printable copy of the photograph (late Forties or the early Fifties) of Newton by Weegee.  Newton is sitting in the basement of the apartment building of which he was the janitor, playing his trumpet next to the boiler.  It’s heartbreaking, a study of a man exiled from “the music business” but with so much to give us.

BREATHING THE SAME AIR

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.

THE 1932 MOTEN BAND RETURNS!

The recordings that Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra did in the Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, are sacred music to jazz listeners.  How could they be otherwise?  Riffs by Eddie Durham, extraordinary playing by Bill Basie, Walter Page, Ben Webster, Eddie Barefield, and Hot Lips Page. 

This video clip of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks storming through TOBY at the February 2010 Central Illinois Jazz Festival is as close as we’ll get to recapturing that version of Hot Nirvana. 

It was captured by “tdub1941” of YouTube and appears there by special permission of Mr. Giordano himself. 

The hardest-working men in jazz here are Jon-Erik Kellso, Mike Ponella, Jim Fryer, Peter Anderson, Dan Block, Dan Levinson, Andy Stein, Peter Yarin, Ken Salvo, Vince, and Arnie Kinsella. 

Now do you believe in reincarnation?

Yeah, men!

Visit “tdub1941” for more from this same concert (Jelly Roll Morton’s BOOGABOO, Ellington’s OLD MAN BLUES, Cliff Jackson’s THE TERROR, several versions of SUGAR FOOT STOMP, and Jimmie Lunceford’s JAZZNOCHRACY) as well as a host of live jazz delights.

SOMETHING FOR LESTER

Lester Young was born in 1909 and died before he reached fifty, so when we celebrate his hundredth birthday, it is with the wonder that he existed at all — and the sadness that his feelings were often “bruised,” to use his evocative word.

Just recently (Nov. 27, 2009) the drummer and swing master Hal Smith staged a tribute to Lester at America’s Finest City Dixieland Jazz Festival in San Diego, California, with some performances caught by our very own and most cherished SFRaeAnn, who signs her checks Rae Ann Berry. 

Hal’s band — wittily dubbed “Hal’s Angels,” is comprised of Anita Thomas, tenor sax and clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano and vocal, Katie Cavera, guitar and vocal, Mike Earls, bass, and Hal himself.  Hal and band led the audience through a brief musical tour of Lester’s life, from his pre-recording influences to his last decade.  Here are several highlights:

To start things off, Hal and the band embarked on a rocking blues, the kind that Lester loved to play, early and late.  This blues line comes from recordings made at a mid-Fifties gig in Washington, D.C. — and it’s in the key of G, hence the title: “G’S, IF YOU PLEASE”: 

But before Lester ever got into a recording studio, he was astonishing fellow musicians and listeners — among them the writer Ralph Ellison.  But Lester, for all his indefatigable originality, had heard other musicians in the Twenties.  Jazz records were not easy to find, but his fellow reedman Eddie Barefield had acquired several of the 1927 OKeh records featuring Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer.  Lester credited Trumbauer as an early influence, and if one listens to Tram throughout his career, the sound and approach that affected Lester are easy to appreciate.  (In fact, Trumbauer’s final session for Capitol contains a near-ballad version of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA that sounds for all the world like Lester on C-melody saxophone.)

Thus, a properly slow reading of Trumbauer’s solo on WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

One of the glorious sessions Lester made was also his first — “Jones-Smith, Inc.” in late 1936, which produced LADY BE GOOD.  Had Lester recorded nothing else, we would have this recording as evidence of his mastery.  And his influence is heard throughout this performance, which shows off the uplifting rhythm section, even when Anita isn’t soloing:

With the Kansas City Six, Lester played clarinet, unmistakably, and Hal’s Angels turn to I WANT A LITTLE GIRL, with Carl offering a vocal that reminds us of Lester’s work alongside Jimmy Rushing in the Count Basie band.  It’s the only time Anita offers a written-out Lester solo, and she has his tart tone and sideways phrasing down pat:

For perhaps three years, Lester and Billie Holiday turned out one recorded masterpiece after another: here is BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, with Katie singing, in their honor:

I don’t exaggerate when I write that Lester would have been delighted to play with this band.  And since he called everyone “Lady,” I think he would have been most pleased by the playing of Lady Anita, who suggests some of his curving architecture without copying him.  Although many famous players tried to copy him, their energetic imitations only show how individual he was, and how his essence eluded them.  Better to “go for yourself,” as he said, as Hal’s Angels do so well here.

NOTES FROM SAM: CLARINETITIS

clarinetThat’s Leroy (Sam) Parkins, musician, man of letters, raconteur, observer, and frequent contributor to this blog — for which I am most grateful.

The Benny Goodman Festival on WKCR hit home. Remember that the Camel Caravan in ca. ’36, which I listened to because my brother, little knowing what he was doing, pinched me to keep me awake “This is important” quoth he, did me in. So when I got going as a true dixieland player I tried to kill off both my fathers – Benny, and Leon Russianoff, teacher to the stars – like the clarinet section of the NY Phil and the La. Phil, Bob Wilber, who sent me to him – and Jimmy Hamilton*.

I shamelessly worked on a rotten** sound like Johnny Dodds, worshipped Pee Wee*** and Lester Young’s metal clarinet ( a Selmer – I have one). And eschewed Benny – until a few years ago, when said brother sent me tapes of late Mel Powell/Red Norvo sessions, which knocked me out. “Hey – I don’t have to kill off my fathers any more” {my records from the early 60s, when I was just finishing up with Russianoff show a superb, utterly boring clarinet sound}.

With this damned festival I got a bunch of small band records and the classical stuff I didn’t re-issue myself – Columbia – Bartok, Copland**** etc. Plus what I did re-issue at RCA – Nielsen, von Weber etc. And playing along with trios and quartets – I finally figured out how he did it*****. He didn’t tongue. Barefield taught me that years ago but it didn’t occur to me that it translated to clarinet.

**** Copland wrote the concerto for Benny. I’ve heard other great performances, but Benny’s is unique in being almost casual. He doesn’t play it with great care like a full time classical player. In a way he just knocks it off – which means in this case the true human feelings shine through.

* In later years Leon was unhappy about the way Hamilton worked out. Leon, a Goodman worshiper himself, would have liked it better if Hamilton really blew out stronger. But once in awhile – like at Newport…

** In the ear of the behearer. Dodds was and is great.

*** Pee Wee was actually a well schooled clarinetist. Shows in ensemble work with Wild Bill et al. Clean as a weasel. He did what he did because he meant to. The first modern jazz player.

***** It helps immeasurably to have a totally accurate, hard charging rhythm section at hand. Playing along with, say, Mel Powell and Dave Tough, you CANNOT go off the rails. Hard to find if at all now.