Tag Archives: Eddie Condon’s Floor Show

“THANK YOU . . . FOR THAT”: LIPS PAGE, CENTER STAGE (1944)

The advertisement shows that musicians were always trying to make an extra few dollars, and it also offers some unusual pictures of one of my heroes, Hot Lips Page, someone who couldn’t help swinging, no matter what the context.

Lips and Eddie Condon admired each other tremendously as people who could play Hot without any artifice, and the moments when Lips performed at Eddie’s concerts are magical.  (Dan Morgenstern had the wondrous experience of seeing Lips sit in at Eddie’s club on Tuesday nights, something I can only imagine.) These cosmic collaborations took place not only at the 1944 Town Hall and Ritz Theatre concerts but on the television series, “Eddie Condon’s Floor Show” of 1948-50.  Photographs show a trio performance by Lips, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, which I wouldn’t mind hearing.  And before anyone writes in to inquire about the kinescopes of the Floor Show, I am afraid that they no longer exist, unless duplicate and triplicate sets were made.  I feel your pain: it’s been mine for decades.

But we do have uplifting evidence (a recording I’ve loved for forty years).

To call that a live performance would be a gross understatement.  It’s from a June 24, 1944 broadcast at Town Hall in New York City.  Supporting Lips are Bobby Hackett, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Gene Schroeder, Eddie Condon, Bob Haggart, Joe Grauso.  I admire Haggart’s powerful support, but for me Lips is the whole show.  Yes, there is some admiration for Louis evident, but Lips is playing Lips, and you could ask any trumpet player what a heroic accomplishment his playing is, chorus upon chorus, each one building on the predecessor so when the performance ends, one has the sense of a completed creation rather than a series of phrase-length ideas offered to us.  Marc Caparone, who knows about such things from experience, calls Lips “Atlas,” and although that name might not have sold colas (“Royal Crown Cola . . . when you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders,” perhaps?) it’s more than accurate.

One more piece of jazz minutiae.  The opening phrase of Lips’ CHINATOWN solo, the fanfare over Grauso’s drums, a syncopated bounce back and forth over two notes, sounds familiar because it’s the device Lester used to begin the issued take of SHOE SHINE BOY.  I suspect it was in the air in Kansas City, and (not surprisingly) I think it probably appears on a Louis recording c. 1927.  You are free to disagree in the privacy of your own homes, but Louis seems to be the root of all good things.

But back to Mister Page Play CHINATOWN again.  It’s monumental.

May your happiness increase!

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EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW (Nov. 16, 1948) CONCLUDED: JOHNNY MERCER, MARY LOU WILLIAMS, PEE WEE RUSSELL, BRAD GOWANS, and MORE

My goodness, there’s more!  That’s the closing performances of the Nov. 16, 1948 Eddie Condon Floor Show — audio only — with Wild Bill Davison, Brad Gowans, Pee Wee Russell, Mary Lou Williams, Dick Cary, Eddie, Jack Lesberg, George Wettling, Johnny Mercer, with commentary by Lord Buckley.

On DOWN AMONG THE SHELTERING PALMS, what might have seemed a novelty number suddenly opens up because of Mercer’s absolutely relaxed singing (with a touch of the giggles at one point) and lovely work from Brad, Pee Wee, and the rhythm section.

The SLOW BLUES keeps Johnny at the mike (with Wild Bill muttering behind him) — some witty lyrics which lead to that marvel, a Pee Wee stop-time blues performance (the video here is from the 197 THE SOUND OF JAZZ, by the way); a beautiful Wettling drum break takes it up and out we go, with Lord Buckley telling us all about the show next week, with Louis, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, Arvell Shaw, Sidney Catlett, and Velma Middleton.

As an aside, if you follow Charles Ellsworth Russell’s fortunes and career, wasn’t he apparently disintegrating in 1948, and with a great enmity towards Eddie Condon?  The music wouldn’t prove either of those contentions: he sounds positively elevated and not at all unhappy with the surroundings.  Perhaps history after the fact isn’t as substantial as the evidence.  And here’s another mystery: the cornetist who’s playing as the program is fading out is clearly Davison.  But the first horn soloist after Wettling’s break doesn’t sound like Bill, or Henry “Red” Allen for that matter.  I wonder, I wonder — will the experts in the audience listen in and tell me that I am wrong for thinking it to be my hero, the Atlas of the trumpet, HOT LIPS PAGE?  It wouldn’t be the first or last time Lips showed up at the Floor Show.

I don’t know if Channel 11 — WPIX-TV in New York City — even exists, but I’d guess that their programming in 2012 is not quite as surprising as this.  Thanks once again to the energetic Franz Hoffmann for opening the cornucopia . . . with more to come!

This one’s for Maggie, Romy, and Phyllis and Liza as well.

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.

