Tag Archives: Eddie Lang

GEORGE BARNES, AT HOME WITH FRIENDS: MASTER IMPROVISER, 1941

Ask any jazz scholar to name another early innovator in jazz electric guitar in addition to Charlie Christian.  A few scholarly types will remember Eddie Durham, Leonard Ware, Floyd Smith, Les Paul. Someone will think of Allan Reuss’s PICKIN’ FOR PATSY.

But few will think of George Barnes.

That’s a pity, because Barnes was exploring the instrument’s possibilities in the late Thirties.

BARNES 1941

Proof of just how inventive he was — at 19! — has recently been offered by the George Barnes Legacy Foundation: a series of delightful home recordings of Barnes and friends in mid-1941.

On these tracks, Barnes improvises masterfully not only on electric guitar but also piano, and he’s aided by Bill Huntington and Bill Iverson, rhythm guitar; Ralph Hancock, cello; Jerry Marlowe, piano; Bill Moore, string bass; Benny Gill, violin; Adrienne Barnes, vocal.

Here’s the story behind the music (from the notes):

In the spring of 1941, 19-year-old guitarist George Barnes had already been a national radio star for almost two years, and enjoyed jamming with his colleagues after they’d wrapped their respective NBC shows. In March, June, and September of 1941, George’s friends — including violinist Benny Gill, rhythm guitarist Bill Huntington, and bassist Bill Moore — dropped by his Chicago apartment in The Chelsea Hotel and played into the wee hours. These 15 tracks were recorded directly to acetate discs by recordist Joe Campbell, who had been a Barnes fan since the first time he heard 17-year-old George play at Gus Williams’ Nameless Cafe on Chicago’s West Side.

The fifteen selections are BARNES’ BLUES / BARNES’ BOOGIE WOOGIE / BODY AND SOUL / JA-DA / MEMORIES OF YOU / NIGHTFALL (four versions) / SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY (two versions) / SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY / SWEET LORRAINE / TEXAS BLUES.

And for those who shy away from “old private recordings,” these sound good for their age.  The originals have been well-mastered, and they were originally 12″ acetates, which afforded longer playing time. Barnes’ colleagues, although their names are not well-known today, are rewarding players who hold our attention throughout. Violinist Gill plays beautifully on BODY AND SOUL, MEMORIES OF YOU, SUNNY SIDE, SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY — in an Eddie South mood; Adrienne Barnes (George’s first wife) reminds me beautifully of Ella Logan and Maxine Sullivan, and the supporting players are first-rate.

In addition, the collection offers two rare October 1941 electric guitar duets by Barnes and Ernie Varner, G MINOR SPIN and SWOON OF A GOON, as well as a brief audio reminiscence by recordist Campbell.

A video and audio taste:

And here, a little reiteration is necessary.  Barnes was 19.

What does it all sound like?  Since George’s first instrument was the piano, it’s fitting that the set begins with a violent but precise boogie-woogie that sounds as if Albert Ammons had been studying the Romantic tradition (Rachmaninoff, not love ballads); the guitar blues that follows is delightful, a subtle mixture of harmonically deep chordal playing and sharp single-line inventions, a JA-DA that alternates between musing interludes and straight-ahead swing. MEMORIES OF YOU has touches of Louis and of what we would come to call “American roots music,” and is the work of a compelling melodist, someone with his own sound on guitar, someone more than able to make electricity work for him.

When he is backing Adrienne Barnes on NIGHTFALL (the first version), his accompaniment is a beautiful orchestral tapestry, moving the melody along while creating a rich hamonic background. The three versions that follow — solo, duo, and trio — are also lessons in what can be done, so evocatively, with lyrical material.

The solo piano SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is also a pleasure, combining an endearing simplicity with harmonic experimentation (think of, say, Nat Jaffe two and three years later) and an audible sense of humor: had Barnes chosen piano as his instrument, he would be known in jazz histories.  SOMETHING TO REMEMBER YOU BY, which begins with extravagantly rhapsodic piano, shifts into fourth gear when Barnes begins his guitar solo. SWEET LORRAINE has a melody statement worthy of Eldridge in its contained force; the closing TEXAS BLUES is rocking from the start, merging Western swing and the hot jazz of the time.

The Barnes-Varner duets that close the set are intricate, twining duets — compositionally rich, the sort of playing Barnes and Carl Kress, Barnes and Bucky Pizzarelli did later on.

It might be hard for some to hear how radical Barnes was in 1941, but that’s tribute to his mastery, for all of his style has been subliminally integrated into the mainstream of jazz guitar playing: the pistol-shot single notes, the audacious harmonies, the singular way of constructing a solo — in these solo guitar performances, he has the mastery of Django or Lang, weaving even the most simple material (JA-DA) into a concerto with shifts of mood and tempo.

This set — which I hope is the first of many — has been produced by George’s daughter, Alexandra Barnes Leh, who hopes to make more people aware of her father’s swinging, innovative playing.  For more information on how to order this set — available only as a digital download — click here.  There, you can learn more about what the Legacy Project — how you can purchase instructional materials (audio and print) created by Barnes for beginners and for advanced students — and more.

May your happiness increase!

“COULD WE HEAR IT AGAIN?”: TEN YEARS WITH BING (1932-42)

Early in his career, Bing Crosby was a very erotic figure.  And the film industry recognized his power.  It wasn’t his naked torso.  It was his voice — warm, entreating, rich, sensitive, full of yearning.

Before he became more “fatherly” in his films; before he became grandfatherly on television (the man with a narrow tie and a hairpiece, singing Christmas songs alongside David Bowie and Michael Buble), he was a genuine all-purpose wooer.

A chick magnet, to put it plainly.

In many of his early films, the setup is simple: a lovely blonde, splendidly dressed (often in white) is reserved, cool, or even sullen.  Bing aims that voice at her, in a yearning love ballad, and she melts in a series of reaction shots.  Once the song is over, she has fallen for him.    One can imagine tuxedo and gown being shed . . .

In some of the later films, Bing is moved from the more formal environment to more working-class environments: once a pianist / singer or a college professor teaching crooning, he is a sailor dangling from a rope, a man building a shelter for the castaways, a cowboy.  Yes, he’s in blackface for ABRAHAM and pretends to play the clarinet for THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES.

I don’t think I have to make a case for Bing’s easy rhythmic suppleness, that his “boo-boo-boo” runs parallel to scat singing, that he is one of the influences on a segregated America that made Caucasians receptive to African-American jazz, even when Louis was not in the picture.  He swings, even at ballad tempo.

And for those theoretically-minded, Bing is deep in meta-consciousness of a post-modern sort, singing songs about his own singing.  But enough of that.

These thoughts were provoked by an accidental YouTube discovery —  thanks to 1926VictorCredenza  — his generous offering of a nearly two-hour videocassette of Bing’s musical moments from his 1932-42 films.  The Sennett shorts aren’t here, nor is PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, but I saw performances new to me.  You’ll also see Martha Raye, Carole Lombard, Louis Prima, Jack Teagarden, Harry Barris, Mary Martin, Eddie Lang.  And for Ralf Reynolds: Bing plays a washboard in that last film.  Watch for it!

