Tag Archives: Eddie Phyfe

REMEMBERING KENNY (Part One): Words BY DANNY TOBIAS. Music by KENNY DAVERN’S SWINGIN’ KINGS: DICK WELLSTOOD, TOMMY SAUNDERS, BILL ALLRED, COUNTRY THOMAS, BUTCH HALL, VAN PERRY, EDDIE PHYFE (Manassas, December 2, 1979)

Over the past few months, I’ve been attempting to assemble a portrait, words and music, of Kenny Davern.  He’s been the subject of an extensive biography, JUST FOUR BARS, by Edward Meyer, but I wanted to talk to musicians who had known and played with him while everyone, including me, is still around.  This first part is a wonderful reminiscence of Kenny by his friend and ours, trumpeter Danny Tobias, who looks and sees, hears and remembers.  At the end there’s music that will be new to you.  And Part Two is on the way.

DANNY TOBIAS:

He had a reputation of being crabby, and he was all that, but he liked me, and he liked the way I played — most of the time — if he didn’t like it, he let me know . . . there was no bullshit.  If I did something dumb, he would say it right there.  If I screwed up an ending, he would say, “Why did you do that?” and I would explain, and he would say, “Don’t do that.”  So I learned a lot from him.  He didn’t pull any punches, but he genuinely liked the way I played.  Once he told me I was a natural blues player, and that meant the world to me.  I had a feel for it.  When he said something nice, it meant a lot to me.

He introduced me to the music of Pee Wee Russell.  He knew who was on every record.  He’d say, “Did you ever hear those Red Allen records or the Mound City Blue Blowers from —– ?” and I’d say no, and he’d come in the next week with a cassette.  Then, after the gig,  we’d go out to the car, and he would smoke his Camels, and we would listen to a whole side of a tape!  He was also very much into Beethoven, into classical music, in particular the conductor Furtwangler.  He’d say, “Check this out,” and I’d get in his car and he’d play a whole movement from one of the symphonies.  And then I started collecting recordings, mostly so I could talk to him about it.  And if I heard anything, I could call him and say, “Do you know this record?” and “What do you think of this?”  When he died, that was what I missed most — being able to call and ask him about this record or that record.

I’m still picking up recordings of Kenny I never heard before.  Dick Sudhalter put together a concert of Kenny and Dick Wellstood at the Vineyard Theatre.  It was terrific.  I still get thrilled by these recordings. 

I got to play with him, for about ten years, at a hotel in Princeton called Scanticon, If he wasn’t on the road, he could have that gig if he wanted it.  He was there a lot — maybe half the Saturday nights.  Here’s what I don’t regret.  Some people say, ‘I wish I’d appreciated the time I spent with _____,” but I appreciated every night I spent with Kenny.  I was in seventh heaven playing next to him.

The things I take away from him that I try to incorporate . . . He could build a solo.  If he was playing three or four choruses, there was a growth.  It was going somewhere.  Everything would build.  The tune would build.  If you were in an ensemble with him, it was going forward.  When I play now, he’s not here, but I try to keep that thought: build, build, build. 

The other thing about him, and it’s a treasure — these aren’t my words, but somebody said he could play the melody of a song with real conviction.  It would be unmistakably him.  No hesitation.  If he played a wrong note, it wouldn’t matter.  He played with total conviction.  And that’s kind of rare.  I can hear other people getting distracted — it didn’t happen to him much, because he played with that sureness. 

And he had more dynamic range than any clarinet player I’ve ever heard.  He could play in the lower register, and I’d hear Jimmie Noone — he did that so well — in the middle register I could hear Fazola in his sound, and a thing he could do that I don’t hear anyone else do, he could soar.  In an outchorus, he could play a gliss, it was the biggest sound you’d ever heard.  And not just loud, but a big wide sound.  Not a shrill high sound.  It’s a thing I haven’t heard anyone else do.  Irving Fazola had that same kind of fat sound.  Who knows where that comes from?  It’s a richness, I guess.  Not loud, but big,  Round.

He taught me how to play in ensembles.  He said, “In an ensemble, don’t  just leave space, but musically — ask a question and wait for the answer.”  Play something that will elicit a response.  And there’s nothing in the world more fun than that.  You have a real dialogue going on.  He’s the first person who explained that to me.  People are afraid to talk to each other on the bandstand, we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings, but he’s the first person who said, “Do that,” and it made playing in ensembles so much more fun.  I can get responses from other players by setting something up.  Being the lead horn player, you have to set that up.  It doesn’t just happen.

He had such varied interests.  He would read all kinds of books.  I don’t know where he got the time.  I don’t think he slept.  Not just music.  He would read novels.  A lot of it was over my head.  He was all self-taught.  He could speak really good German.  He could communicate really well in several languages.  I always wanted to be like him, to get a touring schedule and go here and there, because it seemed very exotic to me, in my thirties, and I’m sure it wasn’t as exotic as I pictured it.  He complained about everything, but I think he loved it.

