Tag Archives: Elena P. Paynes

BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS: Conclusion

I hated to see this wonderfully expansive concert — Bent Persson’s marvelous evocations of big-band Louis Armstrong — come to an end.  These final seven selections explore Louis’s Decca period, here defined as 1935-41. 

A word about the Deccas — appropriate not only because of this concert, but because of the recent Mosaic box set.  As a body of work, they have provoked both defensive overpraise and criticism built on misunderstanding.  At this distance, readers who wish to see the Swing Era as a high point in creative improvised music have found it necessary to forget that the material the bands and musicians were given to record was of variable quality — popular music from films and Broadway shows, music meant for dancers.  Yes, a Porter, Berlin, Coslow, or Gershwin song could find its way in to the record session, but Ellington was playing CALL OF THE CANYON at Fargo. 

But this constant influx of new songs was not a bad thing.  Left to their own devices, many of the jazz artists we revere operate within a narrow repertoire, whether it is bounded by the blues and I GOT RHYTHM or a half-dozen other favorite songs.  We all admire what the 1936-40 Basie band did within such constraints, but this makes TAXI WAR DANCE and TICKLE-TOE all the more delightful.  So I don’t perceive Louis as shackled and victimized by Jack Kapp and Joe Glaser.  His band was ragged at times, and I can hear the terrifying sound of Bingie Madison’s clarinet even now, but Kapp made the right choices more often than not: repeating a take so that the clarinet passage would be in tune would have required Louis to play more and more, not a wise or generous use of his energies.  

Bent and the band do these majestic recordings justice and more: watching this concert is as close as I or anyone else will come to seeing Louis circa 1938, a magical experience.  And both he and the band are using the recordings as frameworks for improvisation: the band plays Bent’s versions of the arrangements, and his solos are certainly shaped by what Louis played, but they are variations on variations — alternate takes, if you will — rather than exact attempts at reproducing what Louis played in the studios.   

They began with that truly pretty tune (Louis didn’t play the verse, which is a pity — ask Jon-Erik Kellso to do it if the band knows the changes) from the film of the same name, THANKS A MILLION.  And the sweetly ethereal Elena P. Paynes of the Chicago Stompers shows us that expressing our gratitudes is always a good thing, as is Martin Litton’s pretty, ruminative solo chorus:

Bent took over the dramatic leadership of the next song — really a playlet, as acted by Louis in his first leap into film stardom, in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN — a clip I’ve posted elsewhere on this blog.  “The fun was loud and hearty, when a notorious wallflower became the life of the party!”  Here’s THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET:

I assume that Louis was asked to perform ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, already a hoary standard, because of the musical film of the same name.  It’s a difficult arrangement, with Technicolor trappings (the march-band opening) and on the original Decca, even Louis has a moment’s trouble finding where he is . . . but Elena is in fine form, even given the wordy lyrics and the fast tempo:

I DOUBLE DARE YOU is a pretty swing tune, one that should have gotten more attention in its time — now, it seems the only people who play and sing it are trumpeters.  Would that there were other singers inviting us all to “get friendly” in Ludvig Carlson’s amiable way!  And there are some fine instrumental solos — Clerc, McQuaid, Munnery, and Bonnel — all backed by Nick Ward’s rocking drums:

SO LITTLE TIME isn’t musically complex, but Louis made something splendid out of it (as he did with TRUE CONFESSION and RED CAP); Elena makes this Swing version of tempus fugit truly winsome, and Bent adds his own majesty:

In the idealized Chicago period (the years some listeners think of as Louis’s only peak), Tommy Rockwell of OKeh Records wouldn’t let him record WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN on the grounds of impiety.  Lucky for us that Jack Kapp’s musical world-view was broader, thus making it possible for Louis to explore this hymn as well as IN THE GLOAMING and ON A COCOANUT ISLAND.  Reverends Persson and Paynes offer a “mellow sermon” for us all:

Finally, Bent pays homage to Louis’s moving instrumental examination of the song he played in fragments every night for forty years — WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH.  Luxuriant, I say:

Video recordings may give you a sense of what it was like to be there — not only the sound, but the musicians smiling at something perfectly apt that someone else has played or sung.  But videos are still not designed to be played in the car (unless you’re a lucky bored passenger) so I happily recommend an earlier compact disc recording of some of this material — a different band, solos, and vocals, but our Bent and Claes Brodda are there . . . so you know the heights will be scaled!  The project was issued on the late Gosta Hagglof’s Kenneth label as FOR THE LOVE OF SATCHMO, and the backing band is the very empathic and hot Royal Blue Melodians.  Ordering details can be found on the blogroll: click on “Classic Jazz Productions.”  (You’ll also find the CDs of Bent and friends playing Louis’s Hot Choruses and breaks, astonishing music.) 

K3416F

K3416B

 A million thanks to everyone involved in this concert.

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BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS, Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENT PERSSON PLAYS LOUIS, Part One

One of the highlights of the 2009 Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival (July 12, 2009) was the two-hour concert given by Swedish trumpeter / cornetist / Louis Armstrong scholar Bent Persson — leading an all-star big band in tribute to the music Louis made in the Thirties.  The band was genuinely “all-star,” including Nick Ward (drums), John Carstairs Hallam (bass), Martin Litton (piano), Jacob Ullberger (banjo / guitar), Jean-Francois Bonnel, Matthias Seuffert (reeds), Paul Munnery (trombone), Beat Clerc (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (trumpet / reeds), Ludvig Carlson, Spats Langham, Elena P. Paynes, and Bent himself (vocal), and one of two musicians whose names I didn’t catch or write down — being busy clutching my video camera like a man on a mission.  Which I was! 