And those songs!  

I offer this as a prelude to Valentine’s Day.  Learn to croon — if you want to win your heart’s desire!  (And she’ll take off her shoes.)

BIG BROADCAST 1932:  Dinah / Here Lies Love / Please (Eddie Lang) /

COLLEGE HUMOR 1933:  Just An Echo In The Valley / Learn To Croon / Please / I Surrender Dear / Just One More Chance / Moonstruck / Learn To Croon (reprise)

TOO MUCH HARMONY 1933:  Boo Boo Boo / The Day You Came Along / Thanks

WE’RE NOT DRESSING 1934:  May I? / Love Thy Neighbor / May I (reprise)

SHE LOVES ME NOT 1934:  Straight From The Shoulder / I’m Hummin’, I’m Whistlin’, I’m Singin’

TWO FOR TONIGHT 1935:  From The Top Of Your Head / Without A Word Of Warning / I Wish I Were Aladdin

ANYTHING GOES 1936:  Sailor Beware / Moonburn /

RHYTHM ON THE RANGE 1936: I Can’t Escape From You / Mr. Paganini / I’m An Old Cowhand

WAIKIKI WEDDING 1937:  Blue Hawaii / Sweet Leilani / Sweet Is The Word For You

DOUBLE OR NOTHING 1937:  Smarty / All You Want To Do Is Dance / It’s The Natural Thing To Do / The Moon Got In My Eyes

EAST SIDE OF HEAVEN 1939:  Hang Your Heart On A Hickory Limb / East Side Of Heaven

HOLIDAY INN 1942:  Abraham / Song Of Freedom

BIRTH OF THE BLUES 1941: Goin’ to the Jailhouse / The Waiter, The Porter, and The Upstairs Maid / Wait ‘Til The Sun Shines Nellie / St. Louis Blues / Birth Of The Blues.

May your happiness increase.

THEY’RE THROUGH WITH LOVE: CECILE McLORIN SALVANT, SPATS LANGHAM, DUKE HEITGER, ALISTAIR ALLAN, NORMAN FIELD, EMMA FISK, MARTIN LITTON, HENRI LEMAIRE, RICHARD PITE at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 26, 2012)

Music for the lovelorn, the hopeful, the despairing, the wistful . . .all in swingtime, performed at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party by singers Cecile McLorin Salvant and Spats Langham (who has a guitar or banjo in his hands most of the time), with instrumental backing from trumpeter Duke Heitger, trombonist Alistair Allan, reed hero Norman Field, violinist Emma Fisk, pianist Martin Litton, bassist Henri Lemaire, and drummer Richard Pite.

There’s a long tradition in jazz of taking the most mournful popular songs (and I think there have always been more downcast songs than elated ones, although I haven’t counted) at swinging tempos. Even the saddest Crosby and Columbo laments had some rhythm in them, and if you consider Billie’s I’M GONNA LOCK MY HEART for one example, you’ll see the possibilities of the juxtaposition.

But until Cecile’s romp on the final song, much of this set was sadness or yearning in a lightly mobile 4 / 4.

Spats began with Fud Livingston’s sadly serious I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE:

YOU’VE GOT ME CRYIN’ AGAIN was recorded in 1933 by both Bing Crosby and a young Lee Wiley:

Cecile tells the imaginary lover I GET ALONG WITHOUT YOU VERY WELL:

Spats goes back to Bing and Eddie Lang — at the same time — for a song I love dearly, PLEASE:

Evoking the jazz tradition of fifteen years later (I thought of Sarah Vaughan), Cecile swings out with LOVER, COME BACK TO ME:

I don’t know what this music would do for the genuinely lovelorn (in the audience or on the stand) but I appreciate every turn.

May your happiness increase.

RAGGIN’ THE SCALES at WHITLEY BAY 2012: KEITH NICHOLS, EMMA FISK, MARTIN WHEATLEY, NORMAN FIELD, FRANS SJOSTROM (Oct. 26, 2012)

The 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party opened — not with a bang but with a rag.  This set, led by the elegantly risque Keith Nichols (piano, vocals, commentary) featured Emma Fisk (violin), Norman Field (reeds), Martin Wheatley (banjo/ guitar), and Frans Sjostrom (bass saxophone) in a program that roved about in the first thirty years of the last century.

The Classic Jazz Party is like no other — a living, energized jazz museum with plenty of room for blowing and smiles all around.  Here’s the first cheerful offering of a long rollicking musical weekend.

Eubie Blake’s CHEVY CHASE:

Bimbo

MY LITTLE BIMBO DOWN ON THE BAMBOO ISLE (when being a Bimbo meant something pleasant — circa 1920.  Lyrics by Grant Clarke, music by Walter Donaldson):

Then Keith and colleagues moved into territory so wonderfully explored by Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Harold Arlen, Jimmy Dorsey, Adrian Rollini, and others, beginning with RAGGIN’ THE SCALE:

PARDON ME, PRETTY BABY:

PRETTY TRIX:

DINAH:

THE WILD DOG:

A short commercial interlude: the 2012 Party was sold out — dramatically early. The 2013 Party (Friday November 1 – Sunday November 3, with a pre-party concert on October 31) has already begun to fill up.  Click here for details.  It promises to be thoroughly gratifying.

May your happiness increase.

JOSH DUFFEE’S “TRUMBOLOGY” at the 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY — STARRING ANDY SCHUMM as BIX, PRODUCED by EMRAH ERKEN

One of the niccest moments at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party was being able to finally meet the generous jazz scholar Emrah Erken (you may know him as Atticus70 on YouTube).

Emrah is one of those enlightened souls who not only loves the music but wants to share it with all of us.  Not only is he a delightful person, he’s also a fine cinematgorapher — all of the videos below were created with his iPhone5 (and are best viewed in 1080).  I’m thrilled to have such a gifted brother with a video camera!  You’ll love the results.

The band Emrah captured was drummer / leader Josh Duffee’s TRUMBOLOGY — a logical and heartfelt tribute to Frank Trumbauer and his colleagues.  The award-winning 2012 creators are Andy Schumm, cornet;  Kristoffer Kompen, trombone;  Norman Field, Michael McQuaid, Stéphane Gillot, Mathias Seuffert, saxes, reeds;  Keith Nichols, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Wheatley, guitar / banjo; Josh Duffee, leader, drums, with a  guest appearance by Emma Fisk, violin.   Recorded on October 28, 2012.