On a gig, Kenny would talk to the audience . . . he would just tell stories — how he just got back from Scotland and how everything was awful, the conditions were awful, how he had to spend a night in a hotel and couldn’t use the bar.  He would go on diatribes — funny, acerbic.  I remember one time he was playing at Trenton State, where I went to college.  I went to hear him, and he was playing in the student center, talking about the architecture and how bad it was.  The audience was laughing but the administrators were a little uncomfortable.  He would talk as if he were in a conversation rather than just announcing songs . . . as if he was letting you in on the inside dirt.

He really loved the final group he had, with Greg Cohen, and Tony Di Nicola, and James Chirillo.  He’d been to all the jazz parties and festivals, and so on, but he got to the point where that was he wanted to do.  If you hired him, he wanted to be there with his band.  He was happier being the only horn.  And he loved guitar — you know, after Wellstood . . . I mean he loved playing with Art Hodes and with John Bunch, but in that group he liked guitar.  In that group, it was freer for him.  The piano can pin you in to certain harmony rules; it can be too busy.  With the guitar, he got real freedom: he could play whatever he wanted.  If he wasn’t with a great piano player, he would cut them out when it was his turn to play. He didn’t like extraneous stuff.  I felt bad for them sometimes, but Kenny could just play with the bass and the drums.  And sound great, of course.

He had a reputation for making fun of things, but he was so good to me.  He went out of his way to introduce me to records he thought I should listen to, he put me on bands where I was in over my head a little bit, and he got me playing with great guys.  He couldn’t have been nicer to me.

The music: Davern, clarinet; Dick Wellstood, piano; Butch Hall, guitar; Van Perry, string bass; Eddie Phyfe, drums; Tommy Saunders, cornet; Bill Allred, trombone; Mason Country Thomas, tenor saxophone. I WANT TO BE HAPPY / WABASH BLUES / SWING THAT MUSIC. Thumbscrews, no extra charge.

We miss Kenny Davern.

May your happiness increase!

“HOW’S YOUR LOUISNESS?” (January 1, 1947)

To celebrate the publication of his book REALLY THE BLUES, Mezz Mezzrow was the star of a concert at New York’s Town Hall on January 1, 1947 as a benefit for the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief.

The basic band was Muggsy Spanier, Sandy Williams, Sidney Bechet, Mezz Mezzrow, Sammy Price or Art Hodes, Wellman Braud, Baby Dodds.  Later in the evening Bob Wilber’s Wildcats were added: Johnny Glasel, Ed Hubble, Bob Wilber, Dick Wellstood, Charlie Traeger, Eddie Phyfe.  Coot Grant and Kid Sox Wilson also performed.  The concert was recorded on twelve-inch acetates on two machines (hooray!) and ten performances were issued on lp — Jazz Archives JA-39 — but what follows was not.

Quite simply, it is an exultant hymn of praise to Louis.

It’s a life-changing performance of WHEN YOU’RE SMILING by Johnny Windhurst, unlisted in Tom Lord’s discography, with Bechet, prominent, and Dick Wellstood on piano.  My guess is that the veterans gave place to the Youngbloods, but it’s Windhurst who catches our ears and our hearts.  Rather like Hot Lips Page in his prime, Windhurst seems energetically lit from within, and just when you think he might have had enough or done enough, he takes another chorus.  Radiantly.

After Mezz’s announcement, the roadmap (to my ears) is one ensemble statement of the theme, one chorus by Bechet; one chorus by Wellstood; one by Eddie Hubble, trombone; two choruses by Windhurst with Bechet and the ensemble joining in. The tape I was working with was a copy of a reel-to-reel tape where the plastic had started to decay, alas, so there is some distortion and tape squeal.  But if you can turn away from Windhurst’s shining Louisness because of these flaws, we don’t have much to say to each other.

Incidentally, the question, “How’s your Louisness?” is, I believe, a co-invention of two of my favorite people, Riley and Clint Baker. . . . it is another way of saying, “How’s your internal spiritual compass?” and “Have you spread some joy today?”  They do, and certainly young Mister Windhurst does.

Play it again, and feel the warmth of that smile.

May your happiness increase!

 

I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO GO, BUT I COULDN’T

Had someone taken me, I could have seen Coleman Hawkins play — he did live until 1969 — but this concert I missed: my parents did not know each other yet.

That’s Hawkins, Freddy Johnson, piano, and Maurice van Kleef, drums, in Amsterdam, April 20, 1938.  The inscription reads: “To Aunt Hattie, In remembrance of all her kindness to my family and self. I shall never forget it, Freddy.”  The photograph is in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Here’s something surprisingly rare — not only because pieces of paper don’t always survive for eighty years — the impetus for this posting.