If you’ve never heard Bent, something wonderful awaits.  And seeing him play Louis’s solos (and variations on them) you realize once again how majestic Louis’s accomplishments were — and are.  And the band got the spirit, swinging out in the best Thirties way, with no “repertory” stiffness. 

The flexibility of this big band was due to several factors — first, the musicians’ deep familiarity with the repertoire and their professionalism, but also the two extended rehearsals Bent called, on Saturday and Sunday mornings, to run through the arrangements.  He didn’t spare himself, playing the difficult solos without avoiding the high notes.  Non-musicians aren’t usually invited to watch the band rehearse, but Bent generously invited me in advance.  I brought my video camera (telling him that it would be good material for the documentary someone was bound to do on him) as well as my notebook. 

Here are some things I saw and heard:

Before the full band arrived, the trumpets and saxophones were ready, and Bent said, “Maybe we should start with something that is going to be difficult for the saxes, like – – – – ?” and he named a song.  One of the saxes said quietly, “I’d be just as glad to wait.” 

When rehearsals started, Bent showed himself to be the very oppposite of the stereotypical bandleader.  Nothing ruffled him; he was cheerful and generous with praise.  One of the musicians was late, and Bent asked, “Did they get X?” to which the answer You may play louder on that.  Don’t be too careful!” 

When Bent announced that the next song would be BODY AND SOUL, I heard one musician say, deadpan.  “Great tune.  I think I know this.” 

At the second rehearsal, Bent walked in, saw me setting up my camera, grinned, and made the musicians’ joke that was new to me: “Shoot!  The enemy will appear at any moment!” 

Later, when the band was working through THE SKELETON IN THE CLOSET (which is really a full-scale dramatic piece), Bent pointed out that the introduction had to be properly spooky: “It says very loud and horrible in the music.”  And, when the band — hard workers all — had concluded the beautiful WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH, Bent said, happily, “Very nice!  Lovely!  First take!”

Here are the first selections from this Sunday afternoon concert:

I GOT RHYTHM served to introduce the band; it’s modeled on Louis’ Chicago OKeh recording, with that comic ending (Bent says it was based on a radio theme: does anyone know the name of the closing motif?):

I’M IN THE MARKET FOR YOU was a very appealing song (I saw Ray Nance do it once, and it was marvelously touching.  Spats Langham has the right spirit here.).  But what puzzles me is that it was a film song (from “High Society Blues”) presumably stressing how love was more important than the stock market, a sentiment worth remembering today.  But how any songwriters could have thought to make the stock market a subject for pop song in the post-Crash world amazes me.  Would we know this song if Louis hadn’t taken it up?

I’M A DING DONG DADDY (From Dumas) is another 1931 oddity, written by Phil Baxter, if I remember correctly.  Once you hear the written lyrics, complete with treacherous “p”‘s for a singer to pop, you’ll understand why Louis chose to scat his way through the verbal thickets:

INDIAN CRADLE SONG never emerged from its obscurity, although it’s quite a tender melody — one of the early Thirties ventures into native Americana, going back LAND OF THE SKY BLUE WATER and, earlier, to RED WING.  Bent sings it sweetly:

BODY AND SOUL, complete with awkward lyrics — which the Beloved always remarks on as syntactically part-Yiddish — “My life a hell (wreck) you’re making” could have been a conversational lament straight from Second Avenue:

YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY, complete with rocking verse to start and the closing modulation, as well as a loose, swinging vocal by Ludvig Carlson:

Finally (for this post), JUST A GIGOLO, which Louis must have heard and loved from Bing’s recording:

More to come!

PORTRAITS: WHITLEY BAY, 2009

Whose honey are you?  In the hotel breakfast bar, Billie oversees the butter, buttery spread, jam, and honey

Whose honey are you? In the hotel breakfast bar, Billie oversees the butter, buttery spread, jam, and honey

I’ve just returned from the nineteenth Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival, which was delightful.  I didn’t take as many still pictures as I should have, perhaps because I had my video camera glued to my eye . . . the results will, I hope, emerge soon.  But here are some portraits from the three days of elation and emotion:

Mike Durham's bass sax waits for true fulfillment -- to be played majestically by Frans Sjostrom

Mike Durham's bass sax waits for true fulfillment -- to be played majestically by Frans Sjostrom

Warming up before a rehearsal

Warming up before a rehearsal

Warming up with long tones

Warming up with long tones

Bent Persson listens

Bent Persson listens

Martin Litton

Martin Litton

Elena P. Paynes, vocalist with the Chicago Stompers, at rehearsal

Elena P. Paynes, vocalist with the Chicago Stompers, at rehearsal

Nick Ward, having a ball

Nick Ward, having a ball

John Carstairs Hallam, thinking it through

John Carstairs Hallam, thinking it through

In the brass section

In the brass section

Cousin Bob

Cousin Bob

Cousin John

Cousin John

On Bent Persson's music stand

On Bent Persson's music stand

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann listen intently to jazz erudition from an off-camera Norman Field

Mike Durham (left) and Rene Hagmann listen intently to jazz erudition from an off-camera Norman Field

Elena, onstage

Elena, onstage

Elena, successfully wooing the crowd

Elena, successfully wooing the crowd

Once more!

Once more!

Anna Lyttle (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (reeds)

Anna Lyttle (trumpet), Michael McQuaid (reeds)