OSTRICH WALK:

CRYIN’ ALL DAY:

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

CHOO CHOO (the soundtrack for a futuristic Thirties cartoon)

TURN ON THE HEAT (with a lovely wooing vocal by Spats Langham after Norman Field’s wonderful C-melody chorus):

I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA:

THREE BLIND MICE:

BORNEO:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES:

WRINGIN’ AND TWISTIN’ (performed by Andy, piano / cornet; Michael, C-melody, Martin, guitar):

CLARINET MARMALADE (listen for Matthias in the first chorus and later):

Well-played, gents!  And well-captured, Emrah!  Thanks also to Mike and Patti Durham for making such good music (in such welcoming circumstances) possible year after year.  Don’t miss out on the 2013 delights: click  jazzfest.

May your happiness increase.

THE SHAPE OF A CAREER: RED McKENZIE, 1924-1947

Photograph thanks to Scott Black: a trio of solid senders, Frank Trumbauer, Red McKenzie, and their former boss Paul Whiteman

William “Red” McKenzie, born in 1899, had a career whose highs and lows might have made a good — and sad — film biography.  Let us begin with a phenomenal hit record, the 1924 ARKANSAS BLUES — a smash for the novelty group, The Mound City Blue Blowers (McKenzie on comb and newspaper, Jack Bland on banjo, Dick Slevin on kazoo):

A word about his musical abilities, unique to him.  McKenzie’s singing isn’t to everyone’s taste; he is earnest, declaratory, even tipping over into barroom sentimentality.  But he could put over a hot number with style, and his straight-from-the shoulder delivery is both charming and a product of the late Twenties.  As an instrumentalist — on the comb and newspaper, a homegrown kazoo with panache — he had no equal, and the remarkable thing about the records on which he appears is how strongly he stands his ground with Coleman Hawkins and Bunny Berigan, powerful figures in their own right.  Both singing and playing, McKenzie reminds me greatly of Wild Bill Davison, someone who had “drama,” as Ruby Braff said.

In the late Twenties McKenzie was not only a musician but an activist for the music, bringing hot jazz players — Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Jimmie Noone, the Spirits of Rhythm — to the attention of record companies and creating early record dates where Caucasians and African-Americans to record.  Without McKenzie, Coleman Hawkins would have waited a number of years to be allowed into the recording studio to perform with mixed groups.

Here is McKenzie in 1929 — out in the open in the short film OPRY HOUSE as a delightfully unrestrained singer, with Bland, banjo; Josh Billings, whiskbrooms and suitcase:

His popularity grew — as s singer and someone whose face might sell sheet music of a new song:

McKenzie was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra — an orchestra, we should remember, that had launched the careers of Bing Crosby and Mildred Bailey — with a pretty 1932 tune, THREE ON A MATCH (featured in the Warner Brothers film of the same name, starring Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell, and Bette Davis):

He continued to be someone whose presence could help sell new songs — this 1936 number, that most of us know through Billie Holiday’s recording:

and this 1936 song, more famous in Bing Crosby’s recording:

At forty, McKenzie went into a temporary retirement — moving back to his hometown, St. Louis, to work at a brewery for four years.  Apparently he was one of the great heavy drinkers of his time, and only the support of his great friend Eddie Condon kept him in the limelight in the Forties, where he appeared now and again at a Condon concert or a Blue Network broadcast.  The latter, I think, accounts for McKenzie’s 1944 appearance on a V-Disc and a session for Commodore Records — where Milt Gabler also thought the world of him.  Gabler produced record sessions simultaneously for Decca Records and the World Transcription System: here’s a 1944 version of DINAH with McKenzie, Max Kaminsky, Jack Teagarden, and Pee Wee Russell:

Here’s McKenzie as captured by William P. Gottlieb in an October 1946 photograph:

But little was heard from McKenzie for the last years of his life, except for one 1947 record date — shown in a newsprint advertisement for four sides on the National label.  His obscurity is nodded at — another “comeback story” in the sad word REINTRODUCING:

By February 1948 McKenzie was dead — cirrhosis the official cause.  I find IF I HAD MY LIFE TO LIVE OVER and HEARTACHES sad reminders of what had happened.  I would hate to think that his life could be summarized as an equal devotion to hot music and hard liquor, the latter winning out over the former.

Had he been in better health, he could have been one of those apparently ancient but still vivacious stars who appeared on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW and the HOLLYWOOD PALACE alongside Crosby, Sophie Tucker, Durante, and Ted Lewis . . . but it was not to be.

May your happiness increase. 

WHEN BEAUTY VISITS, YOU KNOW IT: “STARDUST” by MARC CAPARONE, JOHN REYNOLDS, CLINT BAKER, RALF RAYNOLDS, KATIE CAVERA (Sacramento Music Festival, May 26, 2012)

I had tears in my eyes when I witnessed this music being created in front of us for the first time, and its lovely power hasn’t diminished.

Thank you, Marc, John, Clint, Ralf, and Katie, for being yourselves and for allowing the great lyrical heroes we so revere to live through you.

May your happiness increase.

STRIKE UP THE BANDS! SACRAMENTO 2012: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CLINT BAKER (May 25, 2012)

I hope the pleasure I take in attending jazz festivals, parties, concerts, clubs, comes through as strongly as I feel it.

In many ways, being able to move around to hear the jazz musicians I so admire is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.  That many of these musicians have become friendly to me is a wonderful gift, and that I am allowed to bring my video camera and record the music (until my neck hurts) feels like a marvelous present.

And my only responsibility in all this is to let everyone know what a wonderful time I had and to post videos that make my words superfluous.

All of this came true once again at the 2012 Sacramento Music Festival, which took place over Memorial Day weekend this past year.  I saw, heard, and delighted in performances by the Reynolds Brothers, Clint Baker, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, Rossano Sportiello, Pieter Meijers, Bryan Shaw, Justin Au, Brandon Au, Howard Miyata, Earl McKee, Charlie Castro, Stan Huddleston, Bruce Huddleston, Stephanie Trick, Vince Bartels, Nicolas Montier, Russ Phillips, Jeannie Lambert, Allan Vache, Jennifer Leitham, Phil Flanigan, Danny Coots.

I couldn’t see everyone, because the SMF is such a lively cornucopia of sounds.  If anyone is disappointed that I did not video-record Kid Jalapeno, come to the 2013 Sacramento Music Festival and get that pleasure first-hand!

Here are my heroes: Marc Caparone, cornet; Clint Baker, trombone; Ralf Reynolds, washboard; John Reynolds, guitar, whistling; Katie Cavera, string bass.  At one time or another during the SMF, each one burst into song, gloriously.  Together they form a pocket-sized version of the Luis Russell band plus plus plus . . . .

Appropriately, STRIKE UP THE BAND:

I’VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED:

SUNDAY, for Bix and the Keller Sisters and Lynch, Eddie Lang and Jean Goldkette:

IF I HAD YOU, with the multi-talented Mister Baker on clarinet:

DARK EYES, with Soviet riffin’ this evening:

Bless them all.

May your happiness increase.