The seller’s link is here ; the price: $767.99 or “make offer.”  (His other items are intriguing — some posters are autographed — but lovers of “pure jazz” will find only a Louis Jordan concert poster to fixate on.)

To make up for the concert that perhaps none of my readers attended, here (thanks to Heinz Becker, one of the great gracious swing benefactors of YouTube, who has uploaded a stellar record library for us) is that trio, a marvel of swing energies:

I KNOW THAT YOU KNOW:

The ferocious SWINGING IN THE GROOVE:

DEAR OLD SOUTHLAND:

WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS:

WHEN BUDDHA SMILES:

and the gorgeous BLUES EVERMORE (a themeless improvisation on ONE HOUR, which some YouTube correcter tells me is IF I COULD BE WITH YOU ONE HOUR TONIGHT):

What rhapsodic majesty and unflagging swing he displayed.  These sides do not make up for having missed the concert, but we grasp the consolations we can.

And just for fun: I couldn’t go to this 1949 jazz party either.  I was closer to being born (my parents had met and more) but it still didn’t help.  I’m glad I am able to go hear music now!

May your happiness increase!

ON AND OFF eBay: THE PORTRAIT GALLERY (November 2010)

More from eBay!

On the left, Al Hirt (possibly during his fame in the Sixties).  More interesting is a very thin Bobby Hackett on the right, working hard, with someone I can’t identify standing behind him, looking quizzically at the invisible photographer.

At top, the King of Swing, possibly at the Madhattan Room — on the air for CBS.  Below, circa 1948: is that Wardell Gray to the extreme left in the saxophone section?

Early Thirties, on the West Coast — CREOLE REVUE . . .

Ellington in the Forties (the first band shot has Ben Webster, Sonny Greer, probably Junior Raglin — 1943?); the second is twenty years or so later, with Lawrence Brown, stalwart, on the far left.

Probably Chicago?  Earl Hines, Billy Eckstine on trumpet, Budd Johnson on tenor saxophone.  Are the two other musicians Scoops Carey and Shorty McConnell?

I have to say very quietly that I am less interested in Glenn Miller and his many orchestras than many people: what interests me here is not the ghost band below, but the top portrait that has a portly Irving Fazola sitting in the reed section on a gig in Texas, early in Miller’s bandleading career.

Who’s the pretty lady with the astounding hat sitting with Glen Gray on the right?  Looks like Miss Mildred to me, grinning happily.  Whatever Glen said to her must have been delightful!

Two unrelated Johnsons, J.J. and Gus (they both swung)!

Circa 1937 or 38 — Teddy, Hamp (concentrating hard), and Benny (paying attention): Gene got cut off, but we know he was having fun, too.

The top portrait is just amazing to those of us who are deeply immersed in this art — an autographed picture of Kaiser Marshall in 1938, in Europe (wow!); the second is listed as guitarist Jimmy McLin and saxophonist Earl Bostic, when and where I can’t tell.  The beautiful double-breasted suits say “late Thirties,” but that’s only a sartorial guess.

This portrait of the John Kirby Sextet lets us see the diminutive O’Neill Spencer in action — something more unusual than seeing Charlie Shavers, Russell Procope, Buster Bailey, and a pianist who’s not Billy Kyle. 

Clockwise: Benny Carter in a familiar publicity pose; a small band featuring Fats Waller’s reliably swinging drummer Slick Jones, and a famous shot from the Columbia studios, 1940, of John Hammond’s noble experiment melding the Basie and Goodman stars in what might have been the world’s finest small jazz band.

A famous Chicago studio portrait from 1936 but still gratifying: the rhythm section of Fletcher Henderson’s Grand Terrace Orchestra: Israel Crosby, bass; Bob Lessey, guitar; Horace Henderson, piano; Sidney Catlett, drums.

Late Twenties, early Fifties, perhaps for Ben Pollack?  Jack Teagarden and Benny in the first photo, perhaps Charlie Teagarden (and the Pick-A-Rib Boys) in the second.

Lee Young and J. C Higginbotham, both middle Forties if the suits are evidence.

There’s that Louis fellow again!  Ecstatically with Trummy Young (and an invisible Barrett Deems) at top, with Danny Kaye in THE FIVE PENNIES (1959) below.

GOING PLACES indeed!  Louis, Maxine Sullivan, Johnny Mercer . . . no doubt rehearsing JEEPERS CREEPERS.

And a delightful piece of memorabilia from Phil Schaap’s new website — which not only features artifacts autographed by Wynton Marsalis and jazz broadcasts from WKCR, but also tangible morsels of jazz history.  Can you hear Lips Page and Johnny Windhurst swapping lead and improvised countermelody?  I certainly can imagine it!  Visit http://www.philschaapjazz.com for more.