THE DEAR DEPARTED PAST: 1948, 1959

Billie Holiday on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

Billie Holiday on the Eddie Condon Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

George Wettling and Hot Lips Page, Eddie Condon's Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

George Wettling and Hot Lips Page, Eddie Condon's Floor Show, 1948, by Genevieve Naylor

Newport 1959: Buck Clayton, PeeWee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Ruby Braff

Newport 1959: Buck Clayton, PeeWee Russell, Buzzy Drootin, Ruby Braff

MORE ABOUT EDDIE CONDON’S FLOOR SHOW

My posting of Stompy Jones’s memories of watching Eddie Condon’s Floor Show have resulted in some wonderful responses.  One reader of this blog, who didn’t want to be identified, offered the possibly-apocryphal story that has, he said, been circulating for years about the disappearance of the Floor Show kinescopes.  I hope that this lurid tale of criminal behavior  isn’t true and that someone like Mark Cantor stumbles upon a pile of film cans by surprise.  And then someone can find the discs of the Whiteman Old Gold radio programs.

Jim Lowe of the UK reminded me that I had left out Billie Holiday as a charter member of the Show’s cast, as indeed I had.  I also neglected to mention one of the high points — Louis Armstrong reading “The Three Bears,” a unique experience.

Rob Rothberg, whose collection of jazz-related still photographs is a marvel, sent these two along.  I assume (from the quality of their paper) that they come from newspapers of the time or perhaps Variety?condon-floor-show-1Whoever the singer is, and her identity eludes me, she surely isn’t Lee Wiley.  Was that woman even a singer, or was she a pretty secretary, added to the shot?  The people I do recognize are Roy Eldridge and a black-shirted Bobby Hackett, Peanuts Hucko, Condon himself, perhaps Jack Lesberg on bass (in sunglasses to protect himself from the bright studio lights?) and Cutty Cutshall on trombone.  An audio-only “Rose Room” from 1948 pairs Eldridge and Hackett, so perhaps this shot comes from that year.

condon-floor-show-2

Apparently NBC thought that a photograph of Condon and Sidney Bechet, two of the “greatest names in pop music,” might attract Proctor and Gamble or Coca-Cola.  As I recall, the big companies weren’t terribly interested.  Or was it that Condon wanted to play music rather than selling detergent?

Other photographs taken on the set can be found in EDDIE CONDON’S SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ — Hank O’Neal’s delicious trip through Condon’s photographs, letters, and memorabilia — with Eddie’s hilariously incisive comments.  There’s a tiny shot in that book of perhaps the world’s best jazz trio: Lips Page, James P. Johnson, and Zutty Singleton, the three men all looking foreshortened by the camera angle, even though we know they were giants, like Condon himself.

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!

1952-frontroom-stompy-jones-tv

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.

WHO ARE THEY? A JAZZ MYSTERY

Although I have very little patience for detective fiction and mystery novels (except for the witty ones by Josef Skvorecky), I savor the mysteries that jazz is full of.  Why didn’t Frank Newton record for a major label after 1939?  What happened to James P. Johnson’s recording career after the Twenties?  And there are mysteries of influence: what Bing Crosby recordings did Louis know when he entered his “crooning” period?  And how did Irving Kaufman feel about singing — with the utmost sincerity — a song called “My Wedding Gown”?  Where are the kinescopes of the Eddie Condon Floor Show?  Ernie Anderson told a story of a private recording session featuring the remarkable trio of Bobby Hackett, Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, and Sidney Catlett: where did the records go?  And more . . . .    

But today’s mystery is called WHO ARE THEY?  All of this came about when I learned that jazz film scholar Mark Cantor had located a photographs from a short film made for television in 1948 featuring the Adrian Rollini Trio.  Rollini, a heroic multi-instrumentalist, had given up the bass saxophone, on which he had no equals.  He then concentrated on the vibraphone, forming a trio with a guitarist and bassist. 

Mark says that he originally thought the guitarist in this picture might be Frank Victor, the bassist Sandy Block, but no longer thinks this.  He would like to know if anyone recognizes the guitarist and bassist below.  As they say in Britain and Ireland, I’m sorry, I haven’t a clue, but I thought some of my very hip readers might.  All I can say about these three musicians is that I admire their sharp suits and neatly folded handkerchiefs.  Here they are:

adrian-rollini-trio

Of course, not all fine jazz musicians or studio musicians are famous, their faces instantly recognizable.  The mysterious picture evokes a departed past where every town and metropolis had a host of players who could read the charts, swing, and improvise.  It’s still true in New York City — one of the delights of going to clubs is hearing someone wonderful whose name I don’t know — and I get to say, politely, “Damn, but you can play.  Why haven’t you got a raft of CDs?”  But I digress.

If anyone thinks they know the identity of the bassist or the guitarist, please let me know and I will pass the information along to Mark.  And if, perchance, you’re listening to one of the Rollini CD reissues still available while you read this (on Jazz Oracle and Retrieval), our collective pleasure will be doubled and redoubled.