FRESH AND JUICY: THE BERRY PICKERS PLAY BIX, TRAM, ROLLINI, and FRIENDS

Often, bands striving for “authenticity” when playing Twenties jazz take their OKehs and Gennetts too seriously, the result a certain dogged heaviness.  Cornetist / arranger Jérôme Etcheberry knows better, and his bands float rather than slog.  The newest pleasing evidence is his small group, the BERRY PICKERS, and the five videos that appeared without fanfare on YouTube.

Their repertoire is drawn from the late-Twenties efforts of Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Adrian Rollini, Eddie Lang, and their friends.  But there is no imitation of solos, and the overall lightness has a sweet jauntiness that I associate with the unbuttoned efforts of Richard M. Sudhalter, John R.T. Davies, and Nevil Skrimshire.

Hear for yourself!

Jérôme Etcheberry’s BERRY PICKERS are Nicolas Dary (alto sax) Jérôme Etcheberry (cornet) Fred Couderc (bass sax) Hugo Lippi (guitar) Stephane Seva (drums).

The DeSylva-Brown-Henderson hymn to caffeine, YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE:

Coffee leads to dancing, so Milton Ager’s HAPPY FEET:

And, yes, let’s do THE BALTIMORE (Dan Healy, Irving Kahal, Jimmy McHugh):

Where does Chauncey Morehouse’s THREE BLIND MICE fit in?  Under the heading of “futuristic rhythm,” no doubt:

And, to close, Fats Waller’s I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED:

My feelings exactly.

May your happiness increase.

RHYTHM SAVES THE WORLD: THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS and CARL SONNY LEYLAND at DIXIELAND MONTEREY JAZZ BASH BY THE BAY (March 3, 2012)

When the Reynolds Brothers assemble onstage, I know great things are going to happen.  They haven’t let me down yet.  The superb musicians who want to sit in with the Brothers are living testimony to their musical wizardry.  But you don’t have to take my words for it. 

It happened again at the 2012 Dixieland Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay, when the hot pianist / singer Carl Sonny Leyland dropped by to join the Brothers on the afternoon of March 3, 2012.  The Reynolds Brothers are Ralf (washboard and traffic control); John (vocal, guitar, whistling); Marc Caparone (trumpet); Katie Cavera (string bass, vocals).

It wasn’t a national holiday, but it felt like one from the first notes.

Gather ’round that samovar, children — DARK EYES:

That’s the day when I’m with you!  Summon up the shades of Bix, Eddie Lang, the Keller Sisters and Lynch, if you please, for SUNDAY:

Sonny offers Washboard Sam’s LEVEE CAMP BLUES:

A very pretty version of I’M GONG TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER — not an email, and with no help from Sir Paul McCartney, no, no:

If your romantic activity consists of writing love letters to yourself, then Katie’s question — posed at a rollicking tempo — would certainly be appropriate — DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME?:

Real affection doesn’t require wearing the digits off one’s Visa card — thus, I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE at a nice Louis tempo, after John’s late-period Django architecture.  What a good singer he is!

PEPPER STEAK is really a close cousin of I’VE FOUND A NEW BABY — with beef, peppers, beans and cabbage making up a truly hot lunch:

What could follow that?  How about a boogie-woogie ST. LOUIS BLUES with habanera seasonings?:

We’re always thinking of you, MARGIE — even at this stomping eight-to-the-bar tempo:

We needed something tender, ethereal after that — so John whistled his own sweet version of DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME, a song with history before Mama Cass visited it:

And to close — a thoroughly elevated version of BLUE ROOM, with memories of Hot Lips Page and the 1932 Moten band:

If the Nobel Prize people ever come to their senses and institute the Nobel Prize for Rhythm, I know the people I’ll nominate.  Wouldn’t you?

May your happiness increase.

SEATTLE SUNSHINE: THE RAIN CITY BLUE BLOWERS (March 16, 2012)

Image courtesy of SWING FASHIONISTA (www.swingfashionista.com)

You’ll need these to watch the videos below.  Now, don’t fuss.  Put them on.  There!

I now have yet another Favorite Band.  In case you wonder, one can have a whole cornucopia of Favorites — and the Rain City Blue Blowers are just another example of what Roswell Rudd calls “playing your personality.”  The videos below come from their appearance at the Seattle Jazz Party on March 16, 2012.

Here they are, tenderly (but with a beat) exploring the possibly dark Jimmie Noone classic READY FOR THE RIVER:

Who ARE these gently brilliant folks?

Closest to us is the absurdly talented Steve Wright (cornet, trumpet, clarinet, vocal).  Hidden behind a forest of reeds is the delightful Paul Woltz (clarinet, soprano, tenor, alto, bass sax, vocal); the inquisitive Ray Skjelbred (piano); the unerringly rhythmic Candace Brown (banjo, guitar); the Swing Superhero Dave Brown (string bass, vocal); the rocking Mike Daugherty (drums, vocal).

An ebullient reading of one of my favorite songs — the happy shade of Louis stands behind it always — SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, with the rhythm section romping like the Luis Russell band, 1929:

Since humility and a readiness to admit you’ve made an error are among the most prized virtues, how about a smoothly hot I MAY BE WRONG to keep us in the mood?  It was the theme song of the Apollo Theatre when it opened in 1934, and the RCBB bring us back there with no hint of museum-stuffiness:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS is or are the place I wish I was right now, even if her embrace would slightly impede my ability to type and blog.  Sing it, Mister Woltz!:

Truly wonderful!  In the groove, too: ARKANSAS BLUES:

I’ve been humming this tune all morning: no reason why you shouldn’t join in the cyber-chorus.  It’s MY SYNCOPATED MELODY MAN (think 1929, Lang, Venuti, and Red McKenzie, if you will):

One more — let the RCBB whisper swing in your shell-pink ears with WHISPERING.  (The front line knows the old trick of having one horn play a swinging version of the melody while the other horn dances around it — exhilarating!):

And just because we tend, naturally, to focus on the brilliance of the soloists — horns and reeds are shiny and catch our attention as if we were children in a toystore — may I quietly point out that the beauty of the RCBB starts in the rhythm section?  I have heard Paul and Steve generously and mightily lift bands where not everyone was on the same spiritual or rhythmic wavelength, so I greet them as epic heroes of hot jazz.

But what Candace, Dave, Mike, and Ray do on each number here is frankly magical.  “A house without a strong foundation cannot stand.”  It may be coarse of me to say that this rhythm section could “swing the dead,” but that is how I feel.  As an experiment in Rhythm, may I urge my readers to revisit the video they liked best — if they can make such hard choices — and listen hard, all through it, to The Groove that this foursome creates?  Better than a Master’s in Jazz Studies, I think.

The city that is home to such a band can’t be quite so damp and foreboding as popular myth would have it.  When the RCBB plays, the sun blazes.  A nice coat of sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

And there’s more!  Visit swr2408018 for more meteorological wonders.

P.S.  If I were in charge of a jazz festival, I would be tripping over myself in my eagerness to book this band . . . am I being sufficiently subtle?  Please consider it!

May your happiness increase.

AN ISLE OF JOY

Wondrous, wondrous, lighthearted and heartfelt . . . Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s MANHATTAN performed here by three of my heroes: Andrew Hall on bass; Tamar Korn on voice; Dennis Lichtman on guitar and clarinet.  (They ordinarily get together as members of Dennis’ delicious band, the BRAIN CLOUD.) 

These three brilliant gliding musicians exist wholly in 2012, but the amiable ghosts of Lee Wiley, of Louis Armstrong, of Eddie Lang, of Fanny Brice, and a thousand others stand behind them — but no one is crowded.  Watch it here and wait for the second chorus! 

If this doesn’t turn your Manhattan — place in the imagination that may be three thousand miles from the actual location — into an “isle of joy,” email me and I will try to help.  I’m not objective, though: I applauded this video when it was over.

THEMES AND VARIATIONS: THE 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY

Now that I have posted about eighty video performances here — thanks to Flemming Thorbye, Elin Smith, Jonathan David Holmes, and Michael Stevens — I can write a few lines about the Classic Jazz Party in general, and why it was such a remarkable experience.

It wasn’t a formal occasion by any means — in fact, it was distinguished by the friendly, comfortable interplay between musicians and listeners, sitting down to breakfast with one another.  But the CJP was the result of a good deal of behind-the-scenes planning that blossomed forth in music.

All jazz parties and festivals require a great deal of work that the person listening to the bands is rarely aware of — planning that begins more than a year in advance and continues well after the particular party is over: lining up musicians, agreeing with them on times and dates and payment, making sure that they can get to the party and have suitable accomodations, taking care of last-minute crises and more.  When you see the person in charge of one of these events and wonder why (s)he has no time to stop and chat, to say nothing of sitting down for a meal or a set of music, these are some of the reasons.

But the CJP has a thematic underpinning — which is to say Mike Durham likes jam sessions, and one happened each night in the Victory Pub, but he has a deep emotional commitment to the arching history of jazz and an equal desire to see that no one is forgotten.  So rather than grouping six or seven able players and singers on the stand with no organizing principle in mind (thus, the blues in Bb, RHYTHM changes, and a series of solo features), Mike Durham has created — with the help of his equally enthusiastic and scholarly players — a series of small thematic concert tributes.

I will only list the names so that you can understand the scope of the CJP: Clarence Williams, Bix Beiderbecke, novelty piano, Jelly Roll Morton, Bennie Moten, territory bands, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelly, Lionel Hampton, Adrian Rollini, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Annette Hanshaw, naughty songs, multi-lingual pop songs, Chicago reedmen, Billie Holiday, percussion, the ukulele, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, King Oliver, stride piano, the tenor saxophone, Bessie Smith, the Rhythmic Eight, John Kirby, Jabbo Smith, Valaida Snow, the Rhythmakers.

You can thus understand why the weekend was both great fun and educational without ever being academic or pedantic.  An immersion in living jazz history — reaching back one hundred years but so firmly grounded in the present moment — loving evocations without any hint of the museum about them.

And there are more sets like those being planned for 2012.

Here is the estimable Flemming Thorbye’s tribute to the whole weekend — his evocative still photographs capturing aspects of thirty-three varied sets — with an Ellingtonian background recorded on the spot.  And don’t give up before it’s through, because Flemming has a delicious surprise at the end: a segment of the Friday night jam session in the Victory Pub, with Andy Schumm leading the troops ably through CRAZY RHYTHM, with Ms. Calzaretta shaking that thing to the beat:

Learn more about the delights in store this year here.

“SUITABLE FOR DANCING”: THE ELLIS ISLAND BOYS (and GIRL) PLAY “I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA” (for BIX and EDDIE LANG)

This wonderful impromptu video was created by Alex Matthews — his YouTube channel is called “talentedlosers,” make of that what you will.  He took his video camera to California Adventure Disney (in Anaheim) where the “Ellis Island Boys” are appearing three times a week for seven half-hour sets.

If you think of “Ellis Island Boys” as being a group of imitation immigrants, think again: how about Ralf Reynolds (washboard); John Reynolds (guitar and vocal); Katie Cavera (string bass); Bryan Shaw (sitting in for Marc Caparone, trumpet) — we know them as the Reynolds Brothers! — performing a truly Bixian version of I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA that also pays homage to Eddie Lang:

Thanks to Ralf, John, Bryan, Katie, Alex, the ghost of Walt, Bix, and Eddie . . . for the lovely music and the lovely video!

THAT RHYTHM MAN: BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye and Elin Smith)

Even though I think he finds it mildly embarrassing, I hold the cornetist / trumpeter / bandleader / jazz scholar / occasional singer Bent Persson in awe.  He isn’t the only brassman who has studied and emulated Louis Armstrong — but when he plays, young and middle-period Louis comes alive, gloriously.

In this set at the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (on Friday, November 4) he and an all-star band evoked some music from 1929, when Louis was often accompanied by the Carroll Dickerson and Luis Russell — a period of his career that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

The band had Bent, Andy Schumm, and Michel Bastide on trumpets; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Michel Bescont, Matthias Seuffert, and Mauro Porro, reeds; Martin Seck, piano; Mike Piggott, violin; Jean-Pierre Dubois, guitar; Richard Pite, sousaphone and string bass; Debbie Arthurs, drums; vocals by Rico, Cecile McLaurin Salvant, and Michel Bastide.

SYMPHONIC RAPS is more good-natured than symphonic, although it occasionally gives the impression of a Hot Seven line scored for large orchestra. I admire the way the sections play off each other at the start, then the exchanges between Seck’s properly skittering Hines-styled piano and the band.  Because this band isn’t constrained by the recording studio, Bent opened up the arrangement for a few more solos — the first being the nimble Matthias on alto, then an off-camera Kristoffer on trombone (catch Debbie Arthurs rocking the proceedings all through this), before he comes on with some organic, locally sourced Louis. Bent knows Louis so well that he seems to move around freely in the great man’s imagination, leaving the impression of a newly-discovered alternate take, say, on Argentinian Odeon — before Debbie wraps this package up neatly with comments on the temple blocks:

The Waller-Razaf lament about what they now call “colorism,” BLACK AND BLUE, remains deeply moving.  Everything here is in place, with the comfortable feeling of musicians who know the original so well that they can bring to it their own individualities — Bent, Kristoffer, that reed section, and an understated but impassioned vocal from Rico that summons up the Master, leading to an early-Thirties Hawkins interlude from Bascont, and Bent rising above the band and Debbie’s most empathic drumming:

Another Waller-Razaf song, THAT RHYTHM MAN, its basic conceit going back to Renaissance poetry, that the whole world is an orchestra, is clearly a dance number.  The band swings out from the start, with Kristoffer doing his special J.C. Higginbotham magic on the bridge. Michel Bastide shows that rhythm can triumph over every obstacle, even a recalcitrant microphone; he’s followed by rocking solos from Kristoffer, Bascont, Bent, and Matthias, before the whole rollicking performance winds down.  I wonder how many jazz players and singers across the country had this black-label OKeh in their collection, a record worn to a low gravy:

The most famous of the Waller-Razaf trilogy is of course AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ (Elin) and this version follows the less well-known Seger Ellis small band recording, which featured Joe Venuti, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, Arthur Schutt, and Stan King — here the compelling Cecile McLorin Salvant stands in for Ellis, to great effect:

DALLAS BLUES (Thorbye) shows the band ready to swing — propelled by Debbie and her colleagues — even before Kristoffer and Richard play the blues and Bent sings them.  An inspired Kristoffer returns for a substantial outing and wows both the crowd and the band, before the trick ending that catches almost everyone by surprise:

I AIN’T GOT NOBODY (Thorbye) is given a performance at odds with the melancholy lyrics. Rocking interludes for the band, Rico, Mauro Porro and his metal clarinet, and Bent, suggest that everyone here indeed has somebody:

THANKS A MILLION (Elin), with both Rico and Bent invoking and evoking Louis, makes me feel so grateful for this set of music.

Thanks, once again, to Flemming Thorbye — check out his treasures   here

and Elin Smith, whom you can visit here

NORMAN FIELD AND FRIENDS at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Flemming Thorbye)

Norman Field is a treasure, no matter what instrument he’s playing (he also sings and annotates with equal ease).  Here are three too-short proofs of his hot mastery.

SOME OF THESE DAYS, from a tribute to Venuti, Lang, and Rollini, features Mike Piggott (violin), Keith Nichols (piano), Martin Wheatley (guitar), Frans Sjostrom (bass saxophone), Raymond Grasier (vibraphone), Josh Duffee (drums), Bridget Calzaretta and Jonathan David Holmes (terpsichorean urges):

THAT’S A PLENTY is Norman’s tribute to the youthful Benny Goodman.  Here he’s expertly accompanied by Keith, and the astonishing drummer Nick Ward — every move a picture! — doing his own version of Twenties Chicago drumming, with four on the floor for certain:

and THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH is the official tribute to Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys (it’s the law — every jazz party has to have one) by “The Three Pods of Pepper,” here Norman on alto as well as clarinet; Martin Wheatley (banjo); Frans Sjostrom (bass sax); the ebullient Debbie Arthurs (percussion):

Thanks once more to the generous Flemming Thorbye for these videos: you can see more here.

“DEAR BIX”: ANDY SCHUMM and his GANG at WHITLEY BAY, November 4, 2011 (thanks to Flemming Thorbye and Elin Smith)

Young Mr. Schumm may be one of the most avidly-recorded musicians in jazz, but he deserves every pixel and gigabyte for his clarion playing and easy, thoughtful leadership (watch how casually and effectively he shapes a performance onstage).

Here Andy and his most excellent colleagues create a swinging homage to that other young man from Davenport, Iowa.  All this took place just after lunch on the first day of the 2011 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.

Once again I am relying on the kindness of video-friends for this material: the very generous Elin Smith and the globe-trotting Flemming Thorbye.

Flemming and I knew each other through YouTube and through email, but this was our first encounter in person: he’s just as amiable live as he is in cyberspace, no small accomplishment.  You can see much more of his jazz — including one of the best bands I know, the Scandinavian Rhythm Boys, here.

The Gang features Andy on cornet,with Norman Field, reeds; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Martin Wheatley, banjo and guitar; Paul Asaro, piano; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Josh Duffee, drums.  I mean no disrespect to the players, now dead, whose voices we hear on the OKehs, Victors, and Columbias — but this Gang swings along with a grace that comes from their current vantage point on the music they inhabit.

An easy-rocking SUNDAY (Elin) begins with an instant improvisation on the theme by Norman on C-melody, then everyone gets a taste: admire Martin Wheatley’s solo and backing to Frans, then the young daredevil Kristoffer:

CLARINET MARMALADE (Thorbye) starts hot and doesn’t let up — enjoy Norman’s ruminative second chorus and Paul Asaro’s James P. Johnson flourishes. (A digression: the balding fellow with a video camera at the bottom right is your humble correspondent — watching yourself from the back is an odd experience. Memo to self in 2012: try to sit still):

BALTIMORE (Thorbye) is another of those endearing Twenties songs named for a dance craze that might never have existed.  Or have we explored this question already?  The music, the music transcends. Praise to the Master, Frans Sjostrom, and his colleagues in the back row:

For those who like exercises in comparative viewing, here’s Elin’s take on BALTIMORE:

And — thanks to that Queen of the Dance, Bridget Calzaretta, here’s a link to silent footage of happy Brits doing the BALTIMORE, synchronized to a Fred Rich record of the song:

Hoagy Carmichael’s FREE WHEELING, later RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE (Thorbye) is taken at just the right tempo — with the ghosts of Jelly Roll Morton and Jack Teagarden visiting for brief interludes.  Those in the know will catch and laugh at Andy’s editorial commentary during the breaks in the final chorus:

SINGIN’ THE BLUES was one of the Bix records that caught and held me four decades ago — this version has much of the same balance between forward propulsion and sweet musing.  Thanks to Elin:

This version of YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME (Elin) doesn’t have Bing, but Andy and Norman embark on a chase chorus that’s original but won’t scare the children:

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (Thorbye) is — if we’re going to be candid — a bouncy Twenties tune without much scope.  But, once heard, I can’t get it out of my system.  This version stuck, too — pay close attention to Josh, pushing the band along — not that these players need pushing!:

LOUISIANA (Elin) unites Bix, Bing, and Basie –a wholly trinity of creative music:

More to come!

MATT MUNISTERI DIGS DEEP: “THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON” (Barbes, Dec. 15, 2011) IS COMING

May I recommend something to the tristate JAZZ LIVES audience?  It’s an evening of music coming this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, beginning at 8 PM.  Guitarist / singer / songwirter / thinker Matt Munisteri will be presenting THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON along with friends Matt Ray on piano and Danton Boller on bass.  Barbes is an intriguing spot in Brooklyn, New York: their site is Barbes — and they are located at 376 Ninth Street (corner of Sixth Avenue) in Park Slope; their phone is 347.422.0248.  Barbes is — for the geographically anxious — reachable by the F train, which should calm us all. 

Matt Munisteri is well-known as a fine guitarist to JAZZ LIVES — creating looping down-home solos and playing rocking rhythms — and as co-founder of The EarRegulars.  But Matt rarely sings at The Ear Inn, so the evening at Barbes will allow us to hear him: a mixture of earnest and sly, heartfelt and ironic.  Matt Ray creates note clusters that seem like small stars; Danton Boller is a great swing melodist.  This trio would be worth the trip to Park Slope on their own collective / individual merits and voices, but since the subject (and the musical text) is Willard Robison, it will be an extra-special evening. 

If people know of Robison at all, it is for his jazz connections — with Bix, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, and other luminaries in the Twenties.  Later on, his songs were sung in the most touching way by Mildred Bailey.  A few became unforgettable pieces of the musical landscape: OLD FOLKS,  A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and DON’T SMOKE IN BED.  Robison was so popular that he made many recordings as a vocalist, pianist, bandleader, and composer; he had his own radio show. 

But I fear that he has been misunderstood as a folksy poet of rural pieties — go to church, keep your hand on the plow, tell the truth.  He did have strong moral beliefs and he did weave them into his songs, but I never find a bar of Robison’s music didactic or preachy. 

And there is a sharp wit under the surface; his melodic lines often go in unexpected directions, and his “folksiness” is very expertly crafted.  And he is very deep: listen to ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM for one example.

Although Robison died in 1968, he has found someone who not only loves but understands him in Matt Munisteri — a romantic with a sharp eye for the absurdities of the world, a city boy who knows what it is to burn wood in a stove for heat.  And even better: this appearance at Barbes is a preview, a coming-to-a-theatre-near-you for Matt’s CD devoted to Robison that will be released next year. 

Skip the office party; don’t go to the department store.  I’ll see you at Barbes!

GO, LITTLE BOOK! — “WAY DOWN THAT LONESOME ROAD: LONNIE JOHNSON IN TORONTO 1965-1970” by MARK MILLER

Mark Miller is the most consistently satisfying jazz writer today.

His books are full of new information, but it’s never oppressive heapings-up of research.  He is occasionally part of the text in subtle ways but never the subject.  His affection and interest in his subjects is palpable.  In an age of self-indulgent sprawling prose, he is superbly concise.

I have read books by Mark on people who are slightly outside my realm of interest — Valaida Snow and Herbie Nichols.  And I had a problem with each of these books, but not what you might expect.  I really wanted to stop everything else I was doing and read the book in one sitting.  Watching me ration myself with a new Miller book must be hilarious, like watching someone put the bag of potato chips on the highest shelf and then hunt down the stepladder.  None of his books has ever seemed too long.

And his new biography seems more subtle, more graceful, than its predecessors.  It’s a portrait of the blues / jazz guitarist / singer / composer Lonnie Johnson and the last five years of his life in Toronto.

I confess that my awareness of Lonnie Johnson was limited.  I knew and admired him primarily as an extra added attraction with Louis, with Ellington, for his wonderful soloing on the 1940 Decca CHICAGO JAZZ sessions with Johnny Dodds (hear him on NEW ORLEANS HOP SCOP BLUES).  I had admired his guitar playing and singing, but once had had a copy of his Canadian CD, STOMPIN’ AT THE PENNY (with Jim McHarg’s Metro Stompers) and had let it go to a guitarist friend without undue regret.  So I didn’t approach this book already in love with its subject.  I did, however, anticipate superb reading ahead.  If anything, I underestimated what Miller can create.

First of all, in an era of hugely comprehensive biographies (pick your tomes as you will) one soon realizes that not every figure requires such coverage, nor is there necessarily always the requisite evidence to support six hundred pages.  Jazz biographers sometimes act as if they know no one will ever write a biography of Kid X again, so they cram their pages every available piece of data, including lists of gigs and travel details.

As a scholar, I admire the thoroughness, the diligence, and the scope of such information-gathering, and I know that the resulting book will be useful to future generations.  As a reader, I find the fact-avalanche daunting: I imagine a parade of appendices so that I could continue reading about the main drama.  And sometimes the lives of jazz musicians are only interesting because we are in love with the music that they make.  As a result, many of the most weighty jazz biographies — although I come to them with anticipation — feel heavy in my hands before their subject is 35.

Mark Miller writes books that look and feel like volumes of poetry, as if you could put such a book in a jacket pocket, smaller than an iPad.  (This book, by the way, is beautifully done by the Mercury Press and I found no misprints — something remarkable — and there are precious photographs I’d never even imagined.)  WAY DOWN THAT LONESOME ROAD is just over 150 pages of text, which would be several decent-sized chapters for one of our more expansive writers.  To be candid, this review is longer than many of Miller’s chapters.

It isn’t that Miller’s story is limited or short on interest.  In fact, even if you knew nothing of Johnson, a number of intriguing issues arise here: the drama of the last five years of the life of a performing artist; an African-American artist in a country he wasn’t born in; the politics of gigging, publicity, getting recognition, making money; what happens to a “former” star, and more.

Yet this isn’t a sad sad story.

Many jazz chronicles intentionally thrive on victimization: poor Bix, poor Bird, and more.  Miller clearly loves Lonnie Johnson (and saw him perform — once — at an epiphanic moment in 1970) and grieves for him, but this book is not an elegy for someone brutalized, nor an indictment of an ungrateful society.

None of the above.  Rather, in vignette-sized chapters of a few pages (each taking as long as a 78 side if you are a quick reader), Miller delineates the shape of Lonnie’s last years — how the “roamin’ rambler” arrived in his final city, Toronto.  Miller sketches in Johnson’s early and middle career for the first forty pages of the book.  In this section, Miller neatly balances his sense of the man — a mix of seriousness and mischief, of modesty and pride — his travels (Miller is particularly good on his feel for the overlapping worlds of jazz, blues, vaudeville, and recordings) and the music he produced, on and off records.

Louis Armstrong, Eddie Lang, and Bessie Smith make appearances here, although Miller is not someone obsessed with chronicling every note recorded.  But when he does write about the music, he hears a great deal and reveals it to us.

It’s when Lonnie Johnson arrives in Toronto that the pace slows down in a very gratifying way.  For not only has Miller followed Lonnie’s trail through the newspapers and the jazz magazines of the time (the book is dedicated to the late John Norris, much-missed; Patrick Scott, a champion of Lonnie’s who could be vitriolic, also appears) but he has spoken to people who knew Lonnie, who sewed up a pair of his ripped trousers, who ate ice cream with him, who saw him perform, who loved him, who saw him sit on the floor and play with a pair of kittens.

Young blues guitarists and old colleagues (including Louis Armstrong) come in and out of the text; this book includes both Don Ewell and Lady Iris Mountbatten, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Jim Galloway.  I marvel at Miller’s gift for weaving reminiscence and data, impressionistic illustration and quotations, into an entrancing whole.  Many jazz books feel like the sweet necrology: their subject is dead, and all the people recalling the subject are dead, too.  Not so here: the book is full of sharply-realized affectionate stories told by very alive people.

It is one of those books that even when a reader is fascinated by what is happening on page 64, that same reader is also aware of the writer’s larger design.  In fact, several times, I felt strongly that Miller is demonstrating the subtle interweaving of strands of fact and feeling in the way a great modern novelist would do — except that he is playing fair with the information, inventing nothing but simply presenting what he’s  learned in fulfilling ways.

In addition to the mix of reminiscence and fact, there is also a good deal of subtly understated social history.  It is not the heavy-handed “historical context” that I find so irritating elsewhere.  Imagine a biography of Hot Mama Susie Saucepan that arrives at 1933 — at which point the writer feels compelled to explain all about the Depression, Repeal, the New Deal, who was on the radio, what was the popular car, film, hair style.  I am no cultural historian, but when books offer these nuggets of freeze-dried history, I skip forward — often after putting the book down for a brief irate interval.

Miller doesn’t do this, but he has a fine sensitive awareness for the flavor of the different neighborhoods, communities, and populations of Toronto — often as manifested in the different blues and jazz clubs that appear and die (including one Lonnie invented for himself).  One senses that Miller, who refuses to make the narrative all about himself, is writing from personal observation and experience.  (And when, by the way, Miller is part of the text — as an eighteen-year old blues fan at a 1970 concert where Lonnie sings two songs — it is a breathtaking experience.)

Although Lonnie Johnson didn’t leave a substantial narrative record — no jazz institute recorded an oral history; no young filmmaker created a documentary — he lives on in Miller’s book, a man and musician as complex as any of us: “He was a gentle soul, a charmer and a ladies’ man.  He could be too trusting, an easy mark, but he was also rather sly, feigning innocence and playing for sympathy when it served his purpose.  He looked out for himself first and foremost, but he could be generous towards others.  He was regarded with respect, great affection, and, occasionally, exasperation.”  So Miller synthesizes the reactions of the people who knew his subject.

And one gets a vivid portrait of Johnson in his brief spoken excerpts: the cheerful man who meets John McHugh (club owner) and Jim McHarg (musician) in Toronto and wants to know what “the chick situation” is; the aging man who is worried that he will be looked on as a relic, who asks musicologist Charles Keil before he will grant an interview, “Are you another one of those guys who wants to put crutches under my ass?”  But Johnson comes across as neither cynical nor predatory.  We are reminded by incident rather than any authorial sermonizing that there is no barrier between Johnson and his music.  He tells an interviewer, “I love to sing.  Some singers love payday.  They sing for payday.  I don’t.  I sing for you, for the people out there, for myself.”  The book is full of memorable little sentences that linger in the mind like the pungent notes of Johnson’s guitar.

My favorite is “Charlie, the canary sings,” but you’ll have to read the book to delight in that story.

Ultimately, Lonnie Johnson comes fully alive in these pages because of Miller’s love and skill.  A lesser writer would not have melded the very disparate elements with such grace; truly, it could have become a formulaic story of the Last Years of An Aging African-American Jazzman.  Miller is the literary equivalent of a Jimmy Rowles or a Joe Thomas: every word is in place.  His writing surprises us with its lilt, and the result seems beautifully inevitable.

The book is available through a variety of online sources: you might begin at here.

JAMES DAPOGNY AND FRIENDS at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 16, 2011)

This hot chamber jazz session took place at Jazz at Chautauqua on September 16, 2011, and the estimable participants are James Dapogny, piano; Dan Levinson, clarinet and tenor sax; Andy Stein, violin; Frank Tate, string bass; John Von Ohlen, drums. 

DOIN’ THE RACCOON dates from the late Twenties, and is one of those spirited songs chronicling the floor-length raccoon coats that were the height of college fashion.  I would ordinarily hear in my mind’s ear (or mental jukebox) the Eddie South version . . . but this happy twenty-first century effusion now stands alongside it:

Frank Signorelli and Matty Malneck’s pretty LITTLE BUTTERCUP (later titled I’LL NEVER BE THE SAME) was first recorded by Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, then by Billie Holida, Buck Clayton, and Lester Young — a beautiful rhythm ballad with a sweet yearning at its center:

And the theme song for all discussions, I MAY BE WRONG, which was also the song chosen for the Apollo Theatre productions:

Thanks to the gentlemen of the ensemble for creating and evoking music that will outlive the discourse that swirls around it.

WISHING WILL MAKE IT SO

Every jazz fan who’s’ ever owned a record, a CD, or even a download has a mental list of recorded music he or she has never heard but yearns to hear.  I’m not talking about the Bolden cylinder or the Louis Hot Choruses, but here are some new and old fantasies.  Readers are invited to add to this list (my imagined delights are in no particular order).

The 1929 OKeh recording of I’M GONNA STOMP MISTER HENRY LEE — what would have been the other side of KNOCKIN’ A JUG, with Louis, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, Joe Sullivan, Happy Caldwell, and Kaiser Marshall.  Did Jack sing or did Louis help him out?  Was the take rejected because everyone was giggling?

The “little silver record” of Lester Young, circa 1934, probably one of those discs recorded in an amusement park booth, that Jo Jones spoke of as his earliest introduction to Pres.  When I asked Jo about it (more than thirty-five years later), he stared at me and then said it had disappeared a long time ago.

On the subject of Lester, the 1942 (?) jam session supervised by Ralph Berton, who broadcast some of the results on WNYC — the participants were Shad Collins, Lester Young, J.C. Higginbotham, Red Allen, Lou McGarity, Art Hodes, Joe Sullivan, Doc West . . .

UNDER PLUNDER BLUES by Vic Dickenson, Buck Clayton, Hal Singer and Herb Hall: from the session released on Atlantic as MAINSTREAM.  We know that the tapes from this and other sessions were destroyed in a fire, but the fire seems to have happened almost eighteen years after the recording.  Hmmm.

The 78 album Ernest Anderson said he created — one copy only — for the jazz-fan son of a wealthy friend, a trio of Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, Bobby Hackett, and Sidney Catlett.

The 1928 duets of Red McKenzie and Earl Hines.

SINGIN’ THE BLUES, by Rod Cless, Frank Teschemacher, and Mezz Mezzrow.

DADDY, YOU’VE BEEN A MOTHER TO ME — by Lee Wiley, Frank Chace, Clancy Hayes, and Art Hodes, recorded at Squirrel Ashcraft’s house.  (I’ve actually heard this, but the cassette copy has eluded me.)

Frank Newton’s controbution to the 1944 Fats Waller Memorial Concert.

The VOA transcriptions from the 1954-55 Newport Jazz Festivals — Ruby Braff, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Jo Jones; Lee Wiley, Eddie Condon, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson; Billie Holiday, Lester, Buck, and Teddy Wilson.  (I have hopes of Wolfgang’s Vault here.)

Some of these are bound to remain out of our reach forever; some are tantalizingly close.  But the Savory discs show us that miracles of a jazz sort DO happen.  As do the acetates Scott Black rescued from a dumpster in New Orleans.

What discs do you dream about?  This post, incidentally, has been taking shape in my mind for weeks, but what nudged it towards the light was our visit to a wonderful Berkeley, CA flea market / second-hand store called BAZAAR GILMAN, where there were records.  No revelations, but a splendid mix of oddities, including a few RCA Victor vinyl home recording discs and a few Recordio-Gay ones.  All full, with dispiriting titles such as WEDDING MARCH, BERCEUSE, and PIPE ORGAN.  But one never knows!

While you’re up, would you put on those airshots from the Reno Club, 1935?  (There was a radio wire: how else could John Hammond have heard the nine-piece Basie band in his car?)

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.